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Newsline - August 2, 2007

Hundreds of workers at the AvtoVAZ plant in Tolyatti, which produces Ladas and is Russia's largest car factory, held a one-day strike on August 1 to demand higher wages, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Striking worker Vladimir Sidorov told RFE/RL that workers earn an average monthly salary of $420, while middle managers are paid up to $5,400 per month. He said that Aleksandr Dzyuban, who is a trade-union official backing the strike, was detained by police on July 31. "At first [the strikers] weren't organized, but then they joined together," Sidorov said. "Dzyuban...helped a lot in this. He was detained yesterday at the factory gate. They took away leaflets that he had with him, which we wanted to hand out during the strike." "When the wages are so low, workers work without enthusiasm," he added. Another striker said that "we hope [the strikers will] get what they demand, because it is the largest enterprise in Russia and their strike, their victory, will be an example for everybody else." AvtoVAZ management previously accused "certain political forces" of being behind the protest. The management also played down the size of the strike, saying the figures were inflated because they included people who were not scheduled to work that day. This is the first-ever strike at AvtoVAZ, which has been losing its domestic market share because of a growing Russian consumer preference for foreign cars. PM

Rene van der Linden, who heads the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of August 1 that "it's important to demonstrate to the international community and to Russian citizens that some success has been achieved in the electoral process. The Council of Europe will be sending a large mission of observers to monitor the Duma election" in December, in response to an invitation by the authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). Van der Linden added that "a report on the application of new NGO legislation in Russia will be presented to the PACE next year. At this stage, I can only say that the regulations in this legislation should be simplified, especially for NGOs in the regions. NGOs should not be burdened with regulations that over-complicate their existence." He also noted "a that new report on the prison situation in Russia will be prepared for the PACE. It is known that prison conditions in Russia do not meet international standards. We have drawn the Russian government's attention to the need to allocate funding to improve conditions for prison inmates" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). Van der Linden said he will not go to the North Caucasus this trip but added, "we hope that the Russian authorities will be able to normalize living conditions for citizens in Chechnya, and to solve the problem of disappearances." PM

The Sevmash shipyard in the Arctic port city of Severomorsk is at least three years behind schedule in converting a 20-year-old guided-missile cruiser into an aircraft carrier for India, Interfax reported on August 1. The news agency quoted an unnamed "high-ranking Sevmash source" as saying company Director-General Vladimir Pastukhov has lost his job for failing to meet deadlines. Interfax's source added that the main reason for the delays is that the ship is in far worse condition than was originally supposed, and refitting it will require more time and money than was envisaged in the $1.5 billion contract. India plans to use the ship and its contingent of MiG-29 jet fighters as a counterweight to the growing power of China, which is India's main regional strategic rival. China's navy has traditionally been a coastal one, but an increasingly wealthy and assertive Beijing is working toward developing a serious blue-water fleet to project power and influence. The two countries together account for about 90 percent of Russian arms exports. The daily "Vremya novostei" wrote on August 1 that "further escalation [of tensions] in relations between Russia and the West is likely to facilitate the Russian defense sector's recovery, especially [because of] Moscow's moratorium on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the U.S. administration's firm intention to deploy missile-defense elements in Eastern Europe, [continuing] differences over Kosovo, and Russia's increasingly aggressive energy policy. The West is wary of the aggressive approach displayed by the Kremlin's arms-trade intermediary, Rosoboroneksport." The paper noted that Russia has at least 13 major arms producers, second only to the United States, which has 40. The daily added that the number of Russian firms in the arms business is likely to drop because of President Vladimir Putin's policy of consolidating "strategic" industries into state-run conglomerates, or "verticals." The paper noted, however, that the revenues of the remaining firms are likely to rise along with exports. PM

The respected Levada Center released the results of a mid-July poll on July 31 suggesting that 36 percent of respondents in the Russian Federation believe that the authorities will soon ban criticism of them, reported. Only 34 percent said that they do not expect the government to prohibit criticism, while the remainder of respondents had no opinion. About 38 percent of respondents said the government's recent anti-extremism legislation is aimed at weakening the opposition in the run-up to the elections to the State Duma in December and the presidential vote in March 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9 and 16, 2007). On July 31, the daily "Vedomosti" reported on a new poll on anti-Americanism in Russia, which was conducted by several U.S. academics in 44 Russian regions and presented at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The findings suggested that anti-U.S. feelings are particularly high among Muscovite males with university degrees and least prevalent among Russia's Muslims. The study noted a link between rising anti-U.S. sentiments and an increasingly aggressive Russian foreign policy. PM

Sergei Morozov, who is governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast, said on August 2 that citizens should be given September 12 as a day off work in order to conceive children and help offset Russia's demographic decline, reported. He proposed calling the holiday the Day of Conception. Morozov has previously captured attention with calls for officials from around Russia to send him their unwanted statues of Lenin for an open-air museum and his insistence that officials pass a test in Russian-language proficiency. PM

Arman Babadjanian, the editor of a pro-opposition newspaper, accused Armenian President Robert Kocharian on August 1 of being "personally responsible" for the rejection of his parole appeal for an early release from prison, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The 31-year-old Babadjanian, the editor of the daily "Zhamanak Yerevan" newspaper, staged a brief hunger strike late last month protesting the rejection of his parole request by a state commission that was formed in 2006 by President Kocharian in July 2006. The imprisoned editor declared on July 30 that "it is obvious that the decision was made as a result of a political order," charging that the commission failed to consider the "positive recommendation" by administrators at the Nubarashen prison where he is held and arguing that the decision "underscores the pettiness and weakness of these authorities." Babadjanian was arrested in June 2006, just weeks after returning to Armenia from the United States, where he had lived for eight years, and was later convicted by a Yerevan court on charges of evading compulsory two-year military service after he admitted to the fraudulent use of documents to extend his deferment from military service. The court sentenced him in September 2006 to a four-year prison term, although the usual sentences for such convictions are significantly less (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and September 5 and 11, 2006). RG

President Ilham Aliyev convened a cabinet meeting in Baku on August 1 to examine new economic data from the first half of the year, Turan reported. According to the new statistics, Azerbaijan's gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 35 percent for the first six months of 2007, reflecting a broader trend of a doubling of GDP over the past three years, while industrial production expanded by nearly 35 percent and agricultural production grew by about 5 percent. Aliyev hailed the creation of some 572,000 new jobs since October 2003, of which there were said to include 405,000 "permanent" jobs. He also warned ministers that more effective measures to combat inflation need to be implemented, noting that inflation has also risen by 16 percent in the same period. RG

A video clip purporting to show an opposition journalist accepting a bribe from a man identified as a government official was aired on August 1 by the pro-government Lider TV and independent ANS television channels, Turan reported. The video closes with the arrest of Musfiq Huseynov, a journalist for the opposition daily "Bizim yol" (Our Path) newspaper, after he apparently takes $3,500 from an individual reported to be Rizvan Aliyev, an official of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. Lider TV claimed that Huseynov demanded money in return for withholding the publication of a compromising article about the official but said that Rizvan Aliyev reported the case to the authorities. Huseynov was arrested on July 24 by security personnel and admitted during his interrogation that he accepted the money from Aliyev "to give to a third person," but apparently did not explain to whom or for what purpose (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2007). He has been a strident critic of the government's economic policies and has written a number of articles on corruption, including one that focused on the Labor and Social Security Ministry. In a statement released in Baku on August 1, Huseynov's attorney Vugar Khasaev criticized the release and airing of the video as an attempt to "pressure the investigation," and accused the authorities of abusing their power to "form a negative image of the journalist." RG

At a press conference in Almaty on August 1, Asylbek Abdulov, the head of the Center of Social Technologies, released the findings of a preelection public-opinion survey that revealed strong support for the ruling Nur Otan party led by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to the results, roughly 38 percent of those surveyed said that they intend to vote for the ruling party in the August 18 elections for the 107-seat lower house of parliament, or Mazhilis. The opposition National Social Democratic Party was the second-most-popular, with support from slightly more than 22 percent of respondents. All other parties failed to garner more than 7 percent of the respondents. Nazarbaev assumed the leadership of the ruling Nur Otan party in July, removing his daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, a member of parliament since 2004, from the party leadership and from the party's official list of candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). The Nur Otan party, which claims an official membership of more than 700,000, was formally renamed late last year after several smaller parties merged with its precursor, the Otan party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2007). RG

The leader of Kazakhstan's opposition National Social Democratic Party, Oraz Zhandosov, on August 1 called for a sweeping revision of the country's law on media, saying the law fosters the persecution of journalists through charges of defamation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative on media freedom, recently called on Kazakhstan to abolish the so-called "insult provisions" of Kazakh law that criminalize any public criticism of Kazakh officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2007). Zhandosov, speaking at a seminar in Almaty, also promised to revise the media law as "the first thing" his party will do once it enters the new parliament after the August 18 elections. He added that the country's television industry needs to be reformed, and proposed reducing state control to a single channel, freeing the "spectrum of other channels" by introducing "open tenders." RG

