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Newsline - December 17, 2004


U.S. JUDGE ISSUES INJUNCTION AGAINST YUKOS SALE...
At a hearing in the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Houston, Texas, on 16 December, Judge Letitia Clark issued a temporary injunction blocking all transactions involving assets of embattled oil giant Yukos, bloomberg.com and other media reported. Although the Russian government does not recognize the jurisdiction of the injunction and will proceed with the 19 December auction of Yuganskneftegaz, Yukos's main production subsidiary, the ruling did lead a consortium of major Western banks to pull out of a proposed deal to finance the purchase of Yuganskneftegaz by Gazprom. That consortium included J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein and was expected to lend Gazprom up to $10 billion for the purchase. An unnamed Gazprom spokesman said on 17 December that the court verdict will not affect the participation of his company in the auction and that Gazprom will look for funds from other creditors. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 December that state-owned Vneshtorgbank has applied to the Central Bank for permission to increase Gazprom's line of credit to help finance the Yuganskneftegaz purchase and has asked the Central Bank to provide the funds for such an increase. VY/RC

...AS FORMER YUKOS HEAD SAYS HE DOESN'T THINK COMPANY CAN BE SAVED...
Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the jailed former CEO of Yukos, said that he regrets that Yukos is filing for bankruptcy in Houston and does not believe that it can save his company, according to a statement posted on his personal website (http://www.khodorkovsky.ru/speech/1303.html). He added that he understands, however, that Yukos's foreign managers "did more than was expected for the company and can now only defend their personal reputations." Khodorkovskii also said that the Russian government "ruined his company" and that it "shows neither the ability, nor desire to act in the interests of the country." VY

...AND LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS RETALIATE AGAINST YUKOS IN MOSCOW
Officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office searched Yukos headquarters in Moscow on 16 December and detained and questioned Anton Zakharov, the head of the company's personnel department, newsru.com reported. On the same day, the Moscow Arbitration Court prohibited Yukos shareholders from holding a meeting to discuss the fate of the company, RBK reported. The verdict was adopted after Millhouse Capital, which owns 9 percent of Yukos shares and is controlled by Sibneft owner Roman Abramovich, lodged a complaint. Meanwhile in Houston, Yukos chief financial officer Bruce Misamore said that the Russian government is retaliating against Yukos, after the company filed for bankruptcy in the United States. He added that he expects that Russia might seek his extradition, "The Guardian" reported on 16 December. VY

PUTIN CALLS FOR INCREASE IN NUCLEAR SAFETY...
Speaking in Tver at a State Council meeting devoted to the development of nuclear energy, President Vladimir Putin called for an increase in safety at nuclear-power plants and nuclear-waste facilities, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported on 16 December. "Nuclear energy and storage facilities should be reliably protected against criminals," the president said. In Russia, there are currently some 70 million tons of solid nuclear waste, Putin said, adding that there are problems with processing decommissioned nuclear reactors from the Navy and cleaning up areas contaminated by the military and civil nuclear industry. "We should solve all these problems without delay by using both own resources and cooperating internationally," Putin said, according to RTR. VY

...AND COMPLAINS ABOUT LACK OF PUBLIC TRUST IN STATE ORGANS
During his 16 December inspection of the new bloc at the Kalininskaya nuclear-power plant, President Putin blamed the state for a recent incident in which a minor malfunction at a Saratov nuclear-power plant caused a major public panic (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004), NTV reported. When officials meeting with Putin blamed the panic on "information terrorism," Putin said: "People do not trust state bodies, at least not those in the fields where the state has repeatedly -- I stress this point -- repeatedly shown inconsistency. To win their trust, we need to demonstrate openness in such sensitive areas as nuclear energy." RC

FSB DIRECTOR WARNS OF FUTURE TERRORIST ACTS
Speaking at the Collegium of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) St. Petersburg directorate, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said on 16 December that his agency has information about planned terrorist acts in St. Petersburg, newsru.com reported. According to Patrushev, suspicious people have been seen taking video footage of children's hospitals and clinics. He noted that terrorists would be most likely to strike around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. VY

MINISTER CALLS FOR CREATION OF ENGLISH-LANGUAGE TV CHANNEL
Speaking at a cabinet meeting devoted to cultural policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2004), Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref proposed the creation of an international English-language television channel, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 December. According to Gref's proposal, the new 24/7 channel would be modeled on the English-language channel of Chinese Central Television (CCTV). "Since the CCTV English-language channel appeared...the popularity of the Chinese reforms [has grown] and [the country has a more] positive image," Gref said. "We have no such channel and Russia's image is not matched by what is happening here." "We should find money for it, as it does not require so much [funding]," Gref concluded. Gref also endorsed the proposal of Oleg Dobrodeev, the general director of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), which owns the second national television channel RTR, to extend Russian-language broadcasting in the CIS. VY

MINISTER LAMENTS LOW WAGES IN CULTURE SECTOR
About 1.2 million people working in the fields of culture and the mass media live in "abject poverty" and receive wages below the national average, Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov told a cabinet meeting on 16 December, ITAR-TASS reported. "The poverty principle has become one of the basic principles in the field of culture and that at a time when the level of culture, including political culture, among the population is very low, social exclusion is on the rise, as is xenophobia, and tolerance is on the decline," Sokolov said. He said that about 3 million people work at about 200,000 organizations in the sphere of culture and mass media. Russia has 10,000 registered publishing houses and almost 25,000 registered newspapers and magazines. RC

PUTIN TO HOLD MAJOR PRESS CONFERENCE NEXT WEEK...
President Putin will give his traditional wide-ranging annual press conference this year on 23 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. Last year, more than 700 journalists attended the press conference, during which Putin answered questions for more than two hours. In 2001-03, Putin held the press conference in June. According to the state news agency, "not a single foreign leader agrees to hold such long sessions with the press." RC

...AS POLL NAMES HIM 'POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR'
The Public Opinion Foundation on 17 December released a poll in which a plurality of Russians named President Putin as Russia's politician of the year, Interfax reported. Twenty-six percent of respondents named Putin, who also won the poll last year. Liberal Democratic Party leader and Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii came in second with just 5 percent, followed by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu with 2 percent. Fifty-four percent of respondents declined to name anyone, and all those who were mentioned received fewer votes than they did last year. RC

