KURILE ISLANDS ISSUE SPARKS CONTROVERSY
President Vladimir Putin on 15 November seconded a statement the previous day by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that Russia is prepared to hand over to Japan the two southernmost main Kurile Islands in accordance with a 1956 bilateral agreement, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). Putin is expected to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of the 20-21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization summit in Santiago, Chile. Koizumi on 16 November said that Japan insists "there will be no peace treaty concluded unless we make clear the attribution of all four islands," the Kyodo News Agency reported. He said that Japan continues to be guided by a 1993 joint declaration committing the two countries to "serious negotiations" on the status of all four islands. State Duma Deputy Ivan Zhdakaev (Communist), who represents Sakhalin Island, told Ekho Moskvy on 15 November that "the Prosecutor-General's Office should open a criminal case against all those who are trying to sell [Russian] land." Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (Motherland) said, "Every state leader in Russia should follow the following main principle: not an inch of land either to friend or foe." Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) told the radio station that "if Japan makes some super advantageous offer to us and provided the islands are to be handed over gradually, one can hold talks." RC
REPORT: YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ TO BE SOLD BEFORE YEAR'S END
Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of embattled oil giant Yukos, will be sold by the end of December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 November. "Vedomosti" reported the same day that the sale will be carried out by the end of January. Federal Bailiffs Service head Andrei Belyakov said that tender terms and a minimum sale price will be announced by the end of this month. Belyakov said that if the Yuganskneftegaz sale does not bring enough to cover Yukos's tax debts, then other Yukos assets could be sold off. "Kommersant-Daily" also reported that Yukos has not paid Yuganskneftegaz an estimated 56 billion rubles ($1.87 billion) for oil received in the third quarter of this year. If that debt is not paid, then the new owner of Yuganskneftegaz could initiate bankruptcy proceedings against Yukos, the daily reported. RC
ANTIMONOPOLY OFFICIAL CASTS DOUBT ON GAZPROM-ROSNEFT MERGER
Federal Antimonopoly Service Director Igor Artemev on 15 November expressed concern over the proposed takeover of state-owned Rosneft by Gazprom, strana.ru reported. "When one natural monopoly buys another natural monopoly, then it seems accurate to speak of a monopoly squared," Artemev said. Experts were somewhat puzzled by Artemev's description of Rosneft as a "natural monopoly." If Gazprom takes over Rosneft, the combined company will be Russia's fourth-largest oil producer, after Yukos, LUKoil, and Surgutneftegaz. However, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller has said the company plans to increase its oil production to 45 million tons per year, and Gazprom is rumored to be among the possible purchasers of Yuganskneftegaz. Strana.ru speculated that Artemev's statement signals that his service will demand that Rosneft and Gazprom submit documentation about all aspects of their activity before it signs off on the takeover, a process that could take the huge Gazprom "more than a year" to complete. The website further speculated that the Antimonopoly Service could be using the merger as an excuse to get this documentation from Gazprom in order to investigate allegations of unfair practices on the natural-gas market in many Russian regions. RC
RUSSIAN FIGHTER CHASES AWAY U.S. SPY PLANE
A U.S. military surveillance aircraft on 15 November carried out reconnaissance of Russian territory near the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus region, Russian media reported, citing Russian Air Force spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevskii. "The American aircraft broke off its flight along the border of the Russian Federation as soon as an Su-27 fighter was scrambled," Drobyshevskii said, according to Interfax. The Orion surveillance plane was reportedly about 10 kilometers from the Russian border and was based on the Greek island of Crete. Drobyshevskii added that "tensions remain high" and said that in the last five years NATO has renewed surveillance flights along Russia's borders near Georgia and the Baltic states. RC
CHUBAIS DEFENDS PRIVATIZATION PLAN
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais told the "Financial Times" of 15 November that he knows of at least three instances when someone ordered him killed. "I know all the details, the names of those who were supposed to carry out the attacks," Chubais said. "The last such order was made a year and a half ago for purely political reasons: hatred because I 'sold Russia.'" Chubais, who was the architect of Russia's privatization program under former President Boris Yeltsin, also said that he feared for his life in the event that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov won the 1996 presidential election. He admitted that when he devised the privatization plan, he "underestimated the deep feeling of injustice" that it would create. He said, however, that the government, which was weak and unable to enforce laws, was not able to choose between "honest" and "dishonest" privatization. "We had to choose between bandit communism and bandit capitalism," he said. "My opponents say that privatization failed and that it was directed against the interests of the people. But I did it not for the sake of my generation. I did it for the sake of our children." RC
COURT REFUSES TO FORCE PUTIN, GRYZLOV TO TESTIFY
The Supreme Court on 16 November refused to summon President Putin or Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov to testify in the case of a suit by Communist Party member Vadim Solovev seeking to annul the results of the December 2003 State Duma elections, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. The plaintiff requested that Putin and Gryzlov appear to answer the contention that Putin's 19 September 2003 nationally televised speech to a Unified Russia party congress constituted illegal campaigning. Gryzlov is the head of Unified Russia. Solovev also argues that the elections did not represent the will of the people because the media gave overwhelmingly positive coverage to Unified Russia. He said that according to monitoring of five national television channels during the election, Unified Russia got 642 minutes of coverage, while the Communist Party got 316 minutes and the Agrarian Party 49 minutes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 November. The Supreme Court is also considering another case challenging the results of the December 2003 State Duma elections that was filed by the Communist Party, Yabloko, and Committee-2008, Russian media reported on 15 November. That case alleges irregularities in the vote counting. JAC/RC
DALAI LAMA FINALLY TO VISIT RUSSIA?
