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Newsline - October 20, 2003


PUTIN: RUSSIA AND JAPAN HAVE COMPLICATED PROBLEMS TO SOLVE
Speaking to journalists after his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok, President Vladimir Putin said on 19 October that relations between those two countries "remain complicated," Western and Russian news agencies reported. Despite that fact, Putin added, dialogue with Japan continues on all issues, including consultations on signing a peace treaty. He conceded that Japan is concerned by Russia's delay in deciding on the construction of a major oil pipeline to the port of Nakhodka, "which has practical importance for Japan." Russia will make its decision only after all calculations connected with the project are complete, Putin said. "Russia will determine the final route of the pipeline only after it takes the volume of discovered oil reserves into account," Putin added. The Russian president also said he and Prime Minister Koizumi decided to create a sort of Russian-Japanese "Council of Elders" of respected public figures to tackle complicated problems. For the Russian side, the group will be chaired by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov; for the Japanese side, ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will lead the council. VY

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT GIVES AL-JAZEERA INTERVIEW
In an interview with satellite channel Al-Jazeera on 17 October, President Putin said Russia and the United States have very different positions on Iraq but that his good personal relations with U.S. President George W. Bush have helped to maintain good relations between Moscow and Washington, RIA-Novosti and the other Russian media reported the same day. Putin also said the latest Security Council resolution on Iraq -- introduced by the United States and passed on 16 October -- is "not enough." Responding to an Al-Jazeera question alleging that the UN role was diminished due to a "diktat" from Washington, Putin said: "Is the UN an organization that has managed to solve every problem before? If so, why has it not solved the Palestine problem?" Asked by the station about potential targets of a recently amended Russian military doctrine that seemingly allows for preventive military strikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 October 2003), Putin said: "We are not very interested in who it might be. Anyone who threatens us should know that the response will be adequate." VY

PROSECUTORS CHARGE ANOTHER YUKOS EXECUTIVE...
Prosecutors on 17 October summoned the chairman of the board of Yukos Moscow, Vasilii Shakhnovskii, to the Prosecutor-General's Office and charged him with tax evasion on 29 million rubles ($950,000) during the 1988-2000 period, newsru.com and the other Russian news services reported. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor-general said that Shakhnovskii, who is a former deputy to Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, was ordered not to leave Moscow. Shakhnovskii is among the largest shareholders in Yukos, and his personal fortune is estimated at around $1 billion. "Forbes" magazine reported that Shakhnovskii owned some 6 percent of Yukos in February -- a stake similar in size to that of Platon Lebedev, who was arrested for alleged fraud on 2 July, and of Vladimir Dubov and Mikhail Brudno, whose offices were searched on 9 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003). Other major Yukos shareholders include Leonid Nevzlin (8 percent) and Yukos President Mikhail Khodorkovskii (9.5 percent). Nevzlin departed Russia for Israel last month. VY

...AS YUKOS HEAD BLASTS PROSECUTORS...
Speaking on Echo Moskvy on 17 October, Khodorkovskii criticized the recent actions of the Prosecutor-General's Office aimed at his company or its executives or shareholders. "The prosecutors want to demonstrate that there is no rule of law in this country," Khodorkovskii said. He charged that Russian law enforcement officials feel they are above the law, but added that this situation cannot continue because Russia is a democracy. VY

...AND EXPERTS SPECULATE OVER ROOTS OF YUKOS CRACKDOWN
Speaking on an NTV discussion devoted to relations between the Kremlin and oligarchs, ORT commentator Mikhail Leontiev said the Kremlin's desire to sell Yukos to foreign investors lies behind the authorities' apparent crackdown on company shareholders and executives. Khodorkovskii initially wanted to avoid selling his company to foreigners, Leontiev said, and his company came under legal pressure that adversely affected its share price -- and thus its price. He reportedly accused the administration of "doing all it can to ensure that the capitalization of Russian companies continues to fall." However, Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute of Globalization and a former economic adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, said the sale abroad of a Yukos stake would not be a bad thing, provided it was not a controlling stake. The sale of a reasonable number of shares would benefit Russia, he said, since the result would be a transnational corporation that brought increased prestige and tax receipts to the Russian state budget. If a controlling stake is sold, Delyagin said, Yukos will work not in the interests of the Russian economy. VY

VESHNYAKOV CALLS FOR LIVE TELEVISION DEBATES...
Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 17 October that he hopes Russia's television channels will reconsider their decision to broadcast pre-recorded debates between candidates for the State Duma rather than show them live, Interfax reported. Holding live debates would, among other things, "allow the heads of the television channels avoid possible complaints from representatives of the political parties about alleged censorship," Veshnyakov said. The state-owned RTR and state-controlled ORT television channels announced on 15 October that they will tape debates between candidates rather than broadcast them live, but indicated the next day that they might change their position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). JB

...WHILE DUMA POSTPONES CONSIDERING APPEAL TO TV CHIEFS
The State Duma had planned on 17 October to take up an appeal drafted by Yabloko Deputies Sergei Ivanenko and Sergei Mitrokhin asking ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst and VGTRK Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev to ensure that the televised debates are broadcast live. But discussion of the appeal was postponed, probably until mid-November, when the Duma members return from work in their districts, strana.ru reported on 17 October. Meanwhile, Sergei Mironov, head of the Federation Council and leader of the Party of Life, said the television channels have apparently opted for recorded rather than live debates in order to avoid getting cited for violations of election law, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 October. In an apparent reference to the restrictions on media coverage of elections that more than 100 legislators have challenged in Russia's Constitutional Court, Mironov stated: "We have carried it to the point of absurdity: we speak about whatever we like, only not about the elections, as if they do not exist." JB

COMMUNISTS WANT TO DEBATE UNIFIED RUSSIA AND, MAYBE, LDPR
Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 18 October that his party has put in "official" requests for debates with Unified Russia and, possibly, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), according to Interfax. Speaking to reporters in Moscow after a three-hour presentation, Zyuganov said his party's leadership held a closed meeting on 17 October with the heads of its regional branches and each one was given the task of holding "five or six" meetings with voters a day. Zyuganov said the KPRF leadership and youth organizations will hold a two-day conference beginning on 19 October. He also said his party's members and supporters will meet in the Grand Kremlin Palace on 29 October to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Komsomol. JB

LDPR DROPS THREE CANDIDATES FOR MISINFORMING TSIK...
The TsIK ruled on 17 October that three candidates from the LDPR will be excluded from the federal list of candidates running in the State Duma elections, Rosbalt reported. Two of the candidates failed to present the commission with information about prior criminal convictions, while the third candidate provided information about his education that was of doubtful veracity. According to TsIK head Veshnyakov, the candidates were removed from the State Duma race at the request of the LDPR's leadership, which wanted to "cleanse" itself of candidates who had presented false information. Veshnyakov added, however, that the candidates would have been removed from the federal list for having violated election law regardless of the LDPR leadership's intervention. JB

