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Newsline - July 20, 2005

At least 15 people died, including three children, and 34 were injured when a booby-trapped vehicle blew up on 19 July in the town of Znamenskoe, in the extreme northwest of Chechnya, some 60 kilometers from Grozny, Russian media reported. The vehicle containing explosives was parked near a private home, some 100 meters from a school. Gunmen reportedly opened fire on the vehicle after which an anonymous phone caller alerted local police. The vehicle exploded after the police arrived to investigate. LF

Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov told Interfax later on 19 July that he has "no doubts" that the Znamenskoe bombing was the work of radical field commander Shamil Basaev. Basaev warned in April he would inflict a "summer of fire" on Russia, but has not yet staged any major terrorist attack. First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov vowed on 19 July that "we will find these people and bring them to justice," Interfax reported. But in a seeming contradiction Kadyrov continued, "They [the bombers] must continue to be eliminated." Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev, who was himself injured in a car bombing in December 2003 that targeted the Chechen government building in Grozny, said the identity of those who planned the explosion is known, but he did not name them, reported. Dudaev denied earlier reports that the Znamenskoe bombing was preceded by a raid on the town by Chechen militants who clashed with a second armed group, according to Interfax. LF

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 19 June, President Vladimir Putin asked the government to take "immediate measures" to fortify Russia's southern border and deploy two new brigades of troops there, RTR and other media reported. Putin said that plans to fortify the border he made public during his recent trip to Daghestan "should be sped up," RTR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). VY

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Duma Security Committee Chairman Colonel General Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia) said on 19 July that Moscow is the most vulnerable target for terrorist attacks, followed by the Caucasus, RIA-Novosti reported. Vasilev said that additional measures to improve air safety and security in the Moscow subway system are now being taken and that for this purpose the Duma will provide the government with an extra 2 billion rubles ($69 million). Vasilev also said that amendments are needed to the law on combating terrorism and that they will be adopted in the parliament's fall session. VY

Speaking at the same 19 July press conference, Vasilev, who is a former deputy interior minister, said the criminal investigation of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is "an exemplary case showing the inevitability of punishment," Channel One and other media reported. This case shows officials who think they can do what they please that accountability can come five or six years after a wrongdoing, he added. Vasilev stressed that no official indictment has been brought against Kasyanov yet, but he does not exclude such a possibility, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 19 July. "On the one hand, such investigations appear in many countries before an election, but on the other hand, nobody forced him to do anything clearly abusing his office," quoted Vasilev as saying. Meanwhile, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 19 July that Kasyanov is suspected of "massive fraud with abuse of office," for which he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. VY

Denying a report by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that it signed an agreement in Minsk on 19 July to create a joint Russia-Belarus channel, TV-Tsentr announced that it is merely expanding its broadcasting to Belarus. "A new partner, not state-owned but a private structure, has been found for this purpose. It will allow us to cover events in Belarus more objectively," a TV-Tsentr commentator said. According to TV-Tsentr President Oleg Poptsov, "our public is misinformed on what is happened in Belarus." TV-Tsentr is formally independent from the federal government and funded by the Moscow city government. It has frequently criticized the Kremlin, but from a nationalistic point of view, and often promotes a harder line than the Kremlin itself. VY

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, opened celebrations with a liturgy on 18 July to mark the 625th anniversary of the Battle of Kulikov, in which Moscow Count Dmitrii Donskoi defeated Tatar troops of the Golden Horde, Channel One reported. The celebrations, which under President Putin have been given the status of an official state commemoration, will last until 21 September, when the battle actually occurred. VY

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 19 July, Tatar National Council Chairman Rashid Yagofarov said that many people in Tatarstan are very negative concerning the Battle of Kulikov celebration. Yagofarov said that already two years ago the representatives of Tatar Public Center brought these protests to the attention of the Russian presidential administration, but there was no reaction. Meanwhile, Mikhail Dudko, the secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate Foreign Relations department, said the church considers the battle a "great event shaping the history of the Russian people." "Today's relations between Russians and Tatars are not like they were then," he added. VY

"Novaya gazeta," No. 51, provided a unique look at lobbying within the reorganized State Duma. According to the weekly, the main lobby groups operating in the State Duma are the government and presidential administration and they do not use financial carrots directly. Instead, the government, for example, "prefers to parcel out access to the 'budget pie.'" The presidential administration, for its part, uses administrative pressures, including brow-beating and public humiliation. After he was expelled from the Unified Russia faction, State Duma Deputy Anatolii Yermolin called for a commission to investigate administration pressure on legislators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004). According to the weekly, the clout of the presidential administration has been expanding for months, and now when the agenda of plenary meetings is discussed, "lawmakers hear more and more frequently that 'the presidential administration objects' or the 'presidential administration has a different opinion on the matter.'" JAC

