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Newsline - October 19, 2004


PUTIN SAYS INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS WANT TO PREVENT BUSH'S REELECTION...
President Vladimir Putin on 19 October said that "the goal of international terrorism is to prevent the election of [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush to a second term," Russian and international media reported. Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe, Putin said that "the activities of terrorists in Iraq are not as much aimed at the coalition as at President Bush personally." He added that if the terrorists "achieve that goal, then they will of course celebrate it as a victory...over America and, to a certain extent, over the forces of the international antiterrorism coalition." Putin emphasized that Moscow's position on the war in Iraq continues to differ from that of the Bush administration and that Russia will "respect any decision of the American people" in the election. A telephone survey of 1,050 people by "Moskovskie novosti" conducted in early September found that 52 percent of Russians support Bush in the U.S. election and 48 percent support Democratic Party challenger Senator John Kerry, cyberpresse.ca reported on 15 October. RC

...AS ANALYSTS DISCUSS WHAT RESULT THE KREMLIN WANTS FROM U.S. ELECTION
Politcom.ru on 15 October surveyed several leading analysts about the possible impact of the U.S. elections on Russia. Politika Foundation President Vyacheslav Nikonov said that "for Russia a Kerry victory would mean the start of a difficult period in relations with the United States." "All the indications are that a Kerry administration's relations with Russia would be based on criticism of the problems with democracy in our country," Nikonov said. "Which means no relations, because [President] Putin does not see any problems here." Anatolii Utikin of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada said: "The Republicans are only concerned with geopolitics. They are worried, for example, about what will happen to China in 20 years. They are therefore more comfortable with us, they do not annoy us, do not ask what is going on in Chechnya, do not go on about whether there is freedom of speech in Russia." Center for Political Technologies Deputy General Director Boris Makarenko said: "I think there are stereotypes at work here. Since Soviet times, we have liked Republicans better than Democrats. But this is fundamentally wrong. The Bush team...has not been particularly friendly toward us recently." RC

KREMLIN SIGNS OFF ON BELARUSIAN REFERENDUM
The Foreign Ministry on 18 October released a statement saying that the 17 October referendum in Belarus was transparent and reflected the will of the Belarusian people, ITAR-TASS reported. "More than 77 percent of the voters came out in support of a constitutional amendment canceling the restriction on the number of presidential terms the same person can hold in a row," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said. "It is the choice of the Belarusian people and it has to be respected." Yakovenko noted that 70 Russian observers monitored the poll. The ministry also issued a statement decrying a 17 October attack that left ORT Minsk correspondent Pavel Sheremet hospitalized with head injuries. "We express the hope that the Belarusian authorities will take all necessary measures to investigate the incident and punish the culprits," the statement said. RC

SECOND WESTERN AUDITOR TO ASSESS YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ
Oil giant Yukos has hired J.P. Morgan Chase to conduct an independent valuation of its main production subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz, Interfax reported on 18 October. Yuganskneftegaz is expected to be auctioned off by the government in payment of Yukos's tax debts. The government hired Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein to value the company, and Dresdner placed the value at $14.7 billion to $17.3 billion. Yukos said that it was asking for the second valuation because, although Yukos provided Dresdner with complete information about Yuganskneftegaz, the auditor was not obliged by the government to take it all into consideration. An unidentified source within the Russian Property Fund told the news agency that the government might start bidding for a 78 percent stake in Yuganskneftegaz at the exact amount of Yukos's current outstanding tax debt. Aleksandr Buksman, head of the Justice Ministry's Moscow directorate, said that debt is currently $3.73 billion. Federal Financial Markets Service Director Oleg Vyugin told Interfax on 18 October that selling Yukos assets for "next to nothing" would harm the interests of minority investors and have a negative effect on the overall investment climate in Russia. RC

LIBERAL DUMA DEPUTY LASHES OUT AT PUTIN'S PROPOSED REFORMS
State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told the Swiss newspaper "Tagblatt" on 19 October that President Putin is destroying Russian democracy and has increased the danger of international terrorism to Russia. "His antiterrorist rhetoric is just a cover for the destruction of democracy," Ryzhkov said, lambasting Putin's proposed political reforms. "[Putin] himself always rejected any possible negotiations with Chechen separatists and by doing so has driven them into the camp of international terrorism," Ryzhkov said. "I believe that Putin and his closest advisers think in old Soviet categories and they want to resurrect the empire, which will differ from the Soviet one only in terms of ideology. Seeing Putin as a democrat is an illusion." RC

HEALTH MINISTER NOTES RISE IN BIRTHS OUT OF WEDLOCK...
In 2003, almost 30 percent of newborns in Russia were born out of wedlock, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 October, citing Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov. Zurabov noted that this percentage has been steadily increasing. In 1994, 14.6 percent of newborns were born outside of marriage, compared with 29.5 percent in 2003. Zurabov also noted that the birthrate was up by 80,000 last year compared with the previous year, ITAR-TASS reported. Nevertheless, he concluded that Russia has started the 21st century with a rate of population decrease that is one of the world's highest. Zurabov was speaking at a conference in Moscow devoted to the spiritual and moral basis of Russia's demographic development. JAC

...AS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CALLS ON TV STATIONS TO ADVERTISE AGAINST ABORTION
Speaking at the same Moscow conference, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II noted that Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported. According to the patriarch, the media is partly responsible for the decline of morality in society, because it "sows the seeds of permissiveness, licentiousness, and egotism." Also addressing the conference, Metropolitan of Kaluga and Borovskii Kliment called on the directors of Russian television channels to show public-service announcements that would propagandize against abortions, Interfax reported. According to Metropolitan Kliment, in Russia there are three abortions for every live birth, and he recommended introducing amendments to the Civil Code that would prohibit doctors from persuading women to terminate their pregnancies. JAC

