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Newsline - August 30, 2005

Speaking to journalists in Sochi on 29 August after talks with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Italy is rapidly becoming one of Russia's major economic partners and that trade between the two countries has grown by 55 percent in the first six months of the year, RTR reported. "It is a record [in terms of] our relations with industrial countries," Putin said. He also said that Russia and Italy are working together on several large projects, including increasing the throughput capacity of the Blue Stream gas pipeline to Turkey, which Gazprom and the Italian state energy concern ENI built. Putin said that the two leaders also discussed Russia's relations with the European Union and NATO, and reform of the UN. "Relations between our countries, including our personal relations, are so good that no problems remain between us," Putin said. Berlusconi arrived in Russia on 28 August for a three-day visit. He will stay with his wife Veronica in Putin's summer residence in Sochi. VY

During a joint press conference with Berlusconi on 29 August, Putin said that Russia supports Germany's bid for permanent membership on the UN Security Council, NTV and TV-Tsentr reported. "Although, Italy itself wants this place, we support Germany's bid," he said, according to TV-Tsentr. Putin said that supporting Germany's bid is important for Russia in order to further historical reconciliation between the two countries. He noted that Russia also supports the candidacies of Brazil, Japan, and India, "but only if a majority in the UN will support [the reform]." Putin denied a journalist's suggestion that his upcoming visit to Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2005) can be interpreted as backing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in the country's September parliamentary elections. "We're not intervening in their internal affairs. But on the other hand, it would be stupid to cut off contact simply because they have elections," Putin said, according to NTV. VY

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov returned to Moscow on 29 August from his summer vacation in the French Riviera (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005) and told journalists that he will participate in all upcoming elections, Russian media reported. By the end of 2008, Russia will have held regional, Duma, and presidential elections. Kasyanov said that soon he will begin consultations with political forces, leaders, and activists "who share [his] democratic principles." Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin daily "Trud" on 29 August wrote that the real reason for Kasyanov's return to Moscow is the birth of his daughter, although the newspaper provided no further details. Aleksei Zudin, an expert from the Moscow-based Center For Political Technologies, was quoted in "Izvestiya" on 29 August as saying that Kasyanov, like jailed ex-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, is simply trying to stay in the public eye. VY

At the same press conference on 29 August, Kasyanov said that an investigation initiated by the Prosecutor-General's Office into his alleged wrongdoing in connection with the illegal privatization of government real estate is "a campaign of slander aimed at compromising me," reported. "I committed no crimes during my entire 25-year civil-service career or afterwards," he said. Kasyanov also said that his consulting company, MK-Analitika, has recently been informed about an imminent tax probe. "This is a little bit funny, because the company has existed for only half a year, while the normal tax period is one year," he said. He noted, however, that the company will provide all the required documents. VY

Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said on 29 August in Bern that former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who is being detained on accusations of fraud and money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, 19, 20 May, 8 July and 12 August 2005), has agreed to be extradited to Russia, reported. Adamov has been in Swiss custody since his arrest in Bern on 2 May. Both the United States and Russia have requested his extradition. Until recently, Adamov denied all accusations and refused to be extradited to either country. Galli said that Adamov has agreed to be tried in a Russian court, including for crimes he allegedly committed in the United States. The Swiss Justice Ministry raised no objection to that and has asked the U.S. authorities whether they are prepared to revoke their extradition request, reported. But Mary Beth Buchanan, the attorney for the U.S. Western District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement given to ITAR-TASS on 29 August that the United States will not withdraw the extradition request. According to Galli, if two sides insist on extradition, the Justice Ministry must determine which request has priority. Swiss law imposes no time limits on this procedure. VY

About 30-40 masked men armed with baseball bats attacked on 29 August in Moscow members of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), Avant-Guard Red Youth, and youth organizations from the Motherland and Communist parties, Russian news agencies reported. The groups met to discuss a proposed "Anti-Capitalism March 2005." According to NBP spokesman Aleksandr Averin, at least five members of his organization were taken to hospital, Ekho Moskvy reported. Averin said that police arrested about 20 of the perpetrators and are trying to establish their identities. He said that he is sure that the men were members of the pro-Kremlin movement Nashi and that they will be released soon without charge or punishment. Meanwhile, the leader of the Motherland youth organization, Sergei Shergunov, told Ekho Moskvy on 30 August that he believes the attackers were fans of the Spartak sports club, from which authorities recruit members for Nashi. VY

President Putin told journalists on 29 August that the new system for selecting governors "has fully proved worthwhile," RIA-Novosti reported. Instead of being directly elected by citizens of Russian Federation subjects, regional leaders are now nominated by the president and confirmed by regional legislatures. Putin said that the change "in no way harms Russian democracy, and better corresponds to Russian realities." Under the old system, candidates backed by the Kremlin occasionally lost gubernatorial elections, and efforts by the president's allies to undermine popular incumbents did not always succeed (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 4 January 2005). In contrast, all of the candidates nominated by Putin this year for regional leadership posts have been confirmed as governors or republican presidents. According to RIA-Novosti, Putin cited recent events in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast as proof that he does not simply appoint governors. "We had lengthy, complicated consultations with the Legislative Assembly before we found a suitable candidate," he said. Putin nominated then-Moscow Deputy Mayor Valerii Shantsev for governor of Nizhnii Novgorod earlier this month, only days before the incumbent's term expired. LB

