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Newsline - January 7, 2004

President Vladimir Putin arrived in Suzdal on 6 January to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas on 7 January, RTR, NTV, and ORT reported. In Suzdal, one of Russia's oldest cities, Putin visited the local kremlin and the grave of Dmitrii Pozharskii, a 17th-century military commander and politician whose victory over Polish forces in 1613 led to the liberation of Moscow and the end of Russia's infamous Time of Troubles (1593-1613). In the evening, he attended a Mass at a local cathedral while the national television networks broadcast the service at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Putin was asked by journalists why he celebrates Christmas without his wife and he said, "It is her birthday today and she is celebrating it at home." Although Putin has said that he will not officially campaign for re-election in the 14 March ballot, analysts viewed his high-profile trip to Suzdal as a part of his re-election bid. VY

Radical publisher Aleksandr Prokhanov, one of the ideologues of Russia's national-patriotic opposition, printed in his newspaper "Zavtra," No. 1, 30 direct questions addressed to President Putin, which constituted an unusually pointed attack on Putin's career as a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and as president. Among other things, Prokhanov asks Putin to answer to widespread media charges of financial impropriety during his tenure in the St. Petersburg municipal administration in the early 1990s. Prokhanov also asked whether Putin, as FSB director, was personally involved in a 1999 campaign to smear former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov using "FSB whores" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March, 10 September, and 6 October 1999). VY

In the same "Zavtra," No. 1, article, Prokhanov asked why Putin has made State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov one of his closest associates, given that the Interior Ministry, which Gryzlov headed until last month, is "one of the most corrupt institutions in the country." Prokhanov also asks whether Putin understands that his effort to fill the Duma with "bureaucrats from Unified Russia" has closed off all avenues for political innovation and development. Finally, Prokhanov challenges the morality of transforming all Russia's broadcast media into state channels that are used "as a hammer to crush the opposition." In 2002, Prokhanov won the prestigious National Bestseller Prize for his novel "Mr. Geksogen," a thinly fictionalized account that implies a 1999 series of apartment-building bombings that led to the renewal of hostilities in Chechnya and the ultimate election of Putin as president were the result of a conspiracy led by KGB veterans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2002). VY

Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Academy of Sciences' Institute of the CIS, told TV-Tsentr on 5 January that relations between Moscow and Tbilisi will be increasingly strained following the election of Mikheil Saakashvili as president of Georgia. Zatulin, who has a reputation for espousing hard-line and nationalist opinions, said he expects that Saakashvili will revive the "radical and thoughtless" policies of former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. "Moreover, the extremely high percentage of the vote that Saakashvili received shows the [politically] unhealthy state of mind of the Georgian electorate and elites," Zatulin said. Recent developments in Georgia have not proceeded according to Moscow's wishes, and Russia should not pretend that it has played a role in them, Zatulin added. Institute for Political Research Director Sergei Markov, who reputedly enjoys close connections within the Kremlin, said Saakashvili's victory will not improve bilateral relations, RosBalt reported on 5 January. "The ruling triumvirate in Georgia will continue its policy of squeezing Russian military bases out of the country and of attacking Moscow's positions in international forums," remarked Markov. VY

Georgian Foreign Minister Tedo Djaparidze arrived in Moscow on 6 January for talks with the Defense Ministry about closing Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia and withdrawing all its forces from the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Djaparidze told reporters that Tbilisi believes the forces can be withdrawn much more quickly than Moscow has stated. "While the Russian side insists the withdrawal will require 11 years, and we believe that it can be done in three years," he said. VY

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction will actively seek the chairmanships of all the committees in the State Duma, Unified Russia Deputy Oleg Kovalev, chairman of the temporary State Duma Regulations Commission, said on 6 January, RTR reported. According to Kovalev, who first floated the idea some weeks ago, a final decision on the matter will be reached at the Duma's 16 January session, but he added that the other factions -- the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Motherland -- would not want the two or three chairmanships that Unified Russia is willing to offer them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2003). According to Interfax's unidentified sources, almost all of the leaders of the committees have already been identified: Vladislav Reznik will head the Budget Committee; Viktor Zarazin, Defense; Vladimir Vasilev, Security; Vladimir Katrenko, Energy and Transportation; Konstantin Kosachev, International Relations; Valerii Kommissarov, Information Policy; Viktor Pleskachevskii, Property; Pavel Krasheninnikov, Legislation; and Andrei Isaev, Labor and Social Policy. In addition, the source claimed that all of the first deputy chairmen of the committees will also be from Unified Russia. According to, Unified Russia's faction currently has 302 members. JAC

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 6 January, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii acknowledged that his party would behave the same as Unified Russia regarding leadership posts if it had a Duma majority. However, he vowed that the LDPR "will have more enthusiasm for opposition, and we will take a harsher line against the government, the president, and the majority party in parliament." According to, Zhirinovskii said earlier that his party had been assured of control of the Information Policy Committee. JAC

