PUTIN LOOKS FORWARD TO 'PRAGMATIC' RELATIONS WITH KYIV...
President Vladimir Putin said after a meeting with Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Volodomyr Lytvyn in Moscow on 8 January that he hopes the "electoral rhetoric in Ukraine will be replaced by a pragmatic attitude" following the bitterly disputed presidential election that appears to have ushered reformists into power there, NTV reported. Putin added that Ukraine is an irreplaceable partner in terms of trade, and the two countries have ties on many levels. Lytvyn also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, and Federation Council head Sergei Mironov during his visit, which was timed to coincide with Orthodox Christmas celebrations. Mironov reportedly expressed admiration for Lytvyn's "wise and self-possessed" stance during the Ukrainian election standoff, strana.ru reported on 8 January. Lytvyn is a candidate to be Ukraine's next prime minister. VY
...AND LOOKS AHEAD IN RUSSIAN-POLISH DIALOGUE
President Putin spoke with his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski by telephone on 8 January about bilateral and international relations, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The two presidents also discussed upcoming Polish commemorations, which Putin is scheduled to attend, to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Auschwitz death camp. The conversation was their first since the Russian president criticized his Polish counterpart on 23 December over reported comments by Kwasniewski on the Russian role in the Ukrainian presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). The Kremlin press service noted that the Polish side initiated the latest contact, according to ITAR-TASS. VY
CHINESE, INDIAN ENTERPRISES SAID TO BE INTERESTED IN YUKOS ASSETS
Chinese representatives have expressed interest in acquiring a stake in Russian oil giant Yukos's main production arm, Yuganskneftegaz, following its consolidation as a separate state enterprise, according to newsru.com on 8 January. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko suggested in late December that a 20 percent stake might be offered to the China National Petroleum Corporation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005), but some Chinese observers reportedly regard a one-fifth stake as too small to be worthwhile. Meanwhile, representatives of India's largest oil company, ONGC, have expressed interest in Yukos assets, according to "Business Standard" on 7 January. "We are in touch with the concerned Russian entities about the Yukos assets and other opportunities in Russia," ONGC Chairman Subir Raha was quoted as saying. ONGC is prepared to invest $2 billion for a 15 percent stake in Yuganskneftegaz, the newspaper reported. President Putin hinted at possible Indian interest in Yukos assets during his December visit to that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004) VY
CHINA SLAPS ANTIDUMPING PENALTIES ON RUSSIAN CHEMICAL GOODS
China's Commerce Ministry announced on 7 January the introduction of antidumping duties against Russian exporters of trichlorethylene, a chemical used in the extraction of oil and in pharmaceuticals, ITAR-TASS reported. Chinese producers have complained for nearly a year of unfair trade practices by the Russians, the news agency added. Commentators noted that antidumping measures appear to have become a matter of course in Chinese-Russian trade. "Le Temps" commented on 5 January that relations between Moscow and Beijing can currently be characterized as "close cooperation under [conditions of] visible mutual mistrust." VY
RUSSIA TO STEP UP AID TO TSUNAMI DISASTER ZONE
Russia has announced that it will increase humanitarian aid to the countries of Southeast Asia hit by the tsunami disaster and will send to Indonesia 12 aircraft with humanitarian aid and medical equipment for a military field hospital, NTV reported on 8 January. Russia will also send 145 medical personnel to Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry on 8 January said that Russian military aircraft have been regularly delivering humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other countries in the disaster zone. As of 7 January, the Russian government had pledged $2 million in aid. VY
POLLSTER SAYS RUSSIANS MOSTLY FEAR THE FUTURE
Writing in "Argumenty i fakty," No.1, Levada Analytical Center head Yurii Levada said that on the basis of polls his agency has conducted over the last 15 years, the fears and phobias of Russians have radically changed. Fifteen years ago, he said, Russians were primarily afraid of world or civil war; today, most Russians cite a "fear of the future" as their biggest cause for concern. According to Levada, this fear has grown, especially over the last five years. At the beginning of 2000, 57 percent of Russians said they were scared of the future; in June 2004, this number increased to 63 percent and in December 2004 to 67 percent. Levada said that many Russians fear arbitrary behavior on the part of the state, especially law-enforcement bodies. Fear of terrorism is another factor, he said. In October 2004, 86 percent of recipients said they were afraid of terrorist attacks, while 76 percent believed that the state is unable to protect them from terrorism, Levada wrote. VY
UPPER CHAMBER HEAD SPEAKS OUT AGAINST RACIALLY MOTIVATED CRIMES...
