Accessibility links

Newsline - October 14, 2003


OFFICIALS RESPOND TO GEORGIA'S CRITICISM OF PREEMPTIVE-STRIKE DOCTRINE
During a stopover in Morocco on 13 October on his way back to Russia from Brazil, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov responded to recent remarks by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, newsru.com and ITAR-TASS reported. In Tbilisi on 11 October Shevardnadze commented critically on elements of Russia's new military-modernization doctrine that cover the possibility of launching preemptive military strikes within the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003). "It is not my practice to comment on the statements of foreign heads of state. But because this doctrine was prepared by the Defense Ministry and approved by the president of Russia, I would stress that it was not elaborated in order to by liked or disliked by anyone," Ivanov said. He said the doctrine is a response to the real pattern of threats to Russian security that exist today. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, told a party campaign meeting in Moscow on 11 October that Moscow has rejected Shevardnadze, his leadership, and his attitude toward Russia, regions.ru reported on 13 October. Shoigu said the Russia is still weak and "it is too early to win back the former republics of the USSR." VY

DEFENSE MINISTER SEEKS CLOSER MILITARY TIES WITH BRAZIL...
Speaking to journalists in Brasilia on 10 October following talks with Brazilian Defense Minister Jose Viegas, Sergei Ivanov said that Brazil is Russia's "strategic partner" in Latin America and that Moscow wishes to strengthen bilateral economic ties, ITAR-TASS and RTR reported. Ivanov stressed Moscow's particular interest in developing aerospace and military cooperation with Brazil, saying that Russia is participating in a $700 million tender to sell new aircraft to the Brazilian Air Force. He said that, despite pressure from competitors, Russia has a good chance of winning the tender and selling 20 Su-35 fighters to Brazil. Asked to comment whether the Su-35 is the best plane for Brazil, Viegas said, "If we knew this, we wouldn't need a tender," the BBC reported on 12 October. VY

...SAYS NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN WILL CONTINUE
At the same 10 October press conference, Defense Minister Ivanov said Russia will continue assisting in the development of Iran's nuclear-power program, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 October. Ivanov said that accusations that Russia is helping Iran to develop nuclear weapons "are attempts by unscrupulous competitors to squeeze Russia from the Iranian market," the daily reported. An unidentified Atomic Energy Ministry official in Moscow told strana.ru on 13 October that the first reactor block at the Bushehr nuclear-power plant will likely be brought on line only in 2005, not next year as had been earlier announced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). The delay is a result of Iran's failure to purchase from third countries equipment that is necessary to complete construction, the official said. VY

SPS LEADER REPEATS IDEOLOGY OF 'LIBERAL EMPIRE'...
Speaking during a prime-time television debate on 10 October on state-controlled ORT television, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Anatolii Chubais defended his recent comments that Russia should create a "liberal empire" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). In those remarks, he said that a combination of a market economy and aggressive expansion should be Russia's ideology for the next 20-30 years. Without economic and political expansion within the CIS and beyond, Russia cannot preserve its own territorial integrity and resources, Chubais argued. Only by combining liberal values and a program designed to reestablish its empire "can Russia occupy its natural place alongside the United States, the European Union, and Japan, the place designated for it by history," Chubais said. VY

...AS YABLOKO HEAD REFUTES HIM
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, appearing on the same ORT broadcast on 10 October, said that Chubais's proposal "will lead Russia to clash with its neighbors" and deflect its citizenry from a more realistic and important goal -- "dismantling Russian bandit capitalism." "If we raise the living standard of our 40 million citizens who are living below the poverty line, if we restore the independent mass media and an independent judiciary, then Russia will become the center of gravity within the CIS without creating an empire," Yavlinskii said. Izvestia.ru on 12 October commented that this is not the first time that Chubais has advocated a radical populist position during an election campaign. The website recalled that in 1999 Chubais defended the latest military action in Chechnya, saying, "The Russian Army will begin its revival in Chechnya." VY

A NEW BIRTH OF TOTALITARIANISM?
The reinstitution of Soviet-era public-life traditions is in full swing, according to a recent report by human rights activists Lev Ponamarev, Yurii Samodurov, and Andrei Babushkin, "Moskovskii komsomolets" wrote on 13 October. Since 2000, many senior government posts have been occupied by veterans and members of the security organs, and the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated markedly, the newspaper wrote. In addition to the ongoing war in Chechnya, there has been increased pressure on the mass media, public organizations, and the business community. The independent national television channels NTV and TVS were taken over. A chain reaction of mass-media persecution was set off in the regions and many local independent media outlets have been closed or muted. As a result, there is almost no widely available information about violations of law and human rights. Russia has almost returned to Soviet-style power, the daily concludes. VY

FORMER RAIL MINISTER FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES...
The Prosecutor-General's Office has completed its investigation of former Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and has sent his case to the courts, Russian media reported on 13 October. Aksenenko is accused of abuse of office and large-scale embezzlement, according to grani.ru. The case was first opened in October 2001, and Aksenenko resigned in January 2002. According to grani.ru, the timing of the latest announcement was "not accidental." The newly established state Russian Railways Company has recently begun to conclude contracts with passenger carriers. Four of the carriers that have received licenses -- including the one received the license for the highly profitable route between Moscow and St. Petersburg -- have close relations with Aksenenko. The new head of the Russian Railways Company is Gennadii Fadeev, who was Aksenenko's first deputy and who succeeded him as railways minister. Their wives are sisters. During his tenure as minister, Aksenenko was considered close to former media magnate Boris Berezovskii and the so-called Family surrounding then-President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

...AS ADMINISTRATION CHIEF'S DEPARTURE IS AGAIN SUBJECT OF SPECULATION
President Putin has warned presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin that his future depends on the outcome of the 7 December State Duma elections, "Sovershenno sekretno," No. 10, reported, citing unidentified sources. If the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party does well, then Voloshin will "still have a chance of being Putin's campaign manager in 2004." The monthly said that Voloshin is "worried" and is casting about for new positions should he be dismissed from the Kremlin. He is reportedly eying the Audit Chamber, which is now headed by former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, or the state Russian Railways Company, which is currently headed by former Railways Minister Fadeev. Voloshin reportedly facilitated Fadeev's appointment. JAC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CONSIDERS CONTROVERSIAL MEDIA LAW
The Constitutional Court on 13 October began consideration of the law regulating media coverage of election campaigns, which has been challenged by more than 100 State Duma deputies and numerous journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2003). Presidential envoy to the court Mikhail Mityukov commented that he thinks the law needs to define more precisely what is meant by campaign propaganda, RIA-Novosti reported. The court heard on 13 October about "absurd" applications of the law, according to Interfax. For example, a newspaper in Tula received a warning for referring to State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov not simply as a deputy, but also as a "general." Korzhakov was named a general in 1992 when he was appointed to head then-President Yeltsin's security detachment. Pavel Astakhov, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, concluded that under the current law, only candidates have the right to express their opinions during a campaign. The court is expected the make a ruling in about two weeks, according to NTV. JAC