ELECTION TSAR CONTINUES TO CRITICIZE PROPOSED CHANGES
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has said that he does not support a bill recently introduced in the State Duma that would raise the minimum number of members for a political party to be eligible to register from 10,000 to 50,000, RBK reported on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). According to Veshnyakov, the number of 100,000 members had been considered, and he said it was a "positive step" that this figure was halved. He added that his commission will try to convince the authors of the bill that the number of party members should remain at 10,000 or at least that the proposed increase should be less than to 50,000. Earlier, Veshnyakov, who is considered extremely loyal to the Kremlin, criticized President Putin's proposal to cancel gubernatorial elections, suggesting that such a measure could increase corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). JAC

YABLOKO DEPUTY LEADER SAYS KREMLIN TRYING TO KEEP HIM OUT OF DUMA
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 October, Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin charged that "there has been a command from the Kremlin that I be removed from the [5 December State Duma] by-election by any means." Mitrokhin and other candidates are vying for the Duma seat that Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov gave up when he joined the government. According to Mitrokhin, a woman who was gathering signatures for him was arrested by police on suspicion of being a terrorist, despite the fact that she had a passport and documentation from Yabloko and Mitrokhin himself. The head of his election headquarters was also summoned to the Interior Ministry, and the ministry's department for combating economic crimes is auditing his financial records. Mitrokhin is supported by both Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces. Also running in the race are economist Mikhail Delyagin from the Motherland party and Ivan Grachev, head of the Development of Entrepreneurship Party. Unified Russia is supporting a candidate virtually unknown in Moscow politics, but whose name will ring a bell with local voters -- Aleksandr Zhukov. Zhukov is the director of Moscow-based Metromash. JAC

GOVERNORS LOBBY PUTIN FOR REAPPOINTMENT
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 October that President Putin has recently been engaged in his most intensive round of consultations with members of the regional political elite since coming to office in 2000. According to the daily, regional leaders appear to be conducting talks about "lengthening their contracts." A bill canceling gubernatorial elections is scheduled to be considered by the State Duma on 29 October, the daily reported. According to Aleksei Markarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, "Each [regional leader] wants a solid guarantee from the Kremlin that they will remain in power or at the very least will be able to name their successor." State Duma Deputy Oleg Shein (Motherland) told the newspaper that the question of merging regions is also being discussed in Putin's talks with governors. Shein, who represents Astrakhan Oblast, said this region is most likely to be unified with Volgograd Oblast and Kalmykia. Shein recently decided to participate in the 5 December gubernatorial election in Astrakhan, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. JAC

PRO-KREMLIN PARTY DROPS SUPPORT FOR ULYANOVSK LEADER
The political council of the Unified Russia party voted on 16 October to support Dmitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov in the 5 December gubernatorial election in Ulyanovsk Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 October. Earlier, analysts assumed that the party would support incumbent Governor Vladimir Shamanov, who is a member of the party's Supreme Council and who was elected to his first term with the Kremlin's support in 2000. According to the daily, sources in the oblast think Shamanov may now decide not to run for reelection and will support his official "successor" and long-time associate, First Deputy Governor Mikhail Shkanov. Other likely candidates are State Duma Deputy Margarita Barzhanova (Unified Russia), entrepreneur Sergei Gerasimov, local Communist Party leader Aleksandr Kruglikov, and former Communist Governor Yurii Goryachev. Polls conducted earlier this year found that Shamanov's seat was vulnerable and that he was unlikely to win in the first round (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 August 2004). JAC

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER CONDEMNS VIOLATIONS DURING SEARCH OPERATION
Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov intervened last week to end a search operation in the village of Novye Atagi, south of Grozny, conducted by guardsmen loyal to First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 October. The village, which has a population of some 8,000, was cordoned off and every house was searched; all males between the age of 14 and 60 were herded together in a compound surrounded with barbed wire, and 10 of them were eventually arrested on unspecified charges. After three days, Alkhanov dispatched a team to assess the situation in Novye Atagi and condemned human right violations as likely to undercut the population's support for the pro-Russian Chechen leadership. Alkhanov's intervention may compound tensions between himself and Kadyrov, the second-most-powerful official in the pro-Moscow leadership. Some Russian observers have predicted that Kadyrov will replace Alkhanov as leader in preterm elections in the fall of 2006 when Kadyrov turns 30. LF

ARMENIAN COALITION PARTIES SAY PRESIDENT WILL NOT SEEK THIRD TERM
In an apparent bid to quash persistent media speculation, leading members of the three parties represented in the Armenian coalition government denied on 18 October that incumbent President Robert Kocharian seeks, as his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka has done, to amend the constitution to permit him to run for a third presidential term, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Referring to the 17 October referendum in Belarus, Samvel Nikonian of the Republican Party of Armenia said, "I think that cannot serve as a precedent for Armenia because we don't like what has taken place in Belarus. My attitude to such processes is negative." Mher Shahgeldian (Orinats Yerkir) similarly said that the constitutional amendments currently under discussion are not aimed at creating the possibility for Kocharian to seek a third presidential term. LF

RUSSIA TRANSFERS ARMENIAN OFFICERS FROM GEORGIAN BASE
Some 500 local Armenian officers currently serving at the Russian military base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia have been posted to other regions of the Russian Federation in what has been described as a routine rotation of military personnel, Caucasus Press reported on 19 October, citing unnamed Armenian media outlets. The Armenian officers have been replaced by personnel from bases in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in Russia. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CRITICIZES 2005 DRAFT BUDGET
Parliament deputies rejected the 2005 draft budget in the first reading on 18 October and returned it to the government with the recommendation that defense spending be increased by almost one-third, from 119 million laris ($55.2 million) to 157 million laris, Caucasus Press reported. On 15 October, the parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security Issues pointed out that countries aspiring to NATO membership are required to allocate the equivalent of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending, but 119 million laris is equal to only 1.2 percent of GDP. Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli responded that defense spending will not be increased. The parliament committees on Legal Affairs and on Education and Science also rejected the draft budget last week on the grounds that it does not allocate sufficient funds to raise the salaries of judges and teachers. LF

