PUTIN WARNS WEST AGAINST MEDDLING IN UKRAINE...
In his first public reaction to the Ukrainian Supreme Court's 3 December decision to nullify the second round of Ukraine's presidential election, President Vladimir Putin, at a 6 December press conference in Ankara, Turkey, told journalists that he considers Western support for the "orange revolution" in Kyiv to be "intolerable," RTR and other media reported. "One can play the role of a mediator but one must not meddle and apply pressure. Only the people of any country -- and this includes Ukraine in the full sense -- can decide their fate," Putin said. He suggested that Western meddling in Ukrainian affairs will create "new divisions in Europe." "I don't want, as in Germany, for us to divide Europe into westerners and easterners, into first-class and second-class people," Putin said. He also said that Russia is openly and correctly working with Ukraine's government. "Of course we will...accept the will of any nation in the former Soviet space and will work with any elected leader," Putin concluded. VY
...SLAMS UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER...
President Putin also on 6 December criticized recent comments made by Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who said that he was prepared to use force if necessary to take power in Ukraine. In comments made to Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" on 5 December, Yushchenko said that "if the old regime tries to interfere in any way and tries to defy the will of the people and of parliament, we will simply storm our way into the cabinet office. This is what people want." In response, Putin said that it is completely unacceptable to make threats that leave people with no choice. "When a political leader says that 'whatever happens, whatever the result of the elections, we will take power, including by force,' this is not just pressure, it is intimidation of the people," Putin said. VY
...WHILE UKRAINIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAYS PUTIN WAS WRONG TO CRITICIZE
Yuliya Tymoshenko, a prominent Ukrainian opposition leader, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 December that President Putin's recent criticism of the Ukrainian opposition is based on the incorrect perception that "the personality of the future Ukrainian president will define the strategic vector of Ukrainian foreign policy." According to Tymoshenko, Putin thinks that only Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych will cooperate with Russia and the CIS. "Regardless of who is elected Ukrainian president, relations between Russia and Ukraine will be warm and friendly," she said. The difference, she added, is that if Yushchenko is president, these relations will not be based on clan politics and behind-the-scenes deals. "Very soon, Putin will realize that it is better to cooperate with a democratic Ukraine, which will be a more reliable and predictable partner," Tymoshenko said. VY
EXPERTS DEBATE CONSEQUENCES OF UKRAINIAN CRISIS FOR RUSSIA
Institute of Globalization President Mikhail Delyagin said on 6 December that the current events in Ukraine signify that Russia is entering a new "Time of Troubles," referring to the historical period in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, apn.ru reported. The direct reproduction of Ukraine's "orange revolution" in Russia is impossible because in Russia democracy has already been eliminated in both form and essence, he said. The publisher of the radical weekly "Zavtra," Aleksandr Prokhanov, said that he believes that the "orange revolution" is the result of Western interference, but this is unlikely to happen in Russia, apn.ru reported on 4 December. Prokhanov also said that, in many ways, Ukraine's "revolution" relies on the mass media and, in Russia, the mass media are completely controlled by the Kremlin. As for the "fourth estate" in Russia, it simply does not exist anymore, Prokhanov said. VY
PUBLIC SEES DANGER OF UPHEAVAL IN RUSSIA...
Two-thirds of Russians believe the country's current sociopolitical situation is fraught with the possibility of social upheaval, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 6 December, citing a new survey by the Levada Analytical Center. A similar survey in January found that 54 percent of respondents thought such upheaval likely. According to the latest poll, 20 percent of respondents believe the situation is tranquil, while 51 percent said that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Just 18 percent said they are satisfied with their current material situation, while 24 percent said they "can't take any more." Twenty-four percent said they are prepared to participate in protests against economic conditions and 19 percent said they would participate in work stoppages. In January, 32 percent said they trusted media accounts of the situation in Chechnya, while 65 percent said they did not. In the latest poll, 22 percent said they believe such media reports, while 75 percent said they do not. Pollster Yurii Levada told the daily that the January poll came in the wake of the December 2003 Duma elections and the public was relatively optimistic, while the latest survey was influenced by the September hostage taking at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. RC
...WHILE EXPERTS ARE DIVIDED
In the light of the ongoing events in Ukraine, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 December asked a number of Russian politicians and analysts whether something similar could happen in Russia. Konstantin Remchukov, an adviser to Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, said that events such as those in Ukraine are "a matter of people protesting against people who have already been in power for at least two terms and who have made people sick of them." In Russia, he added, "people continue to link their expectations of imposing order and social justice with [President] Putin." Strategic Studies Center Director Andrei Piontkovskii said the impact of Ukrainian events on Russia "will be fairly strong." "A large part of the irritation that our leadership and the political elite are displaying is fear that yet another precedent is being created in the post-Soviet space for breaking down the model of managed democracy and the model of the inheritance of power," Piontkovskii said. Duma Deputy Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia) said "there is no such revolutionary situation in Russia today, and there can be none." "All attempts to bestow a revolution on us have no prospects," he added. "There is no tension in society, and there is no crisis of power or ideology." RC
RUSSIA AND TURKEY AGREE TO DEVELOP DEEPER ECONOMIC TIES
President Putin, after talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer, signed a joint declaration on 6 December upgrading bilateral relations to the level of a "multidimensional partnership," international agencies reported. Putin also signed, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials, six other agreements concerning energy, finance, security, and intellectual-property protection. Speaking at a press conference in Ankara, Putin said that business contacts between the two countries have reached the same level Russia has with Italy, Germany, and France, and he promised to make conditions easier for Turkish businesspeople entering Russia. Putin noted that billions of dollars of revenue are brought to the Turkish economy by small-time cross-border traders and tourists, adding that if Turkey joins the EU such trade would be jeopardized. Meanwhile, Putin also said that he supports the Turkish government's position of not allowing the U.S.-led coalition to base forces in the country for its military operations in Iraq. "It is an independent and very surprising position," Putin said, VY
FBI DIRECTOR SIGNS COOPERATION ACCORDS WITH RUSSIAN COUNTERPARTS
FBI Director Robert Mueller arrived in Moscow on 6 December and held a closed-door meeting with Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, Russian and Western media reported. According to a press release from Ustinov's office, both law enforcement heads discussed the "investigation of particular criminal cases linked with terrorism, as well as the fight against crime in the area of intellectual property and other topical issues," strana.ru reported. Mueller also met with Interior Minster Rashid Nurgaliev and discussed strengthening cooperation between the two organizations, on which they had agreed in May when Nurgaliev visited FBI headquarters in Washington. In a meeting with Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev, the two officials signed a memorandum of cooperation on combating international terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. VY
ONE INCUMBENT UNSEATED IN WAVE OF GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS...
