PUTIN TAKES TO THE INTERNET...
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a live Internet chat on July 6. The conference ran for two hours and 10 minutes and drew more than 150,000 questions and 900,000 Internet surfers from around the world, Russian news agencies reported. Putin answered 40 questions about Iran, Ukraine, Chechnya, racism, and the Russian standard of living. Domestically, the live conference was broadcast on cable television programs to which a majority of Russian viewers do not subscribe. Russians who do not have access to the Internet were also unable to access Putin's live remarks. The Internet conference was organized by the Russian Internet portal yandex.ru and by the BBC's news website. The daily "Moscow Times" commented that like Putin's speech on July 4 at an NGO conference in Moscow, it appeared to be an attempt to burnish Putin's credentials as the president of the country that is the president of the Group of Eight. FF
...AND REITERATES HE WILL NOT RUN FOR THIRD TERM
During his live Internet chat, President Putin reiterated that he will not run for a third presidential term, RIA-Novosti reported. He said he believes "it is counterproductive to adjust laws, especially the constitution, to suit oneself." According to the Russian Constitution, a president cannot hold the post for more than two consecutive terms. In an interview published on June 30 in "Moskovskiye novosti," St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said she considers it of "fundamental importance" that Putin should be permitted to serve a third term after his current term expires in 2008. On July 1, Matviyenko said the economic, financial, social, and political changes Putin has effected "need to be consolidated and made irreversible," and that a third Putin term would help preserve stability both within Russia and abroad, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 3, 2006). Other Russian politicians have expressed the same opinion, including Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. Putin, meanwhile, said on July 6 that, "We must all learn to abide by the law. But another point is that to truly love one's country, one must not allow it to depend on a single person," RIA-Novosti reported. FF
PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA OPEN TO RECIPROCAL VISA-FREE REGIME WITH EUROPE...
Answering a question by a British Internet surfer complaining about the difficulties he experienced in obtaining a Russian tourist visa, Putin said during the July 6 Internet chat that Russia is willing to switch to a visa-free regime with European and other countries if the move is reciprocal, RIA-Novosti reported. "Russia is ready for a visa-free regime with Europe and other countries at any moment," Putin said. He referred the question to European governments. Russia and the European Union signed an agreement on visa facilitation at the Russia-EU summit on May 25. The agreement introduced less stringent visa requirements for certain categories of people for stays of up to 90 days, but does not amount to a visa-free regime. FF
...AND ONCE AGAIN HIGHLIGHTS ENERGY SECURITY
During the Internet conference, Putin also reiterated that Russia is a reliable energy supplier. Energy security will be a key theme when the leaders of G8 countries meet in St. Petersburg on July 15-17. Putin said that recent criticism of Russia's role as an energy supplier was unsubstantiated, RIA-Novosti reported. "We have been delivering natural gas to Europe for the last 40 years," Putin said, adding that "there were no failures on any single day." He said that a shortfall in gas supplies to Europe in winter was due to Ukraine, rather than Russia failing to honor its contractual obligations. Putin concluded that Russia's complicated, as he put it, "almost dramatic relations with Ukraine" provided positive results for European consumers in the end. FF
PUTIN CALLS FOR CAUTION ON NORTH KOREA, IRAN
Addressing questions concerning Iran and North Korea, Putin during the Internet chat on July 6 said a cautious approach is needed, RIA-Novosti reported. He urged Iran to respond faster to the package of incentives put forward by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, and said common sense should triumph in approaches to North Korea, which conducted controversial test missile launches this week. Putin said he hopes Iran will heed the recommendations and proposals worked out by UN Security Council and Germany. Putin said the issue should be returned to the competence of the UN's nuclear watchdog after it was referred to the Security Council in early June. "It would be right if the problem returned not to the UN Security Council and that we did not talk about any sanctions, but to the professionals at the International Atomic Energy Agency," he said. Russia is helping to build a nuclear power plant in Iran and has other commercial interests in that country. It has consistently resisted UN sanctions pushed by the United States and the United Kingdom. Concerning North Korea, Putin expressed a less optimistic view during the Internet conference. He condemned it for failing to notify the world about its recent nuclear tests of at least seven ballistic missiles. Initial reports suggested that at least one of the seven missiles might have landed in Russian territorial waters, but Putin said the country's warning systems could not confirm that. "Our national monitoring system does not confirm the information that these missiles fell near Russian borders," RIA-Novosti quoted Putin as saying. FF
NEW PROSECUTOR-GENERAL REPLACES SEVERAL DEPUTIES
Former Justice Minister Yury Chaika, whom President Putin named last month to replace Vladimir Ustinov as prosecutor-general, dismissed on July 5 Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov, First Deputy Prosecutor Yury Biryukov, and Deputy Prosecutors Vladimir Kolesnikov, Nikolai Shepel, Anatoly Bondar, and Valentin Simuchenkov, according to Interfax on July 5 and the "Moscow Times" on July 6. The Federation Council endorsed those dismissals on July 7, Interfax reported. Also on July 5, Chaika submitted to the Federation Council his proposed nominations to the vacant positions: Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinsky as chief military prosecutor, Aleksandr Buksman as first deputy prosecutor-general, and Ivan Sydoryuk, Krasnoyarsk Krai Prosecutor Viktor Grin, Viktor Gulyagin, and Buryatia Prosecutor Ivan Semchishin as deputy prosecutors. Chaika stressed that the personnel changes should not be regarded as "a revolution," and that it is natural for him to select his own team, Interfax reported on July 7. On June 27, Interfax reported that all 13 deputy prosecutors submitted their resignations to Chaika during his first day in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 23, 27 and 28, 2006). LF
FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES PRESIDENTIAL POWERS TO USE SECRET SERVICES ABROAD TO FIGHT TERRORISM
The Federation Council on July 7 unanimously passed legislation granting the president powers to send abroad forces, including members of the security services, to fight terrorism, Interfax reported. The legislation was approved by the State Duma on July 5. President Putin recently ordered Russia's special forces to hunt down the killers of four Russian Embassy staff in Iraq. During an Internet interview on July 6, Putin said that using the special services overseas to combat terrorism would not constitute a breach of international law. "I see no violations here. Under Article 51 of the UN Charter, states can individually or jointly rebuff an aggression. It does not say that this aggression should come from one state against the other," Putin said during the Internet interview, RIA-Novosti reported. FF
IRANIAN PRESIDENT WILL NOT BE IN ST PETERSBURG FOR G8...
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on July 7 that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will not take part in the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in mid-July. Lavrov said that "nobody has invited the president of Iran to the G8 summit. There were no such plans." Lavrov was addressing rumors in Moscow that Ahmadinejad could unexpectedly visit Russia in July. Speaking about leaders of other countries involved in the G8, Lavrov told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that "events held as part of G8 summits involve other leading countries of the world. The president of Kazakhstan has been invited to the St. Petersburg summit. He will represent the CIS in the capacity of the CIS chairman." FF
...AND CALLS ON UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO TAKE FIRM STAND ON NORTH KOREA
In the same July 7 interview in "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Lavrov said that the international community needs to take a firm stand on North Korea's recent missile test launches, but it should refrain from making threats. Lavrov said that "We are convinced that the UN Security Council's reaction is needed, and it ought to be firm. But it should be free from any threats because threats only tend to provoke new threats." FF
RUSSIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES FIND REASONS TO AVOID PARTICIPATING IN ALTERNATIVE TO G8 CONFERENCE
Following "Yabloko," whose leader Grigory Yavlinsky had already said his party is not interested in taking part in the conference "Another Russia," to be held in Moscow on July 11-12, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Nikita Belykh said on July 7 that his party would not subscribe to joint documents with left-leaning and extremist organizations that could be adopted at the conference, gazeta.ru reported. One of the conference organizers, opposition leader Garry Kasparov, told gazeta.ru that the conference "is not aimed at creating a coalition, but it is important to make clear that different people are ready to support values such as the fight against censorship and fair political competition." Opposition Motherland (Rodina) deputies have also declined the invitation to participate. Communist Party leaders will not be present at the conference, but observers will take part, gazeta.ru reported. Presidential aide Igor Shuvalov said earlier that the Kremlin will consider participation "unfriendly." Meanwhile, the British ambassador to Russia, Anthony Brenton, confirmed his participation on July 6, saying that the conference will contribute to strengthening of democracy and freedom of expression in Russia. Diplomats from the United States and other G8 countries will also participate. FF
ROSNEFT EXTENDS IPO BID DEADLINE
Russian state-run oil major Rosneft on July 6 extended by two days, until July 12, a deadline for Russian nationals to bid for its shares at its initial public offering, RIA-Novosti reported. Rosneft plans to float up to 400 million of its common shares and GDRs in Russia and London. Rosneft hopes to raise some $8.5 billion. The minimum bid to buy shares has been set at 15,000 rubles or $555. The daily "Kommersant" reported on July 4 that Prime Minster Mikhail Fradkov has approved the issue of 14.27 percent of Rosneft's shares. FF
SIX CHECHEN LOCAL OFFICIALS REPLACED
Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov has accepted the resignations "at their own request" of six local administration officials in the southern Shatoi and southwestern Achkhoi-Martan raions, Russian media reported on July 6. Also on July 6, Alkhanov convened a meeting of police and security officials to assess the ambush two days earlier in which Chechen militants attacked a Russian military convoy in Shali Raion, killing at least five Russian servicemen and injuring a further 20-25, regnum.ru reported. Alkhanov stressed the need for "preventive measures" to preclude further such attacks and for more effective pressure on the local population to dissuade them from providing support for the resistance. LF
TERRORIST BOMBING AVERTED IN INGUSHETIA?