NGO PROTESTS GEORGIAN ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS
The NGO Fair Elections and the "international democratic community" have expressed concern over the passage by the Georgian parliament on 12 October of amendments to the election law that abolish the minimum one-third turnout required for an election to be valid, Caucasus Press reported on 19 October, citing the daily "Alia." Opposition parliament deputy Ivliane Khaindrava protested on 12 October that the passage of an "organic law" in all three readings on one day constitutes a gross violation of the Georgian Constitution, Caucasus Press reported. By-elections are to be held in four constituencies on 24 October under the amended legislation. LF

ABKHAZ SUPREME COURT CHAIR RESIGNS, PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DISMISSED
Alla Avidzba announced on 18 October her resignation from the post of chairwoman of the Supreme Court of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia in the wake of the 3 October presidential election in which two rival candidates, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba and Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh, both claim victory, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The Supreme Court repeatedly postponed considering Khadjimba's appeals against the decision of the Central Election Commission to hold a repeat ballot in Gali Raion and its subsequent announcement that Bagapsh won the ballot. The Supreme Court is now scheduled to consider the second of those appeals on 19 October. Also on 18 October, outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba dismissed Prosecutor-General Rauf Korua, who last week publicly expressed his support for Bagapsh, ITAR-TASS reported. Ardzinba accused Korua of failing to prevent either violations during the 3 October vote and vote count or pressure on the election commission. Meanwhile the editors of several independent Abkhaz newspapers have issued an appeal to the vice president and parliamentary speaker protesting that publishing houses refuse to print their papers, Caucasus Press reported on 18 October. The editors alleged that no articles may be printed without the prior approval of acting Prime Minister Nodar Khashba, who was appointed to succeed Khadjimba after Ardzinba dismissed Khadjimba on 6 October. LF

KAZAKH SPEAKER GIVES UP POST, LEAVES PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY
Zharmakhan Tuyakbai told a news conference in Almaty on 18 October that he will give up his seat in the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) and leave the pro-presidential Otan party, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The announcement came after Tuyakbai told the newspaper "Vremya" on 14 October that the 19 September parliamentary elections were deeply flawed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). At the news conference, Tuyakbai reiterated his charge that the new parliament was elected with violations and stressed that he will not be a part of it. In a statement circulated the same day, Tuyakbai said, "I am convinced that violations in the course of 19 September elections are now becoming the main obstacle on the path to political modernization." Tuyakbai said in the statement that his decision to leave Otan would make sense to others who had tried to make it a "modern, independent parliamentary party, democratic in its methods and honest to its voters and political opponents." He said that "crude interference by the executive branch" had doomed that effort. DK

KYRGYZ PREMIER ASKS FOR BRITISH HELP AGAINST AFGHAN DRUG LABS
Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev met with James Sharp, Great Britain's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek on 18 October and requested British assistance in ensuring the destruction of narcotics laboratories in Afghanistan, Kabar reported. Tanaev said that not one drug laboratory has been destroyed in Afghanistan since the antiterrorist coalition began its activities there; instead, their numbers have grown. Tanaev noted that his country is a frequent transit destination for drug traffickers. Tanaev and Sharp also discussed bilateral trade and economic cooperation. DK

KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTRY IDENTIFIES SUSPECTS IN 2003 BUS ATTACK
Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry has identified two Chinese citizens of Uighur descent as the prime suspects in a 2003 attack on a bus that killed 21 people, Kabar reported on 18 October. Interior Ministry spokesman Joldoshbek Busurmankulov said that Kyrgyz law-enforcement authorities have incontrovertible proof that the two suspects, who have not yet been apprehended, committed the crime. Eighteen of the victims in the 27 March 2003 attack, which took place on the Torugart-Bishkek highway, were Chinese citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). DK

RUSSIA JOINS CENTRAL ASIAN COOPERATION ORGANIZATION...
The Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) welcomed Russia as its fifth member state at a summit in Dushanbe on 18 October, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. CACO now consists of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; the leaders of all member states attended the summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin commented, "As part of this organization, we hope, first of all, to develop our practical capabilities in fighting such threats as terrorism and regional extremism -- I mean religious extremism in our region -- in fighting illegal drug trafficking and other challenges," RFE/RL reported. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said that Russia's membership "will increase the potential and the dynamics of our organization"; other Central Asian leaders expressed similar sentiments. Summit participants also decided to give Afghanistan the status of an official observer within CACO, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

...AS MEMBERS AGREE TO DRAW UP TERROR LIST
Acting on an Uzbek initiative, leaders of CACO member states agreed to draw up a list of terrorist and religious-extremist organizations banned within the organization's borders, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 18 October. Security services will put the list together within three months, Avesta reported. Tajik President Rakhmonov described security as the summit's main issue, but it was not the only issue on the agenda. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev outlined other summit decisions, saying, "Within three months the governments of CACO members will develop conceptual frameworks for signing agreements to create transportation-communications, produce, and water and power consortiums with the participation of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank," Avesta reported. DK

CONCERN EXPRESSED OVER TAJIK INDEPENDENT PRESS
Nigina Bahrieva, deputy director of Tajikistan's Human Rights Bureau, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 18 October that participants in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Human Dimension Implementation Meetings in Warsaw on 4-15 October expressed concern over the increasing difficulties of Tajikistan's independent press. Bahrieva said, "The deteriorating position of the media in Tajikistan and limitations on the rights and freedoms of Tajik journalists are sparking concern among international rights organizations." Meanwhile, Rajab Mirzo, the editor in chief of the independent weekly "Ruzi Nav," told Iranian radio on 18 October that "Ruzi Nav," "Nerui Sukhan," and "Olamu Odam" are cooperating with the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House in an effort to find printing facilities in neighboring Kyrgyzstan because of problems with printers in Tajikistan. DK

