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Newsline - August 9, 2006


RUSSIA PROPOSES 'INTERIM RESOLUTION' ON LEBANON...
Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said in response to a question from ITAR-TASS on August 8 that to Russia's "great regret," an agreement in the UN Security Council on the proposed U.S.-French text for a resolution on the current Middle East crisis has been "unjustly delayed," mid.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7 and 8, 2006). Denisov noted that "we view the French-American draft resolution as a step forward. That is due mainly to the fact that Russia's principal demand for an immediate cease-fire has been taken into consideration." He added, however, that "under the circumstances, a short resolution on a humanitarian cease-fire needs to be adopted as a provisional step by the Security Council if differences over the proposed draft persist." At the UN, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that council members are continuing "intensive work" aimed at working out a draft acceptable to all concerned, RIA Novosti reported. The current draft resolution is the result of extensive negotiations that balance several factors, including French demands for a cease-fire with U.S. concerns for security guarantees for Israel against further attacks by Hizballah. Any proposal for an "interim" resolution that does not address the security issue is likely to be rejected by the United States and Israel. PM

...AND FINDS AGREEMENT WITH SYRIA
Deputy Foreign Minister Denisov and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mu'allim agreed in a telephone conversation on August 8 that on the "need for the soonest possible cease-fire and the beginning of a political settlement process," mid.ru and Interfax reported. The statement on the ministry's website added that both sides feel that the process of "achieving this goal could be advanced by the Lebanese government's decision to send a 15,000-strong contingent of the Lebanese army to the southern part of the country." Denisov noted that "Russia is making intensive efforts for the swiftest possible passage of a...Security Council resolution that would help stop bloodshed. The resolution should take into account the interests of all parties, including the Lebanese government's proposals." PM

FORMER RUSSIAN COLONEL SENTENCED FOR 'HIGH TREASON'
The Moscow Military District Court sentenced retired Colonel Sergei Skripal to 13 years in a high-security prison for selling classified information to Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service, Russian and international news agencies reported on August 9. Russian investigators said he received about $100,000 over a period of several years for the information, which allegedly included the identity of dozens of Russian undercover intelligence agents working in Europe. "Izvestia" reported that Skripal's activities seriously disrupted Russia's espionage activities in Europe. PM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS RUSSIAN COUNTERPART IN MOSCOW
President Vladimir Putin met Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin in the Kremlin on August 8 to discuss the Transdniester issue and several thorny bilateral economic issues, including Russia's ban on Moldovan wine imports, Russian media reported. This is Voronin's second trip to Moscow in one month, the last one having been for the CIS summit, but his first working visit in over three years. "There have been a lot of discussions and debates about relations between Moldova and Russia, but often the people speaking are not those who settle the problems," Voronin said. Ekho Moskvy radio commented that the two men are picking up where they left off in talks about three years ago. Talks between Moscow and Chisinau broke down in 2003 when Voronin refused to sign an agreement that would have made Moldova a federated state and allow Russian military forces to remain in Transdniester for 20 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 26, 2003). It is not clear whether the meeting led to any concrete results. PM/BW

RUSSIA TO SWAP ARMS FOR ARGENTINE BEEF?
In the wake of signing arms deals with Venezuela worth about $3 billion, Russian officials are reportedly negotiating the sale of an unspecified number of military helicopters and patrol boats to Argentina, "The Washington Times" reported on August 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). Russian Ambassador to Argentina Yury Korchagin met with Defense Minister Nilda Garre on August 2 to express Moscow's willingness to "open a road to military and technical cooperation," according to a statement from her ministry in Buenos Aires. Argentine media suggested that Russia is interested in a barter deal for local beef, of which Russia is already the largest importer. Argentina's economic difficulties have prevented it from engaging in any major arms purchases in recent years. PM

RUSSIAN CONCERN OVER U.S. TRADE BENEFITS
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced on August 8 that Russia is one of 13 countries that could be dropped for a preferential trade-benefits scheme for emerging economies in the Generalized System of Preferences, RIA Novosti and rosbalt.ru reported. The loss, if implemented, could cost Russia $1 billion per year. Russian commentators noted that the announcement comes in the wake of U.S. sanctions against two major Russian arms exporters over their alleged dealings with Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). PM

ANOTHER MAJOR ART THEFT REPORTED
In the wake of a scandal surrounding thefts from St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, at least 274 drawings by architect and artist Yakov Chernikkov were found to be missing from Moscow's State Literature and Art Archive after some of them turned up at a London auction, "The Moscow Times" reported on August 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 4, and 7, 2006). The drawings are valued at about $1.3 million. Tatyana Goryayeva, who heads the archives, said that some members of the staff were apparently involved in the theft, as was the case in St. Petersburg. PM

POLL SAYS 43 PERCENT WILL VOTE FOR PUTIN'S CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT
A new poll by the respected Levada Center suggests that 43 percent of respondents are willing to approve any candidate proposed by President Putin to succeed him when his current term expires in 2008, "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on August 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). The mass-circulation daily commented that "Russians love Putin so much that they will vote for anyone he chooses." The paper added that the poll provides "evidence for an argument advanced by Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, that no state can have Western-style democracy until most of its population belongs to the middle class. In the same Levada Center poll, only 14 percent of respondents said they could easily afford substantial consumer goods, and only 0.3 percent could afford really expensive purchases like an apartment or a home outside the city. Clearly, people in this kind of situation are primarily interested in stability, not abstract democratic standards." PM

TERM LIMITS IN OFFING FOR REGIONAL GOVERNORS?
In an interview entitled "It's Hard To Turn Down The President's Proposals," Aleksandr Konovalov, who is presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of August 9 that "it is possible" that term limits for regional governors could be implemented at some unspecified future date. He was referring to the fact that several of the Volga district's governors have been in power since the early 1990s. He noted that those governors, who are generally regarded as loyal to President Putin, have achieved much and still have more to do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006). But Konovalov stressed that the Russian political system is constantly changing and developing. He added that "it's quite possible that we'll soon hear talk of a system of party-affiliated regional leaders" as well, but did not elaborate. Asked about the corruption charges that have recently been brought against several regional officials, Konovalov said that the anticorruption drive has not been pursued in a systematic fashion. He did not acknowledge the interviewer's suggestion that ulterior political motives might be behind some of the charges. PM

PROSECUTOR KILLED IN DAGHESTAN
Local prosecutor Bitar Bitarov died on August 8 after a roadside bomb exploded in the city of Buinaksk in Daghestan, news.ru reported. One hour later, unidentified gunmen fired at a convoy headed by Daghestan's Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov as it rushed to the scene of the blast, killing two bodyguards and injuring a third. Only one day earlier, Magomedtagirov said on nationwide television that the "terrorist threat" in the region has been eliminated. PM

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES TAX EXEMPTION FOR FARMERS
Robert Kocharian announced on August 8 a tax exemption for a majority of farmers, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The move would allow farmers with an annual turnover of less than 8 million drams ($20,000) to avoid paying a 20 percent sales tax to be introduced in January 2009 as part of Armenia's commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The value-added tax (VAT), currently applied to sales of all nonagricultural goods, is a significant source of income for the Armenian government. The government had previously pledged to extend the VAT to the agricultural sector upon its ascension to the WTO in February 2003. It is also committed to limiting agricultural subsidies to $40 million a year. RG

ARMENIAN CURRENCY SURGES TO NEW RECORD HIGH
The Armenian national currency, the dram, surged on August 8 to a new record high against the U.S. dollar, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The rise of the dram, reaching an average of 400 drams to the dollar, follows several months of consistent appreciation that has impacted local exporters and millions of Armenian citizens dependent on external remittances for daily expenses. Since December 2003, the value of the Armenian dram, in dollar terms, increased by some 40 percent, and has gained more than 30 percent in value against the euro in the same period. Officials of both the Central Bank of Armenia and the International Monetary Fund have explained that the currency's appreciation has stemmed mainly from a substantial increase in the level of remittance flows into the country. RG

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES MILITARY COOPERATION WITH NEW RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR
Safar Abiev met in Baku on August 8 with the newly arrived Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Vasili Istratov to discuss the further expansion of bilateral military cooperation, Turan reported. Relations with Russia have improved significantly over the past year, with bilateral trade surpassing $1 billion last year, and Russian President Vladimir Putin finalizing deeper military cooperation during a state visit to Baku in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). Azerbaijani officials are particularly interested in gaining greater access to Russian military hardware to address the country's chronic shortage of spare parts for its Soviet-era arsenal. RG

HUNDREDS OF AZERBAIJANIS MARCH TO ISRAELI EMBASSY IN BAKU
In the largest anti-Israel demonstration in the country in recent weeks, several hundred demonstrators marched on August 8 to the Israeli Embassy in Baku, Turan reported. Organized to protest Israeli actions in Lebanon, marchers chanted Islamic slogans and carried banners expressing solidarity with the Lebanese, Palestinians, and Hizballah. Police deployed near the Israeli Embassy detained an estimated 20 participants but failed to break up the rally and eventually allowed the rally to conclude peacefully with the public reading of a statement denouncing Israel. The march follows a series of similar demonstrations in Azerbaijan, although no party or group claimed responsibility for this event (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, August 2, 4, and 8, 2006). RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CITES NEED FOR CONTINUED JUDICIAL REFORM
In comments following a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Supreme Court building in Baku, Ilham Aliyev called on August 8 for continued judicial reform, Lider TV reported. The president admitted that there are still "shortcomings" in the country's judicial system and said that "complaints coming from the regions cause concern" over the state of reform. But President Aliyev stressed that there have been important improvements, including greater transparency, professionalism, and the establishment of a "judicial legal council" to provide objective oversight of the judicial process. RG