In separate comments at the Almaty seminar on August 1, National Social Democratic Party head Zhandosov outlined his party's election platform, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. He advocated eliminating Kazakhstan's value-added tax, replacing it with a new 5 percent sales tax on retail goods and services that he claimed would "increase the competitiveness of the country's processing industry." Zhandosov also promised that the party would seek "to raise the salaries of doctors and teachers to 50,000 tenges [about $404 monthly] without delay" and to ensure that the monthly salaries for "key specialists at higher education institutions and scientific establishments" and "employees of state medical establishments," would not be less than 100,000 tenges ($809). The party program also includes a pledge to increase the average monthly pension to 30,000 tenges ($243). Zhandosov, who is also the leader of the opposition Naghyz Ak Zhol party, rose to prominence within the National Social Democratic Party after the two parties recently forged an opposition alliance in preparation for the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2007). RG

Kazakh National Security Committee spokeswoman Botagoz Ibraeva announced on August 1 that some 30 suspected members of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir went on trial on August 1 in central Kazakhstan's Karaganda region, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan. The defendants, thought to include several senior leaders of the outlawed extremist group, are also charged with attempting to recruit members and "inciting ethnic and religious enmity." Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned throughout the region, as well as in Russia and some European countries. Officials accuse the group of attempting to overthrow the existing Central Asian governments to create an Islamic caliphate or religious state in their place, although the group maintains that it only seeks the "nonviolent" introduction of Islamic governance (see "Central Asia: Hizb Ut-Tahrir Gains Support from Women,", July 11, 2007). RG

In a statement released in Bishkek, an unnamed defense lawyer for Kyrgyz opposition leader and former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov said the National Security Committee charged his client on August 1 with "creating mass public disorder," according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and ITAR-TASS. The charges against Kulov, who now heads the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, stem from his role as an organizer of nine days of antigovernment demonstrations in April that were eventually dispersed by security forces in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 13, 18, 19, and 20, 2007). RG

Two Iranian nationals imprisoned in Tajikistan for illegally entering the country appealed on August 1 to the Tajik government and international organizations for political asylum, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The two men, Mehdi Musavi and Asad Haidari, made the plea in letters to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and several Tajik ministries. Musavi and Haidari said that they converted to Christianity and were involved in political activity in Iran, adding that "if we are deported to our homeland, we may be executed or subjected to torture without the observance of legal procedures," Asia-Plus reported. Unnamed officials of the Justice Ministry discounted their claims, saying that the men "fabricated" their alleged religious conversion, according to Interfax. The two men were arrested while illegally crossing the Afghan-Tajik border in 2006. RG

The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom announced on August 1 that it will cut gas supplies to Belarus by 45 percent as of August 3 because of an unpaid gas bill of $456 million for deliveries in the first half of 2007, international news agencies reported. "The daily delivery of gas to Belarus will be reduced approximately by 21 million cubic meters from 10 a.m. on August 3. That is about 45 percent of Belarus's daily consumption. At the same time, the volume of gas transit across Belarusian territory for our customers in third countries will remain the same," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told journalists in Moscow. The announcement comes in the wake of failed Belarusian-Russian intergovernmental talks on the gas-debt repayment and on Minsk's request for a loan of $1.5 billion from Moscow. Gazprom sends one-fifth of its gas exports to Europe via Belarusian pipelines to customers in Poland, Lithuania, and Germany. The European Commission has called on Moscow and Minsk to resolve their gas dispute swiftly. "We take these developments very seriously and we believe [that] both sides [will be able] to resolve the dispute without any delay and to create conditions for the timely resumption of the deliveries," European Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr told journalists in Brussels on August 1. JM

In accordance with President Viktor Yushchenko's decree of August 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007), Ukraine on August 2 entered the 60-day campaign for preterm parliamentary elections set for September 30, Ukrainian media reported. It is expected that the Central Election Commission will make public a timetable of the campaign later on August 2. A number of the main political parties in Ukraine are set to hold congresses in early August to approve their election platforms and list of candidates. In particular, the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party will hold their election conventions on August 4, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc on August 5, and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc on August 7. Meanwhile, parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz told journalists on August 1 that Yushchenko's election decree of August 1 should be examined by the Constitutional Court. "This decree is another attempt by the president of Ukraine to provide an appearance of constitutionality to his political ambitions, formalized in his [former] decrees, to hold early elections to the Verkhovna Rada at any price and remove in this way political opponents from power in the government and parliament," UNIAN quoted Moroz as saying. In addition to that of August 1, Yushchenko has issued three other decrees scheduling snap elections. Each time, lawmakers from the ruling coalition formally questioned their legality, but the Constitutional Court has so far failed to rule on any of them. JM

Prokuplje on August 1 became the first town in Serbia to erect a monument to Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian prime minister assassinated in 2003. Local and international media reported that President Boris Tadic and a number of ministers who served under Djindjic were among hundreds who attended the ceremony in Prokuplje, the hometown of Djindjic's father. Djindjic's mother, Mila, unveiled the monument, which stands outside a sports complex that already bears his name. The ceremony was timed to coincide with Djindjic's 55th birthday. Twelve of those involved in Djindjic's killing were jailed in May for terms of up to 40 years, and the state prosecutor's office has since widened its investigations into the background of the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24 and June 22, 2007). Some of those convicted had close links to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom Djindjic was instrumental in ousting, and were also been convicted for the murder of a former Serbian president, Ivan Stambolic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). AG

