|Tuesday, 20 November 2018|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-07-20
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN CALLS ON SECURITY COUNCIL SAVE CIS FROM DISINTEGRATIONPresident Vladimir Putin warned during a 19 July Security Council session devoted to Russia's policy on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that "we are faced with an alternative: either we achieve a qualitative strengthening of the CIS -- or this structure will be washed away from the geopolitical space," ITAR-TASS reported. "We should not let that happen, and Russia's role in boosting the influence and the authority of the CIS is very great," Putin said. He added that Russia faces the challenge posed by increasing "political and economic competition within the CIS space." Putin described the work of the Russian diplomatic corps and economic missions working in the CIS as inefficient and inadequate. He called for Russia to develop a coordinated and consistent policy on the CIS, adding that the Foreign Ministry should actively work to protect the rights of ethnic Russians living in the CIS. Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov announced after the meeting that the council decided at the session to set up a special committee to boost cooperation among the CIS states. The council also on 19 July directed the Foreign Ministry to set up Russian information and cultural centers in CIS states. VY
 CHINA PLACES HURDLES IN RUSSIA'S PATH TO WTO"Izvestiya" wrote in a 19 July commentary that China is seeking to gain economic concessions by obstructing Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). During a meeting in Geneva on 15-16 July of the working group on Russia's accession to the WTO, China joined the European Union's demand that accession be contingent on Russia raising its domestic gas prices. "This is not their business at all, because [the Chinese] do not import Russian gas," the paper quoted a member of the Russian delegation attending the meeting as saying. According to "Izvestiya," China is taking this course as revenge for Russia's failure to come through on promises that would have made the Chinese city of Datsin a major oil center. In 2002, then-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed an agreement with China on the construction of an oil pipeline from Angarsk to Datsin. In addition, Yukos signed a 25-year deal with the Chinese National Petrochemical Company to operate the pipeline on Chinese soil. However, Russian government unexpectedly opted instead to give priority to a pipeline route to Nakhodka, which better suits Japan's interests. As a result, China is trying to press Russia to reverse its decision, the newspaper wrote. VY
 EXPERTS SAY GENERAL STAFF CHIEF'S DISMISSAL NOT RELATED TO NORTH CAUCASUS SETBACKS...Duma Security Committee member Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia) said that the dismissal of Army General Anatolii Kvashnin as chief of the General Staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004) is not connected with the dismissal on 19 July of many top military officials serving in the North Caucasus, NTV reported. Gudkov said that the policies the General Staff followed under Kvashnin's leadership since 1997 harmed Russia's national interests. Gudkov noted that during Kvashnin's term, "we left our bases in Cuba and in Vietnam, put forward no serious conditions regarding Russian bases in the Transcaucasus, and failed to negotiate any [favorable terms] in exchange for NATO's expansion toward our borders." Meanwhile, Federation Council Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov told Interfax on 19 July that "a whole era ended with Kvashnin's departure, an era of military reforms that were not thought through, [and] unmotivated reforms of the types and branches of forces, management structures, and the reduction of troop numbers." Colonel General Leonid Ivashov on 19 July described Kvashnin's dismissal as a correction of the mistake made in choosing him in the first place, saying that he was not qualified for the position and "brought nothing good to the army," NTV reported. VY
 ...AS DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS GENERAL STAFF TO FOCUS ON FUTURE WARSDefense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists on 19 July following his meeting with newly appointed chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii and President Putin, that the "difficult period in the life of the military is over," RTR and NTV reported. Speaking about the new role of the General Staff, Ivanov said that "in the view of the supreme commander [Putin], it is important that the General Staff focus more on future wars and the prospective development of the armed forces, and not be involved in current, routine affairs." Military analyst Aleksandr Golts told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 19 July that Ivanov is obviously pleased with the dismissal of Kvashnin, with whom he often clashed. Golts said Baluevskii will likely be much more compliant, and has little leadership experience. VY
 ELECTION CHIEF ENDORSES OFFICIAL RESULTS IN VLADIVOSTOK MAYORAL RACECentral Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Ekho Moskvy on 19 July that "the will of the citizens was expressed very clearly" in the Vladivostok mayoral election that was completed on 18 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004). He said that voters "received full information about each candidate and made their decision conscientiously." He dismissed accusations that newly elected Mayor Vladimir Nikolaev is a criminal figure, saying, "he was cleared of his previous criminal record due to the statute of limitations." "Nikolaev is not a criminal because he was elected a deputy to the krai legislature two years ago," Veshnyakov added. He also said, however, that the disqualification by a local court of Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent), who finished second in the first round, from the second-round ballot was an "abuse of justice." Nonetheless, he said, "the voters of Vladivostok have made their choice, and it should be respected." RC
 ORTHODOX CHURCH SLAMS 'COMPROMISED' HUMAN RIGHTS COMMUNITYThe Russian Orthodox Church has called for the Russian human rights community to find new leaders, Interfax reported on 19 July. "I regret to say the so-called human rights movement in Russia has compromised itself," Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, who heads the church's external-affairs office, told a Radonezh radio station. "The most widely known so-called human rights organizations are notorious for professionally fighting against the Russian Orthodox Church," Kirill said. "They dislike Russia, [try to] find human rights violations anywhere inside Russia, but not against ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries, in the North Caucasus, or elsewhere." He said that new leaders for the movement must "be able to confront bureaucrats, be incorruptible, and never think of trying to obtain foreign grants." Activist Yevgenii Ikhlov of the For Human Rights NGO told Interfax on 19 July that "if foreign aid dries out, the human rights movement in Russia will lose 90 percent of its vigor and disappear." RC