"Novoe vremya," No. 28, reported that Russia is acquiring more and more characteristics of a postindustrial society. For example, almost half of the population, 47 percent, has a mobile phone, while more than 10 percent of families have a home computer. One-half of these computer owners regularly access the Internet. According to the latest data, 13 percent of the population over 18 years old use the Internet once a month. Only 4 percent of the adult population accesses the Internet once a day. Thirty-two percent of families own a car, of this group just 2 percent owns two automobiles. In contrast to Western countries, the majority of Russian car owners, 66 percent, keep their vehicle in a garage. JAC

Local opposition parties including the Union of Rightist Forces and the People's Party planned a meeting on 19 July to overturn a 29 June decision by the Kirov city duma on canceling mayoral elections, RFE/RL's Kirov correspondent reported on 18 July. Just two weeks before the 29 June vote, city legislators had voted to retain mayoral elections, but in the intervening two weeks, the deputies received a variety of threats, including dismissal, having funding for hospital and schools cut, having their children removed from prestigious secondary institutions, and having special tax inspections conducted on companies of their closest relatives. Yurii Volkhanskii, secretary of the city legislature, told RFE/RL that his personal car was set on fire. Aleksandr Shutov, chairman of the regional branch of the All-Russian Humanitarian Society, said that he and other members of the political opposition in the city will create a public movement to reinstitute mayoral elections and will seek through the courts to overturn the legislature's 29 June vote. JAC

Residents of Nakhodka in Primorskii Krai held a protest meeting on 15 July -- their third in the last two months, RFE/RL's Primore correspondent reported on 18 July. At each rally, the demands of protesters have escalated. This time, protesters demanded the resignation of Nakhodka Mayor Oleg Kolyadin and all members of the city duma. Kolyadin was elected in November 2004 with the support of Unified Russia and Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin. One of Kolyadin's "educational reforms" has been to pack students into fewer existing educational facilities, so that the now empty buildings located in the city center could be sold to commercial entities that are reportedly close to the mayor. News that the major was going to evict the central library and city museum from their buildings caused citizens to lose their patience, and the protests began. Volunteers from neighboring cities have also joined in. According to the correspondent, unknown people filmed the 15 July protest, and various protest participants were subsequently invited to the office of the local directorate of the Federal Security Service. However, the organizers do not plan to stop holding protests. JAC

This week, some residents of Yekaterinburg have been protesting plans to demolish a hundred burial places for household pets in one of the city's largest cemeteries, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 19 July. The cemetery authorities gave the green light two years ago for the interment of dead pets, however, city authorities say they did so illegally and are demanding to use the land for road construction. The protesters are asking city authorities to legalize their pets' final resting places. One pensioner told the daily that she visits her cat, Raisa, almost every day to chat, complain, and occasionally cry. Another pensioner complained that she had just purchased a headstone for her late poodle, Charlie. "I paid 2,000 [rubles] and now I don't know where to put it, on his grave or the balcony," she said. According to the daily, city officials plan to raze the impromptu cemetery. The deputy mayor's office told the daily that according to the city's plans there is no cemetery there, only a vacant lot. JAC

Two witnesses at the ongoing trial in Vladikavkaz of Nurpasha Kulaev, who according to Russian authorities is the sole survivor of the militants who seized a school in nearby Beslan last September and took over 1,000 people hostage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 2, 3 and 7 September 2004), have testified that the number of hostage takers was higher than the officially claimed 32, reported on 19 July, citing One of the hostages estimated there were no fewer than 50 militants, while the second said he saw "around 40" on the first floor of the school building. LF

Some 1,000 inhabitants of the raion center of Zelenchukskaya in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) blocked all highways leading to the town on 19 July to protest the reduction since 15 July of electricity supplies to the Zelenchuk, Ust-Djegut, and Karachaev raions, and reported. The combined population of the three raions is approximately 100,000, or 25 percent of that of the entire KChR. The republican power utility Karachaevo-Cherkessenergo cut electricity supplies to the three raions to the safety minimum because of the failure of local power-distribution networks to pay outstanding debts totaling some 34.5 million rubles ($1.2 million). Also on 19 July, KChR government representatives met with Karachaevo-Cherkessenergo management to discuss restructuring the local distributors' debts. LF

Disagreements within the nine-party Artarutiun opposition bloc deepened on 19 July as its most radical member, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party, threatened to quit rather than participate in the debate, scheduled for 29 August, on constitutional amendments drafted by the government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). Hanrapetutiun's leaders argue that to participate in that debate would be to lend legitimacy to what they claim is an illegal regime. Artashes Geghamian, chairman of the opposition National Accord Party (AMK) which has eight parliament mandates, said the AMK will endorse the draft amendments if the Council of Europe's Venice Commission approves them, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 18 July. The commission is to deliver its ruling on 20 July. LF

