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Newsline - August 17, 2005

President Vladimir Putin flew on 16 August in a strategic Tu-160 bomber (Blackjack) from Moscow to a military base in Olegegorsk, Murmansk Oblast, to take part in the naval exercises of the Northern Fleet, Channel One and NTV reported. During the five-hour flight it was reported that Putin briefly endured up to 2.5 times the normal force of gravity and observed the launch of a new long-range cruise missile while aboard the bomber. Before the flight, Putin, 52, was found by a doctor to be fit for such a high-speed flight and was instructed about flying by Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, the commander of 37th Air Army that belongs to the president's strategic reserve. Upon arrival in Olegegorsk, Putin said that the new "high-precision cruise missile" hit its target, RTR reported. Putin then boarded the flagship of the Northern Fleet heavy cruiser, "Peter the Great," where he and Ivanov watched the launch of a ballistic missile from a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea on 17 August that landed at a testing ground in Kamchatka. Putin has previously flown in a Sukhoi fighter to Chechnya and went under Arctic waters in a submarine. VY

President Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Rosaviakosmos (national space agency) head Anatolii Perminov, and other members of the Russian government were at the opening of the annual aerospace fair MAX in Zhukovskoe, near Moscow, international media reported. Some 700 companies from 40 states are displaying the latest models in civil and military aircraft. Some of the best pilots from many countries are also taking part in an air acrobatic show, including U.S. pilots who flew on two strategic B-1B Lancer bombers. Putin visited the Chinese exhibition as well as the MiG and Sukhoi aircraft company stands and was shown the prototype of Russia's new space shuttle Clipper, slated to be ready for a moon flight by 2013, Channel One reported. Putin said he supports the idea of opening a kind of free economic zone in Zhukovskoe that would contain the offices of all the biggest Russian aircraft-design and aircraft-building. VY

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin wrote in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 August that "Russia cannot agree to the forcible democratization of post-Soviet space" and considers "color revolutions" as falling within that category of democratization. He added that Russia believes "forcible democratization" will lead to destabilization and the growth of extremism in the region. He also said Russia has vital interests in the CIS and will persistently defend them. At the same time, Russia understands that other countries have their own interests in the CIS region and can protect these interests "in a fair competition of ideas and concepts, not power," Karasin concluded. Karasin was presumably responding to the recent initiative, unveiled by the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents, to create a "commonwealth of democracies of the Baltic, Black Sea and Caspian regions," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2005). VY

Commenting on the decision by Russia's Supreme Court to cancel a ban on the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005), party leader Eduard Limonov said on 16 August that although the "judges showed they do not want to tarnish their names by prohibiting an opposition organization," the authorities will continue to fight against the NBP, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He added that: "I think the Federal Security Service [FSB] and Prosecutor-General's Office will continue actions against us." In an interview with Ekho Moskvy the same day, Limonov said he received confidential information that the FSB is trying to infiltrate provocateurs into his organization in order to divide it. VY

Nataliya Veshnyakova, spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office, said on 16 August that her agency respects the court decision on the NBP but disagrees with it and will appeal, Interfax reported. It is possible for appeals to be sent to the Supreme Court's Presidium. NBP spokesman Aleksandr Averin stated on 16 August that six members of the NBP were assaulted in Moscow the same day by about 30 youths who severely beat them, Ekho Moskvy reported. Averin linked the attack with the court decision and said he suspected the youths belonged to the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. However, Nashi spokesman Ivan Mostovich said his movement "honors the court decision, which proved that the defense arguments were stronger than those of the prosecution," reported. But Nashi said it continues to consider the NBP "a fascist sect" and will counter it publicly and openly. VY

Sergei Markov, the pro-Kremlin director of the Political Research Institute, said he believes that the reversal of the NBP ban is simply a failure by the Prosecutor General's Office in presenting the case, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 16 August. Prosecutors can function only if they have political "levers." "But if there are not enough possibilities to apply political pressure, as it was in this case with the NBP, they fail," opined Markov. He added that the authorities will not give up their efforts to destroy the NBP because they consider it "an embryo of a fascist party in its leftist form." But "Vedomosti" on 17 August quoted NBP lawyer Valerii Varivoda as saying previously that the Kremlin considers the NBP very dangerous but that the situation has changed and it has been decided that the NBP "is not worth a war." And on 16 August said that "Limonov has preserved the brand of the party" by changing its course and refusing to reconcile it as the Kremlin wishes. VY

The government has approved a document outlining the status and duties of state secretaries, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 August. President Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov recently returned the position of state secretary, which carries the rank of deputy minister, to all federal ministries and agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 16 August 2005). According to the document approved by the government, the state secretaries' main task will be coordinating work between the ministries and the federal parliament. That will include oversight of the drafting of legislation that executive agencies plan to submit to the State Duma, as well as preparing suggestions for what stance the president and government should take on draft laws under consideration in the parliament. However, the state secretaries will not have the right to publicly voice opinions concerning draft laws that do not correspond to the official position taken by the president or the government. LB

Chief Health Inspector Gennadii Onishchenko has signed a directive strengthening measures to halt the spread of the bird-flu virus, reported on 16 August, citing the press service of the Federal Consumer Protection Service. The document states that although no human cases of bird flu have been reported, the virus circulating among animals could cause illness in humans. It recommends that regional authorities allocate more funds to creating stockpiles of material to prevent the spread of the virus and to treat the illness. The document also instructs leaders of poultry-processing facilities to provide employees with protective clothing and not to permit employees who are over 60 or have chronic heart or lung ailments to work near infected birds. Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 August that the mass death of domestic birds has been reported in the Republic of Kalmykiya, although the presence of the bird flu virus has not yet been confirmed there. LB

The Supreme Court on 16 August ruled that a Moscow district court acted legally in December 2004 when it approved an arrest warrant for Svetlana Bakhmina, the deputy head of the Yukos legal department, RIA-Novosti reported, citing Bakhmina's attorney, Olga Kozyreva. Bakhmina remains in pretrial detention on charges that she participated in allegedly illegal activities at Yukos. She had appealed the arrest on the grounds that she had not been accused of any crime at the time the court approved the warrant, Kozyreva said. The Moscow City Court rejected Bakhmina's appeal against her arrest in February. LB

Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Nikita Belykh discussed the party's strategy for upcoming regional and federal elections in an interview with the weekly "Kommersant-Vlast" on 15 August. In light of the introduction of a nationwide election day for regional legislative races, Belykh said the SPS will decide where to deploy its limited resources based on concrete plans for winning legislative seats proposed by regional branches of the party. He did not rule out election pacts with Yabloko on the regional level, but he noted that such alliances had been successful only where they were forged long before the election rather than forced at the last minute. Asked how the party would finance the 2007 State Duma campaign, in which parties that do not currently have Duma factions will have to pay a deposit or collect 2 million nominating signatures in order to qualify for the ballot, Belykh said the SPS will depend on big business for financing. He said the party views small and medium-sized business primarily as a source of electoral support rather than funding. Belykh also said the SPS will focus on direct contact with voters to compensate for the fact that the party's access to the media may be limited. LB

President Putin on 16 August sent the Chuvash/Chuvashiya Republic's State Council his nomination of Nikolai Fedorov for the post of republican president, reported, citing the Kremlin's press service. Fedorov served as justice minister in Boris Yeltsin's government from 1990 to 1993 before being elected president of Chuvashiya in January 1994. He was reelected in 1997 and 2001, and his current term expires this December. LB

The authorities of Marii El Republic have threatened to bring charges against the leaders of the ethnic Mari organization Marii Ushem, who defied municipal authorities and staged a demonstration in Yoshkar-Ola on 14 August on the eve of the 10th International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies, according to a 17 August press release from the Tallinn-based Information Center of Finno-Ugric Peoples (ICFUP). The Maris are a Finno-Ugric people who at the time of the 1989 Soviet census numbered some 670,000, of whom some 43 percent lived in their titular republic. Demonstration participants reportedly bore placards proclaiming "Our President is Putin, not [Marii El President Leonid] Markelov," and "1937 Again?" an allusion to the Stalin purges. They also protested alleged violations by the republic's leaders of their human and ethnic rights (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 2 June 2005). Numerous prominent international scholars from Finland, Hungary, and Estonia chose not to attend the Finno-Ugric congress as a gesture of solidarity with the Mari people, according to a 16 August ICFUP press release. Participants at the opening session of the congress on 15 August observed one minute's silence to honor congress President Yurii Anduganov, who was killed last month in a car accident in circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2005). LF

