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Newsline - July 18, 2005

Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin said on 17 July that his agency is probing the funding of the construction of Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and that there is also "a serious job" for the Prosecutor-General's Office in that connection, RTR reported. Stepashin said he has just returned from Iran, where he agreed with his Iranian counterparts to monitor closely the Bushehr project. Both sides are unhappy with delays in construction and the fact that completion of the contract has been postponed several times. Stepashin hinted that corruption was involved and mentioned in that context former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who is in a Swiss jail awaiting decision on his extradition to the United States or Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). Stepashin said in 1998 Adamov created at his ministry a middleman company, Atomstroieksport, which was later bought by Kakha Bendukidze, Georgia's economy minister and a former Russian oligarch. "The Iranian side has a lot of questions for this company, to which they pay many millions of dollars for work [that is] never done," Stepashin said. VY

In the same interview, Stepashin vowed that Russia will finish the Bushehr project by the end of next year and hopes afterward to take part in new Iranian nuclear projects. The launch of Bushehr will allow Russia to continue on the Iranian nuclear market, which has longstanding prospects of about $80 billion-$100 billion in the next 80 years, Stepashin said. He rejected U.S. concerns that Iran's nuclear program can be used to produce nuclear weapons and said that the United States has "never shown proof of that." "When the Iranians are asked why a country so rich in energy resources is developing nuclear energy, they say, 'This is a standby [source],'" Stepashin said. VY

Talking to journalists ahead of talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at his summer residence in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin said on 17 July that bilateral trade has reached $10 billion a year and that both presidents "set an absolutely realistic task" of bringing it to $25 billion "within the next few years," RTR and international media reported. Putin also noted the intensified political contacts between the two countries. In addition to bilateral trade and the expansion of energy cooperation, the two leaders also plan to discuss the situation in Iraq and the Middle East, and security problems in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Channel One and Interfax reported. Erdogan is scheduled to stay in Putin's residence for talks all day on 18 July. In addition to trade, Turkey has become an important Russian tourism destination, RTR commented. In 2004, Turkey was visited by 1.6 million Russian tourists, while Turkish construction companies have completed projects worth $12 billion in Russia in the last several years. VY

President Putin visited Daghestan on 14 and 15 July and together with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev inspected army and FSB units in the republic, RTR and other media reported. Speaking at a secret FSB training center, Putin said on 15 July that although in recent years a lot of work has been done in the North Caucasus, "we cannot say we can allow ourselves to relax here," RTR reported. "The strengthening of Russia's southern border is important for not only Russia's security but that of Europe. We are building a common space with Europe and our reliable southern border is our obligation to it," he said. Putin added that Russians should not dream about visa-free travel to Europe until they seal and protect their southern border. VY

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 15 July, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov confirmed that the Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13 July 2005) and sees his buying of a state dacha as "a combination of misappropriation of state property with the help of fictitious front entities." Asked whether Kasyanov could face a prison sentence, Kolesnikov said: "Certainly. We see his actions as a crime, and not only one," RTR reported . "We [the state] employed Kasyanov, paid him a salary, but he decided 'I am the state,'" he added. Kolesnikov also denied that the investigation of Kasyanov is politically motivated. "As soon as we arrest somebody like [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii or [former Yukos security official Aleksei] Pichugin, they label it 'politics.' I tell them, 'Stop stealing and there will be no politics,'" he said. VY

At the same press conference on 15 July, Kolesnikov confirmed that the Prosecutor-General's Office has asked the United States and Israel to extradite former Yukos executive and Khodorkovskii partner Leonid Nevzlin, whom prosecutors have charged with serious crimes, including contract killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2005). He said that his office reacted with "regret and outrage" to Nevzlin's testimony before the U.S. Helsinki Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 July 2005). Meanwhile, State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said on 15 July that Nevzlin's U.S. appearance is an "openly unfriendly step," reported. "Nevzlin's appearance in the U.S. and participation in a number of official meetings could comply with the legal framework but run counter to the logic of U.S. policy to fight corruption and organized crime," Kosachev said. VY

At the same 15 July press conference, Kolesnikov said his agency is interrogating some top managers of the Central Bank of Russia concerning suspicions of the leaking of insider information to private companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2005), reported. "We are studying the possibility of devaluing of job-related secret information concerning credit and exchange-rate policies," he said. Meanwhile, revealed on 13 July that the person suspected of disclosing confidential information to a former business partner is Central Bank Deputy Director Konstantin Korishchenko. Korishchenko, who is responsible for the bank's currency policy, previously worked as vice president of the Troika Dialog investment company. VY

The Prosecutor-General's Office has summoned Yukos Vice President Yurii Beilin to appear before prosecutors on 19 July in order to hear criminal charges against him, Interfax reported on 17 July, citing an unnamed source close to Yukos. The source speculated that the charges will relate to alleged excess extraction of oil by the company's former Yuganskneftegaz subsidiary, and that Beilin will refuse to attend the scheduled meeting at the Prosecutor-General's Office. Interfax also quoted the source as saying that another Yukos executive was acquitted of similar charges last week. LB

Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said on 15 July that closer relations with China is a geopolitical objective linked with strengthening Russia's position in the world, according to Pulikovskii's press service, reported. "Russia is not very welcome in the European Union; everything possible is being done to lower our participation in and influence on European affairs. That is why it is very important that there is a country -- the People's Republic of China - in the east, in Asia, which is our friend," he said. In the 1990s Russia was weak and "we simply had to survive. We did not have essential consumer goods or foodstuffs. That is why the Russian authorities allowed resources and hard currency to be taken out of the country, they permitted shuttle trading on conditions that were not too beneficial for us. Naturally, our neighbors benefited from that," he added. Now it is time to correct the situation, which doesn't mean stopping border trade, but regulating it. Pulikovskii said that the Natural Resources Ministry wants to change from a tender system to auctions of rights to develop natural resources. Many such auctions in the district, especially for timber concessions, were won by Chinese businessmen. They won them not because they are given preference, but because they were simply more effective than domestic businessmen, Pulikovskii concluded. VY

Russia's leading private television network, NTV, will launch an analytical program hosted by Gleb Pavlovskii, a presidential adviser and head of the Foundation for Effective Politics, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 July, citing several unnamed sources at NTV. Pavlovskii neither confirmed nor denied the rumor when asked for comment. The network's press service also declined to comment until mid-August. On 22 June, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published an interview with NTV General Director Vladimir Kulistikov, who said two new political programs will debut on the network in September, according to on 15 July. At that time, Kulistikov did not name potential hosts but said that a person who anchors an analytical program "should be authoritative enough for people to understand that he doesn't merely sit and fabricate it, but actually knows it." Sociologist Vsevolod Vilchek, who worked at NTV during the 1990s, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he has also heard about plans for Pavlovskii's new program. Vilchek speculated that the authorities "have gotten smarter and no longer simply gag" the network; instead, they plan to use Pavlovskii to "work on" NTV's audience, which contains more educated viewers. LB

A group of American journalists have launched their own investigation of the July 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, who edited the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, "Vedomosti" reported on 15 July. The Bloomberg news agency and the magazines "Forbes" and "Vanity Fair" are among those supporting the investigation. The group has set up a website ( where they will post information and updates on the probe. Richard Behar, who previously worked at "Fortune," "Forbes," and "Time" magazines, is coordinating Project Klebnikov. He told "Vedomosti" that the group will assemble a team of Russian journalists to help with the investigation as well. The Prosecutor-General's Office recently announced that it has wrapped up its investigation of Klebnikov's murder, which it linked to Chechen field commander Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2005). Speaking to "Vedomosti," Behar said that his investigators are not dismissing the possibility that Nukhaev ordered Klebnikov's killing, but will examine other possibilities as well. Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor-General Kolesnikov expressed confidence at a 15 July press conference in Moscow that all of those who organized and carried out the Klebnikov murder will be arrested and tried for the crime, RIA-Novosti reported. LB

The Moscow City Duma on 15 July approved a draft law on state posts containing generous privileges for mayors who have either completed their terms or resigned early, reported. The extraordinary guarantees are comparable to those granted to President Boris Yeltsin upon his retirement at the end of 1999, according to After he leaves office (his current term expires in December 2007), Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will retain his monthly salary (currently set at 115,000 rubles or $4,000), state-provided insurance, use of his dacha, bodyguards, transportation, and special communication lines. Although former Moscow mayors will not receive immunity from criminal prosecution -- the power to grant such immunity rests with the federal parliament -- they will be guaranteed "legal defense," meaning that Luzhkov will not have to pay for defense attorneys if he ever faces charges, noted. The new law also provides guarantees to members of the former mayor's family, as long as the mayor has completed at least one full term and at least 15 years of state service. Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, is a businesswoman on the "Forbes" list of 100 wealthiest Russians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005) LB

Oleg Betin was sworn in for another term as Tambov governor on 17 July, ITAR-TASS reported. President Putin submitted his nomination for Betin to remain in that post on 9 July, and the Tambov Oblast Duma unanimously voted to confirm Betin on 13 July, Interfax reported. Appointed governor of Tambov in 1995 by President Yeltsin, Betin lost an election the following year, but won gubernatorial elections in 1999 and 2003. He sought to be reappointed as governor by Putin earlier this month, more than three years before his term was scheduled to expire. Georgii Poltavchenko, Putin's envoy to the Central Federal District, was among the dignitaries on hand to congratulate Betin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 July. Poltavchenko told those assembled that Tambov is among the leading regions in the central district in terms of economic development, adding that "Horses should not be changed in mid-stream." LB

The Czech NGO People in Need has been constrained to end its operations in Chechnya because the Russian authorities have refused to prolong its registration, CTK and Reuters reported on 14 July. No reason was given for that refusal, which People in Need slammed in a statement as "unfortunate, unfounded, and unfair." The charity has delivered humanitarian aid worth 20 million euros ($24 million) to the North Caucasus over the past five years. In December 2004, the Chechen Interior Ministry claimed to have discovered weapons and a clandestine printing press in the basement of People in Need's Grozny office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2004). LF

A gunman opened fire on 15 July on the car in which Kazbek Sultygov, Ingushetia's minister for refugees, was returning to Ingushetia after attending a meeting in Vladikavkaz, capital of neighboring North Ossetia, reported. Sultygov and his driver were both wounded; the gunman escaped. Sultygov's deputy, Magomed-Rashid Pliev, characterized the shooting as "a deliberate and well-planned act of terrorism" intended to thwart ongoing efforts to enable Ingush who fled North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion during the fighting of late 1992 to return to their homes. But presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak told on 16 July he believes the gunman's motives were criminal rather than political. LF