TOLYATTI EDITOR KILLED
"Tolyattinskoye obozrenie" Editor in Chief Aleksei Sidorov was slain on the evening of 10 October, just 17 months after his predecessor at the newspaper, Valerii Ivanov, was also killed, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). Before his death, Ivanov published a series of articles investigating corruption among local officials. No one has been charged in connection with that case. Sidorov, 31, was stabbed outside his home. According to newsru.com, investigators believe that Sidorov's killing is likely connected with his journalistic activities, although they are looking into other motives. JAC

RUSSIA REFUSES TO EXTRADITE RADICAL TO LATVIA
The Prosecutor-General's Office decided on 13 October not to extradite Vladimir Linderman, the deputy chairman of the National Bolshevik Party, to Latvia, BNS reported. Latvian Prosecutor-General Janis Mazitis requested Linderman's extradition in December to face charges of illegal possession of explosives and preparing appeals for the overthrow of the Latvian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). However, the Russian prosecutor's office wrote that it is refusing the Latvian request because it believes "Linderman is being persecuted in Latvia for his political activity and political convictions." Linderman traveled to Russia last November to testify at the trial of National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov on charges of organizing an illegal armed formation. His subsequent appeal to President Putin for Russian citizenship was turned down. Linderman was arrested in Moscow last month at Latvia's request. SG

MUSCOVITES GETTING PERKIER
In an opinion poll conducted by the Gallup Organization among residents of 10 large cities in Europe and the United States, residents of Moscow ranked among the most optimistic, Interfax reported on 13 October, citing Gallup CEO Jim Clifton. Forty-one percent of the Muscovites questioned said they are fully satisfied with their lives. Twenty-seven percent want to have children, and 60 percent believe the economic situation in Moscow is getting better every year. Only 9 percent said they are afraid to leave their homes after 1:00 a.m. Muscovites were unhappy with the level of their health care, with only 13 percent describing it as satisfactory. Other cities included in the survey were New York, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, and Warsaw. JAC

MOSCOW ADMINISTRATION PLANS MORE DEPORTATION CENTERS
Anatolii Batrukin, head of the Moscow Interior Ministry's directorate for migrant issues, told city legislators on 13 October that six detention centers capable of housing up to 500 foreign citizens are being set up in the city to hold illegal immigrants until they can be deported, Interfax reported. According to Batrukin, there are already three such centers, with a total capacity of 329. Since April, these centers have processed about 1,100 people. JAC

DIAMOND REPUBLIC SEEKS CONNECTION WITH REST OF RUSSIA
The government of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic -- with the verbal support of Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev -- is planning to seek private financing to complete construction of the rail line from republican capital Yakutsk to the Baikal-Amur mainline, RTR reported on 13 October. Work on the Yakutsk line to began in 1985, but the project ran out of money when the Soviet Union collapsed. The recent falling levels of the Lena and Amur rivers are making them less navigable, especially in the summer, and deliveries of supplies to the Far North are becoming increasingly difficult. This has renewed interest in the rail line, which would cost about 30 billion rubles ($1 billion). According to the station, the republican government will offer concessions to develop mineral deposits along the route to attract investment into the railway line, JAC

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER AGAIN DECRIES 'USURPATION OF POWER'
Addressing a conference on 10 October of the People's Party of Armenia, of which he is chairman, Stepan Demirchian vowed to continue his campaign against what he termed "the illegitimate regime" of President Robert Kocharian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said his goal remains to form a "legitimate government." Demirchian lost a presidential runoff ballot to Kocharian in March, and the opposition Artarutiun bloc that backed him garnered only 15 of the 131 mandates in a parliamentary election in May. Artarutiun claims that the outcomes of both the presidential and the parliamentary elections were falsified. Demirchian stressed on 10 October that Artarutiun's participation in the work of the legislature after a boycott of several months "does not mean that we have come to terms with this regime and consider it legitimate." He said the opposition will continue to campaign for a "referendum of confidence" in Kocharian, as proposed by the Constitutional Court in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 April 2003). LF

EMBATTLED ARMENIAN TV STATION AGAIN DENIED NEW FREQUENCY
Armenia's National Commission on Television and Radio on 13 October rejected for the third time a bid by the independent television station A1+ for a new frequency that would have enabled it to resume broadcasting, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A1+ went off the air in April 2002 after losing a tender for the frequency on which it had been broadcasting. Its subsequent tender bids were also rejected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002 and 12 June, 15 and 18 July, and 30 September 2003). The commission ruled that A1+ submitted inaccurate data concerning its intellectual-property and financial assets. Several press commentaries on 14 October rejected that argument as ludicrous and unconvincing. Opposition parliament deputy Viktor Dallakian (Artarutiun) criticized the commission's decision as further evidence that the Armenian authorities "are not interested in freedom of expression and the independence of the mass media." LF

ARMENIAN JOURNALISTS' ORGANIZATIONS AT ODDS OVER DRAFT MEDIA BILL
Three Armenian journalistic associations, including the Yerevan Press Club, issued a statement on 10 October accusing the more radical National Press Club of obstructing their efforts to push through sweeping amendments to a new draft media bill, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hranush Hakobian, chairwoman of the parliament's Standing Committee on Science, Education, and the Media, has assured the media community that the legislature will remove from the draft several controversial articles, including a requirement that media outlets disclose their sources of noncommercial funding. The National Press Club argues that the proposed changes to the bill are purely cosmetic, and has drafted an alternative bill. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN WINDS DOWN
The two main opposition challengers in the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election convened mass rallies on 11 and 12 October, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. On 11 October, Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov led a march through Baku, telling supporters that Azerbaijan needs "moral cleansing" and that "it is time to get rid of the present authorities." On 12 October, thousands of supporters attended a rally in Sumgait for Mamedov and his election coalition partner Ali Kerimli (Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing). In Baku on 12 October, more than 100,000 people attended a rally in support of Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, the largest number registered in the course of the two-month campaign, Turan reported on 13 October. Gambar pledged that if elected president, he will release all political prisoners and allow former President Ayaz Mutalibov, who fled the country in May 1992, to return to Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, more political groups -- including Amal, which represents the Azerbaijani intelligentsia -- have endorsed Gambar's candidacy, Turan reported. Mutalibov, however, has declined to do so, according to Turan on 10 October. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PREPARES TO PREVENT ANTICIPATED FALSIFICATION OF POLL OUTCOME...
Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Mamedov told a press conference in Baku on 13 October that his supporters plan to convene late on 15 October in front of district election commissions in order to preclude the "total falsification" of the vote count and tabulation that he believes the authorities are planning, zerkalo.az reported. Musavat Party Chairman Gambar similarly accused the authorities of planning to falsify the outcome of the ballot, and pledged on 13 October that his followers will take action to prevent falsification, albeit without violating the law, Turan reported. Gambar also issued a statement on 13 October appealing to Azerbaijan's armed forces, border guards, and Interior Ministry troops not to fulfill "illegal orders" to open fire on opposition protestors, Turan reported. LF

