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Newsline - December 28, 2004


RUSSIA RECOGNIZES OUTCOME OF UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 27 December that although the rerun of the Ukrainian presidential election on 26 December won by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko was "not entirely faultless" and Russian and foreign observers observed "violations," these facts "have not yet called into question the general outcome [of the elections]," Interfax reported. Over 900 observers from Russia and the CIS were among the 12,000 international observers monitoring the Ukrainian election. Veshnyakov also said that the demonstrations and other events in Ukraine known as the "Orange Revolution" that led to the repeat of the presidential runoff are impossible in Russia. "There are neither political nor organizational prerequisites for that in Russia," utro.ru quoted him as saying. VY

...AS PUTIN CRITICIZES UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER'S ENTOURAGE...
Speaking at a three-hour year-end press conference in Moscow on 23 December, President Vladimir Putin repeated his earlier statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2004) that he had good personal relations with Viktor Yushchenko when Yushchenko was Ukrainian prime minister and expects no problems interacting with him again, RTR and ORT reported. Talking about Yushchenko visiting Moscow, Putin said, "We are always glad to receive in Moscow a leader who wins the confidence of the Ukrainian people," kremlin.ru reported. Putin noted, however, that he is concerned about the composition of a Yushchenko cabinet. "The only thing we are counting on is that Mr. Yushchenko's inner circle will not include people who are building their political ambitions on anti-Russian, Zionist slogans and so on," kremlin.ru quoted Putin as saying. Such slogans are "totally inadmissible" and "we do not ignore them," Putin added. Kremlin.ru noted that "Zionist" was a slip of the tongue and Putin meant to say "anti-Semitic." VY

...AND RUSSIAN COMMENTATORS DISCUSS YUSHCHENKO VICTORY
National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii said on 24 December that in his opinion, Ukrainian opposition leader Yushchenko "very much wants a reconciliation with Putin," apn.ru reported. Belkovskii said that in his opinion there is no danger of a partition of Ukraine, as neither the Ukrainian elite nor public want it. No part of Ukraine has had any "illusions" about rejoining the Russian state, he noted. On 27 December, Academy of Sciences' CIS Institute Director Konstantin Zatulin said that with Yushchenko's election victory, Russia lost its hope of keeping special relations with Ukraine "just like the United States and Britain," TV-Tsentr reported. And Politika Foundation President Vyacheslav Nikonov said that Yushchenko's victory means that Ukraine will likely pull out of the Single Economic Space uniting Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, join NATO, and ask Russia to withdraw its Black Sea Fleet from the Crimean port of Sevastopol, which is on Ukrainian territory. VY

PUTIN SAYS YEAR 2004 'POSITIVE'...
Summing up his domestic and foreign policies in 2004 at the 23 December year-end press conference in the Kremlin, President Putin said the past year was "in general, positive," kremlin.ru reported. Talking about the Yukos affair, Putin said that the controversial sale of the company's main production subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004), was done by "absolutely market methods." He added: "Using absolutely legal methods, the state is today securing its interests. I believe it quite normal." Turning to foreign policy, Putin criticized the West for its "double standards" and questioned the fairness of Western-sponsored elections in Afghanistan and Kosova, and forthcoming elections in Iraq. Putin also sharply criticized Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski's statement about the Russian role in the Ukrainian election. "In my opinion, it is not very appropriate for the head of state, our neighbor, to make comments on another country's policy. We'll pay attention to what has been said," ITAR-TASS quoted Putin as saying. Looking to 2005, Putin said that next year Russia will concentrate on fighting terrorism and on strengthening its political system. VY

...BUT MOST RUSSIANS DISAGREE
A majority of Russians consider 2004 to have been the hardest year since President Putin came to power in 1999, All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) Director Valerii Fedorov said at a press conference in Moscow on 27 December, Interfax reported. Among the year's main problems, Russians named terrorism and the monetization of social benefits. According to a VTsIOM poll of 1,600 residents of 39 Russian regions, 71 percent of respondents said the main event of 2004 was the Beslan hostage taking as well as other foreign and domestic terrorist attacks, while 56 percent consider 2004 to have been a "hard year" and only 43 percent see it as having been "successful." Fedorov also noted that the number of respondents who believe the future will be better for their family dropped in comparison with 2003 from 74 to 55 percent. At the same time, the number of those who see a better future for Russia dropped from 61 to 43 percent. VY

PUTIN DRAWS PARALLEL BETWEEN ABKHAZIA, KOSOVA
At his year-end news conference in Moscow on 23 December, President Putin for the first time qualified a statement of support for Georgia's territorial integrity, telling journalists that "we stand for the territorial integrity of Georgia, but only if the interests of all the people living on this territory are observed," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin implicitly compared the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia with Kosova, noting that "Yugoslavia disintegrated and the whole world recognized the new independent states.... People used to say all the time that...Kosovo will never become independent and should remain a part of Yugoslavia. But in practice, Kosova is actually seceding, and everyone acts" as though they are unaware of what is happening. Putin said Russia remains willing to support economic development in Abkhazia, and that he does not think Georgia is interested in a new armed conflict over the region. He stressed that Russia "is not working against Georgia, we are working to create conditions for resolving this difficult conflict." Abkhaz historian Stanislav Lakoba hailed Putin's comparison as "important" and "a breakthrough," Caucasus Press reported on 25 December. LF

PRESIDENT ELABORATES PROCEDURE FOR SELECTING REGIONAL HEADS
President Putin has signed a decree on the procedure for nominating regional governors and presidents, Interfax reported on 27 December, citing the presidential press service. According to the decree, the presidential chief of staff with the assistance of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts will submit a list of no less than two candidates for governor to the president. The candidates will be judged according to their image, business reputation, track record as a civil servant or public figure, as well as the results of preliminary consultations with regional public organizations. Former Justice Minister and State Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov praised the decree as establishing a "decent procedure," that will help Russia "to do away with the system that we had until now, by which I mean elections by money rather than by the people," Ekho Moskvy reported. Political analyst Sergei Buntman commented that "it's interesting that the presidential envoy, who submits the candidates for the governorships, was also once considered by the same presidential chief of staff." He continued: "The circle is closed. It becomes ever more narrow, and ever more frightening, as it becomes more distant from the people." JAC

