Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - August 6, 2007

On August 3, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Manila that "the aim of the expedition," which planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, "is not to stake Russia's claim [to the North Pole] but to show that our shelf reaches [there]," news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26 and August 3, 2007). President Vladimir Putin told members of the expedition by telephone that he is pleased with "the outstanding scientific project." State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov praised the expedition as "a new stage of developing Russia's polar riches. This is fully in line with Russia's strategic interests. I am proud our country remains the leader in conquering the Arctic." But U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters: "I'm not sure of whether they've put a metal flag, a rubber flag, or a bed sheet on the ocean floor. Either way, it doesn't have any legal standing or effect on this claim." Denmark, which also has claims in the area through Greenland, dubbed the Russian exercise "a meaningless stunt for the media." Canada has similarly ridiculed the Russian mission as a throwback to "the 15th century," when claims could be staked out by planting flags. Alaska's "Anchorage Daily News" quoted oceanographer Jamie Morison as saying on August 5 that scientists and tourists are frequent visitors to the area and "drop stuff down there all the time." The paper wondered mockingly if Moscow will next claim that Santa Claus is of Russian origin or seek to "take over" Christmas itself. Several Canadian dailies also suggested that Santa Claus might be Russia's next target, but also drew attention to the seriousness of the international competition for Arctic riches. Professor Harley Balzer of the U.S. Georgetown University jokingly wrote in "The Moscow Times" of August 6 that there are "10 reasons to go to the North Pole if you are a Russian leader." These include: "Putin will need a new job in March. If the crew of the Russian icebreaker remains at the North Pole until then, he could win the local election in a landslide" and "if the Russians don't claim the North Pole, [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez might beat them to it." PM

The last of about 6,500 soldiers and 500 military vehicles from the six countries belonging to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) arrived in Chelyabinsk on August 5 to take place in the SCO's first joint military exercise, London's "The Times" and China's Xinhua news agency reported on August 6. Portions of the "antiterrorist" exercise, which is named Peace Mission 2007 and will last from August 9-17, will also take place near Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan and has been dubbed "a club of dictatorships" and "a rival to NATO." Uzbekistan is participating in the exercise with staff officers only. Nikolai Bordyuzha, who is the secretary-general of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), said recently that the CSTO and SCO should hold joint military exercises. Leaders of SCO member states will meet in Bishkek soon for their annual summit. Turkmenistan will also attend for the first time, while Mongolia, Iran, India, and Pakistan have observer status. Britain's "The Economist" noted on August 3 that, although China is Russia's largest arms customer, the Chinese military find much of their Russian weaponry prone to breakdowns. The weekly also wrote that Russian officers at previous joint exercises considered Chinese units badly coordinated, their communications poor, and their tanks slow. "The Economist" also suggested that one purpose of joint exercises from Moscow's perspective is to display the military hardware it wants to sell. PM

Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Masorin said at the Black Sea Fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol on August 5 that production of the Bulava-M submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missile will start soon, Interfax and Britain's "Financial Times" reported on August 5. He said that the successful testing in June of the previously accident-prone Bulavas set the stage for production to begin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2007). Masorin added that he hopes that the missiles can be introduced into service in 2008. The Bulavas will be the core of Russia's sea-based nuclear arsenal in the foreseeable future. Moscow-based independent military analyst Pavel Felgengauer told the British daily, however, that the Russian authorities "are jumping the gun. It would be irresponsible to begin producing the Bulava now. Even if the test was successful, we would need at least 10 more successful tests before beginning serial production." He suggested that the Russian military might be bluffing about the Bulava in order to deter Russia's rivals. The Bulavas will be launched from the new Borey-class submarines, the first of which, the "Yury Dolgoruky," was launched in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16, 2007). The June test involved the launching of a Bulava from the "Dmitry Donskoi," a Typhoon-class submarine, from the White Sea and hitting its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula. PM

Mikhail Prusak, who has been governor of Novgorod Oblast since 1991, resigned on August 3 following public criticism by Ilya Klebanov, who is President Putin's envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. Klebanov said recently that the oblast is characterized by a "criminal environment," including "extortion, murder, arson, and raiding" in the business community. "The Moscow Times" noted on August 6 that Prusak has been reelected three times in 16 years and never received less than 70 percent of the vote. The daily suggested that he is "a leader from a different time, who is unwanted by the Kremlin." PM

