Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - August 31, 2004

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac arrived in Sochi on 31 August for a one-day, three-country summit with President Vladimir Putin, Russian and international media reported. Chirac was originally scheduled to arrive on 30 August, but his appearance was delayed because of the two French nationals being held hostage in Iraq, Interfax reported. The three leaders discussed direct trade and economic relations, as well as economic ties between Russia and the European Union. Russian presidential adviser Sergei Prikhodko told journalists before the meetings that talks would focus on energy, transport, and high-technology projects. "The three-way format allows for the more effective generation of useful ideas for the expansion of Russia's bilateral relations both with France and with Germany, as well as of multilateral relations," Prikhodko said. He added that the leaders would also discuss "the creation of a new system of international relations based on multilateralism with a central role for the United Nations." RC

Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant General Andrei Fetisov, who heads the service's science directorate, said on 30 August that investigators are certain that the two 24 August civilian-jet crashes were caused by acts of terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004), ITAR-TASS reported. "We can say with total certainty that both aircraft were brought down by acts of terrorism," Fetisov said. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 August that both cases are now being officially investigated under terrorism legislation. Transportation Minister Igor Levitan, who heads the governmental investigating commission, was quoted by the daily as saying that both aircraft were functioning normally until they exploded in mid-flight. Levitan was quoted by ITAR-TASS on 30 August as saying that it will take at least six weeks before the commission releases its findings. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 August that the authorities continue to investigate two Chechen women who are believed to have been killed in the blasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2004). According to the daily, the brother of one of the women, who was identified as Islam Nagaev, was shot dead by federal forces in Starye Atagi in 2002. RC

Officials at the Rostov Nuclear Power Station gathered together on the night of 24 August and prepared to shut the facility down in response to reports of the twin plane crashes, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 27 August. According to the report, no order to shut down the reactor was received. The daily reported that the Rostov reactor is protected by a concrete dome that is 30 meters thick and could withstand a direct hit by a medium-sized nuclear warhead. The daily reported on 31 August that officials at the Novovoronezhskaya Nuclear Power Station in Voronezh took no special precautions on the night of 24 August. "The station has a protective canopy and, believe me, even if an aircraft hit, nothing serious would happen," plant spokesman Gennadii Kulakov was quoted as saying. "A terrorist attack of that kind would not have serious consequences either for the station or for the environment," Kulakov said. RC

"Gazeta" on 30 August speculated that a 24 August explosion at a bus stop on Moscow's Kashirskoe Shosse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004) might have caused the bombers of the two airliners to change their plans. According to the daily, one of the suspected bombers who purchased a ticket on the Tu-134 bound for Sochi originally held a ticket on an Il-86 bound for Sochi on the morning of 25 August. That popular flight was reportedly fully booked with about 300 passengers. However, the woman reportedly changed her ticket for the less popular flight just before takeoff. The daily speculated that she might have changed her plans in the expectation that airport security would be stepped up in the wake of the bus-stop bombing. The Chechen woman who purchased a ticket on the Tu-154 bound for Volgograd also reportedly purchased her ticket just minutes before the plane took off. The daily also speculated that the terrorists targeted the flight to Sochi because President Putin was on vacation there at the time, as a way of sending "some sort of warning" to the president. RC

Journalist Lev Bruni wrote in "Vremya novostei" on 30 August that he was recently stopped at the airport in Stockholm after security personnel found a small pocketknife in his carry-on luggage. Bruni noted that the same bag had passed through Russian airport security three times just three days earlier at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport. "At the airport that has the reputation for the best security in the country, an atmosphere of lazy indifference reigned, one that paradoxically is characteristic of the society in which we live," Bruni wrote. "But the Swedes took just one glance at their monitor to see the knife, as if they and not we live under the conditions of a terrorist war." Noting that President Putin has ordered Russian security forces to study the methods of Israel, Bruni wrote that such methods are effective because "first, Israelis recognize that they are living on the front lines and, second, they have confidence in the security forces." Neither of these conditions exists in Russia, Bruni argued. RC

Konstantin Remchukov, an adviser to Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, told Radio Rossii on 30 August he is not certain about the advisability of the 28 percent increase in defense and security spending that is included in the government's 2005 draft budget. He said the increase far outstrips anticipated revenue growth and creates the potential for a deficit. "It is a precept of economic theory that defense expenditure is less desirable because it is obviously subtracted from expenditures on social welfare," Remchukov said. "On the other hand, this country is pretty much run by military people -- people who wear epaulets or once wore epaulets -- so it is only natural that their lobbying efforts are stronger." He added that the increased spending could spur inflation. Finally, Remchukov said that "without providing for transparency of control over how the money is used" it is unlikely that "the increased spending will result in increased effectiveness or war-fighting capability." RC

