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RFE/RL Review February 25, 2005

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The Best of RFE/RL Broadcast Service Reporting
Week of February 19-25, 2005

RFE/RL AT THE BUSH-PUTIN SUMMIT All RFE/RL language services gave extensive coverage to the big news of the week--President George Bush's European tour, culminating with the February 24 summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Slovak capital of Bratislava. Correspondents from RFE/RL's Central News, from the Russian Service and from the Persian-language Radio Farda service prepared material that was used by many services. A Washington-based Radio Farda correspondent traveled with the White House press corps, making it possible for the Prague-based Radio Farda news operation to broadcast live President Bush's major addresses in Brussels and Bratislava to an Iranian audience. RFE/RL's Russian Service was on the air live with one-hour shows moderated from Bratislava on the eve of the summit, February 23, and at its conclusion February 24, and provided live reports throughout the day of the summit. International observers and NGO representatives came to the Russian Service's studio in the summit press center, to give interviews about the expectations and analyses of the results of the summit talks. Experts in Moscow, Washington and Prague added their views in roundtable discussions, moderated from Bratislava or Prague and broadcast each night from February 23 through February 25. Some analysts told RFE/RL that the Russian president looked uncomfortable and less confident than at previous meetings with Bush. Others said Russians were pleased with Putin's stress on Russia's independent interpretation of democracy and the evident cordiality that exists between him and Bush. "Our listeners in our call-in shows said it is important for Russians to see Putin being treated as an equal negotiating partner by the U.S. and European powers," said RFE/RL's Russian Service Director Maria Klein. RFE/RL senior news correspondent Jeremy Bransten filed more than half a dozen original reports, including a review of points of discord and detente between the two leaders, their personalities, their stance on human rights, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, the war on international terrorism, Iraq and other key issues. RFE/RL's summit coverage--on-the-ground reports, reaction and analyses--was posted on a special "Bush-Putin Summit" webpage at

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

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS MEET BUSH, MAGNIFY IMPACT THROUGH RFE/RL Before his summit with Putin, President Bush met in Bratislava with more than 20 human rights activists from 13 nations, including the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and other countries of the former Communist bloc. RFE/RL senior news correspondent Jeremy Bransten spoke to the organizers of the meeting and filed a report February 25 that RFE/RL beamed back to those and other countries. The activists in the Bush meeting ranged in age from 87 to 31 years old. Some had fought against the Nazis, while others, like Giga Bokeria of Georgia � one of the key figures behind the youth Kmara movement � triumphed in their fight against authoritarianism only very recently ( Several RFE/RL language services conducted their own lengthy interviews with the participant from their broadcast region and aired the program as part of their summit coverage on February 24: * RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports that one of the leaders of Ukraine's PORA civic campaign, Vladyslav Kaskyv, spent several minutes in conversation with Bush. Kaskyv, 32 years old from the Ternopyl region in western Ukraine said he thanked President Bush for "the firm position of the United States at the critical moment of the Orange Revolution" and that Bush was extremely well informed about the December events. He said Bush liked Kaskyv's comment that Ukraine can now be a positive democratic influence on other countries in the region, such as Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Kaskyv said in the RFE/RL interview that Bush also expressed general support for his proposal to establish an International Institute for Democracy with headquarters in Kyiv, to be a consultative center for democratic movements and organizations in the former Soviet Union. (

* RFE/RL's South Slavic & Albanian Languages Service (SSALS) interviewed both Ivan Marovic, a leader of the "Otpor" (Resistance) youth movement which played a significant role in toppling the Milosevic regime, and Sonja Liht, a former director of the George Soros foundation in Belgrade, who represented Serbia at the meeting with Bush. Liht said Bush asked her how genuine is the commitment of Serbian citizens to democracy and that she said polls suggest 80 percent of the Serb population sees full membership in the European Union as its main goal. Liht said Bush was also interested in the economic situation and Serbia's effort to rebuild all that had been ruined during the Milosevic reign. "I told him the process of reconstruction is underway but the economy overall is still moribund, " Liht said, adding that the U.S. president remarked building democracy is dramatically hindered if the economy is in shambles. She quoted Bush as saying a democratic society without a strong economy at its core will not be sustainable. Both Liht and Marovic made a plea to Bush for more foreign investment in Serbia and told RFE/RL they are hopeful that Bush's comment means US aid to Serbia will be forthcoming. The U.S. recently withheld 10 million dollars in aid to Serbia because of the leadership's failure to cooperate with The Hague War Crimes Tribunal.

