PUTIN GIVES PRIORITY TO SUPPLYING OIL TO CHINA...
Speaking at a press conference in Gleneagles, Scotland, following the summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries, President Vladimir Putin said on 8 July that in the near future Russia will increase its oil exports from 230 million tons (1,380 million barrels) to 250 million-270 million tons, kremlin.ru reported. Putin revealed that the first stage of a new strategic oil pipeline in the Far East will be ready by 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005), which will be terminated at Skovorodino, in Amur Oblast near the Chinese border, and have total throughput of 30 million tons. From Skovorodino, 20 million tons will go to the Chinese market and 10 million tons will go by rail to the Pacific coast, where it can be shipped to Japan. China and Japan, which are the world's second- and third-biggest energy consumers, have been competing for preferential supplies through this pipeline for some time. Putin added that Russia is planning a second stage of the pipeline from Skovorodino to the Pacific coast. The total pipeline capacity will then grow to 50 million tons, and exports could also go to the United States. VY
...AND PROMISES TO EXPAND GAS EXPORTS
At the same press conference, President Putin said that Russia should expand its export-pipeline infrastructure to meet obligations to increase the supply of natural gas to Europe by 40 billion cubic meters starting from 2010, kremlin.ru reported. Russia also will increase gas exports to Turkey from 4 billion cubic meters to 16 billion via the Black Sea Blue Stream pipeline. Putin said that Russia will also expand its gas exports through Belarus and Poland and is "ready to cooperate with Ukraine, providing that they don't steal our gas." Finally, Russia sees as most important the construction of a north European gas pipeline on the Baltic Sea floor. Putin announced that Russia will make energy security a priority during its chairing of the G-8 and that it will put energy cooperation at the top of the agenda of the next G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in 2006. VY
DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKER CALLS FOR RAISING PRICE OF GAS FOR GEORGIA...
State Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) told TV-Tsentr on 9 July that Moscow should punish the Georgian government for its policy toward Russia by demanding that Tbilisi pay its debts and by increasing the price of the hydrocarbons it supplies to Georgia. "We understand that the Georgian people will suffer from [this measure], but they also should face a challenge: what side to take and with whom to proceed in the future," she said. Sliska noted that this is her reaction to her recent discussions with Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 1-5 July in Washington. Burdjanadze accuses Russia of being behind "everything wrong that happens in Georgia," she said. On 6 July, the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Moscow to fulfill its international obligations and not to impede the peaceful settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, messenger.com.ge reported on 8 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). VY
...AND CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO DO SAME FOR OTHER 'DISLOYAL' STATES
The Duma adopted a nonbinding resolution on 8 July calling on the cabinet of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to impose new higher prices on Russian natural gas exported to the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, but exclude from that policy the breakaway regions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester, RosBalt reported. Deputy Sergei Baburin (Motherland) said, "Georgia left the Soviet Union without Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so I could not imagine what to dispute here." Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said since Georgia is attempting to join NATO and Ukraine to join the European Union, they shouldn't expect special treatment from Russia. "We should finish with gas socialism," he said. First Deputy Speaker Sliska said she demands that Fradkov's government name a date when new prices will be introduced, RosBalt reported. VY
DUMA PASSES SEVERAL LAWS ON FINAL DAY OF SPRING SESSION...
The Duma on 8 July passed in the third reading a draft law strengthening the rules mandating competitive bidding for government contracts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 July. Among other things, the law would prohibit awarding a contract for goods or services to an entity that is bankrupt or has had assets frozen. Meanwhile, the Duma approved in the second and third readings a law on special economic zones, which is intended to spur investment in Russian industry. According to Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade Andrei Sharonov, the government has already received some 30 requests to create such zones, and six to 10 special economic zones may appear in Russia in 2006, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 July. Also on 8 July, the Duma passed in the second and third readings amendments to the law on advertising restricting radio and television commercials for gambling to the hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., strana.ru reported. That bill also prohibits gambling commercials from using human or animal images, targeting minors, and creating the impression of guaranteed winnings. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov adjourned the chamber until the beginning of the fall session, scheduled for 7 September, RIA-Novosti reported. LB
...MOVES TOWARD DELAYING LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT LAW
The Duma on 8 July passed in the first reading an amendment to the law on local self-government, which would delay that law's implementation from 1 January 2006 to at least 1 January 2008, and until 2010 for regions that need more time to prepare, gazeta.ru reported. Deputy Mikhail Grishankov (Unified Russia) proposed the amendment on the grounds that the Finance Ministry, by not submitting certain Tax Code amendments to the Duma, has deprived local governments of the financial resources needed to carry out the structural reforms, "Gazeta" reported on 4 July. Federal officials have long resisted calls by local and regional officials to delay the date on which the law takes effect. However, in the days preceding the Duma's vote, several Russian newspapers reported that the Kremlin had agreed to support Grishankov's amendment. President Putin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kosopkin, argued for its passage during the chamber's debate on 8 July, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. According to "Vremya novostei" on 4 July, officials fear that bringing the law into effect on schedule, without the necessary preconditions in place, could lead to disruption or even mass protests akin to those that followed the monetization of social benefits at the beginning of 2005. LB
DUMA HAS TWO MOTHERLAND FACTIONS
The Duma on 8 July approved several rule changes that cleared the path for registration of a second Motherland faction, headed by Sergei Baburin with nine members, Russian media reported. The Motherland faction headed by Dmitrii Rogozin recently expelled Baburin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June and 7 July 2005). The amendments allow the Rules Committee to register new factions; previously that committee had the authority to register only deputy groups, which require at least 50 members. The amendments also state that a faction is to be registered regardless of the number of its members, if it is formed from a political party that won representation in the Duma. The original Motherland faction was created after the Motherland electoral bloc (of which Rogozin and Baburin were leaders) cleared the threshold in the December 2003 Duma elections. Finally, the amendments will force Baburin and his allies to choose a name that can be distinguished from the name of Rogozin's faction. Rogozin has threatened to challenge the creation of a second Motherland in court. He argues that the Rules Committee unlawfully agreed to register Baburin's faction on the evening of 5 July, when it did not yet have the authority to register factions. LB
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE BRINGS NEW MURDER CHARGES AGAINST YUKOS SECURITY OFFICIAL...
