GEORGIAN OFFICIALS IN MOSCOW FOR TALKS ON SOUTH OSSETIA, ABKHAZIA
Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava arrived in Moscow on 9 August for talks aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries regarding the situations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Khaindrava told journalists that the goal of his mission is to convey to the Russian side the Georgian government's position on the two situations and "to receive an answer to the question of from where the separatists are getting modern weaponry." The two men are expected to meet with Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov and the chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Yurii Balyuevskii. RC
ARBITRATION COURT OVERRULES BAILIFFS ON YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ SEIZURE...
The Moscow Arbitration Court on 6 August overturned a bailiff decision to freeze the stock of Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of embattled oil giant Yukos, Interfax and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004). The court, responding to an appeal from Yukos, ruled the seizure was illegal. "The company is satisfied with the court's ruling," Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin told Interfax. On 9 August, an unidentified spokesman for the government of the United Arab Emirates denied earlier media reports that a consortium of local businessmen had offered to pay off Yukos's debts in exchange for a controlling stake in the company, ABN reported. Russian media reported after the initial reports that the consortium was headed by figures close to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich. Alfa Bank strategist Christopher Weafer told "The Moscow Times" on 9 August that the pattern of alternating "good" and "bad" news about Yukos is "very frustrating, very annoying, and very suspicious," adding that the price of Yukos shares might be being manipulated for someone's benefit. RC
...AS RUSSIAN COMPANY PUTS IN BID FOR YUKOS'S STAKE IN ROSPAN
The Russian firm Alfa Servis, which is not part of the Alfa Group and which represents a group of Russian investment banks, has offered Yukos $450 million for its 56 percent stake in the natural-gas producer Rospan, "Vedomosti" and other Russian media reported on 9 August. Earlier, TNK-BP, which is part of the Alfa Group, offered $357 million for the stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2004). A Yukos spokesman has confirmed the Alfa Servis offer, Interfax reported on 6 August. RC
UPPER LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER GIVES SOCIAL BENEFITS REFORM BILL AN EASY PASS...
Federation Council members approved on 8 August a number of bills that the State Duma recently adopted, including the controversial bill converting most in-kind social benefits to cash payments (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 5 August 2004). Some 156 representatives voted in favor of the bill with five against and one abstention, Interfax reported. According to Ekho Moskvy, two rallies took place outside of the council building as the vote was taking place. According to the station, one rally in support of the bill, composed of several hundred people, took place right across from the Federation Council building, while a rally protesting the bill was located about 100 meters away. According to Ekho Moskvy's correspondent, participants at the rally supporting the bill were oddly reluctant to talk and only repeated the words on their placards. JAC
...AND APPROVES BILL TIGHTENING CENTER'S CONTROL OVER REVENUES
The council also passed on 8 August bills amending the Tax and Budget codes also passed on 8 August, Russian news agencies reported. In an address to the Federation Council, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin reassured the representatives that the amendments to the budget law will not leave regions without enough revenue, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). He said that a special reserve fund of 30 billion rubles ($1 billion) is being created to ensure that regional budgets are balanced in 2005. Also on 8 August, council members approved a number of other bills, such as a bill providing protection to witnesses in criminal cases and another one amending the law on advertising to put restrictions on beer commercials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 6 August 2004). Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told RIA-Novosti on 8 August, following the vote to approve the ban on beer advertising, that Russia should now consider adopting legislation that would make it illegal to operate gambling institutions in Russian cities. "We should think about the example of many Western countries where it is illegal to place gambling facilities within city limits," Mironov said. "They are restricted to special zones outside the city limits." JAC
GOVERNMENT RETHINKS OPTIMISM REGARDING CAPITAL FLIGHT...
Russia could lose as much as $8.5 billion to $12 billion to capital flight this year, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry announced on 6 August, according to Prime-TASS. "Gazeta" reported the same day that Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that net capital outflow will likely not reverse until 2006 or 2007. Russia lost $2.9 billion in 2003, and $5.5 billion during the first six months of 2004, according to the daily. The Economic Expert Group's Yevsei Gurvich told the newspaper that outflow is due to the weakness of Russia's financial system and high oil prices. He said that the "weakness of the financial systems prevents [oil-sector revenues] from being spread throughout the economy more evenly." Yevgenii Gavrilov of the Higher School of Economics said that he "wouldn't be surprised if the outflow is more than $15 billion" this year. Last month "Vedomosti" reported that the Center for Development predicted that the outflow of capital will reach $17.2 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). In March, Finance Minister Kudrin had quite a different forecast, reporting that the government expected that for the first time since the early 1990s, net capital inflow to Russia would reach $3 billion to $4 billion this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004). JAC
...AS RUSSIAN SHARE IN WORLD TRADE SOARS
According to a report by the BDO Yunikon auditing firm and the Center for MacroEconomic Research, Russia's share in world trade is growing at an "unprecedented rate," "Izvestiya" reported on 3 August. Russia's share in the international exchange of goods and services amounted to 2 percent in the first quarter of 2004, a figure analogous to that of Britain and France, according to the daily. "In the second quarter, Russia will surpass Japan," said Yelena Matrosova, director of the Center for Macroeconomic Research. However, she warned that the growth in exports will lead to increased economic and political risks: "If the price of oil, gas, and metals falls, then Russia could repeat the fate of the 'Asian tiger' countries." Conrad Royce, a Standard & Poor's analyst, told the newspaper that his agency evaluates the increase in exports positively in the short term, although it could be a problem in the long run. "The more the growth in exports is the primary mover in the Russian economy, then the more vulnerable it will be to world shocks," he said. JAC
GOVERNMENT PUBLISHES LIST OF STRATEGICALLY IMPORTANT ENTERPRISES
The official list of strategically important Russian enterprises has been posted on President Vladimir Putin's official website (http://www.kremlin.ru/text/docs/2004/08/75174.shtml), ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported on 7 August. The list comprises 514 wholly-owned state institutions and 549 joint-stock companies in which the state holds a strategic interest. According to the site, the government considers its continued participation in the management of these enterprises to be a component of the country's national interest. An unnamed government source told the news agency that Putin would personally decide any matters relating to the privatization of enterprises appearing on the list. Among the major enterprises on the list are Gazprom, Alrosa, Transneft, Sukhoi, Amaz-Antei, Rosneft, Unified Energy Systems (UES), and Irkutskenergo. RC
MAGAZINE NAMES FRIDMAN MOST INFLUENTIAL RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN
Alfa Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman is the most influential businessman in Russia and the 10th most influential businessman in Europe, according to a ranking published in "Fortune" magazine on 9 August. Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and major Sibneft shareholder Abramovich was the only other Russian to appear on the list this year, coming in at No. 21. Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who was No. 15 on the list last year, did not make the top 25 this year. "Fortune" described Fridman as a "businessman who does his best not to offend the Kremlin." RC
TECHNOLOGY USE IN RUSSIA ON THE RISE
Thirty-four percent of all Russians have mobile telephones, Interfax reported on 9 August, citing data from the Levada Analytical Center. That figure is up from 20 percent in 2003 and just 5 percent in 2001, the agency reported. The survey also found that 11 percent of Russians have computers at home, up from 7 percent last year and 5 percent in 2001. Four percent use the Internet from home, up from 1 percent in 2001. During the same period, the number of Russians who said they know nothing about the Internet fell from 16 percent to 8 percent. RC
THINK TANK FORECASTS RUSSIAN FIGHTER SALES THROUGH 2010...
