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Newsline - December 1, 2004

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 1 December that Moscow is willing to help mediate a settlement to the escalating political crisis in Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. "We can provide this assistance if we receive the corresponding request from the Ukrainian leadership and if we can help the situation remain in the channel of Ukrainian legislation," said Lavrov, who is on an official visit to Thailand. "It is our firm conviction that the situation in Ukraine should be resolved on the basis of Ukrainian laws and the procedures they envision," he said. The Kremlin has openly supported Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who seeks closer ties with Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated him on winning the disputed election before the votes were fully tabulated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). BW

Foreign Minister Lavrov said on 1 December that Europe's support for Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has led to increased instability, RIA-Novosti reported. Speaking in Bangkok during an official visit, Lavrov said the "excessive involvement of certain European representatives in the process taking place in Ukraine has increased tension" in that country. "It was only after all these provocations" sparked talk of separatism in some Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine "that our Western colleagues began to call for restraint and necessary respect for the constitution and the laws of this country," Lavrov said. "It appears that they themselves recognize that they were a little bit hasty in trying to influence the situation from outside. We hope that they will draw the necessary lessons from this." Lavrov spoke as the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov headed to Kyiv to begin a new effort to broker a resolution to the crisis. BW

Foreign Minister Lavrov also said on 1 December that he would like to meet with U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleeza Rice as soon as possible, ITAR-TASS reported. "I think that such a meeting is necessary," Lavrov said. He added that he would be "glad to meet" with Rice even before her confirmation by the U.S. Senate if it can be arranged, but said he understands that he will likely need to wait until after her confirmation. BW

The Foreign Ministry said on 30 November that it hopes Ukrainian authorities will assure safe working conditions for Russian journalists covering the country's ongoing political crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. "The ministry expresses the hope that the Ukrainian authorities won't overlook unlawful acts against the correspondents," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said. "All foreign correspondents find working in Ukraine pretty difficult these days, but if you take the Russian newsmen, we've been getting alarming information about grave problems they've faced in recent days," he said. "Also, there've been cases of disruption of live coverage," he claimed. "The situation is getting worse day by day, and it can't but alarm us." BW

As a local leader from heavily Russian-populated eastern Ukraine prepared to address the State Duma during a special session on 1 December, group of lawmakers from Vladimir Zhirinovskii's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) arrived wearing blue and white scarves to show solidarity with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych, Russian and international news agencies reported. "We are showing our solidarity with the majority of Ukrainian citizens who chose their president, Viktor Yanukovych," and with the deputies of the Ukrainian parliament who are supporting him, said Zhirinovskii, the LDPR leader and a deputy speaker in the Duma, according to AFP. The blue and white scarves were inscribed with the words "For Yanukovych." Nikolai Levchenko, a vocal Yankovych supporter and leader of the city council in the heavily industrialized and pro-Russian eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, was scheduled to address the Duma session. His region has threatened to hold a referendum on regional autonomy should Yushchenko become president. BW

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal Duma deputy (independent), protested against the Russian lower house's invitation to Levchenko, calling the move "inadvisable," ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. "This meeting of Russian parliament members with a representative of the Donetsk town hall would be inadvisable" given the situation that has emerged in Ukraine, Ryzhkov said. He asked the Duma leadership to provide "an explanation for the move." Duma Speaker Gryzlov, who was preparing to join a group of international mediators in Ukraine, said he personally invited Levchenko to speak. BW

Russian authorities have detained a senior Finance Ministry official on suspicion of taking bribes in exchange for classified financial data, Russian and international news agencies reported on 1 December. A statement by the Prosecutor-General's Office said that Denis Mikhailov, who heads a department overseeing financial cooperation, state debt, and financial assets, is suspected of selling sensitive information to two businessmen. "An investigation has revealed that Mikhailov has handed over a document, which contained classified data, to businessmen Aleksei Kirzhnev and Teimuraz Karchala," the statement read, according to Reuters. No details were available about the information Mikhailov allegedly passed on, but the statement said he was compensated with a Mercedes Benz automobile. BW

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has proposed a new antiterrorism law that would temporarily give police additional power to tap phones, restrict media, and check people's identity documents if authorities believe an attack is imminent, Russian and international news agencies reported on 30 November. "Upon receiving information pointing to the possibility of the preparation or threat of a terrorist act..., temporary special legal restrictions could be introduced as a counterterrorism measure," Reuters quoted the text of the bill as saying. The bill, which lawmakers say will be voted on by the end of the year, is the latest response to the Beslan school massacre in September in which more than 330 people were killed. BW

The Audit Chamber found in its "Analysis of the Processes of Privatization of State Property in Russia from 1993 to 2003" that officials in the executive branch exceeded their authority and ignored or violated various laws when privatizing numerous significant state assets over that time period, Interfax and reported on 30 November. The report discusses many different types of deals. For instance, the Audit Chamber found that the famously controversial "loans for shares" deals, through which prominent banks received large stakes in major oil companies, violated the 1995 budget legislation. Other oil-company privatizations broke laws covering the activities of the State Property Committee, the Russian Federal Property Fund, and the Finance Ministry. The Audit Chamber report also details flaws in the privatization of the Rosgosstrakh insurance company and strategically important firms in the coal industry and defense sector. Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin discussed the report's findings with State Duma Speaker Gryzlov on 30 November, Interfax reported. Stepashin is scheduled to summarize the report's findings in a speech to the Duma on 8 December. LB

