LIBERALS ASK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO REVIEW PUTIN'S PROPOSED POLITICAL REFORMS
A group of leading civil-society activists and liberal politicians, including several State Duma deputies, have written to Constitutional Court Chairman Valerii Zorkin asking him to review the constitutionality of the political reforms proposed recently by President Vladimir Putin, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported on 29 September. The Kremlin submitted its draft bill on the changes to the Duma on 28 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). The letter charges that Putin's proposal to replace the direct election of regional governors with a system under which local legislators would approve candidates nominated by the president is unconstitutional. The bill "clearly breaches the Constitution of the Russian Federation, threatening a number of its articles and the very principles of a democratic, federative country governed by the rule of law," the letter states. The appeal was signed by Duma Deputies Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), Oleg Shein (Motherland), Mikhail Zadornov (independent), Oksana Dmitrieva (independent), and Svetlana Goryacheva (independent). A number of political analysts, journalists, and civil-society activists also signed the appeal. RC
PUTIN SEEKS TO MOBILIZE CLERICS TO COMBAT TERRORISM...
Addressing the presidential Council for Interaction with Religious Confessions, President Putin said on 29 September that the fight against terrorism is "a struggle for unity of Russia," ITAR-TASS and strana.ru reported. Putin imputed the recent terrorist attacks in Russia to attempts "to split society and incite one faith against another," adding that religious leaders must be united with the state in understanding that threat. He also urged religious organizations to participate in a campaign to preempt extremist and terrorist groups. "We should not forget that the battle with terrorism is, first of all, a fight for people's minds," Putin said. "It is intolerable to channel one's wrath against terrorists toward people of other faiths or confessions, especially in a multiconfessional country like Russia." The council unites 22 religious leaders from the Russian Orthodox, Old Belief, Islamic, Jewish, Catholic, and Buddhist faiths. VY
...AND ONE MUFTI PROPOSES CLOSE STATE OVERSIGHT OF RELIGIOUS GROUPS
Speaking at the same session of the Council for Interaction with Religious Confessions on 29 September, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai Mufti Ismail-hadji Berdiev proposed increasing state control over "numerous quasi-Islamic organizations and centers openly recruiting terrorists among Muslim youth," RTR and "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. "Everywhere in the Caucasus there is the same picture: Religious preachers from abroad are active, exploiting the negligence of local authorities," Berdiev said. "They are acting arrogantly, have large financial resources, and are gradually capturing the souls of the unfortunate." Berdiev proposed the restoration of a federal body to coordinate the activities of all religious organizations. Independent observers noted that a similar body, the State Committee for Religious Affairs, existed in the Soviet period and was controlled by the KGB. VY
PROSECUTORS REPORTEDLY ANGRY WITH POLICE CHIEF OVER KLEBNIKOV-CASE DISCLOSURE...
The Prosecutor-General's Office, which is in charge of investigating the slaying in June of Russian "Forbes" Editor in Chief Paul Klebnikov, believes Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin exceeded his authority and possibly compromised their efforts when he announced the arrests of two suspects in the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004), "Vedomosti" reported on 29 September. The paper quoted an unnamed source within the Prosecutor-General's Office in the report. The same source reportedly called Pronin's announcement "premature and made for his own publicity." VY
...AND SLAIN JOURNALIST'S FAMILY OFFERS CAUTIOUS REACTION
Paul Klebnikov's brother, Mikhail, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" in a telephone interview on 28 September that the family welcomes the work of investigators if the men arrested in Moscow were indeed involved in the killing. "But we in America consider a man innocent until his guilt is thoroughly proven," the paper quoted Mikhail Klebnikov as saying. "In our case, we would like to see the evidence." He added that the family wants to be sure that those who presumably ordered the killing are arrested, not merely those who carried it out. Prominent "Novaya gazeta" columnist Yulia Latynina meanwhile repeated recent speculation that former Chechen field commander Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev might have been involved in the killing, AP reported on 28 September, noting Klebnikov's book on Nukhaev. ''Klebnikov fell victim to a cultural divide,'' she commented. VY
KREMLIN WANTS YUKOS SUBSIDIARY SOLD FOR $15 BILLION
Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Ivan Materov told a Moscow news conference that if the state holds a tender for Yuganskneftegaz, embattled oil giant Yukos's main production subsidiary, it should seek no less than $15 billion, apn.ru reported. Yukos's shares in Yuganskneftegaz have been frozen by the state because of the company's $7.5 billion tax debt. "That would be a normal, natural completion of this matter," Materov said. Neither Gazprom nor Rosneft appears to have the available funds to buy Yukos, although both have been mentioned as potential buyers. Stanislav Belkovskii, the director of National Strategy Institute, suggested that the Central Bank might somehow involve itself in the transaction, presumably through the banks it controls. VY
CONOCOPHILLIPS PLANNING TO INCREASE LUKOIL STAKE...
U.S. oil giant ConocoPhillips, which on 29 September purchased a 7.59 percent stake in LUKoil, intends to up its stake in the company to 10 percent by the end of the year and to 20 percent in the longer term, ConocoPhillips President James Mulva said on 29 September, ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow on 29 September described ConocoPhillips's purchase of the LUKoil stake as a positive development in energy cooperation between the United States and Russia, the news agency reported. RC
...AS NEW PARTNERSHIP OPENS OPPORTUNITIES IN IRAQ
LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun was quoted by ITAR-TASS on 29 September as stating that LUKoil and ConocoPhillips will seek to undertake joint projects in Iraq. LUKoil had a contract with the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to develop the West Qurna oil field that has been in limbo since the run-up to the U.S.-led military action to remove Hussein. "Given the fact that a U.S. company will be participating in West Qurna, it does look like LUKoil's chances to recover the contract are getting better," United Financial Group oil-sector analyst Pavel Kushnir told "The Moscow Times" of 30 September. "We are planning to start active negotiations with the Iraqi government as soon as the elections are held in Iraq early next year," LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov said on 29 September, according to ITAR-TASS. RC
PREMIER BACKS AWAY FROM PLEDGE TO ENSURE EUROPE'S ENERGY SECURITY
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told journalists in The Hague on 29 September that Russia must pursue its own interests in relations with Europe rather than promise to ensure the continent's energy security, ITAR-TASS reported. Last year in the same city, then Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov commented that Russia is prepared to ensure Europe's energy security. "Europeans have been raising the issue of ensuring their energy security for a long time and with insistence," Fradkov said, "but our interests, including geostrategic ones, should be regarded as the cornerstone. Russia must push for long-term accords with Europe that would help it develop its national power grid, its power-generation capacity, and the industrial, agricultural, and transport sectors," Fradkov said. Fradkov met on 29 September with representatives of Royal Dutch/Shell to discuss that company's current and potential work in Russia, including development of "the Shtokman field, the Sakhalin field, and a number of other fields that are not being publicly discussed yet," Fradkov said, according to Interfax. RC
INVESTIGATORS TO USE DNA TESTING TO IDENTIFY ALLEGED WOULD-BE MOSCOW CAR BOMBER...
The body of a man who police say was arrested on 18 September and accused of attempting to position a car bomb in downtown Moscow and who later died after being interrogated and beaten for three hours will be subjected to DNA testing to establish its identity, newsru.com reported on 30 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 September 2004). Police believe the man is a retired submariner from near St. Petersburg named Aleksandr Pumane, but his body was so badly disfigured by the beating that he was subjected to by a reported 150 police officers that his ex-wife was unable to identify him. Two friends of Pumane's who were asked to identify the body have claimed that the body is not his. Pumane's ex-wife, Natalya Pumane, told the website on 29 September that authorities in Moscow have taken a DNA sample from Pumane's mother for use in the test. RC
...AS EVIDENCE OF TORTURE IN CASE MOUNTS
"Novye izvestiya" reported on 30 September that prosecutors investigating the case have uncovered evidence that Pumane was raped while in custody, including an apparently used condom. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that investigators have confiscated numerous items from the police station where Pumane was held. "Novye izvestiya" reported that five police officers, including the commander of the station, have been given monetary rewards for "saving Moscow from yet another terrorist act." "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 28 September cast doubt on earlier media reports that Pumane might have been a "nonstaff officer" of Interpol. Pumane's friend, Stanislav Kulyasov, reportedly told investigators that Pumane had shown him an identification card purporting to show him as an Interpol officer. "There is no such thing as a special ID for a nonstaff Interpol officer," Interpol Moscow bureau spokesman Anatolii Simanovskii told the daily. "We have exactly the same papers as all other police officers." According to the daily, Pumane traveled frequently to Moscow, Ukraine, and Belarus, but friends did not know what he was doing there. RC
UPPER CHAMBER VOTES TO INCREASE PRESIDENTIAL CONTROL OVER JUDICIAL BRANCH...
The Federation Council on 30 September approved a bill that would increase the president's control over the judicial branch, RBK and other Russian media reported. The amendment to the law on the judiciary would authorize the president to appoint and dismiss the head of the judicial department of the Supreme Court, based on the recommendation of the Supreme Court chairman. The government's representative to the Constitutional Court, Mikhail Barshavskii, told lenta.ru that that the change will "raise the status of the department head by making him a part of the executive branch." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told RBK that "no branch of power should be left completely uncontrolled," saying the move will help prevent the abuse of the judicial process. The bill will now be sent to the Duma for consideration. RC
...AND TO RESTORE LAND TO THE CHURCH
The Federation Council on 30 September approved a bill that would transfer all lands on which Russian Orthodox churches, religious structures, or Russian Orthodox Church charitable organizations are located to the free and permanent use of the Russian Orthodox Church, Interfax reported. Agricultural land now controlled by the church may also be transferred to church control under the new bill if local legislation allows it, the news agency reported. The State Duma adopted the bill on 24 September, newsru.com reported on 24 September. RC
MOSCOW TO SPEND NEARLY $50 MILLION ON SUBWAY SECURITY IN 2005
Moscow will spend 1.4 billion rubles ($46.7 million) next year to improve security in the capital's subway system, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 September. The money will come from the federal budget, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 14 September, and similar security precautions will be taken in other municipal subway systems. RC
WEBSITE DENIES CHECHEN PRESIDENT IS IN DANGER
Russian media reports that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is among a group of some 100 militants pinned down in forests at the juncture in southeastern Chechnya of the Nozhai-Yurt, Vedeno, and Kurchaloi districts are "lies," according to chechenpress.info, the website of Maskhadov's government, on 29 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). The website claimed that Maskhadov is at a safe location preparing for a council of his field commanders, and that the resistance fighters who engaged in fierce fighting in recent days with members of the Russian federal forces and the pro-Moscow Chechen security force commanded by First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov have escaped encirclement. Chechenpress.info gave the number of enemy casualties during the fighting as 25, adding that reports that military-intelligence (GRU) unit commander Selim Yamadaev was among those killed have not been confirmed. Kadyrov for his part told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that the Chechen resistance fighters are still surrounded and "there is no way for them to escape." LF
