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Newsline - January 6, 2005


PUTIN DISCUSSES HUMANITARIAN AID WITH LEADERS OF ASIAN STATES DEVASTATED BY TSUNAMI
President Vladimir Putin called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 5 January and discussed with him Russia's contribution to the international relief effort to the countries of South Asia devastated by the 26 December tsunami, RTR reported the same day, citing the Kremlin press service. On 5 January, Putin also called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Thai Prime Minister Taksin Chinawat, and Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to discuss Russia's concrete plans to provide relief to tsunami victims. Russia has already sent teams of rescue workers and doctors to the disaster zone, while the Defense and Emergency Situations ministries are flying in humanitarian aid to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, RIA-Novosti reported. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry announced that eight Russians were killed in the tsunami, while 10 others are listed as missing, RTR and other media reported. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER THANKS PATRIARCH FOR SPIRITUAL SUPPORT OF ARMY
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met on 5 January, ahead of Russian Orthodox Christmas on 7 January, with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II and thanked him for his spiritual support of the army, RTR and other media reported. "The church and the armed forces always were popular institutions and at the most difficult moments the church always stood together with the army and the people," Ivanov said, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said that there are 2,000 priests serving in the Russian Army and that in 2005 relations between the army and church will be strengthened. VY

EURASIAN PARTY LEADER SAYS RUSSIAN CLASH WITH U.S. 'INEVITABLE'...
Writing in "Argumenty i fakty," No.1, Eurasia party leader Aleksandr Dugin said that in 2005 U.S.-Russian relations will become more tense because the two countries "have strictly opposing geopolitical interests." Dugin, who is known for his anti-American sentiments, said he believes that the United States is seeking global hegemony, while Russia is striving to restore its status as a world power. To this end, Moscow is attempting to reinforce its influence in the CIS and actively cooperate with Asian states. "This [political course] cannot end any other way but in direct conflict with the United States," Dugin wrote. Because Russia is unable to solve its problems -- including economic ones -- alone, it will look for alliances with practically all countries, but especially with those that oppose the United States, Dugin concluded. VY

...AS IT DEVELOPS RELATIONS WITH 'OLD EUROPE,' CHINA, AND JAPAN...
Russia will develop its relations with the countries of "old Europe," such as Germany, France, and Spain, "which will passively help Russia," Dugin wrote in "Argumenty i fakty," No.1. "Germany and France, which realize their vital dependence on Russian [natural] resources, will look to approach Russia behind the scenes," he added. Russia will also develop its ties with China, especially if it manages to reach agreement on controlling the migration of Chinese to Eastern Siberia. As for Japan, it is very profitable for Tokyo to look for rapprochement with Moscow, regardless of a solution to the Kurile Islands problem, Dugin wrote. VY

...AND RAPPROCHEMENT WITH ISLAMIC COUNTRIES
Dugin also wrote in "Argumenty i fakty," No.1, that in 2005 Russia will begin a rapprochement with some Muslim states. Such countries as Syria, Iran, and even Saudi Arabia will resist the U.S. "Broader Middle East and North Africa" initiative and will seek support against it everywhere, but primarily in Russia, Dugin wrote. Finally, in 2005 Russia may revive its relations with old Soviet clients in Southeast Asia and Latin America, such as Vietnam and Cuba. "In 2005 there will be a new round of the 'Great Game' between Eurasia and the Atlantic region," Dugin concludes. Observers noted that although Dugin often expresses extremist views, his article in "Argumenty i fakty" is notable as it is a popular mainstream weekly with a circulation of 3 million. VY

RUSSIANS, UKRAINIANS DIFFER ON ATTITUDE TO USSR, EACH OTHER
Most Russians favor the restoration of the Soviet Union and relate to Ukrainians worse than Ukrainians do to Russians, according to a poll conducted in December in both countries by the Levada Analytical Center, gazeta.ru reported on 24 December. The poll was conducted among 1,600 respondents in Russia and 2,000 in Ukraine. Replying to a question about the fate of the Soviet Union, 67 percent of Russians responded that they regret its collapse, while 50 percent of Ukrainians felt the same. On the other hand, 26 percent of Russians and 39 percent of Ukrainians said they do not regret its demise. Asked about their perception of Ukraine, 13 percent of Russians replied "very good," 66 percent "rather good," 14 percent "rather bad," and 3 percent "very bad." Ukrainians were more positive, with 37 percent saying their perception of Russia is "very good" and 46 percent "rather good," while 8 percent replied "rather bad," and 4 percent "very bad." VY

GROUP SAYS WOMEN UNDERREPRESENTED IN GOVERNING CIRCLES
Lidiya Blokhina, president of the Russian Confederation of Women in Business, told Ekho Moskvy on 5 January that her organization believes that women should account for at least one-third of senior government decision makers. She noted that women currently make up about 10 percent of the State Duma. "However, there are virtually no women at the decision-making level," she said. "In the cabinet, where decisions are made, women are virtually nonexistent." Blokhina further criticized the government for failing to heed a UN recommendation to increase the representation of women in governing circles. "For balanced decisions to be made, women should account for at least one-third of the decision makers," she said. RC

