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Newsline - August 21, 2007


ACTIVIST SAYS SHE WILL TAKE TO COURT THOSE WHO PUT HER IN ASYLUM
Opposition activist and independent journalist Larisa Arap was discharged from a mental hospital in Apatity near Murmansk on August 20 and sent into outpatient care, unnamed hospital officials were quoted by Interfax as saying. The officials added that she was hospitalized in July "because of our earlier concerns about Arap's condition. We had to place her forcibly into hospital in accordance with Article 124 of the Russian Penal Code, which deals with failure to provide aid to a patient. Her health would have worsened otherwise." Arap, who is also an activist for former world chess champion Garry Kasparov's United Civic Front, claims the authorities placed her in the hospital in reprisal for an article she wrote for a newspaper, alleging that patients at a local psychiatric clinic were beaten and sexually abused. Her family maintains she was forcibly held and drugged. Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and Yury Savenko, who is president of Russia's Independent Psychiatric Association, said recently she should be released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 and 31, and August 1, 10, 14, and 16, 2007). RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on August 21 that Arap intends to file charges on August 22 in the Murmansk Oblast Court against those responsible for her 46-day incarceration, during which she was mistreated. She said that the authorities wanted her to sign a statement that her hospitalization was voluntary, and they warned her to "think of her family." Stanislav Yakovlev, who is a member of Kasparov's movement, said on August 20 that Arap's detention was a "trial balloon" by the authorities for possible future psychiatric confinement of other opposition activists, as was the practice in the Soviet era. PM

RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS CZECHS MAKING 'BIG MISTAKE' ON MISSILE DEFENSE
General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, said in Moscow on August 21 that the Czech Republic will be making a "big mistake" if it hosts a radar site that is part of a projected U.S. missile-defense system, Interfax and newsru.com reported. Speaking after a meeting with Czech First Deputy Defense Minister Martin Bartak, Baluyevsky added that Russia is being unfairly criticized abroad for allegedly attempting to "disrupt the dialogue between the United States and Poland and the Czech Republic" on missile defense. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg was quoted in Britain's "Financial Times" on July 20 as saying that Russia wants to regain the super-power status the Soviet Union once had in determining Europe's future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12 and 21, July 20, and August 15, 2007). Schwarzenberg and other top Czech officials have repeatedly made it clear that Prague will make its own decision on missile defense regardless of any objections in Moscow, Berlin, or elsewhere. PM

PUTIN WANTS RUSSIA TO 'MAINTAIN LEAD' IN AVIATION TECHNOLOGY
President Vladimir Putin said at the ceremonial opening of the Moscow International Air Show (MAKS) on August 21 that Russia must "maintain [its] leadership in the production of military aviation technology," RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16 and 20, 2007). He added that Russian manufacturers "must more actively enter the world market for passenger and transport aircraft with competitive [products]." Presidential aide Aleksandr Burutin was quoted by Interfax as saying that the recent resumption of regular flights by Russian strategic bombers could lead to the restoration of production of the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-160 (White Swan or Blackjack) bombers and propeller-driven Tu-95 (Bear) bombers. Independent military analyst Pavel Felgengauer was quoted by AP as saying that the Russian aviation industry has produced "nothing new for 10 years." He called some of the new aircraft on display at MAKS "flying toys that have not been launched for mass production." Aleksei Fyodorov, who is a top executive of the state-run United Aircraft Company (OAK), told leading Russian aircraft-manufacturing officials in Moscow on August 15 that OAK plans to build 4,500 aircraft of several different types at a cost of $250 billion by 2025 as part of efforts to revive Russia's aircraft industry. PM

RUSSIAN MEDIA HAIL NEW MILITARY MUSCLE-FLEXING
The daily "Kommersant" wrote on August 20 that Russia's recent resumption of regular strategic-bomber flights is "intended to demonstrate growing military might and readiness to make appropriate responses to the West, in the spirit of the Cold War" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). The paper noted that Washington's response was low-key, but also revealed "veiled irritation" at Russia's latest move in the ongoing "war of gestures." The daily added that several U.S. "experts point out that such moves by Moscow ricochet to strike the [George W. Bush] administration, which has paid too much attention to Al-Qaeda and Iraq, while underestimating the 'Russian threat.'" The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on August 20 that "Russia's long-distance aviation is only just starting to catch up with its Western counterparts. Two 'youth crews' participated in the recent training flights to Alaska and Guam. A changeover of generations is under way in strategic aviation, and unless young pilots get enough time in the air, all of long-distance aviation will end up grounded." The paper added that "it's worth noting what President Putin said about the patrols not being in areas where they could warn of an impending nuclear missile strike on Russia or its allies. They will be in areas with busy shipping lanes and [important] Russian economic activity. There can thus be no question [either] of any nuclear weapons on board" the aircraft. The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" noted on August 20 that the resumption of flights is a "significant event, for Russia and the world in general. Step by step, Moscow is not only proving its ability to defend its sovereignty, but also regaining geopolitical ground." PM