ARMENIAN PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES DIVIDED OVER CHANGES TO ELECTION LAW
The pro-presidential parliament majority debated on 29 September proposed changes to the election law but failed to reach a consensus on two key points, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The largest parliamentary faction, that of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), opposes drastic changes, while the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun wants to abolish the majority system so that all 131 mandates are allocated under the proportional system, and Orinats Yerkir, the third member of the three-party coalition, advocates a reduction in the 56 single-mandate constituencies. The People's Deputy faction opposes increasing the number of party list seats. Similarly contentious is the number of members of the Central Election Commission and district election commissions appointed by the president, which the HHK wants to reduce from three to one. LF
ARMENIA HOPES FOR 'GUEST STATUS' IN LEAGUE OF ARAB STATES
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met in New York on 28 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session with Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 September. Moussa reportedly welcomed the Armenian government's aspiration to "special status" in the grouping of 22 Arab states, and a "memorandum of understanding" on the issue will be signed soon in either Cairo or Yerevan, according to an Armenian Foreign Ministry statement. LF
AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA
Visiting Tbilisi on 28-29 September, Elmar Mammadyarov met with his Georgian counterpart Salome Zourabichvili, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and President Mikheil Saakashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Issues discussed included bilateral relations and transport and economic issues, including the ongoing construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. Caucasus Press on 28 September quoted Mammadyarov as saying he "hopes" that that project will be completed on schedule next year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 September 2004). He said there are no problems bedeviling bilateral relations. Mammadyarov said on 28 September that Baku would welcome efforts by Georgia to facilitate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, according to ITAR-TASS. On 29 September, he stressed that Georgia and Azerbaijan each respect the other's territorial integrity. LF
RUSSIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL CALLS ON GEORGIA TO IMPLEMENT SOCHI ACCORDS
Speaking in Moscow on 29 September before a meeting with his Georgian counterpart Gela Bezhuashvili, Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov urged Tbilisi to implement the agreement reached in Sochi in March 2003 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov explained that doing so would expedite the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons and would restore railway communication between Moscow and Tbilisi via Abkhazia. Ivanov said that Moscow hopes for a "balanced and serious dialogue" with Tbilisi on all aspects of bilateral relations, but at the same time he stressed that such a dialogue should be based on mutual trust. In that context, he condemned the broadcast by a Georgian television channel shortly after the destruction last month of two Russian passenger aircraft, apparently by terrorist suicide bombings, of footage in which Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov expressed appreciation of the Georgian authorities' "understanding" and readiness to help the Chechen cause, Interfax reported. LF
SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER REAFFIRMS DESIRE FOR UNION WITH RUSSIA
Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said in Tskhinvali on 29 September that he hopes his republic will eventually merge with North Ossetia within the framework of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported. Kokoity said that his planned meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania is contingent on Tbilisi meeting its commitments, including on the withdrawal of unauthorized armed detachments from the conflict zone. The Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring developments in the conflict zone is scheduled to meet in Moscow on 30 September-1 October. LF
ANTIMONOPOLY, CULTURE APPOINTMENTS IN KAZAKHSTAN
Bakytzhanov Sagintaev has been appointed chairman of Kazakhstan's recently reformed Agency for Regulating Natural Monopolies, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 September. A mid-September restructuring transferred the task of protecting competition from the Agency to the Industry and Trade Ministry. Sagintaev has been the agency's acting chairman since 8 July. Additionally, Esetzhan Kosubaev was appointed minister of culture, information, and sports, Kazinform reported. The ministry is another product of the restructuring; it will replace the ministries of Culture and Information and the Agency for Tourism and Sports. Before the appointment, Kosubaev headed the public relations department within the presidential administration. DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER 'PROUD' OF PARTY'S SHOWING
Darigha Nazarbaeva, head of the pro-presidential Asar party and the daughter of Nursultan Nazarbaev, told a news conference in Almaty on 29 September that she is satisfied with her party's showing in the 19 September parliamentary elections, Khabar TV reported. She said, "The main thing is that we strengthened the president's position. We accomplished our big strategic task. We can all be proud of the fact that we contributed our share to the development of our country and the stability of society." Preliminary election results put Asar in third place with three seats in the 77-member lower chamber of parliament, although 22 second-round races are scheduled for 3 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004). DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS UN HEAD IN NEW YORK
Askar Akaev met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 28 September, akipress.org reported the next day. The two leaders expressed their satisfaction at cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and the world body. President Akaev addressed the UN General Assembly on 28 September, calling for a united front against international terrorism. He cited Kyrgyzstan's decision to allow the establishment of Russian and U.S. military bases on his country's territory as an example of anti-terror cooperation. Akaev also urged the General Assembly to pass a resolution on debt relief for underdeveloped mountainous countries. Representatives of the opposition party Ar-Namys demonstrated at the UN building in New York during President Akaev's address, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They said the protest was directed at the closure of media outlets and the harassment of opposition politicians under Akaev. DK