Federal Pension Fund head Gennadii Batanov announced on 26 November that the majority of pensioners will receive their January pensions, as well as compensation payments for certain subsidies, during the last week of December, reported on 1 December, citing "Vremya novostei." Batanov said the decision was made in part due to the likely extension of the New Year's holiday to 5 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). As Orthodox Christmas comes immediately after the New Year's break, up to 80 percent of pensioners, who ordinarily receive their pensions during the first 10 days of each month, would have to wait an extra week if their payment window was not moved up. A draft law correcting the Federal Pension Fund's 2004 budget to take into account the additional year-end payments is to be considered by the State Duma on 3 December and the Federation Council on 8 December, "Vremya novostei" reported. LB

Motherland party and Duma faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin announced on 30 November that his party and Sergei Baburin's People's Will party have agreed to merge, Russian news agencies reported. Rogozin and Baburin were among the best-known members of the Motherland bloc formed before the December 2003 parliamentary elections. Rogozin explained that the parties have no "ideological contradictions," and that merging them will help "consolidate" the Motherland Duma faction. "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 December depicted the merger as taking place on Rogozin's terms, with Baburin's party expected to dissolve itself at a 25 December congress. If past experience is any guide, the partnership may be short-lived. Rogozin and Baburin have long histories of shifting political alliances despite having few, if any, ideological differences from their former political partners (see profiles of the two men as "Russian political tourists" at Moreover, Baburin sharply criticized the decision of a Motherland congress in July to select Rogozin as the party's sole leader, replacing the institution of party co-chairmen. LB

The National-Bolshevik Party, led by iconoclastic author and nationalist Eduard Limonov, held its founding congress in Moscow on 29 November, "Vremya novostei" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Limonov formed the party in 1994, but the Justice Ministry had repeatedly refused to register it. Party organizers reportedly took pains to follow closely all the requirements of the 2001 law on political parties so as not to give any pretext for another refusal. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that the congress took place under extraordinary security measures; not only were numerous law enforcement officers at the hall of the congress, but many policemen accompanied the 168 delegates as they walked to the site from their hotel. Party member Maksim Gromov, who is in pretrial detention awaiting trial for his alleged role in seizing the Health and Social Development building on 2 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 August 2004), addressed the delegates in an audiotaped message. Limonov's speech to the congress charged that Russia's citizens have lost "all their freedoms, from the freedom to form [political] parties to the freedom to drink beer on the street." LB

Police officers on 30 November forcibly brought Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev to the oblast prosecutor's office, Russian media reported. Mashkovtsev is under investigation for two alleged crimes: misusing 140 million rubles ($4.7 million) in budget funds earmarked for winter supplies, and exceeding his authority by increasing certain fish quotas. He claims that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov cleared his actions regarding the fish quotas but did not sign a document to that effect, NTV reported. As a criminal suspect, Mashkovtsev is required to come to the prosecutor's office daily to review the 20-volume case against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). However, in recent days he has been campaigning instead for the gubernatorial election on 5 December. The incumbent has the backing of the local Communist Party, while the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is supporting rival candidate Boris Nevzorov. Meanwhile, REN-TV reported on 30 November that the Kamchatka Oblast Court has rejected lawsuits seeking to revoke the registrations of Mashkovtsev, Nevzorov, and one of the other 17 gubernatorial candidates. LB

Four deputies to the Republic of Ingushetia parliament have appealed to Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel and to human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to take immediate measures to expedite the release from detention of 16-year-old Marina Korigova, reported on 30 November. Korigova was taken into custody in Vladikavkaz on 3 November on suspicion of contacts with one of the Beslan hostage takers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 22 November 2004). Those suspicions were based on the fact that Korigova had in her possession a mobile phone that the hostage taker called, but the parliament deputies point out that investigators have established that she was given the phone by an acquaintance only after the hostage taking. The deputies stress that according to Ingush tradition, an unmarried girl's reputation and good name are irrevocably compromised if she spends an extended period of time away from her parental home. LF

Top security officials from the six signatory states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB) met in Yerevan on 30 November to discuss ways to improve both the organization's work and its interaction with other similar bodies, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Addressing the session, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian noted the growing threat posed by international terrorism and the impact on ODKB member states of continued political instability in Afghanistan, which is reflected in the unceasing outflow of drugs from that country. Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov called for closer cooperation between the ODKB and the UN, the EU, NATO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He apparently did not include the OSCE, although senior Russian politicians have for months been arguing that the OSCE should concentrate more on security issues and less on democratization and human rights issues in the former Soviet republics. LF

Construction of a natural gas pipeline connecting Iran to Armenia began in the southern Armenia village of Agarak on 30 November, Mediamax and IRNA reported. The agreement on the construction of the pipeline was signed in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004) and the 41 kilometer section in Armenia is expected to cost $210-220 million. More pipeline-related agreements were signed when President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami visited Yerevan in September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 September 2004). Participants in the ceremony marking the beginning of construction included Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian. Markarian and Bitaraf also attended a separate ceremony on 30 November to inaugurate the second high-voltage transmission line between the two countries, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That line will enable the two countries to double the volume of energy they exchange on a seasonal basis. BS

Musa Musaev of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) harshly criticized two senior members of that party in a speech to the Milli Mezhlis on 30 November, reported the following day. Musaev accused former Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev, a founder member of YAP and close associate of deceased President Heidar Aliyev, of "betraying" the presidential family. Allakhverdiev left Azerbaijan several months ago after threatening to divulge materials implicating presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev in corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). Musaev also branded as a traitor to the late president Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ali Nagiev, who is a deputy chairman of YAP. LF

