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Newsline - August 19, 2004

Speaking to reporters in Sochi on 18 August, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is not taking sides in the conflict between Tbilisi and the Georgian region of South Ossetia, ORT and RTR reported. Moscow is ready to play the role of mediator and to serve as guarantor of any agreements that might be reached, Putin said. "From time to time we hear the assertion that the conflict is taking the form of a Russian-Georgian confrontation," Putin said. "But it is not like this and it cannot be like this." He said he believes the conflict began in the early 1990s when Tbilisi "abolished the autonomous status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia" (in fact, only South Ossetia's autonomous status was abolished). "This foolish decision triggered ethnic conflicts, and today we see a repetition of what happened in the 1990s," Putin said. He added that Russia is concerned by the "explosive development" of the situation in South Ossetia and about the atmosphere in Abkhazia. Russia is calling on all sides in the conflicts to show a willingness to compromise and to resolve them through peaceful means. VY

Speaking at an 18 August meeting in Moscow with the ambassadors of European Union countries, First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin said that Moscow considers that Tbilisi is responsible for the increasing tensions in South Ossetia, reported. Moscow is concerned that a recent cease-fire in the conflict zone is not holding because of Tbilisi's actions, Loshchinin said. VY

President Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma announced after their 18 August talks in Sochi that they have agreed to create unified checkpoints along the Russian-Ukrainian border in order to facilitate the movement of goods and people, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 19 August. Putin told journalists that bilateral relations are developing positively and that bilateral trade increased by 40 percent in the first half of this year. He also announced that he has signed a decree transferring the right to collect value-added tax (VAT) on Russian fuel exported through Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to the governments of those countries. Putin said that this move will be very important for Kyiv, although it will cost the Russian treasury about $800 million a year. "But we believe it is worth this investment because in the future everyone will benefit from it," he said. VY

At the same 18 August press conference, Presidents Putin and Kuchma gave positive assessments of relations between their two countries, Russian media reported. "As in every family, we have our problems, disputes, and arguments, but our relations have a fraternal nature," Putin said, according to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 19 August. Kuchma said that he cannot express just how much bilateral relations have improved over the last year. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who also participated in the Sochi talks, said that he recently visited a monastery and prayed for "Russian-Ukrainian friendship," ORT reported on 18 August. When Putin asked him "whose monastery," Yanukovych answered, "It was ours -- a Russian Orthodox monastery." Putin and other Russian officials have not concealed that Yanukovych is their preferred candidate in Ukraine's 31 October presidential election. VY

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 August, Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovskii said that Yanukovych has a very good chance of winning the 31 October Ukrainian presidential election and that he has ambitions of becoming "a Ukrainian Putin." Pavlovskii added that Putin has definitely "placed his bet on Yanukovych," but said that some major Russian companies that are active in Ukraine "are trying to sit in two chairs at once" by making contributions both to Yanukovych and to Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Yushchenko. "I hope Putin will stop them," Pavlovskii said. "We do not need a new [Georgian President] Saakashvili in Ukraine," Pavlovskii said. ORT commentator Mikhail Leontiev told on 18 August that Yushchenko's campaign is "a special operation to detach Ukraine from Russia." "Russia supports Yanukovych not because it likes him or because he is good, but because a victory for Yushchenko would be a disaster for Russia," Leontiev said. VY

Ivan Sergeev, head of the Foreign Ministry department that provides services to the foreign diplomatic corps, has said that Moscow is opposed to alleged plans by some Western countries to attempt to purchase the buildings where their Moscow embassies are located, reported on 18 August. Sergeev said that he believes the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Australia, and some other countries would like to purchase their embassies. He noted, however, that most of these embassies are located in mansions that are part of Russia's national cultural heritage and that foreign ownership of them is not in Russia's national interests. VY

State Duma Deputy Yurii Savelev (Motherland) submitted on 17 August a request to the Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor-General's Office asking them to investigate the United Financial Group and an investment product they created that allegedly allows foreigners to own stock in Gazprom, Russian news agencies reported on 18 August. Savelev told reporters in Moscow that foreign companies now control about 6.5 percent of the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly, Interfax reported. Asked about Savelev's charges, Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov told reporters in Moscow that his ministry is concerned about "gray" schemes for selling stock in Gazprom because such plans could cause the company to lose capitalization. Boris Fedorov, honorary chairman of UFG and a member of Gazprom's board, called Savelev's claims false and said a court already investigated such claims in 2001 and found the company's activities legal. A UFG press release charged that Pavel Svirskii, a specialist in hostile takeovers at Sigma, prompted Savelev's accusations. JAC

In response to news of Savelev's request, shares in Gazprom fell by 13.33 percent to 52 rubles ($1.80), "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 August. Savelev is a former colleague of President Putin's from the St. Petersburg mayoral administration, according to Reuters. He is also a former rector of the Baltic State Technical University in St. Petersburg. In March 2000, he was suspended as rector on suspicion of having allowed students from abroad, including Iran, to study "subjects related to missile technology" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2000). While rector, he also suspended two students who revealed that FSB agents had sought to recruit them to collect information about the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko and fired four U.S. professors in retaliation for NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2000). "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 August that the chief question of investors is: "Was Savelev acting on his own initiative or based on orders from above?" The majority of investment-house analysts concluded that Savelev's campaign does not coincide with the government's official position. However, Sharonov's statement did not quiet market fears, according to the daily. JAC

