MOSCOW'S CANDIDATE WINS CHECHEN BALLOT...
As widely predicted, Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov was elected on 29 August to succeed slain pro-Moscow leader Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 30 August, citing Chechen election officials. According to preliminary returns from all polling stations, Alkhanov garnered 73.48 percent of the vote; FSB Colonel Movsur Khamidov garnered 5.94 percent; former Kadyrov aide Vakha Visaev 4.72 percent; former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Bugaev 4.52 percent; Chechenkhimnefteprom General Director Umar Abuev 2.9 percent; Chechen State Council staffer Mukhmud-Khasan Asakov 2.57 percent; and businessman Magomed Aidamirov 0.67 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. Voter turnout was 85.24 percent of the republic's 584,998 registered voters, ITAR-TASS reported. That turnout figure is difficult to reconcile with a 29 August report by "The New York Times" that residents were streaming out of Grozny the previous day to avoid voting. On 29 August, acting Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov denied that residents were leaving the city, telling Interfax that "the streets of Grozny are filled with people and voting is proceeding actively." LF
...WHICH COUNCIL OF EUROPE BRANDS UNDEMOCRATIC
Council of Europe rapporteur Andreas Gross, one of a limited contingent of international observers who witnessed the voting in Chechnya, told dpa on 29 August that the ballot "was in no way a democratic election." He said none of the conditions for a fair ballot was met, and that the state-controlled media demonstrated an unfair bias in favor of Alu Alkhanov. In contrast, Sayed Mohammed al-Barani, who is the Arab League's ambassador to Moscow, told Interfax on 29 August that he saw no violations, and that "voter turnout and democracy...are high." In London, Akhmed Zakaev, who is an official representative of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, issued a statement appealing to the international community not to recognize the vote as valid, chechenpress.com reported on 29 August. Zakaev argued that "conducting elections in conditions of military hostilities, strict censorship, and systematic terror against the civilian population violates all norms of legality, justice, and common sense." LF
CHECHEN VOTE MARRED BY BOMBING DEATH
A 25-year-old Chechen man died on 29 August after detonating a bomb when police tried to prevent him from entering a polling station in Grozny, Interfax and Reuters reported. There were no other casualties, and voting elsewhere in Chechnya proceeded without violent incidents. LF
NEW CHECHEN LEADER PLEDGES TO KEEP TOP GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS...
Alu Alkhanov told ITAR-TASS on 30 August that he plans to retain Sergei Abramov as Chechen prime minister and Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of his murdered predecessor, as first deputy prime minister. Alkhanov described Abramov, who was named prime minister in March 2004, as "a true professional" who has acquired a profound knowledge of Chechnya. He added that Kadyrov will continue to be responsible for security issues. LF
...AND DOES VOLTE-FACE OVER TALKS WITH MASKHADOV
ITAR-TASS on 30 August also quoted Alkhanov as saying that there is no point in holding talks with Maskhadov. "Maskhadov and wahhabism have no future in Chechnya," he said, adding that "all talk about his mythical legitimacy is simply out of place." Speaking in Moscow on 18 August, Alkhanov had said he would agree to negotiations with Maskhadov if Maskhadov were to concede that his armed resistance "leads neither to prosperity nor peace" for the people of Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Alkhanov also told ITAR-TASS he is not intimidated by Maskhadov's threats that if elected, he faces inevitable assassination at the hands of the Chechen resistance. LF
EVIDENCE OF TERRORISM UNCOVERED IN CONNECTION WITH BOTH 24 AUGUST PLANE CRASHES...
Information recovered from the flight-data recorders of the two passenger jets that crashed within minutes of each other on 24 August indicates that both planes exploded before they crashed, Interfax reported on 29 August, citing Transportation Minister Igor Levitin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004). ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August that traces of the explosive hexogen have been found among the wreckage of the Tu-134 that crashed near Tula. Last week, officials reported that the same explosive had been found among the wreckage of the Tu-154 that crashed near Rostov-na-Donu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004). "Izvestiya" reported on 30 August that the authorities are looking for two sisters of Aminat Nagaeva, a Chechen woman who was believed to have been aboard the Tu-134. The daily reported that Nagaeva, the two sisters, and Satsita Dzhebirkhanova -- who is believed to have died aboard the Tu-154 -- left the Daghestani town of Khasav-Yurt on a bus traveling in an unknown direction on 22 August. The whereabouts of the two sisters -- identified only as Roza and Maryam -- is unknown. According to the daily, investigators have not ruled out that the women, who were not known to have any ties with terrorists or the Chechen resistance, were murdered and the documents of two of them were used to purchase tickets on the ill-fated flights. RC
...AS TRANSPORTATION MINISTRY TURNS ITS ATTENTION TO THE COUNTRY'S AIRPORTS...