* RFE/RL's Georgian Service interviewed Tinatin Khidasheli from the Young Lawyers' Association, one of the two Georgian representatives at the meeting with Bush (the other was Member of Parliament Giga Bokeria). Khidasheli said she spoke about her country's concerns about Russian interference in separatist regional conflicts in Georgia and that Bush promised to raise all her questions in his meeting with Putin. Khidasheli said Bush also pledged to remain a strong advocate of democratic change in countries neighboring Russia. The interview can be heard (in Georgian) at

** The Director of RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs Service, Kestutis Girnius, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Alexander Narodetsky, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Omer Karabeg, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Robert Parsons, may be reached by email at <>.

SECURITY, NEW GOVERNMENT THE FOCUS OF RADIO FREE IRAQ REPORTING The February 21 broadcast of Radio Free Iraq's weekly "Human Rights" (Huquq al-insan) program offered listeners a chilling account of a recent security operation in the Babil region of northern Iraq. Radio Free Iraq correspondent Ali Rubay'i was with Iraqi security forces and filed a report on a presentation by Colonel Salam Tirad Abd, who said Egyptian, Syrian, Iranian, Pakistani, and Lebanese insurgents had been arrested and that many of them have a direct link to militant leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Abd disclosed that "Among the persons whom we arrested were so- called 'princes' (umara) and 'executioners' (sayyafun) assigned for cutting heads. They had killed a vast number of [Iraqi] soldiers and policemen and had been burning oil wells, as well as they had been killing high officials and tribal leaders. We also arrested a gang, the members of which will be among those to present their confessions before you, that had been blowing up police stations in the north of Babil [governorate], such as Al-Tahrir station or Al-Jurf station." Radio Free Iraq reported that some of the arrested terrorists then spoke about the things they had done and why they became terrorists. They all belonged to the same group of nine operating in Al-Sadda county (nahiya). In a peculiar irony, their ringleader admitted that he had a job with U.S. troops and was financing terrorist operations from his salary. The detainees described in detail how they attacked policemen, killed people chosen as targets, and detonated roadside bombs. Asked where the explosives were coming from, one of the gang named the "Islamic Party" as a supplier. On the political front, RFI continued its series of exclusive interviews with top Iraqi politicians and the process of forming a new government. February 23, the leading contender for the post of Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, told RFI that "The responsibility will be heavy but I'm optimistic that all brothers and sisters are determined to make this process succeed, that they look at things on the scale of Iraq and will overcome everything in the interest of Iraq, whether it's about security, services or other issues ". In an interview also broadcast February 23, Hussein al- Shahristani, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance and former candidate for prime minister, made it clear that he other nominees were throwing their support behind al-Ja'fari, saying: "After discussion among the nominees (for prime minister), there were four of them in total, they agreed among themselves that they will, at this time, support (Ibrahim) Ja'fari's nomination." He stressed that "the (United Iraqi) Alliance has always called for the formation of a government of national unity and also for full participation in the constitution-making process, not only with those (who) have been elected on different lists in the assembly, but also for those who are not in the assembly." Friday, February 24, RFI carried an exclusive interview with Jalal Talabani, secretary general of the PUK and a leading candidate for the post of president of Iraq. Talabani told RFI that there a consensus must be reached both on the candidates and the constitution: " Kurds, Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs have to agree on the new structure of the new Iraq, on the writing of the constitution, on the distribution of the main posts. Without this consensus, there could be no viable and stable Iraq and governments." Explaining his vision for Iraq, Talabani said "We believe in a united and independent Iraq that will be pluralistic, federal, parliamentary, democratic, respecting the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people, and acknowledging Islam as one of the sources of legislature in Iraq." Talabani, a Kurd, also said "It is a right of the Kurdish people to demand that the region of Kurdistan, as it is known in terms of geography and history, become the region over which the Kurdish people would exert their federal rule. We believe that these [currently] existing problems can also be solved by consensus and dialogue, in a brotherly political way. There is no problem in Iraq that would be insolvable, in our opinion."

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

ELECTIONS, PROTESTS IN KYRGYZSTAN--VOTERS, POLITICIANS TURN TO RFE/RL RFE/RL's Radio Azattyk in Kyrgyzstan has provided the only venue for independent and opposition politicians running in the February 27 parliamentary elections and for a number of opposition leaders barred from being candidates by the government. The ban sparked protests and rallies that spread outside the capital Bishkek to several other cities. Radio Azattyk filed daily reports and interviews with the protesters, able through its network of correspondents to cover even remote areas. On February 19, Radio Azattyk was the only Kyrgyz language radio station to report on a demonstration of several opposition political groups, including the Kelkel youth civic organization, the Fatherland Party and the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan that called for free and fair elections and freedom of the press (in Kyrgyz, As the week went on, the protests grew stronger around the country, drawing crowds of thousands in Talas February 21; and Kochkor, Jalalabat (, Tiup and Tong on February 22 and 23. On February 23, supporters of an opposition candidate occupied a district administration office in the Tong district of Kyrgyzstan's northeastern Issyk-Kul province, demanding that authorities allow the politician to run in the parliamentary election. One protester told RFE/RL that demonstrators want the head of the local administration to be sacked: "Our demand is to restore the candidacy of deputy [Arslan] Maliyev and to remove the head of the district administration, [Nurbek Aliyev, a brother of the pro-government candidate] from his position." In other areas, demonstrators blocked highways to Bishkek, demanding that barred candidates be put back on the ballot. In the Kochkor district southeast of Bishkek, 5,000 protesters blocked the Bishkek-Torugart highway demanding the reinstatement of candidates Akylbek Japarov and Beishin Bolotbekov and the resignation of Governor Shamshybek Medetbekov. ( The chairman of the Supreme Court, Kurmanbek Osmonov in an exclusive interview complained to Radio Azattyk that the road blockade is illegal. In the interview, aired February 24, he said "Our citizens have the constitutional rights to organize peaceful rallies and pickets. However, at the same time, nobody has rights to blockade a highway with international importance, and to make obstacle to movements of other people." Japarov's lawyer told Radio Azattyk that the protests and RFE/RL reporting were having an impact -- he said the Central Election Commission reinstated the candidacy of Sadyr Japarov, enabling him to run for parliament in the Tiup district of Issyk-Kul Oblast. On February 24, Kyrgyz authorities took Radio Azattyk off the air and protesters included RFE/RL in their chants and placards. Thousands of people in the Kochkor district turned out to express support for RFE/RL, chanting "Azattyk should not be closed! We support Azattyk!" U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young gave an exclusive interview aired February 24, praising the work of the station in objective coverage of political events: "Radio Azattyk is one of the important independent radio stations that is serving the people of Kyrgyzstan and I very much appreciate your work," he said ( For more reporting on the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections, see

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

TAJIK SERVICE STIMULATES PRELECTION DEBATE In the week leading up to Tajikistan's February 27 parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Tajik Service introduced the country's first, direct political debates between party leaders. The six major political parties declined an offer for televised debates but accepted RFE/RL's invitation to appear on radio on RFE/RL's Face-To-Face program. The first Face-To-Face between the President's People's Democratic Party and the main opposition Islamic Revival Party was broadcast February 22. It was followed on February 23 and 24 by debates respectively between the Communist and Social Democratic parties and the Socialist and Democratic parties. Equal time rules were strictly observed for each party. The political parties were paired off along policy lines, selected for widely differing platforms and programs. Audio of the "Face-To-Face" debates and Tajik-language reports on the election can be found at; information in English on the election can be found at Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- the format of RFE/RL's popular Open Microphone program, soon to celebrate its third anniversary on air, has been adopted by Tajik TV. RFE/RL's Open Microphone program on the streets of Dushanbe allows passers-by to express their views on a given question. Tajik state TV's first channel in February launched a program called "Free Microphone," with televised, spontaneous interviews with people on the street.

