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Newsline - August 26, 2005


RUSSIAN LEADERSHIP HEADS TO KAZAN FOR CIS SUMMIT, KAZAN MILLENNIUM CELEBRATION...
President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov arrived in Kazan on 26 August to participate in the Tatarstan capital's millennium celebrations, RTR, tatar.ru, and other Russian media reported. Putin was to preside over a State Council meeting devoted to interethnic relations in Russia and to take part in a summit of CIS leaders that is to examine ways to reform the organization, RIA-Novosti and polit.ru reported. On 27 August, Putin is to attend a summit of the four members of the Single Economic Space (SES) -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. He is also expected to meet separately with several leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

...AS DO REGIONAL LEADERS, FOREIGN DIGNITARIES
Among the 13,000 official guests invited to celebrate Kazan's millennium were Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, as well as the heads of most Russian regions, numerous dignitaries from Russia and abroad, and representatives of the Tatar diaspora abroad, Russian media reported. Tatar President Mintimir Shamiev and Matvienko on 25 August opened St. Petersburg Street, whose restoration was paid for by the city of St. Petersburg, Channel One television reported. Due to opposition in Tatarstan to the use of imperial symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2005), the street's planners opted against erecting a monument to Peter the Great on the street, and instead erected a monument to Soviet-era anthropologist and historian Lev Gumilev. More than $2 billion has been spent in preparation for Kazan's millennium celebration since 1999, Channel One and "Izvestiya" reported. VY

EXPERT CALLS FOR RADICALLY REFORMING CIS, DROPPING RELUCTANT MEMBERS
Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the CIS Institute, said on 25 August that that the CIS summit in Kazan should take steps to radically reform the organization, adding that any member states that want to leave the commonwealth should do so, TV-Tsentr reported. Zharikhin noted that President Putin said in March that that the CIS was created in an effort to facilitate a "civilized divorce" following the fall of the Soviet Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2005). "There are children under this divorce -- the independent states -- and now they are grown and some want to go their own way," Zharikhin said, adding that it is time for Russia to stop paying alimony in the form of cheap energy. Zharikhin also said that CIS member states who want to join NATO and the European Union should be allowed to do so, but they should not expect to benefit from preferred trade status with Russia. However, he added, "I am afraid that nothing like that will happen in Kazan, and the CIS will continue on its current course upon their return." VY

SINO-RUSSIAN WAR EXERCISE STARTING TO PAY OFF?
Following the conclusion on 25 August of the joint Chinese-Russian military exercise Peace Mission 2005, China expressed interest in buying 30 Russian Il-76 heavy transport aircraft, gazeta.ru and Channel One reported. Russia could net $1 billion if a deal is inked for the Il-76, which can be used for both military and civilian purposes, gazeta.ru noted. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists upon his return to Moscow from China that the exercises were conducted at a minimal expense to Russian taxpayers, at an estimated $5 million, and brought a lot of benefits, strana.ru reported on 25 August. Ivanov also said that in the past five years Russia's military budget has grown by 10 percent annually, but "it will not lead to the militarization of the country." VY

RUSSIA OFFERS HELP TO PALESTINIAN SECURITY SERVICES
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists following talks in Moscow with his Palestinian counterpart Nasser Al-Kidwa that Russia welcomes the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, but considers it only the "first step" in the implementation of the Middle East "road map," RIA-Novosti reported on 25 August. Lavrov also said that Russia offered to train Palestinian Authority security personnel. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said Moscow will continue assisting the Palestinians in their efforts to establish a state, and in implementing reforms and resolving social and economic issues, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 August. VY

MOTHERLAND TO USE 'CROW BAR' AGAINST OPPONENTS
Duma Deputy Yevgenii Balashov, who heads the Motherland youth organization, announced on 25 August that his organization has agreed to join with the National Bolshevik Party, the Avante Garde of Communist Youth (AKM), and the youth organization of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in forming a youth alliance to be called the League of United Youth (LOM), polit.ru reported. "Lom" in Russian means "crow bar." LOM will be used to organize radical actions intended to draw supporters from the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi and the opposition youth organization Oborona, he said. "We will work with all outcasts, including skinheads and even Satanists," Balashov said. VY

IS PUTIN TRYING TO STACK THE COURTS?
"Novaya gazeta," No. 61, asserted that President Putin is introducing his own representatives from the ranks of chekists and police into Russia's judicial branch. According to the weekly, since 2004, the president has been appointing federal inspectors to the regional qualifications collegiums for judges. These collegiums consider the qualifications of any new judges. The office of federal inspector, by definition, is an administrative rather than legal position that answers to the presidential administration. According to the daily, "among the members of these collegiums now sits at least one person who has no relationship to any legal institution, but indeed he has a relationship to him [Putin]." The weekly provides a list of 11 regions where either a former federal inspector or former member of the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB), or Interior Ministry is on the local judicial-qualifications collegium. JAC