Federation Council Chairman Mironov, who is heading a Russian delegation to Vietnam, told students in Hanoi on 9 January that the government of Russia must do more to protect the rights of foreigners in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Mironov commented on several recent ethnically motivated attacks by Russian skinheads on foreign students studying in Russia and said that legislation protecting foreigners must be made "stricter and clearer." "Russia is a multinational country with more than 100 nationalities, and it is our paramount duty to protect their interests and do all we can to nip in the bud all nationalistic attacks," Mironov said. RC
...AS JEWISH LEADER DISAGREES WITH U.S. REPORT ON ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA
Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, on 9 January said that he does not agree with a recent U.S. State Department assessment of anti-Semitism in Russia, Interfax reported on 9 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2005). "The U.S. State Department's special report lacks several aspects that point to positive changes in this respect over the last 15 years," Lazar said. "We can't say the situation is absolutely satisfactory everywhere, but we see it is developing in the right way." Lazar added that the federal government understands the problem of anti-Semitism and that in recent years local governments "have been taking active measures" against it. RC
MOSCOW HAILS PROJECTED VICTORY OF ABBAS IN PALESTINIAN ELECTION
Russian envoy to the Middle East Aleksandr Kalugin on 10 January welcomed the projected victory of Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmud Abbas in the Palestinian Authority's 9 January presidential election, Interfax reported. "Everyone pins hopes for changes for the better on the election of Abbas, which would make this experienced and fairly moderate politician the head of the Palestinian Authority," Kalugin said. He noted that Abbas has broad popular support and the backing of the Palestinian Authority's largest political party. Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov told ITAR-TASS on 9 January that the election was "a very important and historic event" that should play "an important role in restoring and pushing forward the Mideast peace process." Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov described Abbas's expected victory as "a turning point in the whole history of the long process of a Middle East settlement." RC
WATER RISING IN ST. PETERSBURG
The Neva River in St. Petersburg was 2.30 meters above its normal level on the morning of 10 January, causing flooding in many downtown areas, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. Three subway stations were closed down as of 11 a.m. local time and the Emergency Situations Ministry was warning of still higher water in the afternoon because of a forecast of high winds and rain. Interfax reported that several streets in the city's Petrogradskii, Primorskii, and Vasileostrovskii regions were flooded. According to local officials, two people have been hospitalized in connection with the flooding. On 9 January, high winds swept across western Russia, leaving thousands in Kaliningrad and Pskov oblasts without electricity. RC
2003 ALTAI EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS STILL WAITING FOR HOMES
The government of the Republic of Altai failed to meet a 1 December 2004 deadline for providing replacement housing for all those who lost their homes in a 2003 earthquake in the region, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004). According to the report, the last 151 residential buildings will be completed this month or next month, but they are not expected to be ready for utilization until April or May. According to a prosecutor's office report, 1,780 people lost their homes in the earthquake and the federal government allocated $20 million for reconstruction. RC
RESISTANCE FIGHTERS KILLED IN INGUSHETIA
Four members of the Chechen resistance, two Ingush and two Chechens, were killed on 8 January in a shoot-out with some 100 members of the security forces who surrounded a house on the outskirts of Nazran where the men were hiding, Russian media and chechenpress.com reported. Interfax quoted Sergei Koryakov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) office in Chechnya, as saying that all four men participated in the multiple attacks on police targets in Ingushetia in June 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 June 2004), and they were planning further terrorist attacks in Ingushetia. LF
CHECHEN OFFICIALS DENY PRESIDENT'S RELATIVES DETAINED
The Chechen prosecutor's office on 9 January denied media reports that several elderly relatives of Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov were apprehended during a "mopping-up" operation last week, Russian media reported. The Chechen official said he is "100 percent confident" that neither Chechen law-enforcement bodies nor federal troops have detained Maskhadov's siblings. It is not clear whether the people involved are those reported detained one month ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). LF
KARABAKH PRESIDENT REJECTS CRITICISM OF PERSONNEL CHANGES
A spokesman for Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has rejected as "inappropriate" criticism by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) of Ghukasian's dismissal last month of Education and Culture Minister Armen Sargsian, who is an HHD member, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 28 December 2004). Spokesman Aleksandr Grigorian argued that the government is not formed on a partisan basis, and that Sargsian's dismissal and other personnel appointments "stemmed from the need to improve cadre policy" and "to expedite socioeconomic and cultural development and to build a civil society." LF
EMBATTLED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PAPER RESUMES PUBLICATION
The daily "Yeni Musavat" resumed publication on 9 January, drawing on what its acting Editor in Chief Azer Ayhan termed its "last financial resources," Turan reported on 10 January. The paper has been financially crippled by court rulings ordering it to pay huge fines in a series of libel suits; it suspended publication in November and again last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2004 and 4 and 7 January 2005). Since Ayhan succeeded Gabil Abbasoglu as acting editor in chief on 7 January, three of the paper's deputy editors have quit, Turan reported on 10 January. LF
TENSIONS RISE ON EVE OF REPEAT ABKHAZ BALLOT
Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh and his running mate and former rival, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, toured several Abkhaz regions last week to campaign for the repeat presidential election scheduled for 12 January, ApsniPress reported. On 7 January, ApsniPress reported that the public organization Akhyatsa issued a statement the previous day calling for a boycott of the vote in light of what it termed the inauspicious political situation. Parliamentary Legislation Committee Chairman Vladimir Nachach-ogly, who is co-chairman of the political movement Amtsakhara, said on 7 January that anyone who calls for an election boycott should be held criminally responsible for doing so. The parliamentary coordinating council responsible for organizing the repeat ballot issued an appeal on 7 January to all citizens to cast their ballots on 12 January, ApsniPress reported. Yakub Lakoba, who is the only rival candidate to the Bagapsh/Khadjimba duo, is not actively campaigning across Abkhazia, but is nonetheless availing himself of the free airtime to which he is entitled on TV and radio. LF
GEORGIAN ECONOMISTS PROTEST GOVERNMENT'S PRIVATIZATION STRATEGY
A group of economists from Tbilisi State University have written to President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Georgian government warning against plans to privatize several major enterprises, including the Chiatura Manganese Plant, coal mines in Tkibuli, and the Georgian merchant fleet, Caucasus Press reported on 8 January. The economists argued that, rather than selling those enterprises to foreign bidders, which would result in a one-time infusion of funds to the state budget, the government should have transformed them into joint-stock companies in which the population at large could purchase shares. On 10 January, Caucasus Press reported that a second British company has submitted a bid for the merchant fleet that exceeds the $107 million offered last month by the Greenoak Group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 28 December 2004). LF
KAZAKH PEACEKEEPER KILLED IN IRAQ
One Kazakh peacekeeper was killed and four others injured in Iraq's Wasit Province on 9 January when a bomb exploded during a munitions-clearing operation, Kazinform reported. Eight Ukrainian servicemen also lost their lives in the incident. A source in Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS that Captain Kayrat Kudabaev was killed and that the wounded were airlifted to a military hospital in Baghdad for treatment. Colonel Zdzieslaw Gnatowski, a Polish military spokesman, told AFP, "An aerial bomb found during mine-clearing operations in the area exploded accidentally when the soldiers were about to make it safe." Kazakhstan's contingent of 27 peacekeepers in Iraq, who are primarily involved in mine-clearing operations, has been a source of heated debate in the country's parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). DK
KAZAKH OPPOSITION FEARS THAT LIQUIDATION RULING SIGNALS NEW CRACKDOWN
Kazakh opposition figures warned that a 6 January court decision to liquidate the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) political party signifies the start of a political crackdown, even as the party planned to appeal the ruling, agencies and newspapers reported. Yevgenii Zhovtis, director of Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights and a legal consultant to DVK, told a news conference in Almaty on 7 January, "We shall prove that the judge did not pay attention to all the documents that were submitted and request that the court annul the decision," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. But in a statement published on 7 January by the opposition newspaper "Navigator," Zhovtis cast doubt on the hope of obtaining a fair decision from a Kazakh court. In a 7 January statement in "Navigator," opposition party Ak Zhol expressed "serious concern" over the decision, calling the court decision part of a "campaign to discredit and destroy not only opposition, but any independent political parties and politicians." A number of articles and interviews with opposition figures in the newspaper "Respublika" on 7 January linked the court decision to recent events in Ukraine, explaining that Kazakh authorities are trying to forestall political change in the country. DK
KYRGYZ ELECTION COMMISSION DENIES OPPOSITION CANDIDATE'S REGISTRATION...
A Kyrgyz district election commission on 6 January first approved, and then rejected, former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva's candidacy for the country's 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the next day. The commission approved Otunbaeva's candidacy in the afternoon, when seven of 11 members present voted in favor, two against, and two abstained; but the commission overturned its own ruling five hours later. Ismail Isakov, a member of Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly, told RFE/RL that the commission's reversal took place at the behest of Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev and President Askar Akaev. Otunbaeva, who is a former foreign minister and currently co-chairwoman of the opposition movement Ata-Jurt, told a news conference on 7 January that she plans to appeal the decision. Central Election Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev told Kyrgyz Television on 7 January that the district commission's first ruling lacked legal force, as the approval of eight of the 15 commission members is needed to register a candidate. Imanbaev said that in the second vote, 10 members opted to deny Otunbaeva registration because she has not resided in Kyrgyzstan for the past five years. DK
...SPARKING DEMONSTRATIONS IN BISHKEK
Representatives of Kyrgyzstan's opposition parties and movements gathered outside the country's parliament on 8 and 9 January to protest the district election commission's decision to deny Otunbaeva registration, agencies reported. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported that the demonstrators, who vowed to continue their protest until the commission reverses a decision they call politically motivated, numbered 150 on 9 January. Most of the protestors wore yellow, a color they said symbolizes coming change; they chanted slogans condemning President Akaev and Central Election Commission head Imanbaev. The protests were peaceful, although police on 8 January took down two tents the protestors had erected on a square near parliament. RFE/RL quoted Otunbaeva on 9 January as saying: "The time has come for lawful and fair elections. We will vote for real political changes." In remarks on 8 January, President Akaev dismissed the protestors as populist demagogues who hope to spark Georgian- or Ukrainian-style political change in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported. Representatives of Ata-Jurt said the opposition planned to continue its protest on 10 January. DK
EXTREMIST GROUP MEMBERS GO ON TRIAL IN TAJIKISTAN
A group of more than 10 alleged members of the Tajik extremist group Bayat has gone on trial in Khujand on charges ranging from organizing a criminal group to murder, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. Hodi Fattoev, one of the group's suspected leaders, is among the accused. A source in Tajikistan's Interior Ministry told the Russian news agency that operations are under way to find and detain Ali Aminov, the alleged overall leader of Bayat. The source also suggested that Bayat might be linked to the banned Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as to international terrorist organizations. DK
FORMER TAJIK INMATE RECOUNTS GUANTANAMO ORDEAL
Tajikistan's "Crime-Info" published an interview on 6 January with a man identified only as Abdurahmon, who recounted his experiences during two years of imprisonment at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Abdurahmon, a Tajik citizen, said that he ended up in Guantanamo after Afghan police turned him over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan for a reward; he claimed to have no ties to either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Abdurahmon said he was first held in Afghanistan in Bagram and Kandahar, where soldiers abused detainees, humiliating them and forcing them to commit acts contrary to Islam. Prisoners were not beaten, however, he said. Abdurahmon said that the detention facility at Guantanamo was, "in comparison with our prisons...of course, better. It's clean everywhere. They fed us OK. Detainees had access to various literature, including the Koran." But he said he signed various confessions after being subjected to psychological coercion. He also noted that medical treatment was inconsistent, perhaps intentionally, and many detainees suffered from illness. Abdurahmon, who was part of a group of 11 Tajik citizens eventually released from Guantanamo, said that he now suffers from hepatitis C. DK
TURKMENISTAN HOLDS SECOND ROUND OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...
Turkmenistan held runoffs in seven of 50 electoral districts in a second round of parliamentary elections on 9 January, turkmenistan.ru reported. The first round of elections, held on 19 December, went unobserved by any independent monitors, and international organizations and independent observers outside Turkmenistan widely dismissed the ballot as a farce. DK
...AS UZBEKISTAN HOLDS PARLIAMENTARY RUNOFF
Uzbekistan held second-round elections to the lower house of the country's bicameral parliament on 9 January, Uzbek Radio Youth Channel reported. Runoffs took place in 58 districts; 62 deputies were elected in first-round elections on 26 December. More than 200 observers from international organizations, including the OSCE, monitored the second-round elections, ITAR-TASS reported. The OSCE criticized first-round elections for failing to meet democratic standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES NO REVOLUTIONS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said while attending an Orthodox Christmas service in the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk on 7 January that there will be no revolutions in the country, Belapan reported on 8 January, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka's assertion reportedly came in response to a letter from Orthodox clergy who called on him to preserve peace and stability in Belarus. "They draw my attention to what has happened in Ukraine," Lukashenka said. "I want to assure you that our country, the generations that live in our state, have exhausted the limit of wars and revolutions. I ask you to remember this and not to return to this subject. There will be no pink, orange, or banana revolutions in Belarus." JM
UKRAINE WAITS FOR OFFICIAL RESULTS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
According to Ukrainian media, the Central Election Commission (TsVK) is expected on 10 January to announce the official results of the 26 December presidential ballot. According to preliminary results, Viktor Yushchenko won 51.99 percent of the vote versus Viktor Yanukovych's 44.19 percent. Yanukovych's election staff has announced that it will appeal against the official results with the Supreme Court immediately after they are released by the TsVK. If, as widely expected, the appeal is rejected, the official results will be published in the state-run newspapers "Holos Ukrayiny" and "Uryadovyy kuryer" and thus become irreversible. JM
YUSHCHENKO VOWS TO PROVIDE FOR FAMILIES OF SOLDIERS KILLED IN IRAQ
President-elect Yushchenko has expressed condolences to the families and relatives of eight Ukrainian soldiers who were killed and six who were injured when a bomb exploded during a munitions-clearing operation in Iraq on 9 January, Yushchenko's official website (http://www.yushchenko.com.ua) reported on 10 January. Yushchenko pledged to personally see to it that "all social obligations" of the state to the casualties and their families are fulfilled. Yushchenko's press service said that he will tackle the pullout of Ukrainian troops from Iraq as soon as he is installed as president. The pullout of the 1,600-strong Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq, which was endorsed by a vote in the Verkhovna Rada in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004), was one of Yushchenko's presidential-election-campaign pledges. JM
ALBANIA FINDS HORDE OF LETHAL CHEMICALS
Albanian Defense Ministry officials recently found at an undisclosed location 16 tons of potentially highly lethal yperite (aka mustard), as well as lewisite and adamsite, which are arsenic-based, stored in hundreds of canisters containing "millions" of deadly doses, "The Washington Post" reported on 10 January. Albanian and U.S. experts believe that the Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha obtained the chemicals from China in the 1970s to use against the invasion he long expected from the West, the Soviet Union, or Yugoslavia. The daily noted that "while the stockpile is small compared with the vast chemical weapons holdings of Russia and the United States, it is worrisome to U.S. officials because of what it represents: one of scores of undocumented or poorly secured weapons caches worldwide that could be exploited by terrorists with deadly effect." Albanian officials are now preparing to destroy the chemicals, which appear to have been forgotten during a decade that witnessed instability and occasional anarchy at home, as well as the conflict in neighboring Kosova. PM
TENSIONS RISE IN SOUTHERN SERBIA
About 20,000 ethnic Albanians gathered on 9 January in southern Serbia's Presevo region for the funeral of 16-year-old Dashnim Hajrullahu, who was reportedly killed by two Serbian border guards two days earlier as he tried to cross illegally into Macedonia in the border triangle region between southern Serbia, Macedonia, and Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. On 8 January, about 1,500 protesters demanded that local officials talk less and act more in defense of Albanian rights. In Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic said that the soldiers "acted according to [standard] procedure." He called Hajrallahu's death a "tragic incident," adding, however, that it did not constitute evidence of military repression of the Albanians. The Presevo-Bujanovac-Medvedja region of southern Serbia was the scene of an armed Albanian insurgency in 2000-01 that was ended by a NATO-backed peace plan (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 February and 2 March 2001). Tensions remain as the Albanians suspect Belgrade of seeking to curtail their rights, while Belgrade fears that calls for more democracy are a prelude to the secession of a region many Albanians call "eastern Kosova." PM
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER PAYS RARE VISIT TO KOSOVA
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica marked Serbian Orthodox Christmas on 7 January together with Patriarch Pavle in the western Kosova town of Peja, where a Serbian enclave is surrounded by the ethnic Albanian majority population, Reuters reported. This previously unpublicized visit is only the second that a Serbian leader has paid to the province since the defeat of Serbian forces by NATO in 1999. A UN spokesman said in Prishtina that Kostunica visited members of the Serbian minority in a private capacity, not an official one. Serbia's then Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic attended the funeral in August 2003 of two Serbian youths who died in an ethnically motivated incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 7 January 2005). Critics charge that Kostunica, like Zivkovic in 2003, is seeking to use the Kosova issue to shore up his own shaky popularity ratings (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 8 October 2004). PM
BOSNIAN SERB POLITICAL CRISIS NEARING AN END?
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic proposed Doboj native and former Industry and Technology Minister Pero Bukejlovic of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) on 8 January to become prime minister and thereby end the current political stalemate, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. If the parliament approves the nomination, Bukejlovic will have 40 days to form a government (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 17 and 20 December 2004, and 4 and 7 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 22 October 2004). Following his nomination, Bukejlovic called on political parties in the Republika Srpska to put aside their differences and work for the common good. Milorad Dodik of the nonnationalist Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) told RFE/RL that Bukejlovic's nomination is "a joke," adding that his party "is too responsible to back [the nomination of] various cretins and fools" to high office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2004). Some critics charge that the SDS leadership is stalling to avoid meeting Banja Luka's obligations toward the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM
MACEDONIAN BISHOP SAYS CHURCH QUESTION LINKED TO NAME ISSUE
Gospodin Petar, who as the metropolitan of Bitola is in charge of the Macedonian Orthodox diaspora in Australia and New Zealand, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 9 January that the ongoing discussion about the status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church has an international political dimension. Metropolitan Petar said the Macedonian Orthodox Church will be recognized by other Orthodox churches once the ongoing dispute about the name of Macedonia is resolved. Under Greek pressure, international organizations such as the UN and the EU recognize Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) rather than under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia. In 1967, the communist Macedonian authorities recognized a Macedonian Orthodox Church separate from the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which has a much smaller number of Macedonian adherents than the other two (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). UB
ROMANIAN HUMANIST PARTY TO STAY IN GOVERNMENT...
The leadership of the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) decided on 8 January to stay in the ruling four-party, center-right coalition despite a recent threat to quit over a comment by President Traian Basescu, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. The party had threatened to withdraw after Basescu questioned the "ethics" of having in the government a party that backed the election of former Social Democratic Party (PSD) Prime Ministers Adrian Nastase and Nicolae Vacaroiu as speakers of the parliament's two chambers. At the same time, the PUR said it will not renege on its support for Nastase and Vacaroiu. PUR Chairman Dan Voiculescu said the party decided to remain in the coalition to avoid "political instability" or endangerment of the signing of Romania's EU accession treaty in April. Voiculescu called on all political parties to serve the "national interest." MS
...REFUSES TO DESIGNATE PREFECTS
The Humanist Party also said on 8 January it will not designate any of its members as prefects since it was not consulted by the rest of the coalition on the appointment of prefects made one day earlier, Mediafax reported. The government on 7 January announced it had appointed 14 members of the National Liberal Party (PNL), 14 Democratic Party members, and four members of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) as prefects. Prefects in six counties are yet to be appointed, and the government said five of them would be members of the Humanist Party. Meanwhile, the local leaders of the PNL and Democratic Party in Covasna County announced they will resign to protest the appointment of UDMR member Gyorgy Erven as prefect of that county. The UDMR is to have prefects also in the counties of Caras-Severin, Bistrita-Nasaud, and Maramures. MS
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS REQUEST CONSTITUTIONAL COURT INTERVENTION IN CONFLICT WITH ROMANIAN PRESIDENT...
Social Democratic Chairman and lower house speaker Nastase asked the Constitutional Court on 8 January to intervene to resolve what he described as " judicial conflict of constitutional essence" between President Basescu and the Chamber of Deputies, Mediafax reported. The appeal comes after Basescu's call to remove Nastase and Vacaroiu as parliamentary speakers. Nastase said Basescu has "overstepped his constitutional prerogatives and has called on political parties to take measures running counter to constitutional provisions." The constitution stipulates that parliamentary speakers are elected for a four-year term. According to Nastase, Basescu's expressed intention to provoke early elections similarly violates the spirit of the constitution. Meanwhile, former President and current Social Democratic Senator Ion Iliescu said on 7 January that early elections run counter to the national interest and would create an "endless electoral game for which no political party is prepared," Mediafax reported. MS
...AND WANT GOVERNMENT TO SEEK 'CLARIFICATION' OVER HUNGARIAN PREMIER'S STATEMENT
Former Justice Minister Cristian Diaconescu said on 7 January that the Social Democrats want Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu's government to "clarify its position" regarding the announced intention by Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany to grant five-year visas to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, Mediafax reported. Gyurcsany said on 6 January that his government intends to issue unlimited entry visas and allow unlimited stays in Hungary of up to five years, including visa-free travel to other EU states, AP and Reuters reported. Diaconescu, who is currently a deputy chairman of the Romanian Senate's Human Rights Committee, said the measure would introduce "positive discrimination" in interstate relations and would therefore run counter to European standards. MS
BIASED ELECTION COVERAGE PROMPTS REVAMP OF ROMANIAN TELEVISION'S NEWS DEPARTMENT
Romanian Television (RTV) will reorganize its news department following a decision by an internal board of ethics confirming journalists' allegations that reporting during the electoral campaign was biased in favor of the Social Democrats and that reports unfavorable to that former ruling party were censored, AP reported. The board reviewed editorial policy after six journalists complained that their reports were censored by management and said management often tried to discredit the Justice and Truth presidential candidate, Basescu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). RTV said it will reorganize its news department and adopt a new code of ethics modeled on that used by the BBC. MS
MOSCOW PONDERS HOW UKRAINE WAS 'LOST'
As Ukraine's former Prime Minister and defeated presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych clears out his government office in Kyiv, pundits, journalists and political analysts back in Moscow continue to ask what went wrong. With so much financial backing from Russian businesses and political support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, why did Yanukovych lose?
Many Russian and Ukrainian analysts have hesitated to place primary responsibility on the Kremlin or Putin for misjudging the Ukrainian situation. Instead they have been blaming the "aggressive tactics" of a gaggle of Russian campaign consultants who began arriving at Kyiv's Borispol Airport sometime in July, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 28 December.
In an interview with "Lviv ekspres" on 22 December, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's chief speechwriter, Vasyl Baziv, said that Foundation for Effective Policies head Gleb Pavlovskii, former ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman, and Russian businessman Maksim Kurochkin "made themselves at home" in the Ukrainian presidential administration during the lead-up to the first round of presidential voting on 31 October. He said that he even saw one Russian spin doctor, whom he declined to name, sitting beside Yanukovych during an official meeting. "This is not a matter of campaign tricks but an erosion of our sovereignty," Baziv complained.
Naturally, the spin doctors themselves have a variety of explanations for what happened in Ukraine. First of all, they assert that Yanukovych did not in fact lose. At a news conference in Moscow on 28 December, Pavlovskii asserted that Yanukovych won the second round on 21 November but that through a series of "manipulations of the results...the political process became one based entirely on force," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.
At the same time, in what might be considered an apparent contradiction, they proffer at least three different explanations for why Yanukovych did not win or why they should not be blamed for Yanukovych's failure to perform better. First and foremost, they claim that they were outgunned next to U.S. and Polish resources, according to Sergei Markov of the Institute for Political Research. Second, they had too little time to refashion Yanukovych's image. Third, Yanukovych, a former prison convict, was too difficult a candidate to make palatable to the broad public.
Marat Gelman told "Lvivska hazeta" on 16 November that Yanukovych's "criminal record [was] a formidable issue, a brick wall that no brilliant scheme [could] break down." In an interview with utro.ru on 30 December, Markov said: "If you ask me, I would say that the candidate should have been someone else. It was unwise to put forward as a candidate for president someone with two previous criminal convictions. I can assure you that this was not Moscow's decision."
