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Newsline - August 11, 2004

President Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin on 10 August with representatives of the Federation Council to congratulate them on the completion of their spring legislative session, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported. In 15 meetings the council passed 122 laws, including a controversial measure to convert most in-kind social benefits into cash payments. "This is a very important package," Putin said of the benefits reform. "I note with pleasure that council members approached this work thoughtfully." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said that the process of legislating benefits has only just begun and that the council will carefully track the latest reforms as they are implemented at the regional level. Mironov also told journalists on 10 August that benefits for state bureaucrats should also be monetized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004), ITAR-TASS reported. He added, however, that they should earn generous salaries in order to reduce corruption and said that he expects Federation Council members will see salary increases when the 2005 budget is adopted. RC

Hamburg University has cancelled a scheduled 10 September ceremony at which it planned to present an honorary doctorate of economics to President Putin, reported on 11 August. Officially, the cancellation was attributed to the university's inability to prepare for the visit in time, but foreign and Russian media speculated that it was really prompted by controversy surrounding the initiative. The university has not announced a new date for the ceremony, "Der Spiegel" reported this week. Sixty-seven Hamburg University professors recently signed a petition asking the university not to honor Putin. The professors cited the ongoing conflict in Chechnya and the Putin administration's pressure on independent media and nongovernmental organizations. RC

Sergei Ivanov on 10 August responded to recent Georgian claims that Russian aircraft have repeatedly violated Georgian airspace in recent days, RTR reported. Ivanov dismissed the allegations in a press conference following a meeting with Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze. "How can I comment on this? It is rubbish, the most utter drivel. No Russian warplanes have violated Georgia's borders. When asked what kind of aircraft it was, there were, of course, no intelligible replies, nor can there be any," Ivanov said. RC

The Central Bank on 9 August revoked the banking license of Dialog-Optim bank as of 11 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004), Interfax reported on 10 August. The move was prompted by alleged noncompliance with federal laws, incidents of misreporting, and the bank's inability to make mandatory payments. The bank will be placed under temporary administration until it can be placed in receivership or liquidated. According to the report, the bank's financial situation deteriorated significantly during the banking crisis earlier this summer. The Central Bank's press release stated that Dialog-Optim had "virtually become insolvent." reported on 11 August that Dialog-Optim is the second-largest bank after Sodbiznesbank to lose its license since the banking crisis began and that it currently holds an estimated 2 billion rubles ($67 million) in deposits. Banking sector representatives quoted in the media took the news calmly. "It was not a big surprise," Rosbank Deputy Chairman Mikhail Alekseev told "Trud" reported on 11 August that Dialog-Optim's branches in the Volga region were "open and receiving clients, but not performing any banking operations." RC

Analyst Nikolai Pakhomov, writing on on 9 August, commented that President Putin's 6 August meeting at his private residence with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller is symbolic of the state's new relationship with business (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2004). "For centuries power in the country was based primarily on administrative resources and sometimes on pure violence," Pakhomov wrote. "[But now] the Russian state has begun actively using economic instruments to promote both domestic and foreign political campaigns." Pakhomov noted that the Kremlin released a "verbatim transcript" of the meeting with Miller that did not modify Putin's "occasionally tough tone." "One can only guess whether the presidential staff was using this kind of transparency to set an example for Gazprom's management or whether it was demonstrating that there is no such thing as untouchable businesspeople," Pakhomov wrote. "The only criterion of success for business in contemporary Russia is economic success in the implementation of socially important tasks formulated by the government under the president's leadership." RC

Proposed amendments to laws regulating the judiciary that were adopted in their second reading recently by the State Duma will increase the judiciary's dependence on the executive branch, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 August. One of the amendments would expand the "already considerable" influence of the chairmen of regional courts. According to the daily, many lawyers feel that the change would increase the power of the executive branch, which already has close ties with the court chairmen. "The courts and their administrators are today dependent on the authorities not only in the material and social aspect but in terms of their careers as well," the daily wrote. The paper wrote that a 2001 reform under which court chairmen were appointed to six-year terms with the possibility of reappointment rather than to life terms has increased their dependency on local executive-branch authorities. The power of court chairmen to distribute cases among local judges was particularly criticized. "A verdict may, as we all know, depend on personalities," Duma Deputy Sergei Popov (independent) told the daily. "In Russia judges still do not understand that they should be merely arbiters. In any proceeding they may begin to defend the interests of the state as they imagine them to be." RC

