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RFE/RL Review February 18, 2005

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The Best of RFE/RL Broadcast Service Reporting
Week of February 12-18, 2005

RADIO FREE IRAQ COVERS FORMATION OF NEW GOVERNMENT WITH SUNNI PARTICIPATION RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, in daily exclusive interviews with leading officials in Iraq, followed the week's top stories of the vote count and representation in the new government. Every day, the message broadcast on RFI airwaves from Iraq's leaders to the population sounded loud and clear: "Sunnis are welcome in the new government" and "Without Sunni participation, there can be no real peace in Iraq." To get a better idea of what Iraq's Sunnis want, an RFI correspondent in Baghdad interviewed Dr. Muthanna Harith al-Dhari, a member of the Sunni-based Association of Muslim Scholars. Al-Dhari spoke to RFI about a new group, "Iraqi Patriotic Forces against the Occupation," whose members include the Association of Muslim Scholars, followers of independent Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and followers of rebel Sunni cleric Jawad al-Khalisi.
In an interview, aired February 16, Al-Dhari said priorities of the Iraq Patriotic Forces are national reconciliation, the drafting of a new constitution, and setting a schedule for the departure of the occupation forces with international guarantees. Al-Dhari emphasized that Iraqi resistance fighters are separate from terrorists and should receive political recognition.
In another exclusive interview aired February 15, Jawad al-Maliki, a member of the Al Da'wa party, which belongs to the Shi'a-based United Iraqi Alliance, spoke about a tentative agreement that would allow Al Da'wa leader Dr. Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari to become Iraqi prime minister. Al-Maliki said a final agreement would be announced shortly, noting that the atmosphere of the negotiations for a new government was one of great importance for the country and a high responsibility of the politicians taking part.
One of the names being mentioned in the government-forming process is Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (also a member the United Iraqi Alliance), clarified his role in an exclusive RFI interview that aired on February 16. He emphasized that "whoever will be chosen Prime Minster will get from me absolute cooperation, confidence and work to accomplish the goals we agree upon." Chalabi also expressed support for Sunni representation in the new government, saying: "The Sunnis in Iraq have the full right to participate. I believe that terrorists focused on them, they prevented them, and intimidated them from taking part as candidates and as electors... That's why they (the Sunnis) should have a vital role in the writing of the constitution."
Doctor Adnan al-Pachachi, head of the Independent Democrats Bloc [Tajammu' al-Dimuqratiyin al-Mustaqillin], said in an RFI interview that it is important not to disenfranchise any group and to make a distinction between "those who feel... marginalized... and those that consider themselves in a state of permanent war and view democracy as a kind of apostasy and atheism. It would be impossible for us to lead dialog with such forces and to arrive at any results with them. But there is some space [for talks] with the others."
Nasir al-Chadirchi, Secretary General of the Democratic Patriotic Party [Al-Hizb al-Watani al-Dimuqrati], made a similar point in an exclusive interview that RFI aired on February 14. He said, "The elections have become reality, and the National Assembly will be put together from the winning candidates. The majority among the winners goes namely to the list number 169--the United Iraqi Alliance... We have to work in this framework." But, he added, "We have to give full respect to the principle of broad consensus so that no segment of the Iraqi people is marginalized. It is true that many important elements of the Iraqi people and many of its segments will not be present in the [National] Assembly, either because they did not present candidates, or because they did not win [enough votes]. But they must not be neglected. They have to participate in the numerous political operations, to the most important of which belongs drafting the constitution." Al-Chadirchi said it is imperative that "these parties and personalities of national importance participate in the drafting of the constitution... They could not come to the elections as they would have liked to, but it was the terror that forced this situation on them. That is why we must not make them absent in the political process. They have been made absent in the electoral process but they must not be made absent in the forthcoming political process.
Dr. Muh`sin Abdul-Hamid, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party said in an RFI interview February 14 that, "The inhabitants of the Sunni governorates will learn an important lesson from these elections. They will come to the conclusion that their absence in the future will not be in the interests of Iraq, and that they must all be involved in the political process to build Iraq and write the constitution".