According to politcom.ru on 10 December, Pavlovskii complained that he and his colleagues were invited too late and that they should have started 12 to 18 months before the election in order to remake Yanukovych's image. In an interview with gazeta.ru on 27 December, Markov voiced a similar sentiment. "I believe that Russian spin doctors had extremely limited opportunities: They spent only three months working with Yanukovych," he said.
But the biggest problem, according to Markov, was not the candidate or any lack of time but that Russia and its spin doctors were outnumbered and outgunned by the West. In the gazeta.ru interview, Markov claimed that "Americans and Poles spent several years working with Yushchenko." Asked to explain what he meant by Poles and Americans, Markov said that there was "American and European collaboration with elite structures and the public across a broad front." Markov also said that while Russia spent only millions of dollars on the campaign, the United States and European Union spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukraine. Therefore, according to Markov, Yanukovych's defeat was not a defeat for Russian spin doctors but for "Russia's ruling class, which proved incapable of achieving such a major strategic task."
Pavlovskii put forth a more obscure defense of his and other spin doctors' roles in Ukraine. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 December, he faulted himself and others merely for being unable to "draw the attention of our partners in Ukraine that an 'overthrow' project was in preparation." He continued, "The point is that the opposition circles were not preparing for elections. They were preparing for the seizure of power, in the guise of elections." He then claimed that neither he nor his colleagues "had the power to advise our Ukrainian partners on preventive counterrevolution and not only on elections, [otherwise] this misfortune would not have happened." In a later interview with gazeta.ru on 28 December, when asked whether he was willing to share responsibility for the defeat of Yanukovych, Pavlovskii responded, "Yes, but as a politician, not as a spin doctor. Unfortunately, I did not work in the latter role in Ukraine." What he was doing, he said, was "liaising with the group of politicians that put Yanukovych forward. Unfortunately, this was not enough. You need to have the powers to make decisions." So, in Pavlovskii's view, he did not have the power to inform his Ukrainian colleagues of what was going on, even though by his own admission he was acting as a liaison with Yanukovych's supporters.
Of course, if Yanukovych were about to assume Ukraine's presidency, it is not difficult to imagine Pavlovskii and others taking credit for his victory. In an interview with "The Washington Post" on 2 January, former political adviser Dick Morris explained how he managed to contribute a key element of President-elect Viktor Yushchenko's strategy without ever managing to actually visit Ukraine. Morris told the paper that an acquaintance from a previous overseas campaign put him in touch with Yushchenko's campaign manager. Because of unspecified "security concerns," he met with Yushchenko campaign officials in an undisclosed East European capital. According to Morris, his main contribution to the campaign was to urge exit polling on election day and the immediate publication of those results. In this way, according to Morris, Yushchenko's campaign would draw supporters to the streets to celebrate -- thus presenting Ukrainian authorities with an angry mob if they tried to tamper with the vote.
So far, though, it's the CIA's acumen rather than Morris's that is being hailed in Moscow. In an interview with Radio Rossii on 7 December, Aleksandr Konovalov, president of Moscow's Institute for Strategic Assessments, suggested that Russia believes "the myths created by our spin doctors" and "now we probably will believe their explanations, the main one being [that Ukraine was lost because of] a CIA conspiracy." He asked ironically, "How can poor Gleb Pavlovskii handle the whole Central Intelligence Agency on his own?"
In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 9 December, former leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Boris Nemtsov suggested that the stories of excessive Western influence in Ukraine might be more than just a yarn by Russian spin doctors to avoid taking responsibility for losing a key election. According to Nemtsov, it might be a device that the Russian authorities are using to avoid telling the truth about what really happened in Ukraine. He said Russian authorities "treat their own people cynically and invent such arguments of the type that the West influenced [events], or the campaign consultants worked poorly -- anything but the truth that the people were tired of Kuchma's regime, that people were living in despair and lawlessness and their last drop of patience went when the election was falsified."