The State Council of the Republic of Chavashiya on 29 August confirmed Nikolai Fedorov as president by a vote of 66 to two, Russian news agencies reported. Immediately following the vote, Fedorov took the oath of office to start his fourth term. He has led the republic since January 1994, having won presidential elections in December 1993, 1997, and 2001. ITAR-TASS reported that Fedorov remains popular in the republic, which has experienced rapid growth in road building, housing construction, and gasification of the countryside. The news agency said that Fedorov's popularity increased this year "when Chavashiya became one of the regions where the monetization of social benefits occurred painlessly." After taking the oath of office, Fedorov told those assembled that by nominating him for another term, Putin showed that he "respects free thought and free opinions," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 August. The newspaper commented that Fedorov has criticized the Kremlin on many occasions, including over the abolition of gubernatorial elections. LB

The Party of Life headed by Federation Council Speaker Mironov has become the latest Russian political party to seek a higher profile for its youth wing, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 August. The Energy of Life movement, headed by Yurii Lopusov, has existed for two years but only held its founding congress in Moscow on 26 August. Addressing the congress, Mironov criticized the "desire of certain politicians to turn young people into an obedient herd and become their political puppeteers." In his speech, Lopusov accused the pro-Kremlin movement Nashi of buying the support of young people by giving them pagers, free tickets to the cinema, and other perks. Political commentator Stanislav Belkovskii speculated that Mironov's speech to the Energy of Life congress was part of a campaign to become Putin's chosen successor. Belkovskii mentioned rumors that Putin has hinted privately to Mironov that he will support his candidacy. Mironov recently said he will not run for president again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2005). In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 29 August, the Federation Council speaker specifically denied that he has been offered the chance to "continue Putin's policies" after 2008. LB

State Duma Deputy Ivan Musatov, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, announced on 29 August that he is hospitalized with broken bones, a concussion, and other serious injuries after being beaten on the night of 27 August, Russian news agencies reported. Musatov said he was with friends when he saw a group of men in civilian clothes beating up another man. He interceded and was attacked by the perpetrators. After hearing a gunshot, he ran toward his car and shouted, "Call the police," only to have one of the assailants tell him, "We are the police." Musatov said he was handcuffed and accused of forging documents attesting to his status as a Duma deputy. After some time police officers in uniform arrived and called an ambulance for him. The Moscow prosecutor's office confirmed on 29 August that two police officers have been detained in connection with beating up a State Duma deputy on 27 August, and that a third officer is hospitalized with a gunshot wound, RIA-Novosti reported. The officers were allegedly not on duty and not in uniform when the incident occurred. LB

Wealthy businessman and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has hired builders at a German shipyard to construct what would be the largest private yacht in the world, reported on 29 August, citing the previous day's edition of "The Sunday Times" of London. The yacht would be more than 160 meters long and would cost an estimated 100 million pounds ($179 million), according to ITAR-TASS on 29 August. "The Sunday Times" reported that Abramovich already owns the fifth and sixth largest yachts in the world, which cost him 57 million pounds and 50 million pounds, respectively. In recent months, Moscow's rumor mill has speculated that Abramovich, already a billionaire, plans to sell his large stake in the Sibneft oil company to either Rosneft or Gazprom, thereby raising more cash and avoiding the political problems faced by Khodorkovskii, the former head of the Yukos oil company. LB

The Armenian parliament met on 29 August to debate and approve the final version of the draft constitutional amendments to be put to a nationwide referendum in November, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A dozen opposition deputies who have boycotted legislative proceedings for the past 18 months suspended that boycott to attend the session. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian of the Republican Party of Armenia (the senior partner in the three-party coalition) stressed that the final draft has received the approval of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, the EU, and the United States, and he rejected opposition objections that it fails to reduce the powers of the president, Noyan Tapan reported. Torosian noted additional conditions restricting the president's choice of prime minister and the diminution of the powers of regional governors. LF

The acquisition in June by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) of the right to manage the privately owned Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) did not violate Armenian law, Robert Nazarian, the chairman of Armenia's Public Service Regulatory Commission, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 29 August. He added that the British-registered Midland Resources Holding still owns 100 percent of the network's shares, which it acquired in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 7, 11, 14, and 21 July 2005). On 24 August, a spokeswoman for the commission declined to comment on the issue, suggesting that all queries concerning ENA should be addressed to the Armenian government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

President Ilham Aliyev attended the ceremonial launch on 29 August of Azerbaijan's new public broadcaster, Turan reported. Creation of a public television station was one of the conditions of Azerbaijan's acceptance in 2001 into full membership of the Council of Europe, but the project was delayed by President Aliyev's insistence last year that the appropriate legislation be revised (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 30 September 2004). In recent months, Council of Europe officials have repeatedly stressed that the station should be operational by the start of the campaign for the 6 November parliamentary elections. Speaking on 29 August at the opening ceremony, the station's director Ismail Omarov expressed the hope that it will provide objective and unbiased information and serve to strengthen national solidarity, reported. Public television will initially broadcast 12 hours per day. LF

Azerbaijani border guards arrested on 26 August Merab Djibuti, one of the Georgians reported to have attended the meeting in Tbilisi in late July at which Armenian intelligence agents co-opted Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the Azerbaijani opposition youth movement Yeni Fikir, and reported on 30 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 8, and 9 August 2005). Djibuti reportedly tried to enter Azerbaijan using a false passport. He is said to have admitted to meeting with Bashirli in Tbilisi on 28 and 28 July. LF

A total of 2,152 would-be parliamentary candidates submitted registration applications and lists of signatures in their support to the Central Election Commission by the 28 August deadline, Turan reported on 29 August. To date, 1,286 persons have been formally registered as candidates, including 379 from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, 32 from the opposition Musavat party, 31 from the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, 30 from the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, nine from the Communist Party, plus almost 700 independent candidates. LF

The Tbilisi City Court sentenced Shalva Ramishvili and 202 television company General Director David Kokhreidze on 29 August to three months pre-trial detention in connection with Ramishvili's imputed extortion of a large bribe from parliament deputy Koba Bekauri, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). Ramishvili denied in court soliciting a bribe from Bekauri and claimed that the latter repeatedly pressured him over a period of several months to destroy incriminating film footage. Elena Tevdoradze, who heads the parliament human rights commission, called on 29 August for a meeting of the majority National Movement-Democrats faction to discuss Bekauri's allegations. On 30 August, parliamentarian David Zurabishvili announced he has quit the National Movement-Democrats faction to protest what he termed Bekauri's underhand "betrayal" of Ramishvili to the police, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Daniyar Narymbaev, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev's representative to parliament, announced on 29 August that the president has officially submitted to parliament the candidacy of Feliks Kulov for the post of prime minister, reported. There was some confusion over the date the candidacy was submitted. Narymbaev said that the president signed the relevant documents on 26 August, but dated them 28 August in order to give parliament, which will not meet in full session until 1 September, more time to discuss Kulov's candidacy. Parliament will have one week to debate the issue starting on 29 August, Narymbaev explained. The official nomination of Kulov was expected; it was part of a pre-election pact between Kulov, who heads the Ar-Namys Party, and Bakiev under which Kulov agreed not to seek the presidency and Bakiev agreed to nominate Kulov for the premiership in the event of his victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). DK

Bakiev said at a meeting with provincial governors on 29 August that future administrative reforms envisage the elimination of provinces by 2007, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Noting that the issue of administrative reform came up frequently in the recent presidential campaign, Bakiev said that the first stage of the reform will involve the liquidation of unnecessary structures at the provincial level. After the abolition of provinces by 2007, the country will have a three-tier system of government consisting of a central government, districts, and villages. Kyrgyzstan is currently divided into seven provinces and the capital city of Bishkek. DK

Kubanychbek Jusupov, deputy head of Kyrgyzgaz, announced on 29 August that Kyrgyzstan is currently negotiating with Kazakhstan a natural gas contract to take the place of deliveries from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In the wake of Kyrgyzstan's recent airlift of 439 Uzbek refugees to Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005), Uzbekistan recently cancelled a contract to deliver natural gas beginning in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). Kubanychbek said that the negotiations with Kazakhstan should be completed by 10 September. He noted that Kyrgyzstan will first have to settle existing debts for gas to Kazakhstan and will have to pay $43 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, one dollar more than Kyrgyzstan would have paid Uzbekistan. DK

Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov ended a recent 20-26 August visit to China by signing an agreement under which China will give Kyrgyzstan 10 million yuans ($1.25 million) in no-strings-attached military aid, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 29 August. During the visit, Isakov met with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan and observed Chinese-Russian military exercises. DK

Mukhtor Boqizoda, editor in chief of the independent Tajik newspaper "Nerui Sukhan," has filed a protest with a court in Dushanbe calling for a review of a recent criminal conviction against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2005), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 29 August. Boqizoda charged that his conviction on charges of stealing electricity, for which he was sentenced to two years' corrective labor with 20 percent of his wages garnished, took place under political pressure. Furthermore, he alleged that the crime he was charged with is not classified as a criminal offence under Tajik law. Boqizoda said that he hoped the court will conduct an impartial investigation, threatening a hunger strike if this does not occur. Safarali Qurbonov, the district court judge who sentenced Boqizoda, said that it is the defendant's right to appeal. "Nerui Sukhan," which has reported frequently on corruption, has had numerous run-ins with the authorities and has appeared only intermittently since the tax police shuttered its printing house in January. In a 25 August press release, the Committee to Protect Journalists "denounced the verdict [against Boqizoda], calling the charges politically motivated." DK

