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Newsline - August 7, 2006


RUSSIAN ENVOY CALLS ON ARABS TO PAY 'SERIOUS ATTENTION' TO DRAFT RESOLUTION
Russia endorses the draft UN Security Council resolution sponsored by the United States and France on the current Middle East crisis, regnum.ru reported on August 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2, 3, and 4, 2006). Vitaly Churkin, who is Russian ambassador to the UN, said in New York on August 6 that "one would hope that the Lebanese government...and [governments] in the Arab world [in general]...will [carefully read] this draft. And I think that if they do, they will see that there is much in it that is in the interest of Lebanon and, more importantly, there is a [clear] call for a full cessation of hostilities," international media reported. He added that the resolution involves a "two-stage strategy. And it's the intention of the [UN] Security Council to move very fast towards the second stage [beyond the cessation of hostilities] and to go for a radical solution which will satisfy the requirements of the two sides." In related news, President Vladimir Putin discussed the Middle East crisis in separate telephone conversations on August 5-6 with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, RIA Novosti reported. PM

RUSSIA CALLS ON IRAN TO HELP EASE CRISIS
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov met on August 6 with Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari to discuss the Middle East crisis and "the international community's efforts to stop the bloody Lebanese-Israeli conflict," Interfax reported. In a statement issued after the talks, "the Russian side underscored the need for all states that are able to produce a constructive influence on the forces involved in the conflict to take joint efforts to secure an immediate cease-fire and to help find such a political solution to the Lebanese-Israeli conflict that would make a repeat of the latest events impossible." PM

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NO RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO LEBANON FOR NOW
Defense Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in St. Petersburg on August 7 that it is too early to consider sending Russian peacekeepers to southern Lebanon, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2006). Ivanov argued that "it would be premature to consider the issue. There are no specific settlement mechanisms and no decision to pull out Israeli forces from Lebanese territory. With combat operations still in progress, I cannot imagine the involvement of Russian peacekeepers." PM

U.S. SLAPS SANCTIONS ON RUSSIAN ARMS FIRMS...
The U.S. State Department on August 4 announced sanctions against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, and the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi for alleged violations of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, thereby barring U.S. companies from dealing with the two Russian firms for two years, as of July 28, Britain's "Financial Times" and "The Moscow Times" reported on August 6. Two companies each from North Korea and India, as well as one from Cuba, are also covered by the ban. Boeing is working with Sukhoi to develop a 100-seat regional aircraft, and Boeing gets up to 40 percent of its titanium from VSMPO-Avisma, which Rosoboroneksport is seeking to acquire, Reuters reported. An unnamed U.S. government official told the news agency that Washington has "credible information" that Russia has supplied equipment and materials that could assist Iran in manufacturing unspecified weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and July 18, 2006). It is not clear whether Russia will take any measures in retaliation. PM

...AS MOSCOW REACTS SHARPLY
Following the U.S. announcement of sanctions on two major Russian arms firms, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 5 that Russian companies act within the law and have supplied Iran only with defensive weapons "that are not capable of destabilizing the situation in the region," Russian media reported. A spokesman for Sukhoi said that his company has not sold anything to Iran for "the last eight to 10 years." A spokesman for Rosoboroneksport argued that his firm acts according to international law and has conducted deals not much different from those made with Tehran by unnamed Western countries. An unnamed Defense Ministry official suggested to RIA Novosti that Washington wants to punish Moscow for its recent arms agreements with Venezuela, worth about $3 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). Defense Minister Ivanov said in St. Petersburg on August 7 that "these sanctions have nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of nonproliferation," Interfax reported. Several Russian experts told ITAR-TASS that the U.S. motive is one of commercial rivalry with Russian competitors. Other observers suggested that Washington's move is linked to other trade issues. Some writers argued that the U.S. decision is tied to the current Middle East crisis and specifically to Russia's links to Hizballah. The daily "Kommersant" wrote on August 7 that Washington's decision marks "the end...of the era of strategic partnership" between the two countries. PM

PREMIER CONGRATULATES UKRAINE'S YANUKOVYCH
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov sent congratulations to Viktor Yanukovych on August 5 following his election as Ukraine's prime minister, Interfax reported. Fradkov said that he hopes the two governments will work together to "strengthen the Russian-Ukrainian partnership and the implementation of important projects in many spheres...on the principles of mutual benefit and the market economy." PM

FORMER YUKOS DIRECTOR TELLS OF BIZARRE LIFE ON THE INSIDE
Aleksei Golubovich, who is a former strategic planning and corporate finance director for the embattled oil firm Yukos, told "Izvestia" of August 7 that Yukos officials have been preparing for some years to sell the company, which he called overvalued (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2006). He said that former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a "stingy" boss, who took 60 percent of salary payments for himself and left his top lieutenants with only 7 percent each. His deputy Leonid Nevzlin headed a vast, powerful, and secretive security apparatus that had access to huge amounts of money, Golubovich maintains. He said that he himself was the victim of a smear campaign that was probably led by Nevzlin. Golubovich added that he prepared to leave Yukos in 2001 after a device exploded near his wife's car, which he took as a warning. He also charged that seven top people in or near the Yukos management who had difficulties with Nevzlin were "poisoned" with mercury. Golubovich has been under house arrest in Italy since May on the basis of an international arrest warrant for "grand fraud" issued by Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office. He told RIA Novosti that he has done nothing wrong and hopes to return to Russia. He has lived in Britain since 2003. PM

