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Newsline - August 10, 2004

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, currently in Moscow for talks with senior Russian officials, told "Izvestiya" on 10 August that a recent statement by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that caused considerable controversy in Russia was incorrectly translated. Saakashvili last week made a comment that was widely interpreted in Russia as threatening that Tbilisi would fire on civilian vessels attempting to reach Abkhazia via the Black Sea. Khaindrava said that Saakashvili was really warning Russians planning to vacation in Abkhazia that the region is "a conflict zone" and that "shooting could break out at any moment." "We just don't understand why the statement of Mikheil Saakashvili, which, incidentally, was incorrectly translated into Russian, provoked such a strong reaction," Khaindrava said. RIA-Novosti on 4 August reported Saakashvili as saying: "This territory, which is soaked with the blood of Georgians and where they played soccer with the heads of Georgians, is not a place for the lounge chairs of so-called Russian tourists. If you plan to come over from Sochi in boats to Abkhazia, you should get used to the sort of thing that happened on Saturday, when Georgian border troops fired on a vessel." RC

President Vladimir Putin held a regular meeting with government ministers in the Kremlin on 9 August and announced that "for now our prognoses for economic development are proving accurate," and other Russian media reported. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told the meeting that GDP growth next year will be 6.3 percent, rather than the 5.9 percent that the government predicted earlier. He said that GDP growth in the first half of this year was 6.9 percent. Putin's statement came in the wake of recent predictions that capital flow from the country is increasing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004) and that it will not be possible to achieve Putin's stated goal of doubling GDP within 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). RC

Justice Ministry bailiffs on 6 August once again froze oil giant Yukos's stake in its main production subsidiary Yurganskneftegaz, Interfax reported on 8 August. Earlier the same day, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled that an earlier bailiffs' order to freeze the stake was illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). The decision sent Yukos shares plummeting 18 percent to 106 rubles per share on 10 August, RIA-Novosti reported. Yukos ADRs fell 14 percent in New York on 9 August, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 August. "Izvestiya," in a front-page article on 9 August, accused unnamed senior officials of using insider information and timed announcements to earn money buying and selling Yukos shares. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry told Interfax on 8 August that the ministry will appeal the Moscow Arbitration Court's 6 August ruling, while a Yukos spokesman told the agency that the company will appeal the latest seizure of the Yurganskneftegaz shares. RC

The Moscow Arbitration Court on 9 August rejected a Yukos appeal against the freezing of the company's stake in Tomskneft, ITAR-TASS reported. Yukos had argued that bailiffs could only freeze production assets after all nonproduction assets had been disposed of. The Justice Ministry told the court that it seized the Tomskneft shares to ensure their security and that the government does not intend to sell the stake. An unnamed Tax Ministry official told the news agency that Yukos only began making serious payments of its $3.4 billion tax debt after stakes in Tomskneft and Samaraneftegaz were frozen. The Arbitration Court will hear Yukos's appeal of the Samaraneftegaz seizure on 2 September, Interfax reported on 9 August. Together, Yurganskneftegaz, Tomskneft, and Samaraneftegaz account for 96 percent of Yukos's total production, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 August. RC

President Putin met in the Kremlin on 9 August with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Putin announced that the Defense Ministry will take over responsibility for all defense-related components of Russia's nuclear sector under a new administrative reform. "It is an extremely important subject that the president of the country will pay constant attention to," Putin said. Ivanov said his ministry will take control of determining the country's nuclear-defense policies; the design, production, maintenance, operation, and disposal of nuclear weapons; and the development and maintenance of the Novaya Zemlya nuclear test site. RC

The Foreign Ministry on 9 August issued a statement expressing concern about U.S. plans to modernize its radar station at Thule, Greenland, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier the same day, Washington and Copenhagen announced the signing of an agreement that, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, "practically opens the way to the modernization" of the Thule station, "which is to be used in the interests of the U.S. missile-defense system that is being created." The ministry's statement said that Moscow believes the Thule project has "a certain potential to damage Russian security." "This is all the more alarming if we take into account that the U.S. side is discussing the possibility of deploying components of the missile-defense system in Eastern Europe, in immediate proximity to Russia's borders," the statement said. The ministry said that "we cannot rule out that a threat to Russia's deterrent forces will appear in the future" and that "the Russian side will take all measures necessary to maintain its security." RC

President Putin will travel to Poland in January 2005 to participate in international ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Soviet Army, Poland's PAP news agency reported, citing Polish presidential adviser Stanislav Ciosek. In 1995, State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin headed the Russian delegation to the ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp, where an estimated 1.1 million people, 90 percent of them Jews, were murdered. RC

The Anadyr Military Garrison Court on 9 August sentenced Colonel Oleg Kostryukov to a three-year suspended sentence and two years of probation in connection with the 2 January death of conscript Vladimir Berezin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004), RIA-Novosti reported. Berezin died of pneumonia after he and other conscripts were forced to stand out in the freezing cold while being transported from Moscow to Magadan. Kostryukov, who was acting commander of Berezin's unit at the time, was convicted of violating health regulations and causing a person's death through negligence. RC

The State Duma will consider during its fall session a bill allowing "Category A" state officials to become members of political parties, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 August and "Izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 August. Such a bill has been under discussion for a number of years; Duma Deputy Chairman Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) submitted the latest version in December 2002. Morozov told "Kommersant-Daily" that Unified Russia is asserting that cabinet ministers "can and should" hold party posts. Previously, when Unified Russia party leader Boris Gryzlov was still interior minister, this was considered legal by the Justice Ministry because he was not a member of the party, just its leader. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the new bill is just "the first step in the formation of a new party system." Amendments to the law on political parties are also planned. The amendments would increase the minimum number of party members from 10,000 to 100,000. And the Central Election Commission has already announced it is developing new legislation that would make elections to the State Duma based entirely on party lists without elections in single-mandate districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004). JAC

Some 80,000 signatures on a petition to President Putin asking him not to sign into law the welfare-reform bill recently passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council have been collected and forwarded to the president, Ekho Moskvy and reported on 9 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). The new law will convert most in-kind social benefits into cash payments. Lev Ponomarev of For Human Rights told Ekho Moskvy that the signatures were collected over a period of 10 days in a variety of Russian regions, including Moscow, Novosibirsk, and Tyumen Oblast. The bill was passed by the Federation Council on 8 August and, if Putin signs it into law, will come into force in 2005. Groups involved in collecting the signatures were organized into an umbrella structure called the Council for Public Solidarity, which included the Council of Veterans, the Collective Action Institute, Memorial, the All-Russia Society of Invalids, trade unions, and Chornobyl clean-up workers. All-Russia Center For the Study Of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) analyst Yelena Pakhomova told Ekho Moskvy that a survey conducted on 17-18 July found that 53 percent of respondents said they think the benefits change will affect them negatively. JAC

A survey conducted by Public Opinion Foundation of 1,500 people in 44 regions found that some 76 percent of respondents believe that people with links to organized crime are currently members of regional and local government bodies, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 August. Some 63 percent said that this happens fairly often, while 43 percent said that there are more representatives of organized crime in regional government bodies now than there were in the 1990s. Seventeen percent of respondents said that it is acceptable to vote for candidates with links to organized crime under certain circumstances, while only 68 percent believe that it is never acceptable to do so. Last month, voters in Vladivostok elected a mayor with a criminal record and alleged ties to organized crime (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 29 July 2004). JAC

A federal judge, Natalya Urlina, was shot and killed in the city of Dolgoprudnyi in Moscow Oblast on 9 August, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. Investigators so far suspect that her murder was connected to her professional activities. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 10 August, an explosive device was found in May in the car of Urlina's colleague, fellow judge Zhanna Radchenko. Shots were recently fired at the apartment of Dolgoprudnyi Prosecutor Yevgenii Yatsentyuk, but no one was hurt in both of these incidents. JAC

Environmentalists from the Zashita Berega group protesting the removal of trees along the banks of the Volga River to create an "elite" housing project were roughed up by local police on 9 August, Novyi region reported. The project developers reportedly called on law enforcement officials to break up the protest. One protester was yanked by her hair, and a young man was beaten, according to the report. According to the environmentalists, the city prosecutor agrees that the construction, only 50 meters from the river, is illegal, but the work continues despite a construction ban. JAC

A local Cossack group organized a protest on 7 August against the construction of a Mormon temple in Saratov, reported on 7 August. About 100 people wearing Cossack uniforms gathered in the center of Saratov to protest the "devilish, dangerous sect of CIA spies," according to the website. The Mormon Church bought the building and has been reconstructing it since 2001. The local Muslim and Russian Orthodox leaders also object to the building because they consider its location too close to a local Muslim mosque and Orthodox chapel. Archbishop of Saratov and the Volga Longin accused the Mormons of being engaged in espionage, noting that "their presence has been noticed on the territory of a local military base more than once." Mukaddas Bibarsov, leader of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in the Volga region, said that the Mormons' proximity to the mosque "is extremely unpleasant," because a large part of the local Muslim population "is extremely dissatisfied with U.S. policy in Iraq." JAC

The chief architect of the Armenian capital Yerevan, Samvel Danielian, on 9 August defended the development of the city center and dismissed any accusations of a change in policy, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Over the last few years, a number of privately owned cafes and restaurants have been established in Yerevan's public parks and on property that was formerly devoted to public use. Local residents and environmental activists have accused municipal authorities of blatantly disregarding existing zoning laws and licensing ordinances. A significant number of these new cafes are widely believed to be owned by government and military officials or their relatives. RG

Armenian Trade and Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian said on 9 August at a Yerevan press conference that diamond production decreased by 17 percent for the first half of the year, Arminfo and Interfax reported. The decline is tied to the shortfall in diamonds sent to Armenia by Russia for reprocessing and polishing. Russia has supplied Armenia with only 70,000 carats of unprocessed diamonds so far this year, well short of the 2004 quota of 400,000 carats. Russia also maintains strict restrictions on Armenia's ability to export processed diamonds. Bilateral trade between Russia and Armenia has also declined, with Armenia now in last place among all former Soviet economies, Arminfo reported on 9 August. Enjoying a tenfold increase in output over the last six years, Armenian diamond production was identified by the government as a strategic sector of the economy in December 2003 with the adoption of a three-year program to double the volume of diamond processing and exports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2003). RG

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev welcomed a U.S. Senate delegation on 9 August to Baku, Turan reported. The U.S. Senate delegation, led by Senator Ted Stevens, held discussions with President Aliyev and senior Azerbaijani officials on a number of issues, including the development of the country's energy sector and the ongoing U.S. military assistance program. The senators also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and expressed appreciation for the deployment of Azerbaijani troops to Iraq. RG

Safar Abiev met on 9 August with the visiting chairman of the Pakistani military Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Muhammad Aziz Khan, in Baku, Lider TV and Turan reported. In comments to reporters following the meeting with the Azerbaijani defense minister, General Khan stressed Pakistani support for developing Azerbaijan's armed forces and stated that his country "will continue to back Azerbaijan's stance on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict." Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov also held a separate meeting with General Khan on 9 August, Turan reported. The visit of the Pakistani general, the second highest-ranking military officer in Pakistan, follows the signing of a bilateral agreement on military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Pakistan early last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). Several agreements seeking to expand military relations and increase Pakistani training for Azerbaijani officers are to be signed before the general's departure on 13 August. RG

Newly appointed Imam Surkhay Mamedov of Baku's Djuma Mosque was assaulted by unknown assailants on 8 August, Turan reported. Police responded to the attack by arresting several worshipers. Mamedov was appointed last month by the state to replace Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, a prominent critic of the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). The Azerbaijani authorities view the Djuma Mosque as a center for extremists and had it "closed for repairs" last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). RG

Giorgi Baramidze attempted to calm the recent tension in Georgian-Russian relations during his 9 August meetings with senior Russian officials in Moscow, Interfax reported. Baramidze stressed that Georgia "confirms its determination to establish close, friendly partnership ties and strategic relations with Russia," and explained that "the purpose of my visit is to settle issues confronting Georgia and Russia." The defense minister also defended the Georgian position regarding the South Ossetian conflict, stating that Tbilisi "will not permit an armed conflict" to erupt in South Ossetia or Abkhazia and reiterating that Georgia "will resolve the conflict by peaceful means." Baramidze added that Georgia hopes that Russian President Vladimir Putin will come to Tbilisi in September to negotiate a new "framework agreement" between the two countries and welcomed the possibility of cooperation in military and security issues, ITAR-TASS reported. RG

Officials of the British Petroleum (BP) office in Tbilisi announced on 9 August that construction of the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline has resumed, Interfax reported. The Georgian government halted construction of the $3 billion project on 19 July and publicly criticized BP for failing to provide adequate security measures designed to protect the environment from an accidental oil spill. Construction of the 248-kilometer Georgian section of the pipeline was launched in April and, along with the 443-kilometer Azerbaijani section, is to become fully operational by the end of 2004. The largest portion of the 1767-kilometer pipeline, the 1076-kilometer Turkish section, is estimated to be operational by February 2005. RG

More than 70 residents of the southern Georgian Borjomi Valley clashed with police on 9 August during a protest over the resumption of construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, AFP reported. Regional administration official David Nemsadze reported that at least two policemen were injured after being assaulted by several stone-throwing protestors. The demonstrators were protesting the Georgian government's decision to lift the suspension of construction work along the Georgian section of the BP-led project to establish a new export pipeline to transport oil from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea. The pipeline has sparked widespread opposition by environmental groups and local residents, who have charged that the construction damages the local wetlands and poses unacceptable risk to the famous mineral springs of the Borjomi Valley. RG

President Askar Akaev received a U.S. congressional delegation on 9 August in Bishkek, Kabar news agency reported. Senator Ted Stevens headed the delegation, which also included Senators Fritz Hollings, Thad Cochran, and Ben Nelson. Akaev told the delegation, "Your visit will give a fresh impetus to cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and the United States." The Kyrgyz president also stated, "The [U.S.-led] antiterrorist coalition base [at Kyrgyzstan's Manas Airport] is playing a key role in destroying the infrastructure of international terrorism." quoted Senator Stevens as telling President Akaev, "We want to thank you, your government, and your people for joining the antiterrorist coalition. We are now happy to unite our efforts to fight terrorism and bring those responsible to justice." According to the presidential press service, the senators praised Kyrgyzstan for its progress toward democracy and held up the country as an example for others. The delegation's visit came in the course of a trip to China, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Morocco. DK

A source at Russia's Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan told Interfax-AVN on 9 August that Russia plans to reinforce the base to a strength of 650 men and 20 aircraft by the end of 2004. The information confirms a 6 August comment by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who told reporters, "The Russian leadership has plans to further develop Kant air force base, and President Vladimir Putin has approved them." The base was opened on 23 October 2003 to support the Collective Security Treaty Organization's rapid deployment force. DK

Kyrgyzstan's gold exports increased 38.8 percent in the first half of 2004 against a backdrop of rising world prices for the precious metal, reported on 9 August. According to the country's National Bank, the main buyers of Kyrgyz gold in the first half of 2004 were the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland. National Bank head Ulan Sarbonov told a 9 August news conference that the country's GDP totaled $813 million in the first half of 2004, a 9.2 percent increase on the second half of 2003, Kabar news agency reported. Industrial production rose 18.1 percent for the period. DK

Tajikistan's political parties reacted on 9 August to the 6 August arrest of Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev on charges of murder, embezzlement, and illegal weapons possession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda, a spokesman for the Islamic Renaissance Party, told Asia Plus-Blitz, "I don't think that Ghaffor Mirzoev's possession of a large quantity of weapons...was a secret." Sayfullozoda also noted that Mirzoev's arrest fits in with a pattern of removing former Popular Front field commanders from the political arena. Rahmatullo Valiev, executive secretary of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, told the news agency, "As soon as Mirzoev distanced himself from [President Imomali Rakhmonov], it was possible to charge him with crimes and put him in the future, couldn't they just get rid of any inconvenient figure?" Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the Social-Democratic Party, told Avesta, "The charges that the prosecutor-general announced...were, in the main, well known to society. Unfortunately, the authorities and law-enforcement agencies have applied a double standard and thus far refrained from taking appropriate action." DK

President Rakhmonov appointed General Rustam Nazarov to head the Drug Control Agency on 9 August, Avesta reported. Nazarov had occupied the post from 1998 until Mirzoev was put at the helm in early 2004. DK

Rakhmonov met with Colonel Sergei Yudin, the new commander of Russia's 201st Motor Rifle Division, in Dushanbe on 9 August, Avesta reported. Yudin told journalists after the meeting, "I'm very happy with the deep friendship between our two countries and I think that it will grow stronger, which is what I told the president." A presidential spokesman told the news agency that the discussion focused on cooperation in ensuring stability and countering threats, as well as staff training and joint military exercises. Yudin, who took part in two military campaigns in Chechnya, replaces Yurii Perminov as the commander of the 201st, which is currently deployed in Tajikistan and is slated to be transformed into a permanent military base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). DK

Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov told journalists at a 9 August briefing in Tashkent that two of the three suicide bombers involved in 30 July attacks were foreign citizens, Uzbek TV reported. Kadyrov did not specify their citizenship, however. The prosecutor-general said that DNA testing is underway to determine the identity of the third attacker, Uzbek radio reported. Kadyrov also stated that the 30 July bombers and the perpetrators of late March-early April violence that killed nearly 50 people were "links in a single chain...organized and coordinated by a single center located outside the country...[and] international radical and extremist organizations, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, are behind them." Hizb ut-Tahrir has denied any involvement in terrorist strikes inside Uzbekistan. Journalists at the briefing also learned that the suicide bombers who struck the U.S. and Israeli embassies and the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office on 30 July, killing themselves and four others, used acetone peroxide and a crystalline substance employed in plastic explosives, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 9 August that leaders of the opposition Popular Coalition Five Plus -- Belarusian Popular Front head Vintsuk Vyachorka, United Civic Party head Anatol Lyabedzka, Belarusian Social Democratic Party head Stanislau Shushkevich, Belarusian Party of Communists head Syarhey Kalyakin -- want to run as candidates in the 17 October legislative elections. The nomination of candidates began on 8 August. Under Belarusian electoral law, candidates may be nominated by a party, through the collection of 1,000 signatures of eligible voters, or by the staff of a company that employs at least 300 people. Mikola Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly) from the opposition Coalition Free Belarus, will also run in the elections. Statkevich told RFE/RL that Free Belarus and Five Plus have not coordinated the fielding of candidates for the October elections, suggesting that opposition candidates might compete with each other in a number of constituencies. JM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka discussed the introduction of a course on Belarusian state ideology in general-education schools in 2005 with Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkou on 9 August, Belapan reported. Ideology courses were introduced at institutions of higher learning in Belarus earlier this year. JM

Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who is leader of the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, has vowed to withdraw the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq if he wins the country's presidential election in October-November, UNIAN reported on 10 August. "The regime of [Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych and [President Leonid] Kuchma [considers the presence of the Ukrainian troops in Iraq] an excuse for antidemocratic actions in Ukraine," Yushchenko told a group of voters in Crimea. "We don't want to restore democracy in Iraq through a suppression of democracy in Ukraine.... The current rotation of the contingent should be the last." JM

Presidential candidate Petro Symonenko, who is leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), has said that if he wins this fall's presidential election, he is ready to offer the post of prime minister to another leftist presidential candidate, Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, Interfax reported on 10 August. Touching on the possibility of unifying the political left in Ukraine, Symonenko said, "The epochal unification of the leftists as a powerful political alternative to the dictatorship of criminal oligarchy is possible only on the basis of the KPU." Moroz participated in the 1994 and 1995 presidential elections, in which he won 13.3 percent and 11.3 percent of the vote, respectively. Symonenko participated in the 1999 election, obtaining 36.5 percent of the vote in the first round and 37.8 percent in the runoff. JM

Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 9 August that the 23 October parliamentary elections are an opportunity for the Serbian minority to help determine its own future, dpa reported. "Make use of your legal right to effect substantial changes in the economic, political, and social aspects of your lives," he stressed. Elsewhere, the first 14 members of the Council of Europe's election-monitoring team have arrived, led by Bulgarian diplomat Andrey Tehov, Hina reported. Tehov called on all ethnic communities to participate in the vote, as have several U.S. and EU diplomats in recent days. Leaders of the Serbian minority, backed by some Belgrade politicians, have threatened to boycott the vote, claiming that security is lacking. Ethnic Albanian leaders charge that this is a ruse aimed at securing approval for ethnically based administrative units (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July and 6 and 9 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 April and 6 August 2004). Ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population. PM

Bosnian forensics experts began excavating a recently discovered mass grave under a slag heap at an abandoned coal mine at Miljevina near Foca on 9 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Amor Masovic, who heads the Croat-Muslim federation's bureau for missing persons, said the well-preserved remains of 21 civilian victims have already been exhumed. Experts believe the grave might contain the remains of many of the 400 Muslim and Croat former inmates of the Foca prison reported missing at the end of the 1992-95 conflict. At least 28 of their bodies have been found in mass graves so far (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004). PM

Zlatko Lagumdzija, who heads the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina (SDP BiH), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Sarajevo on 9 August that he is confident that his party and its non-nationalist allies will do well in the 2 October local elections. He noted that his party is fielding about 2,600 candidates across Bosnia, or about 1/10th the total number of all candidates running for office in the Croat-Muslim federation and the Republika Srpska. Lagumdzija praised the close cooperation between his party and Milorad Dodik's Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Kresimir Zubak's New Croatian Initiative (NHI), and Marko Tadic's Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS). Lagumdzija said he expects the ruling nationalist parties will wage a dirty campaign and try to polarize voters along ethnic lines. He stressed the importance of overcoming polarization and building a multiethnic future, adding that if multiethnicity is possible in a country as large and diverse as the United States, it should be possible in Bosnia, which is far smaller and less ethnically diverse. PM

Former Macedonian police General Goran Mitevski appeared at the Skopje bureau of the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal on 9 August to present his version of the events in the village of Ljuboten on 10-12 August 2001, in which eight Macedonian soldiers and 10 ethnic Albanian civilians were killed, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Mitevski's lawyer told reporters that the former general is fully cooperating with the prosecutors but refused to say whether Mitevski's status is that of a witness or a suspect (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 13, and 28 August 2001, 27 November 2002, and 4 August 2004). High-ranking officials such as former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski have repeatedly denied that Macedonian security forces killed any Albanian citizens in Ljuboten. Those officials deny that any police operation took place there, suggesting that the whole affair was made up by Albanians claiming to be witnesses (see the account provided by Human Rights Watch UB

Arad Mayor Gheorghe Falca said on 9 August that the city has insufficient funds to complete a high-profile project aimed at overcoming some of the darkest chapters of Romanian-Hungarian animosity in the region's past, Mediafax reported. Reconciliation Park was officially inaugurated in the presence of Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy in April, but Falca now claims the municipality lacks the funds to finance a planned lawn and reflecting pool. The Reconciliation Park includes a triumphal arch depicting important Romanian historical figures killed during the 1848 revolution and the restored Liberty Monument commemorating the Hungarian generals executed by the Habsburgs in 1849. Falca said the city has received the 90 billion lei ($2.7 million) needed for the triumphal arch from the central authorities in Bucharest but is unable to cover itself the remaining costs. MS

A delegation of diplomats dispatched by EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana arrived in Chisinau on 9 August to help resolve the conflict provoked by Transdniestrian authorities' mid-July decision to close schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. The EU delegation is expected to meet with Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, as well with Russian special envoy Igor Savolskii, who is in Moldova on a similar mission. Savolskii said on arriving in Chisinau that his mission will be difficult because the sides have toughened their respective positions. ITAR-TASS quoted the Russian Embassy in Chisinau as saying: "Unfortunately, tension escalated due to the closure of the Moldovan schools...and led to an economic confrontation that caused considerable damage to Chisinau and Tiraspol, as well as to the economies of neighboring countries." MS

The Committee for the Protection of Professional and Human Dignity (CADUP), set up by protesting journalists at Teleradio Moldova, on 9 August denied official reports broadcast the previous day on Radio Moldova and on Moldovan television regarding their action, Flux reported. The committee said a 7 August report according to which separatist Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov is financing their protest is "false and libelous," as are reports that the opposition popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) is organizing the protests against a perceived politicization of employment policies. CADUP also denied a report according to which former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, co-chairman of the Our Moldova alliance, urged protesters not to leave for vacation before September, "when they would be replaced by mercenary students." Also on 9 August, PPCD Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu officially asked Prosecutor-General Valeriu Balaban and Prime Minister Tarlev to open an investigation into the recent use of force by police against protesting journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). MS

The leaders of 11 countries bordering or neighboring the Black Sea region gathered in Istanbul in June 1992 to found the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization. If one is to believe Turkish sources, it was late Turkish President Turgut Ozal who initiated the process of uniting such widely disparate states as Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine in one organization. The ambitious project covered a vast area reaching from the Adriatic Sea in the west to Vladivostok in the east, and from the Greek and Turkish shores of the Mediterranean to Russia's Baltic Sea and Barents Sea coasts -- in other words, an area of roughly 20 million square kilometers, according to the BSEC's official website ( The 11 countries provided "an unsaturated market of 330 million people with supply well behind demand in the three principal economic sectors of agriculture, industry, services" and "a foreign-trade capacity of over $300 billion annually," according to the website.

Moreover, the BSEC united countries that account for the world's second-largest reserves of oil and gas, huge resources of minerals and metals, and enormous human resources, both highly trained and unskilled. However, it was also hampered by a "broad manufacturing basis in need of restructuring, overhauling, modernization, and commercialization."

On paper, this new organization could have developed into a major economic and -- to a much lesser extent -- political player. However, the BSEC's impact was weakened from its outset by two major factors: open rivalries and even hostilities among some of its members, and its organizational structure.

On closer inspection, it becomes clear that these two factors are intertwined. Although the BSEC was founded as an organization focusing on economic cooperation, its founding members emphasized the need for peaceful settlement of disputes and conflicts, as stated in the 1992 Bosporus Declaration, because "the region is already faced by serious conflicts and...there is the danger of new tensions arising."

At the time of its foundation, some BSEC members were actively engaged in armed conflicts, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh; Turkey and Greece stood at the brink of war on several occasions in the Aegean Sea; and Russia was involved in conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. Therefore, it was certainly a great achievement to unite them under a common roof. Even more so if one keeps in mind that the two biggest countries in the BSEC -- Russia and Turkey -- were struggling for political and economic influence throughout the region. Stressing the economic aspect of regional cooperation was therefore a way to avoid addressing the existing conflicts and rivalries.

Despite efforts to strengthen the BSEC by turning it into an international legal body in 1998 and by founding institutions such as the Thessaloniki-based Black Sea Development Bank, hopes that the BSEC would evolve into a politically integrated entity similar to the EU appear to have been utopian. Even on an economic level, cooperation did not develop as was expected. This was (and is) first and foremost because "the members have refrained from committing themselves to specific and detailed obligations in order to bring about an ever-deepening economic integration involving a multiplicity of actors, besides governments, of the type established by the EU," as Berdal Aral of the international-relations department at Istanbul's Fatih University pointed out in an analysis for "Alternatives: the Turkish Journal of International Relations" (see

"Instead, [the BSEC members] have acted in an unusually cautious fashion to sketch out general commitments, while opting for framework agreements marked by a hesitant language that offers ample leeway for avoiding strict obligations," Aral continued. "Similarly, the infrastructure projects [such as gas and oil pipelines] are scheduled to be planned and implemented only at the intergovernmental level. The parties have even shied away from establishing partnership on the basis of a treaty or convention, and instead opting for nonbinding declarations."

Another reason the BSEC has acquired little influence is that some of its members were either already EU members (in the case of Greece) or anticipated EU membership in the near future (Bulgaria, Romania, and possibly Turkey). In some member countries that previously belonged to the Soviet bloc, the fear that the BSEC might turn out to be an updated version of COMECON might also have served as a deterrent. After all, apart from Albania, Turkey, and, more recently, Serbia and Montenegro (which joined the BSEC in 2004), all BSEC countries were part of the former Soviet-dominated COMECON.

Some observers have noted that the inclusion of countries such as Albania that do not have direct access to the Black Sea region has undermined the chance to build greater economic cohesion among the BSEC members. And, given their persistent rivalry, BSEC members Russia and Turkey are unlikely to play a coordinated role similar to the French-German axis within the EU. "Unless both of them come to see the Black Sea as the realm of common economic interests, Russian-Turkish rivalry will no doubt prejudice the opportunities offered by the BSEC," Aral wrote.

Will the members of the BSEC be able to overcome their disputes and embark on a long-term process of reforming (and strengthening) the organization? Only then would the BSEC gain importance and its summits become more than a platform for fine phrases and meetings on the sidelines.

As things stand, it is unlikely that the BSEC will ever develop into a political organization similar to the EU, mainly because some of its members do not want this to happen -- at least at present. In an interview with the independent Armenian daily "Azg" on 7 July, Armenian BSEC representative Arsen Avagian said, "Armenia makes efforts not to let the BSEC turn into a political organization, and the member states well understand this." As an example of how BSEC member states seek to avoid addressing contentious issues, Avagian recalled that during recent discussions leading to the adoption of a declaration on Black Sea regional security, other member states, including Turkey, voted down a proposal by Azerbaijan to insert into that declaration a phrase condemning "aggressive separatism" -- a clear allusion to the Karabakh conflict.

Militant neo-Taliban elements have split into rival groups, Reuters quoted a former senior Taliban commander as saying on 9 August. Saber Mo'men, who served as a neo-Taliban deputy operations commander in southern Afghanistan, said a breakaway faction called Taliban Jami'at Jaish-e Muslemin (Muslim Army of the Taliban Society) is led by Mullah Sayyed Mohammad Akbar Agha from the southern Afghan Kandahar Province. According to Mo'men, the new faction does not recognize the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose regime was dislodged by the U.S.-led attack that began in October 2001. Mo'men did not specify the number of militias that are part of the purported breakaway faction. "The objective of our group is not to weaken the jihad but to strengthen it," Mullah Manzur, a spokesman for the dissident group, said, according to Reuters. "More group can be formed," Manzur said, adding that the objective is to increase "jihadi activities while American forces remain in Afghanistan." Mo'men said internal differences within the neo-Taliban militia and poor leadership that resulted in serious losses to the group led to the decision by some commanders to break away from the neo-Taliban leadership. AT

Hamid Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban militia, said the newly formed group described by Mo'men is "basically not the Taliban," Reuters reported on 9 August. "All Taliban commanders are united under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar," Hamid Agha said, adding that if the new "group has organized itself against the enemies of Afghanistan, we welcome them." In the past year, more than 900 people have been killed in Afghanistan in violence blamed on neo-Taliban insurgents, Reuters added. AT

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi reported that local forces in the Helmand Province killed seven neo-Taliban insurgents and captured 15 others on 8 August, Xinhua news agency reported the next day. In a separate operation carried out on 8 August by Afghan government forces in Oruzgan Province, five neo-Taliban militias were captured, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 9 August. In yet another engagement, government forces with support from coalition troops attacked a neo-Taliban hideout in Zabul Province, killing six and wounding two militants, according to Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan. AT

In a 9 August commentary, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" warned that people holding more than one voter-registration card must be prevented from hijacking the Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections. Criticizing the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body's (JEMB) handling of the voter-registration process, "Erada" suggested that the JEMB was able to claim distribution of 9 million registration cards throughout Afghanistan in part because multiple cards were issued to some individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). "There is nothing we can do now," "Erada" lamented, but the paper advised that the electoral body address the problem that has arisen with the illegal market in voter-registration cards. Only by solving such problems can the election body "ensure the legitimacy of elections," the commentary concluded. Credible reports from Kabul suggest that individuals have obtained multiple cards in order to sell them to presidential hopefuls whose registration requires documentation of 10,000 backers. AT

Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 9 August that there is little the United States can do to Iran beyond the imposition of sanctions and the leveling of accusations, Al-Jazeera television reported. Shamkhani was reacting to U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's comments of 8 August, when she said Iran's nuclear ambitions concern the international community and it that Washington does not intend to let Iran produce an atomic weapon, according to AP. Rice also accused Iran of trying to hide a weapons program. "We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition." Shamkhani said the U.S. statements are inaccurate and relate to the election campaign. "I say clearly that we shall respond to any U.S. or non-U.S. aggression against our nuclear installations or any other site in Iran," he added. He said the U.S. presence in Iraq could be used to Iran's advantage. Recent media reports have suggested that the Israeli government might be planning an attack to disable Iranian nuclear facilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 July 2004). BS

Speaking at a 9 August news conference in Tehran, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said the two countries enjoy friendly political and economic relations, Islamabad's PTV World reported. In a later telephone interview with PTV World, Kasuri said he and Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi talked about Kharrazi's recent trip to India. Kasuri told Kharrazi that Pakistan has taken all the steps necessary to guarantee the security of the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline. Kasuri added that the two sides said there should be more private-sector involvement in bilateral trade. Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told his guest that their respective countries should contribute to peace and security in Afghanistan by investing there and in Central Asia, IRNA reported. When he arrived in Tehran on 8 August, Kasuri said Islamabad wants to see progress on the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, PTV World reported. BS

Baku's Bilik Dunyasi news agency reported on 9 August that the Export Development Bank of Iran has allocated a $75 million credit for a power line and substations between the towns of Imisli, Ali Bayramli, and Astara. The project is intended to improve the quality of electricity transmission from Iran to Azerbaijan, and it will require reconstruction of three major substations. These are the 330-kilovolt substation in Imisli, the 330-kilovolt substation in Ali Bayramli, and the 220-kilovolt substation in Masalli. The report adds that a new 200-kilovolt substation will have to be built in Salyan. The project, which is expected to take 20-24 months, reportedly will roughly double the amount of electricity Iran supplies to the Naxichevan exclave. BS

A Yazd University student association has been banned for permitting the reading of a message from the banned Freedom Movement's leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, and for arranging a speech by Office for Strengthening Unity central council member Mehdi Aminzadeh, "Iran Daily" reported on 10 August. (The report did not say when the offense occurred.) The ban lasts four months and began on 18 July. Three members of the student association reportedly face charges of provoking student unrest and participating in the July 1999 demonstrations in Tehran. BS

Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said during a 9 August news conference in Tehran that the Iranian consular official in Iraq who was recently kidnapped is "in good health," state television reported. Kharrazi said Tehran has no other information on the status of Fereidun Jahani, adding, "We must find out which group has kidnapped him and how we can arrange his release." The so-called Islamic Army of Iraq claims to have kidnapped Jahani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). BS

"Kayhan" newspaper Managing Director Hussein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on 9 August that only the United States has a motive for the Jahani kidnapping, Mehr News Agency reported. That motive, he claimed, is that Iran is blocking unspecified U.S. regional ambitions and it opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Shariatmadari claimed that the kidnappers' call on Iran not to interfere in Iraqi affairs is identical to calls from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, adding that this confirms the kidnappers' American connection. An anonymous "informed security official in Iraq" claimed on 9 August that U.S. intelligence agents had direct knowledge of the kidnapping, Fars News Agency reported. This individual reportedly went on to say that the United States has created "fake assassination groups and [is] abducting non-native forces in Iraq," and that Washington is using Ba'athist groups to carry out abductions and assassinations. The anonymous official also referred to the involvement of "Israeli agents." BS

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim told IRNA on 9 August that the interim government condemns the recent kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad. Kadhim said an investigation is under way but that no detailed information has emerged regarding the militant group Islamic Army of Iraq that has claimed responsibility for the abduction. "All we know about it is that the group has been formed recently," Kadhim said. Regarding the fate of the diplomat, Fereidoun Jahani, he added: "The Ministry of Interior will not negotiate with the group. But Iraqi security and intelligence forces will attempt to liberate the kidnapped diplomat." KR

U.S.-led multinational forces continued to fight Imam Al-Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad and Al-Najaf on 10 August, international media reported. A Health Ministry official said that 10 people were killed in overnight fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City district, the cleric's stronghold, while 104 were wounded, Reuters reported. The ministry did not have figures available for Al-Najaf, but U.S. military officials said on 9 August that 360 militamen have been killed in fighting since 5 August, according to Reuters. Al-Arabiyah reported on 10 August that Iraqi government officials said they have taken about 200 Al-Najaf militiamen into police custody. Meanwhile, Al-Mahdi militiamen in Baghdad claimed on 9 August that they are holding Police Brigadier General Ra'd Muhammad Khadr captive in the city. Khadr is former director of the Al-Rasafah police station in the capital. The militia is demanding that the Interior Ministry release Al-Mahdi militiamen from custody in exchange for Khadr. KR

Al-Najaf police chief Brigadier General Ghalib Hadi al-Jaza'iri has reportedly written a letter to the Iraqi Interior Ministry proposing cutting off water and electricity supplies to the Old City of Al-Najaf where al-Sadr militiamen are holed up in an effort to drive them out, Al-Manar television reported on 10 August. The plan reportedly calls for cutting off the delivery of fruit and vegetables to the Old City. Al-Manar learned of the plan through al-Sadr office spokesman Sheikh Ahmad al-Shaybani. Al-Jaza'iri later confirmed the plan, telling Al-Manar that it was a suggestion that has not been approved. He implied that al-Sadr's office learned of the plan after the letter was stolen from his car. The plan reportedly also called for the Iraqi government to request that residents of the Old City leave their homes to facilitate the plan. Meanwhile, U.K. Defense Ministry spokesman Major Ian Clooney told BBC Radio on 9 August that British troops in Al-Basrah have been instructed to use "appropriate force" against al-Sadr militiamen in the city after one soldier was killed that day. Clooney added that British forces in Al-Basrah do not see widespread public support for al-Sadr's movement. KR

The head of the Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal, Salim Chalabi, told Al-Arabiyah television on 9 August that he will not return to Iraq to face murder charges unless certain assurances are made for his safety, claiming that his home in Iraq was targeted by mortar shells on 7 August. Asked about the charges leveled against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004), Chalabi said: "My own impression is that the main beneficiaries from this process are those accused of war crimes.... I heard that some people do not want me to assume a certain position because my last name is Chalabi." He added that he thought it was "weird" that charges against both him and his uncle, Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi, came to light the same day. The senior Chalabi accused Iraqi Judge Zuhair al-Maliki of targeting his family in an e-mailed statement to, the website reported on 10 August. Al-Maliki "has consistently attempted to manipulate the justice system...[and] he has pursued a political vendetta against the Iraqi National Congress," Chalabi wrote. KR

Two Jordanian nationals kidnapped in Iraq on 26 July were released in Baghdad on 9 August, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. The kidnappers from the Mujahedin Battalions had threatened to kill the two men, kidnapped while working as truck drivers in Iraq, unless their Jordanian employer vowed to stop working for U.S. forces in Iraq. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 10 August that a Lebanese businessman has also been released from captivity. Antoine Antoun was kidnapped in July when gunmen stormed the Baghdad dairy where he worked. KR