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Newsline - August 22, 2005

Russian Army Chief of Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii and his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie said joint military exercises that began on 18 August were not targeted at third countries, Interfax reported on 22 August. "Our exercises do not threaten any country and we firmly abide by this principle," Baluyevskii told a news conference in Vladivostok. Guanglie added that "the exercises comply with the United Nations' goals and charter and are not targeted against third countries, against anyone's interests, or against any states." Some commentators have suggested the exercises were directed against the United States and Taiwan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005). "If we are dealing with a peacekeeping operation, then why the strategic missile launchers and impact ships?" Sergei Karamaev wrote in on 18 August. "The military aims of the...maneuvers clearly contradict the propaganda, recalling the Cold War." BW

Russia has no plans to acquire new weapons despite a 22 percent increase in the draft defense budget for 2006, Interfax-AVN reported on 22 August. "Unfortunately, the planned increase in the defense budget in 2006 will not be able in any way to improve the situation with weapons acquisition," Lieutenant General Aleksandr Rakhmanov, the deputy head of the Russian Armed Forces' directorate for armament, was quoted as saying. "The total growth of new defense products in service next year will remain at this year's level." Rakhmanov said most of the increase will be used to modernize existing weapons. "We are going to spend the main bulk of finance next year not for acquisition of new pieces of materiel, but for modernization of existing weapon systems and extension of their service lives," he said. BW

Russia's Federal Consumer Protection Service on 19 August confirmed the presence of bird flu in the Republic of Kalmykia, bringing to seven the number of Russian regions in which the disease has been confirmed. But the Federal Consumer Protection Service issued a statement on 21 August describing the epidemiological situation as "stable," Interfax reported. The statement said that during the previous 24 hours, no deaths of domestic birds were registered in six of the regions struck this summer by bird flu (Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Tyumen, and Kurgan oblasts, Altai Krai, and Kalmykia). The statement noted that Omsk Oblast has continued to register new bird deaths. Meanwhile, authorities in Altai Krai and Orenburg Oblast on 19 August announced bans on hunting waterfowl so as to close off a possible avenue for further spread of the bird-flu virus from wild to domestic birds, RIA-Novosti reported. Chief Health Inspector Gennadii Onishchenko on 21 August dismissed as "panic stirred up by journalists" any speculation that bird flu might reach Moscow or western regions of the Russian Federation, Ekho Moskvy reported. Onishchenko said that sick birds do not fly tens of thousands of kilometers. LB

The federal government has changed the goods and services included in the "consumer basket" that is used to estimate the cost of living in the Russian Federation, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 19 August. The new basket estimates annual per capita consumption of bread and potatoes at 156 kilograms and 125 kilograms, respectively, down from 177 kilograms and 150 kilograms in the previous basket. However, the new basket includes higher estimates for annual consumption of meat, fish, eggs, and fruit. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta," various nonfood items in the consumer basket (such as shoes, clothing, and medicine) have not been changed. For the first time, however, the basket includes some cultural expenses, such as attending the theater or cinema. The government uses the consumer basket to calculate the "subsistence minimum" level, which, in turn, is supposed to influence the minimum wage. However, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" noted that the previous monthly subsistence level of 2,451 rubles ($86) was far higher than the monthly minimum wage, which will increase from 720 to 800 rubles on 1 September. The new consumer basket will likely cost 3.2 percent more than the previous one, according to unnamed "independent experts" quoted by the newspaper. LB

Aeroflot has suspended the operation of six IL-96-300 planes from its fleet due to possible manufacturing defects, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 August. According to an official Aeroflot statement, the head of the Russian Federal Transport Supervision Service Rostransnadzor ordered the suspension of all IL-96-300 planes from service because of manufacturing defects and the manufacturer's failure to correct them. Beginning on 22 August, Aeroflot is suspending flights to Hanoi and some flights to Beijing, Seoul, Toronto, and Washington. "Despite the difficulties, Aeroflot is taking urgent measures to meet its obligations to passengers," Aeroflot said in a statement. The Il-96-300 is a long-range, wide-body plane produced by the Voronezh aircraft factory. It has been in operation since 1993 and holds up to 300 passengers and 40 metric tons of cargo. There are 13 Il-96-300 aircraft in operation in Russia. The state transport company, Rossiya, operates two, Aeroflot six, and other Russian airlines five. BW

Political analysts and opposition leaders say they believe that recent initiatives supporting a third term for President Vladimir Putin were prompted by the Kremlin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 August. "I believe this is the president's initiative," said Georgii Satarov, head of the Moscow-based Indem Foundation think tank. "A change to the terms is quite possible. The time needed to make constitutional amendments varies from country to country, and it could change in Russia, too. But countries that respect their legal principles introduce such amendments to the constitution for the next president, not for the incumbent." Likewise, Yuliya Latynina, a political and economic analyst, said: "Most of these statements are due to the self-promotion of politicians who want to solve their problems. I think President Putin will secure a third term simply because this is the authorities' logic. Power in Russia is in essence authoritarian, and there are no other ways to hand over power: control must be maintained over it." BW