WESTERN BANK SUBMITS ROSNEFT VALUATION
A valuation of state-owned oil company Rosneft carried out by Morgan Stanley has determined that transferring the company to Gazprom will be sufficient for the government to take over a majority stake in the natural-gas monopoly, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Rosneft was valued at $7 billion to $8.8 billion, which would mean that it is worth a 10.7 percent block of Gazprom shares. The government already owns 39.27 percent of the company. A Morgan Stanley spokesman told the news agency that this is the bank's "final" valuation figure. According to Interfax on 16 December, the government is expected to accept the valuation early next week. RC

HIGHEST COURT UPHOLDS RESULTS OF DUMA ELECTIONS
The Supreme Court on 16 December upheld the results of the December 2003 State Duma election, rejecting a claim by Yabloko, the Communist Party, and Committee-2008 that argued that the campaign was unfair, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The plaintiffs in the case included Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), Irina Khakamada, "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev, and "Novaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Dmitrii Muratov. They complained that President Putin showed unfair support for Unified Russia by giving a nationally televised address to a party congress on 19 September 2003, that 37 senior regional leaders and government figures who ran on the Unified Russia party list and who subsequently refused to take their seats in the Duma never intended to do so, and that the five national television channels provided campaign coverage that was biased toward Unified Russia. Lawyers for Committee-2008 said on 16 December that they will appeal the verdict to the presidium of the Supreme Court and, possibly, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. They said the court heard testimony from only one of the more than 100 witnesses that the plaintiffs sought to call and alleged that justices did not fully review the materials that the plaintiffs presented to the court. RC

NEW HOLIDAY ADOPTED, OLD ONE RECHRISTENED
Duma deputies on 16 December adopted in all three readings a bill on state holidays, gzt.ru and other Russian media reported. The bill renames the 7 November holiday, which formerly had been called the Day of Accord and Reconciliation and which earlier still commemorated the 1917 Bolshevik coup, as the Day of the Military Parade on Red Square. The new holiday commemorates the famous 7 November 1941 military parade on Red Square, after which many units went directly to the front lines outside the besieged city. The bill also declares 4 November a state holiday called National Unity Day. On 4 November 1612, the process of liberating Moscow from Polish invaders began. "This day could be considered a day of national unity, the end of civil discord and conflict, and the beginning of the restoration of independent Russian statehood," the bill states. According to gzt.ru, an additional bill eliminating the 12 December Constitution Day holiday will be considered in its second and third readings next week. RC

DUMA TO CONSIDER NEW VISA RESTRICTIONS
A draft bill being prepared for consideration in the Duma would amend the law on entering and leaving the Russian Federation to allow the government to refuse entry visas to foreigners who have "committed actions that demonstrate a disrespectful character relating to the Russian Federation, organs of government power of the Russian Federation, or the country's state symbols, or acts of disrespect to historical and generally accepted values of the Russian Federation," RIA-Novosti reported on 16 December. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 December, the bill was introduced by State Structures Committee Chairman Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia). The bill would also require visa applicants to submit documentation that they are not HIV-infected and would allow the government to revoke the visas of drug addicts or those infected with dangerous contagious diseases. The bill also contains unspecified changes to the section on the law that regulates the issuance of visas to accredited foreign journalists. Finally, it would allow the government to introduce five-year, multiple entry visas for citizens of countries that offer similar visas to Russian citizens. The Duma is expected to consider the bill next week. RC

MATVIENKO RECEIVES CITATION FROM FSB
St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko has been awarded a commendation "for cooperation with the Federal Security Service [FSB] of the Russian Federation," fontanka.ru reported on 16 December. According to the citation, Matvienko received the award for "active personal cooperation with the organs of the FSB." The award was reportedly presented to Matvienko personally by FSB Director Patrushev. The report did not specify how Matvienko cooperated with the FSB. On 15 December, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported that the FSB had arrested a man named Aleksandr Vtulkin on suspicion of posting threats against Matvienko on a website. Vtulkin is the self-styled national security minister of the so-called Russian Republic, the daily reported, and he allegedly wrote on the fontanka.ru chat forum that Matvienko had been sentenced to death. In June, ethnic-relations expert Nikolai Girenko was murdered after a similar threat by the Russian Republic appeared on the same Internet forum, although that case remains under investigation. RC

VILLAGERS IN NORTHERN DAGHESTAN PROTEST ABDUCTIONS
Some 200 residents of three villages in Daghestan's Khasavyurt Raion blocked the main Rostov-na-Donu-Baku highway on 16 December to protest against the abduction of 10 young men by unidentified armed men over the past three months, Interfax reported. The protesters believe the abductors are Russian Interior Ministry troops deployed in Chechnya seeking to detain members of the Chechen resistance. The villagers abandoned their protest after talks with acting raion administrator Alisultan Alkhamatov, who promised to raise the issue with the republic's leadership. LF

DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKER SAYS CAUCASUS ENVOY NEEDS ADDITIONAL POWERS
Vladimir Katrenko, who is State Duma deputy speaker and chairman of the Duma Committee on the North Caucasus, told ITAR-TASS on 16 December that his committee believes the powers of the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Russia federal district should be broadened, particularly with regard to international, administrative, budgetary, and personnel policy. Katrenko cited the November political crisis on the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the 14 December arms seizure in Kabardino-Balkaria as evidence that the situation in the region remains tense and volatile. He said demilitarization and efforts to identify and contain security threats are necessary preconditions for political stabilization and economic revival. He further advocated greater efforts to stamp out the shadow economy, including lowering taxes and removing administrative obstacles to starting small businesses, together with programs to develop tourism and create new jobs. LF

ARMENIA WELCOMES EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT'S STANCE ON TURKEY, EU
In a 16 December statement, the Armenian Foreign Ministry hailed the European Parliament's call for Turkey to recognize as genocide the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and to open its borders with Armenia "as soon as possible," Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those demands were incorporated in a nonbinding resolution that the European Parliament adopted the previous day urging the EU to approve the start of membership talks with Turkey. But European Parliament President Joseph Borrell told journalists in Strasbourg on 15 December that those demands do not constitute conditions that Turkey must meet before membership talks begin. LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT, JUDICIARY
Meeting on 16 December in Stepanakert with government officials, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, warned that he plans a sweeping government reshuffle to replace unnamed officials who, he said, are either corrupt or indifferent to the population's problems, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Ghukasian further alleged that some judges accept bribes to hand down unjust verdicts. At the same meeting, Ghukasian announced anticipated economic growth of 30 percent this year, partly as a result of foreign investment. At the same time, he acknowledged that much of the population still lives in poverty and has not benefited from economic growth. LF