RUSSIAN-TAJIK BORDER TALKS FOCUS ON TRANSFER
Russian and Tajik border officials met in Dushanbe on 29 September to discuss the details of transferring control of the Tajik-Afghan border, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov, deputy director of Russia's Federal Border Service, led the Russian delegation and met with Lieutenant General Abdurahmon Azimov, commander of Tajikistan's border troops. The negotiations are expected to focus on the logistics of the stage-by-stage handover of the border from Russian to Tajik control. DK
FORMER TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTER MAINTAINS INNOCENCE
Saidkomil Qurbonov, the defense lawyer for former Tajik Interior Minister Yaqub Salimov, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 29 September that his client considers himself innocent of the charges he faces. Salimov faces up to 15 years' imprisonment on treason and corruption charges. Qurbonov said, "We, the defense, feel that the accusations are unfounded and unproven." Qurbonov added that the state does not have eyewitnesses to support its allegations. He concluded, "Investigators were unable to produce either direct eyewitnesses or evidence to support my client's guilt on any of the charges. We are hoping for an acquittal, since I am completely confident that Salimov is innocent of all the charges he faces." DK
UZBEK SECURITY FORCES BURN CONFISCATED DRUGS
Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB) on 28 September publicly burned 566 kilograms of drugs seized in narcotics interdiction operations, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Confiscated heroin made up the bulk of the cache, at 381 kilograms. SNB spokesman Shuhrat Azimov told RFE/RL that the root of the problem is a bumper crop of poppies in Afghanistan. Criminal groups ship the drugs to Russia and Europe through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, he said. One drug bust in February in Uzbekistan's Surkhandary Province netted 79 kilograms of heroin. The transit traffic also leads to domestic drug abuse; an RFE/RL report noted that 19,940 drug addicts were registered in Uzbekistan as of 1 July. DK
BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONISTS PROTEST RESTRICTIVE DRAFT BILL
More than 100 trade-union activists gathered in a Minsk park on 29 September to protest a proposed bill that would require workers to sign fixed-term contracts and impose tough membership requirements on trade unions, Belapan reported. Alyaksandr Yarashuk, leader of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, which staged the demonstration, told the agency that the bill, if passed, would effectively outlaw independent trade unions and help the government create a submissive trade-union hierarchy. In particular, Yarashuk added, the proposal of the Justice Ministry to raise the minimum membership for a national union to 7,000 violates the International Labor Organization's Convention 87, to which Belarus is a party and which specifies 20 as the minimum number of members for a sectoral union. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS RIVAL TO APOLOGIZE FOR POISONING ALLEGATIONS
The presidential election staff of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has issued a statement saying that opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko misled Ukrainians by alleging that he was deliberately poisoned, Interfax reported on 29 September. Yanukovych's staff demanded a public apology from Yushchenko. "Speculations about Viktor Yushchenko's health by his entourage have provoked ambiguous attitudes toward Ukrainian politics and our state," Yanukovych's staff said. "He has to honestly admit that before the Ukrainian people." The statement came after the Rudolfinerhaus hospital in Vienna, where Yushchenko was treated for a mysterious illness earlier this month, stated on 28 September that Austrian doctors have not confirmed Yushchenko's poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Rudolfinerhaus head Michael Zimpfer reiterated this stance at a news conference on 29 September. Speaking with the BBC's Ukrainian Service earlier the same day, Rudolfinerhaus doctor Lothar Wicke said that tests on Yushchenko gave no grounds for saying that he was poisoned. But Wicke added that he could not refute such a possibility either. Meanwhile, Yushchenko on 30 September flew to Vienna, where he is expected to spend "several days" at Rudolfinerhaus and undergo more medical tests, Interfax reported. JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER PROMISES 'SENSATIONAL' INFORMATION ABOUT MELNYCHENKO TAPES
Yevhen Marchuk, who was unexpectedly fired from the post of defense minister by President Leonid Kuchma last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004), said on Channel 5 television on 29 September that "sensational data" will be made public "soon" regarding the secret recordings made by presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in Kuchma's office in 2000, Interfax reported. "There will be a sensational variant to keep up some versions [of the Melnychenko case] of a provocative character, which will overshadow all other events," Marchuk said. JM
YUSHCHENKO STILL AHEAD OF YANUKOVYCH IN PRESIDENTIAL POLL
A poll by the Democratic Initiatives fund, the Social Monitoring center and SOCIS from the end of August to late September among 2,000 Ukrainians found that Viktor Yushchenko would be supported by 34.4 percent of voters in the first round and 43.5 percent in the runoff, while his main rival, Prime Minister Yanukovych, would be backed by 27.7 percent and 35.9 percent of voters, respectively, Interfax reported on 30 September. JM
DETAILS PUBLISHED OF UN RECOMMENDATIONS FOR KOSOVA
Details of a confidential report on Kosova by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide were published by the "Financial Times" on 29 September. Eide's report, which was presented to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in late July, "recommends 'aiming to terminate' the [UN] mission [to Kosova] if, as predicted, negotiations on Kosovo's future status start next year," the "Financial Times" wrote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August and 13, 21, and 27 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 July and 17 September 2004). The newspaper said Eide also recommended that the UN initiate "serious exploratory discussions" this fall aimed at determining the province's future status. "The report predicts that growing tensions in Kosovo between the ethnic Albanian majority and the UN will 'force' the international community 'at least in mid-2005 if not earlier' to schedule full-scale status negotiations, involving political leaders from Belgrade and Kosovo," the "Financial Times" reported. In light of the looming tensions, Eide opposes the planned reduction of NATO troops in Kosova. The report also says that once the UN has withdrawn, Kosova will be ruled from Prishtina, with the EU assuming some form of international lead role. UB
BELGRADE AUTHORITIES ISSUE ARREST WARRANTS FOR WAR CRIME INDICTEES...
Serbian judicial authorities issued arrest warrants for four former Serbian army and police generals -- Sreten Lukic, Vlastimir Djordjevic, Vladimir Lazarevic, and Nebojsa Pavkovic -- on 29 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The generals failed to show up for a court hearing scheduled for 28 September. The generals have been indicted for war crimes committed in Kosova in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). UB
...AS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S CABINET CALLS EMERGENCY MEETING ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
The Council of Ministers of Serbia and Montenegro convened on 29 September for an emergency meeting to discuss the state union's cooperation with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The emergency meeting was called after a stern warning from U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper, who urged Serbia on 28 September to meet its obligation to cooperate with the tribunal as of "yesterday" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Prosper and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman arrived in Belgrade on 29 September for talks with Serbia's political leaders. UB
HEAD OF WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL URGES CROATIA TO COOPERATE
Theodor Meron, who heads the war crimes tribunal, told Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul and Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt during a meeting in The Hague on 29 September to "double" Croatia's efforts to arrest indicted former General Ante Gotovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September 2004). The Croatian ministers assured Meron that all necessary measures have been taken to resolve the issue. The Croatian authorities' failure to locate Gotovina and hand him over to the tribunal is probably the largest single stumbling block on Croatia's path to EU membership. UB
SLOVENIA PRESENTS PLAN TO EASE TENSIONS WITH CROATIA
Following a warning from EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana to Slovenia to resolve its differences with Croatia, the Slovenian government presented other EU members with a plan it said will prevent further incidents between the two countries, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Slovenian Foreign Minister Ivo Vajgl, who presented the plan, did not elaborate on its content. UB
OSCE TO MONITOR REFERENDUM IN MACEDONIA
A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Skopje announced on 29 September that the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights will monitor the 7 November referendum on government redistricting, A1 TV reported. The monitoring mission will be comprised of 20 long-term observers and about 200 short-term observers and will begin operating one month before the vote. In related news, a spokeswoman for the EU in Skopje restated the EU's position that the referendum will slow down Macedonia's EU integration efforts, while at the same time denying charges that such statements interfere in the country's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3, 11, and 17 September 2004). UB
EU CONCERNED ABOUT ROMANIAN PRESS FREEDOM
The European Union is alarmed over reports in the Romanian and international media of attempts to muzzle the Romanian press, Reuters reported on 29 September. The agency said a crucial EU report due on 6 October is certain to address the issue and quoted an EU official as saying the reports are a "source of concern" for the EU. It also cited EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele as saying press freedom in Romania will be an important factor in determining whether Romania has met the necessary political criteria to join the EU in 2007 as planned. Earlier this month, journalists from the opposition daily "Romania libera" protested alleged attempts by the daily's German owner, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, to "tell us what to write in the newspaper, how to write it, and whom not to criticize," RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported. On 28 September, Cornel Nistorescu, editor in chief of the daily "Evenimentul zilei," announced he was leaving the daily and according to media reports the announcement was prompted by pressure from the daily's Swiss owners, the Ringier publishing group, to ease criticism of the government. MS
UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER TRANSDNIESTER'S CLAIM TO HAVE REGISTERED BANNED SCHOOLS
The Education Ministry of the unrecognized Transdniester republic said in a statement released on 29 September that two schools in Tiraspol and Ribnita that had been closed down have been registered for one year, Flux and Infotag reported. According to the breakaway region's official Olivia Press, the ministry said the registration brings to an end the problem of the schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script, which "has been artificially inflated by Chisinau." OSCE spokesman Claus Neukirch said the OSCE mission in Moldova received on 29 September the registration documents, adding that they do not mention whether new buildings have been found for the two schools, Flux reported. The building of the Lucian Blaga Lyceum in Tiraspol was heavily damaged by Transdniestrian militiamen when they stormed it in July. The lyceum in Ribnita has been reconstructed with funds from Chisinau. Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova said that registration of the schools for one year under conditions imposing on them Tiraspol's curriculum is unacceptable, Flux reported. MS
RUSSIA CALLS FOR RESUMING FIVE-SIDED NEGOTIATIONS IN TRANSDNIESTER CRISIS
In a statement on 28 September, the Russian Foreign Ministry called for the resumption of the five-sided negotiations on resolving the Transdniester crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. In an apparent reference to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's recent interview with RFE/RL in which he called for replacing Russian peacekeepers in Transdniester with international forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2004), the statement said that Russia has displayed "impartiality" and recalled that an agreement was close to being reached last November, but was thwarted "at the last moment, through none of our fault." The statement said that "Chisinau is no less responsible" for the continued deterioration of the situation than is Tiraspol and that both sides "lack the political will to reach a compromise." Addressing the UN General Assembly on 29 September, Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan repeated the demand that international peacekeepers replace Russian forces and emphasized that "Russian interference" in the region dates back to 1992, an RFE/RL correspondent in New York reported. MS
MOLDOVAN OSCE MISSION HEAD SAYS RESUMPTION OF NEGOTIATIONS IS DIFFICULT
In an interview with RFE/RL on 28 September, William Hill, head of the OSCE mission in Moldova, said the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol is a difficult task, because four countries -- Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania --have stakes in the way the conflict is resolved. Hill also said that both the United States and the EU are displaying great interest in resolving the conflict and that he expects them to become more active in the resolution process. Hill added that he is unable to say whether the EU and the United States will become formal mediators but thus far no such intent has been expressed by them. MS
MOLDOVAN PREMIER REJECTS UKRAINIAN COMPENSATION DEMANDS
In an interview with RFE/RL on 29 September, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev rejected the recent Ukrainian demand for compensation for damage allegedly caused to Ukrainian enterprises by the Moldovan restrictions on trade imposed at crossing points between Ukraine and Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Tarlev said Moldova was compelled to impose the restrictions because "Ukraine refused to toughen control on its border with Transdniester" and, as a result, "that border became a zone of smuggling, including the smuggling of weapons." Tarlev deplored the fact that "some guarantor countries, which should be pursuing the goal of conflict resolution, pursue their own interests in parallel." MS
UKRAINIAN PREMIER SURVIVES EGG ATTACK
A series of alarming reports in Ukrainian media on 24 September focused the country's attention squarely on presidential candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych and Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko are widely expected to take the first two slots in the 31 October election and qualify for the runoff three weeks later.
