BUSH, PUTIN DISCUSS IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their "lobster summit" at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 2. RFE/RL quoted Bush as saying in a joint press conference with Putin that their meeting allowed them to make "great strides" in laying the foundation for future U.S.-Russian relations on nuclear-security issues. Bush also praised Putin for openness. "Through the course of our relationship, there have been times when we've agreed on issues, and there have been times when we haven't agreed on issues," Bush said. "One thing I've found about Vladimir Putin is that he is consistent, transparent, honest, and is an easy man to discuss our opportunities and our problems with." Putin said the talks were "very substantial," covering "the whole gamut of bilateral issues and international issues" and finding some points of agreement. Bush said they spent a lot of time discussing Iran's nuclear program and agreed that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons. "This is an issue that we've been talking about for about six years, and I have come to the conclusion that when Russia and America speak along the same lines, it tends to have an effect," Bush said. "And, therefore, I appreciate very much the Russian attitude in the United Nations." Bush added: "I have been counting on the Russian support to send a clear message to the Iranians, and that support and that message is a strong message, and hopefully, we will be able to convince the regime that we have no problems with the people in Iran, but we do have a problem with a regime that is in defiance of international norms." Putin said Washington and Moscow "have managed to work together" on the Iranian nuclear issue in the UN Security Council and that he hopes and expects this cooperation will continue. JB
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT EXPANDS HIS MISSILE-DEFENSE COUNTERPROPOSAL
In a joint news conference with President Bush following their talks in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Putin said he proposed expanding cooperation on a missile shield to include Europe and NATO, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on July 2. "We support the idea of consultations on missile defense and believe that the number of participants should be expanded to include the European states," Putin said, adding that this should be done "within" the NATO-Russia Council. According to RFE/RL, Putin also reiterated and expanded on the suggestion he made at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany last month that the United States shelve plans to establish radar defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and instead cooperate with Russian on a joint radar base in Azerbaijan. "If need be, we are prepared to involve in this work not only the Gabala [Qabala] radar station, which we rent from the Azerbaijanis," Putin said. "If necessary, we are prepared to modernize it, and if that is not enough, we would also be prepared to engage in this system a new early-warning station being built in the south of Russia." Bush, for his part, said he was in "strong agreement" about working bilaterally and through the NATO-Russia Council. "It is more than an interesting idea; it is an idea that we are following up on through consultative meetings, which we have started," Bush said. "And, as I told you, the president made a very, I thought, very constructive and bold strategic move, and that is that why don't we broaden the dialogue and include Europe through NATO and the Russia-NATO Council." Still, Bush added that "the Czech Republic and Poland need to be an integral part of the system," the "International Herald Tribune" reported. JB
PUTIN SAYS 'INTERFERENCE' IN DOMESTIC AFFAIRS IS 'UNACCEPTABLE'
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with President Bush in Kennebunkport, President Putin made comments apparently aimed at critics of Russia's human rights record, newsru.com reported on July 2. "We have common problems, we are ready to listen to one another," Putin said. "The only thing we will not accept is if these instruments will be used as pressure, interference in domestic affairs. That is unacceptable. When we speak about common democratic values, we consider this important both for us and for our partners." Russia has gone through many changes during the last 15 years, Putin said. "Of course, we ran into big problems in resolving social issues, and all of that together affected how [well] the construction of a democratic society went for us. But even in stable democracies we see a huge number of such problems. This concerns both relations with the mass media and the observance of human rights, including the right to privacy. We have common problems; we are ready to listen to one another. We raise these issues in direct dialogue with President Bush; he says what he thinks is necessary. I don't always agree with him, but this is never mentorship; we speak as friends." On June 29, just days before the Bush-Putin meeting in Kennebunkport, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on Bush "to press Putin to restore freedom of expression and the media, repeal draconian restrictions imposed on nongovernmental organizations, put an end to continued torture and enforced disappearances in Chechnya, and step up the fight against growing racism and xenophobia in Russia." The press release quoted Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, as saying: "Putin's policies are rolling back hard-won freedoms in Russia. As Bush tries to repair relations with Russia, he must make clear the U.S. is not willing to overlook Putin's worsening human rights record.... Unfortunately, the Bush administration has lost credibility due to its own poor human rights record. Nevertheless, the U.S. has a role to play in pressing for human rights guarantees, especially in areas like freedom of expression and the rule of law." JB
OPPOSITION CLAIMS RYAZAN ACTIVISTS TORTURED
Aleksandr Averin, one of the organizers of the March of Dissent that took place in Ryazan on June 30, told Ekho Moskvy radio on July 2 that opposition members detained by the police during the protest were beaten and tortured by police. The radio station reported that around 200 people participated in the Ryazan protest and that 15 of them were detained. A Ryazan police spokesman said on June 30 that six protesters were detained after they set off flares and that they were all members of the banned National Bolshevik Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). According to Ekho Moskvy, opposition activists plan to lodge a formal complaint with prosecutors over the actions of the police in Ryazan. JB
LAWYER: TREPASHKIN FACES LIFE-THREATENING PRISON CONDITIONS
Sergei Kuznetsov, a lawyer representing former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Mikhail Trepashkin, has released a letter stating that Trepashkin, who was jailed in 2004 for allegedly revealing state secrets, is facing conditions in a Yekaterinburg pretrial detention center (SIZO), where he was transferred last week, that are endangering his health and life, Interfax reported on July 2. The letter said that Trepashkin, who is in solitary confinement in Yekaterinburg's SIZO No. 1, has been deprived of essential medications, fresh air, daylight, normal food and water, and a daily walk, and that he has no access to newspapers, a radio, or television. Trepashkin is "practically living in a toilet," Interfax quoted the letter as saying. Kuznetsov, who met three times with Trepashkin last week, said he noted a "sharp deterioration" in Trepashkin's health. The letter noted that the prison administration placed Trepashkin in a one-man cell "in the interests of his personal security" and to give him "the opportunity to prepare for [his] impending court trial in tranquil conditions," and that Trepashkin originally agreed to those conditions in writing. However, it turned out that his cell was located in a wing housing prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment and that the cell itself had previously held prisoners waiting to be executed by firing squad, the letter stated. Prior to his arrest, Trepashkin probed the 1999 Moscow apartment-building bombings in which he suggested the FSB may have been involved. After former FSB Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko died of poisoning from radioactive polonium-210 in London last year, a lawyer for Trepashkin said her client had "information that might shed light on the murder," but a Federal Corrections Service spokesman said his department would "not allow a person convicted for divulging state secrets to remain a source of information for representatives of foreign special services," and so Trepashkin was not allowed to meet with British police investigators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2006). Trepashkin subsequently sent a letter from the prison in Nizhny Tagil in which he was then incarcerated to a correspondent for "The New Times" magazine stating that the FSB had tried to involve him in an earlier plot to kill Litvinenko. JB
BEREZOVSKY ACCUSED OF PLOTTING PUTIN'S OVERTHROW
The FSB has charged Boris Berezovsky with plotting the violent overthrow of President Putin's administration, "The Moscow Times" reported on July 3, quoting a lawyer for the London-based former Kremlin insider. As the English-language daily noted, the charges represent an escalation in the legal proceedings against Berezovsky, whose trial in absentia on fraud charges opened on July 2. Berezovsky is charged with embezzling 214 million rubles ($8.3 million) from state-owned airline Aeroflot, as well as money laundering in the transfer of 16 million rubles (around $620,000) of those funds from 1996 to 1999. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). Berezovsky has called the fraud case against him a farce and ordered his lawyers not to take part in the proceedings. His lawyer, Andrei Borovkov, told "The Moscow Times" by telephone that the new charges, which carry a sentence of 12 to 20 years, were filed in June and stemmed from a number of statements his client made to the press in interviews over the past year. "The charge is very broad," Borovkov said. "It includes all of the incidents, including that with the 'Guardian.'" Berezovsky said in an interview published in that British newspaper in April, "We need force to change this regime," and added that there "can be no change without force, pressure." He subsequently clarified his comments, saying that while supports "direct actions," he does not "advocate or support violence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13 and 16, 2007). JB
REPORT: PUTIN ASSOCIATE TAKES OVER MASS-CIRCULATION NEWSPAPER
The "Kommersant" daily reported on July 3 that the head of the St. Petersburg-based Baltic Media Group, Oleg Rudnov, has been elected chairman of the board of directors of "Komsomolskaya pravda," one of Russia's largest-circulation newspapers. According to "Kommersant," Rudnov is a business partner of Yury Kovalchuk, co-owner the St. Petersburg-based Rossiya Bank and a close friend of President Putin. "This means that one of the country's biggest newspapers has passed to the control of Rossiya," "Kommersant" wrote. In December 2006, "Kommersant" and newsru.com reported that the Abros Capital company, reportedly controlled by Kovalchuk through Rossiya Bank, had taken a majority share of REN-TV (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 19, 2006). JB
CHECHEN RESISTANCE CLAIMS TO CONTROL 'MOST' OF SOUTH
The Chechen resistance has strengthened its position over the past four months and now controls "the greater part" of the mountainous south of Chechnya, where it has established "dozens" of new bases, the resistance website kavkazcenter.com reported on July 2, quoting an unnamed source within the resistance military command. That source added that communication between the various sectors and fronts has improved considerably, and that the General Staff has drafted a training program for the massive influx of young men wishing to join the resistance ranks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2007). LF
TENSIONS SURFACE WITHIN INGUSHETIAN BRANCH OF PRO-KREMLIN PARTY
Incumbent Mukharbek Aushev resigned on July 2 as chairman of the Ingushetian chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, thereby clearing the way for Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, who joined Unified Russia only on June 14, to be elected as chapter head at a ballot scheduled for July 14, the independent website ingushetiya.ru reported. At an earlier vote for chairman on June 16, Aushev received 90 votes and Zyazikov only 40. Only at Aushev's request was Zyazikov elected a member of the party's local ruling council. Two days later, however, the Presidium of Unified Russia's General Council annulled the June 16 vote for Aushev. The Ingushetian chapter of Unified Russia protested that move in a letter to President Putin, according to ingushetiya.ru on June 30. LF
LOCAL OFFICIAL SHOT DEAD IN INGUSHETIA
Khavazh Daurbekov, the deputy chief administrator of the Pliyevo district on the northeastern outskirts of Nazran, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in nearby Karabulak in a drive-by killing early on July 3, ingushetiya.ru reported. LF
DAGHESTAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Parliament deputy Magomedgusein Nasrutdinov, who since 2002 has also served as chairman of the council of directors of the Gazprom subsidiary Daggaz, was hospitalized on July 2 with serious gunshot wounds after an unknown assailant opened fire on him as he left a restaurant in Makhachkala, the website kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Another republican parliament deputy who worked for Daggaz, Zubair Tatayev, was killed in June 2005 when unidentified perpetrators opened fire on his car. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ENACT AMENDMENTS TO MEDIA LAW
Parliament deputies failed on July 3 to pass in the second and final reading government sponsored legislation that could pave the way for halting the retransmission in Armenia of RFE/RL's Armenian-language broadcasts, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In two separate votes, the bill narrowly failed to garner the minimum 66 votes needed for passage. On June 29, the Armenian parliament approved the legislation in the first reading by a vote of 79 in favor and 16 against with one abstention, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The deputies who voted in favor were mostly from Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia and its junior coalition partners, Prosperous Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun; deputies from the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage), Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State), and Dashink parties voted against. Armenian media organizations continue to protest the bill as politically motivated and intended to remove one of the last independent and objective sources of information. U.S. Charge d'Affaires Anthony Godfrey told RFE/RL on June 29 that he told parliament speaker Tigran Torosian at a meeting earlier that day that the United States "would not understand how such a law would be in support of Armenia's own goals of democratization." Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists at a press conference in Yerevan on June 29 that "it will hurt me" if the Armenian parliament passes the amendments. "[Radio] Liberty makes its contribution to democracy. It would be unfortunate to see Liberty deprived of air for some reason," Oskanian continued. On July 2, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian again said the restrictions envisaged in the draft bill could be applied to RFE/RL, thereby contradicting parliament speaker Torosian, who said on June 28 that the bill is not directed against RFE/RL (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2007). Speaking in Yerevan on July 2 at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Oskanian, senior Council of Europe representative Ambassador Per Sogren said the planned ban on the retransmission of foreign broadcasts in Armenia "would be contrary to the public interest and the important contribution that independent and free media should make to fostering public debate [and] political pluralism," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF
TRIAL OF ALLEGED COUP PLOTTERS OPENS IN ARMENIA
The trial began on July 2 at a district court in Yerevan of two Karabakh war veterans and one of their former comrades in arms charged with plotting to overthrow the Armenian leadership, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Lebanese-born Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkhasian were arrested in December, shortly after presiding over the founding conference of an organization that opposes the return of occupied Armenian territory to Azerbaijan as part of any Karabakh peace deal. They have both rejected the charges against them as politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 11, 12, and 20, 2006). Their colleague Vahan Aroyan was arrested in late December after the National Security Service claimed to have found a huge cache of arms at his home in the southern village of Lusarat. LF
PRESIDENT SAYS AZERBAIJAN IS 'STRONGEST REGIONAL STATE'
Addressing police-academy graduates in Baku on July 2, President Ilham Aliyev affirmed that militarily Azerbaijan is the strongest state in the region, and that within a few years, "no one will be able to withstand us," day.az and zerkalo.az reported on July 2 and 3, respectively. "Armenia should recognize this and liberate the territories that do not belong to it," he added. He went on to warn that "the war is not over, only its first phase has ended." Aliyev also revealed that none of the police officers who participated in the clashes in Baku in the wake of the October 2003 presidential election have been punished. Not only opposition supporters but some innocent passersby were injured in those clashes and two people were reportedly killed, one of them a 5-year-old boy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6 and 17, 2003). LF
SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER AGAIN CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
Eduard Kokoity, de facto president of the breakaway unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, told the South Ossetian cabinet on July 2 that he has ordered the republic's armed forces to show "the maximum restraint" in the event of "provocative actions" by Georgian forces, Caucasus Press reported. Kokoity made a similar pledge when speaking in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, on June 30, one day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov impressed on him the need for "maximum restraint and good will" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). Also on July 2, the North Ossetian members of the four-party Joint Control Commission (JCC) that monitors developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone appealed to the Georgian, Russian, and South Ossetian co-chairmen of that commission to resume talks, regnum.ru reported. Meanwhile, Interfax quoted a senior officer with the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in the conflict zone as saying on July 2 that the situation there in the wake of several days of mortar attacks on both Ossetian- and Georgian-populated villages is becoming increasingly tense and could spiral out of control. He said the peacekeepers want the JCC to convene as soon as possible to discuss the situation. LF
GEORGIAN CONTROL CHAMBER PERSONNEL DISMISSED
Of the 28 Audit Chamber staffers who investigated suspected embezzlement within the Education Ministry, 27 have been dismissed, opposition Democratic Front parliament faction member Giga Bukia told parliament on July 2, Caucasus Press reported. A recent audit of the ministry revealed that 40 million laris ($23.8 million) are unaccounted for and prompted the Democratic Front to demand the resignation of Education Minister Aleksandre Lomaya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and June 11, 2007). A request by the Democratic Front to establish a special parliament commission to probe the corruption allegations against Lomaya was rejected. LF
GEORGIAN LOCAL OFFICIALS ARRESTED
Georgian Interior Ministry personnel and tax police surrounded the city hall in Kutaisi, Georgia's second largest city, on July 2 and arrested 24 people, including Deputy Mayor Omar Kikvidze, on embezzlement and corruption charges, Caucasus Press reported. They are believed to have embezzled a total of 600,000 laris ($360,880). Six local businessmen have also been arrested in connection with a suspected tender scam. Two former Kutaisi city mayors were arrested in separate corruption cases earlier this year, according to Caucasus Press on May 8. LF
KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER URGES 'ENERGY DIALOGUE' WITH EU
Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin called for an "energy dialogue" with the European Union, stressing that Kazakhstan is seeking to widen talks beyond simply "delivering our energy resources to Europe" to include "access of our state and private companies to energy supply systems, to the sphere of processing hydrocarbon resources, and to distribution networks" within the EU, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on July 1. Tazhin was speaking at a June 30 Berlin meeting of the EU troika, comprising the German and Portuguese foreign ministers and EU officials, with their Central Asian counterparts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). RG
KAZAKH MEDICAL WORKERS PROTEST COURT RULING IN AIDS CASE
A group of medical workers held a news conference on July 2 in the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent to protest the recent sentencing by a Kazakh court of 21 health officials, doctors, and hospital workers convicted of their roles in a deadly outbreak of HIV/AIDS, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The court's June 27 ruling found the defendants guilty of negligence and denounced an illicit trade in blood among Shymkent hospitals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). The protesting medical workers noted that "doctors were imprisoned for crimes which they did not actually commit" and charged the authorities with targeting the convicted colleagues as "scapegoats" based on "guesses, assumptions and emotions." The medical workers further added that "the origin of the infection has not been detected and any medical worker" could be targeted by similarly unfair accusations. The HIV outbreak began last year and has affected some 120 children, 10 of whom have subsequently died of AIDS. RG
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SHRUGS OFF EU TRADE RESTRICTIONS, WARNS U.S.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in his speech in Minsk on July 2, on the eve of Independence Day, that Belarus under his leadership has become a "stable, civilized, and successful" country, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Lukashenka noted that Belarus's most serious economic task is ensuring energy security. He described Russia's doubling of gas prices for Belarus in January as "wild" and "unprecedented." But he stressed that this price hike has not forced his government to reduce social programs. "[The gas price hike] was not a catastrophe. On the whole, our population has not noticed it," the Belarusian president asserted. Lukashenka slammed Brussels for the recent withdrawal of trade preferences for Belarus under the EU's General System of Preferences. "We have not collapsed under the wild pressure of the price hike for energy resources, and we are not going to die because of the $20 million-$30 million that we may lose [annually] due to the EU sanctions," Lukashenka said. Simultaneously, he pledged retaliation against any U.S. potential economic pressure upon Belarus. "If there is the slightest sign of such actions from the U.S. side, we will take the most severe measures against those U.S. companies and collectives that today operate on Belarusian territory," he said. JM
UKRAINIAN SPEAKER ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF DICTATORIAL DRIVE
Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz said at a meeting of the Council of the Socialist International in Geneva on July 2 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is trying to set up a dictatorship under the cover of his recent initiative to stage a constitutional referendum and introduce a two-chamber parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007), Ukrainian news agencies reported. "This is a mask for dictatorial intentions, nothing more. This is a legal registration of dictatorship," Moroz reportedly said in Geneva about Yushchenko's constitutional-referendum idea. Moroz added that Yushchenko's "attempts to assume power even greater than that of [former President Leonid] Kuchma are becoming evident." Roman Zvarych, Yushchenko's representative in parliament, commented later the same day that Moroz's allegations regarding Yushchenko's are "election slogans." Meanwhile, the same day Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko echoed Moroz by alleging that Yushchenko wants to become a "nationalist dictator." "The course pursued by Mr. Yushchenko is a course for splitting Ukraine and creating a new, 'national and ethnic Ukraine' on the world map -- a country chaired by a nationalist dictator," Interfax-Ukraine quoted Symonenko as saying. JM
EU SAID TO BE UNSURE ABOUT UKRAINIAN ELECTIONS
Vitaliy Shybko, the head of Ukraine's permanent delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told journalists in Kyiv on July 2 that EU politicians have doubts whether the early parliamentary elections in Ukraine scheduled for September 30 will indeed take place, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "To be honest, the European Union is at a loss," Shybko said. He added that, even though an agreement has been reached that European observers will come to Ukraine to monitor the September 30 elections, many still doubt whether these polls are legitimate. Shybko noted that some politicians speaking at a PACE session in June expressed fears that the preterm elections may constitute a "threat to the Ukrainian parliamentary system." JM
BUSH-PUTIN TALKS FAIL TO YIELD BREAKTHROUGH ON KOSOVA...
The informal meeting between U.S. and Russian Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin on July 1-2 provided no hint that Washington's and Moscow's diametrically opposed positions on the future of Kosova are changing. Initial expectations that Kosova might be a major topic subsided as the meeting approached, and at the end of the two-day gathering neither president mentioned Kosova. Any hopes that the meeting narrowed differences lie in the friendly nature of the presidents' exchanges and in Putin's statement that "we are seeking the points of coincidence in our positions and very frequently we do find them." The front page of the Kosovar daily "Zeri" on July 3 carried a headline saying "Forgot to Discuss Kosova," but another daily, "Koha ditore," quoted U.S. national security adviser Steve Hadley as saying that Kosova was discussed and that the presidents agreed talks should continue between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu on July 2 urged Kosovars to show patience "on the eve of our achieving the supreme ideal of a Kosovar state," local media reported. Sejdiu was speaking on the 17th anniversary of an unrecognized vote by the Kosovar parliament to transform Kosova from an autonomous province of Serbia into a constituent republic of Yugoslavia. That move, which prompted the parliament's dissolution, would have enabled Kosova to gain independence, as other Yugoslav republics subsequently did. AG
...AND DASH UN CHIEF'S HOPES
Shortly before Presidents Bush and Putin ended their talks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped they would overcome their differences at the meeting and "find a good solution" to the issue of Kosova's future. Ban reiterated his support for a UN proposal granting Kosova supervised independence and his concern that a delay could threaten the peace and security of the Balkans. Kosovar media reported that Ban also said that most of the 15 members of the UN Security Council, which should decide on Kosova's future, back independence. Recent days have produced indications that some European states are loosening their conditions for mooted talks between Belgrade and Prishtina, while Hassan Wirajuda, foreign minister of another Security Council member, Indonesia, on June 29 said that it is "difficult for Indonesia to accept the disintegration of a sovereign state, with state sovereignty protected under the UN Charter" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18 and 24, and June 28, 2007). Wirajuda also said the EU should promise membership to Serbia. Indonesia in May expressed conditional support for the UN plan. In an unconfirmed report, "Zeri" wrote on July 3 that the contract of the author of the UN plan, Martti Ahtisaari, has been extended for another six months. Serbia and Russia are demanding fresh talks on the future of Kosova under the mediation of a new envoy. Recent reports in the Kosovar and Serbian media claim that diplomats believe that Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt or a former UN envoy to Kosova, Norway's Kai Eide, might be suitable replacements. AG
UKRAINE OFFERS TO HOST FORUM ON KOSOVA
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on July 2 offered to host "an international conference on frozen conflicts throughout the world, with Kosovo as one of its topics," the Serbian broadcaster B92 reported the same day. Yatsenyuk, who was visiting Belgrade, stressed that he anticipated that the gathering would provide an opportunity to "formulate positions" and would not be a venue for negotiations. His Serbian counterpart, Vuk Jeremic, called the initiative useful, but emphasized that "all conflicts that have a territorial and statehood dimension should be solved within the UN Security Council." Yatsenyuk also met with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who repeated his view that the UN Security Council would violate the UN Charter if it were to grant Kosova independence and, according to Radio-Television Serbia, claimed that Ukraine's and Serbia's positions on Kosova are "essentially in harmony." Yatsenyuk also visited Kosova, where Ukraine has nearly 200 soldiers serving in the international force, KFOR. Yatsenyuk's visit came shortly after a member of the Ukrainian contingent died in a road accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25, 2007). AG
KOSOVA'S UN POLICE COMMANDERS FAULTED FOR RALLY DEATHS
A UN commission established to investigate the deaths of two demonstrators in February issued its second report on the incident on July 2, detailing failings in the police's handling of the protest rally. In the first stage of its report, unveiled in mid-April, the commission concluded that there was "a reasonable suspicion" that the shootings of the two protesters were "crimes under Kosovo law," but that there too little evidence to bring charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2007). The second stage of the investigation focused on the role of commanders. The head of the investigating team, Robert Dean, found an "inexcusable" confusion about roles in the chain of command, an "inexcusable" breakdown in supervision, "ambiguity" and a lack of precise instructions about the permissible forms of ammunition, and differing views within the force about the use of rubber bullets. The two protesters were killed by rubber bullets subsequently found to have been "at least" 12 years out of date, which meant, as Dean said on July 2, that they "were much more dangerous than thought." Dean urged the UN to review whether its peacekeepers should use rubber bullets to control crowds, and indicated that failings in the command structure contributed to the Romanian police's decision to use rubber bullets, which "Romanian domestic law considers...to be nonlethal," an assessment that Dean described as "very debatable." The deaths at the rally cost Kosova's interior minister and the UN police chief their jobs, and damaged perceptions of the UN force, with a UN report issued in April finding that Kosovar Albanians overwhelmingly blamed UN police for the incident rather than the organizer of the rally, the Self-Determination movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, 14, and 15, March 26, and April 5, 2007). Subsequent rallies organized by Self-Determination, including one on June 30, have passed peacefully (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5 and July 1, 2007). AG
SERBIA 'MAY BE' READY FOR EU DEAL THIS YEAR
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic believes that Serbia could complete negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU this year, Serbian television reported on July 2. Djelic made his comments after meeting with Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country has just assumed the EU's rotating Presidency. Djelic reportedly added that an adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean-David Levitte, has told him that EU leaders could decide in December 2008 to accept Serbia as a candidate member. Serbia began pre-SAA talks with the EU in 2005, but talks were suspended in May 2006 because of Serbia's failure to arrest war crimes fugitives. Talks resumed in early June of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 2007). On June 26, the European Parliament's rapporteur on Serbia, Jelko Kacin, said he believes Serbia could complete SAA negotiations this year, the Slovenian news agency STA reported the same day. Kacin, a Slovene, made his assessment in a draft report on the EU's relations with Serbia reportedly published on June 26. Kacin described Serbia's new government as "ambitious, pro-European, and pro-democratic," and said he believes it has the capacity to capture war crimes suspects wanted by the UN war crimes tribunal. He also predicted that "Serbian leaders will also tackle issues that have been rather neglected in the past year," such as the budget and the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court. There are, though, "worrying signs" of nationalism, he said, pointing to "recent politically motivated attacks, hate speech in the media, and political aggression against human rights activists, journalists, and politicians who dare to oppose nationalists" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11 and 14, 2007). AG
SERBIA COMPLETES REORGANIZATION OF ARMY
Radio-Television Serbia reported on June 30 that Serbia has completed the restructuring of its command and organizational structure, a process that included an expansion of the army's operational units, a consolidation and streamlining of the structure of the armed forces, and a reduction in its stock of military hardware (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). At a ceremony held on June 30, Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac said attention will now turn to upgrading the armed forces' weapons, boosting morale, and forcing through legislative changes related to defense, the army, and the security services. According to the same report, the chief of general staff, General Zdravko Ponos, said the Serbian Army should become fully professional by 2010. The reorganization was completed according to a timeline outlined by President Boris Tadic in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). Tadic said at the time that Serbia no longer wants "to keep a cumbersome organization on paper and in the minds of people still living in the bipolar era," a reference to the Cold War. The Serbian Army currently faces heavy fixed costs in its budget, declining public confidence, and embarrassing lawsuits by veterans of the Balkan wars demanding back payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10 and 19, May 2, and June 29, 2007). AG
U.S. CLOSES BOSNIA BASE, NEW ZEALAND WITHDRAWS LAST PEACEKEEPERS
On June 30, the U.S. military turned over its once-largest facility in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the country's Defense Ministry, local and international media reported. Eagle Base, outside the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla, included a large airstrip among its sprawling installations and served as the headquarters of the U.S. contingent, initially some 20,000-strong, in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission SFOR, later renamed IFOR. IFOR handed over to a European Union force (EUFOR) in December 2004. Some 100,000 U.S. soldiers -- in recent years primarily from the National Guard -- served on the base in total during its 12 years of operation. "When U.S. military forces arrived...Bosnia and Herzegovina was a shattered country, reeling from years of devastating warfare," Lieutenant General Steven Blum of the National Guard Bureau told attendees of the handover ceremony, adding, "Bosnia and Herzegovina is today a sovereign, democratic nation, fully at peace, cooperating with its neighbors and committed to joining the Euro-Atlantic community." Bosnia now contributes troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. In other news, New Zealand withdrew its remaining three staff officers from the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, ending its 15-year presence in the country. Overall, some 1,000 New Zealand Defense Force personnel served in Bosnia, New Zealand media reported. TV
ALBANIAN PARTY IN MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT CHOOSES NEW LEADER
As expected, Menduh Thaci on June 30 became the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh), the larger of the two ethnic-Albanian parties in the Macedonian government. Local media reported that Thaci was elected unopposed and with the strong backing of the party's outgoing leader, Arben Xhaferi. Thaci, who co-founded the PDSh with Xhaferi in 1994, has long been the presumed successor of Xhaferi, whose longstanding health problems have worsened in the past five years. Xhaferi was a dominant figure in ethnic-Albanian politics in the 1990s, but the six-month conflict with ethnic-Albanian separatists in 2001 weakened the PDSh and strengthened new ethnic-Albanian rivals, chiefly the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI). The PDSh responded to its waning support by becoming increasingly nationalist in its stance, prompting the United States in 2003 to place Thaci on its blacklist of persons alleged to be obstructing the agreements that ended the separatist conflict. The PDSh recovered some of its support in the 2006 elections and, as it had in 1998, joined a government led by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). The PDSh commands 11 of the government's 68 votes in the 120-member parliament, making it critical to the government's survival. However, questions about its ability to leverage this power were highlighted when the opposition BDI in May used a boycott of parliament to secure a critical say in a swathe of issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). AG
MACEDONIA RECRUITS FORMER ROMANIAN MINISTER FOR ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on June 30 appointed a former Romanian justice minister, Monica Macovei, to advise him on the government's declared "zero-tolerance" policy against corruption, local media reported the same day. Macovei is seen as a key figure in Romania's efforts to ready itself for accession to the EU in January 2007, and is credited with ramping up Romania's effort to counter corruption and with driving through judicial reforms. Macovei, a former activist, served in the Romanian government between 2004 and 2007. In its first report on Macedonia, Transparency International's Macedonian branch in March highlighted a lack of transparency in the allocation of public funds as a source of particular concern. Macedonia's Anticorruption Commission in January said that most of the cases brought to its attention in the preceding 12 months related to corruption in the judiciary. AG
IS TALK OF IMU AIMED AT COURTING OUTSIDERS?
In the latest warning of radical Islamist activity in Central and South Asia, Afghanistan's National Security Directorate announced on July 2 that at least seven men with alleged connections to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have been arrested in two northern provinces, Faryab and Jowzjan.
In neighboring Tajikistan, authorities detained 10 suspected IMU members in late June as a trial there continued of 14 others facing similar allegations. Tajik and Uzbek defense officials also warned last week of "increasing threats posed by terrorist and extremist groups" in Central Asia.
But could the region's leaders be inflating the threat posed by extremist groups in order to portray their countries as the front line against terrorism and boost their leverage ahead of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)?
The IMU is regarded by the United States and the members of the SCO as a terrorist group. Officials have in the past pointed to senior leadership and training ties between the IMU and Al-Qaeda.
At an SCO meeting in Bishkek on June 27, Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev predicted that militant groups would be more active throughout Central and South Asia as the last of the current crop of opium poppies are harvested in Afghanistan. "Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU followers will intensify their activities starting from July," Khairulloev said. "As far as their impact on Ferghana Valley is concerned, we are more concerned about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. As you know, they are being financed by some foreign governments, and they have to justify their existence -- because if there is no activity, there would be no financing."
Speaking alongside his Central Asian counterparts, Khairulloev said that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have sought to tighten their borders to intercept IMU members' movements.
Despite official warnings -- and prominent arrests and trials of suspected IMU supporters -- some observers say there is no evidence to support claims that militants are more active.
Critics accuse Central Asia's bullying governments of playing up perceived threats to justify crackdowns on dissent at home and to portray themselves as crucial to international counterterrorism efforts.
Michael Hall, the head of the Central Asian project for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a nonprofit analytical and advocacy group, says the authorities in the region are likely to issue more statements highlighting the IMU threat ahead of a major summit in August of the SCO. Hall says he thinks officials want to show fellow SCO members Russia and China that they are valuable counterterrorism allies who deserve greater support.
Hall says that while there has long been some degree of threat in Central Asia, the IMU is actually weaker now than before the United States declared its "war on terror" in 2001. "There probably are remnants of the IMU in Central Asia to this day," Hall says. "But to what extent they are linked to what is left of the IMU currently based in Pakistan -- to what extent they are connected with one another and to what extent they are capable of pulling off any major acts of terrorism -- I think it is very difficult to make any clear statement on that front. I think [that] in many cases the threat posed by the groups is certainly, to a certain extent, exaggerated."
Matthew Clements, Eurasia editor in the Country Risk Department for the U.K.-based Jane's Information Group, argues that if there is any danger of radicalism in Central Asia, it stems from authorities' pressure on religious and political freedom, as well as a lack of socioeconomic opportunity.
"I think the danger of this [situation] is that elements of this could become more radicalized -- and this is mainly due to government action [and] to the fact that these people feel that their socioeconomic well-being is being put second by the government," Clements says. "[They feel] that they are not being politically represented. And also because the populations are being cracked down upon by the governments. And these crackdowns themselves are likely to engender greater feelings of radicalism."
Hikmatulloh Saifullozoda, who heads the Dialog think tank in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, and is a prominent member of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia, says that while radical Islamic underground groups might have a limited number of followers in Central Asia, they don't enjoy much popular support. Saifullozoda questions whether what he labels authorities' "unnecessary pressure" on religious freedom might help religious extremists win sympathy.
He also warns governments against provoking public anger by needlessly intervening on sensitive issues like conservative women's wearing of head scarves. "If the authorities solve these social problems, and as long as they do not interfere in sensitive issues -- which could take an unexpected turn -- I think no one would support the radical groups," Saifullozoda says.
There is a general consensus among analysts that groups like the IMU currently are not capable of destabilizing the region on any grand scale. But that does not mean they could not try to launch isolated acts of terror.
Observers point out that democratic reforms -- fostering freedom of speech, religion, and political activities -- could reduce the risk of radical groups winning public support. They also suggest that governments could help their own cause through efforts to raise living standards by creating jobs and battling corruption.
In poverty-stricken regions like Central and South Asia, these observers warn, social unrest can take on virtually any form. And regardless of the immediate threat they present, radical groups like the IMU have a lot of experience at harnessing public disenchantment.(Farangis Najibullah is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL MAKES 'STRONG' APPEAL TO AVOID CIVILIAN CASUALTIES IN AFGHANISTAN...
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on July 2 that he made a "strong" appeal during his recent visit to Afghanistan to Afghan leaders and military commanders to avoid further civilian casualties, AFP reported the same day. At a news conference in Geneva, Ban told reporters that he is still very concerned by the persistent violence and rising civilian death toll in the war-battered country. Ban visited Kabul on June 29 for talks with President Hamid Karzai and the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In a separate interview, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad called war an "imperfect science" and adding that it is "unfortunate" that civilians have been caught up in military operations, AP reported. JC
...AS AFGHAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CALLS FOR REDUCTION IN FOREIGN AIR STRIKES
Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission on July 2 called for reductions in the number of air strikes by international forces in response to the recent increase in civilian deaths resulting from coalition operations, Reuters reported the same day. Nader Nadery, a commissioner with the group, told Reuters that foreign forces have recently killed more civilians in their operations than have Taliban fighters in insurgent attacks. Nadery urged NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops waging counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations to boost the number of their foot soldiers rather than rely so heavily on air raids. Nadery argued that reducing the number of air strikes would "certainly" cut the number of civilians deaths, "for it is difficult [for pilots] to distinguish between military and nonmilitary people." In the most recent incident involving civilian deaths from an ISAF air strike on June 30, local Afghan officials claim that 45 noncombatants were killed, although ISAF says the toll was much lower (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). JC
ROADSIDE BLAST KILLS SEVEN AFGHAN POLICE OFFICERS
A roadside bomb destroyed an Afghan police vehicle patrolling the outskirts of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan on July 2, killing seven police officers, Reuters reported the same day. The bomb exploded as the truck was traveling through the Zhari district, according to provincial police chief Fayed Agha Faqid as quoted by AP. In a separate incident, NATO soldiers in a convoy shot and injured an Afghan civilian riding a motorcycle in Kandahar City when they mistook him for a suicide bomber, ISAF said in a statement. The statement said ISAF soldiers used hand signals, flares, and warning shots to caution the man not to approach the convoy. AP quoted the cyclist, Mohammad Naimat, as saying the convoy opened fire as it passed him. There have been cases in Afghanistan of military convoys firing on unexpecting motorists who soldiers felt represented a threat. JC
DEPUTY EDUCATION DIRECTOR SHOT DEAD IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a provincial deputy director of education in the eastern Afghan province of Khost on July 2, AFP reported the same day. Sayed Usman Hussaini was gunned down on his way to work, according to police spokesman Wazir Badshah. Police have not attributed the slaying to any specific group. The Interior Ministry issued a statement saying Hussaini "was assassinated by enemies of learning and education." A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied that group's involvement in the killing. Khost Governor Arsala Jamal said an investigation into the murder is under way. At least 85 students and teachers were killed during 2006 in incidents blamed on insurgents, who also torched 187 schools, Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said in April. JC
IRAN, VENEZUELA LAUNCH NEW PETROCHEMICAL COOPERATION...
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on July 2 launched the construction of a joint petrochemical plant in southern Iran's Asaluyeh that is expected to produce an annual 1.65 million tons of methanol, a derivative that can be used as a fuel component or solvent, Reuters reported. The two states will also cooperate to build another methanol production plant in Venezuela, with each plant expected to provide the partner with a foothold into regional markets. Iran and Venezuela would each presumably own part of each facility's production. The Asaluyeh plant is expected to cost some $700 million and take four years to build, the BBC reported. Chavez and Ahmadinejad signed several other deals, including to build a dairy factory in Venezuela and to found a joint oil company, Reuters reported. VS
...DENOUNCE COMMON ENEMY
Presidents Chavez and Ahmadinejad praised each other's administrations at a news conference in Asaluyeh on July 2 and denounced states they said are upset by their friendship, ISNA and IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad said the cooperation and friendship between the two states can foster "peace and brotherhood" in the world, and any state upset by this friendship should "die" of its "grief." Chavez said in turn that "America's terrorism" ignores Iran's ancient civilization and "they want to imply to the world that those who live in Iran are a lot of barbarians," ISNA reported. Chavez said the real savages are those who "threw the atom bomb onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki," adding that "the barbarians are those who have attacked Iraq and created this situation," "started a war" against Palestinians, and those who went to the Americas "and destroyed our culture and civilization," in an apparent reference to the Spanish, Portuguese and British empires. The Western discourse, Chavez said, is based on "selfishness and excessive desires," ISNA reported. VS
IRANIAN MINISTER TOUTS GULF COOPERATION
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told reporters in Tehran on July 2 that the formation of a nuclear-cooperation consortium between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council would boost regional cooperation, and he said regional conditions are making this a particularly important time for enhanced consultations among Middle Eastern states. Mottaki said Iran welcomes the consortium idea as "recently" proposed by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, ISNA reported. He said regional cooperation to assure the security of the Persian Gulf is the key element in the region's development, and that regional states should not permit foreign powers to sow distrust among them. Gulf states have expressed concerns in the past about Iran's nuclear program and the environmental impact of the Bushehr nuclear plant, which Iran and Russia have almost finished building on Iran's Persian Gulf coast. Mottaki told Iran's Arabic television network Al-Alam on June 29 that it is wrong to portray Iran's nuclear program as a source of confrontation between Tehran and its neighbors, and "regional countries can participate in our peaceful...program," Mehr reported. He said on July 2 that regional states have recognized Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program, ISNA reported. VS
IRAN'S SUPREME COURT REVIEWS CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S DEATH IN DETENTION
A Supreme Court branch in Iran was reviewing on July 1 and 2 the case surrounding the death in custody in July 2003 of Zahra Kazemi -- an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist -- and a related Supreme Court verdict that Kazemi's relatives and lawyers have challenged, RFE/RL and Radio Farda reported. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda on July 1 that lawyers argued that procedures followed in the case were not in line with Iranian law. Dadkhah said, for example, that the public prosecutor should not have declared the charge to be "manslaughter" or unintentional killing but rather murder, and that the judiciary should have investigated or interrogated individuals other than the Intelligence Ministry official who was charged and later acquitted. Dadkhah said that individuals who were in contact with Kazemi during her prison interrogation should have appeared in court. Some domestic observers, international rights bodies, and Kazemi's son in Canada, Stephane Hashemi, suspect Tehran's chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi of involvement in Kazemi's apparently violent interrogation, Radio Farda reported. Then-Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said shortly after Kazemi's death that "according to a report by the [Iranian] health minister, she died of a brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings." VS
U.S. ACCUSES IRAN, HIZBALLAH OF LINKS TO ATTACK IN IRAQ
The U.S. military announced on July 2 that it has evidence suggesting Iran and Lebanon's Hizballah orchestrated attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, international media reported. Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said at a news conference that a suspected Hizballah fighter captured in March in southern Iraq has admitted to working with the Quds Force -- a special unit linked to the Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps -- and helping carry out an attack on a military base in Karbala on January 20 that killed five U.S. soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1, 2007). The suspect, Ali Musa Duqduq, also indicated that Iranian military leaders had prior knowledge of the attack. "[The] senior leadership leading the Quds Force knew of and supported planning for the eventual Karbala attack that killed five coalition soldiers," Bergner said. In addition, Bergner said that the Quds Force and Hizballah operated camps near Tehran to train Iraqi fighters who were later sent back to Iraq to carry out attacks. He said between 20 and 60 fighters were being trained at any given time. "They were being taught how to use EFPs [explosively formed penetrators], mortars, rockets, as well as intelligence, sniper, and kidnapping operations," Bergner said. The United States has repeatedly accused Iran of training and supporting Iraqi fighters, while Tehran has consistently denied these allegations. SS
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST PREMATURE U.S. WITHDRAWAL
In an interview with Reuters on July 1, Hoshyar Zebari warned that if U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq prematurely, the country will break up. "The country would disintegrate, literally, practically. Every group would go back to its community or to its sect or ethnicity and then we would really have a divided country without a central government to keep it together," Zebari said. He also warned that without the presence of a strong and cohesive Iraqi security force, a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops would create a massive security vacuum that would be exploited by terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. "Al-Qaeda and terrorist groups would really find a safe haven, find a better base than Afghanistan in terms of the culture, the location, and proximity to other interests in the region," he added. Moreover, Zebari said the presence of U.S. forces represents a deterrent to a Turkish invasion into northern Iraq to battle Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters. "I believe had it not been for the presence of the multinational forces, the Turks could have easily moved in. The same applies to other neighbors who have territorial ambitions," Zebari said. He declined to identify those "other neighbors." SS
SUNNI LAWMAKER SAYS HE WILL JOIN IRAQI RESISTANCE
During a June 30 interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television, Abd al-Nasir al-Janabi, a Sunni lawmaker and member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, said he has resigned from both the front and parliament, and has decided to join the armed resistance. He stressed that the political process has become a tool of the U.S. and Iranian occupation, and called on other lawmakers to join the resistance. "I urge those who joined the Iraqi parliament under the name of nationalism and Islam to withdraw from the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi government, which have become tools of destruction in the hands of the U.S. and Iranian occupation in Iraq," al-Janabi said. "The only solution in Iraq is armed resistance, which is the only way to rescue Iraq from the crisis it is facing." He also lamented that Iraq has become a battleground between U.S. and Iranian proxy forces, which has left the country in ruins. On June 29, the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc, announced that it will withdraw all six of its members from the cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to protest the arrest warrant issued against Culture Minister As'ad al-Hashimi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). SS
CIVILIAN DEATHS IN IRAQ DOWN IN JUNE
The Iraqi government announced on July 1 that civilian deaths in June dropped to their lowest level since the U.S.-led security operation was launched on February 14, international media reported. According to the government, 1,241 civilians were killed in June, compared with 1,626 deaths in February. Moreover, the June figure was down from May's total of 1,951 -- a nearly 40 percent drop. The latest numbers were compiled from figures from the Interior, Defense, and Health ministries and suggest a downward trend in violence, which could be attributed to U.S. military "surge" in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. However, the figures cannot be independently verified and many deaths are believed to go unreported. Furthermore, June ended the deadliest three-month period for U.S. soldiers since the war began in 2003, with 330 troops killed. U.S. officials stress that the higher troop casualties were due to increased patrols in and around Baghdad, which have left their forces more exposed. SS
GAS PRICES GO UP IN IRAQ
The Iraq Oil Ministry announced on July 1 that gas prices will go up by 50 Iraqi dinars ($0.039) per liter starting immediately, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. According to Karim Hattab Jaf'ar, general director of the Oil Products Distribution Company, the price of a liter of premium gas will go up to 450 Iraqi dinars ($0.36) and regular gas to 400 dinars ($0.32), while prices of other oil derivatives will remain the same. The ministry has increased fuel prices three times, most recently in March 2007. SS
IRAQI FORCES ARREST AL-QAEDA HEAD OF BAGHDAD DISTRICT
The U.S. military announced in a statement on July 2 that Iraqi special forces arrested the Al-Qaeda in Iraq emir of the Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Karradah during a June 28 operation. The man, whose name was not disclosed, is "accused of coordinating attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces using improvised explosive devices, indirect fire, and small arms." Iraqi force also seized an AK-47 rifle, ammunition, cell phones, handcuffs, identification cards, and documents from the suspect's residence. "The capture of this individual will disrupt the Al-Qaeda cell activities against the local population in the Baghdad area and disrupt Al-Qaeda attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces," the U.S. military statement said. SS