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Newsline - December 10, 2004


RUSSIA AND NATO CALL FOR FREE ELECTION IN UKRAINE...
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Brussels on 9 December, after a session of the Russia-NATO Council in which he took part, that all members of the council were agreed that all sides should avoid interference in Ukraine and respect the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity, laws, and constitution, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 December. Russia and NATO adopted a joint resolution calling for "free and fair elections in Ukraine that reflect the will of the Ukrainian people," AFP reported. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said "this is a major breakthrough" in defusing tensions between NATO members and Moscow. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also said: "I'm pleased that Russia has joined with NATO [in agreeing] the statement today," AFP reported. VY

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UKRAINE SHOULD DEFINE ITS FOREIGN POLICY ON ITS OWN
Speaking to journalists after the Russia-NATO meeting, Lavrov said that "geopolitically, Ukraine can be with neither the West nor with the East. It lies in Europe and has borders both with NATO, the European Union, and the CIS, including Russia," RIA-Novosti reported on 9 December. "And it is both wrong and unfair to push [Ukraine] into making a choice in favor of either side," he added. Lavrov also said that Ukraine should define its foreign-policy preferences on its own. VY

MOTHERLAND INTRODUCES BILL ALLOWING POTENTIAL ANNEXATION OF FORMER REPUBLICS
The Motherland Duma faction introduced on 9 December a bill that would facilitate the incorporation of former autonomous republics of the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation, newsru.com reported. The leader of the faction, Dmitrii Rogozin, said that the subject of the bill is territories with an ambiguous international status. "If the bill is adopted, we will eliminate the problems of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester," he said. Under the bill, Rogozin said, citizens in those republics would decide in referendums whether they want to be unified with Russia. From the Russian side, no international treaty would be required, only the approval of both chambers of parliament and the president. VY

TAX CLAIM AGAINST MOBILE OPERATOR MAY RISE...
Aleksandr Izosimov, the director of mobile operator Vympelcom, has sent objections to the Tax Ministry about a tax claim filed against the company, rbk.ru and other media reported on 9 December. The ministry has recently filed a claim for 4.4 billion rubles ($157.8 million) in back taxes and penalties for 2001. If the company's objections are not taken into account, Vympelcom will challenge the claim in court, Izosimov said. He added that, even if Vympelcom is obliged to pay the debt, the loss would have little impact on the financial status of the company. According to the business daily "Vedomosti" on 10 December, the Tax Ministry could make further claims against the company that could amount to $1 billion, seriously undermining the market status of the company. VY

...WHILE MEDIA DISCUSS POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE MOVE...
According to "Izvestiya" on 9 December, the Tax Ministry's move against Vympelcom originated with Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, who has links to Megafon, one of Vympelcom's major competitors. Vympelcom spokesman Mikhail Umarov, however, denied this version, according to the report. Other analysts have said that the Tax Ministry is in a hurry to file claims against Vympelcom because at the end of 2004 the deadline for 2001 claims expires. According to "The Washington Times," the real target of the drive against Vympelcom is the Alfa financial group, which controls 25 percent of Vympelcom's shares, and its head Mikhail Fridman. VY

...AS TAX MINISTRY FILES CLAIM AGAINST ANOTHER PHONE OPERATOR
The Tax Ministry on 9 December asked Megafon, Russia's third-largest mobile phone operator, to pay over 110 million rubles (about $4 million) in back taxes for 2001, mosnews.ru reported. Some analysts have speculated that the relatively small size of the claim is an indication that the move is only meant to deflect attention away from the real target of the authorities' campaign, Vympelcom, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. VY

RUSSIA AND NATO CALL FOR FREE ELECTION IN UKRAINE...
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Brussels on 9 December, after a session of the Russia-NATO Council in which he took part, that all members of the council were agreed that all sides should avoid interference in Ukraine and respect the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity, laws, and constitution, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 December. Russia and NATO adopted a joint resolution calling for "free and fair elections in Ukraine that reflect the will of the Ukrainian people," AFP reported. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said "this is a major breakthrough" in defusing tensions between NATO members and Moscow. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also said: "I'm pleased that Russia has joined with NATO [in agreeing] the statement today," AFP reported. VY.

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UKRAINE SHOULD DEFINE ITS FOREIGN POLICY ON ITS OWN
Speaking to journalists after the Russia-NATO meeting, Lavrov said that "geopolitically, Ukraine can be with neither the West nor with the East. It lies in Europe and has borders both with NATO, the European Union, and the CIS, including Russia," RIA-Novosti reported on 9 December. "And it is both wrong and unfair to push [Ukraine] into making a choice in favor of either side," he added. Lavrov also said that Ukraine should define its foreign-policy preferences on its own. VY

MOTHERLAND INTRODUCES BILL ALLOWING POTENTIAL ANNEXATION OF FORMER REPUBLICS
The Motherland Duma faction introduced on 9 December a bill that would facilitate the incorporation of former autonomous republics of the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation, newsru.com reported. The leader of the faction, Dmitrii Rogozin, said that the subject of the bill is territories with an ambiguous international status. "If the bill is adopted, we will eliminate the problems of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester," he said. Under the bill, Rogozin said, citizens in those republics would decide in referendums whether they want to be unified with Russia. From the Russian side, no international treaty would be required, only the approval of both chambers of parliament and the president. VY