In a statement released in Yerevan, Hovannes Hunanian, the head of a state parole commission, defended on August 3 the rejection of a parole application by opposition newspaper editor Arman Babadjanian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hunanian, who is also the Armenian deputy police chief, strongly denied any "political motives" in denying bail for the journalist, adding that the commission has consistently denied bail for all those convicted of similar draft-evasion charges since its formation in September 2006. The jailed journalist recently accused Armenian President Robert Kocharian of being "personally responsible" for the rejection of his parole appeal for an early release from prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2007). The 31-year-old Babadjanian, who was the editor of the daily "Zhamanak Yerevan" newspaper, was found guilty of evading compulsory two-year military service and was sentenced in September 2006 to a four-year prison term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and September 5 and 11, 2006). RG

Officials from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the U.S. Citigroup financial-services group unveiled on August 3 a new joint loan program for small and medium-sized Armenian companies, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Under the terms of the new program, the EBRD and Citigroup have each pledged to contribute $6 million to a loan fund that is to be managed by ACBA-Credit Agricole, one of the largest commercial banks in Armenia. The program will provide development and venture-capital loans of up to $300,000 to expanding small and medium-sized firms at preferential rates and terms. ACBA Chairman Stepan Gishian welcomed the new program and stressed that it is the first such commercial agreement between Western and Armenian banks. Previous loan programs were limited to only noncommercial efforts by development institutions like the EBRD and the World Bank. RG

In a statement during his visit to Baku, U.S. Assistant Deputy State Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza announced on August 3 that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents may meet for a follow-up round of talks on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sometime in October or November, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and the Trend news agency reported. Bryza, who also serves as the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group empowered to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, added that despite being "disappointed" with the lack of progress during the summit meeting in St. Petersburg between the two leaders this past June, "after visiting Azerbaijan and Yerevan, we saw that the process was continuing." During his visit to Baku, Bryza also met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on August 2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2007) and with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on August 3. But following the three-hour meeting with Mammadyarov, Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov criticized the peace talks with Armenia as having "reached a deadlock." Bryza ended his visit on August 3 with a meeting to discuss bilateral military relations with Defense Minister Safar Abiyev, reaffirming U.S. support for "Azerbaijan's territorial integrity," according to Turan. RG

Faramaz Novruzoglu, a journalist serving a two-year prison term for slander, ended on August 3 a hunger strike after prison officials granted his request to communicate with the media and agreed to provide him with newspapers and books while incarcerated, Turan reported. A reporter for the "Nota bene" newspaper, Novruzoglu was sentenced in January 2007 for libeling the interior minister and another senior official after he published an article criticizing Interior Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov for "damaging the reputation" of the police. RG

Azerbaijani National Security Ministry forces arrested on August 4 Colonel Azad Guliyev, the chief of the railway police in the city of Sumgait, during a sweep targeting a criminal gang engaged in drug trafficking and other crimes, Turan reported. The criminal gang also included another official, Arif Aslanov, the chief of a division in the State Technical Inventory Department, who is a suspect in a plot to assassinate Zakir Farajev, the head of local administration in the Absheron region. The raid also uncovered an undetermined quantity of weapons, drugs, and counterfeit currency. RG

The head of the NATO information center in Georgia, Nanuka Zhorzholiani, announced on August 3 plans to open a new office in Gali, along the southern border between Abkhazia and Georgia proper, Caucasus Press reported. The announcement follows the previous establishment of another NATO information center in the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge area of Abkhazia on July 26, a move that was denounced as a "provocative act" by Sergei Bagapsh, the president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, Rustavi-2 television reported. Zhorzholiani explained that the new office will focus only on raising public awareness of NATO and said that the plan comes in response to "an appeal from residents of Gali." RG

Speaking at a press conference in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, the chief of national security in South Ossetia, Boris Atoev, accused Georgia on August 3 of planning "six acts of sabotage" in the unrecognized republic over the past year, ITAR-TASS reported. Atoyev cited the recent discovery of mines in Tskhinvali, which were successfully diffused, the killing last year of two people when a homemade bomb exploded outside the home of South Ossetian militia leader Bala Bestayev, and the killing of South Ossetian National Security Council Secretary Oleg Alborov in July 2006 as evidence of Georgia's "provocations" in South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10 and 14, 2006). Tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia escalated in recent months with accusations that Georgia cut supplies of drinking water to Tskhinvali and with counterclaims that South Ossetia was deliberately damaging water mains (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8, 2007). In response, Dmitry Sanakoyev, the head of the rival Tbilisi-backed administration in the area, dismissed the accusations as "fabrications," Rustavi-2 reported. Sanakoyev was elected by the minority Georgian population of the region in November 2006 as a rival leader to de facto President Eduard Kokoity as part of an effort to create an alternative leadership with which Tbilisi could then seek to negotiate a settlement of the South Ossetia conflict on its own terms, obviating the republic's de facto Moscow-backed leadership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 30, 2007). RG

Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia announced on August 4 that a new training program will begin to prepare Georgian soldiers for peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan, as part of the broader International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission there, according to Caucasus Press. The program will be conducted at the Georgian Army's mountain training center in Sachkhere, which Kutelia noted was currently being considered to be transformed into a NATO training facility. Georgia and NATO signed an agreement in March 2005 providing the full and unfettered transit through Georgian territory by air, road, and rail of NATO troops, equipment, and hardware, which was hailed by NATO as an "important contribution" by Georgia to ISAF peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. Georgia has also previously deployed some 50 peacekeepers to Afghanistan serving under German command for three months in 2004, in addition to their more regular deployments to Iraq and Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 23, 2004, and March 3, 2005). RG

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev said on August 3 that the presidents of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Mongolia will participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit set to open in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on August 16, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Karabaev noted that the delegations from SCO member states China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will discuss the "strengthening and deepening [of] cooperation" and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev also announced on August 3 that Kyrgyzstan is "fully prepared" to host the summit and revealed that the meeting will "analyze the fulfillment of earlier agreements," discuss regional security, and conclude eight new agreements, including an accord on cooperation in the banking sector, ITAR-TASS reported. Feliks Kulov, who heads the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, also vowed on August 3 to refrain from holding any "political actions or rallies" during the summit, AKIpress reported. RG

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Kulov accused the Kyrgyz government on August 3 of trying to discriminate against opposition leaders and exclude them from politics, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Criminal charges were recently brought against Kulov, who faces up to 10 years in prison if he is convicted of "organizing mass public unrest" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2 and 3, 2007), stemming 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). Speaking at an August 3 press conference in Bishkek, Kulov dismissed the charges as "politically motivated," and said that "the main goal of the charges brought against me is to prevent the gathering of signatures in support of the creation of an interstate union with Russia and other CIS countries," the news agency reported. RG

In a statement released in Dushanbe, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's press office announced on August 4 that Tajikistan and Afghanistan have agreed to jointly construct a new 1,000-megawatt hydroelectric power plant, Tajik television and Interfax reported. The announcement followed a round of talks in Dushanbe on August 3 between Rahmon and Afghan Energy Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan. Financing for the project is expected to be provided by several major donors, including the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the World Bank, as well as from unspecified donor states currently committed to Afghanistan's reconstruction. RG

The deputy director of the Tajik Academy of Sciences' Institute of Applied Physics, Qurbon Kabutov, confirmed on August 3 that Tajikistan has formally appealed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for assistance in dismantling a Soviet-era nuclear reactor, Asia-Plus reported. Kabutov said that the dismantling will only cost about $50,000 and that Tajik scientists have also asked the IAEA to install an electron accelerator in its place. RG

In a vote with no opposing candidates, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was elected on August 4 as the leader of the country's only political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, according to Turkmen Television and ITAR-TASS. Berdymukhammedov was also named the leader of the Galkynysh (Revival) political movement, which includes the country's unions, as well as youth, veteran, and other civic organizations. Addressing the over 600 delegates from the Democratic Party and Galkynysh attending the Ashgabat meeting, he vowed that "irrespective of how many new parties will emerge on the political scene, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan will remain a leading party in society." Commenting on the upcoming local elections set for December 2007, Berdymukhammedov pledged that the contest will be in accordance with "basic democratic norms," stressing that "nobody can accuse us of hindering democracy" because "democracy is in the blood of [the] Turkmen people." RG

Uzbek human-rights activist Vasila Inoyatova warned on August 3 that imprisoned fellow rights activist Mutabar Tojiboeva is "in danger," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Inoyatova explained that Tojiboeva has sent her a letter from prison in which she said that she "feared for her life," noting that she has been tortured by prison guards. Tojiboeva was first arrested in October 2005 just prior to a human-rights conference she was scheduled to attend in Dublin. She was subsequently sentenced in March 2006 to an eight years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2006) and has been held in solitary confinement in a prison outside of Tashkent, reportedly denied medical care despite her worsening health and denied all visits by her family and friends since January 2007. A onetime nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, she led the unregistered Otyuraklar (Fierce Hearts) human-rights group in the eastern Uzbek city of Margilon prior to her incarceration. RG

