PUTIN MEETS WITH JORDANIAN KING...
President Putin met on 18 August in Sochi with King Abdullah II for talks that focused on Iraq, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the fight against international terrorism, Russian media reported. Speaking at a press conference with the monarch, Putin said the use of power is not enough to uproot international terrorism. "It is unacceptable to equate a great world religion like Islam with terrorism," RTR reported. Putin also called for an "interconfessional...dialogue to solve acute social problems," and noted that both countries want to extend their cooperation and set up free-trade agreements. Before meeting with Putin, Abdullah visited the 17 August international air show MAKS-2005 near Moscow and signed a contract to buy two Russian IL-76 military transport planes, newsru.com reported, and he added that he would like to buy more Russian planes. Abdullah has links to the Russian military as he briefly trained with a paratrooper unit near Pskov in the late 1980s, RTR reported on 18 August. VY
...CALLS FOR 'GRADUAL' WITHDRAWAL OF COALITION FORCES FROM IRAQ...
President Putin also called in Sochi for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq, Interfax reported. "We believe it necessary to work out a schedule for the gradual withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq. Many Iraqis consider them occupational," Putin said. In reaction to his comments, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington on 18 August: "President Bush has spoken very clearly on our views on the issue of security assistance to the Iraqis. As the Iraqis stand up with their capabilities, the multinational forces and us will be able to stand down," state.gov reported. VY
...WELCOMES ISRAELI PULLOUT FROM GAZA STRIP
On the same day, President Putin spoke with Palestine Authority President Mahmud Abbas and talked about the Mideast peace process and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported. Putin noted that the pullout of Israeli settlers and troops is only the first step on the "road map" and that Russia will support both sides in the realization of this plan. Putin praised the "personal courage of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his persistence in implementing adopted decisions." Putin also told Abbas that Russia will help Palestine on security issues but will do so very carefully to avoid a deterioration of the situation. VY
RUSSIA AND INDIA PLAN JOINT 'ANTITERRORIST' MILITARY MANEUVERS
Following the Sino-Russian war games now under way in the Far East (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005), Moscow and New Dehli have decided to conduct Indian-Russian military games called IndRo-2005 to be held in October in Rajasthan, India, the Indian business daily "Financial Express" reported on 19 August. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov proposed the exercises during his visit to India in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004) and they were finalized last week during a visit by a high-ranking Russian military delegation to India, the daily reported. The navy, army, and air force from both countries will take part, including Russian strategic bombers SU-24M and paratroopers. It was reported that the maneuvers will become an annual event. VY
RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT INCREASES ITS BUDGET
The 2006 draft budget prepared by the Finance Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2005) earmarks 5.8 billion rubles ($207 million) for the federal government, the presidential administration, and the Federal Assembly, a 40 percent increase from this year, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 August. The budget of the legislature will be increased by 10 percent, the government by 20 percent, the Finance Ministry Audit Chamber and Customs Service by 50 percent, and the judiciary by 60 percent. The presidential administration is set to receive 40 percent more, which experts link to the G-8 summit of the most industrialized countries scheduled for Moscow in 2006, Ekho Moskvy reported 18 August. VY
DAILY: ANTIDEMOCRATIC PUTSCH WOULD HAVE MORE SUPPORT IN RUSSIA TODAY
"Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 19 August that if an antidemocratic putsch similar to the one on 19 August 1991 carried out by a group of top Soviet officials against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin occurred today, it would receive more support than it got 14 years ago. According to a recent poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 18 percent of respondents said they would support the putschists, 13 percent would back Yeltsin, and 36 percent said they would choose neither side. In 1991 some 15 percent of those polled backed the coup plotters, 27 percent backed Yeltsin, and 40 percent were neutral. Last year the followers of putschists and Yeltsin divided almost equally at 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively, but this year marked the first time in the 14-year history of the poll that the antidemocratic group clearly prevailed over pro-Yeltsin respondents. Meanwhile, only 11 percent consider the defeat of the putschists as a "victory of democracy," while over 50 percent believe it was a "power struggle." VY
FORMER PRIME MINISTER'S ASSOCIATE LEAVES COUNTRY AFTER INTERROGATION
Konstantin Merzlikin, an associate of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, has left Russia after being questioned by prosecutors, mosnews.com reported on 18 August. Prosecutors questioned Merzlikin about Kasyanov's allegedly fraudulent purchase of a state-owned mansion at a fraction of its worth. Merzlikin was summoned for questioning on 17 August and left Russia hours after speaking to prosecutors, mosnews.com reported. Merzlikin was head of the Russian government's Secretariat when Kasyanov served as prime minister. He is currently deputy head of the firm MK-Analitika, which Kasyanov heads. Investigative journalist and Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinstein (Unified Russia) requested a probe into how Kasyanov acquired the mansion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 19 July 2005). Khinstein said that Merzlikin played a key role in buying the mansion for Kasyanov, which is now being investigated by prosecutors. "Merzlikin pressed at all times to make the deal quickly, and controlled all stages of the deal," Khinstein said. BW/VY