Avshar Suleymani, who as Tehran's new ambassador in Baku presented his credentials to President Ilham Aliyev in early October, met on 30 November with Natik Aliev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, Turan reported. The two men discussed, and Suleymani praised as an example of regional cooperation, the ongoing practice of oil "swaps," whereby Azerbaijan delivers crude to refineries in northern Iran and takes delivery of an equivalent quantity of refined oil at a Persian Gulf terminal. Aliev for his part expressed satisfaction that an agreement has been reached under which Iran will supply natural gas to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan. Those deliveries will begin on 1 January 2005, Azerigaz head Alikhan Aliev told the Azerbaijani parliament on 17 November, according to Turan. Suleymani also met on 30 November with Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov to discuss mutual efforts to crack down on drug trafficking and organized crime. LF

Georgian and Azerbaijani customs officials began on 30 November checking the contents of some 900 freight cars that had not been allowed to leave Azerbaijan for Georgia, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). As a result, some 215 freight cars were given the green light to enter Georgia, Caucasus Press reported, citing MPA. LF

Speaking on 30 November at a formal celebration at the State Security Ministry (the successor to the KGB), Mikheil Saakashvili accused Moscow of seeking to "destroy and enslave Georgia," and to "explode the domestic political situation" there, Caucasus Press reported. He said unnamed neoimperialist forces in Russia try to resolve Russia's own problems by "bringing Georgia to its knees," and he called on the Georgian security forces to thwart all such attempts. LF

Russian First Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin and Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov met in Sukhum on 30 November with Abkhaz Prime Minister Nodar Khashba and Interior Minister Abesalom Beya to assess the situation in the unrecognized republic following the unresolved 3 October presidential ballot, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Chekalin stressed that it is imperative to avoid bloodshed and disorder, and for the Abkhaz Interior Ministry to avoid being drawn into "political passions," Interfax reported. The Russian officials were accompanied by experts from Russia's Central Election Commission who will study all documentation related to the disputed ballot in an attempt to assess the seriousness and extent of alleged procedural violations and fraud. Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh, whom the Abkhaz Central Election Commission on 11 October declared the winner of the ballot, hailed the arrival of the Russian delegation as "a positive development," and expressed his willingness to meet with them, Interfax reported. Bagapsh plans to hold his inauguration on 6 December in defiance of outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba's 29 October decree calling for repeat elections. LF

In Tbilisi, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili and Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava both condemned the arrival of the Russian delegation in Sukhum as interference in Georgia's domestic political affairs, Caucasus Press reported on 30 November. Zourabichvili noted that the Russians have not obtained Georgian visas, and she accused Moscow of double standards. Khaindrava for his part said that to his knowledge, the Russians did not inform any Georgian official body in advance of their planned trip to Sukhum. LF

Bagapsh's closest rival in the 3 October poll, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, told Russian journalists on 30 November that if Bagapsh becomes president, Abkhazia is likely to split into two parts, with the northern districts being subsumed into the Russian Federation and the south again becoming part of Georgia, reported. Bagapsh rejected that prediction as "nonsense." LF

Kazakh state oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz has sold $46 million worth of stakes it owned in joint ventures to three companies, Prime-TASS reported on 30 November. Turkish Petroleum International bought KazMunaiGaz's 40 percent stake in the Karakudukmunai oil company for $34.61 million, Canada's Nelson Resources bought KazMunaiGaz's 50 percent stake in the Arman joint venture for $10.77 million, and Batys Baylanys bought a 37.2 percent stake in Gyural for $949,000. DK

Participants in a meeting of Astana's Prosecutor's Office on 30 November said that corruption among law-enforcement officials in Kazakhstan's capital has doubled over the past year, Kazakh TV reported. The report stated that 90 criminal cases have been opened and 88 officials charged with criminal and administrative violations over the past year. Officials detailed several cases of corruption, including the public property department's sale of a hospital for 12 million tenges ($92,000) when its real value was nearly $500,000. Information on corruption cases will be passed on to the mayor and Prosecutor-General's Office. DK

Kyrgyz ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a news conference on 30 November in Bishkek that Uzbekistan's security forces may be behind the disappearance of Kyrgyz rights activist Tursunbek Akun, reported. Bakir-uulu noted that Akun told his wife that he was on his way to a meeting with Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) when he left home on 16 November. Bakir-uulu suggested that the SNB could have handed Akun, who has not been seen since 16 November, to their Uzbek colleagues. The Kyrgyz ombudsman said that Akun has frequently criticized Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his regime's harsh actions against such groups as Hizb ut-Tahrir, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He also said that Uzbek security services had previously taken an interest in Akun. But an anonymous member of the Kyrgyz establishment told RFE/RL that Bakir-uulu's assertions are the "fantasy" of an individual whose relations with the Uzbek authorities are strained. DK

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement of concern on 30 November over the tense situation that has developed in Ukraine in the wake of the bitterly disputed 21 November presidential runoff, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The statement called on all sides in the standoff to do everything possible to reach a compromise, use legal means to resolve outstanding issues, and preserve the country's territorial integrity. On 25 November, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on his victory in the contested runoff. DK

Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) voted on 30 November in favor of introducing life imprisonment as a penalty for five crimes that currently carry the death penalty, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The crimes are aggravated murder, aggravated assault, terrorism, biocide, and genocide. Presidential legal adviser Shermahmad Shoev said that 25-year sentences have been used instead of the death penalty since a moratorium on capital punishment went into effect earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May, 4 June, and 9 July 2004). Abdumannon Kholiqov, deputy chairman of parliament's Legislative Committee, said that "we have to introduce a punishment that is commensurate with the crime to take the place of the death penalty," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK

Vladimir Rushailo, chairman of the CIS Executive Committee, held a news conference in Tashkent on 30 November to discuss the CIS observer mission to Uzbekistan's 26 December parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Rushailo told journalists that the CIS observer mission has received its accreditation from the Interior Ministry. The exact size of the mission has yet to be determined, but it will consist of around 70 observers. Rushailo promised that the mission will focus on principles, not election results, in its assessment; he also said that issues such as unregistered parties need to be viewed in the context of domestic legislation. Recent CIS observer missions have produced assessments of elections in Kazakhstan and Ukraine that differed profoundly from evaluations by the OSCE. Rushailo ascribed the discrepancy to differing approaches, adding that CIS observers continue to share information with their counterparts from the OSCE. DK

The Minsk City Prosecutor's Office has instituted criminal proceedings against human rights activist Hary Pahanyayla, deputy head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, who is alleged to have slandered Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an interview with Sweden's TV 4 channel in July, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 30 November. Pahanyayla told journalists that a tape with the interview was seized by Belarusian customs officers when he was returning to Belarus from Sweden and subsequently sent to the KGB and the Prosecutor-General's Office. Pahanyayla reportedly said in the interview that Lukashenka, Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Sports Minister Yury Sivakou, and Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau are widely believed to have been involved in the disappearances of Belarusian opposition politicians in 1999-2000. If found guilty, Pahanyayla may receive a prison sentence of up to five years. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 1 December passed a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet, Ukrainian media reported. The motion was supported by 229 deputies, three more than required. It is not clear for the time being whether the vote is legally binding since the parliament cannot dismiss the prime minister within a year following the approval of a government program submitted to it for approval. The Verkhovna Rada approved such a program by Yanukovych's cabinet in March. However, the parliament on 1 December in a separate vote annulled its March resolution on approving the Yanukovych government's program. The parliament's resolution may be appealed in the Constitutional Court. JM

Some 100,000 backers of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko gathered in front of the Verkhovna Rada building in Kyiv on 1 December as the parliament was debating once again a no-confidence motion in Yanukovych's cabinet and the situation in the country after an abortive vote the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004), Channel 5 reported. Groups of Yushchenko supporters also continued to block the presidential administration and government offices in the Ukrainian capital. On 1 December 1991, Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for their country's independence from the Soviet Union. JM

Leonid Kuchma said on 1 December that neither he nor Prime Minister Yanukovych support the idea of a rerun of the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine, Interfax reported. Kuchma stressed that he is in favor of staging a new presidential election. "Where in the world [do you have] a third round of elections?" Kuchma said. "A repeat [runoff] is a farce. I will never support it because it is unconstitutional." JM

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana arrived in Kyiv on 30 November to negotiate in the ongoing postelection standoff between the government and the pro-Yushchenko Committee for National Salvation, which earlier the same day pulled out of talks with the pro-Yanukovych camp, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus came to Kyiv to support Solana in his mediation efforts on 1 December. Kwasniewski told journalists in Warsaw on 30 November that he will propose in Kyiv a five-point plan to resolve the crisis, including a rerun of the second presidential round on 19 or 26 December, assuming that the Supreme Court rules that the 21 November ballot was rigged. Kwasniewski added that he has coordinated his proposals with the U.S. president as well as with a number of European leaders. JM

U.S. President George W. Bush called on 30 November for a peaceful and timely resolution to Ukraine's election crisis, Reuters reported. "It's very important that violence not break out there, and it's important that the will of the people be heard," Bush said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa. Bush said he spoke by phone to Polish President Kwasniewski and thanked him for leading a delegation to Ukraine to try to help resolve the ongoing standoff in a peaceful way. "As best I could, I tried to encourage him to continue to play a constructive and useful role," Bush said. "And hopefully, this issue will be solved quickly, and the will of the people will be known." JM

The National Bank of Ukraine on 31 November tightened controls on cash operations and U.S. dollar sales to prevent a banking crisis and stop capital flight out of the country in the ongoing political crisis, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The bank limited cash U.S. dollar sales to $1,000 a day and noncash dollar sales to $50,000. Withdrawals from cash machines were limited to 1,500 hryvnyas ($282) a day. National Bank acting head Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the previous day that the current political standoff has fuelled a run on bank deposits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). JM

The driver of a black Audi automobile tried several times to ram the BMW in which Serbian President Boris Tadic was riding as part of a motorcade in central Belgrade during the evening of 30 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Audi hit a security vehicle that blocked its path to the president's BMW, but Tadic was uninjured. The Audi then sped off but was not pursued. It is not clear who was behind the apparent attack or what the possible motive might be. Tadic has been outspoken about the need for the Serbian government to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was killed by a sniper in March 2003, and a truck tried to ram his car a few weeks earlier (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). In 1999, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic was nearly killed when a truck struck his car. PM

Serbian President Tadic told journalists in Belgrade on 1 December that he does not want to make any formal statement about the attack on his car the previous day until he receives a report from the Interior Ministry, the private Beta news agency reported. He did not say when he expects the document. "I am a patient man, but I am decisive and will insist on answers from the ministry and the government of Serbia," he added. He noted that his own security team "is the most professional in the country." Tadic later told CNN: "I think this is a very serious situation, especially because of the tragic events in our country last year. I am talking about the assassination of our prime minister, [Zoran Djindjic]. But at the same time I don't want to dramatize our situation," he added. "I am not afraid [for] my life today." PM

In response to media charges that he was involved in war crimes and to Western diplomatic opposition to his nomination as Kosova's next prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, who heads the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), wrote in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 1 December that he has nothing to hide. "I am proud of the part that I played in protecting my people from [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen [in the 1998-99 conflict], and I am ready to defend my actions against criticism and innuendo." He added: "I welcome the scrutiny of my war record by [the Hague-based war crimes tribunal] and am confident that truth and justice will prevail." He stressed, however, that "any attempt -- be it by the [tribunal] with the best of motives, or others with the worst -- to morally equate Milosevic's state-sponsored terror with the actions of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in defense of Kosovar Albanians will only make the task [of discerning the truth] more difficult" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 22, and 30 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April, 9 July, 20 August, and 10 September 2004). PM

Kosova's Prime Minister-designate Haradinaj wrote in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 1 December that Kosovars in 1999 accepted a delay in deciding their final status as the "price...for an immediate end to state-terror and ethnic cleansing.... We will now work in partnership with the United Nations and the international community to fulfill the mandate of Resolution 1244 and take the next steps towards creating a fully democratic European state.... It is time for Kosova to take control of its own destiny." Haradinaj wants to "build bridges" with Serbia and Kosova's Serbian minority and set up an "inclusive state." He stressed that "the issue of Kosova needs to be resolved in the only practical way so that we can all move forward to improve the lives of our communities and establish a basis for long-term security in the region." He also noted the link between Kosova's undefined status and its poverty: "We have to strengthen our institutions, build a market economy, provide public services, and ensure security for all our citizens. We are starting from a position that is extremely difficult, with very high unemployment and very poor infrastructure. Without independence we cannot even begin the task of attracting much-needed foreign investment and signing bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements. Our current undetermined status is in fact an economic prison that has perpetuated conditions of unacceptable poverty." PM

The chairman of the ethnic Albanian opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), Abdylmenaf Bexheti, resigned on 30 November, "Utrinski vesnik" and other Macedonian media reported. Bexheti left his party post to concentrate on his new top-level position at the private Southeast European University in Tetovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2004). Naser Ziberi, who is the PPD's former secretary-general and a former minister for labor and social affairs, is the only candidate for the party's chairmanship to date, according to "Utrinski vesnik." The once-powerful PPD has lost much of its influence in recent years. UB

Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told the BBC on 30 November that NATO lacked the political will to arrest war crimes indictees during its peacekeeping mandate in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will end on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 29 November 2004). She noted that the UN Security Council recently told her that the tribunal will shut down in 2008 but added that she is confident that the indictees will be brought to justice by then. A NATO spokesman told the British broadcaster that Del Ponte's comments about the alliance are unfair and that the indictees have become quite sophisticated in evading their pursuers. In related news, High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 30 November that it is "scandalous" that the Bosnian Serb military kept indicted war criminal and former General Ratko Mladic on its payroll until 2002, Reuters reported. "This is proof of systematic institutional weaknesses that exist -- in particular in the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense," Ashdown added. PM

Davor Banic, who is one of eight Croatian former military policemen charged with killing and abusing Serbian prisoners at the Lora prison camp in 1992, surrendered to police in Split on 30 November, dpa reported. Three of the indictees were already in custody, while the other four are still on the run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2004). PM

The Electoral Bureau on 30 November rejected a demand by the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance to invalidate the results of the parliamentary and presidential ballots held on 28 November, Reuters and the daily "Cotidianul" reported. The daily cited Electoral Bureau Chairman Traian Ghergut as saying the law makes no stipulation for canceling the elections as a whole and allows repeat votes only in those electoral sectors where irregularities have been proven. PNL-Democratic Party presidential candidate Traian Basescu has accused the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) of electoral fraud, mainly through electronic manipulation. Basescu has said that the number of invalid votes counted decreased by the end of the day on 29 November instead of increasing, and the missing votes were channeled to the PSD and its presidential candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Basescu said the alleged fraud affects more than 160,000 ballots. The Greater Romania Party has also demanded that the Electoral Bureau cancel the ballot, Mediafax reported (see End Note). MS

Ion Iliescu, reacting to Basescu's demand to invalidate the ballot, said on 30 November that it was an "irresponsible and antinational step" that discredits Romania's image "in the eyes of the world," Mediafax reported. Iliescu said some electoral irregularities might have taken place, but these are "not the dominant factor" in the elections. He said Basescu has displayed a "lack of wisdom" and added: "In politics one must know how to lose with elegance." Steven Nash, who headed a group of 18 OSCE election monitors, was quoted by AP as saying the elections were "professionally and efficiently organized" but "in the context of a closely contested election," the allegations of fraud have "the potential to affect public confidence" and must be "fully dealt with through the appropriate administrative and judicial processes." MS

The National Institute of Statistics (INS) rejected Basescu's allegations of election fraud, Mediafax reported. INS Secretary-General Gabriel Jifcu said data initially fed by local electoral bureaus to the central computer was incorrect and had to be corrected later to reflect the actual outcome. Jifcu admitted, however, that the contract with Network Consulting, the company which provided the software used for processing the votes, was signed without holding a public tender. He said this was due to "lack of sufficient time." MS

The Electoral Bureau on 1 December said that according to centralized results, the PSD-Humanist Party (PUR) alliance has garnered 36.61 percent of the vote for the lower house, followed by the PNL-Democratic Party (31.33 percent), the Greater Romania Party (PRM) (12.92 percent), and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) (6.17 percent). In the Senate, the PSD-PUR alliance leads with 37.13 percent, followed by the PNL-Democratic Party alliance (31.77 percent), the PRM (13.63 percent), and the UDMR (6.23 percent). PSD presidential candidate Nastase has a seven percentage point lead (40.94 percent) over Basescu (33.92 percent) (See End Note). MS

The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on 30 November approved country reports saying Romania and Bulgaria are on track to join the EU in 2007, AP reported. The reports must now be submitted to a European Parliament vote ahead of the 16-17 December EU summit. The report on Romania warned that the country might be subject to the "safeguard clause" that could delay its accession by one year if it fails to meet commitments on democratization. Committee members expressed concern over allegations of corruption, judicial interference, and media intimidation in Romania. MS

Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan on 30 November told a Vienna meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council that Moldova is the "only country in Europe that has parts of its territory under foreign military occupation -- that of the Russian Federation," AP reported. Stratan called on the United States and the EU to more actively pursue a settlement to the conflict, according to Infotag. He said a solution cannot be found under the current five-sided negotiations format. "Moldova must deal in Transdniester with a group of foreign citizens guided from abroad, who forcibly seized state power in the eastern parts of the country and established there a dictatorial criminal regime backed by foreign armed forces," Infotag cited him as saying. He also said that the envisaged Moldovan-proposed Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM) is essential in order to ensure Moldova's territorial integrity. MS

Several Moldovan-based nongovernmental organizations on 30 November introduced journalists in Chisinau to a new strategy for solving the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported. The strategy is based on "the three Ds": demilitarization, decriminalization, and democratization. The plan's implementation is envisaged over a four-year period starting in 2005. The strategy would change the five-sided negotiations format into one that would include Moldova, the EU, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the OSCE. The status of Transdniester is to be defined at the end of the four-year period, after the "three Ds" have come into effect. MS

Vladimir Voronin on 30 November told Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in a telephone conversation that he supports Kuchma's attempts to defuse the postelection crisis and that the president has "demonstrated that his authority can help the unity of the Ukrainian state," AP reported. Voronin said that, as a neighboring country, Moldova cannot be "indifferent to what happens in Ukraine." Flux cited him as saying that "the Moldovan leadership believes it is very important not to let events in Ukraine deteriorate into a confrontation where force is used." MS

Calls by the main Romanian opposition alliance Justice and Truth to annul the results of the 28 November presidential and parliamentary elections might well be justified, but they served to shift the focus of debate away from the elections' significance to alleged infringements of democratic procedure. One must bear in mind that even if all the claims of Justice and Truth -- an alliance formed by the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party -- are found to be justified, the rival Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party (PUR) will still be ahead in the parliamentary ballot, albeit by less than one percentage point. Likewise, PSD presidential candidate and current Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will still hold a slight lead over Traian Basescu, Justice and Truth's candidate. The opposition's allegations should be thoroughly investigated and those found guilty of any infractions should be punished, but in any event the essence of the message the Romanian electorate sent to politicians in the elections will remain intact.

With all the votes counted, the PSD -- which ran as it did in 2000 in alliance with the PUR -- is slightly ahead in the parliamentary ballot. Results put the PSD-PUR alliance in front, with 36.61 percent of the vote in the lower house of parliament (Chamber of Deputies), and 37.13 percent in the upper house (Senate). Premier Nastase, and his PSD-designated successor as prime minister, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, both rushed to proclaim victory. But does the PSD-PUR really have grounds to celebrate? Compared to the 2000 electoral outcome (36.1 percent in the Chamber of Deputies, 37.09 percent in the Senate), the PSD has by and large merely managed to hold ground.

What is more, the PSD might not be able to either form a coalition majority or rule again as a minority government with the parliamentary backing of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), as it has since 2000. This is both because the legislature shrunk as a result of a population drop and because fewer votes stemming from parties that did not pass the 5 percent threshold are available for redistribution among parties that gained representation. At this stage, it appears that the PSD-PUR will have 57 seats in the Senate (compared to 65 in 2000) out of a total of 137. The UDMR is likely to have some 11 seats in that chamber, one fewer than four years earlier, thus combining to fall one seat short of a majority. A hung parliament is looming on horizon.

The opposition Truth and Justice alliance is the virtual winner of the ballot. If one sums up the PNL and the Democratic Party's performance in 2000 (when they ran on separate lists) and compares it to their 2004 achievement, the difference becomes obvious: 14.52 percent (lower house) and 15.06 percent (upper house) in 2000, compared to 31.33 and 31.77 percent in 2004. In other words, while the ruling party has merely equaled its 2000 performance, the opposition alliance has more than doubled its representation. But Truth and Justice failed in its main mission -- to dislodge the PSD as the ruling party.

The PSD can thus claim with some justification that it has not fared poorly, considering that ruling parties are often targeted for criticism by the electorate come election time. Yet to claim, as Prime Minister Nastase has, that this election is unique is incorrect. In the Czech Republic, for instance, the Social Democratic Party managed to retain its plurality in the June 2002 elections, despite suffering losses and barely managing to form a coalition afterwards. Thus, it is the opposition Truth and Justice alliance that has the right to claim a moral victory. But moral victories do not forge ruling coalitions.

Unethical practices, however, sometimes do. Viewed from this perspective, the most obvious partners for the PSD to lure into its ranks are likely to be found among Greater Romania Party (PRM) lawmakers. The extremist PRM is the most obvious loser of the 2004 election, having been cut to its "natural" size by the Romanian electorate. While in 2000 the party culled a frightening 19.48 percent of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and 21.01 percent for the Senate, four years on it managed just 12.92 percent and 13.63 percent in the two chambers, respectively. The reasons are obvious: PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor's "metamorphosis" into a philo-Semitic moderate Christian Democrat cost him the nationalist electorate and left the democratic camp unconvinced. It is precisely for this reason that, as a whole, the PRM -- the only party with which the PSD-PUR could form a somewhat stable majority -- is not considered a viable partner for the ruling party. However, while the PSD might avoid an open partnership with the extremist party for fear of being internationally seen as guilty by association with Tudor (as was the case between 1992-95), it might well attempt to lure PRM parliamentarians away from the PRM leader. The most obvious candidates would be those members of the National Syndicate Bloc who ran on the PRM lists in the 2004 elections; other PRM parliamentarians might join them as well.