The Central Election Commission ruled on 6 January that presidential candidate Viktor Gerashchenko must gather 2 million signatures before his candidacy can be registered, Russian media reported. Gerashchenko, a former Central Bank chairman, was elected to the State Duma from the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc's party list. Motherland faction leader Sergei Glazev, who is also seeking to register as a candidate in the 14 March presidential election, told reporters that Motherland's position is that Gerashchenko, who was nominated by the Russian Regions party, does not need to gather the signatures, because Russian Regions is part of the Motherland bloc, which surpassed the 5 percent barrier in the 7 December Duma elections. Under election law, candidates from such parties are relieved of the obligation of collecting the signatures. Also on 6 January, Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc co-Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin said the bloc will appeal the commission's ruling to the Supreme Court, reported. Analysts have said that it would be difficult for most potential candidates to gather the 2 million signatures before the 28 January deadline. JAC

The Bank of Russia has announced that it will issue new, modified banknotes this year in denominations of 10, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 rubles, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 6 January. The design of the new notes will be based on the 1997 design that is now in use, but the new bills will have much higher degrees of anticounterfeiting protection. Bank First Deputy Chairman Arnold Boilukov said the measures are aimed at reducing the large amount of counterfeit currency currently in circulation. He said there are about 100 million false rubles in circulation, with the 500- and 1,000-ruble notes being most frequently counterfeited. He also said the bank will issue a 5,000-ruble banknote in 2005. According to law, the largest-denomination bill in circulation should not exceed in value one-half of the average monthly salary in the country, Boilukov said. VY

State Health Inspectorate Director Gennadii Onishchenko announced on 6 January that Russia has beefed up border controls along the Russian-Chinese border in the wake of a new case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, reported. Onishchenko added that air passengers traveling from China will undergo screening at Russian airports. He said he has ordered regional health authorities, especially in border areas, to be prepared for possible SARS outbreaks. Onishchenko added that Health Ministry has issued a new diagnostic methodology for SARS and that Russian scientists are working on a vaccine against the illness. He concluded by saying that he believes Chinese officials are now better organized and their actions more transparent than they were during the 2002-03 outbreak. "Last time the world became aware of the outbreak of SARS in China in February 2003, although it actually began there in October 2002," he said. VY

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 6 January named First Deputy Mayor Oleg Tolkachev as his representative to the Federation Council, replacing Boris Nikolskii, RTR reported. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 6 January put the appointment in the context of a series of shifts Luzhkov has made within his team. Also on 6 January, the Krasnodar Krai legislature officially released Sochi Mayor Leonid Mostov from his post so that he could represent them in the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev appointed Viktor Kolodyazhnyi, head of the city of Armavir, to replace Mostov in Sochi. "Izvestiya" reported earlier that Mostov didn't really want the new position but was facing pressure from several sources, including the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). Tkachev will run for re-election on 14 March. JAC

Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov has submitted the necessary documents to be registered as a candidate in the region's 14 March gubernatorial election, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 January. Yevdokimov will be seeking a third term. So far, the only other person publicly to express interest in running against him is Murmansk pensioner Rimma Koruch, who was nominated by the Party of Pensioners. Yevdokimov headed a regional party list for Unified Russia during the State Duma elections, but he turned down a seat in the lower legislative chamber. Last year, when asked whether he might seek the Murmansk Oblast governor's office, Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin did not exclude the possibility, reported on 16 January. JAC

Fifteen members of radical writer Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party staged a protest on top of the Justice Ministry's building in Tula Oblast on the evening of 6 January, reported, citing the party's press service. According to the press service, the demonstrators unfurled a banner reading, "Russia Without Putin," which the party explained was an act of protest against the "alternative-less" presidential elections scheduled for 14 March. According to the website, the party staged a similar action in early December on the roof of the Justice Ministry building in Moscow. JAC

Ruslan Gelaev said by telephone on 6 January that Russian media speculation that he was among the Chechen militants killed during a raid into Daghestan last month are not true, according to (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). Gelaev admitted that the raiders belonged to a military formation under his command, but added that the contingent completed its assignment successfully and that all except five fighters killed by Russian air assault and three who are missing have returned to Chechnya. Russian officials have claimed that most of the 36 or 37 fighters were killed and two or three taken prisoner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). LF

The Prosecutor-General's Office has rejected an appeal by parliament deputies representing the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party for the release on bail of dozens of opposition activists arrested following the clashes in Baku in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election, Turan reported on 6 January. The deputies argued that the detainees -- including Democratic Party of Azerbaijan General Secretary Sardar Djalaloglu; People's Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Panakh Huseinov; and Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" -- do not pose a threat to society and would not attempt to flee the country if released pending trial. The prosecutor-general's refusal branded the appeal slanderous and inaccurate. It further affirmed that the detainees have committed serious crimes and there are no grounds for their release pending trial. LF

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written to the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office and the Interior Ministry questioning the rationale for authorizing that Sadig Ismaylov, a journalist with the opposition newspaper "Baki haber," be held for three months in pretrial detention, Turan reported on 6 January. Isamaylov was arrested on 30 December and charged with participation in the 15-16 October clashes in Baku, on which his editor in chief assigned him to report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). RSF called for Ismaylov's release on bail, saying that it "sees no justification" for remanding him in custody at all, let alone for such a long period. LF

