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Newsline - August 4, 2005

Colonel General Vladimir Moltenskoi, the deputy commander of the Russian ground forces, said a combined 10,000 servicemen will participate in the joint Russian-Chinese exercises slated to begin on 18 August, dubbed Peaceful Mission, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 August. The premise of the maneuvers, on the Shandun Peninsula, will be a call for international assistance from a fictitious state that is experiencing ethnic conflict, Moltenskoi said. Ships and submarines from Russia's Pacific Fleet will be joined by long-distance bombers and the Pskov Airborne Division. A military expert from the Moscow Carnegie Endowment, Vladimir Yevseev, pointed out to that "one does not need submarines and long-distance strategic bombers" for counterterrorism and peacekeeping operations. VY

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to a recent Internet poll reportedly believe this month's joint military exercises with China are directed against the United States rather than furthering counterterrorism, the website reported. Just 7 percent of 2,169 respondents said they think the maneuvers are aimed at furthering counterterrorism, as officials have announced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April and 1 and 29 July 2005), while more than one in four people responded that the exercises are intended to train for threats from extraterrestrials. VY

Russian veterinary officials on 3 August announced that a ban would be imposed from 4 August on all poultry products from Kazakhstan to prevent the possible spread of bird flu, ITAR-TASS reported. About 800 geese and ducks infected with the virus died recently in a region of Kazakhstan bordering Novosibirsk, the first region in Russian to experience its own outbreak of bird flu. Meanwhile, some regions of Russia have announced their own bans on poultry products from other regions of Russia. For example, Kemerovo Oblast has stopped importing chicken products from other regions. In Tyumen Oblast, where more than 200 cases of bird flu have been reported among domestic birds, local hospitals are preparing for the worst, and reported. The infectious-diseases sections of the oblast's hospitals are preparing special chambers for possible cases. JAC

President Vladimir Putin told a group of nongovernmental leaders and Kremlin consultative council members convened in the Kremlin on 3 August that the time has come to select members for the Public Chamber, which is supposed to serve as a sounding board on draft legislation, RTR, Channel One, and NTV reported. Putin said prospective members should be non-politicians and "distinguished people who have made contributions to the state and society." The Public Chamber, whose creation was legislated earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004 and 5, 11, and 25 April 2005), should provide public feedback for the government after its launch in November. Thirty-eight members will be appointed by the president, another 38 selected by professional unions and civic groups, and the final 38 will be chosen by those initial 76 members. Putin characterized the project as having "elements of direct democracy that were [present] in ancient Rus, in Novgorod," RTR reported. Critics have drawn parallels with more recent institutions, including a body that existed in Italy under Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime. VY

Two of the best-known human rights organizations in Russia, the Moscow Helsinki Group and Memorial, have announced that they will not participate in the inchoate Public Chamber, Russian news agencies reported on 3 August. Ludmila Alekseeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group told Interfax that while her group is not going to join, she thinks that leaders of social organizations will be able to put the Public Chamber to good use through access to senior-level officials. "We will not hold in contempt other groups that become members," she commented. JAC

Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill said after the Kremlin meeting on 3 August that Russian democracy should be based on local traditions, adding that such traditions differ from their Western cousins, reported. "In contrast to the West, our democracy means not the division [of power] and competition [among ideas] but rather their unification and concord," said Kirill, who heads external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate and participated in the Kremlin meeting. VY

Former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii told "Vedomosti" of 4 August that he does not expect to serve out his nine-year prison term because he believes a court will overturn his convictions for fraud and tax evasion. "I am confident that in three to four years the Supreme Court will not only temper [my sentence] but will nullify it," Khodorkovskii said. He said the Kremlin already has "neither sufficient power nor resources" to take on another major Russian company the way it did Yukos, according to "Vedomosti." He claimed that the Putin administration has offered a sort of "non-aggression" pact to the business community, suggesting that there trust has been lost between business and government until a new administration comes to power. "No pacts will help until there is a change of power," Khodorkovskii said. VY

National Bolshevik Party (NBP) leader Eduard Limonov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1 August that a Moscow court's reasoning for its ban of his party lay in the NBP's failure to submit a report on its activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). He went on to suggest that the court was seeking to avoid accusations of political persecution. "The newspapers write every day about NBP activities, the party has 49 political prisoners, every directorate of the Federal Security Service is watching us closely," Limonov said. "What further reporting do they need?" He accused Putin's administration of having eliminated genuine elections and the Russian political process as a whole, adding that such a tenure should be dismantled as soon as possible to mitigate the perceived "humiliation" and damage to the Russian people. VY

Moscow Vice Mayor Valerii Shantsev confirmed on 3 August that the presidential administration has proffered his name as one of the candidates for the position of governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Russian news agencies reported. The other candidate is LUKoil Vice President Vadim Borobev, who is considered a less likely choice than Shantsev. Neither Shantsev nor Vorobev is from Nizhnii Novgorod, according to "Vremya novostei." According to the daily, the siloviki within the Kremlin earlier supported incumbent Governor Gennadii Khodyrev but now support Shantsev, while presidential envoy for the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko suggested Vorobev. The term for the current Governor Gennadii Khodyrev will expire on 8 August, and by law the presidential administration should have presented the list of candidates in early July. However, the majority of the oblast legislature said that they would rather be dismissed from their posts than confirm Khodyrev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). JAC

"Vremya novostei" suggested on 3 August that Shantsev's appointment would serve as a serious warning from the Kremlin to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, since Shantsev was considered the most likely successor to Luzhkov, whose term will expire in 2007. An unidentified source in the Moscow city government told "Kommersant-Daily" that Shantsev's departure from the government will mark the end of the Luzhkov era. "It will mean that the Kremlin has chosen [presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii] Poltavchenko [to replace Luzhkov]." Another source in the Moscow branch of Unified Russia commented, "If a Muscovite can lead Nizhnii Novgorod, then why can't a person from St. Petersburg rule Moscow?" Poltavchenko is from St. Petersburg. JAC

Unified Russia Deputy Aleksandr Lebedev, a long-time foe of Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, has sent a letter to party leader Boris Gryzlov and his fellow Unified Russia faction members asking them to begin an internal party discussion of the Moscow city government's use of firms belonging to relatives of top officials, reported on 3 August. Lebedev told the website that in his letter he provides examples of 13 orders of Mayor Luzhkov for work for the construction company Inteko, which is run by his wife Yelena Baturina. Inteko had received various contracts, including one to construct a library at Moscow State University. Lebedev claims that Inteko was a small cooperative before Luzhkov became mayor but last year it had a turnover of around $1 billion. Some political analysts have suggested there might be a connection between the timing of Lebedev's letter and the announcement about Vice Mayor Shantsev, reported. JAC

Human rights activists working with the Justice Ministry and the Federal Prison Service have presented some of their findings into events in the prison colony at Lgov in Kursk Oblast, where hundreds of prisoners mutilated themselves with razor blades in June to protest the activities of the prison colony's administration, reported (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 18 July 2005). As many as 800 people participated in the protest on the 27 June, according to Valerii Borshev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that his group has gathered around 275 complaints during the investigation that will be transferred to the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin. One cause of the conflict was reportedly that prisoners were forced -- including through violence -- to participate in the so-called section for discipline and order, where some prisoners are made to keep discipline among prisoners. "This principle of dividing prisoners has been around since the Gulag and is very dangerous," Borshev said. JAC

Meeting on 3 August with members of Chechnya's Muslim clergy, First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov urged them to "work intensively" with young men to dissuade them from joining the ranks of the Chechen resistance, Interfax reported. Kadyrov said many youths lack the wisdom and experience to perceive the folly of doing so. Six months ago, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov similarly instructed the government to draft within one week programs to counter radical Islamic propaganda and to deter young men from joining the Chechen resistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2005). Kadyrov also announced on 3 August that the Chechen authorities plan to build Europe's largest mosque, capable of accommodating 100,000 worshippers, in Grozny, Interfax reported. He reasoned that such a mosque would help to spread "true Islam that has nothing to do with extremism." Ramzan Kadyrov's late father Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov served as Chechnya's mufti from 1997-2000. LF

