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Newsline - October 18, 2004

Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev said on 16 October that he will conduct an investigation of alleged license violations by Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of oil giant Yukos, Interfax and other Russian media reported. "There is a preliminary suspicion that Yuganskneftegaz has rather seriously violated the technical regime for a number of deposits. We must check this," Trutnev said. He added that "this is an illness not only of Yuganskneftegaz," saying that other companies will also be checked. The government intends to sell a stake in Yuganskneftegaz to pay off Yukos's tax arrears and analysts speculate that questions over the company's licenses are reducing its value and discouraging potential bidders from participating in the tender. In an interview with "Gazeta" on 15 October, Yukos Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said that the government is preventing Yukos from using its cash reserves and its 20 percent stake in Sibneft to pay its tax debts. RC

"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 16 October noted that 17 October marks the 10th anniversary of the 1994 killing of investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov. Kholodov, who was known for his hard-hitting investigations of Defense Ministry corruption, was killed when a briefcase he believed to contain incriminating documents exploded in his Moscow office. Noting that two trials in the case had failed to gain any convictions, "Gazeta" reported that 10 years marks the expiration of the statute of limitations on murder cases. This means that even if the Supreme Court overturns the most recent acquittals in the case, the authorities may choose not to prosecute again, the daily reported. RC

"Gazeta" on 17 October also noted, however, that the concept of the statute of limitations is uncertain in Russia. For one thing, under the old Criminal Code under which this case falls, the courts are allowed to declare specific crimes to be "especially serious" and to establish a statute of limitations specifically for them that may be longer than 10 years. Second, the daily noted that earlier this year prosecutors filed charges against reputed crime boss Vyacheslav Ivankov, aka Yaponchik, relating to murders committed in 1992, arguing that the government only learned of Ivankov's alleged involvement in 2000. RC

Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov told NTV on 17 October that the council has begun work on creating a new national-security doctrine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). Ivanov said that the new doctrine will "take into account new global challenges and threats," especially international terrorism. However, he added, the new doctrine "should rely on rock-solid legal foundations." "As soon as one hops over the limits of legality and acts at one's own discretion, even if it is correct, it will be difficult later to stop short and to determine the permissible line," Ivanov said. Ivanov also said that Moscow hopes the two Russian citizens who were convicted on 29 June in Qatar of killing former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev will be allowed to return to Russia soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). RC

Aleksei Krasnov, head of the manned space program at the Federal Space Agency, told RIA-Novosti on 16 October that Moscow is pushing the United States to increase the crew of the International Space Station to six people by the end of 2007. "The whole logic of the space station's development presupposes that Russia should have its own resource of three crewmembers, comparable to the resource we had on Russia's Mir space station," Krasnov said. In order to increase the crew size, the capability of the space station to accept three Soyuz spacecraft simultaneously must be developed. RC

Two-thirds of Russians think that the majority of Russian judges accept bribes, Interfax reported on 18 October, citing a new survey by the Public Opinion Foundation. According to the poll, 46 percent of respondents have a negative attitude toward judges, while 26 percent have a positive view. Only 12 percent agreed that most judges are honest and incorruptible. Forty-seven percent said they think most judicial decisions are unjust, while 24 percent said that most decisions are fair. Sixty-two percent said that judges do not base their decisions solely on the law, but on "other considerations" as well. Of those who said so, 40 percent said those considerations include judges' personal interests, and 8 percent said they include political pressure from other branches of government. RC

Jonathan Schiffer, vice president of Moody's Investors Service, told Interfax on 15 October that it is possible that President Vladimir Putin's proposal to appoint regional governors could "lead to a different situation in the regions and a more efficient economic situation with less close connections between regional governors, banks, and local wealthy individuals and more room for competition, and more room for small business enterprises." Schiffer added that breaking up the power of local public administrations can be seen as a "necessary if not sufficient" condition for the possibility of a more independent judiciary operating in the regions. Schiffer noted that Moody's is "only interested in whether these changes lead to a more efficient economy," not in "political issues." JAC

Meanwhile, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 13 October that Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said recently that among the possible negative consequences of appointing regional governors could be increased opportunities for corruption. He noted that once elections are abolished, the fate of each regional leader will be decided by an increasingly small number of people -- no more than 200 -- who work in the presidential administration and the regional legislatures. "There may be a temptation," Veshnyakov said, "to make some incorrect decisions, in connection with personal or financial relations." The daily noted that Veshnyakov does not normally deviate from the Kremlin when voicing his opinion and speculated that he may sense his position is insecure and is trying to save face before a dismissal. Alternatively, it suggested that Veshnyakov's "dissent" may be "sanctioned by the Kremlin itself." JAC

Legislatures in Krasnoyarsk Krai and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug approved on 15 October an appeal to President Putin containing an initiative to merge the krai with Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs, Russian news agencies reported. The legislature of Evenk Autonomous Okrug adopted a similar appeal on 12 October, according to Regnum. Last month, the governors of the three regions signed documents merging their provinces into one region, pending the outcome of referendums held in each region on 17 April 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin said that the okrugs are "not poor, indigent areas" and that krai officials "will not have to be racking our brains over how we should feed them," NTV reported. "These are rich territories; these are storehouses [of natural resources] that need to be developed." JAC