THREE HELD IN HERMITAGE THEFTS
Police have detained the son and husband of Larisa Zavadskaya, the curator at St. Petersburg's Hermitage museum who died recently at the onset of an investigation of thefts there, on suspicion of involvement in those thefts, Russian media reported on August 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1 and 4, 2006). The son quit a job at the museum two years ago. A private art collector is also being held. PM

NENETS LEGISLATURE 'UNANIMOUSLY' APPROVES NEW LEADER
The Nenets Autonomous Okrug legislature "unanimously" elected Valery Potapenko to head the administration at a special session on August 7, Interfax reported. Governor Aleksei Barinov is in custody until October 26 pending the outcome of an investigation into corruption charges, but many suspect that the authorities' real motivation in holding him is political (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, June 2, and July 13, 2006). Until 2003, he headed the LUKoil subsidiary ArkhangelskGeologDobycha and then became the last regional governor to be directly elected. On June 2, President Putin suspended Barinov from office and named Potapenko, who is a former KGB man and the chief federal inspector for the okrug, to be acting governor. London's "The Times" commented on July 8 that Nenets Autonomous Okrug is "the front line of the Kremlin's campaign to curb local democracy and seize control of Russia's energy resources. [The area has] an estimated 3.6 billion tons of untapped oil and gas reserves -- enough to supply Britain for almost 20 years. The Kremlin, or the dominant faction within it, wants to wrest control of this hydrocarbon pool, worth trillions of dollars, away from an autonomous-minded local administration. Its tactics, however, raise grave concerns about President Putin's commitment to democracy and free markets." PM

DOUBT CAST ON PROSPECTS FOR FREE ARMENIAN ELECTION
Heghine Bisharian, a senior member of the Orinats Yerkir party, announced on August 4 that the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is too unpopular to win a free election and plans to manipulate the country's 2007 parliamentary contest, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Bisharian, a close associate of former parliament speaker and Orinats Yerkir head Artur Baghdasarian, also warned of an "atmosphere of fear" in the wake of the alliance between powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and the HHK and accused that party of forcibly recruiting public-sector employees and "thousands" of army conscripts to vote for the party. The HHK, nominally led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, has emerged as the favorite to win the most seats in the next parliament after adding Sarkisian and other influential individuals as members last month. Orinats Yerkir was until recently a junior partner in the HHK-dominated ruling coalition until being forced out after an open confrontation between Baghdasarian and President Robert Kocharian (see RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2006). Bisharian further confirmed that Baghdasarian is preparing to initiate "political consultations" with various opposition groups to forge a new electoral alliance to oppose the government in the May 2007 parliamentary elections. RG

ARMENIA SUFFERS WIDESPREAD INTERNET OUTAGE
Two unrelated accidents disrupting a fiber-optic cable running through Georgia on August 4 and 5 sparked a widespread Internet outage in Armenia, Caucasus Press and Arminfo reported. The first outage, on August 4, was caused after a fiber-optic cable was damaged near the Georgian town of Kutaisi and led to a six-hour shutdown of Internet service throughout Armenia. A second incident the next day sparked a second outage after an undersea segment of the fiber-optic cable was damaged in the Black Sea. The Armenian telecommunications sector remains vulnerable to external disruptions to its fiber-optic network, which is linked to the Georgian and Iranian networks to the north and south, respectively. RG

AZERBAIJANI ISLAMIC PARTY VOWS TO EXPAND ANTI-ISRAELI DEMONSTRATIONS
The leader of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, Haci Haciaga Nuriyev, vowed on August 5 to escalate a series of anti-Israeli demonstrations in the village of Nardaran, Turan reported. The Islamic Party has already staged two demonstrations in Nadaran protesting Israeli military operations in Lebanon, joining several similar rallies organized by the Center to Protect Freedom of Conscience and Religion staged in front of the U.S. and Israeli embassies and UN offices in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, August 2 and 4, 2006). Demonstrators in the Nardaran rallies burned several Israeli and U.S. flags and called on the Azerbaijani government to denounce Israel and support Hizballah. RG

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE-INDUSTRY OFFICIAL DETAILS PLANNED EXPANSION
Defense Industry Minister Yavar Camalov revealed on August 4 new plans to expand domestic arms production, ANS-TV reported. According to the defense official, several repair facilities will be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Defense Industry Ministry as part of a broader effort to expand research and development in the Azerbaijani defense sector. The expansion is also to be based on several new international agreements on technical cooperation, with several pending contracts with Pakistan, Iran, and Korea. A delegation of defense-industry officials also visited Belarus in mid-July to discuss potential bilateral projects. The expansion of the Azerbaijani defense industry has initially focused on the production of small arms and ammunition but seeks to graduate to include the mass production of tanks and more sophisticated weapons systems. Endowed with an annual budget of 19 million manats (about $21.3 million) for 2006, the Defense Industry Ministry currently has a staff of 126 and operates 13 plants in Azerbaijan, employing some 13,000 workers. RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT OPENS NEW $27 MILLION TRANSPORT PROJECT
President Ilham Aliyev presided on August 4 over the inauguration of a new $27 million transport project in Baku, according to ANS-TV. The project includes the construction of a new transport network made up of two railway bridges, two tunnels, and two elevated highways, and is designed to ease traffic congestion in the Azerbaijani capital. Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov is also supervising a related effort to expand public transportation by building 13 new subway stations in Baku. RG

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION JOURNALIST INDICTED ON DRUG CHARGES
Opposition Azerbaijani daily "Azadliq" journalist Mirza Sakit Zahidov has been indicted on drug charges, Turan reported on August 3. Zahidov was first arrested on June 23 on what is widely seen as politically motivated case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006). According to Baku Deputy Prosecutor Hafiz Babayev, the journalist faces a possible prison term of five to 12 years if convicted. The charges are reportedly linked to Zahidov's publication of several satirical poems in "Azadliq" that were harshly critical of the Azerbaijani authorities. Mirza Sakit Zahidov is the brother of the newspaper's chief editor, Qanimat Zahidov. RG

AZERBAIJANI, GEORGIAN OFFICIALS COMPLETE BORDER-DEMARCATION SESSION
Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov and Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mandjgaladze announced on August 4 the successful conclusion of a session of the bilateral commission on border delineation and demarcation, according to Civil Georgia and Caucasus Press. Speaking at a joint press conference in Tbilisi following the two-day meeting, the deputy ministers announced that the two sides have agreed to the demarcation of some 65 percent of the shared border, or the delineation of about a 300-kilometer border area. The commission is scheduled to reconvene in Baku in September to complete the border delineation by negotiating the disputed Tsiteli Khidi (Red Bridge) and Davit Gareji sections of the border, Civil Georgia reported. RG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT UNVEILS NEW JOBS PROGRAM...
President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled on August 4 a new job-training program designed to reduce unemployment by half within three years, Rustavi-2 TV and Civil Georgia reported. In a televised announcement, Saakashvili revealed that his new program aims to slash unemployment by 2009 through the creation of a "more business-friendly climate" and by the launch of a new three-month "internship" for an initial 50,000 workers, to be paid 450 laris ($250) for on-the-job training in private businesses. The private sector "internship" program, estimated to cost some 22.5 million laris (about $12.7 million), is a planned three-year effort training a total of 150,000 workers. It is also to be accompanied by several additional measures, including the creation of vocational colleges and a sweeping reform of tax administration and the reintroduction of a tax-arbitration system. Saakashvili further revealed plans to merge the Tax Department, Tax Police, and Customs Department, and to establish a new small-business-loan program aimed at proving much needed start-up capital for new firms, according to the Caucasus Press. RG

...DETAILED BY FINANCE MINISTER
Finance Minister Aleksi Aleksishvili released on August 4 further details of President Saakashvili's new job-training program, Civil Georgia reported. According to Aleksishvili, the State Employment Agency, which is part of the Health and Social Security Ministry, will begin to solicit applications on September 1 for the initial job-training positions and will serve as the intermediary for assigning applications to the most appropriate private company selected to provide their job training. Aleksishvili warned, however that although some 50,000 slots are planned for the first year of the program, "this process will not happen at once and not all of these 50,000 people will start working at once." RG

GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA REJECTS MILITARY ACTION AGAINST ABKHAZIA...
Irakli Chubinishvili rejected on August 4 any suggestion that Georgia will use the recent campaign in the Kodori Gorge as a "staging area for a future attack" against the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Ambassador Chubinishvili further dismissed any possibility that "Georgia would invade the territory," and noted that operations in the Kodori Gorge were winding down as "special-forces units have been withdrawn," with "only a police contingent" to remain in the area to "maintain law and order and to weed out the remaining bandits." RG

...AND DETAILS CONSULTATIONS OVER NATO MEMBERSHIP
Ambassador Chubinishvili revealed on August 4 that Tbilisi would consider holding possible trilateral "consultations" between Georgia, Russia, and NATO as early as September, according to Caucasus Press. Chubinishvili added that the proposed talks would focus on Georgian aspirations to join the NATO alliance and attempted to reassure Russia by pledging that "there will be no American bases in Georgia." RG