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 6 July brought new charges against former senior Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin, who was convicted of murder and attempted murder in March and sentenced to 20 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 30 March and 4 and 14 April 2005), Channel One reported on 10 July. According to Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov, Pichugin has been indicted in the organization of two contract killings, including that of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov in 1998, and three attempted killings. Kolesnikov said Pichugin, following the instructions of former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin and "other unidentified top Yukos managers," organized the killings of people whose activity, in the opinion of Yukos managers, damaged the company's operations. Kolesnikov added that Israel has already twice refused to extradite Nevzlin, and that Russia will repeat the request based on new evidence. He also said prosecutors are ready to bring new charges against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep chief Platon Lebedev. In June, Kolesnikov said that Yukos managers "have blood on their hands" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2005). VY
...PREPARES TO DO SAME AGAINST KHODORKOVSKII...
Former Khodorkovskii adviser Olga Kostina, who survived an assassination attempt in 1998 for which Pichugin has been convicted, told Channel One on 10 July that she believes the attempt was connected to Nevzlin, with whom she had conflicts and who supervised Yukos's security service. She said Nevzlin openly threatened her and that complaining to law enforcement was useless, as they cooperated with him. She added that like other victims and witnesses in the case she feels herself in danger "as long as Nevzlin is free, as Pichugin was not the only contractor working for him." Businessman Yevgenii Rybin, who also survived an assassination attempt, told "Izvestiya" on 6 July, "I will be satisfied only when Khodorkovskii faces accusations as the main organizer of all the killings and attempted killings and Nevzlin will sit next to Pichugin [in prison]." Meanwhile, Nevzlin said that the new accusations against him are "a continuation of political persecution," newsru.com reported. VY
...AND OPENS CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST KASYANOV
The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal investigation against former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov under accusations of abuse of office, Channel One reported on 10 July. The investigation was initiated at the request of investigative journalist and Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein (Unified Russia), who said he has documents on the illegal privatization by Kasyanov of a state-owned dacha. Khinshtein said that in his last day in office, Kasyanov acquired a luxury dacha that belonged to former Soviet ideologue Mikhail Suslov and is located in a prestigious area of Moscow. Kasyanov allegedly bought the dacha through a fictitious tender, in which a company he founded took part together with his wife as well as several front companies. As a result, Kasyanov bought the dacha and 11 hectares of land for 32 million rubles ($1.1 million) although its market price is at least 830 million rubles. As to whether the charges are linked to Kasyanov's possible role as a leader of an anti-Putin coalition, Khinshtein said that "no other prime minister in the past had so many compromising materials with suspicions of corruption as Kasyanov," "Argumenty i fakty," No. 27, reported. By choosing Kasyanov as its leader, the opposition can only compromise itself, said Khinshtein, who has close ties to law-enforcement agencies. VY
CHUKOTKA ELITE WANTS ABRAMOVICH TO STAY
Political leaders in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, who met with presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii on 8 July, unanimously recommended that Pulikovskii nominate current Governor Roman Abramovich to remain in that post, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 July. Abramovich's term expires this December; he has said that he prefers not to serve another term. Pulikovskii has expressed the intention to nominate Abramovich but is considering backup candidates. "Gazeta" reported on 6 July that Abramovich has significantly improved Chukotka's tax base, and federal authorities fear that his departure would raise the cost of maintaining the region. Abramovich's charitable giving (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 17 October 2002) has also contributed to the intense desire of local elites that he stay. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 July that unnamed sources say Abramovich has been told that he will get a better price for his stake in the Sibneft oil company if he continues to serve as Chukotka governor. "Gazeta" put forward a different rumor on 6 July, quoting Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Andrei Ryabov as saying that Abramovich already agreed to a second term in exchange for guarantees that his business interests will be secure. LB
PUTIN WANTS TAMBOV GOVERNOR TO SERVE THIRD TERM
President Putin has officially asked the Tambov Oblast Duma to confirm incumbent Governor Oleg Betin to remain in that post, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 July, citing Putin's press secretary Aleksei Gromov. Local political observers expect that Betin will have no trouble being confirmed, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 June. Then President Boris Yeltsin appointed Betin governor of Tambov in 1995, but Communist candidate Aleksandr Ryabov defeated him the following year. Betin won the governor's seat back in a 1999 election and was reelected easily in 2003 with 71 percent of the vote. Although his second term was not due to expire until 2008, Betin asked Putin for an early vote of confidence during a personal meeting between the president and the governor on 4 July, according to "Kommersant-Daily." LB
'NATIONAL' DISTRICTS CREATED FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA
Meeting in emergency session on 8 July, the parliament of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic adopted a resolution creating national districts for the Abazin and Nogai minorities, according to kavkazweb.net quoting RIA Novosti. The two ethnic groups account for 4.6 and 3.1 percent, respectively, of the republic's total population of 440,000. The parliament also voted to suspend controversial legislation on redistricting that resulted in the transfer of land near a largely Abazin-populated village to an adjacent, predominantly Karachai, municipality. That transfer triggered protests by representatives of the Abazin minority, who stormed the parliament building on 29 June to demand the law be annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 7 July 2005). LF