Representatives of the nine opposition parties aligned in the Artarutiun bloc met for five hours on 15 July to discuss whether or not to express support for the most recent version of the draft constitutional amendments, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 July 2005). A spokesman for Hanrapetutiun, the most radical of the nine parties, said Hanrapetutiun will not participate in the planned debate of the draft and will urge its supporters to vote against when the amendments are submitted to a nationwide referendum later this year, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 July. Other Artarutiun members agreed to support the proposed amendments on condition that three crucial further changes are made, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those changes entail broadening the powers of the parliament, strengthening the independence of the judiciary, and introducing direct elections for the post of Yerevan mayor. The most recent version of the amendments provides for Yerevan's mayor to be elected by the city council. LF

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group ended their tour of Azerbaijan and Armenia on 15 July by meeting in Yerevan with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. U.S. co-Chairman Steven Mann told journalists after those meetings that considerable progress has been made over the past year towards resolving the Karabakh conflict. Mann predicted that although some unspecified "difficult issues" remain to be solved, a formal settlement may be agreed before the end of this year. Russian co-Chairman Yurii Merzlyakov for his part characterized the Yerevan talks as "very open and substantive," and he confirmed earlier reports that President Kocharian will meet in Kazan on the sidelines of the 26 August CIS summit with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to continues talks on resolving the conflict. Also on 15 July, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkadii Ghukasian, told journalists in Stepanakert that Azerbaijan has adopted a "more constructive" attitude to the peace process and is now ready to discuss topics that it previously refused to address, including the final status of the disputed enclave, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

Several hundred journalists gathered in Baku on 17 July to mark the 38th anniversary of the birth of Elmar Huseinov, the editor of the opposition journal "Monitor," who was gunned down outside his apartment on 2 March, Azerbaijani media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005). Participants expressed skepticism at Azerbaijani law-enforcement officials' claims to have identified two citizens of neighboring Georgia as the killers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2005). Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition daily "Yeni Musavat," accused unnamed members of President Aliyev's family of being behind the killing, adding that he therefore doubts Aliyev will permit the case to be solved, reported on 17 July. LF

Giorgi Khaindrava, who is Georgian minister for conflict resolution, told journalists on 16 July that the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone remains tense in the wake of the 6 June abduction of four Georgian men, Caucasus Press reported. Repeated search operations have failed to locate the four, and Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zone, said on 15 July he fears they are dead, Caucasus Press reported. The brother of one of the four blamed Khaindrava on 16 July for failing to secure their release and threatened to kill the minister when he next travels to the conflict zone. Khaindrava on 16 July accused Russia of seeking to exacerbate the situation in South Ossetia, and he criticized the Georgian police for failing to prevent armed militants from moving freely within the conflict zone. LF

Boris Chochiev, the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia's minister for special assignments, told journalists in Tskhinvali on 14 July that the South Ossetian leadership has rejected Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's offer of autonomy for South Ossetia within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili first unveiled that offer at the UN General Assembly last fall, and has proposed it in greater detail in January and again earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004 and 27 January and 11 July 2005). On 15 July, the Georgian independent daily "Rezonansi" quoted Kokoity's adviser Vazha Khachapuridze as telling journalists that since the two sides are not yet ready to address the issue of South Ossetia's status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government, Kokoity has drafted an alternative plan for resolving the conflict that focuses initially on resolving economic and social problems in the region, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Georgian officials intercepted on 14 July two Russian tanks heading from the Russian military base in Batumi to the Gonio firing range where they were to participate in maneuvers, Georgian media reported. Georgian Defense Ministry officials argued that under an agreement signed in May, Russian forces may not conduct military exercises during the tourist season, between 15 July and 15 September, according to Caucasus Press on 15 July. Russia is to cede Gonio to Tbilisi on 1 September in line with the agreed timetable for the closure of Russia's remaining military facilities in Georgia. LF

The Central Election Commission rejected on 15 July a request by the People's Forum for permission to collect the 200,000 signatures required to demand a referendum on holding direct elections for the posts of Tbilisi mayor and regional governors, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament amended the relevant legislation last month to empower the municipal council to elect the mayor of Tbilisi, but according to opposition surveys, some 95 percent of the population of Tbilisi wants the mayor to be directly elected. LF

Addressing regional governors in Batumi on 17 July, President Saakashvili said they "could have done 10 times more" to speed up economic development, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili also warned the governors against trying to extort money from local businessmen. LF

A grenade was thrown into the yard of "Imedi" editor Gela Mtiulishvili's home in Telavi late on 14 July, Caucasus Press reported the following day. The blast smashed windows, but no one was injured. Mtiulishvili was attacked and severely beaten last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004). Meanwhile a poll of 650 respondents conducted by the weekly "Kviris palitra" found that 47 percent believe the government exerts pressure on the media, while only 24.8 percent believe the media are free, Caucasus Press reported on 18 July. LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi in Astana on 16 July, Khabar reported. Wu also attended a business forum and remarked on a recently signed strategic partnership agreement between China and Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). "The strategic partnership agreement has great significance for China. Nursultan Nazarbaev and [Chinese President] Hu Jintao set our governments the task of bringing Kazakh-Chinese trade volume [from current levels of $5 billion] up to $10 billion. We're confident that we will fulfill this task," Wu said. DK