Six regions of Russia held gubernatorial elections on 5 December, and second rounds will be required in four of the six later this month, Russian news agencies reported. One incumbent, Pskov Oblast Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov, was ousted, while Astrakhan Oblast acting Governor Aleksandr Zhilkin was elected with more than 65 percent of the vote, according to VolgaInform on 6 December. Former State Duma Deputy from Pskov Mikhail Kuznetsov won with 48.8 percent of the vote, compared with 41.4 percent for Mikhailov, who was seeking a third term, according to politcom.ru. During the first round on 14 November, Kuznetsov lagged behind Mikhailov by 11 percentage points (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). A coalition of opposition groups including the Communist Party and Yabloko backed Kuznetsov, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. In August, President Putin named Zhilkin as acting governor of Astrakhan after the sudden death of longtime Governor Anatolii Guzhvin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party supported Zhilkin, who was Guzhvin's first deputy, according to RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent. JAC
...AS UNIFIED RUSSIA CANDIDATES PERFORM POORLY IN TWO REGIONS...
In Kamchatka and Volgograd oblasts, incumbent governors won the most votes in the first round but not enough to avoid a runoff. Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev gathered 31.6 percent of the vote, compared with 12.0 percent for Ust-Kamchatskii Raion head Boris Nevzorov, according to lenta.ru on 6 December. The local branch of the Unified Russia party and the local fishing industry support Nevzorov, while Mashkovtsev is backed by the Communist Party. In Volgograd Oblast, incumbent and nominal Communist Party member Nikolai Maksyuta led the first round with 41.4 percent of the vote, compared to 13.2 percent for city legislator Nikolai Volkov, Regnum reported on 6 December. The two candidates supported by Unified Russia, State Duma deputies Vladimir Goryunov and Oleg Savchenko, failed to make it to the second round. JAC
...AND WIN IN TWO OTHERS
In Bryansk and Ulyanovsk oblasts, no incumbents were competing. A Bryansk Oblast court on 28 November struck incumbent Governor Yurii Lodkin off the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). Lodkin responded by calling on his supporters to vote against all candidates, and about 20 percent of voters did this, according to RFE/RL's Bryansk correspondent. In Lodkin's absence, Unified Russia Duma Deputy Nikolai Denin led the first round with 44.5 percent of the vote, compared with 12.6 percent for the local Union of Rightist Forces representative Yevgenii Zelenko, according to lenta.ru on 6 December. In Ulyanovsk Oblast, incumbent Governor Vladimir Shamanov announced last month that he would not seek re-election because he had accepted a job as an adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Dmitrovgrad Mayor and Unified Russia party member Sergei Morozov got 27.8 percent of the vote, while Ulyanovsk entrepreneur Sergei Gerasimov finished second with 22 percent, according to RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent. Morozov has already promised a place in his administration to third-place winner, State Duma Deputy Margarita Barzhanova (Unified Russia), who received 15 percent of the vote. Ulyanovsk Oblast legislator Sergei Yermakov on 6 December was elected mayor of the city of Ulyanovsk with 30.49 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
ONE DUMA ELECTION SUCCESSFUL AND ONE INVALID
Low voter turnout on 6 December invalidated a by-election in a Moscow single-mandate district for the Duma seat vacated when Aleksandr Zhukov became deputy prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Turnout was reported to be 24.49 percent, while 25 percent was required to validate the poll. A new election must be held within 12 months. In a single-mandate district in Ulyanovsk, oblast legislator and local Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) branch head Yurii Kogan won a by-election to the Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" and other media reported. The Ulyanovsk poll was the third attempt to elect a deputy from the district, as polls in December 2003 and in March were invalidated when the option "against all" won a plurality of the votes. RC
AUTHORITIES TO RECONSIDER POLITICAL REHABILITATION OF WHITE ADMIRAL
The Constitutional Court has issued a ruling clearing the way for a reconsideration of the case to rehabilitate Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, one of the leaders of the anti-Bolshevik forces during Russia's Civil War, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December. Kolchak was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920. In 1999, a military court in the Far East declined a request to rehabilitate him. A Moscow NGO working to memorialize the victims of political repression has already submitted a new rehabilitation request to prosecutors, the news agency reported. RC
SUPREME COURT TO WEIGH IN AGAIN ON KHOLODOV CASE
The appeal by prosecutors of the 10 June acquittal of six men accused of the 1994 murder of investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov was submitted to the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court on 6 December, "Gazeta" reported on 7 December. The court has one month to assign a date for hearing the appeal. The accused, including four former members of the Airborne Troops, were first acquitted by the Moscow Military District Court in June 2002. The Supreme Court's Military Collegium overturned that acquittal and sent the case back for retrial, which resulted in a second acquittal in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004). According to "Gazeta," the prosecutors' appeal includes charges of more than 1,000 trial errors, based on a transcript of the proceedings. RC
FOREIGN STUDENTS ATTACKED IN MOSCOW, ST. PETERSBURG
Unidentified assailants attacked Ime Brown, a 25-year-old student from Nigeria, near Moscow's Power Engineering Institute on the evening of 4 December, RTR reported on 6 December. Brown, who reportedly arrived in Russia just two weeks ago, was stabbed several times and was hospitalized in serious condition. According to RTR, another student at the institute, Musa al-Kamer, was also attacked by knife-wielding assailants two weeks ago. According to the report, the institute's administration has sent four appeals to the authorities this year urging them to investigate racially motivated assaults. On 6 December, three Chinese students at the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg were attacked by unknown assailants and severely beaten, RTR reported. All three have been hospitalized, and authorities are investigating the incident. RC
ARMENIAN COALITION PARTNERS AGAIN SEEK CONSENSUS ON ELECTION LAW
Leading members of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, and Orinats Yerkir met with President Robert Kocharian late on 3 December in a further attempt to bridge their differences over proposed amendments to the election law, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 6 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September, 21 October, and 4 and 30 November 2004). Speaking on condition of anonymity, members of the latter two parties said Kocharian is pressuring Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's HHK to accede to demands by the two smaller coalition partners to increase from the present 75 the number of seats in the 131-member legislature allocated under the proportional system. But deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian of the HHK denied those reports as "disinformation." LF
ARMENIAN DIPLOMAT VOWS TO SECURE RELEASE OF JAILED AIRCREW
Armenian Foreign Ministry official Sergei Manesarian told journalists in Yerevan on 6 December that the Armenian authorities will bring the maximum pressure to bear on the government of Equatorial Guinea to secure the release of six Armenian airmen sentenced last month to prison terms of 14-24 years on charges of participating in preparations for a coup to oust that country's leadership, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). Manaserian said the accusations "are nonsense," and lambasted equatorial Guinea as a "rogue state." LF
ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Vartan Oskanian met in Sofia on 5 December with his Azerbaijani counterpart and the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group to resume their talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported on 6 December. No details of the discussion were made public. LF
ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY PULLS OUT OF LOCAL ELECTIONS
At a session on 5 December, the leadership of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party confirmed its earlier tentative decision not to participate in the municipal elections scheduled for 17 December, Turan reported on 6 December. The opposition Musavat party has already said it will not participate in that ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004), while the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party still intends to do so, its chairman Etibar Mamedov told journalists in Baku on 2 December, Turan reported. A Council of Europe delegation will arrive in Azerbaijan to monitor the ballot, Turan reported on 6 December. LF
FORMER BAKU MAYOR CHALLENGES DATE OF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S DEATH
In an interview published on 7 December in the opposition daily "Yeni Musavat," former Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev claimed that he saw the casket containing the body of President Heidar Aliyev being loaded on to a plane at Ankara airport on 6 August 2003. Aliyev was transported to the Turkish military hospital in Gulhane near Ankara in early July 2003; in early August, Azerbaijani officials refuted persistent rumors that he had died. On 6 August 2003, it was announced that Aliyev had been flown from Ankara to the United States for treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. His death was announced on 12 December 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 August and 15 December 2003). Allakhverdiev was a close associate of the late president and one of the co-founders of his Yeni Azerbaycan Party. In recent months, he has been subjected to harsh criticism by members of the present leadership for allegedly betraying the late president and his family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). LF
WOMAN KILLED IN INTERETHNIC VIOLENCE IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA
An elderly woman was killed on 3 December and four people injured in a violent standoff in the village of Kula in Georgia's overwhelmingly Azerbaijani-populated Marneuli Raion, Turan reported on 6 December. Local Azerbaijanis, some with firearms, converged on a local stud farm to demand the right to use land it owns; a security guard opened fire on the Azerbaijanis. The Georgian authorities' reluctance to allocate land to Azerbaijani families is only one factor fuelling mutual animosity and tension that dates back several decades. The Azerbaijani news agency MPA on 6 December quoted Zumrud Gurbanli, leader of the Heirat association to defend the rights of Georgia's estimated 500,000 Azerbaijanis, as warning that the Azerbaijanis will resort to "radical steps," possibly even declaring a separate autonomous formation, unless the Georgian authorities abandon their "discriminatory" policies toward them. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON LOCAL ELECTIONS
Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree on 6 December instructing the Central Election Commission to set up rules for electing the heads of oblasts, towns, and villages starting in 2005, Khabar TV reported. The decree provides for mayoral elections in Astana and Almaty in August 2005. At present, oblast and city heads are appointed, and the opposition has long demanded that they be elected (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 January 2002). President Nazarbaev also signed a decree allowing human rights ombudsmen to take part in court proceedings and request prosecutors to check the legality of court verdicts. DK
...AND DISCUSSES REFORMS WITH RULING PARTY
President Nazarbaev discussed future political reforms at a meeting in Astana on 6 December with members of the ruling Otan party he heads, Khabar TV reported. Noting that 53 members of the 77-seat Mazhilis (lower chamber) are members of Otan, the president said that this is a "big responsibility." Nazarbaev proposed increasing the number of deputies in both chambers of parliament and also giving the legislature greater power to control the country's budget. Nazarbaev suggested the formation of the government by parliamentary majority and parliamentary input in the formation of the Constitutional Council and Central Election Commission. Nazarbaev invited all of the country's political parties to take part in the national commission on democratization and civil society, adding that some proposals by opposition parties, such as Ak Zhol, deserve serious consideration, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Whoever doesn't want to participate," the president said, "That's their problem." He warned, however, that stability remains important and precludes hasty political reforms. DK
HIZB UT-TAHRIR HAS 10,000 SUPPORTERS IN REGION, KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SAYS
Colonel Begejan Akhmedov from Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) has said that the extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir has 3,000 supporters in Kyrgyzstan and 10,000 in Central Asia, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 6 December, citing Interfax. Akhmedov said, "Intelligence shows that cell leaders are placing more and more significance on teaching the use of weapons and explosives." He noted that SNB officers frequently find weapons and ammunition in addition to radical literature when making arrests. Akhmedov said that members contribute 10 percent of their earnings to the organization and that Hizb ut-Tahrir is increasing ties between the organization's branches throughout Central Asia and those in Russia. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which officially eschews violence, espouses the establishment of a caliphate in Central Asia and the implementation of Islamic law. DK
U.S., KYRGYZSTAN SIGN MEMORANDUM ON VOTER MARKING
Sulaiman Imanbaev, chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, signed a memorandum on 6 December in Bishkek with U.S. Ambassador Steven Young on U.S. aid to Kyrgzystan for voter marking during elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The United States will provide financial support for the marking program and training for CEC staff and voters. Under the law on voter marking, voters' left index fingers will be marked with indelible ink to prevent repeat voting. DK
TAJIK GUARDS FINISH TAKEOVER OF PAMIR BORDER SECTION...
Russian border guards handed over the final 100 kilometers of the Pamir section of the Tajik-Afghan border to their Tajik colleagues on 5 December, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Aleksandr Kondratev, a spokesman for Russia's Federal Border Service in Tajikistan, confirmed that the Tajik flag replaced the Russian flag on the border, completing the handover of the 881.6 kilometer Pamir section. Russian border forces will cede jurisdiction of the Moscow and Panj sections in 2005. DK
...AS RUSSIAN TV STORY ON BORDER PROMPTS TAJIK PROTEST
Tajikistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveyed a note to the Russian Embassy in Dushanbe on 6 December expressing concern over a 5 December report on Russia's state-controlled Rossiya network, Tajik TV reported. Calling the report part of "an intentional anti-Tajik campaign in the Russian media," the note disputed the television report's suggestion that the transfer of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik jurisdiction will harm drug interdiction efforts. Tajik television also reported on 6 December that Aleksandr Kondratev, spokesman for Russia's Federal Border Service in Tajikistan, stated that the Rossiya report misrepresented the state of cooperation between Russian and Tajik border guards. Kondratev asked that the journalists responsible for the report be stripped of their accreditation and said that the Federal Security Service will make a special statement to the Rossiya network. DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REACHES OUT TO ARAB WORLD WITH COOPERATION OFFERS...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview with the Al-Arabiyah television network on 6 December that Belarus is ready to cooperate with Arab countries in all areas, Belapan reported, quoting Belarusian official sources. "We have a huge unrealized potential in the scientific, technical, and economic spheres," Lukashenka said. "We are ready to develop it with Arab countries. It is very beneficial to us because Arab countries have never set any conditions for us.... Every time I arrive in a Muslim country they receive me as a friend, as a token of their gratitude to us that we treat them with the deepest respect in Belarus." JM
...AND HAS SOUR WORDS FOR THE UNITED STATES
President Lukashenka reportedly told Al-Arabiyah that his policy of developing friendly ties with the Arab world has been criticized, primarily by Washington. "We have always sought to help Arab countries and are ready to do it now," the Belarusian president pledged. "We are quietly going through these times when the United States is attempting to put pressure on us because we have friends, also in Arab countries." Lukashenka also accused the United States of using human rights issues as a pretext for meddling in Belarus's affairs. "If Belarus were moving in the wake of the U.S. policy, we would face no criticism," he said. "Since Belarus has ventured to conduct independent foreign and domestic policies...this boldness is punishable. So [Washington has] been playing the worn-out human rights card." Lukashenka denied the existence of any "serious" human rights abuses in Belarus. "There is peace on Belarusian streets. Everyone is guaranteed the right to life in the country," Lukashenka assured Arab viewers. JM
UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION MOVE TOWARD COMPROMISE...
Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych took part in roundtable talks in Kyiv on 6 December to resolve the ongoing standoff over the presidential election, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The talks were attended by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Russian State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov. In the early hours of 7 December the sides reached an accord whereby Kuchma will submit to the parliament new candidates for the Central Election Commission and endorse amendments to presidential election law to eliminate election abuse and fraud. JM
...BUT ELECTION STANDOFF STILL FAR FROM RESOLUTION
The sides at the roundtable talks on 6 December have not yet reached an agreement on passing a constitutional reform bill that could limit the president's powers, which Kuchma is insisting on, and dismissing Premier Yanukovych's cabinet, which is demanded by the opposition. Earlier the same day representatives of all parliamentary groups reportedly reached a compromise whereby the Verkhovna Rada will pass amendments to the presidential election law and a constitutional-reform bill immediately after Kuchma sacks Yanukovych's cabinet. Such a scenario was apparently rejected by either Kuchma or Yushchenko at the roundtable talks. It is unclear when, if at all, the opposition will unblock the government and presidential administration offices in Kyiv. A statement issued after the 6 December roundtable talks includes a vague clause saying, "The foreign participants in the roundtable consider that after points 2 and 3 [replacement of the Central Election Commission and change of the presidential election law] are implemented, the state administration bodies have to be unblocked." JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER GOES ON LEAVE TO CONDUCT ELECTION CAMPAIGN...
Yanukovych told Ukrainian journalists on 6 December that he is taking leave to campaign for a rerun of the 21 November presidential runoff which, according to last week's ruling of the Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004), should be staged no later than 26 December, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. "The only thing I ask the president, the Verkhovna Rada, and people's deputies, is to allow the current government to work until the end of the election," Yanukovych said. Under Ukraine's Labor Code, the dismissal of a state employee is prohibited when she or he is on sick leave or vacation. JM
...AND BRANDS RIVAL AS EXPONENT OF 'OLD POWER'
Yanukovych on 6 December seemed to disassociate himself from President Kuchma. "My opponents are using a propagandistic stereotype [by referring to] the Kuchma-Yanukovych regime," the premier told journalists. In fact, Yanukovych revealed, he was forced to make compromises with the presidency and "restrain his emotions" because, he added, he wanted to procure an "economic wonder" for all of Ukraine as he did in the Donetsk region when he was governor there in 2002. "I can say openly that two types of state power have existed in our country for the last two years -- old power and new power," Yanukovych said. "So our citizens should make their own conclusions as to whether Yanukovych is a candidate of the new power or the old power. I am sure that Yushchenko represents an attempt by the old power to seek revenge." JM
SERBIAN PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES TO BOSNIANS...
Boris Tadic said in Sarajevo on 6 December that he "apologizes to all against whom a crime was committed in the name of the Serbian people," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He argued that "not the Serbian people, but individual criminals" carried out war crimes during the 1992-95 conflict. Tadic added that "the same crimes were also carried out against our [Serbian] people [by Muslims and Croats], and in that sense we all owe each other an apology. If someone has to take the first step, well, here I am." This was the first such apology offered by a Serbian leader to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the broadcast noted. Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic have exchanged similar apologies, and several Montenegrin leaders have apologized for the role of Montenegrin forces in the Yugoslav army's wartime campaign against Dubrovnik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 15 September 2003). PM
...LEAVING SOME OF HIS SERBIAN CRITICS UNIMPRESSED
Some of Tadic's political rivals in Belgrade criticized his apology on 6 December as inappropriate, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Milos Aligrudic of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia argued that "all sides committed war crimes" during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict and that the issue of reconciliation is too complex and controversial to be dealt with by a single statement by one official. "For that reason, actions speak louder than words," he added. Zarko Obradovic of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia called Tadic's remarks an exercise in "political marketing." Obradovic added that the real issue is reconciliation between "the three peoples of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I don't know why it should be necessary for the president of Serbia to apologize for crimes committed on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina." PM
U.S. SLAMS SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER OVER NONCOOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper said in The Hague on 6 December that the Serbian authorities do not cooperate with the war crimes tribunal based in that Dutch city, Reuters reported. "There is zero cooperation and Prime Minister [Kostunica] bears responsibility for this. He is making the situation more difficult for the Serbian people because he is not asking his [security] services or requiring his services to go arrest the fugitives," the envoy added. His remarks echo recent statements by Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). PM
KOSOVAR PRIME MINISTER OFFERS SERBIA A DIALOGUE...
Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) took office as prime minister on 6 December, pledging to make progress on implementing the international community's standards by May, when a decision on launching talks about Kosova's final status is expected to be reached at the UN, Prishtina dailies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). He told the private Serbian Beta news agency that he is "ready at any moment, even tomorrow, to begin a dialogue with Belgrade.... I will go to Belgrade whenever they invite me and am ready to meet anyone who comes [to Kosova] from Belgrade." Haradinaj stressed that he has "no prejudices. I know what I'm going to do for Kosova, [and] it will be necessary to meet and discuss everything of interest to Kosovars and Serbs." PM
...BUT SERBIA STILL WANTS HIS OUSTER
Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads Kosova's UN civilian administration, on 6 December in Sofia that Belgrade demands the replacement of Haradinaj, whom many Serbs consider a war criminal for his role as a guerrilla commander for the Kosova Liberation Army in the 1998-99 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Jessen-Petersen repeated his view that Haradinaj was elected prime minister according to democratic rules (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). PM
BOSNIAN SERB COMMANDER PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY' IN THE HAGUE
Former Bosnian Serb General Dragomir Milosevic told the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 7 December that he is not guilty of four counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of violations of the laws and customs of war relating to his time as a commander of the Bosnian Serb Army during the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004). He voluntarily went to The Hague on 3 December. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADERS NEGOTIATE WITH ARMED GROUP
Ali Ahmeti, who heads the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), and opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci held three-hour talks in the village of Kondovo outside Skopje on 6 December with a group of armed ethnic Albanians, the private A1 TV and other Macedonian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 6 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2004). During the talks, the armed men reportedly demanded that the government fully implement an existing amnesty for former members of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), which launched an insurgency against Macedonian authorities in early 2001. Ahmeti was the UCK's political leader at the time. After the meeting, Ahmeti repeated his stance that unspecified media reports have exaggerated the size of the armed group. Ahmeti said the predominantly young men talked about the problems they have with Macedonian authorities, while Thaci said he told the armed group that it is up to the political parties to resolve political problems. UB
UDMR BACKS NASTASE IN ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko announced on 6 December that his political formation backs the candidacy of outgoing Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in the 12 December runoff, the dailies "Evenimentul zilei," "Adevarul," and "Ziua" reported the next day. The announcement was made after the first meeting on forming the new ruling coalition between representatives of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Humanist Party (PUR), and the UDMR. According to these reports, the UDMR is asking for eight portfolios in the future cabinet and the PUR for four portfolios. The two junior coalition partners might also be represented at the deputy-premier level and the UDMR is asking for prefect positions in counties with large Hungarian minorities. MS
ROMANIAN STATE TELEVISION REPORTER SAYS STATION HEAVILY CENSORED...
