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Newsline - July 7, 2003

Two female suicide bombers detonated explosives attached to their bodies on 5 July near the entrance to an open-air rock concert in the Moscow neighborhood of Tushino, Russian and Western media reported. The women, believed to be Chechen fighters, killed themselves and 13 others, wounding 59. The women attempted to enter the concert grounds, where a crowd of more than 20,000 people had gathered, but were stopped by security guards at the entrance. According to the reports, one of the women then detonated her explosives. Fifteen minutes later, after security forces and rescue teams had arrived on the scene, the second woman triggered a second, more powerful blast, RTR reported on 5 July. First Deputy Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, who is heading the investigation, said that in order to prevent panic and avoid additional injuries, it was decided not to make an announcement about the explosions until after the concert. VY

Nurgaliev said that identification papers were found on the body of one of the bombers, identifying her as a resident of Chechnya. He added that the ministry believes the women belonged to an armed detachment of Chechen fighters, RTR and NTV reported. No one has yet taken responsibility for the bombing. Salanbek Maigov, who represents Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Moscow, said that Maskhadov and his forces had nothing to do with the incident and that they condemn such tactics, Ekho Moskvy reported. VY

President Vladimir Putin on 6 July sent his condolences to the victims of the 5 July bombing in Tushino and their relatives, ORT and ITAR-TASS reported. He called the incident "a bloody and cowardly crime aimed at sowing fear and ethnic intolerance in society." Putin also cancelled a planned trip to Uzbekistan and Malaysia that was due to begin on 7 July. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov decreed that the city will hold a day of mourning on 8 July. Speaking to journalists in the Netherlands, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said he believes that the suicide bombing was linked to President Putin's 4 July decree setting the date for the presidential election in Chechnya (see item below), reported. Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov said the incident occurred because "the Chechen tragedy has not been solved, but has instead been hidden under the carpet." "If the federal government does not seriously take on the peace process in Chechnya, there will not only not be peace in that republic but in the entire country," Nemtsov said, according to on 5 July. Democratic Union leader and Soviet-era human rights activist Valeriya Novodvorskaya was quoted by on 6 July as saying, "If we have no pity for the Chechens, then they will not feel sorry for us either." VY

The government of President Maskhadov was not in any way involved in the 5 July suicide bombings in Moscow, according to a Chechen Foreign Ministry statement released the same day and posted on the Foreign Ministry's website ( The statement repeated that the Chechen leadership rejects such suicide bombings and condemns all acts of terrorism. It again called on the Russian leadership to embark on talks with Maskhadov on ways to end the war. Maskhadov last month issued specific instructions to fighters under his command to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). LF

After talks in Moscow on 4 July with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and with Hussein Isaev, head of the Chechen interim parliament, President Putin signed a decree scheduling the elections for a new Chechen president for 5 October, Russian media reported. Isaev had written to Putin 10 days ago asking him to schedule the ballot for October in order to accelerate the process of stabilizing the situation in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003). Kadyrov on 4 July reaffirmed his intention to run for president, denying at the same time that he is motivated by love of power. He said he wants to finish the job he started, end the war, and eradicate the possibility of a new conflict between Chechnya and Russia, Interfax reported. LF

President Putin on 4 July signed a decree ordering that as of 1 September operational command of the "antiterrorism operation" in the North Caucasus be transferred from the Federal Security Service (FSB) to the Interior Ministry, Russian media reported. The FSB took over responsibility for operations in Chechnya from the Russian Defense Ministry in January 2001 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 January 2001). According to the 4 July decree, overall command of the operation will fall to Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, while the head of the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate in the Southern Federal District, Colonel General Mikhail Pankov, will be in operational command. Putin met in the Kremlin on 4 July with Chechen administration head Kadyrov and other regional leaders and urged them to strengthen the Chechen police force and to "expose the traitors" within its ranks. He also urged Kadyrov to be tolerant with former Chechen fighters who lay down their arms. "If a man's hands are not soiled with blood, one should not dwell upon his past," Putin said. VY

A district court in Moscow on 3 July approved an arrest warrant issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office for Platon Lebedev, the billionaire chairman of the board of directors of Menatep, the financial arm of oil giant Yukos, Russian media reported. Lebedev is accused of embezzling about $300 million from the state in 1994 during the privatization of the Apapit fertilizer and chemical company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). On 4 July, prosecutors questioned Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who is believed to be the richest person in Russia, and Leonid Nevzlin, a former deputy of Khodorkovskii's who is now the rector of Russian State Humanitarian University. "Forbes" magazine in March listed Nevzlin among the richest people in Russia with a net worth estimated at $1.1 billion. Khodorkovskii and Nevzlin refused to discuss with journalists the content of their interrogation. Speaking to RTR on 6 July, Khodorkovskii said that Lebedev's arrest came as a complete surprise to him and that, having worked with Lebedev for 15 years, he has complete confidence in his integrity. He also noted that the Apapit privatization was carried out under old regulations, not under the current Civil and Criminal codes. VY

...AS SPECULATION CONTINUES THAT OLIGARCH IS THE REAL TARGET... commented on 3 July that it would be difficult to find a better target for a political strike against oligarch Khodorkovskii than Platon Lebedev, who was in de facto control of all of Yukos's finances and who also holds in trust a controlling packet of the company's shares. The website added that many in the ruling elite do not like the fact that Khodorkovskii has concentrated such vast economic resources, which many suspect he intends to use for political purposes. Moreover, taking advantage of the Kremlin's wishes to integrate Russia more fully into the global economy, Khodorkovskii in recent months gained increasing international authority. This, the website argued, provides him with a more solid base for political activity than former oligarchs Boris Berezovskii or Vladimir Gusinskii had. Both of those men fled the country under intense pressure from the Kremlin. VY

Over the last decade, the Interior Ministry and the FSB have collected huge numbers of cases that can be activated at any moment whenever the political will to do so is manifest, also commented on 3 July. This context sheds new light on the recent purchase by oligarch and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich of a majority stake in London's Chelsea soccer club (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003). Was it just a legal way of transferring some capital abroad, the website wondered. VY

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 5 July, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that his party views the prosecutor-general's actions against Yukos executives as "a political purge before the elections, targeted at the suppression of political opponents," Russian media reported. Yabloko is one of a number of parties to receive financial support from Khodorkovskii. Yavlinskii said that Lebedev's arrest and the interrogations of Khodorkovskii and Nevzlin are steps that are beyond the bounds of law and common sense, and that the real goal is to crush Yukos's effort to be independent and a transparent company operating according to international business standards. Such methods, however, cannot be used to escape from Russia's oligarchic system. "If such intimidation continues and is extended to other business entities, it will bring about devastating consequences for the economy and the country as a whole," Yavlinskii said. VY

State Duma Deputy and journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko), who died on the night of 2-3 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003), was buried on 5 July at the so-called writers' cemetery in the Moscow Oblast village of Peredelkino, reported. A memorial service was held that day at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, where Shchekochikhin was admitted on 23 June and where he died five days after slipping into a coma. Among those attending the service were former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Yabloko leader Yavlinskii, and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko). Yavlinskii called Shchekochikhin's death "tragic and strange," while Lukin said the journalist died "suddenly under strange circumstances." "It seems to me that everyone, including the executive branch, should be vitally interested in seeing that the question that is hanging in the air be given a clear, distinct, complete, and unambiguous answer," Lukin added. "A nonanswer to that question is also an answer." Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 July, investigative reporter Aleksandr Khinshtein noted that while "hundreds of people" representing "all sorts" of professions and viewpoints attended Shchekochikhin's funeral, "only from the power structures -- the government, the presidential administration, even the Media Ministry -- there was no one." JB

Yurii Shchekochikhin died after suffering what various media described as an "acute allergic reaction," the cause of which his doctors were unable to determine. on 4 July quoted Aleksandr Gurov, chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee, on which Shchekochikhin served as a deputy chairman, as saying that Shchekochikhin's condition had "advanced absolutely drastically, with catastrophically progressing speed," from peeling skin to "edemas of the respiratory system and brain." Friends of Shchekochikhin, who asked not to be identified, suggested he had been poisoned. Likewise, on 4 July cited rumors within Shchekochikhin's "inner circle" that he might have been poisoned by "people who knew about his allergies and other illnesses." Yabloko spokeswoman Yevgenia Dillendorf said that the results of an autopsy conducted on 4 July will be known in 10-30 days and "will show whether Shchekochikhin was poisoned," "The Moscow Times" reported 7 July. "The suspicion that Shchekochikhin was poisoned is strengthening with each day," Aleksandr Khinshtein wrote in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 July. Shchekochikhin suffered a slight stroke in April, but had recovered by the time he was hospitalized on 23 June, "The Moscow Times" reported on 4 July. JB

"The Moscow Times" on 4 July quoted Yabloko spokeswoman Dillendorf as saying that last year the Federal Protection Service provided Shchekochikhin's younger son, a medical student, with a bodyguard, apparently because of a threat connected to Shchekochikhin's journalistic investigations involving the Tri Kita case. In early 2002, the Prosecutor-General's Office launched a probe of the State Customs Committee after it allegedly violated procedures in investigating two Moscow furniture stores, Tri Kita and Grand, which had been accused of failing to pay millions of dollars in customs duties. The two outlets were reportedly co-owned by Yevgenii Zaostrovtsev, the father of Federal Security Service (FSB) General Yurii Zaostrovtsev, who heads the FSB's Economics Department and is a deputy to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002). JB

Shchekochikhin wrote in the 18 February 2002 issue of "Novaya gazeta" that the Prosecutor-General's Office had closed down the investigation of Tri Kita and Grand after a criminal group paid $2 million to unidentified officials in that office. Yabloko Deputy Valerii Ostanin, who sat with Shchekochikhin on the Duma's Security Committee, told on 4 July that Shchekochikhin had collected evidence implicating First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov and Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov in the Tri Kita scandal. "Novaya Gazeta" reported in its special edition on 7 July that Shchekochikhin had also obtained documents in Germany establishing "clear financial links" between the main figures in the Tri Kita scandal and those in the 1999 Bank of New York scandal. JB

An unidentified source within the team investigating the senior law enforcement officials who were arrested on 23 June on suspicion of corruption, abuse of office, and links with organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 25 June and 3 July 2003) said that the alleged group of crooked police officers was not headed by Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev, reported on 3 July. The source reportedly said that investigators would like to interrogate former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who currently is secretary of the Security Council. "We have some very unpleasant questions for him," the source said. He added that materials concerning Rushailo had already been sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office and to President Putin. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu denied on 6 July that the arrest of Ganeev, who headed security at the Emergency Situations Ministry, will affect the ministry's work, RTR reported. "Ganeev was arrested for [alleged] activity that has nothing to do with the operation of the ministry," Shoigu said. Nonetheless, state-controlled RTR television showed a dour-looking Shoigu making the surprising suggestion to Putin in the president's Kremlin office that his ministry be reduced by 50 percent. Putin agreed to consider the request. Both Rushailo and Shoigu are holdovers from the era of former President Boris Yeltsin, and have reportedly never been fully accepted by Putin loyalists. VY

In a poll conducted on 28 June by the Public Opinion Foundation among 1,500 respondents across Russia, just 43 percent of respondents said they think all of Russia's elections -- presidential, parliamentary, gubernatorial, those for regional legislative assemblies, and those for organs of local self-government -- are necessary, the foundation's website ( reported on 3 July. Thirty-seven percent said that some of these elections could be could be done away with. Eleven percent deemed elections for organs of local self-government unnecessary, while 8 percent felt that way about elections for regional legislative assemblies, and 6 percent said the same about parliamentary and gubernatorial elections. Less than 1 percent said presidential elections are superfluous. Asked what elections they thought were the most important, 50 percent said presidential elections, 11 percent said elections for organs of local self-government, 4 percent said gubernatorial elections, 3 percent said parliamentary elections, and 2 percent said elections for regional legislative assemblies. At the same time, 49 percent of those polled said they always vote in elections, and 18 percent said they "often" do. Twenty-one percent said they "rarely" vote in elections, and 10 percent said they never do. Those respondents aged 18-35 were less likely to vote than those older than 50. JB

In the same Public Opinion Foundation poll, only 40 percent of respondents said they think that election observers guarantee the integrity of the voting process and the counting of ballots, while 44 percent said observers make no difference. Forty-four percent said they believe that GAS Vybory, the new information system that the Central Election Commission (TsIK) uses to accumulate data from polling stations and that will be used in December's parliamentary election, will make that vote more honest. Twenty-six percent said it would not. Fifty-three percent of those polled said they approve of GAS Vybory, while 15 percent said they do not, the website reported on 3 July. According to some reports, control over the GAS Vybory system was handed over to the FSB earlier this year when the Federal Agency of Governmental Communications and Information (FAPSI) was disbanded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). JB

President Putin has signed into law a number of pieces of legislation recently passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council, the presidential press service told Interfax on 6 July. Among them was a law establishing a new scheme for single-mandate districts for the 7 December State Duma elections. The new scheme will give some regions, such as Krasnodar Krai and Daghestan, an additional district each because of population growth. Other regions, like Murmansk Oblast, will lose districts, as two districts are combined into one (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Putin also signed into law changes to Russia's Criminal Procedural Code that will, among other things, spell out the authority of public prosecutors more precisely. Another law signed by the president amends and adds to the existing law on the formation and activities of representative and executive organs of state power in Russia's 89 regions. A fourth law signed by Putin amends the law on the banners of the army, the navy, and other military services. According to the amended law, the banner of the Russian armed forces will feature a five-pointed star; the words "Fatherland, Duty, and Honor;" and a large, golden double-headed eagle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). JB

Ali Astamirov, a Chechen stringer for AFP's Moscow bureau, was kidnapped by three uniformed, masked, and armed men in Nazran on 4 July, Interfax reported the following day. No one has taken responsibility for the abduction or demanded a ransom. LF

The Constitutional Court began on 3 July hearing an appeal by the opposition Artarutiun election bloc challenging the official results of the 25 May parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 30 June 2003). Leading members of Artarutiun claim the Central Election Commission deliberately falsified the outcome of the ballot in which, they claim, Artarutiun won over 50 percent of the proportional vote rather than 14 percent as shown by the official returns. Artarutiun is therefore demanding that the results of the proportional vote be annulled. CEC member and Deputy Justice Minister Gagik Mukuchian put forward a countermotion on 3 July arguing that the Artarutiun appeal is illegal because parliament deputies are not eligible to challenge election results. LF

Meeting on 4 July, Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) registered Ilham Aliev, the son of incumbent President Heidar Aliev, as a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for 15 October, Turan reported. The five opposition CEC members voted against that registration. One of the five argued that Ilham Aliev is not eligible to run for president because he holds dual citizenship (Azerbaijani and Turkish) and is facing criminal charges in the United States. The ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party has nominated Heidar Aliev as a presidential candidate. The CEC also registered as a presidential candidate Ikhtiyar Shirin of the National Statehood Party, and accepted four other presidential nominations. The total number of registered candidates is 11. LF

Police in Baku broke up an unauthorized demonstration outside the CEC building on 5 July by several hundred supporters of Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADR) Chairman Rasual Guliev, Turan reported. A leading ADR official said some 50 party activists were detained and several were injured, but local police chief Nazim Nagiev said only 15 protesters were detained. The ADR pledged to continue staging protests following the CEC's refusal on 2 July to register Guliev as a presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). On 4 July, Azerbaijan's Appeals Court began hearing a suit brought by the ADR against the CEC challenging that body's refusal to register Guliev as a presidential candidate, Turan reported. LF

The Russian presidential press service issued a statement on 6 July saying it cannot confirm Azerbaijani media reports that President Vladimir Putin plans to visit Baku, Turan reported. Azerbaijani Television announced on 3 July that Putin might make a stopover in Baku on 9-10 July en route for Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijani presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev confirmed the following day that Putin was expected in Baku. But Putin has since cancelled his visit to Uzbekistan in the wake of the 5 July suicide bombing in Moscow. Putin had a telephone conversation on 6 July with Aliev, according to ITAR-TASS, but no details of that talk were divulged. LF

Visiting Tbilisi on 5-6 July as special envoy of U.S. President George W. Bush, James Baker met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss the political situation in Georgia, including ways to ensure the upcoming parliamentary elections are free and fair; the fight against international terrorism; and the unresolved Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Baker explicitly denied at a press conference on 6 July that Washington had pressured Shevardnadze to resign. LF

U.S. presidential envoy Baker also met on 5 July at the U.S. ambassador's residence with the leaders of major opposition parties, including Zurab Zhvania (United Democrats), Mikhail Saakashvili (National Movement), Shalva Natelashvili (Labor Party), David Gamkrelidze (New Rightists) and Djemal Gogitidze (Revival Union) to discuss the optimal composition of the new Central Election Commission, Caucasus Press reported. Baker reportedly proposed that the government nominate five CEC members and the opposition nine, and that the OSCE should appoint as CEC chairman a respected member of Georgian society who is not politically active. Zhvania and Natelashvili expressed approval of that proposal. Shevardnadze said on 7 July in his regular Monday radio interview that he is ready to ratify that model for forming the CEC, Caucasus Press reported. On 5 July, Caucasus Press reported that following the resignation of Djumber Lominadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003), who has since been named to head Georgia's Space Agency. The CEC elected as its new chairman former Deputy Chairman Gia Zesashvili. LF

The National Movement (EM) defied warnings from the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office on 5 July and convened 30-minute demonstrations in some 20 towns across Georgia to protest a recent sharp rise in bread prices, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Leading members of the party accused the Georgian government of agreeing to the price hike in collusion with the so-called bread mafia. LF

On 4 July, the EM staged a protest against the planned sale for $7.1 million to the Austrian company DK Ferro AG of a majority stake in the Zestafon Ferrous Alloys Plant, Caucasus Press reported. The Austrian company has pledged to invest $20 million to modernize the plant and to increase its output from 60,000 to 100,000 tons of manganese by 2006. President Shevardnadze personally approved the sale, which the EM claims was lobbied for by Shevardnadze's daughter, Manana. LF

Speaking at a press conference on 4 July in Nalchik, capital of Russia's Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, Eduard Kokoyty, president of Georgia's breakaway, unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said he has written to Russian President Putin to ask that his republic be accepted as a subject of the Russian Federation, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Kokoyty recalled that the population of South Ossetia voted in 1992 in favor of joining the Russian Federation. He said some 56 percent of the region's population already have Russian passports. But an unnamed source within the Russian presidential administration told ITAR-TASS on 6 July that the South Ossetian request violates the Georgian Constitution and is therefore illegal and will not be considered. Also on 6 July, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement similarly condemning Kokoyty's declared aspiration as encroaching on Georgia's territorial integrity. LF

The presidents of the four Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) member states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- met in Almaty on 5 July and signed a number of documents, including an agreement on closer coordination in combating terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking, and reported on 6 July, quoting Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The CACO leaders also signed a document on completing an inventory of the treaties that fixed the legal basis of the Central Asian Economic Community, the organization from which CACO was formed in December 2001. The CACO heads of state issued a statement on speeding up the creation of several interstate consortiums under CACO that will deal with issues "in which all Central Asian states are equally interested." These include the use of water and energy resources, implementing communications projects, and ensuring the food supplies of member states. The text of the statement was published in "Kazakhstanskaya pravda" on 7 July. Karimov said CACO will ask international financial organizations for help in designing these projects. RIA-Novosti reported on 5 July that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists after the summit that it is time for the CACO to move from words to deeds. Many documents have been signed in recent years, but little has been accomplished, Nazarbaev said. In this connection, he called for the greater integration of the CACO states. BB

Deputy Interior Minister Bolotbek Nogoibaev has said that a group of traders from China who were killed and their bus set on fire near the Kyrgyz-Chinese border in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003) was killed by Uighur separatists, Deutsche Welle reported on 7 July. Nogoibaev said that the Kyrgyz authorities have learned that the two suspects in the slayings were ethnic Uighurs who belonged to the separatist organization Liberation of Eastern Turkestan and who are believed to have fled to Turkey. Soon after the March killings, the Kyrgyz authorities identified the dead traders as ethnic Uighurs who were on the way home to Xinjiang, China. Subsequent reports on the investigation have not mentioned the ethnicity of the victims, describing them merely as Chinese. In recent weeks, the Chinese authorities have been asserting that ethnic Uighur "terrorists" are active in Central Asia. BB

Turkmen Ambassador to the Russian Federation Khalnazar Agakhanov denounced the 4 July picketing of the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow as an "unfriendly act," reported on 6 July. The picketers, who carried signs protesting the treatment of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan, were members of the Moscow branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Agakhanov reportedly complained to Interfax that the timing of the protest was particularly puzzling in view of the facts that a Russian-Turkmen commission was due to start work on 7 July to resolve the situation of Turkmenistan's Russian population and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had said that such a delicate subject as the Russians in Turkmenistan should not become an issue in the election campaign now beginning in Russia. Agakhanov added that he believes some of the protesters had no idea what the protest was about, citing as evidence the fact that a group of girls in traditional Uzbek attire had joined the picketers. BB

Russian citizens leaving Turkmenistan prior to the 22 June deadline for holders of dual Russian-Turkmen citizens to choose one passport or the other were required to obtain Turkmen exit visas if they tried to depart using their Russian passports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). Now Turkmen authorities are allowing Russian-passport holders to buy tickets to countries that do not require that Russian citizens obtain visas without having first to obtain a Turkmen exit visa and, if necessary, a Russian entry visa, according to a Prima-News report of 4 July. The report added that this change in policy has pleased Russian passport holders in Turkmenistan. The change is consistent with the Turkmen presidential decree revoking dual citizenship. Anyone still in possession of a Russian passport in Turkmenistan is presumably being considered to have chosen to retain Russian citizenship and is therefore treated as a foreigner. BB

A rule requiring that people entering higher-educational institutions in Turkmenistan must have worked for two years in their chosen field goes into effect this year, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported on 5 July, quoting a statement by President Saparmurat Niyazov to the Turkmen cabinet the previous day. In recent years, Niyazov has made access to higher education progressively more difficult, restricting it in 2002 to people who have been recommended by state agencies that intend to employ them after graduation and to a handful of "outstanding" students. Niyazov was quoted as saying the new rule will prevent the bribery of educational officials over entrance exams. He has set up a commission of educational officials headed by Health Minister Kurbankuli Berdymuhammedov to oversee admissions to higher-educational institutions. The number of admissions authorized for 2003 has risen to 3,920 from 3,480 in 2002. BB

President Karimov told journalists on 5 July on his way to the CACO summit (see item above) that his country cannot accept the Western model of democracy in its entirety, reported on 7 July. Karimov was quoted as saying that "Big Brother Moscow" used to lecture the Uzbeks and, since the disintegration of the USSR, others have been doing the same, dictating the path to democracy, liberalization, and economic reform and seeking to teach Uzbekistan about freedom of speech, political freedoms, and civil rights as if the country were "a desert in a distant corner of the world." Karimov asserted that Uzbekistan has made certain progress toward democratization and is developing the type of society that corresponds with Uzbek traditions and values. He complained that the country is being criticized for not complying with "this or that standard," but no one has asked the Uzbeks whether they approved of these standards. BB

Fifteen men were sentenced by a Tashkent raion court on 4 July to prison sentences ranging from three to 15 years for seeking to overthrow the constitutional system, distributing materials endangering security and order, and membership in a banned organization, according to on 5 July, citing the nongovernmental Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan. According to the report, almost all the defendants said they were tortured during the investigation of their cases. Also on 4 July a group of relatives of persons sentenced in Samarkand Oblast for Hizb ut-Tahrir membership arrived in Tashkent to protest to President Karimov's office against their relatives' sentences and the "methods" -- in other words, torture -- used by law enforcement officials during the investigations. BB

Uzbek Justice Minister Abdusamat Palvan-zade has announced that citizens of Uzbekistan are not allowed to serve in the Russian military, Prime-News and Interfax reported on 3 July. Palvan-zade asserted that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's proposal that citizens of CIS countries be accepted for service in the Russian military on a contract basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003) violates the Russian Constitution and a number of international agreements on use of mercenaries. He also noted that for Uzbek citizens to serve in a foreign army would violate Uzbek law as well. BB

Germany's parliament on 3 July overwhelmingly ratified the agreement on enlargement of the European Union that was signed by representatives of all current and 10 future EU member states in Athens on 16 April, CTK and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). CTK noted that German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and the majority of lawmakers rejected calls from conservatives to condition approval on a demand that the Czech Republic abolish the post-World War II Benes Decrees (see Czech items below). A reported 575 deputies backed EU enlargement, while four lawmakers abstained and one deputy opposed the Treaty of Accession. AH

Belarusian authorities marked that country's Independence Day on 3 July with a military parade and a procession of sportsmen and representatives of pro-government youth organizations, Belapan reported. The date is the anniversary of the 1944 liberation of Minsk from the Nazis. "The Belarusians have never been and will never be conquerors. We do not claim foreign lands but will not surrender a single inch of our own soil," the news agency quoted Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying during the ceremony. He added that Belarus will continue trying to develop fruitful cooperation with neighboring states and implement its "multivector" foreign policy. "We will build a union with brotherly Russia," Lukashenka stressed. Around 3,000 military servicemen were reportedly involved in the parade. AM

Teachers dismissed from the National Humanities Lyceum, which was closed down by authorities in late June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003), are prepared to continue to promote instruction in the Belarusian language and their teaching methods, Belapan reported on 4 July. The teachers and parents intend to establish a nongovernmental organization, Belarusian Lyceum, for this purpose. The Belarusian Lyceum will organize extracurricular courses for students of secondary schools, lyceums, and other high schools to provide instruction in Belarusian and prepare methodological materials. The National Humanities Lyceum was the only high school in Belarus that provided instruction in all subjects in Belarusian. AM

The heads of delegations of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova (GUUAM) stated in a communique adopted at the end of a two-day summit in Yalta on 4 July that the organization's primary task is economic development, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). GUUAM representatives considered the creation of free-trade zones and agreed that the fundamental tasks in developing transport within the group should be the establishment of better conditions for transport, improved infrastructure networks, simplified procedures, and ensuring stable conditions, among other things. AM

The European Liberal Democratic Reform Party (ELDR), at its Party Council in London on 4 July, backed a proposal to admit Estonia's Center Party, with the final approval depending on the party's position on Estonia's entry into the EU, BNS reported. Estonia's Reform Party abstained, while all other parties backed the Center Party's membership. The official decision will be made at the ELDR's congress in Amsterdam in November. Center Party Deputy Chairman Peeter Kreitzberg said the main stumbling block to membership of the ELDR is his party's decision that only the party congress in August can determine its position on EU membership. The ELDR firmly backs EU expansion. SG

NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral Rainer Feist on 4 July completed his tour of the Baltic states in Latvia, LETA reported. In talks with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, Feist said Latvia is contributing to international security by sending medics, demining experts, cargo-handling specialists, and other military personnel to participate in international peacekeeping operations. Feist met with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, armed forces commander Admiral Andrejs Zeibots, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, and other high-ranking military officials. He also visited an infantry training center, the 1st Infantry battalion, and BALTBAT headquarters in Adazi. SG

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided in Paris on 4 July to send experts to the Curonian Spit to determine the environmental impact of Russian oil giant LUKoil's plans to extract oil from the D-6 deposit in the Baltic Sea later this year, BNS reported the next day. The deposit is located in Russian territory 22 kilometers off the Lithuanian-Russian Curonian Spit and 7 kilometers from the countries' maritime border. The committee called on Russia not to allow the state-owned company to begin pumping oil until the experts along with Lithuanian and Russian specialists prepare a report on its environmental impact. Russia claims a study it conducted determined the plan will not negatively affect the environment but has not yet fulfilled Lithuania's requests to review its results. "Today in Paris we won a very important victory in the fight with Russia," Lithuanian Ambassador to UNESCO Ina Marciulionyte said. SG

Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) deputy Andrzej Jagiello warned local government officials in Starachowice of an action planned against them by Poland's Central Bureau of Investigation, according to the daily "Rzeczpospolita" of 4 July. Jagiello allegedly got the information from Deputy Interior Minister Zbigniew Sobotka. Local SLD officials in Starachowice are suspected of participating in organized crime. The same day, Premier Leszek Miller instructed Justice Minister Grzegorz Kurczuk to "urgently clear up the facts cited in a press report" and called back from vacation Interior Ministry Krzysztof Janik, PAP reported. Sobotka denied the allegations, offered his explanation on 4 July to Miller, and then went on holiday. Miller told Polish Radio on 6 July that he knew of the inquiry into the leak before the report was published in the press, but he did not ask to speed up the explanation in order to avoid being accused of exerting pressure on prosecutors. AM

Companies related to Nafta Polska and the Polish government are seeking access to Iraqi oil fields for the Polish petrochemical company, PAP reported on 3 July, citing Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Cimoszewicz participated in the signing on 3 July of an agreement on cooperation in the reconstruction of Iraq between U.S.-based Kellog Brown & Root and Nafta Polska. "We have not hidden and we do not hide that we would like Polish petrochemical companies to finally have direct access to raw-material resources," Cimoszewicz told journalists. "One of the weaknesses of the entire construction of the Polish petrochemical sector is precisely the lack of access to raw materials." AM

In an apparent response to ongoing challenges to the postwar expropriation of property in Czechoslovakia, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla commissioned specialists on 3 July to draft an amendment to the Czech Constitution, CTK reported. Those experts should propose "a certain constitutional change that would be a definite barrier to erroneous interpretations of the legal system as a whole," the agency quoted Spidla as saying. Spidla has also asked Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky to work on unifying Czech law with respect to the postwar Benes Decrees and subsequent restitution legislation. Finally, Spidla tasked Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka with drafting legislation to boost the powers of the Office for Government Representation in Property Affairs so that it might also represent municipalities in such cases, CTK reported. AH

Spidla's moves on 3 July came in the wake of several adverse judgments in Czech courts, particularly recent decisions to return property to Oldrich Frantisek Kinsky (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003). The premier has expressed a desire to arrive at a common Czech tack and has vowed to bring senior political leaders together to discuss the issue. Spidla suggested the problem might lie in the application of the law, rather than in legislative shortcomings, although legal experts are wary of executive attempts to encroach on judiciary turf. Other Czech politicians have also suggested legal amendments might head off similar judgments in the future, while lawyers have stressed the futility of trying to act ex post facto. Rychetsky told a radio audience on 3 July that he would like the Czech Supreme Court to present an analysis of how lower courts should proceed in restitution cases. AH

President Vaclav Klaus said through a spokesman on 3 July that he is planning a meeting of senior Czech political leaders to discuss Czech-German relations and the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. No date was given, and it was unclear from the report who would attend the proposed meeting. Meanwhile, representatives of the governing Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) and the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) signaled their opposition to the idea of a constitutional amendment to address the issue of restitution and other postwar obstacles to good relations, CTK reported. ODS representatives expressed the fear that hasty constitutional amendments might lead to punitive actions by the European Union. The Benes Decrees, along with the accompanying postwar expulsions and expropriations, remain a major sore spot in otherwise good relations between the Czech Republic, on the one hand, and neighboring Germany, Austria, and Hungary on the other. The Czechs and Germans concluded a joint declaration in 1997 aimed at closing a tragic chapter in mutual relations, but a strong Sudeten German lobby and lingering mistrust have kept the issue at the simmering point. Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber recently proposed that some Sudeten Germans "especially afflicted" by the expulsions be compensated from a Czech-German Fund for the Future. AH

UNESCO added the former Jewish quarter and the St. Procopius Basilica in Trebic, south Moravia, to its list of World Heritage Sites on 3 July, CTK reported, marking the 12th Czech monument to be included on the prestigious list. The Czech Culture Ministry's Michal Benes said the designation represents the first explicitly Jewish monument outside Isreali territory to be included on the list. For its part, UNESCO cited the combination of the Jewish neighborhood with the St. Procopius Basilica as testimony to the mutual coexistence and influences of Christian and Jewish cultures, CTK reported. AH

Parliamentary speaker and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky emerged from a hastily called meeting of the Coalition Council on 3 July vowing to break up the government if a controversial abortion amendment is signed into law, CTK reported. The KDH stridently opposes the legislation, which was initiated by the ruling coalition's Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) and passed on the strength of opposition support the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). The bill would extend the allowable term for an abortion to the end of the second trimester under certain circumstances to "fill a legislative gap," according to ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko. However, President Rudolf Schuster is expected to use all 15 days allowed under the constitution before acting on the bill. "The moment it is clear that the law will take effect," Hrusovsky said in an allusion to the ANO party, "the KDH will call on the premier [Mikulas Dzurinda] to use his constitutional right and to ask the president to dismiss the government ministers nominated by the party that, through its voting [in parliament], violated the coalition agreement." AH

ANO Deputy Chairman Lubomir Lintner played down talk of a full-blown crisis on 3 July, saying his party "[has] not violated [the coalition agreement] and we want to further fulfill the government program," CTK reported. CTK reported that Premier Dzurinda said he has been surprised by the stubbornness in the current debate of both the KDH and ANO parties, which govern together with his Slovak Democratic and the Christian Union and the Hungarian Coalition Party, most of whose deputies voted against the amendment. Dzurinda was also said to have left the 3 July Coalition Council meeting early to attend to other business. Opposition deputies meanwhile joined the chorus, saying the abortion vote is not likely to split up the coalition government that was formed in the wake of elections in September 2002. "No serious coalition crisis is threatening," Monika Benova, deputy chairwoman of the leading opposition party, Smer, told CTK. "There is no threat of a crisis as the privatization is still to be completed and this is quite a strong glue to hold the coalition together. However, both the KDH and the ANO must constantly demonstrate their principled stances." A number of Slovak commentators have predicted that the coalition will fall apart if Schuster signs the amendment into law. AH

In the "RFE/RL Newsline" items "Slovak Parliament Approves Contentious Abortion Amendment..." and "...Prompting a 'Government Crisis'..." on 3 July 2003, the date of the passage of the abortion amendment should have been given as 3 July.

An appellate judge in Kosice on 3 July ordered the return to pretrial detention of defendant Jozef Majsky, a businessman who stands accused of massive fraud in connection with two failed investment companies, TASR and CTK reported. A court spokesman, Ladislav Dudits, said the court does not believe Majsky is likely to flee the country, but rather fears that Majsky or his associates might seek to influence witnesses. Majsky, who faces a possible 12 years in prison stemming from the charges, was detained late last year at the Austrian border with his wife, who is a member of the Slovak parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 30 June and 1 and 2 July 2003). AH

Janos Veres, political state secretary at the Finance Ministry, conceded on 4 July that the government and central bank misread the market when they lowered the forint's trading band against the euro one month earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 5 June 2003), Hungarian dailies reported the next day. One intended effect was to assure exporters that the Hungarian currency would not rise above 240 forints to the euro, Veres said. However, he continued, the forint had begun to weaken two days before the shift, so the shift "was misunderstood." He said the government now wants to dispel uncertainty through clear and quick actions, such as the promotion of foreign investment, defining key figures of the 2004 budget, and completing a program for joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

Opposition FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban blamed the current government for a "lack of decision making, an inability to make decisions, and support for foreigners instead of Hungarian entrepreneurs," during a speech in the southeast Hungarian town of Sarkad on 5 July, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. "We must now fear that we might drift into an even deeper economic crisis than prevails today," he warned. Orban said his own 1998-2002 government "always considered it the top priority to help Hungarian people, Hungarian entrepreneurs, [and] Hungarian ideas and construction projects." He added, "Builders are preserved in history, while those who distribute funds, and those who support foreigners, will fade from memory as they add nothing to the nation, and leave nothing behind them, just a considerable deficit." MSZ

Gusztav Zoltai, leader of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary, told a crowd at Budapest's monument to Hungarian Jewish martyrs on 6 July that "although the Holocaust affected only Jews, it was a universal act and a shame for mankind," "Nepszabadsag" reported. Commemorations recalling the deportation of Hungarian Jews in 1944 were also held in Pecs and Szombathely. In other news, the Organization of Hungarian Political Prisoners and Forced Laborers laid wreaths on 5 July at a memorial plaque in Nyiregyhaza honoring those deported to the Soviet Union for political reasons after World War II, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ

A bomb explosion in Belgrade on 6 July destroyed the Mercedes of Radisav Rodic, who publishes the often critical and sensationalist daily "Glas javnosti," dpa reported. Rodic was in a nearby restaurant at the time and was not injured. The explosion, for which no one has claimed responsibility, also destroyed a second car. It was not clear whether anyone was injured in the blast (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). PM

On 6 July, the Serbian Interior Ministry reversed a recent decision not to renew the work permit of James Lyon, a U.S. citizen who heads the local branch of the International Crisis Group (ICG), Reuters reported, citing Lyon's lawyer. The move came shortly before the expiration of the ministry's deadline for Lyon to leave the country. The government initially claimed that the NGO was not legally registered in Serbia and that Lyon had wrongly identified himself as a businessman when applying for his work permit. Lyon and the ICG have been active in Serbia for some time, reporting critically on alleged arms dealings, cases of corruption, and organized crime since the fall of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002 and 9 May 2003). Lyon regularly met with senior officials, including cabinet ministers, during more than two years of work in Serbia. ICG President Gareth Evans said in a statement on 4 July that "it is a mark of a country's maturity that it can absorb and accept [critical] information and implement reforms to address these issues rather than resorting to heavy-handed tactics to silence its critics." PM

Vladimir Popovic "Beba," who heads the Serbian government's Communications Department, submitted his resignation to the government on 5 July, to take effect in 10 days' time, "Vesti" reported. The government accepted the resignation, saying it had been agreed to in March, but did not name a successor, Beta reported. The exact reasons for Beba's move are not clear. He recently filed charges against several news organizations and journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003). PM

. Montenegrin Foreign Minister Dragisa Burzan told the Podgorica daily "Pobjeda" of 4 July that Montenegro understands the U.S. position on seeking a bilateral agreement prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June, and 1 and 2 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). He added that Montenegro is "ready" to work with the United States to reach such an agreement, adding, however, that the matter now lies with Serbia. The Belgrade authorities know that they must conclude such a pact if they wish to receive U.S. military assistance but are under heavy pressure from the EU not to do so. Belgrade is also at a loss to explain to voters why it is obliged to extradite its own citizens to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal but is willing to cut a deal to exempt U.S. citizens from being sent to the ICC. PM

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 5 July that Burzan's remarks show that Montenegrin diplomacy is better than Serbia's in that it proved able "to choose the lesser of two evils," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said the matter is one for the authorities of the joint state and not for a Montenegrin minister to decide. Dragoljub Micunovic, who is speaker of the parliament of Serbia and Montenegro, took a similar position. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement that it sees a link between the Montenegrin government's willingness to please the United States and recent reports that a court in Naples has issued an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic over his alleged role in cigarette smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). In Podgorica, Montenegrin opposition leader Zoran Zizic expressed similar views. On 7 July, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said in Belgrade that there is "no hurry" to reach a decision on an agreement with the United States. PM

Shortly before his departure as head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), Michael Steiner introduced a new legal code in Prishtina on 7 July, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The purpose of the code is to facilitate the fight against organized crime and bring Kosova's legal system up to international standards. The code will come into effect in 10 months' time, after lawyers have been trained and changes introduced into the judicial system. PM

President Boris Trajkovski and Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 4 July that they expect the reforms in the Macedonian defense and security fields to be completed within one year, MIA news agency reported. The two men made their announcement after discussing improvements in border security with General Metodija Stamboliski, who is chief of the General Staff, and Interior Minister Hari Kostov. Trajkovski stressed that "the army should be transformed from a [conventional] defense force into an entity that will contribute to the overall security in Macedonia in compliance with the new, unconventional challenges and threats." In related news, Buckovski said after a meeting with U.S. defense experts on 3 July that he expects the United States to increase its military aid to Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 June and 2 July 2003). UB

In Moscow on 4 July, Romanian President Ion Iliescu and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed the Romanian-Russian Treaty on Friendly Relations and Cooperation, Romanian Radio reported. Putin noted that the two countries began negotiations on the basic treaty in 1992, and its signing is evidence that bilateral relations have matured. Iliescu said Romania seeks to establish a privileged partnership with Russia. The signing of the treaty was preceded by the singing of a common declaration by the countries' foreign ministers that deals with issues unsettled in the treaty, such as the repatriation to Romania of gold and cultural items kept by the Soviet Union after World War I. The two parties agreed to set up a joint commission to resolve the issue. The declaration condemns the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact as well as Romania's participation in World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. ZsM

President Iliescu ended his three-day visit to Russia on 5 July in St. Petersburg, where he attended the opening of a Romanian Consulate he said will serve both a diplomatic and economic role, Romanian media reported. Following his 3 July meeting with Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev in Moscow, Iliescu said that through their basic treaty, the two countries seek to establish a framework to facilitate long-term relationships among their respective government institutions. Seleznev said the Duma will ratify the treaty next fall. The same day, 250 leaders of Romanian companies who were part of the visiting Romanian delegation participated in an economic forum focusing on the possibilities offered by bilateral cooperation. Some 300 Russian businessmen also attended the meeting. On 4 July, Iliescu spoke to representatives of Gazprom and other Russian gas companies regarding the possibility of establishing a joint Romanian-Russian company to transport natural gas from Russia to Romania. They also discussed the possibility of building a pipeline for oil and natural gas from Russia to the Romanian port of Constanta. ZsM

Romanian President Iliescu on 3 July visited the Institute of International Relations in Moscow to launch the Russian-language version of his book "Romania -- Hope Reborn," Romanian Radio reported. The book primarily focuses on the events of 1989 that resulted in political transformation in Eastern and Central Europe and on the subsequent transition period. Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov praised Iliescu and his book and spoke about the events of December 1989 that led to the overturn of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime. In a surprise statement, Primakov, who was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in December 1989, said Ceausescu asked then-USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev to send Soviet troops to quell the revolt. ZsM

The U.S. Justice Department announced on 2 July the arrest of a 77-year-old man who eluded U.S. authorities for 16 years after being found guilty of serving in 1943-44 as an SS guard at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Johann Leprich was arrested on 1 July by federal agents who found him hiding in a secret compartment at his former Michigan home. The Romanian-born Leprich, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1958 after immigrating in 1952, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1987 after a federal judge ruled he was an armed SS Death's head guard at the camp. The Office of Special Investigations and the Department of Homeland Security have filed charges in U.S. Immigration Court in Detroit requesting that Leprich be deported, without specifying a country of destination. Following Jewish organizations' protest, Romania adopted a law last year that allows authorities to deny entrance to former Nazis deported from other countries. The United States has previously deported two former SS guards of Romanian origin to Romania. ZsM

Several organizations from the Szekler Lands, an area in central Romania where ethnic Hungarians are a majority of the population, on 3 July formed the Hungarian Civic Alliance (UCM) in Odorheiul Secuiesc, Mediafax reported. Odorheiul Secuiesc Mayor and UCM Chairman Jeno Szasz said the alliance comprises 12 members and seeks to offer the region a political alternative. He said the alliance wants to participate in next year's local elections. Szasz expressed his confidence of the UCM's success, saying many Hungarians are dissatisfied with the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). ZsM

UDMR Senator Peter Eckstein-Kovacs on 6 July said he will propose that Article 1 of the Romanian Constitution stating that Romania is a "national state" be amended, Mediafax reported. UDMR previously proposed deleting the word "national" from that article, but parliament's lower house rejected it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). Eckstein-Kovacs call for adding an additional paragraph to Article 1 stating: "The Romanian national state cannot discriminate against citizens [of minority diasporas]...and cannot reduce the rights of ethnic minorities." The Senate is to discuss proposed amendments to the constitution in August. ZsM

In an interview in Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 July, Iliescu said the idea of Moldova unifying with Romania is a "natural" one, especially if Romania accedes to the EU, Romanian Radio reported. Valeriu Renita, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's spokesman, responded on 3 July by saying that Romania and Moldova are "two independent and sovereign" states and that bilateral ties should be based on mutual respect and good-neighborly relations. However, on 4 July Iliescu's spokeswoman Corina Cretu said the Russian daily had distorted Iliescu's words and denied the statement. In addition, at a Moscow press conference the same day Iliescu said Romania and Russia do not have "divergent interests" regarding Moldova, as both countries respect Moldova's statehood. ZsM

Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski announced on 6 July that the parliamentary group of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) will elect a new leadership on 8 July, reported. In addition, in an address to NDSV's leadership provided by the government's press center, Saxecoburggotski for the first time confirmed media speculation that a government reshuffle is planned (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, 21, and 27 May 2003). Plamen Panayotov, who is the chairman of the NDSV's parliamentary group, will be replaced, along with a number of other prominent lawmakers, according to In his address, Saxecoburggotski leveled sharp accusations against unidentified lawmakers whom he claims "only worked for the sake of their own political career." He also criticized recent discussions about the nomination of mayoral candidates for upcoming local elections. UB

Former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, who heads the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), said on 6 July that the premier's announcement that changes are in the offing within the NDSV and the government are "belated and will not lead to the stabilization of the government," reported. Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Deputy Chairman Rumen Petkov said such changes will not halt the irreversible disintegration of the NDSV's parliamentary group. Petkov added that the NDSV's policies need to be changed, not its staff. The NDSV's coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), indicated that changes have long been overdue. DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan on 5 July said the continuing disintegration of the NDSV's parliamentary group is evidence of a problem that must be solved. On 2 July, lawmaker Rumyana Georgieva left the NDSV's parliamentary group, further reducing its strength from the initial 120 to 108 in the 240-seat parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 February 2003). UB

Emerging from a meeting with a group of ethnic Turkish emigrants from Bulgaria on 3 July, Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev pledged that within the next two weeks he will file criminal charges against those responsible for killings carried out during the forced assimilation of ethnic Turks in the mid-1980s, reported. Filchev accused the Military Prosecutor's Office of delaying a major lawsuit launched in 1990 that was to shed light on the "Revival Process" during which Muslim citizens were forced by the communist authorities to adopt Bulgarian names. The killings mainly occurred during street protests against this policy. Filchev said the lawsuit was deliberately delayed by military prosecutors when they decided to hear the claims of all ethnic Turks who might seek compensation for damages resulting from the campaign (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003). UB


Over the past few months, there has been considerable discussion among analysts and commentators on the subject of Russia's current economic stability relative to the country's macroeconomic performance just prior to the financial crisis of August 1998. In a nutshell, the question being asked is: What problems persist in the economy and politics that could trigger a repeat of that crisis?

Most responses to that question fail to address the key issue of comparing Russia's political stability in 1998 and 2003. In many ways, Russia's recent economic performance is understood to be the result of President Vladimir Putin's "political stabilization." What is mistakenly understood to be political stability might in fact only be the Kremlin's lack of interest in -- or refusal to intervene in -- the process of developing Russia's political culture, instead allowing the country's major business concerns -- the oligarchs -- to continue to create an economic environment that primarily benefits them.

2003 was supposed to be a great test for Russia's economy and Putin's presidency. With more than $17 billion in foreign debt to be paid, many economists as late as year ago could only be cautiously optimistic concerning Russia's economic prospects. However, Russia is paying off this tremendous debt this year with it barely even being mentioned in the press.

With world stock markets struggling to make a come back after two years of historic lows, Russia's small but vigorous stock market -- the RTS -- has outperformed its own highs posted in 1998. According to official statistics, capital outflows are slowing, and Russian capital abroad has started to be repatriated at levels that can positively affect the economy. The nail in the coffin for Russia's economy in 1998 was low oil prices. Today Russia is a key player in stabilizing world petroleum prices. Amazingly high ruble liquidity has encouraged what many economists refer to Russia's middle class to start saving money and even to enter to realm of consumer credit.

The number of sterling economic indicators that Russia reports today makes it the envy of most developed or developing economies. Putin is quick to point out new economic highs and successes during press conferences and during foreign visits. One major deterrent to attempts to compare the state of the Russian economy today with that six years ago might be a reluctance to face up the magnitude and impact of the transformation, with some major exceptions, such as banking-sector reform. Russia is indeed a very different country today, just as in 1998, Russia was very different than it was in 1991. The country has learned from some of the mistakes that made the 1998 financial crisis happen. Russia's economy has changed and is changing, but political development has not kept pace.

While it might be too early to discern with certainty, it would appear that Russia's economic successes in tandem with the popularity of one man -- Putin -- have made the stagnation in political development acceptable. Russia has been fortunate to find a political figure who appeals to the majority of the population, but this same popularity has not been translated into political capital to solve such burning issues as military and administrative reform, to say nothing of the most pressing issue of all -- Chechnya. The 5 July suicide bombings in Moscow are yet another reminder of a political problem that has not been adequately addressed.

Putin certainly appears to be a stable political figure, but the political environment he appears to favor is anything but stable. Positive assessments of Russia's political stability are really a reflection of how Putin exercises executive power at the expense of the country's representative bodies, law enforcement agencies, the military, and the judiciary.

In assessing the level of political stability in Russia in its present state of transformation, most economists and commentators fail to take into consideration such key factors as the development -- or the lack of development -- of political parties. With elections due within six months, Putin still has not decided to throw his personal support behind a party or group of parties in order to make parliament more responsible to the government and the people. He has changed his position on the question a number of times, leaving his supporters in the Duma in a quandary. What is called the "presidential bloc," led by Unified Russia, appears to be quite willing to pass laws the Kremlin favors with little concern about the opinions of the constituencies they claim to represent. This state of affairs does not advance Russia's democratic agenda.

In the area of developing a new political cadre, Putin clearly wants to avoid making political enemies if he can help it. It does not matter how incompetent, disliked, or corrupt a senior public official is, there always seems to be a safe soft landing available if he or she agrees to follow the lead of the Kremlin. The fact that controversial former St Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has been named deputy prime minister and invited to take over a crucially important portfolio overseeing communal-services reform casts doubt on just how serious the Kremlin is when it comes to creating a political elite responsible to the people.

Political stability is also a function of the rule of law. For the past three years, the rule of law has not developed substantially in Russia. Putin was elevated to the presidency on the campaign slogan of a "dictatorship of law". The result, however, has been the normalization of corruption. Corruption has even become chic for a growing segment of the population. The incredible rise of ruble liquidity over the past few years has clearly lessened the need to deal seriously with the institutionalization of corruption under Putin. Societies that accept high levels of corruption in government and business are inherently unstable.

A developing political culture should not be based on the rule and personal qualities of one man during a short period of time. Indeed, Russia's macroeconomic performance has been sterling when compared with its international peers as of late. However, all things being equal, this is hardly a reason to believe that Russia's politics have normalized or become any more stable than during the past decade. In 1998, Russia was ruled by a president who made it virtually impossible for the country to return to its communist past after years of extraordinary social upheaval. In 2003, Russia has a leader who promotes a political agenda that attempts to avoid what democratic politics should be about, and appears to consider it acceptable that the high level of ruble liquidity keeps normative politics off the radar of most Russians.

Comparing the Russia of 1998 and that of 2003 in the end does make some sense in a way that most of those involved in this discussion have probably not considered. Russia has changed in many ways since 1998. Entering the world economy presents Russia with a number of economic incentives and disincentives. The same incentives and disincentives are sadly missing from the realm of Russian domestic politics. A repeat of the 1998 financial crisis is unlikely, although the possibility of a very different crisis should not be discounted.

Peter Lavelle is a Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly electronic newsletter Untimely Thoughts (

U.S. forces have released 11 Turkish soldiers arrested along with 13 civilians on 4 July in the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah, Reuters reported on 7 July. The soldiers were briefly held in Kirkuk, and later in Baghdad. U.S. officials have not publicly commented on the arrests, but diplomatic sources told Reuters that one of the soldiers arrested was a Turkish colonel expelled from Iraq by coalition forces on two previous occasions for "suspicious activities." Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denied on 5 July that his soldiers were arrested over alleged plans to assassinate the governor of Kirkuk, telling reporters that such allegations are "nonsense," "Ankara Anatolia" reported the same day. "Turkey has been expending efforts for...stability in Iraq. Members of the Turkish armed forces, our teams in the region, do not attempt to do such a thing. It is out of the question," Gul said. He reminded reporters that Turkish troops entered Iraq seven years ago to maintain peace between the battling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Turkey has rebuffed recent requests by Kurdish leaders that it withdraw its forces from northern Iraq. KR

British forces stationed in southern Iraq seized cash and "significant quantities" of suspected drugs in a 4 July raid in Khur Al-Zubayr, located in the Al-Basrah Governorate, according to a press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website ( The soldiers were reportedly acting on information from a "local source" when they raided the house, arresting three suspected drug dealers and confiscating 33 million Iraqi dinars and $11,000. Unspecified forgery equipment, two bags of pills, and "some suspected cannabis resin" were also found in the house, according to CENTCOM. CENTCOM stated that the three men -- all brothers -- were handed over to Iraqi police. "This operation shows the commitment of the coalition forces to work with the Iraqi people to stamp out criminality and lawlessness," the press release quoted Lieutenant Colonel Richard Nugee, who led the raid, as saying. KR

An audiotape purported to carry a message recorded on 14 June from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was broadcast on Al-Jazeera Television on 4 July. In the message, the voice claims that "cells and brigades of jihad, sacrifice, and their organizations have indeed been formed on a large scale" by both men and women fighters. It calls on Iraqis "to provide cover for the heroic mujahedin and not to give the infidel invaders and their collaborators any information about them or their activities." "My comrades and brother members of the command are actually in Iraq now," the voice adds. The speaker urges Iraqis to stop identifying those fighting against coalition forces or providing the coalition with "any factual information" about Iraqi militants. "We also urge you to inform on each and every accursed spy or deviant who does not hesitate" to work with coalition forces. KR

The speaker purporting to be deposed President Hussein in the audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera on 4 July says that if Iraqis accepted the U.S. presence in Iraq, "they would have closed the doors of the future in return for maintaining our rule under their infidel, colonial control; thus we would be like others." The speaker insists, "We have sacrificed our rule, but did not break our promise to God. We did not stab the people, the nation...and history in the back, neither through surrender nor through defeatism." The voice "salutes the mujahedin" held by the occupation and those "engaged in the combat arenas." The speaker then claims that the U.S.-led coalition seeks to destroy the "spiritual and moral pillars of Iraq," saying, "The so-called weapons of mass destruction were only a cover" to carry out the occupation of Iraq. Jamal Kamil al-Majid, whose two brothers were married to Hussein's daughters, told London's "The Sunday Telegraph" that he believes the audiotape is authentic, saying, "The phrases and the accent are Saddam's," the paper reported on 6 July. In addition, former head of Iraqi intelligence, Major General Wafiq al-Samarra'i, told Al-Jazeera on 4 July, "Based on this audio message, I can also confirm that the voice, tones, and phrases" are Hussein's. KR

Iranian judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi arrived in Jeddah on 5 July and then headed to Riyadh to hold discussions on the presence of U.S. forces in the region and on terrorism, and to sign a memorandum of understanding on judicial cooperation, IRNA reported. IRNA also cited "Saudi media" as saying that Hashemi-Shahrudi's trip is connected with Saudi efforts to secure information on Al-Qaeda personnel who are allegedly imprisoned in Iran. The Baztab website on 6 July also cited "Hi Pakistan" and the "Bahrain Tribune" as reporting that Shahrudi's trip is connected with discussions on extraditing those Al-Qaeda personnel. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif bin Abd al-'Aziz al-Sa'ud confirmed in the 4 July issue of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that the extraditions would dominate the discussions. ISNA reported on 28 June that the two sides have signed an extradition agreement. Hashemi-Shahrudi met with King Fahd bin Abd al-'Aziz al-Sa'ud on 6 July, according to Iranian state radio, and at a meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah he discussed Tehran-Riyadh relations, Iraq, Palestine, and strengthening the two sides' "common positions in the face of the onslaught launched by the enemies of Islam." BS

Bijan Faramarzi, the deputy chief for Health and Medical Treatment Affairs at the Iranian Prisons Organization, said during a 6 July seminar that more than 70 HIV monitoring facilities are operating in Iranian correctional facilities, IRNA reported. A sample of 200-450 inmates is tested at every institution with a population of 1,000 or more. HIV is usually spread in the prisons through the sharing of contaminated needles for intravenous drug use. According to IRNA, more than 30,000 Iranians are HIV-positive. Health Ministry official Mohammad Mehdi Guya said in February that 4,424 people in Iran have AIDS, but in May he said that fewer than 1,900 people have the disease (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March and 26 May 2003). BS

Reza Ameri-Nasab of the majority Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization said on 5 July that all 30 members of the Allameh wing's central council will stage a sit-in at the UN office in Tehran on 9 July, Fars News Agency reported. He had previously expressed his group's determination to hold rallies that day, which is the anniversary of the 1999 attack by security forces and vigilantes on Tehran University students, the Baztab website reported on 24 June. Allameh faction activist Said Razavi-Faqih said in an interview in the 4 July issue of Milan's "Il Giornale" that there has been no official response to his organization's request to commemorate the events of 9 July. Asked what he believes the authorities might do, he responded, "For the moment, we are waiting. I can only say that we are prepared to use all our energies." Ahmad Alamshahi of the Office for Strengthening Unity's minority Shiraz wing has said his group will not hold a gathering on 9 July, the Baztab website reported on 29 June. BS

Thousands of people gathered at the Babak Castle near the East Azerbaijan Province town of Kelidar in early July for the annual commemoration of Babak Khorramdin, one of the first popular Persian leaders to oppose the imposition of Islam and Arab rule. Payman Pakmehr, formerly a correspondent for the banned daily "Nasim-i Sabah" and the banned weekly "Ahrar-i Tabriz," told Radio Farda on 2 July that Azerbaijani-speaking people were coming to the site in their own automobiles in an effort to beat the heavy traffic expected the next day. Pakmehr described the arrival of families with children, the building of bonfires, the raising of tents, and a considerable security presence at the event. Within two hours of giving that interview, Pakmehr was attacked and apparently abducted, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 4 July. Four armed men beat Pakmehr and unsuccessfully tried to force him into a car, witnesses told RSF. He was subsequently taken to a hospital after losing consciousness, and his family has not been able to locate him. The Iranian government has reacted uneasily in previous years to gatherings at the Babak Castle (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 July 2002). BS

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 6 July attempted to explain Iranian reluctance to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), saying that although Iranian is a signatory of the NPT it has lost confidence in it because developed countries have not fulfilled the treaty's provision to supply nuclear technology to other countries, IRNA reported. He said it is therefore up to the developed countries to rectify the situation. "Since the states possessing nuclear technology failed to gain Iran's confidence, Iran needs to hold detailed talks about the Additional Protocol to make sure that Iran will receive technology to go ahead with its program to generate electricity from nuclear energy," Ramezanzadeh said. Ahmad Azimi, the Shiraz parliamentary representative and a member of the legislature's Energy Committee, said on 6 July that it is too late to demand concessions in exchange for signing the Additional Protocol, ILNA reported. "If Iran had thought of signing the Additional Protocol earlier it could have asked for certain concessions from the international community," he said. "But now it is not the time to get any serious concession -- although it is possible to remove the danger that is threatening the country by signing the protocol." BS

Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati said on 6 July that Iran produced 80,000 tons of bananas in the last Iranian calendar year (March 2002-March 2003), a 50 percent increase over the previous year's yield, IRNA reported. The bananas are grown outdoors and in greenhouses, and the country's main banana-cultivation areas are Gilan, Hormozgan, Kerman, and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. BS

Two Afghan soldiers were wounded in recent clashes with Pakistani forces in the Mohmand tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, dpa reported on 3 July, citing Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP). An Afghan security official in Jalalabad said Afghan forces were deployed along the border after incursions by Pakistani forces, AIP reported. After a meeting with Mohmand tribal leaders during which they claimed the fighting erupted after Pakistani forces violated Afghan territory, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai dispatched a delegation comprising representatives from the Defense, Interior, and Frontier and Tribal Affairs ministries to the region to review the situation and report to Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 July. Nangarhar military corps commander Hazrat-e Ali is not happy that Pakistan has established border posts along the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Hindukosh news agency on 3 July. Pakistan has denied that its forces have crossed into Afghanistan, dpa reported. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border has never officially been recognized by Afghanistan, and has been at the core of disagreements between the two states since Pakistan was created in 1947. AT

At least 11 people have been killed in renewed factional fighting that erupted on 3 July in the Dara-ye Suf District of Samangan Province and the Sholgara District of Balkh Province between forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, and those of General Ata Mohammad, commander of Army Corps No. 7, "The New York Times" reported on 7 July. The warlords' forces clashed as approximately 50 British soldiers are preparing to establish a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh, the BBC commented on 6 July. Forces loyal to Ata Mohammad, who represents the Jamiat-e Islami party in northern Afghanistan, have battled sporadically over the past year with armed supporters of Dostum's Junbish-e Melli party. The two sides last fought on 27-28 June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May, 5 June, and 3 July 2003). AT

The Multiparty Security Commission of the North accompanied by members of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has brokered a cease-fire in the fighting in Sholgara District, UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva announced on 6 July. The peace delegation met with General Ata Mohammad and General Haji Habib of Junbish, who each gave "assurances that both sides would refrain from fighting in Sholgara," UNAMA reported. The situation in the area was described by the UN as "currently calm," but "tense and unpredictable." Dostum previously denied his men were involved in the fighting, calling it an internal dispute among militiamen loyal to Ata Mohammad, Reuters reported on 5 July. In May, Karzai appointed Dostum as his adviser and recalled him to Kabul, but Dostum ignored those orders and repositioned himself in his stronghold in Jowzjan Province. Karzai also ordered the dismantlement of Ata Mohammad's Army Corps No. 7, which Dostum was to help carry out (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 and 29 May 2003). AT

In a commentary published on 6 July, "The Kabul Times" lamented the announcement that the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) plan scheduled to begin on 1 July has been postponed until the end of the month to allow the Defense Ministry to complete its reforms, which the government believes will make it more ethnically balanced, representative, and accountable. According to the commentary, the Transitional Administration wants to reform the Defense Ministry "to avoid favoring one faction over another." The paper warned the administration against trying to extend the postponement of the DDR program beyond the end of July, as otherwise the planned Constitutional Loya Jirga that is scheduled to take place in October could be "seriously threatened." Karzai has said he intends to reform the Defense Ministry, which is led by Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik, so Afghans will be confident that the future Afghan National Army represents the entire population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February and 20 and 23 June 2003). AT

The first troops of the NATO force that will take command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Kabul on 11 August left for Kabul on 5 July, the U.S. State Department announced on 6 July. NATO said in a statement on 4 July that the ISAF mission remains firmly committed to adhering to the UN Security Council resolutions and the Bonn Agreement that set the course for postwar Afghanistan, and that the mandate for the NATO force will remain the same, an apparent reference to the ISAF's area of responsibility that is currently limited to Kabul. The statement added that "NATO's increased involvement demonstrates its continuing long-term commitment to stability and security in Afghanistan through assistance to the Afghanistan Transitional Authority." General Jack Deverell, NATO's regional commander in chief Allied Forces North Europe, will have operational command of the ISAF from his headquarters in Brunssum, The Netherlands, while German Lieutenant-General Goetz Gliemeroth will assume command of ISAF in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2003). AT