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Newsline - August 29, 2005

Speaking to journalists after the conclusion of a closed-door meeting of 12 CIS leaders in Kazan on 26 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited a common acknowledgement of the need to reform CIS institutions but an accompanying interest in "preserving and improving the CIS," RTR reported. Putin noted that decisions on modernizing the post-Soviet organization "are very complicated and require careful deliberation," according to TNV reported. "We have different positions and are searching for a mutually acceptable decision through dialogue," Putin said, according to RIA-Novosti. Russia has proposed the creation of a so-called "wise men's group" analogous to the Japan's Wise Men's Group for UN Reform. Georgian legislators in the past have threatened to quit the CIS, and there were fears of deep divisions among members coming to the surface at last week's summit. There already exists a division between pro-Moscow members on the one hand, and countries whose leaderships want to join the West, RosBalt commented on 26 August. VY

Participants of the Single Economic Space (EEP) Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus agreed on 26 August to sign most of the basic statutory documents without the presumed fourth member of that project, Ukraine, according to Russian and international media. President Putin said after a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko that everyone but the Ukrainian side expects to sign 29 documents by early December and another 15 by March, RIA-Novosti reported. President Yushchenko suggested Ukraine will join the group gradually and only "insofar as it does not obstruct Ukraine's move toward Europe," Ekho Moskvy reported, adding, "We cannot get a mandate from the Ukrainian parliament to create a supranational body [as other EEP members desire], and this must be taken into account." Putin added that "each country should decide whether the integration is beneficial for itself or not," adding, "If there are some doubts among the public, it is better to take one's time, to think the situation over, [and] to analyze all the pros and cons." Putin met the same day in Kazan with Yushchenko and accepted the latter's invitation to visit Ukraine. Putin also met briefly with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who reportedly praised Putin's "political courage and decisiveness" in effecting the contentious withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, according to TNV. VY

A U.S. delegation on a nuclear-disarmament tour headed by the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), and Senator Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois) was detained for three hours by officials at an airport in Siberia on 28 August before being allowed to depart for Ukraine, the "Chicago Tribune" reported. The group had visited a weapons-destruction site outside Perm prior to the incident. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Russia, Courtney Austrian, was quoted as saying local authorities held the passports of the delegation members and refused permission for the aircraft to depart until U.S. State Department and embassy officials intervened, "The New York Times" website reported. Lugar was quoted by the "Chicago Tribune," whose correspondent was accompanying the delegation, as saying the detention was "unfortunate" and "illustrates a dysfunctional state where the left and right hand don't know what either is doing and people are enforcing their whims of the day without deference to the world." The Federal Security Service (FSB) explained to Ekho Moskvy on 29 August that the incident occurred because the Perm airport is not on the list of destinations to which the U.S. delegation's military plane could fly without being subjected to an inspection. Russian officials have recently complained of security procedures at U.S. airports. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) told TV-Tsentr on 9 July that she was subjected to a "humiliating body search" upon her departure from New York in June. "I wish high-ranking U.S. congressmen experienced the same disgraceful procedures at our airports," Sliska said. VY

President Putin used a speech at Kazan's millennial celebration on 26 August to praise the Republic of Tatarstan and the place Kazan holds in Russian history, Tatarstan's TNV, RTR, and other media reported. Addressing Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and other dignitaries, Putin said, "Kazan played a unique role in the creation of unity of the Russian nation." Putin delivered a brief portion of his speech in Tatar. Putin also paid tribute to the controversial anthropologist Lev Gumilev, the founder of the modern Eurasianism, a school of thought that posits a unique Eurasian origin of the Russian Empire and its "eternal" conflict with the West. Speaking after Putin, President Shaimiev also praised Gumilev, saying according to TNV, "Only now are we beginning to realize the pervasiveness of this great thinker." Putin said the Russian state's "imperial conscience" was adopted from Tatarstan's historical antecedents, known as the Golden Horde, including its military, administrative, and financial organizational structures. Russia's conquest of the Golden Horde in the 16th century transformed Russia into a great power, Putin added. VY

