MILITARY, FSB INVESTIGATING NAVY MUNITIONS EXPLOSION...
Military and Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators are looking into the causes of a powerful explosion that occurred on 14 July in the town of Taezhnyi, about 50 kilometers from Vladivostok, Russian media reported on 15 July. The explosion occurred at a navy munitions dump that contains about 70 railroad cars of munitions, leading police to evacuate local residents from an area of many square kilometers. The initial blast triggered additional explosions of artillery shells and mines that continued for about 48 hours. RTR reported that 70 people were given medical treatment and seven were hospitalized. On 15 July, the command of the Pacific Fleet officially apologized to locals and said it will accept claims for property damages. However, the fleet claimed that the explosion was set off by an errant firework launched by local residents. FSB investigators noted that the nearest residences are some distance from the munitions dump, making the firework theory seem unlikely. Investigators are reportedly looking into the possibility that the incident was caused by negligence. "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 July noted that similar incidents involving the Pacific Fleet occurred in 1992, 1996, and 2002. VY
...AS MILITARY PROSECUTORS LOOK INTO MISSING SHOULDER-LAUNCHED MISSILES
Leningrad Military District Prosecutor Igor Lebed said his office is investigating eight Strela shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles that are reportedly missing from the Kronstadt naval base, newsru.com reported on 15 July. Chechen fighters are eager to purchase Strela missiles, which have been used to shoot down many of the 15 helicopters that the Russian military has lost in Chechnya in the last 18 months. A single unit can fetch as much as $100,000 on the black market. Meanwhile, Air Force spokesman Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevskii said that an errant missile launched from an aircraft on 15 July exploded in a village in Leningrad Oblast, wounding one person. An investigation into that incident is being conducted. VY
COURT DENIES BAIL FOR YUKOS SECURITY OFFICIAL
The Moscow Municipal Court on 15 July rejected a request by the lawyers of senior Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin asking that he be released from jail on bond, Russian media reported. Pichugin is accused of organizing the murders of Tambov residents Olga and Sergei Gorin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). The court ruled that Pichugin, a former KGB officer, is a flight risk and that he might attempt to intimidate witnesses. Pichugin maintains that he is innocent. His lawyer, Georgii Kaganer, said the case against Pichugin is a provocation aimed at getting him to reveal information about Yukos. Kaganer said the fate of the Gorins remains unknown because no bodies have been found in the case. He said he will appeal the municipal court's ruling to the Supreme Court. VY
DETAILS EMERGE ABOUT CASE OF 'VERSIYA' EDITOR...
"Versiya" Editor in Chief Rustam Arifjanov stepped down from his post on 14 July after the monthly lost a libel suit filed by Alfa Group co-owners Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, "Vremya novostei" and gazeta.ru reported on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). Fridman and Aven filed suit against the paper and journalist Oleg Lure for two articles published in 1999 and 2000 that alleged that Alfa Group had links to international criminal networks. On 10 July, a Moscow appeals court ruled that the information in "Versiya" was unsubstantiated and ordered the paper to pay 3 million rubles ($99,000) in damages. The court also ordered the paper to pay 170,000 British pounds ($282,000) to the British investigative agency Kroll Associates, ruling that the firm's reputation was also damaged by Lure's articles. The president of Top Secret, the holding that owns "Versiya," Veronika Borovik-Khilchevskaya, said that she accepted Arifjanov's resignation and that Lure, who writes for other publications, left "Versiya" two weeks ago. "Versiya" was founded by investigative journalist Artem Borovik, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 18 September and 20 November 2000). In 2001, the U.S. magazine "U.S. News and World Report," which is a partner in the "Versiya" project, and the American Foreign Press Club established the Atrem Borovik Award to honor courageous Russian journalists. VY
...AS PRO-KREMLIN JOURNALIST WINS CASE FILED BY LAWYER FOR HOSTAGE-CRISIS VICTIMS
A Moscow district court has rejected a defamation claim filed by Igor Trunov, a lawyer representing some of the victims of the October 2002 operation to rescue hostages being held by Chechen fighters in a Moscow theater, lenta.ru reported on 14 July. Trunov alleged that ORT commentator Mikhail Leontev defamed him by saying on the state-run channel that Trunov "is a marauder making a career on blood." Trunov's clients were suing the state for compensation following the hostage-rescue operation, in which 122 hostages died from the effects of a sleeping gas that security agents pumped into the theater to immobilize the hostage takers. In its verdict, the court said that Leontev was simply expressing his own opinion and that, according to the Russian Constitution, no one can be deprived of the right to their opinions. Leontev is well known for his strongly anti-Western commentaries and is one of the coordinators of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's campaign for the 7 December State Duma elections. VY
RUMORS FLY THAT ALUMINUM TITAN MIGHT BE NEXT...
"Gazeta" on 15 July predicted that Russian Aluminum (Rusal) head Oleg Deripaska "is the next in line for persecution after [Yukos head] Mikhail Khodorkovskii." The daily noted that the Prosecutor-General's Office has reopened a case based on allegations by businessman Andrei Andreev that he was illegally deprived of assets in as many as 100 companies including Ingosstrakh, Avtobank, and NOSTA, and that these assets are now owned by branches of Rusal (see "RFE/RL Business Watch," 5 November 2002). Carnegie Moscow Center Andrei Ryabov told "Gazeta" that he thinks a case against Deripaska will follow the same pattern as with Khodorkovskii, and that his entourage rather than the oligarch himself will be targeted by the prosecutor's office. An article in "Moskovskaya pravda" at the beginning of this year alleged that Andreev has close ties with senior Interior Ministry officials. In March, State Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman Pavel Burdukov (Agro-Industrial Group) and fellow Security Committee Deputy Chairman Georgii Maitakov (Russian Regions) sent a letter to Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev asking them to investigate the allegations made in the article (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). JAC
...AS NTV SEES CASE AS A BLOW AGAINST YELTSIN-ERA 'FAMILY'
In an interview with NTV on 15 July, Andrei Andreev said his case was opened by the Interior Ministry in 2002 but was closed later that year. He said it was subsequently reopened by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Andreev repeated his allegations that Basic Element, a company controlled by Rusal head Deripaska, knowingly purchased assets that had been illegally taken from him. He said that by looking into the case, prosecutors are "teaching people the lesson that they shouldn't use stolen property." Andreev admitted that he is a retired Interior Ministry officer. When asked where he got the money to purchase the assets that he alleges were taken from him, Andreev said he bought them in 1992 when they cost next to nothing. NTV speculated that the investigation into the matter might be intended as a strike against the so-called Family that gained power during the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin. Deripaska was a favorite of Yeltsin's, and is married to the daughter of Yeltsin's son-in-law and former aide, Valentin Yumashev, NTV noted. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). VY
INTERIOR MINISTER REBUFFS CRITICS
Interior Minister Gryzlov told reporters in Vladimir Oblast on 15 July that he has no plans to resign in order to take up politics full-time, RosBalt reported. "Such information could not have come from me," Gryzlov insisted. "I was appointed to this post by the president of Russia, and I plan to fulfill my duties as long as possible." On the same day, the Union of Rightist Forces faction introduced in the Duma a bill that would prohibit members of the government from performing political party work, deputy faction leader Boris Nadezhdin told the agency. The constitution bans government officials from being members of political parties. Gryzlov maintains that he is in compliance with the law because, although he is Unified Russia's leader, he is not a member of the party. JAC
ZHIRINOVSKII SHOWS THE VOTERS THE MONEY...
Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader and Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii told reporters in Naryan-Mar on 15 July that his son, Igor Lebedev, who is the leader of the LDPR faction in the Duma, will run for the Duma in the single-mandate district in Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the 7 December elections, Regnum reported. According to RosBalt, Zhirinovskii said during his stay that he supports the creation of an "insurance fund" that would help residents of the Far Northern region to relocate to a more favorable climate. Earlier in the week, Zhirinovskii handed out money to a crowd of listeners on a central square in Petrozavodsk, newsru.com reported on 15 July, citing "Komsomolskaya pravda v Karelii." Zhirinovskii also called for local unemployed people to come to Moscow, where he pledged to arrange temporary work and housing. JAC
...AS DEPUTY DUMA SPEAKER TO TRY TO FILL SLAIN DEPUTY'S SHOES
On 15 July, State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada (Union of Rightist Forces, or SPS) announced that she will run for the Duma from the 209th single-mandate district in St. Petersburg, according to RosBalt. Khakamada will also run in the second slot on SPS's party list. She declined to say who will be number three, saying that it would cause a "sensation." The 209th district was previously represented by Galina Starovoitova, who was killed in November 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). JAC
DISSATISFACTION WITH NEW AUTOMOBILE REGULATIONS CONTINUES IN FAR EAST
Residents of the Far Eastern port city of Nakhodka on 15 July held a second protest action against a new increase in the duty paid on imported second-hand automobiles and against the introduction of mandatory car insurance, polit.ru reported on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). Protestors used bulldozers to mangle a Zhiguli, a Moskvich, and a Zaporozhets -- "three symbols of the Soviet automobile industry." During the last protest, a Zhiguli was set on fire. In Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, residents are collecting signatures for an appeal to President Vladimir Putin to cancel the new law requiring car insurance, according to the website. JAC
KRASNODAR AUTHORITIES WANT TO CLOSE DOWN ADVOCACY GROUP FOR MESKHETIANS
Krasnodar Krai authorities are reportedly seeking to close down a local human rights foundation based in Novorossiisk, polit.ru reported on 15 July. The organization, Shkola Mira, has defended the interests of immigrants and ethnic groups such as the Meskhetians. However, the group is reportedly not in compliance with a law that requires that all public organizations have three founders. It has only one. When the group queried Irina Kovaleva, a leading specialist at the department for public associations at the krai's Justice Ministry directorate, about introducing changes into their organizational charter, they were told that the Justice Ministry "is not interested in the continuation of the activities of the organization." According to the website, the directors of the foundation were told indirectly that if they bring pressure to bear on the international community to compel Georgia to agree to allow the Meskhetians to immigrate to that country, then they can count on the full support of the krai authorities. However, the foundation does not want to comply with this suggestion. JAC
LOCAL LEGISLATORS SAY 'YES' TO THE DEVIL
The Arkhangelsk Oblast legislature voted on 15 July to restore the oblast's historical emblem, which depicts an archangel defeating the devil, Russian media reported. Earlier, lawmakers agreed to the emblem, but only if the devil was removed. However, Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Anatolii Yefremov vetoed that bill, insisting that the emblem be restored as it was when it was first approved by Tsar Alexander II in 1878, ITAR-TASS reported. Last month, Aleksandr Churkin, editor of the local newspaper "Zhizn," told "The Moscow Times" that residents are tired of the controversy: "No one supports either the governor or the deputies," he said, the daily reported on 27 June. JAC
CHECHNYA GETS A NEW SENATOR
Legislators in Chechnya's State Council voted on 15 July to elect Adan Muzykaev as their representative to the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported. Muzykaev is an adviser to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and a former inspector with the Audit Chamber. The representative for Chechnya's presidential administration, Akhmar Zavgaev, was appointed in October 2000. JAC
ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES DEATH PENALTY BAN CONSTITUTIONAL
The Armenian Constitutional Court on 15 July ruled that the restrictions on capital punishment set forth in Protocol 6 of the Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms comply with the Armenian Constitution, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Yerkir reported. The ruling effectively negates any legal justification for not imposing an outright ban on capital punishment and returns the matter to parliament. The protocol restricts the application of the death penalty to exceptional cases, such as in times of war or national emergency. The abolishment of capital punishment is a major obligation of Armenia's membership of the Council of Europe, but the Armenian government has repeatedly extended the deadline for implementing a full moratorium, because many insist that the death penalty should be imposed on the five suspects currently on trial for the October 1999 attack on parliament that resulted in the deaths of several senior government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). Senior officials, including Prime Minister Andranik Markarian who openly derided calls for such a ban, have argued that ending the death penalty "would jeopardize the country's interests" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). RG
ARMENIAN OFFICIALS MEET WITH VISITING INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian and other senior Armenian officials met on 15 July with visiting Indian Foreign Minister Digvijay Singh, Yerkir and Armenpress reported. In the first meetings of his two-day visit, Singh discussed several areas of bilateral cooperation, including plans for the expansion of bilateral trade and cooperation in science, education, and telecommunications. President Robert Kocharian has accepted an invitation to pay a state visit to India later this year. Strengthened ties between Azerbaijan and Pakistan, including military assistance, have strongly contributed to the recent improvements in Armenian-Indian relations. RG
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO FRANCE
President Kocharian arrived in Paris on 15 July at the head of a delegation that includes Foreign Minister Oskanian and Armenian Ambassador to France Eduard Nalbandian, according to Armenpress. Kocharian met with French Senate President Christian Poncelet and reviewed bilateral relations. Kocharian will meet on 16 July with French President Jacques Chirac, as well as with officials from the French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry and members of the France-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group. The Armenian delegation will also meet with French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin and National Assembly President Jean-Louis Debre. Kocharian hurriedly departed for France after attending his son's wedding to the daughter of parliamentarian Vladimir Badalian. RG
AZERBAIJANI PRO-GOVERNMENT PARTY OPENS CAMPAIGN OFFICE FOR PRESIDENT'S SON
The Social Prosperity Party on 15 July opened a campaign office in Baku in support of the candidacy of President Heidar Aliev's son, Ilham, in the 15 October presidential election, ANS reported. According to Hussein Kyazymly, the leader of the small pro-government party, the new office and its staff of several dozen volunteers is part of a larger effort to elect Ilham Aliev that includes organized campaigning in several key regions. The Social Prosperity Party formally endorsed the younger Aliev at a party congress on 5 July, one day after he was formally registered by the Central Election Commission. Although incumbent President Aliev remains a candidate in the presidential election, some elements of the government's traditional power base have expressed support for the younger Aliev. The 80-year-old president's fragile health and his return to a Turkish military hospital in recent days might be the reason for the rather unexpected candidacy of his son (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). RG
AZERBAIJANI DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER IN IRAN
Arriving in Tehran on 15 July, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov continued negotiations with Iranian officials in an attempt to resolve the disputed legal status and division of the Caspian Sea, ANS reported. Khalafov said the negotiations are an important preliminary step prior to the summit of Caspian littoral states scheduled to be held in Moscow at the end of this month. RG
RUSSIAN REGIONAL BUSINESS LEADERS EXPLORING INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN AZERBAIJAN
A group of entrepreneurs and business leaders from Russia's Perm Oblast met on 15 July with Azerbaijani business figures to explore new opportunities in Azerbaijan, the Azertac state news agency reported. Industry and Trade Chamber Vice President Yelena Mirinova held meetings with representatives of local enterprises and reviewed possible investments in the metallurgy, mechanical-engineering, oil-equipment, and consumer-goods sectors. RG
AZERBAIJAN PARTICIPATES IN WHO MEETING
The head of the Baku office of the World Health Organization (WHO), Fuad Mardanli, represented Azerbaijan at the 15 July WHO meeting in Vienna, according to the Azertac state news agency. The WHO has expanded its public-health programs in Azerbaijan in recent years and is to dispatch an epidemiological expert to Azerbaijan to assist local public-health officials and the Health Ministry to combat malaria. According to data released by Azerbaijan's Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology, 138 citizens have contracted malaria in the first half of 2003. RG
GEORGIAN SPEAKER ORGANIZING NEW OPPOSITION ALLIANCE...
Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze revealed in a 14 July television interview that she has initiated efforts to organize a new alliance of opposition political parties, "The Georgian Times" and Civil Georgia reported on 15 July. Burdjanadze said she is seeking to form an "opposition alliance uniting the United Democrats, the National Movement, and the New Rights parties," but admitted that consultations are continuing as no agreement has yet been reached among the parties. The 39-year-old speaker has emerged as a formidable political figure in recent months and is using the government's failure to fulfill its budget targets as an issue to unify the opposition. RG
...AS PRO-GOVERNMENT BLOC LEADERSHIP CONSIDERS SHAKE-UP
Leading members of the pro-government election bloc For a New Georgia convened a meeting on 15 July and called on President Eduard Shevardnadze to form a new political council to replace the bloc's current leadership, Civil Georgia reported. The move is seen as an attempt to reduce the power of Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, a co-chairman and head of electoral strategy for the bloc. Djorbenadze is opposed by several leading members of the bloc and has also faced criticism in recent weeks because of the government's failure to meet budget targets. Supporters of the proposed new leadership council contend the body would improve preparations for the November parliamentary elections and would curtail Djorbenadze's "unilateral decision-making process." RG
ADJARIAN LEADER HARSHLY CRITICIZES CENTRAL GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT
In a 15 July press conference held one day after he dismissed his entire cabinet, Adjarian Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze strongly criticized the central Georgian government, "The Georgian Times" and Civil Georgia reported. Abashidze condemned the Tbilisi government for failing to govern the country effectively and accused it of simply "doing its best to stay in power." Abashidze accused State Minister Djorbenadze of failing to transfer promised funds to the Adjarian government and vowed to prevent his Revival Union bloc from participating in the coming parliamentary elections unless Tbilisi can ensure "peaceful elections" without resorting to declaring a state of emergency. RG
GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTER IN IRAN
Georgia's State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania met with senior Iranian officials on 15 July during a three-day official visit to Tehran, according to Civil Georgia. Khaburzania reviewed a number of proposed bilateral measures to improve efforts to combat drug trafficking and enhance regional security. RG
REPRESENTATIVES OF CASPIAN SEA STATES AGREE ON ENVIRONMENTAL CONVENTION...
A two-day meeting in Astana of government experts from the Caspian Sea littoral states and UN representatives ended on 15 July with participants agreeing on a draft convention on environmental protection of the Caspian, khabar.kz and RIA-Novosti reported on 15 July, quoting Kazakh Deputy Environment Minister Enlik Nurgalieva. It was the eighth meeting of environmental experts from the Caspian states seeking to work out an accord on protecting the sea's unique ecology. There has been general agreement among experts that the Caspian sturgeon fishery is in acute danger because of overfishing. In the last three years, some Caspian Sea states have pledged to restrict the sturgeon catch, but poaching is widespread. Ecologists have warned for at least a decade of the potential threat to the ecology of the Caspian that is posed by extensive oil drilling on the Caspian shelf. A decision to draft a convention on protecting the Caspian was adopted at a conference of the littoral states in Tehran in 1992. Nurgalieva was quoted as saying the draft could be signed by the Caspian heads of state before the end of the year. BB
...BUT NO COMMON POLICY ON WATER USE IN OB-IRTYSH BASIN
Lack of agreement among Kazakhstan, Russia, and China on water-use policy in the Ob-Irtysh basin is resulting in the exhaustion of the region's water resources, according to participants in a conference on the rivers in the basin that ended in Ust-Kamenogorsk on 15 July, RIA-Novosti reported. The conference of scientists and officials of Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine drew up an appeal to the governments and legislators of Kazakhstan and Russia, pointing out that the lack of detailed programs to improve the environmental situation in the Ob-Irtysh basin threatens the health of the population and the viability of the ecosystem. The appeal advises the two countries to take advantage of the good relations presently existing among the states using the waters of the basin. China is reported to be planning an extensive development of irrigation-based agriculture using the waters of the Black Irtysh River, which will further complicate matters in the basin. In 2000 by Kazakhstan's Environmental Protection Ministry, Russia's Natural Resources Ministry, and the French Agency for Development signed a memorandum of cooperation for cross-border management of the Irtysh. France has provided a 1 million-euro ($1.18 million) grant to set up a system of water monitoring on the Irtysh River that is scheduled to be completed in October. BB
KYRGYZSTAN LOSING ARABLE LAND
A government survey of land use in Kyrgyzstan has shown that the country is gradually losing agricultural land, akipress.org reported on 15 July. Only 1.05 million hectares of Kyrgyzstan's total 19.99 million-hectare territory is classified as arable. The survey found that in some areas formerly arable land has been lost to agriculture because of a lack of investment and the deterioration of irrigation and drainage systems that has resulted in salinization. Natural disasters -- including floods, landslides, and avalanches -- reportedly have also taken a toll on the country's agricultural land. The institution of private landownership by referendum in 1998 was supposed to help resolve Kyrgyzstan's agricultural problems, but by the beginning of 2003 only 6 percent of the land in the country was in the hands of private owners, and presumably much of that is not being used for agriculture. BB
TAJIKISTAN SIGNS FOOD-AID AGREEMENT WITH WORLD FOOD PROGRAM
Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov signed a food-aid agreement with the UN World Food Program (WFP) on 14 July that will expand the agency's assistance to the country, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 July, quoting the Foreign Ministry's Information Department. Under the new agreement, the WFP will continue providing food aid to the more vulnerable sections of Tajikistan's population, and additionally will supply seeds to farmers and assist in improving the country's irrigation system, which was neglected during the 1992-97 civil war with disastrous consequences for agriculture. The WFP program will emphasize micro-projects that will directly affect individual farmers. Tajik officials emphasize the necessity of providing jobs in all areas of the country's economy as a means of reducing the outflow of the country's citizens seeking work abroad. BB
TURKMEN STATE TV GETS NEW HEAD
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has reorganized the management of the country's state-television system and has appointed a pediatrician, Gurbansoltan Handurdyeva, to head it, turkmenistan.ru and centrasia.ru reported on 16 July. Perennially dissatisfied with Turkmen television offerings that are "uninteresting" and concentrate overwhelmingly on the doings of the president, Niyazov experimented for about a year with three "independent" television channels, each with its own head but without a single overall manager. This system was supposed to improve performance by means of competition for viewers. Handurdyeva served for a year as deputy prime minister responsible for culture, tourism, and sports before being appointed the overseer of state television. Before that she reportedly worked as a pediatrician for 20 years. In announcing the reorganization to a regular cabinet meeting, Niyazov once again attacked state television as unprofessional and for not contributing to the "upbringing of future generations of Turkmenistanis [a term embracing all citizens regardless of ethnicity] in the spirit of love for their homeland and devotion to the traditions of their ancestors." Niyazov also fined his press secretary, Akmurad Hudaiberdyev, two months' pay for failing to exercise sufficiently strong control over state television. BB
UZBEKISTAN ACCUSES KYRGYZ DEPUTY PREMIER OF MISREPRESENTATION
The press service of Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry said that Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov, who headed Kyrgyzstan's delegation to a meeting of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz Commission on Bilateral Cooperation in Tashkent on 9-10 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003), misrepresented what had taken place at the meeting when speaking to Kyrgyz media, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 July. The Uzbek side asserted that an examination of the protocol of the meeting shows that some of the issues about which Mambetov said agreement had been reached were not even discussed. These topics include the return to Kyrgyzstan of three oil-and-gas fields, road transport, and tariffs on rail shipments. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry's press service said the ministry called in Kyrgyz Ambassador to Uzbekistan Ulugbek Chinaliev to ask for an explanation. BB
UZBEKISTAN INTENDS TO USE PIPELINE FOR ITS OWN GAS
The Russian natural-gas firm Itera will be unable to use the Uzbek pipeline system to ship the amount of gas the firm has requested to transit through Uzbekistan because that country will give precedence to shipments of its own gas, Interfax reported on 15 July, quoting Uzbek Prime Minister Otkir Sultonov. He was quoted as saying that Uzbekistan had repeatedly warned that it will be using its pipelines primarily for the export of its own gas. Uzbekistan is exporting gas under a 2003 contract with the Russian firm Gazeksport that envisages increasing exports in coming years. The Russian gas giant Gazprom not only buys Uzbek gas, but also has a partnership contract with Uzbekistan on the transit of gas. So Itera, which just signed a contract with Turkmenistan to buy 10 billion cubic meters of gas in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 14 July 2003), might have difficulty moving it. Sultonov commented that countries that buy gas from Itera -- Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in particular -- should take note. BB
BELARUSIAN PROSECUTOR RESUMES PROBE INTO OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S DISAPPEARANCE
Minsk City Prosecutor Mikalay Kulik has resumed an investigation into the 1999 disappearance of opposition politician Viktar Hanchar and his friend Anatol Krasouski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999), Belapan reported on 15 July. Kulik annulled a previous decision to halt the investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003) and put senior investigator Syarhey Kukharonak in charge of the resumed process. Lawyer Hary Pahanyayla of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee told Belapan that the decision comes as a surprise. It was prompted by criticism from human rights organizations rather than by any desire or willingness to solve the case, he added. AM
PRESS-FREEDOM WATCHDOG CONDEMNS SUPPRESSION OF MEDIA IN BELARUS
The nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the Belarusian authorities' recent decisions to shut down Russia's NTV television offices in Minsk and to deny the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and Internews Network extensions on their accreditations, Belapan reported on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 July 2003). "Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's concerted campaign against critical voices has reached catastrophic proportions," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a written statement. "Lukashenka and his bureaucrats should realize that their actions will only yield international criticism. He and his administration must stop hounding the independent press immediately." AM
BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS PUBLISH UNDER RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER'S MASTHEAD
A print run of the "Belarus Special Edition," published by Russia's "Novaya gazeta" and carrying stories by journalists from the suspended "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," has been brought to Minsk, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Svyatlana Kalinkina told Belapan on 15 July. The idea of sending Belarusian stories to the Moscow-based "Novaya gazeta" for printing originated with Russia's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Kalinkina said. "If 'Novaya gazeta' encounters problems in Belarus, there are many other Russian publications, including those printed in Belarus, that have already offered help," she added. Two recent attempts by "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" journalists to publish under rivals' mastheads in Belarus have failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June and 15 July 2003). Belarusian authorities suspended the publication of "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" for three months for allegedly defaming the president. AM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS ENVIRONMENT MINISTER...