DOCTOR ALLEGES FEDERAL BUDGET MAKERS ARE STARVING THE HEALTH-CARE SECTOR
According to World Health Organization norms, a country's health-care expenditures should equal 5 percent of GDP, and Russia is currently spending half of that and plans to cut expenditures even further, Leonid Roshal, director of the Moscow Institute for Emergency Surgery and Trauma Care for Children, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 December. According to Roshal, federal budget expenditures on health care in 2005 will constitute 2.7 percent of all budget expenditures, which is one-tenth of a percentage point less than in 2004, and further cuts are anticipated. Roshal said the Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref wants to reduce health-care expenditures even further to 2.4 percent of all expenditures by 2007. Although the government hopes to double GDP over this time period, Roshal said that a presidential administration official told him not to expect more money because inflation will eat away the gains. Roshal is a well-known figure in Russia for his role in negotiations with hostage takers during the October 2002 Moscow theatre crisis. JAC

DUMA DEPUTY FORESEES LARGER CASH FLOWS TO THE KREMLIN
In an interview with "Versiya," No. 47, independent State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov suggests that a brisk trade in gubernatorial appointments will develop once the law canceling gubernatorial elections comes into effect (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). "I suspect the prices of a seat will depend on the resources of a given region: regions with oil will be the most expensive, the ones with aluminum somewhat less expensive, and agrarian regions and the ones depending on federal subsidies will go cheap." Asked about what kinds of sums he specifically envisions, Ryzhkov suggested that millions of dollars will be proffered -- "the cost of a full-fledged gubernatorial campaign." "In other words, the money once spent on campaigns will go directly to the Kremlin now," he said. JAC

CODE ORANGE IN ST. PETERSBURG
Russian intelligence services have received information about the preparation of terrorist acts in St. Petersburg, Mikhail Vanichkin, head of the Interior Ministry directorate for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, told legislators in St. Petersburg on 8 December, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 December. Vanichkin said that special security measures will be taken in the city around the New Year's holiday, according to Interfax-Northwest. He also noted that the police in the city have been placed on a heightened security regime since July of this year, when information was received about a terrorist plot to take over a medical establishment. At the time all hospitals and clinics were placed on high alert, according to the daily. Security guards were increased, visitor access was limited, and twice a day thorough checks of the building were conducted. Last August, at a session of representatives of the FSB, the Interior and Emergency Situations ministries, raion administration heads, and local medical establishments were reproached for being insufficiently vigilant. A group of undercover police officers were reportedly able to wander around within hospitals without being challenged; however, hospital administrators countered that everyone already knows who they are even without uniforms on (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2004) JAC

ANGER OVER BENEFITS REFORM GROWS IN NORTHERN CITY
Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, has been experiencing protests demanding the resignation of Karelian President Sergei Katanandov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 December. According to the daily, the catalyst for these protests is the republican legislation converting benefits in kind to cash. Under the republican bill, persons eligible for benefits will receive a sum of 200 rubles ($7) a month in place of free public transportation, free medicine, etc. Katanandov has served as head of the republic since 1998, and this is the first time that voters have demanded his resignation, according to the newspaper. Last month, about 200-300 people rallied outside the Karelia Republic's parliament building, and at the time, some protesters began calling for an assault on the building, and only the presence of a reinforced police patrol stopped them from taking action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004). According to the daily, the republican political elite is now looking around for a replacement for Katanandov that they can recommend to President Vladimir Putin. JAC

ANOTHER ENTERPRISE DIRECTOR JAILED FOR WAGE DELAYS
Local police have taken Vladimir Valter, general director of the Bulat factory in Zlatoust in Chelyabinsk Oblast, into custody on suspicion of misspending company money and withholding a year's worth of wages to factory workers, NTV reported on 9 December. According to the station, Valter has directed the plant for the past three years and over this time the backlog of wage arrears reached 27 million rubles. Prosecutors allege that Valter spent money earmarked for wages to buy several expensive cars, including a Lexus worth several million rubles. Last month, the head of the Real Baza Khleprodukt company, Oleg Baranov, was sentenced to five months in prison for accumulating more than 1 million rubles ($35,543) in unpaid wages to some 60 workers, "Trud" reported on 23 November. JAC

CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR CEASE-FIRE, PEACE TALKS
In an article published in "The Washington Post" on 10 December pegged to the 10th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Chechnya, Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov argued that Moscow's refusal to embark on peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who represents the moderate wing of the Chechen resistance, has contributed to the increasing recourse to terrorism by both parties to the conflict. At the same time, Akhmadov denied repeated Russian allegations of a connection between the radical Chechen resistance and Al-Qaeda. He pointed out, first, that those radical Chechens who have perpetrated terrorist attacks in Russia demand only the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and the beginning of peace talks, but do not seek to attack the United States or Europe; and second, that Al-Qaeda has never targeted Russia or Russian interests abroad. Akhmadov argues that the only way to break the vicious circle of Chechen terrorist attacks followed by Russian reprisals is for Russia "to enter into a constructive dialogue with Maskhadov and his government." As preconditions for such talks, Akhmadov calls for confidence-building measures such as cease-fires, announcement of safe havens, exchanges of prisoners, and the opening of humanitarian corridors. LF

CHECHNYA SELECTS NEW ELECTION CHIEF
The 12 members of the new Chechen Central Election Commission chose on 9 December as that body's chairman Ismail Baikhanov, the candidate proposed by Russia's Central Election Commission, Interfax reported. Baikhanov graduated from the philology faculty of Grozny State University and the Makhachkala Institute of Law, and has since worked in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration. Interfax quoted him on 9 December as saying there are no "serious obstacles" to holding elections in Chechnya for a new parliament; echoing previous statements by pro-Moscow administration head Alu Alkhanov, he said that the ballot should take place no later than the fall of 2005. LF