DAILY QUESTIONS EFFECTIVENESS OF SECURITY AGENCIES IN BASHKORTOSTAN...
The former head of Bashkorstan's Passport and Visa Service, Farit Abdrakhmanov, and his deputy Rafik Kagarmanov allegedly enabled more than 700 Afghan citizens to enter Russia illegally, some of whom have been involved in criminal activities, "Trud" reported on 25 August. According to the daily, when accused last December of exceeding their authority, Abdrakhmanov and Kagarmanov defended themselves by saying that they made some "technical mistakes" because of their heavy workload. The daily quoted unidentified specialists who suggested that the Afghans were attracted to Bashkortostan because it is a key republic for the transfer of Central Asian heroin to European Russia. JAC

...AND REPORTS ON CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES OF ILLEGAL AFGHAN IMMIGRANTS
According to an FSB investigation, dozens of illegal Afghan immigrants have been involved in crimes in Russia," "Trud" reported on 25 August. However, security agencies have not managed find any of them because they have successfully blended into the population in various regions of the country, the daily reported. Ildar Isangulov, of the Bashkortostan's branch of For Human Rights, commented: "There is all this talk about the struggle against terrorism, [yet] the Interior Ministry has given shelter to [almost] 1,000 members of an international criminal group into just one republic of Russia? What does the local head of the FSB do with his time?" JAC

LOCAL LEGISLATURES ENCOUNTER DIFFICULTIES IN ATTRACTING MEMBERS
"Novye izvestiya" reported on 25 August the number of candidates for seats in regional legislatures may be dangerously low for the more than 300 local elections coming up this fall. According to the daily, an unexpected problem emerged during the process of registering candidates for the elections -- in some cases the number of candidates may be equal to the number of available seats. For example, in Tver Oblast, some 6,025 candidates are competing for 3,209 places, which means that at least 197 localities will have only one candidate competing for a seat. Some regional authorities have adopted amendments to local election laws to deal with the problem, such as reducing level of necessary voter turnout from 25 percent to 20 percent and making allowances for seats to be contested by a single candidates. JAC

NEW TECHNOCRAT/GOVERNOR MODEL EMERGES...
"Kommersant-Vlast," No. 33, reported that it has discovered a new pattern in President Putin's appointments of regional governors. According to the weekly, of the 23 appointments Putin has made since the law allowing him to appoint governors came into effect, only six appointees have not been incumbents. Four out of the six have been technocrats who are also outsiders with little or no connection to the elites in their respective regions. The most recent example is Aleksandr Tishanin, the former head of East Siberian Railways, who will take over governorship of Irkutsk Oblast. Others are Saratov Oblast Governor Pavel Ipatov, Tula Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Dudka, and Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Valerii Shantsev. JAC

...AS REGIONAL ELITES WHO CAN'T AGREE MAY GET OUTSIDER
According to the weekly, since the practice of appointing governors is a new one, no clear criteria have emerged for selecting regional leaders. As a result, lobbyists of all sorts have attempted to influence the process. The presidential envoys to the seven federal districts have had varying levels of success. The envoy for the Volga Federal District, Sergei Kirienko, was reportedly influential in the selection of Ipatov, but not Tishanin or Shantsev. The weekly concluded that it is unlikely that most regions will have governors from outside imposed on them; however, when regional elites can't agree on a replacement for an incumbent who Moscow finds unsatisfactory, they may find that Moscow will choose someone for them. JAC

ANOTHER MUSCOVITE PROFFERED FOR REGIONAL LEADERSHIP POST
Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov told reporters on 25 August that he has submitted the names of State Duma Deputy Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) and Kaliningrad Oblast Deputy Governor Yurii Shalimov as candidates for the post of governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, "Gazeta" reported. The term of Governor Vladimir Yegorov expires on 19 November. The possibility of Boos replacing Yegorov has been under discussion in the local and national press for some months. Boos, 42, is a former director of the Federal Tax Service and a political ally of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Together, they formed the Fatherland party, which joined with All Russia to compete in the December 1999 State Duma elections. "Gazeta" reported that unnamed experts believe that Shalimov's name was submitted only as a formality, and that Boos will be selected. Klebanov told reporters that he offered Yegorov a federal government post, but that Yegorov has suggested another. JAC

RADICAL FIELD COMMANDER AGAIN NAMED CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER
Chechen President and resistance commander Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev has appointed radical field commander Shamil Basaev as first deputy prime minister in the new Chechen government, lenta.ru and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 August. Basaev was named to that post in early 1997 by Sadullaev's predecessor, Aslan Maskhadov; stepped down months later due to disagreements with him; was reappointed acting first deputy premier in early 1998; but resigned a second time six months later, after which he launched an unsuccessful bid to impeach Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April and 29 October 1997, and 7 July 1998). In the summer of 2002, Maskhadov named Basaev to head the State Defense Committee, a post he resigned from following the Moscow hostage taking in October of that year. Sadullaev also reappointed as minister of information Movladi Udugov, who served in that capacity under Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev. Udugov served briefly as Maskhadov's foreign minister, and then as a member of the Security Council; Maskhadov fired him from that latter post in August 1999 following Basaev's incursion into Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 1998 and 31 August 1999). Udugov left Chechnya shortly after the outbreak of the second Chechen war and in recent years has lived in Turkey, where he ran the kavkaz.center website. Since the beginning of this month, Sadullaev has issued a series of decrees dismissing the government and envoys in exile he inherited from Maskhadov. LF

INGUSHETIA'S PRIME MINISTER WOUNDED IN BOMB ATTACK
Ibragim Malsagov was injured and one of his bodyguards killed on 25 August when two concealed roadside bombs exploded in Nazran as his motorcade drove past, Russian media reported. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel, who traveled to Ingushetia the same day, told journalists that "an international terrorist organization active in southern Russia" was responsible for the blasts, ingushetiya.ru reported on 25 August. Shepel presumably had in mind the detachments of young Chechen and Ingush militants subordinate to Basaev, who staged the multiple attacks in June 2004 on Interior Ministry facilities in several towns in Ingushetia in which up to 80 police and FSB personnel were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 24 June 2004). Ingushetia's acting Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoev told pravda.ru that the blasts were the militants' response to increased efforts by the republic's authorities to neutralize them. But oppositionist parliament deputy Musa Ozdoev and Issa Kostoev, Ingushetia's representative to the Federation Council, both told Ekho Moskvy on 25 August that the ongoing series of terrorist acts in Ingushetia are a protest against widespread corruption and cronyism within the administration of President Murat Zyazikov. An opinion poll conducted by ingushetiya.ru indicates that more than 83 percent of the inhabitants of Ingushetia want Zyazikov to step down. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Speaking on national television late on 24 August, President Robert Kocharian described the amended package of draft constitutional amendments to be submitted to a nationwide referendum this fall as a "quality document" that meets "the highest European standards," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the following day. He rejected the opposition's arguments that approval of the amendments would constitute a victory for the country's leadership and a defeat for the opposition. Representatives of the opposition Artarutiun bloc repeated on 25 August that they will back the package only if further changes are introduced to grant more powers to the parliament, judiciary, and local governments (see upcoming "RFE/RL Caucasus Report"). LF

AZERBAIJANI MINISTER FEARS FOR HIS LIFE
Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev believes recent articles in the pro-government press criticizing him may pose a threat to his career, or even his life, Turan reported on 26 August. He declined to speculate about who may be behind that criticism. In recent months, Aliyev has repeatedly argued in favor of abolishing import monopolies and monitoring closely the prices charged for imported goods. Customs Committee Chairman Kamaladdin Heydarov has denied the existence of any import monopolies. Meanwhile, on Aliyev's initiative, the Azerbaijani authorities launched a campaign on 25 August to encourage the population to purchase goods manufactured in Azerbaijan, echo-az.com reported on 26 August. Aliyev has also been accused of secretly colluding with the opposition, according to Turan on 20 August. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER PROPOSES HUMANITARIAN PROGRAMS FOR SOUTH OSSETIAN CONFLICT ZONE
Giorgi Khaindrava has written to his South Ossetian, North Ossetian, and Russian co-chairmen of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone and proposed humanitarian measures to improve the lives of the region's population, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August. Also on 26 August, Russian co-Chairman Ambassador Valerii Kenyaikin seconded the 24 August proposal by Khaindrava's deputy, Giorgi Volskii, to convene on 2 September an emergency session of the JCC to discuss how to defuse escalating tensions in the conflict zone, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER CRITICIZES GEORGIAN POLICE
At the regular Thursday meeting in Chuburkhindji of representatives of the Georgian government, the Abkhaz authorities, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, and the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Russian peacekeeping commander Major General Sergei Chaban criticized the Georgian police for failing to coordinate with his men their activities in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August. LF

KAZAKH SUPREME COURT LETS NEWSPAPER BAN STAND
In a ruling on 25 August, the civil-suits section of Kazakhstan's Supreme Court left in force an earlier decision by an Astana city court on the banning of the independent online daily set.kz, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. In the initial decision, the Astana city court refused an appeal by the publishers of set.kz, who had hoped to overturn a resolution by the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Sports to close the publication. Newspaper representative Sergei Utkin described the latest ruling as predictable and vowed to appeal. Set.kz was conceived as a continuation of the independent newspaper "Respublika," which was shut down by the authorities earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). DK

KYRGYZ ACTING PREMIER CALLS FOR NEW BLOOD IN GOVERNMENT
In a statement on 25 August, acting Prime Minister Feliks Kulov called attention to the need for an influx of new talent into government, akipress.org reported. As published by the news agency, the statement noted that while an official call for candidates to serve in Kyrgyzstan's new government went out in July, it has since drawn only 83 applications. The statement said that many applicants "do not have a clear understanding of the nature and basic thrust of their future employment." Noting that more than 14,000 Kyrgyz citizens have received an education abroad since the country gained its independence, Kulov described himself as "concerned" at their unwillingness to put their experience to use in the state sector. In closing, he stated that new hiring policies are intended to ensure that "the main and decisive criteria for state employment are professional competence, a responsible attitude toward one's work, and a desire to work for people and for the prosperity of Kyrgyzstan." DK