Meanwhile, parents in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia Republic, have written to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to protest what they term the local authorities' refusal to provide education for their children in Udmurt, a Finno-Ugric language, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 August. There were 714,800 Udmurts in Russia at the time of the 1989 Soviet census, of whom 70 percent lived in Udmurtia. The Izhevsk authorities have made available a school building on the city outskirts to accommodate 1,200 Udmurt pupils, but parents protest that it is inaccessible. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Udmurtia President Aleksandr Volkov as having told a representative of the republic's Tatar minority that he does not considerable it appropriate to create "national reservations" within the republic's education system, meaning schools in which teaching is conducted in languages other than Russian. LF

The Prosecutor's Office in Chechnya's Urus Martan Raion concluded that Doku Umarov was responsible for the attack by Chechen militants during the night of 13-14 August on the village of Roshni-Chu in which five Russian military personnel, including Urus Martan military commandant Colonel Aleksandr Kayak, were killed, reported on 16 August, quoting that day's issue of "Novye izvestiya." An account of the Roshni-Chu operation posted on 15 August on did not specify which field commander led the some 30 resistance fighters who took part. LF

A Yerevan district court on 16 August gave a two-year suspended prison term to Yektan Turkyilmaz, a Turkish postgraduate at a U.S. university who faced charges of attempting to smuggle antique books out of Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 15 August 2005). Turkyilmaz, who was apprehended at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport two months ago, insisted he was not aware of the legal requirement to obtain written authorization from the Ministry of Culture in order to take out of the country any volume published more than 50 years ago. He said he intends to return to Yerevan in order to continue research into the circumstances of the mass killings of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. LF

Elchin Gambarov, an attorney representing Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the opposition youth group Yeni Fikir, was quoted on 17 August by as saying that Bashirli was systematically beaten the day following his arrest earlier this month in such a way as not to leave marks on his body. Bashirli was taken into custody on 3 August shortly after returning from a visit to Tbilisi during which -- to judge from video footage shown on Azerbaijani television -- he accepted money from men identified as Armenian intelligence agents and pledged to destabilize the political situation in Azerbaijan. He has been charged with seeking to overthrow the country's leadership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 August 2005). Gambarov said interrogators tried, without success, to coerce Bashirli into giving testimony incriminating Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. LF

The Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) endorsed and unveiled on 15 August its list of 109 candidates for the 6 November parliamentary election, and Turan reported. On 16 August, YAP also made public a list of 16 nominally independent candidates whom it will support in the country's remaining 16 constituencies. Turan noted on 16 August that only 42 of YAP's current 75 parliament deputies will seek reelection. Those who will not do so include Algysh Hasanoglu, editor of the party's eponymous newspaper, and parliamentary human rights commission head and former Information Minister Siruz Tebrizli, who made headlines seven years ago by denouncing YAP as "a party of faceless gangsters" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 March 1998). Most prominent among the new would-be YAP parliamentarians are President Ilham Aliyev's wife Mehriban; Akram Abdullaev, whose brother, Sheikh ul Islam Allakh-shukur Pashazade heads the Religious Board of Muslims of the Caucasus; and Yevda Abramov, a representative of Azerbaijan's dwindling community of Mountain Jews. LF

Rauf Arifoglu, who is a deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party and editor of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," has been ordered to report on 17 August to the Prosecutor General's Office to answer questions about the ongoing investigation into the 2 March murder of Elmar Huseinov, editor of the journal "Monitor," Turan reported on 16 August. In a recent issue, "Yeni Musavat" claimed that 30 million manats ($6,438) was paid for Huseinov's murder and that one of his suspected killers, Tahir Khubanov, is already dead. LF

At a 16 August press conference at the Georgian Interior Ministry, journalists were shown video footage featuring Giorgi Zasaev, one of two Ossetians detained by Georgian police last month in connection with the 1 February car-bombing that killed three people in Gori, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2005). According to Caucasus Press, Zasaev said that the bombing was ordered by two instructors from the Russian peacekeeping force in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized South Ossetia Republic, whose names he gave as "Igor" and "Roma." Russian officials rejected earlier Georgian claims of Russian involvement in staging terrorist acts on Georgian territory. But a Eurasia View analysis on 2 August quoted an unnamed Georgian official as saying "If there were no real proof, Georgia would not point the finger at Russia. If we point to Russia, it means there is absolutely clear evidence.... We are not stupid enough to play with Russia. We know their abilities." LF