AZERBAIJAN HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS
Elections are scheduled on 17 December for almost 22,000 seats on 2,735 municipal councils (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 October 2004). The overwhelming majority of the 38,041 candidates are either members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party or nominally independent, although some 400 YAP candidates withdrew from the ballot in recent weeks, Turan reported on 14 December. All major opposition parties with the exception of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party have formally withdrawn their candidates to protest obstacles to campaigning and pressure from local authorities; the names of some of the 274 candidates from the Yeni Musavat party nonetheless figure on ballot papers. Interfax on 16 December quoted presidential administration official Ali Hasanov as saying that the opposition's collective decision not to participate in the elections is a sign of weakness. The U.S. and Norwegian ambassadors in Baku, Reno Harnish and Steinar Gil, have both hinted that they consider the opposition boycott a tactical error. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI SECURITY MINISTER RECEIVES DIPLOMATIC POSTING
President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on 16 December appointing former National Security Minister Namik Abbasov ambassador to Uzbekistan, Turan reported. Abbasov was dismissed from his ministerial post five months ago without explanation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). Also on 16 December, President Aliyev issued instructions on opening Azerbaijani consulates in Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg, both of which have large Azerbaijani expatriate communities, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

TOP IRANIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL VISITS AZERBAIJAN
President Aliyev met on 16 December with visiting Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, Turan reported. Aliyev positively assessed bilateral relations and said his visit to Iran scheduled for next month will serve to boost them. Yunesi for his part predicted that Aliyev's visit will serve to promote "peace and stability" in the region. He also noted the high level of cooperation between the two countries' intelligence services. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR COOPERATION WITH POLICE
Mikheil Saakashvili formally presented Vano Merabishvili on 16 December to the staff of the former Interior and State Security ministries, which are to be merged into a new Ministry of Police and Public Order that Merabishvili will head, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili stressed that it is "vital" for the population to cooperate closely with police, especially in reporting crime. He warned that the fight against bribery and corruption will continue. Merabishvili told his new subordinates that he does not intend to make sweeping personnel changes, Caucasus Press reported on 16 December. But former Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili reportedly intends to take most of his deputy ministers with him to the Defense Ministry, which he now heads. Also on 16 December, rustavi2.com reported that following the abolition of the State Security Ministry, former Deputy Minister Batu Kutelia has been named to head a separate Foreign Intelligence Department that will be directly subordinate to the president. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S SON ASPIRES TO HEAD OPPOSITION
Konstantine (Koko) Gamsakhurdia, deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's son by his first marriage, has returned to Tbilisi from his home in Geneva, Caucasus Press reported on 16 December. Gamsakhurdia, who heads the Tavisupleba (Freedom) movement, criticized Georgia's new leadership for its alleged incompetence, failure to restore the country's territorial integrity, and repeated amendments to the constitution that have given the president virtually unlimited power while weakening the role of the parliament. He said he considers it his duty to assume the role of leader of the opposition. He also demanded a formal investigation into the circumstances of his father's death. Tavisupleba fielded candidates in the 28 March presidential election but failed to surmount the 7 percent threshold required to win parliamentary representation. LF

FORMER ADJAR OFFICIAL DISAPPEARS
Djambul Ninidze, a former deputy mayor of Batumi, vanished in Moscow early this month, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported on 16 December quoting former Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze's spokeswoman Tamar Gudava. Gudava said Ninidze failed to show up for a meeting on 3 December with the former Adjar interior minister. Police subsequently broke into Ninidze's Moscow apartment but found nothing suspicious. Georgian police arrested Ninidze in June on charges of embezzling $130,000 but subsequently released him in exchange for payment of $500,000, Caucasus Press reported on 16 June. Two months later, Financial Police discovered evidence that as chairman of a fund to promote sport and culture Ninidze misused three credits amounting to 240,000 laris ($134,592) and withheld 60,000 laris in taxes, according to Caucasus Press on 18 August. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE REAFFIRMS PRO-RUSSIAN ORIENTATION
Sergei Bagapsh told journalists in Sochi on 16 December that if he wins the presidential ballot scheduled for 12 January, Abkhazia will not agree to reenter Georgia "for at least 100 years," gazeta.ru reported. Bagapsh stressed that Russia "has helped Abkhazia resolve problems peacefully," alluding to the standoff between himself and former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba. Bagapsh added that Abkhazia's legislation should be brought into line with Russia's to facilitate political and economic integration and Russian investment in the unrecognized republic. In Tbilisi, Defense Minister Okruashvili said on 17 December that Abkhazia has a maximum of five years before the restoration of Georgian hegemony, Caucasus Press reported. LF

WEEKLY ABKHAZ TALKS RESUME
For the first time since August, the government of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia sent representatives on 16 December to the weekly meeting in Chuburkhindji between Abkhaz and Georgian officials and representatives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone, Interfax and rustavi2.com reported. The Abkhaz suspended participation in the weekly meetings in August after a Georgian warship opened fire on a Turkish vessel en route for Sukhum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). At the 16 December meeting, the participants agreed to establish a free bus service between the two checkpoints on opposite sides of the Inguri River, which forms the de facto internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

KAZAKHSTAN CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE DAY
Kazakhstan began its 16-17 December Independence Day celebrations on 16 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The holiday commemorates Kazakhstan's passage of a law on independence and sovereignty on 16 December 1991. During an award ceremony on 14 December, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said, "For history, 13 years is a short time, but a great deal has already been done thanks to the unity of our multinational people, internal political stability, and true friendship with all those around us," RIA-Novosti reported. DK

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION GROUPS FORM PARTNERSHIP
The Kyrgyz opposition groups Ata-Jurt and the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan signed a partnership agreement on 16 December unifying their positions on basic political issues, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The two movements will pursue a coordinated policy in the lead-up to February parliamentary elections in the hope of garnering a majority. The organizations share common positions on the privatization of strategic economic sectors, issues of rights and freedoms, and the country's future course of development. In an interview with Kyrgyzinfo on 16 December, Roza Otunbaeva, the co-chairperson of Ata-Jurt, noted that the political situation in Kyrgyzstan cannot be compared to Georgia, where dissatisfaction over falsified elections felled former President Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003. "The main thing is to conduct honest elections, and people will respond appropriately." Nine political parties formed the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan in early fall; Ata-Jurt emerged recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2004). DK

