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Newsline - September 17, 2004


RADICAL CHECHEN COMMANDER TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR SPATE OF TERRORIST ATTACKS...
The Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr (http://www.kavkazcenter.com) on 17 September published a statement purportedly from rebel field commander Shamil Basaev in which he takes responsibility for the Beslan school hostage taking, as well as for a spate of other terrorist attacks in recent weeks, Russian and international media reported. Basaev claimed responsibility for the 24 August downing of two civilian airliners, for the 24 August bombing at a Moscow bus stop, and for the 31 August suicide bombing outside a Moscow subway station. The attacks left more than 400 people dead. The statement said that the terrorists demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya or the resignation of President Putin. In the case of the former, they were willing to release hostages gradually as forces were pulled back. In the case of the latter, they were reportedly prepared to release all the children hostages and to use the adult hostages as cover while the returned to Chechnya. It said the hostage takers handed over a videotaped appeal from Basaev to Putin. A Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman told Ekho Moskvy on 17 September that the agency has no information about such a videotape. Earlier, a little-known terrorist organization called the Islambuli Brigades, which claims to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda, took responsibility for the downing of the aircraft and for the Moscow subway bombing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004). RC

...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY MAINTAINS THAT HE IS SUPPORTED BY INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 17 September that the government does not believe Basaev's claims that Chechen militants carried out the recent terrorist attacks without foreign support, Regnum and other Russian media reported. "There is a lot of evidence that support for their terrorist activities from abroad," Yakovenko said. The statement on Kavkaz-Tsentr that purports to have been written by Basaev claims that the radical field commander carried out the terrorist attacks for a total of $20,000, money that he said he received not from abroad but "from the Russian budget." RC

INSIDERS SAY PUTIN WAS READY TO MAKE CONCESSIONS TO BESLAN TERRORISTS...
Presidential aid on Caucasus affairs Aslanbek Aslakhanov told Ekho Moskvy on 16 September that President Putin had agreed during the Beslan school hostage crisis to release 30 people currently being held in connection with the 21-22 June attacks against police facilities in Ingushetia in which about 90 people were killed. Putin has stated repeatedly that his government will never negotiate with terrorists. Aslakhanov, who participated in the negotiations with the hostage takers, said they had agreed to free the children hostages in exchange for the release of the 30 prisoners. He added that the terrorists also demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and Russian recognition of Chechnya's independence. The purported statement from Basaev posted on Kavkaz-Tsentr said the hostage takers did not demand the release of the accused Ingushetia raiders. Nikolai Mosintsev-Ozeranskii, head of the charity fund Children and Youth Against Terrorism and Extremism, told Ekho Moskvy on 8 September that Putin had drafted a decree recognizing "that Chechnya is a separate state." One of the founders of Mosintsev-Ozeranskii's fund is the FSB and its stated purpose is "supporting the president of Russia," newsru.com reported on 17 September. Mosintsev-Ozeranskii also said that Putin was prepared to withdraw Russian forces from Chechnya. RC

...AS MAJORITY OF RUSSIANS BACK CONCESSIONS TO SAVE HOSTAGES
Fifty-six percent of Russians say that the government should have made concessions to the Beslan terrorists in an effort to save the lives of hostages, according to a new survey by the Levada Analytical Center, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 16 September. Thirty-nine percent said the Beslan tragedy was a result of the war in Chechnya, while 27 percent blamed it on international terrorism, and 12 percent said it resulted from "Western intrigues." Fifty-two percent said the events were made possible because of "corruption in the police and secret services," but only 6 percent said they think the Russian secret services played a role in organizing the attack. Forty-two percent said they think lives might have been saved if President Putin had personally negotiated with the hostage takers and 37 percent said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov should have been asked to intervene. Only 4 percent of respondents described the storming of the school as "successful," while 30 percent said it was "satisfactory" and 61 percent said it was "unsatisfactory." Seventy-eight percent said they believe the government is hiding the truth about Beslan and 76 percent believe that some of the terrorists managed to escape. RC

BESLAN INVESTIGATING COMMISSION NEARLY READY TO BEGIN WORK, MAY ASK PUTIN TO TESTIFY
Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin announced on 17 September that the council's special commission on the Beslan tragedy is ready to begin work, although its composition has not yet been determined, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). Offices for the commission have been set up and work has begun on a schedule of testimony. The Federation Council is expected to approve commission members during its 20 September session. Torshin said that the commission will spend four to five days in North Ossetia questioning witnesses. He added, however, that the legislative basis for such commissions is very sketchy and he is not certain exactly what kind of authority it will have. However, he noted that President Putin has pledged the complete cooperation of the executive branch and law-enforcement structures. AFP reported on 17 September that Torshin did not rule out the possibility that the council's commission would ask Putin himself to testify, although he noted that the body does not have the authority to compel the president or any other senior government officials to appear. RC

DEATH-PENALTY DEBATE CONTINUES TO RAGE
The Levada Analytical Center survey also found that 58 percent of the public believe the death penalty should be introduced for convicted terrorists, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2004). State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told Interfax on 16 September that he personally does not support proposals to lift the moratorium on the death penalty but that "circumstances call for an in-depth discussion of the issue." Duma Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia) told the news agency that "reinstatement of the death penalty in Russia is out of the question now." He added that the Duma will ask the Constitutional Court to express its opinion on the death-penalty proposals. Former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov told Ekho Moskvy on 16 September that introducing the death penalty for terrorists can only have negative consequences for Russia, including "isolation from Europe." Gryzlov also told Interfax that he believes the proposals to set up voluntary civilian patrol units should be given top priority by the Duma. "This law needs to be adopted within the shortest possible time," he said. "We will not be able to improve the counterterrorism system without citizens and the public playing a role." RC

