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Newsline - July 8, 2005

Vladimir Putin, who is in Gleneagles, Scotland, participating in a summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries, said on 7 July that the bombings earlier that day in London were "yet another appalling crime," ITAR-TASS and other media reported. "Russia has repeatedly experienced terrorist attacks -- cruel and bloody -- that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people," Putin said. "This is precisely why my country feels stronger sympathy than any other country in the world.... I would like to express not just the hope, but also the certainty that the world community will rid itself of double standards in its evaluation of bloody crimes like the one committed in London today, and will find the strength to resist terror and eliminate this plague of the 21st century once and for all." Russian media noted that the UN Security Council on 7 July was quick to condemn the London attacks, although it failed to react as swiftly to terrorist attacks carried out in Russia in recent years. RC

The Committee of Beslan Mothers, a support group of victims of the September 2004 terrorist seizure of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, issued a statement on 7 July expressing sympathy for the victims of the London bombings, ITAR-TASS reported. "We are expressing words of support for the families of victims of those terrorist attacks," the statement said. "Our own children fell victim to terrorism and we share your grief with you." Committee Chairwoman Susanna Dudieva told the news agency that the people of Beslan remember how Britain expressed its support during their time of need. "We also remember the letters full of words of sympathy and friendship that British children sent to Beslan students," Dudieva said. "Today we are ready to do everything in our power to alleviate their suffering." RC

Security measures were enhanced throughout Russia on 7 July following the London bombings, Russian media reported. Authorities in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities increased patrols in subways, railroad facilities, and airports. Hundreds of Muscovites brought flowers to the British Embassy, reported on 8 July, and expressed their sympathy and solidarity with the British people. The Russian Embassy in London on 8 July reported that officials believe no Russians were among the bombing victims, the website reported. RC

Prosecutors on 7 July presented the charges against former Yukos-Moskva chief operations officer Aleksei Kurtsin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 July. Kurtsin and former Yukos-Moskva Vice President Mikhail Trushin, who is being sought by police, are accused of laundering money received as a result of crimes committed by an organized criminal group. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. The charges state that the two men laundered some 342 million rubles ($11.4 million) through a range of organizations registered as charities in Moscow, Tula, Volgograd, Nizhnii Novgorod, and other cities. Kurtsin, who was arrested in November 2004, has pleaded innocent. RC

President Putin will make a working visit to Japan beginning on 20 November, presidential foreign affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said on 8 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to reporters at the G-8 summit, Prikhodko said Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have agreed that Putin will visit Japan immediately following the 18-19 November Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation group summit in Pusan, South Korea. RC

President Putin on 2 July announced plans to sign a decree that will return to governors 114 powers that were taken away from them as a result of his regional policies, "Vedomosti," REN-TV, and "Vremya novostei" reported on 4 July. Addressing a session of the State Council in Kaliningrad, Putin emphasized that the delegation of additional powers to the regions was not a goal in itself but rather a step aimed at helping secure economic growth in the regions, according to "Vremya novostei." The powers to be delegated include authority over forestries, environmental policy, cultural landmarks, education, and science. Appointments to head regional branches of federal agencies will again be coordinated with regional leaders, although federal authorities will have the power to override governors' objections. Regional leaders will regain oversight powers of the regional heads of many federal ministries and agencies, such as the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Emergency Situations Ministry (but not the Federal Security Service or the Defense Ministry). Governors will also receive some increased authority over licensing, but federal agencies will retain sole authority to issue licenses to extract natural resources such as oil and gas. LB

Government ministers and Duma leaders on 7 July began negotiations over the 2006 federal budget, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin outlined the main parameters of the draft budget for members of the Unified Russia faction, who were displeased with the large projected budget surplus of approximately 500 billion rubles (about $17.4 billion). They noted that the projection likely understates the real surplus, since it assumes revenues based on an average oil price of $33 per barrel (the current price is about $60 per barrel). Government ministers have an incentive to build surpluses into the federal budget, because the Budget Code grants the government power to allocate revenues that exceed expectations. Leaders of several Duma factions met with Kudrin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov later on 7 July and, according to "Kommersant-Daily," Fradkov agreed to reexamine the budget parameters. Representatives of the government and Unified Russia often seek to iron out differences over legislation before the government submits bills to parliament. The drafts may undergo major changes during the so-called "zero reading" talks, but will then be passed quickly by the Duma with few opportunities for amendments. LB

Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev on 6 July reassured Duma deputies about inflation and capital flight while reporting on the bank's performance in 2004, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 July. Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Zadornov noted that the Central Bank succeeded in preventing the ruble from strengthening by more than 5 percent (the figure for 2004 was 4.7 percent). However, the bank failed to keep inflation below 10 percent (the estimated rate was 11.7 percent). A joint statement adopted by the Duma Budget Committee and the Banking Committee expressed concern at projected inflation of 12 percent for 2005, including an inflation rate of 20 percent for food products. However, Ignatev predicted that inflation will remain under 10 percent for the year, because the coming harvest will bring down food prices that rose sharply during the first five months of 2005. He also said that the growth in capital flight from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2003 to $9.4 billion in 2004 was not due to a poor economic climate in Russia but rather the Central Bank's success in slowing the strengthening of the ruble, which in turn reduced foreign borrowing by Russian banks. LB