An additional (but not necessarily alternative) source of parliamentary support might be sought by the PSD among any Democratic Party parliamentarians who are unhappy with the ideologically odd alliance of their social-democratic formation with the PNL. Outgoing Prime Minister Nastase has already hinted at such a scenario. However, most of the Democrats who are unhappy with the alliance have either already left the party or were forced out by Chairman Traian Basescu.

The ethnic Hungarian UDMR, meanwhile, essentially repeated its 2000 performance, despite challenges from within the party and the desertion of Hungarian Civic Union members who ran on the lists of the Popular Alliance. But the UDMR would apparently not be enough this time around to secure the PSD-PUR a majority, regardless of whether it participates in the next government (as UDMR Chairman Bela Marko suggested it would like to) or supports it in parliament, as was the case in 2000-04.

Much will therefore depend on the outcome of the presidential runoff, slated for 12 December. Nastase is ahead of Basescu (40.94 as compared to 33.92 percent of the votes counted thus far), but runoffs have their own rules. In 1996, Emil Constantinescu was trailing Ion Iliescu by four percentage points after the first round, yet won the runoff with a majority of 54.41 percent. Who Romania's next president will be could determine the shape of the next government. In the absence in the legislature of any majority party, the constitution grants the president the right to designate as prime minister anyone who has a reasonable chance of forming a majority. In other words, should Basescu win, designating PNL-Democratic Party candidate for the post Calin Popescu-Tariceanu as prime minister is a distinct possibility. But Popescu-Tariceanu would likely find himself in the same situation as would the PSD's prime-ministerial candidate, Mircea Geoana -- unable to lean on any majority in parliament.

It is doubtful whether a polarized Romania would be able to accept a system of cohabitation in which one party controls the presidency and an opposing party controls the cabinet -- but the electorate might force such a situation upon itself. Even if this scenario does not pan out, a realistic solution seems to be one of a "grand coalition" that would be able to depend on a comfortable majority in the face of the country's efforts to join the European Union and to implement urgently needed reforms. This solution would entail having the PSD grant the PNL-Democratic Party's Truth and Justice alliance control over the most corruption-ridden portfolios of the current ruling party's government -- those of finance, trade, and other reform-related fields, as well as the Justice Ministry.

Would Romania's political class be capable of overcoming such divisions? The attempt by the PNL-Democratic Party alliance to have the elections canceled does not bode well, even if some electoral irregularities are striking. Romania cannot afford to become a "second Ukraine." To do so would be to take a great leap backward.

In a faxed statement dated 29 November, Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, rejected reports that some members of the movement are holding discussions with the Afghan government in Kabul, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 30 November. In his statement, Hamed Agha said that "neither any representative of the Taliban Islamic Movement has talked to [President-elect Hamid] Karzai's administration nor are there any national and Islamic justifications for" such talks. The statement added that the United States, which backs Karzai, "cannot tolerate the Taliban's firm, independent, and Islamic views." Karzai administration spokesman Jawed Ludin recently also denied reports of talks between the Afghan government and the neo-Taliban, however he added that those members of the militia who stop fighting and have not committed atrocities can live in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). AT

In the 29 November statement, Hamed Agha denied that there are any splinter groups within the neo-Taliban organization. Hamed Agha specifically singled out Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims), the group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping and holding hostage three UN election workers for four weeks, as not being part of the neo-Taliban. In his statement, Hamid Agha said that Sayyed Akbar Agha, the purported leader of the Army of the Muslims, has no "place in the Taliban decision-making [circle] or in the leadership." He said that Sayyed Akbar Agha's actions are independent of neo-Taliban policies and "should not be interpreted as a rivalry between him and the Taliban Islamic Movement" (for more on the hostage crisis, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 November 2004). AT

Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, also claming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 29 November that Army of the Muslims has been disbanded "due to serious differences," AIP reported on 30 November. According to Hakimi, a number of the group's members -- including Saber Mo'min, one of the individuals who purports Army of the Muslims -- have joined the neo-Taliban movement. The main source of dispute between members of the Army of the Muslims and the group's leader, Sayyed Akbar Agha, according to Hakimi, was the fact that the group failed to secure the release of Taliban prisoners during the hostage crisis and "set the hostages free only in return for dollars." Afghan authorities have maintained that the hostages were released without any deals involving cash or exchange of prisoners. AT

Jawed Ludin told a news conference in Kabul on 30 November that "Afghanistan will not allow any country to carry out aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicide," the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Ludin said that Kabul "disagreed with the spraying" of poppy fields in the Khogiani and Shinwar districts of the eastern Nangarhar Province, without naming the country that has allegedly carried out the spraying. In early November, eyewitnesses reportedly saw U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants on poppy fields in Nangarhar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November 2004). AT

The Dutch national prosecutor's office on 30 November said that a high-ranking Afghan communist intelligence official has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in car crimes, international news agencies reported. The man, identified only as Hesamudin H., was arrested on 27 November in Boskoop, AP reported on 30 November. Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor's office, said that the Afghan man is suspected of overseeing the torture of prisoners while he headed Afghanistan's communist-era intelligence agency in the 1980s. The suspect has been living in the Netherlands since 1992. Recently, a Dutch court overturned a decision by the government to reject an asylum request from former Afghan Communist Vice President Abdul Rahim Hatef on charges that he carried out political assassinations and torture (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October 2004). In November 2002, when Afghanistan officially joined Interpol, then Afghan security chief Basir Salangi said that he hoped that Afghanistan will pursue "thousands" of criminals among the Afghan diaspora, saying: "People who have committed crimes in Afghanistan and gone to countries such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands will no longer be safe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). The Netherlands is a favorite destination for former high-ranking Afghan communists who ruled the country from 1978-92. AT