OSCE SAYS BELARUSIAN ELECTIONS 'SIGNIFICANTLY SHORT' OF DEMOCRATIC STANDARDS...
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President Tone Tinsgaard, who led an OSCE short-term monitoring mission for the 17 October legislative ballot, said on 18 October that the elections fell "significantly short" of Belarus's OSCE commitments, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The OSCE refused to monitor the presidential referendum held the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004), even though it was invited to do so by Minsk. According to Tinsgaard, the biased referendum campaign by the Belarusian government "contributed to a highly distorted campaign environment." Tinsgaard said the authorities raided the campaign offices of opposition candidates, coerced many groups of voters to cast ballots in the 17 October polls, and conducted biased coverage of election-relates issues in the media. OSCE monitors determined that in 60 percent of polling stations they visited the vote count lacked transparency and was practically uncontrollable. JM

...WHILE CIS MONITORS SEE NOTHING WRONG
CIS Executive Committee Chairman Vladimir Rushailo, who led a group of CIS monitors during the 17 October elections and referendum in Belarus, said on 18 October that the polls were democratic, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. "[The polls] saw a high level of interest and participation by Belarusian citizens," Rushailo said. "They were held in accordance with the norms of the existing electoral legislation. They were free, fair, legitimate, and transparent." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT 'OVERWHELMED' BY REFERENDUM SUPPORT
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 18 October that he did not expect that his desire to run for the post of president for a third time would be supported by more than 77 percent of eligible voters in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004), Belarusian and international news agencies reported. "The outcome of the referendum was overwhelming for me," Lukashenka said. "I did not expect such a high turnout and such wide support." Lukashenka dismissed the opposition's charges that the polls were fixed. He said it was possible for the authorities to falsify the votes by several percent but not by 30 percent. He was apparently referring to an exit poll by the Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys that found that just 48.4 percent of eligible voters in Belarus said "yes" to his desire to rule Belarus beyond 2006, when his second presidential term ends. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION RALLIES AGAINST OFFICIAL REFERENDUM RESULTS
The Belarusian opposition gathered several thousand people in downtown Minsk on 18 October to protest the official referendum results, which it believes were falsified, Belapan reported. Police reportedly detained only a few people, apparently not wanting to use force in the presence of many foreign journalists and election observers in Minsk. JM

UKRAINIAN LEADING PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WANT TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ...
Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has announced that immediately after becoming president he would sign a decree on pulling out the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq, Interfax reported on 18 October. "Our servicemen will be withdrawn from Iraq in a quiet way, without rush," Yushchenko said. "They will be replaced by politicians, diplomats, and businessmen. Ukraine is ready to participate in the restoration of Iraq's economy." Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's main rival in the 31 October elections, said at a meeting with voters on 18 October that he foresees a gradual pullout of the Ukrainian troops from Iraq in 2005. Yushchenko stressed that the contingent cannot be withdrawn immediately as such a move would only add impetus to international terrorism. JM

...AND MAKE MORE ELECTION PROMISES
Candidate Yushchenko has promised that as president he will oblige the state officialdom to speak with citizens in the language in which it is addressed, Interfax reported on 18 October. Yushchenko reportedly signed a draft decree protecting citizens' rights to use the Russian language and languages of other nationalities in Ukraine. The decree foresees that in regions inhabited by large groups of Russians and other minorities, state officials should be obliged to know the languages of these nationalities and use them for communication with citizens. Another draft decrees by Yushchenko provides for simplified procedures in crossing Ukraine's borders with Belarus and Russia for citizens of these countries. Meanwhile, Yanukovych's campaign leader Serhiy Tihipko said Ukrainians will see another increase in pensions in March 2005. In September, Yanukovych's cabinet increased pensions for more than 11 million Ukrainians. JM

UKRAINE PONDERS SETTING UP 400 POLLING STATIONS FOR PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT IN RUSSIA
The Central Election Commission is considering a proposal by the Foreign Ministry to set up 400 election constituencies in Russia for the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported on 18 October, quoting commission member Yuriy Danylevskyy. Danylevskyy said the number of Ukrainian voters in Russia will "doubtless increase," but gave no details. The commission has so far set up 113 polling stations abroad, including four in Russia, for an estimated 211,000 voters. Earlier this month the Ukrainian diaspora held a well-publicized congress in Moscow and expressed support for Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential bid (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 12 October 2004). Meanwhile, lawmaker Viktor Teren said in the Verkhovna Rada on 19 October that the authorities are planning to set up "additional election constituencies" in Russia in order to provide Prime Minister Yanukovych with 1 million votes on 31 October. There are 36.28 million eligible voters in Ukraine, according to the latest data from the Central Election Commission. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CONTINUES TO WRANGLE OVER ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Five caucuses of the pro-government parliamentary coalition left the Verkhovna Rada session on 19 October in protest against what they said is turning the legislature into a rostrum for "political confrontation," UNIAN and Interfax reported. Earlier the same day lawmaker Nestor Shufrych from the pro-Yanukovych Social Democratic Party-united caucus said that "today's productivity of the parliament is nil," and proposed that deputies suspend the session and start working in parliamentary committees. Lawmakers from the Social Democratic Party-united and Regions of Ukraine caucuses blocked the parliamentary rostrum and displayed anti-Yushchenko slogans in the session hall, accusing him of lying about his alleged poisoning and suggesting he has ties with the youth organization Pora that has recently been accused of terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). JM

TWO MACEDONIAN HOSTAGES REPORTEDLY KILLED IN IRAQ
According to unconfirmed reports broadcast by Al-Jazeera television on 18 October, two of three Macedonian contractors who were abducted near Baghdad on 23 August were killed by their captors, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September and 14 October 2004). The Al-Jazeera footage reportedly showed pictures of Dalibor Lazarevski and Zoran Naskovski speaking to the cameras but did not broadcast the execution of the two workers. The hostage takers from the militant group Islamic Army in Iraq, who reportedly also kidnapped two French Journalists in August, claimed the Macedonians were spying on behalf of the United States. Lazarevski and Naskovski had worked for Soufan Engineering, a company with offices in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan specializing in providing prefab houses, pickup vehicles, generators, and other electrical equipment to foreign armies, diplomatic missions, and NGOs (see http://www.soufaneng.com and http://www.soufanind.com). A spokesman for the Macedonian Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters that it will try to confirm the television reports through its representatives in Baghdad. UB