 ALFA GROUP HEAD BLAMES MEDIA FOR RECENT BANKING CRISIS...Alfa Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman told journalists on 19 July that state-owned banks benefited from the recent banking-sector crisis and that this is an unfortunate development for the economy, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 July. "It does not seem good to me when the already large state sector in the banking business is increased," Fridman said. "It is very important to create equal conditions for all banks in Russia, but today we have a fairly asymmetrical situation." Fridman said that the actions of the Central Bank during the crisis were "relatively competent" and commended Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev for making a special statement assuring the public that Alfa Bank was sound. Fridman said that certain individuals were interested in provoking the recent banking crisis and that they acted through the mass media. He said that Alfa Bank intends to file suits against a number of media outlets. "We have sufficient court experience dealing with irresponsible media outlets," Fridman said, referring to a successful 2003 case against "Versiya." He said the bank suffered approximately $9 million in losses from the crisis and that it would seek this amount through its media lawsuits. RC
 ...AS OTHERS SEE CREEPING NATIONALIZATION IN THE BANKING SECTOR"Russkii fokus" reported on 11 July that "only state structures are reaping benefits from the [banking] crisis." Central Bank Chairman Ignatev told the Duma on 8 July that rumors of blacklists of private banks and other such provocations have been fabricated for purposes of "dishonest competition," the magazine reported. Presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov said on 10 July that the crisis was provoked by the actions of state agencies, particularly the Central Bank, that are leading to "the socialization or communalization of the banking system, which, strictly speaking, leads directly to nationalization." The magazine speculated that the owners of troubled Guta Bank might have agreed so quickly to sell to state-owned Vneshtorgbank because they were "inspired by the example of 'jailbird' Mikhail Khodorkovskii." It added that Dialog-Optim bank might be the next private bank to be swallowed up, noting that concerns about the bank were only inflamed by Ignatev's special statement saying the bank has no liquidity problems. State-owned Russian Development Bank is believed to be interested in Dialog-Optim. RC
 EXPERT GROUP URGES DE-MONOPOLIZATION OF THE ECONOMYA panel of unnamed economics experts and business representatives told the Federation Council on 19 July that President Putin's stated goal of doubling GDP within 10 years can only be achieved by de-monopolizing the economy. The experts specifically urged deregulation in the oil, gas, electricity, pipeline, power-line, and railways sectors. They criticized "certain state policies that often facilitate monopolization," and called for a reduction in the types of activities that require state licenses and for the abolition of privileges for companies that implement state policies. RC
 PUTIN SIGNS OFF ON CFE TREATYPresident Putin on 19 July signed a federal law ratifying the modified Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Russian media reported on 20 July. The legislation was adopted by the Duma on 25 June and by the Federation Council on 7 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2004), RIA-Novosti reported. The agreement, which so far has been ratified by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, comes into force only after it has been ratified by all 30 signatory countries. According to a statement released by the presidential press office, the agreement "will boost the defensive potential of the Russian Federation because, as a result of the coming into force of the treaty, the potential of the conventional forces of major European powers, the United States, and Canada will be reduced, as will their offensive capabilities," newsru.com reported. RC
 KREMLIN EXPERT OPENS 'RUSSIAN CLUB' IN KYIVEffective Politics Foundation head and Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovskii announced during a 19 July press conference in Kyiv that his foundation plans to open a nongovernmental organization in Kyiv that will focus on relations between Russia and Ukraine, glavred.info reported. The organization, to be named the Russian Club, will be funded by public and commercial organizations in Russia and will host Russian politicians and other public and cultural figures. In reference to the Ukrainian presidential campaign, Pavlovskii said Russia is not intervening as it simply has no leverage to do so, RTR reported. Pavlovskii said that among the candidates in the October election, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych appeals most to Russia, while Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Yushchenko has given "no clear answers" to questions of interest to Russia, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 July. VY
 LIBERALS TO SEEK REFERENDUM ON DRAFT-DEFERMENTS PLANThe Free Choice-2008 committee and "Novaya gazeta" and other media organizations have announced that they will attempt to initiate a national referendum on a controversial government proposal to curtail sharply the number of military-draft deferments, Ekho Moskvy reported on 19 July. "Novaya gazeta" Deputy General Director Valerii Shiryaev said that the issue is of great importance because it directly affects tens of millions of Russians. He said the matter of draft deferments is of far greater public concern than is the issue of press freedom in Russia. RC
 CHARGES FILED AGAINST RYAZAN MAYORLocal prosecutors have charged Ryazan Mayor Pavel Mamatov with abuse of office and exceeding his authority, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 July. Mamatov is accused of involvement in numerous illegal acts, including the alleged distribution of five municipal apartments to a commercial structure. He is also accused of transferring 1 million rubles ($33,300) to another company and of giving a city-owned apartment to his son. Mamatov told the daily that the charges were fabricated after he refused a demand from Ryazan Oblast Governor Georgii Shpak to step down. On 15 July, the Ryazan city legislature amended the city charter so that in the future the city's mayor will be appointed by the legislature rather than popularly elected. Mamatov said he will appeal the legislature's action. RC
 PARTIES STRUGGLING TO GET THEIR VIRTUAL MESSAGE OUTOne of the main battlegrounds in the current dispute between two factions of the Communist Party of Russia is the party's official website, http://www.kprf.ru, "Vremya novostei" reported on 20 July. Even as the factions vie for control of the party's Internet resources, the web remains a largely ineffective means of disseminating political-party propaganda in Russia. According to the daily, just 1,943 people visit kprf.ru on an average day, generating just 4,684 page views. Other political parties have even less impressive statistics. On a typical day, just 605 people visit the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) website (http://www.sps.ru), generating 2,845 page views. Four hundred twelve people visit the Yabloko site (http://www.yabloko.ru), generating 2,530 hits. Among the major parties, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's site is the least active, with just 370 visitors a day generating 1,458 hits. RC
 CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTER DEPLORES MASKHADOV INTERVIEWMajor General Alu Alkhanov told Interfax on 19 July that Western countries whose mass media carry interviews with the "leaders of illegal armed groups" share responsibility for "the tragedy of the Chechen people." Alkhanov was referring to an interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov that Reuters circulated the previous day. Alkhanov took issue with Maskhadov's characterization of the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as "a farce" and of candidates in that ballot as "quislings." Alkhanov is widely regarded as the Kremlin's favored candidate in that election. Alkhanov further alleged that Maskhadov is responsible for the deaths of countless Chechen women, children, elderly people, and clergymen. Maskhadov has, however, repeatedly ordered the fighters under his command never to target Chechen civilians. Maskhadov again denied any connection with Al-Qaeda or other international terror organizations. He said he sees negotiations with Russia as one possible way of ending the ongoing fighting, but at the same time predicted that "sad as it sounds, I think the current Russo-Chechen war will outlast Putin." LF
