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Newsline - August 17, 2006

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 16 that the Japanese authorities bear responsibility for the incident earlier that day that resulted in Russian border-patrol forces shooting and killing a Japanese sailor in disputed waters off the Kurile Islands, which Russia controls but Japan claims, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, March 23, and August 3 and 16, 2006 and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). The statement argued that "it is clear that responsibility for this incident rests fully and completely with those who were directly guilty, and also with those representatives of the Japanese authorities who connive in poaching by Japanese fishermen in Russian territorial waters." In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseyev told Japanese Ambassador to Russia Yasuo Saito that there is "no need to dramatize the situation," and he called on Japan to curb poaching in what he called Russian waters, Russian media reported. In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Japanese Consul General Shigeo Natsui met with the Russian Foreign Ministry's representative there, Vladimir Nosov, and leaders of the Sakhalin Border and Coast Guard Department of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Interfax reported. Natsui called for an investigation and sought to contact the surviving fishermen, who are in detention. PM

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso summoned Mikhail Galuzin, who is Russia's charge d'affaires in Tokyo, on August 16 to protest the fatal incident off the Kuriles earlier in the day and to demand an apology and the return of the crew, the ship, and the body of the dead fisherman, reported. Galuzin expressed his sympathy to the dead man's family but stressed that Russian border-patrol forces acted according to Russian law. "Russia did not want such an unfortunate event to take place," he added. The Japanese state broadcaster NHK commented on August 17 that the incident reflects the recent "high-handed" behavior of President Vladimir Putin's administration toward Japan over the disputed Kuriles and Putin's determination to hold onto the islands. The Moscow daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on August 17 quoted a Japanese expert in bilateral relations as saying that the Russian behavior was "surprising," and that it is difficult for ordinary Japanese to understand why it was necessary to kill a fisherman, even if the vessel had indeed strayed into Russian waters. In related news, more than 20 Russian naval vessels began exercises off the Kamchatka Peninsula on August 17, RIA Novosti reported. An unnamed Pacific Fleet spokesman said that "the war games will end with a massive strike by naval, submarine, and air units at a surface target." PM

An unnamed spokesman for Semyon Vainshtok, who heads the pipeline monopoly Transneft, told Reuters on August 16 that his company does not plan to permanently shut down the damaged section of the Druzhba-1 Pipeline that provides crude to the Mazeikiu oil refinery, which is the only refinery in the Baltic states and which a Polish firm is about to acquire at the expense of Russian interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 3, 8, and 16, 2006). "The Moscow Times" published an interview with Vainshtok earlier on August 16 that was widely interpreted as a threat to close the line permanently. The spokesman instead quoted Vainshtok to Reuters as saying that "an option such as never reopening the pipeline again has never even been discussed. We are now waiting for the results of an expert study, and as soon as we receive them, we will start repairing the pipeline. In the worst-case scenario, we will have to fully rebuild only a 140-kilometer stretch." Lithuanian officials have repeatedly said that they suspect that Russia is using the pipeline to exert political pressure on them. PM

At the informal Sochi summit of the Eurasian Economic Community on August 16, President Putin said that Uzbekistan has agreed to become a full member again of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2006). The CSTO was formed in 1992 and currently comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and now Uzbekistan. In 1999, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia quit the CSTO. Putin added on August 16 that Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan "have agreed on and signed a document instructing the [Eurasian Economic Community] secretariat and those three countries' [authorities] make the necessary efforts to prepare the legal base for establishing a customs union. And, of course, the final goal is to see all Eurasian Economic Community member states join the customs union." Such a customs union has been under discussion for some years but has been held up by the conflicting interests of the states concerned. Ukraine and Armenia were present at the summit as observers. New Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said that his country would seek full membership "if it were in Ukraine's interests." On the margins of the summit, Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov reached an agreement on gas prices, the exact terms of which remain unclear. Yanukovych told reporters in Russian that "the [gas] price will be market-based, of course, but the mechanism of its formation will be transparent and certainly adequate to the level of economic relations between Ukraine and Russia." PM

Middle East expert and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was quoted by "Izvestia" on August 17 as saying that Israel prepared its recent incursion into Lebanon "for a very long bring about the collapse of Lebanon...and a possible civil war." He argued that the Israelis hoped that other elements in Lebanese society would then rally against Hizballah and destroy its power. Primakov believes that Israel was prepared to bomb Syria and Iran if they became involved in the conflict. He said that Israel did not succeed in its objectives, however, and must now return to the negotiating table, where Russia will play a key role. Primakov believes that there is little danger of a major confrontation emerging in the immediate future in the Middle East because the United States has no interest in one in the run-up to the November mid-term elections. He added that he hopes that Washington has "drawn the conclusion" from the latest crisis that it was unwise "to export democracy and revolution around the world. The Trotskyites have already shown that this is a hopeless task." Primakov recently said the United States would not mind seeing Syria and Iran dragged into the Lebanese conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). PM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on August 16 that "Russia calls for the earliest possible resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue," RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 11, and 15, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). He added that "the [stalemated] Palestinian problem does not allow for the settlement of the [various] long-standing crisis situations in the region and generates new ones." PM

VETERANS SAY HIZBALLAH FORCES ARE 'TOUGHER' THAN CHECHENS on August 17 quoted several Israeli officers and soldiers who previously fought in the Russian Army in Chechnya as saying that Hizballah forces are "much tougher" and better trained and equipped than the Chechen fighters, although their tactics are similar. The Israelis added that Hizballah men are better individual soldiers than their counterparts in Arab regular armies. One Israeli described the Hizballah forces as well-armed "professionals," who often have equipment that is more modern than that of the Israelis. PM

The daily "Kommersant" reported on August 16 that it has obtained the minutes of a meeting in March between Vladislav Surkov, who is one of several deputy heads of the Kremlin's administration and an exponent of the theory of "sovereign democracy," and 30 legislators from the Party of Life, which show that the Kremlin is seeking to promote a "two-party system" by merging several parties into a leftist "loyal opposition" based on the Party of Life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 7, 2006). The other parties concerned are Motherland (Rodina) and possibly the Russian Party of Pensioners. The daily suggested that the Party of Life, which itself is widely seen as a Kremlin creation to draw votes away from the Communists, made the minutes available following President Putin's recent meetings with leaders of each of the three parties concerned, which showed his personal role in the alleged project. On August 17, "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented that the Kremlin is trying to "put a presentable facade on Russian democracy." "Izvestia" wrote that "the authorities need a party on their political left flank." PM

In the wake of several well-publicized major art thefts and President Putin's call for an inventory of all art treasures, the members of the Union of Museums of Russia concluded at a conference in St. Petersburg that the problem lies with funding and not with the employees themselves, reported on August 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 9, 11, and 15, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). Mikhail Shvydkoi, who heads the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema, told the gathering that "the museum community's reputation is at stake now" and that the inventory will show what kind of reputation museum workers deserve by "spotlighting the problems that have stained our reputation." Larisa Aksyonova, who heads the Suzdal Museum, said that the thefts at the Hermitage Museum "should not cast a shadow on the country's museum community." PM

The opposition party Yabloko has been singled out for criticism by the Sverdlovsk Oblast Election Commission ahead of the October 8 vote for seats in the oblast duma. Vladimir Mostovshchikov was quoted by the daily "Kommersant" on August 17 as having said the previous day that Yabloko has committed more administrative violations than any other party fielding candidates, including not registering party lists properly. Mostovshchikov said Yabloko's candidates have not paid their required deposits or handed in all necessary documents. The head of Yabloko in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Mariya Dronova, denied this. On August 15, Yabloko was cautioned for sticking up party leaflets without prior permission from the election commission. Mostovshchikov also noted that under new legislation, any candidates from the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) who are elected from Yabloko lists may not take up their deputy's mandates unless they switch their allegiance to Yabloko. Local SPS leader Konstantin Karyakin said Mostovshchikov's comments were aimed at dissuading voters from choosing either of the two parties, which aligned for the Sverdlovsk elections in an effort not to split the liberal vote. RH

One Russian serviceman died and two were seriously injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Nazran on August 16, reported. The perpetrators escaped in a car heading for North Ossetia. LF

At the invitation of pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, Yury Luzhkov visited Grozny on August 16 where he inspected construction projects funded by the Moscow city government, including two schools and two apartment blocks, according to the website of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership ( Luzhkov pledged to provide funds for the construction in 2007 of two more schools and a maternity hospital. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov suggested at a separate meeting with Luzhkov that Moscow co-fund restoration of a cement factory in Chiri-Yurt, south of Grozny, and the construction there of a factory to produce construction materials. LF

Two speakers at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan on August 16 echoed criticisms made several days earlier by leading members of the opposition Orinats Yerkir party of a perceived strengthening of ties between criminal elements and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14 and 15, 2006). Stepan Zakarian of the People's Party of Armenia claimed that pro-government forces "are merging with" criminal elements, while Soviet-era dissident and National Self-Determination Union Chairman Paruyr Hairikian said that "the political field is infested with criminal thinking, not to mention criminal elements." He called for the creation of a broad-based alliance of parties founded on the basis of a political ideology rather than mercantile interests. LF

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov has taken issue with the conclusions drawn by Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, who is special representative of the OSCE chairman in office for the Karabakh conflict, concerning the bush fires that have laid waste parts of the Azerbaijani districts contiguous to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in recent months, reported on August 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 19, and 29, July 18 and 21, and August 1, 2006). After two inspections of the affected districts, Kasprzyk failed unequivocally to endorse Azerbaijani claims that the Armenian side is deliberately conducting a "scorched earth" policy to preclude the return to their homes in those districts of Azerbaijanis who fled in 1990-1991. Azimov characterized Kasprzyk's position as "unjust." LF

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev named Arif Alyshanov on August 16 to head Azerbaijani State Television, reported on August 17. Alyshanov served for many years as deputy head of AzTV under its former chairman Nizami Khudiyev, who was dismissed in late June. The electronic daily noted that since Alyshanov assumed the post of acting chairman, the channel's programs have changed beyond recognition from the point of view of both content and photographic technique. Alyshanov is said to have likewise put an end to the practice of screening in exchange for a discreet bribe footage showing specific farms or industrial enterprises in a favorable light. LF

The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has accused Tbilisi of again seeking to circumvent its obligations under the cease-fire agreement signed in Moscow in May 1994, reported on August 16. Speaking in Tbilisi on August 15, Georgian First Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kardava argued that Georgia is under no obligation to permit Russian peacekeepers to monitor the situation in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge together with representatives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2006). The Abkhaz statement cited verbatim the article of that agreement that makes provision for such joint monitoring, together with a subsequent protocoal signed in March 2002 that likewise provides for joint monitoring of the gorge. If the Georgian side gives the green light for joint monitoring of the upper reaches of Kodori, Abkhazia will agree to monitoring of the lower reaches, which it controls, cited the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry as saying. LF

Relatives of Altynbek Sarsenbaev, who was found shot dead along with two aides in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006), issued a statement on August 15 charging that "state structures" were complicit in his death, the "Los Angeles Times" reported the next day. "It is obvious that state structures are involved in his death," the statement alleged, adding, "The organizers of this trial tried their best to lift any responsibility from the state for this crime." The BBC quoted Rysbek Sarsenbaev, Altynbek Sarsenbaev's brother, as saying, "The National Security Committee [KNB] masterminded it, [KNB] officers carried it out, the [KNB] hindered the investigation, and now it is preventing the court from establishing the truth." The trial of 10 defendants for Sarsenbaev's murder is nearing its end (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 15, 2006). The relatives have already said that they will boycott the remainder of the trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2006). DK

Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a news conference in Bishkek on August 16 that he will not attend an ombudsmen's conference in Iowa because of a recent comment by U.S. President George W. Bush, Kabar reported. "George Bush insulted the believers by enriching his vocabulary with yet another blunder -- by coining the term 'Islamic fascism,'" Bakir-uulu said. "This insult does not allow me, as a representative of Kyrgyzstan, where various faiths including Islam peacefully coexist, to take part in the conference." DK

Ombudsman Bakir-uulu told the same news conference on August 16 that Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin (also known as Muhammadrafiq Kamalov), the imam of a large mosque in Kara-Suu, might have been killed deliberately by security services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006), reported. Bakir-uulu said that "recent events in Kyrgyzstan's southern part had the easily recognizable hallmarks of the Uzbek secret services," news agency reported. Bakir-uulu warned that increased cooperation between Kyrgyz and Uzbek security services could lead to more radicalism in Kyrgyzstan. DK

Kyrgyz police have arrested a suspected member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and a suspected member of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Osh province, Interfax reported on August 16. reported that police confiscated two grenades, assorted ammunition, and extremist literature from the home of the suspected IMU member, identified only as Joraev. DK

Ram Pal Kaushik, India's ambassador to Turkmenistan, has stated in an interview published in Turkmen media that India would like to become a large-scale buyer of Turkmen natural gas, reported on August 16. Kaushik said that India is continuing to study the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline as a possible route for the import of Turkmen natural gas. DK

The Central Council of the Uzbek youth movement Kamolot has removed Botir Ubaidulloev as the movement's chairman at his own request, reported on August 16. His first deputy, Qahramon Quronboev, will serve as acting chairman. The council concluded that the movement's activists do not understand the problems of young people., a website critical of the government, commented that Kamolot has drawn criticism for the "uselessness of its structure and the amorphousness of its management." The website also noted that the youth wing of the Forum of Art and Culture of Uzbekistan, which was formed by Gulnora Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov, has shown more initiative than Kamolot and has also criticized the rival movement. DK

The Uzbek government has stripped Britain's Oxus Gold of a license to develop a gold deposit in the country's south, Reuters reported on August 15, citing an unidentified government source. "A foreign company will not be involved in this project," the source said. Since 1996, Oxus has worked through a joint venture to develop the Khandize gold deposit, with total investment of approximately $70 million. In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Oxus is trying to recover its license to operate the Jerooy gold mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2006). Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan, U.S.-based Newmont Mining recently reported that it has lost day-to-day control over its gold-mining joint venture in Uzbekistan, where authorities have hit the company with a $48 million tax claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on August 16 said he is pleased with the talks held within the framework of an informal summit of the Eurasian Economic Community in the Black Sea resort of Sochi earlier the same day, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. "We have finally come to a conclusion that we have to establish a customs union. Three states -- Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan -- appear to have achieved more progress in this respect. However, Tajikistan is not lagging behind us in terms of the effort to harmonize regulations, we just don't have a shared border," Lukashenka said. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia on August 16 pledged to work out a legal framework for a future Eurasian customs union. The Eurasian Economic Community consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine have the status of observers with the organization. JM

Deputy Education Minister Kazimir Faryno told journalists in Minsk on August 16 that 4,006 schools will open for the new school year in Belarus on September 1, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Of these, 2,313 (57 percent) have the status of schools instructing in Belarusian, 1,432 (36 percent) instruct in Russian, and 258 are bilingual. According to official data, last year nearly 60 percent of schools in Belarus instructed in the Belarusian language, while in 33 percent of schools the language of instruction was Russian. Faryno revealed that in September, some 24 percent of Belarusian schoolchildren will be taught in Belarusian. He specified that in Minsk this figure will not exceed 2 percent. JM

Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in Simferopol on August 16 that the price of gas for the population won't change until the end of this year and will remain at 414 hryvnyas ($82) per 1,000 cubic meters, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yanukovych was speaking after his return from Sochi, where he discussed gas supplies for 2006-07 with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 15, 2006). Ukraine's individual consumers are supplied with gas extracted domestically. In 2005, Ukraine extracted 20.5 billion cubic meters of gas, which accounted for some 25 percent of the country's annual demand. Following his talks with Fradkov, Yanukovych told journalists in Sochi that he believes this year's price for gas imported by Ukraine will not exceed the current level of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. Yanukovych also suggested that there will be no steep increase in the price of gas imported by Ukraine in 2007. "In the course of negotiations I didn't get the feeling that our partners wanted to supercharge the situation," Yanukovych noted in Sochi. JM

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Ivana Dulic-Markovic said on August 16 that the European Union is showing an increased willingness to resume premembership talks with Belgrade, Reuters reported the same day. "We have been getting signals in the past months that the door is again open for us," Dulic-Markovic said in an interview with Reuters. "We want to initiate this dialogue. We want to show citizens there are new perspectives opening, Europe wants Serbia in its company and that is not only in Serbia's interest but also in the interest of Europe," she added. Dulic-Markovic, an ethnic Croat and the only woman in Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government, is scheduled to travel to Brussels on August 17 to try to restart stalled talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). The European Union suspended talks on an SAA with Serbia and Montenegro due to Belgrade's failure to arrest war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic by an April 30 deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). BW

In the same August 16 interview with Reuters, Dulic-Markovic said Serbia needs to reform and face up to its recent past, but also needs the EU's help in doing so. "We went through a really tough period," Dulic-Markovic said. "We have still not gone through catharsis and have not faced our past, but we need support...citizens need help, encouragement, rather than punishment," she added. "Serbia is always facing challenges, but it seems to me that this year is key for resolving them." While conceding that Serbia is obligated to arrest Mladic, Dulic-Markovic said that Brussels can help Belgrade in other ways: by easing what Serbs see as a humiliating visa regime, by offering scholarships and academic support for students, and by helping Serbia get half of its $2.3 billion debt to the Paris Club written off. "These are not requests," Dulic-Markovic said. "These are ideas and we want to hear concrete answers." BW

In comments published on August 16, Montenegrin Minister for European Integration Gordana Gjurovic said Podgorica will resume negotiations with the European Union on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in September, Makfax reported the same day. Gjurovic told the newspaper "Republika" that SAA negotiations will resume on September 20, that she expects the agreement to be signed by the end of 2006, and that Montenegro is aiming to be designated a formal EU candidate by early 2008. When Montenegro voted for independence from Serbia in May, the EU indicated that it was prepared to resume SAA negotiations with Podgorica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2006). BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Prime Minister Adnan Terzic on August 15 called on High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling to intervene to prevent the Republika Srpska from selling a stake in its telecom network, AFX reported the same day. Earlier this month, the Republika Srpska government announced a tender to sell 65 percent of Telekom Srpske, which is estimated to be worth about $640 million. Bids must be made by October 4. "The prime minister is disputing the sale of Bosnia's three telecoms operators by the entities' governments and is of the opinion that the central government should sell the operators," AFX quoted an unidentified government official as saying. The government of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation is expected to sell stakes in two other telecommunications companies, BH Telekom and HT Mostar, within the next few months. BW

Dismissing protests by the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Macedonian Prime Minister-designate Nikola Gruevski insisted in a television interview on August 16 that he is under no obligation to include the country's largest ethnic Albanian party in his government, Focus reported the same day. "There is no requirement specified in the Macedonian Constitution, or any other law, that could oblige me to make a coalition" with the BDI, Gruevski said in an interview broadcast on Macedonia's A1 television. Also on August 16, A1 television quoted parliament speaker Ljubisa Georgievski as saying that lawmakers will vote on Gruevski's cabinet on August 25. Gruevski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) won the most seats in Macedonia's July 5 general elections, but decided to form a government with the BDI's archrival, the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH). The decision sparked protests and roadblocks by BDI supporters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4 and 16, 2006) BW

Transdniestrian authorities said on August 16 that they have detained a suspect in a bus bombing that killed two people in Tiraspol on August 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14 and 16, 2006), RIA Novosti reported the same day. State Security Minister Vladimir Antyufeyev said the suspect, who was not identified, is a resident of Tiraspol. He added that the suspect acted alone and is not connected to any organized group. "I will not state the motives, in the interests of the investigation," Antyufeyev said. On July 6, a bomb blast on a bus in Tiraspol killed eight people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006). BW

Authorities in Uzbekistan have launched a criminal probe into a U.S.-Uzbek joint venture that operates the largest gold mine in the world, the Muruntau open-pit mine, which lies in the Qizilqum Desert, 400 kilometers west of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

The Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation was one of the first major foreign investors to enter the Uzbek market in 1992, and accounts for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. direct investment in the country.

President Islam Karimov welcomed it at the time. He promised "government guarantees" and a "regime of special favor" for the joint venture, Zarafshan-Newmont, which began operating in 1995.

The climate has changed dramatically since then. Uzbek authorities notified the company in March that tax reforms were on the way. By June, Uzbek courts had ordered Zarafshan-Newmont to pay $48 million in back taxes. Uzbek officials in August froze the joint venture's assets and seized some of its gold. An official at Navoi's regional tax committee, Shahobiddin Shaymatov, insisted to RFE/RL that the tax charges are well founded.

"All procedures have been conducted in a legal manner," Shaymatov said. "[The company] was audited. The [audit] continues accordingly. I can't give you any official information."

On August 11, Newmont said the Uzbek government has launched a criminal investigation targeting the joint venture and its employees. Newmont's shares fell more than 2 percent in trading on the New York Stock Exchange the day of that announcement. Authorities are blocking the export of any gold, and Newmont claims it has no control over day-to-day operations there.

Newmont's partners in the venture are the Uzbek State Committee for Geology and Mineral Resources (Goskomgeologia) and the Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Combine. They say the company continues to mine and process gold.

"We are fulfilling the plan," said Viktor Klepinin, one of Zarafshan-Newmont's managers. "As for a court decision about an incorrect payment of taxes, the [tax authorities are] considering this. That's all there is to the situation. The usual process is going on."

One of the joint venture's 900 workers, who identified himself as Avaz, also said work is continuing. "Yes, we are working. So far, we are working," he said. "They said normal work should continue.... We are doing what we used to do. They gave us our salaries. The day before yesterday, they gave us an advance. There have been no formal changes."

Newmont officials in Denver, Colorado, were unavailable for comment on this report. Company representatives have suggested Newmont will seek international arbitration.

Richard Boucher, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, used a visit on August 9 to urge Uzbek authorities to treat U.S. businesses equitably. "We keep in very close touch with American companies here," Boucher said. "Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to do their business here, and the actions that are taken with regard to some of these particular situations, I think, will lead other investors to draw conclusions. And therefore I'd say it's important that they be handled carefully and fairly."

Uzbekistan's ties with Western governments have soured since a deadly crackdown in eastern Uzbekistan in May 2005. More recently, official pressure has forced the closure of a number of foreign-funded NGOs and media outlets in Uzbekistan.

But there could also be a powerful economic incentive for official interference in Newmont's case. The Uzbek state budget is plagued by corruption, low tax receipts, and lagging reforms.

"I think [the motive for the dispute] is probably mainly financial," said Anna Walker, of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. "When the original terms of the agreement were drawn up, they were quite favorable for foreign joint ventures. As prices of gold have been extremely high in the last couple of years, the government realizes that it is quite a lucrative way of getting more money. So I think that is one of the principle reasons." Walker suggested the Uzbek government could target any successful company, not just U.S. ventures.

Foreign investors have left in the past, only to blame official interference for their departures. Don Kang headed Kabool Textiles Uzbek Ltd., an Uzbek-Korean joint venture that was once a leader in cotton-fiber production in Uzbekistan. Uzbek authorities took control of that company in July 2005, citing mounting debts.

Kang told RFE/RL recently that Newmont's case highlights the risk of investment in Uzbekistan and impedes foreign investment. "It's getting worse and worse," Kang said. "If [Uzbek authorities] are trying to do this thing again, I think all other countries will be very afraid of investing in any other field as well. If they are trying to seize [an] American company in Uzbekistan illegally or unfairly, the Uzbek government will be in trouble in the world society in the near future."

The U.S. State Department says Uzbekistan has the lowest level of foreign direct investment per capita among members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. U.S. companies have invested some $500 million in the country since its independence in 1991, but the State Department claims there have been no major investments in the past five years.

Newmont has suggested is willing to sell out and walk away if it can cover its $94 million investment. But Newmont's extrication could send a powerful message to other investors that the risks of "business as usual" in Uzbekistan far outweigh the benefits.

(Gulnoza Saidazimova is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

Members of a government-appointed media-complaints commission meeting in Kabul on August 16 demanded that independent Kabul-based Tolu Television refrain from broadcasting scenes from parliamentary debate that could lead to argument or disagreement, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. The commission met after Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) deputy Safia Sidiqi (Nangarhar Province) lodged a complaint against Tolu for broadcasting scenes from the floor of parliament that included members sleeping, yawning, and picking their noses. Dozens of Wolesi Jirga lawmakers walked out of a session on August 16 to protest Tolu's debate broadcasts, Reuters reported. "I am leaving the session unless Tolu is sent out of [the] parliament," Sidiqi, a former journalist, told the assembly. Tolu's director, Sa'ad Mohseni, told Reuters that members of parliament are "public figures in a public place, and we have to show what they do." The details of Sidiqi's complaints were not available. AT

An unidentified individual with connections to the neo-Taliban has claimed that Al-Qaeda trained as many as 10 youths -- seven of whom held British citizenship -- in camps on either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Tokyo-based daily "Asahi Shimbun" reported on August 16. The source said the youths in question received "VIP treatment" and were always accompanied by members of radical Pakistani Islamist parties. The trainees were in the area for about a year, and initially received indoctrination on the Pakistani side of the border before receiving training in combat and explosives on the Afghan side of the boundary. Members of the group of "spoke very good English and spoke Urdu as well," "Asahi Shimbun" quoted the source as saying. "They were very well-behaved Islamic youth." Islamabad has alleged that the U.K. bomb plotters received training at Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, while Kabul has rejected that claim, countering that terrorist camps are operating on Pakistani territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). AT

U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan announced the arrest of eight men in Khost Province on suspicion of membership of Al-Qaeda, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on August 16. A statement issued by the coalition forces said the eight were arrested in operations conducted in Parukhel and Jaba areas "on the basis of prior information." Coalition forces announced killing one Al-Qaeda "facilitator" and detaining 13 others on August 15, also in Khost (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2006). The identities of the detainees were not announced, but the term "Al-Qaeda" is frequently used to refer to non-Afghan insurgents or terrorists. AT

Royal Air Force (RAF) Harrier jets have been targeted by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and antiaircraft artillery while supporting British troops in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, the Glasgow daily "The Herald" reported on August 16. No RAF aircraft has been reported shot down. According to the report, the Taliban are believed to have "hundreds" of shoulder-fired SAMs including U.S.-, U.K.-, Russian-, and Chinese-made systems. Most of those weapons are leftovers from the 1980s, when mujahedin forces were armed with such weapons by the United States and its allies, as well as China, to battle Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan. There are six RAF Harriers based in neighboring Kandahar Province to support U.K. forces in Helmand. Militants do not appear to have inflicted any major damage on coalition or NATO aircraft operating in Afghanistan since the international invasion in late 2001. AT

Hojatoleslam Hussein Ebrahimi, a member of the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran), said on August 16 that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's trips to the provinces and his legislative measures are well-intended but that some cabinet members seem unable to execute the relevant tasks, ISNA reported. Ebrahimi advised the president to ensure that the cabinet's level of commitment equals his own. Ebrahimi also recommended warning or replacing unnamed government managers who he said do not implement presidential policies for political reasons. Reformist former legislator Davud Suleimani criticized the cabinet for its failure to fulfill campaign pledges to improve people's economic well-being, "Etemad" reported on August 15. He called for a report on the government's performance that would be publicly available so people can judge for themselves, and he recommended a complete change in the cabinet. Ilam parliamentary representative Dariush Qanbari said the cabinet has been unsuccessful, adding that Ahmadinejad intends to change his Commerce, Roads and Transportation, and Welfare and Social Security ministers. Qanbari added that many of his colleagues would like to see the Agricultural Jihad, Education, and Health ministers replaced, as well. BS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told reporters in Tehran on August 16 that the United States and United Kingdom are responsible for all the Lebanese who died in the recent conflict with Israel and for all the damage to Lebanese infrastructure, IRNA reported. Larijani praised what he described as Hizballah's victory, and he added that "Hizballah is a matter of honor for all Arab states." Larijani said UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which halted the conflict, should have come much sooner. He also criticized aspects of it for interfering with internal Lebanese politics. President Ahmadinejad said during his tour of Ardabil Province on August 16 that the United States and United Kingdom should be expelled from the Security Council, IRNA reported. "Those intending to block global peace and tranquility from taking hold are not qualified to be in the [Security Council]," he said, adding that the United States and United Kingdom should face a war crimes trial. Earlier in the day, Ahmadinejad said the United Nations is a tool of the United States and Israel, IRNA reported. Also on August 16, the legislature's national-security and foreign-policy committee issued a statement calling for Israel to be punished for "crimes against humanity" and for it to pay compensation to Lebanon, IRNA reported. BS

Speaking in Tehran on August 16, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said after a meeting with Malian Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane that Iran is willing to discuss the suspension of uranium enrichment with Europe, Radio Farda and IRNA reported. There is no rationale for a suspension, he added, but Tehran is willing to talk about that or any other subject. BS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Larijani said during an August 16 meeting in Tehran with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai that UN Security Council Resolution 1696, which calls on Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment activities by August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2006), will not affect the country's nuclear policy, state television reported. Larijani said the issue can be resolved through dialogue and added that Tehran will respond on August 22 to the international package of incentives it received in early June. Larijani said Iran intends to begin industrial-scale uranium enrichment and that it is entitled to do so. Kermanshah parliamentary representative Jahanbakhsh Amini noted that 14 of 15 Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution (Qatar opposed it), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 15, and said Tehran must take serious diplomatic measures if it wants to dissuade other countries from joining this group. Tabriz representative Eshrat Shayeq described the resolution as "unacceptable" and added that "neither we nor any other country consider ourselves as obligated to pay for the political reconstruction of superpowers." She accused Washington of trying to impose its will, and she added that the UN and the Security Council are not impartial. BS

Major General William Caldwell, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, told reporters on August 16 that "Al-Qaeda in Iraq wants to present itself as a legitimate organization and is striving to increase its operational power by building a political base with a military wing," Reuters reported the same day. Caldwell said this was based on intelligence reports collected following the death of former Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi in June. Caldwell added that Al-Qaeda is trying to undermine the Iraqi government and U.S. presence through propaganda and diverting public anger over corruption and lack of services. He also said that "Al-Qaeda in Iraq realizes the killing of innocent Iraqi civilians has damaged their public support and is working to reverse that perception. By no means does it mean they intend to stop creating sectarian violence, but rather change the perception." BAW

Fadhil al-Shar'a, a political adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on August 16 that the government continues to hold meetings with different Iraqi groups to pave the way for national-reconciliation conferences. He said that such meetings include armed groups, as well. The first such conference will involve tribal leaders, to be followed by another for religious leaders, al-Shar'a said, describing al-Maliki's national reconciliation as the government's "most important plan." "These reconciliation conferences will set the positive atmosphere through which the Iraqi government can uplift the country," al-Shar'a added. BAW