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Newsline - August 23, 2007

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Kemerovo in western Siberia on August 23 that Russia's recent resumption of long-range bomber flights after a 15-year hiatus is aimed at improving the training of airmen and protecting areas where Russia has "economic interests, including navigation zones," RIA Novosti and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 21, and 22, 2007). He stressed that "we are flying by the same transparent, understandable rules as our American that Russian pilots can acquire professional experience. There is nothing to worry about." Referring to comments by several Western and Russian critics that the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-160 (White Swan or Blackjack) bombers are antiquated, Ivanov said that the White Swan "is not a plane pulled out from oblivion, as some are telling us. This type is just 15-20 years old, and their service life is 40-50 years, or else there is no sense in making them." Ivanov, who is a former defense minister, noted that only Russia and the United States have strategic bombers and that "other countries do not and will not in the foreseeable future." PM

On August 23 in Khabarovsk Krai eastern Siberia, a Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer all-weather bomber crashed while on a training flight, Interfax reported. An air force spokesman said that both crew members ejected safely. The air force is investigating the cause of the crash, which is most likely a technical one. All Russian Air Force Su-24s have been grounded pending the results of the inquiry. The Soviet Air Force introduced the planes in 1975. PM

Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos was quoted by the Vienna daily "Die Presse" as saying that "there is no place" in Europe for the proposed U.S. missile-defense project, and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21 and 22, 2007). He called the U.S. plans "a provocation," adding that Washington "has chosen the wrong path.... There is no point in building up a missile-defense shield in Europe. That only unnecessarily rekindles old Cold War debates." PM

Viktor Posyolov, who is deputy director of the marine geology institute of the Federal Agency for the Use of Natural Resources (Rosnedra), said in St. Petersburg on August 23 that preliminary findings from Russia's recent expedition to the North Pole indicate that the Lomonosov Ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean is "a structural extension of the Siberian continental platform and in no way isolated from the Russian flatland," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13 and 16, 2007). He added that "the laboratory work on identification of geological structures is expected to be completed in a year." PM

Boris Gryzlov, who heads the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and is speaker of the State Duma, marked Flag Day in Moscow on August 22 by unveiling the world's largest Russian flag, which covers 400 square meters, RIA Novosti reported. He stressed that "the authority of our country is increasing, and the authority of our national flag is, too." But "The Moscow Times" reported on August 23 that current legislation strictly limits the circumstances under which the flag may be legally displayed. The paper noted that "the official Russian tricolor may only be hung year-round outside government buildings. Private enterprises and other nonstate organizations may display the flag only on holidays. Flag use is also permitted for 'family celebrations.'" According to the letter of the law, display of the flag on T-shirts, at sporting events, and on the floor of the Arctic Ocean is illegal and subject to punishment. Sergei Mironov, who heads the pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia and is speaker of the Federation Council, said in Irkutsk on August 22 that "each citizen of Russia should have the right to hang the state flag of the Russian Federation outside his home, each day of the year, up to 365 days a year." He and other legislators have introduced bills in the Duma that would greatly expand the list of situations under which the flag may be displayed. PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov said in Kemerovo in western Siberia on August 23 that Russian coal production has reached levels "we could not even dream of in the Soviet era," ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He also presented state awards to several miners to mark Miner's Day. Ivanov stressed that Russia needs stricter and more modern federal mine-safety standards by the end of 2007. He said that mine owners are responsible for safety conditions on their property and that miners must observe "greater discipline" and even "military discipline." Current mine-safety standards are essentially those from the Soviet era. Several fatal mining accidents have occurred in recent months in the Kuzbass region of which Kemerovo is part (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and June 26, 2007). Investigations showed that some of those accidents were the result of deliberately ignoring safety regulations in order to secure higher profits and wages. Some reports also suggested there was evidence of drug use by some miners. PM

"The Moscow Times" reported on August 23 that "Andrei Pisarev, formerly head of small Moscow-based Channel Three television, was appointed to the newly created post of deputy director-general in charge of elections coverage by Channel One chief Konstantin Ernst in late July." The paper quoted a spokeswoman for Channel One, which is one of Russia's leading news channels, as confirming a report in the Moscow daily "Kommersant" of August 22 about Pisarev's appointment to oversee the station's coverage of the December parliamentary elections. Pisarev was quoted by "Kommersant" as saying that he is not a member of Unified Russia. "The Moscow Times" noted that several "opposition politicians said the appointment not only dashed their slim hopes of objectivity in pre-election television coverage, but also showed tacit support of nationalism in the Kremlin. They vowed to complain to the Central Election Commission." Pisarev recently advised Unified Russia on its Russia Project, which is widely seen as an attempt to capture the nationalist vote. Television is easily the most important source of news and information for the overwhelming majority of Russians. Since taking office in 2000, President Vladimir Putin has sought to ensure effective Kremlin control over television public-affairs programming. PM

One Russian serviceman was killed on August 22 and five injured, two of them seriously, when unidentified militants subjected a Russian Interior Ministry armored personnel carrier to mortar fire between the villages of Yandyri and Surkhakhi in Ingushetia's Nazran Raion, reported. Also on August 22, two police officers were injured in the village of Troitskaya in neighboring Sunzha Raion when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle from automatic weapons, reported. The North Caucasus resistance claimed responsibility for both attacks in a statement posted on on August 23. LF

Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov and deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Anpilogov co-chaired a meeting in Nazran on August 22 to discuss ways of "stabilizing" the situation and preventing further attacks on servicemen, local officials, and members of the clergy, reported. In Vladikavkaz, North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov chaired a joint meeting of the Antiterrorism Commission and the Operational Staff to finalize antiterrorism measures in the run-up to the start of the new school year in September, which will coincide with the third anniversary of the Beslan hostage crisis, reported. In Kabardino-Balkaria, Interior Minister Major General Yury Tomchak called at a meeting in Nalchik on August 22 for intensified efforts to apprehend armed militants and for increased security in the run-up to the planned celebrations next month of the 450th anniversary of what the Russian authorities claim was the "voluntary incorporation" of present-day Kabardino-Balkaria into the kingdom of Muscovy, reported. In Makhachkala on August 21, Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev chaired a joint session of the republic's Antiterrorism Commission and Operational Staff, reported. Among the security measures Aliyev advocated was the installation of closed-circuit television in Makhachkala, an innovation that he claimed has already proven effective in Rostov-na-Donu. LF

President Mamsurov has dismissed as "a nonstarter" last week's proposal by the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi to deploy international monitors to inspect traffic through the Roki Tunnel, which connects Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia with the Republic of North Ossetia, which is Russian territory, reported on August 22. Mamsurov stressed that the Russian Constitution does not empower him to pronounce on foreign-policy issues, and that he was speaking as "a citizen of Russia and an Ossetian." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin on August 18 dismissed the U.S. proposal as "absolutely absurd," while Boris Chochiyev, minister for special assignments of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, said it runs counter to international law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 17 and 20, 2007). LF

Mahmud Ahmadinejad met in Baku on August 22 with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade and with Azerbaijan's top Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, reported. At a news conference following those talks, Ahmadinejad again insisted that Iran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and he claimed that "certain forces" that he did not name seek to undermine the "brotherly" relations between Iran and Azerbaijan. Baku police intervened to prevent a planned picket of the Iranian Embassy by the World Azerbaijani Congress and detained at least nine prospective participants, reported. LF

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia told journalists in Tbilisi on August 22 that an aircraft entered Georgian airspace from Russia the previous evening, Caucasus Press reported. He said it was the ninth such violation of Georgian airspace within three months, and that the incident was registered by both military radar and civil aviation. Russian Air Force spokesman Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevsky denied later on August 22 that any Russian aircraft entered Georgian airspace the previous day. LF

Georgian Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania told journalists in New York on August 22 that in light of Russia's refusal to acknowledge "even the most basic facts" concerning the dropping of a missile on Georgian territory on August 6 by an unidentified aircraft that entered Georgian airspace from Russia, Tbilisi considers "pointless" any further consultations on the episode with Russia, RFE/RL reported. He said Russia "has been unable to provide any evidence that may in any way contradict the conclusions of international experts," who confirmed that the aircraft entered Georgian airspace from Russia, that the missile was of Russian manufacture, and that the Georgian armed forces do not have aircraft capable of launching such a missile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2007). Alasania characterized the incident as "an attempt to halt the development of democracy and the spread of democratic values," and called on the international community to "use all the means at its disposal to get to the bottom of this matter" and to prevent any similar incidents in future. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Astana on August 22, Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Saparbek Nurpeisov announced that Kazakhstan has called on the Austrian authorities to reconsider their recent rejection of an extradition request, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax reported. Nurpeisov explained that his office formally submitted a request to Austrian Justice Minister Karin Berger on August 17 to reconsider a decision by an Austrian court rejecting a Kazakh extradition request for Rakhat Aliev, a former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2007). He further added that the Prosecutor-General's Office "found legal avenues in Austrian law that make it possible to revise" the Austrian decision. The Vienna court rejected the extradition request on the grounds that Aliev could not be guaranteed a fair trial in Kazakhstan. Aliev is wanted on criminal charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to corruption and money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, 13, and 19, 2007), but remains in self-imposed exile in Vienna, where he once served as the Kazakh ambassador. In a related development, Aliev's father Mukhtar, a prominent member of Kazakhstan's Academy of Sciences, was prevented from boarding a flight from Astana to London on August 21 on the grounds that he was involved in an official investigation into possible weapons-related charges. RG

The local head of the Astana branch of the Kazakh opposition Social Democratic Party, Serikbai Alibaev, announced on August 22 that his party's approaching congress will consider a plan to form a unified "popular front" of opposition parties, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Speaking at a press conference in Astana, Alibaev added that such a popular front would also organize public rallies and "other acts of protest" aimed at mobilizing the people to reject the recent elections, which he characterized as "the worst" in Kazakhstan's history. Both the opposition Ak Zhol party and the Social Democratic Party have refused to accept the results of the August 18 elections for a new Mazhilis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2007). RG

During a visit to Moscow to attend a Russian military air show, Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev signed on August 22 a new agreement to purchase substantial Russian military aviation equipment and missile-defense systems, Interfax reported. The deal involves $60 million worth of Russian equipment, including the repair and modernization of MiG-31s, MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-25s, as well as Russian S-300PS, 300PMUS2 Favorit, and S-400 antimissile systems. Altynbaev explained that the purchase is an important element in Kazakhstan's strategy to bolster its air-defense capability and to modernize the Kazakh Air Force. Commenting on the arms deal, Sergei Tsivilyov, the deputy director of Russia's MiG Aircraft Corporation, added that his company has also signed additional contracts with Kazakhstan to provide space simulators and training. Kazakh Defense Ministry Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Almaz Abdulmanov announced plans last year to involve Russia more deeply in the modernization of the armed forces to replace the country's increasingly obsolete Soviet-era inventory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, 2006). According to an agreement with Russia governing its use of four training ranges in Kazakhstan, Russia pays Kazakhstan about $3.2 million annually and provides another $19.6 million in annual shipments of military hardware, equipment, and military training. RG

