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Newsline - October 4, 2004


FINANCE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA PREPARED TO WRITE OFF HALF OF IRAQ'S DEBT...
Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund's annual meeting in Washington on 2 October that Moscow is inclined to view positively a German and French initiative aimed at writing off half of Iraq's debt to the Paris Club of creditors, NTV reported. Iraq owes the Paris Club some $120 billion, including roughly $8 billion to Russia. The United States has pressed for international creditors to forgive Iraqi debts accrued during the reign of Saddam Hussein. VY

...AND SELL YUKOS ASSETS 'FAIRLY'
Finance Minister Kudrin told foreign investors in Washington on 3 October that the assets of embattled oil giant Yukos will be sold "on a commercial and competitive basis," NTV reported. He added that "it is not the state but the majority investors" who are interested in seeing the company bankrupt. He vowed that any sale will be transparent and will produce answers to many lingering questions, NTV reported. VY

FSB DETAINS BRITISH NATIONAL OVER SUSPECTED TIES TO TERRORISM
Mayor General Ilya Shabalkin, a spokesman for federal troops in Chechnya, revealed that the Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested a British national of Arabic descent who the FSB suspects was a "key aide to Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev and a member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre," "The Observer" and other Western and Russian media reported on 3 October. Algerian-born Kamil Rabat Bouralha, 46, was reportedly detained as he was trying to cross the Russian-Azerbaijani border, "The Observer" reported. Bouralha is believed to have arrived in Chechnya in 2001 from London, where he reportedly attended the Finsbury Park Mosque, which authorities believe has been used in the past by Islamic extremists for recruitment. VY

POLICE ANTITERRORISM OFFICER SUSPECTED IN PUMANE CASE...
Moscow prosecutors will soon issue an arrest warrant for police Major Vyacheslav Dushenko, the head of the antiterrorism department of Moscow police precinct No. 5, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 2 October. Dushenko is wanted in connection with the 18 September beating to death while in police custody of a man preliminarily identified as Aleksandr Pumane (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 23, and 30 September 2004). Pumane was arrested on suspicion of driving a car laden with explosives to a downtown Moscow location. Investigators told "Izvestiya" on 2 October that they have been unable to question Dushenko in connection with the investigation but that other witnesses have testified that he ordered Pumane taken down to the police station's basement, reportedly saying, "Now he'll talk to me." The daily also reported that on the evening of 30 September, Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin dismissed 10 senior police officials, including Anton Gusev, the head of the organized-crime department of the 5th precinct, and Andrei Semigin, the commander of the 83rd police station, where Pumane was beaten. RC

...AS MOSCOW POLICE CHIEF CALL'S PUMANE'S DEATH 'A MISTAKE'
Police chief Pronin told reporters in Kyiv on 1 October that Pumane's death was "a mistake" and that the guilty have been identified and punished, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 October. He later denied making the statement after Moscow prosecutors said the beating to death of Pumane was clearly "a crime." "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 2 October published a list of unanswered questions about the Pumane case, including why police released Pumane's full name before notifying his relatives or attempting to arrest his co-conspirators, why Pumane was not interrogated by investigators but by as many as 150 police officers and security agents, and why he was interrogated in a basement rather than an office. Pronin also denied on 1 October that he had released information earlier in the week that two Chechen citizens had been arrested in connection with the June slaying of Russian "Forbes" Editor in Chief Paul Klebnikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 2004). RC

CIVIC GROUP ANNOUNCES 'ANTITERROR' PLAN THAT INCLUDES MONITORING MIGRANTS
Actor Aristarkh Livanov announced the establishment of the national NGO Antiterror under his leadership and with the stated goal of helping to combat terrorism, strana.ru reported on 1 October. Livanov said the group expects to open a network of offices throughout the country to which citizens can report suspicious activities. The group's leadership vowed to monitor individuals "migrating to Russian cities from other regions" and to trail people who "maintain an amoral way of life," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 October. Aslambek Aslakhanov, the presidential aide for the North Caucasus, called the new organization a "magnificent idea," the newspaper reported. VY

SUSPECTED UNDERGROUND ISLAMISTS ROUNDED UP IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD
The FSB directorate in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast arrested 11 alleged members of a local underground cell of the Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party organization (see "RFE/RFE Newsline," 2 April, 24 June, 2 July, and 17 August 2004), ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The FSB reportedly confiscated at least one weapon and literature calling "for the overthrow of non-Islamic governments and the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate." Those arrested include foreign nationals, the report said, one of whom is an Uzbek citizen. The Supreme Court in February labeled Hizb ut-Tahrir a "terrorist organization" and banned its activities in Russia. VY

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CONCLUDES VISIT TO CHINA
Armenian President Robert Kocharian ended a five-day state visit to China on 1 October, according to ITAR-TASS and Armenian National Radio as cited by Groong. Kocharian met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and senior leaders in Beijing before traveling to Shanghai. The officials signed three new agreements on bilateral cooperation, including a protocol establishing technical and economic cooperation. In comments during his first visit to China, Kocharian affirmed the importance of Armenian-Chinese relations and stressed the example of the joint production of synthetic rubber in China with the equipment and technologies of the Yerevan-based Nairit chemical plant. Bilateral trade has expanded significantly in recent years, and overall trade reached $4.75 million for the first half of 2004, an increase of 89 percent compared with the same period of 2003. RG