DUMA WANTS TO CONFISCATE TERRORISTS' PROPERTY
Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 16 September that among the measures against terrorism the Duma will consider in its fall session is the confiscation of property and assets of people involved in terrorism, ORT and RTR reported. "All the crimes committed by terrorists are committed for money, for big money. To uproot the financial basis of terrorism we should confiscate the assets of terrorists," Gryzlov said. He also said that asset confiscation should be used against those who commit other serious crimes, including hostage taking, illegal trafficking in drugs and weapons, corruption, bribe taking, and large-scale embezzlement. VY

MOSCOW ASKS LONDON TO STOP 'ANTI-RUSSIAN' ACTIVITY OF EXILES...
The Foreign Ministry summoned the U.K. charge d'affaires in Russia, Steven Wordsworth, on 16 September and told him that Moscow urges his government to stop the "anti-Russian" activity of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii and Chechen President Maskhadov's representative, Akhmed Zakaev, who was granted political asylum in Britain, ITAR-TASS and the BBC reported. The Foreign Ministry complained that "new political emigrants" Berezovskii and Zakaev publish "slanderous remarks" about Russian policy, which have been given "wide media coverage, especially by the state-run BBC, but are not met by adequate official reaction." The ministry added that since it granted political asylum to Berezovskii and Zakaev, the British government bears "full responsibility for their statements and actions." VY

...AS LONDON MAYOR OFFERS TO SHARE ANTITERRORISM EXPERIENCE WITH MOSCOW
Visiting London Mayor Ken Livingstone told Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov that the British capital is ready to share with Moscow its experience in fighting terrorism, strana.ru reported. Livingstone said that London has been confronting terrorism since the 1960s and that Moscow's subway system could learn from the experience of London's subway, of which 95 percent is covered by video monitoring. The same video system controls many London streets and will be introduced in city buses. VY

EX-PRESIDENTS SPEAK OUT AGAINST PUTIN'S POLITICAL REFORM
Former President Boris Yeltsin expressed criticism of the reorganization of Russia's political system proposed by President Putin, "Moskovskie novosti," No.35, reported. In an interview, Yeltsin said: "I firmly believe that the measures that the country's leadership undertakes after Beslan will remain within the framework of democratic freedoms that have become Russia's most valuable achievement over the past decade. We will not give up on the letter of the law, and most importantly, the spirit of the constitution our country voted for in a national referendum in 1993." By making this statement, Yeltsin risks violating his unwritten accord with Putin, which granted him immunity as long as he does not intervene in politics, political commentator Sergei Dorenko told Ekho Moskvy on 16 September. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev also directed criticism at Putin's proposed reforms in the same weekly. "Our common goal is to do everything possible to make sure that the bills, which, in essence, mean a step back from democracy, don't come into force as law," he wrote. "I hope that politicians, voters, and the president himself keep the democratic freedoms that were so hard to obtain." VY

LEFT, RIGHT UNITE IN PROTEST AGAINST REVISION OF CONSTITUTION
A group of activists from the Communist Party, Yabloko, the SPS, and Valeriya Novodvorskaya's Democratic Union organized a demonstration on 16 September near the Prosecutor-General's Office to protest President Putin's proposed reforms, Ekho Moskvy reported. Addressing the protesters, Novodvorskaya said that they want to draw the attention of the Prosecutor-General's Office to the fact that the measures proposed by Putin violate the constitution and would transform Russia from a federal to a unitary state. VY

KREMLIN INSIDER DISAPPOINTED IN PUTIN
Stanislav Belkovskii, the head of the National Strategy Institute, in an essay published on apn.ru on 15 September said that when President Putin made his proposals for political reform, "all his enemies in Moscow were happy, as they feel that now he is finished." Belkovskii added that while he used to believe in Putin's historical mission, now he had to agree with Putin's opponents, as the proposed reforms are nothing but an attempt at a new redistribution of property for the benefit of the interest groups now represented in the Kremlin. He said the federal bureaucratic system now is based on the model of an organized criminal group. Its philosophy is very simple: to collect money from the controlled territory and to provide physical protection to those who pay money. This system does not care about average citizens, as they have no money. Therefore, the proposed appointment of governors is part of that "business plan," an attempt to put under the federal interest groups' control the assets of regional and provincial elites. In a separate interview on Ekho Moskvy on 16 September, Belkovskii said that Putin's proposals are in no way linked with the Beslan hostage-taking drama and were formulated in March and April by former presidential-administration head Dmitrii Kozak and his deputy, Vladislav Surkov. VY

DUMA FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEAD SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD NOT IGNORE OPINION OF WEST
Addressing U.S. concerns about President Putin's proposed political reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 September 2004), Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said Russia cannot simply brush off the criticisms of its policy from the West, TV-Tsentr reported. "We should not be so confrontational as [former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko, but not as pro-Western as [former Foreign Minister Andrei] Kozyrev," he said. "We should explain to the United States and the West that just like the 11 September 2001 attacks were targeted to paralyze air-traffic communications in the United States and the United States took measures to secure air traffic, so the recent terrorist attacks in Russia were targeted to provoke interethnic disturbances, and therefore Putin took measures to secure the country's unity," Kosachev said. VY

