PUTIN, BUSH PRAISE JOINT INTELLIGENCE OPERATION...
U.S. President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on 16 August and discussed the recent joint U.S.-Russian-British intelligence operation that thwarted a plot to smuggle a shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile into the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003), Russian and international media reported. The presidents lauded the cooperation and noted that closer interaction in combating international terrorism is now bringing concrete results. They also discussed bilateral issues in preparation for Putin's visit to the United States at the end of September. VY
...AS MEDIA EXPRESSES SKEPTICISM ABOUT OPERATION'S MOTIVES...
"Kommersant-Daily," "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and grani.ru -- all controlled by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii -- published on 14 and 15 August skeptical commentaries saying that the joint operation to intercept the smuggled antiaircraft missile was little more than a public-relations exercise for the intelligence services involved. TV-Tsentr -- which is run by the Moscow municipal authorities -- on 16 August expressed bewilderment that the entire story was given to the press. The channel speculated that the Russian security services are seeking the publicity in order to convince the West that they are preventing the proliferation of weapons from Russia's arsenals and, at the same time, they want to stimulate sales of Russian air-defense systems. The U.S. and British governments are interested in touting the achievements of their intelligence services for their own domestic political reasons, TV-Tsentr commented. VY
...AND FSB DEFENDS ITS INTEGRITY
Reacting to skeptical media reports, the public relations office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 14 August released a statement saying that the operation against the missile smugglers was executed "in strict accordance with Russian, U.S., and British legislation," RIA-Novosti reported. Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that he found some of the media reports "astonishing." "The media are trying to find some dirty trick or propaganda elements in any intelligence/counterintelligence operations that are made public," Margelov told RIA-Novosti on 14 August. VY
AUTHORITIES CRACK RING THAT ALLEGEDLY FORGED STATE HONORS
The FSB has alleged that the Association of Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia has been illegally producing forged documents that seemingly bestow some of Russia's highest state awards, Russian media reported on 15 August. The association allegedly sold the documents for large sums of money. The association, which reportedly has no real heroes of Russia or the Soviet Union among its members, also illegally obtained the Golden Star of Heroes that belonged to laureates who are deceased. The Hero Order is one of Russia's most prestigious state awards, and it is in extremely high demand on the black market since it confers lucrative benefits including tax breaks, discount lending rates, and opportunities to purchase prestigious real estate. An FSB spokesman said that some 30 people have been detained in connection with the case, including association head Aleksei Kuznetsov, who has allegedly posed as an FSB lieutenant colonel. A search of the association's office reportedly uncovered numerous false documents and a personal firearm with a forged inscription purporting to be on behalf of the FSB. Investigators alleged that the association tried to infiltrate its own people within the law enforcement organs, the Justice Ministry, and other government agencies, including the offices of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, in order to lobby the association's interests. VY
FORMER KREMLIN INSIDER SAYS CORRUPTION CONTINUES TO GROW...
Georgii Satarov, a former adviser to President Boris Yeltsin who is now president of the INDEM research foundation, told TV-Tsentr on 13 August that corruption in government and society continues to grow and is now more prevalent than during the Yeltsin years. He said that there is now an unofficial price list for government positions. An appointment as a deputy minister costs $500,000, while one as deputy prime minister costs several times that figure, Satarov said. Although senior officials do not necessarily know about the corruption of their subordinates, President Putin certainly knows the extent of the corruption problem because competing groups within the administration bring him compromising materials about one another, Satarov said. Putin, however, understands that the problem cannot be solved all at once or by means of brute force, he added. VY
...AND WARNS AGAINST POLITICIZING EFFORTS TO COMBAT IT
In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 August, INDEM head Satarov, who last year published a comprehensive study of corruption in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002), said that the politicization of the fight against corruption as a consequence of the December Duma elections and the March 2004 presidential election could have serious consequences for Russia. History has many precedents in which the struggle against corruption was used as a pretext to replace a weak, fragile democracy with a dictatorship. Satarov cited the examples of Adolf Hitler, who campaigned against corruption in Weimar Germany, and of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who used corruption in republican Spain as an excuse to impose authoritarian rule. The fight against corruption has its political limits, Satarov said. VY
MILITARY HOLDING MAJOR EXERCISE IN THE FAR EAST
The Defense Ministry has announced that the Russian military on 18 August began "strategic" military exercises in Primorskii Krai, near the Bering and Okhotsk seas, the Sea of Japan, and the Tatar Strait that separates Sakhalin Island from the Russian mainland, Russian media reported. The exercises are being commanded by the commander of the Russian Navy, Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, and include 105 ships and 80,000 troops and civilian specialists. Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said that just one quarter of the exercises -- which will last until 28 August -- is devoted to military tasks. The rest of the program includes practice responding to emergency situations caused by terrorist acts or natural or manmade catastrophes. VY
OFFICIALS CONCLUDE LARGE-SCALE BLACKOUT 'IMPOSSIBLE' IN RUSSIA
Federal Energy Commission Chairman Georgii Kutovoi told Radio Mayak on 15 August that nothing like the blackout that occurred in the northeastern United States and in Canada on 14 August is possible in Russia. "We have a centralized control system managed by controllers in a single unified system from the Far East to Kaliningrad," he said. "If an accident happens, it can be localized near its source." Another problem with the U.S. system according to Kutovoi is that it "does not have a system for cutting off consumers in case [of a supply deficit due to an accident], whereas we do." JAC
...AND FAULT IN NORTH AMERICA LIES WITH CONSUMER-ORIENTED SYSTEM...
