Accessibility links

Newsline - October 27, 2004


PUTIN 'VALUES' RELATIONS WITH U.S. AND EU...
President Vladimir Putin gave a live interview on Ukrainian television on 26 October, Russian and Ukrainian media reported. Three major networks carried the interview. Putin arrived in Ukraine for a three-day visit earlier that day. Speaking about his vision of the world order and Russia's place in it, Putin said that Russia is working with the United States to combat terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Russia is also developing ties with the European Union, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Russia's trade, he said. Culturally, Russia is a European country, Putin said, despite the fact that it stretches to the Pacific Ocean. "But I, for one, believe that the world can only be multipolar," he added. "Only a multipolar world can have internal energy and stimuli for its development," Putin said. The Russian president named China, India, Japan, South Africa, and Brazil as the "other poles of world civilization." Putin also said that Russia has no ambition to revive the Soviet Union as such an "attempt would be counterproductive and impossible." "Many in the CIS regret the loss of the Soviet Union and they are right in doing so, but once that happened, we should concentrate on the here-and-now," he said. VY

...PRAISES RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS...
Ahead of the Ukrainian presidential election on 31 October, President Putin also said that Russia will not "purposefully support any political forces in Ukraine," as doing so could bring dangerous results. He noted that, in recent years, the two countries have solved their border disputes and the problem of Ukrainian debt to Russia. Many observers believe that the solution of the border disputes is a sign that Russia fully recognizes Ukraine's independence. Answering a viewer's comment that a Russian naval base in Sevastopol is a violation of the Ukrainian Constitution, Putin said that Russian seamen are in Ukraine on a "provisional basis" and by agreement with the Ukrainian authorities. Putin also promised to facilitate the entrance of Ukrainians into Russia without visas and "to think about dual citizenship for Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian citizens." Many Russian observers have said that, by appearing on Ukrainian television, Putin is showing strong support for presidential candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's access to national television is limited. VY

...AND SAYS WILL NOT RUN FOR A THIRD TERM
Answering a question from a viewer about the possibility of running for a third presidential term, President Putin said that the most important political value in Russia and Ukraine today is stability. "But to provide stability, one should obey the law.... The Russian Constitution envisages only two presidential terms and I will be led by this provision," Putin said. Last week, Pavel Borodin, state secretary for the Union of Russia and Belarus, said that a referendum on the possibility of Putin being elected for a third term is very likely, Ekho Moskvy reported on 19 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004). Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told TV-Tsentr on 16 October that after the presidential election in Ukraine, the Kremlin should propose a constitutional amendment on a third presidential term. "I would personally welcome such a development as it would bring stability," Zhirinovskii said. VY

SOVIET INTELLIGENCE CHIEF IS SKEPTICAL ABOUT AL-QAEDA INVOLVEMENT IN RUSSIA...
The former head of the KGB's foreign-intelligence service, Lieutenant General Leonid Shebarshin, has said he is not convinced that international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda are active in Russia, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," No. 40, reported. "I do not see any convincing evidence that terrorist activity in Russia is generated by international groups," he said. Earlier this month, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev claimed that 20 Al-Qaeda agents are active in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2004). "It is very easy to explain that everything is planned and organized by plotters from abroad, but in my view the internal threats to national security are much greater than the external ones," Shebarshin said. Shebarshin also said that he does not support the idea of reviving the KGB and incorporating it into the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). "The SVR has already existed for 13 years as a separate organization and I do not think it is feasible to sew it [the KGB] back on once it has been cut off," he said. VY

...ALTHOUGH MOST PEOPLE SEEM TO BELIEVE IT
According to a Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) poll conducted among 1,500 people in October, 77 percent of respondents consider Al-Qaeda to be an enemy and believe that the group operates in Russia, Interfax and other Russian media reported on 24 October. Seven percent of respondents do not share this view. Seventy-four percent of respondents believe that Chechen militants are linked with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, while 6 percent do not believe in any such connection. VY

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCY TIGHT-LIPPED ABOUT REPORTS OF INCREASED ACTIVITY IN BRITAIN
SVR spokesman Boris Labusov said on 26 October that he has little to say about the publication that day of an article in the London-based daily "The Independent" about the growth of Russian espionage activity in Britain, RIA-Novosti and newsru.com reported. According to "senior Whitehall and security sources," Russia's spying and intelligence gathering in Britain has now reached Cold War levels, "The Independent" reported. The newspaper said that there are at least 32 Russian diplomats among the spies. "There are lots of generalizations and no proof in the publication. The authors [of the article] probably care only about the increase in the British intelligence budget," he said. Former KGB Colonel Mikhail Lubimov told Ekho Moskvy on 26 October that "since we have intelligence, it must work somewhere." Lubimov was expelled from Britain for spying in the 1970s. VY

RUSSIA LOSES $40 BILLION TO CORRUPTION
Kirill Kabanov, the acting head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said that at least $40 billion is circulating in Russia in the form of bribes and dirty money, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 27 October. About half of this money is connected to the Customs Service, which was recognized by Kabanov as the most corrupt branch of the Russian government. Of particular concern regarding corruption, Kabanov spoke about the caviar industry and the Interior Ministry, which he said has about $2 billion moving through it. VY

UPPER CHAMBER APPROVES KYOTO ACCORD
The Federation Council on 27 October approved the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that seeks to restrict emissions of the gases widely believed to contribute to global warming, Russian and international media reported. The vote was 139 in favor, one opposed, and one abstention, newsru.com reported. The Duma voted to ratify the protocol on 22 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2004). "Ratification first of all confirms to the world Russia's responsibility and predictability in resolving political problems in the global arena and gives Russia the chance to influence the development of new approaches to international economic relations," Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov was quoted as saying. RC

INTERIOR MINISTRY SUMS UP WORK COMBATING CORRUPTION IN EDUCATION
Andrei Leontenkov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's economic crimes department, said on 26 October that about 900 criminal cases have been opened this year in connection with possible corruption in the education sector, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2004). "Criminal cases have been opened in 48 regions," he said. The cases involve the administrators of educational institutions, professors, officials from regional education bodies, and members of examination boards. A lecturer at the Ufa State Aviation Technology University has been charged in 29 cases of extortion. Leontenkov added, however, that "many students, fearing expulsion, are still keeping silent about extortion by teachers." RC