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station on August 3 that if Belarus fails to pay the remaining part of its gas debt within a week as it has promised, Gazprom will cut its gas supplies by 30 percent, which will be proportionate to the actual payment. "If we give full liberty in this matter, there will be no guarantees that we'll receive the money owed to us," Kupriyanov added. On August 2, Belarus paid $190 million of the $456 million it owes to Gazprom. On August 1, Gazprom threatened to reduce gas supplies to Belarus by 45 percent as of August 3 over the unpaid debt, but postponed the reduction by one week after Minsk made the $190 million payment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2007). Speaking on August 3 on Russia's TV-Tsentr, Kupriyanov denied media speculation that Gazprom's ultimatum to Belarus to pay off its gas debt was caused by Gazprom's intention to buy stakes in other key Belarusian enterprises such as oil refineries. "Beltranshaz [Belarus's pipeline operator] is what we really would like to get. We agreed on how we would buy half of this enterprise, agreed on how this company would operate after we got 50 percent, and we so far don't have any additional new ideas," Kupriyanov noted. JM

The ruling Party of Regions led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych held a convention in Kyiv on August 4 to approve a manifesto and a list of candidates for the early parliamentary elections on September 30, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The list of 450 candidates is topped by Yanukovych, Raisa Bohatyryova, Taras Chornovil, Inna Bohoslovska, and Nestor Shufrych. Yanukovych told the forum that the Party of Regions favors a broad governing coalition after the elections, which could include the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc. The same day, an election convention was also held by the Socialist Party led by parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz. Moroz said at the convention that the early polls are "adventurous" and "illegitimate," adding that their main objectives are to remove the Socialists from parliament, "draw" Ukraine into NATO, and "cause a quarrel" between Ukraine and Russia. The top five on the Socialist's Party's list of 316 candidates are: Moroz, Vasyl Tsushko, Volodymyr Boyko, Valentyna Semenyuk, and Stanislav Nikolayenko. On August 5 an election convention was held by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. Yulia Tymoshenko ruled out a post-election coalition with the Party of Regions. The bloc's list of 450 candidates has Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Turchynov, Mykola Tomenko, Yosyp Vinskyy, and Andriy Shevchenko in the top five positions. JM

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on August 1 welcomed pending talks on the future of Kosova instigated by the UN's leading powers. In a statement, Ban asked for the negotiating teams to submit a report to him by December 10. However, Ban did not indicate whether talks should end by that date, confining himself to repeating his oft-stated view that there needs to be a "timely" solution because "the status quo is not sustainable." Talks on Kosova's status were transferred to the UN in March, but failed to lead to a breakthrough in the face of a possible Russian veto, prompting Brussels and Washington to change the forum of diplomatic efforts to the Contact Group and bilateral talks between Kosova and Serbia. The talks will be mediated by Russian, U.S., and EU diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1 and 2, 2007). Ban said the Contact Group informed him about "the modalities for further negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade," but gave no details. Nor did he state when the talks will start. Radio-Television Serbia on August 1 quoted Ban's spokesman, Alex Sernilia, as saying that a decision on the date for the start of talks lies in the hands of the Contact Group. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana has said they should begin in mid-August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2007). AG

While UN Secretary-General Ban did not say that talks on Kosova's future should end by December 10, the UN official who currently administers Kosova, Joachim Ruecker, told the Serbian daily "Vecernje novosti" on August 2 that he believes 120 days is long enough for additional talks. The United States indicated on August 1 that it views the report's submission as marking the end of talks on Kosova. According to AFP, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that talks could not be "open-ended," and that "we believe Kosovo's status needs to be clarified promptly" after the report is passed to Ban. Casey called the upcoming talks a "serious, final attempt to reach an agreement between the parties." In an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on August 3, the U.S. envoy to the talks, Frank Wisner, said that "we should be able to reach a decision on final status at the end of 120 days." A similar position was adopted by Brussels, the Kosovar daily "Zeri" reported on August 4, quoting EU High Representative Solana as calling on "Belgrade and Pristina to be actively and constructively engaged in this final round of negotiations." Similar wording was used by a spokeswoman for the Kosovar government, Ulpiana Lama, who called the December date a "final time frame," "Zeri" reported on August 2. However, a variety of Serbian and Russian officials have since August 1 stressed that there should be no time limits imposed on the talks and the report to the UN will not necessarily mark the conclusion of negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina. AG

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic on August 2 amplified Serbia's long-standing offer of broad autonomy for Kosova, mentioning in an interview with the BBC several "sovereign prerogatives" that Serbia would be willing to offer. Jeremic said that an autonomous Kosova within Serbia would be able to forge independent relationships with international financial institutions -- such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- and to establish "some kind of representation abroad." Jeremic said Kosova could be given "the widest possible autonomy in the world" and that Serbia's government is "prepared to give up a lot of things, but [Kosovar Albanian leaders] also need to be prepared to give up something." Serbian leaders have not previously mentioned specific concessions they might be willing to make, and Slobodan Samardzic, the Serbian government's minister for Kosova, on August 3 acknowledged to Serbian reporters that Jeremic's stance reflects a willingness within the Serbian cabinet to offer broader autonomy to Kosova than it had previously envisaged. Jeremic's proposal was in part echoed on August 4 by Serbia's ambassador to Russia, Stanimir Vukicevic, who told the Moscow radio station Svetionik that Belgrade is now willing for Kosova to sign agreements with international financial institutions directed at development of the province. However, Vukicevic also said that Kosova would not be able to open diplomatic offices, which he said is solely the right of sovereign states. AG

