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Newsline - December 14, 2004

Russia and China will hold their first-ever joint military exercises in 2005, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Beijing on 13 December, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Ivanov did not specify the nature, scale, or date of the exercises. Ivanov said that his talks with Chinese leaders encompassed "practically all aspects of relations in the military sphere, as well as security in the Asia-Pacific region, the fight against terrorism, and the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction." He said that the "strategic partnership" between the two countries continues to develop. Ivanov added that Moscow is watching the situation with regard to Taiwan closely, saying that Russia "opposes separatism." "Russia's position on Taiwan is principled and our Chinese friends know this well," Ivanov said. Last week, Ivanov made his second trip this year to India, where he said, "We are developing a strategic partnership with New Delhi and are examining the possibility of transferring to India the very latest state-of-the-art military technologies," "Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer" reported on 8 December. RC

The Federal Antimonopoly Service announced on 11 December that it has received three bids so far in the 19 December tender for Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of Yukos, Interfax reported on 13 December. The three bids are from Gazpromneftegaz, First Venture Company, and Intercom. An unidentified source told the news agency that all three bids "represent Gazprom's interests." Intercom participated with Gazprom on the financing of the Blue Stream gas pipeline deal between Russia and Turkey. Gazprom declined to comment on the report. In November, two Gazprom-affiliated companies submitted bids for a 38.35 percent stake in the Kirovo-Cherepovets Chemical Plant. RBK reported on 14 December that Menatep, the main Yukos shareholder, is calling on banks to refuse to finance Gazprom's acquisition of Yuganskneftegaz. Menatep has threatened to file legal action not only against the purchaser of Yuganskneftegaz, but against the financial agents of the purchase as well, the news agency reported. An unidentified source told RBK that Gazprom is negotiating a $10 billion loan with a consortium of six Western banks, including ABN AMRO, Deutsche Bank, and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. Unnamed analysts told RBK that First Venture Company and Intercom submitted bids merely to ensure that the tender would be declared competitive and that Gazpromneftegaz will win the auction with a bid that is only marginally more than the $8.6 billion starting price. RC

The Central Bank has spent $12 billion on the hard-currency market over the last week in an effort to prop up the ruble, reported on 14 December. The bank spent $4 billion on 11 December alone and was able to keep the ruble between 28.12 and 28.18 to one U.S. dollar. The ruble closed at 28.1 to the dollar on 10 December, the fourth consecutive day of declining values, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 December. Experts surveyed by speculated that the rise in the value of the dollar was sparked by instability on the stock market. "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 December that the stock market lost $10 billion in capitalization on 9 December following the government's announcement of a $158 million tax-arrears claim against telecommunications operator VympelCom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 December 2004). On 10 December, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin presented President Vladimir Putin with a fairly gloomy economic forecast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 December. "Over the past five years, the economy has seen unprecedented, historic rates of growth that are unlikely to be repeated over the next five years," Kudrin said, concluding that it is unlikely that the government will be able to achieve its stated goal of doubling GDP by 2010. RC

Finance Minister Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref blame the interference of Kremlin politicos and an unnamed "third force" for creating an atmosphere of fear in the economy, "Gazeta" reported on 14 December. The ministers have reportedly called on President Putin to rely on "professionals" to run the economy and to make a choice between the "reformers" and the "anti-reformers." On 11 December, Gref's ministry submitted a medium-term economic report that reduced the economic-growth forecast for 2005 from 6.3 percent to 5.8 percent, the daily wrote, noting that the modified forecast was not reported in the state-run media. Strategic Planning Center President Elvira Nabiullina, who is close to Gref and Kudrin, told "Gazeta," "The reduction in the growth rate was not caused by seasonal factors but by the quality of macroeconomic policy." Federal Financial Markets Service Director Oleg Byugin told the daily that "a third force is acting negatively on the stock market -- that is, the tax organs, not the government as a whole." "When everyone is thinking about how to hide their money, of course this must influence the rate of economic growth," Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov was quoted as saying. "If things continue, then next year we could fall to a growth rate of 3 to 4 percent." RC

Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) political council member Boris Nemtsov told Ekho Moskvy on 13 December that there are numerous topics about which it is forbidden to report on state-controlled Russian television. "There are absolutely forbidden subjects on Russian television," Nemtsov said. "They are alternative views on Ukraine, Chechnya, and the situation in the armed forces; corruption in the highest echelons of power; the false, nontransparent budget; and [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii." He added that the media also does not discuss topics such as the spread of AIDS. "Moreover, the list keeps on growing," Nemtsov said. "Pretty soon, they are likely to be included in the law on state secrets. This is the logic of an authoritarian, lying regime. The Kremlin people cannot understand one simple thing: one cannot hold out on lies for long." RC

The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) celebrated its 15th year of existence at a extraordinary party congress on 13 December in Moscow, NTV and RTR reported. LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told the more than 170 delegates from across Russia that the party is ready to cooperate with the Unified Russia party. According to LDPR State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov, the two parties will cooperate on the question of state building, including the introduction of a proportional electoral system for the Duma, the cancellation of gubernatorial elections, and the "closure of ethnic oblasts." At the congress, delegates introduced amendments to the party's charter which will boost the role of the party's central apparatus. Henceforth, Zhirinovskii will have to okay party lists not just for the State Duma but for all regional legislative elections, NTV reported. Zhirinovskii also presented to delegates the party's own eau de cologne. JAC