EX-ENVOY TO ENTER EES MANAGEMENT
Former presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Leonid Drachevskii, who was dismissed by President Putin on 9 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004), is expected to be named deputy CEO of Unified Energy Systems (EES), "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 17 September, citing EES manager Andrei Trapeznikov. EES CEO Anatolii Chubais reportedly made the offer during a 90-minute meeting with Drachevskii on 16 September and Drachevskii reportedly agreed. Current EES Deputy CEO Yakov Urinson will remain in his post and Chubais will have two deputies, Trapeznikov said. An official announcement is expected on 1 October when the EES board of directors holds its next meeting. RC

REPORT: VOLGOGRAD PROSECUTOR TO BECOME SOUTHERN FEDERAL DISTRICT PROSECUTOR
Volgograd Oblast prosecutor Nikolai Shepel is expected to replace Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii as deputy prosecutor-general for the Southern Federal District, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 September, citing an unidentified source in the Federation Council. Fridinskii was transferred to Moscow on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004) after four years in the post. "Izvestiya" reported that Shepel has a reputation for fighting corruption and that his office has filed 93 bribery-related cases so far this year and has secured eight convictions. RC

NEWS AGENCY REPORTS WAL-MART TO OPEN STORE IN ST. PETERSBURG
U.S. retail behemoth Wal-Mart intends to open a 20,000 square-meter store in St. Petersburg next year, Interfax reported on 16 September and "The Moscow Times" reported on 17 September. The daily quoted St. Petersburg Economic Development Committee Chairman Vladimir Bank as saying, "I have such information but am not ready to talk in more detail about the opening of Wal-Mart." An unnamed source told Interfax that the company has already begun recruiting employees in St. Petersburg and is in the process of selecting a site for the store, which would be the first Wal-Mart in Russia. Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz told "The Moscow Times" that the company cannot comment on the report, but said Wal-Mart has had "a team in Russia looking at possibilities." According to the daily, the company's 2003 revenues were $256 billion, about three times the revenues of the Russian federal budget. RC

ARMENIAN POLL FINDS WIDESPREAD SKEPTICISM OF GOVERNMENT'S ANTICORRUPTION EFFORT
The Yerevan-based Armenian Center for National and International Studies released the results of a public opinion survey on "Corruption in Armenia" on 16 September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The poll, conducted among 1,956 residents in the capital Yerevan and each of the country's regions, found an overwhelming majority expressing skepticism of the government's stated commitment to fighting corruption, and nearly half defined corruption as the most serious obstacle to the rule of law. According to the findings, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed were not familiar with the government's anticorruption strategy and only 5 percent expressed confidence in the authorities' ability to combat corruption. The Armenian government's strategy to fight corruption focuses on a set of legislative measures aimed at curbing bribery, nepotism, and related criminal acts by state officials and law-enforcement personnel. The prime minister, as the head of a special state body, is empowered to supervise its implementation. That body was subsequently supplemented by the formation of a monitoring body, the Council on Combating Corruption. The poll also revealed that more than a third of respondents indicated that they were offered bribes in return for voting for particular candidates in last year's presidential and parliamentary elections. The poll further identified health care and the military as the most corrupt sectors, while nearly one-quarter of respondents believed the executive to be the most corrupt branch of government. RG

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON RELATIONS WITH TURKEY
In comments during a 15 September conference in Yerevan, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugarian said that Turkey's formal recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide would provide Armenia a significant "guarantee of security," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. At the same time, the Armenian government has said that Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide is not a precondition to normalizing relations with Turkey. The Armenian official added that there is a real possibility for improved bilateral relations with Turkey, explaining that Turkish officials have recently hinted that "even though the Nagorno-Karabakh issue remains a precondition for improved Turkish-Armenian relations, it is no longer considered the top priority." RG

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 September during a CIS summit meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Commenting on the strained relations between the two countries, Putin said that "economic blockade, not to mention military pressure, do not result in resolving problems," and added that there is an opportunity to resolve all disagreements between Russia and Georgia. The statement followed an announcement the day before by Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania offering to conduct joint operations with Russian forces to "remove hideouts and havens for terrorists," Interfax reported. RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS NEW OMBUDSMAN...
The Georgian parliament unanimously confirmed on 15 September the appointment of human rights activist and journalist Sozar Subeliani as the new Georgian ombudsman, Caucasus Press and the "Civil Georgia" website reported. Subeliani is the head of the nongovernmental organization Liberty Institute's rule of law department and an RFE/RL correspondent. The post of ombudsman has been vacant for nearly a year after former ombudsman Nana Devdariani was appointed as chairwoman of the Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 June 2000). RG

...AND APPROVES GEORGIAN DEPLOYMENT TO AFGHANISTAN
In a vote on 15 September, the parliament approved the Georgian government's decision to deploy a force of 50 Georgian soldiers and officers from the 16th Mountain Battalion to Afghanistan, "Civil Georgia" reported. The Georgian peacekeepers are to operate under German command and have recently completed a two-week training course in Germany to prepare for their 100-day deployment to Afghanistan. The Georgian battalion consists of graduates from the U.S. Train and Equip program who also completed additional training in peacekeeping operations conducted by British military instructors. The battalion is also engaged in peacekeeping operations in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). RG