FIRST CHARGES FILED IN BESLAN SCHOOL HOSTAGE-TAKING CASE
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 27 October filed charges against three police officers from Ingushetia and North Ossetia in connection with last month's school hostage taking in Beslan, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. All three officers have been charged with negligent homicide and similar charges are expected to be filed against two more officers, the news agency reported. The officers were identified only by their first initials as T. Murtazaev and G. Dryaev, both deputy heads of the Pravoberezhnyi Raion office of the North Ossetian Interior Ministry, and A. Kotiev, deputy head of the Malgobek Raion office of the Ingushetian Interior Ministry. The two other officers expected to be charged are the heads of the same two offices. According to gazeta.ru on 11 October, the charges are based on the testimony of accused Beslan terrorist Nur-Pashi Kulaev, who has reportedly testified that the terrorists camped in the woods in Ingushetia's Malgobek Raion before launching their attack on the school. RC

RIGHTIST OPPOSITION TO HOLD DECEMBER CONGRESS IN MOSCOW...
Russia's rightist opposition will convene a Civil Congress in Moscow on 12 December, which is observed as Constitution Day in Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported on 26 October, citing Committee-2008 Chairman Garri Kasparov. Kasparov said that 800 regional organizations and 200 Moscow-based groups will meet to discuss how to preserve the direct election of regional governors and how to develop Russia's system of checks and balances among the branches of state power. He added that talks are being held with the Communist Party aimed at including the leftist opposition in the congress as well. RC

...AS COMPROMISING LEAFLETS APPEAR IN MOSCOW METRO
Moscow police on 27 October arrested eight people in connection with the distribution in the Moscow subway of leaflets showing figures such as Free Russia leader Irina Khakamada, self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, and others dressed in camouflage and embracing radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, RIA-Novosti reported. The leaflets bear the slogan, "Participants in talks on the destruction of Russia." The arrested people reportedly told police that they had been paid 150 rubles ($5) to distribute the leaflets and about 1,000 were reportedly confiscated from them. Khakamada told Ekho Moskvy on 26 October that "the first sign of a lack of democracy is that dirty tricks are used to fight against the opposition." "This is a way of discrediting the opposition in the eyes of the public," she added. Vasilii Yakimenko, head of the pro-Putin youth group Walking Together, said his group had nothing to with the leaflets, but that he approves of their appearance. He said the people on the leaflets are "traitors" and they should be glad that President Putin has not declared them "enemies of the people." RC

ANOTHER OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEN JOINS A CORPORATE BOARD
Presidential foreign-policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko on 25 October was named chairman of the board of directors of the TVEL holding company, the state-owned company that is Russia's primary nuclear-fuel exporter, "Izvestiya" reported. Previously, the company's board has been overseen by representatives of the former Atomic Energy Ministry. Forty-five nuclear reactors abroad -- including in Finland, Germany, Ukraine, Armenia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic -- are run on TVEL fuel. Recently, deputy presidential-administration head Igor Sechin was named chairman of the board at Rosneft, and deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov was named board chairman of Transneftprodukt. RC

THREE BANKS LOSE LICENSES
The Central Bank on 26 October announced that it has revoked the licenses of three banks and has appointed interim administrations to manage them, Prime-TASS reported. The banks involved are the Moscow-based Russian Financial Group Bank (RFG-Bank), the Kaluga-based INVESKO-Bank, and the Krasnoyarsk Krai -based Taimyr Bank. Meanwhile, "Vedomosti" reported on 27 October that another 22 banks -- including Bank Moskvy, Soyuz bank, Rostpromstroibank, Universal bank, and Gazbank -- have joined the Central Bank's deposit-insurance program. RC

TATAR PRESIDENT QUESTIONS PART OF PUTIN'S PROPOSED POLITICAL REFORM
Mintimer Shaimiev on 25 October criticized one aspect of President Putin's proposed political reform to replace the direct election of governors with a system under which local legislatures confirm candidates nominated by the president, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Under the proposal, the president would have the option of disbanding a local legislature that twice declined to approve his candidate. Shaimiev argued that "parliaments are elected by the people." "It does not matter how deputies are elected -- by party lists or some other way," Shaimiev said. "They are elected by the people and we should not accept any possibility of disbanding our parliament under any circumstances." He added that local legislatures should have the right to express their views on the candidates for governor. The same day, the Tatar State Council described Putin's proposed reform as "a coup d'etat," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 October. Shaimiev, however, expressed support for the idea of appointed governors, saying that "70 percent of the people who have come to power in the regions have demonstrated their bankruptcy and over half of them came to power by unknown means." RC

URALS GOVERNORS LINE UP TO JOIN UNIFIED RUSSIA
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel on 25 October applied to join the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 October. Analysts attribute Rossel's decision to a desire to retain his post in the event that President Putin's proposal to end the direct election of regional governors is adopted. Previously, Rossel and other governors in the region, including Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov and Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin, distanced themselves from the party in order to avoid alienating the region's left-leaning electorate. As recently as late 2002, Rossel had called Unified Russia a "party without a future." Bogomolov joined the party in September and Sumin signed up last week, the daily reported. While submitting his application, Rossel described the move as a show of "support for our president and for Unified Russia, a party that meets the requirements of the times." Rossel met with Putin in the Kremlin on 26 October. RC

VOLGOGRAD MAYOR HAS TROUBLE GETTING ON THE GUBERNATORIAL BALLOT
The Volgograd Oblast Election Commission refused on 27 October to register Volgograd Mayor Yevgenii Ishchenko as a candidate in the oblast's 5 December gubernatorial election, lenta.ru reported. Commission Chairman Gennadii Shaikhullin told journalists that the decision was made because Ishchenko failed to fill in information about his place of work on his registration application and because some documents were allegedly filled out on the basis of an old passport even though Ishchenko has a newer one. Ishchenko's lawyers claim that all the errors were corrected in time and that Ishchenko's position as mayor has been confirmed by an official certificate from the city administration. Ishchenko said he will appeal the commission's decision in court. RC

INGUSHETIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN AGAIN APPEALS TO PUTIN
National Council deputy Musa Ozdoev has addressed a third letter to President Putin, warning that the policies implemented by Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov are fuelling disaffection and nascent Islamic extremism, according to ingushetiya.ru on 26 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April and 21 June 2004). He accused Zyazikov of turning a blind eye to bribe-taking and corruption and appointing members of his family to senior positions. Ozdoev argued that such actions risk undermining both Putin's reputation, insofar as Zyazikov has repeatedly claimed to enjoy Putin's unquestioning support, and that of the Federal Security Service (FSB), of which both Putin and Zyazikov are veterans. LF

NEW CHECHEN GOVERNMENT APPROVED
The State Council formally approved on 27 October the composition of the new Chechen cabinet, ITAR-TASS reported. Virtually all ministers from the previous government headed by Sergei Abramov have retained their posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION COMMEMORATES PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS
The opposition Artarutiun bloc convened a meeting on 26 October outside the parliament building in Yerevan to mark the fifth anniversary of the massacre in which eight senior officials were gunned down, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a statement read out to the estimated several thousand participants, leaders of the parties aligned in Artarutiun alleged that President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian "are directly responsible not only for not preventing the 27 October crime but also for obstructing the search for its masterminds and covering up the crime." Kocharian, Sarkisian, and other senior officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in the killings. Five men were sentenced late last year to life imprisonment for the massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). The eight men killed included then Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, whose brother Aram now heads the Hanrapetutiun party, and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, the father of People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian. LF

AZERBAIJANI, MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTS CONDEMN DOUBLE STANDARDS
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on 26 October, the first day of his two-day official visit to Baku, Russian and Azerbaijani media reported. The two men assessed bilateral relations in the political sphere as successful, but acknowledged that greater attention should be paid to expanding economic cooperation: bilateral trade turnover is declining and according to Turan amounted to only $1.25 million in 2003. Aliyev and Voronin discussed foreign-policy issues, including their shared membership of GUUAM and approaches to integration with European structures. They also condemned unnamed countries for adopting double standards in their assessment of "aggressive separatism." LF

AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA, IRAN PREPARE TO SYNCHRONIZE ENERGY SYSTEMS
A draft agreement has been prepared that will pave the way for an exchange of electric power between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, Interfax reported on 26 October citing the Azerenergy press service. Russian Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief Anatolii Chubais discussed the draft agreement, under which the three countries would provide each other with power during winter months and in the case of emergency, with President Aliyev during a visit to Baku last week. ITAR-TASS on 20 October quoted Chubais as telling journalists in Baku that a Russian-Azerbaijani delegation will travel to Iran shortly in the hope of finalizing the exchange agreement. LF

PACE DELEGATION ASSESSES SITUATION IN GEORGIA
A visiting delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has raised various human rights issues during a four-hour meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Caucasus Press reported on 26 October. Topics discussed included corruption and the repatriation to Georgia of the Meskhetians deported on Soviet leader Josef Stalin's orders in 1944. Georgia pledged on admission to the Council of Europe in 2000 to allow all Meskhetians who wish to do so to settle in Georgia by 2010. The PACE delegation also met with detained former Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili and with former Control Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili, whose condition gives grounds for concern, according to PACE delegation member Josette Durrieu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2004). Meanwhile, the Council of Armenian Public Organizations of Djavakheti has alerted PACE to what it termed the "critical situation" in that predominantly Armenian-populated region of southern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 26 October. The council claimed that Georgia has still not fulfilled its obligations to the Council of Europe with regard to the rights of national minorities. It also claimed that due to discriminatory laws, the majority Armenian population is not adequately represented on local councils. LF

RENEWED SHOOTING REPORTED IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze told parliament on 26 October that Georgian villages in the breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia have been subjected to artillery fire every night in recent weeks, but that the Georgian peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zone has not returned fire, Caucasus Press reported. Deputy Guram Vakhtangadze, who represents a constituency in South Ossetia, said that local Ossetians are removing Georgian flags from administration buildings in the republic. A second parliament deputy, Zviad Dzidziguri, has collected 70 signatures demanding that Georgia abrogate the Dagomys agreement of 1992 that constitutes the legal basis for the deployment of 500 Russian peacekeepers to the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZ ACTING PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS
Nodar Khashba has stepped down as acting prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia under pressure from supporters of presidential challenger Sergei Bagapsh and returned to Moscow, where he served previously on the staff of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, rustavi2.com reported on 26 October. Outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba named Khashba acting prime minister on 6 October after dismissing Raul Khadjimba, who continues to argue that he, rather than Bagapsh, is the legitimate winner of the 3 October ballot to elect Ardzinba's successor (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 October 2004). Also on 26 October, the Abkhaz Supreme Court continued to review Khadjimba's appeals against decisions by the Central Election Commission to hold repeat elections in Gali Raion, and to designate Bagapsh the winner of the 3 October ballot with 50.08 percent of the vote. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ADDRESSES NATION
Askar Akaev spoke about the media, the economy, international relations, and the threat of extremism in an address to a joint session of parliament on 26 October, Kyrgyz Radio reported. Akaev said that with parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2005, the media needs to strengthen statehood instead of provoking civil conflict. Noting that unemployment remains high, Akaev pinpointed job creation as a key factor in ensuring future prosperity. On the international front, he said that with both Russian and U.S. bases on its soil, Kyrgyzstan "has created conditions not for the rivalry of the superpowers but for their rapprochement." Akaev also decried radicalism, even when it comes in seemingly peaceful forms. He warned: "This often takes the form of revolutions that transgress the bounds of law, whatever 'velvet' or 'rose' appearance they might have," Kabar news agency reported. Not everyone was impressed, however. Elet party leader Tashpolota Baltabaeva told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the speech echoed previous pronouncements and failed to address the upcoming transfer of presidential power. DK