VENEZUELAN LEADER WANTS RUSSIAN SNIPER RIFLES TO FIGHT U.S.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in his weekly television broadcast on August 19 that he has ordered "some" modernized Dragunov sniper rifles from Russia in order to conduct a guerrilla war against possible U.S. invaders, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on August 21. U.S. officials said recently that Chavez wants to buy 5,000 Dragunovs from Rosoboroneksport, the Kremlin's arms trader. Special training is required to use the weapons, which are equipped for night vision. Chavez has emerged in recent years as a well-publicized customer for the Russian arms industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and 29, and August 16, 2007). PM

INTERNATIONAL NGO PROTESTS REMOVAL OF BBC FROM RUSSIAN AIRWAVES
The International Press Institute (IPI) issued a statement in Vienna on August 20 criticizing the recent decision by Moscow's Bolshoye Radio to stop broadcasting the BBC's World Service programs in Russian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). IPI Director Johann Fritz said that he hopes "the removal of the BBC World Service from a Russian FM radio station is not the start of a return to Cold War limitations on press freedom and freedom of expression within Russia." Bolshoye Radio, which was the BBC's last Russian FM rebroadcaster, received a notice from the Russian authorities on August 16 to stop the transmissions or lose its license. PM

SHOOTING INCIDENTS REPORTED IN THREE NORTH CAUCASUS REPUBLICS, BLAST DAMAGES POLICE CAR IN CHECHNYA
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on August 20 on a military convoy near the village of Galashki in Sunzha Raion, ingushetiya.ru reported. The Ingushetian Interior Ministry launched a search operation but have not yet located and apprehended the gunmen. On the evening of August 20, gunmen opened fire on police vehicles in Nazran in a drive-by shooting. The Interior Ministry has declined to comment on the incident, and it is unclear whether the police sustained casualties. In Daghestan, gunmen opened fire late on August 20 on Khasavyurt municipal police chief Magomedkhabib Nabiyev when he arrived at the scene of a car accident, but failed to injure anyone, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. In Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Ust-Djegut Raion Prosecutor Vitaly Protsenko was wounded late on 17 August when an unknown gunmen shot at him as he was parking his car, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on August 20. Two police officers were injured on August 20 when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on the outskirts of the Shali, southeast of Grozny, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. LF

COURT REJECTS PAROLE FOR CHECHEN WOMAN'S KILLER
A court in the Ulyanovsk Oblast city of Dmitrovgrad rejected on August 20 a request for parole by former Russian Army Colonel Yury Budanov, Interfax reported. Budanov was sentenced in July 2003 to 10 years' imprisonment for the 2000 rape and killing of a young Chechen woman; his appeal against that sentence was rejected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28 and October 7, 2003, and March 30, 2004). LF

BALKAR ACTIVIST FINED
A court in Nalchik on August 20 fined Ismail Sabanchiyev, who heads the unofficial Council of Elders of the Balkar People, the equivalent of 10 times the minimum daily wage for having organized a protest meeting in the city on July 14 despite a ban by the municipal authorities. Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Prosecutor Oleg Zharikov warned Sabanchiyev after that meeting against engaging in "extremist activities" that could fuel interethnic discord (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16 and 23, 2007). The meeting participants protested perceived discrimination and proposed that the republic's two titular nations, the Kabardians and the Balkars, should be equally represented in state structures, and that a Kabardian and a Balkar should alternate as republic head. At the time of the 2002 Russian census, Kabardians were the largest ethnic group, accounting for 53 percent of the republic's total population of 901,000, while the Balkars constituted only 11.6 percent. LF

ARMENIAN APPEALS COURT REVIEWS BUSINESSMEN'S ACQUITTAL
The Appeals Court opened and then adjourned on August 20 the prosecution's appeal of a Yerevan court's acquittal last month of two senior executives of the Royal Armenia coffee importer of charges of tax fraud and smuggling, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The two men, Gagik Hakobian and Aram Ghazarian, were arrested in October 2005 after they accused customs officials of soliciting a bribe to underdeclare the value of their imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11 and October 14, 2005, March 20 and April 7, 2006, and July 17, 2007). LF

OPPOSITION GROUP ACCUSES ARMENIAN POLICE OF CONFISCATING LEAFLETS
Members of the opposition group Aylentrank (Alternative) told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on August 20 that police detained three Aylentrank supporters on the evening of August 18 as they distributed to participants in the ongoing Pan-Armenian Games leaflets calling for the release of detained prominent critics of the Armenian authorities, including former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzoumanian. Police subsequently released the detainees, but impounded the undistributed leaflets. LF

FORMER TOP AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL GIVEN DIPLOMATIC POSTING
President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on August 20 naming Magerram Aliyev (to whom he is not related) ambassador to Tajikistan, day.az reported. Magerram Aliyev was dismissed from his post as head of the Baku city police in late June, several months after Interior Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov criticized that force for failing to prevent an increase in serious crime, including murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). Four other senior Baku police officials have since been dismissed, the daily zerkalo.az reported on July 21. LF

OSCE REPRESENTATIVE MEETS WITH GEORGIAN OFFICIALS, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR
Former Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul, who was named on August 17 by OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos to represent the OSCE in the ongoing investigation into the August 6 incident in which an unidentified aircraft dropped a missile on the Georgian village of Tsitelubani, held talks in Tbilisi on August 20 with Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia, Caucasus Press reported. Zuzul also met with Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who presented him with a video of the August 17 press conference by a group of Russian experts who traveled to Tbilisi to investigate the incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). On August 21, Zuzul traveled to Tsitelubani to inspect the site where the missile landed but failed to explode, rustavi2.com reported. LF

GEORGIAN WRITERS EVICTED FROM HISTORIC UNION BUILDING
Police forcibly evicted early on August 21 a group of Georgian writers who refused to vacate the building in one of the oldest parts of Tbilisi that the Union of Writers of Georgia has occupied since the 1920s, rustavi2.com reported. Paolo Iashvili, one of the most brilliant 20th-century Georgian poets, shot himself in that building in 1937 rather than comply with a demand by then-Communist Party of the Transcaucasus First Secretary Lavrenti Beria to denounce his lifelong friend and fellow symbolist poet, Titsian Tabidze. Three small opposition parties, the National Independence Party of Georgia, the People's Front, and the Social Democratic Party, and the newspaper "Literarturuli Sakartvelo," have similarly been evicted from historic buildings in the same neighborhood that are to be privatized. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT HAILS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION RESULTS...
Addressing a meeting of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan in Astana on August 20, President Nursultan Nazarbaev hailed the results of the recent elections for the lower house of parliament that gave his ruling Nur Otan party a sweeping victory, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Commenting on the fact that the opposition failed to win even one seat in the new chamber, he noted that "there have been examples time and again in world history" of one-party parliaments that proved to be effective. Nazarbaev went on to dismiss Western criticism of the election, affirming that the ballot met international standards and was an "open, honest, and just election in which all political forces in the country were able to take part," Interfax reported. Closing his speech, he called on all political parties "to work together for the good of our motherland and nation"; promisd to "definitely take into account constructive suggestions by the opposition"; and vowed to use the election as a "mandate" to continue policies devoted to economic development and improving living standards, Kazakhstan Today reported. Nur Otan (Light of the Fatherland) garnered 88 percent of the vote, winning all 98 contested seats in the Mazhilis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). The elections were moved up two years ahead of schedule after Nazarbaev dissolved the Mazhilis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2007), but only after it adopted constitutional amendments that granted it more authority, including the power to appoint the prime minister, and abolished all presidential term limits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). RG

...AS KAZAKH ASSEMBLY ELECTS NINE REMAINING MEMBERS OF NEW PARLIAMENT
The Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan convened in Astana on August 20 and elected the nine remaining deputies needed to complete the formation of a new 107-seat Mazhilis, Kazakhstan Today reported. According to the terms of the recently amended Kazakh Constitution, the assembly is empowered to elect nine deputies, with the other 98 members elected from party lists. The nine new deputies represent the country's various ethnic minorities, including the Uyghur and Balkar minorities, as well as the ethnic-German, Russian, and Uzbek communities, among others. RG

JAPANESE COMPANY ANNOUNCES ACQUISITION OF STAKE IN KAZAKH URANIUM MINING
According to a corporate press release issued in Tokyo, unnamed officials of the Japanese Toshiba Corporation announced on August 20 the acquisition of a stake in a uranium mine in southern Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. The acquisition gives Toshiba the right to mine up to 600 metric tons of uranium annually from the Kharasan deposit. The specific financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the announcement follows a recent deal whereby Toshiba agreed to sell a 10 percent stake in the U.S. nuclear-power-plant maker Westinghouse to the Kazakh state-run energy company Kazatomprom for $540 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2007). That deal was part of a larger agreement between Toshiba and Kazatomprom for joint nuclear-plant construction projects involving the transfer of uranium-processing technology from Toshiba and Westinghouse to Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10 and 16, 2007). In May, Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari announced during a visit to Kazakhstan that Japan plans to import up to 40 percent of the uranium it uses from Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). RG

RUSSIA TO EXPAND MILITARY BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Valentin Vlasov announced on August 20 that Russia intends to expand its military presence at the Kant air base outside Bishkek, according to the 24.kg website. Vlasov said that the number of Russian servicemen and maintenance personnel will be increased, reflecting the significance of the Kant air base as both "the face of Russia's military presence in Kyrgyzstan" and as "a very important part of the system of ensuring stability in Central Asia in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization." The Russian Air Force commander of the Kant base, Colonel Vladimir Nosov, also revealed that the overall number of servicemen stationed at Kant has already been increased by 50 percent this year. Nosov also hailed the combat readiness of the Russian flight crews under his command, adding that "since the air base was founded nearly four years ago, it has evolved from forward headquarters to a combat aviation group capable of operating in drills and in a combat environment," Interfax reported. Following a meeting in Bishkek in June between Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Ismail Isakov, the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry announced it expects to receive military equipment worth $2.5 million from Russia this year, compared to $2 million in 2006, largely intended as compensation for the use of the Kant base by the Russian Air Force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). As of June, 250 Russian Air Force officers and 150 personnel are stationed at the air base, which is equipped with five Su-25 attack aircraft and two Mi-8 helicopters. RG

KYRGYZSTAN ALLOWS HEAD SCARVES IN PASSPORT PHOTOS
Jyldyz Akmatbekova, a lawyer at the State Agency for Information Resources and Technology, announced on August 20 that Kyrgyz women will be allowed to wear Islamic head scarves while being photographed for their official passports, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. Akmatbekova added that the Justice Ministry is currently drafting new regulations reversing an earlier ban on head scarves in official identification photos. According to Jamal Frontbek-kyzy, the leader of an Islamic women's nongovernmental organization, the decision to overturn the ban was made by a special interagency commission set up earlier this year to consider the issue. Frontbek-kyzy also said that 45,000 signatures have been collected nationwide in support of the initiative. The wearing of head scarves, or hijab, is a traditional Islamic practice associated with a woman's modesty and piety. In February, the Kazakh Justice Ministry similarly abolished a ban on women photographed wearing head scarves for identification documents (see "Central Asia: Controversy Brews over Islamic Headwear in Photos," rferl.org, March 8, 2007). RG

TAJIK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES OFFICIALS OVER SLOW PACE OF CREATING FREE ECONOMIC ZONES
During a cabinet meeting in Dushanbe, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon criticized on August 20 a number of senior officials, including Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, for the delay in establishing "free economic zones" in the country, Asia-Plus reported. Rahmon noted that although a law on free economic zones and relevant regulations were adopted in 2004 and 2005, the planned establishment of the zones in three key regions remains incomplete. He ordered the ministers to speed up the process, reminding them that the Mountainous Badakhshon Autonomous, Khatlon, and Sughd regions were each ordered to allocate appropriate land for the free economic zones. When first adopted by parliament in 2004, the new law on free economic zones was expected to create new jobs and help attract technology and greater foreign investment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20 and May 3, 2004). RG

TAJIK JOURNALISTS APPEAL TO PRESIDENT
In an appeal conveyed in an open letter, three journalists appealed on August 20 to Tajik President Rahmon to intercede on their behalf after the Dushanbe prosecutor's office formally initiated criminal libel cases against them for "insulting" a singer, according to Avesta. The three female reporters -- Farangis Nabieva, Muhayo Nozimov, and Saida Qurgonova -- argued that their joint article critical of Tajik singer Rayhona Rahimova published in the "Ovoza" tabloid newspaper on June 21 did not constitute grounds for opening a criminal case. They defended the singer's right "to defend her honor, dignity, and business reputation," but said that the issue would be better settled by a civil court. Tajik media-rights groups and journalists, led by the National Association of Independent Media, have also criticized prosecutors for opening criminal cases against the three journalists, and called on the Tajik authorities to "stop prosecuting journalists for their professional activity" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). RG

ONE-FIFTH OF BELARUSIAN INDUSTRIAL COMPANIES IN THE RED
According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, 444 Belarusian industrial enterprises, or 20.3 percent of all such companies, operated at a loss in the first six months of 2007, Belapan reported on August 20. Their net losses totaled 216 billion rubles ($100 million), 27 percent more than in the same period the previous year. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SUSPENSION OF LARGE-SCALE PRIVATIZATION...
President Viktor Yushchenko said at a news conference in Kyiv on August 20 that plans to privatize major enterprises should be suspended until after early parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, Ukrainian media reported. "I feel extremely suspicious of institutions of powers that are trying to initiate any privatization process today. I am convinced that the current State Property Fund is incapable of unbiased, objective privatization based on competition and law," Yushchenko said. In particular, Yushchenko objected to the proposed sale of a 99.5 percent stake in the Odesa Portside Plant, a major manufacturer of chemicals. The chairwoman of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Semenyuk, rejected Yushchenko's criticism, saying that "all statements by the president about suspending the privatization of the Odesa Portside Plant are linked to the fact that oligarchs...in his entourage are dissatisfied with the transparent and rigorous conditions of the auction as well as with the extensive social commitments demanded of investors." JM

...AND RULES OUT POTENTIAL ORANGE-BLUE COALITION
President Yushchenko said at a news conference on August 20 that he would not welcome a ruling coalition of the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc and the Party of Regions after the September 30 polls, Ukrainian media reported. "I am not a great optimist regarding such a [ruling] configuration," Yushchenko added. He said the Party of Regions made a "mistake" by not observing the Declaration of National Unity, which was signed in August 2006 by Yushchenko and major political forces in Ukraine to defuse the coalition-building crisis that followed the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Yushchenko also warned that a policy of "ignoring the opposition" by any ruling coalition formed after the September 30 elections "will have no prospects" for success. Asked to comment on the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc's proposal to simultaneously hold a constitutional referendum on election day, Yushchenko suggested that it is impossible to prepare for a legitimate referendum in the short time before the scheduled elections. Yushchenko added that three or four months are needed to plan a referendum. JM

UKRAINIAN ELECTION COMMISSION ACCEPTS CANDIDATE LISTS FROM 35 PARTIES
The Central Election Commission (TsVK) on August 20 stopped accepting applications from political parties to register their candidates for the preterm elections on September 30, Interfax-Ukraine reported. TsVK member Mykhaylo Okhendovskyy said the TsVK received applications from 35 parties and blocs, compared to 45 parties and blocs registered for the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, TsVK Chairman Volodymyr Shapoval told President Yushchenko later the same day that the TsVK by August 20 registered nine lists of candidates for the September 30 polls. JM

UN, KFOR REJECT CALL FOR RETURN OF SERBIAN TROOPS TO KOSOVA...
The UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) and the NATO-led international force in the region, KFOR, have rejected a call by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica for Serbian troops and police to return to Kosova. Aleksandar Simic, a spokesman for Kostunica, said on August 17 that "the time has come for the return" of up to 1,000 Serbian security personnel to the UN-administered but still nominally Serbian province. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, passed in 1999 after NATO troops forced Serbian security forces out of Kosova, Serbia was given permission to station up to 1,000 police and army troops to guard Serbian churches and monasteries, though this was made subject to approval by the UN. UNMIK and KFOR have previously argued that the presence of Serbian troops would put security at risk, an argument that a KFOR spokesman, Colonel Michael Knop, made once again on August 19, international and local media reported. Serbian television and the news agency Tanjug on August 19 quoted a UNMIK spokesman, Aleksandar Ivanko, as calling the Serbian proposal "very irresponsible" and as saying it should not be taken "seriously." Simic argued for a deployment at this point because a roughly four-month round of talks that Belgrade and Prishtina have just begun "will produce barely any results" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). Dusan Prorokovic, a secretary of state in Serbia's ministry for Kosovo affairs, linked the call to KFOR's alleged failure to provide security, arguing, according to the news agency FoNet on August 19, that "if KFOR is not able to fulfill its mandate to protect the non-Albanian population in the province and stop ethnic cleansing and violence, our security forces should be entrusted with the task." Prorokovic said that Serbian forces would clear minefields as well as protect religious sites. Both Serbian and Kosovar media quoted an unnamed source or sources in the U.S. State Department as saying Serbian requests to dispatch troops to Kosova stand no chance of success. AG

...AS DO KOSOVAR POLITICIANS...
Serbia's call has been welcomed by the leader of the Serbian National Council of Kosovo-Metohija, Milan Ivanovic, who said, according to Kosovar Albanian media, that the presence of Serbian troops would boost the security of Kosovar Serbs. Local media reported, though this was unconfirmed, that the statement came at the request of the Serbian National Council. Other Kosovar Serbian leaders have yet to respond. The response from Kosovar Albanians has been unequivocal. According to the daily "Koha ditore," Kosovar government spokeswoman Ulpiana Lama said on August 17 that "if the Serbian minority is threatened by anyone and if they need protection, they are threatened precisely by the Serbian government and it is from it that they need to be protected." AFP quoted Lama as saying that the Serbian proposal is an "absurdity." On August 18, "Koha ditore" reported that a leader of veterans of the 1998-99 war, Faik Fazliu, said that "any return of Serbian forces to Kosova means war." He added: "Resolution 1244 is dead for us. We have never recognized it." AG

...WHILE DEBATE CONTINUES ABOUT SERBIAN CRITICISM OF NATO
Serbian government spokesman Simic also declared on August 17 that if the United States were to give up its plan to create "a NATO state in the Balkans, it would be possible to hold real negotiations" on the future of Kosova. That statement echoed accusations leveled during the preceding days by three Serbian ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 17, and 20, 2007). A fourth, Energy Minister Aleksandar Popovic, subsequently -- on August 19 -- voiced the same views, the news agency Beta reported. All the ministerial accusations have been made by members of Kostunica's Democratic Party for Serbia (DSS), the second-largest of Serbia's three governing parties. Leading figures in the largest party, the Democrat Party (DS), have yet to comment. However, Nada Kolundzija, a DS whip, called the DSS statements "damaging" to Serbia's national interests and said, "we should direct all our efforts towards winning the support of as many influential states as we can when it comes to the settlement of Kosovo's future status," the broadcaster B92 reported on August 18. The anti-NATO rhetoric has also been heavily criticized by some commentators, who raised the possibility of an emerging "rift" within the Serbian government over joining NATO and of a swing away from the West toward Russia. AG

FORMER SERBIAN, KOSOVAR PREMIERS RAISE POSSIBILITY OF PARTITION
Two former prime ministers have said that partition should be considered as a means of resolving the status of Kosova. Zoran Zivkovic, who led the Serbian government between 2003 and 2004, embraced the idea, telling the Serbian daily "Blic" on August 20 that partition is the best solution on offer. He also argued that the return of northern Kosova to full Serbian sovereignty would facilitate the return of Kosovar Serbs who have left Kosova since NATO halted the war in 1999. Bajram Rexhepi, who was Kosova's prime minister from 2002 to 2004, said he would be willing to discuss the possibility of partition, but only if Serbia were to exchange the Albanian-dominated Presevo Valley in southern Serbia for land in the Serbian-populated north of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2007). Both the Kosovar and Serbian governments have ruled out partition, and Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu has said the Kosovar negotiating team might walk out if the issue of partition were raised in negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2007). Dusan Prorokovic of Serbia's ministry for Kosovo affairs said on August 19 that partition is being used as "an exit strategy for some Albanian politicians who have realized that their insistence on certain things has yielded no results." He did not specify to what "things" he was referring. AG

MACEDONIA 'MUST DO EVERYTHING' TO PREVENT PARTITION OF KOSOVA...
At a speech to mark Macedonia's Army Day, President Branko Crvenkovski said on August 18 that Macedonia "must do everything in its power to prevent" Kosova being partitioned. Partition would, he said, encourage radicals across the region to believe that new borders could be established based simply on ethnicity. Crvenkovski added, however, that the security situation in Macedonia itself is currently stable, the news agency MIA reported. AG

...WHILE BOSNIAN SERBS REJECT INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA
Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Serbs' most powerful political leader, said that the ethnic-Serbian-dominated entity will not support any attempt by the Bosnian authorities to recognize Kosova as an independent state, Tanjug reported on August 19. Dodik argued that Kosova's status should be decided by the UN Security Council. Europe and the United States in July halted efforts to persuade the Security Council to accept independence for Kosova after Russia threatened to use its veto. Dodik has pulled back this year from earlier suggestions that the Republika Srpska could raise the possibility of secession if Kosova gains independence. AG

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER WANTS DEMILITARIZED BOSNIA
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik on August 17 called for Bosnia-Herzegovina to disband its army, saying that it is merely a NATO force. The senior political leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim community, Haris Silajdzic, responded on August 18 by saying, according to Bosnian public radio, that Dodik's views underscore why international troops should remain in the country. Dodik and Silajdzic, who is the Bosnian Muslim representative in Bosnia's three-member Presidency, have clashed repeatedly this year over the issue of centralizing power in Bosnia. NATO transferred responsibility for the international military presence in Bosnia to the EU in December 2004. The EU cut troop levels to 2,500 this spring, from around 6,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, March 14, April 4, May 22, and August 14, 2007). Dodik made his comments while Bosnia's newly unified army was holding its first-ever joint exercises with EU forces. AG

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT STRIPS EX-PREMIER OF IMMUNITY
The Macedonian parliament on August 20 approved a decision to strip former Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski of immunity from prosecution. The vote confirmed a ruling by a parliamentary commission on August 2 made shortly after prosecutors launched an investigation into Buckovski's role in an arms deal that they allege cost Macedonia 3 million euros ($4.1 million) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 6, 2007). At the time of the deal, November 2001, Buckovski was serving as the minister of defense. He went on to head the government from 2004 to 2006. Buckovski's party, which he no longer leads, has described the investigation as a "political witch hunt." Fewer than half the 120 members of parliament voted; 55 voted in favor of Buckovski being available for investigation, while one abstained. AG

THERE IS NO END NOTE TODAY.


THREE KOREAN HOSTAGES BEGIN HUNGER STRIKE IN AFGHANISTAN
Three of the 19 South Korean hostages held by Taliban militants in Afghanistan began a hunger strike on August 19 to protest against being separated from their fellow hostages, Yonhap News Agency reported. An unidentified source told Yonhap that the captors separated the hostages into five groups and moved them to different detention areas in Afghanistan's central Ghazni Province, near the site where they were kidnapped in July. The source, who requested anonymity, said one man and two women started a hunger strike, demanding that all the hostages be held together in one location. The source also said that South Korea on August 18 proposed to pay an unspecified ransom for the hostages, but the Taliban rejected the money and instead gave the Afghan government a new deadline of August 20 to meet their original demand for the release of imprisoned militants. Afghan officials have ruled out a prisoner swap for the South Korean hostages, arguing that it would encourage more kidnappings. The Taliban militants have killed two South Korean hostages, and released two others. JC

CHINESE DIPLOMAT CALLS AFGHANISTAN GOOD NEIGHBOR, PARTNER
Senior Chinese diplomat Tang Jiaxuan on August 20 pledged his country's support for Afghanistan's peace process and economic reconstruction, calling the two countries "good neighbors, good friends, and good partners," the Xinhua news agency reported. During a meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta in Beijing, State Councilor Tang said China will continue "to actively participate in and provide all possible help in Afghanistan's economic reconstruction." Tang conveyed China's hopes for lasting peace in Afghanistan, saying that stability there is in the interests of Afghanistan, China, and the world. Spanta too expressed confidence in the relationship between the traditional regional partners, while reaffirming Afghanistan's commitment to the one-China policy and support for China's reunification. During his six-day official visit to China, which began on August 17, Spanta is scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. JC

TEN TALIBAN KILLED IN FAILED ATTACK ON AFGHAN MILITARY BASE
Local officials said on August 20 that dozens of Taliban militants abandoned an attack on an Afghan military base in southern Afghanistan after 10 of their fighters were killed, AFP reported. Soldiers of the newly trained Afghan National Army (ANA) defended the base in Sangin district of Helmand Province, pushing back the rebels, who left the dead fighters and "escaped after tough resistance," according to district chief Ezatullah Khan. No ANA troops were hurt in the intense battle, which lasted over two hours, although four of the militants who escaped were wounded. Helmand Province is a major poppy-cultivating region dominated by Taliban insurgents. Control over Sangin district was reclaimed by the government early in 2007, but the Taliban remains active there. JC

TWO MEN BEHEADED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Two men from one family were dragged from their home in Paktia Province on August 19 and beheaded, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The attack occurred around midnight in the village of Abdal in Zurmat district, according to Din Mohammad Darwesh, a spokesman for the provincial governor. The perpetrators left the headless bodies of the two men in front of their house. Darwesh said neither of the victims, whose names were withheld, worked for the government. He said Taliban insurgents committed the murders, but did provide any further details. Hours after the bodies were found, police recovered the body of another man abducted the day before, according to Colonel Sayed Sakhi Mateen, chief of the province's crime branch. Mateen said the victim was kidnapped by unidentified armed men in the Kohistan district of central Kapisa Province. JC

IRANIAN HOSTAGES FREED IN PAKISTAN
Pakistani police on August 20 freed 21 Iranian hostages kidnapped the previous day by bandits in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). The hostages were handed over to Iranian consular officials in the airport in Quetta in western Pakistan, Iran's charge d'affaires in Islamabad, Mohammad Ruhisefat, told IRNA on August 20. He said, "all the hostages are perfectly well." He added that Iranian and Pakistani officials coordinated moves to rescue the hostages as soon as news of the kidnapping was reported, and termed the rescue "one of the most successful operations against armed bandits in the context of cooperation between agencies concerned in both countries." Fars news agency quoted an unnamed police official in Sistan va Baluchistan as saying that three people died during or after the kidnapping, Radio Farda reported on August 20. VS

UN NUCLEAR INSPECTORS HOLD TALKS IN IRAN
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director in charge of global nuclear safeguards, Olli Heinonen, was in Tehran on August 20, discussing Iran's nuclear program with Supreme National Security Council Deputy Secretary Javad Vaidi, news agencies reported. The two-day visit and talks are in line with Iran's renewed cooperation with the IAEA, intended to resolve outstanding questions on Iran's program. A deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saidi, told state television that these talks are to finalize the "framework" for resolving the IAEA's questions, AFP reported on August 20. Saidi said Iran expects the IAEA to highlight Iran's cooperation in a report it is to issue in early September, Reuters reported, citing IRNA. An unnamed European diplomat in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, told Reuters on August 20 that the talks will give Western diplomats a clearer picture of the "degree of cooperation of the Iranian side with" the IAEA. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran, on August 20 that Iran's positions on its nuclear program are "transparent" and it has no "specific" expectations from the talks, but that Iran hopes talks will not be "sidetracked," ISNA reported. He said that "some states" trying to curb Iran's nuclear program "have particular goals," and suggested Western states take note of IAEA head Muhammad "el-Baradei's comment" on accepting the "reality" of Iran's nuclear-technology advances. VS

MINISTER REJECTS TERRORISM ACCUSATIONS AGAINST IRANIAN TROOPS
Foreign Minister Mottaki dismissed as a "publicity game" the reported intention of the United States to include Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in its list of terrorist groups, ISNA reported. He said that, as publicity, the move is of no importance and Iran's government will not comment until a formal decision is made. He was asked about reports that Saudi Arabia may be involved in unrest in Iraq, to which he said Iraq's security is as important to Iran as it is to Saudi Arabia. He said, "certain interested policies that can contribute to insecurity and have passing interests should not be implemented." VS

IRANIAN MINISTRY RESHUFFLES OFFICIALS...
Gholamhussein Nozari, Iran's acting oil minister, appointed Ali Vakili, the head of the Oil Industry Research Center [Pajuheshgah-i san'at-i naft], as the head of the state-owned Pars Oil and Gas Company, ISNA reported on August 20. Vakili replaces Akbar Torkan, whom Nozari appointed a deputy oil minister for planning. Nozari separately appointed Hossein Noqrekar deputy oil minister for international affairs, to replace Hadi Nejadhosseinian, who retired last week, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 21. Legislator Mohammad Mehdi Purfatemi, a member of the parliamentary Industries and Mines Committee, said on August 18 that the president may propose one of several legislators to become oil minister. These, he said, include Kamal Daneshyar, the head of the parliamentary Energy Committee, and another committee member, Elias Naderan, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 19. He said that in any case a number of unspecified legislators have resigned. VS

...AS JUDICIARY OFFICIALS RETAIN POSITIONS
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi confirmed nine senior judiciary officials in their positions on August 19, Fars reported. They include Ibrahim Raisi as the first deputy head of the judiciary, Mohammad Said Javaheri as deputy head of the judiciary for educational affairs, Mohammad Kazemi-Bahrami as the head of the Armed Forces Judiciary Organization, which deals with offenses by the Iranian soldiery, Mohammad Niazi as head of the State Inspectorate, and Ali Akbar Yasaqi as the head of the state prisons authority. Separately on August 20, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Habibollah Sayyari commander of the army's naval forces, Mehr reported. The army and the IRGC have separate naval forces. VS

OFFICIAL SAYS MOST TEHRAN 'THUGS' ARRESTED
Tehran's deputy chief prosecutor Mahmud Salarkia said on August 19 that "80 percent" of Tehran's "best-known thugs" or louts have been arrested, and the rest were either "punished" or in hiding, "Kayhan" reported on August 20. He said that "stricter punishment" for armed criminals needs to be complemented by measures by "society and cultural and social officials." Iran has hanged several criminals in recent months, and reported comments suggest it intends to hang more (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2007). VS

IRAQI CLERIC SAYS BRITISH HAVE BEEN DEFEATED IN IRAQ...
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told London's "The Independent" in two recent interviews published on August 20 that British forces have been defeated in Iraq and have been left with no other option than withdrawal. "The British have realized this is not a war they should be fighting or one they can win," al-Sadr said. "The [Imam] Al-Mahdi Army has played an important role in that." The radical cleric claimed that by sending its forces to Iraq, Britain has "made enemies among all Muslims." Asked whether he sought shelter in Iran, al-Sadr said, "We are at war and America is our enemy so we are entitled to take help from anyone." "But we have not asked for Iran's help," he added. He said he welcomes an expanded role for the United Nations in Iraq. "If the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work.... They must not just be another face of the American occupation," he said. Speaking about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's tenure, al-Sadr claimed: "Al-Maliki's government will not survive because he has proven that he will not work with important elements of the Iraqi people. The prime minister is a tool for the Americans and people see that clearly." The cleric said he expects the United States to force regime change in Iraq. KR

...AS AFFILIATED PARLIAMENTARIAN CLAIMS NEW BLOC BEING PLANNED
Al-Sadr-aligned parliamentarian Nasir al-Sa'idi told Radio Sawa on August 20 that the al-Sadr bloc is trying to form a parliamentary bloc to rival the moderates' front, and is currently in talks with parliamentarians from the Iraqi Accordance Front, the Iraqi National List, Al-Fadilah Party, and Al-Da'wah Party-Iraq Organization to that end. Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, who heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, has said several times in recent days that the Accordance Front, of which his party is a member, has no intention of joining any political bloc and will remain independent. KR

IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN SAYS LITTLE POLITICAL PROGRESS BEING MADE
Government spokesman Nasir al-Ani told Al-Sharqiyah television on August 20 that little progress has been made in discussions among political blocs. Al-Ani said that the only issue agreed upon by all parties is a draft plan to establish a justice and accountability commission to replace the de-Ba'athification commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). "The issues that have not yet been settled include the Oil and Gas Law, revising the constitution, the Financial Resources Law, identifying the central government's powers and the [powers of] the regions, national balance, and the cabinet reshuffle," al-Ani said. He added that representatives from the political blocs in government continue to meet on a daily basis. KR

IRAQI CHILDREN ALLOWED TO ATTEND SCHOOL IN JORDAN
The Jordanian government has lifted a residency requirement for registering Iraqi children at public schools, opening the door for some 40,000 Iraqis to attend classes, Jordanian media reported on August 20. The Education Ministry has estimated that it will cost the Jordanian government 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,410) per year for a single student to attend primary, secondary, or vocational school in the kingdom, the Petra news agency reported. Jordanian government spokesman Nasir Judah told reporters in Amman on August 20 that Iraqis residing in Jordan are costing the national economy 1 billion dinars per year ($1.4 billion). King Abdullah II called on educators to shoulder their "historical responsibilities" in a statement released on August 19, the first day of classes, the "Jordan Times" reported on August 20. "We are looking at educational institutions to protect Jordanians from sliding into" extremist and rejectionist thought, he added. KR

JORDANIAN SPOKESMAN SAYS GOVERNMENT WON'T EXTRADITE HUSSEIN'S DAUGHTER
Government spokesman Judah told reporters on August 20 that Jordan has no intention of extraditing Raghad Hussein to Iraq, the Petra news agency reported the same day. Interpol has circulated a "red notice" informing states that an arrest warrant has been issued for Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). "The extradition is totally excluded at this juncture, because her presence in Jordan is for purely humanitarian reasons," Judah said. "It's only a warning from Interpol and not an arrest warrant." Judah said Jordan will abide by international and Arab conventions that apply to the issue. KR

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