The government submitted its draft 2006 budget to the State Duma on 26 August, Russian news agencies reported. The draft presumes revenues of 5.46 trillion rubles ($192 billion) and spending of 4.27 trillion rubles, yielding a planned surplus of 776 billion rubles. It also assumes an annual inflation rate for 2006 of between 7 percent and 8.5 percent, an average oil price of $40 per barrel, and an average exchange rate of 28.6 rubles to the dollar. The first $27 per barrel of oil revenues will go to the federal budget, while amounts above that figure will be earmarked for the government's Stabilization Fund. The Duma is tentatively scheduled to consider the budget in its first reading on 21 September. The draft budget suggests that tax reform has come to a halt, according to "Vedomosti" on 29 August. Five years ago, government officials promised entrepreneurs a reduction in business taxes amounting to 1 percent of GDP each year through 2008, but this year's draft budget foresees reducing the tax burden on business taxes by just 0.07 percent of GDP, the newspaper reported. LB

President Putin on 26 August called for broadening the authority of the State Council and creating a system for monitoring the implementation of its decisions, gazeta,ru reported. Addressing a State Council session in Kazan, Putin said the body has become "capable of adopting decisions on real problems." noted that Putin created the State Council as an extraconstitutional consultative organ in 2000 so as to soften the blow for regional leaders who would be excluded from the Federation Council under Putin's new system for selecting members of the upper house of the parliament. The body has no formal powers and serves primarily as a means for regional leaders to meet occasionally with Putin. Since no one in Putin's administration is pushing for constitutional amendments that would formalize the role of the State Council, argued, Putin's comments were merely a "figure of speech" and do not herald any increase in authority for the body. LB

Tatarstan President Shaimiev called on 26 August for the federal authorities to grant regional governments increased powers, RIA-Novosti reported. Speaking to Putin and other members of the State Council, Shaimiev argued that many matters can only be addressed at the local level. During the previous State Council meeting in Kaliningrad, Putin signed a decree returning to regional authorities more than 100 powers that in recent years had been assumed by federal bodies. However, analysts differed over whether that decree represented a significant delegation of authority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July and 13 July 2005). According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 27 August, Putin promised during his remarks to the State Council that regional leaders will be more involved in drafting the federal budget. He also reportedly said regional governments will acquire more responsibility for managing some programs that are financed with federal budget funds. During his address to the State Council, Shaimiev urged federal authorities to change the history curriculum in Russian schools; he said Russian history classes currently emphasize the role of ethnic Russians, even though other nationalities have made their own contributions to the Russian state. LB

Putin foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said on 28 August that the Russian president has a busy international travel schedule planned for this fall, including official trips to several European capitals, UN headquarters in New York, and Asia, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin is slated to visit Germany on 8 September and a week later will fly to the United States to observe the 60th anniversary session of the United Nations. Putin will visit London for a Russia-EU summit in early October and is scheduled to be in South Korea for an Asian Pacific Economic Forum in mid-November followed by a state visit to Japan. Putin has also accepted invitations to visit Georgia and Ukraine but the dates of those visits are still unclear, Prikhodko said. VY

The Irkutsk Oblast Legislative Assembly confirmed Aleksandr Tishanin as governor by a vote of 42 to two on 26 August, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Tishanin's inauguration is scheduled for 8 September. Addressing the chamber before the vote, Tishanin vowed to make it a priority to solve the demographic problems that stem from the region's low birthrate. He also promised to increase regional tax collections and to "protect the oblast's interests" in matters relating to financial-industrial groups. "Kommersant-Daily" said the Irkutsk political elite hope that Tishanin will be able to establish a better working relationship with federal officials, especially Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. After his confirmation, Tishanin told journalists that by the end of the year he plans to prepare documents necessary for merging Irkustk Oblast and Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrug in 2006. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Anatolii Kvashnin, Putin's envoy to the Siberian Federal District, as saying that federal officials have already approved such a merger. Although uniting Irkutsk and Ust-Orda Buryat has been discussed for years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002 and 27 February 2004), no referendum on the matter has been held in either region. LB

An estimated 400-500 protesters gathered in Moscow's Lubyanka Square on 28 August to demand the release of 39 activists from Eduard Limonov's National-Bolshevik Party (NBP), Ekho Moskvy reported. The activists were arrested in December while occupying a room in the presidential-administration building. The protest was notable because its speakers included not only Limonov and other supporters of his ultranationalist party but also politicians representing a broad spectrum, including State Duma Deputy Ivan Melnikov (Communist Party), Committee-2008 leader Garri Kasparov, and Sergei Shargunov (Motherland). Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office on 26 August appealed to the presidium of the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn a recent ruling that nullified a ban on the NBP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 August 2005). According to Interfax, the appeal argues that the ban was justified because the NBP violated Russia's law on political associations during 2000 and 2001. In those years, Limonov's party allegedly published literature calling for the creation of a National-Bolshevik army to invade Kazakhstan and change Russia's borders. The appeal also cites materials from a criminal case against Limonov, who in April 2001 was accused of creating armed formations and planning terrorist acts. LB