President Leonid Kuchma appointed Serhiy Polakov as Ukraine's new environment minister on 15 July, Interfax reported. Polakov was proposed by the Popular Democratic Party caucus in the Verkhovna Rada. He formerly served as coal-industry minister and Donetsk Oblast governor. Kuchma sacked Polakov's predecessor, Vasyl Shevchuk, in June, blaming him for "serious shortcomings" in his work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003). AM
...AND WANTS UKRAINE TO HAVE STRONG PRESIDENCY AFTER POLITICAL REFORM
President Kuchma on 15 July criticized a constitutional-reform bill submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by a group of mostly opposition lawmakers, Interfax reported. "The parliamentary draft bill makes the president a puppet," he told journalists. "I want Ukraine to have a strong president." Kuchma speculated that if opposition Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko wins the next presidential election, he will be unable to form a government and will have to agree "to what the parliamentary majority offers him." Kuchma reiterated a previous pledge to withdraw his constitutional-reform bill if it continues to be a source of contention in parliament. "I will withdraw my draft not because I want to do this, but because I don't want to put this problem into a deadlock." AM
ESTONIA'S AUDENTES MAINOR UNIVERSITY TO BAIL OUT CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
The creditors of the bankrupt Concordia University decided on 14 July to accept Audentes Mainor University's offer to pay 8 million kroons ($575,000) to settle Concordia's debts, LETA reported the next day. Audentes Mainor University Rector Peeter Kross said Concordia will continue to operate in the same way it did prior to its financial troubles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003), retaining its academic structure, accredited teaching plans, and curriculum. Mart Susi, Concordia's previous rector and main owner whose management was responsible for many of the university's debts, will no longer serve as its rector. SG
LATVIAN CABINET NAMES EU AND NATO MEMBERSHIP TOP PRIORITIES FOR 2004 BUDGET
Following lengthy debate, the cabinet decided in its 15 July session to name integration into the European Union and NATO as the highest priorities for the 2004 budget, LETA reported. After ministers suggested that other areas should also be listed as priorities, Prime Minister Einars Repse halted the discussion by asking for a separate vote on five alternatives. The 18 cabinet votes were divided in the following way: eight listing only EU and NATO membership; four for EU, NATO, culture, and children's rights; three for EU, NATO, and culture; two for EU, NATO, and legal rights; and one calling for priority to be placed on areas chosen by each of the 16 ministers. National Culture Council Chairwoman Nora Ikstena submitted her resignation to protest the failure to include culture as a budget priority. SG
WORLD BANK GRANTS $6.5 MILLION TO UPGRADE HEATING UTILITIES IN LITHUANIAN CAPITAL
The head of the World Bank Office in Lithuania, Mantas Nocius, Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, and heating utility Vilnius Energy President Jean Sacrester reached an agreement on 15 July for the provision of 19.5 million litas ($6.5 million) from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to make Vilnius apartment buildings more efficient and to upgrade the city's heating system, BNS reported. The GEF's program is aimed at reducing pollution by improving heating efficiency. Most of the grant (12 million litas) will be spent to make apartment buildings more energy efficient. SG
POLISH RULING PARTY VOWS INTERNAL PROBE INTO ALLEGED MAFIA LINKS
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party whip Wlodzimierz Nieporet will investigate allegations that some SLD members have links to an organized-crime group dubbed the "Pruszkow Mafia," Polish media reported on 15 July. The "Wprost" weekly quoted the testimony of a reputed former gangster in a recent court case suggesting that SLD deputies have received money from the Pruszkow criminal group. Nieporet pledged that those alleged ties will be examined in detail, and he conceded that recent reports of improper activities by SLD members have become a problem for the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 11 July 2003). AM
CZECH LEADERS MOUNT 'EXCEPTIONAL DAY OF CZECH DIPLOMACY'...
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" hailed 15 July as "an exceptional day of Czech diplomacy" as Premier Vladimir Spidla met with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House and President Vaclav Klaus met with French President Jacques Chirac within a span of several hours. A commentator in the daily "Lidove noviny" of 16 July noted that "while Vladimir Spidla flew to Washington for praise over the Czech stance during the Iraq war, Vaclav Klaus in Paris expressed his doubts regarding the unification of Europe." The commentator and other media noted that Spidla's meeting went longer than scheduled, while the Klaus-Chirac meeting was cut short. A "Mlada fronta Dnes" column meanwhile argues that "America embodies the ideals of freedom, free trade, and rule of law more strongly than Europe, which too often fumbles around." AH
...AS PREMIER AND U.S. PRESIDENT DISCUSS DEFENSE AND TRADE...
