Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - July 26, 2007

President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of military and intelligence officers on July 25 that Russia must strengthen its military and espionage capacities in response to the planned U.S. missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and any deployment of U.S. troops in Eastern Europe, and news agencies reported. He argued that "the situation in the world and internal political interests require the Foreign Intelligence Service to permanently increase its capabilities, primarily in the field of information and analytical support for the country's leadership." Putin did not identify specific targets, but both Britain and the United States recently reported increases in Russian espionage activity to Cold War levels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30 and April 13, 2007). Putin also said on July 25 that Washington has left "unanswered" his offers of alternatives to its proposed missile-defense installations, but he did not mention U.S. officials' statements that they are studying the proposals. Putin added that "all-round strengthening of our military forces is one of our indisputable priorities." Referring to his recent suspension of Russia's compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), he noted that the treaty counted weapons in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as part of what was once the Soviet Baltic Military District. He told the assembled officers: "Maybe I should appoint one of you as its commander?" Since his aggressive speech in Munich on February 10, Putin has frequently engaged in tough rhetoric that "The Economist" recently described as "neurotic bluster" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12 and 13, and June 4 and 5, 2007). It was a favorite Soviet propaganda or negotiating tactic to take the role of the injured victim before announcing a long-planned political or military move, which was then presented as a response to a Western "provocation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). PM

On July 25, the weekly "Literaturnaya gazeta" published an article entitled "No Longer Ashamed Of Our Country" that argues that Russia "did the right thing" in suspending its compliance with the CFE Treaty. The paper quoted military analyst and retired Major General Aleksandr Vladimirov as saying that "we need to show everyone that the era of humiliation and collapse associated with [the 1990s] is gone and won't come back. We should not join any dubious alliances or comply with treaties of dubious origin. Our task, and our right, is to follow our security strategy precisely. I hope that a program for such a strategy [to cover the period] up to 2050 will soon be adopted by our state and military leadership." PM

The research ship "Akademik Fyodorov," which began an expedition from Murmansk to the Barents Sea earlier this week to lay claim to the North Pole, resumed its voyage on July 26 after the crew fixed an engine problem, Interfax reported. State Duma deputy Artur Chilingarov of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, who is leading the expedition, said recently on state-run television that "the Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf." The Arctic Sea bed is believed to be rich in mineral wealth. Under international law, Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (through Greenland) control an economic zone within 320 kilometers of their continental shelf, but the exact size of that shelf is disputed. Russian polar exploration has a long and heroic tradition dating from the Soviet era. If Russia were to press its claim to the sea bed, it is not clear whether it has the technology to extract the mineral wealth, including oil. It is currently unable to develop some potential fields on its own territory without foreign assistance. PM

Opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov wrote in "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" of July 26 that anyone who wants to know how President Putin's Russia works should read Mario Puzo's "The Godfather," "Omerta," and other books on the mafia. Kasparov argues that "Putin's government is unique in history. This Kremlin is part oligarchy, with a small, tightly connected gang of wealthy rulers. It is partly a feudal system, broken down into semi-autonomous fiefdoms in which payments are collected from the serfs, who have no rights. Over this there is a democratic coat of paint, just thick enough to gain entry into the [Group of Eight countries] G8 and keep the oligarchy's money safe in Western banks." Kasparov wrote that "the web of betrayals, the secrecy, the blurred lines between what is business, what is government, and what is criminal -- it's all there in...Puzo's books.... [One notes] the strict hierarchy, the extortion, the intimidation, the code of secrecy and, above all, the mandate to keep the revenue flowing. In other words, a mafia." Kasparov argued that "the Yukos case has become a model. Private companies are absorbed into the state while at the same time the assets of the state companies move into private accounts. [Aleksandr] Litvinenko was a KGB agent who broke the loyalty code by fleeing to Britain. Worse, he violated the law of 'omerta' by going to the press and even publishing books about the dirty deeds of...Putin and his foot soldiers. Instead of being taken fishing in the old-fashioned Godfather style, he was killed in London in the first recorded case of nuclear terrorism." Kasparov added that "now the Kremlin is refusing to hand over the main suspect in the murder," Andrei Lugovoi. PM

Opposition leader Kasparov noted in his article "Don Putin" in "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" of July 26 that "after years of showing no respect for the law in Russia, with no resulting consequences from abroad, it should not come as a surprise that [President] Putin's attitude extends to international relations as well." Kasparov pointed out that "with energy prices so high, the temptation to sell out to the Kremlin is an offer you almost can't refuse. [Former German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder could not resist doing business with...Putin on his terms and, after pushing through a Baltic Sea pipeline deal while in office, he had a nice Gazprom job waiting for him when he left the chancellorship." Kasparov stressed that "we in the Russian opposition have been saying for a long time that our problem would soon be the world's problem. The mafia knows no borders. Nuclear terror is not out of the question if it fits in with the Kremlin business agenda. Expelling diplomats and limiting official visits is not going to have an impact." He urged the West not to break off business contacts with Russia, but to realize their limitations, because "the mafia takes, it does not give.... Putin has discovered that when dealing with Europe and America, he can always exchange worthless promises of reform for cold, hard cash.... [Murder suspect Andrei] Lugovoi may yet find himself up for sale." Kasparov suggested that Western countries limit "the Russian ruling elite's visits to their properties in the West. Ironically, they like to keep their money where they can trust in the rule of law, and so far...Putin and his wealthy supporters have every reason to believe their money is safe." PM

Several hundred people gathered at a monument in Moscow on July 25 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin's Great Purge of 1937-38, which claimed up to 2 million victims, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Sergei Volkov, chairman of the Russian Association of Victims of Political Repression, noted that "not a single top [state] official" came to lay flowers at the monument, which is located in front of the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB). He said that "there's a law [in Russia] on the rehabilitation of the victims of political repressions that was drafted by us, by public organizations, and was adopted and signed in 1991 by President [Boris] Yeltsin." Volkov added that the law "states clearly that the state recognizes its guilt. Today, for some reason, nobody talks about it." Yury Brodsky, the director of a museum of the victims of political repression at Solovki on the northern Solovetsky Islands, said it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to archives about the purges in recent years. He stressed that "until a proper assessment of what happened is made, we won't be able to develop further, and there is always a possibility of a recurrence of what happened in one form or another." President Putin recently sought to play down the importance of the purges and other unsavory aspects of Russian and Soviet history, claiming that German Nazism and the United States' use of nuclear weapons in 1945 were far worse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 and July 10, 2007). On July 25, the respected Levada Center released the results of a poll of 1,802 respondents aged 16-19 entitled "The Putin Generation: The Political Views Of Russia's Youth," Reuters reported. When asked if Stalin was a wise leader, half of the respondents said yes. About 54 percent said that he did more good than bad. PM

A police spokesman announced in Moscow on July 25 that police used a sting operation to break up a three-year-old gang selling spare parts for the Tupolev-154 passenger jet and Ilyushin-76 cargo plane from the Saturn engine plant, which is Russia's biggest jet-engine maker, to foreign and domestic buyers, news agencies reported. The spokesman noted that some members of the gang are current or former employees of Saturn, which is located in Rybinsk, north of Moscow, on the Volga River. He did not disclose the names of the buyers. There have been several crashes and other incidents involving Russian carriers in recent years that have been ascribed at least in part to the use of retooled or bootleg parts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2006). PM

Nikolai Kiselyov, the governor of Arkhangelsk Oblast, denied on July 25 that he accepted a bribe, which he was purportedly shown taking in a video posted on July 11 on the web site of declared presidential candidate and Arkhangelsk Mayor Aleksandr Donskoi, reported on July 26. Following the posting, Donskoi was arrested under humiliating circumstances. He previously said that he has been subject to various forms of harassment by the authorities since announcing his candidacy in October 2006. He and Kiselyov have a long-standing feud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007, and "Russia: Mayors In The Crosshairs As 'Power Vertical' Gains Force,", June 21, 2007). PM

Speaking on Ingushetian television on July 25, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev announced that on instructions from Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev an operation has been launched against "bandits" and "militants" who have recently stepped up their operations in that republic, and reported. Yedelev claimed that the Ingush population is alarmed and outraged by "recent developments," but did not explain whether he was referring to the ongoing abductions of Ingush men in neighboring North Ossetia or the July 21 attack on President Murat Zyazikov's motorcade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 23, 2007). During the night of July 25-26, unknown gunmen opened fire from mortars on the permanent base in Nazran of the Russian Interior Ministry forces deployed in Ingushetia, and reported. No casualties were reported in that attack. LF

The self-styled Mudjaheds of Kabarda and Balkaria have claimed responsibility for the deaths in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) of police officer Zaur Khamdokhov and police Major Akhmat Teberdiyev, "Caucasus Times" reported on July 26. Khamdokhov was killed in early June by an explosive device that detonated in his car; Teberdiyev was shot late on July 23 as he parked his car at his home in Tyrnyayuz, and died of his injuries two days later, and reported. LF

Azerbaijani National Security Ministry personnel arrested Musfiq Huseynov, a journalist with the opposition newspaper "Bizim yol" (Our Path), late on July 24 as he accepted a bribe of $3,500 from Rizvan Aliyev, a senior Labor and Social Security Ministry official, reported on July 25 quoting a statement from the Prosecutor-General's Office. According to, Huseynov demanded that payment in return for not publishing compromising materials about Aliyev. The National Security Ministry personnel then conducted a search of Huseynov's apartment and confiscated two computers. Huseynov has criticized the government's economic policies and written a number of articles on corruption, including one that focused on Aliyev's ministry, but he also cited comment from Aliyev personally. During questioning on July 25, Huseynov denied accepting a bribe. He said he took money from Aliyev in order to give to a third person, but apparently did not explain to whom or for what purpose. LF

Baku's Military Court on July 25 sentenced Lieutenant Colonel Rasim Muradov to three months' pretrial detention on charges of soliciting bribes from conscripts when he held the post of chairman of the commission that oversaw induction into the army and discharge into the reserve, reported. Muradov incurred the wrath of his senior officers by requesting to be allowed to retire after 21 years' military service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 19, and 25, 2007). Uzeir Djafarov, a fellow officer who heads a committee to protect Muradov's rights, was quoted on July 25 by as pointing out that the charge of accepting a bribe is unfounded as Muradov did not have the authority to issue individual deferments. He also noted that Muradov was a member of a commission that investigated and confirmed allegations that Azerbaijani troops serving as peacekeepers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosova did not receive the full special pay to which they are entitled. LF

The commission established earlier this month by President Mikheil Saakashvili to determine the future status within Georgia of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia met for the first time late on July 24 under its chairman, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, Caucasus Press reported. The commission established five working groups that will focus respectively on legal and constitutional issues, finance, education, culture, and the economy. Noghaideli said he hopes opposition representatives will participate in the commission's work. At its July 24 session, oppositionist Ivliane Khaindrava submitted for discussion proposals for South Ossetia's status drafted by his Republican party two years ago. Noghaideli also tasked Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili with persuading Russia and the EU to name representatives to the commission, reported. But Interfax quoted Russian Ambassador to Tbilisi Vyacheslav Kovalenko as saying he very much doubts that Russia will accept that invitation. Commission member Dmitry Sanakoyev, named by Saakashvili in May to head an alternative pro-Tbilisi provisional government in South Ossetia, argued that representatives of South Ossetia and North Ossetia should be encouraged to participate in the commission's work. LF

Yevgeniy Sloboda, the head of the CIS observer mission deployed to monitor the August 18 elections to the Mazhilis, or lower house of the Kazakh parliament, on July 25 endorsed the election campaign as open and transparent, Kazakhstan Today reported. Speaking in Astana, Sloboda said the CIS observers have met with Kazakh Central Election Commission members throughout the Akmola and Pavlodar districts and in the capital, Astana, noting that they "are doing all they can to ensure that the election is transparent and open." "We have not logged [any] serious violations so far," he said. The CIS election-observer mission comprises about 400 observers and is formally led by Vladimir Rushailo, the CIS executive secretary and former head of the Russian National Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2007). RG

The chairman of the Kazakh presidential commission on human rights, Saginbek Tursunov, on July 25 complained that a number of laws do not comply with international standards, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. In an address to a conference in Astana, Tursunov said, "some of our laws do not comply with the international conventions that we have ratified in our parliament," and pointed to "discrepancies" between Kazakh laws and international standards "protecting human life and children's rights." He also reported that, for the first time, the state commission on human rights has implemented an evaluation of Kazakh legislation together with international organizations, academic experts, and representatives from Kazakhstan's civil society in a process leading to the government's modification of several bills. At the same conference, Kazakh Supreme Court Judge Raisa Yurchenko also criticized the fact that citizens' access to justice is "not fully ensured," and noted that "access to justice [means] impartiality of courts, openness and transparency of court hearings, the right to receive qualified legal advice, the right to be heard at a trial and be present at a trial on his/her case, and the implementation of a court ruling in a timely way." RG

At a press conference in Dushanbe, Finance Minister Safarali Nadzhmuddinov on July 25 released a new statistical report showing a sharp increase in Tajikistan's foreign debt, Asia-Plus reported. According to the report, foreign debt grew by about $20.48 million since the beginning of the year, reaching a total of $886.83 million, or more than 28 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The minister also reported that the Tajik government has implemented the planned increases in investment outlined in the state budget adopted last November, including greater spending in several key areas, most notably the education, health-care, and agriculture sectors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 27, 2006). RG

At a ceremony in Dushanbe on July 25, unnamed senior officials of the Tajik Interior Ministry formally thanked U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Tracey Jacobson for the donation of a sizable amount of new equipment presented by the U.S. Embassy, Asia-Plus reported. The United States provided the Tajik Interior Ministry with equipment and facilities worth more than $1.4 million, including a complete forensic laboratory and a police academy training center. The U.S. assistance, channeled through the U.S. State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance Program, is part of a broader $15 million effort to assist Tajik law enforcement personnel. The assistance effort began in 2005 and has included specific assistance for the Tajik Counternarcotics Unit and Trafficking in Persons/Organized Crime Unit, as well as aid in modernizing computer and language-training classrooms and advanced investigative equipment for local police. RG

Zohid Mirzaev, an Uzbek refugee who was detained after crossing the Czech-German border earlier in July, was released on July 25 from Czech custody, according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. Both Mirzaev and fellow refugee Omanullo Maqsudov were detained by Czech police, acting on an Interpol warrant filed by the Uzbek authorities, who are seeking the two refugees' extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2007). Although Germany has granted both men refugee status, Maqsudov remains in custody awaiting a court ruling on the extradition request. A similar case came to light in November 2001, when prominent Uzbek opposition leader and poet Muhammad Solih was detained by Czech police acting on an Uzbek extradition request, despite the fact that he had been granted political asylum in Norway and was only in the Czech Republic to attend a conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30 and December 11 and 12, 2001). RG

Alyaksandr Milinkevich, leader of the opposition Movement for Freedom, told journalists on July 25 that more than 60 opposition activists have been detained throughout Belarus within the past five days, Belapan reported. The wave of arrests reportedly came as a preemptive measure ahead of a planned opposition protest in Minsk on July 27, which is to coincide with the 17th anniversary of Belarus's Declaration of State Sovereignty. In addition to four youth opposition activists jailed on July 24 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2007), Belarusian courts have also handed down jail sentences ranging from seven to 15 days to Alyaksey Shydlouski, Syarzhuk Klyuyeu, Alyaksey Bondar, Valyantsin Sakalouski, Alyaksandr Charnyshou, Kiryl Matskevich, and Uladzimir Syarheyeu. "We call for an end to political harassment by the authorities and the immediate release of [Pavel] Sevyarynets and [Alyaksey] Shein, and all other political prisoners in Belarus, including former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin," the U.S. Embassy in Belarus said in a statement on July 25. Sevyarynets and Shein were jailed on July 24 for 15 days each. JM

A trainload of toxic yellow phosphorus gathered from the scene of a recent train derailment in Lviv Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 23, 2007) left for Kazakhstan on July 26, accompanied by two fire-fighting trains, Interfax-Ukraine reported, quoting Ukraine's Emergency Situations Ministry. The train derailment on July 16 spilled several tanks of liquid yellow phosphorus, which caught fire, releasing a toxic cloud. More than 100 people, including 20 children, are still hospitalized as a result. The cargo, dispatched by Kazakhstan's Kazfosfat company, which makes yellow phosphorus and fertilizers, was traveling to Poland when the train derailed. JM

Diplomats from the six countries that have led international diplomatic efforts in the Balkans since the mid-1990s -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States -- on July 25 agreed to start a new round of talks on the future of Kosova, but failed to agree on a deadline, according to unconfirmed reports in the international media. On July 20, Western powers abandoned efforts to forge a consensus in the UN Security Council, concluding that the Contact Group should take the diplomatic lead in searching for a solution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 23, 2007). The Contact Group reportedly concluded that a troika of mediators -- from the EU, Russia, and the United States -- should first embark on shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Prishtina and then, if possible, convene bilateral talks between Belgrade and Prishtina. Brussels and Washington had wanted talks to last for no more than 120 days, a demand reportedly rejected by Moscow. Russia rejected a similar suggestion during talks held within the framework of the United Nations. Media reports have suggested that direct talks between Kosovar and Serbian leaders could begin as early as August. The Contact Group's talks, which were held in Berlin, were preceded by a range of talks and signals: U.S. officials have reiterated their commitment to independence for Kosova, possibly by the end of the year; the Serbian parliament on July 24 promised to "respond immediately and energetically" if the United States and EU states recognize Kosova as independent without UN support; and Serbia and Russia have both welcomed the Contact Group's decision to lead diplomatic efforts, but insist that any final decision on Kosova's future must be made by the UN Security Council. U.S. doubts about the value of returning the question of Kosova's future to the UN were expressed on July 24 by the U.S. envoy to Kosova, Frank Wisner, who told reporters that "based on last week's experience, I simply don't think it [a return to Security Council] would be a useful path." AG

The UN envoy who recommended that Kosova be granted independence, Martti Ahtisaari, told Finnish public broadcaster Yle on July 25 that he believes his "work is done," and that neither the UN nor the Contact Group have asked him to continue as a mediator. The former Finnish president said, however, that he would be willing to take on "a role as consultant" if asked. Ahtisaari also said he expects the issue of Kosova to return to the UN and that "everyone involved hopes there will be a resolution after these talks." Ahtisaari has consistently been attacked by Serbia and Russia since he presented the plan in early February, both for allegedly not acting as an honest broker and for his recommendations, which would end Serbia's nominal sovereignty over the UN-administered region. Some of those reservations were voiced again in recent days by Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who told the July 24 edition of the Serbian daily "Vecernje novosti" that Ahtisaari "did not do his job well, as the solution was not the result of a compromise. I do not think it would be good to go on with the old envoy." Ahtisaari took up the role of UN envoy in November 2005, but failed to broker an agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina in the ensuing 14 months. The Contact Group did not name a successor to Ahtisaari when it met on July 25. AG

However, the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, on July 24 became the latest of a series of European leaders and officials to insist that any solution for Kosova "should be found in the framework of the Ahtisaari plan," international media reported. U.S. Kosova envoy Wisner expressed a similar view, telling the Kosovar Albanian daily "Express" on July 25 that Washington would not agree to the reopening of key aspects of the Ahtisaari package -- "the provisions on the municipalities, churches, international civil supervision, the presence of NATO...." However, the paper reported that Wisner indicated there is room for talks on a number of issues, including the return of refugees and future relations between Kosova and Serbia. In the four months between Ahtisaari's submission of his recommendation and the failure of efforts to forge a consensus in the UN, Western powers have gradually softened their initially adamantine support for Ahtisaari's plans in a number of ways, agreeing, for instance, to a further fact-finding mission and then to additional bilateral talks on Kosova's future. According to Serbian media reports, during the debate that culminated in a resolution adopted by the Serbian parliament on July 24 in which it vowed never to cede sovereignty over Kosova, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica hailed the withdrawal of the UN resolution as a victory for Serbia after "a long, trench-like battle" and concluded that "Ahtisaari's era is finally over and his plan now belongs to the past." In his interview with "Vecernje novosti," Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic was less definitive in his judgment, saying that there is a "diminishing degree of support" for the Ahtisaari plan. "Initially many countries supported that plan," he said. "Then we reached a stage in which they supported Ahtisaari's efforts, and now we have come to a situation of having Ahtisaari's efforts being used as a basis." AG

The Constitutional Court of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated autonomous region of Bosnia-Herzegovina, ruled on July 25 that the region's anthem "does not reflect the interests of all three constituent peoples" and therefore contravenes a state-level ruling that symbols in the country must be inclusive, local media reported. The new ruling, which was carried by six votes to one, followed a suit brought by Bosnian Muslim politicians in the region. Republika Srpska's parliament on May 31 voted to keep its old anthem, which is the same as Serbia's, but not to use the words (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, June 1 and 12, 2007). The region's president, Milan Jelic, said on July 25 that the anthem, "Boze pravde" (God of Justice), is not insulting and insisted that Republika Srpska institutions should continue to use it "on solemn occasions as a ceremonial song," the news agency SRNA reported. However, Jelic said that he will now ask the parliament to find a new anthem. AG

Forty percent of Bosnian Serbs believe that their wartime leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, should be extradited to stand trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the daily "Nezavisne novine" reported on July 23, citing the results of a poll conducted in mid-June by the marketing agency Strategic Marketing. This is a narrow plurality: a slightly smaller percentage, 37 percent, believe they should not be extradited. A large number (21 percent) are undecided, while 2 percent refused to give an answer. July 25 was the 12th anniversary of their indictment by the ICTY. The ICTY believes Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military leader, is hiding in Serbia, but says it knows nothing about the whereabouts of Karadzic, the wartime political leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has called for the two men to give themselves up, asking rhetorically: "Who are they for a whole nation to suffer for them, both in the Republika Srpska and in Serbia, because a certain Mladic has decided that he does not want to surrender and go to court? Or Karadzic? And then they say -- I love the Serbian people. The hell they love us. They are pushing us into ever deeper problems" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). Ethnic Serbs' support for ICTY trials for Mladic and Karadzic stands in contrast to their view of the ICTY itself: only 28 percent support the work of the tribunal, 63 percent believe defendants do not receive a fair trial in The Hague (33 percent believe they do), and 87 percent believe that the ICTY has "the least favorable attitude" toward the Serbs. In all, 44 percent of Serbs said cooperation with the ICTY is vital for the interests of the Republika Srpska, the autonomous region in which most Serbs live. By contrast, 48 percent thought that it was not vital. In Bosnia-Herzegovina's other autonomous region, the Muslim-Croat Federation, support for the ICTY stands at 76 percent, with 77 percent stating that cooperation is of vital importance. There was also a starkly different view of a ruling in February in which the UN's top court, the International Court of Justice, cleared Serbia of genocide, though it judged the massacre at Srebrenica to be an act of genocide. In the Republika Srpska, 68 percent viewed the ruling as just, while 83 percent in the Muslim-Croat Federation thought it unjust. AG

Independent Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmud Uthman told RFE/RL on July 24 that Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders are still in talks to form a so-called moderates' front in the Iraqi National Assembly. Uthman discussed overtures made to the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party to join the front.

RFE/RL: Can you tell us about the efforts that are being undertaken to form a moderates' front [in the parliament]?

Mahmud Uthman: There are efforts to bring together four parties. Already they have signed some documents [towards this, but] it's not declared yet. They call them moderates because there are other [coalitions] like Sadrists [supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr], like some other parts of the Arab Sunni list and so on.

These four parties, which are Al-Da'wah Party, SCIRI [now SIIC, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council], KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party] and PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan], they have been friends for a long time. They were in the opposition together, so they have a lot of things in common, these people.

They are trying to bring in the Iraqi Islamic Party so there will be at least five [parties], and it will [then] include all the elements of Iraqi society -- the Arab Sunnis, the Arab Shi'ites, the Kurds, and everybody -- and then they will declare [the formation of the front]. So, I don't know whether the efforts [to include] the Islamic Party will succeed or not. They are now in the process of [trying to elicit] others to join the front.

RFE/RL: The Iraqi Islamic Party said two days ago that they have conditions that must be met before they would consider joining the front.

Uthman: Yes, there are some conditions. They say they have been marginalized by the government. They are not part of the decision-making [process] and they think they are marginalized and they think there is no balance in the courts -- the high courts of the state -- they mean between Sunnis and Shi'a. So they think they should be given more attention, the Arab Sunni side should have [a greater] role in the government, and they shouldn't be marginalized.

That means they [should] say which political formula, that means them joining this front, should go [hand in hand] with an executive formula which guarantees that they have more rights in the government.

They have these conditions and they have already presented a memorandum to the prime minister [Nuri al-Maliki]. They have [presented] a memorandum to the Americans [and] to the parliament. So, those things are discussed, two parallel lines -- one political, one executive. We don't know how things will go but we hope there will be some success.

RFE/RL: There were reports in the Iraqi newspapers on July 21 that the cabinet might be changed and maybe there will be a Sunni Arab president. Is there any truth to these reports?

Uthman: There will be a change in the cabinet, but that is only to fill the vacancies. There are now seven vacancies in the cabinet. Six ministries are vacant because the Sadrists withdrew; a seventh position is vacant because an Iraqi deputy minister resigned. Also there is [an eighth] vacant because of the controversy over the Iraqi culture minister [As'ad al-Hashimi, who is accused in a 2005 assassination]....So, there should be eight or seven ministers appointed to fill these vacancies.

This is the only thing which is going on now. But there is no talk of changing the whole cabinet. If those talks on the political and executive changes go [ahead], then there may be a change of a bigger [nature].

RFE/RL: But there's no talk of changing the president?

Uthman: No, there's no talk. Some people...have been saying that it's better to have a Sunni Arab president because the foreign minister is Kurdish and the president is Kurdish, so one of them [in the Sunni Arab view] should be [a Sunni Arab]. But now nobody talks about this, I mean nobody has put any motion [forward] either in the parliament or in the cabinet.

RFE/RL: The Shi'a and the Kurds are hoping that the Islamic Party will join their moderates' front but it doesn't appear that the Islamic Party is prepared to leave the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Uthman: No, they will not leave. Each [party] will not leave its main bloc. There is a cooperation between these parties to create a bigger bloc in parliament to cooperate with each other. But it doesn't mean that any of these parties will leave their original blocs, parliamentarian blocs. They will stay there. But they have the right, according to the blocs' program, to make coalitions in cooperation with other parties within the political process.

RFE/RL: So, the Islamic Party will remain with the Accordance Front, but they may join the moderates' front?

Uthman: Yes.

RFE/RL: Do you believe that the other parties to the Accordance Front will join the moderates' front?

Uthman: I really don't know, but they may because the moderates' front or what they call the moderates' front -- there is no [official] name for it yet -- it is open to other parties [and] the other political parties could join [as well]. [The front] is not closed [to other parties].

RFE/RL: Iyad Allawi has been working to form a new front for secularists. Will he join this front or pursue his own front?

Uthman: Well, Iyad Allawi says there is no secularism [now] and [he believes] everything is based on the sects [religious or ethnic]. But still he is the head of one bloc and he has a party also. It's up to him. As far as I heard from his party, they don't mind if he accepts those principles [of the moderates' front]. He could come into negotiations and join but I think he has no intention to join, based on his previous [public statements].

RFE/RL: KDP head and Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani will travel to Baghdad this week and there are reports that the political parties may meet to discuss the formal establishment of the moderates' front....

Uthman: [Barzani] will be in Baghdad on Tuesday [July 24]...and I think when he comes, we will know a few things about the general issues and about this front also because he is the leader of the Kurdistan region and he is the leader of the [Kurdistan] Democratic Party. So when there is a summit between the political leaders, he will be there and he will join them.

Taliban militants on July 25 killed one of 23 South Korean hostages being held in Ghazni Province as negotiations stalled with the Afghan government over a prisoner exchange, AFP reported. The hostage's bullet-ridden body was found near where the group of Christian volunteers was seized last week. "We killed one of the Koreans today because the government is not being honest in talks," Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an unknown location. Seoul called the murder of the hostage an "unforgivable atrocity." Ghazni Governor Mirajuddin Pattan and the Taliban both denied a report by South Korea's Yonhap news agency that eight other hostages were freed on July 25. Taliban militants had set two successive deadlines for the Afghan government to start releasing Taliban prisoners, but both passed without word of any release. Such an exchange would violate Afghan President Hamid Karzai's pledge not to swap prisoners for hostages, a promise made after his government in March freed five Taliban militants for the release of an Italian reporter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). JC

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said on July 25 that the United States should end its Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, citing the "unacceptable" number of civilian deaths from military operations, reported the same day. D'Alema told parliament that Enduring Freedom, which is aimed at fighting Al-Qaeda and does not involve NATO, often poorly coordinates with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, causing losses among civilians that "cannot be justified," Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported. D'Alema added that the civilian deaths are a political disaster, causing tension between the Afghan government and international forces. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, however, responded by blaming Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces for the civilian casualties, saying that militants often use innocent people, including children, as human shields to try to prevent attacks. McCormack added that the U.S. operation and NATO efforts are separate "yet complementary missions." JC

Britain's Defense Ministry said on July 25 that a British soldier was killed and two others injured when an explosion destroyed their vehicle in Afghanistan's volatile southern Helmand Province, AFP reported. The soldiers were returning to base from a routine patrol in a Vector vehicle, the ministry said in a statement. An emergency response helicopter transported all three soldiers to the ISAF medical facility at Camp Bastion for treatment, but one did not survive, the statement said. The two other servicemen did not sustain life-threatening injuries. An overnight rocket attack on an Afghan National Army unit in Wardak Province also left a French Army instructor dead, the French Defense Ministry said. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, 65 British and 11 French troops have died there. JC

British Foreign Minister David Miliband on July 25 expressed support for the Afghan government's efforts to root out corruption "from the bottom up as well as the top down," emphasizing the importance of national leadership in doing so, Reuters reported. Miliband met with Afghan President Karzai in Kabul before traveling to British military headquarters in Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province. British officials have expressed concern over rampant corruption in Afghanistan's national and local governments and the judiciary, warning that Afghans who lose faith in their officials are more likely to support the Taliban. Karzai said that major obstacles remain in attempting to eradicate corruption, particularly in Afghanistan's lawless southern regions, which bear the brunt of insurgent violence, Miliband told reporters in Lashkar Gah. Karzai also recognized the challenge of trying to include Taliban or tribal leaders in local government in areas previously ruled by either group. JC

Intelligence Minister Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei told the press in Tehran on July 25 that his ministry has identified the "main branches" inside "media circles" and other elements related to an allegedly subversive current in Iran, which he said is financed or coordinated by the United States, IRNA reported. He was responding to a reporter's question on information yielded by what Iran has termed the "confessions," shown on television, of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, two Iranian-American detainees accused of subversive activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2007). Mohseni-Ejei said the authorities have taken action against the main branches of the alleged subversive network, the identity of which might be revealed in due course, suggesting that arrests may have taken place. He added that the law allows prison sentences to be reduced for suspects cooperating with the state during their interrogations, though it was not immediately clear if he was referring to Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, or unspecified detainees. Mohseni-Ejei also firmly rejected allegations that students currently held a Tehran prison have been "pressured" or tortured, as claimed in a public letter to the judiciary chief by their parents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2007). The minister was speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting. VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad also spoke to the press after the meeting on July 25, and said, "Iran's definite policy is to back [Iraq's] government, security, and that country's territorial integrity," IRNA reported. He said the aim of the recent meeting between Iranian and U.S. envoys was to help Iraq, though he admitted he has not yet seen a full report of the talks held in Baghdad on July 24. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said separately the same day in Tehran that Iran has accepted holding talks with its "enemies" for the sake of Iraqi security and stability, IRNA reported. Mottaki said Iraq is suffering the effects of terrorism, but "all the problems of Iraq and the region are due to America's mistaken policy." The Middle East, he said, is above all threatened by "instability and...insecurity due to foreign aggression." Speaking during or after a meeting with a delegation of Assyrian Christians, Mottaki said Iran has shown its respect for a multicultural society and "all the followers of monotheistic religions" by giving an Assyrian one of the 290 seats in parliament. Western states, he said, refuse their minorities such rights, and violate the "most basic human and civil rights" of Muslims. VS

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said in Tehran on July 25 that "we want the elections to be entirely computerized and mechanized," referring to parliamentary elections scheduled for next March. He said the use of machines would preclude "a lot of talk" about election results and "interference" in vote counting, which have caused political tensions after past elections, IRNA reported. He said the Guardians Council, the key supervisory body for elections, has agreed in principle to computerized voting, and "we have to agree on details. I think, God willing, this [election] will go beyond previous periods in terms of its good health, precision, speed, and creating confidence." He added that he sees no problem if party representatives observe procedures in polling stations or even at the Interior Ministry's electoral headquarters, IRNA reported. VS

Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator and a prominent centrist politician, is reportedly trying to form a "coalition of moderates from various factions" for the coming parliamentary elections, ISNA reported on July 25, quoting Yadullah Tahernejad, a member of the centrist Executives of Construction party. Rohani is a mid-ranking cleric, considered to have good ties with Expediency Council chief Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He led Iran's nuclear negotiations during the presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami, who preceded President Ahmadinejad. Tahernejad told ISNA that Rohani is currently "negotiating" with various factions including the Executives of Construction, and will "switch on" this "great movement" in coming days. Separately, Shamsuddin Vahabi, a member of the reformist Participation Front, told ISNA the same day that his party has stated its firm support for a reformist coalition in the elections. He said the Participation Front has held meetings with two leading members of the reformist Militant Clerics Assembly, Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari and Majid Ansari, who are among the politicians working to build a reformist coalition. VS

Relatives have expressed concern about the well-being of Mansur Osanlu, the head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, who was detained by security agents on July 10, Radio Farda reported on July 24. Osanlu's mother told Radio Farda that day that she and Osanlu's wife visited judicial authorities to inquire about her son's condition, and were told they would not be able to meet with him for another month. She rejected any suggestion that her son, who has several times run afoul of authorities for his labor activities, acted against national security. It is not clear if Osanlu has been formally charged with an offense. His wife, Parvaneh Osanlu, also told the broadcaster she has had no information about him for almost two weeks. A labor activist, Sadeq Kargar, separately told Radio Farda he believes Iran's government might force Osanlu to make "confessions" similar to the recently televised statements of two Iranian-American detainees (see above). VS

The Iraqi Accordance Front announced on July 25 that it will immediately suspend all participation in the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and threatened a complete withdrawal unless the bloc's package of demands is met within a week, international media reported. One of the front's members, Sheikh Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, read a prepared statement demanding that the government disband all Shi'ite militias, pardon security detainees who have not been charged with crimes, make a firm commitment to human rights, and give the Iraqi Accordance Front real participation in the decision-making process. The threat came nearly a week after the bloc announced the end of their five-week boycott of the Iraqi parliament after an agreement was reached to reinstate parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007). The front has five cabinet members as well as 44 seats in the 275-seat parliament. SS

Approximately 75 tribal sheikhs, representing 25 clans and tribes in the Diyala Governorate, gathered in the town of Al-Khalis to discuss security issues and call for unity against Al-Qaeda and other terrorists in the region, the U.S. military said in a statement released July 24. The meeting took place at the Iraqi Army headquarters in Al-Khalis and was attended by several U.S. and Iraqi military officials, including Staff Major General Abd al-Karim, the commander of Iraqi security forces in Diyala Governorate, and Colonel David Sutherland, the commander of coalition forces in Diyala. The meeting resulted in a peace agreement, signed by 18 tribal leaders, which includes pledges to provide greater cooperation with the Iraqi security forces, to report on improvised explosive devices, and to resolve disputes between tribes through local meetings. In addition, several tribal leaders called for a united effort to combat Al-Qaeda elements. "Our goal is to be united and cooperate [in fighting] any force that wishes to challenge our unity," said one tribal sheikh. "We have to show the people that we are honest and serious about fighting against Al-Qaeda." SS

In an interview with "Al-Hayat" on July 24, Abdallah al-Jaburi, the former governor of Diyala, denied earlier rumors that he was arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces, and instead said he has received support from U.S. forces. He said he continues to head the Diyala National Salvation Front, a coalition of political parties and armed groups, allegedly supported by U.S. forces, that aim to eliminate Iranian-backed militias and Al-Qaeda in Iraq elements from the region. "The Diyala National Salvation Front has so far not received any [Iraqi] government support. We work in cooperation with the U.S. forces to ensure that Diyala Governorate is protected from any Iranian interference or from the Al-Qaeda Organization," al-Jaburi said. He claimed that rumors of his arrest were spread by people who wanted to tarnish his reputation before elections in the governorate. On July 23, "Al-Hayat" reported that al-Jaburi was arrested for allegedly coordinating efforts between Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the defunct Ba'ath Party, and the Iranian resistance group Mujahedin Khalq (MKO) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2007). SS

Two suicide bombings targeting Iraqis celebrating their national soccer team's victory in the Asia Cup killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 130 on July 25, international media reported. The first attack took place in Baghdad's Al-Mansur neighborhood when a suicide bomber attacked a group of Iraqis cheering their soccer team in front of an ice cream parlor. The second attack occurred about an hour later at an army checkpoint in the mixed neighborhood of Al-Gadir, where dozens of Iraqis were celebrating their team's victory. The Iraqi team beat South Korea in a semifinal game at the Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur, winning a tense penalty shoot-out 4-3 after the two sides played to a scoreless draw in 90 minutes of regulation play and 30 minutes of extra time. Iraq will now play Saudi Arabia in the final on July 29 in Jakarta, Indonesia. SS

Sheikh Ali al-Saidi, a leading member of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement, on July 25 condemned the U.S. bombardment of Al-Sadr City in Baghdad earlier that day, claiming that the attacks killed several civilians, the web site of Al-Alam television reported. "The shellings come as part of a scheme to attack the Iraqi nation in general, and the Al-Sadr movement in particular," al-Saidi said. "These attacks targeted civilians." He said that U.S. forces kill Iraqi civilians daily, and that this is harming the dignity of the Iraqi people. "Given the continued U.S. attacks, we can no longer call Iraq a sovereign state," he said. SS

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced on July 25 that his country received an Airbus A-300 passenger jet as a goodwill gesture from Iran, AFP reported. He said the plane was delivered last week and will be used by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki for official travel purposes. "This was a gift from the Iranian government to the Iraqi people," al-Dabbagh said. SS