Serbia has put forward six conditions for talks on the future of Kosova, Serbian media reported on August 3-4. It wants the talks to relate directly to Kosova's status, to be face-to-face with Kosovar Albanian leaders, to be open-ended, to not include any mechanism that would trigger a predetermined result, to abandon a UN proposal made in March to grant Kosova "supervised independence," and to put any outcome of the talks to a vote in the UN Security Council. Western members of the Contact Group believe the talks cannot be open-ended and should use the UN proposal plan as their base. They have also not committed themselves to returning the issue of Kosova's future to the UN. Serbia's reference to a "predetermined" result relates to a proposal once made but subsequently dropped by Western powers that, in the event of talks failing, Kosova should be free to declare independence. The Serbian daily "Vecernje novosti" also reported on August 4 that Serbia's delegation to the talks may also include members of two nationalist parties, the Radicals and the Socialist Party, which was founded by the late Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslavia's president during the 1998-99 conflict. AG

Serbia's minister for Kosova, Slobodan Samardzic, on August 3 insisted that the EU is contemplating the possibility of Serbia forming a confederation with Kosova. Samardzic was speaking to the Serbian "Vecernje novosti," which ran a report on July 31 that quoted unnamed EU diplomats as saying some in Brussels believe a confederation could be a possible means of resolving the dispute over Kosova's future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2007). The spokeswoman for the EU High Representative Solana, Cristina Gallach, said on July 31 that she has no knowledge of such a proposal. Samardzic said that "two weeks ago, Javier Solana himself mentioned confederation as a solution," and that it was "certain that the idea is being considered and denials by [Gallach] cannot annul that." Samardzic said that "over the past 10 days, we have received from Europe and official Brussels circles certain semi-official and discrete proposals to consider the creation of a confederation of Serbia and Kosovo," an option that, he said, "is absolutely unacceptable" to Belgrade. AG

Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Delic told FoNet in an interview that Serbia will become an EU member in 2014, perhaps on June 28. June 28 is Vidovdan, an ominous date in Serbian history: it marks the day when a medieval Serbian army was defeated in Kosova by the invading Ottomans, while in 2014 it will be the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the heir to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, which touched off the events that led to World War I. Delic said Serbia's accession will represent "a symbolic end of the 20th century," according to FoNet on August 5. Delic expects a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Brussels -- typically a first step on the way to membership -- to be signed by the end of 2007 if Serbia meets the key remaining precondition, full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. "We could get a green light even without [Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko] Mladic in The Hague, though the best proof of cooperation remains extradition," he said. Delic warned, however, that the Serbian parliament needs to accelerate its reform drive. "The heart of European integrations beats in parliament," he said, "and unless something changes we will suffer a heart attack." TV

One of the five Kosovar Albanian politicians involved in talks on Kosova's status, Veton Surroi, began a 24-day walk across Kosova on August 1, local media reported. Surroi, who will be sleeping in a tent each night, said he is "trying to establish an intensive dialogue with Kosova's citizens about the basic questions related to the Kosova status issue, and I would like to personally hear what they think about the problem." Surroi, who began his walk in the rain, said he expects the walk to be difficult, with ups and downs, heat and cold -- just like Kosova's path toward independence. Kosovar broadcasters reported that Surroi, who heads an opposition party, denied that the march marks the start of his party's campaign for local and parliamentary elections scheduled for November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). AG

Police in Kosova on August 2 arrested two men in an operation in which they also seized 506 guns of varying caliber, Kosovar media reported. A third man escaped. The arrests were reportedly the result of a four-month operation that ended with five homes in three locations being searched. Around 100 of the weapons were found in the houses, and the remainder in a car. Kosovar police said that most of the weapons were smuggled into the region from Macedonia. Some were due to be smuggled onward to neighboring countries. Most of the weapons were handguns, but a number were hunting rifles. Around 2,000 rounds of ammunition were also seized. AG