A fresh round of talks on the status of Kosova will "probably" begin in the middle of August, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana told reporters on August 1. Solana did not explain the remaining doubt about the date, though he said, "it will be the secretary-general of the UN, probably, who will make the first statement to call the parties to begin for the reengagement." Nor did he say how long the talks would last: the EU and the United States believe they should last no longer than 120 days, but Russia has consistently opposed "artificial time limits" on negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). The talks between Serbian and Kosovar Albanian leaders will be mediated by diplomats from the EU, the United States, and Russia. Washington will be represented by its long-standing Kosova envoy, Frank Wisner, Brussels by the German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, and Moscow confirmed on July 31 that its representative will be Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, its current envoy to the Balkans. The EU and the United States both believe Kosova should become an independent state, while Russia argues that any solution must be acceptable to Serbia, which is insisting on its continued sovereignty over the region. The Serbian daily "Vecernje novosti" reported on July 31 that the EU will suggest the possibility of a confederation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). However, the German newspaper "Die Tageszeitung" on August 1 quoted Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, as saying that she knows "nothing of such a suggestion." On a related note, Slovenia on July 31 denied a report in the "Financial Times" that, during its upcoming presidency of the EU, it will try to persuade Serbia to cede its claims to sovereignty over Kosova in exchange for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). AG

The Romany minority in Kosova insists on being part of UN negotiations on the future of the Serbian province, the head of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, Rudko Kawczynski, said in an August 1 letter addressed to diplomats leading talks on Kosova's status. Kawczynski, who made a similar demand in May, said that the resumption of talks offers a "chance for a truly inclusive process taking into account the rights and the interests of all Kosovo people," and argued that "previous negotiations were compromised by the fact that they did not include Kosovo's third-largest community, the Roma." The Romany community is thought to have numbered around 200,000 before the war, but violence against Roma during the 1998-99 conflict and the Roma's unwillingness to return means that only an estimated 10,000 remain in the UN-administered Serbian province. In May, Kawczynski likened the international community's approaches in Kosova and Bosnia, where, in his view, the refusal to involve Roma in negotiations resulted in "failure." AG

A new report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called for the international community and Kosova's institutions to pay greater attention to protecting the property rights of those displaced by the 1998-99 war in Kosova, stressing that "housing and property restitution, combined with security safeguards and socioeconomic development, are a prerequisite for sustainable returns and reintegration of displaced persons and refugees." "Minority returns have been scarce despite the development of comprehensive returns mechanisms and strategies" by the international community, the report found, continuing, "The fact that returns remain a priority eight years after the conflict reflects the reality that all mechanisms and strategies developed were not successful in providing adequate protection of the rights of returnees." The report's authors call for: greater funding; stronger safeguards for property rights; guidance on how to allocate housing and land; more extensive measures to protect returnees and internationally displaced people (IDPs); and improved housing for IDPs. It also highlighted the heavy caseload of unresolved compensation claims ("more than 20,000 claims...are currently suspended and pending an adequate solution"), ineffective responses to fraudulent transactions, and inadequate implementation of legislation and initiatives. The recommendations of the report, which was issued on July 31, are addressed to a range of international actors -- the UN, the EU, and international donors -- and call for greater involvement by Serbia, but most of its specific recommendations fall within the remit of Kosova's property and housing institutions and judiciary, as well as to Kosova's police force. Among other findings, the report's authors reported that about 16,000 people have returned to Kosova since the conflict, "10,405 residential properties belonging to currently displaced persons remain destroyed," and "the costs estimates of return projects in Kosovo are amongst the highest worldwide." AG

Efforts to reintegrate Bosnians displaced by the 1991-95 war have generally proved a "success," a report commissioned by the UN Development Program has found. The pollsters, Oxford Research International, concluded that "a majority of displaced people returned and migrants appear integrated in mainstream economy and society," and that Bosnian society appears welcoming, with "a returning diaspora...seen as an economic asset and its reintegration...not perceived as competition for existing structures." The survey, which was released in mid-July, found that returnees are no longer "outside the economic mainstream" and "do not emerge as [a] special-needs [group]," and that neither returnees nor nonreturnees now view the issue of returns as a key political concern. Instead, they said the focus should be on boosting the economy and fighting corruption, which Bosnians view as "widespread" even though, according to the survey, they have relatively little personal experience of graft. The survey's authors concluded that "the decision to return appears...mainly emotive, the decision to stay more rational." The report also found that many Bosnians would still like to leave the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 and 31, and August 1, 2007). AG