RUSSIA DEPORTS TAJIK MIGRANT WORKERS
Russia deported 83 Tajik migrant workers from Krasnodar Krai on 15 December for violating residency requirements and failing to have migration cards, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 16 December. Nigina Muhammadjonova, a representative of the International Organization for Migration, told RFE/RL that deportations often involve rights violations because migrant workers are unaware of their rights. Mahmudullo Qurbonov, deputy head of the migration department in Tajikistan's Labor Ministry, said that Tajikistan has opened six centers in Russia to help Tajik migrant workers defend their rights. Qurbonov put the number of Tajik migrant workers in Russia at 420,000, but unofficial estimates suggest that the actual number could be more than 1 million. DK

TAJIK ELECTION COMMISSION MEETS
Tajikistan's Central Election Commission (CEC) met in Dushanbe on 16 December to discuss preparations for 27 February 2005 parliamentary elections, Tajik television reported. Participants noted that 41 districts and more than 3,000 polling stations will be set up for the elections. The meeting also approved regulations for the participation of political party representatives, media coverage, and domestic and foreign observers. The CEC plans to form a working group to coordinate monitoring activities by observers. DK

FORMER LEGISLATOR/OIL EXECUTIVE ARRESTED IN BELARUS
A former member of the lower house of the Belarusian parliament, Mikalay Skutaw, has been arrested on unspecified charges, Belapan and "Narodnaya volna" reported on 16 December. Belapan reported that the arrest took place in late November, but a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office declined to specify which articles of the Criminal Code he was suspected of having violated. She also declined to say whether Skutaw's case was related to the recent arrest of Naftan oil refinery head Konstantsin Chasnatvitski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2004). Before his election to the lower chamber, Skutaw was director-general of the BelRosUkrnaft company. As a lawmaker, he served as deputy chairman for the Permanent Committee for Industry, Fuel and Energy System, Transportation, Communications, and Enterprises. According to "Narodnaya volna," Skutaw was arrested several days after a meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- a meeting at which he appeared "cheerful." JAC

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WARNS HIS SUPPORTERS WILL COME TO KYIV FOR NEXT ROUND...
Speaking to reporters in Kyiv on 16 December, presidential candidate and vacationing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych warned that "a real danger exists that after 26 December, Ukraine may be on the brink of a full-scale crisis," Reuters reported. The previous day, he told supporters in a speech in the city of Kherson that his supporters might challenge rival candidate Viktor Yushchenko's backers for control of the streets of Kyiv after 26 December, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 16 December. According to the daily, Yanukovych made similar remarks at campaign stops in Mykolaiv and Sevastopol this week. In Mykolaiv, he said, "As far as I understand, this process cannot be stopped. I hope that it's peaceful." JAC

...AS OPPOSITION RIVAL CHARGES HIM WITH TRYING TO DESTABILIZE COUNTRY
Meanwhile, Yushchenko on 16 December condemned Yanukovych's remarks that his followers will come to Kyiv on 26 December as "unconstructive," Interfax reported. "This is an attempt by the former premier to destabilize civil peace and the political situation in Ukraine," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko also called on Yanukovych to "calm down" and "accept his fate." "If he simply wants revenge, empty and aimless, he is sure to give birth to ideas of separatism and federalization," Yushchenko said. JAC

YANUKOVYCH HOME BASE RESCINDS DECISION TO HOLD SEPARATIST REFERENDUM
The Donetsk Oblast Council decided on 16 December to revoke its earlier decision to hold a regional referendum on 9 January to seek constitutional amendments that could introduce a federal system in Ukraine and give their region a status of republic in a new federation, Interfax and UNIAN reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November and 2 December 2004). The council decided to abandon the referendum because the national legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a law on amending the constitution, which -- if adopted -- would reform local government and possibly increase its powers. JAC

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN
Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada voted on 16 December to appoint Volodymyr Stelmakh as National Bank governor, Interfax and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Stelmakh, 65, served in the position in 2000-02. He was replaced by Serhiy Tihipko, who resigned last month to pursue a more active role in politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). JAC

UKRAINIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER, YANUKOVYCH ALLY TENDERS RESIGNATION
Agriculture Minister Viktor Slauta has tendered his resignation, Interfax and korrespondent.net reported on 16 December. Slauta had been combining his work as a cabinet minister with serving in the parliament. Slauta has served in the position since January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). In parliament, Slauta is first deputy chairman of the Committee on Issues of State Construction and Local Self-Government. Before his election to the Verkhovna Rada from a district in Donetsk Oblast, he served as a deputy to then Donetsk Governor Yanukovych. JAC

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SACKS BOSNIAN SERB OFFICIALS...
High Representative Paddy Ashdown on 16 December sacked nine Bosnian Serb local police and intelligence officials, blocked their bank accounts, and abolished the two entities' defense ministries as of the fall of 2005, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and "Nezavisne novine" reported. The moves came in response to the Bosnian Serbs' repeated failure to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which is holding up Bosnia-Herzegovina's membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July, 1 and 12 October, 3 November, and 16 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September 2004). Ashdown added that "it was revealed by sources which I consider to be entirely reliable that the [Bosnian Serb Army] was, as recently as this summer, actually harboring and protecting [indicted war criminal and former General Ratko] Mladic in an isolated military shelter at Veliki Zep near Han Pijesak," his former headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2004). "While the authorities in Banja Luka were telling anyone who would listen of their efforts to apprehend war crimes suspects, members of their own army sat in their own military base, celebrating [Army] day with Ratko Mladic," Ashdown added. He also noted again that Mladic remained on the Army's payroll until at least 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 6 December 2004). PM

...WHILE STAYING UPBEAT ON BOSNIA...
High Representative Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 16 December that he remains optimistic about the pace of change in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "I am deeply impatient about the pace of change," London's "The Guardian" reported. "But if you look at [Bosnia] in comparison to any other peacekeeping operation, I cannot think of a single one in the whole of history, except for East Timor, where we have moved so far from war to peace." He stressed that "far from getting nowhere in...nine brief years after one of the worst wars...[since 1945], in which a 16th of the population -- 250,000 -- were killed and [2 million] driven from their homes, this place is a miracle." He noted, however, that "the whole...country is being held to ransom" by the Serbs' failure to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. Ashdown argued that the Serbs' failure to arrest any indictees reveals "a deep laid intention not to capture them." PM

