Accessibility links

Newsline - December 6, 2004


PUTIN CRITICIZES U.S. POLICIES, 'PSEUDO-DEMOCRATIC PHRASEOLOGY'...
President Vladimir Putin on 3 December suggested that the United States is pursuing a "dictatorial" foreign policy, and he warned that increasing violence could derail attempts to bring democracy to Iraq, Reuters and other Western and Russian media reported. Putin was speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru Foundation during a visit to the Indian capital New Delhi. Referring to U.S. policy but without directly naming the United States, Putin said Russia opposes "attempt[s] to rebuild modern civilization, which God created to be diverse and multifaceted, according to the barracks [military] principles of a unipolar world," according to a copy of the speech published on the official Kremlin website (http://www.kremlin.ru). He added that unilateralism both increases the threat that weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of terrorists and could spur regional conflicts. "No dictatorship, especially in international affairs, will solve such problems, even if that dictatorship is packaged in pretty, pseudo-democratic phraseology," Putin said. He added that he worries that mounting violence and loss of life in Iraq might hinder plans to hold national elections in late January (see item, below). VY

...AND EXPRESSES RESERVATIONS OVER UN OPTIONS FOR REFORM
After talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi on 3 December, Putin said that Russia supports India's desire become a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russian media reported. But Putin said he is against an option suggested by a UN-commissioned expert panel that calls for the creation of a new tier of eight semi-permanent members -- two each from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas -- without veto power, AP reported. "If we agree that future permanent members of the Security Council should have no veto, the next step would not be giving these countries veto power but rather abolishing the veto," Putin was quoted as saying. India is the second country after Brazil to which Putin has pledged support for full membership of a reformed UN Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004), RTR noted on 5 December. The station speculated that it appears Putin is increasingly interested in the creation of what analysts have dubbed "BRIC" -- an alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- to act as an economic counterweight to the United States and the Group of Seven (G-7). VY

RUSSIA CALLS FOR STRONG INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS ON IRAQ
Moscow has called for greater international efforts to foster peace and stability in Iraq, Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovlenko as saying on 5 December. "We support the need for mobilization of efforts of the world community for assisting an Iraqi settlement, Russia is interested in this country getting peace and stability, preserving the unity and the territorial integrity," Yakovenko said, according to ITAR-TASS. Yakovlenko spoke on the eve of a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was scheduled to arrive in Moscow for talks with President Putin on 6 December. Yakovlenko added that Russia views the upcoming elections for an interim National Assembly as a vital part of settling the crisis in Iraq. "The general elections to the National Assembly scheduled for 30 January 2005 should become a major landmark on that road," Interfax quoted Yakovlenko as saying on 5 December. BW

RUSSIA CEMENTS ACCORDS WITH INDIA TO EXTEND ECONOMIC, HIGH-TECH, AND MILITARY COOPERATION
President Putin and members of the Russian cabinet signed several accords with Indian officials on the expansion of bilateral cooperation in the power and energy, high-tech, aerospace, and military spheres, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 4 December. Putin was accompanied on his Indian trip by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, and other members of the cabinet. The two sides reportedly agreed on boosting Indian investment into Russian energy projects and on Gazprom's joint exploration with Indian companies for oil in the Bay of Bengal. Bilateral talks also focused on cooperation in the nuclear-energy sector, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 December. Indian officials are said to be interested in expanding the country's network of nuclear power stations to help it meet rising energy demand, and Moscow has reportedly expressed an interest in selling nuclear fuel. India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Russia thus cannot supply such fuel without guarantees, "Izvestiya" reported. Putin also visited the city of Bangalore, a center of India's information-technology sector, where he expressed Moscow's desire to cooperate with India in the high-tech sector in order to help Russia emulate Indian success in software production. VY

IN INDIA, RUSSIA WELCOMES FOREIGN BIDS IN YUKOS ASSET SALE
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Zhukov told reporters in New Delhi on 4 December that Russia would welcome Indian and other companies bidding for assets of Russian oil giant Yukos that include the company's main oil-producing unit, Yuganskneftegaz, Russian and Western media reported. Bids are due by 19 December. "Izvestiya" suggested on 4 December that Indian state-run oil and gas company ONGC might team up with Gazprom to bid. VY

PUTIN VISITS TURKEY FOR TRADE AND SECURITY TALKS
President Putin arrived in Ankara on 5 December for talks with Turkey's political leadership that are expected to focus on bilateral trade and international efforts to combat terrorism, Russian media reported. In an interview with Turkish media on the eve of his two-day visit, Putin said "relations between [Russia and Turkey] have turned a new page" and added that the two can realize "tremendous plans," strana.ru reported on 4 December. Putin said that bilateral trade between has grown six-fold since 1992, to $6.8 billion in 2003. Putin said energy is the most important area of bilateral cooperation and that Russia is ready not only to increase it supply of gas and oil to Turkey but also to transit those commodities via Turkey to third countries. Putin said Russian and Turkey are cooperating to combat terrorism, and more than other countries are interested in "normalization in the Caucasus." "We are neighbors in this region and understand better than others what is going on there," Putin said, according to strana.ru. "It is important for Turkish and Russian interests to solve the problems of the region and not allow competition there, especially with the participation of powers from outside the region." VY

RUSSIA AND TURKEY TO COORDINATE ANTITERROR EFFORTS
Russia and Turkey will cooperate closely to combat terrorism, Foreign Minister Lavrov said on 6 December, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We seek to expand cooperation with Turkey in the fight against terrorism, separatism, as well as national and religious extremism," Lavrov, in Turkey for an official visit with President Putin, said. "This concerns, in particular, the cutting of channels of material and financial support for terrorist organizations and militant groups," Lavrov said. Russia and Turkey, which are both Eurasian states, "can play the role of a bridge between different civilizations, and contribute to the development of forward-looking relations between Europe and Asia, the West and the East." BW

AIR FORCE HEAD WARNS OF PREEMPTIVE STRIKES AGAINST TERRORISTS
Russian Air Force commander General Vladimir Mikhailov said on 3 December that Moscow reserves the right to unleash preventive air strikes against terrorists outside its borders, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "If ordered, our missile-carrier aircraft will attack the terrorists with long-range, highly precise cruise missiles and aerial bombs. We will make use of everything we have," Mikhailov said. His comments followed similar remarks by Defense Minister Ivanov, who said that Russia would use all means except nuclear weapons in preemptive strikes against terrorists. BW

PUTIN SPEAKS WITH KUCHMA OVER EVENTS IN UKRAINE
While Russia did not respond officially to the landmark Ukrainian Supreme Court verdict of 3 December or plans to hold a new presidential runoff, President Putin's press service announced that he discussed the situation in Ukraine with President Leonid Kuchma by telephone on 4 December, utro.ru reported. The announcement did not include details of their conversation but said Putin told his outgoing Ukrainian counterpart that as part of the international mediating effort, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov will attend negotiations aimed at paving the way to new balloting (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part 2"). VY

DUMA SPEAKER SAYS UKRAINIAN COURT RULING WILL NOT RESOLVE CRISIS...
Duma Speaker Gryzlov said on 4 December that the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruling ordering a repeat of the presidential runoff election was unlikely to resolve the country's political crisis, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "The elections in Ukraine have shown that society in that country is split right down the middle, and the Supreme Court's decision in favor of the loser is unlikely to remedy everything and immediately," Interfax quoted Gryzlov as saying in St. Petersburg. "The presidential election has uncovered too many internal problems, and we are now dealing not with a settlement of the political crisis but with a search for ways to settle it." BW

...AS FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE SAYS DANGER OF BREAKUP REMAINS
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, said the Ukrainian court's decision was "politically unfortunate" and does not ease tensions in that country, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. "The participation of the same candidates in the revote will not bring the desired calm to Ukraine, and a considerable number of people will be displeased with the results. Therefore the danger of confrontation and even a split will remain," Kosachev said, adding, "It would be preferable to hold a new election with new candidates." He said, nevertheless, that "the Supreme Court in this situation is the only body that is empowered to make the decision, and any decision should be implemented unconditionally." BW

MOSCOW AGAIN CALLS FOR OSCE TO REFORM...
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, has called for reforms in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the wake of the Ukrainian election crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December. "The current situation in Ukraine confirms a pressing need for the working out of common criteria for the assessment of the election process and resulting conclusions," ITAR-TASS quoted Lavrov as telling the Bulgarian newspaper "24 Hours." Lavrov criticized the OSCE for scaling down its activities in the political, military, and economic spheres, and increasing its role in humanitarian areas -- which the foreign minister said is often used as a pretext for involvement in the politics of ex-Soviet states. "Everything must proceed on an expert, non-politicized basis," he said, adding, "Russia has a clear program of reforms in the OSCE that is supported by the Commonwealth of Independent States." Lavrov did not specify the details of the proposed reform program. BW

...AND RUSSIAN ENVOY DECRIES BIAS AND DOUBLE STANDARDS
Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE Aleksei Borodavkin accused that organization of double standards and bias in its election-monitoring standards, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 December. Speaking on the eve of an OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Vienna, Borodavkin said that while the organization declares elections in the West transparent, legitimate, and democratic, CIS balloting is evaluated differently. "Even minor technical shortcomings are pronounced falsifications and the legitimacy of the election results is called into question," he said. "The organization has shown tendencies of stagnation and regress, and bias, double standards, and various kinds of misbalances have come to dominate," Borodavkin said. "Naturally, that destabilizes the political situation in such countries and gives reason for various kinds of extremist statements and, sometimes, actions. The latest example of Ukraine is very illustrative," Borodavkin said. BW

SACKED TV ANCHOR TO EDIT RUSSIAN 'NEWSWEEK'
Leonid Parfyonov, the popular television news anchor who was sacked by NTV in June, has been named the editor of the Russian edition of "Newsweek" magazine, Russian and international news agencies reported on 5 December. "I am very pleased that Leonid accepted our offer of heading 'Newsweek,'" Irina Silayeva, general director of Axel Springer Russia, which publishes the magazine, said in a statement. "I hope that we will be even more interesting for our readers." Parfyonov was dismissed by NTV television for criticizing the station after it took an interview he conducted with the widow of a slain Chechen field commander off the air. Media advocacy groups viewed Parfyonov's firing as part of a pattern of decreased press freedom in Russia. BW

SECURITY FORCES APPREHEND CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S RELATIVES
Chechen security forces including members of First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's infamous "presidential guard" detained an unspecified number of relatives of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 4 December, chechenpress.info reported on 5 December. The detainees were taken to the village of Khosi-Yurt. Their fate remains unclear. LF

MAYORS OF ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN CAPITALS PLAN JOINT INVESTMENT PROJECTS
The mayors of Yerevan and Moscow, Yervand Zakharian and Yurii Luzhkov, signed an agreement in the Armenian capital on 3 December under which the two cities will invest more than $100 million over the next three years in joint construction projects, including a residential and office complex in Yerevan and various trading facilities in Moscow, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Luzhkov predicted that those projects will result in a five-fold increase in trade between the two cities. Luzhkov also met during his two-day visit with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who expressed support for Moscow's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, and with President Robert Kocharian. LF

FORMER KARABAKH ARMY CHIEF URGES DIALOGUE WITH AZERBAIJAN
In an interview with the independent Armenian weekly "Iravunk," the former commander of the Karabakh armed forces, Lieutenant General Samvel Babayan, said that a direct dialogue between the authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and the Azerbaijani leadership is the most appropriate way of finding a solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over that region, according to Arminfo on 3 December as cited by Groong. Babayan also said the NKR Defense Ministry should take all possible measures to increase its readiness to counter an anticipated assault by Azerbaijan. Babayan said his release from jail two months ago as part of an amnesty was not connected in any way with the Karabakh conflict. Babayan was sentenced in February 2001 to 14 years' imprisonment on charges of trying to assassinate NKR President Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001 and 20 September 2004). LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES 2005 BUDGET
The Milli Mejlis passed the draft budget for 2005 in its final reading on 3 December, Turan reported. Revenues are set at 9.4 trillion manats ($1.9 billion) and expenditures at 10.1 trillion manats, representing year-on-year increases of 25.3 and 27.7 percent, respectively. Some 60 percent of expenditures are earmarked for social programs. The budget envisages a 14.1 percent increase in gross domestic product to 47.8 trillion manats, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 November. Defense spending will constitute 2.3 percent of anticipated GDP, which is tantamount to a 33 percent increase compared with 2004, Turan reported on 27 November. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSED OF PLANNING COUP
During the 3 December parliament session that endorsed the budget, deputy parliamentary speaker Ziyafet Askerov accused Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, of planning a coup d'etat in Azerbaijan following the same scenario as in Georgia and Ukraine, zerkalo.az reported on 4 December. Askerov alleged that the Ukrainian opposition organization Pora is providing Kerimli with funds. Kerimli dismissed those accusations as "serious," adding that Askerov and other members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party are worried because they have now realized that they "cannot continue falsifying the outcome of elections forever." LF

DESTRUCTION OF IRANIAN AZERBAIJANI LEADER'S TOMB SPARKS PROTESTS
Members of the Iranian Azerbaijani community in Baku convened a news conference on 3 December at which they decried as "an act of vandalism" the recent demolition of the gravesite in Baku of Seyid Jafar Pishevari, leader of the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Southern Azerbaijan that existed in northern Iran in 1945-46, Turan reported. The grave and monument to Pishevari have been removed to permit the expansion of a monument to deceased Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev. The Azerbaijan National Independence Party issued a statement on 29 November condemning the destruction of Pishevari's grave as an attempt to erase any memory of the short-lived Azerbaijani republic on Iranian territory, Turan reported. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL RIVALS REACH CONSENSUS...
During talks in Sukhum on 4-5 December mediated by Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov, former Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba and Chernomorenenergo head Sergei Bagapsh discussed the latter's proposal that they should jointly participate in a new presidential ballot in which Bagapsh would seek the presidency with Khadjimba as vice president, Russian media reported on 6 December. Khadjimba said on 6 December that he has agreed to Bagapsh's proposal but that the date of 26 December proposed by Bagapsh for the new ballot is unacceptable. Khadjimba added that he hopes to reach agreement with Bagapsh within days on a mutually acceptable time frame. Prior to the new election, a new law is to be passed redefining the division of powers between the president and vice president to augment the powers of the latter, ITAR-TASS reported. Bagapsh subsequently dropped his plans for a presidential inauguration on 6 December. Four explosions were reported in Sukhum during the early morning of 6 December but no one was injured, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...IN WAKE OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S COMMENTS
On 3 December, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Bagapsh's victory in the 3 October ballot, in which according to the Abkhaz Central Election Commission on 11 October he polled 50.08 percent of the vote, reflects the wishes of the Abkhaz population, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili added that he is ready to embark on a dialogue with Bagapsh. Bagapsh, however, quickly rejected that offer of dialogue as "a provocation" aimed at sabotaging relations between Abkhazia and Russia, Interfax reported. "I am not going to hold negotiations with Saakashvili," rustavi2.com quoted him as saying. LF

U.S. ANNOUNCES NEW TRAINING PROGRAM FOR GEORGIAN MILITARY
Visiting Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace announced in Tbilisi on 5 December following talks with President Saakashvili and Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze that Washington will allocate $40 million for a new training program for the Georgian armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. Under the new Sustainment and Stability Operation Program, 70 instructors will train two marine and two logistics battalions. That program aims to build on the two-year, U.S.-funded Train and Equip program that ended several months ago. LF

MINE BLAST KILLS 23 IN KAZAKHSTAN
An explosion of methane gas at a mine in Karaganda Province in central Kazakhstan on 5 December killed 23 miners, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. A total of 87 miners were in the shaft at the time of the blast. A spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that three people have been hospitalized with injuries. A government commission has been set up to determine the cause of the accident, Kazinform reported. DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENT DENIES PLANS TO DISMISS CABINET
In a 3 December interview with official newspaper "Kazakhstanskaya pravda," presidential spokesman Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed dispelled rumors that President Nursultan Nazarbaev is planning to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kul-Mukhammed noted that Nazarbaev met with Akhmetov on 29 November and told him, "I'm satisfied with this government's work. It's coping with its duties, so there won't be any dismissal!" In a somewhat less encouraging tone for the government, Nazarbaev expressed his satisfaction not only with Akhmetov, but also with all of Kazakhstan's other prime ministers, "no matter what they are doing now or what their political positions are." Akhmetov has been prime minister since June 2003. DK

RIGHTS GROUPS CALL FOR PROBE INTO ALLEGED ABDUCTION OF KYRGYZ ACTIVIST
Human rights organizations have called for an independent investigation of the case of Tursunbek Akun, the Kyrgyz human rights activist who went missing from 16 November-1 December, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 3 December. In an open letter to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev dated 3 December and available on Human Rights Watch's website (http://www.hrw.org), Rachel Denber, acting executive director for the Europe and Central Asia division, called on the president "to ensure that an independent investigation is launched immediately." Representatives of Freedom House in Kyrgyzstan announced on 3 December that they plan to conduct their own investigation of the case, RFE/RL reported. The Kyrygz NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society and other organizations have called for an independent medical examination. Akun, who says that he was abducted by officers of the National Security Service (SNB), has complained of increasing health problems since his reappearance, although doctors at a Bishkek hospital pronounced him healthy on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). SNB spokespeople have suggested that Akun staged his own disappearance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004). DK

TAJIK PARLIAMENT RESPONDS TO SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY HEAD
Tajikistan's Majlisi Namayondagon (lower chamber of parliament) has rejected a request from Social Democratic Party head Rahmatullo Zoirov to examine the legality of President Imomali Rakhmonov's term in office, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 3 December. Zoirov had argued that Rakhmonov's presidential powers ended on 6 November in accordance with the constitutional law under which he was elected in 1994, the BBC's Persian Service reported. Legislators noted, however, that only parliament, the cabinet, and the president have the right to initiate such a legal inquiry. Zoirov pronounced himself dissatisfied with the response and promised to renew his attempt to challenge the legality of Rakhmonov's term in office. DK

UZBEK PARLIAMENT ENDS 16TH SESSION
Uzbekistan's parliament ended its 16th session on 3 December, official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. The two-day session saw the passage of laws on nature preserves and the chamber of commerce as well as the ratification of a 19 November treaty of friendship with neighboring Turkmenistan. Speaker Erkin Khalilov had warm words for the parliament's work since it was elected in 1999. He praised the efforts of deputies from all parties and fractions to resolve "complex, and sometimes divisive crucial issues in a friendly and positive manner," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. But sociologist Bahodir Musaev told RFE/RL that Uzbekistan's parliament lacks the authority to make real financial or other decisions. "For five years, deputies did nothing but raise their hands, applaud, and drowse through the president's speeches," he said. DK

OSCE BEGINS PRE-ELECTION WORK IN UZBEKISTAN
Lyubomir Kopai, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) observer mission to Uzbekistan's 26 December parliamentary elections, received accreditation for the mission from the country's Central Election Commission in Tashkent on 3 December, UzA.uz reported. "We have come to Uzbekistan as friends," Kopai commented. "A total of 21 people from our organization are observing the election in Uzbekistan. Six groups of two people will work in the provinces, and nine people will be active in Tashkent," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Human Rights Watch and Uzbek opposition parties had asked the OSCE not to send monitors to an election they said was fundamentally flawed. Kopai said that after evaluating the situation, the OSCE decided to send a limited mission. By way of comparison, the OSCE's observer mission to observe 19 September parliamentary elections in neighboring Kazakhstan, which has roughly 10 million fewer inhabitants than Uzbekistan, consisted of 250 people. DK

TURKMENISTAN HOPES FOR HIGHER SALE PRICE FOR NATURAL GAS
Turkmen negotiators indicated in talks with representatives of Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny in Ashgabat on 3 December that they think the current price of Turkmen natural gas is too low, Turkmenistan.ru reported. The Turkmen side noted that with world prices and production costs in Turkmenistan rising, $60 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas would be a fair price in 2005. Still, the report stressed that the Turkmen side is not seeking to raise the current price, which is $44 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, paid half in cash and half in kind. "In agreements between Gazexport [the export arm of Gazprom] and [Turkmen oil and gas company] Turkmenneftegaz, the price of shipments at the Turkmen border is set for 2004-2006 and is not open to review," a Gazprom spokesman told "Vremya novostei." Gazexport is set to buy 7 billion-8 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in 2005. The Turkmen side might be trying to win a higher price from Naftohaz Ukrayiny, which has contracted to buy 36 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in 2005. But the Turkmen statement could point to trouble on the horizon for Gazprom, which is slated to increase its purchases of Turkmen gas to 60 billion-70 billion cubic meters per year in 2007. DK

GERMANY CONCERNED ABOUT POSSIBLE TRAVEL CURBS ON BELARUS'S CHORNOBYL-AFFECTED KIDS
Tilman Schmidt-Neuerburg, first secretary of the German Embassy in Minsk, told Belapan on 3 November that German charity organizations and citizens are alarmed at Minsk's apparent intention to impose restrictions on recuperative trips abroad for Chornobyl-affected children. According to the diplomat, Germany ranks second after Italy in the scale of recuperation programs offered to Belarusian children, and the embassy annually issues some 23,000 free visas under such programs. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered on 17 November that any foreign trip offered to Belarusian children by NGOs, be it for recuperation or adoption, should be authorized by the education minister. "Don't you see what children come back from abroad?" Lukashenka told government officials on 17 November (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 23 November 2004). "That 'consumeristic' way of life, as people used to say in the Soviet era, has already engulfed all the youth in the country. Children return from abroad doubly infused with consumerism. We do not need such upbringing." JM

BELARUS REPORTS 12 PERCENT PAY RISE IN JANUARY-OCTOBER
The Statistics Ministry reported that the real average monthly wage for state workers in Belarus rose by 12 percent from January through October, Belapan reported on 3 December. In this period the official dollar equivalent of the average before-tax monthly wage increased from $139.1 to $170.5. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES READINESS TO APPROVE NEW ELECTION LAW, CONSTITUTION...
Leonid Kuchma said on 6 December that he is ready to sign a new presidential election bill jointly with a constitutional-reform bill cutting the president's powers immediately after they are passed by lawmakers, even if he has to go to the Verkhovna Rada building, Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma pledged to cooperate with the opposition in forming a new government and a new Central Election Commission (TsVK) after the approval of these two bills. "I confirm my readiness for compromise; this requires only the good will, not a language of ultimatums," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua) quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

...AS OUR UKRAINE DEMANDS DISMISSALS BEFORE MAKING THESE CHANGES
Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine caucus announced in the Verkhovna Rada on 6 December that it will vote for a new presidential election law and a constitutional reform shifting the balance of power from the president to the prime minister and the parliament on condition that President Kuchma fires Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev, Interior Minister Mykola Belokon, and the governors of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Transcarpathian, and Sumy oblasts, the Ukrainian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said lawmakers have proposed new candidates for the TsVK who, however, overlap by 80 percent with the body's old composition. "What was the use of passing a no-confidence vote in the TsVK?" Lytvyn said, apparently referring to a parliamentary vote on 27 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). JM

A RIFT BETWEEN YUSHCHENKO'S OUR UKRAINE AND SOCIALIST PARTY?
The Verkhovna Rada on 4 December failed to agree on changing the presidential election law to prevent vote rigging and amending the constitution to cut the president's powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The failure was due to Yushchenko's Our Ukraine caucus, which refused to vote on both measures at once. The introduction of a constitutional reform was the main condition under which Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz supported Yushchenko's presidential bid following the first election round on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). "This means that there may not be changes to the constitution and our monarchist form of rule will continue," Moroz said on 4 December. Yuliya Tymoshenko, a staunch ally of Yushchenko, said the same day that Yushchenko's supporters want the parliament to pass changes to the presidential election law before tackling the constitutional reform. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER VOWS TO RUN IN REPEAT VOTE
Yanukovych said on 4 November that he will stand against Yushchenko again in a rerun of the presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "He is convinced he will win the second time as he won the first time since 15 million Ukrainians stand behind him," Yanukovych's spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, told journalists. Herman added that Yanukovych regards the Supreme Court's decision invalidating the 21 November runoff as having been made "under huge political pressure." If one candidate withdraws from the repeat vote the other, in order to be elected, will have to obtain at least 50 percent plus one vote in a ballot involving no less than 50 percent of eligible voters. JM

UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT ORDERS RE-RUN OF PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF
After five days of hearings and deliberations, the Supreme Court on 3 December invalidated a decision of the country's election commission (TsVK) of 24 November declaring Yanukovych the winner of the 21 November presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international media reported. Simultaneously the court ruled that the second round of presidential elections be repeated within the subsequent three weeks, that is, by 26 December. In passing its verdict, the court accepted the arguments of opposition candidate Yushchenko's lawyers that the TsVK acted illegally when it awarded victory to Yanukovych without taking into account more than 1,000 complaints about election irregularities and fraud that were filed by Yushchenko's election staff at various courts throughout the country. "Ukraine is henceforth a true democratic state," Yushchenko said after the ruling on Independence Square in Kyiv, to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of supporters who gathered there for the 12th consecutive day. JM

U.S. HAILS RULING FOR REPEAT VOTE IN UKRAINE
Washington welcomed the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruling that there should be a rerun of the 21 November presidential runoff in Ukraine, Reuters reported on 3 December. "What is important now is to move ahead quickly as called for by the Supreme Court to ensure a new vote that is fair, free, and that results in an outcome that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted. "The court's decision is an important step in moving toward a peaceful, democratic resolution that reflects the will of the people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the same day. JM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS FORMER BOSNIAN SERB COMMANDER'S RIGHT TO A PENSION...
Boris Tadic told the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 6 December that war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is entitled to a military pension (http://www.nezavisne.com/dnevne/dogadjaji/dog12062004-01.php). Because High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo recently that the Bosnian Serb military kept Mladic on their payroll until 2002, "Nezavisne novine" asked Tadic -- a former defense minister of Serbia and Montenegro -- whether he knew about Mladic receiving a pension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). Tadic replied that he did not much concern himself with Mladic's file, adding, however, that "it is correct that...Mladic receives a pension like all officers of the Army of the Republika Srpska. A pension is an acquired right, and according to our laws that right does not lapse." PM

...SAYS RELATIVES RECEIVE IT...
Asked whether this means that Mladic receives his pension in Belgrade, the president replied: "He doesn't collect it, but someone does in his name, probably his son or some other member of his family." Tadic reiterated that "according to the laws of this country and all countries in the world...the right to a pension does not lapse because someone is prosecuted for a war crime or even if he is convicted of a war crime. Even if Ratko Mladic were convicted of a war crime, members of his family would have the right to receive his pension." PM

...ALTHOUGH THE PENSION WAS NEWS FOR A MINISTER
Serbia and Montenegro's minister for human and minority rights, Rasim Ljajic, who also chairs the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague tribunal, told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" of 5 December that he learned only recently that General Mladic received a military pension from Serbia and Montenegro until two months ago, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ljajic added that he learned of the matter from two U.S. envoys, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July and 29 November 2004). It is not clear whether Mladic continues to receive a pension, as Tadic suggests is the case, or whether payment stopped earlier in 2004, as Ljajic implies. PM

UN REJECTS SERBIAN REQUEST TO BLOCK ELECTION OF KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER
The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) ruled on 5 December that the parliament's election two days earlier of Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova was legitimate, dpa reported. The ruling came in response to a demand by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on 4 December that UNMIK annul Haradinaj's election on the grounds that the former commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) "is a war-crimes suspect." Kostunica argued that the "Serbian authorities will face numerous difficulties...[in dealing] with such a person." Kostunica described the election as a "risky and provocative choice." The Serbian authorities have previously charged Haradinaj with war crimes in connection with the killing of 40 Serbian civilians in western Kosova in 1998 and the death of six Serbian youths in a Peja cafe in a separate incident. Haradinaj has denied the charges, arguing that the UCK was a very loosely structured organization and that he was often out of touch for long periods with units nominally subordinate to him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April, 9 July, 20 August, and 10 September 2004). On 3 December, Kosova's parliament reelected President Ibrahim Rugova for a second three-year term. PM

MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OF INACTIVITY
Nikola Gruevski, who heads the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), accused the government on 4 December of not doing enough to resolve the situation in the village of Kondovo at the outskirts of Skopje, which is reportedly controlled by an armed group of ethnic Albanians, "Vreme" reported (see "RFE/RL 30 November 2004). "I heard that the Interior Ministry has been instructed several times to do something about [the situation in Kondovo], but it has not started any operation yet," Gruevski said, adding that the government is waiting for ethnic Albanian political leaders to negotiate with the armed groups. "I regard it as a terrible lack of professionalism that state institutions are excluded [from dealing with the matter]," Gruevski argued. Prime Minister-designate Vlado Buckovski said on 5 December that opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci has told him that he is ready to negotiate with the armed group together with Ali Ahmeti, who heads the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, the private A1 TV reported. UB

SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS NEW GOVERNMENT
The Slovenian parliament voted 51-37 to approve the new center-right cabinet of Prime Minister Janez Jansa of the Democratic Party, Reuters reported. Jansa has promised to meet criteria to enable Slovenia to join the euro zone with a stable currency and low inflation. He has also vowed to cut takes, increase labor flexibility, and speed up privatization. His government is also expected to place more emphasis on better relations with the United States than did its center-left predecessor. A big question mark remains the future of Slovenian-Croatian relations, which have been bedeviled by frontier questions and several other issues stemming from the breakup of former Yugoslavia in 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October and 3 December 2004). PM

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT GIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF...
The Constitutional Court on 3 December validated the results of the 28 November presidential elections, Mediafax reported. The court earlier rejected appeals submitted to it by the National-Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, the Greater Romania Party (PRM), and the extraparliamentary New Generation Party (PNG) to invalidate results due to irregularities in the electoral process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 1, 2, and 3 December 2004). MS

...WHICH IS MARRED BY NEW SCANDAL INVOLVING NASTASE
The daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 4 December carried the purported minutes of a meeting of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) leadership in which Prime Minister Adrian Nastase asks his colleagues whether allegations concerning a $700 million bribe received by two ministers for the July 2004 sale of the state-owned Petrom company have any substance. The daily also released via Internet the audiotape of the meeting, in which Nastase is heard saying that if the allegations (made by the PRM weekly "Romania mare") are true, "this is twice incorrect, for the $700 million was not passed on to the party." The PNL-Democratic Party alliance said it will ask for an inquest. Economy and Commerce Minister Dan Ioan Popescu denied the allegation and said the Petrom privatization deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004) was "transparent and professional," Mediafax reported. Popescu also said that Nastase was "making a joke" when he made the statement carried by "Evenimentul zilei." MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE WILL SUPPORT BASESCU IN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF...
The PNL-Democratic Party opposition alliance on 3 December called on Romanians to support its candidate, Traian Basescu, in the 12 December runoff, Mediafax reported. The opposition alliance also said it would not agree to form a ruling coalition with the PSD and abstained from mentioning in this connection its intentions regarding the PRM. Basescu later explained that the alliance refrained from explicitly excluding the PRM because it wants to enlist the support of that party's electorate in the runoff. He also said he does not rule out conducting coalition parleys with the Humanist Party (PUR). On 5 December the PUR, which ran on joint lists with the PSD in the parliamentary elections, said it "rejects any cooperation" with the PNL-Democratic Party alliance and on 3 December it said it intends to back Nastase against Basescu in the runoff. Nastase on 4 December called on the opposition alliance to clarify whether it intends to form a governmental coalition with the PRM. PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor said on 3 December that he continues to call on his party's supporters to boycott the runoff, but would opt for Basescu if he had to choose between the candidates. MS

...WHILE HUNGARIAN PARTY WANTS DEPUTY-PREMIER POST IN PSD-LED GOVERNMENT
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Executive Chairman Csaba Takacs said on 4 December that his party is demanding a deputy premiership in the envisaged new coalition led by the PSD, Mediafax reported. Takacs said the UDMR proposes its chairman, Bela Marko, for the post. Marko met with outgoing premier Nastase the previous day and confirmed the UDMR is launching coalition parleys with that party. On the other hand, PNL Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu claimed on 5 December that the PNL-Democratic Party alliance "continues negotiations" with the UDMR. MS

BULGARIAN COURT FINES ROMANIAN REPORTER
A Bulgarian court in Russe on 3 December fined Romanian investigative television reporter George Buhnici 1,000 leva ($682.6) and ordered the confiscation of the hidden camera he was using to film alleged illicit cross-border cigarette smuggling, Reuters and Mediafax reported. Buhnici's detention triggered international protests. The reporter said he had expected to be acquitted, but called the sentence "the least of all evils." Under the charge, he might have been sentenced to up to three years in jail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 November 2004). MS

CHISINAU MAYOR QUESTIONED BY POLICE, PROHIBITED FROM LEAVING MOLDOVA...
Opposition Democratic Moldova bloc leader and Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean was summoned on 3 December by a writ to the police's Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (CCOCC), Infotag and Flux reported. Urechean was questioned for over five hours in connection with alleged "abuse of office" involving the illicit privatization of construction sites in central Chisinau. Seven high-ranking Chisinau city officials have been detained since September in connection with the affair. Urechean refused to testify or sign the interrogation protocols and was charged and released on the condition that he not leave Moldova. Urechean, who is believed to be a viable candidate in Moldova's April 2005 presidential elections, earlier said the scandal is aimed at discrediting himself and the municipality. MS

...AS MOLDOVAN NGOS WARN AGAINST DANGER OF MASSIVE CIVIC CONFRONTATION
Several Moldovan nongovernmental organizations and prominent intellectuals on 3 December issued a statement warning that "the dictatorial behavior of the current Moldova leadership risks pushing the country into a large-scale civil confrontation," Infotag reported. The statement said: "The communist authorities do all they can to remove the opposition from the political arena. They fabricate criminal cases, detain and arrest people, [and] intimidate or fire employees who refuse to obey the ruling party." The statement was issued before Urechean was summoned to police and warned that information available to the signatories indicates that the mayor is being targeted for political reprisal. Our Moldova Co-Chairman Vyacheslav Untila warned that the authorities might be faced with "Georgia-like" and "Ukraine-like" protests. MS

'KOSOVA'S MANDELA' SAYS THAT INDEPENDENCE IS THE KEY TO THE FUTURE
Adem Demaci, who is known as "Kosova's Mandela" because he served nearly 30 years in Yugoslav communist prisons, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service recently that Kosova's new parliament is likely to be much more lively than its predecessor. He also stressed the importance of independence as the key to Kosova's economic recovery (see interview at: http://www.danas.org/article/2004/11/19/30a1271c-156b-482c-99ed-ee9ecfd8056f.html).

Demaci became a great moral authority in Kosova because his long years in prison never dampened his spirit or drove him to hatred. Albin Kurti, a leader of the Kosovar student movement in the 1990s, once told "RFE/RL Newsline" that Demaci has always maintained the enthusiasm and energy of a teenager. Demaci himself said to "Newsline" that the several years he spent in solitary confinement were the happiest ones in his life "because I was never closer to God."

Now advanced in years, Demaci until recently held a largely honorific post at Kosova's largest public broadcaster, RTK. Although there have been periodic reports in the media that he might enter active politics, he seems to prefer to remain on the sidelines, exerting his moral authority and making often biting comments on the absurdities and injustices he sees around him.

Speaking to RFE/RL, he said that there is no point wasting words regarding the formation of the new coalition government between President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK). Demaci argued that the LDK, which is the strongest party in the parliament, chose the AAK as its coalition partner because the AAK is only the third-largest parliamentary group and therefore presumably much easier to manipulate than would be Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), which is the second strongest legislative party.

Demaci added that it is probably no great loss to Kosova that the former broad-based coalition will be replaced by a smaller coalition and an opposition. He said that if the opposition is active and critical, "we will learn about many things that were previously swept under the rug." Demaci added that he is confident that Thaci and Veton Surroi, whose Ora party is the fourth largest parliamentary party, will provide a robust opposition.

Demaci believes that it remains an open question whether Haradinaj, who is prime minister designate, will do well in that office. Demaci pointed out that there is strong suspicion that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal might soon indict the AAK leader in connection with his role as a commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) during the 1998-99 conflict, and that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) and some Western diplomats are trying to block his appointment. In any event, Demaci concluded, Haradinaj's immediate political future is more in the hands of "outside forces than of domestic ones."

The former political prisoner also discussed the need for Kosova's independence, stressing that many important issues cannot be dealt with before the province's final and independent status is clarified. "We have 100 problems here, but everything is linked to the question of independence. For example, we cannot engage in economic and financial cooperation with the outside world because everybody tells us 'you're not a state and have nobody to guarantee our investments,'" Demaci noted.

He added that Kosova currently lacks the authority to make the most basic decisions regarding its future, including its finances, the economy, or holding elections. He argues that it was an unjust imposition by the international community to require that the 23 October parliamentary elections be conducted with closed party lists, since this prevented the full exercise of democracy and the right to choose individual or independent candidates.

What Kosova needs, Demaci believes, is the opportunity to create its own state based on the rule of law, which will include not only the ethnic Albanian majority but also "the minorities who live and who will decide to live with us."

He does not have a high opinion of the international community's "standards before status" formula, however. Demaci agrees that the standards -- including the right to security and freedom of movement -- represent a noble ideal to which all peoples, societies, and countries should aspire. But he also notes that "in Kosova there are no means to realize such aims" at present, adding that "there are many countries in Europe that have not realized them," either.

Demaci suspects that the requirement for meeting standards was imposed on Kosova as an excuse to put "pressure on the Albanians" and eventually partition the province along ethnic lines as a sop to Serbia. He regards this as unacceptable and an impediment to progress, which he equates with independence.

In fact, Kosova has a European future only as an independent country, Demaci argues. His remarks contrast with some recent proposals from German opposition politicians to make Kosova an EU protectorate, and with recent remarks by Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic that Kosova should become what he called a "European region" within the boundaries of Serbia.

"Kosova's Mandela" nonetheless retains his optimism regarding people and the possibility of Serbs and Albanians to live together. "All nations and all people are good people. There are no bad nations. I do not agree with those Albanians who say that there are no good Serbs and that all of them are bad. I'm someone who believes in man and believes that if we create [real] conditions for living together on the basis of equality and without meddling or violence...then we can achieve it."

AFGHAN ULEMA COUNCIL CONDEMNS REMARK BY RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER
The General Council of Afghanistan's Ulema (religious scholars) condemned in a statement issued on 5 December the remarks made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov during a visit to India on 1 December, Afghanistan Television reported. Ivanov had criticized amnesty offers for moderate members of the neo-Taliban and had expressed Moscow's concern about attempts to "Pashtunize Afghanistan" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004). In its statement, the council said the "irresponsible" remarks made by Ivanov "indicate his desire for the return of the past chaotic situation in Afghanistan," which was mainly due to "intervention and aggression" by the Soviet Union. The council deemed the remarks made by Ivanov "direct interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs." The statement called on Moscow to clarify whether Ivanov's remarks reflected the official policy of the Russian Federation and asked India to react to its guests' remarks so as "to prevent harming" friendly relations between Kabul and New Delhi. A number of publications in Afghanistan have also reacted strongly to Ivanov's comments. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and fought a bloody war against Afghan mujahedin until 1989. AT

KABUL EXPECTS MANY SENIOR INTERNATIONAL OFFICIALS FOR KARZAI INAUGURATION
Around 150 senior officials representing 49 countries and international organizations are expected to converge on Kabul for the inauguration of Afghan President-elect Hamed Karzai on 7 December, Radio Afghanistan reported on 5 December. The NATO-led International Security Force is beefing up security in and around Kabul for possible attacks by militants, AFP reported on 5 December. "Most of the streets are going to be closed," Anosha Ahmadi, from Karzai's press office, told AFP. The list of dignitaries includes U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Most Western countries have not announced which officials will be attending the ceremony for security reasons. AT

AFGHAN LEADER ORDERS ANTIDRUG SUMMIT...
Hamid Karzai has ordered that a two-day summit on illegal drugs in Afghanistan begin work on 9 December, AFP reported on 4 December. Karzai has called on Afghanistan's senior figures, including religious elders and political representatives, to gather in Kabul in order to address the country's opium poppy problem, which the Afghan leader has put at the top of his agenda as president. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime indicated in a November report that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 64 percent in 2004 compared to 2003 (for more on the topic, see feature above and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, 1 September, 18 November and 3 December 2004). AT

...WHILE U.K. PLANS TO MOVE 5,000 TO COMBAT AFGHANISTAN'S POPPY PROBLEM
The United Kingdom is planning to move around 5,000 troops to Afghanistan's southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces to combat that country's growing opium poppy production, the London daily "The Independent" reported on 5 December. According to the plan, which is to be carried out in 2006, British troops would replace the existing U.S. troops in the region though the United States would continue to provide air support. An unidentified British army source told the paper that "eradication will be done by Afghans...[but] a British rapid-reaction force would be needed if things go wrong -- if eradication teams are attacked, for example." The source acknowledged that deployment of more British troops would not be an easy task, "but drugs are such a big problem that dramatic action has to be taken," he added. The United Kingdom is the lead country in the effort to combat Afghanistan's rapidly increasing narcotics problem. AT

IRAN SAYS IT MIGHT NOT ALLOW IAEA TO INSPECT MILITARY SITES
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 5 December that his country is not obliged to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to visit military sites suspected of carrying out secret nuclear-weapons work, AFP reported on 6 December. "It is not a matter of unlimited commitments and unlimited inspections," Asefi said. The IAEA has asked to visit the Parchin military base, where U.S. officials have alleged that Iran may be testing "high-explosive shaped charges with an inert core of depleted uranium" in an attempt to discover how a bomb with fissile material would work. An Iranian opposition group has alleged that a second site, Lavizan II, is involved in enriching uranium. Iran contends that its nuclear program is to generate electricity. Iran avoided UN sanctions last week when it reached a deal with Germany, France, and the U.K. to suspend its controversial fuel-cycle work in exchange for various incentives. Former President and Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 3 December that the freeze will not last more than six months. Meanwhile, Asefi told reporters: "A temporary suspension means a short while, not a long time"; but did not specify or support the time frame given by Rafsanjani. KR

IRANIAN LEADER SAYS NO PROSPECT FOR RAPPROCHEMENT WITH U.S.
Hasan Rowhani, the secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council and architect of the Iranian nuclear program, told London's "Al-Hayat" that he sees no prospect for improved relations between Iran and the U.S., the daily reported on 5 December. "The U.S. administration realizes that Iran's possession of the nuclear fuel production cycle is not only technologically important for Iran and its independence but also gives this country a special political stature. They do not want Iran to have this capability and this stature," Rowhani said. He called on the U.S. to "descend from [its] ivory tower and talk to us." "If we sense a change on their side, we can make a decision, but in the current circumstances, I do not see hope," he said. KR

IRAN HANDS TERROR SUSPECT TO EGYPT
The Iranian government has reportedly handed Egyptian national Mustafa Hamza to Egyptian authorities, AP reported on 5 December. Hamza is the alleged mastermind of a 1995 failed assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak. Hamza has been sentenced to death in absentia three times since 1992: for training militants in Afghanistan and sending them to Egypt to carry out attacks, for terrorist attacks, and for the attempted assassination of an Egyptian cabinet member, AP reported. He is believed to have been held under house arrest in Iran since October 2003. He is a member of the Islamic Group. Hani al-Siba'i, a former leader of the outlawed Egyptian Islamic Jihad, told AP that Hamza was handed over "a few weeks ago" in exchange for security information about Iranian opposition members in Egypt. Al-Siba'i told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Hamza was "kidnapped and handed over against his will," the daily reported on 5 December. "Iran now is not like Khomeini's Iran. Now Iran is like any secular country. It's just using Islam as a slogan. This is a low deal," he told AP, which reported that Iranian-Egyptian relations appear to be improving and that the two states may soon resume full diplomatic ties. KR

MILITANTS LAUNCH ATTACKS IN FIVE IRAQI CITIES
Militants targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilian contractors in attacks in five Iraqi cities on 5 December, international media reported. Seventeen Iraqi contractors were killed and 13 wounded when militants fired on a bus transporting them to their jobs at a U.S.-controlled ammunition depot near Tikrit, Reuters reported on the same day. A suicide car bomber targeted a National Guard convoy in Bayji, killing commander Muhammad Jassim Rumayid and three of his bodyguards. In Al-Latifiyah, militants killed two guardsmen and wounded four others in an attack. One Iraqi soldier was killed and four wounded in Samarra, when militants attacked their patrol, washingtonpost.com reported on 6 December. Meanwhile, 850 British soldiers from the Black Watch regiment pulled out of their base south of Baghdad and returned to Al-Basrah, the website reported. KR

INTERIM IRAQI PRESIDENT RULES OUT ELECTION DELAY...
Ghazi al-Yawir said on 5 December that any delay in elections would increase resentment within the Iraqi community, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "The worst thing we can do is to postpone the elections, because it will be a tactical victory for the rebels and dark forces. Therefore, I have formed a political movement and entity to encourage all Iraqi sects to participate, so that the silent majority in Iraq can have its say," al-Yawir said in Washington. He is scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on 6 December, AP reported. The news agency cited al-Yawir as telling reporters in Baghdad last week that the insurgency has obstructed voter registration in some areas of the country. He told NBC television on 5 December: "If we can do something in these areas by enhancing the security situation, lots of people are willing to join in now.... The problem is they are fearing reprisal of these people who are doing these bad actions," AP reported. KR

...AS UN SPECIAL ADVISER SAYS ELECTIONS 'IMPOSSIBLE'
United Nations Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi said on 4 December that elections in Iraq cannot be held if the security situation remains as it is, the Dutch newspaper "NRC Handelsblad" reported the same day. Brahimi said that Sunnis would be "denied a right" if elections are not held in all parts of the country due to insecurity. He criticized the approach of the United States and the Iraqi interim government in dealing with the insurgency, saying: "If the United States and Prime Minister Allawi kill 50 people whom they regard as their enemies and, by this action, incite 500 others to join the rebellion, this is no improvement." Several political parties, including the Iraqi Islamic Party, met in Baghdad on 5 December and demanded that the elections be postponed for six months, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "All those who want elections to be held are Shi'ites. However, not all Shi'ites are for holding the elections on 30 January. No Arabs or Sunnis demand that the elections be held on 30 January because the security situation is not suitable in the Arab Sunni cities and communities," the satellite news channel quoted Iraqi Homeland Party head Mish'an al-Juburi as saying. KR

SHI'ITE LIST ANNOUNCED
A committee formed by Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to bring Shi'ite candidates and political parties together on a unified electoral list has announced that it has selected 200 candidates to participate in the January elections, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 4 December. Citing sources from the Al-Murtada Foundation's media committee and others close to al-Sistani, the radio said that half of the candidates on the list are independents, while the other half consists of individuals representing Islamic and national parties. The parties reportedly include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Badr Organization, the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, the Islamic Action Organization, the Iraqi National Congress, the Al-Fadilah Party, as well as supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Turkomans, Al-Mandani Sa'ibah, Shi'ite Kurds, and some unnamed Christian and Sunni groups. KR

MORE DEAD NATIONAL GUARDSMEN FOUND IN MOSUL
Iraqi police discovered the bodies of nine National Guardsmen in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 5 December, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. The report cited an official at Tel Afar Hospital as saying that four decapitated bodies of guardsmen were brought to the hospital, while Sinjar Hospital reported receiving the bodies of five guardsmen killed by gunfire. The television reported that more than 27 dead National Guardsmen have been found in the city in the past 10 days. "Al-Zaman" reported on 4 December that residents have reported a heavy presence of insurgents on the eastern side of the city, which is mostly inhabited by Kurds. Seventeen Kurdish peshmergas were killed and 40 wounded when a booby-trapped car exploded in Mosul on 4 December, Al-Arabiyah reported. AP reported that nine were killed and another nine wounded in the attack. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in the city in a 4 December attack on a patrol in the city, defenselink.mil reported the following day. Militants tried to seize four police stations on 3 December, but were repelled, while 70 fighters ambushed a U.S. patrol in the city, AP reported on 5 December. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG