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Newsline - July 9, 2007

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in a television broadcast from the Kamchatka Peninsula on July 8 that the proposed U.S. missile defense project, which would include 10 interceptors based in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic, would amount to constructing a "new Berlin Wall" in Europe, news agencies reported. He added that the U.S. plan constitutes "an obvious threat to Russia." Ivanov argued that a "global missile defense system" proposed by Moscow could be in place by 2020. Ivanov recently said that Russia will consider stationing missiles in Kaliningrad Oblast if Washington goes ahead with its project. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack commented on July 5 that Ivanov's remarks on installing missiles were "unfortunate...[and] not constructive." McCormack added, however, that such "public rhetoric" does not "distract us from having a constructive conversation with the Russians" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and July 3, 2007). Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said in Vilnius on July 5 that "it would be very bad if these plans [to place missiles in Kaliningrad Oblast] were realized," Reuters reported. He also said that Lithuania will protest those plans, which he linked to the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia. "The tense political situation over the approaching presidential elections creates conditions in today's Russia for a dialogue that could hardly be called the best, and raises the question of the kind of democracy being built in Russia," Kirkilas said. The Moscow daily "Kommersant" wrote on July 7 that Ivanov seeks to frighten the Europeans into making concessions to Russian President Vladimir Putin before his term expires in early 2008, lest negotiations become tougher should Ivanov succeed Putin. Many observers suggest that domestic political concerns are behind the Kremlin's tough talk, while others believe that Moscow's chief goal is to promote disunity in NATO and the EU. PM

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted on July 5 in Guatemala City to award the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to the Russian resort city of Sochi, international media reported. Following the decision, President Putin said that "this is, without doubt, not just a recognition of Russia's sporting achievements but it is, beyond any doubt, a judgment on our country. It is a recognition of our growing capability, first of all economically and socially." Russia's NTV television, which is owned by the state-run monopoly firm Gazprom, commented that Putin's own speech prior to the vote was the "juiciest morsel" of the meeting. He pledged $12 billion, much of which presumably comes from energy export revenues, to develop Sochi and infrastructure projects in nearby areas. State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said that "our victory has a political resonance. This is a confirmation that the world is not unipolar and that there are forces which support Russia, which is once again becoming a global leader." St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said that "the Olympics in Sochi is not just a victory for Sochi but for all of Russia." She added that St. Petersburg will seek to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. On July 9, several Russian dailies predicted a real estate boom in Sochi because of the IOC's decision and suggested that Russia's business elite is already looking for ways to cash in on the "Sochi Gold Rush," as "The Moscow Times" put it. The biweekly "Novaya Gazeta" argued in its July 5 issue that Putin placed almost equal importance on securing the Olympic Games for Sochi to that allotted to his so-called National Projects, which involve making radical improvements in agriculture, education, health care, and housing. The paper also suggested that Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev played a key role in the Sochi Olympics project, and is already being discussed in some circles as a potential successor to Putin. PM

Interfax reported on July 9 that Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov resigned from that post in late June, but that President Putin has not yet accepted or rejected the resignation. Also on July 9, Interfax reported that Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), has been appointed head of Atomenergoprom, which the news agency described as "the nuclear holding company in which state nuclear assets are consolidated." Interfax added that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov confirmed the appointment on July 7. PM

The State Duma voted overwhelmingly on July 6 to pass in its third and final reading a bill "to intensify the fight against extremism in Russia," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, April 20 and 26, and June 27, 2007). The legislation increases police surveillance powers and broadens the definition of extremism, which the authorities say is aimed primarily at covering racist or xenophobic groups. President Putin has repeatedly called for tougher measures against extremism. Critics have long charged that this and other legislation against extremism enacted in recent months is designed to intimidate or ban the opposition. On July 6, the Duma also approved the $253 billion 2008-10 federal budget in its third and final reading. The expected revenues will amount to about 19 percent of GDP and include oil and gas revenues, which will amount to 6.8 percent of GDP. The budget for 2010 will be almost 25 percent higher than the current one. The daily "Kommersant" wrote on July 9 that the budget is aimed at increasing the standard of living for average Russians by raising government spending. PM

A two-day congress of the opposition group Other Russia ended on July 8 with little visible progress except for the adoption of a political program, news agencies reported. Leaders of the coalition did not agree on whether to participate in the December 2007 legislative elections or boycott the vote, "The Moscow Times" reported. The leaders agreed to pick a single, as yet unnamed, opposition candidate in the fall to run in the March 2008 presidential election. The leader of Other Russia, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, said the alliance's task is to gather all opposition forces and to "dismantle the regime." Andrei Illarionov, who is a former adviser to President Putin, lambasted what he called the current "dictatorship of a group of people with a Mafia-like character," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who has presidential ambitions, recently disassociated himself from Other Russia and refused to take part in primaries to select the group's candidate, the daily "Kommersant" reported on July 9. PM

The State Duma passed on July 4 in the third and final reading with 338 votes in favor and 77 against a bill introducing into the law on the Federation Council an amendment stipulating that potential senators must have lived for a minimum of 10 years in the region they plan to represent, "The Moscow Times" reported on July 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). The new requirement does not apply to senators appointed or nominated before it entered into force, or to senators representing a newly-created federation subject, if they previously represented a region that was part of that new subject. Neither does it apply to military officers and prosecutors who have served for a minimum of 10 years in that profession. LF

The State Duma approved by 429 votes on July 5 a constitutional law on the creation of a new federation subject, Zabaikal Krai, which was formed as a result of the merger of Chita Oblast and the Agin-Buryat Autonomous Okrug, reported. The overwhelming majority of voters in both regions voted in a referendum four months ago in favor of the merger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). LF

The leaders of North Caucasus republics reacted with exultation to the selection late on July 4 by the International Olympic Committee of the Black Sea town of Sochi as the venue for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov described that choice as "a vote of confidence in the entire Caucasus region," reported. Pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov pointed to a political aspect to the choice of Sochi which, he argued, testifies to the "sociopolitical stability" of the region. Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Mustafa Batdyev predicted that the choice of Sochi could serve to stimulate the development of the republic's winter sports resorts of Dombai and Arkhyz, which he hopes could then host some Winter Olympics events, reported. In the neighboring unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, 40 kilometers south of Sochi, Economy Minister Kristina Ozgan expressed the hope that the choice of Sochi to host the Winter Olympics will expedite the development of Abkhazia's infrastructure, including its main airport and rail connections, and the growth of tourism, reported. Meanwhile, the Council of Parliamentary Assemblies of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester issued a joint statement on July 5 saying the choice of Sochi to host the Winter Olympics creates an additional opportunity for a quick and peaceful solution to the conflicts between those three regions and the states from which they seek to break away, reported. LF

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on July 5 found Russia guilty of the detention in May 2000 and subsequent death of Ruslan Alikhadjiyev, who served as Chechen parliament speaker from 1997-99, reported. Ruling in response to an appeal lodged in December 2005 by Alikhadjiyev's mother, the ECHR ordered the Russian authorities to pay 40,000 euros ($54,500) to his family. Alikhadjiyev was detained, together with five neighbors, by Russian troops at his home in Shali, southern Chechnya, in May 2000. On May 25, 2000, the then-deputy commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Valery Manilov, confirmed his detention, but the Federal Security Service subsequently denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, reported on July 5, quoting Russian human rights activist Kirill Koroteyev. On September 2, 2000, the press service of Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov reported that Alikhadjiyev died under torture the previous month in Moscow's Lefortovo prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2000 and December 20, 2005). LF

Daghestan Security Council Secretary Akhmed-Nabi Magdigadjiyev met in Makhachkala on July 5 with representatives of the Avars who have been living in a tent camp in Kizlyar Raion since fleeing their native village of Borozdinovskaya in neighboring Chechnya two years ago in the wake of reprisals by armed men believed to belong to the Russian Defense Ministry's Vostok battalion, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 22, 23, and 24, and July 25, 2005). Of the approximately 800 villagers who fled, all but 100 have found homes and resettled elsewhere in Daghestan, but those still living in the tent camp refuse to return to Chechnya and have asked the Daghestani leadership to allocate land where they can live together as a group. Magdigadjiyev told the villagers that at a meeting a few days ago, Chechen Republic head Kadyrov assured his Daghestani counterpart Mukhu Aliyev that the villagers are welcome to return to Chechnya, and he guaranteed their security. A joint Chechen-Daghestani commission is to be created to allocate compensation to the fugitives for their abandoned homes. LF

Some 70 militants from the Caucasus Front launched a mortar and grenade attack from three directions on the base of the 503rd Motorized Rifle Regiment in the village of Troitskaya in the Sunzha Raion of Ingushetia, northeast of Nazran, during the night of June 5-6, the resistance website reported on July 6. The website claimed that no fewer than 14 Russian servicemen were killed in the course of the attack, which lasted some 90 minutes. But Interfax and RIA Novosti quoted a Russian officer as denying that the militants inflicted any casualties. LF

Some 150 Ingush residents of the village of Chermen in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion staged a protest on July 8 against the disappearance the previous day of two Ingush men, Mukhazhir Gaisanov and Magomed Torshkhoyev, and reported. The men's car was found abandoned on the street in Vladikavkaz; police have launched an investigation. Magomed Mutsolgov, who heads the human-rights center Mashr, calculated that over the past two years 17 Chechens and Ingush have vanished without trace on the territory of North Ossetia. LF

The victory of an Ossetian, Georgy Ketoyev, over Dagestan's Sazhid Sazhidov in a freestyle wrestling match in Moscow on July 5 triggered protests by fans from Daghestan that degenerated into a brawl, reported. A second match the following day that likewise featured two wrestlers from North Ossetia and Daghestan was delayed for two hours as referees initially refused to adjudicate, fearing for their own safety. That match too ended in victory for the Ossetian wrestler, Khadjimurat Gatsalov. LF

Hovik Arsenian has appealed to Armenia's Supreme Court the decision by a Yerevan district court to extend for a further two months the pretrial detention of former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian, reported on July 5. Arzumanian was arrested in early May on money-laundering charges that he insists were politically motivated. A search of Arzumanian's apartment at the time of his arrest yielded a large sum in cash he is said to have accepted from a Moscow-based Armenian to fund the political grouping he established last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 9, 11, and 18, and June 21, 2007). LF

Aram Manukian, who is deputy chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), told journalists in Yerevan on July 6 that former President Levon Ter-Petrossian is the sole candidate who is "strong and experienced" enough to defeat Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in the presidential election due in early 2008, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Incumbent President Robert Kocharian is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. Manukian called on the opposition to align behind Ter-Petrossian. He dismissed the fact that Ter-Petrossian has devoted himself to scholarly research since his resignation in February1998 and has not shown any indication that he plans to return to politics. Manukian also criticized as unqualified and incompetent the majority of deputies who won election to parliament in the May 12 election, Noyan Tapan reported. The HHSh initially registered to participate in that ballot but withdrew its candidates days before it took place. LF

The first natural gas to be exported from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz Caspian field via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline reached Turkey on July 3, and reported on July 3 and 4, respectively. A senior official from the Norwegian state oil company Statoil that is the Shah Deniz project operator was quoted by Caucasus Press on July 5 as saying that by the end of 2007, production from the three Shah Deniz wells already functioning will reach 15.4 million cubic meters per day, of which Azerbaijan will keep 7 million for domestic consumption and supply 1 million to Georgia and 7 million to Turkey. The Russian newspaper "Vremya novostei" quoted Rovnag Abdullayev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, as saying that Azerbaijan is currently negotiating with Turkey's BOTAS the possible supply at a price of $120 per thousand cubic meters of half of the 800 million cubic meters of gas that Turkey has contracted to supply to Greece in 2007 at a price of $149 per 1,000 cubic meters. That is less than Greece pays for the Russian gas it buys from Gazprom. LF

The group of several dozen prisoners at Azerbaijan's Gobustan jail who embarked on a hunger strike last month to demand that their life sentences be reduced to a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment have suspended their protest, the online daily reported on July 4 and 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and July 3, 3007). The men were originally sentenced to death, but those sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after Azerbaijan abolished capital punishment; the maximum sentence currently envisaged in the country's new Criminal Code is 15 years. A delegation from the Azerbaijani parliament Commission on Legal Policy and State Building will visit Gobustan on July 10 to assess conditions there and meet with the prisoners serving life sentences, reported on July 7. LF

Eynulla Fatullayev, the founder and chief editor of the independent newspapers "Gyundelik Azerbaycan" and "Realny Azerbaijan," refused on July 3 to respond to questions from the prosecution at his trial at Baku's Sabayil Raion Court on charges of threatening terrorism and inciting national or religious hatred, the online daily reported on July 6. Fatullayev rejected the charges as fabricated and unfounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23 and May 23, 2007). On July 4, three "Gyundelik Azerbaycan" journalists, Uzeir Djafarov, Shahvelid Chobanogly, and Khalid Kazymly, were summoned to Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry and questioned about their work for that paper, and its sources of funding, reported on July 5. Three more journalists from the paper, Rusvat Bairamov, Natik Djavadli, and Gabil Zimistanogly, were similarly summoned for questioning on July 5. LF

A criminal case on charges of accepting a bribe and abuse of his official position has been opened against Lieutenant Colonel Rasim Muradov, who staged a monthlong hunger strike in April to protest the Defense Ministry's refusal to accede to his request to retire from the armed forces after 21 years of service, reported on July 7. The charges were reportedly based on false testimony given by Mirzali Yusifov, commander of the Security Brigade in which Muradov previously served. Muradov subsequently published an article in the press detailing corruption within that brigade, according to on July 7. Muradov has threatened to begin a new hunger strike; he also said that if his request to retire from the army is rejected, he and his family will relinquish their Azerbaijani citizenship, reported on July 7. LF

During a visit to Georgia on July 5-7, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Rene van der Linden praised the improvements evident in Georgia since his first visit seven years earlier, noting in particular economic progress and the struggle against corruption, Caucasus Press reported on July 7. Van der Linden met on July 6 with opposition parliamentarians, whom he assured that the Council of Europe is evaluating the seven-year jail term handed down to oppositionist Irakli Batiashvili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2007). On July 7, van der Linden traveled to South Ossetia where he met in Kurta with Dmitry Sanakoyev, whom Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili named two months ago to head a provisional pro-Georgian administration in South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2007). Sanakoyev stressed his commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict with Georgia, but on his return to Tbilisi van der Linden reportedly expressed disappointment at the continued lack of dialogue between Tbilisi and the authorities of the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. De facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and other senior officials refused to meet with van der Linden in Tskhinvali on July 7 in protest at his talks earlier that day with Sanakoyev. Speaking on July 3 at a conference in Batumi devoted to Georgia's implementation of its commitments under the European Neighborhood Policy, Sanakoyev called on EU member states to play a greater role in mediating a solution to the South Ossetian conflict, Caucasus Press reported. He said his administration will set up working groups in the near future to draft a formal definition of South Ossetia's status within a unitary Georgian state. LF

Georgia on July 5 rejected a proposal by Ambassador Yury Popov, Russian co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, to convene an emergency JCC session in Tskhinvali on July 12-13 to assess the recent rise in tensions, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze proposed instead convening the session in Tbilisi later in July, even though the South Ossetian co-chairman, Boris Chochiyev, has in the past refused to travel to Tbilisi, citing security considerations. On July 6, RIA Novosti quoted Chochiyev as saying that the session will take place in Tskhinvali on July 13, without a Georgian representative. LF

President Saakashvili delivered a speech late on July 4 to members of the Tbilisi municipal council, whose work he described as exemplary, especially when compared with the towns of Batumi and Kutaisi, Caucasus Press and the television station Rustavi-2 reported. The detention last week of over 20 members of the Kutaisi city council was shown live on national television, triggering protests from opposition parliamentarians that Saakashvili dismissed as inappropriate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 3, 2007). Saakashvili noted that Georgia has achieved "major economic growth," but he admitted at the same time that foreign investment has exacerbated social inequality. He said the government should try to alleviate social hardship, but at the same time defended the decision of the Tbilisi city council to double fares on public transport. Saakashvili criticized the work of the emergency medical services in Tbilisi, threatening with prison ambulance drivers who respond to emergency calls only "too late." LF

Speaking on July 7 in Batumi, President Saakashvili made a point of praising Education Minister Aleksandre Lomaya, Caucasus Press reported. Opposition parliament deputies have called on Lomaya to resign after the Audit Chamber established that up to 40 million laris ($23.8 million) allocated to the ministry last year are unaccounted for. Almost all the Audit Chamber personnel who conducted that probe have been dismissed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, June 11 and July 3, 2007). LF

Aleksandr Ankvab received minor injuries on the morning of July 9 when unidentified perpetrators fired an antitank shell at his car as he was driving from Gudauta to Sukhum(i), reported. Ankvab survived two previous assassination attempts in early 2005 unscathed, and the unrecognized republic's Interior Ministry interpreted an explosion near Novy Afon on June 22 as having been likewise directed against Ankvab (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1 and 2 and April 4, 2005, and June 28, 2007). De facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said in a statement on July 9 that the perpetrators "wittingly or unwittingly fulfilled a political order from our adversaries, from the country with which Abkhazia is in a state of war," meaning Georgia, reported. The pro-Bagapsh political movements One Abkhazia and Amtsakhara released a statement condemning the attempt to kill Ankvab as intended to destabilize the political situation in Abkhazia. LF

At a press conference in Astana following a meeting with visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov on July 6 announced that Kazakhstan has agreed to form a customs union with Russia and Belarus, Interfax reported. Masimov added that the agreement, which is part of a broader integration effort within the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec), is to be formally ratified by August. Naryshkin was accompanied by Eurasec Secretary-General Grigory Rapota at the talks in the Kazakh capital, according to ITAR-TASS. The planned customs union marks a shift in Kazakh policy, as Kazakh officials earlier proposed delaying the formation of the customs union with Russia and Belarus until all three countries have joined the World Trade Organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). Eurasec, which succeeded the Central Asian Cooperation Organization in 2004, comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. RG

A Kazakh district court on July 6 ruled to dismiss a defamation case lodged by the "Vremya" newspaper against Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, the minister of culture, information, and sport, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Saryarka district court's ruling also partially accepted the minister's countercharges, and ordered the newspaper's editor, Igor Meltser, to pay 5,000 tenges ($41) in damages to the minister. The newspaper late last month filed the lawsuit seeking damages and a public apology after Yertysbaev reportedly disparaged the newspaper and its staff. Yertysbaev argued that he has made several public apologies to everyone who was offended by his remarks, including the "Vremya" journalists. The minister has previously been targeted by the Kazakh press, and the leadership of the Kazakh Journalists Union in May 2006 called for his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2006). Yertysbaev also clashed with Darigha Nazarbaeva, the eldest daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, after Yertysbaev threatened to restore full state control over the Khabar television channel, which Nazarbaeva controls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). RG

Speaking at a press conference in Astana after a meeting with visiting Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, President Nazarbaev on July 5 said Kazakhstan is interested in purchasing oil and gas facilities in Croatia, AKIpress and ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbaev said Kazakh investors are greatly interested in buying Croatian oil refineries and its oil pipeline network in order to enhance Kazakhstan's energy diversification. Although trade between the two countries was only $7.4 million in 2006, it surged to almost $28 million in the first quarter of this year. RG

Addressing a party congress of the ruling Nur Otan (Light of the Fatherland) party in Astana, President Nazarbaev on July 4 pledged to "personally guarantee" that the August parliamentary elections will be "free and fair," according to Asia-Plus. Nazarbaev also announced that he is assuming the leadership of the party, replacing his daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, a member of parliament since 2004, who was removed from the party's list of candidates, AKIpress reported. Nazarbaev last month dissolved the Mazhilis, the lower chamber of parliament, and set new elections for August 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2007). According to the terms of Kazakhstan's recently amended constitution, the Mazhilis is to consist of 107 deputies, with 98 of them elected from party lists and nine elected by the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan. With a total membership of over 700,000, the Nur Otan party was formally renamed late last year, after several smaller parties merged with its precursor, the Otan (Fatherland) party, which the president formed in 1998. RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev, and Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev met on July 8 with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Kabar and AKIpress reported. Following a discussion that included preparations for Chinese President Hu Jintao's planned state visit to Kyrgyzstan next month and a report on the construction of a new Chinese Embassy building in Bishkek, Yang formally signed an agreement on a new bilateral cooperation program with the Kyrgyz leaders. Yang is also to take part in a foreign ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), scheduled to open on July 9 in Bishkek. That meeting is taking place in preparation for a full SCO summit set for August 16 in the Kyrgyz capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). RG

Around three dozen demonstrators from a Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization staged a two-hour protest on July 7 demanding the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the country, AKIpress reported. Members of the Movement for the Withdrawal of the U.S. Air Base from Kyrgyzstan gathered near the parliament building before traveling by bus to the gates of the Manas air base outside Bishkek. The group's leader, Aleksandr Tiperov, said the U.S. presence at the base has resulted in " the environment and Kyrgyz citizens' health," and he denounced the U.S. military for "bombing villages in Afghanistan where our brother Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik people live." During a visit to Bishkek last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed bilateral military cooperation and the U.S. military's use of the Manas air base, which serves as the primary support hub for operations in neighboring Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6 and 12, 2007). The base has been subject to recent scrutiny by the Kyrgyz parliament, which called on the Kyrgyz government to "review" the U.S. military presence in the country and demanded that U.S. personnel be stripped of their diplomatic immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24 and 25, and June 5, 2007). RG

In an interview with RIA Novosti, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev on July 5 ruled out any "confederation" with Russia, stressing that Kyrgyzstan does not need to form a confederation with any other state at the moment, AKIpress and Asia-Plus reported. Bakiev's announcement represents a stronger position than last month's statement by Kyrgyz State Secretary Adaham Madumarov, who said that he does not rule out a possible confederation with Russia, but cautioned that such a move "should not be rushed" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2007). The opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan recently called for a national referendum on the proposal to form a union with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2007). Former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, the leader of the United Front, argued that "a union with Russia will preserve the unity of Kyrgyzstan and its people," and he vowed to seek the dissolution of parliament if the Kyrgyz authorities fail to consider the proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 2007). RG

During talks in Brussels on July 2 with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokhon Zarifi requested that NATO provide assistance in securing Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, according to Asia-Plus. Zarifi also discussed the further expansion of bilateral cooperation with NATO, and reviewed Tajikistan's recently adopted Individual Partnership Action Program. Tajikistan has focused on several core areas for deepening ties with NATO, including language training, counterterror capabilities, emergency civil planning, and efforts to combat drug trafficking. Zarifi also requested new NATO assistance in customs security and demining operations in the country's border areas, AKIpress reported. RG

Following a meeting with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Ashgabat, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on July 5 announced a new bilateral agreement providing Turkmen assistance for the construction of power transmission lines, a gas pipeline, and a railroad crossing Afghanistan, Asia-Plus and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Karzai, on a two-day official visit to Turkmenistan, added that "Afghanistan is interested in buying Turkmen electricity on a permanent basis and in major volumes," and pledged to support Turkmenistan's plan "to sell its electricity to third countries by using the transit capabilities of Afghanistan." Both presidents also affirmed their interest in speeding up construction of a gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and on to Pakistan and India. According to Berdymukhammedov, the trans-Afghan pipeline would allow Turkmenistan "to transport to Pakistan and India up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas" annually. He noted that "the project is definitely profitable both for Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, which will earn on gas transit." The project is to be submitted for financial consideration by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. According to reports released by the Turkmen Energy Ministry, Afghanistan is to pay some $6 million for 287 million kilowatt-hours of electricity from Turkmenistan this year, compared to $4 million paid for energy supplies last year. RG

Turkmenistan on July 4 published its first law clarifying presidential powers and duties, AP reported. The new law, reprinted in the Turkmen state media, stipulates the president's powers to appoint the cabinet, senior officers of the armed forces, and, subject to parliamentary consent, the prosecutor-general and the chief justice of the Turkmen Supreme Court. The law also specifies that the president may only be removed from office by the parliament. RG

During a visit to Tashkent, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov met with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev on July 4 and concluded a set of three agreements on migration, according to Asia-Plus. Accompanying Ivanov, the head of the Russian state migration service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, noted that one of the agreements includes measures to simplify the readmission and deportation of illegal migrants. A second agreement formulates a legal framework and practical mechanisms for cooperation in preventing illegal migration, while the third agreement on migrant labor provides new protections for migrants' labor rights. Romodanovsky explained that Uzbekistan is the third-largest source of migrant labor to Russia, with a total of 500,000 Uzbek workers coming to Russia in 2006. Trade between Russia and Uzbekistan is also expected to increase sharply in 2007, from $3 billion to $5 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov noted that Russia plans to increase investments in Uzbekistan beyond the energy sector, including in telecommunications and agriculture, and will "extend credits for the export of Russia's cars and equipment to Uzbekistan," according to AKIpress. RG

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on July 3 and 4 that overcoming Belarus's reliance on Russia for energy supplies is a top priority, Belapan reported on July 4. "We depend only on one country," Lukashenka said. "We are forced to look for our happiness to the end of the world and negotiate with others about the production of oil and other hydrocarbons and resources that our economy needs so much." Lukashenka said efficient manufacturing processes, innovation, thrift, and the construction of a nuclear power plant will help the country ensure its energy security. Lukashenka also denied rumors that he intends to cut spending on social programs in the wake of the Russian-Belarusian dispute that ended with Russia raising the price of gas supplied to Belarus. Lukashenka added, "We have already lived for half a year [after the dispute]...and we have not cut down anything." AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko assured delegates to the 16th session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly in Kyiv that Ukraine will not stray from its course of democratic reform, Interfax reported on July 6. "I want you to take one great truth from Ukraine after the session -- there are no circumstances that would make Ukraine diverge from its democratic path," Yushchenko said. He added that the country will overcome its difficulties in a democratic and legal manner. The president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Goran Lennmarker, praised Ukraine's democratic achievements, and said the OSCE "completely supports Ukraine on its way to democracy." AM

President Yushchenko on July 5 signed a decree suspending the publication of legislation until a new parliament convenes, Ukrainian media reported. The decree prevents bills adopted by the dissolved Verkhovna Rada from coming into force. According to Ukrainian law, a bill becomes valid when it is published in official bulletins within 15 days of its adoption in parliament. Oleksandr Moroz, the speaker of the dissolved parliament, said Yushchenko's decree violates "fundamental constitutional principles." Preterm parliamentary elections in Ukraine are scheduled for September 30. AM

President Yushchenko will call on Russia to change the system of gas supplies to Ukraine into direct contracts, thus bypassing the intermediary company of RosUkrEnergo, which has become an exclusive gas supplier to Ukraine, Interfax and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on July 5. "If Ukraine and Russia set clear principles of gas pricing, the issue of gas suppliers will be of no importance," Yuschenko said. RosUkrEnergo supplied 50 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine in 2006, and exported another 8.9 billion cubic meters, earning $7.1 billion net. Yushchenko has not predicted the gas price for 2008, but added that the estimate given by some Russian sources, $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, is based on "a substantial political component." AM

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the situation in Kosova could regress unless a decision is reached on its final status, international media reported on July 5. A report due to be presented at the UN Security Council on July 9 says that there is "a real risk that the progress achieved by the United Nations and the Provisional Institutions in Kosovo can begin to unravel" unless Kosova's status is defined, Reuters reported. "The determination of Kosovo's future status should therefore remain a priority for the Security Council and for the international community as a whole," Ban added in the report, which has already been made public. International media reports say that UN diplomats are currently working on a fourth draft resolution aimed, according to one unnamed diplomat quoted by Reuters, "at trying to bring Russia into the process." Russia has dismissed previous resolutions, and none of its diplomats attended a meeting to review the last draft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25, 26, and 28, 2007). Russia wants Belgrade and Prishtina to return to bilateral talks under a new mediator and without time constraints. Officials representing the UN and the international force in Kosova, KFOR, on July 3 described the current security situation in Kosova as "stable" and "calm," but the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Joachim Ruecker, warned the same day of possible violence unless the province's status is decided quickly, local media reported. That view was echoed on July 6 by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at a gathering in Dubrovnik, Croatia, of political leaders from the Balkans, Kosovar Albanian media reported. AG

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso met with Serbia's President Boris Tadic on July 6 in a bid to push forward the search for agreement on the future of Kosova, local and international media reported. While stressing that the EU does not connect Serbia's possible membership in the EU with the issue of Kosova's status, Barroso underlined that "the future of Serbia is not with Russia or the United States but with the European Union, to be blunt." Barroso's stance complemented a comment by the EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, who in mid-May advised Serbia "to be careful...when hugging even a friendly big bear" -- a reference to Russia. Christina Gallach, a spokeswoman for the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, raised a similar point on July 3, saying that the EU will take responsibility for deciding Kosova's future should Russia continue to reject UN resolutions. "Nobody can be a hostage of somebody else's policy and leave outstanding issues over and over again, risking the stability of the whole region," Gallach told the Serbian daily "Vecernje novosti." "Kosovo is a European issue and we have let Moscow know that we are interested in resolving that problem and consider it to be ours," Gallach said. She added that "the future of the Balkans depends on Europe and not on Russia. That is why the EU will make the decision [on Kosova's future] if necessary." Gallach stressed, though, that the EU will seek the consent of the UN Security Council. The Russian ambassador in Belgrade, Aleksandr Alekseyev, told Radio-Television Serbia on July 4 that Gallach's statement was "wrong, and that this is not the kind of language one can use when speaking to Russia." AG

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic on July 6 warned Serbia's neighbors against unilaterally recognizing Kosova's independence, saying that "would cause long term instability in the region," AP and local media reported. Jeremic urged restraint to avoid "steps that would later be hard to reverse." Kosovar Albanian leaders continue to hint at the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence, a notion that Washington initially publicly backed but from which it has since retreated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2007). Jeremic was speaking during a visit to Montenegro at the end of a four-day tour that also took him to Bratislava, Vienna, and Berlin for meetings with the foreign ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The Serbian news agency FoNet on July 6 quoted Jeremic as saying that "the Europeans have not yet decided how they will behave under conditions in which it is not realistic to expect that the UN Security Council would pass a resolution on Kosovo." The champion of Serbia's case in the UN, Russia, has so far rejected three draft resolutions on Kosova's future. AG

After holding talks with Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic on July 6, Montenegro's foreign minister, Milan Rocen, said that Montenegro "will stay on the sidelines" on matters relating to Kosova, AP reported the same day. In an interview published on July 5 by the Austrian paper "Die Presse," Rocen urged the EU to show unity, saying "it would be wrong to leave it to the individual countries to decide whether to recognize Kosovo as an independent state," as "this would lead to new rifts in the region, in Europe, and in the entire world." Rocen reiterated that Montenegro's interest is in a "sustainable" solution in Kosova and he underscored Montenegro's neutral stance, saying that Montenegro is "a small country without any influence on the final status of Kosovo," is not able to "contribute to the solution of the problem," and is mainly interested in maintaining domestic political stability. Rocen said that "in the case of bilateral recognition agreements, they could not expect the small country Montenegro to volunteer to be a guinea pig. We will find a way to tell both Belgrade and Pristina our position in an appropriate manner and to maintain good relations with both of them." Montenegro has come under substantial pressure from its ethnic-Serbian parties to support Serbia's position on Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 1, 10, and 31, and June 20 and 25, 2007). However, Rocen said that he and Jeremic "agreed the two countries' relations are substantially closer and better than the public could get the impression or than may be heard in the statements by certain political parties or leaders." Jeremic chose not to meet with leaders of Montenegro's large Serbian community, a decision that elicited angry responses from some Serbian and Montenegrin Serbian parties, the Montenegrin daily "Dan" reported on July 5. AG

The head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Joachim Ruecker, on July 5 said that parliamentary and local elections should be held in Kosova in November, local media reported. Ruecker's proposal, which has yet to become definitive, has roused fears about the possible impact of the elections on discussions about the final status of the UN-administered Serbian province. Veton Surroi, a leader of the opposition and a member of the team negotiating Kosova's status, said that elections must not become an "excuse" to delay the decision about Kosova's status, the news service KosovaLive reported on July 5. The UN's failure to settle the question of independence for Kosova has prompted the Kosovar Albanian media and political opposition in recent weeks to question increasingly strongly the mandate of Kosova's leaders, who have repeatedly said that statehood is imminent. Ruecker did not say whether the elections will reflect recommendations made by the author of the UN's plan for Kosova, Martti Ahtisaari, which envisages new municipalities and new electoral legislation. These will be the third parliamentary elections in Kosova since 1999, when NATO forces ended the conflict between Serbian forces and ethnic-Albanian separatists. Local elections were due to be held in autumn 2006, but were postponed after local parties and UNMIK concluded that they could divert attention from bilateral talks on Kosova's status. AG

The Greek government on July 6 summoned its ambassador to Macedonia back from Skopje to explain comments made to the "Financial Times" in which she appeared to suggest Athens might need to soften its stance in its dispute with Skopje about Macedonia's name. A Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman, George Koumoutsakos, told local and international journalists that "at this point there is no talk of a recall" for the ambassador, Dora Grosomanidou. Grosomanidou told the July 5 edition of the "Financial Times" that "Greece has to face the new reality, as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been recognized under its constitutional name by more than half of the members of the United Nations." Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, Macedonia has been referred to within the UN and other international institutions as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the insistence of Greece, which fears that Macedonia harbors unspoken aspirations to the Greek province of the same name. Among the countries that have recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, are three members of the UN Security Council: the United States, Russia, and China. The longstanding dispute has gained prominence and strength in recent months, as Macedonia is hoping to win an invitation to join NATO in 2008. Though Grosomanidou told the "Financial Times" that "formally, there is no problem for Skopje to become a member of NATO or the EU under the name it has been registered at the UN," FYROM, the Greek government has threatened to veto Macedonia's admission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2007). A recent poll published in the weekly "To Proto Thema" found that more than 80 percent of Greeks would support a veto if Macedonia sought entry under the name "Macedonia" and 61.5 percent if it tried to enter as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." For their part, Macedonians view Greece as the second-largest threat to stability in the Balkans, after the uncertainty about the future of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). AG

Russia on July 3 called for the reversal of a recent decision to transfer responsibility for a memorial to the victims of the Srebrenica massacre from the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska to the state, the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said, "this decision represents a serious violation of the peace agreement on Bosnia-Herzegovina, in as much as it concerns the removal of territory from the Republika Srpska without its agreement through the application of the extraordinary Bonn powers" available to the high representative, and "has escalated tension in a situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina that is already far from easy." The decision has also been criticized by the president of the Republika Srpska, Milan Jelic, who said on July 3 that the decision was a "flagrant violation" of the Bosnian constitution and of the accords that brought peace to Bosnia in 1995. The dispute touches on broader constitutional concerns harbored by Bosnian Serbs, as the Bosnian Muslims' representative in the country's three-member presidency, Haris Silajdzic, has repeatedly called for the Republika Srpska to be dissolved. The dispute also presents an early test for the international community's new high representative in Bosnia, Miroslav Lajcak, as the decision on the Potocari memorial was made on June 25 by his predecessor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling. The status of Srebrenica has also received public attention due to the exodus of some Bosnian Muslims who had returned to the town. On July 3, they dismantled a tent camp that they had set up in Sarajevo to draw attention to their plight, local media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19 and 26, 2007). AG

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte, on July 4 said she supports the idea that war criminals convicted in The Hague could serve out their sentences in their home countries, Serbian media reported. Her suggestion was swiftly opposed by the court's president, Fausto Pocar, whose spokesman, Refik Hodzic, described the proposal as only "Carla Del Ponte's idea," the Serbian news agency Beta reported on July 5. Reactions from the region have so far been mixed. Serbia's chief war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, and the man responsible for overseeing Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY, Rasim Ljajic, both expressed their support, the Serbian broadcaster B92 reported on July 4, 5, and 8. However, Fadila Memisevic, the head of the Society for Threatened Peoples, a Bosnian nongovernmental organization, said that she will send a "strong protest" opposing the transfer of any criminals "under any circumstances," the Bosnian television station Hayat reported on July 4. Transfers are already possible, subject to agreements with individual countries and the support of the UN Security Council. In an interview with TV Pink on July 4, Ljajic said that he wrote that day to Pocar asking the ICTY to reach such an agreement with Serbia. A number of war criminals have recently had applications for transfers rejected, including Biljana Plavsic, a former president of the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2007). Del Ponte reportedly specifically cited Plavsic as an example of a criminal whose transfer she would support. Doubts about the quality of security in local prisons were highlighted in late May, when a Bosnian Serb war criminal, Radovan Stankovic, escaped from a prison in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). AG

Macedonia's justice minister, Mihajlo Manevski, said on July 5 that the country's prison and judicial systems are ready to assume responsibility for war crimes trials, local media reported the same day. Manevski's statement came two days after the chief ICTY prosecutor Del Ponte reportedly said that she is only waiting for the "green light" from the Macedonian government to transfer four cases from The Hague to Skopje. Manevski said the Macedonian authorities have recently been focusing on ensuring that personnel are trained "to international standards." Macedonia's parliament on June 5 adopted a long-delayed bill that creates a legal framework for cooperation with the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). The ICTY in early May shelved plans to transfer the cases, reportedly on the grounds that Macedonia's courts are not yet ready to hear such cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). The four cases involve ethnic-Albanian separatists accused of committing atrocities during the six-month conflict in 2001. Concern that the trials could inflame ethnic tensions are also widely seen as a reason for the slowness of the progress in setting up a domestic court. The ICTY is itself currently hearing one case, against a former interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, and a police commander, Johan Tarculovski, who stand accused of involvement in the killing of seven ethnic-Albanian civilians in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2007). AG

It may be Srebrenica's special misfortune that to the people interested in it, it has been far more than just a small town in eastern Bosnia. Its fall in July 1995 was a great military triumph for the Bosnian Serbs, but the systematic killing of thousands of Muslim males that followed forever tainted the Serbian project of creating a separate ethnic homeland by breaking up Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Srebrenica's fall signaled the end of the United Nations' ill-fated humanitarian mission in Bosnia. It also prompted the United States to come up with a strategy for a military and diplomatic endgame in Bosnia, which a few months later produced the Dayton peace accords. The Dayton accords gave the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, far-reaching autonomy and confirmed its hold over Srebrenica.

Today, many Bosnians -- though not, on the whole, the country's Serbs -- share the growing concern among international policymakers that the constitution that came as part of Dayton has outlived its usefulness. Its complex ethnic quotas and veto points have greatly complicated the country's recovery and continue to prevent closer ties with the European Union.

The demands of long-term development militate against Bosnia's division into ethnic self-rule areas -- the Republika Srpska and the 10 cantons that make up the country's other half (the confusingly named "Federation").

Bosnia's Serbian politicians, however, are unanimous in their rejection of further integration. Sensing that their project of abolishing the entity system is doomed to failure, some Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) leaders have now seized on Srebrenica as a tool to force change. Once again, Srebrenica is far more than just a small town in eastern Bosnia.

The most recent campaign to scrap the entities was prompted by a judgment in February, in which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed that the 1995 killings at Srebrenica did in fact constitute genocide.

The Bosniak representative on Bosnia's three-member Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, promptly seized on that judgment to lend weight to his efforts to force Bosnia's international overseers to intervene in the ongoing struggle over Bosnia's domestic setup. He supported, and some observers say inspired, calls by Srebrenica's Bosniak returnees that Srebrenica be removed from Republika Srpska jurisdiction, knowing full well that this was a nonstarter. The only concession the movement could extract from the Bosnian Serb leadership was a pledge to turn Srebrenica into a special economic development zone, which is unlikely to have a tangible impact anytime soon.

Persuading the international community to impose a solution is the last hope of those who, like Silajdzic, reject incremental change and instead want a completely new, nonethnic system. In April 2006, Silajdzic had already engineered the defeat of constitutional amendments drafted with U.S. assistance.

To most Serbs, constitutional reform is simply code for removing protections for their community, above all territorial self-rule, and thus exposing them to domination by the Bosniaks (a plurality, though not a majority in the country).

This sentiment is skillfully exploited, and fanned, by Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik. Dodik has openly said that he would rather give up closer ties with the EU than the Bosnian Serbs' police. (Police reform remains the main obstacle to the conclusion of a preaccession deal with Brussels.) Together, Dodik and Silajdzic have led Bosnia into complete paralysis.

All of this, of course, has very little to do with Srebrenica, the small town in eastern Bosnia. Emir Suljagic, a Vienna-based journalist and analyst of Bosnian affairs, wrote in an e-mail message, "I don't think that to Silajdzic and others it matters whether it is Srebrenica or not, they would do the same thing with Brcko or Prijedor if [these towns] had what they thought they need to further their agenda." Brcko and Prijedor were also the scene of "ethnic cleansing" on a mass scale during the war, though not at the same level as Srebrenica.

One good thing that might still emerge from the bickering is a renewed attempt to get rid of officials, especially in the police, who might have been involved in war crimes, a key grievance of the dozens of Srebrenicans currently camping out in Sarajevo in protest over their living conditions.

The international community is sympathetic to some of the protesters' demands. After its meeting in Sarajevo on June 18-19, the Peace Implementation Council -- a consortium of international governments and organizations that oversees peace efforts in Bosnia -- called on Bosnia's leadership to undertake a concerted effort to improve the situation in Srebrenica. It welcomed commitments by the authorities to deal with officials whose names appear on a list of people suspected of involvement in war crimes. "Survivors should not have to encounter perpetrators of war crimes in government positions," the council said in a statement, with reassuring common sense.

But the statement drew a line in the sand by explicitly rejecting Silajdzic's argument that the ICJ ruling somehow implied an obligation to abolish the Republika Srpska. It even pointed out, none too subtly, that the international community "retains the necessary instruments to counter destructive tendencies." (The international high representative has the authority to dismiss elected officials.) Indeed, there is almost no prospect of any part of Silajdzic's agenda, with which many Bosniaks sympathize, becoming reality.

Given Dodik's power over his constituents, the intensity of Serbian sentiment, and the reluctance of the international community to reopen issues that have been settled at Dayton, there is little chance that Silajdzic will achieve his constitutional agenda.

Silajdzic will no doubt continue to make symbolic use of the Srebrenica issue. He has every right to express his view that the Bosnian Serb entity ought to go, or that it should at the very least relinquish Srebrenica, views that are most probably shared by a majority of Bosniaks and many Croats.

As one of three co-presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, he is not simply a Bosniak representative, but also bears a constitutional responsibility for the future of the entire country and all its citizens. That future is not served by his continued insistence on something that is clearly unattainable through democratic means.

Srebrenica will stay part of the Republika Srpska, and the Republika Srpska will stay part of Bosnia, and Bosnia will continue to be divided. This is the basic point of departure for any realistic attempt to improve conditions in the country. It is also a reflection of social and political reality in the country.

The main question is what specific form this division will take. Whereas the current constitution encourages it, new mechanisms should be found to dampen the politics of parochialism.

Reforming Bosnia's Constitution has always been fraught with difficulties and dilemmas. Should the charter be revised now, in which case it would have to acknowledge the continued existence of the Republika Srpska, or would it be better to wait longer in the hope that divisive agendas may lose their popular appeal? Almost 12 years after the end of the war, the answer seems clear, despite any philosophical misgivings one might reasonably entertain with regard to the country's ethnicized setup.

In the end, what truly matters is that the Dayton constitution has outlived its usefulness: the built-in incentives for parochialism hinder progress on the way to Europe, the only real perspective for long-term development. Dodik and Silajdzic owe it to their constituents to recognize this.

Srebrenica, meanwhile, has to come to terms with the traumatic events of 1995. In addition, however, it is also just a small town in eastern Bosnia whose depressed living conditions need urgent and tangible improvement.

(T.K. Vogel is a writer on Balkan affairs and author of a forthcoming study on ethnic cleansing.)

Local and coalition officials said on July 7 that up to 100 rebels and 11 police officers were killed over two days of intense fighting across Afghanistan that also sparked a report of civilian deaths, AFP reported the same day. Provincial Deputy Police Chief Abdul Sabur Alayar claimed that roughly 20 "enemies" were killed during coalition air strikes on July 5 and 6 in northeastern Kunar Province but added that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) struck a home and a funeral during the attacks, killing approximately 25 civilians. ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas said ISAF has no evidence of civilian deaths, adding that the strikes were called in against "positively identified enemy firing positions." Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the ministry will investigate the incident. Meanwhile, coalition air raids left 30-60 rebels dead in western Farah Province and 33 dead in southern Oruzgan Province. Eleven police officers were also killed. JC

Conflicting reports of civilian casualties from coalition military sources and local residents are tantamount to an information war, AP reported on July 8. Afghan elders claimed on July 7 that a coalition operation in western Afghanistan's Farah Province the previous day killed 108 civilians and air strikes in the northeast killed 25 Afghans, but U.S. and NATO officials said they have no evidence of civilian deaths. Dpa quoted Farah Governor Muhayuddin Baluch on July 8 as saying that an investigation determined that "not a single civilian was killed in the clash" on July 6 and that all the casualties were Taliban militants. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Rob Pollack said Taliban militants are compelling residents to claim civilian deaths, whether or not noncombatants are killed in such exchanges of fire. Taliban insurgents operate in civilian areas because civilian deaths from western military operations give the fighters a propaganda victory, Pollack added. Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi denied that militants force residents to exaggerate the number of civilian casualty. JC

A roadside bomb detonated in the southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar on July 7, wounding four soldiers in a passing NATO convoy, AP reported that day. A NATO commander confirmed that the casualties were Canadian troops, Voice of America reported. The soldiers were traveling west of Kandahar city when the attack occurred. NATO spokesman Thomas said the four were not seriously wounded. Purported Taliban spokesman Ahmadi told AP that a suicide bomber attacked the convoy. There have been reports from local and coalition officials that fierce fighting has killed over 100 militants in three separate regions of Afghanistan. JC

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown assured President Hamid Karzai in a phone call of "his country's continuous support to Afghanistan," Karzai's office said in a statement on July 7, AFP reported the same day. Brown reiterated Britain's commitment to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and said more efforts will be made to reconstruct Afghanistan, the statement said. "Afghanistan's security is the world's security," Brown added, according to the statement. Brown also extended an invitation for Karzai to visit Britain in the "near future." Brown said several days earlier his takeover will not alter policy on Afghanistan, where Britain has approximately 7,000 soldiers. Britain intends to increase its troops in Afghanistan to 7,700 in the coming months, which will be the second-largest contingent to the NATO-led deployment there after the United States. JC

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in Tehran on July 8 that there is no "time-out" plan on Iran's nuclear negotiations agenda and "our emphasis is on negotiations and cooperation due to take place with the" International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ISNA reported. He was referring to the proposal made by some diplomats, including IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, requesting a suspension by Iran of sensitive nuclear activities like uranium enrichment in return for a halt to moves to intensify UN sanctions on Iran's contested atomic program. Hosseini dismissed speculation on the possible threat of air strikes on Iran and said "right now the most important aspect" of Iran's nuclear cooperation is the planned arrival of a team of IAEA inspectors to discuss the agency's outstanding questions about Iran's past nuclear activities. Hosseini said a "technical and specialist" group from the IAEA will come to Iran in the coming days to discuss cooperation, ISNA reported. VS

The Office to Consolidate Unity (Daftar-i tahkim-i vahdat), a nationwide umbrella group of student associations, issued a statement on July 6 in which it alleges that suppression of free speech and media freedom is increasing in Iran, Radio Farda reported. Member Mohammad Hashemi told the broadcaster that it looks as if there will be no media "in the future" to report the "injustices being perpetrated on political and civil activists." He said civil institutions are undergoing "difficult days" in Iran and the state of the media is even more difficult, as media report on rights violations in Iran. "Every day we hear some report of" dailies being suspended or someone being summoned to court, he said. The Islamic Students Association of the Sharif Industrial University in Tehran also issued a statement deploring the closures of newspapers and reported restrictions on ILNA, the news agency affiliated with labor groups, Radio Farda reported on July 6. VS

A Tehran court ordered the cancellation of the publishing permit for the daily "Mosharekat" (Participation), a reformist daily suspended seven years ago and formerly a mouthpiece of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, media reported on July 3 and 4. The court deprived the daily of its publishing permit after Editor in Chief Mohammad Reza Khatami was convicted on charges of publishing false reports to anger the public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3 and 10, 2007). Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi separately ordered a ban on the daily "Ham Mihan" (Compatriot), run by former Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, about two months after the courts ended an earlier, seven-year ban on the same daily, AFP reported on July 4. Mortazavi cited flaws in the legal procedures lifting the ban on "Ham Mihan," although editor Mohammad Atrianfar claimed to AFP that Mortazavi's decision was "illegal" and the paper will appeal with the judiciary. The judiciary is lifting a ban imposed three years ago on another reformist daily, "Vaqaye-i Ettefaqieh" (Current Events, or Events), according to AFP, which quoted reformist politician Said Shariati. Shariati said he hopes the newspaper will resume publishing in the next few weeks. VS

Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Herandi warned on July 7 that some of Iran's media are mounting a "creeping coup" against President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on July 8. "Our interpretation of a creeping coup is in keeping with the issue," he said, and "when we say a creeping coup in the media, that means someone is moving in the framework of a subversive move." He said a coup need not include "a bunch of people gathering in a barracks" to launch an attack. The head of press and communications at the presidential office, Mohammad Jafar Behdad, separately told Fars news agency on July 7 that the presidency will "break its generous silence" and "respond" to an "economic and political gang" that he said is "spreading poison against the government." He said that "gang" has resorted to various means to discredit and obstruct the government's services in the past two years and most recently "entered the stage of directly ridiculing and insulting" Ahmadinejad and "distorting" his statements. Behdad hinted that the government might divulge large-scale theft and financial crimes allegedly committed by unnamed members of this "noisy crowd." VS

President Ahmadinejad on July 2 appointed Gholamhussein Elham, his government spokesman and minister of justice, as his personal representative and head of the country's headquarters against contraband and currency smuggling, "Etemad" reported the next day, observing that the minister has added to his "collection" of state posts. Elham is also a member of the Guardians Council, a body of jurists and constitutional arbitrators, a lecturer at Tehran University, and a member of several unspecified boards of directors, the daily added. "Etemad" and some reformist observers have wondered how Elham could devote effective time to so many responsibilities. Elham replaces Mohammad Reza Naqdi, a police general. VS

Iraq's ambassador in Tehran, Muhammad Majid al-Sheikh, told Fars on July 8 that he hopes Iran and the United States will hold another round of talks on Iraqi security to follow up on a first round in late May. Majid al-Sheikh said Iraqi officials are doing what they can to secure the release of a group of Iranian diplomats or operatives detained by coalition forces in Irbil in northern Iraq in January. He said a recent "consular meeting" with the detained men was a preliminary to their release. Iran's ambassador in Baghdad, Hasan Kazemi-Qomi, and two Iranian diplomats met with the detainees on July 7, Radio Farda reported, citing news agencies. Majid al-Sheikh said Iraq would like another set of Iranian-U.S. talks at the deputy foreign minister level but that no date has been set for such a meeting. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hosseini said on July 8 that Iran is waiting for a clarification of the U.S. "position" on Iraq before any second round of talks, ISNA reported. Hosseini said Iran has seen no change yet in U.S. policies in Iraq. Iran has called for the United States' withdrawal from Iraq. VS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is reportedly in discussions with several political parties to form a new coalition government in order to restart the stagnant political process, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on July 6. The new coalition, called the Moderates' Bloc, so far includes the Kurdish Alliance, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), and the Shi'ite Al-Da'wah Party. KUNA reported on July 7 that President Jalal Talabani has given his full support for the new political bloc and for a national unity government. The news agency reported that by establishing a new alliance, Iraqi leaders seek to "battle sectarianism through cooperation among national powers." Talabani also expressed hope that the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party may decide to join the Moderates Bloc, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on July 7. SS

The Iraqi Accordance Front, Iraq's largest Sunni political bloc, will allegedly call for a vote of no confidence in parliament against Prime Minister al-Maliki on July 15, CBS news reported on July 7. The report said the Iraqi Accordance Front is part of a new broad political alliance called the Iraq Project, which calls for a new government to be made up of ministers chosen for their expertise, instead of their party loyalties. The Iraq Project was discussed in detail by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi during Cheney's most recent trip to Baghdad on May 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, 2007). Al-Hashimi is the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the three main components of the Accordance Front. Regarding reports that al-Maliki is forming a new political alliance, al-Hashimi said it is little more than a short-term fix. "Cosmetic change is not going to serve the interests of Iraqis, is not going to stabilize, is not going to improve security; what we need is much bigger than that," al-Hashimi said. According to the Iraqi Constitution, at least 50 parliamentarians are needed to call a no-confidence vote and 138 votes are needed to unseat the prime minister. The Accordance Front has 44 seats, but it is unclear whether the Iraq Project has enough support to dismiss al-Maliki. SS

Leaders in radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement on July 8 accused Prime Minister al-Maliki of bowing to U.S. demands and sanctioning U.S. attacks on his militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. On July 7, al-Maliki issued a statement calling on the militia to completely disarm, and said the militia has been infiltrated by terrorists and supporters of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party. Salah al-Ubaydi, a member of al-Sadr's movement, said the statement essentially gave U.S. forces a "green light" to attack the Imam Al-Mahdi Army. "The statements that al-Maliki made were followed by a series of successive attacks by the occupation troops on al-Sadr trend personnel. He sought to placate them [the occupation troops] by making statements against the al-Sadr trend members," al-Ubaydi said. In addition, Baha al-A'raji, another member of the movement, warned that any more provocative actions against the group may lead to the prime minister's downfall. "Let the prime minister know that it was the al-Sadr [movement] which caused him to be prime minister, and that we can really cause him to lose the premiership," al-A'raji said. SS

Prime Minister al-Maliki's office issued a statement on July 8 condemning the massive truck bombing at a crowded market in the northern town of Tuz Khurmato that killed at least 150 people and wounded more than 240 on July 7, international media reported. The attack in a largely Shi'ite Turkoman district was described by many media outlets as one of the deadliest bombings since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Al-Maliki blamed the attack on takfiris (unbelievers) and terrorists, describing their actions as a sign of desperation. Meanwhile, the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association issued a statement on its website denouncing the attack and blaming it on the U.S.-led occupation and the Iraqi government. "The Muslim Scholars Association holds the current government and the occupation forces fully responsible for the attack. It calls on all Iraqis to show restraint and rise above their wounds until Allah bestows relief soon," the statement said. Abbas al-Bayati, a Shi'ite Turkoman lawmaker, said that the town became an easy target after an Iraqi Army regiment left the region for Baghdad earlier this year to assist in the security crackdown. SS

Iran announced on July 8 that Iranian officials have been allowed, for the first time, to visit five Iranians who have been in U.S. custody in Iraq since January 11, international media reported. Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, said he and his staff met with the Iranians for five hours on July 7 at a detention facility, and indicated that their "morale was high." He also repeated Tehran's demands that they be released immediately. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari thanked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. military for helping to organize the visit. "We hope that this humanitarian gesture will help to ease tensions and facilitate further dialogue between the two countries," Zebari said. U.S. forces arrested the five Iranians in the northern city of Irbil, accusing them of being associated with the Quds Force, a secret military wing linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 2007). Iran has repeatedly denied the claims, and insists the five are diplomats who were legally serving in Iraq. SS

U.S. Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of coalition forces south of Baghdad, said on July 6 that any premature U.S. troop withdrawal before Iraqi forces are fully ready would lead to a "mess," international media reported. "Those surge forces are giving us the capability we have now to take the fight to the enemy. And the enemy only responds to force, and we now have that force," Lynch said. "If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away, and the Iraqi security forces aren't ready yet to do that. So now, what you're going to find if you did that is you'd find the enemy regaining ground, re-establishing sanctuary, building more IEDs [improvised explosive devices], carrying those IEDs into Baghdad, and the violence would escalate. It'd be a mess." Lynch said the U.S. troop surge has led to dozens of arrests and seizures of several large weapon caches, but he noted that his forces have moved into less than 30 percent of the four-province area for which he is responsible. He says the main issue is that there are not enough capable Iraqi forces to maintain already secured regions so that his forces can move into the remaining areas. SS