According to the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, a court in Kyrgyzstan's Aksy District ruled on 15 July to award damages of 5.8 million soms ($140,000) to 21 victims of a police shooting in 2002, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Five people were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators in Aksy District in 2002. Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov recently stated that the so-called "Aksy events" are being re-investigated in the wake of the events that brought down President Askar Akaev on 24 March. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court ruled on 16 July to confirm the victory of President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev in the 10 July presidential election, reported. The president-elect now has 30 days to take the oath of office before parliament. DK

Shalkhar Jaisanbaev, the former head of Kyrgyz oil and gas company Kyrgyzgazmunaizat, met voluntarily with prosecutors in Bishkek on 15 July to answer questions about allegations that he embezzled $17 million, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Prosecutors also met with Eduard Pak, who headed the now-bankrupt Renton Group, and Ryspek Akmatbaev, who faces charges in a murder investigation. At a meeting in Bishkek on 15 July with Renton Group shareholders, Pak promised that he will return their investments in two years, reported. DK

Prosecutor-General Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 15 July that he plans to ask parliament in the fall to strip former President Askar Akaev of his immunity from prosecution. Akaev, who is currently residing in Russia, will then face charges of ceding Kyrgyz territory to China, illegally receiving a payment of $420,000 in his office, playing a role in the shooting of protestors in Aksy in 2002, and changing the constitution for personal reasons. DK

Uzbekistan's embassy in Kyrgyzstan issued a statement on 16 July saying that the issue of over 400 Uzbek asylum seekers currently in Kyrgyzstan will be resolved in "close collaboration with appropriate Kyrgyz agencies in accordance with the principles of good-neighborliness, fraternal friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The statement warned, however, that "the puppeteers who want to destabilize the Ferghana Valley by means of obedient international organizations and NGOs continue to exploit the fallout from the failed plan to bring off an armed coup in Uzbekistan in order to justify their step-by-step imposition of the so-called 'project to advance democracy.'" The embassy denied that Uzbekistan is exerting pressure on Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz officials have said that they hope to resolve the asylum-seeker issue through three-way consultations involving Uzbek authorities and international organizations. The latter have urged Kyrgyzstan not to return the asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. DK

Tajik tax police have once again shut down the independent newspaper "Nerui Sukhan," which was recently allowed to publish an issue after months of enforced inactivity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 15 July. The newspaper's new problems came just as Stephen Minikes, U.S. envoy to the OSCE, had greeted the resumption of publication as a "positive step," Avesta reported. The U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan reacted to the renewed shut-down with a statement, calling itself "concerned over an obvious U-turn on freedom of the press." Tajik political analyst Tursun Kabirov told the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 15 July that Tajik media face serious difficulties. He said, "[President Imomali Rakhmonov] will at best allow a few loyal media bodies to register. Otherwise, the persecution of troublesome journalists...will continue. A series of absorptions and mergers of independent media is also to be expected, especially regional television and radio stations and media organizations controlled by the president's circle." DK

Tajik Economy Minister Hakim Soliev told a news conference in Dushanbe that Tajikistan's GDP rose 8.1 percent in the first half of 2005 to 2.8 million somoni (over $900 million), Avesta reported on 16 July. Industrial production notched an 8.9-percent year-on-year gain, with total output topping $600 million. DK

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has ordered that Andrzej Buczak, director of the consular department of the Polish Embassy in Minsk, leave Belarus, Polish and Belarusian media reported on 15 July. Minsk said that the decision to expel Buczak was a reaction to the Polish Foreign Ministry's decision of 15 July to expel an unnamed counselor at the Belarusian Embassy in Warsaw by 20 July. In May, Minsk expelled another Polish diplomat, Marek Bucko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 May 2005). Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Rotfeld told Polish Radio on 16 July that Minsk's recent hostile steps toward Polish diplomats and the Union of Poles in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 22 June 2005) mean that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka "is looking for an enemy." Rotfeld stressed that he is surprised by the latest diplomatic expulsion from Minsk, particularly since Polish National Security Bureau chief Jerzy Bahr and Belarusian Security Council Secretary Henadz Nyavyhlas have recently met in Belarus and drawn up a "road map" to ameliorate relations. JM

The Minsk-based World Association of Belarusians held the Fourth World Congress of Belarusians in Minsk on 16-17 July, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. More than 300 delegates and guests from Belarus and the Belarusian diaspora took part in the gathering, which was ignored by the Belarusian authorities and official media. It is estimated that from 2.4 million to 3.5 million Belarusians live outside the Republic of Belarus. JM

President Lukashenka on 15 July opened the Slavic Bazaar annual international art festival in Vitsebsk, northeastern Belarus, saying that the festival is an event of international cultural importance, Belapan reported. Mario Moreno, secretary-general of the International Federation of Festival Organizations, took advantage of the festival's opening ceremony to present Lukashenka with a medal and an honorary diploma for his contribution to the development of the "world festival movement." JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 15 July visited the predominantly Russian-speaking city of Donetsk where he met with regional authorities and businessmen, Ukrainian news agencies reported. In the 2004 presidential election, nearly 94 percent of voters in Donetsk Oblast supported his rival, then Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko slammed the Donetsk authorities for not being "moral" and for restoring "clannish relationships" in politics. "I have come to help you rather than oppress you, I am not advocating any special private interests of mine," Yushchenko said. "I will come to Donetsk for a third, fourth, fifth, or 10th time. I will not play games with anyone. I will forgive, but I will make people obey the law -- that small group of people who have not understood that yet." JM

