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Newsline - July 7, 2004

Embattled oil giant Yukos was on the verge of bankruptcy on 7 July as a deadline for payment of $3.4 billion in tax arrears expired, Russian and Western media reported. In addition, on 5 July the company was informed by Western creditors that it is in default of a $1 billion loan. "Izvestiya" reported on 6 July that the company could also soon be declared in default of an additional $1.6 billion loan from Western lenders. The Bermuda-registered company Roxwell Holdings has filed a lawsuit in New York alleging that Yukos and its former managers, former CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and others deliberately misled investors with "false and incomplete" information, the daily reported. RC

...AND KHODORKOVSKII MAKES LAST-DITCH EFFORT TO SAVE COMPANY FROM BANKRUPTCY and other media reported on 7 July that Khodorkovskii -- who is facing trial on fraud and tax-evasion charges -- has offered to give the government a 44 percent stake in Yukos that he and other major shareholders control in order to save the company from bankruptcy. In exchange, Khodorkovskii is asking the government to unfreeze the company's bank accounts to allow it to make its payments. Yukos shares rose 16.5 percent on 7 July on news of Khodorkovskii's proposal, dpa reported. A spokesman in the office of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told the website that the government has not received any such offer from Khodorkovskii. "The Financial Times" on 7 July reported that Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov said on 6 July that "theoretically" it is possible to resolve Yukos's debt problem if the "political decision" to do so is made. RC

Guta Bank, one of Russia's largest banks, ceased releasing funds to depositors on 6 July and closed its offices, Russian media reported. "Guta Bank is unable to make current payments and payments on bank deposits because of a massive withdrawal of money in June, amounting to 10 billion rubles [$333 million] and a perceptible increase in payments in July," a bank statement issued on 6 July stated, according to ITAR-TASS on 7 July. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev on 7 July said the Central Bank is discussing with Guta Bank a proposal that the state-owned Vneshtorgbank purchase Guta Bank. Guta Bank, which was founded in 1991, is part of the Guta group of more than 100 companies working in insurance, investments, timber, textiles, medicine, tourism, and other sectors. It has 140 offices across Russia and, as of 1 June, had assets of 33.7 billion rubles. reported on 7 July that Guta Bank is Russia's 26th largest bank in terms of deposits. RC

"Vremya novostei" on 5 July reported that six other, smaller banks have ceased making payments with private depositors since the end of May. The daily reported that public confidence in private banks is extremely low. "Based on July results, we will see an outflow of deposits at many Russian banks," analyst Mikhail Matovnikov told the newspaper. "Izvestiya" reported on 7 July that the Central Bank is considering several measures to avert a banking crisis, including reducing the minimal reserves level, expanding the list of types of securities that banks can include in their minimal reserves, and restoring the practice of issuing stabilization loans. RC

The Audit Chamber has determined that the government lost about $2.75 billion as a result of privatizations carried out between 1993 and 2003, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 July, citing auditor Vladislav Ignatov. Eighty-nine percent of all alleged violations involved state agencies, the Audit Chamber found. Ignatov added that materials relating to 56 of the 140 privatization cases studied will be handed over to the Prosecutor-General's Office this fall. RC

NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich was named general director and chairman of the board of the Gazprom-Media holding company on 5 July, replacing Aleksandr Dybal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004), Russian media reported. Senkevich was replaced at NTV by Vladimir Kulistikov, who had been working as general director of the news program "Vesti" on RTR. Kulistikov worked at NTV before leaving in 2002 at the request of All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) General Director and former NTV executive Oleg Dobrodeev, "Gazeta" reported on 6 July. An unidentified source told "Gazeta" that Kulistikov's appointment can be considered "a kind of delegation, which should lead to the unification of the informational map" of Russian national television. "Izvestiya" reported on 6 July that the moves were sanctioned by the Kremlin and quoted an unidentified source as saying that now "a competitor has been removed and the news on NTV will become a kind of mini-'Vesti.'" RC

...AS NTV REPORTEDLY LOSES TWO MORE ANALYTICAL PROGRAMS reported on 7 July that the popular NTV informational-analytical programs "Svoboda slova" and "Lichnyi vklad" have been abolished. The station is also reportedly considering terminating a third analytical program, "Strana i mir." reported on 7 July that NTV sources refused to confirm or deny the report. NTV's most popular analytical program, "Namedni," was canceled last month and its host, Leonid Parfenov, was dismissed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). RC

Members of the group supporting Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov held a party congress on 3 July in Moscow, while a group that opposes Zyuganov held a rival congress the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). On 5 July, a Justice Ministry spokesman told reporters that the ministry has not decided how to register the separate resolutions of the competing groups' congresses. Central Committee Presidium Secretary Viktor Peshkov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 July that the party is facing a "long judicial investigation" regarding which congress was more legitimate. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 6 July, the parties must submit materials concerning their congresses within three months and the ministry, in turn, must issue a verdict in one month. The daily asked State Duma Deputy Sergei Potapov why journalists were not invited to the anti-Zyuganov congress if the anti-Zyuganov faction was convinced its cause is just. Potapov responded that they did not have the funds to rent a large enough space. The Zyuganov congress, meanwhile, took place in a semi-darkened hall as electricity there was mysteriously shut off. According to politcom on 5 July, other rooms in the same hotel had no electrical problems. JAC

In a comment on the split, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii expressed "deep anxiety" about the spreading of the "dirtiest form of political black PR" and its latest victim, the Communist Party, RosBalt reported. The Yabloko party also held a party congress in Moscow Oblast on 3 July, at which Yavlinskii read a report outlining the party's three major mistakes during the 2003 State Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 July. According to Yavlinskii, Yabloko should have more sharply distanced itself from the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS); it should not have taken money from oligarchs, such as former Yukos head Khodorkovskii; and it did not adequately explain to voters its attitude toward President Vladimir Putin. Yavlinskii was reelected as party leader with 190 votes, while 59 votes were cast for Yurii Kuznetsov, the head of Sverdlovsk's Yabloko party branch. Kuznetsov favors forming a tighter association with SPS. JAC

The government-sponsored bill reforming the system of benefits, such as free public transportation for veterans, passed the State Duma in its first reading on 2 July, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 296 in favor with 116 against and 3 abstentions, RosBalt reported. According to the agency, just 10 members of the more than 300-member Unified Russia faction voted against the bill, 10 didn't vote at all, and two officially abstained. Although Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii has publicly criticized the bill and voted against it, 12 members of his 36-member faction voted for it. The Communist Party and Motherland factions voted unanimously against the bill. According to the bill, persons who currently have the right to unlimited free public transportation will get 40 rubles ($1.40) a month, and those with the right for free medicine will receive 350 rubles a month, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 July. JAC

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by ROMIR found that the bill reforming benefits is the least popular in the history of the Putin administration, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 July. Some 58 percent of more than 2,000 respondents said that they favor preserving the existing benefits system. According to RosBalt, police arrested a woman who yelled "shame" when State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov left the Duma hall. During the debate, two members of the National Bolshevik Party infiltrated the chamber pretending to be journalists and dropped flyers saying "Russia needs benevolent authorities," and 10-ruble notes with the message "Russia Without Putin" on the deputies from a balcony. JAC

State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent) and local businessman Vladimir Nikolaev will compete in the second round of the mayoral election in Vladivostok on 25 July, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). In the first round on 4 July, Nikolaev got the most votes with 26.85 percent, compared with 26.35 percent for second-place Cherepkov. Turnout was unexpectedly high at 42 percent of eligible voters. According to "Izvestiya" on 6 July, incumbent Mayor Yurii Kopylov, who finished third, complained about violations to the election law by Nikolaev on election day. According to the mayoral administration's press service, cheap fish and sausages were being sold from a vehicle bearing Nikolaev's campaign slogan. Nikolaev, whose criminal-world moniker is allegedly "Winnie the Pooh," was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 1999 for hooliganism and threatening to murder a local politician, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 July. JAC

Delegates at Motherland's party congress held in Moscow on 6 July elected Motherland's Duma faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin as head of the party, RosBalt reported. Rogozin had previously served as co-chairman of the bloc along with Sergei Glazev, who tried to form his own separate party with the name Motherland-People's Patriotic Union, but Rogozin's party managed to register with the Justice Ministry first (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2004). Rogozin, who was the only candidate for chairman, is now the party's sole leader. State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Babakov was selected for the post of chairman of the party's presidium, and Yurii Skokov as secretary of its political council. reported that Oleg Bondarenko, who previously headed the youth branch of the Communist Party, has joined Motherland's political council. According to the website, Bondarenko plans to continue the practice of staging "political shows" and in a few days will fly to London to stage a Motherland protest in front of Boris Berezovskii's residence. JAC

Vartan Oskanian met in Moscow on 6 July with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations and efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russian agencies reported. RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted Oskanian as calling for the "prompt revival" of five Armenian enterprises ceded to Russia in payment of Armenia's $100 million debt to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November and 5 December 2002 and 15 May 2003). Oskanian and Lavrov agreed on the need to restore rail communication between their two countries via Georgia. Addressing a joint press conference, Lavrov pointed to "positive movement" in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, but did not divulge details of his discussion of the conflict with Oskanian. According to an Armenian Foreign Ministry statement cited by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Oskanian briefed Lavrov on his talks on 28 June in Istanbul with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Turkey, Elmar Mammadyarov and Abdullah Gul, respectively. LF

The leaders of three predominantly Buddhist Russian republics -- Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva -- have sent a letter to Foreign Minister Lavrov asking that the government do everything possible to allow a visit by the Dalai Lama to their territories, Interfax reported on 6 July. On 28 June, Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov met with the Chinese ambassador to Russia, Liu Guchang, to offer his opinion on such a trip. Earlier in the month, Ilyumzhinov said that Russia's Buddhists will appeal to the Constitutional Court to overturn a Russian government decision not to allow the Dalai Lama to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). The Dalai Lama last visited Russia in May 1994; that trip was downgraded to unofficial to appease Beijing's protests. JAC

Commenting on a recent trend of criminal cases being launched against employers who do not pay their workers on time, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said on 2 July that he is opposed to using the Prosecutor-General's Office as an instrument for pressuring businesses, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 3 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May and 8 June 2004). He said that some regional prosecutors, such as in Altai Krai and Yaroslavl Oblast, have opened a number of criminal cases improperly and without sufficient evidence against enterprise directors for nonpayment of wages. The daily noted that the Yaroslavl Oblast prosecutor recently resigned. In Altai Krai, of 200 cases opened in the past three years, 52 enterprise directors were acquitted due to the absence of a crime, according to Ustinov. At the same time, Ustinov demanded that prosecutors develop tighter control over the payment of wages in regions, noting that as of 1 July unpaid wages amounted to 25 billion rubles ($862 million), "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported. JAC

In a statement screened by Al-Jazeera on 2 July and summarized by two days later, Shamil Basaev said his men will not attack Russian targets abroad even though they have the capacity to do so. Basaev condemned the February murder in Qatar, apparently by two Russian agents, of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2004). He also rejected as disinformation Russian claims that his fighters were involved in recent terrorist bombings in Spain, France, and Turkey. Speaking in Moscow on 6 July, Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov, who appears poised to win the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, said talks with Basaev are out of the question, ITAR-TASS reported. Alkhanov said Chechen police are working to detain Basaev, who he claimed is planning to destabilize the situation in Chechnya and elsewhere in southern Russia in the run-up to the 29 August election. LF

Magomed-hadji Albogachiev announced on 5 July at a specially convened meeting of Ingushetia's Muslim clergy that he has submitted his resignation as chief mufti to protest the "anti-Islamic" policies of President Murat Zyazikov, reported. Albogachiev noted that the increase in corruption, abductions and other crimes, and the worsening economic situation are a source of concern and indignation to the republic's population, but even the coordinated attacks on Interior Ministry facilities on 21 -22 June did not impel the Ingushetian leadership to abandon its policies, which Albogachiev branded as "aimed at splitting society." He appealed to the republic's population to remain calm and "not yield to provocations." LF

The anticorruption council set up last month by President Robert Kocharian held its first meeting on 2 July, at which members decided to set up a "monitoring commission" tasked with studying the issue and drafting relevant proposals, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 5 July. Council chairman Bagrat Yesayan told RFE/RL he would welcome the participation in the council of opposition representatives, arguing that their refusal to do so would be tantamount to "plunging into populism." But Artashes Geghamian, chairman of the opposition National Accord Party, dismissed the council outright as a "farce," saying that the present authorities are themselves mired in corruption and any attempt to combat corruption should begin with the election of a new leadership. LF

Silva Kaputikian, who is Armenia's most famous living poetess, has returned to President Kocharian the Mesrop Mashtots medal he bestowed on her in 1998, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kaputikian, who is 85 and played a key role interceding with then CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during the early weeks of the Karabakh conflict in 1988, said she decided to return the award to protest what she termed police "reprisals" against peaceful demonstrators in Yerevan during the night of 12-13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). LF

Over the past two days police have arrested 26 members of the congregation of the Djuma mosque in Baku's old town, Turan reported on 6 July. They include 10 women detained on their return home after attending prayers on 5 July. Police had entered the mosque during the evening of 4 July, arrested four people and forcibly evicted up to 300 more worshippers from the building. A clergyman appealed to the congregation on 6 July not to gather at the mosque for daily prayers until further notice. Police cleared the mosque of worshippers last week in compliance with a court ruling that the congregation occupied the building illegally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2004). Azerbaijani human rights organizations issued a statement on 5 July condemning the eviction and arrests as illegal, Turan reported. LF

Yurii Luzhkov held talks in Baku on 5 July with President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade on expanding bilateral trade and economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Luzhkov expressed readiness to purchase Azerbaijani fruit, vegetables, and chemicals, including 20,000 tons of ammonium sulfate to purify drinking water. He also expressed interest in cooperating in the sphere of information technology. LF

On 3 July, the authorities of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia released from detention and provided with transport to Tbilisi three Georgian State Security Ministry staffers apprehended one week earlier on South Ossetian territory on suspicion of engaging in espionage, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). Then on 5 July, the South Ossetian authorities dismantled additional police posts they had set up one month earlier to check traffic from South Ossetia to other parts of Georgia. At a meeting in Tskhinvali on 6 July of the Joint Control Commission (SKK) that monitors developments in the conflict zone, and which comprises government representatives from South and North Ossetia, Russia, and Georgia, together with representatives from the OSCE and the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone, agreement was reached that Georgia will remove within 48 hours some 18 additional checkpoints it set up without the SKK's consent. On 5 July, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity met in Tskhinvali with EU special representative for the South Caucasus Heike Talvitie to discuss implementation of a 2.5 million euros ($3 million) humanitarian aid project approved by the EU in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. Implementation has been hampered by Georgia's failure to cooperate. LF

Georgian Interior Ministry troops intercepted a Russian military convoy carrying food and ammunition late on 6 July in the South Ossetian conflict zone and confiscated both vehicles and cargo, which were taken to Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported on 7 July. Georgian State Security Minister Vano Merabishvili said the Russian peacekeepers should not have transported weaponry without previously informing the Georgian side. South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev claimed on 7 July that the Georgians had been informed of the planned convoy and that their action to intercept it was intended to undermine the work of the SKK. Also on 7 July, South Ossetian police detained an armored personnel carrier transporting Georgians wearing peacekeepers' uniforms but who had no personal identification documents, Caucasus Press reported. On 3 July, South Ossetian police detained and charged with high treason Aleksandr Kozaev, a young Ossetian who arranged for 12 children from South Ossetia to travel to a vacation resort elsewhere in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Members of Saakashvili's National Movement rallied in Tbilisi on 6 July to protest Kozaev's arrest, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Nana Kakabadze, who heads a Georgian NGO that protects the rights of former political prisoners, told journalists in Tbilisi on 2 July that former Audit Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili is being subjected to electric shocks, cigarette burns, and psychological pressure during interrogation, Caucasus Press reported. Molashvili was arrested in April and remanded in pre-trial detention for three months on charges of embezzling 37,000 laris ($19,466) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 April 2004). On 6 July, Molashvili's lawyer Soso Baratashvili told journalists that his client has been transferred to a punishment cell. Baratashvili expressed outrage at President Saakashvili's statement that Molashvili will not be released "until he reimburses the money he has stolen." On 7 July, Matyas Eorsi, a Hungarian parliamentarian who heads the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe monitoring group for Georgia, visited Molashvili in jail to verify the torture reports, Caucasus Press reported. Eorsi reportedly commented that the new Georgian leadership should not make the same mistakes as its predecessor in the realm of human rights. LF

American financier and philanthropist George Soros told the "Los Angeles Times" on 5 July that Central Asia is the new focus of his Open Society Institute network. Soros described his general approach to authoritarian regimes as an attempt to bring "such great benefits to the people that even a repressive regime finds it advantageous to accept your presence." Soros singled out the Uzbek government, which recently denied the Open Society Institute registration, as "very repressive." He also praised Georgia's "Rose Revolution," saying, "I'm delighted by what happened in Georgia, and I take great pride in having contributed to it." While the billionaire would be glad to see the experience repeated, he stressed that he did not see it as a realistic alternative for Central Asian countries. DK

The National Security Service (SNB) has arrested 10 high-ranking officials on suspicion of collaboration with foreign governments and international terrorist organizations, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 2 July. The initial report indicated that the officials worked in the presidential administration, cabinet apparatus, Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry, and Interior Ministry. Representatives of the presidential administration, Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry have since denied that any of their officials were involved, Kyrgyz TV reported on 6 July. The SNB press service reported on 2 July that no additional information would be available "in the next few hours," Interfax reported. But SNB Deputy Chairman Boris Poluektov said on 2 July that charges could be announced "next week." DK

Tajik opposition journalist Dodojon Atovulloev cut short his first trip back to Tajikistan in nearly 12 years, returning to Moscow on 30 June, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 July. Atovulloev had arrived in Dushanbe on 26 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). Atovulloev told Asia Plus that he decided to go back to Moscow after receiving information that his life might be in danger. President Imomali Rakhmonov's spokesman, Abdufattah Sharipov, disputed Atovulloev, telling the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) on 5 July, "It is absurd to say that Atovulloev was threatened and followed." Asked by Asia Plus whether he has reached any agreement to publish "Charoghi Ruz" in Tajikistan, Atovulloev said only that he plans to send 20,000 copies of the next edition of the newspaper, which is currently published in Moscow, back to his homeland. Overall, Atovulloev was upbeat about his short visit. He told IWPR, "The trip gave me certainty that I must continue my work." DK

Prince Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili movement, opened the first microcredit bank in Dushanbe on 5 July, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Noting that the bank is intended to combat poverty in Tajikistan, Prince Aga Khan said that it will have an investment fund of $3 million and will provide loans to small businesses at 18 percent annual interest. The bank is only the third of its kind in the region; others are located in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prince Aga Khan also met with Tajik President Rakhmonov on 5 July, Tajik Radio reported. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has worked in Tajikistan since 1993. According to Asia Plus, AKDN provided Tajikistan with $32.3 million in assistance last year. DK

Russian Ambassador Andrei Molochkov returned to Russia from Turkmenistan on 3 July, RIA-Novosti reported. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied reports in the Russian press that the Foreign Ministry recalled Molochkov for failing to defend the rights of Russians in Turkmenistan, RIA-Novosti reported on 1 July. According to Lavrov, Molochkov is returning home because of tragic family events and health problems. For his part, Molochkov defended his conciliatory approach to Russian-Turkmen relations. He said, "It is traditional for Russian diplomacy not to bring difficulties before the court of public opinion as they arise, but rather to try to resolve them bilaterally," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 July. Molochkov's temporary replacement will be Andrei Krutko, RIA-Novosti reported. DK

Turkmen health authorities have denied rumors of plague in the country and stated that no cases of dangerous diseases have been observed, reported on 5 July. A Turkmen opposition website and Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported a possible plague outbreak in Turkmenistan on 23 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004). Also on 5 July, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry stated that the epidemiological situation in the country is favorable, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, an Uzbek doctor in the Khorazm region, which borders Turkmenistan, said that authorities in the region are taking measures to prevent any possible spread of plague, the Uzbek national news agency UzA reported on 2 July. The doctor said that no cases of plague have been reported. He added, "However, the situation remains tense, in particular in the areas bordering Turkmenistan." DK

President Islam Karimov met with CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo on 6 July in Tashkent, Uzbek TV reported. The two discussed regional cooperation, the creation of a free trade zone, the threat of terrorism and extremism, and preparations for the upcoming summit of CIS heads of state in Astana in September. President Karimov noted that serious difficulties confront the future development of the CIS, UzA reported. According to the report, Karimov stated that the CIS countries need to consider Russia's point of view "in the first place" when discussing the changes that need to be made to the CIS. DK

Some 3,000 troops, tanks, rocket launchers, tractors, and trucks were paraded in Minsk on 3 July to mark the 60th anniversary of Belarus's liberation from Nazi occupation, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Participants in the parade included student athletes clad in World War II-era uniforms, farmers driving harvesting machines, and a military band. The show also involved more than 40 civilian and military helicopters and aircraft, including a recently leased Boeing 737. "Belarus has been and will be a peace-loving nation," President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced. "We know what war is like. That is why we use peaceful means alone to advance our foreign policy interests." Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma visited Minsk briefly on 1 July, taking part along with Lukashenka in a meeting with veterans and a wreath-laying ceremony. JM

President Lukashenka said in an address in Minsk on 2 July to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Belarus's liberation from the Nazis that he is worried by the deployment of NATO infrastructure in the former Baltic republics of the USSR and by Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership, Belapan reported. "We have been reassured and told that all this [NATO enlargement] is not targeted against us. But against whom [is it targeted]?" Lukashenka said. "We cannot forget that our people were killed not only by German fascist invaders, but also by their henchmen of various nationalities, including Baltic SS officers.... Today, being part of the European Union,... they, SS veterans, stage parades and recall their combat past. While their children and grandchildren are disposed again to dictate what order Belarus should have." Lukashenka also expressed his discontent with EU policies in general. "We cannot accept the arrogance of European bureaucrats who, in company with a handful of lured oppositionists, are trying to teach Belarus a lesson for its obstinacy," he emphasized. JM

Five unidentified men attacked Chamber of Representatives member Valery Fralou and his driver in Minsk late on 1 July, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 2 July. The attackers seized Fralou's wallet, suitcase, passport, and the passport of another lawmaker, Syarhey Skrabets. Fralou and Skrabets, together with colleague Uladzimir Parfyanovich, staged a 19-day hunger strike in June in an effort to amend the country's Election Code and secure the release of jailed politician Mikhail Marynich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 2004). "The timing and circumstances of the attack on Valery Fralou suggest political motives for this crime," commented Uta Zapf, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus. JM

Government officials are urging dissident lawmaker Uladzimir Parfyanovich to resign his membership of the National Olympic Committee (NAK), Belapan reported on 6 July. Parfyanovich, a triple Olympic champion in canoeing and kayaking, told the agency that Chamber of Representatives deputy speaker Uladzimir Kanaplyou tried to persuade him to quit the NAK at a meeting earlier the same day. "I refused, and Kanaplyou sent me to Sports Minister Yury Sivakow and NAK Vice President Henadz Alyakseyenka," Parfyanovich said. "They also attempted to convince me to tender my resignation." Parfyanovich described the government's pressure on him as "stupidity." "I am accused of being among the opposition," he said. "I am not among the opposition; I am a person who has his own opinions on many matters. And I want this opinion to be respected." JM

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 2 July erroneously identified U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna Stephan Minikes as the U.S. ambassador to Minsk. JM

The campaign for the 31 October presidential election started officially on 3 July, Ukrainian media reported. The Central Election Commission has already registered three major contenders for the post of president: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko was meanwhile proposed as a presidential candidate by a party congress on 4 July. The commission may nullify the registration of a presidential candidate if he or she fails to supply at least 500,000 signatures in support of his or her candidacy by 20 September. JM

Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko told an estimated 50,000 people in Kyiv on 4 July that he will make Ukraine a European country and eradicate corruption in the government if he wins this year's presidential election, Ukrainian media reported. "The authorities will work for the people, corruption will be ended, all will be equal before the law, and bandits will go to jail," UNIAN quoted Yushchenko as telling a crowd of supporters that gathered shortly before he submitted the documents necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate to the Central Election Commission. "I see Ukraine as a state that is respected and valued by its own citizens as well as treated with respect in both the West and the East," Yushchenko added. He formally proposed his presidential candidacy as an independent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2004). JM

Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, signed a coalition accord in Kyiv on 2 July to pool efforts in the presidential-election campaign in order to promote a Yushchenko victory, Interfax reported. The accord sets up a new parliamentary group, the Force of the People (Syla narodu), which will unite all lawmakers of the pro-Yushchenko coalition. The deal also proposes a program of joint actions, called the Manifest of People's Victory, in order to "take over power in Ukraine for cleaning [the country] of criminal clans and political banditry" and build a "democratic and just state under the rule of law." The accord stipulates that in the event of Yushchenko's victory in the 2004 presidential ballot, the distribution of posts in the future government among coalition members will be carried out proportionally to their gains in the 2002 parliamentary election. JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych has signed a resolution amending a February cabinet decision on the use of the Odesa-Brody pipeline to pump Caspian oil to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004), Ukrainian media reported on 6 July. The recent resolution effectively allows the use of the pipeline in both directions and is seen by some Ukrainian observers as a concession to Moscow, which has lobbied for the transport of Russian oil through the pipeline to the Black Sea port of Odesa. Yanukovych commented on the resolution on 6 July by saying that the pipeline will be used "in different modes depending on the situation," Interfax reported. JM

Judge Patrick Robinson and his two assistants at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal ruled on 6 July that former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is fit to stand trial for war crimes but might not be well enough to continue acting as his own attorney, London's "The Times" reported. The judge called for an independent cardiologist to examine Milosevic, who suffers from high blood pressure that reportedly is aggravated when his trial is in session. The tribunal also left open the possibility of appointing a defense lawyer for Milosevic, against his own wishes if necessary, to "spare his health." The trial, which has been frequently interrupted because of Milosevic's health problems, is scheduled to resume on 14 July. It will adjourn on 21 July until 31 August so that he can prepare his defense. PM

Bosnian Serb officials of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) did not attend sessions of the Bosnian cabinet scheduled for 1 and 6 July, apparently to protest the recent decision by High Representative Paddy Ashdown to remove 59 Bosnian Serb officials from office for failing to arrest top war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 6 July. Mladen Ivanic, who heads the smaller Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), called for new elections. They also want an end to the coalition between the SDS and the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in the Republika Srpska on the grounds that the SDA supported Ashdown's decision against the interests of the Bosnian Serb entity. Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic is expected to decide soon whether to call new elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 1 and 2 July 2004). PM

Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 2 July that police structures across Bosnia need to be overhauled to break the power of criminal networks, which are often allied to fugitive war crimes indictees and date from the 1992-95 conflict, Reuters reported. "This is a country in the grip of corruption and organized crime. The taxpayers' money is being stolen [and] indicted war criminals roam free," he said. Ashdown argued that "if Bosnia and Herzegovina is to get into Europe, it will have to restructure its police." The 18,000-strong police force, which is divided along ethnic lines, is supervised by the EU's 500-member Police Mission. Ashdown's latest decisions have led to a renewal of the long-standing discussion inside and outside Bosnia regarding the value of an all-powerful foreign civilian authority. One side argues that only a strong high representative can break the power of the entrenched mafia-like structures and institute European standards. The other view holds that the high representative is an outdated colonial fixture, that it is a contradiction to try to implement democracy by fiat, and that it is unfair to take someone's job away without their having any right of appeal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May and 5 September 2003). PM

New York Magistrate Judge Frank Maas ruled on 2 July that former Bosnian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the UN Mohamed Sacirbey, who is awaiting extradition to Bosnia for allegedly embezzling more than $600,000 from its UN mission, might be freed on bail of $5 million in cash and $1 million in real estate, "The New York Times" reported the next day. The judge previously denied bail to Sacirbey, who is known in Bosnia as Sacirbegovic. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic recently wrote the court a letter sympathetic to Sacirbey. Many remember him for his articulate defense of Bosnia's cause before the UN and in the media during the 1992-95 conflict. Revelations of his alleged corruption came as a shock to many in Bosnia and abroad. New York police arrested him in March 2003 pending the arrival of a formal extradition request from Sarajevo. Sacirbey has always denied the charges, arguing that he used the money only on official business during chaotic times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). PM

Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim representative on the Bosnian Presidency, told "Dnevni avaz" of 6 July that he will not attend the Belgrade inauguration of Serbian President Boris Tadic on 11 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tihic pointed out that 11 July is the anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which Serbian forces killed up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males. He said that he will attend memorial observances for the victims on that date. Several commentaries in the Muslim media argued that it is a "scandal" that Tadic scheduled his inauguration for the same date as the massacre. In related news, Tadic told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" that High Representative Ashdown "brought about a dangerous situation" by sacking the 59 Bosnian Serb officials. PM

Former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic told the daily "Vecernje novosti" of 4 July that "revenge" will be exacted against anyone extraditing him or three other former generals to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He did not elaborate. In response, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, whose ministry recently started legal action that could lead to the extradition of the four, called on the state authorities to react to what he called Pavkovic's "open threat," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). PM

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry sent a demarche to the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro on 6 July, protesting a recent Serbian Supreme Court decision to release Dragan Daravelski from extradition custody, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Daravelski, a former director of the Macedonian customs agency, was arrested in Belgrade on 27 May on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the Macedonian authorities. He is charged with large-scale corruption and abuse of office. The Serbian court ruled that Daravelski cannot be extradited to Macedonia because he holds Serbian citizenship. Daravelski's case highlights the problem of former Macedonian government officials fleeing to other former Yugoslav republics to avert being arrested for their wrongdoings. Earlier this year, hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski fled to Croatia as he faced arrest in Macedonia in connection with the killing of seven migrants. Boskovski also holds Croatian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May 2004). In related news, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic arrived in Skopje on 6 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He and his hosts discussed their respective countries' efforts toward Euro-Atlantic integration and signed several agreements, including one on mutual protection of ethnic minorities. UB/PM

On 5 July, the Podgorica District Court awarded Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic $9,890 in damages in a private libel suit against opposition Liberal Alliance leader Miodrag Zivkovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Zivkovic previously charged that Djukanovic "used the services" of a Moldovan woman, known only by her initials S.C., whose testimony is at the center of an imbroglio regarding the government's alleged involvement in a human-trafficking ring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 December 2002 and 28 January 2003). PM

In Tirana on 3 July, the ambassadors to Albania of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro joined Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Luan Hajdaraga in signing a memorandum of understanding setting up the regional Migration, Asylum, and Refugee Return Initiative (MARRI), Hina reported. The project is backed by the EU and United States and is aimed at promoting human rights and freedom of movement while fighting human trafficking and organized crime. Meanwhile in Belgrade on 6 July, NGO and local governmental representatives of 50 Balkan cities and towns signed an "agreement on interethnic tolerance and cooperation," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Among the cities participating are Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Sofia, Skopje, Novi Sad, Tuzla, Banja Luka, Kotor, Srebrenica, Mostar, and Kumanovo. PM

The parliament voted on 5 July to approve a no-confidence measure regarding Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel that was proposed by Prime Minister Anton Rop, Reuters reported. Both men belong to the center-left Liberal Democrats, but many in the party have charged Rupel with siding with the conservative opposition in the run-up to general elections expected later this year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April 2004). Rop recently proposed Slovenian Ambassador to Germany Ivo Vajgl to replace Rupel, who served as foreign minister from 1991-93, returning to the post in 2000. PM

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met with interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in Baghdad on 3 July, Mediafax reported. Geoana said on 4 July that the talks were concentrated on possible economic cooperation and repayment of Iraq's $1.7 billion debt to Romania. Geoana said several options are under consideration, including creating an investment fund, granting stakes in Iraqi banks, or providing Iraqi oil shipments. Geoana also said he presented al-Yawir and Allawi offers by Romanian companies to participate in the reconstruction of their country. The sides agreed to set up a joint working group to examine fields in which Iraq could make use of Romanian expertise. MS

Several prominent officials of the ruling Social Democratic Party resigned or were dismissed between 2 and 4 July, Mediafax reported. In line with the party's decision in the wake of the PSD's poor performance in the June local elections, Bucharest PSD branch leader Dan Ioan Popescu resigned on 2 July and was replaced by Neculai Ontanu. Ontanu was the only PSD candidate to successfully run for mayor in a Bucharest district. Also on 2 July, Viorel Hrebenciuc, who is a PSD deputy chairman, resigned as head of the PSD Bacau county branch, and on 3 July Doru Ioan Taracila resigned as head of the PSD Calarasi county branch. Taracila also announced his intention to resign as PSD deputy chairman. MS

President Ion Iliescu on 5 July met with the leadership of the PSD, discussing the outcome of the local elections and measures taken by the party in the aftermath of the ballot, Mediafax reported. Opposition representatives accused Iliescu of infringing on the principle of political equidistance. Iliescu countered that he merely expressed "personal political opinions" at the meeting and did not interfere in internal party affairs, as his status does not allow him to do so. According to media reports, Iliescu told the PSD leadership that he wants to see a report by 16 July on what the party intends to do to improve its image. On 6 July, Iliescu denied giving any "ultimatum" to the party but said he wants to meet again with its leadership because the 5 July meeting was "very brief." Iliescu is expected by many to run on the PSD parliamentary lists in November and return to the post of PSD chairman. MS

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase met in Oradea on 5 July following the inauguration of a new border crossing at Secuieni-Letavertes, Mediafax reported. The two leaders discussed European integration and what was described as "some sensitive aspects" in mutual relations. Also on 5 July, Medgyessy called on young Hungarians in Romania not to leave that country. Referring to the growing rift within the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), Medgyessy emphasized it is important to open a "Hungarian-Hungarian dialogue" in Transylvania. On 6 July, Medgyessy said in Targu-Mures that it is important that the vote of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania remain united, and he promised that his government will continue to extend help to the Szekler population within the Hungarian minority. MS

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 2 July that the main obstacle to an agreement in recent talks with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's envoy was Chisinau's insistence on a declaration that would mention "Moldovanism" and differentiate between the Romanian and the Moldovan "nations," Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 2 July 2004). Geoana said the dialogue between the two countries is progressing on other issues. He also said Romania has a "legitimate interest" in developments in Moldova and in that country's "European future." He said Bucharest does not want Moldova to become an "unviable state" and this is why it did not support a Russian plan last year for the country's federalization known as the "Kozak memorandum." MS

President Voronin on 6 July called on all political parties to rally around Moldova's democratization process and support the independence of the media, Infotag and BASA-Press reported. At a meeting with Vladimir Filipov, a special representative of the Council of Europe's secretary-general, and Neil Brannon, deputy chairman of the OSCE mission to Moldova, Voronin dismissed allegations that the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) intends to manipulate the 2005 parliamentary elections and submit the independent media to repression and harassment, according to a presidential press-service communique. Voronin announced the launch of a new initiative called "Guarantees for a Democratic Process and Mass Media Freedom," and proposed that "all political forces openly reconfirm their attachment to the moral and legal norms of democratic societies" and their interest in "a system based on the rule of law, respect of human rights and freedom of expression." Voronin also proposed a national watchdog on human rights and recommended that all public radio and television stations in Moldova approve a project based on the recommendations of the OSCE mission to Moldova and the special representative of the Council of Europe secretary-general on basic democratic standards for the electronic media. MS

Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 6 July that Voronin's new proposals are "nothing but a gross propaganda trick" aimed at fending off criticism by the opposition and international organizations, Flux reported. Rosca called it "a display of cynicism" to attempt to appear in the eyes of the public as a defender of human rights after destroying democratic institutions, annihilating the independence of the judiciary, and suppressing the freedom of expression on electronic media. Social Democratic Party official Oazu Nantoi called Voronin's initiative an attempt to hide Moldova's domestic reality from international public opinion. Alliance for Moldova co-Chairman Dumitru Braghis refused to comment on the president's appeal, which was presented by Voronin to representatives of 14 extraparliamentary political parties later on 6 July. Victor Muntean, a media-affairs specialist with the OSCE mission in Moldova, told Flux on 6 July that the mission "salutes" the presidential initiative and "notes with satisfaction" that it is based on recommendations made by the mission and the Council of Europe on how Teleradio Moldova should function. MS

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 5 July announced it has launched proceedings against Moldindconbank on suspicion of laundering 49.8 million lei ($4.3 million), Infotag reported. The Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption said it ordered Moldindconbank to freeze suspected illicit funds in a special account but the bank failed to obey the order. Infotag reported that the laundered money was transferred to Latvian Trasta Komertbanka. The Prosecutor-General's Office said it is also investigating Moldindconbank's possible involvement in transactions associated with Ukrainian Prominvest. In November, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) accused Trasta Komertbanka of illegal activities in Russia. Several individuals were then arrested on charge of money laundering, including Latvian banker Aleksei Ushakov, according to Infotag. MS

The fifth anniversary of 18 Tir (8 July) -- the day in 1999 when uniformed police and plainclothes vigilantes attacked a Tehran University dormitory with fatal results -- is looming. That incident in the capital led to fatalities and a week of civil unrest that wracked the country; calm was restored only after massive arrests and a threat from Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commanders to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami that if he did not calm the situation they would take matters into their own hands. Every 18 Tir since then has seen a renewal of the unrest, although not on the same scale.

This year the security forces are trying to preclude anything taking place. Said Robati, who heads the Tehran University branch of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU) student organization, said that in a 1 July letter to the Tehran governorate-general his group formally requested permission to hold a rally outside the university's main gate, according to the Islamic Association of Isfahan University of Technology website ( Robati said two days later that upon returning to the governorate-general he and his colleagues were informed verbally that a permit would not be forthcoming and any kind of off-campus rally would thus be illegal, according to the website.

The absence of a permit has not stopped the students before. Students demonstrated in July 2003 despite a ban on rallies. Furthermore, in June of that year demonstrations occurred in major cities in reaction to rumors that university students would have to pay tuition. Egged on by exile television stations, the protests continued for four days until intervention by vigilantes and arrests by police.

Two-thirds of the Iranian population is under 35 years of age, and this cohort is chafing under clerical misrule. Ever since the events of 1999, therefore, there has been a degree of anticipation about the students' potential to overthrow the regime. Whether this anticipation has been based on politically motivated hype from foreign observers or the optimism of Iranian political activists, reality has not fulfilled expectations. There are many reasons for this, including the regime's coercive powers, public apathy, and an absence of organization and leadership among the students.

There has been no change in the government's ability to use force when it wants to, and the relatively low level of participation in the most recent parliamentary election indicates the level of apathy. It does appear, however, that student disunity has been reduced.

The OSU split into two wings in 2002. The majority Allameh wing wanted to withdraw from mainstream politics, while the smaller Shiraz wing preferred to continue its support for the president.

These divisions and the accompanying apathy were remarked on by members of the Sixth Parliament's "student faction," all of whom were in the OSU, during a 9 May ceremony at Allameh Tabatabai University. Tehran parliamentarian Fatimeh Haqiqatju reminded the gathering that the student movement's most important duty is "criticizing power," "Sharq" reported on 10 May. She urged the students to be actively involved with the upcoming presidential election, and she commented that there is a "language of despair" in the student movement. She warned that the conservatives find the student movement is an irritant that must be controlled, and they are trying to sow discord. Shiraz parliamentarian Reza Yusefian observed that because issues are viewed from an individualistic perspective there is no longer a student "movement."

In mid-May, the OSU met at Khajeh Nasredin Tusi University. In a speech to the students, Tehran representative Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni urged the OSU that it must behave as a cohesive entity, "Vaqa-yi Itifaqi-yi" reported on 15 May.

Apparently, the gathering took Musavi-Khoini's words to heart. Members of the Shiraz and Allameh factions held lengthy discussions, and subsequently voting for new Central Council members took place. According to "Vaqa-yi Itifaqi-yi" on 16 May, the new council reflects the reduction in differences between the two factions. "These elections showed that the spell has been broken, and that the obstructions and external threats have been neutralized and that there is consensus among Islamic Student Associations," Abdullah Momeni of the OSU commented, according to "Hambastegi" of 17 May.

OSU Central Council member Hojatollah Sharifi described the meeting in an interview with Radio Farda and said the new unity of purpose would result in greater political involvement on the part of the student movement (

The outcome of the Central Council elections was unexpected, according to a report in the 6 June issue of "Sharq." The individuals elected to leadership positions were veterans of the student movement "who are well past their student years and student characteristics." The newspaper warned that the age gap between OSU leaders and the average university student precludes easily creating a relationship. The OSU will begin to function more like a party, and to outside observers it will be the "flag bearer of Iran's reform movement." The two wings, according to "Sharq," believe that it is time to bury the old OSU.

An article by Central Council member Majid Haji-Babai in the 28 June "Sharq" suggests that the outcome of that funeral could be dramatic. He says ideas for ending the student movement's disunity included a "student parliament" and the Office for Fostering Democracy. The latter was an elitist version of the OSU, Haji-Babai writes, and the former would have been all-inclusive and nationwide. The student parliament, furthermore, would require direct voting by the students and would require cooperation from the universities and the regime.

Another problem, Haji-Babai writes, is that these two ideas only deal with the domestic situation. The "tens of thousands" of Iranians studying in the United States and Europe have created dynamic Iranian organizations at their individual institutions, and it would be a mistake to ignore them. What is required is a National Union of Iranian Students modeled on the old Confederation of Iranian Students that was active internationally from the 1950s onward. This entity could coordinate all the student organizations and play a powerful political role.

Developments in the OSU are noteworthy because it is one of the country's biggest student organizations and because it played a key role in Khatami's 1997 election victory. Nevertheless there are other organizations that have advocated more radical action against the regime. One of these is veteran activist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi's Democratic Front. It is unlikely that Tabarzadi will be part of any student union, and it is similarly unlikely that the OSU's new tendency will have a lasting impact.

Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin said on 6 July that the country's parliamentary elections will be postponed, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Ludin said the Afghan cabinet reviewed a report by the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) that concluded that it would be impossible to hold both the presidential and parliamentary elections in Mizan (September-October), AFP reported on 6 July. The JEMB recommended that parliamentary elections be delayed by two to six months. While the "cabinet welcomed the decision that the presidential elections could take place as expected in the month of Mizan," it "preferred the two-month option," Ludin said. The JEMB is expected to announce the date for parliamentary elections within days, AFP reported. While not unexpected, the delay of parliamentary elections is a blow to international and Afghan efforts to put Afghanistan on track to normalcy. AT

The voter-registration center in the Tolkan area of Panjwai District of Kandahar Province was attacked on 5 July, Hindukosh News Agency reported the next day. According to the report, a group of suspected neo-Taliban attacked the center for about an hour, during which one person trying to obtain a voter-registration card was wounded. Neo-Taliban elements have vowed to disrupt the upcoming Afghan elections. AT

Unknown assailants attacked two vote-registration centers in Logar Province on 5 July, Afghanistan Television reported the next day. According to the report, "opponents" attacked a center located in a secondary school in Hesarak village and blew up a second center. There were no casualties reported in the attacks. Afghanistan Television reported that loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the radical leader of Hizb-e Islami, and members of Al-Qaeda have threatened to disrupt the elections. AT

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told a parliamentary committee on 6 July that Iran will "restart nuclear negotiations with [France, Britain, and Germany] in [mid-July]" but stressed that Iran will develop its nuclear "capabilities," IRNA reported the same day. Those European states have tried to persuade Tehran to open its program to detailed UN checks for proof that the program is strictly civilian, as Iranian officials claim. They have also encouraged a suspension of uranium-enrichment-related activities, which might serve a bomb-making program. But Iran says it will resume enrichment activities because those states have reneged on pledges made in October to facilitate Iran's access to technology for its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "The government did not...abandon uranium enrichment. [Its] suspension...over this period has been to build confidence in the international arena; otherwise right from the start, we were, as we remain, determined to make peaceful use of nuclear energy," Kharrazi said, according to IRNA. On 5 July, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said in Tehran that Iran "will abide by its nuclear commitments" and "continue its cooperation with the [IAEA]," reported on 6 July. VS

Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said in Tehran on 6 July that "if there is military action against Iran, that means that the [IAEA] is responsible for gathering information for the aggressor, and...after such an incident, all nuclear commitments must be put aside," ISNA and reported the same day. The United States and Israel, a state that Iran does not recognize, have accused Iran of pursuing a hidden nuclear-weapons program; but Shamkhani said the United States has "intelligence weaknesses" and "has no documents or evidence for its accusations," reported. Shamkhani said that "certain countries," presumably Israel and the United States, have "threatened Iran" over its nuclear program. "They say that if Iran does not stop its nuclear activities, it will face...sanctions or military strikes," he said. But if "any country...tries at any time to [attack Iran], we will take directed at our existence, and respond with all our might." Shamkhani said it is "impossible for the United treat Iran like Iraq," and the "Americans discovered in Iraq that it is impossible to attack a country like Iran," ISNA reported. VS

Ten Iranian troops and six Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a separatist group fighting to create a Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, have died in clashes that began on 2 July in Iran's northeastern districts bordering Turkey, and Reuters reported on 6 July, quoting unnamed Turkish military sources. Iranian troops began combined land and air operations against Kurdish guerrillas on 2 July, using 1,000 troops with air support, Reuters reported. The clashes continue, stated. Reuters cited the Mezopotamya News Agency, close to the PKK, as saying on 6 July that the clashes have killed 16 Iranian troops and four rebels, without an explanation for the differing toll. Meanwhile, Iran's deputy interior minister for security affairs, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, rejected the report on 6 July as "totally false," reported. "There have been no clashes inside Iran's territory, and the reports in this regard are rejected," the agency quoted him as saying. VS

Iran's representative in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and two colleagues have been arrested by Iraqi security agents and taken to an unspecified location, reported on 6 July, quoting the district governor of Kalar, northeast of Al-Sulaymaniyah. did not name the arrested individuals. The district governor said that 30 minutes after the arrest, trucks arrived and took away the contents of the Iranian mission's offices in Kalar. He added that the arrest took place without the knowledge of the locally based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK),, reported. The PUK, headed by Jalal Talabani, has generally good relations with Tehran. VS

The interim government announced on 7 July new security measures that upon the Presidential Council's approval will allow the imposition of emergency rule, international media reported. The National Safety Law, signed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, will allow the prime minister to place certain areas under curfew, conduct search operations, and detain armed individuals. "As we announce this law, we are consciously aware that it will restrict some freedoms, but the assurances given by this law lead us to believe that it will be considered a primary initiative in the region," Al-Jazeera quoted Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hassan as saying at a press conference following the signing. He stressed that the protection of human rights and freedoms are key objectives in developing a new Iraq. Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin said at the same news conference that the law does not violate human rights and was the result of threats to citizens' security. "Whenever we feel that there is a major danger and threat upon the national security and our institutions, and [there are] threats to the pillars of the government, causing widespread disturbances, this law will be implemented," Amin said. MES

Human Rights Minister Amin also said at the press conference in Baghdad on 7 July that police are detaining 29 suspected foreign insurgents, dpa and Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Amin said all of them are being held at the Abu Ghurayb prison. Among the 29 are six Saudis, four Syrians, two Jordanians, and one Palestinian, as well as one Iranian. Amin said they are all suspected of involvement in armed attacks in Iraq. Meanwhile, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, Muhammad Barzan al-Tikriti, was arrested along the Iraqi-Jordanian border with a Moroccan Jew. PB

Aisha Qadhafi, the daughter of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, has joined the legal team of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the BBC reported on 3 July. Muhammad al-Rashdan, who heads the panel defending Hussein, reportedly told BBC Online that Qadhafi will join a team of 20 or 30 lawyers, but it was not decided yet what her role will be. In the past, the Libyan leader has publicly defended Hussein. According to AFP, Jordanian lawyer Ziad Khassawneh, returning from Tripoli, said on 7 July that he and two members of the defense team met with Aisha Qadhafi and "she expressed her full legal support, and told us that President Saddam Hussein is like her father." Khassawneh also said that "hundreds" of Arab and Jordanian lawyers have volunteered to offer their services to the defense team. "Five hundred have officially registered but we expect them to reach 1,000," he said. During their meeting, Qadhafi reportedly promised to recruit African lawyers to help defend Hussein. The former Iraqi president's legal team is appointed by his wife and daughters and is based in Amman, Jordan. LA

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met with interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in Baghdad on 3 July, Mediafax reported. Geoana said on 4 July that the talks were concentrated on possible economic cooperation and repayment of Iraq's $1.7 billion debt to Romania. Geoana said several options are under consideration, including creating an investment fund, granting stakes in Iraqi banks, or providing Iraqi oil shipments. Geoana also said he presented al-Yawir and Allawi offers by Romanian companies to participate in the reconstruction of their country. The sides agreed to set up a joint working group to examine fields in which Iraq could make use of Romanian expertise. MS