TAJIKS TO NEED UZBEK VISAS FOR TRANSIT
Tajik citizens returning to Tajikistan by train through Uzbekistan will now need Uzbek visas, Tajik Border Protection Committee official Khalil Boboev told Avesta on 26 October. Boboev said that Tajikistan has received official notice from Uzbek authorities that "only after receiving a visa for the Republic of Uzbekistan will it be possible to make travel arrangements [through Uzbekistan back to Tajikistan]." DK

GERMAN DELEGATION HAS DOUBTS ABOUT TAJIK ECONOMIC GROWTH
Wolfgang Armbruster, an official with Germany's Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and the head of a German delegation to Tajikistan, reacted skeptically in Dushanbe on 26 October to official statistics on economic growth in Tajikistan, Avesta reported. Tajik Economy Minister Hakim Soliev recently said that his country has enjoyed annual GDP growth of no less than 10 percent since 2001. Armbruster expressed doubt, pointing to the low standard of living in the country. He also stressed the importance of fighting corruption. Soliev also said that he would like to increase the level of economic and trade cooperation between Tajikistan and Germany. DK

OSCE TO OBSERVE UZBEK ELECTIONS
Per Normark, acting head of the OSCE center in Tashkent, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 26 October that the OSCE has decided to send an observer mission to monitor parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan in December. Normark informed RFE/RL's Uzbek Service of the OSCE decision at a conference in Tashkent on Uzbek election legislation and international standards for democratic elections. Speaking after Buritosh Mustafoev, chairman of Uzbekistan's Central Election Commission, Normark noted that while positive changes have taken place in Uzbekistan, the lack of a free press and complex procedures for nominating candidates remain obstacles to democratic elections. The New York-based Human Rights Watch recently asked the OSCE not to lend upcoming elections in Uzbekistan unwarranted legitimacy by sending an observer mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2004). DK

TAJIK PRESIDENT PROMISES WAGE HIKE
President Rakhmonov told a meeting of the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan in Dushanbe on 22 October that salaries will nearly double in 2005, Avesta reported on 25 October. Noting that Tajikistan is experiencing robust growth in gross domestic product, Rakhmonov said: "This makes it possible to increase significantly the salaries of teachers, medical personnel, pensioners, and other workers who receive their wages from the state budget. The fund for labor remuneration will be increased 80 percent as of 1 January 2005." The average monthly salary in Tajikistan last year was roughly $12-$15. DK

UZBEK JOURNALIST GRANTED U.S. ASYLUM
Ruslan Sharipov, an independent Uzbek journalist whose imprisonment in 2003 sparked international outrage, arrived in the United States last week, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) announced in a 25 October press release. "We are relieved that Mr. Sharipov is beyond the reach of the Uzbek authorities, and we hope that he can one day return to a free and democratic Uzbekistan," said Kajsa Tornroth, director of press freedom programs for WAN. Sharipov was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in 2003 for homosexual acts; many saw the move as retaliation for his coverage of human rights violations. According to the press release, Sharipov fled Uzbekistan "in the face of serious threats to his safety," leaving for Moscow in June and eventually arriving in California after being given asylum. Sharipov told the BBC's Uzbek Service that he now plans to write about what he witnessed in prison in Uzbekistan. DK

FRANCE CONCERNED OVER BELARUSIAN 'CRACKDOWNS'...
The French Foreign Ministry has expressed "deep concern" over "violent police crackdowns" on demonstrations that were held in Minsk for eight consecutive days in protesting the officially announced results of the 17 October referendum and parliamentary elections, Belapan reported on 26 October. "The demonstrations followed the [17 October] parliamentary elections that failed to provide an opportunity for the Belarusians to express their will freely," the ministry said in a statement. "France together with other European Union member countries and in cooperation with the international community is ready to consider steps toward strengthening civil society in Belarus and ensuring democracy and the rule of law in the country." JM

...BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS JAILED FOR PROTEST
A district court in Minsk on 26 October jailed Vyachaslau Siuchyk for 15 days, Anastasiya Azarka and Ales Vasileuski for 10 days each, Uladzimir Byahlyak for five days, and Syarhey Vysotski for three days for their participation in an unauthorized demonstration on 25 October to protest the official results of the 17 October parliamentary elections and referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2004), Belapan reported. JM

BELARUS EXPELS TWO U.S. CITIZENS FOR MISSIONARY ACTIVITIES
The Belarusian authorities have expelled two U.S. citizens for what they called "illegal missionary activity," Belapan reported on 26 October. According to the Belarusian KGB, the two Americans came to Mahilyou, in eastern Belarus, to work for a charity project but, in fact, engaged in disseminating Mormon religious teachings. The KGB accused the two U.S. citizens of violating the religion law, arguing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- the official name for the Mormon church -- was not registered in the region. JM

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT'S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE...
Vladimir Putin, who arrived in Ukraine on 26 October on a three-day visit, participated in the same day's one-hour question-and-answer session that was broadcast live on Ukraine's three major television channels, UT-1, 1+1, and Inter. A transcript of Putin's interview was subsequently posted on his official website (president.kremlin.ru). Putin praised the economic performance of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet, under which he said the economy is growing at an annual rate of more than 13 percent. "The government of Ukraine has succeeded in reducing, to a reasonable extent, the government's nonproductive expenses while concentrating financial resources on resolving the main social issues such as increasing pensions," Putin said in a passage that Ukrainian commentators saw as his indirect backing to Yanukovych's presidential bid. In general, however, the Mass Information Institute website (www.imi.org.ua) spoke for many when it commented that Putin disappointed Yanukovych's election staff with his live appearance on Ukrainian television. According to the website, the only politician Putin "campaigned for" on Ukrainian television on 26 October was himself. Putin answered more than 30 questions within one hour. JM

...ENDORSES ECONOMIC INTEGRATION IN POST-SOVIET AREA...
Putin repeatedly told Ukrainian viewers that in his opinion it is impossible to restore the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Putin declared that he is a staunch supporter of economic integration among CIS countries. Putin said it would be advisable to set up a supranational body for regulating tariffs on the post-Soviet area. "As for a [common] government and parliament, it is a remote prospect," he noted. "Such issues are not on the agenda today." JM