Tatarstan's only satellite television station, Tatarstan-Novyi Vek (TNV), marked the third anniversary of its launch on 26 August, the broadcaster reported. TNV broadcasts 18 hours a day of programming in Russian and Tatar, and its signal is accessible in many other regions of the Russian Federation, the CIS, and Europe. VY

Unidentified assailants attacked Vasilii Petrov, chairman of the Youth Organization of Finno-Ugric Peoples (MAFUN), in his home village of Ismentsa in the Republic of Marii El early on 27 August, according to a 29 August press release from the Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples. Petrov, who previously headed the Marii youth organization U Vii, has been hospitalized with head injuries and a broken arm and jaw. There have been at least two similar attacks on Mari activists since January and, in July, the president of the 10th International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies, Professor Yurii Anduganov, was killed in an automobile accident, the circumstances of which remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2005). LF

National Accord Party (AMK) Chairman Artashes Geghamian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 26 August that the AMK will urge voters to approve the package of draft constitutional amendments to be put to a nationwide referendum in November only if the country's leadership agrees to hold pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections in the event that voters endorse those changes. He explained that the new parliament would form a government that would, in turn, hold a "free, fair, and transparent" presidential ballot. But parliamentary deputy speaker Tigran Torosian told deputies earlier on 26 August that popular approval of the draft amendments will not entail early elections. The next parliamentary elections in Armenia are due in 2007; President Robert Kocharian's second term expires the following year. On 27 August, Armenian papers published a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan expressing the hope that parliamentary deputies will "recognize the heavy responsibility they bear before their fellow-countrymen for agreeing on the best constitutional arrangements" and will formally approve the draft amendments at a special parliamentary session scheduled for 29 August, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

President Kocharian met on 27 August in Kazan on the sidelines of a CIS summit with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, news agencies from both countries reported. The two presidents first met one-on-one and then were joined by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group but, contrary to expectations, not by Russian President Vladimir Putin. No details of the specific issues discussed were made public, but Armenian Public Television on 27 August quoted Kocharian's press secretary, Viktor Soghomonian, as characterizing the talks as "a positive development in the negotiating process." Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov similarly described the talks as "important" while admitting, "I cannot say there has been any major progress or breakthrough," ANS TV reported. LF

The opposition election bloc Azadlyg (Liberty) convened a demonstration in Baku on 27 August with the official consent of the municipal authorities, Azerbaijani media reported. Participants, many of them wearing orange clothing in a visual allusion to the revolution in Ukraine last winter, carried banners demanding that the 6 November parliamentary electons be free and fair, and appealing to U.S. President George W. Bush to "give us democracy," according to A statement adopted at the meeting demanded the creation of new election bodies on which the opposition and ruling party would have equal representation, and of equal conditions for all parliamentary candidates. ITAR-TASS estimated the number of demonstration participants at 5,000-15,000. Baku police cited a figure of 5,000, while Panakh Guseinov, co-chairman of the 16 October movement, claimed there were 40,000 demonstrators. The website, which earlier measured the precise dimensions of the square where the demonstration took place, calculated that allowing for "spillover" into adjacent streets, the number of people attending the demonstration could not have exceeded 8,500-9,000. LF

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission on 27 August formally registered former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev as a candidate in the 6 November parliamentary elections, Turan reported on 29 August. Guliev is chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, which together with the Musavat party and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party comprises the Azadlyg bloc. Also on 27 August, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General's Office stripped Guliev of his immunity from prosecution, thus removing the obstacles to his arrest should he return to Baku, as he has announced he will do, from the United States, where he has live for the past nine years. Guliev faces criminal charges of large-scale embezzlement dating from 1990-95, when he was director of Azerbaijan's largest oil refinery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 15 July 1998). LF

Police in Tbilisi arrested Shalva Ramishvili, a co-founder of the pro-opposition television channel 202, on 27 August as he accepted a $30,000 bribe he had demanded from parliamentary deputy Koba Bekauri in exchange for not making public incriminating information about him, Georgian media reported. Ramishvili denied demanding any bribe and has embarked on a hunger strike, Caucasus Press reported on 27 August. LF

A senior Kazakh official told Press Trust of India on 28 August that Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik has said that Kazakhstan's government "will not stop CNPC International [an affiliate of state-run China National Petroleum Corp] from taking over PetroKazakhstan for the benefit of [India's] Oil and Natural Gas Corporation." The report indicates that CNPC's $4.18 billion bid for PetroKazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2005), a Canadian-registered company with oil holdings in Kazakhstan, has received full official approval. CNPC appeared to confirm the news, noting in a press release that the company has received Kazakh government support for its bid to acquire PetroKazakhstan, Xinhua reported on 28 August. DK

In a series of decrees on 26 August, President Kurmanbek Bakiev dismissed Abdygul Chotbaev, commander of the National Guard; Aalybai Kayipov, deputy commander of border troops; and Toktokuchuk Mamytov, first deputy secretary of the National Security Service, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A 24 August session of the Security Council recommended removing the officials for their failure to take decisive measures against disturbances in Bishkek on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). In an appeal to the president at a 27 August extraordinary meeting of the Bishkek City Council, deputies asked Bakiev to cancel his decree removing Chotbaev, who is also a council deputy, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Council members threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court if the president's decree remains in force. For his part, Chotbaev told Kyrgyz Radio One on 27 August that he is considering a career in politics if his dismissal from the National Guard means the end of his military career. DK

Kubanychbek Jusupov, deputy head of the Kyrgyz gas company Kyrgyzgaz, told the BBC on 27 August that Uzbekistan has unilaterally withdrawn from a July agreement on gas shipments to Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005), reported the same day. "On 19 July we signed the agreement," the report quoted Jusupov as saying. "But at the end of July, after our government conducted the humanitarian evacuation of 439 refugees to Romania [see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005], Tashkent unilaterally annulled the agreement." Jusupov said that Kazakhstan is prepared to sell Kyrgyzstan gas beginning on 1 September if Kyrgyzstan first pays off all existing arrears, but the price for 1,000 cubic meters of gas from Kazakhstan will be $43 instead of $42. DK

Turkmenistan has downgraded the status of its membership of the CIS to that of an "associated member," reported on 27 August, citing the press service of Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry. The ministry stated that the participants in the CIS summit in Kazan received a message from Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who did not attend, "with a request to take into account Turkmenistan's neutral status and support its position to participate in the CIS as an associated member." The report noted that the request received preliminary approval from CIS member states. A 27 August report in Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that Turkmenistan was not a full-fledged member of the body because it never signed the CIS charter. Nevertheless, the report noted that the move marks the first step taken by a member state toward the possible dissolution of the CIS. DK

Uzbekistan's Senate voted unanimously on 26 August to approve an earlier request from the country's Foreign Ministry giving the United States 180 days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base that Washington has used since 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005), RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. In statements that preceded the vote, senators said the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan has rendered the base unnecessary and charged that the base has inconvenienced local residents and harmed the environment. Senate Deputy Chairman Farrukha Muhiddinova went further, saying, "The current presence of the U.S. military contingent at the Khanabad air base threatens the internal and external security of Uzbekistan." Nuriddin Zayniev, the governor of Qashqadaryo Province, where the base is located, alleged that Uzbekistan has incurred costs of $168 million associated with the operation of the U.S. base, RIA-Novosti reported. DK

Nosyr Zakirov, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, was sentenced to a six-month prison term on 26 August for slandering a state official, Interfax reported, quoting the journalist's son, Zokhid Zakirov. Arena, a website detailing free-speech issues in Uzbekistan (, quoted the younger Zakirov as saying: "My father was put in jail for his professional activities. He did a radio program on the views of Haydarali Komilov on the events in Andijon, where [Komilov] in poetic form harshly criticized the policies of the country's leadership." Zakirov explained that his father later called State Security Service officer Dilmurod Isamukhamdov to express his anger that the latter pressured Komilov into retracting his earlier statements. The call led to the charges against Nosyr Zakirov. The correspondent's son said his father was taken to prison as soon as the verdict was announced on 26 August. Although Komilov later retracted his statements about Andijon, he still faces criminal charges in connection with the incident, Arena reported. DK