Beishenbek Oskonbaev, the director of the Kyrgyz vodka producer Arvin, announced on August 22 at a Bishkek press conference that the firm will begin to export one of its leading brands to the U.S. market beginning in September, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the website. Oskonbaev said that the company plans to expand the export volume of its "Shpilka"-label vodka ("stiletto heel") from European markets to a more limited focus on selected parts of the U.S. market. Detailing the export plan, Ray Edwards, the managing director of U.S. spirits importer Stiletto Brands, added that the first supplies of Kyrgyz vodka would be distributed in the U.S. states of Louisiana, Florida, Missouri, and Oregon, and noted that the product would be marketed to women in particular. RG

Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Beg Zuhurov announced on August 21 that the construction of the Tajik section of a fiber-optic network has been completed in preparation for establishing a complex communications network connecting Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Asia-Plus reported. The next stage of the plan involves the construction of a 300-kilometer fiber-optic line running from southern Tajikistan to Kabul. RG

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Vanshyna said on August 22 that Belarus will impose visa restrictions for "certain categories of American government officials" in response to Washington's recent decision to expand its list of Belarusian officials banned from entering the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2007), Belapan reported. Vanshyna did not provide further details on the restrictions. She also announced that Minsk will facilitate the visa process for U.S. tourists and businesspeople traveling to Belarus in order to "foster person-to-person contacts." Such visitors, Vanshyna noted, will not be required to provide letters of invitation when applying for Belarusian visas. "This step is an act of good will, which demonstrates the friendly nature of Belarus's foreign policy," Vanshyna added. JM

A district court in Brest on August 22 sentenced opposition youth leader Pavel Sevyarynets to 15 days in jail, finding him guilty of "repeatedly violating the law on meetings and mass gatherings," RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Sevyarynets was detained on August 19 along with some 30 youth activists during a presentation of his three books. One of the books was written while Sevyarynets was serving a two-year sentence for organizing protests after Belarus's 2004 constitutional referendum. The reading in Brest was organized by the regional branch of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front. JM

Police officers on August 22 raided a private house in Minsk hosting a performance of an unregistered theater company called Free Theater, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Some 50 spectators and actors, including several foreigners, were detained during the raid. Belapan reported on August 23 that the police released "almost all" of the detainees several hours after the raid without bringing any charges against them. It was unclear how many remained in jail. On the night of the raid, Free Theater director Mikalay Khalezin told RFE/RL in a phone call that the detainees were kept in an "unbelievably hot" hall with nothing to drink, and were prevented from using the bathroom. "The police have not yet made any accusations against us," Khalezin said. "But what can they say? Is a performance in a private house really a crime?" JM

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on August 22 that he is concerned that his country still does not have an agreement on natural gas deliveries from Russia for next year. "As foreign minister, I sent information regarding the practical breakdown of talks to the president and prime minister," Yatsenyuk said. "According to our intergovernmental agreement, we should already have a signed protocol about gas deliveries for 2008. But we don't have it, because we haven't received either instructions or a delegation of staff. There are probably some talks [taking place], but they are not official." Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev said on August 22 that a "preliminary" price for Russian gas in 2008 should be known by mid-September. In October 2006, Ukraine and Russia signed a deal for 2007 under which Ukraine would pay no more than $130 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. The price is due to increase for 2008. Ukrainian officials have signaled that they are seeking a price of $143 per 1,000 cubic meters for next year. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said on August 22 that Ukrainian state oil and gas company Naftohaz has no right to talk with Russia about offering it a measure of control over the Ukrainian gas transit network, Reuters reported. Naftohaz head Yevhen Bakulin said earlier the same day that he had discussed a deal under which Russia would gain some control over the Ukrainian gas transit network, in exchange for which Ukrainian energy firms could take part in the extraction of up to 55 billion cubic meters of gas from Russian fields. "I did not give [Naftohaz] a mandate for this kind of talks. What [Bakulin] said is not based on any legal grounds," Yushchenko noted. Meanwhile, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko warned Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko, and Bakulin that such talks with Russia may lead to a "betrayal" of national interests. "I want to warn Yanukovych, Boyko, and Bakulin [about] Article 111 of the Criminal Code, which provides for 10-12 years in prison for betrayal of Ukraine's national interests. They cannot expect amnesty from me," Tymoshenko said. JM

In an article published on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( on August 22, Yulia Tymoshenko, the head of the political bloc of the same name, publicized a "new national idea" that, in her opinion, could unify the country. "Such a new national idea for Ukraine could be the building of the best, most optimal system of organizing society, which would give each individual a feeling of justice, harmony, security, and openness to all imagined possibilities," Tymoshenko wrote. "While other nations gave humanity the wheel, gunpowder, the compass, the computer, and nuclear technologies, we will add to this list a unique organization of societal life." JM

Wolfgang Ischinger, the EU's special envoy at talks on the future of Kosova, has dismissed growing talk of a partition of Kosova, saying that "partition...has not been raised by either party in the discussions I've heard so far, so it's really a nonissue." In an interview published by the British daily "The Guardian" on August 22, Ischinger also said that partition runs counter to the principles for the talks established by the Contact Group, the six countries currently heading efforts to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough. Ischinger is representing the four European countries in the group (Britain, France, Germany, and Italy); Russia and the United States are the other members of the Contact Group. Ischinger said on August 12 that the Contact Group is open to the idea of partition "if [Kosova and Serbia] want to pursue any option" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). That statement prompted claims that the EU is promoting the possibility of partition, an idea officially ruled out by both Belgrade and Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2007). Serbia's minister for Kosovar affairs, Slobodan Samardzic, has also said that the EU has floated the possibility of a confederation, a claim denied by the EU's head of foreign policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 6, 2007). AG

EU envoy Ischinger told "The Guardian" that he remains hopeful that Belgrade and Prishtina can agree on Kosova's status, but emphasized that the Contact Group wants Prishtina and Belgrade to make "proposals...likely to provoke a useful and constructive reaction," rather than "propaganda proposals." Ischinger, who headed to Prishtina on August 21, added that only substantial preparatory work by the Contact Group envoys would prevent face-to-face talks between Serbian and Kosovar negotiators turning into a face-off. Ischinger placed the onus firmly on Belgrade and Prishtina, saying that "if there is going to be success, it will be their success. If there is going to be will be their failure, not ours." Over the past week, a chorus of Serbian ministers have branded the United States' alleged plan to transform Kosova into a puppet state as the principal obstacle to a solution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 17, and 20, 2007). AG

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, on August 21 urged the EU to take the lead in deciding Kosova's future. "To avoid chaos on its doorstep, the EU and its member states must now accept the primary responsibility for bringing Kosovo to supervised independence," the ICG said, adding that violence is probable if the EU fails to take the lead. The boards of the ICG contain many former politicians of continuing influence, including a former EU commissioner for external relations, former prime ministers, and former foreign ministers. In its report, titled "Breaking the Kosovo Stalemate: Europe's Responsibility," the group said the EU should accept that "there is no practical alternative" to conditional, supervised independence for Kosova and should recognize Kosova's independence before Kosova's leaders declare independence unilaterally and without seeking the prior approval of the UN Security Council. Failure to do so would lead to an "implosion" that "would destabilize neighboring countries, increasing pressure for further fractures along ethnic lines" in countries such as Serbia and Macedonia. The report suggested the EU should ensure that the current round of talks does not "unravel the blueprint for Kosovo's supervised independence crafted by the UN secretary general's special envoy, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, during a year of painstaking diplomacy" and urged Brussels and Washington to use the period of talks "to secure an alliance that will coordinate Kosovo's transition to independence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5 and March 12, 2007). AG

An ethnic-Albanian terrorist, Xhemail Iseini, is on the run, Macedonian media reported on August 22. Iseini's escape comes just days after six members of a militant ethnic-Albanian group and a Saudi-born suspected terrorist escaped from a high-security prison in neighboring Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20 and 22, 2007). The Macedonian television channel A1 reported that Iseini was allowed out under guard on a two-day leave to attend his mother's funeral. The guards say they were then attacked by an armed group of 30 men. Iseini's crimes, planting bombs on a railway line and city center in Macedonia, date back to 2003, two years after ethnic-Albanian separatists fought a six-month campaign with Macedonian security forces. There is still no news about the whereabouts of the seven fugitives from the Kosovar prison. Reports indicated that the men were thought to be heading for the Macedonian border. The UN Mission in Kosova on August 22 said it plans to order an "an independent evaluation of conditions at the Dubrava ensure that there are safeguards in the future to avoid that anything like this happens again." Reuters reported on August 22 that five prison guards have been charged with helping the breakout, and four other people have been arrested on suspicion of providing covering fire for the escapees. AG

The government of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated autonomous region of Bosnia-Herzegovina, on August 21 ordered a review of senior managers at four prisons. According to the news agency FENA, the entity's justice minister, Dzerald Selman, may sack the prisons' deputy directors over concerns about "legal matters." No further details were provided. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on August 10 voiced concern at security in Bosnia's prisons, particularly those in the Republika Srpska, following the escape of three prisoners and detainees held in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2007). One Bosnian Serb prison, in Foca, was the site on August 21 of a protest by inmates against conditions in the jail. Selman said that the protest was not a "riot," as described as in agency reports, and has already been resolved. AG

The international community's envoy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Miroslav Lajcak, has warned that he could impose sanctions on the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, following "a series of inflammatory statements...questioning the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Bosnia. In a statement issued on August 22, Lajcak said that Dodik "should consider carefully whether he wishes to challenge the international community by statements that question the constitutional order of [Bosnia-Herzegovina] and the Dayton peace agreement," adding that Dodik made promises ahead of parliamentary elections in 2006 that commit himself and his party "to fully comply with the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to accept sanctions if he fails to abide by its terms." It is not clear what sanctions Lajcak might impose on Dodik, but Lajcak has made clear he will use the extensive powers conferred on him "whenever necessary" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16, 2007). The high representative has the power to, for example, force through legislation and sack officials, powers barely used by his immediate predecessor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, but frequently exercised by another former high representative, Paddy Ashdown. The international community extended the life of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in February in large part because of concerns about the possible impact of the Kosova talks on Bosnia's stability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). Lajcak's threat followed several interviews in which Dodik questioned Bosnia's long-term existence and appeared to dust off an old threat that the Republika Srpska might secede from Bosnia if Kosova becomes an independent state. In an interview with the Croatian weekly "Globus," Dodik said, "the Republika Srpska is a permanent category," while Bosnia "is an interest category" that will exist only as long as the international community wishes it to. Speaking on Republika Srpska public television, Dodik said nobody can expect there to be no further territorial changes in the Balkans if Kosova declares independence from Serbia, and that "it would suit us if Kosovo declared independence and...several countries went on and recognized it." The Croatian news agency Hina reported on August 22 that Bosnian Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj told local media that Dodik has told him that he could bet that the Serbian entity would "become an independent state in the next 10 years." Alkalaj has recently been the target of concerted criticism by Bosnian Serb politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3 and 8, 2007). AG