PRO-GOVERNMENT ARMENIAN COALITION PARTNER VOICES CONCERN OVER PACE OF REFORM
The leadership of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a junior partner of the three-party, governing coalition, voiced displeasure with the pace of the government's reforms on 1 October, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Yerkir reported. In a Yerevan press conference, ARF deputies Armen Rustamian and Levon Mkrtchian called for an acceleration of reforms and argued that "the country is shifting to plutocracy rather than democracy." The ARF leaders defended their decision to enter the governing coalition, however, adding that the party wants to ensure that "critical" issues are addressed and stressing that the coalition has "bolstered stability" in Armenia. Citing the fight against corruption as a "pivotal step," the leaders pledged to introduce new measures in parliament, including moves to introduce greater accountability in governance. RG

VISITING RUSSIAN OFFICIAL DISMISSES ARMENIAN CONCERNS OVER CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN BORDER
In comments during a visit to Yerevan on 1 October, Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, dismissed Armenian concerns over the disruption of trade from the Russian closure of its border with Georgia, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. Meeting on 2 October with President Kocharian, Mironov stated that Armenia should "understand" the move as part of Russia's response to the Chechen terrorist attack in North Ossetia. The Russian Federation Council speaker is on a three-day visit to Armenia and is meeting with senior Armenian leaders to review plans for enhanced security cooperation. The closure of the border has disrupted regional trade and stranded hundreds of trucks and commercial traders from reaching Armenia. RG

RUSSIA BACKS OFF FROM IMPOSING SANCTIONS ON ARMENIAN AIRLINES
Officials of the Russian Transport Ministry announced on 1 October that it will postpone planned sanctions set to be imposed on Armenian airlines in response to mounting arrears for the use of Russian airspace and airport services, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Russian official had threatened to deny access to Russian airspace to airlines from Armenia for their failure to pay accumulated arrears. Armenian civil-aviation officials added that Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin will resolve the issue at a bilateral economic cooperation meeting set for 13-15 October. Armenian officials contend that $2.7 million of the total $5.9 million debt was incurred by the now-bankrupt, state-run Armenian Airlines. Officials of the Russian-owned Armavia national airlines argued that Russian officials made a "deplorable mistake" by citing the company as a debtor air carrier, TASS reported on 1 October. RG

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS HELD IN ABKHAZIA...
More than half of eligible voters in the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia turned out to vote for a successor to ailing President Vladislav Ardzinba on 3 October, Civil Georgia and ITAR-TASS reported. The election featured five candidates, none of whom was able to garner the sufficient number of votes needed to avoid a special runoff election. Of the five, the Abkhazian government's favored candidate, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, and opposition contender Sergei Bagapsh are reported to be the leading the rest of the field. Although Khadjimba enjoys the support of the Abkhazian establishment and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bagapsh holds an advantage with support from an opposition bloc comprised of the Amtsakhara Union of Veterans, United Abkhazia, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, and the Aitaira Movement (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 September 2004). The contest will select a new leader for Abkhazia, as outgoing President Ardzinba is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third five-year term as president. RG

...BUT ARE REJECTED AS 'ILLEGITIMATE' BY GEORGIA
In response to the presidential election in Abkhazia, Georgian PresidentMikheil Saakashvili rejected the poll on 3 October as "illegitimate, Civil Georgia reported. The Georgian president explained that "hundreds of thousands" of ethnic Georgian refugees were "deprived of their right to cast ballots." RG

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER OFFERS TO PROVIDE RUSSIA WITH LIST OF PANKISI RESIDENTS...
Georgian Interior Minster Irakli Okruashvili offered on 2 October to provide Russian officials with a list of all people living in the country's Pankisi Gorge, Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 reported. The Georgian offer, announced during a CIS Ministerial Summit in Kyiv, follows renewed Russian concern over the use of the Pankisi Gorge as a staging area by Chechen rebels for cross-border attacks in Russia. In the wake of the attack on a school in North Ossetia by Chechen terrorists, Russian security forces have been exerting pressure on Georgia to introduce stricter measures along its border with Russia. The Pankisi Gorge is home to a significant number of Chechen refugees forced to seek refuge from the conflict in Chechnya. RG

...AS GEORGIAN FORCES CONDUCT SECURITY OPERATION ALONG NORTHERN BORDER
Combined forces from the Georgian Defense Ministry, State Security Ministry, and the Interior Ministry Border Guard Department launched a security operation on 2-3 October along the northern Georgian border, ITAR-TASS and the Georgian Times reported. Officials from the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, and Russian security representatives monitored the operation, which centered on the Georgian border with Ingushetia and Daghestan, as well as the Pankisi Gorge. Georgian State Security Minister Vano Merabishvili said "the operation aims to show that Georgia's law enforcement bodies have the situation in control, and there is no chance for terrorists and paramilitary units to find shelter." RG

