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Newsline - August 25, 2005

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 24 August after observing a joint landing by Chinese and Russian troops on the Shandong Peninsula that the military maneuvers Peace Mission-2005 have proved their importance, RosBalt and other media reported. "The games raise Russian-Chinese relations to a [higher] level," he said. Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan said the decision about joint games "was strategically important and reflected a change in the international situation," RosBalt reported. He added that "the games will not only have particular importance for bilateral military cooperation, but a far-reaching historical impact for the joint defense of peace and stability in the region and the whole world." Russian strategist Sergei Pereslegin, the head of the futuristic group Design of the Future, labeled the maneuvers "a big success for Russian diplomacy and military," RosBalt reported. Pereslegin added that in the next 20 years the Far East will be an "optimal place for military activity," and said Russia is the only state there that has hydrocarbon reserves. "With our participation in the games we show our determination to defend post-Soviet borders," Pereslegin said. Peace Mission-2005 concluded on 25 August with a joint military parade in Weifang watched by Ivanov and Gangchuan and other top military officials from the two countries as well as from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. VY

An unnamed military-diplomatic source in Moscow said on 24 August that Russia has ruled out the possibility of a military alliance with China, except for its military cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Interfax reported. "The topic of forming a new military bloc with the participation of Russia and China, or creating a joint armed formation, is not even being considered," the source said. The website commented on 24 August that China -- on the heels of the military games with Russia -- will likely try to reassure the world that there is a new military alliance able to confront the United States in the Asian-Pacific region, though Moscow does not want to mar its relations with Washington and will rush to deny such rumors. The website added that by taking part in the joint maneuvers, the Kremlin is pursuing two goals: first, to alert the United States of the possibility of Russian-Chinese military cooperation and to induce them into closer cooperation with Russia; and second, to show its presence in the Far East region as an independent force and is not under Chinese patronage. VY

An unnamed high-ranking Kremlin source reportedly told "Argumenty i fakty" No. 33 that a proposal by Marii El President Leonid Markelov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2005) and others about a third term for President Vladimir Putin is "a fantasy." The source said that "any person, including governors, can have their fantasies. But fantasies remain fantasies." Everyone should listen carefully to what President Putin has said repeatedly: he will be guided by the constitution which has no "third term" provision, the Kremlin official said. VY

The Kremlin is very angry at ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for his latest criticism of President Putin's policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2005) and is prepared to begin a powerful propaganda campaign against him if he should return to Russia, "Izvestiya" wrote on 24 August. The goal of the campaign is to nullify the chance of Kasyanov leading the liberal opposition to Putin. The main topic of the alleged Kremlin campaign will be to question Kasyanov's own record on economic reform. Konstantin Simonov, a Kremlin consultant and director of the Political Forecasting Center, said that Kasyanov is "a typical product of Boris Yeltsin's political system, and [Kasyanov] received large material gains from it." Simonov claimed that while he was in power, Kasyanov did not solve any economic problems and is "now trying to return to politics by criticizing the president." Another reputed part of the campaign against Kasyanov will be to remind people, allegedly by using television, about his nickname of "Misha Two-Percent," "Izvestiya" wrote. According to Kasyanov's opponents, Kasyanov earned this nickname because while in office he allegedly asked for 2 percent from companies for each business project he approved. VY

Some 32 percent of Russians would like to see the restoration of the Soviet Union, according to a poll conduct by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, VTsIOM, among 1,600 respondents in 153 Russian cities, RosBalt reported on 24 August. In 2001 this number was polled at 28 percent. The number of respondents who support the complete independence of the former Soviet republics has grown for the same period as well, from 10 percent to 16 percent. Consequentially, the number of those who want a closer alliance with the former Soviet republics declined from 42 percent in 2001 to 26 percent in 2005. VY

In answer to a question posed in "Argumenty i fakty" No. 33 about the some $85 million earmarked in July by the U.S. Congress for Russian nongovernmental organizations, Efficient Policy Fund President Gleb Pavlovskii said in the issue published on 24 August that "no Russian NGO has asked for this help." He continued: "Suppose somebody approaches you on the street and asks you to take from him a hundred or two [hundred bucks]. You can agree that it is suspicious." Pavlovskii said he believes these funds will be used to buy out 20 to 30 organizations "that then will speak in the name of all the people and for civil society." But one should not fear the influx of money, he said, because "I am confident that at least half of this money will be stolen by its recipients." VY

Members of the Beslan Mothers Committee, which is composed of mothers of the victims of last September's Beslan school hostage-taking tragedy, on 24 August left the courthouse of the North Ossetian Supreme Court where they had been conducting a protest, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2005). The mothers were demanding that leaders of security agencies be held responsible for the operation that they believe resulted in the deaths of a large number of hostages. The women had been waiting since 23 August for a meeting with Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel, but Shepel insisted that the protest represented an attempt to influence the course of justice. He told Radio Mayak that "if [the mothers] have complaints about the investigation, I am here in Vladikavkaz. I have been meeting them and explaining the situation to them repeatedly. Even now I am willing to meet them and answer their questions." JAC

The electoral bloc of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces in Tomsk Oblast announced on 24 August that they have decided to nominate imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii as a candidate for the Tomsk Oblast legislative assembly elections on 9 October, reported. Earlier, a coalition of democratic groups in Novosibirsk announced that they want Khodorkovskii to run in their oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2005). Also on 24 August, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii expressed his concern about Khodorkovskii's health in light of his recent hunger strike. In June, "Novye izvestiya" also reported regional interest in Khodorkovskii. According to the daily on 15 June, competing prison colony authorities were fighting for the right to house the former head of Yukos. JAC

"Vedomosti" reported on 24 August, citing anonymous sources, that President Putin has selected the first 42 members of the Public Chamber, which will hold its first session in November. Among those selected are pediatrician Leonid Roshal, Olympic gymnastic champion Alina Kabaeva, "Ekspert" Editor in Chief Valerii Fadeev, Media Union Vice President Yelena Zelinskaya, and former Economics Minister Aleksandr Shokhin. Aleksei Makarkin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technology, told the daily that the list compiled by the president consists only of people loyal to the Kremlin. He noted that Zelinskaya works at the Media Union, which was created to undermine the Union of Journalists, which defended NTV during the conflict between the TV company and government. Shokhin and Kabaeva are members of the Unified Russia party. JAC

Ten new cases of poultry deaths due to bird flu have been reported in the past 24 hours, and specialists have found the genetic material of the bird flu virus in a wild duck killed in Altai Republic, a region which had previously not recorded any bird flu cases, Russian Television (RTR) and Interfax reported on 24 August. So far, bird flu cases have been found in seven regions: Omsk, Tyumen, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, and Kurgan oblasts; Altai Krai; and Kalmykia Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005). On 22 August, chief medical officer Gennadii Onishchenko announced the lifting of a quarantine in four regions because of the normalization of the situation regarding bird flu; he noted at the time that not a single new case of birds falling ill or dying had been registered in the previous 24 hours. JAC

More than half of the respondents in a survey conducted by the Levada Center from 19 to 22 August do not believe that the 7 August death of Altai Krai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov was accidental, according to Some 52 percent of those surveyed believe his death was the result of an assassination, while 34 percent thought it was an unfortunate accident. The survey was conducted among 1,600 citizens in 46 regions. On 22 August, Arkadii Volskii, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, told reporters in Moscow that Yevdokimov told him during his last visit to Moscow that he feared for his life. "They will probably get me," Yevdokimov reportedly said. However, the next day Volskii said investigators had established that the vehicle in which Yevdokimov perished was going extremely fast. Yevdokimov was well-known nationally as a television comedian before running for governor. JAC

Police and security forces in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) thwarted an April attempt by militants to take hostages in a school in Karachaevsk, KChR President Mustafa Batdyev told a 24 August meeting on measures to prevent terrorism, Russian media reported. Batdyev said all the militants were killed. He did not say what motivated them, but claimed they selected Karachaevsk as their target because the town is a hotbed of wahhabism. Russian observers found it strange that Batdyev should have disclosed the successful operation to avert a Beslan-style hostage taking only four months after it took place. LF

Some 300 residents of the town of Botlikh have launched a protest against the Defense Ministry's plans to build a base there for a new mountain rifle brigade, Interfax reported on 24 August. The base is one of two announced earlier this summer by Russian Defense Minister Ivanov that are intended to compensate for the closure of the two remaining Russian bases in Georgia. Protesters want young men from the region to be eligible to join the Botlikh-based brigade. LF

The Erzya, the larger of the two related groups that comprise the Mordvin people, have addressed an appeal to participants of last week's 10th Finno-Ugric Congress held in Yoshkar-Ola, according to a 25 August press release from the Tallinn-based info center of Finno-Ugric peoples. The appeal deplores what it terms "misleading Russian press coverage" that seeks to create the impression that there are no obstacles to the study or survival of the languages and cultures of Russia's Finno-Ugric minorities. On the contrary, the appeal reads, the Erzya and related Moksha languages and history of those two groups are no longer taught in urban schools in Mordovia, while rural schools are being shut down. The appeal notes that the number of Mordvins in Russia has fallen over the past decade by over 300,000, and it accuses the Russian authorities of implementing a "genocide" of the Mordvin people (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 October 1999). LF

Azerbaijani serviceman Ramil Khudaverdiev, who was captured on 3 August on the "line of contact" separating Azerbaijani and Armenian forces, was handed back to the Azerbaijani side on 24 August, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005). His release was mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. LF

Vartan Oskanian, Elmar Mammadyarov, and Sergei Lavrov met in Moscow on 24 August together with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Russian media reported. The talks focused specifically on elements of a peace settlement to be discussed at a meeting on 27 August in Kazan on the sidelines of a CIS summit by the two countries' presidents, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, according to on 25 August. quoted Mammadyarov as identifying the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic within Azerbaijan as the "key factor" in the talks. He said that it is "still early" to speak of major progress in reaching a settlement. Oskanian, for his part, said "there is hope we will find common denominators," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

In what Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvilki termed "an emotional act of desperation," relatives of four Georgians who were kidnapped in early June near Tskhinvali stopped a car in the South Ossetian conflict zone late on 24 August and took hostage the five passengers, all of them Ossetians, Caucasus Press reported on 25 August. Georgian police persuaded them to release the Ossetians the same evening. Also on 24 August, Georgian Deputy Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Volskii proposed convening an emergency session of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring developments in the conflict zone in order to discuss how to defuse rising tensions, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Georgia's Central Election Commission has rejected an application by former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze to register as a candidate in a 1 October by-election in Adjara, Caucasus Press reported. Representatives of Giorgadze's opposition Samartlianoba (Justice) party submitted 1,200 signatures in support of his candidacy, but the commission refused to register him on the grounds that he has not lived in Georgia for the past two years. Giorgadze fled Georgia 10 years ago after being accused of masterminding a car-bomb attack on then Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. All his attempts since then to register as a candidate in parliamentary or presidential elections have failed. LF

Tamaz Kacheishvili of the opposition New Conservative (aka New Rightists) parliament faction was assaulted on 23 August at his home by unidentified perpetrators who then drove him in his own car to a forest near Mtskheta where they beat him and left him tied to a tree, Georgian media reported. New Rightist faction leader David Gamkrelidze told journalists on 24 August that he thinks the attack was criminal, rather than politically motivated. LF

In a question-and-answer session broadcast live on television in Kazakhstan on 24 August, President Nursultan Nazarbaev addressed the issues of the upcoming presidential election and current cabinet, Kazinform and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. On the election, Nazarbaev said, "I will run, and I hope for the support of Kazakh citizens," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Commenting on a recent Constitutional Council ruling in favor of a presidential election in December 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005), Nazarbaev said that he feels the election should be held in December 2006. He explained, "I know that the council made this decision on elections in December 2005, which cannot be appealed. But I have the right to veto it, and I'm thinking it over now." Asked if he plans to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Nazarbaev said that he sees "no grounds for changing the government," Kazinform reported. He noted, however, that individual ministers could change. Nazarbaev also reiterated Kazakhstan's intention to vie for the OSCE chairmanship in 2009, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Noting that the OSCE "spends little time on issues to the east of the Urals," Nazarbaev said that the organization could benefit from Kazakhstan's experience. DK

Qasymzhomart Toqaev met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington on 23 August to discuss bilateral relations and security issues in Central Asia, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day. Citing Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, the news agency reported that Rumsfeld described Kazakhstan as a worthy partner and reliable ally in the war on terror. Toqaev stressed that it is necessary for the international community to show its unity in "normalizing the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan." Toqaev also noted that Kazakhstan intends to expand its cooperation with NATO. DK

Vyacheslav Khan, deputy secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, announced on 24 August that in a meeting the same day the body recommended to President Kurmanbek Bakiev the dismissal of National Guard Commander Abdygul Chotbaev, deputy border troops commander Alybai Kayipov, and National Security Service Deputy Chairman Tokon Mamytov, Kabar reported. Khan explained that those officials failed to prevent disturbances in Bishkek on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2005). In an interview with on 24 August, Chotbaev said that he "categorically" disagrees with the allegations that the National Guard failed to perform its duties on 17 June and charged that police neglected to provide adequate support as demonstrators massed in the capital on that day. DK

General John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 24 August, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The two discussed cooperation in maintaining regional security and the situation in Afghanistan. Abizaid told journalists after the meeting, "We had a useful discussion on the situation in the region and the situation in Afghanistan. We also had a chance to talk about U.S. cooperation with countries in the region and ways of expanding that cooperation in the common struggle against terrorism and efforts to prevent drug smuggling." DK

