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Newsline - September 6, 2005

Vladimir Putin fired Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov as commander of the Russian Navy on 4 September, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. Putin appointed Admiral Vladimir Masorin as Kuroedov's replacement. "You...face difficult tasks," Putin told Masorin at a meeting at the president's country estate, reported. "We will not be able to solve all these problems even with the state's economic potential growing if we do not strengthen discipline and order and solve tasks of social protection of seamen." Putin did not give a reason for Kuroedov's dismissal, but it came a month after a Russian mini-submarine was trapped on the ocean floor near Kamchatka with seven crewmen aboard before being rescued by the British Royal Navy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 August 2005). Admiral Eduard Baltin told Ekho Moskvy that Kuroedov's health was a factor in his dismissal. "Kuroedov is very ill. He has been lying in hospital for two months, he had a complicated operation," Baltin said on 4 September. BW

Masorin told reporters on 5 September that he will restore discipline and public confidence in Russia's Navy, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "One thing is clear -- to continue in the condition that we are in and do nothing is simply not possible," Reuters quoted Masorin as saying. "I have been given the task of stopping the navy [from] shaking public opinion," Masorin said. Masorin also said he will focus on developing strategic nuclear forces, RIA-Novosti and reported. "To begin with, attention will be paid to the development of the strategic naval nuclear forces," he said. BW

During a meeting in the Kremlin on 5 September with Western academics and journalists, Putin warned that forcing democratic reforms in post-Soviet states could plunge them into chaos, "The Times" reported the next day. "Our foreign partners may be making a mistake," Putin said. "We are not against any changes in the former Soviet Union. We are afraid only that those changes will be chaotic. Otherwise there will be banana republics where he who shouts loudest wins." Putin was particularly critical of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, accusing his government of corruption. The United States and the European Union supported Yushchenko, who won power following Ukraine's Orange Revolution in December. "No one wanted to listen to us -- and we have to be listened to," Putin said. BW

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu has called for the creation of a pan-European rescue squadron that could assist in emergencies anywhere on the continent, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 September. "Germany, France, and some other countries have already supported our idea. The structure has been prepared and is being discussed now," Shoigu said. "Today, all countries spend money and use different types of planes, which takes its toll on effectiveness." Shoigu also warned against delay, noting that such a squadron could have been useful in fighting forest fires in Portugal this summer. BW

Russia will begin issuing biometric foreign-travel passports later this year as part of a pilot project in Leningrad Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 September. Arkadii Trachuk, director general of the Gosznak mint, which prints banknotes and security documents, said the new passport will contain a microchip containing the bearer's fingerprints and biometric data. "I think it will conform to [the] best foreign analogs, and even surpass them in some ways," Trachuk said, adding that preparations to begin printing the new passports have been completed. BW

Russia said it opposes referring Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program, international news agencies reported on 5 September. The announcement sets the stage for a possible confrontation with the United States and the European Union, both of which have warned they will push to have Iran reported to the Security Council. "In these circumstances we see no reason why the question should be sent to the UN [Security Council]," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website ( The United States has long accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear-power program as a cover for a weapons program. Tehran angered the EU last month by resuming uranium-processing work at a plant in Isfahan, causing Brussels to threaten the Security Council referral. BW

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will head the Unified Russia party list for the upcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma, the mayor confirmed in a 4 September interview with ORT. Asked to comment on rumors that he will resign as mayor in order to head Unified Russia's faction in the city legislature, Luzhkov, whose term expires in 2007, said people have been predicting his early resignation since 1992. Citing both political commentators and an unnamed source in the mayoral administration, "Kommersant-Vlast" on 5 September claimed that Luzhkov has struck a deal with the Kremlin. The daily predicted that Luzhkov will use his prestige and influence to help the "party of power" gain a majority of seats in the new Moscow legislature, and that he will accept the fact that Putin will appoint someone from outside his circle to succeed Luzhkov as mayor. In exchange, the Kremlin reportedly agreed to let Luzhkov have a "peaceful" retirement. The campaign for the Moscow City Duma officially opened on 5 September, Russian media reported. The elections are scheduled for 4 December, the same day that by-elections for State Duma seats will be held in two single-mandate districts in Moscow. LB

President Putin denied during his 5 September meeting in the Kremlin with Western academics and journalists that he plans to remain in office after his second and final term as president expires in 2008, "The Times" reported the next day. "No, I am not going to run for president in 2008. No, we are not going to amend the constitution," Putin said. Putin also denied accusations that he is authoritarian, saying that states need to build their democratic systems according to their own cultures. "We simply cannot copy everything. That would be counterproductive," he said. Putin denied he is trying to establish "managed democracy" in Russia, a term often used by pundits to describe his governing style. "I don't know what this is. Democracy either exists or it doesn't exist. It cannot be set apart from the rule of law," Putin said. BW

Igor Rimmer, a deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, announced on 2 September that he will not sponsor a draft constitutional amendment that would allow the president to serve three consecutive terms, Interfax and reported. Rimmer vowed last month to submit to the city legislature a draft amendment to Article 81, Section 3 of the Russian Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005). At his 2 September press conference, Rimmer said he changed his mind because, "as a pragmatist, I understood that the draft would not pass," and also because several friends sharply criticized his proposal. Meanwhile, opinion-poll data suggests that a plurality of Russian citizens approve of Putin, and that majorities would not under any circumstances support various politicians who will likely run for president in 2008, according to Leontii Byzov, the head of the social and political analysis department of the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). But paradoxically, majorities want to "leave Putin [in place] and not change the constitution," Byzov told LB