LEADING LEGISLATORS COMMENT ON RUSSIA'S POLICIES IN CIS
Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told Interfax on 5 January that recent events in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine "have shown that if Russia has some plan of action, it is not very clear or its implementation is imprecise." "We lost our appeal both in the West and in the former Soviet area because we were poised to strike but didn't strike properly," Margelov said. He added that "nongovernmental organizations and parliamentarians in alliance with the press" can assist diplomats in achieving Russia's foreign-policy goals. "One has the impression now that the burden of caring about the country's image lies only with the president," he said. "But the soloist should be supported by the choir during difficult and dramatic parts." Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 December that Russia needs to rethink its tactics in the CIS. "Frequently we cannot explain properly the point of our presence in the post-Soviet arena," he wrote. "The West does this under the banner of democratization whereas we, it seems, are only doing it on our own behalf. The slogans of democracy (even given the clear geopolitical subtext) are addressed to the people directly, while our activity pursues Russian interests too openly." RC

BAILIFFS SERVICE HAD BUSY YEAR IN 2004
Justice Minister Yurii Chaika said on 5 January that the Federal Bailiffs Service significantly stepped up its work in 2004 compared to 2003, Interfax reported. "Especially impressive successes are in recovering debts on taxes and levies in favor of the state," Chaika said. He reported that in the first half of the year, the Federal Bailiffs Service sent 13.4 billion rubles ($447 million) to the federal budget. The year's final total will be significantly higher after the monies recovered from oil giant Yukos -- some 100 billion rubles -- are included. "In the first half of 2004, the number of completed investigations concerning debtors' assets was 150 percent of the figure for the same period in 2003," Chaika said. "Investigators handled about 1,400 criminal cases, which is twice as many as in the same period the previous year." RC

NUCLEAR AGENCY DISCUSSES 2004 RESULTS, FUTURE PLANS
The Federal Atomic Energy Agency on 5 January accounted for its 2004 results, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, a series of non-nuclear explosive tests were carried out at the Novaya Zemlya testing ground in 2004 that "proved the reliability and security of Russia's nuclear arsenal." Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev reported that the country's program to scrap decommissioned nuclear submarines is proceeding on schedule and that 874 cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste and 1,588 tons of solid waste were reprocessed last year. He said that the agency stresses safety in all of its activities: "Our duty to the public and the international community is to prevent even the mere possibility of the development of hazardous situations in the nuclear industry." Asked about his agency's counterterrorism measures, Rumyantsev said on 22 December in Rostov-na-Donu that "we devote major attention to all imaginable and unimaginable scenarios," "Priazovskii krai" reported on 23 December. He said that his agency's priority for the next decade will be the "rapid development" of nuclear-power generation in European Russia. "We need to build roughly eight more units by 2020," Rumyantsev said. RC

CHECHEN SECURITY FORCES LAUNCH NEW REPRISALS
Members of the so-called presidential security force subordinate to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov have abducted and killed two young men in recent days, according to chechenpress.com on 6 January. On 3 January, the body was discovered on the outskirts of Shali of an 18-year-old construction worker from the village of Mayrtup who was abducted by Kadyrov's men one week earlier. He had been beaten and tortured to death. Also on 3 January, the body was discovered near Zakan-Yurt in Achkhoi-Martan Raion of a local resident abducted one month earlier. On 4 January, Kadyrov's men surrounded several villages in Achkhoi-Martan Raion, searching all houses for traces of Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, who reportedly spent the previous night in the area. The security guardsmen reportedly looked exhausted and commandeered food from the villagers on the pretext that they had not eaten for several days. They also confiscated motor vehicles and whatever valuables they could find, and detained 12 villagers from Katyr-Yurt, some of whom were subsequently released. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TAKES UNANNOUNCED VACATION
Ilham Aliyev left Baku on vacation on 4 January, the presidential press service reported without stipulating either his destination or the duration of his planned absence, Turan reported on 4 January. On 5 January, the opposition daily "Azadlig" as cited by Turan reported without disclosing its sources that Aliyev was outraged by ministers' mutual accusations during a discussion of the new anticorruption legislation at a 3 January session of the National Security Council. LF