"In the American system, the cutting off of consumers is the worst crime," Kutovoi continued. "[But] keeping a consumer connected to the system during any accident means that his future situation can be worsened.... Our approach is to mobilize all our capacity, first of all, and then if this is not sufficient, to deal with the system of consumers [by cutting them off]." In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 16 August, State Duma Deputy and entertainer Iosif Kobzon (Russian Regions) commented on the blackout in North America. "After World War II, when I still a boy, we had our lights turned off all the time," he said. "But it was nothing -- we survived. But the Americans, they are in a panic. Without computers, they cannot make a step." JAC
...AS VILLAGE IN ULYANOVSK SPENDS SUMMER MONTH WITHOUT WATER
"Simbirskii kurer," No. 119, reported that the village of Vyshki in Ulyanovsk Oblast has been without water for a month. The two pumps that supply the area's water are not working. Specialists say the pumps are so old that they cannot fill the village's water tank, especially during peak summer demand. Replacing the pumps would cost around 8,000 rubles ($267) each, and the average wage per family in the village is estimated at 50 rubles a month. An elderly woman told the newspaper: "Our only hope is God. Yesterday I prayed all day that it would rain." JAC
DUMA FACTION CHANGES ITS NAME
The Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction in the State Duma has changed its name to Fatherland-Unified Russia (OER), first deputy faction leader Konstantin Kosachev told reporters on 15 August. Kosachev also announced that three deputies from the People's Deputy group in the Duma -- Vasilii Galyushkin, Rafael Gimalov, and Lev Yarkin -- will be joining the OER faction, RosBalt reported. The OER faction now has 57 members, making it the third-largest grouping in the Duma. An unidentified source in the faction told "Kommersant-Daily" that "voters in the regions were asking all the time if we had any relationship to Unified Russia, and as a result, we decided to signify more concretely our allegiance to the party." JAC
REGIONAL ELECTION OFFICIAL BELIEVES POPULATION MIGHT SPURN THE BALLOT BOX
Krasnoyarsk Krai Election Commission Chairwoman Lyudmila Timofeeva told Regnum on 15 August that she fears that voter turnout for the 7 December State Duma election could be low in the krai because of the "black public relations" during the gubernatorial election last year. According to Timofeeva, during that election the mass media divided into two warring camps. Meanwhile, in the city of Norilsk in neighboring Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, "Russkii kurer" reported on 15 August that the 26 October repeat mayoral election promises to be divisive. According to the daily, acting Mayor Lev Kuznetsov, who was formerly a right-hand man to Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, has proven to be a talented administrator, and local political analysts believe his chances of being elected are high, should he decide to run. At the same time, the winner of the first round of mayoral elections last April, trade union leader Valerii Melnikov, remains popular. "In the eyes of the Norilsk residents, he remains the 'people's avenger,' who battles with oligarchs and was ill-served during the last elections," the newspaper wrote. JAC
FAR EAST PROVINCE EASES BORDER RESTRICTIONS FOR CHINESE CITIZENS
Amur Oblast officials and their Chinese counterparts agreed in the Chinese city of Heihe to take measures to boost visa-free tourism, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 August. Chinese officials agreed to issue new foreign passports over the next 20 days that are designed only for border-region tourism. The holders of these special passports will not be able to travel outside of Amur Oblast. On 15 August, Federation Council representative for the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Aleksandr Nazarov told Ekho Moskvy that Russia "will have to attract Chinese manpower to the [Russian] Far East." He explained that many plots of land have been left abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and there is shortage of manpower there today. "We will have to use [migrant] labor -- there is no way out," he concluded. On the same day, Xinhua news agency in Beijing quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry as warning Chinese travelers to Russia to watch out for their personal security, bring a minimal amount of cash and valuables, and not to go to remote areas at night. JAC
DUMA DEPUTY TRIES HANDS-ON APPROACH WITH LOCAL TV CREW
At a plenum for the Tula Oblast branch of the Unified Russia party, branch leader and State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Yashin (Unity) reportedly struck a camera operator from the local television company Plyus-12 in the face, tore his clothing, and broke his video camera, newsru.com reported on 16 August. The incident allegedly occurred at a session of the regional branch's political council. The closed session was to discuss the restructuring of the Lenin Raion branch of the party, and members of that raion spoke out against Yashin, calling for his resignation and bringing the television cameras into the session. The television station has complained to the local police about this act of "hooliganism" against one of its workers. JAC
POPULAR WEEKLY ACCUSED OF INFLAMING INTERETHNIC TENSIONS
Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, and Ashot Airapetyan, director of Center for Cooperation Among Nationalities, are preparing a law suit against "Argumenty i fakty" for an article entitled "Why We Do Not Love People of Caucasian Nationality" by Yekaterina Bychkova that appeared in issue No. 31, Regnum reported on 13 August. According to Brod and Airapetyan, the article contains false assertions about Caucasians' attitudes. "I feel that all calls for tolerance are senseless and stupid," Bychkova wrote. "[Caucasians] conduct themselves as if they were masters of the [universe]. The Caucasus -- this is a swear word. According to unofficial statistics, often five to seven Caucasian families will move into one apartment building, and then the Muscovites will then try to find other housing." Airapetyan noted that the North Caucasus is a part of Russia and inciting the hatred of one group of citizens against another violates the constitution. Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, is ready to appear as an expert witness in court against Bychkova, Regnum reported. JAC
PUPPETS TO LEARN ENGLISH
Characters from the popular children's television show "Spokoinoi nochi, malysh" will star in a new series of short programs designed to teach English to small children, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 August. A series of 10-minute programs designed for preschool children has already been produced, and sales of videocassettes are planned to begin this fall. JAC
NO CLEAR ELECTION VICTOR IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA
Vladimir Semenov failed on 17 August to win a second term as president of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Semenov polled approximately 40 percent of the vote, while his main challenger, National Bank Chairman Mustafa Batdyev, polled some 42 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 62 percent of the republic's 295,000 electorate, and no violent incidents were reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Safar Geryukov said the date of the second-round runoff will be announced once the final results of the first round are known. LF
13 CANDIDATES REGISTERED FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
As of 15 August, Chechnya's Central Election Commission had registered 13 candidates for the 5 October presidential election, Interfax reported. Applications for registration by pensioner Khasan Dadaev and by Shamil Buraev, head of the Achkhoi-Martan District administration, were rejected on the grounds that the two men failed to provide the required information about the bank accounts from which they intended to fund their respective campaigns. On 16 August, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, the clear favorite in the ballot, said Chechen militants are seeking to derail the ballot in a bid to preserve Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's political influence, according to Interfax. But Russian journalist and Chechnya specialist Anna Politkovskaya wrote in "Novaya gazeta" on 15 August that armed thugs commanded by Kadyrov's son, Ramazan, are threatening rival candidates. One of those candidates, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the State Duma, said in a 15 August interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Kadyrov's private army has at its disposal every kind of weapon imaginable, with the exception of atomic bombs and Topol intercontinental ballistic missiles. LF
CHECHEN OFFICIALS DENY DISPLACED PERSONS UNDER PRESSURE TO RETURN
Claims by a UNHCR official that Chechen displaced persons currently living in tent camps in neighboring Ingushetia are being pressured to return to Chechnya are untrue, Chechen Minister for Nationalities Affairs Taus Dzhabrailov told Interfax on 15 August. He added Chechens are returning from Ingushetia voluntarily. On 14 August, Interfax quoted Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov as telling journalists in Moscow that all camps in Ingushetia for Chechen displaced persons will be closed by 1 October. He said housing will be made available in Grozny for those who wish to return, while accommodation will be found in Ingushetia for those who wish to remain there. LF
ARMENIAN MINISTER CRITICIZES ABUSE OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian told ministry personnel in Yerevan on 15 August that he plans to crack down on "abuse, illegalities, and corruption" in the allocation of social-security benefits, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 16 August. Vartanian questioned the credibility of official records, which list some 139,000 families as qualifying for poverty benefits worth 7,600 drams ($13) per month. LF
ARMENIAN TEACHERS PROTEST REDUNDANCIES
