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Newsline - July 17, 2006


MIDDLE EAST CRISIS OVERSHADOWS G8 SUMMIT...
The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries said in a statement at Strelna near St. Petersburg on July 16 that "the root cause of the problems in the region is the absence of a comprehensive Middle East peace," RIA Novosti reported. The statement added that "the immediate crisis results from efforts by extremist forces to destabilize the region and to frustrate the aspirations of the Palestinian, Israeli, and Lebanese people for democracy and peace." The G8 leaders called on both sides to release prisoners and exercise restraint. The statement suggested that a UN monitoring contingent might be sent to the area. PM

...AS PUTIN SETS DOWN HIS OWN POSITION
President Vladimir Putin told reporters at Strelna on July 16 that Russia has information from official Lebanese and other Arab sources that Israel is pursuing unspecified goals beyond securing the release of captured Israeli soldiers, RIA Novosti reported. He cited the sources as saying that Israel's missile strikes at Lebanese infrastructure were not directly linked to freeing the hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). Putin added that no country can ever allow any military attacks from across its frontiers. He stressed that Russia has "connections...normal, almost constant contacts [with Arab officials], and this helped us in today's work" on the crisis, Interfax reported. "This [access to Arab sources] is a Russian advantage," Putin said. Referring to the G8 declaration on the crisis, Putin argued that "if it hadn't been for Russia's position, [the text] would have come out in a different shape, and I don't think it would be as balanced as it is now," international news agencies reported. He stressed that nobody has anything to gain by singling out individual states for condemnation because that would only "cut the umbilical cord of possible contacts with those states." Answering a question from an Israeli reporter, Putin said that "we have made efforts through every channel available to us to help release your soldiers -- I want to say, every channel -- and I have every reason to believe that our actions were not in vain. Due to certain circumstances, I will refrain from disclosing any details at this point." PM

G8 'PAPERS OVER' ENERGY DISPUTES
Participants in the G8 St. Petersburg summit agreed on July 16 to "paper over their differences on energy security, declaring a general commitment to 'open, transparent, efficient, and competitive markets," Britain's "Financial Times" reported on July 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 and 23, and July 13 and 14, 2006). Russia did not meet EU demands to ratify the Energy Charter, which it signed in 1994 and which would require it to open up access to its pipelines. The G8 leaders pledged "to reduce barriers to energy investment and trade." They noted that "it is especially important that companies from energy-producing and -consuming countries can invest in and acquire upstream and downstream assets internationally in a mutually beneficial way and respecting competition rules." One expert told the daily that "Europe needs to recognize the right of Gazprom to have access to its downstream markets, while Russia needs to reduce the gap between export and domestic prices, which would encourage competition inside the country." PM

PUTIN HAILS OVERALL SUMMIT RESULTS
President Putin said at Strelna on July 16 that he is satisfied with the results of the G8 summit, RIA Novosti reported. "All the set goals have been achieved. All the documents that we planned to sign have been adopted with virtually no changes," he added. The texts are entitled: the Middle East, Global Energy Security, Education for Innovative Societies in the 21st century, Fight Against Infectious Diseases, Trade, Update on Africa, Combating IPR Piracy and Counterfeiting, and Fighting High Level Corruption. Additional documents are called the Declaration on Counter-Terrorism, Declaration on Strengthening the UN's Counterterrorism Program, Declaration on Cooperation and Future Action in Stabilization and Reconstruction, and a Statement on Nonproliferation. Putin wrote in a commentary in the "International Herald Tribune" on July 15 that he wants to "make headway in strengthening antiterrorist cooperation. We intend to focus our efforts on the development of its legal basis, counteracting the funding and propaganda of terrorism, including terrorist propaganda in cyberspace. It is extremely important to determine measures assuring the inevitability of retribution for both the terrorists themselves and their sponsors and instigators." PM

PUTIN TAKES SWIPES AT BUSH AND BLAIR
Prior to the opening of the St. Petersburg summit, President Putin discussed nuclear proliferation, counterterrorism, and other issues with U.S. President George W. Bush on July 14, international media reported. Bush noted that the two sides have yet to finalize a bilateral agreement that would pave the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). "The Moscow Times" reported on July 16 that it was expected before the meeting that the state of democracy in Russia also would be on the agenda. Afterward, Bush said that he "talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq, where there's a free press and free religion, and I told [Putin] that a lot of people in our country...hope that Russia would do the same thing. I fully understand, however, that there will be a Russian-style democracy. I don't expect Russia to look like the United States. As Vladimir pointedly reminded me last night, we have a different history, different traditions." The daily noted that "the otherwise grim Putin responded with a wry smile." Putin then said that "we certainly would not like to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq." On July 15, Putin referred to British criticism of Russian democracy, adding that "there are also other questions, [such as] about the fight against corruption. We'd be interested in hearing your experience, including how it applies to Lord [Michael] Levy" of the Labour Party who is being questioned by police about the alleged sale of honors in return for contributions, Reuters reported. The news agency noted that "Putin, a former KGB spy, often produces unexpected quips in an attempt to expose the weakness of his critics" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2006). PM

