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Newsline - July 7, 2005

President Vladimir Putin met on 7 July in Gleneagles, Scotland, with the leaders of the other Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries, Russian and international media reported. Before the summit was interrupted by the bomb blasts in London, it was expected the leaders would focus on finding ways to reduce the emissions of gases widely believed to contribute to global warming. Igor Shuvalov, who is serving as Putin's special adviser at the summit, told ITAR-TASS on 6 July that "Moscow promises to fulfill all its Kyoto Protocol commitments." "Proof or no proof, we must go on working and jointly investing in the study of the reasons behind climate change," he said. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 6 July that it had obtained a draft of the summit's final communique that calls for global efforts to stabilize oil prices and supplies. Vladimir Frolov, deputy general director of the Effective Politics Foundation, told "The Moscow Times" on 7 July that the document "is hinting at our [high] export duties and at the fact that we do not make enough investment in the export infrastructure, which slows down oil output." Putin will take over the presidency of the G-8 next year and energy security is expected to be a major theme of the next G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. RC

Presidential foreign-policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko told ITAR-TASS on 6 July that the G-8 leaders will be discussing the agenda for the 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, which will be the first such event to be held in Russia. "We consider it one of the central tasks of our foreign policy to make this country's G-8 presidency a success," Prikhodko said. Prikhodko noted that the problem of reducing the debts owed by the world's poorest countries is a major theme of the current summit and said it will likely continue to be a topic next year. He noted that the Paris Club of creditor countries currently writes off the debts of countries whose total debt amounts to 150 percent of their GDP. He said that there is talk of reducing that figure to 120 percent, which would "affect our financial relations with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova." "In that case, Russia might raise the question of assistance to the economically weak CIS countries, since after all not only people in Africa are faring badly." RC

Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov told RIA-Novosti on 7 July that Russia is ready to begin new talks with Estonia regarding a treaty delimiting the border between the two countries. A treaty was signed in Moscow on 18 May but, during ratification, the Estonian legislature added a statement that references Estonian laws that refer to the Soviet "occupation" of Estonia. The Russian government then refused to submit the treaty to the State Duma for ratification following that development (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005) and declared the treaty dead. Chizhov emphasized that Moscow does not intend to ask that the border be redrawn. The Foreign Ministry's press office on 6 July rejected statements that day by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who said while visiting Tallinn that the European Union should intervene in the dispute. "Moscow is perplexed at the pronouncements of the Polish Tallinn's support on all matters related to the border and in the dispute over the border treaty with Russia," the ministry's statement said. " its relations with its neighbors, Estonia included, has no use for middlemen, including those from Warsaw." RC

President Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed several documents on 1 July after a lengthy meeting in the Kremlin, Interfax reported. The documents included a joint declaration "On the International Order in the 21st Century," an agreement settling Soviet and Russian debts to China, and several agreements related to cooperation between Russian and Chinese corporations. A joint communique adopted by Putin and Hu on 2 July affirms the goal of "strategic cooperation" between Russia and China and calls for continued implementation of the "Russian-Chinese Action Plan for 2005-2008," which leaders of the two countries approved in October 2004. Before leaving Russia, Hu attended a conference in Novosibirsk that was attended by several governors as well as Anatolii Kvashnin, Putin's envoy to the Siberian Federal District, Interfax reported on 3 July. At that conference, Hu endorsed plans to increase trade between China and the Siberian Federal District to between $10 billion and $12 billion by 2010 as part of a larger project to increase Russian-Chinese trade to between $60 billion and $80 billion by that year. LB

President Putin held a summit with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 3 July in Svetlogorsk (Kaliningrad Oblast), Russian media reported. The leaders did not sign any agreements but discussed issues related to the European Union and the G-8 summits in Scotland and Russia. Speaking to journalists, Chirac emphasized the importance of Russia's relations with the European Union and praised "Russia's special role in Iran's peaceful development," Interfax reported. Schroeder thanked Putin for the opportunity to visit Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg) during the city's 750th anniversary celebration, during which Kaliningrad University was named after ethnic German Immanuel Kant. Schroeder also said that better relations between Russia and the European Union would benefit Kaliningrad. Polish President Kwasniewski has voiced his surprise at not being invited to the anniversary in Kaliningrad, calling it "more than a mistake." LB

Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov said in Astana on 6 July that a number of Yukos assets had been frozen by a Moscow court as a result of a lawsuit filed by his company, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Bogdanchikov said Yukos's 20 percent stake in Sibneft, which is controlled by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, is among the frozen assets. Boganchikov noted that Rosneft, Russia's only wholly state-owned oil company, believes Yukos owes it $3.5 billion in connection with Rosneft's takeover in December of Yuganskneftegaz, formerly the main production subsidiary of Yukos. Although Rosneft has said that it prefers to have the debt paid in cash, analysts believe the state is using the company to increase its position in the oil market. on 7 July editorialized that "the government is using Rosneft for its purposes and has assigned the company the role of collector of Russian oil-company shares." RC

The State Duma on 6 July approved legislation in the third and final reading amending 13 existing election-related statutes, Russian media reported. Among other things, the changes raise the threshold for obtaining Duma seats from 5 percent to 7 percent, prohibit political parties from forming electoral blocs, institute nationwide election days on the second Tuesdays of March and October, require Duma deputies to remain in the faction of the party that nominated them, and allow election officials to strike a political party from the ballot if 10 percent of its signatures are declared invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). Kremlin officials and their parliamentary supporters have praised the changes as strengthening Russia's political party system and forcing candidates to stick to their campaign platforms. Opponents have charged that the new system will make it impossible for opposition parties to win representation in parliament. Andrei Piontkovskii, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow, attributed the election reforms to the "deep shock the Kremlin experienced observing the elections in Ukraine," which seemed to demonstrate that "money, television, and administrative resources" are no longer sufficient to obtain desired election outcomes, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 July. LB

Putin on 1 July signed a bill exempting most property from inheritance and gift taxes, effective on 1 January 2006, Interfax and RTR reported. Putin proposed abolishing the inheritance tax in his address to the parliament on 25 April, and the Duma and Federation Council approved a corresponding bill last month. The inheritance tax will apply only to royalty payments received by the heirs or legal successors or copyright- and patent-holders. No gifts from close relatives will be subject to taxation, nor will most other gifts, but gifts of property, vehicles, and stocks or bonds to nonrelatives will be taxed at a rate of 13 percent. LB

The Federation Council on 6 July approved amendments to the law on the procuracy of the Russian Federation, RIA-Novosti reported. The law creates a new system for calculating the salaries of workers in prosecutors' offices across the country, fixing them at various percentages of the salary of the first deputy prosecutor general, whose compensation will be fixed at 80 percent of the salary of the chairman of the Supreme Court. The law also allows the president to determine the salary of the prosecutor general. The Duma approved the law in all three readings on 1 July, Interfax reported. Deputy Prosecutor General Sabir Kekhlerov told Interfax that the law will take effect from 1 July, and that the current federal budget already accounts for the 3.6 billion rubles (about $120 million) that will be needed to implement the salary hikes. LB

A Duma working group investigating the massive 25 May power outage in the Moscow area concluded that human error caused the blackout, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. In particular, the report blamed dispatchers working for the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES) and its regional networks. It also criticized actions taken by former Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who in January 2000 revoked rules related to the use of electricity and heating energy but did not institute any new rules. Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia), who led the working group, told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 5 July that obsolete equipment also contributed to the blackout. Although some politicians have pointed the finger at EES chief executive Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 20 June and 21 June 2005), noted on 6 July that the Duma report primarily blamed mid-level managers of the electricity grid, and thereby "vindicated" Chubais. A government commission investigating the blackout issued its conclusions on 1 July and also held dispatchers responsible for the outage, Interfax reported. LB

EES head Chubais and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov have signed a memorandum on the management of the city's power and heating networks after it has been removed from the control of Mosenergo, "Vedomosti" reported on 7 July. The networks will be managed by a new company that will be 100 percent municipally controlled and that will be headed by Federation Council member Aleksandr Kazakov. Kazakov is a longtime ally of Chubais and worked for him in the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin and on the EES board of directors. The board of the new company will be headed by Moscow Vice Mayor Petr Aksenov, the daily reported. An unnamed source in the city government told the daily that other key management posts would be divided equally between EES and the city. RC

The Duma's Rules Committee on 5 July approved a request to register a second Motherland faction of nine members led by Sergei Baburin, Russian media reported. The Motherland faction led by Dmitrii Rogozin expelled Baburin last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). Rules Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev suggested that Baburin call his faction Motherland-People's Will, while Rogozin call his faction Motherland-Russian Regions. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 July, Kovalev also declined Rogozin's request to draw up a document that would strip Baburin of his post as deputy Duma speaker. Rogozin called the registration unlawful and characterized it as part of a plot by the authorities to undermine Motherland by confusing voters. Several political analysts quoted by "Vedomosti" on 6 July agreed that the appearance of a second Motherland faction is part of a Kremlin response to Rogozin's growing popularity in some regions. However, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction may itself be divided over the matter. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov rebuked Kovalev on 6 July and requested that the registration of Baburin's faction be discussed at a 7 July meeting of the Duma Council, NTV reported. LB

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii on 3 July said his party will never unite with the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) because "we are completely different parties, with completely different programs, with completely different goals," Russian media reported. Speaking after a two-day conference of Yabloko's federal council, Yavlinskii argued that the SPS should not even be considered a "democratic" party, on the grounds that it "will always be with the authorities" and was created and financed by big business. During an interview on Ekho Moskvy the same day, however, Yavlinskii said that creating a united democratic party is a "very important task" and expressed a willingness to cooperate with all parties that share Yabloko's goals and policy stands on major issues. Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 3 July, SPS leader Nikita Belykh said Yavlinskii's comments reflect a lack of foresight and lack of understanding of the current political situation. LB

The Republican Party convened a Moscow conference on 2 July, hoping to unite parties in the "democratic" camp, "Vremya novostei" reported on 4 July. Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), a member of the Republican Party political council, decried recent changes in electoral law and outlined the main points of the party's program in his address to the conference. Aleksei Zakharov, formerly of Yabloko, then told the audience: "Democracy is in danger, and the main danger stems from the democrats themselves, from their fragmentation, their inability to unite." However, Yabloko leader Yavlinskii and EES head Chubais -- a power broker in the SPS -- declined invitations to attend the conference, and "Vedomosti" on 4 July quoted Yabloko and SPS members as criticizing Ryzhkov's proposal. Republican Party leaders cite opinion poll data suggesting that "democrats" would have greater support if they joined forces under the banner of a "new, little-known party," "Vedomosti" and "Gazeta" reported on 1 July. But members of other parties question whether the 15-year-old Republican Party will even continue to exist, given the new law requiring political parties to have at least 50,000 members. LB

Mikhail Shvydkoi, who now directs the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema, on 6 July filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of that agency against Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov, Russian news agencies reported. The defamation lawsuit concerns Sokolov's recent televised statements concerning alleged corruption in the agency headed by Shvydkoi and in the Culture Ministry when Shvydkoi was minister (2000-04) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005). Shvydkoi had previously announced the intention to sue for a symbolic 1 ruble in damages, but his attorney, Pavel Astakhov, told Ekho Moskvy on 6 July that the lawsuit seeks no monetary compensation and demands only that Sokolov retract allegations "that do not correspond to reality" if he cannot prove they are true. Sokolov told journalists on 1 July that while he lacks the authority to fire Shvydkoi, he may sue him. Although the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema is subordinate to the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry, the power to fire that agency's director belongs to the prime minister. LB

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, who had expressed confidence about Moscow's chances for hosting the summer Olympics in 2012, was gracious in defeat after members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted Moscow out in the first round of balloting on 6 July in Singapore, Russian news agencies reported. Luzhkov claimed not to be disappointed and hailed Moscow as a worthy competitor of major world capitals. He also vowed to carry through plans to upgrade Moscow's sports facilities despite losing the bid for the Olympics, reported. Several news agencies quoted Luzhkov as saying, "We will fight for the right to host the Olympic Games of 2016," but Interfax reported later in the day that Luzhkov cast doubt on such efforts, saying, "After the selection of London, any European city that could have been chosen in 2012...has very slim chances." IOC Vice President Vitalii Smirnov told Interfax that he believes IOC members rejected Moscow because they were influenced by Western media coverage. LB

The Justice Ministry has sent the presidential administration a draft law that would abolish attorney-client privilege, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 July. According to the draft obtained by the newspaper, attorneys would not be allowed to withhold information requested by the ministry. The Justice Ministry currently keeps a register of lawyers and participates in collegiums that certify lawyers, but ministry officials want broader authority to recommend disciplinary action against attorneys and even to request that their licenses to practice law be revoked. Duma Deputy Andrei Makarov (Unified Russia), one of the authors of the current law regulating attorneys, sharply criticized the Justice Ministry's proposals, saying they would, in effect, put attorneys completely under state control. He added that since lawyers often defend private citizens against state bodies, the proposals would largely give the state power over the other party in case of a legal dispute. LB

Bashkortostan State Assembly Deputy Edvard Murzin and "Kvir" magazine publisher Edvard Mishin on 6 July appealed to the Constitutional Court in an effort to overturn an article in the Family Code that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, Interfax reported. Murzin said it was their third attempt to appeal to the Constitutional Court on the matter. After a Moscow registry declined to register his marriage to Mishin earlier this year, Murzin lost an appeal in the Moscow City Court and filed an appeal with the European Court of Human rights (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Daily Report," 15 April and 22 April 2005). Murzin, who says he is heterosexual, has campaigned for gay marriage rights and battled discrimination against gays for more than a year. LB

The Moscow Prosecutor's Office announced on 1 July that two men have been arrested in connection with the 12 June explosion that derailed a train en route from Grozny to Moscow, Russian media reported. Some three dozen people were injured in that attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June and 14 June 2005). Several Russian television networks on 1 July identified the arrested suspects as Moscow residents in their 40s who belong to Aleksandr Barkashov's extremist Russian National Unity (RNE) party. However, RNE leaders denied that the men ever belonged to the party and accused law enforcement agencies of trying to frame the RNE, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 July. Even some investigators working on the case doubt that the suspects have anything to do with the RNE, according to "Kommersant" on 5 July. One unnamed investigator told the newspaper that although the suspects hold ultranationalist views, they are psychologically disturbed individuals and no "serious organization" would be likely to accept them, let alone entrust them with an important operation. LB

Police stormed a house in Makhachkala early on 6 July, killing two militants including Rasul Makasharipov, leader of the Shariah Djamaat believed to be responsible for a string of assassinations and other terrorist acts, Russian media reported. Two other militants escaped. The Shariah Djamaat claimed responsibility for a bomb attack at a public bath house in Makhachkala on 1 July that killed 10 Russian special forces troops, "The New York Times" reported on 3 July. A political scientist loyal to the current leadership of Daghestan was killed in Makhachkala on 5 July when gunmen opened fire on his car. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 July quoted Daghestan's interior minister, Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, as estimating the number of terrorist attacks in Daghestan since the beginning of this year at 68, of which 40 took place in Makhachkala. LF

Almost all of the several hundred Avar villagers who fled last month from the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya to neighboring Daghestan following a sweep operation by unidentified security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 20, 24 and 28 June 2005) returned to their homes on 29 June, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June. The villagers were transported in a convoy organized by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose security force has been tasked with guarding the village. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov has pledged that "everything will be done" to locate the 11 villagers abducted during the 4 June sweep operation. LF

Some 200 Abazins occupied the parliament building in Cherkessk on 29 June, capital of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic, to demand that deputies annul the recently adopted law on redistricting that transferred ownership of hitherto Abazin lands to a neighboring Karachai village, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005). The protesters left the building after a telephone conversation with the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, who issued a statement branding the legislation "insufficiently thought through" and calling for its suspension. Kozak met in Moscow on 1 July with Abazin representatives and members of a KChR government commission headed by Prime Minister Alik Kardanov to discuss the Abazins' grievances, according to LF

Some 600 Karachais from the KChR, Kabardino-Balkaria, Central Asia, and Turkey attended the founding congress in Cherkessk on 2 July of the Congress of the Karachai people, reported. The new movement was founded on the initiative of Karachai members of the republic's parliament; its objectives are to promote interethnic stability across the North Caucasus and to resolve the problems facing the Karachai people, including high unemployment and low living standards. The Karachais are the second largest ethnic group in the KChR after the Russians, and account for 33.7 percent of the republic's total population of some 440,000. LF

Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian, commander of the armed forces of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, admitted on 1 July that he took part in the beating on 21 June of war veteran Pavel Manukian, a member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 27 June 2005). Ohanian said that he was unable to "restrain himself" in light of Manukian's "offensive" criticisms of the NKR military leadership. In the run-up to the 19 June NKR parliamentary ballot, in which Manukian failed to win election, he ridiculed the NKR top brass for their stated readiness to withdraw from neighboring occupied districts of Azerbaijan if ordered to do so by the republic's leadership. LF

Meeting in Washington from 1-5 July, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe adopted a resolution drafted by Swedish parliamentarian Goran Lennmarker that called on both Armenia and Azerbaijan to intensify their efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) conflict peacefully, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 4 July. The assembly overwhelmingly rejected amendments to that resolution proposed by Azerbaijan that called for the OSCE to affirm Azerbaijan's sovereignty over the NKR and to demand an unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from all occupied districts of Azerbaijan. LF

President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on 4 July scheduling the upcoming parliamentary election for 6 November, Turan reported. Meeting in Baku on 5 July, the Central Election Commission set a 24 July deadline for the nomination of candidates, who must submit the required lists of signatures in support of their nomination by 28 August. The election campaign will last from 7 September-5 November. LF

Azerbaijan's Court for Severe Crimes has passed sentence on nine men (three Azerbaijanis, three Russians, one Briton, one Jordanian and one Afghan) on charges of preparing to commit terrorist acts and illegal possession of weapons, Turan and Reuters reported on 6 July. The accused received prison terms of up to 15 years. According to ITAR-TASS, the men were acting on instructions from Al-Qaeda. Six men were sentenced in Azerbaijan in February on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2005). LF

Baku's Nizami District Court rejected on 5 July an appeal by Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" and deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party, to annul the charges of seeking to instigate mass disorder on which he was sentenced in October 1994 to five years in prison, Turan reported on 6 July. On 6 July, the Binagadi District Court rejected an analogous appeal by Musavat Co-Deputy Chairman Arif Hadjili, who received a five-year sentence on the same charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2004). The verdict of "guilty" handed down to four other oppositionists also sentenced in connection with the clashes in Baku in October 2003 in the wake of the disputed presidential election -- People's Party leader Panakh Huseinov, Musavat party Deputy Chairman Ibrahim Ibrahimli, Umid Party Chairman Igbal Agazade, and Etimad Asadov, head of an organization representing veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war -- have been annulled, Turan reported on 1 July. All six men, together with Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, imam of the Djuma mosque, were pardoned by President Aliyev earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). LF

Mikheil Saakashvili and Zurab Noghaideli both expressed appreciation on 1 July for the police intervention the previous evening against supporters of two Georgian wrestlers sentenced to pretrial detention on charges of extortion, Caucasus Press reported. The protesters congregated on Tbilisi's main boulevard to demand the release of the two men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2005). Police arrested some 30 people, including several opposition politicians, during the protest. Several hundred people attended a rally on 1 July in a Tbilisi park to protest the police intervention and call for the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who vowed on 1 July that, as in other "civilized countries," Georgian police will do everything necessary to "establish order." President Saakashvili said on 1 July he will not dismiss Merabishvili. Opposition and pro-government parliamentarians resorted to fisticuffs on 1 July following a heated exchange in connection with the police action. On 6 July, a Tbilisi court rejected an appeal by the two wrestlers' lawyers for their release on bail, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Georgian navy intercepted on 1 July a Turkish merchant ship transporting building materials to the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and placed its captain and crew under arrest, Caucasus Press reported. The ship did not have official permission to enter Georgian territorial waters. In Sukhum, Abkhaz Security Council Secretary Stanislav Lakoba said the detention of the Turkish vessel shows Tbilisi is not seriously interested in ongoing talks on resuming rail links from Russia via Abkhazia to Tbilisi. Following talks on 1 July, Abkhaz, Russian, and Georgian representatives signed a protocol on setting up three groups of experts to assess the extent of the repairs needed to make the railway operational. Abkhaz representatives failed on 7 July to attend the regular weekly meeting with Georgian, Russian, and UN officials to discuss the security situation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. LF

At a summit in Astana on 5 July, the heads of the member states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) approved a plan for fighting terrorism, separatism, and extremism, ITAR-TASS reported. The antiterrorism plan was one of seven documents signed at the summit, reported. In a 5 July declaration, SCO members promised that they will not give refuge to individuals accused or suspected of terrorist, separatist, or extremist activities, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The declaration stressed the "democratization" of international relations and the need for noninterference in the affairs of sovereign states. India, Iran, and Pakistan received observer status in the SCO at the summit, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Previously, Mongolia was the only country with observer status in the SCO. Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza, Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz joined the heads of state of SCO member nations at the summit. DK

In the summit's final declaration on 5 July, the SCO asked the forces in the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to clarify a timeframe for withdrawal from U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. As quoted by Russia's "Kommersant-Daily," the declaration noted that several SCO countries have "provided their above-ground infrastructure for the temporary deployment of the military contingents of coalition member states. " It continued, "Taking into account the conclusion of the active military phase of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, the member states of the SCO consider it essential for the appropriate participants in the antiterrorist coalition to decide on the final timeframes for the temporary use of the above-mentioned infrastructure objects and the maintenance of military contingents on the territory of SCO member states." The largest coalition facilities in Central Asia are the air bases at Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan, and Manas, Kyrgyzstan, but NATO facilities are also located in Termez, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. DK

In comments on 5 July, U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack noted that facilities in Central Asia are an aid to operations in Afghanistan "at the request of the Afghan government," the State Department reported on its website. He continued, "So I would say that our determined by the terms of our bilateral agreements under which both countries have concluded that there's a benefit to both sides from our activities." On the specific issue of the U.S. base in Uzbekistan, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita said on 5 July that the ultimate decision belongs to the Uzbek government, RFE/RL reported. Di Rita stated, "It's a decision the Uzbek government has to make as to whether or not we would continue to operate from that. It's a -- it has provided for -- in particular in Afghanistan -- some very important support capabilities. But it's a determination ultimately that the Uzbek government will have to make." DK

At a meeting in Astana on 4 July, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a joint statement on the establishment of a strategic partnership between their two countries, Xinhua reported. The agreement was the highlight of Hu's 3-4 July state visit to Kazakhstan. In the realm of energy cooperation, President Nazarbaev told a news conference on 4 July that the 988-kilometer Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline linking Kazakhstan and China will be finished on 16 December 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. The pipeline's initial capacity will be 10 million tons of oil a year. DK

Kazakhstan and Russia on 6 July signed a 55-year production sharing agreement (PSA) to develop the Kurmangazy oil field, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik and national oil and gas company KazMunayGas President Uzakbai Karabalin signed for Kazakhstan; Rosneft head Sergei Bogdanchikov signed for Russia. KazMunayGas will own 50 percent of the PSA and Rosneft 25 percent. Russia's Zarubezhneft has an option to buy the remaining 25 percent, although other investors may also participate. Investments in the oil field, the fourth largest in Kazakhstan, are expected to total $23 billion, with revenues to the state budget of more than $30 billion, Reuters reported. DK

Kazakh police arrested Uzbek rights activist Lutfullo Shamsiddinov in Almaty on 4 July, Memorial and reported the next day. Shamsiddinov, who witnessed unrest in Andijon on 13 May and attempted to conduct his own investigation later, fled Uzbekistan with his family in late May, Reuters reported. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had granted refugee status to Shamsuddinov, who was apparently arrested at the behest of Uzbek authorities. UNHCR spokeswoman Marie-Helene Verney told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 5 July, "We have urged [the Kazakh authorities] not to send him back to Uzbekistan. We have told the Kazakh authorities that we are working on the urgent resettlement of this gentleman to another country." Verney noted that Shamsiddinov's extradition would be a "complete breach of the 1951 Convention for Refugees." DK

Tajik prosecutors have completed the investigation of Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov and handed his case over to the Supreme Court, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 6 July. Iskandarov, who faces charges ranging from terrorism to corruption, maintains his innocence, his lawyers said. Iskandarov, who is also the former head of the state gas company Tojikgaz, was arrested in Russia in December 2004 but later released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004 and 8 April 2005). He was transported to Tajikistan and arrested in April 2005 under unclear circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). DK

Barash Communications Technologies, Inc. (BCTI) regained its license to operate in Turkmenistan after Russia's Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), which recently purchased a majority stake in BCTI for $28 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005), agreed to pay an unspecified higher tax on profits to the Turkmen budget, "Vedomosti" reported on 5 July. Turkmen regulators had pulled the U.S.-registered BCTI's license after the MTS deal was announced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005), prompting MTS head Vasilii Sidorov to fly to Ashgabat for emergency negotiations. Sidorov did not provide details on the increased tax payments. Some analysts queried by "Vedomosti" warned that MTS should ready itself for the possibility of more strong-arm tactics from overzealous Turkmen regulators. DK

The Uzbek government has filed criminal charges against the staff of Internews, the U.S.-based media organization announced in a 5 July press release on its website ( Local staff members have been charged with "conspiracy to engage in productions of videos and publications of informational materials without the necessary licenses," the press release said. Internews described the government moves as "Upping the stakes in a year-long campaign to limit the activities of western nongovernmental democracy organizations." Joshua Machleder, Internews director for Central Asia, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 6 July, "This seems, very much to me, like the Uzbek government taking revenge or taking an attack out on the employees of a U.S.-funded organization because of a disagreement with the U.S.'s position that an independent, international and open investigation should take place into what happened in Andijon." DK

A district court in Hrodna on 6 July imposed fines of $2,400 and $250 on Andrzej Poczobut and Igor Bancer, respectively, for their participation in an unsanctioned picket earlier the same day in the city in protest against the takeover of the Polish minority weekly "Glos znad Niemna" by the authorities, Belapan reported. Poczobut is editor of the Polish-language periodical "Magazyn Polski," while Bancer worked for "Glos znad Niemna" before the authorities refused to print the weekly in May and subsequently published several fake issues (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 22 June 2005). Andrzej Pisalnik, editor of "Glos znad Niemna"; Inesa Todryk, his colleague from the weekly; and Ivan Roman of the Belarusian weekly "Salidarnasts" are to stand trial on 8 July on the same charges as Poczobut and Bancer. JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 July issued an edict on setting up, registering, and liquidating funds in Belarus, which is to come into force on 1 September, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. According to the press service, the decree enlarges the list of "socially useful purposes" for which a fund can be established by adding support of sports and science. The Justice Ministry has been authorized to consider applications for the registration of national and international funds, whereas the justice departments of the regional executive committees and the Minsk City Executive Committee will decide on the registration of local funds. Lawyer Syarhey Balykin told Belapan that the decree actually restricts the list of potential purposes of Belarusian funds. Under the decree, Balykin stressed, a fund will now have no right to finance activities relating to finding out or influencing public opinion. "It is unclear on what grounds the edict bans funds for supporting people with certain political views," he said, adding that the restriction in fact bars the creation of funds to conduct polls, which he said is especially important in the runup to the 2006 presidential election. JM

Lukashenka said in a three-hour interview with Russian's TV Tsentr network on 2 July that Belarus will not see any "color revolution" under his rule, Belapan reported. "I am a committed man and a man of principle, and therefore I'll defend my power, fearing nothing. I will not flee the country. The opposition is aware of this, and that is why there will be no revolution," Lukashenka said. The Belarusian leader noted, however, that four "paid columns" are being formed in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and Russia in addition to the fifth column in existence in Belarus. "This is being prepared for Russia as well, but, for the time being, [mainly] for Belarus, where they want to play the main scenario and show that even if there are no grounds [for a revolution], so-called freedom and democracy can triumph here as well," Lukashenka said. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 6 July passed seven of the 14 bills that the government believes necessary for the country in order to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian news agencies reported. The votes took place against a background of sirens sounded by Communist Party deputies and sporadic scuffles between them and pro-government lawmakers. The government wants the legislature to pass all WTO-related bills before the summer recess in order to be able to join the WTO at the organization's summit in Hong Kong in December. The adopted bills include one on establishing criminal liability for illegal circulation of compact discs as well as equipment and raw materials for their production, which brings the country's legislation in line with the WTO's multi-lateral agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. "It's a pity that there is no understanding of what the nation and the state are losing from this empty polemic," President Viktor Yushchenko bemoaned the tumultuous votes in the parliament on 6 July. The Verkhovna Rada plunged into turmoil once again on 7 July, while discussing changes to a budget law. JM

Socialist Party lawmaker Mykola Melnyk said in the Verkhovna Rada on 5 July that National Defense and Security Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko is a mastermind of an "all-Ukrainian process of laundering shadow-economy money linked to value-added tax" and of "contraband operations," Interfax Ukraine reported. Poroshenko's press service commented on 7 July that Melnyk's statement was based on materials gathered by the Interior Ministry, the Security Service, and the State Tax Administration in 2002-04 "under an agreement with the then President Leonid Kuchma for discrediting opposition representatives." The press service added that Poroshenko will sue Melnyk for libel. Earlier this week, former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko passed to Ukrainian media a secret tape containing an alleged conversation of June 2000, in which Poroshenko discussed with Kuchma how to get rid of Yuliya Tymoshenko from the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. JM

During a visit to Belgrade, Croatian President Stipe Mesic praised the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia, calling it a sign of stability, Hina reported on 6 July. "For us, refugees represent a national and a state issue of the utmost importance. If Croatian Serb refugees are returning to Croatia, this proves Croatia is a safe country, a country that is meeting the terms for Euro-Atlantic integration," Mesic told reporters after meeting with Serbian President Boris Tadic. Tadic stressed that Belgrade and Zagreb share the common goal of integration with the European Union. "Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro should support each other on the way to European integration because this is the two states' common goal," he said. Mesic's visit to Belgrade was the first part of a three-day trip that will also include stops in Prishtina, Podgorica, and Tivat. BW

NATO peacekeepers detained Sasa Karadzic, son of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, on 7 July, Reuters reported, citing witnesses. The detention took place in Pale, Radovan Karadzic's wartime stronghold near Sarajevo, where his wife, son, and daughter live. "They took Sasa from his flat. He was handcuffed and wore a flak jacket. They put him in a black jeep and then put a hood over his head," a witness told Reuters television. BW

Police in Bosnia-Herzegovina have launched a manhunt for several people suspected of having planted explosives near the Srebrenica massacre memorial just days before ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the July 1995 killings, dpa reported on 5 July. "We have identified the possible perpetrators, and police have since launched an intensive manhunt to apprehend these people," Republika Srpska police spokesman Radovan Pejic said. On 5 July, Bosnian police arrested one suspect, a Muslim in the northeastern city of Tuzla, identified only as "Sabahudin S," media in Sarajevo quoted police spokesman Robert Cvrcak as saying. Acting on a tip from EUFOR, the EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia, police on 5 July discovered two charges of plastic explosives in a deserted factory approximately one-half kilometer from the Srebrenica memorial in the village of Potocari. BW

A moderate Serbian coalition announced on 6 July that it will end its 16-month boycott of Kosova's parliament, Reuters reported the same day. The move by the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija represents a break with Belgrade, which has withheld its blessing for Serbs to enter the Kosova assembly since Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica engineered a massive Serbian boycott of elections in October. "We made a decision today to join the work of the Kosovo parliament," Reuters quoted Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija member Randjel Nojkic as saying. Nojkic said the coalition decided at a meeting in the northern town of Mitrovica to take up most of its eight seats at the assembly's next session, the date of which has yet to be set. BW

Three synchronized explosions in Prishtina were aimed at blocking Kosova's path to independence from Serbia, the province's ethnic Albanian leaders said on 3 July, Reuters reported the same day. "The aim of these dangerous acts is to destabilize our country. [They] came at a time when positive assessment of the progress in Kosova is expected, which will open the way for the recognition of independence," President Ibrahim Rugova said. There were no injuries in the blasts that rocked central Prishtina on the evening of 3 July, near at the UN mission office, the local headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Kosovo's parliament building. "It seems there are forces that want to devalue the achievements that our institutions have made," Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi said. "But they cannot stop the path toward our goal." BW

Albania's opposition Democratic Party (DS) has won the most seats in the country's parliament, but has not secured enough mandates to form a government on its own, dpa reported on 6 July. According to data released by the Central Election Commission, the DS and their intended coalition partners, the Republican Party, will together have 73 of the 140 seats in the assembly. The result, however, will not become official until an "unknown" number of challenges are resolved. The deadline for filing complaints expired on 5 July and they must be resolved within 10 days. DS leader and former President Sali Berisha appealed to outgoing Prime Minister Fatos Nano to keep the government operating normally until the transition of power. BW

The Moldovan delegation to a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Washington on 1-5 July staged a walkout on 5 July in protest against an adopted resolution on the Transdniester conflict settlement, Moldovan news agencies reported. The walkout reportedly followed the rejection of all amendments that the Moldovan delegation proposed for the resolution, which was drafted by Finnish lawmaker Kimmo Kiljunen and OSCE representative in Moldova William Hill. The resolution calls on Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine to return to serious negotiations on Transdniester and backs Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's initiative to create an international peacekeeping force for Transdniester under the OSCE aegis. The resolution also calls on Chisinau and Tiraspol to take measures that would help restore at least a "minimal level" of mutual trust necessary for further negotiations. The Moldovan delegation reportedly demanded that the Tiraspol administration be referred to in the resolution as "separatist" and "criminal." JM

Former Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said at a trial of former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat on 4 July that the United States pressed Moldova into selling its warplanes cheaply to Washington and dismissed charges that Pasat defrauded the state, Reuters reported. Pasat is currently standing trial on charges of selling too cheaply 21 MiG-29 jet fighters to the United States in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005). Lucinschi told journalists that Moldova had received an offer of $93 million for the planes, but had to yield to Washington's bid. "We did receive an offer from a South Korean firm ready to pay $93 million, but the Americans told us the planes would end up in Iran," he noted. Washington offered to buy the fighters as part of a plan to make arms stocks in the former Soviet Union safe (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 7 July 2005). JM

President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in on 4 August, and a formal inauguration at the legislature will take place one day earlier. In the meantime, Ahmadinejad must select a cabinet. Ahmadinejad says ideology and politics will not determine his choices and he has met with individuals from the hard-line and reform factions. His choices are a sign of what one can expect from his presidency.

"It is a government of 70 million," Ahmadinejad said during a 26 June press conference, state television reported. "I mean, it is a cabinet that makes the entire Iranian nation feel that their willpower finds manifestation there. They feel that their demands are being studied." Ahmadinejad indicated that competence rather than ideology would be the deciding factor in his choices, saying, "We will use all talents and take advantage of all opportunities and use all worthy individuals."

As if to emphasize his desire for inclusiveness, Ahmadinejad has met with members of incumbent President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's cabinet, and he has sought reformist legislators' opinions. The president-elect met on 30 June with Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh, Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Ali Shamkhani, Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, and Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati. They discussed their respective ministries and offered advice on possible successors.

Ahmadinejad met with Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati, Cooperatives Minister Ali Sufi, and Management and Planning Organization chief Hamid Baradaran a week later. The president-elect also met with Supreme National Security Council secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani.

Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel asked the reformists to select several legislators to reflect their views. On 4 July, Boin-Zahra's Qodratullah Alikhani, Tabriz's Ismail Jabarzadeh, Bojnurd's Ismail Gerami-Moqaddam, and Ardakan's Mohammad Reza Tabesh were chosen to consult with Ahmadinejad on his cabinet choices and possible methods for interfactional cooperation. Later in the day, however, Gerami-Moqaddam said the reformists will not have a role in creating the cabinet, nor will they be members of it.

Mohammad Sadai, a member of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front, dismissed the calls for inclusivity, saying, "a bipartisan cabinet sounds more like a slogan than a reality," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 4 July. The conditions under which Ahmadinejad was elected, Sadai said, "effectively make that impossible."

Not surprisingly, Ahmadinejad is looking closer to his ideological home for his ministers. Shokrollah Atarzadeh, a hard-line legislator from Bushehr, said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad will look to the parliamentarians who backed him. The legislature's hard-line faction formed a five-member committee -- Reza Abdullahi, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Hussein Fadai, Mohsen Kuhkan, and Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moqaddam -- to advise Ahmadinejad on cabinet choices.

Ali Larijani's name has come up often in the discussion about Ahmadinejad's cabinet. Larijani, who lost in the first round of the presidential election, is the supreme leader's representative to the Supreme National Security Council and, until resigning so he could run for president, headed the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Parliamentarian Shokrollah Atarzadeh said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad will include Larijani in his cabinet, and Ahmadinejad met with Larijani on 1 July. On 6 July, the hard-line "Kayhan" newspaper and the Iranian Labor News Agency mentioned Larijani as the next Islamic culture and guidance minister, a position he held in the 1990s. "Kayhan" added that Larijani might succeed Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and be the lead person in nuclear negotiations with Europe.

Tehran municipal council chief Mehdi Chamran is another possible cabinet member or even the choice for first vice president, according to some observers. Chamran is a leader in the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), which backed Ahmadinejad's presidential bid.

Among the other names that are being considered are former Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri, Tehran parliamentary representative Elias Naderan, and Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 27 June. Tavakoli, however, said on 1 July that he is reluctant to be in the cabinet and would rather stay in the legislature, Fars News Agency reported.

During a 3 July visit to the holy city of Qom, Ahmadinejad met with a number of senior clerics, including Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi-Mesbah-Yazdi, a prominent hard-line cleric associated with the Haqqani seminary. Mesbah-Yazdi had endorsed Ahmadinejad's candidacy, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 20 June. Subsequently, there was speculation that Mesbah-Yazdi would become minister of Islamic culture and guidance.

Some of the country's most hard-line figures are alumni of the Haqqani seminary. Other alumni have gone on to leading positions in intelligence and security institutions. Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri-Shirazi, the supreme leader's representative in Fars Province, said some of the president-elect's supporters were his students at the Haqqani seminary, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 June.

A list of possible cabinet members provided by the hard-line Daricheh website (; the site did not provide first names) on 2 July included at least two Haqqani alumni as prospective intelligence and security ministers. They are Special Court for the Clergy official Purmohammadi (first name not available) and Documents Center chief Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian, who has served in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Special Court for the Clergy.

The Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on 6 July lists judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi as a possible intelligence and security minister, and press court judge Said Mortazavi as the justice minister.

The hard-line credentials of other individuals mentioned by the Daricheh website are noteworthy. Possible defense ministers are Basij commander Mohammad Hejazi, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, current Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, former national police chief Hedayat Lotfian, or former presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai. All of these individuals have a background in the Guards Corps. Possible interior ministers are former presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Tehran parliamentary representative Mohammad Reza Bahonar, or Guardians Council election official Mohammad Jahromi.

According to Daricheh and ILNA on 6 July, a possible Petroleum Minister is Deputy Oil Minister for International Affairs Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Husseinian. Tehran parliamentary representative Emad Afruq is mentioned by both as a possible Islamic culture and guidance minister.

Tehran parliamentary representative Manuchehr Mottaki is described as the next foreign minister by ILNA. Daricheh indicates there are more choices, mentioning judiciary adviser and former diplomat Javad Larijani, current Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and former Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi.

The ministers Ahmadinejad selects must win a vote of confidence from the parliament before they can begin work (constitutional articles 133-142 deal with the president and his cabinet). Discussion of the composition of Ahmadinejad's cabinet, at this point, may seem excessively speculative and therefore irrelevant. However, the individuals responsible for domestic issues will have a serious influence over human rights, press freedom, and social welfare. And ministers dealing with petroleum and foreign affairs will affect Iran's interaction with the international community. Ahmadinejad's cabinet choices will say a great deal about what Iranians and the rest of the world can expect from his presidency.

Numerous high-level officials and advisors in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government are implicated in major war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in the early 1990s, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 7 July press release. The evidence is contained in a 133-page report, "Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity" (, which is based on extensive research by HRW since 2003, including more than 150 interviews with witnesses, survivors, government officials, and combatants. According to HRW, although some perpetrators are dead or currently in hiding, many leaders implicated in the abuses are now officials in Afghanistan's Defense or Interior ministries, or are advisors to Karzai. Some are running for office in parliamentary and local elections scheduled for September 2005. Others operate as warlords or regional strongmen, directing subordinates in official positions. "This report isn't just a history lesson," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of HRW. "These atrocities were among some of the gravest in Afghanistan's history, yet today many of the perpetrators still wield power." AT

HRW recommends that a special court -- made up of both Afghan and international judges, with an international majority, and with an international prosecutor -- be established to guarantee a fair trial for those implicated, who include Afghanistan's current Second Vice-President Karim Khalili. "Perpetrators of past abuses who go unpunished are more likely to commit new abuses and use violence to get their way," said Adams. "They pose a continuing threat to Afghanistan's future." Despite more than two decades of human rights abuse, starting with the communist governments in the late 1970s, no one has been formally charged or faced trial for such crimes in Afghanistan. AT

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lotufullah Mashal said that Al-Qaeda and "all terrorist networks receive financial and logistic support in the Pakistani border areas" before entering Afghanistan for subversive activities, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on 6 July. "A few days ago, we arrested five Pakistani nationals in [the southern Afghan] Zabul Province. They confessed that they had received training in the Pakistani city of Quetta and provided information about the people and the places where they were trained. They confessed that they had entered Afghanistan to kill the Americans and all those who are involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The evidence we have is strong enough," Mashal told Tolu. According to Mashal, Osama bin Laden and "the majority of the leaders" of terrorist groups are living in the Pakistani tribal areas. A war of words between Kabul and Islamabad has intensified in recent weeks, each side accusing the other of not doing enough to protect its borders. AT

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jillani on 6 July rejected allegations made by Mashal that Osama bin Laden and former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar are in tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghan frontier, Lahore-based "Daily Times" reported on 7 July. "These accusations are baseless and some people with vested interests are giving such statements to harm the strong trade, economic, political, and diplomatic ties existing between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Jillani said without clarifying who the people with "vested interests" are. According to Jillani, Islamabad will play a "positive role" in the September parliamentary and local elections in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's "supreme national interest," Jillani added. AT

Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency Corps Commander Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain said on 6 July that certain foreign countries are fuelling insurgency inside Afghanistan to meet "their nefarious" designs, adding that "such countries are our enemies," the Islamabad daily "The Nation" reported on 7 July. Hussain said that his troops had arrested six alleged terrorists, one of whom he described as being a "foreigner." He said that the arrested foreigner spoke neither Pashto or Urdu "or any other local language." According to Hussain, the person might be an Arab or an Uzbek. The Pakistani general said that it has been proven by now that almost all the terrorists are entering Pakistan from the Afghan side, therefore, Afghan authorities need to fulfill their responsibilities. "They need to restore peace inside Afghanistan and, for this purpose, they must fence off the border," Hussain suggested. Pakistan's Interior Ministry on 5 July announced that bin Laden and other terrorist leaders are hiding in southeastern Afghanistan, Tolu reported on 6 July. Afghanistan has rejected Pakistan's claims. AT

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, who has led negotiations with the European Union over Iran's controversial nuclear program, may resign once President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad takes office on 4 August, news agencies reported on 6 July. However, council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi dismissed reports, telling AP that "Rohani will remain in his position" while Mohammad Khatami is president, after which "it is up to Ahmadinejad, who has not announced any stance on Rohani." Ahmadinejad, who reportedly advocates a tougher stance in negotiations, met with Rohani on 6 July to discuss the dossier, agencies reported. Meanwhile, Iran has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for permission to break UN seals on parts of a uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, central Iran, in order to test them, Reuters reported on 6 July, citing unnamed Western diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based. Confirming the request, IAEA deputy head Mohammad Saidi said this will not violate Iran's ongoing pledge to the EU to suspend all fuel production-related activities while it negotiates over its program, Reuters reported. VS

Iran's Atomic Energy Agency chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh said in Tehran on 5 July that Iran should not show "flexibility" in its talks with the EU, and he is "not very hopeful" the EU can make "significant" proposals soon to resolve outstanding differences, ISNA reported that day. The EU, he said, has "very little capacity" to resolve the "great issue" the dossier represents, and "talks will proceed with great difficulty from now on." The problem, he said, is now political not technical. "If certain people inside the country imagine that our nuclear [dossier] will be resolved without the resolution of our political problems with the world, they are mistaken," he said. Iranians should be firm and united over the issue, for "if foreigners feel there is a weakness somewhere, they will exert pressure from that very point." He added he will step down as the agency head once the Bushehr plant in southern Iran reaches the "commercial operation" phase, ISNA reported. Meanwhile, Saidi said on 5 July that Iran will not accept EU proposals "due to be made" in late July, unless the union formally recognizes "Iran's right to make nuclear fuel," ISNA reported the same day. VS

The head of the Health Ministry's AIDS office Mitra Motamedi said in Tehran on 5 July that "the latest official figures" show that 11,221 Iranians have "the AIDS virus," or HIV, an increase of almost 1,000, she said, from figures three months earlier, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 July, citing Fars news agency. The figures are for cases the ministry knows about, and she said that it estimates 44,000 people may be HIV-positive in Iran. She said that 523 members of the known group "are at the stage of illness" and receiving unspecified medical treatment. Of the group, she said, almost 95 percent are men, 40 percent are aged between 25 and 34, 61 percent contracted the virus by drug injection, and 7.3 percent through sexual intercourse, without stating how the remainder were infected. Meanwhile, Hamid Sarrami, an official from the state antinarcotics agency, said on 5 July that the Health Ministry estimates there are about "3.4-4 million" drug addicts in Iran, 40 percent of whom work in various farming sectors, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 July. He said 60 percent of the "youngsters and people" who turn to drugs are dissatisfied with their lives. VS

Sa'dun al-Dulaymi visited Tehran on 6 July, where he met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, agencies reported the same day. The two countries fought a war between 1980 and 1988, but Shamkhani said "we want to forget the past and start a new phase with our neighbor," Radio Farda reported. Shamkhani expressed Iran's concern at the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. "Insecure conditions at present," he said, should not prompt Iraqis to "permit" foreign powers to "consolidate their dominance and strengthen" Israel's "security cordon," Radio Farda reported. Al-Dulaymi said no power could cause problems in the two countries' relations, and we must try not to create "a pretext" for the presence of foreign forces. He also visited a helicopter manufacture and repair plant, and was separately shown a display of weaponry made in Iran, ISNA reported. He later told Kharrazi that Iraq wants to "strengthen the bridges of confidence" with neighbors, "especially" Iran with which it wishes to have ties resting on "new bases," ISNA reported. "Iraq apologizes to Iran for the consequences of the policies of [its] past regime," he added. VS

A 6 July Internet posting ( attributed to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claims the terrorist group has sent Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sharif to the group's "religious court" where the mujahedin will "enforce the rule of God on him." Al-Sharif was kidnapped on 2 July. The Internet statement justified the abduction by saying that whoever fights to defend tyranny (the occupation) is considered Al-Qaeda's enemy. The statement said that the embassies of "apostate governments" work as intelligence-gathering centers, and Egypt in particular works to aid the U.S. government and its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Egypt is the worst among all Arab tyrants and the worst when it comes to the application of [torture] against Muslims. We cannot fail to mention [Egypt's] alliance with the head of the crusaders, the U.S., chasing our mujahedin brothers and putting them in jails," the statement continued, adding that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is always racing to serve the crusaders and carry out their plans in the region. "The day has come to take revenge for our brothers and our Islam from the Egyptian tyrant and his agents," the statement added. KR

The Pakistani and Bahraini ambassadors to Iraq were attacked in separate incidents in Baghdad on 5 July, international media reported. Pakistani Ambassador Muhammad Yunis Khan escaped unharmed when gunmen in two vehicles fired on his convoy in the Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad. Khan has since left Iraq for Jordan. Bahrain's top diplomat in Baghdad was wounded in a separate attack in the same neighborhood, which houses a number of embassies, when gunmen fired at his vehicle. Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Marwan al-Muasher said on 6 July that Jordan remains committed to sending an ambassador to Iraq despite the attacks, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Both Jordan and Egypt pledged in June to send ambassadors to Iraq in support of their renewed relations with the Iraqi government. Jordan had withdrawn its ambassador from Iraq in March following a crisis between the governments when the Jordanian media reported that a Jordanian national was behind a major suicide attack in Al-Hillah (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 March 2005). KR

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari spoke to reporters about the abduction of Egyptian envoy al-Sharif following a 6 July extraordinary session of parliament, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) and Al-Sharqiyah television reported. "Instructions were issued by the Interior Ministry and concerned security bodies to the effect that ambassadors must observe security procedures to guarantee their safety," al-Ja'fari said. The prime minister insisted that the targeting of embassy officials this week will not impact the situation, adding that other embassies are about to open. "We urge all world states to stand by us and support the democratic and political process," he said, adding the government is making progress on the security front. Al-Sharif was reportedly about to be named the first full ambassador from the Arab world to Iraq in the coming days when he was kidnapped, international media reported on 5 July. KR

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said on 6 July that five Americans are being held in Iraq on suspicion of taking part in terrorist activities or aiding the insurgency, reported on 7 July. All of the Americans hold dual-citizenship; three are Iraqi-Americans; one is an Iranian-American; and another is a Jordanian-American. One of the Iraqi-Americans was arrested for "engaging in suspicious activities," while another is being held for his alleged involvement in a kidnapping. The third Iraqi-American is being held for "having the knowledge of planning associated with attacks on coalition forces," Whitman said. The Jordanian-American is suspected of being an associate of Jordanian terrorist al-Zarqawi. The website reported that the Iranian-American, a filmmaker and former member of the U.S. Navy, was cleared of suspicion by the FBI in the United States, but remains in detention. According to the website, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that enemy combatants who are U.S. citizens are entitled to certain rights, including a legal status hearing and access to a lawyer, something reportedly denied to the detainees. Whitman said the detainees fall into a "special category" because they are held as "imperative security" internees and have not been charged with a crime, reported. KR