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Newsline - July 23, 2004

President Vladimir Putin met in Krasnodar on 22 July with ConocoPhilips President James Mulva and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov to discuss the companies' joint projects to explore for oil in the Timan-Pechora region in Northern Russia, RIA-Novosti and RTR reported. Putin also expressed interest in ConocoPhilips' projects with Gazprom and Rosneft. "I would like relations between Russian and U.S. businesses to develop more actively, especially in the strategically important area of energy," Putin said, according to RIA-Novosti. Putin also called for increased pipeline-infrastructure development to facilitate the export of oil to Europe and the United States. After the meeting, Alekperov told journalists that Putin "approved plans" to create an "energy bridge" between Russia and the United States, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told a cabinet session on 22 July that nuclear reactors are Russia's most important industrial export, bringing in some $800 million per year, RIA-Novosti reported. Gref said that other key exports are jet engines ($600 million), ships ($560 million), and automobiles and other means of transport ($305 million). Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin added that Russia exports about $4 billion worth of military equipment annually, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin said the state is assisting exporters by providing about $690 million per year in loans to foreign countries for the purchase of Russian industrial goods and argued that state assistance is "sufficiently developed." Gref said that total state assistance to exporters will rise to $850 million in 2005, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 23 July. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov noted that Russian exports continue to be dominated by raw materials and that years of efforts to boost industrial exports "have led to nothing," the daily reported. Fradkov asked Gref how long it will take before manufactured goods make up 10 percent of Russian exports, and Gref answered, "Such problems are not resolved in one year." RC

The Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that the industrial sector needs at least $2 billion annually in support from the state, "Trud" reported on 23 July. The chamber said the current level of state guarantees for exporters is sufficient to support only the major export companies. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov said it is only possible for Russian firms to compete with companies like Boeing and Airbus "with substantial government support." RC

Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref said on 21 July that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has signed a directive ordering the sale of the state's 7.59 percent stake in LUKoil, RBK and RIA-Novosti reported. Gref said the stake will be sold as a single lot and that its current market value is $1.7 billion. Russian analysts said that global oil majors ExxonMobil, Chevron Texaco, Royal Dutch/Shell, and Total are among the most likely buyers, RIA-Novosti reported. LUKoil estimates it controls about 1.5 percent of known global oil reserves, and the company accounts for 19 percent of Russia's oil production. VY

Management at embattled oil giant Yukos told the government on 22 July that the confiscation of its assets and the proposed sale of the major Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004) could lead to the bankruptcy of the entire company and have a negative impact on global oil production, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to a company press release posted on Yukos's website (, company management is asking the government to prevent such a turn of events and to open talks on restructuring Yukos's tax debts. Major Yukos shareholder Vasilii Shakhnovskii said on 22 July that jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has asked the government to name its own chairman of the Yukos board in an effort to forestall bankruptcy, "Vremya novostei" reported on 23 July. Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref asked journalists on 22 July not to "torture" him with questions about Yukos, NTV reported. "The government is not contemplating purchasing Yukos assets," Gref said. "It is not buying any assets at all." State-controlled Gazprom and state-owned Rosneft have issued statements saying they have no plans to purchase Yuganskneftegaz, Russian media reported. VY

Former Finance Minister and noted economist Aleksandr Shokhin, who is chairman of the board of trustees of Renaissance Capital and former head of the Duma Banking Committee, told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 22 July that the government has so far ignored all of Yukos's pleas for negotiations because the Kremlin believes "the state must not bargain." A deal could have been struck before legal proceedings were launched, but now that leading Yukos figures are in jail, the government is fearful of making even a slight deflection from the strict legal process, believing that if it did so Yukos would later be able to renounce any deal as having been agreed upon under duress, Shokhin said. Only President Putin could change this situation, but he does not seem inclined to do so, he added. Shokhin also said that the most likely purchaser of Yuganskneftegaz is the private company Surgutneftegaz, whose management is noted for its loyalty to the Kremlin. He noted that Surgutneftegaz's main oil infrastructure is located very close to that of Yuganskneftegaz and that Surgutneftegaz has about $5 billion in cash on hand, easily enough to make the purchase. VY

"Izvestiya" published a lengthy interview on 23 July with the unnamed Stratfor analyst whose recent claim of a possible Russian troop deployment to Iraq sparked vigorous denials from the Defense and Foreign ministries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004) in which the analyst suggests that such denials testify to the veracity of his claim. The analyst notes that the Kremlin spent much time refuting reports that it gave tacit approval of the United States' military presence in Central Asia and that it dispatched former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to the Middle East in an attempt to convince Saddam Hussein to step down in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led attack in 2003. President Putin has also surprised observers by all but ignoring Washington's abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, shutting down a high-profile listening post in Cuba, and muting criticism of NATO's recent expansion. If domestic opposition to a Russian troop presence in Iraq wanes, the analyst predicted, Putin might present a new surprise in the form of a troop deployment there. VY

Television personality Sergei Dorenko said at a 21 July press conference in Kyiv that he will participate in the Ukrainian presidential-election campaign. Dorenko said he "will not campaign for or against particular people, but for ideas." He added, though, that his lawyers are studying whether it is legal for him, a Russian citizen, to campaign for a particular candidate. He also said that recent talks he held with NTN television in Donetsk had fallen through. "I did have some relations with the so-called Donetsk bloc, but they didn't work out," Dorenko said, according to Interfax-Ukraine. "So I will not be appearing on Donetsk television." Some analysts believe that Dorenko's real goal in the campaign would be to work against the interests of Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Dorenko gained notoriety during the Russian legislative elections in the fall of 1999, when he was a leading anchor on ORT television, which was controlled by then-oligarch Boris Berezovskii at that time. Dorenko conducted a relentless campaign against the Fatherland-All Russia bloc headed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Primakov. For his work, he was dubbed "the television killer" and "Berezovskii's bull terrier." VY

Of the 1,200 proposed amendments that have been submitted to a controversial government bill that would replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments, not more than 30 are expected to be adopted, Deputy Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said on 22 July, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 23 July. Volodin said the Duma's Budget and Tax Committee has created a working group to study the 1,200 amendments and it is expected to complete its work by 31 July. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 July reported that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has submitted 20 amendments to the bill, including one that would raise the total amount of cash compensation to 190 billion rubles ($63.3 billion). Unified Russia is also proposing that the bill be amended to reinstate a state-guaranteed minimum wage and state guarantees of education and housing for orphans. Another amendment would include the victims of illegal political repression, handicapped children, and children from impoverished families among those eligible for benefits payments. The party is also proposing that eligible people be given the choice of receiving either in-kind benefits or cash payments, although that option would not be phased in fully until 2006. "Moskovskii komsomolets" also reported that Federation Council members have submitted about 200 amendments. RC

Ballet master Dmitrii Bryantsev of the Moscow Stanislavskii and Nemirovich-Danchenko Academic-Musical Theater has disappeared during a trip to the Czech Republic, "Novye izvestiya" and reported on 23 July. Bryantsev, 57, who is one of Russia's leading ballet masters, left for Prague on 25 June but failed to appear on his scheduled return flight on 30 June. He was scheduled to leave for Turkey on vacation with his family on 8 July. Czech police have launched a national search for Bryantsev after establishing that he did indeed enter the country and has not exited it through any legal passport-control point. A search of his Prague hotel room found only his mobile phone, reported. Unidentified sources at the theater said they do not know why Bryantsev traveled to the Czech Republic. RC

President Putin has signed an order instructing the Moscow city government to replace the name "Volgograd" on Moscow's Monument to the Unknown Soldier with the historically accurate name "Stalingrad," ITAR-TASS, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The city will have three months to make the change, according to the decree. The decree states that the decision was made "in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of victory in the Great Fatherland War [World War II], and taking into account the significance of the Battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of the war, giving due respect to the heroism of the defenders of Stalingrad, and with the goal of preserving the history of the Russian state." The "Volgograd" stone on the monument contains soil from Mamaev Kurgan, the site of some of the most intense fighting during the battle of Stalingrad. The city was renamed Volgograd in 1961 as part of the de-Stalinization campaign. RC

Chechnya's Central Election Commission refused on 22 July to register Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev as a candidate for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Russian media reported. The reason cited for the refusal was that Saidullaev's passport incorrectly stated his place of birth as the village of Alkhan-Yurt in the Chechen Republic, whereas in 1964, the year of Saidullaev's birth, Alkhan-Yurt was part of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR. Saidullaev was regarded as the only one in a field of a dozen potential candidates who could have posed a challenge to the Kremlin-backed favorite, Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov. It is not known whether Saidullaev used the same passport when he registered successfully in August 2003 to contest the ballot that Kadyrov won; Saidullaev's registration was revoked three weeks before that ballot on the grounds that more than 40 percent of the signatures he gathered in support of his candidacy were invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 26 September 2003). LF

Meanwhile, the Chechen Election Commission registered six more candidates on 21 July for the 29 August ballot, Interfax reported on 22 July. They are Chechen presidential aide Vakha Visaev; Chechen State Council staffer Mukhmud-Khasan Asakov; Colonel Movsur Khamidov of the Chechen Division of the Federal Security Service; former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Bugaev; Umar Abuev, general director of Chechenkhimnefteprom; and Chechen businessman Magomed Aidamirov. Alkhanov was registered on 15 July. Moscow-based businesswoman Zura Magomadova's registration application was rejected on 21 July, Interfax reported the following day. LF

Two explosive devices detonated near an OMON (Interior Ministry special forces) base in Makhachkala on 22 July, Interfax and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The first blast injured seven OMON police in a passing bus and one woman; the second, at a nearby parking lot one hour later, caused no casualties. LF

Visiting Yerevan on 21-22 July, Salome Zourabichvili met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Georgian media reported. The talks focused on bilateral relations, which Markarian characterized as based on mutual trust and cooperation, according to ITAR-TASS; regional conflicts and the prospects for their peaceful resolution; the restoration of rail communication from Russia to Armenia via Georgia; and coordinating the two countries' aspirations to closer cooperation with the EU within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy. LF

Musavat party leader Isa Qambar and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mammedov both announced in Baku on 22 July that they will not attend an international forum in Boston on 25-29 July to which they were invited by the U.S. National Democratic Institute, Turan reported. Qambar said that he considers it inexpedient to leave the country in the current "difficult" political situation. He noted that hundreds of oppositionists were arrested and tortured in the wake of the 15 October presidential ballot (in which he was defeated by Ilham Aliyev), and seven of them are still on trial. Mammedov explained that while he accepts the need for the United States to toughen entry requirements as part of the war on international terrorism, he considers it an unnecessary humiliation that he personally should be required to have his fingerprints taken in order to apply for a U.S. visa. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry summoned Vladimir Chkhikvishvili, Russia's ambassador to Tbilisi, on 22 July to lodge a formal complaint about remarks made the previous day by Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, commander of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Georgian media had quoted Nabdzorov as saying that he "does not know" which state lies beyond the Roki tunnel that connects the Russian Federation with the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, and as predicting that one day Georgia will again seek to become part of Russia. On 22 July, Nabdzorov accused the Georgian authorities of establishing 10 unauthorized checkpoints in the South Ossetian conflict zone, five in the region for which Georgia is responsible and the other five in the sectors patrolled by Russian and South Ossetian peacekeepers, Caucasus Press reported. Nabdzorov also alleged that Georgia has illegally deployed 3,000 military personnel in the conflict zone, in addition to the 500 peacekeepers it is entitled to deploy there. He said those additional forces should be withdrawn immediately in order to preclude violent clashes. LF

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told journalists in Washington on 22 July that the United States continues "to recommend insistently" that Georgia work together with Russia and the South Ossetian leadership to lessen tensions in the region, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported on 23 July. "We call on all sides in the conflict to refrain from provocations and to join efforts for the prevention of violence," Ereli said. LF

An Abkhaz police patrol shot two as yet unidentified armed Georgians who failed on 22 July to comply with orders to halt, Caucasus Press reported. Gail Raion official Valerii Lomia said he assumes the two men were members of an illegal Georgian guerrilla group operating in southern Abkhazia, but a Georgian official attending the weekly meeting of Georgian, Abkhaz, and UN representatives and officers from the Russian peacekeeping force said on 22 July that such speculation is premature, Interfax reported. LF

Daniyal Akhmetov said at a meeting with health-care officials on 22 July that he wants the Health Ministry to present a health-care reform package to the cabinet in August, Kazinform reported. The meeting was attended by health-care officials, directors of medical facilities, researchers, representatives of NGOs, and members of parliament. The reform project they discussed involves a shift from treatment to the prevention of illness. DK

Ularbek Mateev, the newly elected head of Kyrgyzaltyn, outlined his plans for the state gold mining company on 22 July, Kabar news agency reported. He said that he intends to reduce production costs and minimize negative effects on the environment. Mateev also stated that the mining industry requires new methods of encouraging growth in the industry in order to increase tax revenues and benefit the people. Mateev went on to note that he is not a newcomer to the industry, having headed the government directorate that supervised mining at the time when Kyrgyzaltyn was created. DK

President Askar Akaev signed a bill into law on 20 July that will reduce the term of compulsory military service for draftees from 1 and 1/2 years to one year, reported on 22 July. The law, which goes into effect on 1 January 2006, affects soldiers and sergeants in the infantry, air force, interior forces, National Guard, antiaircraft units, and border troops. According to the presidential press service, the change is intended to show that the country is pursuing a peace-loving policy while maintaining the fighting strength of combat units. Kyrgyzinfo noted that Kyrgyzstan, like other countries in the CIS, is in the process of reforming its armed forces and moving from compulsive military service to a professional army. DK

Imomali Rakhmonov told regional officials in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon Oblast on 21 July that law enforcement needs to step up drug-control efforts in the area, Tajik TV reported the next day. While noting that law enforcement agencies seized 940 kilograms of narcotics in Khatlon in the first half of 2004, Rakhmonov faulted the Drug Control Agency's regional directorate for poor coordination. He also pointed out that most of the drugs confiscated by the agency were discovered in drug caches, with police frequently failing to track down the narcotics' owners. The president also said that border units must work more effectively. DK

Sadullo Saidaliev, chief doctor at the country's tuberculosis prophylactic center, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 22 July that tuberculosis continues to pose a serious threat to Tajik society. According to Saidaliev, between 2,800 and 3,500 new cases are registered each year. Moreover, the number is growing, especially within the penal system. Worse yet, actual numbers may be six to seven times greater than official statistics. Saidaliev named poverty, natural disasters, unemployment, poor housing conditions and nutrition, and rising drug abuse as contributing factors. "All of these factors contribute to the appearance of chronic forms of tuberculosis, an increased incidence of infection, the spread of the disease, and the number of fatalities," Saidaliev said.

Jahongir Inoyatov, head of the Tajik Energy Ministry's commercial department, said on 22 July that Uzbekistan will allow Tajikistan to export 1.4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to Russia through Uzbekistan's power network, Avesta reported. Inoyatov noted that Tajikistan may soon begin to export power to other Central Asian countries through Uzbekistan. The news comes at a time of rising power production in Tajikistan. A source at the country's Energy Ministry told Asia Plus-Blitz on 22 July that electricity generation in the first half of 2004 totaled 7.75 billion kilowatt hours, a 144 million kilowatt hour increase on the previous year. Hydropower accounted for the overwhelming majority of production, generating 7.62 billion kilowatt hours of power. DK

Sayora Khojaeva, deputy chairman of Uzbekistan's Central Election Commission, held a briefing on 22 July on preparations for December parliamentary elections, Uzbek radio's Youth Channel reported. She said that an election commission recently returned from an OSCE meeting in Vienna on election standards and obligations. The delegation met with Christian Strohal, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The report quoted Strohal as saying that Uzbekistan has invited ODIHR to send international observers to monitor upcoming parliamentary elections. DK

A Minsk district court on 22 July sentenced 15 participants in the 21 July rally marking the 10th anniversary of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule to jail terms of three to 15 days, Belapan reported. The police detained some 50 protesters at Yakub Kolas Square, where the organizers initially planned to hold the demonstration but failed to obtain permission. The younger and older demonstrators were released, while 26 detainees spent the night in jail and appeared in court the next day. Dzmitry Bandarenka, coordinator of Charter-97, was sentenced to 15 days in jail; Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Yukhnevich of the youth organization Zubr, Aleh Korban of the Belarusian Popular Front, and others were sentenced to 10 days. Other detainees received shorter sentences and fines, while others received warnings. AM

Valery Fralou, opposition lawmaker of the Respublika caucus, described on 22 July the police crackdown on opposition protesters as hysteria on the part of the government ahead of parliamentary elections, Belapan reported. The police "adopted a tough and uncompromising stand," Fralou said, adding that "this is a hysterical reaction to prevent everyone from doing anything anywhere." Another Respublika lawmaker, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, said the police's actions exposed the true nature of Belarusian democracy, "a democracy with a rubber club." AM

President Lukashenka on 22 July told the heads of Belarus's diplomatic missions that the Belarusian government's foreign policy is based on sovereignty and independence, Belapan reported. "We have heard so much speculation and predictions from both sides, the West and the East, that Belarus is about to disappear from the world's political map," Lukashenka said. "I want to make it clear that Belarus is and will continue to be independent in Europe and globally," he added. Lukashenka also urged the opposition to refrain from "humiliating themselves by slandering their country and their people." "Don't go crawling the streets begging the foreign uncles to impose sanctions on Belarus. No one in the world has respected or will ever respect people who act like that," Lukashenka said. AM

President Lukashenka said on 22 July that the demonstration to mark the 10th anniversary of his becoming president was "yet another display of the brainlessness of our opposition," Belapan reported. "They expected some 40,000 to 60,000 people to attend, but this will never occur," Lukashenka said. According to him, opposition activists rented buses in various cities and offered to give "hard currency" to those participating in the demonstration, but "the people turned and went away." Then, Lukashenka continued, the opposition grouped some 50 people at a busy place, raised signs, and took pictures. "This is what they were ready for," Lukashenka said. "We do not oppose rallies and demonstrations," he added, "but they must be legal and take place in designated places." Lukashenka also stressed that violations of the rules and regulations for demonstrations will be severely punished. AM

The Central Election Commission on 22 July registered Yuriy Zbitnev, Vasyl Volha, and Leonid Chernovetsky as candidates for the 31 October presidential election, Interfax reported. The number of registered candidates now stands at 15. Zbitnev is a leader of the newly created New Force Party, Volha heads the Public Control Party, and Chernovetsky chairs the Christian Liberal Party. The deadline for submitting candidates' applications is 27 July. AM

Mykola Martynenko, a deputy from the opposition Our Ukraine bloc in the Verkhovna Rada, said on 22 July that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma should dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kluyev, Interfax reported. Martynenko said he believes Kluyev is not able to serve the government and work on Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's election staff. The critical situation in the mining industry, particularly unsafe working conditions require the permanent attention of the government, Martynenko said. "It is clear that Yanukovych will not sack a member of his staff. Such a decision should be made by the president," he added. AM

Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 22 July that unnamed U.S. officials told him on his recent trip to Washington that if Serbia extradites former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal or aids in his capture, the United States will encourage the tribunal to allow Serbia to hold all subsequent trials of indictees on its own territory, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004). Tadic stressed that "the doors are open to economic and political cooperation [with the United States]...and it's up to us how we will make use of this." It is not clear what assurances Washington has received that the Serbian judiciary would be able to conduct important war crimes trials, including witness-protection programs, in a manner keeping with international standards. PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic, who also chairs the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said in Belgrade on 22 July that the council is "working intensively" on the case of fugitive indictee Goran Hadzic but did not elaborate, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 July 2004). Meanwhile in The Hague, chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte released three photos allegedly taken near Hadzic's home in Novi Sad on 13 July by her "tracking team." One photo shows him holding a bag and leaving in a car under still unexplained circumstances. The implication in the affair is that someone within the Serbian government or police warned Hadzic that he was about to be arrested on the basis of an indictment from The Hague, enabling him to flee before police arrived at his home to arrest him. PM

A poll released in Belgrade on 22 July by the journal "Nova srpska politicka misao" (New Serbian Political Thought) and a polling agency indicates that the recent Serbian presidential elections have begun to reshape the political landscape, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). According to the survey, Serbian President Tadic's Democratic Party has the support of 29.2 percent of respondents, followed by Tomislav Nikolic's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) with 28.7 percent and Bogoljub Karic's newly founded Snaga Srbije movement -- a name by analogy with Forza Italia -- with 17.6 percent. These are the three candidates who made the most impressive showings in the recent presidential vote. Conversely, the poll suggests that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) -- until recently regarded by many as Serbia's strongest party -- has the support of just 10.1 percent of respondents. His coalition partners also fared poorly: the two monarchist parties would win the votes of only 6.1 percent of those polled and the G-17 Plus party 4.5 percent. The once all-powerful Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) led by former President Slobodan Milosevic follows with the support of just 2.9 percent of Serbian citizens. The poll suggests that the most popular politician is Tadic with the backing of 30.3 percent of respondents, followed by Karic with 24.8 percent, Nikolic with 24.5 percent, and Kostunica with 9.1 percent. PM

High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Mostar on 22 July that Bosnia-Herzegovina can become a symbolic bridge between Islamic countries and Europe, Hina reported. Bosnia can help the Islamic and Western worlds overcome misguided and stereotyped views of each other, he added. Ashdown was speaking on the eve of a 12-hour ceremony to mark the reopening of Mostar's famous Old Bridge, which was destroyed by Croatian gunners in 1993. Ashdown described the new bridge, which is the result of international funding and cooperation, as a cornerstone of the reconstruction of Bosnia as a multiethnic state. The former structure was built by the Ottomans about 500 years ago. Many Muslims charged that the Croats destroyed the bridge because it was a symbol of a Muslim presence in an area that Croatian nationalists wanted to annex to Croatia. Some Croats replied that they needed to cut a Muslim ammunition supply line because Muslim forces had allegedly violated an agreement not to use the bridge for military purposes. The Muslims and Croats were allies during most of the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict but fought a brief war in 1993-94, which was ended through U.S. mediation. PM

Geoffrey Barrett, who is the EU's chief diplomat in Serbia and Montenegro, told the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" of 21 July that it is "counterproductive to progress" for Montenegrin leaders to speak so much about holding a referendum on independence from the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 July 2004). Barrett said Montenegrins should concentrate their energies instead on promoting a "European agenda," including cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, "harmonizing" economic legislation between the Serbian and Montenegrin republics, and respecting the Constitutional Charter on which the joint state is based. Serbia and Montenegro was set up in 2002-03 under EU pressure. PM

A broad coalition of opposition forces -- including the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Third Path coalition -- has announced that it will organize large-scale street protests on 26 July against government plans to cut the number of administrative districts and decentralize the state administration, "Dnevnik" reported on 23 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 21 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 23 July 2004). VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski and his predecessor and former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski called on the population to sign a petition demanding a referendum against the redistricting plans. Meanwhile, several parliamentary commissions have begun debating the package of draft decentralization and redistricting legislation, MIA news agency reported. The VMRO-DPMNE has announced that during the upcoming parliamentary debate it will propose more than 200 amendments to the legislative package, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 22 July. In related news, police used teargas to break up a violent protest against the decentralization plans in Struga on 23 July, Reuters reported. Police evacuated Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski from his party's local headquarters there. Police told the news agency that the violence was directed primarily against shops owned by ethnic Albanians and left at least 30 people injured, at least 16 of whom were police. UB/PM

The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance on 22 July accused Prime Minister Adrian Nastase of misusing official foreign visits to boost his electoral prospects at home, Mediafax reported. Reuters quoted Nastase the previous day as saying he is "95 percent decided" on a bid for the presidency in the November elections. According to reports in the Romanian media, U.S. President George W. Bush told journalists after his meeting with Nastase on 21 July that the topic of the fall elections in both countries came up during the talks and that "we both believe we'll win." PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan told journalists that the joint news conference with Bush "does not wipe out" recent criticism of Nastase's cabinet by former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, adding that Nastase should announce his presidential candidacy "to Romanians, in Romania." Instead of "beaming [electoral] signals from the White House lawn, the premier should show concern for the endemic corruption spread by [his ruling] Social Democratic Party [PSD] and for the internal situation within the PSD," he claimed. Alliance co-Chairman Traian Basescu said Nastase "does not understand that in order to win the fall elections he must get the support of Romanians, not that of the leader in the White House," adding, "That kind of trick no longer fools anybody." MS

Prime Minister Nastase said in Washington on 22 July that his country is considering allowing foreigners to adopt Romanian children with serious medical problems and the need for expensive medical treatment, Reuters reported. Acting under EU pressure, Romania recently passed a law effectively banning foreign adoptions; U.S. officials have criticized the ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 21 June 2004). "I assured the [U.S.] president that for such special situations we will draft bills for each case that would go to parliament for approval," Nastase said after his talks with Bush. "I am sure that together with our partners in Brussels and Washington, we will find solutions for certain cases, if needed." According to Mediafax, roughly 50 prospective adoptive parents staged a demonstration in Washington, D.C., on 22 July to protest the Romanian ban. MS

Romanian cabinet ministers voted on 21 July to hike subsidies temporarily on prescription drugs for retirees until the end of the year, AP reported on 22 July. The measure has been widely criticized as an electoral trick aimed at winning votes in the November parliamentary and presidential elections. The move does not require legislative approval. Retirees with monthly pensions under 6 million lei ($181) should be reimbursed for 90 percent of their medicine costs from 15 August until the end of the year under the move. The reimbursement level has been 50 percent. MS

Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova told an RFE/RL correspondent on 22 July that Moldova "reserves the right" to demand a change in the current five-party negotiating format if Transdniester does not reverse its recent decision to close down schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) in Latin script. Sova was speaking after an emergency meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Permanent Council in Vienna, which was called on to address the escalating dispute. Sova said that in May there were "contacts" envisaging a change to the format of the talks (which include the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine as mediators) within a new framework that would include the United States and the European Union among the mediating sides. He added that "this is more or less the format" we would recommend if the situation does not improve. Sova reiterated Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's threat from the previous day that Moldova might deny Transdniestrian enterprises export certificates and stop customs procedures for exports from the separatist region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004). In response to a question, Sova said that if Ukraine and Russia did not cooperate in isolating Tiraspol economically, "this would betray their true attitude toward Tiraspol's separatism." MS

Meeting in Vienna on 22 July, the OSCE Permanent Council approved a resolution saying it "condemns the irresponsible and provocative actions" of the Transdniestrian authorities, Flux reported the next day. MS

Some 1,500 Estonian World War II veterans, many of whom served in the German Waffen-SS during the war, gathered in Tallinn on 6 July to commemorate the 60th anniversary of battles against Soviet troops. The gathering was not a novelty in post-Soviet Estonia. In fact, the anniversary has been marked for the past 11 years and is organized by the 3,000-strong Estonian Freedom Fighters Association. The occasion was also intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Estonia. The main ceremony took place at the Kadriorg stadium, with former Estonian President Lennart Meri addressing the audience.

There is no doubt that, like members of other nationalities subjected to Soviet occupation, in 1941 many Estonians welcomed the Nazis as "liberators." They did not know that the "liberator" had given the Baltics away to Stalin under the secret provisions of the August 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. For the veterans and their many sympathizers, the battles fought after Russian troops advanced to the Navra River in January 1944, and particularly those fought in the northeastern Estonian areas of Sinimagede in July and August that year, are remembered as a time of glory and resistance. On 6 July, the veterans asked the government to give them the same recognition as that given to participants in Estonia's 1918-1920 War of Independence. They also announced their intention to inaugurate a memorial in Tallinn featuring the names of units that fought against the Red Army together with a cast-iron map of the battle sites.

In 2001, the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity established that the 36th Estonian Police Battalion participated in the execution of thousands of Jews in the Belarusian town of Novogrudok in August 1942 and in other atrocities. In 1944, the Estonian Waffen-SS 20th Division was set up on the personal orders of Adolf Hitler. It is hardly convincing to argue, as Mart Puusepp, a major in the Estonian Army did, according to an 6 July AFP report, that the Estonians had fought in the Waffen-SS and not in the SS itself. Historical research, however, has comprehensively shown that the German Army ("Wehrmacht") as a whole, and not only the SS, was involved in war crimes -- and the Waffen-SS more so than other units of the Wehrmacht.

Yet none of the participants in atrocities have been prosecuted for their crimes in postcommunist Estonia. The announced intention to inaugurate a monument to the "freedom fighters" was not the first such instance and its proponents are well aware of the international protest this act of "symbolic history" is likely to trigger. In 2002, a privately funded monument featuring an Estonian soldier in a German Waffen-SS uniform in the town of Parnu caused international uproar. Town officials were forced in 2003 to order that the monument be redesigned and its inscription replaced. In reaction, the veterans said they would move the original monument to the town of Turi, but the project apparently never materialized.

This type of struggle over public space in postcommunist East Central Europe is by no means unique to Estonia. Like their Estonian counterparts, few citizens in the now-independent region are aware of their countries' fascist pasts or of their parents' and grandparents' collaboration and "standing-by" (Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg's appropriate concept) during World War II. The communists, with their policy of "state-organized forgetting of history" (to use Shari J. Cohen's conceptual construct) and of "sanitizing out" both collaboration and the Jewish identity of Nazi victims, bear much responsibility for this. What makes the July anniversary celebrations different is that in their wake Moscow launched a "war by proxy" against Tallinn.

That the Russian State Duma would protest the Tallinn commemorations was neither surprising, nor very convincing. When anti-Semites with an established reputation (of which that forum has quite a few members) voice indignation at "attempts to heroize Nazism," as ITAR-TASS put it on 7 July, one need not get very excited. But a letter sent by Russian Rabbi Berl Lazar, head of the pro-Kremlin Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and apparently Russian President Vladimir Putin's favorite for the post of chief rabbi, added a new dimension. Rabbi Lazar was perhaps well aware that the timing of the protest would serve Moscow well, because of its campaign against Estonia and Latvia for not respecting Russian-speaking minority rights. Indeed, his letter came shortly after a warning resolution on national minorities in the two countries approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Edinburgh in early July.

And it was probably not an oversight that the letter was addressed to European Commission President Romano Prodi; or that the letter claimed, just as the State Duma had done, that the "Estonian authorities are purposefully conducting propaganda aimed at heroizing those who fought against the anti-Hitler coalition." The people "who are now officially called 'liberators' and 'fighters against totalitarianism,'" Lazar wrote, "destroyed the Estonian Jewish community to the last man." This, he said, "is particularly offensive to us, European Jews."

A response came from Tallinn, but not from the Foreign Ministry. Estonian Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot -- who heads an approximately 3,500-strong Jewish community, most of whom settled in Estonia after World War II -- said the issue of Nazi revival in Estonia was indeed topical, but had been raised by the wrong person and sent to the wrong address. "It is the assessment of the whole Jewish world that a monument to the SS, regardless [of] whether it is the Waffen-SS or not, is not good," Rabbi Kot told the "Eesti Paevaleht" daily. This "is not the position of the Russian rabbi alone, but of the whole Jewish people." However, Kot said, "the statement should not have been made by a Russian rabbi, as it would [unavoidably be] associated with the political situation between the two countries." It would have been preferable "if it came from America, Finland, or some other European country." And it should have been sent to Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts and not to Prodi. In a separate 16 July "open letter" addressed to the Estonian government, Kot and the Estonian Jewish community said local Jews cannot remain indifferent to either "intentional or unintentional rehabilitation of Nazism. The official view of the government on this issue is extremely important to us." Thus far, this letter has gone unanswered.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai highlighted the need for transparency throughout the presidential and parliamentary election processes in an address to the country that was broadcast on Radio Afghanistan on 22 July. "It is a great pleasure to see that voter registration for the presidential and parliamentary elections is continuing successfully," Karzai said. He acknowledged the challenges facing the country, however, saying: "The presidential election is new in our country. Every new task entails some difficulties and problems, but we believe that we will overcome these problems with our compatriots' strong support. The most important point in elections is the freedom and transparency of the elections.... The use of power and wealth is not permitted." Pressure to ensure that the Afghan elections are fair and democratic has mounted amid recent allegations of widespread voter-registration fraud and other problems associated with the electoral process. "Government officials must not interfere in the elections to give advantage to someone by exploiting their position," Karzai warned. Karzai said that any such activities should be reported to authorities and would be punishable by law. KM

Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful leader of the northeastern-based militia Junbish-e Melli, has declared his candidacy for president in October's election, AP reported on 22 July. He has reportedly collected the required 10,000 signatures. Dostum, a presidential security adviser for northern Afghanistan, has repeatedly strained his relationship with the Afghan Transitional Administration by challenging its authority and engaging his fighters in clashes with rival militias in the region surrounding the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. His spokesman, Faizullah Zaki, said Dostum made the decision to submit his candidacy after securing widespread support "across the war-riven country's deep ethnic divides," according to AP. Thousands of supporters reportedly cheered Dostum at a rally in Mazar-e Sharif on 22 July. However, some doubt the former communist and feared militia leader's ability to garner national support in the balloting. KM

More than 600 individuals representing several eastern provinces in Afghanistan have surrendered their arms to the UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, according to Mohammad Anwar Mosleh, the deputy chairman of the Arms Collection and Demobilization Commission for the eastern provinces. Speaking at a 22 July news conference in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, Mosleh said DDR program "has been implemented within several units of the Nangarhar Military Corps as well as with independent militia groups in Konar, Laghman, and Nurestan provinces," according to Radio Afghanistan. Roughly 200 men have been integrated into other forms of employment, Mosleh said, and the others have received financial compensation for surrendering their weapons. KM

At least four U.S. soldiers were injured in an apparent car bombing that occurred as their convoy was traveling on the outskirts of the southern city of Kandahar on 22 July, AP reported the same day. U.S. military officials did not offer any immediate information about the incident, and there was no information available about potential suspects or related arrests. The city and the province of Kandahar, a former stronghold of the Taliban regime, continue to be a hotbed of insurgence and terrorist activities. KM

The Iranian military battled Kurdish peshmerga forces from the Free Life Party in the Sardasht region of eastern Iran this week, "Hawlati" reported on 22 July. Haji Ahmad, a leader of the Free Life Party and member of Kongra-Gel (formerly known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK), told the weekly that Iranian forces initiated the fighting, adding that Kurdish forces "defeated forces of the regime and then captured a military barracks of the Revolutionary Guards in the village of Mazra." Ahmad further claimed that Kurdish fighters ambushed an Iranian military vehicle, killing an Iranian commander and soldier. There was no independent confirmation of Ahmad's claims. Meanwhile, Tehran has struck an agreement with Turkey to wage a joint struggle against the Kurds, Roj TV reported on 15 July. That agreement is to be made formal when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan travels to Tehran on 27 July. NTV reported on 20 July that Iranian Ambassador to Ankara Firuz Dolatabadi announced that Iran will declare Kongra-Gel a terrorist organization during Erdogan's visit. KR

An annual Israeli intelligence assessment delivered to the government officials on 21 July estimates that Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2008, "Ma'ariv" reported on 22 July. The assessment concludes that Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons represents the greatest threat to Israel, the daily reported. The assessment contends that international nuclear inspections in Iran have stalled the progress of Tehran's uranium-enrichment program by two or three years, since enrichment has a long maturation process and, once halted, must be started again from scratch. Israeli Defense Force intelligence previously claimed that Iran could have a nuclear capability by 2005, "Ma'ariv" noted. KR

The Iranian government has granted a license to Standard Chartered to set up a bank branch on the Persian Gulf island of Kish, reported on 22 July. Kish is a designated free-trade zone. The website reported that the establishment of the branch does not grant the bank permission to serve the mainland Iranian market. Standard Chartered thus becomes the first foreign bank to be issued a branch license by Iranian authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The branch is expected to be operational by year-end, according to bank's regional manager for the Middle East and South Asia, David Edwards. He called the license a "landmark approval," adding: "In the short term, the Kish branch will enable us to book Iranian corporate business onshore for the first time. Until now our Tehran representative office has had to pass business to Dubai or London to be serviced, so by being on Kish we will be able to get closer to our Iranian clients." Standard Chartered has operated a representative office in Tehran since 1993 that was restricted to structuring solutions for corporate clients and facilitating cross-border trade. It could not engage, however, in full-service commercial banking. KR

Mohammad Reza Khatami has been reappointed as the secretary-general of the Participation Front after winning 164 of 175 votes in a party vote, ISNA reported on 22 July. The Participation Front's central committee had nominated Khatami, who is the brother of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, and Ali Shakurirad as candidates. KR

The final report of the commission investigating the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States acknowledges contacts between the Al-Qaeda terrorist group and Iran but does not say that Iran had a close working relationship with Al-Qaeda, AP reported on 23 July. The report offers the same conclusion on Al-Qaeda's relationship with Iraq. Regarding Iran, the report says: "We have found no evidence that Iran...was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the Al-Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation." The report claims that Iran allowed eight to 10 of the 9/11 hijackers to pass through Iranian territory from Afghanistan and other countries without stamping their passports. Regarding Iraq, the report says the commission found no credible evidence to support Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's assertion that Ramzi Yousif, who was convicted of orchestrating the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was an Iraqi agent. KR

A group identifying itself as the Tabuk Rockets Brigade has threatened to attack leaders of the Iraqi interim government and fire rockets at government buildings, Al-Jazeera reported on 22 July. The group singled out Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir in a 22 July statement. It also released a videotape to Al-Jazeera that shows its military operations. The group warned Iraqi police and army forces to keep out of the path of the mujahedin -- claiming that the mujahedin does not target the police or army. The statement added that its fighters would, however, attack military checkpoints and not distinguish between internal and external enemies in the future, according to Al-Jazeera. KR

The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim has denied that Iran is sending terrorists to Iraq, SCIRI's Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 22 July. Responding to recent claims by Iraqi politicians that Iran has sent terrorists to Iraq, al-Hakim said: "I do not believe that these reports are true. The Islamic Republic [of Iran] does not send terrorists to Iraq or to the holy shrines" in Iraq. Al-Hakim said that the allegations were made by those who wish to prevent Iran and Iraq from having strong relations, and added that those who entered Iraq from Iran without visas are not necessarily terrorists. KR

A statement posted on the website on 22 July purportedly issued by the Shi'ite seminary Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah has called on Iraqis to participate in the upcoming national conference to select a Consultative Council as prescribed by the UN. The statement cites the directives of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that call for "all citizens to nominate themselves and choose whoever would represent them honestly to the Iraqi National Conference -- people who are characterized by sound religious faith, strong personality, prudence, enlightened analysis, [and] a quest to serve the people." The statement contends that the attendance of some scholars from Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah at preparatory meetings for the national conference "offers a relative guarantee that a reasonable measure of justice and fairness will be achieved for all." The conference was originally scheduled for July, but Iraqi officials this week said that the conference might be delayed by a few days due to logistical and security problems (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 July 2004). KR

U.S. forces launched a precision strike on targets in the Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah in the early morning hours of 23 July, AP reported. The strike targeted terrorists tied to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The U.S. military said in a statement to AP that the attack was carried out in coordination with the Iraqi interim government. "Based on multiple sources of intelligence, the attack targeted 10-12 terrorists with known ties to the Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi network of foreign terrorists," the statement said. The U.S. military reported no casualties in the incident. Iraqi doctor Kamal al-Ani at Al-Fallujah Hospital said that five civilians, including three children, were wounded when a missile landed in the garden of their home in the city. According to AP, the United States reported striking the courtyard of a house and it appears to be the same incident. The owner of the house has denied any connection to al-Zarqawi and accused the United States of terrorizing the residents of the city. KR

Iraqi police discovered a decapitated body dressed in an orange jumpsuit on the banks of the Tigris River near Bayji on 22 July, international media reported. Investigators suspect it is the body of a second Bulgarian hostage held captive in Iraq since 29 June. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the remains of another decapitated body recovered on 14 July are those of the first Bulgarian hostage. Those remains were also found in the Tigris, AP reported. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces battled militants in Baghdad on 22 July. The fighting broke out during a major sweep in which 270 suspected militants were detained, including several "non-Iraqi Arabs," Interior Ministry official Sabah Khadhim said. U.S. officials contradicted that number, saying only 48 suspected criminals and militants were arrested, AP reported. The Health Ministry reported that six Iraqis were wounded in the fighting. KR