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Newsline - August 4, 2006

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, who is a senior envoy to the Middle East who recently visited the region, told British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton on August 3 that Russia wants an immediate cease-fire in the "Lebanese-Israeli conflict," reported. Saltanov "stressed the pressing need of securing, through an appropriate resolution of the UN Security Council, an immediate cease-fire and settlement of the problems that caused the present flare-up of tensions." He added that "if steps in this direction are further delayed, developments may get out of hand and lead to even more dangerous upheavals in the Middle East" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2, and 3, 2006). On August 4, Russian Security Council head Igor Ivanov told Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Trend bloc in the Lebanese parliament and the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, that "only an immediate cease-fire can create the conditions necessary for a political solution to all problems facing the region," reported. Ivanov added that "we will continue to insist on [an immediate cease-fire], both within the UN and in talks with our partners." PM

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 3 that Iran is obliged as a UN member to respect an August 31 deadline set by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1696 for it to suspend uranium enrichment in order to avoid possible sanctions, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20 and 28, 2006). Russia and China have so far opposed tougher Western proposals on sanctions. Also on August 3, Deputy Foreign Minister Saltanov discussed the situation in Lebanon and related issues with Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari "at [the Iranian's] request." According to the Foreign Ministry's website, Saltanov "stressed the need for efforts by all the parties concerned to find a solution that would make it possible to immediately put an end to combat operations and violence in the region and prepare the ground for establishing a lasting peace. Iran also can contribute to such efforts." PM

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the conditions in which former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky is being held in a Siberian prison as "unacceptable," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on August 4. She added that violations of human rights in the prison worry her government greatly and harm Russia's standing in international public opinion. Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year prison sentence in the remote Chita Oblast for fraud and tax evasion after a trial that was widely viewed as politically motivated and engineered by the Kremlin. Merkel says the German government has demanded "on more than one occasion" that the Russian authorities respect international standards of human rights. Her comments came in reply to a plea from the opposition Free Democrats for her to raise Khodorkovsky's case with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her letter was released by the Free Democrats and published on August 3 in the daily "Berliner Zeitung" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 26, 27, and 28, 2006). PM

Ivan Malakhov, who is governor of Sakhalin Oblast, said in Moscow on August 3 that his region will participate in a federal competition for consideration as a special economic and recreational zone, Interfax reported. He added that he hopes that the regional authorities will be able to prepare the necessary paperwork in due time. Remote Sakhalin has a population of about 500,000 and is rich in hydrocarbons. Its rugged and wild landscape also has potential for tourism. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the region in July. Southern Sakhalin belonged to Japan until the Red Army occupied it when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan in the last weeks of World War II in the Pacific. The two countries have never signed a formal peace treaty, primarily because of a territorial dispute centering on the Kurile Islands to the south of Sakhalin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2006). PM

The Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor), which is a branch of the Natural Resources Ministry, said in a statement on August 3 that the Russian Academy of Sciences has determined that mudslides could damage or destroy the Sakhalin-2 natural-gas pipeline at unspecified sites, Interfax reported. The agency accordingly called for a halt to work on the project until a safer route for the pipeline can be found. Oleg Mitvol, who is deputy chief of Rosprirodnadzor, said that poor planning is responsible for the problem. London's "Financial Times" wrote on May 25 that the Russian authorities are considering revising some existing oil and gas deals with foreign partners in order to further tighten Russian control over energy resources. Those projects include Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, 2006). PM

The daily "Kommersant" on August 3 quoted an unnamed source at Gazprom as saying that the Russian natural-gas monopolist opposes a plan by Exxon Mobil to build a major pipeline from Sakhalin to China. The source added that the project would compete with Gazprom's own and is not included in the existing development plan for the Far East and eastern Siberia. Viktor Ishayev, who is the long-serving governor of Khabarovsk Krai, met with Stephen Terni of Exxon Mobil's subsidiary Exxon Neftegaz Limited in Khabarovsk on August 2 to discuss building a pipeline to supply gas from Sakhalin to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2006). The authorities in Moscow will have the final word. PM

