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Newsline - August 1, 2005

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 29 July strongly condemned the U.S. ABC television network for broadcasting an interview with radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, who claimed responsibility for the September 2004 Beslan school hostage taking and several other bloody raids and for whom the Kremlin has set a $10 million reward, international media reported. In the interview broadcast on 28 July, Basaev accepted the label "terrorist," but said he will continue his activity "as long as the genocide of the Chechen nation goes on." Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said on 29 July that the U.S. Embassy's charge d'affaires was summoned and told of Russia's "profound indignation" that ABC showed the interview despite the protests of Russia's Embassy in Washington. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on 29 July that the United States "condemns in the strongest possible terms any act of terrorism" and that Basaev "was a designated terrorist threat to U.S. security and citizens in August 2003," reported. "The U.S. government has had no involvement in ABC's decision to air the interview. The U.S. government has no authority to prevent ABC from exercising its constitutional right to broadcast the interview," McCormack added. VY

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on 29 July that it will not deny ABC accreditation despite the announcement by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov earlier the same day that his ministry will boycott the network. "Today I have given the order to the head of the press service that not one serviceman of the Defense Ministry should have contact with the American television channel ABC," Ivanov told journalists in Vladivostok, RTR reported. The Basaev interview also provoked strong reactions from Russian politicians and media. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, and Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov (all Unified Russia) in separate statements harshly condemned the interview and said they will appeal to U.S. legislators to look into U.S. antiterrorism legislation concerning the media. Human rights ombudsman and former Russian U.S. Ambassador Vladimir Lukin said that some people in the United States have an "immoral policy of double standards" and "pre-Christian morals." "Komsomolskaya pravda" announced on 29 July that in retaliation, it is preparing an interview with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. VY

Investigative journalist and Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein (Unified Russia), whose inquiry initiated the Prosecutor-General's Office investigation of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 19 July 2005), has sent prosecutors a new inquiry asking them to investigate the origin of luxury real estate belonging to Security Council Secretary and former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, RBK-TV reported on 31 July. Khinshtein, who is closely linked with the Kremlin's siloviki faction, said he is interested to know where Rushailo came up with the funds for such expensive real estate on a state official's salary. Khinshtein makes no secret of the fact that he is going after the so-called Family of influential businessmen and politicians who were close to former President Boris Yeltsin's, RBK-TV commented. VY

Writing in "Vedomosti" on 1 August, jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii said that he believes in the "inevitability and necessity of a left turn" in Russian policy after the 2008 presidential election, a turn that "should reconcile freedom with justice." A new left-leaning administration should come to power in Russia and meet the "invincible desire of people for social justice," he added. And the next administration will adopt a leftist course regardless of who is president in 2008: liberal former Prime Minister Kasyanov, or a direct successor to Vladimir Putin such as Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov, he continued. Putin does not need to do too much for this to happen, he simply needs to retire in the period defined by the constitution and provide conditions for democratic elections, Khodorkovskii concluded. VY

Aleksandr Prokhanov, the publisher of the "Zavtra" weekly and an ideologue of the national-patriotic camp, said on 30 July that he considers former Prime Minister Kasyanov "the strongest presidential candidate among liberals," TV-Tsentr reported. He added that Kasyanov, "who embodied welfare, is absolutely unelectable among Russians, many of whom live below the poverty line." However, because Kasyanov is a serious candidate, during a campaign he is able to deflect very serious resources of the national-patriots and that will give the Kremlin a chance to push forward its own candidate. Following Prokhanov, Globalization Institute Director and Motherland party ideologist Mikhail Delyagin said that he worked as an adviser to Kasyanov and found him to be very competent, and the "toughest manager" he has ever known. Delyagin added that Kasyanov's real talent is in the economic sector, but that he's not as good a politician as an economist, TV-Tsentr reported. VY

Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists on 29 July while inspecting military bases in Russia's Far East that Russia does not plan to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from the breakaway Transdniester region as demanded by Moldova, RIA-Novosti and other media reported. About 50 percent of the troops there are not peacekeepers, but soldiers guarding the Russian arms depots, he said. "And our military units will not withdraw in any case, until Russian property is removed to Russia," Ivanov said. Russia agreed to remove its troops from Moldova in an agreement signed at the Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1999. VY

Speaking at the naval parade in Vladivostok devoted to the Day of the Navy, Defense Minister Ivanov said on 31 July that Russia's Pacific Fleet is a pillar of Russian might in the region, RIA-Novosti and other media reported. Ivanov also described China as Russia's "strategic partner" in the defense sector. Talking about the August Russian-Chinese military exercises, Ivanov said: "We have actively participated in joint military exercise with the U.S., leading NATO countries, India, and Japan recently. I do not see any reason why we cannot do it with China as well." Ivanov finished his inspection trip on 31 July, after visiting Kamchatka, Sakhalin Island, the Kurile Island of Iturup, and the Amur region. VY

Human rights ombudsman Lukin said in an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 29 July that he has submitted a report to Defense Minister Ivanov on the observation of human rights of draftees in the Russian Army. The report contains several proposals for reform of the army, Lukin said. In particular, he suggests raising the draft age from 18 to 20. He also suggests keeping the system of deferment for students and banning the use in combat of soldiers who have served less than 12 months. Among Lukin's other proposals is the creation of ethnic military units, raising soldiers' salaries, and restoring the institution of guardhouses, for disciplining soldiers, which was abolished by President Putin. VY

A conflict over office space in Moscow led Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to denounce Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin as a "Bolshevik" on 30 July, RIA-Novosti and TV-Tsentr reported. Federal authorities currently rent some 2.1 million square meters of space in Moscow, paying a below-market rate of no more than 600 rubles ($21) per square meter per year. At market rates, the space would be worth $200 to $600 per square meter annually. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 July that the Moscow authorities have been gradually raising the rents, prompting Kudrin, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Federal Property Management Agency Director Valerii Nazarov to sign a letter demanding that the city transfer to the federal government, without compensation, all property currently occupied by federal agencies. Luzhkov characterized the request as telling a federation subject to "go hungry" while letting the federal government's Stabilization Fund (comprised of surplus oil revenues) grow to "galactic" proportions, TV-Tsentr reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Moscow city officials are drafting an official response to the letter, but are also threatening to privatize the property in question and are preparing lawsuits demanding that rental agreements be concluded at market prices. LB

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov also announced on 30 July that he intends to sue businessman and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich in Russian and British courts, and reported, citing RIA-Novosti. Luzhkov accused Abramovich of stealing a 49 percent stake in a company jointly formed by the Moscow government and the Sibir Enerdzhi firm. The value of the stolen assets would pay for Moscow's oil supply for 40 years, Luzhkov charged. The mayor also cast doubt on the sincerity of Abramovich's pledge to build a new sports complex in Moscow, adding that the allegedly stolen assets are far more important than Abramovich's promises relating to sports facilities. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 July that the Moscow city government and the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems (EES) will soon form a Moscow Managing Energy Company to improve reliability of the electrical grid in Moscow and prevent problems such as the large blackout that disrupted the Russian capital in May. The city government and EES will be equal owners in the new company, which will manage the networks that supply electricity and heating power in Moscow. LB

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov said he will not permit a gay-rights parade in Moscow, reported on 29 July, citing Interfax. Nikolai Alekseev, the head of the project, on 28 July held a press conference to announce plans to hold a parade on 27 May 2006. The event would mark the anniversary of decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia. Luzhkov said his office has not received any official application to hold a gay-rights parade, but would deny any such request. He claimed to "stand for defending the interests of Muscovites, and residents of the capital would categorically not support such an initiative." Lesbian activist Yevgeniya Dobryanskaya vowed to challenge a ban on gay parades in court, saying Luzhkov has no legal or constitutional authority to refuse permission solely because the organizers are gay. LB

The Audit Chamber is advocating amendments to the Tax Code that would grant it access to tax records, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 July. Federation Council members supporting that aim have already submitted a corresponding bill to the State Duma, which may consider the bill as early as October. The newspaper added that the Duma considered legislation granting the Audit Chamber access to confidential tax and banking information in 2002. At that time, the Duma rejected the proposal; many Duma deputies charged that making such information available to the Audit Chamber would increase the risk of leaks that could assist those the tax and law enforcement agencies are investigating. Speaking to "Vremya novostei," lawyer Aleksandr Kazakov criticized the bill recently submitted to the Duma, on the grounds that it would grant the Audit Chamber access to tax records of all legal entities, even though the chamber only has the authority to monitor firms that receive federal budget funds or use federal property. Another lawyer, Valerii Gushcha, argued that the Audit Chamber already has options for obtaining tax information related to specific criminal investigations. LB

Health officials in Novosibirsk Oblast have imposed a quarantine in four raions where large numbers of chickens have died of bird flu, reported on 30 July, citing ITAR-TASS. According to Valerii Mikheev, the oblast's chief health inspector, transporting birds or feed out of those raions is prohibited. He said authorities are taking steps to prevent chickens from coming into contact with other birds being raised for food, such as ducks and geese. So far no human cases of bird flu have been recorded, Mikheev added. Russia's chief health inspector, Gennadii Onishchenko, recently announced that the cases of bird flu uncovered in Novosibirsk Oblast were "totally under control" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). LB

Armenian President Robert Kocharian instructed senior officials of the State Tax Service on 29 July to do more to tackle corporate tax evasion, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a meeting with Armenian tax authorities, Kocharian criticized the current effort as unsatisfactory and argued that "our main enemies are favoritism and clan-style practices." He added that the continued evasion of corporate taxes was due to "government corruption and favoritism," and cited the construction sector in particular, which paid only 13 percent more in taxes despite a record expansion of over 40 percent in the first half of the year. State Tax Service Director Feliks Tsolakian explained that corruption and a pattern of conflicts of interest among his employees are a major problem and added that to date, roughly 200 tax officials have been found to be "directly or indirectly involved in business." Revenue from tax collection and customs duties account for a large portion of overall budget expenditures and are projected to increase by another 25 percent to 394.6 billion drams ($885 million) for 2005. Although the overall level of tax revenue for the first half of 2005 grew by some 24 percent, a study conducted by the presidential Oversight Service confirmed that a significant portion of economic activity in Armenia remains untaxed. RG

Armenian Deputy Prosecutor-General Mnatsakan Sarkisian announced on 29 July that statistics show that serious crime in the country declined by 18 percent for the first half of 2005, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. According to Sarkisian's report, there were 4,389 serious offenses, 24 of which were murders, down from the 30 for the same period last year. The decline in the national crime rate follows a 9 percent decrease the year before. The statistics further revealed that the crime rate decreased in the capital Yerevan, with only a slight increase in deadly car crashes, robberies, bribery, and counterfeiting nationwide. RG

In a statement released in Yerevan on 29 July, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian noted that the statistical fall in the crime rate for the first six months of 2005 stems from greater oversight of law enforcement, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement added that prosecutors have actively focused on "ensuring respect of due process during pretrial investigations" and more closely supervised the work of police investigators. Hovsepian's assessment is a significant shift from his sharp criticism of Armenian police in February for "lacking the professionalism, education, and experience to solve crimes" and for overall incompetence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005). At that time, Hovsepian rejected crime statistics for being routinely underreported by his subordinates and threatened to fire prosecutors found to be illegally engaged in business interests, although Hovsepian is himself tied to a wide range of enterprises. RG

Over a thousand Azerbaijani opposition supporters staged a series of rallies on 30 July in several cities demanding free elections, Turan and AFP reported. In addition to a rally of over 500 participants in Baku, another group of roughly 150 demonstrators rallied in the country's second-largest city, Ganja, marking the first opposition rally in the city in seven years, ANS TV reported. Another 2,000 demonstrators staged a similar rally in the southeastern town of Saatly. Opposition leaders criticized police for restricting access to the rallies, and asserted that several protesters were arrested but later released after attempting to hold unsanctioned rallies in two other towns. The rallies, organized by the opposition Azadlyg (Liberty) bloc, reflect a new strategy to expand antigovernment demonstrations to regions beyond the capital Baku in preparation for the November parliamentary elections. The Azadlyg bloc convened a much larger demonstration in Baku on 10 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2005). The bloc consists of three main opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, and the Musavat (Equality) party, and has vowed to put forward 125 candidates in the 6 November election. RG

After a second delay, Russian military forces initiated their withdrawal from their two remaining bases in Georgia on 30 July, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Colonel General Vladimir Kuparadze, the deputy commander of Russian forces in the Transcaucasus, confirmed on 30 July that a military convoy had departed the Russian base in Batumi as part of the broader effort to withdraw Russian military equipment and personnel from Georgia. Kuparadze explained that the pullout was delayed twice due to "technical reasons" related to problems over the issuing of Georgian visas to some Russian drivers to allow them to reenter the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005). According to a May agreement, Russia must carry out a full withdrawal from its two remaining bases in Georgia by late 2007 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 June 2005). RG

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on 30 July to approve a six-month extension of the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) through the end of 2006, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. In a statement accompanying the vote in New York, the Security Council urged the parties to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict to participate in constructive negotiations aimed at a political settlement and to spare no effort to overcome the remaining mutual distrust. The Security Council also expressed appreciation for the role of the CIS collective peacekeeping force. The UN mission, deployed along the border area separating Abkhaz and Georgian forces, has been plagued by a series of unsolved kidnappings, with UNOMIG members taken hostage at least five times since 1997, and was forced to suspend joint patrols with Russian peacekeepers in the Kodori Gorge in 2002 after a standoff between Abkhaz and Georgian forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002 and 15 February 2005). RG

Two shipping containers found to be carrying several smuggled automobiles was seized on 29 July by Georgian Interior Ministry officers at the Black Sea port of Poti, Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 TV reported. The containers, incorrectly labeled in a customs declaration as a shipment of humanitarian aid, originated in the United States and were imported by unnamed Georgian and Azerbaijani companies. A team of experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation participated in the seizure. The incident follows a similar incident two weeks earlier when Georgian customs inspectors uncovered eight vehicles being smuggled into Poti in four shipping containers. RG

Bird flu has killed 600 geese on a poultry farm in Kazakhstan's Pavlodar Oblast, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 31 July. A source in the Emergency Situations Ministry told the news agency: "All the poultry that had contacted the infected fowl have been burned and disinfection measures have been taken at the poultry farm. The pathological material was sent to the national veterinary center of Kazakhstan in Astana for a final diagnosis." DK

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Dmitrii Medvedev, the head of the Russian presidential administration, in Astana on 29 July, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev said that the dynamic nature of Kazakh-Russian relations necessitates close ties between the two countries' presidential administrations. Medvedev stressed that Nazarbaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin have already met seven times in 2005. Noting that his last trip to the Kazakh capital took place four years ago, Medvedev said that the city's impressive growth demonstrates the correctness of Nazarbaev's economic policies, Khabar reported. DK

A group of 439 Uzbek refugees arrived in Romania on 29 July from Kyrgyzstan, Reuters and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. One refugee expressed a desire to return to Uzbekistan and refused to leave Kyrgyzstan; he is still in Bishkek, RFE/RL reported. Acting Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov told journalists in Almaty, where he was meeting with the local governor, that Kyrgyzstan has fulfilled its obligations to the UN in carrying out the evacuation, Interfax reported. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Kyrgyz President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev to thank the Kyrgyz authorities for allowing the refugees to leave for a third country, RIA-Novosti reported. The refugees' stay in Romania will be temporary, lasting up to six months. Various reports listed Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States as possible final destinations for the refugees, who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May. DK

Fifteen Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers remained in detention in Osh, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 29 July. Talks involving UN officials, the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz officials failed to convince the latter to release the 15, who had been detained on the basis of materials received from Uzbek authorities charging them with crimes in Uzbekistan, including the murder of a prosecutor in Andijon. After the unsuccessful talks, U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young was quoted as saying, "Let this be on the conscience of [Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek] Beknazarov," RFE/RL reported. Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in an interview that U.S. officials had pressured him to make a "political decision," while he had chosen to make a legal one. Four of the 15 Uzbeks in detention in Osh have not been granted refugee status. Cholpol Jakupova, the director of the Kyrgyz NGO Adilet, told Interfax on 30 July, "Our lawyers have been unable to obtain explanations from the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry Migration Service regarding their refusal to grant refugee status to four Uzbek citizens who have been kept at the Osh detention center since early June." Meanwhile, acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva said on 29 July that Kyrgyzstan is unlikely to extradite the 15 remaining Uzbeks, RFE/RL reported. DK

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Madumarov told a press conference on 29 July in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he was on an official visit, that Kyrgyzstan does not intend to host a Chinese military base, Kabar reported. "Kazakhstan Today" quoted Madumarov as saying: "The question of deploying a Chinese military base on Kyrgyz territory was raised at a very high level, but Bishkek's position is unambiguous -- we are not prepared to turn the country into a military and political staging ground. We have enough strength and means to defend Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty." DK

France will station two C-135FR tankers and 50 soldiers at the U.S. air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, to ensure security during Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, AFP reported on 29 July. Eric Millet, France's charge d'affaires in Kyrgyzstan, said that the planes will be deployed to Manas from 1 August to 6 November. DK

Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry informed the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent on 29 July that the United States has 180 days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan, "The Washington Post" and AP reported on 30 July, citing U.S. State Department and Pentagon sources. U.S.-Uzbek relations deteriorated after U.S. officials have called for an independent, international investigation into allegations that Uzbek forces fired on demonstrators in Andijon on 13 May. A senior U.S. official told "The Washington Post": "We all knew basically that if we really wanted to keep access to the base, the way to do it was to shut up about democracy and turn a blind eye to the refugees [in Kyrgyzstan]. We could have saved the base if we had wanted." The only official comment came from State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck, who told AP on 30 July, "This is a bilateral agreement between two sovereign nations, and under that agreement either side has the option to terminate that agreement." DK

A trip to Uzbekistan by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has been cancelled in the wake of the Uzbek decision to close the U.S. air base there, "The New York Times" reported on 30 July. Burns told the newspaper: "When we got notice of the Uzbek action Friday [29 July] morning, we decided it would be inappropriate for me to go at this time. We were going to have a conversation about human rights, Andijon, and the fact that the Uzbek government's failure to reform has put it in international isolation." Addressing the issue of the Uzbek refugees recently airlifted out of Kyrgyzstan, Burns said, "We have energetically supported the efforts to bring them to safety in Romania because we feared they would be persecuted if they were sent back to Uzbekistan." He added, "We are not willing to overlook these very important human right concerns." DK

Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Taalai Kydyrov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 30 July that Uzbek authorities have released Kyrgyz journalist Erkin Yakubjanov. Uzbek guards detained Yakubjanov on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on 18 July while he was preparing a report on refugees who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 13 May. The guards charged that he was not accredited to work in Uzbekistan. Bektur Adanov, a representative of Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry in Osh Province, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Yakubjanov was held by Uzbekistan's National Security Service in Andijon Province for the duration of his detention. DK

Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld has sent a letter to British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, EU High Commissioner for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, asking them to express an official stance in the ongoing Warsaw-Minsk conflict over the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), PAP reported on 29 July. The Belarusian authorities do not recognize the SPB leadership elected at a congress in March and have forced some SPB members to hold a new congress this month. The conflict over the SPB has led to a series of reciprocal diplomatic expulsions and Warsaw's recalling of its ambassador from Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005). In his letter, Rotfeld accused Minsk of violating national minority rights, appealed to the EU to back attempts to create an independent Belarusian radio station, and called for a discussion of the situation in Belarus at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in September. Meanwhile, Polish parliament speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said on 29 July that he does not rule out the possibility of Belarus's ambassador to Poland being declared persona non grata. JM

Serhiy Leshchenko, a journalist for the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (, wrote on 29 July that President Viktor Yushchenko telephoned him and that they had reconciled. "[Yushchenko] assured me that his answer to my question on Monday [25 July] was 'emotional' and that he has 'learned a lesson from that,'" Leshchenko wrote, adding that he harbors no grievance against the president. Leshchenko authored a series of publications about the allegedly lavish lifestyle of Yushchenko's son, Andriy, who reportedly drives a new BMW, uses a luxury mobile phone, employs personal bodyguards, and visits expensive restaurants. Answering to Leshchenko's question on 25 July about sources of his son's income, Yushchenko called on the journalist to "act like a polite journalist and not like a hit man." More than 700 Ukrainian journalists have signed an Internet appeal demanding an apology from the president. JM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, several government ministers, and the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church lodged formal protests on 31 July against the recent jailing in Macedonia of Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan to serve a two and one-half year sentence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). Serbian Minister for Capital Investments Velimir Ilic sent a letter to Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski asking him to amnesty Jovan. Elsewhere, Ilic suggested that Serbia might levy economic sanctions against Macedonia over the affair, adding that the Macedonian Mat airlines might be asked to pay its outstanding debts to Serbia. Jovan, who became a central figure in the long-standing dispute between the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) and the Serbian Orthodox Church 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

Ljupco Jordanovski, who is the speaker of Macedonia's Parliament, told the Belgrade newspaper "Politika" of 31 July that relations between Skopje and Belgrade are good enough that other states might envy them, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He suggested that time will probably settle the church issue and called on the SPC to note that every state in the Orthodox world has its own autocephalous church. Jordanovski stressed that the decision to jail Jovan is a matter strictly for the courts, arguing that all citizens are equal before the law regardless of their confession or profession. On 30 July, the Macedonian authorities decided not to mark, as they usually do, the anniversary of Macedonia's declaration of statehood on 2 August 1944 by visiting the monastery of Prohor Pcinjski, where the declaration was made and which is on the Serbian side of the border (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 August 2004). The authorities noted that they have not yet received permission from the Serbian authorities to send a delegation there. In Belgrade, unnamed Serbian officials said that the SPC must decide whether or not to admit delegations to the monastery. PM

Representatives of the SPC consecrated a prefabricated metal church on Mt. Rumija near Bar on 31 July, one day before the deadline that the Montenegrin Environment Ministry had given the SPC to remove the structure, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A helicopter of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro brought the church to the mountain on 21 July without the permission from Montenegrin authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). Most Montenegrins belong to the SPC regardless of their political beliefs, but there is also a small Montenegrin Orthodox Church closely allied to the much larger pro-independence movement. After the church was dedicated on Mt. Rumija, a spokesman for the pro-Belgrade Serbian People's Party (SNS) called for the reconstruction of a former chapel on Mt. Lovcen in place of the mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic Njegos, the Montenegrin national hero and writer. Montenegrin Albanian political leader Mehmet Bardhi said in Podgorica that the dedication of the church on Mt. Rumija is "the biggest provocation against the Albanians in the past 50 years," adding that the move "is preparing the ground for further ones" that he did not specify. Several pro-independence Montenegrin political leaders said that the SPC was misusing religion for political ends by erecting the church. PM

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 30 July that he cannot apologize for the "individual excesses or incidents" committed by Croatian forces 10 years ago during Operation Storm to end the Serbian rebellion in the Dalmatian hinterland, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Mesic argued that one cannot put the operation on the same level as the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, during which Serbian forces deliberately and systematically killed up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males as part of their policy of "ethnic cleansing," (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 and 15 July 2005). Mesic was responding to a call by Serbian President Boris Tadic for Mesic to apologize for the operation as Tadic recently apologized for Srebrenica. On 31 July, Tadic repeated his appeal to Mesic, arguing that Operation Storm amounted to an "organized war crime" because 250,000 Serbs fled their homes and a further 2,500 were killed. The Croats maintain that most of those who fled did so at the behest of their own leaders before Croatian forces arrived. Mesic previously told "Newsline" that "there was an aggressor and there were victims" in the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, meaning that the bulk of the blame is clearly on the Serbian side. PM

On 28 July, Kosovar and international police arrested 30 activists in Vushtrri from the pro-independence group called Self-determination (Vetevendosja), which is led by former student leader and political prisoner Albin Kurti and seeks immediate independence for Kosova without negotiations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 July 2005). This brings the number of Self-determination members arrested since June to well over 100. PM

The Moldovan government on 30 July lifted trade sanctions against Transdniestrian companies, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. A year ago, after the breakaway authorities in Tiraspol closed two Moldovan-language schools, Chisinau stopped issuing export and import certificates to Transdniester-based businesses, reportedly causing losses of some $65 million for the separatist region. One week ago the Moldovan Parliament passed a law on a special status for Transdniester that offers autonomy for the region in exchange for the ceasing of separatist tendencies and demilitarization. Under the law, Transdniester would have its own legislative body and three official languages -- Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan. JM

On 29 July, Uzbek President Islam Karimov informed the United States that it has 180 days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base it has used to support operations in Afghanistan since late 2001. Initial reactions linked the move to worsening U.S.-Uzbek relations in the wake of the reported massacre in Andijon and increasing coziness between Tashkent, Peking, and Moscow. These are relevant, but secondary factors. The primary driving force behind Karimov's initiative is his belief that the United States has gone from a useful strategic partner to a meddlesome plotter that threatens his hold on power.

A deep chill has taken hold of U.S.-Uzbek relations since the violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, when Uzbek police are reported to have fired on unarmed demonstrators in the wake of an attack on government facilities by armed militants. The United States joined European nations in expressing deep concern at the massacre allegations and calling for an independent international investigation, a call Karimov and his government have angrily refused.

More recently, the United States played a prominent role in the evacuation of 439 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan, where they fled after the violence in Andijon. On 29 July, the refugees were airlifted to Romania in preparation for transfer to final destinations variously reported as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. Fifteen refugees remain in detention in southern Kyrgyzstan at the request of Uzbek authorities, who want them returned to Uzbekistan for alleged crimes, including the murder of a prosecutor in Andijon. A U.S. State Department official told "The New York Times" on 30 July that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the phone with Kyrgyz President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev on 28 and 29 July to thank him for arranging flights out for the refugees. As for the remaining 15 Uzbeks, the official said, "Our position is that they all have to come out."

The first reports on the Uzbek decision on the U.S. base at Karshi-Khanabad seized on this context. The Associated Press noted, "Uzbekistan's ties with Washington have deteriorated after the Bush administration joined other Western nations in urging an international investigation" into the Andijon events. The "Financial Times" wrote that "relations with the U.S. have become strained after the Uzbek government suppressed a rebellion" in Andijon. "The New York Times" specifically linked the eviction to the refugee crisis, leading its story, "Uzbekistan formally ordered the United States to leave an air base that has been a hub for operations in Afghanistan in protest over a predawn United Nations operation on [29 July] to spirit out refugees who had fled an uprising in Uzbekistan in May, senior State Department officials said [on 30 July]." And "The Christian Science Monitor" wrote, "Yet when the Bush administration called for an international inquiry into the deaths of at least 173 political dissidents in May, the relationship soured."

But while calls for an international inquiry and the operation to evacuate the refugees from Kyrgyzstan undoubtedly angered the Karimov government, they are not the root cause of the U.S.-Uzbek rift. The real reason lies in the official Uzbek interpretation of what occurred in Andijon. Western journalists present in Andijon on 13 May and interviews with survivors conducted in the immediate aftermath by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group have depicted an armed uprising and prison break followed by a sizeable demonstration in the city center that Uzbek security services used lethal force to disperse, killing hundreds. The official Uzbek view is entirely different -- an Islamist coup attempt supported by foreign sponsors in line with "regime change" experiments in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan with the ultimate aim of establishing outside control over Uzbekistan.

An overview of the government-controlled Uzbek press compiled by Arena ( on 25 July provides some insight into the official view. A 14 June article in the flagship state-run newspaper "Narodnoe slovo" stated, "Certain countries of the West, which would like to see the Central Asian countries fall into line with their expansionist policy, are using any and all means to export to this region forms and principles of democracy acceptable to them." Another article in the same newspaper the same day went further, claiming, "There is no doubt that the West is using the drama in Andijon in its great, dirty game to 'advance democracy,' in fact, to seize new staging grounds in the post-Soviet space, to surround the potential rivals of Russia and China, which Western propaganda is ceaselessly portraying as 'bad guys.'"

A 16 June article in "Narodnoe slovo" stated that the people who died in Andijon were deceived by their "'leaders' and those who carried out the orders of their foreign patrons and sponsors. All of us have witnessed the consequences of the so-called colored revolutions taking place before our eyes in post-Soviet space. We see that they don't bring anything good. What positive changes have there been in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan?" An article in "Pravda vostoka" on 24 June argued: "Under the pretext of concern for human rights, there are unceasing attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the independent state of Uzbekistan. Especially active in this respect is the United States, which uses the cover of the United Nations and the creation of an international commission to destabilize the situation. The lives and rights of ordinary Uzbek citizens should not become small change in the grand geopolitics of the United States."

The Uzbek official press also insisted that the United States advanced its purported evil designs through NGOs. The editor in chief of the newspaper "O'zbekiston ovozi" explained in an interview on Uzbek TV on 17 July that the "Soros Foundation may seem very fair and protective of democracy and human rights on paper but, in reality, what they are involved in is evil things, coups, destruction in countries where they operate, and so on."

Television conveyed the message more strongly than print media. A 16 July documentary on state-run Uzbek television boldly claimed: "There are those who have a keen geopolitical interest in the region. Attempts by some major powers to make Central Asia dependent on them are aimed first of all at bringing Uzbekistan under their control. A show aimed at overthrowing the strongest legitimate constitutional system in Central Asia began under the orchestration of outside forces in the middle of May 2005." Against this backdrop, the Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan were simply described as escaped extremists. A 27 July documentary described them as follows: "The aggressors -- who committed grave crimes in Andijon and escaped their due punishment -- settled in the neighboring Jalal-Abad Province's Suzak District."

This view is not unique to Uzbekistan. Russian observers in particular have reveled in sordid tales of U.S.-sponsored NGOs spinning plots across the former Soviet Union. One of the baldest statements of this conspiracy theory -- shorn of the NGOs and presented purely as a military intervention by proxy -- came in a 29 July comment to MiK from Igor Panarin, identified as a professor at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy. "Andijon was a purely American operation," Panarin said. "According to some information, [the Americans] and the British even transported militants from Afghanistan through their military bases in Uzbekistan when they conducted this operation."

None of this should be construed as having anything to do with what actually happened in Andijon on 12-13 May. But as an indication of what Karimov and his confidants believe took place, it does more to explain the decision to evict the U.S. air base than mere ire at the demand for an international inquiry. For if they feel that the United States and its efforts to advance democracy are a threat to their power, as the statements from government-controlled newspapers and television indicate, their decision was driven by the most powerful of all instincts -- that of self-preservation.

This instinct will likely continue to drive Uzbekistan's foreign-policy decisions, as Karimov and his inner circle seek to minimize perceived threats to their rule by closing off possible channels of malign Western influence. A similar impulse has governed the tightening of Uzbekistan's ties with Russia, the embodiment and self-appointed defender of the post-Soviet status quo, and China, a strong supporter of the status quo in Central Asia. Yet the geopolitical significance of this emerging alliance may not live up to its advance billing. For while its short-term prospects are as good as those of any convergence of convenience, its long-term prospects depend on the durability of a post-Soviet status quo that recent crises have shown to be hardly more stable than the late-Soviet stasis that preceded it.

Sergei Ivanov told journalists in the Russian far eastern city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on 28 July that "most [of] Afghan territory is not controlled by anybody but the Taliban," Interfax reported. Ivanov was speaking about Afghanistan as the only "excuse" for the presence of U.S. military forces in Central Asia. Ivanov said the situation in Afghanistan is very "contradictory" because while the Taliban roam free in most of Afghanistan there are "no active military" operations taking place. Discussing the duration of the U.S. presence in Central Asia, Ivanov said that "it would be good to define for how many years the war in Afghanistan is going to last: 23, 30, or 250 years." Ivanov also claimed that "other countries are actively interfering" in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, though he did not say which countries. Ivanov also said there is a lack of action against the drug trade in Afghanistan. "Nobody is lifting a finger to address drug production in Afghanistan," he added. At their July meeting, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization called on the United States and its allies to withdraw their troops from Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 July 2005). Uzbekistan recently asked the United States to leave a military base it is using in that country (see today's "Newsline," Part 1). AT

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi told a news conference in Kabul on 31 July that Ivanov's remarks about the Taliban controlling most of Afghanistan and on the narcotics problem in the country were "irresponsible" and were "political adventurism," Afghan Voice Agency reported. Afghanistan hopes that the "remarks of Ivanov only represent his personal view and not Moscow's official stance," Azimi added, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 31 July. The war of words between Kabul and Moscow has gone on for some time and usually has involved Ivanov, but has reached new heights since May when Russian officials began pointing to Afghanistan as the origin of the demonstrations in Andijon that were violently suppressed by government forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 May 2005). AT

A commentary posted on the website of the official Bakhtar News Agency on 31 July in response to Ivanov's remarks writes that the "Russians should have gained good experience from their defeat in Afghanistan," and stop interfering in the affairs of Afghanistan by making "irresponsible" speeches ( According to Bakhtar, Ivanov's comments that the neo-Taliban have established their control on the majority of the provinces in Afghanistan "recalls" the "realities" which existed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89) when Moscow's "puppet regime" governed only in Kabul only. In the same manner that the "dreams" of the former Soviet Union to conquer all of Afghanistan did not come true, Moscow's recent propaganda on instability in Afghanistan and the existence of the Taliban in several provinces will also prove untrue, Bakhtar concludes. AT

According to Afghan Defense Minister spokesman Azimi, Afghan National Army (ANA) and U.S.-led coalition forces killed 26 neo-Taliban militiamen and arrested 49 during a joint operation in the southern provinces of Oruzgan, Helmand, and Zabul in the past few days, Bakhtar reported on 31 July. Azimi added that during these operations the ANA suffered three injuries. AT

Abdul Jabbar, the district chief of Chahar Chino in Oruzgan, and three of his bodyguards were killed when their vehicle was blown up by a remote-control explosive device on 30 July, Pajhwak reported the next day. Neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi told Pajhwak that the militia carried out the attack. AT

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani informed Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in a 31 July letter about some of the proposals European states may make to reach an accord with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, agencies reported the same day. Rohani wrote that "comments and evidence" suggest that the EU may give its "full support to a program of nuclear-energy production in Iran, including supplying power stations from Western sources," IRNA reported. Iran has said it wants to make its own fuel, but Western powers want it to stop all related activities so it could never use them to make bombs. A European deal may include assurances of nonaggression and respect for Iran's territorial integrity, facilitating the transfer of advanced technologies, technological cooperation, and a more swiftly concluded trade deal with the EU, IRNA reported. The foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, and Germany -- the three states negotiating with Iran -- and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana have written to Rohani, asking Iran to wait one week to hear the details of a proposed deal, AP reported on 31 July. VS

Iranian officials have said Iran will not wait a week to hear EU proposals, and may renew halted activities at a plant in Isfahan, central Iran, though not sensitive uranium enrichment at another plant, agencies reported on 31 July. Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said on 31 July that the council would meet that day to discuss reactivating the Isfahan plant, and will consider EU proposals if received by 12:30 GMT that day, AP reported. The Isfahan plant transforms uranium ore into a gas fed into centrifuges that enrich uranium. Foreign Office spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said separately in Tehran on 31 July that Iran's deadline to the EU would end on 1 August, IRNA reported on 31 July. He said EU proposals seemed in any case "without content," as they will likely not state that Iran can legally make fuel. Iran, he said, will inform UN nuclear inspectors in Tehran "today or tomorrow" about the renewal of activities in Isfahan, AP and IRNA reported. Separately, Great Britain, on behalf of the EU, warned Iran on 31 July not to take any steps that would jeopardize talks, AP reported, citing a Foreign Office statement. VS

Masumeh Shafii told Radio Farda on 30 July that her husband, dissident Akbar Ganji, is still on a hunger strike and currently weighs 50 kilograms. Ganji, who is technically a prisoner, is currently in hospital in Tehran. He told his wife there on 30 July that neither he nor his attorneys have asked, nor will they ask, for a pardon or a conditional release, Shafii told Radio Farda. It is Iran's government, he told her, which should ask to be pardoned for jailing him "illegally" for 2,015 days, she said. Ganji was jailed for writing articles alleging involvement by state officials in the murder of dissidents in the 1990s. The judiciary says he could be eligible for a conditional release, if he asks for it, for having almost served out his sentence. Shafii also told Radio Farda on 31 July that she will protest and call for his release on 3 August outside the United Nations office in Tehran. On 30 July, a reportedly "very large" but imprecise number of sympathizers gathered outside Ganji's house, Mohammad Maleki, a participant, told Radio Farda on 31 July. They reportedly included liberal politicians and writers. VS

Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested in Tehran on 30 July and taken to an unknown place, apparently for divulging the contents of a nuclear espionage case, Radio Farda and ISNA reported on 31 July. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad said on 31 July that Soltani discussed the case with the families of defendants. "I do not know why they behave this way. They have so much professional experience," he said. The Information Ministry, he added, has a full dossier on Soltani. But lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda that Soltani should first have been summoned to court to hear charges. Dadkhah added that the judiciary spokesman has spoken about the charges as if Soltani were already convicted. Radio Farda reported on 31 July that men presenting themselves as judiciary agents searched Soltani's house "five days before" his arrest, and took away unspecified papers and documents. Soltani told Radio Farda on 23 July that he believed the Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi was taking measures that would lead to his "arrest and torture." Iranian officials reported the arrest of a dozen "nuclear spies" in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). VS

The National Assembly committee responsible for drafting the constitution must inform the parliament on 1 August whether it will need an additional six months to draft the document, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 31 July. Government officials have contended that an extension will not be necessary. Prime Ministry spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters in Baghdad on 31 July: "Everything I have heard from the participants [on the drafting committee] confirms that the draft constitution will be ready according to the proposed time schedule." President Jalal Talabani met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on 31 July, telling reporters afterward that a conference will be organized for political leaders both inside and outside the government to discuss issues obstructing the completion of the draft. RFI reported on 1 August that the conference will be held on 5 August in Baghdad. Talabani contended that the draft will be completed by 15 August. Sunni drafting committee member Salih al-Mutlaq also claimed an extension will not be needed, the reported on 1 August. "Frankly, if we took six more months, it wouldn't make much [of] a difference. What we need is a better attitude from all the leaders to bring this agreement together," he said. KR

The Iraqi Independent Election Commission has announced in an undated statement posted to its website ( that voter registration will take place throughout the month of August in preparation for an anticipated October referendum on the constitution. The statement noted that the "voter registration update" is a "continuation of the registration process that took place in November and is not a new registration exercise, but rather a prolongation of that process." The registration will begin in early August (specific date not given) and end on 31 August, and voter registration centers will be open Saturday through Thursday. The website also carries a sample of the voter registration form. KR

Bayan Jabr announced on 30 July that his ministry has concluded preparations to protect citizens and polling stations during the August referendum, Al-Arabiyah television reported on the same day. The announcement came during a graduation ceremony for the police commandos' Order Keeping Force. The force includes more than 1,200 commandos who will be dispersed to Baghdad in early August to maintain security. "As I recall, we had a limited number of forces during the previous elections. Today our forces, which will take part in protecting voters, have increased more than fifteen-fold," Jabr said at the ceremony. "We will work hand in hand and we will strike with an iron fist those...that entered Iraq to harm it," he added. Al-Jazeera reported on 31 July that the Order Keeping Force has received special training from U.S. forces, including live ammunition training, unarmed combat exercises, and breaking into buildings. KR

Gunmen reportedly kidnapped a senior Health Ministry official in Baghdad on 30 July, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 30 July. Iman Naji Abd al-Razzaq was kidnapped in front of her house in the upscale Al-Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad. A source at the Interior Ministry confirmed the kidnapping. KR

Gunmen attacked a convoy belonging to Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi's political party, the Iraqi National Congress, on 31 July, RFI reported. Chalabi was not in the convoy when it was attacked in Mahawil en route to Karbala, INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar said. Three INC guards were reportedly injured when one of the ambushed vehicles rolled over. Another guard was killed in an ensuing gunfight that broke out with the attackers. The convoy was transporting a delegation of Indian officials at the time of the attack. The Imam Al-Husayn Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack in a 31 July Internet statement ( Iraqi National Dialogue Council Secretary-General Khalaf al-Ulayyan escaped an assassination attempt on 30 July, RFI reported. Al-Ulayyan's vehicle was attacked by insurgents dressed in police uniforms between Al-Dawrah and Baghdad International Airport in southern Baghdad. His son sustained a gunshot wound to the head, but al-Ulayyan escaped unharmed. The attack comes two weeks after the assassination of two council members affiliated with the constitution drafting committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005). KR

Adnan al-Dulaymi, the head of the Sunni Al-Waqf Office (Sunni endowments), has been dismissed from his position and replaced by Sheikh Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i, Al-Jazeera television reported on 29 July, citing the office's spokesman. Al-Dulaymi told the news channel: "I have the rank [comparable to that of a] deputy minister and I was relieved by the prime minister [Ibrahim al-Ja'fari]. He did not actually relieve me of my post as no statement was issued in this regard, but they appointed a new head of the [Waqf office]. This means that I will either be appointed to another post or pensioned off." Al-Dulaymi contended that he was dismissed from his post because he "defended the Sunnis and called for unity against the fierce onslaught against them." Asked if he will continue to encourage Sunnis to participate in the political process, al-Dulaymi said: "I, together with those who agree with me, will exert our utmost peaceful efforts to secure the participation of the Sunnis in the political process." KR