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RFE/RL Review August 27, 2004

The Best of RFE/RL Broadcast Service Reporting
Week of August 21-27, 2004

RFE/RL's Arabic language service, broadcasting as Radio Free Iraq (RFI) and the Persian language program of Radio Farda, shared reports by Radio Farda's correspondent Peyman Pejman, who was on the scene of the fighting in Najaf, only a few hundred yards from the Imam Ali Shrine. Pejman's eyewitness accounts of the events in Najaf were broadcast by both services.
Pejman also got an exclusive interview on August 22 with Iraq's interim Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, in Baghdad. Zebari told RFE/RL that the conflict in Najaf between armed supporters of radical Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr and combined U.S.-Iraqi forces is seriously damaging the credibility of the interim government: "The government's reputation is on the line. I believe it has to act decisively and robustly in order to contain this major crisis that is facing the government," he said.
Turning to Iraq-Iran relations, Zebari told our correspondent that some ministers in the interim administration are mistaken in calling Iran "Enemy Number One" of Iraq. He said he has seen no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Najaf crisis or proof that Iran has been meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, as claimed by the Defense and Interior ministers of the interim government. But Zebari was openly critical of Iraq's other neighbors, saying they have not helped Iraq's new government to establish security. He said Baghdad has video-tapes of foreign terrorists who have entered Iraq from neighboring countries and that such cases are being under-reported and need to get more media publicity.
Pejman's report on his interview with interim Foreign Minister Zebari can be read on RFE/RL's website, at

** The Acting Director of Radio Free Iraq, Sergey Danilochkin, may be reached by email at <>; Radio Farda's News Director, Mardiros Soghom, may be reached by email at <>.

Radio Free Iraq focused on the tumultuous events in the city of Najaf and the holy Imam Ali Shrine, airing exclusive interviews with Shi'ite community leaders, as well as political figures. In an exclusive interview August 21, Sheikh Salah Jasem al-Obaidi, spokesman for the rebel cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr in Baghdad, spoke to RFE/RL about Al-Sadr's uncompromising stand and his determination to remain in Najaf.
Hussein al-Shami, director general of the al-Waqf al-Shi'i Endowment in Najaf spoke to RFI's correspondent August 23, stating that the treasures and historic objects in the museum of the Imam Ali Shrine are being kept safe by the Najaf Shi'ite community.
Reports and audio of RFI's coverage of latest developments in Iraq, in Arabic, are posted on Radio Free Iraq's website at:,,,,
A report in English on the National Conference, by RFE/RL correspondents Charles Recknagel and Peyman Pejman, is on RFE/RL's website at English-language coverage of the Najaf standoff can be read on the RFE/RL website's special "New Iraq" portal, at
** The Acting Director of Radio Free Iraq, Sergey Danilochkin, may be reached by email at <>.

Radio Farda's correspondent in Tehran interviewed Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi on August 25, who spoke about several anonymous threats she has received in recent days. In the interview, broadcast the same day, Ebadi told Radio Farda that the lock on the door of her house has been broken twice. Ebadi has reported the incidents to police and said Iranian law enforcement officials promised to pursue the matter. An Iranian lawyer and activist, Shirin Ebadi was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for democracy and human rights.

** The Director of Radio Farda, Andres Ilves, may be reached by email at <>; Radio Farda's News Director, Mardiros Soghom, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on a decision by Tajikistan's Ulema Council that prohibits women from performing their Friday prayers. The Ulema Council says that the presence of women at mosques is now considered incorrect and religiously prohibited. Hundreds of discontented women have protested that this decision is a violation of religious freedom and asked the Tajik government to reverse the Ulema Council's decision. Reports and analyses, featuring the views of religious leaders, government officials and disappointed women, were featured in the Tajik Service's "News Magazine" and "In Depth" programs on August 21, and can be found in Tajik on the service's website,
In addition, U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Richard Hoagland, his counterparts representing Germany, Great Britain and France, and the OSCE all expressed concern this past week about a recent surge of official pressure on Tajik independent media outlets--actions termed by international media watchdog "Reporters Without Borders" as attempts by Tajik authorities to muzzle the country's independent newspapers. The Tajik Service's "In Depth" program looked into the deteriorating state of media freedom in Tajikistan on August 23; an article in English on the story can be read on RFE/RL's website, at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Massoumeh Torfeh, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's South Slavic & Albanian Languages Service (SSALS) tackled the controversial issue of human cloning on August 25 in its regular midnight program (2200 UTC) for youth, following the British government's announcement that a license had been granted to Newcastle University to perform therapeutic cloning using human embryos for the first time. The program can be heard via on-demand Internet audio, at
The two-hour show, moderated live in Prague and Belgrade studios combines music, news and an in-depth look at the topic of the day, geared to young listeners. Transmitted via mediumwave frequencies, it has a wide audience in Serbia and Montenegro, and is also heard in Albania.
SSALS correspondent Dragan Stavljanin interviewed the leader of the scientific team at Newcastle University, Dr. Miodrag Stojkovic who comes from Serbia. He told RFE/RL of the huge potential benefits of stem cell research, leading to the creation of "spare parts" or replacement of tissue damaged by illness or injury. Stojkovic said, the hope is that new treatments will be found for hitherto incurable diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and diabetes, by producing cloned embryos genetically identical to patients, from which stem cells will be harvested and grown into replacements. The cells will be clones of the patient so there would be no risk of rejection by the body�s immune system.
But there is opposition to the research on religious and ethical grounds and Wednesday's program also examined those views, patching into the discussion other participants. Anthony McCarty, a research analyst at the Linacre Center in London, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, condemned the research license, saying the new technology is murderous. "Ethically speaking, it's the same as killing human beings," he said.
Stojkovic responded that he and his colleagues would seek permission from women undergoing treatment at Newcastle Fertility Center to use surplus eggs that would otherwise be discarded. He noted that the earliest date an embryo is considered viable is at 14 days and that researchers will only use embryos five to eight days old.
Another RFE/RL interviewee, Panayotis Zavos, a well known American fertility specialist criticized the British ruling for failing also to authorize reproductive cloning, saying it also tries to cure diseases" and that "infertility among women is reaching an epidemic proportion".
Stojkovic, however, came out against reproductive cloning, arguing that it is impossible to predict how genes will react, what kind of person might be created and that a cloned human would be deprived of genetic uniqueness.

** The Director of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Omer Karabeg, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Sports Correspondent Kabyl Makesh is at the XXIII Olympiad in Athens, where he is filing several stories a day on competitors from Central Asia. Makesh's reports are being used not only by his own service, but also by RFE/RL's Kazakh, Uzbek and Turkmen Services. During the Olympiad, he has gained exclusive interviews with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev, President of the Kyrgyzstan National Olympic Committee Eshim Kutmanaliev, Captain of the Spanish Handball Team Talant Duishebayev, who is of Kyrgyz origin; and several Kazakh and Uzbek sportsmen and officials.
Kabyl Makesh is an experienced sports reporter -- this is his third Olympic Games and he has also covered all major Asian international sports events since 1996. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service received an award from the Kyrgyz National Olympic Committee in 2002 for Best Coverage of the 14th Asian Games in Busan, South Korea, thanks in large part to the excellence of Makesh's reporting. Makesh is also compiling an encyclopedia of Kyrgyz sport that is to be published shortly.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service is following an ongoing controversy over the Vatican's return of a sacred icon to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Mother of God of Kazan icon was taken from the Soviet Union some time after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and has long been the center of a dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Kazan City Mayor Kamil Iskhakov has led a campaign for the return of the icon in time for next year's celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Kazan. Other observers, however, associate the icon with the Russian imperialist conquest of Tatarstan and forced Christianization centuries ago. The Tatar Public Center, described as a moderate nationalist group, claims that the icon is a symbol of colonization for the Tatar people and has written an open letter to the Pope, accusing him of political chicanery.
RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service interviewed the head of the Tatar Public Center and author of the letter Rashid Yagfarov, quoting excerpts from the letter. An interview with President Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan welcoming the return of the icon aired in the same program. Shaimiev said the return of the relic was a gesture of respect and desire for reconciliation on the part of Pope John Paul II. He sought to personally return the icon during a trip to Russia but failed to receive the Russian Orthodox Church's official approval for the visit. Instead, as a first step, Cardinal Walter Casper was to hand over the Mother of God of Kazan Icon to Patriarch Aleksii II in a ceremony in Moscow on August 28, 2004.
An English-language report on the dispute by News and Current Affairs (NCA) correspondent has been posted to the RFE/RL website, at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Ferit Agi, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service has run a series of exclusive interviews this past week on continuing tensions in the predominantly Russian-speaking Transdniester region. U.S. Ambassador Steven Mann, the State Department's special negotiator for Eurasian conflicts criticized Transdniestrian authorities, in an interview on August 20, for the latest restrictions on Romanian language schools in the towns of Bender, Tiraspol and Ribnita and urged multilateral negotiations as the only format that can still work (the interview is available on the Romania-Moldova Service's website at
RFE/RL was the only media to interview Transdniestrian politician Alexandr Safonov, a former Transdniestrian education minister who is now in opposition. Safonov said on August 20 that the outcome of this "frozen" conflict will be seen in the next weeks and was very critical of Transdniestrian policy on the Romanian schools (
In another exclusive interview, broadcast on Augsut 25, Dov Lynch of the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris said recent strong statements by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin are not helpful, and could hinder negotiations to resolve the minority language problem in Moldovan schools (

** The Director of RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service, Oana Serafim, may be reached by email at <>.

On August 24 and 25, the RFE/RL Belarus Service reported that the U.S. Treasury Department has blacklisted a Belarusian bank suspected of helping former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein siphon off funds from the UN oil-for-food program. The Service's Washington correspondent interviewed a U.S. Treasury representative, while Minsk stingers provided commentary from representatives of Infobank, who dismissed the accusations and expressed hope that the Treasury made the decision "in haste" and that the "regretful incident" would be settled soon. The U.S. Treasury has proposed banning the privately owned bank from any contact with the U.S. financial system, a tool available under the 2001 USA Patriot Act that alerts the global financial community to alleged money laundering problems and the institutions held responsible.
Articles addressing the Infobank case (in Belarusian) are available on the Belarus service's website, at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, Alexander Lukashuk, may be reached by email at <>.

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Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. "RFE/RL Review" is a weekly compilation of the best programming produced by the 19 services of the RFE/RL broadcast network. RFE/RL broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of programming a week in 28 languages to 20 countries in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central and Southwestern Asia.

Managing Editor: Sonia Winter (

For more information about any of the stories mentioned in "RFE/RL Review," or to learn more about RFE/RL, please contact Martins Zvaners at <> or by calling +1-202-457-6948.