The independent Strategies and Technologies Analysis Center has predicted that Russia could export as many as 220 combat fighters by 2010, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 August. Center Director Ruslan Pukhov told the daily that Russia could sell "up to 150 Su-30 fighters and up to 70 MiG-29s." According to the center, Vietnam might purchase up to 24 Su-30s, Indonesia up to 24, China up to 48, India up to 10, and Brazil up to 24. Pukhov said the main customers for the MiG-29 are "underresourced countries in Africa and the Near and Middle east." RC
...AS MINISTER SAYS SU-24M BOMBER READY FOR SERIAL PRODUCTION
Defense Minister Ivanov said on 5 August that the upgraded SU-24M front-line bomber (NATO classification Fencer) acquitted itself well during an exercise this month in Kyrgyzstan and will be put into serial production immediately. RC
SIBERIAN CITY EXPERIENCING NEW SCOURGE...
Already hit by an increasing number of cases of aseptic meningitis, Novosibirsk is registering more cases of tick-born encephalitis, NTV reported on 7 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). Nine people have already died from the disease. Local doctors said cases of the disease usually decrease after May, but a spell of unusually warm weather has kept ticks active. At the same time, the number of cases of aseptic meningitis has now surpassed 300, the majority of whom are children, REN-TV and ITAR-TASS reported on 6 August. Most of the cases were contracted from swimming in water that has been contaminated by raw sewage. Meanwhile, in the city of Surgut, some 209 construction workers have been diagnosed with salmonella, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 August. JAC
...AS EPIDEMIOLOGIST SAYS WATER IS THE SOURCE OF THE DISEASE
Viktor Maleev, deputy director of the Central Scientific Research Institute for Epidemiology, said in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 August that a surge of infectious diseases is normal for Russia in the summer and nothing extraordinary is happening this year. But he noted the "situation with hygiene and ecology is far from favorable," and the main culprit is dirty water. He predicted that once the swimming season ends in Novosibirsk, the incidence of disease will decline. He said the regions of greatest concern to epidemiologists are Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, and Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug. JAC
NEW DEPUTY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL NAMED...
The Federation Council on 8 August confirmed Ivan Kondrat as a deputy prosecutor-general, ITAR-TASS and RosBalt reported. Kondrat previously served as a prosecutor in Kostroma Oblast, according to Interfax. Kondrat replaces Vladimir Zubrin, who requested to be relieved of his post after he was appointed deputy director of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). JAC
...AS FORMER YELTSIN CAMPAIGN AIDE BECOMES NEW SENATOR
On 8 August the council also confirmed Sergei Lisovskii as the representative for Kurgan Oblast's legislature and Mikhail Odintsov as the representative of Evenk Autonomous Okrug's legislature, RosBalt reported. Lisovskii, an advertising executive who played a prominent role in former President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 reelection campaign, replaces Andrei Vikharev, who earlier accused Lisovskii of bribing Kurgan Oblast legislators for the position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2004). Odintsov was confirmed earlier but had to be reconfirmed because senators had refused to confirm the dismissal of his predecessor, Nikolai Anisimov, who challenged his firing in court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). Earlier, Odintsov represented Ryazan Oblast. JAC
ARMENIAN ANTICORRUPTION BODY CONVENES INAUGURAL MEETING
An Armenian state commission empowered to monitor the Armenian government's campaign against corruption convened its first meeting on 6 August in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The commission is headed by Presidential Adviser Bagrat Yesayan and comprises the leaders of the three political parties constituting the pro-government coalition, several government officials, and representatives form leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Representatives from the parliamentary opposition parties were invited to join the commission but those party leaders declined, dismissing the commission as a "farce" and noting that the effort is flawed by its lack of independence from government authorities. The monitoring commission is part of the Council on Combating Corruption, a senior body led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian established to direct the implementation and oversight of the Armenian government's strategy to combat corruption. RG
ARMENIA RESPONDS TO AZERBAIJAN IN WAR OF WORDS
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian issued a statement on 6 August in response to recent criticism by Azerbaijan over military exercises and local elections in Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo reported. The Armenian Foreign Ministry statement accused Azerbaijani officials of seeking to "divert attention from its unwillingness to negotiate a lasting peace" for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and criticized Baku for promoting an "atmosphere of distrust and cynicism." The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry expressed "deep concern" on 4 August over the start of a 10-day military exercise in Nagorno-Karabakh and has objected to the scheduling of local elections by Karabakh officials. The diplomatic exchange has escalated in recent days after Azerbaijani Defense Ministry Spokesman Colonel Ramiz Melikov was quoted by the Azerbaijani daily "Zerkalo" on 4 August as saying that "Armenia will cease to exist as an independent state" and its territory will become part of Azerbaijan "in the next 25-30 years." RG
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER AND MINISTER OF STATE ARRIVE IN MOSCOW
Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze and Minister of State Giorgi Khaindrava arrived in Moscow on 9 August for talks with senior Russian officials, Rustavi-2 and Prime News reported. The two-day visit comes in the wake of a serious escalation of tension in South Ossetia, including reports of two separate violations of Georgian airspace by Russian combat aircraft, and a crisis in Georgian-Russian relations over the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts. (See item in Russia section for more on this story.) RG
GEORGIA PROTESTS SECOND INCURSION BY RUSSIAN MILITARY AIRCRAFT
Georgia Foreign Ministry officials issued a statement on 8 August protesting an incident involving an "unidentified aircraft" that violated Georgian airspace, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The 7 August incursion consisted of an overflight by "a plane from the direction of the Russian Federation" of South Ossetia and along the border area with Georgia proper. After Russian military officials denied the claim, Georgian Defense Minister Baramidze vowed to raise the issue during his meeting with senior Russian officials in Moscow. RG
NEW LAW TO REDUCE GEORGIAN CONSCRIPTION
Officials of the Georgian Ministry of Defense reported on 8 August that new draft legislation to be submitted to parliament calls for a reduction of compulsory military service and an increase in pay for soldiers, Caucasus Press and Imedi TV reported. The proposed legislation, to be presented as a set of amendments to the law on military service, was drafted jointly by the Defense Ministry and the Georgian human-rights ombudsman. The amendments would reduce the term of service for conscripts to one year, with a special six-month term for students, and would increase the monthly pay for conscripts from four lari ($2.20) to 60 lari ($33). A provision of the current law allowing conscripts to defer military service in exchange for a payment of 200 lari would also be abolished. RG
CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST GEORGIAN POLICE
General Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili announced on 6 August that criminal extortion charges have been brought against Tbilisi Criminal Police Chief Tariel Maisuradze and antidrug section chief Soso Buirtvelishvili, according to Caucasus Press. The case is part of a larger effort to fight corruption within the law enforcement agencies. Both police officials are fugitives and currently being sought by security forces. RG
GEORGIA WELCOMES INCREASED OSCE PRESENCE IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili issued a statement on 6 August welcoming the recent decision of the OSCE Permanent Council to increase the number of military observers deployed along the border region between South Ossetia and Georgia proper, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Although the increased deployment is marginal, with only two additional observers added to the four-person OSCE force, the move is seen as an attempt by the OSCE to demonstrate its commitment to stabilizing the situation in South Ossetia. The OSCE Permanent Council is also expected to dispatch a small delegation to Tbilisi in the coming days. The increase was first requested by the Georgian Foreign Ministry during a 29 July meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). RG
TAJIK DRUG CONTROL CHIEF ARRESTED
Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov announced on 6 August that the head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, Lieutenant General Ghaffor Mirzoyev, was arrested in Dushanbe with seven of his personal bodyguards on 6 August, Asia-Plus and Avesta reported. Charged with a wide array of criminal charges, including the 1998 murder of a regional police official, embezzlement, and the illegal possession of arms, Mirzoyev faces a possible prison sentence of 15 to 20 years if convicted. Mirzoyev, a former pro-government military commander during the country's 1992-97 civil war, was also the head of the National Guard (previously known as the Presidential Guard) from 1995 until his dismissal in January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). RG
TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY PREPARES FOR ELECTION MONITORING
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) began a special two-day training program on 6 August in preparation for fielding election observers in the February 2005 Tajik parliamentary elections, Avesta and Asia-Plus reported. According to IRPT spokesman Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda, the training involves more than 50 party activists and includes a review of key articles of the election law, a focus on monitoring and reporting procedures, and the distribution of constitutional articles covering civil liberties. The participants are also to receive instructions and guidance in order for them to be able to conduct their own training on a district and regional level. The party is also planning to present a list of over 100 of its own activists for a vote at a later party congress to allow for the election of 22 party-list candidates in the parliamentary election. RG
RUSSIA REITERATES PLANS TO ESTABLISH FULL BASE IN TAJIKISTAN
A Russian diplomatic official posted to Dushanbe is quoted as stating that Russia is working with Tajikistan to transform its military presence in the country into a full military base, Interfax reported on 6 August. Negotiations for the establishment of a full Russian military base in the country have been ongoing since February, and the signing of a new bilateral military cooperation agreement in June has accelerated the process (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 25 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004). The Russian military presence in Tajikistan is presently limited to the stationing of the 201st Motor Rifle Division. RG
BELARUS CALLS ON EU TO REVISE OLYMPIC BAN ON SPORTS MINISTER
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has called on the European Union "to immediately revise the decisions regarding the head of the Belarusian delegation to Athens and give up the policy of pressure and blackmail regarding the Republic of Belarus," Belapan reported on 6 August, quoting ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin. Yesin was referring to a ban on Belarusian Sports Minister Yury Sivakou from entering Greece for this month's Olympic Games that was agreed to by all EU members and is based on Sivakou's alleged involvement in the disappearance of three opposition politicians and a journalist in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004). The current Dutch EU Presidency said on 6 August that Sivakou's presence in Athens would be "completely inappropriate." Meanwhile, Sivakou is reportedly planning to ignore the ban and go to Athens at the head of the Belarusian delegation of athletes. JM
BELARUSIAN NEWSPAPER PAYS LIBEL DAMAGES, RESUMES PUBLICATION
Authorities lifted the printing ban on "Narodnaya volya" on 6 August after the daily paid 65 million rubles ($30,000) in libel damages to businessman Syarhey Atroshchanka and Yahor Rybakow, a former head of the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004), Belapan reported. "Narodnaya volya" reappeared on 6 August following a two-day hiatus. Meanwhile, the Minsk-based weekly "Rabochaya salidarnasts" is threatened with closure after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month to outlaw the Belarusian Labor Party, one of the founders of the weekly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). Information Minister Uladzimir Rusakevich suspended "Rabochaya salidarnasts" for three month in June, charging that the weekly violated the media law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW MINISTERS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Alyaksandr Aheyeu as energy minister and Pyotr Syamashka as forestry minister, Belapan reported on 6 August. Lukashenka also named Dzmitry Kazakou as head of the Belarusian gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz, which is tentatively slated for privatization. JM
UKRAINE STARTS NEW NUCLEAR REACTOR
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma attended the startup of the No. 2 reactor at the Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plant on 8 August, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Another new reactor at the Rivne nuclear power plant, also in western Ukraine, is set to be completed this year. Kuchma upbraided Western countries for their failure to finance safety upgrades at both reactors with an $83 million loan to supplement a $42 million facility from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT INSISTS ON PRIVATIZATIONS DESPITE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on 7 August that the 31 October presidential election should not affect the privatization of state property, New Channel television reported. Yanukovych also said that fulfilling the privatization program will allow for additional funds for social protection. In a major and controversial privatization in June, the government sold steelmaker Kryvorizhstal to a company linked to President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, drawing criticism from the Ukrainian opposition and foreign bidders who said their offers were much higher than the $800 million pledged by the winner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004). The government is also planning soon to sell a 43 percent stake in Ukrtelecom, the largest national telecommunications operator in Ukraine. JM
NATO ANNOUNCES NEW SECURITY SYSTEM FOR KOSOVA'S SERBIAN SETTLEMENTS...
KFOR spokesman Colonel Horst Pieper said in Prishtina on 6 August that peacekeepers will soon introduce a new security system for settlements of Kosova's Serbian minority, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. KFOR will post signs outside those areas, saying the settlement is protected. Should a tense situation arise, signs will go up announcing that the settlement is off limits to outsiders; KFOR troops will have the right to open fire on those who ignore the warning, Pieper said. He said a recent survey shows that 83 percent of the local Serbs trust KFOR, adding that NATO peacekeepers have a good working relationship "based on trust" with the Serbian military across the border. PM
...AS DISPUTE OVER SERBIAN PARTICIPATION IN THE ELECTIONS CONTINUES AMONG SERBS...
Milan Ivanovic, who is a political leader of Kosova's Serbian minority, said in Mitrovica on 6 August that there is insufficient security for Serbs to enable them to participate in Kosova's 23 October local elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He argued that implementing the Serbian government's plan for territorial autonomy is necessary to ensure safety for Serbs, Hina reported. Rada Trajkovic, who is a Serbian deputy in Kosova's parliament, said the UN Security Council, which recently called on Serbs to vote on 23 October, should first explain to Serbs why they do not enjoy freedom of movement in the province. On 7 August, Nebojsa Covic, who is the Serbian government's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia, said in Belgrade that participation by Serbs on 23 October would be tantamount to expressing satisfaction with the state of affairs in Kosova and with the international community's policies that seem directed toward obtaining independence for the province. PM
In Prishtina on 6 August, a spokeswoman for Kosova's government again dismissed the Serbian complaints as politically motivated, saying that no preconditions are acceptable, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She recently argued that Serbs found nothing wrong with voting conditions when they cast their ballots in the June Serbian presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July and 6 August 2004). Kosovar officials and the UN have repeatedly rejected Belgrade's autonomy proposal, which many Albanians regard as the first step toward an ethnically based partition of the province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 April and 6 August 2004). PM
VICTIMS OF INTERETHNIC CONFLICT HONORED IN MACEDONIA
On 8 August, friends and relatives gathered at Karpalak on the Skopje-Tetovo highway to mourn the deaths of 10 Macedonian Army reservists who were killed in what was the largest single loss of life during the 2001 interethnic conflict, "Vreme" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August and 29 October 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 August 2001). The shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) subsequently took responsibility for the incident. Earlier on 8 August 2004, an official delegation headed by Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski also visited the site. Buckovski promised that a memorial to the soldiers will be built in 2005, adding that the men should not be forgotten just because they lost their lives when preparations were already under way to sign the Ohrid peace agreement, which ended the conflict. UB
MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT'S BODYGUARD ATTACKS HIS CAR
Policeman Milomir Vujkovic, who is part of the official guard for Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic, emptied the contents of his revolver into Vujanovic's car in an apparent fit of temper in Podgorica on 7 August, dpa reported. Vujkovic also reportedly smashed the car's windshield with the weapon, saying: "Let somebody else guard him for 200 euros [$245]. I won't." Nobody was in the car at the time of the incident. Vujkovic, who previously enjoyed a good reputation among the security staff, was arrested. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER SEEKS PARTY'S PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE WITH HELP OF POLLSTER
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase told a meeting of the Bucharest Social Democratic Party (PSD) organization on 6 August that the PSD has commissioned a public-opinion poll to help the party select candidates with the best chances of winning the November-December presidential election, Mediafax reported. Nastase said the results of the poll will be made public "within a week." Nastase also said that polls his party has commissioned suggest the PSD is again leading the political field as the November parliamentary elections approach. Nastase said he asked Prince Radu von Hohenzollern-Veringen to run on the PSD list in the November Senate elections. Prince Radu is currently the Romanian government's special representative for NATO and EU integration, cooperation, and long-term development. Nastase said he does not wish to get involved in the recent row over Prince Radu's title, adding that he appreciates the prince's performance regardless of titles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004). Nastase reportedly told a Mediafax correspondent on 7 August that the PSD's parliamentary lists will include a person with dual citizenship to represent the Romanian diaspora. MS
ROMANIAN LIBERALS DROP PROMINENT POLITICIAN FROM PARLIAMENTARY LISTS
The National Liberal Party (PNL) decided on 6 August to exclude former PNL Deputy Chairman Viorel Catarama from the party's electoral lists in November, Mediafax reported. The PNL's leadership said Catarama's recent criticism of the party has damaged the PNL's image. Catarama called a decision by the PNL to place him in the top slot for the Senate in the Vaslui district undemocratic and an infringment of PNL statutes. Catarama had previously figured in the third slot on the PNL's Bucharest list. PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan said businessman Catarama is a "controversial politician" about whom allegations have been made of involvement in illegal deals. Stolojan said that while Catarama has not faced any charges in court, his image might damage the electoral chances of the PNL-Democratic Party alliance. MS
ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN
The extraparliamentary National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) elected Timisoara Mayor Gheorghe Ciuhandu as the party's new chairman on 7 August, Mediafax reported. Ciuhandu replaces former Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, who resigned after the PNTCD's performance in the June local elections. Ciuhandu is the only PNTCD politician to have won a mayoral post in the balloting, securing reelection in Timisoara. Ciuhandu said the PNTCD's main objective is a return to the legislature. The PNTCD was the main component of the former Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), which ruled in coalition with other parties in 1996-2000. MS
EU DEMANDS THAT TRANSDNIESTER RESTORE SCHOOLS STATUS QUO...
In a statement issued by the Dutch EU Presidency on 6 August, the European Union insisted that Transdniester restore to their previous status schools teaching Moldovan in the Latin script, Infotag reported. EU candidate countries Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Turkey also endorsed the declaration. The statement says it is imperative that Transdniestrian authorities follow the Moldovan example and agree to proposals made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) aimed at resolving the situation. The EU reiterates its condemnation of the school closures as a serious infringement on basic human rights and says it condemns the blocking by Transdniester of rail links to and from Moldova and recent electricity cuts to Moldovan villages. The statement says the EU is considering whether to extend a travel ban imposed on the Transdniestrian separatist leadership to other individuals responsible for the school closures and weighing a dual control system for some categories of Transdniestrian exports. The statement also confirms the EU's readiness to participate in establishing more efficient controls at the border between Moldova and Ukraine, calling on Ukraine to cooperate in those controls. MS
...AND U.S. COOPERATES WITH EU FOR SIMILAR PURPOSE
U.S. Ambassador to Romania Jack Dyer Crouch said in Cluj on 6 August that Washington disapproves of the recent actions of the separatist authorities, Mediafax reported. The Romanian news agency and Reuters quoted Crouch as saying that Washington is in permanent contact with the EU and the OSCE over the situation in Transdniester and is involved in the process of seeking "an equitable solution" to the schools crisis. MS
TRANSDNIESTRIAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES ISSUE ULTIMATUM TO BENDERY-TIGHINA LYCEUM
The Bendery-Tighina municipal authorities issued an ultimatum to the local Alexandru cel Bun Lyceum on 6 August, demanding that it register with Transdniestrian authorities and switch from teaching Moldovan in the Latin script to teaching in Cyrillic, Infotag reported. The municipal authorities said that unless the lyceum's management complies by 15 August, the school will suffer the same fate as the Eureka Lyceum in Ribnita, which was forced to close. Teachers, students, and parents have been maintaining a vigil inside the lyceum since mid-July. MS
MOLDOVA PARTIALLY RESTORES ELECTRICITY TO VILLAGES CUT OFF BY TRANSDNIESTER
Electricity supplies to 30 of the 55 villages in Moldova cut off from the power grid by the Transdniestrian authorities were restored on 6 July, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Moldovan power company Moldelectrica, which restored the supplies, used a bypass system; the news agencies reported that the company is trying to connect the 25 other villages as well. Transdniestrian officials denied the cuts are in any way linked to the furor over the school closures, blaming Moldovan Union Fenosa utility's unpaid debts to the Transdniestrian supplier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 July 2004). MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE DISPUTES TRANSDNIESTER'S VERSION OF RAIL EVENTS
In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 7 August, Moldovan presidential adviser Mark Tkachuk disputed separatist leader Igor Smirnov's version of events around Tiraspol's lifting of a railway blockade of Moldova, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004). Tkachuk asserted that routes were in fact restored because the interruption had caused damage to Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, which protested the blockade. He also said it is untrue that Ukraine is allowing Transdniestrian exports to pass through its territory without Moldovan certificates. "Ukraine's leadership assures us it is complying with the mutual agreement [between Moldova and Ukraine] on customs and border controls," Tkachuk said. Smirnov's version of events was also rejected by Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova Petro Chalyy at a 5 July meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergiu Stati, Flux reported. MS
POLICE DISPERSE TELERADIO MOLDOVA PROTESTERS
On the night of 6-7 August, police employed force to disperse a sit-in organized by Teleradio Moldova journalists and their sympathizers in front of the Moldovan Radio's building in Chisinau to protest a perceived politicization of employment policies, Flux reported. The news agency reported that police tore up demonstrators' signs, pulled down tents, and cut off electricity supplies. The Committee for the Protection of Professional and Human Dignity (CADUP), set up by the affected journalists, immediately condemned what it called "criminal action by police against peaceful demonstrators." Deputy Interior Minister Gheorghe Boisteanu was quoted as saying he has no information on the incident, while Chisinau deputy police chief Petru Corduneanu said the individuals involved were not members of the police force. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca accused Corduneanu of " lying shamelessly," insisting the perpetrators were members of police, some of them plainclothes. The protesters asked Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev for an urgent meeting with them and Prosecutor-General Valeriu Balaban to open an investigation on the incident. MS
STATEMENTS, POLICY CONTINUE TO YO-YO IN TRANSDNIESTER
Transdniestrian separatist leader Igor Smirnov is accustomed to playing it both ways. On 5 August, he amply displayed the skills for which he has gained notoriety. First, the Transdniestrian "Defense Ministry" announced that it had taken the first steps toward mobilizing its reservists. According to an ITAR-TASS report, the urgent mobilization of the army, the special services, and "Interior Ministry" forces was under way and several thousand reservists were expected to report for duty within a few days. Regular units, the communique said, had already been placed on alert because of the growing threat of an attack from Moldova.
Indeed, the war hysteria launched by the separatists in the wake of the crisis triggered by their 15 July decision to close down schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script reached new proportions the day before, on 4 August. The media in Tiraspol, which is strictly supervised by the authorities, explained to readers and listeners that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin vacationing in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary was a devious plan intended to hide Voronin's personal responsibility for the military "aggression" being cooked up in Moldova. For its part, the Moldovan Defense Ministry refused to comment on the Transdniestrian mobilization. It was no more in a position to comment on developments in the Transdniestrian Army than it was to comment on what went on in the Russian or the British armies, the ministry said.
As the day went on Transdniester appeared to show more muscle on 5 August. It made good on an earlier threat to reciprocate economic sanctions imposed by Moldova as of 1 August, and cut off some 55 Moldovan villages from electricity supplies on the left bank of the Dniester River. Reuters cited Vasile Gribnicea, press spokesman for the Moldovan Union Fenosa electricity distribution network, as saying that the Transdniestrian regional utility Dniester-Elektro has disconnected high-voltage transmission lines. "They gave no reason, but this is not an accident, it is a premeditated action," Gribnicea said. Using a bypass system, Moldovan power operator Moldelectrica restored supplies to some 30 villages the next day, but the rest are still cut off.
But Smirnov also had news on 5 August that appeared to point to an easing of tension. He announced that his administration had decided to lift a blockade on rail links to Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia, Flux Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. The blockade was instituted in response to economic sanctions imposed by Moldova. In response, separatists stopped and held four freight trains at the Ribnita crossing for a "thorough customs check." They also announced that all Chisinau-bound trains arriving from Moscow, Kyiv, or other cities in the Commonwealth of Independent States would be stopped for similar checks at Bendery-Tighina. The next day the blocking of rail links was indeed expanded to that town, which is mostly under separatist control although is located on the left bank of the Dniester. Finally, on 4 August hundreds of ethnic Russian women created live rail blocks in Bendery-Tighina, calling their action a "desperate move" against the economic sanctions imposed on Transdniester by Moldova, Infotag reported. Transdniestrian militiamen earlier blocked rail traffic between the town and Chisinau by putting concrete blocks on the tracks. The women recalled that they had similarly blocked the rail link during the 1992 armed clashes and ITAR-TASS cited them as warning that "we can do it again." Indeed, as Infotag recalled on 2 August, the last time Tiraspol resorted to blocking the railway was during the armed conflict in the early 1990s.
So it must have been with some relief that some people living on either bank learned from Smirnov that the rail blockade would be lifted. What appears to be a concession, however, on closer examination turns out to be Tiraspol's successful employment of "salami tactics" against Moldova -- or even outright lies. Smirnov announced that the lifting of the blockade followed a decision by the Ukrainian government to allow Transdniestrian exports to transit Ukrainian territory despite lacking Moldovan export certificates. (The goods did not have export certificates because of Chisinau's sanctions.) "I am grateful to Ukraine for its decision to allow Transdniester to sell its goods abroad marked as 'Made in Transdniester' and without any Moldovan 'attributes,'" Infotag cited Smirnov as saying. In other words, Ukraine, a mediator alongside Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had undermined Chisinau's attempt to retaliate against the school closures. The Ukrainian authorities, however, denied Smirnov's version the next day. If the Ukrainian authorities were telling the truth (which is not certain), then Smirnov's yo-yoing was closer to juggling.
As if to confirm this interpretation of the day's events, Smirnov told journalists in Tiraspol that there are no prospects for negotiations with Chisinau and that Transdniester "is marching down the road" toward "an independent, sovereign state," Flux reported. He called on Russia to increase the number of peacekeepers in the region and said Tiraspol views Ukraine as a "strategic partner," but Kyiv must " clearly define where its interests lie" in the Transdniester conflict. Smirnov also said Tiraspol is not refusing to negotiate with Chisinau because, "one way or another, Transdniester must establish normal relations with its neighbor," according to Infotag. However, he added, "we must have solid guarantees that Chisinau would abandon the idea of an [economic] blockade and other destructive acts against Transdniester." Smirnov said it is enough for him if an agreement on settling the conflict is signed by Russia and Ukraine as mediators. "We do not need Voronin's signature, because we do not trust the Chisinau gentleman any more," he said. Also on 5 August, Transdniestrian "Justice Minister" Victor Balala told journalists in Tiraspol that Moldova's economic sanctions against Transdniester have buried any prospect of a federation between them, according to Infotag. The night settled in; undoubtedly the yo-yoing will continue.
U.S. MARINES, AFGHAN INTERPRETER KILLED IN SOUTH-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN...
Two U.S. Marines and their Afghan interpreter were killed and another Marine sustained injuries on 7 August when their vehicle tripped a land mine in Ghazni Province, the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency reported the next day. According to the report, it is unclear whether the land mine was planted recently or dates back to a past Afghan conflict. AT
...AS NEO-TALIBAN ELEMENT CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
Purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on 8 August that neo-Taliban were responsible for the blast that killed two U.S. Marines and their Afghan interpreter and injured a third Marine. According to Hakimi, on 7 August, the neo-Taliban "detonated a mine planted in Sar-e Ziyarat area of the Golan District in Ghazni Province, hitting a vehicle. As a result, six U.S. troops and one Afghan interpreter were killed." The neo-Taliban often exaggerate their claims and sometimes assume responsibility for actions that they did not in fact carry out. AT
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY CONFIRMS WESTERN PROVINCIAL CLASHES...
The Afghan Defense Ministry on 8 August confirmed reports of clashes between border forces of the Herat and Ghor provinces that began on 5 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004), Radio Afghanistan reported. Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said Ghor Province Governor Mohammad Ebrahim Malikzadah blamed the clashes on a popular uprising against Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan in which Ghor forces captured the Dara Takht area. However, according to the report, Ismail Khan has blamed Ghor forces for initiating the fighting. In the absence of effective control by the central government in Kabul, some Afghan provinces are ruled as virtual fiefdoms by local military commanders or, as in the case of Herat, by Governor Ismail Khan. AT
...WHICH CLAIM AT LEAST THREE MORE CASUALTIES
Three Afghan militiamen have been killed in the interprovincial clashes in western Afghanistan, adding to reports of two other deaths during fighting on 5 August, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 9 August. According to Gholam Hazrat, police chief of the Chesht-e Sharif District of Herat Province, the three were Malikzadah loyalists. Malikzadah temporarily evacuated Ghor in June because of fighting between rival warlords, but he later allied himself with one of the antagonists and returned to his post (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 June and 1 July 2004). To calm the situation in Ghor, the central government dispatched a battalion of the Afghan National Army; but the presence of that force does not appear to have been effective in preventing the interprovincial clashes. AT
EUROPEAN FORCE TAKES COMMAND OF ISAF
Eurocorps troops, led by France and Germany, assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Canada in Kabul, the BBC reported on 9 August. The Eurocorps is made up of troops from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain and is expected to lead ISAF for the next six months. Afghanistan is Eurocorps' first operation outside Europe since it was formed in 1992. French General Jean-Louis Py will command ISAF, which will remain a NATO operation. According to the BBC, "Eurocorps itself is hardly being welcomed in, with some security analysts suggesting the five-nation organization is far too unwieldy, compared to the Canadian military force." (For more on NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 June and 1 July 2004). AT
IRAN MARKS JOURNALISTS DAY
Iranian reporters staged a 24-hour sit-in and hunger strike on 7 August to mark Journalists Day, ILNA reported. The same day, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami stressed the importance of freedom of expression in a speech marking the day, IRNA reported. According to Khatami's statement, which was read out by Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, "Press freedom will be available if the press community enjoys political immunity and the journalists are provided with job security." Khatami said the low level of legal support for the press has retarded cultural development. The reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party said in a 7 August statement that a free press is needed for democracy, and the press is always under threat from "power-hungry groups." Reformist journalist Emadedin Baqi and attorney Saleh Nikbakht appeared in court on 6 August because of a complaint filed by the Intelligence and Security Ministry, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 August. The complaint relates to Baqi's banned book "Tragedy of Democracy in Iran." Baqi told the judge that the information in the book was published previously in newspaper articles, and he was tried for those articles two times. BS
IRANIAN STATE ENTERPRISES AUDITED
Radio Farda economic commentator Fereidun Khavand reported on 5 August that the national accounting office has audited the 2003-04 books of 1,705 state enterprises. It found that 1,006 were profitable, 583 were losing money, and 116 showed neither profit nor loss, Khavand said. Moreover, according to press reports cited by Radio Farda, more of those enterprises would have a shown losses had the accounting office not used the statements they provided. Details on the profits and losses were not provided, but state enterprises consume 65 percent of the government's budget, according to Radio Farda. BS
IRANIAN DIPLOMAT KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ
Iranian consular official Fereidun Jahani disappeared on the highway from Baghdad to Karbala on 8 August, IRNA and international news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi refused to confirm whether or not Jahani had been kidnapped. He did say, however, that "an armed group in Iraq has released information about him and there is speculation about his kidnapping, but we do not have sufficient information in this respect yet." According to iht.com on 9 August, a video on Al-Arabiyah television suggests Jahani was kidnapped by a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq. They reportedly accuse Jahani of provoking sectarian conflict in Iraq and warn Iran against interference in Iraqi affairs. BS
TEHRAN CRITICIZES U.S. ACTIVITIES IN AL-NAJAF
Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on 8 August that U.S. military activities in the holy city of Al-Najaf will encourage resistance, IRNA reported. "The Americans, by affronting holy sites across Iraq, have now sown the seeds of combat and resistance, whose sibling will be irrigated with the blood of martyrs and grow up stronger," Khamenei said. He also accused the United States of attacking Iraq in order to control its oil resources. The previous day, Khamenei said the United States is stuck in Iraq, state radio reported. "If they go forward, they will be hit. If they back up, they will still be hit. If they continue, they will be hit; and if they withdraw, they will still be hit. They are mired down there and a wolf which is caught in a trap might frighten some people by screaming," Khamenei told a group of theologians. Other officials who have criticized events in Al-Najaf include Ayatollah Nuri-Hamedani, speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, and President Khatami. BS
IRAQI GOVERNMENT REINSTATES DEATH PENALTY...
The interim Iraqi government formally reinstated the death penalty on 8 August, international media reported the same day. The Coalition Provisional Authority suspended the punishment last year. It will be implemented for a limited number of crimes, Al-Arabiyah cited Deputy Justice Minister Bashu Ibrahim Ali and State Minister Adnan al-Janabi as saying on 8 August. Those crimes include murder, abduction, and drug-related offenses. KR
...AND ANNOUNCES AMNESTY LAW
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told a 7 August press briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera that the interim government will offer Iraqi criminals and wanted individuals who were involved in, but not arrested or charged for minor crimes, 30 days to turn themselves in under an amnesty law. The law covers those individuals "caught in the possession of light weapons or those who used such weapons, possessed explosive materials, concealed information, and covered up terrorist groups or financed them and participated with them with the intention of committing such crimes." The amnesty also applies to those wanted by the former regime. "This amnesty will give these people a chance to...join civil society, participate in rebuilding the country," he added. "I invite the misled among our people and those who discovered deep in their conscience that they were wrong to immediately report to [police]...and convey information to the authorities in order to stop the series of crimes and terrorist attacks." KR
IRAQI COURT ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR SALIM CHALABI...
An Iraqi Central Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal head Salim Chalabi on 7 August, "Al-Mashriq" reported on 8 August. The daily cited an unnamed source at the High Crimes Tribunal as saying that Chalabi is wanted for his alleged role in the assassination of a senior official at the Finance Ministry, Husayn Karim Ghassan, who was killed while investigating charges of administrative corruption. Chalabi told BBC News in an 8 August interview in London that he would return to Iraq to face the charges. KR
...AND INC CHIEF AHMAD CHALABI
An arrest warrant has also been issued for Salim's uncle, Iraqi National Congress (INC) head and former Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi on charges that he counterfeited Hussein-era Iraqi dinars. Al-Jazeera reported on 8 August that counterfeit money was found at Chalabi's INC headquarters in Baghdad during a police raid in May. Meanwhile, Western media reported that Chalabi was mixing counterfeit currency with old Iraqi dinars and exchanging both for the new currency. Chalabi aide Entifadh Qanbar called the charges "baseless" and said that the court "does not conform with Iraqi judiciary law." Chalabi responded to the charges against him, telling Reuters on 9 August that he will return to Iraq from Tehran to face the charges. "I will return in a few days. I can easily prove that these charges are untrue and I intend to defend myself and clear my name," he said. KR
CAR BOMB TARGETS POLICE NEAR BA'QUBAH, KILLING AT LEAST SIX
A car bomb detonated outside the home of Diyala Province Deputy governor Aqil Hamid al-Adili in Balad Ruz, near Ba'qubah, on 9 August, killing at least six policemen working as bodyguards, Al-Jazeera reported. Iraqi Police Brigadier Dawud Mahmud told AP that at least 16 people were wounded, including some passers-by. Al-Adili and his son were slightly wounded in the bombing. The U.S. military told AP that seven policemen were killed in the incident. One Iraqi National Guardsman was killed and another wounded in Ba'qubah on 8 August as they worked to dismantle an apparent roadside bomb, the television station Al-Sharqiyah reported the same day. KR
GOVERNMENT CLOSES AL-JAZEERA FOR INCITING VIOLENCE
The interim government ordered Iraqi offices of the satellite news channel Al-Jazeera closed for 30 days on 7 August for inciting violence in Iraq, international media reported on the same day. Al-Jazeera broadcast a press briefing with Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib on that day in which he said: "Al-Jazeera showed many crimes and criminals on its screen and these say things that harm the image of Iraq and the Iraqis. Those who commit crimes may be encouraged [by those broadcasts] to commit more crimes." Prime Minister Allawi told the same press briefing that he had set up an independent committee to monitor Al-Jazeera's daily broadcasts over the previous one-month period. Iraq's National Security Council, after reviewing the committee's report, recommended that the news channel be banned. Allawi said that the order will be enforced longer than 30 days should Al-Jazeera fail to change its reporting practices. Al-Jazeera broadcast a response on 7 August, calling the order an "unjustified decision." The response claimed that the news channel adheres to "professional principles" including "balance, objectivity, and concern about its viewers' right to know the truth whatever it may be." KR
FIGHTING CONTINUES IN AL-NAJAF, BAGHDAD
Iraqi police and multinational forces continued to battle militants across Iraq on 7-8 August, as the Iraqi death toll mounted, international media reported. The Health Ministry announced on 8 August that more than 50 Iraqis were killed and 300 wounded in the preceding 24 hours of fighting in Al-Najaf and Baghdad, Voice of the Mujahidin Radio reported on 8 August. Prime Minister Allawi traveled to Al-Najaf on 8 August and threatened to forcibly remove the gunmen if they did not leave the holy city, washingtonpost.com reported the same day. Allawi later told a press briefing in Baghdad that he was not sure that the Al-Najaf fighters were linked to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, saying he had no evidence either way on the matter, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Sadr aide Hazim al-A'raji told Al-Jazeera in an interview the same day that al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army would not leave the holy city unless ordered to do so by the religious authorities there, adding that Al-Mahdi fighters are "all martyrdom seekers." Al-Sadr announced on 9 August that he will stay and fight multinational forces in Al-Najaf "until the last drop of my blood," Al-Arabiyah reported. KR
IRAQI AYATOLLAH ISSUES STATEMENT ON VIOLENCE, FEARS CIVIL WAR
Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Sadiq al-Husayni al-Shirazi issued a statement on 7 August warning that the recent escalation in violence across the country could lead to civil war, according to the text of the statement posted on the Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) on 8 August. Al-Shirazi said that he had hoped the interim government "would act more wisely in containing the clashes" and criticized the "foreign forces' use of violence" against militiamen and militants, saying "the use of violence breeds more violence." The ayatollah proposed several steps to contain the widespread violence starting with a commitment by all Iraqis to nonviolence. He called on multinational forces to not do anything to spur fighting and said that the interim government should take steps toward dialogue with militants. Al-Shirazi also called on foreign countries not to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs. KR