UPPER CHAMBER ELIMINATES BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION HOLIDAY...
The Federation Council voted on 27 December to approve a bill establishing some new public holidays, while eliminating others, RIA-Novosti and Regnum reported. The vote was 123 in favor with nine against and six abstentions. Under the bill, holidays on 2 May, 7 November, and 12 December will no longer be celebrated. The New Year's holidays will be extended and will be celebrated from 1 to 5 January. In addition, the bill introduced a new holiday on 4 November called People's Unity Day. The most controversial of the changes has been the elimination of 7 November, the anniversary of the Great October Revolution, which has prompted protests from Communist Party supporters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). According to REN-TV, the bill prompted an unusually long debate of more than an hour and some 43 people participated in the discussion. The State Duma passed the bill in its second and third and final readings on 24 December. JAC

...INCREASES ONE-OFF GRANTS TO NEW MOTHERS...
Also on 27 December, the Federation Council approved a bill increasing THE government subsidy to a family with a newborn from 4,500 rubles ($162) to 6,000 rubles beginning on 1 January. The Duma passed the bill on 24 December in all three readings, according to Interfax. JAC

...AS DUMA GIVES INITIAL OK TO PARTY-LIST SYSTEM
The State Duma voted on 24 December to approve in its first reading a bill amending the law on political parties that raises the threshold for parties to enter the State Duma from 5 percent to 7 percent of the total vote, Interfax and RosBalt reported. The vote was 364 in favor, according to RosBalt. The law also stipulates that State Duma elections will be held entirely on the basis of party lists rather than the current system in which half of the lower legislative chamber is elected via single-mandate districts. JAC

GOVERNORS PROMISE TO RESIGN NEXT YEAR
President Putin chaired a meeting of the State Council on the topic of administrative reform on 24 December in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Orel Oblast Governor Yegor Stroev suggested creating a system where municipal leaders are also appointed, while Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev complained that "the administrative reform has yet to produce any results, good or bad," according to the agency. "Kommersant-Daily" correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov reported on 25 December about his informal survey of governors attending the meeting asking whether they will tender their resignations next year, as some sources have predicted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev, Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin, Altai Krai head Mikhail Yevdokimov, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov all said they would resign, while only Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev said that they will not offer their resignations. JAC

SIBERIAN, VOLGA GOVERNORS WIN THIRD TERMS...
Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed won a third term in regional presidential elections held on 26 December, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 December With 97 percent of the ballots counted, the vote was 59.4 percent in favor of Lebed and 12.1 percent in favor of his next closest competitor, local Communist Party leader Vladimir Kerzhentsev, "Kommersant-Daily-Krasnoyarsk" reported on 28 December. Turnout was fairly low, around 30 percent, in part due to extremely low temperatures of minus 25-27 degrees Celsius in the capital of Abakan and minus 42 degrees in outlying regions. Lebed had been considered the favorite race in the race; he won election to his second term four years ago with more than 70 percent of the vote, according to the newspaper. Volgograd Oblast incumbent Governor Nikolai Maksyuta also won reelection on 26 December with 50.4 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 December. Maksyuta's opponent in the second-round runoff was local legislator Nikolai Volkov, who got 39.2 percent of the vote. JAC

...AS PARTY-OF-POWER CANDIDATE WINS IN ULYANOVSK
Also on 26 December, Dimitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov won election as governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast in a second-round race against State Duma Deputy Margarita Barzhanova, Regnum and RIA-Novosti reported on 27 December. According to preliminary estimates, Morozov got 52.81 percent of the vote, while "against all" was the second-most-popular option with 25.16 percent of the vote. Sergei Gerasimov, who finished second in the first round slightly behind Morozov, was disqualified before the second round (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2004). According to RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent on 23 December, print media controlled by the oblast administration published disparaging materials about the relationship between presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko and Morozov. The publications also hinted that it would be better to vote against all in the second round and to wait for President Putin to appoint a new governor to the region. Barzhanova earlier accused Kirienko of interfering in the race on Morozov's behalf (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 December 2004). Morozov was supported by the central leadership of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. JAC

UN REGISTERS CONCERN OVER REPRISALS AGAINST WOMEN IN CHECHNYA
A UN expert who recently visited Chechnya expressed concern on 24 December at reports of the detention of and violence against women, AFP reported. Yakin Erturk, who is the UN's special rapporteur on violence against women, cited firsthand reports that Russian special forces have responded to the involvement of Chechen women in suicide bombings and terrorist acts by arbitrarily detaining and torturing women. LF

PUTIN HONORS INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT
At a ceremony at the Kremlin on 27 December, President Putin bestowed a state award on Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov "for his services in strengthening Russian statehood," according to the independent website ingushetiya.ru. The website claimed that Ingushetia's population find Putin's decision incomprehensible given Zyazikov's involvement in corruption and the deteriorating economic and security situation. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES IRAQ DEPLOYMENT...
Armenia's National Assembly approved on 24 December by a vote of 91 in favor and 23 against with one abstention the dispatch to Iraq of 46 sappers, drivers, and military doctors who will serve under Polish command as part of the international peacekeeping force, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The opposition Artarutiun faction suspended its 11-month boycott of parliamentary proceedings to vote against the deployment. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, a junior member of the ruling three-party coalition, also opposed it, fearing that it could jeopardize the security of tens of thousands of Armenians across the Middle East (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2004). LF

...AND 2005 BUDGET
Also on 24 December, parliamentary deputies adopted in the final reading the revised budget for 2005, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 25 December. The vote was 103 in favor and seven against. The final version sets revenues at 345.3 billion drams ($712 million), which is 5 percent more than foreseen in the original draft approved. Expenditures are set at 394.6 billion drams. Part of that increase will be funded by the proceeds from the sale earlier this month to a German investor of the huge Zangezur mining complex. Much of the 25 percent increase in public spending will go on social security, health care, and education. Military spending has been increased to some 61.3 billion drams compared with 50 billion in 2003. LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT RESHUFFLES GOVERNMENT
In line with his warning of 16 December, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), dismissed several ministers on 24 December, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2004). Ghukasian named the unrecognized republic's permanent representative in Yerevan, Armen Melikian, to serve as foreign minister, replacing Ashot Ghulian, who succeeds Armen Sargsian as minister of culture and education. Ghukasian also appointed his chief of staff, Ararat Danielian, to the vacant post of deputy prime minister. Agriculture Minister Benik Bakhshian was dismissed and replaced by his former deputy, Vahram Baghdasarian. Ghukasian said on 24 December that some Foreign Ministry functions will be taken over by the Armenian Foreign Ministry. Melikian identified as his top priority in his new post working to achieve formal international recognition of the NKR, Noyan Tapan reported on 25 December. LF

KARABAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2005 BUDGET
The NKR National Assembly endorsed the draft budget for 2005 on 27 December, incorporating seven proposals made since the first reading on 22 December, Noyan Tapan reported. According to Finance and Economy Minister Spartak Tevosian, the budget envisages revenues of 9.23 billion drams and expenditures of 24.37 billion drams. The resulting 14.9 billion deficit will be covered almost completely by a loan from Armenia. Tevosian pointed out when discussion of the draft began on 22 December that the NKR's share of expenditures for 2005 is some 40 percent higher than in 2004, Noyan Tapan reported. He also said 58 percent of total expenditures will be used for social needs. LF

AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY REJECTS CRITICISM OF LOCAL ELECTIONS
Siyavush Novruzov, who is a deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), said on 22 December that the municipal elections held five days earlier were free and democratic, Turan reported. Novruzov rejected allegations by opposition parties that the voting was marred by numerous procedural violations, arguing that the opposition deployed observers to only 3 percent of all polling stations and could not therefore assess how fair the ballot was nationwide. It is not clear whether he addressed similar criticisms by international observers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 December 2004). Novruzov estimated that YAP candidates won 55 percent of the seats on local councils. Also on 22 December, the Central Election Commission annulled the polling results at 14 polling stations, Turan reported, quoting commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov. On 24 December, the NGO For Free and Fair Elections, which deployed 1,000 observers to monitor the 17 December poll, issued a statement saying that due to "gross irregularities" it does not recognize the legality of the ballot, Turan reported. LF

VETERAN AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST QUITS AS PARTY LEADER
Etibar Mammedov announced on 25 December his intention to step down from the post of chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) that he has held since its creation in 1991, Turan reported. In a statement released two days later, Mammedov said that the repressive policies of Azerbaijan's "totalitarian-communist leadership" have resulted in the country's designation as "not free" in the most recent Freedom House rating, and half the population lives in poverty and political apathy. He explained that he now plans to change AMIP's tactics with the aim of creating more favorable conditions for stimulating political activity and ending economic stagnation. He said that his deputy, Ali Aliev, will serve as party chairman until a party congress in February elects his successor. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CABINET RESHUFFLE
Parliament deputies approved the new government lineup on 27 December by 133 votes in favor and seven against, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania stressed that the new appointments do not herald a change in policy. He said the government's priorities will remain strengthening the armed forces, reducing poverty, and ensuring that the government is competent and effective. On 24 December, parliament voted in the third reading with 107 votes in favor and four against to approve the merger of the Interior and National Security ministries, Caucasus Press reported. Opposition parliament deputy Ivliane Khaindrava condemned that merger as an attempt "to legalize a police state." LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN OFFICIALS AGAIN CRITICIZE GEORGIA
The Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone met in Tskhinvali on 22-23 December to assess compliance by Georgia and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia with the demilitarization agreement signed in Sochi on 5 November, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. On 23 December, South Ossetian Minister Without Portfolio Boris Chochiev acknowledged that the unrecognized republic has not fulfilled all its obligations under that agreement. But at the same time, he noted that Tbilisi has exacerbated tensions by placing new police posts in the conflict zone. Meeting on 24 December with the four JCC chairman, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity pledged compliance with the 5 November agreement and expressed the hope that Georgia will also meet its requirements, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 24 December, Kokoity told journalists that the OSCE observers deployed in the conflict zone frequently turn a blind eye to Georgian noncompliance, ITAR-TASS reported. A visit by Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania to the conflict zone scheduled for 28 December has been postponed for two days, Caucasus Press reported on 28 December. LF

CONTROVERSY OVER PLANNED SALE OF GEORGIAN SHIPPING COMPANY CONTINUES
Following protests by opposition parliament deputies, the Georgian government has extended until 10 January the tender for the sale of Georgia's merchant shipping company, Georgian media reported on 27 December. Government officials said last week they would accept the only realistic offer, of $107 million, made by the Greenoak Group, whose President Jan Bonde Nielsen met with Zhvania on 27 December to discuss the planned sale (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2004). Nielsen specifically denied that former Adjaran leader Aslan Abashidze owns shares in Greenoak. He also denied that Greenoak intends to fire the 700 crew members of the fleet's 15 ships. Four other companies, one of them Russian, have expressed an interest in acquiring the shipping company, Caucasus Press reported on 27 December. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT LAUDS ECONOMIC GROWTH...
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 25 December that Kazakhstan's economy is expected to expand by over 9 percent annually for the next five years, Khabar TV reported. President Nazarbaev cited the growth as confirmation of the successful "Kazakhstan-2030" strategic-development program adopted seven years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997) and noted that the construction sector has posted a doubling of investment since last year. Nazarbaev warned, however, that some private investors operating in Kazakhstan have not adequately sought Kazakh partners and called for more "open and transparent" investment practices. RG

...AS KAZAKHSTAN EXPANDS MILITARY COOPERATION WITH SOUTH KOREA, TURKEY
The Kazakh Defense Ministry announced on 24 December a new agreement on military cooperation with South Korea, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The agreement calls for an expansion of bilateral military cooperation, with a specific focus on South Korean assistance to the Kazakh Navy and an expansion of bilateral training and assistance to the Kazakh Defense Ministry's Military Institute of Foreign Languages. The Kazakh Defense Ministry also announced that an agreement was reached with the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff for a new grant for the Kazakh Army during a meeting with a Turkish military delegation on 24 December, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Although the specific amount of the grant has not yet been released, it follows a recent aid package of $6 million in Turkish military assistance to Kazakhstan. RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST GEORGIAN, UKRAINIAN-STYLE 'REVOLUTIONS'
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev warned on 27 December that the authorities will not tolerate any actions in the coming elections that might provoke confrontation, Interfax reported. Akaev specifically warned against any actions by "forces whose goal is to repeat these Georgian- and Ukrainian-style revolutions using Western financial organizations' money." Referring to the political transitions in Georgia and Ukraine, Akaev further added that "those who mastermind and orchestrate these 'Orange and Rose' revolutions" are in the West. His comments follow a similar warning 10 days earlier arguing that the coming elections may be threatened by new threats posed by "religious and political extremism" that is "merging with international terrorism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in February, to be followed by a presidential election in October. RG

TAJIK PRESIDENT ACCUSES FORMER PRESIDENTIAL GUARD COMMANDER OF PLOTTING COUP D'ETAT
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov accused former Presidential Guard commander Ghaffor Mirzoev on 24 December of planning a coup to overthrow the government, Asia-Plus reported on 27 December. The planned coup d'etat reportedly involved an unknown number of alleged conspirators armed with illegal weapons and included plans to stage a series of bombings in Dushanbe. Lieutenant General Mirzoev, a former pro-government military commander during the country's 1992-97 civil war, served as the head of the National Guard (previously known as the Presidential Guard) from 1995 until his dismissal in January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). He was then appointed chief of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency but was arrested in August on a wide array of criminal charges, including the 1998 murder of a regional police official, embezzlement, and the illegal possession of arms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). The president's accusation apparently bolsters the state's case against the imprisoned Mirzoev, who has yet to face trial for the charges from his August arrest. RG

TURKMENISTAN THREATENS TO CUT GAS SUPPLIES TO RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
An official statement issued by the Turkmen Foreign Ministry on 27 December warned that Turkmenistan may cut supplies of natural gas to Russia and Ukraine by 31 December unless an agreement on gas prices is reached, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The threatened halt of Turkmen gas deliveries follows several unproductive rounds of negotiations on gas exports to Russia and Ukraine for 2005. Turkmenistan is pushing for a $16 increase to $60 per thousand cubic meters of gas, yet still well below world gas prices. The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is seeking to buy over 6 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in 2005, up from 4.25 billion cubic meters in 2004. Ukraine is seeking to increase its purchases of Turkmen gas from 36 billion cubic meters in 2004 to over 44 billion cubic meters. RG

MULTIPARTY ELECTIONS HELD FOR NEW UZBEK PARLIAMENT...
Amid tight security, some 500 candidates from five pro-government political parties ran for 120 open seats in the lower house of the Uzbek parliament on 26 December, according to Asia-Plus and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. In the first parliamentary election since the creation of a new bicameral legislature in 2002, the Central Election Commission reported voter turnout of over 85 percent, although most observers doubted that claim. The election was inherently flawed, however, by the banning of the three main Uzbek opposition parties, the Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Unity), and the Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) parties. The three opposition parties responded to the ban with a call for a national boycott of the elections. RG

...BUT ARE CRITICIZED AS FAILING TO MEET DEMOCRATIC STANDARDS
International election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the Uzbek parliamentary election on 27 December as failing to meet democratic standards, Interfax and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Although the OSCE noted that the election "did fall significantly short of the OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections," it did note some limited progress over the 1999 election, including the introduction of a 30 percent quota for female candidates and campaign finance laws. The OSCE also expressed its concern that "three Uzbek parties were barred from the elections, and about two-thirds of candidates put forward by initiative groups were prevented from taking part." RG

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ON TRIAL
The Minsk District Court on 27 December wrapped up the investigatory phase of its proceedings against opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, who is facing charges of "illegal actions regarding firearms, ammunition, and explosives" and "theft through abuse of office," Belapan reported. In particular, Marynich is alleged to have illegally possessed a firearm, and to have misappropriated office equipment that the Business Initiative Association, of which he was chairman, had received for temporary use. Marynich, who has been kept in a KGB pretrial detention center since 26 April, has denied any wrongdoing. Marynich, a former Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland and former foreign-trade minister, sided with the opposition before the 2001 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 May 2004). The charges against Marynich are widely believed to be politically motivated. Last week, some 50 parliamentarians from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine as well as 10 members of the European Parliament signed a statement demanding that Marynich be immediately and unconditionally released. Marynich's lawyer, Vera Stramkouskaya, said she believes that her client's trial will be completed by the end of the year. JM

UN HUMAN RIGHTS RAPPORTEUR DENIED BELARUSIAN VISA
Adrian Severin, the UN Commission on Human Rights' special rapporteur on Belarus, has been denied a Belarusian visa, Belapan reported on 25 December, citing Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh. Severin was appointed rapporteur on Belarus in July, three months after the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution blasting Belarus's human rights record (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). He planned to arrive in Belarus in December to prepare a report to be presented this spring to the commission. "[The Belarusian Foreign Ministry] fully rejects the accusations mentioned in that UN resolution on the situation in Belarus and can accept neither the form nor the content of the resolution itself," Savinykh said of the visa denial. "Belarus [is] not going to cooperate with the [UN] special rapporteur." JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT POLLSTER FEARS CLOSURE
The Minsk-based Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) has received its ninth warning in the past three months from the Justice Ministry, Belapan reported on 24 December, citing NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu. The ministry noted in its latest warning that the Minsk-based newspaper "Narodnaya volya" failed to indicate in a recent article citing a recent NISEPI survey that the pollster is a nongovernmental organization, and ordered NISEPI to demand that the paper print a correction. "It is evident that the reason for sending [this warning] is far-fetched," Manayeu commented. "This once again testifies to the fact that the Justice Ministry has no grounds for closing NISEPI but has been tasked with doing this." While the Justice Ministry has not announced any plans regarding NISEPI, the fact that the Justice Ministry may instigate court proceedings to ban an organization if it has received two official warnings within a year has many analysts speculating that NISEPI's days may be numbered. NISEPI was founded in 1992 as the first nongovernmental think tank and polling agency in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 December 2004). JM

YUSHCHENKO DECLARED WINNER OF UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE...
With 100 percent of the ballots counted, the Central Election Commission announced on 28 December that opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko garnered 51.99 percent of the vote in the 26 December repeat presidential runoff, while his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, won 44.19 percent, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko won in 19 western and central oblasts and Kyiv, while Yanukovych beat Yushchenko in nine eastern and southern oblasts and Sevastopol. Speaking to a crowd of supporters on Independence Square in Kyiv on 27 December, Yushchenko declared that his victory marks a new era for Ukraine. "Everything will change in Ukraine from today," Yushchenko said. "I am convinced that criminal authorities, falsehood, [and the] torture of people will all become things of the past.... We were independent for 14 years but we were not free. There was tyranny in this country for 14 years. The tyranny of [outgoing President Leonid] Kuchma, [presidential administration chief Viktor] Medvedchuk, and Yanukovych. Today, we can say that all of this is in the past." JM

...AS YANUKOVYCH PLEDGES TO CONTEST RESULTS
Nestor Shufrych, Yanukovych's representative to the Central Election Commission, told journalists on 27 December that Yanukovych's election staff will appeal to the Supreme Court to protest against infractions that took place during the 26 December presidential vote, Interfax reported. According to Shufrych, Yanukovych's team is planning to prove in the Supreme Court that violations led to inaccurate results. "It will be a complete deja vu situation for the Central Election Commission and all of society," Shufrych said in reference to Yushchenko's protest against the officially announced results of the 21 November presidential runoff, which were subsequently invalidated by the Supreme Court. "I will never recognize this defeat because there were violations of the constitution and of human rights in our country," Yanukovych said on 27 December. JM

YUSHCHENKO WANTS TO RIGHT RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
Opposition candidate Yushchenko said in an interview published in the 28 December issue of the Moscow-based "Izvestiya" newspaper that his first visit as Ukrainian president will be to Moscow. "I should show Russia that our previous relations were distorted -- they were being formed by Ukrainian clans," Yushchenko said. "This page needs to be turned over if we are [to be] friends and want to look each other straight in the eye. We can forget that Moscow was covered with Yanukovych's [election] posters." Yushchenko stressed that none of the parties forming his Our Ukraine bloc opposes the development of Ukrainian-Russian relations. "If you think about Ukraine's interests, you need to learn once and for all: Russia is your partner. We need to be more considerate of each other. Problems of the past should not govern the future," Yushchenko added. JM

YANUKOVYCH VOWS TO SWITCH TO 'HARSH OPPOSITION'
Defeated presidential candidate Yanukovych said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" of 28 December that he is not going to cooperate with Yushchenko "under any circumstances." He stressed that he will go into opposition if Yushchenko is eventually declared president. "We will go to harsh opposition," Yanukovych said. "We will get a majority in parliament and will in this way pressure Yushchenko.... The objective of our harsh opposition will be to win the 2006 parliamentary election. We need to win a majority in the Verkhovna Rada and form a coalition government of our own." JM

UKRAINIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER FOUND SHOT DEAD
Ukrainian Transport Minister Heorhiy Kirpa, 58, was found dead of an apparent gunshot wound to the head at his dacha outside Kyiv on 27 December, Ukrainian media reported. A gun and an empty shell were reportedly found near the body. The Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation under a Criminal Code article pertaining to suicide. JM

ARMY OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO GETS NEW CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF
The Supreme Defense Council of Serbia and Montenegro on 23 December named General Dragan Paskas as new chief of General Staff of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. General Paskas previously led the Novi Sad army corps. General Branko Krga, who retired as chief of General Staff, told Tanjug on 27 December that the Army of Serbia and Montenegro faced many problems, particularly financial, during his tenure. He also said that the army achieved great progress in its relations with the rest of the world. Some politicians, notably former Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic of the Democratic Party, and human rights activists such as Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco have criticized the army for failing to reform and for continuing to attempt to influence the political situation in the country (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). UB

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE REMAINS FIRM IN CRITICISM OF REPUBLIKA SRPSKA...
High Representative Paddy Ashdown in a 23 December press release dismissed criticism of his recent decision to fire nine police and security officials, according to www.ohr.int (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 20, 21, and 23 December 2004). "As we approach the 10th year since [the] Dayton [peace agreement of 1995], not a single one of those indicted by The Hague Tribunal for the worst crimes against humanity of recent years has been arrested by the [Republika Srpska] authorities," the press release quoted Ashdown as saying. "And no amount of resignations, no political maneuvers will alter this in any way. The cause of the present situation is not the recent package of measures," he added. "It is Banja Luka's nine-year failure to conform to Dayton and their international obligations." Ashdown also accused Belgrade of actively working to undermine efforts to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. UB

...AS BOSNIAN SERB PARTIES SIGN AGREEMENT
In response to Ashdown's criticism, the leaders of six Bosnian Serb political parties signed an agreement in Banja Luka on 25 December in which they pledged to coordinate political efforts, Fena reported. "The political factors will oppose attempts to violate the equality of the entities and the constituent nations of [Bosnia], and will act politically in a clear and united manner to prevent violations of the constitutional order of [Bosnia] and the [Republika Srpska] caused by unilaterally imposed decisions and through favoritism for a nation or an entity," the agreement stated. The agreement not only stressed the political parties' resolve to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, but also called for the decentralization of state-level institutions in order to stimulate the "polycentric" development of Bosnia and to promote the equality of all Bosnian people and entities. UB

SERBIA INTRODUCES OPTIONAL BOSNIAN-LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION
Beginning in the second half of the current school year, primary schools in Serbian regions with Bosnian populations will offer optional Bosnian-language courses, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 27 December. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian governments in Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Belgrade have undertaken efforts to stress the differences between the languages spoken in Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia, thus trying to overcome the Yugoslav heritage of stressing the common basis of those languages. UB

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS DESTRUCTION OF TITO MONUMENT
The Croatian government on 27 December sharply condemned an apparent act of vandalism that destroyed a statue of communist-era Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito in his native village of Kumrovec, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The statue was destroyed by a explosion during the night of 26-27 December. UB

POLICE OPERATION IN MACEDONIA TRIGGERS STUDENT PROTEST
One ethnic Albanian was killed and two people, including one policeman, were wounded in Tetovo on 25 December during a sting operation that led to the capture of an alleged strongman and resulted in student protests, the private A1 TV reported. A shootout reportedly erupted when Macedonian police tried to arrest four ethnic Albanians during an operation targeting Lirim Jakupi (aka the Nazi), who is allegedly one of the leaders of an Albanian armed group that has at times controlled the village of Kondovo outside Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004). Jakupi was reportedly wounded in the shootout but managed to escape to neighboring Kosova, where he was arrested by UNMIK police later the same day. One policeman also sustained gunshot wounds, while one ethnic Albanian was killed and the other two were arrested. In response to the police operation, Albanian students of the University of Tetovo blocked the Skopje-Tetovo highway on 27 December, demanding that the two arrested Albanians -- who studied at the university's medical faculty together with Jakupi -- be released, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE ANNOUNCES LINEUP OF NEW CABINET...
Prime Minister-designate Calin Popescu-Tariceanu announced the lineup of his cabinet in Bucharest on 26 December, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Including the prime minister, the cabinet has 25 ministers representing the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and the Humanist Party (PUR). The Democrats, the UDMR and the PUR each have a deputy prime minister in charge of coordinating several areas of activity. The PNL is represented by nine ministers, the Democratic Party by eight, the UDMR by four, and the PUR by three. Parliament was to vote on whether to approve the new cabinet on 28 December. The new government has a slim majority of one in Romania's bicameral legislature. MS

...AS PRESIDENT SAYS NEW CABINET IS 'DOOMED TO SUCCEED'
President Traian Basescu told journalists in Bucharest on 27 December that "the new [government] team is made up of people who have succeeded in business and who are doomed to succeed for the country," Mediafax and AFP reported. Basescu said most members of the new government were "educated and trained after the December 1989 revolution" and the fall of communism, which he said should help eliminate the corruption that affected previous postcommunist cabinets. He also promised to be the new government's "most demanding critic." MS

ROMANIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST SIDELINING OF BUCHAREST DAILY'S EDITOR IN CHIEF
More than 100 journalists and readers of the Bucharest daily "Evenimentul zilei" protested in front of the Swiss Embassy on 27 December against what they believe is an attempt by the newspaper's owner to sideline its former editor in chief, AP reported. On 25 December, the Swiss Ringier Group named Razvan Ionescu as the daily's new editor in chief, replacing Dan Turturica, who was transferred to the Moldavian town of Bacau to investigate the feasibility of launching a local edition of the newspaper. The protesting journalists say Ringier intends to transform "Evenimentul zilei" into a tabloid and to silence its critical stance against the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Last September, Editor in Chief Cornel Nistorescu resigned following disagreements with management on ways to modernize the daily. A similarly motivated conflict at the daily "Romania libera", which is owned by the German Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ), was settled last week with the selling of half of the WAZ shares to Romanian businessman Dan Grigore Adamescu, the daily "Cotidianul" reported. Former "Romania libera" director Petre Mihai Bacanu is to become honorary director and to continue writing for the daily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September, 29 October and 1 November 2004). MS

MOLDOVA SETS DATE FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The Moldovan parliament on 24 December decided that parliamentary elections will take place on 6 March, Infotag and Flux reported. ITAR-TASS said the decision ignores opposition proposals to have the ballot take place in May, which would allow more time to prepare for the vote. The current parliament's term expires on 26 February, and constitutional provisions stipulate that elections must be held within three months after the parliament's mandate runs out. The ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) decided on 26 December that President Vladimir Voronin is to head the PCM candidates' list in the next elections, Infotag reported. Also among those selected to run are parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc, PCM caucus leader Victor Stepaniuk, and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev. Half of the names did not appear on the PCM's 2001 list. Meanwhile, the Transdniester Supreme Soviet on 24 December set 27 March as the date for local elections in the separatist region, Flux reported on 27 December. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT SAYS PPCD CHAIRMAN MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN BUSINESS AND SEAT...
Parliament on 24 December decided that Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca must choose between his seat in the legislature and his involvement in the real estate business, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Rosca was given one month to make his choice. The decision follows an inquest carried out by an ad hoc parliamentary commission that ruled that Rosca's involvement in business and his presence in parliament constitutes a conflict of interest. Rosca has rebuffed the commission's findings, saying the decision is political and that he receives no salary from the real estate companies with which he is involved. MS

...AND SETS UP COMMISSION TO EXAMINE LEGALITY OF PROCEDURE AGAINST CHISINAU MAYOR, SUBORDINATES
The parliament on 24 December set up an ad hoc commission to examine the legality of criminal procedures initiated by police against Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean and several of his subordinates, Infotag reported. The commission comprises three PCM members, two members of Our Moldova, one from the PPCD, and one independent deputy. It is to examine allegations by former Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption officer Grigore Gorea that his superiors tried to force him to open a criminal investigation into the activities of Urechean and Municipal Council Secretary Vladimir Sarban despite lack of evidence of any improprieties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004). MS

UZBEK VOTE FALLS SHORT OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS
A number of international observers have indicated that parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan on 26 December failed to meet democratic standards -- despite the fact that the government has hailed them as "open and honest."

Five parties were seeking seats in the 120-seat lower house of parliament -- although none of the country's leading opposition parties were allowed to take part. Independent experts have said they are doubtful the vote will change much in the country.

The Uzbek Central Election Commission on 27 December described the vote as "open and honest." Spokesman Sherzod Kudratkhodzhaev said turnout reached 85 percent of eligible voters -- although independent observers and RFE/RL correspondents in Uzbekistan said the actual turnout appeared to be much lower.

Some 230 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization monitored the polls. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) sent a limited mission after assessing the preelection situation and concluding the vote would not be representative since opposition parties were banned.

"Unfortunately, the elections did fall significantly short of the OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections," said Lubomir Kopaj, the head of the ODIHR mission in Uzbekistan. "Regrettably, the implementation of the election legislation by the authorities failed to ensure a pluralistic, competitive, and transparent election."

Many voters had no information about candidates. Some reportedly said they were forced to vote. "Today, [my neighbor,] an old woman, went to the polling station. I asked whom she voted for. She said she was told whom to vote for," said one Uzbek woman. "A member of the polling commission ticked one candidate's name off in the ballot and cast it herself. My neighbor just went there and came back."

In some polling stations, the election campaign continued on election day. A voter in Namangan told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service: "It's 9:30 in the morning, but the election campaign goes on. In the early morning, a group of people from the gas department came by bus and started their propaganda. They asked us to vote for one candidate named Rahmatullah Nusratullaev, the head of the gas department. They said if we voted for him, we would have a big supply of gas. I asked for their names and documents, but they ran away. Is this democracy?"

The three main opposition parties -- Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Unity), and Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) -- were excluded from elections. Erk and Ozod Dehqonlar boycotted the vote. Birlik decided to monitor the elections. However, party leader Vasila Inoyatova said she was not able to leave her house.

"For the last two days, I have been blocked by some 'observers,'" Inoyatova charged. "There are some 'observers' in their cars [around my house]. I have no doubt that as soon as I leave my house, the government officials are going to pretend that I interfered in the election process or broke some laws. It happened before. Once we were going by car, the police stopped us and claimed we ran over someone. They can easily organize any provocation again."

Independent human rights activist Surat Ikramov said he also was carefully watched on election day.

"I wanted to go to the polling station, but my house was blocked by several cars and observed during the last week," Ikramov said. "I telephoned some officials in the Interior Ministry. Soon, the cars disappeared. Then, I left my house to go to the polling station. They reappeared again and were watching me going to my polling station and to some others to monitor the situation. They were watching me all along the way."

Uzbek officials were not available to comment.

Outside experts said there is little chance the result will significantly change President Islam Karimov's regime, which has been widely criticized for suppressing individual rights and religious freedoms.

Alain Deletroz of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group spoke with RFE/RL by telephone: "Can we expect that these elections will change anything? Can we expect that some government official will resign after elections? Any minister? Let's ask this question to ourselves. The answer is obvious. Therefore we can't say these elections are serious. Usually, when elections are held, there are statements that policy will change and subsequent changes. In [Uzbekistan], there are only statements."

Voters on 26 December were choosing only representatives to the lower house of parliament. In the 100-seat upper house, the Senate, 16 seats will be chosen by the president and the rest by local municipalities.

A Tashkent-based independent sociologist, Bahodir Musaev, in a telephone interview with RFE/RL said the Uzbek Senate is more influential, something that he said contradicts the normal development of democracy. "The role of the Senate is politicized and bigger than the lower house, the Legislative Assembly," Musaev said. "But the world history of democratic development shows that democracy should start from the lower house. In our country, it starts from upper house."

According to the election law, Karimov will become a senator for life once his term ends. He will also have lifelong immunity from any criminal or legal prosecution.

(Gulnoza Saidazimova is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this story.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS 'RECONSTRUCTION' CABINET...
President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on 23 December appointing the new cabinet of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Afghanistan Television reported. Addressing journalists in Kabul on 24 December, Karzai said that what he has chosen is not a "party government," but "a government for reconstruction," Afghanistan Television reported. The new Afghan government "has the responsibility to build. We do not have any more patience to do politics and political games.... Politics should be in the parliament," Karzai added. Addressing the constitutional requirements that Afghan cabinet ministers should not hold dual nationality, Karzai said that all of current members of the cabinet with dual nationalities have given up their non-Afghan nationalities, and "were proud to do so" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 December 2004). AT

...AND REALIGNS GOVERNMENT
In another 23 December decree, President Karzai merged some ministries and created new departments, according to a presidential press release. According to Karzai's decree, the Antinarcotics Ministry and an Independent Environment Directorate were established. Also, the Planning and Reconstruction ministries were merged into the newly established Economy Ministry; the Light Industries Ministry was merged into the Mines and Industries Ministry; the Civil Aviation and Transport ministries were merged into newly established Transport Ministry; the Food Department was transferred from the Light Industries Ministry to the Agriculture and Food Ministry; the Tourism Department, which was part of the former Civil Aviation Ministry, was transferred to the Information and Culture Ministry. AT

NEW HEADS OF CENTRAL BANK, KABUL UNIVERSITY NAMED
According to a 25 December decree by President Karzai, Nurollah Delaware was appointed the head of Da Afghanistan Bank, the country's central bank, Radio Afghanistan reported. Former Da Afghanistan Bank head Anwar al-Haq Ahadi was appointed the new finance minister. Karzai appointed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai chancellor of Kabul University, Afghanistan Television reported on 24 December. AT

AFGHAN PARTY LEADER SAYS CABINET NEEDS PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL
National Congress Party of Afghanistan head Latif Pedram told a news conference on 27 December in Kabul that the new cabinet can only be accepted after it is approved by parliament, Afghanistan Television reported. Pedram said that according to the Afghan Constitution, the period after the presidential election until the formation of the parliament is considered a transitional period. The parliament is scheduled to be elected in April-May 2005. Pedram was a candidate in the 9 October presidential election. AT

AFGHANS DEMAND COMPENSATION FROM RUSSIA...
In a ceremony on 26 December in the western city of Herat commemorating the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in 1979, Herat Province Governor Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwah said the Russian Federation should pay compensation to the Afghans, Herat Television reported. Khairkhwah said that during the decade-long (1979-89) Soviet occupation of Afghanistan "around 1.5 million" Afghans were killed and 7 million took refuge in other countries and "everything was ruined" in Afghanistan. And in a demonstration in the eastern city of Jalalabad, a group of disabled Afghan veterans of the war against Soviet forces called on the Afghan government to provide them with jobs and housing, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Ja'far Khan Tawakoli, head of the Union of Disabled Persons, called on the Russian government to pay war reparations to Afghanistan, especially to the disabled Afghans. AT

...AS RUSSIA UNVEILS MONUMENT TO TROOPS WHO INVADED AFGHANISTAN
A monument to the "internationalist soldiers" was unveiled on 27 December in Moscow to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the "introduction of Soviet troops" to Afghanistan, Russia's ORT reported. The monument to about 14,000 dead Soviet troops was erected with funds collected by Afghan war veterans. Russian Association of Heroes President General Valentin Varennikov said that the "dignity of our internationalist soldiers has been upheld" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January and 25 September 2003). AT

REPRESSION OF ONLINE JOURNALISTS CONTINUES IN IRAN...
Online journalist Hanif Mazrui received a Press Court summons on 23 December, ILNA reported the next day, as has fellow journalist Fereshteh Qazi. The two face accusations of, among other things, disturbing public opinion. They are among the online journalists and bloggers who were arrested in early autumn and only released after writing letters of contrition that were published in newspapers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 14 December 2004). The Journalists Guild spoke out against the summonses on 25 December, ILNA reported. The guild called on the judiciary to desist from such actions against correspondents. In a 10 December letter to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Journalists Guild head Rajabali Mazrui (Hanif Mazrui's father) criticized the judiciary for torture the journalists allegedly endured while in detention. One day later, three of the released journalists were taken into custody again, Human Rights Watch announced on 20 December. Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi reportedly warned them that if they did not refute the allegations of torture they would spend a long time in prison. Four of them gave televised confessions on 14 December in which they said they were never subjected to torture, solitary detention, or any other form of abuse. BS

...AND CONFESSIONS TARGET REFORMIST OFFICIALS
Some of the arrested online journalists were coerced into falsely confessing that they had physical relations with prominent reformist officials, such as Mustafa Tajzadeh and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Radio Farda reported on 28 December, citing Abtahi's web log (www.webnevesht.com/weblog/). Tajzadeh is a former deputy interior minister and a leader in the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Abtahi serves as a presidential adviser who, until his October resignation, was vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs. Abtahi wrote that he spoke with the bloggers and journalists after their letters of contrition were published and their confessions televised, and they described the beatings they claim to have suffered at their jailors' hands. Qazi complained about this abuse to Judge Mortazavi when she appeared before him (see above) on 27 December, Radio Farda reported, citing ILNA. Mortzavi sent her to a physician to determine the veracity of her claims. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES NEW ROADS AND TRANSPORT MINISTER
President Khatami on 27 December proposed Ahmad Sadeq Bonab to the legislature as the country's new roads and transport minister, IRNA reported. Sadeq Bonab has been acting minister since the legislature passed a vote of no-confidence in Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004). Khoram currently serves as an adviser to President Khatami. BS

BIN LADEN CALLS ON IRAQIS TO BOYCOTT ELECTION...
In an audiotape broadcast on 27 December, a voice purported to be that of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden called on Iraqis to boycott the country's upcoming elections, saying those who take part will be considered "infidel," international news agencies reported the same day. "Anyone who takes part in this election consciously and willingly is an infidel," said the voice on the tape, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, in reference to the 30 January elections in Iraq. Bin Laden also endorsed Jordanian-born Islamist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq. "I consider the prince of the mujahedin, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a true soldier of God," bin Laden purportedly said. "He is the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and everybody should follow him and obey him." U.S. officials have concluded after analyzing the tape that the voice is that of bin Laden, Reuters reported on 28 December. BW

...AS MAIN SUNNI PARTY WITHDRAWS...
The Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni Muslim party, announced on 27 December that it will not compete in the elections, international news agencies reported. "We are withdrawing," party leader Muhsin Abd al-Hamid told a news conference, according to Reuters. "We are not calling for a boycott, but we said we would take part only if certain conditions had been met and they have not." Hamid said his party requested on 5 December that the vote be delayed for six months. "The authorities concerned have refused to hear the voice of reason," he said. The Iraqi Islamic Party had submitted an election list of 275 names, and was widely considered to have the best chance of providing the next Iraqi government with legitimacy among Sunnis, who make up 20 percent of the population. BW

...AND UNITED STATES ASKS IRAQ'S NEIGHBORS TO HELP CONVINCE SUNNIS TO VOTE
The United States is asking countries neighboring Iraq to persuade Sunnis there to vote in the elections, international news agencies reported on 27 December. "We are encouraging all Sunnis to join in this effort, to say no to terrorism, no to murder, and yes to democracy," Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference, according to Reuters. "We are also talking to all of our friends in the region, the neighboring countries that have influence and contacts with the Sunni community, to get them to encourage Sunni leaders to turn out the vote," Powell added. BW

SHI'ITE LEADER SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
At least 13 people were killed and 39 were wounded on 27 December in a car bombing in Baghdad that targeted one of Iraq's top Shi'ite political leaders, international news agencies reported. The explosion occurred outside the Baghdad head office of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a party considered to be one of the strongest groups participating in the 30 January elections. The party's leader, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, was not injured in the blast and has urged supporters not to take revenge. "We have chosen the path of nonviolence and we will stick to it," Reuters quoted al-Hakim as saying. "The only ideology these people know is terror. We laid down our arms in favor of pluralism. If we wanted violence we would have responded a long time ago," he added. The bomb exploded at the gate of the building, in which Hakim resides and has offices, the BBC reported. BW

NATIONAL GUARD GENERAL TARGETED IN CAR BOMB
A suicide car bomber targeted the convoy of an Iraqi National Guard general on 28 December, wounding at least six people, international news agencies reported. Major General Mudher al-Mula, the commander of National Guard forces in Baghdad, was leaving his home on the outskirts of the Adhamiya district of Baghdad in a convoy when the bomb detonated, Reuters reported. There were conflicting reports as to whether Mula survived the blast. Reuters, quoting Defense Ministry and police sources, reported that he survived. Germany's dpa news agency, citing witnesses, reported that Mula was killed. In a series of attacks in the so-called Sunni Triangle on 28 December, Iraqi rebels killed at least 24 people, including 19 police officers, international news agencies reported the same day. BW

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER CALLS ON SYRIA TO TURN OVER BA'ATHISTS
Iraq's national security adviser has asked Syria to turn in former Ba'athists who are allegedly aiding the insurgency in Iraq and to help secure its border with Iraq, AP reported on 28 December. "We hope the Syrian government...will cooperate with us on drying the sources of terrorism in its territories and limiting the movements of Saddamists there," Qasim Dawud said during a visit to Kuwait, according to the daily newspaper "Al-Rai Al-Aam." Dawud said the Iraqi interim government has evidence that Sabaawi al-Hassan, Saddam Hussein's half brother, and leading Ba'athist Yunis al-Ahmad are supporting the insurgency in Iraq from Syria. He said the Iraqi government will officially request that the two be handed over to Baghdad to face trial. BW

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