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Newsline - August 24, 2005

Chinese and Russian troops on 23 August began the final active stage of their joint military exercises, Peace Mission-2005, as naval vessels blocked from the Yellow Sea the units of an imaginary enemy at Shandong Peninsula, Russia media reported. According to press releases from both countries, all types of troops and weapon systems -- with the exception of nuclear -- are taking part in the maneuvers. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and his Chinese counterpart Cao Gangchuan arrived on 23 August in the Chinese city of Qingdao to observe the games, which will finish with a joint military parade, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported. Speaking in Qingdao, Ivanov said observers to the games would come from Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia, all of which have observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Ivanov also said that he does not exclude the possibility of the Sino-Russian exercises becoming regular and added that the two countries could conduct joint peacekeeping operations in the Asia-Pacific region, provided that the UN Security Council passes the required resolution. VY

Some observers believe the games could be preparation for a joint action in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley or in the Korean peninsula, "Izvestiya" wrote on 22 August citing the analysis of Japanese experts. In the last case, Russia and China could be checking the possibility of taking control of North Korea if the situation there destabilizes dramatically, "Izvestiya" wrote. Earlier, some analysts had suggested that the maneuvers were a rehearsal for a possible invasion of Taiwan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August, 2005). Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Ivanov said in Qingdao, China, on 23 August that the Pentagon has not expressed any special concern about the games and said the U.S. Pacific Command has monitored the exercises, reported. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington on 23 August that "Nations have exercises all the time. We do with any number of countries.... And NATO countries do with Russia.... So, I guess I don't find it notable. It is a fact that countries get together and engage in various types of exercises." VY

In an article written for RIA-Novosti, Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov (Pskov Oblast) said on 23 August that "the world is already in the condition of a Third World War" and that this war "is not a positional, but a network war." He wrote that "The enemy, which confronts us with a ramified network of international terrorist organizations that financially, ideologically, and practically connected to each other." The main threat coming from the global terrorist network, according to Margelov, is that it cannot be defeated by a qualitative or quantitative superiority. "No army in the world can defeat a single man going with a hand grenade into a facility for mothers and infants," said Margelov. One area in which the civilized world is losing to terrorism is the information sphere. By allowing terrorist organizations access to the broadcast media, "we help them to reach their goals and to create panic on a global scale," noted Margelov. He said that the Russian parliament is preparing an appeal to the U.S. Congress asking them to tighten control over the mass media's coverage of terrorism. VY

RIA-Novosti reported that a high-ranking source within the presidential administration said on 23 August that the Kremlin wants to radically change its policy towards the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). "The change of the policy is not to restore" Russia's influence allegedly lost after the "Orange Revolutions," said the unnamed Kremlin source. "There has been no influence, just wasted money," he reportedly said. "Our goal is to make Moscow's relations with Washington and European structures on the territory of the former Soviet Union civilized." The source added that as a practical move, Russia has decided to stop subsidizing "the economies of certain countries by supplying them with energy resources at reduced prices while their people remain impoverished." The source added that Moscow does not want to restore the Soviet empire, but that there "is a struggle without any rules in the post-Soviet space. Russia wants to establish some rules, and they should be civilized." Meanwhile, speaking after a meeting of CIS foreign ministers in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 23 August that the statement by the "source in the presidential administration" means that relations with the CIS will be based on international law and norms, not on a privileged basis as before, reported. VY

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told journalists after meeting with Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov in Moscow on 23 August that Russia has decided that starting on 1 January it will increase the price of gas from $50 per thousand cubic meters to $160, RIA-Novosti reported. Khristenko added that Russia also will demand that all payments be made in cash. "We want to finish with barter and go to the monetization of payments for the transportation and supply of gas," he said. Meanwhile, the Transneft oil company announced on 23 August that this year Russia will reduce the amount of oil it transports through Ukraine from 54 million metric tons to 45 million metric tons, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Addressing cabinet ministers and administration officials in the southwestern Krasnodar Krai on 23 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to a theme that preoccupied the first days of his first term: the overlap between federal and regional authorities, Russian news media reported. Despite having introduced a system of seven presidential envoys whose task it was to reduce such overlap, Putin declared that "the number of federal bodies of power in the regions and regional bodies of power has been growing continuously and steadily, but this has not led to an improvement in the quality of work," according to Channel One. He continued: "Where responsibility should be accepted, we have the opposite. People do not take responsibility but hand it from one government body to the next." JAC

Also on 23 August, President Putin oversaw a working group of the State Council devoted to cooperation between federal and regional authorities, according to Members of the State Council and the Russian government agreed on a list of powers which are to be transferred to federation subjects. Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev told reporters that the government agreed that the maximum number of responsibilities will be transferred from federal authorities to local ones. "The only responsibilities which will remain the federal center's will be those which cannot be transferred to the regions," he said. JAC

Mothers of children who were killed during last year's Beslan school hostage-taking tragedy refused on 23 August to leave the courthouse where the trial of Nurpasha Kulaev is taking place, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. According to the service, the women are demanding that the leaders of the republican and federal security agencies be held responsible for the deaths of the hostages in September 2004. Kulaev, according to Russian authorities, is the sole survivor of the militants who seized a school in the nearby town of Beslan last year and took over 1,000 people hostage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 2, 3, and 7 September 2004). Ekho Moskvy reported that the mothers are demanding that they themselves be taken into custody. Marina Pak, a member of the Beslan Mothers Committee, told that station: "We are to blame.... We gave them life and condemned them to living in such a country. We voted for Putin.... For 10 years we have kept silent about the war in Chechnya, where Kulaevs grow like cabbage." JAC

Parliament Deputy Musa Ozdoev told on 23 August that the various opposition forces in Ingushetia have decided not to stage any protest actions during the month of September, which is the anniversary of the hostage-taking in Beslan in neighboring North Ossetia. Ozdoev said the authorities might otherwise seek to exploit any opposition protest to destabilize the political situation. Meeting in Nazran on 20 August, opposition representatives discussed preparations to launch a new wave of protests against official corruption after their self-imposed three-month moratorium on such actions expired on 31 August, according to on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). LF

Members of the newly-created Coordination Council for Democratic Forces in Novosibirsk have called on jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii to run for a seat in Novosibirsk Oblast's legislative assembly, Regnum reported on 23 August. A member of the council noted that Khodorkovskii has a link to the region: he was arrested there. Elections are scheduled for December. Meanwhile, one of Khodorkovskii's attorneys, Yurii Shmidt, confirmed the readiness of the former head of Yukos to run for a seat in the State Duma from the 201st single mandate district in the city of Moscow, reported. The seat was recently left empty when Mikhail Zadornov resigned to become a banker. Union of Rightist Forces Political Council member Ivan Starikov said that his party will form an initiative group to support Khodorkovskii's candidacy in the near future. Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada and Yabloko Deputy Chairman Viktor Ivanenko said that they are ready to join the group. Khakamada added that although she believes "Khodorkovskii will never get a deputy mandate," his nomination is a "symbolic gesture to show courage and the opposition's solidarity with him." Khodorkovskii said through his lawyers that "he is completely confident that the authorities will not tolerate his election. But he is ready to run," "Izvestiya" reported on 23 August. The date for the by-election has not yet been set, but the website suggested that 4 December is likely. JAC/VY

Also on 23 August, Khodorkovskii declared a hunger strike in support of fellow prisoner and criminal co-defendant Platon Lebedev, Interfax reported. One of Khodorkovskii attorneys, Anton Drel, read a letter from Khodorkovskii to reporters in Moscow. Khodorkovskii explained that his action was to protest the placement of Lebedev in solitary confinement with only three square meters of space. According to Khodorkovskii, Lebedev is being punished for his refusal to take walks, but Lebedev is too ill and "has been incapable of taking prison walks for over a year." He speculated, "My friend was probably put in solitary confinement to take revenge against me for my articles and interviews." The prison confirmed that Lebedev was punished because "he was rude to administration workers," but said he will be released from isolation on 25 August, RTR reported. JAC/VY

Channel One reported on 23 August that the introduction of Russia's first mounted Cossack squad into a local police force has proven successful. The squad is based in the town of Azov in Rostov Oblast, and local police officials say that the horses have proven indispensable in rural areas where roads are bad. Sergei Sennik, leader of the Azov Cossack community, told the station that there is only one police inspector for every two to three villages, so his colleagues decided to set up volunteer squads. The oblast police department told the station that Cossacks will help them meet a staffing shortfall, and joint police and Cossack patrols will be set up in all rural areas in the oblast. In southern Russia, Cossack paramilitary units have figured prominently in violent campaigns to persecute and expel ethnic minorities and illegal immigrants -- often with tacit official approval (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 18 May 2005). JAC

Sixteen youth organizations, including the pro-Kremlin youth groups Nashi and Walking Together, took part on 21 August in a protest in central Saransk, the capital of Mordovia, to demand a ban on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in the republic, Blagovest-Info and ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. According to local police estimates, some 500 protestors assembled. Organizers of the event believe that the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses seriously conflict with state policy since its supporters are "banned from serving in the army, receiving an education or medical help and participating in elections." Viktor Khokhlov, director of the missionary department at the Saransk Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, told ITAR-TASS that "Jehovah's Witnesses conduct anti-Christian activities and break up families." JAC

In line with assurances he gave on 21 August to pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov, President Putin signed a decree on 23 August scheduling elections to a new Chechen parliament on 27 November, Russian media reported quoting presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov. Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Ismail Baykhanov was quoted on 23 August by as saying his commission has been preparing for that ballot since the beginning of this year. He expressed confidence that the voting will be open and honest and that "a broad range of those political forces that really are active" in Chechnya will be represented in the new legislature. Baykhanov also said that international organizations and representatives of Russian political parties will be invited to send observers to monitor the vote. On 22 August, Baykhanov told ITAR-TASS that up to 560,000 residents of Chechnya are eligible to vote, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov, together with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, met informally on 23 August in Moscow on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers of CIS member states, Noyan Tapan reported quoting the Armenian Foreign Ministry. During formal talks on 24 August, the two ministers will discuss the format for a meeting later this week in Kazan between the two countries' presidents to discuss approaches to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In comments to RFE/RL's Armenian Service in Moscow before meeting with Oskanian, Mammadyarov said that among the "variants" currently under discussion is the possibility of a referendum to determine the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). Mammadyarov added that the time frame and logistics for such a vote are not yet being discussed. Oskanian, for his part, told RFE/RL that "we are now focusing on elements of a settlement," but that "we are still very far" from formalizing on paper agreements reached on individual points. LF

The NKR Central Election Commission (CEC) has rejected as gross interference into the unrecognized republic's internal affairs the 12 August statement addressed by the Azerbaijan Central Election Commission (MSK) to the Nagorno-Karabakh population, informing them of their right to vote in the 6 November parliamentary election, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 August. In that statement posted on its website (, the MSK informed Armenian residents of the NKR that they have been made "a laughing stock" in the eyes of world public opinion by "political speculators" who proclaimed "an imaginary separatist regime" and deprived them of the right of suffrage in the state of which they are citizens. The NKR CEC branded the MSK statement cynical in light of the Azerbaijani authorities' "massacres and displacement of hundreds of thousands" of Armenians throughout the former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, and its denial of the right of the Karabakh population to self-determination. LF

Visiting Baku on 22-23 August, Rene van der Linden met with senior Azerbaijani officials, including President Ilham Aliyev, and with representatives of pro-government and opposition parties and religious dignitaries, Azerbaijani media reported. Issues discussed included the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the extent of Azerbaijan's compliance with commitments it made when accepted in 2001 into full membership in the Council of Europe. Speaking at a press conference on 23 August, van der Linden stressed that Azerbaijan must demonstrate its ability to conduct democratic elections. During his earlier meetings with Azerbaijani officials, he advocated the use -- which the Azerbaijani authorities reject -- of indelible ink to mark the fingers of voters in the 6 November parliamentary ballot to preclude repeat voting. He also argued that the legal restriction barring NGOs that receive more than 30 percent of their funding from abroad from monitoring the vote be abolished. LF

A commission comprising Georgian and South Ossetian representatives, together with members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, has been formed to investigate the abduction on 19 August in the conflict zone of an 11-year-old Georgian boy, Caucasus Press reported on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005). Also on 23 August, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin rejected what he termed "irresponsible" Georgian allegations that the South Ossetian side and the Russian peacekeeping force share responsibility for the kidnapping, Interfax reported. Kamynin said such statements "have a negative impact" on Russian-Georgian relations. LF

Vladimir Arutiunian, whom Georgian police apprehended after a shootout in Tbilisi on 20 July and who subsequently confessed to having thrown a grenade at U.S. President George W. Bush and his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on 10 May, said on 23 August he plans to sue the Georgian Interior Ministry for falsely claiming that he has announced his intention to escape from the prison hospital where he is currently being treated for injuries sustained during his capture, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 July and 19 August 2005). LF

Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan met on 23 August on China's Shandong Peninsula with Kyrgyz and Tajik Defense Ministers Ismail Isakov and Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev, respectively, and Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Abai Tasbulatov, Xinhua reported. The meetings, which took place against a backdrop of joint Chinese-Russian military exercises on the peninsula, focused on the maintenance of friendly relations between China and the three Central Asian nations. All five countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes Uzbekistan. DK

Igor Rogov, chairman of Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council, announced at an open session of the body on 23 August that it has found two laws on NGOs recently passed by parliament to be unconstitutional, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Rogov noted that while the laws are intended to regulate the activities of NGOs, "the basic norms of these laws are unconstitutional." Parliament passed the two bills on 29 June and presented them to President Nursultan Nazarbaev for signing on 4 July. Despite the council's ruling, Rogov said that parliament could initiate similar bills intended to perform the same function in the future. DK

Asylbek Kozhumuratov, director of the veterinary department in Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry, told "Kazakhstan Today" on 23 August that the presence of the H5N1 strain of avian flu has been confirmed in seven Kazakh villages where mass bird deaths occurred. The H5N1 strain has been known to infect humans, although no such infections have been reported in Kazakhstan. Previous reports confirmed the presence of H5N1 only in one village, in Pavlodar Province. DK

A day after he returned to Kyrgyzstan to testify on criminal charges, former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev announced on 23 August in Bishkek, "I have nothing to feel guilty about," reported. Tanaev told a news conference that he plans to cooperate with the Prosecutor-General's Office, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said, "As for the accusations, let's wait. I came back [to Kyrgyzstan] to answer all the questions that the prosecutor's office is going to ask. Within the framework of the acting legislation, the extent of guilt or innocence will be determined." Tanaev, who was released on his own recognizance after giving testimony on 22 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2005), said that 22 members of parliament vouched for him, with three of them visiting the Prosecutor-General's Office, reported. Queried about the events of 24 March that toppled former President Askar Akaev, Tanaev responded ambivalently, Kabar reported. He said, "Everything will sort itself out in due time, but what has changed in Kyrgyzstan since the March events? A new head of state and a new government have been elected but nothing has changed in the country." DK

Tajik border guards shot down a homemade plane made from a parachute and small motor and loaded with heroin along the Tajik-Afghan border on the night of 22 August, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported the next day. The pilot, who was wounded in the crash, escaped and is being sought. Sabza Sarkorov, deputy head of the Border Protection Committee, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that guards confiscated 18 packages of heroin and one weapon from the crash scene. A report by ITAR-TASS put the amount of confiscated heroin at 18 kilograms. Lieutenant General Saidamir Zuhurov, commander of Tajik border troops, told reporters that this was the first such incident, ITAR-TASS reported; but the BBC cited unnamed border officials as saying that the plane has been in use for three years and had eluded previous attempts to down it. DK

The U.S. Department of Defense announced in a 22 August press release on its website ( that it has released a Tajik citizen from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and returned him to Tajikistan. The individual, who was not identified, is the fourth Tajik detainee to be released from Guantanamo, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK

Traders at Samarkand's Chuqurbozor market staged a protest on 22 August after officials announced that the bazaar will be closed, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported the next day. A Samarkand-based journalist told RFE/RL that the bazaar is the only source of a livelihood for traders, some of whom spent the night of 21 August at the bazaar fearing its closure. Traders said that officials told them the bazaar must be moved by 26 August to make way for a music festival. Independence Day celebrations on 1 September are nearing, and one trader said that officials tried to close the bazaar last year in the run-up to the holiday. The protest comes only days after local residents held a demonstration in connection with plans to relocate them to make room for a road-construction project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005). DK

In a 23 August press release published by UzA, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office accused the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of defending terrorists. Noting that Kyrgyzstan has already airlifted a number of Uzbek refugees to third countries despite an Uzbek request for their extradition, the press release detailed accusations of narcotics trafficking and religious extremism against four Uzbek citizens currently detained in Kyrgyzstan. Calling the previous removal of refugees to Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005) a violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention, the Prosecutor-General's Office stated, "By defending terrorists and criminals at a time of far-ranging struggle against international terrorism, the UNHCR is damaging the UN's international reputation." But UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, "We absolutely deny [that] we are trying to protect terrorists and criminals. We are taking enormous care with these cases from Uzbekistan." DK

Members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Homel have accused police of disrupting their meeting with a U.S. diplomat on 23 August, Belapan reported. The diplomat -- identified as "Lyle MacMillan" -- was reportedly expected to meet with NGO activists in a building belonging to local opposition figure Viktar Karneyenka that also houses the city's chapter of the United Civic Party and several other organizations. But two hours before the meeting, police officers reportedly ordered the building vacated, saying they had found an unidentified metal object nearby that could be an explosive device. As the activists and the diplomat gathered in a private apartment later in the day, two police officers entered and ordered all those present to produce their passports, citing a special operation aimed at tracking down illegal aliens. The U.S. diplomat and his aide were kept in the apartment for some 40 minutes and allowed to go only after their documents were checked. JM

A recently published book of math problems used in academic competitions for middle-school students in Minsk over the past 12 years contains ideologically charged conundrums directed against the United States and NATO, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 23 August. The book includes substitution exercises such as "NATO + USA = WAR" (in Russian) and "NATO + GO HOME = PEACE." "Such rebuses are a normal human reaction to war, in this case -- to the war launched by the United States and other NATO countries against Serbia," Yauhen Barabanau, one of the authors of the textbook, told RFE/RL. "I don't think these rebuses have any political or ideological underpinning," he added. "We aren't going to think up anything regarding Iraq. Why? Serbia is an Orthodox country, dear to us. Our brothers live there. Therefore, we perceived that war as a war against us. It was painful. And Iraq or Iran -- it is not so painful for us." JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and other senior state officials attended a prayer for Ukraine in St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv on 24 August to inaugurate official ceremonies marking the 14th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. The prayer was recited by representatives of various denominations that are present in Ukraine. St. Sophia Cathedral is officially designated a museum and does not belong to any specific church. On 24 August 1991, following a state coup in Moscow five days earlier, the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet adopted an act of the independence of Ukraine, declaring that, "From this day forward, on the territory of Ukraine only the Constitution and laws of Ukraine are valid." JM

Erton Sinani of Albania's Central Elections Commission said in Tirana on 23 August that the Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha won three seats in a recent runoff, giving the Democrats and their allies 81 seats in the 140-member legislature, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 7, and 11 July 2005). The Democrats won the 3 July elections, but the ruling Socialists of outgoing Prime Minister Fatos Nano avoided conceding defeat by filing numerous challenges. Berisha has already reduced the number of cabinet positions from 20 to 14 and named a new government. He might have to wait to take office until 2 September, when the parliament will meet and formally grant him a mandate, unless President Alfred Moisiu makes use of his right to summon the legislature at an earlier date. Berisha said on 23 August that the elections were not totally free or fair because of what he called obstructionism by the government. "But [the vote] succeeded in achieving a clean and clear change of government that did not plunge the country into a Georgia or Ukraine scenario" of stormy street protests, he added. Berisha has made fighting corruption the centerpiece of his program. Nano recently ordered his ministers to prepare documents for their successors but has not yet formally acknowledged his party's defeat. PM

British Major General David Leakey, who commands the EUFOR military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Sarajevo on 23 August that there are no terrorist training camps in Bosnia, adding that EUFOR and local security agencies are working to ensure that there will be no such camps in the future, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that terrorists plan their operations in great secrecy, over a short period of time, and while moving from location to location to avoid detection. His remarks followed reports in some Western and Bosnian Serb media about the existence of such camps. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said on 23 August that such reports are the continuation of a campaign to discredit Bosnia by unnamed "neighboring countries." He called on foreign officials to check with Sarajevo before discussing such accounts among themselves. The broadcast quoted several Bosnian officials from different ethnic groups as saying that those who charge that Bosnia harbors terrorists must prove their accusations. In May, Bosnian Serb police chief Dragomir Andan said that the 2004 terrorist attacks in Spain were prepared in Bosnia. He subsequently retracted his charges and apologized when international officials called on him to show proof. Analysts note that Serbian agencies and lobbyists have sought for several years to portray Bosnian Muslims as sympathetic to Islamic terrorism and Kosova as a haven for organized crime. PM

Philip Goldberg, who is the chief U.S. diplomat in Kosova, told VOA's Albanian Service in Prishtina on 22 August that Kosovar Albanian leaders are not prepared for talks to discuss the province's final status, which are widely expected to begin later in 2005, the broadcaster's website ( reported. He stressed that "nothing has been done [by the Albanian leaders] to prepare for those negotiations," adding that they need to form a unified position among themselves. Goldberg blamed Belgrade for failing to play a constructive role in helping the local Serbian minority to participate in self-government activities and called on the local Serbs to participate in the parliament and other institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 January and 20 May 2005). PM

The Central Election Commission in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester announced that there are some 418,000 eligible voters in the region, Infotag reported on 23 August. The region is preparing for elections to its Supreme Soviet due in December. Before the local elections in March, the commission reported that Transdniester's population is 580,000, including 131,000 people in Tiraspol, 76,500 in Bendery, and 62,000 in Rybnitsa, the region's three largest cities. The Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet has 43 seats, all of which will be contested in single-mandate constituencies. Since 1991, the Transdniestrian legislature has been chaired by Grigorii Marakutsa. Chisinau regards the upcoming balloting in Transdniester as a premature undertaking and has proposed conducting polling under international monitoring after the region's demilitarization and democratization. JM

There were 5,200 more deaths than births in Moldova in the first half of 2005, Infotag reported on 23 August, quoting the National Bureau of Statistics. Moldova's population stands at some 3.4 million, 1.3 million in cities and 2.1 million in rural areas. The capital, Chisinau, is home to some 716,000 people. JM

Iraq's National Assembly accepted an unfinished draft constitution on 22 August and voted to allow drafters three additional days to work out the remaining details of the draft before the assembly weighs in on the document, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 23 August.

There was wide media speculation over the cause of the delay. Western media cited both Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders as saying the Sunnis needed more time to negotiate on the draft. Rumors also circulated around the Baghdad Convention Center -- where the National Assembly meets -- that the Kurds objected to the draft at the last minute after Shi'ite drafters changed the language of some previously agreed-upon clauses. Meanwhile, Sunni leaders speculated that clauses they had agreed to might have been changed in the final minutes before the parliament convened. The official reason stated by parliamentary speaker Hajim al-Hasani at the late night parliamentary session was that all parties needed some additional time to settle outstanding issues.

What remains clear, however, is that Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders presented the draft to the parliament without the long sought after Sunni consensus they claimed to have wanted so much. Shi'ite parliamentarians now say that should an agreement not be reached during the three-day extension, they will submit the draft to parliament nonetheless, and let the parliament issue a decision on whether the draft is put to a referendum in October. Since the Kurds and Shi'a together form a majority in the parliament, it is almost certain that the draft would go to referendum with or without the Sunnis on board.

The consequences of such a move would likely be a setback for democratic development, as the Sunnis, who form a majority in at least three of Iraq's 18 governorates, could boycott the document, forcing a new government to convene along with a new drafting process. A forced referendum could also further encourage Sunni insurgents in Iraq, leading to further instability.

Sunni leaders, speaking to the media before and after the draft was released, confirmed that a number of outstanding issues remained, and claimed they were shut out of much of the past week's negotiations. One Sunni delegate, Iraqi Islamic Party leader Tariq al-Hashimi, said that he did not have time to review the final version of the draft that was presented to the National Assembly, RFI reported. "We could not basically confirm whether the amendments we had agreed on this morning were incorporated in the final draft or whether this draft is still repeating the same enactments that had been presented [earlier] today or yesterday. Therefore, it is difficult for us to give a realistic evaluation on this draft," al-Hashimi said.

Al-Hashimi told reporters at a 23 August press briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera that he still has not seen a copy of the "final draft." He asserted that a copy of the constitution published in "Al-Sabah" newspaper was not the last version that he saw. Al-Hashimi made it clear that his party rejected the decision to submit the draft to the assembly, calling it a "flagrant violation of the principle of concordance."

The Iraqi Islamic Party also issued a statement to the press at the briefing, which said in part: "Unless the current wording of the clauses of the constitution are revised in a manner that is in line with the supreme interests of the homeland, ensures the unity of Iraqis, and achieves justice for all, then the draft constitution would be completely rejected."

Meanwhile, constitution-drafting committee chairman and Shi'ite leader Humam Hammudi expressed optimism over the draft, and told reporters that the text will not be amended in the next three days, RFI reported on 23 August. "More dialogue means more assurances to the others, giving more guarantees and explanations, but it does not mean changes in either the headings or articles of the constitution," he said.

However, government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters in Baghdad on 23 August that some provisions could be amended, saying: "The draft presented will be more or less the working draft with the possibility of changing or amending the three articles concerning ownership of natural resources, powers of the presidency, and perhaps a reference to the Ba'ath Party or something like that. Apart from these, this is the best they could come up with," RFI reported.

Referring to outstanding issues, Hammudi told reporters: "As you know, it is impossible to convince or satisfy all parties in everything they want but a lot of what they wanted has been realized in this constitution. We hope that this constitution will be a real step toward stability. God willing, each Iraqi will find a part of himself or herself in this constitution, whether it is a recognition of his or her sufferings, hopes, or the guarantee of preserving his or her rights, freedoms, security, and political, economic, and private future."

Kurdish leaders have commented little on the draft since it was presented to parliament on 22 August. Kurdistan Regional President Mas'ud Barzani told the Italian daily "La Repubblica" in an interview published on 22 August that Kurds would not accept an Islamist state. "As I said to those who are engaged in drafting Iraq's new constitution in Baghdad, and to the 111 members of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, we categorically reject a state that is based on Islamist principles," Barzani said.

Nasrallah Surchi, an Iraqi parliamentarian from the Kurdistan Coalition List, told RFI on 23 August: "Regarding the final copy of the constitution, I can tell you that it implements the ambitions of the Kurdish people from some 60 to 65 percent. This is as far as public opinion is concerned. As for the leaderships [of the two major Kurdish parties], maybe they consider it more than 90 [percent]. But the importance is public [opinion], and the public sees that the ambitions of the Kurdish people have not been mentioned" in the draft.

Surchi pointed to a Kurdish call for a paragraph in the constitution that addresses the right of self-determination, saying it was very important but was ultimately not mentioned "with the exception of the note on facultative unity with Iraq," adding: "It remains a question for the future whether the thoughts on [the right for] self-determination will be restored or not. Another important point is: we wish, regarding the public, that they would decide [well] on the referendum. We still do not know whether they will approve [the draft] and let it pass. It is a question of the two-thirds of votes in the governorates of Kurdistan. We still do not know whether they will refuse [the draft] or not. I do not know. This remains a question of time."

The Kurdish position as to Article 116 of the draft published in "Al-Sabah" remains unclear. According to the newspaper, the article says that regional councils or assemblies would be responsible for drafting the region's constitution and for issuing laws "which must not contradict this constitution and Iraq's central laws," meaning that Kurds would be held to the provision that no law passed in Kurdistan could contradict the tenets of Islam.

While the constitution draft published in "Al-Sabah" includes provisions for women, it may not go far enough to meet the demands of women's rights activists and secularists opposed to the role of Islam. It appears that there are only three provisions for women specifically outlined in the draft.

The preamble to the constitution states it is concerned "with women and their rights." Article 30, Section 1 calls on the state to provide individuals and the family -- especially women and children -- with health care and social security, and with basic support for living decent lives, including an appropriate income and appropriate housing. Article 151 states: No less than 25 percent of "Council of Representatives" seats go to women.

Speaking before the UN Security Council in New York on 23 August, Jean Arnault said that an upsurge in violence in southern, southeastern, and eastern Afghanistan could disrupt the September elections in that country, RFE/RL reported. "It is too soon to rule out attempts at causing major disruptions of the elections before, during, or after polling day," Arnault said. "In addition, increased insecurity in the provinces along the eastern border is in itself a cause for concern for the elections in these areas." Meanwhile, the UN and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission released a report on 22 August asserting that extremist attacks have increased against candidates, election workers, community leaders, and military forces in recent months. Arnault said roughly 30,000 Afghan national policemen will be required to secure the "first ring" around 6,300 polling centers. International military forces from Spain, the Netherlands, Romania, and the United States will provide back-up support, he said. AT

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal on 22 August welcomed a neo-Taliban statement in which the insurgents said they will not attack polling stations during Afghanistan's parliamentary and provincial-council elections scheduled for 18 September, the official National Television of Afghanistan reported. Calling the elections a national process, Mashal said that everyone in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, should take part. Speaking for the neo-Taliban, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi on 21 August told several news agencies that the militia had decided not to attack polling stations in September in order to avoid injuring civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005). Hakimi added, however, that the move ''does not mean that we support the elections. We regard the coming parliamentary elections as part of an American program. The Taliban will make every effort to disrupt these elections and make them fail," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 21 August. Hakimi explained that the neo-Taliban will continue their attacks on "electoral offices and staff and against candidates." However in "every attack we will try to avoid killing or injuring civilians," Hakimi said. Mashal's reported comments did not include references to the neo-Taliban's disruptive activities aimed at derailing the elections or the recent upsurge of violence in regions of Afghanistan. AT

Jowzjan Province security officials assisted by Afghan National Army (ANA) troops have discovered five arms caches in the vicinity of Sheberghan, the provincial capital, Jowzjan Television reported on 23 August. The stockpiles includes main-battle tank shells, 100-millimeter artillery shells, and an estimated 30,000 projectiles in total. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi on 23 August confirmed the discovery of the weapons, adding that they will be transferred to an ANA depot, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Anonymous eyewitnesses have suggested the ammunition belongs to Ra'is Saleh, Gholam Rasul, and Ali Gol, three commanders loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who recently hid the weapons in order to prevent them from being confiscated under the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 23 August. Dostum, who had been a thorn in the side of official Kabul, was given the largely ceremonial post of chief of staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces of Afghanistan in March, but he has maintained ties with his power base in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005). AT

Madrid has dispatched 22 replacement soldiers following the crash of a Spanish helicopter and the forced landing of a second helicopter in Herat Province on 16 August in which 17 Spaniards were killed and five others injured, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17-18 August 2005). The Spanish soldiers are part of a team assigned to provide security for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. Spanish and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) sources called the crash an accident, but Pajhwak suggested that the cause remains a mystery. AT

Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Reza Bahrami met with Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi on 23 August and announced Tehran's willingness to pay the salaries of personnel at regional offices of the Counternarcotics Ministry, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to a 22 August press release from the Afghan Interior Ministry, operations that day in Nimruz Province by an Afghan special narcotics force were intended to disrupt trafficking routes into Iran. BS

Nine Iranian security officers and a Baluchi tribesman were killed in a 22 August shootout in a Pakistani town called Nokandi, the "Daily Times" of Lahore reported on 23 August. The incident reportedly began when the Iranians crossed the border in pursuit of tribesmen they believed had abducted their colleague. The Iranians attacked the Yaqoub Bazaar in the town of Bahu Kalat, and nine of them were killed in the ensuing firefight. An armed Sunni group purportedly led by Abdulmalik Baluchi claimed in early July to have beheaded an Iranian security agent, and there were indications that they were in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2005). General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, chief of the national police force, said during a late-July visit to the southeastern city of Zahedan that efforts to improve security in that part of the country are being redoubled, "Iran" reported on 28 July. He noted that security in Sistan va Baluchistan Province is more problematic than in other parts of the country. He attributed the situation to long borders, transborder issues, "plots and machinations hatched from outside the borders, and the support extended by the world powers to those who upset security." BS

West Azerbaijan Province Governor-General Jamshid Ansari has said that the number of Iranian troops stationed along Iran's western border has increased in the past two weeks as a result of a confrontation with a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) affiliate called the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK), "Ozgur Politika" reported on 23 August. Referring to recent incidents of unrest among Kurds in the Iranian northwest, an Iraqi Kurdish newspaper -- "Jamawar" -- reported on 23 August that a Kurdish uprising is spreading in Iran. The newspaper added that two leaders of the Workers' Communist Party of Iran -- Abdullah Darabi and Majid Husseini -- returned to their country recently because they expect the regime's downfall and are ready to lead a popular movement. "Jamawar" reported on 22 August that fighting between PJAK and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is intensifying. BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 23 August that an Iranian released from captivity at Guantanamo Bay was mistreated, IRNA reported. He claimed that Mohammad Anvarkord was detained by U.S. personnel after entering Afghanistan illegally and that at Guantanamo Bay he was "mistreated and exposed to extensive psychological pressure." Assefi added, "The inhuman behavior of the prison keepers, in violation of human rights, caused psychological disorder for him, so that he needs to be recuperated and treated." U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on 23 August in Washington that other former detainees have made similar allegations, Reuters reported. "The people who are in charge of these facilities at the [U.S.] Department of Defense are trained to respect the rights of all the detainees down there in accordance with international obligations and they are particularly sensitive to the fact that many of these detainees practice Islam," McCormack added. BS

Sakineh Soltani, the mother of imprisoned attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, said it has been more than 23 days since she last saw her son, Radio Farda reported on 23 August. Soltani, who was arrested on 30 July, is representing the defendants in a nuclear-espionage case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). She said she has been without a breadwinner (presumably, she is a widow) for four years and is dependent on her son. She asked whether this is proper in an Islamic country and why her child is being treated this way. Soltani said she, her daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren have visited Evin prison many times but are always told that Soltani is not there. She said she has one other son, but he is older, has retired, and has six children, so he cannot help her. Only Abdolfattah helps her, she said. BS

Insurgents attacked checkpoints in the Sunni-populated Hay al-Jami'ah neighborhood of western Baghdad on 24 August, international media reported. About 40 insurgents, some of them masked, attacked checkpoints with AK-47 and Kalashnikov rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades, according to initial reports. Six police vehicles were set on fire, and at least one car bomb was detonated, Reuters reported. The news agency said that Iraqi security forces carried out raids in the nearby Al-Amiriyah district of the capital in the late hours of 23 August. Several suspected insurgent leaders were reportedly detained. KR

Tribal leaders vowed on 22 August to boycott the draft constitution unless an article on tribal affairs is revised, Iraqi media reported on 23 August. Article 43, Section 2 of the draft states: "The state undertakes to revive Iraqi tribal confederations and tribes, and is concerned with their affairs, insomuch as this is in harmony with religion, law, and noble human values, [and] insomuch as it contributes to developing the society, and prohibits the tribal customs that are in contradiction with human rights." Tribal representative and Unified Iraqi Coalition member Sami al-Ma'jun told reporters in Baghdad on 22 August that the article is in "violation of the agreements reached" previously among negotiators of the draft. Al-Ma'jun contended that the article "accuses tribal practices of disrespecting religion, law, and human values, and forbids tribes from observing their noble social values and positive customs." On behalf of his coalition, al-Ma'jun called on Iraqi political leaders to strike the article from the draft. Otherwise, the tribal figures in the National Assembly will refuse the draft and boycott the political process, he said. KR

Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim survived an assassination attempt on 24 August -- the second attack in two days, according to international media reports. In the latter attack, gunmen opened fire on Ibrahim's convoy west of Baghdad, killing four of his bodyguards and wounding five others. Three of Ibrahim's bodyguards were injured in a similar attack on his convoy in Baghdad on 23 August, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Ibrahim is a Kurd. KR

Militiamen loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed with Iraqi security forces in the holy city of Al-Najaf on 23 August, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. The fighting broke out in the early evening hours when security forces entered a residential area to arrest an al-Sadr militiaman after the man and his sons allegedly carried out armed attacks. Security forces also suspected the man of possessing illicit weapons and military equipment. Three Iraqis were killed in the gun battle, including two security men; five others were wounded in the fighting, Al-Sharqiyah reported. KR

Iraq's envoy to the Arab League, Ra'id al-Alusi, criticized Arab states on 23 August for being slow to send ambassadors to Iraq, AP reported on 24 August. Al-Alusi told reporters at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo that the Iraqi government intends to define a secure area for embassies and diplomatic housing in Baghdad. Afterward, "no one can use the security aspect as an excuse" for not sending ambassadors, he said. Iraq expected Arab diplomats to return to Iraq following the last Arab Summit in Algiers in March, but attacks on diplomats have stymied the process. KR