DEFENSE MINISTER BLAMES CARELESSNESS FOR SUB ACCIDENT...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov blamed the national trait of carelessness and a "frivolous Russian reliance on chance" for the 30 August sinking of a decommissioned nuclear submarine, Russian and international media reported on 1 September. Ivanov ordered a temporary halt to the towing of decommissioned submarines, a move that could mean further delays in efforts to dispose of more than 100 derelict vessels and their nuclear reactors. The K-159 submarine sank in the Barents Sea, killing nine of the 10 sailors aboard, as it was being towed to an Arctic scrap yard, where its reactors were to be removed. The 40-year-old vessel sank to the seabed after floats supporting it broke up during a storm. "There were definitely elements of a frivolous Russian reliance on chance, that everything will work out," Ivanov said. Russian media reports citing navy sources suggested the submarine's pontoons had been placed improperly, and Ivanov said the submarine went to the bottom with its conning tower open. BW
...BUT SAYS RADIATION LEVELS NORMAL...
Defense Minister Ivanov also said on 31 August that radiation levels in the area where the sub sank are normal, Russian media reported on 1 September. "No changes have been registered in radiation levels. Therefore there is no reason for concern at this moment," Interfax quoted Ivanov as telling reporters on board a missile cruiser near the site of the incident. Environmentalists, however, cautioned that water could leak into the reactors, and radiation levels in the fish-rich area will have to be watched closely. Russian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Viktor Kravchenko said on 1 September that the vessel cannot be raised until at least next year, Russian and international media reported the same day. "The ship must be raised in order to carry out a complete unloading of the reactor," Kravchenko said. He added that preparatory work is under way for the complex lifting operation, but it will not begin before 2004. BW
...AS PUTIN PROMISES INVESTIGATION
President Vladimir Putin on 30 August promised a thorough investigation into the K-159 sinking, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. "A thorough investigation will be carried out," Putin said. "Of course, all the reasons for the tragedy will be established." Putin spoke as he and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toured one of the Russian Navy's flagships, which was anchored off Sardinia. Putin was on the island for a three-day informal meeting between the two leaders. Putin and Berlusconi toured the missile cruiser "Moskva," the 186-meter flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, just hours after the K-159 sank. At a news conference on shore, Berlusconi said Putin was at his side when the Russian president learned of the disaster, and Berlusconi offered condolences on behalf of the Italian people. BW
RUSSIA, GERMANY SEEK COMMON STANCE ON IRAQ
President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke recently by telephone and advocated a stronger role for the United Nations in postwar Iraq, Reuters reported on 1 September, citing German government officials. "They agreed it would be helpful if the UN played a stronger role, and both said it would make sense if all states who want to contribute to stabilization and reconstruction could agree to a corresponding strategy," the unidentified spokesman said, adding that such a strategy could be developed as a new UN resolution. Putin said on 30 August that Moscow will support a decision to send a UN-sponsored international military force to Iraq, even under U.S. command, if the Security Council endorses such a force, Reuters reported on 1 September. Putin did not say whether Moscow would be willing to send troops to Iraq as part of a UN-sponsored force. BW
OIL OUTPUT, EXPORTS SOAR
Exports through Russian oil pipelines reached an all-time high in August, and output reached the highest levels since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian and international media reported on 2 September. The state-owned oil-pipeline monopoly Transneft exported 3.58 million barrels per day in August, an increase of 100,000 barrels per day over July, Reuters reported. Russia's oil output in August rose to 8.6 million barrels per day, compared with 8.5 million in July. The export and output figures were released as a high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Moscow for talks on postwar Iraq, the Middle East conflict, and an energy cooperation deal. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi arrived in Moscow on 1 September. Russia is the world's No. 2 oil producer after Saudi Arabia. BW
FORMER NTV OWNER RELEASED ON BAIL
A court in Athens released former media magnate Vladimir Gusinskii on bail on 29 August as Russian prosecutors continued efforts to extradite him to Moscow to face multimillion-dollar fraud charges, Russian and international media reported. "Gusinskii was ordered released on a 100,000 euros ($108,200) bail," Reuters quoted Gusinskii's Greek lawyer, Alexandros Likourezos, as saying. "He will stay in an Athens hotel and is not allowed to leave the country." Gusinskii was arrested on an international warrant at the Athens airport on 21 August after arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv, reportedly for a family vacation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). BW
MEDIA MINISTER ACCUSES CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION OF RESTRICTING MEDIA...
Mikhail Lesin said on 1 September that attempts by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) to place "limitations on the media concerning information about the activities of various candidates" in the upcoming parliamentary-election campaign "do not correspond either to the letter of the law or its spirit," Interfax reported. Lesin was referring to amendments to the Election Code that were drafted by the TsIK and passed by the State Duma and Federation Council in June. According to the legislation, a media outlet can be suspended for the duration of a campaign if a court rules that it has committed two violations during that campaign. Violations could include favoring one candidate over another or simply criticizing a candidate's position, "The Moscow Times" reported on 2 September. Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center questioned the sincerity of Lesin's sudden concern about the press restrictions, saying that they deal "a significant blow" to "very influential groups of public-relations specialists" who surround the media minister, "Gazeta" reported on 2 September. JB
...WHILE ELECTION HEAD SAYS HE'S GETTING ALONG FINE WITH THE PRESS...
Several hours before Media Minister Lesin made his comments, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov met with the heads of print media outlets and information agencies, regions.ru reported on 1 September. After the meeting, Veshnyakov told journalists they had engaged in a "normal" and "constructive" conversation that he hoped will extend through the parliamentary-election campaign. Veshnyakov also said he has no "fundamental differences" with the Media Ministry, adding: "If you're talking about details, we will be discussing them." JB
...AS MEDIA SEEM LESS CERTAIN
"Gazeta," however, reported on 2 September that the media heads were skeptical, and asked Veshnyakov "many questions" about how it is possible to give equal column inches to all candidates, given that some will be known nationally while others will be unknown. Veshnyakov gave no clear answer, "Gazeta" reported. On 19 June, the day after the Duma passed the media restrictions, "Vremya-MN" warned of their potentially wide scope: "Write an article about a record crop, and it might be taken for campaign advertising in favor of the Agrarian Party. Mention wage arrears, and it might be taken for campaign advertising against United Russia, with its promise to keep an eye on timely payments. Actually, any apple-juice commercial can now be viewed as pro-Yabloko campaign advertising," the daily commented. JB
NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK PARTY DENIED REGISTRATION
The Justice Ministry refused to register the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), Interfax reported on 29 August. Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, head of the ministry's department for social and religious organizations, said the decision to refuse to register the NBP, which is headed by radical writer Eduard Limonov, was made after studying its founding documents and other materials it had submitted. Kudryavtsev added that the basis for the decision was made exclusively on legal -- not political or ideological --grounds. The NBP's press service released a statement from the party's central committee calling the decision an "act of arbitrariness and political violence" and vowing to conduct hunger strikes in all regions where it has branches, newsru.com reported on 29 August. The party claimed it was refused registration because of a 27 August incident in which TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov was hit during a speech by mayonnaise allegedly thrown by a NBP member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). JB
FORMER PRIVATIZATION HEAD GETS A SPOT ON SPS ST. PETERSBURG PARTY LIST...
Alfred Kokh, the Yeltsin-era privatization chief who was tapped in May to run the parliamentary campaign of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2003), will occupy the No. 2 position on the party's St. Petersburg regional list for the December election, Interfax reported on 1 September. The list was approved during a meeting of the SPS's regional branch in St. Petersburg. Yurii Gladkov, deputy speaker of St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly, will have the top spot on the SPS St. Petersburg regional list, while Grigorii Tomchin, chairman of the party's regional branch, will fill the No. 3 spot. SPS co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada said that Kokh, as the party's campaign manager, will get more involved in the campaign in St. Petersburg now that he is on the party list there, RosBalt reported on 1 September. Kokh, for his part, said the SPS will be competing against Yabloko in the election given that "approximately one-quarter of the SPS's electorate intersects with Yabloko's electorate," Interfax reported on 1 September. JB
...WHILE A YABLOKO DEPUTY ASKS TO HAVE HIM INVESTIGATED, THEN CHANGES HIS MIND...
State Duma Deputy Aleksei Melnikov (Yabloko) sent a letter on 28 August to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking that it revive a criminal investigation of Kokh, but he withdrew his request the following day, "Vedomosti" reported on 1 September. Kokh was investigated in 1999 for allegedly handing Norilsk Nickel to Vladimir Potanin's Oneksimbank in a 1995 loans-for-shares auction for $140 million less than the starting price, but the case was later dropped. According to "Vedomosti," Melnikov said in a letter to the newspaper that he decided to withdraw the request after reading an editorial it ran on 29 August. The editorial noted that Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of Yabloko's Duma faction, condemned the Prosecutor-General's Office back in 2000 after it demanded $140 million from Potanin for Norilsk Nickel. Ivanenko accused the prosecutors of scaring off investors. The editorial also noted that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii voiced similar concerns about Russia's investment climate in July after Platon Lebedev, co-owner of oil giant Yukos, was arrested for allegedly illegally privatizing a fertilizer company in 1994. JB
...AND NEW INFORMATION EMERGES
Damning new evidence concerning Kokh's relationship with Oneksimbank during the privatization of Norilsk Nickel surfaced recently. On 25 August, "Novaya gazeta," No. 62, cited an internal Oneksimbank document indicating that the bank opened a $6.5 million expense account for Kokh on 1 September 1997. That was less than a month after Oneksimbank gained full ownership of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk in a highly controversial auction that resulted in Kokh's forced resignation as deputy prime minister and State Property Committee head and prompted then-President Boris Yeltsin to comment that "some banks are apparently closer [than others] to the heart of Alfred Kokh, and this is not proper" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 14, and 20 August 1997). According to "Novaya gazeta," the Oneksimbank document indicates that Kokh spent $176,714 in 1997 and $155,360 in 1998. Such information, if true, is unlikely to help Kokh's already controversial reputation. In February 2002, the Leningrad Oblast legislature chose Kokh to represent it in the Federation Council, but he declined the job, purportedly under pressure from the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2003). JB
SAKHALIN OBLAST WILL ELECT A NEW GOVERNOR IN DECEMBER
The Sakhalin Oblast Duma decided in special session on 2 September that it will hold a gubernatorial election on 7 December, the same day the Russians go to the polls to elect a new State Duma, RIA-Novosti reported. The election will replace Governor Igor Farkhutdinov, who was killed with 19 other people in a Mi-8 helicopter crash in Kamchatka Oblast on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, 25, and 27 August 2003). JB
INCUMBENT QUERIES DEFEAT IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA ELECTION RUNOFF
Vladimir Semenov has challenged the preliminary results of the 31 August runoff presidential ballot in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003). Semenov claimed one of his proxies was barred from a voting station. But TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov said on 1 September no serious complaints have been received about the conduct of the ballot, and he sees "no serious reasons" to question the results. Semenov reportedly polled 45.97 percent of the vote, only some 3,500 votes fewer than his rival, National Bank Chairman Mustafa Batdyev, who garnered 48.36 percent. Voter turnout was 67.43 percent, according to Interfax. LF
RUSSIAN, CHECHEN OFFICIALS CALL FOR EXTENSION OF CHECHEN AMNESTY
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has written to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev requesting that the Duma discuss at the earliest opportunity the possibility of extending for a further three months the amnesty for Chechen fighters that expired on 31 August, Interfax reported on 1 September. Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said the same day that some 145 Chechen fighters have been amnestied, of a total of 170 who requested amnesty. Some 226 servicemen and Interior Ministry personnel have also benefited. Vladimir Zorin, who is Russian minister with responsibility for nationalities affairs, urged the Duma on 1 September to comply with Kadyrov's request. Describing the amnesty as "an important element of the post-conflict settlement," Zorin argued that extending it would help to ensure that the 5 October presidential election in Chechnya is not disrupted by violence. LF
RUSSIAN OFFICER CASTS DOUBT ON KADYROV'S CLAIMS OF 'THIRD FORCE'
Paratroops Colonel Vladimir Plotnikov told Interfax on 29 August he considers Kadyrov's claims in a letter addressed to Russian law enforcement officials the previous day that an unidentified "third force" armed with armored vehicles is responsible for brutally abducting Chechen civilians "looks more like election propaganda than reality" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003). Plotnikov pointed out that federal forces are under orders not to use armored vehicles at night, and that only the Chechen police force has total freedom of movement after dark. He implied that the Chechen police force is behind the abductions in question. LF
MUFTI KILLED IN CHECHNYA
Unidentified gunmen shot dead Shamkhan Madagov, mufti of Vedeno Raion, early on 31 August in the courtyard of his home in front of his wife and children, Russian media reported. A total of 18 imams and other Muslim clerics have been killed over the past three years, and four since the beginning of this year. LF
NEW RUSSIAN COMMANDER NAMED IN CHECHNYA
Colonel General Valerii Baranov has been named commander of the combined federal forces in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported on 29 August. Baranov has served before as commander or deputy commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 17 May, 3 August, and 9 October 2001). LF
AZERBAIJAN CONDEMNS OSCE REACTION TO CEASE-FIRE VIOLATION
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry has lodged a formal complaint with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in connection with shots fired along the Line of Contact separating Azerbaijani and Armenian forces during routine OSCE monitoring on 19 August , according to ANS TV on 29 August, as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 22, and 25 August 2003) Andrzej Kasprzyk, who is the special representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office, halted the monitoring immediately and traveled to Yerevan on 21 August to discuss the incident with Armenian officials. He subsequently issued a statement saying it was impossible to determine which side opened fire. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry criticized Kasprzyk for failing to blame Armenia for the incident. In a 29 August interview with Turan, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev criticized his counterpart from the Netherlands, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is OSCE chairman-in-office, for failing to visit the South Caucasus. Guliev implied that failure reflects the OSCE's dwindling interest in resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF
U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION VISITS AZERBAIJAN
A delegation headed by U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon (Republican, Pennsylvania) held talks in Baku on 29 August with Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ilham Aliev and parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Turan reported. Aliev underscored Azerbaijan's continued support for U.S.-led antiterrorism operations, Interfax reported. He also affirmed that the 15 October presidential ballot, in which he is a candidate, will be fair, democratic, and transparent. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES DISCUSS ELECTION CAMPAIGN TACTICS...
Meeting in Baku on 1 September, the chairmen of the opposition Musavat, Azerbaijan National Independence and Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHCP) (reformist wing) parties, and the secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADR) concluded that the ongoing presidential election campaign is proceeding with total disregard for the law, according to zerkalo.az on 2 September. ADR Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu told journalists the opposition will resort to "the most radical steps" to ensure that political developments unfold in accordance with the law. He did not elaborate. Djalaloglu also said that if appropriate, the four parties will resume discussions aimed at uniting behind a single opposition presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 August 2003). LF
...AS AUTHORITIES HARASS THEIR REPRESENTATIVES...
Four members of Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar's election staff were detained by police on 30 August while campaigning at a camp for displaced Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh, Turan reported the same day. Another Musavat Party activist has been hospitalized with serious injuries after being attacked and beaten while he was pasting Gambar's campaign posters on walls in the Narimanov District of Baku, Turan reported on 2 September. LF
...AND THREATEN TO DISQUALIFY OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Central Election Commission press spokesman Azer Saryev has accused AHCP (reformist wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli of calling during an election campaign broadcast for a campaign of civil disobedience, zerkalo.az reported on 2 September quoting the news agency Oloylar. Saryev said such appeals are a criminal offense and that Kerimli could be stripped of his registration as a presidential candidate. AHCP Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafaev denied that Kerimli called for civil disobedience. He said Kerimli merely urged the population of Azerbaijan to fight for its rights. LF
HAS AZERBAIJAN ASKED RUSSIA TO EXTRADITE FORMER PARLIAMENT SPEAKER?
The Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office has asked its Russian counterpart to extradite former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev to Azerbaijan, Interfax reported on 30 August quoting an unconfirmed Azerbaijani TV report. Guliev left Azerbaijan in 1996 following a major disagreement with President Heidar Aliev and now lives in the United States. He arrived in Moscow last week for talks with former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003) who, like Guliev, was denied registration to contest the 15 October presidential election. The Azerbaijani prosecutor-general has brought criminal charges of large-scale embezzlement against Guliev, which Guliev claims are unfounded and politically motivated. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SELECTS ELECTION COMMISSION HEAD...
Eduard Shevardnadze on 31 August proposed ombudsman Nana Devdariani as chairwoman of the new Central Election Commission, Georgian agencies reported. Devdariani was one of three candidates selected by OSCE representatives from a total of 26 nominations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). The website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 1 September quoted Shevardnadze as describing Devdariani as "the most appropriate candidate." But two days earlier, on 29 August, the same website quoted Shevardnadze as saying that he favors another of the three candidates on the short list, Deputy National Security Council Secretary Rusudan Beridze, whom he reportedly described as "a very good candidate for the post." LF
...WHOM OPPOSITION CONDEMN AS NOT OBJECTIVE
Representatives of the opposition National Movement, United Democrats and Labor Party condemned Devdariani's appointment on 1 September as "unacceptable," Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. They pointed out that she is a former parliament deputy from the Socialist Party, which is now a member of the pro-Shevardnadze For a New Georgia election bloc, and predicted that she will be unable to remain neutral, but will act on Shevardnadze's orders to ensure that bloc wins the 2 November parliamentary election. Devdariani affirmed on 1 September that the opposition will have no reason to fault her handling of the ballot, Caucasus Press reported. She added that she does not know how to set about falsifying election returns. Also on 1 September, Devdariani annulled a controversial ruling by the outgoing CEC restricting media coverage of election-related developments, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS CHECHEN REPATRIATION
Stanislav Ilyasov, who is Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs, held talks on 1 September in Tbilisi with senior Georgian officials on the voluntary return to Chechnya of the estimated 2,500 Chechen refugees currently resident in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Ilyasov told journalists after the talks that officials from Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry will soon travel to Pankisi to meet with the refugees and try to persuade them to return to Chechnya. He said families will be paid $12,000 compensation for destroyed housing and that those without work will receive unemployment benefits, Interfax reported. LF
GEORGIANS PROTEST ELECTRICITY CUTOFFS
Some 1,000 people staged a protest on 1 September in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi against progressive reductions in the amount of electric power supplied to the region, which is now down to five or six hours per day, ITAR-TASS reported. A similar protest was reported on 31 August in the northern raion of Kazbegi. Some 20 Georgian raions have had energy supplies cut in retaliation for payment arrears, but the Zugdidi protesters say they have paid their bills (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). Georgian Energy Minister Mamuka Nikolaishvili met on 1 September with Bondo Djikia, governor of the region that includes Zugdidi, to discuss the energy situation, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 1 September, Russia's Unified Energy Systems took over from the U.S. company AES-Telasi management of the Telasi energy-distribution company that provides power to the Georgian capital, Interfax reported. LF
GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS JOIN WAR VETERANS' HUNGER STRIKE
Thirty members of the Georgian guerrilla bands operating in the Abkhaz conflict zone have traveled to Tbilisi to join the hunger strike that Georgian veterans of the Abkhaz war began 10 days ago, Caucasus Press reported. The hunger strikers are demanding the resignation of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile and of Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 28 August 2003). David Shengelia, who heads the Forest Brothers guerrilla formation, said police in Kutaisi halted a bus carrying 100 of his men who intended to travel to Tbilisi to join the hunger strike. On 1 September, two leading members of the opposition National Movement accused Nadareishvili of corruption and called for his immediate resignation, Rustavi-2 reported. LF
RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT VISITS ABKHAZIA
First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin met in Sukhum on 1 September with Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba to discuss implementation of the agreements reached during talks in Sochi in March between the presidents of Russia and Georgia on measures to promote a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). Loshchinin stressed the importance of enabling Georgian displaced persons to return to their abandoned homes in Abkhazia and praised the measures taken by the Abkhaz government to prepare for that process. Loshchinin also criticized as overly emotional Georgia's reaction to the granting of Russian citizenship to some Abkhaz. He said that those Abkhaz who already have Russian citizenship will in due course receive Russian passports, but denied that passports will be distributed to the entire population of the unrecognized republic. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT LAYS OUT COUNTRY'S MAJOR GOALS...
Speaking to the World Congress of Kyrgyz in the resort of Cholpon-Ata on 29 August, Askar Akaev laid out Kyrgyzstan's three major goals for the next stage of the country's development, akipress.org reported on 1 September. Those goals are to complete constitutional and administrative reform and the reform of the courts and the law enforcement system by 2010, creating the basis for a country that respects human rights. Next, Akaev said, will come reforms directed toward solving concrete social problems. By 2010, poverty in the country should be cut by half. The third goal is to lay the foundations for Kyrgyzstan to become part of the information age, a country with high technology and highly educated citizens. Akaev said these goals will not be achieved in the next five years, but the experiences of the country's first 12 years of independence have shown that there are no problems that are insurmountable. BB
...AND PROMISES MORE HELP FOR KYRGYZ DIASPORA...
President Akaev also told the congress that Kyrgyzstan intends to expand its assistance to the more than 500,000 ethnic Kyrgyz living outside the country, akipress.org reported on 1 September. Much of the specific help mentioned by Akaev would be in the field of education, including student and teacher exchanges, opening Kyrgyz-language schools in areas with Kyrgyz populations, and designating quotas of places in higher-educational institutions for ethnic Kyrgyz from abroad. Akaev noted that the largest segment of the Kyrgyz diaspora -- he gave a figure of more than 370,000 -- lives in Uzbekistan, where there are more than 40 schools with Kyrgyz as the language of instruction. More than 150,000 ethnic Kyrgyz are reportedly living in China's Kyzyl-Su Autonomous Okrug. About 106,000 Kyrgyz are in Tajikistan, about 11,000 in Kazakhstan, and, according to fragmentary data, some 100,000 Kyrgyz live in Russia. Akaev told the congress, however, that the 4,000 ethnic Kyrgyz living in Turkey around Lake Van have indicated they would like to emigrate to their ancestral homeland, but Kyrgyzstan is not in a financial position to help them do so. BB
...AS CONGRESS ADOPTS DEMOCRATIC CODE
The World Congress of Kyrgyz ended with the adoption of a Democratic Code for Kyrgyzstan, kabar.kg reported on 1 September. Before the congress, the authorities were sharply criticized by the opposition for planning to submit the document for approval to an unelected body that would not be representative of the political spectrum or the entire multiethnic population of Kyrgyzstan. Journalist Ahmetjan Saipjanov warned in an article that appeared on centrasia.ru on 29 August that the celebration of the purported 2,200th anniversary of Kyrgyz statehood, of which the World Congress of Kyrgyz was a part, could stir up tensions between the Kyrgyz majority and the country's other ethnic groups, particularly the Uzbeks. BB
TAJIK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ARAL SEA FUND TO HAVE STATUS OF UN AGENCY
Speaking to a meeting of the board of the International Fund for the Aral Sea (IFAS) in Dushanbe, Imomali Rakhmonov, current president of the board, called for the IFAS to be given the status of a United Nations agency, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 29 August. The meeting was dedicated to the 10th anniversary of IFAS's founding and coincided with the UN-sponsored International Freshwater Forum that opened in Dushanbe on 30 August in connection with the International Year of Freshwater. According to Rakhmonov, the main achievement of IFAS in the last 10 years has been an agreement among the Central Asian heads of state to avoid conflict by seeking jointly to solve the region's water problems. He added that Central Asians have managed to demonstrate the global significance of the Aral problem to the world community, but now the international community needs to boost its efforts to improve the environmental and socioeconomic situation in the Aral basin. BB
TURKMEN EXILE OPPOSITION GROUP APPEALS FOR UN TO RAISE ISSUE OF TURKMENISTAN
The Turkmen opposition group in exile Watan has appealed to the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the OSCE to put the situation in Turkmenistan on the agenda of the UN Security Council, Deutsche Welle reported on 1 September. The group's objective is to have the international community remove the Turkmen regime and establish a constitutional system and a democratic society under the auspices of international organizations. The appeal reportedly contains a list of violations of constitutional standards committed by the government of President Saparmurat Niyazov in recent years. When the UN Commission on Human Rights censured Turkmenistan in April 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003) for its human rights performance, the commission recommended that the situation in Turkmenistan be placed on the agenda of the UN General Assembly meeting in September. BB
TURKMENISTAN FORMS STATE COMMISSION TO FIGHT TERRORISM
A State Antiterrorism Commission was formed during an expanded session of Turkmenistan's cabinet of ministers on 1 September, turkmenistan.ru reported the next day. Creation of the commission was approved at the session of the People's Assembly on 15 August. Its main function is to coordinate the antiterrorism activities of state agencies. The commission's membership includes the president, the cabinet, and the heads of law enforcement agencies and of oblast administrations. The president used the cabinet meeting, which was devoted primarily to agricultural issues such as increasing the country's cotton crop, to blast state television for duplication and a lack of creativity, newscentralasia.com reported on 2 September. Niyazov noted that despite his frequent criticism, state television has failed to improve. BB
UZBEK ACTIVIST BEATEN ON EVE OF PARLIAMENT SESSION
On the eve of a two-day session of Uzbekistan's Olii Majlis (Supreme Assembly) on 29-30 August, prominent Uzbek human rights activist Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, was severely beaten by unidentified persons and had to be hospitalized, Deutsche Welle reported on 1 September. On the day the session opened, Uzbek police broke up a demonstration by about 20 human rights activists in front of the parliament building, and prominent activist Elena Urlaeva said she was threatened that the next time she is detained, she will be charged with terrorism, according to a report by utro.ru on 29 August. A group of picketers in front of the president's office on 28 August received more polite treatment from the police, who reportedly promised that their grievances will be looked into. BB
PRESIDENT SAYS UZBEKISTAN WON'T SEND SPECIALISTS TO NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Islam Karimov told Deutsche Welle on 1 September that Uzbekistan will not send specialists to northern Afghanistan to help the international antiterrorism coalition in their dealings with the region's Uzbek-speaking inhabitants. German Defense Minister Peter Struck had raised the question of Uzbek assistance when he visited the country in August. Karimov was quoted as saying the issue has not been raised with him, and at present the only Uzbek citizens working in Afghanistan are involved in construction projects. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES TO SLAM RUSSIA'S POSITION ON CURRENCY UNION
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 September reiterated his criticism of Russia's position on the planned currency union with Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August 2003), Belapan reported. "If we conclude the agreement without resolving economic and financial issues...we might be left without money, wages, and pensions," he noted. "Today Russia's leadership, the new leadership, does not want to follow the path that we have followed for the last eight or nine years. They propose to us replacing all our [previous] agreements with one on the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus." The Belarusian president said he first expects Russia to offer Belarusian companies equal treatment and unrestrained access to Russian markets. Meanwhile, Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the same day that Moscow is ready to sign a common-currency agreement with Minsk. Kudrin pointed out that the two countries' finance ministers and central-bank governors have already initialed this agreement. JM
BELARUSIAN LYCEUM STUDENTS, TEACHERS START NEW SCHOOL YEAR IN OPEN AIR
Teachers and 141 students of the closed Yakub Kolas National Humanities Lyceum (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 August 2003) took part in an open-air ceremony on 1 September to mark the beginning of the new school year, Belapan reported. The lyceum is the only pre-university school in Minsk that provides instruction in all subjects in the Belarusian language. The government closed it in June. "We swear to see to it that educational institutions like our lyceum increase in number in our fatherland," read the oath taken by the students on the street in front of the building of their former school. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS MULL CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
The leaders of Our Ukraine (Viktor Yushchenko), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (Yuliya Tymoshenko), the Socialist Party (Oleksandr Moroz), and the Communist Party (Petro Symonenko) met in Kyiv on 1 September to discuss cooperation regarding the recent political-reform plan proposed by President Leonid Kuchma (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 August and 2 September 2003), Interfax reported. Tymoshenko told journalists that the four want to pursue two tasks simultaneously: implement a constitutional reform, and "remove the clans from power." She said the constitutional changes proposed by Moroz and Symonenko have been "accepted in general" by the four, adding that there is a possibility of compromise on a "number of controversial issues." In particular, Tymoshenko said there is no agreement among them on whether the constitutional changes should be introduced in 2004 or 2006, or on whether the president should be elected by direct ballot or by parliament. JM
VERKHOVNA RADA CONVENES AFTER SUMMER RECESS
Ukrainian lawmakers gathered in Kyiv on 2 September for a new session following their summer recess, Interfax reported. They are expected to consider nearly 900 bills during the session, including one on amending the constitution in order to reform the country's political system (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 September 2003). This week lawmakers will work in parliamentary committees, while their plenary sitting is scheduled to begin on 9 September. JM
EU OFFICIAL SAYS ESTONIA WON THE BEST EU ACCESSION DEAL
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Prime Minister Juhan Parts in Tallinn on 1 September that Estonia has achieved the best accession agreement among the candidate countries, BNS reported. Verheugen noted the country still must take additional domestic measures in a few areas such as fishing. He said the EU will not punish Estonia if it votes "no" in the upcoming EU membership referendum, but inquired: "Where will you find a market for your products, investors, and who will protect Estonia's interests on the international level?" According to Verheugen, geography and history are the two main factors that will influence Estonians to vote in favor of joining the EU. Parts informed Verheugen about the positions that Estonia will probably take at the EU intergovernmental congress in October, although they might still be modified as a result of suggestions from the government or parliament. SG
NEW LATVIAN POLITICAL PARTY FOUNDED
More than 200 people participated in a 28 August meeting during which a new left-wing party, Briva Izvele Tautu Eiropa (BITE, or Free Choice in a Europe of Peoples), was established, BNS reported the next day. The congress elected parliament deputies Jakovs Pliners, who left the National Harmony Party (TSP) earlier that day, and Nikolajs Kabanovs as the new party's chairman and secretary, respectively, and a 15-member council. Kabanovs said the party's main aim will be to protect the interests of the Russian community in Latvia, and the party's name was chosen to indicate its support for Latvia joining the EU. On 29 August, the two parliament deputies joined by three deputies from the Equal Rights Party reestablished the For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) faction, which had ceased to exist after the TSP and Latvia's Socialist Party (LSP) quit it earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003 and 9 June 2003). SG
DEBATE RAGES OVER LITHUANIAN DEFENSE SPENDING AFTER 2004
Former Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis told a press conference in Vilnius on 1 September that he is worried about the failure of the current ruling coalition to extend the 2000 agreement among Lithuanian political parties to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense for another four years, "Kauno diena" reported on 2 September. He expressed the fear that the accord, which expires in May 2004, might not be extended as "the interests of the state might be sacrificed for the interests of the ruling party." Deputies of the ruling Social Democratic Party rejected the charges, stating that there is no need to hurry to extend the agreement, as it is still valid. Parliament Deputy Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis even stated that it should be discussed in September 2004 before the parliament elections. SG
POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS GERMAN CENTER AGAINST EXPULSIONS IS POLITICALLY RISKY
President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in Warsaw on 1 September that the controversial idea to set up a Center Against Expulsions in Berlin (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 August 2003) carries a great moral and political risk, Polish Radio reported. In his address to former servicemen to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, Kwasniewski said this idea might place barriers on the way to Polish-German reconciliation. "One has to remember, however, the entire historical context of the expulsions which the German population experienced in 1944 and 1945," Kwasniewski noted. "One has to see the difference between causes and effects, remember who started the war, who was the aggressor and who was the victim of the attack." Prime Minister Leszek Miller said the same day that the Center Against Expulsions, if it is to be established, must have a European character and take into account expulsions of other European nations, PAP reported. JM
POLISH-LED FORCE IN IRAQ REPORTEDLY TO INCLUDE U.S. TROOPS
The multinational division commanded by General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz in the Polish stabilization zone in Iraq will number more than 12,000 troops and include some 2,500 U.S. soldiers, PAP reported on 29 August, quoting Tyszkiewicz's spokesman, Andrzej Wiatrowski. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told the agency the same day that a rotation command system might be introduced in the Polish zone in Iraq, with Spain periodically replacing Poland as the area's administrator. Szmajdzinski said the final word on the matter belongs to Washington and London. A poll conducted by the CBOS polling agency on 1-4 August found that 60 percent of Poles are against the participation of Polish troops in the operation in Iraq, while 34 percent support the Polish mission. JM
MEETING IN PRAGUE, SMALL COUNTRIES DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM DRAFT EU CONSTITUTION
Fifteen representatives of EU candidate countries and some of the smaller current EU members, meeting in Prague on 1 September, said in a joint declaration that they have identified a range of issues that separate their collective view of the proposed European Constitution from the position of the continent's larger countries, dpa reported. These issues range from "some aspects of institutional structures [and] decision-making procedures, to special types of flexible cooperation, which could require further consideration." The statement did not name specific demands by different countries and called the draft constitution "a good basis" for the Intergovernmental Conference slated for 4 October in Rome. Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, and Baltic countries attended the meeting alongside representatives of Austria, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and the Scandinavian countries. Last week, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned in Prague against reopening the draft for debates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). MS
CZECH PREMIER OFFICIALLY NOMINATES NEW JUSTICE MINISTER
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla officially nominated lawyer Karel Cermak to be the Czech Republic's new justice minister, CTK and international media reported on 29 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). President Vaclav Klaus still must confirm Cermak in the post. In related news, on 29 August Klaus appointed Dagmar Lastovecka as a judge on the Constitutional Court, CTK reported. Lastovecka is a former senator representing the opposition Civic Democratic Party. Her father, former Constitutional Court President Zdenek Kessel, died last week. MS
NEW CZECH SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS WITH STRIKE
Thousands of teachers walked off their job on 1 September, the first day of the new school year, CTK and international news agencies reported. More than half of the country's nearly 72,000 teachers and school administrators took part in the "warning strike," according to teachers' union estimates. The unions complain the government has failed to deliver the promised 5 billion crowns ($167 million) in salary increases. The strike follows the government's decision to impose austerity measures aimed at reducing the record budget deficit from 128 billion crowns to 87 billion over the next three years. CTK said this was the largest protest strike in the history of the Czech Republic. MS
UN CRITICIZES SITUATION OF CZECH ROMA
In its 63rd annual report, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee criticized Czech handling of Roma affairs and the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, CTK reported on 1 September. The committee said it is "concerned by the continuation of acts of racially motivated violence, incitement to hatred, persistence of intolerance and de-facto discrimination, in particular of members of the Roma minority" in the Czech Republic. It recommended that the government "pursue and intensify its efforts toward a more effective implementation of current legislation." MS
FORMER CZECH CULTURE MINSTER TIGRID DIES
Pavel Tigrid, who was culture minister between 1994-96, died on 31 August in France at the age of 85, CTK and international news agencies reported. Tigrid worked for the BBC Czechoslovak section after the German occupation of 1939 and left again for exile in West Germany after the 1948 communist takeover in his country. He was director of RFE's Czech broadcasts in Munich, then left for the United States, and finally settled in France. He wrote several books and published a journal for Czechoslovak exiles in France, supporting dissidents and the Prague Spring movement. Tigrid returned to Prague after the fall of communism in 1989, served as adviser to President Vaclav Havel and later served as minister of culture. MS
MECIAR WOULD TEMPORARILY SUPPORT MINORITY GOVERNMENT IN SLOVAKIA
Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar, the former prime minister, said on Slovak Television on 1 September that he would consider supporting a minority government headed by current Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, provided certain conditions are met, TASR reported. The four-party, center-right cabinet headed by Dzurinda has been long riven by conflict and there are speculations that the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) might leave the coalition. Meciar said such support could be extended by the HZDS provided that early elections would be called at the earliest possible date, but the party would not support the cabinet for its remaining three-year term. He said the country needs political stability ahead of joining the EU, most likely in May 2004. Meciar said his party's support would be conditioned upon introducing social measures and negotiating the cabinet's make-up. He said the performance of the current ministers has been so poor that every second Slovak could replace them. MS
SLOVAK CLERGY CRITICIZE 'MEDIA INCITEMENT' AGAINST CATHOLIC CHURCH
Slovak Bishops' Conference spokesman Marian Gavenda told CTK on 1 September that some journalists are creating a hostile atmosphere against the Roman Catholic Church ahead of the planned 11-14 September visit by Pope John Paul II. Gavenda said those journalists constantly mention in reports that the cost of the visit will be some 80 million crowns (about $2 million). He said the visit is priceless, as it will greatly contribute to improving Slovakia's image abroad. Gavenda said that mainly "commercial media and tabloids" disseminate information leading to the "creation of hostility towards the church. They seek to create the impression that we [believers] are parasites of society," he said. Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec said on Slovak Television that it is regrettable and displays a lack of culture to talk about money in connection with the pontiff's visit. Trnava Archbishop Jan Sokol told a meeting of Roman Catholic youth on 31 August that he fears that a "conspiracy" is under way against the church, according to a 1 September report in the Czech daily "Pravo." MS
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION HEAD WORRIED ABOUT ECONOMIC SITUATION
FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban said on 31 August that "Hungary cannot renounce the development of its economy and investment projects, nor [can it renounce] supporting its own entrepreneurs and farmers, as this is the only way to provide jobs to people," the daily "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Orban, a former prime minister, warned that if any country abandons such plans its economy would plummet "like an airplane that has been shot down." Ildiko Lendvai, chairwoman of the Socialist Party parliamentary group, countered that if Orban means what he said, then "he should urge his fellow party members not to shoot down the airplane, and should not endanger the economic equilibrium with irresponsible demands," the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER WRAPS UP CHINA VISIT
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy ended a three-day visit to China on 29 August after meeting with People's Assembly speaker Wu Bangguo, Hungarian media reported the next day. Medgyessy told Hungarian journalists that Hungary stands a good chance to become a regional center for Chinese companies in Central Europe. He explained that China's trade with Hungary is larger than with any other country in the region, the Bank of China has established a subsidiary in Budapest, and large Chinese companies operate in the Hungarian capital. He warned, however, that trade between the two countries is lopsided and the Hungarian deficit is considerable. MS
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO ROMANIAN COUNTERPART OVER STATUE
President Ferenc Madl sent a letter on 1 September to his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu, expressing regret that a Romanian ministerial committee has decided against re-erecting in Arad the Liberty Statue, Hungarian media reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2003). Madl said that "in recent years we were pleased to note that the commemoration of the day of the [Hungarian] martyrs of the 1848 independence took place under honorable circumstances" in Transylvania. It is the more regrettable that the committee decided against re-erecting the statue of the 13 Hungarian generals executed by the Habsburg Empire in 1849, he said. MS
SLOVENIA RECALLS ITS AMBASSADOR FROM CROATIA
The Slovenian Foreign Ministry announced on 31 August that it has recalled its ambassador to Croatia "for consultations," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said the next day that remarks made by his Croatian counterpart, Tonino Picula, to the daily "Slobodna Dalmacija" to the effect that the 2001 agreement on the maritime and land borders between the two countries has not been signed or ratified and hence is not legally binding, were unacceptable. Croatia is planning to declare an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic that would cut Slovenia off from international waters. Ljubljana opposes the move on the grounds that it will prejudice the final demarcation of the maritime frontier (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 August 2003). The recall of the Slovenian ambassador suggests that relations between the two former Yugoslav republics are at their lowest point since the two states declared independence from Belgrade in June 1991. PM
WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL QUESTIONS CROATIAN GENERAL
Representatives of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal began questioning former General Mirko Norac in Zagreb on 1 September about his role in the 1993 Medak Pocket operation and in Operation Storm in 1995, Croatian and international media reported. He has already been sentenced by a Croatian court to 12 years in jail for the killing of at least 50 Serbian civilians in the Gospic area in 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 2003). If the tribunal indicts him, he is expected to be tried in The Hague rather than by a Croatian court. PM
STORM ENDS SUMMER HEAT WAVE IN MUCH OF FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
A storm that included torrential rain, hail, and powerful winds caused a drop of 10 degrees Celsius in temperatures in much of the northern part of former Yugoslavia during the night of 31 August-1 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. One person was killed on the Slovenian coast and several dozen people were treated for injuries in Serbia's Vojvodina region and elsewhere. In northern Bosnia, there were reports of damage to telephone and electric power lines. In Zrenjanin in Vojvodina, hailstones broke windowpanes throughout entire apartment buildings, dpa reported. PM
LARGE-SCALE POLICE OPERATION IN MACEDONIA...
In an effort to arrest members of unspecified "armed groups," police forces have sealed off several villages between Kumanovo in northern Macedonia and the Macedonian-Serbian border, Macedonian media reported. An OSCE spokeswoman confirmed that over the weekend of 30-31 August, hundreds of women and children left the village of Vaksince to avoid being caught in a possible crossfire, Makfax reported. The police operation follows a kidnapping on 27 August and a series of grenade attacks on government buildings, a courthouse, and an army barracks in Skopje on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 August 2003). UB
...LEADS TO AN ULTIMATUM
On 1 September, the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) said in an e-mail statement that the Macedonian security forces must leave the area they recently occupied by 2 p.m. the following day or the AKSH will "order its forces to act with all means to carry out their patriotic, civil and democratic duty," Reuters reported. The ultimatum stressed that the "armed colonizer" must leave the Albanians to live in peace in their own homes. An unnamed policeman told the news agency "villagers here are scared because they think we are going to do something bad to them. But we're only checking some cars and identity cards. The activities of the police are not aimed at civilians. We need the local people to help us capture this group." He noted that the police units present include ethnic Albanians. PM
KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER WARNS OF DESTABILIZATION ATTEMPT
Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 1 September that the unknown grenade-throwers who killed one Serb and wounded four others in Cernica near Gjilan the previous day may be seeking to destabilize Kosova, Reuters reported. The prime minister stressed "the latest incidents of violence create an unbearable situation for Kosova citizens. It seems somebody is interested in committing such criminal acts in order to create fear and to diminish the outlook for Kosova." Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), called the latest violent incident a "despicable occurrence that tarnishes the image" of Kosova. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told the private Beta news agency that "it looks like they've started a hunt on Serbs" in the province. He did not specify who "they" might be (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). PM
SERBIAN MINISTER SLAMS ALBANIAN LEADER OVER KOSOVA
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Covic said in Belgrade on 30 August that recent remarks by Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano that Kosova cannot be returned to Serbia show that the Serbian parliament's recent resolution on Kosova upsets those in the Balkans opposed to a peaceful solution of regional problems, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). Covic added that Nano's remarks amount to interference in Serbia's internal affairs. The deputy prime minister is one of several Serbian politicians who have used strong rhetoric regarding Kosova recently in advance of elections that are widely expected within the next 12 months. PM
UN LAUNCHES WEAPONS COLLECTION DRIVE IN KOSOVA
UNMIK began a campaign in Prishtina on 1 September during which no questions will be asked of people turning in illegal weapons before 30 September, dpa reported. After that date, anyone found in possession of illegal arms faces up to eight years in prison or a fine of up to $8,450. The UN estimates that there are up to 400,000 illegal weapons in the province, which, like much of the Balkans, is home to an age-old gun culture. PM
INDICTED SERBIAN GANGSTER ARRESTED IN SWEDEN
RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported from Belgrade on 1 September that Darko Milicevic, who is one of the alleged members of the Zemun Clan gangster group wanted in connection with the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, has been arrested in Sweden. Serbian authorities expect him to be extradited in 10-15 days, leaving 14 of the 45 people wanted in the Djindjic case still at large (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, 25 July, and 8 August 2003). PM
BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENT CHALLENGES RIVALS TO PROPOSE ALTERNATIVES
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 1 September that the government has not lived up to expectations "in some areas," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported. He mentioned privatization, production, economic growth, and the legal system as sectors in need of improvement. Cavic added, however, that he is tired of carping by opposition politicians and called on them to propose alternatives to government policies. PM
LABOR UNREST HITS BOSNIA
More than 4,000 steel workers went on strike in Zenica on 2 September to call attention to their fears that Kuwaiti investors will not respect an agreement covering wages and other issues reached between their union and the government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported. In the Bihac area, an unspecified number of workers at the Zitoprerada enterprise decided on 1 September to continue their hunger strike after management and the government agreed to use police to provide security at the complex. In Mostar's Hercegovacko-neretvanski Canton, Croatian teachers went on strike to protest what they said was the government's refusal to meet any of their demands in connection with the introduction of a unified education system (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). PM
ROMANIA WILLING TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Bucharest on 29 August after talks with his Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, that Romania is ready to send more troops to Afghanistan to help stabilize and rebuild that country, Reuters reported. "As a future NATO member, we are deeply interested in seeing Afghanistan even more stable," Geoana said. Romania currently has 50 soldiers in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and more than 400 in the force led by the United States. Abdullah also held talks with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and was received by President Ion Iliescu. MS
HIGH-LEVEL FOREIGN PERSONALITIES ADDRESS ROMANIAN AMBASSADORIAL FORUM
Addressing a forum of Romanian ambassadors in Bucharest on 29 August, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said Romania has become one of the most important partners of the North Atlantic alliance, Mediafax reported. Burns said NATO experts feel that Romania has undergone the most effective military restructuring process of all future NATO members. He also said NATO will never demand that Bucharest choose between it and the EU. Addressing the same forum on 1 September, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Bucharest can count on German backing for membership of the EU in 2007. He added that Romania must still reform its justice and public-administration systems and intensify the struggle against corruption. Both Burns and Fischer held talks with Prime Minister Nastase and President Iliescu. MS
ROMANIAN EU INTEGRATION MINISTER ASKS PNA TO INVESTIGATE CORRUPTION CHARGES
EU Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak on 29 August asked the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) to investigate charges that she has mishandled EU funds, facilitating access to those funds by companies led by her husband and son, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and Democratic Party both demanded that Puwak resign or be dismissed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 July 2003). MS
ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY APPROVES ALLIANCE WITH LIBERALS...
The National Conference of the Democratic Party approved on 29 August the formation's alliance with the PNL in the parliamentary elections slated for the end of 2004 or early 2005, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The conference approved a resolution stating that the Democratic Party shall "engage all its experience, force, and responsibility" for the envisaged alliance's success in the elections. The resolution also said the party will stick to its social-democratic doctrine and will remain a member of the Socialist International. In related news, PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan said on 29 August that in the next elections he and Democratic Party Chairman Train Basescu will run "as a tandem," Mediafax reported. The PNL Permanent Delegation on the same day approved the continuation of negotiations between the two parties. MS
...WHILE PSD DIVORCE FROM PUR TURNS STORMY
The Humanist Party's (PUR) Standing Bureau approved as expected on 30 August the end of the alliance with the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). PUR Chairman Dan Voiculescu said his party will join the opposition and will run on its own separate lists in the next parliamentary elections. He also said PUR's goal is 10 percent of the vote. PSD spokesman Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz said in reaction that the PUR gained access to the legislature in 2000 only because it ran on joint lists with the PSD, and that unless it joins another alliance it risks becoming an extraparliamentary party. PSD Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc said on 31 August that the PUR "made a mistake" and that many PSD members will feel relieved by the end of the alliance, Mediafax reported. On 1 September, the three senators who represent the PUR in parliament -- Ioan Pop de Popa, Aurel Leca, and Dinu Martin -- resigned from the PUR and announced they intend to join the PSD parliamentary group, according to Romanian Radio. MS
NEW ROMANIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL APPOINTED
President Iliescu on 29 August appointed Ilie Botos as Romania's next prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Botos, who was PNA deputy prosecutor-general, replaces Joita Tanase, who resigned last week citing personal health issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003). On 30 August, Foreign Minister Geoana said he has offered Tanase the position of general consul in Strasbourg and is awaiting Tanase's response, Mediafax reported. MS
ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
By a vote of 103-1, the Senate approved on 1 September the constitutional amendments proposed by the all-party parliamentary commission tasked with formulating them, Romanian Radio reported. The amendments include the controversial provision granting members of national minorities the right to use their native languages in courts of justice. A compromise was reached between the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and the amendment's opponents, stipulating that members of national minorities may use their native languages in court if this does not obstruct the proceedings. According to the private Antena 1 television channel, this signifies that minorities will not be able to do so in counties where the ethnic majority is Romanian. Senators representing the nationalist Greater Romania Party boycotted the vote. The Democratic Party said that it would vote against the constitutional amendments if the Senate-Chamber of Deputies mediation commission approved the lower house's version of the amendments, which did not include the compromise reached in the upper house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July and 29 August 2003). MS
ROMANIAN MINISTER ANNOUNCES SUBSTANTIAL LAYOFFS AMONG RAILWAY WORKERS
Transportation, Construction, and Tourism Minister Miron Mitrea said on 1 September that 16,101 railway workers will be made redundant by late September, Mediafax reported. Railways trade unions leader Voicu Sala responded that the unions will not accept this decision and might decide to go on a general strike. MS
MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS ABSENT FROM 'LANGUAGE DAY' CELEBRATIONS
Neither President Vladimir Voronin nor Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev took part in the 31 August celebrations of Language Day, which is an official holiday in Moldova, Flux reported the same day. Tarlev was scheduled to open a bookstand in Chisinau but canceled without explanation, according to BASA-press. Romanian Radio reported that poet Adrian Paunescu, who represents the ruling PSD in the Romanian parliament, was present at the festivities. The Moldovan authorities denied on 1 September that they had canceled the scheduled unveiling on Poets' Alley in Chisinau of a bust representing Romanian writer Liviu Rebreanu. A Culture Ministry official told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau that the ceremony was merely postponed, due to the government's plans to renovate the alley. MS
TRANSDNIESTER LEADER CHASTISES VORONIN
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov told journalists on 31 August that Transdniester is ready to negotiate with Moldova on establishing a federation, but only on condition that this would be "a contractual federation consisting of two equal states," Infotag reported. Smirnov predicted "a hot political autumn," but did not elaborate. He said Chisinau is "conducting negotiations simply for the sake of negotiating" and that "three months were wasted on formalities related to the constitutional commission's work." Smirnov repeatedly criticized Moldovan President Voronin, insisting that he is a communist who heads a communist party. "That communist president applied a whole web of blockades against Transdniester, including an economic one," he said. Despite those efforts, Transdniester has managed to increase its gross domestic product by 25 percent in the first half of 2003, Smirnov stressed. MS
BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL PROPOSES CIVIL RIGHTS LIMITATIONS TO FIGHT CRIME
Speaking after a meeting with President Georgi Parvanov on 1 September, Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev said the state should consider limiting citizens' civil rights to help fight organized crime, "Dnevnik" reported. "If we analyze the growing number of killings, thefts, rapes, financial frauds, and money-laundering cases, what must we do?" Filchev asked. "In any case, [we must not] bolster the rights of the defendants, but the opposite." Filchev added that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was drafted when organized crime was not an issue. "Today, however, there is organized crime, and it has established total control over society," Filchev warned. "A criminal dictatorship is as dangerous as a political one." UB
BULGARIAN TOP BRASS CRITICIZES PLANNED REDUCTION OF ARMY
In a lecture at Sofia's Military Academy, Chief of the General Staff General Nikola Kolev on 1 September criticized government plans to reduce the army, mediapool.bg reported. Kolev said the army must maintain its current strength of 45,000 personnel. The Defense Ministry, however, plans to reduce the army to some 30,000-33,000. Kolev also criticized the government's economic policy, saying its inconsistent privatization policy, the lack of foreign investment, high unemployment rates, and demographic problems are potential threats to the country's security -- as are regional conflicts, international terrorism, and organized crime, Darik Radio reported. UB
BOSNIA LAUNCHES INTEGRATED EDUCATION
On 1 September, pupils and students in Bosnia-Herzegovina begin a new school year. In contrast to recent years, their schools will now be part of a single unified system. At least in theory.