Union of Traditionalists of Georgia Chairman Akaki Asatiani told a press conference in Tbilisi on 6 January that members of his party who unofficially monitored the 4 January presidential election have concluded that voter turnout was marginally less than the 50 percent required for the poll to be valid, Caucasus Press reported. The Central Election Commission estimated participation at 83 percent, and exit polls and NGOs placed that figure at 80-85 percent. Asatiani said he suspects local election officials deliberately overstated the number of ballots cast. A preliminary report on the voting released on 5 January by the International Election Observer Mission and posted on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) website ( did not, however, register major problems with vote count and tabulation, although some such irregularities were reported in Rustavi, Marneuli, and Bolnisi. Asatiani rejected as "a bad idea" Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili's proposal earlier the same day to create a "parallel parliament," Caucasus Press reported on 6 January. Natelashvili does not recognize the election as valid, and said he intends to challenge the outcome in an international court. LF

The Adjar Autonomous Republic has transferred 2.5 million laris ($1.16 million) to the central budget, according to the daily "24 saati" on 6 January, as cited by Caucasus Press. It was the first such transfer for two years. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze has repeatedly argued that the central government owes his region more in unpaid subsidies than Adjaria owes Tbilisi in back taxes. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has appointed National Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko as first deputy prime minister, and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 6 January. Marchenko replaces Aleksandr Pavlov, who is being given another, unspecified job. Most recently, Pavlov has been involved in apparently successful efforts to prevent widespread flooding in South Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). Marchenko attracted attention last year when he threatened to resign if the Russian ruble is adopted as the common currency of the Eurasian Economic Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). One of Marchenko's deputies at the National Bank, Anvar Saidenov, has been named the bank's acting chairman. Another bank deputy chairman, Bolat Zhamishev, has been appointed to head the newly created state regulatory agency for financial markets and financial organizations. BB

Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a press conference on 6 January that this year his office will focus on the rights of students, reported on 7 January. Bakir-uulu said he is concerned over the increase in corruption within higher-educational institutions. Frequently good students must bribe their teachers in order to get good grades, he alleged. The Ombudsman's Office is setting up a confidential telephone line for students' complaints. The validity of their complaints will be assessed by instructors from other educational institutions, Bakir-uulu said. Another confidential phone line is being opened for young women in an attempt to combat suicide and the abandonment of newborns. BB

The governor of southern Kyrgyzstan's Djalal-Abad Oblast, Zhusupbek Sharipov, has ordered that the families of the five demonstrators who were killed by police in March 2002 in the oblast's Aksy Raion receive 1,000 soms ($23) each, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 5 January. Twenty-five residents of the raion who were wounded in the police attack will also receive 1,000 soms. One of the grievances frequently voiced by the victims of the assault has been the failure of the authorities to provide compensation. In another decree, Sharipov ordered that the families of people killed during the incursions of armed Muslim extremists into southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000 receive compensation of 10,000 soms per family, while people wounded in the fighting will receive 5,000 soms each. BB

The National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan has prepared a report on violations of the rights of journalists and the media in the last four months of 2003, indicating that the number of such cases had increased compared with the beginning of the year, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 6 January. The 70 cases cited in the report, including recent cases involving "Ruz-i Nav" and "Nerui Sukhan" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004), involved primarily intimidation and restricted access to information, which the report described as limiting media freedom and hampering media development. This was the second report prepared by the association. A November 2003 report that described obstacles to Tajik journalists' legally guaranteed access to government information sources was issued within the framework of the Central Asian Media Support Project, which is being implemented by the Swiss NGO CIMERA and is funded by the Swiss Agency for Cooperation. BB

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov asserted during a 5 January cabinet meeting that Turkmen citizens do not need exit visas to leave the country, and RIA-Novosti reported on 6 January. He added that only people who are accused of committing crimes are prevented from leaving the country, and he criticized foreign media for claiming that exit visas are required. The exit-visa regime was suspended in Turkmenistan in 2001, but it was restored in March 2003 in reaction to the purported coup attempt against Niyazov in November 2002. In order to leave the country, Turkmen citizens must obtain a special stamp in their passports from the Foreign Ministry's consular section. Sources in Turkmenistan told "RFE/RL Newsline" that the exit visas are now more difficult to obtain than was the case prior to the 2001 suspension. The authorities take at least one month to consider the request, and unexplained refusals are common. BB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a loan of $73.2 million to Uzbekistan for the reconstruction of an irrigation system serving five raions in Surkhandarya Oblast, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 January, citing the ADB office in Tashkent. The system draws water from the Amu Darya River to irrigate about 100,000 hectares of arable land. Reconstruction is expected to increase the output of cotton and wheat in one of Uzbekistan's poorer regions. BB

Latvia's Financial and Capital Market Commission released data on 6 January indicating that the value of loans issued by the country's 22 commercial banks and one foreign-bank branch rose by 35 percent year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2003, to 2.87 billion lats ($5.0 billion), LETA reported. Loans to the private sector rose 31 percent to 1.62 billion lats, while retail loans increased 66 percent to 712 million lats. Central and local governments borrowed nearly 78 percent (76 million lats) more than in the same period the previous year. Loans to nonprofit organizations and to financial institutions rose by 32 percent and 17 percent, respectively, but lending to state-owned companies fell by 7.7 percent. SG