The People's Party held a conference in Moscow Oblast over the weekend of 11-12 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 December. Members of the party declared that their ideology is no longer left-center, but social-democratic. People's Party leader and member of the Unified Russia State Duma faction Gennadii Gudkov criticized the Unified Russia party, the State Duma, and the Federation Council as not being sufficiently independent, charging that the system of checks and balances in the country is therefore not functioning. According to Gudkov, Unified Russia's operating principle is "to support any decision" of the presidential administration or government. Gudkov announced in April that the People's Party intends to form a left-center coalition including Motherland, but the party does not intend to sever its relations with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). Motherland State Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin attended the conference as leader of the People's Will party. JAC

The Yerkrapah Volunteer Union, whose estimated 11,000 members are veterans of the Karabakh war, held its sixth congress in Yerevan on 11 December, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 13 December. Those attending included both supporters and opponents of the current Armenian leadership. Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian assured the congress that Nagorno-Karabakh will never be a part of Azerbaijan, according to Arminfo on 11 December as cited by Groong. Former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian, brother of murdered Defense Minister and Yerkrapah first chairman Vazgen Sargsian, launched an implicit appeal to veterans to oppose the present leadership, then walked out of the congress hall. The Sargsians' mother Greta blessed those gathered, saying she regards them all as her sons, and she expressed the hope that the union will not split into rival factions. The delegates reelected Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Manvel Grigorian chairman of the union, but several close associates of Aram Sargsian who boycotted the gathering were not reelected members of the Yerkrapah board. LF

The U.S. dollar rose in value against the Armenian dram on 11 December, from 470 drams/$1 to 485 drams/$1, following a warning the previous day by President Robert Kocharian that the Central Bank should take resolute measures to end currency speculation, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). On 13 December, Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian told journalists that an inspection last week of currency exchange offices in Yerevan revealed numerous violations of trading regulations. Sarkisian admitted for the first time that speculation has contributed to the dollar's decline against the dram; he previously attributed that decline to the dollar's loss of value against most world currencies since the beginning of this year. LF

In a 13 December address to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, President Ilham Aliyev again called on the UN and the EU to "play a more active role" in the search for a political solution to the Karabakh conflict, Reuters reported. Noting similarities between the Karabakh conflict and those in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniester, he proposed a "unified approach" to seeking solutions to those conflicts, Caucasus Press reported on 14 December. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned both before and after Azerbaijan raised the issue in the UN General Assembly last month that Baku's efforts to involve other mediators rather than rely on the OSCE Minsk Group could deadlock the peace process (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 November and 6 December 2004). On 11 December, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told journalists in Baku that Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov agreed during meetings in Sofia on 5 December and Brussels on 9 December to continue their series of exploratory talks that began in Prague in April, Interfax reported. The next such Prague meeting is scheduled for January 2005. LF

Azerbaijani, Iranian, and Russian energy officials signed an document in Tehran on 11 December on connecting and synchronizing the three countries' power grids, Turan reported on 13 December. That agreement will pave the way for one country to compensate for an eventual energy shortfall in one of the other two, beginning in 2006. The cooperation was first announced following a visit by Anatolii Chubais, CEO of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, to Baku in October; a draft agreement was signed in Tehran on 26 October, Interfax reported that day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2004). Georgian Deputy Energy Minister Aleko Khetaguri said on 14 December that Tbilisi is interested in joining that three-way exchange, Caucasus Press reported.LF

Georgian police violate human rights more frequently than any other government agency, according to a report released by Georgian ombudsman Sozar Subar on International Human Rights Day, Caucasus Press reported on 10 December. Subar noted that police plant drugs and weapons on suspects to create a pretext for arresting them, and resort to torture to extract confessions from detainees. He said over 800 persons now in detention bear marks of having been subjected to physical violence. But a poll of 2,000 people, conducted by the GORBI agency and summarized by the agency's head Merab Pachulia on 13 December, yielded a much more positive assessment, Caucasus Press reported. More than 50 percent of the respondents said the police have "a good reputation," while seven out of 10 said they would turn to the police for help if required. Two out of three respondents said that they believe corruption has declined since the new regime came to power late last year. LF

The Abkhaz parliament adopted on 13 December a new constitutional law "On the presidential election in the Republic of Abkhazia in accordance with the Agreement on Measures to Attain National Accord of 6 December 2004," Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Nomination of candidates will take place between 14 and 25 December, candidates will be registered by 29 December, and the ballot will be held prior to 13 January; it will be considered valid if 25 percent of registered voters participate. If there are multiple candidates, the one who polls the largest number of votes is elected; if there is only one candidate, he must garner 50 percent of votes cast. On 10 December, outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba named four new candidates to the 15-person Central Election Commission to replace members who resigned in the wake of the inconclusive 3 October presidential election. But a meeting of the commission scheduled for 13 December failed to take place as the six members nominated by the parliament did not attend, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Sergei Mironov, chairman of Russia's Federation Council, met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on 13 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Mironov praised bilateral cooperation, noting that trade between the two countries will reach $7 billion in 2004. He also urged the creation of a parliament for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). Addressing Kazakhstan's Senate, Mironov said that Russia and Kazakhstan should serve as a model for Eurasian integration, ITAR-TASS reported. Mironov told ITAR-TASS in an interview that Russia should take into account Kazakhstan's experience in implementing social reforms. Turning to international issues, Mironov said that Ukraine can resolve its political crisis "without outside help," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

