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Newsline - August 3, 2006


RUSSIA TELLS ARABS IT WILL SEEK 'IMMEDIATE END' TO MIDEAST VIOLENCE
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, a senior envoy to the Middle East who recently visited the region, told the ambassadors to Russia of an unspecified number of Arab countries and the charge d'affaires of the Arab League on August 2 that Russia wants an "immediate end to the bloodshed" in the region, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26 and 31 and August 1, 2006). He added that Russia also wants to see "a shift toward a negotiated settlement of the crisis, with a view to reviving the Middle East peace process on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions." Saltanov stressed that "neither side can expect to emerge the winner from this conflict." PM

RUSSIA REPORTEDLY STOPS OIL SUPPLIES TO LITHUANIA AFTER DRUZHBA PIPELINE LEAK
Nelson English, who is the CEO of Lithuania's Mazeikiu oil refinery, which is the only refinery in the Baltic states, told Bloomberg news in Juodeikiai on August 2 that his enterprise is "not getting any crude by pipeline at the moment," mosnews.com reported on August 3. He added that "we don't know that we won't get crude, but we're preparing in case we won't." The shortfall is believed to be the result of a recent breach in the 4,000-kilometer Druzhba Pipeline, which is about 40 years old and needs repairs and upgrades. At the time of the accident, Russian officials sent out mixed signals about the seriousness of the damage. Transneft, which operates the pipeline, maintained that the hole was repaired quickly. On August 2, however, an official of the Natural Resources Ministry told Interfax that the damage could take up to one year to fix, adding that an entire 70-kilometer section must be replaced. The pipeline branches into three segments in Belarus, with the northern one bringing crude mainly to Mazeikiu and the other two going on to Eastern and Central Europe. On July 11, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said that Russia is using energy policy as a form of "blackmail" against those who will not do Moscow's bidding politically. He added: "Those who control your energy supply control you politically. This is unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, July 12, and August 1, 2006). PM

OFFICIALS TURN ATTENTION TO DEVELOPING KURILES...
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at an August 3 government session to discuss the Kurile Islands that the remote region's development program for 2007-15 should be more realistic than was its predecessor, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 14, 2005, and February 22 and March 23, 2006). "Obviously, this is an important Russian region, though peripheral and neglected for a long time," he added. German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said that the dwindling population of 19,300 will be "stabilized" and then increased to an "optimal" 28,000-30,000 by 2015, with the fish catch doubled and rate of industrial growth increased by 1.5 times. He denied periodic media reports that Moscow is considering returning two of the islands to Tokyo as part of a broader deal between the two countries, gazeta.ru reported. He stressed that a serious development program will be a signal to Japan that Russia has no intention of giving up the islands, news.ru reported. The government approved the program at the session. PM

...WHERE MORE THAN ECONOMY IS AT STAKE
Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov argued at the August 3 government session that nothing can be done in the Kuriles until a proper infrastructure is in place, Interfax reported. He stressed that "there will be nothing there before roads, piers, and an airport are built. The establishment of any [travel] zones [for Japanese tourists] is out of the question." He reminded the other ministers that army troops, border guards, and their families constitute the bulk of the population. Japan claims the southern Kurile Islands, which are known in Japan as the Northern Territories, or islands of Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashiri, and Etorofu. The Red Army occupied them after the Soviet Union declared war on Japan in the last weeks of World War II in the Pacific. The two countries have never signed a formal peace treaty, primarily because of the territorial dispute. PM

KHABAROVSK CONSIDERING BUILDING GAS PIPELINE TO CHINA
Viktor Ishayev, who is the long-serving governor of Khabarovsk Krai, met with Stephen Terni of Exxon Mobil's subsidiary Exxon Neftegaz Limited in Khabarovsk on August 2 to discuss building a pipeline to supply gas from Sakhalin to China, RIA Novosti reported. The pipeline would run from Okha to Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Khabarovsk and on to China, and could carry 8 billion cubic meters per year. Ishayev said that the tentative plan is to construct the pipeline parallel to a smaller one that will run from Sakhalin to Khabarovsk and is slated to be completed later in 2006. He added that he will authorize Exxon to launch a survey but that the final decision on the pipeline will be made by the government. Exxon Neftegaz Limited has a 30 percent share in the Sakhalin-I project, which is the largest foreign direct investment project in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). PM