EAPC PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR SOUTH CAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIA
A meeting of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels on 9 December focused particular attention on the South Caucasus and Central Asia, Caucasus Press and Turan reported. The participants welcomed the emphasis in the final communique adopted at NATO's summit in Istanbul in June on relations with those two regions, and reaffirmed their commitment to forging relations tailored to the individual needs of those states that are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 2 July 2004). Although the June summit did not include any of the South Caucasus states on its list of prospective candidates for the next round of NATO enlargement, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said in Washington on 9 December after talks with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that Georgia's entry into NATO will be discussed in 2006, Caucasus Press reported. In an interview published on 9 December in the Russian daily "Vremya novostei," Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze predicted that Georgia will join NATO in 2007. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS...
The 14th congress of the Armenian Pan-National Movement took place in Yerevan on 9 December, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Among those attending were former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, opposition Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian, and Liberal Progressive Party Chairman Hovhannes Hovhannisian. The congress adopted a resolution criticizing the policies of Ter-Petrossian's successor, Robert Kocharian, especially with regard to the Karabakh peace process. The resolution further called for the "liquidation of the present illegal regime" and its replacement by a government "capable of taking real decisions and establishing constitutional order." LF

...ADVOCATES NATO MEMBERSHIP
Addressing the HHSh congress on 9 December, HHSh board Chairman Ararat Zurabian characterized the present relationship between Armenia and Russia as that of a servant to his master, Noyan Tapan reported. Zurabian called for the "normalization" of relations with Turkey, and argued that Armenia "must be part of only one military alliance, NATO." Armenia is currently a member of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. Although it is simultaneously a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, senior officials have repeatedly stated that the country does not aspire to NATO membership. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov met on 9 December for the second time within five days, Noyan Tapan reported. The two men met on 5 December on the eve of the OSCE foreign ministers' conference in Sofia; on both occasions, the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group were also present. The two ministers focused on the present state of the Karabakh peace process and agreed to continue their series of talks begun in Prague in mid-April. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER REJECTS MEDIA REPORTS OF SECRET KARABAKH DEAL
In an interview with the independent newspaper "Golos Armenii," summarized by Arminfo on 9 December and circulated by Groong, Serzh Sarkisian denied persistent media reports that the Armenian leadership has signed, or is under pressure to sign, a Karabakh peace agreement on terms that are damaging to Armenia. Sarkisian said Armenia will never sign an agreement that does not encompass its three primary demands: that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic not be vertically subordinated to Azerbaijan; that it have a guaranteed overland connection with Armenia; and that the population of Nagorno-Karabakh be given permanent security guarantees against future Azerbaijani aggression. He stressed that media speculation about the terms of a peace deal weakens Armenia's negotiating position vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIA ADOPTS NEW TAX CODE
The Georgian parliament finally approved the new tax code on 9 December in the second and final reading by a vote of 136-13, Georgian media reported. The government and parliament reached agreement on virtually all disputed issues, including exempting from property tax households whose annual income does not exceed 40,000 laris ($22,492), imposing customs duties on the import of cars less than six years old, and exempting the media from paying VAT. Despite objections on the part of the Parliament Budget and Finance Committee, the proposed reduction of VAT from 20 percent to 18 percent will take effect only on 1 July 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). Although the Georgian leadership has lauded the new code as one of the most liberal in the CIS, RFE/RL's Georgian Service noted on 9 December that the planned tax increase on diesel fuel will negatively affect private farmers and may result in price increases for agricultural products. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW ADMINISTRATION HEAD, ALMATY MAYOR
Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree on 9 December appointing Imangali Tasmagambetov mayor of Almaty and Viktor Khrapunov governor of East Kazakhstan Province, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Tasmagambetov was released from the post of head of the presidential administration, which he had occupied since March, and replaced by Adilbek Jaksybekov, who had been minister of industry and trade since June 2003. Khrapunov was released from his position as mayor of Almaty, a post he had held since June 1997. DK

KAZAKHSTAN, U.S. SIGN AMENDMENT TO BIOWEAPONS PACT
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar announced in an 8 December press release that Kazakhstan and the United States have signed an amendment to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to expand cooperation against bioterrorism. The amendment, which aims to bolster the two countries' fight against the proliferation of biological weapons technology, will increase U.S. funding to Kazakhstan for bioweapons proliferation prevention by approximately $35 million. Senator Lugar commented in the press release, "I congratulate [Kazakh] President Nazarbaev and his government on having joined Georgia and Uzbekistan in partnership with the United States to work toward successfully eliminating the risk of biological weapons and preventing bioterrorism." DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON ELECTION DATES
President Askar Akaev signed a decree on 9 December setting dates for 2005 parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The period for the submission of candidacies, registration, and election campaigns will last from 27 December to 24 February 2005. The president noted that the upcoming elections will be a test of the country's democratic maturity and that they will be dedicated to the idea of consolidating Kyrgyz society. Suleiman Imanbaev, head of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, commented, "A heavy burden will be placed on district election commissions, which will have to be formed by 20 December at sessions of local assemblies," akipress.org reported. AFP on 9 December reported that Akaev also scheduled the presidential ballot due next fall for 30 October. DK

EBRD GIVES KYRGYZ GLASS FACTORY $5.5 MILLION LOAN
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will provide the Tokmok glass factory with a $5.5 million development loan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 9 December. The news came as President Askar Akaev and EBRD Director Jean Lemierre attended a meeting of Kyrgyzstan's Consultative Council for attracting foreign investment on 9 December in Tokmok, which is located in Chui Province. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told meeting participants that the first 10 months of 2004 witnessed a 32 percent year-on-year increase in foreign investments. DK

