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Newsline - August 16, 2005

Vyacheslav Sedov, the spokesman for the Russian-Chinese military maneuvers called Peaceful Mission 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005), announced on 15 August that the countries' navies began joint training near China's Shandun Peninsula ahead of the main exercises that will begin on 18 August, and other media reported. According to Admiral Viktor Fedorov, the commander of the Russian Pacific fleet, some 140 ships and submarines will take part in the exercises, reported. He said that the goal of the drills is to set up cooperation for a joint antiterrorist operation, but "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 15 August that some foreign observers believe the presence of strategic Russian planes and naval vessels points to Moscow helping Beijing rehearse an invasion against Taiwan. However, the chief of the Russian Army's General Staff, Yurii Baluevskii, rejected this suggestion, reported. He said the long-range airplanes and naval vessels are being used because the training is taking place far from the Russian coast. VY

Speaking at the Chinese Embassy in Moscow at a ceremony celebrating the 60th anniversary of China's liberation from Japanese occupation, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev said that Russia and China will work together to shape the world order in the 21st century, RIA-Novosti reported. This order should be based on multipolarity, with a leading role played by the United Nations, and respect for international law. The Chinese ambassador in Russia, Liu Guchang, praised bilateral relations, saying that they are better than at any other time in their history. VY

Most Russians consider Chinese migration to Siberia as "very dangerous" for their country although they see China as Russia's ally in the 21st century, according to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) from 23-25 July involving 1,600 respondents, reported. Some 66 percent of respondents believe that Chinese workers in Siberia are dangerous for Russia and only 17 percent think they are "good." In the Siberian and Far East Federal districts, the share of those against Chinese emigration is even higher, with 71 and 81 percent, respectively, believing it to be dangerous. At the same time, 34 percent of those in the survey see China as Russian's strategic partner for this century, while 22 percent see it as an ally and even as a friend; 24 percent see Beijing as a political and economic competitor, and only 4 percent see China as an enemy. Meanwhile, 62 percent of those polled are against the growth of Chinese imports while 34 percent support more Chinese goods in shops. VY

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 15 August, President Vladimir Putin told Trade and Economic Development Minister German Gref that he is upset that Russia's Urals brand oil sells for a lower price than the standard type of international oil, Brent crude, RTR and reported. Before the boom in world oil prices, the spread between Urals and Brent was between $2 and $3 a barrel, but now it is about $8, which means, Putin said, that we are losing some $7-8 billion a year, reported. Gref reportedly promised to address this problem. VY

The lower price for Urals crude oil originates in the fact that in Urals brand is a mixture of high-quality light oil from Siberia and heavy sulfur oil from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, reported. To increase oil revenue as Putin wants, specialists suggest directing Siberian oil through a new pipeline to Murmansk for export to the West, while using the lower quality oil from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan for the domestic market and in the Commonwealth of Independent States, noted. VY

Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu said on 15 August in a meeting with President Putin that the ministry has begun creating a national crisis management center that will alert Russians nationwide about natural disasters, technological catastrophes, and terrorist acts, RTR and other mass media reported. The first stage of the project will be ready by 2007 and it will enable the center to notify approximately 47 million people per day about such things as tsunamis and earthquakes. In the next couple of years the system will be integrated with the emergency alert systems of other countries. The channels for warning the public will gradually move from television and cable radio to text messages on mobile phones. VY

The Russian Supreme Court on 16 August canceled a ban on the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) that was ordered by the Moscow Oblast Court on 29 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005), Russian and international media reported. The court also absolved the NBP from all of the suits brought against it by the Prosecutor-General's Moscow Office. Commenting on the decision, NBP leader Eduard Limonov said that "it is a big surprise and the happiest day," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He added that the judges proved that they are "decent people." He added that "We are the most aggressive and least controllable party, we would like to create a climate of political freedom, and that is the reason we are such an irritation for the Kremlin," reported. "The Washington Post" on 16 August reported Limonov as saying that "we need a confrontation with Putin and that is easy to organize, but only in union with opposition forces." Meanwhile, a small group of NBP activists tried on 16 August to mar the public appearance of President Putin at the Aviation Saloon in Zhukovskoe, near Moscow, Ekho Moskvy reported, when some youths started to chant "Freedom, freedom," before they were detained by security forces. VY

Mikhail Fradkov on 13 August signed a directive to create the post of "state secretary" in each federal ministry that is subordinate to the government, reported on 15 August, citing the government's press service. The state secretaries will have the rank of deputy minister and will be charged with improving coordination between the ministries and the federal parliament. President Putin eliminated the post of state secretary during his reorganization of the government in March 2004. However, he recently revived the office in the "power ministries" and federal agencies that report directly to the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2005). LB