COURT CENSURES WEBSITE OVER MUHAMMAD CARTOONS
On August 2, the Moscow Arbitration Court upheld a formal warning sent on March 10 by Rosohrankultura, the government's media watchdog, to the popular website gazeta.ru for publishing some of the original Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Interfax reported. In March, Editor in Chief Mikhail Mikhailin said in response to the reprimand that he and his colleagues were not trying to inflame passions but to provide information about important developments in the world to their readers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 17 and 21, April 5, and May 26, 2006). On April 4, the Moscow-based daily "Novye izvestia" commented that an official campaign against "fascism" and hate crimes is under way in order to channel political protests so that they do not focus on the authorities and to put President Vladimir Putin's Unified Russia party in a favorable light. PM

TRADERS STAGE DEMONSTRATION AT ARMENIAN-GEORGIAN BORDER CROSSING
Several hundred traders resumed a demonstration on August 2 at a major border-crossing post along the Armenian-Georgian border, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The demonstrators were protesting the closure of a well-known local market frequented by traders from Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan engaged in vibrant cross-border commerce. Armenian customs officials closed the Armenian side of the market in the border village of Bagratashen last week after Georgian customs officials closed the Georgian side in the village of Sadakhlo. Both Armenian and Georgian customs officials argued that their respective closures were necessitated by the need to combat large-scale smuggling of goods via the market. The demonstration, supported by local residents as well as traders, began on July 31 and resumed on August 2. Participants blocked roads and impeded traffic traveling the main Armenian highway leading to the Georgian border before their demonstration was broken up by police. RG

ARMENIAN PRISON CHIEF DENIES ALLEGATIONS OF PRISONER ABUSE
Aram Sargsian, the chief of one of Armenia's largest prisons, denied on August 2 allegations that four inmates have been tortured and held in inhuman conditions since their unsuccessful prison escape recently, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The prisoners, three of whom are in their 20s, are currently serving life sentences at the Nubarashen jail on the southern outskirts of Yerevan. They began a weeklong hunger strike after allegedly being assaulted by prison guards for attempting to escape. After conducting an official inspection of the prisoners' conditions on July 31, Grigor Grigorian of the office of the human rights ombudsman denounced their living conditions and said the prisoners have been denied "minimum" prison amenities such as medical aid, personal hygiene, and exercise, Noyan Tapan reported. Sargsian said the prisoners are currently subject to "punitive conditions," but argued that "no additional methods are being used to cause them psychological and physical pain." Although conditions in Armenian prisons are believed to have improved since the local penitentiary system was transferred from police to Justice Ministry jurisdiction in 2002, a report by nongovernmental organizations released in June 2005 following a yearlong inspection of the country's prisons found conditions "unsatisfactory," with most prisons seriously overcrowded and unsanitary. RG

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE DECRIES APATHY AND URGES CIVIC ACTIVISM
Former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian decried on August 1 widespread popular apathy and called on Armenians to become more engaged in civic activism, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In an address to a meeting of his opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party, Hovannisian criticized the increasingly open pattern of vote buying and influence peddling in preparation for the parliamentary elections set for next year. Following an escalating and public confrontation between Hovannisian and President Robert Kocharian, the leadership of the party was evicted from its Yerevan headquarters last March and remains unable to reclaim its offices in a state-owned building despite a court verdict that effectively declared the eviction illegal. The party congress, which was limited to only some 200 party activists in a small conference hall of the Armenian Writers Union, follows the launch last month by Hovannisian and another prominent opposition leader, Vazgen Manukian, of a broad-based "apolitical" movement aimed at encouraging greater "civic engagement and mobilization." RG

AZERBAIJANI POLICE BREAK UP PICKET AT UN OFFICE
Azerbaijani police broke up on August 2 a small demonstration outside the Baku office of the United Nations, Turan reported. The demonstration, organized by the Center to Protect Freedom of Conscience and Religion, included a small number of picketers protesting the "inadequate reaction and actual inaction of the UN toward the violence of the Israeli military against civilians in Palestine and Lebanon." According to the group's leader, Ilqar Ibrahimov, police assaulted several demonstrators and arrested nine participants. A similar demonstration, protesting U.S. support for Israeli military operations in Lebanon, was held on July 27 outside the U.S. Embassy in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). RG

AZERBAIJANI COURT SENTENCES FORMER FINANCE MINISTER
The Nasimi district court in Baku sentenced on August 2 former Azerbaijani Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov to an 18-month prison term, Turan reported. Presiding Judge Aladdin Cafarov imposed the sentence for Yusifov's conviction of illegally possessing weapons, in a case separate from pending charges of complicity in an attempted coup attempt in 2005 allegedly organized by former Health Minister Ali Insanov, Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev, and former presidential-administration official Akif Muradverdiyev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 31, 2005). Yusifov was first arrested in October 2005 on charges of secretly financing the candidacy of exiled opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan leader Rasul Quliyev in the November 2005 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2005). RG