IRANIAN TRADE EXPO OPENS IN TAJIKISTAN
A five-day expo of Iranian-made goods opened in Dushanbe on 9 December, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov and Nasir Sarmadi Parsa, Iran's ambassador to Tajikistan, attended the opening. The trade fair includes products from 50 companies in the construction, health care, computer, engineering, and food-service industries. Tajik Deputy Economy Minister Isroil Mahmudov noted that trade between the two countries notched a 26 percent year-on-year increase in the first 11 months of 2004, Avesta reported; Prime Minister Oqilov said that trade volume between Tajikistan and Iran reached $75 million in the first 11 months of 2004, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Ambassador Parsa commented, "We would like to reach an agreement on opening chambers of commerce in our respective countries, which we'll discuss at tomorrow's Tajik-Iranian business forum." DK

RUSSIA, TAJIKISTAN SEAL PAMIR BORDER HANDOVER
Abdurahmon Azimov, head of Tajikistan's Border Protection Committee, and Vladimir Pronichev, head of Russia's Federal Border Service, signed an agreement on 9 December in Dushanbe concluding the handover of the 881-kilometer Pamir section of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik jurisdiction, Avesta reported. Major General Nuralisho Nazarov, head of the Tajik border guards' general staff, said that Russian forces handed over $8 million worth of equipment in the course of the month-long transfer. Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov, deputy head of Russia's Federal Border Service, told ITAR-TASS, "There were no complaints from the Tajik side against Russian border guards while receiving the property." The Panj and Moscow detachments of the Tajik-Afghan border are slated to be transferred to Tajik jurisdiction in 2005. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW SECURITY, INTERIOR MINISTERS
Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree on 9 December appointing Geldymukhammed Ashirmukhammedov minister of national security and Akmammed Rakhmanov minister of the interior, turkmenistan.ru reported. Rakhmanov, who had been deputy minister of the interior, replaces Ashirmukhammedov as interior minister. Annageldy Gummanov, who had been minister of national security, was appointed first deputy minister of foreign affairs. In comments broadcast by Turkmen television on 9 December, President Niyazov explained that he removed Gummanov as minister of national security because "he is soft-hearted. He is big-hearted in many cases, and we need this too, but when you face an enemy in national security, you should not be too soft." Niyazov also praised the Interior Ministry, saying, "Thanks to their work, there is no crime in Turkmenistan." DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS OFFICIALS ON DUTIES...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 9 December introduced Viktar Sheyman, the newly appointed head of the presidential-administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 2 December 2004), to his new colleagues in Minsk, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka stressed that the presidential administration should not replace or stifle the government's functions. "Remember -- you are the controllers. You are the filters. You are whatever you want to call it," Lukashenka told the presidential-administration staff. "You have to prevent the president from taking wrong decisions. You can say whatever you think is necessary in the decision-making process. You can tell me to exert caution on any issue, on any problem you think is not being solved the way you think it should be. But you must do it in a very specific, accurate, and delicate way." JM

...WARNS AGAINST WESTERN SCHEMES TO SPLIT GOVERNMENT...
President Lukashenka also said at the meeting with the presidential-administration staff on 9 December that "the recent events in neighboring states show that a strong and authoritative" government is an extremely important factor in preserving stability, Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. "To avoid such developments in our country...we should know and promptly neutralize destructive political technologies applied by foreign strategists," Lukashenka added. According to him, Western countries are trying to enlist top government officials in an effort to oust him. "[Western countries want] to split the president from the executive branch by scaring or bribing others into taking a stance that they [Western countries] would like to see in the country," Lukashenka asserted. "They are even discussing how to isolate the president of the country while offering incentives to the others, including foreign travel." JM

...AND BRANDS OPPOSITION AS INCOMPETENT FORMER OFFICIALS
President Lukashenka claimed on 9 December than "a majority of current opposition activists" are former public servants who "have been unable to cope with their duties" in different government branches, Belarusian Television reported. "Some have run away, the others have been simply kicked out for not being able to work," Lukashenka said. "And today they are again seeking to be in power! Think, people!" JM

KYIV MAYOR WANTS TO RESTORE CITY TRAFFIC AFTER 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'
Oleksandr Omelchenko has appealed to the Committee for National Salvation, which coordinated the "orange-revolution" rallies in support of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, to transfer the tent camps pitched on Khreshchatyk, the capital's main street, and on Independence Square in order to restore city traffic, Ukrainian media reported on 10 December. "More than 440 tents pitched in Kyiv today is too large a number, particularly since the political and social situation, following the Verkhovna Rada's decision [on 8 December to pass an anticrisis legislative package], has relaxed," Omelchenko told journalists. Apart from the tent camps in downtown Kyiv, the opposition has left standing a huge stage on Independence Square from where Yushchenko and other opposition leaders addressed crowds during the two weeks of antigovernment demonstrations. JM

YUSHCHENKO SEES MOROZ AS CANDIDATE FOR UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who threw his support behind Yushchenko's presidential bid after the first election round on 31 October, said on the opposition Channel 5 on 9 December that Yushchenko has suggested that he head a "government of national trust" following a nonbinding parliamentary vote of no-confidence in Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). Moroz said that he could agree to chair a new cabinet if President Leonid Kuchma heeded the parliamentary advice and dismissed Yanukovych's government. JM