NOVGOROD GOVERNOR CALLS FOR SEVEN-YEAR PRESIDENTIAL TERMS
Mikhail Prusak, the governor of the Novgorod Region, has suggested that President Putin's second term as president be extended to seven years, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 August. "The president needs two terms of seven years, not four," Prusak told "Izvestiya" in an interview. "Four years is too short," he added. Prusak said, however, that amending the constitution to allow presidents to serve a third term -- as some have suggested -- "would fray the basic law." Prusak's statement is the latest in a series from local officials calling for an extension of Putin's term. Lawmakers in St. Petersburg and in the Primorskii Krai in the Far East have drafted legislation to change the constitution to allow Putin to serve a third term. Putin's term is due to expire in March 2008. BW
FSB CHIEF SAYS RUSSIAN NUKES SAFE FROM TERRORISTS
Nikolai Patrushev, the director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), said on 19 August that Russia's nuclear and biological weapons are safe from terrorists, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Patrushev said the FSB has information that terrorist organizations are seeking Russian weapons. "We have such information, so our task is to deny this access to terrorists. This requires preventive and regime measures," Patrushev said, adding that the Russian security services are eliminating any gaps in security. "Terrorists won't get these weapons," Patrushev said. BW
MINISTRY: UP TO 140,000 BIRDS DEAD FROM AVIAN FLU
As many as 140,000 birds have died or been slaughtered in Siberia and in the Volga-Urals region as a result of the avian bird-flu outbreak, Interfax reported on 19 August citing the Emergency Situations Ministry's press service. More than 11,000 birds have died from the flu and another 127,000 have been slaughtered in the Tyumen, Chelyabinsk, and Omsk oblasts and in the Altai region to stop the spread of the disease, the press service said. "Lab examinations of selected blood samples from dead birds confirmed the presence of the AH5 bird-flu virus that is not dangerous to humans. Most birds contracted avian flu from migrating wild birds from Southeast Asia," the ministry said. No bird-flu cases have been reported in humans, the press service said. BW
OFFICIAL: CORRUPTION INVESTIGATIONS RISE 70 PERCENT OVER 2004
Russian law-enforcement officials have initiated 31,000 corruption investigations in the first half of 2005, a 70 percent increase over the same period last year, Russian news agencies reported on 19 August, citing Nikolai Ovchinnikov, head of the Interior Ministry's department of organized crime and terrorism. Some 500 officials have been arrested and charged thus far, Ovchinnikov said. Interfax reported that Ovchinnikov cited as an example a Natural Resources Ministry official who has been charged with accepting a $270,000 bribe from a Moscow-based group that had used its "connections in several federal ministries" to obtain businesses in the coal-mining industry. In another case, Ovchinnikov said an official in Novosibirsk was arrested on suspicion of extorting a $300,000 bribe. BW
CHECHEN FIGHTERS REPORTEDLY RETREAT TO INGUSHETIA
Chechen police closed in late on 17 August on two groups of Chechen resistance fighters in Achkhoi Martan Raion in the extreme western part of the republic, Interfax reported on 18 August. In what appears to be a separate operation on 18 August, they reportedly killed Kazbek Batalov, identified as the leader of a group of 30 militants, and apprehended his associate Adam Tochiev between the villages of Bamut and Assinovskaya in Sunzha Raion. Tochiev confessed that the group of which he was a member was responsible for the attack during the night of 13-14 August on the village of Roshni-Chu in which five Russian military personnel were killed. A Russian military press spokesman quoted Tochiev as saying the group that attacked Roshni-Chu numbered 84 fighters included Arab mercenaries and was commanded by Chechen Vice President Doku Umarov, ITAR-TASS reported. The Chechen resistance website chechenpress.org gave the number of participants in the Roshni-Chu raid as 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2005). Later on 18 August, Interfax quoted an unnamed Ingush police official as saying one group of Chechen fighters has crossed the border into Ingushetia, where they commandeered a car in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya. Police throughout Ingushetia have been placed on heightened alert. LF
KABARDINO-BALKARIA CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS APPEAL AGAINST REDISTRICTING LAW
The Constitutional Court of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic ruled on 18 August that the controversial Law on the Status and Borders of Municipal Formations in the republic enacted in February does not violate the republican constitution, Interfax reported. That ruling is final and may not be appealed. Residents of the republic's Elbrus Raion appealed the law in June, arguing that it violates the rights of local Balkars insofar as it transfers to a local municipal council land that the villagers traditionally used for their flocks, depriving them of their livelihood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 June 2005). On 12 July, the republican parliament amended several articles of the law in line with a request by villagers in Chegem Raion. At that time, Deputy Prime Minister Anuar Chechenov said the parliament would also consider analogous requests from Elbrus villagers, but that none had been made. LF