SECOND-ROUND ELECTIONS HELD IN KAZAKHSTAN
Second-round elections were held in 22 single-mandate constituencies in Kazakhstan on 3 October, Kazinform reported. The Central Election Commission announced preliminary results at 11:00 p.m. local time on 3 October based on early returns from electronic voting. Preliminary results were available for 10 races. They showed six independents, two representatives of the pro-presidential Otan party, one representative of the pro-presidential Asar party, and one representative of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan leading their respective races. DK

IAEA SOURCE SAYS KYRYGZ PLUTONIUM SEIZURE IS HARMLESS
Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the BBC on 30 September that 60 "plutonium containers" seized on 21 September in Kyrgyzstan are actually harmless Soviet-era smoke detectors that contain a small amount of radioactive material. Fleming stressed that the material does not pose any threat. Earlier reports indicated that Kyrgyz security services had seized an unspecified amount of plutonium-239 in a sting operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service would neither confirm nor deny the BBC report, akipress.org reported on 1 October. The investigation into the matter is apparently continuing in Kyrgyzstan. DK

IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT MEETS WITH KYRGYZ PRESIDENT
Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 1 October to discuss bilateral ties, IRNA reported. The meeting capped a two-day visit by Aref-Yazdi to Kyrgyzstan. "Cooperation is in the interest of both our countries, so we will work to increase the level of our interaction in trade and the economy, bringing trade volume up to $200 million a year," Akipress.org quoted the Iranian vice president as saying. DK

BORDER DOCUMENTS READY FOR RUSSIAN-TAJIK SIGNING
Russian and Tajik working groups have prepared and approved draft documents on the handover of the Tajik-Afghan border from Russian to Tajik jurisdiction, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 1 October. A source in Tajikistan's Border Protection Committee told the news agency that the working groups hammered out the agreements during meetings on 29-30 September in Dushanbe. "The two days' consultations reviewed a wide range of questions on the details and mechanisms of transferring the state border from the Russian to the Tajik side," the source said. Maksim Peshkov, Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, told Avesta on 1 October that a number of bilateral accords will be signed when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Tajikistan. That visit, which had been scheduled for 4-5 October, has been postponed to mid-October. DK

TAJIK PARLIAMENT BEGINS NEW SESSION
Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon, or lower chamber of parliament, opened a new term on 1 October, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. This will be the legislature's sixth and final term before new elections are held in 2005. During the first session, deputies passed draft laws on the National Bank and monetary regulation, approved a convention on legal assistance, and ratified an agreement with Indonesia to prevent double taxation, Tajik Television reported. DK

OSCE ENVOY MEETS WITH TURKMEN PRESIDENT
Martti Ahtisaari, special envoy of the OSCE chairman-in-office for Central Asia and former president of Finland, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 1 October, turkemnistan.ru reported. The Turkmen president's press service described the meeting as an opportunity to "exchange views on a wide array of issues of mutual interest." For his part, Ahtisaari said, "We are here in order to broaden and deepen our cooperation to whatever extent is possible," Turkmen official news agency TDH reported. DK

BELARUSIAN POLICE SEIZE LEAFLETS OF OPPOSITION CANDIDATES...
Police on 1 October searched without warrant the campaign office of two opposition parliamentary candidates in Minsk, Valyantsina Palevikova and Alyaksandr Dabravolski, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Police officers confiscated all the 15,000 election campaign leaflets printed legally by United Civic Party deputy head Dabravolski with money provided by the Central Election Commission. Palevikova was luckier, because the police seized only a portion of her leaflets. Three OSCE election monitors witnessed the search. JM

...AND RAID INDEPENDENT TRADE UNION MEETING
Police on 2 October conducted a raid on the offices of the Belarusian Free Trade Union, where some 100 people gathered to discuss the creation of an opposition organization called Aychyna (Fatherland), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Police officers wrote down the names and addresses of each participant in the meeting. The founder of Aychyna, former lawmaker Syarhey Antonchyk, told RFE/RL that its first congress is scheduled for 24 October. Meanwhile, three government-controlled television channels, BT, ONT, and STV, vilified Antonchyk last week as an adventurer seeking to organize combat units with the help of Al-Qaeda and accused him of maintaining contacts with Chechen terrorists. JM

TWO MORE BELARUSIAN REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS SUSPENDED
The Belarusian Ministry of Information has suspended two more private newspapers, the Navapolatsk-based "Narodny predprinimatel" and the Horki-based "Regionalnye vedomosti," thus increasing the number of temporarily banned publications in the past two months to nine, Belapan reported on 2 October. The ministry accused the editors of allowing discrepancies between the newspapers' actual periodicity, language of publication, and area of distribution and those prescribed by their registration certificates. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE MAKE PROGRESS IN PROBING ATTACK ON PREMIER
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry on 2 October reported that it had found two hard objects, a metal ball with a diameter of 1 centimeter and a stone with a diameter of 5 centimeters, which might have been used in an attack on Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in Ivano-Frankivsk on 24 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2004), Ukrainian media reported. According to the Interior Ministry, Yanukovych was attacked by several "hard objects." A video of the attack, which was shown on Ukraine's Channel 5 and major European news channels, appeared to show Yanukovych being hit only by a raw egg. JM

