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Newsline - July 15, 2005

President Vladimir Putin, on a visit to Astrakhan Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2005), met on 14 July with military representatives from Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan on board the flagship of the Caspian Flotilla to discuss Caspian regional security, RTR and other media reported. Putin proposed creating a unified force from the Caspian littoral states to combat terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Russia already participates in the Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Force (BlackSeaFor), which unites the Black Sea littoral states, and wants to extend this experience to the Caspian, Putin said. VY

Responding to a remark by Caspian Flotilla commander Vice Admiral Yurii Startsev about the deteriorating situation in Daghestan, President Putin said: "We will strengthen our position in Daghestan. We are aware of the local situation, so we should and will resolve this problem," RTR reported. Last week, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak presented Putin his report on the situation in Daghestan in which he said that "events could go out of control and threaten the disintegration of Daghestan." Meanwhile, the military has already sent an additional 2,000 troops to Daghestan. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 July that the Interior and Defense ministries are boosting Russian forces in the North Caucasus and nearby regions by deploying new troops to Krasnodar Krai, Daghestan, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Kalmykia. VY

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Federation Council devoted to drafting new legislation to combat terrorism, Speaker Sergei Mironov said on 14 July that if Russia will take the "necessary steps, it won't need to spread the antiterrorist operation [in Chechnya] into Daghestan," reported. Mironov added that in light of the 7 July terrorist attacks in London, it is necessary to create "a single pan-European antiterrorism center," RTR reported. He added that the State Duma should speed up the adoption of the new antiterrorism law, which allows the use of the army in domestic antiterrorism actions. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said that new version of the law should include a provision on confiscating the property of terrorists. It is also important to include young people in the fight against terrorism, Kolesnikov noted. VY

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 14 July after a seven-day trip to China, Duma Deputy Speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovskii proposed transforming the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, into a military alliance that could be "a counterweight to the decaying European Union and NATO," reported. Zhirinovskii noted that at the SCO meeting in Astana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 2005), India, Pakistan, and Iran were given observer status and that in its new composition the SCO will account for half the world's population. "In 10 years, an allied army of such an alliance will have both a qualitative and quantitative edge over NATO," he said. He said that he is also very enthusiastic about political and economic cooperation with Beijing, where he was on a special invitation of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee. He called "an enemy's propaganda" the expansion of Chinese immigrants in Siberia and the Russian Far East. "Neither the Chinese leadership, nor the Chinese people even think about it," he said. Finally, Zhirinovskii called for giving China as much Russian oil and gas "as it can buy" and to build a direct pipeline to China "as soon as possible." VY

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia is not preparing any new proposals on the disputed Kurile Islands and a peace treaty with Japan ahead of President Putin's visit scheduled for 15 November, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. "Our positions are opposite, and the Japanese government itself never set a time limit for the solution of these problems. So we are not in a hurry," he said. Lavrov added that Russia can live without such a treaty with Japan, and not having one "does not impede development of cooperation." He mentioned the recent deal with Toyota on construction of an automobile-assembly factory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005) and noted that the Japanese government cannot prevent the business community from investing in Russia's economy. VY

Moscow Tverskoi Court opened the trial on 14 July of 39 National Bolshevik Party (NBP) activists accused of "attempting to seize power" when for several hours they occupied the presidential-administration offices on 14 December 2004 to protest President Vladimir Putin's polices, Russian and international media reported. The NBP activists, mostly students from Moscow universities, broke into the presidential administration's reception room, carrying signs accusing Putin of suppressing political freedoms at home and supporting authoritarian regimes in Central Asia, reported. Prosecutors have asked for prison sentences of up to eight years. On 14 July, a group of NBP supporters from leftist youth organizations calling themselves the "White Front" and the Avante Garde of Communist Youth (AKM) tried to organize a picket in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow but it was almost immediately broken up by the police, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. VY

State Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Grishankov (Unified Russia), who heads the Anticorruption Commission, said that in his opinion former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov should publicly clear up the situation concerning the accusations made against him, RTR reported on 13 July. He should openly explain how he signed in his last minutes in office a document authorizing the sale of state property. "If Aleksandr Khinshtein [the Unified Russia Duma deputy who initiated the investigation] is wrong, Mikhail Kasyanov will gain an edge in his political career, " Grishankov noted. Meanwhile, Globalization Institute Director Mikhail Delyagin told "Izvestiya" on 12 July that the beginning of the campaign against Kasyanov is timed to coincide with the beginning of the election campaign for the Moscow City Duma, in which a group of pro-Kasyanov deputies are taking part. VY

Commenting on the testimony by Leonid Nevzlin, a major Yukos shareholder and onetime partner of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, to the U.S. Helsinki Commission in Washington on 13 July, Stanislav Belkovskii said on 14 July that Nevzlin misunderstands the situation in Russia, reported. Nevzlin's main mistake is that he continues to believe "that the country is run by KGB and FSB officers," while, in fact, it is under the control of people who came to power in the 1990s. These people define the philosophy of power today and presidential aide Igor Sechin behave toward Yukos shareholders the same way Nevzlin dealt with his competitors in the 1990s. VY

The Constitutional Court ruled on 14 July that the three-year statute of limitations on tax offenses does not extend to deliberate tax evasion, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. The court was asked to rule on the issue by the Moscow District Federal Arbitration Court that was considering a fine levied against Yukos for nonpayment of value-added tax in 2001, according to NTV. "Vremya novostei" reported on 15 July that many experts believe that with this decision, the court has strengthened the hand of the Federal Tax Service officials, among others, who have been seeking "new levers of influence over entrepreneurs." According to the daily, several jurists believe the decision resulted from political considerations -- "with its verdict, the Constitutional Court approved the activities of the tax police with regard to Yukos. As a result, Russian business has become a hostage in the struggle between the government and oil companies, which are well-known for not paying large sums of money in taxes to the budget." JAC

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has suggested to the State Duma and Federation Council that Russian laws should be upgraded to give Russian citizens priority rights when adopting Russian children, Interfax reported on 14 July, citing Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii. According to Fridinskii, the prosecutor's office is suggesting amending the Administrative and Criminal codes regarding the responsibilities of adoption mediators. Earlier this month, a U.S. citizen, Peggy Sue Hilt, was arrested and charged with the murder of a 2-year-old girl she had adopted in Russia. In May, a court sentenced a Chicago woman, Irma Pavlis, to a 12 years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter of her adopted son from Russia. Last year, just 7,013 of the 16,434 children adopted in Russia in 2004 were adopted by Russian citizens, 175 fewer than the previous year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005). JAC

The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found in a recent survey that respondents in Moscow and St. Petersburg prefer the Internet as a source of news over central newspapers, according to Twenty-one percent of Muscovites and St. Petersburgers use the Internet as their chief source of information, while 9-12 percent of respondents in other cities rely on the Internet. In villages, the share fell to 3 percent. The most popular source for information for respondents across Russia was the federal TV channels: 76 percent of respondents rely on central television, 32 percent on oblast TV, and 28 percent on local television. At the local level, local newspapers are more popular than radio. The survey was conducted on 25-26 June among 1,594 respondents in 46 oblasts, krais, and republics. JAC

Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast legislature speaker Yevgenii Lyulin met recently with State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov and presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev on the topic of candidates for the oblast's governor's office, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 July. According to the daily, upon his return to the oblast, Lyulin met with 34 of 42 fellow deputies to discuss how they would vote if the current Governor Gennadii Khodyrev were nominated by President Putin for a second term. The legislature's external-relations department confirmed that the anti-Khodyrev mood in the legislature "has only strengthened and deputies are willing to face dissolution of the chamber rather than approve Khodyrev's candidacy." Lyulin declined to comment publicly on the president's candidates. Khodyrev's term expires on 8 August. JAC

A lawsuit against Ryazan Governor Georgii Shpak opened in a Moscow court on 14 July, reported. Krotbers General Director Natalya Suchkova is seeking 32 million rubles ($1.1 million) from the governor for failing to deliver on his promise of naming her as his deputy governor. According to the website, Suchkova, a well-known entrepreneur in Ryazan, gave Shpak 48 million rubles to use in his March 2004 gubernatorial campaign. In exchange, she alleges that he promised to name her deputy governor. Shpak also has a case pending in front of the Supreme Court for allegedly exceeding the legal limit for campaign spending. The hearing in that matter is scheduled for 27 July. JAC

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans signed a new agreement on 13 July with Armenian Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian providing some $2.4 million in aid for Armenian law enforcement and counternarcotics projects, Noyan Tapan reported. The U.S. aid package comprises targeted assistance for six projects, including a regional law enforcement computer network, the development of a law-enforcement academy, and training for Armenian border guards and customs officials. The assistance follows an earlier $5 million aid package for Armenian law enforcement extended under a bilateral agreement reached in 2001. RG

A small detachment of 45 Armenian troops departed Yerevan on 13 July to replace a contingent of Armenian peacekeepers serving in Iraq, Noyan Tapan reported. The rotation of Armenian peacekeepers in Iraq was originally scheduled for 10 July but was postponed by the delayed arrival of a U.S. military transport plane. The Armenian peacekeeping force in Iraq, first deployed in January 2005, serves under Polish command and is composed of military doctors, sappers, and transport personnel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005). The initial Armenian 46-man detachment is expected to return to Armenia on 16 July. RG

A group of seven Armenian media groups released a joint letter on 13 July criticizing the government's proposed constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The media groups, including the Yerevan Press Club and the Armenian Union of Journalists, argued that the constitutional amendments would inadequately guarantee the independence of the National Commission on Television, the state body empowered with regulating commercial broadcasting. The joint letter instead called for an end to the presidential power to appoint all nine commission members and demanded that parliament be granted the power to endorse or reject appointees to the state commission. The media groups also criticized the absence of any proposed changes to the formation of the governing board of the Armenian Public Television and Radio, and called for a new ban on media censorship. The government's draft constitutional amendments are set to be debated by the parliament on 29 August before being voted on in a national referendum sometime in the fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2005). RG