The Bosnian Muslims' representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-member Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, has again sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding "UN assistance to annul the results of the genocide" in Bosnia, the SRNA news agency reported on July 30. Silajdzic views Bosnia's Serb-dominated autonomous region, the Republika Srpska, as the product of the 1991-95 civil war. Silajdzic has voiced his demands for the Republika Srpska's dissolution particularly strongly since February, when the UN's top court accepted that the massacre of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica was an "act of genocide" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26 and 27, 2007). Silajdzic and the Croats' member of the presidency, Zeljko Komsic, addressed a similar letter to the UN on June 18, to which Ban did not respond because it was not signed by the presidency's other member, the Bosnian Serbs' Nebojsa Radmanovic. Silajdzic said the intention of his previous letter "was not to ask for a specific answer but to draw [the UN's] attention to the commitments and obligations the international community has towards Bosnia-Herzegovina stemming from the international law." AG

On July 31, Prime Minister Sali Berisha unleashed a stinging attack on government institutions that handle relations with the EU. Berisha accused them of inefficiency, failing to act on EU directives, and of sending inaccurate and misleadingly positive reports to Brussels. The ministry for EU integration came in for particular criticism. Albania cleared its first hurdle on the road to EU membership in June 2006, when it signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in May that he was "impressed" by Albania's implementation of the SAA and cited the country as a positive example of progress toward integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2007). In his inaugural speech, Albania's new president, Bamir Topi, a senior official in Berisha's Democrat Party, underscored that EU and NATO membership should be the country's key foreign-policy goals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2007). Albania hopes NATO will issue an invitation in April 2008. AG

Devotees of John le Carre's novels will recall how with uncanny foresight he chronicled in "Our Game," published in 1994 just months before the war in Chechnya erupted, the aftermath of a major uprising against Russia in Ingushetia.

Even though the two republics are contiguous and their peoples close ethnic kin, and despite the clear sympathy for his Chechen counterpart, Djokhar Dudayev, evinced by Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, Ingushetia was not drawn into the Chechen war, although it provided refuge to a huge number of Chechens fleeing the fighting.

But since Aushev was replaced in a rigged election in April 2002, the republic has become increasingly unstable. Aushev's successor, career Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov, promptly set about appointing his relatives and allies to prominent positions, Ingushetia's economy has nosedived and corruption has skyrocketed. Ingushetia depends on subsidies from Moscow for 88 percent of its annual budget; unemployment is estimated at 65-70 percent.

Moreover, Zyazikov has done nothing to support the demands to be permitted to return to their abandoned homes of the thousands of Ingush forced in October-November 1992 to flee the disputed Prigorodny Raion of neighboring North Ossetia to escape vicious reprisals at the hands of Ossetians backed by Russian Interior Ministry forces.

And, possibly taking advantage of Zyazikov's indifference, Interior Ministry and FSB personnel based in North Ossetia have over the past several years snatched scores of Ingush men, many of whom are never found either alive or dead. The human rights organization Memorial estimates that 400 people vanished without trace in Ingushetia between 2002-06.

All these factors have combined to generate an intense and widespread hatred of Zyazikov personally and of the regime he heads. Over the past three years, over 2,000 people (of a total population of some 467,000) have signed an electronic petition demanding that Zyazikov resign. And of the 735 respondents to date to an opinion poll launched in mid-July by the website, only 11.7 percent gave a positive assessment of Zyazikov's track record, compared with 83 percent whose perception was negative.

Many young men, especially those whose relatives were abducted and disappeared, have flocked to join the ranks of the Chechen resistance, and took part in the multiple attacks in June 2004 on police and security facilities in which some 80 people died.

In recent weeks, attacks by militants aligned with the Chechen resistance on government and police facilities and the killings of local and republican government officials have become an almost daily occurrence. On July 21, gunmen opened fire on Zyazikov's motorcade in Magas, and on July 27, militants opened fire with mortars on an FSB base, killing at least one Russian serviceman.

Domestic political opposition has, however, been muted until very recently. A former Zyazikov ally, Republic of Ingushetia parliament deputy Musa Ozdoyev, mobilized supporters in a series of protest demonstrations in the spring of 2005, but Ozdoyev suspended those protests after several months to give Zyazikov more time to reach agreement with Moscow on the return of the Ingush displaced persons to Prigorodny Raion.

But the antipathy to Zyazikov has now apparently spread to the republic's political elite. Efforts in mid-June to engineer Zyazikov's election to head Ingushetia's chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party failed at the first attempt: Moscow had to intervene to annul the election to that post of a rival candidate.