The trial opened on 19 July at Azerbaijan's Court for Grave Crimes of 17 former army officers and National Security Ministry personnel, Turan and reported. The men are charged with accepting bribes, forging official documentation, and abuse of their official position. Two of the 17 accused, Lieutenant Colonel Vagif Talybov and Lieutenant Colonel Zia Nadjafov, have pleaded guilty. LF

The People's Forum headed by former Union of Traditionalists Chairman Akaki Asatiani has submitted to the Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) a second application for permission to begin collecting the 200,000 signatures necessary to conduct a referendum on holding direct elections for the posts of Tbilisi mayor and regional governors, Caucasus Press and reported on 19 July. The CEC rejected the first such application on the grounds that it was incorrectly formulated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). Asatiani told journalists that if the CEC again rejects the application, he will appeal that rejection in court. LF

Following talks in Sukhum on 19 July, Georgian, Abkhaz, and Russian government representatives signed a protocol on preliminary measures to restore rail communication from Russia to Tbilisi via Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 20 July. Measures to be coordinated include the inspection by specialists from all three sides of the existing track and infrastructure. Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaya, who signed the protocol on behalf of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, told ITAR-TASS that reconstruction work will provide badly needed jobs. It is unclear, however, whether Abkhazia will provide security for the rebuilding work, as Lakerbaya offered, or whether that responsibility will devolve on the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone under the CIS aegis. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said on 19 July a restoration of rail traffic could contribute to resolving the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia, Interfax reported on 19 July, but he added that it is still "premature" to talk of taking such a "political decision," according to Caucasus Press. LF

The government of the Republic of Abkhazia released a statement on 19 July responding to criticisms enumerated in an appeal to President Sergei Bagapsh and parliament speaker Nugzar Ashuba circulated the previous day by the opposition Forum for National Unity, reported. The forum, which was established five months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2005), protested the government's privatization plans, which it fears extend to the privatization of land, and expressed concern at what it termed the spontaneous return to Abkhazia of Georgians who fled during the 1992-93 war. The government response said such unfounded allegations could give rise to "political speculation," and therefore President Bagapsh has asked police to question Forum members in order to establish whether they are true. The government response reaffirmed the Abkhaz leadership's readinesss for "constructive dialogue" with the opposition. On 20 July, posted an article from the daily "Abkhaziya" summarizing the findings of a poll conducted by the paper "Chegemskaya pravda." According to that poll, Bagapsh remains the most popular politician in Abkhazia, followed by Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab. Former President Vladislav Ardzinba is in fourth place, while Bagapsh's defeated rival in the January presidential poll, Raul Khadjimba, is in 11th place. LF

The Astana-New City special economic zone in the Kazakh capital of Astana will receive $1.6 billion in investment by 2007, Kazinform reported on 19 July, citing Astana-New City's press service. According to a partial breakdown of the planned investments, $500 million will go to build houses, $198 million to offices, $264 million to administrative buildings, $334 million to social and cultural facilities, and $327 million to engineering and transportation infrastructure. DK

At a cabinet meeting in Astana on 19 July, Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov tasked the Education and Finance Ministries with taking in hand plans to finance the construction of the Kazakh-Russian Baiterek launch complex, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The complex, which is slated to be completed within three years, will be able to launch rockets with a 30-ton payload into orbit, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement in December 2004 to build Baiterek at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. DK

Bishkek police chief Omurbek Suvanaliev resigned on 18 July, reported the next day. Suvanaliev, who had been acting chief since 25 May, later told the BBC that he resigned because he had been told he was going to be transferred to Batken Province, Kabar reported. Suvanaliev said he believes his place is in the capital, where his efforts to stabilize the situation after unrest on 24-25 May and 17 June proved his professionalism, he stressed. Suvanaliev also said that his growing popularity has given rise to various "political games," Kabar reported. He is considered an ally of acting First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, who is expected to become prime minister once President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev takes the oath of office on 14 August, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK

Citing "informed sources in Washington," Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 July that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is planning a visit to Kyrgyzstan in late July to discuss the fate of the U.S. military base there. The report, which could not be confirmed, suggested that Rumsfeld may bring with him an offer of financial support in exchange for Kyrgyzstan's agreement to continue hosting the base. A recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) called on the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to provide a deadline for withdrawal from military facilities it is using in Central Asia, which include the U.S. air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. DK