The Duma on 6 July passed in the first reading amendments to the law on military obligations and military service, which would exempt from the draft the sons and brothers of men who lost their lives in the line of duty as employees of law-enforcement agencies or the criminal-correctional system, Interfax reported. The exemption would apply, among others, to the sons and brothers of those who died while performing duties in "armed conflicts" and "counterterrorist operations." Meanwhile, the Duma on 1 July unanimously passed in all three readings amendments to the same law that would increase compensation paid to those drafted for part-time military training, RIA-Novosti reported. The Duma-approved bill would set such compensation at the average monthly wage (for workers) or stipend (for students) in the draftees' place of permanent residence. Those training in far northern regions or areas with "unfavorable ecological conditions" would receive additional compensation. Retired Major General Nikolai Bezborodov, a member of the Duma Defense Committee, told RIA-Novosti that some 50 percent of draftees evade their military obligations, in part because of the low pay. LB

The Duma on 6 July passed in the second and third reading amendments to the law regulating the status of those awarded honors such as Hero of Russia and Hero of the Soviet Union, RIA-Novosti reported. The amendments would allow medal-holders to choose each year whether to receive social benefits in their traditional form (for instance, subsidized housing) or to receive monthly monetary payments. Their survivors would also have the opportunity to choose traditional subsidies rather than cash payments. In addition, amendments to the draft law raised the amount of the cash option from 20,000 rubles (about $695) per month to 25,000 rubles per month. A group of official heroes had threatened to hold a hunger strike to protest the proposed monetization of their social benefits, Ekho Moskvy and "Novye izvestiya" reported on 6 July. LB

Federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin announced on 4 July that he has sent the Defense Ministry a document recommending an increase in the draft age from 18 to 21 years, RTR reported. Lukin argued that the change would improve the army, in particular by reducing the brutal hazing that he called "the most painful and dismal human-rights problem" in the armed forces. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 July analyzed the report sent by Lukin's office to the Defense Ministry. Among other things, the report details the social and psychological immaturity common to 18-year-olds, which makes them less desirable as soldiers but which generally disappears by age 20 or 21. Meanwhile, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov advocated allowing some university graduates choose between one year of military service and three years of teaching in rural schools, where, he said, there is a chronic shortage of male teachers, RTR reported on 4 July. LB

Prosecutors will not open a criminal case against those who earlier this year accused Jewish groups of spreading extremism, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 7 July, citing First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov. He said that the Moscow Prosecutor's Office reviewed the evidence and concluded that a letter asking the Prosecutor-General's Office to ban some Jewish organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February and 25 March 2005) did not fall under the Criminal Code's prohibition of "inciting ethnic and religious hatred." Nevertheless, the Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia plans to file civil lawsuits against the letter's authors, a spokesman for the group told "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Slutsker, who is a Federation Council member from Chuvashia, has already filed a civil defamation lawsuit in St. Petersburg against the editor in chief of the newspaper "Rus pravoslavnaya," which first published the letter in January. Meanwhile, the European Jewish Congress is seeking to bar State Duma deputies who signed the letter from entering countries in the European Union's Schengen zone, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 July. LB

Former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov has formally refused a U.S. request that he stand trial on 20 criminal counts, including allegedly embezzling some $9 million in U.S. aid earmarked for improving security at Russian nuclear facilities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 July. A court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, approved the charges against Adamov on 6 June, and the official U.S. extradition request arrived in Switzerland, where Adamov is in custody, on 24 June. Adamov had earlier expressed a willingness to face trial in the United States as opposed to Russia, which has also sent an extradition request to Switzerland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2005). Now that Adamov has pled not guilty to all charges and refused to travel to the U.S. voluntarily, Swiss authorities will examine the extradition request, Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli told "Kommersant-Daily." According to Galli, the investigators will seek to determine whether Adamov's alleged crimes fall under the jurisdiction of a court in western Pennsylvania and, second, whether the charges against him are crimes subject to extradition under Swiss law. LB

The Media International Group holding company of Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich has purchased 100 percent of the weekly newspaper "Moskovskie novosti" for an undisclosed sum, Russian news agencies reported on 3 July, confirming rumors that had circulated in Moscow for several days. Previous owner Leonid Nevzlin announced plans to sell the weekly following a protracted conflict involving Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 30 June 2005). Kiselev announced his resignation on 4 July, and Interfax on 6 July quoted Rabinovich as promising to consult with the newspaper's editorial staff and board of directors before naming a new editor in chief, probably on 11 July. Rabinovich made his fortune in nonmedia business interests but has been a major player in the Ukrainian media for a decade, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 July. He was a co-founder of the private television company 1+1 in 1995. LB

The electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES) has sold its 70 percent stake in the private television network REN-TV to the Severstal company for $100 million, Russian media reported on 4 July. The same day, REN-TV President Irena Lesnevskaya and General Director Dmitrii Lesnevskii confirmed reports that they sold their 30 percent stake in the network to the German RTL Group (a subsidiary of Bertelsmann AG) for an undisclosed sum. The RTL purchase requires approval by the Federal Antimonopoly Service. RTL is reportedly interested in developing REN-TV as a profitable media business, but many Russian commentators speculated that Severstal's purchase is geared toward ensuring that the network's editorial policy will be friendly to the Kremlin. Union of Journalists Secretary-General Igor Yakovenko told Ekho Moskvy on 4 July that the sale of REN-TV to Severstal eliminates the last Russian television network that was independent from the state. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 July speculated that the sale of EES's stake in REN-TV served as EES head Anatolii Chubais's "payment" to the Kremlin for the right to remain head of the electricity giant. The EES board of directors voted on 1 July to keep Chubais in that job. LB

Prominent businessman and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich is seeking to buy Russian sports publications, "Vedomosti" reported on 5 July. A company linked to Abramovich pursued the twice-monthly magazine "PROsport" with a view to having the Vokrug Sveta publishing house manage the magazine. The owner of Vokrug Sveta, Sergei Vasilev, is general director of the Video International group of companies, a big player on the Russian media market with close ties to the Kremlin. Speaking to on 5 July, "PROsport" Editor in Chief Stanislav Gridasov confirmed that Independent Sport, the owner of "PROsport," sold the magazine to Vokrug Sveta. Gridasov said the new owner will not make any changes to the magazine. "Vedomosti" also cited unnamed sources who said that Abramovich is trying to buy Russia's largest-circulation sports newspaper, "Sport-Ekspress." Some experts quoted by "Vedomosti" speculated that Abramovich is interested in profitting from the sports publications themselves, but others argued that he may be primarily interested in using them to promote sports teams he owns or finances. Abramovich has owned the English soccer club Chelsea since 2003 and finances the Russian hockey team Avangard and the Moscow soccer club TsSKA. LB

Boris Berezovskii, a onetime close associate of Abramovich, on 4 July announced plans to sue his former business partner in British courts, Interfax reported, citing a Berezovskii interview on Ekho Moskvy radio. He will charge that Abramovich carried out a Kremlin strategy to expropriate his property "through blackmail and threats" between 2000 and 2004. Berezovskii gave shares in Russian Public Television (ORT) and Sibneft, among other companies, to Abramovich during Putin's first term as president. He lives in self-imposed exile in London and told Ekho Moskvy that he plans to sue in the United Kingdom because "Russia has no court system at all, while the British court system is unbiased and does not tolerate pressure either from the British government or from Russian authorities." LB

In a statement released on 7 July in Yerevan, where he now lives, Samvel Babayan rejected claims that he is not legally entitled to establish a political party in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement affirmed that Babayan is a citizen of the Republic of Armenia by virtue of a declaration adopted in 1989 by the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet and the legislature of the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast affirming the unification of the two territories. Babayan was sentenced in February 2001 to 14 years' imprisonment on charges connected with an unsuccessful attempt 11 months earlier to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. He was released in an amnesty last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001 and 20 September 2004). It remains unclear whether the party Babayan intends to found will support or oppose the present Armenian leadership. LF

Speaking on 7 July on a tour of the Agdash and Geychai districts, Ilham Aliyev said he is confident that the 6 November parliamentary elections will be "just and transparent," ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev said he is convinced that the outcome of the ballot will reflect fully the will of the people of Azerbaijan. Aliyev issued a decree two months ago instructing local officials to take measures to preclude election fraud and warning they will be held responsible for malpractice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005). LF

Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, who is the EU special envoy for the South Caucasus, told a 7 July press conference at the British Embassy in Baku that the 6 November parliamentary ballot is "a good opportunity to demonstrate to the world Azerbaijan's ability to hold democratic elections," reported on 8 July. In that context, Talvitie stressed the need to ensure that pro-government and opposition candidates have equal access to the electronic media. Talvitie added that he does not believe the elections will impact on efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group, of which he is a former co-chairman, to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict. During his visit to Baku, Talvitie met on 6 July with President Aliyev and on 7 July with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. According to diplomatic sources quoted by, unnamed EU member states may call for suspending Azerbaijan's participation in the EU's European Neighborhood Policy if the 6 November ballot fails to conform to "minimal" European standards for free and fair elections. LF

Several members of Georgia's Academy of Sciences expressed solidarity at a 7 July press conference with faculty members at Tbilisi State University who have announced a strike to call for the dismissal of university rector Rusudan Lortkipanidze, Caucasus Press reported. Lortkipanidze has incurred her colleagues' ire with plans to abolish many positions and reduce the total number of faculties (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 June 2005). A 40-year-old woman collapsed and died of heart failure on 4 July after learning of her dismissal from the archaeology faculty. Lortkipanidze assured staff later on 4 July that those dismissed will receive an unspecified amount of financial compensation over a period of three years, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 4 July, opposition Labor Party activist professor Nestan Kirtadze filed suit with the Tbilisi Circuit Court demanding the annulment of what she termed President Mikheil Saakashvili's "illegal" decree abolishing the university's governing council and transferring its powers to the rector. LF