...PROMISES TO EASE BORDER CROSSING REGIME WITH UKRAINE...
Putin said on Ukrainian television that after returning to Moscow he will instruct relevant state bodies to ease the border-crossing regime with Ukraine and allow Ukrainian citizens to enter Russia not only with foreign-travel passports but also domestic ones. He also promised to simplify the obligatory registration of Ukrainians entering Russia but did not elaborate. JM

...AND REMAINS NONCOMMITAL ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP ISSUE
Asked about his opinion on introducing dual citizenship in Ukraine, which is one of Yanukovych's presidential campaign pledges, Putin said he "fears getting ahead" of some issues, adding that "any of our actions may be perceived as an attempt to restore something." He noted, however, that Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus present a "special case" in this regard. "We need to think about that," Putin said. "When I say 'we,' I have in mind not only Russia but also Ukraine. We cannot resolve this issue unilaterally. It should mature, it should be brought forward by society itself." JM

YUSHCHENKO WARNS PUTIN ABOUT POSSIBLE 'PROVOCATIONS' IN UKRAINE
Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko said in an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Ukrainian authorities are planning "provocations" against Putin during his current visit to Ukraine, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www.pravda.com.ua) reported on 27 October. "According to our information, [Ukraine's] ruling team wants to transform your visit into a dirty and dangerous show and attribute responsibility for its own provocative actions to the opposition," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko assured Putin that People's Power, the coalition of forces that back Yushchenko's presidential bid, is in favor of mutually advantageous, friendly, and stable relations with Russia. JM

POLLSTER SAYS NEARLY HALF OF KYIV RESIDENTS MISTRUST POLITICIANS
UNIAN reported on 27 October that its sociological service found in a poll conducted earlier this month in Kyiv among more than 1,500 respondents that 48.7 percent of them said they do not believe any Ukrainian politician. A similar poll in October 2003 found that this indicator of distrust stood at 35.7 percent. JM

BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF U.S. INVESTIGATION OF AL-QAEDA LINKS
Mladen Ivanic said in Sarajevo on 26 October that he has no knowledge of any investigation by the FBI into alleged activities of Islamist terror networks in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Fena news agency reported. Ivanic's statement came in response to reports by the Bosnian Serb daily "Glas Srpske," which quoted Yossef Bodansky, a U.S. terrorism expert, as saying that U.S. investigators have established that suicide bombers in Baghdad were trained in a camp in the Zenica area of central Bosnia. Meanwhile, an SFOR spokesman said the international military mission has no hard evidence of any terrorist activities or training camps in Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2003 and 14 April and 22 September 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October 2004). UB

NATO GENERAL URGES CROATIA TO CONTINUE ARMY REFORM
German General Harald Kujat, who is the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said in Zagreb on 25 October that Croatia must continue reforming its armed forces if it wants to join the alliance, the "Southeast European Times" reported. In 2002, the Croatian government decided to reduce its army from 40,000 to 27,000. In related news, Croatian Defense Minister Berislav Roncevic met with his Albanian counterpart Pandeli Majko in Tirana on 25 October to discuss military cooperation, Hina reported. Roncevic and Majko reaffirmed plans to deploy a joint medical team of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter countries -- Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). UB

YET ANOTHER CALL FOR MACEDONIANS TO ABSTAIN FROM REFERENDUM ON REDISTRICTING
Britain's minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, said in Skopje on 26 October that Macedonians should stay at home instead of participating in the 7 November referendum on the government's redistricting plans, MIA news agency reported. MacShane argued that the referendum is directed against the 2001 Ohrid peace deal, which ended the armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army and Macedonian security forces. MacShane said Macedonians should realize that "each vote against the Ohrid agreement is a vote against Europe and Macedonia's better future." Recent opinion polls show that many Macedonians regard such calls as interference in internal affairs and that the referendum is likely to succeed (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 22 October 2004). UB

MACEDONIAN RADIO AND TV PLANS JOB CUTS
The state-owned Macedonian Radio and TV (MRTV) will cut some 500 of a total of 1,600 jobs because of ongoing financial problems, "Dnevnik" reported on 27 October. The job cuts are part of a wider plan to streamline and restructure MRTV, which includes the outsourcing of the departments for program design, marketing, and research. MRTV will also close down one of its three TV channels, with the second channel to be reserved for programs in minority languages such as Albanian, Turkish, and Serbian. UB

ROMANIAN CHIEF OF STAFF ALLEGED TO BE INVOLVED IN 1989 MILITARY ACTION AGAINST UPRISING
Two Romanian dailies report on 27 October that the new chief of staff of the Romanian Army, Lieutenant General Eugen Badalan, was personally involved in carrying out orders to crush the 1989 uprising against the communist regime in the Transylvanian town of Arad. According to "Evenimentul zilei" and "Jurnalul national," Badalan, who held the rank of major at that time, threatened to shoot demonstrators who had cut out the communist insignia from the national flag and admonished colleagues and subordinates who hesitated to carry out orders to use force against the revolutionaries on 21 December 1989. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS PRESIDENT'S INVOLVEMENT IN CAMPAIGNING
The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance on 26 October said President Ion Iliescu has encroached on constitutional provisions by participating in a visit of Social Democratic Party (PSD) leaders to the town of Craiova the same day, Mediafax and Romanian dailies reported on 26 and 27 October. Iliescu accompanied the PSD presidential candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, and the party's candidate for premier, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, to Craiova. The daily "Ziua" reported that a further infringement of legal provisions was participation in the visit by Constitutional Court Judge Ion Predescu, who is a former PSD senator. Asked whether his presence infringes upon the constitutional ban on the head of state participating in party politics, Iliescu replied: "You are obsessed with this. I came here as president. Where do you see any electioneering in what we do here?" Iliescu, whose term ends in December, is running for a senate seat on a PSD list in the 28 November parliamentary elections. MS