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told the cabinet on 31 August that total budget revenues for 2004 will be more than projected, although he did not reveal by how much, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. Shatalov reported that revenues for the first half of the year were 114.7 percent of projected revenue, reported, and that expenditures during that period were 94.6 percent of revenues, RosBalt reported. Shatalov said that there have been some problems in the first half of the year with payments from the federal budget, but added that "they will be corrected in the nearest future" and that the government's spending plan for the year will be met. He attributed the spending delays to the governmental restructuring carried out earlier this year. Russia's external debt has dropped to its lowest level in six years, ITAR-TASS and reported on 30 August, citing figures provided by the Finance Ministry. Russian foreign debt is now equal to 3.352 trillion rubles ($115 billion). RC/JAC

President Putin on 30 August partially lifted Russia's ban on arms sales to Iraq, Interfax and other media reported, citing the presidential website ( The presidential decree states that the earlier ban on arms sales that was imposed on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions does not apply to sales of equipment to the interim Iraqi government or to any multinational forces fulfilling security missions in Iraq on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1546. Putin also ordered government agencies to assist commercial structures in making such sales, reported on 31 August. RC

Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 30 August, Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko said a course on the history of "all religious faiths professed by the peoples of Russia" should be a compulsory subject in Russian schools, ITAR-TASS reported. He said such a course should not be confused with religious instruction. "In our country, schools are separated from the church, and children receive a secular education," he said. Earlier, the Russian Orthodox Church had proposed a course on the basics of Russian Orthodox culture, an idea for which Fursenko's predecessor, Vladimir Filippov, expressed support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). JAC

Speaking on 30 August, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov announced that too many people have been trained as economic or legal specialists, ITAR-TASS reported. He said many of these specialists are simply not needed by Russia's labor market. What the market needs, according to Fradkov, are managers for the high-technology sector. Education Minister Fursenko noted the same day that Russia is also experiencing a shortage of teachers, particularly of foreign languages, music, and applied computer studies. Currently, he said, up to 20 percent of teachers are nearing retirement age. Last year, about 2,000 teachers in Siberia participated in a several-week strike for unpaid wages; tens of thousands of teachers marched or demonstrated across Russia in 2002 to protest low pay, wage arrears, and poor working conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002 and 7 March 2003). JAC

The Prosecutor-General's Office in Kamchatka Oblast has charged Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev with the improper use of budget funds and abuse of office, Russian news agencies reported. According to Radio Rossii, Mashkovtsev is accused of misusing 140 million rubles ($4.8 million) that had been earmarked for the purchase of fuel and of raising the limit on the salmon catch in August 2002. Mashkovtsev denies the charges and insists that an inquiry also be conducted against former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who dragged out the decision on increasing the limits. At the time, President Putin supported Mashkovtsev in his dispute over fishing quotas with federal officials and ordered the State Fisheries Committee and the Natural Resources Ministry to work up new quotas for the salmon catch immediately. The committee responded by raising the limit from 40,000 tons to 100,000 tons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). Kamchatka's gubernatorial election, in which Mashkovtsev plans to participate, will be scheduled for a Sunday between 19 December and 20 January 2005, Regnum reported on 27 August. JAC

Thousands of supporters and opponents of Krasnodar Mayor Nikolai Priz held competing protests outside the mayoral administration building on 30 August, TV-Tsentr and reported. According to TV-Tsentr, the demonstrations were sparked by two criminal cases launched earlier this month against Deputy Mayors Ivan Levchenko and Pavel Vertlib. Priz has accused the krai administration of trying to force him to resign by launching criminal cases against his deputies. According to, the mayor's opponents are predominantly from left-wing groups, such as the local Communist Party and the Union of Communist Youth, and from the small-business sector. Representatives of small businesses are angry about a 66 percent hike in rents for space at the city's Central Market. said local law enforcement officials estimate that about 4,000 people took part in the demonstrations, while TV-Tsentr put the number at 1,500. JAC

Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksei Tkachev recommended that no protests be held in the territory until after 2 September because of the "situation in the region following the twin airplane crashes earlier this month," reported on 30 August. The krai's Security Council adopted Tkachev's recommendation at its session on 30 August. According to the website, the organizers of the protests in support of the mayor have received an official warning, but it is unclear whether the organizers of the demonstration against the mayor will be sent a warning. JAC

Leonid Gozman, a member of the Union of Rightist Forces' (SPS) political council, is leading a delegation of party members to New York to attend the U.S. Republican Party convention, Interfax reported on 30 August. According to Gozman, the delegation will inform convention attendees about the present political situation in Russia. The news agency did not report on whether a delegation from Unified Russia is attending. Unified Russia leader Boris Gryzlov attended the last convention as head of Unity, Unified Russia's predecessor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2000). JAC

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot called in a statement released on 30 August for Alu Alkhanov, the officially declared winner in the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, to seek a political solution to the ongoing war in Chechnya. Reuters and dpa reported. The Netherlands currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. Bot urged Alkhanov to "make renewed efforts to start a process leading to a genuine political settlement, based on dialogue, reconciliation, respect for human rights, and restoration of the rule of law." In that context, Bot also appealed to the Russian authorities to step up cooperation with humanitarian organizations seeking to assist victims of the war. Bot expressed regret that security considerations precluded the dispatch to Chechnya of an international election-monitoring mission. LF