The Transportation Ministry on 28 August announced that it is compulsory for airlines to collect complete passport data from everyone purchasing tickets on domestic flights, ITAR-TASS reported. "The measures are designed to reinforce security of air travel by making the process of documenting passengers and luggage more transparent and controllable," the ministry's announcement said, according to the agency. Transportation Minister Levitan told Interfax on 29 August that security at all Russian airports must be brought up to a uniform, high standard. He said that he will work with the Interior Ministry to create and enforce such security standards. Levitan on 29 August toured Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, from which both of the planes that crashed on 24 August took off, and met with airport officials. RC
...AND WEBSITE ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF RESPONDING TO THE DISASTERS 'IDEOLOGICALLY'
Gazeta.ru on 25 August criticized the authorities for not closing down Domodedovo immediately after the 24 August crashes, saying that the country still tends to respond to disasters "ideologically." "After each disaster or act of terrorism, the responsible departments vigorously report the measures that are being taken, but unfortunately they make no particular sense," the website wrote. At the same time, the website argued, officials take pains to describe the disaster as "a unique combination of [unavoidable] circumstances." The website concluded that a "corporate-bureaucratic state" does not need "independent, public investigations." Instead, "it needs to clean up its tracks, give a report, and receive additional financing." "Izvestiya" wrote on 26 August that the state-controlled central television channels ORT and RTR did not even mention the possibility that the 24 August crashes were caused by terrorism until the evening of 25 August, after Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov officially informed President Vladimir Putin that that possibility could not be ruled out. Neither of the stations mentioned widespread media reports that one of the planes had issued a distress call before crashing. The daily wrote that "according to some reports, it was actually recommended that journalists not talk about the possibility of a terrorist act or even utter those words." NTV reported during the day on 25 August that terrorism might have been the cause, while REN-TV aired a roundtable discussion that included in-depth consideration of the possibility of a terrorist act. RC
PUTIN ENDORSES ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL
President Putin has met behind closed doors in Sochi with Raul Khadjimba, prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, to discuss Khadjimba's candidacy in the 3 October ballot to elect a successor to President Vladislav Ardzinba, who under the Abkhaz Constitution may not seek a third presidential term, Caucasus Press reported on 30 August. The Georgian news agency quoted unidentified experts as construing the meeting as a demonstration of support by Putin for Khadjimba, whom Ardzinba has termed the most worthy candidate to succeed him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Meanwhile, the Abkhaz State Security Service has summoned Leonid Lakerbaya, chairman of the opposition movement Aitaira, in connection with a 27 August incident in which Aitaira members reportedly forced their way into the Central Election Commission building to try to demand a revision of the results of the language-proficiency test that all candidates are required to pass, Caucasus Press reported on 30 August. Aitaira's candidate, former Interior Minister Aleksandr Ankvab, has protested that requirement as unconstitutional. Lakerbaya has rejected as untrue the statement imputed to him by State Security Service Chairman Mikhail Tarba that Aitaira is ready to overthrow the Abkhaz government. LF
OFFICIAL URGES CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT OF NUCLEAR ARSENAL
Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyanstev on 29 August urged the continued development of nuclear weapons, saying that they are "the only type of weapons whose improvement reduces the probability of their use," ITAR-TASS reported. Rumyantsev told a conference marking the 55th anniversary of the Soviet Union's first successful nuclear test that nuclear weapons are "a weapon of deterrence, an instrument of peace." Rumyantsev said that Russia can continue developing its nuclear arsenal without resuming nuclear testing if "modeling processes are perfected, and supercomputers, laser systems, and other equipment are developed." RC
NAVAL RESEARCHER CONVICTED OF ESPIONAGE
Navy Major Valerii Sarkisyan was sentenced by the Pacific Ocean Fleet Military Court on 30 August to two years in prison for disclosing state secrets, RIA-Novosti reported, citing military prosecutors. Sarkisyan was a researcher specializing in sea-based antiaircraft defense in September 2002 when he transferred a computer diskette containing state secrets to an unidentified person. In February 2003, he received $1,500 in payment for the information, the court found. RC
RUSSIAN 'FORBES' GETS NEW EDITOR IN CHIEF
Maksim Kashulinskii was named on 30 August the new editor in chief of the Russian-language version of "Forbes" magazine, Interfax reported. Kashulinskii, who previously served as managing editor of the magazine, replaces Paul Klebnikov, who was killed in Moscow on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 July 2004). Kashulinskii previously worked for the Skate business news agency, "Vedomosti," and "Kompaniya." RC
PUTIN SIGNS BENEFITS BILL INTO LAW
President Putin signed into law on 28 August a controversial bill that will replace most in-kind benefits with cash payments, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. According to RIA-Novosti, as of 2005, handicapped veterans will receive monthly cash compensation of 1,550 rubles ($53), World War II veterans will receive 1,050 rubles, and handicapped citizens will receive 950-350 rubles depending on their classification under three different categories. Individuals who are eligible for social-welfare benefits will also qualify for a "social package" worth 450 rubles per month. This package is intended to compensate those who will lose benefits such as free public transportation and medicine under the new system. According to ITAR-TASS, housing and public-utilities subsidies will not be converted into cash payments until 2006. The State Duma adopted the bill in its third and final reading on 5 August, following weeks of stormy public protests in Moscow and other cities. JAC
PRIME MINISTER SAYS CABINET IS ONE HAPPY FAMILY
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told reporters in Moscow on 27 August that there are no conflicts or personality clashes within the government, Interfax reported. Commenting on news reports that he and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref do not get along, Fradkov said "there are no conflicts at all with Gref," who he described as "an emotional and talented man." Fradkov also denied any rift with Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, saying that "it would be wrong to argue with the finance minister." Fradkov recently suggested that ministers should rotate their portfolios in order to round out their knowledge of all issues the government faces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). During his 27 August press conference, Fradkov suggested that he wants ministers to travel more frequently to the regions, promising that more money will be available next year for ministers' travel expenses. President Putin appeared during a televised meeting with Kudrin in Sochi on 21 August to mock the idea of rotating portfolios. Both Kudrin and Gref -- without Fradkov -- flew to the vacationing president to brief him on the 2005 budget. JAC
URALS HEAD COMPLAINS ABOUT PROSECUTORS' PURSUIT OF GOVERNORS