CIS SUMMIT FOCUSES ON FIGHT AGAINST TERROR...
A summit of CIS leaders took place in Astana on 16 September with a focus on antiterrorism efforts in the wake of recent attacks in Russia, news agencies reported. "The terrorists who have committed crimes against the Russian Federation present an extremely serious danger to all countries of the world without exception," read a joint statement cited by regnum.ru. "The heads of the CIS member states express their full solidarity with the Russian Federation in its battle against terrorism." The leaders agreed to step up the activities of the CIS Antiterrorism Center, Kazinform reported. Calling terrorists "criminals who hide behind political, religious, and nationalistic slogans while they try to accomplish things that have nothing to do with what they proclaim publicly," Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "I did not get the sense that any of my colleagues have any differences on the definition of terrorism," Vesti reported. Journalists' questions at a final news conference, however, centered on disagreements between CIS states, ITAR-TASS reported. The summit, which was attended by all CIS leaders except Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, selected Putin to replace Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as CIS chairman. The next summit will take place in Minsk, Belarus in September 2005. DK

...AS KAZAKH PRESIDENT ADVANCES REFORM PROPOSALS...
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev proposed a far-reaching reform of the CIS at the leaders' summit on 16 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He suggested putting the Council of CIS Foreign Ministers in charge of a special Security Council and delegating executive-organ functions to the CIS Antiterrorism Center and Executive Committee, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev also urged the elimination of duplicate functions by abolishing the council of defense ministers, the headquarters to coordinate military cooperation, the economic court, and the interstate statistics committee. The CIS Executive Committee's staff should be reduced from 220 to 140 people, he said. Nazarbaev said CIS foreign ministers will review his proposals over the next year. Armenian President Robert Kocharian told the press conference after the summit that "the main reform of the CIS should be to ensure that the decisions that it makes are carried out," RIA-Novosti reported. DK

...AND KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SUPPORTS PREEMPTIVE STRIKES
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev expressed support on 16 September for preemptive strikes against terrorists, Kazinform reported. "I am a decisive supporter of a strategy of preemptive strikes," Akaev told the post-summit news conference, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Akaev said that a good mechanism for such strikes in Central Asia is the Collective Security Treaty Organization's rapid-reaction forces. Russian General Yurii Baluevskii stated on 8 September that Russia is prepared, if necessary, to mount preemptive strikes against terrorist bases anywhere in the world. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reiterated the policy the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 September 2004). DK

KAZAKH OPPOSITION BLOC GETS ADS BACK, LOSES SUIT
The Central Election Commission issued a draft decision on 15 September that the opposition bloc of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan can resume television advertising if it edits its ads, Kazinform reported. A complaint by a pro-presidential bloc about the use of Communist Party and DVK leaders' names in ads earlier led the commission to suggest that television stations pull the ads (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September). Voice-over and caption references to Serikbolsyn Abdildin and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov must be removed from the opposition bloc's ads for television stations to continue airing them, the commission stated. On 16 September, the Supreme Court rejected a suit by the opposition bloc against the commission for its earlier letters to television stations and the subsequent halt in advertising, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The court rejected the claims that the commission exceeded its authority and inflicted material damages on the opposition bloc. DK

KYRGYZ-CHINESE BORDER FULLY DEMARCATED
Salamat Alamanov, director of the Kyrgyz president's Regional Problems Office, announced on 16 September that the Kyrgyz-Chinese border has been fully demarcated, akipress.org reported. Noting that the process lasted from 2000 to 2004, Alamanov stressed that the demarcation line corresponds exactly to the delimitation line. DK

U.S. AID TO TAJIKISTAN TOPS $50 MILLION IN 2004
U.S. development and humanitarian aid to Tajikistan for fiscal year 2004, lasting from 1 October 2003 to 30 September 2004, will total more than $50 million, Asia Plus-Blitz, reported on 16 September. Peter Argo, the country director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Tajikistan, noted on 13 September that the agency has provided Tajikistan with more than $110 million in aid during its 11 years of activity in the country. Argo said that the aid profile has shifted from humanitarian assistance to development. Aid in 2004 came from the U.S. State Department, Defense Department, and Commerce Department. DK

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER FACES DEFAMATION CHARGE
Rustam Fayziev, deputy chairman of the unregistered opposition party Taraqqiyot, has been charged with defaming the president and inciting ethnic, racial, and religious strife, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 September, citing a source in Tajikistan's security forces. If convicted, Fayziev could face up to 10 years in prison on the incitement charge alone. He was arrested in Dushanbe on 28 August for allegedly signing and possessing letters that his party reportedly intended to send to the International Court in The Hague. DK

EBRD JOINS CONSORTIUM IN UZBEK CELL OPERATOR BUY-OUT
A consortium of investors including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is buying Daewoo Unitel, Uzbekistan's second-largest cellular operator, for $73.5 million, uzreport.com reported on 16 September. The EBRD will invest $9 million and receive a 12 percent stake, Prime-TASS reported. Other consortium members include Greece's Germanos SA and Norway's Silkway Holding. The EBRD will also give Daewoo Unitel a $30 million loan to develop its GSM network, uzreport.com reported. Daewoo Unitel, which is owned by Daewoo International, has 106,000 subscribers and a 25 percent market share. DK

BELARUSIAN ELECTION COMMISSIONS REPORTEDLY REJECT 40 PERCENT OF OPPOSITION CANDIDATES
Belarus's district election commissions on 16 September concluded the registration of candidates for the 17 October elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives, the country's lower house, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. According to unofficial data, the commissions rejected some 80 of the 190 candidates proposed by Belarusian opposition parties. The most common official reasons for denying registration were -- as in the 2000 legislative election campaign -- incorrectly filled income and property declarations by candidates or irregularities in the signature lists of citizens supporting candidates. JM

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S REFERENDUM
The European Parliament on 16 September added its criticisms to those of the Council of the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine report," 15 September 2004) regarding Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree to hold a presidential referendum simultaneously with the parliamentary elections on 17 October, Belapan reported. According to the European Parliament, Lukashenka's "attempts to seek an extension of his presidential term by referendum [is] contrary to the provisions of the Belarusian Constitution" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). Meanwhile, the Belarusian Justice Ministry issued a statement the same day saying that the announced referendum is fully in line with the country's constitution and laws. JM

WAS UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DELIBERATELY POISONED?
Oleksandr Zinchenko, presidential campaign manager of leading opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, told journalists in Kyiv on 17 September that Yushchenko's recent bout of acute poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004) may have resulted from an intentional attempt on his life, Interfax reported. Zinchenko cited doctors from a clinic in Vienna, who examined Yushchenko, as saying that Yushchenko's ailment was caused by "a viral infection and chemical substances that usually do not appear in foodstuffs." Since the examination in Vienna was made six days after the poisoning, Zinchenko added, it proved impossible for the doctors to identify what "chemical substances" might have been involved. JM

UKRAINIANS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE
Some 5,000 people took part in a rally in Kyiv on 16 September to mark the death of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, whose headless corpse was discovered on 2 November 2000 following his disappearance on 16 September 2000, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Speakers at the rally accused the current Ukrainian authorities, including President Leonid Kuchma, of involvement in Gongadze's slaying. Socialist Party activist Yuriy Lutsenko said at the rally that Gongadze's disappearance gave rise to a number of anti-Kuchma protests in the following years. "The main result of those protests was that Ukraine has ceased to be afraid of Kuchma any longer," Interfax quoted Lutsenko as saying. Participants in the rally subsequently marched to Bankova Street, where the building housing the presidential-administration offices is located, and placed a plaque reading "Heorhiy Gongadze Street" on a building on that street. The presidential-administration building was cordoned off by special-task police troops. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WON'T GO TO MOSCOW FOR INTERROGATION
Opposition Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko said on Channel 5 on 16 September that she is not planning to go to Moscow for an inquiry by Russian military prosecutors who suspect her of bribing Russian Defense Ministry officials in 1995-97 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004), Interfax reported. "There is no sense whatsoever for me to fulfill plans of [President] Kuchma and [presidential-administration chief Viktor] Medvedchuk and go to Russia in order to give Russia a possibility to stage some provocations [against me]," Tymoshenko said. "Therefore I have proposed...that Russian prosecutors come to Ukraine, and I will gladly give them any explanations they need." JM

EU PREPARES TO TAKE OVER FROM NATO IN BOSNIA
Germany's Admiral Rainer Feist, who will command the EU's Bosnian peacekeeping mission that will take over from NATO at the end of 2004, told Deutsche Welle in Brussels on 16 September that plans for the transition are proceeding smoothly, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). Feist noted that many of the same soldiers are involved in both missions and will simply change the insignia on their uniforms at the end of the year. He added, however, that "much will change [on the ground] because the Americans, who are currently [based] with their task force in Tuzla, will largely pull out. A group of countries led by Finland will take over there." Feist noted that NATO -- meaning the United States -- will nonetheless maintain a small presence in Bosnia. The Deutsche Welle broadcast said that the United States authorities were at first "skeptical" of the EU mission but are now "happy" because Washington wants to free up its forces in Bosnia due to the "tense situation in Iraq." PM

BOSNIAN SERBS GET NEW INTERIOR MINISTER
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic named Darko Matijasevic interior minister on 16 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The previous interior minister, Zoran Djeric, was one of 60 Bosnian Serb officials sacked by High Representative Paddy Ashdown in June for failing to arrest top war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). In announcing Matijasevic's appointment, Mikerevic stressed that he expects the minister "to fully respect and fulfill obligations of the Republika Srpska toward the international community, especially towards the Hague-based [war crimes] tribunal." Matijasevic is currently Bosnia-Herzegovina's representative to NATO in Brussels. Mikerevic also announced the sacking of Mensur Sehagic from the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) as minister of urban planning, engineering, and ecology. Relations between the SDA and the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) have been stormy, and the sacking of Sehagic brought sharp protests from the SDA leadership. His successor is Hrusto Tupekovic, who has no party affiliation. He is from Zvornik, where he was a factory manager and functionary in communist times. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES CAMPAIGN AGAINST TAX EVASION
Macedonian Finance Minister Nikola Popovski announced on 16 September that the government is planning a five-month media campaign against tax evasion, MIA news agency reported. Popovski said the purpose of the campaign is to tell citizens why it is in their own interest to pay taxes. The campaign will not only appeal to the consciences of the taxpayers but also show how taxes are being spent, according to Popovski. Mihail Petkovski, who is professor of economics at Skopje University, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 16 September that cracking down on tax evasion could improve the investment climate in Macedonia, since growing tax revenues could result in eventual tax cuts. Petkovski noted that the huge gray economy provides a great potential to increase the state revenues. UB

ROMANIA FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST UKRAINE AT INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE
The Romanian government announced in a 16 September press release that it has filed a complaint against Ukraine at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Romania asked the Netherlands-based court to decide on delimitating the continental plateau and exclusive economic zones of Romania and Ukraine in the Black Sea. The complaint argues that since bilateral negotiations started in 1998, 24 rounds of talks have resulted in no progress on the issue. The Romanian government also expressed its willingness to continue bilateral negotiations, but only if Ukraine shows a real interest in reaching a mutually acceptable solution. ZsM

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS VOICE OBJECTIONS TO MOLDOVA'S ECONOMIC BLOCKADE OF TRANSDNIESTER
Speaking at the CIS summit in Kazakhstan on 16 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the economic sanctions enacted by Moldova against Transdniester are "destructive," Flux reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma also expressed his opposition to the blockade, and said that expanding the number of participants in the Transdniester-conflict negotiations, as called for by Moldova, will not facilitate a resolution. ZsM

TIRASPOL AUTHORITIES EXPEL MOLDOVAN EDUCATION MINISTER
Tiraspol police on 15 September expelled Moldovan Minister Valentin Beniuc and Reintegration Ministry representative Sergiu Valcov from Transdniester, arguing that the two entered the region illegally, BASA-Press reported. Beniuc and Valcov were to meet with OSCE representatives and teachers and parents from the Lucian Blaga school in Tiraspol. The Romanian-language school was shut down by Tiraspol police in July and an alternative location has not been found. As the two officials entered Tiraspol, police reportedly stopped their car, took them to a police station, questioned them on the purpose of their visit and after two hours escorted them out of Transdniester. ZsM

ARE 2,000 ETHNO-CONFESSIONAL CONFLICTS POSSIBLE IN THE POST-SOVIET STATES?
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that the post-Soviet states currently face "up to 2,000" potential ethno-confessional conflicts, any one of which could explode "if we don't do anything about them."

Both that number and the possibility that they will involve violence far exceed estimates made by most Russian and Western analysts. But Putin's expressed belief in them highlights his sense of the fragility of Russia and other former Soviet republics. And it helps to explain his commitment to rebuilding the coercive capacity of the state.

In a partial transcript of the Russian president's meeting with foreign academics and journalists on 6 September provided by Jonathan Steele of "The Guardian" newspaper and distributed on the "Johnson Russia List" this week, Putin provided his clearest statement yet of just how much ethnic and religious conflicts threaten the post-Soviet states.

"In the wake of the breakup of the USSR, many conflicts of ethnic and confessional nature have broken out," Putin said, adding that "We do have up to 2,000 conflicts of the type which are in the dormant stage." But "if we don't do anything about them, they could provide a flare up instantaneously."

Putin then offered his views on why such conflicts could emerge, who is responsible, and the roles democracy and state power have to play to ensure that potential conflicts do not become real.

The Russian president suggested that the conflicts that have broken out did so precisely because of the collapse of state power: Pointing to the violence in Karabakh and South Ossetia, Putin said that "once the state became weaker, separatism, which was very natural, was on the rise. It happened elsewhere. It happened here."

In linking the emergence of such conflicts to the decline of state power, Putin explicitly rejected that Russian policies had been in any way responsible for what has happened in Chechnya: "There is no connection whatsoever, there is no connection between the policies of Russia regarding Chechnya and subsequent events."

And the Russian leader indicated that the free play of democracy could not by itself prevent ethnic and confessional flare-ups. Indeed, democracy introduced too quickly or in ways that are not "in conformity with the development of society" could in that event be "carrying a destructive element.

Consequently, Putin said, he and his government will "see to it" that democratic institutions in his country become ever more "efficient" and work closely with those institutions that are rebuilding the power of state rather than weakening it.

Three aspects of Putin's remarks are striking. First, he views his country and its neighbors as far more threatened by ethnic and religious conflicts than almost any other leader or analyst does. And he sees conflicts as potentially having a domino effect, in which the outbreak of any conflict anywhere threatens to spark more conflicts elsewhere.

Second, the Russian president clearly believes that the weakness of the state rather than the aspirations of the people involved is the primary cause of current conflicts and of future ones.

And third, he sees democracy as a form of government that might trigger such conflicts rather than as a means of managing or even solving them. Consequently, democracy for Putin is a system that must be managed lest democratic arrangements "undermine through counterproductive means" the ideas of democracy.

This set of views helps to explain why Putin is so obsessed with the restoration of the agencies of state power, why he is unwilling to deal with these challenges in a political way, and why he views democracy as a threat rather than an opportunity.

But the experience of authoritarian states, including the Soviet Union, suggests that Putin's approach -- however understandable it might be given his premises -- might prove counterproductive, radicalizing those to whose views the authorities are not prepared to listen and making them more rather than less willing to turn to violence to gain their ends.