Telo Tulku Rinpoche, head of the Kalmyk Buddhist Association and the leader of Buddhists in the Republic of Kalmykia, said on 15 November that he is "99.9 percent sure" that the Dalai Lama will be granted a visa and will visit Kalmykia later this month, Interfax reported. "By the end of the week, when we have received the visa, we will be able to speak [about the visit] with 100 percent confidence," Rinpoche said. "I hope that we will be able to prove that the visit of His Holiness will be a religious and not a political one." The Russian government has heretofore refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa because of the sensitivities of the Chinese government. On 12 November, Foreign Minister Lavrov said the ministry is considering the Dalai Lama's application and will grant a visa if the visit is completely nonpolitical, utro.ru reported. Lavrov said the Dalai Lama has promised not to visit the republic's capital Elista or to meet with any state officials. RC
ANOTHER GOVERNOR LANDS SINECURE IN MOSCOW
The Ulyanovsk Oblast administration announced on 15 November that Governor Vladimir Shamanov has been appointed an assistant to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov with responsibility for the social welfare of military personnel and liaising with veterans' organizations, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Media reports have been circulating since early this month that President Putin offered Shamanov a job in Moscow in exchange for agreeing to withdraw from the oblast's 5 December gubernatorial race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). On 15 October, the Unified Russia party's General Council recommended that Shamanov not run for a second term; however, he continued his campaign. General Shamanov is a former military commander in Chechnya. His term as governor has been marked by crises (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 August 2004). According to RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent on 4 November, Shamanov's popularity rating has fallen from 60 percent to 5 percent over the last four years, and he was not expected to make it past the election's first round on 5 December. JAC
FAR EAST BRANCH SETS UP YOUNG PIONEERS CLUB FOR UNIFIED RUSSIA...
The Primorskii Krai branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has launched a campaign among school-age youth to join a new party organization called the Young Bear Cubs, REN-TV reported on 15 November. The bear is the party's symbol. More than 800 students have already joined the organization. According to the station, children are referring to themselves as the "pioneers" of Unified Russia, after the Soviet-era Communist Party youth group, the Young Pioneers. The TV correspondent commented that "the most serious among the children have already grasped this meaning -- joining the organization could be their first step up the career ladder." According to the Vladivostok daily "Yezhednevnye novosti" on 16 November, Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin officially joined the party over the weekend at a krai party conference. Darkin previously belonged to the Union of Rightist Forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001). JAC
...AS PRO-KREMLIN PARTY TO BEGIN TO LOOK MORE LIKE COMMUNIST PARTY
"Yezhednevnye novosti" commented on 16 November that according to the preliminary statements of Unified Russia's central leadership, they plan to reform the party's structure to resemble that of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the 1970s and 1980s: The central Political Council will be liquidated and the General Council will be reduced from 100 members to 15. Unified Russia will hold a party congress in Moscow on 27 November. The weekly also predicted that since all governors will soon be nominated by the Kremlin, then "for obvious reasons" many more regional leaders will join Unified Russia. JAC
SIBERIAN HEAD WINS THIRD TERM
The incumbent governor of Ust-Ordinskii Autonomous Okrug, Valerii Maleev, was reelected in a ballot held on 14 November, Regnum reported on 15 November. Maleev got 56.3 percent of the vote compared with almost 37 percent for his closest competitor, Petr Khakhalov. Khakhalov has announced that he will challenge the election results in an appeal to the presidium of the Supreme Court because of alleged violations of election law, including bribing voters. According to Khakhalov, residents in one area were paid 50 rubles ($1.74) to vote for Maleev. Earlier in November, a local court cancelled Maleev's registration as a candidate, but the Supreme Court reinstated it on 11 November. Maleev has long supported the merger of his okrug with neighboring Irkutsk Oblast. JAC
MORE RUSSIAN OFFICIALS TARGET OSCE
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Relations Committee, said in Moscow on 15 November that he considers criticism of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly justified in light of its activities over the past three decades, Interfax reported. Margelov also criticized the OSCE as a whole for what he termed its "not always reasonable" criticism of young European democracies, its alleged efforts to pressure national leaderships, and for pronouncing on the relative fairness of elections even before those ballots are held. Duma Speaker Gryzlov similarly argued that the OSCE should monitor elections not only in "new democracies," but in states that have long democratic traditions. But he added that the OSCE's top priorities should be fighting international terrorism and safeguarding the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in OSCE member states. Russian officials have expressed similar criticisms of the OSCE in recent months, in particular its approach to election monitoring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July, 16 September, and 20 October 2004). LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE ASSESSES REFORM PROCESS IN ARMENIA
A delegation from the Council of Europe's so-called Ago group has held talks in Yerevan with President Robert Kocharian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and the heads of the various parliament factions as part of an ongoing assessment of Armenia's compliance with the obligations it took on when accepted in January 2001 into full membership of the Council of Europe, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 15 November. Delegation head Robert Wegener, who is Germany's ambassador to the council, told journalists on 15 November that despite some progress, Armenia must still tackle what he termed the "most important" issues of reforming the constitution, judicial system, and election legislation. Kocharian's press office cited him as assuring Wegener of his commitment to bringing Armenian legislation into conformity with European standards. LF
