MORE POLICE ARRESTED IN CORRUPTION CRACKDOWN...
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced in Moscow on 21 August that officials have arrested 11 people, including six former and current Interior Ministry officers, who are accused of corruption and extorting money from small businesses, Russian media reported. The names of the suspects are being withheld pending the investigation into the case. "We are continuing our work to uproot corruption within the Interior Ministry," Gryzlov said. "Our measures might be unpopular with some officers, but those who are involved in corruption are more dangerous than the criminals against whom they are supposed to be fighting." Lieutenant General Konstantin Romadanovskii, head of the ministry's Internal Affairs Department, said that the arrested officers face indictments involving the alleged fabrication of cases against businessmen in order to extort money from them. He also said that they are suspected of involvement in about 20 other types of crime, including organizing paid murders, RTR reported. ORT on 21 August commented that although this case is apparently not connected with the high-profile arrests of senior law enforcement officials on similar charges in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 June 2003), it promises to be even more scandalous, and additional arrests are expected. VY
...AND YET ANOTHER ARREST
Interior Ministry Lieutenant Colonel Vasilii Skripka, a department head in the ministry's Moscow Economic Crimes Directorate, was arrested on 20 August, RIA-Novosti and RTR reported on 21 August. Skripka was reportedly caught red-handed accepting a $20,000 bribe from a businessman whom he was allegedly blackmailing. Skripka's department is responsible for combating illegal activities at Moscow's markets and, according to an unidentified police source, he allegedly attempted to extort money from the businessman in exchange for closing a criminal case against him. VY
GOVERNMENT MULLS EXTERNAL MANAGEMENT FOR INSOLVENT REGIONS
At a 21 August meeting, the cabinet discussed a Finance Ministry proposal to introduce external financial administration for insolvent regions, RTR reported. Under the proposal, the government would be able to introduce such administration in any region with debts exceeding 30 percent of its annual revenues. The decision to do so, however, could only be authorized by an arbitration court and would be limited to one year. The proposal includes a provision establishing federal financial commissioners who in such cases would submit to the legislature of the region a plan to resolve the budgetary problem. If the legislature fails to endorse that plan, the commissioners would submit it to the State Duma, which would be authorized to impose it on the region. The Finance Ministry has also proposed corresponding amendments to the Tax and Budget codes. VY
FIRST FAMILY TAKES A VACATION
President Vladimir Putin and his family arrived in the Altai Krai alpine resort of Belokurikha on 21 August for a brief vacation, Russian media reported, citing presidential press spokesman Aleksei Gromov. On 29 August, at the invitation of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, and his daughters, Masha and Katya, will fly to Sardinia. There, Putin will spend a few days resting and hunting at Berlusconi's villa. He is expected to return to Moscow on 1 September. On 21 August, Putin met with Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov. Putin reportedly told Surikov that Russia's harvest this year will be sufficient to meet its domestic needs, although the country will most likely reduce exports, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August. Interfax earlier this month cited State Statistics Committee information indicating that the harvest is down sharply so far this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). VY
RUSSIA ANNOUNCES PLAN TO LAUNCH WESTERN MILITARY SATELLITES
Russian Space Forces spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko announced at the Moscow International Air Show (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003) on 21 August that the state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport and the German firm OHB-System have signed a contract to launch Western military satellites from the Russian cosmodrome at Plesetsk in 2005-07, Russian media reported. Davidenko did not reveal for which countries the satellites would be launched, how many satellites are involved, or the value of the contract. VY
SEARCHERS FIND NO TRACE OF MISSING GOVERNOR...
A second day of searching for the missing helicopter that was carrying Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov and members of the oblast leadership yielded no results, "Vremya novostei" reported on 22 August. The governor's helicopter went missing on the afternoon of 20 August while flying over Kamchatka Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003). The only news, according to the daily, was a report from two hunters who said they saw on 20 August some kind of plane far from the planned route of the helicopter. Investigators into the crash have acknowledged unofficially that the chances of finding the passengers still alive are not good. The daily also reported that the list of passengers initially reported was incorrect and that there were 19 people on board. One unidentified resident of Severo-Kurilsk did not manage to make the flight. JAC
...AS DEFENSE MINISTER TO OBSERVE FAR EAST MILITARY EXERCISES
Sergei Ivanov on 22 August flew to Primorskii Krai to observe the final stage of a major military exercise under way in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003), strana.ru reported. Ivanov told journalists that, in addition to Russian Army and Navy units, personnel from 10 other security agencies are participating in the maneuvers, as are vessels and personnel from South Korea, Japan, and the United States. He repeated earlier official statements that the disappearance of a helicopter carrying Sakhalin Oblast Governor Farkhutdinov and several senior oblast officials was not connected with the exercises and has not affected them. VY
RUSSIA TAKES ISSUE WITH GEORGIA'S THREAT TO BLOCK WTO MEMBERSHIP
Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maksim Medvedkov on 21 August characterized as "counterproductive" Georgian officials' hints the previous day that Tbilisi might block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003). Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili both warned that Georgia might do so unless Russia modifies its position with regard to the breakaway unrecognized Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF
WEEKLY REPORTS ON CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTORS ON THE LEFT...
"Argumenty i fakty," No. 34, reported that the Communist Party is having no problem attracting campaign contributions, despite its status as an opposition party. The weekly claimed that embattled oil giant Yukos and the party still enjoy "friendly relations," and that Alfa Group, Mezhprombank, and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and Sibneft head Roman Abramovich have all either contributed to the party or plan to do so. State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev, who recently announced the formation of a left-oriented political bloc, reportedly enjoys financial backing from a co-owner of the CSKA hockey club and allegedly has ties with Russian Aluminum (Rusal) head Oleg Deripaska. JAC
...AS LEFTIST PARTY LEADERS MISSING FROM TV NEWS
Last month, "Vedomosti" reported that businesses controlled by Oleg Deripaska have been taking control of newspaper and magazine kiosks in large parts of the country. According to the daily on 16 July, representatives of Deripaska's Base Element holding company have confirmed that the company is creating a network of kiosks for selling print media based on those that used to belong to the state press-distribution monopoly Soyuzpechat (later, Rospechat). Sergei Glazev and Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov both continue having problems getting coverage on national television. "Argumenty i fakty" suggested that the presence of ORT Deputy Director Marat Gelman on Glazev's campaign team might help him to gain access to the airwaves. JAC
ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM: ONE STEP FORWARD...