Macedonia's parliament on August 2 cleared the way for Vlado Buckovski, prime minister of Macedonia between 2004 and 2006, to face trial for corruption by lifting his immunity from prosecution. Parliament's move came hours after Macedonian prosecutors launched an investigation into Buckovski's role in an arms deal that they allege cost Macedonia 3 million euros ($4.1 million) and two days after the arrest of a retired chief of staff, General Metodi Stamboliski. Prosecutors believe Stamboliski ordered four times the number of tank parts required by the armed forces. Buckovski was defense minister at the time the deal was signed, in November 2001. Police also arrested the manager of the supplier, Mitre Petkovski of the Macedonian metals company MZT FOP. The three suspects are accused of pocketing Defense Ministry funds by "transferring funds to a company that had no contract" with the ministry. The alleged fraud is also thought to have involved two other Defense Ministry officials. Buckovski, who is now a rank-and-file member of parliament for the opposition Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), on August 2 dismissed the charges as a "political witch hunt." The decision to strip Buckovski of immunity was made by six members of a nine-strong parliamentary commission. However, an SDSM member of the commission, Igor Ivanovski, on August 2 said the decision was invalid. "We have audio and video evidence that the session was not concluded, a decision was not made, and the discussion was not over" when the meeting was wound up, the Balkan Insight news service quoted Ivanovski as saying. AG

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on August 3, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev said that the republic is continuing on the path toward democracy, but cautioned that it is important that it do so at its own pace.

"Even countries that consider themselves democratic and that we also consider democratic have already started looking for certain boundaries," Shaimiyev said. "I'm not talking about them stopping the process, but they have started to consider improving [their systems]."

Shaimiyev said this is a result of some of the negative aspects of democracy -- and their impact on people -- that have become evident during the transition to democracy. He said he believes it is necessary to make that transition as easy as possible. "We should act in the best interests of our people," Shaimiyev said. "It is a process where one shouldn't hurry. We cannot strip ourselves bare and start chasing democracy -- we might stumble."

However, he stressed that does not mean the ultimate goals have changed. He said the development of rights traditionally associated with democracies, such as freedom of the press, are key to the evolution into a free society.

"Without a doubt, society should be free. There should be no dispute about issues of the freedom and rights of the press. If they don't do any harm, then they should have their own opinion and make it known to the people -- and the people, every person, should be prepared to accept or reject this information," Shaimiyev said. "If we reach that level, we'll see civil society and democratic processes develop."

Shaimiyev also discussed Kazan's new power-sharing treaty with Moscow. "First of all, I want to say that although this agreement is shorter in length, it is very significant, particularly from a political perspective, because the 1994 agreement was prepared under very difficult conditions," he said.

Shaimiyev explained that the original power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia dealt mostly with property issues, while the new treaty bears a mostly political significance.

The newest agreement, which was formally approved by Russia's State Duma on July 4 and its Federation Council on July 11, gives the oil-rich republic more autonomy than other Russian federation subjects.

Most importantly, Shaimiyev said, it marks a first in Russian history. "The political significance of the new agreement is much greater. If you take a closer look at this agreement, you can see that it is the first such agreement in Russia's history," he said. "It has the power of a federal law. It went through the State Duma, the Federation Council, and acquired the power of a law. It provides many possibilities for resolving various issues. It has very substantial, important points."

Shaimiyev said the new treaty will allow Tatarstan to move forward on new intergovernmental agreements on environmental, tax, cultural, and other important issues. And Tatarstan will be able to go into such negotiations on strong footing, since the treaty retains the republic's autonomy. "It is said in the first article [of the power-sharing agreement] that Tatarstan will remain a state," Shaimiyev said.

Shaimiyev touched on another contentious issue in Moscow-Kazan relations -- calls for Tatarstan to switch to a Latin-based script, rather than Cyrillic. Calling the issues very complicated, Shaimiyev warned that switching to a Latin-based alphabet could divide the Tatar nation.

As for his possible successor when his current term expires in 2010 -- or in the event he leaves his post earlier, as some have speculated -- the four-term president said there are plenty of young, talented leaders fit to replace him. And that, he said, will allow Tatarstan to find his successor from within the republic itself -- an important luxury that will allow Tatarstan to continue in its own direction.

(Rim Gilfanov is the director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service.)