TWO RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS KILLED IN ABKHAZIA
Authorities in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia reported on August 3 that two Russian peacekeepers were killed and a third wounded by unknown assailants during an apparent robbery the day before, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian soldiers were reportedly shot on August 2 on the road between the towns of Gagra and Gudauta after attackers opened fire on a vehicle transporting wages for the Russian peacekeeping force stationed in Abkhazia. Two suspects were later apprehended. RG

VISITING U.S. OFFICIAL ASSESSES GEORGIAN OPERATION IN KODORI GORGE
In an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service on August 1, visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Matthew Bryza said that Georgian actions in the Kodori Gorge "could actually contribute to stability in the long run." Bryza further added that conditions in the area "underscores how important it is to have an international policing unit or international policing force in Abkhazia," and "in the Gali region, where there are similar problems in terms of serious criminality." He also criticized Russia for its unilateral closure last month of the Verkhny Lars border crossing as contributing to "a significant increase in tension," which "makes life hard" for both Georgians and Armenians, and called for the "joint monitoring of the Roki Tunnel," connecting Abkhazia and Russia, warning that "we don't know what's going through there, but we know what moves through the region: arms, radioactive materials." Some 1,000 Georgian Interior and Defense ministry troops were deployed in a police operation last week to restore control in the upper Kodori Gorge, an area straddling the breakaway region of Abkhazia and Georgia proper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25 and 26, 2006). RG

GEORGIAN PREMIER DETAILS AID EFFORT IN KODORI GORGE...
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli detailed on August 2 the reconstruction work and aid effort conducted by the Georgian government in the Kodori Gorge, Rustavi-2 television and Regnum reported. Leading a cabinet-wide government effort, the Prime Minister is directing a multiagency program in the Georgian-controlled part of Abkhazia that is to be completed by mid-September. The program includes measures to rebuild and expand the local airport in the gorge, restore local schools and hospitals, and assist in the restoration of the authority of the Abkhaz government in exile, which has recently been transferred from Tbilisi to the village of Chkhalta in the Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). RG

...AS LARGE HUMANITARIAN AID SHIPMENTS BEGIN ARRIVING
Under the direction of Georgian authorities in Tbilisi, large shipments of humanitarian aid began arriving on August 2 in the Kodori Gorge, according to Caucasus Press. Georgian officials have sent an estimated 200,000 tons of humanitarian assistance to the area to date, including significant supplies of food, medicine, clothing, and building materials. A comprehensive needs assessment is also under way to better target the influx of aid and supplies and to prepare for the allocation of state assistance to the roughly 650 families residing in the Kodori Gorge. RG

FORMER GEORGIAN MINISTER JOINS HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP
Giorgi Khaindrava, the recently dismissed state minister for conflict resolution, announced on August 1 that he has joined the Equality Institute, a human rights group sharply critical of the Georgian government's record on human rights, according to Civil Georgia and the Caucasus Press. Khaindrava, widely seen as a moderate influence on resolving the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was dismissed on July 21 after criticizing Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili over the outcome of a murder trial and a senior Defense Ministry official who detained Russian diplomats and military officers in the South Ossetian conflict zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 24, 2006). The Equality Institute has been a leading critic of Merabishvili, whom it has repeatedly accused of a pattern of police violence and abuse. RG

SUSPECT IN MURDER OF KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER TELLS OF PURPORTED COUP ATTEMPT
Rustam Ibragimov, a former law enforcement officer on trial in Taldy-Qorgan, Kazakhstan, for the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbav, testified on August 2 that Sarsenbaev was supposed to meet shortly before his murder with three prominent individuals planning a coup, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to Ibragimov, Sarsenbaev was supposed to meet on February 11 with Senate speaker Nurtai Abykaev, then National Security Committee head Nartai Dutbaev, and Aleksei Kikshaev, a Russian citizen who once headed the religious affairs department in the Kazakh presidential administration. The bodies of Sarsenbaev, his bodyguard, and his driver were discovered on February 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). Ibragimov said that Erzhan Utembaev, who is charged with ordering and paying for the contract killing, told him about the planned meeting on February 15. Abykaev, Dutbaev, and Kikshaev were planning to depose President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Ibragimov testified. Ibragimov, who has said that he did not commit the murder, told the court that he fears for his life and believes he is a "scapegoat," Navigator reported. DK

CHINA-KAZAKH TRADE RISES
Bilateral trade between China and Kazakhstan totaled $370 million in the first half of 2006, a 30-percent year-on-year rise, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on August 2. The report said that the figures came from China's main customs directorate. The recent beginning of pipeline oil exports from Kazakhstan to China is expected to cause a further increase in bilateral trade. DK