Uzbek police in Tashkent on 27 August detained rights defender Elena Urlaeva, who is also an activist for the unregistered opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers), for distributing an opposition brochure, reported on 29 August. Party leader Nigora Hidoyatova told the news agency that the brochure lays out Ozod Dehqonlar's program and aims. She added that the party has already distributed 50,000 copies of the brochure without experiencing legal problems. Hidoyatova said that prosecutors have refused to give her any information beyond the fact that Urlaeva's case is under review. She added that Urlaeva has not been allowed to speak with a lawyer since she was detained. Bahodir Namazov told that the authorities may have decided to detain Urlaeva in the lead-up to 1 September Independence Day festivities to prevent her from organizing any protests. Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, told RFE/RL on 29 August, "[Urlaeva] was actually in a psychiatric institution [in the past], where she was forcibly detained some years ago. So this person has endured unbelievable suffering because of her beliefs." DK

The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) has criticized the European Commission's decision to finance a Deutsche Welle Russian-language program for Belarus (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 24 and 30 August 2005), Belapan reported on 29 August. Noting that programs created by Belarusians for Belarusians are the most effective way to reach the Belarusian audience, the BNF stresses in a statement that the European Commission's decision shows a lack of understanding of the socio-linguistic situation in Belarus. "The choice of a language other than Belarusian to broadcast to Belarus is an ineffective decision and a political signal that may be regarded as an expression of solidarity with [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka's policy of rooting out the Belarusian language and representing Belarus as part of the sphere of Russian influence," the statement reads. The BNF urges the European Commission to reconsider its decision. JM

Stanislau Buko, chairman of the Belarusian Cabinet of Ministers' Committee on Religious and National Affairs, suggested to Belapan on 29 August that the authorities would oppose the creation of another organization of ethnic Poles, in addition to the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB). Buko said that an SPB convention last week, which was questioned by a faction of SPB activists led by former SPB Chairwoman Anzhelika Borys (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005), elected a lawful leadership. "Apart from this association, which has existed and will exist, I don't know any other organizations of Poles and there cannot be any of them. If we start playing politics, let's establish new associations of Poles, but we, as well as Poles, don't need politics," Buko said. Buko added that the government will provide financial support to the SPB. Buko's promise came after Polish media reported that Warsaw will cease financing the organization. Jolanta Danielak, deputy speaker of the Senate, Poland's upper house, told "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 29 August that Warsaw cannot provide financial support for the SPB after it was de facto placed under the Belarusian government's control. JM

Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, who is also a leading candidate in the upcoming presidential election in Poland, said on 29 August that Warsaw will open a "Belarusian House" to host representatives of the Belarusian opposition and nongovernmental organizations as well as those members of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB) who do not support the SPB leadership elected last week, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "Belarusian House is a working name," Marek Bucko, a former diplomat expelled from Minsk, explained to journalists. "It will be a conference center with a hotel. This house will allow us to organize seminars, meetings, and lectures.... I hope that it will also accommodate the editorial staff of an independent radio station that is going to broadcast to Belarus." Bucko did not say when the house will be opened but stressed that its establishment will be supported by the Warsaw mayoralty jointly with a number of foundations. JM

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) announced in Kyiv on 29 August that the United States and Ukraine agreed to counter the threat of bioterrorism and to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons, technology, materials, and expertise, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Under the agreement Washington will assist Kyiv in upgrading the security for pathogens currently stored at Ukrainian laboratories as well as in reducing the time required to diagnose disease outbreaks in Ukraine and assessing whether they are natural or the result of a terrorist act. "This agreement will help Ukraine improve its capacity to diagnose, detect, and respond to public health threats by providing Ukraine with more modern, central reference libraries and a network of regional epidemiological monitoring stations as well as enhancing cooperation between our two nations," U.S. Senator Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois), who was traveling with Lugar, told journalists in Kyiv. JM

Unknown persons hurled a hand grenade at the Subotica home of Jozef Kasza, who heads the League of Vojvodina Hungarians, in the early hours of 30 August, the private Beta news agency reported. There was slight damage to Kasza's house and the one next door, but nobody was injured. Police said that the device was a "hand grenade" and are investigating. Kasza was not immediately willing to make any comment to the media. He is an outspoken critic of nationalist tendencies in Serbian politics who told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in February that Serbia is "sinking in nationalist euphoria" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2004 and 17 February 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February 2005). In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica condemned the incident, calling it "a crime directed against the Serbian state." He promised to catch those responsible and to ensure the security of all Serbia's citizens, including members of national minorities. PM

Serbian President Boris Tadic told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" of 29 August that new elections are necessary because the government of Prime Minister Kostunica is reviving the legacy of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's authoritarian rule and "creating the atmosphere of the 1990s," RFE/RL reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 August 2005). Tadic called for a new, pro-European government with a clear vision and coherent program to replace the current minority coalition backed by Milosevic's Socialists in parliament. Tadic also criticized the government for dropping criminal charges in an assault case against Milosevic's son Marko. Tadic and Kostunica are bitter rivals who compete for the support of many of the same nationalist and reformist voters. PM/PB

An unknown person gunned down Slavoljub Scekic, who was deputy head of Montenegro's' criminal police, in front of his house in a Podgorica suburb in the early hours of 30 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The killer escaped in a waiting car. Police quickly rounded up about 20 suspects as part of their ongoing investigation. The killing appears to have been carefully planned and carried out in a professional manner. Two previous murders of leading Montenegrin police officials remain unsolved. Later on 30 August, a spokesman for the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) demanded that those responsible for the killing be brought to justice. PM

Spokesmen for Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said on 29 August in Prishtina that he is in stable condition at a U.S. military hospital near Heidelberg, Germany, Prishtina dailies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). One spokesman denied rumors that Rugova is suffering from lung cancer and said that Rugova will return to work soon. Prishtina media noted that parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci would take over the president's duties if Rugova were unable to perform them. Rugova has been the virtually unchallenged leader of the Kosovar Albanians for the past two decades. Analysts noted that it might not be easy for his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) to find a replacement for the president, who won a direct election. Adem Demaci, who is known as "Kosova's Mandela" for the long years he spent in communist prisons without compromising his principles, is one of the few people who probably enjoys almost universal respect among Kosovars. However, he is elderly, has generally shunned active politics, and might not seek or accept the post. PM

Milan Ivanovic, who heads Kosova's Serbian National Council, said in Mitrovica on 29 August that Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), should resign as a way of taking responsibility for the recent killing of two Serbian youths by unknown persons, Prishtina dailies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). In Gracanica, several hundred members of the Serbian minority protested the killings and called on Jessen-Petersen to quit. In Prishtina, UNMIK police chief Kai Vittrup noted that the incident has led to much speculation, which he called "unhelpful and irresponsible." He appealed to everyone concerned to pay attention to facts and not "jump to conclusions" regarding an isolated incident. The daily "Zeri" commented that Belgrade is using the incident to raise the specter of rampant violence against Serbs and put pressure on Jessen-Petersen and UNMIK. Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica had said that the message to Kosova's Serbs from the killings is that their only choice is "between death and persecution." PM

Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Radmila Sekerinska said in Alpbach, Austria, on 30 August that her country hopes to join the EU by 2010 as a way of promoting regional stability, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 February, 17 June, and 1 July 2005). "We think that based on what we have achieved since our independence, we have qualified ourselves for negotiations for entry into the EU," she stressed. The minister also argued that the EU's "last enlargement round [in May 2004] brought those [10] countries democracy and economic development. We want more or less to use the same recipe for the Balkans." She added that "we hope that we will be a membership candidate by the end of this year. We will try to start the negotiations in spring 2006 and...finish our job in less than four years." Officials in Brussels have, however, cautioned Macedonia against being too optimistic about its prospects for membership, which is a top priority of the government. In other news, the Macedonian police on 29 August completed their assumption of control of the country's borders from the army in an effort to meet European standards, Hina reported. PM

The United Gagauz movement in Moldova's Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic has appealed to Moldovans and international organizations to help Gagauz "put an end to the Communist arbitrariness in the autonomous region," Infotag reported on 29 August. According to the movement, Gagauz-Yeri's Popular Assembly (Halk Toplusu) and Gagauz-Yeri Governor Gheorghe Tabunshik are planning to submit to the Moldovan parliament in Chisinau an amendment to the law on Gagauz-Yeri's status in order to provide the autonomous region's legislature with the right to elect the governor. United Gagauzia says the initiative to pass such an amendment comes from the Party of Moldovan Communists, which is allegedly afraid that its representative may lose the next gubernatorial election if held by popular vote. United Gagauzia appealed to the Popular Assembly not to yield to a "new provocation" by the Communists and to hold a regional referendum on the issue. Gagauz-Yeri's chief executive is elected every four years by popular vote in the region. Tabunshik has been in office since 1995. JM

Meeting in the wilds of Belarus on 8 December 1991, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus announced the creation of a new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on the ruins of the crumbling USSR. Two weeks later, on 21 December 1991, the presidents of 11 former Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) met in Almaty and signed a protocol to that declaration affirming their countries' membership in the CIS.

The ink was barely dry on those signatures when skeptics began questioning how long that new union would last. Shortly after its first anniversary, in January 1993, U.S. expert Paul Goble memorably dubbed the CIS "the world's largest fig leaf," alluding to the need to conceal the final collapse of Moscow's influence over the country it had controlled since the USSR was first created in 1922. Russian politicians, however, including President Vladimir Putin, have tended to put a positive spin on the emergence of the CIS as a mechanism for ensuring a "civilized divorce," in other words, for enabling the various former Soviet Socialist Republics to agree, without bloodshed, to go their separate ways.

Initially, every effort was made to preserve cooperation between CIS member states at a level close to that which existed within the USSR. In May 1992, six CIS member states (Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) signed the CIS Collective Security Treaty pledging to intervene collectively to counter an attack on any one of them; a CIS armed forces general staff continued to exist until mid-1993. But from the outset, the CIS was split into two factions, the first of which (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) was markedly more committed than the others (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine). Azerbaijan quit the CIS in 1992 following the advent to power of the Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHC), but rejoined in late 1993 after the AHC leadership was ousted. Georgia was coerced into joining in late 1993 by Russian threats to withhold energy supplies.

In January 1993, the CIS presidents adopted a new charter and statutes, and in September of that year they reached agreement in principle on creating an economic union. But already the centrifugal tendencies that precipitated the collapse of the USSR were evident within the CIS: Uzbek President Islam Karimov complained in April 1993 that the CIS had already adopted 270 documents that his country found unacceptable and would not abide by. Writing in "Rossiiskie vesti" in December 1996, one commentator note that "implementing one [CIS] agreement is more difficult than signing 10 new ones."

The process of signing ever more documents that were never implemented nonetheless continued for several years, until at a CIS summit in late March 1997, hard-line Russian political scientists Andranik Migranian and Konstantin Zatulin unveiled a program intended to restore Russia's status as unacknowledged leader within the CIS. Warning that the CIS risks becoming "a fiction," they advocated radical measures, including the deliberate destabilization of the domestic political situation within selected CIS states (Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan), to reverse the perceived drift of the former Soviet republics away from Russia. They argued that the founders of the CIS had committed a fundamental error by selecting the wrong (from Russia's point of view) model, namely EU-style integration, and that reunification of the two Germanies would have been far more appropriate.

That blueprint set off alarm bells across the CIS, and served as the catalyst for the foundation in late 1997 of GUAM, a loose geo-political alignment encompassing Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova; Uzbekistan acceded to GUAM in April 1999.

In a possible acknowledgement that the scare tactics espoused by Migranian and Zatulin had proven counterproductive, in April 1998, Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii was appointed CIS executive secretary with a brief to persuade the CIS presidents to endorse, and then implement, a blueprint for closer and more effective economic cooperation, beginning with the creation of one or more CIS free-trade zones. (An agreement in principle to form such zones had been signed in April 1994, but shared the same fate as hundreds of other collective statements of intent that were signed but never implemented.) Meanwhile, the "core" CIS states -- Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, which had formed a customs union in 1995 to which Kyrgyzstan acceded the following year -- were mulling the creation of a Single Economic Space together with Ukraine.

Two developments seemed to infuse new vitality into the CIS, albeit only briefly: the election of Vladimir Putin to succeed Boris Yeltsin as Russian president, and the creation in November 2001 of a CIS Antiterrrorism Center. Then in 2003, the CIS drafted, but failed to endorse, a new 10-part plan for expanding economic cooperation, the first stage of which was to be the creation of a free-trade zone. That failure to move decisively forward prompted Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of closer CIS integration in both the economic and political spheres, to propose at a CIS summit in Astana in September 2004 transforming the Single Economic Space into the nucleus of a "super-CIS" while the remaining CIS members confined their cooperation within that body to the military sphere. Nazarbaev also proposed other measures to streamline the CIS and make it more effective, including abolishing the CIS Economic Court and several other bodies and reducing the staff of the CIS Executive Committee from 220 to 140, according to "Vremya novostei" on 17 September 2004. The summit participants agreed to reach a final decision on Nazarbaev's reform proposals within 12 months.

In the event, however, last week's CIS summit in Kazan failed yet again to yield a consensus on reform; the participants decided to readdress the issue at their next summit, tentatively scheduled for 2006 in Belarus. Putin proposed establishing a "council of wise men" to draft new, unspecified proposals for reforming the CIS. (An alternative blueprint for reform drafted by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was reportedly not included in the agenda.) Despite the ongoing uncertainty, however, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin described the Kazan summit as one of the most productive ever, according to "The Moscow Times" on 29 August.

That comment may, however, prove to be premature in light of two related developments. First, in line with its predilection for structuring its foreign policy exclusively on bilateral, rather than multilateral ties and agreements, Turkmenistan has finally admitted its total lack of interest in the CIS and formally requested that its status be downgraded to that of associate member. (Article 8 of the CIS Statutes adopted in January 1993 provides for states with such associate membership to participate in selected CIS activities with the formal consent of the CIS full members). Some might argue that the effective exclusion of Turkmenistan from the CIS equation is a positive development insofar as it removes an obstacle to closer and more effective economic integration. Others, however, might see it as the thin end of a much larger wedge -- a wedge that the unequivocally Western-oriented CIS members, in the first instance Georgia and Ukraine, might seek to use at some future point to deal the coup de grace by announcing their collective withdrawal.

One unfortunate incident at the summit's opening ceremony on 26 August -- shown on Russian television -- perfectly symbolized the CIS's dilemma. The presidents gathered in a magnificent new conference center only to find the air conditioning did not function and the windows would not open. Putin, perspiring visibly, looked on as a workman wielding a crowbar was summoned to force open a window and let in some fresh air -- a commodity without which the CIS will suffocate, sooner or later. The question being, which president will wield the crowbar?

UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Costa has announced a marked decline in opium cultivation in Afghanistan in 2005, according to a joint press statement released by the UNODC and the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry on 29 August. Speaking in Kabul on 29 August following a meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Costa said that according to the findings of UNODC's soon-to-be-published "Opium Survey for Afghanistan" for 2005, the cultivation of opium has decreased by 21 percent from 2004, from 131,000 hectares to 103,000 hectares. Costa attributed the decrease to the Afghan government's success in persuading farmers to voluntarily refrain from poppy cultivation; to farmers' apprehension that the official ban on opium cultivation could be enforced through eradication; and to current market conditions in Afghanistan, where "farm-gate prices for raw opium remain relatively low." While Costa hailed the decrease in cultivation of opium poppies, he acknowledged that production of opium has not fallen as much. According to the UNODC, opium production for 2005 stands at 4,100 tons, slightly less than 4,200 tons produced in 2004. Costa attributed the trend to favorable weather conditions. AT

President Karzai on 29 August welcomed the decrease in Afghan poppy cultivation, according to a press release from the presidential spokesman's office. "I'm extremely pleased to note that the people of Afghanistan have responded positively to the call for jihad against the evil of narcotics. This indicates that the Afghan people are taking steps towards ridding their country from this menace. I would like to pay particular praise to the people of the Province of Nangarhar [in eastern Afghanistan], which saw [a] decrease of 96 percent in cultivation," Karzai said in the statement. He also expressed hope that the international community stands by Afghanistan so that the country can become drug-free. Afghanistan is by far the world's leading producer of opium, accounting for 87 percent of global opium production in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 December 2004). AT

Manmohan Singh attended a ceremony on 29 August in which the former king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zaher, laid the foundation stone of the new Afghan parliament building, the PTI news agency reported. "It will be the heart of democracy in Afghanistan," Singh said of the building, which will resemble the Indian parliament building and will be built by India as a gift to Afghanistan. Upon his return to New Delhi, Singh said that he had a "very productive visit" to Afghanistan, adding that it "has been India's privilege to be a partner in the process of economic reconstruction and development" of that country, according to an Indian government statement on 29 August. Singh's two-day visit to Kabul was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Afghanistan in nearly three decades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2005). AT

Unidentified assailants attacked the house of Ghazi Nawaz Tanay, chairman of the Solidarity Council of Khost and a candidate for the Wolesi Jirga from Khost Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 29 August. "We exchanged light arms fire for 15 minutes," before the attackers escaped, Tanay told AIP. One of Tanay's brothers was injured in the attack. "I do not have personal differences with anyone. This is a politically motivated attack...but I will further step up my political activities," Tanay said. A hotel room where Tanay was staying was attacked earlier this month, for which the neo-Taliban later claimed responsibility. During the October presidential election, Tanay was the regional head of Karzai's campaign. AT

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha agreed on 28 August to be secretary-general of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), Radio Farda reported. Musavi-Khoeniha succeeds Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, who resigned after the June presidential election and who has since created his own political party. In early August the association elected former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami as its secretary-general, but he turned down the post, citing time constraints. Musavi-Khoeniha has served as the state prosecutor-general and headed the now banned "Salam" newspaper. The Special Court for the Clergy found Musavi-Khoeniha guilty of spreading fabrications, disturbing public opinion, and publishing classified documents, and in August 1999 it sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison and a flogging. Due to his revolutionary credentials, the sentence was suspended and instead he was fined; he also was banned from publishing activities for three years and "Salam" was banned for five years (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 and 9 August 1999). Radio Farda noted that Musavi-Khoeniha was associated with the occupiers of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the subsequent hostage crisis, and it noted rumors of his communist tendencies. BS

Maku's parliamentary representative, Mohammad Abbaspur, said recently that narcotics would not have as wide a reach in Iran as they do without the involvement of government officials in smuggling, Radio Farda reported on 29 August. The security forces, prisons organization, customs posts, and the Drug Control Headquarters are all institutions that are liable to infiltration by organized criminals, and every day more and more of them are exposed, Abbaspur said. For example, he said, the amount of drugs in the prisons cannot be attributed solely to the prisoners and their families. And without the cooperation of Iranian airlines personnel, he continued, how can ecstasy pills be smuggled in from the Netherlands and Denmark? BS

Arak prosecutor Hamzeh Pakbin denied reports on 28 August that two males under the age of 18 have been sentenced to death for homosexual activities, ISNA reported. Expatriate Iranian opposition organizations in recent months have reported that several gay males have been executed. Pakbin described two current cases that may be related to the allegations. He said Ahmad Choqa, who is 25 and worked as a taxi driver, took a 22-year-old male passenger at knifepoint to his home, and he and two confederates kept the man there from midnight until 9 a.m. The 22-year-old man escaped and made it to the police, who subsequently arrested Choqa and his confederates. Choqa has a lengthy criminal record that includes fighting with police, drinking, rape, highway robbery, and pickpocketing. The only "criminal" behavior on his record that could relate to his sexual preference is, according to the Arak official, relations with a member of the same gender (lavat in Persian). He has not been sentenced yet. Mahbod Kurd Afshar, 25, was sentenced on the same charge to six years in prison in 2002, and he has served three years of his sentence, Pakbin said. BS

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah arrived in Iran on 28 August, and met the same day with his counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki, and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Kuna and IRNA reported. Al-Sabah expressed an interest in ongoing negotiations with Tehran, as well as cooperation and coordination on Iraqi affairs. Ahmadinejad described Iran as the "best guarantor of regional security." He expressed an interest in accelerated negotiations on energy issues and water. Mottaki and al-Sabah also talked about Iran's provision of drinking water to Kuwait. BS

The U.S. military said two air strikes launched on insurgent safe houses in Al-Karabilah, near Al-Qa'im, on 30 August killed an Al-Qaeda operative identified as Abu Islam, Reuters reported. "Two 500-pound precision-guided munitions were expended on each terrorist safe house," a military spokeswoman said, adding that the military has "confirmatory information" that Abu Islam is dead. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television cited medical sources in Al-Qa'im as saying that more than 40 Iraqis were killed when the U.S. military bombed two houses near Al-Qa'im on 30 August. Three families living in a house in Al-Sanjaq were killed when one house was bombed. The others were killed in the bombing of a house in Al-Salman, the news channel reported. It is unclear whether these reports refer to the same bombings. Medical sources also claimed that a medical center was bombed, killing and wounding staff and patients. KR

"Thousands" of Sunnis demonstrated in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on 29 August against the draft constitution, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. Demonstrators carried Iraqi flags and posters of Saddam Hussein, along with banners claiming the constitution will divide Iraq. Al-Arabiyah reported that strict Iraqi security measures were in place during the demonstration, and U.S. military helicopters hovered over the city during the march, which concluded at the governorate headquarters in Tikrit. KR

A poll conducted by the Iraqi Center for Development and International Dialogue found that 88 percent of those polled said they intend to vote in the referendum on the constitution planned for 15 October, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 29 August. The center is run by former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafiz. Eighty-eight percent of those polled also said they believed it necessary to hold the referendum under present circumstances, while 10 percent said they did not believe so; 2 percent did not respond. Eighty-four percent of those polled supported granting women all freedoms that do not contradict Islam; 13 percent said the rights of women should be guaranteed through equality with men. Sixty percent supported the current quota for female representatives in parliament, which stands at 25 percent of parliamentary seats, while 21 percent of respondents said women should hold 33 percent of parliamentary seats; and 14 percent said women should hold an equal number of seats to men in parliament. The poll surveyed 3,667 Iraqis aged 18 years or older representing 3,708 families in 15 of 18 governorates (excluding Al-Anbar, Dahuk, and Irbil); 53 percent of respondents were male and 47 percent female. KR

The Jordanian government announced on 29 August that it will invest $85 million to improve security along its border with Iraq, AP reported on 30 August. The decision comes 11 days after insurgents allegedly smuggled a Katyusha rocket from Iraq to Jordan and fired it at a U.S. ship in the Red Sea port of Al-Aqabah. Iraqi officials later accused Jordan of aiding the insurgency. Jordanian officials have said that the border authorities are working at 10 times their normal capacity, checking some 1,500 vehicles and 5,000 passengers daily. Meanwhile, Amman's "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on 30 August that the Criminal Investigations Department arrested a group of Iraqis last week who were running a counterfeit-passport and -document business in Amman. The group had 22 official Jordanian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Egyptian seals, and were paid $100 per stamp to forge commercial contracts, identification cards, marriage contracts, university certificates, and other documents, including fake passports. KR

In an interview with BBC television, Amr Musa expressed concern over the text of Iraq's draft constitution, reported on 29 August. Musa claimed the draft denies Iraq's "Arab identity," adding: "I do not believe in this division between Shi'a and Sunni and Muslims and Christians and Arabs and Kurds. I don't buy this and I find in this a true recipe for chaos and perhaps a catastrophe in Iraq and around it." Article 3 of the draft states: "Iraq is a country of many ethnicities, religions, and denominations; it is a part of the Islamic world, and its Arab people is a part of the Arab nation" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 August 2005). KR

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari responded to Musa's comments by telling reporters at a 29 August press briefing broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television that the matter was an internal Iraqi affair. He added that the Arab states had ample opportunity to become engaged in Iraq, but failed to do so. "So far, not a single [Arab] president, minister, or ambassador has visited Iraq, while non-Arab officials compete to visit Iraq and interact with the Iraqi experience. This is sad. It is not right for [the Arab League] to make an issue of a purely Iraqi affair. We have our own circumstances. It needs to respect our people's convictions," al-Ja'fari said. KR