YANUKOVYCH DISTANCES SELF FROM 'SHAMEFUL AUTHORITIES'
Prime Minister Yanukovych, who is on leave to campaign for the runoff election on 26 December, said on a Donetsk-based television channel on 9 December that the current situation in Ukraine is a "creeping anticonstitutional coup d'etat," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua/) reported. Yanukovych claimed that people who voted for him are now being "persecuted" in Ukraine. He distanced himself from the current authorities which, he said, are doing nothing to prevent such persecution. "I am the candidate of 15 million [voters]," Yanukovych said. "I am not campaigning as a candidate from the shameful authorities that have given up their positions." According to Yanukovych, a part of the government has now sided with Yushchenko. "In fact, I have to fight today against a united group," Yanukovych added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
President Kuchma on 9 December signed a decree dismissing Hennadiy Vasylyev from the post of prosecutor-general, Interfax reported. Kuchma announced this dismissal in the Verkhovna Rada on 8 December as a move to meet the opposition's demand and facilitate a political compromise that was reached on that day to overcome the political crises over flawed presidential elections. JM

NATO MEMBERS WARN WEST BALKAN STATES
NATO foreign ministers said in a statement in Brussels on 9 December that the countries of the western Balkans must live up to their international obligations and bring war crimes indictees to justice, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003, and 3 and 12 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May and 17 September 2004). The statement referred specifically to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic, and former Croatian General Ante Gotovina. The ministers appealed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and to Serbia and Montenegro to improve their cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and its chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. The ministers also "pledged to continue to maintain a robust NATO presence in Kosovo, recognizing that 'the security environment remains fragile,'" the alliance's website reported (http://www.nato.int/docu/update/2004/12-december/e1209c.htm). Referring to media reports that Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj might soon be indicted by the tribunal and that unrest might then break out in Kosova, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that "there is an absolute need for Haradinaj and his followers to behave responsibly if he is indicted." Haradinaj said previously that he will go to The Hague voluntarily if indicted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 November, and 8 December 2004). PM

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER CALLS ON MINISTRIES TO IMPLEMENT STANDARDS
Kosovar Premier Haradinaj called on his cabinet ministers on 9 December to implement the international community's standards in preparing the program for their respective ministries and in drafting legislation, Prishtina dailies reported. He also urged deputies representing the Serbian minority to participate in the government's work. He recently appealed to local and Belgrade Serbian leaders to return to talks with representatives of the ethnic Albanian majority and the international community, adding that Kosovar Serbs should give him "100 days" to show what he can do before passing judgment on him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 7, 8, and 9 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL TEMPORARILY RELEASES TWO SERBS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 9 December released Jovica Stanisic, a former Serbian state security chief, and Franko Simatovic (a.k.a. Frenki), a former Serbian special forces chief, from custody pending their trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Simatovic suffers from health problems, which the tribunal said it took into account in deciding to temporarily release the two men, adding that they pose no danger to witnesses in the meantime. The tribunal's prosecutors opposed releasing the two men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 30 May and 3 and 11 June 2003, and 29 July 2004). After they arrived in Belgrade, leading human rights activist Natasa Kandic said that their return will adversely affect the ongoing trials for the murder of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003 and former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic in August 2000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

CALLS FOR MORE INVESTIGATION INTO SERBIAN MYSTERY KILLINGS
Janko Jakovljevic, who is the father of one of two Serbian conscripts killed under mysterious circumstances outside Belgrade's extensive Topcider military complex on 5 October, said in Belgrade on 9 December that he does not believe the Army's explanation that his son Dragan killed himself after fatally shooting fellow conscript Drazen Milovanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Former Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, who is an attorney for the Jakovljevic family, called for an investigation of the incident by civilian judicial authorities. Some critics have suggested that the soldiers were shot by a third party because they discovered the presence of one or more indicted war criminals at the facility. PM

WATCHDOG SLAMS MACEDONIAN CORRUPTION
Zoran Jacev, who heads the Macedonian branch of the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), said on 9 December that a recent survey shows that most Macedonians regard the country's judiciary as being the most affected by graft, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. On a five-point index with five marking the highest rate of corruption, the respondents of the survey gave the judiciary 4.3, closely followed by the political parties, the customs service, and the health service with 4.2 each. The parliament received 4.1 points, while the police, the business sector, and the education system together ranking fourth with an index of 3.8. Prime Minister Hari Kostov resigned on 15 November, citing corruption and the unwillingness of the political parties to fight it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November and 3 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). On TI's global Corruption Perceptions Index, Macedonia ranks 97th, together with Algeria, Lebanon, Nicaragua, and Serbia and Montenegro, according to www.transparency.org. UB

MAJOR ANTICORRUPTION PROTEST IN ALBANIAN CAPITAL
Several thousand people demonstrated in Tirana's central Skanderbeg Square on 9 December against what they said is deeply rooted and endemic corruption in business and political life, Reuters reported. Larry Birnholz, who heads the Albanian office of USAID, told reporters that Albanian still has "one of the most corrupt governments in Europe." TI's recent CPI put Albania in 108th place, which is on a level with Argentina, Libya, and the Palestinian Authority. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER HAILS CONCLUSION OF EU ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS...
Adrian Nastase said on 9 December that the conclusion of EU accession negotiations the previous day in Brussels is "above all a success of Romania's citizens, of the entire political class, of the government and of [Romania's] negotiating team," Mediafax reported. Nastase, who is the presidential candidate of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the 12 December presidential runoff, said Romania has managed to overcome the "enormous" backlog that separated it from other candidate countries. He said the success "is all the more evident as it was reached in a complicated political year." Nastase said that the government has succeeded in keeping its pledges to the EU to implement reforms "in spite of politicking attempts [by the opposition] to place its interests ahead of those of the country." MS