ARMENIA, ESTONIA PLEDGE TO INTENSIFY TIES
Speaking at a joint press conference on 15 November after talks in Yerevan, President Kocharian and his visiting Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel gave a positive assessment of bilateral relations and expressed the hope that economic and commercial ties can be intensified, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian noted specifically that Estonia's acceptance into the EU creates new opportunities for bilateral cooperation. Asked to comment on the proposal floated by Lithuania during Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's visit last month for joint cooperation between the three Baltic and three South Caucasus states, Kocharian said he considers bilateral cooperation more realistic at this juncture, Noyan Tapan reported. Azerbaijani officials consistently make any multilateral regional cooperation with Armenia contingent on a formal settlement of the Karabakh conflict. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT 'NOT OPTIMISTIC' OVER KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS
Speaking on 15 November at his joint press conference with Ruutel, President Kocharian said he "does not have much optimism" at present over the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian identified as the two major obstacles to a negotiated settlement Azerbaijan's refusal to acknowledge representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as a full-fledged party to the conflict and Azerbaijan's reluctance to embark on regional cooperation, according to ITAR-TASS. That agency quoted Kocharian as saying Yerevan is committed to the formula "through cooperation to settlement." LF
RADICAL AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PAPER CEASES PUBLICATION
The opposition daily "Yeni Musavat" ceased publication on 16 November due to major financial problems, Turan reported. The paper, which has a track record of not always checking facts prior to publication, has lost a series of libel suits brought by senior officials in which the court imposed draconian fines and sequestered the paper's bank accounts. As a result, it is in debt to the privately owned publishing house Chap Evi, which has refused to publish further issues as the paper cannot pay in advance for supplies of newsprint. "Yeni Musavat" Editor in Chief Rauf Arifoglu was one of seven prominent opposition figures sentenced to prison terms last month on charges of inciting violence in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2004). LF
ABKHAZ PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR 'DIALOGUE'
Nodar Khashba, whose reported resignation as Abkhaz prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2004) proved premature, met separately on 15 November in Sukhum with rival presidential candidates Sergei Bagapsh and Raul Khadjimba, after which he appealed to both men to demonstrate "wisdom and balance" and embark on negotiations, Caucasus Press reported. But Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 November quoted Khadjimba as saying that he sees little point in a further meeting with Bagapsh as the other is unwilling to make any concessions. Pointing to a ruling by the Central Election Commission on 11 October that was upheld by the Supreme Court on 28 October, Bagapsh insists he is the legal winner of the 3 October presidential ballot; Khadjimba insists the vote was flawed and supports outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba's call for a repeat ballot. Also on 15 November, several political parties that support Ardzinba and the current government, including Apsny and the Social Democratic Party recently founded by former Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2004 ) formed an Anti-Crisis Council and likewise appealed to Bagapsh and Khadjimba to begin talks, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz parliament reconvened on 15 November after a two-week hiatus, Interfax and a correspondent for RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SETS SEVEN TASKS FOR FINANCIAL SECTOR...
President Nursultan Nazarbaev told the Fourth Congress of Financial Professionals on 15 November in Almaty that seven key tasks face the country's government, National Bank, and Financial Monitoring Agency, Kazinform reported. The tasks are bringing the securities market up to modern standards, creating an infrastructure for people to trade on the stock market, developing a program by 2007 for the creation of an accumulation pension system, increasing the capitalization of the financial system, introducing modern risk-management systems, developing credit cooperatives and microcredit, and creating an international financial center in Almaty. Nazarbaev also said that in order to increase activity on the stock market, major state-owned companies should be gathered into a holding company with the holding company's shares bought and sold on the stock market, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK
...AS WORLD BANK PRESIDENT CALLS RISK OF RENEWED CRISIS 'MINIMAL'
World Bank President James Wolfensohn met with President Nazarbaev on 15 November in Almaty to discuss structural reforms in the Kazakh economy and the economic situation in the region, Kazakh TV reported. At a press conference the same day, Wolfensohn said, "The risk of a repetition of the 1998 Asian crisis in Kazakhstan is minimal, although the possibility exists, as in any other country with a transitional economy," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Wolfensohn also noted that Almaty could soon become the largest financial center in Central Asia. On a more critical note, Wolfensohn urged Kazakhstan to develop its communications sector and tighten controls on the banking system. DK
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT PASSES 2005 BUDGET
A joint session of Kazakhstan's parliament passed the country's 2005 budget in its second and final reading on 15 November, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Budget revenues are projected at 1.141 trillion tenges ($8.7 billion) and expenditures at 1.242 trillion tenges ($9.5 billion), leaving a deficit of 101.4 billion tenges ($775 million), or 1.7 percent of projected gross domestic product (GDP). 2005 GDP growth is estimated at 7.9 percent, annual inflation at 4.9-6.5 percent, and the average exchange rate at 131.7 tenges to the dollar. DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. DIPLOMAT...