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas officially confirmed on 6 January that he intends to appoint Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite as Lithuania's representative to the European Commission, BNS reported. In an interview over state radio, Brazauskas noted that he has already coordinated the appointment with President Rolandas Paksas and parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas. Commission Chairman Romano Prodi has asked the 10 countries scheduled to join the EU in May to identify their candidates for commission posts, with at least three women among them, by the end of January. The current chairman of parliament's Budget and Finance Committee, Social Democrat Algirdas Butkevicius, has been mentioned as a candidate to replace Grybauskaite at the Finance Ministry; Brazauskas did not rule out Butkevicius's possible appointment to that post, according to BNS. SG

Rolandas Paksas announced on 6 January that Deputy Police Commissioner General Romualdas Algirdas Senovaitis has accepted a presidential advisory post for national security issues, ELTA reported. The post has been vacant since Remigijus Acas resigned in October over alleged links to Russian criminal groups; Paksas is facing possible impeachment over allegations that include compromising national security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November and 19 December 2003 and 6 January 2004). The 45-year-old Senovaitis, who has degrees in history and law, has been deputy commissioner since 1996, aside from a two-year stint as the chief police commissioner of Lithuania's second city, Kaunas. Senovaitis will assume the adviser's post on 12 January. SG

Prime Minister Leszek Miller announced on 6 January that he will continue as both the leader of the government and the head of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Polish television reported. Critics within his party have suggested that Miller should give up one of those posts, particularly following his injury in a helicopter crash on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003). Miller has effectively been directing the SLD and the government from his hospital bed since that incident. President Aleksander Kwasniewski suggested to Miller the same day that he divide the premier's and party leader's duties, PAP reported. "I do not see any possibility of experimenting completely unnecessarily or of returning to the tradition whereby the party directs and the government governs," Miller said. The Polish premier is expected to remain in hospital until 16 January. AM

The national ranks of the SLD will shrink by roughly 45 percent, or 70,000 of its 150,000 purported members, as a result of an internal audit being conducted in the wake of unrelated corruption allegations within the party, PAP reported on 6 January, quoting SLD Secretary-General Marek Dyduch. Dyduch conceded that the party's leadership had estimated a 20 percent reduction in the SLD's membership figures ahead of the findings, although he stressed that the revised figure still makes the SLD the largest political party in Poland. The SLD will have to renew its structures in three districts (powiat) and dozens of local communities (gmina), he added. The internal audit should be completed on 10 January, and new party membership cards will be issued in early February. AM

Labor Minister Zdenek Skromach proposed to the cabinet on 6 January that the Czech Republic reciprocate against EU countries that restrict Czech access to their labor markets after the country's expected accession in May, CTK and the daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported. The measure would be primarily directed at Germany and Austria, which have announced their intentions to impose such restrictions. A Czech diplomat quoted by "Hospodarske noviny" said the move would be primarily political, as only about 2,500 Germans and 700 Austrians were registered as working in the Czech Republic in 2003. Skromach also proposed that the Czech government reserve the right to limit the inflow of workers from new EU states if the Czech labor market is threatened. "Hospodarske noviny" said the latter measure would be primarily aimed against Polish workers. John Palmer of the Center for European Politics in Brussels was quoted by the daily as saying that such moves might complicate the process of removing barriers to the free movement of new members' own workers within the EU. MS

Vaclav Havel interrupted a planned three-week tour of Asian countries due to recurring respiratory problems, CTK reported on 6 January, citing the head of Havel's office, Martin Vidlak. Vidlak said Havel's personal physician, who accompanied him on his trip, advised flying home to prevent a possible deterioration of his condition. Havel suffers from chronic bronchitis and underwent surgery in 1996 to remove a cancerous tumor in his right lung. He received the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Price in New Delhi earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2003). MS

The conservative daily "Magyar Nemzet" lost three lawsuits in the Metropolitan Appeals Court on 6 January, all of which are related to false claims printed by the newspaper regarding the K&H Equities brokerage scandal, "Nepszabadsag" reported. In the first case, the court ruled that "Magyar Nemzet" created the false impression that Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy was still head of the Inter-Europa Bank beyond 30 September 2001, when individuals implicated in the K&H scandal withdrew large amounts of money. In the second ruling, the court found that the daily falsely claimed that Medgyessy's chief of staff, Tibor Draskovics, held a senior position in a company at which disgraced broker Attila Kulcsar also worked. Finally, the court ruled that the daily improperly linked the coalition Free Democrats to the K&H scandal. The court ordered the newspaper to print corrections in all three cases. MSZ

The Defense Ministry will launch a tender in January for a 28 billion-forint ($135 million) contract to provide onboard weaponry for the 14 Gripen fighter jets that Hungary will lease from Sweden in 2006, ministry senior adviser Nandor Hollosi told reporters on 6 January. He said the ministry has invited the governments of the United States and Sweden, as well as three German concerns and an Israeli company, to submit bids to supply high precision, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, Hungarian radio reported. MSZ