And in late July, 21 of Ingushetia's 32 parliament deputies signed an extensive open letter addressed to the U.S. Congress, the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, and the U.S. Senate Helsinki Commission detailing the oppression to which the region was subjected by successive Russian leaderships since being incorporated into the Tsarist empire in the 17th century.

The letter focuses in particular on the 1944 deportation of the Ingush to Central Asia, the transfer of Prigorodny Raion to North Ossetian jurisdiction, and what it terms the "primitive and colonial" policies implemented by the Russian Federation leadership in the North Caucasus over the past 15 years, including Moscow's tacit support of the reprisals by Ossetians against Ingush in Prigorodny Raion in 1992.

It concludes with an appeal for help in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the 1992 violence. Although the signatories stopped short of criticizing him personally, President Zyazikov excoriated them at a July 19 government session in Magas, reported on July 20.

The situation in Ingushetia is unique in the North Caucasus in that one single media outlet, the opposition website, appears to play a disproportionate role in disseminating information, and in forming and mobilizing public opinion. In addition to reposting news reports from republican media and articles from the Russian press, it served in 2005 as Ozdoyev's mouthpiece; reports on official talks on Prigorodny Raion and the periodic protests by Ingush campaigning for the right to return there; and posts endless extensive essays discussing the legal, political, and moral implications of Ingushetia's claims to Prigorodny Raion. Whereas one year ago, on average eight to 12 people were logged on to that website at any given time, today the number is rarely less than several dozen.

But the information provides cannot always be independently confirmed. One puzzling case was that of a young Ossetian, Chermen Tedeyev, whom identified in August 2006 as heading a movement in North Ossetia that argues that the republic should cede Prigorodny Raion to Ingushetia to avert the danger of a renewed armed conflict between Ingush and Ossetians. All efforts by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service over a period of several months to locate and interview Tedeyev failed; nor has any interview with him appeared in any other Russian media outlet.

And has not hesitated to go public with information that could have serious repercussions for its interlocutors. For example, last month, in the first instance of a senior official being held responsible for suspected corruption, a criminal case was brought against former Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoyev for allegedly misappropriating hundreds of thousands of rubles in overtime and special-duty payments intended for police officers.

In an interview posted on on July 22, Khamkhoyev was quoted as saying that it was Zyazikov personally who issued lists of which police officers should receive how much in such payments, and what proportion was to be returned in kickbacks. Khamkhoyev claimed he paid Zyazikov between $30,000-$60,000 every month in kickbacks through Zyazikov's close aide and relative, Ruslanbek Zyazikov.

Some observers have questioned whether may be funded by wealthy Ingush in Moscow who regard Zyazikov as a liability and hope to engineer his disgrace and dismissal. The website's registered owner and editor, however, deny pursuing any such explicitly political agenda. In an interview posted on March 22, the website's owner, Magomed Yevloyev, defined its raison d'etre as the consolidation of Ingush society, promoting discussion of, and trying to find solutions to, existing problems, and providing objective information about developments within Ingushetia.

Militants holding 21 South Korean hostages in central Afghanistan have agreed to a face-to-face meeting with a South Korean delegation, AFP and Xinhua news agencies reported on August 2. The Afghan government and the Taliban have confirmed that talks are planned, but a spokesman for the South Korean delegation said there has been no official confirmation of a meeting. On August 1, the Taliban announced that the remaining 21 hostages, most of whom are women, are all alive after the latest deadline passed with no breakthrough in talks, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Two of the male hostages have been killed since the hostages were abducted in Ghazni Province on July 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). DW

Four policemen on July 29 opened fire on their colleagues in Afghanistan's western Nimroz Province, killing five and injuring one, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the next day. Nimroz police chief Brigadier General Dawud Askaryar claimed that the four policemen were paid money by the Taliban to kill their colleagues. The attack occurred at approximately 10 p.m. at a police post where 14 policemen, including the attackers, were on duty. Askaryar said the attackers also abducted the post's commander and stole a vehicle. Separately, Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi told Pajhwak by telephone that militants stormed a police post in Bala Murghab district also on July 29 and kidnapped four policemen. He added that the militants stole five Kalashnikov rifles and set a police vehicle ablaze. Badghis Province Governor Mohammad Ashraf described Ahmadi's claim as baseless, although he admitted that four police officers were reported missing in the area. JC

Brigadier General Guy Laroche took command of Canadian forces in Afghanistan on August 1 as the future of Canada's mission in the war-torn country came under fire, AFP reported. In a statement, Laroche's predecessor Major General Tim Grant, who served nine months in the post, applauded the efforts of Canada's 2,500 troops to produce a secure environment for development and reconstruction. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor has faced criticism for proposing that Afghan security forces assume the responsibilities at the front line so Canadian troops can fill less dangerous supportive roles. General Rick Hillier, chief of the defense staff, dismissed O'Connor's suggestion, further compounding the uncertainty of the mission. Public support for Canada's role in Afghanistan peaked at 57 percent in October 2006, but it continues to plummet as casualties rise. In June, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada's military mission will end in 2009 unless parliament votes to extend it. JC

The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development announced on July 30 that it is launching 72 reconstruction plans to be completed in the next six months, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Minister Mohammad Ihsan Zia told journalists that the ministry allocated over $2.5 million to implement the new projects through private construction companies, in coordination with the local councils. A large majority, 63 out of 72, of the projects will be carried out in Kandahar Province. The remaining projects, which will include supportive walls, mosques, schools, roads, and clean-water networks, will be launched in Oruzgan and Zabul provinces. In the north, engineers began construction on an 11-kilometer road and two power substations in Samangan and Faryab provinces, said Zia Humayun, director of the ministry's public-welfare department. Other development projects, including a health clinic and an education department building, were inaugurated in both central and eastern Afghanistan. JC

Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar said in Tehran on August 1 that Iran is not concerned by "America's plan to sell arms to some countries," referring to reported plans to sell arms to regional states including Saudi Arabia, IRNA reported. Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Mohammad-Najjar said those states "like Israel" that wish to control territories "from the Nile to the Euphrates" should be more concerned. But he said the planned arms deal is intended to "back Israel," save arms firms from bankruptcy, create an "artificial environment for an arms race," and provoke "fear and terror" in the Middle East. Iran, he said, has friendly ties with regional Arab states, and believes any additional arms they have are "at the disposal of the Islamic world." He suggested that reports on arms cooperation between Iran and Syria are among the "contradictory" reports spread by the United States to fuel an arms race. He urged regional states to cooperate for a "native" security arrangement for the Persian Gulf, IRNA reported. VS

Masud Bastani and Farshad Qorbanpur, two activists and journalists, were arrested on July 31, though the charges against them and their whereabouts were not immediately known, Radio Farda reported on July 31. The same day, rights activist Emadeddin Baghi was sentenced to three years in prison for his activism and public statements on behalf of civil and prisoners' rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). Baghi's wife, Fatemeh Kamali Ahmadsarai, and daughter, Mariam Baghi, were also given three-year prison sentences, suspended for five years, Radio Farda reported. Their lawyer Mahmud Alam intends to appeal against the sentences. VS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi on July 30 ordered the formation of arbitration committees to resolve press-related disputes, apparently in a bid to prevent or reduce press disputes going to court, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on August 1, citing judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi. Jamshidi told the press in Tehran on July 31 that the judiciary prefers press disputes to be resolved peacefully. He said the directive calls on provincial judiciary chiefs to appoint an advisory judge to help the committees resolve disputes in coordination with judicial officials, the press supervisory board, which is affiliated with the Culture Ministry, and "other relevant officials." He did not say when these boards will start working. Jamshidi rejected unconfirmed reports that a four-man committee consisting of the interior, intelligence, and culture ministers, and Tehran's chief prosecutor is to supervise press activity in Iran, "Etemad-i Melli" reported. VS

Iran's Islamic penalties law is effectively in a state of suspension, after parliament refused on July 29 to renew the law for another two years, Iranian media reported on July 31 and August 1. The law has been implemented on an experimental basis since 1991. Justice Minister Gholamhussein Elham said in Tehran on August 1 that its nonrenewal will cause problems in the courts and "society" will suffer, IRNA reported. "The Islamic penalties law needs to have its situation clarified as soon as possible," he told reporters after a cabinet meeting. He said it was theoretically possible for judges to issues rulings and sentences on the basis of the opinions of the most senior clerics, but this would lead to differing "interpretations," presumably meaning different judgments for the same offense. Parliament apparently refused to vote for a motion to renew the law because legislators believe the law needs amendments. The penalties law was the amalgamation of three penal laws introduced following the 1979 revolution, jurist Hussein Mir-Muhammad Sadeqi explained in the daily "Hamshahri" on August 1. He added that parliament asked the judiciary to draft a definitive code last year, and this has not yet been done. He suggested judges should for now keep using the provisions of the penalties law, based as it was on Islamic teachings and clerical opinions. VS

Mustafa Moin, a higher-education minister in the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, met with students from Tehran University on July 31 and told them that "the constitution, and people's basic liberties and rights" are of the "highest" importance, but that it is "entirely natural" to amend Iran's Constitution if this is necessary, "Etemad" reported on August 1. Some liberals and student activists have in the past urged constitutional changes to strengthen liberties. Moin was a presidential candidate in 2005, though election supervisors initially rejected his candidacy, presumably for his liberal views. He was allowed to run after a personal intervention by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He told the students that moderation in politics is good, but not if it means "sitting idly, letting opportunities go" or "collaborating with some power structures." Moin said elements in Iran -- presumably conservatives -- "believe I may bother them again in the future," for which reason they are making "stinging" remarks in some newspapers and on television. VS

Iraqi Accordance Front spokesman Salim al-Juburi told Al-Jazeera television in an August 2 interview that the Sunni-led bloc's withdrawal from the Iraqi cabinet sent a clear message to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on the importance of inclusion. "The front is an important factor [in the political landscape] that cannot be ignored, and what is significant about its withdrawal is that it stripped the al-Maliki government of its status as a national-unity government," al-Juburi said. "What matters is that the government failed in creating a partnership [with Sunni Arabs], and this is a lesson that all future governments must understand," he added. The Accordance Front has long accused al-Maliki of keeping its members out of the decision-making process. Al-Juburi accused the U.S. administration of trying to make the Iraqi political process appear successful at any cost, regardless of the level of actual Sunni Arab participation. Al-Juburi told Al-Jazeera that the front's members in parliament will remain on the job, adding that the front believes it can use the parliamentarians to pressure the government to follow through with needed reforms. KR

The UN Security Council will consider in the coming days a draft resolution put forth by Britain that calls for an expanded UN mandate in Iraq, AP reported on August 2. The current UN mandate on Iraq is set to expire on August 10. The draft calls for an extension and expansion of the current mandate for one year, and would authorize the UN Mission in Iraq to facilitate regional dialogue, including border-security issues, energy, and refugees. It also paves the way for the UN to help facilitate national dialogue and political reconciliation, resolve disputed internal boundaries, and advise and assist in a constitutional review, according to AP, which viewed the draft. The draft also calls on the UN Mission to help plan, fund, and implement reintegration programs for former combatants, signaling that a deal may be nearing between the Iraqi government and nationalist insurgent groups. KR

U.S. Brigadier General Kevin Bergner told reporters at an August 1 press briefing in Baghdad that there are signs that the military surge is proving successful in Iraq. "We are now into the sixth week of the surge and operations and we're seeing some tactical momentum. Operations by Iraqi and coalition forces have made progress against the extremists on a number of fronts.... We continue to target the networks and leaders of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the special groups and are steadily chipping away at both sets of extremists," Bergner said. He said the willingness of Iraqis to call in tips has helped. Some 23,000 tips were called in last month, he said, which is "four times what we saw during the [same] period last year." In the past three weeks, tribal leaders from four communities north and west of Baghdad have declared their opposition to Al-Qaeda and vowed to help stop the violence, he noted. "In the first six months of this year, we have already captured more stockpiles of weapons than we did in all of last year," Bergner said, noting that Iraqi security forces were responsible for uncovering many of the caches. KR

Paul Brinkley, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, told the same briefing that a U.S.-sponsored program that began last fall to develop the economy in stable areas of Iraq is beginning to show success. "We've announced previously the restart of four operations including the Iskandariah industrial works, the Najaf ready-to-wear clothing factory, the Ramadi ceramics factory, and the state-owned factory for leather industries here in Baghdad. Over the next two weeks, we'll be announcing several additional reopened factories across areas of Iraq," Brinkley told reporters. He said a recent allocation of $50 million from the U.S. Congress will help restart former state-owned factories and private factory operations "that have been in distress for the past four years to enable them to quickly restart through acquiring maintenance, training, raw materials," and such. One U.S. company operating 50 stores in seven U.S. states has placed an order with an Iraqi clothing factory, and the accounting firm Grant Thornton has opened two offices in Baghdad and Irbil to help with contracts and the procurement of goods and services, he added. U.S. Embassy counselor Philip Reeker told reporters that provincial-reconstruction teams are operating across the country. The current staff stands at 450 personnel, and is expected to grow to 600 by year-end. KR

Iraqi forces in Mosul killed three members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq on August 1, including the so-called local amir, identified as Safi, according to an August 2 coalition press release. The insurgents were traveling in a pickup truck when they were identified by Iraqi soldiers and police carrying out a cordon-and-search operation. Iraqi Army personnel chased the vehicle down and exchanged gunfire with the insurgents, killing Safi and his bodyguards. Iraqi civilians in Al-Miqdadiyah assisted police on July 29 in detaining three Islamic State of Iraq leaders, according to a second press release dated August 2. Diyala Governorate tribal members informed the Iraqi police that they suspected an attack on the nearby village of Dali Abbas. A vehicle carrying the insurgents was stopped and inspected, and police found two automatic rifles, a laptop computer, and documents detailing past and future operations. "Despite threats by Al-Qaeda, the Al-Qaeda leaders were successfully detained and transported to an [Iraqi Army] detention facility for further questioning, demonstrating the steadfastness of the Iraqi police," the press release noted. KR