TAJIK COURT SENTENCES NEWSPAPER EDITOR
A court in Dushanbe on 25 August sentenced Mukhtor Boqizoda, editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Nerui Sukhan," to two years of corrective labor and the surrender of 20 percent of his salary to the state, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Boqizoda was found guilty of theft, Avesta reported. Judge Safarali Qurbonov said that while mitigating circumstances led him to reject a three-year prison term for Boqizoda, the editor will not be able to leave his place of residence until his two-year sentence has been served. Boqizoda said that he is not satisfied with the sentence, charged that the court reached its decision under pressure, and vowed an appeal. DK

UZBEK PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S BRANDS REFUGEES 'TERRORISTS'
Svetlana Ortiqova, spokesperson for the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office, warned in a 25 August statement that the 439 Uzbek refugees recently airlifted to Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 June 2005) include "terrorists who were involved in attacks on law-enforcement bodies," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. "According to our investigation, although most of the weapons and ammunition taken by the bandits was returned, 26 automatic weapons, 50 pistols, three machine guns, 106 grenades, 47 bayonets, and around 1,000 rounds of ammunition are still missing," Ortiqova said. "There are no guarantees that these, so-called peaceful, demonstrators -- who are zealously being defended by representatives of some Western countries and international organizations and equipped with such a large arsenal, enough for several 'peaceful demonstrations' like the one in Andijon -- would not commit new terror attacks, not only in the Central Asian region, but in other parts of the world as well." DK

TWO GEORGIANS TO BE DEPORTED FROM BELARUS FOR 'INTERFERENCE IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS'
A KGB official said on Belarusian Television on 25 August that two detained activists of Georgia's Kmara youth organization, Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze, will be deported from Belarus in connection with their "interference in internal affairs" of the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). "During their stay in the country, they made contacts with representatives of radical, politicized unregistered structures, such as Zubr, Youth Front, and Limon, and held a number of training seminars on the organization of civil-disobedience actions accompanied by mass unrest, similar to those during the colored revolution in Georgia," the KGB official explained. "They participated in a number of unsanctioned actions to disseminate illegal publications in the city of Minsk and intended to travel to a number of regions of the country with analogous purposes." JM

MINSK SHRUGS OFF EU BROADCASTING PROJECT
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin said on 25 August that Belarus is not afraid of a European Commission plan to fund Deutsche Welle broadcasts to Belarus as of November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "We think this project is pointless," Yesin said. "Against the backdrop of many current socioeconomic problems, the European Commission easily throws away the money of European taxpayers. We think that these funds could be spent on the actual pressing needs of EU countries or as urgent assistance to third countries. We are not afraid of this [broadcasting project]." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER MOVES TO HOIST PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION BARRIER TO 7 PERCENT
Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov, a lawmaker of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine caucus in the Verkhovna Rada, has registered a draft bill proposing to raise the vote threshold to qualify parties for parliamentary representation from 3 percent to 7 percent, UNIAN reported on 25 August. Pozhyvanov's move follows Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's call the previous day to lift the voting barrier in order to have a more efficient legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). JM

LEADING SERBIAN CLERIC CALLS ON TOP INDICTEE TO SURRENDER...
Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Metropolitan Amfilohije told journalists at a monastery in Montenegro on 25 August that leading war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic should turn himself in voluntarily to the Hague-based tribunal to face charges including genocide, London's "The Times" and Austria's ATA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 12 August 2005). Amfilohije, who is known as a staunch Serbian nationalist, told the reporters, "If I had to ask Radovan Karadzic one question, it would be 'do you want to continue living in a hole like a hunted animal, or would it be better to go to The Hague?'" Amfilohije stressed that the decision is Karadzic's alone to make but added: "I expect him to make that decision, just as he took responsibility to lead the Serbs from Bosnia. I expect him to do the right thing, to take such responsibility upon himself." The metropolitan also implied that he played a role in the decisions earlier in 2005 of some other Serbian or Bosnian Serb indictees to surrender to the tribunal: "When [the indictees] asked what I thought, whether they should surrender or not...I told them I could only say what I would do in their place, and I said I would go. And it's possible that some of them left because I told them that." PM

...AND SIDESTEPS A QUESTION...
Metropolitan Amfilohije also said to journalists at a monastery in Montenegro on 25 August that he understands the recent appeal by Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, who is Karadzic's wife, for him to surrender. The metropolitan added: "She and her family feel threatened. And there is all this pressure from the media. Terrible pressure. It's very hard to put up with all of that. I can't say what he should do, but I can say what I would do. I would go to The Hague." Amfilohije denied persistent media reports that Karadzic is hiding in his monastery in Montenegro but did not rule out the possibility that Karadzic might be somewhere on land owned by the SPC. "In this country of miracles, anything is possible," the metropolitan noted. Amfilohije's remarks attracted particular attention because he is known as a staunch backer of Karadzic and has been called the indictee's "spiritual father." The metropolitan denies that he has seen Karadzic since 1995. Some observers in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia suggest that the appeals by Zelen-Karadzic and Amfilohije are part of an effort orchestrated by Karadzic himself to enable him to surrender with dignity as a hero to his family and people. PM