President Nazarbaev removed Education Minister Zhaksybek Kulekeev on 13 December and appointed Byrganym Aitmova, who was relieved of the post of deputy prime minister, to replace him, Kazakh TV reported. Although Kulekeev was relieved at his own request, he had incurred a presidential reprimand in early December for increasing student loan fees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004). DK

Umarzak Uzbekov, Kazakhstan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, told a press conference in Bishkek on 13 December that the recent decision by Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly to delay ratification of a December 2003 treaty with Kazakhstan is "on the conscience" of legislators, reported. Uzbekov said that the treaty should serve as the basis for relations, with issues such as labor migration receiving separate treatment. He also objected to Kyrgyz deputies' characterization of the treaty as "toothless." Kyrgyz lawmakers voted on 7 December to delay ratification because the treaty, they argued, failed to defend Kyrgyz interests on such issues as labor migration and the use of water resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). DK

Former Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva announced the creation of a new political movement on 13 December, reported. Speaking at a news conference in Bishkek, Otunbaeva said that Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) is being set up with Legislative Assembly members Dooronbek Sadyrbekov, Adakhan Madumarov, and Omurbek Tekebaev. "The core of our political activities today is to participate in both parliamentary and presidential elections. We intend to fight together with all the constructive forces for a majority in the future [Kyrgyz] parliament," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service quoted Otunbaeva as saying. "Our task is to win two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament [to be elected on 27 February 2005]." DK

Tajik police have arrested two students at Khujand University for distributing propaganda materials on behalf of the banned extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 13 December. The two are being charged with inciting ethnic and religious hatred and calling for the overthrow of the constitutional system. Police spokespeople in Khujand said that another four young people in Soghd Province are also facing charges for Hizb ut-Tahrir activities. DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov has set elections for Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) for 27 February 2005 and elections for the Majlisi Milli (upper chamber of parliament) for 24 March 2005, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 13 December. DK

Peter Winglee, head of the International Monetary Fund's mission in Tajikistan, met with President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 13 December, Khovar reported. Their discussion focused on IMF assistance for the continuing implementation of economic reforms in Tajikistan. "We discussed issues related to the continuation of reforms, strengthening the banking system, and ways to reduce obstacles to the functioning of foreign banks [in Tajikistan]," Winglee told journalists after the meeting, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service. Winglee commented on the cotton sector, saying, "It is also important to keep on with reforms in the cotton-production sector. We had an extensive discussion of the importance of reducing state involvement in the cotton-production sector." DK

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Yuriy Boyko, head of the state-run Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny, and Aleksandr Ryazanov and Yuriy Komarov, deputy chairmen of state-run Russian gas company Gazprom, in Ashgabat on 12 December, Turkmen TV reported. The report indicated that price negotiations are continuing on 2005 purchases of Turkmen gas. Earlier reports suggested that Turkmenistan hopes to raise the purchase price from the current $44 per 1,000 cubic meters to $60 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). DK

Belarusian Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 13 December that the EU unjustly added her name to a list of Belarusian officials banned from travel to EU countries to promote democracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). The EU move is among the sanctions that followed flawed elections and a dubious referendum on 17 October along with violations of the rights of peaceful demonstrators. "It is just like in Ukraine," Yarmoshyna said. "They found the scapegoat in the form of the [Central] Election Commission, which naturally has no relation to administrative resources nor to any falsifications." The recent EU travel ban also extends to Yury Padabed, commander of the OMON riot police who broke up opposition protests following the 17 October polls. In September, the EU imposed travel bans on four other Belarusian officials -- Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau, then Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Sports Minister Yury Sivakou, and Interior Troops brigade commander Dzmitry Paulichenka -- over their alleged involvement in the unexplained disappearances of three opposition politicians and a journalist in 1999 and 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is on leave to campaign ahead of a new presidential runoff on 26 December, told journalists on 13 December that he is dissatisfied with the way outgoing President Leonid Kuchma handled the political crisis in the country following the flawed second round of voting on 21 November, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "Our points of view have diverged completely, and I have become deeply disappointed with this man," Yanukovych said. "I hoped that he would defend the interests of the state and the Ukrainian people during the crisis. But he defended his own interests and those of his family." Yanukovych also denounced Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and other foreign mediators in the Ukrainian crisis for what he says was interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs. "He [Kwasniewski] and other intermediaries backed the legalistic nihilism that occurred during the 'orange revolution' in Ukraine," Yanukovych noted. A number of observers have predicted that Yanukovych might seek to distance himself from the current administration in an effort to defeat opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the repeat presidential vote. JM