TRIAL OF CORRUPTION WHISTLE-BLOWER POSTPONED IN AZERBAIJAN
The trial of Ahad Ahadov, who last summer launched a campaign to spotlight corruption by local officials in Masally Raion, has been postponed from 5 to 12 January due to the absence of a police witness for the prosecution, Turan reported on 5 January. Ahadov was detained in late September by police in Baku who reportedly planted drugs on him and then arrested him for drug possession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 13, and 29 September and 21 October 2004). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST FINED FOR CRITICIZING LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Nakhichevan Municipal Court ruled on 5 January that Isa Mirzoev, head of the local chapter of the Adalet party, must pay 5 million manats ($1,016) in compensation to seven members of a local election commission whom Mirzoev criticized during the 17 December local elections, Turan reported. The seven argued that Mirzoev's criticism constituted an insult to their collective honor and dignity. The same court rejected an earlier appeal by Mirzoev against the election commission's refusal to register opposition candidates to participate in the 17 December ballot. LF

MINISTER ALLEGES WIDESPREAD CORRUPTION IN GEORGIAN MILITARY
Speaking at a press briefing in Tbilisi late on 4 January, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili accused seven current or former senior ministry officials of misappropriating funds, adding that he hopes to see them in prison within one month, Georgian media reported the following day. On 5 January, National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili, who served as defense minister from February to June, similarly affirmed that "there have been problems and violations within the Defense Ministry," Caucasus Press reported. Bezhuashvili predicted that such violations will continue, describing them as part of the "difficult legacy" the present Georgian leadership inherited from former President Eduard Shevardnadze. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY SLAMS REPRISALS AGAINST HIS BROTHER
Bezhan Gunava told journalists on 5 January he intends to quit the National Movement-Democrats majority parliament faction because of harassment of himself and his brother Gocha, Georgian media reported. Gocha Gunava, a businessman currently living in Russia, has been accused of tax evasion. Bezhan Gunava claimed that fellow parliamentarians launched "an aggressive campaign" against him following his criticisms of Gigi Ugulava, whom President Mikheil Saakashvili appointed as governor of Mingrelia and Upper Svaneti three months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Gunava claimed that Ugulava cannot speak Mingrelian and will therefore be unable to establish contact with the local population. In a lengthy interview broadcast on independent Georgian Mze TV on 29 December, Saakashvili defended Ugulava as "a very good governor," who is not corrupt, does not take bribes, and whose family comes from the region in question. Saakashvili added that he gave Ugulava orders (presumably at the time of his appointment) to "brush up" his knowledge of Mingrelian. LF

CHECHENS JAILED FOR ENTERING GEORGIA ILLEGALLY RELEASED
Two of a group of 13 Chechens who were apprehended on Georgian territory in August 2002 after illegally entering the country from Russia have been released from prison, and two more will be freed in the near future, Caucasus Press reported on 5 January. Five of the group were extradited to Russia in October 2002, whereupon the remainder staged a violent protest in the Tbilisi jail where they were being held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 August and 7, 8, and 20 October 2002). They were sentenced for that protest to 19 months' imprisonment, but acquitted of charges of illegally crossing the Georgian border. One of the released Chechens, Aslanbek Khanchukaev, claimed on 5 January that he is under surveillance and said he is afraid he will be apprehended and extradited to Russia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION COUNCIL CONDEMNS 'POLITICALLY MOTIVATED' ACTIONS BY AUTHORITIES
The opposition Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces issued a statement on 5 January denouncing a lawsuit by the Almaty Prosecutor's Office seeking the closure of the opposition political party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The statement described the case against DVK and recent tax charges against the Soros-Kazakhstan Foundation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004) as "politically motivated and coordinated from a single center." Prosecutors are seeking the dissolution of DVK for incitement to civil disobedience; the next hearing in the case is scheduled for 6 January. The Coordinating Council stated that the authorities aim to "define any criticism of the regime as incitement to social discord." The statement concluded, "[This policy] not only runs counter to [the authorities'] official intention to carry out 'further democratization,' but also strengthens political opposition in society." DK

TAJIK PRESIDENT REPLACES HIGH-RANKING OFFICIALS
President Imomali Rakhmonov signed decrees on 5 January reshuffling a number of top government officials, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Qozidavlat Qoimdodov was removed from the post of deputy prime minister and appointed ambassador to Turkmenistan. No immediate replacement was announced. Habibulloh Yusufov was relieved of his post as commander of Interior Ministry troops and replaced by Abdumannon Ghoziev, Tajik Television reported. Deputy Interior Minister Mahmadsaid Juraqulov and Rahim Karimov, first deputy director of the Drug Control Agency, were removed from their posts; Fayzullo Abdulloev was appointed to replace Karimov at the Drug Control Agency, RFE/RL reported. Nurali Sheraliev, head of the State Auto Inspectorate, was removed and replaced by Sayidmuso Musoev. Presidential spokesman Abdufattoh Sharifov noted that the reshuffle comes after critical comments Rakhmonov made about law-enforcement bodies at a 24 December meeting, Tajik Television reported. The president's criticism focused on corruption and abuse of office. DK

IRAN OFFERS 50 MILLION EUROS IN CREDITS TO BOOST UZBEK TRADE...
Iran will allocate a 50 million-euro ($66 million) credit to support Iranian investment in Uzbekistan's private sector, IRNA reported on 5 January, the second day of a visit to Uzbekistan by Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi. The credit, which was approved by the Iranian government on 26 December, will go to support projects with a minimum of 50 percent Iranian capital and a maximum implementation and return period of 10 months. DK

...AS TRANS-AFGHAN CORRIDOR COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST SESSION IN TASHKENT
An interstate coordinating council for a planned trans-Afghan transportation corridor that will link Afghanistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan held its inaugural session in Tashkent on 5 January, UzA reported. The council will prepare recommendations on financing, mapping, and constructing the 2,400-kilometer road, IRNA reported. According to UzA, the trans-Afghan corridor will connect the Uzbek city of Termez with the Afghan cities of Mazar-e Sharif and Herat and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. DK

IDEOLOGISTS TO COMPETE IN MINSK
The Minsk City Executive Committee has begun preparations for holding a competition to select the best ideological worker in the city, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 5 January. The competition, which will be the first such event in Belarus since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, is to be held among ideologists working at enterprises, shops, hospitals, schools, and universities. "I have an instruction saying that the purpose [of the competition] is to improve the level of ideological work," Ilona Nyamala of the Minsk City Executive Committee told RFE/RL. "On the whole, ideology is necessary for every state, there's nothing wrong in it." According to Tatsyana Protska of the nongovernmental human rights watchdog Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian government has set itself firmly on a path back to the Soviet era by intensifying ideological propaganda in recent years. "What's taking place in the country now was [there] earlier," Protska said. "For 70 years society has believed its leadership, which earlier was known as the Communist Party and now is called the president and his administration. We are living not for the future, but backward, into the past. Therefore, it may take a long time [for us to look to the future]." JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST APPEALS AGAINST PRISON TERM
Lawyers for opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, who was sentenced last week to five years in prison on a theft charge that was widely believed to be politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005), filed an appeal on 5 January against the conviction and sentence, Belapan reported. The appeal was submitted to the Minsk District Court, which is expected to pass it to Appellate Board of the Minsk Oblast Court. JM

YUSHCHENKO VOWS TO NAME NEW PREMIER 'IN DAYS'...
President-elect Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in a ski resort in Tysovets in the Carpathian Mountains on 5 January that a candidate for the post of prime minister will be made known "in days," UNIAN reported. Yushchenko said several candidates are being considered for the job, but he refused to reveal their names. Meanwhile, later the same day, Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs leader Anatoliy Kinakh, who supported Yushchenko's presidential bid during the second election round on 21 November and its repeat on 26 December, said on Channel 5 that he is ready to work as the head of a new cabinet. The previous day, Yuliya Tymoshenko declared her readiness to head a new government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2005). JM

...TO PRESENT DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY BY THE END OF JANUARY...
President-elect Yushchenko said in Tysovets on 5 January that his economic experts are now working on a "new concept" of the 2005 budget that will be presented in March, Interfax reported. The Verkhovna Rada passed a budget bill in late December that projected a 6.6 percent increase in Ukraine's gross domestic product pushing it to 410 billion hryvnyas ($77 billion), budget revenues at 86.5 billion hryvnyas, and spending at 95.5 billion hryvnyas in 2005. Yushchenko added that his experts are now concluding their work on a development strategy for Ukraine for 2005-09. Yushchenko pledged to present the strategy at a special news conference in Ukraine on 20 January and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January. JM

...AND TO CRACK DOWN ON CORRUPTION
Yushchenko also said in Tysovets on 5 January that he will seek to uproot corruption in Ukraine, which he said is the country's main problem, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "Corruption exists under extremely centralized state rule," Yushchenko said. "That's why our first task will be replacing the old people, so that the Ukrainian people can see new names." Yushchenko also stressed that the main task for Ukrainian political elites in 2005 is to agree on holding honest and transparent parliamentary elections in 2006. "During the 13 months separating us from the parliamentary elections in Ukraine we want to maximally develop democratic processes," the president-elect pledged. JM

HORSE TRADING BEGINS OVER PORTFOLIOS IN NEW UKRAINIAN CABINET
Ihor Yefremeyev, head of the parliamentary caucus of the Popular Agrarian Party (NAPU), told Interfax on 5 January that his party will demand no fewer than three ministerial posts in exchange for supporting a new cabinet formed by President-elect Yushchenko. "I suppose that a new [parliamentary] majority will consist of 280 deputies," Yefremeyev said. "I am convinced that the NAPU caucus will be in the new majority." The NAPU, which is led by Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, has 29 lawmakers. It is still not clear which parties could form a new pro-government majority. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and his current political allies -- Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Anatoliy Kinakh's Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs -- have some 150 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada, well below the 226 votes necessary to pass most legislative resolutions. JM

WILL MONTENEGRO MAKE A CONCESSION TO EU ON INDEPENDENCE VOTE?
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic told the Paris daily "Le Figaro" of 5 January that his government will organize a referendum on independence from the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 August and 17 September 2004). Some Montenegrin leaders had previously called for a vote in 2005, which is widely seen in Brussels as one year before the earliest legal possibility. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 5 January that "it is apparently not possible to make a joint state out of Serbia and Montenegro" in view of the seemingly irreconcilable political differences between Belgrade and Podgorica. The daily noted that the EU, which helped create the joint state in an effort to prevent the further dissolution of former Yugoslavia, has begun to moderate its previously uncompromising stand on preserving the joint state. PM

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SAYS SERBIA MUST HELP BOSNIAN SERBS ARREST WAR CRIMES INDICTEES
High Representative Paddy Ashdown told Serbian President Boris Tadic in Belgrade on 5 January that it is not acceptable that the Bosnian Serb authorities have not arrested a single individual indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal in the 10 years since the Dayton peace agreement took effect, Ashdown's web site reported (http://www.ohr.int/ohr-dept/presso/pressr/default.asp?content_id=33889) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). He noted that Belgrade has its own obligations to the tribunal and must also work with the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including those in the Republika Srpska, to arrest indictees who cross the border from Bosnia into Serbia. Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, recently criticized Serbia and its prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, for not cooperating with that body (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER NAMES NEW EU NEGOTIATOR
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader announced in Zagreb on 5 January that Vladimir Drobnjak, who is currently ambassador to the UN, will be chief negotiator in upcoming membership talks with the EU, while European Integration Minister Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will head the negotiating team, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sanader added that he expects to reshuffle his cabinet in February. His announcement comes in the wake of the recent resignation of Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul and amid media reports of other possible departures from the government, including ailing Health Minister Andrija Hebrang (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 January 2005). PM

MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TO RESUME POLICE BEAT PATROLS
Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman Goran Pavlovski announced on 5 January that a special department of police officers -- formerly known as "pozornikari" -- will again patrol the streets on foot in the near future, "Dnevnik" reported. "The first purpose of [restoring the foot patrols] is to fight street crime, the second is to improve cooperation with the population," Pavlovski said, adding that the new patrols are part of a wider police reform aimed at boosting community relations. At present, police patrol the streets only in cars. UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SEES EARLY ELECTIONS AS WAY TO REVISE UNDESIRABLE COALITION...
In an interview with the daily "Adevarul" on 6 January, President Traian Basescu said he believes early elections might provide a way out of the current "unethical solution" of including the Humanist Party (PUR) in the ruling coalition, Mediafax reported. The PUR ran in the November parliamentary elections on joint lists with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its 30 lawmakers joined the new coalition headed by Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu in late December. Without PUR support, the new cabinet would fall short of a majority in parliament (see "New Romanian Cabinet Ushers In Liberal-Democratic Spirit," 29 December 2004, rferl.org). MS

...AND CALLS FOR MERGER OF PNL, DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Basescu also said in his 6 January interview with "Adevarul" that he believes the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party, which formed the Justice and Truth alliance before the elections, should merge into a single party. Basescu called on parliament to initiate procedures to dismiss the two Social Democratic speakers of its chambers, former Prime Ministers Adrian Nastase and Nicolae Vacaroiu. He also said he wants the legislature to look into allegations that the formerly ruling PSD attempted to rig the 28 November ballot. "Nobody in Romania should ever think that the people's will might be forged," Basescu said. MS

CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION MAY TARGET FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER, PSD LEADERS
Former Prime Minister Nastase and several other leaders of the former ruling Social Democrats might be investigated by the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) on suspicion of obstructing justice, the daily "Romania libera" reported on 6 January. An investigation was opened after a complaint was launched by several civic groups. In November 2004, several dailies published documents purporting to be minutes of high-level PSD leadership meetings, during which ways of interfering in the justice system and quashing media criticism against the PSD were reportedly discussed. Nastase claimed the transcripts were fakes, but several PSD leaders who attended the gatherings -- among them former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana -- acknowledged their authenticity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). MS

ROMANIAN DEFECTOR'S RANK, PENSION RESTORED
Former communist master spy General Ion Mihai Pacepa, who defected to the United States in June 1978, has had his military rank of general restored, Mediafax reported on 5 January. Pacepa, who headed the communist Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Department, was sentenced to death in August 1978 by a military court. The court ordered his demotion and the confiscation of his property. In June 1999, the Supreme Court overturned the sentence and ruled that Pacepa's rank must be restored, his property returned, and that he is entitled to a pension. However, the postcommunist Foreign Intelligence Service procrastinated in implementing the Supreme Court's decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 5 May 2004). Pacepa's rank and property was restored in late December 2004 and he was retired from the armed forces. MS

ROMANIAN JOURNALISTS RESIGN EN MASSE FROM FOREIGN-OWNED DAILY
Thirty-one journalists from the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 5 January announced their resignations to protest editorial changes planned by the Swiss Ringier Group, which has owned the newspaper since 2003, "Ziua" reported on 6 January. They thus joined five of their colleagues who resigned earlier in solidarity with former editor in chief Dan Turturica, who was transferred to the Moldovan town of Bacau in what protesters believe was an attempt to silence the newspaper's critical stance of the PSD and to transform it into a tabloid. Journalist Sabina Fati said the group intends to launch a new daily, in which individual or group ownership would be limited to a stake of a maximum of 5 percent to avoid a repetition of attempts to influence editorial policy (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 11 October and 13 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 28 December 2004). MS

DEMOCRATIC MOLDOVA BLOC LEADER WARNS PRESIDENT
Democratic Moldova Bloc leader and Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean on 5 January told President Vladimir Voronin in a message that he should stop using his powers to benefit his party ahead of the March 2005 parliamentary elections, Flux reported. Urechean said in his message that he represents "the largest opposition alliance," and that Voronin is failing in his duty as head of state to prevent social tension and to ensure conditions for a "correct and civilized electoral campaign." He wrote: "Throughout your mandate as president you have continued to [serve] first as chief of the communists and only second as president [of all Moldovans]." Urechean said the rule of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PRM) has only benefited political, financial, and business circles close to that party. MS

THE FSB WEBSITE AS A SYMBOL OF THE PUTIN REGIME
The official website of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) marked its fifth anniversary recently by posting a special report showing both how much information this agency, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, has released via this channel and how many emails of "operational" interest it has received from ordinary Russians.

The report (posted online at http://www.fsb.ru/new/ofsite.html) notes that the number of items included on the site rose from 1,259 in 200 to 2,504 in the first 11 months of 2004. Over the same period, it says, the number of visitors rose from 11,764 a day to 59,811, and the number of gigabites of data transferred went up from 10,405 to 92,154.

All this is typical of the kind of information that websites normally release when they mark anniversaries. But the FSB report then adds the following: It says that so far this year, the agency has received approximately 30,000 e-mails with what it calls "operational interest" -- a reference to the tips the site has urged people to send in to fsb@fsb.ru.

In one respect, of course, what the Russian intelligence service is doing with its website resembles what such agencies in other countries are doing with theirs: going public with information about what they do and encouraging people to send in information that might help the authorities combat terrorism or other kinds of crime.

But a closer examination of the FSB site underlines just how different the Russian site is from the others. Instead of stressing the ways in which the Russian FSB is distinct from its Soviet-era predecessors, the FSB site insists on perfect continuity, offering a history of Russian intelligence agencies since 1917 (but intriguingly not earlier) and biographies of its leaders from Feliks Dzerzhinskii to Lavrenti Beria to Vladimir Putin to the FSB's current head, Nikolai Patrushev.

Second, the site's language sets it apart as well. In talking about the terrorists and criminals it has tracked down, it uses Soviet-era words and phrases like "destroyed" and "liquidated." And when the site posts pictures of its current operatives meeting with schoolchildren, it electronically obscures the faces of these officers.

And third, the site posts articles by and interviews with FSB officers that underscore just how much influence this agency has gained under Putin. Not only are more officers speaking out than they did five years ago, but they are speaking out on many issues far removed from those normally thought to be the province of intelligence operatives.

But perhaps the most striking part of the FSB website, one that sets it apart from those of other intelligence services, is its contact page (http://www.fsb.ru/contact/contact.html). That page advises visitors that they can give the authorities tips about actual or threatened terrorist actions and/or other crimes or make comments about the site and the FSB as a whole.

The site promises those who do so "guaranteed" confidentiality -- although it adds that "for better organization of work," it would be helpful to provide contact information including telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and postal addresses as well. The site further provides specific email addresses for different aspects of the FSB's work.

And then it makes the following offer, one that perhaps no other intelligence service in the world has made so openly and blatantly: Drawing on existing Russian legislation, the site specifies that "Russian citizens who are cooperating with foreign intelligence services can contact the FSB" to become double agents.

If such people do come forward "voluntarily and in a timely manner," the site says, they will not only be allowed to keep whatever money they have received from these foreign agencies but they also will be freed from any criminal responsibility for their actions -- as long as these have not involved any other kinds of criminal behavior.

Three days after the fifth anniversary of the FSB site, President Putin said at his 23 December news conference that the Internet -- despite all the problems it sometimes creates -- is nonetheless "the most democratic means of distributing information," according to the Kremlin's official website (http://www.kremlin.ru/appears/2004/12/23/1414_type63380_81691.shtml).

But at least some visitors to the FSB website are likely to conclude that this "most democratic means" can sometimes be used for the most undemocratic ends -- even by those who claim to be doing otherwise -- and that as such, the site symbolizes the nature of the Putin regime, one that often appears to be doing just that.

(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

AFGHAN AUTHORITIES REPORTEDLY NEGOTIATE WITH NEO-TALIBAN
Afghan authorities opened peace talks with neo-Taliban forces in a reconciliation bid aimed at convincing the insurgents to participate in the country's nascent political process, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported 5 January. Paktiya Province Governor Asadullah Wafa said talks with neo-Taliban forces have gone forward in Paktiya and Khost provinces in step with reconciliation policy laid out by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "Our talks with the Taliban are continuing smoothly," Wafa said. "We have told them that any Taliban member is welcomed and can join the peace process, except those whose hands are stained with people's blood." Wafa added: "I believe that a large number of the Taliban will return home and adopt a civil way of life." Karzai has offered amnesty to large numbers of neo-Taliban fighters, but insurgents leaders have officially rejected the offers. Many neo-Taliban fighters remain fearful that U.S.-led coalition forces will jail them if they surrender, the news agency reported. MR

NEO-TALIBAN FIGHTERS CLAIM TO HAVE KILLED 1,200 COALITION TROOPS IN 2004
Neo-Taliban insurgents have claimed they killed at least 1,200 U.S. and Afghan troops in 2004, Afghan Islamic Press reported 5 January. Neo-Taliban spokesperson Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said militia fighters staged up to 282 attacks on "American invaders and their puppets" last year and destroyed 243 military vehicles, including 46 tanks and armored vehicles. A "fact sheet" disseminated by the militia said the group downed 12 spy planes and struck U.S.-led coalition forces in nearly all of Afghanistan's provinces over the past year. Hakimi said 58 neo-Taliban fighters, including five top commanders, were killed in fighting in 2004. U.S. military officials offered no immediate response to the claims, which far outstrip the losses that coalition forces have acknowledged. MR

TRANS-AFGHAN CORRIDOR COUNCIL STARTS UP IN TASHKENT
An interstate coordinating council for a planned trans-Afghan transportation corridor that will link Afghanistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan held its inaugural session in Tashkent on 5 January, UzA reported. The council will prepare recommendations on financing, mapping, and constructing the 2,400-kilometer road, IRNA reported. According to UzA, the trans-Afghan corridor will connect the Uzbek city of Termez with the Afghan cities of Mazar-e Sharif and Herat and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. DK

IRAN GIVES IAEA ACCESS TO MILITARY SITE
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said in a 5 January interview with Radio Farda that the agency's inspectors expect to visit the Parchin military site, south of Tehran, in the next few days or weeks. Radio Farda reported that the IAEA has pressed for access to the site for months. Washington suspects that nuclear-weapons related activities take place at Parchin, and Gwozdecky expressed the hope that the inspection will reveal that this is not the case. Nevertheless, he told Radio Farda, the site could be used for weapons-related activities. If Iran has nothing to hide, Radio Farda asked, why did Iran not agree to an inspection of military sites sooner? Gwozdecky said sensitive military activities take place at such sites, and the Iranians do not have to give permission for access to them. Usually the IAEA has access to all nuclear sites in a country, Gwozdecky told Radio Farda, but this does not apply to military sites. BS

URANIUM-ENRICHMENT FREEZE IN FORCE IN IRAN
In Vienna, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 5 January that Iran is still adhering to its pledge to suspend uranium enrichment, AFP reported. Referring to Iran's processing of uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), el-Baradei said the IAEA has been "told this will be completed in February." Anonymous diplomats say this process has been delayed by mechanical problems, AFP reported. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO APPEAR IN COURT
Presidential adviser Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who until October was the vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs, may have to appear before the Special Court for the Clergy soon, ILNA reported. The prosecutor-general, police, and private citizens have filed complaints against for what they allege are falsehoods that appeared on his web log (http://www.webneveshteha.com/). Abtahi recently wrote that he met for three hours with bloggers who were released from prison. They described beatings, humiliating questions about their sexual habits and relationships, solitary confinement, and lack of access to lawyers. The bloggers told Abtahi they were forced to write confessions that were similar to the Spider Web editorial in "Kayhan" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October 2004). Their interrogators promised that they would be released after newspapers published these confessions. In a 2 January update, Abtahi wrote that access to his blog was blocked after he wrote about this meeting. BS

IRANIAN REFORMIST LEADER CALLS FOR FREE ELECTION
A top official of the country's leading clerically dominated reformist party, the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), on 5 January called on the national media to be evenhanded, and on the body that determines prospective candidates' eligibility to be broadminded, IRNA reported. Massive public participation would undermine the country's enemies, Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia said, and the media and especially the press can encourage people to go the polls. "Those in charge of the media and the press should exercise a sense of responsibility toward the election," he said. The broadcast media has been criticized from within the country and abroad for its antireformist bias. Turning to the Guardians Council's vetting of candidates, Montajabnia said, "The issue that undermines the belief of the people in the election and the incentive to go to the polling booths is the way the Guardian Council will deal with confirming qualification of the candidates. The body is expected to adopt a broader outlook in scrutinizing the qualification." The council disqualified some 2,000 prospective candidates for the February 2004 parliamentary elections, including incumbent legislators. BS