Unknown thieves in Barnaul stole a statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from a pedestal in front of a local school during the night of 10-11 August, Interfax reported on 11 August. Police believe that the statute, which depicted a young Lenin reading a book, was taken to be sold for scrap. No criminal case has been opened yet, the agency reported, because police have not yet determined who owned the statue and who can be considered the victim of the crime. RC

Sergei Ignatchenko, spokesman for the Federal Security Service's (FSB) press office, said on 10 August that "foreign sponsors" have sent money to Chechen fighters "and set them the task of wrecking" the republic's 29 August presidential election, Interfax reported. Ignatchenko did not name the "foreign sponsors," but said that the increased activity of Chechen websites indicates that they have received an infusion of funds. "They have intensified information attacks and increased the amount of disinformation," Ignatchenko said. "There is evidence of threats issued against Chechen residents and calls for them not to turn out to vote in the election." RC

Armenian Deputy Prosecutor-General Mnatsakan Sargsian announced on 10 August in Yerevan that several former and current government officials are being questioned as part of an investigation into state corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. Sargsian said his office has decided to extend the criminal investigation and he added that the focus is centering on the embezzlement of some $1.5 million in state funds by state officials involved with Zvartnots International Airport from 1996 to 1999. Sargsian added that "government officials have indeed been questioned in connection with that case" and, although he refused to reveal their identities, he explained that they are "officials from the highest level." The Zvartnots airport was a state-run facility during the period in question and was not privatized until 2002. RG

A week of military exercises by the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces ended on 10 August, Arminfo reported. The closing of the three-stage military maneuvers was observed by Nagorno-Karabakh officials and a delegation of senior Armenian military officers led by Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian. Commenting on the exercises, Armenian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Mikhail Harutiunian positively assessed the readiness and capability of the Karabakh armed forces. Sarkisian said the Armenian army serves as "a guarantor of the security of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh," but added that there is no real threat of a military conflict in the near future and stressing that "the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia have declared more than once that the Armenian side does not intend to resume military operations," reported. RG

Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Safar Abiev on 11 August during a one-day visit to Baku, Turan reported on 10 August. Although details of the Rumsfeld visit are not made public, he is expected to discuss plans for an expanded U.S. military mission in the country and review the deployment of Azerbaijani troops in Iraq. Azerbaijani press reports also indicate that Rumsfeld will discuss the recent visit to Baku by Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004), Turan reported. Rumsfeld last visited Baku in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003). RG

Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman Guran Donadze announced on 10 August that clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces erupted overnight, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. Although the clashes continued for nearly six hours and comprised an exchange of mortar and small arms fire, there were no casualties. South Ossetian officials accused Georgian forces of instigating the clash and added that they are seeking to subject the South Ossetian population to an "unbearable psychological climate," Interfax reported. RG

Giorgi Baramidze announced after a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow on 10 August that Georgia intends to "establish its own air-defense system" in "close cooperation" with Russia, the Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. Baramidze added that the talks centered on the two countries' "common strategic interests" and included a pledge to try to resume cooperation between the Russian and Georgian armed forces. In an announcement after discussing the status of the two Russian military bases in Georgia, Ivanov stated that Russia is "ready to hand over" its remaining military facilities in Tbilisi and Akhalkalaki to Georgia. He added that "we do not need those facilities" and offered a "seven- or eight-year" timetable for the withdrawal, Rustavi-2 reported. Baramidze also suggested that Russia is "ready to train Georgian soldiers at the Russian military bases in Georgia," Civil Georgia reported. RG

In comments to reporters during his visit to Moscow on 10 August, Defense Minister Baramidze stated that Georgia is prepared to increase its deployment of troops to Iraq, the Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian military presence in Iraq is limited to a U.S.-trained Georgian company of 159 men, currently stationed in northern Iraq but preparing to be assigned to guard the UN mission in Baghdad. Defense Ministry officials are also quoted by the Caucasus Press on 10 August as confirming that Baramidze will conduct "a fact-finding visit" to Iraq from 15-18 August. RG

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Yalta on 10 August, the Rustavi-2 and the Caucasus Press reported. The two presidents reviewed measures seeking to expand bilateral cooperation in energy and trade, and discussed the latest situation in South Ossetia. The visit is characterized as "unofficial" and is timed with the 64th birthday of the Ukrainian leader. RG

After a search of the area between South Ossetia and Georgia proper, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Guram Dogonadze announced on 10 August that Georgian police have discovered the body of missing South Ossetian Economics Minister Ruslan Plyev, "The Georgian Times" and the Caucasus Press reported. The minister's death is attributed to a car accident and the body was discovered in the Liakhvi River. Police located his damaged car close to the riverbank. The Georgian search effort was in response to a request for assistance by the South Ossetian leadership. RG

Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission announced in a 10 August press release that as of 9 August it has registered 308 of the 670 candidates who have submitted documents to run in single-mandate constituencies in the 19 September parliamentary elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The lower chamber of parliament has 77 deputies, 67 of whom are elected from single-mandate constituencies and 10 from party lists. According to the commission, the pro-presidential Otan party is the best-represented, with 64 candidates. Other prominent participants include the pro-presidential Asar party, with 42 candidates; the bloc of the Agrarian and Civic Parties, with 27 candidates; the opposition bloc of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, with 38 candidates; and the opposition Ak Zhol party, with 40 candidates. The commission is scheduled to finish registering candidates on 18 August. DK

A spokesman for the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) announced at a 10 August news conference in Almaty that imprisoned party leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov is being transferred from prison to a "settlement colony," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. (The "settlement colony" is a form of internal exile under house arrest that Kazakhstan inherited from the Soviet legal system.) Gulzhan Ergalieva told journalists that Zhaqiyanov became eligible for an improvement in the conditions of his incarceration after 2 August, when he passed the one-third mark in his seven-year prison term for abuse of office, a sentence his supporters describe as politically motivated. Interfax-Kazakhstan reported, however, that it was unable to confirm the information about Zhaqiyanov's transfer with official sources. According to, Zhaqiyanov will live in a closed settlement in Pavlodar and will be barred from participating in political life. A DVK representative told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 6 August that "The authorities are interesting in seeing that Ghalymzhan is not released before the elections." DK

Kyrgyzstan's Central Electoral Commission has presented a preliminary schedule for upcoming elections, reported on 10 August. Elections to local assemblies from the village to the city level will take place on 10 October 2004; to the Legislative Assembly, or lower chamber of parliament, on 27 February 2005; and to oblast and regional assemblies on 27 February 2005. Indirect elections of heads of local self-government will take place on 3 July 2005. The presidential election is scheduled for 30 October 2005. Finally, direct elections for local leaders from the village to the city level will take place on 18 December 2005. DK

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) quoted several sources on 10 August as saying that Ghaffor Mirzoev, the former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, was arrested on 6 August to prevent a possible coup attempt. Noting that 3,000 heavy weapons were allegedly discovered in the basement of the Drug Control Agency, IWPR quoted Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov as saying: "Most possibly [Mirzoev] wanted to stage a coup d'etat." An Interior Ministry source told IWPR that "Mirzoev had enormous supplies of modern weaponry and he could have accomplished a coup." An anonymous source described as "close to Mirzoev" told IWPR that "[Mirzoev]...could easily organize a rebellion -- even from jail. " Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 10 August that a shoot-out occurred during Mirzoev's arrest and that one of Mirzoev's bodyguards and a policeman were killed. Mirzoev is expected to face formal charges of weapons possession, abuse of office, and murder by 16 August, Interfax reported. According to Asia Plus, a coup attempt could be added to the list of charges. DK

Sports Minister Yury Sivakou, who was due to head Belarus's team to the Summer Olympic in Greece from 11-29 August, has decided to stay in Minsk and lead the country's athletes from home, Belapan reported on 10 August, citing Sivakou's spokesman Anatol Artsemyeu. In a decision last week coordinated with all members of the EU, Greek authorities banned Sivakou from entering Greece because of his alleged involvement in the disappearances of opposition politicians and a journalists in Belarus in 1999-2000 (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 August 2004). JM

Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP), has accused the authorities of pressuring members of groups formed in Homel, Vitsebsk, and Minsk oblasts to nominate AHP candidates for the 17 October parliamentary elections, Belapan reported. "In Polatsk [in Vitsebsk Oblast], for instance, district election commission members have contacted by phone all members of the nomination group for AHP member Henadz Voranau, strongly recommending that they drop out," Lyabedzka said. "As a result, the group has only eight of its 11 members left, whereas the minimum number of members required for a group's registration is 10." A similar tactic was used for preventing the registration of a group supporting Syarhey Saulash, a member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front in Barysau, Minsk Oblast. "The authorities are preventing the nomination of pro-democracy figures who enjoy the highest popularity in the districts," Lyabedzka said. The deadline for registering nomination groups is 12 August. JM

Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who leads the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, and his bodyguards detained three men who were shadowing him in Crimea on 10 August, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. The men had a directional microphone, radios, video cameras, and a car with 12 extra license plates. They also had a videocassette documenting one day of Yushchenko's stay with his family in Sevastopol. According to Yushchenko's spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko, the detained men could not explain what they were doing in Crimea. Yushchenko reported the incident to the police. "Such people in uniforms discredit not only their service but also the law and the country as a whole," Yushchenko commented on the detainees. "And the officer who simulated a faint in order not to show his identity card simply filled his pants, because he knew that he serves criminal bosses, not the law." JM

Serhiy Tihipko, head of the presidential campaign staff of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, said on ICTV on 10 August that Yushchenko and his followers are going to hold the upcoming presidential elections under a "Georgian scenario," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. "Now they are trying to zombify [voters] -- if Yushchenko loses, it will mean that the elections were rigged," Tihipko said. "Then the next steps will follow -- a Georgian variant, a revolution.... I want to ask [our] opponents: Do we need a revolution or elections?" JM

The Central Election Commission on 10 August adopted, on the basis of a draw, a schedule for using television and radio airtime as well as print space in the newspapers "Holos Ukrayiny" and "Uryadovyy kurer" by 26 presidential candidates for budget-funded election advertisements, Interfax reported. In particular, each presidential contender has the right to address viewers on the national UT-1 television channel three times for 10 minutes each. In addition, each contender can use 45 minutes of airtime on a nationwide radio channel as well as 30 minutes on a regional television channel and 20 minutes on a regional radio channel in each of Ukraine's 27 regions. JM

Leaders of a three-party coalition representing Kosova's Serbian minority informed election officials and representatives of the international community on 10 August that they will follow Belgrade's advice and not participate in Kosova's 23 October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 9, and 10 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 April and 6 August 2004). Momcilo Trajkovic, who heads the Serbian Resistance Movement (SPOT), which belongs to the coalition, said that he does not expect Belgrade to change its position. Several leaders of the Serbian minority, backed by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and some other Belgrade politicians, have threatened in recent weeks 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. A government spokeswoman recently argued that the Serbs had found nothing wrong with voting conditions when they cast their ballots in the June Serbian presidential vote. Several representatives of the international community have warned local Serbs that they must participate in the elections if they want to help determine their own future. PM

Unknown people set fire to the offices of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) in the western Macedonian town of Struga early on 10 August, causing minor damage, "Dnevnik" reported. The offices are located in separate parts of the same building. The fire broke out after a protest meeting, during which representatives of a broad coalition consisting of the local branches of governing and opposition parties and NGOs promised to maintain resistance to government plans to change the town's administrative borders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July 2004). If the changes take effect, ethnic Albanians will be in the majority in that administrative district. Struga Mayor Romeo Dereban announced that if the parliament approves the changes, the protest coalition will declare Struga's independence from the Macedonian state. UB

Representatives of the respective police forces of Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Kosova agreed in Podgorica on 10 August to step up cooperation in preparation for the Olympic Games, which begin in Athens on 13 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The representatives also pledged to continue to work together in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. Their next meeting will take place in Albania in November. PM

The National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) indicted Bucharest Mayor and opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party co-Chairman Traian Basescu on 10 August on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement, Mediafax and Reuters reported. Basescu is charged with 79 other people, including two other former transportation ministers, for having allegedly sold illegally 16 ships from Romania's maritime fleet between 1991-2000. The PNA says the sale of the ships caused losses of $330 million to the state. Basescu was transportation minister in the government headed by Petre Roman in 1990-92 and in governments formed by the Democratic Coalition of Romania between 1997 and 2000. Basescu told Mediafax that the charges are an attempt to discredit the opposition ahead of the November parliamentary elections. He said he refuses to cooperate with the two prosecutors in charge of the case, claiming they are "just instruments for a politically motivated stage trial" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February and 4 August 2003 and 27 May 2004). MS

The Transdniestrian "Education Ministry" said on 10 August that it is ready to reopen the schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script provided the schools use the separatist region's curriculum, Infotag reported. "As a sovereign state, the Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic is responsible for ensuring high-quality education, [while] observing the students' rights and interests," the ministry said in a statement. It also said the schools would have to register with the Transdniestrian "Education Ministry" and to obtain licensing and accreditation in line with Transdniester legislation. If these conditions are met, the closed-down Moldovan schools would be able to resume teaching in time for the coming school year, which starts on 1 September. Maria Robu, director of the Bendery-Tighina Moldovan Lyceum, told journalists in Tiraspol the conditions are unacceptable. "We cannot take our children back to the previous century. The problem is not only that of the Cyrillic script used in teaching Moldovan in Transdniester, but primarily the fact that Transdniestrian schools use Soviet-era textbooks dating back to the 1970s," she said. MS

Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told journalists in Chisinau on 10 August that Moldova has not imposed any economic sanctions on Transdniester, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Tarlev said that Transdniestrian companies that are lawfully registered in Moldova have no problem in obtaining export certificates and that the customs department has been instructed to promote Transdniestrian exports and to rapidly clear the documentation needed. He said the government's decision enforced since 1 August to stop issuing export certificates to unregistered Transdniestrian companies "has provided equal conditions for all enterprises engaged in foreign trade, regardless of location." MS

Prime Minister Tarlev and Aleksandr Ryazanov, chairman of the joint Moldovan-Russian Moldovagas company, reached an agreement on 10 August under which the state-controlled Russian gas monopoly Gazprom will agree to reschedule Moldova's debt by October, Infotag reported. On 1 January, Moldova's debt to Gazprom was $615 million, of which $495 million was owed by Transdniester. Ryazanov praised Moldova for having settled its debt for gas deliveries in the first half of this year. MS

A delegation of the protesting Teleradio Moldova journalists met on 10 August with ambassadors from EU and the United States, and gave them videocassettes on developments at Teleradio Moldova and the vicinity since 27 July, Flux reported. The journalists are protesting the perceived politicization of employment policies and the use of force to disperse protesters. Journalist Corina Fusu said after the meeting that "all the ambassadors have a positive attitude and are sympathetic" to the protest. Also on 10 August, Teleradio Moldova's new administrative manager, Valeriu Macarevici, refused to meet with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spokesman Claus Neukirch, who came to discuss the ongoing protest. Macarevici said he would not receive Neukirch before he produces an accreditation letter from the Moldovan Foreign Ministry. According to Flux, Neukirch refused to do so, saying his visit was not personal, but as part of the OSCE Mission in Moldova. MS

Twists in the case of embattled oil giant Yukos have been coming fast and furious over the last few weeks, although developments have appeared so thoroughly contradictory that the only thing that seems certain is that the Kremlin has not yet made up its mind as to just how things will turn out.

On 4 August, to take one vivid example, Yukos announced both that the company would sell its 56 percent stake in Rospan to TNK-BP to cover part of its tax debt and that the Justice Ministry had given permission for the company to finance its operating costs from its frozen bank accounts. These announcements sent Yukos shares rallying and prompted Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs President Arkadii Volskii to proclaim that "we are seeing some easing of the situation around Yukos."

The next day, the Justice Ministry announced both that it "has many questions" about the proposed Rospan sale and that "bailiffs have not made a decision on issuing permission to Yukos to make monthly payments or to ensure current activities," Prime-TASS reported. Yukos shares immediately fell by 14 percent on the news.

Such scenarios have become so common that trading in Yukos stock is suspended almost every day as the volatile shares rise or fall in dramatic double-digit bursts. On 9 August, the Moscow stock exchange halted trading in Yukos shares at 11:44 a.m. after their value had increased 23 percent to 135 rubles, reported. The rise came on news that the Moscow Arbitration Court had invalidated a bailiffs' order to freeze Yukos's shares in Yurganskneftegaz, its main production subsidiary. However, the price began to fall as soon as trading resumed an hour later as rumors (later confirmed) swirled that the bailiffs had once again frozen the Yurganskneftegaz shares following the court order. On 10 August, the exchange again froze trading in Yukos shares at 2 p.m., after they had fallen almost 14 percent.

On 10 August, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled paradoxically that the bailiffs' seizure of Yukos's shares of Tomskneft was legal and the same day it postponed issuing a ruling on the seizure of Yukos's stake in Samaraneftegaz until 2 September. Together, the three subsidiaries account for 96 percent of Yukos's total oil production, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 August, meaning that the destiny of the entire company hangs on their fates.

Oil-sector analysts, noting the bailiffs' order to re-freeze the Yurganskneftegaz shares, emphasized that Yukos's fate will be decided in the Kremlin, not in the courts. "As long as the forceful line of settling the conflict with Yukos predominates, it is pointless to interpret positively any court decisions," analyst Stiven Dashevskii told "Vedomosti" on 10 August. "They will either turn out to be temporary or ethereal."

In a front-page article on 10 August, "Izvestiya" openly raised the possibility that some individuals could be using insider information to profit from the roller-coaster ride of Yukos shares. "Who has profited this time from the rise and fall of the shares, no one at the exchange could say. But they suppose that it is those who had information from the state organs," the daily wrote.

In the same article, "Izvestiya" reported that the Finance Ministry had confirmed earlier media reports that Yukos's tax debts will be distributed among Russia's poorest regions. "The money will be used in 2005 to form a fund to help 40 subjects of the federation," the daily reported, adding that "the money will be used to pay state-sector workers and to help the housing sector to prepare for the winter." It would be hard to imagine a more finely crafted populist gesture, one that is especially important as the government takes a public-opinion battering over its controversial plan to convert most in-kind social benefits into cash payments.

At the same time, world oil prices have reached record levels, in part because of concerns about the fate of Yukos. Russian producers have responded by boosting production. On 3 August, the Industry and Energy Industry announced that the country had reached a new post-Soviet production record of 9.3 million barrels a day. Production was up more than 10 percent for the first half of the year, "The Moscow Times" reported. The windfall has spurred GDP growth beyond the government's ambitious predictions, growth that has been almost entirely attributed to growth in the exports sector. Moreover, "Vedomosti" reported on 10 August that a leading Chinese expert said his country should give preference to dealing with state-controlled or Kremlin-friendly Russian oil companies. "Chinese oilmen must correctly choose a partner for energy cooperation," an analyst with the Chinese State Council said. "They must rely as partners on those companies that are controlled by the state or on those companies that have the confidence of the government." The analyst added that the government feels that Yukos's loss of control of its production subsidiaries could make it an unreliable partner. With uncertainty bringing so many tempting short-term benefits, it is little wonder that the Kremlin is in no hurry to make its intentions regarding Yukos clear.

The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) on 10 August finalized the list of candidates for Afghanistan's presidential elections scheduled for 9 October, international news agencies reported. The JEMB has disqualified three of the 23 candidates who applied for registration, while two candidates have chosen to pull out of the race, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 10 August (for a list of the 23 candidates, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). The JEMB said the three candidates were rejected "for failure to comply with the nomination procedures," without giving further details, the BBC reported on 10 August. The official list of the 18 remaining candidates is yet to be released. AT

JEMB Chairman Zakim Shah said on 10 August that the election body has "received 115 complaints which include legal and personal protests, [accusations of] plundering, murder, rape and crimes against humanity, crimes against national unity, and also for running militias," against some of the candidates approved to run in Afghanistan's presidential elections, Reuters reported. Most of the complaints have been against the northern Afghan warlord and head of the Junbish-e Melli party, Abdul Rashid Dostum; Karzai's nominee for the post of second vice president and the leader of a faction of the Wahdat party, Abdul Karim Khalili; and member of another faction of Wahdat and former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq. Both Khalili and Mohaqeq have their own military factions and, similar to Dostum, were involved in Afghanistan's civil war. Condemning the JEMB's decision to allow the warlords to run in the election, independent candidate Sayyed Abdul Hadi Dabir said: "This is not democracy. This is filmmaking." According to Andrew Wilder, executive director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, if "the election commission doesn't think it can take tough decisions and vote against a warlord, how can we expect the Afghan voter out in the villages and in the rural areas to make that decision," Reuters reported. AT

JEMB spokesman Sayyed Azam said on 10 August that the body's media-monitoring commission officially began working on 10 August, Radio Afghanistan reported. The commission's responsibility is to ensure that the election process is reported fairly. The commission, headquartered in Kabul, will have seven provincial offices, and its two sections will deal with media monitoring and media-related laws, respectively. The commission has six members: three Afghans, two foreigners, and one representative of the JEMB, also an Afghan, Sayyed Azam explained. AT

Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin said on 10 August that 9.4 million people have been registered as voters, Radio Afghanistan reported. The voter-registration process is scheduled to end on 15 August, Ludin added (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). Ludin said that terrorists have killed 12 voter-registration officials, whom he described as heroes. AT

Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia, managing director of the "Nasim-i Saba" daily, said on 9 August that the Press Court has banned publication of his newspaper, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 10 August. Montajabnia said news of the ban came via an unsigned and undated letter citing the orders of a "Judge Husseinian." The ban is on the basis of a complaint from the daily's former managing director, Majid Qasemi-Feyzabadi. BS

Abbas Sheibani, a member of Iran's Parties House, said on 10 August that the Freedom Movement is not allowed to join the organization, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 August. He noted that it cannot become a member because it does not have a permit from the Article 10 Commission. Article 10 of the law on parties specifies that a commission -- the Article 10 Commission -- of one Interior Ministry official, two parliamentarians, and two judiciary representatives will issue party permits and dissolve parties acting illegally. Sheibani added that because the Freedom Movement is a banned group, statements by its leaders are against the constitution and the Islamic system. BS

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri left Tehran for Islamabad on 10 August, IRNA reported, telling reporters at the airport that the trip was successful. He said Islamabad would like to see an increase in bilateral trade. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who saw Kasuri off, referred to their discussions about trade issues, elimination of tariff barriers, and the transportation of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan. Prior to his departure, Kasuri met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and briefed him on New Delhi-Islamabad relations, PTV reported. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has determined that particles of enriched uranium that it found on Iranian equipment originated in Pakistan, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 10 August, citing "Jane's Defence Weekly." BS

Foreign Minister Kharrazi answered legislators' questions about the status of Iran's nuclear affairs on 10 August, IRNA and state television reported. Tabriz representative Akbar Alami asked why Iran submitted to pressure from the EU and the West instead of raising the issue at international forums. Isfahan's Ali Ahmadi asked why the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was implemented prior to legislative ratification. Kharrazi responded that the nuclear account was handled legally and added that Iran successfully overcame U.S. pressure and propaganda. He said implementation of the Additional Protocol was meant to fend off anti-Iranian propaganda and to alleviate a tense atmosphere, and he explained that Tehran never officially confirmed that it would implement the protocol before its ratification. "We have rather said that Iran will cooperate with the IAEA within the framework of the Additional Protocol," he said. Tehran's Mohammad-Reza Bahonar said that Kharrazi's answers did not satisfy the legislators. Kharrazi told reporters afterwards that Iran will resume uranium enrichment when it sees fit, Fars News Agency reported, and it suspended this activity as a confidence-building measure. Parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee head Alaedin Borujerdi later told reporters that unlike the previous parliament, this one will support Iran's right to nuclear technology, IRNA reported. BS

Radio Farda reported on 10 August that Tehran has invited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to visit Iran. The invitation comes at a tense time in the two neighbors' relations, as Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i continues to accuse Iran of interfering in his country's affairs (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2004). In his most recent outburst, al-Khuza'i said on 9 August, "Weapons manufactured in Iran were found in Al-Najaf in the hands of those criminals, who received these weapons from the Iranian border," Al-Arabiyah television reported. He accused Iran of being Iraq's "first enemy." Al-Khuza'i went on to say that Allawi will provide details on this situation during his visit to Iran, and he said information in Iraqi possession indicates official Iranian involvement. Iranian officials are unhappy with the Iraqi's accusations, with Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari saying on 10 August that such anti-Iranian comments are meant to appease the United States, IRNA reported. BS

Six Iraqis were killed and 10 injured in an attack on the Khan Bani Sa'd marketplace on 11 August, Reuters reported. The village is located some 40 kilometers north of Baghdad. BBC cited the Health Ministry as saying that an improvised explosive device detonated in the village. The Health Ministry reported on 10 August that 26 people were killed and 53 wounded in the previous 24 hours of fighting across Iraq between multinational forces and militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The cleric encouraged his followers on 11 August to continue fighting U.S. forces in Iraq even if he was killed or arrested, Reuters reported. "Keep fighting even if you see me a prisoner or a martyr. God willing you will be victorious," al-Sadr said in a statement obtained by the news agency. KR

Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari called on U.S.-led forces to leave Al-Najaf on 11 August, international media reported. "I call for multinational forces to leave Al-Najaf and for only Iraqi forces to remain there," al-Ja'fari said in an interview broadcast on 11 August with Al-Jazeera. "Iraqi forces can administer Al-Najaf to end this phenomenon of violence in this city that is holy to all Muslims," he added. Al-Ja'fari is a member of the Shi'ite Al-Da'wah Party, which is arguably the largest Shi'ite political grouping in Iraq. AP reported on 11 August that fighting continues in the Old City of Al-Najaf, where al-Sadr loyalists remain. KR

Militants in Iraq assassinated a leading figure in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) on 11 August, international media reported. Ali al-Khalisi, who headed SCIRI's Diyala Governorate offices, was attacked when militants drove alongside his vehicle and opened fire, AP reported. The attack occurred in Al-Mahmudiyah, located some 40 kilometers south of Baghdad. Al-Khalisi was also in charge of SCIRI's armed wing, the Badr Brigades, in the governorate. Militants gunned down another SCIRI local leader in Musayyib in July. KR

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi signed an eviction order for the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to vacate the Baghdad building it occupies on grounds that the building is state-owned property, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 10 August. The INC established its headquarters in a building formerly used by the Iraqi intelligence service following the downfall of the Hussein regime. Al-Arabiyah reported that the INC is also using the house of Barzan al-Tikriti, a former regime member and half brother of deposed President Saddam Hussein, as an office. INC spokesman Mithal al-Alusi confirmed that the INC received the eviction notice, and claimed that although the notice was addressed to all Iraqi political parties, asking them to vacate any former state buildings they may be using, only the INC had been served notice to vacate, MENA reported on 10 August. Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said on 10 August that the INC had indeed been notified first, but said that all illegal occupants of government buildings will be evicted, AFP reported. The buildings "will be returned to the ministries that owned the buildings before" the fall of the Hussein regime, he said. KR

Hisham Halawi, the spokesman for multinational forces in southern Iraq told Dubai's Al-Fayha television on 10 August that the situation in Al-Basrah has stabilized after several attacks by militants earlier in the week. Asked about threats against the oil pipelines in the area, Halawi said: "The director of the [unspecified] foreign oil company was threatened but we want to affirm that oil supplies have not been interrupted. Naturally we have tightened security around oil centers." Asked whether multinational forces were cooperating with the Iraqi-owned South Oil Company, he said: "There is cooperation...but at the same time, the now the responsibility of the Iraqis." Halawi said that multinational troops will assist if asked by national guard or police forces. "But we are trying as hard as we can to let Iraqi problems be solved in an Iraqi style." KR