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION REJECTS PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Leading members of the Artarutiun opposition bloc announced on 18 August that they will campaign against a package of amendments to the country's constitution to be voted on in a nationwide referendum later this year, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. They explained that the authorities have refused to meet any of their demands for more stringent limits on the powers currently invested in the president. The Artarutiun leadership also decided on 18 August that 11 deputies from its 14-member parliamentary faction will suspend their 18-month boycott of legislative proceedings and take part in the final debate on the amendments, which is scheduled for 29 August. LF
EU AMBASSADORS IN AZERBAIJAN ISSUE CALL FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
The diplomatic representations in Baku of EU member states issued a joint declaration on 18 August registering their concern at "the recent deterioration in the election climate in Azerbaijan," Azerbaijani agencies reported. The statement stressed that "there is no place for violence and threats" in a democratic election campaign, and it appealed to all political parties to make a serious effort -- in the name of Azerbaijan's democratic development -- to ensure that the 6 November parliamentary ballot is free and fair. Visiting a region of northwestern Azerbaijan populated primarily by members of the Udin minority, President Ilham Aliyev again pledged on 18 August that the 6 November election will be "transparent and democratic," zerkalo.az reported on 19 August. LF
GEORGIAN SPECIAL FORCES SHOOT DEAD HOSTAGE TAKER AT TELEVISION STATION
Interior Ministry special purpose troops shot dead on 18 August Varlam Nemsitsveridze, 34, who earlier that day forced his way into the headquarters of the independent television station Rustavi-2 and took one of its employees hostage at gunpoint, Georgian agencies reported. Nemsitsveridze demanded a meeting with Georgian Prosecutor-General Zurab Adeishvili. Special forces tried unsuccessfully for an hour to persuade Nemsitsveridze to release his hostage before opening fire. Deputy Prosecutor-General Kakha Koberidze subsequently told journalists that Nemsitsveridze was mentally ill, rustavi2.com reported. LF
DETAINED GEORGIAN GRENADE ATTACK SUSPECT VOWS TO ESCAPE
Vladimir Arutiunian, whom Georgian police apprehended after a shootout in Tbilisi on 20 July and who subsequently confessed to having thrown a grenade at U.S President George W. Bush and his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on 10 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 July 2005), has warned that he is 90 percent certain of his ability to escape from the prison hospital ward where he is currently under guard, Georgian media reported on 18 August. The Georgian Interior Ministry issued a statement on 18 August claiming that Arutiunian hopes to injure himself in an escape attempt and then be sent for medical treatment abroad, where his trial will attract greater publicity. Surveillance cameras have been installed in the prison hospital ward where Arutiunian is recovering from gunshot wounds received during the operation to apprehend him. LF
KAZAKH, CIS OFFICIALS PLEASED WITH ANTITERROR EXERCISES
Nartai Dutbaev, head of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, and Boris Mylnikov, director of the CIS Antiterrorism Center, said on 18 August that they are satisfied with the Caspian Antiterror 2005 exercises that ended the same day in Aktau, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Dutbaev said that the Kazakh port city of Aktau was chosen for the event -- which involved security forces from 10 CIS countries and observers from Iran -- because "there is information that offshore objects and oil- and gas-sector objects could be attractive to terrorists." Mylnikov noted that for Kazakhstan and Russia to cooperate more closely on antiterrorism efforts they will have to alter their constitutions, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. He said, "In order to bring security forces to the territory of other states, it's necessary to develop a solid legal basis." For Russian and Kazakh security forces to operate on each other's territory at present, Mylnikov noted, "there are problems connected with constitutional norms." DK
OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL BLASTS KAZAKH PRESIDENT
In an open letter to Nursultan Nazarbaev dated 17 August and published by Navigator (www.navi.kz) the next day, presumptive unified opposition presidential candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai reiterated his intention to run in the upcoming presidential election and harshly criticized Nazarbaev. Tuyakbai's letter came in response to a warning he said he received from prosecutors about conducting "illegal election campaigning." While officially stating his intention to seek the presidency, Tuyakbai accused Nazarbaev of making populist promises in the lead up to the election, using budgetary funds for thinly veiled preelection trips across Kazakhstan, exploiting state-controlled media to increase his support, and sanctioning attacks and other repressive actions against For a Just Kazakhstan, the opposition movement Tuyakbai heads. The election will be held either in December 2005 or December 2006, pending a ruling by the Constitutional Council and a decision by parliament. DK
KYRGYZ CAPITAL GETS NEW MAYOR
Bishkek's city council on 18 August selected 54-year-old Arstanbek Nogoev to be the capital's new mayor by a vote of 37 for and three against, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Nogoev, who has until now occupied the post of deputy mayor, ran unopposed after acting Mayor Askarbek Salymbekov withdrew his candidacy. Nogoev expressed admiration for Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and urged more cooperation with the Russian capital, Kabar reported. Nogoev said, "We should follow Yurii Luzhkov's example. He is a good manager." According to biographical information provided by akipress.org, Nogoev, whose education is in the field of agriculture, rose in the ranks of the Communist Party in the late 1980s and went on to occupy a number of administrative posts in the 1990s, including head of the Kemin District from 1998 to 2003. DK
KYRGYZ COURT OVERTURNS DENIAL OF STATUS FOR UZBEK DETAINEE...