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors on 29 November passed a resolution on the Iranian nuclear program ( It noted Iran's "good progress" in correcting "breaches" in fulfilling its obligations, saying that all declared nuclear material is accounted for and has not been diverted to prohibited activities, although the IAEA cannot conclude if undeclared activities or materials exist in Iran. The only slightly negative note came in the expression of "concern" that Iran continued enrichment activities, including the production of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), despite a board of governors' request in September for the suspension of such activities. On 30 November, "The New York Times" described the resolution as "mildly worded," and on the same day "The Washington Post" said it "praised Iran." BS

The IAEA resolution welcomed the Iranian decision to suspend uranium enrichment activities and said that the "full and sustained implementation of this suspension is essential to addressing outstanding issues." Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said at a 30 November news conference in Tehran that the Iranian suspension of enrichment activities will be for months, rather than years, and it will last only for the duration of Iran-Europe trade negotiations, Radio Farda reported. "We've clearly said [to the European countries] that negotiations should not take long. We've clearly said we're not talking about years. We should reach an agreement within months," Rohani said. The Iranian official insisted that his country should be rewarded. "The Europeans should give the Islamic Republic of Iran serious guarantees regarding their cooperation in [accessing] modern technologies, including nuclear technologies, [as well as] long-term economic cooperation and also political and security cooperation," he said. BS

Speaker of Parliament Gholamali Haddad-Adel said on 30 November in Kashmar, Khorasan Razavi Province, that the IAEA resolution on Iran is unsatisfactory, IRNA reported. He said the legislature demands access to peaceful nuclear technology. The deputy speaker, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, said on 30 November in Tehran that the course of Iran-Europe negotiations in the coming months will determine the legislature's stand on the nuclear issue, IRNA reported. The legislature, he added, "does not regard as positive the strict policies pursued by the European states in the recent draft resolution issued by the [IAEA] board of governors and interprets it as a reflection of the U.S. political attitude towards Iran's nuclear program." Bahonar said the legislature will "oblige the government to gain access to nuclear technology and complete the fuel recycling process." BS

Construction of a natural gas pipeline connecting Iran to Armenia began in the southern Armenia village of Agarak on 30 November, Mediamax and IRNA reported. The agreement on the construction of the pipeline was signed in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004) and the 41 kilometer section in Armenia is expected to cost $210-220 million. More pipeline-related agreements were signed when President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami visited Yerevan in September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 September 2004). Participants in the ceremony marking the beginning of construction included Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian. Markarian and Bitaraf also attended a separate ceremony on 30 November to inaugurate the second high-voltage transmission line between the two countries, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That line will enable the two countries to double the volume of energy they exchange on a seasonal basis. BS

The Iranian military has renewed security operations in the country's northwest, "Ozgur Politika" reported on 29 November. According to the pro-Kurdish newspaper, some 15 Iranian villages have been besieged as locals are forced to participate in civil defense units (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 November 2004). Villagers reportedly were urged to inform on People's Defense Forces (HPG) and the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK) militants. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed extreme concern on 30 November for Iranian Kurds in central Iraq who have been caught up in the fighting there, the UN News Center reported ( According to UNHCR, some 3,000 Kurds in the Al-Tash camp near Al-Ramadi, which is some 50 kilometers from Al-Fallujah, do not have access to water or electricity, and the local health center is not working. Food has reached the camp, however. Thirteen Kurdish families who fled the camp arrived in Suleimanieh in northern Iraq, but the fate of all the 1,400 people who fled is not known, the UN News Center reported on 26 November. BS

Mu'ayyad al-Shammari, an official at the Al-Musayyib Power Plant south of Baghdad, said on 30 November that a fire broke out when unidentified individuals blew up the oil-supply pipeline from Karbala, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Six oil wells in the Khabbaz oil field, which is west of Kirkuk, are still ablaze, the television station added. Sabotage against pipelines and refineries cost Iraq some $7 billion from August 2003 until October, Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban was quoted as saying in the 29 November "Al-Hayat." He added that sabotage is increasing. Al-Ghadban said the Oil Ministry has entered contracts with foreign companies for developing the Farmalah oil field and it will enter more contracts for developing the Humrin oil field in the north. He denied, however, that prospecting activities are underway in Kurdistan, "Al-Hayat" reported. Activities there are meant to revitalize existing oil fields, he said. BS

Manila announced on 29 November that it is negotiating with the kidnappers of Filipino accountant Roy Tarangoy, "The Philippine Star" reported the following day. Iraqi militants kidnapped Tarangoy, an American named Roy Hallun, a number of Iraqi guards, and a Nepali on 1 November. They have already released the Iraqis and the Nepali. According to the newspaper, the unidentified militants are demanding $12 million. BS

A delegation representing political and religious organizations that oppose holding elections in Iraq in January left for Damascus on 29 November, "Al-Hayat" reported on 30 November. Salah Umar al-Ali, a former Iraqi official and Ba'athist, said the delegation will emphasize its stand that the election undercuts Iraqi free will, and it will affect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In a 30 November roundtable on Al-Jazeera television, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq official Rida Jawad Taqi said the elections should take place on time, and he added that more than 26 political groups from Sunni areas will participate in the election. Abd al-Amir al-Rikabi, an overseas oppositionist, said the majority of Iraqis oppose or want to postpone the elections. Falak al-Din Kakai, editor of the Kurdistan Democratic Party newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi," said, "We do not advocate the principle of boycott." He said the elections should take place on time if that is what the main parties want. He dismissed the possible emergence of antielection alliances. BS