'COUNTERTERRORISM OPERATION' IN CHECHNYA DECLARED OVER...
At a ceremony in Moscow on 28 August, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev announced that his service has ceded overall command of the "antiterrorism operation" in Chechnya to the Interior Ministry, Russian media reported. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov will be in overall command. Patrushev said that since his agency took charge of the operation in 2001, "the situation in the republic has changed considerably for the better," RIA-Novosti reported on 28 August. He added that now FSB officers in Chechnya will be able to devote more time to immediate operational tasks. Speaking at the ceremony, Gryzlov said that from now on the "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya will be officially referred to as "an operation to protect law and constitutional order." VY
...AS COMMENTATORS REMAIN SKEPTICAL...
Although the FSB has formally given up its leading role in Chechnya, it will remain in charge, strana.ru commented on 28 August. The head of the regional operational staff in Chechnya will be Yurii Maltsev, an admiral with FSB military counterintelligence who only recently transferred from the FSB to the Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2003). Both agencies have stressed an increased role for the 11,000-strong local militia that has been recruited mainly from former Chechen fighters and is subordinated to pro-Kremlin administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, the website reported. However, there are doubts about the reliability of this force. In any case, such organizational changes are doing little to improve the situation in the republic, strana.ru commented. Against the background of continuous attacks against federal forces by Chechen fighters and the recent political assassinations in Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003), talk of "normalization" and "stabilization" seems almost laughable, TV-Tsentr commented on 27 August. VY
...AND UNIFIED RUSSIA QUESTIONS KADYROV'S 'DEATH SQUAD' ALLEGATIONS
Chechen administration head Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on 28 August that he has written to top Russian law enforcement officials requesting the creation of an intergovernmental commission to investigate the nocturnal abduction of Chechen civilians, Interfax reported. On 19 August, Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Movsar Khamidov told Interfax that 267 people were abducted during the first half of this year. Kadyrov blamed the disappearances on a "third force" consisting of "a death squad in armored vehicles." But Duma Deputy Frants Klintsevich, who heads the Chechen office of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, told Interfax the same day that although he has comprehensive information about the security situation in Chechnya, he has never heard of the death squads Kadyrov blames for the disappearances. Klintsevich argues that it is crucial to determine which officials and organizations have the right to arrest or detain Chechen civilians, and that the relatives of detained people should be informed immediately. According to Russian journalist and Chechnya expert Anna Politkovskaya, many such abductions are the work of security police headed by Kadyrov's son, Ramzan. LF
INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW SHOULD BRACE FOR NEW SECURITY MEASURES...
Speaking at the same 28 August handover ceremony, Interior Minister Gryzlov announced that strict antiterrorism measures will soon be introduced in Moscow and called upon citizens "to be psychologically prepared for them," RBK reported on 28 August. "Citizens should accept once and for all that during antiterrorism checks there will not and cannot be any exceptions, special passes, VIP access, [or] privileges," Gryzlov said. VY
...AND PLEDGES CONTINUED FIGHT AGAINST POLICE CORRUPTION
In the same speech on 28 August, Interior Minister Gryzlov said his ministry will ruthlessly root out corruption within its ranks, RBK reported. Commenting a spate of recent arrests of police officers on suspicion of corruption and abuse of position, Gryzlov said, "The law enforcement organs exercise the government's authority to use coercion, and we cannot tolerate the abuse of this authority by a bunch of rogues seeking personal enrichment. VY
MENATEP CHAIRMAN TO REMAIN IN PRISON
A Moscow district court on 28 August granted a Prosecutor-General's Office request to extend until 30 October the period that Menatep Chairman and Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev can be held in custody pending investigation of the charges against him, Russian media reported. The court rejected an appeal by Lebedev's lawyers asking that he be released on bond (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). Speaking to journalists after the hearing, Lebedev's lawyer, Anton Drel, quoted his client as saying that the court session and the entire case against him are "a farce that has nothing to do with justice." VY
FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBER CALLS FOR PEACEKEEPERS IN IRAQ...
Writing in "Trud" on 27 August, Federation Council member Colonel General Vladimir Kulakov said that Russia should take an active role in the stabilization of Iraq and in postwar reconstruction there by contributing a peacekeeping contingent under the aegis of the United Nations. Although the United States has rejected the idea of using UN peacekeepers in Iraq, Kulikov wrote, Russia should insist upon this. He noted that Russia has major political and economic interests in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. VY
...AS DOES AMBASSADOR TO UN
Speaking during a UN Security Council session in New York on 28 August, Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov said that "the rich peacekeeping experience of the United Nations should be used in Iraq," RIA-Novosti reported on 29 August. Lavrov said that Russia is calling for a review of "the international military presence in Iraq" and that the UN should become involved in the political processes there immediately. VY
LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY CONNECTS WITH VOTERS...
At a meeting of the Open Forum in Moscow on 28 August, politicians and political analysts expressed the opinion that the Communist Party, Unified Russia, and Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) will finish first, second, and third in the 7 December State Duma elections, gazeta.ru reported. The LDPR's efforts were singled out for special praise. State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) said Zhirinovskii recently visited his home district in Altai Krai, where he handed out 100 ruble ($3.00) bills to voters. Polls there suggest the LDPR will take 9-14 percent of the vote. Zhirinovskii has been handing out cash in other cities, and political analysts think this tactic has been very popular (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July and 8 August 2003). Ryzhkov predicted that the LDPR will be able to increase significantly its number of seats in the Duma. Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii noted at the forum that only the LDPR has begun its campaign in an interesting way, while all the other parties' campaigns have been lackluster so far. JAC
...AND GLAZEV VIEWED AS MAN OF THE FUTURE, IF NOT OF THIS FALL...
Writing for grani.ru on 28 August, commentator Andrei Kolesnikov predicted the newly formed left-patriotic bloc led by State Duma deputies Sergei Glazev and Dmitrii Rogozin will reach at least 1 percent of voter support by mid-fall. He characterizes Glazev's bloc as one of the "most eclectic in the world of coalitions," since it unites under one banner "the Union of Russian Orthodox Citizens and the Federal Lezgin National-Cultural Autonomy." The Lezgins are an ethnic group in Daghestan. Kolesnikov suggests that Glazev himself will certainly win a seat in the next Duma from a single-mandate district, but his bloc does not necessarily have much "collective charisma," with its upper leadership composed largely of representatives of the Soviet nomenklatura. Kolesnikov concluded that the bloc represents a "clear false start" for Glazev, but he "will undoubtedly remain in politics" and in the next election cycle he will compete to head an invigorated Communist movement. JAC
...WHILE EURASIA PARTY ENDORSES NEW LEFT BLOC
Eurasia Party head Aleksandr Dugin told strana.ru on 26 August that he and his followers support the new left-patriotic coalition formed by State Duma deputies Glazev and Rogozin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). Dugin said that Eurasianism will play a substantial role in the developing ideology of the new bloc. He added that by both temperament and age, Glazev and Rogozin are "very close to me," saying that like him, they are "radicals." Asked what he can contribute to the bloc, Dugin said the electoral support of his party is "4 million Russian Old Believers," and he believes he can induce them to support the bloc. VY
AFTER ALMOST FOUR YEARS IN PRISON, SCHOLAR FACES PROSPECT OF A SECOND TRIAL
The Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed that the espionage case against political scientist Igor Sutyagin has again been sent to court, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. Sutyagin was arrested in 27 October 1999 on suspicion of passing classified information to a British consulting firm. A Kaluga Oblast court sent Sutyagin's case back for further investigation in December 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). Sutyagin has always maintained his innocence, denying that he ever had access to classified information. JAC
TEACHERS COULD FACE JOB SHORTAGES IN 2-3 YEARS...
Around 100 Russian schools will not open on 1 September because of unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, First Deputy Health Minister Gennadi Onishchenko announced on 29 August, lenta.ru reported. Most of these schools are in Krasnoyarsk and Altai krais, Onishchenko said. Earlier, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said that 95 percent of schools are not in compliance with fire-safety regulations. RIA-Novosti reported on 27 August that the number of schoolchildren in Russia will decline from 15 million in 2001 to 5 million in 2007, according to Education Minister Vladimir Filippov. Filippov added that the reduction in the number of students in 2-3 years could become a significant social problem for teachers. He estimated that "approximately 400,000 teachers could lose their jobs." JAC
...AS RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS ALLOWED TO TEACH STUDENTS IN SCHOOLS
Also on 27 August, Education Minister Filippov told reporters that religious-education programs will be allowed to use school facilities, REN-TV reported. According to Filippov, the ministry's responsibility is only to provide the classrooms, and religious organizations will determine the content of the instruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). According to the station, only religions that have been legally registered in Russia for at least 15 years -- that is, the Russian Orthodoxy and Islam -- are eligible for access to classrooms. The next day, Moscow city Education Committee Chairwoman Lyubov Kezina said there will be no religion courses in Moscow schools, Radio Rossii reported. She noted that there are 150 nationalities in the capital, and introducing Orthodoxy into the schools would upset people professing other faiths. JAC
INSPECTOR JAVERT IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN VLADIMIR
A women in her thirties who allegedly stole a cake from a bakery in the Vladimir Oblast city of Kovrov has been charged with robbery and is facing a sentence of up to five years in prison, Regnum reported on 28 August. According to the agency, the cake in question cost about 100 rubles ($3.00). When called to the scene, police were able to quickly apprehend the alleged thief, who had not managed to flee very far. JAC
CONFLICTING REPORTS OF FIGHTING IN INGUSHETIA
Russian troops and police exchanged fire on 28 August with a group of some 10 Chechen fighters near the village of Galashki in Ingushetia, Interfax reported. Three Chechens were reported killed, and the Russian troops were reportedly in pursuit of the others. An army spokesman told Interfax the Chechens were first spotted close to the border between Georgia and Ingushetia and are believed to have entered Ingushetia from Georgia. But Ingushetia's First Deputy Interior Minister Abukar Kostoev denied on 28 August that any fighting had taken place in Galashki, Interfax reported. Caucasus Press similarly quoted a source in the Georgian Border Protection Service as denying that any Chechens had entered the Russian Federation from Georgian territory. LF
GEORGIAN STATE SECURITY MINISTER VISITS MOSCOW
Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania met in Moscow on 28 August with FSB Director Patrushev, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The two men discussed measures to prevent the smuggling of oil and gasoline from Russia into Georgia, cooperation in combating terrorism, the situation in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, and the possible extradition of alleged criminal kingpin Shota Chichiashvili, who is wanted in Georgia in connection with the 2001 abduction of two Spanish businessmen. Chichiashvili was arrested in Moscow two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 June 2003). Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 28 August, Khaburzania said the Pankisi Gorge has been completely rid of Chechen fighters, and that it is "completely impossible" for groups of Chechen fighters to enter Russia from Georgian territory, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GERMAN MILITARY DELEGATION VISITS ARMENIA
A German Defense Ministry delegation headed by Brigadier General Jurgen Bornemann held talks in Yerevan on 27 August with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Mikael Haroutiunian, and on 28 August with Mher Shahgeldian, chairman of the parliament Commission on Defense, National Security, and Internal Affairs, Noyan Tapan reported. The talks focused on the potential for bilateral military-political and military-technical cooperation and on regional security. LF
AZERBAIJANIS RALLY IN MOSCOW IN SUPPORT OF EXILED OPPOSITION LEADERS
Some 1,200 Azerbaijanis attended a rally in Moscow on 28 August to demand that the Azerbaijani authorities register former President Ayaz Mutalibov and former parliament speaker Rasul Guliv as candidates in the 15 October presidential election, zerkalo.az reported on 29 August. Mutalibov has lived in Moscow since fleeing Baku in May 1992 after an abortive comeback attempt. Guliev, who left Azerbaijan in 1996, now lives in the United States. Both men attended the 28 August rally. Mutalibov told zerkalo.az that he met on 27 August with Guliev, who briefed him on the talks in London on 23-24 August between Guliev and the chairmen of three Azerbaijani opposition parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). He said he has not seen the three cooperation agreements signed by the four opposition leaders during those talks, but does not exclude cooperation with the four parties. Mutalibov said he and Guliev did not sign any agreement on cooperation. LF
AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES ACCUSE OPPOSITION OF PLANNING DESTABILIZATION