...AS OPPOSITION ALLIANCE SAYS 'SAFEGUARD CLAUSE' A RESULT OF WEAK POLICIES
The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance said in a 9 December statement that the "safeguard clause" imposed by the EU at the end of the accession negotiations is due to the cabinet's "unconvincing policies" in fulfilling accession criteria, Mediafax reported. The alliance said that as a result of these policies, Romania will be subjected to stricter monitoring than Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2004). "The next period is far too difficult for Romania to assume the risks of a new PSD cabinet continuing the bankrupt policies of the government headed by Adrian Nastase," the statement said. MS

PSD SECURES SUPPORT OF 'POCKET PARTIES' IN ROMANIAN RUNOFF
The PSD on 9 December concluded agreements of "cooperation and partnership" with eight extraparliamentary parties, Mediafax reported. The eight formations pledged to endorse Nastase's candidacy in the 12 December runoff. All of the small parties scored less than 1 percent in the 28 November parliamentary elections. MS

JOURNALISM WATCHDOGS SAY PRINT MEDIA FREER THAN TV IN ROMANIAN ELECTION COVERAGE
Reporters Without Borders and the Romanian Media Monitoring Agency said after monitoring media coverage in Romania between 21 October and 28 November that the print media is freer and more critical of the ruling PSD candidate Nastase, while coverage on state electronic media was apparently censored and manipulated, according to a 9 December press release. The two organizations said that during the electoral campaign preceding the 28 November ballot, the "number of television reports of a political nature fell sharply." It added that the "lack of debate about the election is worrying, since television is the main news source for 73 percent of Romanians." The two organizations expressed concern "about reports of censorship and manipulation of the news on national radio and television." They emphasized that "the role of public media is not to be the government's mouthpiece but to provide the public with complete, impartial, and independent information on subjects of general interest." MS

EU UNVEILS ACTION PLANS FOR NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES
European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner on 9 December told journalists that the commission has approved a first list of "action plans" aimed at reinforcing democracy, good governance, and respect for human rights in seven neighboring states, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels and international news agencies reported. The plans are part of the EU's new "European Neighborhood Policy" and are to include Moldova, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. Ferrero-Waldner stressed that the "neighborhood policy" is "not an enlargement policy." She said the policy "does not prejudge prospects for European countries that may at some future point wish to apply for membership, but it does not provide for a specific accession prospect either." She described the policy as "a substantial offer...of much deeper cooperation and progressive integration into certain EU policies and programs, depending, of course, on the fulfillment of commitments" undertaken by each of the signatories of the action plans. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF SAYS TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS COULD RESUME
William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) mission to Moldova, said in Chisinau on 9 December that he believes the negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol on the settlement of the Transdniester conflict will resume soon, Infotag and Flux reported. Hill said he regrets that the 6-7 December OSCE meeting in Sofia ended without the Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM), which was proposed by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, being signed. He said the DSSM proposal included many positive points and the failure to sign it reflects the broad differences that exist among OSCE member states. The DSSM envisaged expanding the current negotiations format to include the EU and the U.S. as observers. MS

SERBIA'S PRESIDENT SENDS A MIXED MESSAGE IN BOSNIA
Serbian President Boris Tadic sought to reinforce his image as his country's most forward-looking and realistic leader during a recent trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina. But in addition to well-publicized conciliatory remarks directed towards a broad public, he made some statements to a Banja Luka daily that might raise eyebrows outside Serbia and the Republika Srpska.

Since his election in June, Tadic has established himself abroad as the most acceptable dialogue partner since Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated in March 2003. Tadic regularly stresses that his country must observe its international obligations and meet the expectations of the most developed countries if it wants to escape its chronic poverty and improve its standard of living. At the same time, he argues that this in no way means that Serbs must renounce their traditions or national goals.

Unlike many Serbian leaders, he has paid particular attention to his and his country's image in the United States, which he visited soon after taking office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 July 2004). He noted that it is in Serbia's "national interest" to cooperate militarily with that country because it is the world's leading military power and an essential partner in reforming Belgrade's military. In a recent interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, he noted that it is a "tragic fact" that most Serbian "politicians, citizens, and even experts" do not have a good understanding of the United States, its institutions, or its decision-making processes. He stressed that Serbia cannot expect any special treatment from Washington, which insists on full cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and respect for international standards (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 November 2004).

In that same interview, he made additional observations that seemed unprecedented coming from a Serbian leader. Tadic noted that many of Serbia's difficulties in reaching its goals are of its own making. "Many people involved in politics in Serbia...demonstrate on a daily basis that they understand absolutely nothing about how the modern world functions." This remark in particular caught the attention of many observers who feel that the central problem facing contemporary Serbian political culture is a widespread rejection of modernity.

Furthermore, Tadic called his countrymen's attention to the progress that Croatia has made in recent years in breaking with its own nationalist past, a development that he "greatly respects." He argued that all the former Yugoslav republics can improve their economies and standards of living by working together more closely.

Many people at home and abroad were thus not surprised when Tadic broke yet more ground on a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina from 6-8 December. He said in Sarajevo on the first day of his trip that he "apologizes to all against whom a crime was committed in the name of the Serbian people." 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 although, not to those of Croatia. Tadic's statement nonetheless went too far for some of his critics back home. Some of them argued that the issue of reconciliation is too complex and controversial to be dealt with by a single statement by one official, while others charged that the problem is between Bosnia's three ethnic groups and need not concern officials of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 15 September 2003, and 7 December 2004).

