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Newsline - July 10, 2007

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Bishkek on July 10 that the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) recent selection of Sochi to host the 2014 Winter Olympics "will enhance the authority of Russia, its friends, and its allies," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). At the Russian presidential residence in Zavidovo, northwest of Moscow, President Vladimir Putin stressed on July 9 that money earmarked for constructing facilities for the games must not be embezzled, Interfax and RIA Novosti reported. He told the cabinet that "the irrational use of money must not be permitted. The embezzlement of state funds must not be permitted." He called on the Prosecutor-General's Office "to form a working group, which will provide security...and coordinate construction of the necessary facilities so that the allocated finances will be spent rationally, and any misappropriation of state funds will be prevented at all cost." Putin noted that $12 billion has been budgeted for construction related to the games, of which at least $5 billion will come from private investment. He said that about one-third of the total will be spent on sports facilities and the training of athletes, while roughly two-thirds of the money will be spent on infrastructure in southern Russia. "That includes the construction of roads, bridges, tunnels, communication, water supply, and electricity, [in other words,] everything that makes for a decent life for people," he added. Britain's "Financial Times" noted on July 10 that Russia hired top-flight Western public relations and communications consultants in its effort to win the games in order to show that Russia "competes and...can succeed by playing by Western rules." PM

The weekly "Itogi" noted on July 9 that, by selecting Sochi, the IOC acknowledged that Russia "is a normal country." On July 9, the mass-circulation daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" wrote that "our main political objective for the 2014 Winter Olympics is to prove to the whole world that stability and security have arrived in southern Russia. The problem, however, is that when the [IOC] voted [recently] in Guatemala, there was no stability or security in southern Russia." The paper noted that the Russian authorities hope that by 2014 "a new era will dawn in Russia. The civil war in the Caucasus, bloodshed, and xenophobia will all fade away into history; grudges and territorial claims will be forgotten; and new world-class resorts will be built along Russia's Black Sea coast. Unless this happens, the whole Sochi Olympics plan could become a dangerous gamble." The daily argued that "the problems of the North Caucasus have become relevant again. Any act of terror, even a minor bombing, anywhere near the site of the future Olympics would make headlines all over the world. The danger is that the guerrillas are well aware of this, and will certainly make every effort to disrupt the Sochi Games." In "The Moscow Times" on July 10, Aleksei Pankin wrote that the bragging by Russian officials over the IOC's decision reveals a deeper inferiority complex. He pointed out that, after the IOC's decision was announced, a Russian "Foreign Ministry spokesman said that 'this is a testament to Russia's new position of strength in the global arena.' I wondered to myself whether Austria's Foreign Ministry would have reached a similar conclusion had the [IOC] chosen Salzburg over Sochi. Probably not, I thought, but Russians have a definite complex about their self-image." Russians, Pankin continued, need to be reassured by foreigners of their status as a "world leader," even though "Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear superpower, and has the richest natural resources of any nation on earth." Pankin suggested that the games pose a huge challenge and that "this utopianism turned the Sochi Olympics into a genuine national idea." He quoted 19th-century writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky as saying that "Russians like to do everything big, but they need to be brought down to earth a bit." PM

Outgoing Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber said at the conclusion of a visit to Russia, his last major foreign trip before leaving office, that "if the Americans go ahead and build a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe, Russia will feel threatened," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported from Berlin on July 9. Stoiber added that Russia "will aim missiles at Europe" if Washington goes ahead with its plans to station 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and July 9, 2007). Stoiber argued that Germany needs Russia's energy, and the EU needs Russia to find solutions to problems in Kosova and the Middle East. He said that "no significant decisions can be reached in the international arena without Russia." The daily suggested that Stoiber's remarks "sound like [former German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder," who pursued close ties with Moscow while in office and now has a close business relationship with Gazprom. The daily suggested recently that Europe is more dependent on Russia as an energy supplier than Russia is dependent on Europe as a customer. On February 21, Stoiber said in Wildbad Kreuth that Putin's February 10 Munich speech signaled Russia's legitimate return to the world stage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 23, 2007). The Frankfurt daily noted at the time that Putin flattered the embattled Stoiber, whose own Christian Social Union (CSU) is forcing him from office, when the two men met in Munich on February 10. PM

U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns said at a Moscow memorial service for slain American journalist Paul Klebnikov on July 9 that the Kremlin should "redouble its efforts" to resolve the case, "The New York Times" reported on July 10. Klebnikov, who was editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, was gunned down in an apparent contract killing on July 9, 2004, in one of at least two dozen unresolved murders of journalists in Russia in recent years (see "CIS: Behind An 'Information Curtain,'", May 2, 2007). In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement on July 10 that "the intimidation and murder of journalists is an affront to free and independent media and all who respect democratic values." PM

On July 5, President Putin nominated Tver Oblast Governor Dmitry Zelenin for a second term, which the regional parliament approved on July 10, reported. A former top executive for Norilsk Nickel, Zelenin has been governor since 2004. Putin also nominated Viktor Ishayev on July 5 to continue as governor of Khabarovsk Krai, a post he has effectively held since 1991. On July 9, the Khabarovsk regional legislature voted overwhelmingly to confirm the appointment, reported. On July 6, Putin nominated Leningrad Oblast Governor Valery Serdyukov for another term, which the regional parliament approved on July 9, reported. Following the vote, Serdyukov, who has been in office for nine years, said that the main problems he intends to tackle are the low quality of health services, poor roads, and growing rates of alcoholism and drug addiction. On July 6, Putin also nominated Novosibirsk Governor Viktor Tolokonsky for another term. He has held the post since 1999 and is expected to be confirmed in office by the regional parliament on July 12, reported. Governors officially serve for five-year terms. Some Russian media reports suggested recently, however, that several governors asked for fresh presidential confirmation in office before the 2007 legislative and 2008 presidential elections, even though their terms have not expired. Putin moved to consolidate his control over the regions in late 2004, when he ruled that governors will henceforth be appointed by him rather than elected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 14 and July 2, 2007). PM

The Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the successor to the KGB, announced on July 8 the declassification of its Soviet-era archives for 1920-50, the so-called "period of mass repression," Russian and international media reported. Vasily Khristoforov, who heads the agency's archives and registers department, said that "any citizen" can access files from those years pertaining to their relatives. Khristoforov said such citizens need to first send a letter to the FSB's central archive explaining what material they are seeking. Stalin-era documents were first declassified in 1992, although some restrictions were reinstated in the late 1990s. It is not clear exactly which materials are affected by the latest FSB announcement. It appears that journalists and historians still will not have direct access to the archives but will require written permission of relatives of the purge victims to examine them. PM

Three Russian Interior Ministry troops were killed and five more injured on July 10 when their armored personnel carrier hit a land mine near the village of Dyshne-Vedeno in southern Chechnya and then came under fire from Chechen resistance fighters, and reported. Dyshne-Vedeno was the home of radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev, whose death in an explosion in Ingushetia was announced exactly one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006). LF

Ramzan Kadyrov's annual address to the Chechen parliament was posted on July 9 on the Chechen government website, In that missive, Kadyrov called on the parliament to work closely with the government in preparation for next year's local elections. He noted that the draft project for socioeconomic development in 2008-11 envisages doubling gross domestic product (GDP) and reducing unemployment and poverty. He argued against relying primarily on Chechnya's oil sector to generate economic growth, advocating instead expanding into machine building for the oil and petrochemical sector and resurrecting the agro-industrial sector. He further proposed resolving the acute housing shortage by introducing a mortgage program, but did not explain how that would benefit the estimated 75 percent of the population that is unemployed and thus has no regular income. Kadyrov advocated measures to expand the use of the Chechen language, including switching to Chechen as the language of instruction in primary education. Finally, he called for the "maximum transparency" in the work of the government bureaucracy in order to preclude corruption. LF

As of July 11, the Russian television channel ORT will no longer to permitted to use a local frequency to broadcast to Azerbaijan, National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council Chairman Nushirevan Magerramli told journalists in Baku on July 9, and reported on July 9 and 10, respectively. ORT's agreement on rebroadcasting to Azerbaijan expired in January, and talks on renewing it failed to yield an agreement on the terms whereby ORT would continue rebroadcasting to Azerbaijan and the state-run AzTV would be broadcast in Russia. Magerramli said talks will continue with a second Russian television company, RTR-Planeta, and if no agreement is forthcoming within the next month, it too will no longer be allowed to rebroadcast to Azerbaijan. Similarly affected is the Turkish channel Samanyolu, whose frequency will be offered for tender on July 17, and which will have to cease broadcasting by September 17. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ali Abbasov told on July 9 that the technical problems involved in making Iranian television broadcasts available to the population of Azerbaijan's southernmost districts will be solved "very soon." LF

Rafiq Aliyev, former head of the Azerpetrol group of companies and brother of former Economic Development Minister Farxad Aliyev, denied on July 9 at their ongoing trial on charges of corruption that his company deliberately evaded paying taxes, and reported. On July 6, Rafiq Aliyev told the court he was arrested solely because he was Farxad's brother, and he accused one of the witnesses for the prosecution of perjury. Farxad Aliyev is also accused of having plotted with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership. He has repeatedly rejected those accusations as politically motivated, and affirmed his loyalty to President Ilham Aliyev (to whom the brothers are not related). LF

In a statement addressed to foreign diplomatic representations in Baku, Khilal Mamedov, who heads a committee to defend the right of Novruzali Mamedov, the arrested editor of the Talysh-language newspaper "Tolyshi sado," accused the Azerbaijani leadership of Turkic nationalism and of seeking to suppress non-Turkic minorities, including the Talysh, an Iranian ethnic group, reported on July 10. He said the Azerbaijani leadership seeks to minimize contacts between the Talysh communities in Azerbaijan and Iran and to run Azerbaijan into a monoethnic state. Novruzali Mamedov was arrested five months ago and has been formally charged with spying for Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 2007). LF

Aleksandr Ankvab was quoted by the Russian daily "Izvestia" on July 10 as saying that the failed attempt on his life the previous day was undertaken by "forces that seek to split Abkhaz society." Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, who cut short a visit to Moscow and returned to Sukhum(i) on July 9, indirectly accused neighboring Georgia of masterminding the assassination attempt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). Speaking in Tbilisi on July 9, Kote Gabashvili, who chairs the Georgian parliament's committee on foreign relations, rejected as "absurd" the suggestion that Georgia may have been involved in the attempt to kill Ankvab, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Abkhaz police have found a burned-out automobile believed to have been used by the attackers who opened fire on Ankvab's jeep, reported on July 10. The car was stolen in Gudauta Raion on July 7. LF

In a statement in Astana on July 9, Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission confirmed that the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observer delegation will begin its monitoring mission for elections to the Mazhilis, the lower house of the Kazakh parliament, on July 12, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. RG