(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

NEO-TALIBAN TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ROCKET ATTACK ON KARZAI'S HELICOPTER
A neo-Taliban commander has claimed that his group targeted the U.S. military helicopter carrying Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 16 September in Gardayz, capital of southeastern Afghanistan's Paktiya Province, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). Commander Mawlawi Abdul Samad, speaking from southern Afghanistan, told the news agency that neo-Taliban militants were aware that Karzai was coming to Gardayz to launch his presidential campaign, and thus "installed an antiaircraft rocket launcher in a house and targeted Hamid Karzai's helicopter." Abdul Samad noted that while the rocket missed its intended target, Karzai's "helicopter was forced to return to Kabul." Karzai later told reporters in Kabul that he wanted the helicopter to land despite the attack, but his request was not granted by his security detail, "The New York Times," reported on 17 September. "So I am thinking of that now, that on a trip like that I should take my own measures," Karzai said in what the newspaper described as a possible joke. The daily commented that the incident "revealed how little" Karzai "is in charge," as he "clearly had no control over his return to Kabul." Three Afghan nationals, reportedly not from the area, have been arrested in connection with the attack, according to AFP on 17 September. AT

KARZAI WANTS HIS MAIN RIVAL TO JOIN HIM...
Chairman Karzai on 16 September called on his main challenger in the 9 October presidential elections to join him in a new administration, AFP reported. "I will be happy if [Mohammad Yunos] Qanuni becomes a friend with us in the government -- already we are friends privately -- and if he comes back and gives up his candidacy I will be more happy," Karzai said. Qanuni previously served in Karzai's government as an interior and later education minister before resigning in July to run in the upcoming presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). An unidentified source close to Karzai's presidential campaign told AFP that Qanuni recently approached Karzai for talks and that the Afghan leader apparently intends to signal that he is prepared to cut a deal. Earlier reports indicated that a coalition of presidential hopefuls tabbed Qanuni to represent them in the elections, pledging to withdraw their candidacies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). AFP commented that the run-up to the election is developing more into a series of "backroom deals" between the 18 candidates "than large-scale campaigning to attract votes from the general population." AT

...AS U.S. ENVOY URGES AFGHANS TO VOTE FOR UNITY...
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has called on the people of Afghanistan to "vote for a person who aims to implement national unity in Afghanistan, and not promote bigotry," Radio Afghanistan reported on 16 September. While Khalilzad did not name a candidate who fits his description, the official Afghan radio station said that the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan "explicitly voiced support for Hamid Karzai some time ago." AT

...AND 13 CANDIDATES REQUEST POSTPONEMENT OF ELECTION
Thirteen presidential candidates have demanded that the 9 October election date be postponed for one month, AIP reported on 16 September. Candidate Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai said the group decided at a meeting that day in Kabul that more time is needed to campaign, saying the "time provided is not sufficient." The second point made by the group "is that Afghanistan's election may have an effect on the [presidential election] in the United States." Therefore, the group "would like Afghanistan's election to be held after the U.S. elections [on 2 November]," Ahmadzai added. The report does not specify which 13 candidates comprise the group. AT

U.S. PRESIDENT EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT AFGHAN DRUG PROBLEM
U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his concern about Afghanistan's status as a major source of illicit drugs in a statement released by the White House on 16 September (http://www.whitehouse.gov). In his annual report to the U.S. Congress on major drug-producing and drug-transit states, Bush named Afghanistan among the 22 countries that made the "Majors List." Bush said that, "despite good-faith efforts on the part of the central Afghanistan government," he is concerned "about the increased opium-crop production and the government's lack of capacity to prevail in the provinces." According to recent UN reports, more than three-quarters of the global opium supply originates from Afghanistan, however, neither U.S.-led coalition forces nor the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have made counternarcotics part of their operational mandate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003; and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, and 1 September 2004). AT

NEW AFGHAN GOVERNOR REASSURES HIS WESTERN NEIGHBOR
The governor of Herat Province, Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwah, met with the Iranian consul in Herat, Ali Najafimanesh, on 15 September, Herat TV reported. Khairkhwah described the government's objectives and stressed the importance of bilateral ties, while Najafimanesh discussed Iranian reconstruction projects in the province and hoped that stability would be established soon. Also in attendance were security commander Brigadier General Ziaudin Mahmudi, the National Security Department's General Mayel, and Mohammadullah Afzali, the head of the Foreign Ministry office in Herat. BS

CONTROVERSY OVER IAEA RESOLUTION ON IRAN PERSISTS
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton concurs with a European draft resolution on the Iranian nuclear program being presented at the current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna, Radio Farda reported on 17 September, but Secretary of State Colin Powell has not approved it yet. France, Germany, and Great Britain back the toughly worded resolution, as do Australia and Canada, according to Reuters, but the Non-Aligned Movement does not support it. The draft resolution calls for a halt to the uranium-enrichment program and sets a deadline of 31 October for Iran to answer outstanding questions about equipment contaminated by enriched uranium. Hussein Musavian, spokesman for the Iranian delegation at the IAEA meeting, said on 16 September that the draft resolution is unacceptable, Mehr News Agency reported. China rejects the resolution and amendments proposed by Russia are not included, he said, adding that Tehran seeks major changes to the draft resolution. BS

MYSTERY SURROUNDS ALLEGED IRANIAN NUCLEAR SITE
An anonymous "senior U.S. official" told Reuters on 17 September that satellite imagery of the Parchin military site "clearly shows the intention to develop weapons." Another senior U.S. official was less sanguine, and according to an anonymous "Western diplomat" cited by Reuters, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is unsure about the Parchin site's possible nuclear function. Tehran has denied such allegations about the site, which is 30 kilometers southwest of Tehran, and it also denies that the IAEA is interested in it. Anonymous diplomats were cited in "The Washington Post" on 17 September as saying that the UN has been negotiating with Iran since June for access to not just one but four military sites that have possible dual-use equipment. This is considered a sensitive issue because it affects the security of Iranian conventional military programs, according to "The Washington Post." The IAEA has been gathering information on the Parchin site for almost two years. BS

RAFSANJANI HINTS AT CANDIDACY
"I would rather someone else enter the presidential race, but if society as well as prominent pundits conclude that I can fulfill this task better, I will announce my readiness," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told reporters in Mashhad on 16 September, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani added that there is plenty of time for other candidates to come forward. BS

IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER WARNS THAT ISLAMIC WORLD IN DANGER
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at the 16 September closing ceremony of a Koran recitation contest in Tehran that there is a war against the Islamic community, state radio reported. "This war has economic, political, cultural, military, and security aspects," Khamenei continued, "And today, it has the greatest propaganda tools at its disposal." Events in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan are not part of a war against individual countries but are part of a bigger war against the existence of Islam in the region. Khamenei said the Islamic community's survival is ensured by "a new Islamic spirit, movement, and awakening," and he warned, "they want to destroy this." Khamenei said the Islamic community can survive "through the Koran. The Koran taught us everything. We should learn and understand the Koran." BS

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT NOTES RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN IRAN
The U.S. State Department renamed Iran as a "country of particular concern" in its sixth annual report on international religious freedom, which was released on 15 September (http://usinfo.state.gov). Other countries of concern are Burma, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam. Iran's religious minorities -- Baha'is, Christians, Jews, Sufi Muslims, and Sunni Muslims -- report "imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs," and all the minorities suffer some "officially sanctioned discrimination." Jews feel threatened because of the government's anti-Israel policies, Baha'i sites have been destroyed, and evangelical Christians are not allowed to proselytize. Security personnel monitor churches and demand worshippers' identity papers. BS

IRAQI POLICE CONVOY ATTACKED IN CENTRAL BAGHDAD
A car bomb detonated near a convoy of six Iraqi police vehicles in central Baghdad on 17 September, international media reported. At least five Iraqis were killed and 40 wounded, Reuters reported, citing the Health Ministry. Iraqi police told CNN that 20 Iraqis were killed. An unidentified government source told Reuters that he expects huge casualties, including many police officers. Media reports indicated that many civilians were on the street when the blast occurred. KR

U.S. STRIKE TARGETS IRAQI VILLAGE NEAR AL-FALLUJAH
U.S. forces bombed a village on the outskirts of Al-Fallujah on 17 September, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Thirty-two people were killed and 48 injured in the strike on the village of Al-Zaydan, and a number of homes were destroyed, according to the satellite news channel. The U.S. military said in a statement that it was targeting militants loyal to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. U.S. forces also shelled the Al-Shuhada neighborhood located in the center of Al-Fallujah, killing two women and injuring eight others, according to Al-Arabiyah. U.S. forces said that 60 people were killed in strikes on Al-Fallujah overnight, according to international media reports. A strike on nearby Al-Ramadi resulted in the killing of at least one person; three were reported wounded. Three U.S. Marines were killed in Al-Anbar on 16 September, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. KR

MILITANT GROUP KILLS THREE IRAQI TRUCK DRIVERS
The militant group Ansar Al-Sunnah Army announced on 16 September that it killed three Iraqi truck drivers after they admitted working for U.S. forces in Iraq, Al-Jazeera television reported. The group reportedly posted a videotaped statement on a website (http://www.alhesbah.org) in which the three hostages said that they transported goods from the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border area to U.S. military camps in Al-Taji, located north of Baghdad. The militant group said in a statement that the "rule of God" was applied to the men, adding that their trucks and the goods they were transporting were destroyed. A group identifying itself as the Al-Mujahedin released a Turkish truck driver on 15 September after holding him hostage for more than one month. Aytullah Gezmen, who was kidnapped on 24 July, vowed to not work with U.S. forces again, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. KR

NEW REPORT ON IRAQ WEAPONS SAYS INTENT EXISTED
A new report on Iraq's proscribed weapons programs has said that no evidence exists to show that Iraq had begun any large-scale weapons programs prior to the U.S.-led invasion last year, nytimes.com reported on 17 September. The 1,500-page report supports the conclusions of a previous report by the U.S. Iraq Survey group issued 11 months ago. However, officials have said that the new report gives a more detailed picture of the intent of the Hussein regime to produce weapons if UN sanctions had been lifted. Officials said that documents signed by former senior regime leaders and the debriefings of former Iraqi scientists and top officials supported their conclusions. A final version of the report, written by Iraq Survey Group head Charles Duelfer, is expected to be made public in the next several weeks, the daily reported. KR

AUSTRALIA INVESTIGATING WHETHER BODY IS THAT OF NATIONAL
Australian officials have said that they are investigating whether the body of an apparent foreigner found dead in central Iraq could be one of two Australian nationals that were reportedly kidnapped recently, AFP reported on 17 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). The Australian government said on 14 September that all Australian nationals in Iraq have been accounted for, despite the militant group's hostage-taking claims and imposition of an ultimatum giving Australia 24 hours to pull its troops from Iraq to spare the hostages' lives. A Foreign Ministry spokesman later said that the government is still searching and inquiring about other Australians that might have entered Iraq without registering their names with the embassy, AFP reported on 15 September. The body was found floating in the Tigris River near Samarra, close to where militants claimed to have abducted two Australian nationals, was tall and had blond hair, AFP reported. The man's hands were handcuffed behind his back. He had been shot in the head. A doctor at Samarra's general hospital said that the man appeared to have been dead for three days. KR

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