At a news conference in Dushanbe on 19 July, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov told journalists that the improving situation in Afghanistan has reduced the need for foreign forces in Central Asia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Nazarov noted that Tajikistan is happy to help the antiterrorist coalition in its operations against the Taliban. But he said that presidential elections have taken place in Afghanistan, parliamentary elections are scheduled, and the Taliban are "virtually nonexistent." He concluded, "It's natural that some minor issues may remain or emerge, but they can be resolved without foreign forces." DK

Newly appointed Russian Ambassador to Belarus Dmitrii Ayatskov told journalists on 19 July that his priority task in Minsk will be to assist integration between the two countries and give a boost to the long-stalled process of establishing a Russia-Belarus Union, Belapan reported. "I would like to be, and I will surely be, the last ambassador of Russia to Belarus," Ayatskov said. He was speaking in Saratov, the city where he served two terms as regional governor. Ayatskov added that it will be difficult to persuade Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to agree to a full merger of Belarus and Russia. "It is very difficult to persuade Lukashenka to change his mind. He keeps his feet firmly on the ground. Of course, he needs to change his perception of Russia and Belarus as separate countries, and of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Lukashenka as the leaders of separate countries," he noted. It is not yet known when Ayatskov will arrive in Minsk. JM

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Oleksandr Turchynov told journalists in Kyiv on 20 July that the SBU will examine recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in the office of former President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Turchynov said that within a month the SBU will scrutinize up to one hour of recordings relating to the killing of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. "A preliminary examination of these materials has shown that the recordings were made in the office of ex-President Leonid Kuchma and that the main persona on these recordings is citizen Kuchma," Turchynov said. He added that a simultaneous examination of the recordings will be made by the U.S. FBI. JM

EU High Commissioner for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana discussed EU-Ukrainian relations with President Viktor Yushchenko and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials in Kyiv on 19 July, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Solana said in Kyiv that he believes Ukraine will soon be recognized as a market economy. Solana also promised Yushchenko that the EU will help Ukraine thwart smuggling through the Transdniestrian stretch of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border. In a letter from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that Solana brought to Kyiv, Brussels obliged itself to send a "fact-finding mission to review the situation in the border area itself and prepare our engagement." Yushchenko and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin asked the EU in June for help in establishing more effective customs controls and surveillance on the Transdniestrian section of their common border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2005). JM

President Yushchenko has issued a decree to cancel visa formalities as of 1 August for Japanese citizens visiting Ukraine for no more than 90 days, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 19 July. Earlier this year, Kyiv made similar moves toward citizens of the EU, Switzerland, and the United States. JM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 19 July that Kosova's elected institutions will take responsibility for police and justice by the end of 2005, Reuters reported. He added that UNMIK will continue to monitor police and justice affairs closely according to its "vigorous accountability policy." UNMIK also "will retain final authority for remedial intervention and...continue to exercise sovereign functions such as conclusion of international agreements and international judicial and police cooperation," an UNMIK statement said. Talks on the final status of Kosova are widely expected to begin later in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). In related news, eight Serbian members of the Kosovar legislature are expected to decide shortly whether to end their boycott of the parliament and its institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

Albania's Central Election Commission agreed on 19 July to repeat the 3 July ballot in at least one district, but challenges by rival politicians continue to hold up the release of final election results, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 7, and 15 July 2005). A commission spokesman said that "the commission agreed in principle to [repeat] the vote but...will wait until all other complaints have been considered to decide when to hold the vote." The commission must conclude its investigation of about 200 complaints before it can announce the final results, which had been expected to take place later in July. The opposition Democrats appear to have won the ballot with at least 73 out of 140 seats, 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

Miroslav Bralo, who is a former member of the ethnic Croat army in Bosnia-Herzegovina (HVO), told the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 19 July that he is guilty of war crimes against Muslims in the Ahmici area of central Bosnia in 1993, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added: "I'm guilty and honestly sorry." After surrendering to the tribunal in November 2004, Bralo pleaded not guilty to a longer list of charges, which was subsequently shortened as a result of what Reuters describes as an "unconditional plea bargain." His trial is slated to resume on 10 October. PM

A court in Bitola ruled on 19 July that Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan must report immediately to serve his jail sentence for allegedly inciting religious and ethnic hatred, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). The court also extended his sentence from 18 months to two years because he continued to carry out his religious duties despite a court order for him to stop. But Jovan told the private Serbian news agency Beta that he still has possibilities to appeal the court's decisions and will know more about his fate "by the end of the week." Jovan, who became a central figure in the long-standing dispute between the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) when he switched allegiance from MPC to the SPC in 2003, was sentenced in August 2004. The central problem is deeply rooted in what historians call the Macedonian Question and interrelated issues involving the traditional Balkan tendency to equate one's nationality with one's religion. In 1967, the communist Macedonian authorities recognized a MPC separate from the SPC and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which has a much smaller number of Macedonian adherents than the other two. The SPC and other Orthodox churches do not recognize their Macedonian counterpart, regarding it as schismatic. PM

Former Moldovan Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, now a parliamentary deputy, told journalists in Chisinau on 19 July that Moldova "is degenerating into a police state," Infotag reported. Braghis was commenting on the 10 July mayoral election in the Moldovan capital in which he said several members of his electoral team were detained by police and one of them was severely beaten. Braghis finished second in the election, which was declared invalid due to low turnout (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2005). Braghis and seven other candidates have withdrawn from the repeat mayoral vote on 24 July, calling on the two remaining contestants -- Zinaida Grechanaya from the Communist Party and Valery Klimenko from the Ravnopravie (Equal Rights) Sociopolitical Movement -- to do the same. Braghis believes the repeat vote will be ignored by citizens as well. "This vote will be declared valid only in one case -- if it is rigged," he added. JM

Igor Smirnov, leader of the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester, told journalists on 19 July that elections to Transdniester's Supreme Soviet will be held in December, BASA reported. Smirnov said he made this decision after his talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko last week (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 15 July 2005). The so-called Yushchenko plan for Transdniester envisages holding democratic elections in the region under international monitoring by November. JM

Turkish officials have been increasingly vocal in recent days over their desire to launch cross-border operations to rein in Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK or Kongra-Gel) based in the mountainous areas straddling Iraq and Turkey.

Fighting has escalated between the PKK and the Turkish government since May, leaving at least 24 PKK fighters and 30 soldiers dead, and by some accounts, dozens more. The recent spate of terrorist attacks, claimed by the PKK and groups affiliated with it, have targeted civilians and soldiers.

In response, after months of what they deemed as reluctance on the part of the U.S. and Iraqi governments to deal with the PKK, Turkish officials have proposed two new plans. Officials first contended that Turkey would carry out cross-border operations with or without the consent of the Iraqi government. They then suggested at a 19 July meeting of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors that Iran, Syria, and Iraq join forces to help eliminate the Kurdish group, which is considered by its supporters a rebel group and by the governments involved, including the United States, a terrorist organization.

Turkey's calls for the United States to drive the PKK from northern Iraq began in the months following the downfall of the Hussein regime in 2003. The United States was slow to take up the mantle, saying that it would not round up PKK fighters until an amnesty offered by the Turkish government had expired. Since then, the United States has been tied up fighting insurgents in other areas of Iraq and has stalled on Turkey's request.

One unidentified U.S. official responded to Turkey's cross-border plans by saying that Turkey has the right to defend itself -- within its borders -- against terrorism, but the United States would not support Turkish military action against the PKK should those operations take place inside Iraq or violate human rights, Andalou news agency reported on 15 July. That statement appeared to provoke a harsh response from the Turkish government and may have contributed to the U.S. "order" for the capture of PKK leaders in Iraq that was announced by Turkish General Staff General Ilker Basbug on 19 July, according to Anatolia news agency.

The United States would certainly not welcome further turmoil in the region, which could destabilize the relative calm in northern Iraq. Washington would also oppose any action by Iraq's neighbors -- particularly Iran and Syria -- towards the PKK, since those countries would likely attempt to send troops into Iraq under the pretense of hunting for terrorists.

Despite that, Iran has voiced its willingness to pursue the issue, NTV reported on 19 July. Iranian Interior Minister Abdulwahid Musavi-Lari told the Turkish news channel: "We do not support the relationship between the Iraqi Kurdish [administration] and the PKK in northern Iraq," adding, "There is no PKK camp in Iran and we have fully prevented it." Turkey has claimed in the past that the Iranian regime gave shelter to PKK fighters inside its territory, providing the group with logistical support.

To complicate matters further, Iran is at odds with its own Kurdish opposition groups, which have called for greater national rights. The demands have led to a brutal crackdown by the regime in recent weeks. In one recent operation against Kurds living in northwestern Iran, Iranian security agents reportedly killed a Kurdish activist, bound his body, and dragged it through the streets, reported on 15 July. Numerous Kurds have been arrested in other security sweeps by Iranian intelligence, and reported on 14 July that intelligence agents have asked private call centers to provide the names of people making telephone calls abroad.

Syria appears less likely to support the plan, as it seems more susceptible to increased pressure -- whether perceived or real -- to appease Kurdish demands for national rights. That pressure prompted the most recent Ba'ath Party conference to pledge to address the issue of Kurdish rights in Syria.

Kurds in Syria have battled the Ba'athist regime for decades in an effort to be recognized as citizens under the law. "Since the advent of Law 93 of 1962, the Syrian government has classified some 160,000 Kurds as 'ajanib,' or foreigners. They cannot vote, own property, or work in government jobs. Another 75,000 or so are simply unregistered, and are known as 'maktumin,' or concealed, having almost no civil rights," Beirut's "Daily Star" reported on 11 July.

However, it remains unclear whether the Syrian government intends to do more than pay lip service to the issue. Syria would be more than likely to support the Turkish plan if the political climate were different. However, given Iraqi and U.S. charges that Syria supports terrorism in Iraq and the international pressure on Syria that forced its recent withdrawal from Lebanon, it is unlikely that Syria would accept the Turkish plan at this time.

Iraqi officials in the interim and transitional governments have also stalled on the issue of the PKK, contending that while the government wants to assist Turkey (Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari vowed in May to do "all we can" on the Iraqi side of the border), the Iraqi military does not have the capabilities to launch operations in Iraq's vast mountainous regions.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told NTV on 18 July that Turkey should seek approval from the Iraqi National Assembly if it intends to launch cross-border operations. "We are ready for cooperation against the Kurdistan Workers Party or any other terrorist organization. We need to help each other on the issue," Jabr said. "However, there is a government and parliament elected in Iraq. The parliament can grant permission for Turkey's cross-border operation; it is bound to the parliament's decision."

Even if the National Assembly were to approve the plan, it is unclear if the Iraqi military would have the right to do so under the terms of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution, which gives the Kurdistan Democratic Party's and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's peshmerga forces control over areas of northern Iraq. It is highly unlikely that the Kurds would ever support attempts by the Iraqi military to launch operations against the PKK in Kurdistan.

The Shi'ite-led transitional government faces other internal obstacles that preclude its approval of the Turkish plan, namely an alliance it formed with the Kurdistan Coalition list following January elections to form the leadership of the transitional government. Support among Kurds for the Shi'ite-led government has waned in recent weeks, as Kurdish leaders, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have claimed that al-Ja'fari has sidelined the authority of Kurdish ministers as he takes steps to monopolize power.

Kurds are also dismayed at the government's failure to address issues relating to the normalization of Kirkuk, a multiethnic, oil-rich city. The city was the site of a massive resettlement campaign by Saddam Hussein's regime that uprooted and displaced 1 million Kurds. The TAL calls on the transitional government to "expeditiously" remedy the injustice caused by the Hussein regime in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk. Turkey is likely to be drawn into the imbroglio because it supports Iraq's Turkomans (ethnic Turks), who, like the Kurds, claim a majority in the city.

Kurdish activists close to the PKK say that the movement has tried to change its stance to nonviolence, but to no avail. They contend that the government seeks nothing short of their annihilation, despite Kurdish calls for their rights under a democratic Turkish state. "Today, we believe in the diplomatic and political struggle in order to obtain our legitimate rights," PKK military leader Murat Karayilan told AP in an interview published on 12 July. He vowed, however, to fight Turkey if attacked. The group called a cease-fire in 1999 with Turkey after its leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured and imprisoned.

The PKK canceled the cease-fire last year, saying the Turkish government had not done enough to meet demands for Kurdish national rights. The Kurdish language was banned in Turkey until 1991, and broadcasting in Kurdish was only legalized last year. Other reforms have enabled Kurds for the first time to give their children Kurdish names on legal documents.

Karayilan's calls for greater equality come as Turkey faces increasing pressure as it vies for membership in the European Union. The Turkish government has been widely criticized in Europe for its human-rights record with the Kurds, who live primarily in southeastern Turkey.

During his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on 19 July, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a joint declaration of friendship between the U.K. and Afghanistan, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2005). According to the official text of the declaration posted on the British government's website (, both Afghanistan and the U.K. "recognize the threat posed by terrorism and extremism and will strive unceasingly to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for either." London promises in the declaration to support Afghanistan's national sovereignty and to help Kabul develop a "long-term relationship with NATO." The U.K., among other areas, pledges to work closely with Afghanistan "to root out the production and trafficking of narcotics." The U.K. also promised to support the development of "professional independent news media in Afghanistan." AT

The Afghan cabinet on 18 July approved a plan submitted by Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak regarding strategic cooperation with NATO, the official National Radio of Afghanistan reported. Wardak explained to the session chaired by First Vice President Ahmad Zia Mas'ud that Kabul needs to sign a cooperation declaration with NATO, as the alliance is expected to take over command of the coalition forces while still retaining command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). While the cabinet approved Wardak's proposal, it decided to postpone discussion on the declaration. According to Wardak, Afghanistan has already signed a strategic declaration with the United States (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 May 2005). AT