On 4 January, successful referendums were held in several administrative districts to protest the government's redistricting plans, MIA reported. A majority of citizens in Centar Zupa, Lozovo, and Rostuse voted against plans to merge these administrative districts with neighboring ones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 18, 19, and 23 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). About 30 other districts plan to hold referendums. Administrative redistricting is an important part of the government's efforts to decentralize and streamline the state administration but has run into local opposition for many reasons. UB

Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic, who is also vice president of the Democratic Party, said in Belgrade on 6 January that he is optimistic that a new government will be formed, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 January 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). Tadic spoke after talks with leaders of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the G-17 Plus party. He repeated his party's position that it is willing either to join a coalition of "democratic" parties or to support a minority government consisting of the DSS, G-17 Plus, and the coalition of Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the New Serbia party. Tadic added that outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic has decided "of his own accord" not to claim one of the Democrats' seats in the new parliament. PM

Dragan Kalinic, who heads the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), said in Banja Luka on 6 January that Bosnia's first joint defense minister should come from the Republika Srpska because that entity has, in his view, done more to implement reforms than has the Muslim-Croat federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meanwhile in Mostar, Barisa Colak, who heads the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), argued that the post should go to a Croat on the grounds that Muslims dominate the federal army while the Republika Srpska's military is exclusively Serbian. PM

On 6 January, Bosnia's State Court sentenced Dzenana Karacic, who is a former first secretary of the Bosnian Embassy in Ankara, to 30 months in prison for her role in organizing the illegal migration of Turkish citizens into Western Europe via Bosnia between December 2002 and April 2003, dpa reported. Her son Mirza Ustovic Karacic received a 28-month sentence in the same case. State Prosecutor Medzida Kreso said the exact number of Turkish citizens involved is unclear. PM

On 6 January, Sarajevo Mayor Muhidin Hamamdzic and eight of his predecessors said in a letter to Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, that they want a tougher sentence for former Bosnian Serb General Stanislav Galic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The tribunal recently sentenced Galic to 20 years in prison for deliberately shelling and killing civilians between September 1992 and August 1994 during the siege of Sarajevo, saying that Serbian forces turned the Bosnian capital into a "medieval hell" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2003). PM

Ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Executive Chairman Octav Cozmanca said on 6 January that the party will not object to the dates for the presidential and parliamentary elections recently proposed by the opposition if all 17 members of the ad hoc parliamentary commission for determining those dates agree, Mediafax reported. The opposition Greater Romania Party, National Liberal Party and Democratic Party proposed holding the parliamentary elections and the first round of the presidential ballot on 28 November, with the presidential runoff taking place on 12 December. The PSD initially proposed that the parliamentary elections be held on 12 December concurrently with the first round of the presidential ballot, with the presidential runoff to take place on 19 December. MS

Gigi Becali, who owns the Bucharest-based Steaua soccer club, announced on 6 January that he has agreed to take over the chairmanship of the New Generation Party (PNG), Mediafax reported. The PNG was set up in early 2000 by former Bucharest Mayor Viorel Lis, who resigned from it in November 2000 after failing to gain representation on the Bucharest City Council. Becali, who has been at the center of several scandals in which he threatened journalists and politicians, said he has decided to "reconstruct the PNG" and to be its "supreme commander." According to Becali, the PNG follows a Christian doctrine and the party will strive to bring about the rebirth of patriotism. Becali also said that all players for the popular Steaua club will join the PNG. MS

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 6 January that in spite of the Moldovan leadership's recent resurrection of "Stalinist theses" on Moldovan history and nationality, Bucharest continues to consider relations with Chisinau "a priority," Mediafax reported. Geoana said the recent declarations by Moldovan leaders attest to "political desperation." He said it would be "useless" to "waste our time commenting on such gross falsehoods" as those presenting Romanians as being one of Moldova's national minorities, or to comment on the "coarse and primitive" attempts by the leadership in Chisinau to "disguise their economic and social failures or the failure to resolve the Transdniester conflict." It is "a cheap trick," Geoana said, to accuse Romania of interfering in Moldova's internal affairs after Bucharest has been displaying its support for an independent Moldova for 10 years. "The only solution to the problems faced by Moldova is for it to meet its European destiny, and this coincides with Romania's strategic interest, as a neighbor of Moldova," Geoana said. MS

Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc flew on 6 January to Iraq, where he is to spend Orthodox Christmas with the 41-strong Moldovan military-police contingent serving there, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Moldova officially celebrates Christmas on 7 January according to the Julian calendar, although believers of the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Metropolitan Church celebrated Christmas on 25 December according to the Gregorian calendar. During his two-day visit, Gaiciuc is also to meet with commanders of the allied forces in Iraq. MS

The opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) announced on 6 January that Andrei Ivantoc, one of the three members of the Ilascu group who remain in detention in Tiraspol, went on hunger strike on 28 December and is threatening self-immolation, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The PPCD claimed Ivantoc is being held without clothing in an unheated cell. The party said Ivantoc's health is rapidly deteriorating due to both cold and hunger and that he is in danger of losing his mind. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca appealed to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, Russian Ambassador to Chisinau Iurii Zubakov, OSCE Mission Chief to Moldova William Hill, and Vladimir Filipov, the Council of Europe secretary-general's representative in Chisinau, demanding that they take immediate measures to help Ivantoc. MS

Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev said on 6 January that he opposes plans by Finance Minister Milen Velchev to form a special police force that would investigate tax offenses and other finance-related crimes, reported. Filchev said he agrees with the Interior Ministry's argument that the establishment of the new police would overlap with existing units. "The power within the state administration must be concentrated, and every minister doesn't need to form his own police," Filchev said. UB

Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev have pledged to upgrade equipment for Bulgaria's second military contingent in Iraq, which is to be deployed within a month, reported. Some members of the future contingent complained that the army has failed to provide equipment such as night-vision devices, binoculars, or walkie-talkies. Svinarov also pledged to upgrade the per diem allowances from $65 to $100 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October and 16 and 29 December 2003, and 5 January 2004). UB

More than two months after the 15 October presidential election, Azerbaijani opposition parties are still struggling to come to terms with both the defeat of their candidates and the failure of the international community to more strongly condemn the overt falsification that contributed to Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev's victory with 76 percent of the vote. At the same time, just as the main opposition parties failed in the run-up to the presidential ballot to agree on aligning behind a single candidate, now they are at odds over whether to embark on a dialogue with President Aliyev's leadership, and who should represent the opposition in any such dialogue.

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Qambar, who continues to disclaim any measure of responsibility for his defeat, argues that insofar as he came closest to securing nomination as the single opposition candidate, and won more votes than any other opposition candidate, he alone should represent the opposition in any talks with the leadership. Qambar said any other opposition politician who seeks to engage in such a dialogue is a "traitor." (Qambar says he polled some 60 percent of the vote, while according to on 6 December, one of his deputies has cited the figure of 70 percent. The final official returns gave Qambar 13.97 percent.)

Representatives of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, however, insist that no such dialogue is possible unless and until the opposition recognizes Aliyev as the legitimately elected president, which both Qambar and Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) Chairman Etibar Mammedov refuse to do.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan has questioned the point of any dialogue with the authorities. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) progressive wing Chairman Ali Kerimli told Turan on 27 November that the opposition has always been in favor of such a dialogue, but that the authorities must first establish "normal, civil relations" with the opposition rather than ignore it, humiliate it, and resort to violence against it (as was the case during several preelection campaign rallies and during Musavat-led protests in Baku on 15-16 October against the falsification of the election results).

At the same time, Kerimli, who was the first to advocate the idea of fielding a single opposition presidential candidate and to that end withdrew his own candidacy in favor of Mammedov, continues to call for opposition parties to realign in order to begin preparing for the upcoming municipal elections and the 2005 parliamentary ballot. By contrast, AMIP has proposed that opposition parties revert to acting independently.

If the existing opposition parties continue to eschew dialogue with the authorities, their choice of means of influencing political developments is limited. Of the handful of opposition parliament deputies most, representing the AHCP, have boycotted parliament sessions since last June to protest insulting remarks addressed to Kerimli by a member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP). There remains the Soviet-era practice of convening meetings or demonstrations, but spokesmen for both Musavat, weakened by the arrests of many of its leading members in the aftermath of the presidential ballot, and for the AHCP were quoted on 24 December as saying they do not consider it expedient to organize such protest meetings in the near future.

A commentator for observed that some opposition parties appear to be waiting for signs of a split within YAP following the death of its founder, former President Heidar Aliyev. But seeking to "rock the boat" in the event of any such internal turmoil within YAP could play into the hands of the more authoritarian members of that party, who might react by demanding more and harsher reprisals against the opposition.

The inability of the four main opposition parties to reach a consensus on whether to embark on a dialogue with the authorities has fueled the ongoing debate in the Azerbaijani press over whether those four parties and their respective leaders should now be written off as a spent force, which political figures might seek to replace them, and what kind of new alignments might emerge.

Much of that speculation has focused on AMIP following the defection from that party's political council in late November and early December of five prominent veteran members. The five include economist Nazim Imanov, one of three political figures identified by as uncompromised by past failure, enjoying a measure of popular respect, and consequently as potential leaders of a new, post-Heidar Aliyev opposition. Imanov was quoted by the same publication on 10 December as saying that he does not want to be part of an opposition that has forfeited the people's trust.

The news that Imanov had quit AMIP immediately triggered speculation that he would found his own political party. But two weeks later he told in a long interview that although he considers himself in opposition to the present Azerbaijani leadership, he does not currently represent any political organization, nor does he aspire to power. At the same time, he admitted: "I have received and continue to receive a growing number of appeals to found a new political structure. Many people in Azerbaijan believe that the country needs a new kind of opposition. Azerbaijan needs a political organization that is fundamentally different from those we are accustomed to. I am holding active consultations on these problems with my friends." He added, however, that "if society is 'pregnant' today with a new political organization, the 'pregnancy' is still at the initial stage."

Imanov, according to commentator E. Makhmudov, is widely respected for his honesty, professionalism, intelligence, integrity, and readiness to mediate in disagreements between rival opposition groups. For that reason, any political movement he founded could draw support from diverse existing opposition parties. Imanov's one serious fault, Makhmudov noted, is his track record of self-effacement in order to defuse possible disagreements within AMIP's upper echelons.

The second of the three politicians singled out by Mahkmudov as possible leaders of a "new force" is Tamerlan Karaev, who served as parliament speaker from 1991-93 under former Communist Party leader-turned-President Ayaz Mutalibov and then under President Abulfaz Elchibey. Karaev was dispatched to Beijing as ambassador following Heidar Aliyev's return to power in May 1993 and returned to Baku in the summer of 2001. He openly backed Qambar's candidacy in the October presidential ballot and, Makhmudov suggested, could count on the support of many Musavat party members who are disillusioned by Qambar's steadfast refusal to accept any personal responsibility for his election defeat.

Two factors may, however, work against Karaev. First, it was rumored at the time of his return from China that he had been co-opted by the authorities to try to undermine the Musavat party -- although none of his subsequent actions in any way substantiated those rumors. And second, as a native of Nagorno-Karabakh he is a member of the Karabakh Liberation Organization (KLO) that advocates a military offensive to restore Baku's control over that breakaway region. Several leading members of the KLO have come under pressure in recent weeks and the Azerbaijani authorities might adduce Karaev's ties to that organization or even arrest him (on charges of planning to create an illegal armed organization?) if they sought a pretext to prevent his return to big-time politics.

The third of Makhmudov's troika is Eldar Namazov, who resigned in October 1999 as an adviser to the late President Aliyev. Like Imanov, Namazov is reportedly widely respected for his intelligence, analytical capabilities, pragmatism, and caution. He was quoted by on 27 July and 8 November 2003 as arguing forcefully that if the Azerbaijani leadership fails to embark on a program of democratic reforms, it risks "a social explosion" sooner or later.

One possibility that Makhmudov fails to address is that Namazov and Imanov might join forces to create a new political organization. In 2001 the two men, together with former Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov and former State Oil Company President Sabit Bagirov, drafted a "charter" outlining a new approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict.

An alliance between Namazov and Imanov would attract a broader following than either could aspire to in isolation. And it would simultaneously avoid the creation of yet another opposition party that its detractors could write off as what Makhmudov termed "one political leader's fan club."

In a report issued to the UN Security Council on 6 January, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Afghan peace process has reached a "critical juncture," RFE/RL reported on 7 January, quoting a UN spokesman. Afghanistan has undergone "a deterioration in security at precisely the point where the peace process demands the opposite," he said, according to Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard. Eckhard said the secretary-general warns in the report that "Afghanistan's insecurity problem needs to be addressed and that electoral registration in particular cannot be accomplished if broad geographical access is denied to the registration teams." Former UN special representative to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi has been echoing Annan's concerns about a lack of security in large parts of Afghanistan and the challenge of holding general elections slated for June under the current circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003 and 6 January 2004). AT

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assumed command of the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Konduz from coalition forces in a ceremony on 6 January, a PRT press release stated. ISAF commander German Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth said he expects "that more PRTs will be placed under the mandate of ISAF in the future." He added that the objective of PRTs "will remain the same: to achieve an enduring stability by supporting the Afghan government to extend its sovereign authority throughout the provinces." The PRT in Konduz is a pilot project for further ISAF expansion, and is the first that permanently establishes ISAF troops outside the capital Kabul and its environs. It is the first step in a progressive process, in accordance with a previous decision by the North Atlantic Council, to expand ISAF in a flexible manner to include other PRTs in the future (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). The expansion of ISAF outside Kabul is in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1510. The German-led PRT comprises more than 170 personnel, with plans for as many as 240 personnel on the ground as the mission matures. AT

The death toll from two powerful bomb blasts in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on 6 January rose to 17 people, including eight children, "The New York Times" reported the next day. The death toll was initially estimated at 10 (see RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). The blast also injured more than 40 people. The explosions appeared to have been coordinated to maximize the number of causalities. The first blast, a small charge that injured one person, was followed minutes later by a more powerful explosion, apparently set off by remote control, which claimed many victims among those who had rushed to the scene of the first blast. Kandahar Province Governor Yosuf Pashtun blamed loyalists of the ousted Taliban regime for the blast, the daily reported. Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban regime in 1994. AT

One day after the deadly 6 January blasts in Kandahar city, coalition troops began a massive manhunt along the Afghan-Pakistan border for Mullah Akhtar Mohammad, a neo-Taliban commander suspected of masterminding the bombings, dpa reported on 7 January, quoting Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press. An Afghan security officer in the border town of Spin Boldak said troops of the international coalition used tanks and helicopters to search for Akhtar Mohammad in local bazaars and residential neighborhoods. Akhtar Mohammad was also believed by some to have been involved in a foiled assassination attempt on Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim in late 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). AT

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said during a 6 January meeting with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that Iranian mistrust of the United States will decrease only if the United States makes more concessions, IRNA reported. He was referring to Washington's temporary suspension of regulations preventing the export of certain goods and funds to Iran after the earthquake in Bam (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 January 2004). Khatami went on to dismiss U.S. concerns about Tehran's interference in the internal affairs of neighboring states and about Tehran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. "How can we trust the U.S. while our responsible measures and policy of detente toward Afghanistan [are] met with baseless allegations," he asked, adding that "in response to our logical position toward Iraq, the U.S. showed its animosity toward the Islamic Republic by raising false charges that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons programs." Khatami advised, "The U.S. should rather approve Iran's proper behavior, and recognize Iran's right to possess peaceful nuclear technology under the supervision of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]." BS

Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani was underwhelmed by the U.S. measures to assist Iran after the Bam earthquake, ISNA reported on 6 January. He told reporters that day that the suspension of sanctions will have "a limited impact" and is insufficient. Shamkhani also took exception to U.S. President George W. Bush's comments about the provision of aid to Iran. Bush said on 1 January that restrictions were eased to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid, but that "the Iranian government must listen to the voices of those who long for freedom, must turn over Al-Qaeda that are in their custody, and must abandon their nuclear-weapons program," according to the 2 January "The Washington Post." Shamkhani said, "When someone gives a flower as a gift to a garden, he should not add thorns to it." Shamkhani went on to accuse the United States of fomenting unrest in Iran on 9 July 1999 and in May-June 2003. Shamkhani said the U.S. actions are connected with its 2004 elections, but Iran is too strong and stable to succumb to them. BS

Hojatoleslam Seyyed Hussein Khomeini, the 46-year-old grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's Islamic Revolution, has returned to Iran, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on 2 January. In late July and early August, Khomeini gave several interviews from Iraq in which he criticized the Iranian regime, prompting allegations that assassins from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps were after him (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). In late September, Khomeini reiterated his comments at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. However, according to the Al-Jazeera report, Khomeini "crossed the border without any problems and has not been exposed to any interrogation or harassment by the Iranian authorities." BS

Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan said on 6 January that he spoke with his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the previous evening and reassured him that Pakistan has no objections to the construction across its territory of a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to India, IRNA reported. Khan was speaking in Islamabad at the conclusion of the three-day meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation ( Iran-Pakistan pipeline discussions took place in Islamabad on 29 and 30 December. Iranian Deputy Petroleum Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian led the Iranian delegation, Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported, and M. Abdullah Yusuf, secretary at the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, represented the Pakistani side. Nejad-Husseinian met on 31 December with Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and submitted proposals on the provision of gas to Pakistan, the news agency reported. These proposals touched on the supply of bulk gas at the border and the distribution of gas to wholesalers in Pakistan. BS

Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer announced at a 7 January press conference in Baghdad broadcast on CNN that "hundreds" of Iraqi detainees will be released in the coming weeks as part of the reconciliation process in Iraq. The first 100 detainees will be released on 8 January. Bremer said the program will not be for those detainees with "bloodstained hands." He added that the detainees will be released on two conditions: That they vow not to take part in violent acts against the coalition or Iraqis; and that community or tribal leaders vow to take responsibility for each detainee released. Bremer also announced that the United States will now offer $10 million for information leading to the capture of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri or information that he is dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). Bremer also announced a $200,000 reward program for the capture of wanted individuals and "notorious criminals" in Iraq. KR

According to a 7 January report by, the detainees slated for release are not suspected of actively participating in anti-coalition activities, but rather many were detained during raids where they were in proximity to anti-coalition militants. One senior military official characterized the detainees as "low-level detainees, what we call minor violators, who have not been involved in organizing or executing any violence against the coalition or Iraqis." Some 9,000 detainee files were reviewed during the process in which about 1,200 names were recommended to a review board for possible release. According to the newspaper, 506 detainees were then chosen for release in the coming weeks. KR

In Al-Basrah on 6 January, Iraqi police opened fire on former Iraqi Army soldiers who were protesting to demand unpaid wages, Al-Jazeera reported. The protestors reportedly demonstrated outside three banks in the city, saying they have not been paid since September. AP reported on 7 January that the former soldiers attempted to storm the Central Bank office in Al-Basrah, and then threw stones at police outside the building. The police reportedly tried to hold protestors back using their batons, and then opened fire when the crowd refused to disperse. There were no reported injuries in the incident. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) promised monthly stipends of between $50 and $150 per month to former Iraqi Army personnel dismissed in May when the army was dissolved. KR

Colin Powell told reporters in Washington on 6 January that while the United States supports the Iraqi Kurds in their determination to preserve their historic identity, it is up to Iraqis themselves to work out the structure of a unified Iraq, AP reported. "Clearly, the Kurds wish in some way to preserve their historic identity and to link it in some way to geography," Powell said. "But I think it is absolutely clear that [Iraqi Kurdistan] must remain part of Iraq." reported on 5 January that the United States agreed with Iraq's interim leadership that the Kurds would be granted a semiautonomous administration in northern Iraq. Powell told reporters that perhaps some media "overstated what our position is" on the Kurdish issue, AP reported. KR

PepsiCo Inc., which bottles Pepsi-Cola, has reportedly reached a franchise agreement with one of its former Iraqi bottlers, Baghdad Soft Drinks Co., to bottle the beverage in Iraq, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 7 January. Pepsi pulled out of Iraq in 1990 due to UN economic sanctions. KR