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Newsline - July 8, 2004

The court-imposed deadline for oil giant Yukos to pay $3.4 billion in back taxes, fines, and penalties dating from 2000 expired on 7 July without a payment agreement being reached, Russian and international media reported on 8 July. The BBC reported on 8 July that court bailiffs intend to execute the court order. Agents of the Prosecutor-General's Office on 7 July again searched Yukos's offices and seized the contents of a safe used by senior company managers, Interfax reported. An unnamed law enforcement source told the agency that the search was connected with a complaint from court bailiffs alleging that company managers are obstructing justice by not cooperating in executing the court order. A Justice Ministry statement on 7 July charged that managers "have attempted to evade satisfying bailiff demands and have obstructed the enforcement of a court decision," Interfax reported. on 8 July reported that both Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov have said they believe Yukos has sufficient resources to settle its debts. Yukos Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told the website that the government has officially declined a company offer to use its 35 percent stake in Sibneft to compensate its tax debt. RC

"Kommersant-Daily" on 8 July commented on media reports that jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has offered to surrender a 44 percent stake in Yukos that he and other major shareholders control in order to forestall the company's possible bankruptcy. The daily speculated that the government might give the Yukos stake to the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom in exchange for increasing the state's stake in Gazprom by 16.5 percent. That would give the government a controlling stake in Gazprom, which Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has previously stated is necessary to implement the government's economic plans. on 7 July commented that a new science of "Kremlinology" is emerging in the Russian business community as it tries to interpret the significance of various statements and actions by government officials. "It is no wonder that the authorities deliberately leave things ambiguous: This kind of uncertainty is a very powerful means of controlling Russian business and society as a whole," the website commented. "Macroeconomic indicators have been replaced by political behavior." RC

Following the temporary shutdown of the Guta Bank, the Central Bank's board of directors voted on 7 July to cut the mandatory reserve requirement for commercial banks from 7 percent to 3.5 percent, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. In addition, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev told State Duma deputies that the bank has prepared a draft law creating a deposit-insurance system, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the bill, depositors would have the right to get up to 100,000 rubles ($3,440) of their savings back. The Central Bank would provide those funds. In comments to reporters, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the bill might be approved before 10 July. JAC

About $100 million has been withdrawn from Alfa Bank, one of Russia's largest banks, since 3 July, Ekho Moskvy reported on 7 July. As of 7 July, the bank was placing four times the usual amount of cash in its ATMs, but some of the machines still ran out of cash. On 8 July, the bank was planning to extend its hours to 9 p.m. to accommodate all of its customers, "Vedomosti" reported on 8 July. Alfa Bank Vice President Aleksandr Gafin told reporters on 7 July that the bank is having no problems with liquidity but has had some technical difficulties refilling the ATMs, ITAR-TASS reported. Gafin also criticized the Central Bank, "which could have helped in the current situation by listing those banks against which the bank and supervisory bodies have no complaints." Gafin charged that his bank has been the "victim of a premeditated campaign," "Vedomosti" reported on 8 July. "We even know who did this and by what means," he said. According to its website ( Alfa is the largest private bank in Russia and among the top five financial corporations in terms of shareholder equity. It had assets of $6 billion last year. JAC

Alfa Bank customers in Vladivostok were considerably calmer, "Vremya novostei" reported on 8 July, and no crowds were seen outside a local Alfa Bank branch. The daily commented that the depositors' relative serenity might be attributable to the time difference, since the unpleasant financial news from Moscow didn't reach them until late in the evening and it was already too late to do anything. In Nizhnii Novgorod, a crowd of some 70 people has gathered outside a branch for the last three days. According to the daily, bank workers blamed the media for sowing panic among the city's citizens. JAC

Newly installed NTV General Director Vladimir Kulistikov on 7 July denied widespread media reports that the network has cancelled the popular analytical programs "Svoboda slova" and "Lichnyi vklad," RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. "At present, no final decision has yet been made on any programs," Kulistikov said, although he confirmed that NTV management is currently working on its schedule for the new season. He added that NTV "will remain an independent sociopolitical and news channel." The agency also quoted NTV spokesman Georgii Simonovich as saying "at present [the reports are] just rumors. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 July that Kulistokov met late on 7 July with "Svoboda slova" host Savik Shuster and offered him the post of deputy general director responsible for documentaries. on 8 July reported that Shuster refused to confirm or deny the report. commented on 8 July that early media speculation that NTV would soon reorient itself toward entertainment programming seems "less convincing" now that Kulistikov, who has considerable news-programming experience, has been named general director (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). RC

The Federation Council voted on 7 July by 137 in favor, one against, and no abstentions to ratify the 1999 amendments to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Interfax reported. The Russian State Duma ratified the accord on 25 June by a vote of 398 in favor, four against, and three abstentions, Interfax reported on 25 June. Mikhail Margelov, who heads the Federation Council's Committee for International Relations, decried on 7 July repeated statements by the Baltic states that they will accede to the CFE Treaty only after all 30 original signatories have ratified it. To date only Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan have done so. LF

Two unidentified employees at the chemical-weapons-destruction facility in the Saratov Oblast town of Gornyi have been arrested for allegedly attempting to sell eight kilograms of the explosive hexogen, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 7 July. One of the men was reportedly arrested while trying to sell three kilograms of the substance to a police agent on a village street. That arrest led to the seizure of more than four more kilograms of hexogen at the house of the second man. The two men reportedly do not work in the same department at the chemical-weapons-destruction facility and, according to police, the hexogen did not come from the plant. A police spokesman said its provenance has yet to be established. RC

President Vladimir Putin's electoral rating fell three points to 49 percent this week, reported on 7 July citing the Public Opinion Foundation. According to the pollster, some 3,000 respondents in 63 cities and towns were asked whom they would vote for if presidential elections were held "this Sunday." Former Communist Party presidential candidate Nikolai Kharitonov finished second with 5 percent and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii was third with 4 percent. When presidential elections were held in March, Putin's rating was 56 percent. He received 71 percent in the election. JAC

State Duma deputies voted on 7 July to pass the presidential law on civil service in its third and final reading, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 330 for and 106 against, according to RIA-Novosti and RosBalt. The bill establishes legal, economic, and organizational guidelines for regulating the civil service and introducing new ranks. The bill also introduces the concept of a service contract, similar to a labor agreement, which can be terminated if a bureaucrat causes harm to the state, issues illegal orders, or reveals state secrets. The bill also prohibits civil servants from engaging in commercial activities or using their position to assist election campaigns. JAC

Also on 7 July, deputies voted to approve in their third and final reading amendments to the Administrative Code that toughen the punishment for drunk driving, RosBalt reported. The vote was 337 in favor with 36 against and two abstentions. The amendments increase the time period that a drunk driver can be deprived of his license. According to data from the traffic police, Moscow catches 110-120 drunk drivers daily. About 30 are fined and the rest of the cases are taken to court, according to the agency. JAC

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) formed a temporary commission on 6 July that will oversee the gubernatorial election in Samara Oblast this fall, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 July. It is the first time the TsIK has set up such a commission in a federation entity. An oblast court had earlier moved up the gubernatorial election to 19 September after upholding a complaint by a local legislator challenging the regional parliament's decision in 2000 to increase the governor's term from four to five years, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The court also ruled that the central commission had to form a temporary body given that both the oblast Duma and oblast election commission had failed to adopt a decision organizing the next gubernatorial election. Incumbent Governor Konstantin Titov's term expired on 2 July. According to the daily, the early election will benefit Titov, who some analysts believe has spent the last year preparing for the possibility of an early election. Titov will be seeking a third term. Titov resigned just before the end of his first term and was reelected to a second term with more than 50 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April and 3 July 2000). JAC

Andrei Vikharev, the Federation Council representative for the Kurgan Oblast legislature, has accused his replacement, Sergei Lisovskii, of buying his seat in the upper legislative chamber, reported on 7 July. Vikharev has been serving in the Federation Council since 1999, and Kurgan Oblast legislators recently voted to recall him and put Lisovskii in his place. Vikharev has filed a complaint with an oblast court and has spoken out against his recall, which occurred less than three months before his term was to expire. Vikharev asked on the floor of the council, "What is my fault? That I have less money than Lisovskii?" His fellow senators reportedly applauded vigorously. Lisovskii dismissed Vikharev's charge calling it a "clownish prank." Vikharev, who ran in the 2003 gubernatorial election in Sverdlovsk Oblast, has been closely linked with regional oligarch Pavel Fedulov, who is rumored to have bought Vikharev's seat in the Federation Council (see "Russian Federation Votes," 14 October 2003, on JAC

Several unidentified imams have appealed to Magomed-hadji Albogachiev to retract his resignation as Ingushetia's mufti, reported on 7 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). They argued that President Murat Zyazikov should resign instead. Albogachiev cited Zyazikov's "anti-Islamic" policies as one of the factors behind his decision. Albogachiev has, however, declined to withdraw his resignation and his deputy, Isa Khamkhoev, has been named acting mufti of Ingushetia. LF

Aslan Maskhadov warned in a 20 June interview posted on on 6 July that Moscow should face up to the fact that it cannot win a military victory in Chechnya, "even if the war continues for five or 10 years," as "the forces subordinate to the president [meaning himself] are sufficient" to fight for that length of time "without overexerting ourselves." Therefore, Maskhadov said, the Russian leadership should withdraw its troops and come to the negotiating table. He said the most important issue is to obtain security guarantees from Moscow for the Chechen population, and predicted that it would not be difficult to reach an accommodation on "everything else," by which he presumably means the future status of Chechnya within the Russian Federation. Some Russian commentators construed Maskhadov's interview as a threat to launch terrorist attacks against civilians elsewhere in Russia, or as a veiled reference to the 21-22 June attacks on police targets in Ingushetia. But Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, was quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 July as saying that such inferences are the result of sloppy and inaccurate translation from Chechen into Russian. LF

Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian told journalists in Yerevan on 7 July that the maximum two years' imprisonment for tax evasion envisaged by the Armenian Criminal Code is absurdly lenient and that he will ask the government to draft a legislative amendment to increase the maximum to 10 years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Tax revenues in 2003 amounted to less than 15 percent of GDP. Parliament approved legislative amendments in December, including a 1 percent turnover tax, aimed at combating tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). The Finance Ministry unveiled a three-year plan in June aimed at increasing tax revenues by almost 17 percent in 2004 and a further 14 percent in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004). LF

EU Commissioner Janez Potocnik met in Baku on 7 July with parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and President Ilham Aliyev, Turan reported. Potocnik, who is touring the South Caucasus to explain the details of the EU's European Neighborhood Policy program into which Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were formally accepted last month, stressed to Alesqerov the need for Azerbaijan to combat poverty and crackdown on corruption if it wishes to be considered for EU membership. At his meeting with Aliyev, Potocnik touched upon Turkey's possible accession to the EU and the prospects for EU cooperation with the South Caucasus states. LF

Two Georgian peacekeepers and several Ossetians were injured on 8 July in an exchange of fire near Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told journalists in Tbilisi that the Ossetians attacked the peacekeepers' post and abducted one of them, according to ITAR-TASS. Zhvania told foreign ambassadors in Tbilisi on 8 July that Georgia "must do everything possible" to avoid bloodshed. The Georgian Foreign Ministry on 8 July declined to confirm Russian media reports that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has decided to cut short an official visit to Iran and return to Tbilisi in light of the escalating tensions in South Ossetia. LF

An Ossetian detachment numbering roughly 200 men apprehended and disarmed some 35-50 Georgian peacekeepers in the Georgian-populated village of Vanati in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia late on 7 July, Russian and Georgian media reported. The Georgians offered no resistance in order not to jeopardize the lives of the civilian population; they have been taken to Tskhinvali, where South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity announced on 8 July that they will be handed over to their parents. South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev told ITAR-TASS that the Georgians had established a checkpoint in Vanati in violation of agreements on the deployment of peacekeepers in the conflict zone. Caucasus Press quoted South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva as saying on 8 July that the operation to apprehend the Georgians was conducted without prior consultation with the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone. LF

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists on 7 July that the interception by Georgian Interior and Security Ministry troops earlier that day of a Russian convoy transporting weapons, food, and fuel to the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia constituted a blatant violation of an agreement reached during talks between Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian officials on 2 June, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). A Foreign Ministry press release of 7 July likewise condemned the Georgian action as unprecedented, outrageous, and calling into question official Georgian statements that Tbilisi intends to resolve its conflict with the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia by exclusively peaceful means. It further decried the personal participation in the operation of Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Kormiltsev and Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov also condemned the confiscation of the Russian armaments, stressing that Tbilisi gave permission for their transportation. According to Sedov, the convoy included rockets for use by helicopters belonging to the Russian/Georgia/Ossetian peacekeeping contingent. LF

Georgian Interior Minister Okruashvili said on 7 July that the State Security Ministry will question Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, who according to Chochiev approved at the 2 June meeting the transport of the Russian weaponry across South Ossetia, Interfax reported. Khaindrava in turn accused Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, commander of the Russian peacekeeping force in Suth Ossetia, of transporting the weaponry to the conflict zone without notifying Tbilisi beforehand, Caucasus Press reported on 7 July. ITAR-TASS quoted Khaindrava as arguing that the agreement to deploy helicopters to the conflict zone was taken in 1996 by the previous Georgian leadership and that he therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania on 7 July praised the role of Interior Minister Okruashvili and State Security Minister Vano Merabishvili in intercepting and confiscating the Russian weaponry, ITAR-TASS reported. Giorgi Targamadze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, was quoted by Interfax on 7 July as saying that Georgia will not return the confiscated rockets as the peacekeepers in South Ossetia have no need of helicopters. LF

Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Otto announced in Astana on 7 July that 30,000 policemen will be on duty to keep the peace during 19 September elections to Kazakhstan's lower chamber of parliament, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Otto also noted that 11,000 Interior Ministry employees are currently checking and bar-coding voter rolls, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Thus far, the Central Electoral Commission has submitted rolls with 7.37 million voters to local government offices; 2.88 million of the entries have been bar-coded. According to Otto, the process will be completed by 1 August. DK

Mukhtar Dzhakishev, president of Kazakh state atomic-industry company Kazatomprom, announced in Almaty on 7 July that Kazakhstan plans to boost uranium production from current levels of 3,000 tons a year to 10,000 tons a year by 2010, Prime-TASS reported. The eventual goal is annual production of 15,000 tons and export revenues of $850 million by 2015, RIA-Novosti reported. Export revenues currently stand at $100 million. Seven new mines will be built at a total cost of $420 million to lay the groundwork for the production hike. Dzhakishev also announced that Kazakhstan and China intend to sign an agreement on strategic partnership in the uranium industry through 2020, Interfax reported. Dzhakishev said the signing will likely take place in August-September. DK

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree on 7 July removing Uraz Dzhandosov as the chairman of the Agency for Regulating Natural Monopolies, the presidential press service reported. The decree notes that Dzhandosov's removal is part of a planned restructuring at the agency. Also removed were First Deputy Chairwoman Zhannat Ertlesova and Deputy Chairmen Almas Mynbaev and Bakytzhan Sagintaev. DK

New reports have scaled back the number of officials arrested in the spy scandal that erupted in Kyrgyzstan on 2 July. The newspaper "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on 7 July that only three officials are in custody on suspicion of revealing state secrets -- an Interior Ministry official, an official from the Border Service, and a military courier; other suspects are not government officials. Initial reports on 2 July had quoted sources in the National Security Service (SNB) and stated that 10 officials from various ministries were under arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004), prompting denials from the Foreign Ministry and elsewhere. According to a 7 July report in "Delo No," charges have been brought against six suspects. SNB head Kalyk Imankulov confirmed that six people have been arrested, "Argumenty i fakty v Kyrgyzstane" reported on 7 July. Imankulov said the arrests came after a yearlong investigation. Describing the suspects as "traitors," Imankulov said they are "former officers of the security services who knew what kind of information was of interest to foreign intelligence structures and for how much it could be sold." The newspaper report noted that the suspects might include "entrepreneurs and scientists." Imankulov said that he does not rule out further arrests, and he promised that the SNB will hold a news conference "in the shortest possible time." DK

Anvar Babaev, head of the Labor Ministry's Migration Service, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 7 July that 50,000 Tajik citizens have left the country to work in Russia since the beginning of 2004. The data came from the migration cards that Tajik citizens fill out when they leave the country, a practice introduced on 1 January. Babaev noted that the official statistic is only a fraction of the real number. "It's no secret that the majority of our fellow citizens leave the country illegally, mainly using auto transportation through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan," Asia Plus quoted Babaev as saying. With the Russian economy still in need of cheap labor, Babaev said he anticipates no impending falloff in labor migration. He stressed that the two countries' governments need to reach an agreement on migration issues that will guarantee migrant laborers their rights. DK

Some 200 people took part in a demonstration in downtown Minsk on 7 July to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, Belapan reported. Two alleged kidnappers of Zavadski, members of an elite Belarusian police unite, were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002. The trial provided no answers, however, to questions about what happened to Zavadski after he was kidnapped. The Prosecutor-General's Office dropped an investigation into the case in March. "The evidence is overwhelming of the part played by the authorities in the disappearance of Dzmitry Zavadski," the Paris-based press-freedom organization Reporters Without Borders and the Belarusian Association of Journalists said in a joint statement on 7 July. "If Belarus wants one day to join the Council of Europe, it will have to take the unavoidable step of holding an independent investigation to establish all the guilty in this case." JM

Three unidentified men attacked independent workers' movement activist and former Belarusian Supreme Soviet Deputy (1990-95) Syarhey Antonchyk as he was getting into his car in Minsk on 7 July, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Antonchyk managed to flee the attackers and reported the incident to police. Antonchyk told RFE/RL that he believes the attack was politically motivated. "I am in a large group...that, in accordance with the constitution, is preparing for the [parliamentary] elections," he said. "We are creating a network of people in every city in order to establish real monitoring of the elections, support our candidates, and field our candidate in the presidential elections. I think the attack was connected with this." In 1994, Antonchyk presented a report in the Supreme Soviet on corruption in President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's entourage and was subsequently convicted of slander and had some of his property confiscated. JM

Lukashenka told visiting Lebanese President Emile Lahoud in Minsk on 7 July that Belarus is ready to further cooperation with Lebanon in all areas, Belapan reported. "We have come a long way in cooperation, and 10 years later, your visit to Belarus is aimed at outlining new prospects," Lukashenka said. The sides are expected to sign accords on cooperation in education, science, and culture. JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told journalists on 7 July that he expects to win the 31 October presidential election in the first round, that is, with more than 50 percent of the vote on that day, Interfax reported. Yanukovych made his comment shortly after obtaining a document from the Central Election Commission confirming his registration as a presidential candidate. On 8 July, Yanukovych, who is also leader of the Party of Regions, signed an accord with Popular Democratic Party head Valeriy Pustovoytenko on the creation of an "election coalition of democratic forces." Yanukovych predicted that some 50 parties and other organizations will join the coalition. JM

Our Ukraine leader and presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has signed a so-called Declaration for a Fair Election and urged other presidential candidates who share its principles to follow suit, Interfax reported on 7 July. The declaration obliges signatories to provide true statements about their past during the campaign; promote comprehensive and honest media coverage of the campaign; reject unfair campaign methods; rule out pressure on journalists, observers, and voters; and renounce engaging state bodies in campaigning. JM

The Verkhovna Rada has rejected a petition by the Prosecutor-General's Office to lift the parliamentary immunity of Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of an eponymous opposition bloc, Interfax reported on 7 July. The Prosecutor-General's Office has instituted criminal proceedings against Tymoshenko, accusing her of attempting to bribe a judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004). Tymoshenko denied the accusation, calling it "totally wrong" and a provocation. JM

Speaking on state-run Bosnian Serb television (RTRS) on 7 July, Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said that he will not call new elections because the constitutional criteria for doing so have not been met, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Cavic warned members of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) not to respond emotionally to the recent sacking of 59 Bosnian Serb officials, most of whom are close to the SDS, by High Representative Paddy Ashdown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). Cavic stressed that for the SDS to provoke a governmental crisis in response to Ashdown's move and force new elections would amount to political "suicide." The president added that the call for new elections put forward by the smaller governing Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) amounts to the "worst option" for the Republika Srpska. Cavic did not rule out cabinet changes involving some members of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) but did not elaborate. Cavic's decision not to call elections appears aimed at averting a confrontation between the Bosnian Serbs and Ashdown. New elections would most likely have been seen as a move by the SDS to obtain fresh legitimacy prior to launching a renewed defiance of the high representative. PM

Dragan Covic, who is the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Sarajevo on 7 July that he will not attend Serbian President-elect Boris Tadic's inauguration in Belgrade on 11 July because that is the anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when Serbian forces killed up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males. Covic noted that each member of the presidency received a personal invitation to the inauguration, so he can speak for himself but not for the other two members. Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member, has already said he will not attend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). It is not clear whether any or all of the other invitees will attend, including Serbian member of the presidency Borislav Paravac, Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic, Republika Srpska President Cavic, Croat-Muslim Federation President Niko Lozancic, and Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic. PM

Former Croatian General Mirko Norac left for The Hague on 8 July to enter a plea before the war crimes tribunal on charges that troops he led in 1993 committed atrocities against Serbs in the Medak Pocket region, Reuters reported. Norac, who is serving a 12-year sentence in Croatia on other war crimes charges, is expected to return to his cell in Rijeka shortly. His trial on the Medak Pocket charges is likely to be held in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003, and 26 May and 4 June 2004). PM

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Mark Grossman said in Belgrade on 7 July that former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who is believed to be hiding in Serbia, as well as four recently indicted Serbian generals must go to The Hague and face war crimes charges, Reuters reported. He suggested, however, that the four Serbian generals might be tried in Serbia provided Mladic indeed goes to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). Recent reports in some Sarajevo and Western media have suggested that serious negotiations have been under way for the surrender of Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Persistent but unconfirmed reports from Belgrade indicate that President-elect Tadic is determined that Mladic go to The Hague and cease being an impediment to Serbia's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. In recent weeks, Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, has suggested that she is optimistic that Karadzic will be arrested soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 21 and 30 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM

Macedonia's conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) announced on 7 July that it will set up roadblocks on major thoroughfares and boulevards in Skopje to protest the government's decentralization plans, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June and 2 July 2004). The VMRO-DPMNE argues that the government has not involved it in plans to cut the number of administrative districts. The party also demands that the government take into account the results of some 40 referendums against the decentralization plans. Ethnic issues play a role in some but not all of the redistricting plans. In related news, unnamed government sources do not rule out that the local elections slated for 17 October will have to be postponed by up to six months due to the delay in the adoption of the decentralization legislation, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 6 and 7 July. UB

Kosova's parliament voted on 8 July to adopt several constitutional changes, including one establishing the right to hold a referendum on independence, Reuters reported. Other measures call for switching responsibility for international relations and public security from the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) to Kosova's own officials. UNMIK has repeatedly warned the parliament that constitutional changes do not lie in the sphere of its competence. In the wake of the ethnically motivated unrest in March, many political leaders in Kosova have called for speeding up the transfer of authority from UNMIK to Kosovar officials (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). Most of the international community stresses that the Kosovars must first meet internationally mandated standards before there can be movement toward clarifying Kosova's final status. Germany's opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) recently called for replacing UNMIK with an EU administration, while maintaining NATO's security presence. Some FDP members of the German parliament recently told "RFE/RL Newsline" that the EU is more knowledgeable about Kosova's affairs than are many international officials from Africa or Asia, adding that the EU is in the best position to offer the Kosovars incentives to meet the necessary standards. PM

President Ion Iliescu on 7 July refused to comment on media reports that Prime Minister Adrian Nastase intends to resign as chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and to refuse a PSD nomination for a presidential candidacy, Mediafax reported. Reports on 7 July said Nastase intends to stay on as prime minister but to resign as PSD chairman in protest against alleged criticism by Iliescu at a 5 July meeting with the PSD leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). Asked by journalists when he intends to meet again with Nastase, Iliescu replied, "This is none of your business," but added that Nastase has not informed him of any intention to resign as PSD chairman. MS

The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance said on 7 July that President Iliescu must either distance himself from the affairs of the PSD or resign as head of state, Mediafax reported. Alliance spokesman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said the constitution does not allow the head of state to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties. "It seems that Ion Iliescu's affection for the PSD and his wish to return to the leadership of that party are stronger than the obligation to respect the constitutional provisions; if so, nothing prevents him from renouncing the position of head of state," Popescu-Tariceanu said. MS

The executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 7 July approved a new accord with Romania, Mediafax reported. The two-year accord is of the "precautionary stand-by" type. Under its provisions, Romania undertook to take macroeconomic measures recommended by the IMF and would be entitled in the event of unforeseen economic crises to funds of up to $362 million. Under the agreement, Romania will strive to reduce its current deficit from 5.8 percent in 2003 to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004 and to reduce inflation from 14.1 percent in 2003 to 9 percent this year, 6 percent in 2005, and 4 percent in 2006. The budget deficit is to be reduced from 2.4 percent of GDP in 2003 to 2.1 percent in 2004. MS

President Vladimir Voronin said on 7 July that he regrets that no agreement was reached that would have made possible issuing a joint declaration by himself and Romanian President Iliescu on 2 July, Mediafax reported. Voronin said he must "regretfully take note of the fact that the forces around the [Romanian] president were more influential" than Iliescu himself. "We understand that three-four months ahead of the presidential elections, future candidates for the post, who are very close to the president, would have been disturbed, as they are counting on the 7-8 percent [of the electorate] who keep calling us Bessarabia," Voronin commented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June, 2 and 7 July 2004). MS

President Voronin on 7 July told the Russian-language Novosti-Moldova agency that his Stability and Security Pact for Moldova (SSPM) launched early last month is "not a request for assistance, but a demand to receive guarantees in line with the imperatives of the present," Flux reported. Voronin said that by agreeing to sign the SSPM, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the United States, and the European Union would in fact be guaranteeing Moldova's territorial integrity and its democratic political development. He emphasized that Moldova finds itself at a crossroads where the interests of several world powers clash and, as of late, at NATO's borders as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). "The time has come to clarify this situation," Voronin said. MS

In an interview with Infotag on 7 July, former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, who is co-chairman of the Our Moldova alliance, said the SSPM is part of the several "electoral tricks" pulled by the current rulers on the electorate ahead of the 2005 parliamentary elections. Braghis said that the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has transformed the process of settling the Transdniester conflict into a personal confrontation between President Voronin and separatist leader Igor Smirnov, neither of whom will benefit if the conflict is actually solved. Braghis said Moldova's current rulers are incapable of rising above "narrow party interests," and the expectations they raise that the conflict could be settled by introducing a new federal constitution run counter to the provisions of the current constitution. He also said his party would support a referendum on a new constitution only if the vote could be carried out under conditions ensuring its freedom on both sides of the Dniester River. Such conditions are currently lacking, Braghis added. MS

In a joint press release on 7 July, the diplomatic representations in Chisinau of several countries said they salute last week's launching by 12 nongovernmental organizations of a drive aimed at ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections in 2005, Flux and Infotag reported. The embassies of France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as the office of the Council of Europe's special representative and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission said the newly formed Coalition 2005 is aimed at ensuring "the largest possible participation of civil society organizations" in the electoral process, and that this participation would be "vitally important for a well-functioning democratic society." MS

The campaign for the 31 October presidential election started officially on 3 July. 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. One more major competitor, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, is expected to apply for registration in the near future. This "preliminary" registration means, in particular, that a registered candidate may immediately begin his/her election campaign. The commission, however, may nullify the registration of a presidential candidate if he or she fails to provide at least 500,000 signatures in support of his or her candidacy by 20 September.

The most theatrical inauguration of the election campaign was made by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, whom surveys suggest leads the presidential race with 24 percent support. On 3 July, Yushchenko with his family visited his native village, Khoruzhivka in Sumy Oblast, where he obtained his 85-year-old mother's blessing for the presidential campaign. "God help you in your good deeds," UNIAN quoted Varvara Yushchenko as saying to her son, after she made the sign of the cross over him.

Yushchenko publicly announced his intention to run in the 2004 presidential race in Kyiv on 4 July, to an estimated crowd of 50,000 people, who were gathered there by Our Ukraine activists as representatives of all of Ukraine's 35,000 settlements. "I am running for president. I will win the election, and this will be a victory of all of us!" Yushchenko said at the rally. "The authorities will work for the people. Corruption will be ended. All will be equal before the law. Bandits will go to jail," he said, outlining the main concerns of his presidency. Shortly after the rally he personally submitted the documents necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate to the Central Election Commission.

After leaving the headquarters of the Central Election Commission, Yushchenko was confronted with another crowd of his supporters, this time numbering some 35,000. This rally was conducted by Oleksandr Zinchenko -- only a year ago a bitter political opponent of the Our Ukraine leader, now manager of Yushchenko's election campaign.

The slogan of Yushchenko's election campaign is "I Believe, I Know, We Can." The following is how Zinchenko, according to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, decoded this phrase, speaking at the rally in front of the Central Election Commission headquarters on 4 July: "I believe! Look in Yushchenko's eyes. Is there any doubt that he believes?! He believes in God, in his parents, in Ukraine. I know! This is the man who led the National Bank and the government. And you know what a prime minister he was! We can! Everything depends on us! On 31 October we will witness an event that in modern history can be compared only with the winning of [Ukrainian] independence in 1991."

Last week, Yushchenko signed an important coalition accord with Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, to pool efforts in the presidential-election campaign in order to promote his election victory. 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.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who with backing reaching 16 percent is second after Viktor Yushchenko in pre-election surveys, inaugurated his election campaign less conspicuously than the latter. Yanukovych was formally proposed as a presidential candidate by a congress of the Party of Regions in Zaporizhzhya on 4 July. Yanukovych appointed Serhiy Tyhypko, head of the National Bank and leader of the Labor Ukraine Party, as chief of his election staff.

Oleksandr Moroz and Petro Symonenko were proposed as presidential candidates by the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, respectively, at party congresses that took place in Kyiv on 4 July. The Socialist Party congress adopted an appeal to the Communist Party to run a joint presidential candidate from the Socialist Party in the 2004 presidential election.

It is expected that the list of registered presidential hopefuls will be much longer. The Central Election Commission, apart from Yanukovych, Yushchenko, and Moroz, registered Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, leader of the Single Family association. Natalya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, has also declared her intention to run, along with leaders of several other minor parties.

Ukrainian media have already registered some examples of dirty election techniques that, according to many observers, will be used profusely in this year's presidential campaign. On 2 July, three Ukrainian regions, Kharkiv, Sumy, and Poltava, were flooded with more than 3 million bogus leaflets of the Socialist Party -- titled "To Prevent the Traitor From Coming to Power" -- in which Moroz accuses Yushchenko of being "an agent of the Kremlin" and a "guarantor of the interests of Russian capital."

Moreover, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 6 July quoted two temnyks -- unsigned secret instructions that are regularly sent to major state-controlled and private media outlets -- that effectively tell journalists to reduce their coverage of Yushchenko's moves in the presidential campaign to factual reports, without expanding them with any commentaries. On the other hand, one of the temnyks instructs journalists to highlight the recent publication of a book whose author, described as a "medium-level tax inspector," discloses, among other revelations, that Yushchenko stole "millions of dollars" from the state in 1991-92.

"I'm looking to next year with fear," President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in December 2003. "Everybody agrees that the [2004] election will be the scariest and dirtiest ever." Given that the presidential administration led by Viktor Medvedchuk is widely seen in Ukraine as the main compiler of temnyks, Kuchma may be one of the best-informed persons with regard to what some presidential candidates should fear in the next several months.

U.S. General Richard Cody told the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on 7 July that current military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are putting a strain on the ability of the United States to deploy elsewhere in the world, international media reported. Moreover, he said, even replacing troops currently serving in these two countries could be difficult. When asked about the status of the U.S. military by legislators, Cody replied, "Are we stretched thin with our active and reserve component forces right now? Absolutely," AFP reported. Other military officials are also concerned, Cody said. He stressed the necessity of increasing the size of the U.S. military at this time in order to meet the current needs and threats. "This is a different war," he said. "That's why it's so important that everyone understands, and that's why we asked for the 30,000 [more troops], so we could build up." In his testimony, Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that there are currently 17,900 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Analysts worry that this strain on U.S. military forces could have a negative impact on their ability to provide security in Afghanistan. KM

The U.S. military official charged with investigating and reporting on the conditions of prisons located at U.S. military bases in Afghanistan -- where four Afghan prisoners died during detainment -- has submitted his findings to the top military commander in Afghanistan, AP reported on 7 July. Brigadier General Charles Jacoby submitted his report to Lieutenant General David Barno, according to U.S. military spokesman Major Jon Siepmann. Siepmann said that some of the report's conclusions will be released to the public after they are studied by officials. Barno ordered the review after revelations of mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq by U.S. forces were made public in May, at which time demands were made to revisit the conditions of U.S. holding facilities in Afghanistan. In December 2002, two Afghan detainees died at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, and their deaths from "blunt-force injuries" were ruled homicides by military coroners. Two more prisoners died at bases outside Kabul, and according to AP, there were at least two other cases in which Afghan prisoners reported either physical or sexual abuse. Jacoby investigated approximately 20 detainment centers in Afghanistan, AP reported. KM

Taliban commander Mullah Mujahid was arrested in Shah Wali Kot District in Kandahar Province, 150 miles southwest of Kabul, on 6 July, international news agencies reported on 7 July. Mujahid allegedly admitted giving more than $1 million to Taliban supporters recently, according to a "senior intelligence official," AP reported. Mujahid, along with a second suspected Taliban member, Nisar Hamed, was taken into custody during a nighttime raid on a house. Kandahar intelligence official Abdullah Laghmani said that Mujahid was a leader in Takhar Province before the Taliban was driven from power by U.S. forces in December 2001, AP reported. Mujahid reportedly claimed he entered Afghanistan about four months ago and was aiding insurgents on behalf of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Mujahid was transported to Kabul on 7 July, Afghan Islamic Press reported on 7 July. KM

A new civil-military base, constructed to house a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in southeastern Paktika Province, was opened on 30 June in the troubled province, AFP reported on 7 July, citing local officials. The U.S.-led coalition is attempting to extend its ability to assist the Afghan Transitional Administration in reconstruction projects in the provinces through the PRTs, which combine military support with civilian expertise. U.S. military spokesman Major Siepmann said at a press conference in Kabul on 7 July, "The coalition has aggressively pursued the establishment of PRTs to facilitate reconstruction and security across the country." NATO controls three PRTs, located in Konduz, Mazar-e Sharif, and Meymaneh provinces, while the U.S. military commands several teams in the south and southeast of Afghanistan, which is particularly plagued with anticoalition and antigovernment militants and insurgents. KM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 7 July that claims on 6 July by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that Iran may develop nuclear weapons are provoking "America's ever-greater embarrassment before world opinion and especially Islamic countries," ISNA reported on 7 July. Powell and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom expressed concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions in Washington on 6 July, and Powell urged international support for efforts "to stop Iran from pursuing nuclear-weapons development, or worse, acquiring a nuclear bomb," AFP reported the same day. Iran denies it wants nuclear weapons. Assefi said the United States has "no independent policy" over Iran's nuclear program, and "obeys" Israel, ISNA reported. He rejected similar charges by Shalom as an attempt to "hide [Israel's] atomic-armaments program, and distract public opinion from that regime's dangerous nuclear program," ISNA reported. Shalom said that the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei met with Israeli officials on 6 July, should take a closer look at Iran's program. Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons, but has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. VS

Iran confirmed on 7 July that its forces have clashed with members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group fighting for a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, in northwestern Iran near the Turkish border, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 7 July. Initially it denied reports of clashes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004). Iran's deputy interior minister for security affairs, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, said on 7 July that the clashes took place "nine days ago, during which two Iranian soldiers and eight Kurdish rebels were killed," Radio Farda added. Casualty figures given by various news sources have differed. The PKK uses Iran's rugged northwest to wage war on Turkey, Radio Farda added. Iranian security forces have also raided alleged PKK targets in the northwestern Iranian towns of Salmas and Khoi, AFP reported on 7 July, citing the Mezopotamya news agency (, which is considered close to the PKK. VS

Iranian authorities have denied students permission to gather outside universities on 8 July, to mark the fifth anniversary of an attack on a Tehran University dormitory by policemen and plainclothes vigilantes, Radio Farda reported on 7 July. The 1999 assault led to deaths and a week of nationwide unrest. Reza Delbari, a member of the Office for Strengthening Unity, a student group, said that in order to ensure a quiet anniversary and prevent any gathering or unrest, universities practically shut down in the 20-day period to 8 July, and in some cases denied students access to the campus after noon, Radio Farda reported. Delbari added that the Interior Ministry and Supreme National Security Council have instructed local media to ignore all news relating to the anniversary. Security measures and police deployment in Tehran designed to preclude unrest have created a "police-like and frightening atmosphere," Radio Farda quoted Delbari as saying. AFP quoted journalist Hamid Reza Jalayipur as saying on 6 July that the police deployment in Tehran is designed to improve traffic. VS

President Mohammad Khatami sent a letter to parliament on 7 July, in which he named Mohammad Hussein Sharifzadegan as Iran's first welfare and social security minister, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 July. Parliament will debate his approval. The nomination follows a law regulating the social-security system, approved on 11 May 2003, which called for the formation of a welfare and social-security ministry, "Aftab-i Yazd" noted. Sharifzadegan is an official of the Social Security Organization, a state welfare body, which the new ministry is to replace. The daily quoted parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel as saying in Tehran on 7 July that Khatami has not consulted with parliament over the nominee, but that Sharifzadegan's possible rejection by parliament "does not mean a refusal to cooperate with the government." VS

Adil Abd al-Mahdi said on 7 July in Baghdad that Iraq's huge debt could harm the country's attempts to rebuild its economy, AP reported. Al-Mahdi said some countries have said they are willing to forgive part of the debt, which totals some $120 billion. Al-Mahdi called the debt a "heavy burden." He added that Iraq is still prepared to pay war reparations to victims of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Meanwhile, the IMF announced the same day that it has formally recognized Iraqi's interim government. PB

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut says it has "credible" information that missing U.S. marine Wassef Ali Hassoun is in Lebanon, but it does not know exactly where, AP reported on 8 July. The embassy said it is working to confirm Hassoun's whereabouts. His relatives say they have no new information about him. An Iraqi militant group said on 3 July that it had executed Hassoun. Two days later another group said he had not been killed after he promised not to rejoin the U.S. military. PB

A Filipino civilian was shown surrounded by armed insurgents in a video clip broadcast on Al-Jazeera television on 8 July, Reuters reported. The armed men threatened to kill the man unless the Philippines withdraws its small contingent of troops from Iraq within three days. A banner in the video identified the group as the Iraqi Islamic Army. An Egyptian truck driver was also kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents earlier this week. Later the same day, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered Filipino contract workers not to go to Iraq, according to AP, but she has not yet made a decision on the kidnappers' demand that her country withdraw its roughly 50 troops from the country. PB

At least four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi guardsman were killed and more than 20 others injured on 8 July when insurgents attacked an area that houses the Iraqi National Guard headquarters in the central Iraqi city of Samarra, Al-Jazeera and Western news agencies reported the same day. The National Guard building collapsed as a result of the explosions, both sources reported. Al-Jazeera meanwhile reported that hospital sources said five Iraqis were killed and more than 30 others injured as a result of U.S. troop clashes with unidentified gunmen in downtown Samarra. AH