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 27 August that he believes a campaign is being waged against Russia's regional governors, regions.ru reported, citing uralpolit.ru. Asked why investigators have developed such a keen interest in the work of governors, Rossel said that regional executives' political rivals are employing local prosecutors to slander their opponents. Rossel noted that the late Tula Oblast Governor Nikolai Sevryugin was arrested and held in a pretrial detention center for a couple of years and subsequently died of a heart attack, and "they could not produce a charge." During the two years he spent in detention, Sevryugin suffered two heart attacks and was subsequently classified as disabled. He was accused in 1997 of accepting a $150,000 bribe and misappropriating 170 million rubles (approximately $39,500 in June 1997) for the construction of a private summerhouse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). "And what about [former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii] Nazdratenko?" Rossel continued. "No kind of charge against him has been confirmed.... Then there was a case against [Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii] Ayatskov, and now [Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii] Lisitsyn." JAC
VATICAN HANDS OVER ICON
Vatican officials handed over a sacred 18th-century copy of the Mother of God of Kazan (Our Lady of Kazan) icon to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II during a formal ceremony on 28 August, Russian news agencies reported. Aleksii II told journalists after the ceremony that he hopes the return of the icon testifies to "a firm desire by the Vatican leadership to return to sincere relations of mutual respect between the two churches that are devoid of competition," RIA-Novosti reported. Roman Catholic Church Cardinal Walter Kasper said that Catholics are using the opportunity provided by the icon's return to express their deep respect for the Russian people's rich Christian tradition and faith, including during the years of disastrous persecutions, Interfax reported. Pope John Paul II hoped last year to return the icon personally during a proposed trip to Russia, but failed to receive the Orthodox Church's approval for his visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). JAC
HUMAN RIGHTS WORKERS RECEIVE MORE THREATS FROM NEO-NAZI GROUPS
Igor Sazhin, chairman of Memorial's Komi Republic branch, has allegedly received a threatening letter from a young man believed to be part of a neo-Nazi group, KomiInform reported on 27 August. According to Sazhin, local skinheads are angered by the group's recent initiative to rid the streets of Komi's capital, Syktyvkar, of swastikas and other graffiti calling on residents to embrace fascism. On 21 August, Memorial organized an action to paint over Nazi symbols and plans a similar campaign on 6 September. Last week, Andrei Yurov, leader of the International Youth Human Rights Movement in Voronezh; Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Ludmila Alekseeva; and other members of the Human Rights Commission claimed that they received a threatening letter from the leader of the national-socialist Slavic Union, Dmitrii Demushkin, in which he allegedly warned that "the night of long knives is near" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004). JAC
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION VOWS TO CONTINUE PARLIAMENT BOYCOTT
The ruling board of the Artarutiun opposition bloc has decided that Artarutiun's 14 parliament deputies will not attend the imminent fall session of the legislature, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 27 August. The Artarutiun deputies walked out of parliament seven months ago to protest what they termed the majority's "illegal" refusal to debate proposed constitutional amendments that would pave the way for a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2004). Viktor Dallakian, a leading Artarutiun member, told RFE/RL that none of the bloc's conditions for dropping the boycott has been met. Those demands include scheduling a referendum of confidence in the president and identifying and punishing those government officials responsible for the 13 April violent crackdown on peaceful opposition protesters in Yerevan. Dallakian and Artashes Geghamian, chairman of the opposition National Accord Party, said that at a 2 September meeting opposition leaders will consider how to amend their tactics for forcing Kocharian and the coalition government to resign. LF
ARMENIA, RUSSIA END ANNUAL JOINT MANEUVERS
Hundreds of Armenian and Russian forces concluded on 27 August four days of joint maneuvers aimed at improving the interoperability of the two countries' armed forces, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004). Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said the maneuvers, during which troops backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships fired live ammunition while simulating defensive and counteroffensive actions against an imaginary invasion from the north, "took place in a coordinated manner" and "fully achieved their objective." LF
SIX AZERBAIJANIS JAILED FOR ANTI-ARMENIAN PROTEST
The Nasimi District Court in Baku passed sentence on 30 August on six members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT), Turan reported. The six men were charged with hooliganism, violating public order, and resisting government officials in connection with their attempt in June to force their way into a hotel in Baku where two Armenian military officers were attending a NATO-sponsored conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). QAT Chairman Akif Nagi was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, QAT Deputy Chairman Firudin Mamedov to three years, and four other QAT members to four years' imprisonment. The prosecution had demanded a six-year sentence for Nagi, four years for Mamedov, who is a disabled war veteran, and five years for the remaining four defendants. LF
RUSSIA SUSPENDS TALKS WITH GEORGIA...
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced in a 27 August statement that it will not participate in any further bilateral talks with Georgia on either military issues or the proposed framework treaty on bilateral relations as long as nightly protests continue outside its embassy in Tbilisi, Reuters and Interfax reported. Since 19 August, Georgian computer enthusiasts have been projecting insulting slogans onto the facade of the embassy building every night and playing Georgian national melodies at full volume, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 24 August. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement characterized the Georgian authorities' failure to take any measures to halt those protests a violation of the Geneva Conventions. LF
...AS GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS RUSSIAN CRITICISM IS 'DISRESPECTFUL'
The Georgian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement on 27 August responding to a Russian statement of two days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. That Russian statement, summarized by Interfax, criticized what it termed Tbilisi's "militant rhetoric" and veiled accusations that Russia is the source of all problems that Georgia currently faces. It further affirmed that Moscow is still awaiting a response to its "constructive proposals" aimed at improving bilateral relations. The Georgian response accused Moscow of "groundless, irresponsible," and "disrespectful" statements that violate all norms of international relations and ethical behavior, and of exacerbating misunderstandings by attempting to shift the blame for the existing tensions on to the Georgian side, Caucasus Press reported. LF
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS SOUTH OSSETIA 'CALM'
Vladimir Chkhikvishvili told the Georgian daily "Svobodnaya Gruziya" on 27 August that thanks to the efforts of the Joint Control Commission (JCC), which is tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, the situation there remains calm, Caucasus Press reported on 28 August. Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze on 28 August likewise assessed the situation as calm despite occasional gunfire. On 30 August, Georgia began withdrawing its 500 Interior Ministry forces deployed as peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. They are to be replaced by crack Georgian Army units. LF
CENTRAL ASIAN COOPERATION ORGANIZATION RATIFIES RUSSIAN MEMBERSHIP...
Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev announced on 28 August that the council of foreign ministers of member states in the Central Asian Cooperation Organization ratified Russia's accession to the organization during a 27 August meeting in Astana, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Toqaev said that the main topics at the meeting were the inclusion of Afghanistan in regional integration processes, the creation of an international hydropower consortium within the organization, shared television and radio broadcasts, and the removal of trade barriers between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Toqaev also stated on 28 August that the OSCE needs to pay more attention on issues of trade and security, and avoid an excessive focus on humanitarian concerns. His remarks echoed a Russian-initiated statement on 3 July by a number of CIS states (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 July 2004). Russia's Foreign Ministry said on 28 August that it is satisfied with the results of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization's 27 August meeting, RIA-Novosti reported. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan founded the Central Asian Cooperation Organization in February 2002. The leaders of the member states will gather for a summit in Dushanbe in October. DK
...AND HOLDS 'CENTRAL ASIA-PLUS-JAPAN' MEETING
The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met on 28 August in Astana with Japanese Foreign Minister Yokiro Kawaguchi, Kazinform reported. The meeting ended with a joint declaration and a vow to hold further "Central Asia-plus-Japan" meetings. The declaration stressed the need to broaden cooperation in a variety of areas, including the economy, energy resources, the environment, and exchange programs, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. On the latter count, Japan will accept 1,000 students from Central Asia over the next three years. Japan will also organize training for Central Asian specialists on energy supplies, the environment, and water resources. At a separate meeting with Kazakh Foreign Minister Toqaev on 27 August, Kawaguchi said that Japan is prepared to help Kazakhstan in its bid for WTO membership, Kazinform reported. DK
RUSSIA'S VIMPELCOM SAYS IT IS BUYING KAZAKH MOBILE OPERATOR
Russian cellular operator VimpelCom announced in a 26 August press release that it has won a tender to purchase Kazakh cellular operator KaR-Tel, but a KaR-Tel representative later denied that a deal was in the works. According to the VimpelCom press release, the company has signed an agreement to pay $350 million for KaR-Tel and assume $75 million of debt. But RIA-Novosti quoted KaR-Tel marketing director Daniyar Omurzakov on 27 August as saying: "The information that our company has been acquired by VimpelCom is completely untrue. Unfortunately, rumors like this have been making the rounds for more than a year." VimpelCom CEO Aleksandr Izosimov told Gazeta.ru on 28 August that some KaR-Tel employees may not be aware of the deal, which is expected to take place in the next few weeks. With 600,000 subscribers, KaR-Tel controls 31 percent of Kazakhstan's cellular market, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "Kazakhstan, with the highest GDP per capita in the CIS after Russia and a cellular penetration rate of only 13 percent, offers tremendous opportunities," Izosimov said in the VimpelCom press release. DK
KAZAKH COURT IMPOSES DAMAGES ON PARTY LEADER
A district court in Almaty ruled on 27 August that Bolat Abilov, cochairman of the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol, must pay Kazakh parliamentarian Mukhtar Tinikeev $36,700 in defamation damages, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Abilov had already received a 1 1/2 year suspended sentence on 27 July for accusing Tinikeev of paying $100,000 for his seat in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 29 July 2004). In the new ruling, the judge rejected the plaintiff's original demand for more than $1 million as "too large," but concluded that "the false information Bolat circulated in the media inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiff," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Abilov said that he plans to appeal. DK
UZBEK PARLIAMENT WRAPS UP 15TH SESSION
Uzbekistan's parliament concluded its 15th session on 27 August, UzA news agency reported. Parliament began the session on 26 August, passing bills on money laundering, export controls, and the implementation of the state budget, "Narodnoe Slovo" reported on 27 August. On 27 August, parliament passed bills on the office of ombudsman and on the recall of members of parliament, UzA reported. DK
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES FIELD CANDIDATES FOR LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS...
Three opposition parties -- the United Civic Party (AHP), the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (BSDH) -- held congresses in Minsk on 29 August to nominate candidates for the 17 October elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Dozens of institutions in Minsk reportedly refused to lease venues to hold these congresses and the parties were forced to hold their conventions at overcrowded party headquarters. The AHP proposed 57 candidates, the BNF 40, and the BSDH 16. The three parties are members of the Popular Coalition Five Plus election alliance. JM
...AS DO PRO-GOVERNMENT COMMUNISTS
The Communist Party of Belarus (KPB), which backs the policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, proposed 15 candidates for the 17 October parliamentary elections at a convention in Minsk on 28 August, Belapan reported. KPB Second Secretary Syarhey Kastyan told the agency that the KPB fielded its candidates only in those of the country's 110 election districts in which they stand a good chance of being elected to the lower house. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TURNS 50
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will mark his 50th birthday on 30 August, Belarusian media reported. The presidential press service said no special festivities are planned to celebrate the occasion. Lukashenka will go on a "working tour" of the Brest and Hrodna regions the same day. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER'S STAFF LAMBASTES POLICE FOR BLAST ALLEGATIONS
Ihor Hryniv, deputy head of the presidential campaign staff of Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, told journalists on 27 August that police resorted to a "planned provocation" and a "manipulation technique" in linking recent blasts at a market in Kyiv to the Ukrainian Popular Party (UNP), a member of Our Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004), Interfax reported. "There is a large distance between UNP members and [Yushchenko], the candidate who joined [the presidential race] by way of self-nomination," Hryniv added. Last week police arrested five suspects in the blasts, and claimed that two of them had UNP membership cards. JM
UKRAINIAN POLLSTERS VOW TO HOLD LARGE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION POLL
An ad hoc consortium of major Ukrainian polling agencies -- the Kyivan International Institute of Sociology, the Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies, the Social Monitoring center, the Socis center, and the Democratic Initiatives fund -- are planning to hold an exit poll of 50,000 voters at more than 1,500 polling stations on the presidential election day of 31 October and another one three weeks later, during a hypothetical runoff, UNIAN reported on 27 August. Results of the polls will be published after the closure of polling stations in an election-night program on Ukrainian television and at exitpoll.org.ua. Serhiy Tihipko, head of the election staff of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, said he sees no need for such polls. "All these exit polls are an attempt at influencing the public opinion," Interfax quoted Tihipko as saying. "They are especially trusted by those wanting to cast doubt on election results." JM
UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT PAYS EIGHT-YEAR WAGE BACKLOG TO MINERS
The Ukrainian government has paid the last tranche of an eight-year wage backlog to coal miners, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August, quoting Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Tulub. The wage arrears in the coal-mining sector, which have amassed since 1996, exceeded $200 million. JM
MACEDONIAN LEADERS SPEAK TO RFE/RL ABOUT KOSOVA'S FUTURE
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 29 August that the future status of Kosova and the future of Macedonia must not be linked. Crvenkovski added that Macedonia supports the policy of "standards before status" in Kosova, adding that the final status of that province is of primary interest for Prishtina and Belgrade, but not for Skopje. The president said that the question of whether Kosova is ruled democratically is of much greater importance for the province's immediate neighbors than is its final political status. Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), told "Utrinski vesnik" of 28 August that clarifying Kosova's final status will be beneficial for Macedonia. "We must free ourselves once and for all from the complex that Kosova is a permanent threat and danger to the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia," Ahmeti said in an allusion to fears that any changes in Kosova will harm interethnic relations in neighboring Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 20 August 2004). UB
IS MONTENGRO BACKPEDALING ON DAM PROJECT?