KYRGYZ POLICE DETAIN HIZB UT-TAHRIR ACTIVISTS, SEIZE WEAPONS
Nine suspected members of the banned Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir have been detained in Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad province and nine illegal firearms seized, akipress.org reported on August 2, quoting Jalal-Abad deputy police head Taalaibek Degenbaev. The report did not make it clear whether the seized weapons, which consisted of one sawed-off shotgun and eight rifles, belonged to the suspected extremists, who were detained in two villages. Degenbaev said that police, acting together with officers of the National Security Service, also confiscated extremist literature in the operation. DK

KYRGYZSTAN SAYS U.S. EXPELLED TWO KYRGYZ DIPLOMATS
The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry confirmed on August 2 that the United States has declared two members of the Kyrgyz diplomatic mission to the United States persona non grata, Kabar reported on August 2. The report noted that the United States has also expelled six officers from Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service who had been undergoing counterterrorism training in Louisiana. In July, Kyrgyzstan declared two members of the U.S. Embassy staff in Kyrgyzstan persona non grata for alleged interference in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2006). Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States Zamira Sydykova told news agency 24.kg on August 2 that the United States made no accusations against the Kyrgyz diplomats. "The document merely says that this is an appropriate measure in response to the expulsion of two American diplomats from Kyrgyzstan," Sydykova said. DK

TAJIKISTAN REFUSES BBC FM BROADCAST LICENSE
The Tajik government has denied the BBC a license to conduct FM broadcasts in Dushanbe and Khujand, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on August 2. Broadcasts had been suspended since January, when the BBC was unable to renew its license for FM broadcasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 20, 2006). Abdurahmon Abdumannonov explained the refusal to Asia Plus-Blitz by saying that "the refusal, first of all, is connected to the fact that there is no agreement between the Tajik and British governments on cooperation in TV and radio broadcasting." He said that current Tajik legislation requires such an agreement "for a foreign radio station to be eligible to broadcast on the territory of our country." In January, Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov had said that the BBC's licensing difficulties were merely procedural (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 20, 2006). DK

LATVIA EXPELS BELARUSIAN DIPLOMAT
The Latvian Foreign Ministry on August 2 ordered the first secretary at the Belarusian Embassy in Riga to leave the country within 24 hours, Belapan reported on August 2. According to the Latvian Foreign Ministry's website, the person "performed actions that are incompatible with the status of a diplomat," but did not specify what these actions were. The move comes amid an escalating diplomatic row with Minsk over the treatment of Reimo Smits, the second secretary of the Latvian Embassy in Belarus. On July 30, Belarusian Television aired what it claimed to be footage of Smits having sex with another man in his apartment. RK

PUBLIC PROSECUTOR DEMANDS PRISON TERM FOR BELARUSIAN ELECTION-OBSERVATION ACTIVISTS
The public prosecutor in the trial of four election-observation activists on August 2 demanded a three-year prison term for Mikalay Astreyka and two-year sentences for Tsimafey Dranchuk, Alyaksandr Shalayka and Enira Branitskaya each, Belapan reported. The prosecutor demanded that the activists serve their sentences at a medium-security institution. The accused are charged with running an unregistered organization called Partnyorstva (Partnership), which the prosecutor says "encroached" on people's rights. They were charged under Part 2 of Article 193 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. RK

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES YANUKOVYCH AS PRIME MINISTER
After negotiations that lasted late into the night of August 2-3, President Viktor Yushchenko nominated Viktor Yanukovych -- his former rival in the bitterly contested December 2004 presidential elections -- to serve as prime minister, international media reported. In doing so he opted against dissolving parliament and calling new parliamentary elections. "I understand the complexities of this decision both in eastern and in western Ukraine," "Ukrayinska pravda" quoted Yushchenko as saying on August 3. "I appeal to the nation to understand that we have a chance to unite both banks of the Dnipro River." RK

OUR UKRAINE BRIEFED ON YANUKOVYCH NOMINATION
Roman Bezsmertnyy, one of the leaders of the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine faction in parliament, briefed the members of the faction on August 3 about the negotiations that took place the night of August 2-3, UNIAN reported. Asked whether the faction had discussed whether to vote for Yanukovych as prime minister, a spokesperson for Our Ukraine said that it has not yet made a decision on this matter. The spokesperson also said that the faction did not discuss the possibility of entering into a new majority coalition that would include the Socialist Party and the Party of Regions. RK

BOSNIAN SERB, MUSLIM POLITICIANS SPAR OVER BRIDGE
Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-member Presidency, has sharply criticized an agreement between Serbia and Bosnia's Republika Srpska to build a bridge linking the two, AKI reported on August 2. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica signed an agreement last week to build a bridge over the Sava River near the town of Sremska Raca, northwest of Belgrade. Tihic claimed that the agreement, under which Serbia will pay to construct the bridge, is unlawful. Dodik rejected the allegations and accused Tihic of using the issue to rally Muslim support ahead of October's general elections. "Instead of touring Arab countries and collecting money to build mosques, Tihic would do better if he collected money for at least one bridge," Dodik said. BW

SERBIA REQUESTS DELAY IN NEXT ROUND OF KOSOVA STATUS TALKS
UN envoy and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is considering a Serbian request to postpone the next round of talks on Kosova's final status, B92 and Beta reported on August 2. The talks, which will deal with decentralization and minority rights, are scheduled to take place in Vienna on August 7-8. Serbia is requesting an extension to better prepare for the negotiations. Ahtisaari's spokeswoman Hua Jiang said talks were in progress with Belgrade and Prishtina over the request. Kosova's Deputy Prime Minister Lufti Haziri said Prishtina opposed delaying the talks, however, and accused the Serbian side of stalling. "We do not support any Serbian call for the talks to be postponed," Haziri said. "What they wish to do is stall the negotiations and that is unacceptable for our side." BW

STABILITY PACT OFFICIAL SAYS SERBIA MAY NEED TO CHOOSE BETWEEN KOSOVA AND EU
Former Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said Belgrade may be forced to choose between holding on to Kosova and fulfilling its aspirations to join the European Union, B92 reported on August 2. Prime Minister Kostunica has said Serbia will never give up Kosova, even if it means sacrificing its chances for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1 and 2, 2006). Svilanovic , who is now an official with the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said such a choice is likely. "Then we will see what Kostunica's position will be and what he will say in parliament, how he intends to explain Serbia's choice," he said. BW

U.S. OFFICIAL DECRIES NATIONALIST'S COMMENTS ON KOSOVA
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rosemary di Carlo said threats from Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Tomislav Nikolic to take up arms to keep Kosova are "counterproductive," but added that Washington trusts Belgrade not to turn to violence, B92 reported on August 2. Prime Minister Kostunica and other Serbian officials have distanced themselves from Nikolic's July 28 comments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28 and August 1, 2006). "We consider this extremely counterproductive. I will say, however, that the Serbian team, President [Boris] Tadic and Foreign Minister [Vuk] Draskovic, have said in Vienna that the process will not be violent," di Carlo said. BW

MOLDOVA'S INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION SHRINKS DUE TO RUSSIAN WINE BAN
Moldova's National Statistics Bureau announced on July 31 that industrial output shrank in the first half of 2006 due to a Russian ban on wine imports, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. From January to June, Moldova's industrial production decreased by 6 percent compared to the same period in 2005. In a move widely seen as punishment for Chisinau's pro-Western policy orientation, Russia banned Moldovan wine imports in March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). Russia accounted for 80 percent of Moldovan wine exports, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on July 27 that Chisinau has lost $21 million due to the ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). BW

YUSHCHENKO ENDS CRISIS, BUT ORANGE LEGACY IN DOUBT
In the early hours of August 3, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at last put an end to the country's four-month political stalemate with a painful political concession. In a live televised address, Yushchenko named Viktor Yanukovych, the head of the pro-Russia Party of Regions and Yushchenko's main rival in the 2004 Orange Revolution, as the country's new prime minister.

Yushchenko kept the nation in suspense until the last moment. August 2 was the constitutional deadline for Yushchenko to endorse or reject the nomination of Yanukovych as the new prime minister. A rejection would likely have meant the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and a call for new elections.

Yushchenko, following a meeting with political leaders on the day of the deadline, appeared to hint the impasse had left him no other options. "The leading five Ukrainian political forces did not reach an understanding on the key Ukrainian constitutional priorities, the key priorities for national development," he said. "This is the most worrying. The road map, the [declaration of national unity], which was envisaged as an answer to this challenge, unfortunately, was not signed."

This left Ukraine anticipating the president would use his scheduled television address to announce his rejection of Yanukovych and the dissolution of parliament.

Yanukovych and Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist Party leader and parliamentary speaker, came to the president for last-ditch anticrisis talks, which continued deep into the night.

Early on August 3, two hours past the expiration of his deadline, Yushchenko announced that he had ultimately decided to endorse Yanukovych for prime minister.