Police in Ingushetia spotted and defused early on July 7 a homemade explosive device thrown over the perimeter fence of a fuel-storage depot, ingushetiya.ru and regnum.ru reported, quoting Ingushetian Interior Ministry spokesman Nadir Evloyev. LF
MONUMENT TO FORMER KARACHAYEVO-CHERKESSIA PRESIDENT DAMAGED
Unidentified persons set fire during the night of July 5-6 to the plinth of a monument in Cherkessk to Vladimir Khubiyev, who served first as Communist Party Obkom first secretary and then as republican president from 1979-99, regnum.ru reported. The monument to Khubiyev, a Karachai, was to have been unveiled on July 3 but the ceremony was postponed after Khubiyev's "opponents" threatened to stage a public protest. LF
ARMENIAN INDEPENDENT PRESS PROTESTS JOURNALIST'S ARREST
The editors of the newspapers "Azg," "Aravot," "Chorrord ishkhanutiun," "168 zham," "Iravunk," "Haykakan zhamanak," and "Taregir" published a joint statement in their respective July 5 editions deploring the arrest of Arman Babadjanian, editor of the independent bi-weekly "Zhamanak Yerevan," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Babadjanian is accused of evading military service in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and 28 and July 3, 2006). The seven editors suggested that charge was politically motivated, and they demanded Babadjanian's release from pretrial custody. The heads of six NGOs engaged in the defense of human rights and press freedoms issued a similar statement on July 5, Noyan Tapan reported on July 6. LF
KARABAKH WAR VETS WARN ARMENIAN AUTHORITIES AGAINST CEDING TERRITORY
Several prominent former commanders of unofficial armed units created in the early 1990s to defend Nagorno-Karabakh released a statement on July 4 warning the Armenian authorities against agreeing to cede within the framework of a peace settlement any of the seven districts contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh that are currently occupied by Armenian forces, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. They said that relinquishing control of the territory in question would put the Armenian leadership "in the position of Turkish occupiers." Manvel Yeghiazarian, who headed the now disbanded Arabo militia, told a press conference on July 4 that ceding control of the occupied territories (as foreseen under the framework settlement currently under discussion) would constitute "not mutual compromise, [but] surrender." A second former paramilitary leader, Levon Sahakian, argued: "No one must dare surrender those territories, whether he is a president or a minister.... Our brothers died there." LF
MEDIATORS AGAIN URGE ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS TO REACH 'COMPROMISE'
In a statement posted on July 3 on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group again called upon the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to demonstrate the "political will" necessary to reach a formal solution of the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on July 4. The statement said the co-chairs believe that the proposals developed during negotiations over the past two years "hold the best potential" for reaching such a settlement (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 30, 2006). On July 5, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan that the Armenian leadership considers the principles under discussion "acceptable" and is prepared to continue discussing them, according to "Azg," as reposted by Groong. But Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov denied on July 3 either that any draft framework document exists, or that Azerbaijan has agreed that the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be decided by a referendum or vote among the disputed region's population. LF
ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTER DECLARES HUNGER STRIKE
Despite his deteriorating health, former Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev, who was dismissed last October and arrested on charges of plotting a coup d'etat, began a 48-hour hunger strike on July 6 to protest the delay in bringing him to trial, Azerbaijani media reported. Aliyev has repeatedly rejected the charge against him and stressed his loyalty to President Ilham Aliyev (to whom he is not related). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VISITS WASHINGTON
Mikheil Saakashvili met in Washington on July 5 with U.S. President George W. Bush at the latter's invitation to discuss the political situation in Georgia, the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgia's strained relations with Russia, Georgian and international media reported. Bush praised the progress Georgia has made in eradicating corruption and said he believes both Georgia and NATO would benefit if Georgia became a member of that alliance, "The Boston Globe" reported on July 6. Saakashvili also met in Washington on July 5 with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, and with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Caucasus Press reported. On July 6, he met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss energy cooperation, specifically the transportation to world markets via Georgia of Caspian oil and gas, rustavi2.com reported on July 7. LF
HUNDREDS PROTEST GEORGIAN MURDER-TRIAL OUTCOME
After a trial lasting just over one week, the Tbilisi City Court passed sentence on July 6 on four former Interior Ministry employees accused of the murder in late January of banker Sandro Girgvliani, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7 and 14, 2006). The judge sentenced one of the four men to eight years' imprisonment and the other three to seven years. Girgviliani's relatives protested the trial outcome, arguing that the four men are scapegoats and that the people who are believed to have instigated and committed the murder remain unpunished. Tako Salakaya, the wife of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, was present during the argument at a Tbilisi nightspot between Girgvliani and several senior ministry personnel just hours before he was discovered dead on the outskirts of Tbilisi with his throat cut. LF
CENTRAL ASIAN OFFICIALS RESPOND TO FORMER U.S. OFFICIAL'S COMMENT ON BIN LADEN
Former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke's comment to National Public Radio on July 3 that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden could be hiding in Central Asia prompted a round of responses from Central Asian officials, agencies reported. Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov said that his ministry "has no information regarding the presence of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on the territory of the republic," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on July 4. Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov told ITAR-TASS on July 4, "We should take this statement very seriously. The United States must have grounds to say so." Niyazov refused to rule out the possibility that bin Laden could appear in Central Asia. Finally, press-uz.info on July 5 quoted Andrei Kim, identified as an expert with the Foundation for Regional Policy, as saying that Clarke's comments were part of a U.S. effort to discourage investment in the region. DK
KAZAKH PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES MERGE
The pro-presidential parties Otan and Asar joined forces on July 4 when participants in Otan's extraordinary ninth congress voted in favor of the merger, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Darigha Nazarbaeva, head of the Asar Party and daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaeva, floated the idea on June 19 of a merger to unite all pro-presidential parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2006). Nazarbaev, who heads Otan but has delegated leadership of the party to Bakytzhan Zhumagulov for the duration of his presidency, told Otan members at the congress that the new party must preserve discipline and avoid a division into "Otan members" and "Asar members." He stressed, "We, Otan members, are combining our efforts for the sake of our country and people." Nazarbaev said that the new party will have 700,000 members, according to the presidential website (http://www.akorda.kz). Even before the merger, Otan was the country's largest party, with a majority of the 77 seats in the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament). DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL CHANGES TO MEDIA LAW
President Nazarbaev on July 4 signed controversial amendments to the country's media legislation into law, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The changes, which tighten state control over the media sector, have drawn sharp criticism from journalists, media watchdogs, and international organizations such as the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 6, and 14, 2006). In a press release on July 6, U.S.-based NGO Freedom House warned that the amendments "will greatly threaten freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the country." Nazarbaev will attend the Group of Eight (G8) summit in St. Petersburg next week, and Freedom House urged "the democratic governments attending next week's G8 Summit in St. Petersburg to voice their disapproval of this action." DK
KAZAKH COMPANY BUYS STAKE IN CHINESE-OWNED OIL COMPANY
State-owned Kazakh oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz has acquired a 33-percent stake in Chinese-owned PetroKazakhstan, UPI reported on July 6. The report did not give details of the deal, which had been previously announced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006). China National Petroleum Corp. bought PetroKazakhstan in 2005 for $4.2 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2005). DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev held talks with Kazakh President Nazarbaev in Astana on July 4, Khabar reported. Their discussion reportedly focused on economic cooperation. Nazarbaev told a joint news conference after the meeting, "I am always directing Kazakh businesses toward investing money in your country," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Bakiev said: "I have to point out that Kazakh investments in Kyrgyzstan more than doubled during the last year, 2005 [compared with 2004]. There are five Kazakh banks that operate on Kyrgyz territory today." Khabar noted that Kazakhstan invested over $160 million in the Kyrgyz economy in 2005. News agency 24.kg reported that Kazakhstan could invest up to $2.5 billion in Kyrgyzstan's economy. The two presidents signed a declaration on deepening relations and a number of intergovernmental agreements, 24.kg reported. DK
UZBEK AUTHORITIES SEEK CLOSURE OF U.S.-BASED NGO...
Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry has asked a court in Tashkent to close the Uzbekistan office of the Urban Institute, a U.S.-based NGO, Regnum reported on July 5. The ministry reportedly discovered violations in the Urban Institute's operations during a January review and is arguing that the NGO failed to remedy them. DK
...AS WATCHDOG SLAMS APPARENT BLOCKING OF WEBSITE
Press-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a July 5 press release that Uzbek authorities appear to have blocked the website of independent journalist Sergei Yezhkov (http://www.uzmetronom.com) since June 26. Noting that other websites critical of the Uzbek government have been blocked in the country, RSF said that Yezhkov's Russian-language site, which provides critical coverage of events in Uzbekistan, has been inaccessible in the country since June 26. "This country is ruled with an iron hand by President Islam Karimov, only a few websites still manage to publish independent information critical of the government, and the Internet blacklist is getting longer and longer," RSF commented. DK
FORMER BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO CHARGES
The trial of former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin began in the Maskouski District Court in Minsk on July 6, Belapan reported the same day. Kazulin reportedly pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and malicious hooliganism. "All that is going on here is political revenge and an organized provocation," said Kazulin, the chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada). The presiding judge rejected all motions by the defense. During the afternoon session, the accused expressed no confidence in the court and once again demanded that the judge and the public prosecutor be replaced. The demand was rejected. RK
BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS TO SELL BELTRANSHAZ BEFORE YEAR-END
Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka has announced that a special working group will next week begin appraising assets of Beltranshaz, Belarus' gas-pipeline operator, Belapan reported on July 6. Syamashka said that the appraisal team will include experts of the ABN AMRO bank and Russia's gas giant Gazprom, which has long sought a controlling stake in the Belarusian gas pipeline. According to the Council of Ministers press office, Syamashka said the government is ready to carry out the transaction before the end of the year, stressing that it will accept the team's conclusions. In return, Belarus will insist that Gazprom honor its promise made in 2002 that it will sell Belarus gas at a price equal to the domestic rate in Russia's Smolensk Province if the deal goes through, he added. Gazprom has threatened to raise the gas price from $46.68 to $200 for 1,000 cubic meters in 2007. RK
SOCIALIST PARTY HEAD ELECTED SPEAKER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
Oleksander Moroz was unexpectedly elected speaker of the Verkhovna Rada on the night of July 6-7, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Moroz's bid was supported by 238 votes in the 450-seat legislature, with votes coming from the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party, whose members effectively broke ranks with the recently established "Orange" coalition and cast doubt on its future. Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose eponymous bloc is a part of the coalition, responded on July 7 by calling on President Viktor Yushchenko to disband parliament. The same day, the deputy head of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine faction, Roman Zvarych, said that Our Ukraine will consider leaving any democratic coalition in which the Socialists participate and instead become an opposition party. RK
UKRAINIAN GAS-TRANSPORTATION CONSORTIUM TO MEET IN JULY
Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov held talks with Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov to obtain guarantees that Gazprom will supply Ukraine with 16.9 billion cubic meters of gas at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters in October-November 2006, "Kommersant-Ukrayiny" reported on July 7. In return, according to the newspaper, the Ukrainian side offered to support Gazprom in agreeing to a united position on the question of further purchases of Turkmen gas. "Kommersant-Ukrayiny" added that Plachkov agreed to pay off all debts Ukraine owes Gazprom by the end of August and to convene a meeting of the founders of the International Consortium for the Management and Development of the Ukrainian Gas Transportation System on July 12. RK
ABKHAZIA URGES RUSSIA TO BACK INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVO
The foreign minister of Georgia's unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia on July 6 called on Russia to back Kosovo's bid for independence. "Recognition of Kosovo sovereignty will be a precedent in world politics" and would strengthen Abkhazia's case for sovereignty, ITAR-TASS reported Sergei Shamba as saying. Shamba added that Abkhazia has more reasons to be a sovereign state than Kosovo, ITAR-TASS reported on July 7. In a July 6 webcast organized by the BBC and the Russian website Yandex, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated earlier calls for conflicts in former Soviet republics to be settled using "universal principles," saying this is needed in order "to prevent such cases when approaches to the regions like Kosovo are different from those to Abkhazia or South Ossetia," RIA-Novosti reported on July 6. Delegations from Kosovo and Serbia have since February been discussing the final status of Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Serbia administered since 1999 by the UN. AG
BRUSSELS RECOMMENDS SEPARATE ACCESSION TALKS FOR MONTENEGRO, SERBIA
The European Commission on July 6 recommended that the EU should hold separate talks with Montenegro and Serbia aimed at concluding a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), a first step to EU membership. The recommendation, which needs the support of EU member states, follows Montenegro's declaration of independence from Serbia in early June. The recommendation will not change Brussels' decision, in May, to freeze SAA negotiations with Serbia as long as it fails to deliver the fugitive war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic for trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a July 6 statement by the European Commission said. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on July 6 welcomed a Serbian "action plan" to capture Mladic, but said that "action is more important than words, and results are even more important," according to an AP report. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will visit Brussels on July 16 to discuss the plan with EU officials, AP quoted Rehn as saying. Rehn said SAA talks will resume as soon as Mladic is handed over. Mladic was the commander of Bosnian Serb forces that seized Srebrenica and massacred an estimated 8,000 Muslims. AG
NATO CHIEF CALLS FOR MORE REFORM, SUPPORT IN CROATIA
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on July 6 gave Croatia "high marks" for its military and political progress. However, de Hoop Scheffer used his meeting in Zagreb with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to urge the Croatian government to raise support for NATO membership. In May, an opinion poll conducted by the Puls agency found that just 29 percent of Croatians support membership of NATO, AFP reported. The NATO chief also called for "further defense reform, fight against corruption, reform of the judiciary," Reuters reported. He repeated a similar message later on July 7 when he visited Albania, according to the German news agency dpa. In Zagreb, de Hoop Scheffer said he is "sure" Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia will receive a "positive signal" about eventual membership of the alliance at the NATO summit in Riga in November. However, he said a decision about enlargement will not be on the agenda. "There is no virus creeping into NATO which would stop the conviction of allies that there will be further enlargement," AP reported him as saying. The three are expected to join in 2008, or possibly 2010. AG
BOSNIA TO FORM A UNITED, MULTIETHNIC ARMY
Bosnia-Herzegovina is to merge its separate Croat, Muslim, and Serb armies into a single force by the end of 2007, the country's three-member presidency decided on July 5. The move is the last step in a reform of the country's defense force started in 2005. Earlier steps included the creation of a state-level Defense Ministry and a joint command. Defense Minister Nikola Radovanovic said the merger will involve a reduction in the number of professional troops, from 12,100 to 10,000, AFP reported on July 6. There will be posts for 5,000 reservists, and 1,000 administrative jobs. Croats, Serbs, and Bosnian Muslims will serve alongside each other in three brigades and will be represented in roughly equal number. A spokeswoman for the international community's high representative, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, called the move a "crucial milestone in the development of a single military force, compatible to NATO standards," AFP reported. AG
BODIES OF MORE SREBRENICA VICTIMS FOUND
Forensic experts said on July 6 that they have unearthed the remains of 268 victims of the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, Reuters reported the same day. The bodies were found in a mass grave in the village of Kamenica, near the town of Zvornik. Reuters quoted experts as saying they expect to find more bodies. About 500 newly discovered bodies of victims of the massacre, the worst in Europe since World War II, will be buried in Srebrenica on July 11, the 11th anniversary of the slaughter. Around 2,000 of the estimated 8,000 victims have so far been reburied in Srebrenica's cemetery. Srebrenica was nominally a "safe zone" protected by UN forces. The German weekly "Der Spiegel" on July 5 reported that widows of some of the victims are preparing to sue the United Nations and Netherlands for failing to protect the city and its male population. AG
NATIONALIST PARTY SCORES LANDSLIDE VICTORY IN MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) took 32.5 percent of the vote in Macedonia's July 5 elections, according to official results released the next day, AFP reported. The current ruling party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) party led by Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, finished second with 23.3 percent. VMRO-DPMNE head Nikola Gruevski predicted that his party took 55 of the parliament's 120 seats, which would mean the end of the governing coalition. The VMRO-DPMNE is expected by many analysts to form a coalition with at least one of the country's two main ethnic Albanian parties, its traditional ally the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), or the Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), AFP reported. The run-up to the vote was marred by violence and ethnic tensions, but the elections were relatively incident-free. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on July 6 characterized the election as "largely democratic" despite "isolated cases of irregularities." The elections were seen as a test of the country's commitment to its efforts to join NATO and the EU. MES