Also on August 22, Lajcak's deputy, Raffi Gregorian, told local media that he has tried to contact Dodik but was told by the office of the Republika Srpska prime minister that he does not have a phone number to the OHR. Dodik has regularly clashed with the OHR and was highly critical of the international community's decision to extend the OHR's mandate in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). According to the news agency SRNA, Gregorian cast doubt on the future of police reform, a condition for Bosnia's membership of the EU, saying, "I do not want to encourage anyone regarding how the issue of police reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be resolved." The U.S. diplomat added that it now seems clear that Dodik is more interested in the future of Kosova than in Bosnia's accession to the EU. The OHR has the ability -- through the internationally mandated "Bonn powers" -- to drive through reforms in Bosnia, but its current incumbent, Lajcak, has said, "you cannot move toward the EU with the Bonn powers" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2007). AG

Four people were injured in central Sarajevo on August 22 in a brawl between opposing groups of soccer fans. Reports suggest that all those hurt were Croatians. A local government official, Jusuf Zornic, told FENA that the clashes involved around 40 Bosnians and 37 Croatians who had just arrived from Rijeka for a friendly match that evening between the two countries. The immediate cause of the violence remains unclear. Zornic said the Croatians were not flourishing provocative symbols or banners, but a report on Bosnian public radio said that the Croatians threw an object at the group of Bosnians, who were sitting in an outdoor cafe at the time. Sports matches between former Yugoslav republics regularly prove to be flashpoints. The brawl comes as European soccer's governing body, UEFA, is investigating crowd trouble at a match between Siroki Brijeg and the Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv on August 16. UEFA said Siroki Brijeg is being investigated for "the throwing of missiles by their supporters and a lack of organization," while Hapoel Tel Aviv faces disciplinary charges after rioting fans set fire to seats in the stadium. AG

Serbia's soccer federation on August 21 announced it will soon ask players to wear shirts bearing the slogan "Stop Racism" as part of a broader campaign to tackle the national game's persistent problems with racism and xenophobia, local media reported. UEFA recently fined the federation 24,000 euros ($33,000) after players and fans hurled racist abuse at England in an under-21 European Championship match in June. It has also warned Serbia that it could be expelled from European competitions if it fails to restrain its fans. Concern about possible incidents prompted the Serbian soccer federation not to lay on travel services for fans wishing to attend a competitive match with Belgium on August 22. Many Serbs from Belgium's large community of Serbs did attend the match, but, in the event, the game passed off without incident. Further tests lie ahead as Red Star Belgrade, whose fans are notoriously nationalist, are due to play Glasgow Rangers on August 28 in Belgrade. During a recent game between Rangers and the Montenegrin team Zeta, ethnic Serbs abused a black Rangers player, and there are fears of similar scenes in Belgrade. Clashes in July with Bosnian Croat fans of the Mostar team Zrinjski resulted in Red Star's local rivals, Partizan Belgrade, being thrown out of the UEFA Cup. AG

Romanian President Traian Basescu on August 21 threatened "tough" action against Moldova after Moldovan authorities claimed that an unnamed high-ranking official in Romania's embassy in Chisinau has been issuing visas for bribes. Basescu described the "visa conflict" as "the latest orchestrated aggression toward Romania," and warned Moldova that "we will react to it very toughly this time. It has gone too far," the news agencies Rompres and BASA reported. Basescu dismissed the allegations, saying that visa applications are processed in Bucharest, not in the embassy in Chisinau. Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu took a softer line on August 21, demanding details of Moldova's accusations but, according to the news agency Infotag, stressing that "we do not wish to politicize the scandal with the Romanian diplomats and we do not wish it to become an obstacle in the dialogue between Moldova and Romania." Cioroianu has also launched his own investigation. Chisinau says it informed Bucharest of irregularities as far back as late June. Since the allegations were first made in public on August 17, the Moldovan Foreign Ministry has also called on Romania to establish "a functional, transparent, and efficient mechanism" for issuing visas and stated that it has received numerous complaints from Moldovans that Romanian customs are asking unacceptably intrusive questions at the border. Basescu did not clarify what previous acts of "aggression" he had in mind, but Romania's and Moldova's difficult relations were strained further in March, when Moldova went back on an agreement to allow Romania to open up two additional consular offices. The Moldovan opposition has criticized the Communist government, accusing it of a "provocation" made at Russia's request and intended to keep relations between Romania and Moldova strained. Moldovans have been applying en masse for Romanian passports over the past year, ahead of and following Romania's accession to the EU. AG

The reformist Iranian newspaper "Etemad" has described a renewed "round of attacks" on senior clerics regarded as moderately conservative or reformist. The allegations coincide with verbal salvoes and a threatened lawsuit against moderate former President Mohammad Khatami, and they suggest increasingly bitter partisanship in the run-up to parliamentary elections in March 2008.

But they might also signal right-wing elements' bold use of public criticism to discredit opponents whom they no longer wish to see in the public sphere.

Government critics suggest that right-wing displeasure is behind some of the hostility targeting President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's political opponents. The reformist daily "Etemad" reported on August 19 that two prominent clerics are among its recent victims. They are Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi.