...AS AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER PLEDGES BALLOT WILL BE DEMOCRATIC
Ilham Aliev, son of President Heidar Aliev, told a press conference in Baku on 13 October that the 15 October ballot, which he is widely expected to win with 60 percent-65 percent of the vote, will be democratic, fair, and transparent, Turan reported. He said the population backs the continuation, to which he is committed, of the political and economic course launched by President Aliev. Prime Minister Aliev denied outright that the authorities have violated election legislation, claiming that equal conditions have been created for all candidates. He placed blame squarely on the opposition for the violent clashes that took place in many districts between opposition supporters and police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 September 2003). Speaking in Strasbourg on 10 October, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer expressed the hope that Azerbaijan will rise to the "challenge" of ensuring that the 15 October voting is "peaceful and orderly," without "provocative behavior" on any side, Turan reported (see End Note, below). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PARLIAMENT SPEAKER
In his weekly radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze rejected on 13 October the allegation by parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze that he was behind the 8 October accusations that Burdjanadze collaborated with Russian intelligence agencies, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2. Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, a leading member of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) election bloc, made those accusations on 8 October and presented to the Georgian Ministry of State Security the following day what she claimed was documentary evidence substantiating them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003). Shevardnadze denied on 13 October that Sarishvili-Chanturia acted at his instigation, and criticized Burdjanadze's accusations against him as inappropriate. Burdjanadze challenged State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania on 11 October to make public the alleged evidence against her. Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told Caucasus Press on 13 October that the compromising materials will be posted on the Internet. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ALLIES WARN OF OPPOSITION 'DESTABILIZATION'...
Meanwhile, Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia predicted at a 13 October press conference in Tbilisi that an opposition political force she decline to name will launch a campaign on 15 October for the ouster of the present Georgian leadership, Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. She also urged State Security Minister Khaburzania to make public the documentation detailing parliament speaker Burdjanadze's alleged collaboration with Russian intelligence agencies. On 14 October, Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze similarly predicted that "certain forces" will try to destabilize the political situation in the run-up to the 2 November parliamentary elections scheduled, Caucasus Press reported. In related news, Gogi Mikanadze, the AS secretary on the Central Election Commission (CEC), was hospitalized after being attacked and severely beaten late on 12 October by six men who branded him "a traitor," Caucasus Press reported the following day. LF

...AS GEORGIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DETAILS ALLEGED SCHEME FOR FALSIFYING VOTE
National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 13 October that the Georgian authorities have devised a scheme for forging 150,000 ballot papers supposedly cast at 31 constituencies in the Russian Federation by Georgians temporarily living in that country, Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. Under that scheme, ballots marked in favor of the pro-presidential AS would be substituted for the ballots cast. The Georgian leadership has promised to cede to Russia control of Georgia's energy-distribution system in return for its complicity in the fraud, Saakashvili claimed. LF

FUGITIVE FORMER GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL AGAIN BARRED FROM CONTESTING BALLOT
The CEC has registered the list of candidates submitted by the Samshoblo (Fatherland) election bloc to contest the party list seats in the 2 November parliamentary election, but struck from that list the name of former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who occupied first place, Caucasus Press reported on 11 October. The CEC last month annulled Giorgadze's registration to contest the election in a single-mandate constituency on the grounds that his registration document did not specify his address and was signed by a local official not authorized to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 24 September 2003). LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER GETS SUSPENDED SENTENCE, FINE
Former leader of the opposition Republican People's Party Amirzhan Kosanov was sentenced on 13 October to one year of probation and a fine of about $225,000 for tax evasion, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The verdict was handed down by the Medeu Raion Court of Almaty, which found Kosanov guilty of failing to pay 3,253,375 tenges (about $22,000) in taxes on grants received by the Reform Center, a nongovernmental organization that he headed. Kosanov told journalists he is not guilty and that he intends to appeal. He added that he believes the charges against him were trumped up on the instructions of government officials. The Republican People's Party, which is currently unregistered, is headed by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who lives in exile abroad. BB

KAZAKHSTAN HOLDS REPEAT ELECTIONS TO LOCAL COUNCILS
Repeat elections to local councils were held in Kazakhstan on 12 October to fill seats that were left vacant after the first round on 20 September, khabar.kz reported on 13 October. Voter turnout was down significantly, with only about 40 percent of the eligible voters casting ballots. Khabar.kz noted that a large number of independent election observers from various human rights organizations and NGOs were present at polling places. BB

KAZAKH SECURITY CHIEF VISITS U.S.
The head of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, Nartai Dutbaev, met with the heads of U.S. security agencies during a visit to Washington and received their thanks for the Kazakh contribution to the international struggle against terrorism, khabar.kz reported on 13 October. The visit was assessed by the official news agency as opening a new chapter in the relations between the security agencies of the two countries. During his stay in Washington, Dutbaev also handed over a collection of archive documents to the Holocaust Museum. BB

TWO UZBEK CITIZENS REPORTED KILLED, ONE KYRGYZ WOUNDED BY UZBEK BORDER TROOPS
Two Uzbek citizens were killed, and a Kyrgyz citizen was severely wounded by Uzbek border troops on 10 October, KyrgyzInfo and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 13 October. A third Uzbek citizen was also reportedly wounded in the incident. According to what KyrgyzInfo described as one version of the event, the border guards opened fire on a group of inhabitants of a village on the Uzbek side of the border who ignored an order. The Kyrgyz citizen, who works as a gardener on the Uzbek side, was among the Uzbek villagers, many of whom reportedly earn their living smuggling scrap metal and fertilizer into Kyrgyzstan. A Kyrgyz village official said the Uzbek guards apologized and offered to pay the medical expenses of the injured Kyrgyz. Kyrgyzstan has long protested the use of firearms by Uzbek border troops on the two countries' common border. The shooting of a Kyrgyz citizen by Uzbek border guards on 16 July led to recriminations between the two countries over this issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003). BB

FOREIGN INVESTORS PARTLY TO BLAME FOR CORRUPTION IN KYRGYZSTAN
Large foreign firms that invest in Kyrgyzstan bear some of the blame for corruption in the country, the international NGO Transparency International announced in Bishkek on 11 October, kabar.kg reported. Transparency International monitors corruption in 133 countries, including Kyrgyzstan, where it works with the local NGO A Future Without Corruption. According to Transparency International, foreign investors conclude contracts with the Kyrgyz government that are not open to public monitoring, thus creating opportunities for bribery and abuse of office. Sometimes the government gets no benefits at all from such contracts. The organization noted that Kyrgyzstan has good laws, but not the means to implement them. What is needed, according to Transparency International, is a commitment from the Kyrgyz leadership to combat the problem, which has prompted international lending agencies to designate Kyrgyzstan as the most corrupt of the seven poorest states in the CIS. BB

TAJIK GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO STRENGTHEN CROSS-BORDER TRADE
The Tajik government has adopted a resolution intended to boost trade with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 October, quoting the presidential press service. The resolution instructs raion and town officials in border areas to construct markets catering to cross-border trade. Relevant ministries and the Border Protection Committee are charged with simplifying border-crossing and customs procedures for citizens of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan who want to sell foodstuffs and consumer goods in Tajikistan. The previous day, Deutsche Welle reported that prices for bread and flour are rising in Tajikistan due to poor harvests in Ukraine and Moldova. Tajikistan usually obtains its grain from Kazakhstan, but this year Kazakhstan's grain has been sold throughout the CIS to make up for shortfalls in other grain-growing areas. BB

TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY HOLDS CONFERENCE IN ANTAGONISTIC TOWN
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) held a conference in the town of Kulob on 11 October, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 October. Kulob was one of the main centers of resistance to the Islamic side in the Tajik civil war of 1992-97. It is also the hometown of President Imomali Rakhmonov, and local authorities have sought to prevent the IRPT from establishing itself there. On this occasion, local authorities managed to force repeated postponements of the conference, which was originally scheduled for May 2001 and most recently for late September. The party is interpreting the 11 October event as evidence that it has now been legitimized in Kulob. IRPT Kulob branch head Mahmadsharif Nabiev said he expects the number of party members in Kulob -- 81 at present -- to increase as a result of the official recognition. BB

POLLSTERS SAY HALF OF BELARUSIANS DISAPPROVE OF GOVERNMENT POLICIES
A poll conducted by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) among 1,519 Belarusians in September found that nearly 49 percent disapprove of the government's policies, while 30 percent said they like the country's path of development, Belapan reported on 13 October. Of those polled, 28 percent said they would re-elect President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, while 61 percent said "someone else" should be elected president. JM

FIRE IN BELARUSIAN ASYLUM KILLS 30 PATIENTS
A blaze in a mental hospital in Hrodna Oblast on 12 October led to the death of 30 patients, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. Hospital personnel managed to lead 32 other patients safely out of the facility. Investigators reportedly blamed the fire on electric heaters set up by staff to warm patients while they slept. JM

TWO UKRAINIAN SAILORS SENTENCED TO IRAQI PRISON FOR OIL SMUGGLING
An Iraqi court sentenced two Ukrainian sailors on 13 October to seven years in prison and ordered them to pay $2.4 million fines for trying to smuggle diesel fuel out of the country, Reuters reported. The "Navstar-1" tanker with 21 Ukrainian crewmembers was apprehended in the Persian Gulf in August by a British Navy ship whose crew believed it was smuggling diesel fuel out of Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). "We have sentenced the two suspects according to the incriminating evidence," Reuters quoted Iraqi Judge Nouredeen Ali as saying. "It is not about buying fuel, because the fuel was purchased outside Iraq's territorial borders [waters]. It is a political and media case," defense lawyer Kazem al-Saad said. JM

ALLEGED THIEVES IGNITE AMMUNITION DEPOT IN UKRAINE
A powerful blast destroyed 10 of 17 bunkers in an ammunition depot in Artemivsk, eastern Ukraine, on 10 October, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Valeriy Boykov, acting chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told journalists that the blast was caused by a welding torch. According to Boykov, two warrant officers hired a welder to cut metal from buildings near the ammunition dump in order to sell it as scrap metal on the black market. The blast reportedly injured a 15-year-old girl and a serviceman. JM

UKRAINIAN BORDER GUARDS ON ALERT AS RUSSIAN DAM PROJECT APPROACHES COMPLETION
Ukrainian State Border Service head Mykola Lytvyn and National Security and Defense Council Deputy Secretary Petro Shatkivskyy have visited the Tuzla islet in Kerch Strait that links the Black and Azov seas to check the preparedness of border guards near a dike that is being constructed on Russia's Taman Peninsula (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 October 2003), Interfax reported on 13 October. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry recently warned Moscow that the construction of the dam might violate Ukraine's state border and territorial integrity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). "Ukrainian guards will not apply arms in detaining offenders of the state border in this sector. Yet it does not mean they will be just onlookers," the State Border Service said in a statement, adding that Ukrainian border guards will find other ways to discourage any possible Russian trespassers. Kyiv has reportedly sent a reinforced border-guard unit to the islet and set an antitank hedgehog facing the construction, which has come to within 1 kilometer of the islet. The Verkhovna Rada is set to hold a hearing on the possible border conflict with Russia. JM

RUSSIA REFUSES TO EXTRADITE RADICAL TO LATVIA
Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office decided on 13 October not to extradite Vladimir Linderman, the deputy chairman of Russia's National Bolshevik Party, to Latvia, BNS reported. Latvian Prosecutor-General Janis Mazitis requested Linderman's extradition last December to face charges of illegal possession of explosives and preparing appeals calling for the overthrow of the Latvian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). However, the Russian prosecutor's office wrote that it was refusing to grant the Latvian request because it believes "Linderman is being persecuted in Latvia for his political activity and political convictions." Linderman traveled to Russia last November to testify at the trial of National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov. His subsequent appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin seeking Russian citizenship was turned down. Linderman was arrested in Moscow last month at Latvia's request. SG

BALTIC, NORDIC PREMIERS AGREE ON NEED FOR CLOSE DIALOGUE IN EU
Prime Ministers Juhan Parts (Estonia), Einars Repse (Latvia), Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania), Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Denmark), Matti Vanhanen (Finland), and Goran Persson (Sweden) met in Helsinki on 10 October and discussed preparations for the EU Summit Council meeting in Brussels on 16-17 October, BNS reported. They noted that they have similar views on the future of the EU and agreed that the intergovernmental conference in Rome on the draft European constitution should continue as long as is necessary to produce a satisfactory document. The prime ministers decided to send a letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi calling for greater investment in human capital as well as science and education to speed up economic development. They also agreed that if a joint EU border-guard service is created, it should function as an advisory body without any authority to dictate orders to individual countries' border guards. SG

BALTIC AGRICULTURE MINISTERS AGREE ON COMMON STAND ON EU FARMING POLICY
Agriculture Ministers Tiit Tammsaar (Estonia), Martins Roze (Latvia), and Jeronimas Kraujelis (Lithuania) signed a joint statement in Riga on 10 October outlining their conditions for the implementation of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in their states, LETA reported. They proposed to the European Commission that CAP agricultural subsidies be calculated on the basis of data in individual countries' EU accession treaties and that the Baltic states be given the right to adjust direct payments per farm, taking into account the size of the farm and the area of the agricultural land in use. The ministers also asked the European Commission to present the CAP implementation project to new member states in October to allow time for discussion before the reform is officially approved. SG

POLAND CELEBRATES 25 YEARS OF NATIVE SON'S PAPACY
Poles on 12 October celebrated 25th years of John Paul II's tenure as pope with Masses, prayers, fund-raisers, processions, pilgrimages, exhibitions, and concerts, PAP reported. "God let me live to see the 25th anniversary of my pontificate. Thanks be to God and thanks be to the people. God bless you all," the pope said in a brief address to his compatriots in a live television link. Karol Wojtyla, the former cardinal of Krakow, became the head of the Roman Catholic Church on 16 October 1978. JM

CZECHS PLAN TO ADOPT EURO IN 2009
Government ministers approved a plan on 13 October to drop the national currency, the Czech crown, in favor of the euro in 2009, local dailies reported the following day. Such a time frame could leave the Czech Republic some two years behind nearby states like Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in adopting the European currency, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 14 October. Some 68 percent of Czechs favor introduction of the euro, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey cited by the same daily, which reported that Czech support for the move has risen more rapidly than in any other EU invitee over the past 12 months. AH

FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK FUNCTIONARY GETS TOUGHER PRISON SENTENCE
A Prague high court on 13 October increased the sentence against Karel Hoffmann, a former senior communist leader who abetted the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia by silencing state radio broadcasts, CTK and other media reported. The aged Hoffmann is the only former high-ranking functionary to have been convicted for his part in the Soviet-led occupation to quash the Prague Spring reform movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 9 June 2003). The court reasoned that Hoffmann, the head of a communications office at the time, not "only" abused his position but also committed sabotage. "The punishment must be satisfaction for those injured," Judge Robert Fremr said, according to "Mlada fronta Dnes." A court of lower instance will determine in the next few weeks whether or not Hoffmann is fit to serve his prison term, the newspaper reported. AH