 FORMER PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER'S SISTER MURDEREDUnknown perpetrators armed with automatic weapons burst into the home of Tamara Khadzhieva in Shali early on 18 July and shot her dead, Russian media reported. Khadzhieva was the head of the Chechen chapter of Unified Russia and the sister of Salambek Khadzhiev, who served from March-October 1995 as head of the pro-Moscow Chechen puppet administration. Chechen Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kravchenko told Interfax on 19 July that he will personally supervise the investigation into Khadzhieva's killing, which he said was clearly politically motivated and intended to exacerbate tensions in the run-up to the 29 August ballot. Also on 18 July, Chechen police spotted and defused a land mine planted close to the home of Chechen mufti Akhmad-hadji Shamaev, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN COURT UPHOLDS ESPIONAGE SENTENCESArmenia's Appeal Court rejected on 19 July an appeal by four Armenian citizens against the sentences handed down to them in January on charges of state treason and spying for Azerbaijan, Noyan Tapan reported. Nina Shilina and her husband Edgar Filkov appealed against their prison sentences of 15 and 13 years respectively, protesting that the lower court failed to prove their guilt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). Filkov's brother Aleksandr Gasparian was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, and his appeal that that sentence be offset against a concurrent 4 1/2 year sentence for swindling was rejected. LF
 AZERBAIJANI POW RELEASEDThe authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic released on 19 July a young Azerbaijani serviceman apprehended on 30 June after crossing the Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, Turan reported. LF
 AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST ABDUCTED, THREATENEDAydin Guliev, who is chief editor of the opposition daily "Baki khabar," told a press conference in Baku on 19 July that he was abducted late on 17 July near his home by four masked men who gagged him, put a sack over his head, and drove him around the city for several hours, warning him repeatedly to abandon his journalistic activities and criticizing him for not serving "his state and Islam," Turan reported. Eventually the four men drove Guliev to the city outskirts where he was beaten and then released. Guliev said on 19 July that he has never published any anti-Islamic materials. He said he believes the episode was orchestrated by the Azerbaijani leadership. Presidential administration official Nazim Isaev has condemned the abduction of Guliev and called for a thorough investigation, Turan reported on 19 July. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VISITS SOUTH OSSETIAMikheil Saakashvili visited Georgian peacekeeping forces deployed in the village of Eredvi in South Ossetia late on 18 July in the company of Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili and National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili, Georgian media reported. Saakashvili told Georgian journalists that "sooner or later" the would-be breakaway Republic of South Ossetia will be "smoothly and calmly" integrated into the Georgian state, Caucasus Press reported. But at the same time Saakashvili warned that "we are strong enough to repulse any provocations." In a 19 July statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry deplored Saakashvili's failure to inform either the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in South Ossetia or the unrecognized republic's leadership of his impending visit, Interfax reported. The statement said that omission did not contribute to "normalizing" the situation. The statement further characterized the situation in the conflict zone as "tense," noting that the agreement reached during the 14-15 July Joint Control Commission session in Moscow to withdraw all illegal armed forces from the conflict zone has still not been implemented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 July 2004). LF
 GEORGIANS CONFISCATE MORE MATERIEL IN SOUTH OSSETIAGeorgian peacekeeping forces confiscated late on 18 July an antitank gun and three shells from a private vehicle driven by an Ossetian, which they intercepted near Tskhinvali, Georgian media reported. Both the South Ossetian authorities and the Russian peacekeeping force have denied ownership of the arms. President Saakashvili commented that "these are expensive weapons," which the Georgian Army did not previously possess but has now acquired free of charge, according to "Vremya novostei" on 20 July. LF
 PROSECUTOR UPS PRICE FOR RELEASING FORMER GEORGIAN AUDIT CHAMBER CHAIRMANTbilisi Prosecutor Valerii Grigalashvili told Caucasus Press on 16 July that former Audit Chamber Chairman Sulkhan Molashvili will be released from pre-trial detention only if he pays 3 million laris ($1.59 million) to the state budget. Molashvili was arrested in April and charged with embezzlement. His defense lawyer Shota Shavgulidze said on 16 July that Grigalashvili had earlier promised that Molashvili would be released if he transferred 135,000 laris to the state budget and relinquished possession of a dacha on the outskirts of Tbilisi, which he has already done. LF
 SACKED GEORGIAN TRAFFIC POLICE LAUNCH PROTESTSome of the estimated 1,500 Georgian traffic police fired as part of a sweeping reform of the Interior Ministry staged protests on 14 July in Tbilisi and on 19 July in Tbilisi and Kutaisi, Caucasus Press reported. The daily "Mtavari gazeti" on 15 July quoted participants in the first Tbilisi protest as claiming they were told they had been dismissed because they were over 37 years old. The independent television station Rustavi-2 on 19 July quoted protesting former police officers in Tbilisi as complaining that they are more experienced than younger officers who still have jobs. Georgian Interior Minister Okruashvili dismissed as "absurd" the allegation that officers were dismissed on the grounds of their age, Interfax reported on 19 July. Speaking on 19 July at the Police Academy in Tbilisi, President Saakashvili said that the families of the dismissed officers had been "living at the expense of the state," Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili advised the former officers to go into business. LF
 GEORGIAN MINISTER TERMS PROTEST OVER UNPAID PENSIONS 'PROVOCATION'Several dozen pensioners stormed the offices in Ozurgeti of the ruling National Movement-Democrats on 19 July to protest the nonpayment of pensions, Caucasus Press reported. The pensioners said that they had been told that the party had compiled a list of pensioners who allegedly had received their pensions regularly, but that some people on that list had not in fact been paid. Labor, Health, and Social Security Minister Lado Chipashvili condemned the pensioners' action as a "provocation" engineered by the discredited former leadership of Ozurgeti. LF