St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum announced on July 31 that a recent inventory revealed that 220 objects valued at about $5 million have gone missing, but unnamed international art dealers say that the current market value is probably closer to $130 million, reported on August 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006). In related news, St. Petersburg police found an icon called the "Assembly of All Saints" in a trash can near the office of the unit investigating the museum thefts, the news channel NTV reported. Police acted on a tip from an anonymous phone caller. They said that the icon, which is listed on the inventory of stolen items, was in reasonably good condition. PM

A poll published on August 3 by All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) suggests that the State Duma's decision to remove the option of voting "against all" on ballots is the least popular of several recent changes to electoral legislation, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, June 30, and July 3 and 13, 2006). About 46 percent of respondents oppose the decision, while only 42 percent back it. The mid-July poll involved 1,600 people in 46 regions. By contrast, about 67 percent favored allowing people to vote early, whereas only 19 percent were opposed. Respondents favored tougher measures against "extremist" candidates and parties by a margin of 75 percent to 11 percent, but there was no clear consensus as to how to define extremism, and half of the respondents said that they could not do so at all. The option of voting "against all" on ballots has allowed Russian voters to express their dissatisfaction with the political process. According to the daily "Gazeta" of June 13, "against all" got 4.7 percent of the vote in the Duma election of 2003 and 3.4 percent in the presidential vote of 2004. In 2005, "against all" took up to 18 percent of the vote and placed third or fourth in regional elections in Ryazan, Voronezh, and Vladimir. A by-election in Bryansk was declared invalid because "against all" won. PM

Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika told military prosecutors on August 4 that 17 people died as a result of hazing incidents in 2006, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 22, and 29, 2006). In addition, "more than 100" servicemen were injured in such incidents, which have totaled about 3,500 since January. He added that the overall crime rate among servicemen has risen by 13 percent during the same period. PM

The convicted murderer of an Armenian state television official was set free after serving only a portion of his seven-year prison term, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on August 3. Hovannes Harutiunian, one of 13 men convicted in November 2003 of carrying out the assassination of former Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, was released as part of a June 27 presidential decree that eased the requirements for parole. Justice Ministry spokeswoman Anahit Voskanian explained that Harutiunian, reputed to have extensive ties with Armenian organized crime, was paroled on July 12 after his 10 months of pretrial detention was considered toward the completion of two-thirds of his sentence. During his trial, Harutiunian provided significant testimony that was crucial to the conviction of Armen Sarkisian, the younger brother of opposition politician Aram Sarkisian, for commissioning the killing. Naghdalian, considered to be close to President Robert Kocharian, was slain in December 2002 in what some considered a revenge killing for Naghdalian's alleged links to the October 1999 assassination of former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, a second brother of the convicted mastermind in the case (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," January 7, 2003). RG

The chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) vowed on August 3 that the party is ready to wage a united comeback in the country's parliamentary election next year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a statement in Yerevan, Ararat Zurabian explained that the party is working to unite with other allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian to contest the May 2007 parliamentary elections as a "political team" comprised of other political groups that "share the same vision for Armenia's development." Previous attempts at a unified comeback have floundered amid bitter personal disputes among the party's former leaders, and the most recent attempt at a tactical alliance -- with the opposition Hanrapetutiun (Republic) party led by former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian -- collapsed in September 2005 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," September 26, 2005). The generally reclusive former president remains largely unpopular, however, and is largely associated with the corruption and economic crisis that tainted its rule in the early 1990s. RG

The U.S., French, and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group hinted at new proposals aimed at restarting the mediation effort seeking to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Turan reported on August 3. In a statement released on August 2 following a meeting in Paris, the mediators announced that "different options" are now under consideration and "will be proposed to the parties" shortly. The meeting followed a visit to the region by U.S. co-Chairman Matthew Bryza last week, although the troika has also warned that "we are just waiting for a sign from the presidents as to whether or not they would like to restart a formal process," adding that it remains unclear "whether or not there is enough will on both sides to eliminate or to resolve the distance that still stands between them." RG

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian announced on August 2 his acceptance of the resignation of the deputy mayor of Yerevan, Noyan Tapan reported. Deputy Mayor Arman Sahakian, the son of the head of the ruling Republican Party's (HHK) parliamentary faction, intends to run as a candidate to head Yerevan's Ajapniak district in a special local election set for October. Sahakian previously opposed, but lost to, the incumbent head of Ajapniak in a November 2004 election that was marred by violence between competing campaign workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2004). RG

The Azerbaijani Center to Protect Freedom of Conscience and Religion resumed a demonstration on August 3 in Baku to protest "Israeli aggression against Lebanon," ANS-TV reported. The demonstration, staged in front of the Israeli Embassy in Baku, follows earlier protests held in front of the U.S. Embassy and the UN offices in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28 and August 2, 2006). As with the two previous demonstrations, Azerbaijani police moved to quickly disperse the rally and arrested 10 of the roughly 80 participants. The leader of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, Haci Haciaga Nuriyev, also announced on August 3 that his unregistered party plans to stage similar demonstrations in the coming days and warned Azerbaijani officials "not to remain indifferent to Israeli aggression." In an interview with the "Ayna" newspaper on August 3, Nuriyev further accused the United States and the United Kingdom of being "key supporters of the war" in Lebanon and criticized "the refusal of the Azerbaijani authorities to sanction" the anti-Israel protests and of "banning freedom of assembly." RG

A delegation of visiting World Bank officials urged Azerbaijani officials on August 3 to clean up more than a century's worth of environmental damage caused by oil production in the Caspian Sea, "Baku Today" reported. Following a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Word Bank official Peter Thomson told journalists in Baku stated that the bank is seeking to finalize an agreement with the Azerbaijani government for the implementation of a multimillion-dollar project to clean up the oil-soaked Absheron Peninsula. The World Bank is reportedly preparing the terms of a $50 million loan to address the environmental cleanup but is seeking matching state funds from Baku. RG

Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Amiran Meskheli announced on August 3 the appointment of several new senior police officials, Georgian Public Television reported. Tbilisi police chief Giorgi Grigalashvili was elevated to lead the national patrol police and Shida Kartli police chief Paata Giorgadze was promoted to head the Tbilisi police force. The reshuffle follows the recent resignation of patrol police chief Zviad Tsagareishvili after he physically assaulted a Georgian Public Television cameraman who was taping footage in an area outside a Tbilisi restaurant where a man had been killed, Mze television reported on 22 July. RG

A French national was found stabbed to death in Almaty on August 2, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day, quoting a law-enforcement source. French diplomatic sources confirmed the death of Gregoire De Bourgues, noting that the French Embassy has asked Kazakh authorities to investigate the matter, AP reported. Ilyas Omarov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, said that De Bourgues was in Almaty preparing reports for "Foreign Affairs" magazine. A French citizen working in Almaty who knew him told the news agency on condition of anonymity that De Bourgues was attacked by three burglars in his apartment. DK

Kyrgyz Deputy Defense Minister Major General Kubanychbek Oruzbaev told a briefing in Bishkek on August 3 that the recent reciprocal expulsions of Kyrgyz and U.S. diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12 and August 3, 2006) have not affected the functioning of the U.S. air base in Manas, news agency reported. But former Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov warned that the tit-for-tit moves could have repercussions for Kyrgyzstan's negotiations with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the country's foreign debt. reported on August 3 that the two Kyrgyz diplomats declared persona non grata in the United States were First Secretary Saltanat Tashmatova and Second Secretary Asan Usupov. News agency reported that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher is due to arrive on August 10-11 in Bishkek, where he is expected to discuss the diplomatic tiff. DK

The trial of Ghaffor Mirzoev, former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, ended in the country's Supreme Court on August 3, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Judges have recessed to render a verdict. Mirzoev, who was arrested in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004), faced numerous charges, including abuse of office, tax evasion, and planning a coup. He has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer, Abduqayum Yusufov, told RFE/RL that that the trial, which took place behind closed doors because state secrets were allegedly at issue, failed to prove his client's guilt. Yusufov said that he felt the judges' deliberations would take at least a week, Avesta reported. DK

U.S.-based Newmont Mining, which owns a 50-percent stake in a joint venture in Uzbekistan, said that Uzbek authorities have seized assets, blocked gold shipments out of Uzbekistan, and frozen an account in the course of their $48 million tax dispute with the joint venture Zarafshan-Newmont, the "Rocky Mountain News" reported on August 3. "These actions are impacting our ability to operate normally," a Newmont spokesman told the newspaper. "We will continue to appeal the tax rulings and pursue all legal remedies to protect its rights, including international arbitration." Newmont recently stated that its difficulties in Uzbekistan might cause it to sell its 50-percent stake in the Zarafshan-Newmont joint venture. The company valued the stake at $94 million as of June 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2006). DK

The Latvian Foreign Ministry on August 2 recalled its ambassador to Belarus, Maira Mora, for consultations, Belapan reported on August 3. Diplomatic relations between Latvia and Belarus have recently soured, following Minsk's accusation that a Latvian diplomat was distributing pornography. Riga retaliated by expelling a Belarusian diplomat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1 and 3, 2006). JM

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson has promised that his government will continue providing support for democracy-building efforts in Belarus, Belapan reported on August 3, citing the press office of Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich. In a letter to Milinkevich, Persson reportedly said that increased assistance will be available for nongovernmental organizations and the independent media under the European Union's European Neighborhood Partnership Instrument program that will replace the TACIS assistance program in 2007, as well as under the Swedish government's projects. The Swedish government intends to support pro-democratic activists and offer training programs for students who have been expelled from Belarusian higher educational institutions for political reasons. JM

The Socialist Party of Ukraine has signed a memorandum on the formation of a ruling coalition in a new format, UNIAN reported on August 4, quoting Socialist Party lawmaker Ivan Bokyy. A similar memorandum on the creation of a "coalition of national unity" was signed by the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine on August 3, following the nomination of Viktor Yanukovych as a candidate for prime minister by President Viktor Yushchenko. Yanukovych was proposed for the post of prime minister last month by an "anticrisis" coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. It is not clear whether the Communist Party will agree to reformatting the anticrisis coalition into a new one to include Our Ukraine. Communist Party activist Leonid Hrach told UNIAN that the Communist Party already signed the agreement on the formation of the anticrisis coalition with the Party of Regions and the Socialists. "If anyone wants to join [this coalition], they should sign the memorandum, but we do not need to," Hrach added. JM

Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc, said after the signing of a declaration of national unity in Kyiv on August 3 by the Party of Regions, Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and President Yushchenko that her force will remain in an "uncompromising opposition" to the ruling coalition, Ukrainian media reported. "For me, the declaration of principles, whatever has been written there, is a capitulation in front of forces that have been allowed to come back and date back to the time of [former] President [Leonid] Kuchma," Tymoshenko said. "I believe that this absurdity will not survive for long, and that we will be an uncompromising opposition." JM

The office of Serbia's war crimes prosecutor announced on August 3 that a former top police official has been linked to the 1999 slayings of three American citizens of Albanian descent, UPI reported the same day, citing the daily "Blic." The newspaper quoted prosecutors as saying that Vlastimir Djordjevic, a former police general, is one of the suspects in the murders of Iliya, Mehmet, and Agron Bitichi in July 1999. The Bitichi brothers were born in the United States and lived in New York before they traveled to Kosova. Djordjevic, who retired in 2001, is under indictment from the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia for ordering the killings of Kosovar Albanian civilians. He is believed to be hiding in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2006). BW

In an effort to crack down on tax evasion, Serbian inspectors have said they will visit the homes of 10,000 of Serbia's wealthiest people to verify their income declarations, UPI reported on August 3, citing a report the same day in "Vecernje novosti." According to the report, tax inspectors have already begun checking entrepreneurs, political figures, entertainers, and athletes whose property has an estimated value of more than $306,000 per person. In the coming months, Serbian tax officials say they plan to expand the audits to major cities across the country. In addition to cracking down on tax cheats, authorities also hope to uncover illegal activities such as drug trafficking in the operation. BW

Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said on August 3 that Belgrade might use the drafting of its new constitution to hold on to Kosova, B92 reported the same day. Simic said that if Kosova is granted independence, then Kostunica will suggest that Serbia's new constitution declare the breakaway province to be an integral part of Serbia. Simic's comments appeared to expand on earlier remarks by Kostunica on July 31 that Belgrade will always consider Kosova to be part of Serbia, but will only use legal means to keep it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006). Kostunica's remarks drew criticism from U.S. and European officials. BW

A group of UN experts visited Belgrade on August 2 to discuss outstanding questions about the protection of Serbian religious and cultural sites in Kosova, Beta and B92 reported the same day. The UN experts met with members of the Serbian negotiating team to Kosova's final-status talks and with officials from the Serbian Orthodox Church, Beta reported. Serbia is insisting on having the right to decide who will be in charge of protecting the designated religious and cultural zones in Kosova, B92 reported. The next round of UN-backed talks on Kosova's status are scheduled for August 7-8 in Vienna, although Serbia is requesting a delay (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2006). BW

Macedonian Prime Minister-designate Nikola Gruevski has put together a new government but plans to delay an official announcement of its composition until mid-August, Makfax reported on August 3. Gruevski's nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) won Macedonia's July 5 elections with a total of 45 seats and has agreed on a coalition deal with the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH) and three smaller parties that will give it a total of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 19, 2006). Parliament elected VMRO-DPMNE lawmaker Ljubisha Georgievski as speaker on August 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2006). But prior to the vote for speaker, members of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) left the chamber in an apparent dispute over cabinet posts. Makfax cited the dispute between VMRO-DPMNE and the BDI as a possible reason for the delay. BW

Russian prosecutors have ruled that 12 Uzbeks and a Kyrgyz national should be extradited to Uzbekistan to face charges of involvement in the unrest that provoked a deadly government crackdown in May 2005. The decision comes despite the fact that all 13 have been granted UN refugee status since their detention in Russia more than a year ago.

The 13 men have been in detention in Ivanovo, northeast of the Russian capital, since June 2005. On August 3, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office announced that it had decided to extradite them all to Uzbekistan.

Defense lawyer Svetlana Martynova told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the news came as a serious blow to her clients. She characterized fellow defense lawyer Irina Sokolova's assessment: "They don't feel well. Irina says they have all lost weight, [and] their health has deteriorated badly. And, of course, they all fear a return to their country. As [Irina] said, they all were crying in the courtroom."

In a statement posted on the website of the Prosecutor-General's Office on August 3, authorities said the Uzbek extradition request is not politically motivated but based solely on criminal charges. The statement also said Russia has received written assurances from Uzbek officials that the 13 will neither be tortured nor sentenced to death. But it is also unlikely that Russian authorities would aggressively monitor their treatment, particularly as Moscow grows increasingly cozy with Uzbekistan's strong-arm administration.

International rights advocates and a number of Western governments suspect Uzbek authorities of routinely torturing detainees. Independent rights groups have expressed fear that just such a fate could await these refugees if they are forcibly returned.

Uzbek authorities accuse the 13 men of involvement in the Andijon unrest in May 2005, which it has characterized as a terrorist uprising. The defense says that all but one were out of the country at the time, and he was only in Andijon to obtain a new passport.

Lawyer Martynova adds that her Uzbek clients simply are not the revolutionary type. She says nearly all are university educated and all have lived and worked in Russia for years.

After their arrest, the 13 applied for refugee status in Russia. The Russian Federal Migration Service rejected their applications based on the extradition request from Uzbekistan. But UN representatives visited them in custody and granted them refugee status.

The UN's half-century-old convention on refugees clearly states that no refugee may be expelled lawfully except "on grounds of national security or public order." Russian authorities have not accused these detainees of any wrongdoing.

The Moscow-based Memorial human rights center says the charges brought against them are fabricated. "I talked to their friends, relatives, and colleagues," Memorial's Bahrom Hamraev told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "I have examined the issue from all viewpoints. These people have no connection to the Andijon events whatsoever. I believe it is nothing but slander by the Uzbek government."

Defense lawyer Martynova also claims the case is politically motivated. She said it is rooted in the defendants' public activism during the run-up to Andijon, when protests mounted over a trial of suspected Islamic radicals:

"The three of them published an Internet article in March [2005]. They appealed to the public to attract attention to the situation in Uzbekistan -- to arbitrariness, torture, [and] executions without trials amid poverty and devastation," Martynova said. "However, they also wrote that they did not want a violent change of the constitutional regime but simply wanted to highlight what was going on. But they did not call for violence, although they expressed their position. It was in March, right before the Andijon events. I believe that was the reason."

Yelena Ryabinina, who heads the Central Asian political immigrants program for the Moscow-based rights group Civic Assistance (Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye), says officials in Tashkent accuse the men of having financed the unrest from Russia. But if that were the case, she says they should face trial where they are suspected of having committed the crime -- in Russia.

Critics of Moscow's cooperation in these cases note that Russian officials went so far as to strip their own citizen, Hatam Hajimatovan, an ethnic Uzbek detained along with the others, of his citizenship. He has since fled through Ukraine and resettled in Norway, with UN political asylum.

Ryabinina said the Uzbeks in Ivanovo are victims of the recent rapprochement between Moscow and Tashkent. "Of course, undoubtedly, it has been a result of the rapprochement since the very beginning," she said. "After the Andijon tragedy, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was virtually the only one who not only did not condemn [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov for mass shootings of his own citizens, but practically supported him and recognized his correctness."

A Russian Supreme Court decision on July 21 might provide a ray of hope for these detainees. The court ruled that the extradition case of an Uzbek man, Bayramali Yusupov, accused by Uzbek authorities of Islamic extremism in 1999 should get another hearing from a lower court.

Ryabinina said the defense in this case will appeal the prosecutors' extradition order within 10 days. "Lawyer Irina Sokolova has the appeal ready," she said. "As soon as [the text of] the official decision is received -- and [the Uzbeks] get not only faxed copies but also [originals of] official documents -- they will appeal. If the first court -- the Ivanovo regional court -- does not comply with the appeal, they will appeal to the Supreme Court."

The Uzbek refugees have also sought help from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which they petitioned in January. That case will proceed more emphatically, according to their lawyers, following this latest setback at the hands of Russian prosecutors.

(Gulnoza Saidazimova in an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

A suicide car bomber killed 21 civilians and wounded 13 others in a crowded market in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar Province on August 3, AP reported. The bombing, in the town of Panjwayi, was one of the deadliest suicide attacks in Afghanistan since enemies of the central government began employing the tactic on a frequent basis in 2005. A convoy of Canadian military vehicles was near the market where the blast occurred, but it was unclear whether the attack was intended for the market or the NATO troops, who escaped without injury. MR

Afghan authorities deported hundreds of South Koreans gathering for an event sponsored by the Christian-based Institute of Asian Culture and Development (IACD) on August 3, accusing them of organizing activities that contravene Islamic culture, AP reported. Trying to convert Muslims is a serious crime in Afghanistan. Interior Ministry spokesman Yousef Stanezai claimed the Koreans had come to Afghanistan on tourist visas but were there for religious purposes. "The program was against the Islamic culture and customs of Afghans," Stanezai said of the Seoul-based aid group, which has run medical clinics in Afghanistan for four years. Choi Han-woo, the leader of the group in Afghanistan, denied its 1,200 members were involved in proselytizing or any other religious activities. Members of the group said they came to Afghanistan to do relief work and organize a three-day "peace festival" planned for early August. A spokesman for the group, Sung Han Kang Kang, said the IACD comprises mostly Christians but is not in Afghanistan to win converts. Members of the group began arriving in Afghanistan about a month ago, prompting rumors that they were there to proselytize. Kang said members of the group came to offer Afghans computer and business training as well as to provide medical and dental care. MR

Afghan security forces killed 10 neo-Taliban insurgents during clashes in southern Afghanistan on August 3, AFP reported. Backed by NATO warplanes, Afghan security forces raided neo-Taliban positions in the Garmser district of Helmand Province, prompting battles that left the 10 fighters dead. Two Afghan policemen were wounded in the fighting, local police chief Mohammad Rasoul Aka said. The Garmser district, which abuts Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, has seen intense neo-Taliban activity in recent weeks. Neo-Taliban fighters briefly overran the area last month. MR

Four Canadian troops died in two separate attacks by militants in Afghanistan on August 3, AFP reported. One Canadian soldier serving with the NATO force in southern Afghanistan died when a roadside bomb tore through a patrol vehicle as it moved near Pashmul before dawn. Three Canadian troops died later the same day and six others were wounded when their patrol came under fire from suspected neo-Taliban insurgents using rocket-propelled grenades, according to John Nethercott, a Canadian military spokesman who issued a statement from Ottawa. Canada has now lost 23 soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001, when it joined the U.S.-led coalition that overthrew the Taliban. MR

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on August 3 that Israel is moving toward its destruction, and blamed it for 60 years of "insecurity, conflict, and tension" in the Middle East, ISNA reported the same day. Speaking at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he said, "the root of all the problems of the Middle East" is the existence of "rebellious, occupying, and illegal" Israel. "The Americans want a new Middle East," he said. "We say this new Middle East will certainly come about, but without" Israel, and with a "Palestinian state encompassing all the Palestinian land." He said Israeli "crimes" in Lebanon could not prevent its downfall, while its military operations there have "revealed that the slogans, human rights, [and] democracy of America and it allies are lies." He added that the UN Security Council has "failed its test" in its inability to impose a cease-fire in Lebanon, and "I regret to say that because of American and British dominance, the Security Council is unable to carry out its missions," ISNA reported. Israel launched an offensive against the Hizballah militia in Lebanon on July 12. VS

A politician associated with former President and Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani believes Rafsanjani is no longer a popular option at elections, but that his pragmatic ideas are widely accepted among politicians, Fars news agency reported on August 3. Mohammad Atrianfar, a member of the Executives of Construction, a centrist party considered close to Rafsanjani, said he believes "the [Rafsanjani] period in the executive sphere has come to an end, but his ideas are brilliant." He said that -- as shown in the 2005 presidential elections -- Rafsanjani "personally lacks the capacity to win the people's votes, but people continue to support his ideas." Atrianfar said reformers have moved toward these ideas -- considered moderately conservative and pragmatic -- and "even Mr. [President] Ahmadinejad resorts to this thinking...when he wishes to win people's votes." He said Ahmadinejad, who competed for the presidency against Rafsanjani in 2005, is legally president, but "not in terms of...votes." Who, he asked, paid for a nationwide publicity campaign that allowed posters of Ahmadinejad, then Tehran's mayor, to appear in far-off villages in Iran? "There is still a great question mark over [the polls] and great doubts on its outcome, but everyone is keeping quiet to maintain national cohesion," Fars quoted him as saying. VS

Alinaqi Khamushi, the head of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Mines, said in Tehran on August 2 that there is a "startling difference" between state officials' verbal commitment to privatization and their actions, ILNA reported. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently instructed the government to implement parts of Article 44 of the constitution, which is expected to initiate a large-scale privatization drive. But business circles remain skeptical of the government's willingness to withdraw from vast sectors of the economy. Khamushi asked at a meeting why "the government should sign 11 agreements with Venezuela without anyone from the private sector being present." Particularly, he said, when Khamenei's written instructions on Article 44 urge the government not to involve itself in "operational" areas, presumably specific business projects, ILNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). "Iran's economy has turned a page and, after 80 years, the overall policies in Article 44 were announced," and this requires "a strong private sector that can gain the capacity to engage in large investments," Khamushi said. He complained that the industries minister in late July prevented a scheduled meeting between visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and trade-chamber representatives. VS

The Interior Ministry has declared the activities of a human rights group headed by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi to be illegal, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and ILNA reported on August 2 and 3. The secretariat of the Committee for Article 10 of the Law on the Activity of Parties and Associations, which is part of the ministry, stated that "certain people acting under the heading of the Defenders of Human Rights Center" are breaking the law because the committee has not approved the group's charter. "Any activity under the heading of the Defender of Human Rights Center is illegal and offenders will be subject to prosecution," ILNA quoted the secretariat as stating. Ebadi has said Iran's Constitution allows for the formation of societies without the need for formal state approval, Radio Farda reported on August 3. The center has been working for four years, during which it has condemned rights abuses in Iran. It recently condemned the suspicious death of former student dissident Akbar Mohammadi in a Tehran prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2, and 3, 2006). VS

Thousands of Shi'a reportedly flooded Baghdad's Al-Sadr City district to rally in support of Lebanese Hizballah on August 4, AFP reported. The rally was organized by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has pledged his support for Hizballah it its fight against Israel. "We are wearing shrouds today to symbolize our readiness to die," demonstrator Mahmud al-Fadahawi said. "The Israeli attacks must be stopped even at the cost of our lives." A Shi'ite cleric from Al-Kut told AFP that the demonstration will be peaceful, and that "we are participating in the victorious war of [Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah." The demonstration is expected to get under way following afternoon prayers. Al-Sadr's office has claimed 1 million people will be on hand for the demonstration, while Iraqi police put the current number of demonstrators at 200,000, the BBC reported. KR

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on August 3 that Japan will continue to support Iraq through soft loans and other reconstruction aid, "Jiji Press" reported the same day. Aso said that Japan will continue to support the rebuilding of Iraq through airlift operations from Kuwait, as well as the provision of loans worth up to $3.5 billion. Japan also plans to take part in the upcoming UN-sponsored International Compact with Iraq conference. KR

The World Bank has agreed to grant the Kurdish autonomous region's government a $40 million loan for improvements in the electricity sector, dpa reported on August 3. Sobhi Hadi, director-general of investments for the regional government, said the loan is expected to come in September and will be used to upgrade the Dukan and Darbandakhan hydroelectric dams in Al-Sulaymaniyah. KR

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid warned in remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee on August 3 that Iraq could slip into civil war, according to a "Congressional Quarterly" transcript of the hearing. "Iraq sits at the center of the broader regional problem. Al-Qaeda and Shi'a extremists form terrorist groups and death squads to challenge the new government and undermine confidence in a better future. Iran talks about stabilizing Iraq, but just as in Lebanon, it arms, trains, and equips local extremist Shi'a militias to do Iran's bidding. As the primary security problem in Iraq has shifted from a Sunni insurgency to sectarian violence, Al-Qaeda terrorists, insurgents, and Shi'a militants compete to plunge the country into civil war," Abizaid said in his opening remarks to the committee. Asked if he agreed with outgoing U.K. Ambassador to Iraq William Patey's assessment that the country is on the verge of civil war, Abizaid said, " I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." KR

General Abizaid told the Armed Services Committee on August 3 that there is still a chance that some U.S. forces could withdraw from Iraq this year. "It's possible to imagine some reductions in forces, but I think the most important thing to imagine is Baghdad coming under the control of the Iraqi government," he noted. General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same hearing: "I believe that we do have the possibility of [Iraq] devolving to a civil war, but that does not have to be a fact. I believe that U.S. armed forces today can continue to do what we're doing, which is to help provide enough security inside of Iraq for the Iraqi government to provide governance and economic opportunity for their citizens." Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the committee: "I think there is a demand for a combination of military, political, and diplomatic activity that moves toward a solution that brings Iraq toward stability. I think over time, it becomes less military and more diplomatic and more political. And I believe that this current government, that's a four-year government, has that opportunity." KR