GEORGIAN MINISTER CALLS FOR REVISING FRAMEWORK FOR RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze announced on August 8 that the Georgian government will seek to revise the terms of the framework governing the deployment of peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Civil Georgia reported. The 1992 agreement between Tbilisi and Moscow, initially signed by then Russian and Georgian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze, respectively, serves as a legal basis for presence of the Russian-led peacekeeping force and established the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC), comprised of Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian, and North Ossetian representatives to manage the cease-fire agreement in effect in the conflict zone. The announcement is in accordance with the July 18 vote by the Georgian parliament calling on the government to immediately suspend "the so-called peacekeeping operations" in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2006). RG

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS UN OBSERVERS MAY INSPECT KODORI GORGE
Irakli Okruashvili said on August 8 that United Nations observers will be allowed to conduct a monitoring mission in the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press and Imedi television reported. He added, however, that Georgia's acceptance of UN observers would only be extended "provided that Russia's participation in the effort is minimal," limited to "no more than one person in the team" and "no Russian helicopters" in the area. Okruashvili also reiterated that Georgia is still insisting on the international inspection of the former Russian military base in Gudauta, Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 3, 2006). RG

ETHNIC AZERBAIJANI GROUP CALLS ON GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT FOR GREATER SECURITY
In an appeal addressed to the Tbilisi government, a local leader of the sizable ethnic Azerbaijani minority population of southern Georgia demanded on August 8 "active measures" to address rising crime in the region, according to Caucasus Press. The chairman of the ethnic Azerbaijani Georgia is My Motherland organization, Alec Babaev, explained that the statement reflects the desire of the local Azerbaijani population to "express indignation" over a wave of "violence, robbery, and murders" that have targeted their community. The appeal, which details a series of murders and acts of violence defined as ethnically driven in nature, calls on the Georgian government to improve security in the southern Georgian region. RG

KAZAKH GOVERNOR SAYS ROCKET CRASH CAUSED OVER $300 MILLION IN DAMAGE
Ikram Adyrbekov, governor of Kazakhstan's Kyzylorda province, told Interfax on August 8 that the recent crash of a rocket shortly after liftoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2006) caused over $300 million in environmental damage. "If our expectations of serious damage to wildlife, the environment, and the health of the region prove correct, the total sum of damage may stand at 41 billion tenges ($339 million)," Adyrbekov said. He noted, however, "I do not think that we will be able to obtain such compensation from Russia." Also on August 8, Khabar reported that Kazakhstan's Emergency Situations Ministry has found a fragment of the rocket close to the launch site, over 100 kilometers from the main crash site, which "refutes the Russian side's version of the causes of the accident and raises new questions about the extent of the damage." The report noted that a Kazakh government commission's preliminary damage estimate is 700 million tenges, although a final conclusion is not expected until September. DK

THOUSANDS ATTEND SLAIN IMAM'S FUNERAL IN KYRGYZSTAN...
More than 3,000 mourners attended funeral services in Kara-Suu on August 7 for imam Muhammadrafiq Kalamov, also known as Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin, RFE/RL reported. The 53-year-old Kamoluddin was killed in a joint operation by Kyrgyz and Uzbek security services on August 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). Mourners chanted "God is great" and "martyr" as they carried Kamoluddin's body through Kara-Suu. Kamoluddin's son, Rashod, told RFE/RL, "[First] they tried to imprison him, then the people protested and [authorities] were frightened. Now they've put a gun into his hand and shot him dead. He is a martyr. They got rid of my father. They were frightened of him because he had 20,000 or 30,000 followers. I will meet with my father in paradise." Murataly Ajy Jumanov, mufti of Kyrgyzstan, attended the funeral and, under pressure from the crowd, pronounced Kamoluddin a "martyr," fergana.ru reported. Police observed the funeral, which proceeded without incident. DK

...AS IMU REPORTEDLY DENIES HE WAS MEMBER
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has denied that Kamoluddin was affiliated with the group, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported on August 8, citing an e-mail it received in the group's name. "We want to make it clear that this martyred scholar and our brother was not a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and while we would like to make it known that we regret he was not a member, such a description of him is erroneous," the e-mail stated. In a news conference in Osh on August 7, Baktybek Bekibaev, head of the National Security Service section in Osh province, said that Kamoluddin was killed together with known IMU members Ayubhoja Shahobiddinov and Fathullo Rahimov, akipress.org reported. Kamoluddin had allowed members of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir to pray in his mosque, although he was critical of Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideology. DK

KYRGYZSTAN CREATES AIR FORCE
President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on July 27 transforming the Defense Ministry's aviation and antiaircraft units into a separate air force, akipress.org reported on August 8. The air force will be charged with defending Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty and airspace. Its commander will be Colonel Oleg Popikov, a missile expert, Afghan war veteran, and member of the Bishkek City Council, news agency 24.kg reported. DK

DUSHANBE MAYOR TURNS DOWN ISLAMIC PARTY'S RALLY REQUEST
Dushanbe Mayor Muhammadsaid Ubaydulloev has rejected a request from Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) to hold a demonstration in Dushanbe on August 19 to condemn Israeli military actions in Lebanon, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Municipal administration spokesman Shavkat Saidov said the party's request was improperly formulated. But IRP spokesman Hikmatulloh Sayfullohzoda said the party observed all legal requirements in drawing up its request. DK

UZBEK SPIRITUAL BOARD GETS NEW HEAD MUFTI
Uzbekistan's Muslim Spiritual Board has elected Usmon Olimov to be the country's new chief mufti, Interfax and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on August 8. Abdurashid Bahromov, the previous mufti, resigned for health reasons. Former chief mufti Muhammad Sodiq Muhammad Yusuf told RFE/RL that Olimov has a solid Islamic education, calling his selection in keeping with the requirements of changing times. DK

UZBEK PARTIES VOICE CONCERN OVER MIDEAST VIOLENCE
Two of Uzbekistan's pro-presidential political parties have expressed concern over violence in the Middle East, press-uz.info reported on August 8. Latif Ghulomov, chairman of the central council of the ruling People's Democratic Party, said a continuation of military actions in Lebanon will only create dangerous consequences. Ghulomov expressed support for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for a rapid cessation of hostilities. Muhammadyusuf Teshaboev, head of the political committee of the Liberal Democratic Party, told press-uz.info that a continuation of military actions could lead to a large-scale humanitarian disaster. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PUSHES FOR EURASIAN INTEGRATION
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on August 8 said at a meeting with Belarusian representatives in interstate bodies in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- the Russia-Belarus Union State, the Eurasian Economic Community, and the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization -- that the country should be more active in integrating with the post-Soviet area, Belarusian Television reported. "Our main priority has been and continues to be the formation of a full-fledged union state [with Russia]," Lukashenka noted. "No matter what various woebegone politicians speculate on this topic, Belarus will not lose its sovereignty. We are building a single union jointly with the Russians on an equal footing." The Eurasian Economic Community consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, while the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER TO VISIT MOSCOW
Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Kyiv on August 8 that newly appointed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych will visit Moscow this month to meet with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, at a session of the intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Speaking later the same day on television, Tarasyuk said Yanukovych's talks in Moscow, among other topics, will include the price of gas imported by Ukraine from Russia. Tarasyuk also revealed that Yanukovych is planning to visit Brussels in mid-September to discuss Ukraine-NATO cooperation. JM

UKRAINIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY SEES NEW GOVERNMENT AS REVENGE...
The Ukrainian People's Party (UNP) has called on all "patriotic" and "state-supporting" forces to unite in the face of what the party perceives as a danger arising from the recent installation of Prime Minister Yanukovych's government, UNIAN reported on August 8. "The government formed by the Verkhovna Rada is an overt act of revenge by those political forces that were removed from power by the Orange Maydan," the UNP said in a statement. "The declaration of national unity, which was drafted with allegedly good intentions, has no legal status and is only a declarative document that was utilized by the anti-Ukrainian forces led by Yanukovych, the Communists, and the Socialists to come to power." The UNP stressed that it sees "an urgent need to form a national-democratic front in order to defend the state and achievements of national democracy." JM

...WHILE LEFTIST PARTY BRANDS IT AS 'BETRAYAL OF ORTHODOX-SLAVIC CIVILIZATION'
Nataliya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, told journalists in Kyiv on August 8 that the declaration of national unity signed last week has obliged its signatories to implement the pro-NATO and pro-Western political course of President Viktor Yushchenko, UNIAN reported. Vitrenko said the signed document is tantamount to "an act of betrayal of the Orthodox-Slavic civilization." According to Vitrenko, even though the declaration of national unity is an unconstitutional document, it has "tied the hands" of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, which now must do what President Yushchenko wants them to do. Vitrenko added that by signing this document, the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party have betrayed their electorates. JM

KOSOVAR SERB DELEGATION BOYCOTTS VIENNA TALKS
The Kosovar Serb delegation boycotted the latest round of United Nations-backed talks on the breakaway province's future status in Vienna on August 8, AFP reported the same day. The talks were scheduled to discuss minority rights. "The Kosovo Serbs are absent for an obvious reason, they don't accept being treated as a minority," Dusan Batakovic, an adviser to Serbian President Boris Tadic, told journalists. "They are a constituent nation of Kosovo.... They feel they cannot be degraded as a minority." Batakovic added that the Kosovar Serb delegation also did not want "to be in the presence of Fatmir Limaj, who is still accused of war crimes." Limaj, a former member of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and a part of the ethnic Albanian delegation, was acquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in December 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 1 and 2, 2005). BW

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BOSNIAN CONSTITUTION...
Ivo Sanader said an international conference should be convened to discuss ways to implement constitutional reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Makfax reported on August 8. Sanader said the decision to close the Office of the High Representative, Bosnia's international overseer, in 2007 made an international conference necessary to solve the country's constitutional problems. Bosnian Serb, Croat, and Muslim leaders failed in U.S.-sponsored talks in January to agree on a new constitution that would strengthen the central government. Although the leaders agreed to expand the central government from nine to 11 ministers and strengthen the prime minister's powers, they could not reach consensus on more ambitious changes, including replacing the collective three-member presidency with a single president and increasing the size of parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 21, 2005, and January 18, 2006). The reforms were widely seen as an important step toward Bosnia's potential membership in NATO and the European Union. BW

...WHICH BOSNIA'S HIGH REPRESENTATIVE REJECTS
High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling said an international conference on Bosnia-Herzegovina's constitution is not necessary, Makfax reported on August 8. "The problems that this country is undergoing can be solved by its politicians or through support by the international community," he said. "Normally, in such circumstances, a good communication with neighboring countries is also necessary." Makfax also quoted Schwarz -Schilling as saying that the decision to close the Office of the High Representative at the end of 2007 is not official. A final decision will be made by February 2007 and will depend on the results of the October 2006 elections, he added. Schwarz-Schilling announced on June 23 that his office will close in June 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006). BW

ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY STAGES PROTESTS OVER MACEDONIAN CABINET
Activists from Macedonia's leading ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), blocked main roads on August 7 to protest being left out of the new government, AKI reported the same day. "This is just the beginning of our revolt against the prime minister-designate, who ignores the will of Albanians in Macedonia," BDI official Idaet Medjiti said. He added that roadblocks lasting 30 minutes per day will continue throughout the week in all villages and towns with an ethnic Albanian majority. The BDI won 17 seats in the 120-seat parliament in the July 5 general elections. But the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), which won the most votes, decided to form a coalition with the BDI's archrival, the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), which won 11 parliamentary seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 2006). BW

SERBIAN PARTIES UNITE FOR MONTENEGRIN ELECTIONS
A group of Serbian political parties in Montenegro have signed an agreement to form a coalition to contest the September 10 elections, Makfax reported on August 8, citing the daily "Pobeda." According to the report, the coalition, called the Serbian List, will include the Serbian People's Party (SNS), Socialist People's Party (NSS), Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Serbian People's Council (SNV), Democratic Party of Unity (DSJ), and the nongovernmental organization Academic Alternative. "This means that the Serbian nation should fight for reunion," SNS leader Andrija Mandic said. The September 10 elections will be Montenegro's first since becoming independent from Serbia. BW

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS RUSSIAN COUNTERPART IN MOSCOW
President Vladimir Putin met Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin in the Kremlin on August 8 to discuss the Transdniester issue and several thorny bilateral economic issues, including Russia's ban on Moldovan wine imports, Russian media reported. This is Voronin's second trip to Moscow in one month, the last one having been for the CIS summit, but his first working visit in over three years. "There have been a lot of discussions and debates about relations between Moldova and Russia, but often the people speaking are not those who settle the problems," Voronin said. Ekho Moskvy radio commented that the two men are picking up where they left off in talks about three years ago. Talks between Moscow and Chisinau broke down in 2003 when Voronin refused to sign an agreement that would have made Moldova a federated state and allow Russian military forces to remain in Transdniester for 20 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 26, 2003). It is not clear whether the meeting led to any concrete results. PM/BW

KAZAKH BATTLE OF THE CLANS CONTINUES
The six-week-old trial of defendants charged with the murder of Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev initially followed in the footsteps of innumerable courtroom proceedings all over the world. The two chief defendants recanted their confessions and pleaded not guilty, and daily eyewitness and expert testimony soon settled into a lulling rhythm punctuated by occasional hints of something more interesting, but nothing concrete. That all changed on August 2, when a key defendant began to testify of a conspiracy and coup attempt involving top-level Kazakh officials.

Defendant Rustam Ibragimov is a former law-enforcement officer charged with killing Sarsenbaev, his driver, and a bodyguard at the behest of Erzhan Utembaev, the former head of the Senate administration. Ibragimov pleaded not guilty when he took the stand, then went on to testify of senior involvement in a conspiracy to topple the president.

The bodies of Sarsenbaev, his driver, and a bodyguard were discovered outside Almaty on February 13.

Ibragimov testified that on February 15 he spoke with Utembaev, who prosecutors allege paid him to commit the murder to settle a personal grudge against Sarsenbaev. As Ibragimov told the story, Utembaev told him that the opposition leader was to have met on February 11, just days before the killing, with the speaker of the Senate and Utembaev's former boss, Nurtai Abikaev; the head of the Kyrgyz National Security Committee, who stepped down in the wake of the Sarsenbaev killing, Nartai Dutbaev; and the former leader of the presidential administration's religious affairs section, Aleksei Kikshaev.

A transcript by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service shows that Ibragimov suggested that all three men -- Abikaev, Dutbaev, and Kikshaev -- were "protecting" Utembaev. What's more, Ibragimov charged that the three sought to "remove the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, [Nursultan] Nazarbaev, in two or three years and putting Abikaev in his place."

In a bizarre footnote, Ibragimov also insinuated that one of the men, Kikshaev, has ties to "the CIA and the Vatican."

The individuals named by Ibragimov did not respond publicly to the allegations against them. But in an interview with the independent Russian-language daily "Liter" on August 4, an adviser to speaker Abikaev made a number of intriguing comments in his defense. Dastan Kadyrzhanov described Abikaev, a longtime ally of President Nazarbaev, as a member of the "old presidential guard." He said Abikaev has supported what he called "the president's policy of checks and balances in society."

Thanks to that approach, Kadyrzhanov said, "the concept of a 'clan standoff' never rose to the top of the political agenda." He stressed Abikaev's loyalty to Nazarbaev, and charged that current "attempts...to lower his actions to the level of intra-clan warfare are pointless."

Kadyrzhanov's focus on clans is not accidental. Clans, or influence groups, have occupied a central place in the fallout from the mysterious murder of Sarsenbaev. Speculation about the murder and attempts to benefit from it followed the lines of the influence groups that play a key role in Kazakh politics. In the weeks after murder, Dutbaev's departure from the National Security Committee and the weakening of Abikaev -- whose subordinate was charged with ordering the murder -- came as a blow to the influence group headed by President Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev. At the same time, the influence group headed by presidential daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva and her husband, Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev, appeared to be gaining ground.

The picture has changed in the intervening months. Previously, Nazarbaeva wielded influence through the pro-presidential party that she headed and the state-held Khabar television network, which she reportedly controlled.

But more recently, Darigha's influence has receded on both fronts. In early May, recently appointed Information and Culture Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbaev told parliament that the state needs to reassert its control over Khabar. The move came amid reports of tension between Darigha and her father. Then, in early July, Darigha's Asar party merged with another pro-presidential group, the Otan party. The move effectively dissolved her party in the larger entity and deprived Darigha of an independent political springboard.

Meanwhile, the rival group of Timur Kulibaev -- who is married to Nazarbaev's second daughter, Dinara -- has been consolidating its influence. Only days before Darigha Nazarbaeva's political party vanished into her father's, Kulibaev was named chairman of the national oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz. That is no mean post in light of Kazakhstan's oil wealth.

Kulibaev had previously served as KazMunaiGaz's vice president. But the new appointment pointed to consolidated clout. The chairman of the nongovernmental Network of Independent Observers, Dos Koshim, told RFE/RL that Kulibaev's new post suggested that his influence was growing in comparison to that of Darigha Nazarbaeva and her husband. Koshim said that the move "looks like [President] Nazarbaev's attempt to base his powers not on Darigha and Rakhat, but on his second son-in-law."

The connection between these clan conflicts and the testimony Ibragimov presented on August 2 is obscure. We have no way of judging the veracity of Ibragimov's testimony or his motives in presenting it at this stage in the trial.

But the reaction of Abikaev's adviser, who immediately related Ibragimov's allegations to "intra-clan warfare," is telling. For while Ibragimov's charges of a conspiracy and coup d'etat do little to clarify the circumstances of a killing that shook the Kazakh political establishment, they come as further confirmation that the fallout reflects a broader struggle between the influence groups that remain the real power brokers in Kazakhstan's political system.

AFGHAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DISCUSSES 'UN-ISLAMIC' VIDEOS
Lawmakers in the National Assembly have summoned representatives of television stations and video outlets following suggestions that "un-Islamic" videos have been disseminated, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on August 7. The Religious, Cultural, and Higher Education Committee of the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council), under the chairmanship of Mawlawi Arsala Rahmani, warned the representatives that the broadcast or release of films containing nudity, whether intentionally or not, would corrupt society. Latif, head of the official Afghan Film Department, told the committee that the Ministry of Culture and Youth has no authority to impose restrictions on broadcasts by cable television outlets, and he recommended that parliament approve an appropriate policy to govern cable television and the rental or sale of videotapes. Rahmani served as deputy minister of higher education under the Taliban regime and, after the ouster of that regime, joined the Afghan government's reconciliation program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 17, 2005). AT

AFGHAN VILLAGERS TO RECEIVE UN-SPONSORED COPIES OF CONSTITUTION
The Afghan Ministry of Rural Development will distribute 40,000 copies of the country's constitution to villages to improve public awareness in rural areas, Herat-based Radio Sahar reported on August 8. There are 38,000 villages in Afghanistan and each is scheduled to receive at least one copy of the 2004 constitution, the report added. The United Nations is funding the project. AT

KABUL DAILY CALLS ON NATO TO RESPECT AFGHAN CULTURE
In a commentary published on August 7, the official "Kabul Times" wrote that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) that recently assumed command of international forces in southern Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition should be familiar with and respect local cultural values (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," August 1, 2006)."The fact that NATO's predecessor was not familiar enough with the people's cultural values" forced it to adopt a "total reliance on military" power, the commentary warned, adding that "carpet bombing" can "hopefully [be] avoided" by NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan. The paper asserts that Afghans "are simple people" but value their "freedom" above all else -- including their lives -- and thus "should be assured that nobody would tamper with their freedom and [their] way of life." AT

LITHUANIA TO SUPPORT LOCAL POLICE IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
Lithuania is planning to allocate one-third of its budget for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) that it leads in Ghor Province to the local police force, Vilnius-based BNS reported on August 8. Ginate Damusis, coordinator of the Lithuanian PRT in Ghor, told BNS that while the military situation in the province has been stable, the crime rate remains high. "Improvement of police efficiency is part of the effort to restore Ghor" she said. The aid money provided by Lithuania is reportedly earmarked for the purchase of motorcycles for police officials assigned to remote areas of Ghor and other police equipment. AT

ALLEGED AFGHAN WAHHABI EXECUTED IN IRAN
The man executed on August 7 for his part in the robbery and murders along the Bam-Kerman road in May was an Afghan Wahhabi, Fars News Agency reported on August 8, quoting Bam Governor Majid Etemadi (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 26, 2006, and "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). Najib Karzahi traveled to Iran to find work, but instead Abdulmalik Rigi's gang offered him 10 million rials (approximately $1,100) to kill people, Etemadi said. Karzahi allegedly confessed that the gang had a close connection to the Taliban, Fars reported. Etemadi said all those responsible for the May incident have been killed except the gangleader, whom he described as Abdulmalik Rigi's brother and who has fled to Pakistan. BS

ISRAELI LEADER SAYS IRAN AND SYRIA AT WAR WITH HIS COUNTRY...
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on August 7 in a statement taped in his office in Jerusalem for broadcast to a meeting of U.S. Jewish organizations that Hizballah is an instrument in the hands of Iran and Syria, Radio Farda reported. "I know you are all thinking [that] we are fighting against Hizballah," he said, "but let's face it, the state of Israel is fighting against the Iranians and the Syrians, who are using Hizballah in order to attack Israel from the north." BS

...AS IRANIAN LEADER TELLS MUSLIMS IT IS A 'DUTY' TO DEFEND HIZBALLAH
"Defending Lebanon's Hizballah is a duty for the entire Islamic community," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in an August 8 speech marking the birth of Imam Ali, state radio reported. He accused the United States ("that American arrogance"), United Kingdom ("one of the most disgraced and ill-reputed governments in the region"), and Israel ("the cruel and savage Zionists") of trying to rid the region of Islam because it defies their ambitions. Israeli attacks against Lebanese civilians are encouraged by silence on the part of the United States, United Kingdom, and United Nations, Khamenei said. Such behavior "encourages the aggressors and oppressors," he charged. Khamenei accused the UN of "incompetence" and its members of being "cold-hearted, double-faced hypocrites." BS

IRANIAN-AMERICAN SENTENCED FOR TRYING TO SEND DUAL-USE GOODS TO IRAN
Mohammad Fazeli, a computer technician from California, was sentenced by a U.S. federal court on August 7 to one year in prison for his effort to ship dual-use products to Iran, "The San Jose Mercury News Reported" on August 8. The 103 Honeywell pressure sensors that Fazeli tried to send to Iran via the United Arab Emirates detect pressure in liquids or in gases and can be used as components in detonators for explosives. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS HOLY CITY OF QOM
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad attended an August 8 commemoration of the birthday of Imam Ali at the office of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani in Qom, state television reported. Nuri-Hamedani is one of the country's most respected clerics, but Ahmadinejad is believed to be a follower of Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. BS

VIEWS ON LEGALITY OF UN RESOLUTION 1696 VARY
U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Gregory Schulte rejected Iranian claims of the illegality of 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, in an interview with Radio Farda on August 8 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2006). Schulte said the resolution reflects Iran's conduct of activities that are counter to its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. The resolution is not directed against the Iranian people, Schulte insisted, but is the result of actions by the country's leadership. Piruz Mujtahedzadeh, a professor of geopolitics at Tehran's Tarbiat Mudariss University and chairman of the London-based Urosevic Research Foundation, told Radio Farda that the Security Council does not have the authority to pass Resolution 1696. BS

MONTHLY DEATH TOLL RISES IN IRAQI CAPITAL
More than 200 Iraqis were killed in the capital in July than in June, according to the latest figures released by the Baghdad morgue, Reuters reported on August 9. Some 1,815 bodies passed through the morgue in July, up from the 1,595 bodies it received in June. The morgue's assistant manager, Abd al-Razzaq al-Ubaydi, said that 90 percent of the deaths were violence-related. KR

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT DENIES FORMING MILITIA...
Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, denied an August 8 report in London's "The Times" that claimed he is in the process of forming a militia, Al-Jazeera reported on August 9. The daily quoted a Sunni Arab who is considering joining the militia as saying that the militia will be formed from 350 former army personnel who will be trained, armed, and paid $700 per month by the Defense Ministry. "It'll be called a personal security guard unit...to give it official cover and secure funding, but on the ground it'll be a Sunni militia," he said. An unnamed official of al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party reportedly told the daily, "It's a very sensitive issue and I can't comment on it." Meanwhile, al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera in a telephone interview from Istanbul, where he is reportedly vacationing: "Violence should not be met with counterviolence.... We are working to disband the existing militias because they have become part of the current problem.... The solution is not to exacerbate the situation by forming new militias." KR

...AS DEPUTY PREMIER CALLS FOR TALKS
Iraqi Sunni Arab Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i told Al-Sharqiyah television on August 9 that there is a need for Sunni and Shi'ite leaders to sit and discuss national reconciliation. Calling for a meeting between Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim and Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari, al-Zawba'i noted the need to change perceptions on both sides. "Everybody is looking to the other in a dark way," he said. "This [perception] should be corrected." Al-Zawba'i contended that outsiders have misrepresented the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association as an organization that supports violence. "We should admit that the [association] demands something that many Iraqis are calling for. This is democracy about which we speak," he claimed. KR

ISRAELI DAILY SAYS IRAQ'S AL-MAHDI FIGHTERS JOIN HIZBALLAH
Several dozen members of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, have joined Lebanese Hizballah, Tel Aviv-based "Ma'ariv" reported on August 8, citing Baghdad security sources. The newspaper also claimed that Lebanese Hizballah has been "consistently operating in Iraq" over the past year, aiding Shi'ite militias based there. The report cannot be independently verified, though al-Sadr's aides have admitted that the cleric sent truckloads of humanitarian aide to Lebanon last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). Al-Sadr supporters have also staged demonstrations in support of Hizballah in Baghdad recently. KR

IRAQI MILITARY ASSUMES CONTROL OVER MORE AREAS
U.S. General George Casey, the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad announced in a joint statement on August 8 that the Iraqi military has assumed primary responsibility for security in the Salah Al-Din, Ninawah (Mosul), and Kirkuk governorates. The statement, posted on the coalition website, said the Iraqi army's 4th Division took control from the 101st Airborne Division in a ceremony the same day, which also marked the halfway mark of putting the Iraqi military in the lead for operations. "Five of the Iraqi army's 10 division headquarters, 25 brigade headquarters, and 85 battalions in the Iraqi army now have the lead for security responsibilities in their areas. Additionally, to date 48 of 110 Coalition Forward Operating Bases have been transferred to Iraqi control," the statement noted. KR

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