Some 60 teachers in Giumri, Armenia's second-largest city, staged a protest on 15 August against massive staff cuts in the education sector that entail the abolition of their jobs, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 16 August. Under a sweeping cost-cutting plan aimed at reducing the number of teaching staff, some 4,000 of Armenia's estimated 60,000 schoolteachers will lose their jobs. In the northern region of Shirak, of which Giumri is the capital, 450 jobs will be cut. An official for the regional administration said most of them are of retirement age, and 130 redundant staff will be provided with alternative employment. LF
U.S. WARNS AGAINST FALSIFICATION OF AZERBAIJANI ELECTION
In a 15 August statement pegged to the beginning of the Azerbaijani presidential election campaign, U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Baku Nancy McEldowney stressed that free and fair elections constitute the "bedrock" of democracy, and that the United States and international organizations will do all in their power to ensure that the 15 October ballot meets international standards of transparency, accuracy, and integrity. At the same time, she warned that "if the campaign is not waged in an open and equitable manner, if the voting is marred by fraud and manipulation, and if the results of the election are deemed inaccurate or illegitimate, it will be a debilitating step backward." Also on 15 August, the Central Election Commission formally registered three further presidential candidates, including Civic Solidarity Party Chairman Sabir Rustamkhanli and Modern Musavat Party Chairman Hafiz Hadjiev, who the commission earlier ruled had failed to submit the required minimum 45,000 valid signatures in their support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). The third candidate is Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (reformist wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli. The total number of registered candidates as of 15 August -- the final day of registration -- stands at 12. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMANDS PRIME MINISTER'S DISMISSAL
Between 8,000 and 20,000 people participated in a march and rally in Baku on 16 August to protest the appointment of President Heidar Aliev's son, Ilham, as prime minister and to demand his dismissal from that post, Turan and Interfax reported. They further demanded that equal conditions be created for all candidates in the 15 October presidential election. On 15 August, the Constitutional Court ruled that in the event that President Aliev dies or resigns before 15 October, there would be no need to cancel the planned elections and schedule a new ballot, according to Turan on 15 August. LF
SON SAYS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT 'FEELS BETTER'
Prime Minister Aliev told journalists in Baku on 15 August that his father feels better every day, is in good spirits, and that his treatment "has been successful," Turan and Interfax reported. He implicitly rejected earlier media reports that his father is to undergo a heart transplant, saying that his treatment is purely therapeutic. On 14 August, Prime Minister Aliev was quoted by the Japanese newspaper "Mainichi Shimbun" as saying that his father has no heart problems, but only a "small problem" with the functioning of one kidney, according to ITAR-TASS, as cited by Groong. A bulletin issued one week earlier by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where President Aliev is undergoing treatment said he is suffering from congestive heart failure and kidney problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). LF
AZERBAIJANI ISLAMIST CLAIMS CASE AGAINST HIM FABRICATED
One of two residents of the city of Gyanja whose trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership opened on 14 August in Baku's Court for Serious War Crimes told the court that day that his preliminary testimony was extracted under threat of torture, Turan reported. Rasim Abbasov and his colleague Hasrat Hasanov are accused of plotting with other believers from the Djuma mosque to recruit 400-500 sympathizers, purchase arms, and stage a coup d'etat. Four other alleged members of the group were convicted on similar charges in April. Abbasov said on 14 August that the four were beaten and tortured during the pretrial investigation, and he was threatened with similar treatment if he failed to confess to the charges against him. LF
ARMS RING REPORTED SMASHED IN AZERBAIJAN
In a series of raids on 12-14 August in Baku, Gyanja, Sumgait, Agstafa, and Terter, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry detained 22 people who have been charged with smuggling arms into Azerbaijan from Georgia and creating an illegal armed formation, Turan reported on 15 August. The weaponry confiscated during the operation included 17 submachine guns, four grenade launchers, four revolvers, 34 grenades, and some shells and explosives. LF
GEORGIA FAILS TO MEET IMF DEADLINE
For lack of a quorum, the Georgian parliament failed on 15 August to endorse the budget sequester proposed by the government in response to demands made in early July by a visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation, Caucasus Press reported. The fund had made disbursement of the third and final installment of a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan contingent on sweeping budget cuts, passage of a new Tax Code, and the abolition of cuts in electricity tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, who came to parliament to brief deputies on the planned budget cuts, blamed speaker Nino Burdjanadze for the legislature's failure to ensure the government met the IMF deadline of mid-August. Burdjanadze told deputies on 15 August that the IMF representative in Tbilisi has granted the parliament several days' grace to approve the budget cuts, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY APPROVES ELECTRICITY PRICE HIKE
Justice Minister Roland Giligashvili on 15 August approved differentiated energy tariffs, one day after his deputy Zurab Ezugbaya said the ministry opposes such hikes as they violate a Constitutional Court ruling, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). The opposition Labor Party immediately announced that it will appeal the increases, Caucasus Press reported. Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili said Giligashvili caved in to pressure from President Eduard Shevardnadze. Natelashvili said on 18 August that the Constitutional Court will meet in emergency session on 1-2 September to rule on the planned increases, the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Interfax on 16 August quoted Natelashvili as saying that if his party comes to power, it will renationalize energy facilities. The opposition National Movement has vowed to do the same (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SAYS SHE WILL NOT RESIGN
Parliament speaker Burdjanadze told a press conference in Tbilisi on 15 August that she will not quit her post despite damaging allegations leveled against her and her father, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. On 13 August, she had rejected as "absurd" allegations that she and her father, Anzor Burdjanadze, had tried to purchase for the knock-down price of 4 million laris ($1.85 million) four hydroelectric plants in the west Georgian region of Imereti. At the 15 August press conference, Burdjanadze reaffirmed her earlier appeal to opposition parties to unite around a common platform. LF
JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER LOSES SUPREME COURT APPEAL
Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court on 15 August refused to overturn the 10-year prison sentence of former Vice President and national security chief Feliks Kulov, now head of the Ar-Namys Party and one of the country's most prominent opposition figures, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 16 August, quoting acting Ar Namys leader Emil Aliev. Party members are convinced the Supreme Court decision was dictated by the authorities, Aliev said, and the party intends to appeal to an international court and to international human rights organizations. The charges against Kulov include abuse of office and other criminal actions committed during his government service. The opposition says the charges were politically motivated. BB
KYRGYZ AND UZBEK PRIME MINISTERS MEET ON BORDER ISSUES
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, at the head of a delegation of Kyrgyz government officials, met with his Uzbek counterpart Otkir Sultonov on 15 August in Tashkent to discuss the delimitation of the two countries' common border, uza.uz and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 16 August. The Uzbek side said that the shooting of a Kyrgyz citizen by an Uzbek border guard in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003) is under investigation and the guilty parties will be punished. However, the Uzbeks insisted that the Kyrgyz side bore some responsibility for the incident. Earlier, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said the blame was entirely on the Kyrgyz side. After the talks, a Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official said the Uzbek side refused to discuss a Kyrgyz demand that Uzbekistan remove its land mines from the border area. BB
THOUSANDS OF TAJIKS REPORTEDLY INVOLVED IN SUSPECTED PYRAMID SCHEME
The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 15 August that the heads of the Dushanbe firm Jamal and Co. have been arrested on suspicion of tax evasion, money laundering, and other financial crimes, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 August. A number of people gathered in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office to demand the return of money they invested in the firm's bead-stringing scheme. Reportedly, about 6,000 Tajik citizens became involved in the bead-stringing business, some selling their homes and cars in order to invest up to $10,000 in the purchase of materials. The finished strings were then to be sold to the firm. Tajik law enforcement authorities consider the business a simple pyramid scheme. BB
TURKMENISTAN STAGES ANTITERRORISM EXERCISES...