The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia issued a statement on 7 July taking issue with a resolution adopted two days earlier by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. That resolution accused Russia of seeking to undermine efforts to resolve the Abkhaz conflict peacefully and called on Moscow to abstain from further such actions. The Abkhaz statement noted the progress achieved in the peace process sponsored by the UN and Russia and dismissed as counterproductive what it termed Georgia's efforts to change the format of the peace process. It accused Tbilisi of seeking not peace but new "patrons," and of engaging in "political intrigues" while failing to comply fully with its previous commitments. Arriving in Nalchik on 7 July to participate in a session of the North Caucasus Association, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh again affirmed Abkhazia's readiness for talks "on equal terms" with Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Mikhail Mindzaev, who is the interior minister of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, denied on 7 July that talks are under way with the Georgian government on the possible release of the four Georgians abducted one month ago in the South Ossetian conflict zone in exchange for Marek Dudaev, a South Ossetian crime boss arrested by Georgian police last year, Caucasus Press reported. On 8 July, relatives of the missing Georgians blocked the main highway to Tskhinvali to protest the Georgian authorities' failure to locate the men and secure their release. Interfax on 7 July quoted Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zone, as characterizing the situation there following the abduction of the four Georgians as "extremely tense." LF

Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council has begun to review a query from parliamentary deputies on the date for the country's next presidential election, Kazinform reported on 7 July. A press release from the Constitutional Council on 7 July stated that the review will take place over the course of one month, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. At issue is whether the next presidential election should take place in December 2005 or December 2006; President Nursultan Nazarbaev's term in office expires in January 2006. DK

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov told a press conference in Bishkek on 7 July that former President Askar Akaev, who is currently in Russia, was one of the backers of unrest in the Kyrgyz capital on 17 June, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Madumarov said that recorded telephone conversations prove Akaev's involvement. Madumarov also said that the organizers of the unrest promised $2 million to create chaos and planned to assassinate acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, acting Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov, and Madumarov. Former President Akaev has denied playing any role in the 17 June unrest in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 June 2005). (For the latest news on the 10 July Kyrgyz presidential election, plus bios of the candidates and other information, see DK

Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told a news conference in Bishkek on 7 July that Kyrgyz authorities have received requests from Uzbek authorities to extradite 231 Uzbek asylum seekers, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. While noting that Kyrgyzstan intends to honor its international obligations, Beknazarov stressed that Kyrgyzstan will check the information it has received from Uzbekistan. He said that 29 Uzbek citizens "are at a detention center in Osh. According to the information from the Uzbek side, they are accused of having committed serious crimes. On 13 May 2005, 14 of them escaped from the prison in Andijon. There is also information [according to Uzbek authorities] that they were not only members of the banned religious extremist group Akramiya but that they had also murdered policemen, attacked government buildings, and carried out terrorist acts on Uzbek territory." Beknazarov noted that 426 Uzbek asylum seekers are at a refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan. Rights organizations, other governments, and the United Nations have repeatedly asked Kyrgyz authorities to refrain from handing over any asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. DK

Beknazarov also asked acting President Bakiev to veto a recent draft law on an amnesty for up to 10,000 prisoners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005), arguing that the amnesty could undermine an anticorruption drive, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov warned that criminal investigations against former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, former President Akaev's son and son-in-law, and others could amount to nothing if the 28 June amnesty is signed into law, since it would amnesty some of the very crimes for which former officials are under investigation. Beknazarov also said that he may ask parliament to strip former President Akaev of his immunity from prosecution so that the ex-leader can face criminal charges over a 1999 incident involving the alleged embezzlement of $420,000 in state funds. DK

The publishers of "Nerui Sukhan" have managed to bring out the first issue of that independent Tajik newspaper in nearly half a year, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 7 July. "Nerui Sukhan" founder and editor in chief Mukhtor Boqizoda told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that he was able to publish the issue when the authorities unsealed the Kayhon printing house, which had been facing tax charges. He noted, however, that he is not sure how long he will be able to keep publishing the newspaper, which has frequently raised the ire of Tajik authorities. DK

In a 7 July press release, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry raised questions about the continued presence of U.S. troops in Uzbekistan, official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. Noting the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization declaration asking for a timeframe for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005), the Foreign Ministry stressed that it made the air base at Karshi-Khanabad available to U.S. forces in 2001 in order to help remove a threat to Uzbekistan from Afghanistan and for that purpose only. The statement also emphasized that the United States has made "virtually no payments" to compensate the Uzbek side for expenses associated with operations at the base. Uzbekistan has reportedly limited flights out of the base in response to the U.S. reaction to Uzbek President Islam Karimov's use of force to quell unrest in Andijon on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 20 June 2005). DK

A riot-police squad pushed a few dozen protesters out of a square in downtown Minsk on 7 July, thus thwarting a picket to mark the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Belarusian cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Zavadski, who worked for Russia's ORT television network, disappeared on 7 July 2000 on his way to Minsk airport. He was never found, although three ex-servicemen are now serving prison terms for his kidnapping. One of the policemen participating in rounding up the picket slapped Zavadski's wife, who was standing with a picture of her husband. "Fascists! You can only beat people, not defend them. I cannot even stand with a portrait of my husband in this country," RFE/RL's Belarus Service quoted Svyatlana Zavadskaya as saying. Another small rally to commemorate Zavadski and journalist Veranika Charkasva, who was killed under mysterious circumstances in October, went undisturbed the same day outside the capital, at the Kurapaty burial ground of victims of Stalinist repression. JM

