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Newsline - September 2, 2004


FIRST TALKS WITH BESLAN HOSTAGE TAKERS FAIL
The estimated 17-30 militants who seized a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, on 1 September, taking an estimated 354 children and teachers hostage, later that day demanded talks with pediatrician Leonid Roshal, who conducted similar talks in October 2002 with the Chechen militants who took hostage several hundred people in a Moscow theater, Russian media reported. During several hours of talks late on 1 September and early on 2 September, Roshal failed to persuade the militants to release the children and allow adult volunteers to take their place or to permit food, water, and medications to be delivered to the school, the independent Ingush website ingushetiya.ru reported, quoting a statement made to ITAR-TASS by North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev. The militants also rejected an offer of safe passage to the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia. LF

CHECHEN RADICALS DENY RESPONSIBILITY FOR HOSTAGE TAKING
"The New York Times" reported on 2 September that one of the hostage takers suggested the group is subordinate to radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. Basaev claimed responsibility in October 2002 for the Moscow theater hostage taking and reportedly also masterminded the 21-22 June multiple raids from Chechnya into Ingushetia in which up to 90 people died. But a statement posted on 1 September on the kavkazcenter.com website (which is connected to Basaev) denied responsibility for the Beslan hostage taking, Reuters reported. In a statement released in London on 1 September and posted on the chechenpress.com website, Akhmed Zakaev, who is a special envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, said Maskhadov's government "resolutely condemns the recent terrorist acts aimed against the civilian population and affirms that it played absolutely no role in them." The statement did not, however, specifically mention the Beslan hostage taking. But Zakaev told Reuters by telephone from London on 1 September that "No such actions have been sanctioned or agreed to in any way." LF

UN SECURITY COUNCIL CONDEMNS NORTH OSSETIA HOSTAGE TAKING
The UN Security Council met late on 1 September at Russia's request and denounced the hostage taking in North Ossetia, ITAR-TASS and other media reported. The council's statement called on all UN member countries to call for the immediate release of the hostages and to cooperate with the Russian authorities in bringing the organizers and perpetrators of the hostage taking to justice. "Vremya novostei" noted on 2 September that Russia did not seek similar international support during previous similar crises, including during the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage drama. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said "it is clear that the roots of these actions have an international character," the daily reported. He added that they were aimed at "the process of stabilization" in Chechnya by people who want to destroy the "establishment of peace and stability there." RC

PUTIN CANCELS TRIP TO TURKEY
President Vladimir Putin on 2 September canceled a scheduled 2 and 3 September trip to Turkey because of the ongoing hostage situation in North Ossetia, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported, citing the presidential press service. In an interview with Turkish media on 1 September, Putin noted that both countries have suffered recently from international terrorism and said he expects bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism to be increased in the wake of recent events, Interfax reported. Putin once again repeated Moscow's stance against the U.S.-led military campaign to oust the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, calling the effort "counterproductive." "The development of events today shows that our position was correct," Putin said. He said that "sending in military forces is always an extreme measure and not always the most effective." RC

AIR PASSENGERS REFUSE TO FLY WITH 'SUSPICIOUS' FELLOW TRAVELERS...
A Russian charter flight from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was delayed for two hours on 1 September after passengers and crew refused to fly with four people who appeared to be ethnic Chechens, "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 September. According to the report, a man, two women, and a child who appeared to be Chechens bought tickets on the nearly full flight at the last minute and attempted to board the aircraft shortly before its scheduled takeoff. RBK reported that the two women aroused suspicion by locking themselves in a rear lavatory, but the airline denied that information, noting that passengers are not allowed into the lavatories before takeoff. In the end, the four passengers and their baggage were removed from the aircraft, which was bound for Moscow. RC

...AS DUMA DEPUTY SAYS NEW ANTITERRORISM LEGISLATION ON THE WAY
Duma Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia), who came to national prominence while serving as deputy interior minister during the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage drama, said on 1 September that his committee is working on a number of new antiterrorism bills, including one that would allow airport security personnel the discretion to deny would-be passengers access to flights, "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 September. Vasilev said the public must recognize that "hard times" have begun in Russia and that the country must marshal all its resources in order to combat terrorism. Duma Speaker and former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov told journalists on 1 September that "we are obligated to take measure adequate to the new situation." "Such measures must not be seen as limitations on human rights and freedoms," Gryzlov said. "The law enforcement organs must and will act in accordance with the constitution, defending the most basic human right -- the right to life." RC

INVESTIGATION INTO BOMBING OUTSIDE MOSCOW METRO STATION CONTINUES
Authorities continued on 2 September to search for two Chechen women who are believed to have traveled to Moscow with two other Chechen women who are suspected of having carried out the 24 August bombings of two passenger airliners, Russian media reported. Investigators looking into the 31 August bombing outside a Moscow metro station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2004) have not yet identified the woman believed to have carried out that bombing, denying widespread media reports that she was one of the two missing women. "Izvestiya," however, quoted an unidentified FSB source on 2 September as saying that the Moscow metro suicide bomber has been identified by fingerprints as Roza Nagaeva, the sister of Amanat Nagaeva, who is suspected of having blown up one of the two airliners. The daily also reported, citing the same source, that another eight female terrorists have been trained at a foreign terrorist training camp and are currently in Turkey trying to enter Russia. The source suggested the women might try to pass through Georgia or Kazakhstan. RC

REGIONS INCREASE SECURITY AROUND SCHOOLS, NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS
Regions across Russia augmented their security efforts on 1 September following the explosion outside the Ryzhskaya metro station in Moscow on 31 August and the takeover of a school in North Ossetia the following day, Russian news agencies reported. Governors in Siberian regions announced tightened security on public transportation and at public gatherings, Interfax-Siberia reported. More policemen have been added in St. Petersburg to patrol public areas, and canine teams searched for explosives in local schools before the first day of the new school year, Interfax reported. Security at the country's nuclear power plants has been increased, according to the Federal Agency for Atomic Energy. In Murmansk Oblast, all regional security structures were working under a high state of readiness, according to regions.ru. The local head of the Interior Ministry, Valerii Zvontsov, reported that special attention was being paid to schools and potentially dangerous places such as the Kola Nuclear Power Plant, the airport, and seaports. JAC

PUTIN CALLS IDEA OF TRANSFERRING CAPITAL TO ST. PETERSBURG 'INSANE'
In comments to Turkish reporters following a meeting with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 1 September, President Putin called proposals to transfer the Russian capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg "a very expensive and insane idea," Interfax reported. He added that "super centralization is not so good either." St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko announced publicly in July that the federal government had reached a decision to transfer some federal structures to St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). However, federal authorities have so far failed to confirm her statement. JAC

LOSERS IN STATE DUMA RACE MOUNT LEGAL APPEAL BASED ON MEDIA ACCESS
"Novye izvestiya" reported on 1 September that the Supreme Court will review an appeal from the Communist Party, Yabloko, Committee-2008, and independent politicians including State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov next week, asking justices to invalidate the results of the December 2003 State Duma elections. Vadim Solovev of the Communists' legal department told the daily that the lawsuit will claim that the legal requirement for all participants in the election process to receive equal coverage in the mass media was "grossly violated" in favor of Unified Russia, which received significantly more airtime than other parties. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) drew a similar conclusion at the time (see http://www.rferl.org/specials/russianelection/article/2004/3/E2392720-FC14-4D42-AB4E-F1CCE0F42CC0.html). Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy leader of Yabloko, told "Moskovskii komsomolets" of 2 September that Unified Russia got 642 minutes of airtime on federal television channels compared with 197 minutes for Yabloko. According to the daily, the court will have two months to review the appeal and request extra evidence and then must hear the case within three months. Parties to the lawsuit say they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if their case is rejected. Asked to comment on the suit, Unified Russia's press service told ITAR-TASS that it is reacting "calmly" to the endeavor. JAC

BATTLE BETWEEN GOVERNOR, MAYOR IN KRASNODAR RATCHETED UP A NOTCH...
Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has called on Krasnodar Mayor Nikolai Priz to resign and "not hide himself behind the backs of deceived old men at pickets and meetings," ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. Tkachev was referring to the pickets in support of Priz in the city of Krasnodar this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2004). The krai prosecutor's office launched a criminal case against Priz on 31 August on suspicion of exceeding the powers of his office by personally awarding government contracts without a tender process. Earlier in the month, Priz's deputies Pavel Vertlib and Ivan Levchenko were charged with abuse of office, and the chairman of the city legislature, Aleksandr Kiryushin, was arrested shortly after declaring a hunger strike. Local communists and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov have backed the mayor in his fight with the governor, according to yug.ru. "Kommersant-Daily" predicted on 20 August that Priz's fight with krai authorities has no chance of success: "Since coming to power, Aleksandr Tkachev has changed more than half of the 48 municipal heads." Tkachev managed to force the elected mayors of Novorossiisk and Sochi, Valerii Prokhorenko and Leonid Mostovoi, to resign, the daily reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2004). JAC

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH EXPRESSES FRUSTRATION WITH MOSCOW SCHOOL OFFICIALS
The Moscow Patriarchate has expressed bewilderment at a decision by Moscow's Education Department not to introduce a school course on the basics of Russian Orthodox culture, utro.ru reported on 1 September, quoting Mikhail Dudko, secretary of the Patriarchate's department for external relations. City educational authorities are instead introducing a course on all world religions, and Dudko complained that clergymen from the various religions were not consulted regarding textbooks for the course, an oversight that he found "very strange." According to Dudko, a course on the basics of the Russian Orthodox culture is already being taught in a number of Russian regions, and nowhere has interethnic or interreligious tension increased as a result. Earlier in the week, Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko spoke in favor of a course on religion, insisting that it should not be the history of one religion but of "all religious teachings observed by the people of Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2004). JAC

CHARGES AGAINST ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST DROPPED
Prosecutors have dropped assault charges brought against Grisha Virabian, a member of the opposition People's Party of Armenia, for his role in the peaceful opposition protests in Yerevan in April that were violently dispersed by police, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 11 September. Virabian was summoned by police in his home village following the protest and beaten so violently that he required surgery. He was then charged with assaulting a police officer in retaliation during that beating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004). LF

ANOTHER FORMER AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER GIVEN DIPLOMATIC POSTING
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has named Gasan Gasanov, who resigned as foreign minister in February 1998 following allegations of corruption, ambassador to Hungary, zerkalo.az reported on 2 September. Former ambassador to Beijing Tamerlan Karaev, identified late last year as a respected political figure sympathetic to the opposition who might become the head of a "new force" in Azerbaijani politics, was simultaneously named ambassador to India (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 2 January 2004). LF

GEORGIAN POLICE APPREHEND SUSPECTED CONTRACT KILLER
Georgian police detained a 20-year-old man in Tbilisi on 1 September who they claimed had been hired to assassinate a member of the Georgian government, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The police did not make public the name of the intended victim, but the daily "Rezonansi" on 2 September reported that it was either Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili or Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze, Caucasus Press reported. LF

POLICE, MERCHANTS CLASH IN ADJARAN CAPITAL
Police in Batumi, the capital of Georgia's Adjaran Autonomous Republic, used force early on 1 September to expel protesting vendors from the city's central market, Georgian media reported. Seven people were injured. The stallholders have for days been protesting an order by the municipal authorities to vacate the market building and move to alternative premises in the city suburbs. Georgian parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili, who earlier this year declared his opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili, traveled to Batumi to support the traders, arguing that the authorities' demand that traders vacate the market is illegal. On 1 September, he demanded that the Batumi mayor resign within three days. After the police intervention on 1 September, posters appeared in Batumi calling for Saakashvili to quit and for the return to Batumi of former Adjaran Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, who stepped down four months ago under pressure from Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). Adjaran Deputy Prime Minister Koba Khabazi claimed on 1 September that Abashidze, who now lives in Moscow, was behind the traders' protests, according to rustavi2.com. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT WARNS OF EXTREMIST THREAT...
In an address before parliament on 1 September, President Nursultan Nazarbaev warned that terrorists and extremists are stepping up their activities in Central Asia, Kazakh TV reported. "The threat of terrorism is increasing in our region," Nazarbaev said. Noting that "missionaries of all types are flooding the country," the president predicted that the influence of extremist organizations could grow in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He pointed to increasingly open activity by Hizb ut-Tahrir, which supports a restoration of the caliphate and the imposition of Islamic law throughout Central Asia. Nazarbaev said that Kazakh authorities have seized 11,000 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets in 2004, compared to 1,000 in 2003. In conclusion, the president urged deputies to pass a law to counteract extremism, even if "international organizations...across the ocean" object to additional regulation of religious organizations. DK

...AND LAUDS CONDITIONS FOR UPCOMING ELECTIONS
President Nazarbaev told parliament that current legislation "makes it possible to hold any election in the country in line with international election standards," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He stressed that the country's new election law "creates all the necessary conditions to render elections democratic, fair, and transparent." The president called upcoming 19 September parliamentary elections "a test of the political maturity of Kazakhstan and the entire society." He also stated that electronic voting should be used only in 10 percent of the country's administrative-territorial units. The issue of electronic voting has generated heated debate, with the Kazakh opposition and international watchdogs cautioning against the wholesale introduction of a system that has not yet been tested in practice. DK

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FIGURE DOUBTS ELECTIONS WILL BE FAIR
Opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov told a news conference in Bishkek on 1 September that Kyrgyz authorities are throwing up obstacles to free and fair elections in the country, akipress.org reported. He cited President Askar Akaev's 29 July 2004 veto of proposed amendments to the Criminal Code as an example; the amendments would have criminalized certain violations of the Election Code. Beknazarov warned that the authorities will try to use the 27 February parliamentary elections to create a pliable legislature. "These MPs will [then] elaborate amendments to the Kyrgyz constitution that will give the president the same status as Turkmenbashi [Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov]," he said. Beknazarov added that nine opposition political parties plan to hold a conference on Kyrgyzstan's electoral system on 25 September. DK

RUSSIA'S MAYAK RADIO RETURNS TO BISHKEK
Russia's Radio Mayak began broadcasting to Bishkek on 31 August, akipress.org reported on 1 September. Mayak programming can be heard from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m. Mayak is working together with the independent Kyrgyz radio station Almaz, which rebroadcasts programming by Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale, and VOA. DK

COMMITTEE CALLS ON TAJIK PRESIDENT TO END PRESS PRESSURE
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued an open appeal to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 31 August to end what it called "an escalating campaign of intimidation and harassment against independent and opposition journalists in Tajikistan." The letter cited the recent closure of the printing house Jiyonkhon, which printed the opposition newspapers "Nerui Sukhan" and "Ruzi Nav," as well as a 29 July attack on "Ruzi Nav" Editor in Chief Rajab Mirzo, pressure on dissident journalist Dodojon Atovulloev, and other evidence of harassment. "Taken together, these abusive actions reflect a broad campaign to silence media criticism against Your Excellency, your ruling party...and its parliamentary allies, ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2005," the letter stated. "We call on you to dismiss government officials who are harassing journalists, and ensure that police and prosecutors aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for harassing and attacking journalists." DK

STUDENTS OF CLOSED BELARUSIAN LYCEUM INAUGURATE SCHOOL YEAR ON THE STREET
Some 100 students and the staff of the Yakub Kolas National Humanities Lyceum in Minsk, which was closed by the authorities in July 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2004), gathered on 1 September in front of the former lyceum building to inaugurate the beginning of a new school year, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The Yakub Kolas lyceum was the only preparatory school in the capital that provided instruction in all subjects in Belarusian. Following the official closure, teachers and students have continued to meet for classes on other premises. "We will continue the educational process in the conditions that are available to us," Uladzimir Kolas, the lyceum's director, said at the inauguration ceremony. "But you see for yourselves that there are big obstacles. We are standing here surrounded by a lot of police and special-service officers." Later the same day, some 50 students of the lyceum staged a picket in downtown Mink under the slogan "We Want to Study in Belarusian." Police arrested three students and lyceum deputy director Lyavon Barshcheuski, who is also president of the Belarusian P.E.N Center (a member organization of the International P.E.N. association of writers). JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT INAUGURATES NEW UNIVERSITY
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 September attended the opening of a state university in Baranavichy, a city of 130,000 in Brest Oblast, Belarusian media reported. The university is expected to have enrollment of some 5,000 students for training as engineers, educators, lawyers, economists, and agronomists. JM

OPPOSITION CANDIDATE HOLDS 5 PERCENT LEAD OVER PREMIER IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
The Democratic Initiatives fund and the SOCIS center found in a poll conducted from 19-29 August that in the first round of presidential elections 29 percent of Ukrainians plan to vote for opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, while 24 percent intend to back Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Should these candidates compete in a run-off, 38 percent of respondents said they will vote for Yushchenko and 34 percent for Yanukovych. According to the poll, Communist Party head Petro Symonenko is supported by 7 percent of the poll's respondents, while Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko are backed by 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively. None of the remaining 21 candidates was backed by more than 1 percent of respondents. JM

MARGINAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BLASTS RIVAL ON UKRAINIAN STATE TV
Presidential candidate Oleksandr Bazylyuk on 1 September was the first candidate to take advantage of free campaign airtime on the state-run UT-1 television channel. Each presidential contender has the right to address viewers three times for 10 minutes each. Bazylyuk leads the Slavic Party of Ukraine and chairs the Congress of Russian Organizations of Ukraine. His election support in polls is below 1 percent. Bazylyuk, who spoke Russian, harshly criticized presidential candidate Yushchenko, claiming that the latter intends "to destroy Ukraine as a Slavic state." "We know how enemies of Ukraine have prepared Yushchenko to become the president of Ukraine," Bazylyuk said. "Vote for an independent president for Ukraine," Bazylyuk appealed to viewers. According to Ukrainian observers, a dozen of the 26 registered presidential contenders can be categorized as "technical candidates," whose major goal is to attack Yushchenko in the campaign to impair his presidential chances. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES MINIMUM WAGE
Prime Minister Yanukovych's cabinet has increased the minimum monthly wage from 205 hryvnyas to 237 hryvnyas ($46) as of 1 September, Ukrainian Television reported on 1 September. The decision applies to all companies, whether privately or government-owned. In January, the minimum monthly wage is to increase to 262 hryvnyas. JM

WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL ASSIGNS DEFENSE LAWYER TO FORMER SERBIAN LEADER...
Presiding Judge Patrick Robinson of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced on 2 September that former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is not well enough to defend himself, adding that the tribunal has appointed an unidentified defense attorney for him, international and regional media reported. Milosevic, who suffers from high blood pressure and related heart disease, rejected the decision, calling it "highly improper." He stressed that "you do not take away somebody's right to self-defense when he is sick." Milosevic has resisted all previous attempts to persuade him to take on a defense attorney and indicated that he will appeal the latest ruling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2004). Meanwhile, several officials of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) said in Belgrade that the SPS has spent "millions of euros" on his defense in recent years, dpa reported. The Serbian government extradited him to The Hague on 28 June 2001, and his trial began early the following year. PM

...AND SENTENCES FORMER BOSNIAN SERB OFFICIAL
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced Radoslav Brdjanin, a former prominent Bosnian Serb official and leader of Bosnia's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), on 1 September to 32 years in prison for war crimes, with credit for the five years he has already spent in the tribunal's jail, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The tribunal found Brdjanin guilty on several counts relating to the "ethnic cleansing" of Croats and Bosnian Muslims from the Bosanska Krajina region during the 1992-95 conflict but cleared him of more serious charges of genocide and complicity in genocide. His name has been linked to the Omarska and Keraterm concentration camps, which journalists brought to international attention in the summer of 1992. During Brdjanin's trial, former "The Washington Post" reporter Jonathan Randal successfully resisted calls by the prosecution for him to take the witness stand, thereby breaking new legal ground in establishing the right of war correspondents not to reveal their sources, dpa reported. PM

HERZEGOVINA'S MAIN CITY TO HAVE A NEW MONUMENT
Herzegovina's principal city of Mostar, which is best known for its recently restored Old Bridge, will soon acquire a monument to the late Hong Kong action film star Bruce Lee, which sponsors hope will help ease divisions between Muslims, Croats, and Serbs, and contribute to Mostar's positive international image, "The Guardian" reported on 2 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 July 2004). Ethnic Croat writer Veselin Gatalo said he hopes that people everywhere will come to associate Mostar not with ethnic rivalries but with the monument to Lee, which will be dedicated in November. PM

REFERENDUM PETITION PRESENTED TO MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT
On 1 September, World Macedonian Congress (SMK) Chairman Todor Petrov presented a petition to the Macedonian parliament calling for a referendum on the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts, "Dnevnik" reported. More than 180,000 citizens had signed the petition. "Today is a holiday for democracy in Macedonia, because the citizens' will has won," Petrov said, adding that "the referendum is not a luxury for Macedonia but establishes its democratic credentials and legitimacy before the international community." The SMK proposed that the referendum be held on 21 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July, and 13 and 27 August 2004). Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the EU in Skopje told a news conference on 1 September that voters should keep in mind the effect of the referendum on broader political developments, including the postponement of local elections as well as the diversion of attention from other important reforms, MIA news agency reported. She also stressed that the current number of administrative districts is unrealistically large. UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ACCEPTS INVITATION TO REJOIN PSD
President Ion Iliescu said in a 1 September letter addressed to ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Chairman and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase that he accepts the PSD's invitation to return to the party he founded and to run for the Senate, Mediafax reported. The PSD congress on 27 August approved Nastase's proposal to invite Iliescu to return to the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 1 September 2004). Iliescu congratulated Nastase on having been nominated as the PSD's presidential candidate for the November election. Iliescu also said his participation in the November parliamentary elections will be "constitutional and legal," thus replying to previous comments from the opposition questioning his adherence to the constitutional principle of the president's political impartiality while in office. ZsM

ROMANIAN RIGHTIST PARTIES ANNOUNCE PLANNED MERGER
The Popular Action party announced in a 1 September press release that it will merge with the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) in an effort to build a "new political force" capable of responding to the challenges Romania faces during its European-integration process. Popular Action Chairman Emil Constantinescu and PNTCD Chairman Gheorghe Ciuhandu at their 30 August meeting reiterated a decision to urgently agree on the principles, phases, and timetable of the merger. Popular Action announced that it has nominated a negotiating team to discuss the details of merger. ZsM

ROMANIAN SENATE CALLS ON UKRAINE TO HALT CANAL PROJECT
The Senate in a 1 September declaration called on the parliaments of Council of Europe member countries, the EU, and NATO to work to halt Ukraine's construction of a controversial deep-water shipping canal in the Danube Delta, Romanian media reported. Senators expressed their "profound regret" and "firm disapproval" of the 26 August inauguration of the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004). Meanwhile, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana the same day expressed his surprise at an AFP report according to which Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin on 1 September said that Russia supports the project. "Ukraine does what it should do and is right [in doing so]," Interfax quoted Chernomyrdin as saying. He added that the canal will bring economic benefits not only to Ukraine, but also to Russia and other countries. ZsM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES REGIONAL RELATIONS...
Speaking at an annual meeting of Romanian ambassadors on 1 September in Bucharest, President Iliescu said relations with some of Romania's neighbors are still marked by "difficult, delicate problems" that require level-headed attempts to resolve them, Mediafax reported. He said relations with Moldova are still "special" despite some Moldovan declarations that he alleged were part of "an anti-Romanian, irrational campaign" that serves no one. Iliescu also said he hopes Romania and Hungary are jointly able to handle problems generated by extremist or nationalist forces on both sides. He added that Romania seeks a positive partnership with Ukraine as well, in spite of the current problems in bilateral relations. ZsM

...AND PREMIER ISSUES VEILED WARNING OVER TRANSDNIESTER
Speaking to the same gathering of Romanian ambassadors on 1 September, Prime Minister Nastase said Romanian authorities will "never remain indifferent" to abuses against those who refuse to renounce Romanian tradition, language, or culture, Mediafax reported. Nastase warned that Romania will not tolerate "linguistic purges," which contravene current European realities and principles of human rights. Nastase also called on the diplomats to get more actively involved in attracting foreign investment to Romania and in finding new markets for Romanian goods. He said Romania's 1.1 billion euro (some $1.4 billion) in foreign investment in the first half of this year is insufficient when compared to investment into countries such as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. ZsM

TRANSDNIESTER SCHOOLS CONFLICT CONTINUES
Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova said on 1 September that schools closed down by Transdniestrian authorities in Tiraspol and Rybnitsa remained closed for the start of the school year the same day, Flux reported. Three schools in Tighina were opened, but two of them were cut off from electricity and water supplies. A Russian Foreign Ministry release posted on its website on 1 September suggested that during a visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol on 30 and 31 August by Russian special envoy Igor Savolski, the parties found a solution to the conflict and that Transdniestrian authorities were to register schools established by Moldovan education authorities. According to Flux, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markian Lubkivski asked in Kyiv on 31 August for a reopening of the schools, threatening "economic restrictions" against Transdniester if officials failed to comply. Transdniestrian authorities have closed six of the eight schools in Transdniester that teach Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script in recent months, after refusing to register them. ZsM

CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS URGE RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER
Speaking at a protest rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on 1 September, Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca called for the urgent removal of Russian troops from Transdniester, adding that the dispute remains unresolved due to Russia's "imperial interest," Flux reported. Rosca said Romanian children from the Transdniester region are facing an "ethno-cultural genocide" and "forceful assimilation." Protesters expressed solidarity with pupils and their teachers and parents from the Transdniestrian schools closed down by Tiraspol authorities. There were no estimates immediately available of the size of the rally. ZsM

WHO IS BEHIND THE HOSTAGE TAKING IN NORTH OSSETIA?
With no end to the hostage taking at a school in North Ossetia in sight, it is already clear that the incident is a landmark in Moscow's ongoing struggle to preserve its control over the North Caucasus using force under the guise of combating "international terrorism." In hindsight, the hostage taking may in a few years be seen as a turning point that led to Moscow's defeat in that battle.

The modus operandi of the Beslan hostage takers is similar to that used in the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002. The hostage takers are masked, dressed in black, heavily armed, and include both men and a handful of women. The latter are reportedly wearing explosives strapped to their bodies in readiness to blow up the building. The hostage takers' initial demands, reportedly conveyed by a small girl who was allowed to leave the building, were twofold: the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya (which the Moscow hostage takers had also demanded), and the release of the 27-30 militants arrested in Ingushetia for their alleged participation in the 21-22 June multiple raids into that republic in which up to 90 people, primarily Ingushetian Interior Ministry personnel, were killed.

The Ingush raid in June was itself a milestone insofar as the attackers included not only Chechens but many Ingush youths who, alienated by the abduction of close relatives by the Ingushetian security forces, had flocked to fight under radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev.

Basaev claimed responsibility for the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage taking after it occurred, and is widely believed to have masterminded, if not actually directed in person, the June raids into Ingushetia. But kavkazcenter.com, which is sympathetic to Basaev, carried a denial on 1 September that he is in any way connected to the events in Beslan. If one lends credence to that denial, then one logical conclusion is that the Beslan perpetrators may have served under Basaev and tapped his tactical expertise but then staged the Beslan raid independently.

Reuters on 2 September quoted North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev as saying that the Beslan hostage takers include both Ingush and Chechens, and that "they speak good Russian." Kavkazcenter.com, for its part, quoted Dzantiev as saying that there are also Ossetians and Russians among the militants. That Ossetians, who in contrast to all other North Caucasus ethnic groups are Christian, not Muslim, and who have traditionally supported Russia ever since their territory was voluntarily incorporated into the Tsarist Empire in 1774, should make common cause with the Ingush is surprising; that some Russians should join them is, at first glance, doubly so. But that solidarity could well be the product of shared despair at the poverty and corruption that, to varying degrees, bedevils all the North Caucasus republics. Such broad-based rejection of Russia's policies towards the North Caucasus calls into question President Vladimir Putin's repeated assertions that Islamic fundamentalism and Chechnya-based groups with links to Al-Qaeda are behind the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Russia. Valerii Andreev, head of the North Ossetian branch of Russia's Federal Security Service, dismissed the hostage takers' ethnicity on 2 September as irrelevant.

The Beslan hostage taking does, however, substantiate the argument adduced repeatedly by both Putin and pro-Moscow Chechen leaders that there is no point in engaging in peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov because he does not control most of the militants fighting in Chechnya. It may not be coincidental that the Beslan attack came just weeks after Russian politician Arkadii Volskii called for talks with Maskhadov and offered to play mediator. The Moscow theater hostage taking two years ago similarly followed a mediation bid by Russian politicians, including former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin.

Just three days before the Beslan hostage taking, British Chechnya expert Thomas de Waal remarked in an editorial pegged to the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov that "Five years ago, when Moscow launched an 'antiterrorist operation' to recapture Chechnya, there was no real terrorism there. Now, thanks mainly to Moscow's policies, it is becoming a real threat." What is more, that threat is already no longer confined to Chechnya; nor, apparently, is it coordinated by a single person or group. That escalation will make it all the more difficult to contain, let alone eradicate, using the methods that Russia has relied on to date.

AFGHAN SUPREME COURT CALLS FOR DISQUALIFICATION OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE OVER ALLEGED BLASPHEMY
The head of the Afghan Supreme Court, Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, called on 1 September for the removal of Abdul Latif Pedram from the list of presidential candidates, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Shinwari told AIP that a "few days ago," Pedram "criticized Islam, the Koran, divorce, polygamy, and other Islamic tenets" in a meeting. "Therefore, as a result of these anti-Islamic remarks," the candidate has no right to be "the leader of an Islamic country," Shinwari added. The High Council of the Supreme Court in a meeting on 1 September decided not only to disqualify Pedram from competing in the October presidential elections but also to have prosecutors summon him to investigate his "blasphemous remarks," Shinwari said. According to AIP, Pedram was the editor of the official party newspaper during the rule of communist leader Babrak Karmal (1980-86) and a member of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. In the current electoral process, Pedram is running as the candidate of the National Congress Party (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). According to the Afghan Constitution approved in January, the president must be a Muslim and no political party's charter may contradict the principles of Islam (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003). AT

BROTHER OF SLAIN AFGHAN COMMANDER OPPOSES POLITICAL USE OF HIS IMAGE IN ELECTIONS
Ahmad Wali Mas'ud has condemned the use of images of his slain brother as part of election campaigns, Kelid radio reported on 1 September. "We do not accept Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's name or picture being used as a tool in the election campaign," the younger Mas'ud said. Ahmad Wali Mas'ud is currently Afghanistan's ambassador to the United Kingdom and leader of the Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan party, but he has yet to endorse a presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). Ahmad Wali's older brother and a member of Nahzat-e Melli, Ahmad Zia, is the first vice-presidential running mate of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, while another member of the party and a close aid to the slain Mas'ud, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, is seen by many as the main challenger to Karzai. Ahmad Wali did not single out any particular campaign for using his bother's images, but Kelid claimed that Qanuni's campaign has been using images of Mas'ud and therefore the statement by Ahmad Wali are directed at Qanuni. AT

INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE CRITICIZES AFGHAN LEADER'S CAMPAIGN TACTICS
In an interview with "Kabul Weekly" on 1 September, Homayun Shah Asefi accused Chairman Karzai of misusing his position to benefit his current presidential campaign. Asefi said he has demanded that Karzai resign before the election not as a constitutional issue but "because he is using government facilities for his personal benefit." Asefi said he is against boycotting the elections if Karzai does not give up his chairmanship, as was urged by a majority of the candidates (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 August and 1 September 2004). The Afghan Constitution states that the current transitional leader may remain in office until the elections, although another clause bans presidential candidates from holding cabinet-level posts. Asefi said he would have favored having both presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously, arguing that if parliamentary elections cannot be held due to security concerns, presidential elections are equally threatened. "In my opinion, the postponement of the parliamentary elections [until spring 2005] was a tactic, because Karzai hopes to win the [presidential] election and knows that if the parliamentary elections are held [together with the presidential election,... most of his opponents may find their way into the parliament." Asefi alleged that Karzai ordered the Information and Culture Ministry not to broadcast speeches by two unnamed candidates who criticized him. AT

U.S. CONSULTANT TO AFGHAN GOVERNMENT ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF HOMOSEXUALITY
An unidentified U.S. citizen serving in an advisory capacity with the Afghan Finance Ministry has been arrested in Kabul on a charge of having had homosexual relations with an Afghan man, AP reported on 31 August. Abdul Halim Samadi, a prosecutor dealing with the case, said, "Islam doesn't allow homosexuality," adding that "prostitution is also punishable in Afghanistan under Islamic law." A conviction could carry a 15-year prison sentence, Samadi said. AT

IAEA REPORTS ON IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM
An assessment of Iran's nuclear program was issued as a confidential document to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) members on 1 September, Reuters and "The New York Times" reported. The assessment states that the IAEA has requested information from Iran on an order it made for components that can be used in P2 centrifuges. Moreover, the IAEA states that it is not satisfied with the explanations Iran has given for the seven-year gap between when it acquired a design for a P2 centrifuge -- which can produce weapons-grade uranium twice as fast as a P1 centrifuge -- and the date it claims it began experiments on the new model. The report calls for more information on traces of highly enriched and low-enriched uranium found by the IAEA, which Iran says came from contaminated equipment it purchased. Information on highly enriched uranium contamination found at the Kalaye Electric Company and at Natanz is "plausible," according to the IAEA. The assessment says more information is needed more quickly on Iran's experiments with polonium, which can be used to initiate a chain reaction in a nuclear bomb. The assessment does not offer new evidence on covert programs and suggests that Tehran is becoming more cooperative, "The New York Times" reported. BS

IRAN REPORTEDLY PREPARING TO ENRICH URANIUM
The IAEA assessment on the Iranian nuclear program states that Iran intends to convert 37 tons of nearly raw uranium (yellowcake) into uranium hexafluoride, "The New York Times" reported on 2 September. Uranium hexafluoride can be enriched in centrifuges. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), theorized that this could yield 100 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, Reuters reported. "It's roughly enough for about five crude nuclear weapons of the type Iran could conceivably build," he added. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said on 1 September that Iran's processing plans are a threat to global peace, Reuters reported. "Iran's announcements are further strong evidence of the compelling need to take Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council," he added. BS

TEHRAN HAILS IAEA REPORT
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 1 September that the most recent IAEA report demonstrates Iran's extensive cooperation with the agency and the transparent nature of Iran's nuclear program, ISNA reported. He said Iranian cooperation will continue. As for the remaining questions, Assefi described them as "trivial and insignificant." "However," he said, "some people are trying to start a brouhaha and create a hostile environment." Iran has stated that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only. BS

WASHINGTON WANTS UN ACTION ON IRAN
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters on 1 September that he will urge the IAEA at its 13 September board of governors meeting to refer the Iranian nuclear program to the UN Security Council for noncompliance with its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments, Reuters reported. "They still have a program that, in our judgment, is a nuclear program designed to develop ultimately a nuclear weapon," Powell said. Washington believes the issue should have been referred to the Security Council a long time ago, he added. Reuters reported that diplomats at the UN say there is currently little support for Washington's approach. Anonymous U.S. officials told Reuters that Washington may shift its tactics in an effort to ensure that the matter is referred to the Security Council before year-end. Washington might propose a so-called "trigger-resolution" at the September meeting. This would commit the IAEA to automatically refer the matter to the Security Council at its November meeting if Iran fails to meet required standards. BS

EU ADMITS ITS IRAN POLICY IS INEFFECTIVE
European Union External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten told the European Parliament on 1 September that efforts to build ties with Iran have not progressed, Reuters reported. "We tried very hard -- I don't think I've tried harder on anything -- to construct a viable policy on Iran which would enable us to bring Iran out of the cold and enable it to play its role internationally and responsibly," Patten said. EU political and trade ties with Iran would be contingent on progress on human rights, terrorism, and nuclear concerns. However, Patten said, "I'm sorry that that policy's gone backward." He added that "we've seen deeply concerning reverses on human rights." Nevertheless, Patten said the West must continue engaging Iran because isolation does not work. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said during a 1 September meeting with Iranian Ambassador to the EU Abolqasem Delfi that the general trend of the EU-Iran relationship over the last five years has been positive, IRNA reported, citing Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach. Solana conceded there have been some difficulties during those five years. BS

IRAQI POLICE RELEASE IRANIAN JOURNALIST
Iraqi police released Fars News Agency photographer Hassan Ghaedi on 2 September, IRNA reported. Ghaedi was arrested on 31 August while working in Al-Najaf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2004). BS

IRAQ'S NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HAS ROUGH START
A mortar attack on Baghdad's Green Zone preceded the interim National Assembly's first meeting on 1 September, Reuters reported. Five mortar rounds exploded near the assembly shortly before it opened, and an Iraqi civilian was wounded. The "Financial Times" reported on 2 September that on the surface the breakdown of the 100-member assembly is impressive -- 20 percent Kurds, 50 percent Shi'a, and slightly less than 25 percent Sunni. Twenty-five percent of the assembly, furthermore, is female. Nevertheless, according to the British daily, important constituencies, such as opponents of the U.S. presence in the country, are not represented. "Al-Mada" Deputy Editor Zouhair al-Jazairi told the "Financial Times" that all the assembly members are from long-established political parties, and he added derisively, "It is largely a training exercise." BS

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER WORKS WITH AL-FALLUJAH NOTABLES
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and notables and tribal chiefs from Al-Fallujah have concluded an agreement on the development of the city and the restoration of law and order there, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 1 September, citing an anonymous source close to Allawi. In exchange for the government's provision of $50 million for development projects, the tribes will help the government hunt down foreign gunmen. The tribes have already disrupted the activities of gangs of thieves operating along the highway in Al-Anbar Province. The government also wants to regain control of the city. A similar agreement is being prepared for the besieged city of Samarra, "Al-Hayat" reported. A local notable told the newspaper that five "jihadi" gangs control the city, and because of the siege new jihadi gangs have emerged, thereby contributing to the anarchy there. BS

SECURITY OPERATIONS CONTINUE IN IRAQ
In Tamooz on 1 September, Iraqi police and troops from the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division detained three members of a terrorist network wanted for "planning and conducting anti-Iraqi attacks," according to a CENTCOM press release. 17th Cavalry Regiment soldiers identified and deactivated a 105 millimeter artillery round set up as a roadside bomb northwest of Mosul. In another incident in Al-Thubat, an Iraqi expert defused a suspected roadside bomb. BS

CZECH AMBASSADOR'S VEHICLE AMBUSHED IN IRAQ
Unidentified gunmen ambushed on 1 September in Baghdad the armored jeep used by Prague's Ambassador to Iraq, CTK reported, citing the daily newspaper "Pravo." Two Czech police officers were riding in the vehicle when it was stopped by armed men and subsequently fired upon it in a wealthy Baghdad neighborhood not far from Ambassador Martin Klepetko's residence, AFP reported. Klepetko was in Prague at the time. At least 30 bullets struck the vehicle, but nobody was injured, "CTK" reported. Klepetko said the vehicle did not have a Czech flag or any other identifying marks and he speculated that this could have been a random attack on foreigners or wealthy people. The Czech presence in Iraq consists of the ambassador and his staff, 100 military police, and an "expert" in an unspecified field, "Pravo" reported. BS

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