A raion-level court in Rostov Oblast sentenced Aleksandr Shcherbakov, who was convicted of producing unlicensed DVDs, to three years and two months in prison, reported on 18 August. Interfax reported that this is the first time in Russia that a person convicted of violating intellectual-property laws has received such a harsh sentence. Konstantin Zemchenkov, director of the Russian Antipiracy Organization told that Shcherbakov's sentence is the "beginning of a massive attack on pirates." Zemchenkov expressed his gratitude to the court in Rostov-na-Donu for establishing the precedent. He also said that Scherbakov was previously given a two-year suspended sentence for video piracy. JAC

The Political Council of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has selected a method for choosing a new party leader, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 August. In order for a candidate to compete, he or she must seek the backing of five regional conferences or a majority of the Political Council. Then the would-be candidate must pay a cash deposit of an undisclosed amount. If the council deems the candidate worthy, then he or she may start campaigning. Voting among party members will be held over a period of two weeks after the candidates have been chosen and have had time to campaign. JAC

SPS Political Council member Aleksei Kara-Murza has said that he will seek the party leadership and that his likely competitors are former State Duma Deputy Boris Nadezhdin and former Federation Council representative Ivan Starikov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 August. Kara-Murza added that former SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov might compete, but he said the name of Unified Energy Systems (EES) head and former SPS co-leader Anatolii Chubais has not come up. At the SPS party congress in June, Leonid Gozman, also a member of the Political Council, asked Chubais publicly if he wants to become leader again, according to "Izvestiya" on 29 June. Chubais said that he did not, to which Gozman responded: "If we elect Boris Nemtsov again, we will run the risk of failure again. Neither do we need obscure people. Our party has always been headed by prominent people." JAC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has dismissed First Deputy Transportation Minister Anatolii Nasanov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 August. According to the daily, this is the first major dismissal that has been made since the new government was formed. Fradkov also fired Deputy Natural Resources Minister Valerii Pavlov, who has taken another job, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 August. JAC

Astrakhan Oblast will observe three days of mourning in connection with the 17 August death of Governor Anatolii Guzhvin, who ruled the oblast since 1991, NTV reported on 18 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004). All entertainment programs on local television and radio have been cancelled. A date for early gubernatorial elections must be set by the oblast legislature within 14 days according to local law, Regnum reported. Prior to Guzhvin's death, elections were planned for 5 December. JAC

Meeting in Moscow on 18 August with Chechens from various cities across the Russian Federation, Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, widely regarded as the Kremlin's choice to succeed slain Chechen leader Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, said he would agree to negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov if Maskhadov were to concede that his armed resistance "leads neither to prosperity nor peace" for the people of Chechnya, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Alkhanov stressed that he is not at present in contact with Maskhadov or any other representatives of the Chechen resistance. At a press conference at Interfax's Moscow headquarters on 18 August, Alkhanov denied rumors that some of Kadyrov's personal security guards joined the resistance after his death. Russian officials, including FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev and Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii have concluded that only security personnel could have succeeded in planting the bomb that killed Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 14 May 2004). Alkhanov also argued that regardless of the outcome of the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to Kadyrov, the dead leader's son Ramazan, who is first deputy prime minister, should remain in command of Chechnya's law enforcement agencies, Interfax reported. LF

Charges of slander have been brought against Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov in connection with accusations voiced at a 29 July rally in the town, Russian media reported on 18 and 19 August. Participants at the rally accused Daghestan State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov of orchestrating several political assassinations, including that in 1998 of Daghestan's mufti, and demanded that Magomedov resign and extraordinary presidential elections be held (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). Umakhanov, a former wrestling coach, is currently in Athens where one of his proteges is competing in the Summer Olympic Games. In a telephone conversation with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 August, he denied any role in the 29 July rally, but affirmed that a second rally to demand the resignation of the republic's leaders will take place in Khasavyurt on 10 September. Speaking in Makhachkala on 18 August after attending a meeting of the Daghestan State Council, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev said Moscow does not support the demands for Magomedov's resignation which, he added, are destabilizing the situation in Daghestan, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 19 August. LF

Meeting on 17 August, Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) scheduled elections to local councils for 17 December, Turan reported. On 18 August, the CEC approved the schedule for the registration of candidates. CEC Chairman Mazahir Panakhov said the transparent ballot boxes used for last year's presidential ballot are too small for use in local elections as the ballot papers will be much larger, given that in some districts the number of candidates will exceed 100. A total of 21,650 councilors will be elected to 2,735 local councils. Panakhov also said on 18 August that it is planned to computerize local polling stations so that results can be immediately posted to the Internet, thereby increasing the transparency of the ballot. He said the CEC will solicit assistance from the international community in obtaining the 5,000 computers needed. LF

On a two-day official visit to Moscow, Elmar Mammadyarov met on 18 August with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Turan and Russian news agencies reported. Topics discussed included how to intensify bilateral ties and double annual bilateral trade to $1 billion; cooperation in combating international terrorism; relations among CIS states; security issues, including the recently announced U.S. plans for new foreign military bases; and the ongoing talks on the status of the Caspian Sea. Lavrov affirmed Russia's support for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and its readiness to help solve the Karabakh conflict, but stressed that Moscow cannot impose a solution to Karabakh conflict that the conflicting sides themselves reject, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

At a meeting in Tskhinvali on 18 August with Russian Ambassador Lev Mironov and the Georgian, North Ossetian, and South Ossetian co-chairmen of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity agreed to meet with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania to discuss ways to resolve the conflict, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Interfax reported that North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov will also be present at that meeting, for which neither the date nor the venue have yet been set. ITAR-TASS quoted Kokoity as saying that the meeting with Zhvania can take place only after Georgia stops shelling South Ossetian villages and withdraws its military units from South Ossetia. He added that such a meeting would be useful only if the agreements reached are implemented. LF

In what South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev termed "a gesture of goodwill," the South Ossetian authorities released on 18 August three Georgian State Security Ministry personnel apprehended in the village of Vanati on 8 July, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 July 2004). Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said earlier on 18 August he intended to raise the three men's continued detention at the upcoming meeting between Kokoity and the JCC co-chairmen, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Seven Georgian Interior Ministry personnel serving in the peacekeeping force in South Ossetia were killed and seven more wounded during an intensive exchange of fire in the vicinity of the villages of Eredvi, Vanati and Satskheneti during the night of 18-19 August, Caucasus Press reported. South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva said on 19 August that two Ossetians were wounded when the Georgian side shelled Tskhinvali. The villages of Sarabuk and Tliakani near Tskhinvali were also subjected to artillery fire, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told journalists in Moscow on 18 August he sees no need to convene an international conference to discuss the South Ossetian conflict, Russian media reported. Lavrov explained that such conferences are generally held when there is either no mechanism for resolving a conflict, or the mechanism proves ineffective which, he continued, is not the case with South Ossetia. He advocated instead implementing the agreements, including those on a cease-fire, that have already been reached. Russia's ambassador to the OSCE, Aleksandr Borodavkin, likewise rejected the Georgian proposal as "untimely and counterproductive," ITAR-TASS reported, while South Ossetia's representative in Moscow, Dmitrii Medoev, told Interfax on 18 August he considers it "absolutely unjustified," as "Moscow is playing the role of mediator quite effectively." Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili wrote to unnamed foreign heads of state earlier this week requesting that such a conference be convened within days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 August that Saakashvili did not include Russian President Vladimir Putin among the addressees, while "Izvestiya" on 18 August claimed that the text of the letter Saakashvili sent to Putin differed markedly from that sent to other recipients. LF

Vladislav Ardzinba, who has served since late 1994 as president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and is barred by its constitution from seeking a third term, has appealed to voters to elect Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba to succeed him in the presidential ballot scheduled for 3 October, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 18 August citing an interview with Arzdinba published in the 18 August edition of "Respublika Abkhaziya." Other prospective candidates include Sergei Bagapsh, the former Abkhaz Komsomol head who now heads the republic's energy sector, former Prime Minister Anri Djergenia, former Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, and former Interior Minister Aleksandr Ankvab, who may encounter problems in registering because he has lived for much of the past five years in Moscow, according to "Russkii kurer" on 18 August. Ankvab is supported by the opposition organization Aitaira, which on 18 August criticized the law on the presidential election as unconstitutional, Caucasus Press reported. Aitaira pointed out that there are no reliable data on registered voters, and between 30-80 percent of the voters in northern districts of Abkhazia may be unable to cast their ballots as a result. LF

Relatives and fellow party members of Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, the imprisoned leader of opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), told an 18 August news that Zhaqiyanov's transfer from prison to house arrest in a settlement has only minimally improved his situation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The news conference took place in the village of Shiderty, Pavlodar Oblast, where Zhaqiyanov is now confined. Karlygash, Zhaqiyanov's wife, said that he is not allowed to use mobile phones or computers, leave the settlement, or meet visitors other than relatives and members of parliament. DVK spokesperson Gulzhan Ergalieva told journalists that "the authorities have just played a bit of a PR game before the election campaign." In a recorded telephone call that was played for reporters, Zhaqiyanov said that the settlement, which is home to more than 100 people, does not meet the standards set out for such communities in existing legislation. DK

Kazakh airborne units and 164 troops from a British infantry battalion began Steppe Eagle-2004 international peacekeeping exercises in southeastern Kazakhstan on 18 August, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The exercises, which are being held for the second consecutive year, focus on antiterrorist and stabilization operations, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Sheeley, military attache at the British Embassy, told a briefing that "since we are working with the Kazakh military in Iraq, we need to learn together how to hold safe exercises," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The exercises are scheduled to end on 28 August. DK

Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev presented a new draft law on the media on 18 August, Kazinform reported. Sarsenbaev said that the draft law differs significantly from existing legislation and is based on democratic principles. According to Sarsenbaev, the proposed law simplifies the registration process for media outlets, eliminates criminal penalties for libel, includes mechanisms for guaranteeing free speech and protecting the rights of journalists, and takes away the state's right to own controlling stakes in broadcasting companies and news agencies. "The state and executive branch will not have the right to own controlling stakes in the media except for their own websites, specialized publications, and one television and radio company," "Kazakhstan Today" quoted Sarsenbaev as saying. Sarsenbaev invited journalists and other media professionals to offer their suggestions on improving the draft law, which is slated to come before parliament in January 2005. President Nursultan Nazarbaev effectively vetoed a much-criticized earlier draft law on the media on 22 April, when he let stand a court ruling that the law violated the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). DK

Tajikistan received $37.4 million in aid from 31 countries in January-July 2004, Avesta reported on 18 August, citing a source in the State Statistics Committee. The 42,900 tons of humanitarian aid included 31,400 tons of flour, 1,800 tons of vegetable oil, 1,000 tons of wheat, and footwear, clothing, and bedding. Other aid included vehicles, medical equipment, and medical supplies sent to the sites of natural disasters. DK

Monitoring by the National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan (Nansmit) has revealed that journalists' access to information is subject to increasing limitations as elections approach in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 18 August. "Over the last seven months of 2004, Nansmit's monitoring of respect for the rights of journalists and the media has recorded 65 instances of a refusal to provide, or an attempt to limit access to information of significance for society," Nansmit said in a 17 August statement. "Nansmit calls on representatives of state institutions and other structures to observe the letter of the law and the interests of society in allowing citizens to exercise their right to obtain socially significant information through the media," the statement added. "Nansmit asks journalists to be more assertive in defending their professional rights when they are violated and in disputing, on the basis of Tajik legislation, the actions of officials." DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov on 18 August appointed new directors to head two of Turkmenistan's three official television channels, Turkmen TV reported. Sadurdy Alovov will be the new director of the Altyn Asyr-Turkmenistan (Golden Age-Turkmenistan) channel, and Ylyas Durdiev will be the new director of the Yashlyk (Youth) channel. Their predecessors were dismissed on 16 August for "serious shortcomings" in their work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004). DK

Central Election Commission (TsVK) Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna told journalists on 18 August that the TsVK has allocated funds for the 17 October elections to the Chamber of Representatives proceeding from the premise that 10 candidates on average will run in each of the country's 110 constituencies, Belarusian Television reported. "Even today we can say that there is a huge rush regarding the elections," Yarmoshyna said. The TsVK registered 555 nomination groups for those candidates who will seek registration through the collection of at least 1,000 signatures in their support. Candidates for Belarus's legislative ballots may also be nominated by political parties and the staffs of companies employing at least 300 people. JM

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 17 August ordered State Monitoring Committee head Anatol Tozik and Statistics Minister Uladzimir Zinouski to conduct selective audits of collective farms throughout the country to make sure their managers are not tampering with harvest reports, Belapan reported on 18 August, quoting the presidential press service. "Don't let them pull the wool over our eyes, we've got to see the picture as it is," Lukashenka said. "Let's check [farms] selectively, there's no need to raid the whole country." JM

Our Ukraine lawmaker Serhiy Sobolyev has said that in the Zaporizhzhya Oblast, southeastern Ukraine, "not a single signature in support of [Prime Minister] Viktor Yanukovych's [presidential bid] has been collected without pressure from the administration of various institutions," UNIAN reported on 19 August. "I can cite dozens of examples how school directors, doctors, teachers, kindergarten educators, the managers of plants, enterprises, and other state-run institutions forced [voters] to sign up for the pro-government candidate," Sobolyev said. Sobolyev speculated that Serhiy Tihipko, head of Yanukovych's presidential-campaign staff, stopped the collection of signatures for Yanukovych out of fear that the number of votes cast for Yanukovych on 31 October will be "much lower" than the number of signatures collected to confirm Yanukovych's registration. Meanwhile, the private Channel 5 television quoted on 18 August from a statement by Tihipko admitting that "zealous administrators who want to show Mr. Yanukovych their loyalty" have occasionally issued orders to collect signatures for Yanukovych and forced people to attend pro-Yanukovych rallies (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 19 August 2004). JM

A visiting delegation of U.S. senators urged Ukraine on 18 August to conduct a fair presidential election on 31 October, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "We are concerned that a fair and open process, and the free of government interference, intimidation, or even violence," AP quoted Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona), as telling journalists in Kyiv. "Those nations that have failed to honor the aspirations of their people face a range of penalties, ranging from reduction of foreign investment to not being accepted in certain regional and international organizations and, in the most extreme cases, sanctions imposed by the United Nations," McCain noted. He added that he does not "predict that for Ukraine." JM

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 18 August bestowed four-time Olympic champion Yana Klochkova with the highest state award -- the title of the Hero of Ukraine -- after she won two swimming gold medals in Athens, Ukrainian media reported. Klochkova won the 400-meter individual medley on 14 August and the 200-meter individual medley on 17 August. As of 18 August, Ukraine had won five gold medals, one silver, and one bronze in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. JM

Miodrag Vukovic, a leader of Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), said in Podgorica on 18 August that the Montenegrin authorities will formally propose to Serbia in September that the two sides start talks on dissolving the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, which was launched in 2003 as a result of much pressure from the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Vukovic suggested that Belgrade and Podgorica might review three options, starting with total independence. A second possibility might be to link two internationally recognized, independent states in an association on the model of the Commonwealth of Independent States that exists among some successor states to the former Soviet Union. A third option might be to remain in the joint state until 2005, when a referendum on independence will automatically take place. Under the terms according to which the joint state was set up, it will remain until at least 2005, at which time either or both republics have the option of calling for a referendum on independence. Among the major parties in Serbia, only the G-17 Plus party favors dissolving the joint state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). PM

Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member and chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Sarajevo on 18 August that the authorities will not allow unspecified terrorist threats to sway them from implementing their recent decision to send 36 mine-clearing experts to Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tihic stressed that the Bosnian team will help the Iraqi people, adding that Bosnia has an international obligation to help others because it received foreign assistance in the past. The experts will deal primarily with removing unexploded ammunition rather than with clearing mines. Opposition politician Sejfudin Tokic challenged the Presidency's decision, charging that the Bosnian authorities are "behaving like vassals of the Bush administration" by sending experts to Iraq, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He argued that the Presidency previously made the "catastrophic mistake" of signing a bilateral agreement with Washington pledging not to turn U.S. citizens over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). PM

Borjana Kristo, justice minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croat-Muslim Federation, told Banja Luka's "Nezavisne novine" of 19 August that the authorities do not know where the archives of the former Croat para-state of Herceg-Bosna are or whether the documents still exist. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal wants a number of Herceg-Bosna documents from 1 April 1992 to 31 December 1993 by 30 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). Some experts believe that Herceg-Bosna officials sent their documents to Croatia for safekeeping long ago. PM

Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov said on 17 August that if a petition drive for a referendum against the controversial Law on Territorial Organization is successful, the governing and opposition parties should seek a compromise over postponing the local elections that are slated for 21 November, "Dnevnik" reported. Kostov added that the deadlines for holding the referendum might have to be changed. The petition, which is supported by the major ethnic Macedonian opposition parties, aims at stopping the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts from 123 to 80 in 2004 and to 76 in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July, and 13 August 2004). Thus far, some 125,000 out of the required 150,000 citizens have signed the petition to put the measure on the ballot. The deadline for collecting signatures is 23 August. Conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) Chairwoman Ganka Samoilovska-Cvetanova said if the government postpones the local elections once again, her party will insist that they be held in the spring of 2005 together with general elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). UB

An Italian police helicopter belonging to the Interforze mission came under automatic-weapons fire over the Albanian village of Lazarat on 18 August while on an observation mission, dpa reported. The Italians returned fire, injuring a 56-year-old Albanian peasant and slightly wounding a woman. Lazarat was founded in Ottoman times as Vlora's leper colony and has long maintained its own distinct identity. Since the collapse of communism, it has functioned as a law unto itself, generally off limits to most outsiders, including police and foreigners. In recent years, it has reportedly gone into the cannabis-growing business. PM

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has written a letter to National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan in which he questioned his fellow presidential candidate's ability to relate to the needs of the Romanian people, Mediafax reported. Stolojan recently said that the "Romanian people expect that their leaders be models of behavior, correctness, and balance." Nastase told Stolojan that "the boys who ghost-write your speeches might have a bad memory, but [it is widely known that] your only contacts with this country's citizens after the [1989] revolution took place when, as prime minister, you confiscated hard currency and when you bankrupted companies you headed after your return" to Romania from a post with the World Bank. Nastase accused Stolojan of attempting, in a manner that brings to mind George Orwell's "1984," to "rewrite the less seemly chapters of your biography." Referring to a Stolojan statement of 17 August, the premier said : "You are accusing me of throwing my glove into the mud. It was your own choice that my glove found you there." MS

In reaction to Nastase's letter, the media received the following text: "Esteemed Mister Premier: I have received today the letter you addressed to Chairman Theodor Stolojan. Mr. Stolojan asked me to return the letter to you, being persuaded that your subordinates dispatched it to the wrong address through a regrettable error. Personally, I believe you intended to address your letter to the [Greater Romania Party weekly] 'Romania mare.' With respect, the concierge of the PNL office building. PS -- Mr. Premier, how come you have time to write such lengthy letters?" MS

Local Szekler National Council (CNS) chairmen in Covasna and Harghita counties on 18 August officially requested that the two county councils organize a referendum on autonomy for the territories inhabited by this group within the Hungarian minority, Mediafax reported. CNS Deputy Chairman Csaba Ferencz said a similar official request will be handed soon to the CNS branch in Mures County. Ferencz said the CNS will not renounce its struggle for territorial autonomy "despite the fact that parliament and the Romanian government have shown that the Szeklers are being treated as second-class citizens." MS

In a statement issued on 18 August, the Moldovan Foreign Ministry condemned the Tiraspol militia's alleged mistreatment on 17 August of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) employees Hank Wenker and Jan Nadolsky, Infotag reported. The ministry said the two members of the OSCE Mission in Moldova were bringing food and water, as they have been doing for several weeks, to the children who are blockaded in a Bendery-Tighina orphanage by Transnistria militiamen. It said the militiamen interfered with their attempt to deliver the supplies, and a scuffle ensued. The ministry called the action a "gross violation of international law" and of the status of the OSCE Mission in Moldova. According to Flux, the separatist authorities claimed that Wekler and Nadolsky caused an accident when, in the process of being stopped, their vehicle hit one of the militiamen, inflicting no injury. The authorities said the two will be banned from entering Transdniester territory as long as the investigation continues. MS

Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said in a letter addressed to his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on 18 August that recent measures taken by Moldova to suspend temporarily the traffic of commodities via all border checkpoints situated along the Ukraine-Transdniester border are unrelated to the ongoing conflict with the separatist region, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004). Tarlev said Moldova is only attempting to "establish order in the sphere of exports and imports." MS

Miron Gagauz, director-general of the Moldovan National Railroad Company (CFM), on 18 August sent a telegram to Ukrainian Transport Minister Heorhiy Kyrpa expressing "serious concern" over the situation regarding the rail line between the Transdniestrian town of Rybnitsa and the Ukrainian town of Slobodka, Infotag reported. Gagauz said the Transdniester authorities seized Moldovan locomotives after Chisinau announced it was temporarily suspending rail traffic on the line because it can no longer maintain it. Transdniester, Gagauz said, is operating the trains under the oversight of armed officers and Ukraine is accepting this situation, which he called "a gross violation of international norms and rules." The Transdniestrian town of Rybnitsa is home to the region's largest metallurgical plant (MMZ), and almost all of the raw materials used by the plant (mostly scrap metal) comes from Ukraine, where most of the plant's products are exported as well. The MMZ accounts for about half of Tiraspol's state budget revenues. MS

The deputy chief of the Russian Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Department, Yurii Demidov, held a press conference on 17 August to announce the latest results of the government's struggle against political extremism. According to a transcript of a Radio Mayak report covering the event, Demidov mostly focused on the threat posed by Islamic extremists, especially the transnational group Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Alleged members of both of these groups, which the Russian government classifies as terrorist organizations, were arrested in Russia in March and May of this year. In addition, Demidov revealed, neo-Nazis have been detained in Orel, Kursk, and Voronezh. He termed Russian neo-Nazis "more aggressive, organized and politicized" than ever before, and vowed to continue monitoring and arresting them.

Readers not intimately familiar with the Russian government's sad record when it comes to countering hate crimes can be forgiven for thinking that Demidov's statements mark a new level of official determination to combat hate crimes, which have steadily grown over the past few years into a mass phenomenon.

In truth, such announcements come regularly from officials, yet for all the tough rhetoric, not much seems to change on the ground. Ethnic and religious minorities still get beaten and even killed by organized skinhead gangs, whom the police often insist are nothing more than "ordinary hooligans."

One way to address the gap between official rhetoric and reality is to look at statistics of hate-crimes prosecutions under Article 282 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits speech or acts aimed at inciting ethnic or religious hatred. For years, the Russian government resisted releasing detailed case information of Article 282 prosecutions to NGOs, but last month, the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union's (UCSJ) Russian affiliate -- the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights -- finally persuaded the Prosecutor-General's Office to relent. The bureau's subsequent report reveals that while the number of Article 282 prosecutions has increased in recent years, the number of convictions remains low, since most never make it to a court. In addition, there is a clear bias in the Russian justice system against accused Islamic radicals, who are much more likely to be successfully convicted under Article 282 than ethnic Russian extremists, the vast majority of whom get off with not guilty verdicts, suspended sentences, or convictions later annulled by amnesties.

The bureau's study is based on statistics collected by the Prosecutor-General's Office on Article 282 cases covering 2000-03, the first three years of the administration of President Vladimir Putin. According to these statistics, in 2000 there were 17 Article 282 cases; eight of which were brought before a court. These cases included two youths who beat up a citizen of Somalia in Moscow. One was sentenced to three years, while another got one year in prison. However, both were freed under an amnesty, ironically issued to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. In another case, a resident of Krasnaya Gorbatka (Vladimir Oblast) distributed leaflets by the violent neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity (RNU) calling for the murder of local Jews. He was found guilty and given a two-year suspended sentence.

According to the bureau's report, "The only people convicted under this article [282] in 2000 were two residents of Daghestan who ideologically supported the invasion of [Chechen] separatists into Daghestan in 1999 (they were sentenced to six months and a year of prison, respectively)." This is the first of many cases cited by the bureau in which prosecutors and courts showed a clear anti-Muslim bias in their selective use of Article 282.

In 2001, there were 32 Article 282 cases, only six of which got as far as a court. The cases included a security guard who went on a drunken rampage in a Jewish youth club in the Komi Republic, injuring two youths and causing extensive property damage. The guard received a four-year suspended sentence. The bureau points out that in 2001, "the only person sentenced to a real prison term, just like in 2000, turned out to be a member of the Islamic underground in the Northern Caucasus."

In 2002, the number of Article 282 cases jumped significantly to 74, and 19 of them were sent to court, the vast majority of which, as in past years, ended in suspended sentences or in charges being dropped. The next year was similar, 72 cases were brought under Article 282 in 2003, but only 11 made it to court, and only one person was convicted under Article 282 that year -- "a representative of the Islamic underground" who received a six-year prison sentence.

Though the threat of Islamic radicalism in Russia should not be discounted, especially in light of recent terrorist acts in Moscow, the fact that the full weight of Article 282 is almost exclusively applied against accused Islamic extremists demonstrates dangerously skewed priorities. Ethnic Russian skinheads and other violent neo-Nazis are a clear and present danger to the lives of millions of Russian citizens, migrants, and visitors to the country, and a violent reaction by extremists among some of the victimized groups in Russia is possible.

The bureau's study notes in its conclusion that "the use of suspended sentences and requalifying cases [to 'hooliganism' for instance] leads to extremists losing their fear of the law, and they become even braver in their crimes." A quick glance at recent headlines shows how true that statement is. Neo-Nazis are suspected of murdering an expert witness in St. Petersburg earlier this year and threatening an antifascist activist in Orel last month, prompting Amnesty International to issue a warning that his life is in danger. Last week, two leading Russian newspapers speculated that the RNU may be behind the shooting of a federal judge in a Moscow suburb, and the attempted assassination of another judge in June.

Meanwhile, courts continue to deal with neo-Nazi violence in a very uneven fashion. Just last week, a group of Moscow skinheads got long sentences for killing a police officer in the aftermath of a rap concert, while in Lipetsk, a skinhead was given a suspended sentence for stabbing an African student multiple times. With the state budget awash in oil revenue, the government inexplicably decided to eliminate its program for promoting ethnic and religious tolerance this year. Given this careless attitude on the part of the authorities, is it any wonder that skinheads in Russia feel so bold nowadays?