REUTERS SAID TO HAVE USED FAKE QUOTE IN REPORT ON OPPOSITION CANDIDATE'S HEALTH
Oleksandr Zinchenko, campaign manager for Ukrainian opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, told journalists on 3 October that a 28 September statement by the Rudolfinerhaus hospital in Vienna, quoted by Reuters and subsequently repeated by many media organizations, was fabricated, Channel 5 and Ukrainian news agencies reported. The statement quoted by Reuters said that: "The information disseminated about an alleged poisoning [of Yushchenko] is absolutely unfounded in medical terms" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Zinchenko quoted Rudolfinerhaus Director Michael Zimpfer as saying that the statement was prepared outside the hospital and had no relation whatsoever to the hospital's doctors. "Poisoning [of Yushchenko] through negligence or otherwise cannot be confirmed or denied," Zinchenko quoted Zimpfer as saying. "The press reports from 28 September which said that poisoning could be ruled out are false." JM

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S WIFE WANTS TO APPLY FOR UKRAINIAN CITIZENSHIP
Kateryna Chumachenko, the wife of presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, told the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" of 2-8 October that she is planning to apply for Ukrainian citizenship within the next few days. According to her, political opponents of her husband are using her U.S. citizenship to suggest that she may be a U.S. spy and that she constitutes a "national security threat" in Ukraine. Chumachenko's parents, who were born in Ukraine, met in Germany during World War II and got married in 1945. They subsequently emigrated to the United States. Chumachenko has been living permanently in Kyiv since 1999. JM

NATIONALISTS LEAD IN BOSNIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS...
Bosnia's election commission released incomplete results on 3 October for the previous day's local elections for councils and mayors in 142 municipalities, local and international media reported. Of the 122 municipalities where tallies are largely complete, 99 will likely be controlled by one or another of the three ruling nationalist parties: the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), or the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The only opposition gains were made by moderate former Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), which won in about 20 municipalities, including Banja Luka and the former SDS stronghold of Trebinje in eastern Herzegovina. This was the first election since the 1992-95 conflict to be funded and organized by Bosnians themselves, and also the first in which mayors were directly elected. Many commentators attributed the nationalists' successes to the low 45.5 percent turnout, which is at least partly the result of voter apathy, particularly among younger voters in urban areas. Complete results are expected in about one month because of the large number of absentee ballots yet to be counted. High Representative Paddy Ashdown said that "what is important now is that politicians put campaigning behind them, return to work, and concentrate on the necessary reforms...in order to give this country a future in Europe and NATO," Reuters reported. PM

...AS SERBIA SPLITS ITS VOTE...
In the second round of local elections on 3 October, Serbian voters reaffirmed trends that emerged in the June presidential vote and the first round of elections on 19 September, in which President Boris Tadic's reformist Democratic Party and Tomislav Nikolic's hard-line Serbian Radical Party (SRS) emerged as the winners, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 27 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). Amid a low turnout of just under 23 percent, incomplete official or unofficial returns suggest that the Democrats have won in Belgrade and 23 other municipalities, while the Radicals are ahead in Novi Sad and 18 other localities. In Belgrade, unofficial returns give Democrat Nenad Bogdanovic some 50.3 percent of the vote, beating the Radicals' Aleksandar Vucic with 48.3 percent, Reuters reported. In Novi Sad, Radical Maja Gojkovic won by just 695 votes over Democrat Borislav Novakovic, who conceded defeat even before election officials announced the results. Many commentators began discussing the future of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government, which includes neither the Democrats nor the Radicals, who are the strongest single party in the parliament. PM

...AND THE CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION WINS IN SLOVENIA
The conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) of former Defense Minister Janez Jansa won a clear victory in the 3 October general elections, RFE/RL reported from Ljubljana. Incomplete returns suggest that the SDS will have about 31 seats in the 90-seat parliament. The SDS stands a good chance of being able to put together a 47-seat center-right coalition with the New Slovenia party (NSi) and its eight seats, the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) with six seats, and two deputies belonging to ethnic minorities. Outgoing Prime Minister Anton Rop conceded defeat for his center-left coalition, which seems unlikely to be able to form a working majority in the legislature. Jansa said the election will bring "a much-needed change," adding that "we expected to win, we worked hard, and...were the first ones to offer an alternative government program." In Croatia, media reacted with alarm to news of a center-right victory, since Jansa and his conservative potential coalition partners have ruled out any compromise with Croatia in their long-standing border dispute. Rop recently threatened to block Croatia's EU membership application over the border issue but retracted his comments under pressure from Brussels. It is not clear whether Jansa will be as agreeable to Brussels' wishes as was Rop (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 October 2004). PM

EC HEAD PRESENTS MACEDONIA WITH QUESTIONNAIRE ON PREPAREDNESS FOR EU MEMBERSHIP
Outgoing European Commission President Romano Prodi visited Skopje on 1 October to present a questionnaire on Macedonia's preparedness for negotiations on EU membership, Macedonian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February and 5 March 2004). In a speech before many of Macedonia's most prominent people, Prodi said that "we expect to receive replies to an impressive number of questions on political, economic, and technical issues, which will allow the Commission...to formulate its opinion [as to whether] the country is ready to undertake the rights and obligations of membership [in] the EU," according to a press release by Prodi's office (see http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/commissioners/prodi/index_en.htm). Prodi also met with the leaders of the main opposition parties -- Nikola Gruevski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), Stojan Andov of the Liberal Party (LP), and Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- to discuss the possible implications of an upcoming referendum on the government's redistricting plans, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. EU representatives have repeatedly warned that a successful referendum would be a stumbling block on Macedonia's path to EU membership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3, 11, and 17 September 2004). UB

HAGUE PROSECUTOR DEFENDS LONG TRIAL FOR FORMER SERBIAN LEADER
Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told a conference organized by Berlin's Aspen Institute on 30 September that she rejects charges made by unnamed critics that the trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is taking too long, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 September 2004). The Serbian government extradited him to The Hague on 28 June 2001, and his trial began early the following year. Del Ponte said in Berlin that "a fair trial needs time," especially because the charges against him cover a period of 10 years. She stressed that she faces serious problems in piecing together evidence because of noncooperation by unnamed governments and witnesses. There will be no reconciliation between the peoples of former Yugoslavia unless their elected officials cooperate with the tribunal in bringing "powerful people" to justice, she added. In related news, Del Ponte gave Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic a sealed envelope on 1 October in Belgrade with the name of a Serbian war crimes indictee whom the Hague-based tribunal will allow the special Serbian war crimes court to try, "Vesti" reported. Del Ponte and Vukcevic declined to reveal the name of the indictee to reporters. PM

PNL CHAIRMAN QUITS ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE...
National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan announced on 2 October that he is quitting the November presidential race on health grounds, Mediafax and international news agencies reported (see End Note). Stolojan delegated his responsibilities as PNL chairman to his deputy Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, who will also act as co-chairman of the PNL-Democratic Party alliance. He left Romania for an undisclosed destination abroad, where he plans to rest. Stolojan told journalists that the presidential race has been "a tough road that has left deep marks." He added that his health requires urgent medical treatment, Reuters reported. PNL-Democratic Party alliance co-chairman and Bucharest mayor Traian Basescu, however, told journalists on 3 October that Stolojan's decision was caused by stress after Stolojan's political opponents threatened to make public allegations about his past involvement in alleged illicit deals and about a short stay in a psychiatric hospital in the 1980s. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase denied that his Social Democratic Party (PSD) intended to blackmail Stolojan and called Basescu's allegations "irresponsible and morally unjustifiable," Mediafax reported on 3 October. MS

...AS BUCHAREST MAYOR READY TO STEP INTO HIS SHOES
Basescu told journalists on 3 October that if the PNL asks him to replace Stolojan as the alliance's candidate in the presidential election, he is willing to accept the nomination, Mediafax and Reuters reported. PNL interim Chairman Popescu-Tariceanu said on the same day after a meeting of the party's executive body that the PNL will propose that Basescu become the alliance's new candidate. The December 2003 agreement between the PNL and the Democrats stipulates that the two parties will each appoint the president and the prime minister in case of victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections. The daily "Jurnalul national" has reported that the likely PNL nominee for the post of prime minister would be Popescu-Tariceanu. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER FINISHES DRAFTING ELECTION MANIFESTO
Prime Minister Nastase said on 2 October that his staff have finished drafting his manifesto for the presidential election in which Nastase is running as the PSD's candidate, Mediafax reported. PSD Executive Chairman Octavian Cozmanca said the manifesto is based on seven main points, among which he named reducing taxation on low incomes from 18 to 10 percent and raising pension payments by at least 50 percent by the year 2008. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST LEADER OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 3 October officially launched his bid for the position of head of state, Mediafax reported. Tudor presented a list of 10 measures he intends to take as president. He emphasized that he would respect all international treaties signed by Romania and would pursue integration with the European Union. Tudor also said he "unconditionally supports" the war waged by Russia and the United States against international terrorism and that as president he would cultivate good relations with Israel. He also said he would pay particular attention to protecting national minorities, would stop the exodus of the Romany minority from Romania, and would respect the rights of religious and sexual minorities. Observers say the change of tone is in line with the PRM leader's efforts to change his international image as an extremist, a chauvinist, and an anti-Semite. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENT TO PENAL CODE
Several heads of Romanian nongovernmental organizations on 2 October criticized a decision by parliament last week to grant both prosecution and defense counsels the right to appeal before the High Court of Justice and Cassation final decisions taken by courts, Mediafax reported. The critics said the Chamber of Deputies' decision amounts to the re-introduction of the controversial "extraordinary appeal," which has been repeatedly criticized by the EU. Supporters of the amendment have denied this is the case, saying that the extraordinary appeal granted that right only to the prosecution. The lower house is yet to approve the final version of the Penal Code as a whole, and if it approves the amendment, its vote would override that of the Senate. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN MOLDOVA
Visiting President Georgi Parvanov and his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin on 1 October inaugurated a local state university in Taraclia, Infotag and Flux reported. The Taraclia raion has a compact Bulgarian population. The two presidents also signed an agreement for the joint financing of the new university. Parvanov told Voronin the previous day that he is very interested in the search for a solution to the Transdniester conflict and, as Bulgaria currently holds the chairmanship of the OSCE, the country intends to make a serious contribution to the conflict's resolution. MS

OPPOSITION CANDIDATE BOWS OUT OF ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Theodor Stolojan, the main opposition candidate in Romania's November presidential elections who had mysteriously disappeared from the public eye recently, announced his withdrawal from the race on 2 October due to health concerns. The PNL-Democratic Party candidate also said he is stepping down as chairman of the National Liberal Party (PNL) for the same reason.

"Unfortunately, my road to the presidency ends here," Reuters cited Stolojan as telling journalists. "It was a tough road which left deep marks. My health requires urgent medical treatment." According to the daily "Evenimentul zilei," Stolojan, who had a kidney removed a few years ago, has been told by doctors that his remaining kidney is failing.

Stolojan's unexpected departure from politics throws the contest for the presidency, the outcome of the parliamentary elections (also slated for November), and Romanian political life in general into uncertainty. The former prime minister (1990-91), whose former links with the currently ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) were viewed by some observers as reason to doubt his new political identity, joined the PNL in July 2000 and served as that party's National Council chairman from 2000 to 2002. In August 2002, Stolojan was elected PNL chairman and soon afterward, together with Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu, the electoral alliance of the two parties was set up. In December 2003 and in February 2004, the Democratic Party and the PNL, respectively, selected Stolojan as the alliance's presidential candidate.

Public opinion polls had consistently indicated that Stolojan was the most promising presidential challenger against the ruling party's candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Stolojan's announcement, as the head of the nongovernmental organization Alina Mungiu-Pippidi told Reuters, "resets everything. The game starts from scratch."

The problem with a "new game" is that there is little time to lose before the election campaign starts. This is apparently why a leadership forum within the PNL acted quickly on 3 October and agreed to endorse Basescu, a co-chairman of the two-party alliance who was reelected in July as mayor of Bucharest. Basescu had earlier said that he would accept a nomination if the PNL endorsed him. The decision, however, is not final, since a joint meeting of the two-parties' leadership still has to approve it. The same PNL forum approved Stolojan's 2 October proposal to select Calin Popescu-Tariceanu as the PNL's interim chairman. Tariceanu thus automatically becomes co-chairman of the alliance alongside Basescu and, according to some Romanian media reports, he is likely to be the alliance's nominee for premier if it forms the next government.While hardly a charismatic personality, Basescu (unlike Stolojan) will not shy away from taking the populist route.

But things are not that simple. The PNL's tendency to become engaged in infighting was essentially what promoted Stolojan, who was initially an outsider, to his leadership position. He was promoted in an attempt to mend rifts within the party -- a task in which he was partly successful. Popescu-Tariceanu, on the other hand, is known to belong to a group in the leadership close to businessman Dinu Patriciu, which is opposed to the alliance with the Democrats in the first place.

Whether the alliance can survive the loss of Stolojan and for how long is the first question that should be posed. The second thing to consider is that Basescu is undoubtedly a vastly different presidential candidate than Stolojan was, as the two men's political styles are at opposing ends, as is their political discourse.

The introvert, taciturn Stolojan might have made a good candidate in Western Europe or in places like the Czech Republic, but many observers were skeptical of his capability of stirring the enthusiasm of Romanians. While hardly a charismatic personality, Basescu (unlike Stolojan) will not shy away from taking the populist route if need be. Indeed, after publicly shedding tears as Stolojan announced his withdrawal from the race, Basescu alleged on 3 October that Stolojan had not really dropped out due to health reasons. The former premier, he said, had received threats (presumably from the PSD) to make public Stolojan's short stint of hospitalization in a psychiatric ward in the 1980s and his alleged involvement in setting up a dubious company while he was premier. Unlike Stolojan, Basescu said, he is "thick skinned" and would not be so easily intimidated by blackmail.

The perceived allegation of PSD involvement prompted a denial by Prime Minister Nastase, but the change of course in the campaign was immediately apparent. Whether or not this change is to the long-time benefit of Romanian politics and society is another question, but clearly the PSD and the extremist PRM are now being checked by the other end of the political spectrum.

FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS KARZAI
Former Afghan President and head of the Jami'at-e Islami party, Burhanuddin Rabbani, is backing Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's candidacy for the 9 October Afghan presidential election, international news agencies reported. Rabbani told a crowd of his party loyalists on 3 October that since Jami'at-e Islami "did not have its own candidate," it has held meetings with Karzai who agreed on the "implementation of religious values" ensuring national unity, and giving a role to the former mujahedin in his government, AFP reported. Rabbani's support for Karzai's candidacy has been expected since July when Karzai unexpectedly snubbed his first deputy and Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim by choosing Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, a son in law of Rabbini, as his first running mate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 26 August 2004). With Rabbani's backing, Karzai has the official support of one of Afghanistan's largest political parties. However, Rabbani's record as president from 1992 to 1996, specially his repeated refusals to step down from power as scheduled by UN agreements, is seen by many Afghans as one of the main reasons for the continuation of the civil war in the country and the eventual rise of the Taliban. Details of agreements between Karzai, who does not have a political party, and Jami'at-e Islami are not clear. AT

RUMORS OF CANDIDATE QUITTING AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE DENIED
Sayyed Hosayn Alemi-Balkhi, the second running mate of presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, on 3 October denied rumors that Qanuni was quitting the race, Afghanistan Television reported. Alemi-Balkhi said that Qanuni enjoys support of a great number of Afghans and intends to stay in the contest. Qanuni is regarded by many as the only viable challenge to Karzai. Moreover, the official announcement by Rabbani to back Karzai may be a blow to Qanuni who, as a former member of Jami'at-e Islami and an ethnic Tajik, may lose some of his potential supporters. Karzai, who has invited Qanuni to join him, has said he will not form a coalition government with anyone (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September and 1 October 2004). AT

AFGHAN LEADER RECEIVES AWARD IN GERMANY
Karzai traveled to Germany on 3 October to receive an award, Afghanistan Television reported. The "United We Care" award is presented on German Unity Day on 3 October to four personalities who have made outstanding contributions to the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. The timing of the trip "couldn't help but raise eyebrows as thousands of Afghan and international workers feverishly struggle to prepare for" the presidential election in less than a week's time, AP commented on 3 October. Karzai's opponents have charged that his frequent foreign travels -- three since campaigning began on 7 September -- and his infrequent campaigning in Afghanistan "show he is fearful of his own nation, and out of step with ordinary" Afghans, AP added. In a meeting with the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Karzai, who is the favorite to win the election, said that he hoped the contest "will not go to the second round because it would be very expensive" for Afghanistan. According to the Afghan Constitution, a candidate must win at least 51 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. AT

OVER 900 PEOPLE KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN IN 2004
As of 4 October, 957 people have been killed in political violence since the beginning of 2004, AP reported. The number of dead was drawn from a review of hundreds of daily stories by AP, but the "actual toll is believed to be significantly higher, since many killings in remote areas are not reported." The death toll includes some 260 Afghan security personnel, 30 U.S. soldiers, 40 aid or reconstruction workers, as well as 160 Afghan civilians. While international attention has been focused on curtailing violence around Afghanistan's election, the neo-Taliban militants have recently indicated that their plans are not specifically centered on the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). AT

U.S. REITERATES THAT IT WILL BLOCK NUCLEAR IRAN
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, in an interview with "Welt Am Sonntag" on 3 October, said that the United States is not currently considering military action against Iran to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons, but pushing for its referral to the UN Security Council for apparent violations of nuclear nonproliferation rules, Reuters reported the same day. The priority now, he said, is to have Iran on "the agenda of the...Security Council." Iran has denied it is seeking a nuclear bomb, but says it is pursuing a nuclear program that includes fuel production, which could be used for nuclear bombs. According to Radio Farda, Bolton said Iran should emulate Libya by baring its nuclear program and allowing U.S. and British intelligence services to check its installations. The United States, he added, wants to be sure Iran has no nuclear weapons, and not merely keep it in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, because Iran is not respecting that treaty anyway, Radio Farda reported. "Our position is that we should not exclude any option from the start. Iran must understand that our policy red line is the acquisition of nuclear weapons," Bolton said, according to Reuters. VS

IRAN SEEMS UNCONCERNED BY U.S. THREATS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Tehran on 3 October that he does not believe "Iran's case will go to the [UN] Security Council, though we are not worried if it does. The opposite party will be the main loser," IRNA reported the same day. He denounced U.S. claims over Iran as "blackmail," and said a "mistaken approach" by the United States has led the world to ignore its demands. "The Americans see that every day they are more isolated," he said. He rejected a recent proposal by U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry that Tehran give up its fuel-making capacity in exchange for the West supplying fuel for power stations and recovering spent fuel, Reuters and IRNA reported. "When we have the necessary technology, why would we need to import fuel?" IRNA quoted Asefi as saying. What assurance is there, he asked, "that one day they will not say, 'we are not giving you any more fuel'?" VS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT SACKS TRANSPORT MINISTER
Iranian legislators voted to remove Roads and Transportation Minister Ahmad Khoram from office on 3 October, accusing him of "wastefulness" and the appointment of incompetent subordinates, news agencies reported the same day. Of 258 deputies attending the session, 188 voted for Khoram's dismissal, Radio Farda reported. Lawmakers objected to money spent on the inauguration of a new airport near Tehran, which troops shut in May alleging security flaws (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 2004). The airport remains shut. Khoram defended himself during morning and afternoon sessions of parliament, according to Radio Farda. Vice President Muhammad Reza Aref said in Tehran on 3 October that there is "no justification" in "challenging" a key ministry and removing "a successful and hard-working" minister at a busy time for the government, ISNA reported. VS