The recent attacks on Hashemi-Rafsanjani appear to have been triggered by political memoirs he is publishing in installments. The radical right believes recent chapters distorted or falsified developments touching on essential aspects of Iran's postrevolutionary image and character. "Etemad" cited an excerpt in which Hashemi-Rafsanjani claimed that officials -- with the approval of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- were planning in 1984 to end the practice of crowds shouting "Death to America" at Tehran's Friday congregational prayers, which are attended by politicians and broadcast on television.

"Etemad" reported that the disclosure has prompted unspecified right-wingers to challenge Hashemi-Rafsanjani to withdraw his claim and avoid falsely attributing statements to the late Ayatollah Khomeini. The daily asserted that "from [the right-wing] point of view, [Khomeini] never wanted to end the slogan of 'Death to America.'"

"Etemad" also cited verbal assaults against the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi. Hashemi-Shahrudi criticized the recent removal of the ministers of industry and of oil, and he suggested it would be better to make good use of public officials than to keep reshuffling them.

Hashemi-Shahrudi has sought in the past to end abuse and inefficiency within the judiciary, and is a mildly conservative figure in Iranian politics. His latest remarks prompted "Iran," a daily close to the executive branch, to report the opening of "a new gateway" of antigovernment criticisms on August 18. "Iran" quoted politicians who defended the president's power to change cabinet members and stressed the separation of powers. The paper quoted a presidential adviser on press affairs, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, as saying that Hashemi-Shahrudi made a "mistake" in meddling in executive-branch business and should avoid repeating the mistake. It quoted legislator Javad Arianmanesh as asking whether the judiciary has completed all the tasks set out for it in the current five-year development plan. Arianmanesh asked why Hashemi-Shahrudi did not criticize the reformist government in a similar fashion.

"Etemad" noted on August 19 that Hashemi-Shahrudi was criticized more vigorously by a deputy energy minister, Ali Yusefpur, writing in the daily "Siasat-i ruz." Yusefpur said the judiciary is in such an appalling state that it is only natural that the judiciary chief would try and shift attention elsewhere -- and "not [for the] first time."

Yusefpur also ridiculed some of Hashemi-Shahrudi's most widely quoted remarks. Hashemi-Shahrudi has implicitly criticized the government's anticorruption drive by saying harsh punitive measures that scare investors are themselves an "economic vice" akin to corruption. Yusefpur countered that "extra talk" like Hashemi-Shahrudi's is triggering capital flight. He used Hashemi-Shahrudi's famous description of the judiciary as a "wreck" when he took it over six years ago. Yusefpur accused Hashemi-Shahrudi of "comment[ing] on the change of ministers...instead of reorganizing the state of what can barely be called a wreck today."

The tone of the criticism is notable -- it is unlikely that any politician today or in the former Khatami government would use a similar tone with regard to senior right-wing clerics, like Ayatollahs Ahmad Jannati or Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. And if they did, it is not difficult to imagine that a lawsuit would ensue. "Etemad" observed that "many are inclined to call Hashemi-Shahrudi a new member of the [government] critics' club."

Another cleric facing sharp attacks from the right is former reformist President Khatami. A presidential adviser on clerical affairs, Hojatoleslam Naser Saqa-i Biria, recently claimed that Khatami has little credibility left and accused him of spreading untruths designed to depict him as a respected figure among the most senior Shi'ite clerics in Qom. Saqa-i Biria urged Qom's special clerical court to process a complaint reportedly lodged by some seminarians over Khatami's handshakes with women on trips abroad. Under a strict interpretation of Islamic law, men are not allowed to shake hands with women other than close family members -- as doing so is considered indecent or sexually provocative.

Khatami recently felt obliged to defend foreign trips he has undertaken since the end of his presidency, many of which are intended to promote interfaith dialogue. He said in Tehran on August 18 that he was defending Islam -- "the Islam that defends the rights of humans" and "respects freedom" -- in the face of a growing, irrational Western fear of Islam, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on August 19. Khatami said those who "love power a lot" in Iran should rest assured that he is not interested in power. He added that "we and those who think like us do not wish to restrict the arena for anyone, but we...declare we do not want our space to be restricted." Khatami said, in a mild-mannered response that is seemingly typical of the reformist camp, that it is the people "who determine the places."

The new round of verbal sparring -- lying somewhere between criticism and insults -- could indicate a sense of security among the radical right and presidential allies in pushing the boundaries of inquisitorial discourse. They do what the other side cannot -- criticize senior clerics, and in no uncertain terms.

This boldness might eventually yield power -- if the other side is shown to be diffident and unsure, and if it is cowed into political irrelevance. It is presumably easier to remove people from power once they are discredited -- just as it may prove easier, reformists fear, to disqualify reformist parliamentary aspirants once they and their figureheads have faced months of verbal attacks questioning anything from their records in government, to their close relations to the late Ayatollah Khomeini, to their loyalty to Khomeini's heritage, to religion or the political system.

Amid these exchanges, the chief of Iran's armed forces' joint headquarters, Hasan Firuzabadi, warned on August 18 that some "people are creating a shadow movement against the government." Firuzabadi insisted that "we have to warn internal political factions that are servants of the Islamic revolution that...they have started a shadow current, and not only do not cooperate with Ahmadinejad but do things that are sometimes cooperation with the enemy against the government," "Etemad-i Melli" reported on August 19. Firuzabadi went on to insist that "everyone must know that this government is loved by the leader and the Iranian people."