The U.S. government has approved a program under which Georgia will receive $300 million in financial aid over the next five years within the framework of the Millennium Challenge Account, Caucasus Press reported on 17 August. Some $102 million will go towards rebuilding highways in the remote and predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Samtskhe-Djavakheti; $49.5 million for repairs to the main gas pipeline and other energy-related expenses; $60 million for infrastructure projects in rural areas; $32.5 million to the investment fund; and $15 million for developing agriculture. Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli told a cabinet meeting on 17 August that the program will be finalized during a visit to Washington by President Mikheil Saakashvili next month. LF

Asylbek Kazhmuratov, director of the veterinary department in Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry, told a news conference in Astana on 16 August that Kazakhstan has spent 10.5 million tenges ($78,000) fighting a recent outbreak of the bird-flu virus, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. As of 16 August, the ministry has culled 9,056 head of poultry after bird flu cases were reported in the Pavlodar, Aqmola, Karaganda, and North Kazakhstan provinces. Nikola Belev, president of the regional committee for Europe in the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), told a press conference in Astana that the OIE is ready to provide Kazakhstan with experts and funds to fight the outbreak, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Belev is in Kazakhstan at the government's invitation. Also on 16 August, Khabar reported that inspections in southern Kazakhstan have turned up no indications of bird flu. DK

PetroKazakhstan, a Canadian registered company that holds oil assets in Kazakhstan, has received buyout bids from PetroChina and an Indian joint venture, Canadian Press reported on 16 August. PetroChina, acting in concert with parent company China National Petroleum Corp., has offered $3.2 billion for PetroKazakhstan, China's "The Standard" reported. India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp., in a joint venture with London-based steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, has reportedly offered at least $3.5 billion. Reports put PetroKazakhstan's market value at $3.3 billion-$3.4 billion. Oil-hungry China has been courting Kazakhstan, which has itself been seeking export routes not tied to Russia, and these political factors likely explain the lower Chinese bid, oil industry analyst Sam Dale of Energy Intelligence told "The New York Times" on 16 August. Buyout rumors have fueled a 60-percent rise in PetroKazakhstan stock over the last three months, although the company faces legal difficulties in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005 and 15 July 2005). DK

A spokesman for Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev told RIA-Novosti on 16 August that Kyrgyzstan is examining the possibility of bringing in a Russian company to manage its power grid. The comment came after Bakiev announced on 15 August, "We have a company which is ready to put the national power grid in order." The presidential spokesman would not disclose which Russian company might be tapped to manage the grid. Kairat Jumaliev, a Kyrgyz energy-sector official, told journalists that an open tender will take place in the fall, AFP reported. Meanwhile, Margarita Nagoga, a spokesperson for Russia's Unified Electrical Systems (EES), told RIA-Novosti, "We are hoping that we will be able to work with the Kyrgyz government, because in Russia RAO UES has experience in establishing order in the sector, and resolving similar problems to those which the Kyrgyz power grid is facing." DK

Saparmurat Niyazov has removed Orazmukhammet Atageldiev from his ministerial post as the head of Turkmengeologiya for "serious deficiencies in his work," reported on 16 August. Niyazov replaced Atageldiev -- who headed the state-run geology firm since 1999 -- with Ishanguly Nuriev. Atageldiev's dismissal rounds out a shakeup in the country's energy sector that has seen the removal of Deputy Prime Minster Yolly Gurbanmuradov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May and 25 July 2005) and national oil company head Saparmemed Valiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2005). DK

Five Belarusian opposition parties have so far elected 194 candidates throughout Belarus to a national congress that is to name a single opposition candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential election, Belapan reported on 16 August. In the past two months the parties held more than 100 raion-level conferences involving more than 4,000 representatives of opposition forces and nongovernmental organizations, frequently under the open sky outside cities because local authorities often refuse to provide venues for such gatherings. Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, head of the organizing committee for the congress, told Belapan that the committee sent a letter on 16 August to Lukashenka asking him to help find a hall for the presidential-nomination congress. Bukhvostau added that the committee is also mulling the possibility of holding such a congress abroad. JM

The Belarusian Interior Ministry has been sending some 10 percent of off-duty police personnel to help state-run farms with harvesting, Belapan reported on 16 August, quoting the ministry's press service. Staffers of the ministry's central apparatus were reportedly involved in harvesting at the collective farms in Volma and Hranichy, Minsk Oblast, over the weekend of 13-14 August. Approximately 150 policemen have served as combine-harvester and tractor operators, drivers, and construction workers in Minsk Oblast. The head of a detention center in Naroulya Raion, Homel Oblast, has reported reaping 200 tons of grain behind the wheel of a Russian-made Don-1500 combine at the Antonau collective farm. District inspectors, investigators, traffic police, and other police staff in Lida Raion, Hrodna Oblast, have been involved in gathering silage at the Yedki farm, while police officers in Vitsebsk Oblast have worked at grain- and vegetable-storage facilities at the Red Army farm. JM

Romania said on 16 August that it has filed documents with the International Court of Justice in The Hague to support its suit of September 2004 asking the court to resolve its border dispute in the Black Sea with Ukraine, AP reported. Romania has been locked in a bitter quarrel with Ukraine over how to demarcate their maritime border near the tiny Serpents Island in the Black Sea. The continental shelf in that vicinity is reportedly rich in oil and gas deposits. The Romanian Foreign Ministry said on 16 August that the submitted documents include "a presentation of the juridical reasons for the demarcation option proposed," but did not elaborate. JM

The Romanian Foreign Ministry has required information from the Ukrainian Embassy in Bucharest regarding Ukraine's reported resumption of the construction of the Bystraya Canal linking the Kiliya (Chilia) arm of the Danube with the Black Sea, Rompress reported on 16 August. The ministry said that, according to Romanian media, a Ukrainian vessel on 31 July resumed dredging the Danube's Bystraya estuary, which constitutes the main part of the controversial canal. The first stage of the Bystraya Canal construction was completed in August 2004, amid international protests that the project poses a serious threat to the unique ecological system of the Danube Delta (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 September 2004). A German company that participated in the Bystraya Canal construction in 2004 has reportedly withdrawn from the project. JM

More than 30 officers of the special-task force Berkut and an armored personnel carrier were involved in a search of the Donetsk-based firm Lyuks belonging to Ukrainian oligarch Rynat Akhmetov on 16 August, Ukrainain media reported. A regional prosecutor in Donetsk told journalists that the search was connected with the criminal investigation of a case involving tax evasion and abuse of office. Akhmetov, who is believed to be Ukraine's wealthiest man, is a political and business partner of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. In July, Akhmetov failed to appear for questioning as a witness in a case related to a shooting in Donetsk in 1988. Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko suggested that Akhmetov may be arrested if he continues to evade investigators. Akhmetov is reportedly vacationing abroad. JM

Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 17 August that there have been several death threats made against Jovan Mirilo, a resident of Sid in Vojvodina who supplied a Serbian NGO last winter with the now-famous video of Serbian paramilitary police of the Scorpions unit committing war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June and 1 July 2005). Mirilo told the Austrian daily while on a visit to that country that the brother of one of the police in the video, who has since been arrested, told him to his face: "You're a dead man." Mirilo added that the wife of a second arrested policeman tried to run down Mirilo's common-law wife with a car. PM

Mirilo told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 17 August that he has reported the death threats to the police in Sid but has not received any protection even though he described his life in recent months as a "living hell." He stressed nonetheless that Sid is his home and that he has no intention of leaving. He noted that he has known many of the former Scorpions for years, adding that many are armed because they belong to the local police force or possess hunting licenses. Mirilo told the daily that what prompted him to secure a copy of the video and turn it over to a Belgrade NGO was a television broadcast in which one of the Scorpions appeared in his capacity as the president of the local Carp Fishing Society and gave a lecture on the importance of a "sound mind in a healthy body." Mirilo stressed that this was the "last straw," and he decided that the time had come to bring the Scorpions to justice. PM

The Serbian government's recent decisions to drop criminal charges against the son of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and lift an international arrest warrant against Milosevic's wife have prompted many Serbs to wonder whether the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is restoring the former dictator's legacy, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and AP reported from Belgrade on 16 March. Serbia and Montenegro's former Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told the news agency that leading Belgrade politicians are pursuing a "new nationalism" and seeking to turn Serbia into a "regional hegemonist" at the expense of good relations with its neighbors. Veran Matic, who heads the independent broadcaster B92, said that "the situation is even more complicated than under Milosevic. The world now views the government as democratic, but all key pillars of Milosevic's regime are being rehabilitated." Some observers also note the prominent political role of the hard-line Serbian Orthodox Church and some of its leading clerics, which, however, was not part of the Milosevic system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February, 25 March, and 1 July 2005). PM

Igor Stefanac, who heads Interpol's Zagreb office, said on 16 August that Slovenian police in Maribor recently arrested two unnamed members of Montenegro's special police unit and a Slovenian citizen of Montenegrin origin for their alleged roles in a car-theft ring, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The gang is said to have stolen automobiles with a total value of $3 million in Slovenia and Croatia and sold them in Montenegro. Stefanac said that the case is particularly interesting because this is an international crime ring that Interpol has been seeking to crack for some time. Montenegro, like Albania, has had the reputation in recent years as being a prime market for stolen autos. A joke has made the rounds in former Yugoslavia since the 1990s that the Montenegrin Tourist Office is supposedly launching an advertising campaign in Germany under the slogan: "Come to Montenegro! Your car is here waiting for you." PM

Albin Kurti, who is a former student leader and political prisoner seeking immediate independence for Kosova without negotiations, said in Klina on 15 August that he wants more protests to demand independence, the Prishtina daily "Epoka e Re" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 July and 1 August 2005). Kurti stressed that it is wrong for "2 million [Kosovars to] wait for the report of Kai Eide," who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Kosova and who will soon issue a paper on Kosova's readiness for final status talks. Kurti argued that "Eide has never lived in Kosova. Kosova's citizens should decide on their own fate." Kurti heads the pro-independence group called Self-Determination (Vetevendosja). PM

A recently published study by the Moldovan Bureau of the United Nations Development Program found that the rights to obtain work and make a decent living are among the most frequently violated human rights in Moldova, BASA reported on 16 August. The study reportedly focused on 20 human rights and liberties. As much as 86 percent of those surveyed pointed to the right to a reasonable salary as the most serious rights violation (or did you mean the most frequently violated?) in Moldova; 85 percent named the right to a decent living; and 82 percent indicated the right to work and choose the place of work. JM

In a new book on post-Soviet Islam in the Russian Federation, Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, argues that "a Muslim of a new type" has emerged there, a believer "who does not want only to preserve his religious identity but also to think in a modern-day fashion."

That book, "Islam in Contemporary Russia" (in Russian, Moscow: Grand, 2005), represents a reworked version of Gainutdin's candidate degree dissertation, according to an extensive review of it that appeared recently in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii" (

According to the reviewer, Alim Kokanly, who is identified as an historian and publicist, Gainutdin argues that "the rapid growth in the number of Muslim institutions" over the last decade owes less to the actions of religious leaders than to "the principally new relationship of the Russian state toward Islam."

In Russia today, Gainutdin continues, "there is not a single city or village whose spiritual life is dominated by the mosque and its imam." Instead, "a new type of Muslim believer" has emerged, one who is increasingly dissatisfied "with the rituals of the mosque alone and wants more from his faith."

That trend has rendered the local imams and mullahs increasingly irrelevant to many Muslims and even led to "the departure of a definite portion of believers from the mosque." But in his book, Gainutdin argues that there is a way forward, one that is to be found within Islam itself.

Islam, he continues in the words of his reviewer, is "a universal doctrine" and thus capable of corresponding to the demands of the contemporary world and "not [invariably] contradicting it." Indeed, he insists, the Islamic faith has been in a state of evolution through most if not all of its history, a trend that many deny but that no one should be shocked by.

"Alongside the Koran and the Sunnah [traditions] as generally accepted sources of the Shari'a [Muslim law] are ijtma (consensus), istislah or maslah (public welfare), urf (customary practice, local traditions customs and norms), and zarura (necessity)." Only by using a combination of these have Muslims been able to keep up with the times.

A classic example of the successful application of these principles, Gainutdin argues, was the reformist or Jadidist movement in Russian Islam at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

The efforts of the Jadids not only allowed Muslims to acquire the achievements of European civilization while preserving their Muslim identity, but the Jadids did so "in practice" by reforming the way in which Muslim young people were taught and even introducing instruction in the Russian language and the natural sciences.

The Jadids, Gainutdin says, argued that Allah had given people "two fundamental values; a source of truth -- the Koran -- and the ability to understand it -- Wisdom." Faith could not exist, they added if it "contradicted experience, wisdom or purpose." That is because Allah wants the human condition to improve, not become more difficult.

According to Kokanly, Gainutdin believes that "the development of [Islamic] theology in our day will yield the desired result only if it keeps the contemporary human being at the center of its focus and takes into account that individual's personal and social experience and the real problems with which he has to deal."In his public pronouncements over the last decade, Gainutdin has often suggested that Russia's Muslims need to draw on the experience of the Jadids in order to adapt their faith to contemporary conditions, a position that has put him at odds with many Muslim leaders, including the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate's Talgat Tadzhuddin.

Now that Gainutdin has laid out his argument in book-length form, this argument is likely to intensify as various Muslim leaders respond to it. Initially, as in the case of the "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii" review, their comments are likely to be circumspect and respectful. But that will almost certainly change because of how much is at stake.

But according to Kokanly, such an explosion of critical discussion is precisely what Gainutdin is hoping for, because the Council of Muftis of Russia leader is convinced that "the renewal of Islam for Russians is a completely new task" and will therefore only benefit from the broadest possible critical discussion.

(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

Seventeen Spanish soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in Herat Province on 16 August, international news agencies reported. In addition, five Spanish soldiers were injured when a second helicopter made an emergency landing. The two Cougar helicopters were part of the forces supporting the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in preparation for Afghanistan's September elections, ISAF spokesman Major Andre Elmes said in Kabul on 16 August, RFE/RL reported. Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono said in Madrid the same day that the crash was initially believed to have been an accident, "but on seeing pictures, an attack by a third party can absolutely not be ruled out," AFP reported. Those on board the second Cougar reportedly witnessed a "column of black smoke" coming from the first helicopter, and "thinking" there had been ground fire, made an emergency landing that resulted in injuries, Bono added. AT

Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 16 August that he has "no information" regarding the crash. The neo-Taliban have not been known to be active in Herat. The death toll was the highest related to Spain's involvement in Afghanistan since 62 Spanish soldiers died when a chartered plane crashed in Turkey en route to Spain two years ago (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 May 2003). AT

Nur al-Din Muhammad Rida, who was kidnapped in southern Afghanistan on 14 August by the neo-Taliban, has appealed to the company he works for to secure his release, AIP reported on 16 August. Most sources have identified the captured Lebanese as Ahmad Riza or Reza (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005); however, Lebanese government officials have since provided his correct name. Rida told AIP in a telephone call that "I have been treated well because I am a Muslim." He asked his company to "consider the demands of the mujahedin and not linger" in securing his release. Rida also told AIP that he is being moved "from place to place." Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh said in Beirut on 16 August that one of Rida's family members received a telephone call from him and also from his abductors, Lebanese National News Agency reported. The kidnapper reportedly said that the only condition for Rida's release is that the firm he works for cease its operations in Afghanistan, Sallukh said. AT

Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi said on 16 August that the "Turkish company has 24 meet our demands," AIP reported. "If our demands are not met by this deadline, our council will make another decision," Hakimi said. Previous reports have linked Rida to a Turkish road-construction firm. However, the Lebanese National News Agency reported on 16 August that Rida works for a Lebanese company that sells diesel engines in Afghanistan, possibly to road-construction companies, most of which are Turkish. The owner of the Lebanese company, Anwar Sufan, has said that his company will cease its operations in Afghanistan if Rida is released. In his telephone call to AIP, Hakimi did not mention any specific demands. It is not unusual for Hakimi to claim responsibility for actions that the mainstream neo-Taliban has not actually carried out. AT

At least 30 combatants were recently killed in southern Afghanistan in separate clashes between neo-Taliban militants and Afghan government troops supported by U.S.-led coalition forces, "Hindustan Times" reported on 16 August. In an operation in Zabul Province, 16 neo-Taliban were killed and another 16 militants, including commander Mullah Janan, were arrested. In neighboring Oruzgan Province, six militants were killed and 16 were arrested. In Helmand Province, bordering Oruzgan, eight Afghan government forces were killed in clashes with suspected neo-Taliban members. Meanwhile, neo-Taliban commander Mullah Musa Kalim was killed by a land mine in Zabul Province. AT

Pakistani security forces have reportedly arrested Mohammad Yasir, Dubai-based "Al-Arabiyah" television reported on 15 August. Pakistani officials declined to comment on the arrest of Mohammad Yasir, whom the report described as "an important figure in the Taliban movement" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 August 2005). AT

Personnel from the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK) -- which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- attacked a police station in the town of Marivan on 16 August, Fars News Agency reported. One policeman was killed and another wounded. Also on 15 August, four Iranian police officers who were taken hostage by PJAK on 11 August were released, the Baztab website reported on 16 August. Baztab attributed this development to operations by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Major Shahnam Rezai, head of public affairs at the West Azerbaijan police headquarters, said on 13 August that the four were captured while they were collecting water near Borj-i Sina in Urumiyeh, ILNA reported. BS

Purya Hajizadeh, the husband of detained Kurdish rights activist Roya Tolui, told Radio Farda on 16 August that he last spoke with her on 10 August. She was fine at the time but he has had no news from her since then. Hajizadeh said he made inquiries at the judiciary but they had no information on her case, and furthermore, the relevant people are on leave. Tolui was detained on 2 August for her part in a demonstration in Sanandaj (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2005). Tolui is the editor in chief of the monthly "Rasan" magazine and created the "Association of the Kurdish Women Supporting Peace in Kurdistan." The police have reportedly summoned her in the past for incitement and creating illegal organizations, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 7 August. She is reportedly a microbiologist by training and runs a laboratory with her husband. BS

Masumeh Shafii, the wife of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, told Radio Farda on 16 August that the authorities do not want her husband to end his hunger strike, which is in its 68th day. Judge Said Mortazavi said one day earlier that Ganji is only playacting. The Iranian dailies "Aftab-i Yazd," "Iran,", and "Sharq" on 16 August quoted Mortazavi as saying that enemies of the state have encouraged Ganji, that Ganji is trying to get attention, and that he is actually eating while his family plots against the state. Shafii said she has not had access to her spouse for more than two weeks and that he is in a news quarantine. She wants to persuade Ganji to break his fast, she said, but Mortazavi wants him to die. BS

Judge Mortazavi has discussed the case of imprisoned attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, according to Iranian newspapers on 16 August. Mortazavi claimed that Soltani is a spy who has provided foreign embassies with classified information, "Aftab-i Yazd," "Iran," and "Sharq" reported. Soltani, who was arrested on 30 July, is representing the defendants in a nuclear-espionage case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). BS

Three coordinated car-bomb attacks in Baghdad killed at least 43 Iraqis and injured 76 on 17 August, international media reported. The first explosion took place outside the Al-Nahda bus terminal in central Baghdad. Minutes later a second explosion went off inside the terminal's parking lot. The third blast occurred near the Al-Kindi Hospital, where the victims of the first two attacks were being taken for treatment. Police and rescue workers were reportedly among the dead. Meanwhile, six Iraqi recruits were shot execution-style after insurgents pulled them from their minibus near Hawijah, located southwest of Kirkuk, AP cited Iraqi Army Brigadier General Anwar Muhammad Amin as saying. The recruits were en route to a training camp in Kirkuk when the attack took place. KR

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters during a 16 August press briefing in Baghdad that he is optimistic that the draft constitution will be completed by the 22 August deadline, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. "I presume that we would have succeeded had this initiative [of discussing some issues before postponing the deadline] come a few days earlier," al-Ja'fari said. "Had it appeared last week as vividly as yesterday, we may have completed [the draft] already last week what we are now expecting this week. In any case, I am very happy about the transparency of the dialogue conducted and of the way in which everyone voted." Responding to a question from RFI, al-Ja'fari said the issues that remain to be resolved include details relating to federalism; the sharing of resources; the balance of authority; distribution of power between the center and federal regions; representation of the federal regions abroad; and definition of the electoral system. "When I say 'details,' I mean that most formulations have been agreed upon," he said. "Only partial points have remained on which opinions differ." KR

Husayn Shahristani, a parliamentarian who is a member of the committee drafting the constitution, told RFI in a 15 August interview that less than a week is needed to complete the draft constitution, adding that many of the issues have been resolved. "As far as the role of Islam to be stated in to the constitution is concerned, it was a decided issue and not a point of dispute," Shahristani said. "Regarding federalism and a union-like model of governing Iraq, there is no difference [of opinion] between the United Iraqi Alliance, the Kurdish Unity List, and the rest of parliamentary factions represented in the National Assembly. There are only some [Sunni Arab] brothers who did not participate in the elections [of January 2005] and later were invited to join the political process. [They] have had some objections against some paragraphs on the federal system." Shahristani added that the Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs have called for resources to be shared and distributed from the central government to the governorates. Kurds reportedly oppose the proposal. KR

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its "2005 Article IV Consultation Staff Report" released on 16 August slashed its predictions for Iraq's economic growth by more than 75 percent this year ( The report is the IMF's first assessment of the Iraqi economy in some 25 years. The report lowered its forecast for GDP growth to 4 percent this year, down from an earlier prediction of 17 percent. The report also said the Iraqi government will likely run short of money in the second half of this year due to lower oil exports and a shortfall in fiscal revenues. The IMF warned the Iraqi government to reduce fuel-related subsidies, or the budget situation could worsen. KR