A Bishkek court overturned on 18 August an earlier decision by Kyrgyz migration officials to deny refugee status to an Uzbek citizen who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May and is currently detained in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported. Cholpon Jakupova, who heads the NGO Adilet, explained, "We submitted four court appeals to protect the rights of four Uzbek nationals [held in detention]. The appeal was to annul the migration department's decision to deny them refugee status." Judge Jyrgalbek Nurunbetov said: "This decision does not grant the status of refugee but it gives the right to reapply to the migration department for refugee status. I finalized the hearing of an appeal by one Uzbek national." Jakupova added, "the remaining three hearings will be held next week." The four Uzbeks are part of a group of 15 Uzbeks now detained in Osh. In a press release on 3 August, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated, "Twelve of [the 15] have been recognised as refugees while three are presently undergoing status determination and therefore fall under the protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention" DK
...AS KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS WAITING FOR OFFICIAL RESPONSE ON DETAINEES
Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 18 August that as soon as Kyrgyzstan receives an official note from a third country willing to accept the 15 Uzbek detainees, they will be handed over to the UNHCR. Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden have said that they would be willing to accept the detainees, but have yet to submit an official request to do so, Beknazarov said. DK
KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR WANTS TO STRIP EX-PRESIDENT, DEPUTIES OF IMMUNITY
Prosecutor-General Beknazarov has said that his office is preparing a request for parliament to strip former President Askar Akaev of immunity from prosecution, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 18 August. Beknazarov said that two-thirds of the legislature will need to approve the request in order to clear the way for the prosecution of the ex-president, who is currently residing in Russia, for crimes allegedly committed during his time in office. Beknazarov noted that similar requests are being readied to strip a number of parliamentary delegates of their immunity. He also told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that a criminal case against former National Bank head Ulan Sarbanov and former presidential administration head Medet Sadyrkulov has been handed over to the courts. The case charges the two men with illegally giving former President Akaev $400,000 in 1999. DK
EDITOR OF POLISH-LANGUAGE MAGAZINE BANNED FROM LEAVING BELARUS
A court in Hrodna has banned Andrzej Poczobut, editor in chief of the magazine "Magazyn Polski" published by the Union of Poles in Belarus, from leaving the country for allegedly failing to pay a 5.1 million ruble fine ($2,400), Belapan reported on 18 August. In July the same court imposed this fine on Poczobut for his role in an unauthorized protest earlier that month. Poczobut told Belapan that he paid 3.7 million rubles of the fine before being arrested on 26 July and put behind bars for 15 days in connection with his participation in another unsanctioned rally. "I was not hiding and trying to evade the payment of the fine," Poczobut noted. "I had repeatedly declared my intention to pay it, but I was arrested and was not physically able to pay anything." Poczobut said the money he already paid was raised for him in Poland. He added that he intends to pay the remainder of the fine, which is nearly equal to his annual income, with his own money. JM
PRISON SENTENCE FOR BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST CUT BY ONE YEAR UNDER AMNESTY
Opposition politician Mikhail Marynich's prison sentence of 3 1/2 years has been reduced by one year under an amnesty law passed earlier this year on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, Belapan reported on 18 August, quoting the politician's son, Ihar Marynich. Mikhail Marynich, a former minister and diplomat in President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government, was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2004 on what is widely believed to be a politically motivated charge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). In February, Marynich had his prison sentence reduced to 3 1/2 years for his "past services to the state" and "failing health." JM
WASHINGTON DETERMINED TO SUPPORT CIVIL SOCIETY IN BELARUS
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk announced on 18 August that the U.S. Department of State and the embassy will "continue to support a broad range of groups of individuals throughout Belarus whose goal is to promote the development of civil society, foster the growth of independent media, strengthen the social and health sectors, encourage the development of small and medium enterprise, and increase respect for the rule of law and human rights," Belapan reported. The statement came in the wake of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree imposing further restrictions on foreign technical assistance in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005). In particular, the decree prohibits organizations and individuals from receiving and using foreign technical assistance for "preparing and conducting elections and referendums, recalling [legislators], staging gatherings, rallies, street marches, demonstrations, picketing, strikes, producing and distributing campaign materials, and for other forms of mass politicking among the population," according to the presidential press service. JM
FOUR PRESIDENTS MEET IN CRIMEA TO MARK ARTEK ANNIVERSARY
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met in Crimea on 18 August with his counterparts from Poland, Lithuania, and Georgia, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Valdas Adamkus, and Mikheil Saakashvili, respectively, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The formal reason for the meeting was the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the youth summer camp Artek in Crimea, which during the Soviet era was a much-coveted recreation and indoctrination center for members of the ideological scout organization Young Pioneers and their peers from the former socialist bloc. Yushchenko held bilateral talks with Kwasniewski and Adamkus. Yushchenko's press service reported that he expressed concern over the development of Polish-Russian and Polish-Belarusian relations, noting that the recent beating of Polish diplomats in Moscow and the Warsaw-Minsk spat over an ethnic Polish organization in Belarus "do not have a positive impact on bilateral relations." JM
UKRAINE RELAXES VISA REGIME FOR U.S. NATIONALS
President Yushchenko has amended his decree of June on visa-free travel for U.S. citizens, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 18 August. Under the amendment, starting from 1 July 2005, U.S. citizens will require no visas for entry into or transit across Ukraine if their stay in Ukraine does not exceed 90 days. Under the previous version of the decree, visa-free travel could only be enjoyed by those U.S. citizens who paid a repeat visit to Ukraine, which could not exceed 90 days, within six months of their previous visit. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS COAL MINISTER
President Yushchenko has appointed Viktor Topolov as Ukraine's coal-industry minister, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 18 August. Topolov was first deputy minister for fuel and energy prior to his current appointment. Yushchenko created the Coal Industry Ministry earlier this year, assigning to it part of the Fuel and Energy Ministry staff. JM
SERBIAN POLICE ARREST MADRID BOMBING SUSPECT
Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic and Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said in Belgrade on 18 August that Serbian police on 23 June arrested Abdelmajid Bouchar, a Moroccan citizen wanted by Spain for possible involvement in the March 2004 Madrid bombings, Reuters and dpa reported. Police arrested him during a routine document check on a train from Subotica, near the Hungarian border, to Belgrade, when they determined that he had no documents. Spanish police confirmed his identity on the basis of fingerprints supplied by their Serbian colleagues. Belgrade is now waiting for a formal extradition request from Madrid. Ljajic said that the extradition process could take up to one year, adding that he will make the final decision in the matter. Jocic said Bouchar told police he was an immigrant, but they were suspicious because "he was on the opposite route typical for the transit of immigrants. He was going from north to south." Jocic added that Bouchar "was also very well dressed. These things made police suspicious." PM
BOSNIAN SERB EX-MINISTER TO CONTEST HIS EXTRADITION
Milan Orovic, who is a lawyer for Momcilo Mandic, a former Republika Srpska justice minister who was recently sent from Montenegro to Bosnia-Herzegovina to face fraud charges, said on 18 August that he will contest his client's arrest and extradition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005). Serbian Interior Minister Jocic said that Mandic is a Montenegrin citizen legally registered in Herceg Novi. Jocic added that Serbia's constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens, and he assumes that Montenegrin law is the same. Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Ljajic said that he alone has the legal authority to approve an extradition of a citizen of Serbia and Montenegro, but his office never received a request for the extradition of Mandic. Montenegrin police arrested and extradited him on the basis of a Bosnian warrant. PM
SERBIA-MONTENEGRO: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
Controversy has emerged in Serbia over the government's apparent political deal with former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and over some remarks by a government minister against independent journalists.
The Serbian government's recent decisions to drop criminal charges against Milosevic's son Marko and lift an international arrest warrant against Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic have prompted many Serbs to wonder whether the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is restoring the former dictator's legacy. The widely held assumption is that the minority government has done a deal with Milosevic and the SPS to ensure continuing SPS support for the government in the parliament.
Many of the politicians who have governed Serbia since Milosevic's ouster on 5 October 2000 claim that that date marked the beginning of a truly new era, but the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March 2003 showed that the old structures linking the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime remain a force to be reckoned with.
In early 2004, Kostunica balked at dropping his differences with his rivals in the Democratic Party to form a broad-based reformist coalition and preferred instead to set up a minority government dependent on the legislative backing of the SPS.
In June of that year, the reformist Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party beat the hard-line Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) Tomislav Nikolic for the presidency in a hotly contested runoff vote. But the Radicals' strong showing in that election and in subsequent opinion polls made it clear that a large portion of the Serbian public still supports the SRS nationalist agenda and its culture of blame and denial regarding Serbian responsibility for and involvement in the conflicts and war crimes of the 1990s.
Kostunica's minority government has tottered along for a year and a half, but most observers have assumed that he will dissolve it at some point and call new elections at a politically opportune moment, perhaps still in 2005. Most politicians have accordingly begun staking out their positions for the expected campaign. Tadic, for example, who seeks to cast himself as a moderate before foreign publics, has maintained good nationalist credentials at home by paying a demonstrative and controversial visit to Serbian enclaves in Kosova on 13-14 February. He has, furthermore, not criticized the growing political role of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), to which Kostunica has traditionally been close.
In the wake of the government's apparent deal with Milosevic and the SPS, some Serbs have expressed concern with the direction in which they sense their country is heading, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 16 August. Serbia and Montenegro's former Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told AP that leading Belgrade politicians are pursuing a "new nationalism" and seeking to turn Serbia into a "regional hegemonist" at the expense of good relations with its neighbors. Veran Matic, who heads the independent broadcaster B92, argued that "the situation is even more complicated than under Milosevic. The world now views the government as democratic, but all key pillars of Milosevic's regime are being rehabilitated." Some observers also called attention to the political role of the SPC and some of its leading clerics, although they were not part of the Milosevic system.
During the week of 15 August, things began to get ugly. Serbian Minister for Capital Investments Velimir Ilic, who is no stranger to controversy over his public behavior toward journalists, emerged at the center of a new controversy regarding the Milosevic deal and his role in it, London's "Financial Times" reported from Belgrade on 18 August. Ilic acknowledged that he had spoken to Pozarevac political activist Zoran Milovanovic, who had previously charged Marko Milosevic with threatening to attack him with a chainsaw. Ilic said that he told Milovanovic that it would be "human and Christian" of him to revise his testimony. As a result of Milovanovic's change of heart, a local court dropped the charges against the younger Milosevic, who has reportedly been hiding in Russia for several years to avoid arrest and trial back home.
When Ana Veljkovic, a journalist for B92 questioned Ilic on 15 August about his involvement in the deal, he called her "sick" and "in need of psychiatric help," warning her not to "get in our way." Ilic's press adviser, Petar Lazovic, then told Veljkovic that he would "kill" B92's director, Matic. Lazovic later denied making the threat, but Matic announced on 17 August that he would file criminal charges against Lazovic.
Matic's move seems likely to keep public attention centered on the government's alleged abuse of its powers on behalf of the Milosevic family for political reasons. On 16 August, Ilic made his position clear and said on television that Matic and his associates are "robbers" and "anti-Serb" propagandists who have received money from U.S. and EU nongovernmental groups and other foundations. Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic planned to raise the matter of Ilic's behavior at the 18 August cabinet meeting. The "Financial Times" noted that "if government ministers are privately furious that the B92 director has decided to file a lawsuit, they also have Ilic to blame for drawing sustained attention to the dispute."
PAKISTAN CONFIRMS ARREST OF NEO-TALIBAN MEDIA OFFICIAL
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao confirmed on 18 August that his country has arrested Mohammad Yasir, who oversees culture and information for the neo-Taliban, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Reports of Mohammad Yasir's arrest in Pakistan surfaced in the media prior to Sherpao's official acknowledgment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2005). "We are in the process of grilling him as to why he was using Pakistani soil" for his operations, Sherpao told Pajhwak. Pakistani intelligence agents arrested Mohammad Yasir on 12 August in North-West Frontier Province, Sherpao explained. This was the first major arrest of a senior neo-Taliban official by Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 August 2005). AT
TWO U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A roadside explosion in Kandahar Province on 18 August left two U.S. servicemen dead and two others injured, AP reported, citing a U.S. military statement. The soldiers were supporting a road-construction project in the area. U.S. Brigadier General Jack Sterling said that the "terrorists are attacking the very forces working to improve Afghanistan." While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, Sterling added that it was "unconscionable that the Taliban would do something like this." AT
CONFUSION SURROUNDS RELEASE OF LEBANESE ENGINEER
Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said on 18 August that kidnapped Lebanese engineer Safi al-Din Rida was released by his captors the same day near a police station in Shah Joy District of Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan, Pajhwak News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and 18 August 2005). According to Hakimi, Rida was released after his firm pledged to withdrawal from its business activities in Afghanistan. However, an 18 August Interior Ministry press release stated that the "criminal gang" that kidnapped Rida "released him...without incident after police surrounded the neighborhood where he was [being] held." Without identifying the "criminal gang," Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali called it an enemy of "peace and stability," adding that his government "will never submit to the demands of terrorists and criminal gangs." The neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for Rida's kidnapping. AT
CIS COUNTERTERRORIST CHIEF SAYS AFGHANISTAN POSES REGIONAL THREAT
Russian General Boris Mylnikov said during an antiterrorist exercise in Aktau, Kazakhstan, on 17 August that the biggest terrorist threat to Central Asia comes from Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. The situation in Afghanistan "may explode on any time," Mylnikov said, adding that "Afghan society is on the brink of another civil war." AT
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CALLS FOR PROTECTION OF FEMALE CANDIDATES
New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on 17 August that the Afghan government and international monitors must take special measures to protect Afghan women from attacks and intimidation by the neo-Taliban and warlords during the September polls for the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) and provincial council. The report, titled "Campaigning Against Fear: Women's Participation in Afghanistan's 2005 Elections," states that a pervasive atmosphere of fear persists among female candidates who promote women's rights. According to HRW researcher Nisha Varia, the main threats to the polls are "warlords who want to dominate the elections through any means necessary, ...[and] the increasingly active Taliban, who have pledged to disrupt the election process itself." One female parliamentary candidate in the eastern city of Jalalabad told HRW: "I feel frightened. I am not afraid of Al-Qaeda, I am afraid of commanders who are candidates" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2005). AT
IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAKES MORE CABINET APPOINTMENTS
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad appointed Rahim Mashaei as the head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization on 18 August, IRNA reported. Mashaei previously served in the Interior Ministry and the Tehran municipality arts and culture organization. One day earlier, "Resalat" newspaper reported that legislators are very critical of four of Ahmadinejad's proposed cabinet members, "Iran News" reported. The four are: Masud Mir-Kazemi as commerce minister, Mohammad Suleimani as communications and information-technology minister, Ali-Reza Ali-Ahmadi as cooperatives minister, and Ali-Akbar Ashari as education and training minister. Opposition to these individuals reportedly is connected with their lack of public visibility in the past. BS
RUSSIA OFFERS ANTISHIP MISSILES TO IRAN
Russia is offering Iran the Novator 3M54 Club-S (SS-N-27 "Sizzler") multirole antiship missile system, according to the September issue of "Janes Missiles and Rockets." The system is for use on the three Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines Iran purchased from Russia in the late 1990s. The deal is worth an estimated $80-90 million per submarine. Directors of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency have warned in Congressional testimony -- in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 -- that Iran has the most formidable navy in the region and is capable of disrupting maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz using mines, submarines, and ship- and shore-based antiship cruise missiles. BS
ISRAEL RENEWS WARNINGS OF IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRESS
Israeli Defense Forces intelligence chief Major General Aharon Farkash-Ze'evi told the Knesset on 16 August that he believes Iran will be able to build a nuclear warhead within three years, "Hatzofe" reported on 18 August. "The Iranians may reach the point of no return of nuclear fission as early as the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006," he said. "From there, it is a very short step to producing nuclear weapons." A little less than one year ago, Ze'evi said that at the current rate Iran will be able to independently achieve nuclear-weapons capability by the spring of 2005, "Ha'aretz" reported on 13 September 2004. "This does not mean that it will have a bomb in 2005. It means that it will have all the means at its disposal to build a bomb," he added. BS
CHOLERA SPREADS ACROSS IRAN
The Iranian Health Ministry's Dr. Mahmud Sorush announced on 18 August that there are now 626 documented cholera cases in Iran, ISNA reported, and eight people have died of the disease. Sorush gave a breakdown of the illness' spread: one case in Babol, one in Bushehr, four in Gilan, 85 in Gulistan, 94 in Hamedan, three in Isfahan, 33 in Kashan, eight in Kermanshah, one in Kurdistan, two in Luristan, 72 in Qazvin, 142 in Qom, five in Sari, three in Semnan, three in Shahrud, two in Sistan va Baluchistan, two in Zabol, and 17 in Zanjan. Sorush went to say there are three reported cases in Markazi Province. In the Tehran megalopolis, he described 24 cases in the city's eastern districts, 116 cases in Karaj, Savojbolagh, Robat-i Karim, Shahriar, and the city's western districts, and 24 cases in the city's southern districts. It is believed that the consumption of unwashed vegetables is contributing to the outbreak. The Health Ministry has banned the sale of green vegetables for two months, according to AFP, and this has cost farmers a minimum of $55.5 million. BS
IRAQI PRIME MINISTER SAYS EXECUTIONS TO BEGIN 'SOON'
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told Al-Iraqiyah television in a 17 August interview that the "first batch" of executions of convicted terrorists will be carried out in a few days' time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005). "The executions will be implemented shortly after we finish some minor matters," he said. "Additionally, those who committed similar crimes will soon fall in the grip of justice, God willing." He told Al-Iraqiyah that some 50 people have been sentenced to death thus far. "This list of executions is awaiting endorsement [by the cabinet and Presidency Council]," he said, adding that the public will be allowed to witness the executions. KR
CENTCOM COMMANDER VISITS IRAQ...
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid met on 18 August with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and U.S. General George W. Casey, who commands the Multinational Force -- Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. "General Casey and I are very, very satisfied with the development of the Iraqi security forces, and we know that there is fighting ahead, but we know that the development of the Iraqi security forces along with the multinational force will take care of the security problems as they exist," Abizaid told reporters in Baghdad. Casey said that coalition and Iraqi security forces believe foreign fighters and their Iraqi supporters pose the greatest threat to the Iraqi people in the next six to 12 months. KR
...AND DISCUSSES PLANNED TROOP DEPLOYMENT
General Abizaid told reporters that the U.S. plans to increase its troop level to help provide security for the October constitutional referendum and December elections. "As the election period comes, it's clear that additional forces will be necessary to help with the overall security situation in the country," Abizaid said. "But we fully expect that the lead for security in Iraq belongs to the Iraqi armed forces and we are only providing additional forces, a small number of additional forces, to help ensure that the elections are a success." General Abizaid also sought to dispel misrepresentation in the Arab media about the relationship between U.S. and Iraqi forces. "It is a mistaken belief in much of the Arab world that we are not fighting together against terrorists," Abizaid said. "Every day Iraqi soldiers and American soldiers fight and die against this scourge of terrorism. We need to continue the fight against these people that are killing innocent Iraqis day after day after day for no reason other than to try to grab a headline. We must fight the terrorists together so that we can have a free and prosperous future for the Iraqi people." KR
IRAQI MINISTRY CONSTRUCTS HOMES FOR RETURNING REFUGEES
Suhaylah Abd Ja'far, minister of displacement and migration, has said that her ministry has obtained government approval to construct three major housing complexes to accommodate refugees who have returned to Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime, "Al-Zaman" reported on 18 August. The majority of the returnees are from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Abd Ja'far said she continues to seek additional government assistance for returning refugees. She has also asked constitution drafters to include a clause calling for refugees "to regain the rights usurped from them by the former regime." KR
LAWYER SAYS FORMER IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TO BE RELEASED SOON
Badi Arif Izzat, attorney for Hussein-era deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, has said Aziz will soon be released from coalition custody, Al-Jazeera television reported on 18 August. Arif told Reuters that he expects the release "soon, but not within days," the news agency reported. "There are several legal elements that have emerged from the interrogations that have made me form an almost complete conviction that Aziz would be freed soon," he added, without elaborating. Aziz has not been charged in relation to his role in the Hussein government. Aziz was allowed to take a 10-minute telephone call from his family on 11 August and in the next two days will have his first visit with his family since his detention two years ago, Reuters reported. Arif described Aziz as being in ill health. "He is exhausted and would die in prison if he stays in captivity another year," Arif said. KR
IRAQ AND ROMANIA REACH DEAL ON DEBT REPAYMENT
Iraq and Romania have reached a deal on the settlement of Iraqi debts, dpa reported on 18 August. Under the agreement, concluded in Jordan, Baghdad will repay $977 million over 23 years. Iraq owes the Romanian government a total of $2.5 billion, of which $1.6 billion is described as "core debt," and the remaining sum is interest. Romania agreed to write off 30 percent of the debt; another 50 percent will be gradually written off if Iraq reaches and observes an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Iraq's debt to Romania pre-dates 1989 and is related to Romania's construction of oil-production facilities, dpa reported. KR
UN MARKS SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF BAGHDAD BOMBING
The United Nations will on 19 August mark the second anniversary of the August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, the UN News Center reported on 18 August (http://www.un.org/news). The bombing killed 23 UN staffers, including the top UN envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the often dangerous work of UN staffers in a 19 August statement posted on the UN website. Annan expressed dismay that the perpetrators of the bombing have not been identified, saying the attack offers "another appalling example of the impunity that so often follows assaults on United Nations personnel around the world, be they peacekeepers, humanitarian workers, or others." The bombing led to the pullout of all UN personnel. Today there are some 700 staffers at the world body's Iraq mission, down from the 900 there in 2003. KR