...WHILE MITROFANOV DROPS OUT OF MOSCOW MAYOR'S RACE
Aides for Aleksei Mitrofanov announced on 17 October that the State Duma deputy and leading LDPR member is dropping out of the race for Moscow mayor after the LDPR's leadership decided it would be better for him to concentrate on the Moscow Oblast governor's race, RIA-Novosti reported. Before announcing on 8 October that he will run for governor of Moscow Oblast, Mitrofanov, who is ninth on the LDPR party list for the 7 December Duma elections, had announced his intention to run for mayor of Moscow and, possibly, for president of Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003). The LDPR, however, subsequently put forward another candidate for the Bashkortostan race. The deadline to register as a candidate in the Moscow mayor's race expired on 19 October. Thirteen candidates will face the incumbent, Yurii Luzhkov, in the mayoral elections, which will also take place on 7 December, RIA-Novosti reported. JB

BYKOV WILL RUN FOR KRASNOYARSK LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory chief Anatolii Bykov informed the election authorities in Krasnoyarsk Krai that he will run in the Krasnoyarsk Legislative Assembly elections set to take place on 7 December along with the State Duma elections, regnum.ru reported on 17 October. In September, the Krasnoyarsk Legislative Assembly's commission on legal matters voted to revoke Bykov's status as a deputy in light of his conviction for involvement in the 1996 murder of a local businessman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September and 2 July 2003). After losing his seat in the regional legislature, Bykov said he will run for a State Duma seat representing a single-mandate district in the Krasnoyarsk city of Achinsk and was registered as a candidate in that race on 15 October. However, Rosbalt, citing "local analysts," reported on 18 October that while Bykov retains "massive" support among local voters, he is likely to drop his State Duma bid and ask supporters to vote for one of his allies, several of whom are also running in the Duma race. JB

DUMA ADDS SPENDING TO 2003 BUDGET
The State Duma on 17 October approved revisions to the 2003 budget requested by the government that will add 68.7 billion rubles ($2.3 billion) in spending, RIA-Novosti reported. The bill, which was approved in a third and final reading by a vote of 326-1 with no abstentions, will increase funding for national defense, law enforcement, foreign debt repayment, agriculture, education, support for regional budgets, and road building. On 15 October, the Duma passed the 2004 financial blueprint in its second reading without any changes. The government wants the bill, which calls for a budget surplus for a fifth consecutive year, passed before December's State Duma elections, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 October. JB

RUSSIANS DON'T LIKE THE SITUATION IN THEIR REGIONS, BUT LIKE THEIR REGIONAL LEADERS
A poll by the Public Opinion Foundation has found that 57 percent of Russians are dissatisfied with the situation in their regions while 34 percent are satisfied, Interfax reported on 19 October. The poll, which was taken among 1,500 Russians on 11 October, also found that 66 percent believe the situation in their regions is largely dependent on the local authorities while 21 percent believe it is dependent on the federal authorities. At the same time, 45 percent of those polled indicated that they view their regional leaders favorably while only 18 percent said they view them negatively. Likewise, 48 percent said their regional leaders have done more good than bad, while 8 percent said the opposite. JB

NEW CHECHEN PRESIDENT INAUGURATED
Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was inaugurated as Chechen president amid tight security measures in the town of Gudermes on 19 October, Russian agencies reported. Kadyrov announced before the ceremony that he would not swear the inaugural oath on the Koran as "I am not the leader of an Islamic state," ITAR-TASS reported. Kadyrov swore in Russian to implement the Chechen Constitution and uphold human rights and freedoms, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Representatives from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and neighboring North Caucasus republics, including Kabardino-Balkaria's President Valerii Kokov, attended the ceremony, as did Russian presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin and Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov. LF

OUTGOING CHECHEN PREMIER NAMED TO HEAD NEW GOVERNMENT
Kadyrov appointed outgoing Prime Minister Anatolii Popov on 18 October to head the new Chechen government, Russian agencies reported. Popov told ITAR-TASS the following day that the outgoing government will continue to work until the new one is named, which, he continued, will be within 14 days. He said he will have four or five deputies, whose candidacies will be agreed with Kadyrov, and that there will be some changes in the cabinet, although Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov will retain his post. Following the 5 October presidential election, both Kadyrov and Popov ruled out any sweeping changes in the composition of the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003). LF

MASKHADOV PREDICTS CHECHEN POPULATION WILL UNITE AGAINST NEW PRESIDENT
Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president in 1997 in a ballot recognized by Moscow and the international community as free and fair, told Reuters in a written interview received in Moscow on 17 October that the entire Chechen population hates Kadyrov, and that Kadyrov's elevation to the presidency will trigger a new influx of recruits to the armed opposition. Maskhadov acknowledged that the population is "tired" after four years of war, but added that he believes Chechens still support the armed resistance. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER DENIES CONSIDERING SURRENDER
In an interview with chechenpress.com on 18 October, field commander Khamzat (Ruslan) Gelaev rejected as "a blatant lie" repeated claims by President-elect Kadyrov that he is negotiating with Gelaev on the terms under which Gelaev and his men will surrender. Gelaev also cast doubts on the loyalty of the Chechen police force, which is largely composed of Chechen fighters who surrendered. Gelaev recalled that former Chechen leader Doku Zavgaev had a police force numbering 15,000-18,000 Chechens, but that "when we entered Grozny in August 1996, they either fled to their homes or came over to our side." LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION STAGES NEW ANTIGOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATION
Thousands of people attended a rally in Yerevan on 17 October at which leading members of the opposition Artarutiun bloc renewed their demand for the referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian proposed by the Constitutional Court in April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian immediately rejected that proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 April 2003). People's Party of Armenia Chairman and defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian told the rally that a referendum would give Kocharian the legitimacy that he currently lacks because the presidential election outcome was falsified. Former Prime Minister and Artarutiun leader Aram Sargsian predicted that the next opposition rally will force Kocharian to step down. He did not elaborate. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT-ELECT AND DEFEATED RIVAL BLAME EACH OTHER FOR POSTELECTION VIOLENCE
Prime Minister and President-elect Ilham Aliyev branded opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Qambar on 18 October as responsible for the 15-16 October clashes in Baku in which at least one person was killed and several hundred injured, including over 60 policemen, Reuters and Interfax reported. Aliyev said Qambar is "a provocateur" who "has blood on his hands," but added that it is up to the police and the Azerbaijani people to decide whether Qambar should face criminal charges. Interfax quoted Interior Minister Ramil Usubov as telling journalists on 18 October that if investigators prove Qambar incited the unrest, he will be held criminally responsible. Qambar, for his part, told Turan on 18 October that the authorities were responsible for the 16 October clashes. "People would not have protested if the elections had not been falsified," he said. LF

OSCE DEPLORES DETENTION OF HUNDREDS OF AZERBAIJANI ELECTION OFFICIALS...
In a statement issued in Warsaw on 20 October, Ambassador Christian Strohal, who is director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), deplored the widespread arrests of opposition activists in the wake of the 15 October presidential election (http://www.osce.org/news/generate.php3?news_id=3618). Strohal particularly condemned detentions of election officials who refused to certify the election results in their polling stations or districts. "It is absolutely unacceptable that election officials have been obliged to sign vote count protocols under duress, or under threats to their families or jobs," he said. LF

...AS ARRESTS OF OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS CONTINUE
The Azerbaijani parliament voted on 17 October to strip Umid Party leader Igbal Agazade of his parliamentary immunity, after which he was arrested for his alleged role in the 16 October clashes between police and demonstrators in Baku, Turan reported on 18 October. Also arrested were four deputy chairmen of the opposition Musavat Party (Sulhaddin Akper, Ibrahim Ibrahimli, Arif Hajily, and Mirbaba Babaev), Akhrar Party leader Vagif Hadjibeyli, People's Party leader Panakh Huseinov, and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu, who was apprehended by masked men who broke into his apartment, Turan reported. The 20 October ODIHR statement notes that the OSCE/ODIHR has compiled the names of more than 100 people detained in more than one dozen Azerbaijani towns and cities who were apparently not involved in the 15-16 October street protests in Baku. On 19 October, Turan estimated that more than 50 members of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) have been arrested in recent days, 30 members of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, and 60 members of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. Also on 19 October, Qambar told Turan that several hundred Musavat Party members have been arrested. LF

SOME ELECTION OBSERVERS IN AZERBAIJAN REJECT OSCE PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT
In a statement released in Baku on 18 October and summarized by Turan, 188 election monitors who were part of the OSCE election observation mission rejected the preliminary assessment of the ballot issued by the OSCE on 16 October. According to that preliminary assessment, "Voting...was generally well administered in most polling stations but the overall election process still fell short of international standards in several respects. International observers noted a number of irregularities in the counting and tabulation." In their 18 October rebuttal, the observers affirmed that the procedure on 15 October cannot be dignified with the term "election" due to violations of the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights. It characterized the election as neither free, fair, nor transparent, and as falling "absolutely short of international standards." LF

DEADLINE FOR CONFIRMATION OF GEORGIAN VOTER LISTS EXTENDED
Meeting on 19 October, Georgia's Central Election Commission (CEC) agreed to a request by parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze to extend until 26 October the deadline for finalizing voter lists to be used in the 2 November parliamentary election, Caucasus Press reported. The previous day, CEC Chairwoman Nana Devdariani and Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili told a press conference that there are significant discrepancies between the lists compiled by the Interior Ministry earlier this year and the electronic version subsequently submitted to the CEC. Narchemashvili blamed unspecified "dishonest individuals" on the outgoing CEC for falsifying the lists that the body received. Burdjanadze on 20 October dismissed Narchemashvili's allegations as "bizarre," Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN-SOUTH OSSETIAN TALKS DEADLOCKED
Talks in The Hague on 14-17 October between delegations from the Georgian and Russian governments, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia made no progress towards clarifying South Ossetia's status within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The South Ossetian delegation reportedly requested amendments to a Russian-drafted protocol intended for discussion, and condemned Tbilisi's alleged reluctance to implement unspecified agreements reached earlier. The Georgian delegation for its part also demanded unspecified changes to the draft protocol, which the South Ossetians rejected as unacceptable. They argued that the unrecognized republic "is independent, and its status has already been defined." LF

AMBASSADORS DISCUSS ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin met in Moscow on 17 October with the ambassadors of the four other countries -- the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany -- that, together with Russia, constitute the "Friends of the UN Secretary General" group tasked with mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. They discussed the current situation in the conflict zone and stressed the importance of implementing agreements on repatriation of displaced persons reached during talks in March between the Georgian and Russian presidents, and recommendations made during a meeting in Geneva in July of senior diplomats from the five countries (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 July 2003). LF

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR REFORM OF QUALITY CONTROLS
Kazakhstan needs to reform its system of quality controls in order to bring them into line with international standards prior to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov told a national conference of company heads in Petropavlovsk on 17 October, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Akhmetov warned that the country's present system of standardization and certification does not meet international standards, and the concept of quality needs to become a national ideal. Otherwise, joining the WTO and integrating more fully into the world market could have a negative effect on domestic firms. Kazakhstan wants to join the WTO in 2005. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has already warned Kazakhstan's farmers that the agricultural sector needs to improve its quality standards. BB

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY WINS SUIT AGAINST NEWSPAPER
The Pervomai Raion Court in Bishkek ruled on 17 October that the newspaper "Argumenty i fakty v Kyrgyzstane" insulted the opposition Ar-Namys party by publishing an alleged assertion by National Guard commander Lieutenant General Abdygul Chotbaev that the party was financed by foreigners, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported the following day. An interview with Chotbaev appeared in the 23 April issue of the newspaper (No. 17), drawing a sharp reaction from Ar-Namys. Chotbaev subsequently said he was misquoted, but the party went ahead with its court case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 17 September 2003). The Pervomai judge ordered the newspaper to publish an apology to Ar-Namys and pay the party five soms ($0.12) for damaging its reputation. BB

POLICE UNABLE TO FIND TRACE OF VANISHED KYRGYZ MULLAH
Deputy head of the Uzgen Raion police Mamatali Turgunbaev announced on 20 October that law enforcement officers have been unable to find any trace of Uzgen Mullah Sadykjan Rakhmanov, who disappeared on 7 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003), KyrgyzInfo reported the same day. The disappearance of Rakhmanov, who organized groups making the pilgrimage to Mecca, has been linked by the Kyrgyz authorities to the Uzbek security service, but law enforcement officials in Uzbekistan have denied any knowledge of him. Kyrgyz police have been trying to interview an Uzbek security officer from the town of Namangan, who reportedly bought the car in which witnesses said Rakhmanov was abducted, but Uzbek authorities have told the Kyrgyz investigators that the officer has been transferred to a distant oblast. The Kyrgyz media has been keeping the story before the Kyrgyz public. BB