Mikhail Shvydkoi, director of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema, on 5 September dropped his defamation lawsuit against Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov, Russian news agencies reported. A Moscow court opened hearings in the lawsuit but quickly announced a recess, during which lawyers representing both men agreed not to proceed. According to a Culture Ministry press release, Shvydkoi and Sokolov agreed not to pursue the court case during the culture minister's 2 September meeting with heads of federal agencies subordinate to the ministry. Shvydkoi, a former culture minister, filed the lawsuit after Sokolov alleged during a 25 June broadcast on TV-Tsentr that bribe taking was rampant "at all levels" of the Culture Ministry when it was headed by Shvydko. Sokolov also said the agency Shvydkoi currently heads is plagued by corruption too (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 7 July 2005). The ministry's press office now says that Sokolov "did not accuse specific officials of the former [Culture] Ministry and current [Federal] Agency for Culture and Cinema and did not make specific allegations against them, but expressed a general evaluative opinion," reported on 5 September. LB

Surgutneftgaz, Russia's fourth-largest oil company, has purchased a 35 percent stake in the private network REN-TV from the steel company Severstal, "Vedomosti" reported on 2 September. The purchase price has not been publicly announced, but different sources close to REN-TV put the purchase price at $60 million or $100 million. Severstal paid the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems $100 million for 70 percent of REN-TV's shares in early July. Surgutneftgaz has not made any major media acquisitions before; an unnamed source close to the Kremlin told "Vedomosti" that the REN-TV deal is the brainchild of Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration. Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies speculated that Severstal served as a "political middleman," because transferring shares directly from Unified Energy Systems to Surgutneftgaz, considered close to the St. Petersburg "siloviki" in Putin's entourage, would have appeared to be official pressure on REN-TV's editorial policy. Meanwhile, REN-TV President Irina Lesnevskaya and her son, general director Dmitrii Lesnevskii, will not retain their jobs unless they purchase some shares in REN-TV from Severstal, Ekho Moskvy and reported on 5 September, citing the newspaper "Gazeta." In July, Lesnevskaya and Lesnevskii, who founded REN-TV, sold their combined 30 percent stake in the network to the German company RTL. LB

Meeting on 2 September with local officials, Mustafa Batdyev rejected as untrue persistent rumors that he will step down, reported on 5 September, citing Batdyev pledged that "I will continue to work for a long time," and attributed the rumors of his impending resignation to members of the previous administration whom he dismissed on taking office two years ago. Batdyev also affirmed that the republic's "[numerically] small ethnic minorities" have no grounds to complain they are not adequately represented in the government while the Karachais monopolize leading positions. Russians account for 40.6 percent of the republic's population of 434,000; Karachais, 33.7 percent; Cherkess, 11 percent; Abazins, 4.6 percent; and Nogais, 3.1 percent. LF

President Putin met at the Kremlin on 2 September with representatives of the relatives of victims of the Beslan hostage taking one year ago, Russian media reported. The group included North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov, whose two children were injured in the attack. Putin ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to check information provided by survivors and their relatives, some of which reportedly contradicts the findings of the official investigation. Mamsurov told journalists after the meeting that all participants were "amazed" that Putin spoke so openly. On 3 September, Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel told journalists in Vladikavkaz that most of the hostage takers were on drugs for the three days of the siege, Interfax reported. Shepel also claimed that the hostage takers did not set any conditions for releasing the children, although according to former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, who succeeded in negotiating the release of 26 hostages, the militants were demanding an end to the war in Chechnya, and had agreed to release the hostages on receipt of an official decree from President Putin ordering the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2004). Shepel said the findings of an investigation into the actions of the Russian special services during the three-day siege will be made public next month, Interfax reported. He said much of the relevant evidence has been destroyed, but did not explain why or by whom. LF

Galust Sahakian, who heads the parliament faction of the Republican Party of Armenia, the senior partner in the ruling three-party coalition, told journalists on 3 September that the authorities hope the November referendum on a package of draft constitutional amendments will prove fair, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 5 September. Under Armenian law, a minimum of one-third of the county's 2.4 million voters must cast their ballots, of whom more than 50 percent must vote in favor. Sakakian again denied that the authorities plan to rig the outcome of the plebiscite, saying it would be better for the draft not to pass than for it to pass as a result of procedural violations. On 5 September, leaders of the nine parties aligned in the Artarutiun opposition bloc told RFE/RL's Armenian Service they plan to tour the country in a bid to persuade the electorate to reject the draft amendments. LF

Seven members of the 15-man board of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party resigned last week, citing "tactical differences" and the unequivocally pro-Western orientation espoused earlier this year by Hanrapetutiun's chairman, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 2 September. Former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and Albert Bazeyan, a former chairman of Hanrapetutiun's board and a founding member of the Yerkrapah group led by Sargsian's slain brother, former Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, both quit to protest the party's recent switch from a pro-Russian to a pro-Western orientation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005). They accused Sargsian of burning all bridges with Russia, and argued for a more nuanced approach to foreign-policy issues. Sargsian defended his pro-Western stance, telling RFE/RL" "I am a strong advocate of the Western way of life.... I want my people to live like that." LF

Speaking on 5 September in Baku at a conference on "Elections and Democratic Development," Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis said it is "vital" that the 6 November parliamentary election be free and fair and fully conform to European and international standards, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Davis hailed President Ilham Aliyev's 11 May decree outlining measures to ensure the ballot is free and democratic. He also urged both sides to continue the dialogue begun in early May between the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and several opposition parties. That dialogue, Davis said, could help fill the "vacuum" between the state and nascent civil society. Addressing the same conference, Davis's predecessor in Strasbourg, Lord Russell Johnston, argued in favor of marking electors' fingers with indelible ink to preclude repeat voting, Turan reported. But echoing other senior Azerbaijani officials, Azerbaijani parliamentarian Safa Mirzoev rejected that proposal as "insulting" to voters, reported on 6 September. Central Election Commission (MSK) Chairman Mazahir Panakhov told Turan on 5 September that it is not within the competence of the MSK to decide whether or not to mark voters with indelible ink. LF

OSCE Chairman in Office and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel met in Baku on 5 September with representatives of Azerbaijan's opposition parties to discuss preparations for the 6 November election, Turan reported. Rupel expressed support for the proposals by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission to amend the Azerbaijani election law. Meeting the same day with President Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Rupel discussed efforts by the OSCE's Minsk Group to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. He described the negotiation progress as "positive" and said the OSCE anticipates a further rapprochement between the positions of the negotiating sides, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. LF

Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev -- who said last month he fears for his life, without identifying a specific threat -- told journalists in Gyanja on 2 September that he has formally requested official protection, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 31 August 2005). But the same agency on 3 September quoted spokesmen for the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Interior and National Security ministries as saying they are unaware of any such request by Aliyev. On 5 September, "Hurriyet" reported that two members of President Aliyev's personal bodyguard have been assigned to protect Aliyev. LF

Right-wing opposition faction leader Davit Gamkrelidze accused parliament deputy speaker Mikheil Machavariani on 5 September of being behind the framing of 202 television channel founder Shalva Ramishvili on extortion charges, Caucasus Press reported. Ramishvili was arrested on 27 August and charged with extorting a $30,000 bribe from parliament deputy Koba Bekauri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 August and 1 September 2005). Gamkrelidze accused Machavariani of questionable business transactions and alleged that Machavariani arranged for Ramishvili's arrest with the tacit approval of President Mikheil Saakashvili. He also said Ramishvili's channel planned to screen documentary footage incriminating Bekauri and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. Machavariani has demanded that Gamkrelidze apologize, and has asked the prosecutor-general to investigate his allegations, Caucasus Press reported on 6 September. Meanwhile, Bekauri's popularity has plummeted, according to Caucasus Press on 6 September, while in its 5 September edition the weekly "Kviris palitra" named Ramishvili "Man of the Month" for August. Ramishvili has abandoned the hunger strike he began in pretrial detention, Caucasus Press reported on 6 September. LF

On 31 August, for the second time within three weeks, Georgian police halted a Russian military convoy in the Abkhaz conflict zone and confiscated cigarettes and other commodities intended for the Russian peacekeeping force deployed there, accusing the Russians of smuggling, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005). Major General Sergei Chaban, who heads the peacekeeping force, protested on 1 September at the regular Thursday meeting between Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian, and UN officials that the Georgian move was illegal, Caucasus Press reported. On 2 September, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Tbilisi of obstructing the peacekeeping operation, Interfax reported. The statement stressed that the Russian peacekeepers enjoy the same privileges as do UN staffers. In a 5 September interview with "Novye izvestiya" summarized by Interfax, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili accused the peacekeepers of engaging in smuggling and of ignoring the abduction of Georgian residents of the conflict zone by Abkhaz. He said that the peacekeepers effectively function as border guards protecting the interests of the Abkhaz side. LF

Police in Pavlodar detained 10 suspected activists from the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir during an unsanctioned demonstration at the city's main mosque on 2 September, Interfax reported the next day, citing an unidentified police source. The report said that the demonstration, at which young people distributed leaflets and called on Muslims to "unite against U.S. aggression," drew up to 100 people, although some of them may have arrived to worship at the mosque. The 10 suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir activists are currently under investigation. DK

Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told parliament on 2 September that Ulan Sarbanov, former head of Kyrgyzstan's National Bank, has been under house arrest since 1 September, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 2 September. Sarbanov is charged with illegally giving then-President Askar Akaev $480,000 in 1999. Medet Sadyrkulov, the former head of the presidential administration, has also been questioned in connection with case. Both men maintain their innocence. DK

Beknazarov informed parliamentary deputies on 2 September that a nine-member parliamentary commission will examine four criminal charges against Aidar Akaev, son of former President Askar Akaev, with an aim to stripping the younger Akaev of immunity from prosecution, reported on 2 September. Aidar Akaev gained immunity when he was elected to the legislature in the spring. Beknazarov also announced that he plans to ask parliament to strip four other deputies of their immunity in connection with criminal charges. In another development on the investigative front, former Central Election Commission head Sulaiman Imanbaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 3 September that he has been questioned by prosecutors in connection with alleged wrongdoing in the spring parliamentary elections. Imanbaev said that he expects to be called in for further questioning. DK

Vitalii Maslovskii, an adviser to the Bishkek office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 2 September that the governments of Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden have officially agreed to accept 11 of the 15 Uzbek citizens currently detained in Osh. On 1 September, Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced that while several European countries have expressed a willingness to accept the detainees, none has made an official request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2005). The 15 Uzbek citizens, who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, have been detained by Kyrgyz authorities on the basis of materials provided by Uzbek officials, who allege that the detainees committed serious crimes in Uzbekistan. DK

Abdalil Junusov, a Kyrgyz businessman involved in a dispute over the Karasuu market, was shot and killed in Karasuu on 5 September, and reported. The reports noted that Junusov, who has been feuding with local businessman and parliamentary deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev over the Karasuu market, was killed on the eve of a final court hearing on the market's privatization. According to, the Karasuu market, one of the largest in Central Asia, produces revenues of approximately $500,000 a day. An anonymous law-enforcement source told that an investigation is under way, and that investigators believe that the killing may be linked to the dispute over the Karasuu market. An earlier dispute over Erkinbaev's alleged assets in southern Kyrgyzstan led to a shoot-out in Osh on 13 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2005). DK

Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, has written to Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov to express his concern about "the fate of independent media in Tajikistan, because the majority of independent papers are not published," the OSCE announced in a 5 September press release on the organization's website ( Noting that the independent newspapers "Nerui Sukhan," "Ruzi Nav," "Odamu Olam," and others have frequently failed to reach readers, Haraszti "urged the government to ensure that independent media are allowed to operate freely." Haraszti also raised the issue of a lack of new broadcasting licenses and the imprisonment of journalist Jumaboy Tolibov. DK

An Uzbek parliamentary commission charged with investigating the violence in Andijon on 12-13 May heard a report by the Prosecutor-General's Office on 5 September, UzA reported. The report described the violence as a "meticulously planned act organized by external destructive forces" and aimed at the creation of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. It noted that the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and a branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir identified as the Akramiylar (Akramiya) began planning in 2004 to carry out "terrorist acts in Uzbekistan in 2005 with the aim of seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional system." The session stressed that "as a staging ground for the terrorist acts, the 'stage managers' chose southern Kyrgyzstan, where in January-April 2005 foreign instructors trained some 70 religious extremists in subversive and terrorist methods." Confirming previous official estimates of the death toll resulting from the Andijon violence at 187, the report stated that a case involving "15 of the most active participants" has already been handed to the courts, while an investigation into 106 individuals "who participated directly in the terrorist acts" will soon be completed. DK

Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze, two activists of Georgia's Kmara youth organization, were released from jail in Minsk on 2 September, after the Minsk City Court upheld their appeal, overturning a district court's jail sentence as "ungrounded," Belapan reported. Kandelaki and Tsuladze were arrested in Minsk on 24 August, publicly accused of meddling in Belarus's domestic affairs, and sentenced on 29 August to 15 days in jail each for "petty hooliganism" (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 1 September 2005). Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience. Three members of the Belarusian youth organization Zubr, who were jailed last month for 10 days each for a protest action against the arrest of the two Georgians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005), completed their sentences on 5 September. JM

The Belarusian Information Ministry on 2 September reregistered the private newspaper "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" ("Belarusian Business Newspaper") as "BDG. Delovaya gazeta," Belapan reported. In May, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree restricting the use of the words "national" and "Belarusian" in the names of organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2005). In particular, private media outlets are no longer allowed to use either of these two words on their mastheads. The reregistration deadline was 5 September. In August, "Natsionalnaya ekonomicheskaya gazeta" ("National Economic Newspaper") changed its name to "Ekonomicheskaya gazeta," "Belorusskii rynok" ("Belarusian Market") appeared as "Belorussy i rynok" ("Belarusians and the Market"), while "Belorusskaya gazeta" came out under the name of "Belgazeta." JM

Oleksandr Zinchenko, the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, stepped down on 2 September, Ukrainian media reported. Zinchenko held a news conference in Kyiv on 5 September, where he explained that his move was caused by increasing corruption in the president's inner circle. "Having organized an information blockade around the president, having taken him to a virtual, unreal world, cynically distorting the reality and true accents of life, [these people] are step by step carrying out their plan to maximally use government posts in order to increase their own capital, to privatize and get their hands on everything they can," an RFE/RL correspondent quoted Zinchenko as saying. "Their goal is a monopoly on key government functions. I will name some of them: Security Council Secretary [Petro] Poroshenko, senior presidential aide [Oleksandr] Tretyakov, and some of their aides, including [Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus head Mykola] Martynenko." JM

Speaking immediately after Zinchenko at the same news conference in Kyiv, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko denied the corruption allegations voiced by the former, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. "I would like to emphasize that Petro Poroshenko is an absolutely self-sufficient person and that he has never clung onto a [government] post and never will," Poroshenko said. "He has not become one kopeck or one share richer since he became a government official, and he will leave office in the same way. I emphasize now that the Security and Defense Council secretary has no influence either on the prosecutor's office, or on the Ukrainian Security Service, or on the Interior Ministry." Meanwhile, Mykola Martynenko said later the same day that he will sue Zinchenko for "mendacious and deliberately discrediting" allegations. JM

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova announced on 5 September in Prishtina that U.S. military doctors have diagnosed him as having "localized lung cancer," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29, 30, and 31 August 2005). Rugova, who returned from a U.S. base in Germany two days earlier, stressed that "with the help of God, I will overcome this battle and continue to work...for the recognition [of the independence of] our country Kosova." He did not indicate that he has considered stepping down. The disclosure of Rugova's illness comes just weeks before negotiations leading to resolving Kosova's final status are widely expected to begin. Long the symbol of passive resistance to Serbian rule, he remains a father figure to many Kosovars. There is no apparent successor to Rugova on the political landscape. If he resigns or is unable to carry out his duties, parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci of his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) would carry out Rugova's duties. PM

Serbia's special prosecutor's office for combating organized crime told the police on 5 September to begin collecting documents relating to the recent decision of Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic to award a $370 million contract to the Mile Dragic firm in Zrenjanin for apparently unnecessary and overpriced equipment, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2005). The Serbian government called on the relevant government bodies not to carry out the agreement. Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic disclosed on 2 September that the contract requires the government to buy over a five-year period 74,000 combat helmets and 69,000 flak jackets for an army of 28,000 at a time when a former manager at Mile Dragic said that the army already has 50,000 Dragic-supplied helmets and a similar number of flak jackets in its warehouses. The new contract also calls on the military to buy 500 pilot jackets for an air force of about 30 planes, many of which are probably not operational. Dinkic called the affair the "robbery of the century." Davinic thereupon accused Dinkic of "high treason" for revealing "military secrets." Some media reports suggested that part of the payment to Mile Dragic would be in real estate, of which the military owns some choice parcels. PM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on 2 September that the wastefulness attributed to Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Davinic cannot be allowed in a country where "every single dinar" must be spent wisely, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian President Boris Tadic, who is a former defense minister, said that Davinic's position has become untenable, adding that the scandal must not be allowed to weaken the joint state. Zoran Sami, who is speaker of the joint state's parliament, said on 4 September that Davinic should go. Only that legislature and the joint state's President Svetozar Marovic have, however, the power to remove him. Serbian Finance Minister Dinkic argued that Serbia pays 94 percent of the defense budget and appealed to Montenegro's leaders not to try to keep Davinic in office. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the Democratic Party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and Davinic's own G-17 Plus party have called for his resignation. G-17 Plus, of which Dinkic is also a member, has expelled Davinic from its ranks. PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Davinic said in Belgrade on 2 September that he has withdrawn his previous offer to resign and will not go voluntarily, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. On 5 September, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told reporters in Niksic that the controversy surrounding Davinic shows that Serbian leaders want to control the joint state in order to "preserve their greater Serbian illusions." On 3 September, the joint state's Deputy Foreign Minister Predrag Boskovic, who is from Montenegro, dismissed calls to replace Davinic, saying in Podgorica that "a rotation of ministers is not a priority for Montenegro." Borislav Banovic, who is deputy leader of the Social Democrats (SDP), who are the junior partners in Montenegro's governing coalition, said that the ministry should go to a Montenegrin if Davinic is ousted. The Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti" reported on 4 September that Deputy Defense Minister Vukasin Maras of Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) is the most likely candidate to replace Davinic. Some observers dismissed the scandal as typical in-fighting among coalition partners vying for posts. Other suggested, however, that the Davinic affair shows that the military is finally being made accountable to civilian authorities and is no longer allowed to spend as it pleases. PM

The Podgorica dailies "Vijesti" and "Dan" reported on 3 September that top Montenegrin police official Slavoljub Scekic, who was killed in a professional assassination recently, had become a target for the underworld because he had allegedly solved the case of the murder in 2004 of Dusko Jovanovic, who was editor of the opposition "Dan," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 2 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June 2004). The killing of Scekic, who reportedly wanted to make his findings public, was allegedly planned in the Spuz prison, where some suspects in the Jovanovic case are being held. Police recently raided the jail and beat up over 30 inmates, including Damir Mandic, who is a prime suspect in the Jovanovic trial. In connection with the Scekic murder, police in Bar have reportedly questioned several young men with criminal records and alleged links to some suspects in the Jovanovic case. PM

Albanian President Alfred Moisiu authorized Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha on 2 September to form a government, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2005). Berisha, who controls 80 out of 140 seats in the legislature, is expected to announce his cabinet soon. On 4 September, he stressed that combating corruption remains his top priority and ordered his unnamed nominee to head the Tourism Ministry to sell his interests in a motel. "My government will be free of conflicts of interest," Berisha told party leaders. The new speaker of the parliament, Jozefina Topalli, is the first woman to hold that post. PM

Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester on 2 September celebrated the 15th anniversary of its secession from the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic with a military parade involving tanks, missile launchers, artillery guns, helicopters, and some 1,000 troops, Infotag reported. The guests invited for the celebrations included Russian State Duma Deputy Chairman Sergei Baburin. "Transdniester has highlighted not the Soviet epoch's drawbacks, but its merits and advantages, not the old world, but respect for the past and consolidation of the potential for the future," Baburin said in Tiraspol the previous day. "Let God help other former Soviet countries, including the Russian Federation, to upgrade their spirits to the current level of Transdniester's." "Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transdniester are the reality of the former Soviet area, so it is pointless to harp for 15 years on the unrecognized nature of these states," Konstantin Zatulin, director of Russia's Institute for CIS Studies, noted in Tiraspol. "It's high time to stop making the whole world laugh at the assertions about the 'unrecognized' existence of those who do exist and are going to exist in the future." JM

It was apparent even before Iran's presidential election in June that the country's party system was undergoing changes. Disputes among the reformist and centrist parties reflected disagreements over how extensively they would operate within the political system, the proper response to the disqualification of reformist parliamentary and presidential candidates, and the reaction to widespread and ultimately decisive fraud in the presidential election. Rifts in the hard-line parties had as much to do with generational discord as they did with ideological and strategic disputes. Such discord continues to roil Iranian politics, and international observers are better served by focusing on these developments and their long-term impact than on futile arguments over how to persuade Iran to discontinue its nuclear activities.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha agreed on 28 August to be secretary-general of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez, MRM), Radio Farda reported. The left-leaning clerical party was created in 1988 when a number of prominent political figures split from the older and more conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association. 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. 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.

MRM Secretary-General Musavi-Khoeniha succeeded Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, who resigned after the June presidential election and who has since created his own political party. The MRM tried to persuade Karrubi to stay on as its leader. Not only did he refuse to continue in this role, but he left the association completely. Karrubi acknowledged his anger with association members who did not back him in the election. Although the association backed him formally, only a few members backed him in practice. Indeed, Musavi-Khoeniha reportedly implied that Karrubi should resign in favor of another reformist candidate, Mustafa Moin. Yet another prominent member, Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, reportedly backed Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Karrubi announced his plan for a new party just days after his loss in the first round of the presidential election. "Strong, powerful, inclusive parties must be formed to supervise institutions," he said. He would create a party for those who believe in an Islamic republic in which one does act on behalf of the people, and he stressed inclusiveness. Asked about the future of the MRM, Karrubi said some of its members were coming with him. Karrubi said his new party wants to defend people's rights and supervise the government, ISNA reported on 5 July. He said it is no longer enough for him to work in an exclusively clerical body.

Karrubi subsequently named his new organization the National Trust Party, and it received a permit on 13 August. Some of its more prominent founders are former parliamentarians Javad Etaat, Elias Hazrati, Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia, Abdul Hussein Moqtadai, Seyyed Reza Noruz-zadeh, and Abdolreza Sepahvand, as well as current legislators Javad Amini and Ismail Gerami-Moghaddam, ISNA reported on 4 July.

Contrasting the new party to established ones, Hazrati said the country's parties are elite institutions, ISNA reported on 6 July. The new one, he continued, will consider the elites but it will also be "popular and broad-based and nationwide and it will have cells -- even in villages, hamlets, towns, and various districts and for interested social groups."

Karrubi in late-August speeches and interviews discussed reformist politics and his hopes for the future. Karrubi expressed great optimism about parties' potentials and downplayed the reformists' disagreements. He added that although the National Trust Party does not have any major problems with the other reformist entities, it is important to make distinctions. He said he expects his new party to have a profound influence on Iranian politics and its main objective is to form the next government after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's term ends.

Said Hajjarian, a prominent reformist ideologue, has said that the Islamic Iran Participation Front is going to select a new leader, and this will be a new beginning.

Hajjarian stressed that the reform movement will continue through the inclusion of a variety of groups, including national-religious activists, in a broad front. What the front needs, he said, is a new leader. Hard-line daily "Siyasat-i Ruz" suggested on 30 August the new leader would be Moin.

Shortly after his defeat in the second round of the presidential election, Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with his backers and associates and said an Islamic culture is what is best for the country, and that Islam rejects extremes. "The formation of the Islamic Moderation Front is a necessity, and it would be better for some of our colleagues to become the forerunner and compile an instrument of association similar to that of the Islamic Republic Party [which existed from 1979-87]," he said. Hashemi-Rafsanjani advised against haste in forming the front.

Although Hashemi-Rafsanjani called for creation of the Moderation Front, his own relationship with it is far from obvious. A member of the Tehran Militant Clergy Association, he also is seen as the center-piece of the center-right Executives of Construction Party. Indeed, Executives of Construction central council members Mohammad Atrianfar and Hedayat Aqai said Hashemi-Rafsanjani does not plan to create the Moderation Front, rather, he is willing to back such an entity if and when it is created.

At first glance it would seem that there is little support for such a front, especially if Hashemi-Rafsanjani is connected with it. However, even if he did lose the presidential election he still garnered 10 million votes on 24 June, compared to 6 million votes the previous week. In the few days between rounds, in other words, the former president secured the support of many who did not back him previously. An editorial in a reformist daily referred to this gain in votes as "an astonishing display of national convergence among scattered assets whose only common point was 'Iran and Islam,' in the general sense, uninhibited by ideological interpretations."

The future of the Executives of Construction is unclear, too. Atrianfar said its leadership will remain unchanged, but it must refocus its efforts and devise a platform that reflects public concerns, "Iran" reported on 6 August. Turning to parties in general, he said that after the election they have lost their vitality and need to renew their activities.

An outside report, on the other hand, said the Executives of Construction Party is in crisis. In an effort to reshape itself it is expelling some of its old members.

Article 26 of the Islamic Republic of Iran's 1979 constitution permits the formation of parties. A law on parties went into effect in 1981, and there now are more than 100 of them. Yet, parties in the sense of entities with mass membership have yet to take hold in Iran, and some Iranian observers, therefore, remain critical of them. A commentary in a reformist daily warned that the creation of new alignments and coalitions -- and it cited Karrubi and Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- always follows elections. A conservative commentator said the presidential election showed that the public does not have confidence in parties or prominent individuals, regardless of their ideological inclinations.

The popular and dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri criticized the party process in a 2 July statement about the presidential election that was available on the Internet. "Unfortunately, in our country the matter of strong or powerful political parties has not been established," Montazeri said. "Some spontaneous and transient parties are set up, which after a while become ineffectual." He contrasted this situation with "progressive countries around the world," where candidates are chosen from "established powerful and popular political parties comprising society's elite and intellectuals, for whom the people cast their votes once they have learned about those candidates' competencies."

Party development is important in mass mobilization and in the formulation and expression of political objectives. This is translated into results during elections. But in the Iranian case, the importance of elections remains questionable due to the interference of unelected institutions like the Guardians Council in the polling process. Furthermore, the efforts of new officials after they take office can often be blocked by individuals who are unaccountable.

At least four former Taliban officials are candidates for parliamentary seats in the nationwide election set to be held on 18 September, AP reported on 5 September. One of the candidates is Mohammed Khaksar, the ousted regime's deputy interior minister. In public statements, Khaksar and other former Taliban officials have denounced the government they once served and distanced themselves from neo-Taliban insurgents. "We need a strong government. We need [Islamic] Shariah law," Khaksar said during an interview with AP. "But I am no longer a member of the Taliban. I only want good things for this country." Other former Taliban officials running for parliament include one-time Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil and Qala Mudin, the former Taliban minister of vice and virtue. Mudin's ministry was notorious for beating men and women deemed in violation of the regime's extremist Islamic legal code. MR

Thirteen suspected neo-Taliban fighters have died in clashes in southern Afghanistan with U.S. and Afghan troops in recent days, AP reported on 5 September. More than 40 guerillas were also captured in the same fighting, which U.S. military officials said was continued as of 5 September. On 4 September, about 200 Afghan police officers supported by U.S. troops launched an assault on militant positions in Kandahar Province, Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid said. "We have the dead bodies," Khalid said, adding that Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops suffered no casualties. A U.S. military statement said the militants captured in the operation included "four suspected leaders and advisers of a criminal cell" who were found with "Taliban propaganda on audio tapes." MR

Kandahar Governor Assadullah Khalid said two Japanese teachers found dead in Afghanistan were "killed outside Afghan borders and their bodies were [then] taken to Afghan soil." Jun Fukusho, 44, and Shinobu Hasegawa, 30, disappeared on 8 August shortly after passing through the border city of Spin Boldak, which straddles the Afghan-Pakistani border. Both were teachers from Hiroshima and reportedly came to Afghanistan as tourists. Their bodies were found on 2 September. Both were shot through the head at close range by unknown attackers. MR

The United Nations has urged some of its staff to leave Afghanistan due to security concerns, AP reported on 4 September. UN spokesman Adrian Edwards said some UN agencies operating in Afghanistan are encouraging staffers to take leave during the parliamentary elections slated for 18 September. And the Afghan government has issued a warning to aid workers in the country, saying they are easy targets for neo-Taliban insurgents who have stepped up guerilla activity in recent months. "They [militants] focus on soft targets, attacking candidates, burning schools, aid workers," said Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal. "But the security workers have also taken necessary measures to provide needed security." Warnings about deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan have followed the recent killings of three foreigners in the country. MR

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met on 3 September with Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, visiting head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fars News Agency reported. The U.S. State Department lists the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization that receives assistance from Iran. Khamenei referred to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and added, "The strengthening of the ongoing resistance and Jihad is the only way to withstand the Zionist enemy." Khamenei said resistance must continue. Shallah thanked Iran for its support. He added, "The Islamic Jihad always stressed the need to cooperate with other jihadi groups and that jihadi groups would decisively deal with dangerous plots hatched by America and the Zionist regime." In a speech to government officials and ambassadors from Islamic states on 2 September, Khamenei accused the United States of pressuring Muslim governments, state radio reported. He added, "the world of Islam can stand against this greedy power." BS

Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors received a report on Iran's nuclear activities on 2 September, the "Los Angeles Times," "Financial Times," and "New York Times" reported the next day. The report is similar to one from November 2004, but it does note that the Iranian government has been less than forthcoming about some of its activities and has been reluctant to provide access to some sites. The report states, "In view of the fact that the agency is not in a position to clarify some important outstanding issues after 2 and 1/2 years of intensive inspection and investigation, Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue." It adds, "Given Iran's past concealment efforts over many years -- transparency measures should extend beyond the formal requirements -- and should include access to individuals, documentation on procurement, and dual-use equipment." The board of governors is scheduled to meet on 19 September. BS

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani described the IAEA report as "both positive and negative," state television reported. He referred to "small questions" that call for "further technical and legal cooperation with the agency." As for the "negative issues," he attributed these to "America and some other countries' pressure." He continued, "they mainly seem to be there to open the way for some haggling so that they can obtain more authority to exert greater pressure on Iran." Larijani said Iran will continue its cooperation with the IAEA, but then added that it does not have the right to make some of its demands. "Iran will disregard such demands.... Iran will act within the framework of the present [IAEA] regulations and will not accept anything further." BS

The German government has issued a warning to the country's businesses against delivering potential dual-use components to Iran, ddp news agency reported on 2 September. The warning focuses on goods that can be used to make nuclear, biological, or chemical arms. Some of the companies that are fronts for military procurement, according to Berlin, are Bazargani-i Hava va Faza, Joza Industrial Company, Sanam Projects Management, all three of which are based in Tehran. Others are Associated Fajr Industries Factories in Shiraz, Shahid Darvishi Marine Industries in Bandar Abbas, and Yazd Metallurgy Industries in Yazd. Iran allegedly uses the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone in Dubai as a transit point for military goods, and the German report said MJP International Company and Al Sanabel General Trading LLC are involved in procurement activities. BS

Iranian state television reported on 3 September that three oil wells in Ahvaz caught fire two days earlier as a result of explosions. An unspecified number of arrests followed the incidents. Dasht-i Azadegan parliamentary representative Seyyed Nezam Mollahoveyzeh connected these incidents with bombings that took place in June, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 September. Mollahoveyzeh said the Intelligence and Security Ministry will catch the culprits soon, adding, "They [the saboteurs] are provided for and guided by London. There are signs in this subversive act indicating that the opponents of the revolution and the separatists have played a role in it." Bahar and Kabutar-Ahang parliamentary representative Reza Talai-Nik linked the Ahvaz incidents with developments in Iraq, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported. He said efforts are under way to improve security in the southwest, and added that there was a brief hiatus due to the change in government. "Hemayat" quoted an anonymous source on 3 September who said Tehran will complain to London about the explosions, while "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 5 September that Shell oil company's top officials are British intelligence officers and are involved with the unrest in the southwest. BS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has appointed a woman, Fatemeh Javadi, as vice president for environmental protection, ISNA reported on 4 September. Ahmadinejad will nominate Gholam-Abbas Zaeri as his education minister, Mehr News Agency reported on 4 September, citing an anonymous member of parliament. Zaeri has worked in the Education Ministry as a teacher and as a manager; he was also governor of Hormozgan Province and was elected as a parliamentary representative from Bandar Abbas twice. A 5 September report from ILNA stated that Ahmadinejad will name Parviz Davudi as his first vice president "within the next few days." BS

Iran's capital has not had a mayor since Mahmud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election in June. The municipal council has selected former Revolutionary Guards general, national police chief, and unsuccessful presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf as the new mayor, Mehr news agency reported on 4 September. Qalibaf attended a council meeting on 3 September and presented his program for running Tehran. On the same day, Qalibaf resigned from his position as head of the anti-smuggling headquarters, Fars News Agency reported. Qalibaf reportedly was selected only after an intense debate in the council, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 5 September, and this choice may reflect splits among the former mayor's supporters. Council spokesman Mehdi Chamran said in the 5 September "Kayhan" that Qalibaf won the majority of votes and he has expertise in urban development. BS

Dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, who recently ended a 70-day hunger strike, has been sent from the hospital back to prison, ILNA reported on 4 September, citing Tehran deputy prosecutor for prison affairs Mahmud Salarkia. Ganji's wife, Masumeh Shafii, told Radio Farda on 5 September that she has not been allowed to see her husband since he was sent back to Evin prison. She complained that prison officials promised to release Ganji if he ended his hunger strike. BS

Salih al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of the constitution-drafting committee, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in an exclusive interview on 4 September that unless changes are made to the document, he and other Sunnis will encourage Iraqis to vote down the draft at the 15 October referendum. "We will tell our people what the good elements are in this constitution and it will be up to the people to decide whether they accept or refuse this constitution," he said, adding: "We [the Sunni members on the drafting committee] find this constitution inconvenient for Iraq. That is why we have refused it." Al-Mutlaq said the key issues of contention for Sunnis are "those related to the unity of Iraq, the destiny of Iraq, and the independence of Iraq." He claimed that if the constitution is passed "in its current form," it will divide Iraq. Asked about claims by the Muslim Scholars Association that the Sunni drafters accepted a marginal role in the drafting process, he said: "This is political ignorance." The translated interview can be accessed on the RFE/RL website ( KR

During Hoshyar al-Zebari's visit to Kuwait on 4 September, he told RFI in an interview that negative statements by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa about the draft constitution were "unfortunate." "On 15 October, there will be a referendum on the entire document and the people will decide," he said. Asked whether Iraq will consider suspending its membership in the Arab League given the organization's unfavorable stance towards the Iraqi government, al-Zebari said: "We have been asking what has the Arab League done for the Iraqi people during [the past two years]. What is the use of being members of an Arab League that is opposed to every step we take, opposed to building our country, opposed to bringing about democracy. We will raise this issue at the coming meeting [of Arab foreign ministers] and will not let it go." KR

In a statement posted on the Internet on 5 September (, fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi praised what he called the coming defeat of U.S. forces in Iraq and said Hurricane Katrina, which hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last week, was a sign of God's wrath against the Americans. Al-Zarqawi "congratulated" Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Muhammad Umar, as well as the people of several Sunni-populated towns along the Iraqi border with Syria, and the nation of Islam, saying "the initial signs of collapse have become evident in America. Everyday, disasters take place in the United States or near it." The message continues: "Only recently, America was striking, killing, and starving any person it wants. Today, it is begging for oil and food. God has struck America, and the prayers of the wronged people have been answered." Al-Zarqawi asked God to watch over the Al-Qaeda leadership and to "defeat any person who plots against them." KR

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba confirmed on 4 September a 2 September announcement by the Iraqi tribunal that the first trial against former President Saddam Hussein will begin on 19 October, international media reported on 4 September. Kubba said that the tribunal officially informed Hussein's attorney of the date, adding that he expected the defense team to impede and slow the trial. He said it is up to the tribunal to decide whether the trial will be broadcast. In addition to Hussein, seven other regime officials will stand trial in the first case on the 1982 Al-Dujayl massacre. Hussein's "family-appointed lawyer and spokesman" Abd al-Haq al-Ani told "The Jordan Times" that the setting of a trial date was "politically motivated," the daily reported on 5 September. "We have not received a single official document or been notified with any of the charges by the court. Lawyers need at least three months to prepare for the case and the task of disputing the illegality of the trial or any charge," al-Ani said, adding that the tribunal has had one year to prepare the case. He further claimed that Hussein's rights were violated because his lawyers were denied access to him. KR