BOMB KILLS EIGHT IN TRANSDNIESTER
Eight people were killed in the capital of Tiraspol on July 6 when a bomb exploded on a minibus, international media reported. Among the dead was a Russian Army nurse, the news agency Infotag reported. Two other members of the 1,500-strong Russian peacekeeping force in the region were among the 26 injured. Twenty of the casualties were reportedly in a serious or critical condition. No one has claimed responsibility for what the region's security chief, Vladimir Antyufeyev, called the worst violence in the region for a decade. Transdniester's interior minister, Oleg Belyakov, said mobsters could be to blame but that "given the worsening of relations with Moldova, the most likely explanation is that the explosion was organized by [Moldova's] special services," AFP reported on July 6. Tensions have risen since Moldova and Ukraine introduced a new customs regime in March. The Moldovan Interior Ministry press office said "Moldovan law enforcement bodies have nothing to do with the blast," Infotag reported on July 6. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin offered his condolences. Moldovan offers of assistance were rejected. Security Minister Antyufeyev said Ukrainian and Russian investigators are helping in the case. AG
MOLDOVAN DEPUTIES WITHDRAW PROPOSAL TO LEAVE CIS
Proponents of a motion calling for Moldova to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) withdrew their motion on July 6, the Basapress news agency reported. Vitalia Pavlicenco, a member of parliament for the Our Moldova bloc, said they made the decision in order "not to give the Moldovan leadership the chance to include a decision by legislators to stay with the CIS in its basket of gifts for Moscow," Basapress reported on July 6. Critics of the CIS, which comprises 12 of the 15 former republics of the Soviet Union, argue that it is dominated by Russia. Pavlicenco said supporters of the motion will return to the issue in six or 12 months because "the CIS is a dead partner that should be taken to the cemetery." The decision was preceded by what Moldovan and Russian news agencies describe as a heated debate in parliament, with some deputies threatening to leave the chamber. Communist Party leader Eugenia Ostapciuc called the motion "a primitive provocation," Basapress said. AG
HAS UKRAINIAN SOCIALIST LEADER DEALT FATAL BLOW TO ORANGE COALITION?
The Verkhovna Rada on July 6 resumed its work after 10 days of a blockade organized by lawmakers from the Party of Regions. In an unexpected move, the Ukrainian parliament elected Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as its speaker. Moroz was elected by lawmakers from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, while his anticipated coalition allies -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine -- shunned the vote. Does the choice of the speaker spell an end to the Orange coalition deal reached in June, after three months of uneasy talks?
An impasse emerged in the Ukrainian parliament on June 27, when lawmakers from the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych blocked the rostrum in and entrance to the Verkhovna Rada hall, thus preventing lawmakers of the coalition from opening a session.
Several days earlier, on June 22, the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (129 seats), Our Ukraine (81 seats), and the Socialist Party (33 seats) -- signed a coalition deal, following three months of negotiations. Regarding the distribution of top government posts, Yuliya Tymoshenko was to assume the post of prime minister, while Petro Poroshenko from Our Ukraine was to become parliamentary speaker. The Socialist Party was entitled under the deal to the post of first deputy prime minister.
Some of the would-be coalition partners were visibly unhappy about the June deal to recreate the Orange government that collapsed in September 2005, after then-Prime Minister Tymoshenko accused then-National Defense and Security Council Secretary Poroshenko of corruption practices and encroaching upon her executive prerogatives. Tymoshenko and Poroshenko, the fiercest enemies in the 2005 feud, were again to assume top government posts, and many saw in this the seeds of a future conflict.
Socialist Party leader Moroz, who aspired to become parliamentary speaker after the March 26 parliamentary elections, was also apparently unhappy with the fact that this post was offered to Poroshenko.
And there was the Party of Regions, which unsuccessfully tried to strike a coalition deal with Our Ukraine in mid-June. After it became clear that the former Orange allies might recreate their governing alliance, the Party of Regions launched a blockade of the parliamentary hall. The blockade was in protest against what the Yanukovych-led party saw as an unlawful scheme to appoint the prime minister and parliamentary speaker in a single, open vote, and against the coalition's failure to offer the opposition sufficient positions on legislative committees.
But the Party of Regions agreed to lift its parliamentary blockade on July 6, after reportedly reaching an agreement with the Orange Revolution allies. According to this agreement, the election of the parliamentary speaker was to be conducted in a secret ballot, and the opposition -- that is, the Party of Regions and the Communist Party -- was offered leadership positions on 50 percent of parliamentary committees.
When everybody thought that the Verkhovna Rada would proceed with approving Poroshenko as speaker, Moroz was suddenly proposed as a candidate for this post. Poroshenko withdrew his candidacy, calling Moroz's move a betrayal of the coalition deal reached on June 22. Moroz was approved as parliamentary speaker with 238 votes exclusively from his party, the Party of Regions, and the Communist Party.
"There is a new coalition, let them work, while we will be in opposition," Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy commented on what happened in the Verkhovna Rada on July 6.
Yuliya Tymoshenko did not comment directly on the election of Moroz, adding only that she does not understand what is going on.
Meanwhile, Moroz explained his election as parliamentary speaker by his intention to heal the west-east division in Ukrainian society deepened by the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2006 parliamentary elections. "We must reduce this tension, which has been artificially created, we must end the split we now see in Ukraine. I'm sure we can overcome this problem. I'm even more sure that we can bring together those who see themselves as the victors and those who see themselves as the vanquished," Moroz said.
How Moroz is going to achieve this goal is not immediately clear. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, with its political-support base in western Ukraine, has repeatedly and firmly declared that it will not enter any governing coalition with the Party of Regions, which is entrenched in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Most likely, Moroz is expecting that a new "grand" coalition would include Our Ukraine along with the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party. Only such an alliance could give some credibility to Moroz's claim about healing Ukraine's west-east rift.