State Duma deputies voted on 15 October to pass in its first reading a government-sponsored bill raising the minimum monthly wage index by 20 percent as of 1 January from 600 rubles ($21) a month to 720 rubles, ITAR-TASS and RosBalt reported. The vote was 434 in favor with one against. Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov told deputies that the 20 percent hike in the index exceeds the forecast average annual rise in retail prices. According to ITAR-TASS, the Unified Russia faction intends to introduce an amendment to the bill raising the index to 900 rubles by 1 July 2005. Over the last three years, the index has been raised twice, according to RosBalt: In May 2002, it jumped from 300 rubles to 450 rubles and in October 2003 it rose from 450 rubles to 600 rubles. JAC

The prosecutor for Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Vladimir Chistov, launched a criminal case on 15 October against Deputy Governor Mikhail Sokolovskii for his alleged part in the disruption of the heating season in the region, RIA-Novosti and Regnum reported. Chistov alleges that Sokolovskii did not completely fulfill the plan for the delivery of diesel fuel to the region's population centers. The Stroitek enterprise received 57 million rubles ($2 million) from the budget for the fuel but provided only 37 percent of the necessary amount. Villages such as Manila and Tigil have electricity for only 90 minutes to three hours a day, and authorities are planning to evacuate people from some villages. Investigators have taken documents from the okrug administration and are also searching for Sokolovskii himself. According to RTR, he went on a business trip to Moscow four months ago and never returned. The previous okrug prosecutor was a bitter foe of Chistov's boss and okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov and ran against Loginov in gubernatorial elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). JAC

The parliament of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) that was elected under President Aslan Maskhadov in July 1997 released a statement on 15 October criticizing the resolution on Chechnya adopted on 7 October during the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), reported on 16 October. The statement protested PACE's failure to acknowledge either Maskhadov's repeated peace proposals or the Chechen leadership's proposal to create an international tribunal to rule on war crimes committed by both sides in the Chechen conflict. The statement rejected as "unacceptable" the doubts cast by the resolution on Maskhadov's unequivocal condemnation of terrorist acts. The statement further criticized as "an attempt to legitimize the puppet Chechen government" and "a refusal to attempt to put an end to the slaughter of innocent people in the ChRI and the Russian Federation" PACE's adoption of a Russian proposal to exclude members of the Maskhadov leadership from a roundtable discussion of the Chechen situation proposed by PACE's rapporteur on Chechnya, Andreas Gross. The Chechen parliament statement observed that "it is impossible to impose peace between two sides in the absence of one of them." LF

All 31 hostage takers killed on 3 September when Russian special forces stormed the school in Beslan, North Ossetia, where they were holding over 1,000 people hostage were drug addicts, and 22 of them habitually injected hard drugs such as morphine and heroin, Russian agencies reported on 17 October, citing a statement released by the Prosecutor-General's Office. No details of the analysis on which that report was based have been made public. LF

The intraparliamentary commission investigating the Beslan school hostage taking last month will return to the republic on 18 October for a second round of testimony from local officials and witnesses, Ekho Moskvy reported on 17 October, citing commission Chairman Aleksandr Torshin. Torshin also told the radio station that the commission will travel to Ingushetia in the near future. In the same interview, Torshin said that although the commission has no direct evidence that the Beslan hostage takers were using narcotics, it has heard testimony indicating that they showed an elevated tolerance of pain and that they ate and drank virtually nothing during the three-day standoff. North Ossetia President Aleksandr Dzasokhov told RTR on 17 October that authorities did not intentionally mislead the public about the number of hostages being held during the crisis. He said officials released the initial figure of 354 hostages based on a list created on the basis of reports from the public. RC

Ansar Tebuev, deputy prime minister responsible for the "power" ministries, was gunned down by unidentified attackers as he was about to leave home to drive to work on 18 October, reported. A former first deputy interior minister, Tebuev, 54, was a close associate of President Mutafa Batdyev. Tebuev suffered head injuries in an attack in August. The republican parliament is to convene in emergency session on 19 October to discuss the crime situation. LF

The authorities in Ingushetia have closed the republic's last Internet cafes, reported on 17 October, citing The crackdown began two months ago on the pretext that Internet cafe owners did not have the required licenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). But quoted Ingushetian Security Council Secretary Bashir Aushev as saying that the Internet is being used in Ingushetia to spread "knowingly false information" and "order needs to be restored." LF

The Legal Committee of the Armenian National Assembly has drafted and submitted to all parliament factions amendments to the legislature's statutes that would enable factions to boycott parliament sessions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Legal Committee Chairman Rafik Petrosian explained that factions will still not be allowed to boycott the legislature's work for longer than one semi-annual session, and that they would have to announce the boycott formally prior to each vote. The opposition Artarutiun and National Accord Party factions staged a walkout in early February to protest the majority's refusal to discuss draft constitutional amendments that would have paved the way for a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2004). Majority deputies raised the possibility last month of stripping boycotting deputies of their mandates, but then declined to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). LF

The Armenian television station Kentron suspended indefinitely on 13 October, three days after its inception, broadcasting of a 30-minute weekly program of news and analysis prepared by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, according to a 15 October RFE/RL press release. Kentron's director, Petros Ghazarian, gave no reason for the suspension. Initial responses to the new program praised its "objectivity" and novel format. LF

The presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Ilham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili, attended a ceremony on 16 October on the frontier between their respective republics at which the Azerbaijani and Georgian sections of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline were welded together, Georgian and Azerbaijani news agencies reported. Noting the pipeline's economic significance for Georgia, Saakashvili expressed gratitude for U.S. and Turkish support over the past decade for its construction. Caucasus Press pointed out that Saakashvili did not, however, mention that the idea of routing the export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Georgia rather than Armenia originated with his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze, together with then Turkish President Suleyman Demirel. LF

Spokesmen for both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Defense Ministry denied on 16 October that Russian elite forces or paratroopers have either been sent to Abkhazia or deployed along the Russian-Abkhaz border, Russian media reported. On 15 October, the Georgian Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement that "dozens" of Russian spetsnaz and armed groups from the unofficial Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus (KNK) were sent to Abkhazia over the previous few days. Caucasus Press and Interfax on 15 October quoted KNK member Amin Zekhov as saying the KNK supports Raul Khadjimba, the candidate for the Abkhaz presidency endorsed by outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba. Zekhov said no North Caucasus organization backs Khadjimba's rival Sergei Bagapsh, whom the Abkhaz Central Election Commission named on 11 October as the winner of the 3 October presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2004). Meanwhile, the Abkhaz State Security Service announced on 15 October that it does not back Bagapsh, while Interior Minister Beslan Beya said on 16 October that his ministry remains neutral in the standoff between the two candidates, Caucasus Press reported. On 14 October Bagapsh's running mate, Stanislav Lakoba, claimed that all Abkhaz power ministries back Bagapsh. LF

A Tbilisi district court on 16 October acquitted Colonel Mikheil Kebadze, deputy commander of the Georgian peacekeeping detachment in South Ossetia, of charges of illegal weapons possession just hours after Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze upheld the decision to arrest him and security officials prevented Kebadze's relatives from meeting with President Saakashvili at Tbilisi airport, Caucasus Press reported. Baramidze branded Kebadze "unscrupulous." On 18 October, Caucasus Press quoted Kebadze as expressing gratitude to Saakashvili and the Georgian government for their "just decision" to drop the charges against him. Deputy Security Minister Batu Kutelia, who announced on 13 October that Kebadze could face multiple charges, said on 17 October that the case against him has been closed in the light of unspecified new information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2004). LF

In a closed session on 15 October, Kazakhstan's Supreme Court declared four groups terrorist organizations and banned their activities in the country, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The groups are Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan, the Kurdish National Congress, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The court ruled on the basis of an inquiry initiated by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The ruling did not mention Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned as an extremist organization in all neighboring Central Asian countries. Although the group is not expressly prohibited, Hizb ut-Tahrir is not registered in Kazakhstan, rendering any activities on its behalf illegal. DK

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the opening of a Russian military base in Tajikistan on 17 October, RIA-Novosti reported. The base, which was formed on the basis of Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division, will be manned by a 6,000-strong contingent, NTV reported. Putin called the opening of the base "a crucially important and necessary decision for two friendly, allied states that serves the basic interests of our peoples and acts to strengthen the peace and stability of Central Asia and the security of the entire CIS," RBC reported. For his part, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said, " a momentous event in the history of relations between Russia and Tajikistan." The two presidents signed an agreement on 16 October creating a legal framework for the opening of the Russian base. DK

Presidents Putin and Rakhmonov signed bilateral agreements on 16 October in Dushanbe on Tajikistan's debt to Russia, Russian investment in Tajikistan, labor migration, and other issues, Avesta reported. Russia will receive the space-surveillance station in Nurek in return for forgiving $242 million of Tajikistan's $300 million sovereign debt to Russia, reported. Tajikistan will pay off the remainder of the debt by 31 December 2008 by giving Russia a share in the Sangtuda hydropower plant. For its part, Russia will invest $200 million to complete the construction of Sangtuda by 2008, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The two sides also signed an agreement on the transfer of the Tajik-Afghan border from Russian to Tajik jurisdiction, Avesta reported. Another agreement dealt with the rights and legal status of Tajik migrant workers in Russia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. At a news conference on 16 October, Putin said that Russian state-owned and private companies will invest $2 billion in the Tajik economy over the next five years, Avesta reported. Rakhmonov said that the agreements "dotted the i's and crossed the t's on all the problems that have existed between Tajikistan and Russia over the last 12 years." DK

Russian Aluminum (Rusal) will invest $560 million in Tajikistan's Roghun hydropower plant and over $700 million in aluminum-production facilities in the country, "Vedomosti" reported on 18 October. The agreements came to light in the course of the visit to Tajikistan by Russian President Putin, who was accompanied by Rusal head Oleg Deripaska. Rusal will spend $600 million to build an aluminum plant with a production capacity of 200,000 tons a year, and $160 million to add electrolysis shops to the existing Tajik Aluminum Plant, which has a production capacity of 100,000 tons a year. Tajik Economy Minister Halim Saliev told the newspaper that Rusal's total investments in Tajikistan over the next seven years will total $1.6 billion. DK

Rajab Mirzo, editor in chief of the independent Tajik weekly "Ruzi Nav," told Asia Plus-Blitz on 15 October that the newspaper will likely be printed in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in the near future. He said: "Currently, certain aspects, primarily legal, are being worked out. We are not seeking financial support.... If our terms are accepted, we will most likely start being published at the printing house of a foundation to assist the media in Bishkek." Several Tajik independent publications, including "Ruzi Nav," have had difficulty finding a new printer since the Jiyonkhon printing house was shut down in late August for tax violations. DK

A meeting of Ferghana Oblast's Council of People's Deputies on 15 October accepted the resignation of Governor Alisher Otaboev and confirmed Shermat Nurmatov as the region's new governor, UzA reported. President Islam Karimov, who attended the session, harshly criticized the outgoing governor, who was relieved at his own request, for failing to develop industry and alleviate social problems, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The event marks the fifth time a governor has given up his post in 2004; observers queried by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service suggested that the personnel changes reflect widespread economic difficulties in the country. DK

The United Kingdom has suspended with pay Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, only days after withdrawing the controversial envoy, the BBC reported on 17 October. Murray was withdrawn last week after the press leaked a confidential memo in which he criticized the British and U.S. governments for accepting intelligence obtained under torture in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). The Foreign Office told the BBC that it removed Murray for "operational reasons," not the former ambassador's much-publicized criticism of human rights violations in Uzbekistan. But Murray told the BBC: "I have been a victim of conscience. I expressed my view strongly, but only internally. It wasn't me that leaked my views to the 'Financial Times,' but plainly that has led to my removal from my post." DK

Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna announced early on 18 October the preliminary results of the previous day's referendum on lifting the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Yarmoshyna said 89.73 percent of Belarusian voters took part in the plebiscite and some 86 percent of them, or 77.3 percent of all eligible voters in the country, said "yes" to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's proposal to give him the right to run for a third term in 2006. "I consider it an elegant victory," Yarmoshyna said. "If there had been no referendum, it should be invented, because it has consolidated the nation as never before and given the young people a lesson of patriotism." JM

Yarmoshyna told journalists on 18 October that the 17 October legislative ballot provided 107 deputies for the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The Central Election Commission Secretary Mikalya Lazavik said later the same day that the 17 October ballot provided 108 deputies for the Chamber of Representatives. According to a list of deputies quoted by Yarmoshyna, none of the candidates fielded by the opposition parties won a seat in the lower house. The elections seem to have practically vindicated the wishes of President Lukashenka, who earlier had ordered the government to work toward eliminating the opposition from the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2004), filling all 110 seats in the first round, and electing some 30-35 percent of women to the Chamber of Representatives. Yarmoshyna said 31 women became deputies on 17 October, which makes up nearly 29 percent of the house's current composition. JM

The nongovernmental organization called Partnership, which fielded 3,500 monitors for the 17 October legislative elections and presidential referendum, has registered more than 1,000 violations of the election law by members of election commissions, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 17 October. Partnership head Mikalay Astreyka said the vote count at virtually all polling stations in the country was conducted without the attendance of independent monitors. The opposition United Civic Party (AHP) filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against the release of an exit poll favorable to President Lukashenka by the state-run Belarusian Television throughout the voting day, which if forbidden by the Election Code. Meanwhile, police hindered poll takers from the independent Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys from conducting an exit poll on 17 October and arrested several of them. According to the Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys exit poll, just 48.3 percent of eligible voters in Belarus said "yes" in the 17 October referendum. JM

Some 40,000 students from all of Ukraine took part in a rally in Kyiv on 16 October to support the presidential bid of Viktor Yushchenko and pass a "no-confidence vote" in the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's main rival in the 31 October elections, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko called on the crowd not to believe the pro-government media's reports that the result of the presidential elections in Ukraine has already been determined. "All this is a lie, manipulation of the public opinion, political speculation," Yushchenko said. He was apparently referring to recent surveys showing Yanukovych to be favored by more people as the favorite in the presidential race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). The latest poll by the Democratic Initiatives fund and SOCIS and released on 15 October, however, found that Yanukovych will be supported by 34.2 percent of voters and Yushchenko by 33.6 percent on 31 October, Interfax reported. The narrow difference being well with the poll's margin of error. JM

Prosecutors in Kyiv have opened a criminal case under articles referring to terrorism and the formation of illegal armed groups in connection with the disclosure of explosive devices and materials in the offices of the nongovernmental youth organization Pora (It's Time) in Kyiv on 15 October, Ukrainian media reported. Police reportedly found a homemade explosive device, six TNT slabs, two electric detonators, and a grenade at the Pora headquarters. Members of the organization and some opposition lawmakers called the discovery a provocation. "The authorities want to portray us as a terrorist organization," UNIAN quoted Pora activist Volodymyr Lesyk as saying. "Such methods shows that the authorities do not want honest elections," Lesyk noted, adding that Pora is conducting a "nonviolent campaign of resistance" against the authorities in the presidential election race. JM

Leonid Kuchma on 15 October described as "mere fantasy" the rumors claiming that the military parade in Kyiv on 28 October will be used as an excuse to bring troops to the capital and introduce a state of emergency before the 31 October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. Kuchma said the parade, which is intended to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Ukraine from German invaders, will feature no other military hardware except one World War II-era tank. "It is our duty to pay tribute to those who gave Ukraine and the nations of the world an opportunity to live in peace for many years," the president added. Commenting on dirty techniques used in the presidential election campaign, Kuchma said they "exceed the framework of human decency." JM