Romanian Television (RTV) reporter Alexandru Costache said in a letter to the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 6 December that the station is connected by "an umbilical cord not just to the ruling PSD, but also to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase." Costache said he decided to go speak publicly on the matter because he can no longer permit a situation in which his professional ethics are being undermined on a daily basis. In a separate interview with "Evenimentul zilei," he disclosed numerous instances in which he was forced to either present opposition presidential candidate Traian Basescu in a negative light or to renounce covering Basescu's campaign. "We speak about manipulation of news, censorship, bias, the violation of the right to be correctly informed, and even of embezzlement, because using the subscriber's money to send biased messages is not allowed." Costache said he is asking for protection from the Journalists' Association, civil society, the EU Commission delegation in Romania, the U.S. embassy, and "last but not least, the president of Romania as the guarantor of citizen's rights and freedoms." MS
...ENLISTING SOLIDARITY OF COLLEAGUES, WRATH OF TELEVISION MANAGEMENT
Several journalists, some speaking to "Evenimentul zilei" under condition of anonymity, confirmed Costache's allegations, the daily reported the next day. In an interview, Costache also said RTV Director-General Valentin Nicolau threatened to have him arrested when Costache brought a tape recorder to a meeting with Nicolau and wanted to record the conversation. The meeting took place after Costache told him about the letter sent to "Evenimentul zilei." In reaction, TVR denied Costache's allegations and said Nicolau has ordered an investigation into the incidents. "We shall take all necessary steps against whoever is guilty.... if only part of the allegations turn out to be real and if Alexandru Costache is being used in the middle of the electoral campaign in an operation aimed at intoxicating public opinion." MS
ROMANIAN NGOS APPEAL TO TV JOURNALISTS TO END BIASED PRO-GOVERNMENT ELECTORAL REPORTING
Twelve organizations representing civil society and journalism watchdogs published in the daily "Ziua" on 7 December an appeal to journalists working for public and private television stations asking them to end pro-PSD electoral reporting. In the letter, the NGOs appeal to journalists to be more courageous and "compare the risks you are facing today with those faced by journalists who were printing clandestine newspapers under communism." They also urge them to "take a look at your Ukrainian colleagues, who face much bigger risks." The letter ends with: "Then come and tell us if you cherish freedom [and remember that] guilty silence would be an answer in itself." MS
U.S. REVIEWING ROMANIAN REQUEST TO STRIP MARINE OF IMMUNITY
The United States is reviewing a Romanian request to strip the diplomatic immunity from a U.S. Marine involved in a fatal car accident on 3 December, international news agencies reported on 6 December, citing embassy sources. The marine has been flown out of Romania and faces an investigation by the Marines, according to dpa. Mediafax reported that the Romanian Foreign Ministry has expressed "consternation" at his departure and demanded that he be prosecuted in Romania. Famous Romanian jazz player Teo Peter was killed in the accident, apparently caused by the marine's failure to yield at a Bucharest intersection. A breath test showed the American had been drinking alcohol, according to AP. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli expressed regret for Peter's death and said the U.S. ambassador to Romania has been in contact with Peter's family. MS
RUSSIA NIXES SIGNING DECLARATION ON TRANSDNIESTER
Unidentified Russian sources told Interfax on 6 December that the Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM) will not be signed in Sofia at the 6-7 December meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin hoped the declaration would be signed in Sofia, but it was decided at the very last moment not to discuss the declaration, because any OSCE decision requires consensus," the sources said. Voronin proposed the declaration -- which, among other things, would expand the current five-sided Transdniester negotiations format to include the EU and the U.S. as observers -- in June and support for it was expressed by the EU, the U.S., Romania, and the OSCE. Ukraine did not respond to the initiative and Russia refused to endorse it. MS
CHISINAU MAYOR TO SUE MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT FOR LIBEL
Serafim Urechean told a regular meeting of the municipal council on 6 December that he intends to sue President Voronin for having libeled him in a 30 November interview with PRO TV-Chisinau, Flux and Infotag reported. Voronin said during the interview that Urechean has set up a "mafiosi structure" in the mayoralty. Urechean also called the police's Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption -- which recently charged him with "abuse of office" -- a "department of lies -- a Gestapo entrusted [by Voronin] with fabrication of evidence." Urechean said the Moldovan leadership is doing its utmost to stop him from running in the 2005 parliamentary elections, and he warned that those currently fulfilling presidential orders would have to account for their deeds. MS
THE LEGACY OF TRIANON
The results of the referendum held in Hungary on 5 December has lessened the danger of new tensions between European states with ethnic Hungarian minorities and Budapest. Preliminary official results show that voters failed to approve a referendum on whether to give ethnic Hungarians living outside the country the right to become Hungarian citizens and whether to continue the privatization of hospitals.
Countries such as Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Ukraine, and Serbia and Montenegro have ethnic Hungarian minorities resulting from the post-World War I dismemberment of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the 1921 Trianon Treaty, in which Hungary lost some two-thirds of its territory. Historians and political scientists have often characterized Trianon as a "living wound" for Hungarians on both sides of the country's current borders. To the same extent, however, for many of Hungary's neighbors, Trianon has acquired an equally symbolic value signifying independence, territorial integrity, and historic justice.
In the 5 December referendum, voters had to answer two apparently unrelated questions: whether to grant dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries and whether to keep the current state-run health-care system or continue the privatization of its hospitals. There was one link between the two questions -- politics and politicking. And that link produced some paradoxes.
The conservative opposition FIDESZ, headed by charismatic former Prime Minister Victor Orban, supported the dual citizenship measure and opposed the privatization of the hospitals, urged by the Socialist-Liberal government of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. This position is hardly in line with Orban's self-attributed "Thatcherite" ideology; precisely for this reason, Orban's political allies, the largely conservative Magyar Democratic Forum, opposed keeping in place the costly health-care system and were thus on the government's side.
Undoubtedly, though, the dual citizenship question was the major issue at stake. Gyurcsany, who took over from his predecessor Peter Medgyessy some two months ago, called on voters "not to vote yes." This odd formulation was not accidental. According to Hungarian legislation, for a referendum to count it must either have a turnout of at least 50 percent, or have a minimum of 25 percent of the participants vote "yes" or "no" to the questions posed. Plebiscite precedents, as well as previous low electoral turnouts, made the likelihood of a 50 percent turnout close to nil. The real question was whether 25 percent of the participants would cast a ballot on either side.
At the end of the day, turnout was just over 37 percent. With some 99.8 percent of the vote counted (final results will be released in a couple of days), votes in favor of granting double citizenship were somewhat ahead (51.56 percent) of votes against it (48.44 percent), but neither camp garnered the 25 percent that would have made the outcome binding for parliament to debate and enact legislation. The proposal to end hospital privatization failed due to the same reason, though the pro-Orban vote on it was higher in this case (65.02 percent).
Orban certainly remembers the conflicts with neighboring Slovakia and Romania over the "Status Law," approved by his government in 2001, which had to be amended by the successor Socialist-Liberal cabinet of Medgyessy following criticism from European institutions. Under the law, ethnic Hungarians living abroad were entitled to certain benefits and subsidies. This time around, in both Slovakia and Romania, there was criticism of the ethnic Hungarian leadership for its support of the Orban-backed proposal.
This is precisely what Orban is counting on. The "symbolic" significance of Trianon is far too powerful to leave Hungarians living beyond the borders of the kin-state indifferent. He thus garnered support from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) leadership, with which relations have been strained for some time, and from the leadership of the Slovak Coalition Party (SMK), part of which is also opposed to Orban's particular strand of nationalism. Not when it comes to overcoming the hated symbol of Trianon, however. Does this mean territorial irredentism? For most ethnic Hungarians abroad this is not the case. But carrying a Hungarian passport would have a powerful sentimental value.
Whatever the result of the referendum, Orban did not have much to lose. Had the "yes" vote come out on top, he could have counted on many more fresh votes from those who had acquired (or reacquired) Hungarian citizenship thanks to him. If he lost, he could point his finger at those who argued against the move on mainly economic grounds. Indeed, according to the government, there was a danger that after gaining citizenship, some 800,000 ethnic Hungarians from less-developed neighboring countries would want to move to Hungary. That would supposedly entail yearly costs of 537 billion forints ($2.8 billion) -- about one-half of the 2005 budget deficit.
As a politician, Orban has long been moving toward a conservative, nationalist populism. He may thus try to use this instance to reach the patriotic-inclined Socialist electorate. It is not by chance that the skillful manipulator of words told a gathering in Budapest's Hero Square on 27 November: "The invitations to the 5 December wedding were sent 84 years ago," before adding that "recreating a 15 million nation from a 10 million country is a historic deed." And emulating former West German leader Willy Brandt's famous 9 November 1989 speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Orban told the crowd that the vote was about "forging together what history has broken to pieces."
KARZAI SWORN IN AS AFGHAN PRESIDENT
Hamid Karzai was inaugurated in Kabul on 7 December as Afghanistan's first popularly elected president, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. In a ceremony attended by government officials from 27 countries, Karzai swore to protect the "religious principles of Islam" as well as to "respect, supervise, and implement" the Afghan Constitution. "I will safeguard the rights and interests of the Afghan people. And by the help of almighty God -- and the support of the nation -- I will continue my efforts for the welfare and the development of the country. Almighty God, help me," he said, with his right hand placed on the Koran, Reuters reported. Those attending included U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld. Karzai named his top priorities as disarming private militias, battling against the drug trade, cracking down on corruption, and uniting the country's many different ethnic groups during his five-year term. Karzai won an easy victory in the country's first democratic presidential election on 9 October. The inauguration was held without incident amid tight security because of concerns over possible militant attacks. PB
NEO-TALIBAN THREAT TO DISRUPT INAUGURATION PROVES IDLE
Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 6 December that the militants' "attacks will continue during the day of the inauguration of the U.S.-made government," AFP reported on 6 December. Hakimi said, referring to the inauguration of Karzai as president on 7 December, that the event "will not stop us from continuing jihad against the Americans." Hakimi did not specifically state that the neo-Taliban are planning special attacks on Karzai's inauguration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). However, Mullah Dadullah, a member of the neo-Taliban leadership council, said that his organization has issued orders to its members to "disrupt the ceremony" if the chance presents itself, Reuters reported on 6 December. AT
AFGHAN CABINET WILL NOT BE ANNOUNCED AT INAUGURATION
Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin said on 6 December that despite some rumors, the new Afghan cabinet will not be announced after the presidential inauguration on 7 December, Hindukosh News Agency reported. The selection of the cabinet has been viewed by many observers as Karzai's first test as president (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November and "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). AT
ATTACK IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN BLAMED ON AL-QAEDA
Afghan police arrested a suspect on 6 December for a shooting incident in Farah Province in which one police officer was killed and two others were injured, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. The suspect was identified by the police as being a member of Al-Qaeda, without giving any further details about him. Others involved in the attack escaped. It has become rare for Afghan authorities to blame incidents of violence on Al-Qaeda, a term which is generally used to designate a non-Afghan militant or terrorist. AT
KARZAI SPOKESMAN WANTS MOSCOW TO CLARIFY DEFENSE MINISTER'S COMMENTS
Jawed Ludin on 6 December said that Kabul hopes that Moscow will clarify its official position regarding comments made by Sergei Ivanov during a visit to India on 1 December, Radio Afghanistan 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 and 6 December 2004). Ivanov's remarks could hurt relations between Afghanistan and the Russian Federation, Ludin warned. Ivanov's remarks will not change the makeup of Afghanistan's cabinet, Ludin said. AT
NO RESPITE IN IRANIAN ELECTION DATE CONTROVERSY
In a 5 December letter to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari has called for a meeting between his ministry and the Guardians Council to decide on a date for the next presidential election, IRNA reported on 6 December. The Interior Ministry runs elections and the Guardians Council supervises them and, thus far, the council has rejected two of the dates -- 13 and 20 May -- proposed by the Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October, 15 and 29 November 2004). In the letter, a copy of which was sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Musavi-Lari said that his ministry should set the date for elections since it runs these events. On 4 December the Guardians Council agreed to the Interior Ministry's proposal to hold the presidential election and parliamentary by-elections on the same date, IRNA reported. The by-elections will take place in constituencies where the election results were cancelled or in which balloting did not take place. BS
RAFSANJANI'S CANDIDACY CONTROVERSIAL
"We support [Ayatollah Ali-Akbar] Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the presidential elections," Saber Mir-Atai, deputy secretary-general of the Islamic Homeland Party (Hizb-i Mihan-i Islami), said on 6 December according to ILNA. Mir-Atai said the party's support depends on the candidate's continuation of President Khatami's reforms, the inclusion of reformists in the cabinet and government, and "moderation of economic programs." Mir-Atai did not explain what this means. Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, secretary-general of the politically pragmatic Moderation and Development Party (Hizb-i Ettedal va Toseh), said on 3 December that his party backs Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mehr News Agency reported. Mustafa Kavakebian, secretary-general of the reformist Mardom Salari party, said on 4 December that Hashemi-Rafsanjani is one of country's leading figures, ILNA reported, but it is better for somebody who has completed two presidential terms to let a new candidate fill the slot. BS
IRANIAN CONSERVATIVE ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY...
"I hope to be able to run in the presidential election," Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli said at a 6 December rally at Tehran University, IRNA reported. Two days earlier, Tavakoli said in Tehran, "I am serious about participating in the presidential election," Mehr News Agency reported. Tavakoli ran for president in 2001 and in 1993, according to the agency. BS
...AS POSSIBLE REFORMIST CANDIDATE WAVERS
"I have not made a decision about participating in the presidential election," former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin said on 5 December in Shiraz, ISNA reported. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 15 November that Moin had agreed to be a presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 November 2004). Moin added in his speech that people should not expect a repetition of the 23 May 1997 elections, when dark-horse reformist candidate Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami squashed his competitors. BS
MORE ONLINE JOURNALISTS EXPRESS CONTRITION
Omid Memarian, Shahram Rafizadeh, and Javad Gholam Tamimi, who are among the online journalists and bloggers who were arrested in September-October, have all written letters of contrition that were subsequently published in Iranian newspapers, AFP reported on 5 December. Another online journalist, Ruzbeh Mir-Ibrahimi, has done the same thing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). Memarian said in his letter, "I was brainwashed by hard-line elements [a reference to allegedly radical reformists] to destroy the image of the regime by relating with counterrevolutionaries and talking to foreign radio." All the letter writers expressed gratitude for the excellent treatment they received while in detention. Tamimi noted the merciful nature of the Iranian government, saying, "If I committed this crime in another country, I would have been sentenced to death or life in solitary confinement, but under the indulgent Islamic system, people in charge of my case and prison officials are convinced that I converted honestly." BS
IRAN DENIES EXTRADITING TERROR SUSPECT TO EGYPT
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied on 6 December that Tehran has extradited Egyptian national Mustafa Hamza to Cairo, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). Hamza, a leading member of the Islamic Group, has been sentenced to death in absentia three times: 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. He is the alleged mastermind of a 1995 failed assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 5 December that the Egyptian had been living in Iran since October 2003. Assefi said Hamza is not in Iran. An anonymous "Egyptian security source" on 5 December denied that the extradition occurred, Al-Jazeera television reported. BS
AL-QAEDA SUSPECTS REPORTEDLY TRIED IN IRAN
Tehran Province Justice Department official Abbasali Alizadeh said on 6 December that a number of Al-Qaeda members were tried in a special court and a verdict was issued, Fars News Agency reported. Alizadeh did not say when the trial or trials took place, how many defendants there were or what charges they faced, nor did he describe the verdicts. As for the number of Al-Qaeda detainees in the country, he said, "I don't know the exact number but there are many." Two days earlier, Kurdistan Province Justice Department chief Mohammad Mehdi Khamesi told reporters about the arrest of less than five Al-Qaeda members, Fars News Agency reported. Khamesi said the cases have been referred to Tehran, where special judges deal with Al-Qaeda cases. Khamesi did not say when the suspects were arrested (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). BS
INTERIM IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS BUSH IN WASHINGTON
Ghazi al-Yawir met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on 6 December, RFE/RL reported. Speaking with journalists at the White House, al-Yawir remained adamant that January elections be held on schedule. "Nobody in Iraq wants to boycott elections, except for some politicians. But I am talking about the mass public of Iraq, they all are very anxious to go and cast their votes and practice for the first time in 45 years, their right and duty of voting for whoever they feel confidence in." Bush told the press that the U.S. will help provide security for the elections. "We'll do everything we can, working with the Iraqis, to make the election sites as secure as possible. That is why the [U.S. military] commanders on the ground have been asked for additional troops to help with the election process," Bush said. "You can never guarantee 100 percent security, but the Iraqi people have a chance to say to the world, 'We choose democracy over terrorism.' And it is going to be a defining moment in that country." KR
CIA WARNS OF DETERIORATING SITUATION IN IRAQ
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reportedly received a classified cable last month following the Al-Fallujah incursion from its station chief in Baghdad warning that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not improve any time soon, nytimes.com reported on 7 December, citing U.S. government officials. Another CIA official gave a similar assessment of the situation in the country following a trip to Iraq, nytimes.com reported. The cable warned that the security situation in Iraq is likely to worsen, and more violence and sectarian clashes are expected unless improvements are made by the Iraqi government in terms of economic development and assertion of authority, the website reported. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte reportedly filed a written dissent, saying the assessment was too harsh. General George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, also reviewed the cable and initially did not object to it, nytimes.com reported. One official told the website that Casey may have voiced objection to the cable in recent days, however. KR
NEW LOCAL IRAQI POLICE CHIEF APPEALS TO CITIZENS FOR HELP
Brigadier General Fawaz Armut, the newly appointed police chief in Al-Anbar Governorate, told Al-Sharqiyah television that residents in the volatile city of Al-Ramadi must help bring security to the city, the news channel reported on 6 December. "We call on our people in Al-Anbar, namely tribes, sheikhs, and men of religion, in addition to the educated and all the sons of the governorate, to support our work," he said. "The police are the sons of the governorate and the sons of our tribes. We must support them and help them.... We do not want them to kill the police," Armut added. He said that the police do not support the presence of foreign forces in the governorate, saying: "Let [citizens] help us so that we can tell the foreigners to leave this governorate and carry out our duties and assigned responsibilities." KR
ELECTORAL COMMISSION HEAD SAYS NO POSTPONEMENT
Husayn al-Hindawi, head of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, told the Baghdad daily "Al-Manar al-Yawm" in an interview published on 5 December that no party has formally requested an election postponement. He contended that no party in Iraq or the UN has the power to decide on a postponement. Regarding the security situation in Iraq, Hindawi said: "I emphasize that the security situation will be more difficult than it is now if the elections are not held or if they are postponed." Regarding a possible boycott of elections by some political parties, he said: "A boycott is a democratic right. Several political parties in the world have boycotted their countries' elections. However, we urge everyone to participate in the elections since this is a national duty. The commission is not a guardian to those who boycott or [participate in] the elections. Nevertheless, we believe the majority is in favor of participation and this explains the high demand by political entities to register for the elections." KR