RUSSIAN POLICE THWART DEMONSTRATORS
Prior to his meeting with President Putin in Strelna, President Bush met on July 14 with democratic and civil society activists to show his concern about the state of Russian democracy, international media reported. He told them that he would raise their concerns with Putin in private. On July 15, about 200 demonstrators turned out in St. Petersburg to debate social change and protest the G8 summit, RFE/RL reported. But when protesters tried to leave the territory of the Kirov stadium to stage a peaceful demonstration, they ran into a locked gate and a tight police cordon. Veteran human rights campaigner Lev Ponomarev, who led the protest, said that "what is happening is one of the most shameful pages of Putin's police Russia." Earlier in the week, Russian security forces beat one German journalist and jailed two others as they sought to report on anti-G8 protests, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on July 15. Unnamed officials from Chancellor Angela Merkel's office tried to play down the incidents. But Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on July 13 that "the use of force against journalists in connection with the G8 summit is absolutely unacceptable. The [detentions]...are also totally inappropriate. The Russian authorities must release both journalists at once.... The freedom of the press is constantly being restricted in Russia. The G8 participants should be aware of this." The two imprisoned journalists were freed and deported to Estonia on July 15, Deutsche Welle reported. PM

PUTIN DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF BAN ON BUSINESSMAN
President Putin said in Strelna on July 16 he does not know why Russia has refused a visa to Bill Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, a fund with about $4 billion invested in Russia, Russian and international news agencies reported. Browder, a British citizen and major investor in the post-Soviet Russian economy, was deported from Russia in November last year without explanation and barred from returning because of unspecified "national security concerns" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2006). PM

PUTIN CAUTIONS JAPAN
President Putin told reporters in St. Petersburg on July 15 that he cannot promise Japan that Russia will build an oil pipeline to the Pacific because there might not be enough oil to justify the project, Reuters reported. He argued that the problem is not funding the pipeline but rather "filling it...from Skovorodino to the Pacific Ocean. To do this we need to actively develop greenfield sites in East Siberia.... We'll keep talking to our Japanese partners, and I have a feeling that we'll reach an acceptable decision" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 28, 2006). The first stage of the pipeline, which will carry 600,000 barrels of crude to China daily, is slated for completion in 2008. PM

RUSSIAN, KAZAKH PRESIDENTS AGREE ON GAS VENTURE
Speaking on July 17 in St. Petersburg, President Putin and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced an agreement to create a joint venture to expand the capacity of the Soviet-built Orenburg refinery in order to process natural gas from Kazakhstan's Karachaganak gas field, news agencies reported. Putin said, "I am pleased to note that our two countries are making a modest but noticeable contribution to ensuring energy security by supplying energy raw materials to world markets." Also speaking in Russian, Nazarbaev added that "the creation of a joint gas-processing plant on Russian territory -- because Karachaganak, one of the world's largest gas condensate fields, is situated on the [Russian-Kazakh] border -- is advantageous in every respect. First of all, it saves billions of dollars that would have been spent on building a new plant. Secondly, this gas-processing complex will become a joint 50-50 venture." PM

RUSSIA WARNS GEORGIA AGAINST USE OF FORCE IN SOUTH OSSETIA
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on July 14 in connection with the death of two adolescents earlier that day in a bomb blast in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 14, 2006). The statement, posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website (http://www.mid.ru), expressed concern over what it termed Tbilisi's "aggressive policy," as reflected in ongoing maneuvers, belligerent statements by individual officials, and the Georgian parliament's intention to demand the immediate withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces currently deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Expressing concern at Tbilisi's refusal to formally abjure the use of force, the statement warned that aggression is unacceptable, and will elicit an appropriate response. It appealed to the Georgian leadership to demonstrate "restraint." On July 16, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told journalists in St. Petersburg that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is losing control over the "party of war," meaning his hawkish Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, RIA Novosti reported. Lavrov said Russian officials asked their G8 counterparts to try to persuade Georgia to "abstain from provocations" for the duration of the summit. LF

CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER PAYS TRIBUTE TO SLAIN DEPUTY
In a July 15 statement posted on the Chechen resistance website chechenpress.org, Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) President Doku Umarov praised his vice president, radical field commander Shamil Basayev, who was killed during the night of July 9-10 in circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006). Umarov praised Basayev's courage, patriotism, and skill as a military commander, and described his death as a severe blow to the resistance. At the same time, in a reference to Basayev's involvement in numerous acts of terrorism, Umarov acknowledged that Basayev's "understanding of justice and of what constitute acceptable methods of warfare did not always correspond with the official policy of the ChRI leadership." Umarov said that in the very near future an emergency session of the ChRI State Defense Council will be held at which a new candidate for the post of vice president will be approved. Under the ChRI Constitution, the vice president is the president's designated successor. LF

FSB HEAD ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO CHECHEN RESISTANCE
Speaking in the name of the National Antiterrorism Center, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev called upon Chechen resistance fighters on July 15 to lay down their arms and begin talks with the federal or pro-Moscow Chechen authorities, Russian media reported. He pledged that those who do surrender will be guaranteed "a fair and objective appraisal" of their activities as members of "illegal armed formations." Patrushev claimed that the majority of resistance fighters have already capitulated, and that some have joined the Chechen police force while others have been elected to the pro-Moscow Chechen parliament. He said nothing and no one can prevent the ongoing strengthening of stability and security in Chechnya and the North Caucasus as a whole. Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov hailed Patrushev's initiative later on July 15, saying it will expedite the "consolidation of society" across southern Russia, according to Interfax as cited by ingushetiya.ru. Also on July 15, pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists in Gudermes that he would have extended the deadline for militants to surrender until September 1, regnum.ru reported. Kadyrov said that the resistance leaders have been "practically destroyed" and that only "young men who have been duped by international terrorists" remain. LF

NORTH OSSETIAN MINISTRY SLAMS 'DESTRUCTIVE' INGUSH HUNGER STRIKE
The Nationalities Ministry of the Republic of North Ossetia has issued a statement condemning the hunger strike launched on July 5 by a dozen Ingush men in the temporary settlement of Maysky to demand the right to return to the villages in North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion from which they fled during the fighting of October-November 1992, according to kavkaz.memo.ru on July 14 as reposted by kavkazweb.net (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). The statement branded the protest action "destructive" and an attempt to discredit the leadership of the Russian Federation, the Southern Federal District, and the Republic of North Ossetia on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. The statement affirmed support for the ongoing resettlement of the Ingush displaced persons from Maysky to the neighboring settlement of Novy, which has no paved roads, water, or gas supplies. Several Ingush families whose trailers were forcibly moved from Maysky to Novy have appealed to presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak to permit them to return to Maysky, ingushetiya.ru reported on July 14. LF

NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT ALLEGES 'INTERFERENCE' BY INGUSHETIA
Taymuraz Mamsurov told journalists on July 15 that unnamed Ingushetian parliamentarians and government officials are behind the demands by Ingush displaced persons to be allowed to return to their former homes in Prigorodny Raion, regnum.ru reported. Mamsurov said those officials "prowl Prigorodny Raion" trying to persuade the displaced persons not to agree to settle in Novy and other sites made available by the North Ossetian leadership, and he called on his Ingushetian counterpart Zyazikov to rein in his subordinates. Also on July 15, the Ingushetian Nationalities Ministry issued a press release condemning as "counterproductive" and "a provocation" the statement circulated the previous day by its North Ossetian counterpart condemning the Maysky hunger strikers, ingushetiya.ru reported. Three Ingushetian parliament deputies issued a statement on July 15 blaming the Maysky hunger strike on the North Ossetian authorities' "blatant" refusal to allow the Ingush to return to their abandoned homes, ingushetiya.ru reported. The three reminded Mamsurov that the Ingush hunger strikers are citizens of North Ossetia and appealed to him to ensure that their rights are respected and they are enabled to return to their abandoned homes. LF

DAGHESTAN'S INTERIOR MINISTRY REJECTS CHECHEN ALLEGATIONS
Daghestan's Interior Ministry issued a statement on July 14 rejecting as untrue Chechen Prime Minister Kadyrov's claim that most of the 13 militants killed during fighting the previous day in Mesketi in southeastern Chechnya close to the border with Daghestan were Avars dispatched to Chechnya to commit acts of terrorism there, regnum.ru reported. The Daghestan Interior Ministry claimed that six of those killed were ethnic Chechens from Daghestan's Khasavyurt and Novo-Lak districts. It said five more militants were apprehended, all of them aged between 14-19. The statement appealed to "sisters, mothers, and wives" to do all in their power to deter their menfolk from joining the resistance. LF

NORTH CAUCASUS GROUPS APPEAL TO GEORGIA
National movements representing the Cherkess, Russian, Karachai, Abazin, Nogai, and Ossetian communities in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic adopted a joint appeal to the Georgian leadership not to undertake any military action against the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, regnum.ru reported on July 14. The groups also appealed to the international community to exert pressure on the Georgian leadership. North Ossetian President Mamsurov warned on July 15 that in the event of a new aggression by Georgia against South Ossetia, volunteers from North Ossetia would flock to South Ossetia to help their co-ethnics there. In Adygeya, the chairman of the republic's Union of Abkhaz Veterans, Amin Zekhov, said that in line with pledges given to that republic's leaders in 2003, his organization is ready to help defend South Ossetia in the event that tensions erupt into violence, regnum.ru reported on July 14. LF

ARMENIAN MINISTERS LOOK AHEAD TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
In line with an earlier pledge, Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on July 14 that he has formally applied for membership of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 30, 2006). He said he will run for parliament in the May 2007 elections on the HHK ticket, but added that a decision on "further steps," meaning whether or not he will participate in the presidential election due in 2008, will depend on whether or not the HHK wins a majority in the new parliament. Also on July 14, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian avoided giving a direct answer to the question whether he will put forward his candidacy for the 2008 presidential ballot, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Oskanian said he believes he "may still participate in the processes of state-building and development," but declined to specify in what capacity. LF

OSCE, U.S. CONDEMN SENTENCES ON AZERBAIJANI YOUTH ACTIVISTS
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office and the U.S. Embassy in Baku issued statements on July 13 and 14, respectively, criticizing the trial and sentencing of three leading members of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Idea), day.az reported on July 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). The OSCE statement expressed concern at "numerous" procedural violations during the trial, while the U.S. statement noted that the right to equal defense before the law and the presumption of innocence were flouted. Baku's Court for Severe Crimes sentenced Yeni Fikir Chairman Ruslan Bashirli to seven and his deputy Ramin Tagiyev to four years' imprisonment on charges of conspiring to destabilize the political situation in the run-up to the November 6 parliamentary elections. LF

GEORGIA, EU SLAM DETENTION OF OSCE MONITORS IN SOUTH OSSETIA
The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on July 14 condemning the detention of two unarmed OSCE observers on July 11 in the South Ossetian conflict zone by "armed South Ossetian militants," Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). The EU Finnish Presidency issued a similar statement condemning the temporary detention of the OSCE observers as "totally unacceptable" and as "casting serious doubts" on South Ossetia's commitment to resolving the conflict peacefully, Caucasus Press reported. On July 13, South Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiev said the two OSCE monitors failed to comply with the commitment to inform the South Ossetian authorities of their planned itinerary and that they were detained by police, not by armed militants, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA, SOUTH OSSETIA OF STAGING TSKHINVALI BOMBING...
Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze told journalists in Tbilisi on July 14 that Russia and South Ossetia were responsible for the "outrageous" bomb attack in Tskhinvali that morning that killed two young men and injured four other people, Caucasus Press and RIA Novosti reported. Antadze accused Russia and South Ossetia of seeking to fuel tensions in order to create a pretext for military intervention, allegedly to protect Russian citizens. Some 90 percent of the Ossetian population of South Ossetia have Russian passports. LF

...AND DETAINS RUSSIAN OFFICIALS
Georgian police intercepted a Russian vehicle with diplomatic license plates in the South Ossetian conflict zone on July 14 and prevented it from proceeding to Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava was quoted by RIA Novosti on July 14 as saying that the Russian passengers, who included Ambassador Yury Popov and Deputy Commander of the Russian Army Ground Forces Lieutenant General Valery Yevnevich, were detained for their own security in light of the bombing in Tskhinvali earlier that day. On July 17, however, Caucasus Press quoted Khaindrava as criticizing Georgian Military Police Chief Aleksandre Sukhitashvili for his "irresponsible" decision to bar the Russians from entering Tskhinvali. Khaindrava pointed out that the officials were traveling in a car with diplomatic plates and thus enjoyed diplomatic immunity. He said some of Georgia's allies have criticized the move. The Russians planned to attend a meeting in Tbilisi on July 17-18 of the Joint Control Commission that monitors developments in the conflict zone, but South Ossetian government spokesperson Irina Gagloeva told journalists on July 14 that President Eduard Kokoity has decided that South Ossetia will not after all send a representative to that meeting, Caucasus Press reported. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN MINISTER'S JAIL SENTENCE REDUCED
Georgia's Appeals Court reduced on July 14 from 10 to seven and a half years the jail term handed down in March 2005 to former Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava, Caucasus Press reported. Mirtskhulava was found guilty of abuse of office and of misappropriating some $6 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2005). His lawyer Eka Beselia said the Appeals Court "did not dare" annul the sentence even though Mirtskhulava "did not commit any crime," and that she will appeal the case to the Supreme Court. LF

KAZAKH POLICE STORM ILLEGAL DEVELOPMENT OUTSIDE ALMATY, DOZENS INJURED
Nearly 40 people were injured in Almaty on July 14 in clashes between police and the residents of Shanyrak -- a settlement outside Almaty that the authorities have deemed illegal -- when at least 150 police attempted to enforce a court order for the demolition of 114 houses, Channel 31 and news agencies reported. Medical authorities in Almaty said 37 people sought treatment after the clash, including a policeman with burns over 70 percent of his body, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Residents fought off police with stones and Molotov cocktails. Community activist Marzhan Aspandiyarova told Regnum that residents took three policemen hostage but later released them. Channel 31 reported that police withdrew from Shanyrak after the clash, although they have opened a criminal case and plan to use video evidence to identify the instigators of the violence. Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhametzhanov is in Almaty to investigate the situation. The authorities recently dismantled a similar settlement in the Almaty suburb of Bakai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5 and 10, 2006). DK

KYRGYZSTAN, U.S. REACH NEW BASE AGREEMENT
Kyrgyz and U.S. negotiators reached a deal on July 14 for a U.S. air base at Manas Airport to remain in Kyrgyzstan, Reuters and AP reported. A joint statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan said that Kyrgyzstan will receive $150 million "in total assistance and compensation over the next year," pending U.S. congressional approval. The statement did not specify exactly how much the United States will pay to lease the base, noting only that the U.S. government will "compensate equitably the Kyrgyz government and Kyrgyz business for goods, services, and support of U.S. operations." Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said in an interview in early 2006 that Kyrgyzstan wanted to raise annual lease payments for the base from $2.7 million to $207 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006). DK

KYRGYZ POLICE KILL FIVE SUSPECTED MILITANTS IN JALALABAD...
Kyrgyz security forces killed five suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad on July 14, Fergana.ru and akipress.org reported. The joint operation was conducted by police and the National Security Service (SNB). SNB spokesman Oital Osmonov told akipress.org that the suspected militants were involved in a recent shooting of police in Jalalabad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006), as well as bomb explosions in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and a market in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2003). A Jalalabad police source told Interfax that the men were planning a terror attack. He said, "Accomplices of the militants detained earlier disclosed that they had been planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Jalalabad. They planned to use a Kamaz truck loaded with explosives to destroy the regional police department." The source added that two of the five dead were citizens of Kyrgyzstan and other three came from Uzbekistan. DK

...AS TAJIKISTAN ANNOUNCES ARREST OF IMU SUSPECTS
Tajik police in Sughd province on July 14 arrested four suspected members of the IMU, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. A police source told the news agency that security forces searched the suspects' homes and found "laptops with files containing texts of a religious and extremist nature calling for jihad, a DVD with a call for 'holy war,' and extremist literature in the Uzbek language." The source said that one of the suspects attempted to flee and was wounded before he was apprehended. DK

WORLD BANK QUESTIONS TURKMENISTAN'S CLAIM OF HUGE ECONOMIC GROWTH
The Turkmen government claims the country's economy posted 20 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in the first half of 2006, the government's official website (http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm) reported on July 15. The World Bank's country information for Turkmenistan indicates that Turkmenistan has reported nearly 20 percent annual GDP growth since 1999, although the bank notes that "alternative estimates by international financial organizations indicate that the growth rates may have been substantially lower than official estimates." DK

REPORT SAYS FORMER UZBEK MINISTER RECEIVES CONDITIONAL SENTENCE
An unconfirmed report on the independent website dialoguz.com on July 14 stated that former Uzbek Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov has received a five-year conditional prison term. Previous reports from opposition sources had indicated that Ghulomov was being tried for offenses he was alleged to have committed during his tenure as defense minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2006). Ghulomov was removed from his post in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 21, 2005). DK

U.S., EU CONDEMN CONVICTION OF FORMER BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The U.S. State Department and the EU representatives in Belarus have condemned the conviction of former Belarusian presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, who was sentenced on July 13 to 5 1/2 years in prison for hooliganism and disorderly conduct, Belapan reported on July 14. The United States described Kazulin's trial as "a politically motivated process designed to punish Kazulin for expressing his political views," and called on Belarusian authorities to free Kazulin and "all those being held on politically motivated charges." The State Department promised to take steps to impose "appropriate sanctions on those responsible for this abuse of a Belarusian citizen's rights." The heads of EU diplomatic missions in Minsk said that, by sentencing Kazulin, "the Belarusian authorities reaffirmed their disregard for democratic values, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and political association." AM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES DEFEND COURT DECISION, REJECT CRITICISM
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has upheld Kazulin's sentence, Belapan reported on July 14. "The judiciary of the Republic of Belarus is governed exclusively by Belarus' national legislation in accordance with the principle of the rule of law," ministry spokesman Andrey Papou said, referring to statements by the U.S. Department of State and the heads of EU diplomatic missions. "With regret and surprise, the Belarusian side once again notes the intention of the U.S. and the European Union to intervene in court proceedings in Belarus and their attempt to exercise outside pressure on decision making by judges," Papou added. AM

BELARUSIAN PRO-GOVERNMENT COMMUNISTS PROCLAIM MERGER WITH OPPOSITION COMMUNISTS
The leadership of the pro-government Communist Party of Belarus (CPB) proclaimed on July 15 a merger with the opposition Belarusian Party of Communists (BPC), Belapan reported on July 16. According to the organizers of the merger conference, the event gathered more than 150 CPB delegates and over 70 BPC members, although those figures were disputed. The resulting organization will reportedly adopt the CPB's ideology. The BPC leadership slammed the merger conference, describing it as a government-orchestrated move to liquidate the influential opposition party. According to the BPC, the merger conference was attended only by two BPC members, who were earlier removed from the ranks of the BPC. The BPC was one of the four opposition forces that backed Alyaksandr Milinkevich in the March presidential elections. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO COUNTER ANARCHY AND CHAOS
President Viktor Yushchenko said in a July 15 address to the Verkhovna Rada that he will not allow anarchy, chaos, nor a national split in Ukraine, Interfax reported. "I am aware that there are political forces that would prefer a radical turn in the situation and are interested in confrontation for the sole aim of gaining absolute power," Yushchenko said, adding he hopes the political forces in the parliament will reach consensus before July 25, when he will have the authority to dissolve the parliament. Yushchenko described the possibility of a dissolution of parliament and early parliamentary elections as "a costly luxury for Ukraine." AM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER COMES OUT AGAINST POSSIBLE PARLIAMENT DISSOLUTION
Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, who is a key Our Ukraine official, has said that dissolving parliament will not settle the political crisis in Ukraine, Interfax reported on July 14. "I have always been for a broad coalition involving political forces that support President Yushchenko's program," Yekhanurov said, adding that some politicians' ambitions have prevented the creation of such a coalition. "Instead of assuming solidarity...some politicians started the process of confrontation," he said. AM

ANTI-CRISIS COALITION SAYS IT WILL BACK UKRAINE'S EUROPEAN ASPIRATIONS
The "anti-crisis" coalition created by the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party announced on July 14 that its main goals are Ukraine's full membership in the EU and the completion of the Single Economic Space, Interfax reported, citing the coalition agreement. The agreement reads that joining NATO would only come following a nationwide referendum. The agreement also provides for mandatory consultations with the Ukrainian president on nominations of key posts in the government. AM

SERBIAN PROSECUTORS INDICT 10 PEOPLE FOR ASSISTING MLADIC
Prosecutors in Serbia indicted 10 people on July 14 for their alleged roles in helping war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic to evade capture, international news agencies reported the same day. The group of seven men and three women are already in custody. Among them is Mladic's former security chief Jovan Djogo, dpa reported. "They hid and helped Ratko Mladic...even though they knew that indictments were issued against him by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia," Reuters quoted a statement from prosecutors as saying. The European Union suspended talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement due to Serbia's failure to capture Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). BW

SREBRENICA TRIAL BEGINS AT THE HAGUE
The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on July 14 opened the trial of seven Bosnian Serb military and police officers accused of participating in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dpa reported the same day. Five of the men face charges of genocide for their role in the killing of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys. Two others face charges of murder and forced deportation. At the start of the trial, ICTY judges cut off opening remarks by chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte after objections from defense attorneys. Del Ponte was making a statement remembering the Srebrenica victims when the defense objected, saying only procedural matters were on the agenda. Del Ponte said she was "struck dumb" by the decision, insisting that she was talking not about her emotions, but about facts, dpa reported. BW

BOSNIAN MUSLIM SENTENCED FOR WAR CRIMES AGAINST SERBS
The Sarajevo Canton Court on July 13 sentenced a Bosnian Muslim to 14 1/2 years in prison for war crimes, dpa reported the same day. Samir Bejtic was convicted of involvement in the murders of Bosnian Serb civilians from Sarajevo as well as those of a number of Bosnian Serbs serving with the Bosnian army. BW

UN ENVOY INVITES SERBIAN, ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADERS FOR DIRECT TALKS
Martti Ahtisaari, the chief UN envoy for talks on Kosova's final status, has invited Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders to hold direct talks in Vienna about the future of the UN-administered Serbian province, AP reported on July 16. The two sides have already held six rounds of talks on Kosova, but the proposed meeting, which would take place during the week of July 24, would be the first time that high-level officials from both sides would have met face to face to formally present plans for Kosova, AP reported. "We are waiting for a formal response from both parties and then we will finalize the details," UN spokeswoman Hua Jiang said. BW

TRANSDNIESTER CALLS INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM
Transdniester's Supreme Council voted unanimously on July 12 to hold a referendum on independence, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported the same day. The legislature set September 17 as the date for the vote. Residents of the breakaway region of Moldova will be asked to vote on two questions: Should Transdniester seek independence and possible integration with Russia? And should Transdniester abandon its quest for independence and integrate with Moldova? The two agencies quoted Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin as saying that "the referendum will have no legal consequence," regardless of the result. "Not only Moldova, but also the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international organizations have stated this," Voronin said. BW

WITH PARLIAMENT DIVIDED, UKRAINE ON BRINK OF CHAOS
With parliament hopelessly divided into the pro-Russian Party of Regions, aligned with the Socialists against the West-leaning Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, there are no signs of a viable government on the horizon.

President Viktor Yushchenko is threatening to call new parliamentary elections as he invokes what he called "violations of the constitution and procedures" in the creation of a new majority in Ukraine's bitterly divided Verkhovna Rada. How serious he is about this is not yet clear, since he himself recently declared his opposition to a fresh ballot. The options though are narrowing fast.

Former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has no such inhibitions. She told the U.S. daily "The Christian Science Monitor" on July 12 that the parliament has betrayed its promises to the people and is therefore illegitimate. There are two possibilities, she said: either we "become the coalition ourselves, or, if the law allows it, we will definitely be in favor of holding an early election".

Perhaps because it senses public opinion swinging in its favor, the Party of Regions is also in favor of holding new parliamentary elections. Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the party, may feel he has a chance now to win a majority in parliament.

But this could be wishful thinking. The chances are that new parliamentary elections would merely confirm the rifts that so badly divide Ukraine, further alienate the country's long-suffering electorate, and do nothing to bring political compromise any closer.

President Yushchenko is postponing any decision on what to do next by calling on parliament to elect a new Constitutional Court before he nominates anyone for the position of prime minister. He has also said that any new prime minister must be a moderate with no "business interests." He clearly wants to exclude Yanukovych but may have in mind Renat Akhmetov as a compromise candidate. Akhmetov is the richest and one of the most influential members of the Party of Regions.

As the political battles in parliament continue, the government appears rudderless. In the meantime, negotiations have resumed to create an international gas consortium to manage the Ukrainian gas-pipeline system. This consortium would most likely consist of Ukraine, Russia, and Germany.

Russia, which earlier this month threatened to increase the price of gas for Ukraine, has apparently decided to wait and see. It may fear that a significant increase in the gas price would show that the pro-Russian Party of Regions is no more able to influence decisions made in Moscow than Yushchenko.

In the absence of a strong central government, regional and city councils in eastern Ukraine are challenging the authority of the state. They have refused to obey orders to rescind resolutions making Russian the "second official language" -- resolutions that directly contradict the constitution.

Yushchenko appears either unable or unwilling to use force to enforce the law and is in danger of losing face with his core support base in western Ukraine. Many there are demanding that he act forcibly to prevent the country from sliding into anarchy. But, as Yushchenko no doubt fears, a show of force may make matters worse.

COALITION VOWS TO PRESS OFFENSIVE IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S.-led coalition forces vowed to continue an offensive against neo-Taliban insurgents on July 17, saying government authorities will regain control of areas in the country wracked by violence, AP reported. Coalition forces have reportedly killed hundred of neo-Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. Coalition spokesman Colonel Tom Collins said in Kabul that the offensive, called Operation Mountain Thrust, aimed to regain control of areas from neo-Taliban insurgents and drug traffickers. "Because of that, there is no end date, per se, to Mountain Thrust," said Collins. "But at some point we will stop decisive operations on a large-scale and begin to go to the reconstruction and humanitarian efforts." MR

COALITION FORCES SAY INSURGENTS EXAGGERATE CIVILIAN CASUALTY CLAIMS IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S.-led coalition authorities said on July 16 that neo-Taliban forces are fabricating civilian casualty figures in a recent bombing, AFP reported. Neo-Taliban fighters, civilians, and a regional legislator say scores of civilians died when U.S. warplanes pounded Nawzad in the southern Helmand Province with about six bombs on July 12. But coalition authorities say most civilians in the area fled due to fighting ahead of the air strikes. A coalition spokesman said: "From our battle damage assessments from operations in Nawzad on Wednesday (July 12), we have not found any evidence that the coalition caused civilian casualties," adding that the coalition "strongly and emphatically believes that extremist spokespersons have fabricated these claims as part of their propaganda campaign." MR

FOUR AFGHAN SOLDIERS KILLED BY ROADSIDE BOMB
Four Afghan army soldiers died when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle on July 16 in western Afghanistan, AFP reported. Three others were wounded in the attack, which happened as Afghan army vehicles patrolled an area near Herat. A statement from the Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed the attack. MR

SUICIDE BOMBING KILLS TWO IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
A suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army convoy on July 16 in eastern Afghanistan, killing two civilians, AFP reported. One solider was also wounded in the attack, which occurred in Paktia Province. Local police said the bomber was on foot and had explosives strapped to his body. "The bomber ran towards an Afghan National Army convoy just outside the provincial capital, Gardez, and detonated the explosive strapped to his body," local police chief Abdul Annan Raufi said. Those killed were bystanders, not Afghan soldiers. MR

IRANIAN OFFICIALS DECLARE READINESS FOR NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during a July 16 press conference in Tehran that referring Iran to the UN Security Council for its failure to cooperate on the nuclear issue is not "constructive," state television reported. Doing so will not contribute to a negotiated solution, he added. Turning to the package of incentives Tehran received from the international community in early June, he said, "we considered the proposed package as a proper basis for cooperation...but we also think it is a potential that needs to be processed further." The only way to accomplish anything, he said, is through negotiations. Until that happens, "we cannot be certain what our response would be." In Mashhad on July 15, Supreme National Security Council Deputy Secretary Gholamreza Rahmani-Fazli told a meeting of Basij officials from Khorasan Razavi Province that Iran is prepared to begin talks about its nuclear program, IRNA reported. It will not, however, accept any preconditions. BS

IRANIAN LEADERS HAIL HIZBALLAH, CONDEMN ISRAEL AND U.S.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on July 16 that the most recent events in Lebanon and the Palestine territories prove that "the presence of the Zionists in the region is a satanic and cancerous presence and an infected tumor for the entire world of Islam," state television reported. He went on to say that Hizballah has foiled "the Zionists'" desire to control Lebanon, which is why U. S. President George W. Bush is calling for Hizballah's disarmament. The Lebanese people recognize the value of Hizballah, Khamenei continued, and "They know that it is these same powerful arms that have prevented the Zionists from doing whatever they want with Lebanon whenever they want." President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on July 15: "The Zionists present themselves as Hitler's victims, but they are resorting to Hitler-like policies themselves," state radio reported. Ahmadinejad added that "the contrived Zionist regime" was imposed on the region and can only survive through the use of "injustice and aggression." Countries should withdraw their support of Israel, he added according to IRNA, or sponsor a Palestinian referendum. BS

TEHRAN DENIES ITS TROOPS ARE IN LEBANON
The Iranian Embassy in Beirut denied on July 15 that any of the country's military personnel are in Lebanon, Al-Alam television and the Lebanese National News Agency reported. Earlier that day, an anonymous "senior IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] source" told the Voice of Israel from Jerusalem that an Iranian missile struck an Israeli Navy vessel off the Lebanese coast. The source described an Iranian C802 shore-to-ship missile that uses Chinese technology. Hizballah subsequently denied that Iranian personnel fired the missile, Al-Jazeera television reported. Hizballah said Lebanese citizens carried out the attack, and Israeli claims such as this are intended to downplay Hizballah's capabilities. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah reiterated the denial on July 16, Al-Manar television reported. "I categorically deny that there were Iranian soldiers -- neither in this operation nor in any other," he said. There is talk about Iranians today and possibly North Koreans, Japanese, Russians, or Chinese tomorrow, he continued, in an effort to convey the impression that Lebanese and Arabs are inferior to Israelis and are incapable of such operations. BS

IRANIANS VOLUNTEER TO FIGHT ISRAEL
A spokesman for the Commemoration Headquarters for the Martyrs of Islam's World Movement, identified only as Mohammadi, said on July 16 that 27 members who have been trained to carry out suicide bombings have been sent to Lebanon, Mehr News Agency reported. These individuals will take action if Israel attempts to occupy Lebanon, he said, and they also are ready to form resistance cells. Samadi said Iran's Basij Resistance Force, which is an arm of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, issued a statement on July 16 in which it condemned the Israeli attack on Lebanon, condemned Western governments that support Israel, and pledged support for the Palestinians, according to the Basij News Agency (www.basijnews.ir). The statement added, "the Basij Resistance Force believes that Israel, the region's rancid cancerous tumor, must be wiped off the map." The Pro-Justice Student Movement announced on July 15 that a convoy of students will be sent to Palestine and to Lebanon in the coming week, ILNA reported. BS

HIZBALLAH DENIES BEING AN IRANIAN OR SYRIAN CAT'S-PAW
Mahmud Qamati, deputy chairman of the Hizballah Political Council, told Al-Jazeera on July 15, "We would like to confirm today that the Iranians or Syrians have nothing at all to do with the actions of the resistance in Lebanon, or with the confrontation of the Israeli aggression." He said such allegations are meant to pressure the two countries to force Hizballah to disarm, as called for by UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Lebanese American University Professor Amal Saad-Ghorayeb also dismissed such accusations in a July 15 commentary in "The Guardian." "To suggest Hizballah attacked [Israel on July 12] on the orders of Tehran and Damascus is to grossly oversimplify a strong strategic and ideological relationship," she writes. Syria, Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas have overlapping interests and "form a strategic axis." However, Hizballah has "never allowed any foreign power to dictate its military strategy." Chibli Mallat, a law professor at Lebanon's St. Joseph University and a presidential candidate, commented in "The Daily Star" on July 14 that "the Syrian and Iranian leaderships have been stoking the flames in Lebanon to deflect domestic pressures." BS

TEHRAN LABOR PROTEST LEADS TO ARRESTS
Speaking on behalf of dismissed state bus-company employees on July 15, Said Torabian said six people were arrested at a demonstration that day, ILNA reported. Another three, who went to the Labor Ministry to meet with officials, were arrested there. Ali Jahanbakhsh, director of the political-disciplinary office of Tehran's Governorate-General, said on July 15 that a permit for a July 16 labor demonstration in Tehran was denied because the event would cause traffic problems, ILNA reported. Iranian bus drivers have gone on strike before over many issues (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," January 9, February 6, and May 29, 2006.) BS

BAGHDAD MAYOR VISITS TEHRAN
Baghdad Mayor Sabir al-Isawi arrived in Tehran on July 15 and met with his counterpart, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Mehr News Agency reported. Qalibaf offered his municipality's assistance in a variety of areas, from traffic services to engineering. Al-Isawi said he hopes Tehran will sign the sister city agreement proposed by Baghdad six months earlier than originally planned. BS

BLOODY DAY AS IRAQ'S DEPOSED BA'ATH PARTY MARKS 1968 COUP
Dozens of Iraqis were killed in the Shi'ite town of Al-Mahmudiyah on July 17, as Ba'athists loyal to Saddam Hussein marked the anniversary of the 1968 coup that brought the party to power in Iraq, international media reported. Early reports from Al-Mahmudiyah indicated that insurgents opened fire in a crowded marketplace, killing at least 40 people. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television put the number of dead at 70, while local police said 55 were killed, Reuters reported. AP reported 41 dead and 42 wounded. Sporadic information trickling out of the town later indicated that a car bomb may have exploded near the marketplace. There were also reports of a possible insurgent attack on a Shi'ite funeral procession. Parliamentarians aligned with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed out of a parliament session to protest the attack on the town. KR

HEAD OF IRAQ'S NORTH OIL COMPANY ABDUCTED
Adil Muhammad al-Qazaz, head of the state-owned North Oil Company, was abducted in Baghdad on July 16 after leaving an Oil Ministry meeting, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Witnesses said that the abductors drove vehicles similar to those used by Iraqi security forces. The abduction followed the July 15 abduction of some 30 Iraqis from an Iraqi Olympic Committee meeting in the capital. In that incident, witnesses alleged that some 50-60 gunmen dressed in blue camouflage uniforms resembling those used by Interior Ministry forces stormed the meeting, taking the hostages away in broad daylight. Committee Chairman Ahmad al-Hadjiya was among those taken hostage. Six hostages from that incident have since been released. KR

IRAQI GOVERNMENT DENOUNCES ISRAEL, EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR LEBANON
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari took part in the July 15 emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on the situation in Lebanon and Gaza, according to a July 16 statement on the ministry's website. The meeting adopted four decisions, including condemnations of "the Israeli aggression on Palestinian territory," and "Israel's assault on Lebanon." The press release noted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's July 15 denunciation of the Israeli air strikes on Lebanon. Iraq's parliament unanimously condemned the Israeli offensive on July 15. Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi condemned the Israeli operations on July 16, calling them "unacceptable and despicable," dpa reported the next day. KR

SUNNI INSURGENT GROUPS IN IRAQ VOICE SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS, LEBANESE
Sunni insurgent groups active in Iraq have voiced support for Palestinians and Lebanese in recent days, according to statements posted to the Internet. The Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq -- 1920 Revolution Brigades praised the "Lebanese resistance" in a July 13 statement for "standing up against Zionist occupation." The group pledged its support to the Palestinian and Lebanese people, and called on "all the jihad groups in Iraq to intensify their jihad operation, strengthen and toughen it, in spite of the American and British occupation, in support of our brothers in Palestine and Lebanon." KR

IRAQI JOINT STAFF COLLEGE GRADUATES 37 SENIOR MILITARY OFFICERS
The NATO-sponsored Iraqi Joint Staff College graduated 37 senior officers from its senior staff course in Al-Rustamiyah on July 15, according to a July 16 Multinational Force -- Iraq press release. The 10-month course, which began in September 2005, focused on international relations, national security, defense policy, leadership training, operational planning, and international and humanitarian law. The graduates are ranked from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general. The statement noted that 50 students recently graduated from the junior-staff course at the Joint Staff College. KR

STATE OF EMERGENCY IN IRAQ EXTENDED FOR ANOTHER MONTH
The Council of Representatives voted on July 15 to extend the state of emergency for all areas south of the Kurdistan region for another month, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The decision came following a request for an extension by the Presidency Council. KR

FORMER IRAQI LEADER'S HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES
Saddam Hussein and three of his co-defendants in the Al-Dujayl trial entered the ninth day of a hunger strike on July 16, Reuters reported the same day, citing a U.S. military spokesman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). "There's no change," Lieutenant Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry said. "Despite their refusal to eat, they're still deemed to be in good health." Curry said Hussein continues to drink sweetened coffee and other liquids. The military has not identified the other three taking part in the hunger strike. KR

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