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Newsline - July 28, 2004

European Commission Director General for External Relations Eneko Lanaburu on 27 July charged that the administration of President Vladimir Putin is intentionally pursuing a policy of destroying embattled oil giant Yukos, RosBalt and other Russian and international media reported. "We interpret this as a decision of President Putin to destroy an economic empire that had certain strategic goals of political influence," Landaburu said. "What's happening is essentially a settling of accounts." Putin stated in June that the government does not wish to see Yukos bankrupted (see "Russian Political Weekly," 18 June 2004). "The Moscow Times" reported on 28 July that Yukos shares fell by a further 15 percent on 27 July to $3.60, the lowest price since October 2001. The company has lost $5 billion in capitalization in two days, the daily reported. Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 53, columnist Yuliya Latynina refuted the notion that the Kremlin planned to destroy Yukos. "In general, I don't believe the people surrounding the president are capable of strategic thinking," she wrote. She concluded that "judging by the means being used to take over Yukos, the president has lost control over his entourage." RC

Meanwhile, the Russian bureau of Interpol has asked all Interpol member countries, including Israel, to locate Yukos major shareholder Leonid Nevzlin. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 26 July issued a second arrest warrant for Nevzlin, who lives in Israel and has Israeli citizenship, on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). "If we didn't plan on capturing Nevzlin, we wouldn't have sent this instruction," an unidentified spokesman at the Russian Interpol bureau told Interfax. "We are waiting for an answer from [the Israeli Interpol bureau]." The trial on murder charges of former Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin resumed on 28 July, reported. Defense lawyers asked the court to transfer the case to a jury trial, noting that it is unclear why the case has been officially labeled "secret" and why prosecutors have asked defense lawyers to sign statements promising not to reveal state secrets. RC

Rosneft's board of directors on 27 July selected deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin as its new chairman, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Sergei Oganesyan, director of the Federal Energy Agency, and Yurii Medvedev, acting deputy director of the Federal Property Agency, were tapped as deputy chairmen. Sechin is a longtime associate of President Putin, having worked for him for the past 13 years (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 2 April 2004). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 July that the business community is interpreting Sechin's appointment as the first step in the creation of a state energy company that, "in the future, will define the rules of the game for Russia's most important market." Sechin is not the first government official to be a chairman of Rosneft's board. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref held the post, as did Igor Yusufov when he was energy minister. Sechin's appointment is significant because it takes place against the background of a redistribution of property in the oil sector, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 July. JAC

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 July, Yukos shareholder Mikhail Brudno speculated that Rosneft has enough money to purchase the major Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz. Even if Rosneft is short of such funds, Brudno said, the Central Bank has enough for any purchase. Metropol analyst Yevgenii Satskov told the daily that Sechin's appointment shows that the Kremlin "plans to strengthen state control over a strategic branch." Analyst Stanislav Belkovskii, who is considered close to Sechin, commented that the new appointment is "the first step in the formation of a large energy-holding company, based on Rosneft and Gazprom." Earlier in the month, Belkovskii made a similar prediction, saying that the Kremlin will implement a plan promoted by Sechin to create a new holding including Gazprom and Rosneft, which together will acquire about one-half of Yukos's assets (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 July 2004). Rosneft ranks sixth in terms of oil production in Russia. JAC

The Foreign Ministry on 27 July issued a statement saying that London bears responsibility for the actions of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii and Chechen spokesman Akhmed Zakaev, both of whom have been granted political asylum in the United Kingdom, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The statement came in response to a 23 June statement by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that was distributed to members of parliament. The Foreign Ministry statement noted that Straw's letter explicitly states that the status of political asylum does not protect Berezovskii and Zakaev in the event that they are found to have committed any illegal activities. "Now we have the right to expect from London effective measures to prevent possible actions by the aforementioned people that could conflict with Great Britain's international obligations, first of all as a member of the international antiterrorism coalition," the Foreign Ministry's statement said. Such measures would "reinforce the spirit of mutual understanding and trust in the dialog between Moscow and London," it concluded. RC

Seventy-one percent of Russians and 41 percent of Russian journalists favor the introduction of government censorship of the media, according to a recent public-opinion poll by ROMIR-Monitoring, Interfax reported on 28 July, citing ROMIR General Director Andrei Milekhin. Thirty-two percent of citizens and 6 percent of journalists said censorship is "absolutely necessary," while 39 percent of citizens and 35 percent of journalists said it is "most likely necessary." "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 July that ROMIR analysts believe most respondents most likely had a type of "moral-ethical censorship" in mind. The daily quoted a ROMIR spokesperson as saying those respondents favor "a filter that would protect media consumers from gratuitous sex and violence and pornography." The daily noted that according to the survey, 42 percent of the public and 78 percent of journalists said they are concerned about the state of press freedom in Russia, indicating that they oppose the introduction of political or ideological censorship. Writing in "Novoe vremya," No. 30, journalist Tatyana Kuzmina blamed journalists for being too tolerant of state encroachments on freedom of speech. "Freedom of speech is dying in Russia. Television program after television program is being closed down," she wrote. "Is Putin to blame? Is he the only one?" RC

President Putin on 27 July signed into law a bill on the civil service that was adopted by the Duma on 7 July and the Federation Council on 15 July, Interfax reported. "Vedomosti" reported on 27 July that despite the controversy currently raging about a government proposal to convert in-kind social benefits to cash payments, the new law on the civil service maintains in-kind benefits for the country's 2 million state bureaucrats. "With one hand the Duma majority is taking away the right of free transportation from citizens and [with the other] it is carefully and kindly retaining the right for public officials to have a car and a driver," Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) said recently on Ekho Moskvy, according to the daily. The new law on state service preserves all benefits for bureaucrats and their families, including free medical care and the use of sanatoriums and health resorts. In addition, the law bestows a new benefit on civil servants -- the right to a one-time state subsidy for the purchase of housing. Economic Development and Trade Ministry official Andrei Sharov told the daily that the benefit will likely take the form of subsidized mortgages. "A politically problematic situation has arisen for the authorities," Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Aleksei Makarkin said, "while citizens have received yet another confirmation of their firm conviction that public officials will always look out for themselves." RC

Federal Water Resources Agency Director Rustem Khamitov said on 27 July that some 15,000 of Russia's 65,000 hydrotechnical structures, including a number of dams, levies, and dikes, are in need of major repairs, ITAR-TASS reported. Of those, about 1,150 installations present urgent danger. Khamitov also said that the state has not done enough to monitor the impact of hydroelectric facilities on drinking-water quality. "Basically, water has been treated like a stockpile of fuel for hydroelectric power stations," Khamitov said. RC

Moscow has proposed to the United States that the two countries jointly develop a spacecraft to replace the U.S. space shuttle, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 July, citing Federal Space Agency Director Nikolai Moiseev. "What the Russian side has in mind is the new manned shuttle Clipper, which is being designed at the Energiya corporation," Moiseev said. "The U.S. side could participate in the Clipper project, above all, financially and scientifically." Moiseev said that Moscow is aware that the United States plans to conclude its shuttle program by 2010 and that "some sort of project must take its place," reported on 26 July. RC

St. Petersburg businessman Sergei Polonskii is scheduled to become the third tourist in space, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 July. Citing an unnamed "informed source within Russia's space structures," the news agency said Polonskii will spend one week at the International Space Station in October if he completes the necessary training this summer. According to the source, Polonskii will pay just $15 million for the trip, instead of the $20 million that the previous two space tourists paid. Polonskii is the general director of the Stroimontazh construction firm, which he created in 1994. reported that Polonskii underwent training for a space-station mission in 2002, but was unable to come up with the money necessary for the trip. RC

Law enforcement officials intensified security measures in Voronezh on 27 July following the city's third bombing incident this year, NTV reported. Explosions occurred at bus stops in different parts of the city on 19 February, and 19 and 26 July, Interfax reported. In the first attack, two people were injured; on 19 July, one woman was killed; and in the latest explosion a woman was wounded. The mayor of the city has ordered the removal of all shrubs and tall grass near bus stops in the city as a preventive measure. When asked about whether the bombings were the work of Chechen extremists, Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman for Voronezh Oblast Roman Panevin told "Moskovskii komsomolets" of 27 July that Voronezh "featured on a list of cities where acts of sabotage were planned" by Chechens. Meanwhile, former Foreign Intelligence Service Major General Yurii Kobaladze told the daily that Voronezh bombings have a different signature than most terrorist attacks. "As a rule, the most crowded locations are chosen and at the busiest times," he said of terrorist attacks. Kobaladze continued that "it cannot be ruled out that this is the work of local delinquents" whose purpose is to give the population a "fright." JAC

The Yabloko press service reported on 27 July that two members of the party were taken to a hospital following a rally outside FSB headquarters in Moscow, Ekho Moskvy and Interfax reported. The two injured, Irina Vorobeva and Aleksei Kozhin, are members of the party's youth wing, and one of them is reportedly in serious condition. According to Ekho Moskvy, a detachment of Interior Ministry special forces (OMON) personnel initially detained 10 journalists who were covering the event and later released them. An unspecified number of Yabloko activists were also detained and are reportedly being threatened with 15 days' detention. According to Interfax, the demonstration was not sanctioned by authorities. Last month, police reportedly used violence against demonstrators in another unsanctioned protest in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). JAC

Approximately 1,600 people from the State Statistics Committee will conduct an experimental agricultural census in a number of Russian regions from 1 to 25 August, State Statistics Committee Chairman Vladimir Sokolin told reporters on 27 July, reported. This effort will be the preparatory stage of the All-Russia Agricultural Census, which will be conducted over two years. The test regions selected include raions in Krasnodar and Krasnoyarsk krais and Penza and Saratov oblasts. The census takers will be looking for answers to such questions as the number of people engaged in agricultural activity, their use of land resources, the number of livestock, and the sale of produce, among other things. The last such census was taken in 1920 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). JAC

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov met in Moscow on 27 July to discuss bilateral, particularly economic, relations between their countries, Mediafax reported. They also exchanged ratification documents pertaining to a basic treaty signed by President Putin and Romanian President Ion Iliescu in Moscow in July 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). Nastase said that the signing of that document, which came after 10 years of negotiations, "normalized bilateral relations" and marked the beginning of "a new phase" in the countries' relations. The two prime ministers focused on ways to improve Romanian exports to Russia. The balance of bilateral exchanges is clearly to Bucharest's disadvantage, with exports amounting to $52 million and imports to $1.98 billion. They also discussed ways of promoting Russian companies' participation in the privatization process under way in Romania. Nastase was received by President Putin, to whom he proposed that the two countries set up a "strategic partnership." Nastase said Russia is bound to play a very important role in future regional developments. Putin said relations between the two countries are "good, in general," but there is room for improvement. MS

Four candidates for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov and representatives of the other three candidates signed an agreement in Grozny on 27 July abjuring illegal electioneering, including offering bribes to voters, Russian news agencies reported. According to Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, the agreement affirms the supremacy of the law over candidates' personal interests or political affiliations. LF

Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian rejected on 27 as "nonsensical and absurd" the possibility that the unprecedented rise in value of the Armenian dram against the U.S. dollar over the past six months is the result of speculative trading by the Armenian Central Bank, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. Economy and Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian had declined to rule out that scenario on 23 July, one day after the dram increased in value from 520 to 490 to the dollar. It has since stabilized at 523:$1. LF

Visiting Tbilisi on 25-26 July at the head of a government delegation, Andranik Markarian met with his Georgian counterpart Zurab Zhvania and other senior officials to discuss various aspects of economic cooperation, Armenian news agencies and Caucasus Press reported. No agreement was reached, however, at a 26 July meeting of the intergovernmental economic commission on Georgia's debt for electricity imported from Armenia or on a reduction of rail-freight tariffs for goods transported to and from Armenia via Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 27 July. Markarian told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 July that Armenian businessmen are eager to acquire state-owned enterprises in Georgia that are slated for privatization, Caucasus Press reported. Upon his return to Yerevan, he told journalists on 27 July that Tbilisi has "softened" its position on the resumption of rail traffic from Russia to Armenia via Abkhazia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. ITAR-TASS on 27 July quoted Zhvania as saying that the resumption of rail traffic is contingent on expediting the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons forced to flee their homes during the 1992-93 war. LF

Representatives of 18 journalistic organizations and media outlets attended a session in Baku on 27 July of the Council of Editors to assess the attack the previous day on Eynulla Fatullaev, a journalist for the opposition weekly "Monitor," Turan reported. Fatullaev, who has published numerous articles criticizing the current Azerbaijani leadership, was assaulted on the street in Baku the previous evening and was reportedly hit on the head with a blunt instrument. Baku Press Club President Arif Aliev noted that this is the second instance within weeks of reprisals against an opposition journalist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004), and proposed appealing to President Ilham Aliyev to issue a formal condemnation of such attacks, reported on 28 July. LF

Former Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, who is the special envoy of OSCE Chairman in Office and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, said in Tskhinvali on 27 July after talks with South Ossetian officials that the OSCE is prepared to increase its participation in efforts to resolve the simmering conflict between the leadership of the breakaway republic and the central Georgian authorities, Caucasus Press reported. But he added that he is not competent to respond to the Georgian authorities' request that the OSCE monitor traffic through the Roki tunnel that connects South Ossetia and Russia. South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva said that any such monitoring is "absolutely unacceptable," Interfax reported. ITAR-TASS on 27 July quoted South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev as saying that Zhelev concurred with the South Ossetian view that "Tbilisi's approaches do not contribute to resolving the conflict, but on the contrary aggravate tensions." LF

In a statement released in Moscow on 27 July, the Russian Defense Ministry accused the Georgian military of illegally occupying two days earlier two Russian garrison towns scheduled to be handed over to the Georgian authorities, Russian media reported. But Caucasus Press on 27 July cited the Georgian Defense Ministry as saying that Georgian military personnel have merely been detailed to guard the facilities in question to prevent the theft of property stored there. LF

The Association of Georgian Judges is angered by reports that the Finance Ministry intends to propose to parliament that judges' salaries, currently set at 600 laris ($312.5) per month, be cut by one-third, Caucasus Press reported on 28 July. Judges' salaries were raised last year in a move to increase their independence and minimize the need for them to accept bribes. LF

The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan agreed at a 27 July joint congress in Almaty to form a bloc for 19 September parliamentary elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The bloc will field a party slate of seven candidates; Democratic Choice will also run 37 candidates in single-mandate constituencies, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "The time has come to join forces, casting aside various ideologies and past differences, to unite for the sake of our common values and demands," Democratic Choice Chairman Asylbek Kozhakhmetov said. He added that the two parties will work together to ensure "fair and transparent elections." The two parties made the decision after each held its own party congress earlier in the day. DK

Kozhakhmetov announced at the Democratic Choice congress on 27 July that 1 million people have signed an appeal to free imprisoned party founder Ghalymzhan Zhakiyanov, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Kozhakhmetov said that the signatures will be submitted to President Nursultan Nazarbaev at the first session of parliament in September. In the interim, more signatures will be collected. Zhakiyanov, a former regional governor, is serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office; his supporters insist that the charge was politically motivated. DK

Kurmanbek Bakiev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 26 July that he stands firm in his intention to run in the 2005 presidential elections. Bakiev's presidential ambitions are not new (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). He also made it clear that he will not withdraw his candidacy even if he were to face current President Askar Akaev. Although Akaev has said that he does not plan to run for another term, and the legality of a potential bid remains dubious, at least one member of parliament has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the possibility of a third term for Akaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2004). Bakiev is currently a member of the Legislative Assembly (lower chamber of parliament). DK

Interior Minister Humdin Sharipov told a 27 July meeting in Dushanbe on the ministry's progress in the first half of 2004 that "our work has not been satisfactory," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. "We always say that there are criminal groups in Tajikistan, but we haven't yet determined how many criminal groups there are in the country and in what areas they are active -- the economy, business, or narcotics trafficking," he said. Nevertheless, Sharipov said that crime statistics are dropping, with the total number of registered crimes falling 5.6 percent in the first half of 2004, assaults plummeting 22 percent, and burglaries down 16.7 percent. The total number of crimes solved rose 1.9 percent to 76.5 percent. Sharipov also noted that the Interior Ministry succeeded in the first half of 2004 in dismantling the group Bayat, which he described as a religious extremist organization. DK

Turkmen authorities have broken up an unregistered computer-oriented NGO in Ashgabad and arrested a number of its members, Deutsche Welle reported on 27 July citing Turkmen opposition figure Parakhat Iklymov. According to the report, the group attempted to register as an NGO on 17 June. The organization began in 2003 as a computer club in Ashgabat, whose members hoped to register officially in order to travel to international computer competitions. According to a source in the group, Turkmen security forces began to threaten group members after they attempted to register. Iklymov told Deutsche Welle that the threats eventually gave way to the arrest of several dozen individuals along with their families. Iklymov said that the club's cofounders, Mamur Ataev and Seiran Mamedov, are also under arrest. They are being charged with illegally attempting to cross state borders, apparently because of their intention to travel abroad. DK

The trial of 15 alleged terrorists charged with masterminding the 28 March-1 April spate of violence in Uzbekistan produced new testimony on its second day on 27 July, Uzbek TV reported. Testifying in the Uzbek Supreme Court in Tashkent, Furqat Yusupov said that he joined Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2001, later becoming part of a jamoat, or group, led by Ahmad Bekmirzaev. After conversion to an ideology of violent jihad, Yusupov said, he went on to undergo military training at a camp in Pakistan and carry out terrorist acts on Bekmirzaev's orders. Yusupov appeared contrite, saying: "I ask you to forgive me, God willing, regardless of what term of imprisonment I will be sentenced to." Two other defendants gave similar testimony. But Vasila Inoyatova, the head of Uzbekistan's Ezgulik human rights group, cast doubt on the veracity of the testimony. "We have proof that inhuman torture was used against the defendants and that they were forced to confess to actions they did not commit," Deutsche Welle quoted her as saying. DK

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee issued a statement on 27 July denying that the alleged perpetrators of terrorist acts in Uzbekistan trained in Kazakhstan, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Uzbek Deputy Prosecutor Murod Solihov had charged on 26 July that the defendants used training camps in border regions of Kazakhstan. The Kazakh statement called the allegation "contrary to fact." Noting that Kazakh law enforcement authorities cooperated with their Uzbek colleagues during their investigation of the 28 March-1 April violence, the statement continued: "Information about the existence of terrorist training camps in southern Kazakhstan...was not borne out. Uzbekistan's investigative authorities and National Security Service were informed of this." DK

The 27 July "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Tajik President Invites Adviser From World Bank" should have identified John Odling-Smee as a recently retired employee of the International Monetary Fund.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 27 July that October's parliamentary elections to the Chamber of Representatives should be conducted in strict accordance with the constitution, Belapan reported. Lukashenka said the constitution demands "good organization, transparency, democracy, high voter turnout, and, above all, productivity," adding that he wants to see all chamber seats filled in the first round. Lukashenka urged women, young voters, and veterans to run for elected office as representatives of their social strata and ordered the government to find new employment for legislators who do not run for reelection. AM

President Lukashenka on 27 July urged Belarusian authorities to be active in the election campaign in order to gain support for the current government, Belapan reported. "The rabid and destructive opposition lacks popular support in our society and is unlikely to be supported by our people," Lukashenka said. "Today there are candidates to everyone's taste, and people will have a choice." Lukashenka added, "It is necessary to tell people who is who. The authorities should actively settle these questions to prevent anarchy and the destabilization of the situation in the republic." AM

Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), issued a statement to Belarusians marking the 14th anniversary of the declaration of Belarus's independence, Belapan reported on 27 July. "The declaration was adopted thanks to consistent and tactically verified actions of the BPF faction in the Supreme Soviet," Vyachorka said in his address, adding that he believes 27 July will be a major Belarusian holiday in the future. The Supreme Soviet of Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic declared the state sovereign on 27 July 1990. Belarus celebrated that date as independence day from 1991 to 1995. The 1996 referendum moved the holiday to 3 July -- the date of Minsk's liberation from Nazi German invaders. AM

Ukrainian oil-pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta and Russian oil company TNK-BP, formed by the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) and U.K.-based BP, have signed a contract to ship 9 million tons of Russian oil annually through the Odesa-Brody pipeline to the Yuzhny port oil terminal in Odesa for the next three years, Interfax reported on 27 July. Companies also signed four additional agreements allowing Ukrtransnafta to get a loan of up to $108 million for the purchase of 425,000 tons of crude oil and insure against financial risks, said Leonid Nester, the head of Ukrtransnafta's international cooperation department. The contract provides for 100 percent prepayment for the service and fines for any refusal to ship the agreed amount of oil, Nester said. The contract also provides for a possible change in the direction of shipments on condition that the other side is warned three months in advance (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 20 July 2004). AM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on 27 July that Ukraine is not yet prepared to join NATO, Interfax reported. "The real development of Ukraine's economy, its civic society, and implementation of the North Atlantic alliance criteria do not allow either Ukraine or NATO to speak about a real time of accession," Yanukovych said. His statement followed the unveiling of amendments to Ukraine's military doctrine that include the removal of a provision about full membership of NATO and the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). The new doctrine was welcomed by the Russian Foreign Ministry as well as by the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Petro Symonenko. According to Symonenko, Ukraine should solve its defense problems outside NATO. Borys Tarasyuk, head of the Verkhovna Rada's committee for European integration and a former Ukrainian foreign minister, called the changes inconsistent with Ukraine's foreign policy. AM

Referring to 26 July mass protests against the government's redistricting plans, Menduh Thaci, who is the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), said that many Macedonians are acting "irrationally and neurotically," "Vreme" reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 26, and 27 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 23 July 2004). PDSH member of parliament Zamir Dika said in Tetovo on 26 July that the legislators of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) should not support the legislation on the redistricting plans, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Alluding to the 2001 interethnic conflict between the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces, Dika added that accepting the legislation would mean that the Albanians had fought for nothing. Xhezair Shaqiri, the only legislator of the small ethnic Albanian National Democratic Party (PDK), said that if ethnic Macedonians succeed in collecting enough signatures for a petition to call a referendum against the redistricting plans, then the Albanians should seek a referendum on the federalization of Macedonia, "Vreme" reported on 27 July. Most ethnic Macedonians consider federalization as tantamount to partition and hence totally unacceptable. UB

Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov told Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service on 26 July that the primary factor in the recent protests and violence against the government's redistricting plans is an unwarranted fear on the part of many ethnic Macedonians that the Albanian minority regards the changes as a first step toward setting up a Greater Albania. Kostov noted that neither any mainstream ethnic Albanian political party in Macedonia nor the Albanian government in Tirana supports a Greater Albania. He suggested that only a few percent of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia would endorse such a program, which, in any event, would be strongly opposed by the international community. PM

Former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 27 July that the U.S. Defense Department "led...[ethnic] Albanian terrorists" in the 2001 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Asked about the reported U.S. decision to revoke his entry visa and place him on a "blacklist" of people banned from entering the United States, Georgievski replied that he considers the matter "a kind of honor." PM

Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member and chairman of the Bosnian Presidency, told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" of 27 July that the Republika Srpska is legally an "entity of Serbs, Croats, [Muslims], and other citizens," adding that its official symbols should not, therefore, be purely Serbian ones as they are now, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Elsewhere, Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency, said that Tihic and others who question the constitutionality of the Republika Srpska's official symbols are risking a "political and [interethnic] crisis" in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which could have far-reaching negative consequences for the country as a whole. PM

The Romanian Foreign Ministry said on 27 July that it will lodge a complaint with the United Nations Committee on Children's Rights over separatist Transdniestrian authorities' closure of schools teaching in Moldovan (Romanian) using the Latin script, Mediafax reported. The ministry called the measure a "provocative gesture" by the separatists that amounts to an infringement on children's rights. MS

Russian-speaking militiamen evicted some 60 orphans from a school in Bendery-Tighina on 27 July, forcing the children to spend the night on the street, Reuters, Infotag, and Mediafax reported. According to a communique from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the militiamen seized the orphanage on 26 July and forced the children, aged 7-15, out onto the street. Infotag said the children had just returned from a summer camp and had nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, the Moldovan lyceum in the town remains disconnected from water, gas, and electricity service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). The orphanage is among six schools ordered closed by Transdniestrian authorities for teaching Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script. Reuters quoted the head of the OSCE's mission to Moldova, William Hill, as saying the actions taken against the orphanage are "totally unacceptable." Hill told journalists in Chisinau that the crisis over the schools has the potential to "destabilize" the situation in Moldova, which he described as "everywhere very tense and rather explosive." MS

Integration Minister Vasilii Sova said on 27 July that Moldova will not return to the negotiating table before the crisis triggered by the closure of six schools is resolved, Infotag reported. "We cannot negotiate while the children are suffering and while participants in the negotiations prove incapable of solving this humanitarian issue," he said. At his news conference in Chisinau (see above), OSCE mission head Hill said, "There is always hope" for the negotiations to be resumed and the three mediators (OSCE, Russia and Ukraine) are doing everything in their power to see that happen. MS

President Vladimir Voronin issued a decree on 27 July nullifying an 8 July government resolution that granted Transdniester's InterDnesterCom the sole rights to provide mobile-telephone service on both sides of the Dniester River, Infotag reported. The governmental decision was aimed at ending a long-running "phone war" that interrupted mobile-phone service between Transdniester and Moldova. Voronin said the cabinet decision discriminates against other operators and is inappropriate for a market economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). MS

Some 100 former employees of Teleradio Moldova broke into the station's building on 27 July to protest the process adopted for rehiring staff members dismissed after the company's reorganization last year, Infotag and Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2003). The former employees claim the process has been politicized and that those perceived as politically unreliable are not being rehired. They say the process amounts to an infringement of the freedom of the press and human rights and it is aimed at forging a "pocket-sized servile radio and television," according to Infotag. MS

Most assessments of Russian President Vladimir Putin's accomplishments during his first term in office assert that he tamed the country's regional leaders, who had supposedly become too independent during his predecessor's two terms in office. Putin purportedly eroded the governors' ability to treat their regions like personal fiefdoms by stripping them of their forum in the Federation Council, by establishing the system of presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, and by crafting legislation making it possible to dismiss governors who disregard federal laws. However, the recent mayoral election in Vladivostok raises questions about how much control over the regions the federal authorities really have -- at least in this important port city on the country's Pacific coast.

The winner of the 18 July second round, Vladimir Nikolaev, is a convicted felon who served 3 1/2 years in prison for beating up one Primorskii Krai legislator and threatening to murder another. Numerous local and national media reports have described Nikolaev as a mid-level gangster, known in the criminal world as "Winnie the Pooh." During the campaign Nikolaev had the backing of Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin, who himself was accused of ties to organized crime during his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2001. Dmitrii Glotov, a close associate of Nikolaev, is reportedly going to run for mayor of Nakhodka -- another port city and the likely destination for an important oil pipeline -- in December, according to "Transitions Online" on 19 July. Glotov, chairman of the Association of Fishing Enterprises of Primorskii Krai, has also been accused of ties to a crime family headed by the late Sergei Baulo. "Izvestiya" alleged on 12 July that Glotov and Nikolaev started a new underworld group after Baulo was killed in 1995.

Russia is, of course, an extremely large country, and the Kremlin is therefore forced to adopt positions of benign neglect or neutrality regarding the goings-on in many areas at various times, although presumably the presidential envoys are keeping tabs. Primorskii Krai, however, is rarely one of these regions. Just one year after he was first elected, Putin personally intervened in the krai, which had been the subject of countless news stories of frozen, disgusted citizens who, after months of electricity shut-offs, had begun taking to the streets in protest. In February 2001, Putin telephoned then-Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who the next day announced that he was stepping down to accept an offer to head the State Fisheries Committee in Moscow. Some three years later, Nazdratenko still has a high-level -- if largely symbolic -- position in Moscow, now as a deputy secretary in the Security Council, even though the citizens of Vladivostok continue to suffer. Now local media are focusing on the city's inability to maintain regular water supplies to local residents.

Soon they may have to start wearing bulletproof vests while dining out in the city. On the night after Nikolaev's 18 July second-round victory, his supporters shot off guns in Vladivostok's outskirts, according to on 20 July. Restaurants in the city experienced a night of wild revelry and fracases by Nikolaev's supporters.

In one of the most publicized incidents, a group of about 16 people virtually took over a local restaurant, drinking toasts and singing songs to Nikolaev, terrorizing restaurant staff, dragging a number of young women in the restaurant around by their hair and exposing their breasts, "Komsomolskaya pravda -- Dalnii vostok" reported on 21 July. They wound up breaking all the dishes in the restaurant and threatened restaurant manager Lilya Barkova when they suspected she was going to call the police. Barkova told "Komsomolskaya pravda" that she never seriously considered calling the police. "Everyone, not only me, thinks that in such a situation the police would not get involved and would not help us," she said. "I think if we had called the police, we would have had an even bigger problem." According to Barkova, when the group left the restaurant at 3:00 a.m., they said "Get ready, this is only the beginning."

Election day itself was also marked by impropriety. RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported on 19 July that observers witnessed carousel voting and attempts to buy votes with offers of 50 to 300 rubles ($1.70-$10.30). Voters from outside of city were also reportedly bused in and allowed to vote despite not being registered in the city. Nikolai Markovtsev, who ran against Nikolaev in the second round, charged that Nikolaev's team of T-shirt clad youth were handing out blank ballots together with flyers supporting Nikolaev at polling sites, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 July.