ROMANIAN NGOS PUBLISH LIST OF 'INCOMPATIBLE' CANDIDATES FOR PARLIAMENT
The Coalition for a Clean Parliament (CPC) set up by several major nongovernmental organizations released on 26 October a list of 122 candidates considered by it to be unsuitable for parliament. The list (available at http://contracoruptie.ong.ro) includes 110 PSD politicians and 12 politicians from the opposition PNL-Democratic Party alliance. It does not include politicians associated with the Greater Romania Party, because that formation has not yet made public its lists candidates. The politicians on the list are alleged to either have been involved in corruption or illegal deals, to have served the communist secret police, to have held positions in the Communist Party, or to have moved from one political party to another during their terms in parliament. Among those listed are Foreign Minister Geoana, Senate Speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu, Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu, and Deputy Premier Ioan Talpes. Geoana denied allegations that he became wealthy by illegal means, saying the lists published by the CPC are "politically partisan." MS

TOEKES FAILS TO BRIDGE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HUNGARIAN PARTIES IN ROMANIA
The mediation attempt undertaken by Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes failed to bridge differences between the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM), Mediafax reported on 26 October. Toekes was unsuccessful in convincing UDMR Chairman Bela Marko to include UCM members on the UDMR lists for the November elections. Marko said the UCM refused to participate in the UDMR primaries, where the lists were established. He said he was willing, however, to agree that UDMR members listed on "eligible seats" pledge to represent the views of Hungarian "movements or platforms" from outside the UDMR if their views coincide. UCM Chairman Jenoe Szasz rejected Marko's offer, saying that "those who ran in the UDMR primaries represent the UDMR" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). MS

RUSSIAN ENVOY TELLS CHISINAU WITHDRAWAL IS 'OUT OF QUESTION' BEFORE CONFLICT IS SOLVED
Igor Savolskii, special envoy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in Chisinau on 26 October that it is "out of the question" for Russia to withdraw its troops from Transdniester before a solution to the conflict is found and agreed on by all sides, Flux reported. Savolskii said the Russian arsenal in the separatist region "cannot be just jettisoned" and Moscow is unable to withdraw its weaponry without first securing the approval of Tiraspol. Savolskii also said that the five-sided format of the negotiations, in which Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participate as mediators might still serve the purpose of reaching an agreement. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER VOWS ELECTIONS WILL BE HELD ON SCHEDULE
Parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc said on Moldovan Television on 25 October that the elections for the next parliament would take place on time, Infotag reported. Ostapciuc denied media allegations that the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) intends to postpone the ballot. She said electoral legislation stipulates that elections must be held within three months after the parliament's term ends. The 2001 elections, Ostapciuc explained, were held on 25 February, which means that the next parliamentary ballot should take place no later than 25 May 2005. MS

PPCD CHAIRMAN CONTINUES LINGUISTIC CRUSADE
Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca sent a letter on 26 October to Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev demanding the dismissal of Integration Minister Vasilii Sova, Infotag reported. The demand cites Sova's alleged poor command of Moldovan, the country's official language, as the reason (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 25 October 2004). MS

MIXED SIGNALS FROM KOSOVA
After the citizens of the internationally administered province of Kosova elected a new parliament on 23 October, representatives of the international community expressed their relief that the elections were conducted in a peaceful atmosphere. But at the same time, there was widespread -- outside Serbia, that is -- disappointment about the fact that the Serbian minority in Kosova followed calls by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), and the Serbian Orthodox Church to boycott the elections.

The results of the vote, as such, provided no major surprise in that they by and large confirmed the results of the November 2001 parliamentary elections.

According to the preliminary results from the polling stations in Kosova proper, the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) led by Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova garnered about 45 percent of the votes (compared to 45.65 percent in 2001). The Democratic Party (PDK) of former rebel commander Hashim Thaci won 28 percent (2001: 25.7 percent), whereas Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) received about 8 percent (2001: 7.83 percent). Publisher Veton Surroi's Ora party provided a small surprise as it won 6 percent of the votes just two months after its founding. The distribution of mandates in the 120-seat parliament has yet to be determined, but it is clear that the LDK will have to look for a coalition partner to form a government.

From a Kosovar Albanian perspective, the election results mean that the major Albanian parties have consolidated their power bases. But the low turnout of just over 50 percent of eligible voters also signals that disappointment about the achievements of those parties is growing among the Kosovar Albanian population. The ongoing deep economic crisis -- with its resulting high unemployment figures -- and the failure of both the international community and the Kosovar provisional institutions to address this problem certainly contributed to the low turnout.

But the big question in these elections was not so much the distribution of seats in the future Kosovar parliament but the question whether the Kosovar Serbs would follow the boycott calls.

The Kosovar Serb minority did abstain from ballot boxes, and this raises a number of questions not only for the future of Kosova, but also for Serbian politics.

The first problem of the Serbian election boycott concerns the parliament itself. Under the 2001 Constitutional Framework for Kosova, 10 parliamentary seats are reserved for the Serbian minority, and another 10 for the remaining minorities such as Turks, Roma, Ashkali, or Gorani.

At present, it is not clear whether the Serbian politicians who actually ran for parliament will accept their mandates. Dragisa Krstovic of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 25 October that he will not to accept his mandate, but added that he and other Serbian politicians will first consult with Serbian President Boris Tadic, who called on the Kosovar Serbs to participate in the elections.

"As far as I am concerned, I have already decided not to participate [in the parliament], for the simple reason that...it will be extremely difficult to represent somebody in the parliament who has not given you a mandate to do so," Krstovic said.

Another Serbian candidate, Slavisa Petkovic of the Citizens' Initiative of Serbia, said he will accept his parliamentary seat. "Somebody has to defend the Serbian interests in the Kosovar parliament and that is one of the reasons for us to...become members of the Kosovar parliament," Petkovic said.

For Petkovic, the symbolic turnout of Serbian voters is not a problem regarding the legitimacy of his mandate, since the boycott is the result of brutal intimidation.

As of now, it cannot be confirmed that the success of the boycott is due only to pressure on the voters. According to Soren Jessen-Petersen, the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), there may have been cases in which voters "may have wanted to go out to vote but who were afraid to go out and vote, because some of them may have felt intimidated."