Pakistani security forces have arrested a top neo-Taliban member in North-West Frontier Province, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 19 July. Mawlawi Abdul Kabir was governor of the eastern Nangarhar Province, and also served as commander of the eastern council during the Taliban regime. "Dawn" described Abdul Kabir as the third most important person in the Taliban hierarchy. Pakistani forces also arrested two of Abdul Kabir's brothers, Abdul Haq and Abdul Aziz, and his aide Abdul Qadir. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said that while the Pakistani government has yet to formally announce Abdul Kabir's arrest, it would be an important step in improving relations between Kabul and Islamabad, Bakhtar reported on 19 July. AT

Neo-Taliban spokesman Mawlawi Latifullah Hakimi on 18 July told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) that Abdul Kabir is "well" and apparently free. "I have personally spoken to him on the phone," Hakimi claimed. On 19 July, Hakimi somewhat changed his stance, telling AIP that he has contacted Abdul Kabir's friends and relatives, who have denied the reports of his arrest. In a separate report on 19 July, AIP reported that the spokesman for the political committee of the neo-Taliban, Mullah Abdul Hay Motma'en, told the news agency via telephone that the reports of Abdul Kabir's arrest "are utterly false." According to Motma'en, Abdul Kabir is in Afghanistan. AT

Defense Ministry spokesman General Azimi has said that forces of neo-Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami have agreed to coordinate their operations, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on 18 July. Additionally, Azimi said, recent antiterrorism operations carried out by Pakistan have led some militants to flee to Afghanistan, which could be one of the factors behind the recent increase in militant activity in that country. AT

A British court has sentenced a former Afghan warlord to 20 years in prison for his actions during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s, international news agencies reported on 18 July. The case is considered a landmark for U.K. and international law, as it involves a foreign national who committed crimes abroad against non-U.K. citizens. Witnesses testified anonymously via a satellite link. The warlord, Farayadi Sarwar Zardad, was found guilty on 18 July of atrocities against civilians in the 1990s when he commanded an area east of Kabul that included a highway to Jalalabad. Zardad, who arrived to the U.K. in the 1990s, was initially charged in July 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission on 19 July welcomed the sentence handed down to Zardad, Pajhwak News Agency reported. AT

Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said on 19 July -- on the eve of a meeting in London between Iranian and European nuclear officials -- that Tehran must correct misperceptions about the incoming administration's intentions, ISNA reported. "We will try to present a realistic and suitable picture of the Islamic Republic of Iran's next government and its future policies," Aqamohammadi said. He went on to say that Iran's general foreign-policy principles do not change on the basis of the presidential administration, and they are set by the Expediency Council. "The nuclear policy is one of the country's major policies and governments don't have any influence over it," Aqamohammadi said. "They are only involved in following up, implementing, and speeding up the work." Aqamohammadi said that, if there is no progress, Tehran may forsake the requirement to provide guarantees it has suspended uranium enrichment. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said at a 19 July meeting in the capital that Iran will not forsake the right to produce nuclear fuel and the enrichment suspension will not be permanent, state television reported. BS

Speaking in Tehran on 19 July, legislator Hamid Reza Haji-Babai described the resumption of activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility as the correct response to European delays in offering Iran incentives, Mehr News Agency reported. He warned that although Europe promised a proposal by 6 August, it intends to wait for the formation of a new Iranian cabinet. Haji-Babai said there will be no changes in the Iranian negotiating team. Parliamentarian Manuchehr Mottaki also said that activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility will resume soon, Mehr News Agency reported. He said the production of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) would demonstrate Iran's resolve to master the nuclear fuel cycle. UF6 is a gas that is used in centrifuges to make enriched uranium. BS

Masumeh Shafii, the wife of journalist Akbar Ganji, visited him in the hospital on the evening of 18 July, Radio Farda reported the next day. He has been on hunger strike for more than a month, but he was hospitalized for knee surgery. Ganji's legal representative, Abdul Fattah Soltani, told Radio Farda that the Milad Hospital is complying with prosecutor Said Mortazavi's unlawful order to deny Ganji access to his lawyer. Soltani said that so far he has no information on Ganji's health. Although lawyers have the right to see their clients upon request, Soltani said, he has not been able to see Ganji in prison. Soltani said that at this stage there is little he can do other than complain to the Tehran judicial chief, and that is unlikely to help. He criticized the competence of the judicial official and questioned whether such officials are qualified to hold the positions they do. BS

After several days of unrest in the Kurdistan Province city of Mahabad (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2005), local Governor Seyyed Maruf Samadi said that the problems there began when Seyyed Kamal Seyyed Qader (known as Shavaneh) resisted police, "Iran" reported on 19 July. They therefore shot him, Samadi said. Samadi added that several people who protested this incident were arrested, but he has no information on them. A police officer was stabbed to death. Government offices, banks, and some homes were damaged, too. Samadi said the Interior Ministry has agreed to his request to send a team to investigate. The team is scheduled to arrive on 20 July. BS

The British Foreign Office has lodged a protest with the Iranian ambassador to London over a Friday-prayer leader's comments regarding the 7 July terrorist attacks in the British capital, AFP reported on 19 July. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati claimed in his 15 July sermon that the U.K. profited from the attacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). "These allegations are insulting and ridiculous," an unidentified Foreign Office spokesman said. BS

Three Sunni men connected to the Iraqi National Assembly's constitutional committee were gunned down outside a Baghdad restaurant on 19 July, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Gunmen shot and killed Mijbal al-Sheikh Issa, Thamir Husayn al-Ubaydi, and Aziz Ibrahim Ilaywi as they left a restaurant in the Karrada district of the capital. Issa appears to have joined the drafting committee as one of the 15 Sunni Arabs added to the 71-member committee last month. He was the secretary-general of the Movement for Decision Making [Harakat al-Qarar] and a member of the National Dialogue Council. Al-Ubaydi was a member of a subcommittee of Sunnis advising the drafting committee. Ilaywi, who is reportedly Issa's nephew, was an informal adviser to the drafting committee. KR

Adnan al-Janabi, a Sunni parliamentarian who is deputy chairman of the constitutional committee, told RFI in a 19 July interview broadcast the next day that insurgents had threatened to kill Sunni members of the drafting committee for their participation in the political process. "They were in a dangerous situation and we knew that something was going to happen," he said, adding that he had asked the National Assembly to provide more security for the committee's Sunni members, including the provision of secure housing for the members, but no action was taken. Al-Janabi also issued an appeal to the United Nations for help, he said, adding that "everyone" in the National Assembly and cabinet was aware of the danger facing Sunnis on the committee. "I feel we are all responsible now for the death of those people and I'm with the decision of the members to postpone their participation in a dangerous process like this without [the government's] cooperation," al-Janabi told RFI. Reuters reported on 20 July that at least four Sunni members of the committee have suspended their membership. One official on the drafting committee contended that all 15 Sunni members on the committee have suspended membership, but that claim has not been verified. KR

"The New York Times" reported on 20 July that a working draft of Iraq's constitution being circulated in Baghdad includes provisions that will sharply curb women's rights. The draft reportedly calls for court cases relating to personal-status issues like marriage, divorce, and inheritance to be carried out according to the law practiced by the family's sect or religion. The provisions are a setback from rights previously accorded Iraqi women under the 1959 personal status law. For example, under the new provisions, Shi'ite women would need to obtain their family's permission to marry. Another clause in the draft says that Iraqis will enjoy all rights stated in "international treaties and conventions as long as they do not contradict Islam," reflecting what many Shi'ite leaders have said regarding their desire for a greater role for Islam in the constitution. One female member of the drafting committee told the daily that some points regarding women's rights in the draft are still under review, and U.S. and Iraqi officials have said that no final language has been agreed upon yet. KR

At least six Iraqis were killed and more than 20 wounded when a suicide bomber strapped with explosives blew himself up at the entrance to the Al-Muthanna Airbase in Baghdad, international media reported on 20 July. The base is used by the Iraqi Army as a recruitment center. Police sources told Reuters that the bomber mingled with a crowd outside the recruiting center before detonating an explosives belt. The air base has been the site of at least seven attacks since the fall of the Hussein regime in April 2003, dpa reported on 20 July. KR

Former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarra'i told Al-Jazeera television that a number of armed groups have agreed to hold talks with the National Coalition for Iraq's Unity and Reconstruction on the laying down of arms and joining the political process, the satellite news channel reported on 20 July. "As for the important forces, I can say that Jaysh al-Mujahedin [Mujahedin Army] is certainly one of these forces, as well as the Islamic Army [in Iraq]. We are talking to some others also," al-Samarra'i said. "It is a known fact that Jaysh Muhammad [Muhammad's Army] represents the Ba'athists. We are also opening our doors to the Ba'athists to join this council because we believe that the presence of 4 million Ba'athists outside the political process is another reason for instability in Iraq." KR

A number of people, including Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abd al-Gheit, have speculated in recent days that Egyptian ambassador-designate to Iraq Ihab al-Sharif may not have been killed by insurgents there, according to international media reports. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for al-Sharif's kidnapping and killing, but no evidence of his death has been found, nor has a body been recovered. Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian mobile-telephone operator that services central Iraq, has said he has information that al-Sharif is alive, Reuters reported on 20 July, citing an interview Sawiris gave to the "Al-Jumhuriyah" newspaper. Egyptian daily "Al-Misri al-Yawm" cited unnamed sources at Orascom on 12 July as also saying that al-Sharif may be alive. Al-Zarqawi's group claimed in a 7 July statement to have killed al-Sharif (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). KR