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 7 July visited his native village of Aleksandryya in Mahilyou Oblast, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Lukashenka is interested in prospects for developing the area agriculturally and touristically. While talking with locals, he reportedly stressed the need to increase discipline and eradicate social parasitism and alcohol abuse. Several days before the visit, workers sent by local authorities repaired the road, mowed grass, and mended fences in Aleksandryya. But residents of the neighboring village of Slaveni, who also expected Lukashenka's visit, were less lucky. "They [workers] were tidying Slaveni up, they set up fences in front of two houses and brought more fencing to some other houses but then suddenly put a stop to that, saying that nothing was going happen in Slaveni," a local resident told RFE/RL. "And then they came back, disassembled those fences, pulled the posts up, and took them away." JM

The European Parliament on 7 July adopted a resolution condemning "indiscriminate attacks" on media freedom, "arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment of detainees, disappearances, and politically motivated persecution" in Belarus, Reuters reported. "Members of the European Parliament want the EU to take strong action against the Belarus regime for media persecution, and envisage a possible visa-ban list for implicated Belarus authorities," the resolution reads. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 8 July held its last plenary session before the summer recess, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Lawmakers discussed the nomination of judges and the fate of those of their colleagues who simultaneously hold positions in the government. During a tumultuous session the previous day, when Communist Party lawmakers tried to stop the debate by blocking the presidium, sounding sirens, and punching other legislators, the legislature managed to pass two bills from the package of 14 bills that the government deems necessary in order for the country to join the World Trade Organization. On 6 July, the parliament endorsed seven bills from this package. JM

Several Ukrainian gold medallists of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 have declared their readiness to hand back financial prizes from the government, thus expressing their support for former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was also head of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee in 2004, Reuters reported on 7 July, citing a Kyiv-based newspaper. Prosecutors are now investigating irregularities in government awards to athletes while Yanukovych was in office. Athens 2004 gold medallists received $100,000 each. The champions, who include wrestlers Elbrus Tedeyev and Iryna Merleni as well as gymnasts Valeriy Honcharov and Yuriy Nikitin, signed an appeal to the Ukrainian leadership and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. They urge Rogge to "use [his] great international authority to stop government pressure" on Yanukovych, and call on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko "to take the right decision, which will enable the athletic community to work to good advantage." JM

Bosnian authorities discovered a new mass grave containing victims of the Srebrenica massacre just days before a solemn ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the killings, dpa reported on 8 July. "The new mass grave, which is 18 meters long, contains up to 100 bodies," said Murat Hurtic, a member of Bosnia's Missing Persons Commission. The grave was found just 500 meters from the memorial center for the victims of the massacre, located in the town of Potocari. It is believed to be a "secondary grave," in which Bosnian Serbs reburied corpses in an attempt to remove evidence of the killings. In a ceremony on 11 July, the remains of 570 Srebrenica victims will be buried in the memorial cemetery in Potocari, which opened in 2003. More than 1,300 Srebrenica victims are already buried there. BW

A group of 1,000 people commenced a 70-kilometer walk from the northeastern town of Crni Vrh to Srebrenica on 8 July to honor victims of the July 1995 massacre, Hina reported the same day. Called the "March of Death -- Path of Freedom," the three-day march, which retraces in reverse the path of Srebrenica survivors to safe areas of Bosnia, is scheduled to arrive in Potocari in time for a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the massacre on 11 July. Bosnian officials say they are expecting approximately 50,000 people to attend the ceremonies honoring Srebrenica victims in Potocari. BW

Bosnian police on 7 July arrested two men suspected of planting explosives near the Srebrenica memorial site, dpa reported the same day. Police also released another man who had been detained over the explosives due to lack of evidence, B92 reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). Acting on a tip from the EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia, police on 5 July discovered two charges of plastic explosives in a deserted factory approximately half a kilometer from the Srebrenica memorial in the village of Potocari. BW

The Serbian government on 7 July condemned all war crimes committed in wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia, dpa reported the same day. The government placed special emphasis on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and the 1992 killings of Serbs in Bratunac. "The condemnation of war crimes should not include distinctions based on ethnicity or religion. The government strongly and indubitably condemns massacres committed in Srebrenica and Bratunac," the Serbian government said in a statement. The condemnation came after months of debate in Serbia over whether Belgrade should condemn the killing of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, or condemn all war crimes committed during the decade of Balkan conflicts. BW

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova reiterated his desire for the province to win full independence and be integrated into Western institutions, Hina reported on 7 July. "Our aim is to become an independent state integrated with the European Union and NATO and in a lasting partnership with the United States," Rugova said following talks in Prishtina with Croatian President Stipe Mesic. Rugova added that he expects Croatia's support for Kosova's efforts to win international recognition as an independent state. BW

Croatian President Mesic told journalists in Prishtina that Kosova's status can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the province and Serbia with the assistance of the international community, Serbian and Croatian news agencies reported on 7 July. "An unstable Kosovo means an unstable region, and what we advocate is for the whole region to turn to European processes, and for a solution for the status of Kosovo. The way it happens must be decided by the people of Kosovo," Mesic said, according to B92. Mesic said Serbian officials in Belgrade told him they want the issue of Kosova to be solved politically and peacefully, but were not precise about the province's final status, Hina reported. "They want the Serbian national minority to be protected according to European standards and to be loyal citizens of Kosovo," Mesic said. BW

The United States on 7 July urged Serbia to quickly complete the investigation of the deaths of three Albanian-Americans who were killed in 1999, dpa reported the same day. The three brothers, Yili, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, were killed after being captured during an illegal border crossing. Their bodies were discovered with their hands bound and gunshot wounds to their heads in a mass grave near a special police compound in Petrovo Selo. U.S. Ambassador Michael Polt urged the Serbian authorities to "solve this case rapidly, no matter where the evidence may lead, prosecute the perpetrators of this criminal act, and bring justice and closure to the Bytyqi family." The three U.S.-born men went to Kosova as volunteers in the Kosova Liberation Army. Serbian police arrested them on 26 June 1999. An investigation was launched in 2000, but no results have been made public yet. BW

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Macedonian counterpart Branko Crvenkovski told journalists in Chisinau on 7 July that their countries will unite their efforts to promote common interests in international organizations and integration into the European Union, BASA reported. The sides signed three accords on cooperation between their Foreign ministries as well as on visa and customs matters. JM

Moldova exported $128.8 million worth of wine in January-May 2005, which is 8 percent more than in the same period of 2004, BASA reported on 7 July. Russia accounts for more than 80 percent of Moldovan wine production, and is followed by Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Germany. Moldova is the 11th largest wine exporter in the world, accounting for some 1.2 percent of world wine exports. JM

Kyrgyzstan's 10 July presidential poll looks like a one-horse race in which no candidates pose a serious challenge to the front-runner, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev. But there are still many questions surrounding the vote, including whether it will be free, fair, and nonviolent.

The Kyrgyz authorities have assured the public that the election will be all of those things as well as open to international inspection.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) says some 970 observers will monitor polling stations, and more than 250 foreign reporters have accreditation to work in the country during the voting period.

But what do analysts closely watching the scene say?

Omurbek Abdrahmanov is a well-known businessman who is active in politics who describes himself as a "pro-Western liberal."

"Yes, I expect [the election will be fair] because there are no major disagreements [among candidates]," Abdrahmanov told RFE/RL. "One of them is a heavyweight, interim President Bakiev. Others are people with little significance for the society. Therefore, there is no political tension right now."

Ishenbai Abdrazakov, a former ambassador and a former state secretary under ousted president Askar Akaev, shares this view. He told RFE/RL that the interim government headed by Bakiev has a high stake in assuring the public sees the election as legitimate and gives the front-runner a strong mandate.

"Many voters think the result is clear and they may not vote," Abdrazakov said. "The other doubt is whether counting of ballots will be fair. But in general, I think authorities will do everything possible to announce the election valid."

But if few observers see much reason to expect fraud in the election, some question how readily supporters of losing candidates may accept a Bakiev victory.

Michael Hall, the Bishkek-based director of the International Crisis Group's Central Asia Project, expressed this concern.

"Hopefully, the elections will go off with enough voter participation for them to be considered valid, to be considered to have taken place officially," Hall said. "But I think really some very serious challenges for stability in Kyrgyzstan are going to come in the period shortly after the elections. I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, we'll have to see the extent to which people will accept the results of the elections as valid, to what extent the other candidates will feel ready to accept them or contest them."

Some Kyrgyz political figures have shown a readiness since Akaev's ouster to use street violence in jockeying for power. This has led to concerns that the election could spark demonstrations.

Most recently, several hundreds protesters attacked the government compounds in central Bishkek on 17 June and tried to seize a key building. Most of the protesters were supporters of disqualified presidential candidate Urmatbek Baryktabasov. The unrest was later quelled by riot police in the government's first determined crackdown on street protests since Akaev was toppled.

Today, the streets of the capital are calm and no unrest has been reported elsewhere in the country. However, Hall still sees a potential for conflict.

"[It's] hard to say if there will be demonstrations. I think there is the possibility of conflict, yes, unfortunately," Hall said. "We've certainly seen demonstrations in the time coming up to the election and I think we've seen that politicians are more and more willing to take their disputes into the streets. Not just regular politicians but also some informal authority figures. I think after the election, as the government attempts to establish control, as other forces jockey for position within the new environment, I think there is a potential that we'll see some unrest."

Hall notes that while the authorities now appear determined to confront protesters and use force if necessary in the capital, they still lack control over some regions.

"The question is to what extent they have the ability to respond elsewhere in the country and to what extent they really control the necessary resources and mechanisms and means to deal with unrest elsewhere in the country," Hall said. "I think, in many parts [of the country], there seems to be a real power vacuum."