...AS THE U.S. FREEZES MORE ASSETS...
U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Douglas L. McElhaney announced in Sarajevo on 16 December that Washington has frozen the assets of the Bosnian Serbs' governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), adding that officials of the SDS and its ally, the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) are now banned from entering the United States, "Nezavisne novine" reported. In addition, Washington banned U.S. citizens from any "financial transactions" with the SDS. McElhaney told the Banja Luka daily that the ban on travel to the United States applies to all SDS and PDP leaders, including Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic (PDP), Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic (SDS), and Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic (PDP). Meanwhile in Washington, the Treasury Department froze the assets of six war crimes indictees: former Serbian Army and police Generals Sreten Lukic, Vlastimir Djordjevic, and Vladimir Lazarevic; Serbian Colonel Ljubisa Beara; Bosnian Croat Miroslav Bralo; and Goran Hadzic, the former leader of Serbian rebels in Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service reported. PM

...AND BOSNIAN SERB PRIME MINISTER RESPONDS
In response to the measures announced by Ashdown and McElhaney, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mikerevic said in Banja Luka on 16 December that the rulings are "not shocking" but do not respect the democratically expressed wishes of voters in the Republika Srpska, "Nezavisne novine" reported. Mikerevic added that Ashdown's measures are unconstitutional and a "diktat," which will not succeed in strengthening the central authorities at the expense of those in the two entities. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PRIME MINISTER IN OFFICE
The Macedonian parliament in Skopje continued on 16 December debating the program presented by Prime Minister-designate and Social Democratic Union (SDSM) Chairman Vlado Buckovski the previous day, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. In his address on 15 December, Buckovski had pledged to speed up efforts aimed at joining NATO and the EU, to improve the economy, to implement the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, to carry out judicial reforms, and to fight corruption and organized crime, according to MIA news agency. In their replies, opposition legislators accused Buckovski of making empty promises. "What we could see in today's presentation was a sweeping promise that is not supported by any facts or figures," conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) Chairman Nikola Gruevski said. The debate has held up approval of Buckovski's government, which was originally scheduled for 15 December. On 17 December, the parliament confirmed Buckovski in office, Reuters reported. UB

OUTGOING ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PARDONS MINERS' LEADER...
Outgoing President Ion Iliescu on 16 December pardoned Miron Cozma, the jailed leader of Jiu Valley coal miners who stormed Bucharest in 1990 and 1991 and sought to march on the capital in 1999 in an apparent coup attempt, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Cozma has served seven years of an 18-year sentence for having brought about the overthrow of the government headed by Petre Roman in September 1991. In the early 1990s, opposition parties and civic groups accused Iliescu of having been behind the miners' rampages. In granting the pardon, Iliescu defined it as "an act of clemency" granted because of Cozma's "good behavior" in jail. Outgoing Prime Minster Adrian Nastase said he was "not informed enough" to comment on the pardon, and government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe said Nastase disagrees with the pardon. According to Mediafax, Nastase countersigned the pardon. MS

...TRIGGERING SHARP CRITICISM...
President-elect Traian Basescu said the Cozma pardon demonstrates "how low the institutions headed by those who signed the pardon [Iliescu and Nastase] sank under their leadership," Mediafax reported. Former Prime Minister Roman called the decision "controversial, to say the least." National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance spokesman Ionut Popescu said Nastase's "stuttering" on the pardon demonstrates that he neither dares oppose Iliescu nor has the courage to assume responsibility for a pardon he countersigned. PNL Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said the pardon was a "clear political decision" that shows that Iliescu "remains an old Bolshevik, influenced by his communist past and displaying contempt for the justice system and state institutions." Greater Romania Party (PRM) First Deputy Chairman Corneliu Ciontu called Iliescu's decision "normal," while Social Democratic Party (PSD) Senator and former Ceausescu court poet Adrian Paunescu lauded it. MS

...UNTIL HE REVOKES THE PARDON
Mediafax reported on 17 December that, after consulting with Prime Minister Nastase, Iliescu decided to revoke the pardons of Cozma and 44 other prisoners. Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said the pardons are to be "re-analyzed." To protest the pardon, President-elect Basescu refused to fly to an EU summit in Brussels (see item below) in the presidential plane with Iliescu, boarding a commercial airliner instead. MS

OUTGOING ROMANIAN PREMIER WARNS OF CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS...
Outgoing Prime Minister Nastase said on 16 December that President-elect Basescu must respect the decision of the electorate and appoint a prime minister from among the parties that are capable of securing a majority in the legislature, Mediafax and Reuters reported. He said it would be "irresponsible" for Basescu to designate a prime minister from other political formations. Nastase warned that if Basescu ignores that advice, the Social Democrats might boycott the parliamentary debate on a vote of confidence. This would deny the legislature a quorum and lead to a constitutional crisis, Nastase warned. MS

...AND GETS PROMPT RESPONSE FROM BASESCU
President-elect Basescu responded to Nastase's warning on 16 December by saying no constitutional crisis would arose as long as the constitution is strictly adhered to, Mediafax reported. Basescu argued that the PNL-Democratic Party alliance ran in the 28 November elections as a "political alliance" and thus has the largest caucus in parliament, comprising 161 deputies and senators. The Social Democrats and the Humanist Party (PUR) ran as an "electoral alliance" and therefore consists of two parliamentary groups, he added -- 159 Social Democratic lawmakers and 30 PUR lawmakers (see "Testing Romania's Constitution," rferl.org). Basescu said it would be correct to talk about a constitutional crisis only if the will of the people is not respected. The crisis to which Nastase referred, Basescu charged, "is a crisis of the Social Democratic Party, which fears a loss of power." MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT GIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR ROMANIA'S 2007 ACCESSION
Despite criticism of Bucharest's record in areas like corruption and minority rights, the European Parliament recommended that Romania be allowed to join the EU in 2007, Mediafax reported. The resolution, drafted by French rapporteur on Romania Pierre Moscovici, says that Bucharest must make "additional efforts" to meet accession conditions and asks Romania to intensify anticorruption efforts, and respect children's rights and the rights of national minorities -- the Roma in particular. The resolution also urges respect for the freedom of the press, judicial independence, and environmental protection. Europarliamentarians also approved a "safeguarding clause" that would postpone Romania's accession by one year if it does not strictly abide by conditions. The 16-17 December EU summit in Brussels was expected to back Romanian and Bulgarian accession in 2007. MS

EU TO STAY AWAY FROM INVOLVEMENT IN TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS
Ian Boag, who heads the European Commission's mission in Chisinau, told journalists on 16 December that the European Union is backing the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol but is not ready to take part in those negotiations, Flux reported. Boag said the EU does not advise Moldova to renounce participation in the current five-party talks, but rather to seek a solution within that format. The format includes the two belligerents and Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as mediators. MS

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES ACT AGAINST MOSCOW'S ECONOMIC INTERESTS
Nikolai Ryabov, who recently became Russian Ambassador to Moldova, said in Tiraspol on 16 December that recent actions by Moldova's leadership amount to a considerable infringement on his country's economic interests, Infotag reported. In his first visit as ambassador to the breakaway region's capital, Ryabov said the economic blockade imposed by Chisinau on Transdniester affects Russian interests. He said agreements signed by Tiraspol and Chisinau grant the breakaway region the right to unhindered foreign trade. MS

THE NEXT STEP IN UKRAINE: MEETING THE GOVERNANCE CHALLENGE
The peaceful, civic response to the flawed second round of Ukraine's presidential election has been an impressive testament to the democratic determination of the Ukrainian people. Should Viktor Yushchenko ultimately prevail in the repeat of the run-off election on 26 December, as polls indicate, it will open a new chapter in Ukraine's post-independence politics.

To a large degree, however, the truly difficult work will begin after the "third round," when Ukrainians will need to translate the past weeks' "people power" into meaningful institutional reform and more responsive, democratic governance. Ukraine's legacy of unresponsive and corrupt governance will pose a considerable reform challenge for the government that follows 10 years of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's leadership.

Some of the first, critical steps, dealing with election reform, have already been taken. The members of the Central Election Commission were dismissed after the Supreme Court ruled that the 21 November ballot was fraudulent, and the new commission's composition will feature more balanced membership.

In advance of the 26 December repeat of the second round, parliament amended the election law to address two of its most glaring deficiencies. First, the total number of absentee ballots permitted will be reduced from 4 percent of total eligible ballots to 0.5 percent. Second, mobile ("at home") voting will be circumscribed to prevent the sort of extensive abuses that occurred during the first and second rounds. These reform measures and others, if implemented and followed, should have a salutary impact on the 26 December ballot, as well as on the administration of future elections.

But beyond these immediate steps relating to the election process, there are several key institutions to keep in mind, whose development is essential and which should serve as a barometer of Ukraine's democratic progress in the postelection period.

Ukrainian news media, which suffered under systematic intimidation and manipulation during the Kuchma years, is one such institution. The system of "temnyky," theme directives that instructed editors on news coverage, was emblematic of the nontransparent and controlling environment in which media were forced to operate.

Ukraine's judiciary is another key institution. Beset by corruption and heavy influence from the executive, Ukraine's courts have in the past not met a standard that would enable the country to advance toward the West. Legal procedures more often have been used as a tool to protect the government's interests rather than that of its citizens.

The shape and capacity of Ukraine's political opposition will also be important. The absence of a credible, responsible, and accountable opposition voice will neither advance the success of a new government's program, nor serve the country's overall democratic maturation process. Candidate Yushchenko has indicated that he would not be a vindictive victor (Viktor?). In fact, during the weeks of protest and election-related tumult, Yushchenko has worked assiduously to send reassuring messages to all corners of Ukraine and to expand his political coalition. This sort of inclusive politics would stand in stark contrast to the divisive and exclusive politics that has been the hallmark of the Kuchma era.

There should be no doubt that parts of the old guard who will form the political opposition under a Yushchenko presidency will seek to operate according to old practices. Nevertheless, a fundamentally magnanimous leadership posture, which enables responsible political opposition, would be a very welcome development in Ukraine.

Given the duress under which news media, the judiciary and political opposition have been operating, embedding reform will be a tough challenge. But there are signs of promise on which further reforms can be built.

Since the 21 November ballot, the beginnings of a transformation have already been set in motion in the Ukrainian media. The civic engagement that followed the flawed vote paved the way for Ukraine's media to report more freely and in an unbiased manner. Television news broadcasts, including on 1+1, Inter and UT-1, which regularly denied access to the political opposition, used the civic action as a basis to begin to report on issues in a more open and dramatically different manner. During the campaign, only Kanal 5, a pro-opposition channel, consistently offered coverage of the Yushchenko campaign and the protests in the aftermath of the 21 November vote.

The judiciary has also seized the opportunity and asserted its independence. It was on the basis of the Ukrainian Supreme Court's invalidation of the second round results that a repeat of the flawed election was enabled. These decisions are admittedly only a first step, but the court's action -- if it becomes the rule rather than the exception -- can lay the groundwork for a new legal landscape based on the rule of law.

Of course, positive developments in the media and judicial spheres and the existence of a responsible political opposition, should they emerge, would also help make headway against a scourge that plagues Ukraine: entrenched, pervasive corruption.

So what are the prospects for a positive scenario to emerge in Ukraine after the political euphoria ends?

Recent experience in other countries, while not exact replicas of the Ukrainian case, can help inform the reform challenges Ukraine will confront.

In Georgia, on the heels of a deeply flawed election in November 2003 "people power" opened the door for the removal from power of former President Eduard Shevardnadze. In the year since President Mikhail Saakashvili has come to power, he has sought to maintain the political momentum from a year ago. His reform program has made some real forward progress, including essential efforts to tackle Georgia's massive corruption problem. But his government's methods are not without its critics. Saakashvili, who has faced virtually no political opposition, has been accused of cutting corners in the implementation of his reform program. This has included, for example, questions about the manner of collection of fines from officials accused of corruption or embezzlement during the Shevardnadze era. (In a number of these instances, these former officials have paid substantial fines as part of the resolution of their cases. More than $50 million is believed to have been collected in this fashion. This enforcement method has raised questions about the soundness of a process by which lump-sum contributions paid by a suspect can be transferred to the Georgian treasury, or if criminal charges can actually be dropped on the basis of this sort of payment.) Georgian media, which faced considerable obstacles during the Shevardnadze period, are apparently facing pressure under a Saakashvili administration as well.

Serbians used flawed elections in September 2000 as a basis for protesting the results and ultimately jettisoning former President Slobodan Milosevic from office. Confronting a corrupt system of governance and a raw, postconflict environment, the post-Milosevic government that took office in January 2001 sought to implement an ambitious reform program. In the last four years, some steps have been taken to consolidate democratic practice, but many Serbs still perceive their democratic progress as falling far short of expectations. A high level of corruption is among the biggest sticking points.

In Slovakia, parliamentary elections in September 1998 enabled opposition democratic forces to defeat the HZDS party of former President Vladimir Meciar and open the door to reengagement with Europe and the trans-Atlantic community. Slovakia's poor image abroad and lackluster governance at home were hallmarks of the corrupt and insular Meciar regime. The coalition government that followed Meciar was dealt a difficult hand, facing, among other challenges, a system of widespread cronyism and corruption. Today, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that at the time of the pivotal 1998 elections, President Meciar had taken Slovakia off course, leaving it behind the other Visegrad countries in its aspirations for membership in NATO and the EU.