According to press reports, Yanukovych was in the town of Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine for a campaign meeting on 24 September when he was injured by unspecified objects described as "weighty" and "hard." His bodyguards took him to the intensive-care unit of a local hospital. Yanukovych's spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, pointed an accusing finger at the potential culprits: a crowd of Our Ukraine supporters, primarily young people, she said, were behaving "aggressively" when Yanukovych arrived in Ivano-Frankivsk.
Several hours later, Yanukovych -- sullen but otherwise apparently unscathed -- read a televised statement from the hospital, in which he explicitly accused Yushchenko's supporters of attacking him. "I am sorry for those young men who did this to me," Yanukovych said. "But I have no questions for them. At the same time, I have a question for [their] leaders, for Yushchenko's entourage, who pushed the young men to do this.... Is it your policy? Is it human?"
Who did what to Yanukovych in Ivano-Frankivsk on 24 September remained unclear all that day. Immediately after the incident, a spokeswoman from the Interior Ministry said Yanukovych had been hit by nothing deadlier than a raw egg, which she said was thrown by the 17-year-old son of a local university dean. Later, however, the Interior Ministry backed down from this pronouncement and issued a statement saying that the premier had been hit by "several hard objects."
There has been no other official version of the incident, and Interior Ministry investigators were unable to locate any "hard" or "weighty" or "sharp-edged" objects at the scene of the incident, but several Yanukovych associates have offered their own account of what happened.
Lawmaker Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the pro-government parliamentary coalition, said Yanukovych was hit on the temple by an egg and collapsed from "pain shock." Lawmaker Taras Chornovil, a Yanukovych supporter, said he watched from the upper deck of Yanukovych's bus as the prime minister was hit on the temple by a stone. Serhiy Tihipko, head of Yanukovych's election campaign, said the prime minister was hit by a battery from a video camera.
Late in the evening of 24 September, the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5 TV station aired a video of the attack. The tape shows an egg smashing against Yushchenko's chest shortly after he steps out of his bus. After he's hit by the egg, the video shows Yanukovych grimacing, as if from a sudden pang of pain, then collapsing, then being swiftly carried from the scene by his bodyguards. On TV, the sequence of events looked more farcical than dangerous.
Channel 5's egg-attack video spawned a great deal of speculation in Ukraine. Most commentators said Yanukovych's reaction to the attack was exaggerated. Some maintained that he overreacted to get publicity, as a way to divert the public's attention from the much-publicized alleged poisoning of his main rival, Viktor Yushchenko. Some have even suggested that Yanukovych was expecting a much more serious attack -- that the whole incident was a planned publicity ploy dreamt up by spin doctors -- and reacted accordingly, even though the hurled object turned out to be only an egg, which spoiled the show.
Yushchenko campaign manager Oleksandr Zinchenko said the attack was a preplanned campaign stunt. "Feeling sympathy with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who actually endured some unpleasant moments, we, however, consider that the Ivano-Frankivsk incident was a purposeful provocation against Viktor Yushchenko, which developed under a scheme tested long ago," Zinchenko said. "This scheme implies that Yushchenko is traditionally held accountable for the actions that are staged spontaneously, or following an order from his opponents, by some citizens who have no relations whatsoever to Yushchenko."
Regardless of what Ukrainian investigators may eventually discover about the egg attack, it seems unlikely that the incident will result in additional votes for Yanukovych in the 31 October elections. The sight of the prime minister's 100-kilogram body collapsing under the impact of a raw egg is definitely not tear-jerker material, or even sympathy inspiring, particularly given Yanukovych's portrayal by the government-controlled media as a man of "iron character." Yanukovych spokeswoman Herman recently told journalists that she is planning to write a book about Yanukovych titled "The Iron Master."
Indeed, the Ukrainian public reacted to Yanukovych's misfortune in Ivano-Frankivsk with a plethora of jokes, several dozen of which are circulating on the Internet. We will repeat two here, to show that Ukrainians don't seem to believe the official version of the attack, and to underscore the fact that the country's presidential campaign, which has been marred by innumerable examples of biased media coverage and serious violations of election law, has a comic side, as well.
The first joke belongs to the so-called Radio Yerevan family of jokes, which were extremely popular in the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era. Radio Yerevan was famous for providing sometimes silly, sometimes clever, but always funny, answers to listener questions. "Can an egg be sharp-edged?" Ukrainian Radio inquires of Radio Yerevan in the wake of the Yanukovych incident. "If it's a hedgehog's egg, it can," is Radio Yerevan's answer.
The other joke is this: Yanukovych shows up at a meeting with voters, looks around the gathered group, and asks, "Why are there only women here?" Someone offers this answer: "Because your chief bodyguard said no one with eggs could come in." In common usage, the Ukrainian word for eggs, yaytsya, also refers to testicles.
U.S., UN OFFICIALS EXPECT AFGHAN ELECTIONS TO GO FORWARD, BUT WARN OF VIOLENCE
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee that the Afghan presidential election on 9 October will be a success, although he expects militants will try to disrupt the process, "The New York Times" reported on 29 September. Armitage said resurgent Taliban forces might try to derail the election process "by attempting a large-scale attack on election day itself." Speaking before UN Security Council on 28 September, UN Undersecretary-General for peacekeeping operations Jean-Marie Guehenno said that he expects the Afghan elections to take place "in the atmosphere of safety" despite the fact that multiple "incidents across the country on or around elections day cannot be excluded," AP reported. While much international concern appears focused on the security aspect of the elections, human rights groups and Afghans in general are reportedly concerned about the fairness of the process due to issues other than simply security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). AT
NATO GENERAL ASSURES AFGHAN LEADER OF ELECTION SECURITY
NATO Joint Forces Commander General Gerhard Back told Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul on 29 September that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is fully prepared to ensure security during the forthcoming presidential election, Radio Afghanistan reported. Back also indicated that ISAF and Afghan military and police forces are preparing to improve security for the parliamentary elections due to take place in Afghanistan in April 2005. At a June Summit in Istanbul, NATO leaders agreed to support those two election processes (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June and 1 July 2004). AT
GERMAN AND SWISS SOLDIERS INJURED IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Two German soldiers and a Swiss colleague attached to the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Konduz Province were injured on 29 September when their camp came under attack, ddp reported. According to an unidentified German Defense Ministry spokesman, the soldiers were injured when a grenade hit the PRT camp. The PRT camp houses approximately 270 troops and 30 civilians and is one of five PRTs under NATO command. Germany, with around 1,500 troops, is the largest contributor to the 8,000-strong ISAF. AT
CLASH REPORTED BETWEEN KARZAI AND QANUNI SUPPORTERS IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN...
A number of supporters of presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni marching in protest on 28 September in Herat city reportedly clashed with supporters of Chairman Karzai, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported on 29 September. Qanuni is widely considered to be among the strongest of Karzai's 17 rivals for the presidency. The argument between the two camps apparently resulted in the removal of Qanuni posters by Karzai supporters. However, in a sign of reconciliation after the fracas, Karzai supporter Khalil Ahmad Taymori said instructions to his team are "not to stick Hamid Karzai posters over the posters of other candidates," according to the radio report. AT
...BUT POLICE DENY THE INCIDENT EVER TOOK PLACE
Mohammad Amin Hokumat, a security officer in Herat, denied the report of clashes between supporters of Karzai and Qanuni, Sada-ye Jawan reported. "Such incidents [clashes] did not take place in Herat," Hokumat said, adding that the security forces "were ready to tackle any kind of incidents in the city." Hokumat advised citizens in Herat to be calm and patient and "vote for the person they like most." "It's not good to insult one another and tear down posters of the candidates," Hokumat added. AT
RUSSIA DOESN'T WANT IRAN REFERRED TO SECURITY COUNCIL...
Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said on 29 September that his country disapproves of Western states referring Iran to the UN Security Council for alleged breaches of nuclear nonproliferation rules, international media reported the same day. He said such a referral will not "do us any favors," Reuters reported, citing an Interfax interview. Ivanov, a former Russian foreign minister, said the matter should be handled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN agency that has asked Iran to freeze all activities relating to uranium enrichment, one of the necessary steps in bomb making. Reuters cited unnamed diplomats in Vienna as saying on 29 September that Ivanov's comments do not mean that Russia plans to block a referral to the Security Council, which could punish Iran with economic sanctions. The United States and Israel have accused Iran of pursuing a secret weapons program. Iran says it is merely hoping to generate electricity, but insists it has a right to make nuclear fuel for future power stations. Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant in Bushehr on the Persian Gulf coast. VS
...AS ISRAEL AND U.S. TALK TOUGH...
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in Washington on 28 September that his country favors referring Iran to the Security Council to "increase the pressure on Iran to give up" what might be a nuclear-weapons program, AFP reported the same day. "It raises the stakes for Iran. In the Security Council their options narrow," Bolton said. Separately, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that Israel will consider "all options" to prevent Iran, its declared enemy, from acquiring nuclear bombs, AP reported on 29 September, citing an interview with "Yediot Ahronot" published the same day. Israel has already threatened to strike Iranian nuclear installations, for which Iranian officials have threatened to retaliate. Mofaz said a regime change in Tehran might remove the "threat" of the Islamic republic armed with nuclear bombs, but that Israel must be ready to prevent that eventuality if there is no change. The question, he said, is "what comes first: nuclear ability or regime change," AP reported. VS
...AND IRAN CONSIDERS LEAVING NONPROLIFERATION TREATY
Hassan Kamran, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on 28 September that he has drafted a bill for urgent consideration that could lead to the government's departure from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Radio Farda and IRNA reported on 29 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004). If ratified, the bill -- which is not yet on parliament's debate agenda but is gathering legislators' signatures in favor -- would oblige the government to leave the NPT if the IAEA rejects a deadline for ending its special scrutiny of Iranian nuclear activities, Radio Farda quoted Kamran as saying. The bill would also bar Iran from implementing "voluntary commitments" over its nuclear program, the lawmaker added. Separately, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Yahya Rahim Safavi, told "Al-Hayat" that if "our nuclear dossier [goes] to the...Security Council, we shall leave the [IAEA]," Radio Farda reported on 29 September. The United States, he warned, "will intensify its political pressures on Iran in the next two months, but we are ready for any action, including military action," Radio Farda reported. VS
IRANIAN POLICE CLASH WITH PURPORTED SECT MEMBERS
A policeman and three members of an apparent religious sect died in a shootout on 29 September in Seh-Tapeh, a village near Miyandoab in West Azerbaijan Province, in northwest Iran, Radio Farda and news agencies reported that same day. The shootout, which also injured 12 policemen, was the latest of several clashes that began "last week," Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Hamid Shokri, the Miyandoab district governor, told ISNA on 29 September that the group has "particular religious beliefs" and is led by Seyyed Nizam Mashmashi. Mashmashi has written twice to the governor to say that his followers were not involved in the violence, Radio Farda reported. It also said police have arrested six people and confiscated weapons. VS
JOURNALIST ARRESTED, STUDENTS JAILED IN IRAN
Security agents arrested journalist Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi in Tehran on 28 September and took him to an unknown location, possibly a police station in central Tehran, Radio Farda reported on 29 September. Ruydad, the website of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, reported that Mir-Ebrahimi was arrested for working on websites and talking to foreign radio stations, Radio Farda added. But Mir-Ebrahimi's wife, Sulmaz Sharif, told ILNA on 28 September that her husband was not formally charged, and that "the agents" entered the house carrying a piece of paper "without a heading or even the defendant's name," Radio Farda reported. Separately, the Islamic Iran Participation Front has written to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, asking him to investigate the recent arrests of web journalists "about whose fate, charges, and place of detention there is no information," farsnews.com reported on 29 September. Also, the Office for Fostering Unity, a student group, accused the judiciary in Tehran on 29 September of turning universities into "a prison," after two former students from Kermanshah, in western Iran, were sentenced to three years in prison for "acting against the state and insulting officials," Radio Farda reported. VS
U.S.: SYRIA WILL COOPERATE ON IRAQ BORDER SECURITY
U.S. State Department officials said that Damascus will take steps to stem the flow of insurgents from Syria to Iraq, international media reported on 29 September. The announcement follows two days of discussions, which were described by State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher as "constructive and positive." The Syrian position toward the nascent Iraqi government and the government's cooperation on the war on terror were also discussed. Following the meetings, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell underlined the need for real measures to be taken. "I think it is a positive step, but what really matters is action and not just an agreement," he said. Syrian officials did not comment on the talks. EA
IRAQ TO RECEIVE FIRST IMF LOAN
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a $436.7 million loan for Iraq, AP reported on 29 September. The funds were allotted by the IMF under its ''emergency post-conflict assistance" program which is designed to aid countries following war. U.S. officials hope the aid foreshadows forgiveness by the World Bank for the approximately $120 billion debt owed by Iraq. The aim of the loan is to stabilize the economy and lay the groundwork for future reforms such as the restructuring of state-owned enterprises and improving the transparency of the oil sector. IMF Deputy Managing Director Takatoshi Kato called the assistance ''a crucial step toward putting Iraq back on the path to economic stability and strong, sustainable growth." Another official emphasized the detrimental effects of the insurgency. "The first step in Iraq is to deal with the security situation," Raghuram Rajan, the IMF's chief economist, said at a news conference announcing the loans. EA
POLITICIAN SAYS ITALY PAID RANSOM FOR HOSTAGES
The head of the Italian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said his government paid $1 million or more for the release of two abducted aid workers, BBC reported on 29 September. Contradicting denials by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini that no ransom was paid, National Alliance member Gustavo Selva defended the government's acquiescence. "In principle, we shouldn't give in to blackmail but this time we had to," he explained. Simona Pari and Simona Torretta were released on 28 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Ali Roz, editor of the Kuwaiti paper "Al-Rai al-Aam," said the captors initially demanded $5 million but accepted $1 million, Reuters reported on 29 September. The two women said they wish to resume their work in Iraq, Reuters reported on 30 September. "I hope to return to Iraq soon. It's a country that I really love," Pari said. Torretta commented that she would "do it all over again, with all of the consequences." EA
MOSUL CAR BOMB WOUNDS SIX U.S. SOLDIERS
A car bomb exploded in the northern city of Mosul on 28 September, wounding six U.S. soldiers in a passing convoy, international media reported, citing U.S. military sources. Witnesses reported that one vehicle was destroyed in the blast, and U.S. troops subsequently cordoned off the area, which was near the University of Mosul. Five soldiers returned to duty while one was still hospitalized, Al-Jazeera reported on 29 September. Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it launched an air strike on 28 September against what it called a "rocket team" in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City, a sprawling Shi'a slum near the outskirts of the city, the BBC reported on 29 September. EA