SERBIAN MINISTER SAYS BELGRADE WILL NOT ARREST INDICTED GENERALS
Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 19 October that the authorities will not arrest four former Serbian army and police generals -- Sreten Lukic, Vlastimir Djordjevic, Vladimir Lazarevic, and Nebojsa Pavkovic -- who have been indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Stojkovic argued that the previous government ruled that arresting the four would be "dangerous for national security," and that this ruling will remain in force until the current government reverses it. The minister suggested that the only realistic options at present are for the four to go to The Hague voluntarily or for them to be tried in a Serbian court. Lazarevic is believed to be in Russia, whereas Lukic appeared recently in a Belgrade court. Pavkovic has threatened "revenge" against anyone who arrests him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 20 July, 20 September, and 1 October 2004). PM

SERBIAN HARD-LINERS SEEK TO RECALL PRESIDENT OVER KOSOVA VOTE QUESTION...
Some 104 members of the Serbian parliament belonging to the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) formally proposed the recall of President Boris Tadic at a legislative session on 18 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 8 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August and 8 October 2004). The hard-line deputies seek to remove Tadic because he recently called on Kosova's Serbian minority to vote in the province's 23 October parliamentary elections. Meanwhile in Podgorica, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic expressed his support for Tadic's appeal, which he called a move "by a responsible statesman." PM

...AS DIVISIONS DEEPEN AMONG SERBS IN KOSOVA
A total of 32 election lists put forward by parties, citizens initiatives, or independent groups will appear on the 23 October parliamentary ballot in Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported from Prishtina on 18 October. One Serbian list has been put forward by the Citizens' Initiative of Serbia. The other Serbian list is that of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija, which is headed by Oliver Ivanovic of the Social Democratic Party and nine other current members of the parliament belonging to the Povratak (Return) coalition. The list contains a total of 33 candidates, some of whom belong to the Democratic Party or the Serbian Renewal Movement. In northern Mitrovica, Serbian supporters of an election boycott recently formed the Anti-Election Central under Milan Ivanovic, who heads the Serbian National Council for Northern Kosmet. The terms Metohija and Kosmet are favored by many Serbs because they allude to the previous ownership of land in the province by Serbian Orthodox monks. PM

NATO TROOPS REPORTEDLY WOUND AND ARREST BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
SFOR peacekeepers said in a statement in Sarajevo on 18 October that they wounded an unnamed Bosnian Serb war crimes indictee that morning at an unspecified location when he resisted arrest, Reuters reported. The man is receiving medical care and will be handed over to the Sarajevo canton court authorities as soon as his condition permits, the statement added. The Bosnian Serb SRNA news agency identified the man as Nedjo Samardzic, who previously worked for the Bosnian Serb military in Foca, which was a major center of ethnic cleansing during the 1992-95 conflict. Samardzic has been indicted by a local court but not by the Hague-based tribunal. PM

BOSNIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST ADVERTISING BOYCOTT BY ISLAMIC LEADER
The Coordinating Council of Journalists' Associations of Bosnia-Herzegovina issued a statement in Sarajevo on 18 October criticizing a recent call by Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic Community, for an advertising boycott of the Sarajevo-based weekly "Dani," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ceric appealed to Muslim businesses not to use their money to support a publication that recently attacked him in a way that even many secularists found objectionable (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September and 15 October 2004). In recent weeks, many secularist politicians and journalists criticized the involvement of Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic clerics in the 2 October local elections. PM

FRENCH PRIME MINISTER VISITS ROMANIA
Jean-Pierre Raffarin discussed bilateral economic relations and Romania's efforts to join the EU during his meeting on 18 October with his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Prime Minister Raffarin said he believes "it is possible to secure the end of [EU] accession negotiations in December and the signing of the membership treaty in early 2005," AFP reported. Nastase agreed to Raffarin's proposal that an international committee be set up to examine ways to allow the adoption of Romanian children by prospective French parents, despite Romania's ban on international adoptions, AP reported. A contract for the construction of a 37-kilometer section of the Bucharest-Brasov highway by the French company Vinci was signed during the visit. Also signed was a contract under which the French telecoms company Alcatel is to provide network-modernization equipment to the Romanian national railway and a contract under which Gas de France will acquire a 51 percent stake in the Romanian gas concern Distrigaz. Raffarin also met with President Ion Iliescu and with leaders of the opposition. MS

ROMANIAN ELECTORAL BUREAU PASSES APPEAL AGAINST OPPOSITION CANDIDATE'S REGISTRATION
The Central Electoral Bureau decided on 19 October to forward to the Constitutional Court the Greater Romania Party's appeal against Traian Basescu's presidential candidacy, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). The PRM claims that National Liberal Party (PNL) Interim Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu was not entitled to submit Basescu's candidacy. Basescu is running as candidate of the PNL-Democratic Party alliance in the November elections. The Constitutional Court was to rule within 48 hours. MS

UDMR LAWMAKER OPPOSED TO PARTICIPATION OF SZEKLERS UNION IN NEXT PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) parliamentary deputy Arpad Marton on 19 October said the Union of Szeklers in Romania (USR) is not entitled to submit lists to run in the November parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Marton said current legislation entitles only those national minority organizations that are members of the National Minorities Council to submit electoral lists. The USR is not a member of the council. USR Chairman Kalman Kiss announced last week that his organization will run separately from the UDMR because it represents the interests of the Szeklers alone and not those of the Hungarian minority at large. Meanwhile, Jozsef Csapo, chairman of the National Szekler Council (CNS), said on 18 October that more than 600,000 Szeklers who are eligible to vote support the CNS's demand for autonomy. Csapo also said that the UDMR's "policy of small steps" with regards to Hungarian autonomy demands has proved to be a failure. MS

RUSSIA PAYS COMPENSATION TO ILASCU-GROUP DETAINEES...
Russia recently heeded an 8 July ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and paid compensation to four members of the so-called Ilascu group in connection with their detention in Transdniester, Flux reported on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). Ilie Ilascu was paid 187,000 euros ($233,282), while Andrei Ivantoc, Alexandru Lesco, and Tudor Petrov-Popa were paid 127,000 euros each. Former Tiraspol prisoner Alexandru Lesco told Flux that Moscow has only partially fulfilled the ruling of the court, since Ivantoc and Petrov-Popa are still detained in Tiraspol. The ECHR ruled that Russia is responsible for the detention because of its support for the separatist regime, and that in addition to paying compensation it must work toward the immediate release of the two remaining prisoners. It also ruled that Moldova is responsible for ensuring that human rights are respected in the separatist region, although it does not have de facto rule over that territory. Moldova has already paid compensation to the members of the Ilascu group. MS

...AS PRECEDENT IS USED FOR NEW COMPLAINT AGAINST RUSSIA, MOLDOVA
Moldovan Helsinki Committee Chairman Stefan Uratu on 18 October filed a complaint with the ECHR against Russia and Moldova. Based on the Ilascu-group precedent, the complaint states that both countries are responsible for Tiraspol's infringement of children's and parents' right to choose the language in which they are taught. The complaint follows Tiraspol's closure of Moldovan schools that taught a Latin-script-based curriculum. MS

LUKASHENKA OPENS PATH TO BELARUSIAN PRESIDENCY-FOR-LIFE
Belarus held national elections on 17 October to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives and a referendum on lifting the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency. The voting actually began five days earlier, on 12 October, as has been the established tradition under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 10-year rule. To win a referendum, Lukashenka needed at least 50 percent of Belarus's eligible voters to say "yes" to his desire to stay in power beyond 2006, when his second term ends. The referendum's turnout was therefore of utmost importance.

Voters were lured to polling stations with vodka, beer, sweets, and sausages that they could purchase there at prices that were cut by one-fourth compared to their everyday prices. The Central Election Commission reported early on 18 October that 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, voted in favor of Lukashenka's proposal allowing him to run for a third term in 2006. Belarus thus became the only country in Europe to provide its head of state with the right to stay in power virtually for life.

"I consider it an elegant victory," Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna commented on the referendum results. "If there had been no referendum, it should have been invented, because it has consolidated the nation as never before and given the young people a lesson in patriotism." "Elegant" is Lukashenka's own word; he used it with respect to his victory in 2001, when OSCE election monitors deemed the process neither fair nor democratic. The 2004 victory was much more "elegant" that in 2001 -- three years ago, Lukashenka was reported to have obtained a mere 75 percent of the vote, which translated into 63 percent of all eligible voters in Belarus.

Hence it is little wonder that Lukashenka professed to be baffled by his level of popular support. "The outcome of the referendum was overwhelming to me," Lukashenka said at an 18 October meeting with a selected group of primarily CIS election monitors who saw nothing wrong with the 17 October polling. "I did not expect such a high turnout and such wide support," Lukashenka added. He was not the only one in Belarus who was surprised by developments.

An exit poll held in Belarus by the Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys during the early voting from 12-16 October among 19,200 voters and on 17 October among 18,400 voters found that just 48.4 percent of all eligible voters in the country said "yes" in the referendum. Therefore, according to Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys, the referendum did not suffice to amend the Belarusian Constitution or give Lukashenka the right to run for reelection.

Yarmoshyna shrugged off the Gallup findings in the Belarusian polls. "I don't know whether it was the [Gallup] institute or a self-proclaimed group of people," she said on 18 October. "Who invited them here, who gave them accreditation, who checked the reliability of their sources and questionnaires? Whom did they question?" On the other hand, the government employed an obscure pollster to conduct a more favorable exit poll on 17 October -- its results, which approximated the official referendum results, were repeatedly released by state-run Belarusian Television throughout the voting day, something that is forbidden under the Election Code.

Moreover, Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who helped organize the Gallup survey in the Belarusian referendum, was severely beaten on 17 October, reportedly by a group of students from a police academy in Minsk, and hospitalized with injuries and a concussion. Police subsequently accused Sheremet of hooliganism; thus, after leaving hospital, he will most likely face a stay in jail.

The opposition claimed the 17 October polling was rigged. A nongovernmental organization called Partnership, which fielded 3,500 monitors for the elections and presidential referendum, has registered more than 1,000 alleged violations of the election law by members of election commissions. Partnership head Mikalay Astreyka said the vote count at virtually all polling stations in the country was conducted in the absence of independent monitors.

The conclusion of an OSCE monitoring mission in Belarus, which had some 270 international observers from 38 countries in Belarus on 17 October, was that the parliamentary elections fell "significantly short" of Belarus's OSCE commitments. (The OSCE refused to monitor the Belarusian referendum, even though it was invited to do so by the Belarusian government.) "We were concerned by police raids in campaign offices, the detention of a candidate, campaign workers and domestic observers, as well as numerous reports of coercion on certain groups, particularly students, to vote," OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President Tone Tinsgaard commented. "Not only was the [election] media coverage biased, opposition parties got barely any coverage, while the president and government enjoyed 90 percent of the coverage of election related issues."

Tinsgaard also said that in some 60 percent of the polling stations that were visited by OSCE monitors, the vote count was not transparent and practically uncontrollable. "Numbers were not being announced aloud as they were being established and observers were given only a limited view of the process, and the procedure for the compilation of protocol was not followed," she noted.

The legislative elections were overshadowed by the referendum. On the other hand, few seemed to expect successes for the opposition in that voting. Before the elections, Lukashenka ordered the government to work toward eliminating the opposition from the legislature, filling all 110 seats in the first round, and electing roughly one-third of women to the Chamber of Representatives. His instructions were fulfilled almost to the letter. The Central Election Commission announced that 108 deputies were elected to the lower house, and none are from the opposition. Thirty-one women were elected to the Chamber of Representatives, representing nearly 29 percent of the lower house's current composition.

The Belarusian opposition meanwhile held an unsanctioned rally in Minsk on the evening of 18 October to protest the official results of the referendum. Several thousand people turned up for the protest -- perhaps surprising for an opposition that has been unable to gather more than several hundred people for anti-Lukashenka actions in recent years. Police made few arrests this time, perhaps wary of using brutal force against protesters in the presence of foreign journalists and election monitors in the Belarusian capital.

"People voted for one thing, while the results turned out to be completely different," opposition United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka told journalists on 18 October. "I think the authorities won the vote count but lost several hundred thousand, or even several million, people.... There is a chance of making these people active participants in the political process." Which is, of course, the only way to stop Lukashenka from scoring another "elegant" victory in 2006.

Lukashenka turned 50 this year. An avid hockey player and rollerskater, he is physically fit and looks set for many more "elegant" victories in the future -- regardless of how much their scale might baffle even him.

FIVE TRAVELING IN ELECTORAL VEHICLE KILLED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Five people traveling in a UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) jeep were killed in Paktika Province on 18 October, "The New York Times" reported. An election official, his driver, and three civilians were killed in the attack. It has not been established whether the roadside bomb specifically targeted the election overseer, but a man purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, Abdul Latif Hakimi, claimed responsibility for the attack. Afghanistan's presidential election held on 9 October was relatively free of violence, but it did result in the deaths of 14 people, most of them security officers (for more on the Afghan presidential election, see RFE/RL's special website on the elections at http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections/). AT

KARZAI'S MAIN RIVAL CLAIMS FRAUD COST HIM VICTORY...
Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, who currently stands second to Afghan Transitional Administration Hamid Karzai in the Afghan presidential vote count, has accused election organizers of "robbing the people's vote," AFP reported on 18 October. With around 20 percent of the vote counted, Karzai has secured 61.3 percent of the vote while Qanuni has 18.8 percent, "The New York Times," reported on 18 October. "According to a survey we expected to get more than 58 percent of the people's vote," AFP quoted Qanuni as saying. According to Qanuni the issue of indelible ink was a minor one compared to dozens of cases of "fraud and irregularities" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 October 2004). Qanuni, who dropped his threat to boycott the elections after the UN established a panel to investigate allegations of fraud, said that since an initial meeting "no member of the panel has contacted" his side to discuss the progress of the investigation. Qanuni also complained that while only 10 million Afghans registered to vote, the JEMB printed 20 million ballots -- many of which, he claimed, have disappeared. AT

...AS DOES ANOTHER CANDIDATE
Independent presidential candidate Abdul Satar Sirat has complained about irregularities and "widespread fraud" in the Afghan presidential election, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 17 October. Sirat claimed that many foreigners were able to vote in the Afghan election because people without proper identification were issued voter-registration cards. Sirat rejected JEMB's explanation that problems encountered with ink used to mark voters' hands were due to a technical fault. He said that it is "completely obvious that intolerable violations took place in the presidential election." Sirat, who was passed over in favor of Karzai during the Bonn negotiations in December 2001, has so far obtained less than 1 percent of the vote. AT

FORMER TALIBAN MINISTER TO FORM POLITICAL PARTY
Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, who served as the Taliban regime's minister of foreign affairs, intends to form a new political party, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 17 October. Reports surfaced in June that Chairman Karzai was continuing negotiations with some former leaders of the ousted Taliban regime in order to include them in a postelection government in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 June 2004). Conflicting reports about Karzai's relations with the ousted Taliban regime, particularly with Mutawakkil, have circulated since the latter was reportedly released from U.S. detention in October 2003 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July, 18 September, 9, 16, 23, and 30 October 2003, and 4 March 2004). AT

U.S. TO HELP ESTABLISH AFGHAN AIR FORCE
The United States intends to revive Afghanistan's air force in cooperation with that country's Defense Ministry, Radio Afghanistan reported on 18 October. The primary duty of the air force will be to ensure the safety of the Afghan president during his travels. No details of the strength of the air force or a timetable for its revival was reported. Afghanistan's air force was destroyed during the civil war of the 1990s and the last few remaining aircraft were lost during military operations in 2001. AT

PROPOSAL TO IMPOSE AGE LIMITATION FOR IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES MET WITH CRITICISM
Conservative legislator Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini on 18 October criticized proposed legislation that would amend the election law and place a ceiling on the age of presidential candidates, Mehr New Agency reported. One day earlier, parliamentary presiding board member Hamid Reza Hajibabai said no such bill has been prepared or presented to the presiding board, Mehr News Agency reported. Another legislator, Alaedin Borujerdi, said he knows of no such proposal. On 13 October, the state news agency's "Iran" newspaper reported that a group of legislators wants to amend the presidential election law by imposing an age limit. The newspaper quoted legislators from both sides of the aisle who expressed their opposition to the amendment, and cited Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Mirlohi as saying the bill would limit the public's electoral power. BS

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN WANTS NEW PEOPLE ON THE SCENE
Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in an 18 October meeting with parliamentarians and other officials that new people must enter the political scene, ISNA reported. Addressing the Iran Specialists Association (Majma-yi Motakhasesan-i Iran) and several parliamentary representatives, he said, "The interests of the state necessitate that the world should feel that Iran has the potential to produce capable individuals." Hashemi-Rafsanjani indicated that he would serve as president again (he was president in 1989-97) only with great reluctance: "I am a soldier of the revolution and I am willing to spend the rest of my life serving the revolution and Islam," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. "I am quite prepared to serve in any position that the state and people feel I will be of some use. However, I prefer other honest and capable individuals to assume the responsibilities of the chief executive." Hashemi-Rafsanjani added that the current international and domestic climates make the management of the country difficult. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with the parliamentary women's faction on 18 October and said the budget bill for the next year should allocate more money for female heads of household and unattended children, IRNA reported. Khatami added that social justice was the most important objective of the country's 1979 revolution. In Rome, meanwhile, two Iranian legislators attended a conference on children's rights, IRNA reported on 18 October. Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Aliya spoke out against abortion. She also bemoaned international inaction on the rights of children in occupied countries, which she listed as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. Karaj parliamentary representative Fatimeh Ajarlu also spoke at the event. About 200 female legislators from around the world attended the conference. BS

NORWEGIAN FIRMS AMONG BIDDERS ON IRANIAN OIL FIELD
Two Norwegian oil companies, Norsk Hydro and Statoil, are bidding to develop the Yadavaran oil field in Iran's Khuzestan Province, Radio Farda reports (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/10/5d215c23-eed2-41bf-9b63-c4a64e395734.html). The companies submitted their tenders in late September, the Norwegian "Aftenposten" daily reported on 17 October. Both companies have other outstanding proposals to develop Iranian energy resources -- Statoil is developing three phases of the offshore South Pars gas field, and Hydro is bidding on several blocks in Luristan Province (on Statoil's activities in Iran, see http://www.statoil.com/STATOILCOM/SVG00990.nsf/0/ 9C507D8C44E10A9AC1256AD8002FC5BB?OpenDocument; and on Hydro's activities, see http://www.hydro.com/en/our_business/oil_energy/production/international/iran.html). Iranian Oil Engineering and Development Company official Ali Akbar Al-i Aqa said in August that the Yadavaran field has proven reserves of some 17 billion barrels, and Tehran is negotiating with China, France, and Russia, as well as Statoil, on the field's development (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 2004). BS

NATIONAL GUARD HEADQUARTERS ATTACKED IN IRAQ
Militants fired six mortars rounds at the Iraqi National Guard headquarters north of Baghdad on 19 October, international media reported. Reuters cited a National Guard spokesman as telling reporters, "All I am permitted to say is that the National Guard headquarters in Al-Mushahida was attacked." AP cited unnamed Iraqi police and National Guard officers as saying that 100 guardsmen were killed or wounded in the attack. The news agency could not give a breakdown on the number of killed and injured. CNN cited U.S. military officials as saying that four were killed and 80 wounded in the attack. Meanwhile, Margaret Hassan, the head of operations for U.K.-based Care International, was kidnapped in Baghdad on 19 October, Reuters reported. There were no immediate details on Hassan's kidnapping. The charity has yet to post a statement on its website (http://www.careinternational.org.uk). KR

WEAPONS BUY-BACK PROGRAM EXTENDED IN IRAQ...
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has extended the weapons buy-back program in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City until 21 October, Iraqi media reported on 18 October. Allawi told a press briefing broadcast live on Al-Arabiyah that the program will also be expanded to other parts of the country, saying the program was a necessary step in preparation for January elections. "The government is determined to make cities and neighborhoods free of weapons because our forces are now qualified to face violence and protect citizens gradually, and we see no need for the presence of weapons in houses." The buy-back program has reportedly done little to rid Al-Sadr City of weapons, despite the plethora of weapons turned in (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). KR

...BUT WILL IT HELP?
The black-market dealers in Al-Sadr City are buying large shipments of arms from other governorates at "low prices" and selling them to the interim government, a local resident told the "Financial Times," ft.com reported on 18 October. The government is paying higher prices for the weapons than sellers might get on the street. The website cites U.S. officials as saying that most of the weapons sold to the government are old or broken, leading those officials to speculate that Al-Sadr City residents are holding on to newer weapons. Allawi did not say on 18 October when house-to-house weapon searches will begin in Al-Sadr City. KR

U.K. RECONNAISSANCE TEAM ASSESSES POSSIBLE TROOP MOVE
The U.K. military has sent a reconnaissance team to an area south of Baghdad to assess the feasibility of moving the 650-strong 1st Battalion Black Watch regiment to aid U.S. forces in combating Iraq's growing insurgency, bbc.co.uk reported on 19 October. Black Watch troops are currently stationed near the southern port city of Al-Basrah. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told BBC Radio 4 on 19 October: "We would be letting down an ally if we were to say no in the face of very clear advice from our own British commanders that we want to make this contribution." "We do not have a reserve force in southern Iraq for fun. It's there for a purpose," he added. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons on 18 October that there was a "very clear operational justification" to send British troops to the volatile area. Britain currently has about 7,500 troops in Iraq, 1,400 of which are reservists. U.S. and Iraqi military officials have said that it is necessary to restore order within the so-called Sunni Triangle in order to prepare for elections. KR

AL-FALLUJAH NEGOTIATOR CALLS OFF TALKS WITH IRAQI GOVERNMENT
Just hours after being released from U.S. custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004), Al-Fallujah negotiator Khalid Humud al-Jumayli told the interim Iraqi government on 18 October that the "council of holy warriors" in Al-Fallujah had ordered him to cease negotiations with the government, nytimes.com reported on 19 October. "The continuous bombing in Al-Fallujah is what led the mujahedin council to tell me to suspend the negotiations," al-Jumayli said. The website said that al-Jumayli's remarks suggested that he had less leverage with militants in the city than he had earlier claimed. One local resident told the website that 90 percent of Al-Fallujah's residents have left the city in anticipation of a large-scale incursion by multinational forces. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 19 October that U.S. forces have released from custody Al-Fallujah police chief Sabar al-Janabi and two of his colleagues. The men were arrested with al-Jumayli on 15 October. KR

U.S., IRAQI FORCES LAUNCH RAID NEAR BALAD
Two Iraqis were killed and 10 wounded during a raid on the Iraqi town of Al-Dulu'iyah on 18-19 October, Arab media reported. The town is located north of Baghdad, near the city of Balad. Al-Jazeera described the military operation as "raids, search campaigns, and arbitrary arrests." According to Al-Arabiyah television, "scores" of militants were arrested in the raids. Eyewitnesses told the satellite news channel that U.S. helicopters carried out raids on farms surrounding Al-Dulu'iyah, where militants were suspected to be hiding. KR

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