Shortly after Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic distanced himself from the controversial Buk Bijela hydroelectric project for the Drina River, which would flood Montenegro's Tara River Canyon, the Montenegrin government said in a statement on 27 August that the issue is still open, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 27 August 2004). The statement noted that the project has been under discussion between Montenegro and the Republika Srpska for some years, having originally been conceived three decades ago. The Montenegrin parliament recently ratified an agreement with the Republika Srpska that was signed on 29 April. The statement also pointed out that Montenegro was a net exporter of electric power when the project was born, adding, however, that the mountainous republic now imports one-third of its electricity. The government stated that any final decision on the project will take into account Montenegro's needs for electric power and environmental protection, adding that the United States and some other countries have made similar compromises in the past. PM
KOSOVA PREPARES TO VOTE
The OSCE said in a statement in Prishtina on 30 August that more than 1.4 million people are registered to vote in Kosova's 23 October parliamentary elections, its fourth election since the end of Serbian rule in 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Voting is by proportional representation on the basis of closed election lists. Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), will meet with Serbian leaders in Belgrade on 30 August in an effort to convince them to drop their recommendation to Kosova's Serbian minority to boycott the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August 2004). PM
EU OPENS ANOTHER OFFICE IN KOSOVA
The European Commission opened a liaison office in Prishtina on 27 August, to be headed by Italian diplomat Giorgio Mamberto, dpa reported. The EU said in a statement that "the [European] Commission intends to maintain closer contact with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government on the ground." In late March, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana appointed Italy's Fernando Gentilini as his personal representative and troubleshooter in Kosova. Germany's opposition Free Democratic Party has called for transforming Kosova into an EU protectorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 29 July, and 20 August 2004). PM
BOSNIAN POLICE ARREST SUSPECTED BRIDGE THIEVES
Bosnian police arrested at least two men near Mostar on 27 August in connection with the theft of half of a 150-year-old metal bridge in the village of Gornje Opine near Herzegovina's main city, AFP reported. A police spokesman said that the missing sections of the 15-meter bridge have been recovered and will be reinstalled soon. The thieves tried to sell parts of the bridge to a Mostar scrap yard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004). PM
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY NOMINATES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
Participants at the ruling Social Democratic Party's (PSD) 27 August congress in Bucharest unanimously nominated party Chairman and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to run for president in November, Romanian media reported. Nastase said he is convinced he and his party will win the elections. At Nastase's suggestion, the PSD invited President Ion Iliescu, former PSD chairman, to return as PSD leader and to run for Senate after finishing his tenure as president. Nastase said the PSD wants to have "the best mentor" for party politics. Nastase said the party will soon nominate a candidate for the premiership in a new PSD government to be formed after November's parliamentary elections. Opposition National Liberal Party Chairman Theodor Stolojan said on 28 August that Nastase's nomination represents "the surest guarantee" that the PSD's "barons" will survive in the party, as Nastase is "the best friend of the barons." He added that Nastase is "the pivot around whom corruption exploded in Romania." ZsM
...AND APPROVES ELECTORAL STRATEGY
The PSD convention also approved the party's electoral strategy and party platform, a document that names combating poverty and raising living standards as "major missions" for an eventual PSD government. By 2008, the party promises a gross minimum wage of 160 euro (some $200), as well as a GDP of 80 billion euro -- compared to this year's GDP estimate of 55 billion euro -- and an inflation rate of 2 percent. Party congress participants also approved the setting up of a Moral Integrity Council chaired by Romanian Academy member Mihai Draganescu. ZsM
ROMANIA TOUGHENS ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION
Legislation that went into effect on 29 August sets high fees and prison sentences for water pollution in Romania, Mediafax reported. The law modifies a 1996 law and raises fines for water pollution by up to 1,000 percent. Systematic and dangerous pollution of the water is punishable by fees from 300 to 500 million lei (from $8,800 to $14,700) or one to three years of prison terms. If the pollution causes the death of one or more persons, or causes mass poisoning or epidemics, judges can hand out prison terms of 15 to 20 years. In the last four years, there have been several large environmental accidents that have caused serious pollution of several rivers in Romania. One of the most serious was in January 2000, when a cyanide spill from a gold mine spread through several European rivers. ZsM
MOLDOVA MARKS INDEPENDENCE DAY
A celebration was held in downtown Chisinau on 27 August to mark Moldova's independence day, Moldovan media reported. Both U.S. President George W. Bush and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent letters of congratulation. In related news, according to an opinion poll evaluating the country's situation since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, 38 percent of respondents believe the country's economic situation has worsened, while 66 percent regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union. ZsM
TELERADIO MOLDOVA JOURNALISTS MARK ONE MONTH OF PROTESTS
Teleradio Moldova journalists protesting against the perceived politicization of the company's hiring policies marked one month of protests on 27 August, Moldovan media reported. The same day, a fifth journalist joined a hunger strike begun by her colleagues last week. ZsM
DRUGS CONTINUE TO BEDEVIL IRANIAN AUTHORITIES
"Jomhuri-yi Islami," a conservative Tehran daily, reported on 21 August that three drug smugglers were hanged publicly in Kerman Province, according to Reuters. The newspaper added that police seized 3.5 tons of opium and morphine, as well as weapons, from two of the men. Two days earlier, police counternarcotics chief Colonel Mehdi Aboui said that drug seizures in Iran in the first quarter of this year (starting 21 March) were 82 percent higher than over the same period last year, IRNA reported on 19 August. He said 106,300 kilograms of drugs were seized. Aboui attributed this to the increase in opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. In the same period, Aboui added, 42,500 drug dealers and 97,300 addicts were arrested.