President Askar Akaev met with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Laura Kennedy in Bishkek on 15 November, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In their talks, Akaev assured Kennedy that the 2005 presidential elections will be fair and transparent. He also noted that the U.S. air base in Manas has played a significant role in the destruction of terrorist bases in Afghanistan. Akaev also thanked the United States for its help in fighting drug trafficking, Kyrgyz radio reported. Kennedy said that Kyrgyzstan is a leader in democratic and market reforms, and thanked Kyrgyzstan for its support in the struggle against international terrorism. DK
...AND CHINESE DELEGATION FROM XINJANG
President Akaev received a delegation headed by Wang Lequan, secretary of the Communist Party in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in Bishkek on 15 November, Kyrgyz TV reported. Talks focused on efforts to increase the export of Kyrgyz goods to China, akipress.org reported. Wang also met with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev to discuss the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway through the Torugart Pass and the reconstruction of the Osh-Sarytash-Irkeshtam road, Kyrgyz radio reported. DK
FORMER TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTER TO HAVE CLOSED TRIAL
The trial of former Tajik Interior Minister Yoqub Salimov, set to begin on 23 November, will be closed, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 15 November. Mahmadali Vatanov, deputy head of Tajikistan's Supreme Court, said that the investigation of Salimov's case involved matters considered state secrets. Salimov, who was extradited from Russia to Tajikistan in February, faces charges of treason and abuse of office. DK
TURKMEN OIL AND GAS SHOW OPENS WITH RUSSIAN FOCUS
The "Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan 2004" exhibition opened in Ashgabat on 15 November with a heavy Russian presence, ITAR-TASS reported, as state-run Russian gas monopolist Gazprom occupied half the display space. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov hailed cooperation with Russia in remarks delivered at a Turkmen-Russian oil-and-gas conference in Ashgabat the same day, the Turkmen government's website reported. Niyazov said: "We have been and are still attaching great importance to developing cooperation with our Russian partners. A striking example of this, perhaps, is a long-term agreement with Gazprom on delivering Turkmen gas to Russia." This year marks the beginning of a 25-year Russian-Turkmen gas-export agreement. DK
BELARUS WITHDRAWS UN DRAFT RESOLUTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN U.S.
Belarus has withdrawn a draft resolution called "Situation of Democracy and Human Rights in the United States of America" from the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 November 2004), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 15 November. Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh said Minsk from the very start did not want to submit the resolution, which urges the United States to improve its human rights situation, to a vote in the UN General Assembly. "Everybody understands that the U.S.A.'s influence and pressure on all in the world has reached such levels that few countries would dare to vote openly for the resolution," Savinykh explained. According to Savinykh, by submitting the resolution, Minsk aimed to show that nobody, not even a global superpower, has a monopoly on criticism or should be excluded from the international monitoring of human rights. Minsk's resolution on the human rights situation in the United States followed a critical resolution on Belarus that was introduced by the Unites States and the EU to the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly. JM
BELARUS'S NEW UPPER HOUSE HOLDS FIRST SESSION
The new Council of the Republic, whose 56 members were elected by Minsk and six oblast councils of deputies within the past month, held its first session on 15 November, Belarusian media reported. The session reelected Henadz Navitski as chairman of the Council of the Republic. In accordance with the constitution, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has the right to appoint eight members of the Council of the Republic. Lukashenka reportedly appointed one such member on 15 October. JM
YANUKOVYCH BLAMES YUSHCHENKO FOR UKRAINE'S ECONOMIC PREDICAMENT...
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych took part on 15 November in a 100-minute televised debate with his presidential rival in the 21 November runoff, Viktor Yushchenko. The debate was held on state-owned television channel UT-1 and simultaneously broadcast by several other channels in Ukraine. Yanukovych referred to his government as "new authorities" in Ukraine and portrayed Yushchenko as a "bankrupt politician" and fake oppositionist. According to Yanukovych, Yushchenko in his capacity as head of the National Bank in 1993-99 and prime minister in 1999-2001 is largely responsible for Ukraine's current poverty and economic plight as well as for widespread public distrust of the authorities. Yanukovych stressed that his government achieved 9.6 percent economic growth in 2003 and 13.4 percent growth in the first nine months of 2004. JM
...AS THE LATTER ACCUSES THE FORMER OF ECONOMIC INAPTITUDE
Yushchenko accused Yanukovych during the 15 November presidential debate of trying to mislead Ukrainians with statistics, arguing that official economic-growth figures have translated into neither higher budget revenues nor greater purchasing power for Ukrainians. "You [Yanukovych] have said you're going to be a president of rich people," Yushchenko said. "But two-thirds of my nation lives below the poverty line. What is the 13.4 percent growth being turned into?" Yushchenko accused Yanukovych's government of condoning corruption and allowing 55 percent of the economy to function in the shadows. Yushchenko also claimed Yanukovych's government has no consistent foreign policy, adding that it vacillates between Brussels and Moscow and runs a risk of "los[ing] in both the East and the West." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE SEEN AS 'NEW STANDARD'
Members of Yanukovych's and Yushchenko's election staffs positively assessed the live debate between the two presidential candidates on UT-1 on 15 November, Interfax reported on 16 November. "I think that this [debate] sets an absolutely new standard [in Ukrainian political life]," Yanukovych's campaign manager, Serhiy Tihipko, commented. Anatoliy Hrytsenko, an analyst in Yushchenko's campaign staff, agreed and said the debate was "very important, indeed." Tihipko argued that debate viewers saw a "self-assured politician" in Yanukovych who "easily oriented himself in all issues and behaved with absolute dignity." Lawmaker Mykola Tomenko, a member of Yushchenko's campaign staff, claimed that Yushchenko behaved like a future president while Yanukovych assumed the role of an opposition politician. JM
MACEDONIAN PREMIER'S RESIGNATION STUNS COALITION PARTNERS
Members of the governing coalition in Macedonia expressed their surprise over the resignation of Prime Minister Hari Kostov on 15 November, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). In an allusion to his problems with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Kostov had cited the alleged corruption and nepotism of "one of the governing parties" as one reason for his resignation. Elsewhere, BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti said her party had not expected Kostov's resignation. Reacting to Kostov's comment that the BDI had "blackmailed" the government over the employment of ethnic Albanian officials, Mehmeti said, "We do not consider the debates in the cabinet to represent [serious] differences or blackmail, but [only] an exchange of views." BDI legislator Rafis Aliti told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 15 November that his party will not give up its demand for the representation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration to be proportional to their share of the total population, which is around 25 percent. Elsewhere, Boris Kondarko, spokesman for the largest governing party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), said that Kostov's resignation was a "personal act" that cannot be commented upon. UB