A convention of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB) in Vaukavysk on 27 August elected Jozef Lucznik as the organization's new chairman to replace Andzelika Borys, whose election in March the Belarusian authorities refused to recognize, Belarusian media reported. The convention attracted a lot of attention from Polish and Belarusian media because of a protracted diplomatic row over the SPB between Warsaw and Minsk (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 16 August 2005). Neither independent journalists nor observers were allowed to attend the convention. The 69-year-old Luczak, a retired Polish-language and history teacher, said he agreed to head the SPB "in order to save it." SPB activists supporting Borys slammed the SPB convention in Vaukavysk as orchestrated by the authorities and undemocratic. JM

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Truszczynski said on the TVN24 television channel on 28 August that Poland will not recognize the newly elected leadership of the SPB because it was installed after pressure from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. "The Polish government will not recognize the [SPB] authorities elected in this manner," Truszczynski said, adding that the election "violated all democratic norms." Warsaw's official position with regard to the SPB's new leadership has been backed by three main opposition parties -- the Civic Platform, Law and Justice, and the League of Polish Families. "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 29 August that the Polish government will stop financing the current SPB while continuing assistance to the Polish minority in Belarus. According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," since 1989 Poland's upper house, the Senate, supported the 400,000-strong Polish minority in Belarus with some 29 million zlotys ($8.8 million according to the current exchange rate). This year the Senate reportedly allocated 2.4 million zlotys ($620,000) for Belarusian Poles. JM

A district court in Minsk on 27 August jailed Natallya Ushko, Alyaksandr Kurbitski, and Alyaksey Lyaukovich for 10 days each, finding them guilty of staging an unsanctioned demonstration earlier the same day, Belapan reported. The three, members of the Zubr youth organization, participated in a protest against the arrest in Belarus earlier that week of two activists of Georgia's Kmara youth organization, Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2005). JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 28 August visited Donetsk to take part in celebrations of Miners' Day, Reuters reported. Yushchenko said the government in 2006 will come up with a new policy to revamp Ukrainian industry. "I will assume personal responsibility for the coal industry," Yushchenko said to a gathering of miners, who reportedly gave him a warm reception. "Our task is that every mine, like the entire sector, should be profitable." Yushchenko's trip to Donetsk came two days after Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told officials there that an estimated $60 million had been allocated to settle miners' wage arrears. JM

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has refused to hand over to Ukraine Ihor Bakay, former head of the property management department in the presidential administration of former President Leonid Kuchma. The office said Bakay is a Russia citizen, which excludes his transfer to Ukraine or any other country. Bakay is wanted in Ukraine in connection with his indictment on seven criminal charges, among them defrauding the state. JM

A U.S. military aircraft took Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova from Prishtina to the U.S. military hospital near Heidelberg, Germany, on 27 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and dpa reported. A U.S. military spokeswoman in Heidelberg confirmed on 29 August that Rugova is undergoing treatment but declined to provide any further information. Rugova suffers from respiratory problems and cut back his work schedule in recent days because of a flu. The 60-year-old Rugova led the Kosovar "shadow state" after Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic abolished Kosova's autonomy in the late 1980s. The French-educated writer was elected president in 2001 and has no serious rivals for the post. PM

Unknown assailants in a passing vehicle fired an automatic weapon at a car carrying four Serbian youths late at night on 27 August near the Serbian enclave of Shterpce on Kosova's main Prishtina-Skopje road, killing two of the youths and wounding the other two, one of them seriously, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and the "The New York Times" reported. Police went to the aid of the four youths but could not identify the assailants or say what the motive for the attack might have been. They noted that it is not possible to say whether it was ethnically motivated. Local Serbian leaders, Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic all charged, however, that the four were attacked because they were Serbs. UN civilian administration (UNMIK) spokesman Neeraj Singh said that "there's a potential to presume ethnic motive [but] it would be irresponsible to do that. We have to pursue our investigation to bring out the facts." Police briefly detained three Albanians but released them for lack of evidence. They are still holding a fourth Albanian. President Rugova and leaders of Kosova's Albanian political parties condemned the attack. Deputy Prime Minister Adem Salihaj visited the two injured youths in the hospital. PM

A UNMIK spokesman in Mitrovica said on 28 August that two members of the UN police and four foreigners have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The spokesman declined to provide any information about the nationality or identity of those arrested. He added that details about the charges will be made public once the investigation is completed. PM

The members of the steering committee of the small Social Democratic Party (SDP) agreed in Belgrade on 27-28 August to leave the government and join the opposition following a dispute with Prime Minister Kostunica, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see End Note, below). The SDP leadership called on all party members working for the government to quit their posts. The SDP will consider those who do not do so as having resigned from the party. PM

President Vladimir Voronin said at an official ceremony to mark Independence Day in Chisinau on 27 August that the Moldovan state has been firmly established, thus ceasing "to be only a disputable territory over which great powers stumbled," Infotag reported. "Today we are witnesses to one amazing process: European integration, which is leading to the erosion of state borders, has become for Moldova a state-building factor, a unique resource allowing us to build our country according to patterns of contemporary law and European values," Voronin said. "All of us are witnessing [this] today, as the unavoidable day of Moldova's unification draws closer." JM

A crisis has emerged in Serbia's six-party minority government that has led to the expulsion of one of the smaller parties. Speculation now centers on whether the latest developments will lead to the early parliamentary elections that many observers have long predicted for later in 2005.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 24 August that the small Social Democratic Party (SDP), which belongs to his 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 (IMF). 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 Slobodan Orlic, who heads the government of Serbia and Montenegro's information department, and Nebojsa Covic, who is that government's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova. Covic recently made political overtures to former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) to work together in support of leftist positions.

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 whom he wants out of office. Orlic also challenged Kostunica to see if he can muster enough votes in the legislature to govern without the SDP, which has two parliamentary seats. Orlic said that he doubts that the prime minister can command the necessary 126 votes to stay in power in the 250-seat legislature. Kostunica has governed since early 2004 only with SPS parliamentary support.

The Serbian government reacted quickly to Orlic's tough stance and decided on 25 August to sack Covic. He held office by the mutual agreement of Serbia, Montenegro, and the joint state, so Serbia's withdrawal of its backing is sufficient to oust him. The cabinet also "recommended" to the government of the joint state that it fire Orlic.

Meho Omerovic, who is a top official of the SDP, said that it seems clear that Kostunica was targeting Orlic and Covic. Some SDP backers suggested that Kostunica wants Covic out of the way because the two men often compete for the same nationalist voters. Orlic took a similar position, pointing out that the government moved against him and Covic but left it up to other SDP members serving in lesser offices to declare whether they want to support the government or not. He said that the party leadership would meet on 27 August to decide its next move and inform party members in government institutions what they should do.

The members of the SDP steering committee agreed in Belgrade on 27-28 August to leave the government and join the opposition. The party leadership called on all SDP members working for the government to quit their posts. The SDP will consider those who do not do so as having resigned from the party.

This crisis has attracted attention because its potential implications could go far beyond the ability of the SDP to affect parliamentary decisions with its two votes. Kostunica formed his minority cabinet in early 2004 after refusing to bury his differences with the reformist Democratic Party. His deal with the SPS for legislative support has been called by many a Faustian pact. It was generally assumed from the outset that this is a temporary arrangement, and that Kostunica at some point will call new elections in hopes of getting a working majority by relying on his incumbency and personal popularity.

In June 2004, however, the Democrats' Boris Tadic won the Serbian presidency by about eight percentage points over the Serbian Radical Party's Tomislav Nikolic. That election left the impression that Serbia is moving from having a truly multiparty political landscape to having something more like that of Germany, in which there are two main parties and two or three lesser ones in the parliament. Subsequent opinion polls have confirmed this trend, with Tadic and Nikolic far outpacing Kostunica in ratings for Serbia's most popular politician.

Consequently, it is not surprising that Kostunica lost much of his enthusiasm for early elections. Recent polls showed that not only would his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) probably finish third, but most of his coalition partners probably would not clear the 5 percent hurdle. Furthermore, Tadic proved to be an articulate and media-conscious reformist political figure who could also play the nationalist card, which had hitherto been a strong point of Kostunica's among reformist politicians.

The SDP might therefore be in a better position to drive a hard bargain than its legislative strength of two votes might indicate.

Manmohan Singh arrived in Kabul on 28 August for a two-day official visit, the state Radio Afghanistan reported. It is the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Afghanistan since the late Indira Gandhi visited the country in 1976. According to a joint statement of Afghanistan and India, issued on 28 August by the office of the spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the two leaders "affirmed that India and Afghanistan enjoy a warm and friendly relationship underpinned by historical ties and cultural links." Karzai thanked India for the assistance given to Afghanistan in the past, while Singh pledged an additional $50 million in aid. AT

In a joint news conference with Karzai on 28 August, Singh offered his country's full support to Afghanistan on fighting terrorism, New Delhi-based PTI News Agency reported. "There is a convergence that terrorism anywhere and everywhere poses a serious threat to civilian existence and therefore we have an obligation to deal with this problem," Singh said. Karzai lamented the "continuation of terrorist activities" in his country and expressed the hoped that all countries in the region will work together to see the elimination of terrorism, declaring that "India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan need to join hands to work together and strongly for peace" in the region. AT

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi on 28 August said that the Afghan National Army has killed 23 militants and captured 15 in separate joint operations with coalition forces in Oruzgan and Ghazni provinces. A neo-Taliban commander named Mullah Tayi Mohammad was among those killed. AT

In operations in the past few days, the Afghan Special Narcotics Force (ASNF) has disrupted opium smuggling routes in Nimroz and Helmand provinces, a 27 August statement from the Afghan Interior Ministry indicated. The routes were being used to smuggle drugs to Pakistan and Iran. It is the first time the ASNF has conducted interdiction operations simultaneously in two provinces, which according to the statement demonstrates an increased capability of the force. AT

Two Japanese teachers, Jun Fukusho and Shinobu Hasegawa, are reported missing after they left a hotel in the Pakistani city of Quetta earlier in August, Kyodo news agency reported on 27 August. The two teachers wrote in the hotel's guest book that they were traveling to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has made an inquiry about the two teachers with the police in Kandahar. The Japanese teachers reportedly crossed into Afghan territory on 8 August, but the neo-Taliban have said that they have no information about them. AT

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 28 August that Iran will submit its proposal on the nuclear issue within 45 days, IRNA reported. Tehran rejected in early August an EU proposal that covered political and commercial concessions. "The proposal will help to come up with a breakthrough with respect to our current situation with Europe," Assefi said. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani visited Vienna a few days earlier to discuss the nuclear issue with International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei. Assefi said the talks were constructive, ISNA reported. Assefi said some people in Iran want the discussions to include more countries than the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). He added, "If the Europeans can't negotiate with us, we will enter negotiations with other countries." Assefi dismissed the possibility of including the United States in these discussions. BS

Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said in Tehran on 28 August that Iran's new nuclear initiative has been discussed in four sessions of the council's secretariat already, and more meetings will take place in the next two weeks, IRNA reported. The initiative, he said, is intended to move discussions with the EU forward. Aqamohammadi noted postelection changes in the composition of the Supreme National Security Council -- namely, new ministers of foreign affairs, of intelligence and security, and of the interior -- and the requirement for a new consensus. Turning to the recent EU proposal, Assefi said Tehran has demanded an apology and added that nonaligned countries that have always backed Iran could participate in future talks. BS

Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nasseri-Yazdi, Friday Prayer leader in Shahr-i Kurd and the supreme leader's representative in Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiari Province, said on 26 August that "Foreign threats with the aim of dissuading Iran from gaining access to nuclear technology would not yield any results," IRNA reported. He said Iranians withstood international "bullying" during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and they will do the same in the face of European and U.S. demands regarding the nuclear issue. He said Iran has a right to nuclear technology and it is not interested in nuclear weapons. In Tehran, substitute Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said, "We are the winner of the current nuclear issue and not America," state radio reported. "Right now, there is no room for America's bullying in any part of the world, particularly in Iran." BS

Masumeh Shafii, the wife of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, said on 26 August that he is in generally good health but is still weak because of his 70-day hunger strike, ILNA reported. She added that the medical team attending Ganji has informed the Milad Hospital that he can leave, and the hospital is awaiting a response from the judiciary. Shafii said her husband is to be released, and if the judiciary does not fulfill its promise to this effect then Ganji will take action. BS

Mohammad Torang, a Tehran police spokesman, said on 28 August that a judge who was investigating illegal land transactions was wounded in a shooting, IRNA reported. Unidentified gunmen shot Malard Judicial Department chief Mohammad Reza Aqazadeh in the eye and hand outside his Tehran home. Malard is a district in Karaj, which is west of Tehran. Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad said Aqazadeh is in surgery, Reuters reported. An anonymous "official close to the case" said the judiciary is looking into recent attacks against judges -- one was shot dead in Tehran in early August, another was stabbed to death in Fars Province, and acid was thrown in the face of a third judge in Khuzestan Province. State television later cited the head of the public prosecutor's office as saying that all judges will be armed and will have the right to shoot if they believe they are in danger. BS

Iraq's National Assembly sent the draft constitution to referendum on 28 August, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The assembly did not vote on the draft on the basis that the drafting committee represented the parliamentary make-up, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 28 August. President Jalal Talabani hailed the constitution in a ceremony at his home in Baghdad, saying: "It is a constitution for Arabs, Sunnis, and Shi'ites, for Kurds, for Chaldeans, Assyrians, Christians, and Muslims. We hope our intelligent people will approve this constitution stressing at the same time that we don't deny the deficiencies in it, and perfection is only for God," RFI reported. KR

Hajim al-Hasani told reporters at a 28 August press briefing in Baghdad that the constitution has its shortcomings, but said all parties will work together to improve the draft, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The constitution "took a lot of the rights of women. But in general, you also have other things [that are] good in this constitution. So we started. The constitution is a process, it doesn't end, it is a continuous process. We made something good. We will build on this. If there are shortcomings we can work on those shortcomings -- through the election, changing the political situation by [sic] elections." Al-Hasani said that the important point is that there is a democracy in Iraq "and we must hold on very tight to this democracy, so the changes that will happen will happen in a democratic way, not [by] somebody riding a tank and taking power." KR

Parliament speaker al-Hasani told reporters that Shi'a negotiators won out in the end and their demands were incorporated into the draft, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 29 August. "To [the Shi'a], they won the last elections, and the Sunnis didn't participate in the elections. So it is an opportunity for [Shi'ites] to get whatever they want. To me, if you ask me, if I was in their camp, I would have given [way] on other things, I would have been much more generous, so I would have won the Sunni camp...but to me, my judgment is that the [Shi'a] didn't play politics very well." Al-Hasani is a Sunni. KR

Sunni members of the drafting committee rejected the draft and claimed the National Assembly is illegitimate, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 29 August. "As you know, the constitution is what lays down the basis of authority. Several points were imposed in this constitution that have nothing to do with the constitution's articles but [rather] they represent the viewpoints or desires [of others] that no constitutional expert can accept," Sunni drafter Hasib Arif told reporters on 28 August, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. "From the legal and constitutional perspective, the National Assembly is considered dissolved because it did not present the constitution on 15 August, on 22 August, or even three days after that date, and they left the door open. If the National Assembly refers the issue to international courts and constitutional experts, they will say that the National Assembly has lost its constitutional legitimacy now," Arif contended. Sunni leader Salih al-Mutlaq told reporters at the same press briefing, "If the street were asked its opinion [of the draft], the ground would shake under those who wrote this constitution." KR

U.S.-led multinational forces captured two wanted terrorists in a raid on their hideout in Al-Ramadi on 23 August, the Multinational Force-Iraq website announced on 28 August ( Durayd Jassar Khalifah Hamud (aka Abu Jabbar), a leader and weapons dealer for the Al-Nu'man Brigade, and Ali Husayn Muhammad Jasim (aka Khalid Nazal or Abu Umar), a known cell leader in Al-Nu'man Brigade, were captured through multiple intelligence sources, the statement said. A 28 August press release on the same website noted that three foreign fighters of North African descent were killed during security operations in Mosul on 27 August. The men were killed during a raid on a safe house. A Tunisian fighter, identified as Abu Mujahir, was allegedly a "facilitator of foreign fighters and foreign suicide bombers" in Mosul. He also reportedly distributed money on behalf of another cell leader killed in August to foreign fighters in Mosul. The other two men, both Algerians, were subordinates to Abu Mujahir and helped direct foreign fighters. KR

Multinational Force-Iraq released some 1,000 detainees from Abu Ghurayb Prison in Baghdad between 24 and 27 August, according to a 27 August press release posted to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website ( The release said that the detainees were brought to Abu Ghurayb from detention facilities throughout Iraq. "Those chosen for release are not guilty of serious, violent crimes -- such as bombing, torture, kidnapping, or murder -- and all have admitted their crimes, renounced violence, and pledged to be good citizens of a democratic Iraq," the statement said. Meanwhile, a CENTCOM press release dated 28 August noted that a detainee escaped from Abu Ghurayb in the early morning hours of 28 August. U.S. forces discovered the detainee was missing during a routine head count. During an investigation into the whereabouts of the detainee, two holes were found in a fence line surrounding the compound. The search for the detainee is ongoing. KR