The second problem of the Serb's boycott concerns the political life in Belgrade rather than in Prishtina. Those politicians who called for the boycott -- including Prime Minister Kostunica and SRS Tomislav Nikolic -- now claim the election boycott as a victory for their position. At the same time, they say that President Tadic, who called on the Kosovar Serbs to participate, suffered a defeat.

"These elections have shown that Boris Tadic does not have any confidence in Serbia," Nikolic said on 25 October, adding that Tadic does not deserve to be president.

Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), for its part, initially ascribed the boycott to the serious situation in Kosova. But after Nikolic and the SRS started taking potshots at Tadic, the DSS joined the SRS in criticizing the president.

Thus, the argument of both Tadic and the international community that the Kosovar Serbs should participate in the vote in order to have legitimate representatives sitting at the table when it comes to the talks on the final status of Kosova remain unheard.

With their boycott, the Kosovar Serbs once again opted for Belgrade rather than Prishtina. But the problem is that politicians in Belgrade unanimously -- including Tadic -- support a government plan to grant the Serb minority in Kosova territorial autonomy in order to protect them -- and this plan is strictly opposed by Kosova's Albanian majority, raising fears that it is tantamount to partitioning the province along ethnic lines.

The election boycott leaves the international community and the Kosovar Albanian politicians in a difficult situation when it comes to the talks on the province's final status. On the one hand, it has to deal with Serbian politicians in Belgrade who engage in infighting instead of considering viable plans for the future of Kosova that go beyond the proposed territorial autonomy. On the other hand, they must possibly hold talks with Kosovar Serb politicians in Prishtina who lack democratic legitimacy. It is thus no exaggeration when State Department spokesman Adam Ereli on 25 October called the Kosovar Serbs' election boycott "self-defeating."

OFFICIAL: IRREGULARITIES SHOULD NOT AFFECT AFGHAN VOTE RESULTS
Ray Kennedy, deputy chairman of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), said in Kabul on 26 October that irregularities in the election should not overturn the victory by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, AP reported. According to Kennedy some of the ballot "boxes were so obviously stuffed that" the JEMB did not believe "they were legitimately cast votes," but even if all of the questionable ballots were voided it would not push Karzai to a level below 50 percent of votes, which would force a runoff. JEMB officials are predicting that the UN panel of experts established to investigate the complaints of irregularities in the electoral process will submit its final report by 31 October, clearing the way for Karzai's victory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 October 2004). According to JEMB, on 26 October, with 98.4 percent of the votes counted, Karzai was first with 55.5 percent of the vote while his closed rival, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, stood second with 16.2 percent of the votes http://www.afg-electionresults.org/. AT

KABUL DAILY SAYS AFGHANS 'REAL WINNER' IN ELECTION DESPITE PROBLEMS
A 26 October commentary in "Arman-e Melli" said that the Afghan people are "the main winners, though most of them complain about the election process." According to the daily in 2001, when "the international community, under the leadership of the United States," ended the brutal Taliban regime, Afghanistan became the focus of global attention. However, it continued, "the war in Iraq foiled Afghanistan's golden opportunity." The commentary added that Afghan Transitional Administration "did not produce any remarkable achievements," but with their turnout in the 9 October election, the Afghan people illustrated that they "were no longer indifferent to their political fate and that they themselves wanted to determine their own destiny. "Arman-e Melli" ended its commentary by saying that Afghans now expect the president to be honest and work for the people (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

KABUL PAPER WARNS AGAINST TALKS WITH THE TALIBAN...
In a commentary on 25 October, the Kabul daily "Erada" warned against negotiating with former members of the Taliban regime. Listing the brutal acts of the Taliban regime and the efforts by the neo-Taliban to terrorize Afghanistan after the establishment of the post-Taliban administration, "Erada" wrote that "despite all of this, we [do want to] distinguish between the good and bad Taliban." According to the commentary, those fighting in the name of the Taliban -- the neo-Taliban -- have realized their weakness against U.S.-led coalition forces and now prefer "negotiations to fighting in order to overcome their problems." According to "Erada," any attempt to negotiate with former Taliban or with the neo-Taliban would pave the way for increased activity by the militia. The commentary asks: "How can we distinguish between the good and the bad Taliban?" Afghanistan is "on the road to democracy, whereas, the extremist Taliban are carrying out acts against democracy and claim responsibility for every bloody attack." AT

...AS AFGHAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN DENIES TALKS WITH THE MILITIA
Jawed Ludin said in Kabul on 26 October that the Afghan Transitional Administration is not engaged in any negotiations with the Taliban, Hindukosh News Agency reported. However, Ludin added that those members of the militia who stop fighting the central authority and leave the Taliban lines can live in their country provided that they their "hands are not red with the nation's blood." Hindukosh commented that Ludin made his remarks "at a time when Afghan and international media have recently published reports about negotiations between the Taliban and the state." Reports about efforts to include some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan's future administration have circulated since October 2003, when former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil was released from custody (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July, 18 September, 9, 16, 23, and 30 October 2003; and 4 March, 10 June and 25 October 2004). A 17 October report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran said he also intends to form a new political party. AT

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO KUWAIT AND SAUDI ARABIA
Kamal Kharrazi returned to Iran early on 26 October after a one-day trip to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Al-Ikhbariyah Satellite TV, KUNA, and IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi and Persian Gulf Affairs Director-General Hussein Sadeqi accompanied Kharrazi. In Kuwait, Kharrazi met with Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah and Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah; and in Saudi Arabia he met with King Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud and Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud. During a press conference in Kuwait, Kharrazi dismissed allegations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs and challenged the U.S. to show documented proof of this. In his meeting with the Saudi crown prince Kharrazi warned, "Zionism and imperialism have plans for the Islamic world," Iranian state television reported. He therefore advised, "Islamic countries must put aside their trivial differences and concentrate on issues of importance to the Islamic world." Kharrazi added, "America's wrong-headed policies, injustice, discrimination, and Israeli rapacity have contributed to the spread of terrorism around the world." Palestinian and Iraqi affairs featured in the discussions. BS

