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Newsline

Newsline - August 17, 2004

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MINISTRY ISSUES FIGURES CASTING DOUBT ON GOAL OF DOUBLING GDP BY 2010
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has published its prognosis for economic growth over the next three years, according to which Russia would not be on track to double its GDP by 2010, opec.ru reported on 17 August. In his May address to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin stated that doubling GDP by 2012 is a realistic goal and that it could even be achieved by 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). More recently, the government said the goal could not be achieved until 2014 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). According to the ministry's figures, economic growth will fall to 6.3 percent in 2005 and 6.1 percent in 2006, before rising to 6.5 percent in 2007. Growth would need to average 7.1 percent in order to double GDP by 2010. The main reason for the reduced figures is an anticipated fall in world oil prices over the next three years. The ministry's forecast is based on an average global oil price of about $28 per barrel. However, even if oil prices remain high, exports will be unable to contribute more to the growth of the economy because export-pipeline maximum capacity has nearly been reached, because much of the revenues from exports are lost to capital flight, and because of the country's dependence on imported consumer goods. VY

DUMA OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA NOT SURPRISED BY U.S. REDEPLOYMENT PLANS...
Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told Ekho Moskvy on 16 August that U.S. plans to redeploy some of its Europe-based forces closer to Russia's borders are not a surprise to Moscow. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefed Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on the plans, which U.S. President George W. Bush outlined publicly on 16 August during a speech in Ohio, during their talks in St. Petersburg on 14-15 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004). Kosachev said that the U.S. plans have already been discussed at the highest levels. Kosachev emphasized that the United States has cut its troops in Europe by 60 percent over the last decade and has reduced its nuclear weapons there by 85 percent. VY

...ALTHOUGH CONCERN REMAINS ABOUT PLANS FOR POLAND, BALTIC STATES
Kosachev also told Ekho Moskvy that Washington argues that by moving forces closer to Russia's border, the United States will be able to respond more effectively to the kinds of situations likely to arise in the age of global terrorism. Moscow accepts this argument with regard to the potential basing of U.S. forces in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, but is skeptical of it regarding possible bases in Poland and the Baltic states. He added, however, that it is still too early to tell and Russia faces no immediate threat. "Fortunately, we have a very frank dialog with the United States, which makes their plans more transparent and predictable for us," Kosachev said. He added that from the standpoint of international law Russia cannot block U.S. deployments to third countries unless such moves are in violation of agreements signed by Russia, the United States, and/or NATO. VY

MOSCOW CONCERNED ABOUT, BUT PREPARED FOR U.S. ANTIMISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM
In the same 16 August Ekho Moskvy interview, Kosachev said that Russia does not intend to counter possible U.S. deployments near its borders for the simple reason that the U.S. military budget greatly exceeds those of the European Union countries, China, Japan, and Russia taken together. This disparity means that it is more important than ever that Russia protect its national security by maintaining nuclear parity. Moscow's real concern, then, is the proposed U.S. antimissile defense system, elements of which are expected to be based in Poland, the United Kingdom, and Greenland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2004). This system could potentially eliminate Russia's nuclear deterrent, Kosachev said. He added, though, that Russian specialists have already reported to President Putin about their plans for defeating any antimissile system, regardless of where it is deployed or what techniques it employs. VY

DUMA DEPUTY OUTLINES MOSCOW'S POSITION ON FOREIGN BASES IN CIS COUNTRIES...
In the same interview with Ekho Moskvy, Kosachev said that Washington currently has no concrete plans for permanent military bases in Georgia, Azerbaijan, or Kazakhstan. However, he added that such moves could come in the future and that Russia is attempting to avoid this by developing a "frank and open dialog with the United States." "The United States consults us when Russia's interests are concerned and informs us when our interests are not involved," Kosachev said. At the same time, Moscow is developing its bilateral relations with the countries in question and is attempting to convince them that there are better ways to protect their security than by accepting foreign military bases on their soil. Moscow also reminds those countries that, in a worst-case scenario, the presence of foreign military bases could make their territory the target of retaliatory military actions. VY

...AND COMMENTS ON BILATERAL RELATIONS WITH GEORGIA
Asked about relations between Russia and Georgia, Kosachev told Ekho Moskvy that Georgia "will ultimately decide not to allow foreign military bases on its territory in exchange from security guarantees from other countries." "I think that if Georgia gets such guarantees from Moscow and Washington, it will feel safe under the umbrella of U.S. and Russian protection and the [point of] foreign bases will be eliminated," Kosachev said. "Of course, for domestic political reasons, the Georgian leadership will find it difficult to reach a bilateral accord with Russia." Kosachev said, however, that Tbilisi might make a unilateral statement renouncing all foreign military bases. VY

PUTIN DECREE LAYS OUT DEFENSE MINISTRY'S UPPER ECHELONS
Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists on 16 August that President Putin has signed a decree reducing the number of deputy defense ministers from nine to four, ORT and strana.ru reported. Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii and Colonel General Aleksandr Belousov, former deputy commander of the Emergency Situations Ministry's North Caucasus district, are Ivanov's first deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004). Army General Aleksandr Moskovskii, who oversees armaments, and Army General Vladimir Isakov, in charge of supply, are deputy defense ministers. Ivanov also said that Putin has decreed that the Defense Ministry's central apparatus must not exceed 5 percent of the total armed forces personnel. As of 1 January, the military numbered 1,200,000 service personnel and 800,000 civilian employees. VY

UNIFIED RUSSIA'S BRAND NAME LOSING RECOGNITION, SUPPORT...
A survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation this month found that 57 percent of those surveyed who said they voted for Unified Russia in December 2003 have now lost all interest in the party, "Russkii kurer" reported on 16 August. Strategic Studies Center head Andrei Piontkovskii commented that "many people don't even realize that there is such a party, and during the State Duma elections voted only for the Vladimir Putin brand." The most satisfied voters were supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR): 22 percent of respondents who voted for that party said the LDPR's activities in the Duma have lived up to their expectations. Twenty-two percent of Motherland supporters and 24 percent of those who voted for the Communist Party said those parties -- both of which have been riven by infighting in recent months -- have not lived up to their expectations. JAC

...AS JIGGERING WITH ELECTION RULES SEEN AS TRYING TO FIX THE GAME
In his comments to "Russkii kurer" on 16 August, Piontkovskii argued that the public is losing all interest in elections and is increasingly voting "against all" candidates. In response, the Kremlin is trying to prevent "this farce from deteriorating to the final absurdity," and is supporting Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov's bid to lower the barrier for parties' entry into the Duma to 5 percent of the total vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2004). Writing in "Gazeta" on 16 August, Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center similarly suggested that the appearance of a number of new initiatives to reform the election system is evidence of a concern among the authorities about the results of future State Duma elections. "The chief reason for this fear obviously is the population's growing negative reaction to the social-benefits reforms. It is because of this that the popularity of the party of power is hardly growing," Ryabov said. JAC

PUTIN SIGNS OFF ON MORE CHANGES TO BASIC ELECTION LAW
President Putin signed into law on 13 August a bill allowing regions to change the dates of local elections so that they coincide with federal races in order to save money, RIA-Novosti reported. The bill was approved by the State Duma on 31 July and the Federation Council on 8 August. The law stipulates that the terms in office of local officials can be lengthened by no more than one year to accommodate such moves. The new rules come into force on 1 November 2005. In its upcoming fall session, the Duma will consider a government-sponsored bill that would transfer control over the expenditures for local elections to local election commissions, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 14 August. Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta and oblast legislature Chairman Roman Grebennikov called on the Duma not to change the election law, arguing that this would "create serious financial problems and make the organization of election processes more difficult." JAC

HUMAN RIGHTS NGOS FORM UMBRELLA GROUP TO FIGHT POLICE ABUSE
Several Russian human rights organizations have announced they will form an Association for the Humanization of the Law Enforcement Agencies, which will combat human rights violations by police, Interfax and polit.ru reported on 16 August, citing Committee for Human Rights Secretary Valerii Gabisov. According to Gabisov, the new association plans to publish quarterly reports and hold news conferences regarding human rights violations involving the police. Also on 16 August, the committee presented a report entitled "Torture And Other Gross Violations Of Human Rights In The Moscow Region," which lists more than 500 complaints over the last two years. According to Sergei Kryzhov, Moscow Oblast human rights ombudsman, the most serious human rights violations have occurred in connection with inhumane conditions at a detention camp for people without proper documents that is located outside of Moscow. Detainees are fed only once a day, Kryzhov alleged, and are not given bed linens or allowed to take walks. Earlier in the month, a police officer allegedly shot dead an ethnic Tajik who was allegedly using the Moscow subway without paying a fare. Three police officers allegedly beat an ethnic Tatar to death while he was in detention in Moscow, REN-TV reported on 11 August. JAC

DAILY CLAIMS ELITES IN BASHKORTOSTAN, TATARSTAN PROTECTING ASSETS FROM CONFISCATION
The Bashkortostan edition of "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 13 August that elites in both Bashkortostan and Tatarstan are preparing for possible future changes in the republican governments by moving their assets abroad, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. The newspaper commented that although Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov seems to enjoy good relations with Moscow, the region has been witnessing a rise in "internal tension." RFE/RL's Ufa correspondents also reported that rumors are widespread in Ufa, Bashkortostan's capital, that there will be an early presidential election held in the republic. Rakhimov was reelected to a third term in December 2003. JAC

SIBERIAN REGIONS HOLD OFF ON PLANS TO UNIFY
The planned merger of Tyumen Oblast with Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous okrugs has been postponed for at least six years, "Vremya novostei" reported on 16 August. Officials from the three regions on 9 July signed an agreement that delays raising the question of the unification for six years, and the legislatures of Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenetsk ratified it a week later. The Tyumen Oblast legislature ratified it at the end of last week. According to the daily, Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin had strong support from the Kremlin for his quest to absorb the two wealthy okrugs into the oblast, but his effort was dealt a fatal blow on 12 June when Sobyanin, Khanty-Mansiisk Governor Aleksandr Filipenko, and Yamalo-Nenets Governor Yurii Neelov met with presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev in Moscow. It is not clear why the administration seems to have changed its stand on the merger. After that meeting, Sobyanin reportedly agreed to sign the agreement to preserve the existing administrative structure among the three regions. The agreement enters force on 1 January 2005 and expires on 31 December 2010. JAC

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS FROM PARLIAMENT BY-ELECTION
Khachik Simonian of former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party said in a statement released on 16 August that he will not after all contest the 29 August by-election in a constituency in central Armenia, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Simonian predicted that the vote will not be free or fair and accused the two candidates who remain in the race of seeking to manipulate the outcome. Hanrapetutiun spokesman Suren Sureniants similarly described the ballot as "clan warfare involving two government factions." LF

FORMER BAKU MAYOR ADDRESSES OPEN LETTER TO AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
Rafael Allakhverdiev, a leading member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and former close associate of deceased President Heidar Aliyev, has addressed an open letter to Aliyev's son and successor Ilham and to international human rights organizations requesting that his safety and immunity from arrest as a parliament deputy be guaranteed in the event of his return to Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 16 August. Allakhverdiev threatened last month to make public materials implicating presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev in corruption (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 August 2004). Allakhverdiev was interrogated at length last week by police who on 8 August broke into his hotel room at a mountain resort and accused him of attempting to rape his female companion, who was in fact his daughter. Allakhverdiev was prevented from boarding a plane at Baku airport on 9 August, but flew to Georgia the following day and from there to Switzerland, where he is currently undergoing medical treatment. LF

MORE CHANGES IMMINENT AT AZERBAIJANI NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTRY?
An Interior Ministry colonel, Farhad Vahabov, has been named to head the personnel department at the National Security Ministry, Turan reported on 16 August, citing an unidentified source within the law enforcement agencies. Senior Interior Ministry official Eldar Makhmudov was appointed national security minister last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). The radical opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" suggested on 17 August that Makhmudov has launched a purge of ministry staff, while the less radical opposition daily "Azadlig" predicted, citing anonymous sources, that 10 further senior Interior Ministry personnel will be transferred to the National Security Ministry, where they will establish a new department to combat corruption. LF

CEASE-FIRE VIOLATIONS IN SOUTH OSSETIA CONTINUE
Interfax on 16 August quoted Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze as confirming that four Georgian servicemen were killed in an exchange of fire with South Ossetian forces during the night of 15-16 August. ITAR-TASS quoted Baramidze as telling journalists in Tbilisi that it was the South Ossetian side that first opened fire, thereby violating the cease-fire agreement signed on 14 August. But South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity told journalists in Tskhinvali that South Ossetia has not violated the cease-fire, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili claimed on 16 August that 45 mercenaries from the North Caucasus fighting on the South Ossetian side were killed when Georgian forces returned Ossetian fire the previous night, Caucasus Press reported. But South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva denied reports of fatalities. She further told Caucasus Press that radio intercepts indicated that Interior Minister Okruashvili personally commanded the use of artillery by the Georgian side. On 17 August, Caucasus Press reported that one Georgian serviceman was killed and four wounded when South Ossetian forces opened fire at around 9 p.m. local time the previous evening using howitzers and other heavy weapons. LF

OSCE, EU, U.S. EXPRESS CONCERN AT ESCALATING VIOLENCE IN GEORGIA
In a statement released in Vienna on 13 August and summarized by Caucasus Press on 16 August, Bulgarian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi deplored the loss of life during clashes in South Ossetia on 12 August and called for "more vigorous efforts" to prevent an escalation of the conflict. He called again for the immediate withdrawal of illegal armed formations from the conflict zone and repeated his proposal, first made last month, to host high-level talks in Sofia on how to achieve a "long-lasting settlement of the conflict." In Brussels, EU Commissar for Foreign Policy and Security Javier Solana hailed the cease-fire agreement signed on 14 August and urged both Georgia and South Ossetia to draft and implement as soon as possible further measures to reduce tension, Caucasus Press reported on 16 August. U.S. State Department acting spokesman Tom Clancy said in Washington on 16 August that the ongoing cease-fire violations "must be stopped," Caucasus Press reported on 17 August. Clancy said Washington supports the resumption of political dialogue within the Joint Control Commission. Boris Chochiev, the South Ossetian representative on that commission, which monitors the situation in the conflict zone, has proposed convening a session of the commission in Tbilisi within the next few days, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told ITAR-TASS on 16 August. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER INTERNATIONAL ROLE IN RESOLVING SOUTH OSSETIAN CRISIS
In an article published on 17 August in the "The Wall Street Journal," Mikheil Saakashvili argued that the participation of U.S., EU, and OSCE representatives at high-level talks between Georgia and South Ossetia could contribute to resolving the ongoing crisis. Saakashvili said that dialogue should focus on three specific issues: the complete demilitarization of South Ossetia, followed by the deployment to the former conflict zone of an international peacekeeping force; the expansion of the mandate of the OSCE observer mission in South Ossetia; and the establishing of joint Russian-Georgian border and customs posts at the Roki tunnel that links Russia and South Ossetia to prevent weapons and contraband from being smuggled into that republic. On 16 August, Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania told journalists in Tbilisi that Saakashvili intends to call for an international conference to discuss South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Interfax quoted Zhvania as saying that in light of the deteriorating situation, that conference should take place "within the next few days." LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT HOLDS INFORMAL MEETINGS ON SIDELINES OF OLYMPICS
President Nursultan Nazarbaev, attending the Olympic Games in Athens as a guest of honor, has taken advantage of the opportunity to conduct a number of informal meetings with prominent political figures, Kazinform reported on 16 August. Nazarbaev has met with Romanian President Ion Iliescu, former U.S. President George Bush, former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis. DK

KAZAKH COMMISSION TESTS ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM
The Central Electoral Commission tested its Saylau electronic-voting system in Astana on 16 August before an audience of political-party representatives, journalists, and international observers, Khabar TV reported. In the mock election, 45 voters voted for a variety of candidates. Commission head Zagipa Balieva pronounced herself satisfied with the exercise, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. She noted that the commission hopes that the system will be used by 30-40 percent of voters in the 19 September parliamentary elections, although she added that a final decision depends on the outcome of further testing, Khabar TV reported. But Robert Barry, the head of the OSCE's election observation mission in Kazakhstan, urged caution. "When we were making a preliminary evaluation of our mission in June and July, we determined pretty clearly that it would be a concern for us if such an electronic-voting system were to be introduced in a large scale during the elections in September," Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Barry as saying on 16 August. DK

SOURCES SAY JAILED KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER MOVED
Imprisoned opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov was moved from prison to a closed settlement on the evening of 15 August, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day, citing law-enforcement sources. Zhaqiyanov, who has served one-third of a seven-year sentence for abuse of office, will now be confined to the village of Shiderty, Pavlodar Oblast, under a form of house arrest. Representatives of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan -- the opposition party Zhaqiyanov heads -- have said that while the authorities are somewhat easing the conditions of Zhaqiyanov's imprisonment, they will not allow him to return to active political life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). DK

FORMER TAJIK DRUG TSAR FACES FORMAL CHARGES
Chief Military Prosecutor Yusuf Rahmonov officially charged former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev on 16 August under five articles of the Criminal Code, ITAR-TASS reported. The charges include procuring and stockpiling arms, and abuse of office. "The accusation that [Mirzoev] is suspected of murdering a chief of one of the regional police departments in 1998 is still being investigated," Rahmonov said. Also on 16 August, Mirzoev's lawyers were allowed to meet with their client for the first time since his arrest on 6 August, Asia Plus-Blitz reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). DK

TAJIK SOCIALIST PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
An extraordinary congress of the Socialist Party on 14 August reelected Mirhusayn Narziev party chairman, Avesta reported. According to Narziev, the congress was a success despite a protest by supporters of Abduhalim Ghafforov, who represents a splinter faction of the party. However, representatives of the Justice Ministry and presidential administration who were present at the congress were quoted as saying that "the party's work is unsatisfactory, and its activities include no concrete actions intended to advance the country's socioeconomic development." Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the Social-Democratic Party, told Avesta that the comments by officials were "inappropriate." Hakimov congratulated the Socialist Party for standing strong in the face of "the enormous machine that was directed against this party," adding that the Socialist Party has proven its right to exist. DK

HIV/AIDS POSES INCREASING THREAT IN TAJIKISTAN
Azamjon Mirzoev, the director of Tajikistan's AIDS prevention center, has announced that Tajikistan must implement the World Health Organization's (WHO) HIV/AIDS treatment protocol, Avesta reported on 16 August. Against a backdrop of rising infection rates, Tajikistan's Health Ministry has appealed to the WHO for implementation support, Mirzoev said. He went on to note that while 119 HIV/AIDS cases were recorded between 1991 and 2003, 109 new patients have been identified in the first half of 2004 alone. Mirzoev suggested that better diagnostics may have played a role in the sharp increase. On the regional level, Vafojon Bobokalonov, a doctor at an HIV/AIDS prevention center in Qayraqqum, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 16 August that the center now has registered 21 HIV-positive patients, 20 of whom contracted the disease through drug use. Bobokalonov stressed that the number of cases is on the rise. DK

BELARUSIAN VENDORS' LEADER TO REMAIN IN JAIL FOR ONE MORE MONTH
A court in Hrodna last week extended the detention of Valery Levaneuski, leader of local vendors' strike committee, until 13 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004), Belapan reported on 16 August. Levaneuski was arrested on 1 May for passing out leaflets calling for participation in a May Day rally, for which he was subsequently sentenced to 15 days in jail. Prosecutors kept extending his detention as they launched an investigation into the origin of the leaflets, which contained a poem they claim was defamatory of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Levaneuski has been charged with libeling Lukashenka, an offense that potentially can result in a fine, community service for a period of up to two years, a prison sentence of up to three years, or a "restricted freedom" term of the same duration. JM

BELARUSIAN OFFICER DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN DISAPPEARANCES
Dzmitry Paulichenka, commander of an Interior Troops brigade in Belarus, has refuted allegations of his involvement in the abduction and killing of opposition figures, Belapan reported on 16 August. Paulichenka told the agency that the accusations come from people who have never known him personally. His comment followed a recent statement from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which expressed "deep disappointment" over the Russian Orthodox Church's decision to bestow an award on Paulichenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004). Paulichenka was arrested in November 2000 on suspicion of involvement in abductions and murders, but was released following a security shakeup by Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 August 2004). JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNIST LEADER DEMANDS PULLOUT OF TROOPS FROM IRAQ, DISMISSAL OF DEFENSE MINISTER
Communist Party head and presidential candidate Petro Symonenko on 16 August demanded that President Leonid Kuchma withdraw the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent from Iraq and fire Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, Interfax reported. Symonenko's demand came in the wake of reports that one Ukrainian officer was killed and four soldiers were injured in Iraq on 15 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004). "Not a single Ukrainian soldier should sacrifice his life for the sake of transnational corporations and Ukrainian criminal clans," Symonenko said. He also blamed presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc for the death of the Ukrainian peacekeeper in Iraq on 15 August, apparently referring to the fact that a majority of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus voted for sending the Ukrainian continent to Iraq. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS LOOK FOR PERPETRATORS OF FIXED LOCAL ELECTION
The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal case in connection with the falsification of more than 2,500 election ballots and election-commission protocols in an 18 April mayoral election in Mukacheve, Transcarpathian Oblast, Interfax reported on 16 August. Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc claimed in April that the local authorities rigged the vote in favor of a candidate supported by the Social Democratic Party-united, which is led by presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004). Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Serhiy Rudenko said that a subsequent "expert examination established that the protocols of eight district commissions [in Mukacheve] were signed not by commission members but by other persons," Interfax reported. Rudenko added that the investigators' task is to determine who those "other persons" are. JM

KOSOVA'S NEW INTERNATIONAL CHIEF CALLS FOR EVERYONE TO TAKE PART IN THE ELECTIONS
Denmark's Soeren Jessen-Petersen began his new job as head of Kosova's UN civilian administration (UNMIK) in Prishtina on 16 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 29 July, and 6 and 13 August 2004). "I have come here at a very important moment and intend to work with Kosovo institutions and with all other factors here and in the region to stabilize Kosovo and give it the future it deserves," he said. While urging greater security for and more refugee returns by the Serbian minority, Jessen Petersen added: "I strongly believe there can be no stability, peace, and perspective for the region of the Balkans without solving the Kosovo issue." He also called on all of Kosova's ethnic communities to take part in the 23 October local elections. His several appointments included separate meetings with Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, local Serb leaders, and KFOR commander General Holger Kammerhoff. Rugova called on "all political groups" in Kosova to take part in the vote. Rexhepi told RFE/RL that he hopes that Jessen-Petersen's remarks will encourage the Serbian minority to participate in the elections. Only one Serbian organization -- the Citizens' Initiative of Serbia (GIS) -- has so far announced plans to take part. PM

MULTINATIONAL COMPANY BUYS BOSNIA'S BIGGEST STEELWORKS
Lakshmi Niwas Mittal's London-based multinational firm LNM Holdings NV signed an agreement with the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica on 16 August to buy a 51 percent stake in BH Steel, Bosnia's largest steel producer, international and regional media reported. A Kuwaiti firm will continue to hold 41 percent and Bosnia's Croat-Muslim Federation 8 percent of BH Steel's shares. LNM Holdings plans to invest $425 million in the ailing company, raising production at the Zenica plant from 200,000 to 2 million tons annually. LNM's total worldwide steel production is 45 million tons. The "Financial Times" wrote on 9 April 2003 that LNM Holdings "is the only business that makes steel on four continents," adding that Mittal "has made a speciality out of taking over formerly state-owned steel assets in eastern European countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc." Mittal launched his business in 1976 in Indonesia. PM

ALBANIA AND MACEDONIA STEP UP JOINT BORDER CONTROLS
Albanian and Macedonian border police will soon institutionalize joint border controls to thwart illegal border crossings, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 16 August. A spokesman for the Macedonian Interior Ministry said a bilateral agreement between his ministry and its Albanian counterpart on the fight against organized crime and terrorism was signed two months ago. The respective parliaments will soon pass legislation regulating cooperation by the two countries' border police. Bajram Gosturani of the Albanian border police said cooperation with their Macedonian opposite number is functioning well. They exchange information and carry out joint training operations. The Albanian-Macedonian border, which passes through mountainous territory, is often used by traffickers of humans and drugs. UB

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S EU INTEGRATION CHIEF CALLS IT QUITS
Milica Delevic-Djilas submitted her resignation on 16 August as head of Serbia and Montenegro's office for EU integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In a letter to Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic, she argued that there is no consensus within the joint state as to how to proceed toward EU membership, adding that there is no political will to solve problems regarding European integration and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The Montenegrin government and some Serbian leaders argue that it makes economic sense for the two republics to pursue EU membership separately, even though the joint state was set up in 2003 under EU pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 June 2004). PM

SERBIA GETS A NEW OLD NATIONAL ANTHEM
Serbia's legislature voted on 17 August to make the traditional patriotic song "Boze pravde" the national anthem, albeit minus some references to a king, dpa reported. The parliament also voted to replace the communist-era coat of arms with a traditional one including a double-headed white eagle, a cross, and a crown. The flag will continue to consist of three horizontal stripes, one each of red, blue, and white. The fondness for traditional symbols has not been matched by political support for restoring the monarchy, which remains under 20 percent. Montenegro recently acquired new state symbols, but the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro continues to use the communist-era national anthem, despite some recent attempts to change it in time for the Athens Olympic Games (see "RFE/RL Newsline," and 13 July, and 6 and 12 August 2004). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, said on 16 August during a private visit to the village of Malini, Suceava County, that he will run for president in the November-December elections, Mediafax reported. He said he decided to run because he believes that as president he would "offer Romanians a better chance in their [expected] rendezvous with the European Union" as well as a better chance to achieve "prosperity and higher incomes." In an apparent allusion to National Liberal Party (PNL) presidential candidate Theodor Stolojan, Nastase said that he has never backed away from difficult challenges. "When the situation in the country was difficult, I did not leave to work abroad for [a large income] paid by large global institutions," Nastase said. Stolojan worked for the World Bank after serving as prime minister in 1991-92. Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, spokesman for the PNL-Democratic Party opposition alliance, said in reaction that Nastase resorted to "cheap propaganda" when announcing his candidacy. MS

...AS RIVAL ACCUSES RULING PARTY OF USING STATE INSTITUTIONS AGAINST OPPOSITION
PNL Chairman Stolojan said in Cluj on 15 August that the ruling Social Democratic Party is misusing state institutions by utilizing them to pressure the opposition, Mediafax reported the next day. Stolojan said that PNL Senator Gheorghe Flutur has been subjected to "aggression" by having three penal investigations launched against him just for being "one of the most combative parliamentarians." None of the three investigations resulted in any charges, Stolojan noted. He was apparently also alluding to the case of PNL-Democratic Party co-Chairman Traian Basescu, who was recently charged with abuse of power in connection with the privatization of Romania's maritime fleet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). Stolojan said the government intends to use the funds obtained from the recent privatization of the Petrom oil and gas company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004) to cover its budget deficit, which he said will push the country's economy into "unbalance." The cabinet refuted Stolojan's charges in an official communique issued on 16 August. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE CALLS ON UDMR TO REJECT COOPERATION WITH PSD
PNL-Democratic Party alliance spokesman Popescu-Tariceanu said on 16 August that the alliance "appeals to all democratic forces and, in particular, to the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR)," not to support an initiative he claims is in motion to form a PSD-Greater Romania Party (PRM) governmental coalition after the November parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Popescu-Tariceanu said a "PSD-PRM alliance becomes more and more evident each day" and that the intention has been confirmed by several PSD prominent leaders and by PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor. "The PNL and the Democrats are not surprised by the rapprochement between two parties that share disdain for pluralistic and democratic values," Popescu-Tariceanu said. However, he added, it would be "a disaster for Romania if this toxic team were at the country's helm at the time when accession negotiations with the EU will be entering the final stage." MS

ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN PARTIES CONTINUE TO BREAK RANK
Kalman Kiss, chairman of the Union of Szeklers in Romania (USC), announced on 16 August that the USC intends to run in the November parliamentary elections on lists separate from those of the UDMR. Kiss said the USC has "nothing in common" with the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) or radicals within the UDMR who he claims "want nothing else than a share of the UDMR cake." Kiss said the USC wants to be "autonomous from the Hungarian barons" and wishes to no longer be under "their yoke, as we have been for centuries." Kiss added that "the Szeklers have always had problems with the Magyars, and now these little UDMR barons want to achieve the autonomy of the Szekler lands for the benefit of the Magyars and without recognizing the Szeklers' separate ethnic identity." The Szeklers are a group within Romania's Transylvanian Hungarian minority. MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CALLS FOR TRANSDNIESTER'S 'REINTEGRATION' WITH UKRAINE
Yuryi Zbitnev, who is running for president in Ukraine, has called for Transdniester's integration into his country, Flux reported on 16 August, citing the Russian newspaper "Novye izvestiya." According to the report, Zbitnev, who heads the New Force party, said Transdniester was separated from Ukraine as a result of the Soviet decision on 2 August 1940 to set up a Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Zbitnev said a referendum should be held in the separatist region on whether it should rejoin Ukraine. Zbitnev said Russia is likely to welcome such a merger, because it would ensure the well-being of the Russian community in the province, as well as that of Ukrainians living there. Zbitnev added that that Moldova will rejoin Romania "in the long run." Ukraine, he said, must "display initiative" in the Transdniester conflict and deploy peacekeepers to the region. Observers say Zbitnev has no chance in the 31 October presidential elections. MS

TRANSDNIESTER ARMS BORDER GUARDS
The Transdniesterian authorities have ordered that border guards be armed at checkpoints in two villages under Moldovan administrative control on the left (Transdniestrian) bank of Dniester River, Infotag reported on 16 August. Transdniester State Security Minister Vladimir Sheftsov said that the guards in Dorotcaia and Cosnita will be provided with automatic weapons and with handguns in response to Moldova's actions, which he said "create a genuine threat to the lives of Transdniester border guards." Sheftsov invited military observers serving on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) to come to the headquarters of the border guards to witness the arming of the force. At its 12 August meeting, the JCC refused to consider Moldovan representative Ion Leahu's complaint that arming of the guards would constitute a serious violation of the cease-fire agreement. Last week, the Transdniester border guards refused to allow local residents to pass through the checkpoints on their way to sell their produce to markets on the right bank of the river. The guards are also refusing to let the farmers work their fields. MS

MOLDOVAN JEWS COMMEMORATE WRITERS LIQUIDATED BY STALINIST REGIME
Representatives of Moldovan Jewish organizations, of the Israeli consulate in Chisinau, and of the Moldovan Department for Interethnic Relations last week honored 14 Soviet Jewish writers who were killed at Stalin's orders following World War II, Infotag reported. Theodor Madger, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations in Moldova, said the event was the first time such a commemoration has taken place in public in Moldova. Madger said that the occasion was marked previously only in "closed circles of Jewish people." During the war the 14 writers were all members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which helped enlist considerable support for the Soviet Union in the West. After the war, most of them were either executed or sent to concentration camps where they perished. According to the 1989 Soviet census, 1.5 percent of Moldova's population is Jewish. However, many of the country's Jews are believed to have emigrated to Israel, the United States, and Western Europe since then. MS

POWER STRUGGLE LOOMS IN DAGHESTAN
One of Daghestan's most powerful regional leaders, Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov, has publicly accused Daghestan State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov of murder and demanded that he resign. That accusation effectively marks the start of the campaign for the June 2006 republican presidential election, in which Magomedov, who is 74 and has headed the republic since 1991, is barred by the constitution from seeking a further term.

The election will be the first in which the republican head is chosen by direct ballot and not by the members of the State Council, on which all Daghestan's 14 officially recognized ethnic groups have equal representation. It could also pit the two largest of those groups against each other in a struggle for power and influence. Magomedov is a Dargin, while Umakhanov is an Avar; the two groups account for 15.5 and 27 percent, respectively, of the republic's population of about 2.1 million.

Umakhanov, together with a group of State Council deputies representing the northern and western districts of Daghestan, has "over the past few days" convened several mass meetings in Khasavyurt at which the predominantly Avar participants criticized Magomedov and demanded his resignation and preterm presidential elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 August. According to the Chechen website "Kavkaz Center" on 12 August, Umakhanov has openly accused Magomedov of orchestrating both a series of political killings, including that six years ago of Daghestan's Mufti Saidmukhamed-hadji Abubakarov, and the bombing on 9 May 2002 of a parade by World War II veterans in Kaspiisk in which over 40 people died. Leaflets containing those accusations are being spread across Daghestan, the website reported. In what appears to be a bid to secure support from Moscow, Umakhanov has also sponsored the creation of a Committee to Defend the Constitution of the Russian Federation on the Territory of Daghestan. But according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," he has effectively transformed Khasavyurt into a semi-independent enclave that does not acknowledge the authority of the republic's head or pay any taxes.

Magomedov has already affirmed that he intends to serve out his full term rather than resign, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. And Magomedov's supporters have organized meetings in Makhachkala to condemn the criticism of him emanating from Khasavyurt. But the pressure for him to step down is likely to intensify, and at least one contender has already emerged to succeed him. That candidate is former Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, an Avar who currently heads the Assembly of Peoples of Russia. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 August, Abdulatipov confirmed that he will contest the presidential election in the summer of 2006. But at the same time, Abdulatipov played down the tensions resulting from Umakhanov's criticisms of Magomedov. He noted that he has appealed to all influential political figures, from Magomedov to the leaders of Khasavyurt, Kizlyar, and other districts, to come together and draft a program that would address all the key political, economic, and social problems facing Daghestan, including preparations to ensure that the 2006 ballot is free and fair. The most important thing, Abdulatipov stressed, is not who will be the next head of the republic, but what Daghestan itself will become.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 August quoted unnamed observers as construing Umakhanov's campaign to denigrate Magomedov as either an attempt to induce Moscow to dispatch as a mediator "an experienced politician with broad connections in Moscow and a deep love for Daghestan" -- a clear allusion to Abdulatipov -- or alternatively a bid to split the republic along ethnic lines. But the former hypothesis seems unlikely in light of Abdulatipov's subsequent declaration that he will run for the post of State Council chairman. And the latter would seem to be an oversimplification, in that there are likely to be several Avar candidates to succeed Magomedov: Abdulatipov, Umakhanov, and possibly also oil magnate Gadzhi Makhachev, who represents Daghestan in the Russian State Duma. Makhachev and Abdulatipov toured Daghestan earlier this year, and according to Abdulatipov they were themselves criticized by participants at the meetings in Khasavyurt for allegedly seeking to "destabilize the situation."

In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 April, after that tour, Makhachev deplored what he termed the Russian leadership's indifference to the deteriorating political situation in Daghestan, which he blamed partly on Islamic militants who infiltrated Daghestan from Chechnya and partly on high unemployment that leaves young men with few alternatives other than joining those militant formations. He called on Moscow to take immediate steps to stabilize the situation in Daghestan in order to ensure that the June 2006 elections are fair, and that the Dargins do not manipulate the ballot to install one of their own as Magomedov's successor. The most likely Dargin candidate, although Makhachev did not identify him as such, is Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov.

NATIONAL ARMY TAKES CONTROL OF AIR BASE IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN...
The newly trained Afghan National Army has taken control of Shindand air base in Herat Province after 21 people were killed in factional fighting in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004), "The New York Times" reported on 16 August. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi characterized the attack on Shindand by forces loyal to Amanullah Khan -- a local commander who has been in conflict with Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan -- as an act against Afghanistan's national concord, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 16 August. Ismail Khan essentially rules Herat as a personal fiefdom, but during the latest crisis the National Army seems to have placed its support behind him, apparently in an effort to persuade the beleaguered governor to accept Kabul's authority in Heart. AT

...BUT CONTINUED FIGHTING LEAVES MORE CASUALTIES
Five people were killed and several others injured in fierce fighting that erupted in the early morning of 17 August in Herat Province's Shindand District, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. An unidentified spokesman of commander Amanullah Khan told AIP that during the fighting between forces loyal to local commander and Herat Governor Ismail Khan, heavy weaponry such as artillery was used. The spokesman did not elaborate on the National Army's role in the renewed fighting or say to which side the casualties belonged. In late 2002, heavy clashes took place between forces loyal to Amanullah Khan and to those supporting Ismail Khan, with the situation coming under control only when U.S. forces interfered (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002). However, relations between the two sides have remained tense ever since, with Ismail Khan accusing Amanullah Khan of being a neo-Taliban sympathizer and the latter accusing the governor of abusing local Pashtun population. AT

AFGHAN FORCES SUFFER CASUALTIES IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...
Seven provincial soldiers loyal to Kabul were killed on 14 August at a checkpoint west of Kandahar city, "The New York Times," reported on 16 August. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, neo-Taliban militias are reportedly suspected of killing the soldiers. AT

...AND KILL AND CAPTURE SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN FORCES WITH U.S. HELP
Twenty-eight suspected neo-Taliban militiamen were killed or captured during a joint operation carried out by Afghan and U.S. forces in Kandahar Province on 15-16 August, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 17 August. The operation, which took place in the province's Towghai District, resulted in the death of 11 and the capture of 17 suspected neo-Taliban militiamen, according to the report. AT

AFGHAN SOURCE DISPUTES VOTER-REGISTRATION FIGURES
An anonymous "well-informed" Afghan source has denied reports that 10 million Afghans have registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections scheduled for 9 October, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 16 August. The source disputed the claim made by the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), saying that only 4 million eligible voters have been registered (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 and 12 August 2004). The Iranian radio station cited the source as saying that 6 million of the 10 million voter-registration cards collected are "fake," adding that the fraudulent registrations were intended to be used in "favor of a special person," without naming who that individual might be. AT

NEW CHIEF JUSTICE, PROSECUTOR-GENERAL APPOINTED IN IRAN
Iranian judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi announced on 15 August the appointments of a new prosecutor-general and chief justice, IRNA reported. Ayatollah Hossein Mofid will now head the Supreme Court, replacing Ayatollah Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi Gilani. Ayatollah Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi will serve as the new prosecutor-general, replacing Abdul Nabi Namazi. Both Namazi and Gilani served out their five-year terms. KR

OIL CHIEF SAYS IRAN PRODUCES MORE THAN 1 MILLION BARRELS OF OIL DAILY
Abdolreza Assadi, the managing director of the Karun Oil and Gas Exploitation Company, has said that Iran produces more than 1 million barrels of oil per day, IRNA reported on 16 August. Iran's representative to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, said on 14 August that OPEC member states are exceeding OPEC's production quotas by 2.8 million barrels per day, Stockholm's "Svenska Dagbladet" reported. Ardebili told the daily that the worldwide requests that OPEC increase production in order to bring down the price of oil are "mistakenly directed." "The prices are going up now without respect to the fundamental market elements of demand and supply," he said. "If things calm down on the issue of police and military issues, the price of oil could drop like a stone, since there is too much oil." Meanwhile, Naji Sadouni, executive manager of the Azadegan oil field, said on 14 August that he doubts Japan's Inpex Corporation will withdraw from a $2 billion project to develop the oil field, despite media reports that Japan is under pressure from the United States to do so, "Iran Daily" reported on 15 August. KR

IRANIAN POLICE REPORT DRUG BUSTS
Iranian police Captain Morteza Erjaei told IRNA on 15 August that police in Fars Province have seized 173 kilograms of miscellaneous drugs over the past week, the news agency reported. Erjaei said that two drug traffickers were arrested and 90 kilograms of opium were confiscated in Darab. The drugs were reportedly concealed in a truck that was transporting lemons. Erjaei added that police found about 59 kilograms of opium in two separate operations in Darab, and that hauls of 5,500 and 17,400 kilograms of opium were confiscated in the past week in Fasa and Marvdasht, respectively, IRNA reported. He added that police arrested two Afghan nationals carrying some 2,250 kilograms of heroin in Neiriz. IRNA reported on 15 August that police in Orumiyeh, located in West Azerbaijan Province, seized more than 114 kilograms of morphine during a raid in the past week. IRNA reported that some 3,350 police personnel have died in the past 25 years while working on Iran's antidrug campaign, which costs Iran about $800 million per year. KR

WESTERN PROVINCES SEE 30 PERCENT INCREASE IN SUICIDE ATTEMPTS
"Iran Daily" reported on 16 August that there has been a marked increase in suicide attempts in the Kermanshah and Ilam provinces since 2001, particularly among women resorting to self-immolation. Hadi Motamedi of the Office for Social Disorders of the State Welfare Organization said that a survey carried out in Kermanshah Province, where the number of suicides has increased by 37 percent in the past three years, found that more than 50 percent of women there suffer from depression, of whom about 15 percent attempt suicide. Motamedi said that the eight-year war with Iraq left these women vulnerable to mental illness. "These women have been suffering from dual deprivations due to being unaware of their rights," Motamedi said. "Factors such as a rise in education level, lack of jobs, lack of access of counselors and psychiatrists, mistreatment, and abuse by their spouses, family violence, [a] growing awareness of social conditions, and inappropriate family behavior and relations can induce suicide attempts among women." Motamedi said that he hopes the newly created Welfare and Social Security Ministry will effectively address the problem. KR

ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE HITS BAM
An earthquake of a magnitude of 4.2 struck the city of Bam on 16 August, IRNA reported. The earthquake occurred at 11:01 a.m. There were no immediate reports of casualties or property damage, IRNA said. The ancient city was devastated on 26 December 2003 by an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.7 that killed more than 26,000 people and injured tens of thousands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). KR

CORRECTION:
The 16 August "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Tehran Skeptical About Kidnapping In Iraq" should have stated that the Islamic Army of Iraq took credit for the kidnapping of Iranian consular official Fereidun Jahani.

BAGHDAD ATTACK KILLS 7, WOUNDS SCORES
At least seven Iraqis were killed and 42 others were wounded in an attack in central Baghdad on 17 August, Reuters reported, citing Interior Ministry officials. The blast, at first suspected to be a car bomb, is believed to have come from a shell fired by insurgents into a crowded street, international media reported. An unidentified Interior Ministry official told Reuters that he expected many casualties from the attack. "The place was very crowded, it is a commercial area," the official said. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry reported on 17 August that 14 people were killed and 122 wounded in the previous 24 hours of fighting in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City, Reuters reported. Unidentified gunmen assassinated Iraqi National Guard Captain Ihsan al-Saji and four of his bodyguards in Samarra, police sources told Al-Arabiyah on 17 August. Gunmen also reportedly killed the head of the Al-Anbar Governorate Police, Major Muwaydin al-Hardan, the news agency reported. KR

IRAQI NATIONAL CONFERENCE ENTERS DAY THREE
The Iraqi National Conference to elect an interim assembly got under way for what was to be its third and final day on 17 August, international media reported. Hundreds of conference participants reportedly threatened to walk out during the opening session because they oppose the voting system set up to elect 81 members to sit on the National Assembly, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Meanwhile, a 50-person delegation representing the conference was due to travel to Al-Najaf to negotiate an end to the standoff with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but a delegation of eight members was later sent after intelligence indicated that militants were preparing to ambush the delegation along the road to Al-Najaf. Reuters reported that the delegation of eight was flown to Al-Najaf. Na'im al-Ka'bi, a member of the conference, told Al-Jazeera on 17 August that the mission was delayed because of a lack of seriousness on the part of the interim government to bring an end to the standoff. Meanwhile, some media outlets are speculating that the conference may continue for a fourth day due to the absence of the delegates who traveled to Al-Najaf. KR

VATICAN OFFERS TO MEDIATE STANDOFF IN AL-NAJAF
The Vatican has reportedly offered to mediate the standoff between al-Sadr and Iraqi and multinational forces in Al-Najaf, AP reported on 17 August. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano told Italian state radio on 16 August that if official mediation is requested, the Vatican will "very willingly" meet that request. "We welcome the initiative of the pope at the Vatican and call on him to intervene to solve the crisis," AP quoted al-Sadr spokesman Ahmad al-Shaybani as saying. Al-Jazeera reported on 17 August that some 2,000 Iraqi civilian "volunteers" have traveled to Al-Najaf to help form a human shield around the Imam Ali Shrine that al-Sadr uses as his base in the city. KR

AL-NAJAF POLICE CHIEF DISCUSSES KIDNAPPINGS, THREATS, AND BEHEADINGS BY MILITIAMEN
Al-Najaf police chief Ghalib al-Jaza'iri has spoken out against the "barbaric" acts of militiamen loyal to al-Sadr, saying the militia has kidnapped, killed, and even beheaded some of his policemen, Reuters reported on 16 August. The militia is currently holding al-Jaza'iri's 80-year-old father hostage after kidnapping and dragging him through the streets of the city. The police chief's brothers were reportedly beaten unconscious. Al-Jaza'iri said that 40 of his policemen have been killed, several of them by beheading. He claimed that militiamen have gouged out the eyes of some of the officers and boiled them in hot water. "Do Iraqi police behead people?" al-Jaza'iri asked. "This is barbaric. They enter people's homes and they kill the relatives of policemen." KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO ROUT OUT PKK
Iraqi interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told Turkish officials on 16 August that his government will work to eradicate the presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), also known as Kongra-Gel, from northern Iraq, NTV reported on 17 August. However, Al-Yawir warned Turkey not to interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs. Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer told the media on 16 August that Turkey expects Iraq to follow through on its commitment. "Another important security issue between the two countries is the presence of a terrorist organization that targeted Turkey using Iraq as a base," Sezer said of the Turkish-Kurdish group. "I told President al-Yawir that we expect that the new Iraq won't be a shelter for terrorist organizations, and will try to end the presence of terrorist organization PKK/Kongra-Gel on his soil." KR

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