Over the past five years, under new leadership Slovakia's reform efforts have paid real dividends. Independent media and civil society have played an important role in this transformation, which has resulted in a reorientation of the country's politics, a consolidation of its key institutions, and membership both in NATO and the EU.

Slovakia's speedier democratic advancement has undoubtedly benefited from its relationship with NATO and the EU, something that should be kept in mind as international policy makers look to help the consolidation Ukraine's democracy.

Of course, in Ukraine the first priority is the holding of free, fair, and lawfully administered elections on 26 December.

Should the favored Yushchenko win, the euphoria of successful democratic change will give way to the reality of governing. Then, the biggest challenge for Ukraine's incoming leadership may be management of high expectations, as has been the case in other such political transitions. Keeping the momentum that has gained strength during the remarkable multiphased election process will not be easy. The incoming government should look to fashion a focused and manageable reform agenda, in which the Ukrainian people can see concrete successes in the near to medium term.

In a speech delivered in Brussels on 8 December, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell observed, "We know that democracy depends on certain attitudes and institutions that don't arise overnight." Ukraine in these short weeks has come a long way toward changing attitudes at home, and abroad, about its dedication to democracy. Positively changing its institutions will take similarly firm dedication and patience from the Ukrainian people, and steadfast support from abroad, in order for Ukraine to consolidate its place as a normal, European state.Christopher Walker, director of studies at Freedom House, is co-editor of Freedom House's survey of democratic governance, "Countries at the Crossroads." He served as an election observer of second-round voting on 21 November in Ukraine's presidential election.

UNICEF SAYS NEARLY 4,000 AFGHAN CHILD SOLDIERS DISARMED
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported on 16 December that nearly 4,000 child soldiers have been disarmed in Afghanistan. "A total of 3,998 children -- all boys, the majority being aged 14-17 years old -- have been demobilized in 15 provinces in north, northeast, east, and central Afghanistan since the program began in February," said a statement posted on UNICEF's official website (http://www.unicef.org). The group estimated that there are roughly 8,000 former child soldiers in the country, "many of whom were forcibly conscripted to fighting forces in the last years of the conflict." UNICEF said all the demobilized soldiers are given the opportunity to enroll in schools or undergo vocational training. Begun in northern Afghanistan, the child-disarmament program was carried out in step with a UN-backed effort to demobilize fighters across the country. "UNICEF now hopes to complete the demobilization program in the provinces of south, west and southeast of the country not covered in 2004," the statement said. MR

ADB APPROVES $80 MILLION HIGHWAY LOAN FOR AFGHANISTAN
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved an $80 million loan to improve roads in Afghanistan, dpa reported 16 December. Announcing the project in a statement from Manila, a bank spokesman said construction will focus on rebuilding the last unpaved portion of the so-called ring road, which links Afghanistan's major cities. The section of road slated for reconstruction stretches for 210 kilometers from Andkhoy to Qaisar. "It will also install toll facilities for newly improved primary roads in Afghanistan and provide project-management support for the Ministry of Public Works," the bank added in a statement. Most of the roads in Afghanistan were in ruins when the Taliban was ousted in late 2001. The ADB said damaged roads block the movement of people and goods and slow humanitarian assistance. "The project area -- remote and subject to extreme weather -- is in need of continued humanitarian and basic social services," said ADB project specialist Hideaki Iwasaki. Iwasaki said improved road conditions will offer "better access to health, education, and other services" to at least 800,000 people. MR

NEO-TALIBAN DENY KILLING TURKISH HOSTAGE IN AFGHANISTAN
Neo-Taliban insurgents denied killing a Turkish engineer found dead on 15 December after being abducted the previous day, Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported on 16 December. "We are not involved in the abduction and killing of the Turkish engineer in Konar," neo-Taliban spokesman Mofti Latifollah Hakimi told the Pakistan-based news agency in a telephone interview. "We do not need to commit such acts, because we can capture our enemy and fight it. Therefore, we do not need to carry out such attacks." Kidnappers took Turkish engineer Eyup Orel hostage along with his driver and interpreter, who were freed on 15 December. Orel's body was discovered by Afghan security forces after they surrounded the alleged kidnappers, who escaped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2004). No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction and killing. MR

NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM TO HAVE KILLED 10 AFGHAN SOLDIERS
Neo-Taliban insurgents said they killed 10 Afghan troops in fighting in southern Zabol Province on 15 December, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported the next day. "Ten government soldiers were killed in fierce clashes with the Taliban in the Sorkh Sang area of Arghandab District yesterday [15 December]," Taliban spokesman Hakimi reportedly told the agency. Hakimi also said insurgents destroyed four government vehicles in the fighting, which he said killed two neo-Taliban fighters. Abdol Qayum, the head of Arghandab District, said he heard reports of fighting in the area that killed four insurgents. But he stressed that details of the alleged firefight are still unclear. "Sorkh Sang is a very remote area," he said. "We have heard that four Taliban have been killed and two government soldiers injured in the fighting there. However, my information is not very accurate." MR

IRAN DECLARES SELF-SUFFICIENCY IN WHEAT PRODUCTION
The director of Iran's Wheat Plan said in Shiraz on 11 December that the country plans a 10 percent increase in output because of plentiful winter snowfall, Mehr News Agency reported. He added that he hopes Iran becomes a wheat exporter in the coming years. A 16 November ceremony marked Iran's becoming self-sufficient in wheat production. The country produced 14 million tons of wheat, according to the "Tehran Times" on that day, and local demand is 11.04 million tons. Speaking at the 16 December ceremony, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said the achievement of self-sufficiency in wheat production has implications for national security, not just the economy, IRNA reported. Khatami said major powers use wheat and other foodstuffs as a way of imposing their will on other countries. An editorial in the 5 December "Jomhuri-yi Islami" commended the Agriculture Jihad Ministry on this achievement in wheat production and suggested the same can be done in other areas, including rice production. However, the daily warned, much agricultural land is being converted to residential usage. BS