IRAN MIGHT ATTEND IRAQ ELECTION MEETING
Foreign Ministry spokesman Asefi said on 3 October that Iran might attend a U.S.-sponsored meeting in Cairo, scheduled for late November, to discuss Iraqi general elections due in January 2005, the BBC reported. He gave no further details. Iran "welcomes any initiative to create stability in Iraq, but the manner...and details of Iran's presence at the meeting will be clarified later," IRNA quoted Asefi as saying. Iranian and U.S. officials may come into contact at the meeting, "The New York Times" reported on 3 October. The two states have no formal diplomatic ties. Asefi separately deplored the deaths of "innocent women and children" in the recent U.S. offensive in Iraq leading to the capture of the insurgent stronghold of Samarra on 3 October, IRNA reported. He also accused Israel of committing "genocide" in its latest offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza, which has killed dozens. "They have sadly given [Israel] international immunity, [allowing it] to commit any crime," while the international community "looks on indifferently," IRNA quoted him as saying. Iran does not formally recognize the state of Israel. VS

U.S.-LED FORCES RECLAIM SAMARRA...
A joint U.S. and Iraqi force seized control of Samarra on 2 October, concluding a three-day assault, international media reported the same day. Although isolated gunfire and pockets of resistance were reported, U.S. and Iraqi officials said that the town of more than 100,000 was successfully wrested from insurgents. U.S. military officials said that more than 125 insurgents had been killed and 80 captured, AP reported. The U.S. forces "only provided cover for our operations," Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i explained in a 3 October Al-Arabiyah interview. U.S. officials attributed the success of the operation to a relentless assault, which did not allow insurgents time to regroup or negotiate, as was the case in other standoffs, "The New York Times" reported on 4 October. U.S. national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition" on 3 October, stopped short of calling the operation a complete victory. "It would be premature to say that it is wrapped up, because insurgencies have a tendency to wax and wane," she said. ERA

...WHILE GROUP DECRIES CIVILIAN DEATHS
There were significant discrepancies over the number of civilian causalities that resulted from the events in Samarra. Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said that no civilians were among the more than 100 insurgents killed in the assault. However, hospital officials in Samarra said scores of women and children had arrived injured. The Lebanon-based "Daily Star" reported on 4 October that Abdel Nasser Hamed Yassin, an official at Samarra General Hospital, said 70 dead and 160 wounded arrived at the hospital, and it was unclear if any were insurgents. The Association of Muslim Scholars, a leading Sunni group, issued a statement condemning the assault. "The U.S. occupation forces, regrettably with the approval of the interim government, have launched mad military campaigns against Samarra," the group declared, according to AP on 3 October. Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, responding to ongoing attacks in Al-Fallujah, decried the military tactics. "Air strikes on cities are a very annoying issue and not acceptable in any way. I consider it collective punishment," al-Yawir told Al-Arabiyah television. ERA

RADICAL SHI'A CLERIC MAY PARTICIPATE IN ELECTIONS
Muqtada al-Sadr may be preparing to participate in the democratic process, "The New York Times" reported on 3 October, citing his chief spokesperson, Ali Sumaysim, and several Iraqis who have spoken with al-Sadr. According to those sources, al-Sadr may disband his militia and support the January 2005 poll. Al-Sadr aides have conferred with chief Shi'a cleric Ali al-Sistani, who reportedly said he would endorse the move. Al-Sadr is also reportedly receiving advice from erstwhile U.S. ally Ahmad Chalabi, who has met with al-Sadr aides frequently. Sumaysim said that the discussions with al-Sistani and others are efforts on the part of al-Sadr to build a coalition, which would be called the "Patriotic Party." ERA

REPORTS SAY IRAQI ARMY IS FAR FROM FUNCTIONAL
A new report by the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says that it will not be until 2006 before Iraqi forces can assume certain key roles, BBC reported on 30 September. The report was prepared by former Pentagon official Anthony Cordesman, who did not rule out the possibility of Iraqi forces meeting the security demands of the January elections, especially if U.S. support remains and training programs continue apace. However, Reuters reported on 26 September that documents obtained from the Pentagon reveal that few Iraqis have received proper training. Of the 90,000 police officers currently on duty, fewer than 5,000 have completed the full eight-week training course and 57 Iraqi National Guard units are still being recruited or "awaiting equipment." The documents also estimate that only 22,700 officers have received enough training to make them "minimally effective at their tasks." ERA

KURDS CALL FOR INDEPENDENCE, KIRKUK, SOLIDARITY
Kurds demonstrated in northern Iraq on 2 October, calling for greater autonomy and control of the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, international media reported on 4 October. Over 70,000 demonstrators appeared outside provincial offices in Sulaminiya, calling for the rival Kurdish factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), to forget their differences and address common Kurdish interests, chiefly control over Kirkuk and a national structure that provides them with a high degree of autonomy from Baghdad. A much smaller demonstration was held in Kirkuk itself. The town is a potential flashpoint, as Kurds and Turkomen displaced under Saddam Hussein's forced resettlement policy reassert their claims to the land. Kurds consider the city, which has significant oil reserves, to be the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. ERA

FINANCE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA PREPARED TO WRITE OFF HALF OF IRAQ'S DEBT...
Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund's annual meeting in Washington on 2 October that Moscow is inclined to view positively a German and French initiative aimed at writing off half of Iraq's debt to the Paris Club of creditors, NTV reported. Iraq owes the Paris Club some $120 billion, including roughly $8 billion to Russia. The United States has pressed for international creditors to forgive Iraqi debts accrued during the reign of Saddam Hussein. VY

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