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

ROMANIA-MOLDOVA SERVICE GIVES VOICE TO MOLDOVAN VOTERS RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service has opened an "election hot line" that listeners in Moldova can use at no charge to call in questions about the approaching March 6 parliamentary elections or pose their question directly to politicians. The service is getting an average 50 calls a day. In response, a special program aired for the first time February 19, during which politicians from several parties answered some of the questions posed by listeners. Since then, the service has introduced a daily five-minute session before signing off for the day to answer questions called in from the public. The program has been welcomed enthusiastically. Here are three typical responses from listeners received the first week (translated from Romanian): * "We thank RFE for being the only trustworthy radio station in Moldova to offer us the chance to really ask our politicians why they try to fool us, manipulating the news." * "Please, keep this line open because it is the only way for us to make the people in power know that we exist" * "We trust only the foreign experts which we hear at RFE, because the domestic ones are making some dirty games during this electoral campaign."

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

RFE/RL SOLE SOURCE IN MOLDOVA ON U.S. ELECTION CONCERN RFE/RL was the only media in Moldova to broadcast separate statements by the U.S. State Department and U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar expressing concern about the situation in Moldova and calling for "free and fair" elections there. Lugar spoke about "the need to be vigilant to ensure that the people of that country have the freedom to choose their leaders". RFE/RL discussed the statements in weekend programming and invited representatives of all major Moldovan political parties to comment. During another pre-election program, the service examined domestic media coverage of the candidates and issues finding that the ruling communists look set for victory but their candidates do not participate in any public debates on TV or radio. Representatives of opposition parties and NGO groups interviewed by RFE/RL said print media and state TV have heavily biased election coverage.

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

RFE/RL COVERS FIRST CIVILIAN RUSSIAN-CHECHEN PEACE TALKS RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service aired a report February 25 on the first talks between a group of mothers of Russian soldiers and a representative of Chechen separatists discussing how to stop the war in Chechnya. During its exclusive interview, Ida Kuklina, leader of the Russian Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that their meeting with Akhmed Zakayev, London envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, was productive: "I think the meeting was very fruitful, considering it was our first meeting, considering the limited amount of time that we had to discuss difficult problems, and considering our several failed attempts to organize such a meeting. So it was fruitful and constructive. But it wasn't easy. And it shows that all of us should work a lot more to make one more step toward peace." Former Lithuanian president, Vytautas Landsbergis, who also attended the meeting, said the fact that it took place at all was a "great achievement" of the people seeking to stop the war in Chechnya and to prevent it from spreading." RFE/RL noted in the broadcast that the Russian foreign ministry said before the meeting it expected the Russian mothers to discuss ways for Chechen rebels to end terrorist activities and surrender to Russian authorities. The Russian government has refused to negotiate with Chechen rebels. Russian officials also have criticized Britain repeatedly over its decision to provide asylum to Zakayev. Audio of the Kuklina interview can be found at; select "25 February 2005" and click "go".

** The Director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Aslan Doukaev, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL INTERVIEWS ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON TRANSDNIESTER DISPUTE Romanian President Traian Basescu, in a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL news correspondent Eugen Tomiuc on February 19, called for his country's participation in negotiations to settle Moldova's dispute with the breakaway Transdniester region: "Romania must be part of the negotiations process to pacify Transdniester," he said. Turning to efforts to reduce criminality in countries on the Black Sea, Basescu proposed in the RFE/RL interview establishing a regional task force to monitor criminal activities in the Black Sea basin. He said it is the area where the three dimensions of crime -- narcotics, arms smuggling and human trafficking are concentrated and where Romania could make a difference. Basescu also spoke about Moldova's upcoming elections as well as about relations with Ukraine and Romania's fight against widespread corruption. He also called for the total opening of Romania's dreaded Securitate files -- an issue which still divides Romanian society 15 years after the fall of communism. An English transcript of the interview can be found on the RFE/RL website, at

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

RFE/RL REPORTS ON FAILED ATTEMPT TO OUST PARLIAMENT SPEAKER IN BASHKORTOSTAN RFE/RL's Tatar- Bashkir Service broke the news February 24 of an attempt to remove from office the powerful chairman of the Bashkir State Assembly, Konstantin Tolkachev. The RFE/RL report quoted remarks to parliament by President Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan, an autonomous oil-rich Muslim republic of the Russian Federation. Rakhimov disclosed that "a group of parliamentary deputies representing the fuel and energy complex" of Bashkortostan secretly tried to gather enough votes to oust Tolkachev, misrepresenting themselves as acting on behalf of President Rakhimov. He said they failed to muster the necessary votes and disassociated himself from the group. Tolkachev has been criticized by oil interests in the republic as being pro-Moscow. Members of Bashkir opposition interviewed by RFE/RL for their reaction said Rakhimov was trying to portray himself as a patriotic defender of state interests with no working connection to his son Ural, head of the Bashkirenergo company which is trying to expand control of Bashkir petrochemical industries. A report on President Rakhimov's response to the attempt to oust Tolkachev can be found on the Tatar-Bashkir Service's website, at