PALESTINIAN LEADER EXPLAINS TRIP TO IRAN
Palestinian Foreign Minister and Fatah leader Faruq Qaddumi said in the 16 December "Al-Hayah" from London and the 15 December "Al-Watan" from Abha that his trip to Iran reflects the Palestinian leadership's desire to free the Palestinian economy and to improve relations with neighboring states. Asked about the Iranian stand on the creation of a Palestinian state, Qaddumi said, "Iran believes that if the Palestinian people want to establish their Palestinian state on Palestinian land, this issue is up to them," "Al-Watan" reported. He continued, "However, Iran believes that all of Palestine must be liberated. This does not mean that they want to expel the Jews. To the contrary, they want the Palestinians and the Jews to coexist within one state. This position coincides with the basic position of the Fatah Movement." BS

MARTYRS' WIDOWS PROTEST IN TEHRAN
About 50 widows of men killed in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) staged a protest in front of the legislature in Tehran on 16 December, "Kayhan" newspaper reported. The protestors claimed that the Martyrs Foundation is ignoring them, and they demanded money owed to them and the deeds for property presented to them by the foundation. The demonstrators asked to meet with parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. BS

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER SLAMS UN 'FOOT-DRAGGING' ON ELECTIONS...
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has accused the United Nations of being too slow in meeting its commitments to assist with national elections, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 16 December. "The United Nations was very late in fulfilling its promises," Allawi said. "I personally talked to the UN secretary-general in New York in September. Later, I addressed letters to him, making demands. I even criticized the United Nations' behavior and its foot-dragging on coming to the rescue of Iraq by offering the necessary expertise to back the election process." UN Secretary General Kofi Annan withdrew the organization's international staff after the second bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. The first attack, in August 2003, killed 22 people -- including the chief of mission Sergio Vieira de Mello -- and injured 150. UN personnel began returning to Iraq earlier this year, and the organization now has 64 international employees in the country. BW

...AS UN CHIEF SAYS UN PRESENCE IS LARGE ENOUGH
After meeting with Annan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on 16 December that UN plans to help with Iraq's upcoming elections appear to be on schedule, Reuters reported the same day. "The UN effort seems to be on track in support of the Iraqi effort," Powell said. "The Iraqis themselves are responsible for the conduct of the election, and the UN is certainly doing a good job in supporting them." The United States has been pressing the UN to increase its presence in Iraq, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan appeared to contradict Powell, saying: "We encourage them to continue to expand their presence in Iraq," Reuters reported. But Annan suggested that there are already enough UN staffers on the ground. "We have enough people in there to do the work and if need be, we'll put in the staff we need to get the work done," Annan said. "It's not a question of numbers. It's a question of what you need to get the job done." BW

PROBLEMS CITED WITH IRAQI OVERSEAS VOTING
Farid Ayar, a spokesman for Iraq's Election Commission, said on 16 December that Germany and Canada are obstructing plans for special polling places to collect the ballots of Iraqi exiles in those countries, dpa reported the same day. Ayar said those two countries fear the polling places could lead to "importing terrorism," especially after an apparent plot this month to assassinate interim Prime Minister Allawi on a visit to Berlin. Officials in Berlin said the same day that they have not yet made a decision on whether to permit a polling station to collect the votes of an estimated 84,000 Iraqi exiles in the country. Iraq's electoral rolls include 3 million people living abroad. Ayar said 14 locations abroad have been chosen for voting centers to be set up with UN help -- including Munich, where most Iraqis in Germany live. BW

IRAQI JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS HUSSEIN WILL BE LAST OF OLD REGIME TO FACE TRIAL...
Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hassan said on 16 December that Saddam Hussein will be the last of 12 deposed Iraqi leaders to go on trial, international news agencies reported. The trial of Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali," is due to run from next week until mid-January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2004). Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, a presidential adviser who is Saddam Hussein's half-brother, will be the second official to stand trial. "The rest of the accused will follow one after the other," Hassan told the Swiss newspaper "Le Temps" during a trip this week to Geneva. "Saddam himself would be judged the last, long after the elections in January," he said. BW

...AS FORMER IRAQI LEADER MEETS WITH HIS ATTORNEY...
Saddam Hussein held a four-hour meeting with his defense lawyer on 16 December, international news agencies reported the same day. It was the former Iraqi leader's first meeting with his attorney since U.S. forces captured him in late 2003. Ziad al-Khasawneh, the head of the defense team, said Hussein met with one of his attorneys at the deposed leader's undisclosed detention site, but he declined to identify the lawyer. "He was in good health and his morale was high and very strong," al-Khasawneh said, according to AP. "He looked much better than [during] his earlier public appearance when he was arraigned a few months ago." BW

...AND RIGHTS GROUP CRITICIZES TRIBUNAL
The New York-based Human Rights Watch warned that Iraq's plans to hold early trials of Saddam Hussein's former deputies could turn into an unfair process that lacks international credibility, Reuters reported on 17 December. "Trying former Iraqi officials under the current rules could mean a wasted opportunity to put Saddam and his henchmen on trial in a manner that has credibility in the eyes of the world," Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement released the same day. "Trials for atrocities committed during Ba'ath Party rule could not be more important for the victims and to show that justice works," he said. "But the process must be fair for justice to be done." The rights group also said judges have not been properly trained, defendants have not had full access to lawyers, and there were not explicit guarantees against using confessions extracted under torture. BW

REINFORCEMENTS DEPLOYED TO KARBALA AFTER BLAST
Reinforcements from the Iraqi police and National Guard were deployed to the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala on 16 December, one day after an explosion there killed 10 people and wounded more than 30, international news agencies reported. A Karbala-based ayatollah, Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarisi, called the bombing an assassination attempt on Sheikh Abdul-Mehdi al-Karbalai that was intended to undermine Iraq's 30 January elections, Reuters reported on 17 December. Al-Karbalai, an aide to Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was said to be among those wounded in the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2004). "This attack is part of a series of terrorist acts attempting to sow discord among the Iraqi people and obstruct the electoral process," al-Mudarisi said in a statement. BW

ITALIAN AID WORKER KILLED IN IRAQ
Iraqi militants said they killed an Italian aid worker after he tried to break through their roadblock on a highway outside the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, international news agencies reported on 16 December. An Italian passport and Lebanese residency permit identified the man as Salvatore Santoro, an international aid worker, AP reported. Masked gunmen took three Iraqi journalists to a location in the desert outside Ramadi on the previous day and showed them the man's blindfolded body. The photos showed the body of a man wearing jeans and a leather jacket, with a white rag tied around his eyes, AP reported. Masked guerrillas, next to a banner identifying them as members of the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Mujahedin, posed with their automatic rifles pointed at the body. "We have warned all foreigners in the past against entering Iraq, especially those from countries that took part in occupying our country," one of the militants said. BW

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