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Newsline - July 19, 2004

President Vladimir Putin on 19 July relieved General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov of his command of Interior Ministry troops, RIA-Novosti reported. Colonel General Mikhail Labunets, the commander of Interior Ministry troops in the North Caucasus, was also released, as was Federal Security Service (FSB) Deputy Director Anatolii Yezhov, who oversaw the FSB's operations in the North Caucasus. In addition, the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Army General Vladimir Boldyrev, was replaced by Volga Military District commander General Aleksandr Baranov, whose post was assumed by Boldyrev. Observers widely saw the reshuffle as a result of the Russian military's failure to stabilize the situation in the North Caucasus and as fallout resulting from the 22 June attack in Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, 24, and 25 June 2004). VY

The presidential administration is planning to reduce from 12 to three the number of deputy-minister positions at the Interior Ministry, reported on 19 July. In addition, the number of functional directorates will be cut from 40 to 15, the website reported. The exact number of Interior Ministry personnel is classified, but it is considered to be the largest of the Russian security agencies and to have more personnel than the Russian Army. According to some estimates, as many as 2 million people work for the Interior Ministry. President Putin last week signed a decree reducing the number of deputy directors in the Federal Security Service (FSB) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). VY

President Putin on 19 July named Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii chief of the General Staff, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Baluevskii, who previously served as first deputy chief of the General Staff, replaced Army General Anatolii Kvashnin, who was dismissed earlier the same day. Russian media reported last week that Kvashnin had submitted a letter of resignation to Putin and that he was stepping down in response to recent Defense Ministry reforms intended to reduce the importance of the General Staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004). reported that Putin met in the Kremlin with Baluevskii and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 19 July. Interfax reported on 19 July that Kvashnin, 58, remains in the military and is assigned to the Defense Ministry. He had served as chief of the General Staff since 1997. RIA-Novosti also reported on 19 July that Colonel General Aleksandr Belousov has been named first deputy defense minister. RC

Mikhail Khodorkovskii said in a Moscow court on 16 July that the charges brought against him the previous day are "absurd and groundless," and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). He said that the prosecution is attempting to make him a scapegoat for the shortcomings of Russia's privatization efforts, and stressed that Yukos paid more taxes than other companies and took advantage of tax breaks accorded by the law. Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, who addressed the Meshchanskii Raion Court after Khodorkovskii, said the entire case against him is fabricated and that there is no evidence of his guilt. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow on 16 July expressed the United States' concern over the Yukos situation, Interfax reported on 16 July. "As always, we [the United States] don't take any position on the specific legal issues involved," Vershbow said. "But we are worried about the implications of the case for the rule of law and for property rights in Russia." VY

Responding to Khodorkovskii's calls for his resignation, Viktor Gerashchenko on 16 July said he was not appointed by Khodorkovskii, and it is thus "not for him to recall me," "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). Speaking to journalists following a trip to London, Gerashchenko said he returned to Moscow "to resume his normal duties." Gerashchenko said he can establish a constructive dialogue with the authorities to the benefit of Yukos. In reference to the government's negative response thus far to compromise proposals offered by Yukos and Khodorkovskii, Gerashchenko said the authorities do not believe that Khodorkovskii is "sincere enough." VY

Valerii Streletskii, the Russian publisher of Paul Klebnikov's books, has said that prior to his killing the editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine was working on a book on the unsolved killing in 1995 of ORT General Director Vladislav Listiev, international media reported. Streletskii, a retired Interior Ministry colonel who in 1994-95 oversaw an investigation into corruption among top presidential security service officials, told "Moskovskie novosti" and "Rodnaya gazeta" on 16 July and "The Independent" on 17 July that he and his former superior in the presidential security service, Aleksandr Korzhakov, frequently provided Klebnikov with information. Streletskii said he knew Klebnikov well and does not believe his killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004) is linked to "Forbes" magazine's publication of a list of the richest Russians. Streletskii also dismissed speculation that self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who feuded publicly with Klebnikov, might be behind the killing. "In such cases as Klebnikov's killing it is easier to find who ordered it first, and then who executed it," "Moskovskie novosti" quoted Streletskii as saying. VY

Streletskii spent most of his law enforcement career working for the Interior Ministry's Moscow Directorate, until his investigative skills prompted an invitation to work in the Kremlin, according to his 1998 book "Obscurantism." In June 1996, he headed a sting operation carried out by the presidential security service that resulted in the detention of two of then-President Boris Yeltsin's campaign officials as they attempted to carry $538,000 in cash from Yeltsin's campaign headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, 22 June, and 11 and 15 November 1996). The two were eventually released following pressure from the Kremlin and Streletskii subsequently lost his post after Korzhakov was ousted. "Obscurantism" catalogued corruption cases involving high-level government officials. The book, which Klebnikov frequently cited in "Forbes," also touched on the investigation of Listiev's killing and named people who were suspected of organizing it. VY

Primorskii Krai legislator and businessman Vladimir Nikolaev on 19 July was officially declared the winner of the 18 July second round of Vladivostok's scandalous mayoral election, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. With 100 percent of the vote counted, Nikolaev -- who was supported by Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin -- polled 52 percent, according to official figures. Krai legislator Nikolai Markovtsev received 9.2 percent of the vote, and 37 percent of voters cast their ballots "against all" candidates. Official turnout was 37.48 percent, reported on 19 July. Nikolaev, 30, has been widely described in the local and national media as a local criminal figure who reportedly is known by the nickname "Winnie the Pooh." RC

...AS FINAL DECISION TO REST WITH THE COURTS reported on 19 July that exit polling conducted by Ekho Moskvy indicated that in reality "against all" polled about 10 percent more than Nikolaev, which would have invalidated the election. The website also reported numerous violations of election law, including the appearance at a polling station of four busloads of residents of a village located more than 300 kilometers from Vladivostok. According to the report, some of those "voters" attempted to vote more than once. The BBC reportedly filmed one voter being allowed to vote for a second time after passing a note to a polling-station official, the website reported. also reported that State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent), who came in second in the first round of voting but was stricken from the ballot by a local court for allegedly abusing his position as a deputy during the campaign, intends to appeal his disqualification and the results of the second round of voting. RC

The working group on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) should complete its report by September, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported on 16 July, citing the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. The working group on 16 July completed a session in Geneva, the ministry reported. According to the ministry's press release, multilateral consultations on Russia's membership of the WTO will take place in September and October. The main outstanding issues are agriculture, access to services markets, and civil aviation, Prime-TASS reported. RC

Pail Peloyan, the Armenian editor of a Russian-language magazine on Armenian culture, was stabbed to death in Moscow on 17 July, Russian media reported. Peloyan was the editor of "Armyanskii pereulok," a magazine with a total circulation of just 1,000 copies that has not appeared since 2002, "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 July. reported on 17 July that an unidentified source close to the magazine said the killing might have been "connected to [Peloyan's] business activities, which he preferred to keep quiet." Other media speculated that Peloyan was the victim of a robbery. RC

Mikhail Fradkov announced during an address to the Naval Collegium in Archangelsk on 16 July that by the end of this year new legislation will be proposed that would grant significant tax breaks to ships sailing under the Russian flag, RosBalt reported. About 80 percent of the Russian maritime fleet currently sails under the flags of Panama, Liberia, and Malta. Defense Minister Ivanov, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev, and Transport Minister Igor Levitin attended the collegium session. VY

The director of the Armenian Medzamor nuclear power plant, Gagik Markosyan, announced on 16 July that the facility will be closed for 65 days for repairs and refueling, ITAR-TASS reported. The planned repairs are financed by the United States and the European Union and include the installation of a new centralized computer system, switching and routing equipment, and upgraded safety monitoring devices. The European Union continues to demand that Armenia close the facility and has offered to provide some 100 million euros ($124 million) in grants to help the Armenian government secure alternative energy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). The Medzamor power plant provides over 40 percent of Armenia's energy needs and, since February 2003, has been managed by Inter-UES, a subsidiary of the Russian Unified Energy System group. RG

The Yerevan-based Armenian Center of National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened a press conference on 16 July to present the results of a public opinion poll titled, "The Trends of Economic Growth in Armenia," Arminfo reported. The national survey, seeking to "evaluate public perceptions of economic growth in Armenia" and "to determine the factors obstructing and those promoting economic development," was conducted from 20 June to 12 July with a sample size of 1,127. Findings revealed that 55.7 percent of those surveyed asserted that the reported economic growth in Armenia has not had any impact on their family budget, 36.5 percent stated that it had a small positive impact, and only 7.5 percent were completely satisfied with the course of Armenian economic growth. ACNIS analyst Hovsep Khurshudian said that the survey indicated significant public dissatisfaction with the Armenian government's pronouncements of "unprecedented economic growth" and noted that "even if true, it does not bear a positive impact on all [sectors of] society." RG

The three OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen met in Baku on 16 July with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov, and Defense Minister Safar Abiev to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Two of the three OSCE co-chairmen, Russia's Yuri Merzlyakov and his French counterpart Henri Jacolin, arrived in Baku after meeting with high-ranking Armenian leaders in Yerevan and were joined by senior U.S. diplomat Steven Mann, who arrived from Tbilisi following talks with Georgian officials on the South Ossetian conflict. In response to reports suggesting the possible addition of Nagorno-Karabakh leaders in the OSCE talks, Azerbaijani officials rejected any suggestion of including Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh in the peace talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 July 2004). The OSCE officials reiterated the need for all parties to the conflict to demonstrate flexibility and compromise during the mediation process. RG

Azerbaijani Defense Ministry officials said on 16 July that the ministry is conducting an investigation into reports that a senior army officer has applied for political asylum while participating in a NATO training course in Belgium, AFP reported. The officer, Lieutenant Colonel Firuz Gassymov, reportedly left the NATO training center without permission last month to visit an unnamed foreign embassy to apply for political asylum. Defense Ministry spokesman Ramiz Melikov confirmed that an official investigation has been launched. RG

Meeting in Moscow on 16 July, officials from the Georgian and Russian Foreign ministries failed to conclude a comprehensive framework agreement on bilateral relations, Civil Georgia website reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that despite an agreement over "the majority of issues" during the talks, "certain controversies persist" between the sides. Georgian officials said that the remaining obstacles are related to certain "defense and security" provisions between the two countries and said that Russia continues to insist on a clause prohibiting the deployment of any foreign military forces within Georgia. Negotiations are to resume at a later date. RG

South Ossetian officials criticized Georgia on 18 July for failing to abide by its commitment to begin the withdrawal of military forces according to the terms of the agreement reached during the 15 July quadripartite meeting of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) in Moscow, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Irina Gagloyeva, the head of the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee, the Georgian side has failed to begin the withdrawal of its paramilitary units from the area. Gagloyeva added that Georgian Interior Ministry forces were being reinforced in positions bordering South Ossetia's Dzhava District, a charge dismissed by Georgian officials who asserted that no Interior Ministry forces have been deployed to the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). The South Ossetians started a withdrawal of their units from the conflict zone on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). RG

South Ossetian officials announced on 18 July that "talks are underway" with Georgian government officials for the passage of humanitarian aid from South Ossetia for the victims of massive flooding in Georgia's mountainous region of Svanetia, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. The humanitarian aid consists of two truckloads of flour, tents, and other basic necessities. A large number of villagers in Svanetia were reported to be left homeless from the flood, the most devastating in two decades, as the area sustained damage estimated in excess of $2.5 million. RG

Kazakhstan's pro-presidential Otan party held a congress on 18 July to choose candidates for its party slate and single-mandate constituencies for 19 September parliamentary elections, Kazinform reported. Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, deputy chairman of the party and Majilis (lower chamber) speaker, told a news conference that the party slate will consist of 13 candidates, while 65 candidates will run in single-mandate constituencies. The top candidates on the party slate will be Tuyakbai; Aleksandr Pavlov, chairman of the National Bank of Kazakhstan; and Aitkul Samakova, minister of the environment. Pavlov promised that Otan will not make use of any "administrative resources" in its battle for seats in parliament, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to the news agency, Otan is the country's largest party, with 300,000 members. It currently has 26 deputies in the 77-member lower house of parliament. DK

A contingent of 27 Kazakh peacekeepers returned home from Iraq on 17 July, Khabar Television reported. They have already been replaced by a new group of equal strength that arrived in Iraq one week ago. Kazakh peacekeepers, whose presence in Iraq has sparked occasionally heated debates in the country's parliament, are engaged primarily in mine-clearing activities. Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev commented, "We did this without publicity in order not to advertise this matter much. You are aware that the situation is complicated and difficult there. This is why for security reasons we carried out the transportation of the group secretly." DK

Akhat Sharipzhanov, editor of the opposition website "Navigator," is in a coma after being struck by a car while crossing a street in Almaty on 16 July, Kazinform reported the next day. The accident took place at 11:00 p.m. not far from the newspaper's offices. The driver of the vehicle that hit Sharipzhanov called an ambulance and police after the accident. Sharipzhanov has a serious head injury. Police in Almaty are currently investigating the incident, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

A court in Almaty on 16 July found the opposition newspaper "Assandi-Times" guilty of defaming the Kazakh presidential administration, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The newspaper accused the presidential administration of being responsible for a forged issue of the newspaper that appeared in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004). The court awarded damages of 50 million tenges ($370,000). Lawyer Sergei Utkin, who represented "Assandi-Times," was quoted by Interfax as saying, "We will appeal the court's ruling." "Navigator" made a similar charge against the presidential administration; it published a retraction on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). DK

President Askar Akaev met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in Bishkek on 17 July, Kabar news agency reported. Armitage expressed the hope that Kyrgyzstan's democratic transition will be a "showcase for the world," RFE/RL reported. Armitage said that his visit had four purposes: to convey U.S. President George W. Bush's gratitude for Kyrgyzstan's support in the fight against terrorism, to affirm U.S. readiness to cooperate on security and economic issues, and to discuss upcoming elections in Afghanistan and in Kyrgyzstan, Kabar reported. For his part, President Akaev stated, "We in Kyrgyzstan are proud of the fact that this [U.S.-led international antiterrorist coalition's air] base has played an important role in destroying international terrorism's military infrastructure in Afghanistan and thus contributed to the success of the Enduring Freedom operation." DK

Armitage also met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 17 July, Tajik Television reported. The two discussed bilateral cooperation and regional security issues. Tajik Television quoted Armitage as saying, "I also congratulated the president on the signing of the new election law." The law has been criticized by Tajik opposition parties and the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 July 2004). RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted Armitage as saying, "I think now the important thing is to concentrate on the lead-up to February [parliamentary elections] and having a transparent and democratic process and elections." For their part, opposition parties continued to lambaste the new law in comments reported by Asia Plus-Blitz on 16 July. Representatives of the Islamic Renaissance Party, Democratic Party, and Social-Democratic Party were quoted as saying that the law establishes excessive security deposits for participation in elections and fails to guarantee the independence of local election commissions. DK

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones told Uzbek television in an 18 July interview that a plan for political and economic reform in Uzbekistan has been drawn up. The interview came on the heels of the U.S. State Department's 13 July decision to freeze $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan, as well as Jones's 14 July meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). Jones stated in the interview, "On the socioeconomic side, in terms of economic reform and political reform, we were able to have a good discussion in my official meetings with the president and with the foreign minister about progress in both of those areas, and we have set ourselves a work plan for how to address some of the political reform issues and some of the economic reform issues in ways that we think will be very positive for both countries and for the region." On the general subject of bilateral relations, Jones said, "The relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan is really very good." DK

Russia's Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) announced in a 16 July press release that it has purchased 74 percent of Uzbekistan's Uzdunrobita for $121 million. MTS signed an option deal to purchase the remaining 26 percent within three years for no less than $37.7 million. With 210,350 subscribers, Uzdunrobita controls 51 percent of the country's cellular market, although mobile penetration in Uzbekistan stands at a mere 1.5 percent. Dmitrii Kasyanenko, an analyst at Russia's Metropol brokerage, told that at nearly $800 per subscriber, Uzdunrobita was an expensive acquisition for MTS; but Renaissance Capital analyst Aleksandr Kazbegi told that MTS has the financial muscle to back up its ambitious expansion plans. With nearly 23 million subscribers, MTS is the largest cellular operator in Central and Eastern Europe. The deal requires the permission of regulatory organs in Russia and Uzbekistan, as well as MTS's board of directors, before it can be finalized. DK

The Belarusian government has adopted a program of state support for small enterprises in 2004, Belapan reported on 19 July. The program is reportedly aimed at improving "the reputation of private enterprises" and creating favorable conditions for the development of the private sector. In particular, the program provides for introducing changes into the law governing state support of enterprises and creating systems for the compensation of businesses for their expenses on interest payments, leasing charges, and payments for participation in exhibitions and fairs. AM

A congress of the Labor Ukraine Party in Kyiv on 16 July unanimously adopted a resolution supporting Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as a candidate in the 31 October presidential election, UNIAN reported. Party leader Serhiy Tihipko, who is also head of Yanukovych's election staff, said that the prime minister is a "good specialist" who is "rigorous, but just, and is loved by everyone." Tihipko called on party colleagues "to work for Yanukovych as they would work for Tihipko or any other Labor Ukraine Party candidate." AM

Yanukovych will take part in open television debates as a candidate in the presidential election, UNIAN reported on 16 July, quoting his election staff head Tihipko. According to Tihipko, Yanukovych is prepared to discuss election issues with all other presidential candidates, including Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko. AM

Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, criticized on 16 July an article in the Moscow-based newspaper "Izvestiya" suggesting that the Ukraine-EU summit in The Hague on 8 July proved to be a failure of the "European vector" in Ukrainian foreign policy, UNIAN reported. Baziv described the article as "incompetent" and added that the summit was "the most successful meeting ever" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). Baziv also said European and Euro-Atlantic integration remains "Ukraine's strategic political course" regardless of the result of the forthcoming presidential election. AM

A congress of 68 delegates from Ukraine's regions set up a new party, People's Power, in Kyiv on 17 July, UNIAN reported. The party wants to increase living standards and the minimum monthly wage to 1,000 hryvnyas (nearly $190). The head of the new party, Volodymyr Nechyporuk, has applied for registration as a candidate in the 31 October presidential election. AM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 18 July that deciding how to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is the "question of all questions" for Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He did not indicate how his government will deal with the issue except to note that he is working on it. Kostunica also said that his governing coalition "was weakened" by the recent Serbian presidential elections, in which its candidate finished fourth in the first round (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June and 2 July 2004). He blamed unspecified differences within the coalition for the poor showing. He suggested that some of his partners are afraid of elections, adding that his Democratic Party of Serbia is always ready for elections. PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 18 July that Serbia faces big difficulties if it does not make serious progress toward EU membership by the end of 2004 or the start of 2005, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Draskovic stressed that cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is essential toward that end (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June and 2 July 2004). He said that his "strategic goals" are to harmonize economic relations with Montenegro, decentralize Serbia "on a European model," reform the judiciary, police, and military, and resolve the Kosova question. PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic was elected chairman of that country's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal on 16 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He said the election of a chairman shows that the government is ready to cooperate with the tribunal. The election was delayed for several weeks because Foreign Minister Draskovic, whose predecessor Goran Svilanovic chaired the council under the previous government, made it clear he does not want the job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). In addition to Ljajic and Draskovic, other members of the council are: Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic, Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic, Serbian Minister of Administration and Local Self-Government Zoran Loncar, Serbian Deputy Minister of Justice Branislav Bjelica, Serbia and Montenegro's Deputy Foreign Minister Predrag Boskovic, Deputy Defense Minister Vukasin Maras, and Srdjan Spajic, who is a secretary in the Montenegrin Justice Ministry, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 8 July. Boskovic, Maras, and Spajic are Montenegrins. The Montenegrin government stresses that it has long cooperated with the tribunal, adding that the current imbroglio between Belgrade and The Hague is a Serbian problem. PM

Two masked gunmen dressed in black uniforms opened fire on a passenger car carrying a six-member ethnic Albanian family, injuring at least four of the passengers, near Bujanovac during the night of 17-18 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The identity and motives of the gunmen are not known, according to the broadcast. Nebojsa Covic, who is the Serbian government's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia, said that the gunmen "are people of crime, people of extremism, people who do not want peace...regardless of their national and religious background," Reuters reported. "It is important that the incident not be given an ethnic connotation," he added. PM

Police in Thessaloniki arrested Dejan Milenkovic (aka Bugsy) on 17 July following a tip from the Serbian Interior Ministry, Reuters reported. He is one of the key suspects in the 12 March 2003 slaying of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and a reputed member of the underworld "Zemun clan" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). The Serbian government announced that it will seek Milenkovic's extradition as soon as possible, but a spokeswoman for the special court dealing with the case told RFE/RL that the procedure could last several months. PM

Prime Minister Hari Kostov told "Utrinski vesnik" of 19 July that his government's main task is to gain public approval for plans to cut the number of administrative districts and decentralize the state administration. Kostov said that if Macedonia wants to join NATO and the EU, there is no alternative to the recent deal reached by the coalition partners -- the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). In response to opposition charges that the borders of the new administrative districts are being drawn along ethnic lines, Kostov said: "Macedonia has an ethnic structure as is shown by the last census. In Macedonia we have political parties, and they are represented in the parliament. Thus, when deciding on the [redistricting], we have to keep in mind political and ethnic [realities]." He added that had nonpartisan experts drafted the decentralization deal, nobody would have agreed to it. UB

Several officials of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Islamic Community led a large group of believers at the reopening on 18 July of the newly reconstructed Hadzi Saban Mosque in a suburb of Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April 2004). During the 1992-95 conflict, all of Banja Luka's 16 mosques were destroyed as part of the Bosnian Serb "ethnic-cleansing" campaign. The original Hadzi Saban Mosque was over 400 years old before its destruction on 14 July 1993. Banja Luka's most famous Ottoman-era mosque, the Ferhadija, is still undergoing a much-delayed reconstruction. PM

In response to several rulings by the Bosnian Constitutional Court, the Bosnian Serb government approved proposed legislation on 18 July on changing the names of cities and towns that were given the prefix "Srpski" during the 1992-95 conflict. The draft must still be debated in the parliament. The court did not require that the prewar names be restored, however. Srpski Brod will therefore not become Bosanski Brod again but simply Brod. Similarly, Srpska Kostajnica will be called Kostajnica. Srpsko Sarajevo will take the name Sarajevo Republike Srpske, and Srpski Drvar will become Drvar Republike Srpske. Srpski Sanski Most will take the name Ostra Luka, while Srpski Mostar will be known as Istocni (Eastern) Mostar. Srbinje will share its name with its prewar equivalent and be called Foca-Srbinje. Srpski Kljuc will be known as Ribnik. PM

The Kosovo Trust Agency recently restarted the privatization process after "months of arguments about sales procedures, property rights, and potential legal claims," the "Financial Times" reported on 19 July. The agency, which is part of the UN-led civilian administration (UNMIK), put 16 companies up for sale in hopes of starting a new wave of private investment. The process was halted in October by Nikolaus Lambsdorff, who heads UNMIK's economic branch, which is managed by the EU. Kosovar Albanian officials strongly criticized Lambsdorff's move, saying that stepped-up privatization is the key to reviving the province's economy. Ethnic Albanian leaders also argue that resolving the question of Kosova's final status is essential for attracting private investment. PM

The ruling Social Democratic Party's (PSD) executive leadership decided on 15 July that the party will choose a candidate for November's direct presidential election at its 27 August extraordinary congress, Mediafax reported. Most major political parties have already lined up behind their preferred presidential candidates. The leadership also decided to postpone a planned reorganization until after November's parliamentary and presidential elections. Until then, a newly formed coordination bureau will manage party affairs. Party Chairman and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the PSD needs to concentrate on the forthcoming elections rather than intraparty competition for leading positions within the PSD. MS

In an interview with Mediafax on 18 July, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said that "every politician has a good opinion of himself" and that he is ready to accept any decision the PSD makes regarding a presidential candidate for the November election. Geoana said the selection of a candidate must be preceded by "careful consideration." He conceded that the PSD is undergoing a "crisis of evolution," but added that this is preferable to the "identity crisis" besetting the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance following a recent suggestion by former PNL Chairman Valeriu Stoica that those allies should merge (see below). Geoana said the PSD does not suffer from the "ideological ambiguity" that results from pairing a liberal with a social-democratic ideology. He said the PSD suffered from "infatuation" before the June local elections and from an underestimation of its actual performance after the ballot. This, he said, has led to "mutual recrimination" and "ritual sacrifice" within the PSD's ranks. MS

Former PNL Chairman Stoica told journalists on 15 July that the two parties forming the PNL-Democratic Party alliance should merge to form a single, center-right party before the November elections, Mediafax reported. Current PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan countered that Stoica merely expressed "a personal opinion," and PNL-Democratic Party alliance spokesman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said a merger is not under consideration as the alliance prepares for "the difficult electoral period ahead." Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said he "utterly rejects the idea, which was never considered when the alliance was being set up." Basescu questioned whether Stoica's proposal was not made "at a particularly difficult moment for the PSD in order to deflect attention from that party's problems and force us into issuing denials." MS

PNL-Democratic Alliance spokesman Popescu-Tariceanu demanded on 16 July that President Ion Iliescu tender his resignation over public criticism leveled at that opposition alliance, Mediafax reported. Popescu-Tariceanu said that in an interview on Romanian Television the previous day, Iliescu lauded the PSD and criticized the opposition. He called Iliescu's purported statements a clear abrogation of his constitutional duty to remain nonpartisan. Iliescu, he said, has "overtly become the protecting president and main electoral agent of the PSD" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2004). MS

The Romanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 16 July criticizing a recent decision by Tiraspol authorities to shut down Transdniestrian schools that teach in the Moldovan (Romanian) language using the Latin script, saying the move represents "a brutal encroachment on human rights" and an "illegal and inhumane act," Mediafax reported. The situation, said the ministry, necessitates speedy negotiations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of an accord to guarantee the status of schools teaching Romanian in the Latin script. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry called on the three international mediators in the Transdniester dispute (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) to exercise their influence in Tiraspol to force the separatists to "respect basic human rights and freedoms and previous accords on the functioning of Moldovan schools" in the region, Flux reported. Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova called the first such closure "an act of savagery," according to Infotag (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). MS

Parliament on 16 July empowered the state Information and Security Services (SIS) to request that banks provide previously confidential information on accountholders, Flux and Infotag reported. The bill was proposed by Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) lawmaker Ion Spac, who argued the SIS has faced difficulty extracting information from banks regarding dubious deals or clients. Spac rejected criticism of the bill as reflecting the days when the security services were omnipotent and operated as instruments of oppression. MS

Although only about 15 million Russians -- roughly 10 percent of the population -- regularly access the Internet, the reach of news or information posted on the Internet could extend to as much as one-third of the population, according to Ivan Zasurskii, deputy general director of Rambler. In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 45, he noted that all urban populations have access to information from the Internet via "horizontal channels" of communication. For example, radio talk-show hosts and DJs regularly pick up "hot" themes from the Internet and immediately broadcast them. If Zasurskii is correct, will the Internet's expanding reach attract increased attention from authorities?

After all, government restrictions on the media under President Vladimir Putin appear to be directly proportional to a particular medium's influence. Television, the most popular media sector, is subject to the most controls, while newspapers face considerably less scrutiny. Which path will the Internet, currently one of Russia's most vibrant information realms, take in the future?

At present, at least two efforts are under way to draft legislation to regulate the Internet in Russia, and these efforts could bear fruit as early as next year. Last month, State Duma Deputy Vladimir Tarachev (Unified Russia) told "Russkii fokus," No. 21, that he has been working on a bill with an initiative group for the past three years, adding that it is 95 percent ready. After a group based in the Federation Council submits its version to the Duma, the members of Tarachev's group will present their draft, which will serve as the Duma's alternative version.

Tarachev, who is a member of the Duma Banking Committee, said this is unlikely to happen before the end of this year. About two weeks earlier, Dmitrii Mezentsev, chairman of the Federation Council's Information Policy Committee, told a press conference in Moscow that he is part of a working group that is also preparing legislation to regulate the Internet, Interfax reported on 3 June. Mezentsev said his group is still not sure whether a separate law on the Internet is needed or whether the new version of the law on mass media currently being drafted should be augmented. He also said the shape of the new bill will not be determined before next year.

Details of Tarachev's and Mezentsev's plans followed months of denials that a project to draft a new law on the Internet was in the works. Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Komissarov (Unified Russia) and committee Deputy Chairman Boris Reznik (Unified Russia) stated categorically in March that their committee is not working on legislation to regulate the Internet (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 April 2004). However, Reznik noted that attempts to draft such legislation have been repeatedly undertaken, and the last of these was an initiative by a deputy from the last Duma, Aleksandr Shubin (Union of Rightist Forces). In 2000, Reznik, Komissarov, and Konstantin Vetrov, a Liberal Democratic Party of Russia deputy who was then chairman of the Information Policy Committee, were part of a working group to develop a law on the Internet. Their focus was drafting a law that would protect intellectual-property rights and regulate other economic-related issues.

One difference between that attempt and the latest initiatives will likely be a new emphasis on regulating Internet content. Mezentsev denied that he and his colleagues are even discussing the introduction of any censorship on the web. However, he also said he would consider banning information that could pose a threat to people's lives or security. In addition, Lyudmila Narusova, the Federation Council representative for the Tuva Republic's legislature and a member of Mezentsev's working group, gave an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 3 June in which she said she favors increasing state control over the Internet because it has become "a cesspool." "On the Internet, one can find the most incredible rumors, including some that denigrate people's reputations," Narusova said. "And while one can sue a newspaper, this is virtually impossible with the Internet."

Some analysts linked the new legislative efforts with a broader trend of expanding state influence over civil society. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 3 June, media-law expert Fedor Kravchenko commented that the purpose of the new bills most likely is to increase state control over the Internet. "Just as now not one television company can escape the Kremlin's grip, in the same way, most likely, they would like some instrument of control over information on the Internet," Kravchenko said. "Today, this sphere is too uncontrolled."

Other analysts see commercial interests driving the process. Anton Nosik, editor of, told a press conference in Moscow in May that Tarachev's Internet bill was developed in extreme secrecy and that the people behind it are not interested in censorship per se, but in a "redistribution of property in the virtual market, which they have finally noticed and want to get their hands on." Participating in a panel at RFE/RL on 10 June, Glasnost Defense Foundation head Aleksei Simonov said his organization's priority is to preserve the law on mass media in its current form. He predicted that finishing a draft law on the Internet could take many years, considering that the law on mass media has required almost a decade so far.

In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 45, Zasurskii expressed doubt about what the government could really do to control the Internet even if it wants to. "You have to be realistic," he said. "How many websites are there on the Internet? Imagine that a chief commissar for regulation of the Internet in Russia has been appointed. He should present a plan for finally regulating Internet news. He will need a budget of $5 billion. He will need around 200-300 specialists. Who will do this? Who needs this? The Matrix will never try to control everything. Because when you try to control everything, you weaken yourself. It is necessary to control [only] the most important." He also noted that is easy to make an electronic publication out of the reach of authorities: "You simply relocate it to the United States and put it out in Russian. Such is the case with Try and shut down, please."

According to Zasurskii, the conflict is really a centuries-old one in Russia between conservative forces and a modernizing elite that is using a new technology that is impossible to wipe out.

A militia commander in the eastern Afghan Kunar Province, Malik Zarin, was shot several times on 19 July in the Jadi Maiwand district, a police spokesman told AP. Zarin was admitted to a hospital but details of his condition were not immediately available. A Defense Ministry spokesman told dpa news agency that authorities have detained three suspected assailants. AH

A spokesman for the NATO-led stabilization force reported that a rocket fired into the Afghan capital on 18 July killed one woman, while two rockets or mortar rounds exploded on open ground at Kabul airport, causing no casualties, international news agencies reported. The rocket blast in downtown Kabul struck less than 1 kilometer from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, according to the spokesman, Canadian Major Rita LePage. AH

A Tehran court on 18 July abruptly concluded court proceedings in the trial of an Iranian security agent accused of killing Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in mid-2003, eliciting outrage from attorneys for the victim's family and condemnation from the international community, local and international media reported. Mohammad Reza Aqdam Ahmadi faces charges that he "semi-intentionally" killed Kazemi during interrogation after her detention in Tehran for taking photos outside an Iranian prison (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003). Attorneys for Kazemi's family have suggested that the court is ignoring evidence implicating more senior officials in the killing and have reportedly refused to sign the indictment. The attorneys called the three sessions so far "unacceptable" and the indictment "incomplete," AP reported. The family's counsel, led by Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, wanted the court to hear more witnesses, including hospital staffers who attended to Kazemi and parliamentarians, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 July. The judge reportedly refused, saying those individuals were not directly involved. Ebadi told media outside the courtroom that whatever verdict the court issues -- expected in about one week -- will be unjust, AP reported. She later said the family might seek justice with the International Court at The Hague, Radio Farda reported on 18 July. VS

Foreign observers including the Canadian ambassador, European diplomats, and the representatives of foreign media were barred from the 18 July session of the Kazemi trial, AP and AFP reported the same day. Canada announced the same day that will recall Ambassador Philip Mackinnon to protest Iran's handling of the case, making good an earlier threat to withdraw the envoy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). Canadian Foreign Minister William Graham said in Toronto that he is disappointed "but not surprised by this flagrant violation of due process" in a case that has soured Iran-Canada relations, Canadian Press reported. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi claimed on 18 July that the trial "concerns an Iranian national" and that Kazemi "entered the country with an Iranian passport...and it makes no difference if Canada insists the lady was Canadian," ISNA reported the same day. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. Assefi argued that there "was no reason for a Canadian observer to come to a trial held in Iran." Canada initially prepared to recall its envoy last week amid signs that foreign observers would not be allowed into the courtroom at all, but the court allowed them to attend 17 July session. VS

The Tehran judiciary has ordered the temporary closure of two reformist dailies, "Vaqayi-i Ittifaqiya" and "Jomhuriyyat," Radio Farda and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 July. The editor in chief of "Jomhuriyyat," Javad Khurrami-Muqaddam, is suspending publication "for several weeks" after a meeting at the Tehran public and revolutionary prosecutor's office, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. There were no details of charges, but Radio Farda reported that the daily included extensive coverage of the Kazemi case (see above) in its last issue. A Tehran court also ordered the "temporary" closure of "Vaqayi-i Ittifaqiya" from 18 July, charging the daily with "engaging in propaganda against the system" and "insulting state officials," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. The court told the daily it should not have allowed contributions from the staff of "Yas-i No," another closed daily, "Aftab-i Yazd" added. Employees of "Vaqayi-i Ittifaqiya" have drafted a letter to the ministers of culture and of labor and social affairs to protest the judiciary's repeated newspaper closures and alleged violations of journalists' rights, Radio Farda reported. VS

A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle outside a Baghdad police station on 19 July, killing at least 10 individuals and wounding more than 40 others, international media reported. Al-Arabiyah television said that the attack occurred in the Al-I'lam neighborhood in the Al-Saydiyah area of the capital. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Bill Salter told Reuters that the bomber most likely used a fuel truck to carry out the bombing. CNN reported that at least three policemen were killed in the attack. A suicide car bomber attacked the Iraqi National Guard headquarters in Al-Mahmudiyah on 17 July, killing one National Guard soldier and injuring some 50 people, Al-Jazeera reported. KR

The "operational plan" for the pullout of the remaining members of the Philippine humanitarian contingent in Iraq got under way on 19 July, the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" website ( reported. Brigadier General Jovito Palparan, who heads the contingent, has already left Iraq, Philippine Foreign Secretary Delia Albert said. The withdrawal of the 51-soldier contingent began last week with the departure of eight policemen. The remaining soldiers are expected to withdraw through Kuwait today. The Philippines said it would withdraw its force in Iraq one month ahead of schedule in order to ensure the release of hostage Angelo de la Cruz, who is being held by militants inside the country. Meanwhile, the Jordanian government has condemned the 17 July killing and mutilation of a Jordanian truck driver in Iraq, "Jordan Times" reported on 18 July. Ayid Nassir was shot and killed by militants, who gouged his eyes out and left his body on a roadside in Al-Ramadi. "The government categorically condemns such a crime," spokeswoman Asma Khadir said. KR

Iyad Allawi has reportedly issued a statement giving the green light for the "Al-Hawzah" newspaper to resume publication following a three-month closure for incitement to violence, Al-Jazeera television reported on 18 July. The Coalition Provisional Authority ordered the newspaper, distributed by radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, closed on 28 March for a period of two months (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 April 2004). However, in a 18 July interview with Al-Jazeera, the newspaper's managing editor, Ali al-Yasiri, said that he reopened the daily's offices without the permission of the interim government. "It seems that the government has taken note of this and then the prime minister's office issued that statement," he said. KR

A member of the Iraqi Islamic Party was assassinated outside his home in the Iraqi capital on 17 July, Al-Jazeera reported. Shaykh Abd al-Samad Isma'il al-A'zami was the preacher and prayer leader at the Abu Ubaydah Mosque in the capital. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement on 17 July broadcast on its Dar al-Salam radio station criticizing the multinational forces in Iraq. The statement said that multinational forces are planning a large-scale operation aimed at combating militants in Samarra, and warned the multinational forces to leave the situation to the Iraqi Army and police. KR

Iraqi Shaykh Aws al-Khafaji accused Tehran of meddling in Iraqi affairs during his Friday prayer sermon on 16 July, Al-Jazeera television reported. "Do not interfere," al-Khafaji warned Iran, adding, "Try to prevent your people from wreaking havoc in Iraq, particularly in [the Shi'ite holy cities of] Karbala and Al-Najaf." Al-Khafaji also criticized the infiltration of Iranian intelligence agents to Iraq, as well as the cross-border hashish trade. Al-Khafaji is close to Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr. The latter cleric's aides denied that al-Khafaji's remarks represented the opinions of al-Sadr and his followers, and said that al-Khafaji's opinions were solely his own. Al-Sadr spokesman Shaykh Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji told Al-Jazeera on 17 July: "I have said time and again that the Iranian Islamic Republic has had a great role in the matters of the Iraqi people, and has had clear demands. These issues...should not be discussed on the Friday pulpit, but perhaps with the Iranian embassy." Al-Darraji added that, although there might be some interference, it did not necessarily come from the "Iranian political side." KR