Abizaid also met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 23 August, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the next day. Abizaid commented after the meeting, "We discussed broad security issues of regional consequence. I reassured the president that the presence of the United States in this region is to stabilize Afghanistan and not to seek any confrontation with any of the nations of the region." Abizaid also spoke about upcoming elections in Afghanistan. He said: "We are very interested particularly at this time in helping the Afghan people move towards their second major election -- the election for the parliamentary representatives -- because we believe that with the success of these elections we will do much to dampen the possibility of extremism becoming embedded there." DK

Two members of Georgia's Kmara, a youth movement that played a crucial role in the overthrow of the Georgian government in 2003, were detained in Minsk on 24 August, Belapan reported. Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze were arrested along with a Belarusian opposition activist, Uladzimir Kabets, and taken to a police station. The Kmara activists reportedly arrived in Minsk from Kyiv last week to support members of a youth association called The Third Path who could be charged with defaming the president in connection with satirical Internet cartoons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005). JM

The Minsk Oblast Court on 24 August annulled the registration of Press-Service, a company that publishes the independent weekly "Kuryer iz Borisova" based in Barysau, Minsk Oblast, Belapan reported. The judge ordered regional authorities to set up a commission to liquidate the company by December. The Minsk Oblast administration brought the closure suit against Press-Service in June, saying that its charter lacked provisions on the objectives of the weekly, the rights of the editorial staff, and other clauses required by the media law. The suit came as a surprise to the editorial staff since the weekly appeared without problems for three years after Press-Service had registered with the regional authorities. The newspaper saw its print-run peak at times at 17,000 copies. "Since recently, we've had two independent periodicals in the area whose circulation was seven times higher than that of the official newspaper 'Yedinstvo.' Naturally, the authorities did not like it," "Kuryer iz Borisova" journalist Pavel Mahilin commented on the suit. JM

The European Commission said in a statement on 24 August that Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle will start broadcasting to Belarus via shortwave and the Internet on 1 November, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported. The 15-minute Deutsche Welle broadcasts in Russian will run from Monday to Friday and provide news reports from a network of correspondents inside Belarus on political, social, and economic matters. A website will also be created to display the texts of the broadcasts with audio files for download. The European Commission provided Deutsche Welle with an annual grant of 138,000 euros ($169,000) to make the broadcasts. "The programs, which are 15 minutes a day, will be broadcast in Russian. We are open to the possibility of broadcasting in Belarusian as well. But, Russian is an official language of Belarus and there are...most Belarusians will understand broadcasts in that language," commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told RFE/RL. The idea to launch Deutsche Welle broadcasts to Belarus in Russian has sparked a wave of protests among Belarusian intellectual circles (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 24 August 2005). JM

Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka held telephone conversations with the prime ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine on 24 August to coordinate activities by states neighboring on Belarus in view of actions taken by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, PAP reported. "The prime ministers agreed to set up a joint working team with the aim of prompt exchange of information and coordination of activities," the Polish government said in a press release the same day. The prime ministers also voiced their support for the idea of preparing an independent radio program in Belarusian. Earlier this month Belka designated 950,000 zlotys ($290,000) to create an independent Belarusian-language radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2005). JM

President Viktor Yushchenko made a speech to some 10,000 people gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square on 24 August to mark the country's 14th anniversary of independence, Ukrainian and international agencies reported. According to Yushchenko, following the Orange Revolution Ukraine is perceived as a regional leader by "many" of its neighbors. "We not only see our future in a unified Europe," Yushchenko said. "Ukraine's success is able to open new horizons for our entire continent. I believe that very soon without Ukraine it will be impossible to imagine Europe's new face, or its frontiers, or its role in today's world." JM

President Yushchenko told the crowd on Independence Square in Kyiv on 24 August that the new Ukrainian government installed in the wake of the Orange Revolution has already achieved first tangible successes, Interfax-Ukraine reported. According to Yushchenko, under the new government media freedom has become a reality in Ukraine. He also emphasized that the government is guided by social justice in its socioeconomic policies. "For the first time [our] pensioners have received a minimum pension that is equal to subsistence minimum," Yushchenko said. "For the first time mothers with newborn babies have received a worthy assistance from the state." Yushchenko also asserted that under his presidency Ukrainian businessmen have for the first time showed a willingness to leave the shadow-economy sector and "to pay taxes honestly." JM

President Yushchenko also said in his Independence Day speech that the efficiency of a future parliament is one of the guarantees that Ukraine will not return to the past, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I hope that today's Verkhovna Rada has enough patriotism to raise the voting threshold. We will then get a real representative branch of authority, not a club of political-party owners." A law on parliamentary elections adopted in March lowered the voting threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation from 4 percent to 3 percent. The law stipulates that parliamentary elections to the 450-seat legislature are to be held under a fully proportional, party-list system. JM

President Yushchenko has posthumously bestowed the Hero of Ukraine title upon Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who was murdered in 2000, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 24 August. "I have signed a decree conferring the title of the Hero of Ukraine upon Gongadze," Yushchenko said at a 24 August ceremony of presenting state awards. "He gave his young life for our freedom and independence." Earlier this month the Prosecutor-General's Office said that it has concluded its investigation into the killing of Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2005). JM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 24 August that the small Social Democratic Party (SDP), which belongs to his six-party minority government, should either support the government or leave it, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His remarks were triggered by the recent decision of the SDP not to back the government's proposal for a restructuring of the state-run Oil Industry of Serbia (NIS), which is the first step in the privatization of the company as called for by the International Monetary Fund. Kostunica managed to put together enough votes to pass the measure, but called on government officials belonging to the SDP to resign their posts. Prominent SDP members include Serbia and Montenegro's Information Minister Slobodan Orlic and Nebojsa Covic, who is the government's pointman for southern Serbia and Kosova. Covic recently made political overtures to former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). In response to Kostunica's challenge, Orlic said that no Social Democrat will resign of his own accord and that Kostunica will have to fire any SDP member he wants out of office. Orlic also called on Kostunica to see if he can muster enough votes in the legislature to govern without the SDP, which has two parliamentary seats. PM

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper appealed to the Serbian authorities in Belgrade on 24 August to arrest all remaining war crimes indictees who are still at large, international and regional media reported. "For this society and the international community to put the war crimes issues behind us once and for all, it is important to finish the job,'' Prosper argued, adding that this "means that here in Serbia and Montenegro, [former Bosnian Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic and [former Bosnian Serb General] Ratko Mladic must be brought to justice" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 12 August 2005). In response, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica said that cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal must be carried out, adding that his government is "constantly working" on the matter. Serbian authorities deny that they know the whereabouts of the two men. Prosper also visited a community of Serbian refugees from Croatia at Pancevo, saying that "the United States wants to recognize the Serb victims of the conflict. We came here today to acknowledge that the people here too have suffered as the result of the conflict." PM

The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Fatos Nano acknowledged on 24 August for the first time that it lost the 3 July parliamentary elections, Albanian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2005). The admission came in the form of a headline in the party daily "Zeri i Popullit." The incoming governing coalition led by former President Sali Berisha is expected to control 80 out of 140 seats in the legislature. PM

Hashim Thaci, who heads the opposition Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), told the VOA's Albanian Service recently that all Kosovar politicians are obliged to work for independence because that is the clear will of their voters, the Prishtina daily "Epoka e Re" reported on 24 August. Referring to recent remarks by U.S. envoy Philip Goldberg that the Kosovar leaders are not prepared for talks on the province's final status, Thaci argued that the Kosovars are indeed ready but the international community is unprepared to respect the will of the citizens of the province to have independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2005). He added that the main issue right now should not be Kosova's final status but the shape of its future state. Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), recently said that the Kosovars should be "prepared to compromise" in future talks with Serbian leaders. PM

The Moldovan Cabinet of Ministers on 23 August lifted its ban on the import and sale of secondhand clothes and footwear, BASA reported on 24 August. Simultaneously, the government declared its intention to work out a "new mechanism" within three months to tackle the issue. According to Economy and Trade Minister Valeriu Lazar, the ban approved by the cabinet on 25 July was "a simplistic measure" that envisaged a restriction without bearing in mind the social aspect of the problem. Lazar said last year Moldova imported 6,000 tons of used clothes and footwear. He added that many imported items of clothing and footwear are declared as secondhand so importers can avoid paying taxes. The government ban on secondhand clothes and footwear applied to their imports from September 2004 and sale from March 2005. Small vendors in Moldova threatened protests over the ban, claiming that it would leave an estimated 15,000 people jobless and deprive many poor Moldovans of the chance to buy cheap clothes. 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. The move was approved by the late Pope John Paul II and confirmed by his successor, Benedict XVI. Simultaneously with the transfer of the headquarters, Cardinal Husar changed his official title from Major Archbishop of Lviv to Major Archbishop of Kyiv and Halychyna (Galicia).

The celebration took place among noisy protests by several hundred Orthodox believers and representatives of ultraleftist political groups, for whom the move represented an intolerable incursion of Catholicism into what is seen as canonical territory of Orthodoxy. Arguably, the transfer of the see of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church eastward adds more fuel to a simmering conflict between Catholic and Orthodox believers in Ukraine in particular, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican in general.

"Thanks to monks and missionaries, Christianity made its way from here -- in Kyiv -- throughout the Slav world," Cardinal Husar said in his homily, according to Reuters. "Kyiv earned fame as the cradle of Christianity in the Slav east. 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?"

Husar's words were drowned out from time to time by shouting from the protest rally, which was separated from the Greek Catholic flock by a police cordon. Demonstrators reportedly chanted antipresidential slogans, called Greek Catholics "traitors," and voiced support for the unification of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Against the worst expectations, the protest did not turn violent.

Ukraine's religious cleavages run not only between the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox, but also between the Orthodox themselves, who make up a majority of believers in the country. The Orthodox community in Ukraine is divided between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Only the first, largest organization -- which is the administrative branch of the Russian Orthodox Church -- objects to the move of the Greek Catholic Church headquarters to the country's capital. As, incidentally, does the Moscow Patriarchate, which accuses the Vatican of expansionism and proselytism with regard to Orthodoxy.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II slammed the transfer of the seat of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from Lviv to Kyiv as an "unfriendly step" that will add further tension to relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. "This move cannot be justified either from a historical point of view or by church rules and canons. The Kievan chair from the very first years of its existence was an ecclesiastical capital of the Russian Orthodox Church, first as the metropolitan center and later as the major chair among the Ukrainian dioceses," the Moscow Patriarchate website quoted him as saying.

The protracted Greek Catholic-Orthodox controversy in Ukraine takes its origin in 15th- and 16th-century church history, which can hardly be commended as a period of Christian love and peace. In 1439 some Orthodox hierarchs, urged on by the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, signed the so-called Union of Florence, whereby they accepted the primacy of the pope and settled some theological questions in Rome's favor, in exchange for anticipated assistance to Constantinople's struggle against the Ottoman Turks. However, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, and the Union of Florence was subsequently rejected and condemned by an Orthodox Church synod.

The Vatican made a more successful attempt at putting a part of Orthodoxy under its control in 1596, when some Orthodox bishops in the then Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania -- two states united by a political union -- signed the so-called Union of Brest (now a city in Belarus), whereby they accepted Roman Catholic dogmas and the supremacy of the pope but retained the Eastern rite and their own calendar of saints. The Greek Catholic Church (called also the Uniate Church), which was created in Brest, embraced a majority of former Orthodox believers in the 17th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, although the switch to a new faith led to numerous acts of violence and bloodshed on ethnically Belarusian and Ukrainian lands.

The expanding Russian Empire partitioned the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century jointly with Prussia and Austro-Hungary. Incidentally, one of the Russian diplomatic excuses for dismembering 18th-century Poland was intolerance of Roman Catholics toward their Orthodox brethren. Greek Catholic bishops were evicted from Kyiv by Empress Catherine II by the end of the 18th century, and the Union of Brest was formally liquidated in the Russian Empire by Emperor Nicholas I in 1839.

However, the Greek Catholic Church survived in Galicia (western Ukraine), a part of the Kingdom of Poland annexed by Austro-Hungary. The church also survived through the Polish rule over Galicia in 1918-39 and was banned by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. In 1945, the Soviet authorities arrested all Greek Catholic Church hierarchs, and in 1946 a Greek Catholic synod orchestrated by Stalin decided to merge the Uniates with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Vatican declared that synod to be noncanonical and its decisions illegal. The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, which went underground during the Soviet era, reemerged in 1989, after then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev officially recognized its existence.

While many Ukrainians look at the current move of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church headquarters from Lviv to Kyiv with either sympathy or indifference, some religious activists of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate doubtless perceive the move as an emblematic setback for Orthodoxy in its struggle to ward off the expansion of Catholicism. "The Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will consider this [move] as a great symbolic failure," Ukrainian political analyst Viktor Nebozhenko commented. "And some political forces will of course use Lubomyr Husar's move to Kyiv as a pretext for exacerbating interdenominational relations in Ukraine."

Regrettably, Nebozhenko may be right. The protest nearby the unfinished Resurrection of Christ Greek Catholic Cathedral in Kyiv on 21 August was attended by representatives of extreme leftist and pro-Russian forces, including the Progressive Socialist Party of Natalya Vitrenko and the radical Brotherhood association led by Dmytro Korchynskyy. These forces, which failed to win parliamentary representation in 2002, will in all probability use the religious factor -- the dissatisfaction of a significant part of Orthodox Ukrainians with the Greek Catholic move -- as an extra argument in their campaign for the 2006 parliamentary elections.

The pro-government Ulema Council in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan on 24 August urged the U.S.-led coalition forces to stay neutral during the 18 September parliamentary and provincial-council polls, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Council chief Mawlawi Sediqullah in a statement asked the coalition troops and officials not to give preferential treatment to any candidate as doing so would create misgivings among other contenders. Sediqullah told Pajhwak that the council also asked for candidates not to denigrate each other or destroy opponents' political advertisements. The statement from the council was issued in the wake of complaints by a number of candidates that the officials from the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body had supported their rival, the news agency noted. AT

In a commentary on 23 August, "Erada" warned against trusting the recent promise by the neo-Taliban that it will not attack polling stations on election day in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2005). "We should bear in mind that this declaration is made by our enemies, who have massacred our innocent people, killed our religious scholars, set fire to our academic institutions, and taken responsibility for every criminal activity committed against our compatriots," "Erada" wrote. Describing the optimism and gratefulness of the government towards the neo-Taliban promise as "premature," the daily advises instead that extensive security measures should be put in place to foil the neo-Taliban's "cowardly and subversive attempts" to undermine Afghanistan security. The Afghan government on 22 August welcomed a statement from the neo-Taliban that it won't attack polling stations in September in order to avoid hurting civilians. At the same time, the neo-Taliban have made it clear that they are against the election process and will try to disrupt it, including by killing candidates. AT

Six militants were killed on 23 August in a joint operation conducted by U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan National Army troops in Zabul Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 24 August. In a separate incident, five neo-Taliban fighters were killed and two others were arrested in a joint U.S. and Afghan operation on 24 August in neighboring Oruzgan Province, AFP reported. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad told AFP that a "famous Taliban commander called Mullah Payenda Mohammad" was among those killed. AT

A 190-member special-forces task group left Perth on 24 August, the Adelaide-daily "The Advertiser" reported on 25 August. The troops are to join the U.S.-led coalition forces against the resurgent neo-Taliban and remnants of Al-Qaeda. The Australian force is scheduled to remain in Afghanistan for one year. Australian elite SAS troops operated in Afghanistan from October 2001 to December 2002. The current group includes SAS and other forces. AT

Addressing the United Nations Security Council on 23 August, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States and United Kingdom are not doing enough to combat narcotics cultivation and trafficking in Afghanistan, according to Iranian state radio's Dari-language broadcast from Mashhad the next day. He called for strengthening Afghanistan's central government and police force as the best ways to deal with the issue. According to RFE/RL, furthermore, Zarif said Iran is worried about the increase in opium production. "While certain efforts by the government of Afghanistan have resulted in the reduction of opium cultivation in some regions traditionally famous for opium producing, it is beyond comprehension why at the same time opium production should increase in areas bordering my country, especially in the Farah Province," he said. "It is a development that arouses our grave concern." BS

Four of the 21 cabinet ministers proposed by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad failed to win votes of confidence from the legislature on 24 August, state television and IRNA reported. The rejects are: Alireza Ali-Ahmadi (Cooperatives Ministry), Ali Akbar Ashari (Education and Training Ministry), Mehdi Hashemi (Welfare and Social Security Ministry), and Ali Saidlu (Petroleum Ministry). Ahmadinejad has three months in which he can submit new names. There were 284 members of parliament present at the session. BS

Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi came in for a grilling at the legislature, although he eventually secured 153 votes, with 90 against and 31 abstentions. Conservative legislator Imad Afruq noted that Purmohammadi was a deputy minister of intelligence and security at a time when the ministry had a reputation for repressing the domestic and expatriate opposition, state television reported. Afruq said the things that happened at the ministry are indefensible, and he asked if there were no other choices. "Was there no one else with his record but without this past among our clergy or non-clergy? Do we have no one else?" Afruq asked, in light of this record, what Purmohammadi would do to guarantee people's rights. Afruq also demanded to know how Purmohammadi would deal with the country's ethnic problems, adding that although there is no systematic discrimination in Iran, Kurds perceive discrimination. Tehran representative Elias Naderan expressed concern that a person with Purmohammadi's background could turn Iran into a police state, Mehr News Agency reported. How can somebody with this background establish a rapport with the public, he asked. BS

Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said in Tehran on 24 August that Iran will not resume negotiations with the European Union on any demands that are in excess of previous agreements, Mehr News Agency reported. Nevertheless, he added that Iran does not oppose more negotiations. The Ahmadinejad administration rejected the offer the EU made in early August, and on 23 August the French Foreign Ministry announced that talks with Iran that were scheduled for 31 August have been cancelled (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2005). President Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on 24 August that the Supreme National Security Council will make a counteroffer to the EU, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad stressed what he referred to as the transparency of the Iranian nuclear program. BS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visited the headquarters of the Basij Resistance Force in Tehran on 24 August, IRNA and state television reported. He said the resistance of the Basij and the Iranian nation against the United States is a guarantee of regional stability and added: "Right now the Americans are using political and cultural instruments and their puppets to metamorphose the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran and change its identity. However, they will suffer their most severe defeat in this field by the Basij youth." Khamenei said Basij members come from all walks of life and from all ethnic groups. BS

Fazlollah Safi-Khani, deputy manager of Iran's Wheat Self-Sufficiency Program, said on 24 August that in the March-June period Iran imported approximately 63,000 tons of wheat, reported, citing ISNA. The wheat was imported as animal feed but some was diverted to bakeries, he said. On 16 November 2004, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami participated in a ceremony commemorating Iran's becoming self-sufficient in wheat production, IRNA reported at the time (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 December 2004). On 1 January 2005, Khatami told a gathering of exemplary farmers that the government is proud of its performance on farming issues within the context of the Third Five-Year Development Plan (March 2000-05), IRNA reported. He referred to self-sufficiency in wheat production and predicted that the sugar sector will become similarly self-sufficient in the near future. BS

Clashes broke out between Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army and security forces in Al-Najaf on 24 August, sparking retaliation attacks against the two leading Shi'ite parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, in at least five other cities, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 25 August. There are conflicting reports as to what sparked the fighting in Al-Najaf, which led to the burning of al-Sadr's office and reported deaths of between five and eight al-Sadr followers, according to Arab media reports. While al-Sadr supporters blamed police, who they claim are backed by SCIRI, for attacking the demonstrators and sparking the ensuing violence, SCIRI officials denied any knowledge or support for the attack on al-Sadr's office. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari appealed for calm in a press conference after midnight, saying an investigative team will be dispatched to Al-Najaf on 25 August to look into the incident. Al-Sadr supporters reportedly attacked the prime minister's political party's office in Baghdad on 24 August; and Al-Mahdi militiamen clashed with police as well as SCIRI and Al-Da'wah supporters in Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Amarah, Al-Basrah, Al-Hillah, Al-Diwaniyah, and in Samawah, international media reported on 25 August. KR

RFI's Al-Basrah correspondent reported that hundreds of al-Sadr supporters were gathered outside the cleric's office in the city on 25 August, apparently awaiting instructions. According to the correspondent, SCIRI offices in Al-Basrah were burned to the ground overnight. Reuters reported that a policeman in Al-Amarah was killed in early morning clashes with Al-Mahdi Army militiamen who had occupied the offices of SCIRI's Badr Organization. Badr forces are ostensibly the armed wing of SCIRI, although the group claims it disarmed last year and now pursues social support work. Badr Organization Secretary-General Hadi al-Amiri told Al-Jazeera television in a 24 August interview that the outbreak of violence was premeditated. "There must be elements that motivated these people. Young men staged a demonstration [in Al-Najaf] and at first they demanded the dismissal of the governor and his deputy. Things were premeditated because when they arrived at the Martyr al-Sadr office they attacked the office. This means there was a premeditated plan. Demanding the dismissal of the governor, deputy governor, and police commander was a cover for this demonstration." Al-Amiri blamed the "enemies of Iraq" and the enemies of the Shi'a for "trying to sow sedition among us." KR

Twenty-one National Assembly members and two ministers in Prime Minister al-Ja'fari's cabinet threatened to resign in protest of the purported attacks on al-Sadr's office in Al-Najaf, RFI reported on 25 August. "This is a savage action done by uncivilized people. They don't have any Iraqi honor," parliamentarian and al-Sadr supporter Nassar Zeghayir al-Rubay'i said, reported on 25 August. Health Minister Abd al-Muttalib Muhammad Ali and Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki threatened to resign as well. Meanwhile, as Iraqis await the 25 August National Assembly session on the constitution, al-Sadr spokesman Jalil Musawi said on 24 August: "We are ready by a single phone call within a minute to defeat the constitution by voting against it in six provinces: Al-Diwaniyah, Samawah, Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Amarah, Al-Basrah, and Sadr City in Baghdad," reported on 25 August. KR

The Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association voiced their objection to the draft constitution presented to the National Assembly on 22 August in a statement and press briefing by association member Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi on 24 August broadcast live on Al-Jazeera television. "We hold the National Assembly responsible for the historic, legal, and national repercussions of the adoption of this constitution," the statement said, adding: "The Association of Muslim Scholars is closely watching this process and will make a complete assessment after the [parliament's] adoption of the draft.... This process proved, just like the previous political processes, the incredibility of those responsible for it." Al-Kubaysi contended that should a referendum be held "under such circumstances," it will not be any more legitimate than the January elections were. KR

Kurdistan's parliament gave its approval to the Iraqi draft constitution presented to the national parliament on 22 August, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 24 August. The station reported that after reviewing all articles in the draft that pertain to the Kurdistan region, including federalism, borders, natural resources, language, religion, state, and the peshmerga militia, and the right to self-determination, the parliament unanimously approved the document. It will now be presented to Kurdistan President Mas'ud Barzani, who will sign off on the document before sending it back to Baghdad, the news channel reported. KR