Nickolai Butkevich is research and advocacy director at the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (

Afghanistan's 17 presidential candidates have threaten to boycott the elections if Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai does not step down from his post before the vote, AFP reported on 18 August. Presidential candidate Abdul Sattar Sirat accused Karzai of misusing "government facilities for his campaign," and added that the decision to boycott the election has been "unanimously agreed" upon by all of Karzai's rival candidates. The 17 candidates want Karzai to resign "within one week," Sirat added. Karzai has dismissed the calls for his resignation, RFE/RL reported. Sirat, a former justice minister, was a close aide to former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher, but fell from grace during 2001 Bonn negotiations that led to the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). According to AFP, Sirat initially won the support of 11 delegates in Bonn as opposed to Karzai's three, but he later chose to back Karzai. AT

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, head of the Junbish-e Melli party and a candidate in the October presidential elections, rejected objections to the candidacy of his running mate, Mustafa Kamal Makhdum, Jowzjan Aina Television reported on 18 August. Junbish-e Melli deputy head Azizullah Kargar read a letter from Dostum to the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) objecting to the body's rejection of Makhdum's candidacy. While the report does not elaborate on JEMB's reasons for rejecting Makhdum's candidacy, Dostum's letter implies that his citizenship may have been questioned, stating: "Makhdum is a son of Afghan parents. He was born in Kizilayaq village of Jowzjan Province," and later "he applied for Turkish citizenship as a second citizenship in order to blend with [Turkish] society." Dostum also stressed that Makhdum has never relinquished his Afghan citizenship. In the initial list of candidates and their running mates, Makhdum is identified as one of Dostum's two vice-presidential candidates (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). According to the Afghan Constitution, the president and vice presidents must to be Afghan citizens, born of Afghan parents, and cannot hold foreign citizenship. AT

An international delegation from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) released a statement on 19 August summarizing its findings on the state of the electoral and democratic process in Afghanistan ( The delegation noted: "The 9 October and the 2005 [parliamentary] elections are not end points in democracy-building by Afghans, nor should they be an 'exit strategy' for the international community. They must be parts of sustained and comprehensive efforts to develop democratic governance and sustainable peace, which requires sufficient time and a comprehensive common plan for nation building. These efforts are a matter for the people of Afghanistan and their leaders. The efforts require and deserve the full commitment of the international community acting in partnership with Afghans." The NDI delegation called on the international community to commit resources to the process by completing the job of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and providing resources for civic education, domestic monitoring, and security, and for strengthening an independent media. AT

Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan on 18 August said that the situation in the western province is normal after it was attacked on 13 August on three fronts, Herat Television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17 and 18 August 2004). Concentrating on the southern front, where forces under the command of local warlord Amanullah Khan reached within 20 kilometers of Herat city, Ismail Khan said that "a large number of remnants of the Taliban...captured Shindand District and Shindand District [military] airport." At first, the self-styled "amir" (ruler) of Herat said, "our resistance made them stop there. But, unfortunately, due to an error on our part, the front line was breached in some places and they got as far as Adraskan District." Describing forces commanded by Amanullah Khan as belonging to the Taliban, Ismail Khan said that "the bloody Taliban have left Shindand District." On 18 August, Amanullah Khan was reportedly still in control of Shindand air base. Since late 2002, Ismail Khan has been accusing Amanullah Khan of being a neo-Taliban sympathizer while the latter has accused the governor of oppressing the local Pashtun population. AT

An anonymous source close to former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi said on 18 August that he will "definitely" agree to be the reformist Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez) candidate in the May 2005 presidential election, ILNA reported. The news agency added that the association's provincial offices are preparing the grounds for Musavi's candidacy already, while the association itself reportedly is negotiating with him. The association's Ayatollah Bojnurdi said on 16 August that during the previous evening's session there was a unanimous decision that he is the only choice, ISNA reported. Bojnurdi added that he and Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur will meet with Musavi in the coming week. Mohtashami-Pur served as interior minister under Musavi. The Islamic Iran Participation Party is considering backing Musavi, Fars News Agency reported on 24 July, and RFE/RL reported on 26 July that the party's Mohammad Reza Khatami announced his support for the former prime minister as a candidate. Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli said on 17 August that he might run for president, too, "Resalat" newspaper reported. BS

Nemat Ahmadi has said that was attacked by a group of vigilantes as he entered a lecture hall in Sirjan, ISNA reported on 18 August. "When I was entering the hall a group of people attacked me," Ahmadi said. "They damaged the car that I was traveling in and beat me up. I was injured." Ahmadi said the lecture was approved by the government, but he was warned against giving the lecture. Ahmadi reportedly fled to the governor's house and was unable to leave, which precluded his receiving medical treatment for injuries he suffered in the attack. Ahmadi thanked the Sirjan deputy-governor, Intelligence and Security Ministry, and the governorate's security official for saving him from his attackers. BS

Abbas Salari, executive secretary of the House of Labor in Pakdasht, south of Tehran, said on 18 August that so far this year 20 factories that make construction materials have closed down, ILNA reported. The factories, which make bricks and plaster and process sand and soil, have closed due to low demand, and all the workers were laid off. Ali Shakerian, deputy head of the House of Labor in Isfahan, said on 18 August that more young people are entering the job market every year, ILNA reported. Yet unemployment is increasing because technological progress results in fewer jobs. Salari also said that contract workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits. The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry has announced that Friday Prayer leaders from the factories are scheduled to meet with Labor Minister Seyyed Nasser Khaliqi on 19 August, ILNA reported. BS