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES BEGIN TALKS TO PREPARE FOR ELECTIONS
Representative of some seven Georgian opposition parties convened a meeting on August 4 in Tbilisi to begin preparations for a possible coordinated effort in next year's local elections, Civil Georgia reported. Officials from the various opposition parties, including the People's Forum, and the Conservative, New Rights, Republican, Labor, Freedom, and Industrialists parties, are still considering to launch a boycott of the election to protest what they term an "unfavorable election code." Former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili has refused to bring her opposition Georgia's Way party into the talks and has recently announced her plans to contest the election without any alliance with the other opposition parties. Zourabichvili has begun a campaign to collect the 50,000 voter signatures necessary to formally register her party for the local election. President Saakashvili announced in April that the local elections are to be held "in or around November," but has yet to set a specific date. RG

DETAILS EMERGE ON FRENCH JOURNALIST'S KILLING IN KAZAKHSTAN
The Kazakh free-speech NGO Adyl Soz has announced that French national Gregoire De Bourgues was tortured before he was killed in a break-in in Almaty last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 2006), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Traces of torture, multiple knife and rubber-bullet wounds were found on the body of the journalist," Adyl Soz reported, citing police information. "His face was battered and there were traces of rope on his neck, hands, and legs." An interpreter who was in the apartment at the time said that three unidentified individuals broke into the apartment, locked her in another room, and then demanded money. They stole a briefcase with documents when it emerged that there was no money to be had. De Bourgues had been working for SML Strategic Media reporting on Kazakh affairs for U.S.-based "Foreign Affairs" at the time of his killing. DK

KYRGYZ PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY MEETS
The fifth kurultai, or meeting, of the Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan took place in Bishkek on August 5 with 750 delegates in attendance, Kabar reported. Delegates elected Tologon Rakhmanov chairman and President Kurmanbek Bakiev honorary chairman. "The pivotal past year showed that in the gravest tests, the people preserved their unity, although there were attempts to use ethnic issues for political means to destabilize the country," Bakiev told delegates. Bakiev also said that "new approaches" are needed to encourage the use of the Kyrgyz language, news agency 24.kg reported. He said that improvements in the educational system will mean that in seven to 10 years, all school graduates in Kyrgyzstan will be able to speak the Kyrgyz language. DK

WORLD BANK GIVES KYRGYZSTAN $15 MILLION GRANT FOR VILLAGES
The World Bank will provide Kyrgyzstan with a $15 million grant to support rural reform, the institution reported on a press release on its official website on August 3. The Second Village Investment Project should bolster government efforts "to decentralize responsibilities to local self-governments and community-based groups to alleviate poverty," said Kurmanbek Temirbaev, chairman of the advisory board that will implement the project. The Kyrgyz government will provide $5 million in co-financing, and the British Department for International Development is expected to provide supplementary grant funds. DK

TAJIK POLICEMAN KILLED AS SUSPECTED ISLAMIST DETONATES GRENADE
Ikrom Jalolov, head of the police counterterrorism unit in the city of Isfara, was killed on August 4 when a suspected member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) detonated a grenade as police tried to arrest him, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported the next day. Police officers Iskandar Roziqov and Shamsiddin Naimov were seriously wounded; the suspected militant died in the blast. DK

TAJIK POLICE BREAK UP DRUG RINGS
Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency broke up four drug-smuggling gangs over the past week, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Asia Plus-Blitz reported on August 4. Drug Control Agency spokesman Bobojon Shafe told RFE/RL that 450 kilograms of drugs were confiscated, and Asia Plus-Blitz reported that 11 people were arrested. In the first seven months of 2006, Tajik drug-control forces have seized 976 kilograms of narcotics, including 357 kilograms of heroin, 385 kilograms of raw opium, and 235 kilograms of cannabis. In the same period, the agency carried out joint operations with the security services of Tajikistan, other CIS countries, and Afghanistan, confiscating 590 kilograms of narcotics, including 308 kilograms of heroin. DK

TAJIK COURT SENTENCES UZBEK TO 15 YEARS FOR ESPIONAGE
A court in Tajikistan's northern Sughd province on August 4 sentenced Yori Yoqubov, a stateless individual and resident of Uzbekistan, to a 15-year prison term for espionage on behalf of Uzbekistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. A source in Tajikistan's Security Ministry said that Yoqubov, an assistant epidemiologist in Uzbekistan's Sirdaryo province, was recruited by Uzbekistan's National Security Service to spy in Tajikistan's Sughd region, where his parents and relatives reside in the town of Istaravshon. Yoqubov was detained in Istaravshon in May after "he had obtained economic and political information constituting a state secret there and handed it over to officers of the Uzbek National Security Service," the source said. DK