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Yabloko, and Committee-2008 have officially requested that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg hear their lawsuit challenging the December 2003 State Duma election results, Russian news agencies reported on 13 August. They maintain that the pro-government Unified Russia party benefited from the use of "administrative resources" while opposition parties suffered from unequal access to the media and the court system. The European Court is expected to announce in September whether it will hear the case. The Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the same group of plaintiffs last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2004). Boris Nadezhdin, the secretary of the Union of Rightist Forces political council, told Ekho Moskvy on 13 August that the plaintiffs do not expect the European Court to overturn the 2003 election result. However, he said it would be important for the court to issue specific findings on unfair conduct by Russian state bodies that organize elections. "Gazeta" on 15 August quoted attorney Vadim Prokhorov, who is coordinating the legal team, as saying the plaintiffs are trying to prevent similar violations from recurring during the 2007 parliamentary campaign. LB

The Agriculture Ministry on 15 August confirmed the presence of bird flu in Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russian news agencies reported. The virus had previously been confirmed in Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tyumen, and Kurgan oblasts, along with Altai Krai. Chief Health Inspector Gennadii Onishchenko has predicted that bird migration patterns might spread the virus to other regions of Russia, as well as to neighboring countries near the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean, reported, citing a letter signed by Onishchenko and published on 15 August at the website of the Federal Consumer Protection Service ( Regions likely to be affected include Astrakhan, Rostov, and Volgograd oblasts as well as Krasnodar and Stavropol krais. Meanwhile, Sergei Pavlenko, deputy head of the Novosibirsk Oblast Health Department, announced on 15 August that laboratory tests found no evidence that journalist Mariya Pashkova -- who was hospitalized on 12 August -- was infected by the bird flu, RIA-Novosti reported. RIA-Novosti quoted unnamed sources in the Novosibirsk Oblast Center for Fighting AIDS and Infectious Diseases as saying that Pashkova was the fifth person hospitalized in Novosibirsk with suspicion of bird flu. So far no human case of the virus has been found in Russia. LB

Representatives of wealthy businessman Viktor Vekselberg are looking for a house for him to buy in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, the capital of Kamchatka Oblast, Interfax reported on 15 August, citing an unnamed member of the oblast legislature. Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii recently floated Vekselberg's name as a possible governor of a united Kamchatka Krai in 2007, assuming that Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autnomous Okrug residents approve a proposed merger this autumn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 12 August 2005). Vekselberg has not publicly confirmed that he wants the job, and "Novaya gazeta" speculated on 15 August that the authorities are more interested in having Vekselberg finance Kamchatka than he is in running the oblast. Meanwhile, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov on 12 August spoke out against selecting Vekselberg, Interfax reported. Mironov argued that Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Kozhemyako is a "very smart, young, energetic leader" who is "more than ready to head the process of uniting the two regions." The chairman of the Kamchatka Oblast Council of People's Deputies, Nikolai Tokmantsev, has threatened to scuttle the merger with Koryak Autonomous Okrug if Vekselberg is the favorite to lead the new region. LB

Surgutneftgaz, the fourth-largest Russian oil company, is negotiating to purchase a 35 percent stake in REN-TV from majority shareholder Severstal-Group, "Vedomosti" reported on 15 August. REN-TV is a network of 354 television companies that broadcast to 725 cities and towns in Russia and the CIS. Severstal bought a 70 percent stake in the network last month from the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, and the German RTL Group bought the remaining 30 percent of the shares from the network's founders, Irina Lesnevskaya and Dmitrii Lesnevskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July and 3 August 2005). Within weeks, Severstal announced that it was willing to sell some of its shares. Olga Antonova, head of the Severstal press service, confirmed that Surgutneftgaz has made an offer to buy 35 percent of REN-TV. However, she said many others have also expressed interest in buying a stake, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, RTL, Dmitrii Lesnevskii and Irina Lesnevskaya, and unnamed companies from Scandinavia, Turkey, and non-European countries. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 August, economic concerns are driving investors to pursue REN-TV. The Russian advertising market is growing rapidly, and REN-TV has one of the largest broadcast reaches among private Russian television companies. LB

Taus Djabrailov, chairman of Chechnya's State Council (interim legislature), told a 15 August press conference at Interfax's head office in Moscow that according to official data, some 160,000 people were killed or reported missing during the two successive Chechen wars, reported. The number of Chechens killed is between 30,000-40,000, Djabrailov was quoted as saying. Speaking last September at a conference in Grozny on human rights issues in Chechnya, Djabrailov cited very different figures, saying that human losses were "shockingly high," the official pro-Moscow Grozny newspaper "Vesti respubliki" reported on 12 October 2004. He said that "according to various sources, every fifth Chechen" has been killed, and the "overwhelming majority" of the victims were civilians. According to the official results of the 2002 census in Chechnya, the republic's population at that time was 1,088,816 people, including some 20,000 Russian civilians. LF