The United Nations, in its "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2003" report, credits Iran for its efforts to stem the flow of narcotics (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/trends2003_www_E.pdf). According to the UN, Iran accounted for about three-quarters of world opium seizures in 2001, while Pakistan accounted for 5 percent and Tajikistan accounted for 4 percent. With 19 percent of the worlds morphine and heroin seizures in 2001, Iran ranked second only to China's 20 percent.
Afghanistan, according to the UN, is the world's leading producer of opium. Tehran claims that it is paying a great price for being Afghanistan's neighbor. According to Iranian officials, more than 3,300 security personnel have lost their lives in the war on drugs. On 30 June, a memorial ceremony took place in Tehran for police who have been killed in the war on drugs, "Hambastegi" reported on 1 July.
Tehran also claims that some 2 million Iranians are addicts or abuse drugs in some way. One can debate the accuracy of these numbers -- officials have been citing the 2 million figure for several years -- but there is little question that the prevalence of drugs is a problem for Iran. A drug dealer in southern Tehran said a daily fix of heroin sells for 20,000 rials (about $2.50), and a daily fix of opium sells for 70,000 rials (about $8.75), AFP reported on 11 July. (The price difference can be explained by the greatly reduced purity of the heroin.)
Mehdi Najmi, the prisons chief in Iran's northeastern Khorasan Province, said in the 26 June issue of the Mashhad weekly "Shahrara" that 62 percent of the province's 24,000 convicts were jailed on narcotics charges. Drug addicts make up 13.5 percent of the convict population, he said, while 48.5 percent are smugglers. Most of the addicts are aged 20 to 30, and most of the smugglers are aged 30 to 40. Incarceration is an imperfect solution to the problem, according to Najmi, because the addicts need treatment. Furthermore, he said, drugs are smuggled into the prisons -- more than 100 kilograms of drugs were discovered within the prisons' walls in the previous year.
Tehran highlights its counternarcotics activities, and the official Islamic Republic News Agency carries almost daily reports from around the country about drug seizures. For example, Iranian police Captain Morteza Erjaei told IRNA on 15 August that police in Fars Province have seized 173 kilograms of miscellaneous drugs over the past week. Erjaei said that two drug traffickers were arrested and 90 kilograms of opium were confiscated in Darab. Erjaei added that police found about 59 kilograms of opium in two separate operations in Darab, and that hauls of 5,500 and 17,400 kilograms of opium were confiscated in the past week in Fasa and Marvdasht, respectively. He added that police arrested two Afghan nationals in possession of some 2,250 kilograms of heroin in Neiriz. IRNA reported on 15 August that police in Urumiyeh, located in West Azerbaijan Province, seized more than 114 kilograms of morphine during a recent raid.
There have been a few reports from Iran that question official claims about drug seizures. A report in the 31 July issue of the newspaper "Sharq" noted that there is a 265 metric ton discrepancy between the figures on drug seizures provided by the Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ) and the national police. "After being seized and confiscated, these illicit drugs are handed to the public prosecutor's office, wherein a board made up of representatives of the public prosecutor's office, the law enforcement force, the Intelligence and Security Ministry, and the Drug Control Headquarters oversee all traffic coming in and out," the DCHQ's Ali Hashemi said. Some of the seizures are destroyed at the provincial level, and some of the seizures are turned over to a pharmaceutical company for manufacturing prescription drugs. According to the newspaper, however, there are discrepancies regarding the amount of seized drugs turned over to this company.
Seyyed Mahmud Alizadeh-Tabatabai, a presidential appointee to the DCHQ, said in the 9 December 2000 "Siyasat" that corruption reaches the highest levels. The DCHQ's Ali Hashemi touched on this subject in the 17 July issue of "Vaqa-yi Ittifaqiyeh." He said that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has instructed that any security officials connected with organized crime must be dealt with harshly, and strict laws have been passed in this regard. He added that police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf is pursuing this issue aggressively and in this connection 5,000 officers were fired last year.
Iran's poor relationship with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan hindered counternarcotics activities in the past. Iran's relations with Kabul now are friendly, and Tehran is involved with crop-substitution plans in Afghanistan. Tehran claims to have provided $10 million in aid for opium eradication.
Iran is working closely with other states that neighbor Afghanistan in an effort to create a "security belt" that will stop narcotics shipments. In this regard, Hashemi was in Islamabad on 5 July to participate in meetings organized by the UNODC involving Pakistan and Afghanistan, IRNA reported. Hashemi complained at this meeting that due to U.S. sanctions Iran cannot properly equip its forces on the border. Hashemi said the UN should provide the necessary equipment so Iran can secure its borders. He added that patrolling, the destruction of drug laboratories, and information exchanges must also increase.
Opium production in Afghanistan continues to climb, so Iran's problems with drug abuse are not likely to disappear. Indeed, given speculation in the counternarcotics community that the next crop will exceed last year's, the situation could well deteriorate.
AT LEAST SEVEN PEOPLE KILLED IN KABUL BOMB ATTACK...
Seven people, including at least one child, were killed in a car-bomb attack in central Kabul on 29 August, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Two U.S. citizens, two Afghans, and three Nepalese Gurkhas working as security guards have been confirmed killed in a blast reportedly aimed at a building occupied by U.S.-based DynCorp Inc., a firm which provides security for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and also trains the Afghan police force, "The New York Times," reported on 30 August. Nick Downie, the security coordinator for the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, who visited the site of the attack, estimated that up to 11 people might have been killed and several others injured. Citing the heavy security DynCorp had near its building, Downie said that the attack was either a "suicide attack or a Trojan horse that got past some very good security on that street." Lutfullah Mash'al, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said the attack was likely to have been a suicide mission. However, the Interior Ministry's chief of security for Kabul, General Baba Jan, said on 29 August that the "explosion was not caused by a suicide attack. It was a car bomb," Radio Free Afghanistan reported. AT
...AS NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY...
Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 29 August that the bombing in Kabul was a "suicide attack" that the militia carried out. "A large number of our mujahedin [fighters] have entered Kabul and will carry out more attacks," Hakimi warned. Apparently another neo-Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, told Reuters on 29 August that the bomb was remotely detonated by a member of the militia. According to an AP report of 30 August, the person alleging that a remote-controlled device caused the blast is named Mullah Hakim Latifi. In two telephone calls on 29 August, alleged neo-Taliban spokesmen Mullah Janan and Mullah Hakim, also claimed responsibility for the Kabul blast and expressed their regret for the loss of Afghan lives in the incident, Qatar-based Al-Jazirah television reported. Mullah Hakim, Latifullah Hakimi, Abdul Latif Hakimi, and Mullah Hakim Latifi may be the same person. However, Mullah Janan appears to be a new name on the growing list of individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban. In a statement in February, the ousted Taliban movement named Hamed Agha as its only authorized spokesman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2004). AT
...A CLAIM ALSO MADE BY AL-QAEDA
A 29 August statement in the name of the Al-Qaeda Organization in Afghanistan and posted on a Jihadist website (http://www.islamic-minbar.com/forum) similarly claimed responsibility for the Kabul blast. "The mujahedin succeeded in placing a bomb in a vehicle and remotely detonating it in front of the American Center, killing at least six Americans and three Afghan collaborators," the statement claims. It says the operation was carried out with the "help of our brothers, the mujahedin from the Taliban." The statement repeats the warning of more attacks, made in the name of the neo-Taliban. The statement in the name of Al-Qaeda supports the idea that the blast was not a suicide mission. AT
U.S. EMBASSY WARNS ITS CITIZENS AND EXPRESSES ITS SHOCK
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan on 30 August warned its citizens to keep a low profile in Kabul, AP reported. In a statement released on 29 August, the embassy expressed its shock at the deaths caused by the explosion in Kabul that it said occurred "at a police training facility." "This cowardly attack will not deter U.S. participation in the ongoing effort to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said. General Baba Jan said that in the area of the blast "there were two houses of our international friends. This was not a military center [apparently referring to the reports of the target being a police-training center]," Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 29 August. AT
TEN KILLED IN SCHOOL BLAST IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Ten people, including several children, were killed at a blast in a school in the village of Tatanak, in the Paktiya Province on 28 August, international news agencies reported. "There were four children, five teenagers and one adult killed," U.S. military spokeswoman Master Sergeant Ann Bennett said in Kabul, Reuters reported on 29 August. Paktiya Governor Asadullah Wafa said the explosion occurred at a school that "taught a modern education along with lessons from the Koran by a religious scholar," and it was financed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, AIP reported on 29 August. "I do not know who was behind this, but I know that whoever he was he is the enemy of the country and [Islam]," Wafa added. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast. AT
PRESIDENT DENIES IRAN HAS NUCLEAR WEAPONS AMBITIONS
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 28 August in Tehran that Iran will do "everything necessary" to guarantee that it does not pursue nuclear weapons, Radio Farda reported, citing AP. He denied that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program to disguise a military one. He said that as an Islamic state Iran cannot use nuclear weapons. Khatami also urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not to submit to alleged U.S. pressure to declare Iran in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Khatami also said that Iran will continue to cooperate with the IAEA, IRIN reported. BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATURE TO QUESTION TRANSPORT MINISTER
Hamedan parliamentary deputy Hamid-Reza Haji-Babai said on 29 August that 60 members of the legislature have signed a motion to question Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram, IRNA reported. On the same day, Khoram announced that airline ticket prices will increase by 17.2 percent, which he described as the minimum level needed to keep airlines afloat, IRNA reported. He explained that gasoline prices keep increasing every year, whereas ticket prices have not changed. Khoram explained in a 28 August interview with AFP that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps closed the Imam Khomeini Airport as part of a campaign against foreign investment and/or because it did not win an operating contract (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 2004). He said, "Iranian companies also took part in the tender process.... companies run by the armed forces...and the Revolutionary Guards. But their prices were higher and they were not selected." Khoram added, "We are not against the Revolutionary Guards winning contracts. Some of their companies already have contracts with us." BS
IRAN AND PAKISTAN TO COOPERATE ON STEEL AND ENERGY
Iran and Pakistan have agreed to increase cooperative efforts in the steel sector, Pakistani daily "The News" reported on 30 August. Pakistan Steel Mills Chairman Lieutenant-General Abdul Qayyum (retired) and Iranian Deputy Minister for Mines and Industries Mustafa Moazenzadeh met in Tehran and discussed Iran's provision of technical assistance on iron ore exploration and the expansion and modernization of Pakistani steel plants. Qayyum told his host that Pakistani industry requires more steel, and Pakistan currently imports iron ore from Australia, India, Iran, and Mauritania. The officials agreed that bilateral trade must increase. A five-man delegation of Pakistan's Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Industry was in Iran from 20-25 August, Islamabad's APP reported on 29 August. They were exploring ways in which the two countries could cooperate. There are more than 550 CNG filling stations in Pakistan for the some 550,000 cars in the country that use CNG, according to APP, and Iran has just begun a program to establish 7,000 CNG filling stations. BS