Revisions to the fifth Four-year Plan by the current legislature will give the state broadcasting organization power over the use of the Internet and receipt of satellite television, "Iran" reported on 18 August. These powers include establishment of websites, as well as the receipt of news networks and entertainment programs. The legislation originally submitted by the executive branch gives regulatory authority over the Internet and satellite programs to the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. A report from OpenNet Initiative (ONI) ( asserts that Internet access in Iran is officially censored. ONI found that political, social, religious, and pornographic sites were blocked, as were web blogs. is among the blocked sites. BS

Delegates to the Iraqi National Conference on 18 August gave their approval for one list of 81 candidates that will serve as the interim National Assembly, international media reported. Delegates were to choose one of two candidate lists, but organizers of one of the lists withdrew it prior to the vote in protest against the voting procedures, which they claim are unfair, reported on 19 August. The de facto winning slate was reportedly endorsed by the major political parties, which already have members holding positions in the interim government. Representatives of smaller political parties criticized the process of delegate selection in the weeks leading up to the conference, and many continued to complain during the four-day event that their parties were sidelined by the five major political parties that dominated the Iraqi Governing Council. KR

Many delegates to the conference said they were unaware that they would be required to vote for lists rather than individual candidates, reported. In addition, 19 slots on the 100-member assembly were automatically filled by former Governing Council members. reported that the names on the winning list were a "closely held secret" not revealed until just before the voting was to take place. Written lists were not provided to the delegates, who instead had to listen to the 81-name list being read aloud in a noisy auditorium. However, some conference delegates said that it was a learning process. "They should have accommodated all the opinions, all the views.... They should have been clear and open with the people right from the beginning," Hamid al-Kifai said. "But I am hopeful, because we are on the road to democracy. We can talk to you [journalists] now and we are not frightened to be arrested or killed or tortured. So we are free people." KR

Hours after Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan warned radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that Iraqi forces are making final preparations for a massive attack on the cleric's base inside the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf, al-Sadr sent a letter to the Iraqi National Congress stating that he accepts the terms of a proposed settlement to his militia's two-week standoff with Iraqi and U.S. forces, international media reported. Al-Sadr spokesman Ahmad al-Shaybani told Al-Jazeera television in an 18 August interview that al-Sadr agreed to the proposal in order to "comply with the wishes of the common people" and because Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri instructed him from Iran to do so. KR

The proposal put forth by the National Conference delegation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004) calls for al-Sadr to withdraw his forces from the Imam Ali Mosque, dissolve his militia, and join the political process, international media reported. In return, he will be guaranteed safe passage, and will not be arrested on an outstanding warrant for his purported involvement in the 10 April 2003 killing of Shi'ite Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi. Al-Sadr failed to mention in his letter to the National Conference when his militiamen will leave the mosque. Meanwhile, Defense Minister al-Sha'lan appeared unmoved by al-Sadr's claims of compliance, according to Arab media. Al-Sha'lan reiterated his intention to launch a sweeping attack against al-Sadr's militia unless it withdraws from Al-Najaf. Reuters reported on 19 August that five loud explosions and sniper fire were heard in and around the mosque. KR

U.S. forces on 19 August overran al-Sadr's power base in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City, named after the cleric's deceased father, Reuters reported. The military incursion began on 18 August. U.S. soldiers reportedly broadcast demands in Arabic over loudspeakers from their Humvees on 19 August that stated: "Sadr City residents, your government has banned all militias in Iraq. Come forward and surrender your weapons." It was unclear whether any Iraqi militants met the demand. The U.S. military said on 18 August that it killed 50 militants in fighting in Al-Sadr City, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, two Polish soldiers were killed and five injured in an attack on their patrol in Al-Hillah on 19 August, PAP news agency reported. KR

The United Nations was to mark the first anniversary of the bombing of the UN's Baghdad headquarters on 19 August, BBC reported. The attack killed 22 people, including UN special adviser Sergio Vieira de Mello, and injured more than 100. The envoy's family is attending a ceremony in Geneva to mark the anniversary, during which a plaque will be dedicated to the victims of the attack. "I have come to represent my son. He would have told me that I was too old to travel," Gilda Vieira de Mello told reporters. She added that she still questions why the UN failed to provide better security around the headquarters building. Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the 2003 attack. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to attend the Geneva event. Other ceremonies marking the anniversary will be held in New York, Baghdad, and the UN's main Iraq base in Amman, the UN News Service reported on 18 August ( The UN withdrew all international staff from Iraq in September and moved its base of operations for Iraq to Jordan. Local staff and a small contingent working to help facilitate nationwide elections in January are currently working in Iraq. KR

The Moroccan Olympic soccer team defeated Iraq 2-0 on 18 August, but the defeat will not stand in the way of Iraq competing in the quarterfinals, international media reported on 19 August. As the winner of Group D, the Iraqi team will advance to face Australia on 21 August. The Iraqi soccer team was not expected to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games, and its stunning defeats of Portugal and Costa Rica surprised even Iraqi fans. The last time Iraq qualified for the Olympics was at the 1988 Seoul Games; it has not been in the quarterfinals since the 1980 Moscow Games, reported on 18 August. Iraqis will also compete in weightlifting, judo, and wrestling. One woman is on the team: sprinter Ala Hikmat Jasim, who will run the 100-meter and 200-meter preliminaries, reported on 18 August. KR