Three federal ministries have agreed to give up six out of 23 functions suggested for elimination under the administrative-reform plan drawn up by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 August. The Interior Ministry has agreed to stop registering color-reproduction devices, while the Antimonopoly Ministry has agreed to give up three out of its four functions recommended for elimination, including its total control over mergers and daily monitoring of trading markets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003), "Vremya novostei" reported on 20 August. The Natural Resources Ministry will give up the licensing of tide- and wind-based power generation. First Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Mikhail Dmitriev told reporters on 19 August that a bill that will be introduced in the Duma in the fall will help authorities cut more functions, because it will require each government department to prove the necessity of all its functions, "Izvestiya" reported. JAC
...AND TWO STEPS BACK?
President Putin has signed a decree increasing the number of staff in organs of the Prosecutor-General's Office by 4,000, RIA-Novosti reported. The increase was justified by the requirements of conforming to the recently revised Criminal Procedure Code. JAC
MOSCOW AUTHORITIES TO 'PROTECT' MIGRANT WORKERS
More than 60 illegal immigrants have been detained at the Moscow International Air Show since it opened on 19 August, and deportation orders have already been issued for four illegal migrants from Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. Moscow Vice Mayor Valerii Shantsev declared on 20 August that city authorities do not intend to rescind the new registration rules for people from other cities arriving Moscow to work, lenta.ru reported. According to Shantsev, the rules might be amended, but "we will protect these people, who should not become 21st-century slaves." NTV reported earlier that under the new rules, any enterprise wishing to employ a person who is registered as a resident of another city will have to submit 12 application forms and documents, and a special commission will take up to one month to study each application (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). JAC
POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECLINE...
Russia's population dropped by 454,200 during the first half of 2003 to 144.5 million, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August, citing the State Statistics Committee. The agency noted that the birthrate lagged behind the death rate. The death rate overall rose by a factor of 1.7, while the number of deaths in some regions jumped by a factor of 2-3. Migration increased by 1.2 percent compared with the first half of 2002. "Politburo," No. 26, argued that Russia's main demographic problem is not the low birthrate -- which is common in modern, developed countries -- but the high adult death rate. JAC
...AS ALCOHOL GETS LARGE SHARE OF THE BLAME
According to the weekly, the leading causes of death in Russia are typical neither of developed nor developing countries. One important factor in the high death rate is alcohol consumption, and there is a close direct correlation between the alcohol consumption per person and the death rate. After the antialcohol campaign launched by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, the death rate fell. According to Aleksandr Nemtsov, director of the information and research department of the Moscow Psychiatric Scientific Research Institute, alcohol consumption correlates not only with the general death-rate dynamics -- when it increases, the death rate increases -- but also with many other leading causes for death -- with the exception of infectious diseases. JAC
CHECHEN LEADER RESUMES DUTIES...
Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov resumed his duties as Chechen administration head on 20 August, two weeks after it was announced that he would take vacation until the 5 October presidential election, in which he is registered as a candidate, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov said Kadyrov may continue to perform his duties until 5 September. LF
...AS FIGHTING ESCALATES IN AVTURY
Fighting continued in Shali Raion southeast of Grozny for a second consecutive day on 21 August between a detachment of Chechen fighters and Russian forces backed by a detachment of some 500 Chechen police, Russian media and chechenpress.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003). The Chechen agency termed the engagement the largest since the summer of 2000, and estimated its opponents' losses at more than 100 killed and wounded. Meanwhile, Russian media reported the same day that the Chechen forces had retreated, and blamed them for the killing that morning of Supyan Yusupov, local administration head in the village of Tsa-Vedeno some 10 kilometers from Avtury. LF
ARMENIAN HEALTH MINISTER SUSPENDS HOSPITAL PRIVATIZATIONS
Senior parliamentarian Armen Rustamian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 21 August that Health Minister Norayr Davidian has suspended the privatization of medical facilities. Both men are members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, one of the two junior partners in the coalition government. On 18 August, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian called for a halt to the privatization of hospitals on the grounds that many Armenians cannot afford private medicine. State Property Committee Chairman David Vartanian rejected that argument two days later and said the privatization process would continue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 21 August 2003). LF
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS FUNDING FOR REFUGEE HOUSING
The Armenian government unveiled on 21 August a new project to provide permanent homes for some 4,000 low-income families who fled neighboring Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1990 during the early years of the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But Department of Refugee Affairs and Migration head Gagik Yeganian said Yerevan can raise only $5 million of the estimated $20 million cost, and hopes international aid organizations will provide the balance. LF
ARMENIA DENIES OPENING FIRE ON LINE OF CONTACT
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dziunik Aghajanian denied on 21 August that Armenian forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops on the morning of 19 August, according to Arminfo on 21 August, as cited by Groong. Azerbaijani media reported that the Armenian troops had fired on Azerbaijani positions in Tovuz Raion, thwarting routine monitoring by OSCE personnel of the Line of Contact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). AFP on 20 August quoted an unnamed Armenian Defense Ministry official as saying that the shots came from Tovuz, while Aghajanian said the weapons used in the cease-fire violation were of a type that Armenian forces deployed along that section of the Line of Contact do not use, according to ITAR-TASS. OSCE special representative Andzrej Kasprczyk, who was monitoring the Azerbaijani side of the Line of Contact on 19 August, traveled to Yerevan on 21 August to discuss the incident with Armenian officials, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI PREMIER TRAVELS TO U.S.
Ilham Aliev flew to Cleveland on 21 August to visit his father, President Heidar Aliev, who has been undergoing treatment at the Cleveland Clinic since early August for heart and kidney problems, Turan reported. According to presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov, Prime Minister Aliev will remain in the United States for about one week, during which time he will also meet with U.S. government officials in Washington. LF
MORE PRESSURE REPORTED ON AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES...
Police in the Khachmaz Raion of Azerbaijan prevented members of the opposition Musavat Party from gathering in a local teahouse on 20 August and detained two of them for several hours, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar told Turan the following day. In the northern raion of Zakatala, the local police chief recently demanded that an Akhrar Party activist quit that party, beat him when he refused to do so, and then brought criminal charges against him for resisting authority, Turan reported. LF
...AS U.S., COUNCIL OF EUROPE EXPRESS CONCERN
In a statement released on 21 August, U.S. State Department official Joanne Propovicz noted Washington's concern that some candidates wishing to contest the 15 October presidential election have been denied registration, and that opposition politicians are subjected to harassment, Turan reported. She said the United States hopes the ballot will be conducted in accordance with international standards, that all qualified candidates will be able to participate and be granted equal access to the media, and that the voting will be free and fair. She said Washington urges the Azerbaijani government to refrain from violence against participants in opposition protests and to "cease the harassment of opposition leaders and their associates." Meanwhile, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer similarly called on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that all presidential candidates have equal access to the media, Turan reported on 21 August. Schwimmer expressed concern at the detention by police of editors and representatives of journalists' unions in Baku on 26 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). LF
GEORGIAN HOSTAGE RELEASED IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijani police secured the release late on 20 August of the Georgian shepherd taken hostage in Azerbaijan's Balakany Raion one week earlier, Turan reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). No details of the release operation were divulged, nor is it known whether the kidnappers were paid the $20,000 ransom they had demanded. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS ANNOUNCE ALIGNMENT
Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and her predecessor, United Democrats' Chairman Zurab Zhvania, formally announced in Tbilisi on 21 August the creation of a new opposition formation to be known as Burdjanadze-Democrats, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003). The bloc will participate in the 2 November parliamentary elections with a unified platform. Burdjanadze defined the bloc, which is open to other political parties, as a radical but constructive opposition to President Eduard Shevardnadze, according to ITAR-TASS. She listed the bloc's objectives as restoring Georgia's territorial integrity, strengthening the armed forces, and improving social conditions by guaranteeing the payment of wages and pensions and uninterrupted supplies of gas and electricity. Burdjanadze's supporters include former Economy Minister Lado Papava and Davit Usupashvili, a former member of the state Anticorruption Commission. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN FAILS TO PASS BUDGET SEQUESTER
Parliament deputies adjourned at 2 a.m. local time on 22 August without having passed the draft bill on budget cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2. Only 104 of the 134 deputies present voted in favor of the cuts, fewer than the 118 needed. The original deadline set by the fund for making the cuts was 15 August. That deadline was later extended until the middle of this week (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 August 2003). Also on 21 August, National Bank President Irakli Managadze told journalists in Tbilisi that Georgia is on the verge of defaulting on repayments of its $1.75 billion foreign debt, ITAR-TASS reported. The Georgian leadership is hoping the IMF will support its request to the Paris Club for that debt to be restructured. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR FINANCE MINISTER TO RESIGN
During the 21 August debate on the proposed budget cuts, Irakli Batiashvili, who chairs the parliament's Defense and Security Committee, called for the resignation of Finance Minister Mirian Gogiashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Batiashvili protested that the planned 9.8 million laris ($4.6 million) cut in funding for the Defense Ministry will jeopardize the effectiveness of the armed forces and might force the cancellation of Georgia's participation in planned NATO exercises within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT CALLS UPON MEDIA TO REPORT OBJECTIVELY...
Speaking to a group of public figures in Astana on 21 August, Nursultan Nazarbaev called upon the media to report events objectively and responsibly, khabar.kz and gazeta.kz reported. Nazarbaev asked that journalists report both sides of issues, the negative as well as the positive, and not try to influence public opinion by interjecting their own assessments. In his view, media should bring the society together, preserve harmony among the country's ethnic groups, and mobilize everyone to carry out the leadership's programs for raising living standards. Nazarbaev said he often receives letters complaining about the negative tone of the media. BB
...AND SAYS THAT KAZAKHSTAN NEEDS MORE PEOPLE
At the same 21 August meeting, President Nazarbaev said that Kazakhstan needs a population of at least 20 million to provide the labor force necessary to maintain the present rate of economic development, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakhstan's current population is estimated at 14.9 million, down from about 16 million at the time of independence. Nazarbaev said that to realize his development strategy for the period until 2030, Kazakhstan will need an additional 100,000 foreign workers each year starting in 2006, with the western energy-producing regions needing a total of an additional 150,000 foreign and domestic workers annually. He added that Kazakhstan needs to value people with professional educations. BB
KYRGYZ JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS EXTREMISTS WANT TO SEIZE POWER
Kyrgyzstan's First Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told an international conference in Bishkek on 21 August that the extremist Muslim movement Hizb ut-Tahrir wants to seize power in Kyrgyzstan and has been expanding its spying and propaganda activities to achieve this goal, Interfax reported. In his statement to the Society Against Crime and Terrorism conference, Osmonov asserted that the group is recruiting mostly young people and trying to discredit the authorities, while presenting itself to the world as an organization of people persecuted for their religious beliefs. Osmonov complained that Kyrgyz legislation is too liberal and the country's security agencies are too poorly coordinated to curb religious extremism effectively. BB
KYRGYZ COURT SENTENCES DJALAL-ABAD POLICE-STATION RAIDERS
After a 21-31 July trial, the men convicted of raiding the Djalal-Abad city and oblast police headquarters on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003) were sentenced by the Djalal-Abad Municipal Court on 21 August, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. During the raid, the group had made off with several firearms and a quantity of ammunition, most of which was recovered almost immediately. The leader of the group, former police officer Adyl Karimov, was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment, although prosecutors had asked for a 20-year sentence. The other eight convicts were given prison sentences of 17-18 years. The raiders reportedly told authorities at the time of their arrest that they wanted the arms to equip themselves for a life of crime. According to subsequent media reports, Karimov wanted to overthrow the authorities, at least in southern Kyrgyzstan. BB
HIZB UT-TAHRIR ACTIVIST SENTENCED IN NORTHERN TAJIKISTAN
The Sughd Oblast Court has sentenced a Hizb ut-Tahrir activist named Zainiddin Abduvahhobov to 11 years in prison, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 August. Abduvahhobov, a resident of Bobojonghafurov Raion, was charged with participating in a criminal association -- Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Tajikistan -- and inciting interethnic enmity. He was convicted of distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets in 1999-2003. An official of the oblast prosecutor's office was quoted as saying that 40,000 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and 30,000 books and magazines with extremist content were confiscated from Abduvahhobov and his associates, as were several photocopying machines and computers. As of late July, 30 people had been arrested in Tajikistan for Hizb ut-Tahrir activity this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). BB
INFANT-MORTALITY RATE IN UZBEKISTAN REMAINS HIGH
Although Uzbekistan has succeeded in lowering its infant-mortality rate from 38.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1989 to 18.3 in 2001, the rate remains high in comparison with other CIS and European countries, uzreport.com reported on 21 August, quoting the 2003 UNICEF Social Monitoring report. According to UNICEF, Uzbekistan has the lowest infant-mortality rate among the Central Asian CIS states, while Turkmenistan has the highest -- 20.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. The reasons for the high infant mortality rates in Central Asia -- according to UNICEF, up to 12 times higher than in developed countries -- were given as poverty, the poor health and nutrition of pregnant women, infectious diseases, and low-quality medical care. According to uzreport.com, UNICEF suspects that Uzbekistan's infant-mortality rate is actually much higher, but the country's official figures are obtained using the Soviet definition of infant mortality rather than the internationally accepted World Health Organization definition. BB
BELARUSIAN COURT CLOSES ANOTHER NGO...