IRGC COMMANDER DISCUSSES NEW STRATEGY
Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) ground forces, said the IRGC is being reorganized to face new threats against Iran, "Resalat" reported on 26 October. Addressing officers from the Ashura 31 Mechanized Division, as well as officers from the IRGC and Basij in East Azerbaijan Province, Jafari said, "In view of the new threats by the global arrogance [the U.S.], IRGC has changed its training and combat programs. With its new organization, the IRGC has increased its combat readiness to face threats." The IRGC's new emphasis on asymmetric warfare was apparent during the Ashura 5 war games, which took place in the western provinces of Hamedan, Kurdistan, and Zanjan in early September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 2004). BS

IRGC OPPOSES OUTSIDERS IN THE REGION
IRGC spokesman Brigadier General Masud Jazayeri said on 25 October that he does not put it past the U.S. or Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Mehr News Agency reported, citing the "Al-Khalij" daily from the United Arab Emirates. He said Iran would react forcefully to any act of aggression against it. Jazayeri went on to say that Iran is not threatening regional states and noted that it never acted against Iraq's allies during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Jazayeri said regional disputes should be settled without foreign interference, and he added that the withdrawal of foreign troops would bring about regional security. BS

CONSERVATIVE DISUNITY OVER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Columnist Akbar Montajebi writes in the 25 October "Sharq" that "radical conservatives" do not want Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani to be a presidential candidate. They are therefore pushing legislation to put an age limit on presidential candidates, and they are also hinting at the alleged corrupt practices of his children. "Rational" and "values-oriented" conservatives, Montajebi continues, warn that if Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who is in his early 70s, and former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi are blocked from running on the grounds of age, then former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi, who previously refused to run, will stand as a candidate. Montajebi adds that the election is more than seven months away but such rifts are increasing almost daily. BS

IRANIAN MEDIA PRACTICES EARN INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION
Out of the 167 countries rated in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) index of press freedom, Iran is in 158th place and, furthermore, Iran imprisons more journalists than any other country in the Middle East (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11715). In Iran and neighboring countries that had a similar rating -- such as Saudi Arabia (159), Syria (155), and Iraq (148) -- RSF says that either there is no independent media or "journalists are persecuted and censored on a daily basis." Iran ranked 122 out of 139 in the October 2002 index (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=4116). BS

ZARQAWI GROUP ABDUCTS JAPANESE NATIONAL IN IRAQ
The militant group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, associated with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, posted a videotaped message on the Internet on 26 October claiming to have captured a Japanese national, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. The group claimed that the man, Shosei Koda, works for Japanese forces in Al-Samawah, and demanded that Japan withdraw its humanitarian forces from Iraq within 48 hours or Koda would be beheaded. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected the demand on 27 October, saying he would not succumb to terrorist threats, the Kyodo World Service reported. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in Tokyo that Koda is a "civilian who has no ties" to Self-Defense Forces. The Japanese Embassy has asked the Iraqi government for help in gathering information about Koda, an embassy official told Kyodo. A hotel manager in Amman, Jordan said that Koda spent one night there last week, but ignored the manager's warnings not to travel to Iraq. He departed Jordan for Iraq on 20 October, saying he wanted to know what was going on inside Iraq. KR

BRITISH TROOPS IN IRAQ BEGIN REDEPLOYMENT
British soldiers stationed in southern Iraq began deploying closer to Baghdad on 27 October, international media reported. A Defense Ministry spokesman in London told Reuters: "The deployment has begun. For operational reasons I can give no further details. But they will be back for Christmas." Captain Stuart Macaulay, spokesman for the 1st Mechanized Brigade, told the news agency that troops would first move to Al-Nasiriyah, some 375 kilometers south of Baghdad. Some 850 British troops will be deployed south of the Iraqi capital in order to free up U.S. forces fighting the insurgency in the Sunni triangle area north and west of Baghdad. KR

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES AL-FALLUJAH, GUARDSMEN
Iyad Allawi told the National Assembly in his 26 October weekly address broadcast on Al-Arabiyah television that terrorists remain holed up in the volatile city of Al-Fallujah. "There is absolutely no problem between the government and the people of Al-Fallujah, but the problem is with those forces who are entrenched there." Intelligence information indicates that Takfiri Salafists -- those who declare others as apostates -- are present in the city, he said. Allawi also lashed out at U.S. forces over the 23 October killing of 49 national guardsmen, saying: "We believe there was a great degree of negligence on the part of multinational forces with regard to this issue." He announced that he has launched an investigation. Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib also addressed the parliament, saying that much progress has been made in developing police and security services, with 135,000 policemen working in Iraq. He noted, however, that many are derelict and simply collecting a paycheck. He said the government wants to address the issue but fears that if it dismisses the policemen they could easily join up with terrorists. KR

SOUTHERN IRAQI TRIBES VOW TO AVENGE KILLING OF NATIONAL GUARDSMEN
Iraq's southern tribes have vowed to avenge the 23 October killing of some 49 national guardsmen who were taken from buses and killed execution-style by militants, the Shi'ite news agency (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 26 October. Sources told the website that members of the Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Amarah, and Al-Basrah tribes have launched a search to hunt down the perpetrators. Sources also said that the killing of the guardsmen has led to increased cooperation between citizens and Iraqi security forces towards eliminating terrorism. Diyala Province Deputy Governor Aqil al-Adili said that he suspects that persons working at the National Guard Training Center fed information to militants about the route that the guardsmen were to take. KR

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER DEEMS TALKS WITH AL-FALLUJAH DELEGATION 'UNSUCCESSFUL'
Hazim al-Sha'lan told Al-Arabiyah television on 26 October that talks with negotiators from the city of Al-Fallujah have been "unsuccessful." "I talked to Sheikh Khalid [al-Jumayli], who will come to Baghdad tomorrow [27 October] so that we will continue our discussions regarding the means to contain the crisis." Al-Sha'lan added that Prime Minister Allawi intended to also hold talks with leaders from Al-Fallujah. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG