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Newsline - July 23, 2007

British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton was quoted by the daily "Kommersant" and Interfax on July 23 as saying that it is in Russia's "national interest" to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the 2006 London poisoning death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 19, and 20, 2007). Brenton stressed that the murder was not "an everyday incident," adding that "it is surprising to me that the Russian authorities do not see their own national interest in putting on trial, in the place where most of the evidence and witnesses are available, a suspected murderer and carrier of highly toxic radioactive substances." He stressed that "the crime was committed against a British citizen and took place in London. The appropriate venue for the trial is therefore London." Brenton argued that "both the UN and the EU have stated publicly their concern that the law in Russia is applied selectively. There would therefore be grounds for a legal challenge against any attempt to accept a trial in Russia." Referring to Russia's constitutional ban on the extradition of its citizens, Brenton said that "Russia's Constitution, like those of other states, is clearly capable of interpretation in the light of circumstances." He denied that bilateral relations are in a "crisis," noting that "we have a booming economic relationship" and work well together in dealing with several pressing international issues, such as the status of Kosova. Brenton said that it is up to "independent British courts" and not the government to decide whether to honor any of Russia's extradition requests. Britain's "Financial Times" wrote on July 23 that Britain will want the EU to include an extradition agreement in any new comprehensive cooperation pact to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expires later in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). Britain's "The Sunday Times" wrote on July 22 that "the two governments are now desperate to draw a line under [the] grisly and embarrassing [Lugovoi] affair." PM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 20 in Berlin that, as President Vladimir Putin argued the previous day, "we are interested in normalizing relations between Russia and Great Britain," news agencies reported. He stressed that "relations should be built on common sense and respect for each other's interests. With such an approach, all problems could be overcome. We are prepared for this." In Moscow, key suspect Lugovoi said on July 20 that he has doubts "about the effectiveness of a polygraph [test], but I am ready to meet with British investigators for a polygraph [test]," news agencies reported. He added, "I am also ready to meet in the event that a polygraph is not used. We were waiting for them. Do you understand that? And we continue waiting. So, the British investigators are welcome to come here." He stressed that it is "populistic" for anyone to suggest that he could meet with British investigators in a third country, because it is far from clear who would select that country and which one it might be. On July 23, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev told a press conference that the British handling of the Lugovoi affair is "plainly groundless, inappropriate, unjustified, and lies exclusively in a political framework. We refused extradition on the basis of the law," news agencies reported. In its July 20-22 issue, the newspaper "Gazeta" noted in an article entitled "Saving Private Lugovoi" that both sides have adopted a tit-for-tat approach in handling the affair. Sergei Karaganov, who heads the influential Foreign and Defense Policy Council (SVOP), a conservative Russian think tank, was quoted in the state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on July 20 as saying that "Russian-British relations are thoroughly damaged already. Worse still, they have been damaged by something that doesn't really matter to anyone. I hope that this expulsion of diplomats will prove to be the last step in this sudden Cold War flashback." PM

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was quoted by Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on July 23 as saying that Russia has become "stronger and more stable" under President Putin, but Barroso added that the EU is "not happy...with the quality of democracy in Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). Barroso stressed that the EU has "no interest in a weak, unstable Russia." He noted, however, that "things are not moving in the right direction" there, "and not just because of the murders of journalists." Barroso said that the "quality of democracy and the rule of law" in Russia is problematic. He also criticized Moscow's differential treatment of various EU member states. PM

James Hoge, the editor of the U.S. bimonthly "Foreign Affairs," told RFE/RL on July 20 that the recent decision by Foreign Minister Lavrov to withdraw an article on Russian foreign policy from the magazine came as "a complete surprise" to its staff (see End Note). Hoge stressed that the magazine, which is considered one of the world's most influential journals on international affairs and foreign policy, went out of its way to accommodate Lavrov. Lavrov charged that the editors changed his article in such a way as to misrepresent his views (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2007). PM

Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, who are both first deputy prime ministers and leading contenders in the 2008 presidential race, visited the summer camp of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (Ours) at Lake Seliger northwest of Moscow on July 21, the daily "Vremya novostei" reported on July 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2007, and "No Idle Summer Days For Russia's Political Youth,", July 20, 2007). Visits by prominent politicians to youth gatherings are nothing new in Russia, but this particular visit by the two presidential contenders has all the markings of a campaign outing, the daily noted. The two men nonetheless made efforts to show that they have much in common and get along well. "Gazeta" argued on July 23 that the fact that the two men made the same trip at the same time shows that the Kremlin is at pains to demonstrate that it does not favor either of them. PM

A 20-year-old antinuclear protester was killed on July 21 when a group of 15 hooded attackers raided an environmentalist camp near a nuclear site near Irkutsk in southeastern Siberia, Russian news agencies reported. At least seven other antinuclear protesters were injured. The 21 inhabitants of the camp, which is located near an international uranium-enrichment site in Angarsk, had been protesting for days against the reprocessing of nuclear waste. A police spokesman said on July 23 that 20 suspects are in detention. Two have already been charged with premeditated infliction of bodily harm leading to death. Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), denied that any foreign nuclear waste is being reprocessed in the area, Britain's "The Independent" reported on July 23. He said that "we have not imported spent foreign nuclear fuel and will not import it." "The Moscow Times" noted on July 23 that the clash may be linked to long-standing tensions between nationalist and antifascist groups in the area. One local antifascist said that the police have tried to present the case as one of hooliganism and to ignore its political dimension. He added that many people in the area refuse to acknowledge "the existence of neo-Nazis in their city." PM