Markovtsev made it to the second round despite finishing in fifth place in the first round because the third- and fourth-place finishers refused to participate in the election after a krai court disqualified State Duma Deputy and second-place finisher Viktor Cherepkov days before the ballot. The night before the court decision, Cherepkov was seriously injured when he triggered a trip wire connected to a grenade planted outside his campaign headquarters.

Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov condemned the court decision to disqualify Cherepkov, but said the ballot itself had proceeded according to the law. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 19 July, however, he allowed for the possibility that if a appeals court overturns the krai court's decision, then new elections might have to be held. Nikolaev, meanwhile, shows little concern that this will happen. On 23 May, he appointed his first deputy mayor, a former director of finance from his shipping company.

So far, Nikolaev is the first mayor of major Russian city to have a criminal record. Another convicted felon, Andrei Klimentev, was elected to the mayor's office in Nizhnii Novgorod in 1998, but the election results were annulled. Therefore, it could be argued that drawing conclusions based on Vladivostok's experience would be a mistake. However, in an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 20 July, Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center suggested that elections take place in Vladivostok "perhaps even more freely than in a number of other regions." "Violations of election law take place in many other regions and are also reported in practically all regional and federal elections," he said. "The problem is that the violations in Vladivostok are very scandalous, and [because of this] a lot of attention is paid to them."

In short, the Vladivostok scenario might just be a more dramatic rendition of scenes being played out across the Russian stage. The question is: Why is the situation in Vladivostok still so clearly out of control despite the attention the city has received from the federal authorities -- including Putin himself? Could it be that the federal center's ability to project its power and influence is more limited than most observers imagine?

U.S. Ambassador and special presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, first deputy to the Afghan leader and Minister of Defense, on 26 July, Radio Afghanistan reported. Fahim stressed that he is against any negative campaign that might undermine October's presidential election. On 27 July, Khalilzad issued what "The New York Times" has described as a "veiled warning" to Fahim not to undermine Afghan security. When asked if the United States might intervene in the event that militias -- one of which is led by Fahim -- seek to destabilize the electoral process, Khalilzad responded that the defense minister has a "direct responsibility" to prevent violence, the New York daily reported. On 26 July, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai surprised some observers when he dropped Fahim as his choice for the post of first vice president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004), prompting some to speculate that Fahim, who is the powerful military commander of the United Front (aka Northern Alliance), might try to undermine the electoral process. AT

Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin on 28 July denied rumors that a number of cabinet ministers resigned following Karzai's announcement of his choices of running mates for the upcoming election, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Ludin said that only Education Minister Yunos Qanuni resigned to make possible his bid for the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). In addition to Qanuni's resignation, Karzai accepted the resignations of one of his four deputies, Abdul Karim Khalili, who has been nominated as second vice president on Karzai's ticket; ministerial adviser Taj Mohammad Wardak, who will run as first vice-presidential nominee on Qanuni's ticket; and Afghan Ambassador to Moscow Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, who is also on Karzai's ticket as first vice-presidential nominee, Radio Afghanistan reported on 27 July. Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah tendered their resignations following Karzai's decision not to include the defense minister on his ticket. AT

Hamid Karzai has chosen Labor and Social Affairs Minister Nur Mohammad Qarqin to head his presidential campaign, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran report on 28 July. In an interview with RFE/RL on 20 July, Qarqin suggested that Defense Minister Fahim would be Karzai's choice for first vice president in order to avoid the threat of instability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). Qarqin said Karzai's campaign strategy will be to seek to avoid a runoff, even if the winning margin is slim. With the removal of Fahim from the ticket, Karzai may have gained legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans who view the warlords and their militias as the major obstacle on Afghanistan's road to normalcy. Fahim's military and strong financial standing could make him a popular figure among ethnic Tajiks and other groups, which could deliver a blow to Karzai's hopes of winning the presidency on the strength of an ethnically broad voter base. AT

The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body announced its final list on 27 July of candidates registered to compete in October's presidential election, Afghanistan's Television reported. The list of 23 individuals comprises 19 independents and four candidates representing specific political parties or coalitions. The list of independents includes Karzai, who is not affiliated with any political party, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the head of the powerful Junbish-e Melli-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, which is backed by its own military units. (For a complete list of candidates and their running mates where available, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 July 2004). AT

Iran has broken International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) seals on the relevant equipment and is building centrifuges that can be used to make nuclear weapons, AP quoted unnamed diplomats as claiming on 27 July. Iran agreed last year to halt construction of centrifuges and its uranium-enrichment program in a deal with the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Those states are scheduled to hold talks with Iran this week. However, diplomats claim that the moratorium ended several weeks ago when Tehran broke the IAEA-tagged seals and begun assembling and installing centrifuges. It appears that it has not, however, restarted its uranium-enrichment program, the sources added. AP reported that a source at Iran's state-run television station has said that Hasan Rowhani, the senior nuclear negotiator, confirmed that Iran restarted the program on 29 June but told at least one broadcaster not to report on the resumption, which would likely draw harsh international criticism. KR

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a three-day visit to Tehran on 27 July, dpa reported. Erdogan will attend the 18th meeting of the Iran-Turkey Joint Economic and Trade Commission during his stay. The two countries aim to double last year's trade volume of $2.4 billion. Talks will also address a $20 billion project that would transport Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey -- an agreement signed in 1996 but never implemented. Iran is also expected to designate the Turkish-Kurdish opposition group PKK-Kongra Gel a terrorist organization. Turkey has criticized Iran in the past for giving shelter to the group, a charge that Tehran denies. KR

Iran criticized the United States for "making a tool" of the antiterror campaign after Washington granted protected status to the anti-Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin Khalq in Iraq, IRNA reported on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). "We already knew that America is not serious in fighting terrorism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said. " seeking to legally justify its support for terrorists only out of spite against and enmity with Iran's quest for independence." The U.S. State Department previously listed the MKO as a "foreign terrorist organization." "The American people must be worried more than anybody else since other terrorist groups can now be granted protection and given privileges of a good terrorist," Assefi said. KR

Iran is reportedly considering opening consular offices in Al-Basrah, Karbala, and Al-Sulaymaniyah, IRNA reported on 26 July. The offices would work to facilitate the travel of Iranians to Iraq and vice versa, according to an "informed source" quoted by the state-run news agency. The offices would also help promote trade opportunities between the two states. KR

The Export Guarantee Fund of Iran (EGFI) has been authorized to cover the risk of Iranian investments and exports to Iraq and Afghanistan, IRNA reported on 26 July. The high commission for Iran's non-oil exports reportedly issued a directive to the EGFI clearing the way for the fund's general assembly to implement the decision. The directive also mandates the Transportation Ministry to establish export terminals at border crossings in cooperation with private-sector companies. The EGFI provides coverage for Iranian exports against political and trade risks in some 145 countries. KR

At least 68 Iraqis were killed and at least 30 were wounded on 28 July when a car bomb detonated in the city of Ba'qubah, Reuters reported. The Health Ministry said that the death toll resulting from the suicide attack is expected to rise, according to the report. The explosion took place outside the Al-Najda police station, which is also used as a recruiting center. The police station is located in the city center, close to a marketplace and other government buildings, AP reported. CNN reported that a minibus packed with explosives was used in the attack, in which the bus drove into a crowd of people before detonating. Local hospital official Husayn Ali told AP that at least 55 people were injured in the blast. Ba'qubah is located about 65 kilometers north of Baghdad. KR

Fu'ad Mas'um, head of the preparatory committee for the Iraqi National Conference, said on 27 July that the conference will begin on 31 July, two days later than planned, despite a United Nations request that it be postponed for a bit longer, Al-Jazeera television reported. The conference, modeled after Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, will elect members to an interim national assembly. The assembly will oversee the activities of the interim cabinet until national elections are held in January. "The higher committee did not want to cause doubt or suspicion," by delaying the conference longer, Ma'sum said. "Adhering to its laws and credibility, the committee decided that the conference would begin on 31 July," he added. KR

The Jordanian company Dawud and Partners has suspended its activities in Iraq in an effort to gain the release of two of its workers held captive by militants in Iraq, Arab media reported on 27 July. Executive Director Rami al-Uways told Al-Jazeera that he made the decision to close Dawud and Partners' offices in Iraq after the kidnappers gave the company 72 hours to pull out of the country or the two hostages - both of them truck drivers - would be killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). Meanwhile, a group calling itself Jama'at al-Mawt, or "Death Group," has threatened to block the Baghdad-Amman Highway within 72 hours to prevent traffic carrying supplies to U.S. troops in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 27 July. The group said that it considers Jordanian businesses and businessmen military targets, but claims it will not target trucks carrying medicine and food. KR

The Lebanese construction firm Ramco has begun construction of a housing complex consisting of 1,500 residential units in central Iraq's Babil Governorate, Baghdad's "Al-Adalah" reported on 26 July. An unidentified Housing and Construction Ministry source said the contract, awarded under the former UN oil-for-food program, was one of six contracts signed with Egyptian, Emirati, and Syrian construction firms, which will provide 3,200 residential units in several governorates. The Babil complex will include a number of educational, health, and entertainment facilities, the daily reported. Construction is also under way for a similarly sized residential complex in the Al-Najaf Governorate, the ministry said. Meanwhile, "Al-Dustur" reported on 24 July that the ministry is warning citizens of an apparent scam being carried out in which unknown parties take money from citizens in return for land and home-ownership documents. The ministry warned that the ministry will not be held financially responsible for money lost through fraudulent transactions. The ministry encouraged citizens to report parties who participate in such fraudulent activities. KR

The Irbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) appointed five new ministers and one deputy minister on 24 July, "Khabat" reported on 25 July. Sarkis Aghajan Mamandu was appointed deputy head of government and finance and economy minister. The other appointments are: Barzan Muhsin Dizayee, municipalities and tourism minister; Nazanin Muhammad Waso, reconstruction and housing minister; Falah Mustafa Bakr, regional minister; Azad Izz al-Din Mulla, agriculture and irrigation minister; and Sami Fattah Abd al-Latif Shoresh, culture minister. Shoresh is a former broadcaster for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. KR