Could Our Ukraine enter a ruling coalition with its fiercest political opponent, the Party of Regions? Such an option was suggested by Our Ukraine itself in mid-June, when the pro-presidential bloc turned to Yanukovych's party to discuss the formation of a new government. There is reportedly a significant group of politicians in Our Ukraine, including caretaker Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, who prefer forming a government with the Party of Regions rather than with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc.
What other options are available for Ukraine?
A ruling coalition could be created by the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. The three parties jointly control 240 votes in the 450-seat legislature. But such a coalition would hardly contribute anything substantial to healing the Ukrainian political split.
If Ukrainian lawmakers fail to approve a new prime minister and cabinet by July 25, President Viktor Yushchenko will have the right to disband the Verkhovna Rada and call for new elections. But last week, Yushchenko ruled out such a possibility. "There will be no repeat elections. It is an excessively expensive pleasure for the country and an inappropriate price [to pay] for the ambitions of some politicians," he said in a radio address on July 1.
The Verkhovna Rada on July 7 postponed its session until next week, apparently not knowing how to resolve its coalition-building conundrum. It seems that the Ukrainian political elite is now waiting for a word from President Yushchenko. It was he who reportedly advised Our Ukraine in June against forging a coalition with the Party of Regions. Perhaps this time, in order to avoid repeat elections, he will urge Our Ukraine to take this step.
AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES NEW COUNTERTERRORISM STRATEGY IN WASHINGTON
In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on July 6, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta elaborated on a new counterterrorism strategy, RFE/RL reported. In his first trip to the United States since becoming foreign minister in April, Spanta said Afghanistan's new counterterrorism strategy is based on three main elements that Kabul views as crucial in the battle against terrorism (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 28, 2006). Firstly, he said, counterterrorism efforts should concentrate on centers of ideological and military training of the terrorists and their financial resources, all of which he described as being outside Afghanistan. Secondly, Spanta said, terrorists should be confronted inside Afghanistan in a sustained manner similar to the current Operation Mountain Thrust in southern Afghanistan; along with military operations, a rapid-deployment capability should be maintained; and once an area is freed of terrorist activities, security forces should be able to hold it. Spanta said the third component involves reconstruction in areas that have been cleared of the terrorist threat. AT
SIX NEW MEMBERS OF AFGHAN SUPREME COURT INTRODUCED
Afghan Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Faruq Wardak told a news conference in Kabul on July 6 that six candidates to the Supreme Court have been introduced to the National Assembly for confidence votes, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The six include three new names (Zamen Ali Behsudi, Gholam Nabi Nawabi, and Omar Barakzai) and three nominees who have already been rejected by the National Assembly because they hold dual citizenship (Bahauddin Baha, Abdul Rashid, and Mohammad Qasem Hashemzai). The Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) previously rejected seven of President Hamid Karzai's nine nominees for the Supreme Count, including an ultraconservative, Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari. According to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Karzai nominated Abdul Salam Azimi on July 3 to be the new chief justice. Azimi reportedly also has dual citizenship. Article 118 of the Afghan Constitution requires members of the Supreme Court to be Afghan citizens but -- unlike Article 72, which explicitly bans foreign citizenship for cabinet ministers -- does not appear to rule out dual citizenship. It is unclear when the Wolesi Jirga might vote on the nominees. AT
AFGHAN PRESIDENT CONCEDES A DEGREE OF 'DISSATISFACTION'
Speaking to journalists in Tokyo on July 6, President Karzai said he has "some sense of dissatisfaction" that his country has not been rebuilt in the four years he has been in office, the "Financial Times" reported. "I had tremendous expectations myself that we would rebuild Afghanistan in four years," Karzai told journalists on the sidelines of a conference on disarming his country's armed groups. "The desire was there," Karzai said, before asking rhetorically, "Is it possible to rebuild the whole thing in four years? No." AT
U.K. CONSIDERS INCREASING TROOP NUMBERS IN AFGHANISTAN
Defense Minister Des Browne indicated to the British Parliament on July 6 that he might request additional troops for deployment in Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. "I can now confirm...that I have received advice on additional deployment and I am considering it, as a matter of urgency, with the chiefs of staff," Browne said. The United Kingdom currently has around 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, 3,200 of whom are deployed in that country's southern Helmand Province, CNN reported on July 6. The United Kingdom, along with the United States, Canada, and forces from the Afghan National Army, are currently engaged in Operation Mountain Thrust in Helmand and the neighboring Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabul provinces. AT
IRANIAN MEETING WITH EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF POSTPONED...
The visit to Brussels of Iran's top nuclear negotiator scheduled for July 5 was postponed for a day for security reasons, according to Iranian news agencies. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani was scheduled to meet with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, but Mehr News Agency reported that an anonymous "informed source" said the presence of Israeli assassins in Brussels led to a delay. An unnamed Iranian "security official" was quoted as charging that the alleged assassins were backed by Israel and "certain European states," IRNA reported. Iranian parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel gave a less precise explanation, telling state television that "a technical reason, rather than a political issue, has been behind the postponement of the visit." BS
...WHILE LARIJANI SAYS NUCLEAR DECISION NOT FORTHCOMING
Larijani attended a dinner with Solana in Brussels on July 6, AFP reported. Larijani said Iran will not respond right away to the international community's proposal that purportedly calls on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for various incentives until international inspectors confirm that the country's nuclear program has no military applications. Solana delivered the proposal to Tehran in early June. Larijani said the response would not come at either that evening's dinner or on July 11, when talks with officials from the countries behind the proposal are scheduled to take place. Tehran has said repeatedly that it must consider the proposal carefully, but also has said that the proposal is vague in some key areas. BS
IRAN PRESSED TO RESPOND TO NUCLEAR PROPOSAL
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei said on July 6 in Ankara that "we hope that Iran will respond promptly and positively -- we hope -- to the [nuclear-incentives] offer that was made by the six countries," Radio Farda reported. "We need to get the parties to start the negotiations, and the earlier we get the parties to the negotiating table the better for everybody," el-Baradei said. "I hope that Iran also understands that the international community is getting somewhat impatient, and the earlier they can provide an answer the better for everybody." French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on July 6 in Paris, "We call on the Iranians to give a rapid response to our offer. It is important that we receive rapid, concrete answers," AFP reported. European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said on July 5 in Brussels that there is "disappointment" in "Iran's slowness," Radio Farda reported. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London on July 4, "What I'd like is a response [to the international offer of incentives] as soon as possible because I don't really see what more there is to talk about," Radio Farda reported. Blair voiced concern that Tehran might harbor a false hope that it can "divide the international community." BS
NEW ANTI-ISRAEL CAMPAIGN IN IRAN
The Students' Justice-Seeking Movement and the Students' Headquarters for the Support of Palestine will raise funds in Tehran for Israel's annihilation, Fars News Agency reported on July 6. The first collection will take place after the Friday Prayers on July 7. On July 8, according to Fars, "Global Slumber and the Need to Support Palestine" will be shown at the Kosar Hall next to the Mellat Bank in Tehran. In Isfahan, fundraising has commenced at 80 local Basij Resistance Force bases and 92 student Basij bases, provincial television reported on July 5. A Basij commander in the town of Shahreza identified only as Colonel Moradi was quoted as saying he expects the fundraising drive -- called Labayk Ya Khamenei (roughly translated as "We are ready to give a positive response to your call, O' Khamenei") -- to raise some $55,000. A July 5 statement from the Isfahan Province Islamic Publicity Coordination Council called on people to participate in anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rallies after the July 7 Friday Prayers, Isfahan Provincial television reported. The statement asserts that "usurper Israel has realized its own futility and worthlessness and, supported by criminal America, it has increased the fire of its grudge and bloodthirstiness to maximum and is continuing its indiscriminate murder of the oppressed people of Palestine." BS
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN
Armenian President Robert Kocharian on July 6 concluded a two-day visit to Iran during which he met with his counterpart, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, international news agencies reported. Kocharian was accompanied by Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Kirakosian. The Iranian and Armenian sides signed seven memoranda of understanding; most related to energy issues, but several dealt with legal matters and cultural preservation. Noyan Tapan and the Armenian "Lragir" newspaper reported on July 6 that the most important topic of discussion was the construction of a natural-gas pipeline connecting the two countries. RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on July 6 that another important topic was connection of the two countries' electricity grids. BS
IRAQI SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT DENOUNCES U.S.
Mahmud al-Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi parliament, met with Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, head of the Imam Reza Shrine Foundation and the provincial representative of Iran's Supreme Leader, during a visit to the western Iranian city of Mashhad on July 6, IRNA reported. During the meeting, al-Mashhadani said the United States is occupying Iraq because it wants to create a Greater Israel, IRNA reported. Al-Mashhadani added that the United States and Israel are working against stability in Iraq, and he attributed the rule of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the United States, saying, "Saddam was appointed in Iraq by the United States itself to help it materialize its arrogant goals." Al-Mashhadani called for a greater Iranian role in his country's reconstruction. Al-Mashhadani arrived in Iran on July 3 at the invitation of his Iranian counterpart, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. BS
THIRTEEN PEOPLE KILLED IN SUICIDE BOMBING IN IRAQ
Thirteen people were killed and another 41 were wounded on July 6 when a suicide bomber's vehicle exploded between two buses carrying Iranian pilgrims in Al-Kufah, a city north of Al-Najaf, Al-Sharqiyah Television and Reuters reported. Munther al-Athari, the head of Najaf's health service, said eight of the dead were Iranians, Reuters reported. Iranian television reported that five Iranian pilgrims lost their lives and 22 others were wounded. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi condemned the incident and blamed the United States, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network Television reported. He described the bombing as a barbaric act that only benefits Iraq's enemies. He added: "The wrong policy of the American occupiers and their refusal to accept responsibility in Iraq have led to the growth of terrorism and ruthless behavior in that country, and the terrorists, by counting on America's erroneous approach, continue their crimes." BS
IRAQ'S NEIGHBORS TO MEET
Foreign ministers from countries neighboring Iraq -- Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey -- and from Egypt and from Iraq itself will meet in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on July 8-9, according to a July 6 statement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry as reported by IRNA. The heads of the Arab League and of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have also been invited. BS
U.S. SOLDIERS CONTINUE BAGHDAD CLEANUP
U.S. soldiers are working with local officials in Baghdad to remove trash and other refuse from the streets of the Iraqi capital, according to a report from the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. military. Local authorities had found it difficult to clean up minor streets because of the number of large barriers and the amount of debris. A U.S. officer said the clearance will make it easier for the Iraqi security forces to respond to emergencies, and will also restore people's pride in their neighborhoods. To date, some 50 such projects have been implemented, at a cost of roughly $6 million. BS