State-controlled Azerbaijani newspapers on 29 August charged that the London talks on 23-24 August between the leaders of four prominent Azerbaijani opposition parties were aimed at destabilizing the situation in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 29 August. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 15 August, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev said he will do his best to prevent "anarchy" in Azerbaijan. LF
GEORGIAN EDUCATION MINISTRY, TBILISI CITY COUNCIL AT ODDS OVER SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS
The Georgian Education Ministry has deployed police to guard a book depository to prevent supporters of Tbilisi City Council Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili from taking textbooks that Saakashvili has promised to present to first year school children at a ceremony in Tbilisi on 30 August, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported on 28 August. Saakashvili reportedly said the city council cannot at present afford to pay the publishers the 600,000 laris ($284,225) cost of the textbooks but will do so at an unspecified future date. Speaking at a government session on 27 August, President Eduard Shevardnadze condemned attempts to politicize issues that involve children, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KAZAKH SECURITY SERVICE SHUTS DOWN ALLEGED HIZB UT-TAHRIR PRINT SHOP
The Kazakh National Security Committee has shut down an underground print shop that was allegedly turning out literature for the illegal Muslim extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in Shymkent, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 28 August, quoting the head of the security committee office in South Kazakhstan Oblast, Vladimir Nakisbaev. Shymkent is the administrative center of South Kazakhstan Oblast. Nakisbaev said that the secret print shop was discovered on 25 August during a series of raids intended to stop the activities of banned extremist groups. The apartment housing the print shop had been rented in February 2002 by three residents of neighboring Kyzyk Orda Oblast. Security officers found equipment for desktop publishing, a copier, and bookbinding equipment, as well as 600 leaflets and 250 books and magazines that had evidently been printed in the shop. BB
KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER'S PARDON APPEAL NEVER REACHED PRESIDENT'S OFFICE, SAYS LAWYER
A lawyer for Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, co-founder of the opposition coalition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), told a press conference in Almaty on 28 August that her client's appeal for a presidential pardon never reached the president's office, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zhaqiyanov was sentenced in 2002 to seven years' imprisonment after being convicted of abusing his office while he was governor of Pavlodar Oblast. The DVK says the charges were politically motivated. Zhaqiyanov hand wrote his appeal for a pardon on 6 August, according to lawyer Elena Rebenchuk, but an official from the prosecutor's office in Kostanai Oblast, where Zhaqiyanov is incarcerated, rejected the appeal, in apparent violation of the law, on the grounds that the former official had failed to admit his guilt and had questioned the fairness of his sentence. Rebenchuk said Zhaqiyanov filed another appeal with the prison administration on 25 August without changing its content. BB
INDEPENDENT ELECTION MONITORING GROUP SET UP IN KAZAKHSTAN
Three Kazakh NGOs -- the Confederation of Nongovernmental Organizations, the For a Law-Based Kazakhstan (ZPK) civic movement, and the Youth Congress of Kazakhstan -- have set up a Public Committee for Election Monitoring, ZPK Chairman Maksut Narikbaev told a press conference in Astana on 28 August, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The new committee intends to educate voters and candidates about election legislation and their rights as citizens. Narikbaev said that Kazakhstan needs an independent organization to monitor the implementation of the appropriate laws during elections. Nationwide elections of local-council members are scheduled for 20 September. BB
IMF WARNS KAZAKHSTAN THAT WTO MEMBERSHIP WON'T HELP IT IN WORLD MARKET
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned Kazakhstan World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, for which the country is so eagerly preparing, is not going to improve the country's position on world markets, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 28 August. According to the IMF, WTO membership will not affect Kazakhstan's relations with its present trading partners, because it already has free-trade agreements with them. Nor will membership help Kazakhstan overcome trade barriers such as antidumping sanctions. At present, Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state that has WTO membership. BB
WORLD CONGRESS OF KYRGYZ OPENS IN BISHKEK
A World Kurultai (congress) of Kyrgyz opened on 28 August in Bishkek, akipress.org, kabar.kg, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Three hundred ethnic Kyrgyz, half of whom are citizens of Kyrgyzstan while the rest represent the Kyrgyz diaspora, are reported to be attending the event, which will end on 1 September following ceremonies celebrating the purported 2,200 years of Kyrgyz statehood and Kyrgyzstan's 12 years of independence, and honoring the Kyrgyz victims of tsarist repression in 1916. The event has stirred controversy because of its emphasis on Kyrgyz ethnicity, which has disturbed many of the country's ethnic Russians, and because of President Askar Akaev's intention to ask the congress to adopt a "Democratic Code for Kyrgyzstan." The delegates to the congress who were elected at an opposition kurultai on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003) have declared the world congress is illegal because most of the population had no opportunity to choose delegates. Consequently, the participants have no legal right to make political decisions, the opposition argues. BB
UZBEKISTAN SETS UP NEW HUMAN RIGHTS BODY
The Uzbek cabinet of ministers issued a decree on 27 August setting up a six-member board within the Justice Ministry to protect human rights, uza.uz reported on 28 August. The board is to have branches in all oblast justice departments and in Karakalpakstan. The decree orders the Justice Ministry to take additional measures to protect citizens' rights, to help develop civil society, to improve law enforcement, and to enhance the independence of the judiciary. It reminds the Justice Ministry specifically that the judicial system is subordinate only to it and not to local authorities. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SETS CONDITIONS FOR INTRODUCTION OF RUSSIAN RUBLE
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 28 August that the Russian ruble can be introduced in Belarus only after the two countries meet their commitments under the 1999 Treaty on the Formation of the Union State, Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. The treaty calls for the formation of a common economic space, equal conditions for economic entities on the territory of the union state, and the adoption of a constitutional act. The previous day, Lukashenka said Russia wants to put Belarus in a "subordinate" position in the planned currency union, adding that so far there has been no agreement between Minsk and Moscow on the terms of this union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin's press service said on 28 August that Putin recently sent a message to Lukashenka with a proposal to sign an accord on the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus "in the near future," Belapan reported. According to the press service, the drafting of the accord has been "actually completed." JM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER OPPOSES KUCHMA-PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Our Ukraine bloc, told regional journalists in Ternopil on 28 August that "only a change of the authorities, not constitutional reform, can create harmony in Ukraine," UNIAN reported. "We will not allow any encroachment on the people's right to elect authorities by direct ballot," Yushchenko said, referring to the political-reform plan proposed by President Leonid Kuchma last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 August 2003). In particular, Kuchma's plan calls for the election of the president by parliament. "The authorities realize very well that, given their record, they are unable to win presidential elections," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying. "Therefore, they need to modify the constitution and the current political system to prolong their powers or [even] abolish elections altogether." JM
UKRAINE WILLING TO TRADE IN MODERNIZED KALASHNIKOV
The National Space Agency of Ukraine presented a new model of submachine gun, the AK-74 Vepr, at UNIAN's headquarters in Kyiv on 28 August, UNIAN and Interfax reported. The AK-74 Vepr is a modernized version of the Russian AK-74 Kalashnikov submachine gun, but is 200 grams lighter and reportedly is twice as accurate as the Russian model. According to designers, the Defense Ministry is planning to buy tens of thousands of the guns, primarily to arm Ukrainian border troops and peacekeepers. They also expect to find buyers for the AK-74 Vepr in Uzbekistan, Africa, and Latin America. JM
SWEDISH PREMIER SHARES EXPERIENCE OF EU MEMBERSHIP IN ESTONIA
During a visit to Tallinn on 28 August, Goran Persson told his Estonian counterpart Juhan Parts that EU membership has benefited Sweden and should have the same results in Estonia, BNS reported. Persson said that a negative vote in Estonia's EU-membership referendum on 14 September would not change Sweden's attitude to Estonia, but relations and cooperation between the two countries would be bolstered by a positive vote. He rejected the claim that EU membership would result in a loss of national identity, saying that in fact it allows countries to maintain their identities with greater confidence. SG
UN COMMITTEE NOTES LATVIA'S PROGRESS FIGHTING RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
The Latvian Foreign Ministry announced on 28 August that the conclusions of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning a recent Latvian report on progress in eliminating discrimination (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 22 August 2003) were positive, LETA reported. According to the committee, the number of complaints about racial discrimination in Latvia has decreased since it issued its first report on Latvia in 1999. The committee mentioned as positive actions the passage of the Society Integration Program and the Labor Law in 2001 and of amendments to the law on parliament and local elections, as well as the creation of the post of society integration minister in 2002. It called on the Latvian government to define racial discrimination in all relevant laws according to international norms and to inform citizens about options for defending their rights in cases of racial discrimination. The committee also said the planned education reforms to be implemented in 2004, against which Russian speakers have protested, fully comply with UN conventions. SG
LITHUANIAN CONSERVATIVES AND UNION OF POLITICAL PRISONERS SIGN PRELIMINARY MERGER AGREEMENTS
Chairmen of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) (TSLK) Andrius Kubilius and Union of Lithuania's Political Prisoners and Deportees (LPKTS) Povilas Jakucionis signed agreements on 28 August on the principles of creating a single political organization and on cooperation until that merger is completed, BNS reported. The first agreement states that a Freedom Fighters faction (LKF) will be formed in the new party, as well as in local chapters as desired. The LKF will be allowed to retain its property and separate bank accounts. The founding congress of the new party is scheduled to take place in December. The TSLK now has 13,000 members and the LPKTS 47,000. SG
POLES DEMONSTRATE AGAINST UNEMPLOYMENT, POVERTY
Employees of the Tonsil speaker-systems manufacturer in Wrzesnia demonstrated on 28 August, protesting the difficult situation of their company and growing unemployment, and demanding back wages, Polish Radio reported. The same day, more than 2,000 workers of the Wagon SA rolling-stock plant in Ostrow Wielkopolski demanded unpaid wages and a recovery program to save the company from bankruptcy, PAP reported. Workers of the Stalowa Wola steel mill escalated their continuing sit-in protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003) by organizing a road blockade. Some 1,000 coalminers in Ruda Slaska protested the planned liquidation of the Polska-Wirek mine. Meanwhile, Deputy Economy Minister Marek Szczepanski said on 28 August that Poland could get 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) from the European Union for "active forms" of fighting unemployment, should the government contribute 500 million euros for the same purpose. Szczepanski stressed that "active" measures against unemployment do not include paying social-assistance benefits or benefits for the jobless. JM
NIGERIA CLOSES DOWN EMBASSY IN PRAGUE TO PROTEST SHOOTING INCIDENT
Nigeria has closed down its embassy in Prague in protest against the Czech's Republic handling of the February murder of Consul Michael Lekara Wayid, CTK reported on 29 August, citing the daily "Lidove noviny" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). Jiri Pasovsky, who killed the consul and wounded an embassy receptionist, was found unfit to stand trial because a medical expert pronounced him insane at the time of the incident. Pasovsky was confined to psychiatric care and a court of justice in Prague has not yet decided whether he will remain in a clinic or receive outpatient treatment. Pasovsky said after the incident that Wayid offered to help him retrieve $100,000 that he had lost in investments in Nigeria if Pasovsky gave him half of the sum. Pasovsky invested in a dubious oil deal following an electronic-mail solicitation. Sources in the Czech Foreign Ministry cited by "Lidove noviny" confirmed that Nigeria protested the handling of the case in June and officially announced shortly afterward that it would close its embassy in protest. However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Karel Boruvka said the reason for the Nigerian decision was not the shooting incident. Boruvka said that "for economic reasons," Nigeria decided as long as a year ago to close down 20 embassies abroad. He said Nigeria is not breaking off diplomatic relations and that it will be represented by its Warsaw-based ambassador. He also said the Czech Republic's embassy in Nigeria will continue to operate. MS
SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS SUE ANO CHAIRMAN FOR DEFAMATION
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) filed a defamation suit against Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko on 28 August, TASR reported. The KDH and ANO are both junior coalition partners in the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda. The KDH is demanding 10 million crowns ($259,531) from Rusko for allegedly harming its reputation. They are also demanding that Rusko publish an apology in the media at his own expense. Testifying before a prosecutor on 28 July, Rusko said there are "serious suspicions" that bankrupt businessman Frantisek Mojzis has "indirectly subsidized" the KDH through one of his companies, which financed the purchase of the KDH headquarters in Bratislava. The cost of that deal was 10 million crowns, according to Rusko. The KDH denies the allegation and Mojzis described it as "nonsense." Mojzis sued Rusko on 31 July, claiming that the TV Markiza co-owner and ANO chairman had blackmailed him into subsidizing ANO. In response to Mojzis's allegations, last week the Prosecutor-General Office requested that Rusko's parliamentary immunity be lifted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July, 6 and 25 August 2003). MS
CHINA CALLS HUNGARY ITS NO. 1 PARTNER IN CENTRAL EUROPE
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told visiting Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy on 28 August that Hungary is China's No. 1 partner in Central Europe, according to reports in the Hungarian media. The two premiers signed a joint declaration lauding the close and smooth relations between their countries, and representatives of both sides signed accords on combating organized crime; cooperation in education, information technology, and sports; encouraging Chinese tourism to Hungary; and exports of Hungarian foodstuff products to China. Medgyessy complained at his meeting with Wen about the Hungarian trade deficit with China, and the Chinese president pledged to encourage companies in his country to boost purchases of Hungarian products. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, who accompanied Medgyessy to China, told the daily "Nepszabadsag" that the premier assured his Chinese hosts of Hungary's "one-China policy," stressing that relations with Taiwan are only on the non-state level. MS
HUNGARY DETAINS SYRIAN SUSPECT IN K&H EQUITY EMBEZZLEMENT CASE
Police arrested Hassan al-Abbid of Syria on 27 August on suspicion of money laundering and issued an international arrest warrant for Mahmud Abdu, also a Syrian national, Hungarian media reported on 29 August. The two men allegedly withdrew 6.2 billion forints ($26.2 million) in cash from Inter-Europa Bank and OTP Bank branch offices over two years, subsequently removing the money to unknown locations. The cash was reportedly part of the more than 10 billion forints that Attila Kulcsar allegedly embezzled from K&H brokerage clients. Kulcsar is in custody in Vienna, awaiting extradition. Police believe Abdu has left Hungary. MS
MACEDONIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES 'ZERO TOLERANCE'
Following the kidnapping and subsequent operation to free to a police officer and a civilian on 27 August, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said the government will not tolerate such incidents any longer, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. "The Macedonian government will have zero tolerance for such individuals and groups [carrying out such kidnappings] and they will face the full severity of the...security forces," Crvenkovski said, adding that the best place for them is in prison. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), which is the country's largest opposition party, demanded that Interior Minister Hari Kostov resign, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. "It is time that Kostov resigns, as he has repeatedly proved his inability to control the [security] situation," a VMRO-DPMNE spokesman said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). UB
EXPLOSIONS ROCK MACEDONIAN CAPITAL
Unknown persons fired grenades at three government buildings in Skopje during the night of 28-29 August, Reuters reported. Nobody was injured, police said, adding that "apart from a few shattered windows on the courthouse there is no damage. We don't want to speculate on the motives or who the attackers might be, but we are engaged in an intensive investigation." Police cars are patrolling the streets and police are searching cars (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 August 2003). PM
NATO CALLS BRIEF BOSNIAN OPERATION A 'SUCCESS'
An SFOR spokesman said in Sarajevo on 28 August that a two-day operation in Serbian-held areas in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina enabled peacekeepers to collect unspecified important information, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 August 2003). He added: "while I cannot divulge details of the results of these operations, I can tell you that they were successful in their aim...to gather information and monitor the local situation and potential efforts of persons conducting activities that impede the progress and development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. War crimes fugitives fall in that category." The operation involved monitoring several places linked to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. PM
SERBIAN LEADER DENIES THAT KOSOVA DECLARATION IS BELLIGERENT
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 28 August that the declaration on Kosova approved by the Serbian parliament the previous day does not constitute "the beating of war drums" but rather an appeal for the enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29 August 2003). He added that unspecified Serbian local government councils will set up partnerships with unnamed Serbian enclaves in Kosova. In Prishtina, Kosova Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said that the province's elected institutions will soon approve a formal reply to the Serbian declaration. In advance of the general elections that are widely expected in the next 12 months, many Serbian politicians have engaged in tough rhetoric on Kosova in recent weeks amid continuing problems with crime, corruption, and poverty. PM
EU REPRESENTATIVE TELLS BALKAN STATES TO BE PATIENT
Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, said in Alpbach, Austria, on 28 August that the prospect of eventual EU membership can have a stabilizing effect on the countries of the western Balkans even though their actual membership in the Brussels-based bloc may be "years away," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). He added that Croatia and Macedonia have made the most progress on the road to joining the EU. Busek noted that Bosnia has much to do to improve "coordination" between the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation. He called the lack of clarity regarding the final status of Kosova "dramatic," adding, however, that nobody intends to establish a border between Kosova and Serbia or partition territory. PM
SLOVENIAN MASS GRAVE CONTAINS -- ANIMAL BONES
Slovenian police investigators have concluded that a mass grave discovered near Ptuj in May contains the remains of animals not humans, dpa reported from Ljubljana on 29 August. At the time of the discovery, Slovenian media reported that the site most likely contained the remains of "several thousand" people killed by Josip Broz Tito's communist Partisans at the end of World War II (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 January 2002). PM
ROMANIAN SENATE STALLS AT CONTROVERSIAL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The Senate sent back to the all-party commission an amendment to the Romanian Constitution granting ethnic minorities the right to use their native languages in courts, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. All senators except those representing the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) spoke against the proposed amendment, although this amendment was already approved by the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). The commission is to debate the amendment again. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko warned that his party will consider voting against all proposed amendments if this change is rejected. MS
LIBERAL ROMANIAN 'FAMILY' REUNITES AFTER LONG DIVORCE
The National Liberal Party (PNL) and the National Liberal Party-Campeanu signed an agreement on 28 August aimed at reuniting the two political formations, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the agreement, the two parties are to merge at the end of September. The PNL-Campeanu was formed in May 1995, following founding PNL Chairman Radu Campeanu's replacement as party leader by Mircea Ionescu-Quintus in February 1994. Under the agreement reached on 28 August, Radu Campeanu would carry the official title of "founding chairman-March 1990" and the PNL-Campeanu would get two seats on the PNL's Executive Bureau. The extraparliamentary PNL-Campeanu claims 27,000 members. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN PARTY LEADER TO STAY AWAY FROM NATIONAL CONFERENCE
Former Democratic Party Chairman and former Premier Petre Roman said on 28 August that he will not participate in a meeting of the Democrats' National Conference slated for 30 August, Mediafax reported. Roman said he is skipping the conference "to sound the alarm" over the party's future. Roman accused the current Democratic Party leadership under Chairman Train Basescu of leading the party onto a "futureless path." He said he is not opposed in principle to an alliance with the PNL, provided that alliance is well prepared and is not an indication that the Democratic Party renounces any political program of its own. Otherwise, Roman said, the intended alliance runs the risk of becoming "a death candy wrapped in sweet chocolate." MS
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO PRIVATIZE RAILWAY COMPANIES
The cabinet approved on 28 August an emergency ordinance under which 24 state railway companies are to be privatized within 30 days, Romanian Radio reported. The companies slated for privatization are engaged in railway support, including wagon maintenance and repairs, and tailoring uniforms for railway personnel. Transportation, Construction, and Tourism Minister Miron Mitrea said the privatization entails laying off nearly 6,000 of the 10,000 workers currently employed by those companies. The unions oppose the measure. The government intends to make redundant more than 19,000 railway workers by the end of September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). MS
ROMANIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS
Prosecutor-General Tanase Joita, citing personal health issues, asked President Ion Iliescu on 29 August to "relieve" him of his duties, Mediafax reported. Joita has been one of the most controversial post-communist prosecutor-generals, triggering many complaints of subservience to political authorities. Citing "judicial sources," Mediafax said Joita has been offered a diplomatic post, but has not decided whether to accept the offer or return to practicing law. MS
GERMAN-MADE EQUIPMENT TO BE USED IN TRANSDNIESTER FOR AMMUNITION SCRAPPING
German-made equipment for scrapping depleted ammunition will be installed over the weekend near the Russian depot in Kolbasna, Infotag reported on 28 August, citing sources from the OSCE mission. The mission denied Moldovan media reports that the equipment is to be sent to Iraq together with U.S. equipment dispatched to Moldova for the same purpose. Transdniester has refused to allow the equipment to be transported from Chisinau, where it lay idle for more than a year. The OSCE mission announced that an agreement was recently signed with the separatist authorities allowing the German equipment to be installed at Kolbasna. Infotag said the future of the U.S.-made equipment is unclear, citing experts who say it will be not needed, as the quantity of depleted Russia-made ammunition in the Kolbasna depot turned out to be considerably less than first estimated. MS
TRANSDNIESTER REFUSES 'TRANSPARENCY' IN SECURITY ZONE
Transdniester representatives on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) said on 28 August that they do not recognize the validity of an agreement signed on 21 March, stipulating that any JCC member is entitled to inspect at any time military units stationed in the security zone, which was set up in 1992, Flux reported. A Transdniester representative on the commission said the agreement is not in force, because the presidents of the two "states" did not sign it. MS
UKRAINIAN WORLD CONGRESS READY TO DEFEND TRANSDNIESTER INDEPENDENCE
The World Congress of Ukrainians recently held in Kyiv declared its readiness to protect Transdniester's right to independence, Infotag reported on 28 August, citing Vladimir Bodnar, chairman of the Union of Transdniestrian Ukrainians. Bodnar said the forum has expressed concern over the situation in Transdniester and readiness to render all possible assistance to the Ukrainian community and other ethnic groups living in the region in order to "protect them from the Romanian nationalists in Moldova." Bodnar said participants in the forum pledged to lobby their countries' governments to defend Transdniester's right to self-determination and independence. Bodnar, a former deputy speaker of the Transdniester Supreme Soviet, is currently co-chairman of the JCC and chairman of the organization of ethnic Ukrainians in Transdniester. There are more than 180,000 Ukrainians living in the separatist region. MS
BULGARIA, AFGHANISTAN AGREE ON COOPERATION AGAINST DRUG TRAFFICKING
Speaking at a joint press conference with his visiting Afghan counterpart Abdullah Abdullah, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said in Sofia on 28 August that their talks focused on the joint fight against drug trafficking, because the major smuggling routes run from Asia through Bulgaria, vsekiden.com reported. "Neither Afghanistan nor Bulgaria, nor [even] both countries together can resolve this extremely serious problem alone," Pasi said, stressing the interconnections between drug trafficking and terrorism. The ministers agreed that the international community must pay more attention to this problem. UB
DELAY IN RUSSIAN DELIVERIES KEEPS BULGARIAN JETS ON THE GROUND
Due to delays in the delivery of spare parts from Russia, Bulgaria's MiG-29 jet fighters cannot participate in NATO's Cooperative Key 2003 exercises, mediapool.bg reported. Air Force commander General Dimitar Georgiev said on 28 August that the Russian contractors failed to deliver spare engines for the jets, which are currently being upgraded in a Plovdiv factory. One month ago, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov had demanded $1 million compensation for these delays. It is not clear, however, whether the Russian side has agreed to pay. UB
BULGARIA BANS WHEAT EXPORTS
Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme on 28 August announced that, due to shortages, the government has decided to ban wheat and flour exports, novinite.com reported. Dikme added that the government has also decided to import some 100,000 tons of wheat and that it has set aside an extra $5.5 million for the fall sowing. UB
THE REIGN OF THE CIS 'LIFERS'
Almost 12 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, five of the 12 CIS states are still ruled by the man who was already president at the time his country gained its independence. In almost all of the others, the present ruling elites are composed primarily of former high-ranking communists who ditched their party affiliation in 1991-1992 and adopted a centrist position. National democrats came to power in Armenia in 1990, even before the collapse of the USSR. They governed for a brief period in Moldova (1990-93) and Azerbaijan (in 1992-1993), but have largely remained in opposition in other CIS states during most of the period since 1992.
Postcommunist centrist elites feel a sense of proprietary rights over the territory they control and believe that only they have a right to govern. Accordingly, those leaders seek to legitimize themselves by portraying themselves as guardians of stability, holding back a return to power by either the communists, on the one hand, or "nationalists" (i.e. national democrats), on the other.
At least in Central Asia and Belarus, and to a lesser degree in Azerbaijan, the opposition is not treated as a legitimate group from whom a new president could be elected. Opposition parties are therefore either stripped of legality either by a passage of legislation setting impossible conditions they must meet in order to reregister (as was the case over the past year in Kazakhstan), or de-legitimized through a political discourse that defines them as "radicals," "extremists," and bent on instigating "instability," as the Kyrgyz authorities are currently engaged in doing. Therefore, over the past 12 years, those entrenched elites have rewritten constitutions and falsified elections in order to preserve their hold on power.
The simplest way of extending the tenure of the incumbent president is to amend the constitution and then argue that his second presidential term is actually his first because the country's post-Soviet constitution was adopted after the first term began. This argument was used by Russian President Boris Yeltsin (first elected in 1990, constitution adopted in 1993) and has been touted by pro-presidential forces in Ukraine (first elected in 1994, constitution adopted in 1996) and by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (first elected in 1994, revised constitution adopted in 1996).