"Following from what I have said, I have made the decision to put forward Viktor Yanukovych for the post of Ukraine's prime minister," Yushchenko said. "By this I want to once again stress that I understand the whole complexity in the east and the west of Ukraine, regarding this nomination for the post of prime minister. I call on the country to understand that today we have a unique chance to realize all that we talked about, and to bring the country together for a political understanding."

Yushchenko went on to say that he, Yanukovych, and Moroz -- together with caretaker Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and Roman Bezsmertnyy from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine -- initialed a so-called declaration of national unity. He gave no details about the terms of the declaration, saying only that it preserved the essential domestic and foreign policies mapped out by his presidential election program.

Ukrainian media reported earlier this week that Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions differed on four points in talks on the declaration: the state language, relations with NATO, relations with Russia, and the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Although the text of the initialed declaration has not yet been made known, two things are already clear. First, the Communist Party of Ukraine, which proposed Yanukovych as a candidate for prime minister jointly with the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party in July, refused to sign the declaration. This means the Communists will drop out of the "anticrisis" coalition formed last month after the "Orange" coalition of Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party notoriously failed to agree on a new cabinet.

Second, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which in the past repeatedly declared it would never strike a coalition deal with Yanukovych's Party of Regions, will also go into opposition.

Bezsmertnyy and Yanukovych are reported today to have initialed an agreement bringing Our Ukraine into a coalition with the Party of Regions. The second "anticrisis" member, the Socialists, is likely to stay in the fold as well.

Does the endorsement of Yanukovych for prime minister by Yushchenko mean that the 2004 Orange Revolution has suffered a total disintegration? Is Ukraine about to reverse its political course? Both concerns appear to be exaggerated.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Kyiv on August 2, Yanukovych was forced to admit that the Orange Revolution has radically changed the country and that there can be no return to the past. "We have already come to understand that 2004, all things considered, has opened all of our eyes as to who we are, who stands by us, and what our country is," he said. "I think that this has brought us benefits and, of course, purification."

It is true that Yanukovych objects to Ukraine's membership in NATO, which is a goal fervently pursued by Yushchenko. However, Yanukovych's objection reflects the feeling of a majority of Ukrainians about the North Atlantic alliance, rather than his own deep-seated political convictions.

In 2003, during Yanukovych's previous premiership under then President Leonid Kuchma, Kyiv sought expanded cooperation with NATO, and declared NATO membership as a strategic goal. So there may be room for compromise on this tricky issue between Yanukovych and Yushchenko in 2006.

Yanukovych has also repeatedly declared that he is in favor of Ukraine joining both the World Trade Organization and the European Union, two other goals pursued by Yushchenko. Therefore, his premiership under President Yushchenko may eventually prove to be no less "pro-Western" than those of his two predecessors, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Yekhanurov.

However, a big setback for Ukraine's new government is the general disillusionment with political elites in the country, which was provoked by the infamous breakup of the Orange Revolution allies in 2005, the virtual lack of reforms in the country, and what is widely seen as Yushchenko's lack of political will and inability to live up to his election promises.

If the new government manages to adopt a prompt reform plan and put it into practice, Yushchenko may get a chance "to bring the country together," as he declared while nominating Yanukovych. If not, Ukraine will most likely become even more bitterly divided and exasperated.

AFGHAN PRESIDENT OFFERS FIVE NEW CABINET NOMINEES
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on August 2 submitted a list of five cabinet nominees to fill the spots left open when lawmakers rejected five of his 25 nominees in April, local media and AP reported. The nominees include one name that the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) previously turned down: Mohammad Amin Farhang, the nominee for the Commerce and Industry portfolio, was spurned as Karzai's initial choice to lead the Economy and Labor Ministry, AP noted. Other nominees are Hasan Banu Ghazanfar (Women's Affairs), Abdul Karim Khorram (Information and Culture), Mohammad Jalil Shams (Economy and Labor), and Nematollah Jawid (Transport), Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Xinhua news agency suggested debate on the new nominees is scheduled for August 5. MR/AH

MUSHARRAF ACCEPTS INVITATION TO VISIT AFGHANISTAN
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced plans to visit Afghanistan following an invitation extended during a telephone call with President Karzai on August 2, AFP reported, quoting a Musharraf spokesman. No date has been set for the trip. Bilateral tensions have mounted sharply since Musharraf last visited Afghanistan in April 2002. Afghan and Western officials regularly fault the Pakistani government for not doing enough to stop neo-Taliban insurgents from staging cross-border attacks, while others have accused Pakistani intelligence agents of directly aiding neo-Taliban fighters. Islamabad denies such allegations. MR

18 SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED, AND LEADER URGES INSURGENTS ON
Afghan officials on August 2 said 18 suspected neo-Taliban fighters died in clashes with U.S.-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, AP reported. Local authorities said the bodies of 18 insurgents were found after a coalition air strike near the village of Habibullah in Helmand Province. One policeman also died, local police chief Ghulam Rasool said. Meanwhile, pamphlets allegedly from Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar appeared in the area, accusing the United States of trying to destroy Islam. Colonel Tom Collins, a spokesman for the U.S. military, cited "intelligence reports" suggesting the Mullah Omar pamphlets are authentic. "There's no doubt [that] it is from Omar," Collins said. MR

CAR BOMB KILLS DRIVER IN AFGHAN CAPITAL
An apparent car bomb exploded in Kabul during morning rush hour on August 2, killing the driver and injuring at least one other person, AFP reported. A police source said two passengers in the car were wounded, while the Interior Ministry suggested only one other person was injured, the agency reported. Authorities said the explosion may have been caused inadvertently by a driver transporting explosives intended for an attack elsewhere. "We don't know if it was a suicide car bomb or if they were involved in carrying explosives," Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanizai said. MR

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER DENOUNCES ISRAEL, INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OVER LEBANESE CONFLICT
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced Israel and its military operations in Lebanon in an August 2 statement and deplored the international community's failure to react to the "destruction" of Lebanon, ISNA reported. Khamenei asked the "supposedly civilized world, the United Nations, governments and organizations claiming to protect human rights" why they have tolerated "20 days of crimes on a massive scale" and Lebanon's "destruction." The war in Lebanon has "clarified American human rights for everyone and revealed the Middle East sought by the American government," ISNA reported him as saying. Washington is pursuing a "strategic policy" to "create insecurity, crisis, and war in this region," he said, and "selfless resistance" is the only response to "the savage wolf of Zionism and the aggressions of the Great Satan," ISNA reported. "The American regime, for its support of Zionist crimes and criminals and its blatant violation of the rights of [Muslims] must expect a hard slap in the face and a mighty punch from the Muslim people," Khamenei said. VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER QUESTIONS UN'S EFFECTIVENESS
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on August 2 that Israel's "crimes in Qana constitute another page in the ineffectiveness of the United Nations," IRNA reported. Israeli forces' bombing of Qana on July 30 killed scores of civilians, many of them women or children. Mottaki said on his return from a trip to Lebanon and Syria that Israel and its allies should be tried and made to pay for the damage it has caused. He said the people and government of Lebanon want Israel prosecuted, and Iran "supports the Lebanese government, and this [Israeli] regime must be condemned and made to compensate for its crimes." Iran "considers the specific actors and countries" purportedly blocking decisions that would end the fighting and a statement to condemn Israel "for its terrible...crimes in Qana" to be "partners in this crime." Such states have helped Israel plan its "aggression" and armed it with modern weaponry, IRNA quoted Mottaki as saying. Addressing a crowd the same day in the town of Maneh in northeastern Iran, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Israel has "switched on the destruction button for itself and its masters" by attacking Lebanon. He said its attack has made Israel "the most fragile, isolated, and rootless" state in the world, ISNA reported. VS

RIGHTS BODY URGES IRAN TO END PRISON ABUSES...
Amnesty International said on August 1 that the death in custody of dissident Akbar Mohammadi (see RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2006) "casts a pall" on Iran's judicial system, adding that "thorough reform of the criminal justice system is urgently needed" to prevent "more deaths in Iranian custody," RFE/RL's Radio Farda and the group's website reported. Amnesty International urged Iranian authorities to end torture, provide fair and open trials for dissidents, and end the practice of "delaying or denying medical care." Mohammadi was denied some of his own medicines, according to a lawyer quoted by Radio Farda, but Amnesty cited reports that he might have been administered another drug that could have contributed to his death. His detention, since 1999, was reportedly characterized by routine torture, including beatings by Intelligence Ministry operatives as he hung upside down, Amnesty reported, attributing the accusation to "information available." Somayeh Binat, the wife of another detainee, Ahmad Babebi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006), meanwhile told Radio Farda on August 2 that "my opinion is they are trying to physically eliminate Ahmad and other political prisoners." She added, "They are effectively, through torture, implementing the execution sentence they had initially given Ahmad." VS

...AND U.S. DEPLORES 'SEVERE' IRANIAN REPRESSION
The U.S. State Department condemned the "severe repression" of dissidents in Iran and said Mohammadi's death in prison in late July was "not an isolated case" but symptomatic of Iran's repressive treatment of dissidents, AFP reported on August 2, quoting State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack said Iranian government measures against opponents are part of a "deliberate campaign" to "silence the student movement, in particular, and civil society more broadly." McCormack expressed concern over the fate of two other prominent detainees -- former legislator Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeini and trade unionist Mansur Osanlu. In Tehran on August 1, a spokesman for the state coroner's office said Mohammadi's body had been delivered to his family after an autopsy, presumably by a prison doctor, ILNA reported. "The results of the tests and cause of death will be announced in one month," the spokesman said. VS

JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAQ
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso arrived in Baghdad on August 3 for meetings with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Japanese media reported. The Japanese Foreign Ministry declined to confirm the previously unannounced trip or release Aso's itinerary for security reasons, "Jiji Press" reported. The talks will reportedly focus on Japanese economic aid to Iraq, including reconstruction loans and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force airlift operations from nearby Kuwait. Iraq formally launched the International Compact with Iraq last week, which calls for massive international economic investment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). KR

PRESIDENT SAYS IRAQI SECURITY FORCES WILL CONTROL COUNTRY BY YEAR-END
President Jalal Talabani told reporters in Baghdad on August 2 that Iraqi security forces will assume responsibility for security in all 18 governorates by the end of the year, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Iraqi security forces are currently responsible for security in only one governorate, Al-Muthanna. Talabani called for unity, scolding politicians who have used the media to criticize the performance of Iraq's security forces, particularly Interior Ministry forces. "Everyone who takes part in the government and the democratic process should speak a certain way when they address the citizens. They should not talk as they wish and sing outside the flock," "The New York Times" quoted Talabani as saying. KR

KURDISH TELEVISION REPORTS INSURGENT ATTACK IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Insurgents attacked a checkpoint south of Al-Sulaymaniyah on August 1, Kurdistan Satellite television reported on August 2. Insurgents launched mortars on the checkpoint, located on the Jalawlah-Kalar road. The insurgents fled the area before Iraqi security forces responded, leaving behind an unknown number of land mines. One land mine later exploded, injuring three Iraqi soldiers. Large numbers of Arab civilians continue to seek refuge in Kurdistan to escape violence in Baghdad and other areas of the country. The influx has heightened fears among some Kurds of increased terrorist attacks in the region. Insurgents also attacked a municipality office in Sharaban, north of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate on August 1, killing policemen guarding the building and ransacking the office, the television reported. KR

BOMBS STRIKE SOCCER FIELD, KILLING 12
Two bombs struck a makeshift soccer field in Baghdad on August 2, killing 12 and wounding 14 others, the BBC reported the same day. Police said the majority of the victims were between the ages of nine and 20, adding that the bombs were planted in the middle of the pitch. "The New York Times" reported that the bombs were hidden inside gym bags placed near the field's bleachers. The bombs exploded simultaneously during a half-time break, an investigator told the newspaper. Two unidentified men are suspects in the case. KR

IRAQI PARLIAMENT HEAD MEETS WITH SYRIAN PRESIDENT
Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani met with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in Damascus on August 2, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported the same day. The talks focused on Iraq's national unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty "with the view of ending the occupation," as well as the ongoing Israel-Lebanon crisis. Al-Mashhadani also agreed to establish a joint committee with the Syrian parliament to examine ways to improve relations between the neighboring states. KR

PKK LEADER SAYS GROUP WILL NOT LEAVE NORTHERN IRAQ
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Zubayir Aydar told "Awene" in an interview published on August 2 that his group has no intention of leaving the Qandil Mountain area, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reported the same day. "Until the Kurdish question is solved, we will not accept anything else. In the meantime, we will not agree to surrender -- although we are not ruling out dialogue. If they come and attack us, we don't care what happens," he said, referring to Turkish media reports last week claiming that the United States has agreed to aid Turkey by bombing PKK bases in the mountains. Aydar described Turkish media reports this week that Iraqi Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Mas'ud Barzani had arranged for the amnesty and relocation to Europe of more than 400 PKK fighters as "propaganda" by the Turkish media, "We do not think Talabani or Barzani are involved in such a project." KR

IFJ CRITICIZES ATTACKS ON IRAQI JOURNALISTS
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called on August 1 for an investigation into the killing of three journalists over the past week. Two of the journalists were found dead after being abducted by armed gunmen, while the third died in suspicious circumstances. The IFJ also criticized an attack by Iraqi Interior Ministry forces on Alhurra journalist Ali al-Yassi in Baghdad. Interior Ministry officers severely beat al-Yassi on July 31 as he reported from the Arasat district following the kidnapping of employees of the U.S.-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006). The IFJ said that 134 journalists and media workers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. KR

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