TWO ACQUITTED OF DAGHESTAN ATTACK
Daghestan's Supreme Court on 8 July found Murad Abdurazakov and Abdulkhalim Abdukarimov not guilty of masterminding the 9 May 2002 bomb attack on the Victory Day parade in Kaspiisk that killed 43 people, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002). The two men were, however, sentenced to prison terms of 18 and 11 years, respectively, for other, unspecified crimes. Police are still searching for five other suspects in the Kaspiisk bombing. LF
OPPOSITIONIST KILLED IN CAR CRASH IN MARII-EL
Prominent Finno-Ugric scholar Yurii Anduganov was killed in a car crash in the Republic of Marii-El on 6 July, the website http://www.mari.ee/rus/news/soc/2005/07/01.htm reported the following day. Anduganov was the moving spirit behind the creation at the Mari State University of a faculty of Mari language and literature, but he was constrained to leave Marii-El to live in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug after coming under pressure for his criticisms of Marii-El President Leonid Markelov. Anduganov was elected president of the 10th International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies, scheduled to take place next month in Marii-El's capital, Yoshkar-Ola, but lobbied against the congress taking place in the Republic of Marii-El because of Markelov's repression of the Mari opposition. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER PRAISES PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Artur Baghdasarian, chairman of the Orinats Yerkir party that is a junior partner in the ruling three-party coalition, told journalists on 8 July he considers the final version of the constitutional amendments submitted for approval to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission "quite successful" and "in essence, reforms," Noyan Tapan reported. He said the commission's three main demands -- strengthening the power of the legislature and the independence of the judiciary and introducing elections for the post of Yerevan mayor -- are included in the new version. Despite constant pressure from the Council of Europe, the parliament initially declined to include those changes in the proposed draft amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May and 24 and 27 June 2005). Also on 8 July, Shavarsh Kocharian of the opposition Artarutiun bloc said that its parliament faction will participate in the emergency debate on the amendments, to be held on 29 August, only if those three key demands are included in the final version, Noyan Tapan reported. But Aram Sargsian, chairman of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 6 July that Hanrapetutiun will reject the amendments on the grounds that President Robert Kocharian (no relation to Shavarsh) has repeatedly flouted the constitution, which has thus become irrelevant. The former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement has likewise appealed to voters to reject the draft amendments, which are to be put to a nationwide referendum this fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). LF
WORLD BANK EXPRESSES CONCERN AT RUSSIAN PURCHASE OF ARMENIAN ENERGY-DISTRIBUTION NETWORKS
Roger Robinson, head of the World Bank's Yerevan office, expressed concern over the reported acquisition by Russia's state-run Unified Energy Systems (EES) of the Armenian Energy Network (AEN), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 8 July. News of the alleged sale of AEN -- which the Canadian-owned Midlands Resources holding company acquired for $40 million in September 2002 -- to EES for $73 million surfaced late last month, but a spokeswoman for AEN rejected them, explaining that AEN has simply signed a management agreement with EES (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). But an announcement posted on the EES website on 7 July confirmed that an EES subsidiary has acquired AEN. The terms of the 2002 sale oblige Midland Resources to obtain permission from the Armenian government before reselling AEN. The Armenian government has not yet commented on the rumored sale. LF
THOUSANDS ATTEND AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION
The Azadlyg (Liberty) election bloc, which comprises the opposition Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, convened a demonstration in Baku on 10 July with the permission of the municipal authorities, Azerbaijani and Western news agencies reported. Participants demanded amendments to the election law to ensure that the 6 November parliamentary election is free and fair; the creation of equal conditions for opposition and pro-government candidates, including permission for DPA Chairman Rasul Guliev to return from exile in the U.S. to participate in the ballot; the release of all political prisoners; and the arrest of those persons responsible for the 2 March murder of journalist Elmar Huseinov. Addressing the demonstrators, Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar pledged that "this year we will free the country" from the regime of incumbent President Ilham Aliyev, AFP reported. Qambar predicted on 8 July that up to 50,000 people would turn out for the demonstration; day.az estimated turnout at 6,000, AFP at 10,000, and Turan at between 35,000-40,000. LF
AZERBAIJANI COURTS ANNUL VERDICT AGAINST ANOTHER OPPOSITION LEADER
Baku's Nasimi District Court annulled on 8 July the guilty verdict handed down in October 2004 to DPA First Deputy Chairman Serdar Djalaloglu on charges resulting from the clashes in Baku between police and opposition protesters in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential election, echo-az.com reported on 9 July. Djalaloglu is the fifth of the seven oppositionists sentenced in that case to be exonerated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). However, the Sabail District Court on 8 July declined an appeal by National Democratic Movement Chairman Iskander Hamidov to annul the charges of abuse of power and embezzlement on which he was sentenced in 1995 to 14 years' imprisonment, Turan reported. Hamidov was pardoned and released from jail in December 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). Also on 8 July, Hamidov and Party of Great Creation head Fazil Gazanfaroglu signed a cooperation agreement under which neither party will field a candidate in the 6 November parliamentary ballot in a constituency where the other has already nominated a candidate, echo-az.com reported. LF
GEORGIA AGAIN OFFERS SOUTH OSSETIA 'BROAD AUTONOMY'...
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili traveled on 9 July to Batumi to attend an international conference to address approaches to resolving the conflict between Georgia and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Addressing that forum on 9 July, Saakashvili repeated the offer he made in January in an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to give South Ossetia the broadest conceivable autonomy within Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Saakashvili also offered restitution for the damage inflicted during the fighting in 1989-92, to pay pensions arrears from 1991 onward, and to create a free-trade zone in South Ossetia, Interfax reported on 10 July. LF
...IN ABSENCE OF SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADERS
The Batumi conference was attended by Georgia's top leadership, including Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, and National Bank President Roman Gotsiridze, and also by representatives from the UN, the OSCE, and other international organizations, Caucasus Press reported. No representatives from either Russia or South Ossetia were present, however. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity told the independent television station Rustavi-2 that he did not receive an official invitation from the Georgian leadership to attend the conference, according to ITAR-TASS on 10 July. South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev told Interfax that it was "absurd" to hold such a forum without inviting representatives from South Ossetia, Russia, and the Republic of North Ossetia. Chochiev said the Georgian leadership's rationale for the conference was simply "to demonstrate to the West that the Georgians are the good guys and the South Ossetians the bad guys," Caucasus Press reported on 9 July. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DIVIDES OPPOSITION INTO 'US AND THEM'
President Saakashvili praised the parliamentary majority on 8 July for its "good work," Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. Saakashvili advocated seeking a consensus with the opposition on how to solve the problems Georgia faces, but in comments reminiscent of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's famous pronouncement "he who is not with us is against us," he added that cooperation is only possible with those members of the opposition "who have not lost their human face." Saakashvili did not specify which persons or parties he meant by this. LF
FORMER GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER NAMED AMBASSADOR TO SWITZERLAND
The Georgian parliament approved on 8 July the appointment of former Finance Minister Valeri Chechelashvili as ambassador to Switzerland, Caucasus Press reported. President Saakashvili dismissed Chechelashvili as finance minister on 29 June in connection with large-scale corruption within the ministry's tax department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). Chechelashvili had served as finance minister for only a few months; prior to that, he served from September 2004-February 2005 as ambassador to Moscow. LF
GEORGIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST RESTRICTIONS
Sixty-two members of the Georgian Media Club signed a statement on 7 July addressed to the Georgian government, the Council of Europe, and international diplomats based in Tbilisi complaining of what they term permanent government pressure on the independent media since the Rose Revolution of November 2003, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. The statement appealed to President Saakashvili to protect them from unwarranted government pressure. Also on 7 July, the independent newspaper "Rezonansi" quoted political analyst Paata Zakareishvili as condemning the recent government edict abolishing government agencies' subscriptions to print publications, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure, as part of the "Putin-ization" of the Georgian media. The opposition National Democratic Party of Georgia expressed solidarity on 8 July with the embattled journalists, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT APPOINTS SON-IN-LAW DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER
President Nursultan Nazarbaev has appointed his son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, first deputy minister of foreign affairs, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 9 July, citing an anonymous source in the presidential administration. Aliev is currently Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria, where he serves also as the envoy to Serbia and Montenegro. DK
BAKIEV CRUISES TO VICTORY IN KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
Preliminary results from Kyrgyzstan's 10 July presidential election confirmed expectations, with acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev scoring an easy victory, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 10 July. As of 6:00 p.m., the Central Election Commission (CEC) pronounced the elections valid with at least 53 percent of voter turnout recorded. CEC Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov said on 10 July that overall voter turnout was almost 75 percent, Kyrgyz Television 1 reported. As of 1:30 a.m. on 11 July, with 568 of 2,181 polling stations reporting, the CEC had Bakiev far ahead of his five opponents, with over 90 percent of the vote, akipress.org reported. Exit polls in various parts of the country put support for Bakiev at 70-90 percent, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK
...WITHOUT PARTICIPATION OF EX-PRESIDENT...
Maksim Maksimovich, a lawyer who is representing the interests of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, said that Akaev could not vote in Moscow because his name had not been included on a voter list, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 10 July. But Apas Jumagulov, Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Russia, told RFE/RL that Akaev could have voted simply by coming to the embassy and presenting his passport for identification purposes. Akaev's daughter, Bermet Akaeva, voted without incident in Bishkek. She said that she voted for a candidate who would not lead the country into catastrophe, RIA-Novosti reported. DK
...AND OBSERVERS NOTE 'PROGRESS'
The OSCE described the 10 July election as "tangible progress toward meeting OSCE and other international commitments" in an 11 July press release on the organization's website. Nevertheless, OSCE monitors observed a "small number of serious irregularities," particularly during vote counting and results tabulation. Kimmo Kiljunen, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation, told a news conference in Bishkek on 11 July, "There has been tangible progress in democratic elections in this country," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Vladimir Rushailo, who headed the CIS observer mission, was also positive. Despite what he described as some "negative nuances," Rushailo said, "We have not observed any blatant irregularities in the voting process," Rossiya reported. DK
U.S. EMBASSY IN TAJIKISTAN RESPONDS TO SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANIZATION STATEMENT
The U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan has issued a statement in response to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's recent call for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from bases in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 9 July. The embassy noted that the bases were set up with the approval of host governments and will remain active as long as those governments consider the bases a factor beneficial to their national security. U.S. military facilities are located in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. DK
WOMAN HIT BY POLICEMAN SEEKS JUSTICE IN BELARUS
Svyatlana Zavadskaya, the wife of missing Belarusian cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, has asked the Minsk City Prosecutor's Office to open a criminal investigation into the actions of a riot policeman who hit her during a rally husband in Minsk last week to mark the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. A video of the incident that was broadcast by Russia's Channel One showed a man clad in a riot-police uniform punching Zavadskaya hard in the face twice as she held a portrait of her husband on a square in downtown Minsk. Meanwhile, the Minsk city police department said the policeman slapped Zavadskaya incidentally, adding that the woman used abusive language, behaved aggressively, and attacked first. "He was not ordered [to hit Zavadskaya], he just showed what he is capable of doing," former special-forces commander Uladzimir Baradach commented on the incident to RFE/RL. "This shows the level of his world view. And, consequently, the level of his unit in general." JM
THREE MORE JOURNALISTS FINED FOR PICKET OVER BELARUS'S POLISH-MINORITY WEEKLY
A district court in Hrodna on 8 July fined three more journalists for their participation in last week's picket to protest the takeover of the Polish-language weekly "Glos znad Niemna" by the authorities, Belapan reported. Andrzej Pisalnik, acting editor in chief of "Glos znad Niemna," and Ivan Raman of the weekly "Salidarnasts" are to pay $1,200 each, while "Glos znad Niemna" journalist Inesa Todryk was fined some $240. Two days earlier, the same judge fined two other journalists, Andrzej Poczobut and Igor Bancer, for the same protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). In a bid to control the Union of Poland in Belarus more closely, the authorities have prevented the "Glos znad Niemna" editorial staff from running their weekly and published several bogus issues of the periodical (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 22 June 2005). JM
BELARUSIAN VENDOR LEAVES PRISON UNDER AMNESTY
Alyaksandr Vasilyeu, leader of a market vendors' strike committee in Hrodna who was convicted of defaming Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, was released from prison on 7 July under a recent amnesty law, Belapan reported on 8 July. Vasilyeu and his associate Valery Levaneuski were sentenced to two years in prison each in September, after the court found them guilty of insulting Lukashenka in a leaflet advertising a May Day protest earlier last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004). Levaneuski continues to serve his prison sentence. JM
UKRAINE'S PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY REGAINS ITS BRAND NAME
The Our Ukraine's People Union, a party created earlier this year to support the government of President Viktor Yushchenko (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005), held a congress in Kyiv on 9 July, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The congress introduced amendments to the party's statute, shortening the party's name to Our Ukraine, that is, to the name adopted originally by an electoral bloc created by Yushchenko for the 2002 parliamentary elections. The move became possible after the Justice Ministry ruled last week that the Our Ukraine Party led by Viktor Pynzenyk, which was called the Reforms and Order Party until mid-2004, adopted its current name unlawfully by encroaching upon intellectual property rights of the Our Ukraine bloc. Meanwhile, Pynzenyk, whose Our Ukraine Party held a congress the same day, told journalists that his organization is not going to change its current name. Pynzenyk is finance minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES LAWMAKER TO PASS WTO-ORIENTED BILL BY OCTOBER
Viktor Yushchenko has urged the Verkhovna Rada, which adjourned for summer vacation on 8 July, to pass by October six more bills necessary for Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 8 July. During tumultuous votes last week, the Ukrainian parliament managed to adopt eight bills from a 14-bill WTO-oriented package. Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on the Inter television channel on 10 July that the government prepared the WTO-oriented bills in great haste and put undue pressure on parliament to approve them. "Don't listen to these stupidities, when they say that the government submitted something in haste, that it submitted half-baked documents, that something was not agreed with lawmakers," Prime Minister Tymoshenko responded on the 1+1 television channel the same day. "When you hear such criticisms of the government, you should know that the government is being obstructed from working." JM
BOSNIAN MASSACRE COMMEMORATION TAKES PLACE...
About 50,000 people attended ceremonies on 11 July in Srebrenica and nearby Potocari in Bosnia-Herzegovina to mark the 10th anniversary of the killing of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces in the worst single atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II, international and regional media reported. A central aspect of the ceremony was the reburial of 610 massacre victims who have been recently identified from remains found in mass graves elsewhere. The memorial cemetery already contained the remains of 1,327 victims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). Muslim women dressed in white stood alongside the green-draped coffins to lead mourning for their relatives. About 7,000 body bags still await analysis, and about 20 additional mass graves have yet to be exhumed. Srebrenica is now a largely Serbian town with a fraction of its prewar population. Most young Serbs have left because there is little work to be had in what was once a center of mining and tourism. Some local residents blame unnamed "vested interests" in Banja Luka for preventing the relaunching of the town's potentially lucrative mineral-water business. One local journalist told "RFE/RL Newsline" that Srebrenica today is "the only town in Bosnia so poor that no Chinese traders will go to it." PM
...AS SERBS REMAIN DIVIDED...
Serbian President Boris Tadic attended the memorial ceremonies in Srebrenica on 11 July despite earlier statements by some survivors that he is not welcome and by some Serbs that he should stay away, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Before leaving Belgrade, he said that he wants to pay his respects to the victims, stressing that "Serbia's future depends" on the extent to which that country distances itself from war crimes committed in its name in the 1990s (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June and 1 July 2005). On 9 July, about 4,000 Serbs attended a Belgrade rally hosted by the hard-line Serbian Radical Party (SRS), at which a film was shown that portrays Serbs as victims of the conflicts of the 1990s. Those present in the audience included top leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as leading defenders of former Bosnian Serb leaders and fugitive war crimes indictees Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic. PM
...IN SERBIA AND IN BOSNIA
Stasa Zajovic, who is one of the co-founders of Belgrade's antinationalist and antiwar movement known as Women in Black, told Berlin's "Die Welt" of 11 July that members of her group have been repeatedly threatened by SRS activists but do not let themselves be intimidated. She added that the Women in Black plan to send representatives to the commemorative meeting in Srebrenica. Zajovic charged that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has effectively assumed leadership of the "fascist" tendencies in Serbia dating back to the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from the late 1980s to 2000. She stressed that Kostunica refuses to recognize that what took place in Srebrenica was genocide organized by the Serbian state. In Srebrenica, one young local Serb told London's "The Guardian" of 11 July that the commemoration is a "publicity stunt" based on "figures [that] are exaggerated," adding that the commemoration takes no note of the "3,600 Serbs killed here." Another young Serb said that he has a picture of Mladic on his wall because "he's our military leader.... There's not a single document to show that Mladic ordered the killings." PM
CROATIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HIS COUNTRY WILL RECOGNIZE MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM RESULTS
Croatian President Stipe Mesic told the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" of 9 July that his country will recognize Montenegrin independence if voters there decide to leave the union of Serbia and Montenegro in a referendum widely expected to be held in 2006, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). Mesic indicated that Croatia will not wait for the international community to take the first step toward acknowledging the results of a referendum because Croatia is "led by forces that recognize political realities." He recalled that the failure of other countries to quickly recognize the independence of his country in 1991 caused it considerable problems. Asked how he feels about the fact that the current pro-independence Montenegrin leadership supported Serbian President Milosevic in his war with Croatia in 1991, Mesic replied that Montenegro is too small to stand up to Serbia, which at that time had the entire former Yugoslav People's Army at its disposal. PM
ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS REFUSE TO CONCEDE DEFEAT...
Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Tirana on 10 July that his government remains in power and will not concede defeat in the 3 July vote to former President Sali Berisha's Democrats, whom the Central Election Commission says won the ballot, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 7 July 2005). Based on preliminary results from 97 out of 100 constituencies, the commission ruled earlier on 10 July that the Democrats and their allies have won 73 seats in the 140 seat parliament against 64 for the Socialists and their partners. The Socialists, however, announced that they plan to challenge the results in about 30 constituencies. Nano stressed that he will not accept any results until the commission makes its final certification. Much of the international community had previously expressed the hope that Albania's fractious political class would show new maturity and gracefully accept the results of the elections without the customary complaints and charges of fraud. PM
...AS THE DEMOCRATS MAKE THEIR PLANS
Former Albanian President Berisha said in Tirana on 8 July that one of his first priorities upon taking office as prime minister will be to sharply cut the taxes levied on small businesses, dpa reported. He also pledged to reduce the number of government employees, noting that "when the German chancellor's office has 580 employees, we cannot afford 340" for the Albanian head of government. Berisha also promised to reduce the number of ministries and increase the number of women in the government. PM
RUSSIA CALLS ON BALKAN STATES TO LOOK TO THE EU
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on 8 July after meeting with his Greek counterpart Petros Molyviatis that all "Balkan countries should look toward Europe. The European Union [could] play an important role" in their future, Interfax news agency reported. "We have heard the statements of the EU leadership that the [negative] results of the referendums [on the proposed EU constitution] in France and the Netherlands and the recent [divided] EU summit will not affect its relations with its neighbors," Lavrov said. "We hope that this fully applies to the Balkan countries and that they will adopt a European outlook. This will be a vital stabilizer, considering the complex ethnic mix in the Balkans," Lavrov added (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 17 June and 1 July 2005). PM
CHISINAU MAYORAL ELECTION INVALID DUE TO LOW TURNOUT
The 10 July mayoral election in the Moldovan capital has provided no winner since less than 27 percent of eligible voters came to the polls, Moldovan news agencies reported on 11 July. At least one-third of registered voters are required to take part in a mayoral election to make it valid. Zinaida Grechanaya of the Communist Party received 50.5 percent of the vote. She was followed by former Prime Minister and Our Moldova Alliance co-Chairman Dumitru Braghis (20.6 percent), who ran as an independent candidate. ITAR-TASS reported that a repeat election, involving Grechanaya and Braghis as well as eight other candidates, will be held on 24 July. JM
FORMER PRIME MINISTER WINS KYRGYZ ELECTION BY LANDSLIDE
Kyrgyzstan's acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev has won a landslide victory in the country's 10 July presidential poll. Kyrgyz election officials declared Bakiev the winner as they announced that preliminary results show he won 88.9 percent of the vote with 95 percent of all ballots counted. The election officials put turnout at 74.6 percent.
Kokumbai Turusbekov, a member of the Central Election Commission, told RFE/RL that acting President Bakiev won the support of just under 90 percent of the voters.
"At the moment, the winner is Kurmanbek Salievich Bakiev," Turusbekov said. "[He got] 88 percent of all voters who participated in the polls. The turnout was 74 percent. Basically, we can say the elections are valid." Bakiev has headed Kyrgyzstan's interim government since former President Askar Akaev fled into exile in the face of massive demonstrations in March.
Much of Bakiev's support came from the country's south, his home region. He got some 95 percent of the votes in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Turnout in those cities was also the highest in the poll at just under 90 percent. His support in Kyrgyzstan's northern regions was lower, some 75 percent. But analysts say that percentage is still very high for a country where the south-north political divide is often a major factor in voting.
Bakiev had sought to appeal to both north and south by creating a joint ticket with prominent politician Feliks Kulov, who hails from the north. Kulov had been considered Bakiev's main rival following the ouster of Akaev. But the two men made a pre-election alliance to pool their forces. They agreed that if Bakiev won the presidency, Kulov would become prime minister.
Observers say the alliance almost certainly helped Bakiev win the support of the northern regions. However, turnout was lower in northern regions -- between 60 and 70 percent in different regions -- despite the fact that northern voters have been most active in previous polls.
Edil Baisalov, the head of Kyrgyzstan's largest civic group, the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, said Bakiev's win is a victory of the March revolution in Kyrgyzstan. Speaking to journalists in Bishkek on 11 July, he said the vote results should be seen a protest against the old regime rather than purely as support for Bakiev.
"Those 88 percent Bakiev got legitimize and prove the 24 March events," Baisalov said. "But [voters trusted] Bakiev and his team in advance. In fact, it wasn't a vote for Bakiev, it was a vote against the previous regime. The people thus expressed what they didn't like and refused to have. They refused to have corruption, authoritarianism, and follow old rules of the game."
The Central Election Commission reports that another presidential candidate, the country's ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu came second in the race. He got some 3.8 percent of votes, mainly in his native south where he is popular and enjoys wide support.
There was little doubt ahead of the 11 July poll about its outcome, since Bakiev was widely seen as the clear front-runner. But there had been some questions about turnout. A high turnout was considered necessary to give the new government a strong popular mandate to stabilize the country following political unrest seen since Akaev's ouster.
Election monitoring groups are expected soon to declare whether they regard the election as free and fair.
The For Democracy and Civil Society coalition, which had the largest group of local monitors, has reported minor violations and errors by electoral officials at polling stations.
Another monitoring group, the Mission of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO), also reported some violations despite a general improvement in election processes in Kyrgyzstan. The ENEMO is a group of 17 civic organizations from 16 countries of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe.
Peter Novotny, head of the ENEMO Mission in Kyrgyzstan, told reporters in Bishkek on 11 July that elections went peacefully in most areas of Kyrgyzstan. "Compared to previous parliamentary elections we noticed improvements in the election process," Novotny said. "We haven't observed an environment with a large scale of vote buying or intimidation of journalists or voters. But on election day, we observed some serious violations. There were some isolated cases of ballot stuffing or illegal campaigning or not following the procedures for checking the inking of voters."
In its preliminary report, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the election "marked tangible progress toward meeting OSCE and other international commitments for democratic elections, although the vote count proved to be problematic."
The country's electoral officials say elections were free and transparent. Turusbekov of the Central Election Commission told RFE/RL that reported violations were not significant.
"There are some complaints about minor violations," he said. "We will check those complaints. However, they are not going to change the general outcome of elections."
Under the current legislation, the Central Election Commission is to pass its official conclusion on the election results to Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court. The court, in turn, must examine their validity.
If the Constitutional Court confirms the results validity, Bakiev will be proclaimed the country's new president. Central Election Commission officials told RFE/RL that Bakiev is likely to be inaugurated in August.
Gulnoza Saidazimova is a Prague-based correspondent reporting from Bishkek.
AFGHAN WEAPONS COLLECTORS KILLED IN PAKTIYA PROVINCE BLAST
Twelve people were killed and four were injured in Paktiya Province on 10 July when a vehicle carrying a team of Afghans working for the United States hit a roadside explosive device, Pajhwak News Agency reported. Paktiya Province security chief Gholam Nabi Salim told Pajhwak that the team was assigned to collect illegal weapons. Also quoting Salim, Xinhua news agency reported on 11 July that the Afghans were members of a military force. Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 10 July identified the dead as "Afghan nationals," listing the casualty count at 12 dead and two injured. No one has claimed responsibility for planting the explosive device. AT
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR BEHEADING CAPTURED POLICE IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Four police officers were killed when their convoy was targeted in the evening of 9 July in Helmand Province, and six officers captured during the attack were subsequently found decapitated, AFP reported on 10 July. Neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi told AIP on 10 July that the police officers "were war criminals, therefore the Taliban executed them." The headless bodies of the policemen were found near the Afghan-Pakistani border, a border commander Mohammad Rasul told AFP. The beheading of captives is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan; neither the Taliban during their rule or the neo-Taliban have been known to behead people. The decapitations could suggest a new phase of violence in Afghanistan that is either being directed by Al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq or inspired by their actions. AT
GOVERNOR OF SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE ACCUSES NEO-TALIBAN OF SLAYING RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR
Paktika Province Governor Hajji Mohammad Golab Mangal on 9 July blamed the neo-Taliban for killing Mawlawi Agha Jan and his wife the previous day, AIP reported on 9 July. Agha Jan was the head of ulema council of Sharana District of Paktika. No one has claimed responsibility of the slayings. In recent months, the neo-Taliban have targeted religious scholars who have voiced their support for the Kabul government. AT
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR KILLING MISSING U.S. COMMANDO
The body of a U.S. Navy SEAL who was listed as missing in action in Afghanistan's northeastern Konar Province has been found, NBC News reported on 10 July. An unidentified U.S. official said that the serviceman most likely died of wounds he sustained during fighting. The serviceman is the fourth member of a U.S. Navy SEAL commando unit that came under attack in the province on 28 June. Bodies of two slain members of the team were later found, while the third SEAL was rescued. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi claimed on 10 July that the militia beheaded the fourth SEAL, leaving his body where it could be found, "Pakistan Times," reported. The neo-Taliban earlier claimed to be holding the SEAL captive, and threatened to behead him and videotape the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). AT
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS AL-QAEDA REGROUPING
General Abdul Rahim Wardak said in Kabul on 9 July that Al-Qaeda has regrouped in Afghanistan and is planning to disrupt parliamentary and local elections scheduled for September, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad on 9 July. Wardak claimed that Al-Qaeda has united its forces in Afghanistan with the remnants of the former Taliban regime and is using new tactics to achieve its goals (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 July 2005). AT
AFGHAN AUTHORITIES RELEASE REPORTERS
Two reporters working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan were released from detention on 10 July, Pajhwak reported. Rohullah Anwari and Shershah Hamdard were detained by Afghan security personnel on 1 and 2 July, respectively, in Konar Province, and were held without specific charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). Radio Free Afghanistan's Kabul bureau chief Mohammad Amin Modaqeq said that the two reporters were "released after a thorough investigation showed that they did not commit any illegal act," AIP reported on 10 July. Afghanistan Independent Journalists' Association Chairman Rahimullah Samandar, who wrote Afghan President Hamid Karzai asking that the two journalists be released, told Pajhwak on 10 July that the lack of charges against the reporters "shows [that] the government can arrest and release journalists without any reason and whenever it wants so." AT
IRAN WANTS NUCLEAR FUEL SELF-SUFFICIENCY
Iranian parliamentarian Kazem Jalali said during an 8 July meeting in Moscow with Russian Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev that Iran intends to build 20 nuclear power stations in the coming years, Interfax reported, citing a press release from the Iranian Embassy. In light of these plans, Jalali said, it makes sense for Iran to produce its own nuclear fuel. Rumyantsev told his guest that deliveries of nuclear fuel will take place in accordance with previously agreed schedules. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF ELECTION COVER-UP...
Former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi called in a 10 July letter to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami for a recount of the 17 June votes in Tehran and Isfahan, ISNA reported. Karrubi referred to the interference of military and paramilitary personnel, and he said "any effort to organize a cover-up is doomed to failure." Karrubi advised: "You must inform the people that what happened was wrong and was contrary to the most basic democratic principles and violated the people's right to define their own destiny.... The president believes that, for certain reasons, the case should not be publicized." Karrubi noted inexplicable discrepancies in the overall vote count over time. BS
...AS HE INVESTIGATES FRAUD ALLEGATIONS
President Khatami said on 10 July that he has received a partial report on election violations and the investigation is continuing, ISNA reported. "I will announce the conclusion later," he said. Presidential adviser Ali Rabii added, "On the basis of the documentary evidence that I have seen so far, I can say that certain institutions were guilty of taking irreligious, illegal, and immoral actions." Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 10 July that the presidential committee investigating election offenses has identified the responsible individuals and submitted the relevant information to the judiciary, ISNA reported. Musavi-Lari referred to the production of offensive election-related materials in Karaj, Tehran, Semnan, and Hamedan. BS
IRAN GETS NEW POLICE CHIEF
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 9 July appointed Brigadier Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam the country's new police chief, IRNA reported on 10 July. Ahmadi-Moghaddam was the deputy commander of the Basij Resistance Force, and he succeeds Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who resigned so he could compete in the presidential election. BS
JAILED IRANIAN LAWYER GRANTED MEDICAL LEAVE
Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi said on 9 July in Tehran that her client, attorney Nasser Zarafshan, has received prison leave so he can receive treatment for kidney stones, IRNA reported. Ebadi predicted that his recuperation will take some time. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said Zarafshan's leave could be extended on the basis of a physician's advice. BS
JAILED IRANIAN JOURNALIST IN DANGER
Ebadi told Radio Farda on 7 July that another one of her clients, journalist Akbar Ganji, who is suffering from an undisclosed ailment, is in great danger. Ganji resumed his hunger strike after returning to prison in early June and he is not taking his medication, Ebadi said. Ebadi thanked expatriate Iranians who have expressed concern over Ganji's condition. She added that international organizations have complained about this situation to the Iranian government, Radio Farda reported, but the government ignores them. She noted that winning the Nobel Peace Prize has given her greater visibility, but she wishes she had won a golden key that could unlock the doors of all the prisons. Judiciary spokesman Karimirad on 9 July denied that Ganji is in danger and added that orders have been given for his treatment, IRNA reported. Karimirad said Ganji refuses to let physicians examine him. BS
IRAQI SECURITY FORCES TARGETED IN DEADLY ATTACKS
Insurgents in the city of Ba'qubah killed 11 Iraqi soldiers in coordinated attacks on 11 July, international media reported. Nine soldiers were killed in an armed attack on their checkpoint. Two others were killed a short time later when a car bomb targeted the site of the first attack where police had gathered. The attacks followed a string of incidents across Iraq on 10 July that left more than 50 people dead. Twenty-one Iraqi police volunteers were killed and 34 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a recruitment center near the Al-Muthanna air base in Baghdad. The bomber, apparently an Iraqi national, reportedly launched into a diatribe about unemployment and corruption before detonating his explosives-laden body, latimes.com reported on 11 July. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the attack. Four police officers were killed and three wounded on 10 July when a suicide car bomber targeted a local police chief's convoy in Mosul, and four civilians were killed when a booby-trapped car exploded in Kirkuk. In Ba'qubah, two insurgents were reportedly killed and one wounded while attempting to plant an improvised explosive device along a roadside. KR
IRAQI PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES NEIGHBORLY RELATIONS, IRAN TRIP
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters at a 10 July press briefing in Baghdad that the kidnapping and killing of Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sharif will not affect Iraq's relations with Egypt, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Al-Ja'fari said that some countries, namely Jordan, remain committed to sending ambassadors to Iraq. "For our part, we will try to guarantee sufficient protection in terms of housing and security," he said. Al-Ja'fari told reporters that he plans to visit Tehran "in the next few days," adding that Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi has already gone to Iran to seek agreement on some of the issues to be addressed during the meeting. "This applies to both Iran and Syria," al-Ja'fari said. "It is a good gesture by Iran to host us so we can eliminate all obstacles and create a thaw in relations." Asked about last month's Iranian elections, he said: "We consider them an internal affair. We respect all elections in the world. Just as we appealed to the world to respect the elections that took place here and produced a National Assembly, a presidential council, a government, and a prime minister, we also respect any election process." KR
IRAQI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ARAB MEETING ON TERRORISM
Jalal Talabani issued a call on 10 July for an extraordinary meeting of Arab interior ministers to adopt a unified stance on terrorism, RFI reported the same day. "This meeting is necessary because the subject of combating terrorism is an Arab issue after the killing of the Egyptian ambassador," Talabani said. Terrorists have "declared a war of annihilation against the Arab countries and all Iraqis," he contended. "It is necessary that the Arab states have a unified position to combat terrorism" and help block the infiltration of terrorists to Iraq, he added. President Talabani said discussions are under way to determine if Iraq will host the interior ministers' meeting or if the proposed gathering will take place outside Iraq. KR
U.K. DEFENSE SECRETARY DENIES TROOP WITHDRAWAL PLANNED
U.K. Defense Secretary John Reid denied in a 10 July interview with CNN that his country plans to reduce its Iraq contingent to 3,000 by the end of 2006. Reid was responding to a report in London's "The Independent" that said nearly two-thirds of the U.K.'s 8,500 troops will be withdrawn next year. The 10 July report was based on a leaked memo written by Reid that said the U.K. plans to transfer control over at least two southern Iraqi governorates -- Maysan and Al-Muthanna -- to Iraqi hands in October. The memo also suggested that the Dhi Qar and Al-Basrah governorates could be transferred to Iraqi control in April. Reid told CNN that the withdrawal scenario outlined in the leaked memo is just one option for consideration and is by no means was a definitive government plan. KR
UN REPRESENTATIVE MEETS WITH AL-SISTANI, AL-SADR
United Nations representative to Iraq Ashraf Qadi met on 10 July with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in separate meetings in Al-Najaf, alnajafnews.net reported on 10 July. Qadi told reporters following his meeting with al-Sistani that he briefed the ayatollah about UN assistance to the constitutional drafting process. In a press briefing following his first meeting with al-Sadr, Qadi said that he briefed the cleric on a range of UN activities including efforts to engage Sunnis in the constitutional drafting process. "We discussed several issues and I will not discuss details in public," Qazi added. Al-Sadr told reporters: "We bless and appreciate the UN efforts to achieve peace and security in Iraq. As long as the United Nations supports the Iraqi people, I welcome their work." Al-Sadr told reporters that he is "already engaged in the political process," adding, "I am not disassociating myself from it.... I believe that standing by the Iraqi people is indeed a form of engagement in the political process." Al-Sadr declined to take part in 30 January elections and has said on numerous occasions that he will not participate in the political process in Iraq. KR
U.S. DISSOLVES RAPID-DEPLOYMENT FORCE IN TIKRIT
The U.S. Army has reportedly dissolved the Iraqi Rapid Deployment Force stationed in Tikrit after it was discovered that members of the force were involved in demonstrations and violence in the city after the killing of municipal-council member Ali Ghalib last week, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 9 July. Sources told the news channel that the Rapid Deployment Force officers joined protesters in attacking police officers in the city. The U.S. Army confiscated the forces' weapons and other supplies. Members of the force who were not dismissed will be incorporated into the local police force, Al-Sharqiyah reported. KR