U.S. officials on 13 December expressed concern over the recent report by Austrian doctors that Ukrainian presidential candidate Yushchenko had been poisoned, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). "It's terrible news to hear, and it's certainly disturbing reports. And I know the Ukraine government is investigating this matter fully, as they should," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We are deeply disturbed by the physicians' report. The physicians have now said that he was poisoned with dioxin. We support a full and complete transparent investigation into that matter into how it happened, who did it, what the cause was." Boucher added, "We will make our position clear once again -- that we did not have a favored candidate in the campaign. Our interest is in seeing democracy prevail." JM

The "Financial Times" quoted unnamed Western diplomats on 14 December who suggested that Ukrainian President Kuchma came under pressure from Prime Minister Yanukovych and presidential-administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk to use Interior Ministry troops to quell opposition protests following the fraudulent 21 November presidential runoff. "I know that many representatives of the [state] apparatus lobbied the president to impose a state of emergency," the newspaper quoted the deputy head of the presidential administration, Vasyl Baziv, as saying. "They said it is time to use state power. The president, from the first moment, was consistently against the use of force." Opposition candidate Yushchenko told the newspaper that the critical moment in the "orange revolution" came on 28 November, one week after the eruption of antigovernment protests, when soldiers were provided with bullets. JM

Presidential-administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, who is also the leader of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), has tendered his resignation, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 14 December, quoting SDPU-o parliamentary caucus head Leonid Kravchuk. "I can't say when he tendered his resignation, but he did this definitely," Kravchuk said. "He realizes that the Kuchma era has ended and that he will not become head of the presidential administration under a new president, whoever is elected." Asked why Kuchma has not yet accepted Medvedchuk's resignation, Kravchuk said that delay might hinge on the need to pass presidential-administration archives to a new administration and to the fact that Kuchma's powers have not yet terminated. Medvedchuk is widely believed to have been one of the most influential political figures in the Kuchma administration. JM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, told the BBC on 13 December that tension is likely to rise in Kosova in 2005 as the province moves toward talks on its final status, which for the ethnic Albanian majority means only independence, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 18 October and 19 and 24 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August, and 10 and 17 September 2004). He said that Kosova's "fuse is very short" and that the international community must prepare its security forces there accordingly. "Keep the level on the ground you have now but make sure that the boots are on the ground, that you are more mobile, more flexible, and...more visible," Jessen-Petersen warned. He stressed that a main lesson of the 17-18 March ethnic unrest was that "you cannot keep Kosovo as a holding operation forever." PM

UNMIK head Jessen-Petersen told the BBC on 13 December that 2005 is "potentially tense, because as we get closer to the status talks the stakes are getting much, much higher, and in what is a fragile society we can expect that there will be provocations," Reuters reported. Jessen-Petersen added that "the Kosovars better than anybody else fully understand another outburst of violence means that they can wave goodbye to immediate status talks." Noting that Belgrade will also not have a veto, he added that "neither side has the right to decide final status." PM

Tito Petkovski of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), who heads the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, said after a meeting of the committee on 13 December that the security situation in Macedonia is stable but could deteriorate due to the presence of an ethnic Albanian armed group in the village of Kondovo outside Skopje, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 6, 7, and 8 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 10 December 2004). The committee decided to monitor the situation in that village closely. Opposition legislators walked out of the committee meeting, protesting the absence of outgoing Interior Minister Siljan Avramovski and the quality of information on Kondovo presented by Bureau for Public Security Director Laze Velkovski, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB

Former Bosnian Serb General Vinko Pandurevic, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted for war crimes in connection with his role as a commander at Srebrenica during the July 1995 massacre there of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males, is under arrest at the Sremska Mitrovica prison in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 13 December, citing an unnamed Bosnian Serb government source. Pandurevic, who holds dual Bosnian and Serbian citizenship, reportedly refuses to surrender to the tribunal voluntarily or go to Banja Luka. Under Serbian law, no citizen can be extradited involuntarily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). PM

Bozo Prelevic, who heads the independent commission investigating the 5 October killings of two conscripts near Belgrade's Topcider military complex, said in the Serbian capital on 13 December that an unnamed third party was involved in their deaths, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). The army's commission maintains that the two died as a result of a shootout between themselves. 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

Final official results released by the Central Electoral Bureau on 13 December confirmed that Traian Basescu defeated Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in the presidential runoff of 12 December, Mediafax reported. The National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance candidate garnered 51.23 percent of the vote versus Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party alliance candidate Natase's 48.77 percent. Turnout was 55.21 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). Basescu will be sworn in to succeed Ion Iliescu as president on 23 December. MS

President-elect Basescu suggested on 13 December that he would like Romania's next governing coalition to include the center-right PNL-Democratic Party alliance, the Humanist Party (PUR), and the ethnic Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), Mediafax reported. Basescu has said naming a prime minister will be his first priority and that such a coalition would promote Romania's integration into the European Union. Basescu noted that the PNL and Democratic Party alliance has a combined 161 seats in parliament, while the Social Democrats have 160. There are 332 seats in the lower house and 137 in the Senate. The Socialist Party claimed on 13 December that it could form a new coalition with the Humanist Party and the UDMR, but outgoing President Iliescu countered that no party has a parliamentary majority and stressed that the Socialist Party's envisaged majority would be "quite fragile." Romania's newly elected parliament met in its first session on 13 December. MS

The Humanist Party and the ethnic Hungarian UDMR, both of which began negotiations with the Social Democrats over a possible coalition, might be reconsidering their positions in the wake of the presidential election, Mediafax reported. The Humanist Party has a combined 30 seats and the UDMR has 32. Humanist Party Chairman Dan Voiculescu said his party is "analyzing" the situation following the presidential ballot, and a party statement stressed that the Humanist Party doctrine is different from that of the Social Democrats, with whom it shared electoral slates on 28 November. Also on 13 December, the Humanist Party set up separate legislative caucuses in each chamber of parliament from the Social Democrats. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said his formation would "reconsider" its commitments if the PUR dissolved its alliance with the Social Democrats, dpa reported. MS

Some 10,000 people gathered on the evening of 13 December in Bucharest's Constitution Square to celebrate Mayor Basescu's victory in the presidential runoff, Mediafax reported. The meeting was organized by the PNL-Democratic Party alliance. Basescu and other leaders of the alliance attended the celebration. Basescu told the gathering that the electorate has granted the democratic opposition a "second chance." He said that unlike the missed chance of the 1996-2000 presidency of Emil Constantinescu, "I shall not fail this time around." Meanwhile, a Serbian computer expert invited by the Pro-Democracy Association to examine the software used in centralizing the results of the 28 November parliamentary elections concluded that the software was not subjected to electronic manipulation, as claimed by Basescu after that ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). MS

Outgoing President Iliescu invited President-elect Basescu to accompany him to the 16-17 December EU summit in Brussels, Mediafax reported. The summit is expected to approve an invitation to Romania to join the organization in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2004). Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot was quoted by Mediafax as saying in Brussels on 13 December that he was "not recommending to Romania" reopening negotiations on the closed chapters of Energy and Competition, as Basescu suggested during the electoral campaign that he wanted. Bot, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, said this would be "detrimental" to Romania. On 13 December, Basescu told journalists in Bucharest, according to AFP: "Romanian citizens are entitled to know the costs of the integration. Euro-skepticism appears when people are frozen out of the integration process. We need national solidarity to ensure this does not happen in Romania." Mediafax also reported that EU foreign ministers are likely to invite Romania and Bulgaria to sign the accession treaty in April or May. MS

President-elect Basescu told journalists on 13 December that Romania will conduct a "partnership policy" toward Moldova under his leadership, Mediafax reported. Basescu said Romania "must treat the Moldovans like good Romanians." He said the relationship between the two states must be one between "countries whose territories are inhabited by one and the same people." He said he hopes Moldovan authorities "would back the willingness I am now expressing as Romania's next president." Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and predecessors Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi have repeatedly rejected the "one people, two states" approach and said the Moldovans are a people separate from the Romanians. MS

The Transdniester State Bank threatened on 13 December to sue Moldova over its involvement in the halting in Ukraine of a shipment of 8 million coins made at Polish State Mint, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2004). The bank said in a press release that the bank has often ordered commemorative and small coins from the Polish mint during the last five years and that the orders have been in line with international law. It also said the shipments always followed the same route through Ukraine and were accompanied by documents examined by Polish and Ukrainian customs and found to be in order. The bank called the halt of the last shipment an "unprecedented provocation violating the property rights of an economic entity." It also said the halt of the shipment damaged the reputation of Polish State Mint. In a statement issued the same day by the Polish Embassy in Chisinau, however, Poland's diplomatic mission said that, despite its name, Polish State Mint is not a state-owned entity but a commercial company with no links to the Polish state. MS

U.S. officials said last week that they are considering increasing the pressure on Syria to crack down on former Iraqi Ba'athists who they believe are orchestrating and funding the insurgency from inside Syrian territory. The pressure is part of an overall effort to put an end to the insurgency in Iraq.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of policy and planning at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar, told Al-Arabiyah television in a 10 December interview: "Significant work in terms of building barricades and exchanging intelligence information has been done to tighten control along the Syrian-Iraqi borders. But, the Syrian government knows that there are people who facilitate matters inside Syria. We look forward to working jointly with Syria to root out those facilitators so that the financing of the Iraqi insurgency may be stopped."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Al-Arabiyah in an 8 December interview that the United States plans to consult with other Middle East leaders as to whether it should apply more pressure on Syria to take action against militants crossing its border into Iraq. Armitage said that former Ba'athists from the deposed Hussein regime are funding attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces from inside Syrian territory. "I would hope the Syrians would wake up and realize that they are going to have to live side by side with an Iraq, and that they had better change their behavior now so that the future relationship with the new Iraq will be one that's congenial," Armitage said.

Armitage's comments came just one day after interviews with interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir and Jordan's King Abdullah II were published in "The Washington Post." U.S. officials said that the insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognized from Syria. The daily cited an unidentified State Department official as saying that U.S. officials have given Syria a list of former Iraqi officials it wants arrested or expelled. King Abdullah told the newspaper that both U.S. and Iraqi officials believe that "foreign fighters are coming across the Syrian border that have been trained in Syria to fight the insurgency."

Al-Yawir, meanwhile, told the daily that "there are people in Syria who are bad guys, who are fugitives of the law, and who are Saddam remnants who are trying to bring the vicious dictatorship of Saddam [Hussein] back." He added, "They are not minding their business or living a private life. They are...disturbing or undermining our political process."

Al-Yawir later told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 13 December that he is confident that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad does not want to see the kind of violence that is happening in Iraq spill over into his country. "When fire breaks out in your neighbor's house, you have to rush to extinguish it, not only for the neighbor's sake but also so you will not be forced to extinguish it in your house when it spreads to it," al-Yawir said. He also accused Iran of providing financial and logistical support to militants.

National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i has reportedly criticized Syria for allowing terrorists to cross its borders into Iraq, and said that funds were sent to Al-Fallujah from Damascus, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2004). "Al-Hayat" cited al-Rubay'i, in a report dated the same day, as claiming to possess documents and confessions from Syrians captured in Iraq to back up his allegations.

But it appears that the interim government does not hold a united viewpoint when it comes to Syria's apparent laxity. The above-mentioned "Al-Hayat" report also cited Hassan Allawi, Iraqi ambassador-designate to Syria, as saying that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari have set up "a team to prevent the political escalation with Syria and the publication of the confessions of Syrians who fought in Iraq." He expressed doubts about the so-called team, saying: "For how long can the team that does not believe in escalation with Syria stand fast against U.S. information about the illegal activities of Iraqi fugitives in Syria?"

The motives of Allawi and al-Zebari are unclear but likely stem from a desire to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq's western neighbor. Ambassador-designate Allawi told "Al-Hayat" in an interview published on 4 December that he expected diplomatic relations to be restored "soon."

Syria and Iraq reached an agreement on border protocol on 7 November. Al-Jazeera reported the same day that Syria had beefed up security measures at the Abu Kamal (Al-Qa'im) border-crossing point, setting up sand barriers to close the crossing. An unidentified Syrian security official told Al-Jazeera that U.S. and Iraqi troops closed the crossing on the Iraqi side of the border. Baghdad's "Al-Ittihad" on 6 November cited a Syrian customs official as saying on 4 November that Iraq had closed the Al-Walid (Al-Tanf) crossing. London's "Al-Hayat" in an 8 November report (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 November 2004) cited growing Syrian concerns that the violence in Iraq might spill over onto Syrian soil.

The Allawi government would also like to get its hands on funds deposited by the Hussein regime in Syrian banks. Iraqi officials have said that the money amounts to some $3 billion, while Syrian officials have claimed that their banks are holding around $300 million. And, as noted, the interim government is pushing Syria to hand over former regime officials believed to be hiding there. The Syrian government has denied that any former Ba'athists took refuge in the country following the defeat of the Hussein regime, but numerous media reports dating as far back as April 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 April 2003) indicated that former Ba'athists, including Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, may be directing the insurgency from Syria. There was evidence that foreign fighters began entering Iraq via Syria as early as May 2003.

Syrian officials have maintained that the most recent accusations by U.S. and Iraqi officials are unfounded. Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Mustafa said that "there is a sinister campaign to create an atmosphere of hostility against Syria, "The Washington Post" reported on 8 December. "Iraqi officials were never welcome" in Syria, he added. Unidentified officials told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that al-Yawir's allegations "came as an unpleasant surprise," the daily reported on 10 December. Syrian officials cannot deny however, that despite security measures, militants continue to infiltrate Iraq from Syria. Should evidence come to light that training camps in Syria are churning out fighters for Iraq, the political consequences for Syria would be enormous, and could ultimately include some form of sanctions.

Meanwhile, reports are surfacing that Allawi may be on the verge of striking some kind of deal with former Ba'athists, reported on 11 December. The website claims that Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmad, the former official in charge of the Iraq Command for the Salah Al-Din, Al-Ta'mim, and Al-Sulaymaniyah governorates, has claimed from his base in Al-Hasaka, Syria, that he would halt insurgent attacks within six hours if his party were guaranteed participation in January's elections. The offer was reportedly made during a meeting with negotiators acting on behalf of Allawi at a recent meeting. The website cited its sister paper "Akhbar al-Khaleej" as reporting that al-Ahmad's offer was made under pressure from Damascus. The website reported that a deal could be struck soon between al-Ahmad and his Ba'athist cohorts, and Allawi's government. Should a successful agreement be reached and the Ba'athist insurgency halted, it would signal a coup for the Allawi government both in terms of dealing with security and getting Sunnis to participate in elections. However, it would likely divide the Iraqi public, many of whom are squarely against allowing Saddam loyalists a foothold in the new Iraqi government.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on 13 December that new instances of prisoner deaths have been reported from U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan ( "It's time for the United States to come clean about crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan," Brad Adams, Asia division director of HRW, said. Adams urged the United States to prosecute those implicated in the death or mistreatment of Afghan prisoners. HRW said that six Afghans are known to have died in custody, including four known cases of alleged murder or manslaughter, and the United States has publicly charged only two people with crimes. In the letter, HRW called on Rumsfeld to release the conclusions of an internal investigation carried out by the U.S. Department of Defense of detention facilities in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March and 20 May 2004). AT

The U.S. Army announced on 13 December that eight Afghan prisoners have died in U.S. military custody in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001, AFP reported. The new number -- two more than previously disclosed -- was announced following reports of HRW's letter to Rumsfeld, AFP added. AT

Ramazan Bachardost resigned from his post as planning minister on 13 December, Jowzjan Aina Television reported. Bachardost told reporters on 13 December that he decided to resign once he realized that President Hamid Karzai would not support his decision to shut down nearly 2,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Bachardost, who was appointed planning minister in March, had consistently maintained that most of the NGOs operating in Afghanistan were enriching themselves at the expense of Afghan aid money. Karzai's spokesman on 11 December said that Bachardost's decision to close down NGOs was his own and not a government policy. He added that Bachardost will be made to apologize to the NGOs in question (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). AT

The head of security in Kandahar Province, Abdullah Laghmani, said his forces have exposed a secret neo-Taliban network in the city of Kandahar, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 13 December. Three alleged members of the militant group and their driver have been arrested in the operation. Laghmani described the group as being part of a neo-Taliban "secret network that was carrying out explosions and other subversive activities in Kandahar city." Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban movement, but that southern city has been largely quiet in recent months. AT

Security forces in Kandahar have arrested Mullah Mohammad Esa, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 13 December. Mohammad Esa is a brother of Mullah Mohammad Hasan, former governor of Kandahar under the Taliban regime. Mohammad Esa was living in Kandahar when he was arrested on suspicion of involvement in activities against the government. AT

An Iranian team led by Iran's ranking nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, met with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany in Brussels on 13 December to discuss the mechanics of a recently agreed freeze by Iran of all uranium enrichment and related activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 13 December 2004), news agencies reported the same day. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels after one 90-minute meeting that the parties can now move on to long-term arrangements "to provide objective guarantees" that Iranian nuclear activities will be strictly civilian, AP reported. Rohani said separately that the talks herald a new chapter in Iranian-European relations, AFP reported on 13 December. But Iranian officials have already stated that Iran will only suspend enrichment for a few months, contrary to European hopes for a lasting cessation of enrichment. Iranian state radio quoted a member of the Iranian team identified as Aqamohammadi as saying in Brussels on 13 December that Iran will seek to steer the talks toward ending the suspension. Straw said three working groups will discuss for at least three months the implementation of the November accord, beginning on 13 December, AFP reported. VS

The United States has for the fourth consecutive year prevented Iran from initiating negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), Reuters and RFE/LR's Radio Farda reported on 13 December. The United States is officially "studying" Iran's application and has blocked the WTO General Council, whose decisions must be unanimous, from initiating accession negotiations, Reuters reported on 13 December. The United States accuses Iran of aiding terrorists and running a secret nuclear-bomb program. The rejection prompted the head of the Iranian parliament's committee on national security and foreign policy, Alaeddin Borujerdi, to say that the Europeans must now "reconsider" their ability to meet some of the commitments they made to Iran in the 15 November Paris agreement, Radio Farda reported. Britain, France, and Germany agreed at the time to "actively support the opening of Iranian accession negotiations at the WTO," according to, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) official website. "They should bear in mind that they are effectively unable to meet certain commitments," Radio Farda quoted Borujerdi as saying. "When one side does not honor its commitments, there is no reason for the second party to [do so]," Borujerdi said. VS

Palestinian Foreign Minister Faruq Qaddumi met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Iranian parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel in Tehran on 13 December, IRNA reported the same day. Kharrazi criticized U.S. backing for Israel, which he said has ensured Israeli "audacity and the continuation of its invasive policies" against Palestinians. "America wants Israeli dominance over the entire region," he said. Iran, Kharrazi said, will continue to provide "moral support" to "legitimate" Palestinian "demands and struggle against the occupiers," IRNA reported. Qaddumi said past negotiations have shown that Israel "does not respect any agreement." Separately, Haddad-Adel told Qaddumi that the U.S. presence in Iraq has distracted international attention from Israeli "crimes" in the occupied territories, IRNA reported. He added that "continued struggle and resistance" are the only way to free those territories and Jerusalem. VS

Iranian Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with Syrian Vice President Abdullah al-Hamar in Tehran on 13 December and told him that it is important for regional states to help Iraqis hold "timely, nationwide" elections, IRNA and reported the same day. Local and national Iraqi elections are currently scheduled for the end of January. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iraq and "its future" are "fateful" for a region that will face a "fate worse than Palestine's" if Iraqis do not take control of their affairs, IRNA reported. Iran and Syria, he added, must maintain their "necessary" collaboration to help resolve an unspecified "regional problem" and "support the peoples of Palestine and Iraq." Al-Hamar was in Tehran at the invitation of the Islamic Coalition Society, a conservative political group, IRNA added. Separately, interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir repeated in an interview with "Al Sharq al-Awsat" his earlier assertions that Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2004), adding that this is not merely a charge and that Iraq has firm evidence of such activities, Radio Farda reported on 13 December. He told the BBC on 13 December that insurgents are entering Iraq from Iran and Syria, intent on violently disrupting Iraq's January elections, and Radio Farda reported the same day. VS

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced in a weekly address to Iraq's interim National Assembly on 14 December that the trials of former senior members of the Saddam Hussein regime will begin next week, international media reported. Allawi did not provide details of the scheduled trials or say which former regime members will be tried first. Allawi further announced that investigators have uncovered a mass grave near Al-Sulaymaniyah that could hold as many as 500 bodies, Reuters reported. KR

Prime Minister Allawi also announced on 14 December the capture last week of Izz al-Din Muhammad Hasan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein's second cousin, international media reported. Allawi did not say why al-Majid was arrested; he is not on the U.S. list of most-wanted fugitives. Al-Majid appeared to have a contentious relationship with Saddam Hussein. A member of the Republican Guard, he told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in October 2003 that he survived an assassination attempt by the regime in 1991 that killed his brother. He was arrested in 1991 because of his views related to the Gulf War, forcibly retired, and rearrested upon his return to Iraq in 1993. He fled to Jordan in 1995. His wife and four children were killed in 1996, purportedly by regime members who targeted the family after two of his cousins -- including Hussein's son-in-law, Husayn Kamil al-Majid -- defected and then returned to Iraq on the promise of a pardon by Hussein. Reuters reported on 14 December that U.S. authorities accused al-Majid in July of funding the insurgency; he has denied the charge. KR

Prominent Shi'a leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, secretary-general of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), met with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in Damascus on 13 December, international media reported. KUNA quoted al-Hakim as telling reporters that the talks were "very good" and adding that they touched on the political process and upcoming elections in January. He said the talks are part of a series of meetings with leaders from Iraq's neighboring and regional countries to inform them of the situation in Iraq, KUNA reported. Al-Hakim holds a seat on the interim National Assembly. He also defended recent statements by interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir in which the latter suggested that Syria is not doing enough to prevent terrorist infiltrations across their mutual border, saying that al-Yawir was not accusing al-Asad or his government of supporting terror. KR

A suicide car bomb detonated at an entrance to Baghdad's green zone on 14 December, the second such attack in as many days on the checkpoint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004), international media reported. Reuters quoted local hospital officials as saying that 12 civilians were wounded in the attack, five seriously. AFP reported that an Iraqi National Guardsman was killed in the attack; Reuters quoted witnesses as saying that they saw bodies blown to pieces. Meanwhile, the bodies of eight men dressed in civilian clothes and shot in the head execution-style have been found in a Mosul cemetery, a local hospital official told Reuters on 14 December. The men's identities have not been determined. Dozens of bodies belonging to Iraqi police and National Guard forces have been found in the city in recent weeks. KR

Farid Ayar, spokesman for the independent Iraqi Electoral Commission, told reporters in Baghdad on 13 December that the commission has received 70 electoral lists from political parties, groupings, and independent candidates vying to compete in January's parliamentary elections, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Ayar said that six lists represent coalition slates -- lists grouping a number of parties and candidates together -- while 64 others represent independent parties and individuals. Reuters quoted Ayar as saying that nine lists have been submitted. Ayar confirmed that the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni party that had once opposed elections, has submitted a list to the commission (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 10 December 2004). The deadline for political parties and candidates to submit their lists to the commission is 15 December. KR

The Japanese cabinet on 14 December approved a 9.9 billion yen (about $95 million) budget to support some 600 Self-Defense Forces extended aid mission to Iraq, Kyodo World Service reported. The cabinet recently extended the Japanese mission to Iraq through 14 December 2005 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 10 December 2004). The mission focuses on reconstruction and humanitarian operations in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Samawah. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he believes that the Iraqi people and government support his country's mission, saying, "We will have to continue the operations that will be appreciated by the Iraqi people," Kyodo reported. KR

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote in a report presented to the Security Council by special representative to Iraq Ashraf Qazi on 13 December that the international community needs "to close ranks in support of Iraq's political and economic reconstruction," UN News Center reported the same day. Annan wrote that technical preparations for the elections remain on schedule, but he said violence and excessive military force remain a problem on the ground. "The widespread insecurity in Iraq, including intimidation, hostage taking, targeted and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and brutal acts of terror, is a major obstacle," he wrote, adding that any expansion of UN personnel outside the green zone in Baghdad would be extremely perilous. KR

Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Samir al-Sumaydi'i told the Security Council that the UN needs to take a more active role in Iraq, saying the UN's preferred mode of interaction with the interim government is through conference calls from outside Iraq or videoconferences and letters, AP reported on 13 December. "As circumstances permit should not become a mantra repeated [by the UN] to justify insufficient presence on the ground in Iraq," al-Sumaydi'i said. He suggested that the world body dispatch its personnel to more secure areas in northern and southern Iraq to help prepare for elections. U.S. Ambassador John Danforth also called for "substantial increases" in the number of UN personnel on the ground in Iraq, adding that multinational forces will take steps to protect UN personnel, international media reported. KR