U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met on August 5 at the start of a two-day visit to discuss strategy options for the six-year effort to manage the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, Reuters reported. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the talks are to focus on the future of Afghanistan and on bolstering Karzai in his efforts to deal with soaring roadside and suicide bombings, a growing civilian death toll, and a record-setting opium trade, AP reported. The two leaders are also expected to discuss Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan and the stagnant fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, including the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which has "gotten nowhere lately," Karzai said in an interview with CNN. JC

Afghan doctors on August 5 delivered over $1,200 worth of medicine to the 21 South Korean hostages kidnapped by Taliban militants on July 19, Reuters reported. Mohammad Hashim Wahaj, the head of a private Afghan clinic, said his team brought antibiotics, painkillers, vitamins, and heart medication to Qarabagh district of Ghazni Province per the insurgents' instructions. A day earlier, Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi demanded that the United Nations guarantee the safety of Taliban negotiators in talks with Seoul, as a purported hostage pleaded for help from the UN and the Vatican. She gave her name as Sing Jo-hin in a telephone interview with AFP, but her identity could not be confirmed. An Afghan negotiator on August 4 again ruled out a Taliban prisoner exchange to free the 21 Koreans, the key insurgent demand that has proved to be a stumbling block in the negotiations thus far. JC

Nearly 100 widows, joined by a few men and children, gathered outside the UN Mission in Kabul on August 4 to call for international help in identifying the remains found in a mass grave in Afghanistan, AFP reported the next day. The grave, uncovered in July approximately 3 kilometers outside Kabul, is situated near weapons bunkers dating back to the period of Soviet occupation from 1979-89. Investigators have yet to confirm claims by officials that it could contain the bodies of hundreds of victims from nearly 30 years of war. Demonstrators held up pictures of their loved ones, while others condemned former "warlords," of whom several now hold posts in Afghanistan's first democratically elected parliament. The UN said it is working with the government to ensure forensic investigations were conducted to identify the bodies. There are at least 20 mass graves around Afghanistan, according to human-rights officials. JC

The Afghan National Army (ANA) is increasingly able to challenge insurgents in Afghanistan's troubled eastern region, said a top U.S. commander this week, RFE/RL reported on August 4. In a video-link news briefing from Bagram airfield, Brigadier General Joseph Votel, deputy commander of NATO's regional eastern command, commended the ANA's progress and its ability to collaborate with NATO forces, local authorities, and its Pakistani counterparts. Votel said the ANA is "doing very well" in spite of the extreme restlessness in the eastern region on account of the cross-border traffic of insurgents traveling to Afghanistan across the Afghan-Pakistan border. ANA's main disadvantages and difficulties are due to a lack of "enabling capabilities" -- the equipment and logistics needed to support a military operation -- rather than manpower or skills, he said. While the ANA is advancing in terms of tactics and leadership, the country's police force lags by comparison, Votel added. JC

The U.S. State Department said on August 2 that the United States will decrease its assistance to Afghanistan from $10.1 billion in 2007 to $4.7 billion in 2008, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on August 3. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher said the high funding in 2007 was an exceptional circumstance, intended to provide a "jump-start" to certain development projects and other critical programs, including training for the police and military. U.S. support amounted to approximately $3.3 billion in 2006 and increased to $10.1 billion due to the supplemental funding for kick-off activities, Boucher said. "Even when we drop back in 2008 to $4.7 billion, we're still 50 percent higher," he reasoned. JC

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran on August 5 that Iran will not be suspending uranium enrichment, a key part of the nuclear fuel-making process with dual military and civilian uses, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. He was rejecting statements attributed to Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on the possibility of suspending uranium enrichment by Iran, a demand reiterated by Western states. "I spoke to Mr. Larijani, and the article" in the German magazine "Focus," was not "adequately" reported, he said. "As Mr. Larijani told this magazine, enrichment suspension as the conclusion of negotiations is not acceptable," he said. Hosseini said Larijani told him that enrichment suspension is "not acceptable," and uranium enrichment is "vital" for Iran. Iran has insisted that it needs to make its own nuclear fuel, and cannot depend on fuel deliveries from abroad for the nuclear program it is developing. A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency was reportedly to visit Iran on August 6 to continue talks on how Tehran can clarify some of the UN nuclear watchdog's questions on its program, Radio Farda reported. VS

Kazem Jalali, a spokesman for the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told IRNA on August 5 that reports that Iran has slowed down uranium enrichment at the Natanz enrichment plant outside Tehran -- purportedly in response to Western pressures or to show its goodwill -- was Western media speculation. "It is absolutely not the case that enrichment activities have been intentionally reduced in Natanz," he said. Iran, he added, "has declared repeatedly that it will accept neither enrichment, nor suspension or the cessation" of enrichment and related activities. He said Western media try and depict the existence of a contradiction between the statements and actions of Iranian officials, when Iran "acts clearly," and there has been "no change" in "fundamental" nuclear policies. He referred to some "technical problems," which "can be solved," though he did not say if these were in Natanz. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hosseini told the press on August 5 that states deal with convicted criminals in line with their laws and that this is an internal matter, ISNA reported. "Any interference in this respect is to interfere" in a country's internal affairs, he said. The European Union expressed concern in a statement on August 3 on the increasing number of executions in Iran, and specifically on reported hanging sentences issued for two journalists, Adnan Hasanpur and Abdulvahed Butimar, convicted of antistate activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2007). Their lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told Fars news agency on August 3 that the initial court did not issue a formal sentence for the two yet, and he rejected media reports that they were sentenced to death. He said that once a sentence is issued, he will have 20 days to appeal against it. Spokesman Hosseini said Western media were highlighting the fact that people being sentenced were "journalists or Kurds," when Iran's laws deal with offenses, not people's "ethnicity or job," ISNA reported. VS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hosseini said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is to arrive in Tehran on August 8, to talk about arms the United States is reportedly to sell to some Arab states, ISNA reported. Hosseini said Iran considers the strengthening of its neighbors a source of strength for itself, but he said the statements of U.S. officials depicting Iran as a threat to regional stability were "intended to create concerns" and "disrupt the friendly relations of regional states." Iran, he said, has "deep and long-standing" relations with regional states, and its contacts and consultations with them will continue. Hosseini told the press that the United States has "put aside" policies of regional security and prosperity and decided instead to impose a "militaristic policy" on the Middle East, with the security of Israel as its priority. VS

Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar and military officials watched the "successful" flight of an Iranian fighter jet called "Azarakhsh," Fars news agency reported on August 5, citing a statement by the regular army's air force. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps has its own air force. The observers considered the test flight in the central Isfahan Province to be "satisfactory," Fars reported. VS

U.S. and Iranian diplomats sitting on a subcommittee tasked with addressing Iraqi security met in Baghdad on August 6, international media reported. The U.S. delegation to the talks was headed by Marcie Ries, minister-councilor for political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy, Reuters reported, citing embassy spokesman Philip Reeker. The Iranian delegation was headed by Iran's deputy head of mission to Iraq, Amir Abdollahian. The United States and Iran agreed to form the subcommittee during their July 24 talks in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2007). The United States has long accused Iran of supporting Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Tehran has denied the allegations. Meanwhile, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi told Baghdad's "Al-Mu'tamar" that Iraq has presented a list of 10 issues that need to be addressed by the subcommittee, the daily reported on August 5. KR

U.S. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno told reporters in Baghdad on August 5 that Shi'ite militiamen armed by Iran were responsible for 73 percent of the attacks that killed or wounded U.S. forces in Baghdad in July. The number is nearly double that of six months ago. This follows a July 31 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that said that the Pentagon cannot account for 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols given to Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated security forces in 2004 and 2005. The report notes that 135,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 helmets given to Iraqi forces before September 22, 2005, are also unaccounted for. KR

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told reporters at an August 5 press briefing in Baghdad that he is optimistic that Iraq's fractious political parties can reach agreement on developing the national-unity government, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. He said that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has agreed with Talabani and Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to work according to four previously agreed-upon principles: strengthening and developing the national-unity government; adhering to the previously agreed-upon political program and implementing outstanding provisions; constitutional reform, including a redistribution of executive power between the prime ministry and the Presidency Council; and studying the Iraq Accordance Front's demands and committing to meeting those demands deemed legitimate. Talabani also discussed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's announcement that he refused to accept the resignations of the Accordance Front's ministers in his cabinet. Talabani said the Presidency Council hopes the front's cabinet members will reconsider their boycott (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007) and return to work. For his part, al-Maliki discussed his conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush, telling reporters that Bush also called Talabani and Abd al-Mahdi because he recognized Iraq's executive branch was in dire need of consultation, communication, and integration. Abd al-Mahdi also attended the press briefing. KR

Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi told Al-Sharqiyah television in an August 4 interview that he conveyed the Sunni Arab position to President Bush during a telephone call the same day. He said Bush "expressed his concern" over the Accordance Front's boycott of the cabinet, and that Bush "told me frankly that this will add a new burden" in terms of U.S. public opinion on Iraq and on al-Hashimi personally. He said Bush stressed the need for collective leadership in Iraq. "For my part, I have reassured the U.S. president that the Accordance Front has withdrawn from Nuri al-Maliki's government but it has not withdrawn from the political process, and that it will remain active in the interest of Iraq from its position at the Presidency Council and the positions of its representatives at the Council of Representatives," al-Hashimi said. KR

U.S. and Iraqi security forces killed a man they claim is responsible for the February 22, 2006, bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraqi media reported on August 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). Haytham al-Badri, also known as Haytham al-Sab, was also allegedly responsible for the slaying of Al-Arabiyah journalist Atwar Bahjat, who was killed the same day in 2006. Al-Iraqiyah television quoted the Iraqi military as saying a second suspected terrorist, identified as Abbas Anidah was arrested on August 4. Anidah is reportedly responsible for the killing of more than 40 civilians in Samarra. KR