BELARUSIAN COURT JAILS FOUR ELECTION ACTIVISTS
A district court in Minsk on August 4 found four election activists guilty of running an unregistered organization "infringing upon the interests and rights of citizens" and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from six months to two years, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. In a trial held behind closed doors, Judge Leanid Yasinovich punished Mikalay Astreyka with two years in jail, Tsimafey Dranchuk with one year, and Enira Branitskaya and Alyaksandr Shalayka with six months each. As the four were kept in custody since February 21, Branitskaya and Shalayka are due to be released later this month. "[The authorities] have already begun to fight people who did nothing but had an intention to do something. What did these people want to do? They wanted to monitor the [presidential] election and they wanted to do an exit poll. This is done in all countries, even in those that are not very civilized," Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich commented on the trial. "As we have done in the past, we will take steps to impose appropriate sanctions on those responsible for abusing the rights of these Belarusian citizens," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said after the trial. "The politically motivated trial continues a disturbing pattern by the authorities to intimidate civil society activists and to further erode the democratic process in Belarus," McCormack added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS YANUKOVYCH AS PRIME MINISTER...
The Verkhovna Rada on August 4 endorsed Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine's new prime minister with 271 votes in favor, Ukrainian media reported. Yanukovych was confirmed mainly by lawmakers from his party, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, as well as by 30 deputies from Our Ukraine and six deputies from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. "[My priorities include] economic growth, the solution of social problems. An efficient economy will open the way for solving a great number of social problems," Yanukovych told journalists after the confirmation vote. "Our country will be attractive for investment only when the situation in the country is stable. We will do everything to make sure the situation is stable, both politically and economically," he added. JM

...APPROVES NEW CABINET OF MINISTERS...
The Verkhovna Rada on August 4 also approved the composition of a new Cabinet of Ministers, Ukrainian media reported. The Party of Regions' people in the cabinet are First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev, Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, Deputy Prime Minister and Construction Minister Volodymyr Rybak, Minister for Ties with the Verkhovna Rada Ivan Tkalenko, Labor Minister Mykhaylo Papiyev, Environment Minister Vasyl Dzharty, Coal Industry Minister Serhiy Tulub, Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko, Economy Minister Volodymyr Makukha, and Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Anatoliy Tolstoukhov. The presidential quota in the Cabinet of Ministers is made up of Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Family and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloha, Culture Minister Ihor Likhovyy, Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko, and Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. The Socialist Party has Education Minister Stanislav Nikolayenko and Transport Minister Mykola Rudkovskyy, while the Communist Party has Agroindustrial Complex Minister Yuriy Melnyk and Industrial Policy Minister Anatoliy Holovko. JM

...VESTS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT WITH AUTHORITY...
The Verkhovna Rada on August 4 elected five judges of the Constitutional Court, Ukrainian media reported. The same day, 13 Constitutional Court judges -- the five elected by the Verkhovna Rada on August 4 as well as five elected by the Congress of Judges and three elected by President Viktor Yushchenko in November 2005 -- took the oath of office, thus unblocking the work of the court. The Constitutional Court remained inoperative since October 2005, when the term of former nine judges expired. The Verkhovna Rada refused to elect and swear in new judges over fears that President Yushchenko might use the Constitutional Court to overturn the constitutional reform adopted in December 2004. The Constitutional Court is composed of 18 judges; at least 12 judges are necessary to make it functional. JM

...AND PROHIBITS IT FROM REVIEWING CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
The Verkhovna Rada on August 4 amended a law on the Constitutional Court, prohibiting the court from revising changes to the constitution adopted in December 2004, Ukrainian media reported. The measure was supported by 274 lawmakers. The political reform of December 2004 limited powers of the presidency in Ukraine in favor of the parliament and prime minister. President Yushchenko has repeatedly indicated in the past that he is unhappy with the reform and would like to question its adoption in the Constitutional Court. JM

CONTACT GROUP WARNS OF TENSIONS IN NORTHERN KOSOVA
In a statement released on August 4, the six-member Contact Group voiced concern about rising tensions between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in northern Kosova, Reuters reported the same day. "Both Belgrade and Pristina should take immediate steps to reduce tensions in northern Kosovo, particularly to encourage responsible leadership and build confidence among communities," said the statement issued by the U.S. liaison office in Kosova on behalf of Contact Group members the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia. The statement also called on "Belgrade, Pristina, and Kosovo's residents to take steps to ensure northern Kosovo remains a stable region where the rights of all are respected." In June, three northern municipalities cut ties with Kosova's central institutions in Prishtina, citing security concerns after a series of attacks on Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 7, and 12, 2006). BW

SERBIA TO ATTEND VIENNA TALKS ON KOSOVA
After initially seeking a delay, Serbia announced on August 4 that it will attend the next round of United Nations-backed talks on Kosova's future, UPI reported the same day, citing Belgrade's Tanjug news agency. Serbia requested that the talks, scheduled for August 7-8 in Vienna, be postponed until August 14 so they could better prepare. Kosovar Albanian officials have accused Belgrade of stalling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2006). The talks in Vienna on August 7 will focus on issues of decentralization of power. The negotiating teams are scheduled to discuss minority rights on August 8, although Belgrade has requested that issue be postponed and discussed together with constitutional questions. BW

ICTY SPOKESMAN SAYS TRANSFER OF RADICAL LEADER'S CASE TO SERBIA PROBLEMATIC
International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) spokesman Anton Nikiforov said that transferring the war crimes trial of Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj from The Hague to Serbia will be counterproductive, B92 reported on August 6. Seselj, who is charged with 14 counts of war crimes committed against Croats and Bosnian Muslims, has been in ICTY custody since his voluntary surrender on February 24, 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 4, 2005). Faced with funding difficulties, the ICTY has been trying to move cases of lower-level defendants to their home countries. "In Serbia, judges are appointed by the parliament, which means there is a certain dependence on the authorities," Nikiforov said. "They would find these types of trials politically difficult." BW

SERBIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CLARIFIES COMMENTS ON COMMAND OF MILITARY
Clarifying an earlier statement, Zoran Stankovic said on August 5 that the president and nobody else commands Serbia's armed forces, B92 reported the same day. Stankovic said on August 3 that Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will have control over the Serbian army's new counterterrorist Special Brigade. The comments caused speculation that there is tension between the armed forces and President Boris Tadic. "The president of the republic is the one who commands Serbia's armed forces and no one has ever questioned that," Stankovic said. "The president is acquainted with all the activities undertaken by the Defense Ministry and the General Staff and all his decisions pertaining to the army have been implemented.... I thought I had made myself clear on all this at the time I gave the statement, but obviously, that was not the case." BW

ALLIES IN SERBIAN INTELLIGENCE REPORTEDLY TIPPING OFF MLADIC
In an article published on August 4, the Serbian daily "Vecernje novosti" accused elements within the intelligence services of actively assisting war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, UPI reported the same day. Citing unidentified intelligence officials, the newspaper reported that Mladic was receiving tip-offs about plans to apprehend him. Mladic was not arrested because "he has in the secret services and on certain political posts his people, i.e. supporters who were advising him about planned raids," the newspaper alleged. "This is why Mladic has always been one step ahead of officials chasing him," an unidentified intelligence official told the newspaper. "Vecernje novosti" also reported that in May 2005, a government minister visited Mladic with a bag filled with medicine. BW

NEW ACCUSATIONS EMERGE IN UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST'S MURDER
A close associate of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has claimed that Ukrainian parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz plotted with Mikhail Fridman, the head of Alfa Group, to kill Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000.

The claim was made by Alex Goldfarb, the chairman of the Civil Liberties Fund, an organization sponsored by the London-based Berezovsky. Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on August 1, Goldfarb distributed the text of an affidavit by an unnamed U.S. citizen, claiming that Moroz, a member of parliament in September 2000, met with Fridman and a number of suspected Russian criminal bosses from the "Izmailovskaya" gang in Moscow to plan Gongadze's killing.

Gongadze, an investigative journalist whose articles often targeted the administration of former President Leonid Kuchma, disappeared in September 2000, and his decapitated body was discovered in a forest near Kyiv shortly thereafter.

Two of the three men arrested for killing Gongadze pleaded guilty to the crime in February 2006, but did not name the person who ordered the killing. They said they acted at the behest of their superior, Interior Ministry General Oleksiy Pukach, who is wanted by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.

Goldfarb provided little evidence for the latest accusations, saying he gave copies of the affidavit to Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office.

According to Goldfarb's unnamed witness, Moroz is alleged to have promised Alfa Group lucrative energy projects if he were to be elected president of Ukraine. At this time the witness alleges Moroz was in possession of tape recordings claimed to have been secretly made in Kuchma's office by a member of the president's security detail, Mykola Melnychenko.

In the "Melnychenko tapes" Gongadze's name is mentioned a number of times by a voice purported to be Kuchma's. The president appears to be ordering Gongadze's killing, saying: "Drive him out! Throw him out! Give him to the Chechens!"

Kuchma has admitted that his voice is on the tapes, but claims they were altered. He denies the charges that he ordered Gongadze's killing. In the witness's version of events, Moroz wanted Gongadze killed so that he could discredit Kuchma by blaming the killing on him and be elected.

The latest claims do not mark the first time such allegations have surfaced. Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent, has investigated the killing for an unnamed private client. In August 2002, Levinson claimed in a letter made available to RFE/RL that Gongadze was murdered by a local group of assassins under the direction of Vladimir Kiselyov, reputed to be one of the more powerful criminal authorities in Kyiv. Kiselyov was allegedly hired to do the job by leaders of the Izmailovskaya gang, which in turn was commissioned by Alfa Group and Moroz to kill Gongadze.

When Levinson's version of events was made public, Moroz denied any role in the murder and said the theory was being circulated by Kuchma supporters to compromise him.

Fridman has denied the allegations. In a statement, he said: "It is strange that I am not being accused of attempting to murder the U.S. president in Tbilisi [a reference to an assassination attempt against President George W. Bush during his visit to Tbilisi in May 2005], of murdering Leo Trotsky, and of attempting to rob Fort Knox."

Moroz has been unavailable for comment.

On August 1, "Ukrayinska pravda" reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office issued a press release in which it stated that the affidavit it received from Goldfarb did not contain any verifiable evidence linking Moroz to the murder.

The recent political deadlock in Ukraine provides the backdrop to the recent flurry of accusations and counteraccusations. A member of the Socialist Party, Mykola Rudkovsky, was quoted by "Ukrayinska pravda" on August 1 as saying that Goldfarb's accusation was possibly an act of "revenge" by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc to punish Moroz for destroying her chances of becoming prime minister.