Alkhanov told journalists in Grozny on 30 August that he holds Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by Russia and the international community as free and fair, responsible for precipitating the present war in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Alkhanov said Maskhadov's only chance to save himself is to request forgiveness from the Chechen people and stop speaking in their name. Speaking on Chechen television on 30 August, Alkhanov encouraged Chechen resistance fighters to lay down their arms and return to their families, promising personal security and a new job to all those who have not committed "serious crimes," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 30 August that the 29 August Chechen ballot "did not meet international standards for a democratic election," the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 31 August. "There were serious flaws in the election process there, especially the earlier disqualification of a leading candidate on a mere technicality," Boucher added in a reference to Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saidullaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). In Berlin, German Bundestag deputy Rudolf Bindig (SPD) told Deutschlandfunk that the voting "cannot in any way be considered democratic," reported. Bindig noted that all Alkhanov's rival candidates were barred access to the media. LF

Western journalists' collective suspicions that voter turnout in the 29 August ballot was far lower than the 85 percent officially announced were corroborated by a journalist for the Russian newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" who described in detail in that paper's 30 August issue how he managed to vote at four different polling stations over a period of several hours. "Handelsblatt" on 31 August quoted FSB Colonel and defeated rival candidate Movsur Khamidov as claiming that voting papers were forged. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 31 August quoted unnamed observers as saying that in many polling stations ballot boxes were removed and others, presumably containing only ballots cast for Alkhanov, substituted. The "Los Angeles Times" quoted a second defeated rival candidate, former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Bugaev, as describing "the ballots cast for Alkhanov, and especially the turnout figures, as so ridiculously absurd that everyone in the republic understands what happened." Bugaev has filed a complaint with the Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office claiming that a ballot box was stuffed with pre-marked ballots at a polling station 16 kilometers from Grozny. LF

Yunus Makaev, a Chechen employee of the Czech charity People in Need, has been detained for allegedly participating in an attack on Russian forces in Chechnya in September 2002, CTK reported on 30 August, quoting Interfax. Marek Vozka, who heads People in Need's North Caucasus mission, confirmed that Makaev has worked for the charity since 2000 and was engaged in distributing food in Grozny. LF

The two leading candidates in a 29 August by-election traded allegations of fraud on 30 August, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Preliminary returns showed businessman Artak Sargsian, who represents the Orinats Yerkir party of parliament Chairman Artur Baghdasarian, just 32 votes ahead of Arayik Hayrapetian, who is backed by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. Hovsepian's support base is the nominally apolitical association Nig-Aparan, which unites natives of the eponymous central Armenian region. LF

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov met in Prague on 30 August for the third time within five months to discuss the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and CTK reported. Oskanian said the talks, attended by the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, were "useful." "Our main objective is to create a common basis upon which we could build during future negotiations," Oskanian said. LF

A Baku district court handed down a one-year suspended prison sentence on 30 August to Aydin Guliev, editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Baki habar," Turan and reported. The court found Guliev guilty of slandering Djalal Aliyev, President Ilham Aliyev's uncle, in an article reprinted verbatim from the 30 July issue of the newspaper "Alternativa." Djalal Aliyev filed suit for libel against "Baki habar," but not against "Alternativa." LF

South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva said in Tskhinvali on 30 August that a planned meeting between Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania should take place on "neutral territory," possibly in Moscow, Caucasus Press and the webpage of the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 ( reported. Gagloeva said neither Tbilisi nor Batumi is an acceptable venue. Claiming that Bulgaria is supplying Georgia with materiel, she likewise rejected a proposal by Bulgarian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi to host the Zhvania-Kokoity meeting in Sofia. Under an agreement signed two years ago, Bulgaria undertook to deliver to Georgia small arms and ammunition worth some $90,000, Caucasus Press reported on 20 September and 4 November 2002. During talks in Tbilisi on 30 August with Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, visiting U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed convening an international conference on ways to restore Georgia's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. LF

Georgian parliament speaker Burdjanadze condemned on 30 August the meeting in Sochi the previous day between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Raul Khadjimba, prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2004). Burdjanadze construed that meeting as acknowledgement that Moscow recognizes as legal the 3 October ballot to elect a successor to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, who has openly endorsed Khadjimba as the candidate best qualified to succeed him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Also on 30 August, Caucasus Press quoted an unnamed senior Kremlin official as telling ITAR-TASS that Moscow is playing "a constructive role in resolving the Abkhaz conflict" and that there is therefore nothing reprehensible about Putin's brief meeting with Khadjimba. LF

Tamaz Nadareishvili, who from 1993 until early this year headed the Abkhaz Supreme Council in exile comprising the 26 ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in the fall of 1991, died of a heart attack in Tbilisi on 30 August at the age of 50, Georgian agencies reported. A former Communist Party official who began his career working for the KGB, Nadareishvili lobbied tirelessly but without success for a UN peace-enforcement operation in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 9 June 1998 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February and 11 July 2003). LF

Yoriko Kawaguchi visited Tajikistan on 29 August and Kyrgyzstan on 30 August, agencies reported. Kawaguchi met with Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov in Dushanbe on 29 August to discuss ways to expand bilateral ties, the situation in Afghanistan, and the need to reform the United Nations, Khovar news agency reported. Tajikistan declared itself willing to support Japan's bid to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Kawaguchi met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 30 August, Kabar news agency reported. The two sides signed a memorandum to conclude a general agreement on technical cooperation, reported. Japan also agreed to provide a $250,000 grant for five humanitarian projects in Kyrgyzstan. DK

Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev met with General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of Russia's Volga-Ural Military District, on 30 August in Dushanbe, Avesta reported. Minister Khayrulloev briefed General Boldyrev on plans for the further development of Tajikistan's armed forces. For his part, General Boldyrev described his visit as an opportunity to acquaint himself personally with Tajikistan's military leadership, the personnel of Russia's Tajikistan-based 201st Motorized Infantry Division, and plans for future Russian-Tajik military cooperation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. DK

Huseyn Oqilov, deputy director of the Tax Ministry's Main Operations Department, told a news conference in Dushanbe on 27 August that the recent closure of the Jiyonkhon printing press was not politically motivated, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 August. Oqilov said that tax police raided six businesses in the complex that houses Jiyonkhon on 18 August to conduct inspections. The inspection revealed several violations of the tax code at Jiyonkhon, which Oqilov described as having "engaged in illegal commercial activity." In the course of the inspection, the print run of the opposition newspaper "Nerui Sukhan" was confiscated when tax police discovered that the newspaper was underreporting its circulation, presumably to evade taxes. Oqilov said that the printing press will remain closed as long as the investigation continues. The closure of Jiyonkhon prevented the publication of several other opposition newspapers, raising concerns over the fate of Tajikistan's independent press (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2004). DK

Deputy Security Minister Mukhtor Sharipov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 30 August that Rustam Fayziev, deputy chairman of the unregistered Tajik opposition party Taraqqiyot, was arrested on 28 August. Sharipov declined to provide a reason for the arrest. Party chairman Sulton Quvvatov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that security forces arrested Fayziev for allegedly signing documents for the International Court of Justice in The Hague about the party's inability to obtain official registration. But Quvvatov denied that Fayziev had signed or sent anything. Quvvatov said, "We kept these documents unsigned in the office in the safe, hoping that we'd be able to avoid taking this step if the Justice Ministry reversed its decision." But Avesta reported on 30 August, citing "informed sources," that Fayziev was arrested on 26 August for defaming Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. According to Avesta, the materials that Fayziev intended to dispatch to The Hague were deemed insulting to the president. On 26 August, Quvvatov told Interfax that five Security Ministry officials searched the party's office during the evening of 25 August and the morning of 26 August and confiscated documents. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a resolution on 30 August setting 19 December as the date for Turkmenistan's parliamentary elections, reported. Another presidential resolution appointed Murat Karriyev, deputy chairman of the Council on Religious Affairs, as the head of the Central Election Commission. Turkmenistan's Mejlis, or parliament, consists of 50 deputies elected for a term of five years. Previous elections were held on 12 December 1999. DK

Abdullah Abdullah ended a three-day visit to Uzbekistan on 30 August, Uzbek TV reported. The visit focused on trade and transport relations between the two countries, Uzbekistan's role in Afghan reconstruction, and the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking in the region. According to Uzbek Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev, "Afghanistan should participate in the integration processes in Central Asia and restore its historic role as a linking point in the region," ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. Safaev pointed to expanding cooperation between the two countries and trade volume of $80 million in 2003. For his part, Abdullah thanked Uzbekistan, saying, "Uzbekistan, with its active economic and technical assistance, is playing an extremely important role in the construction of a new Afghanistan, in particular in the construction of roads and bridges." The Afghan finance minister and public transport minister accompanied Abdullah on the visit. DK

Information Minister Uladzimir Rusakevich has ordered that the private satirical newspaper "Navinki" be suspended for three months for alleged violations of the media law, Belapan reported on 30 August. In particular, the paper was accused of failing to notify the authorities of its new address, its shift to a new publishing schedule, and committing other irregularities. "Navinki" Editor in Chief Paulyuk Kanavalchyk linked the suspension to the government's attempt to monopolize the country's information space in the run-up to the 17 October parliamentary elections. "This is meant to limit the readership's access to the independent press and force them to turn to official media outlets," Kanavalchyk said. The Information Ministry imposed a similar three-month publication ban on the privately owned regional newspaper "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni" on 16 August. JM

Belarusian farms reaped 94 percent of all grain crops as of 30 August, Belapan reported, quoting a source with the Agriculture Ministry. According to the source, Belarusian farmers harvested 6.6 million tons of grain, with an average yield of 3.3 tons per hectare. JM

Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych told journalists on 31 August that there is a need to introduce constitutional amendments changing the political system in Ukraine before the 31 October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. "Political reform has matured and it needs to be instituted, and we will do everything to make political reform happen," Yanukovych said. Meanwhile, Viktor Yushchenko, Yanukovych's main rival in the race, said on 30 August during a campaign trip in Kyiv Oblast that it is illegal for the Verkhovna Rada to repeatedly consider political reform. In April, the government was six votes short of the 300 votes required for the approval of a controversial political-reform bill. In June, the parliament preliminary approved another constitutional-reform bill, which, according to the opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, is essentially the same as the bill rejected in April. JM

Political scientist Ihor Berkut told UNIAN on 31 August that the Central Election Commission's intention to print ballots for the presidential vote with numbers is "a technique oriented toward breaking the secrecy of voting." Berkut was commenting on Central Election Commission Chairman Serhiy Kivalov's statement on the ICTV channel on 29 August announcing that each ballot for the presidential vote will be given a specific number and an additional number of the polling station at which the ballot will be used. According to Kivalov, such numbering will eliminate the possibilities to rig the vote by replacing real ballots with falsified ones. "There is another danger, however," Berkut said. "Imagine that the same numbers are marked down on voting lists. Then it is easy to identify who voted for whom." JM

Lawmaker Borys Tarasyuk -- leader of the Popular Rukh of Ukraine (NRU), a component of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc -- has said that the OSCE should send at least 2,000 observers for the 31 October presidential election in Ukraine, the NRU press service reported on 30 August. "We are working with a number of governments to achieve that," Tarasyuk added. In July, the OSCE announced that it was planning to dispatch 650 observers for the presidential election in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). JM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told several Serbian leaders in Belgrade on 30 August that Kosova's Serbian minority should take part in the 23 October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 30 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August 2004). He said at a news conference that "it is absolutely crucial if we want a multiethnic Kosovo...that Kosovo Serbs be given a chance to participate in Kosovo elections," adding that "we are really gradually seeing an improvement in the security situation" following the ethnically motivated violence of 17-18 March. Several Serbian leaders support a boycott of the vote on the grounds that there is not sufficient security for Serbs to go to the polls. Kosova's elected government notes that many Serbs in Kosova had no problem casting their ballots in the June Serbian presidential election. Albanian leaders charge that the real motive for the boycott is to pressure UNMIK to accept Belgrade's decentralization proposal, which the UN rejects and the ethnic Albanian majority regards as a first step toward partition. After meeting with Jessen-Petersen, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that Kosova's Serbs do not have sufficient confidence in the province's institutions, and he called for a reconsideration of the decentralization plan. PM

In an interview to mark the completion of his first 45 days in office, Serbian President Boris Tadic told the BBC's Serbian Service in Belgrade on 30 August that his first foreign policy success was his recent visit to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June and 2 July 2004). He noted that an unspecified "Serbian lobby" will be formed soon in the U.S. Congress, "like all organized national groups have." Tadic stressed that his election in June put an end to "nine months of [inconclusive Serbian] elections, leading to a period of much needed "political stability" involving his presidency "cohabiting" with the governing coalition. Cohabitation, he argued, means that political leaders can turn their attention to important issues such as cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, the functioning of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, pursuing integration into the EU, reforming the security and defense structures, and reinvigorating the economy. Outside of cohabitation, however, the political scene is unstable, he added. Turning to Kosova, he noted that the Serbian political leadership is largely united in its stand, and stressed that resolving the issue is a "precondition for political stability not only in Serbia but in the Balkans as a whole" ( PM

After numerous postponements because of concerns about his health, former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic began his defense on war crimes and genocide charges in The Hague on 31 August, RFE/RL reported. He told the UN's war crimes tribunal that the "accusations brought against me are unscrupulous, manipulated lies, [a distortion] of the law, defeat of morals, and a completely irresponsible distortion of history," adding that "everything has been turned upside down in order to protect from responsibility those who are truly responsible for the tragic events." Milosevic stressed that "there is a fundamental historical fact that one should proceed from when seeking to understand what led to everything that happened in Yugoslavia from 1991 until today, and that is the violent destruction of a European state, Yugoslavia, which originated from the statehood of Serbia, the only ally of the democratic world in that part of the world over the past two centuries." Milosevic has 150 days to present his case, and he continues to oppose calls by the prosecution for the tribunal to appoint a defense lawyer on his behalf. Court officials hope that his trial, which began in February 2002, will end in 2006. PM

SFOR peacekeepers said in a statement in Sarajevo on 31 August that they recently detained Milovan Bjelica (aka Cicko) in Sokolac on suspicion that he is a financial backer of fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, dpa reported. Bjelica is a former leader of Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and mayor of Pale. SFOR detained Bjelica in May but released him in June after questioning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). It is not clear why SFOR has detained him again. PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski visited Sofia on 30 August at the invitation of his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov, focusing on bilateral economic ties, "Dnevnik" reported. "The biggest problem in the economic relations between the two countries is the low movement of goods," Crvenkovski said. Parvanov stressed that the construction of the pan-European transport Corridor No. 8, which runs from Brindisi in Italy through Durres (Albania) and Macedonia to the Bulgarian Black Sea ports, remains a priority for Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 9 July 2002, and 27 March 2003). The two presidents also agreed to open more border crossings between their two countries. On the sidelines of Crvenkovski's visit, Macedonian Deputy Foreign Minister Fuad Hasanovic and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi signed a memorandum on cooperation in promoting Euro-Atlantic integration. In the past, relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia were often marred by the reluctance of many Bulgarians to recognize a separate Macedonian nation. Many Bulgarians consider Macedonian to be a mere dialect of the Bulgarian language. At such bilateral meetings, only the Macedonian side tends to bring along interpreters. UB

An opinion poll conducted by the Bucharest-based IRSOP agency between January and June reveals that many Romanians believe the distribution of EU funds is marred by corruption, Mediafax reported on 30 August. The poll, ordered by the European Commission's (EC) delegation in Romania, shows that 59 percent of respondents, 73 percent of businessmen, 43 percent of NGO representatives, and 6 percent of local officials believe that the process is beset with fraud. Commenting on the results, European Integration Minister Alexandru Farcas said that the Romanian authorities have only started to learn the value of winning public trust. Speaking at a seminar on EU funding in the central Romanian city of Sovata, Farcas added that the government needs to improve its public communication, as both the government and the EC's delegation have "a communication problem." Speaking at the same seminar, Giorgio Ficcarelli, the EC delegation's charges d'affaires in Romania, said that public responsibility and transparency in the use of public funds are fundamental principles of the democratic functioning of the EU and its member states. ZsM

In an interview with Ukrainian Kanal 5 TV, former Ambassador to Romania Anton Buteyko said Romania and not Ukraine is polluting the Danube, the BBC's website reported on 30 August. He did not elaborate, but added that Romania's protests against the canal are clear signs of artificially mounting tensions between the two countries, as Romania was slow in reacting to the project. Romania recently announced it will file a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Ukraine's opening of a shipping canal in the Danube Delta (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004). In related news, the Romanian Senate on 30 August postponed voting on the ratification of a 2002 treaty between the two countries on juridical relations in civil cases. Ruling Social Democratic Party Senator Adrian Paunescu asked for the postponement because of Ukraine's "ecological aggression" against Romania. ZsM

Many Russian nationalists in Moscow are inclined to see the regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a positive light, as someone whose policies they prefer to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But at least some Russians in Belarus have a very different opinion about the Belarusian leader, viewing him as overseeing a regime openly hostile to the 1.5 million ethnic Russians who live in his country.

This difference -- and it is far from trivial -- casts doubt on some of the assumptions both Moscow and Western governments have made about Belarus and suggests that Belarusian national identity may be far stronger than many had assumed.

Praise of Lukashenka by Russian nationalists inside Russia has been so frequent and enthusiastic that it is now generally passed over in silence or seen as yet another indication of the fundamental authoritarianism of the Russian right. But criticism of Lukashenka by Russian nationalists inside Belarus has seldom attracted much notice. That makes a letter and an essay written by Vladimir G. Mikhailov of Minsk and published on the St. Petersburg-based Orthodox Information Agency "Russkaya liniya" website ( so intriguing.

In his letter to this website, Mikhailov argues that "In the Republic of Belarus, just as in the Baltic countries, the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] violates an elementary human right -- the right to one's own name by forcibly changing Russian first names and family names into their Belarusian equivalents."

In the view of the Belarusian passport and visa service, Mikhailov reports, Russian names must be converted into their Belarusian equivalents, not simply transcribed from the Russian Cyrillic to the Belarusian Cyrillic. Thus, the Russian "Anna" becomes Belarusian "Hanna," the Russian "Grigorii" becomes the Belarusian "Ryhor," the Russian "Mikhailov" becomes the Belarusian "Mikhaylau," and the Russian "Putin" becomes the Belarusian "Putsin."

In the essay accompanying his letter, Mikhailov suggests that there are three reasons why ethnic Russians in Belarus and ethnic Russians in Russia should be outraged by this practice.

First, the practice violates the Belarusian Constitution, Belarusian law, and repeated declarations by Belarusian officials but nonetheless continues with extremely negative consequences for anyone who refuses to go along with it.

Indeed, says Mikhailov, the Belarusian government, as far as the public record is concerned, looks to be on the side of the "angels," but in fact, he notes, the situation in his country is "practically analogous to those of Lithuania and Latvia." And those who refuse to go along may be fined, jailed, or prevented from practicing their trade or continuing to live where they have long been resident.

Second, this Belarusian practice, Mikhailov said, is applied only to ethnic Russians and not to any other ethnic group in the country. Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, and representatives of every other ethnic group in Belarus, Mikhailov said, are allowed to register for passports, residence permits, and other forms by transliterating their names rather than replacing their national names with Belarusian ones. That makes the practice directed against ethnic Russians all the more unexpected and all the more exasperating, he insisted.

Third, the Belarusian authorities, the Belarusian opposition, and the Russian media in Russia have seldom discussed this problem, thereby making it virtually impossible for ethnic Russians in Belarus to protest against this forcible reidentification of ethnic Russians by the Belarusian government.

Indeed, Mikhailov suggests that there has been a virtual conspiracy of media silence on this point, citing a rare Belarusian television program about it in March 2004 as the exception that proves the rule and as the reason for ethnic Russian passivity in and around Belarus.

But, Mikhailov continues, the situation is even worse, and Russians in Russia need to know about it. He said that for the last two years he has been sending an appeal, signed by 300 ethnic Russians in Belarus, to all senior officials and agencies of the Belarusian government.

Not only has he not received an answer to his petition, but he has discovered a strange catch-22 situation in the Belarusian judicial system: The only court with the authority to overrule the Interior Ministry, the Constitutional Court, is one that he -- as a Belarusian citizen -- cannot appeal to directly. As a result, Mikhailov and his fellow ethnic Russians face an unpalatable situation. They can either agree to have their names translated into Belarusian as Interior Ministry officials insist or they can refuse and face the legal difficulties almost certain to follow.

What is interesting about this cri de couer of a Russian nationalist in Belarus is not so much the problem he discusses but rather the light it sheds on the attitudes of Belarusian officials, a group many in both Moscow and the West view as more or less committed Russian nationalists. Instead, if Mikhailov is right about what is going on, at least some of them may be more nationalist than anyone suspected -- and that in a country where, as Mikhailov suggests, "even in the cemeteries you won't find any names written in Belarusian."

Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.

The Afghan Interior Ministry's chief of security for Kabul, General Baba Jan, said on 30 August that 10 people were killed in the bomb attack in central Kabul on 29 August rather than the initial figure of seven (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2004), Radio Afghanistan reported. Ten others were injured, and a large number of shops and residential houses were destroyed or damaged, Baba Jan added. Baba Jan again rejected the notion that the attack was a suicide mission, and he ruled out the threat of further attacks in Kabul by the presumed perpetrators, neo-Taliban elements. The death toll from the 30 August attack includes three U.S. nationals employed by DynCorp Inc., a firm that provides security for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and training for the Afghan police force, "The New York Times" reported on 31 August. A spokesman for DynCorp said two other employees are still missing. It remains unclear how the attackers managed to get so close to their target, which is located on a closed-off portion of a heavily guarded street. AT

Afghanistan's National Security Department (NSD) seized large amounts of explosives in Kabul on 30 August, Radio Afghanistan reported, quoting the official Bakhtar News Agency. The seizure reportedly included roughly 600 kilograms of explosives along with 50 meters of fuse hidden in two houses in the Khairabad and Chahar Asiab districts of Kabul. Three people have been arrested in the case. The explosives were reportedly prepared for use in the capital. The NSD also discovered 16 antipersonnel mines in Kabul's 16th District. AT

Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim has instructed all militia commanders to complete the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program within their military units before the 9 October presidential election, Afghanistan Television reported on 29 August. "Disarmament must be carried out in accordance with the plan before the presidential elections. The Defense Ministry is announcing this for the last time," announced Fahim, who himself commands a militia. But First Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak has indicated that only 40 percent of the country's militias must be disarmed before the elections, the station reported later the same day. Speaking at a news conference on 30 August, Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi reiterated Fahim's warning, adding that the defense minister has "stressed that the demobilization program must be implemented in accordance with the plan and ahead of the elections and that this is the Defense Ministry's last warning," Radio Afghanistan reported. The DDR program has fallen behind schedule and many powerful warlords have not yet surrendered weapons. According to the DDR's stated schedule, 40 percent of militia forces were to have been disarmed by July, with a further 20 percent disarmed ahead of elections. AT

The director of Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Directorate, Mirwais Yasini, accused unnamed government officials of involvement in the country's growing narcotics trade in an interview with the Kabul-based daily "Anis" on 28 August. "There is no doubt that certain government officials are involved in the smuggling, trafficking, and cultivation of narcotics," Yasini said, adding that the names of such individuals will be made public in the "foreseeable future." Yasini reaffirmed his earlier statement that the Afghan government intends to reduce opium production by 70 percent by 2007 and totally eradicate the problem by 2012 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003). According to Yasini, the special police force formed earlier this year by the Interior Ministry to combat narcotics has destroyed 54 laboratories and 144 tons of opium, heroin, hashish, and morphine. According to UN statistics, Afghanistan accounts for close to 80 percent of the world's opium supply. Critics have accused both the Afghan administration and its international backers of ignoring the country's drug problem, although it appears to have received increased attention more recently. AT

Hassan Ghafuri-Fard, the head of Iran's Parties House, announced on 30 August that there are more than 200 registered political parties and groups in the country, IRNA reported. He noted that most of them become active only around election time and, of that 200, only 20-30 are national organizations. Ghafuri-Fard said the Parties House is trying to institutionalize parties, and his organization has provided such groups with 20 billion rials (about $2.5 million), with about $1 million going to parties and the rest to social groups. Parties must be licensed by the Article 10 Commission, but some politically active organizations operate without licenses. BS

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Ahmad Salih, who is visiting Tehran, said on 31 August that Iran and Iraq agree that the two countries' political decision to have good relations should be converted into a "working plan," Al-Arabiyah television reported. He added that "instability in Iraq will have adverse consequences for the entire region." Salih, Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib, and Minister of State for Provinces Wa'il Abd al-Latif met with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani on 30 August, Radio Farda and IRNA reported. Rohani noted that the security of Iran and of Iraq is linked, and Iraq's security has a regional impact. "We will not allow any threat to be posed against Iran," Salih said, adding that coalition forces will not be allowed to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary. The Iraqis met with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari on 29 August, IRNA reported the next day. Citing an Interior Ministry press release, IRNA reported that their discussions addressed the pilgrimage traffic, establishment of border markets, trade fairs, investment in border provinces, and counternarcotics. BS

Iraqi police arrested Fars News Agency photographer Hassan Ghaedi in Al-Najaf on 29 August, the agency's director of photography, Majid Saidi, told Radio Farda on 30 August. The photographer reportedly had a permit and entered the city with a group of journalists, and he was detained later, Fars News Agency reported on 30 August. An anonymous source told Fars News Agency that Iranian photographers must have special permits to take pictures in Al-Najaf. The news agency reported that on 28 August Iraqi police began blocking Iranian reporters' and photographers' access to Al-Najaf. Saidi told Radio Farda that the photographer was working for two days and was even taking pictures of the U.S. military without any problems. Saidi told Radio Farda that the Iraqi authorities intend to expel Ghaedi from Iraq. BS

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on 29 August discussed allegations of Iranian involvement in unrest in his country, Italy's "Corriere della Serra" reported on 30 August. "We ask that they respect our sovereignty, and do not interfere in our internal affairs," he said. Allawi said that although Iraq is weak now it has the potential to be rich and strong, so calm is in everyone's interest. Addressing the possibility of his visiting Iran, a subject referred to frequently in the Iranian media, Allawi said, "If the conditions were there, I myself could soon go to Tehran." BS

Al-Jazeera television broadcast on 30 August new footage of the two kidnapped French journalists appealing to their country's leaders to revoke the law banning Muslim headscarves in French public schools. The reporters are being held hostage by the Islamic Army of Iraq, which is responsible for the recent killing of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004) and detaining Iranian diplomat Fereidun Jahani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2004). One of the hostages, Christian Chesnot, was quoted from the same footage in London's "The Times" as saying, "I call on [French] President [Jacques] Chirac and the French government to show goodwill toward the Arab and Islamic worlds by revoking the ban on wearing the hijab immediately. I also urge all French citizens to demonstrate against this law and demand its annulment because it is unfair and wrong." According to Al-Jazeera, the Islamic Army of Iraq has extended its deadline for revoking the law by another 24 hours. The group has threatened to kill the journalists if its demands are not met. PK

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin held an emergency meeting on 31 August with the French ministers of interior, defense, and education, Al-Arabiyah reported. Hundreds of Muslims gathered in front of the Radio France headquarters in Paris in a demonstration of solidarity with the journalists. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has continued his Middle East mission to save the kidnapped journalists. Having met with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghayt, he went to Amman to hold talks with his Jordanian counterpart Marwan al-Mu'asher. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and New York-based Human Rights Watch have both condemned the kidnappings, as have the Palestinian militant organization Hamas, the Muslim World League, and the top Shi'a cleric in Lebanon, Muhammad Husayn Fadhlallah. On 31 August, Al-Arabiyah broadcast a speech from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, where he demanded the release of the journalists. In Iraq, the Muslim Clerics Association, the Consultation Committee of the People of Tradition and Community, the Martyr Al-Sadr Office, and Ali al-Yasiri, an aide to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have all condemned the kidnappings. PK

A website linked to an Iraqi militant group has shown a video of what purports to be the killing of 12 kidnapped Nepalese workers, AP reported on 31 August. According to Reuters, the Army of Ansar al-Sunna has claimed responsibility for the act. The footage shows a masked man apparently slitting the throat of a blindfolded man lying on the ground. Images followed of another man firing single shots from an assault rifle into the back of the heads of the 11 other hostages. A statement on the website said that the group vowed to keep fighting the Americans in Iraq. The Nepalese workers were kidnapped on 23 August, four days after entering the country, and are employed by a Jordanian construction firm. According to AP, apart from the 12 Nepalese, there are at least 18 more people currently held hostage in Iraq. PK

The head of the educational department in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Ibrahim Isma'il, was killed on 31 August, police sources told AP. A police colonel in the city, Sarhat Qadir, said that Isma'il was killed in a drive-by shooting as he drove to work in the morning. Three of his bodyguards were wounded, one of them seriously, AFP reported. According to AP and Al-Arabiyah, Isma'il has faced Kurdish criticism for appointing only Turkoman officials to key posts in the department. Kirkuk is an oil-rich city with a mixed Kurdish, Turkoman, Arab, and Christian population. PK

Muqtada al-Sadr has said through his aides that he is willing to campaign for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by political means, Reuters reported on 31 August. The cleric also ordered his Imam Al-Mahdi Army militia to end attacks on U.S. and Iraqi government forces. Al-Sadr aide Sheikh Ali al-Sumaysim called on the Imam Al-Mahdi Army "to stop fighting, unless in self-defense...until the al-Sadr movement agrees on a political project," Al-Jazeera reported. Reuters quoted another al-Sadr aide, Ali al-Yasiri, as saying that "a full political program will be unveiled soon. The al-Sadr movement has academic elements and experts who will be coming more to the forefront and support its role in a free, independent, democratic Iraq." PK