The Turkmen Defense, Interior, and National Security ministries staged antiterrorism military exercises on the Caspian coast on 16 August, RIA-Novosti and turkmenistan.ru reported. The exercises were scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of the annual session of the People's Assembly, which took place on 14-15 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 August 2003). Reportedly, more then 2,500 service personnel participated in the exercises, which People's Assembly deputies were invited to observe, as were military attaches from the embassies in Ashgabat and representatives of NATO. The exercises reportedly involved the simulated destruction of armed international terrorist formations and the freeing of hostages. BB
...AND NATO WANTS TO INCREASE COOPERATION WITH TURKMENISTAN
A NATO representative who attended the Turkmen military exercises on 16 August said later that NATO would like to increase its level of cooperation with Turkmenistan within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program, ITAR-TASS reported. NATO official Stefan Elgersma was quoted as saying that the purpose of the NATO visit to Turkmenistan was to discuss cooperation and to hear Turkmen views on the situation in Afghanistan and in the region as a whole. He added that he can see no reason why NATO's relations with Turkmenistan should be less active than those with other Central Asian states. Turkmenistan was the first Central Asian country to join the Partnership for Peace, but its relations with NATO have been limited by its neutral status. BB
GERMANY WON'T GIVE TERMEZ AIR BASE TO NATO, AMBASSADOR SAYS
German Ambassador to Uzbekistan Martin Haecker told a press conference in Tashkent on 14 August that Germany has no intention of handing over to NATO its air base at Termez on the Uzbek-Afghan border, Deutsche Welle reported on 15 August. Haecker said the Uzbek government handed over the base for use by German forces as long as they are taking part in the activities of the international antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan. The ambassador noted that the Bundeswehr had modernized the Termez base, which can now accommodate up to nine large transport planes. BB
ASSOCIATION OF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS REGISTERED IN UZBEKISTAN
An independent journalists' group called the Association of Foreign Correspondents was registered by the Uzbek Justice Ministry on 14 August, Deutsche Welle reported on 15 August. The group includes both foreigners and Uzbek citizens accredited in Uzbekistan as correspondents of foreign-media outlets. The founders of the group were quoted as saying that it has taken three years to register the association with the authorities. They attributed their success to a letter they handed directly to President Islam Karimov at a press conference in 2002. ITAR-TASS correspondent Vilor Nigmatov was elected chairman of the association, while Deutsche Welle correspondent Yurii Chernogaev became its executive secretary. Nigmatov was quoted as saying that the objective of the association is to ensure that journalists support one another in coping with human rights violations or trouble with the authorities. BB
UZBEK DISSIDENT ASKS SUPREME COURT TO BRING CASE AGAINST PRESIDENT
Yusuf Juma, an Uzbek dissident living in Bukhara Oblast, said he has sent an appeal to Uzbekistan's Supreme Court asking that body to open a case against President Islam Karimov for harassing him, the CASCFEN website (http://www.cascfen.org), reported on 18 August, quoting the opposition Ozod Ovoz website (http://www.ozodovoz.org). Juma said he has sent copies of his appeal to the U.S. and British embassies in Tashkent and to the media. Specifically, he wants the president tried for terrorism and for attempting to overthrow the constitutional system, the charges usually applied to persons arrested for what the authorities consider religious extremism. Juma says he considers the confiscation of his manuscripts by the National Security Service, the burning of his house, the beating of his children, and other attacks upon himself and his family to be terrorism. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO MEET EUROPEAN AGRICULTURAL STANDARDS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 15 August that Belarus's farming sector should be improved to meet European standards of agricultural production, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka tasked the government with reducing the production costs of Belarusian-made agricultural equipment and ordered the National Academy of Sciences to provide engineering assistance to domestic manufacturers to improve the quality of agricultural equipment. He also said the government will buy 1 million tons of grain from farmers this year. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER BLAMES INCREASES IN FOOD PRICES ON MARKET LIBERALIZATION
Agricultural Minister Serhiy Ryzhuk said on Ukrainian Television on 17 August that Ukraine will import 2 million-2.5 million tons of grain this year because of an anticipated poor harvest. Ryzhuk predicted that Ukrainian farms will harvest some 20 million-25 million tons of grain this year, compared with 39 million tons in 2002. According to Ryzhuk, the unexpected hikes in food prices in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 June 2003) can be blamed not only on bad weather and persistent rumors of the poor harvest in 2003, but also on excessive liberalization of the domestic grain market. "One of the reasons is that our liberalization of the grain market in particular was too fast during the transition period," Ryzhuk said. "[We] were somewhat euphoric, believing that the problem of grain was solved once and for all, [trusting in] market economy, private owners and so on. But, as it has turned out, the state has to play a rather active role even in these conditions. More that this, there has to be rigid regulation." JM
THREE UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS ATTACKED IN DONETSK
Three Ukrainian journalists were beaten and robbed by unidentified assailants in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine over three consecutive days on 13-15 August, Hromadske Radio reported. Vasyl Vasyutyn, Serhiy Kuzin, and Eduard Malynovskyy were attacked on 15 August, 14 August, and 13 August, respectively. Vasyutyn and Kuzin have been hospitalized. Oleksandr Mishchenko, editor in chief of the Donetsk-based magazine "Zolotyy Skif" that employs Vasyutyn, told Hromadske Radio that the attacks were connected with their professional activities. Police reportedly think otherwise, claiming that the assaults were ordinary robberies. JM
ESTONIAN CENTER PARTY REAFFIRMS UNITY
The Center Party's board issued a statement on 15 August declaring that the party has not split and continues to be open to dialogue within its ranks and with other parties, BNS reported. The statement comes in the wake of the party's recent decision to oppose joining the European Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). While this statement was adopted unanimously, the party's three top pro-EU advocates, Peeter Kreitzberg, Sven Mikser, and Robert Lepikson, were not in attendance. Party spokesperson Evelyn Sepp said the three were absent due to work, but expressed confidence they would have backed the statement. The board re-elected Kullo Arjakas as the party's general secretary. In Tallinn on 16 August, a meeting of the leaders of the party's regional chapters expressed support for the board's statement and dismissed the option of holding an extraordinary congress. SG
LATVIAN, SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS UPCOMING REFERENDUMS
Sandra Kalniete and her Swedish counterpart Anna Lindh met in Stockholm on 15 August for talks that primarily focused on Latvia's and Sweden's upcoming referendums, LETA reported. Sweden will hold a referendum on 13 September on joining the European Monetary Union (EMU) and Latvians will go to the polls on 20 September to decide on joining the European Union. The ministers also discussed the EU Intergovernmental Conference beginning in October, which is expected to finalize a European Constitution. At a conference of local governments that was organized by the Swedish Social Democrats, Kalniete delivered a speech on joining the EMU and spoke about Latvia's achievements on its way to the EU. SG
LITHUANIA JOINS SANCTIONS AGAINST CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER
Lithuania has banned entry to radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev and frozen his financial operations in compliance with a recent UN Security Council decision, BNS quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Violeta Motulaite as saying on 14 August. The United States ordered a freeze on Basaev's funds on 8 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Meanwhile, the Chechen website kavkazcenter.org, which is run by former Chechen Information Minister Movladi Udugov and is extremely sympathetic to Basaev, resumed operations in early August after being shut down by the Lithuanian state security service in June, according to BNS on 13 August. The server for the website is located in the apartment of Lithuanian parliament deputy and former Soviet-era dissident Viktoras Petkus. The Independent Association of Georgian Journalists recently condemned restrictions on kavkazcenter as a violation of human rights, according to a CASCFEN release dated 18 August. LF
RUSSIA CONDUCTS FIRST ARMS INSPECTION IN LITHUANIA
Arms inspectors from Russia began their first inspection in Lithuania under the so-called Vienna document of 1999 granting every Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) member the right to check if another member is conducting undeclared military activities or has undeclared military capabilities, the daily "Lietuvos zinios" reported on 18 August. The Russian inspectors will visit the Motorized Infantry Brigade Gelezinis Vilkas (Iron Wolf) on 18-20 August to verify the accuracy of data presented by Lithuania about its military capabilities, ammunition, and deployment. Lithuanian arms inspectors conducted similar inspection missions in Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in 1999 and 2003. SG
POLISH PRESIDENT NOTES CHANGING ROLE OF MILITARY
In his address marking Polish Army Day on 15 August, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said the role of the Polish armed forces is changing, PAP reported. Kwasniewski stressed that the Polish military is not merely the safeguard of the country's sovereignty but also an important component of European and global security. "The world sees Poland as a solid partner and reliable ally," Kwasniewski said. "We play a significant role in the process of the enlargement of the security and democracy zone in Central and Eastern Europe. We have the best relations with the United States in our entire history. We are actively participating in the antiterrorist coalition." Polish Army Day celebrations in Warsaw were attended by Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk. The Polish and Ukrainian defense ministers are reportedly to visit Polish and Ukrainian troops deployed in the Polish-led stabilization sector in Iraq on 2-3 September. JM
CZECH ENVIRONMENTALISTS, INHABITANTS OPPOSE NATO RADAR
Czech environmentalists and local inhabitants are opposed to a plan to construct a NATO-financed radar facility near the village of Prace in south Moravia, CTK reported on 16 August, citing the south Bohemian edition of the "Mlada fronta Dnes." The radar is to enhance protection of Czech airspace. The environmentalists and local inhabitants fear its possible negative impact on health. They are also opposed to the project because, they claim, it would damage a memorial commemorating the 1805 "battle of three emperors" at Slavkov (Austerlitz) during the Napoleonic Wars. Some 30,000 Austrian, French, and Russian soldiers are believed to have lost their lives in that battle. Residents and environmentalists have protested plans to build a similar, NATO-backed radar facility in the Zengo Hill region of neighboring Hungary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2003). MS
CZECH ATTACKERS OF ROMANY MAN RECEIVE SUSPENDED SENTENCES
Four young men convicted of a racially motivated attack on a Romany youth and with disturbing the peace were given suspended sentences by a Prague court on 15 August, CTK reported. The oldest attacker, who is 19, received a three-year suspended sentence and four years of probation. His three companions, all one year younger, received suspended sentences of 18 months and two years of probation. MS
DISPUTE CLEAVES SLOVAK COALITION PARTY...
The leadership, parliamentary deputies, and cabinet ministers from the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) party met in Kucisdorfska Dolina near Bratislava on 17 August to discuss recent rifts in the party and in the ruling four-party coalition, TASR and CTK reported. Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics and Transport Ministry State Secretary Branislav Opaterny told journalists last week that ANO has been divided as a result of the undemocratic behavior of party Chairman Pavol Rusko. They insisted that opinion is shared by a majority of ANO parliamentary deputies. Neither Nemcsics nor Opaterny attended the meeting, citing family obligations. According to TASR, the ANO leadership will decide on 25 August whether to ask Premier Mikulas Dzurinda to recall Nemcsics and Opaterny. CTK cited Rusko as saying after the meeting that he "cannot imagine" further cooperation with the two politicians. MS
...WHICH IS UNLIKELY TO GET A SYMPATHETIC EAR FROM COALITION PARTNERS
Premier Dzurinda said on 17 August that the ruling coalition will soon decide how to respond to ANO's request that Nemcsics and Opaterny be dismissed, but there are indications that ANO's partners will reject that demand, TASR and CTK reported. Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) Deputy Chairwoman Zuzana Martinakova told TASR that the meeting in Kucisdorfska Dolina "is a sign of a deep crisis" within ANO and that the departure of two ANO ministers from the government "would not solve anything." According to CTK, there are rumors that Nemcsics intends to join the SDKU. Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said the possible Nemcsics and Opaterny recalls are an internal ANO matter, but added that this "would not help stabilize ANO or relations inside the ruling coalition." Nemcsics reacted to the Kucisdorfska Dolina meeting by saying that if anyone can prove that his activities contradict ANO's program, he will "have no problem leaving the post," TASR reported. Opaterny called the meeting "irrelevant" and said he is awaiting the 25 August decision of the ANO leadership. If that meeting "decides I should be expelled, I shall not resist," he said. Meanwhile, ANO Deputy Chairman Imrich Beres confirmed to TASR on 17 August that he has decided to leave politics and go into business. Beres said his decision has nothing to do with current tensions within the party. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER EULOGIZES NATIONALIST PREWAR LEADER
Prime Minister Dzurinda attended a ceremony in Ruzomberok near Zilina on 17 August to mark 65 years since the death of nationalist politician Andrej Hlinka, TASR and CTK reported. In his speech, Dzurinda said Hlinka, who died in 1938, did much for Slovakia. "The greatest injustice was committed against Hlinka after his death," CTK cited Dzurinda as saying. "The party that bore his name became a servant of the worst possible dictatorship and the [Hlinka] Guards became an instrument of hateful revenge." The speech was repeatedly interrupted by whistling and jeering, apparently from advocates of rehabilitating Nazi-era Slovak leader Jozef Tiso. Tiso led the Hlinka Slovak People's Party after Hlinka's death. Dzurinda said after the ceremony that he is well aware of attempts by some Slovak politicians and political groups to misuse Hlinka's personality for their own political aims. MS
HUNGARY SUBMITS ECONOMIC STRATEGY TO EU
A medium-term economic strategy approved by the Hungarian cabinet on 13 August was forwarded to the European Union on 15 August, Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo announced, according to the daily "Vilaggazdasag." Under the plan, the budget deficit will gradually be reduced while the growth of real wages will be curbed in an effort to stem inflation, the paper reported. The scheme envisages no increase in real wages in 2004, but subsequently allows for wage growth in line with productivity increases. The government predicts growth of 4.5 percent-5 percent and reduced inflation of 3 percent by 2006. MSZ
ROMANY CIVIL-RIGHTS MOVEMENT FORMED IN HUNGARY
The Romany Civil Rights Movement was formed in Budapest on 16 August with the recently ousted chairman of the National Romany Authority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003) elected president of the new organization, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 18 August. The movement's president, Aladar Horvath, said in his inaugural speech that the movement will soon contact the cabinet and will push for passage of an equal-opportunities program to further Romany integration with society at large. The movement's press briefing was interrupted by a bomb alert that required evacuation of the building. MSZ
SERBIAN POLITICIANS KEEP UP PRE-ELECTION RHETORIC ON KOSOVA...
Speaking in western Kosova on 15 August at the funeral of two Serbian youths recently killed by unidentified gunmen, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic called on Serbs to remain in Kosova, adding, however, that Belgrade is in no position to do much about their security, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, and 15 August 2003). Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic stressed that he will discuss the security situation in the province at a special session of the UN Security Council in New York scheduled for 18 August. Both men thanked Harri Holkeri, the new head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), for giving them permission to attend the funeral. Zivkovic is the first Serbian prime minister to go to Kosova since Serbia lost control of the province in June 1999. In Soko Banja, he said that "the Albanians have reason to be nervous" and that they recently staged several violent "provocations" as a "welcome" to Holkeri. In Belgrade, Gordana Comic, who is deputy speaker of the Serbian parliament, said the legislature will discuss the situation in Kosova at a special session at the end of August. Elections are widely expected in Serbia within the next 12 months. PM
...AS TENSIONS CONTINUE
About 30 Serbs attacked five ethnic Albanians returning from a wedding in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica in western Kosova on 17 August, dpa reported. The five were treated for injuries. Meanwhile, the shadowy Albanian National Liberation Army (AKSH), which the international community classifies as a terrorist organization, said on its web site that it expresses its condolences to the two teenagers' families. The AKSH denied that it had anything to do with the killings (http://www.aksh.info). Previously, the Croatian news agency Hina reported that the AKSH claimed responsibility for the deaths. Meanwhile in Presevo, Ragmi Mustafa, who heads the Democratic Party of the Albanians, said that "the Serbian side" is behind recent tensions in the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). And in Belgrade, Dragan Tonic, who is a Kosova Serb shot in Skulanovo by two unidentified men on 11 August, died in a hospital on 18 August, dpa reported. PM
SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER PRESSES CASE AGAINST KOSOVAR LEADERS
Speaking in Belgrade on 15 August, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic offered to give the Hague-based war crimes tribunal thousands of pages of "documentation" about the alleged involvement in war crimes by leaders of the former ethnic Albanian Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. The broadcast noted that the tribunal previously discounted the importance of Batic's documents. Batic has frequently called for the tribunal to indict Hashim Thaci, the former commander of the UCK and now a leading politician in Kosova. PM
ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SLAMS SERBIAN DECLARATION
Servet Pellumbi, who is speaker of the Albanian parliament, said in Tirana on 16 August that he supports several leading Kosovar politicians who objected to a recent Serbian declaration calling Kosova part of Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June and 1 and 15 August 2003). He added that the Albanian parliament supports a dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina in cooperation with and in the presence of international diplomats. In related news, Serbian Prime Minister Covic said in Belgrade on 15 August that the recent killings of the two teenagers make impossible the start of any dialogue before December, "Vesti" reported. PM
MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS SECURITY SITUATION STABLE
Asked about the effects of the latest incidents in neighboring Kosova and the Presevo Valley region on Macedonia, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski told Macedonian National Radio on 16 August that there is no serious threat to that country's security, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 15 August 2003). Buckovski cautioned, however, that unspecified "extremist and terrorist" groups in the Balkans might seek to place border changes on the international community's agenda. "Macedonia [must] not become a hostage to those ideas and must protect its national and state interests," Buckovski said. "This means that we should [ignore claims] that the possible resolution of Kosovo's status will jeopardize the stability, security, sovereignty, and integrity of Macedonia." He stressed that for Macedonia, Kosova's stability is more important than its status. UB
BOSNIAN SERB LEADER CONCERNED ABOUT BOSNIA'S IMAGE
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 16 August that Bosnia has made much progress in the eight years since the end of the 1992-95 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He fears, however, that the country's image abroad is suffering because of what he called Bosnia's growing reputation as a "home to the most radical Islamic terrorist movements." Cavic called on officials in the Muslim-Croat federation to act against the "real danger" posed by such groups. PM