Education officials of the Croat-Muslim federation, the Republika Srpska, the cantonal governments, and the Brcko district government signed an OSCE-sponsored agreement in Sarajevo on 8 August to replace the three ethnically based education systems with a unified one.
This step is part of a broader educational reform project headed by OSCE Ambassador Robert Beecroft aimed at ending the costly duplication of administrative structures. Until now -- in some mixed Muslim and Croat areas in particular -- separate, parallel systems existed in one and the same school building, with pupils of different ethnic groups using the same computer facilities or other specialized equipment at different times of the day. Under the reform, 52 mixed Croat and Muslim schools will now operate from the same budget and presumably share administrations and facilities.
Immense problems nonetheless remain. Many nationalist politicians, administrators, and teachers have already made it clear that they will obstruct the changes, which threaten the jobs of some of them. To avoid such disruptions, there will always be the costly temptation to engage in featherbedding. This could materialize in Tito-era Yugoslav style by appointing "deputies" of one ethnic group to an official of a different ethnicity who actually does the work in question.
The necessary reform legislation is supposed to be passed within six months by the parliament of the Republika Srpska and by the legislatures of each canton in the Muslim-Croat federation, but it is clear that there will be numerous attempts at foot-dragging on that front, too.
At stake, of course, is the whole issue of the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unified and multiethnic state. The three nationalist parties won the 2002 elections and are in a good position to influence the course of events on the ground, despite the ability of the international community to use financial incentives and administrative sanctions to promote reforms. In particular, some Croatian officials belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) have argued that they need to maintain their own school system lest they become dominated by and assimilated into the much larger Muslim population.
The reforms, moreover, also envision an eventual transition from three distinct curricula and sets of schoolbooks to a single one. As it stands, three different systems are in use, with the Croatian and Serbian ones taken essentially from the education ministries of Croatia and Serbia, respectively.
In literature, history, and the social sciences, nationalist views are predominant in all three sets of textbooks. Children in the Republika Srpska learn that "our country is Serbia," for example, and each system presents its own interpretation of recent history that is in stark contrast to that of the other two.
Yet another problem is a unified language of instruction. Serbo-Croatian is a single language with recognizable dialect differences based primarily on geography, not on ethnicity. The Serbs and Croats of Bosnia speak more like their Muslim neighbors than like their cousins in Serbia or Croatia. But since 1991 at the latest, the principle has been accepted among nationalists across former Yugoslavia that each people must have its own language, just as each must have its own flag.
For the Slovenes, Macedonians, and Albanians, this was no problem. But in the Serbo-Croatian-speaking areas, nationalists have sought to accentuate real or imagined differences to create separate Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian "languages," and use the resulting often artificial formulations and grammatical structures in their respective textbooks. Were this principle applied to English, French, German, or Spanish, they would each have to be split into probably hundreds or thousands of "languages."
The results of post-Yugoslav linguistic political correctness have often been unintentionally amusing or even hilarious, such as when former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic -- whose normal speech reflects her Sarajevo origins -- used to appear on television affecting the Serbian of Belgrade. This is roughly the equivalent of U.S. Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton speaking on television with the southern accent of her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton. But the Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian nationalists -- who do not use interpreters among themselves -- can be expected to obstruct reforms by invoking the principle of linguistic identity.
Last but not least is the matter of the pupils and students themselves, who still attend ethnically segregated classes. One reason social segregation has also been generally effective in recent years is that peer pressure -- encouraged by parents and teachers -- has often proven highly intolerant of friendships or romances across the ethnic divides. Young people of one ethnic group often complain bitterly of taunting and even physical abuse when they try to attend a school dominated by a different ethnic group.
This will have to change if the reforms -- and Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unified, multi-ethnic state -- are to succeed. Programs and competitions might be encouraged in sports, music, the arts, and natural sciences where talent can potentially play a decisive role over ethnicity.
But this will only come to pass if parents and their children want it to. If they do not, then some more profound questions about the future of Bosnia and other multiethnic Balkan states will need to be honestly addressed.
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT OPENS TALKS WITH TALIBAN
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government has started negotiations with Taliban officials in several parts of the troubled southeastern province of Zabul, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 1 September. The negotiations are being conducted by senior government official Abdul Rehman Hotak on the authority of provincial governor Hafizullah, the Pakistan-based private news service said. Hotak represented his province in the Loya Jirga or traditional tribal assembly held in Kabul last year to endorse Karzai's presidency. "The Taliban are demanding guarantees that they will not be harmed. They are also seeking assurances that they will not be harassed by the coalition forces," said Hotak. Meanwhile Afghan forces supported by U.S. troops and aircraft are engaged in a major operation against suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda bases in the mountains of Daychopan district of Zabul Province, 300 kilometers southwest of Kabul. Afghan authorities believe up to 300 Taliban are regrouping in mountains in Zabul and neighboring Uruzgan, the birthplace of the Taliban's fugitive spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. TG
UN ENVOY HAILS NATIONAL ARMY'S PROGRESS
Lakhdar Brahimi, who is the senior United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, on 30 August hailed the progress achieved by Afghanistan's National Army and called for the swifter reconstruction of the country's war-shattered infrastructure, reported the UN News Service. Addressing the opening ceremony of the Afghan National Army Central Corps, Brahimi said that many Afghans courageously defended their country over the past quarter-century of conflict and destruction. "Now, however, it is time for them to go back with dignity to civilian life and continue serving their country and their people through other means," he said. Brahimi described the ceremony as an indication that peace, security, and stability have returned to Afghanistan. He added that soon, only members of the Afghan National Army and police will wear uniforms or carry guns. TG
ATTACK ON ROAD CONSTRUCTION TEAM KILLS SIX
A spokesman for a U.S.-based construction and engineering company, the Louis Berger Group (LBG), said that four people were killed and another four kidnapped when unidentified assailants attacked one of the company's guesthouses on the Kabul-Kandahar road on 1 September, IRIN reported. "The guest house was occupied by the contractor's personnel and local Afghans and it is where equipment is parked overnight," he told IRIN in Kabul. A vehicle from LBG's security firm was shot at with a rocket while traveling in the same area. LBG provides engineering, design, construction management, and other services to implement the U.S.- funded $250 million, 482-kilometer Kabul-Kandahar highway project. TG
UNHCR TO RE-HOUSE AFGHAN REFUGEES LIVING IN BOMBED-OUT RUINS
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on 31 August it will repair up to 30 abandoned public buildings in Kabul and help build 1,500 homes for an estimated 1,400 Afghan families squatting in bombed-out ruins, AFP reported. The $1.4 million project is being funded by the European Commission. Around 30 percent-40 percent of the population of greater Kabul are former refugees, UNHCR head of Afghan operations Filipo Grandi said on 28 August. TG
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE
The first item of business for the Iranian parliament on 2 September was voting to confirm Reza Faraji-Dana as science, research, and technology minister, ILNA reported. Later in the day, IRNA reported that the legislature rejected Faraji-Dana; with 220 parliamentarians voting, there were 86 in favor, 127 against, and seven undecided. Faraji-Dana, who became chancellor of Tehran University last year, met with the parliament's Education and Research Committee on 1 September to answer questions about his proposed program for the ministry, IRNA reported. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami had introduced Faraji-Dana in a 24 August letter to the legislature. The previous minister, Mustafa Moin, submitted his resignation in late July because of disputes relating to his plans for restructuring the ministry. BS
JORDANIAN KING VISITS IRAN
King Abdullah II of Jordan arrived in Tehran on 2 September, international media reported. IRNA reported the previous day that he was scheduled to meet with President Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and other officials to discuss the expansion of bilateral ties, and events in Iraq. The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily on 30 August criticized the Iranian Foreign Ministry's elaborate arrangements for receiving the monarch. The newspaper said that Jordan has been hostile to Iran since the revolution -- Amman backed the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, it cooperated with Saddam Hussein against Iran, it "always cooperated with the Zionist regime," and it "acts like an American pawn." If anything, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami," "this black record would justify a reconsideration of diplomatic ties." The leader of such a government should make concessions to be accepted as Iran's guest, the daily said, concessions should not be made. BS
BRITISH COURT WILL NOT GRANT BAIL FOR ARRESTED IRANIAN DIPLOMAT
Iranian students protested in front of the British embassy in Tehran on 1 September against the continuing detention in London of Iran's former ambassador to Argentina, Hadi Suleimanpur, dpa reported. Suleimanpur was taken into custody in England on 21 August on an international arrest warrant issued in connection with his alleged role in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded another 265. The British court on 29 August refused to grant bail, with Judge Christopher Pratt explaining this is because of the seriousness of the charges against Suleimanpur, dpa reported. Suleimanpur's lawyer said during the hearing that Tehran is prepared to "stake its own credibility" by providing 500,000 pounds ($788,450) bail. BS
INVESTIGATION INTO CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S KILLING CONTINUES...
The file on the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi has been returned to the Tehran Criminal Court for further investigation, IRNA reported on 1 September. Jafar Reshadati, who heads the criminal division of the Tehran Prosecutor's Office, returned the case and called for further information on 17 parts of the original file, ranging from Kazemi's initial arrest to the final report from the coroner's office. The initial investigation blamed two Ministry of Intelligence and Security interrogators for Kazemi's death (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). BS
...AND WILL AFFECT IRAN-CANADA ECONOMIC TIES
Seyyed Mohammad Ali Musavi, Iran's Ambassador to Canada, said in an interview with ILNA that appeared in the 1 September issue of "Nasim-i Saba" daily that the case of Zahra Kazemi "will definitely have a negative impact on public opinion" in Canada, and in turn this would affect economic and political relations. Musavi noted, "Trade relations cannot change over night. The economic impact of a particular event will be felt over the medium and long term unless governments issue instructions to the contrary in writing." Musavi added that Ottawa has promised to address the death of Keyvan Tabesh, who was shot in Vancouver in mid-July by the police officer he allegedly was attacking with a machete (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003). BS
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL APPOINTS CABINET
The Iraqi Governing Council announced the appointment of Iraq's first post-Hussein cabinet on 1 September, international media reported. The new ministers will oversee the day-to-day operations of Iraq's 25 ministries. The council stopped short, however, of naming a prime minister, and U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer will remain the final authority on all government decisions, Reuters reported. The appointees include Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari as minister of public works. She has been serving as the Kurdistan Regional Government's minister of reconstruction and development since 1999. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official Hoshyar Zebari will serve as foreign minister; Nuri Badran as interior minister; and Kamil al-Kaylani as finance minister. Abdul Basit Turki will hold the human rights portfolio, and Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, the son of Governing Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, will serve as oil minister. Hashim al-Shibli will serve as justice minister; and Abd al-Amir al-Abbud, was appointed minister of agriculture. The composition of the cabinet reflects the composition of the governing council, with 13 Shi'ites, five Sunni Arabs, five Kurds, one Christian, and one Turkoman. KR
FUNERAL PROCESSION FOR SLAIN CLERIC AL-HAKIM ENDS IN AL-NAJAF...
Thousands of Iraqis converged on the holy city of Al-Najaf on 2 September for the symbolic funeral of the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, a Shi'ite cleric killed in a double car bomb outside the Imam Ali mosque on 29 August, international press reported. The blast killed 83 people and injured 175 others. Al-Hakim's body has yet to be identified. Three days of mourning were marked by a funeral procession that began on 31 August in which a coffin containing al-Hakim's wedding band, wristwatch and turban -- all found at the blast site -- were carried from Baghdad through the towns of Karbala and al-Hillah enroute to Al-Najaf. Five suspects are in police custody for the deadly attack. The governor of the Al-Najaf province, Haydar al-Mayyali, told Al-Jazeera Television on 31 August that the suspects are all Iraqis with links to the deposed Hussein regime. Iraqi leaders have condemned the attacks, and some of them, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have blamed coalition forces for not providing security against such attacks in Iraq. Another SCIRI member, Ayatollah Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, was injured in an attack on his office in Al-Najaf on 22 August (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 August 2003). KR
...AS ATTACKS CONTINUE
A suspected car bomb detonated outside the Rasafah police station in Baghdad on 2 September, Al-Jazeera reported. A correspondent on the scene said that as many as 10 people were injured in the incident. The injured are thought to be Iraqi police personnel, since the site is closed to civilians. The car bomb was reportedly detonated in a parking lot "near the office of the Baghdad police chief," the correspondent noted. U.S. forces have secured the site, but have not yet commented on the incident. Two U.S. soldiers were killed elsewhere in Baghdad on 2 September when a vehicle they were traveling in hit an explosive device on one of Baghdad's main supply routes, Reuters reported a U.S. military spokeswoman as saying. KR
CARS PACKED WITH BOMBS DISCOVERED
Security forces in Iraq arrested four men on 31 August after discovering two cars packed with explosives in Al-Kufah, located some 10 kilometers from Al-Najaf, AFP reported on 1 September. "We found the seats [in one car] were not well designed and had new covers. This raised our suspicion and we searched the seats and found them filled with bombs," a local policeman told AFP, adding that the two occupants in the car were from the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. "Earlier we seized the same kind of car filled with bombs," he said. The two occupants of that car were reportedly Yemeni. Iraqi clerics have issued warnings in recent days that Saddam Hussein loyalists or Al-Qaeda sympathizers are likely to strike in Iraq this week, AFP reported. CNN reported on 2 September that police in Al-Najaf also discovered a booby-trapped car in the holy city on the same day that the Iraqis gathered there to mourn slain cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. KR
PURPORTED HUSSEIN AUDIOTAPE DENIES CONNECTION TO AL-HAKIM ASSASSINATION
An audiotape released to Arab satellite channels Al-Jazeera and LBC purporting to carry the voice of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has denied any link between Hussein and the 29 August killing of Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim in Al-Najaf, the news channels reported on 1 September. According to LBC, the speaker in the audiotape states: "Many of you might have heard the hissing of snakes, the servants of the infidel occupation invaders, who -- after the killing of al-Hakim -- rushed to accuse, without any evidence, those they called the supporters of Saddam Hussein of the incident. I would like to comment as follows: Saddam Hussein is not the leader of the minority or a group, with whom he is affiliated or who are affiliated with him. He is the leader of all the great Iraqi people -- Arabs and Kurds; Shi'ites and Sunnis; Muslims and non-Muslims." The audiotape has not been verified by an independent source. KR