But not all analysts agree there will be trouble. Tuiguunali Abdraimov, the CEC chairman, says the elections will be peaceful.

"People are very calm these days," Abdraimov told journalists on 7 July. "They understand that without an officially elected president, no peace is possible in the country, there won't be growth, life won't get better. I believe they understand it now."

Businessman Abdrahmanov also does not expect unrest. But he says tensions could arise from what he claims is uncertainty over any future Bakiev government's economic and political direction.

"[Bakiev] is neither democrat, nor liberal, nor communist," Abdrahmanov said. "His political position is not clear. Right now, he listens spellbound to everyone, first of all, Russia, China, and America. In this regard, I think policy of the new president will be little different from the old president's policy if we don't pressure him."

Abdrahmanov says various civic groups have been pressuring Bakiev to implement constitutional reform aimed at extending parliament's authority and increase checks and balances on the president.

He says those checks and balances are needed to ensure that a leader does not become authoritarian over time.

Gulnoza Saidazimova is a Prague-based correspondent reporting from Bishkek.

Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking for the neo-Taliban on 7 July, said that the militia will kill a U.S. Special Forces solider who has been listed as missing in action since 28 June, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The neo-Taliban have claimed to be holding the missing soldier captive. "At the time of the fall of the Taliban emirate, the ulema of the country had decided that any aggressor soldiers and their collaborators would be punished by death. On this basis, the Taliban Council met at an undisclosed location two days ago, on Tuesday [5 July], and confirmed the decision of the ulema council regarding the captured American," Hakimi told AIP. According to the spokesman, there can be compromise in the ruling of the council. Hakimi said that the U.S. solider will be killed "very soon," and the "entire world" will be notified of his name and place where he is to be executed. "We will behead [the U.S. captive] in order to [make] an exemplary lesson to others," Hakimi told Cairo-based MENA on 7 July. The serviceman in question is the fourth member of a U.S. Navy SEAL commando unit that came under attack in northeastern Konar Province. Bodies of two members of the team were later found, while the third was rescued. AT

A statement issued in the name of Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao on 7 July clarified that Islamabad does not know where Osama bin Laden might be, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, the Islamabad daily "Pakistan" reported. Sherpao said reports regarding the presence of bin Laden "in Afghanistan that was carried by some electronic media channels" is not correct, the statement read (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 July 2005). A war of words between two U.S. allies, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has intensified in recent weeks, with each side accusing the other of not doing enough to protect its borders. While Kabul has charged that bin Laden and other terrorist leaders are in Pakistan, Islamabad has countered that terrorists come to Pakistan from Afghanistan. AT

The chairman of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists' Association, Rahimullah Samandar, in a letter to President Hamid Karzai asked for the release of two journalists working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, AFP reported on 7 July. Rohullah Anwari and Shershah Hamdard were detained by Afghan security personnel on 1 and 2 July, respectively, in Konar. "If the journalists have been arrested in connection with their professional duties," then they should be released immediately, Samandar wrote in his letter. If there are charges against the two, then these should be "made public immediately so that the journalists can be provided with legal representation," the letter continued. Afghan security officials have declined to comment on the cases. In a statement released on 7 July, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission called on the Special National Security Prosecutor-General's Office to take steps to release the two journalists, the official National Radio of Afghanistan reported. AT

General Mohammad Davood, deputy chief of the Afghan Interior Ministry's Drug Control Headquarters, said at a 6 July press conference in Kabul that Iran has been of great assistance, IRNA reported. He said Iranian efforts have been particularly helpful for residents of Farah and Nimroz provinces. Davood made his comments after a meeting of counternarcotics officials from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Afghanistan is the world's biggest opium producer. BS

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which met in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 5 July, approved the observer status of Iran, Pakistan, and India, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2005). One day later, the SCO called on the United States to withdraw from military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported, with acting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva saying the situation in Afghanistan is stable and the United States no longer needs the bases. Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi arrived in Astana on 4 July to participate in the meeting, and he subsequently met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Chinese President Hu Jintao, IRNA reported. At the 5 July SCO meeting, Aref-Yazdi said Iran could link member states with the Persian Gulf, IRNA reported. Current members of the organization, which was formed in 1997, are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The organization originally focused on border-security issues and now serves as a regional forum for discussion and confidence building. BS

Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh and his Pakistani counterpart, Amanullah Khan Jadoon, witnessed the 7 July signing in Islamabad of a memorandum of understanding to continue discussions on construction of a natural-gas pipeline, IRNA reported. "This is the first written document after years of talks," Namdar-Zanganeh said. The overland pipeline is meant to transport natural gas from Iran across Pakistan to India, and Pakistan itself will use the pipeline to supplement its gas supply. The visiting Iranian official met earlier in the day with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, PTV World reported. BS

Legislators elected in by-elections on 17 June were sworn in this week. Alireza Mahjub from Tehran, Hojjatullah Ruhi from Babolsar and Fereidun Kenar, and Golmohmmad Bameri from Iranshahr and Sarbaz were sworn in on 5 July, IRNA reported. Ali Morad Jabbari from Gachsaran, Emad Husseini from Qorveh, and Karim Shafeh from Marand and Julfa were sworn in on 3 July, IRNA reported. BS

Iraqi Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi said during a 7 July press conference in Tehran that Iran has pledged to provide Iraq with a $1 billion aid package, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told reporters that the two sides would sign agreements on military cooperation -- including training -- soon. Asked about the status of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an armed Iranian opposition organization that is based in Iraq and currently enjoys "protected status" under the Geneva Conventions, al-Dulaymi pledged that it will not be allowed to launch operations from Iraqi territory. Al-Dulaymi met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 7 July. Khatami expressed optimism on the continuation of political development in Iraq, called for the country's reconstruction, stressed ethnic unity, and offered Iranian cooperation. According to anonymous sources cited by "Al-Hayat" on 6 July, al-Dulaymi is close to the United States and therefore the visit is meant to strengthen Iran-Iraq ties (presumably by reassuring Iran about U.S. intentions). BS

Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, the group led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, claimed in a 7 July Internet statement that the group killed Egyptian envoy to Iraq Ihab al-Sharif (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). The statement was attached to a videotape statement by a blindfolded al-Sharif in which he describes his work history in the diplomatic corps. The group's statement called Egypt one of the regimes that oppress the Islamic nation, adding: "The first regime to launch war on Islam and against Muslims is the Egyptian regime, going back several decades.... The Egyptian regime was the first to obey the crusaders and to disobey God, by sending the first ambassador to the Alqami [an insulting reference to the Shi'a] government following the crusaders' orders. The Egyptian regime was the first to agree to offer training to the apostate Iraqi police and army officers, who are loyal to the crusaders." The statement further claimed that multinational and Iraqi forces united together to fight the nation of Muhammad. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghayt told reporters in Cairo on 7 July that the incident will not affect Iraqi-Egyptian relations, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. KR

Internet statements attributed to al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn posted on 7 July claim the group has killed four members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Organization. The four men killed were reportedly "leaders" in the Shi'ite organization; two of the men were identified, while the other two were not named. One leader, identified as Raqim Amin al-Hilfi, was killed on 6 July in Al-Durah; the other three were killed on 7 July, in Al-Adhamiyah, Tarmiyah, and Al-Dujayl. Al-Zarqawi said in a 60-minute audio recording released on 5 July that his Al-Qaeda-affiliated group has established a new military force called the Umar Brigade "to eliminate and obliterate the cadres of the betrayal forces, Badr forces." The name of the brigade is a reference to Umar bin al-Khattab, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and held in high regard by Sunnis as the second caliph in Islam. Al-Khattab is viewed by the Shi'a as an idol worshipper and a usurper of power from Imam Ali. KR

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told reporters at a 7 July press briefing in Baghdad that the ministry has exposed a terrorist cell composed of eight officers in the ministry who are sympathetic to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Jabr said the cell members planned to assassinate major leaders and high ministry officials. Only three of the eight cell members have been apprehended, KUNA reported on 7 July. Meanwhile, Jabr told reporters that Operation Lightning will be wrapped up in a few days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2005), after which Iraqi and multinational forces will launch a new operation around Baghdad to rein in terrorists, RFI reported. KR

Kurdish Iraqi National Assembly member Abd al-Khaliq Zangana told the Kurdistan Democratic Party newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi" that Sunni members of the constitutional drafting committee are attempting to take the negotiations over the constitution back to square one, the newspaper reported on 7 June. Another Kurdish member of the Iraqi National Assembly and drafting committee member Sa'di Barzinji told the daily that the Sunnis have taken a stance against federalism and have said they do not want the Kurdish language to be considered an official language of Iraq, alongside Arabic. He said Sunnis have also called for changes in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution, and specifically have called for the constitution to stipulate that Iraq is part of the Arab nation and the Islamic nation. The TAL currently states, "The Arab people in Iraq are an inseparable part of the Arab nation." Barzinji claimed that Sunni committee members also stand opposed to federal regions and have proposed considering Kurds a minority in Iraq. He added that Sunni demands "also contravene the agreement between the United Iraqi Alliance list and the Kurdistan Coalition list," adding, "Here they demand less rights for the Kurdish people in Iraq than what the former regime had." KR

President Jalal Talabani told Al-Jazeera television in an interview broadcast on 6 July that he has more support from Arabs than Kurds in the national elections, adding that he has always been a proponent of Arab solidarity, even though he is a Kurd. He discussed the historic role of Kurds in Iraqi government under the monarchy. "You must not forget that the Kurds, the Turkomans, and the Chaldo-Assyrians are ethnic groups in Iraq. Therefore, Iraq is not totally Arab.... Even during the Saddam Hussein regime, Article 7 of Saddam Hussein's constitution stated that the Iraqi people were composed of two main ethnic groups, the Arab and Kurdish. The constitution approved the national rights of the Kurdish people within a united Iraq," Talabani said. He added that it is wrong to try and Arabize Kurds, Turkomans, and Chaldo-Assyrians under an "Arab nation," saying: "If we consider the national Arab concept, the Arabs are part of the Arab nation but the Kurds or the Turkomans are not. But we are all part of the Iraqi people." KR