But prior to his arrival in Bosnia, Tadic gave an interview to the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 6 December that seemed aimed at a Bosnian Serb public nursing a sense of grievance against its old enemies and the outside world. He told the daily that war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is entitled to a military pension, a statement that many Bosnian Muslims and Croats as well as foreigners would not agree with (http://www.nezavisne.com/dnevne/dogadjaji/dog12062004-01.php). But Tadic argued that "Mladic receives a pension like all officers of the Army of the Republika Srpska [because] a pension is an acquired right, and according to our laws that right does not lapse. One continues to receive one's pension even when in jail."

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."

If that view seemed a bit less than forward-looking outside some Serbian circles, so might a suggestion Tadic made about how to cooperate better with the Hague-based tribunal. He proposed that Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro set up a joint intelligence organization to "exchange information and actively work together, [even though] that is difficult to imagine today. For successful cooperation with the Hague tribunal, it is necessary for the police networks of all countries in the region to work together, including the international security institutions in Kosovo and Metohija and in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Even if one takes into account that most regional security bodies have links of some sort to Interpol, NATO, or other broader organizations, and even if initial moves toward regional military cooperation have already begun, talk of setting up a regional security body seems unlikely to go down well in some places (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 18 November and 2 December 2004). This is particularly true for Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, where many would also question Serbian motives in "cooperating" on war-crimes issues.

It is true that some informal links between some intelligence bodies in the region probably exist, particularly among individuals who worked together in the former Yugoslav system prior to 1991. But the idea of a setting up regional intelligence organization does not seem to be one whose time has yet come, particularly if proposed by the leader of the republic that dominated the security system in former Yugoslavia and of the ethnic group that accounts for the largest number of indicted war criminals.

NATO AGREES TO EXPAND ISAF
During their meeting in Brussels on 9 December, NATO foreign ministers agreed to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, a NATO press release said (http://www.nato.int/docu/pr/2004/p04-170e.htm). In the final communique of the meeting, NATO ministers agreed to implement the decision made during the alliance's summit in Istanbul in June regarding expanding ISAF into the west of Afghanistan and "to accelerate this expansion to support the Afghan Government to meet the challenges of the parliamentary elections" scheduled for April 2005 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 July 2004). The first step in the westward expansion of the NATO-led ISAF is expected to be the assumption of command of the existing Provincial Reconstruction Team in Herat Province. AT

KARZAI OPENS CONFERENCE ON COUNTERNARCOTICS
President Hamid Karzai opened a conference in Kabul on 9 December dealing with Afghanistan's growing problem with illegal drugs, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Karzai told conference participants that when international officials ask him about Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation, he feels "terribly ashamed." The Afghan president added that "this shame must be removed" from Afghanistan. Karzai compared the scourge of illegal drugs to a cancer, adding that this problem is more dangerous to his country than the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union, Reuters reported on 9 December. Karzai has placed counternarcotics at the top of his presidential agenda. 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 however both NATO and the coalition forces have tried to sidestep the issue (for more on the topic, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November, 3 and 8 December 2004). AT

U.S. GENERAL SAYS NEO-TALIBAN IN TURMOIL...
Lieutenant General David Barno, commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, said at the Bagram air base north of Kabul on 9 December that he believes the neo-Taliban are "at an internal crossroads" and are "having great difficulty deciding what their future should be," Reuters reported. According to Barno, the turmoil in the ranks of the neo-Taliban is caused by the reconciliation offer from President Karzai and their inability to prevent Afghans from voting in their country's presidential election in October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 October and 8 December 2004). There are indications that within the neo-Taliban leadership there is a debate as to whether to accept the reconciliation offer from Kabul, Barno said. "There's a huge opportunity" at the moment to take the neo-Taliban "as an organization, off the table and bring the majority of its elements back" into the society, Barno explained. Comparing Afghanistan to other guerrilla wars, Barno said that the Afghan militias have "no passion, no commitment, no nationalistic streak" driving their struggle, and an increasing number of the guerrillas are being paid to fight. AT

...WHILE THE MILITIA VOWS TO FIGHT ON
Former Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Obaiduallah Akhund told Reuters via satellite phone from an undisclosed location on 9 December that the movement's struggle will continue. "We will continue this war until our country is the free. America will also suffer a defeat like Russia," Akhund said. The neo-Taliban have consistently denied that they are negotiating with Karzai's government for a truce. The issue of reconciliation with most members of the neo-Taliban was raised by President Karzai in a speech in April 2003, and has been elaborated on by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003; 28 April, 25 October, 8 November, and 8 December 2004). AT

SUSPENSION OF ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES IN IRAN MAY BE SHORT
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani suggested during a 9 December visit to Semnan that Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment could be short-lived, ISNA reported. "We do this for confidence-building and for two or three months," he said. In his 2 December Friday prayers sermon, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said the suspension could last longer, state radio reported. He said, "For the time being we are speaking about several months. Our interpretation of several months is two-three up to six months, during which parts of our activity can remain suspended." International Atomic Energy inspectors, Hashemi-Rafsanjani added in his 9 December comments, are welcome to inspect "any place they like and we will answer all of their questions." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 5 December that Iran is not obliged to give the inspectors access to suspected military sites (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). BS

IRANIAN BLOGGERS' LETTERS OF CONTRITION THE RESULT OF TORTURE
Radio Farda reported on 9 December that Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said that the weblog writers who have been arrested are "baleq va mokhtar" (of adult age and responsible for their actions by Islamic law). The official was responding to criticism about imprisoned webloggers' letters of contrition that have been published in Iranian newspapers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 December 2004). Karimirad added that they wrote the letters freely and of their own accord. Presidential adviser Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, on the other hand, has written on his weblog that the letters are the result of torture, Radio Farda reported. Moreover, according to Radio Farda, Human Rights Watch stated on 7 December that secret squads connected with the judiciary are behind the detentions and torture. HRW said these squads are made up of Ministry of Intelligence and Security personnel purged in the late 1990s (on the existence of these parallel organizations, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 July 2001, 15 September 2003, and 19 January 2004). BS

TEHRAN DENIES INTERFERING IN IRAQI AFFAIRS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 8 December that Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar's comments about Iranian interference in his country were "regretful," IRNA reported. He also dismissed Jordanian Kin Abdullah's comments on the same subject. Al-Yawar and King Abdullah described Iranian activities in interviews that appeared in the 8 December issue of "The Washington Post." "Iran has very obvious interference in our business...especially in the southeast side of Iraq," Yawar said. He said Iran is advising the parties sympathetic to Tehran, and it is spending a lot of money to produce a Shi'a theocracy like its own. King Abdullah said more than 1 million Iranians have entered Iraq to vote in the 30 January election, that Tehran is spending money on social services and welfare to create pro-Iranian sentiments, and some people have been trained by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The Jordanian monarch warned that this interference could have serious consequences for the region: "If Iraq goes Islamic republic, then, yes, we've opened ourselves up to a whole set of new problems that will not be limited to the borders of Iraq." BS

PHILLIPPINES REQUESTS IRANIAN HELP IN SAVING HOSTAGE
Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo told a 9 December press conference that Manila has requested Iranian and Saudi assistance in securing the freedom of a Filipino hostage in Iraq, AFP reported. Accountant Roy Tarangoy, an American named Roy Hallun, a number of Iraqi guards, and a Nepali were kidnapped by Iraqi militants on 1 November. The Iraqis and the Nepali were released, but Manila announced at the end of November that it is negotiating with the kidnappers, who allegedly are demanding $12 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). Romulo made the request during separate meetings with the visiting Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari and Saudi consultative council president Sheikh Saleh bin Abdullah Bin Humaid, AFP reported. Shariatmadari also met with Philippines Energy Secretary Vincent Perez on 8 December, IRNA reported. BS

SHI'ITES FORM UNITED IRAQI ALLIANCE LIST FOR ELECTIONS
A coalition of 22 political parties and groups announced on 9 December that they will contest national elections on the United Iraqi Alliance list in January, international media reported. The list includes candidates from the two largest Shi'ite political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party. Other candidates on the list represent the Al-Shammar tribe and the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmad Chalabi. The list also includes Sunni, Kurdish, and Turkoman groups. Rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Sadr II Movement will reportedly not officially join the list, but Iraqi newspapers this week reported that the movement's representatives will be listed as candidates on the United Iraqi Alliance list. AP reported on 10 December that the Iraqi Islamic Party, which had threatened to boycott elections, submitted a 275-candidate list to the electoral commission on 9 December. Party officials said they were reserving the right to participate in the elections. KR

CANDIDATES POSITIONS ON LIST CAN DETERMINE WHETHER THEY HOLD SEAT
Voters in the parliamentary election will cast ballots for a single slate of candidates for the 275-member National Assembly, nytimes.com reported on 10 December. Each slate will get a number of seats in the assembly proportional to the number of votes it receives. Therefore it is likely that only the top names on each slate will hold parliamentary seats. According to the website, the United Iraqi Alliance lists SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim in the number one slot out of 228 candidates on the alliance's list. Husayn al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist who helped coordinate the list, is listed seventh, and Ahmad Chalabi is 10th. The website reported that candidates from the Al-Sadr II Movement are also in the top 25 slots. KR

U.S. MARINE CHARGED WITH DESERTION
A U.S. Marine who disappeared from his base in June and later appeared in Lebanon has been charged with desertion following a five-month investigation, Reuters reported on 9 December. Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun disappeared from his base near Al-Fallujah and later turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on 8 July. He is of Lebanese descent. Militants released a videotape on 27 June claiming to have kidnapped the Marine and threatening to behead him (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 July 2004). Reuters cited the Naval Criminal Investigative Service as saying that Hassoun "is alleged to have taken unauthorized leave of the unit where he served as an Arabic interpreter." Hassoun told reporters in the U.S. during the summer that he was taken hostage and held against his will and denied deserting, Reuters reported. KR

OFFICIAL SAYS MILITANTS TRAINED IN SYRIA
Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told reporters on 9 December that documents found in Al-Fallujah show that militants received training in Syria, Al-Arabiyah television reported on the same day. "We found many pieces of direct and indirect evidence in Al-Fallujah...documents on instructions issued at meetings held in Damascus and sent to Al-Fallujah and evidence...of money that was sent to Al-Fallujah. In addition, we found evidence on many people who either entered Iraq from Syria or received training there," al-Rubay'i said. U.S. and Iraqi officials have long said that former Ba'athist officials are managing the insurgency from Syria. Many former regime members reportedly went to Syria during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. They are reportedly collecting money from private sources in Europe and Saudi Arabia and giving it to insurgents, washingtonpost.com reported on 8 December. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Al-Arabiyah on 8 December that the U.S. is considering increasing pressure on Syria to crack down on insurgents. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 9 December that five people were killed attempting to cross from Syria into Iraq near the northern town of Sinjar. They were reportedly shot dead by a U.S. helicopter monitoring the border. KR

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