Former chess champion Garri Kasparov said that Russian border guards briefly detained him in an incident he claimed was an attempt to prevent him from entering the country, reported on 22 August. Kasparov, who was returning to Russia after a vacation in Croatia with his family, said border guards stopped him and held his passport for a long time. When he asked what was wrong, a border guard told him "the matter was classified," Kasparov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Kasparov also told Ekho Moskvy that he heard a man talking on the telephone, saying: "How can I stop a Russian citizen from entering Russia?" Kasparov, who retired from chess in March to devote himself to building an opposition to President Putin, was eventually allowed to enter the country. BW

President Putin on 19 August nominated Aleksandr Karlin, head of the presidential administration's Civil Service Directorate, for the post of Altai Krai governor, Russian news agencies reported. The krai's Council of People's Deputies is scheduled to consider the nomination on 25 August. In tapping a Kremlin official, Putin passed over Mikhail Kozlov, whom he had named acting governor of the krai immediately following Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov's death in an automobile accident earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 16 August 2005). Yevdokimov was on bad terms with the presidential administration in the months preceding his death, and Kozlov was first deputy in Yevdokimov's administration. Karlin is a native of Altai Krai who held various posts within the krai prosecutor's office during the 1970s and 1980s. He held senior posts in the USSR Prosecutor's Office from 1986 through 1991 and worked in high-level positions in the Prosecutor-General's Office of the Russian Federation from 1992 to 2000. Karlin was first deputy justice minister from 2000 to 2004, when Putin named him to head the Kremlin's newly created Civil Service Directorate. LB

Gleb Pavlovskii, a longtime adviser and image-maker for President Putin, will host a new NTV program, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 August. The weekly show, "Bolshaya politika," will debut in September. NTV canceled the politically oriented programs "Namedni" and "Lichnyi vklad" in mid-2004, and during the past year the network sounded out several journalists and media commentators as possible hosts of new shows to analyze political events. In the end, "Izvestiya" quoted NTV General Director Vladimir Kulistikov as saying, the network decided to hire "a person who himself is in the political arena and knows not through hearsay how politics is done, and who can talk about this without demonizing the process." Dmitrii Oreshkin, a political consultant who heads the Merkator group, expressed surprise at NTV's choice, telling "Izvestiya" that Pavlovskii is much better at "writing and manipulating" and is likely to be "more effective" in developing plans for the Kremlin, such as creating the Nashi youth movement, than hosting a television show. LB

Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov on 19 August advocated adopting a new law on the mass media to replace the basic media law that was adopted in December 1991, Interfax and reported. Speaking in the Republic of Adygeya, Sokolov argued that although the media law "played a positive role in establishing contemporary Russian media," it is not consistent with the Russian Constitution or the new Civil Code, and cannot fully regulate the rapidly changing mass media market. In particular, Sokolov called for introducing legal norms that will assist the "development of mass media as an effective instrument in the battle against terrorism." The 1991 law has been amended numerous times. Russian media watchdog groups generally favor further amendments rather than adopting a new basic law on the grounds that key protections of press freedom in the 1991 version might be excluded from a new version. Earlier this month, Moscow's rumor mill speculated that Sokolov was on his way out of the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August and 12 August 2005), but on 17 August quoted President Putin as saying he has no plans to replace the culture minister. LB

President Putin met at his residence near Sochi on 21 August with the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, Russian media reported. Putin bestowed decorations on pro-Moscow administration head Alu Alkhanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, praising the latter's services in continuing the political and economic rehabilitation of the republic launched by his father Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was killed in a terrorist bombing on 8 May 2004. In response to a request from Alkhanov, Putin vowed to schedule the long-awaited elections to a new Chechen parliament for 27 November, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2005).

Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev has issued an address to the Chechen people explaining his recent decisions to disband the government, parliament, and network of envoys abroad that he inherited from his predecessor, Aslan Maskhadov. The address was posted on 19 August on Sadullaev accused both the parliament-in-exile and the envoys abroad of unspecified financial violations and of working at cross purposes and squabbling among themselves. He expressed regret that collectively they were unable to persuade the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to adopt a resolution condemning the killing of Maskhadov and demanding that Russian authorities hand over his body to his family for burial. Sadullaev vowed to create an "underground" legislature and government in Chechnya, affirming that there remains "an adequate reserve of qualified specialists" despite the extermination by Russia of "almost the entire intellectual potential of the Chechen people." LF

Mustafa Batdyev appeared on 19 August before the Supreme Court of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) to give evidence in the ongoing trial of 16 men, including his former son-in-law Ali Kaitov, charged with the murder last fall at Kaitov's dacha of seven shareholders in a local chemical plant, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 October and 9 November 2004). Before answering questions from the prosecution, Batdyev again expressed his condolences to the relatives of the slain men. He also characterized the requirement that he testify in court as "a political step by my opponents." Batdyev claimed he saw Kaitov only infrequently and that on 13 October, two days after the killings, Kaitov informed him personally that police had conducted a detailed search of the dacha and grounds but discovered nothing. Kaitov also told Batdyev that he had nothing to do with the gunfire heard at the dacha on the night of the killings, Batdyev testified. Batdyev said at that time he had no grounds not to believe Kaitov. LF

Three police patrolmen were killed and three others wounded on 20 August when a bomb exploded outside a residential building under construction in Makhachkala, Russian media reported. A passenger in a passing taxi was also injured by the blast. The explosive device, placed in a zinc bucket, was similar to that used in a similar bombing in Makhachkala on 18 August. LF

Up to 1,000 police have been deployed in the village of Yandyki in Astrakhan Oblast, where six homes were destroyed and five people injured during fighting on 18 August between local Kalmyks and Chechens who settled in the region after the second post-Soviet attack on Chechnya in 1999, Russian media reported. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak told Interfax on 19 August that the situation in Yandyki is under control. The catalyst for the fighting was the death of a young Kalmyk man in a bar brawl on 16 August; after his funeral on 18 August, Kalmyks began attacking Chechen homes. One man has been arrested and a further 11 detained; Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel is currently in Astrakhan overseeing the investigation into the fighting. Astrakhan Oblast Prime Minister Konstantin Markelov told Interfax on 19 August that the local Kalmyks are demanding that the Chechen settlers be evicted from Yandyki. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov denied on 19 August that there was any ethnic component to what he called "an everyday incident." LF

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Rene van den Linden met in Yerevan on 19 August with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian, and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speaking at a news conference later the same day, van den Linden expressed the hope that the electorate will approve the package of draft constitutional amendments to be put to a nationwide referendum this fall. He called on all sides to participate in the parliamentary debate on those amendments scheduled for 29 August, warning that "reform of the constitution is a precondition for the fulfillment of very important commitments and obligations accepted by all the parties" represented in the Armenian parliament. The opposition announced last week that it will campaign against passage of the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2005). Van den Linden also said he is against the replacement of the OSCE Minsk Group by the Council of Europe as mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

PACE President van den Linden traveled from Yerevan on 19 August to Tbilisi, where he met on 20-21 August with leading political figures and representatives of opposition parties, Georgian media reported. Speaking at a news conference on 21 August, he praised Georgia as an example to other South Caucasus states of "progressive change," and he hailed the decision by four Georgian opposition parties to choose a single candidate in each of the five by-elections scheduled for 1 October. Van den Linden also suggested lowering from 7 percent to 5 percent the minimum vote required to qualify for parliamentary representation under the proportional system, Caucasus Press reported. He said the 7 percent threshold is the second highest in Europe after Turkey (10 percent). David Gamkrelidze, a leading member of the right-wing parliamentary opposition, told Caucasus Press that during their meeting with van den Linden opposition lawmakers complained of pressure exerted by the authorities on the independent media and that the judiciary in Georgia is not independent. LF

Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seiran Shahsuvarian confirmed on 19 August that Armenian forces have taken Azerbaijani serviceman Ramil Khudaiverdiev, 23, prisoner on the Line of Contact that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces east of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported citing Noyan Tapan on 19 August quoted Shahsuvarian as saying that Khudaiverdiev was taken hostage two weeks earlier; the Azerbaijani online daily reported on 19 August that representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross met with him on 15 August. On 17 August, Shahsuvarian denied that an Azerbaijani was taken prisoner of war, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

Continuing his tour of Azerbaijani regions, Ilham Aliyev traveled on 19 August to Ismailly, Azerbaijani media reported. In a question-and-answer session with accompanying journalists, Aliyev argued that complaints about the use of "black PR" during the run-up to the 6 November parliamentary elections should be addressed not to him but to the media outlets that engage in such practices. He said press freedom enables the media "to write whatever they want," and it would be inappropriate for him to intervene. Affirming that dialogue among political parties is essential, Aliyev expressed regret that the series of talks begun in May between several pro-government and opposition parties is deadlocked. He added that he sees no reason for his participation or that of presidential-administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev in that dialogue because "the basic disagreements are between political parties." LF

President Aliyev also told journalists in Ismailly on 19 August that persistent rumors of secret talks with Washington on Azerbaijani hosting U.S. military bases are unfounded, and reported on 20 August. He said no such talks are under way. Asked about his upcoming meeting in Kazan with Armenian President Kocharian to discuss the Karabakh conflict, Aliyev said there has been "important" progress on unspecific points but that progress does not constitute "guarantees that would allow us to conclude a peace agreement," reported. He said there are still major points of disagreement between the two sides, stressing that Azerbaijan's position, "unlike Armenia's," remains unchanged. LF

Vladislav Ardzinba used a meeting with Russian journalists in Moscow to accuse the administration of his successor Sergei Bagapsh of inconsistency in foreign policy and of ignoring growing internal domestic political tensions, Caucasus Press reported on 18 August. Ardzinba specifically condemned the intention he imputed to Bagapsh of seeking Russian investors to prospect for oil off the Abkhaz Black Sea coast. Ardzinba, who is undergoing medical treatment for a serious but unspecified disease, told "Moskovskii komsomolets" that the deployment of Georgian National Guard troops to Abkhazia in August 1992 that triggered the 1992-93 war was approved beforehand by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, according to on 22 August. Eduard Shevardnadze, who at that juncture headed the Georgian State Council, subsequently told U.S. journalists that National Guard head Tengiz Kitovani invaded Abkhazia without his knowledge or consent. LF

Members of the Combined Peacekeeping Force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone are searching for an 11-year-old Georgian boy kidnapped on 19 August late on 19 August, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 20 and 21 August, respectively. The boy was reportedly snatched by two armed men driving a car with Georgian license plates. He is the sixth Georgian to be kidnapped in the last three months; four men snatched on 6 June are still missing. On 22 August, South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev denied any official involvement on the part of the unrecognized republic's leadership in the kidnapping, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Igor Rogov, the chairman of Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council, announced in Astana on 19 August that the council has ruled the next presidential election should be held on the first Sunday in December 2005 (4 December), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The ruling, which must be approved by parliament, resolves a potential ambiguity for President Nursultan Nazarbaev, whose current term expires in January 2006, since the alternate date for the presidential ballot was December 2006. Nazarbaev, who has been in power since Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, will seek another term. He will likely face Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, a former presidential support turned oppositionist who currently leads the movement For a Just Kazakhstan and is the presumptive unified opposition candidate for the presidency. DK

Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on 19 August that tests have confirmed that bird flu caused the deaths of domestic poultry in the village of Nalobino on 15-16 August, Reuters reported. A quarantine is now in place in the village, located near the Russian border in North Kazakhstan Province. Reports did not indicate whether the outbreak involved the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which is dangerous to humans. Bird flu, including the H5N1 strain, has been reported recently in four provinces in Kazakhstan. DK

The pro-presidential Otan party scored an easy victory in 19 August elections to Kazakhstan's upper chamber of parliament, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. According to preliminary results from the Central Election Commission, 10 of the victors are members of the Otan party, one a member of Auyl, one a member of Asar, one a member of the Civil party, and three independents. The Senate comprises 39 deputies, seven appointed by the president and 32 selected through indirect elections in regional assemblies. Senators serve six-year terms, with half of the elected senators facing elections every three years. On 19 August, regional assemblies elected 16 deputies from all of the country's 14 provinces, as well as Astana and Almaty. DK

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 19 August that it has charged Adil Toigonboev, the son-in-law of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, with fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. An arrest warrant has been issued and Toigonboev is currently being sought in connection with the charges. Prosecutors said that in one episode, Toigonbaev hid $16 million in profits from Aalam Service, a service company that supplied the U.S. air base in Manas with jet fuel. DK

Turkmen border guards detained two Iranian citizens along the Turkmen-Iranian border on the night of 17 August with four bags of opium weighing a total of 100 kilograms, reported. The report said the alleged drug traffickers, who now face criminal charges in Turkmenistan, were armed with an automatic weapon. The news agency noted that in 2004, Turkmen law-enforcement officials confiscated 1,274 kilograms of narcotics, including 266 kilograms of heroin, 666 kilograms of opium, 38 kilograms of hashish, and 132 kilograms of marijuana. DK

Uzbek police used force to break up a demonstration by several dozen people in Samarkand on 20 August, the BBC's Uzbek Service and reported. Protestors told the BBC that they had received instructions from local authorities in early August to vacate their dwellings in connection with a road-construction project. The protesters blocked a road to express their anger at what they deemed inadequate compensation. "In place of our large house, they offered us a two-room apartment in the middle of nowhere," one woman told the BBC. "'Move in and paint it,' they told us. They gave one of our neighbors a plot of land. Who can build a house by winter?" Police dispersed the demonstrators with clubs, beating rights activist Jamol Mirsaidov and confiscating recording equipment from BBC correspondent Mustahkam Tangierova, reported. DK

Svetlana Ortiqova, spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office in Uzbekistan, has described as "unfounded fabrications" reports that Uzbekistan repatriated four refugees from Kyrgyzstan and subsequently tortured one of them to death, reported on 20 August. She said that the men, who had fled to Kyrgyzstan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, voluntarily returned to Uzbekistan, where they are now in pretrial detention. "All the four are accused of involvement in the attacks on the buildings of the regional administration and law and order agencies and on a military unit, and are charged with killing hostages and civilians and hijacking cars," Ortiqova said. "Evidence of the voluntary return of these individuals is a reply from the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office, dated 5 July 2005, which said no consideration had been given to the demands of the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office to extradite these people as they had returned to Uzbekistan voluntarily." The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 18 August that "IRIN learnt that two of the four Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan and were extradited to Tashkent in June had been reportedly tortured by Uzbek security forces, while one of them reportedly died after being tortured." DK

Nikolai Patrushev, director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), told journalists in Aktau, Kazakhstan on 19 August that the FSB sent personnel to Uzbekistan to aid in the investigation of violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, reported. "We sent experts and specialists [to Uzbekistan] who worked directly with our colleagues," Patrushev said, adding that intelligence services need to work toward the prevention of terrorist attacks throughout the CIS. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has maintained that religious extremists were to blame for the violence in Andijon, and Uzbek officials have put the death toll at 187. Russian officials have spoken out in support of this version of events. Rights activists have charged that hundreds died when Uzbek security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators and Western governments have called for an independent inquiry into the allegations, a demand Uzbekistan has refused. DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 19 August that Belarus needs to harvest 6.5 million tons of grain this year, Belapan reported. "Next year we must gather 7 million tons or more," he added. While touring collective farms in Hrodna Oblast the same day, Lukashenka expressed skepticism about the prospects for private farming in Belarus. "The main thing is that our people will not accept this. Slavs are simply not ready for this psychologically. I think there is no future in private farming. There is very little attraction in it for stable farming enterprises," Reuters quoted the Belarusian president as saying. JM

A group of prominent public figures and former statesmen have called on the Unites States and Europe to combine their efforts in working toward democratizing Belarus, Belapan reported. The letter, published in the 19 August issue of the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard," carries the signatures of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Irish President Mary Robinson, former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, former South African President Frederik W. de Klerk, and U.S. philanthropist George Soros, among others. The letter urges the European Union to make greater efforts to help democratize Belarus, provide Belarusian pro-democracy youth with access to European education programs, and open radio and television stations for broadcasting to the country. JM

Ukrainian Economy Minister Serhiy Teryokhin told journalists in Kyiv on 19 August that Kyiv will switch to bilateral economic relations with Russia and is likely to withdraw from the Single Economic Space (SES) of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan that was formally established in 2003, Ukrainian media reported. Teryokhin made the announcement at a joint news conference with Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, following their talks earlier the same day. "We are switching from multilateral to bilateral cooperation. Primarily with Russia, but it is understood that with Belarus and Kazakhstan, too," Teryokhin added. Later that day, Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko commented that Teryokhin's announcement is of a "recommendatory" character. "I think it will be resolved at the highest level which SES concept is to survive," Tymoshenko added. JM

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, celebrated Mass for some 3,000 believers outside a cathedral under construction in Kyiv on 21 August, thus marking the move of his church's headquarters from Lviv to Kyiv, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "Thanks to monks and missionaries, Christianity made its way from here -- in Kyiv -- throughout the Slavic world," Husar said. "But we allowed the church that was established in this holy place to be divided. And we ask ourselves: is there a way to restore that initial unity to bring confrontation to an end?" Several hundred believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, an administrative branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, staged a noisy protest against the move near the cathedral. The transfer of the Greek Catholic Church seat to Kyiv has been condemned by hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005). Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on 21 August that the move is the Greek Catholic Church's internal matter. JM

Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service by telephone from Prishtina on 19 August that Serbia will not be involved in talks about Kosova's final status, which are expected to begin later in 2005. "We are ready to talk with Belgrade about a lot of matters, but when it comes to Kosova's independence, this is not a matter for talks with Serbia," he said. Kosumi argued that "the independence of Kosova is a process that will be finalized between Kosovars and the international community, which has invested so much in Kosova." He also reaffirmed his government's commitment to a multiethnic society with equal rights for all minorities in a province that is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian. Kosumi stressed that "we are strongly committed to creating multiethnic municipalities where Serbs and Albanians will live together. It is very possible that they [Albanians and other minorities] will live together in harmony" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 January and 20 May 2005). PM

Kosumi said in his 19 August telephone interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that unnamed Serbian politicians in Belgrade and Kosova view the current discussion on decentralization as an opportunity to set up "ethnically pure" Serbian districts. He warned that this process would be to the Serbs' detriment since it would lead to a fragmentation of Serbian-inhabited areas throughout the province. Kosumi argued that his government has sought to set up multiethnic districts instead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 11, and 15 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 February 2005). The prime minister stressed that Serbia's role in the decentralization debate has been "bad" because it "uses the Serbs of Kosova for [Belgrade's] purposes without regard for the real interests" of the Serbs living in the province. PM

Randjel Nojkic and Dragisa Krstovic, who are deputies in Kosova's parliament for the Serbian Lists for Kosovo and Metohija, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 20 August that the local Serbs should take part in the status talks, probably as members of the Prishtina delegation rather than that of Belgrade. Nojkic argued that the Serbs achieved nothing for their own people in the past when they sat in various talks as part of "the other" delegation. Krstovic recalled that the international community wants the local Serbs to participate in status talks as part of Kosova's delegation, and that the Serbs have taken note of this. In response to Prime Minister Kosumi's remarks to RFE/RL, Krstovic replied, however, that one cannot avoid a role for Belgrade in status talks because that, too, is the clear wish of the international community. PM

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing met in Belgrade and Budva recently with top officials, including Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic, Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, and Serbian President Boris Tadic, "Renmin Ribao," which is the daily of the Chinese Communist Party, reported on 22 August. The paper noted that "Tadic said that he opposed political fragmentation in the Far East, just as he opposes the independence of the Serbian province of Kosovo and further political fragmentation in the Balkans." "Renmin Ribao" also quoted Tadic as thanking "China for its support for Serbia and Montenegro in the UN Security Council when the issue of Kosovo is discussed." Tadic added that "Serbia and Montenegro supports a one-China policy." Analysts noted that this formula means that Belgrade backs Beijing's claim to Taiwan, even though Li's Serbian hosts did not publicly mention Taiwan by name. It is not clear from differing media accounts whether Li explicitly assured the Serbs that China will use its veto in the Security Council to block eventual independence for Kosova. Promoting trade and economic cooperation also featured prominently on Li's Belgrade agenda. PM

The Moldovan government has inaugurated its website at with information about members of the Cabinet of Ministers as well as government schedules and press releases, Moldovan news agencies reported on 19 August. The site is in Moldovan/Romanian, Russian, and English. In the near future the site is reportedly going to include special pages for some Moldovan ministries and other central administration bodies. JM

Poland has transferred three wisents, or European bison, to Moldova's Padurea Domneasca natural reserve in the district of Goldeni, Infotag and BASA reported on 19 August. The Moldovan authorities hope that the bull and two cows will feel comfortable in their new home and start to reproduce. The wisent, also known aurochs, became extinct in Moldova by the end of the 18th century. A wisent head is part of Moldova's national emblem. The wisent's only remaining natural habitat in Europe is the Bialowieza/Belavezha Forest in Poland and Belarus. JM

Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's agenda may be proving too ambitious these days. In recent weeks, the terrorist's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn declared war on the Shi'a and formed an assassination brigade to hunt and kill members of a Shi'ite political organization; threatened Sunnis on the constitution drafting committee; vowed to kill Sunnis who vote for the constitutional referendum this fall; and verbally attacked al-Zarqawi's onetime spiritual mentor, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, when the latter "advised" al-Zarqawi against targeting Shi'a and civilians in his attacks.

Al-Zarqawi has always been clear in his hatred for the Shi'a, but the announcement of his intention to target Sunnis who support the constitution and elections appears to be eliciting an adverse reaction from what he considers his "core constituency." Sunnis in the Al-Anbar Governorate this week rose up and drove out Al-Qaeda fighters who had threatened to kill some 3,000 Shi'a living in Al-Ramadi unless they left the city. The Sunni rebellion against al-Zarqawi, as detailed on on 14 August, appears to be the first move by Sunnis to attempt to drive out Al-Qaeda forces from the city.

"We have had enough of his nonsense," Sheikh Ahmad Khanjar said of al-Zarqawi. "We don't accept that a non-Iraqi should try to enforce his control over Iraqis, regardless of their sect -- whether Sunnis, Shi'ites, Arabs or Kurds." The Sunni uprising, organized by four Sunni tribes in Al-Ramadi, forced al-Zarqawi loyalists from two neighborhoods on 13 August, reported the following day.

An audiotape message attributed to al-Zarqawi was posted on several Internet sites in early July announcing the establishment of his group's Umar Brigade. The brigade is named after Umar bin al-Khattab, the second caliph in Islam, who is known for his role in expanding the Islamic conquest and making Islam a world religion. Umar bin al-Khattab was killed by a Persian slave, a fact that probably holds significance for al-Zarqawi, who despises the Shi'a in Iraq, who are closely connected to Iran by virtue of their shared religious beliefs.

The sole duty of the Umar Brigade is to assassinate members of the Shi'ite party Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) armed wing, the Badr Corps (now known as the Badr Organization). According to al-Zarqawi, the brigade would free his fighters from the burden of fighting Badr forces, giving Al-Qaeda fighters more time to fight multinational forces.

The group claims to have assassinated dozens of Badr members since the announcement was made, and other groups affiliated with al-Zarqawi, including the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, have followed suit, claiming assassinations as well. On 17 August, the Umar Brigade claimed it also killed two members of the Shi'ite Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, which is the party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari.

Statements attributed to al-Zarqawi or his group this month voiced the group's willingness to fight all those who follow laws other than God's law (Shari'a). One statement posted on 13 July warned Sunni imams against calling on Iraqi people to participate in a referendum on the constitution.

The statement said that jihadist fighters expect Sunni imams to be "war advocates" who help guide youth to jihad, and are disappointed to find that some imams fail to "recognize the value of their position." The statement also accused these imams of disrupting the march of jihad either knowingly or unknowingly "through their enthusiastic call for participation in drafting the constitution and joining the ranks of the infidels."

On 14 August, the same website carried elaborate posters produced by al-Zarqawi's group that warns Muslims against participating in the referendum on the constitution.

Al-Zarqawi's public battle with his onetime mentor Isam Tahir al-Utaybi al-Barqawi, better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, came after al-Maqdisi offered up advice to al-Zarqawi regarding the tactics used by his group in Iraq. Al-Maqdisi is considered a prominent theoretician of the Salafi jihadist trend, to which al-Zarqawi subscribes. He first met al-Zarqawi in prison in Jordan in the late 1990s. Al-Maqdisi's last stint in prison was on charges of conspiring to commit terrorist acts -- planning to blow up U.S. bases in Jordan -- of which he was exonerated. Jordanian authorities released al-Maqdisi in early July, but rearrested him days later.

The cleric told "Al-Hayat" in an interview published on 10 July that his "advice" to al-Zarqawi was that the latter should consider suicide bombings "exceptional" acts, as they are not considered a traditional means of jihadist action. "I also expressed reservations over the issue of killing civilians and striking at churches and Shi'ite mosques," he told the daily. His theory is that if al-Zarqawi properly guided Iraqis on the path to resisting the occupation and avoiding using means that might repel some would-be fighters, his movement would be far more successful.

Al-Zarqawi apparently didn't appreciate the advice, and lashed out at al-Maqdisi in a 12 July Internet statement, saying that he now relies on scholars more established than al-Maqdisi. He also accused al-Maqdisi of helping the multinational forces with his statement. Al-Zarqawi contended that he has not changed his stance on suicide bombings, adding that he supported them as far back as the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He denied that he targets Christians, Yazidis, or other sects, but justified the targeting of Shi'a by saying: "They were the ones who started liquidating the Sunnis, driving them away, and usurping their mosques and their roles. The crimes of the Badr Corps stand witness, not to mention that they operated disguised as members of the police and atheist National Guard and pledged loyalty to the crusaders before all this."

The fight between al-Zarqawi and al-Maqdisi portends a Sunni split over the doctrine of jihad. Al-Maqdisi carries sufficient weight in the Muslim world and his commentaries on jihad are widely followed. Al-Zarqawi is not a cleric and must therefore rely on clerics to issue fatwas and provide justification for his group's actions. However, it is likely he will always find clerics to support him.

As for al-Maqdisi, it should be noted that he is not against jihad; in fact, he is a strong supporter of it. However, his objections to the tactics employed by al-Zarqawi and his followers in Iraq do discredit al-Zarqawi's program there and might serve to discourage would-be Arab fighters from traveling to Iraq.

The growing tide among Sunnis against foreign fighters in Iraq has been seen with increasing frequency on a number of Iraqi television call-in programs, where viewers have voiced their disgust over terrorist attacks that target Iraqi civilians -- including last week's coordinated attacks against a bus terminal used by Shi'a traveling from Baghdad to the south.

While Iraqis appear to be turning more and more against foreign fighters in Iraq, there appears to be less resistance to fellow Iraqis taking part in the so-called resistance to multinational forces. Nevertheless, the growing calls to oust foreign fighters from Iraq can be seen as a sign that Iraqis are beginning to challenge the presence of al-Zarqawi and his loyalists. For al-Zarqawi, this trend should be worrisome, as his group has relied on sympathetic locals for cover and assistance in carrying out its attacks.

Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking for the neo-Taliban, told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 21 August in what the news agency called a "detailed interview" that the neo-Taliban has "decided not to attack polling stations" on 18 September, when Afghanistan is due to hold parliamentary and provincial-council elections. "We have always tried not to hurt civilians," Hakimi added. Hakimi told Radio Free Afghanistan on 22 August: "We never said that we want to disrupt the coming election. It is not important for us.... All claims are fabricated by the press that we want to disrupt the election. They want to defame our struggle. We didn't attack elections centers before and we won't start now." However, Hakimi told AIP, the decision does not mean support for the elections, which he called "part of an American program." The Taliban "will make every effort to disrupt these elections and make them fail," he added. Hakimi vowed to kill candidates before and after the elections. "Even if a candidate, who is the enemy of Islam, fails in the elections, we will kill him on charges of being an enemy of Islam and the homeland." Hakimi claimed that the militia has sent letters to a number of candidates who have put forward their candidature with the consent of the neo-Taliban. These candidates "will be working for" the neo-Taliban in the future, Hakimi told AIP. AT

Zohra Sahel, a candidate for the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) in the National Assembly from Balkh Province representing the Islamic Unity Party (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami), survived an attempt on her life on 20 August, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 21 August. Sahel was hit by a speeding car in Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, and sustained serious injuries. "Unidentified people warn[ed] me over the telephone to withdraw my candidature," Sahel told Pajhwak. Timor Shah Timor, head of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body in Balkh, condemned the attack on Sahel, adding that it was a plot to discourage female candidates from running for parliament. AT

An improvised explosive device killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded three in Deh Chopan District, Zabul Province, on 21 August, the American Forces Press Service reported. U.S. Major General Jason Kamiya said that the soldiers were part of an offensive mission along with Afghan government forces to defeat the enemy in the area. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi claimed responsibility for the attack while providing no details, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 21 August. AT

Two staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were wounded on 21 August when their vehicle hit a roadside explosive device in Paghman District, Kabul Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The injuries to the staffers were described as minor by a U.S. Embassy spokesman. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi said on 21 August that Taliban militia fighters detonated a roadside bomb near the passing U.S. Embassy vehicle in Paghman, though he had no information about casualties, AIP reported on 21 August. AT

Mawlawi Abdullah Malang, deputy head of the Ulema Council of Panjwai District, Kandahar Province, along with an unidentified colleague was gunned down on 21 August, Panjwai District chief Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi told AIP. Mufti Hakimi claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the neo-Taliban, AFP reported on 21 August. AT

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad presented his government's program in a 21 August speech to the legislature and then spoke out on behalf of the 21 cabinet members he proposed one week earlier, Iranian state television and IRNA reported. Afterward, legislators began their debate on the candidates, and the nominees will have the opportunity to defend themselves. According to state radio on 20 August, the debate could last until 25 August. It is not clear if all of the proposed ministers will win a vote of confidence. BS

Ahmad Eskandari, an expert on Kurdish affairs, discussed ethnic unrest in northwestern Iran in an 18 August interview with Radio Farda. He said he has specific information that the Iranian security forces intentionally initiated incidents in Saqqez so they could shoot at people. Eskandari said President Ahmadinejad and some of his proposed cabinet ministers have experience in the predominantly Kurdish provinces and that experience is based on repression of the locals. More than 500 people have been arrested, Eskandari said, but local citizens only want peace and calm. A number of those who have been released have broken limbs, and they describe terrible abuse while in confinement. Eskandari noted that it is the anniversary of 29 Mordad 1358 (August 1979), when Revolutionary Guards attacked Kurds who were demanding their rights. BS

Cyrus Tabesh, an official at Tehran's Milad Hospital, said on 20 August that dissident journalist Akbar Ganji has been transferred from the intensive-care unit to the general ward, IRNA reported. Ganji reportedly ended his hunger strike, which continued for more than two months, on 16 August. Tabesh said Ganji is cooperating with physicians and consuming the prescribed diet, and his condition has improved. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sent a letter to President Ahmadinejad requesting Ganji's unconditional release, AP reported on 19 August, citing an anonymous UN official. BS

The Iranian Health Ministry's Dr. Mahmud Sorush announced on 21 August that there are now 742 cholera cases in Iran, state radio reported, and 10 people have died of the disease since the outbreak began in July. BS

Some member of the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary institution affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, could be authorized to have police powers soon, Tehran deputy prosecutor Mahmud Salarkia and prospective Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad told ISNA on 20 August. This does not apply to all Basij personnel and only those who receive the appropriate training as judicial officers (zabet-i qazai) will have the power to make arrests. Salarkia said the Basijis encounter all kinds of crimes as they perform their duties. One of these crimes is violating the Islamic dress code, he said, adding, "How could we condone anyone whose reckless behavior or action promotes decadence and undermines societal values?" Karimirad also seemed very concerned about women's appearance. "Crimes that take place in the presence of the officers, such as improper observance of the Islamic dress code, are regarded as crimes and must be dealt with in accordance with the law," he said. "The officers would be trained to deal with this crime and instructed in the proper procedures." BS

Iraqis are awaiting word of whether the National Assembly's committee in charge of drafting a constitution will meet its 22 August deadline, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. The committee failed to meet its original deadline of 15 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2005). Sunni leaders on 21 August called for a second extension, saying they had been cut out of last-minute negotiations between Shi'a and Kurds, reported on 22 August. An unnamed U.S. official told "The New York Times" on 21 August that "all the major issues have been resolved and we hope [that on 22 August] we will work out the remaining details," its website reported on 22 August. Meanwhile, government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters on 21 August that a second extension may be sought, reported. KR

Federalism remains one of the most disputed issues, particularly for Sunnis, who fear the establishment of a Shi'ite region in central and southern Iraq, according to international media on 21 August. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi told "The New York Times" on 21 August that Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders were discussing language that would limit the size of autonomous regions to three governorates each, reported on 22 August. "The idea is to satisfy the Sunnis so they don't go berserk," Chalabi said. Meanwhile, Iraqi women demonstrated in Baghdad on 21 August, calling for equality with men under the constitution, RFI reported the same day. KR

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba called on Jordan to extradite former members of Saddam Hussein's regime who he claimed are sponsoring terrorism in Iraq from their base in Jordan, RFI reported on 21 August. Kubba said that Syria and the United Arab Emirates are also harboring "Iraqi organizations" that sponsor terrorism. "There are activities that support terrorism -- sometimes through the media -- and originate in these countries," he said "A high number of the figures of the [Hussein] regime and those who supervise terrorist groups are based in Jordan." He also criticized Jordan for giving refuge to members of Hussein's family, saying that Jordan is allowing them to carry out political activities. "They are trying to revive the Ba'ath Party. This is unacceptable and hostile from an Iraqi point of view," he said. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government announced on 21 August that it has accepted Jordan's nomination for retired Major General Ahmad al-Lawzi to be its next ambassador to Iraq, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. KR

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein reportedly wrote a letter to an acquaintance in Jordan referring to himself as a martyr and saying he will sacrifice himself for the Arab cause, Amman's "Al-Dustur" reported on 21 August. The letter was sent to a "national independent Jordanian figure" through the Red Cross on 16 August. "Al-Dustur" printed a photocopy of the letter, in which Hussein sends his greetings to the Jordanian people. "I and my family offer ourselves as a sacrifice for this [Arab] nation, including dear Palestine and our steadfast, beloved, patient, and suffering Iraq." Hussein added, "He who sacrifices his property and his soul for his nation is doing but a little because this nation deserves it since it has given us life in the name of God and passed down to us the best of what a human being can inherit from his nation." KR

Former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz met with his wife, sister, and his daughter and her children at his Baghdad detention center on 20 August, his lawyer told Al-Sharqiyah television the same day. Badi Arif Izzat also expressed optimism that coalition forces will release his client in the coming weeks. He told Al-Sharqiyah that he also expects Jamal Mustafa, the husband of Saddam Hussein's youngest daughter Halah; former Al-Basrah Governor Walid Hamid Tawfiq; and Hasan al-Zubaydi, a former director-general in Hussein's regime, to be released as well. KR