The governor of Afghanistan's Khost Province, Arsala Jamal, on August 22 survived an apparent assassination attempt in which a suicide bomber attacked his convoy, AFP reported. Jamal was returning from a ceremony inaugurating the opening of a new road built in coordination with NATO-led forces, when a suicide attacker smashed his explosives-laden vehicle into Jamal's convoy, killing his security guard and injuring seven others including three teenage boys. NATO spokeswoman U.S. Major Christine Nelson-Chung expressed disbelief and horror that such an action would be taken "against the life of the governor." The attack on Jamal came only hours after gunmen abducted the mayor of Gereshk, a town in Helmand Province, as he was traveling with two of his sons and another man, said district chief Abdul Manaf Khan, AP reported. Only the mayor was taken, Khan said. Authorities have launched a rescue operation. JC

Japanese Defense Minister Yuriko Koike said on August 22 while on a visit to Pakistan that the failure of his country to continue supporting the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan would send the wrong message to both its allies and enemies, Reuters reported. Japan has been a source of fuel and goods for coalition warships in the Indian Ocean for nearly six years, but the law under which it provides those sevices expires on November 1. Koike said that to stop the operation would cause other regional partners participating in "this global war on terrorism" to "change their plans and operational schedules." Agreeing with Koike, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf called the Japanese naval operations "indispensable," without which Pakistan could not continue participating in the U.S.-led counterterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, Kyodo News reported. Furthermore, experts say that ending the mission may affect Japan's security ties with the United States, which provides military security to the pacifist country in return for support of U.S. defense policies overseas. The head of Japans' primary opposition party, Ichiro Ozawa, opposes a bill to extend the law governing the support mission, and he has vowed to vote against it. Ozawa called the war in Afghanistan "an American fight" that "has nothing to do with the United Nations or the international community." JC

An August 22 attack on a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan by Taliban militants disguised as Afghan troops left two Afghan soldiers dead and 11 alliance soldiers wounded, AP reported the same day. The militants, wearing Afghan National Army uniforms, advanced on the forward operating base in Nuristan Province before commencing the attack, said Lieutenant Colonel Claudia Foss, spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. Denouncing the militants for disguising themselves as friendly troops, Foss called the incident "another example of the Taliban extremists ignoring international law of armed conflict." In April, U.S. Special Forces and Afghan troops killed three insurgents dressed in fake Afghan National Police uniforms and manning a bogus checkpoint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). Officials say that extremists use the mock uniforms and false personnel-identification to discredit Afghan security forces. JC

U.S. troops in Afghanistan have recently received training geared towards curbing poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife, particularly the snow leopard, a U.S. military statement announced on August 22, AFP reported. Illegal trading in endangered animal parts, such as skins and pelts, has soared since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, causing concern for animal preservationists. The snow leopard, native to Afghanistan's northern highlands, is considered one of the most endangered species in the world. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan recently conducted training for the U.S. military deployed there in an effort "to help reduce illegal trade that threatens one of this nation's most precious natural resources -- its wildlife," according to a statement by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The U.S.-based group explained that the leopards are the primary focus of the initiative. Years of conflict have taken a huge toll on Afghanistan's wildlife, including the destruction of its national parks during the bombing raids of the 1979-89 Russian occupation. The United Nations only began taking action against illegal wildlife trade after the removal of the Taliban regime in 2001. JC

After returning from a two-day trip to Azerbaijan, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on August 22 that the two states are to form a working group to help raise the value of trade ties to $1 billion a year, IRNA reported. He said a "joint investment and trading company" will be formed, and referred to agreements on expanding transports and building a dam between the two states that would supply water and hydroelectricity for people on both sides. Ahmadinejad said he discussed the implementation of previous agreements with the Azerbaijani prime minister, Artur Rasizade, and held meetings with Azerbaijani clerics. He said agreements made in principle on his trip will be elaborated and examined before their signature as formal accords in a future but as-yet-unscheduled visit by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. VS

Russian plane manufacturers Tupolev have reached an agreement to sell passenger planes to Iran, and are discussing a joint project to construct planes, Radio Farda reported on August 22, citing Reuters. Tupolev chief Igor Shevchuk told Reuters in Moscow that talks with Iran have so far yielded good results. He said Iran and Russia are continuing to discuss Iran's purchase of Tu-214 and Tu-334 models and the joint construction of these and other models, Radio Farda reported. IRNA separately reported on August 22 that Iran is to buy five Tu-204 passenger planes, following an agreement made in Moscow by Mehdi Sadeqi, the head of Iran Air Tour, and Aleksandr Rubtsov, the general director of Ilyushin Finance. The signing of the deal was attended by the Iranian and Russian transport ministers, Mohammad Rahmati and Igor Levitin, respectively. The Tu-204 can seat 180 passengers and fly about 4,000 kilometers without refueling, IRNA reported. The agreement was signed on the sidelines of this year's Moscow International Air Show. VS

Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for political affairs Mujtaba Samareh-Hashemi may be replaced in his position by a deputy head of the joint armed forces headquarters, Alireza Afshar, Mehr news agency reported on August 21, citing an "informed source." The source said Afshar has been chosen and will be appointed "in the near future." The change was described as a possibility on August 21 by the deputy interior minister for parliamentary affairs, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hussein Musapur, who said Afshar was one of the choices for the position. VS