...AS EUFOR WELCOMES CALL FOR BOSNIAN SERB INDICTEE TO SURRENDER
British Major General David Leakey, who commands the EUFOR military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Sarajevo on 25 August: "The longer Karadzic delays in surrendering, the more he'll become despised by his own people. Thank goodness the Serbian Orthodox Church is adding to the growing calls for Karadzic to hand himself in," "The Times" reported. PM

CROATIA RECALLS AMBASSADOR FROM SLOVENIA
Croatian government spokesman Vlatko Macek announced on 26 August that Croatia's ambassador to Slovenia, Mario Nobilo, has been recalled following a decision by the Slovenian government the previous day to declare an exclusive "ecological zone" in the contested Bay of Piran, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July 2005). A toughly worded Croatian government statement accused Ljubljana of advancing "territorial aspirations" and having made a "politically damaging decision." The Croatian authorities also summoned Slovenian Ambassador to Croatia Peter Bekes for an explanation of his country's latest moves. The Slovenian parliament must approve the government's decision on the ecological zone for it to take effect. The territorial dispute in the Bay of Piran is the thorniest of several problems that have bedeviled Croatian-Slovenian relations since the two countries declared independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenia's Adriatic coastline is only 20 kilometers long, but Ljubljana insists that it has the right to direct access to the open sea. Zagreb maintains that it and Rome have such rights but not Ljubljana. PM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT CRISIS ENTERS NEW PHASE
The Serbian cabinet decided on 25 August to sack Nebojsa Covic as the government's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). The cabinet of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also "recommended" to the government of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro that it fire Slobodan Orlic as head of its information department. Both Covic and Orlic belong to the small Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose two members of the parliament recently defied Kostunica's minority government in a key vote. That move prompted Kostunica to declare that the SDP was no longer part of the government. The SDP will meet on 27 August to decide its next move. PM

TRANSDNIESTER GRANTS AMNESTY TO UNSPECIFIED NUMBER OF PRISONERS
The Transdniestrian authorities have granted amnesty to an unspecified number of prisoners in a move to mark the 15th anniversary of the region's secession from Moldova, BASA reported on 25 August. The amnesty reportedly applies mainly to veterans of the 1992 war between Transdniestrian secessionists and Moldovan troops, to those of the Soviet-era Afghan war, and to people who participated in cleanup work after the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. The authorities of the breakaway region will also pardon convicts suffering from tuberculosis. Local doctors have reportedly expressed concern over the amnesty, saying that most prisoners suffering from tuberculosis have declined to undergo treatment after they are released. Official accounts show that nearly one-third of prisoners in Transdniestrian penitentiaries are infected with tuberculosis. JM

RADICAL IRAQI CLERIC REASSERTS HIMSELF, THIS TIME AGAINST FELLOW SHI'A
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appears to be playing both agitator and mediator in the sudden surge of internecine fighting that broke out on 24 August between rival Shi'ite groups in Al-Najaf and subsequently spread to eight cities across Iraq.

As al-Sadr publicly appealed for calm on 25 August, many began to question the apparently coordinated attacks that left the cleric's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, battling with police and militias supporting the two main Shi'ite political parties -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party.

Al-Sadr and his supporters were reportedly poised on 24 August to launch demonstrations across Iraq against the draft constitution, expected to be sent to referendum by the National Assembly. Al-Sadr spokesman Jalil Musawi discussed his group's position on the draft that day, saying: "We are ready by a single phone call within a minute to defeat the constitution by voting against it in six provinces: Al-Diwaniyah, Samawah, Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Amarah, Al-Basrah, and Sadr City in Baghdad," washingtonpost.com reported on 25 August.

The fighting that broke out appears to be more a coordinated push by al-Sadr and his supporters than a random spread of violence across Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated south. The timing of the incidents -- at least on the surface -- points to a concerted effort to thwart the constitutional process, particularly after some 21 parliamentarians and the health and transport ministers suspended their work and threatened to resign in protest against what they deemed attacks against al-Sadr and his followers.

However, in Al-Najaf, the clashes appear to derive from local residents' objections to the reopening of the Martyr Al-Sadr office. The office had been closed for nearly a year after Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani put an end to al-Sadr's standoff against U.S. and Iraqi forces in the holy city in August 2004.

Demonstrators reportedly set fire to al-Sadr's office on 24 August, and the clashes spread to other cities -- with al-Sadr militiamen setting fire to SCIRI and Al-Da'wah offices in Baghdad and Al-Amarah. Clashes also erupted in Al-Basrah, Samawah, Al-Diwaniyah, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Hillah on 24 August; and in Ba'qubah on 25 August, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported.

Al-Sadr has had a hostile relationship with SCIRI and Al-Da'wah since the fall of the Hussein regime, when the leaderships of both parties -- along with many of their supporters -- returned to Iraq in the days after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began. To al-Sadr, whose family remained in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule (his father and two brothers were reportedly killed on Hussein's order in 1999), SCIRI and Al-Da'wah were outsiders, aligned with the United States, and out of touch with the needs of Iraqis, and their leaders did not deserve the power awarded to them in the 2003 Governing Council and subsequent administrations.

SCIRI and Al-Da'wah also opposed al-Sadr's standoff against U.S. and Iraqi forces in Al-Najaf last year, and SCIRI's Badr forces played a role in spurring public protests against his militia's presence there and its control over the Imam Ali Shrine.

Moreover, al-Sadr has competed with the two groups -- but SCIRI in particular -- for public support and control over the streets in many southern Iraqi cities since 2003. Both groups have also tried to assert local control by infiltrating police and security forces in Iraq.

Al-Sadr stood opposed to the 2004 interim government and refused to take part in the January 2005 national elections on the grounds that they were carried out under occupation and therefore not legitimate. He did however, allow a number of his supporters to take part in the elections as independent candidates.

As details of the draft constitution began emerging in recent weeks, al-Sadr vehemently voiced his opposition to federalism. Al-Sadr aide Sheikh Abd-al-Zahrah al-Suway'idi told demonstrators who took to the streets of Baghdad's Al-Sadr City following Friday prayers on 19 August of the dangers of federalism, Baghdad's "Al-Furat" reported on 21 August. "We believe that the implementation of federalism will tear apart and divide Iraq, especially when Iraq is under occupation and in the presence of such incomplete sovereign Iraqi governments," al-Suway'idi told demonstrators. He also contended that the United States believes federalism will help it maintain its hold on Iraq, adding that the call for federalism in the draft constitution stands as an ominous sign that will lead to sectarian wars and ethnic sedition.

It appears that al-Sadr's core motive is to drive a wedge between the Shi'a in an effort to have the draft constitution shot down, thus providing an opportunity for a new constitution that is more in line with his own goals for an Islamist state in Iraq.

When speaking to reporters on 25 August, al-Sadr appealed to all Iraqi Muslims. "I ask them not to serve Western plots that seek to divide Muslims, be they Sunnis or Shi'ites.... Iraq is going through a critical phase involving the so-called interim constitution, which is not an Islamic constitution if I may say so.... The occupation prevents us from pursuing any political activities or activities that benefit the Iraqi people because the occupation sows sedition amongst the faithful," al-Sadr said.

While al-Sadr stands opposed to the former Ba'athist regime, he has built a relationship with the Sunni opposition on the common ground of opposition to the occupation and to the ongoing political process in Iraq. Al-Sadr supporters have worked alongside Sunnis in Kirkuk to reject Kurdish demands for a return of Kurds displaced from Kirkuk under the Hussein regime, and against Kurdish attempts to incorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdish region.

For al-Sadr, the alliance brings power vis-a-vis the other Shi'ite groups, and facilitates his goal of becoming the strongest Shi'ite leader in Iraq.

Sources in Iraq have confirmed to RFE/RL the existence of an alliance between al-Sadr and Sunnis in other areas of the country. For Sunnis, al-Sadr is a pawn in their attempt to break SCIRI and Al-Da'wah's political stronghold. Such techniques were the modus operandi of the Hussein regime -- maintaining control through the manipulation and fractionalization of opposing groups.

Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi, a Sunni leader and member of the influential Muslim Scholars Association, confirmed that group's relationship with al-Sadr during a 24 August press briefing. "Yes, there is coordination [with al-Sadr]," he told reporters. "A meeting was held...[on 23 August] to coordinate this issue. This shows that there are two categories in Iraq. The first is with occupation and the second is against occupation. The [second] includes Shi'a, Kurds, Sunnis, and Turkomans." Al-Kubaysi also cited a meeting he held with al-Sadr last week in Al-Najaf in which al-Sadr voiced his opposition to the constitution.

Reports surfaced last year that al-Sadr was also connected with the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army. Ansar leader Abu Abdallah al-Hassan bin Mahmud told the Beirut political weekly "Al-Muharrir" in an August 2004 interview that the cooperation was based on a directive from al-Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, that said if he was martyred his sons should "follow the fatwas of Al-Sayyid [Kazim] al-Ha'iri and Shaykh Ahmad al-Kubaysi. You must unite with the Sunnis." Subsequently, the Ansar Al-Sunnah and the Imam Al-Mahdi Army reportedly exchanged personnel. "Therefore, the relationship can be described as intimate," Abu al-Hassan said.

Muqtada al-Sadr reportedly has close ties with Iran and, by default, Syria as well. The cleric traveled to Iran in 2003, and met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The relationship between the regime and al-Sadr has since been kept largely under wraps, but the U.S. State and Defense departments, as well as military officials, have said that money, arms, and even personnel were funneled to al-Sadr from Iran last year.

Al-Sadr supporter and current Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki -- one of the ministers who suspended his work in support of al-Sadr on 25 August -- defended Syria while in Damascus this week, telling reporters that Syria has no role in Iraq's insurgency.

Last week, the website Sawt Al-Iraq (http://www.sotaliraq.com) published a report citing an unidentified senior ex-officer from the Hussein regime as saying that Iran and Syria are preparing to launch a coup in Iraq at the start of Ramadan this October.

The officer claimed that the action is to begin with a surge of suicide bombings and the targeting of power and water networks, along with demonstrations against the al-Ja'fari government. Agents of Iran and Syria, along with former Iraqi intelligence, are to don police uniforms and infiltrate police units on the streets -- opening fire on demonstrators -- in an effort to spark more demonstrations, according to the website.

The infiltrators, wearing police and National Guard uniforms are to then enter the Green Zone, "get it under control, kill everyone there, and establish a military government." The report, while unsubstantiated, supports the two states' goals toward self-preservation, and their desire to use whatever means -- be it an alliance with the Shi'a or an alliance with former Ba'athists -- to obstruct any progress in Iraq.

AFGHAN, PAKISTANI, U.S. OFFICIALS PLEDGE CONTINUED FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM
Military officials of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States meeting in Islamabad as part of the tripartite commission overseeing the military campaign in Afghanistan vowed on 24 August to continue their joint fight against terrorism, the Karachi-daily "Dawn" reported on 25 August. The current session of ongoing meetings between representatives of the three countries began with discussions on "enhanced security measures" being implemented by Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the U.S.-led coalition forces in preparation for the 18 September Afghan elections, a statement issued by the tripartite commission indicated. "The parties noted recent improvements in cooperation and information sharing" between Kabul and Islamabad, the statement added. For the first time, both Afghanistan and Pakistan were represented by senior four-star generals, the Afghan National Army's Chief of General Staff General Besmellah and Pakistan's Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ahsan Salim Hayat, which the statement described as "an important step to enhancing strategic dialogue and understanding" between the two countries. Also a first was the presence at the meeting of NATO representatives as observers. AT

NATO TO COMPLETE DEPLOYMENT OF AFGHAN 'ELECTION SUPPORT FORCES' BY END OF AUGUST
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will complete the deployment of the "election support forces" in Afghanistan by 31 August, a statement issued by NATO on 25 August indicated (http://www.nato.int). The additional forces will assist Afghanistan's police and military in providing security for the elections by conducting air and ground operations. Additionally, the forces stand ready to assist Afghan forces in responding to unforeseen situations. The additional forces consist of about 2,000 ISAF troops from 10 countries, bringing the total number of ISAF forces in Afghanistan to over 11,000. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United States are contributing extra troops to ISAF for the elections. AT

REGIONAL NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER AMONG THOSE CAPTURED IN TWO AFGHAN OPERATIONS...
Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, the chief of Panjwai District in the southern province of Kandahar, said on 25 August that neo-Taliban commander Abdul Khaliq has been arrested by security forces, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. A number of small arms and rockets were seized in the operation, Sarhadi added. In a separate operation in Ghazni Province, northeast of Kandahar, Afghan National Army forces captured two neo-Taliban militiamen and seized a number of arms and ammunition, the official National Radio of Afghanistan reported on 25 August. AT

...AS NEO-TALIBAN ACKNOWLEDGE LOSSES IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking for the neo-Taliban on 25 August, confirmed the loss of 11 militiamen in operations in Oruzgan and Zabul provinces, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Earlier reports had indicated that 11 neo-Taliban members, including a commander called Mullah Payenda Mohammad, were killed in southern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). Hakimi also acknowledged Payenda Mohammad's death. It is rather unusual for the neo-Taliban to acknowledge their losses, especially confirming exact numbers reported by other sources. AT

CHOLERA KILLS FOUR CHILDREN IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
A cholera outbreak that has gripped parts of Afghanistan has claimed the lives of four children in Bamiyan Province, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 25 August. Residents of Yakawlang District told the news agency that despite the deaths of these children, government authorities have not taken any steps to help stop the spread of cholera in the area. Yakawlang medical officials have yet to announce the outbreak of the disease in the district. AT

TEHRAN SEEKS NEW NUCLEAR INTERLOCUTORS
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said on 25 August, "We welcome talks with all member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] board of directors, be it European countries or members of the Non-Aligned Movement," state radio reported. Larijani appeared to be reacting to the earlier European decision to cancel nuclear negotiations planned for the end of August -- a decision triggered by Iran's insistence on resuming activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility. Larijani claimed that many IAEA member states -- including nonaligned countries and European countries other than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- said the countries negotiating with Iran do not represent the IAEA board of governors, the EU, or the UN. Another Supreme National Security Council official, Ali Aqamohammadi, said the framework for the Iran-EU talks remains in place, but a new framework will be devised to include other countries. He added that the involvement of the newly approved ministers of foreign affairs and of intelligence and security will bring a new sense of purpose to deliberations that will begin next week. Aqamohammadi said the council will present its findings to the supreme leader for final approval. BS

NEW IRANIAN CABINET GETS TO WORK
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad chaired the first session of his new cabinet on 25 August in Mashhad at the shrine of Imam Reza, IRNA reported. At the airport in Mashhad, Ahmadinejad said, "We have come to such a holy place to be inspired before rendering services to the nation." The previous day, the legislature gave votes of confidence to 17 of the 21 ministers Ahmadinejad proposed. Ahmadinejad expressed thanks in separate letters to each of the four rejected nominees -- Alireza Ali-Ahmadi (Cooperatives Ministry), Ali Akbar Ashari (Education and Training Ministry), Mehdi Hashemi (Welfare and Social Security Ministry), and Ali Saidlu (Petroleum Ministry) -- and said there are other opportunities to serve the country, IRNA reported. The president has appointed caretakers to the Cooperatives and Welfare ministries, Reuters reported. BS

IRAN'S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS GET NEW LEADERS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ali-Reza Zahedi as the new commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) air force on 25 August, IRNA reported. He succeeds Brigadier General Ahmad Kazemi. Five days earlier, Kazemi was selected to head the IRGC's ground forces, IRNA reported. Kazemi succeeds Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari-Najafabadi. Jafari is going to establish the new IRGC strategic-studies institute. During the ceremony marking Kazemi's new appointment, IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said the establishment of the new think tank shows the supreme leader's foresight, Mehr News Agency reported. At an earlier meeting with members of the Basij summer program called the Velayat Project, Rahim-Safavi said he hopes the election of a committed and revolutionary national management will help the country's progress and development, "Kayhan" reported on 13 August. He warned, "some political groups are trying to undermine and weaken the new government or increase the people's expectations." BS

IRAQI PARLIAMENT SETS INDEFINITE EXTENSION FOR TALKS
Iraqi National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani told reporters on 25 August that negotiators did not meet their twice-extended deadline to complete the draft of the permanent constitution, adding that while he hopes an agreement will be reached on 26 August, no new deadline will be set for the ongoing talks, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Officials later said that talks will continue for another day. Al-Hasani told reporters that should an agreement not be reached, the draft will still be put to a referendum on 15 October. "Legally it does not need to be put to a vote in the National Assembly because the text of the Transitional Administration Law reads, 'The National Assembly writes the Iraqi draft constitution.' This draft was written. There were and still are pending issues. If we reach an agreement on these issues, the draft will be ready to be put to a vote on 15 October. If we do not agree, the draft will still be referred" to a vote, he said. KR

IRAQIS DEMONSTRATE IN BA'QUBAH, CALL FOR SADDAM
Some 5,000 Iraqis took part in a demonstration in Ba'qubah on 26 August against the draft constitution and federalism, dpa reported. Protesters called for a "united Iraq." Former Ba'ath Party members among the Sunni demonstrators reportedly called for a return of Saddam Hussein to power, shouting, "We will sacrifice our blood and lives to you, oh Saddam." KR

RADICAL IRAQI CLERIC ISSUES STATEMENT ON CLASHES...
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement on 25 August saying he does not hold Badr forces from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) responsible for the clashes that took place on 24-25 August, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). Al-Sadr spokesman Riyad al-Nuri read the statement to Al-Jazeera, which said: "My brothers in the mujahedin Badr Corps. I wish that [Badr's] jihad against injustice and tyranny would continue. Please know...that I do not put any blame on you." The statement also called on parliamentarians who have suspended their work in support of al-Sadr to return to the National Assembly. Al-Sadr called on Iraqis to demonstrate against multinational forces for a restoration of services and "silently demand that the Iraqi government restore the services." The demonstrations should be silent, al-Sadr stressed. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi will head an investigation into the internecine fighting between al-Sadr and Badr forces, Iraqi officials said on 25 August. KR

...AS GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN DISCUSSES SHI'ITE DISPUTE...
Laith Kubba told reporters at a 25 August press briefing in Baghdad that the dispute that erupted between supporters of Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr and SCIRI loyalists is rooted in local politics, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 26 August. "But the fact that somebody is able to...fire the first bullet and it spreads so widely cannot be overlooked and I think the leaders of both SCIRI and Muqtada al-Sadr and the cadre around him are being alerted to the fact that there are people who are setting them up to raise the level of violence at this critical moment to undermine, to send a signal of worry about whether or not Iraq is capable [of governing] itself through a democratic process. Maybe the attempt is to say, 'Be worried, Iraqis cannot govern themselves,'" Kubba said. KR

...AND SAYS HUSSEIN LOYALISTS ARE TRYING TO SPREAD FEAR, TERROR
Kubba said that loyalists of former dictator Saddam Hussein are working to create a sense of terror in Iraq. "We are facing an enemy who is skilled in sending media messages. Let us not forget Saddam Hussein managed to rule this country by controlling people's minds. He had a Ministry of Information with 5,000 employees and they were very skilled in manipulating public opinion and they're back doing their job as they did before," Kubba said. "The bombs [on 24 August in Baghdad] also coincided with a number of e-mail messages that reached many journalists and many officials in an organized campaign basically to spread terror amongst people." KR

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