IRANIAN STUDENTS VOLUNTEER TO DEFEND IRAQI HOLY SITES
Some 250 Iranian university students registered in Mashhad to defend Iraq's holy sites, "Kayhan" reported on 26 August. The students reportedly gathered at the Goharshad Mosque of the Imam Reza Shrine to protest events in Al-Najaf and to chant "Death to America." BS
TEHRAN ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT AL-NAJAF DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian officials welcomed Iraqi Shi'ite Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's restoration of calm to the embattled Iraqi city of Al-Najaf on 26 August. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during his 27 August Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran that al-Sistani's return to Al-Najaf is comparable to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's return to Tehran in 1979 -- "the Imam's maneuver on that day broke the back of the Shah's regime" -- state radio reported. Rafsanjani contrasted the power of Islamic values and the clergy with the performance of the U.S. military and the Iraqi national forces. Despite all its intelligence assessments and feasibility studies, he said the U.S. is "still incapable of understanding the realities of the Islamic world." "Today Al-Najaf is prouder than Stalingrad." Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said the U.S. was "disgracefully defeated" in Al-Najaf, Fars News Agency reported. He said the U.S. wants to control the Persian Gulf, its energy resources, and regional states, but the U.S. should know that "the colonial era has passed and American colonialism cannot replace the British one." BS
IRAQI DEPUTY PREMIER IN IRAN
Iraqi Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh paid an official visit to Iran on 28 August, IRNA reported. Accompanying him are Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and Transport Minister Behnam Zayya Bulis. According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, quoted by IRNA, Iraqi Provincial Affairs Minister Wa'il Abd al-Latif and Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati were also expected to be on the trip. The visit is to prepare for Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's official trip to Iran later this year. On 29 August, Saleh held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Among the issues discussed was the fate of Iranian diplomat Fereidoun Jahani, kidnapped in Iraq on 4 August by a group of militants known as the Islamic Army of Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 August 2004). The group, held responsible for the murder of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004), demands that Iran release Iraqi prisoners of war from the Iraq-Iran conflict that ended in 1988. Kharrazi, meanwhile, spoke about four Iranian businessmen who are being held by Iraqi police. Kharrazi told journalists after meeting with Saleh that Tehran sees its relations with Baghdad as very important, IRNA reported. He added that the two sides agreed to select "various mechanisms for discussing their issues of interest." Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim Jafari met with President Khatami and other officials in the northeastern city of Mashhad on 24 August (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 August 2004). The visits come as some Iraqi officials are accusing Iran of interfering in their country's internal affairs. PK/BS
AL-SADR REPRESENTATIVES MEET WITH U.S. ARMY...
U.S. military officials held talks on 29 August with representatives of rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, international media reported. The talks are aimed at reducing violence in the restive Baghdad slum of Al-Sadr City. "There has been no agreement of any kind" regarding Al-Sadr City, said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Hutton, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, the AP reported. But according to Na'im al-Bakhiti, described by AP as "the head of the tribal negotiating team," agreement has been reached on rebuilding damaged areas and on keeping U.S. patrols in Al-Sadr City. The side did not agree on the disarmament of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army. Before the talks, violence erupted in Al-Sadr City, killing 10 people and wounding 126. A similar meeting between U.S. military officials, local tribal leaders, and al-Sadr's followers was held in Al-Najaf, Al-Jazeera reported. PK
...AND WITH THE BRITISH ARMY IN AL-BASRAH
In Al-Basrah, a British commander held talks on 29 August with al-Sadr's top representative in the city, Sheikh As'ad al-Basri, and pro-al-Sadr Deputy Governor Salam al-Maliki, AP reported. British Major Charlie Mayo, the coalition spokesman in Al-Basrah, described the meeting as a routine "interaction between the local British commanders and respected tribal leaders." Al-Basri told the AP that the conditions of al-Sadr's movement in the city are an amnesty for Al-Mahdi Army members, compensation for victims of recent clashes, a pullout of British forces from the city center, and using only mutually agreed roads to reach their bases around the city. Irrespective of the talks, the U.K. army has stopped patrolling streets in Al-Basrah, the British "Daily Telegraph" reported. "With troops now moving only in Warrior armored vehicles on patrols not more than 100 yards from base, forces loyal to [al-Sadr] have stepped into the power vacuum," a "Daily Telegraph" reporter wrote, adding that many residents have demanded the return of British troops for the sake of increased security. PK
HOSTAGE CRISIS LEADS FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER TO CAIRO
The Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya televisions have broadcast an appeal by French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier to the kidnappers of two French citizens in Iraq. French journalists Christian Chesnot, a freelancer with Radio France Internationale and Radio France, and Georges Malbrunot, a senior reporter with the "Le Figaro" and "Ouest France" dailies, were kidnapped on 28 August by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq. The kidnappers have threatened to kill the reporters if the French government does not immediately lift its ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves in French schools. The group described the law as "an attack on the Islamic religion and personal freedoms," Al-Jazeera reported. Barnier stressed that France "protects all religions including Islam." He said that "neutrality towards religion constitutes an element of our identity." Barnier is in Cairo "for talks with regional contacts," Reuters reported. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also made an appeal on 30 August for the release of the French journalists. PK
...WHILE TURKISH HOSTAGES ARE FREED AND ONE KILLED
Two Turkish hostages were released in Iraq on 29 August and are currently in the Turkish embassy in Baghdad, AFP reported. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said Abdullah Ozdemir and Ali Daskin were released "as a result of efforts" by Turkish authorities. CNN-Turk television aired footage on 25 August in which militants threatened to kill both Turks unless their employer withdrew from Iraq. The company, Ankara-based Usluer-Sa/Ra, which works on the reconstruction of electricity networks in Iraq, consequently announced it will end operations in the country. Also on 29 August, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish Foreign Ministry officials are working with the Iraqi government to establish secured ransit stops for Turkish drivers in Iraq. It was reported on 30 August by the "Turkish Daily News" that the latest Turkish victim in Iraq was truck driver Ramazan Erkul, whose body was found in northern Iraq by police on 27 August. PK