TAJIK PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER SUPPORTS DEPARTURE OF RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS
Tajik presidential adviser Suhrob Sharifov has supported the assertion of a Tajik border-guard official who said in September that Tajikistan is able to defend its own borders without Russian help, the official Tajik-language newspaper "Tochikiston" reported on 16 October. Sharifov reportedly added that Tajikistan will gradually take over responsibility for guarding its own borders whether Russia likes it or not. In September, General Nuralisho Nazarov, first deputy head of Tajikistan's State Border Committee, angered Russian officials when he said that Tajikistan is capable of defending its own borders. He later said the Russian media exaggerated his remarks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September and 2 October 2003). According to "Tochikiston," the Russian side wants Tajikistan to pay half the expenses of the Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border. BB

NUMBER OF SELF-IMMOLATIONS GROWING IN TAJIKISTAN
The number of women who attempt to burn themselves to death is increasing in Tajikistan, "Asia-Plus" reported on 19 October, citing statistics from the Prosecutor- General's Office. According to the prosecutor-general's figures, 33 self-immolations were attempted in 2002, while 90 cases were registered in the first six months of 2003. The problem is particularly serious in northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast, where 113 cases of self-immolation have been registered in 2003, against 115 cases in the previous two years. A Red Crescent Society expert was quoted as saying that almost three-quarters of the women who committed suicide by self-immolation were between the ages of 18 and 40, and most were motivated by family and economic problems. Self-immolation by Central Asian women was well publicized in the Soviet media in the late 1980s, but there were few reports of it after the Central Asian countries gained their independence. The Tajik media has increasingly drawn attention to the problem during 2003. BB

RUSSIAN FIRM SIGNS CONTRACT TO BUILD NEW TURKMEN SEAPORT
The Vyborg Machine-Building Plant has signed a contract with Turkmenistan's state oil company, Turkmennebit, to build a modern seaport in the town of Okarem on the Caspian coast about 50 kilometers north of the Iranian border, ITAR-TASS and turkmenistan.ru reported on 17 October. The contract covers the design, construction, and initial operation of the port, which will be used primarily for the export of oil. At present, Turkmenistan has only one major port on the Caspian, at the town of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk). BB

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS PICKET OFFICIAL PRESS
Uzbek human rights activist Mutabar Tajibaeva and several supporters picketed the building housing the editorial offices of the official Uzbek press in Tashkent on 14 October to protest the publication of an article critical of Tajibaeva's human rights activities, fergana.ru reported two days later. According to the report, the article, which appeared in the official dailies "Halq sozi" and "Narodnoe slovo," was a reaction to a Human Rights Watch report that said the mahalla (neighborhood) committees that are often touted in Uzbekistan as examples of grassroots democracy are actually functioning as watchdogs and control mechanisms for the authorities. Tajibaeva and her fellow protesters also demanded that the authorities stop harassing human rights activists and that the official media publish the activists' demands. Tajibaeva reportedly also threatened to set fire to herself if the activists' demands are not met. BB

BELARUSIAN EDITOR SALUTED BY CZECH EX-PRESIDENT
Former Czech dissident and ex-President Vaclav Havel has granted the cash portion of a public-service award he received in Prague on 17 October to the editor of the independent weekly "Nasha Niva," RFE/RL reported. The Prague Society for International Cooperation presented this year's Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award to the recently retired Havel. The award is given each year to an individual who has dedicated his or her life to public service with the stipulation that the financial portion of the award -- 150,000 Czech crowns ($5,500) -- be passed to a gifted young person. Havel awarded the money to 29-year-old Andrey Dynko, editor in chief of "Nasha Niva." "I pass this award to Mr. Dynko because we, who have benefited so much from international solidarity, must show solidarity ourselves," Havel said at the 17 October ceremony. "'Nasha Niva' in Belarus is a symbol of independence on one hand and an island of freedom on the other," Havel added. Dynko told "RFE/RL Newsline" that he was totally surprised by Havel's move and added that he will use the money to improve the weekly's financial standing. JM

BELARUSIAN TRADE-UNION LAWYER JAILED FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT
District court Judge Natallya Revutskaya ordered a lawyer of the independent Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions to spend five days in a Minsk jail on 17 October for his failure to appear at a hearing last month, Belapan reported. Lawyer Uladzimir Adynets was to defend a private-sector employee who fell ill and informed both the judge and his lawyer that he would not be present. Adynets said he missed the hearing because he had no right to defend the employee in his absence. The lawyer was deemed to have been in contempt of court. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN DAM PROJECT IS 'UNFRIENDLY'...
President Leonid Kuchma said on 17 October that the ongoing construction of a dam in the Kerch Strait (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2003) is an "unfriendly" action by Russia, Interfax reported. "A good neighbor does not behave in this way," Kuchma added. Simultaneously, he expressed his certainty that the builders of the dam will not violate Ukraine's border. Kuchma said he is skeptical about reports that the dam project was initiated by local authorities from Russia's Krasnodar Krai. "Judging by the speed [of the dam construction] and the costs involved, there is no doubt that this is an action of the central government," the Ukrainian president said. Kuchma is scheduled to leave on 20 October for an 11-day tour of Latin America. JM

...AS OTHERS WARN OF GRAVER CONSEQUENCES
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko told journalists on 18 October that the controversy around the Russian dam in the Kerch Strait might prevent the Verkhovna Rada from ratifying the accord on the Single Economic Space of Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 September 2003), Interfax reported. "This is the most obvious idea, and it should be obvious for all, including our Russian partners," Hryshchenko added. "Possibly, it would be good for Ukraine to deploy its naval vessels where its territorial water begin and see how Russians reacts," Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the Social Democratic Party-united caucus in Verkhovna Rada and the first president of independent Ukraine, told journalists the same day. "If Russia continues to build a dam into our territorial waters, we will have to resort to force [to stop the construction]," Kravchuk added. Some 5,000 people gathered in Lviv on 19 October to protest the dam construction in the Kerch Strait. Demonstrators called the construction a "predatory" action on the part of Russia and appealed to the Ukrainian leadership to take immediate measures to defend Ukraine's territorial integrity. JM

ESTONIAN TROOPS WOUNDED IN IRAQ
Three Estonian stabilization troops from the ESTPLA-7 platoon were injured in Iraq on 16 October in a grenade attack while they were patrolling a market, LETA reported on 17 October. One of the soldiers was treated for minor injuries and is back on duty, the second is recuperating at his unit and the third is still in the hospital. Their Iraqi interpreter was also injured in the attack. This is the second attack against the Estonian forces in two weeks. In the earlier incident, a truck and a jeep drove into an ambush where grenade launchers as well as guns were fired, but no Estonians were injured or killed. Estonian defense forces do not rule out the possibility that both attacks were prompted by the good work of Estonian units interdicting local crime bosses, as well as helping U.S. forces capture an Iraqi suspected of organizing attacks against U.S. forces. AB

LATVIAN BORDER ENFORCEMENT STRENGTHENED
Latvian border guards concluded two days of training operations with their Finnish, Lithuanian, and Estonian colleagues on Latvia's eastern border on 18 October. Speaking to LETA, the State Border Guard's Daugavpils Administration, which coordinated the exercise, confirmed that Belarusian border guards also took part. The goal of the operation was to uncover illegal routes of immigration; and trafficking in humans, stolen automobiles and contraband. According to the U.S. Embassy, the Latvian State Border Guard will soon receive a donation of 25 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and 175 sensors, LETA reported on 16 October. By the end of the year, Latvia should receive from the United States 334 more sensors that will be installed on the Latvian-Russian and Latvian-Belarusian borders. The U.S. Embassy also is providing training for the new equipment. AB

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AGREES TO RAISE LITHUANIA'S OIL-DRILLING CONCERNS WITH RUSSIA
The European Parliament has placed the controversial issue of oil drilling at the D-6 site in the Baltic Sea on the agenda for the EU-Russia summit scheduled for 6 November, ELTA reported 17 October. The Liberal Democratic (ELDR) faction at the EU parliament initiated the move in response to a request made by the Lithuanian observer delegation to the EU. The EU Parliament's environmental and health committee soon will review the plans by one of Russia's largest oil companies, LUKoil, to drill at a site, named D-6, in the Baltic Sea that is just 22 kilometers from the UNESCO-protected Kursiu Nerija Spit (Curonian Spit). The Council of Europe recently appointed an expert-rapporteur from the French delegation, Daniel Goulet, to examine the D-6 controversy. AB

POLISH POLICE COMMANDERS HOLD CONSULTATIONS OVER 'UNEASE'
Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik and Polish police chief Antoni Kowalczyk held a meeting with provincial police heads in Warsaw on 17 October, Polish Radio reported. The station speculated that the meeting was devoted to rumors that a group of regional police chiefs is seeking Kowalczyk's resignation. Former Deputy Minister Zbigniew Sobotka is to be interrogated by prosecutors this week on charges that he warned local government officials in Starachowice of a pending police raid on local organized-crime structures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). According to some press reports, Sobotka obtained the information about the raid from Kowalczyk. Both Sobotka and Kowalczyk have denied the leak allegations. "The meeting with the [police] commanders centered around two things," Slawomir Cisowski, Kowalczyk's spokesman, told journalists. "On one hand, the main commander referred to various kinds of signals that were causing unease among police officers. On the other hand, however, this was a typical working meeting devoted to issues of the functioning of the police." JM

SLOVAK COURT SENTENCES CZECHS FOR TRADING HUMAN ORGANS
A west Slovak district court on 20 October handed down prison terms to two Czech pathologists convicted of illegally removing human organs and other tissue, CTK reported. The two men were detained by Slovak border authorities in July after the discovery of blood and bone-graft samples in iceboxes in the car in which they were traveling. Josef Karasek, 68, from Uherske Hradiste and Richard Zemak, 56, from Kostelec u Hodonina were given six- and eight-month prison sentences, respectively. The court determined that the men had removed the organic matter without proper authorization from the Health Ministry. AH

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER SAYS 'EARLY ELECTIONS WOULD NOT HELP'...
Mikulas Dzurinda, whose fragile four-party coalition lost its majority in parliament last month, vowed in a television debate on 19 October to do his best to ensure that the current government "completes its four-year term of office," CTK reported. "Early elections would not help Slovakia," he said. Dzurinda said his center-right coalition will still be able to collect a majority on individual votes in parliament, adding that deputies who recently defected are still willing to support the government program. On the same television show, former prime minister and longtime Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar said he would welcome a change in government within 1 1/2 years. The HZDS and other opposition parties recently pledged their political support for a petition aimed at forcing a referendum on the current government and early elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). AH

...AS OPPOSITION TURNS UP THE HEAT
Robert Fico, the popular chairman of the leading opposition party in the Slovak parliament, Smer (Direction), said on 18 October that his party will financially and otherwise aid a union-led petition drive to force early elections, CTK reported. Smer will also help collect signatures after the petition drive gets under way in mid-November based on a decision made by the party leadership in Kosice on 18 October, party Fico said. "We decided that party organizations on the level of districts, regions, villages, and towns will directly and actively take part in the collection of signatures so that the party could significantly contribute to the success of the petition," Fico said. AH

HUNGARIAN RIGHT-WINGERS PELT PRIME MINISTER WITH EGGS AND WALNUTS
Supporters of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) on 19 October pelted Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and members of the cabinet with eggs and walnuts in the southwestern Hungarian village of Sojtor, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy and several cabinet members were participating in a commemoration ceremony at the mansion where Ferenc Deak, a renowned 19th-century politician, was born. Medgyessy was prevented from delivering his speech and did not take part in the wreath-laying ceremony later, as planned. Coalition member Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze both said that right-wing politicians, by making "ambivalent statements," share responsibility for the incident, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian radio the next day that "all are entitled to freedom of speech" and that Medgyessy "should listen to what is meant for him." MSZ

FORMER BOSNIAN LEADER IZETBEGOVIC DIES...
Former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic died in a Sarajevo hospital on 19 October, Fena news agency reported. Izetbegovic, 78, was hospitalized on 10 September after he suffered serious injuries in a fall. In the late 1980s, Izetbegovic was one of the founders of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Since 1990, he was a member of the joint Bosnian presidency, which he headed between 1990 and 1998, and again between February and October 2000. During the 1992-95 civil war, Izetbegovic was the political leader of the Bosnian Muslims. In late 2000, he retired from politics due to health problems, but remained the SDA's chairman until October 2001. Among the last visitors to meet Izetbegovic in the hospital were former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 19, 22, and 29 September 2003). UB

...BUT REMAINS CONTROVERSIAL
In reaction to Izetbegovic's death, Sulejman Tihic, Izetbegovic's successor as SDA chairman, said, "Under his leadership, Bosnia's independence was preserved and its statehood defended," Reuters reported. However, a spokesman of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), which was founded by the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, said Izetbegovic was a symbol of the politics that destroyed Yugoslavia. Milorad Dodik, a former prime minister of the Republika Srpska, told Tanjug that Izetbegovic had a considerable share in the responsibility for what happened in Bosnia. Croatian President Stipe Mesic forwarded his condolences to Izetbegovic's family, saying the former Bosnian leader's role as a "statesman in the war and postwar years in Bosnia-Herzegovina is unquestionable, and his personality and political activity left an indelible mark on events in that country," dpa reported. UB

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT DISSOLVES ITSELF, ORDERS LEGAL SUPPORT FOR HAGUE INDICTEES
On 17 October, the Croatian parliament, or Sabor, decided to dissolve, thus officially ending its four-year term and clearing the path for the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for 23 November, Hina reported. Earlier the same day, the parliament approved a draft decision obliging the government to grant legal support to all members of the armed forces who stand accused by the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal. In a reaction to the parliament's decision, Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic resigned from his position as chairman of the state body that is coordinating cooperation with the tribunal. Granic said parliament's decision to grant indictees such as former General Ante Gotovina access to the documentation contradicts his understanding of justice and Croatia's national interests, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 17 October 2003). UB

FACING NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE, SERBIAN PREMIER REMAINS OPTIMISTIC
Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic of the Democratic Party said on 18 October that he is optimistic that his government will survive the no-confidence vote moved by the opposition, Beta reported. Zivkovic added that even if his government loses the vote of no confidence, there might not necessarily be early parliamentary elections because the new president, who will be elected on 16 November, might give the Democratic Party the mandate to form a new government. In related news, Democratic Party Deputy Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanovic announced on 19 October that Dragoljub Micunovic of the Democratic Center will be the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia's (DOS) presidential candidate, Beta reported. Micunovic seems hesitant to accept the candidacy, however, the BBC's Serbian service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 17 October 2003). UB

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM VALIDATED
The Romanian Central Electoral Bureau on 19 October said the referendum on the new constitution recently adopted by parliament is valid, as more than 54 percent of eligible voters participated, Romanian media reported. After the first day of voting, 18 October, with just a 14-percent turnout, the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) mobilized all forces to gather voters. Opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations signaled several irregularities during the ballot, while extremist Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor said the PSD committed fraud. The opposition Democratic Party early on 19 October argued the low participation was "citizens' reaction to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's cabinet's arrogance," and demanded the government's resignation. Analysts noted the low turnout could be considered a protest against the current political establishment. Final results are expected on 22 October. ZsM

POLL SHOWS ROMANIANS INCLINED TOWARD AUTHORITARIAN LEADERSHIP...
An opinion poll released on 18 October says 84 percent of citizens believe Romania needs a strong leader to clean up the country, Romanian media reported. In addition, 23 percent support the idea of a military dictatorship, a third support the idea of a single political party, and more than half think maintaining public order is more important than respecting individual liberties. Romanians also show intolerance towards minorities: More than 40 percent think homosexuals should not live in the country, and more than a quarter think the same of Jehovah's Witnesses. A majority say there has been a decrease in the standard of living compared to five years ago. Two-thirds are nostalgic for communism. And 80 percent believe the politicians who form the ruling party do not respect the country's laws. The Public Policy Institution, the Open Society Foundation, and the Romanian Gallup Organization conducted the poll in early September. ZsM

...AND IN SUPPORT OF EXTREMIST PARTY
According to the poll, in the event of presidential elections, Prime Minister Nastase would get some 34 percent of the vote and extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor would receive 26 percent. The PRM would come in second in parliamentary elections, with 20 percent. Reacting to the poll results, a spokesman for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz, told the BBC that the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and Democratic Party (PD) are partly to blame for Tudor's accession because they repeatedly accused the PSD of corruption. Tudor on the other hand said his real support is much larger and he will win in the first round. ZsM

CNSAS PUBLISHES FIRST LIST OF FORMER POLITICAL SECURITATE OFFICERS
The College of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) released the first list of 33 officers of the former Romanian political police, the daily "Adevarul" reported on 19 October. Of these, 13 are dead. CNSAS board member Mircea Dinescu said many of the well-known former Securitate officers -- some of whom are serving in parliament -- are still officially unidentified. ZsM

EU CALLS ON RUSSIA TO COMPLETE REMOVAL OF TROOPS FROM MOLDOVA
A 17 October European Council declaration calls on Russia to "take all the necessary steps" to remove its troops and armaments from the Transdniester region by the end of the year, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. The council meeting in Brussels also stressed "the need for a constructive approach" and expressed support for the OSCE efforts toward "a comprehensive political settlement" of the Transdniester conflict. In a 17 October interview with RFE/RL, Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau said Russia will most probably fail to remove its troops and armaments from the region by the end of the year, adding that the OSCE's upcoming summit will set new a deadline. Meanwhile, a recent Economist Intelligence Unit analysis said Moldova's chances of European integration are small, mostly due to the slow pace of political reform and an unstable economy. The analysis also warns that profound divergences between the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and opposition parties could lead to political instability. ZsM

SPY SCANDAL MARS BULGARIAN-GERMAN RELATIONS
German authorities have arrested a Balkan specialist of the Pullach-based Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service on charges that he has given classified information to the secret service of an unspecified "friendly nation," the online edition of the weekly "Der Spiegel" reported on 17 October. Quoting secret service sources, "Der Spiegel" reported that the BND specialist, who was described as an alcoholic, has regularly met with a female agent of the Bulgarian services, who worked at the Bulgarian general consulate in Munich. Neither the Bulgarian nor German government would comment on the issue. According to the German public TV ARD, the case could turn into Germany's biggest spy scandal of the past decade. UB

BULGARIA HOLDS OUT HOPE ON IRAQI DEBTS
Speaking upon his return from an official visit to Washington, parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov said on 19 October that Bulgaria insists on the repayment of Iraqi debts to Bulgaria, which amount to $1.7 billion, the private bTV reported. Gerdzhikov said that in talks with the U.S. government he proposed various ways in which the Iraqis could repay the debt, including the delivery of Iraqi oil, or the cooperation of Bulgarian companies in the reconstruction of Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). UB

WHOSE INTERESTS DO ARMENIAN OLIGARCHS SERVE?
In the latest sign of the prominent role of the wealthy and well-connected in Armenian politics, Russian-based Armenian millionaire businessman Ara Abramian opened a constituent meeting of the World Armenian Organization (WAO) on 6 October in Moscow. With both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Robert Kocharian in attendance, the event raises new questions over the role of the Armenian oligarchs.

The new organization established by Abramian, who is also chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia, seeks to "promote national unity, strengthen Armenian statehood, and advocate issues of concern" on behalf of the global Armenian diaspora.

Demonstrating the global nature of the Armenian diaspora, representatives from some 138 communities and organizations from 52 countries attended the Moscow meeting. With over 2.5 million ethnic Armenians, Russia has the largest segment of the worldwide Armenian diaspora. Mirroring the strategic relationship between Armenia and Russia, Russian-Armenians have traditionally enjoyed an influential role in Russian politics that has only been enhanced during the Putin administration. That influence was reflected by President Putin's participation and the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov at the congress.

The formation of this ambitious global organization under such high-profile Russian tutelage has a much broader significance, however, with implications well beyond the confines of the Russian-Armenian diaspora. Specifically, the creation of the WAO signals a new phase in the increasingly assertive Russian strategy of "patrimonial power" over its Armenian client state. The utility of this new organization for Russian strategy stems less from its creation but more with its creator.

The impressive display of Russian backing for Abramian and his new organization does not necessarily reflect Moscow's recognition of any real significance of the WAO as such, however. For Moscow, it is by playing the role of pliant tycoon that Abramian can best serve Russian interests in Armenia. The emergence of Abramian as leader of the Russian-Armenian community was clearly no accident, and his current effort to leverage his wealth and ties to the Moscow elite into a broader role within the Armenian diaspora serves both his and his patrons' interests. Despite the facade of the pan-Armenian nationalism, the longer-term goal for both lies in Armenia and not with the Armenian diaspora. In this way, Abramian has emerged as the latest tool for the Russian strategic reassertion of influence and power in the South Caucasus.

To date, this Russian reassertion has been very successful, with substantial gains made throughout the South Caucasus. Putin engineered an important improvement of relations with Azerbaijan over the past two years, repositioning Russia well before the current handover of presidential power in Azerbaijan from Heidar Aliyev to his son Ilham. (President Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Ilham Aliyev on his 15 October presidential-election triumph.) There has also been a substantial increase in pressure on beleaguered Georgia, culminating in the acquisition of the country's energy distribution network by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES). And in Armenia, structural dependence on Russia has become so deep that Russia now controls 90 percent of the Armenian energy sector, including management of its sole nuclear-power plant, as well as many of the country's most important strategic enterprises.

Abramian is not, moreover, the first wealthy Moscow-based Armenian to be selected as an instrument of Russian influence. Three years ago, Moscow backed a campaign by Russian-Armenian oligarch Arkadii Vartanian to mobilize Armenian public opinion against President Kocharian at a time when Moscow was simultaneously openly seeking a rapprochement with Baku. Vartanian's campaign culminated in a march by some 10,000 people on the presidential palace in October 2000, which served as the pretext for his arrest. But the affair ended in a covert compromise by the Armenian government with Vartanian quietly returning to Russia.

If ethnic Armenian oligarchs with Russian passports can be co-opted by Russia to exert pressure on the Armenian government, the homegrown, native oligarchs pose their own threat to state authority, chiefly through their infiltration of the state apparatus and the manipulation of the country's incipient network of petty corruption.

Even more distressing, these native oligarchs have increased their influence by virtue of their representation in the recently elected Armenian parliament. More than two dozen of the country's most well-known millionaire businessmen, some of them notorious for their ties to the murkier Russian elites and generally known to be supportive of the government, secured seats in the new parliament. Indeed, almost half of all newly elected parliamentarians have links to Armenia's small wealthy economic elite, although most do not share the notorious reputations of the more flamboyant oligarchs.

Ironically, the rise of the native oligarchs in Armenia has not manifested a traditional "competition of elites," but rather in an interesting "cooperation of elites" based on the mutual interests of oligarchs and government. Although this cooperation of elites operates well within the parameters of democratic institutions and practice, it is nevertheless marked by a struggle for control over the country's limited resource base and economic assets. The next stage of Armenia's privatization program could see a competition for resources between the homegrown oligarchs and the holding company Abramian plans to take advantage of investment opportunities in both Russia and Armenia.

In that case, the Armenian leadership could find itself constrained to make major economic concessions to its oligarchs to induce them to acquire assets that would otherwise be snapped up by Abramian's circle of investors.

AFGHAN POLICE REPORTEDLY BRINGING STABILITY TO NORTH
Troubled parts of northern Afghanistan are increasingly stable thanks in part to the deployment of a central-government police unit there, a UN spokesman said on 19 October. Manoel de Almeida e Silva said a cease-fire in the north continues to hold and the security situation is reported to have significantly improved. A contingent of Kabul-based police has been deployed at checkpoints in and around the city of Mazar-e Sharif, while UN restrictions on road missions have been lifted except in two areas. The spokesman pointed to "promising" developments in Balkh Province's Sholgara District, which has remained calm since a peace agreement was signed there in late August. "This is due mainly to a nascent police force in the district, [which] is performing its functions with growing credibility," he said. With international support, the police unit has been able to buy vehicles, uniforms, radios, and other equipment. TG

SIX KILLED, EIGHT INJURED IN ROADSIDE BLASTS IN AFGHANISTAN
A bomb ripped apart a pickup truck on a dirt road in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar Province on 17 October, killing four people, while two Afghan soldiers were killed the same day in a separate land-mine explosion in the country's south, AP quoted Afghan officials as saying on 19 October. No group has claimed responsibility for either of the explosions, but officials blamed fighters of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and the ousted Taliban regime. The explosion in Kunar came two days after Taliban sympathizers allegedly distributed pamphlets in the province warning Afghans against working with the post-Taliban, U.S.-backed Afghan Transitional Administration of Chairman Hamid Karzai, according to Irshad Khan, an official in a military brigade based in Asadabad, the provincial capital. In Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, two Afghan military-intelligence agents were killed and three others were wounded when their pickup truck reportedly hit a land mine 40 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Lashkargah, provincial-government spokesman Mohammad Wali Khan said. TG

ABDUCTED AFGHAN CHILDREN RETURNED BY SAUDI ARABIA
Some 42 Afghan children allegedly trafficked to Saudi Arabia over the past several years have been repatriated, Social Affairs Minister Noor Mohammad Karkin said on 19 October, according to AFP. The Saudi government arranged the return of the children, who had been living illegally in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, he said. They are now being lodged in an orphanage run by the Social Affairs Ministry in Kabul, he said. Most of the children are from the northern Baghlan Province. Another 208 minors are scheduled to arrive in Kabul in the coming days, the minister told AFP. Afghanistan's independent Human Rights Commission believes the children were smuggled to and abused in Saudi Arabia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September and 17 October 2003). The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) last month expressed serious concern over reports of children being abducted and trafficked in northern Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, at least 80 children have been reported abducted since early this year, apparently to be trafficked to neighboring countries such as Iran and Pakistan. TG

AFGHAN FILM 'OSAMA' WINS CANADIAN AWARD
The 2002 film "Osama" by Afghan director Siddiq Barmak was awarded the top prize at Montreal's New Movie and New Media Festival on 19 October, Reuters reported. The work is one of the first major feature films produced in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Barmak, who was unable to work in his country after the Taliban rise to power in 1996, tells the story of the social situation in Afghanistan at the time, with a focus put on women and their lack of status in society. The film's title refers to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was based in Afghanistan at the time. TG

NO DATE FOR EUROPEAN FOREIGN MINISTERS' IRAN VISIT
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said at his weekly press briefing on 19 October that Tehran has invited the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to come share their viewpoints on the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, IRNA reported. Reuters had reported on 16 October that the foreign ministers are expected in Iran "next week," but Assefi said during his press conference that a date has not been set yet. "If things go well, the date for the visit of the ministers will be very close, and it will be made public once determined." The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors set a 31 October deadline for Iran to display much greater cooperation with its inspectors, but Assefi dismissed the significance of the deadline. "We have not accepted the IAEA resolution, nor have we accepted the deadline, either," Assefi said. "Iran will declare its position once its concerns are removed. We have not concentrated our attention on the 31 October deadline that much." BS

IRAN TO ALLOW IAEA INSPECTORS ON MILITARY BASES
Parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs committee, said Tehran is willing to permit IAEA inspections of its military bases, ISNA reported on 17 October. Tehran does not want the bases to be inspected, he said, but "we don't want the Security Council to do anything either. We don't want anything like that to happen." Reuters cited anonymous diplomats on 15 October as saying Tehran has agreed to provide access to a short list of such military sites. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART
President Mohammad Khatami made a congratulatory telephone call to the new president-elect of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, on 19 October, IRNA reported. Khatami expressed hope that the two countries' relations will improve during Aliyev's presidency, and Aliyev invited Khatami to Iran. BS

IRANIAN TECHNOCRATS UNCOMMITTED
Mohammad Hashemi, a leader in the technocratic Executives of Construction Party (ECP), explained the absence of his party's representatives from recent meetings of reformist leaders and the heads of the executive and legislative branches of government by saying, "The ECP central council has not yet made a clear decision on whether to attend the meetings of these groups," the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily newspaper reported on 19 October. Hashemi went on to say these meetings (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 and 20 October 2003) amount to little more than campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary election, "and I believe that it is legally problematic." Hashemi said extremism and the absence of a clear strategy are splintering the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition. Another ECP leader, Mohammad Atrianfar, said his party's representatives participated in the earlier meetings in order to eliminate misunderstandings within the coalition, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 October. This elimination of misunderstandings, in turn, would determine the extent of the ECP's electoral participation and the approval of candidate lists. Atrianfar then explained that the ECP representative did not attend the most recent meeting because he had other engagements. An ECP observer attended the recent Islamic Iran Participation party congress. BS

AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN IRAN
A U.S. citizen named Dariush Zahedi has been in Iranian custody since July, the "San Francisco Chronicle" and AP reported on 19 October. Zahedi, a political science lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley and Santa Clara University, was visiting relatives in Iran when he was detained by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and turned over to the Justice Ministry, according to David Leonard, dean of UC-Berkeley's International and Area Studies Department. According to a 19 October AP report, Zahedi faces espionage charges and is in solitary confinement. BS

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL HEAD CALLS FOR OLD ARMY'S RETURN
Iraqi Governing Council president for the month of October, Iyad Allawi, called for the reinstatement of former Iraqi army personnel and police officers to help manage the security situation in Iraq in a 19 October "New York Times" editorial. "The coalition's early decision to abolish the army and police was well intended, but it unfortunately resulted in a security vacuum that let criminals, die-hards of the former regime and international terrorists flourish," Allawi said. "It is vital to call up the Iraqi Army and the national police force, at least up to mid-officer level...Most of these soldiers are Iraqi patriots who chose not to fight for Saddam Hussein. Americans should not confuse the Iraqi Army with the hated Republican Guard, which Saddam Hussein created precisely because he distrusted the legitimate military," he added. Likewise, Allawi contended, most former Iraqi police officers are dedicated to the principle of law and order. He also called for Iraqi bureaucrats to be reinstated, and argued that the coalition and the Iraqi Interior ministry can vet former regime officers and officials and return them to work, thus relieving coalition forces of many of their duties. KR

EIGHT MARINES ACCUSED OF MISTREATING IRAQI POWS
Eight U.S. Marine reservists have been accused of mistreating Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs) and are being held at Camp Pendleton in California on charges that range from negligent homicide to dereliction of duty, AP cited military officials as saying on 19 October. All eight reportedly worked at a POW detention center in Iraq. At least two of the Marines have been charged with negligent homicide after an Iraqi POW died at the detention center in June, Camp Pendleton Spokesman Marine Staff Sergeant Bill Lisbon said. Meanwhile, Donald Rehkopf Jr., a lawyer representing one of the Marine reservists, said in an 18 October statement that the reservists were not properly prepared to work at the detention center. "In the rush to war with Iraq, providing the mandatory training to reservists seems to have had little if any priority with the Pentagon," he said. The reservists "had no training at all. They were given a 30-minute training on the Geneva convention," Rehkopf added, in a reference to the international protocols for the treatment of POWs. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL CALLS FOR STABILITY
The Iraqi Governing Council issued a statement following an emergency session on 19 October that called on Iraqis to end "conspiracies" that threaten Iraq's stability, specifically citing recent inter-Shi'a fighting, Reuters reported on the same day. The statement said that "bloody developments and lawlessness" in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala should end (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 October 2003). "The governing council invites the Iraqi people to maintain stability and prevent the conspiracies which surround our country and abide by laws, as this is the only way they can assure their rights and security," the statement read. "Whoever steps outside the law or harms the country and the security of people will face the toughest punishments according to the law," it added. KR

AL-JAZEERA AIRS PURPORTED BIN LADEN AUDIOTAPES ADDRESSING IRAQIS
Al-Jazeera Television released two audiotapes on 18 October purporting to carry the voice of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The speaker in the tapes urges the Iraqi people to rise up against the U.S.-led coalition, and threatens more attacks on coalition countries and pro-American Iraqi political groups such as the Kurds, in retaliation for their role in Iraq. The speaker also criticizes the supporters of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party -- the party of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The speaker sends "greetings" to militant Islamist groups operating in Iraq, including Ansar Al-Islam, as well as those in Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and the Philippines. "I also tell you that the Romans have gathered under the banner of the cross to fight the nation of beloved Muhammad," the speaker claims. The voice called the Bush administration "a huge evil to all humanity." The CIA is working to determine the authenticity of the audiotapes. KR

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