The Kazakh opposition party Ak Zhol (Bright Way) announced on July 8 that it has united with the nominally pro-government Adilet (Justice) party in the run-up to August parliamentary elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to the terms of the agreement on unification, Alikhan Baimenov will retain his post as leader of the enlarged Ak Zhol party, while former Adilet leader Maksut Narikbaev agreed to join Lyudmila Zhulanova and Burikhan Nurmukhamedov of Ak Zhol as Baimenov's deputies. Ak Zhol recently formed another opposition electoral bloc with the social-democratic parties in order to present a broader unified bloc in the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). Baimenov's earlier efforts to cooperate with the Adilet party in forging a broad coalition have repeatedly failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2004, and December 27, 2006). RG

Unnamed officials of Kazakhstan's state-owned nuclear company, Kazatomprom, confirmed on July 9 that it is currently engaged in negotiations with Japan's Toshiba Corporation on the purchase of a 10 percent stake in U.S. nuclear-reactor manufacturer Westinghouse, according to AP and Interfax-Kazakhstan. The $487 million deal is linked to a broader partnership between Toshiba and Kazatomprom to secure long-term supplies of uranium from Kazakhstan to fuel Toshiba-run nuclear power plants worldwide. Toshiba and Westinghouse are also expected to transfer uranium-processing technology to Kazatomprom as part of the deal. Toshiba official Atsutoshi Nishida visited Kazakhstan in April, accompanied by Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Akira Amari, and signed a bilateral agreement on uranium-processing technology and trade cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). RG

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly on July 9 adopted a resolution calling on the Belarusian government to take advantage of the EU's Neighborhood Initiative, Belapan reported. The document, adopted at the Parliamentary Assembly's meeting in Kyiv, also urges Belarus to abide by its international commitments, bring its Electoral Code into line with OSCE standards, respect the right to freedom of expression and access to independent media, and "respect the rights of nongovernmental organizations as a vital part of a healthy democracy by no longer hindering their legal existence, harassing and prosecuting members of NGOs, and allowing them to receive international assistance." The resolution calls on the Belarusian authorities to release all political prisoners and investigate the disappearances of four opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Belarusian delegates to the OSCE described the resolution as wrong and unfair, claiming that all participating states have "problems" with abiding by their OSCE commitments, and that democratization is an "evolutionary process." AM

The Ukraine-NATO Commission on July 9 issued an ambassador-level statement confirming Ukraine's desire for accession to NATO, Interfax reported. "Ukraine is to join NATO and this decision has no alternative, this is an unavoidable process," Kostyantyn Morozov, the head of Ukraine's mission to NATO, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. In the statement, NATO ambassadors praised "Ukraine's contribution in the maintenance of international security, including its active support to all current operations and missions of NATO, and its efforts in the consolidation of regional cooperation." But the ambassadors also stipulated that the speed of the development of Ukraine-NATO relations should depend on decisions by Ukrainian authorities and political forces, and not NATO's support for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. AM

President Viktor Yushchenko on July 8 said he will nominate Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister if Yanukovych's Party of Regions forms a coalition after the early parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, Interfax reported on July 9. Yushchenko also said he would like to see in the prime minister's post "a person who understands national priorities, who is not afraid to say that he is a patriot and not afraid to speak the Ukrainian language, and whose key goal is to protect national interests, and that is why Ukraine's policy is formed in Kyiv, not other capitals." Yushchenko said he would also welcome the coalition created by Yulia Tymoshenko -- Yushchenko's ally in Ukraine's Orange Revolution -- in a new parliament, but added, "if she fails, another coalition will be formed." AM

Faik Fazliu, the leader of an association grouping veterans of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), on July 9 told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service that his men may resort to force should the UN fail to grant independence to Kosova. "If there is no independence for Kosova, we will be forced to act as UCK soldiers," he said. "We have fought for our freedom and for an independent Kosova." The veterans have said several times in recent weeks that they are ready to fight. The daily "Epoka e Re" on June 28 quoted Fazliu as saying that "the gun of the UCK decided the final status of Kosova" during the 1998-99 conflict and that "all options are possible" if Kosova is denied independence. In a press release issued on July 8, the Association of War Veterans urged the negotiating team not to approve any delay for the Kosova final-status resolution "because such delays might bring new risks," Kosovar Albanian media reported on July 9. Fazliu has also pushed for a meeting with the members of the team representing Kosovar Albanians in talks on the future of Kosova. AG

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried on July 9 struck a cautious note during a visit to Kosova, with local and international media suggesting that he hinted at a delay in a decision on the future of Kosova and at a more cautious approach toward independence. Fried reiterated that Kosova will ultimately be an independent state, but said that "a limited period of negotiations" is necessary for negotiators from Serbia and Kosova. On July 7, Fried said that he is unable to give a "precise date" for Kosova to gain independence, "but I suspect it will be a number of months before the Bucharest summit" to be held by NATO in April, "The New York Times" reported on July 8. Speaking on July 9, Fried said, "I don't think unilateral declarations...will help the cause of Kosovo's independence." In mid-April, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that Washington would support a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosova, a position from which other officials, including Fried, have pulled back (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and May 17, 2007). In his weekly national radio address on July 9, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku called for an "exact calendar, an exact date, and a clear way forward" in the process of resolving Kosova's future. Ceku also mentioned comments made by U.S. President George W. Bush on June 10 in which he said that "sooner rather than later, you've got to say enough's enough: Kosovo's independent," a statement that fueled Kosovar Albanian hopes of a quick decision on the region's future status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). Ceku indicated that he sees little chance of the old UN-based approach working, saying that "because of Russian resistance, the UN Security Council is unable to take a decision on Kosovo's status." Ceku and other Kosovar leaders have repeated frequently in recent weeks that Kosova will not declare independence without the backing of the EU and the United States. AG

The leader of the Union of Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Branislav Svonja, was hospitalized on July 4 after being attacked in Novi Sad by several men wielding baseball bats, the Croatian news agency Hina reported on July 7. Svonja said after his release from hospital on July 6 that he recognized some of his assailants as Serbian refugees from Croatia who had "threatened Serbs who went to Croatia to vote two or three years ago." Svonja described the attack as "a politically motivated attempted murder" linked to his efforts to achieve "reconciliation among Serbs and Croats in Croatia." Svonja dismissed speculation that the attack was connected to a business dispute. Hina wrote that the Union of Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina has over 170,000 members in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia. A Croatian Serb leader was attacked and hospitalized in the Serbian province of Vojvodina in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2007). AG

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic met with Montenegrin officials on July 9 in talks that appear to have focused on issues such as pensions, benefits, and investment. This was the second visit by a senior Serbian minister in four days: on July 6, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic met for talks on the issue of Kosova's future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). "Separation does not mean divorce," Djelic said, Radio Montenegro reported on July 9. "Far from it. We must secure a system for the sake of our citizens, a system that would demonstrate that political decisions do not have to have direct impact on their everyday lives." AG

The trial of the former head of the Bosnian Muslim army, Rasim Delic, for failing to prevent his soldiers from committing atrocities opened on July 9 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), local and international media reported. Delic, who surrendered to the ICTY in February 2005, denied the charges, which relate to killings, torture, and rape committed by foreign fighters whom he commanded during the 1992-95 war. His predecessor as head of the Bosnian Muslim army, Sefer Halilovic, was acquitted of war crimes in 2005. The foreign fighters are accused, among other crimes, of killing 24 Bosnian Croat prisoners, beheading a Serbian soldier, and abusing prisoners. AG

Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, visited Montenegro on July 9 in a visit seemingly intended to build on the breakthrough achieved when Montenegrin forces arrested war crimes indictee Vlastimir Djordjevic in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19 and 22, 2007). Local media reported that Del Ponte and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic agreed that Montenegro's cooperation with the ICTY is good, while the news service Balkan Insight quoted Vujanovic as saying that Del Ponte "welcomed" a Montenegrin request for more evidence of war crimes committed in Montenegro. According to Radio Montenegro, Del Ponte said that "we will discuss further cooperation because [of] the fact that Djordjevic was able to hide here for a long time without being detected, and under the false name of Karadzic." She said she planned to discuss later in the meeting "how to find out how many Karadzics live in Montenegro and maybe we can find the real one," a reference to Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, one of the two men most wanted by the ICTY. Del Ponte reiterated that she has "no idea" where Karadzic is hiding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). He has in the past been thought to have found refuge in monasteries in Montenegro. AG

Albania's parliament on July 9 failed to choose a new president, raising the possibility of early parliamentary elections, local and international media reported on July 10. The governing coalition's candidate, Bamir Topi, secured 75 of the 140 votes available, nine short of the three-fifths majority required and five fewer than the seats it holds in parliament. The decision of the largest ruling party, the Democrats, to choose as its candidate its deputy head, Topi, incurred criticism from the opposition, and Topi temporarily withdrew his candidacy on July 3 as efforts to find a consensus candidate gathered pace. After several more days of talks and mutual recriminations, the government and opposition appeared to have agreed that the country's military representative to NATO, Brigadier General Arjan Zaimi, should be president. However, that agreement fell through when the government made its consent conditional on a package of reforms, including one that would shorten the mandate of the chief prosecutor, Theodhori Sollaku, whom Prime Minister Sali Berisha said on July 9 is blocking the fight against corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2006). Topi's opponent in the vote, Fatos Nano, a former prime minister and longtime leader of the Socialist Party, gathered just three votes. However, Nano's decision to run for the presidency was controversial, and the rest of the Socialist Party boycotted the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11 and May 14, 2007). The parliament failed in two previous rounds to hold a vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2006). Failure to choose a president after five rounds or by July 24 would trigger parliamentary elections. The Socialists' leader, Edi Rama, said after the vote that "the Socialists were switching on their engines for early elections." Albanians last went to the polls in a general election in July 2005. Albania's parliamentary system relegates the president to a largely symbolic role, except in periods of crisis. AG

A Moldovan appeals court on July 9 freed Valeriu Pasat, a former defense minister jailed for alleged abuse of his position in the sale of 21 fighter planes to the United States, local media reported the same day. An explanation of the decision is expected within a month. Pasat was arrested in March 2005 and sentenced to 10 years in prison in January 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2006). Pasat's alleged crime was a decision in 1997 to accept a $40 million offer from the United States for 21 MiG-29 fighters, even though Iran was offering $90 million. This is the second time that an appeals court has overturned a conviction against Pasat. Pasat was jailed in 2006 for selling grenade launchers to a Slovak company at a discount in 1998, a ruling that was subsequently overturned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2006). AP reported that a U.S. government representative testified in Pasat's latest trial that Moldova could have faced economic sanctions had it sold the planes to a hostile country such as Iran. Pasat served as defense minister from 1997 to 1999 and as the head of Moldova's intelligence service from 2000 to 2002. Pasat was also indicted in February 2006 for plotting both a coup and the murder of a senior politician (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006). Pasat has argued that the cases against him were politically motivated. AG

RFE/RL recently spoke with Jarrett Blanc, a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellow and a visiting scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where he is researching elections conducted amid civil conflict, about the challenges of conducting elections in conflict zones like Afghanistan and Iraq or in postconflict environments like Kosovo.

RFE/RL: Is it possible to have free and fair elections in conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan?

Jarrett Blanc: No. The idea is almost necessarily paradoxical for a few reasons. One is that elections are necessarily dependent on the rule of law. They are legal institutions. And so, where the law does not exist or the law is not enforceable, then elections are quite limited in what they can achieve. And from a security perspective, you have to expect that if a government is unable to protect its citizens on the average day, it is going to be unable to protect its citizens on the especially tense election day.

RFE/RL: If it's not possible to have free and fair elections in conflict zones, this suggests that the very nature of the election would be empowering one or another faction that is involved in the conflict. So does this mean that elections in conflict zones contribute more to the conflict than to conflict resolution?

Blanc: I'm not sure that it necessarily contributes more to conflict as opposed to conflict resolution. I think, though, that your question is leading in exactly the right direction -- which is that you have to think about the election within the broader context of the conflict and not imagine that you can recreate the political dynamics of a country simply because you're going to have an election. The people who are armed -- who are fighting the war -- are still going to be there. And if you haven't strategized about how the election is going to either contribute to terminating or contribute to worsening the conflict, you're probably not going to have a particularly good strategic outcome.

RFE/RL: Let's take a step back and look at sources of insecurity in elections within conflict areas. Perhaps we can divide them into three different categories. There are ongoing conflicts -- that is, combat situations. There are postconflict situations. And then there is insecurity that comes from the failure of the rule of law. How does each of these different sources of insecurity hamper the goal of fostering democracy through the ballot box?

Blanc: If we start with your first category of ongoing conflict, we need to remember that civil war and elections are essentially political activities with the same aim -- which is control of state power. And so, the way that an ongoing conflict hampers the objective of an election in a broad sense is that it is trying to achieve the same thing. The armed combatants are trying to take control of state power. And chances are they are not going to respect the results of the election. They are going to respect the results of the conflict.

RFE/RL: Would you define Afghanistan as an ongoing conflict or as a postconflict situation? How does that threaten future elections and the establishment of democracy there?

Blanc: Afghanistan is complicated partially because the different regions of the country are so different. But I would say that altogether it is still a conflictive situation. I think that in terms of the number of battle deaths per year, it meets most academic definitions of a civil war. And there hasn't been a recognized termination of the war. In other words, the majority of the combatants have not agreed to end the war on certain terms. And so I think that, for that reason, it is probably still a conflict situation or an ongoing civil war.

RFE/RL: In the case of Iraq, there have been elections which were hailed as a success because of a large voter turnout. But in the aftermath of those elections, there hasn't been any breakthrough on power sharing. What are your thoughts about the possibility of those elected officials in Iraq coming together on some kind of a power-sharing agreement?

Blanc: It's possible, but I don't think it is particularly likely. I think that if you look at the dynamics of the civil war in Iraq, the bad news is that, comparing it to other similar conflicts, the chances are that we are going to see a civil war that escalates -- gets worse and probably increases its regional component -- before you see the level of exhaustion that would be necessary to come to a negotiated solution. In theory, could the elected members of the [Iraqi] parliament, representing their communities [and] representing the armed factions to which they are close, come to some kind of an agreement and then hope that the armed factions will abide by and enforce that agreement? It is possible. But I don't think it is particularly likely.

RFE/RL: What criticisms do you have about the U.S. approach to democratic transition in Iraq?

Blanc: The U.S. strategy of benchmarks is misguided. And it is misguided because the benchmarks describe a political settlement that seems just and equitable to us. But we don't have direct contact with virtually any of the combatant forces in Iraq. We don't talk to Ayatollah [Ali] al-Sistani. We don't talk to the military leaders of [radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-]Sadr's armies. We don't even know who the Sunni military leaders are, let alone talk directly to them. The idea that a solution that seems equitable to us necessarily addresses the red lines of the combatants, I think, is very naive.

RFE/RL: How does the security situation on the ground in a postconflict environment like Kosovo impact the goal of establishing democracy?

Blanc: It really varies a great deal on what was the conflict and how was the conflict ended. For example, in Kosovo, where the conflict ended with both a fairly general agreement and with an overwhelming international peacekeeping force, you are able to conduct reasonably good elections where the outcome of the election is not necessarily determined by the military strength of the combatants. Where the postconflict situation, or the postconflict settlement, is more tenuous -- and I'm thinking here, perhaps, of Lebanon -- then the best you could hope for is probably some kind of power-sharing arrangement that is sealed by the election as opposed to a genuine expression of popular sovereignty.

RFE/RL: How does the failure of the rule of law impact democratic transformation in countries that are recovering from recent conflicts? And what impact can the election laws themselves have?

Blanc: In a way, we're mixing two problems. One is the failure of the rule of law from a perspective of election security -- and whether elections can be genuine expressions of popular sovereignty. There are instances here -- for example, a number of instances in Africa, in Nigeria, in South America, in Guyana -- where the state simply doesn't have good control over the security situation. And so, party-based violence or election-based violence can end up corrupting the result of the election. That's one set of problems. Another set of problems are the specifics of an election law and whether an election law is designed in order to produce a genuinely representative result.

RFE/RL: If we look at Afghanistan in this same way, the language of the electoral laws -- particularly with the parliamentary elections -- what we see happening in the Afghan parliament is that some members of parliament who are alleged to be war criminals have been declaring amnesty for themselves. There is a lot of frustration among ordinary Afghans about the idea that people who should be put on trial for war crimes are now lawmakers who are giving themselves immunity from prosecution. There also are questions about tribal voting blocs in Afghanistan that support strongmen of their ethnicity, or even from different clans within ethnic groups. What are the lessons that Afghanistan and the international community can learn from the way the Afghan elections have been conducted?

Blanc: You've identified a couple of very interesting problems with the Afghan process. Some of them probably could not have been addressed. And some of them could have been addressed a little better than they were. The one that I think could not have been addressed is this issue of the failure to disqualify people who are warlords or have committed war crimes. The international community and the government of Afghanistan simply do not have the kind of security control, military control of the territory, that would make those kinds of disqualifications possible. We could do that in Bosnia[-Herzegovina]. We could do that in Kosovo because there was an overwhelming international military force to enforce the decision and make sure that protests didn't get out of hand. If you tried to disqualify these actors in Afghanistan, you simply would have thrown the entire political process off-track. So if you want to have that kind of control -- if you want to be able to completely reshape who are the leaders of the country -- you need to invest the sort of military force that makes that possible. And that is something that has never happened in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: What problems do you see with the way Afghanistan's election laws have been written?

Blanc: The Afghans chose a fairly unusual system of representation called a "single nontransferable vote." Suffice it to say that it is not particularly widely used in the world. And one of the reasons that it is not particularly widely used is that it has a strange paradoxical effect. On the one hand, it makes party formation difficult. And on the other hand, it very strongly rewards parties that do manage to organize themselves and get a little bit better organized than their competitors. And I think that you are seeing that now in the assembly. They simply do not have the level of party discipline. Each individual member is an independent actor. That makes it very difficult to get policy through. And it makes it very difficult for the voters to hold individual representatives ideologically accountable -- have you done what the party platform said you were going to do? One very unfortunate result of the system of representation that they chose is that about 70 percent of the votes cast in the parliamentary election went to candidates who didn't win. So only 30 percent of the votes went to winning candidates. And it is not hard to understand why people might be frustrated, or feel unrepresented by a parliament that is made up of winners with only 30 percent of the popular vote.

RFE/RL: Your criticisms about Afghanistan's election laws and the way they were implemented suggest that rather than contributing to conflict resolution, Afghanistan's elections could be enhancing conflict between paramilitary factions or militia groups.

Blanc: In principle, I don't necessarily agree with the idea that simply because the leaders or people who are linked to armed groups are in the assembly, that the assembly or the election cannot contribute to some sort of pacification process. In a way, I think it is the opposite. So long as you don't have the military force to address the militia problem, it might be -- at least in some situations -- better to have people inside the tent than outside of the tent. If you don't have the leaders of the militia in the assembly, it is quite possible that the assembly just doesn't mean anything.

RFE/RL: Any final thoughts about the lessons of the elections in Iraq and what impact the democratic process can have on the future of the conflict there?

Blanc: For the people of Iraq, the only thing that we can all have is the greatest of respect at the repeated courage they have shown in going out to vote in the face of tremendous threats -- and great sympathy and regret for the fact that the elections were not, to my mind, better designed strategically to contribute to a termination of the conflict. At this point in the conflict, I'm not convinced that a political process like an election can mean very much. Probably, it is going to take a little bit of time -- either some sort of negotiated solution or, unfortunately, an exhaustion of the civil war, before we can meaningfully start talking about what elections can contribute again.

RFE/RL: What final advice would you give to Afghanistan about the way the next elections are conducted there?

Blanc: In Afghanistan, I think the situation is more ambiguous. Over time, we might see that Afghan governments -- including [those empowered as] a result of the [last] elections and the result of future elections -- might be able to slowly negotiate improved conditions and a reduction in conflict. I think you've seen that in parts of the country already. I hope that the Afghans will consider whether some of the technical decisions they made in the first set of elections should be revised before the second set. This issue that I mentioned earlier about the system of representation would be one of them.

(Ron Synovitz is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

Incessant violence against schools and schoolgirls in particular is forcing Afghan parents to make the difficult decision to keep their daughters out of school, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on July 9. Even with armed guards at the gate of the Qalai Sayedan School in Afghanistan's Logar province, where six girls were shot, two fatally, on June 12 as they walked home, only one-quarter of the 1,600 students have taken the risk of returning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). The newspaper quoted one parent, Sayed Rasul, as saying parents would rather keep their children safe at home, "even if it means they must be illiterate." Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar has laid out an aggressive five-year plan for improving education, and one-third of the children currently enrolled in school are girls, a great achievement in a country where girls' education has been historically undervalued and was forbidden under Taliban rule. Yet most schools have no proper facilities, employ unqualified teachers, and face sporadic attacks, the newspaper reported. JC

Afghanistan's counternarcotics minister, Habibullah Qaderi, has resigned, just weeks after laborers finished cultivating an opium-poppy crop expected to exceed last year's record production, AP reported on July 8. Deputy Minister General Khodaidad on July 8 confirmed the minister's resignation, which was submitted to President Hamid Karzai around July 3. Qaderi's resignation was voluntary and made partly due to health problems, although he is now slated to become Afghanistan's consul-general in Canada. Karzai has not named a replacement for the minister. Qaderi, who became the counternarcotics minister in December 2004, failed to prevent soaring poppy production in Afghanistan's south, where the Taliban insurgency maintains a stronghold. Afghanistan's opium-poppy production in 2006 accounted for more than 90 percent of the world's heroin, and UN officials expect this year's harvest to be even larger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2007). Afghanistan's $3.1 billion drug trade is believed to fund the Taliban's violent campaign against the government. JC

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Dan McNeill, said on July 8 that the number of foreign extremists battling in Afghanistan has risen, and that they use more extreme tactics than the Taliban, AFP reported on July 9. General McNeill, leader of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told AFP that there is an increased number of foreign fighters on the battlefield, although there is no evidence to link the inflow of foreign "jihadists" to groups in Iran or Iraq. Insurgents have demonstrated improved tactics and often appear more organized than before in the presence of foreign fighters, McNeil said. The shift in fighting in Afghanistan from conventional methods to insurgent tactics, such as suicide bombings, has led to claims that fighters who gained experience in Iraq are influencing the Taliban-led insurgency. JC

Afghan and coalition forces killed a senior Taliban leader on July 9 during a raid on a home and a subsequent gun battle in Paktia Province, UPI reported. There are unconfirmed reports that two children were also killed and a woman was injured during the operation, Afgha News reported on July 9. The Taliban commander was identified only as "Commander Saleem," a common alias among Taliban fighters, according to Afgha. U.S. military spokesman Major Chris Belcher said Commander Saleem conducted several attacks on security forces and used propaganda to "terrorize" citizens in his role as a Taliban communications officer, UPI reported. Belcher said "it is in the best interest of the community to remove the terrorists and extremists who endanger their families," implying that the house targeted in the raid belonged to Commander Saleem and his family. JC

Iranian police and security agents arrested six or seven students at the entrance to Amir Kabir University on July 9, Radio Farda reported. The students were members of the central council of the Office to Consolidate Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, or DTV), Iran's main umbrella student grouping, and an affiliated group, the Islamic Iran Graduates Organization, which includes former DTV members. The activists reportedly gathered to mark the anniversary of protests in Tehran in 1999 that began with a police raid on a Tehran University dormitory. The detainees reportedly include prominent activists Abdullah Momeni, Mohammad Hashemi, and Ali Nikunesbati. Hours before his arrest, Momeni told Radio Farda that students were also planning to protest against the continued detention of eight students of Tehran's Amir Kabir University, arrested weeks ago for their alleged involvement in the publication of impious university pamphlets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 13, and 18, 2007). VS

Ahmad Khatami, a Tehran cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts, the body of clerics that ostensibly oversees the supreme leader's office, on July 8 condemned the 1999 riots as the work of "the counterrevolution" and "enemies" hoping to topple Iran's regime, IRNA reported. The riots that began in downtown Tehran on July 9, 1999, with the participation of students and apparently members of the public, were the worst unrest in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Khatami told IRNA that security and judicial officials should now inform the public, "if appropriate," of the identities of the "domestic and hidden backers" of several days of street riots. He said "American authorities and all counterrevolutionaries" expressed joy at the time over an "uprising" that ended in the "misery and embarrassment of the counterrevolution" and the "glorious and epic support" of Iranians for the Velayat-i Faqih, the clerical government in Iran. Khatami said, however, that he accepts as a "separate issue" student unrest in July 1999 over the closure of a reformist daily. VS

Iran's automotive industry is to stop producing cars that run only on gasoline, and will as of July 23 begin manufacturing cars that run on gasoline and liquefied gas, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on July 8, citing remarks made the previous day by Industry Minister Alireza Tahmasebi. The minister was quoted as saying that recently produced cars will gradually be adapted to run on both fuels. The move is part of Iran's efforts to drastically cut gasoline consumption. A former secretary of the Carmakers Association (Anjoman-i khodrosazan), Davud Mirkhani-Rashti, told ISNA on July 7 that the cost of the changes could bankrupt some car manufacturers. He said carmakers will either have to pass the extra costs on to buyers, causing a sudden increase in car prices, or cut their profits. VS

Iranian police and agents have killed 50 drug dealers in the past three months in gun fights, and seized more than 110 tons of drugs, Radio Farda reported on July 5, citing Iranian state television. The drug seizures include 85 tons of opium and 5 tons of heroin, the report stated. It added that Iran seized 429 tons of drugs last year, 24 percent more than the previous year. It was not clear from the report if the time period was 2006, or the Persian year to March 20, 2007. Iran is fighting drug abuse and trafficking by various means, including a crackdown along Iran's eastern borders -- the principal entry zone for drugs -- and obligatory treatment for detained addicts. VS

Iranian media report that conservatives or fundamentalists are looking to forge a electoral front with the help of a coordinating committee of prominent conservatives, who may be able to persuade various right-wing factions to work together in parliamentary polls set for next March. There are conflicting reports about the names and number of members. The daily "Etemad" reported on July 8 that five prominent conservatives, including Asadollah Badamchian, Sadeq Mahsuli and Hussein Fadai, are members of a central council of the United Front of Fundamentalists (Jebhe-yi mottahed-i osulgarayan), though six more members may join. Parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel has rejected reports that he is a member, and "Etemad" speculated that the membership of the council may change before the elections, or it may disband. It noted the failure of conservatives' last attempt, in the 2005 presidential elections, to have a coordinating council impose a consensual right-wing candidate. "Aftab-i Yazd," citing the Fars news agency, on July 9 also reported the formation of a conservative committee, although it was unclear if it was referring to the same committee but with a different list of members, or a different group. It stated that a five-man committee, including a former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, has been chosen from among elements approved by various pro-government, "progressive," and traditionalist right-wing groups. VS

The Foreign Ministry has appointed Hussein Amirabdullahian as Iran's new ambassador to Bahrain, replacing Mohammad Farazmand, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on July 9. Amirabdullahian is currently the head of the special Iraq headquarters at the Foreign Ministry, and previously worked as a deputy ambassador in Baghdad and as a deputy to the Iranian foreign minister's special representative for Iraqi affairs, the daily stated. VS

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on July 9 denied recent reports that he is spearheading a movement calling for a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, KUNA reported. He also denied a purported meeting with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in May to discuss a no-confidence vote, and described those reports as "baseless." During an interview with Radio Sawa the same day, al-Hashimi reaffirmed his support for al-Maliki. "When we decide that the al-Maliki government no longer has our trust, we shall declare this publicly and without hesitation.... We realize our standing within the state of Iraq and are still loyal to the leadership, and we would not stand for any interference in our political affairs, including our relationship with colleagues and future changes in government," al-Hashimi said. On July 8, CBS News reported that the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front was preparing to call a no-confidence vote against al-Maliki on July 15. CBS also said al-Hashimi and Cheney discussed the formation of a new broad-based political front called the "Iraq Project" during a meeting in Baghdad on May 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). SS

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari issued a statement on July 9 expressing deep concern over what he called a massive buildup of Turkish forces along the border with Iraq, international media reported. Zebari said that according to intelligence assessments, Turkey has amassed as many as 140,000 troops along the border, and he urged restraint on the part of Ankara. The Turkish government has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Iraqi governments of not doing enough to combat militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are using northern Iraq as a base to carry out attacks in Turkey. Since 2004, Turkey has warned that if nothing is done against the rebel group, Ankara will launch unilateral military operations in northern Iraq. On June 30, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said a plan has been finalized for a military incursion into Iraq to pursue the PKK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). "We are trying to defuse this tension," Zebari said. "We think the best thing is to revive the security working group [and address] all legitimate Turkish concerns about the PKK, the security issue, and cross-border incursions." SS

Foreign Minister Zebari warned during a July 9 press conference that a quick U.S. troop pullout from Iraq would lead to civil war and the collapse of the Iraqi state, international media reported. He added that the United States has a responsibility to build up the Iraqi forces so that they can fully take over security operations. Zebari made the statement in response to a July 9 "New York Times" report which indicated that some U.S. officials, fearing the loss of more Republican support, are considering a gradual pullout of U.S. troops from "high-casualty areas." "We have held discussions with members of Congress and explained to them the dangers of a quick pullout and leaving a security vacuum," Zebari said. "The dangers could be a civil war, dividing the country, regional wars, and the collapse of the state. In our estimation, until Iraqi forces are ready, there is a responsibility on the United States, which is to stand with the [Iraqi government] as the forces are being built," he added. SS

Followers of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on July 9 denied reports that he went to Iran after a war of words erupted between his supporters and Prime Minister al-Maliki, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported. Falah Shanshal, a member of the al-Sadr movement in parliament, said that al-Sadr has not left Iraq and is currently in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf. Reuters on July 8 quoted a U.S. military source as saying al-Sadr left for Iran to avoid a crackdown by U.S. forces. Another lawmaker loyal to al-Sadr, Abd al-Razzaq al-Nidawi, told Al-Arabiyah satellite television that the report was "another of the American lies that seek to tear down the al-Sadr trend and its grass roots." On July 7, al-Maliki called on al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, to completely disarm, and said the militia has been infiltrated by terrorists and ex-Ba'athists. Al-Sadr's followers then accused al-Maliki of giving U.S. forces a green light to attack the militia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). SS

An audio recording purportedly of a former Iraqi vice president and current Iraqi Ba'ath Party leader, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, says U.S. troops are facing defeat in Iraq and that his group will continue to fight foreign forces, AP reported on July 8. The news agency has acquired a copy of the recording, but its authenticity could not be verified. On the recording, al-Duri lists several conditions for an end to the "resistance," including foreign forces' unconditional withdrawal, their agreement to take responsibility "for all the crimes they committed against the Iraqi people," and compensation for "all the losses that resulted from the occupation." "My dear comrades, your enemy is collapsing and is being defeated, and so are its followers, agents, and spies as a result of your giant jihadi march," the speaker says. He also criticizes the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government's de-Ba'athification process, which has purged thousands of former Ba'ath party members from their government positions. Al-Duri was named Ba'ath Party leader on January 1, replacing former President Saddam Hussein, who was executed on December 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). SS

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Abd al-Karim al-Khalaf said that more than 11,000 personnel, including several high-ranking officers, have been dismissed from the ministry for corruption and links to sectarian factions, "Al-Zaman" reported on July 9. "The firings were made when it was found that the officers were implicated in undermining law and order and involvement in sectarian leanings, as well as disloyalty," al-Khalaf said. He also estimated that the purge, coupled with joint U.S.-Iraqi security operations, has led to an almost 80 percent reduction in sectarian killings. SS