The Oblast Court in Hrodna on 21 August liquidated the nongovernmental organization Ratusha, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The court's ruling followed a motion from oblast executive authorities who charged that Ratusha had owned and used printing equipment without official permission. The closure of Ratusha is another example of what NGO and opposition activists call a deliberate government campaign to stifle civic activism in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). The authorities have also imposed a fine of some $2,000 on the private weekly "Salidarnasts," which is based in Salihorsk, Belapan reported on 21 August. Inspectors of the State Monitoring Committee and the Information Ministry charged that issues of "Salidarnasts" did not include some publishing data required by the state. JM
...AND ANOTHER REFUSES TO PROBE THE CRIMINALIZATION OF DEFAMATION AGAINST OFFICIALS
The Constitutional Court has rejected a request by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) to examine whether three articles in the Criminal Code that penalize the defamation of the president and other government officials are constitutional, Belapan reported on 21 August. Some 7,000 signatures accompanied the BAZh request, which was filed in early July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003). Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich replied to the BAZh that these articles help ensure "legal protection of the normal activity of government institutions and their representatives, as well as the state government's authority." Vasilevich argued that "laws in most other countries are based on similar approaches," citing the criminal codes of Poland, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries as examples. JM
PRO-YUSHCHENKO ASSOCIATION EMERGES IN UKRAINE
A meeting of 74 delegates from Ukraine's 24 regions created an all-Ukrainian association called For Ukraine! For Yushchenko! in Kyiv on 21 August, UNIAN reported. Delegates elected Our Ukraine lawmaker Yuriy Yekhanurov to head the association. Yekhanurov told journalists that the association is intended to help Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine broaden its influence. According to Yekhanurov, the association will be based on regional "civic centers that want to support [Yushchenko's] initiatives regarding the democratic reconstruction of our country." Yushchenko, who was elected an honorary chairman of the association, warned the congress that the political reform proposed by President Leonid Kuchma might be modified in the near future. "The authorities might propose that the president be elected in the parliament by a subjugated, undemocratic majority," Yushchenko said. "In the next few days, we might become witnesses to Byzantine politics, under which the two political-reform drafts [one proposed by Kuchma and the other by opposition lawmakers] will be withdrawn from the Constitutional Court, and a third draft that is even more Jesuitical [than the previous two] will be submitted," he added (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 August 2003). JM
UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES REPORTEDLY WORK WITH COMMUNISTS, SOCIALISTS ON JOINT POLITICAL-REFORM DRAFT
Communist Party (KPU) leader Petro Symonenko and Socialist Party (SPU) leader Oleksandr Moroz told journalists in Kyiv on 21 August that the presidential administration and the opposition are working on a joint bill of amendments to the constitution intended to reform the political system in Ukraine, Interfax reported. "The latest consultations with experts, including presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, have shown that there is no more talk about simultaneous [presidential, parliamentary, and local] elections, or the appointment of some ministers by the president, as was proposed by the authority," Moroz said. He said that a key innovation is the presidential administration's proposal that the Verkhovna Rada elect the president. Meanwhile, Symonenko said the communists want the current election law to apply to the 2004 presidential election, but want to reduce the president's mandate from four to two years. Symonenko added that a new parliament, if elected under a fully proportional system, could elect a new president in 2006. JM
TOP ESTONIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS INFORMATION PROGRAM FOR EU REFERENDUM
President Arnold Ruutel, Prime Minister Juhan Parts, and parliament speaker Ene Ergma decided on 21 August that they should do more to inform the public about the effects of EU membership before the upcoming referendum on 14 September, BNS reported. Ruutel said the charges that Estonia will lose its independence with EU membership are groundless as the country already belongs to many international organizations that affect its actions. Ergma noted that the Estonian economy is already closely linked with the EU, and rejected the arguments that better membership conditions could be obtained in the future because then the EU will have even more members who would have to agree to any further concessions Estonia sought. SG
POSTPONEMENT OF LATVIAN NUCLEAR-REACTOR LIQUIDATION QUESTIONED
U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Brian Carlson has expressed concern about the postponement of plans to liquidate the research nuclear reactor at Salaspils, BNS reported on 21 August. The reactor, which was built in 1961 and shut down in 1998, was to be decommissioned completely by 2008 with financial assistance from the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). The Latvian Environment Ministry, however, recently put off the transportation of spent nuclear fuel out of Latvia for an unspecified term for financial reasons. Carlson planned to visit Salaspils with Environment Minister Raimonds Vejonis on 22 August, but that trip was postponed. SG
LATVIA INTERCEPTS RUSSIAN MILITARY HARDWARE BOUND FOR IRAN
Latvian customs officials in Riga on 18 August intercepted 28 tons of Russian-made military equipment that were reportedly bound for Iran, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported on 21 August. The equipment reportedly included spare parts for tanks and night-vision equipment and was being shipped as agricultural hardware on a Russian plane from Yekaterinburg. Latvian officials have opened a criminal case on suspicion of smuggling strategic goods. The incident could further inflame tensions between Russia and the United States over Russian military cooperation with Teheran. VY
LITHUANIAN DIPLOMATS SEEK TO TAKE BACK RESIGNATIONS
Four of the seven diplomats working in Russia and Belarus who submitted letters of resignation on 25 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003) have appealed to the Vilnius District Administrative Court for reinstatement, alleging that psychological pressure was used against them, "Kauno diena" reported on 22 August. Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis explained that he showed them information received from the State Security Department indicating that they had received payments from Russian tourist agencies in exchange for issuing visas, and had asked them to resign. They did so and Valionis later signed a decree rescinding their access to classified information. The newspaper suggests that the diplomats began their court actions when it became clear that the prosecutor's office was having difficulty gathering enough evidence against them. SG
POLISH EXPERTS SAY ECONOMIC RECOVERY ON TRACK
Poland's industrial production in July rose by 10.3 percent compared to July 2002, and by 4.9 percent compared with June 2003, far better results than had been expected, PAP reported on 21 August. Polish Television reported the same day that in the "fairly universal" opinion of Polish economists, the country is witnessing an economic recovery. "It is evident that the recovery we are talking about is gaining speed, and one can assume that GDP a year from now can be above 3 percent, not just around 3 percent, [as expected] in 2003," Monetary Policy Council member Dariusz Rosati told PAP. Polish Television quoted Prime Minister Leszek Miller as saying, "We said things would be better for the economy, and they are." JM
POLISH LAWMAKERS SAY PROSECUTORS LIED TO RYWINGATE COMMISSION
Jan Maria Rokita and Jacek Ziobro, opposition members of the parliamentary commission investigating the Rywingate scandal (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January, 18 February, and 29 April 2003), told journalists on 21 August that they were deceived by prosecutors responsible for the parallel criminal investigation, Polish media reported. Rokita and Ziobro claim that prosecutors Karol Napierski and Zenon Kapusta lied when they assured the commission in early March that a plan for the investigation of the Rywingate affair existed but that the commission could not have it. According to both lawmakers, such a plan was worked out no earlier than in April. "If the commission is lied to by witnesses, well, we have somehow managed to get used to that. But if it is lied to by the prosecutor's office, actions are needed by the speaker of the Sejm," Polish Television quoted Rokita as saying. Deputy Prosecutor-General Kazimierz Olejnik said Rokita and Ziobro do not have the right to evaluate the activities of prosecutors and accused the lawmakers of manipulating public opinion. JM
POLISH AIRLINES TO BEGIN FLYING TO IRAQ
The Polish airline LOT will launch a weekly connection to Al-Basrah, Iraq, via Beirut on 27 August, PAP reported on 21 August, quoting a LOT statement. LOT and Scandinavia's SAS are the only European air carriers that have been granted permission to operate flights to Iraq. JM
CZECH, JAPANESE PREMIERS URGE BROAD PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION
In a statement released after talks in Prague on 21 August, visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Czech counterpart Vladimir Spidla pledged to help in the reconstruction of Iraq and to assist that country in setting up a government "managed by the people of Iraq," CTK and dpa reported. The two heads of government also said in the statement that they want "as many countries as possible" to join an international conference on Iraq's reconstruction planned for October. The joint statement also expressed "grave concern over the North Korean nuclear issue," urging a "peaceful and diplomatic solution" at the six-way talks slated to begin next week in Beijing. Spidla told journalists that the Czech Republic, which has diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, could play a role mediating the crisis. Spidla and Koizumi also discussed ways to boost trade, encourage mutual investment, and expand scientific cooperation. Spidla said Prague will back Japan's quest to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. This was the first-visit ever by a Japanese prime minister to the Czech Republic. MS
CZECHS COMMEMORATE 1968 INVASION ANNIVERSARY...
Prime Minister Spidla on 21 August laid a wreath at the Czech Radio building in Prague, CTK and dpa reported. By broadcasting in spite of attempts to put it off air, Czech Radio became a symbol of the Czechs' resistance to the invading Warsaw Pact troops. The 35th anniversary of the invasion was commemorated in several places in the Czech Republic. Spidla said in his speech that although the invasion ushered in "a long and cruel period," it also marked the "beginning of another stage in the struggle for freedom, which did not end until [the communist regime fell on] 17 November 1989," RFE/RL reported. "August 1968 is...an illustration of the well-known historical saying that freedom is hard to win but easy to lose," Spidla said. Former President Vaclav Havel marked the day by addressing students in the northern Bohemian town of Liberec, where he was during the 1968 invasion. Havel said that at that time he could "never have dreamt that I would announce the end of the Warsaw Pact as president" of the country. In downtown Prague, visiting Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi laid a wreath at the monument to Jan Palach and Jan Zalic, students who immolated themselves to protest the invasion. MS
...AS MONUMENT TO VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM IS VANDALIZED
On the eve of the 1968 invasion anniversary unknown perpetrators vandalized a Prague monument erected in memory of the victims of communism, CTK reported. The monument was painted over and covered with insulting graffiti. Confederation of Political Prisoners Deputy Chairwoman Nadezda Kavalirova said she believes the vandalism to be an "act of revenge by Bolsheviks." MS
CZECH DAILY: MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE EMPLOYS FORMER COMMUNIST AGENTS
The daily "Impuls" reported on 22 August that the military intelligence service (VZS) continues to employ people who served the communist regime, CTK reported. It says the VZS's most important department, intelligence operations, is headed by Jan Kocourek, who was dismissed as military attache at the Czech Embassy in Bonn in 1994 because of his past links with the communist regime. VZS Director-General Josef Proks refused to discuss the subject, telling "Impuls" that "matters pertaining to the VZS are neither discussed via the media nor are they subject to public discussion." Proks was appointed to his post by former Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik with the task of ridding the VZS of staff members who had served the former communist regime. Tvrdik said in March and April 2003 that such staff would have to leave the VZS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March, 24 April, and 29 April 2003). MS
YOUNG CZECHS CHARGED WITH RACIALLY MOTIVATED ATTACK ON ROMANY MAN
Czech authorities in Usti nad Labem, northern Bohemia, on 21 August charged two men, aged 18 and 21, with committing a racially motivated attack against a Romany man in Most on 25 January, CTK reported. As a result of the beating, the victim suffered numerous injuries and partially lost vision in his right eye. MS
SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES AMENDMENT TO LAW ON PRIVATIZATION OF LARGE, STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES...
The cabinet approved on 21 August an amendment to the law on the privatization of large state-owned enterprises, lifting the provision that the state must keep a 51-percent stake in them, TASR reported. According to Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics, revenues from privatization are to be used to cover the costs of the transition to a new pension system and to repay Slovakia's international debt. Due to the high value of the property slated for privatization, the amendment stipulates that the period during which contracts may be voided due to a breach of sale conditions will be 10 years, instead of the currently stipulated three years. The amendment -- which still must be approved by parliament -- will not apply to the railway network, state-owned forests, surface and underground water resources, and postal services. MS
...AGREES TO SUBMIT AGREEMENT WITH VATICAN TO PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL
The government decided on 21 August that an agreement with the Vatican on religious instruction in schools will be submitted in September for parliamentary approval, TASR and CTK reported. The majority in the center-right, four-party coalition earlier maintained that the agreement need only be approved by the cabinet, but junior coalition member Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) objected. A part of a larger agreement with the Vatican, this agreement stipulates that optional Roman Catholic religious education is to be offered in elementary and secondary schools and at selected nursery schools. To fend off possible objections that this stipulation favors the Roman Catholic Church, the cabinet also approved a draft agreement with all officially registered churches and religious communities extending to them the same opportunities. MS
HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY TO BE SET UP IN SLOVAKIA
At its 21 August meeting, the Slovak cabinet also approved the creation of a Hungarian-language university in Komarno, southern Slovakia, TASR and CTK reported. The university is to begin offering classes in September 2004 and will have three departments: theology, pedagogy, and economics. The junior Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) has long advocated such a university. The university will be named after scientist Janos Seyle, who was born in Komarno. MS
SLOVAK COMMUNISTS REFUSE TO APOLOGIZE FOR 1968 INVASION
Slovak Communist Party (KSS) General Secretary Ladislav Jaca told CTK on 21 August that the KSS does not intend to apologize for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact, because his party is not a successor to the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC). Jaca said that the KSS was founded in 1992 and that the actual successor of the KSC is the Party of the Democratic Left. Jaca also said he does not believe the so-called "letter of invitation" by "hard-core" KSC leaders, asking the countries of the Warsaw Pact to extend "brotherly help" to the KSC, ever existed. MS
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS TALK OF NEW CONSTITUTION
President Ferenc Madl on 21 August told Hungarian radio that the present Hungarian Constitution is modern and complies with EU norms, and therefore there is no immediate need for a new one. Madl was responding to a recent proposal by parliament speaker Katalin Szili, who said on 29 July that a new constitution should be drafted next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2003). Szili argued that the current constitution spans several political systems and has been amended too many times. MSZ
FINANCIAL WATCHDOG FIRES BACK AT HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTRY
Hungary's Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) issued a statement on 21 August emphasizing that it is an independent financial authority, not subordinate to any other institution, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 22 August. The statement said that only the judicial branch has any power over PSZAF, and no other entity is authorized to investigate it. The statement came in reaction to an earlier Finance Ministry announcement of an impending investigation into PSZAF to determine whether the authority should be held responsible for failing in its duty regarding the alleged embezzlement of client funds at K&H Equities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June, 10 and 29 July, and 4 and 7 August 2003). PSZAF also noted that it has no law enforcement powers, and even law enforcement agencies cannot be held responsible for failing to prevent crimes, the daily reported. MSZ
REPORT ON SERBIAN PREMIER'S ASSASSINATION SAYS SECURITY MEASURES INSUFFICIENT
A report by a special commission on the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic highlighted numerous shortcomings in Djindjic's protection, Tanjug reported on 21 August. Among the lapses, other buildings near the government building where Djindjic was shot were not searched on a regular basis, and two days before the assassination, surveillance cameras at the government building were switched off due to building repairs. Responding to the commission's report, the Serbian government on 21 August called on the Interior Ministry and the security services to punish the officials responsible for the lapses, according to Tanjug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). UB
HEAD OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S ARMY PROPOSES RETURN OF ARMED FORCES TO KOSOVA
General Branko Krga, who heads Serbia and Montenegro's General Staff, said in Belgrade on 21 August that the army is prepared to send units to Kosova "within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244," Tanjug reported. Krga said the army of Serbia and Montenegro can play a stabilizing role in the province. He added, however, that so far the international community has argued that any presence of armed forces from Serbia and Montenegro would have the opposite effect. The overwhelming majority of the Albanian population wants nothing to do with Belgrade and opposes the stationing of troops from Serbia and Montenegro in Kosova. UB
MACEDONIAN CIVIL WAR REFUGEES GATHER IN GREECE
On 20 August, some 150 Greek-born ethnic Macedonian refugees who fled Greece during the 1946-48 Civil War gathered in the northern Greek town of Florina, Macedonian media reported. Most were entering Greece for the first time in 55 years, as Greek authorities only recently lifted a travel ban on them. The same day, the Athens daily "Kathimerini" reported that the Greek Foreign Ministry officially protested Macedonian deputy parliamentary speaker Liljana Popovska's plans to attend the meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003). It is not known whether Popovska attended the meeting. UB
ROMANIAN CONTROL AUTHORITY CHIEF ABIDES BY PROMISE
National Control Authority chief Ionel Blanculescu said on 20 August that two parliamentarians from the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) have been charged with tax evasion, Romanian Radio and the daily "Adevarul" reported on 21 August. Blanculescu said PSD parliamentary Deputy Dorin Lazar Maior and two of Maior's associates have also been charged with intentionally bankrupting a company and defaulting on a loan, and that some of their personal property has been seized. Blanculescu also said the authority has ordered the "enforced execution" of $27,000 owed by a company headed by PSD Senator Traian Rece, and will not permit Rece to participate in an upcoming tender for the privatization of a state company. Earlier this week, Blanculescu said the authority has launched a war on tax evasion and that anyone caught will be punished, regardless of party affiliation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003). MS
ROMANIA REJECTS HUNGARIAN LIBERTY MONUMENT IN TRANSYLVANIAN TOWN
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said on 21 August that the Culture Ministry has infringed on an accord between the UDMR and the PSD on re-erecting the Liberty Statue in the Transylvanian town of Arad, Mediafax reported. The monument, which comprises several statues, was erected in 1890 in memory of 13 Hungarian generals executed by the Habsburg Empire on 6 October 1849. Transylvania became part of Romania in 1918 and the Romanian government ordered the monument dismantled in 1925. Culture Minister Razvan Theodorescu said on 20 August that a ministerial commission has decided against re-erecting the monument, which has been restored in a monastery in Arad, because of "aesthetic and historical reasons," according to Hungarian media reports. Theodorescu said the monument does not meet current criteria for public-space artworks in an urban environment and does not fulfill the requirements of honoring prominent moments in Romania's history. UDMR parliamentary Deputy Gyorgy Tokay said the decision will be challenged in court. Marko also said the UDMR is demanding that bilingual signs be displayed at train and bus stations in localities where the Hungarian minority makes up at least 20 percent of the population. MS
ROMANIAN SECRET POLICE HEARINGS INCLUDE LAST CEAUSESCU-ERA CHIEF
The College of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) heard on 21 August the testimony of Colonel Gheorghe Goran, the last chief of Bucharest's communist secret police before the fall of the Nicolae Ceausescu regime, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The hearings of people accused of having served as "political police" began a day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003). The first day of testimony, however, featured no high-ranking former officials such as Goran. In his testimony, Goran denied any personal responsibility for the repressive actions of the Securitate, according to Mediafax. He also told CNSAS members that the "former Securitate was Romania's luxury weapon" in its struggle against the country's enemies. MS
WITHDRAWAL FROM MOLDOVA-TRANSDNIESTER SECURITY ZONE ENDS
The Moldovan and the Transdniestrian sides completed on 21 August the withdrawal of armored vehicles from the security zone that was established after the 1992 cease-fire, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Seventeen Russian armored vehicles will remain in the zone and will be evacuated "by the end of the year, if the security situation permits it," according to ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). MS
MOLDOVAN CENSUS TO BE CONDUCTED ON BOTH BANKS OF DNIESTER RIVER
A census will be taken on 1-8 April 2004 on both banks of the Dniester River, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 21 August. The head of the Department of Statistics and Sociology, General Vitalie Valcov, said the cost of the census will be covered entirely by the authorities in Chisinau. The last census in Moldova was conducted under Soviet rule in 1989. The UN recommends that a census be conducted every 10 years, but Moldova did not take one in 1999 due to a lack of funds. The EU Food and Security Fund will partly finance the 2004 census, according to Infotag. MS
BULGARIAN MINISTER DENIES SPECULATION OVER UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON LIBYA
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 20 August that there is no direct connection between the trial of six Bulgarian medics charged with deliberately infecting about 400 Libyan children with HIV at a Benghazi hospital and Bulgaria's support for a British-sponsored draft UN resolution proposing the lifting of UN sanctions against Libya, mediapool.bg reported. Bulgaria's ambassador to the UN, Stefan Tafrov, said in a separate statement that the trial of the six medics remains a matter for the Libyan judiciary, according to mediapool.bg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). UB
THE TEST FOR STABILITY IN AZERBAIJAN
The South Caucasus has acquired an enhanced geopolitical importance in the new post-11 September 2001 security environment, giving new impetus to the traditional rivalry and competition for influence in the region between the United States and Russia. This new strategic significance of the Southern Caucasus, which stems from a recognition of the implications for instability and conflict posed by the region's increasingly dysfunctional states, is most visible in the expanding U.S. military presence and its related investment in regional security.
The South Caucasus has also entered a period of fundamental transition that began in February with the presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia. Presidential elections in Azerbaijan are set for October, and Georgia is preparing for parliamentary elections in early November. But the key to regional stability rests with the current transition in Azerbaijan.
The plan for securing a fairly stable transition in Azerbaijan has been in place for some time. That plan was crafted by incumbent President Heidar Aliev, now 80, and reflects both his cunning and experience as a veteran of high-stakes Soviet politics. Endowed with a semblance of legitimacy as a result of a national referendum in August 2002, it modified the constitutional path to power by transferring presidential power to the appointed prime minister in the event of the president's resignation or incapacitation.
Although hotly disputed, that constitutional amendment paved the way for Aliev to transfer power to his 41-year-old son, Ilham, in a move reminiscent of the Syrian model. The timing of President Aliev's 4 August appointment of his son as prime minister was dictated by two factors: the president's own deteriorating health and the fact that presidential elections are scheduled for 15 October. Now, both Heidar and Ilham Aliev are registered as candidates in that ballot. As prime minister, Ilham Aliev now has full control over the state apparatus, which will work in his favor should his father withdraw his candidacy at some point in the next two months. In that case, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party would close ranks behind the heir-designate, Prime Minister Aliev. Moreover, the timing of Prime Minister Aliev's appointment meant that the coming presidential contest was both close enough to ensure some role for the ailing leader but also far enough away to enhance the power and visibility of the chosen successor.
Most media analysis of the now successfully completed first phase of the leadership transition has focused on the reactions of the divided and ineffective opposition. But that focus overlooks crucial factors that might very well be the most important test for stability in Azerbaijan. Looking to the divide between the opposition parties and the government fails to identify either the true nature of the struggle in Azerbaijan's patriarchal politics or the primary threat to the younger Aliev.
Opposition parties in Azerbaijan have long been marginalized and disenfranchised by President Aliev's effective combination of measures to both coerce and co-opt their leaders, and by the absence of a potent independent or opposition media. For that reason, Prime Minister Aliev's election as president is now seen as a generally acceptable outcome, especially given the dependence of the government officials at all levels on the good favor of the Aliev family. Despite reports of internal dissatisfaction with the ascension of the younger Aliev, the present leadership has no viable alternative to endorsing the planned transition. Not only are their connections with the Aliev family the source of -- and the key to holding on to -- their authority and wealth. Most of them have no alternative power base of their own and are far too tainted by their association with the patriarch to have any hope of aligning with groups or parties outside the regime.
Thus, the threat to the Aliev succession plan comes neither from the opposition nor from the ruling political elite. The most serious challenge to Aliev's power, and to the country's longer-term stability, comes from the military. Civil-military relations in Azerbaijan have been dysfunctional for nearly a decade. The defense ministry has long been mired in state-level corruption, and the defense minister owes his position more to personal loyalty to the president than to any real military or even administrative qualifications. In fact, Azerbaijan's defense minister is the longest-serving defense minister in the entire former Soviet Union. This is clearly due to his loyalty and subservience to Aliev and reflected the president's early recognition of the military as the only serious threat to his power.
But the most significant element of a threat from the military is its officer corps. Despite the occasional hard-line rhetoric, the Azerbaijani armed forces have been seriously under-funded and under-equipped for nearly a decade. Resentment over the military's cumulative decline and its neglect by the political leaders has been brewing for some time. Although there is a related dissatisfaction within the lower ranks, as conscripts face the poor living conditions, insufficient arms and supplies, and unreliable pay that are the hallmarks of most post-Soviet armies, it is the officer corps that holds the power to act.
There are two possible scenarios that could result in direct intervention by the military. In the first scenario, if Prime Minister Aliev is unable or unwilling to act as ruthlessly as his father has, individuals within the political elite might challenge Aliev for a greater share of political power and the financial benefits it bestows, thereby tempting the military to act to protect him. The second scenario involves the traditional political use of militant rhetoric and appeals to ultranationalism that successive Azerbaijani leaders have used to legitimize their power. Prime Minister Aliev has already signaled that he does not exclude a new war to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back under Azerbaijan's jurisdiction. Such statements are likely music to the ears of the military, and the top brass might prove only too happy to launch a new offensive, which regardless of its outcome would send shock waves across the entire South Caucasus.
Richard Giragosian is a Washington-based analyst specializing in international relations, with a focus on security, politics, and economics.
PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR KARZAI...
During his visit to Kabul on 21 August, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri met with the Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher, and said that Pakistan will "do everything [it] can to support the present government," Pakistan TV reported. As a result of the talks, "confidence between the two governments will improve further," Kasuri said. He added that Islamabad is "wedded to the Bonn process." Kasuri said that he and Abdullah have decided to "talk to each other, when required, by telephone more often so as not to allow negative headlines and spin doctors to go full gear," Pakistani daily "Dawn" reported on 22 August. Afghan authorities accused Pakistan of supporting neo-Taliban and other elements that oppose the Transitional Administration in Kabul and of encroaching inside Afghan territory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11, 17, and 24 July and "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, 20, and 21 August 2003). AT
...REJECTS CLAIMS THAT PAKISTAN HAS VIOLATED AFGHAN TERRITORY...
Responding to a question from a reporter during a news conference in Kabul on 21 August, Pakistani Foreign Minister Kasuri strongly rejected the charges that Pakistani troops have violated Afghan territory or have attempted to do so, "Dawn," reported on 22 August. "I repudiate with full force every word of what you have said," Kasuri told the unidentified journalist who posed the question (for an analysis of problems related to the Afghan-Pakistani border, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2033). AT
...AND WINS THE RELEASE OF PAKISTANI PRISONERS
During the meeting between Pakistani Foreign Minister Kasuri and Afghan officials, it was decided that Afghanistan will soon hand over 643 Pakistani prisoners who have been held in Afghan prisons since the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001, Pakistan TV reported on 21 August. Many Pakistani nationals fought alongside the Taliban, and some were captured at Al-Qaeda terrorist network camps in Afghanistan. The Pakistani prisoners who remain in Afghanistan are not considered dangerous. AT
U.S. SOLIDER DIES IN PAKTIKA PROVINCE
A U.S. special-operations solider died on 21 August from wounds received in a military operation in Orgun in Paktika Province on 20 August, "The New York Times" reported on 22 August. The soldier has not been identified. On 21 August, an Afghan official said a U.S. military helicopter fired on a civilian minibus near Orgun, injuring two men and one woman. A U.S. military official said the vehicle was seen "speeding aggressively" toward coalition troops. According to an unconfirmed 22 August report by the Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service, six people are missing or killed as a result of the helicopter attack. AT
SECURITY COMMANDER FOR AN AFGHAN DISTRICT REPORTEDLY KILLED
According to unconfirmed reports, security commander of Khas Oruzgan District of Oruzgan Province Asadullah and a number of bodyguards were killed in a terrorist attack on 21 August, Hindukosh news agency reported. According to the report, around 200 Afghan soldiers and 15 coalition troops have launched a mop-up operation in Khas Oruzgan. The report did not specify if the operation was launched after Asadullah was killed or before. AT
ATHEISTIC PARTIES TO BE BANNED UNDER NEW AFGHAN LAW
Afghan Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi said on 20 August that under the new Afghan law on political parties, communist parties will be banned, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 21 August. Karimi said that "under the Afghan Constitution," all political parties and movements whose activities do not run counter to the strictures of Islam are allowed to function, but since communist ideology denies the existence of God, such parties will be outlawed. Karimi did not specify to which constitution he was referring, but since the new draft Afghan constitution is yet to be made public, he might have been referring to the 1964 constitution. Afghanistan is to hold general elections in June 2004, and a few political parties have been formed in recent months in addition to the previously existing parties. However, there are no specific rules regulating political parties. Karimi said a draft law on political parties will be forthcoming. AT
IRAN SEIZES 58 TONS OF DRUGS
Brigadier General Mehdi Abouei, who heads Iran's antidrug force, told a press conference in Ardebil on 21 August that in the last four months 312 drug raids were carried out along Iran's eastern frontier, IRNA reported. More than one-third of these resulted in armed clashes. Fifty-eight tons of drugs were confiscated, and 38 alleged traffickers and 92,000 alleged drug addicts were arrested. JLH
THOUSANDS OF IRANIAN PILGRIMS STOPPED FROM ENTERING IRAQ
According to "Kayhan" on 21 August, an Iranian official informed IRNA that during the past week Iranian border guards have detained 9,000 pilgrims who tried to cross the frontier into Iraq near Mehran in the province of Ilam. The pilgrims, who intended to visit religious shrines in Iraq, were accompanied by guides who were described as bandits. The guides were also detained. The pilgrims were transferred to Ilam to be sent home. JLH
IRAN PARDONS FEMALE CONVICTS
"Ettelaat" reported on 21 August that, in celebration of the birth of the Blessed Fatimeh and Woman's Day, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, "leader of the revolution," has declared that large numbers of female convicts will be freed. Pardons are to be granted to women who have been convicted of petty theft; women under the age of 18; women who, as of 28 July had served at least five years of a 15-year sentence; and women who have been divorced, or whose husbands have died or are in prison, and whose children are without care. There will be no pardons for women convicted of smuggling, drug dealing, acts against the state, prostitution, using weapons in the commission of a crime, or the theft of more than the equivalent of $1,800. JLH
'CHEMICAL ALI' IN COALITION CUSTODY
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed in a 21 August press release that General Ali Hassan al-Majid is in the custody of coalition forces. Al-Majid, no. 5 on CENTCOM's 55 most-wanted list, gained notoriety for his prominent role in the 1988-90 anti-Kurdish "Anfal" campaign and his ruthless suppression of the 1991 Shi'a revolt in southern Iraq. He acquired the nickname "Chemical Ali" for use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds at that time. He occupied numerous senior positions in the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, including military governor of "Kuwait Province" during the Iraqi occupation in 1990-91. Al-Majid's death was announced early in the war after a bomb leveled his villa in Al-Basrah, but subsequent reports indicated that he survived the strike. Coalition officials did not provide further details of al-Majid's capture, AP reported on 21 August. The capture of "Chemical Ali" leaves Hussein as the only one of the "top 5" regime figures still at large. DK
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE LOOKS TO BROADEN COALITION
Colin Powell met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 21 August to discuss a draft UN resolution to internationalize the effort to rebuild Iraq, Reuters reported. Countries that opposed the war, such as France, were quick to state that they would prefer to see the world body enjoy expanded authority in Iraq as well, AP reported on 21 August. Powell was careful to stress, however, that political and military control will remain in U.S. hands. "The Washington Post" commented the same day that "the diplomatic bid...has resurrected the divisions within the Security Council that existed before the...administration [of U.S. President George W. Bush] invaded Iraq...." For his part, Annan tried to occupy the middle ground. Reuters quoted the secretary-general as saying, "I think the issue of Iraq is of great concern to everybody, regardless of the divisions that existed before the war." The discussion comes on the heels of the unprecedented 19 August truck-bomb attack on the UN's Baghdad headquarters. The blast killed at least 23 people and moved security concerns to the top of the Iraq agenda. DK
UNKNOWN GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR BAGHDAD UN BLAST
A previously unknown group calling itself the Armed Vanguards of Muhammad's Second Army has claimed responsibility for the 19 August attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad. The Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiyah reported on 21 August that it received a statement from the group taking credit for the blast. Excerpts from the statement reported by AFP in an English translation spoke of a jihad, or holy war, to drive all foreigners and "infidels" out of Iraq. Threatening further such attacks, the statement stressed that "[j]ihadi operations and retribution must continue against the infidel Americans and all those who help them, even if they are Arabs or Muslims." Meanwhile, U.S. General and CENTCOM head John Abizaid said on 21 August that terrorism-oriented cooperation between Islamic extremists and Hussein loyalists poses a serious threat to rebuilding efforts in Iraq. In a reference to the Second Army claim, Abizaid told reporters that he knew of a group "with a similar name," but provided no further details, AP reported. DK
U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN BAGHDAD
A 21 August CENTCOM press release confirmed that a U.S. soldier was killed by "an improvised explosive device" in the Karkh District of Baghdad the previous day. The press release did not provide the soldier's name or any additional information about the attack. According to AFP, the fatality brings to 63 the number of U.S. service personnel killed by hostile action in Iraq since Washington declared major fighting at an end on 1 May. DK