Prosecutors in Syktyvkar in the far northern Komi Republic have completed investigations for the republic's first criminal case involving human trafficking, reported on July 23. The case stems from the alleged forcible detention and trafficking of two underaged women by unidentified perpetrators earlier in 2007. PM

Unidentified perpetrators opened fire with mortars and automatic weapons on President Murat Zyazikov's motorcade in Magas during the evening of July 21, damaging vehicles but inflicting no injuries, reported. Zyazikov reportedly ordered Interior Minister Musa Medoyev not to inform the media of the attack. Hours earlier on July 21, gunmen killed Vakha Vedzizhev, imam of the Barsukin mosque, in the town of Karabulak, reported. The daily "Kommersant" on July 23 claimed that Vedzizhev was close to Zyazikov and acted as his informal adviser. LF

Twenty-one of Ingushetia's 32 parliament deputies have signed an extensive open letter addressed to the U.S. Congress, the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, and the U.S. Senate Helsinki Commission, reported on July 20. The letter details the oppression to which the region was subjected by successive Russian leaderships since being incorporated into the Tsarist empire in the 17th century. It focuses in particular on the 1944 deportation of the Ingush to Central Asia, the transfer of Prigorodny Raion to North Ossetian jurisdiction, and what it terms the "primitive and colonial" policies implemented by the Russian Federation leadership in the North Caucasus over the past 15 years, including Moscow's tacit support of the reprisals by Ossetians against Ingush in Prigorodny Raion in October-November, 1992. It concludes with an appeal for help in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the 1992 violence. Speaking on July 19 at a government session in Magas, President Zyazikov harshly criticized the signatories to the open letter, reported on July 20. LF

In two separate decrees issued on July 19 and posted on the Chechen resistance website on July 21, Doku Umarov named an Ingush, Akhmed Yevloyev (aka Amir Magas), as commander of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria. Yevloyev was born in 1974 and has fought as a member of the resistance since 1999. Umarov further named as Yevloyev's deputies Amirs Mukhannad, Tarkhan (Tarkhan Gaziyev) and Aslambek (Aslambek Vaduyev). Tarkhan and Aslambek currently command the eastern and southwestern fronts, respectively. Amir Mukhannad, an Arab from one of the Persian Gulf states who has fought as a volunteer in Chechnya for 10 years, heads the group of Muslim mercenaries fighting with the Chechen resistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 18, 2006). On July 21, pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov again denied during a meeting of republic and local government officials that young Chechen men are flocking to join the resistance ranks, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2007). LF

Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Prosecutor Oleg Zharikov has warned Ismail Sabanchiyev, head of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People, against engaging in "extremist activities" that could fuel interethnic discord, reported on July 21. Zharikov specifically mentioned the meeting convened by the council on July 14 in Nalchik at which the Balkars aired the grievances against the republic's leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007). Sabanchiyev's deputy, Ruslan Babayev, was quoted by as saying that Zharikov's warning was triggered not by the July 14 meeting but by an analysis of the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria that the council has submitted to the republic's authorities, who chose to construe it as an expression of extremism. LF

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki attended a session of the Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation in Yerevan on July 20, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Mottaki and the Armenian co-chairman of the commission, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, signed an agreement on launching feasibility studies for the construction of a railway linking the two countries, an oil refinery, and two hydropower plants on the Arax River that marks the border between the two countries. Mottaki said it is hoped to raise bilateral trade this year from $200 million to $500 million and to finalize within the next two months a free-trade agreement between the two countries. Mottaki also met on July 20 with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian, Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian briefed Mottaki on the Karabakh peace process, and Mottaki described Iran's efforts to resolve its dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency. LF

The Central Election Commission of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh released on July 21 the final results of the presidential ballot held two days earlier, kavkaz-uzel. reported. Former National Security Service head Bako Sahakian was declared president-elect with 85 percent of the vote; his closest challenger, Deputy Foreign Minister Mais Maylian, polled 13 percent and three other candidates less than 1.5 percent each (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). Maylian conceded defeat on July 20 and said that the instances of voter fraud recorded were not serious enough to impact on the outcome of the ballot, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said the more than 8,000 votes cast for him constituted "a serious achievement," and that the election served to boost Karabakh's "democratic image," adding that "our team has done everything in its power to give our citizens a real choice and to hold the elections within the framework of the law." Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian have both congratulated Sahakian on his election, reported. LF

Visiting Baku on July 20-21, EU special envoy for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby met with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, presidential-administration head Ramiz Mehtiyev, and with Nizami Bahmanov, head of the former Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh, and reported. Mammadyarov called on the EU to exert pressure on Armenia to desist from what he described as its ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijani territory, which he described as a threat to regional stability. Semneby agreed to consider how the EU could promote dialogue between the populations of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Semneby told journalists on July 21 that he also expressed his concern that seven journalists are currently serving prison terms in Azerbaijan, and that he advocated amending Azerbaijan's Criminal Code to decriminalize libel, reported. LF

In an interview published in the national daily "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," Jalal-abad region Governor Iskenderbek Aidaraliev argued that at the current stage of Kyrgyzstan's development, it is expedient to abolish the post of prime minister and concentrate power in the hands of the president, reported on July 20. At the same time, he proposed strengthening the powers of local governors. Aidaraliev warned against taking the reform process "too far," noting that neighboring countries that have not pursued reforms "are developing stably." He further argued that "in order to preserve the unity of the state," it is imperative to move the national capital from Bishkek to Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, given that between 70-80 percent of Kyrgyzstan's immigrant population is concentrated in the south of the country. LF

Tajiks celebrated State Language Day on July 22, the anniversary of the designation of Tajik as the state language in 1999, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on July 23. President Emomali Rahmon proposed designating 2008 the Year of the Tajik Language, and publishing by September 2008 a new two-volume Tajik dictionary, together with grammars for the classical and modern literary languages. LF

The Russian and French air-force contingents currently deployed at Dushanbe airport will be relocated to the military airport at Ayni, 10 kilometers from Dushanbe, as soon as reconstruction there is complete, Firuz Khamroyev, who is first deputy director of the state airline Tajik Air, told journalists in Dushanbe on July 20, reported. France has some 150 technical personnel in Dushanbe. At the onset of the international counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan in early 2002, France rejected the use of Ayni because it would have required extensive repairs that would have cost several million dollars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2002). India subsequently agreed to help modernize Ayni within the framework of a cooperation program with the Tajik Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5 and April 29, 2002). LF

An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry delegation held talks in Ashgabat on July 20 with Turkmen government officials in a move towards resolving the outstanding disputes between the two countries, reported on July 21. It remains unclear, however, whether they indeed reached agreement on the proposed joint exploitation on a parity basis of the disputed Kyapaz/Serdar oil field, which has reserves estimated at 50 million tons, and of which both countries have for the past decade claimed ownership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 3, 1998; March 17 and September 6, 2000; April 9 and August 9 and 10, 2001; and January 19 and 28 and February 3, 2005). A Turkmen delegation is due to visit Baku later this week to discuss other economic issues, including the possible export of Turkmen natural gas via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline. LF

Belarus's Justice Ministry has refused to register the Movement for Freedom led by former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reported on July 21. The ministry cited flaws in the movement's charter as the grounds for its decision. The Movement for Freedom was established at a congress in Hrodna in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). The primary goals of the movement are building civil society in Belarus, ensuring the country's independence, and staging fully democratic elections. Movement for Freedom Deputy Chairman Viktar Karnyayenka told RFE/RL that the denial of registration comes as no surprise for the organization. "This decision falls within the general [official] trend of suppressing various civic actions and terminating the activities of all legal structures in the country apart from those controlled by the authorities. We will continue both our registration efforts and our activities, which are not dependent on our registration," Karnyayenka said. JM

The "Kommersant" daily on July 21 reported that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree dismissing Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski, citing a "well-informed source in the Belarusian leadership." According to the daily, the decree may be published "within the next few days." However, Sidorski's spokesman, Alyaksandr Tsimashenka, told Belapan that "Syarhey Syarheyevich [Sidorski] is in his office. We are working as usual," adding that false rumors about the prime minister's dismissal have emerged in the past. Meanwhile, the Belarusian opposition web site "Belorussky partizan" ( reported on July 21 that Stsyapan Sukharenka and Vasil Dzemyantsey were arrested on July 20, after they were fired on July 17 from the posts of chairman and first deputy chairman of the Committee for State Security (KGB) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18 and 19, 2007). When asked about the alleged arrests on July 21, an Interior Ministry spokesman said he had no such information, while KGB spokesman Valery Nadtachayeu declined to comment on the report, according to Belapan. JM

The Our Ukraine/People's Self-Defense election bloc released a statement on July 23 calling on Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to suspend Transport and Communications Minister Mykola Rudkovskyy and Emergency Situations Minister Nestor Shufrych until a full investigation is completed into last week's derailment of a train carrying toxic phosphorus in Lviv Oblast, the "Ukrayinska pravda" web site ( reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). "We are convinced that the activities of [Rudkovskyy and Shufrych] in their posts expressly reflect the activities of the current government in general -- its lack of professionalism and indifference to citizens' problems," the statement reads. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk promised on July 22 that the shipment of yellow phosphorus, some of which caught fire following the derailment, will leave Ukraine on July 25. Shufrych told journalists the same day that the cargo will be sent back to Kazakhstan after the issue of its ownership is settled. The phosphorus shipment, which was being transported from Kazakhstan to Poland, reportedly belongs to a Dutch firm, the name of which has not been revealed. According to Health Minister Vitaliy Haydayev, some 16,000 people were checked for symptoms of chemical poisoning following the accident, which released toxic smoke into the air. Nearly 180 people reportedly remain hospitalized because of phosphorus poisoning. No deaths have been reported. JM

Kosova's prime minister, Agim Ceku, on July 20 called for the region's parliament to support a declaration of independence on November 28, local and international media reported. Ceku made clear that this remains merely a proposal and, according to local media, said that other members of the team negotiating on Kosova's behalf in talks about its status have yet to back the proposal. November 28 is celebrated in neighboring Albania as its independence day. The negotiating team failed on July 18 to reach a consensus on whether to set a date for independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). Ceku said a date should be set because "the UN has failed to act," but underlined that "in no way are we talking about a unilateral action." Instead, Kosova will coordinate its steps with the United States and the EU, he said. Washington indicated in mid-July that it is committed to helping Kosova secure its independence, hopefully by the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). European leaders have consistently urged Kosova not to declare independence unilaterally, while Washington has been more equivocal in its stance but now opposes a unilateral declaration. That position was reiterated on July 20 by the chief U.S. diplomat in Kosova, Tina Kaidanow, local media reported. AG

The statement by the Kosovar government came as Western powers decided not to ask the UN Security Council to vote on a draft resolution calling for Kosova and Serbia to engage in four months of additional talks on Kosova's status, international and local media reported on July 21. The sponsors of the draft -- the United States, Britain, and France -- earlier seemed to be on the brink of putting the issue to the vote despite the near-certainty that Russia would veto it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20, 2007). The Western powers said they will now divert their diplomatic efforts away from the forum of the UN Security Council to the Contact Group, which consists of Russia and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. The group is due to meet in Vienna on July 25. AG

The Russian Foreign Ministry on July 21 issued a statement that praised the decision to withdraw the resolution as "a move in the right direction," and said the withdrawal "indicates that the concerns expressed by Russia on this draft resolution have been taken into account by other members of the international community," the Russian news agency Interfax reported. Moscow also welcomed the Contact Group as a forum for debate, but said that the "final decision" on Kosova's status should be taken by the UN Security Council. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement that the decision not to press ahead with a resolution is "a significant victory" for "joint Serbian-Russian policies," a view echoed by Serbian President Boris Tadic. Both Tadic and Kostunica said a final decision on Kosova's status must be made by the UN. A hard-line leader of the Kosovar Serbs, Milan Ivanovic, told Serbian media that Ceku's call for a date for independence was evidence of his desire to avoid further talks on Kosova's future, while the news agency Beta on July 20 quoted a moderate leader of the community, Oliver Ivanovic, as saying that Ceku was seeking to strengthen his position in upcoming talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and condemned Ceku's efforts as an attempt to block the negotiating process. AG

Serbian police arrested a former Belgrade district prosecutor, Rade Terzic, on July 20 on suspicion of belonging to the so-called Zemun clan, local and international media reported. The Zemun clan was used by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to eliminate rivals or opponents, such as former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, who was abducted and killed in 2000. Members of the group have also been convicted in the 2003 assassination of Serbia's first democratically elected prime minister, Zoran Djindjic. Police say that the man who killed Djindjic, Milorad Ulemek "Legija," was released from detention in 2001 on Terzic's order. Terzic was remanded in custody on July 21; prosecutors now have 30 days to bring charges against him. TV

Two Bosnian Serbs currently in custody at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will be tried together in The Hague rather than before a domestic court in Bosnia-Herzegovina, local and international media reported on July 20. Cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic are accused of numerous atrocities committed in the northeastern Bosnian town of Visegrad while they were serving in a paramilitary unit during the 1992-95 war. Visegrad, which lies on the banks of the River Drina along the Bosnian-Serbian border, was the scene of some of the most systematic "ethnic cleansing" of the war, as Serbian and Bosnian Serb units killed or expelled its Muslim population. "Based on the allegations in the indictment, Milan Lukic would likely be marked as the most significant paramilitary leader tried by the tribunal to date," judges said in a statement. Milan Lukic was arrested in Argentina in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2005) and recently succeeded with his appeal against the transfer of his case to the Bosnia-Herzegovina State Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2007). ICTY prosecutors then decided to drop the referral request for his cousin, in part to spare witnesses the burden of testifying both in Sarajevo and in The Hague. The ICTY has transferred several cases of lesser importance to the war-crimes chamber of Bosnia's State Court in its bid to complete proceedings, including appeals, by 2010, and only serious cases are still being tried at The Hague. TV

During a visit by Libyan officials to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-Croat entity agreed to transfer shares in Bosnalijek pharmaceuticals to pay off its $12.9 million debt to Libya, local and international media reported on July 20. The Muslim-Croat Federation owns just under one-third of Bosnalijek. The deal reportedly gives Libya ownership of 9.4 percent of the company, though neither government would confirm that figure. Formerly state-owned Bosnalijek was Bosnia's sole pharmaceutical company until 2003 and exports to the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. It hopes to boost revenues by 19 percent and exports by 30 percent this year, according to Reuters. The new strategic relationship with Libya, which under the agreement cannot sell its stake for five years, is expected to give Bosnalijek access to markets in African countries. TV

The Albanian parliament on July 20 elected Bamir Topi as the country's president, breaking a protracted deadlock that had threatened to trigger a snap general election. Parliament's choice of Topi means that the Democrat Party now holds the two most senior positions in Albanian politics: the presidency and the premiership, a post currently occupied by Sali Berisha. The Democrats, who head the ruling coalition, had been pushing for Topi for the post since March, but in previous rounds he secured fewer votes than the coalition commanded and roughly 10 fewer than those needed to gain the required three-fifths majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9 and 14 and May 4 and 14, 2007). He also withdrew his candidacy in early July to facilitate the election of a compromise candidate, but he re-entered the ring when a deal failed at the last moment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007). The deadlock was broken in the fourth round when five members of the largest opposition party, the Socialists, decided to vote for Topi, ignoring a boycott intended to force Topi to withdraw once again. In all, Topi won 85 votes, one more than required. Topi's opponent, Neritan Ceka, garnered five votes. Ceka, the leader of a small party, the Democratic Alliance, emerged as a rival only in the third round of voting. As leader of a party with just three seats in parliament, Ceka would have needed to secure the backing of the 57 other members of the opposition and another 24 votes from governing parties; new elections were always seen as more probable than a victory for Ceka. Topi will be inaugurated on July 24. Failure to elect a president by that date would have necessitated early parliamentary elections. AG

The decision by five members of the Socialist Party to break ranks and back the government's candidate has prompted recriminations within the party and allegations of corruption, local media reported on July 20 and 21. The most immediate result was the resignation of the party's whip, Ben Blushi, who stepped down within minutes of the vote. The party's leader, Edi Rama, called the defections a "shameful act of corruption" and refused to congratulate Topi. "I would have wished to congratulate the new president of the republic, but he does not deserve the congratulations of the Socialist Party today, because he took part directly in building the shameful process of corruption that brought him to the president's post," Rama said in comments carried by the daily "Koha jone" on July 21. Rama continued, "He was not elected on the basis of consensus with the opposition; he was, rather, elected through the political -- and not only political -- corruption of a group of deputies who decided to walk out of the Socialist Party and save the government of Sali Berisha from its confrontation with the people's vote." Rama said after the third round of the potentially five-round election that his party was preparing for parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007), and called on the rebels to resign from the party. One of the rebels, Durim Lamaj, on July 20 told the news agency ATA that "we gave a president to Albania so that the country can keep walking on the road toward integration into the EU and NATO." AG

In his first comments as president-elect, Bamir Topi said one of his key tasks is to try to bridge the differences between the country's two leading political blocs, led by the governing Democrats and the opposition Socialists. "My fundamental pledge is to respect the constitution, establish a full balance in the Albanian political climate, and take the country ahead in its main two challenges -- integration into NATO and the European family," Topi added. The immediate prospects that Topi can ease tensions seem dim, given the acrimony of the dispute about his candidacy. The Socialists had demanded a compromise choice, arguing that when they were in power in 2002, they had allowed a compromise candidate, outgoing President Alfred Moisiu, to emerge. Topi's election does, though, forestall some of the damage that could have been done to Albania's bids for NATO and EU membership had snap elections been required. Albania hopes to be invited to join NATO in April 2008. Both the EU and the United States have underscored the importance of Albania avoiding further political destabilization. Topi, who is 50, left his original profession as a professor of biology in his mid-30s to become a member of parliament for the Democrats. He served as a minister of agriculture between 1996 and 1997, and has served twice both as a deputy leader of the Democrats and the party's chief whip. AG

The Southeast Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists from the region, on July 18 joined Albanian media in protesting against the imposition of a 12 million euros ($16.6 million) fine on one of Albania's leading media groups, Top Media. The government fined Top Media for not paying taxes, but at public demonstrations on July 16, Albanian journalists accused the ruling Democrat Party of seeking to restrict freedom of speech. In a letter distributed on July 18, SEEMO said it believes "the government is using the taxation authorities as an instrument to attack media independence" and that "the fact that the fine is applied against a media organization that has criticized the government leads us to believe that the government is attempting to intimidate the Albanian media." The EU had earlier raised concerns, with the daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" on July 17 quoting a spokeswoman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn as saying that "press freedom is one of the most fundamental elements of human rights in a democratic society. We expect Albanian society to operate within the framework of the rule of law." Albanian governments have a long record of antagonism with the media, and Prime Minister Sali Berisha has accused the media of working with the mafia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12 and 17, 2007). AG

An opinion poll commissioned by the Council of Europe has found that 40 percent of Moldovans would take bribes if they were low-paid civil servants, the news agency IPN reported on July 20. According to Paul Acatrini, the director of the polling agency, the IMASinc Marketing and Survey Institute, low salaries were seen as the main reason for corruption. However, the poll found a decline in tolerance of corruption. Fewer Moldovans would now be willing to offer a bribe, down from 34 percent in 2005 to 23 percent, and the percentage of Moldovans who believe it is not corrupt to offer bribes for health care has fallen from 57 percent to 45 percent over the past two years. Doctors are seen as the second-most corrupt group, behind customs officials, with roughly 40 percent of Moldovans saying that doctors have asked them for money or presents. AG

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has withdrawn an article he wrote for the U.S. journal "Foreign Affairs," accusing the editors of changing his text. It appears Lavrov's article was meant to be a response to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who wrote a piece, published in May, entitled "Containing Russia."

But in a statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov said his article was subjected to "censorship." "Foreign Affairs" Editor James Hoge says that the decision by Lavrov was "a complete surprise" and that the magazine, which is considered one of the world's most influential journals on international affairs and foreign policy, went out of its way to accommodate Lavrov.

RFE/RL: "Foreign Affairs" has been in print since 1922, and publishes articles by prominent world leaders in almost every issue. Has anything like this ever happened before?

James Hoge: We've never had anything like this happen. We've printed a number of pieces by Russian officials, including [former Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev and Russian citizens. But this is the first time this has happened, either with a Russian contributor or any other contributor.

RFE/RL: What is your response to Mr. Lavrov's criticism of how you edited -- or as he put it -- "censored" his piece?

Hoge: Well, we have rejected all suggestions of censorship and explained in some detail the process we went through with Minister Lavrov, which is no different from what we do with any other author. And his charges of censorship, which came up after the piece had been accepted and he was prepared to see it published was a total surprise to us and is kind of baffling.RFE/RL: How did Lavrov come to write an essay for "Foreign Affairs" in the first place?

Hoge: He made an inquiry, would we be interested in a piece? -- and we said yes we would -- on the current trend in Russian foreign policy. He sent it in a piece, we accepted it, but said, as we do to all authors, we're going to give you some editorial suggestions. We edited the piece, sent it back to him, told him to make what changes he thought were necessary so that his view was accurately presented. He sent back the text, with some changes here and there. We put them all in the final text.

Then the Russian Embassy in Washington, which was representing his interests, complimented us on the edited version and said they looked forward to seeing it published. We then pointed out that his title (headline) for the piece, which was "Containing Russia: Back To The Future?" was fine but we would also need a subhead, which is true of all the essays we run, to try and help the reader a bit more understand why they should read the piece. And he balked at presenting one. We then said, we really have to have it, all the essays have it, it's really a format formality, you can choose the wording you want, if you want a few suggestions, we'll make them, which we did. And the next thing we know, he just sends us an e-mail withdrawing the piece with no explanation.

RFE/RL: What did you think of the piece? Did it contain any surprises?

Hoge: It didn't contain any surprises but I think, particularly in its edited version, it was a very clear and forceful statement of Russian positions on a number of key issues: energy, U.S. relations, relations with Europe, and so on. I thought it was a very adequate kind of statement of why they're behaving the way they are and what it is they expect to get. That's it.

RFE/RL: What do you think of the ministry's statement that if the article -- as you edited it -- were published, it would "aggravate U.S.-Russian relations"?

Hoge: Well that's nonsense. The piece -- you can see because the Russian Embassy thinks it is so aggravating they have put it on the wire [newswires], which we would have done too, but we didn't want to violate his copyright -- it's a very tame piece. But if that was his sense, why didn't he say so instead of accepting the publication of it? If he thought that we were distorting his points or leaving some of them out, why didn't he say so instead of just giving us the changes he did, and then accepting the final version for publication? It makes no sense.

RFE/RL: So why do you and your editors think he did it?

Hoge: Well, I don't think I should really be speculating beyond pointing out the editorial process and the erroneous charges that he's made involving that. There is the larger political context, of course, of a much more fractious relationship between the U.S. and Russia, but exactly how that fits in, I don't know.

RFE/RL: You said you treated Mr. Lavrov's piece like you do all editorial submissions, but in fact you did make some special efforts for him -- such as letting him make changes to the text after your normal copy deadline had passed and delaying your print run.

Hoge: Yes, we held his piece open [for] some last-minute post-copy deadlines changes because of the Putin-Bush meetings in Maine, and we also held it over from our normal deadline to go to the printers to give him more time to come up with wording for a subhead. And I must say that when, instead of that, we got this one line "withdrawal," we were taken by surprise and baffled that such a small item should get in the way of us printing his piece. Then out comes his statement, which in our opinion is erroneous on every single count.

RFE/RL: With all the revisions and edits going back and forth, your editors must have had some direct e-mail contact with Minister Lavrov. Have any of them, or you, just reached out in a personal e-mail and put it to him as a direct question: why have you reacted this way?

Hoge: No, first of all he has worked through his staff and through the [Russian] Embassy press office, rather than directly. Now, I sent a final e-mail before the withdrawal, saying frankly, "Look, just please, you pick out the wording and it can be very bland if that's a problem, but we are baffled as to why this is creating such an obstacle." And I meant for that to be transmitted to him, but I haven't heard from him personally, no.

RFE/RL: In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov's essay was meant to be a counterpoint to an essay you published in your April/May issue, by the pro-Western Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko. Her piece was titled "Containing Russia" and accused Moscow of going back to the days of Soviet expansionism and urged the United States and Europe to respond strongly. Now that Lavrov's piece has been pulled from your next issue, will you run another article like his?

Hoge: First, of all that [the fact that Lavrov's essay was a counterpoint to Tymoshenko] may be the case, but when he asked if we would be interested in the piece, and all during the editing process, he never mentioned the Tymoshenko essay. So his reference to it in his post-withdrawal comments was the first we'd ever heard of it.

RFE/RL: Really? So it wasn't commissioned, and he didn't pitch it, as an answer to her piece?

Hoge: No, I have the original e-mails from his office and they make no reference to it, I have follow-up e-mails through the Russian Embassy and no mention of it whatsoever, [and there's] no mention in the text of his copy.

RFE/RL: Any chance Lavrov's piece might be resurrected and eventually run in "Foreign Affairs?"

Hoge: No. It's now out on a number of weblinks and I think that's sufficient and besides, we can't run it in the magazine, since he didn't ultimately approve it, the copyright remains with him. I also think that would be of no service at this point, as I say, the information in the article is out there for people who are interested. And frankly, I think this unfortunate incident -- which reflects something beyond the editing and presentation processes of the magazine -- should just be closed at this point.

(Heather Maher is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington.)

The last monarch of Afghanistan, former king Mohammad Zahir Shah, died at home on July 23 at the age of 92, news agencies reported. Zahir Shah, who reigned for 40 years, abdicated in 1973 after his cousin, former Prime Minister Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan, staged a coup while the king was vacationing in Italy. His resignation marked the end of Afghanistan's centuries-old monarchy and a period remembered as a time of peace and stability. "The father of the nation passed away early today," AFP quoted a government minister, who requested anonymity, as saying. The title "Father of the Nation" was awarded to him at a constitutional assembly in 2001 upon his return from 29 years in exile after the U.S.-led removal of the Taliban regime. Zahir Shah suffered from poor health in the final years of his life. He had five sons and two daughters with his wife Homaira, who died in 2002. JC

Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces on July 22 surrounded Taliban hideouts in the Qarabagh district of southern Ghazni Province where militants are holding 23 South Korean hostages, AFP reported. The kidnappers had threatened to kill the Korean captives by sunset on July 22 unless an equal number of imprisoned Taliban militants were released and South Korea withdrew 200 of its personnel from Afghanistan, but they later extended the deadline by 24 hours. Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi on July 23 said the hostages are in good health, but also said that any use of force to rescue them would endanger their lives. A South Korean government delegation flew to Kabul for talks with officials before the first deadline set by the militants, as Seoul restated its plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The hostages were kidnapped on July 19 while traveling by bus along the Kabul-Kandahar highway, in the same region where two Germans and five Afghans were abducted one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). The hostage crisis is the latest in a series of abductions targeting the 37 countries with forces serving in Afghanistan. JC

Afghan villagers discovered the body of a German hostage on July 21, but how the hostage died remains unclear, AP reported that day. Afghan and German officials said the German national, whose body was found in southern Wardak Province, appears to have died from a heart attack. "Everything indicates he was a victim of the stress of the kidnapping," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin. However, purported Taliban spokesman Ahmadi said on July 21 that the militant group fatally shot two German hostages and their five Afghan colleagues, all of whom were kidnapped on July 18, because Germany failed to withdraw its 3,000 troops from Afghanistan as the Taliban had demanded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19 and 20, 2007). Afghan and German officials say they have intelligence that the second hostage is still alive. JC

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on July 22 that Germany is committed to keeping its troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), AP reported. Merkel's remarks followed the kidnapping of the two German hostages and the alleged murder of one by their Taliban captors. Merkel affirmed that Berlin will not give in to the demands of terrorists, including the Taliban. "We will do everything responsibly, and we will not be blackmailed," Merkel said on ARD public television. The mandate passed by the German parliament for troops to serve in Afghanistan comes up for renewal later this year, and opposition politicians are already calling for the government to withdraw its 3,000 troops. Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning warned on July 22 that there are indications that Al-Qaeda and other groups may be planning attacks inside Germany. JC

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on July 21 donated over $600,000 in cash and materials to the Afghan Ministry of Education, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. At a ceremony in Kabul, Education Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar, UNESCO Director Shirgeru Aoyagi, and AIHRC head Sima Samar signed an agreement under which AIHRC will provide $400,000 for textbooks and UNESCO will give $271,000 for technology support. The donations will help the ministry establish radio and television-based educational programs, Atmar said. One million textbooks will be printed over the next seven months, he added, stating that the Counternarcotics Ministry is providing the funds to supply another 14 million books in exchange for the Education Ministry's participation in the government's antidrug awareness campaign. International human-rights declarations will also be printed on the book covers to help raise awareness. JC

Iran's parliament on July 22 approved two jurists proposed by the judiciary chief as members of the Guardians Council, a 12-member body that confirms the legality of laws and election results, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. The council comprises six senior Shi'a clerics considered experts on religious laws and the constitution, and six lay jurists considered experts on the constitution. All 12 serve six-year terms, with half the council's membership changing every three years. Radio Farda explained that the clerics are qualified to state whether or not bills conform with religious law and the constitution, whereas the lay jurists offer opinions only on the constitutionality of parliamentary bills. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appoints the clerical jurists to the council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007), while the other six jurists are elected by parliament from candidates proposed by the judiciary chief, currently Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. Parliament chose two of Ayatollah Shahrudi's nominees on July 22: Mohsen Ismaili, a conservative jurist whose six-year term on the council had just ended, and Hussein Ali Amiri, the head of Iran's public and property registration body, Radio Farda reported. Ayatollah Shahrudi must now propose another candidate, as parliament could not agree on a third choice. The three civilian jurists whose terms end in three years are Gholamhussein Elham, who is also Iran's justice minister, Abbas Kabi, and Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, Radio Farda reported. VS

Iran has hanged 16 criminals convicted of "rape, banditry, and kidnapping," reported on July 22, quoting Tehran's chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi. The convicts, described by the prosecutor as "thugs" or "louts," were apparently among those arrested by police in a recent crackdown on crime and public indecency, implemented intermittently over several months. Mortazavi said 12 convicts were hanged at Tehran's Evin prison early on July 22, and four the previous week at an unspecified location. He said "all those executed committed offenses like banditry, extortion, rape," kidnapping, and armed violence, according to, the website of the daily "Etemad-i Melli." Mortazavi said prosecutors have asked for death sentences for 17 other "louts" the judiciary is prosecuting. VS

A Tehran court has condemned 34-year-old Ali Baghi to death for his complicity in the abuse and killings of children between 2002 and 2005, "Etemad" reported on July 22 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 5, 2005). Ali Baghi was initially sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment as the accomplice of Mohammad Bijeh, who was hanged in March 2005 for abusing and killing at least 20 children in Pakdasht, a suburb of Tehran. "Etemad" reported that Baghi was retried and sentenced to death for "spreading corruption on earth" by "abusing" nine children. He is to be hanged "in the next few days," the daily reported. VS

The daily "Kayhan" on July 22 quoted "part of the confessions" of Ayatollah Hussein Kazemeyni Borujerdi, a cleric arrested on October 8, 2006 for his opposition to Iran's clerical government. Rights groups expressed concern in July that a clerical court may have sentenced him to death the previous month, but those reports have not been confirmed. "Kayhan" reported that Borujerdi confessed in court to being a "duped foreign counterrevolutionary," deprived of "faith, science, and reason." The daily said Borujerdi admitted to exploiting the "gullibility" of his followers, many of whom put up a fight when state agents came to arrest him. The cleric reportedly admitted that in spite of his lack of theological expertise, he "relished" preaching to growing congregations that included "louts" and indecently dressed people, according to "Kayhan." He said an exiled Iranian journalist, Alireza Nurizadeh, phoned him "repeatedly" to urge him to "hold out" against Iran's government "until NATO attacks Iran," "Kayhan" reported, adding that Borujerdi asked the court to pardon him for his mistakes. VS

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi told a closed session of parliament on July 22 that gasoline restrictions imposed on June 27 were necessary, in spite of the problems many drivers have recently had in buying fuel, and added that the government initiative was a historic step in curbing wasteful fuel use, IRNA reported. Purmohammadi said not all fuel-use problems can be resolved immediately, but "the pattern of gasoline consumption had to be stopped." Under the fuel-restriction plan, private vehicles are permitted to use 100 liters a month at the subsidized price of $0.11 a liter. Before the restrictions, Iranians paid about $0.09 a liter, with the government spending billions annually to import gasoline. The government is expected to announce a higher price for fuel purchases above the monthly quota. Critics of the restriction plan have urged it to do so quickly, so that drivers can buy the fuel they need even above the limited amount allowed at the subsidized price. Purmohammadi said Iran is now saving 11 million to 16 million liters of gasoline a day thanks to the restrictions, IRNA reported. He added that 7.2 million car drivers and 3 million motorcyclists have the "smart cards" needed to purchase gasoline under the new subsidy plan. VS

Heshmatollah Jasemi-Ojaq, a legislator and a member of parliament's Energy Committee, told ISNA on July 21 that Iranians' daily gasoline consumption has fallen from about 90 million liters a day in late March, before restrictions were imposed, to about 50 million liters a day. He said Iran produces about 42 million liters of gasoline daily, and noted that the restrictions have also cut gasoline smuggling by 20 percent. Iranian authorities are fighting to prevent smugglers from taking the gasoline sold at heavily subsidized prices in Iran to neighboring countries to sell at a significant profit. VS

The Iraqi Islamic Party said in a July 22 statement posted on its web site that it is hesitant to join a new Kurdish-Shi'ite political bloc after being sidelined by the groups in the current government, AP reported. Kurdish and Shi'ite political parties have been in talks to form a so-called alliance of moderates, and are seeking the participation of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the Sunni front that includes the Islamic Party. Together the three forces currently control much of the government. But Sunni politicians have repeatedly accused their partners, particularly the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance, of monopolizing power. "The position of the Islamic Party not to join new alliances remains in force to this day," said the statement signed by Sunni Arab Vice President and Islamic Party leader Tariq al-Hashimi. It added that the party will reconsider its position if the Kurdish and Shi'ite parties allow for greater inclusion. If the Iraqi Accordance Front joined the new bloc, the bloc would hold about 195 seats in the 275-member parliament. KR

Sheikh Abdallah Falak, an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was found stabbed to death in his office in the holy city of Al-Najaf, Iraqi media reported on July 21. "The Washington Post" reported that the killing occurred on July 20. According to Iraqi media reports, Falak was the financial manager of the cleric's office, while "The Washington Post" reported that Falak was an Islamic law adviser. Al-Sharqiyah television quoted police as saying the perpetrators were probably members of Falak's inner circle, since it is difficult to obtain access to his office, given the strict security measures in place. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television quoted a police commander on July 22 as saying the perpetrators were Falak's bodyguards, and that they have been arrested and charged with the killing. KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked the Iraqi National Assembly on July 21 to cancel its summer vacation in order to push through pending legislation on a number of key issues, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on July 22. Al-Maliki asked that the summer break be canceled, or, at the very least, shortened to two weeks. A number of legislators voiced opposition to the request, telling Arab media outlets that the constitution entitles lawmakers to a two-month recess. Lawmakers agreed in June to cut their two-month recess to one month. They argued that the constitution stipulates that the recess may be shortened to one month, but no less than that. KR

Salih al-Mutlaq, head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told Al-Sharqiyah television in a July 20 interview that his front will continue its boycott of parliament sessions, despite parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani's call for the front to return to work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). "It is unjustifiable for us to resume participation [in parliament] at a time when the [Sunni] people are still being killed and starved, and the political process is still moving and taking Iraq toward an abyss," al-Mutlaq said. "We appreciate the call of the members and speaker of parliament to return to the parliament. However, our return is contingent on correcting the current political process and addressing the catastrophic situation in Iraq," he added. Al-Mutlaq said a "national salvation government" needs to be formed, adding, "We need a government that relies on technocrats who are far from all sectarian...and parochial trends." KR

UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro says Iraq has been making progress in its commitments under the International Compact With Iraq, the UN said in a July 20 press release accompanying a midyear report. "Nationally, there has been progress toward establishing security forces dedicated to serving the country as a whole. Parliament has made noteworthy progress on the legislative agenda. The law on the independent electoral commission has been established. And, after six months of intensive work, carried out with the assistance of the United Nations, the Constitutional Review Committee has submitted a draft report to parliament and will shortly submit its final report," Migiro said. She also cited Iraq's achievements in improving relations with neighboring states. "We have witnessed this process in the Sharm el-Sheikh meetings and in the formation of three working groups on energy, refugees, and security," she noted. The midyear report has yet to be released publicly. KR