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev has used the same line. He similarly argued that as he was first elected in 1993, but the current constitution was adopted two years after that, he is entitled to seek a third term in the ballot scheduled for October.
Such referendums have extended the term in office of the presidents of Turkmenistan (1994), Uzbekistan (1995), and Kazakhstan (1999). Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov subsequently secured for himself the option of remaining in power for life. In Tajikistan, voters were called on in June to endorse as a package some 50 constitutional amendments, the most important of which enables incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov to run for two further consecutive seven-year terms.
An alternative, or additional method of holding on to power is electoral fraud. Since 1995, the OSCE has criticized fraud of various degrees of blatancy in parliamentary and presidential elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.
In Ukraine, however, President Leonid Kuchma faces a legal dilemma as he comes to the end of his second consecutive five-year term and is barred by the current constitution from seeking a third term. While Kuchma would probably like to resort to the "Yeltsin model" and transfer power to his handpicked "successor," doing this is proving impossible because of the political crisis that has developed since the "Kuchmagate" scandal erupted in November 2000.
Sources in the Ukrainian presidential administration privately confirm that no candidate acceptable to competing oligarchic clans has been found and therefore the strategy was to extend Kuchma's term in office. This was being promoted by pro-presidential forces through "political reforms," which sought to hold all elections in one year (i.e. postponing the 2004 presidential elections to the 2006 parliamentary elections and thereby extending Kuchma's term by two years).
Kuchma threatened to hold a referendum if parliament continued to be unable to change the constitution in line with these "political reforms," which requires more votes than pro-presidential factions possess.
Another option under discussion for which Kuchma may obtain support from the left is to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary republic in which two-thirds of the parliament elects the president. A similar model was adopted in Moldova in 2000-01.
In addition to the presumption of the "right to retain power" referred to above, there is a second cogent reason why postcommunist elites are reluctant to risk ceding power. Being no longer in power in CIS states means not only going into opposition, but also the possibility of facing charges of corruption and, worse still, revenge by former political opponents who now constitute the new leadership. Due to the close connection between business and the executive branch, if the executive loses power, business empires built up over the last decade by the president, his family, and oligarchic allies could be quickly lost. A pact is often made whereby oligarchs will be left alone provided they redirect their loyalties to the chosen "successor." The recent clampdown on the oil major Yukos in Russia can be attributed to the company's chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, violating this unwritten agreement and openly expressing support for the opposition.
In a bid to insure themselves against legal proceedings and protect the fortunes accumulated by their families and close associates, the presidents of both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have introduced in their respective parliaments bills -- which deputies duly passed -- guaranteeing them and their immediate families lifelong immunity from prosecution. Putin granted the same immunity to Yeltsin.
Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.
AFGHAN CONSTITUTION, AND POSSIBLY ELECTIONS, DELAYED...
Afghanistan will not adopt a new constitution until late December at the earliest, a delay of two months that could also see elections pushed back from June 2004, Reuters reported on 28 August. But the draft constitution, which will help shape the future of Afghanistan and pave the way for elections, is expected to be unveiled in the first week of September. "I was under extreme pressure, including from UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], to stick to the time stipulated," Farooq Wardak, Director of the Secretariat of the Constitutional Commission, told Reuters in an interview. "I was not willing to go with that as I was almost 100 percent certain that if we stuck to it, we would deliver a document of a quality of which we were ashamed." The commission was due to present a draft constitution on 30 August, after a second round of consultations with Afghans, and the document was to have been finalized at a constitutional Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, in October. Under the new timetable, the draft will still be produced in early September, but the Loya Jirga will not be called until 10 December. TG
...BUT FOREIGN MINISTER VOWS ELECTIONS WILL TAKE PLACE ON TIME
Afghanistan's presidential elections will take place as scheduled in June 2004, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said on 28 August during a visit to Sofia to meet with his Bulgarian counterpart, AFP reported. "The Afghan government will, with the help of the international community, do all it can to ensure that this election takes place on time," he said. Abdullah said the government "will take steps to stop all attempts" by remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to "obstruct the political process" in Afghanistan. TG
AFGHAN, PAKISTANI GOVERNMENTS AGREE ON GRADUAL CLOSURE OF BORDER CAMPS
The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to the gradual consolidation and closure of Afghan refugee camps near Pakistan's border, and to help sustain returns by focusing on providing aid to the refugees' communities in Afghanistan, according to a UNHCR communique released on 28 August. The camps in question include the Shalman camps near the Khyber Pass in northwestern Pakistan and camps around Chaman in Balochistan province, which were established during the height of the Afghan exodus in late 2001. Starting next year, up to 50,000 Afghan refugees living in these camps will be asked to choose between returning to Afghanistan and relocating within Pakistan. More than 1.5 million Afghan refugees returned from Pakistan last year. So far this year, another 262,000 have repatriated from Pakistan. TG
ISLAMABAD DENIES PROVIDING IRAN WITH NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan has rejected allegations that his country has provided Iran with nuclear technology, Karachi's Urdu-language "Islam" newspaper reported on 28 August. "We have never provided nuclear technology or information to any other country," he said. Khan said Pakistan has faced similar charges in the past. "Today also," he maintained, "nobody has any proof to substantiate these charges." BS
IAEA SAYS IRAN SHOPPED ON BLACK MARKET
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohammad el-Baradei said in a 28 August interview that was broadcast on the BBC's "Hardtalk" on 29 August that Iran has purchased nuclear components on the international black market, Reuters reported. He added that although he is not certain which countries manufactured the equipment, he has a "pretty good idea" where it came from. El-Baradei also said that Tehran should be more "proactive" and "transparent," and noted that it has not provided a full picture of its nuclear program. "They have not really been fully transparent in telling us in advance what was going on," he said. El-Baradei said that Iran's nuclear program has a longer history than the IAEA realized, and it would have been easier to verify the status of that program if the IAEA had had a complete picture from the outset. "It would have been easier for us to complete our job if we knew what was going on as early as the mid-1980s," ElBaradei said. "Now we have to go...20 years back." El-Baradei urged Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. BS
IRANIAN ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION NONCOMMITTAL ON ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL
Saber Zaimian, a spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, stressed on 28 August that Iran is merely willing to look into the technical and legal aspects of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Mehr News Agency reported. Zaimian also was dismissive of reports that samples taken by IAEA inspectors contained traces of highly enriched uranium. "The samples have not been tested yet," Zaimian said. The normal procedure is for the samples to be tested by reliable laboratories in three neutral countries, and "the Iranian samples have not gone through those stages yet." BS
CANADA CRITICAL OF IRANIAN INVESTIGATION INTO JOURNALIST'S DEATH
Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said in a 28 August conference call with reporters that he doubts that just two lower-ranking people are responsible for the death while in custody of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, Reuters reported. "It's clear nobody accepts the fact these people are likely to be responsible," Graham said. "One finds it difficult to believe that two lower-level people would be responsible for Ms. Kazemi's death without the orders of people higher up." Graham said that it is too early to impose sanctions on Iran, saying he would wait to see how the situation develops. BS
IRANIAN ELECTION DATES COULD CHANGE
Rumors about possible rescheduling of elections continue to circulate in Iran, with the newspaper "Hambastegi" reporting that the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2004 could be held simultaneously with the elections for the Assembly of Experts -- scheduled for the fall of 2004 -- and the president, scheduled for May 2005, Baztab website reporting on 28 August. This would require either an extension of the parliamentary term or a reduction in the presidential term. The conservative faction, boosted by its success in the February municipal elections, believes it will carry the parliament in the next election and therefore favors a reduction in the presidential term, according to "Hambastegi." BS
IRAN MIGHT IMPLEMENT VALUE-ADDED TAX
Issa Shahsavar Khojasteh, who heads Iran's Taxation Organization, said on 26 August that a system of value-added tax (VAT) will be adopted in Iran in the next two years, IRNA reported. Among the advantages to Iran of a VAT system, Khojasteh said, are its safety and reliability as a source of government revenues, its positive influence on the production rate, its fairness in distributing wealth, and its contribution to social justice. Other benefits are identification of taxpayers, speedy receipt of taxes, and a reduction in tax evasion, Khojasteh said. BS
CAR BOMB KILLS AL-HAKIM IN AL-NAJAF
A car bomb reportedly went off in the holy city of Al-Najaf on 29 August, killing Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), international press reported. Al-Hakim's nephew, Muhsin al-Hakim, confirmed the ayatollah's death to Reuters. He did not give any details about the incident, but Reuters cited a source close to SCIRI as saying that al-Hakim was killed when his car exploded as he left the mosque. What is known is that the bomb was detonated outside the Imam Ali Mosque as worshippers left after the Friday prayer service. The mosque is the holiest shrine for Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq. Initial press reports indicate as many as 20 dead and more than a dozen wounded. Shop windows were reportedly blown out as a result of the explosion. The explosion marks the second in Al-Najaf in a week, after the office of Ayatollah Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim was bombed on 22 August (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 August 2003). KR
BA'ATHIST ELEMENTS THREATEN AIRLINES USING AL-BASRAH AIRPORT
The Iraqi Ba'ath Party reportedly sent a statement to London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" on 27 August claiming that the Al-Basrah International Airport is a legitimate military target and warning international airlines not to use it, the daily reported on 28 August. "The British occupation forces are trying to impose an illegal administrative and political situation" in Al-Basrah, the statement claimed. "We appeal to the Arab and foreign airlines, which have expressed their readiness and intention to operate civilian flights by submitting a request to the occupation forces in this regard, to halt their programs and to refrain from cooperating with the illegal British occupation forces," the statement read. "We look forward to a declared decision in this regard by the Jordanian, Qatari, Yemeni, Egyptian, and other airlines." The group claims that it has issued similar statements concerning the Baghdad International Airport, the Al-Bakr Air Base, and other smaller airports in Iraq. Both Royal Jordanian Airlines and Qatar Airways announced this week that they have postponed starting flights into Al-Basrah at the request of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) due to security concerns. The airport was due to open to commercial air traffic by the end of August. KR
DAILY COUNT AT BAGHDAD MORGUE GIVES INSIGHT INTO VIOLENCE
Coroners in the Iraqi capital are faced with a daily workload more than triple the prewar figure, Reuters reported on 28 August, an average of 35 Iraqis a day. Those Iraqis who met violent or suspicious deaths are examined at Baghdad's Institute for Forensic Medicine, while family members wait outside to claim their loved ones for burial. The dead are victims of random violence, revenge killings, and violent crimes. "Before the war, we would see maybe 10 cases a day," the institute's director, Fayik Amin Bakir told Reuters. "Now it is three or four times that, and nearly all because of shootings. It's a new situation, a terrible situation." An Iraqi police officer, Ghazwan Whalid told the news agency that the police are doing their best, but noted, "Every day a police officer is killed in Baghdad." The lack of a functioning judicial system is part of the problem. Criminals taken into police custody are sent to detention facilities, but many are released after a few weeks. "The Americans jail them and after 20 days release them," he said. "Then they'll find us and take their revenge." KR
FRANCE VOICES SUPPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL FORCE
France appeared to reverse its position on Iraq on 28 August, calling for the establishment of provisional Iraqi government and a United Nations-mandated international military force to handle security there, international press reported. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for the change at the annual meeting of French ambassadors in Paris, Reuters reported. "A real change of approach is needed [in Iraq]," he said. "We must end the ambiguity, transfer responsibilities, and allow the Iraqis to play the role they deserve as soon as possible." De Villepin said that security arrangements in Iraq "cannot just be the enlargement or adjustment of the current occupation forces." "We have to install a real international force under a mandate of the United Nations Security Council," he said. The United States indicated this week that it might welcome an international UN-mandated force in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). KR
UN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE LAID TO REST IN GENEVA
Around 1,000 relatives, friends, and colleagues of UN Special Representative to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello paid tribute to the fallen envoy as he was laid to rest in Geneva on 28 August, international media reported. Vieira de Mello's son, Laurent, told the congregation at St. Paul's Church that "the revolting and incomprehensible attack of 19 August killed our father and many of his colleagues, but his assassins did not really kill him, because his legacy and ideals of helping people live on in each of us." The 55-year-old Brazilian left his post as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in late May to serve a four-month term in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 May 2003). He was killed in the 19 August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Twenty-two candles were lit during the church service for the 22 other victims, the UN News Center reported. Vieira de Mello's widow, Annie, and his sons, Laurent and Adrien, then lit the 23rd candle by his flower-covered coffin. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Ramiro Lopes da Silva as acting special representative to Iraq following de Mello's death. Da Silva has served as United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq since July 2002. KR