Government spokesman Gholamhussein Elham refused at an August 22 press conference in Tehran to confirm reports of the imminent removal or resignation of Central Bank Governor Ibrahim Sheibani, IRNA reported. He said that "Sheibani is the Central Bank chief for now, and the Central Bank general assembly will meet and make the necessary decision on [its chief] if necessary," IRNA reported. Fars news agency, citing an unnamed source, reported on August 21 that Sheibani may become Iran's representative at the World Bank. It added that he may be replaced by the head of Iran's Exports Development Bank, Tahmasb Mazaheri. Mazaheri was appointed a deputy finance minister following Mahmud Ahmadinejad's election as president, though the report did not specify if he still holds this position. He was a finance minister during the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami. VS

Tehran police have shut down 24 hairdressing salons for both men and women across the capital in the past 15 days, apparently for breaking public-decency or hygiene rules, Fars reported on August 22. Mohammad Ali Najafi, the head of the police vice department (Edareh-i amaken), told Fars that "these places had acted outside the set norms." He cited some of the "norms" the shops had violated, including a ban on plucking eyebrows in men's barber shops, tattooing -- which he said is "unhygienic" and banned by the Health Ministry, and working without permits, Fars reported. He added that these norms are set in the professional charter of hairdressers and barbers. VS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ended a three-day visit to Syria on August 22, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Itri reportedly suggested to al-Maliki at a press briefing at the conclusion of the visit that security would come to Iraq much faster if coalition forces withdrew. Al-Maliki replied that the issue of foreign forces in Iraq is an internal issue sanctioned by international support from the UN Security Council. Among the agreements reached between al-Maliki and Syrian leaders is a plan to enhance political coordination at the regional and international levels, SANA reported on August 22. The two sides agreed to construct a pipeline between the Akkas field and Dayr al-Zawr in Syria, as well as to rehabilitate a pipeline from Kirkuk to Banyas. The two sides also agreed to expand economic cooperation through the development of free-trade zones along the border. A final statement issued following the talks said that both sides recognize that "controlling borders is a joint responsibility that needs cooperation" along the borders, SANA reported. KR

Iraqi security forces have arrested a suspect in the August 20 assassination of Al-Muthanna Governor Muhammad Ali al-Hasani, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on August 22 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). "The command of the police and investigation agencies now have in their custody the person in charge of carrying out this criminal action. He is called Rasul Abd al-Amir," Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf told reporters on August 22. Khalaf said the attack against al-Hasani was carried out using a "networked explosive charge," a device that links five charges together. "It was brought [to Iraq] from outside the country," Khalaf said, without naming the source of the device. KR

Responding to reports that the Iranian military is shelling Iraqi Kurdish villages, Jabbar Yawir, the undersecretary of the autonomous Kurdistan region's Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, said, "I cannot believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran would lead its forces to commit such a mistake, since shelling the territories of another state is a violation of international conventions," the Peyamner news agency reported on August 22. Referring to media reports that Iranian helicopters dropped leaflets warning Iraqi Kurds to abandon their villages ahead of a planned bombing campaign against Kurdish separatists, Yawir said: "If these leaflets were really distributed by an official Iranian Army source, then Iran is accusing itself of bombarding the territories of the [Iraqi] Kurdistan region" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2007). Al-Sharqiyah television reported on August 22 that the political bureaus of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party held an emergency meeting in Baghdad to discuss the shelling, among other issues. They called on the Iraqi government to send a letter of protest to Iran, the news channel reported. Spokesman Jamal Abdallah said the Kurdistan regional government has sent a letter of protest to Iran, "Awene" reported on August 22. Meanwhile, "Kurdistan Nuwe" quoted a source as saying that tanks, armored vehicles, and long-range artillery have been deployed along the Iranian border. The source contended that Turkish soldiers were also seen in the area, prompting fears of a joint Turkish-Iranian operation. KR

Brigadier General Mike Walsh, the commander of the Persian Gulf region of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, briefed reporters in Baghdad on August 22 on the state of Iraq's electricity network, according to a transcript on the U.S.-led coalition's website. Walsh told reporters that electricity demand has increased by 70 percent since 2004. "Our goal is to have an equitable distribution of power across the country," he said. "Which means, Baghdad now receives less power than it had before the war. But the rest of the country is receiving more. Interdiction of transmission lines caused Baghdad to suffer more because power cannot get into the city from the north and the south. And therefore that power does stay in the north and the south, raising that area's hours of power to be higher. The national grid is meeting approximately 30-40 percent of Baghdad's total electrical demand with Baghdad consuming about 20 percent of this country's electrical generation." Walsh added: "Hospitals, water, sewer, pump stations, fire stations receive 24 hours of power, which means if your home is located near one of the facilities, it's likely that you'll have more power than those that are not living nearby those areas." KR

Iraqi Minister of Electricity Karim Wahid Hasan told reporters at the same briefing that the ministry has released the first plan in 30 years to modernize Iraq's power grid. "This plan focuses on [how] to add 1,000-1,500 megawatts to the national grid," Hasan said, adding that the four-year program will cost an estimated $2.5 billion. "In the next four years, the Ministry of Planning agreed to allocate $40 million a year and the additional grants will be allocated by the DARS [not further identified]. Also we are working to provide investments according to a certain principal which many countries now work on," Hasan said, noting that the ministry plans to boost the capacity of provincial power plants. Saying Iraq "needs approximately 9,500 megawatts," Hasan told reporters the country will reach 5,400 megawatts "in the next few months." Commenting on how the security situation is affecting electricity supplies, he said: "I can confirm that the Ministry of Electricity work 24 hours a day but we have many problems especially the security problems. We cannot rehabilitate or repair the problems and we cannot ask our employees to work in certain parts of Iraq due to the insecurity. Thus, there is no technical problem in the Ministry of Electricity. There [are] only security problems." KR