** The Acting Director of Radio Free Iraq, Sergey Danilochkin, may be reached by email at <>.

CAMPAIGN ESCALATES AGAINST RFE/RL RUSSIAN CORRESPONDENT RFE/RL's Russian Service aired an interview February 16 with its own correspondent, Yuri Bagrov who is being hounded from his home by Russian security. Bagrov reports for the Russian Service, mostly on developments in Chechnya and the North Caucasus region. A Russian transcript of the interview can be found on the Russian Service's website, at
During the interview, Bagrov spoke about his summons that day to the local Russian Interior Ministry office in his hometown of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. Bagrov was informed that he is to be deported and that the order came from Alexander Tachko, who heads the Federal Security Service (better known by its Russian acronym, FSB) in North Ossetia. Bagrov said Interior Ministry officials told him a court order would be issued for his deportation on the grounds that he is residing illegally in Russia.
Bagrov, a former Associated Press reporter, has worked for RFE/RL for more than five years. Russian authorities first moved against him on August 25, 2004, four days before the presidential election in Chechnya, raiding his home and confiscating his computer, diary, journalistic notes, and personal documents. Bagrov's possessions were returned two weeks later--except for his passport, without which he cannot travel anywhere to cover the news. The next step in the campaign was to accuse Bagrov of falsifying documents to get his new Russian passport. In December, a court in Vladikavkaz found Bagrov guilty of using false documents to obtain Russian citizenship. The North Ossetian Supreme Court upheld the conviction in January, fining Bagrov 15,000 rubles (about $540). Bagrov steadfastly denies the charges.
The Committee to Protect Journalists appealed to President Putin this week to protect Bagrov, ensure that charges against him are not politically motivated, and allow him to continue working as a journalist. Reporters Without Borders has also expressed support for Bagrov.
RFE/RL president Thomas A. Dine deplored the deportation plan in a statement released on February 17 (, calling it an "an ill-considered and defensive move that tells the world about Russia's insecurity and fear of public exposure and openness." Dine said "Yuri Bagrov is an able reporter and valued colleague and we'd like to see him get his passport back and return fully to his job."

** The Director of RFE/RL's Russian Service, Maria Klein, may be reached by email at <>.

RADIO FARDA ON TEHRAN MOSQUE FIRE... An official from the Tehran Province Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, Mehdi Memarzadeh, told Radio Farda in an interview broadcast February 15 that the Arq Mosque in Tehran did not suffer any serious damage in the previous day's fire, which killed more than 50 people. He acknowledged that many carpets, curtains, and wall hangings were burned, but the building itself only suffered smoke damage and that should not be a problem. If the ceiling beams were damaged, he said, a closer inspection will be necessary. Memarzadeh explained that the women's section of the mosque, which is where the previous day's fire started, is on the second floor, and the ground floor is for men. The mosque dates to the Safavid Dynasty and is located in what was once known as Arg Square (renamed 15th of Khordad Square after the revolution). Radio Farda also aired a program with experts discussing security precautions and safety measures that could protect human lives and safeguard national monuments.

** The News Director of Radio Farda, Mardiros Soghom, may be reached by email at <>.

...AT HARIRI FUNERAL On the day of the assassination of Lebanese former prime minister, politician and businessman Rafik Hariri, Radio Farda broadcast an exclusive interview with his close associate Jihad Khazen, a Beirut journalist. He told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that it would not have been in Syria's interests to kill the popular former premier. "I hope that Syrians are not involved. I think only a madman would be involved in something like this. I really hope and pray that Syrians are not involved because anyone who is involved will have to pay the price for it," Khazen said. (
Radio Farda's correspondent was at the funeral in Beirut February 16 and filed a report including this excerpt: "Since the early hours of the morning, people are flocking to the streets of Beirut from every part of Lebanon... The mood on the street is extremely tense, not only (because) of sadness, but also anger and fury, and there have been many slogans shouted by the masses, all denouncing Syria. ...there has been one major demonstration that moved on foot across the virtual barrier between the east and west side of Beirut. They came from the Christian part of Beirut to the Muslim part of Beirut in a gesture of extreme national solidarity. They were holding flags and shouting, demanding the Syrian Army withdraw from Lebanon."

** The News Director of Radio Farda, Mardiros Soghom, may be reached by email at <>.

...ON CELEBRATING VALENTINE'S DAY IN TEHRAN Valentine's Day coincided this year with the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, one of the most important events on the Shi'a Muslim calendar. A Radio Farda correspondent reported that stores in Iran were selling Valentine items in spite of an official prohibition against such sales. An unnamed shopkeeper told Radio Farda that the Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi), affiliated with the police, banned the sale of heart-shaped goods. But a young man in Tehran, shopping with his girlfriend, told Radio Farda it has become traditional to exchange romantic gifts on this day, although Valentine's Day is not part of the country's culture and traditions.
Tehran-based journalist Ebrahim Suleimani said the event took hold in Iran six years ago. At one point, Ebrahimi said, an Iranian cleric proposed organizing an Islamic Valentine's Day that would commemorate the anniversary of the marriage of the first Shi'a imam with the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Nothing came of the idea.

** The News Director of Radio Farda, Mardiros Soghom, may be reached by email at <>.

KYRGYZ SERVICE DISCUSSES POSSIBILITY OF "ORANGE" TRANSFER OF POWER IN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With rapidly approaching parliamentary elections on February 27, a question being asked frequently in the Kyrgyz Republic is, "Could what happened in Ukraine happen here?" RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service (known in the Kyrgyz Republic as "Radio Azattyk") posed the question to former Foreign Minister and former Ambassador to the U.S. Roza Otunbayeva, one of four opposition leaders barred from running in the election.
Otunbayeva gave an exclusive interview to Radio Azattyk February 14, after returning from a visit to Moscow. She said the Kyrgyz opposition movement does not use the word revolution: "We say constantly there should be a transfer of power by constitutional, peaceful means." Otunbayeva added, "I will repeat it a thousand times that in Georgia and Ukraine, the revolution [was brought about by] people who were not afraid of the authorities, being united, standing firmly (against vote fraud), saying they aren't afraid. If you call that a revolution, then it might be the revolution. In other words, the current demand of our opposition is to hold fair elections. We won't give the (Kyrgyz) authorities any chances for election fraud." The interview aired in two parts:
While in Moscow, Otunbayeva was interviewed by Ekho Moskvy and paid public tribute to Radio Azattyk. She said it is the only media now in Kyrgyzstan that gives opposition parties and leaders an opportunity to express their views.
At a seminar at the Carnegie Moscow Center on Endowment in Moscow February 9, Otunbayeva again spoke about the forthcoming elections and RFE/RL's role: "I would like to mention that Radio Liberty has been very important for Kyrgyzstan. It is the only radio in the republic telling the truth. We do not have any other radio or TV channels, and newspapers are not so numerous. I have listed them... I can tell you that they can listen to Radio Liberty everywhere in the republic. Three times a day people listen to this only channel of information. People do not even know that criminal proceedings are launched against former ministers, that rallies are arranged and that hundreds and hundreds shout 'Akayev must go.' It is very hard for people to imagine and understand all this, especially in Bishkek. Today Bishkek has a population of 1.5 million. It's a multiethnic city, and there are many businesses in it. And these people do not want a revolution. We the opposition are not talking about a revolution either. We are only talking about changes and a constitutional and peaceful transfer of power."

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

...DENYING U.S. AWACS Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov's February 11 visit to Moscow resulted in two decisions, according to RFE/RL correspondent Gulnoza Saidazimova. The first was to send more Russian military equipment and weaponry to the Russian Kant air base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The other decision was to deny the U.S. request to deploy the AWACS reconnaissance planes at the U.S. Ganci air base, which is also near Bishkek. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the announcement and Aitmatov's statement Feb. 14 that: "It has been decided that the deployment of planes of this type [AWACS] would not quite fit the mandate of the Ganci air base, which is to provide support to the operation in Afghanistan. We hope our Western partners and friends will accept Kyrgyzstan's position with understanding." Saidazimova's article (in English) may be read at
The United States opened the Ganci air base at Bishkek's Manas airport in late 2001, to conduct antiterrorism and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. After Aitmatov's announcement, RFE/RL's Bishkek correspondent visited the base at the main airport of Manas near Bishkek and filed a series of reports on U.S. troops and their life on base. It was the first time Kyrgyz had an opportunity to learn anything about the Americans living in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz Service's two-part report on life at Ganci, filed by correspondent Cholpon Orozobekova (in Kyrgyz), can be found on the service's website at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs Service, Kestutis Girnius, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL INVESTIGATES SAUDI FINANCING OF ISLAMIC REVIVAL IN BOSNIA Donors from Islamic countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia, have been sending money to Bosnia to build mosques and restore the strength of Islam in the country. Drita Haziraj, a Sarajevo-based correspondent for RFE/RL's South Slavic & Albanian Languages Service, took a look at what is happening with the money and found that it is facilitating the influx of a nontraditional, imported wave of Islamic culture into Bosnia. Haziraj's report on Saudi funding of an Islamic revival in Bosnia can be read on the service's website at
Since the end of the war in 1995, more than 550 new mosques have been built in a country slightly smaller than West Virginia (51,129 square kilometers or 19,741 square miles) with a total population of 4,000,000, of whom less than half (40 percent) are Bosnian Muslims, followed by Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Roman Catholic Croats (15 percent). SSALS reporter Drita Haziraj interviewed clergy, community members and municipal officials for the program, which aired February 11, and found much dissatisfaction with the new mosques. Some said there are better ways to use the funds than to build mosques, when nearly 40 percent of the workforce is unemployed and per capita annual income averages $1,800.
Others interviewed pointed out that the new mosques have little in common with traditional architecture. Amra Hadzimuhamedovic, an expert with the Sarajevo Center for Islamic Architecture, said that, unlike the new mosques, traditional Bosnian mosques were never monumental or externally decorated, but maintained interior splendor with outward modesty: "For centuries, the traditional Bosnian mosques were built in the valleys, as an integral part of urban setting and symbol of man's humility before God. The new mosques are being built on the highlands and symbolize the use of religion as an instrument of arrogance and domination," according to Hadzimuhamedovic.
Haziraj found that many experts and community members were of the opinion that well-intentioned financing of a spiritual revival of Bosnian Muslims is having the unexpected and undesirable effect of importing new architecture into Bosnia, and with it new interpretations of Islam--mainly Wahhabism. As a result, the Saudi-financed mosques are now threatening to undermine the very purpose for which they were built.

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

EXPERT TELLS SOUTH SLAVIC SERVICE: NEW COUNT HALVES NUMBER OF BOSNIAN WAR DEAD A leading Bosnian expert said, in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (SSALS) broadcast on February 11, that the number of Bosnians killed during the war in the early 1990s is much lower than previously estimated. Mirsad Tokaca, head of Sarajevo's Research and Documentation Center (RDC) said the total number of war victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now estimated at 100,000 people, half the previous widely-held estimate of 200,000 war dead.
Tokaca said the figures had been inflated through the manipulation of politicians seeking to influence public opinion over the past ten years. He said RDC's project, titled "Population Losses in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995," will list definitive numbers and put an end to such speculation and manipulation in the future.
Tokaca noted that manipulation of the number of Balkans war dead goes back to World War II, where estimates of the number of people killed at Croatia's Jasenovac Nazi concentration camp (mostly Serbs, Jews and Roma) ranged from one to three million, depending on whether researchers were of Serbian or Croatian nationality. Coming back to more recent history, Tokaca told RFE/RL that RDC research "includes population losses during the 1992-1995 war of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia who lost their lives in the Bosnian war, in addition to members of the UN peace corps." The RDC database is being used by experts and researchers working on the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague.
A transcript and link to streaming audio of the Tokaca interview can be found on the SSALS website at

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

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO DEFENSE MINISTER CHECKS MLADIC EMPLOYMENT Serbia and Montenegro Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic, in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL on February 14, confirmed that the military was checking to see whether most wanted fugitive general Ratko Mladic is currently employed with the armed forces of Serbia and Montenegro. Davinic's admission came after several days of denials that a bodyguard for Mladic, Branislav Puhalo has been working for the military security service. Davinic had claimed that Puhalo did not exist until last week, when Puhalo's brother and wife revealed to domestic independent media that he is an officer with the Army of Serbia and Montenegro.
In the RFE/RL interview, Davinic said he had ordered an investigation. "We have nothing to hide. If it turns out as a truth we will decide what next steps should be taken," he said. Domestic media picked up the story and extensively quoted the RFE/RL interview with Davinic. A transcript of the Davinic interview can be found on the SSALS website at

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

RFE/RL in the News

RFE/RL'S NEW YOUTH PROGRAM FOR ARMENIA RFE/RL's Armenian Service launched a new youth program on February 12 at a disco party in Yerevan. More than 400 guests were present for the ceremonial launch, many of them taking part in live interviews for the show.
Called "Max Liberty," the youth show airs daily in prime time from 8:00PM-9:00PM local time. It is Armenia's only daily hour-long show devoted specifically to the youth market. A 7-member staff produces the program entirely in Yerevan; all of the broadcasters, moderators and producers are between the ages of 18 to 23. Armenian Service Director Hrair Tamrazian says that a couple of regional correspondents will in time also be hired to report for Max Liberty.
The program includes newscasts, roundtables with young professionals, a segment on students and school issues, another on rock and pop music, and travel reports, as well as social, educational and economic issues of interest to young people.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Hrair Tamrazian, may be reached by email at <>.

BELARUS PRESIDENT SAYS RFE/RL, MEDIA ATTACKING COUNTRY President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus used a meeting with Belarusian television executives in Minsk on February 16 to lambaste Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other media outlets, saying increasingly aggressive media are pressuring Belarus from all sides and state television must respond appropriately. He said Belarusian radio and television must improve their programs to catch up and counter what he called "aggressive, anti-Belarusian propaganda." Lukashenka said, "We should be ready for this, we will have to counter any pressure alone, as we have always done," adding that the mass media is a powerful weapon that should be in the hands of the president. His comments were quoted widely in Belarusian and Russian press, as well as by AP and other western media. A February 16 Belarus Service report on Lukashenka's comments can be found on the service's website, at
RFE/RL's Belarusian Service looked at the impact of Lukashenka's comments, getting reaction from Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet of Russia's ORT Television (, former head of Belarusian Radio and Television Henadz Buraukin and Belarusian Social Democratic Party leader Mikola Statkevich. An RFE/RL instant, informal survey found that listeners, given a choice between Russian or Belarusian media, overwhelmingly said they preferred to get their news from Russian media. A third segment was a round table discussion with Belarusian analysts on the topic "Do Lukashenka's comments presage a new information war?" The general sentiment was that this is a harbinger of a tightening of the media environment in Belarus, even though the next presidential election is more than a year away.
Lukashenka enjoys almost unlimited authority in the former Russian republic, the only European country not to belong to the pro-democracy Council of Europe. Earlier this month authorities citing "national information security" concerns told radio stations to play home-grown music or risk losing their licenses, after Lukashenka complained that airwaves were being contaminated by Russian and other foreign pop tunes displeasing to the Belarus ear.

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

VLAHOVIC VISIT TO RFE/RL REPORTED IN MONTENEGRIN NATIONAL PRESS The visit of Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic to RFE/RL's Broadcast Center in Prague on February 10 was widely covered by major media in the country. Montenegro's largest national newspaper, "Vijesti" published a front-page article headlined "Vlahovic at RFE/RL." Two other dailies "Pobjeda" and "Republika" reported extensively on the round-table discussion with Vlahovic and RFE/RL broadcasters, as well as Czech and international press on the Vlahovic visit to Prague. The newspaper articles used a photograph of Vlahovic at RFE/RL that appeared on, the website of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (SSALS). Montenegrin Public Television that week re-aired on its evening news program a report that first appeared on the SSALS's regional program.
During his visit to RFE/RL, Vlahovic said that Montenegro wants to join the EU and NATO as an independent country and not "remain hostage" to Serbia's reluctance to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He said Montenegro is patient and willing to discuss all possible political formulas for statehood, provided its right to international recognition is not compromised.
An English-language report on the Vlahovic briefing can be found on the RFE/RL website at, while audio and a transcript of his interview for broadcast with the SSALS can be found on the service's website at

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

RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT DISCUSSES GEORGIA MILITARY RESIGNATIONS ON TELEVISION TALK SHOW Koba Liklikadze, a Tbilisi-based military affairs correspondent for RFE/RL's Georgian Service, took part in a discussion about resignations last week among Georgia's top military echelons. The program aired on Georgia's Rustavi-2 television channel on February 15 and was quoted the next day in Georgian media and by the BBC.
Liklikadze commented, with other journalists, on an unconfirmed report that Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili had asked the leadership of the military General Staff to resign. Also appearing on the program were Chief of the General Staff Vakhtang Kapanadze, who declined comment on the report, as well as Air Force Commander Amiran Salukvadze, who confirmed the report by stating that he submitted his resignation immediately, the same day the request was made. Liklikadze said that there are other more appropriate ways to reform Georgia's military, noting that "for a country and society aspiring to democracy and civilization, the situation when all members of the General Staff, its entire leadership, have submitted their resignations is a very bad precedent."

** The Director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Robert Parsons, may be reached by email at <>.

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