BOSNIAN SERBS ARREST EIGHT WAR CRIMES INDICTEES
On 15 November in Pale, Foca, and Lukavica, Bosnian Serb police arrested a total of eight Bosnian Serbs accused of war crimes against Muslims during the 1992-95 conflict, Reuters reported. Judge Sreto Crnjak of the Sarajevo Cantonal Court told the news agency that his "court has received approval from the Hague tribunal to conduct proceedings against these suspects." Court official Slobodan Nikolic noted that two of the men have been indicted for genocide and the others for a variety of crimes against civilians. The arrested men are Svetko Novakovic, Jovan Skobo, Momir Glisic, Dragoje Radanovic, Momir Skakavac, Zeljko Mitrovic, Veselin Cancar, and Goran Vasic, dpa reported. This is the first successful attempt by Bosnian Serb police to arrest indictees since 1 June, when the Republika Srpska announced its action plan to cooperate with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). In related news, Theodor Meron, who heads the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said at the UN on 15 November that Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal is nonexistent, while the Republika Srpska does not cooperate enough (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2004). He added that Croatia's cooperation is getting better, whereas that of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croat-Muslim Federation is good. PM
FIRST WAR CRIMES TRIAL OF KOSOVARS OPENS IN THE HAGUE
Three members of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) -- Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala, and Isak Musliu -- went on trial before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 16 November for allegedly abducting and killing up to 35 Serbian civilians and ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in central Kosova in 1998, Reuters reported. This is the first trial of Kosovar Albanians for war crimes stemming from the 1998-99 conflict. Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, has repeatedly expressed concern over what she called attempts by unnamed supporters of the indictees to influence or intimidate potential witnesses. Much of Kosovar Albanian opinion believes that the three were defending the province against Milosevic's forces and should not be put on trial abroad. Serbian opinion generally believes that many more Kosovar leaders should face trial in The Hague, including some top-ranking politicians who are former UCK commanders. PM
CROATIA AND SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO AGREE ON MINORITY RIGHTS
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader agreed in Belgrade on 15 November with Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica that their respective countries see their future as members of the EU and NATO, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). Sanader and his hosts signed an agreement on protecting their respective ethnic minorities and also stressed the need to determine the fates of the hundreds of people still officially classified as missing from the 1991-95 conflict. Sanader said: "We look towards the future even though we do not forget the past.... I believe that a united Europe cannot be complete without countries from this part of Europe." PM
ALBANIA'S MAIN AIRPORT SET FOR THOROUGH OVERHAUL
The Albanian parliament approved a $107 million measure on 12 November for the Airport Partners Consortium to renovate and manage Tirana's Rinas Mother Teresa Airport, which is Albania's largest, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Renovation is slated to last three years, and the consortium will manage the facility for 20 years, bringing its security and other operations up to international standards. The Albanian authorities want to expand the number of passengers using Rinas from 500,000 per year to 1.5 million. With a small fleet of aging Chinese-built military planes parked near modern Western passenger jets on the tarmac, a distinctive palm-lined walkway from the tarmac to the terminal, and an ambiance that often suggests a traditional Balkan village rather than a modern airport, Rinas enjoys a special reputation among foreign travelers to Southeast Europe. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT'S CAMPAIGN COMES UNDER FIRE
Opposition National Liberal Party-Democratic Party alliance members on 15 November asked the Central Electoral Bureau in Bucharest to ban campaign posters presenting President Ion Iliescu together with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Humanist Party (PUR) alliance's sign and slogans, Mediafax reported. Iliescu should remain an independent candidate and, as president, should remain neutral in the campaign, they argued. Iliescu was criticized on 12 November for campaigning for the PSD and its presidential candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Iliescu countered that he did not understand his critics' "nervousness," considering it is his "duty to the country" to promote the programs and people he believes in. Iliescu, whose term ends in December, is an independent candidate on the PSD/PUR lists for the Senate elections, slated for November. The constitution bans the head of state from participating in party politics. ZsM
ROMANIAN PREMIER REJECTS GAY MARRIAGES
Speaking at a rally in the eastern city of Constanta, Romanian presidential candidate and Prime Minister Nastase said on 15 November that he rejects gay marriage and the adoption of children by homosexuals, Mediafax reported. Nastase said he considers gay marriages "absolutely inadmissible," adding that most parties have agreed that homosexuality should not be punished and the Romanian Penal Code reflects that consensus. Nastase further said he does not understand why the issue is a "hot" topic in light of Romania's other problems, such as poverty and unemployment. Opposition National Liberal Party-Democratic Party alliance presidential candidate Traian Basescu recently suggested he favors gay marriages. He later explained that he is not a supporter of gay marriage but does not oppose others' options on the subject. Basescu added that he is "a perfectly normal" person who does not consider homosexuals abnormal. ZsM
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSES COMMUNISTS OF STALLING INITIATIVES
Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) representatives in a 15 November press release accused the parliamentary majority Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) of illegally stalling PPCD legislative initiatives "that are essential for the functioning of democratic institutions in Moldova and for ensuring free and correct elections," Infotag reported. PPCD deputies argued that since 2002 they have proposed amendments to several important pieces of legislation -- including the Penal Code, the Electoral Code, and the law on public meetings -- that have not been debated within 25 days of their submission. PPCD deputies further predicted that the elections in 2005 "will not be free nor fair, and their results might be rigged." ZsM
MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER'S RESIGNATION HIGHLIGHTS WEAKNESSES IN POLITICAL SYSTEM
After a weekend filled with rumors that he might step down, Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov announced his resignation on 15 November. Kostov, who does not belong to any of the governing parties, led the government for little more than five months. He replaced Branko Crvenkovski, who exchanged the prime minister's job for the presidency following the death in a plane crash in February of President Boris Trajkovski.
It is unlikely that Kostov's resignation will trigger a major political crisis. It will, however, prolong the current paralysis of the political process caused by the lengthy discussion about the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts and to streamline the state administration.
Kostov's decision to stand down also highlights a number of weaknesses and problems within the governing coalition that contributed to the current paralysis. These weaknesses -- if not addressed in the near future -- may in the long run lead to political destabilization.
Speaking at a press conference on 15 November, Kostov said he feels that the governing coalition lacks a consensus and is not capable of the teamwork necessary to attain the country's strategic goals. Although he did not mention any names or parties, Kostov implicitly blamed the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) for the lack of cooperation among the coalition partners.
Specifically, Kostov said "one of the coalition partners" understands its role in the government to center exclusively on the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, and is demanding that "one of the ethnic communities" be proportionally represented in the state administration. (Kostov himself is a member of the well-integrated Vlach minority.) At the same time, Kostov said the unnamed political party promotes only its national and party interests and does so through nepotism and corruption.
According to Kostov, the BDI has refused in the cabinet sessions to approve a number of draft laws regarding privatization of state property and budgeting, demanding that the Finance Ministry change its employment rules to allow the employment of 15 new officials.
"I am not prepared to work under such conditions," Kostov said. "I am not prepared [to accept] inefficient work in the government, setting preconditions, and blocking the reform process in the political and, above all, in the economic sphere because of daily political horse trading." Kostov underscored that he does not consider his resignation as a personal defeat or weakness, adding that he is a fighter who does not easily compromise his political principles.
BDI representatives reacted to Kostov's resignation with a mixture of surprise and defiance. BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti said her party did not expect Kostov's move. Reacting to Kostov's criticism that the BDI blocked the government's work with its demand for the employment of ethnic Albanian officials, Mehmeti said: "We do not consider the debates in the cabinet to represent [serious] differences or blackmail, but [only] an exchange of views." BDI legislator Rafis Aliti told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 15 November that his party will not give up its demand for proportional representation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration.
Such tensions between Kostov and the BDI are nothing new. In September 2003, when Kostov was still interior minister, he clashed with the BDI over the handling of a police operation to arrest ethnic Albanian suspects. And in July, Kostov faced stiff resistance from the BDI when he wanted to dismiss Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku over corruption allegations. At that time, Buxhaku reportedly said the only person qualified to decide on his resignation was not Kostov but BDI Chairman Ali Ahmeti.
In addition to his problems with the BDI, Kostov is said to have had problems with Economy Minister Stevco Jakimovski of the other small coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats (LDP). The LDP, for its part, claimed that Kostov has more problems with Finance Minister Nikola Popovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), which is the largest coalition partner. But SDSM spokesman Boris Kondarko said his party regards Kostov's withdrawal as a personal move and declined to comment. Kondarko stressed that the SDSM has always supported Kostov.
Media reports suggest that Kostov's position in the cabinet was weak from the beginning of his tenure. Kostov entered Crvenkovski's cabinet as an independent minister, without the support of a major political party. His previous experience as a bank manager was little help in balancing the interests of the coalition partners, as "Utrinski vesnik's" Erol Rizaov put it.
Whoever is chosen as Kostov's successor, he or she will need both the backing of a political party and the support of the other coalition partners to revive the political process and to carry out the necessary economic reforms.
ISAF COMMANDER CLAIMS TALIBAN, AL-QAEDA DEFEATED IN AFGHANISTAN
Brigadier General Walter Spindler, commander of the German contingent within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), says the remnants of the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have been defeated for good, ddp reported on 15 November, citing "Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung." According to Spindler, the "process of democratization" in Afghanistan "is irreversible" since the coalition forces and ISAF have "drained the water in which the evil fish can swim." Spindler cautioned, however, that the establishment of an Afghan security structure is far from complete and the void requires that ISAF stay in the country for at least another 10 years. Many analysts believe the ISAF will eventually take over much of the responsibility for maintaining security in Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition forces. AT
AFGHAN HOSTAGE TAKERS CITE LACK OF OFFICIAL CONTACT OVER ABDUCTEES' FATE
Saber Mo'min, identified as a military commander of Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims), told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 15 November that the fate of three UN hostages the group is holding would be decided later in the day. "So far today [15 November] neither the [Afghan] government nor the United Nations has contacted us regarding the hostages," Mo'min told AIP. Therefore, the Army of the Muslims will make its final decision, Mo'min said. "It is then up to us as to what will happen" to the three UN elections workers, Mo'min responded to AIP when asked what the fate of the hostages might be. The neo-Taliban splinter group, which abducted three UN election workers on 28 October, had set 15 November as its latest deadline for negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). AT
AFGHAN EDITOR CLAIMS NEO-TALIBAN ARE BEHIND HOSTAGE TAKERS
Khatrin Weda, the editor in chief of the Kabul-based daily "Cheragh," said she believes the neo-Taliban are behind the Army of the Muslims, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 13 November. "It is noteworthy that both the Taliban and Army of the Muslims have the same ideology, policy, and structure," Weda claimed, adding that she believes neo-Taliban elements "are directly involved" in the hostage taking. Neo-Taliban elements have denied any involvement in the current hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). Some have speculated that the hostage takers have no political motive but instead are interested in ransom and that their strategy backfired when the Afghan government and the UN were pressured not to strike any deal with them. AT
FORMER CZECH PRESIDENT'S NEON HEART HEADED FOR KABUL
The giant, red neon heart that shone over the Prague Castle in 2002-03 will be sent to Kabul, AP reported. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel lit the heart over the castle on 17 November 2002 to mark the anniversary of the revolution that ended communist rule in his country. The heart remained lit until February 2003. A communist-era dissident and playwright, Havel signed his name with a heart early in his presidency. Jiri David, the designer of the heart, said his creation will be mounted at the Kabul stadium that the Taliban regime used as execution grounds. AT
IAEA ISSUES ITS REPORT ON IRAN
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei has issued his most recent report on Iran to member states, the IAEA website (http://www.iaea.org) reported. The IAEA's 35-member board of governors will meet in Vienna on 25 November to consider the report. El-Baradei's report says the IAEA has no evidence that Iran has diverted any nuclear materials to a weapons program but also notes that the IAEA cannot rule out covert nuclear activities, according to Reuters. BS
IRAN-EU AGREEMENT NOTES THAT TEHRAN'S HALT IN URANIUM-ENRICHMENT NOT LEGALLY BINDING
In addition to discussing recent IAEA inspections in Iran, el-Baradei's report also discusses Iran's 14 November agreement with the European Union's "Big Three" -- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Under the agreement, Iran will voluntarily "continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," according to the IAEA website. The Iran-EU agreement notes that the suspension is "a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation." Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani stressed this point on 15 November, Mehr News Agency reported. Rohani also noted that the agreement does not mention a permanent suspension of uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, according to IRNA, Rohani said that Iran will suspend its uranium-conversion activities on 22 November, including making and assembling centrifuge components. He was adamant that Iran still wants to master the entire fuel cycle. BS
IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE MINISTER WARNS OF SECTARIAN STRIFE
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told a gathering of Muslim diplomats on 13 November that Iran has had to contend with Western plots to stir up sectarian divisions, IRNA reported. "We have either stemmed or controlled some dangerous roots which were being tendered by America and certain Western countries," Yunesi said. "The threat of religious and sectarian wars is not less than terrorism, and we all know well that the origin of these conspiracies lies with the intelligence services of America, Britain, and Israel." Southeastern Iran is one of the areas of concern (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 November 2004). According to a 17 August report in Kerman's "Sarallah" newspaper, a group of alleged "Iranian rebel leaders" met near the Pakistani city of Kandi and complained of anti-Sunni discrimination at the hands of officials in Zahedan, Sistan va Baluchistan Province. That group appealed to the Zahedan Friday Prayer leader Molavi Abdul Hamid, too, according to "Sarallah." The newspaper went on to report that 90 percent of the supposed Iranian Sunnis are actually Afghan refugees who do not want to be repatriated. BS
IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER SPEAKS OUT ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
"When people look for a president, a parliamentarian, or any other individual who is chosen through elections, they want capable individuals in office who can increase the efficiency of the system, and solve people's material and spiritual problems," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 14 November sermon on Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, state television reported. He went on to say that the electorate's participation should be the main objective of the election. BS
...AND POTENTIAL CANDIDATES SIGNAL INTEREST
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 15 November that former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin has agreed to run for president as the candidate of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, Mehr News Agency reported. The reformists' main problem, Ramezanzadeh said, is that they have lost touch with the public. Former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, who now is an adviser to the supreme leader, said in a 13 November speech in Babol that he is willing to stand as a candidate if he thinks he can be effective, ISNA reported. "Factions are holding consultations and they are trying to establish a consensus of opinion before they name their candidates," he added. "Each faction will officially name its candidate soon." BS
IRAQI PRIME MINISTER SAYS MAJOR OPERATIONS IN AL-FALLUJAH OVER
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told Al-Jazeera television in a 15 November interview that major operations in the volatile city of Al-Fallujah are over. "The greater part of the effort has actually come to an end. I can say with all confidence that Al-Fallujah is no longer a shelter for terrorists," he said. Allawi added that "mopping operations" would continue for a few days, "but the prime objective of Operation Al-Fajr [Dawn] has been achieved." Allawi said a "large percentage" of those arrested in Al-Fallujah were non-Iraqi Arabs and Muslims. He added that a number of the militants arrested in the city are members of Jaysh Muhammad (Muhammad's Army) led by Mu'ayyad Ahmad Yasin (aka Abu Ahmad). He accused that group of killing Iraqi citizens, Arabs, and foreigners in Iraq, including by decapitation. Allawi said members of a second group, which he did not identify, were also captured in Al-Fallujah. Jaysh Muhammad is among the groups that claimed responsibility for the 19 August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad (see RFE/RL's "Survey Of Armed Groups In Iraq," http://www.rferl.org/specials/IraqCrisis/specials-armedgroups.asp). KR
MULTINATIONAL FORCES LAUNCH OPERATIONS IN MOSUL
U.S. and Iraqi forces launched operations in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 16 November, international media reported. Hordes of militants have run rampant in the city for weeks; violence increased last week with several attacks on police stations and government buildings. U.S. military spokeswoman Captain Angela Bowman told reporters on 16 November that military operations are focusing on the western side of the Tigris River "to clear out final pockets of insurgent fighting." "It's a significant operation to secure police stations in the area and make sure they can be put to use again," she said. Nine of Mosul's 33 police stations have been overrun by militants in the past week. Militants looted the stations of weapons, flak jackets, and vehicles before setting them ablaze. Sources told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that multinational forces arrested General Muhammad Khayri al-Birhawi, the director-general of Mosul police, accusing him of cooperating with terrorists in the city, RFI reported on 15 November (see "Iraqi Police Aiding Militants In Mosul Insurgency," rferl.org, 16 November 2004). KR
NEW AUDIOTAPE ATTRIBUTED TO AL-ZARQAWI SURFACES
An audiotape purportedly recorded by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and posted to a number of Islamic-forum websites on 15 November -- including alezah.com -- called on mujahedin in Iraq to attack multinational forces. The message was addressed to the "heroes in Baghdad, and Al-Anbar, and to the lions in Mosul and the north, and the lions in Diyala, Samarra, and Salah Al-Din." It warned that multinational forces will move toward other cities after Al-Fallujah operations are complete. "Do not allow [the multinational forces'] plan to succeed. The enemy is weak and unable to expand the battle," the message says. It advises militants to cut off multinational forces' main and secondary supply lines "and ambush it on those roads, for this will be easy loot and an open target. Ensure that you are in control of the battle." The message also calls on militants to "extend the length of the battle," adding, "The enemy is betting on time to reduce the intensity of the battle." The speaker calls for patience, telling militants: "God is with you. He will not let your deeds go unrewarded." KR
IRAQI ELECTORAL SPOKESMAN DISCUSSES EXPATRIATE, MILITARY VOTING
Farid Ayyar, spokesman for the Iraqi Electoral Commission, told Al-Sharqiyah television in a 15 November interview that it appears that expatriate voting may take place in as many as 14 countries in January's national elections. Ayyar said the International Migration Organization, which will help prepare for voting abroad, has identified the 14 countries as having the largest populations of Iraqi expatriates. Asked what arrangements have been made for members of the Iraqi Army and security services to vote, Ayyar said that the answer is unclear, adding that they might not be allowed to vote at all. He said there are two opinions on the matter. "The one says that the army and the National Guard should not get involved in the elections because it is a political matter: The army, police, and the National Guard should keep away from politics. Another opinion says that these people are citizens who have the right to cast their votes and practice their election right. We have not yet reached any conclusion in the matter." Ayyar said the Electoral Commission is examining how foreign states deal with the issue before it makes a decision. KR
U.S. SENATE PROBE DETERMINES IRAQ GAINED $21 BILLION ILLEGALLY
A seven-month investigation by a U.S. Senate investigations subcommittee concluded on 15 November that the Hussein regime illicitly earned $21.3 billion in revenues during 12 years of United Nations sanctions, international media reported on 16 November. The figure is double the amount estimated by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which had said Hussein earned $10.1 billion illicitly, Reuters reported. The head of the Iraq Survey Group and a special adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction projects, Charles Duelfer, estimated this year that Iraq gained some $2 billion through corruption within the now defunct UN oil-for-food program, and another $8 billion through smuggling over land and sea or through direct illegal agreements with other states. Iraq earned most of the money through its illegal export of oil. But other money was earned through contracting for first-rate goods and accepting delivery of poorer quality and less expensive items. The supplier would then receive a percentage of the difference, and the Hussein regime would pocket the rest, washingtonpost.com reported. Investigators cited one case in which the Oil Ministry asked a contractor to inflate prices for oil-related equipment and then deposit the difference in a Swiss bank account, the website reported. KR
U.S. NETWORK SAYS MARINE SHOT DEAD WOUNDED IRAQI PRISONER
A journalist embedded with U.S. Marines during the Al-Fallujah offensive videotaped a Marine apparently shooting and killing a wounded Iraqi prisoner in a mosque in Al-Fallujah, Reuters cited NBC television network, the journalist's employer, as reporting on 15 November. The Iraqi was one of five prisoners wounded a day earlier in fighting with U.S. Marines. The Marines left the prisoners for others to pick up. A second group of Marines found the Iraqis the next day but were reportedly unaware that the Iraqis, severely injured, had been disarmed and taken prisoner. Footage taken inside the mosque records remarks made by one Marine when he noticed one of the prisoners was still breathing and presumed he was faking death. The Marine then raised his rifle and shot the Iraqi in the head, NBC correspondent Kevin Sites said in a pool report. Sites noted that the Marine had just returned to duty after being shot in the face a day earlier. He was subsequently removed from the field for questioning by U.S. military officials. Sites reported that the shot prisoner "did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way," Reuters reported. KR