President Yushchenko on 18 July instructed the Interior Ministry leadership to use only Ukrainian while performing official duties, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "You are state officials, you are being paid to serve the state in both substance and form," Yushchenko said. "You, as the law enforcers, should abide by the law on language, which stipulates that a state official should speak the Ukrainian language, even if brokenly." JM

The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers has published a list of 33 companies whose privatization is a priority, UNIAN reported on 15 July. In particular, the list includes the Odesa Portside Plant, the Severodonetsk Azot Association, the Nikopol Southern Pipe Plant, and the Kryvyy Rih Ore Enrichment Combine. JM

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom has signed an agreement with Ukraine's gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny and the gas-transport company RosUkrEnergo, ending a recent dispute with Kyiv over the fate of 7.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas in Ukrainian storage facilities, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Under the agreement, Naftohaz Ukrayiny will receive 2.55 billion cubic meters of gas as partial payment for transit of Russian gas across Ukraine in 2005, with the remaining amount to be delivered to RosUkrEnergo during 2005-06. In June, Gazprom charged that 7.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas disappeared from Ukraine. JM

Belgrade's Special Court on 18 July convicted eight former members of the Serbian secret police loyal to ex-President Slobodan Milosevic of killing his mentor and predecessor, Ivan Stambolic, in August 2000, and of attempting to kill prominent politician Vuk Draskovic earlier that year, the private Beta news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April and 22 and 24 September 2003). The court handed down 40-year prison sentences to Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek (aka Legija), Branko Bercek, Dusko Maricic (aka Gumar), and Nenad Bujosevic; 15-year jail terms went to Radomir Markovic, Leonid Milivojevic, and Nenad Ilic; and Milorad Bracanovic received a four-year sentence. Their indictment noted that Milosevic regarded both Stambolic and Draskovic as threats to his power. At the time of his abduction, Stambolic was widely considered a strong contender against Milosevic in the upcoming general elections, which ultimately brought about Milosevic's downfall. Stambolic's remains were found in a lime pit north of Belgrade in early 2003. The murder gripped popular attention, and the weekly "NIN" ran the headline about the killing: "The depths of our darkness." Legija has also been linked to the killing of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003. PM

On 15 July, the Macedonian parliament passed a measure enabling any ethnic minority to display its flag alongside the Macedonian flag in areas where that minority constitutes more than 50 percent of the population, RFE/RL reported. The draft passed the 120-seat legislature in a 50-4 vote with the opposition boycotting the ballot. The new law marks the final stage of implementing the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended hostilities between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and government forces. In practice, the legislation means that the 23 percent ethnic Albanian minority will be able to display its flag in the 16 out of 84 municipalities where Albanians are in the majority. The law enables minorities to fly their flag on official occasions such as national holidays, during the visits of high-ranking state representatives such as the president or prime minister, and on holidays of ethnic or religious communities. The Albanians' flag shows a black two-headed eagle against a red background, which is the same as the flag Albanians used in socialist Yugoslavia and is identical to the flag of Albania. Ethnic Albanians across the Balkans regard it as their main national symbol, but for many ethnic Macedonians and Serbs it carries connotations of a greater Albania (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 June 2005). PM

The three-member Bosnian Presidency agreed on 15 July to establish a unified military consisting of a single Defense Ministry and command system funded by the central government as part of a series of reforms aimed at meeting requirements for Euro-Atlantic integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Presidency, said that the agreement will be signed shortly, adding that he hopes that it "will be implemented in the manner set down in the text." He noted that some concessions to various national traditions have been made at the regimental level but stressed that these will not have "any operative or administrative" significance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). PM

A NATO spokesman said in Sarajevo on 17 July that peacekeepers have released Sasa Karadzic, son of leading war crimes fugitive and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, in Pale after holding him for 10 days and questioning him about his father's whereabouts, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). It is not clear why peacekeepers released him at this time. In recent days, some NATO officials suggested that they were in no hurry to release the younger Karadzic, whom they suspect of being a key player in enabling his father to elude capture. In related news, police in Kragujevac arrested Radovan Karadzic's brother Luka on 15 July for seriously injuring a young woman in a traffic accident, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Luka, who police say was drunk at the time of the accident, will remain in custody for 30 days. PM

Doctors of Kosova's Minister of Returns Slavisa Petkovic said on 17 July that he should receive extended treatment outside Kosova following two heart attacks earlier that week, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He is the only Serb who was willing to serve in the current government of Kosova and is an outspoken critic of the Belgrade authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 February 2005). PM

The Joint Control Commission (JCC) overseeing the peacekeeping operation in the breakaway region of Transdniester has resumed its work after a three-month pause, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 July. The commission, composed of representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Moldova, and Transdniester, was set up in 1992. Chisinau withdrew its representatives from the JCC in April, accusing the JCC of inefficiency, in particular, of its inability to stop the Transdniestrian authorities from blocking Moldovan farmers' access to their fields on the left bank of the Dniester River, in the so-called security zone. JM

According to a UNICEF-supported study, which was made known to journalists in Chisinau on 15 July, at least one child under the age of seven is abandoned every day in Moldova, BASA reported. One-third of the children abandoned by their parents are less than four days old, while one in five of the women who abandon their babies have never been pregnant before. JM

Most observers of the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina agree that there is room for improvement. That, however, seems to be where agreement both begins and ends.

It is perhaps not a wise idea to allow political agendas to be driven by anniversaries. This year, however, has lent itself to reflection on the current state of affairs in Bosnia because 2005 marks the 10th anniversaries of two important events in the 1992-95 Bosnian war: the Srebrenica massacre of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces, and the U.S.-sponsored Dayton peace agreement that ended the conflict that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic began almost four years earlier.

In the years since 1995, Dayton has been widely credited with preserving the peace, but has come in for much criticism because of its alleged political shortcomings. There are essentially four models for reform under discussion, depending on what one considers the source of the purported dysfunctional nature of the state.

The first proposal calls for strengthening the already powerful Office of the High Representative (OHR), who is appointed by the international community, as a way of breaking the power of the nationalists. Such people led the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats during the war and subsequently remained in power through the ballot box and a series of networks linking politics, business, the security structures, and organized crime.

The second model calls for reducing and eventually eliminating the OHR in the name of democracy. The third proposal envisions scrapping the constitution included in the Dayton agreement and calling a constitutional convention to make a fresh start. The problem with models two and three is that they are likely to strengthen the nationalists' positions even further, since the nationalists are the best vote-getters. A nationalist victory would also result from the fourth model, which calls for giving up on Bosnia as a single multiethnic state and partitioning it along ethnic lines as the only "realistic" option.

Germany's leading Balkan studies society, the Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft (SOG, or Southeast Europe Association), recently co-sponsored two conferences dealing with Bosnia and its problems. The first gathering took place on 21-22 June in Munich under joint sponsorship with the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) based in Flensburg, while the second was a podium discussion on 5 July co-hosted by the SOG and Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle at the latter's headquarters in Bonn.

Both sessions took place against a background of two developments. The first is the renewed international discussion about Bosnia's future pegged to the two major anniversaries that fall in 2005. The second trend is rising concern about the future of the "European perspectives" of the western Balkans following the failure of the referendums on the proposed EU constitution in France and the Netherlands.

In view of these developments, it was striking that few, if any, of the participants from the region called for a major revision of Dayton or its abolition. It seemed that the Bosnian politicians present in Munich were already preoccupied with the October 2006 elections, while the Bosnians in Bonn were wary of doing anything that might strengthen the hand of the nationalists.

Srebrenica-based Bosnian journalist Marinko Sekulic argued in Bonn that Dayton did not really end the war but simply transformed it from a military conflict into one conducted by other means. He noted that children attend three different school systems, learn from three different sets of school books, and are taught three different versions of the 1992-95 conflict.

For his part, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the former international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina and now occupies that same position for Kosova, told the audience at Deutsche Welle that the OHR should not try to "teach democracy" because the OHR itself combines executive, legislative, and judicial functions in a very undemocratic arrangement. Some other participants, however, argued that even if Dayton is in need of some revising, the OHR served its purpose by leveling the political playing field to some extent.

It probably came as no surprise that neither conference reached any sort of consensus as to what to do about Dayton, if anything, even though Bosnia remains as prone as ever to ethnically-based thinking. It did seem clear in both gatherings, however, that the Bosnians were willing to take more responsibility for their own affairs than was the case a decade ago.

Perhaps the most striking differences between German and Bosnian participants in both Munich and Bonn came out in discussions about the EU and its role in the western Balkans. Almost all the German participants seemed keenly aware that the French and Dutch referendums had brought about a qualitative change within the EU that will make further enlargement very difficult, even if commitments to Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Croatia are met.

Most participants from the western Balkans, however, seemed unconcerned by the two "no" votes and even tended to speak as though nothing had changed as a result of them. Those participants generally stressed the stabilizing role of the EU in the region and reminded their hosts of Germany's and the EU's promises of a "European perspective" to the countries of the region.

Such attitudes prompted one German to quip in regard to the former Yugoslavs that "they haven't noticed that a train has just run through the flat" and "all they're interested in is the money." Indeed, one Croatian businessman politely listened to the entire discussion in Bonn and afterward approached one of the German hosts with the comment: "The Americans come in [to the Balkans] and shoot things up, but what we need is long-term development. When are Germany and the EU going to start investing in earnest?"

Some Germans felt that their colleagues in the western Balkans do not understand the complex nature of what qualifying for EU membership actually involves in concrete practical terms. Those participants suggested that a status short of full EU membership might be best for the countries of the region. Other Germans argued that Brussels must send a clear, positive signal to those countries by speeding up the integration of Croatia and Macedonia. Such a move, those Germans maintained, is necessary if the EU does not want to undo what progress it has already made in the region and even generate new sources of instability. Failure to integrate the region will cost Brussels even more in the long run, as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has repeatedly said.

Finally, some Germans warned that both the EU and the countries of the region are suffering from "tunnel vision" if they think that EU integration is a cure-all for the problems of the western Balkans. Such participants argued that this "naive attitude" has led many former Yugoslavs to accept almost any "reform" advocated by Brussels, and at the same time prompted many in the EU to think that the integration process is something inevitable and organic that will lead to all things falling into place.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said on 17 July that Afghan National Army forces backed by coalition air support have killed 20 militants in Khost Province, close to the border with Pakistan, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Azimi said that one Afghan solider was killed in the operation. Among the dead, three were identified as Chechens and two as Uzbeks, Azimi said. AT

Pakistani security forces killed 17 suspected foreign militants in North Waziristan Agency, close to the border with Afghanistan, Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 17 July. Two women and two children were among the dead. One Pakistani solider also died in the gun battle. According to "some people," most of the militants who were killed were of Uzbek origin, the report added. AT

Unidentified assailants in Zabul Province on 15 July killed Malek Agha Jan, a tribal leader who supported the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 16 July. Agha Jan, along with his two sons, brother, and two nephews, was kidnapped after Friday prayers. After the kidnappers released Agha Jan's relatives he was killed. Neo-Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said that the militia killed the tribal elder because he was a spy for the United States, the BBC reported on 16 July. AT

Following the assassination of at least five pro-government ulema by suspected neo-Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, a number of ulema councils have warned that they will stop working if the government fails to guarantee their security, Pajhwak reported on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2005). A member of the Ulema Council of Maruf District in Kandahar Province told Pajhwak on the condition of anonymity that the neo-Taliban has kidnapped his brother and he dares not leave his house for fear of being assassinated. Mawlawi Saif al-Rahman, a prayer leader at a Kandahar mosque, said that if the central government cannot ensure the security of religious leaders and scholars, those who are supporting the government will be forced to withdraw their support. AT

Afghan Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism Sayyed Makhdum Rahin has asked Afghan security commanders not to put pressure on journalists, Bakhtar reported on 17 July. Without referring to any specific incident, Rahin said that lately he has been informed that in certain parts of the country security officials have harassed journalists. He asked that such incidents should not be repeated and asked media workers to report any harassment to newly launched complaints hot lines. AT

Workers across Iran staged a two-hour work stoppage on 16 July, ILNA reported. In South Khorasan, more than 4,000 people stopped work, 20,000 participated in a peaceful demonstration in Pakdasht and Veramin, and 10,000 Gulistan Province workers (including hospital workers, bus drivers, and factory workers) participated in the stoppage. Similar events occurred in Ardabil, Bushehr, Yazd, and elsewhere. Ali Alizadeh, who represents workers in Shushtar, said on 15 July that the action is a protest against the Supreme Labor Council's failure to revise payment plans. This refers to the Labor Ministry's failure to increase the minimum wage from approximately $130 to $200. The nationwide House of Labor, which is the only entity that represents workers' rights, called for the strike. Its secretary-general, Alireza Mahjub, was elected to the legislature in by-elections in mid-June. A workers' representative, Davud Qaderi, said on 16 July that if the government does not respond to workers' demands there will be a full day strike "within the next two months," ILNA reported. BS

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said at a Tehran meeting of Welfare and Social Security Ministry officials that job creation and improvements in society's technical knowledge are essential for social security, IRNA reported on 17 July. Khatami stressed social justice and denounced people who criticize others to attract attention but then fail to deliver on their promises. Khatami called for more efficient subsidies, poverty eradication, and reduced dependence on oil and other natural resources. Khatami referred to improvements in income distribution -- 47 percent of the population lived under the poverty line in 1972, 40 percent in 1979, approximately 21 percent from 1989-1998, and 11 percent since 2003. Sounding less optimistic, Deputy Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Mohsen Safai-Farahani said on 16 July that there could be more than 5 million jobless Iranians in 15 years, ISNA reported. Turning to subsidies, he said wealthy Iranians take five times more than those who need them. Safai-Farahani said improvements in women's employment could double family incomes. BS

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati discussed the 7 July terrorist attacks in London in his 15 July sermon at the Tehran Friday prayers, state radio reported. "If you want to know who is responsible, you should see who gains the most from it. From 11 September the Americans gained the most and here again they and the British are trying to benefit the most," he said. He accused the British and the Americans of creating Al-Qaeda. Jannati dismissed what he described as U.S. and U.K. justifications for being in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said: "What are you doing there? You are either yourself making that place unsafe, or others are making the place unsafe and you are just thinking of looting the Iraqi oil and shedding people's blood." Jannati went on: "Oh God, for the sake of Mohammad and his progeny, rid the mankind of these evils. Oh God, save the people from these evils." BS

Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 16 July in Tehran that 1,000 Al-Qaeda members have been arrested in Iran since the Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell apart, ISNA reported, and 200 are in jail. In the first stage, the government tried to immediately expel the thousands of Afghans and other foreigners who entered Iran. Then, Al-Qaeda members who tried to stay in Iran were arrested. The third stage consisted of arresting and imprisoning members of Ansar al-Islam and other Al-Qaeda supporters in western Iran. The fourth stage looked eastward, as individuals connected with drug traffickers and violent incidents across the country were arrested. One of their leaders, Abdul Malek, is still at large. The fifth stage concluded last week, Yunesi said, when Al-Qaeda members approached local Sunni leaders and unsuccessfully tried to enlist their support. Yunesi said some elements with the Al-Qaeda network have been infiltrated by the United States and "Leaders of some networks, knowingly or unknowingly, are at the service of intelligence services in the region, or are working for America and Israel." BS

Yunesi said Iran has fed inaccurate information on its nuclear program to the United States by using double agents and taking advantage of inexperienced U.S. agents, ISNA reported. Yunesi said information on the nuclear program that is provided by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an opposition group based in Iraq, is unclassified. On the basis of information secured through these sources, Yunesi said, the United States urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect locations where it suspected uranium enrichment was taking place. The inspections, however, failed to find anything, he said. Yunesi also warned that the United States and Israel are approaching Iranians who work in physics, biology, and other sciences, and some people have been identified. "These individuals were our national asset, but unfortunately they were unwillingly trapped by the enemies' espionage services. Today, we intend both to save their lives and prevent any harm to the country." He added that scientists should not become too friendly with strangers when they are traveling overseas, and when they attend conferences they should only go to prearranged events. BS

Ibrahim al-Jaafari arrived in Tehran on 16 July and was greeted at the airport by First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi, news agencies reported. Al-Jaafari met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 17 July, and according to IRNA, Khatami said Iran will do its utmost to contribute to its neighbor's renovation, security, and stability. Meanwhile, Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 16 July that Iraqi officials have promised to expel members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization from their country, ISNA reported. BS

The Iraqi Special Tribunal ( referred former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for trial on more than 12 charges relating to the Al-Dujayl massacre in 1982 in which some 150 men and boys were killed following an assassination attempt on Hussein in the town as his motorcade passed through, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 17 July. Another 1,500 residents were rounded up and imprisoned in a camp close to the Saudi Arabian border, and much of the town was demolished. Judge Ra'id al-Juhi told reporters in Baghdad on 17 July that Hussein's half brother and former deputy head of the Mukhabarat, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti; former Deputy Prime Minister and Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council Taha Yassin Ramadan; and former head judge of the Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamad Badr al-Bandar will also stand trial on charges relating to the Al-Dujayl massacre. KR

Judge Ra'id al-Juhi told reporters that Hussein's trial will not begin until a minimum 45-day period allowing for the defense to prepare its case passes, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 17 July. The trial could start even later should Hussein's defense attorneys attempt to present motions for dismissal. The trial is expected to get under way by fall, however. Al-Juhi said that other investigations against Hussein and his regime members are approaching their final stages, including an investigation into the Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurds, and "the liquidation of religious and political parties." Those investigations include some 2 million documents and 7,000 witness statements. Al-Juhi said that evidence gathered from over 200 mass graves found in Iraq will also be used. "A number of these [graves] have been opened by experts and specialized technicians under the court's supervision.... These will be used as part of the investigative evidence for the cases being investigated taking into consideration the historical evidence and out of eagerness to preserve and document the chemical evidence," al-Juhi said. KR

A suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt dove underneath a tanker truck laden with cooking gas inside a crowded marketplace in Al-Musayyib on 16 July, killing as many as 100 and wounding 150, international media reported on 17 July. The explosion destroyed a nearby mosque and more than 150 shops, reported on 18 July. An unidentified Interior Ministry official told that the tanker truck was hijacked en route from Baghdad to Al-Fallujah several days ago, indicating that the Al-Musayyib attack was coordinated to ensure maximum impact. Al-Musayyib is a mixed Sunni-Shi'ite town located 56 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. The transitional National Assembly voted unanimously on 17 July to hold a one minute of silence to mourn the victims of the attack at midday on 20 July, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Four suicide bombers struck Baghdad on 17 July, killing nine and wounding 17, according to Interior Ministry officials. KR

The interior ministers of the states bordering Iraq are meeting in Istanbul on 18 July to discuss security, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 18 July. Egypt will also send a representative to the conference, which will be attended by UN Special Representative to Iraq Ashraf Qazi, NTV reported on 18 July. The ministers will discuss Iraq's needs in terms of securing its borders with neighboring states to prevent the influx of terrorists into Iraq. Turkish media reported that Turkish officials will raise the issue of the presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Iraqi territory. The United States has stalled on a commitment to deal with the Turkish-Kurdish terrorist group since the fall of the Hussein regime, and the Iraqi government has said it does not have the means to drive PKK fighters across the border into Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened last week to send Turkish soldiers across the Turkey-Iraq border to round up the terrorists. Iraqi Interior Minster Bayan Jabr told reporters in Istanbul that the issue will be discussed at an upcoming meeting in Washington between U.S., Iraqi, and Turkish officials, NTV reported. KR

A two-day donor conference on Iraq started in Amman, Jordan on 18 July with representatives of more than 60 countries and international organizations attending, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The conference will seek to follow up on pledges made at the 2003 Madrid donor conference, and allow the Iraqi government to detail its reconstruction priorities. Iraqi officials have been eager to present their vision of reconstruction needs and to assure donor states that some areas of the country are safe enough to support reconstruction projects. Iraq has thus far only received about $1 billion of the $32 billion in grants and loans pledged at the Madrid conference. KR

Canadian representative to the conference Michael Bell told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on 18 July that the conference aims to accomplish more than just words of support. "I'd say that this is a meeting to deal with real problems. This is not a meeting of just words. It's a meeting to discuss how we can do real things on the ground now, better, despite the very difficult circumstances. For instance, we're going to have a session on what we call lessons learned. That's the mistakes that have been made by donors, that's the things we've got right, so we can do something better. What we're looking for among many other things is if we can come up with some projects that we can do within the next six months, in other words, programs that are going to touch people's lives, improve their conditions. And that's very much a focus here because we recognize that there is an issue that many Iraqis feel that this aid money has not helped them directly and we want to change that perception," Bell said. KR