INDICTED BOSNIAN SERB GOES TO THE HAGUE
On 15 August, Serbian authorities extradited Mitar Rasevic to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which has indicted him in connection with the murder, torture, and inhumane treatment of prisoners near Foca between 1992-94, Reuters reported. Guard commander Rasevic, who surrendered to Serbian authorities on 8 August, "generally...was present during the selection of the detainees [for beatings]. Sometimes he read out the names of the selected detainees from the list. The guards and soldiers assaulted the detainees with all sorts of weapons," according to the indictment. Rasevic faces charges stemming from seven counts of crimes against humanity, five counts of violations of the laws and customs of war, and six counts of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. PM
ROMANIA RECEIVES WMD-DETECTION EQUIPMENT FROM UNITED STATES
The United States has donated to Romania equipment worth $230,000, capable of detecting weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear weapons, Romanian Radio reported on 15 August, citing Lucian Biro, head of the Romanian Nuclear Control Commission. Biro said the equipment will greatly enhance Romania's capability to prevent and combat "nuclear terrorism" and the trafficking of WMD. MS
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES WAR ON TAX EVASION
The National Control Authority announced on 18 August that it has launched an extensive campaign aimed at discovering and punishing those who evade taxes, Romanian Radio reported. Ionel Banculescu, who is in charge of the National Control Authority in the government, said the action will particularly focus on companies dealing in oil imports and marketing, alcoholic beverages, construction, and import-export operations. Banculescu said the government estimates that the state loses $2 billion-$4 billion annually because of tax evasion. He said recouping revenues owed to the state budget would enable the government to deal with the current crises and lack of funds in the health and education system. In response to a question, Banculescu said the action will be launched without considering upcoming elections and that anyone caught will be punished, regardless of party affiliation. Parliamentary elections are due in Romania in late 2004 or early 2005. MS
ROMANIAN DEMOCRATS' CHAIRMAN DETERMINED TO PURSUE ALLIANCE WITH LIBERALS
Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu told journalists on 17 August that local Democratic Party branches that oppose the envisaged alliance with the National Liberal Party (PNL) will be liquidated and other branches will be set up in their place, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Basescu expressed hope that the PNL will take similar measures. Basescu was reacting to reports that some local Democratic Party and PNL branches oppose the envisaged alliance. Basescu reiterated that he has reached an agreement with PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan under which the parties will run a joint candidate in the 2004 presidential election, and will back whichever of the two parties fares best in public-opinion polls. He said the candidate who finishes second will represent the other party as prime minister if the alliance wins the parliamentary elections slated for late 2004 or early 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 15 August 2003). MS
ROMANIA TO CLOSE MORE MINES
Some 20 coal and other mines will be closed by the end of 2003, Mediafax reported on 15 August. All the mines slated for closure are state-owned and are operating at a loss. MS
IGC REPORT AGAINST OSCE PLAN ON MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION
A recently issued report authored by German political scientist Claus Neukirch criticizes the OSCE's plan for Moldova's federalization, RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported on 15 August. The report was issued by the prestigious International Crisis Group (ICG), which includes several former presidents, premiers, and other prominent politicians. It says the 2003-04 deadline included in the OSCE plan for resolving the Transdniester conflict is dangerously hasty. According to Neukirch, the international situation after the expected 2007 EU expansion might promote a more stable settlement. The ICG report also says the mediation framework set up at the OSCE Kyiv meeting in late 2002 is essentially the same as that established by the 1997 plan developed by Russia's foreign minister at the time, Yevgenii Primakov, and serves Russian interests without providing for any Western participation in resolving the conflict. The report deems "unacceptable" any division of powers between Moldova and the Smirnov regime. It says finding a solution to the conflict involves a process that must be accompanied in parallel by Transdniester's democratization. MS
CHISINAU REJECTS TIRASPOL'S DEMAND TO WITHDRAW POLICE FROM BENDERY-TIGHINA
The Moldovan representatives on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) on 15 August rejected the separatist authorities' demand that Moldovan police forces be withdrawn from Bendery-Tighina, BASA-press reported. Although Bendery-Tighina is on the west bank of the Dniester River, it has been under the control of Transdniester authorities since the 1992 cease-fire. However, a group of Moldovan policemen remained and acted jointly with Transdniester "militiamen" in policing the town. The Transdniester authorities have been demanding for years that the Moldovan police be withdrawn. Transdniester representative on the JCC Oleg Gudimo threatened "unilateral measures" unless an agreement on the withdrawal is reached within the JCC. MS
MOLDOVAN PREMIER EMPHASIZES NEED TO RENEW TIES WITH LENDING INSTITUTIONS
Speaking at a forum of Finance Ministry managers on 15 August, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said his government considers renewing ties with international lending institutions on of its priorities, BASA-press reported. Tarlev said Moldova has greater potential to overcome its economic difficulties than many believe, but doing so depends largely on reestablishing a working relationship with the IMF and the World Bank. He also said the Finance Ministry must urgently finalize the 2004 draft budget and present it to the government by the end of August, Flux and Infotag reported. Tarlev said tax rates for enterprises must be lowered to encourage accurate income reporting and improve revenue collections. MS
BULGARIAN TELECOM SALE POSTPONED AGAIN
In an unexpected move, the supervisory council of the state Privatization Agency decided on 15 August not to approve the sale of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) to the Vienna-based Viva Ventures, "Dnevnik" reported. Council Chairman Petko Nikolov said the agency's executive council failed to submit documentation outlining the improved bid Viva Ventures agreed to last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). UB
SUMMER THEATER, SERBIAN STYLE
Many leading Serbian politicians have been increasingly speaking out about Kosova lately. That they do so raises some questions about them, their electorate, and their country's future.
Summer is traditionally known in the journalistic profession as the "silly season," a time when the newspapers fill up with stories about the warm weather or about alleged sightings of the Loch Ness monster, Radovan Karadzic, or General Ratko Mladic. One reason for this is that the politicians who otherwise generate much of the news are on vacation.But Serbia has proved something of an exception. Although elections may well not take place before 2004, many leading politicians have been speaking out about Kosova as though their political futures depended on it. And indeed they well might.
On 12 August, the Serbian cabinet approved a draft document on Kosova and sent it to the parliament for debate and a vote after the summer recess. The text stresses that Kosova is an "inseparable" part of Serbia, and criticizes the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) for failing to improve security, curb organized crime, or restore a multiethnic society.The draft calls for the punishment of ethnic Albanians guilty of war crimes, protection for Serbian historical monuments, a role for Serbian security forces in protecting Serbs and other non-Albanians, and wide autonomy for Kosova as an autonomous province of Serbia, like Vojvodina.
The document was approved one day before Harri Holkeri, the newly appointed head of UNMIK, made his first visit to Kosova. Part of the reason for the timing of the draft probably was to present Holkeri with Serbia's opening gambit in what is likely to be its prolonged effort to regain influence in Kosova or build up political capital there in hopes of winning concessions in Bosnia or elsewhere on the diplomatic front.The document also appears to be an attempt by the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition to shore up support among nationalist voters and divert popular attention from widespread poverty, corruption, and organized crime.
The DOS must compete for the reformist vote with the G-17 Plus political party of Miroljub Labus and Mladjan Dinkic, who has sought to expose corruption in the government. The governing coalition also wants to attract nationalist voters who might otherwise cast a ballot for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. He rarely misses an opportunity to speak out on Kosova and has been picking up support in recent polls.