Some Russian demographers questioned that total population figure as exaggerated. But if Chechens numbered between 800,000 and 1 million in 2002, and Djabrailov's October 2004 figures are accurate, that suggests between 200,000-250,000 Chechens have been killed. (The Chechen resistance claims a death toll of 250,000.) Interfax on 26 June quoted pro-Moscow Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov as estimating the number of war dead in Chechnya over the past decade at 300,000, with a further 200,000 missing. Russian military losses over the past decade are estimated at 25,000, according to "Die Welt" on 11 December 2004. LF

Djabrailov told the same Moscow press conference on 15 August that there are currently some 1,000 resistance fighters in Chechnya, including 100-150 foreign mercenaries, Interfax reported. Six months earlier, on 25 February, Djabrailov said he believes the resistance recruits constantly in order to maintain an optimum force of 1,500 men, of whom some 1,000 are located "permanently" in camps in Chechnya. He said that radical field commander Shamil Basaev has some 300-400 men under his command. In March, pro-Moscow Chechen President Alu Alkhanov told foreign journalists in Grozny that he believes the real number of Chechen militants is far lower than 1,000, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 March. Djabrailov said in Moscow on 15 August that the remaining militants must be destroyed prior to the parliamentary election tentatively scheduled for late November, "otherwise the whole political process in the republic will be mothballed for years," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Khusein Amirkhanov, 88, whose son Alikhan represented Ingushetia in the Russian State Duma from 1999-2003, was abducted on 12 August from his home in Nazran, reported. Acting Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoev told journalists on 14 August that suspects in the kidnapping have been identified, although they have not yet demanded a ransom. He ruled out any political motives in the kidnapping. Alikhan Amirkhanov is a close associate of former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and lost to current incumbent Murat Zyazikov in the second round of the April 2002 ballot to elect Aushev's successor (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 April and 3 May 2002). LF

Nazran police chief Djabrail Kostoev and his driver were wounded on 15 August when a roadside bomb concealed near Interior Ministry headquarters exploded as they drove past, reported. Kostoev has been hospitalized; his injuries are said to not be life threatening. The republican prosecutor has opened an investigation into the attack, the second assassination attempt on Kostoev. LF

Zakir Garalov told a press conference in Baku on 15 August that his office has documentation proving that the political opposition intends to seize power illegally, and listing specific actions it plans to undertake to that end, Turan and reported. Garalov said the opposition youth movement Yeni Fikir, whose leader Ruslan Bashirli was arrested 10 days ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005), was created for that same purpose. LF

Garalov told the same Baku press conference on 15 August that a third suspect has been identified in the 2 March killing of outspoken opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov, reported on 16 August. Garalov did not name the third suspect. He said a group of Azerbaijani investigators have recently returned from Georgia: two ethnic Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia, Tahir Khubanov and Teimuraz Aliyev, were earlier named as the prime suspects in the killing. Garalov also said that Interpol and the National Security Ministry do not consider it appropriate at this time to publish photos of Khubanov and Aliyev, for whom international arrest warrants have been issued. LF

The Justice Ministry registered eight political parties and some 50 NGOs on 12 August, its press service announced on 15 August, according to Turan. The parties in question are the Liberal Party (leader Akhmed Orudzhev), founded in 1995; the Azerbaijan Evolution party (Teyub Ganiev), founded in 1996; the Azerbaijan Progress party (Chingiz Damuiroglu), founded in 2001; the Civic Unity Party (VBP -- Chairman Sabir Hadjiev), founded in May 2000; the Popular Front Party of United Azerbaijan (Gudrat Gasankuliev), founded in 2002; the Great Azerbaijan party (Elshad Musaev), founded in 2003; the Great Creation party (Fazil Gazanfaroglu), founded in 2003; and the Party of Democratic Reforms headed by former Azerbaijan Popular Front Deputy Chairman Asim Mollazade, founded in May 2005. The conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party was refused registration on the grounds that the documentation it submitted was incorrect; ministry officials reportedly suggested its leaders change its name. VBP Chairman Hadjiev, who has been seeking formal registration for his party for five years, said the ministry caved in to pressure from international public opinion, Turan reported. He said the registration of the eight parties could be interpreted as a step in the direction of democracy. LF

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said in Tbilisi on 12 August that earlier that day Georgian police intercepted near the Inguri River -- which marks the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia -- a truck belonging to the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone that was transporting large quantities of beer, vodka, and cigarettes, which the Georgian police confiscated, Caucasus Press reported. In a second incident the same day, according to Merabishvili, police detained a second vehicle, the property of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, which was also carrying contraband cigarettes and fuel. Apsnypress on 15 August deplored the Georgian police action near the Abkhaz border as violating a May 1994 agreement under which the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia enjoys the same immunity as UN peacekeepers. The Russian Embassy in Tbilisi similarly denounced the Georgian police action, Caucasus Press reported on 15 August. Apsnypress further reported on 15 August that the Georgian authorities subsequently apologized to the CIS peacekeepers and returned the confiscated goods. But on 16 August, Caucasus Press quoted a Georgian police official in western Georgia as denying that the impounded goods have been returned. LF

Tina Khidasheli, a leading member of the opposition Republican party, told Caucasus Press on 15 August that the party is being subjected to political pressure from the government. She cited specifically the criminal case recently brought against Giorgi Usupashvili, the brother of her husband and fellow leading Republican David Usupashvili. Also on 15 August, Caucasus Press reported that the political movement Forward, Georgia! (TsS) has addressed an appeal to all diplomatic missions accredited in Tbilisi to protest what it termed ongoing violations of human rights and intimidation of the opposition. The statement referred to an incident in Zugdidi in early August when former National Guard commander Loti Kobalia sought to disrupt a TsS meeting with voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2005). The statement alleged that Kobalia was acting at the behest of the present Georgian leadership. LF

Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on 15 August that the bird flu situation in the country remains unchanged, with quarantines in place in four provinces and no new outbreaks reported, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. The provinces where quarantines have been established in the wake of confirmed avian flu cases are Pavlodar, Aqmola, Karaganda, and North Kazakhstan. The ministry statement noted that in the cities of Astana and Almaty, "plans have been developed for measures to prevent 'bird flu' and headquarters have been set up to provide information to the population and monitor reservoirs." DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on 15 August appointing Feliks Kulov acting prime minister, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The appointment of Kulov, who had been serving in the capacity of acting first deputy prime minister, fulfills a pact between the two men in the lead-up to the 10 July presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). Also on 15 August, Bakiev signed a decree extending the mandate of the interim cabinet until the formation of a new government. DK

Addressing a cabinet meeting on 15 August, President Bakiev said that any state officials who exploit regionalism for personal gain will be summarily removed from their positions, Kabar reported. The president asked acting Prime Minister Kulov to focus on preventing north-south divisions or clan rivalries from splitting the nation. The heads of regional executive bodies were also present at the meeting, and Bakiev asked them to visit towns and villages every Saturday to communicate with their constituents. DK

In a letter congratulating Kyrgyz President Bakiev on his inauguration on 14 August, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed the hope that the issue of the 15 Uzbek citizens currently detained in Kyrgyzstan will "be decided...within the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees," Reuters reported on 15 August. The convention forbids the extradition of refugees to countries that employ torture, and UN Special Rapporteur Theo van Boven described torture in Uzbekistan as "systematic" after a 2002 visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). Blair lauded the Kyrgyz government for sending 439 Uzbek refugees to Romania, adding, "I hope that the fate of the remaining 15 refugees in Kyrgyzstan will be decided with similar feeling and care." DK

Approximately 2,000 servicemen from Russia's 201st Motorized Infantry Division are conducting military exercises in Tajikistan that will last until 19 August, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 15 August. The exercises, which involve dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, are being held at a military facility in Qurghonteppa. The scenario involves a military counterattack after an assault by international terrorists. Russia's 201st Division, numbering around 6,000 men, is permanently based in Tajikistan in accordance with an agreement signed by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). DK

Tadeusz Kruczkowski, an activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB) who remains loyal to the authorities, told Belapan on 15 August that he expects local SPB cells to name delegates to a repeat SPB convention before the end of this week. Kruczkowski was replaced by Anzhelika Borys as SPB leader at a congress in March, but the authorities invalidated the results of this gathering. In July, police evicted Borys from the SPB offices in Hrodna and installed Kruczkowski in her place. Kruczkowski and his supporters have arranged for a repeat SPB congress in Vaukavysk, Hrodna Oblast, on 27 August. The controversy over the SPB leadership has led to a bitter diplomatic spat between the Belarusian authorities and Warsaw, which sponsors SPB activities (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 16 August 2005). JM

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said in an interview with "Kommersant-Ukrayina" on 16 August that Ukraine supports the idea of creating a free-trade zone within the Single Economic Space (SES) but is not going to participate in a customs union that is also envisioned by an accord on the SES signed by Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus in 2003. Tarasyuk explained that Kyiv is ready to participate in the SES to the extent that it would not contradict Ukraine's two foreign-policy priorities -- joining the World Trade Organization this year and the European Union in the future. Tarasyuk said Ukraine will never sign an accord on a customs union within the SES. "A customs union and a free-trade zone, as they say in Odesa, are two big differences," he added. JM

Esad Maksumic of the prosecutor's office in Mostar's Hercegovacko-neretvanski Canton told the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 16 August that police in the previous two days found 50 cases of grenades, mines, and various types of ammunition in the Mostar area of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Maksumic added that this is the single largest haul of captured weapons there for the past five years. Acting on an anonymous tip, police found the crates, which apparently had been hidden only recently, at at least two different locations along a largely uninhabited and mountainous road leading northwest from Mostar between the villages of Goranci and Bogodol. Police have launched an investigation as to the possible owner or owners of the illegal arms. Documents found with the crates suggest that at least one Bosnian citizen from outside the Mostar area might be involved. Mostar made news in May 2002 when a large haul of illegal weapons was found in the area and ultimately traced to local businessmen, who were mainly Bosnian Muslims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 17 May 2002). PM

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vukovic said on 15 August that recent statements by unnamed Serbian leaders indicate that official Belgrade is seeking to foment incidents in Montenegro, the Croatian news agency Hina reported from Zagreb. "Such statements prove that there is a possibility of incidents taking place in Montenegro in the coming days and months, especially in light of increased radicalism among clerical-nationalist and [Serbian] Orthodox-fundamentalist forces, and the meddling of the Serbian Orthodox Church in [Montenegrin] political affairs," he stressed (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 August 2005). PM

Vesna Pesic, Vladan Batic, and Nenad Canak, who are leaders of the Serbian NGO 5 October, said in Belgrade on 14 August that unspecified "forces" close to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica are growing stronger and might provoke incidents in Montenegro, Hina reported. Canak, who heads the League of Social Democrats in Vojvodina, argued that if Montenegro's widely expected 2006 referendum on independence succeeds, Belgrade might incite pro-Serbian elements there to set up their own autonomous zones, as happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. "Montenegro is heading towards the Bosnian scenario. When the referendum succeeds, which I don't doubt will happen, Serbian autonomous areas like those in Bosnia will be set up in northern Montenegro," he said. Goran Svilanovic, who is former foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, argued that the SPC has become a stronger force in Serbian politics than the opposition. He said that the SPC has "unexpectedly" received the support of Serbian President Boris Tadic as well as of politicians who have long been regarded as close to the SPC's leadership. PM

Serbian President Tadic said in Belgrade on 15 August that the Kosovar government's "Plan B" for decentralization is no better from the Serbian point of view than was the original one, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 11, and 15 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 February 2005). Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina that the Kosovar authorities will not be responsible for the failure of decentralization if Belgrade and the local Serbian leaders refuse to take part in the process. He added that Belgrade is welcome to participate in an advisory role. PM

Oliver Ivanovic, who is a prominent political leader of Kosova's Serbs, told RFE/RL in Prishtina on 15 August that the local Serbs' basic problem is that Belgrade refuses to give them the necessary political backing they need to participate effectively in the decentralization process, which is of paramount interest to local Serbs. He stressed that the only way to influence decentralization is through local institutions, but Belgrade is unilaterally blocking that process. Ivanovic conceded that local Serbs might join in decentralization talks without Belgrade's support, but that would be an act of "last resort" by placing them in an exposed position without the support of Serbia and could lead to a serious split among the local Serbs themselves. Elsewhere, Kosova's Minister for Local Self-Government Lutfi Haziri told RFE/RL that he and his ministry are ready to work with any local Serbs who want to cooperate on decentralization, even though Belgrade is against their taking part in the process and is holding most of them back from doing so. PM

The city of Comrat in southern Moldova will host an international pop-music festival called "Songs of the World" on 20-21 August, BASA reported on 15 August. The director of the festival, Constantin Moscovici, said the event is intended to spread the values of Moldovan culture and find new talent worldwide. "The festival is comprised of two stages -- on the first day, young singers will perform in Romanian, and on the second day in their own language," he added. Singers from 14 countries will reportedly take part in the song contest whose main prize amounts to some $10,000. Comrat is the capital of Moldova's Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region which is home to some 130,000 Gagauz, a Turkic-speaking, Christian ethnic minority that also lives in Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Greece. JM

The Washington-based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) recently published its conclusions from a survey of 1,265 Ukrainians in late February that was devoted to perceptions of the Orange Revolution and its consequences. Pollsters explored perceptions of last year's presidential election, attitudes toward the mass antigovernment demonstrations that followed the second round of voting on 21 November, and postelection expectations for Ukraine.

Three of the clear findings that emerge from the IFES survey are that the Orange Revolution marked a zenith in the public's attention to politics, that a partisan rift has emerged over the country's democratic credentials, and that the events of November and December boosted citizens' faith in the ballot box and its outlook for the future. But while the polling agency stressed that the events of late 2004 mark a defining moment in Ukrainian history and public opinion, it also noted significant sociopolitical cleavages that persist in the country.

The survey was the IFES's 13th nationwide survey in Ukraine since 1994 and was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

IFES found that more Ukrainians believe the 31 October and 21 November presidential vote was unfair than think it was mostly or completely fair, with distrust of the 21 November balloting more than double the level of trust. Meanwhile, a majority of Ukrainians (57 percent) believe the repeat vote in late December was fair, according to IFES.

Nearly two of three respondents support the replacement of the Central Election Commission after the 21 November vote. More than half say the new commission performed better, but there is a sharp divide depending on political loyalties: The overwhelming majority of Viktor Yushchenko supporters (82 percent) say the new commission was nonpartisan, while just 8 percent of those who report voting for Viktor Yanukovych express such an opinion -- unsurprising perhaps, given Yanukovych's subsequent failure in the vote.

The IFES drew a number of broad conclusions from its survey that suggest Ukrainians are following political events more carefully in hopes of seizing on a more participatory system.

The IFES noted that the Orange Revolution marked a sea change in the public interest in politics in Ukraine. The survey found that after the elections, 72 percent of Ukrainians claim to possess at least a moderate level of interest in politics, while that level was 59 percent shortly prior to the presidential election.

But there is a partisan divide over whether Ukraine is a democracy, according to IFES. Those who live in oblasts where Yushchenko won an especially high number of votes are more likely to say that Ukraine is a democracy than those who live in regions with a strong preference for Yanukovych (77 percent versus 28 percent). Curiously, a pre-election survey showed the opposite results: In October, those living in areas that supported Yushchenko were much less likely to describe Ukraine as a democracy than oblasts with strong preferences for Yanukovych (14 percent versus 34 percent).

The Orange Revolution has also strengthened Ukrainians' faith in the power of the ballot box. A majority of Ukrainians (53 percent) now say that voting gives them a chance to influence decision-making in the country. In October 2004, the same proportion of people said voting can make a difference as disagreed with that view (47 percent each).

Regarding expectations for the future, IFES concluded that 43 percent of Ukrainians believe the 2004 presidential election placed Ukraine on a path toward stability and prosperity, while 12 percent believe that Ukraine is headed toward instability. Economically speaking, 57 percent of Ukrainians describe the situation as bad or very bad, while just 9 percent perceive it as good or very good. In the 2003 survey, 86 percent described the economy as bad.

The Orange Revolution also appears to have ushered in widespread optimism, IFES found. Majorities expect to see at least some improvements in relations with Western countries (70 percent), the economy (65 percent), the fight against corruption (63 percent), respect for human rights (59 percent), and political stability (54 percent) over the next two years.

Institutions that played key roles in the Orange Revolution have seen an improvement in their public standing since the Yushchenko victory. More Ukrainians now express positive impressions of the Verkhovna Rada, the judicial system, the media, and nongovernmental organizations than before the presidential election in October. Four in 10 Ukrainians now have a better impression of the media than they did at the start of the election process, versus 11 percent who view the media more negatively and 38 percent whose views have not changed substantially. Impressions of the legislature, Verkhovna Rada, have improved among 42 percent of Ukrainians versus just 15 percent whose opinions have worsened and 33 percent who say their perceptions are unchanged.

IFES found in February that 65 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in President Yushchenko, while 25 percent say they have little or no confidence in him. (Among those who voted for Yanukovych, just 17 percent say they have confidence in the new president.) Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko enjoys the confidence of 57 percent of Ukrainians.

While the IFES concluded that the Orange Revolution marks a defining moment in Ukrainian history and Ukrainian public opinion through a major shift in social attitudes toward democracy and a more active participation of citizens in politics, the pollster also noted important sociopolitical cleavages in Ukraine's public opinion regarding the events of November-December 2004.

In its analysis of these cleavages, IFES chooses the self-explanatory terms "Revolutionary Enthusiasts" (48 percent of the population), "Revolutionary Opponents" (23 percent), and "Revolutionary Agnostics" (for those holding the middle ground between the previous two groups and characterized by a wait-and-see attitude; 29 percent of the population). According to IFES, there are no major differences based on gender or education among those three groups. In terms of ethnicity, the Revolutionary Enthusiasts tend to identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainians, while the majority of the country's ethnic Russians falls into the Revolutionary Opponents group. The Revolutionary Agnostics are an ethnically diverse group. Pensioners and the elderly are overrepresented among the Opponents, while the Agnostics include a larger proportion of students than is found among the general population.

In terms of political geography, Revolutionary Enthusiasts live mainly in oblasts with moderate or strong support for Yushchenko and in the western regions of Ukraine. Revolutionary Agnostics tend to live in oblasts with moderate support for both candidates, fall nearly equally on the side of Yushchenko or Yanukovych, and a plurality lives in the eastern part of the country. Revolutionary Opponents tend to live nearly exclusively in the east, in oblasts with strong or moderate support for Yanukovych.

Neo-Taliban insurgents kidnapped a Lebanese engineer on 14 August working on a road project in southern Afghanistan, AFP reported the next day. "A Lebanese man, Ahmad Reza, working for a Turkish construction company was kidnapped near Qalat, Zabul," the Zabul Province governor's spokesman Gulab Shah Alikhil said. Three Afghans who were on the Kabul-Kandahar road at the time were also abducted. The Afghans were later released, but neo-Taliban forces said they continue to hold Reza. "We captured Ahmad Reza. He's fine, but we haven't decided yet on his fate," neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said. MR

Afghan police killed six neo-Taliban guerillas who attacked a highway checkpoint in central Oruzgan Province, AP reported on 15 August. Authorities seized AK-47s and ammunition from guerillas in the mountains of Tirin Kot District, Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan said. Khan added that no police were injured. Afghan police began their raid on the area on 14 August, sweeping into neighboring Chora District as well. Nine suspected neo-Taliban insurgents were arrested in the operation as well, including a local commander named Mullah Janan, Khan said. "They [police] want to pressure the Taliban because the elections are coming," he said, referring to parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 September. In a separate incident in Zabul Province, suspected neo-Taliban insurgents accidentally detonated on 14 August what appeared to be a roadside bomb meant for U.S.-led coalition forces. One suspected militant was killed in the blast, and another was wounded, Sori District head Rovi Khan said. MR

Neo-Taliban forces claimed responsibility for an explosion on 14 August that left five people dead in Kandahar Province, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported the next day. The blast occurred when a gas cylinder exploded and destroyed eight vehicles, apparently in a convoy. "Yesterday evening, a number of trucks and oil tankers were traveling from Herat Province to Kandahar," Kandahar security commander General Abdol Malek said. "They stopped overnight in the Bagh-e Pol area. A gas cylinder being used by the drivers of the vehicles exploded. As a result, an oil tanker caught fire and this spread to other vehicles. The vehicles were completely destroyed and their drivers were burnt to death. Five others were injured." Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told the Pakistan-based news agency, "The vehicles and oil tankers, which were carrying fuel for the Americans, were set on fire by the Taliban." MR

Afghan election officials on 15 August announced the opening of the one-month campaign for the 18 September parliamentary elections, Xinhua news agency reported the same day. "The official campaign period for the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house, and provincial-council elections will begin on 17 August," UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said. Candidates will be allowed to campaign until 15 September, when a 48-hour moratorium will be imposed. More than 10 million Afghans are reportedly eligible to vote. Candidates will be allowed to hold rallies, distribute posters and leaflets, and appear in private and state-run media. "Each Wolesi Jirga candidate will be allocated an advertisement of five minutes to be broadcast twice on radio or one advertisement of two minutes to be broadcast twice on television," Baheen said. Baheen said candidates for provincial councils will get one advertisement of four minutes broadcast on radio or one advertisement of two minutes broadcast on television. MR

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad appointed Ali Larijani secretary of the Supreme National Security Council on 15 August, ISNA reported. The president chairs the council. In his letter of appointment, Ahmadinejad expressed his gratitude to the outgoing secretary, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, for his service. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with council members and staff the same day, state television reported. He also thanked Rohani, describing him as "one of the competent, active, and sympathetic managers of the system," and noting his "rational, open-minded, and steady management" over the last 16 years. BS

Ahmadinejad appointed Hojatoleslam Gholam Hussein Elham his chief of staff on 15 August, ILNA reported. Elham's duties, according to the letter of appointment, are to "facilitate communication to speed up coordination among ministries and organizations." Ahmadinejad said Elham should reorganize the office if necessary, and no communications should go unanswered. Elham has served as the spokesman of the Guardians Council. BS

Ahmadinejad appointed two individuals with unspecified responsibilities on 15 August. He appointed Mujtaba Samareh Hashemi as his "senior presidential adviser," IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad also appointed "Hojatoleslam [first name not given] Moslehi" his adviser for theological and cleric affairs, IRNA reported. This is probably Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, the supreme leader's representative to the Basij Resistance Force, and the appointment is possibly his payoff for the Basij's decisive role in Ahmadinejad's victory. BS

The deputy director of the Iranian aerospace association, Mehran Mirshams, announced on 15 August that "Iranian specialists are building a missile that is capable of carrying lightweight objects," ISNA reported. "In the not-too-distant future, we will see the first Iranian missile that is capable of carrying such objects." Mirshams explained that microsatellites weigh less than 100 kilograms and are placed at an altitude of 900 to 1,000 kilometers. Such satellites are for telecommunications and research, and he predicted that the launch will take place in September. BS

SINTEF Petroleumforskning is being investigated by the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Okokrim) for corrupt practices involving a contract with Iran, NRK reported on 12 August. SINTEF allegedly paid approximately $118,000 to a company in the Virgin Islands to secure a contract in Iran. The Nopef trade union raised the corruption complaint on 24 June. BS

The Iraqi National Assembly voted unanimously on 15 August to give the committee drafting the constitution an additional week to come up with a draft, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 16 August. The extension required the assembly to amend the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq's interim constitution, which had stipulated that a draft be written by 15 August or the National Assembly dissolved. Addressing the late-night session, parliamentary speaker Hajim al-Hasani said: "Despite the huge efforts made, we have not managed to arrive at solutions pleasing for everyone up until this moment. I personally believe that this is the real democracy and it proves to the world that the Iraqis are the ones who draft their own constitution. The disagreement [over the constitution] does not spoil the amity existing among all parties because all of us have always been determined to draft [a constitution] that would serve the coming generations and maintain the unity of Iraq." KR

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters in Baghdad at a 15 August press briefing broadcast live on Al-Sharqiyah television following the drafting-committee vote that it was only natural that the drafting committee disagreed on some points. Al-Ja'fari pointed to federalism and the distribution of wealth as two of the remaining issues facing the drafting committee, saying that there is agreement in principle, but some details needed to be worked out. Asked what will happen should the committee fail to reach a consensus by 22 August, al-Ja'fari said, "I believe that there will be a variety of options open to us at that time," suggesting that a committee could be formed to address outstanding issues not agreed upon by the drafters or in the "worst-case scenario," the National Assembly could be dissolved. KR

President Jalal Talabani's spokesman Kamran al-Karadaghi told Radio Free Iraq on 16 August that the president's office will continue to work toward encouraging an agreement among those drafting the constitution ahead of next week's deadline. "There is nothing ahead except for the agreement between the leaders of political blocs and parties represented as well as [those not] represented in the National Assembly," al-Karadaghi said. "They have agreed with the request to prolong [the constitution-drafting period] only by one week.... This means they believe that this deadline is sufficient for solving the constitutional issues in which there has been dispute between them." KR

Salim al-Juburi, a Sunni member on the drafting committee, told Al-Jazeera television in a 15 August interview that Sunnis will reject the draft if their demands are not met. "We made recommendations [to the committee] and asked other parties to cut down on their demands. Some parties want to impose themselves and they are demanding that they be recognized in the draft constitution," he said without elaborating. Al-Juburi added that both Shi'ite and Kurdish drafters rejected a Sunni proposal that major issues be postponed and resolved by the next National Assembly. Meanwhile, Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary-General Tariq al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera on 15 August that the party supports the extension for the drafting committee. "The Islamic Party does not think that the Transitional Administrative Law is sacred," al-Hashimi said. "The Koran and the Sunnah are sacred. Anything besides this can be changed. We do not object to postponing the deadline for drafting the constitution." KR

Radio Free Iraq reported on 15 August that Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi's family was targeted in a roadside-bomb attack the same day. The attack purportedly occurred between Al-Khalis and Uzaym in the Diyala Governorate, as the family was en route to Kurdistan. A security source said that two of Abd al-Mahdi's bodyguards were killed and five other people, including civilians, were injured. Iraqi and multinational forces surrounded the area and set up security checkpoints in search of the perpetrators. Al-Arabiyah television cited Abd al-Mahdi's office as denying that the vice president's family was targeted in an attack on 15 August. Meanwhile, gunmen assassinated Al-Khalis municipal-council member Muhammad Husayn in his vehicle on 15 August, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Husayn's driver was also killed in the attack. KR

The U.S. military said in a 15 August statement that Iraqi security forces killed an Al-Qaeda lieutenant in an ambush in Mosul on 12 August ( The lieutenant, identified only as Abu Zubair, was reportedly wearing a suicide bomb at the time he was killed. He was being sought for his role in a July suicide-bomb attack on a Mosul police station that killed five Iraqi police officers, the statement said. Abu Zubair was also suspected of "resourcing and facilitating" suicide-bomb attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces as well as civilians. KR