After arriving in Yerevan on the final stage of a regional tour, the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group empowered to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict expressed optimism on 14 July that "Armenia and Azerbaijan are edging closer" to reaching a negotiated settlement to the conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman, Ambassador Steven Mann, stated that "there is a possibility of a Karabakh settlement in the course of this year" and praised the 15 May talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Warsaw. The OSCE co-chairman, set to meet with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian on 15 July, arrived in Yerevan after talks on 13 July with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The OSCE officials also held intensive discussions with Azerbaijani officials in Baku on 12 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2005). The Armenian and Azerbaijan presidents are expected to hold another meeting during the CIS summit in Kazan on 26 August. The two sides have reportedly reached a preliminary agreement on the basic outlines of a peace deal said to include an Armenian withdrawal from several districts of Azerbaijan under its control, the deployment of a peacekeeping force, and an eventual referendum on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2005). RG

The personal representative of the OSCE chairman in office on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Andrzej Kasprzyk, praised Azerbaijan and Armenia on 14 July for easing tension and ensuring the maintenance of the existing cease-fire agreement, Arminfo reported. The OSCE envoy noted that both sides had taken active steps to end sporadic sniper fire and cease-fire violations in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). RG

An Azerbaijani delegation participating in a five-country summit on 14 July agreed to a Russian proposal to form a new regional maritime counterterrorism force to patrol the Caspian Sea, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting, opened by Russian President Vladimir Putin, comprised officials from Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran, and was held aboard a Russian naval vessel anchored in the Caspian Sea. The commander of the Russian Navy's Caspian Flotilla, Vice Admiral Yurii Startsev, explained that the Russian proposal "is to create a task group of the littoral states' ships, similar to the Black Sea Force group, to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, and bioterrorism," according to RIA-Novosti. RG

Azerbaijani National Security Ministry troops conducted a special operation against a group of "armed wahhabis" during the night of 12-13 July in the village of Novkhani near Baku, reported on 15 July. Three of the militants were reportedly killed in the course of a two-hour gun battle and six others were arrested. The ministry's press service has declined to comment on the operation. LF

Opposition Georgian parliamentarian Valeri Gelashvili was attacked on 14 July in broad daylight by armed assailants on a main street in Tbilisi, according to the Caucasus Press and Interfax. The assault on Gelashvili, a deputy who just recently joined the opposition Republican Party, resulted in serious injuries requiring his immediate hospitalization. In an interview from his hospital bed, Gelashvili accused members of a "special force" assigned to the Interior Ministry of carrying out the attack, Rustavi-2 TV reported. The accusations were supported by Dali Lomidze, a witness to the afternoon assault who stated that a number of masked men wearing "black uniforms" were responsible for the assault. The victim also charged that the attack was related to the Georgian government's failure to pay him for the construction of a new presidential residence. Parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze responded to the attack on 14 July by ordering Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili to launch an immediate investigation, Civil Georgia reported. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi, Georgian Justice Minister Kote Kemularia stated on 14 July that the European Union's "Rule of Law" mission had completed its work with his ministry to formulate a new justice-reform program, Civil Georgia and the Caucasus Press reported. The Justice Minister added that a final "Georgian model of the criminal justice system, which envisages implementation of reforms in the judicial, police, ombudsman's office, and legal education systems" has been presented to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for his consideration. The reform program was developed by a 26-person team of experts from the European Union working with the Georgian authorities over a seven-month period. RG

PetroKazakhstan, a Canadian-registered company that extracts oil in Kazakhstan, announced on 14 July that a Kazakh court has rendered a $55.4 million judgment against it for violations of antimonopoly legislation, Reuters reported. The company said it has not yet received a written copy the court ruling, but noted that it plans to appeal. Wilf Gobert, a Calgary-based energy analyst, told Canadian Press that PetroKazakhstan may still be able to salvage the situation. "The company usually ends up taking these things to the Supreme Court," he said. "And ultimately they end up having the charges thrown out or substantially reduced." DK

Kyrgyz President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev told the first meeting of his interim cabinet on 14 July that the time for political distractions is over, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "Some ministers and top officials are still carried away with politics," he said. "That's why I appeal to all high-ranking officials in the executive branch, deputy prime ministers -- the time for politics is over." The cabinet meeting focused on the harvest and preparations for the upcoming heating season. DK

The press service of Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry has confirmed that the Russian military presence at the air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, may double, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 14 July. The ministry noted, however, that a new agreement would be needed to increase the Russian base's troop strength from current levels of around 500. Kyrgyz Defense Ministry spokesman Murat Ashyrbekov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that "in order (for Russia) to double or increase [the number of troops at] that air base (Kant), it is necessary to sign an additional intergovernmental agreement in the framework of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) between Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Only after that can they (Russia) officially increase [the number of troops at] the base." DK

A number of prominent political figures who served under former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev are planning to return to Kyrgyzstan to submit to questioning in connection with corruption investigations, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 14 July. Former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev is expected in Bishkek early next week, lawyer Maksim Maksimovich, who is representing the ousted president's interests, told Maksimovich said that Tanaev, who is believed to be in Russia, intends to give testimony to "dispel numerous rumors." Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Shalkar Jaisanbaev, the former head of oil and gas company Kyrgyzgazmunaizat, will visit the Prosecutor-General's Office on 15 July to answer questions on allegations of his involvement in the embezzlement of $17 million. DK

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari in Dushanbe on 14 July, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. After their talks, Shariatmadari told journalists, "We talked about areas of cooperation in detail, but I think the most important cooperation will be in the mining area, in the area of roads and tunnels, in activities concerning power plants, especially smaller ones, with the use of the financial resources of international finance organizations." Shariatmadari also confirmed that Iran will provide a $180 million loan for the completion of Tajikistan's Sangtuda-2 hydropower station. DK

An issue of the Polish-language "Glos znad Niemna" weekly printed in Poland has recently begun to be distributed among the Polish minority in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 14 July. In a bid to put the Union of Poland in Belarus (SPB) under tighter control, the Belarusian authorities annulled the election of a new SPB leadership, prevented the SPB from printing "Glos znad Niemna" in Belarus, and issued several bogus issues of the weekly (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 22 June 2005). Several Polish-minority journalists were fined earlier this month over their protest against the takeover of "Glos znad Niemna" by the authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2005). "I think the special operation [of the authorities] to publish the fake 'Glos znad Niemna' has ended in a fiasco," Polish-minority journalist Andrzej Poczobut told RFE/RL. Poczobut added that people in Poland have set up a fund to collect money to help Polish-minority journalists in Belarus pay their fines and publish "Glos znad Niemna" outside official control. JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met with Igor Smirnov, leader of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, in Ukraine on 14 July, Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, and ITAR-TASS reported, citing Ukrainian presidential sources. Yushchenko and Smirnov agreed to coordinate their activities toward implementing the plan to settle the Transdniester conflict that was proposed by Yushchenko in April (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 6 and 15 June 2005). Yushchenko's plan, in particular, calls for holding democratic elections in Transdniester under international monitoring. Both politicians also agreed to invite representatives of the EU and the United States to take part in negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, which have so far been brokered by Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Yushchenko and Smirnov also decided to set up a working group to formulate criteria for democratizing Transdniester and ensure a transparent electoral process there. Moreover, the sides reportedly consented to the possibility of EU monitoring of the Transdniester stretch of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border. JM

President Yushchenko on 14 July called on Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn to reach mutual understanding for the sake of political stability in the country, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 14 July. Yushchenko was referring to acrimonious statements that the two have exchanged following last week's tumultuous votes on a package of bills needed by Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2005). "We've lived through an uneasy six months, and obviously the government and the parliament have became tired of one another. A time out is needed to have some rest," Yushchenko said, adding the two sides should stop commenting on each other. JM

Serbian President Boris Tadic told a meeting of his Democratic Party in Belgrade on 14 July that he wants fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to surrender, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "Serbia cannot move forward unless we solve the Mladic case. In a serious country, war criminals cannot be treated as heroes," Tadic added. The president stressed that all communications Belgrade has received from the United States, European Union, OSCE, and other members of the international community make it very clear that Serbia stands no chance of making progress in Euro-Atlantic integration until Mladic is in The Hague. He appealed to all state institutions to "do their job in accordance with the law" where war crimes indictees are concerned. PM

The staff of the private B92 evacuated its building in Belgrade late on 14 July after receiving a bomb threat that proved to be a hoax, dpa reported. This is the second such incident within three days. The station has frequently been at odds with nationalist politicians and for many years was a leading critic of the regime of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). B92 has won numerous awards from Western NGO's. PM

The Belgrade District Court on 15 July sentenced four men to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years each for their roles in the 1992 killing of 15 Muslim men and one woman in October 1992, the private Beta news agency reported. Dragutin Dragicevic received 20 years in prison and Djordje Sevic 15. Milan Lukic and Djordje Krsmanovic each got 20-year sentences in absentia. The four belonged to a paramilitary unit called The Avengers when they took 16 people from a bus near Sjeverin north of Pljevlja in the Sandzak region and shot them near the Drina River on the Bosnian side of the frontier. The Muslims were Yugoslav citizens on their way to work in Bosnia. Serbia's Supreme Court declared a mistrial in a previous sentencing of the four in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003). PM

Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service in Berlin on 13 July that Kosova must have its internal affairs under control as it proceeds toward the definition of its final status, Deutsche Welle's "Fokus Ost-Suedost" reported. He called for the abolition of unspecified "illegal structures" of all sorts, adding that "crime has no color, no nationality, no religion, and no political platform. It is easy to break the law, and that must stop." Kosovar media have speculated in recent days about the possible existence of intelligence services in the province, ranging from those reporting to Belgrade to those controlled by local politicians. Also in his interview, Kosumi promised that a new ministry to deal with security and justice will be set up by November, arguing that it will be more effective to fight crime with local people than with foreign police, regardless of how professional the latter may be. Referring to possible talks with Belgrade, Kosumi said that these will not deal with Kosova's status but rather with issues like security guarantees for the Serbian minority, protection for its cultural monuments, and unresolved questions in recent Serbian-Albanian relations. PM

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who holds the OSCE chairmanship, said in Tirana on 14 July that the OSCE expects a quick transition once the final results to the 3 July elections are announced, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 7, and 11 July 2005). "I hope the election process will be completed in an orderly and speedy fashion, according to Albanian law and in compliance with international standards, all the way up to the declaration of the final results," he said. Rupel appealed to "all parties to fully respect the decisions of the competent Albanian institutions." The Central Election Commission must conclude its investigation of about 200 complaints before it can announce the final results, probably later in July. The opposition Democrats appear to have won the ballot, but the governing Socialists have made it clear that they intend to raise numerous challenges and are in no hurry to leave office. Post-communist Albanian elections have traditionally been marred by poor sportsmanship and frequent complaints of fraud, most of which prove to lack substance. The EU and NATO made it clear to Albanian leaders before the vote that their country's progress toward Euro-Atlantic integration will depend heavily on whether or not the election is carried out responsibly. PM

The Supreme Soviet of the unrecognized Transdniester Moldovan Republic has issued a statement inviting observers from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE to monitor the parliamentary elections that are due in the separatist region this fall, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 July. The elections are reportedly to be held under a plan proposed by Ukraine earlier this year to settle the Transdniester conflict (see item in Ukraine section). The statement simultaneously condemned the Moldovan parliament's intention to pass a law on the status of Transdniester within the Republic of Moldova. A draft bill on such a status was discussed in Chisinau earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2005). "Such an initiative outside the framework of negotiations and without comprehensive discussion can destabilize the situation," the statement reads. The Transdniestrian legislature also slammed Chisinau's idea of holding the Transdniestrian elections under Moldovan legislation, saying that such a situation would deprive "hundreds of thousands" of Transdniestrian residents who do not have Moldovan citizenship of their right to vote. JM

Community leaders in Iraq have been calling for months for a distinction to be made between two core groups that both call themselves "honorable resistance." The first group is the so-called nationalist forces -- former Ba'athists and other secular Sunni groups. The second group consists of a number of Sunni Islamist groups including Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, Muhammad's Army, and the Islamic Army in Iraq.

Iraqis are debating whether any "honorable resistance" exists in the country, as both Hussein loyalists and Islamists are responsible for the kidnapping, rapes, and killings that are carried out daily under the banner of "resistance." The fact that ordinary Iraqis have borne the brunt of the attacks has meant that much of the homegrown support for the resistance that previously existed has now dwindled.

The problem, many Iraqis say, is that the insurgency's goal is convoluted; none of the so-called resistance groups have ever offered up a clear ideology. The "honorable resistance" that includes "nationalist" Sunni Arab forces claims their goal is to drive multinational forces from Iraq. Al-Zarqawi and other hard-line Islamist groups claim the same goal, but add that their intention is to form an Islamic state in Iraq. The difficulty in separating these two strands comes in the fact that both are responsible for unbridled attacks against civilians. Moreover, al-Zarqawi justifies the targeting of civilians by defining his enemy as "anyone who cooperates with multinational forces or the transitional government," without offering any real differentiations to support his position.

The Al-Qaeda leader has entered the debate on the honorable resistance himself, claiming in a 5 July audiotape attributed to him on the Internet that only those armed fighters in Iraq that belong to his group should be labeled "honorable resistance":

"The honorable resistance is the one that makes its jihad an international jihad not based on color, race, or land, for the believers are all one nation whose blood is of equal worth.... It is not the so-called resistance that bases its objectives on the Sykes-Piko borders.... The honorable resistance is the one...that rose up and pushed itself and relied on God...not the resistance that every time it suffers a hardship or tribulation, it lost its way and sought help from anyone.... [The honorable resistance] is not the resistance that...does not mind befriending and cooperating with those that disobey God and His Messenger for the sake of realizing some interests and gains. Those who were described as not belonging to the honorable resistance are the ones who have been fighting for the sake of God for more than two years...they are the ones who sacrificed their scholars, leaders, and cadre. Upon whose shoulders did the battles of Al-Qa'im rest? Whose blood was spilled in Al-Ramadi, Al-Fallujah, and Al-Hadithah?"

For al-Zarqawi, the ultimate betrayal of his cause has come from those Islamic scholars who criticized his insurgency in Iraq. "Is this what our scholars can produce?" al-Zarqawi asked in his statement. "How long would the scholars continue to avoid the battlefields of jihad, issue the rulings and counsel while they are distant from the reality of this nation?"

While most Iraqis critical of the nationalist insurgency agree that the only option now for the Sunni Arab-led nationalists lie in them joining the political process, many Iraqis remain torn about how to reconcile that with some 30 years of Ba'athist oppression and the past two years of devastating attacks against Iraqis in the name of resistance. Iraqi commentaries in the media tend to consider the reported talks between multinational forces and insurgent groups as an insult to civilians who have suffered at the hands of these groups. Some Iraqi newspapers have criticized the talks, saying that such discussions equate to U.S. support for bringing back the Ba'athist regime.

Shi'ite Arabs have found it particularly disturbing that such talks would be carried out without the participation of an elected Iraqi government, and the transitional administration has been quick to disassociate itself from the talks.

While a few Iraqis have called for a public reconciliation, it is unlikely at this point in time to be a real option. The regime loyalists that make up the "nationalist" insurgency are in no way apologetic for the crimes of the Hussein regime, let alone the crimes carried out in the name of resistance over the past two years.

Sunni Arab "nationalists," by failing to disassociate themselves from the likes of al-Zarqawi -- even if innocent from the crimes that are attributed to them -- have by default implicated themselves by not making any real distinction between their cause and the cause of the Islamists. Should these nationalist resistance fighters lay down their arms and join the political process, they will find themselves vulnerable to attacks by pro-regime and Islamist forces opposed to such action. They could also find themselves vulnerable to Shi'ite and Kurdish groups seeking revenge. The current environment essentially leaves Sunni Arab resistance groups willing to lay down their arms stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The Arab world, whether ready or not, is being pulled into the debate with growing frequency. A number of prominent Iraqis have called on Arab states to take firm positions against insurgent attacks in Iraq, claiming that the portrayal of terrorism as resistance in the Arab media has deluded many Arabs.

Meanwhile, Sunni Arab religious leaders, such as Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Muthanna Harith al-Dari, have called on regional powerhouse Egypt to publicly recognize the right of the Iraqi people to resist occupation.

The Iraqi government has attempted to pressure Arab states to do more than pay lip service to the transitional Iraqi government by offering concrete assistance and through opening embassies on the ground. The kidnapping and killing of an Egyptian envoy by al-Zarqawi's group was meant as a clear warning signal to Arab governments not to establish relations with Iraq.

An 11 July commentary in the "Jordan Times" offered up advice to non-Islamist insurgents in Iraq, while offering continued support for the insurgents' cause. The commentary suggested that if the goal of "nationalist" insurgents is to drive multinational forces from Iraq, then civilians should no longer be targeted, since such attacks garner little support for their cause.

Iraqi commentators have called on the region's Islamic leadership to take a decisive stand on terrorism through a fatwa (religious edict) "before Iraq is destroyed." Muslim leaders stopped short of commenting on terrorism in a meeting in Amman, Jordan, last week.

The three-day meeting brought together Islamic scholars from the eight Sunni and Shi'a schools of thought. Participants did, however, state emphatically in their final statement that fatwas should only be issued by clerics with religious authority. They also agreed that Muslims cannot label fellow Muslims as takfir (apostates), nor can Muslims kill fellow Muslims for what they deem "religious reasons." Islamist fighters in Iraq have regularly justified attacks on civilians in Iraq by labeling their victims apostates. Al-Zarqawi's group has gone so far as to label all Shi'ites apostates, and has established a unit to assassinate Shi'ite members of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Organization.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, meanwhile, has called for a meeting of Arab interior ministers to produce a unified stance on the issue of terrorism. Such meetings, however, produce little real change. What is really required is for Arab states to take action against insurgent Islamist groups working for Iraq within their borders. Few states are likely to do so, however, fearing a backlash at home.

For Iraq, the consequences are dire. If the Iraqi "resistance" continues along the same lines, all Sunni Arabs in Iraq will, at some point, pay the price. The Sunni Arab community in Iraq needs to put action behind their outright condemnation of the so-called "resistance" by turning in armed fighters and demonstrating against the terrorism currently taking place. While it appears that public support for the tactics employed by the "honorable resistance" is waning, it is likely that the tide will only turn when there is a blanket change in the mind-set of Sunni Arab Iraqis.

There are enormous consequences for the Arab world as well. States who do not take a firm position on terrorism must accept that at some point, Al-Qaeda will turn and target the Arab regimes, as the group expands its mission to depose what it sees as tyrannical Arab regimes and establish Islamic rule. Some regimes -- such as Syria -- may have falsely assumed a future immunity by their current aiding of Islamist terrorists. Stagnant economies lead to extremism and with more than 50 percent of the Arab world under the age of 18, more and more young people are susceptible to Islamist extremism. Arab leaders, meanwhile, appear to be under the delusion that if the fight is in Iraq, it won't be fought at home.

An unidentified spokesman for a neo-Taliban group has claimed to be hosting four suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists who recently escaped from a U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 14 July. The spokesman, speaking on behalf of an organization that is purportedly associated with the neo-Taliban and that has ties to an individual named Mawlawi Mahmud on 14 July told AIP that the four Arab escapees "arrived at a Taliban center... in a remote area south of Kabul." It is not clear who Mahmud is or what his relationship with the mainstream neo-Taliban militia is. Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, who normally speaks for the neo-Taliban, also confirmed to AIP that the militia is providing shelter and medical assistance to the four escapees. The suspected terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda escaped on 11 July from the U.S. detention facility at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. The U.S. considers the four to be threats to Afghanistan's security and to the war on terrorism. The official Afghan news agency Bakhtar on 12 July reported that one of the Arabs was arrested, but that report was later rejected by Afghan and U.S. authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 July 2005). The four have been identified as citizens of Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The neo-Taliban have not presented any evidence to their claim of holding the Arabs. AT

Afghan military forces have arrested a foreign national in Paktiya Province for allegedly spying, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said on 14 July, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The suspect, identified as Jalat Khan, was arrested while in possession of "some secret document," according to Azimi, who refused to disclose the suspect's nationality. Afghan intelligence figures indicate that 37 foreign spies have been arrested in the country since 2002, according to the news agency. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a recent speech that the presence of foreign intelligence agents inside the Afghan government pose a great danger to Afghanistan, and he called for measures to be taken to purge such threats from the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2005). AT

Mawlawi Pir Mohammad Rohani, who served as the rector of Kabul University during the rule of the Taliban regime, has been appointed administrative chief of the Supreme Court, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 14 July. Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari recommended Rohani for the position, and his appointment was approved by President Karzai. It is not clear whether Rohani's appointment is part of Karzai's efforts to reconcile with most members of the former regime. AT

The Afghan Special Narcotics Force (ASNF) began a series of raids on 14 July at a reputed "drug bazaar" and associated drug laboratories in Badakhshan Province, according to a press release issued by the Afghan Interior Ministry. "Drugs are illegal, against Islam, and prevent development," an unidentified ASNF commander said. He added that the ASNF will "strike at drug dealers wherever they seek refuge." Badakhshan Province is one of country's top opium-poppy producers. AT

Former senior Pakistani military officer and current political commentator A. R. Siddiqui has said that he believes that some of the perpetrators of the bombings in London on 7 July, three of whom were ethnic Pakistanis with British citizenship, were most likely trained in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, Inter Press Service News Agency reported on 14 July. According to Siddiqui, the bombings were not a reaction to historical conflicts between the West and Islam, but were a response to the recent hardships Afghanistan has endured. "Everybody talks of Iraq and Palestine but they are not comparable with the kind of atrocities that have been committed in Afghanistan [since 1978]," Siddiqui said, calling Afghanistan "the forgotten front." AT

Masud Kurdpur, a journalist in the western Iranian city of Mahabad, told Radio Farda on 14 July that local Kurds' angry reaction to the police killing of local activist Seyyed Kamal Seyyed Qader (known as Shavaneh) is continuing. The clashes began on 11 July. Kurdpur told Radio Farda that the authorities asked storekeepers to reopen their businesses, but they have yet to comply with this request. Kurdpur said this is a particularly sensitive time because it coincides with the anniversary of the assassination of Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Qassemlu (13 July 1989) by Iranian agents. Kurdpur added that federalism in Iraq has had an effect on Iran's Kurdish population, particularly the election of Masud Barzani as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the election of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's president. BS

Iranian state television reported on 14 July that in the last 17 months 700 members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) have returned to Iran from exile. The MKO is an armed opposition group that has been based in Iraq since the 1980s; its members were granted "protected status" under the Geneva Convention in July 2004. The U.S. State Department, Canada, and the EU describe the MKO as a terrorist entity. Tehran has offered an amnesty to lower-ranking MKO personnel, but its claim of 700 returnees cannot be independently confirmed. BS

Homa Zarafshan, the wife of lawyer Nasser Zarafshan, told Radio Farda on 14 July that if her husband and journalist Akbar Ganji acknowledge mistakes and request pardons they will be released permanently. Zarafshan was recently given prison leave for medical treatment, and Ganji is on hunger strike. Nasser Zarafshan represents the families of dissident intellectuals who were assassinated by Ministry of Intelligence and Security personnel in 1998-99, his wife told Radio Farda, and he is defending their rights. Homa Zarafshan said she has seen her husband because he is in the hospital, and that he is still bothered by kidney stones. BS

As the imprisoned Ganji's hunger strike entered its 33rd day, Radio Farda reported on 14 July, former legislator Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeni said this issue has national ramifications. Radio Farda added that a delegation of legislators was scheduled to visit Ganji, but there have been no subsequent reports about this development. The deputy chief of the Tehran Justice Department, Mohammad Salarkia, said on 14 July that physicians visit Ganji two or three times a day and he has received an MRI for a back problem, IRNA reported. Salarkia expressed regret over Ganji's condition but noted that it is of Ganji's making, and he added that prisoners must serve out their sentences. Ganji has almost completed his six-year term, and Salarkia seemed bewildered by this turn of events. According to Human Rights Watch on 13 July, Ganji's life is in danger. BS

"Every citizen should feel secure in his private environment," Brigadier-General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said at ceremony marking his new job as chief of the national police force, ILNA reported on 14 July. "People's privacy should not be violated under any circumstances." He called for transparency and accountability, as well as professionalism, dynamism, and courtesy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2005). BS

Mohammad Nuri, deputy national police commander for criminal investigation, said the police will investigate any reports of torture by investigative agencies, "Mardom Salari" reported on 13 July. Nuri said torture is against the regulations, and then added: "The fact that torture exists in the criminal investigation departments cannot be denied." Forensic and scientific advances make torture unnecessary, Nuri said. The overall crime rate has dropped in the first three months of the year starting in March 2005 compared to one year earlier, he said, but kidnappings, car thefts, and motorcycle thefts have increased. Most of the kidnappings, he said, are connected with efforts to settle drug-related debts. BS

Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, the grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, the highest institution in Sunni Islam, issued a statement on 14 July calling on Iraqi and international forces to unite against terrorism, MENA reported the same day. Al-Tantawi called for Shari'a law to be applied to the terrorists, saying: "The punishment of those who wage war against God and his apostle, and strive with the might and main for mischief through the land is execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land. That is their disgrace in this world and a heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter." The imam condemned the kidnapping and slaying of Egyptian envoy to Iraq Ihab al-Sharif, and terrorism targeting women and children, including car bombings and the "sabotage of institutions." He also said that anyone who protects a terrorist is an accomplice to their crimes. Al-Tantawi called on Iraqis to close ranks and pursue terrorists until they drive them from the country. The statement is the most strongly worded condemnation to come from the Sunni community to date regarding terrorism in Iraq. KR

An unidentified police commander has denied that his forces have lost control over the northern city of Mosul following a string of deadly attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations, "Al-Zaman" reported on 14 July. Residents told the newspaper that police presence is negligible in the city, and gunmen walked the streets freely, particularly at night. "I don't think the left bank of the city is outside the control of the Iraqi police and army," the police commander said. National Assembly member Hanin al-Qadu rejected the commander's claims, telling "Al-Zaman" that the left bank of the city is "outside the jurisdiction of the government." Al-Qadu, a Shi'ite Kurd from the Shabak community, said that four members of the Shabak community, which resides both in Mosul and neighboring villages surrounding the city, were killed between 12 and 14 July. Four police officers were killed and 17 wounded when attacked on the Hamdaniya Road that connects the left bank of the city to villages inhabited by Shabaks and Christians on 12 July. "Al-Zaman" reported the same day that conditions in Mosul appear worse than the last flare in violence last fall (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 November 2004). KR

Kurdish leaders from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) met in Dukan on 14 July to discuss plans to merge their two administrations, KurdSat reported the same day. Participants reportedly settled on the structure of the ministries, and ministerial duties. The two sides have yet to reach agreement on the allocation of ministerial posts, nor have they set a deadline to form a ministerial cabinet. KurdSat reported that political parties outside the KDP and PUK have submitted nominations to the two parties for five ministerial posts. KR

Kurdish leader and Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Salih expressed concern that "attempts and efforts are under way" to impose control over the ministerial council "through the appointment of people in those key centers that run the affairs of the secretariat," in a letter to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari published in "Hawlati" on 13 July. Salih claimed that the transitional government has "stopped and blocked" reconstruction projects in the governorates rather than expanding reconstruction that could provide new employment opportunities to Iraqis. He further contended that the government has violated a post-election agreement between al-Ja'fari's United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition on proceeding with the normalization of Kirkuk. KR

The U.S. military announced the arrest of the second Al-Qaeda lieutenant in Iraq this week in a 14 July press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website ( Intelligence information led to the capture of Khamis Farhan Khalaf Abd al-Fahdawi, aka Abu Siba, on 9 July in Al-Ramadi. Abd al-Fahdawi served as a second lieutenant to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn. He is alleged to have carried out the kidnapping and assassination of Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sharif, as well as attacks against Bahraini and Pakistani diplomats, the press release stated. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers told the U.S. news network PBS on 12 July that Abu Abd al-Aziz, the "main leader" for al-Zarqawi's network in Baghdad, was captured on 11 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2005). KR

A delegation led by Iraqi National Assembly member Shaykh Miqdad al-Baghdadi and Migration and Displacement Minister Suhaylah Abd Ja'far met with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Al-Najaf on 14 July, reported the same day. Al-Baghdadi, who is also the secretary-general of the Islamic Fayli Grouping, reportedly told the ayatollah that Fayli Kurds believe that the Shi'ite authority in Iraq is their "best support" in the new Iraq. He assured al-Sistani that parliamentarians are aware of their responsibility to the public, saying: "Voters' votes are entrusted to us. We care about every Iraqi citizen without any discrimination. It is important to end the injustice inflicted on the aggrieved people and those who suffered" under the Hussein regime. Al-Sistani told the delegation that the electorate will be watching to see that elected officials carry out their duties, the website reported. Abd Ja'far told al-Sistani that although her ministry faces financial shortfalls, it is working to find a solution for displaced persons in Iraq. More than 1 million Iraqis are considered displaced persons, according to the Global IDP Project ( KR