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Newsline - September 1, 2005


BESLAN MOTHERS TO MEET WITH PUTIN...
Women from the Beslan Mothers Committee will meet with President Vladimir Putin on 2 September, RFE/RL's Russian service reported on 31 August. Committee Chairwoman Susanna Dudieva said the decision to go to Moscow on the day of mourning for the tragedy was not made easily, but committee members want to hear the president's answers to their many questions. Also on 31 August, a group of journalists from the publications "Sovershenno sekretno" and "Versiya" presented the book "Beslan: Who Is Guilty?" which represents their effort to discover the truth about what happened in Beslan, lenta.ru reported. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, at a press conference about the book, said the official parliamentary commission investigating the events has become increasingly closed off from society, the press, and relatives of the victims. Ryzhkov said that at the Duma's next session he will raise the question of the commission -- which is led by Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin -- finishing its work and presenting its results. JAC

...AS REGIONAL AUTHORITIES WORRY ABOUT THE SAFETY OF THEIR SCHOOLS
Since the Beslan school tragedy last year, authorities in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast have been seriously concerned about the safety of the 1,481 schools in the region, "Komsomolskaya pravda-Nizhnii Novgorod" reported on 31 August. Only 184 of the schools have their own guard posts, and another 120 have private security firms guarding them. The remainder are guarded only by grandfathers and grandmothers, whose services are quite cheap but not professional. Money for guarding the schools usually comes from parents' committees. The police try to help, according to the daily, but their resources are limited. The deputy head of the oblast's Interior Ministry, Pavel Myasnikov, nevertheless promised that before 1 September police would inspect the premises of all schools with metal detectors and search dogs. JAC

KHODORKOVSKII THROWS HIS PRISON CAP IN THE RING...
Imprisoned tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovskii issued a statement through his attorneys on 31 August officially declaring his intention to run for a seat in the State Duma from a single-mandate district in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. Khodorkovskii thanked his supporters in the regions who sought his participation in their legislative assembly races, but said he wants to compete for a Duma seat so that he could fight "for the right of every Russian citizen to say out loud that the present Kremlin regime is a spent force and its days are numbered." JAC

...AS ANALYSTS SUGGESTS KREMLIN HAS A VARIETY OF WAYS TO SCUTTLE HIS BID...
In an 31 August interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Panorama Director Vladimir Prybylovskii commented that the authorities have two possibilities to keep Khodorkovskii from running. First, the Moscow court considering his appeal could confirm his conviction before his candidacy is registered. Second, his registration as a candidate could be rejected on some other pretext. "We have now the so-called Bashkortostan election technology, which is frequently used," he said. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 31 August, political analyst Stanislav Belkovskii predicted that by the evening of 16 September Khodorkovskii's appeal will be rejected and he will lose his right to be a candidate. JAC

...AND ELECTION COMMISSION HEAD SAYS DUMA WOULD NOT SAVE KHODORKOVSKII
Aleksandr Veshnyakov repeated on 31 August an earlier statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2005 that jailed ex-Yukos head Khodorkovskii can run and be elected to the Duma unless his conviction comes into force, NTV reported. "Among Khodorkovskii's supporters there is the wrong perception that deputy immunity can save him from prison," Veshnyakov said. Even if Khodorkovskii is elected, Veshnyakov said, once the verdict goes into force he will be stripped off his mandate. The court decision has overriding power, Veshnyakov said. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Pavlyuk of the Political Forecasting Center said on 31 August that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia, which has an overwhelming majority in the Duma, has the power to "strip away a deputy's immunity if it chooses," newsinfo.ru reported. "I believe, however, that the Kremlin simply will not allow Khodorkovskii's election," Pavlyuk said. This is because "during the whole Yukos affair Khodorkovskii demonstrated a conflicting behavior and rejected the Kremlin deals offered to him, behavior that he continues," Pavlyuk concluded. VY

SOME KHODORKOVSKII SUPPORTERS READY TO SWITCH TO KASYANOV
Several members of the initiative group that nominated Khodorkovskii as a Duma deputy candidate from Moscow's University District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005) said that if they fail to register him, they are ready to support the candidacy of ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in the same district, "Vedomosti" reported on 31 August. The newspaper quoted one of the initiative-group members, journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who said that while working on television "I criticized Kasyanov and the corruption of Boris Yeltsin's 'Family,' to which he belonged, but now I will support him." Kasyanov's press secretary, Tatyana Razbash, quoted Kasyanov as recently saying that "he will take part in all election campaigns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2005)." VY