IRANIAN BACKING FOR JORDANIAN TERRORIST UPSETS KING ABDULLAH
Jordan's King Abdullah has accused Iran of trying to create a Shi'a regime in Iraq because he received a report on ties between Jordanian extremists on the one hand and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps's intelligence unit and its special operations Qods Force on the other, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 5 January. Information on Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and other Jordanians was provided by an anonymous "senior officer" in the Qods Force who recently fled Iran, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported. This information reportedly includes a photograph of al-Zarqawi and another Jordanian fugitive in an IRGC camp in western Iran. BS

IRANIAN AMBASSADOR DESCRIBES CLERICS WITHOUT BORDERS
Mohammad Irani, Tehran's ambassador to Amman, has dismissed allegations that Iraqi Shi'a clerics take their orders from Iran, "Al-Dustur" reported on 3 January. He said all Shi'a Muslims emulate specific individuals above anybody else, and these religious authorities do not take their orders from any government. The connection between a Shi'a Muslim and his source of emulation is a matter of creed, Irani said, and it does not matter where that religious authority resides. Many Iranians emulate Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah in Lebanon, he noted, and people in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon emulate Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq. "If we understand this concept, we will realize that these religious authorities do not take orders from the governments," Irani said. "They have the people as their grass roots." BS

IRAQI CLERIC DENIES ACCUSATIONS OF IRANIAN INTERFERENCE
Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi, spiritual leader of the Islamic Action Organization, said during his visit to Tehran that King Abdullah's allegations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs are untrue, "Resalat" reported on 4 January. "Jordan is afraid of and worried about the consequences of the elections for that country," al-Mudarrisi said. "You might be able to keep the Jordanian society under dictatorship, but the Iraqi society will not go back to the previous regime and dictatorship." Also in Tehran, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with another visiting Iraqi, Islamic Party of Iraq Secretary-General Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, state radio and IRNA reported. "Every effort should be made for the Iraqi elections to be held on schedule," Khatami told his guest. BS

18 IRAQI MEN FOUND DEAD IN FIELD NEAR MOSUL
The bodies of 18 Iraqi men were discovered on 5 January in a field outside Mosul, Ninawah Governate, international media reported on 6 January. Insurgents reportedly lured the men, aged 14 to 20, to Mosul with the promise of high-paying jobs working for multinational forces, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Police said the insurgents stopped the two minibuses the men were traveling in some 48 kilometers west of Mosul, bound the men's hands behind their backs, and shot them execution-style, AP reported. All of the victims were Shi'ites from the Al-Kadhimiyah neighborhood of Baghdad. Ninawah Governor Durayd Kashmula was asked about the killings in a 6 January interview with Al-Jazeera television. Kashmula denied any knowledge of them, saying: "We do not know who works with the U.S. forces, because we have nothing to do with this. Our business is related to the Ninawah Governorate and the country, as well as its security, stability, and prosperity. If laborers choose to work with the multinational forces, then this is their own business." Kashmula contended that police are on duty in the city and security is improving "all the time." KR

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS IRAQI SECURITY FORCE CASUALTIES EXCEED 1,300
Falah al-Naqib said on 5 January that more than 1,300 Iraqi police and security forces working under the Interior Ministry have been killed or injured in the 1 1/2 years since they were reorganized following the war in Iraq, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Naqib called on the interior ministers of Arab countries currently meeting in Tunis to condemn terrorist attacks on security forces and civilians in Iraq. KR

COMMUNIST PARTY MEMBER SLAIN IN BAGHDAD
Iraqi police sources said on 6 January that Iraqi Communist Party member Hadi Salih has been killed at his home in the Iraqi capital, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Salih was reportedly strangled. The party has accused former supporters of Saddam Hussein's regime of being behind the killing. Salih worked on foreign relations for labor unions in the party, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR

U.S. MARINE DESERTS -- AGAIN
A U.S. Marine who disappeared from his post in Iraq and later turned up in Lebanon has now failed to return to his base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, following a scheduled leave, Reuters reported on 5 January. Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun was charged with desertion in December for the June incident, in which he claimed he was kidnapped and held hostage by militants against his will. At the time, he denied deserting his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2004). Marine officials said on 5 January that Hassoun failed to report for duty following his authorized holiday leave. An unidentified U.S. military official said bank records indicate that Hassoun used bank machines in Canada in recent days and appears to have made his way back to Lebanon. Hassoun had reportedly said his leave would take him to Utah to visit his family. The Marine Corps formally charged him with desertion on 5 January. His name has been placed in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, which will alert law enforcement personnel that he is a wanted fugitive, Reuters reported. KR

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