In their roughly one-hour discussion, Spidla said he and Bush discussed a possible Czech tender to purchase supersonic jets. Spidla also reiterated a Czech offer to assemble an international battalion to combat weapons of mass destruction, according to the daily "Lidove noviny" of 16 July. Bush assured Spidla that he will support Czech firms in their pursuit of contracts in postwar Iraq, according to the daily. The same paper reported that Washington will reward Czech support for Operation Iraqi Freedom with financial aid for military spending, such as army modernization. It also suggested the United States will have a major advantage over other bidders in a future Czech tender to purchase fighter jets if Washington follows through with expected plans to lease F-16s to the Czech military at little or no cost. White House spokesman Scott McClellan quoted Bush as praising the Czech Republic as "a close friend and ally," "Lidove noviny" reported. AH
...AND CZECH PRESIDENT RUFFLES FRENCH FEATHERS
President Klaus met with French President Chirac in Paris on 15 July during what "Mlada fronta Dnes" called an unofficial visit in which the two men primarily discussed the Czech Republic's future role in the European Union. Klaus told the same daily that he "assured [President Chirac] that the Czech Republic will function as a standard country of the EU." In an interview prior to his meeting with Chirac, the self-described "Euro-realist" told the French daily "Le Figaro" that "I don't want a European passport," dismissed a European Constitution as unnecessary, and said the Czech Republic's pro-EU vote in a June referendum provided "no reason for dancing in the street," according to "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Lidove noviny." Klaus abruptly concluded the interview when a "Le Figaro" reporter asked about Communist support for his presidency (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003) and threatened to dismiss his spokesman for not supplying the questions beforehand, the French daily and Czech papers reported. AH
SLOVAKIA HAS WORK TO DO BEFORE IT CAN RECEIVE FUNDS, EUROPEAN COMMISSION WARNS
Slovakia has received a lukewarm assessment from the European Commission of its preparedness to utilize millions of euros that will be forthcoming from EU structural funds, TASR reported on 15 July, citing a report that was expected to be released the next day. Slovakia fares worse than the other candidates and is the only country to be warned that "enormous effort should be taken" to prepare for receiving European funds in time for accession to the European Union in May 2004, according to TASR. The report says Slovakia needs to ensure a complete legislative framework in the area of public procurement, improve coordination among ministries, and better inform the public about the possibilities of using structural funds. LA
SLOVAK PREMIER CONDEMNS ILLEGAL WIRETAPPING, BUT SAYS CURRENT CASE IS DIFFERENT
Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has strongly condemned illegal wiretapping and any "games" connected with its outcome, the prime minister's spokesman, Martin Maruska, said on 15 July, according to TASR. Maruska said Dzurinda has already discussed a report by Slovak military prosecutors on the investigation into the wiretapping in December 2002 of Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko and an editor from the Slovak daily "Sme" with both Slovak Prosecutor-General Milan Hanzel and Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Ladislav Pittner. A deputy from parliament's intelligence-oversight committee recently revealed that military prosecutors involved in the investigation were also being monitored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). Through spokesman Maruska, Dzurinda said that all state-controlled institutions and organizations must operate in accordance with Slovak laws. "The premier has learned that the relevant institutions were doing their jobs in this case," the spokesman added, according to TASR. LA
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS EDUCATION BILL INTO LAW
Ferenc Madl signed into law a sweeping public-education bill on 15 July, MTI news agency reported. There had been speculation that he would return it to parliament for reconsideration or send it to the Constitutional Court for review. The Education Ministry claims the act will eliminate excessive workloads for educators and gives parents a greater voice in decisions that affect their children. Critics from the opposition and the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) have argued that it will in fact increase the workload for teachers and tie their hands with poorly performing pupils. The PDSZ announced the same day that it will turn to the Constitutional Court to challenge the bill, a move that the opposition FIDESZ party has already pledged to make. ZsM
HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS PALESTINIAN COUNTERPART
Hungary supports the international "road map" to peace in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told his visiting Palestinian Autonomy counterpart Nabil Shaat in Budapest on 15 July, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Kovacs added that he sees no reason why Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should be excluded from peace talks. For his part, Shaat said Hungary is perceived as an outstanding partner among the Central and Eastern European countries. Kovacs later told reporters that it gives him particular pleasure that, in joining the EU, which has played a role in drawing up the road map, Hungary will become an active participant in supporting the Middle East peace process. Shaat also met on 15 July with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, who reiterated Hungary's desire to contribute to a political solution in the Middle East. Shaat also had talks with FIDESZ Chairman and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban. ZsM
FITCH LOWERS RATINGS ON HUNGARIAN DEBT AS BUDGET DEFICIT GROWS
Fitch rating agency revised its outlook on Hungarian sovereign debt from stable to negative, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 16 July. The agency's ratings remain unchanged at A- on Hungary's long-term foreign-denominated debt and A+ on its long-term forint-denominated debt. Fitch cited Hungary's inconsistent economic policy. Fitch warned in November that the country's large budget and current-account deficits could harm Hungary's debt ratings. Last week, rating agency Standard & Poor's made a similar change in its outlook for Hungarian bonds. Meanwhile, a 15 July Finance Ministry press release said Hungary's budget deficit for the first six months of the year was 601 billion forints ($2.6 billion), some 72 percent of the year-end target, "Napi Gazdasag" reported. The ministry said it still believes that the budget deficit for this year will not reach 4.5 percent of GDP. ZsM
FORMER KOSOVAR GUERRILLAS SENTENCED FOR WAR CRIMES
In Prishtina on 16 July, a panel of three international judges sentenced Rrustem Mustafa "Remi," a former commander of the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), to 17 years in prison for war crimes, Reuters reported. Three other former guerrillas received sentences of 13, 10, and five years, respectively. Charges against the four men included torturing ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbian forces during the 1998-99 conflict. The case marks the first war crimes trial held in Kosova. Protests were scheduled for later on 16 July in Podujeva in northeastern Kosova, which was Remi's wartime power base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 14 August 2002). PM
SERBS RETURN TO KOSOVA...
Some 24 Serbian families that fled Kosova in 1999 returned to the village of Belo Polje near Peja on 15 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). Milorad Todorovic, who is responsible for refugee returns within the Kosova government, hailed the return as exceptionally important, irrespective of the security situation. In related news, the Kosova parliament amended its recent resolution calling for refugees to come home to specifically include people who fled the province after the conflict ended in June 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 11 July 2003). PM
...AS LOCAL POLITICIANS FEUD
A majority of the members of the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition in the Kosova parliament voted on 15 July in Mitrovica to expel Rada Trajkovic and Randjel Nojkic from the faction, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The two deputies, who will retain their legislative seats, blamed the authorities in Belgrade for engineering their ouster from Povratak. PM
SERBIAN POLICE FREE THREE PROMINENT DETAINEES
Serbian police on 15 July released three of the best-known individuals held in the crackdown following the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Serbian media reported. The three are "turbo-folk" singer Svetlana Raznatovic "Ceca," former intelligence kingpin and aide to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica Aco Tomic, and former Croatian Serb rebel leader Borislav Mikelic. Tomic and Mikelic were suspected of having links to alleged "Zemun clan" leader Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek "Legija," who is Serbia's most wanted man (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 14 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). Police are continuing their investigations of the three former detainees. In related news, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said his government is seeking the extradition from Bulgaria of alleged Zemun clan figure Nenad Milenkovic, whom Bulgarian police arrested in Sofia on 12 July. PM
SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION AGREES ON NEW CONSTITUTION
Members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) agreed in Belgrade on 15 July that the new constitution will define Serbia as a state of its citizens and not as a state of the Serbian nation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The DOS also decided that the president will be elected by the parliament. The constitution defines Serbia as a state enjoying full rights and powers, sharing only a limited number of functions with Montenegro in a joint state. The document could therefore be easily modified if the joint state were to break up (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003). PM
EBRD ISSUES GUARANTEE FOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS IN MACEDONIA
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) signed an agreement with the Macedonian government on 15 July regarding guarantees for a $45.2 million loan slated for two major highway-construction projects that are parts of the Pan-European Transport Corridors No. 8 and No. 10, MIA news agency reported. The money, which will be provided by Britain and France, is to be used for a section of the Skopje ring highway and a short portion of highway in southern Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2003). In related news, the EU will grant Macedonia some $43.5 million under the Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development, and Stabilization (CARDS) program in 2003, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB
EU PLEDGES AID TO BOSNIA
Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic and EU Ambassador to Bosnia Michael Humphreys signed an agreement in Sarajevo on 15 May providing over $70 million in EU CARDS funds, Bosnian media reported. PM
FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT DENIES HE PLOTTED BOSNIAN PARTITION
Stjepan Kljuic, who was a moderate ethnic Croatian leader in Bosnia until his ouster by nationalists in January 1992, told the war crimes trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 15 July that Milosevic once told him that part of western Herzegovina should be joined to Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kljuic added that the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman once said that Milosevic "gave him" the Cazinska Krajina region of Bosnia. In his courtroom response, Milosevic denied that he ever discussed the partition of Bosnia with Tudjman. PM
CROATIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS HEARING ON PRIVATIZATION DEAL
The four conservative opposition parties said in a joint statement in Zagreb on 15 July that they want a special parliamentary session to discuss the government's plans to allow Hungary's MOL to purchase slightly more than a 25 percent interest in the Croatian state-owned oil company INA, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. MOL reportedly outbid an Austrian competitor after a Russian firm withdrew from the bidding. The government wants to pursue the sale soon, arguing that the value of INA shares will decline in the fall, when unnamed Serbian and Bosnian oil companies will be up for privatization. PM
CROATIA GETS A NEW LABOR LAW
In a bid to attract more foreign investment, the Croatian parliament approved a labor law on 14 July that will make it easier for employers to fire staff, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Severance pay will also be cut, particularly for employees who have worked 20 or more years for the same company. In return, the government agreed to union demands for better unemployment benefits. PM
ROMANIAN HEALTH MINISTER SAYS SECTOR IS AILING
Health Minister Mircea Beuran told a press conference in Sfintu Gheorghe on 15 July that his ministry's immediate priorities are alleviating the health sector's financial woes and the development of new legislation, Mediafax reported. Beuran, who was named health minister in last month's government reshuffle, warned that the health sector is experiencing its most severe crisis in 60 years. The minister said providers of medical goods will receive by the end of July a second payment for debts they are owed by hospitals. On 15 July, foreign medical suppliers halted deliveries to their Romanian distributors because of unpaid debts. Beuran also said pharmacies are largely responsible for the debts, because they fail to properly budget compensation they receive from the state to offset the high costs of foreign medical products. He vowed to fight to solve the problem. Meanwhile, National Health Insurance Company (CNAS) Director Eugeniu Turlea said he will hold talks with 19 hospitals that refused to sign a new contract with the CNAS because they believe the provision of compensation is insufficient. ZsM
ROMANIAN PREMIER SEEKS REFORM OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Premier Adrian Nastase said after a meeting of the governmental council for monitoring public-administration reform that the government will speed up reform efforts, Romanian Radio reported. He added that each ministry is to propose by the end of August a plan for speeding up reforms. Nastase also called for a drastic cut in the number of public officials. EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele, who also attended the meeting, said the EU is prepared to facilitate the reform process. ZsM
EU, NATO DISCUSS OSCE PROPOSAL ON SENDING PEACEKEEPING FORCES TO MOLDOVA...
Delegations headed by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and European Council Policy and Security Committee Chairman Maurizio Melani on 15 July discussed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) recent proposal to send peacekeeping troops to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Robertson said no decisions were made at the meeting, and that the OSCE should present a concrete plan. Melani said that in the event a decision is made to send peacekeeping troops to Moldova, Russia's interests in the region should be taken into consideration. He added that a decision will come soon. Stella Ronner, the spokeswoman for the OSCE's Dutch chairmanship, confirmed in a 15 July interview with RFE/RL that the OSCE plans to send peacekeeping troops to the region should Chisinau and Tiraspol fail to reach a political resolution to the conflict. ZsM
...AS NEW TRAINLOAD OF RUSSIAN WEAPONS LEAVES TRANSDNIESTER
A train loaded with Russian weapons and ammunition left Transdniester for Russia on 14 July, Infotag reported. The news agency cited sources from the Russian military's headquarters in Transdniester as saying the train was prepared to depart on 16 June but was delayed on the order of the Transdniester authorities. The train was reportedly prevented from leaving because Russia failed to write off part of Transdniester's gas debts in return for the weapons. The two sides agreed last March that the region would receive compensation of some $100 million, but the Russian government did not ratify the agreement. Russia removed 20 trainloads, or nearly 42,000 tons, of ammunition from the region between March and June. Speaking at a press conference on 14 July, Moldovan OSCE mission chief William Hill said the train's departure is a "very important" development in light of the agreements adopted at the OSCE summits in Istanbul and Porto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002 and 14 May 2003). ZsM
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER REPORTEDLY RESHUFFLES GOVERNMENT
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 16 July summoned the Political Council of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), reportedly to announce a major government reshuffle, mediapool.bg reported. A government reshuffle has long been expected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 27 May 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003). The news agency cited unidentified participants of the meeting as saying that Social Affairs Minister Lidia Shuleva, Education Minister Vladimir Atanasov, and Health Minister Bozhidar Finkov will be replaced by their current deputies, Hristina Hristova, Igor Damyanov, and Slavcho Bogoev, respectively. Shuleva will take over the Economy Ministry from Nikolay Vasilev, who will become the new transport minister. Finkov, incumbent Transport Minister Plamen Petrov, and Minister without portfolio Nezhdet Mollov will leave the government. Saxecoburggotski reportedly nominated Plamen Panayotov as deputy prime minister in charge of European integration. UB
OPINION POLL SAYS BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT LOSING GROUND
According to the results of a recent poll conducted by the state-owned National Center for Public Opinion Research (NTsIOM), more than two-thirds of respondents disapprove of the Bulgarian government, the center's website announced on 15 July (http://www.parliament.bg/nciom/2003/14.07/index.htm). Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi achieved the highest ratings, with 53 percent approval and 32 percent disapproval, followed by Youth and Sports Minister Vasil Ivanov-Luchano (28 percent approval, 21 percent disapproval). All other ministers, including Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, received negative ratings. With the exception of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), all the major political parties exhibited a negative trend in voter confidence. UB
BULGARIAN CONSERVATIVES TO HOLD EXTRAORDINARY CONGRESS OVER LEADERSHIP QUESTION
The National Executive Council of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 15 July supported party Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova's calls to hold an extraordinary party conference, novinite.bg reported. The conference would decide whether to approve the party leadership's controversial decision to withdraw its support for Plamen Oresharski as the SDS's candidate in Sofia's 26 October mayoral elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2003). UB
NEW TWIST IN TRIAL OF BULGARIAN MEDICS IN LIBYA
The parents of an HIV-positive child filed a claim at a Benghazi court on 8 July seeking some $10.7 million in compensation from the six Bulgarian medical workers charged with deliberately infecting nearly 400 Libyan children with HIV, novinite.bg reported. Five nurses and one doctor were arrested by Libyan authorities in February 1999 together with 17 other Bulgarian medics who were later released (see http://www.bta.bg/site/libya/index-e.html and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002 and 3 February and 3 June 2003). UB
EXPERTS SAY BULGARIA SHOULD NOT COMPLY WITH AGREEMENT TO SHUT DOWN NUCLEAR PLANT
An interdepartmental working group tasked by the government with conducting an impact assessment of the closure of blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant has concluded that the government should not decommission these blocks before construction of a new nuclear-power plant in Belene has been completed, RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service reported. Under EU pressure, Bulgaria has agreed to shut down the blocks in question by 2006. However, the Belene nuclear-power plant will not be ready for operation before 2008. The working group determined that the state will lose some $1.6 billion in revenues if blocks No. 3 and No. 4 are taken off the grid, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 19 June 2003). UB
THE PROBLEM OF ORGAN TRAFFICKING
The Albanian and Italian press have published articles from time to time regarding trafficking in teenage Albanian boys to Italy and beyond for use as prostitutes or possibly for the sale of their organs. Typically, the boys and their families appear to be tricked by a trusted person who offers to take the youths to Italy or elsewhere in the EU with the promise of a good education or reunion with relatives already working abroad.
The Council of Europe is calling for a common European strategy in fighting against trafficking in human organs. Its report on the issue, presented on 25 June in the Council's Parliamentary Assembly, says kidney trafficking has become a hugely profitable business for organized crime. People in impoverished Eastern European countries such as Moldova and Ukraine are the most common victims of the illicit trade, which the council calls an attack against human dignity. The report says combating poverty in Eastern Europe is the best way to curb organ trafficking, and urges improved cooperation between rich Western countries and their Eastern neighbors.
How much food and clothing can $3,000 buy? Is it worth a lifetime of suffering? Many Eastern Europeans might have asked themselves such questions before deciding that, yes, it was worth sacrificing one of their kidneys in order to provide food and shelter for their families.
The growth of the human-organs black market in Europe has attracted the attention of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, whose report says that international criminal organizations are capitalizing on the growing demand for kidneys for transplants, and are pressuring poor Eastern Europeans into selling their organs. Rapporteur Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, who authored the report, says kidney traffickers have focused in particular on Europe's poorest country, Moldova, where the average monthly salary is less than $50.
Vermot-Mangold told RFE/RL that during a fact-finding mission to Moldova last year, she met with numerous people who had sold their kidneys via trafficking networks linking Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, and Israel. "The donors are young men between 18 and 28 years of age. I did see 14 of these young men, [and] I had a deeper interview with four of these young men. They are living in very, very poor conditions in rural parts of the country, and poverty had driven some to sell their kidney for a sum of $2,500 to $3,000. And the recipient pays $100,000 and $250,000 per transplant. The rest of the money goes to international organized crime. It is international organized crime that takes the rest of the money, and the doctors who make the transplants," Vermot-Mangold said.
The report says a chronic organ shortage means between 15 percent and 30 percent of European patients die while waiting for a kidney transplant. The average wait for a legal transplant is now three years. It is expected to increase to 10 years by 2010.
Vermot-Mangold said patients in need of a kidney sometimes find donors through front people for the criminal networks. Organ donors themselves occasionally end up acting as intermediaries. The report says most donors travel to Turkey, where transplants are conducted, usually at night, in rented hospital facilities.
Donors are sent home after only five days. The report says their state of health generally deteriorates due to a lack of "any kind of medical follow-up, [as well as] hard physical work and an unhealthy lifestyle." While the report does not directly identify where the buyers come from, it quotes an article published in "The Lancet" magazine, which says that some Israeli transplant recipients have purchased kidneys from people living in Estonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, and Romania.
Vermot-Mangold told RFE/RL that Ukrainians and even Iraqis have also resorted to selling their organs. Vermot-Mangold said the situation raises a number of questions: Should the poor provide for the rich? Should poverty compromise human dignity and health? She said that organ selling is unethical, and should be replaced as much as possible by organ donation.
But, is organ selling illegal? The question remains murky, even though the Council of Europe has made part of its legal "acquis," or body of laws, the principle that the human body and its parts shall not be used for financial gain. The principle was enacted by the council's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, and was reiterated in an additional protocol opened for signature in 2002.
Under the council regulations, a convention becomes legally binding for those states that ratify it. Moldova ratified the Human Rights and Biomedicine convention in 2002. It came into force on its territory in March. Turkey has yet to ratify it.
However, the report says that even though organ trafficking is legally banned in member states, most countries' legal systems still have loopholes. Criminal responsibility is rarely specified clearly in national legislation.
Moldovan investigative journalist Alina Avram told RFE/RL that indifference on the part of the public and officials only compounds the laws' insufficiencies. "I hung a sign around my neck reading 'kidney for sale' and stood half a day outside several legal institutions in Chisinau -- the security service, Interior Ministry, the prosecutor's office -- to see how people and officials react. And they didn't react in any way. That's because, according to our current legislation, kidney donors [or sellers] are not punishable and officials are not supposed to take any action against them. I stood under the [Interior Ministry's] stairway and nobody paid attention to me, except for those policemen who were telling me to walk across the road, where the marketplace is, and sell my kidney there," Avram said.
So far, only two organ-trafficking cases have made it to the courts in Moldova. One case has been dragging on for two years. The second one was closed, with two traffickers being condemned to a five-year suspended sentence.
Avram said such lenient sentences are likely to make organ-trafficking victims even more reluctant to come forward. She added that organ trafficking and trafficking in women and children are two sides of the same problem, and are largely facilitated by government corruption. "Where there is trafficking in human beings there's also trafficking in organs. We reached this conclusion after we found out that both forms of trafficking are being organized by the same mafia clans and are covered by the same spheres of interest in the official state structures. And both [forms of trafficking] are investigated by the same officials," Avram said.
The report calls on Council of Europe bodies to develop a unified European strategy to combat organ trafficking, give organizational assistance to member states, and improve regional cooperation under bodies such as the Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings. But rapporteur Vermot-Mangold said the most important recommendation is in regard to the fight against poverty and corruption in Central and Eastern Europe. "The most important thing is to fight against poverty, so that people are not forced to sell [their] organs," she said. "So it is the first thing that development agencies, investment agencies [have to do], to have projects in these countries, for these people. And if you have too much corruption in these countries -- Moldova is a corrupt [country], it has a corrupt government -- so as long as you have corruption in these countries, it is very difficult to have investors. But to fight poverty is the first thing to do."
Vermot-Mangold added that media and international NGOs should play a more important part in raising awareness throughout the continent about the seriousness of organ trafficking.
Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.
TRIPARTITE COMMISSION ON AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER DISPUTE MEETS
The tripartite commission comprising Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. representatives that was formed to investigate reports of Pakistani forces' incursions into Afghan territory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 July 2003), met in Kabul on 15 July, Radio Afghanistan reported. A communique released after the meeting said the commission evaluated the activities of remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border. In addition, "recent developments" were discussed, and it was decided that a subcommittee will be formed to "carry out ground verifications within a week to address each other's concerns and submit its findings [to the tripartite commission] as soon as possible." The current border dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan erupted following separate military operations on both sides of the border that were designed to remove Al-Qaeda militants who were using Pakistani territory as a staging area for attacks on the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition and Afghan forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 14, and 15 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 June and 11 July 2003). AT
U.S. ENVOY WARNS UNIDENTIFIED THIRD COUNTRY NOT TO INTERFERE IN AFGHAN-PAKISTANI RELATIONS...
U.S. presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said following the meeting the tripartite commission in Kabul on 15 July that Washington wants Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate, the Pakistan daily "Dawn" reported on 16 July. "On the part of Pakistan, every effort has to be made by the government of Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used by forces such as the Taliban," Khalilzad said. "There are some countries, forces -- I'm not going to name anyone -- who may seek to create a problem within Afghanistan, Pakistan, [to] take advantage of it," he added. "Afghans have to be very careful about that." Some believe that Iran might be indirectly encouraging some factions within the Afghan Transitional Administration to oppose closer Afghan-Pakistani relations, as Iran stands to lose in the event those two countries expand bilateral cooperation in economic and other spheres. AT
...AS PAKISTAN'S PRIME MINISTER DENIES INCURSION INTO AFGHANISTAN, NAMES THIRD-PARTY SPOILER
Pakistan's Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali denied on 15 July that his country's forces have entered Afghan territory, Reuters reported. "What would we gain by entering 600 meters?" he asked. "We are not in an athletics race, are we? It doesn't make any sense." Jamali blamed a "third party" for trying to sour Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan, "Dawn" reported on16 July, saying his government cannot not rule out Indian involvement in protesters' 8 July storming of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003). Transitional Administration spokesman Ahmad Jawayd Lodin announced on 14 July that an Afghan investigative team confirmed that Pakistani forces had entered 600 meters into Afghan territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). AT
KANDAHAR PROVINCE TRIBAL, POLITICAL LEADERS DEMAND RESIGNATION OF CDC CHAIRMAN
A number of tribal and political leaders from Kandahar Province demanded on 15 July that Nematullah Shahrani, the head of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), resign because of remarks he has made about the content of the future Afghan constitution, AP reported. Wakil Lal Mohammad, a member of the 2002 Loya Jirga, said on 15 July that "it is for the people to decide what kind of constitution they want." During an 8 July visit to northern parts of Afghanistan, Shahrani said the country will be an Islamic democracy and provided other details of the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). "How can [Shahrani] impose his opinion" when "the new constitution is yet to be made?" Lal Mohammad asked. "It seems as if [the CRC members] themselves are making the constitution. They are only fulfilling a formality and just spending time with the people" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 10 and 24 April 2003). AT
AFGHAN LEADER ISSUES DECREE ON PROCEDURES OF CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA
Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai issued a decree on 16 July that established the procedure for choosing delegates for the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ), which is scheduled for October, AFP reported, citing Bakhtar news agency. According to the decree, the CLJ will comprise 500 members, of whom 450 are to be elected by representatives of the Afghan population and the remaining 50 nominated by Karzai. Approximately 15,000 district representatives will chose 344 delegates; representatives of Afghan women will choose 64 female delegates; and 42 delegates, of which at least six must be women, will be chosen to represent the Afghan diaspora, nomads, internally displaced Afghans, and members of the Hindu and Sikh minorities. The election process, under the supervision of the CRC, will begin in August with representatives of districts in Afghanistan's major population centers choosing delegates by simple majority. Analysts have cautioned that, given the fact that Kabul's authority does not extend to many parts of Afghanistan, ensuring fair elections might be difficult (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 19 June 2003). AT
TEHRAN: CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S DEATH RESULTED FROM A 'BLOW'
Iran's vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said after the 16 July cabinet meeting that Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi "died from a brain hemorrhage resulting from a blow," ISNA reported. Kazemi died in detention on 11 July, following her arrest by security forces on 23 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2003), and Abtahi's statement appears to confirm speculation that Kazemi died from injuries sustained from a beating while in detention. Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian said after the same meeting that there was no evidence of injuries to Kazemi's face, IRNA reported. Asked if a Canadian medical team would be allowed to conduct an autopsy, Pezeshkian said, "I think we are educated enough to investigate this issue ourselves." BS
TEHRAN BURIES CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST...
Seyyed Sadeq Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to France, told a delegation from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 16 July that the body of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was buried on 13 or 14 July, RSF announced on 16 July. Kharrazi said he does not know the precise location of the burial site. If reports of the burial are true, this would seem to contradict a report that a committee formed on the instructions of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 15 July blocked the burial of Kazemi until the completion of an investigation into her death. Kazemi's mother requested that the coroner's office transfer the remains to Shiraz. According to another 15 July IRNA report, the coroner's office has sent Kazemi's autopsy report to the presidential cabinet and the judge presiding over the case. BS
...AND LEGISLATURE LOOKS INTO HER DEATH
Jamileh Kadivar, the rapporteur for the legislature's Article 90 committee, which deals with complaints about the government, said on 16 July that the committee looked into the case of Zahra Kazemi prior to her death, IRNA reported. Kadivar said Kazemi's family sent a letter to the committee and that, in turn, committee Chairman Hussein Ansari-Rad wrote to Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas-Ali Alizadeh. The committee's letter was reportedly dated 10 July, one day before Kazemi's death, and Alizadeh's response was dated 15 July. Tehran parliamentary representative Elahe Kulyai said on 15 July that the legislature is trying to clarify the circumstances of Kazemi's death, IRNA reported. Kulyai said that when people who have official permission from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry are prevented from disseminating news and informing the public, it undermines the Iranian state's credibility and "leads foreigners to escalate their pressures and attacks on us." BS
TEHRAN POSTPONES UN RAPPORTEUR'S VISIT
An anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry official said on 15 June that Tehran has postponed the visit of Ambeyi Ligabo, the UN's special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, IRNA reported. Ligabo was scheduled to visit Tehran on 17-27 July, and the official said the postponement was connected with the difficulties in arranging interviews. The anonymous official claimed that Tehran is keen to cooperate with the UN, and he cited the example of a previous visit to Iran by a UN delegation. In February, a five-member team of UN officials toured a few Iranian penal facilities and met with representatives of the Supreme Court, the Revolutionary Court, the Prisons Organization, and the Prosecutor-General's Office (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March 2003). BS
IRANIAN EDITORIAL CRITICAL OF RELIGIOUS JUSTIFICATIONS FOR REPRESSION
In a recent meeting with Iranian students, Grand Ayatollah Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili expressed concern that some things that are attributed to religion drive the young away, according to an editorial in the 14 July "Yas-i No." He added that some actions are, in fact, inconsistent with Islamic instructions and are mistakes. The editorial said these observations are noteworthy at a time when religious leaders do not speak clearly about the dangers threatening the country's Islamic society. Over the years, according to the editorial, one political faction has projected itself as the "absolute owner of religion, religious values, Shi'a clergy, the seminaries, and all the sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] resources of this land," and is acting at the expense of cultural and religious resources. This faction hides behind a religious barricade, according to the editorial. BS
IRAN, JAPAN AGREE ON TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF OIL PROJECT
Iran and Japan on 16 July agreed on some of the technical issues relating to development of the Azadegan oil field, IRNA reported, citing an anonymous "informed source." Prompted by Tokyo's concern about concluding a contract for the development of the field, an editorial in the conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islamic" daily on 15 July suggested that it is time for Iranian statesmen to review cooperation with Japan. The editorial accused Japan of having a poor record in its relationship with Iran and questioned Japanese officials' failure to take advantage of Iranian statesmen's "patience and tolerance." The editorial also questioned Japanese attention to U.S. concerns about Iran, especially at a time when "the people of Okinawa are passionately and furiously demanding the cleansing of their country and island of the filth of their [the Americans'] presence." The editorial added, "The Americans are so detested in Japan for their vicious and immoral behavior and sexual rapes and for their brutal massacre of people in the atomic strikes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nothing can make people forget those painful memories." BS
IRANIAN IN GERMANY CHARGED WITH ESPIONAGE
A 62-year-old Iranian restaurateur from Berlin identified only as "Iraj S." has been charged with espionage by Germany's federal prosecutor-general, Germany's "Focus" weekly reported on 15 July. The trial probably will start after the summer break. Iraj S. is suspected of having spied on regime opponents, a service he allegedly provided for the Pahlavi monarchy as well. He was arrested in Berlin in June, according to "Focus." BS
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL TO ESTABLISH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
Iraq's postwar governing body will establish a judicial commission to try members of the ousted regime who are charged with war crimes against the Iraqi people, Reuters reported on 15 July. Defendants from among the U.S.-led coalition's 55 most-wanted Iraqis will apparently be among the first to be tried by that commission. "The Governing Council will take it upon itself to try [senior members of the deposed Hussein regime] and to punish them according to law," Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar told reporters. He did not say whether deposed President Saddam Hussein will be tried in absentia, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the establishment of a judicial commission as "a positive step" in a press release dated 15 July, but the group called for international jurists to serve on the commission. "The Iraqi judiciary, weakened and compromised by decades of Ba'ath Party rule, lacks the capacity, experience, and independence to provide fair trials for the abuses of the past," the press release stated. "Few judges in Iraq, including those who fled into exile, have participated in trials of the complexity that they would face when prosecuting leadership figures for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes." KR
HRW: PROSECUTING PAST CRIMES IN IRAQ IS A 'MASSIVE UNDERTAKING'
HRW said in a 15 July press release that "bringing about accountability for the crimes of the past two decades in Iraq will be a massive undertaking for the Iraqi people." According to HRW, the most heinous crimes to be investigated and prosecuted include: the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, in which some 100,000 civilians were reportedly killed and 4,000 villages destroyed; the "disappearance" and execution of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; the purported use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and Iranian troops; the decimation and repression of the Marsh Arabs; and the forced expulsion of ethnic minorities in northern Iraq during Hussein's Arabization campaign. KR
HRW RELEASES REPORT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST IRAQI WOMEN AND GIRLS
HRW on 16 July released a 17-page report titled "Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad" on its website (http://www.hrw.org). The report concludes that the inability of Iraqi and U.S.-led occupation authorities to provide security in the capital has led to a widespread fear of rape and abduction among women and their families in Baghdad. HRW interviewed rape and abduction victims and witnesses, health professionals, and Iraqi and U.S. authorities, and identified 25 "credible allegations of rape or abduction." "The report found that police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction...and that victims of sexual violence [were] confronted [with] indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel." The report also determined that U.S. military police are not making up for the lax investigation of cases of alleged sexual violence or abduction. "Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, stated. "If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority." KR
PUK HEAD SAYS PESHMERGA TO JOIN IRAQI ARMY, POLICE
Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told reporters during a trip to France on 15 July that the Kurdish peshmerga fighters will be integrated into the New Iraqi Army and police force, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "The peshmerga will not remain a separate force," Talabani said. "They will be transformed as follows: Part will join the new Iraqi Army; part will join the border guard; part will turn into a local police force; and part will be [retired]." Talabani, in Paris for talks with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, addressed reported complaints by some Iraqis over the composition of the Governing Council. "Of course, a 25-member council cannot satisfy everyone.... But we hope that all members would represent all the Iraqis," Talabani said. "This means that any representative does not represent only his sect or region, but Iraq and all the Iraqi people." The Governing Council is expected to send a three-member delegation to the United Nations on 22 July, when UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is slated to brief the council on the UN role in postwar Iraq, AP reported on 16 July. The delegation might request a seat on the UN General Assembly during that meeting, international media reported. KR