 KAZAKH ANTICORRUPTION BODY TARGETS FOREIGN OIL FIRMSKazakhstan's financial police have charged BG Karachaganak, a subsidiary of U.K.-based British Gas, with smuggling $2.73 billion worth of natural gas condensate to Russia, gazeta.ru reported on 19 July. Top finance police officer Sarybai Kalmurzaev told a 19 July news conference that damages to the state are estimated at $5.4 million, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to Kalmurzaev, the investigation will take at least 7-8 months. Another criminal case levels price-fixing charges at Canada's PetroKazakhstan. Kazakhstan's antimonopoly agency charges that PetroKazakhstan and its affiliates colluded to circumvent antimonopoly legislation and generate illegal profits of $96 million. Kalmurzaev stressed that the companies involved "have excellent specialists and consultants who find loopholes in our laws." He promised, however, that the cases will be brought before a court of law. DK
 QUESTIONS SURROUND DEATH OF KAZAKH JOURNALISTKazakh opposition journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov, who wrote for the opposition news website "Navigator," died on 20 July of injuries he sustained on 16 July in a traffic accident in Almaty, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. "Navigator" Editor in Chief Yurii Mizinov told a 19 July press conference that serious questions have arisen about the accident, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Mizinov said the nature of Sharipzhanov's injuries did not match the official description of the accident. Zamanbek Nurkadilov, the former head of the Emergency Situations Agency and now an opponent of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, went further, saying: "I'm accusing authorities, President Nazarbaev, head of the president's administration Imangali Tasmagambetov, of practically killing one of the most critical and progressive journalists," AP reported. DK
 KAZAKH PREMIER SLAMS BUMBLING POLICE FORCESpeaking at an Interior Ministry meeting in Astana on 19 July, Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov criticized the police for a lack of professionalism, Khabar TV reported. Akhmetov noted that problems persist in the registration of crimes, actions of patrol officers, maintenance of order in public places, and interactions between the Interior Ministry and other law-enforcement bodies, Kazinform reported. For his part, Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov criticized police for failing to register crimes and track down known criminals, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Still, Akhmetov stated that the Interior Ministry has progressed to a point where it can "move along with a serious assault on crime." DK
 COMMUNIST PEOPLE'S PARTY SELECTS CANDIDATES IN KAZAKHSTANThe Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan selected a list of candidates for 19 September parliamentary elections at its first congress on 18 July in Astana, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day. The party slate consists of five candidates; 11 candidates will run in single-mandate constituencies. Party leader Vladimir Kosarev heads the party slate. The Communist People's Party is a splinter party of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and it received official registration on 21 June. DK
 KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN SAYS OPPOSITION LEADER COULD GO FREE IN AUGUSTOmbudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu told akipress.org on 19 July that he has made two appeals to prosecutors for the possible release of imprisoned opposition leader Feliks Kulov, akipress.org. The appeals came in response to a request from Kulov on 5 April. Bakir uulu said that a preliminary investigation concluded that Kulov should go free on 5 August, but he noted that the authorities have not yet made an official decision on the case. Seen as Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's chief rival, Kulov is serving a 10-year sentence for embezzlement; his supporters say that he is a political prisoner. DK
 REPORT SAYS CHILDREN HARVEST 40 PERCENT OF TAJIK COTTONA new report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that children harvest 40 percent of Tajikistan's cotton, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 July. Frederic Chenais, acting head of the IOM mission in Tajikistan, presented the report at a 16 July press conference in Dushanbe. "Although Tajik legislation prohibits child labor, they harvest up to 40 percent of the cotton for paltry wages and to the detriment of their health and education," Chenais said. "Over the 4-5 months of the cotton harvest, they earn on average less than $20. Approximately 70 percent of parents state that the cotton harvest negatively affects their children's health," he added. The report is based on independent research conducted in three cotton-growing regions of the country. DK
 NEW U.K. ENVOY PRESENTS TAJIK AID PLANGraeme Loten, the United Kingdom's new ambassador to Tajikistan, told journalists in Dushanbe on 19 July that the Department for International Development will provide Tajikistan with 12 million pounds ($22.4 million) of aid over a four-year period, Khovar reported. Loten said that the aid will go to improving the country's credit and arbitration systems, as well as providing English-language training. DK
 POLISH SEJM COMMITTEE DEFENDS BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONThe Foreign Affairs Committee of the Polish Sejm has adopted a resolution on human rights violations in Belarus, Belapan reported on 19 July quoting the press office of the Belarusian Popular Front. "We interpret threats [by the authorities] to outlaw opposition parties (including the liquidation proceedings against the Belarusian Party of Labor) as serious violations of generally binding rules of respect for human rights," the resolution states. The committee also recognized the need to defend persecuted Belarusian organizations and party activists. "Poland's moral support for the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people is a necessary expression of friendship that creates conditions for closer cooperation between our countries," the resolution stated. AM
 ELECTION TO BELARUSIAN UPPER CHAMBER TO START ON 18 AUGUSTCentral Election Commission chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna announced on 19 July that elections to the Council of the Republic of the Belarusian National Assembly will start on 18 August, Belapan reported. According to Yarmoshyna, the elections should end by 18 November. The 64-seat Council of the Republic, which is a chamber of territorial representation, is mostly elected by members of local councils -- eight representatives from each of Belarus's six oblasts, eight from the city of Minsk, and the remaining eight are appointed by the president. The current members' mandate runs out in December 2004. AM
 REFORMS AND ORDER PARTY CHANGES NAME TO OUR UKRAINEA convention of 375 delegates from the opposition Reforms and Order Party, which is a member of the Our Ukraine bloc in the Verkhovna Rada, on 18 July changed the party's name to Our Ukraine, Interfax reported. "Such a move demonstrates our readiness for creating a single, united democratic Our Ukraine party," said Viktor Pynzenyk, the leader of the renamed party. According to him, this step should encourage other democratic forces to consolidate into a single party. The convention also endorsed Viktor Yushchenko's candidacy in the 31 October presidential election. AM
 UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY BEGINS INVESTIGATION INTO GONGADZE SURVEILLANCEThe Ukrainian Interior Ministry has started an official inquiry into the reasons behind the surveillance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze before his abduction and murder in 2000, Interfax reported on 19 July, quoting First Deputy Interior Minister Mykhaylo Korniyenko. The internal investigation, initiated following a recent inquiry from the Prosecutor-General's Office, is expected to last one month. AM
 U.S. REPORTEDLY OFFERS SERBIA DEAL ON INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS...U.S. officials apparently proposed to visiting Serbian President Boris Tadic in Washington on 19 July that Serbia might try some important war crimes suspects itself if it arrests former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic and sends him to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper told Tadic: "It is clear that we share a common interest, and that is to resolve the war crimes issue once and for all. If we can find a way to bring [Mladic] to The Hague, it really opens up the process so that we can discuss the possibility of having domestic trials, including trials for the four [Serbian] generals." Prosper was referring to former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff and General Nebojsa Pavkovic, former General Vladimir Lazarevic, and former police Generals Vlastimir Djordjevic and Sreten Lukic, whom the tribunal has indicted in connection with the 1998-99 conflict in Kosova. Djordjevic is allegedly in Russia, while the other three men are living more or less openly in Serbia, the news agency reported, adding that this is the "most explicit U.S. offer on Mladic to date" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February, 18 June, and 2 July 2004). PM
 ...IN PROCESS THAT MIGHT BE WELL ADVANCEDThe Serbian government is reportedly already negotiating with Mladic regarding the terms of his surrender, offering financial support for his legal defense and his family if he gives himself up, "Time" reported in its European edition of 26 July, which was published on 18 July. An unnamed Serbian "senior government official" told the weekly in Belgrade that "we are working very intensely [on a deal with Mladic] and expect results in a couple of weeks." An unnamed "senior Western diplomat" in the Serbian capital noted that there is "some movement on this issue...[and] room for optimism." Neither the U.S. authorities nor their Serbian counterparts have officially confirmed the story, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tadic told CNN in Washington on 19 July that the Serbian authorities are trying to find Mladic and will send him to The Hague if they do. PM
 DID SERBIAN OFFICIALS LET WAR CRIMES SUSPECT EVADE ARREST?Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said on 19 July that the Serbian authorities apparently allowed former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic to leave his home in Novi Sad on 13 July, nine hours after the tribunal gave Serbian officials a warrant for his arrest, Reuters reported. She noted that her office "has evidence and photographs" of Hadzic leaving home with "a bag," adding that his driver returned with an empty car just over one hour later. Del Ponte called the incident an example of an indictee "fleeing in a hurry, just hours after [the] Belgrade authorities had been requested to act upon arrest warrants." She stressed that she will report the matter to the UN Security Council unless the Serbian authorities arrest Hadzic soon. Del Ponte recently called Serbia and Montenegro a "safe haven" for war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). PM
 MACEDONIA BEEFS UP CONTINGENT IN AFGHANISTANThe Macedonian government decided on 20 July to increase its military contingent in Afghanistan from 10 to 19 members, "Vreme" reported. The troops will be part of the German contingent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). In other news, the government also approved a draft national strategy for EU integration, MIA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February and 5 March 2004). UB
 ROMANIAN TELEVISION REJECTS OPPOSITION ACCUSATIONSIn a press release distributed on 19 July, Romanian Television (TVR) rejected accusations of bias by the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, Mediafax reported. The alliance called on President Ion Iliescu to resign on 16 July, saying he is failing in his constitutional duty to remain nonpartisan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004). The alliance also said TVR is biased in favor of Iliescu and the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and that TVR should allot it equal time during prime time to respond to the president's criticism of it. In its statement, TVR said the "state of the nation" broadcast with the president was introduced in January 2002 to make it possible for Romanians to learn how their president views the country's political, economic, and social developments. TVR said it is not responsible for how Iliescu uses that time and, in its opinion, politicians should refrain from using public television for political or electoral clashes. "We find it hilarious that instead of replying to criticism, one would criticize the television station on which those views were broadcast," the statement said. MS
 ROMANIAN ACADEMY RECOMMENDS ABANDONING CANADIAN MINING PROJECTThe Romanian Academy on 19 July said a Canadian open-air mining project in the Rosia Montana region of Transylvania should be abandoned, Mediafax reported. The $450 million project of the Canadian firm Gabriel Resources calls for extracting 300 tons of gold and 1,700 tons of silver from the 20-square-kilometer area. An academy commission was asked by the government to evaluate the project, after protests in Romania and abroad said the project could trigger an ecological disaster and would lead to the irreplaceable loss of precious archeological findings. The academy said the project would end after 17 years and cannot constitute a lasting solution to the region's social and economic problems, but would lead to the destruction of a 2,000-year-old settlement while Romania's 2 percent share in the profits is too small to justify the sacrifice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 November 2003). MS
 MOLDOVAN LYCEUM TEACHERS, STUDENTS BARRICADE THEMSELVES TO PREVENT SCHOOL CLOSURE...Dozens of teachers, students, and parents at the Bendery-Tighina Lyceum, which teaches in Moldovan (Romanian) using the Latin script, locked themselves in on 15 July in an attempt to prevent the closure of the school, Infotag reported. Speaking at a news conference in Chisinau on 19 July, lyceum Director Maria Roibu said that three truckloads of Transdniestrian militiamen and representatives of the municipal authorities are there to enforce the evacuation of the building, which has had its water and electricity disconnected. Roibu called the action of the separatist authorities "an act of genocide and ethnic cleansing." She also said that in addition to a Tiraspol school closed last week, schools in the villages of Corjevo and Rogi have also received closure orders. The Transdniestrian authorities last week ordered all such schools in the territory under their administration shut down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 July 2004). MS
 ...AS COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL CONCERNED OVER TIRASPOL SCHOOL CLOSURE...Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer on 19 July said he was "concerned" over the recent closure of the school in Tiraspol and called the measure "in complete contradiction with basic European standards of human and minority rights," Infotag reported. Also on 19 July, the EU countries that have diplomatic representations in Chisinau (France, Germany, Hungary, and the United Kingdom) as well as the U.S. Embassy issued a joint statement expressing concern over Tiraspol's decision, Flux reported. MS
 ...WHILE TRANSDNIESTER AUTHORITIES DEFIANTElena Bomeshko, who holds the education portfolio in the Tiraspol government, said on 19 July that four of the six Moldovan schools operating in Transdniester and teaching with Latin script have already been closed down and the others will follow, Infotag reported. She said the schools in Corjevo and Rogi were offered the option to register with the Tiraspol authorities and use the curriculum approved by them. Bomeshko said the closure of the schools has "nothing to do with the language issue" and that they are being shut down because their curriculum does not follow the instructions issued by Tiraspol. She added that all schools in the region must adhere to Russian teaching standards. MS
 GAGAUZ-YERI CAPITAL ELECTS NEW MAYORIndependent candidate Nicolai Dudoglu won the mayoral election in Comrat on 18 July, garnering 61 percent of the vote, Infotag reported. His rival, former acting Mayor Vasilii Croitor, received 38 percent of the vote. The elections were called after the dismissal of former Mayor Constantin Taushanji by the Moldovan authorities on grounds of alleged incompetence. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 U.S. ARRESTS FORMER TALIBAN COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTANThe Afghan authorities announced that U.S. troops apprehended former Taliban commander Ghulam Mohammad Hotak in southwest Wardak Province on 17 July, AP reported on 18 July. Hotak, his brother, and a nephew were arrested at Hotak's home in a village outside the provincial capital "because they have links to the Taliban," Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Mohammad Azimi told reporters. U.S. officials did not comment on the incident. Police chief Basir Salangi said that as many as 700 people protested the arrests in the streets outside the local government offices in Wardak's capital, Maydan Shahr, on 18 July. After the ousting of the Taliban regime in December 2001, Hotak returned to his home village and switched his allegiance to the Afghan Transitional Administration; nonetheless, his requests to be nominated as provincial governor went unanswered. Hotak and his militia have reportedly participated in international disarmament efforts and "handed over hundreds of assault rifles, machine guns, and rockets," according to AP. His arrest comes after the U.S. military announced last week that it would step up operations to improve security in Afghanistan before presidential elections take place on 9 October. KM
 KARZAI MEETS REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVES TO DISCUSS ELECTIONSAfghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai met with local representatives from the country's eastern provinces on 19 July, state-run Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai discussed the upcoming national elections, saying: "Consultations with the people's representatives regarding the affairs of the country help to develop the country. The [Afghan transitional] government takes into consideration the value of democracy." He acknowledged the progress Afghanistan has made in the last few years and said, "We should make more efforts to achieve further successes and to provide a safe and free atmosphere to hold the presidential and parliamentary elections." Reflecting the current Afghan and U.S. emphasis on improving security in the country before the 9 October presidential vote, Karzai said, "I assure you that we will honor our pledges about disarmament and ridding the nation of the shadow of gun." KM
 AFGHAN GIRLS' SCHOOLS CLOSE AFTER THREATSTwo girls' schools closed down in the Saydabad District of Afghanistan's Wardak Province, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 18 July. Students were warned not to attend school, and "female teachers were attacked with rockets, and hand grenades were thrown into the schools at night," the news agency reported. Neo-Taliban insurgents have been active in the province, reportedly distributing anti-U.S. leaflets and promulgating violence against the Afghan central government and its U.S. and international supporters in the country. While the government and international aid organizations are working toward the goal of universal education for children in Afghanistan, threats to teachers and students -- especially females -- remain all too common. KM
 POLISH PREMIER VISITS AFGHANISTANPolish Prime Minister Marek Belka visited Afghanistan on 19 July while en route back to Poland from Iraq and Kuwait, PAP reported the same day. Belka told reporters after meeting with Chairman Karzai that some of the Polish troops currently serving in Iraq might be transferred to serve in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. He did not give specific dates for the transfer, but did say that both missions are equally important and challenging, and that Poland will fulfill its troop commitment in Iraq until 2005 and transfer troops to Afghanistan only after it holds elections this fall, PAP reported. He also noted that Poland's assistance in Iraq should help other NATO countries concentrate on their military support to Afghanistan, AFP reported. Poland currently has about 200 soldiers stationed at Bagram Air Base near Kabul as part of the ISAF. KM
 EU CONCERNED WITH SLAIN JOURNALIST'S TRIAL IN IRANThe European Union presidency expressed concern in a 19 July statement at the conclusion "in a very short time" of the trial of an Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry agent charged with killing Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi when she was detained in Tehran in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004), AP and Radio Farda reported the same day. The statement was issued by the Netherlands, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency. It rebuked Tehran for preventing foreign observers, including Dutch Ambassador in Tehran Hein de Vries, and European diplomats from attending the 18 July court session, AP added. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh also criticized the trial on 19 July and said the government considers the defendant "innocent, and we consider the Intelligence Ministry and its agents innocent of any charges in this regard," IRNA reported the same day. Reformers in Iran's government believe the conservative-led judiciary is using Intelligence Ministry agent Mohammad Reza Aqdam Ahmadi as a scapegoat to protect more senior officials from prosecution. But Ramezanzadeh said the case concerned "an Iranian citizen," and "there is no need for supervision by foreign countries," IRNA added. VS
 U.S. INVESTIGATING POSSIBLE IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN 9/11 ATTACKSU.S. President George W. Bush said in Washington on 19 July that the United States is "digging into the facts" to see if Iran had any "direct connections" with the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, AFP reported the same day. He said that Iran, which has no diplomatic ties with the United States, must stop funding Lebanon's Hizballah, which the United States describes as a terrorist group, and extradite members of the "Al-Qaeda leadership" the United States says are in Iran, AFP added. Reuters cited London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" as reporting on 19 July that an unnamed officer in Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps worked with Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri to ensure safe passage for nine terrorists involved in the 11 September attacks. Iranian government spokesman Ramezanzadeh rejected that claim on 19 July, IRNA reported. "If they have evidence for this, they should present it to the United Nations, and if they are very confident of their evidence...place it at our disposal," he said. Foreign suspects arrested in Iran, Ramezanzadeh added, would be extradited to states with which Iran has "close security ties" or extradition arrangements. VS
 RUSSIA, IRAN DISCUSS NUCLEAR WASTEIran's ambassador in Moscow, Ghulamreza Shafei, met with Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev on 19 July to discuss the repatriation of spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr nuclear plant in southern Iran, which Russia is helping build, "The Jerusalem Post" reported the same day, citing Interfax. According to Interfax, Shafei said Iran will send back used fuel once the two states sign an agreement. The United States is concerned that Tehran will use the fuel to produce nuclear warheads, but Russia has said that it will not deliver fuel before making a deal on spent-fuel recovery. Rumyantsev is to visit Tehran next October or November, when he may sign a deal on waste repatriation, according to RIA-Novosti on 18 July. Separately, ISNA quoted an unnamed official of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization as saying on 18 July that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Tehran the previous day to inspect sites at Isfahan and Natanz, in central Iran. They will stay a week, the official said, following a two-week check by IAEA inspectors that ended on 16 July. VS
 IRAQI MINISTER SAYS IRAN INVOLVED IN IRAQI UNRESTIraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said on 18 July that "several Iranians" are among dozens of foreigners arrested by the Iraqi interim government in recent weeks for alleged involvement in terrorist acts, Radio Farda reported the same day, citing an interview with "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." He said Iran has played a "very great" role in the unrest in Iraq, adding, "I know my comments will not have positive political consequences," Radio Farda reported. On 19 July, Iranian government spokesman Ramezanzadeh said that "we have received no formal notification from the Iraqi government of the arrest of any Iranian national, and expect to be informed if Iranians have actually been arrested," IRNA reported the same day. Iran's official policy, he said, seeks "security and peace in Iraq," and "we imagine that peace and security in Iraq are in our best interests. Insecurity in Iraq comes from the presence of foreign occupying forces." VS
 IRAQI OFFICIAL ASSASSINATED IN AL-BASRAHMilitants disguised as police shot and killed the coordinator for Al-Basrah's provincial council, Hazim Tawfiq al-Aynishi, on 20 July, Al-Jazeera television reported. Al-Aynishi previously served as the deputy governor of the province under the Coalition Provisional Authority. A council spokesman told Reuters that two of al-Aynishi's bodyguards were also killed in the attack, which occurred at a makeshift checkpoint. "At the checkpoint, there were some people wearing police uniforms who asked the driver to stop. Then they opened fire," the spokesman said. Another passenger in the vehicle was injured in the attack. Militants killed Ninawah Governor Usama Yousif Kashmula on 14 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). Three unidentified armed men also gunned down Isam Jasim Qasim, director-general of the Defense Ministry, near his home in Baghdad on 18 July, Al-Arabiyah reported. Hazim Sha'lan, defense minister in the interim Iraqi government, told Al-Arabiyah television on 19 July that Qasim had refused more security protection. Sha'lan added that plans are underway to force high-level government officials to accept bodyguards and increased security for their homes. KR
 FILIPINO, EGYPTIAN HOSTAGES RELEASEDArab media reported on 20 July that Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz has been released by militants in Iraq following the withdrawal of Filipino troops from the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004). Al-Jazeera cited a spokesman for the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Baghdad as saying that the embassy confirmed the release. Egyptian hostage Muhammad al-Gharbawi was freed earlier from captivity on 19 July. He told MENA that his abductors delivered him to the Egyptian consulate in Baghdad. Al-Gharbawi said that he was moved from place to place every few days, but that he was treated well by his captors. He was released by the National Islamic Resistance-1920 Revolution Brigades after his employer, a Saudi transport company, vowed not to do business in Iraq. KR
 FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAQ WILL SIGN PACT OF GUARANTEES WITH KUWAITHoshyar al-Zebari said that his country is ready to sign a pact of assurances with neighboring Kuwait that would ensure security and recognize the territorial integrity of Kuwait and its borders, KUNA reported on 19 July. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein claimed a legal right to Kuwait as justification for Iraq's 1990 invasion and occupation of its southern neighbor. "We are ready to sign a pact of assurances with neighboring Kuwait thrashing out the question of the border and the independence of Kuwait and the file of the prisoners and the compensations as well as all issues that concern the brothers in Kuwait," KUNA quoted al-Zebari as saying. KR
 IRAQI PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH JORDANIAN KINGIyad Allawi met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on 19 July, Jordanian television reported. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said that the talks laid the foundations for strong ties between the two states, citing Jordan's training of Iraqi security forces and contribution of military equipment to Iraq. An unnamed senior Jordanian security official told gulf-daily-news.com that Allawi will seek further assistance in the field of security. "Allawi's priority is to get Jordan's long expertise in battling extremists in the war against the terrorists in Iraq. We are more than ready to help. We face a common enemy," he said. KR
 IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER VOWS TO HIT STATES THAT SUPPORT TERRORISMDefense Minister Sha'lan said on 20 July that Iraq will take action against neighboring states that sponsor terrorism, Reuters reported. Sha'lan did not point to any specific state but did accuse Iran of "blatant interference" in Iraqi affairs. "We are prepared to move the arena of the attacks on Iraq's honor and its rights to those countries," Reuters quoted Sha'lan as telling "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." "We've spoken to them and confronted them with facts and evidence, but none of them have taken any action to stop supporting terrorism in Iraq," he said. "They [Iranians] confess to the presence of their spies in Iraq who have a mission to shake up the social and political situation." Prime Minister Allawi has also reportedly accused Lebanon of harboring groups that are targeting the interim government, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 19 July. KR
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PREPARES FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONBy Jan Maksymiuk
The opposition parties comprising the Popular Coalition Five Plus -- the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Labor, the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and the Belarusian Party of Communists (PKB) -- are going to ensure that their common candidate is on the ballot in each of the country's 110 districts for the 17 October legislative elections. PKB leader Syarhey Kalyakin told journalists on 15 July that Five Plus will field two candidates in each district so that the first-choice nominee can be replaced by the back-up one if needed. According to Kalyakin, the coalition's parties will not have any candidate quotas, and nominees will be selected solely on the basis of their popularity in each particular district.
The Popular Coalition Five Plus seems to be the strongest opposition force in the country now, if the word "strong" may be applied to the Belarusian opposition under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's autocratic rule. After the controversial constitutional referendum in November 1996, the opposition has been driven out by Lukashenka from "systemic politics" -- that is, primarily from the country's legislature and elective self-government bodies -- and marginalized in the domestic political arena. Major opposition parties boycotted the 1999 local polls and the 2000 parliamentary ballot, in protest against the country's antidemocratic election legislation. The return of the opposition into "systemic politics" took place in the 2001 presidential election and the 2003 local polls, but in both cases with frustratingly poor results.
As in several previous election campaigns, there is no unity in the ranks of the Belarusian opposition. Apart from the Popular Coalition Five Plus, two other opposition groups have declared their intention to take part in the election: the European Coalition Free Belarus based on the Charter-97 human rights organization and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly); and the Young Belarus bloc based on the opposition Youth Front (a youth arm of the Belarusian Popular Front). It is still possible that other groups claiming opposition to the government will emerge closer to the election date and field their candidates.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Christian Party (KKhP), led by exiled Zyanon Paznyak from Poland, is calling on Belarusians to boycott the 17 October elections. "Only a boycott gives the people a chance for victory, a possibility to renounce the election farce," Paznyak said in a message to a KKhP conference in Minsk earlier this month. "There are no elections whatsoever, [election] protocols record only those results that are conveyed from the top," KKhP acting Chairman Yuras Belenki told RFE/RL last week. "In such a situation there is only one way of counteraction for society -- to show its attitude to the farce by refusing to go to the polls."
However, boycotting may be an unfeasible option on 17 October. According to a recent survey by the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), some 63 percent of voters said they will take part in the October elections. The boycott proposed by the KKHP was supported by only 10 percent of respondents. Commenting on the survey last week, NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu said that "pro-democracy forces" stand a "realistic chance" of winning seats in the Chamber of Representatives on 17 October. According to him, the survey established that the Belarusians are increasingly looking forward to changes. However, he added, opposition forces may count on success in the election only if they manage to establish a single pro-democracy alliance and advertise their nominees as independent candidates.
Belarus's Election Code has long been criticized by both the domestic opposition and European experts for undemocratic provisions regarding the formation of election commissions (political parties may not be represented on them), powers of election observers during the voting and vote count, and early voting (which is effectively outside any control). Three deputies of the Chamber of Representatives -- Valery Fralou, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, and Syarhey Skrabets -- staged an 18-day hunger strike last month demanding liberalizing changes to the Election Code, but their relevant bill was overwhelmingly voted down on 22 June. Thus, the current election campaign will be conducted under the old rules.
Candidates for the 17 October election may be proposed from 8 August to 6 September, while their registration with district election commissions will take place from 6-16 September. After the registration, candidates will be able to begin their campaigns, which must be financed exclusively from the state budget and a special election fund created by the Central Election Commission for voluntary donors. Each registered candidate may obtain up to 950,000 Belarusian rubles ($440) from the state budget for covering his/her campaigning expenses. If a candidate exceeds the sum allocated to him/her from the state budget and the special election fund, his/her registration may be canceled.
Regretfully, it should be expected that, as in the legislative election campaign in 2000, opposition and/or independent candidates will face many difficulties during the registration process. In 2000, some 2,000 prospective independent candidates were refused registration on technicalities. Last week the Justice Ministry signaled a new problem for the opposition. Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau's threatened that he will use "penalties" against the Popular Coalition Five Plus if its leaders fail to register by mid-August. Halavanau said the coalition must be registered just like any other public association, otherwise the alliance will be illegal. To support this view, Belarusian Justice Ministry officials even quoted a Russian-language dictionary, which reportedly says that "coalition" means the same as "association."
In theory, all registered candidates will be allotted the same amount of airtime for campaigning on state-run television and radio. But in practice, Belarusian Television has already been conducting an intense preelection campaign of vilifying the Belarusian opposition parties and activists for several months. Belarusian viewers are regularly offered in prime time antiopposition propaganda features and documentaries with such telling titles as "The Road to Nowhere" or "Political Pedophilia." It will be extremely hard to offset such propaganda for candidates disfavored by the government with their official campaign resources, which may not exceed $440 per person.
In other words, as many times in the past 10 years of his rule, it is President Alyaksandr Lukashenka who shuffles and deals cards in the election game. His opponents will be lucky if they manage to join this game. Winning it seems to be beyond their current capabilities.