Ingushetia's Supreme Court passed sentence on 3 August on 13 men accused of participating in the raids on police and special forces facilities in Ingushetia during the night of 21-22 June 2004, reported. Zaur Mutsologov, who was found guilty of participating in the band led by radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev that killed the republic's acting Interior Minister Abukar Kostoev and republican Prosecutor Mukharbek Buzurtanov, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, as was Akhmed Tsuroev. The prosecution had asked for life sentences for both men, according to Interfax on 2 August. The other 11 accused received jail terms ranging from eight to 23 years. LF

Speaking for the EU, of which Britain currently holds the rotating presidency, British Ambassador to Yerevan Thora Abbott-Watt on 3 August hailed the approval by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission of the most recent draft of the proposed Armenian constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2005). "We believe the existing draft embodies democratic freedoms, values, and safeguards which would bring Armenia closer to the European Union and to Europe as a whole, " she said. U.S. charge d'affaires Anthony Godfrey similarly greeted the Venice Commission's approval of the draft and said he hopes the Armenian government takes appropriate steps to promote a public discussion of it prior to submitting it to a nationwide referendum in November. Both diplomats also urged the Armenian opposition to engage in the debate on the draft amendments, which some opposition parties have rejected out of hand, and to be ready to drop some of their demands for further changes. Abbott-Watt pointed out that "nobody is going to get everything they want out of this piece of legislation." LF

Spokesmen for both the National Security Ministry and the Caucasus Muslim Religious Board have denied media reports that the ministry raided a Baku mosque on 3 August in a crackdown on Wahhabism, reported on 4 August. Speaking at a conference in Baku on 3 August, Rafik Aliev, chairman of the government Committee for Work with Religious Formations, admitted that an unspecified number of Wahhabi devotees have been arrested in Azerbaijan recently, reported on 4 August. LF

Twenty-eight prisoners serving life sentences at Azerbaijan's notorious high-security Gobustan jail began a hunger strike on 1 August to demand that their sentences be commuted, Turan reported. As of 3 August, just 12 were continuing their fast, but seven more had since joined the protest, Turan reported on 4 August, citing former political prisoner Rahim Kaziev. The men were originally sentenced to death; when Azerbaijan abolished capital punishment in February 1998, the maximum sentence was 15 years. The men are therefore demanding that their life sentences be reduced to the 15-year maximum in force at the time they were sentenced. LF

U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish told Turan on 4 August that the OSCE Office in Baku is monitoring with "concern" the recourse to slander and "black PR" by rival political factions in the run-up to the 6 November parliamentary elections. Harnish said if the trend continues, the OSCE will raise this issue with the Azerbaijani authorities. The lawyers' electoral bloc Parliament 2005 has likewise issued a statement condemning, and demanding an end to, slanderous allegations circulated by the government-controlled media, Turan reported on 4 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2005). LF

Two members of the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi have traveled to Tskhinvali for talks with Murat Djioev, foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 3 August. Djioev assured them that South Ossetia is committed to resolving its differences with the central Georgian government peacefully. The two diplomats also met with Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, who commands the three-country peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone. LF

The last sentence in the "RFE/RL Newsline" item "UN Security Council Extends Georgian Observer Mission Mandate" on 1 August should have read: "Thirteen UNOMIG members have been killed on active duty since 1996, and UNOMIG observers have been taken hostage on six occasions (most recently in June 2003)."

The opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan announced on 3 August that it was officially registered by the Kazakh authorities the previous day, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The bloc described its registration as "the common victory of democratic forces." Bloc leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai is the presumptive unified opposition candidate in Kazakhstan's upcoming presidential election, which will be held in either December 2005 or December 2006. DK

Kyrgyz Deputy Prosecutor-General Nurlan Jeenaliev said in a statement on 3 August that 15 Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers currently detained in Osh should be handed over to Uzbek authorities, Interfax reported. "The Prosecutor-General's Office has reliable evidence that proves these 15 Uzbek citizens' involvement in grave crimes," Jeenaliev said, adding, "The crimes of a non-political nature that were perpetrated by these people provide grounds for our refusal to apply international conventions on refugee status to them." But Miroslav Niyazov, secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, appeared to endorse a different position with respect to the 15 Uzbek citizens. "They also have to be transferred to Romania, Niyazov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 3 August. "The prosecutor's office? What about the prosecutor's office? There should be a political decision here." International organizations continue to oppose extradition. In a press release on 3 August, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees "reiterated serious concerns over the fate of 15 Uzbeks who remain in detention in Kyrgyzstan," while EU High Commissioner for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana expressed the hope that Kyrgyzstan "will sustain the commitment to its international obligations" regarding the 15 Uzbek citizens, Reuters reported. DK

Deputy Prosecutor-General Jeenaliev also denied any prosecutorial involvement in the return of four Uzbek asylum seekers to Uzbekistan in June, reported on 3 August. Jeenaliev said the handover, which sparked international outrage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005), took place at the behest of a regional police department in Jalal-Abad Province after it determined that the asylum seekers wished to return home. DK

Jeenaliev also warned Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun that the latter's criticism of Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov over the refugee issue could have legal consequences, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akun recently stated that the 15 detained Uzbek asylum seekers and refugees should be sent to a third country but are being held "on the personal insistence of Prosecutor-General [Azimbek Beknazarov]." Jeenaliev warned Akun against making such statements in the future and said he could face unspecified legal consequences. In response, the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society issued a statement expressing "outrage at the statement on 3 August by Deputy Prosecutor-General Nurlanbek Jeenaliev about possible charges against Tursunbek Akun for 'baseless and untrue statements about officials of the Prosecutor-Generals' Office.'" The statement described Jeenaliev's remarks as an attempt to limit freedom of speech. DK

The trial of Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov was adjourned on 3 August until 8 August, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The judge ordered the adjournment over the objections of prosecutors after defense lawyer Azam Badriddinov said he had only managed to familiarize himself with nine of the 16 volumes of case materials. Iskandarov faces terrorism and corruption charges; he pled innocent on 2 August, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. DK

Rights groups have welcomed Uzbek President Islam Karimov's decree banning capital punishment as of 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2005) but also urged immediate measures against the death penalty, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 3 August. "This is the first step on behalf of the [Uzbek] state with regard to the problem of the death penalty, and I would like to thank the government," Tamara Chikunova, who heads the Uzbek rights group Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture, told IRIN. But Lidia Royal, Amnesty International's press officer for Europe and Central Asia, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, "We are welcoming any step that leads to the abolition of the death penalty, but it would be great if President Karimov imposed an immediate moratorium on death sentences and executions as a first step." DK

An ethnic Pole, Andrzej Pisalnik, began a hunger strike on 3 August as police began jailing ethnic Poles who met with Polish Sejm deputy speaker Donald Tusk during his recent visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2005), the "Financial Times" reported on 4 August. The arrests have been condemned by the European Commission and the U.S. State Department, while Russia has been supportive of Belarus. Pisalnik is an "informal speaker" of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), which represents the country's 500,000 Poles, some 5 percent of the population, the "Financial Times" reported. The SPB is the largest Belarusian organization of any type not under government control." RK

Acting U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on 3 August that the Belarusian government continues violating the right of individuals to free expression, Belapan news agency reported the next day. Casey's comments came the day after the State Department issued a statement condemning the government's actions against the SPB leadership. "The United States condemns the actions taken by the Belarusian government against the [SPB]. The arrest of the Union's members, the closure of its newspaper, and use of riot police to seize the Union's office are part of a continuing pattern of harassment against those seeking to peacefully express their views," the 2 August statement said. RK

Ukraine's Agriculture Ministry has banned poultry imports from Russia's Tyumen Oblast and Altai Krai due to cases of avian flu (aka bird flu) found in poultry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 August 2005), Interfax-Ukraine reported on 3 August. Ukraine had previously banned poultry imports from Novosibirsk Oblast. According to Russian officials, the strain of bird flu found in the region is H5N1, which is potentially highly dangerous to humans. RK

Croatia on 4 August marks a national holiday linked to the 10th anniversary of Operation Storm, which ended the 1991-95 ethnic Serb rebellion in central Croatia and the Dalmatian hinterland, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Serbia, gatherings of refugees and memorial services for the dead are scheduled, and several leading politicians on 3 August criticized Storm as an act of "ethnic cleansing" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 August 2005). Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sander told the Vienna daily "Die Presse" of 4 August that such charges are "pure nonsense," adding that those who fled had been instructed to do so by Belgrade. Sanader stressed that Storm enabled Croatian troops not only to free their own country but to break the Serbian siege across the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina of the mainly Muslim town of Bihac. "There we prevented a second Srebrenica" massacre, he maintained, adding, "I am very proud of the action of the Croatian Army and police." Asked about the future of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, Sanader called Dayton a "historic achievement" that has, however, served its purpose. He argued that "time has come for Bosnia-Herzegovina to emancipate itself" from foreign tutelage, stressing that "we must take care that the Croats as the smallest [of the three main ethnic groups] not lose their status" as the legal equals of the Serbs and Muslims. PM

Talking on the margins of an international conference in Salzburg, Austria, on 3 August, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his Macedonian counterpart Vlado Buckovski failed to resolve tensions between the two countries stemming from Macedonia's recent jailing of Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 2, and 3 August 2005). Kostunica told a joint press conference that the only way to break the deadlock is for the Macedonian authorities to free the bishop. Buckovski replied that the ability of the Macedonian authorities to resolve the issue is limited because it is essentially a problem between the rival Serbian Orthodox Church and Macedonian Orthodox Church. Buckovski later told reporters that Kostunica should not make such demands of the Macedonian government because he as a law professor should understand that the executive cannot tell the judiciary what to do. At a 2 August roundtable on Serbian-Macedonian relations broadcast by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, several participants noted that Serbia would be ill-advised to try to impose economic pressure on Macedonia because that country is one of impoverished Serbia's best trading partners. PM

Moldovan exports to the EU fell by 1.2 percent in the first half of 2005 while exports to the CIS rose by 11 percent, BASA news agency reported on 3 August. Moldova's main exports to the EU include textiles, sunflower seeds, raw leather, food products, and alcoholic beverages. Moldova's exports of food products, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, vinegar, and tobacco to the EU dropped from $13.4 million in the first half of 2004 down to about $10 million in a similar period of 2005. RK

In the final days of his presidency, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During that meeting, Khatami discussed what he saw as the accomplishments of his administration during his two terms in office (1997-2001 and 2001-2005). Khatami was very upbeat, but outside observers gave mixed marks to his economic and political record.

During his meeting with Khamenei, according to Iranian state radio on 2 August, Khatami described his administration's efforts to deal with economic issues such as unemployment and inflation. Khatami said poverty is something the incoming government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad must confront, and he noted that the poverty rate had fallen sharply during his eight years in office.

Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a professor of economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech), described Iran's economic realities in a 2 August interview. "The situation has improved both in terms of real wages and in terms of unemployment. [Iran has] much lower unemployment for the 30-year-and-older [age] group. In fact, if you look at the latest data on employment (about 3 percent unemployment for men and 6 percent for women), it's so low for that group [that] it's hard to imagine it will fall any lower.... For the younger [citizens], it hasn't improved much."

Youth unemployment is where Khatami failed, according to Salehi-Isfahani. "[Khatami] did not do enough to help the young people, especially young women.... Urban women's unemployment rate was 60 percent in 2004," he continued. "This is an astronomically high figure. For men 20-24 years of age, it's also very high -- 25 percent." Khatami tried to resolve this problem by pushing through a package of unemployment benefits that targeted young people. This effort was misplaced because the Iranian economy just was not capable of absorbing the large increase in young job seekers.

It is unclear to what extent the overall economic upturn is due to Khatami's policies. Oil revenues have climbed in recent years, Salehi-Isfahani noted, and this is inevitably accompanied by an economic boom, income increases, and a fall in unemployment. "Khatami in the last five years has been riding this oil boom," Salehi-Isfahani continued. "This is not to say he hasn't done anything. External events such as oil prices and internal events -- some policy -- may have contributed to this improved situation. I believe it's mostly the external factors, the rising oil price is responsible for this improvement."

Salehi-Isfahani said Khatami intended to introduce new programs, but he eventually continued the economic reforms initiated by his predecessor, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. This encouraged investment and led to privatization. "The private sector has been continuously growing in term of employment and output at the expense of the public sector," Salehi-Isfahani said. "Those are important achievements of Khatami, but really it is more staying the course as opposed to coming up with the program and doing something."

The average Iranian citizen's situation has improved over the past eight years, with real wages increasing. Salehi-Isfahani said the annual economic-growth rate has been in the 5-7 percent range, which places Iran in the top 20 percent of the world's fastest-growing economies. Salehi-Isfahani went on to say that the poverty rate has declined, mainly because "you have a system of subsidies that protect the poor from hunger and you have a booming economy and booming employment."

Not all the subsidies helped the poor, however, and recent studies have found that much of the gasoline subsidy goes to relatively well-off people. "That does not benefit the poor," Salehi-Isfahani said. "But, if you look at the subsidies, especially for food and medicine, the poor benefit a lot from them and this is what is holding Iran together."

A discussion of the economic legacy of the Khatami presidency can seem abstract until one gets a sense of how an Iranian lives. Mehrdad, a young disabled man in Tehran, told Radio Farda that nearly all of his activities take place in his own home. Mehrdad works on his computer and writes a weblog. He said he is financially dependent on his father, who is retired from the army and has a modest income. Mehrdad went on to say that there are few training centers for the disabled, and getting to them is difficult. "There is only one in west Tehran, and I need to spend 4,000 tomans [approximately $5] just for transportation. The government has only 10 buses for disabled transportation for the whole Tehran Province."

Khatami's presidency probably will be remembered best for its political impact. But his efforts to achieve reform within a constitutional framework were not entirely successfully, not least because they were countered by unelected institutions, such as the Guardians Council. Furthermore, hard-line institutions managed to violate citizens' rights without having to account for their activities. Therefore, Khatami's presidency has received mixed reviews from many observers.

One perspective is that the new open discourse on issues such as civil rights, democracy, and social freedom created a new and unprecedented environment in Iran. Majid Tavalai, editor of the monthly "Nameh," said that this environment boosted Iranians' courage. "The official discourse on human rights and democracy created an umbrella for people under which they felt secure to express their opinions and demand," Tavalai said. He went on to say that this was not a stable or consistent trend, referring to the decline in social and political activities after the crackdown on student demonstrators at Tehran University in 1999, the mass closure of the reformist press from 2000 onward, the trials of participants in a conference in Berlin in 2000, and the continuous arrests of political activists.

Tavalai said a sense of hopelessness gradually came to dominate society. "In this time the conservatives managed to raise the costs of political activism, resulting in its rapid decline and its limitation to a small group of elites," Tavalai said, adding that people came to dislike politics and adopted a more apolitical lifestyle.

Former parliamentarian Qasem Sholeh-Saadi at one time sided with the reformists, but he broke with them over what he saw as a lack of resolve on Khatami's part. Asked if the president created an environment in which Iranians could express themselves, Sholeh-Saadi retorted that Khatami himself was a product of the bravery of the Iranian people. "Khatami himself by his own accounts and that of his friends cannot be categorized as a courageous man," Sholeh-Saadi said. "So he cannot be credited for the people's bravery. People themselves created this environment and not Khatami."

Sholeh-Saadi conceded that some institutional improvements did take place during Khatami's presidency, and he credited the president with revealing the serial killings of dissidents by alleged rogue elements in the Intelligence and Security Ministry. He also praised the country's first municipal elections, which took place in 1999. Sholeh-Saadi described these as fairly minor achievements and insisted that Khatami actually hindered progress in other areas, such as the crackdown on students and the jailing of journalists and dissidents. He criticized Khatami for doing nothing to change the constitution, which effectively stripped the president of power. Sholeh-Saadi said Khatami should have led the people to the streets, but that he proved to be more of an obstacle to reform than its promoter.

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) announced on 3 August that 12 million Afghans are eligible to vote in the parliamentary and provincial-council elections on 18 September, Afghan Voice Agency reported. Women account for 40 percent of the total number of eligible voters, the JEMB announced. According to the election body, the number of candidates for parliamentary seats exceeds the number of seats while there are not enough candidates for the provincial council seats. AT

JEMB Director Besmellah Besmel has said that transportation of ballot boxes from polling stations to provincial councils is the biggest challenge facing the organizers of the upcoming Afghan elections, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 3 August. According to JEMB plans, ballot boxes from more than 6,000 polling stations will have to be brought to counting stations in each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. AT

A JEMB employee identified as Qayyum Khan was gunned down on 2 August in Helmand Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 3 August. Four unidentified assailants killed Qayyum while he was going home from work. A successor to the slain worker has "already been appointed" and the work of JEMB "in Helmand is going on undisturbed," Mohammad Qahar Wasefi, the head of the JEMB office in Helmand told Pajhwak. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on Qayyum Khan. AT

Eight Afghan security personnel were killed on 2 August when their patrol came under attack by "enemies of peace in the country" in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 3 August, quoting Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal. Mashal told Pajhwak that four of those killed were police officers while the remaining four were either soldiers or intelligence officials. Nuristan, which borders Pakistan, is considered a stronghold of Hizb-e Islami, which is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. AT

Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said the militia has killed three Afghan police officers in Khakrez District, Kandahar Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 3 August. According to Hakimi, the neo-Taliban also captured two policemen. Khakrez security commander Hajji Mohammad Yaqub told AIP on 3 August that a total of 15 police officers are missing from Salam post in Khakrez. Later, Mohammad Yaqub said that 10 of the missing officers are accounted for and only five are still considered missing. AT

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei confirmed the presidential decree of Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 3 August at a ceremony in Tehran, IRNA reported, in line with Article 110 of the country's constitution. In his first speech as president, Ahmadinejad called for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, state radio reported. He also called for the elimination of double standards that try to reduce some countries' access to the same benefits other countries have. Ahmadinejad described his priorities as justice, peace, and public rights, and he said his government will stress attention to people's needs, the promotion of justice, serving the masses, and the country's spiritual and economic progress. "I regard myself as a drop in the boundless ocean of the Iranian people," he said, "And in gratitude for the opportunity given to me to enable me offer my services, I rub my forehead into the dust on the ground to express my gratitude before Almighty God." Ahmadinejad added, "I pledge to repay the people for their trust and the hope they attach to me through my sincere service." BS

The United States was a featured part of Supreme Leader Khamenei's speech at the 3 August ceremony, state radio reported. Khamenei criticized U.S. officials' statements about the Iranian presidential election in June and said: "The Iranian nation, for its part, does not accept their democracy. What pride can there be in the democracy in which the money of Zionist capitalists speaks the loudest? And what can it teach the people of the world?" Khamenei stressed that Iran is a "peace-loving nation" but warned "the global arrogance and especially the Great Satan and America" that Iran will defend its rights. BS

In a continuation of unrest in predominantly Kurdish parts of Iran, the Baztab website reported on 3 August, there have been some violent incidents in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province. Members of a Kurdistan workers Party (PKK) affiliate called the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK) set the local husseinieh (a prayer hall) on fire and broke the windows of some banks. The PJAK members reportedly shot at security personnel, but there is no accurate accounting of the casualties. Baztab noted that the unrest has been continuing for three weeks, since the killing by security forces of a Kurdish activist known as Shavaneh (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July and 26 July 2005). BS

Iraqi Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki said in Baghdad this week that Iran intends to build a $20 million-$25 million international airport in Al-Najaf, "The Washington Post" reported on 3 August. Al-Maliki added, "The funding will come from a soft loan from Iran, and it could open as soon as in the next four months." He added that Tehran and Baghdad are negotiating the return of some 150 aircraft that were flown to Iran so they could avoid being destroyed in the 1990-91 Gulf War, and Iraqi technicians could go to Iran soon to examine the state of the passenger jets. There is some skepticism about Iran's generosity, with an anonymous Iraqi politician telling "The Washington Post," "In general, no country gives this kind of loan without other interests." The politician added, "I think this doesn't go without something in return." In the southwestern Iranian city of Abadan on 2 August, the head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines, Gholamreza Akbarizadeh, met with his counterpart from the Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah, Jabr al-Ghazi, IRNA reported. They signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to discuss cooperation on communications, information exchange, and joint trade fairs. BS

Former Oil Minister and constitution-drafting committee member Thamir al-Ghadban told AP on 3 August that the constitution will call for a strong parliament that can prevent a dictator from running the country, the news agency reported the same day. "There has been an agreement that the political system in Iraq will be parliamentary. This system was chosen to prevent any chance of a dictatorship in the future," al-Ghadban said. The system will be bicameral with a parliament and a regional council with representatives directly elected. Al-Ghadban said that the parliament will have the right to summon and question senior state employees; it will also have the power to give votes of confidence in the government. The constitution will call for the president to be elected by the National Assembly to a four-year term, the prime minister will serve as the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the defense minister will be a civilian. He added that there will be decentralized government, and a federal court "whose job is to solve problems between regions or between regions and the central government." Drafting-committee members have also reportedly agreed to make Islam "a main source of legislation," rather than "the" main source, Shi'ite cleric Ahmad al-Safi said, reported on 4 August. KR

Kurdistan's Deputy Interior Minister Fa'iq Tawfiq said during a visit to Kirkuk that the ministry will not comply with an order by the Iraqi Interior Ministry on the dismissal of Kurdish police officers from Kirkuk, "Khabat" reported on 3 August. "We will not ratify the decrees that have been recently issued by the Iraqi Interior Ministry against the Kurdish police officers. According to the decree, the Iraqi interior minister ordered the dismissal of more than 2,500 Kurdish police officers from the Kirkuk police and we have refused to comply with the order," Tawfiq said. He added that the Kurds will also refuse to comply with another Interior Ministry order, which he claims prevents Kurdish police officers from being promoted. "Our officers have graduated from the faculty and studied for many years, while the current Iraqi police officers have obtained their rank after only six months of training. We will promote our police officers according to the law in force here," he said. KR

Haidar Muhammad Ali al-Dujayli, the public relations officer to Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) party, was gunned down in his home on 4 August, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Police said that the gunmen escaped following the attack. An INC convoy was attacked last week in Mahawil, killing one guard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Meanwhile, a suicide car bomber targeted the Shi'ite Imam Abu al-Hawa Musa Al-Kadhim Mosque in Daquq, some 40 kilometers south of Kirkuk, on 4 August, killing five civilians and wounding two others, dpa reported. KR

Judicial Council head Madhat al-Mahmud has denied reports that no death sentences have been handed down by Iraqi courts, "Al-Zaman" reported on 2 August. "The court of appeal and the court of cassation have issued such sentences and they have been approved by the cabinet. But to be implemented, they will need to be signed by the president," he said. Al-Mahmud did not say how many sentences have been handed down, but noted that that President Jalal Talabani remains personally opposed to the death sentence. Talabani has said publicly in the past that he will suspend such sentences, even if the Iraqi Special Tribunal sentences former President Saddam Hussein to death. Al-Mahmud said that the president has instructed the courts to address the backlog of pending cases and immediately release detainees found not guilty. KR