Ramush Haradinaj, who heads the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), which is the third largest ethnic Albanian party in Kosova's parliament, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 17 October that he expects Kosova will be independent by the fall of 2005. He hopes that Kosova will achieve solid results in meeting the international community's standards for the province by May 2005. At that point, he added, Kosova and the international community can reach an agreement on independence, which will take effect in the fall. Haradinaj stressed that the clear goal of the ethnic Albanian parties and elected institutions is a democratic Kosova, even if the behavior of some local Serbian politicians and those in Belgrade "has led to confusion." Haradinaj said that he personally and the AAK will do their part so that the local Serbs "can also be part of building a democratic Kosova.... We are determined that difficulties will not arise in regard to freedom of movement and the process of [refugee] return," he added. PM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" recently that he will use his authority to remove any Kosovar officials who hinder the return of refugees or otherwise prevent the establishment of a multiethnic society in Kosova, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 18 October. Jessen-Petersen said that he will first warn an offending official and then remove that person from office if necessary. The Frankfurt-based daily wrote that Jessen-Petersen is likely to implement his new policy soon after the 23 October parliamentary elections in the province. A similar policy exercised by the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina has proven controversial. Supporters of the strategy say that forcible removal is the only way to break the power of stubborn nationalists. Opponents of the policy argue that it is undemocratic for an unelected foreigner to oust elected officials without their having any right of appeal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003 and 16 April 2004, and PM

In the latest chapter in the open rivalry between Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party on the one hand and the governing coalition of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on the other, Tadic said on 16 October that he is sure that his party will win any general election called before the end of 2004, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 15 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October 2004). "We would win tomorrow and have more seats than all the ruling coalition parties combined," the president argued. Kostunica heads a minority government dependent on the parliamentary backing of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Since the Serbian presidential election in June, the country seems to be heading toward a two-party system in which the Democrats lead the reformist forces and Tomislav Nikolic's opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS) represents the hard-line voters. In related news, Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said in Belgrade on 17 October that Tadic and Nikolic should try to bring down the government if they want early elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

A court in Zadar acquitted Milenko Radak, an ethnic Serb, on 18 October of complicity in the massacre of 43 Croatian civilians in the village of Skabrnja on 18 November 1991, dpa reported. Radak and an unspecified number of other Serbian paramilitaries participated in the attack with the support of the Yugoslav Army, but it was not proved that he took part in the massacre. PM

The foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro -- Kastriot Islami, Miomir Zuzul, Ilinka Mitreva, and Vuk Draskovic, respectively -- gathered for a two-day informal meeting in Ohrid, Macedonia, on 15 and 16 October, MIA news agency reported. The meeting, which was also attended by Bosnian Deputy Foreign Minister Lidija Topic and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, focused on the countries' hopes for EU membership. Although Kosova was not on the agenda, Draskovic used the opportunity to accuse the international community of not doing enough to protect the Serbian minority in Kosova, "Dnevnik" reported. Draskovic also said that Serbia will never allow an independent state within what he called its own borders, warning that independence could destabilize the whole region. "If 90 percent of the Albanians can organize an independent Kosovo, then 95 percent of the Serbs can organize an independent state in Bosnia-Herzegovina," "Utrinski vesnik" quoted Draskovic as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September and 13 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). UB

Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party Chairman Adrian Nastase, Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu, and Greater Romanian Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor officially registered their candidacies in the November presidential elections on 17 October, Mediafax and AP reported. Tudor promptly appealed against the registration of Basescu's candidacy, which is backed by the National-Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance. He claimed that Calin Popescu-Tariceanu was not permitted by law to submit candidacies, as only party chairmen may do so and he is only the (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance's interim chairman. The Electoral Bureau must rule on the appeal within 24 hours. MS

The PSD-Humanist Party (PUR) alliance on 15 October challenged the rival PNL-Democratic Party alliance to a series of televised debates, Mediafax reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is the PSD candidate for prime minister, said on 17 October that he is willing to debate the opposition alliance's candidate for the post as early as 19 October. The PNL-Democratic Party alliance has not designated a candidate for the post, but a spokesman for this alliance said on 15 October that its leaders are ready to debate PSD candidates "at any hour, on any subject." Ionut Popescu also recalled that alliance co-chairman Basescu had been the first to challenge Nastase to a televised debate. MS

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) parliamentary Deputy Arpad Marton told journalists on 15 October that the Hungarian minority might fail to be represented in the next parliament because of the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM), which intends to run on separate lists, Mediafax reported. Marton said the UCM does not stand a chance of passing the 5 percent electoral hurdle but might garner enough support to keep the UDMR from reaching that threshold. Former UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes on 17 October offered to help establish a dialogue between the UDMR and the UCM. UCM members refused to participate in the UDMR internal primaries that designated candidates for its lists. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said in Cluj on 15 October that the UDMR wants to achieve autonomy for Romania's Hungarians by amending the constitution and that this is possible only by dialogue with the ethnic majority. The UCM accuses the UDMR of having abandoned that goal. MS

Romanian Press Club Chairman Cristian Tudor Popescu proposed on 15 October to mediate between Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu and Petre Mihai Bacanu, editor in chief of the daily "Romania libera," Mediafax reported. Last week, the Senate's bureau voted to temporarily lift the accreditation of "Romania libera" journalists, after the daily published an investigation alleging that Senate Secretary-General Constantin Sava was promoting women in exchange for sexual favors. All political parties supported the sanction, though Senate regulations allow it only if journalists obstruct debate in the chamber. On 15 October, Vasile Dancu, the chairman of the Agency for Governmental Strategies, criticized the decision, saying it infringes on the law for free access to information. MS

President Vladimir Voronin dismissed Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc on 15 October, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin appointed the country's deputy defense minister, Colonel Tudor Colesniuc, as acting defense minister. The next holder of the position is to be appointed by presidential decree. The expected dismissal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004) comes in the wake of a scandal involving massive weaponry thefts from military depots in August. MS

Ambassador Steven Mann, recently appointed as the State Department's senior adviser for Eurasia, said in Tiraspol on 15 October that the U.S. is ready to work with all parties involved in the negotiations process to reach a peaceful settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported. Mann, who replaced Ambassador Rudolf Perina, made a "familiarization visit" to Moldova, meeting in Chisinau with Voronin. After meeting in Tiraspol with the self-styled Transdniestrian foreign minister, Valerii Litskay, Mann said Washington believes the current five-sided negotiations format is the "most acceptable mechanism" for settling the conflict, according to the Transdniester's official Olivia Press. The separatist agency cited Mann as saying there can be no return to the idea of a unitary Moldova and that a solution must be based on federalization. According to Olivia Press, Mann thus rejected Voronin's positions on these issues. MS

Tiraspol "Foreign Minister" Litskay on 15 October told William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) mission to Moldova, that Transdniester is ready to continue negotiations with the mediators in the conflict even in the absence of representatives from Chisinau, Infotag reported. Litskay said that Voronin interrupted negotiations in summer 2001, only to later return to them. He said that during that period Tiraspol negotiated with the three mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) despite the Moldovan absence. "The current behavior of the Moldovan leaders might lead to a repetition of that situation," he said. In July, Moldova suspended and later canceled participation in the negotiations as a result of the dispute over the closure of the Moldovan schools in Transdniester using the Latin script. MS

The Iranian government is continuing to take a two-pronged approach to events in neighboring countries. The relatively moderate Foreign Ministry has congratulated Afghanistan on its first election, which took place on 9 October. Official government radio, however, is sending a different message to the Afghan people, with Dari broadcasts from northwestern Iran denouncing Hamid Karzai as a U.S. stooge and playing up alleged election violations.

Two weeks before the Afghan election, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi stressed the importance of the event, IRNA reported on 26 September. "We believe that broad-based election, in which all people with differences of views are allowed to choose their [candidates], is [a] very important and effective step towards stability, prosperity, and economic growth of Afghanistan," he said.

Two days after the election, Assefi said that Tehran views the event as a "positive move," IRNA reported on 11 October. Assefi said the all-inclusive nature of the 9 October election contributed to national solidarity, political stability, and economic development in Afghanistan. He expressed Iran's readiness to support Afghanistan's democratic efforts, and noted that Afghan refugees in Iran participated in the election. The International Organization for Migration, which organized refugee voting in Iran and Pakistan, said less than 40 percent of eligible refugees in Iran voted, the "Daily Times" reported on 12 October.

Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Reza Bahrami sent a letter to Afghan Transitional Chairman Hamid Karzai congratulating him, the election organizers, and the Afghan people on their election, Kabul's Radio Afghanistan reported on 11 October. "The successful arrangement for Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential election was a long stride toward the establishment of a lasting peace, strengthening the foundations of stability, and paving the way for comprehensive development in Afghanistan," Bahrami's letter stated, IRNA reported.

In contrast with these expressions of support, Iranian state radio's Dari-language service, which is based in the northeastern city of Mashhad, tried to discourage participation in the election and denounced the incumbent candidate. Mashhad radio reported on 4 October, "because of the U.S. and other Western countries' apparent and clear support for Karzai..., [his] rivals and the country's political observers have described the election contest as unfair." The next day, Mashhad radio reported, "Karzai has imposed an unfair contest on other candidates by taking advantage of government resources and enjoying the support of the United States and other Western countries." The report underlined U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's alleged support for Karzai, and it added, "Doubts about the election campaign in Afghanistan will certainly put a big question mark over the credibility of the election and the legitimacy of the future president." Citing an anonymous "informed source," Mashhad radio claimed on 6 October that the U.S. Embassy was buying voting cards because, "Washington wants its favorite to become president."

On election day, Mashhad radio cited candidates' allegations of fraud. The next day, an Afghan journalist named Sayyed Essa Hosayni Mazari was quoted as saying there were electoral violations, and he added that the Joint Electoral Management Body favored one candidate. And in the following days there were more reports about candidates' complaints.

"America is throwing its absolute weight behind the president of Afghanistan, and [U.S. Ambassador] Zalmay Khalilzad is making his utmost efforts in Kabul to secure his [Hamid Karzai's] victory," Mashhad radio announced in an 11 October broadcast. "And Karzai's personal use of all government facilities to get rid of rivals and to stay in power for longer were the other factors which made it clear to the people that nobody else but Karzai is the winner."

Mashhad radio went on to describe the issue as a choice between Western democracy and Islamic values, and it suggested that the election is meant to legitimize "an occupation and the appointment of the occupiers' favorite government." It concluded, "It is indisputable that the occupiers, who have not spared a crime to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, will take out from people's ballot boxes the name of the person whom they have already appointed."

Vote counting began on 14 October, and according to an anonymous senior official cited by AP, turnout was about 75 percent. A final tally is not expected until the end of October. Hard-line Iranian state radio, meanwhile, is doing its utmost to undermine the entire process.

As vote counting continued after the 9 October Afghan presidential elections, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai had captured 60.2 percent of the votes, AP reported on 17 October. Election officials said about 905,887 votes had been tallied by 17 October, constituting approximately 12 percent of the estimated 7-12 million ballots. Seven to 10 days of counting are necessary "before results [show] reliable trends," Reuters reported on 16 October, and final results should available at the end of the month, AP reported. Candidate Yunus Qanooni, the former Afghan education minister, was in second place with 18.6 percent of the vote and Abdul Rashid Dostum was in third with 10.1 percent, the Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body reported. Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik, gained about 95 percent of the vote in the northern, largely Tajik Panjshir Valley. He stated on 17 October that it was too early to tell who had won the elections, and that a "full count and a proper investigation by a panel of foreign experts on fraud allegations" was necessary. "If they are able to separate the fraud from the wishes of the people, at that time we will see if the election is legitimate," Qanooni told AP. "Anything else is a coup," he warned. KM

The first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan was marred by violence in Afghanistan, where two separate terrorist attacks claimed the lives of seven people, including two U.S. soldiers, according to international news agencies on 16 October. U.S. military officials reported on 16 October that a "homemade bomb" struck a U.S. military vehicle on patrol in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan on 14 October. In addition to the two killed, three others were wounded. A second attack in Kunar Province on 15 October claimed the lives of at least three children and one Afghan policeman, when a truck was allegedly set on fire and a bomb was detonated via remote control. Finally, a rocket attack in Kabul, where unknown assailants launched four rockets, injured one woman according to news reports. Three of the rockets reportedly hit houses close to the Kabul airport. KM

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai condemned the terrorist attacks, describing the perpetrators as "enemies of Islam" and the attack as "inhumane and un-Islamic," according to AP on 16 October. U.S. military spokesman Scott Nelson stated that U.S. troops would "maintain vigilance and maintain security and a high presence" to deter further attacks that might cause instability in the country. Afghan and security experts had warned of potential attacks during last week's election period, when Afghanistan held its first-ever presidential elections on 9 October. KM

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said that the United States will work to ensure that the Afghan National Army has 70,000 soldiers within the next five years, according to AFP on 16 October. "The current plan is to get there in five additional years. We could do that at a faster rate. We are looking at that," said Khalilzad. The Afghan army stands at approximately 15,000 personnel currently and the police force at about 30,000. Germany has led efforts to train the Afghan police forces, and Khalilzad reported that these efforts would be boosted as well. "Our preferred approach is to get the Afghans to stand on their own feet as soon as possible," he said. KM

Approximately 271 Afghan soldiers serving in Division 6 in Kapisa Province surrendered some 31 heavy weapons and joined the Afghan Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program on 17 October, according to state-run Kabul Radio that day. As part of the DDR, the soldiers handed over 13 antiaircraft guns, three 75 mm cannons, two BM-1 rockets, four 82 mm canons, and 72 mm mortar shells. General Sayed Jalal Sa'idi, the official charged with disarmament in Kapisa, thanked the soldiers for joining the DDR program at a ceremony marking the occasion. He emphasized the importance of DDR for "ensuring peace and stability," according to Kabul Radio. KM

Representatives from the Group of Eight industrialized countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States) met in Washington on 15 October to discuss offering Iran incentives for not enriching uranium, international news agencies reported. The outcome of the meeting was that the Europeans would again ask Iran to refrain from enriching uranium in exchange for a benefits package that includes the provision of nuclear fuel, lifting some EU economic penalties, and increasing trade opportunities, "The Washington Post" and "The Washington Times" reported on 16 October. U.S. officials seem skeptical about the outcome of the offer, with an anonymous official telling "The Washington Post": "It's safe to say that American expectations are fairly low, based on Iran's miserable track record, including its almost instantaneous breaking of the last agreement we had with them." BS

When asked about Iran's reaction to the 15 October meeting of G8 officials and the planned European offer of concessions in exchange for not enriching uranium, Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 17 October, "We reject the proposal to freeze our enrichment activities and will only accept proposals which are in our national interest and within the framework of the NPT," ILNA reported. Musavian did not rule out talking to the Europeans, saying, "Ensuring the world that Iran's uranium enrichment will not be diverted toward military applications is an issue that can be negotiated." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi was more cautious. He said on 17 October, "We haven't received a proposal from the Europeans yet.... As a result, we can't make a judgment about the proposal," state television reported. He said that Iran is open to negotiations. BS

Mohammad Ali Nabizadeh, the parliamentary representative from Gachsaran, Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmad Province, died of heart failure in Shiraz on 15 October, state television reported. Born in 1950, he is to be buried in his native village of Del. The sixth parliament veteran was sworn-in on 29 August, three months after the rest of his colleagues because he had a heart attack and was hospitalized, "Resalat" reported on 31 August. BS

An anonymous "informed source" said the Guardians Council is likely to approve a proposal that the presidential election take place on 9 June 2005, "Sharq" reported on 16 October. The source explained the date by saying it falls after school exams and that would allow academics to administer the elections. BS

Tehran parliamentary representative and former student activist Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni told a gathering of the Office for Strengthening Unity that the only presidential candidate that could challenge the conservatives is Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 16 October. If Hashemi-Rafsanjani refuses, he said, the Executives of Construction Party, the Islamic Labor Party, and the Labor House will back anyone that Hashemi-Rafsanjani recommends. Mustafa Derayati, a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party's central council, said on 15 October that with Mir Hussein Musavi's refusal to run for president, his organization will back former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin, Mehr News Agency reported. Derayati said that the IIPP has not spoken with Moin yet. He added that there have also not been any negotiations with Hashemi-Rafsanjani. BS

Former student activist and Tehran parliamentary representative Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni criticized the state of reformist political organizations, saying, "Given the existence of divisions within the 2nd Khordad Front [named after the date of President Mohammad Khatami's May 1997 election], it seems unlikely it will be able to play an effective role in the elections," "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 16 October. He recommended that the reformist grouping increase its popular support by opening its doors to the national-religious activists and the banned-but-tolerated Freedom Movement. Musavi-Khoeni said the Islamic Iran Participation Party has accepted the Freedom Movement and its members have participated in some IIPP events; he said other political organizations should do the same. BS

Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a statement posted to an Islamic forum website ( on 17 October. The statement attributed to al-Zarqawi's Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad militant group said: "Talks, during which views were exchanged between Sheikh Abu Mus'ab...and brothers from Al-Qaeda, have been going on for eight months." The statement said that talks were interrupted for a time but then resumed, adding, "Our respected brothers in Al-Qaeda understood the strategy of Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad in the land of the two rivers [Iraq] and the caliphates and their hearts opened to their approach." "We deliver to the nation the news that both Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad's Amir [al-Zarqawi] and soldiers have pledged allegiance to the sheikh of the mujahedin, Osama bin Laden, and that they will follow his orders in jihad for the sake of God so there will be no more tumult or oppression, and justice and faith in God will prevail." The statement called on the "youth of this nation" to join al-Zarqawi's followers under the banner of Al-Qaeda. KR

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told reporters on 16 October that bin Laden recently sent an aide, identified as Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi, to Al-Fallujah to reunite what KUNA described as "terrorists and rebels," and to supply the groups with money and arms, the news agency reported on 17 October. KUNA quoted Allawi as saying that al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda have formed a new organization aimed at destabilizing security in Iraq. Allawi told reporters that 90 Arab terrorists recently arrested in Samarra confirmed the al-Zarqawi/Al-Qaeda alliance. The detained terrorists also gave "serious" information about bomb-making workshops and training centers in Al-Fallujah, KUNA reported. Al-Zarqawi was indicted in a Jordanian court on 17 October along with 12 other militants, including a Syrian identified as Abu al-Ghadia, in an alleged plot to attack the U.S. Embassy in Amman and other Jordanian targets with chemical and conventional weapons, international media reported on 17 October. Some of the suspects in custody said that the plot was linked to Al-Qaeda, reported on 18 October. A statement attributed to the military wing of Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad posted on the Internet ( on 16 October claimed the group beheaded 11 Iraqi National Guardsmen and policemen. KR

Iraqi policemen were targeted in several weekend attacks, international media reported. Six people were killed and 30 wounded when a car bomb detonated outside a Baghdad cafe in the early morning hours of 18 October, Al-Arabiyah reported. Policemen had gathered at the cafe for suhur, the predawn Ramadan meal. Reuters reported that seven were killed and 20 wounded in the attack. The news agency could not confirm how many of the casualties were policemen. Seven Iraqi policemen sustained injuries in an ambush south of Ba'qubah on 18 October, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Nine Iraqi policemen were killed in Al-Latifiyah on 17 October when gunmen ambushed the bus they were traveling in, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The men had just completed a police-training course in Jordan and were on their way home when the attack occurred. KR

Five churches were bombed in Baghdad in the early morning hours of 16 October, international media reported. The bombs were all detonated within a half hour of each other, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Adnan Abd al-Rahman. No one was injured in the attacks, which caused exterior damage to the buildings and blew out windows, AP reported. Four car bombs detonated within a 30-minute period outside churches in Baghdad on 1 August, killing at least 10 people, and wounding dozens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). Sunni and Shi'a leaders, including Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the 16 October attacks, according to Iraqi media reports. KR

The interim government announced on 17 October that it will extend the arms buy-back program initiated in the Al-Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2004), reported on 18 October. The website quoted aides to Prime Minister Allawi as saying the program will be extended until 19 October. Iraqi media reported on 16 October that the program was extended for only one day. Militiamen loyal to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have turned in over 1,000 heavy weapons in the past week, including 700 rocket-propelled grenades and some 400 mortar shells. Hundreds of light weapons were also turned in to the government for cash -- some $1.2 million, reported. Iraqi forces were scheduled to begin house-to-house searches for weapons in Al-Sadr City on 18 October; those searches will reportedly now get under way on 20 October. KR

U.S. forces reportedly arrested and later released the apparent head of the Al-Fallujah negotiating team that held talks with the interim government in an effort to bring an end to violence in the volatile Sunni city, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 16 October. Khalid Humud al-Jumayli was arrested following Friday prayers on 15 October. Prime Minister Allawi denied to reporters at a 16 October press conference that al-Jumayli had been arrested. Negotiator Abd al-Hamid al-Jaddu told Al-Jazeera in a 15 October interview that al-Jumayli's arrest will have "adverse consequences." Negotiators from the city said on 17 October that they are ready to resume talks, which broke off last week, on the condition that the United States cease its bombing of the city and release al-Jumayli. Al-Arabiyah reported that at least one condition -- al-Jumayli's release -- was met on 18 October. KR