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

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER REJECTS PROPOSAL FOR ALL-BOSNIAN PRESIDENT IN RFE/RL INTERVIEW In an exclusive interview February 17, Borislav Paravac, a Bosnian Serb and current chairman of the Bosnian Presidency, told RFE/RL that he regards as "unacceptable" any changes to Bosnia-Herzegovina's constitution that would strengthen the central government at the expense of the two entities. Paravac, who belongs to the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), in this rare interview to an international media outlet, rejected the idea of establishing a President of Bosnia who would be elected by all citizens of the country. He insisted instead on maintaining the three-member Presidency, to which the Serbs, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats elect their respective representatives, strongly suggesting that he would rather remain the Serb member of a collective Presidency then become president of all Bosnian citizens. A transcript of the 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 <>.

SSALS SPECIAL PROGRAM ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (SSALS) devoted its regular midnight program for youth on February 17 to domestic violence, which is reaching epidemic proportions in the region. Annika Flensburg, spokeswoman for Amnesty International told RFE/RL that one in every three women in southeastern Europe has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused. "In Europe, more women die from consequences of domestic violence than from cancer or traffic accidents," she said. The situation in the Balkans is made worse by still-widespread traditional customs that dictate a woman's obedience to a man and view spousal abuse as commonplace. Zora Draganov from Belgrade, whose husband stabbed her seven times and nearly killed her 10 years ago, told RFE/RL her story, saying that "He tyrannized me daily, physically and verbally. I barely survived the stabbing. We divorced soon after that and he was convicted for only three years on the basis of a mental disorder. I don't think that even now he feels any remorse." Another woman told RFE/RL her sons used to beat her, as well as her husband: "My life was hell. When I got the strength to leave it was for me like redemption. I have forgiven my sons, otherwise I could not live with the memory." Children are also frequently abused in families. An RFE/RL correspondent from Croatia filed a compelling report on the recent case of a father who beat his one-month-old son because he cried. The baby was hospitalized with skull fractures while the father is confined. RFE/RL correspondents found a growing number of abused women and children also in the Kosovo province. Officials told RFE/RL that legal measures are being introduced to fight domestic violence but so far it shows no signs of abating. A transcript of the program can be found at SSALS website at

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

MONTENEGRIN OFFICIAL PUSHES INDEPENDENCE DURING ON-LINE INTERVIEW Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Podgorica on February 23 that a union of two independent states is the best solution for both Serbia and Montenegro, adding that the Montenegrin leadership regards its proposal as a means for the peaceful separation of the two states. Pro- Belgrade opposition leaders said in response that the idea would lead to instability, while their pro-independence opposition counterparts slammed the proposal as a half-measure. Criticism of the idea also came from the Brussels spokeswoman of EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, who said that the EU wants the two republics to remember that European integration should be their priority. Solana was the architect of the joint state, which critics have dubbed "Solania." The head of Montenegro parliament was SSALS' On-Line guest in its regular weekly program February 23. In a 3-hour session, 50 questions were answered. Queries came from all over the Balkans and other countries, even the United States. Many questions were about the proposal for Montenegro independence. After the On-Line interview, Krivokapich gave a radio interview on RFE/RL ( that was rebroadcast in full on Montenegrin public radio, excerpted for public TV, and much of it quoted in the Montenegrin press the next day.

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

SSALS ON THE TRAIL OF MASSACRE FILM In a report aired February 17, the South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (SSALS) investigated the possibility that a massacre of 192 Croatian civilians and patients of a hospital in Ovcara, Croatia by Serb forces in November 1991 had been filmed. One of the survivors, Petar Janjic, told SSALS's Zagreb correspondent that "there are five video cassettes with records of the executions on Ovcara farm, as well as executions in the city center and near the hospital". He said the cassettes are said to be selling on the black market for 300 euros a piece. Janjic's statement so far could not be confirmed, but RFE/RL's report was heavily quoted in Serbian and Croatian media and has produced many responses from visitors to the service's website. The SSALS report can be read 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

KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES TAKE RFE/RL OFF THE AIR Angry listeners flooded the switchboard at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Bishkek bureau in Kyrgyzstan, asking why they could not hear "Radio Azattyk" on their radios February 24. Kyrgyz government-owned transmitters stopped broadcasting RFE/RL Kyrgyz language programs on UKW and AM frequencies at 6 AM EST (4 PM Bishkek time), two hours before regular programming was to begin. The order to stop airing RFE/RL programs came from the head of the state-owned KRIU company that operates the transmitters which belong to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Transport and Communications. The reason given for taking Kyrgyz Service programming off the air was that the state-run broadcasting authority would hold a tender for the frequencies in March. RFE/RL is the leading foreign broadcaster in Kyrgyzstan with a weekly listenership of more than 12 percent of the population. Its Radio Azattyk broadcasts five hours a day and has been focusing in recent weeks on the February 27 parliamentary elections and growing protests over candidates banned from running in the election. Here is a sampling of a recording of the calls received at RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau February 24: * "What happened to your "Azattyk"? We could not listen today. My dear, why it was closed? If they (Kyrgyz authorities) close this frequency, then they might stop even air!" * "Hey, it is already 6:30 p.m., but (your radio) is silent! What is going on!" * "I am from Bishkek...All of us (in the family used to wait for Radio Azattyk's programs starting from 6:00 p.m. Today your program has not been aired. All of us are worried about it. What happened (to Azattyk)?"

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

REPORTERS FOR RFE/RL AT RISK IN RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN, IRAN Reporting for--even being interviewed by-- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty continues to place journalists in peril. This week, two RFE/RL correspondents and an interview source made headlines in Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Yuri Bagrov, an RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent based in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia was told earlier this month that he would be deported from Russia, as a consequence of his December 2004 conviction for allegedly attempting to use a false document to obtain Russian citizenship--a charge Bagrov strenuously denies. The North Ossetian Interior Ministry has now reconsidered, "The Moscow Times" reported on February 24, and decided not carry out the Russian Federal Security Service's (FSB) order to deport Bagrov, who has been reporting on the conflict in nearby Chechnya for RFE/RL. Despite the decision to allow Bagrov to remain in Russia, he reports that he still has not got his passport back--it was confiscated by the FSB in August 2004--and must reapply for Russian citizenship. [For more on the Bagrov case, see]. In Azerbaijan, the independent newspaper "Yeni Azarbaycan" on February 23 carried an article titled "Radio Liberty Reporter Fined 40 Million Manats -- One More Illegal Court Ruling Against Journalists." Melahat Nasibova, an RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent based in Nakhichevan, asserts that she is being hounded because of her critical reporting on the local government. Her troubles with the authorities started almost a year ago, with a report about drug addicts and drug abuse in Nakhichevan. Nasibova was accused of libel and fined 40 million manats, or the equivalent of $8,000, by a local court. Her home was then searched and authorities threatened to confiscate her possessions in payment for the fine. Nasibova has appealed the court ruling--so far to no avail--and will now take her case to Azerbaijan's Supreme Court. [For more on the Nasibova case, see]. Iranian weblogger and journalist Arash Sigarchi, who has been interviewed by Radio Farda was sentenced to 14 years in prison on February 22 by a revolutionary tribunal in Gilan, northern Iran. During the proceedings, Sigarchi was falsely accused of working for Radio Farda. International press in Canada and France reported February 23 that Reporters Without Borders issued a statement expressing outrage at the sentence and calling on Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to intervene. The RWP statement said Iranian authorities are trying to intimidate other journalists by making an example of Sigarchi. "By handing down this harsh sentence against a weblogger, their aim is to dissuade journalists and Internet-users from expressing themselves on- line or contacting foreign media," it said. [For more on the Sigarchi case, see].

** The Director of RFE/RL's Russian Service, Maria Klein, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's Azeri Service, Abbas Djavadi, may be reached by email at <>. The News Director of Radio Farda, Mardiros Soghom, may be reached by email at <>.

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