And then there is the approximately 10 percent of the electorate loyal to the parties that backed former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- who himself rose to power in the second half of the 1980s by exploiting the Kosova issue. These parties include die-hard nationalists who are unlikely to switch votes to anyone appearing "soft" on Kosova.
Hence the politicians have been attempting to play the Kosova card. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 12 August that Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko's recent comments on Kosova constituted "flagrant interference in the internal affairs" of Serbia. Majko said in Tirana on 9 August that he will stay away from an upcoming Balkan security conference in Montenegro in protest against the draft Serbian constitution that refers to Kosova as part of Serbia.
Meanwhile, Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi called the reference to Kosova in the draft constitution a "provocation." Outspoken Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova, replied that Rexhepi's remarks "prove" that some Kosovar politicians do not want a dialogue with Serbia and are looking for "excuses" to avoid one -- although nobody in Belgrade or Prishtina seems particularly interested in the "dialogue," which is a pet project of the EU.
In recent days, Kostunica has spoken out several times on Kosova and warned against "premature" talks between Belgrade and Prishtina.
Elsewhere, the Serbian Orthodox Church published a "Memorandum" reasserting the view that Kosova is the "Jerusalem of the Serbian nation." This is especially interesting if one recalls surveys conducted before the 1999 Kosova conflict, which showed that only about a quarter of all Serbs had ever cared enough about Kosova to go there as tourists.Across the border from Kosova in the Presevo valley, there have been curious developments in recent days, too. The shadowy Albanian National Army (ANA) said in a statement on its website on 12 August that it is responsible for the recent mortar attack on a Serbian army installation near Dobrosin in southern Serbia, which has a large ethnic Albanian population. Dobrosin figured prominently during the 1999-2001 tensions in the Presevo valley region.
Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic said on 12 August that 15 gunmen opened fire on a Serbian patrol on a road running from southern Serbia to Podujeva in Kosova. He called the attack "a very aggressive attack, an escalation."There has been no independent confirmation of the incident, and local ethnic Albanian leaders say they know of no ANA activity in the region. Nonetheless, Serbia and Montenegro's Supreme Defense Council met on 14 August to discuss the situation in Presevo and Kosova, where unidentified gunmen killed two Serbian teenagers the previous day.
Bosnia has also attracted the attention of some politicians. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 12 August that his government insists that Bosnia withdraw its lawsuit for genocide against Serbia in The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Batic warned that if Bosnia does not do so, his government will present the ICJ with "voluminous evidence" of genocide against Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict. Belgrade demands that Bosnia and Croatia drop genocide suits against it in return for Serbia's dropping similar charges against eight NATO-member states stemming from the 1999 war to stop the Serbian crackdown in Kosova. Bosnian Muslim leader Sulejman Tihic rebuffed Batic, saying that Bosnia will not enter into any political "deals" involving matters in which justice is at stake.
As columnist Helle Dale wrote in "The Washington Times" on 6 August, Serbia's leaders do not appear to have learned anything from their defeats in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova in the way that the Germans learned from theirs in 1945. Belgrade, she notes, is moving energetically to regain its position in the Balkan power constellation.
But Nexhat Daci, who is the speaker of Kosova's parliament, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 12 August that the future of Kosova does not depend on Belgrade but rather on the people who live in the province. He stressed that the democratic institutions of Kosova have enough to do in implementing European standards and seeking European integration without engaging in sterile political debates with Belgrade.
The new Serbian draft statement is, in fact, likely to be totally unacceptable to the more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority in Kosova, which wants nothing to do with Belgrade. On 13 August, Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Rexhepi, and speaker Daci predictably rejected the declaration, stressing that the Kosovars want "independence and sovereignty." All ethnic Albanian political parties demand independence for the province. But that seems quite irrelevant to the Serbian politicians on the stump.
MORE THAN 20 KILLED DURING ATTACK ON DISTRICT POLICE HEADQUARTERS IN AFGHANISTAN...
Seven Afghan policemen and an estimated 15-20 attackers died in the evening of 16-17 August when the police headquarters in Paktika Province's Barmal District was stormed, international news agencies reported. The district's police headquarters was briefly seized during the attack, which was reportedly carried out by approximately 400 supporters of the ousted Taliban regime and of radical Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to the Pakistan daily "Dawn" on 18 August. Paktika Province Governor Mohammad Ali Jalali said the attackers abandoned the police headquarters, burned it to the ground, and escaped across the border to Pakistan, AP reported on 18 August. Jalali blamed Pakistani intelligence for playing a role in organizing the assault. Jalali estimated that 20 neo-Taliban attackers died in the operation, while Paktika Province police chief Dawlat Khan placed that number at 15. AT
...AND THREE OTHERS KILLED IN SIMILAR ATTACK IN PROVINCE
Just hours after the attack on the Barmal police headquarters, three government soldiers were killed and four were abducted on 17 August when neo-Taliban forces attacked the municipal office of the Paktika Province village of Tarway, Reuters reported on 18 August. About 200 neo-Taliban forces were involved, according to Paktika Province police chief Dawlat Khan. As in Barmal, the attackers set fire to the building and escaped across the Afghan-Pakistan border, which lies only a few kilometers from the village. It is not known if the same group that carried out the attack in Barmal was responsible for the Tarway assault. AT
CHANGE OF GOVERNOR SUPPORTED IN KANDAHAR PROVINCE
Different tribes in Kandahar Province have reportedly signaled their support for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's decision to replace Kandahar Province Governor Gol Agha Sherzai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003), Bakhtar news agency reported on 16 August. Khaled Pashtun, who heads Kandahar Province's foreign-relations department, said civilian and military officials in the province will support Governor Mohammad Yusof Pashtun, who was named as Sherzai's replacement. Meanwhile, Bakhtar added that Sherzai has repeatedly stated he will abide by any order Karzai gives him. A peaceful departure would be considered a victory for Karzai in his effort to clamp down on independent regional leaders and facilitate his efforts to remove other warlords. Sherzai's removal from Kandahar might be related less to his opposition to Kabul than to disputes within his own administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2003). AT
HERAT GOVERNOR SEEMS RELUCTANT TO LIMIT HIS POWER
A gathering of representatives of the Herat Province Loya Jirga on 15 August issued an 11-point manifesto that called for Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan's command of military forces to be restored, Herat television reported. The "esteemed Al-Haj Amir Mohammad Ismail [Khan] should continue holding two posts [governor and commander of the 4th Military Corps] as before," it said. Karzai recently stripped Ismail Khan of his command of the 4th Military Corps, on the basis of an agreement under which no government official can simultaneously hold military and civilian titles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). While Ismail Khan signed the pledge, he did not relinquish command of his military force -- which is larger than the Afghan National Army. AT
AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN RAILWAY UNDER CONSIDERATION
Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said on 17 August that a feasibility study for building a railway from Pakistan to Afghanistan will be conducted very soon, "Dawn" reported on 18 August. "Pakistan and Afghanistan fully see eye-to-eye on the importance of deepening economic ties and, in particular, we are both keen that Central Asian trade [would be] redirected through Afghanistan to Pakistan and Iran," Ahmadzai said. According to the report, the feasibility study will be carried out with the cooperation of the Asian Development Bank. Afghanistan is the sole country in the region without a rail network. AT
PASHA'I-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER LAUNCHED
The publication department of the Border Affairs Ministry reported that a twice-monthly Pasha'i-language journal entitled "Tara" has began publication, Afghanistan Television reported on 16 August. Pasha'i is an Indo-European language spoken by approximately 100,000 people in areas of Nuristan, Kabul, and Kapisa provinces. AT
EIGHT KILLED IN CENTRAL IRAN RIOTS
Mehdi Taheri, the Isfahan governor-general office's director-general for political-security affairs, said eight people, including two policemen, were killed and 150 were injured on 16 August during riots in the central Iranian province, ISNA news agency reported the next day. The original protest was against the amalgamation of Semirom's Vardasht village with the neighboring town of Shahreza into the newly created administrative region of Dehaqan. "But the demonstration turned into a riot when a number of agents provocateurs entered the scene," Taheri said. "A number of the town's youngsters and adolescents also joined in the riots for the sake of entertainment," he added. Tehran radio reported earlier in the day that houses and vehicles were damaged by fire and shop windows were broken. Another official in the governorate, Mr. Shafii, told state radio on 17 August that the amalgamation plan has been reversed. Such plans by the central government frequently lead to provincial riots because they affect the amount of funding and services that are provided to a locality. BS
IRAN'S GUARDIANS COUNCIL WILL NOT COMPROMISE ON PRESIDENTIAL-POWERS BILL
Guardians Council spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said on 17 August that the council will never reach a compromise with the parliament on the presidential-powers bill, IRNA reported. Elham said the law would give the president power over the other branches of government and this violates the constitution. The bill would give the president the power to overrule other branches of government. When the Guardians Council and the parliament cannot reach a compromise, legislation goes to the Expediency Council for a final decision. However, on 13 August, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said he will not forward the presidential-powers bill to the Expediency Council. Khatami expressed hope that the legislative bodies can resolve their disagreement before the parliamentary election in February, IRNA reported. BS
TEHRAN CLAIMS IT WAS AL-QAEDA TARGET
During a 16 August conference of Iran's ambassadors, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani discussed the presence of Al-Qaeda members in Iran, state radio reported. "The members of this group had organized wide-scale activities for terrorist operations inside Iranian territory, but thanks to the steps taken by security and intelligence bodies their plans were uncovered and neutralized," he said. BS
TEHRAN DENIES AL-QAEDA MEMBERS HAVE FLED
An unidentified "source close to" the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said in the 13 August issue of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Al-Qaeda commander Ayman al-Zawahiri has left Iran but Saad bin Laden and Saif al-Adel remain there. According to this source, Intelligence Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi assigned personnel to track down the Al-Qaeda personnel and arrest them after al-Adel's role in the May bombings in Riyadh became known. He told the weekly that this alarmed the IRGC's special-operations unit, the Qods Force, because it had provided safe houses for the Al-Qaeda members in Tehran and in Gilan, Markazi, and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. The source said Al-Zawahiri got out of Iran with help from IRGC deputy commander General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr. They apparently knew each other from the IRGC's days in Sudan. An anonymous Foreign Ministry official on 14 August rejected the report, according to ISNA. He said the people identified in the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" article were never in Iran, there are no links between the IRGC and Al-Qaeda, and all the arrested members of Al-Qaeda remain in detention. BS
TECHNOCRATIC PARTY WITHDRAWS FROM IRANIAN POLITICS, FOR NOW
Mohammad Atrianfar, a member of the Executives of Construction Party's central council, said on 17 August that the party has suspended its activities in order to avoid contributing to the country's political turmoil, IRNA reported. "We do not want to take a step that might worsen the unstable political conditions," he said. Atrianfar added that this is a temporary measure. "Still, this never means that we are withdrawing from Iran's political arena," he said. "It is only a political tactic." Part of the reformist 2nd of Khordad front, the party's identification with Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani caused a great deal of controversy in the run-up to the February 2000 parliamentary election. The reformist coalition is under a lot of tension as the February 2004 election approaches. BS
SABOTEURS STRIKE KEY IRAQI OIL PIPELINE...
Saboteurs bombed Iraq's only oil-export pipeline to Turkey on 15 August, setting a fire that continued burning through 17 August. Interim Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadhban told reporters on 16 August that a bomb blast north of Tikrit set the pipeline ablaze, Reuters reported the same day. The BBC reported that a second blast occurred nearby on 17 August. The pipeline, which connects Iraq's Kirkuk oil fields to Turkey's Ceyhan terminal, had reopened on 13 August. The BBC quoted a U.S. Army spokeswoman as saying, "The North Oil Company is on site to make repairs, which are estimated to take at least two weeks to one month." According to U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, the pipeline attack will cost Iraq's economy $7 million a day in lost revenues. DK
...AND BAGHDAD WATER MAIN
An explosion at a Baghdad water main on 17 August flooded streets and left many city residents without water, AP reported the same day. According to eyewitnesses, two men who arrived on a motorcycle planted the explosives. Local water-system engineer Assam Uthman condemned the attack, telling Reuters: "This was an act of sabotage. It does not hurt the Americans, it hurts ordinary Iraqi people." Engineers estimated it would take eight hours to repair the water main rupture, which, according to the International Red Cross, left approximately 300,000 Baghdad residents without water, the BBC reported on 17 August. DK
SIX KILLED IN ABU GHARIB MORTAR ATTACK...
A mortar attack on Abu Gharib prison killed six Iraqis and wounded 59 others on 16 August, AFP reported the same day. A U.S. military spokesman confirmed the attack to Reuters on 17 August, explaining: "Three mortar rounds impacted the scene. Three prisoners died on impact, and three others died in the hospital. The incident is under investigation." The wounded detainees reportedly were being treated in a U.S. military hospital. Iraqi Governing Council member Samir Shakir Mahmud condemned the attack while visiting the wounded, saying: "Why are they attacking water pipes, oil pipelines, [and] prisoners? [The attackers] have chosen the strategy of chaos," AFP reported. DK
...AND CAMERAMAN DIES COVERING SAME PRISON ATTACK
Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana was killed while covering events at Abu Gharib prison on 17 August, AP and other media reported. An anonymous Reuters staffer told AP that Dana was shot by U.S. troops as he was videotaping; a U.S. military statement said that the incident is under investigation. Dana is the 17th journalist to be killed in Iraq since 20 March. DK
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS START GULF TOUR
A delegation from the Iraqi Governing Council began a tour of Persian Gulf states with a visit to United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 17 August, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, who currently holds the council's rotating presidency, headed the six-member delegation, which met with UAE President Shaykh Sultan bin Zayid al-Nahyan. The regional tour is the first visit abroad by members of the Governing Council. Arab officialdom has treated the council coolly thus far, and the Arab League recently refused to let a council representative occupy Iraq's vacant seat. "We are on a mission to introduce ourselves and get to know others," AP quoted al-Ja'fari as saying. In comments to Al-Jazeera, council member and former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi downplayed reports of animosity between the Governing Council and Arab governments, saying, "We represent the Iraqi people and we derive our legitimacy from them. We expect support from our Arab brothers in the circumstances that currently affect the Iraqi people." The delegation also plans to visit Bahrain and Kuwait. DK
ANTI-U.S. CLERICS IN IRAQ PROTEST, FORGE TIES
Clerics opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq reportedly used Friday prayers to drive home their message on 15 August. In Baghdad's predominantly Shi'ite Al-Sadr City, where one Iraqi was killed last week in protests after U.S. troops allegedly disturbed a prayer banner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 August 2003), Shaykh Abd al-Hadi al-Daraji told more than 5,000 worshippers that "what happened [in Al-Sadr City] clearly shows that America and international Zionism have declared war against Islam," Reuters reported on 15 August. Al-Daraji also expressed his support for the creation of a clerical militia, claiming that U.S. forces should welcome such a move as a step toward improving security, "The New York Times" reported on 15 August. Al-Jazeera reported the same day that crowds chanted "Yes to Islam" and "We will resist the enemies of the Prophet," noting that leaflets bearing the stamp of anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr condemned "the attack [by U.S. forces] on the inhabitants of Al-Sadr City and the believers." Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reported on 17 August that U.S. intelligence sources believe that Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Kubaysi is providing Muqtada al-Sadr with financial support in "a rare example of cooperation across Iraq's sectarian divide." An anonymous "senior U.S. official in Baghdad" told the newspaper, "I can't put a figure on it, but it's a lot of money." DK