CZECH AUTHORITIES CONDUCT MASSIVE SWEEP OF EROTIC CLUBS
Roughly 4,500 Czech police officers conducted overnight raids on more than 400 nightclubs and brothels across the country on 10-11 October in an effort to combat illegal prostitution and related criminal activities, local and international media reported on 11 October. The action, dubbed Operation Fantine after the kind-hearted prostitute in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," resulted in eight arrests for pimping and another 13 arrests on various weapons- or drug-related charges, local newspapers reported on 13 October. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross deemed the operation a success, saying its aims included "disrupt[ing] the anonymity of the environment" and providing information on such venues, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 14 October. The Czech Republic has become a major destination for sex tourism from the West since 1989, sparking fears that abuses such as trafficking in women and children thrive in the sector. "The most brutal sexual serfdom does not occur and children do not offer sexual services" in the country, Gross and Police President Jiri Kolar said in the wake of the operation, according to "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 13 October. AH

EMBOLDENED SLOVAK OPPOSITION REPORTEDLY SEEKING EARLY ELECTIONS
The leaders of the country's parliamentary opposition said on 13 October that they will work to force early elections to topple the current, center-right coalition, CTK reported the same day. The chairmen of Smer (Direction), Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and Communist Party of Slovakia -- Robert Fico, Vladimir Meciar, and Jozef Sevc, respectively -- offered "political support" for a planned petition drive by unionists to force a referendum on shortening the current electoral term or dismissing the Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's four-party government, according to the news agency. Slovak law requires that a majority of eligible voters must take part in a referendum in order for it to be valid -- something that has happened once in the country's history, when Slovak voters approved of EU accession in a May 2003 vote. AH

NEW SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER VOWS TO CONTINUE REFORMS
Juraj Liska emerged from his swearing in as defense minister on 10 October with a pledge to cement Slovakia's accession to NATO and "continue with reforms and the modernization of Slovakia's armed forces into a professional force by 2006," Reuters reported. Liska, a little-known former mayor of the western Slovak city of Trencin, was appointed to replace Ivan Simko, whose dismissal in September divided the governing coalition and alarmed the country's future NATO allies. Prime Minister Dzurinda lobbied for Simko's replacement after the latter failed to support his decision to fire National Security Office head Jan Mojzis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). Liska is a member of Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union party. AH

WILL HUNGARY DROP OUT OF NATO?
Hungarian Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told reporters after an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in the U.S. city of Colorado Springs on 8-9 October that Hungary will likely "exclude itself" from NATO unless the country changes its cumbersome decision-making process in approving the deployment of its soldiers, the "Magyar Hirlap" daily reported on 13 October. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Istvan Simicsko told the daily that Juhasz has presented "a more dramatic picture of the problem than exists in reality." He also said if the cabinet submits a "proper proposal," there is a chance that FIDESZ would support a constitutional amendment to allow simplified procedures for approving troop movements. The daily recalled that in September, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy in Budapest that Hungary should amend its constitution on this matter "as soon as possible." MSZ

HUNDREDS DEMONSTRATE IN SUPPORT OF HUNGARIAN RADIO CHAIRWOMAN
Hundreds of people attended a demonstration on 11 October outside the Hungarian Radio building expressing their support for radio Chairwoman Katalin Kondor, who has recently been accused of collaborating with the state security services in 1974-83 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September, and 8 and 9 October 2003), Hungarian media reported. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Annamaria Szalai, who attended the demonstration organized by the right-wing Magyar Conquest 2000 society, said Prime Minister Medgyessy's goal is to "gain a complete dictatorship of opinion," "Nepszabadsag" reported. According to the daily, on 13 October Kondor examined documents related to her past at the State Security Historical Archives. Archives Director Gyorgy Gyarmati reportedly asked Kondor to decide whether she considers herself to be a public figure. If Kondor answers affirmatively, her documents will be made available for public research. MSZ

KOSOVA TALKS OPEN IN VIENNA...
On 14 October in Vienna, Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, and Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic opened the first official talks since 1999 between Prishtina and Belgrade, international and regional media reported. Representatives of the international community included NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, and OSCE Chairman and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "I am aware that the first step of a journey is often the most difficult one," Solana said. "But as one moves ahead, progress becomes easier." The opening session will be followed by meetings of experts held in Belgrade and Prishtina under the chairmanship of Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), dpa reported. Topics on the agenda include ensuring electricity supplies, obtaining recognition of Kosovar car-license plates and identity documents by Serbia, enabling safe returns for up to 200,000 mainly Serbian refugees and displaced persons, and accounting for about 3,700 missing persons from the 1998-99 conflict, mainly ethnic Albanians. PM

...AMID UNCERTAINTY...
Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, whom UNMIK had invited to the talks that opened in Vienna on 14 October, announced in Prishtina on 12 October that he will not attend because he does not have a mandate from the parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Rexhepi argued that he is "ready to talk with our neighbor Serbia, as with all other neighbors of Kosova. But it has to be our decision when, how, and what to talk about. This cannot be somebody else's decision. Now is not the right moment." UNMIK subsequently withdrew invitations to Health Minister Resmije Mumxhiu and Milorad Todorovic, who is coordinator for refugee returns, on the grounds that they should not attend without the prime minister. Todorovic was to have been the only Serbian member of the Prishtina delegation. In response, many Belgrade leaders balked at attending. In the end, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic and Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic stayed home. Solana telephoned Belgrade and Prishtina into the night on 13 October to ensure that the talks did not collapse before they began. PM

...AND SKEPTICISM
Many observers criticized the Belgrade-Prishtina talks that opened in Vienna on 14 October as little more than a well-publicized photo opportunity for the political benefit of the foreigners who pressured the reluctant Kosovars and Serbs to the table, international and regional media reported. There is little, if any, enthusiasm for the negotiations among Serbian and Kosovar politicians, who fear that the talks will yield few practical results and hence only anger voters. In Kosova, many suspect that the talks are the first stage in an attempt by the EU to force them into a new political relationship with Belgrade, which Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority emphatically rejects. Many observers note that there is an ambiguity in UNMIK's dual roles as both a mediator and a power factor in Prishtina. The Kosovar leadership argues that UNMIK should turn over more powers to it to end the ambiguity. Belgrade and Kosovar Serbs fear this transfer of authority would bring Kosova one step closer to independence, which they reject, arguing that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 specifies that Kosova is part of "Yugoslavia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August and 26 September 2003). PM

OPPOSITION GAINING IN ALBANIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Initial returns suggest that the governing Socialists won in 36 out of 65 municipalities in the 12 October Albanian local elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 14 October. The opposition Democrats are ahead in 25 municipalities, including some in traditional Socialist strongholds in the south. Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha said that his party will challenge initial returns showing the Socialists as winners in Tirana and Durres. The Central Election Commission promised final returns "as soon as possible." The vote was monitored by 2,000 observers, including 200 from the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 23 September 2003). PM

STRIKE AT U.S.-OWNED SERBIAN STEEL PLANTS
Workers at the Sartid steelworks in Smederevo and Sabac downed tools on 14 October after the new U.S. owners rejected demands for raising the minimum hourly base pay from $0.40 to $1.00, dpa reported. The union also wants new jobs for the 450 workers in parts of Sartid not included in the recent $23 million purchase by US Steel Balkan, which is a subsidiary of US Steel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003). About one-third of Sartid's facilities are currently operational. PM

GERMAN REPORT: U.S. AGREES TO EU CONTROL OF BOSNIAN PEACEKEEPING
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 13 October quoted unnamed German government sources in Berlin as saying that the EU will "for certain" take over Bosnian peacekeeping responsibilities from NATO in the fall of 2004. The sources added that the EU will make a formal decision in November to take on the mandate, which NATO will approve in December. According to the report, the United States has dropped its earlier objections to the EU mandate and will remain present in Bosnia in unspecified military "capacities." Britain is expected to command the new EU mission, which will emphasize police-related tasks. The EU is currently in charge of international police efforts in Bosnia. Several U.S. officials previously said that it is too early to discuss NATO's exit from the Balkans, where many Muslims and ethnic Albanians trust the United States but not the EU. Many in Washington also have doubts about the EU's ability to manage the security situation in Bosnia and about the EU's ultimate goal in building up a military bloc without the participation of the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June and 19 September 2003). PM

LEADING MACEDONIAN POLITICIAN EXPECTS REFORMS TO BE FINALIZED SOON
Macedonian parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski said on 13 October that he expects the last phase of the administrative reforms connected with the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement to be finalized by May, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. According to Popovski, the parliament has already adopted the laws necessary for constitutional reform and must now complete the legal framework for decentralizing the state administration. He believes that decentralization will take effect after the local elections slated for the summer of 2004. Rejecting recent demands by journalists that libel and slander be decriminalized, Popovski said these crimes should not be removed from the Penal Code. He added, however, that Draconian fines should not be levied against journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). UB

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS NEW ANTICORRUPTION MEASURES
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase announced on 10 October that his cabinet has adopted a series of new measures aimed at combating corruption, Mediafax reported. He argued that despite the fact that the issue is often overly politicized in Romania, "there's clearly a problem" with widespread corruption in the country. Nastase said the adopted measures focus primarily on the country's judiciary and public administration and on the business environment and promotion of transparency. Romania has been severely criticized recently for widespread corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 8, and 9 October 2003). ZsM

'UN HOUSE' OPENED IN BUCHAREST
Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Nastase on 13 October opened a "UN House" in Bucharest that will host all UN representatives working in Romania, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said he hopes the new location will improve the efficiency of UN agencies in Romania. Meeting with Nastase, visiting UN Deputy Secretary-General and United Nations Development Program coordinator Mark Brown said he hopes Romania gets a nonpermanent seat on next year's UN Security Council. ZsM

IMPROVING MACROECONOMIC INDICATORS FOR ROMANIA
Prime Minister Nastase announced on 10 October that in the first eight months of the year, industrial output grew by 3.6 percent and exports grew by 7.5 percent compared to the same period last year, Mediafax reported. He added that the unemployment rate fell in August to 6.6 percent, its lowest level in the past 12 months. Nastase noted that the 0.9 percent inflation rate recorded in August was the lowest monthly rate in several years. The same day, Romanian Radio reported that a World Bank report to be released next month says the number of Romanians living under the poverty level has fallen from 35 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2002. However, the radio station noted that inflation grew considerably in September to 2.1 percent and the year-on-year inflation rate reached 15.9 percent. ZsM

EXTREMIST PARTY CRITICIZES DECISION TO HOLD TWO-DAY REFERENDUM
The Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 13 October called on the Constitutional Court to investigate a 9 October government ordinance that set 18 and 19 October as the dates for a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003), Romanian media reported. He said the decision to hold the referendum over two days instead of one violates both the current and draft constitution because the law on referendums is an organic law and thus cannot be modified by an ordinance. Prime Minister Nastase called the PRM's campaign against the draft constitution a "large operation of manipulation." Meanwhile, on 9 October the government approved an urgent ordinance that will allow Romanian military and police personnel participating in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosova to vote electronically during the referendum. An opinion poll conducted by Metro Media Transilvania from 10-12 October showed that 70 percent of eligible voters will turn up at the polls, of which 68 percent are expected to vote in favor of the proposed constitutional amendments, Mediafax reported on 13 October. ZsM

RULING PARTY MAINTAINS SUPPORT FOR CONTROVERSIAL MINISTERS
Ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Miron Mitrea said on 13 October that the party's Permanent Delegation has decided to continue to support controversial Health Minister Mircea Beuran and European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak, Romanian media reported. Mitrea said Beuran, who has been accused of plagiarism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 6 October 2003), is the victim of a smear campaign conducted by the "mafia" in the health system. He added that Beuran's academic career is not of concern to the PSD and that the party will not ask Puwak, who has been accused of mishandling EU funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 September 2003), to step down. Mitrea said the PSD is awaiting the results of an audit the EU is conducting in relation to Puwak's case. Opposition parties have previously requested that Mitrea and Puwak be dismissed. ZsM

MOLDOVA AIRS IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES IN RELATIONS WITH ROMANIA
At the 9 October meeting of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, Moldovan permanent representative Alexei Tulbure presented "problems in bilateral relations between Moldova and Romania" that currently cannot be resolved through bilateral dialogue, according to a Moldovan Foreign Ministry press release cited by Flux. Tulbure added that these political problems "endanger Moldova's existence," hinder the resolution of the Transdniester conflict, and "negatively influence Moldova's European integration prospects." A 12 October Romanian Foreign Ministry release rejected these allegations, arguing that Tulbure's position "lacks real support and does not correspond to the European spirit" Romania seeks to use in bilateral relations, Mediafax reported. The release reaffirms that Romania "recognizes, respects, and supports" Moldova's statehood and says Moldova's sudden change of heart reflects internal difficulties in managing "complex identity and political aspects." Referring to these new tensions between the two states, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on 12 October told Chisinau's ProTV that Romania is at fault for interfering in Moldova's internal affairs. ZsM

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS PROBLEMS WITH NEXT CONTINGENT FOR IRAQ
Deputy Defense Minister Ilko Dimitrov told journalists on 13 October that the army is having difficulties recruiting volunteers for its next contingent in Iraq, the private bTV reported. The current contingent's six-month term expires in late February. "I wouldn't say that the preparations of the next contingent are splendid -- we have problems gathering personnel," Dimitrov said. He added that military police will make up a larger share of the next contingent, which will also include civilian experts. "We need more economic expertise as well as [experts for] public relations, as we definitively have economic interests [in Iraq] that could be developed." UB

MORE THAN 200 BULGARIAN OFFICIALS SACKED OVER CORRUPTION CHARGES
Konstantin Palikarski, secretary of the government commission that coordinates anticorruption efforts, announced on 13 October that since September 2003 more than 200 government officials have been dismissed on corruption charges, while about 1,800 such cases have been investigated, "Standart" reported. Palikarski said that of those investigated, about 700 officials came from the Interior Ministry alone. He added that the government is planning to offer its officials training courses in ethics, and to raise public awareness of corruption by holding lectures at high schools and universities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2003). UB

WILL AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT FORMALIZE DYNASTIC TRANSITION?
On 15 October, voters in Azerbaijan will choose a successor to ailing President Heidar Aliev, who on 2 October withdrew his candidacy for the ballot. In a statement read on state television, the 80-year-old president, who has been hospitalized first in Ankara and then in the United States since early July, appealed to the population to elect as his successor his son Ilham, whom he appointed prime minister in August. Despite assurances from Prime Minister Aliev and other senior officials that the ballot will be free and democratic, most observers are convinced that the present authorities will resort to whatever means are necessary to prevent a transfer of power to the opposition.

The presidential election represents the culmination of a standoff between the Azerbaijani authorities and opposition that began almost one year ago. Both the Azerbaijani opposition and international organizations such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE condemned widespread blatant falsification during the presidential election in 1998 (which most leading opposition candidates boycotted) and the parliamentary ballot in 2000. In an attempt to preclude a third flawed election, the Council of Europe and OSCE pressured the Azerbaijani authorities in 2002 to draft new election legislation that would empower the opposition to thwart malpractice on the part of the Central Election Commission and its lower level counterparts. The opposition, however, rejected the new draft bill as allegedly even less democratic than the legislation it was intended to replace. Suggestions by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission as to how the bill could be improved, specifically by allocating the opposition enough representatives on the CEC and district commissions to prevent the authorities pushing through decisions with a two-thirds majority, were consistently rejected, and in late May parliament adopted in the final reading a new bill that gave the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and its satellites total control over all election commissions.

The second bone of contention between the authorities and the opposition was the latter's resentment of the president's purported plans to engineer his son's succession to the presidency. President Aliev had taken the first steps in that direction in the summer of 2002, drafting and putting to a nationwide referendum constitutional changes that reduced from two-thirds to 50 percent plus one vote the number of votes a presidential candidate must garner for a first round win, abolishing the minimum 25 percent turnout for a presidential ballot to be valid, and stipulating that in the event that the president dies in office or becomes incapacitated, his duties devolve on the prime minister.

In late April 2003, President Aliev collapsed twice during a televised live address, and was subsequently hospitalized in Ankara. He returned to Baku in mid-May, but was taken again to Ankara in early July, and from there to Ohio's Cleveland Clinic for treatment for unspecified cardiac and kidney complaints. But despite his failing health, President Aliev was duly registered as YAP's presidential candidate; at the same time, a group of voters from Nakhichevan proposed the candidacy of Ilham Aliev.

Of nearly 30 other presidential hopefuls, only 12 were finally registered, including the leaders of three of Azerbaijan's most influential opposition parties: Isa Gambar (Musavat), Etibar Mamedov (Azerbaijan National Independence Party, or AMIP), and Ali Kerimli (Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing). Former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev (Democratic Party of Azerbaijan), who left Baku for self-exile in the United States in the fall of 1996, was barred from the ballot on a technicality, a decision that incurred criticism from Washington and the Council of Europe. Also excluded were former President Ayaz Mutalibov, and former presidential aide Eldar Namazov.

Of the 12 candidates finally registered, three subsequently withdrew in favor of Prime Minister Aliev, while Kerimli stepped down, endorsing Mamedov's candidacy. Kerimli had since June repeatedly urged his fellow opposition leaders to unite behind a single opposition candidate, and made clear his own willingness to pull out of the ballot should such a consensus be reached. The need for a single opposition challenger gained new urgency in the wake of Ilham Aliev's elevation to the post of prime minister. Gambar, Mamedov, and Kerimli met with Guliev in London in late August in the hope of reaching agreement on a single candidate, but failed to do so. They did, however, sign an agreement pledging to campaign for a fair ballot and further democratization. In late September, Mamedov and Kerimli signed an agreement under which the latter would obtain the post of prime minister should the former be elected president; their respective parties would then form a coalition government on a parity basis.

In further talks on 8 October, Mamedov and Gambar reached a tentative agreement that Mamedov too would withdraw from the race in Gambar's favor in return for the post of prime minister should Gambar be elected. Kerimli endorsed that agreement, abjuring any claim on a leadership post. But the following day, on 9 October, Gambar informed Mamedov that he had already concluded a comparable agreement, on terms more favorable to himself, with Guliev.

That announcement prompted numerous organizations to proclaim their backing for Gambar; up to 100,000 people are estimated to have attended a campaign rally in his support in Baku on 12 October. But the conduct of the election campaign to date, in particular the deployment by provincial officials of ax-wielding YAP supporters against the opposition, imply that the authorities may resort to intimidation or even violence in addition to falsification of the ballot, which is perceived as simply the final formality in the procedure of transferring power from Heidar to Ilham Aliev.

Azerbaijan officials have responded to all international expressions of concern with assurances that the vote will be free and fair, while repeated opposition protests at egregious harassment have elicited warnings by law enforcement officials that they will act "resolutely" to prevent an anticipated attempt by the opposition to seize power by force on 15-16 October. And while the up to 1,000 foreign election observers will inevitably register and condemn falsification of the voting procedure and election returns, the Azerbaijani authorities might be willing to run that risk -- particularly as the Council of Europe recently failed to sanction Armenia for the flawed presidential ballot it held in February-March of this year.

UN SECURITY COUNCIL VOTES TO EXTEND ISAF BEYOND AFGHAN CAPITAL...
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1510 in a 15-0 vote on 13 October, authorizing the extension of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul, news agencies reported. Germany, which is expected to contribute 450 troops as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Konduz, had insisted on a UN mandate and had pushed for the resolution, dpa reported on 13 October. "There was an absence of countries that were willing to undertake such missions outside of Kabul," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte, whose country has so far appeared cool to the idea of expanding ISAF, said on 13 October, according to RFE/RL. "Now NATO has taken this force [ISAF] over and there is a willingness at least to a limited extent to undertake missions outside of Kabul, and in that context we were willing to support such a resolution." AT

...WHICH COULD INCLUDE TROOPS FROM FIJI BUT NOT FRANCE
As a result of the UN Security Council decision on 13 October to expand ISAF's mandate, soldiers from Fiji could end up in Afghanistan as peacekeepers, fijivillage.com reported on 14 October. Army commander Frank Bainimarama said the Fijian government has yet to decide whether or not to send troops to Afghanistan. French Ambassador to the UN Jean-Marc de la Sabliere welcomed the vote to expand ISAF but said his country will not contribute troops to ISAF, dpa reported on 13 October. It is still unclear whether ISAF will take over existing Provincial Reconstruction Teams led by the United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Likewise, the relationship between an expanded ISAF and the antiterrorism coalition remains vague. AT

TALIBAN VETERANS ESCAPE FROM PRISON...
Kandahar Province Governor Mohammad Yusof Pashtun said on 11 October that 41 members of the former Taliban regime escaped from prison on 10 October, Radio Afghanistan reported. Pashtun said he cannot rule out the possibility that security forces collaborated with the escapees. The governor said the prisoners escaped via a 300-meter tunnel they dug under the Sarpoza prison in the city of Kandahar. Pashtun said there was a "vacuum" in the security arrangements of the prison and local police did not guard it because the prison had been placed under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry. Afghan authorities indicated that they did not recapture any of the escapees, Reuters reported on 12 October. AT

...AND NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER CLAIMS BRIBE WAS INVOLVED
Neo-Taliban commander Mullah Sabir said on 12 October that related organizations paid bribes of $2,000 per prisoner to prison authorities in Kandahar to facilitate the escape of those 41 inmates, Reuters reported. Kandahar police chief Mohammad Jashim countered that until an investigation is completed, he cannot confirm that prison authorities took bribes. Kandahar Governor Pashtun said he is "100 percent sure there was cooperation between the prison security and the Taliban," adding that the digging of the tunnel was "clearly not something you can do in a day or two -- it would have taken at least a month." Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai appointed Pashtun as Kandahar governor in August to replace Gul Agha Sherzai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). AT

NEO-TALIBAN KILL EIGHT POLICE OFFICERS, OCCUPY DISTRICT OFFICE
About 100 neo-Taliban forces killed eight policemen and temporarily seized control of the administrative offices of the Arghandab District in Zabul Province on 12 October, Reuters reported. The Afghan National Army's 1st Brigade has managed to clear Arghandab District of neo-Taliban forces, Radio Afghanistan reported on 13 October. The Afghan forces were assisted by coalition air support. Five members of the neo-Taliban were arrested in the cleanup operations, and there were no reports of casualties on the government side. According to the report, Arghandab is now under complete control of the army. AT

BAIL GRANTED TO IRANIAN DEFENDANT IN JOURNALIST'S MURDER CASE
Judge Rasul Ghanimi announced on 13 October that the temporary detention order for the individual accused of murdering Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi while she was in Iranian custody has been changed to a bail order for 30 million tomans (about $37,500), ISNA reported. Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi is the defendant in a trial that began the previous week (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 October 2003). Ghanimi said no one has posted Ahmadi's bail. BS

IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER ADDRESSES PROVINCIAL DIFFICULTIES
During a 13 October speech in the city of Zanjan, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said one of his major objectives in visiting various provinces is to draw officials' attention to local problems, state radio reported. Khamenei added that every part of the country has problems, "but there are resources and possibilities in these regions that are the key to solving these problems." Khamenei went on to say that two recent opinion polls of Zanjan residents -- one conducted by provincial officials and the other by officials from Tehran, the capital -- had very similar results. When people were asked about their main problem, he said, they cited "unemployment, inflation, and their standard of living." BS

SUPREME LEADER WARNS OF PLANS TO DOMINATE IRAN
During his speech in Zanjan on 13 October, Khamenei urged the public and state officials to maintain unity and warned that Iran's enemies are trying to create divisions among state officials, state radio reported. "We do not want America and other international arrogant powers to be in charge of this nation and this country," he added. In a presumed reference to the United States, Khamenei went on to say that the "global arrogance...intends to dominate Iran," and although it was kicked out of Iran once, "it intends to come back." The United States, according to Khamenei, wants to have "a series of devoted puppet regimes in this region" in order to "have its oil supplies" and ensure that Israel is not threatened. BS

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL HINTS THAT COMPLETION OF BUSHEHR REACTOR MIGHT BE DELAYED
An anonymous Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official said on 13 October that the completion of the first power-generating set at the nuclear-power plant in Bushehr, Iran, might be delayed by one year, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October. According to the new work schedule, the reactor's launch is delayed from 2004 to 2005 because 15 percent of the required technical equipment has not yet been delivered to the building site. "The Iranian side was supposed to buy this equipment from third countries," the Russian official said. The official added that this delay is in no way connected with the issue of returning spent nuclear from Iran to Russia. An agreement on the return of spent fuel for reprocessing and storage has not been signed, and Moscow has said that it will not supply fuel for Bushehr until such an agreement is signed (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 October 2003). BS

IRAQI OIL MINISTER, INC AIDE ESCAPE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum and Nabil al-Musawi, an aide to Iraqi National Congress (INC) head and Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, escaped an assassination attempt in Baghdad on 12 October, the Saudi Press Agency reported on 13 October. The incident occurred in the Mansur district of Baghdad when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a convoy of five vehicles transporting the two men. "The two men were traveling in the same car in a five-vehicle convoy when the motorcade came under fire from a speeding car," an unidentified source told middle-east-online.com. KR

KDP HEAD THREATENS TO RESIGN OVER TURKISH TROOP DEPLOYMENT
Mas'ud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has threatened to resign from his position on the Iraqi Governing Council if Turkish troops are deployed to Iraq, a KDP source told MENA on 13 October. The Governing Council has "rejected the deployment of troops by Turkey and other countries in the region, and we have asked for Arab League support for this position," Barzani told reporters in Cairo following a 12 October meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa, as quoted by Al-Jazeera. "The deployment of troops from Turkey or neighboring countries would only increase tensions in Iraq and would provide protection for no one," he said. "Turkey has its own agenda and its intervention in Iraq will cause many problems." KR

UKRAINIANS SENTENCED TO SEVEN YEARS FOR OIL SMUGGLING IN IRAQ
Two Ukrainians have been convicted on charges of smuggling Iraqi oil and sentenced to seven years in prison, Kyiv's "Ukrayinska pravda" reported on 13 October. Mykola Mazurenko, captain of the "Navstar-1" tanker, and his assistant Ivan Soshchenko were arrested in August and charged with the illegal acquisition of 3,500 tons of fuel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). The men have also been fined $2.4 million each for smuggling oil. Speaking on the ruling, Coalition Provisional Authority legal adviser Mike Kelly said, "The main message lies in the fact that the time for organized oil contraband is over," "Ukrayinska pravda" reported. "You will lose your ship, lose your cargo, and your captain will be imprisoned, if you continue to carry out organized contraband," Kelly said. KR

UN NEARS VOTE ON U.S. DRAFT RESOLUTION
Members of the UN Security Council are examining the U.S. draft resolution on Iraq, international press reported on 14 October. One day earlier, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio told reporters: "There have been changes to many points" of the original draft, which France, Russia, and Germany opposed. Those changes should ultimately help the United States to avoid a split vote in the Security Council (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 October 2003). Spain, along with the United Kingdom, has co-sponsored the third revision of the resolution. According to Reuters, the new draft sets a 15 December deadline for the Iraqi Governing Council to establish "a timetable and a program for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution." The resolution is expected to be put to a vote this week. KR

IRAQI CLERIC AL-SADR ESTABLISHES ISLAMIC 'SHADOW' GOVERNMENT
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced his intention to form an Islamic state in Iraq by establishing a shadow government there, complete with ministries, international media reported on 11 October. Al-Sadr announced his new government during his sermon at Friday prayers in Al-Kufah on 10 October. Al-Sadr said he has established ministries of Awqaf (religious endowments), culture, finance, foreign affairs, information, interior, justice, and the "ministry for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice," Al-Jazeera reported on 11 October. Al-Sadr's followers took over two buildings in the holy city of Al-Najaf that they intend to use as the headquarters of the Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry, Al-Jazeera reported on 13 October. The satellite news channel also reported clashes on 13 October between al-Sadr's followers and Spanish troops, which erupted when the coalition soldiers tried to disarm al-Sadr's guards. On 10 October, two U.S. soldiers and two Iraqis were killed during a gun battle between coalition forces and al-Sadr's followers outside the cleric's Baghdad office. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG