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Newsline - November 19, 2004


GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES SALE OF YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ
The Federal Property Fund announced on 19 November that the government will auction off oil giant Yukos's stake in Yukanskneftegaz, the company's main production subsidiary, on 19 December with a minimum sale price of $8.6 billion, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported. Yukos's stake comprises 76.79 percent of the company's capitalization and 100 percent of its voting shares. Yukos CEO Steven Theede said the tender is "a government-organized theft to settle a political score," a company press release stated. Because Yukos's tax debts currently stand at more than $10 billion, additional Yukos assets could come under the hammer if Yukanskneftegaz fails to bring significantly more than the starting price. RC

GOVERNMENT KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE ON YUKOS
Aleksei Kurtsin, chief operations officer of Yukos-Moskva, was arrested on 18 November, and a warrant was issued for Yukos lawyer Dmitrii Gololobov, Russian and international media reported. Kurtsin is accused of embezzling up to 22 million rubles ($734,000) from the company. Gololobov is accused of illegally taking control of shares in Vostochnaya neftyanaya kompaniya worth more than 3 million rubles. Gololobov is currently in the United Kingdom, RIA-Novosti reported. Interfax reported on 18 November that an unidentified official within the tax authorities said the government intends to present claims for back taxes to Yukos subsidiaries Samaraneftegaz, Tomskneft, and the Achinsk oil refinery "soon." The source declined to say how much the government would be seeking. RC

PUTIN SAYS TALK OF RUSSIAN AUTHORITARIANISM IS 'NONSENSE'
In an interview with Chilean journalists on 19 November in the run-up to his state visit to Chile on 20-21 November, President Vladimir Putin described as "complete nonsense" assertions that he is moving Russia toward increased authoritarianism, Interfax reported. "Of course, any action intended to improve the effectiveness of the functioning of the state must be taken with caution," Putin said. "That is understandable." Putin said that democracy in Russia must be based on the country's experience, traditions, and the level of the development of democratic institutions and civil society. He added that Russia is still seeking the optimal structure for its society, Regnum reported. RC

PUTIN PROPOSES BRINGING GOVERNORS BACK TO FEDERATION COUNCIL...
In an interview with top Russian television journalists from NTV, ORT, and RTR on 18 November, President Putin suggested that regional executives and the heads of regional legislatures could be brought back into the Federation Council "in order to resolve national tasks, issues such as war and peace, the borders between the regions, the use of Russian troops abroad, etc." In an apparent suggestion that the current representatives to the upper chamber would be retained, he added that "the day-to-day work should be done on an ongoing and professional basis." The current representatives were selected under the new rules for forming the Federation Council that Putin proposed shortly after winning election to his first term. Asked to comment on Putin's suggestion by Ekho Moskvy, Boris Nadezhdin of the Union of Rightist Forces' political council said that "if the governors that are appointed by the president [come back] again, half of the members of the chamber would be appointed by the president. So what division of powers can one possibly be talking about here?" JAC

...AND COMPLAINS ABOUT POWER OF INFLUENTIAL GROUPS ON REGIONAL ELECTION OUTCOMES
During his 18 November interview, President Putin explained his reasons for proposing that gubernatorial elections be canceled. Putin said "elections often take place along ethnic lines," and that underneath the surface "economic battles between local and regional clans for spheres of influence" are waged. He said he has "been watching with growing concern of late the increasing influence of economic groups and various economic clans, noticing their growing influence on the authorities at the regional level," adding that "I can assure that this influence is in no way tied to the interests of voters and of the people as a whole." On the topic of mayoral elections, Putin suggested that it would not be expedient to abolish mayoral elections. "It is impossible to resolve all local problems from Moscow and even from a major regional center," he said. "It is impossible to keep track of all the roofs and roads that need to be repaired and deal with the multitude of tasks and municipal authorities face." JAC

PUTIN MAKES FIRST COMMENTS ON KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA CRISIS
During his 18 November interview with Russian television channels, President Putin also made his first public comments on the unrest earlier this month in Cherkessk, capital of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 November 2004). Putin characterized the background to the storming by angry protesters on 9 November of a local-government building as "a crisis triggered by common crimes committed by mobs trying to grab more property." The protesters were angered by the murder of seven young men, after a meeting at the dacha of Ali Kaitov, KChR President Mustafa Batdyev's son-in-law and the CEO of a recently privatized cement factory. Putin dismissed as "superficial" attempts to construe the standoff as one between the republic's two titular ethnic groups, again stressing that "what is really going on is a turf war between local or regional clans for spheres of influence" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 18 November 2004). LF

MOSCOW AMBIGUOUS ON CLAIMS IT IS PROVIDING WEAPONS TO SUDAN
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 18 November denied an Amnesty International claim that Russia is providing weapons to Sudan, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Yakovenko said that Russia is strictly enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1556, which bans weapons transfers to nongovernmental military formations in Sudan, and that no violations of the resolution have been uncovered. Amnesty, however, claimed that the government of Sudan has used an unspecified number of MiG-29 fighters, Mi-24 military helicopters, and other Russian-made weapons and ammunition in recent operations (http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr541392004). The report further claimed that Russia and China have been thwarting efforts by other UN Security Council members to extend the ban on weapons sales to include the Sudanese government. Yakovenko denied to comment on the specifics of Amnesty International's report. RC

ZHIRINOVSKII TESTIFIES IN STAROVOITOVA CASE
State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), testified on 19 November in the St. Petersburg trial of six men accused of involvement in the 20 November 1998 murder of Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, Russian media reported. "[The judges] want to know whether the LDPR was interested in getting rid of Starovoitova and they want to know whether there was a political motive behind her murder," Zhirinovskii told RIA-Novosti on 18 November. "I am ready to tell everything, to explain everything." He acknowledged that Starovoitova was "a political opponent," but denied that the party wanted to have her killed. All of the accused have links to the LDPR and earlier in the trial one of them testified that the killing was ordered by former LDPR Duma Deputy Mikhail Glushchenko, who is being sought by the authorities in connection with the case. "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 19 November that local liberals in St. Petersburg are outraged at reports that Zhirinovskii intends to place flowers on Starovoitova's grave while he is in the city. "This is cynicism and this cynicism is typical of Zhirinovskii," said Maksim Reznik, head of the city branch of Yabloko. RC

KYOTO PROTOCOL TO COME INTO EFFECT IN FEBRUARY
Russia on 18 November submitted to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, meaning that the international agreement will come into effect on 16 February 2005, Russian and international media reported on 19 November. "This is a historic step forward in the world's efforts to combat a truly global threat," Reuters quoted Annan as saying. The Kyoto member countries will hold their next major meeting in Buenos Aires on 6-17 December, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. RC

BESLAN COMMISSION HEAD SAYS HOSTAGE TAKING NOT BEING INVESTIGATED IN ISOLATION
Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin, who heads the intraparliamentary commission investigating the Beslan school hostage taking in September, told journalists on 19 November that the commission is not looking into the incident in isolation, but as part of the overall processes going on in the North Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. Torshin said the commission "is not limited to working in North Ossetia alone but has visited the Chechen Republic to see how counterterrorism operations are being carried out there and what forces have been mobilized." Torshin said that the government should have acted comprehensively in the wake of the 6 April failed car-bomb attack on Ingush President Murat Zyazikov or at least following the 9 May assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. RC

NEWS AGENCY CRITICIZES U.S. REGARDING CHEMICAL-WEAPONS DESTRUCTION
As of the middle of this month, Russia had destroyed only 1.8 percent of its stockpile of 40,000 tons of chemical weapons, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 November. Another 330,000 tons of nontoxic chemical-weapons-related munitions and agents have also been destroyed. According to an international agreement, Russia is to have destroyed 20 percent of its stockpiles by 29 April 2007 and all of them by 29 April 2012. In the 2005 budget, Russia has allocated $373 million for the destruction program, about twice as much as it spent in 2004. However, meeting the destruction schedule demands an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion per year, the bulk of which is supposed to be provided by foreign governments, including the United States. According to the news agency, foreign states to date have provided just $217 million, about 7 percent of what has been spent so far, and the United States has provided far less than it has pledged. Washington "is demanding, for example, access for American inspectors to all chemical and biological research institutes and enterprises, even those working in spheres not covered by the convention, and to other restricted state and commercial information." The report concludes that Russia cannot rely on the United States and must look to "states that are helping our country rid itself of the chemical scourge without any excess publicity" -- notably, Germany. RC

UPPER CHAMBER HEAD SAYS NEW STORIES OF VIOLENCE SHOULD COME AT THE END OF THE PROGRAM
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov on 18 November commented on a bill passed in the Duma recently that would ban scenes of violence on television between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004), RIA-Novosti reported. Mironov said the ban is "not feasible" since it would prevent the broadcast of many films and news reports. However, he stated that violence on television is a problem. "Whatever channel you switch on today, every day there is a fire, a killing, a building collapse, a drowning, horrors of all kinds," Mironov said. He suggested that instead of banning such reports, news programs should put all reports containing elements of violence at the end of their broadcasts and "whoever is interested can watch it." RC

POTANIN BACKS OUT OF DEAL WITH INDEPENDENT MEDIA
The Dutch-registered Independent Media, which publishes "Vedomosti," "The Moscow Times," and about a dozen magazines, announced on 18 November that it has purchased back a 35 percent stake in the company that it sold in March 2003 to Prof-Media, the media holding arm of oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros group, "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 November. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 November that Prof-Media purchased the stake for $35 million and sold it for $45 million, although the two companies declined to provide specifics about the deal. At the time the stake was originally sold, the two companies were speaking of joint projects and, possibly, an eventual merger. An Independent Media spokesperson told "The Moscow Times" that the company might sell a stake at some time in the future. RC

DEFENSE MINISTER GIVES NORTH CAUCASUS CASUALTY FIGURES...
Speaking at a meeting of military officers in Moscow on 17 November, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the armed forces have lost 148 men in the antiterrorism operations in the North Caucasus in the first 10 months of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Russia lost 499 men in 2001, 480 in 2002, and 291 in 2003. "These somber figures show a trend of decreasing numbers," Ivanov said. "One of the reasons is undoubtedly the fact that fewer conscripts are used for combat tasks, with commanders increasingly relying on trained professionals." Interfax reported the same day that Ivanov told the meeting that 932 servicemen have been killed so far this year, including 423 who were killed while on duty and 509 who were killed off duty, many of whom were victims of crimes committed by civilians. RC

...WHICH CHECHENS DISMISS AS 'STUPID'
In a statement posted on 18 November on www.chechenpress.info, a member of the Chechen resistance Military Council dismissed Ivanov's figure as "not even funny, just plain stupid," and as at odds with Russian media reports. He claimed that "according to our minimum calculations, during the first 10 months of this year the Russians lost 5,000 men killed," but that the real figure is far higher. He estimated that during the five years since the outbreak of the present war, the Russians have lost between 40,000-42,000 men. LF

PUBLIC CHAMBER SLATED FOR DEBUT NEXT YEAR
State Duma Committee for Public Associations and Religious Organizations Chairman Sergei Popov told reporters on 15 November that the new Public Chamber proposed by President Putin earlier this year will begin operating in 2005, Interfax and ORT reported. Members of a working group that is drafting the bill said that it is already 80 percent complete, according to ORT, and a hearing is scheduled for 2 December. In an article in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 18 November, analyst Andranik Migranyan suggested that in order for the chamber not to become a "decorative body," it should not be part of the Federal Assembly, but a consultative group under the president. JAC

KOZAK WARNS REGIONAL LEGISLATORS, LEADERS AGAINST RENEGADE LAW MAKING
Addressing a session of chief federal inspectors in Rostov-na-Donu on 17 November, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak reminded them of a federal law passed in 2000 under which a regional legislature may be disbanded if it fails to fulfill court decisions or passes regional laws not in conformity with federal law, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 November. According to the daily, Kozak's reminder was not inadvertent. On 30 October, the Southern District's Justice Ministry directorate protested against a decree of Ingush President Zyazikov, in which he granted land to male citizens who have children. The law has not yet been implemented, but the daily suggested that through his reminder Kozak may be seeking to indicate that just because the law has never been tested does not mean it cannot be fully implemented. JAC

PROSECUTOR GIVES CANDIDATE/INCUMBENT HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
Kamchatka Oblast's prosecutor Aleksandr Voitovich has demanded that incumbent Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev spend his days from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. reading the materials collected in the criminal case against him on charges of exceeding the authority of his office, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 November. Mashkovtsev, who is running for a second term in an election scheduled for 5 December, has so far refused to comply. Mashkovtsev told local reporters that Voitovich "is on friendly terms with one of the main [gubernatorial] hopefuls, and I see the current events as an attempt to prevent me from winning," REN-TV reported. Seventeen candidates are vying for the seat, and local-election-commission officials consider a second round likely. A man with the same name as the head of Ust-Kamchatsk raion, Aleksandr Nevzorov, attempted to register as a gubernatorial candidate, but was disqualified when the election commission discovered his three criminal convictions, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 November. Ust-Kamchatsk raion head Nevzorov, Mashkovtsev, oblast legislator Aleksandr Dudnikov, and fishing-industry magnate Oleg Kozhemyako are considered the top contenders, according to "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

ARMENIAN CHURCH CALLS FOR REVERSAL OF LEGALIZATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Meeting in Echmiadzin earlier this week, the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church adopted a statement, released on 17 November, calling on the Armenian government to reverse the formal registration by the Justice Ministry last month of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That decision was made after years of pressure from the Council of Europe and international human rights groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2004). Branding the Jehovah's Witnesses "a totalitarian sect" whose activities run counter to Armenian national interests, the churchmen called on the Armenian parliament to amend the existing Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations to impose restrictions on the activities of what it termed "anti-Christian" sects. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DEMANDS FURTHER INCREASE IN MILITARY FUNDING
Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 18 November that the 10 percent increase in defense spending projected in the 2005 draft budget is inadequate, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The budget allocates 54 billion drams ($108 million) for the armed forces in 2005 compared to 50 billion drams in 2004. Sarkisian said the additional funding -- he did not specify how much -- is needed to increase the salaries of army officers and lower level commanders. He expressed confidence it will be forthcoming. LF

GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER DOWNPLAYS REPORT THAT PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION SUBSTANDARD
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told journalists in Tbilisi on 18 November that he does not believe there are grounds for suspending construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Georgian media reported. On 18 November, Britain's "The Guardian" reported that, according to a study submitted to the British parliament the previous day, some of the materials used in construction were substandard and the pipeline is riddled with corrosion. Construction of the 1,760-kilometer pipeline is scheduled for completion early next year. Zhvania said while visiting the United Kingdom earlier this month that he foresees no delays in commissioning the pipeline. BP, which heads the consortium building the pipeline, released a statement on 17 November saying that all faults detected in the pipeline have been repaired, rustavi2.com reported on 18 November. LF

GEORGIA DENIES LINK TO BESLAN HOSTAGE TAKING
Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania rejected on 18 November as "an insult" Russian media reports that the Beslan hostage takers included a Georgian national named Buran Tetradze, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Batu Kutelia told the same agency that his ministry has found no evidence that any such person exists. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA DENIES RECEIVING ADDITIONAL WEAPONS FROM RUSSIA
The government of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia issued a formal denial on 18 November in response to the allegation made the previous day by Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava that it had received a new consignment of weaponry from Russia, Caucasus Press reported. In the same statement, the South Ossetian government accused the Georgian side of attempting to deploy two antiaircraft guns illegally in the conflict zone. Also on 18 November, South Ossetian Minister Without Portfolio Boris Chochiev told Interfax that Georgia has deployed a further 300 troops to the conflict zone in violation of a 5 November agreement to withdraw from the zone all except the 500 peacekeepers it is permitted to station here. LF

EU, COUNCIL OF EUROPE PRESS FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Heikki Talvitie, the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, met in Tbilisi on 18 November with Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania to discuss the South Ossetian conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Talvitie told journalists after that meeting that the EU plans to organize "very soon" a meeting in Sofia between Zhvania and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity. Also on 18 November, Ambassador Jean Claud Joseph, the head of a Council of Europe monitoring group currently visiting Georgia, said after meeting with Zhvania that the Council's Venice Commission is prepared to assist Tbilisi and Tskhinvali in their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable definition of South Ossetia's status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported. "We recommend that full financial and governmental autonomy be granted to South Ossetia," Caucasus Press quoted him as saying. LF

ABKHAZIA SETS CONDITIONS FOR RESUMPTION OF TALKS WITH GEORGIA
Abkhaz Prime Minister Nodar Khashba told ITAR-TASS on 18 November after meeting in Sukhum with Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, that Abkhazia will not resume talks with the Georgian government until the UN Security Council gives an assessment of an incident on 29 July when a Georgian warship opened fire on a Turkish fishing vessel in what Abkhazia says are its territorial waters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). Tagliavini for her part told NGOs in Sukhum on 18 November that there is no truth to a report published in the official Abkhaz government daily "Respublika Abkhaziya" that the UN Security Council has approved a "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia in line with Article 7 of the UN Charter, Caucasus Press reported. Tagliavini said the issue has never even been raised at any Security Council session she has attended. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT REFUTES 'COUP' ALLEGATION
Meeting on 18 November, the Abkhaz parliament, most of whose deputies support presidential candidate Sergei Bagapsh, issued a statement rejecting allegations that the 12 November temporary occupation of the central government building by Bagapsh's supporters constituted an attempted coup, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 November 2004). Also on 18 November, Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba denied media reports that outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba has dismissed him, www.rustavi2.com reported. LF

KAZAKH ELECTION COMMISSION NIXES OPPOSITION REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission (CEC) has rejected a proposal by the opposition party Ak Zhol to conduct a nationwide referendum to annul the results of 19 September parliamentary elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 18 November. Ak Zhol co-Chairman Alikhan Baimenov told a news conference in Almaty on 18 November that the CEC decided that three of the referendum's six questions failed to meet legal requirements and that the number of initiative group members in some regions -- another legal requirement -- was fewer than 30 people. Baimen called the claims "groundless," and said that Ak Zhol plans to appeal the decision. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VISITS GERMANY
President Askar Akaev met with German Interior Minister Otto Schily in Berlin on 17 November, akipress.org reported the next day. The two announced their intention to sign a cooperation agreement between the academy of Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry and Germany's main police academy in Munster, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. President Akaev also addressed the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, where he named hydropower, transportation, and tourism as the most promising areas for German cooperation with Kyrgyzstan. On 18 November, Akaev received an honorary from Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus. DK

KYRGYZSTAN OSCE HEAD WANTS RESULTS IN ANTICORRUPTION EFFORT
Markus Mueller, head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek, told a news conference on 18 November in Bishkek that Kyrgyzstan needs to achieve real results in its fight against corruption, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "Together with UNDP and USAID, we conducted an assessment mission that developed recommendations for the corruption prevention plan the Kyrgyz government has drawn up," akipress.org quoted Mueller as saying. "Despite the steps that are being taken to fight corruption, the most important task today is achieving results." The news conference presented the results of a recent visit to Latvia by a Kyrgyz delegation and the OSCE mission. Mueller commented that Latvia's experience is useful, but Kyrgyzstan must develop its own strategy for fighting corruption. Kubatbek Baibolov, deputy speaker of Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly, noted at the press conference, "The main problem with the unsuccessful fight against corruption is a lack of political will," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK

NATIONAL BANK HEADS DISCUSS COOPERATION IN DUSHANBE
The heads of central banks from the member states of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC; Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) met in Dushanbe on 18 November, Avesta reported. Abdujabbor Shirinov, deputy chairman of Tajikistan's National Bank, told journalists that the draft conception for EEC monetary cooperation needs further work. Shirinov said that the session also discussed the issue of international money transfers, an important issue in light of the large numbers of Tajik migrant workers who send remittances back home from EEC member states, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK

RUSSIAN-TAJIK HYDROELECTRIC PROJECTS MOVE FORWARD
Reports on 17-18 November indicated that Russian-Tajik cooperation on Tajikistan's Sangtuda and Rogun hydropower stations is progressing. Tajik Energy Minister Jurabek Nurmuhammadov met with Russian Aluminum (Rusal) representative Timur Supataev in Dushanbe on 18 November to discuss the formation of a joint venture to finish construction of the first cascade of the Roghun hydropower station, ITAR-TASS reported. Nurmuhammadov said that the project will take two years and cost $550 million to complete. Rusal is planning considerable investments in Tajikistan's aluminum industry, and the Rogun station will provide cost-effective power for the energy-intensive aluminum production process. Meanwhile, a team from Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) is conducting a preconstruction assessment at the Sangtude hydropower plant, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 17 November. EES is slated to invest $250 million into the station's construction. DK

U.S. OFFICIAL VISITS TO UZBEKISTAN CONTINUE
Laura Kennedy, U.S. State Department assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev in Tashkent on 18 November to discuss bilateral relations, regional security, and democratization in Uzbekistan, Uzbek TV and ITAR-TASS reported. Kennedy also met with Central Election Commission Deputy Chairperson Sayyora Khujaeva to discuss preparations for 26 December parliamentary elections, UzA reported. Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce William Lash is in Uzbekistan on a three-day visit focusing on U.S.-Uzbek economic cooperation, "Biznes-Vestnik Vostoka" reported on 18 November. DK

CHINESE BANK OPENS $300 MILLION CREDIT LINE FOR UZBEK BANK
China's Eximbank has opened a $300 million line of credit for Uzbekistan's National Bank for Foreign Economic Activity for the purchase of Chinese technology and equipment, Prime-TASS reported on 18 November, citing a source in the Uzbek bank. The equipment will be used to implement 16 projects in Uzbekistan, mainly in the oil-and-gas and power sectors. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SACKS KGB CHIEF
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has dismissed Leanid Yeryn as chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB), Belapan reported on 18 November, quoting official news sources. Yeryn reportedly fell into disfavor with Lukashenka following his meeting on 18 October with several opposition demonstrators protesting the official results of the 17 October presidential referendum. Yeryn invited a small group of opposition activists and independent journalists for a chat in his office after a crowd of some 400 protesters gathered in front of the KGB headquarters on 18 October to demand the release of several prominent pro-democracy figures. Pavel Sevyarynets, leader of the opposition Youth Front, subsequently told the protesters in Yeryn's presence that the KGB chief vowed during the chat to provide explanations for the disappearances of Lukashenka's political opponents in 1999-2000. JM

YUSHCHENKO WARNS OF 'STRONG-ARM SCENARIO' IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF
Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 19 November that he fears the authorities will resort to a "strong-arm scenario" in his runoff with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on 21 November, Interfax reported. According to Yushchenko, the strong-arm scenario is one in which Yanukovych is declared the winner on the morning of 22 November irrespective of the vote count. "If we encounter large-scale falsification, we will lead people to the streets and we will defend our rights," Reuters quoted Yushchenko as saying. In an address to voters published the previous day, Yushchenko called on his supporters to sign up for "voluntary people's teams" organized by his local election staffs and pledged to mobilize "millions of citizens for the defense of the constitution." JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FORBIDS VOTING BY ABSENTEE BALLOT
The Verkhovna Rada on 18 November passed on the strength of 236 votes amendments to the presidential election law forbidding absentee ballots during the presidential elections, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The bill obliges polling-station election commissions to bring sick people to polling stations for voting. It also permits the issue of ballots to voters with signatures of three members of a polling station commission instead of one, as stipulated by the presidential election law. According to the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, illegal multiple voting with absentee ballots was among the major violations during the 31 October presidential vote. To become law, the bill needs to be signed by President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma said on 19 November that he will not sign the bill. According to Kuchma, the Central Election Commission has already issued 1 million absentee ballots. JM

WASHINGTON URGES UKRAINE TO HOLD FREE PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF
The White House press secretary issued a statement on 18 November urging Ukrainian authorities to allow their citizens to choose their next president freely in the 21 November runoff. The statement warns that if the election, whose first round fell short of international standards on 31 October, fails to meet democratic standards on 21 November as well, Ukraine's aspirations to join the Euro-Atlantic community "would suffer." "On the other hand, an election result that reflects the true will of the people would open new opportunities for stronger U.S.-Ukrainian cooperation and offer the people of Ukraine a brighter, promising future as a sovereign, democratic, and prosperous nation," the statement concludes. JM

RUSSIAN, U.S. PRESIDENTS SEND SPECIAL ELECTION MONITORS TO UKRAINE
Russian President Vladimir Putin has authorized Russian State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov to be his "special representative" to monitor Ukraine's presidential runoff on 21 November, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush has charged U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) with a similar mission in Ukraine. Gryzlov and Lugar arrived in Kyiv on 19 November. JM

SERBIAN MILITARY STICKS TO ITS VERSION OF ARMY KILLINGS
Djordje Trifunovic, who heads Serbia and Montenegro's Military Court, told the Belgrade daily "Politika" of 19 November that the fatal 5 October shootings of conscripts Dragan Jakovljevic and Drazen Milovanovic near Belgrade's Topcider military complex was the result of a violent quarrel between the two young men, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Trifunovic noted that he cannot "absolutely rule out" the possible involvement of a third party, adding, however, that "there was not one single piece of material evidence on the scene...to support that thesis." He criticized the government's decision in October to set up an Independent Commission before the Military Court released its findings. It is unclear why it took the military almost six weeks to provide a detailed description of the two soldiers' fight, or who witnessed the quarrel. Elsewhere, Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic said that the Topcider killings had "nothing to do with the alleged hiding of Hague [war crimes tribunal] indictees [because the Army] does not hide war crimes suspects." Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, several other leading politicians, and much of the media has charged that the two conscripts might have been shot after they saw someone they were not supposed to see at the facility, such as former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. PM

CROATS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF FALL OF VUKOVAR
On 18 November, Croats across the country marked the 13th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar to Serbian forces by ringing church bells, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. President Stipe Mesic and Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, who is his main opponent in the upcoming presidential election, led the annual 5-kilometer procession from the Vukovar hospital to a memorial cemetery for those killed in the 1991-95 war of independence. Serbian forces besieged and shelled the Danubian town for months in what has become for Croats one of the great epics of that war. After the fall of the city, Serbian forces took 192 prisoners of war from the hospital and brought them to a previously dug pit near Ovcara, where the victims were killed and buried (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). PM

UN CHIEF WON'T CHANGE KOSOVA POLICY
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote to the members of the Security Council on 17 November that he has decided to reject advice to speed up resolving the final status of Kosova, as Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide recommended recently, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August, and 10 and 17 September 2004). Annan stressed that "all standards are important" and argued that the standards-before-status approach must be maintained. The secretary-general wrote that recent consultations with EU leaders and NATO led to a "broad agreement on the need to focus on the economy and on security, [and on] the need to engage with Belgrade and bring the Kosovo Serbs into the process, [as well as] on the importance of the standards process." Eide and many other observers have argued instead that the interethnic violence in March was the result of frustration over a lack of perspective on the part of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosova. Such critics say that unrest could break out again unless there is clear progress toward resolving the status issue (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 April and 29 July 2004). PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PREMIER'S RESIGNATION BADLY TIMED
On the sidelines of an informal meeting with his Albanian counterpart, Alfred Moisiu, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in the Albanian town of Liqenas near Pogradec on 18 November that he can understand the personal reasons for Prime Minister Hari Kostov's resignation, "Dnevnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 18 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Crvenkovski added, however, that Kostov's decision was timed badly in that he failed to make use of the government's new political capital resulting from Washington's recognition of Macedonia under its constitutional name and from the failure of the 7 November referendum against the government's redistricting plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 November 2004). "I hope that [Kostov's resignation] will be a lesson for every future prime minister that problems must be resolved and not postponed, and that [one must] carry out one's job to the fullest," Crvenkovski said. UB

WIDOW OF FORMER ALBANIAN DICTATOR WANTS HIS WARTIME RECORD RECOGNIZED...
Nexhmije Hoxha, the 82-year-old widow of the late Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, told Reuters in Tirana on 19 November that she considers "absurd" demands by the government that she prove that he fought the Axis occupiers during World War II in order for him to be legally classified as a war veteran. She argued that her husband's wartime "role is universally known" and refused to provide the authorities with the required three written attestations from fellow members of his Partisan movement to certify that he indeed was a fighter. She said she wrote President Moisiu recently to remind him that his own father and Enver Hoxha "slept under the same blanket in the snow" during the war, adding, however, that she has received no reply. Nexhmije Hoxha argued that "no one can change history. I have written to all state bodies to grant my husband the status of war veteran, which has been obtained by thousands of fighters who fought under him." PM

...AS SHE DEFENDS HIS MEMORY
Nexhmije Hoxha lives "on the outskirts of Tirana, in the grounds of a disused battery-chicken farm," Reuters reported on 19 November. For years after her husband's death in 1985, she was a gray eminence in Tirana, known as "The Widow," driving a BMW, and maintaining a private table at the restaurant of the exclusive Hotel Dajti. After the fall of communism in 1991, she, like the late widow of former East German leader Walter Ulbricht, often said: "This would never have happened if my husband were still alive. He knew how to take a decision." PM

ROMANIAN POLL SUGGESTS RULING PARTY'S LEAD WIDENS
A public opinion poll conducted jointly by Data Media and IRSOP (both believed to be close to the ruling Social Democrats) suggests that the Social Democratic Party (PSD) has a six percentage-point lead over the second-placed National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, Mediafax reported. While in October the PSD's lead over the opposition alliance was 38 versus 34 percent, the gap in November has widened to 40 versus 34 percent. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) is placed third, with 13 percent. Since October, PSD presidential candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has added three percentage points to his lead over PNL-Democratic Party alliance candidate, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu. Nastase now leads with 41 percent versus 32 percent support for Basescu. The October poll showed Nastase ahead with 39 versus 33 percent for the mayor. PRM presidential candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor is credited by the poll with a support of 13 percent. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ANGERS JOURNALISTS
President Ion Iliescu said in Campina on 18 November that he has long avoided reacting to "all sorts of follies" and "babbles" that the media report on him, Mediafax reported. Iliescu dismissed recent reports alleging that he had schemed with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 to neutralize pro-unionist forces in Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004). Invoking a Romanian proverb, Iliescu said: "The dogs bark, the caravan carries on." The statement triggered angry reactions from prominent journalists. Mediafax quoted Cristian Tudor Popescu, president of the Romanian Press Club, as saying: "It is not just the caravan that passes, but time as well." Iliescu, he said, is bound to "soon find out that his time has passed." Sorin Rosca- Stanescu, editor in chief of the daily "Ziua," said the media has been warning of serious irregularities but that politicians and, above all Iliescu, "just carried on." Journalist Ion Cristoiu retorted: "Politicians bark, journalists carry on." MS

ROMANIAN JOURNALIST FACES CHARGES OF SPYING IN BULGARIA
Bulgarian authorities arrested Romanian journalist George Buhnici on 16 November and are considering charging him with espionage, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Buhnici, who is a correspondent for the private Pro TV television channel, used a hidden camera to film events in a duty-free shop in the vicinity of the bridge linking the Romanian town of Giurgiu with the Bulgarian town of Russe for a report on illegal cigarette trading. Under Bulgarian law, Buhnici could face up to three years in prison if found guilty of "using tools of espionage to acquire secret information," according to Reuters. Prime Minister Nastase asked his Bulgarian counterpart Simeon Saxecoburggotski to intervene to secure Buhnici's release, calling his detention "unacceptable" and saying the journalist was simply engaging in his profession. In a press release dated 18 November, journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Buhnici is "the victim of an absurd and archaic law which stipulates a punishment of utterly disproportionate severity for the use of a hidden camera, which is nonetheless a practice by investigative journalists." The Romanian Media Monitoring Agency and the Foreign Press Association of Romania also condemned the arrest and called for Buhnici's immediate release. MS

ROMANIA BACKS PENDING MOLDOVAN DSSM
A Romanian Foreign Ministry delegation met on 18 November in Chisinau with Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova, Flux reported. The delegation told Sova that Romania backs a proposal to sign a Moldovan-proposed Declaration of Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM) at next month's OSCE Committee of Ministers meeting in Sofia. The Romanian diplomats told Sova they are coordinating their position on this issue with that of the European Union. MS

UKRAINE'S TIME TO REMEMBER
Ukraine is once again living through an exceptional period, much similar to that on the eve of its independence 13 years ago. Then, a new state was born out of political and social turmoil in the crumbling Soviet Union. Now we are witnessing the troubled, but definite, birth of a vibrant civil society in this state. All this is happening because of a presidential election in which Ukrainians for the first time since their independence seem to have a genuine political alternative to the ruling regime. This fact alone makes their situation very exceptional in Eastern Europe. In the short term, there is no possibility for such an alternative in Belarus or Moldova. And no apparent need for it in Russia.

On 21 November, Ukrainians will go to the presidential polls to choose between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who vows to ensure the political continuity to the regime of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, and Viktor Yushchenko, who has promised to make a new start for the country. Yushchenko and Yanukovych competed in a neck-to-neck race in the first round on 31 October, obtaining 39.87 percent and 39.32 percent of the vote, respectively. It is widely expected that the runoff will be very close, too. It is also expected that turnout, which was 75 percent three weeks ago, will be distinctly higher on 21 November.

Both candidates seem to be sure of their victory, but it may happen that the fate of Ukraine's next presidency will depend on a handful of votes and, consequently, on a political verdict of the Central Election Commission (CEC). The commission was able to count nearly 98 percent of the 31 October vote within hours after the close of polling stations and subsequently spent 10 days tallying the remaining 2 percent, thus generating vehement charges of ballot manipulations. It may also happen that one of the contenders will not agree to a declared victory of his rival and will try to give vent to his frustration by inciting a "strong-arm scenario" to claim the power.

However, one thing is perfectly clear. Irrespective of who will emerge as a winner of the 21 November runoff, the country will not be the same as before the 2004 election. The "people's election campaign" conducted by Yushchenko has raised such a huge wave of spontaneous civic activism in his support that it is hardly conceivable that this activism will fizzle out even if he loses the vote on 21 November. The 2004 presidential campaign has formed a civil society in Ukraine, the core of which consists of a vast community of Yushchenko backers who seem to have eventually woken up from the Soviet-era political and social lethargy for good. It would be close to impossible to ensure a semblance of Kuchma-like continuity in Ukraine's political and social life for Yanukovych or Yushchenko even if they chose to do so.

The common picture of the Ukrainian presidential race, presented both for domestic and foreign audiences, is that Yanukovych stands for Ukraine's pro-Eurasian (pro-Russian) "political vector," while Yushchenko represents the country's pro-European (pro-Western) option. This may be fairly true as regards the election tactics used by both contenders to mobilize their electorates. Many voters in eastern Ukraine will vote for Yanukovych because he promises close cooperation with Russia as well as some concessions to the country's ethnic Russians in particular or Russian speakers in general. At the same time, they will vote against Yushchenko, because he is a "pro-Western Ukrainian nationalist" and his wife "is a CIA spy." As for Yushchenko, he is drawing his support primarily from the traditionally nationalist western part of the country, where voters "hate all things Russian" and "want Ukraine to be in NATO." By the same token, they will vote against Yanukovych because "he wants Ukraine to return into Russian bondage."

In the Kuchma era, Ukraine's delicate East-West political and cultural equilibrium has never been critically upset, and the country remained afloat in waters fairly remote from both Russian and Western shores. There is no grounds to suspect that this time the situation will be any different. It is nonsensical to fear that Yanukovych as president might like to become a governor of Ukraine administered from Moscow. The same can be said about the danger of Ukraine sliding into the "clutches" of the West under Yushchenko. First, no one is actually pushing Ukraine in that direction. Second, it is Russia, not the West, which is feeding Ukraine with oil and gas, and will continue to do so for many years to come. In other words, there is no peril of tectonic shifts in Europe's political equilibrium after 21 November.

This year's Ukrainian election, like several other ballots in the past, seems to be offering a clear-cut choice between Russia and the West. But, as in the past, Ukraine's future will turn out to be a compromise between the Russian and Western paths of development for the sake of an independent Ukraine. The true test will be the extent to which ordinary Ukrainians will influence the decisions made by the ruling elites in the postelection period. It will be hard for the future president, be it Yanukovych or Yushchenko, to ignore the will of the voters who have finally become citizens.

UN REPORTS MAJOR INCREASE IN AFGHAN OPIUM CULTIVATION...
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on 18 November that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 64 percent year-on-year in 2004, the UN Information Service reported. The information is contained in the UNDOC's "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004" (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2004.pdf). UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, announcing his agency's findings, said that "in Afghanistan, drugs are now a clear and present danger." According to Costa, with 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming in 2004 compared to 80,000 hectares in the previous year, "Afghanistan has established a double record -- the highest drug cultivation in the country's history, and the largest in the world." Costa said the narcotics problem in Afghanistan has to be "dismantled with democracy, the rule of law, and economic improvement" and because of "the strong links between drugs and terrorism," and he called on NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces "to engage in commensurate initiatives to support the Afghan government's counter-narcotic drive." For the most part, both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led coalition forces have so far remained on the sidelines of the counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan (for more on the topic, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, 1 September, and 18 November 2004). AT

...AS U.S. ANNOUNCES COUNTERNARCOTICS INITIATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robert Charles on 17 November announced a new counternarcotics initiative for Afghanistan, according to a U.S. State Department press release issued on 18 November (http://www.state.gov). The initiative, which Charles compared with the Plan Colombia effort that was initiated in 1999 to combat narcotics in that South American country, will be led mostly by the Afghan government, just as the Colombian government led that program. The Afghan government will also determine what means are used to fight rising opium production, according to the U.S. initiative, with the United States committing $780 for fiscal year 2005. It is unclear whether the U.S. initiative will involve the use of military force to help Afghan authorities combat the narcotics problem in that country. AT

SENIOR AFGHAN COUNTERNARCOTICS OFFICIAL MEETS ISAF COMMANDER
Lieutenant General Mohammad Zaher Aghbar, head of the counternarcotics department within the Afghan Defense Ministry, met on 18 November with ISAF commander French General Jean-Luis Py, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. According to the report, Py told Aghbar that while the ISAF mission is to restore security, counternarcotics is included in the force's programs and a special unit for the purpose has been established at ISAF command. No further detail was provided on the nature or scope of the ISAF's counternarcotics efforts. AT

TRANSFER OF POWER IN AFGHANISTAN SET FOR EARLY DECEMBER
The Afghan Transitional Administration announced in a statement issued on 18 November that authority will be transferred to President-elect Hamid Karzai and his government on 7 December, Radio Afghanistan reported. After that day, Afghanistan will be known by its constitutional name, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. AT

IRAN DENIES NUCLEAR ALLEGATIONS...
Iran denied on 18 November claims by an exile opposition group that the country is enriching uranium for possible nuclear weapons at a secret site near Tehran despite assurances that include a 14 November pledge to halt all enrichment and related activities, news agencies reported on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004). Hussein Musavian, a key Iranian diplomat and member of the Supreme National Security Council, told Reuters that the charges are a "well-timed lie" designed to "poison" the atmosphere before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board meets on 25 November to discuss Iran's nuclear program, which some Western states suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Musavian said IAEA inspectors may visit the alleged secret site, but he added that the IAEA should not allow itself to be "manipulated by a well-known terrorist group," AFP reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi separately rejected the charges in Tehran on 18 November as "false, worthless, and repetitive," iribnews.ir reported. "Iran has no hidden nuclear activity, and everything is clear and transparent for the [IAEA]," he said. VS

...BUT U.S. SUSPICIONS PERSIST AS TEHRAN TRIES NUCLEAR SPIES
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on 18 November that his country has intelligence "that would corroborate" the above allegations, but also that Iran is "actively working on delivery systems" for nuclear warheads, news agencies reported the same day. The United States has long suspected that Iran wants a nuclear weapon "they can deliver, not something that just sits there," Powell said during a stopover in Brazil on his way to a summit in Santiago de Chile, bloomberg.com reported. Separately in Tehran, four unnamed individuals face prosecution for "penetrating nuclear centers" and "spying for foreign countries," Radio Farda reported on 18 November, citing Ali Mobasheri, the head of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Courts. Iran revealed in late August the arrest of several suspected nuclear spies, though it is not certain if these are the same people (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 2004). Mobasheri said in Tehran on 17 November that his government knows the suspects as "familiar and established figures" who "previously spied for the Baghdad government" during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, Radio Farda reported. The individuals have been formally indicted, he said, and the Information Ministry is investigating the case, Radio Farda reported. VS

UN COMMITTEE DEPLORES IRANIAN RIGHTS ABUSES
The UN General Assembly's social and humanitarian committee adopted a resolution on 17 November proposed by Canada expressing "serious concern" about rights abuses in Iran, including the use of torture and "degrading punishment" and the "continuing persecution" of opponents and dissidents, AFP reported on 18 November. The resolution will not lead to concrete measures but the UN General Assembly is widely expected to approve its wording in December, AFP added. In Tehran, two journalists' groups -- the Association in Defense of Press Freedom and the Iran Journalists Guild -- have issued statements denouncing the continued detention of print and Internet journalists, Radio Farda reported on 18 November. The Association in Defense of Press Freedom urged the judiciary to release all such prisoners within a week, Radio Farda added. Separately, a Tehran court has sentenced Ebrahim Yazdi, a government critic and former foreign minister, to an unspecified jail term for alleged subversive activities, "Iran" and the BBC reported on 16 November. Yazdi was convicted of "acting against national security...[and] keeping illicit weapons of war, insulting [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and state officials," among other charges, "Iran" reported. Yazdi intends to appeal, the BBC added. VS

IRANIAN LEADER URGES MUSLIMS TO PROTEST OVER IRAQ
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused U.S. forces of killing "children, women, and civilians by the thousand" in Iraq in a 18 November statement and urged "the Islamic people" and their governments to "at least" protest the "great injustice" being perpetrated in Iraq, Mehr news agency reported the same day. The crimes he claimed U.S. forces have committed in the latest offensive in the city of Al-Fallujah include "the execution of the injured, the arrest of innocent people,... [and] destruction of homes and mosques...on an astonishing scale" and "merely with the excuse...that there is a group of terrorists among the people," mehrnews.com stated. "Does the presence of [terrorists], if this highly dubious claim is correct, permit the killing of innocents and abandonment of the injured without medicines, and children without water or food?" he asked. VS

U.S. TROOPS UNCOVER SUSPECTED TERRORIST HIDEOUT IN AL-FALLUJAH
U.S. soldiers in Al-Fallujah raided a house on 18 November that they believe might been used as a base for Jordanian fugitive terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, washingtonpost.com reported. U.S. troops were conducting a sweep of Shuhada, a southern neighborhood of Al-Fallujah, when they discovered the site, which contained a black and white mural similar to the banners used in videos released by al-Zarqawi's group. U.S. Army Major David Johnson claimed the house, a simple concrete structure, was a "one-stop shop for terrorists." Troops also found letters that were described by translators as notes written by al-Zarqawi to his lieutenants, ammunition from the Chinese and Jordanian armies, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) medical supplies. Al-Zarqawi recently declared an alliance with Al-Qaeda and subsequently renamed his group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad in Bilad al-Rafidayn (Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers). Al-Zarqawi was believed to be operating from Al-Fallujah prior to the U.S.-led invasion although he was not captured during the operation. ERA

FRENCH INSURGENTS KILLED IN IRAQ, SAYS OFFICIAL
Three or four of the insurgents killed in Iraq possessed French citizenship, AFP reported on 18 October, quoting an unnamed French official. All of the dead were of Arab ethnicity. The most recent addition to the list of French nationals killed in Iraq was a 24-year-old Parisian identified as Tarik W., who was reported dead on 17 September. French officials estimate that approximately a dozen French nationals have traveled to Iraq through Syria to support the insurgency against U.S.-led forces, however, they say there does not appear to be an organized recruitment network. ERA

UN SAYS AID CANNOT REACH 250,000 IRAQIS WHO FLED AL-FALLUJAH
Relaying relief organizations' concerns, a United Nations official said on 18 November that as many as 250,000 Iraqis who fled Al-Fallujah cannot receive aid due to the security situation, AP reported. Astrid van Genderen Stort, spokeswoman for the UN High Commission for Refugees in Amman, Jordan, said a meeting was held among representatives of 10 major aid groups to discuss how best to provide aid to civilians affected by the U.S.-led invasion of Al-Fallujah. Many displaced Iraqis brought food or were provided food by their hosts, but the displaced population could soon overburden the sanitation systems. "We're concerned about the limited access to people inside Al-Fallujah and the displaced populations around because of the security situation," van Genderen Stort said. "As a result, we have no clear picture of the exact needs." ERA

INTERNET THREAT WARNS OF POLLING-CENTER ATTACK IN IRAQ
A threat posted on the website of the Ansar Al-Sunnah insurgent group on 18 November claims attacks are planned against polling stations, Reuters reported. "The mujahedin will carry out strong attacks against election centers because they are infidel sites," the group declared in a statement that could not be independently verified. Iraqis are also discouraged from participating in January's elections. "We also issue a warning to candidates because by running they become apostates and infidels who want to rule outside of what God ordained and to implement the wishes of the crusader Americans and their allies and apostate agents," it says. The statement is the second by insurgents threatening attacks during the January vote. A group calling itself the Iraqi Resistance threatened on 12 November to attack polling stations, AP reported. Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said national elections will be held on 27 January as planned despite continuing instability. ERA

JORDANIAN LEADER DECRIES IRAQI INSTABILITY, CALLS FOR GREATER COOPERATION
The situation in Iraq is "a race against time" that requires international action, Prince Hassan of Jordan said on 18 November, according to the BBC. "I think it's spinning out of control from what I can tell, and it's all very worrying," Hassan said. The January elections must go forward as planned, he added, and any postponement would "discredit the whole exercise." Hassan suggested that a conference of world leaders be convened before U.S. President George W. Bush begins his second term. Prince Hassan is the uncle of Jordanian King Abdullah. In earlier statements, Hassan warned that Middle East turmoil could lead to a "third world war." ERA

LAST AUSTRALIAN AID AGENCY TO LEAVE IRAQ
The last remaining Australian relief agency in Iraq, World Vision Australia, announced on 19 November that it plans to halt all operations in that country, Bloomberg reported. "The move follows violent activities across Iraq, the death of Margaret Hassan, and the previous death of World Vision's own head of operations in Iraq," announced Geoff Shepherd, director of emergency relief operations for World Vision, in an official statement. The decision was made before the kidnapping of aid worker Margaret Hassan but the announcement was delayed while she was captive. "We cannot predict when World Vision will return to Iraq," Shepherd said. "We will continue to review the situation." World Vision was headquartered in Mosul and delivered emergency assistance to more than 500,000 Iraqis over the past 18 months, "The Australian" reported. ERA

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