ANALYST PREDICTS FIERCE BATTLE OVER MOSCOW CITY DUMA
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 31 August, political analyst Belkovskii predicted that the Moscow City Duma elections should prove to be an interesting battle since there is no consensus within the ruling elite as to its outcome. He predicts a "fierce struggle between the Kremlin and [Moscow Mayor] Yurii Luzhkov." He said that Luzhkov will "not openly oppose Putin, but he will struggle" to win more than half the seats in the City Duma. Luzhkov's objective is to appoint a "successor loyal to him" as the next mayor, while the Kremlin wants the opposite. Luzhkov's term expires in 2007. Also on 31 August, the Moscow City Duma set 4 December as the date for their next election, REN-TV reported. Fifteen deputies will be elected in single-mandate districts and 20 by party lists. JAC

LET THEM EAT CHICKEN
Novosibirsk Oblast Deputy Governor Viktor Gergert dined on chicken before journalists on 31 August to show local residents that he believes the meat is safe, strana.ru reported. Novosibirsk was the first region in Russia to report a case of avian flu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). Journalists were given white medical gowns to wear during an extensive tour through a local poultry-processing facility in an attempt to show that the facilities are clean and safe. However, the website contended that even if all oblast officials go on a chicken-only diet, consumption of chicken in the region will not return to previous levels. JAC

U.S. COAST GUARD TO SAVE RUSSIAN STUDENTS TRAPPED IN NEW ORLEANS...
Russian Ambassador to the United States Yurii Ushakov said on 31 August that U.S. authorities told him that 30 Russians trapped in downtown New Orleans are out of danger and will be evacuated soon, RIA-Novosti and other mass media reported. Three of the Russians were already rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, which said that the building where the remaining Russian citizens are located is stable and not in danger of collapsing. Meanwhile, Russia's Consulate-General in Houston said it has a list of Russians in the disaster zone and that thus far no Russians are reported dead, NTV and RTR reported. VY

...AS U.S. THANKS RUSSIA FOR OFFER, BUT SAYS IT WILL MANAGE
Ambassador Ushakov also said on 31 August the President George W. Bush's administration thanked the Russian government for its offer to assist with rescue operations in the states suffering from hurricane Katrina but said it has the necessary resources in the disaster region, RIA-Novosti reported. The Bush administration did say it would reconsider the Russian offer if the necessity arose, Ushakov added. Earlier, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry offered to send two Russian aircraft and rescue teams to the United States to help in the recovery, Russian media reported. President Putin sent a letter on 30 August to Bush expressing sympathy to the victims of the hurricane. VY

ARBITRATION COURT TO HEAR KASYANOV CASE
The Russian Federal Property Fund (Rosgosimushchestvo) introduced motions in Moscow's Arbitration Court seeking to recognize as illegal the deals for state mansions Sosnovska-1 and Sosnovska-3, which ex-Prime Minister Kasyanov is suspected of illegally privatizing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13, and 18 July 2005), Interfax reported on 30 August. Investigative journalist and State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein (Unified Russia), who initiated the investigation into the real-estate deals, told Ekho Moskvy on 30 August that according to investigation documents these mansions as well as a third property -- purchased by Kasyanov in Moscow Oblast for his wife -- are "affiliated with a big oligarchic entity." Khinshtein said that because Kasyanov "paid approximately 1,500 times less than the market price for the properties, there is reason to suspect that he received a special deal in exchange for his actions in the interest of a particular oligarch or perhaps a tax-evasion scheme." In both cases it is not the best contribution to the image of a person "who is aspiring to the role of leader of the opposition and free thinking in Russia," Khinshtein said. VY

RUSSIA DENIES U.S. ACCUSATION ABOUT CHEMICAL WEAPONS
The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected on 31 August a U.S. accusation that it is violating a program of biological-weapons disarmament that is contained in the State Department's annual compliance report on foreign countries that have arms control, nonproliferation, or disarmament agreements, international agencies reported. The 30 August report said that Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Syria continue to develop biological-weapons programs, AP reported. The report said Russia also violates the international Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in response that the State Department made accusations but produced no facts, RIA-Novosti reported. In addition, it said the report mentions "old problems that were already solved." The Foreign Ministry also noted that efforts to solve problems in this area through "public polemics" will only worsen problems, not solve them. VY

CHECHEN PRESIDENT NAMES CHIEF NEGOTIATOR FOR PEACE TALKS
In line with his affirmation that "the leadership of the Chechen resistance is always open to realistic dialogue with Russia," Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev issued a decree on 30 August empowering Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev to represent himself and the Chechen government abroad, and to "conduct consultations with all interested parties on peacefully regulating the Russian-Chechen conflict." The decree was one of four posted on 31 August on the website chechenpress.org in connection with Sadullaev's sweeping restructuring of the executive and legislative branches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 26 August 2005). LF

NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR LIFTING MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY
Speaking on republican television on 31 August, the eve of the first anniversary of the Beslan hostage-taking, Taimuraz Mamsurov appealed to President Putin to consider lifting the moratorium on the death penalty to enable the court to sentence "terrorists" to death, Interfax reported. Mamsurov, two of whose children were injured in the Beslan siege, argued that "since there is no moratorium on killing children, there should be no moratorium on killing murderers." He said the trial of Nurpasha Kulaev, allegedly the sole surviving hostage taker, has dragged on too long and that as his involvement in the crime is clear, "all that remains to be done is to pronounce sentence." Mamsurov criticized the response of the republican authorities to the hostage taking and in a 31 August interview with "Vedomosti" he questioned official claims that there were no more than 33 hostage takers. LF

FORMER INGUSH PRESIDENT SAYS BESLAN INVESTIGATION INEFFECTIVE
Ruslan Aushev, who at the Beslan hostage-takers' request entered the besieged school on 2 September and negotiated the release of 26 hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2004), told Interfax on 31 August that the powers and responsibilities of the Russian State Duma commission investigating the circumstances of the hostage taking have never been clearly spelled out, and he expressed doubt that it will succeed in fully clarifying what happened. Aushev argued that the Russian leadership needs to adopt "fundamentally different" approaches to resolving the political, social, and economic problems that plague the North Caucasus. LF

SUSPECT DETAINED IN ASTRAKHAN VILLAGE FIGHTING
An unnamed resident of the village of Yandyki in Astrakhan Oblast has been detained and charged with "organizing mass disorder" in connection with the fighting in Yandyki last month between Chechen and Kalmyk youths, Interfax reported on 31 August, quoting an unnamed official from the local Prosecutor's Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 August 2005). No one has yet been detained in connection with the killing that triggered the fighting. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS DESPITE OPPOSITION BOYCOTT
Deputies voted overwhelmingly on 31 August to approve in the first readings the final version of the government's draft amendments to the Armenian Constitution, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Ninety-two of the 93 deputies present voted in favor; the two dozen opposition deputies quit the chamber prior to the vote to underscore their rejection of the draft proposals. In his maiden speech to the parliament, Artarutiun faction leader Stepan Demirchian termed some articles of the appended draft "unacceptable" and accused the government of failing to take any measures "to form an atmosphere of trust." He branded the present Armenian leadership illegal, and said the opposition will campaign to persuade voters to reject the proposed amendments in the nationwide referendum to be held later this year. On 1 September, deputies approved the amendments in the second reading by a vote of 98 in favor with one abstention, Noyan Tapan reported. Opposition deputies did not attend the session. LF

SENIOR AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL COMMITS SUICIDE
Colonel Mazahir Aliev, head of the Interior Ministry's Criminal Investigation department, shot himself at his Baku home on 31 August, Turan and echo-az.com reported. Aliev, who was 52, was named to that post two months ago. He was reportedly regarded as highly competent and professional, having been instrumental in rounding up a gang headed by Gadji Magomedov that committed a string of crimes and terrorist attacks in northern Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 October 2001). Aliev reportedly left a suicide note saying he was "weary of living" and a letter addressed to Interior Minister Ramil Usubov. LF

U.S. SENATORS MEET WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADERS
Senators Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) and Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois) met in Baku on 31 August with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss bilateral relations, Caspian security issues, and preparations for the 6 November parliamentary elections, day.az and zerkalo.az reported. The two senators also met the same day with leading oppositionists who conveyed their shared concern that the Azerbaijani authorities will seek to rig the outcome of the upcoming ballot. Lugar characterized as "a step forward" the fact that in contrast to previous parliamentary elections, the process of registering candidates has proceeded without major incidents. He said he believes the elections could be conducted democratically provided President Aliyev's 11 May decree on free and fair elections is systematically implemented and multiple voting is prevented. Lugar said he does not propagate revolution and he does not anticipate a revolution in Azerbaijan. LF

KYRGYZSTAN MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY WITH MILITARY PARADE
Kyrgyzstan marked the 14th anniversary of its independence on 31 August with a military parade in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. New President Kurmanbek Bakiev reviewed a parade that featured units from various branches of the country's military. In an address after the parade, Defense Minister Ismail Isakov focused on the 24 March fall of former President Askar Akaev and prospects for future development, Kyrgyz Television reported. Isakov said, "After the victory of the 24 March people's revolution and in line with the constitution, power in Kyrgyzstan has moved to the hands of the people, who are the owners of independence and the only support of the government, and this gives a new impetus to democratic processes in society." Isakov said that a "fierce fight" is under way against "corruption, bribery, clannishness, and nepotism." DK

UZBEKISTAN DENIES CUTTING OFF GAS TO KYRGYZSTAN
Uzbek gas transport company Uztransgaz has denied that it cut off gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan after that country allowed the evacuation of 439 Uzbek refugees to Romania in late July, Regnum and Kabar reported on 31 August. The company explained: "Gas is a product. If one pays for it on time, gas supplies will never cease. This has nothing to do with refugees." Uztransgaz added that because of problems with Kyrgyzstan's ability to pay for Uzbek gas, the Kazakh gas transport company Kaztransgaz will handle gas shipments to northern Kyrgyzstan in the future, while Uztransgaz will continue to supply southern Kyrgyzstan. The basic outlines of this new arrangement confirm statements made earlier this week by Kubanychbek Jusupov, first deputy head of Kyrgyz gas company Kyrgyzgaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 August 2005). Jusupov, however, had specifically linked the Uzbek decision to reconfigure the contractual arrangements for gas shipments with Kyrgyzstan's handling of the refugee situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT LAUDS INDEPENDENCE, CALLS FOR 'VIGILANCE'...
In a 31 August speech commemorating the 14th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence, President Islam Karimov congratulated Uzbek citizens on the country's accomplishments while at the same time calling for vigilance in the face of dangers and threats, UzA reported. He said, "In the 14 years of our independence, our people have acquired a sense of themselves, become masters of their own fate, and gained control of our country's matchless wealth and potential. We are moving forward to build a free and prosperous life." But Karimov warned of dangers at an "unquiet and perilous time." He said, "In this dangerous situation, all of us must maintain constant vigilance and further strengthen our independence in the face of forces near and far that will stop at nothing in their destructive and loathsome strivings, eye us with evil intent, and cannot stand the sight of our peaceful life and our assiduous efforts to build a new society." DK

...BLAMES SECURITY SERVICE FOR ANDIJON VIOLENCE, WARNS OF 'INFORMATION WAR'
Karimov directly addressed recent violence in Andijon in remarks at a ceremony on 31 August commemorating victims of Soviet-era political repression, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. He said, "After the Andijon events, after the terrorist assault on us, the biggest damage and the biggest attack on us has been an information war, information attacks started against us without taking into account the fact that many people died and pretending it was something normal." Karimov also suggested that Uzbek security forces failed to forestall the unrest. He said, "Unfortunately, it is our fault that we were unable to prevent [the Andijon events]. Not only did our [security] services fail to inform us about it, but they were unable to foresee it in time, they lacked sense to comprehend it, they didn't have proper information, their network of agents didn't work, and so on and so forth." DK

TWO GEORGIANS IN MINSK DECLARED PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
The international human rights group Amnesty International has declared Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze, two activists of Georgia's Kmara youth organization, prisoners of conscience and demanded their immediate release from jail in Minsk. Kandelaki and Tsuladze were detained in Minsk on 24 August, reportedly because the authenticity of their passports raised official doubts. The following day a KGB official announced on Belarusian Television that they were to be deported from Belarus for meddling in the country's internal affairs. But on 29 August a Minsk-based court sentenced the two Georgians to 15 days in jail each for "petty hooliganism" (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 1 September 2005). "Amnesty International believes that the two men are being held solely for their political activities, to punish them for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, and that the administrative charge against them has been fabricated," Amnesty International said in a statement on 31 August. JM

GAZPROM REPORTEDLY TRIPLES PRICE OF GAS FOR UKRAINE IN 2006
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 September that during talks in Kyiv with Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksandr Ivchenko the previous day, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov offered to sell Russian gas to Ukraine in 2006 at a "starting price" of $180 per 1,000 cubic meters. According to the daily, Ivchenko countered the Russian offer with a proposal to increase the costs of Russian gas transit across Ukraine fourfold. Under current arrangements, Ukraine pays $55 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas and collects $1.09 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers of Russian gas transit across Ukraine. "We have moved not so far as we would like to but we have firmly agreed on working out a market price. We have been tasked with proposing a final price to the Russian and Ukrainian governments by 10 September," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Ryazanov as saying after his talks with Ivchenko. JM

TWENTY PERCENT OF UKRAINIAN CHILDREN ATTEND RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE SCHOOLS
Deputy Education Minister Viktor Ohnevyuk said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine on 31 August that 1,500 schools in Ukraine instruct some 1.2 million students, or approximately every fifth schoolchild in the country, in Russian. Ohnevyuk also said some 150 schools in Ukraine instruct students in minority languages, including 33,500 students in Romanian-Moldovan, 20,000 students in Hungarian, 6,000 in Crimean Tatar, and 1,400 in Polish. Ohnevyuk added that Ukraine also has 550 schools with two languages of instruction, for example -- Ukrainian and Russian or Crimean Tatar and Russian. JM

U.S. LIFTS TRADE SANCTIONS AGAINST UKRAINE OVER CD PIRACY
U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman on 31 August announced the lifting of punitive 100 percent tariffs that had been imposed since 2002 on $75 million worth of Ukrainian exports to the United States in connection with Ukraine's unsatisfactory protection of intellectual property rights, primarily regarding the production and distribution of compact discs (CDs), AP reported. In July, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada introduced amendments to the country's law on CDs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005), which went into effect a month later and contributed to the lifting of U.S. sanctions. "I commend Ukrainian President [Viktor] Yushchenko and Prime Minister [Yuliya] Tymoshenko for their personal involvement in securing passage of these amendments, which is expected to improve Ukraine's protection of intellectual property rights," Portman said. JM

HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS SERBIA AND CROATIA ARE NOT COOPERATING 'FULLY'
Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in the prepared text of a speech to be delivered in Bern, Switzerland, on 1 September that Serbia and Croatia are not cooperating sufficiently with that body, Reuters reported from Amsterdam. "Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro...have been cooperating with the tribunal only thanks to the international pressure.... Their cooperation is not perfect...or full," she added. Del Ponte called on the EU not to start talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement until it arrests former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Similarly, she urged Brussels not to launch membership talks with Zagreb until former General Ante Gotovina is in custody. "Croatia must finally step up its efforts to locate and arrest...Gotovina. It is obvious that Croatia will do even less to locate him the moment accession talks start with the EU," Del Ponte added. She has often criticized Belgrade, Banja Luka, and Zagreb for failing to arrest important indictees, but each denies that such people are on its territory, although she rejects these claims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 17 June 2005). PM

ROW EMERGES OVER SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTER
Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica agreed on 31 August that Davinic's resignation is the best way out of the "current situation" in which Davinic has been accused of misappropriating ministry funds, the private Beta news agency reported, citing unnamed ministry sources. His own G-17 Plus party recently said it has lost confidence in Davinic but has not decided whether it will continue to claim the Defense Ministry for one of its own people. If the party gives up that ministry, the result could be a new realignment of posts within an already shaky government coalition (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). Meanwhile in Podgorica, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said on 31 August that Montenegro does not want Davinic replaced because he has looked out for Montenegrin interests very well. The Belgrade-born Davinic is a specialist in nuclear disarmament and international relations with degrees from former Yugoslav and U.S. universities. He worked for the United Nations from 1976-99. PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER SAYS JOINT ARMY IS NO THREAT
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 31 August that the parliament's recent decision to support a unified army of Bosnia-Herzegovina under a joint Defense Ministry is in the interests of the Bosnian Serbs, despite what some of their unnamed politicians are saying, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005). Cavic argued that the new army will function primarily within a NATO framework and not within a domestic one. PM

KOSOVAR POLICE TO CHECK OUT ALL DARK MERCEDES CARS
Kosova's police announced on 31 August that all owners of dark-colored Mercedes cars must report to a police station in Kosova between 2 and 9 September as part of an ongoing investigation of the recent drive-by killing that left two young Serbian men dead and two more injured, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 August 2005). A witness to the late-night incident said that the killers drove a dark-colored Mercedes. PM

BODIES EXHUMED FROM MASS GRAVE IN CROATIA
Croatian government officials announced in Zagreb on 31 August that the remains of 15 people have been exhumed from a mass grave discovered in the Okucani region of western Slavonia near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The remains are believed to be those of local Croatian civilians killed by Serbian forces in 1991. PM

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT STARTS REDUCING DOMESTIC DEBT
The government has transferred 127.7 million lei ($10.1 million) to the National Bank of Moldova since the beginning of the year, thus starting to reduce its debt to the bank, Infotag reported on 1 September. At the beginning of 2005, the government owed 2.47 billion lei ($196 million) to the central bank. Finance Minister Zinaida Greceanii said at a government meeting on 31 August that it is the first time since Moldova declared independence in 1991 that the government has managed to decrease its domestic debt. "We have tasked ourselves not to take credits from the National Bank any longer and repay those credits that we have taken. All planned budgetary expenses, including [our] foreign liabilities, are being currently covered with revenues," Greceanii noted. She revealed that budget revenues in January-August amounted to 4.78 billion lei. JM

MOSCOW'S 'POWER' POLITICS IN THE BALTICS
Gazprom's announcement recently that it has begun construction of a gas pipeline through Leningrad Oblast that will ultimately pass under the Baltic Sea to the West and thus bypass the Baltic countries and Poland is only one part of a much larger Russian strategy to use its energy supplies to Europe as a political weapon.

On 19 August, Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov announced that Gazprom has begun to lay a pipeline across his region that will immediately allow the completion of the gasification of rural areas there and ultimately connect to a pipeline to be laid on the Baltic seabed from Vyborg in the Russian Federation to Greifswald in Germany.

To be built jointly by Gazprom and Germany's BASF, that 1,189-kilometer subsea section of the pipeline is scheduled for completion in 2010 and will carry gas from the Russian Federation's South Russia fields to Germany and Western Europe. Branches to be built later will carry Russian gas to Finland, Sweden, and Great Britain.

The construction of this pipeline will significantly strengthen the negotiating position of Gazprom and the Russian government, which owns the company, with those countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus, through whose territories Russian gas now passes westward to Europe.

Once the pipeline is built, Moscow will be in a position to play one or more of these countries against the others, thus limiting the ability of these states to cooperate in ways that the Russian government finds objectionable -- or in the most extreme case, the Russian government can threaten not to send gas westward across any of them.

And at the same time, the Russian government's ability to make such choices on at least some occasions may allow Moscow to play up divisions between the more Atlanticist states of the "new Europe" and the European Union's older members, particularly Germany.

Rising gas prices have made this long-discussed project economically viable, but both Russian officials and German analysts have indicated that Moscow's primary goal is political because such a pipeline gives the Russian government enormous leverage on the Baltic countries and Poland (http://vlasti.net/index.php?Screen=news&region=main&id=119749).

Those four countries, German Russia expert Alexander Rahr says, are very concerned about what this new pipeline will mean for them, with Poland identifying it as a major foreign-policy challenge and the Baltic countries proposing an alternative underground, and hence more ecologically secure, "Amber" route through their territories.

That Moscow will use its new leverage against the Baltics was already demonstrated earlier in August, when Gazprom demanded that the Lithuanian authorities end regulated natural-gas prices for major consumers, something that could trigger inflation there and thus by itself prevent Vilnius as well from entering the eurozone as planned.

Indeed, even in advance of this Russian ultimatum, London's "Financial Times" reported on 25 July that central bankers across Eastern Europe are convinced that dramatic increases in Gazprom prices could "wreck the expansion of the eurozone in 2007" and thus leave the EU's newest members out in the cold.

Whether Gazprom will get its way now and indeed whether this much-discussed northern gas pipeline will in fact be completed, of course, remain very much open questions. But even the possibility that they will be represents an important contribution to Moscow's "power" politics in the region.

And in yet another indication that Moscow views this kind of pressure as most effective, the Russian government has now announced plans to lay a high-voltage cable under the Baltic Sea in order to sell Finland 8.7 billion kilowatt-hours of power annually from the Leningrad Nuclear Power Station near St. Petersburg, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 August.

AT LEAST EIGHT NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. and Afghan troops killed at least eight neo-Taliban fighters and captured four others in two separate clashes on 30 August, AFP reported the next day. In one firefight, U.S. and Afghan troops attacked a suspected neo-Taliban hideout in Oruzgan Province. "After two hours' fighting, eight Taliban were killed and guns and a rocket launcher seized," Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan said. In the other clash, Afghan troops in Zabul Province captured four suspected neo-Taliban guerrillas and seized an arms cache that included automatic weapons and rocket launchers, according to local police chief Gulam Rasul. MR

PAKISTAN HOLDS OFF ON CLOSING AFGHAN REFUGEE CAMPS
Pakistan announced a two-week extension on the 31 August deadline for the closure of all Afghan refugee camps in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, AFP reported the same day. Citing "security concerns," Pakistan had ordered all the camps to be closed in sensitive districts of the North West Frontier Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005). Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees remain in the tribal districts, despite a long-running repatriation campaign led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UN authorities said recent fighting between Pakistani forces and Al-Qaeda guerrillas in the tribal areas has hindered efforts to repatriate Afghans. Last week the Afghan government appealed to Pakistan for a delay in closing the camps. The new deadline still calls for closure of all refugee camps in the areas before the Afghan parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 September. The UNHCR says it has repatriated some 65,000 Afghans from the districts, while more than 100,000 others are still waiting. "We've got crowds waiting for repatriation," UNHCR spokesman Jack Redden said. MR

NEO-TALIBAN STRIKE AFGHAN SECURITY POST
Neo-Taliban insurgents attacked a security outpost in Khost Province on the evening of 30 August, but no one was hurt, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported on 31 August. Khost area commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ayub said: "Taliban carried out an attack on the security post in Yaqobi District," but added that some "military equipment was destroyed but the clash caused no casualties." Ayub said he had no information about casualties among the attackers. Ayub also said local authorities uncovered an arms cache in Mosa Khel District, which included 700 mortars and hundreds of boxes of various types of ammunition. MR

SELF-IMMOLATION INCREASING IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Incidents of self-immolation are on the rise around the western Afghan city of Herat, the Afghan newspaper "Erada" reported on 30 August. Citing local hospital officials, the newspaper reported that 35 people had died of self-immolation in the past three months, with most of the victims being women. The head of the burns ward in Herat hospital, Humayun Azizi, said 31 women and four men killed themselves by intentionally setting fire to themselves. He said all the female victims were between the age of 15 and 35. Azizi said the number of cases has increased in recent months. According to Azizi, only 90 people attempted to set themselves on fire in 2004. Suriya Daqiqi, the head of women's' rights department of the Human Rights Commission in Herat Province, said Afghan refugees returning from Iran are prone to self-immolation. "Because self-immolation is practiced by women in Iran, so the returnees from Iran follow this practice," Daqiqi said. MR

IRANIAN PRESIDENT TO APPOINT MORE OFFICIALS
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will name Parviz Davudi his first vice president and Ali Saidlu his executive deputy, Mehr News Agency reported on 31 August, citing an anonymous informed source. The legislature did not give Saidlu a vote of confidence when he was put forward as the prospective oil minister. Davudi earned a doctorate in the United States, teaches at Shahid Beheshti University, is an adviser to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and served in the Economy Ministry during the presidency of Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mehr reported. BS

TEHRAN EMPHASIZES NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT
Parliamentarian Alaedin Borujerdi, who heads the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Algiers on 31 August that U.S. and Western efforts to restrict other countries' access to nuclear energy are futile, IRNA reported. Borujerdi said during a meeting with Abdelkader Bensalah, who heads the Algerian parliament, that such Western policies not only threaten Iranian interests but those of all Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members. They should therefore devise a joint solution to this problem. Borujerdi called for increased cooperation between NAM members and developing countries, particularly within the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors. BS

EDITORIAL IS HOPEFUL FOR IRANIAN REFORMISTS...
A 30 August editorial in "Sharq" daily says that in the past the reformist Second of Khordad Front operated in such a way that a minor party in the front had as much influence as its largest component, the Islamic Iran Participation Front. One of the most influential actors within the front was the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), which recently got a new leader, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha. Conflicts within the front became apparent after the reformists gained control of the legislature and presidency, according to "Sharq." The differences were sharpest between Militant Clerics Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization leader Behzad Nabavi; Nabavi called Karrubi excessively conservative, while Karrubi said Nabavi was insufficiently cognizant of and sensitive to power relationships. These disputes got worse during the 2004 parliamentary elections, when Nabavi and his supporters boycotted the election, while Karrubi participated reluctantly. Khoeniha has better relations with the other reformist parties. Given the new relationships and the ideological closeness of its leaders, "Sharq" continued, some believe that the reformist front can "rebuild and reunite." BS

...AS IRANIAN PAPERS CONSIDER REFORMIST ALIGNMENTS
Musavi-Khoeniha, the new secretary-general of the Militant Clerics Association, has received congratulatory messages from other reformist parties and figures, "Etemad" reported on 31 August. One such message came from the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin congratulated Musavi-Khoeniha, and in a separate message to former Militant Clerics Association leader Karrubi extolled his efforts and wished him well with the newly created National Trust Party. The same day, "Hemayat" Editor in Chief Seyyed Solat Mortazavi criticized the Militant Clerics Association's leaders for unspecified activities that he said undermine the party's dignity as well as Karrubi's. BS

IRAQIS MOURN DEAD FROM AL-KADHIMIYAH INCIDENT
Iraqis began three days of mourning on 1 September as the families of the 965 confirmed dead began burying their loved ones killed in the 31 August stampede in Al-Kadhimiyah, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005). Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari addressed the nation on 31 August and appealed for unity. "I call upon all the sons of Islam and the followers of Prophet Muhammad...[Imam] Ali, [Caliph] Umar, Jesus Christ, and the followers of all religions to give precedence to the Iraqi concern over all other concerns, and to think of Iraq as one entity in order to unify our march and to realize our country's major interests," al-Ja'fari said. "Our people began their march on 30 January with a great accomplishment and continued along this path, one turn after another. We therefore should maintain the unity of our people as well as the wonderful sense of compassion that frustrates the efforts of our enemies to hurt our people," he added. President Jalal Talabani told Interfax news agency in a 31 August interview that Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated group was behind the mortar attack that prompted the stampede. KR

VICTORIOUS SECT ARMY CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAQI MORTAR ATTACK
The Victorious Sect Army claimed responsibility for the 31 August mortar attack that preceded the stampede in a same-day statement posted to the Internet (http://www.al-farouq.com). The statement claimed that the Shi'a were worshipping gods other than God through their commemoration of Imam Musa al-Kadhim's martyrdom. "Today, we witnessed the masses of polytheists among the nonbelievers and apostates committing an act, which is one of the greatest sins. The sin is associating other gods with God by making pilgrimages, sacrificing animals, and seeking help from other than the Exalted Almighty God, contrary to the honorable prophetic traditions and the most righteous companions of the prophet," the statement said. The statement further claimed that the attack was in retaliation for the "mass murder operations against the Salafis." KR

IRAQI HEALTH MINISTER BLAMES INTERIOR, DEFENSE MINISTERS FOR STAMPEDE
Health Minister Abd al-Muttalib Muhammad Ali blamed coalition forces along with the Interior and Defense ministries for the 31 August stampede in a same-day press briefing in Baghdad, RFI reported. Ali said that the ministries did not adequately prepare for the influx of pilgrims to Al-Kadhimiyah, adding, "I call upon my colleagues at the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense to either take full responsibility or resign." Adnan al-Dulaymi, the former head of the Sunni Al-Waqf (religious endowments) Office, also blamed the Interior Ministry for its poor preparations for the event, Al-Jazeera television reported on 31 August. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told reporters at a 31 August press briefing held with Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi that the incident was an "act of God," and he likened the stampede to similar incidents during the pilgrimage to Mecca. "It was just a stampede. There were no explosions or killings. There were no operations targeting the visitors," RFI quoted him as saying. KR

IRAQ'S NEIGHBORS DISCUSS INCIDENT
Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Sadiq al-Husayni al-Shirazi blamed Ba'athists for the attack on pilgrims in Al-Kadhimiyah in a 31 August statement from Qom, Iran, posted on the Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) the same day. "We hold all Takfiri [those who accuse other Muslims of being infidels] terrorist parties responsible for this incident," al-Shirazi said. Meanwhile, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed "the occupiers of Iraq" for the incident in a statement read on Iranian state television on 31 August. Syria issued a statement of sympathy for the victims of the attack, while Lebanese Hizballah said the incident was caused by "savage and brutal" murderers who are trying to sow sedition. Jordan's King Abdullah II telephoned President Talabani to offer condolences and to offer treatment to the victims at Jordanian hospitals. He also pledged to send medicine and supplies to help aid Iraqi hospitals, Petra news agency reported on 31 August. Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran also telephoned Prime Minister al-Ja'fari. KR

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