Tymoshenko has often been accused of maintaining close ties with Berezovsky, and was instrumental in helping to arrange meetings between Yushchenko supporters and Berezovsky during the 2004 presidential election campaign.

AFGHAN PRESIDENT SWEARS IN SUPREME COURT JUSTICES
Newly approved members of Afghanistan's Supreme Court were officially sworn by President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on August 5, Ariana TV reported. They are: Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi; Mohammad Qasem Hashemzai; Abdul Rashid Rashid; Gholam Nabi Nawai; Bahuddin Baha; Zamen Ali Behsudi; Mohammad Qasem; Mohammad Alim Nasimi; and Mohammad Omar Barakzai. The court's new composition marks a fresh beginning and could, in the long term, represent a stabilizing factor among the three branches of government. AT

PRESIDENT ORDERS CREATION OF NEW AFGHAN ULAMA POSTS
President Karzai has ordered the creation of 500 new posts for Afghan religious scholars within the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Endowments, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on August 6. The plan prescribes three tiers of positions for ulama and prayer leaders, "given the high status of religious scholars" in Afghan society. Karzai has ordered the Finance Ministry to release funds for the creation of the new posts. Bringing the clergy and religious scholars under government authority through the creation of official posts may allow the Afghan government to exert a degree of control over an otherwise independent, yet powerful, segment of society. AT

BRITISH SOLDIER, 14 NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A U.K. soldier serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and 14 neo-Taliban militiamen were killed in separate military actions in Helmand Province on August 6, international news agencies reported. The soldier was killed during an operation targeting insurgents near the Musa Qala' district, the "Daily Mail" reported on August 6. Meanwhile, U.K. aircraft attacked a suspected Taliban position in Garmer district, killing 14 insurgents. A British commander wishing to remain anonymous told the "Daily Mail" that his troops in Helmand are "knackered -- they are on the brink of exhaustion. They are under considerable duress and have suffered great hardship." Three British soldiers were killed in the same province on August 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2006). The United Kingdom, which currently leads ISAF, maintains around 3,600 troops in Helmand. An additional force of 1,000 British forces should be dispatched to Afghanistan soon. AT

SUICIDE ATTACK IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN INJURES U.S. SOLDIER
A suicide attacker rammed his vehicle into a U.S. military vehicle near the city of Kandahar on August 6, injuring one U.S. soldier, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. AIP reported the same day that Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusof called the news agency, claiming responsibility for the attack, in which he claimed five U.S. troops had been killed. The neo-Taliban appear routinely to exaggerate their claims of casualties inflicted in such attacks. AT

TEHRAN HINTS AT WILLINGNESS TO DISCUSS NUCLEAR TOPICS...
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said on August 6 that Iran will reject UN Security Council Resolution 1696 of July 31, which orders Iran to halt sensitive nuclear activities by the end of August or face possible economic sanctions, Radio Farda, IRNA, and state television reported. Larijani described the resolution as "illegal" because the country is not in violation of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. Larijani said Iran wants to resolve the situation through negotiations and that a change in Western behavior could persuade Iran to change its policy. However, Larijani said Iran will not suspend its uranium-enrichment activities, adding, "We will expand nuclear technology at whatever stage it may be necessary, and all of Iran's nuclear technology, including the [centrifuge] cascades, will be expanded." Larijani questioned the logic of submitting a proposal to resolve the issue in early June and then issuing the resolution before Iran has completed its review of the proposal. Tehran has declared that it will respond by August 22 to the incentives package delivered by EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on June 6. BS

...AND ISSUES VEILED ECONOMIC THREAT
Secretary Larijani said on August 6 that the imposition of sanctions against Iran would have consequences that could hurt the West, state television reported. "There are so many repercussions in the international domain and they [those imposing sanctions] will lose more than us," he said. "They should not think that they can hurt us and that we will not react." In an apparent reference to withholding oil exports, Larijani said: "They should not force us so that they shiver in the cold themselves or suffer other problems.... We will respond in a way that will be sufficiently painful for them." BS

IRANIAN, SYRIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS LEBANON
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad telephoned his Iranian counterpart on August 5 to discuss developments in Lebanon, SANA reported. Ahmadinejad told his interlocutor that Israel and its allies are surprised by Hizballah's strength, IRNA reported. "The Zionist regime thought by savage attacks on Lebanese civilians and infrastructure, it could defeat the popular Islamic resistance while the resistance hit back at them in a way that Israel and its masters are still in a state of confusion," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying. He also said the United States cannot be a disinterested mediator because of its support for Israel. BS

TEHRAN REPORTEDLY ACKNOWLEDGES SUPPLYING MISSILES TO HIZBALLAH
Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, head of the Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference series and a leader in the creation of Lebanese Hizballah when he was Tehran's ambassador to Damascus in the 1980s, said on August 4 that the Islamic republic has supplied Hizballah with rockets, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on August 5. Zelzal-2 missiles, with a range of 210 kilometers, were provided in order to help defend Lebanon, he is quoted as having said. BS

SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS IN IRAN CONFIRMED
The Guardians Council on August 5 approved the holding of elections for the Assembly of Experts and the Municipal council on the same day, clearing the way to implement a July 26 legislative decision to hold balloting on November 17, state television reported. There will be parliamentary by-elections in several constituencies on that date, as well. Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi on August 6 described simultaneous elections as a valuable opportunity, Mehr News Agency reported. This will encourage mass participation and save money, Karrubi said. Karrubi, who leads the reformist National Trust Party, said a list of candidates is under consideration. BS

IRANIAN AUTHORITIES INTERVENE DURING STUDENT ACTIVIST'S MEMORIAL SERVICE
The town of Amol was the site of a memorial service on August 4 for student activist Akbar Mohammadi, ILNA reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2, and 3, 2006). Mohammadi died while in custody at Evin prison, and the spokesman for postgraduate members of the Office for Strengthening Unity, Abdullah Momeni, said Mohammadi was interred at Kangmian village. Momeni added that the authorities stopped some of the minibuses transporting mourners to the event and detained a number of people until after the event's conclusion. Khalil Bahramian, Mohammadi's lawyer, told Radio Farda on August 6 that he intends to complain formally to the head of the judiciary about prison authorities, who he suggested had a hand in his client's death. BS

IRANIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP DEFIES BAN
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi's human rights group declared on August 6 that it will continue its activities despite an Interior Ministry ban, ILNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, August 4, 2006). The Defenders of Human Rights Center's statement claimed the ban violates the law, specifically Article 26 of the constitution, which says that the formation of such entities is legal as long as they do not undermine public order. Appeals against the subsequent ban have not yielded results. The center was created some three or four years ago, and the statement explained that the group applied for a permit at the time to demonstrate its goodwill. Ebadi noted that many applicants for party permits win approval within several months, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 5. BS

U.S.-BACKED IRAQI TROOPS TARGET DEATH SQUADS IN BAGHDAD
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces engaged militia fighters tied to a suspected "death squad" during a predawn raid in the Al-Sadr City district of Baghdad on August 7, the U.S. military announced in a press release. The statement said that troops came under fire upon launching the raid, which targeted individuals involved in "punishment- and torture-cell activities." The fire lasted for the duration of the operation and continued as they left the neighborhood, the statement added. Police officials told Reuters that two people were killed and 18 wounded during two hours of fighting. The militiamen are suspected to be members of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr aide Fattah al-Shaykh told dpa on August 7 that U.S. jet fighters bombed civilian targets during the raid, killing women and children. He denied that the Al-Mahdi Army was involved in the fighting. U.S. troops based in Mosul began arriving in Baghdad on August 6, following an announcement last week that 3,700 soldiers would be moved to support security efforts in the capital. KR

IRAQI FORCES TO TAKE CONTROL OF SECURITY IN DHI QAR GOVERNORATE
Iraqi security forces will soon assume responsibility for security in the southern Dhi Qar Governorate, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on August 6. Aziz Kadhim Alwa, who heads the governorate's security committee, said that Italian troops stationed there have determined that Iraqi security forces have received sufficient training and are capable of handling security for the entire governorate. There are currently some 1,600 Italian troops stationed in southern Iraq, which the Italian government hopes to withdraw by year-end. Iraqi security forces assumed responsibility for security in the Al-Muthanna Governorate last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). President Jalal Talabani announced last week that Iraqi forces will take control of security in all 18 governorates by year-end. KR

U.S. MILITARY OPENS HEARING INTO AL-MAHMUDIYAH RAPE, MURDER CASE
A U.S. military hearing into allegations that four U.S. soldiers raped an Iraqi teenager and then killed her along with three members of her family opened in Baghdad on August 6, international media reported. Four witnesses testified in the hearing, including Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Kunk, the former battalion commander for the men charged, who said former soldier Steven D. Green was discharged from the army in May after a psychiatric evaluation. Green, the apparent ringleader in the attack, also suffered from combat stress, Kunk said. An unidentified Iraqi army medic who saw the scene at the girl's house told the hearing that he found her naked and burned body. The girl was shot in the face, he added. He also testified to seeing the bullet-ridden bodies of the girl's parents and sister. Special Agent Benjamin Bierce testified on August 7 about an interview he had with Specialist James Barker, one of the four accused, who told him the soldiers took turns holding down and raping the teenager before killing her and her family, Reuters reported. KR

IRAQI GOVERNMENT REINSTATES 10,000 WORKERS
The government on August 6 reinstated 10,000 state employees dismissed from their posts by the de-Ba'athification Commission in 2003, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Some 8,000 of the workers will return to their jobs at the ministries of Interior and Defense, while another 1,800 will return to the Information Ministry. An estimated 120,000 Iraqis lost their government jobs under the de-Ba'athification process, Reuters reported on August 6. KR

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