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT BEGINS FINAL PHASE OF PANJSHIR VALLEY DISARMAMENT
As part of an ongoing disarmament campaign, Afghan officials collected tanks and other heavy weapons in the former United Front (aka Northern Alliance) stronghold of Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, Xinhua News Agency reported on 10 January. Security forces loyal to the central government of President Hamid Karzai moved a column of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other heavy weapons on 9 January from Panjshir Valley to Kabul for cantonment. "This is a step towards establishing the security in the country," said Anil Nayer, managing director of heavy-weapons collection under the UN-backed program. The final push to disarm Panjshir Valley, once a bastion of Taliban resistance, comes two weeks after the replacement of former Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who joined U.S. forces in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001 but remains a powerful warlord. The disarmament is expected to go on for 12 days in the valley, where roughly 7,800 pieces of heavy weapons have already been cantoned, according to Afghan officials. MR
AFGHAN TRIBAL LEADERS THREATEN VIGILANTE JUSTICE FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS
Tribal leaders in southeastern Afghanistan have threatened to burn the houses of farmers who grow poppies for opium, AFP reported on 9 January. Vowing vigilante justice against drug traffickers, a council of tribal elders in the area said anyone involved in drug production or trafficking would be fined in addition to seeing their house torched. The tribal council of southeastern Khost Province announced the plan in a recent radio broadcast, saying that anyone arrested for robbery, setting explosives or growing opium will have to pay a 100,000-afghani ($2,083) fine and would have their house burned. "All the tribes agreed to obey this agreement and all tribes signed it, so ordinary people in each tribe will obey and respect it," said Sultan Mohammad Babrakzai, assistant head of the Tribal Affairs Department in Khost. The pledge underscored the inability of the central government to stem the increasing drug trade in the country, which supplies most of the world's heroin. Karzai, who did not endorse the tribal pronouncement, recently vowed to wage a "jihad" against Afghanistan's drug trade, which many observers consider a major threat to the country's stability. MR
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT CONSIDERS AMNESTY FOR DRUG LORDS
President Karzai's government is considering offering amnesty to reformed drug traffickers, AP reported on 9 January. Karzai's office would not comment on the proposed amnesty plan, but two Afghan government officials reportedly said the plan is under discussion. Karzai is "considering the issue," said Rural Rehabilitation and Development Minister Haneef Atmar. "[Karzai] finds it extremely difficult to bring any kind of amnesty for these people. But as a very responsible leader, he is always looking at all policy options." Atmar claimed Karzai will consider the ethics of such a policy as well as the feelings of Afghanistan's Western backers and average Afghans. "Can you give amnesty to those people that have made their wealth out of the miseries of Afghans and the youth of the West?" Atmar was quoted as saying. "It's not a government policy yet. It's a debate that has been opened." Lieutenant General Mohammad Daoud, deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, said an amnesty plan would get former drug lords involved in the ongoing counternarcotics campaign. "We would ask them to join the government and use their influence and capital to help eliminate poppies and to support the economy," Daoud said. MR
AFGHAN JUDGE ADMITS TO HARBORING BOMBING SUSPECTS
A judge arrested for helping the perpetrators of twin bombings in Kabul last year said the bombers stayed in his house, but authorities say it is unclear whether the judge was aware of their activities, AP reported on 9 January. The 29 August car bombing killed 12 people, including four Americans. About two weeks ago, authorities arrested Naqibullah, a 60-year-old preliminary court judge whom two captured suspects identified as having provided residence while they orchestrated the attack on a U.S. security company as well as a suicide strike in the city. Officials claim the ringleader of the group is a Tajik national named Mohammad Haidar who took his orders from an Iraqi Al-Qaeda member. "The judge said he gave them shelter and that he knew they were foreigners," said General Abdul Fatah, a senior Afghan prosecutor. Ten people, including three Americans, died in an attack on the offices of Dyncorp, a contractor which provides bodyguards for President Karzai and helps train Afghan police. Two months later, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a shopping street near a group of Icelandic peacekeepers in a blast that injured three soldiers and killed an American woman and an Afghan girl. MR
IRANIAN LEGISLATURE REJECTS MINISTER-DESIGNATE
The Iranian parliament voted against Ahmad Sadeq Bonab as President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's new roads and transport minister, Radio Farda reported on 9 January. Bonab has been acting minister since the legislature passed a no-confidence motion in Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004). One hundred twenty-nine of 249 legislators voted against Bonab, 105 voted for him, and 15 abstained, IRNA and Mehr News Agency reported. In speaking against the minister-designate, Ahmad Mahdavi-Abhari, from Abhar in Zanjan Province, noted his lack of specialized education, Radio Farda reported. Isfahan's Mohsen Kuhkan said Bonab is at odds with the Roads and Transport Ministry's Islamic Association. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said later the same day that the failure to approve Bonab presents a vacancy in an important position, IRNA reported, and he complained that factional politics were behind it. BS
MORE NAMES CROP UP AS POSSIBLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN IRAN
Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri, who is currently a university lecturer, intends to enter the presidential race, "Iran News" reported on 5 January. Mazaheri has suggested he wants to open up the Iranian economy and adopt an economically driven foreign policy. Meanwhile, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who heads the national police force, intends to be a conservative presidential candidate, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 1 January. Neither Mazaheri nor Qalibaf have been mentioned elsewhere as prospective candidates. BS
IRANIAN CONSERVATIVE COALITION NARROWS FOCUS
Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri, a leader of the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, said on 7 January that his conservative organization will not endorse the candidacy of anyone other than the five people on whom has already focused, Mehr News Agency reported. Those five are: Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad; an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ali Larijani; Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai; Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli; and another adviser to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati. Nateq-Nuri was responding to a journalist's question about Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Expediency Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, both of whom have been mentioned as candidates by political cognoscenti. BS
IRAN AND IRAQ TRADE ACCUSATIONS
Anonymous Iranian sources were quoted by Mehr News Agency as saying on 8 January that an Iraqi spy was arrested in Kurdistan Province. The sources added that the alleged spy was sent to Iran by the Iraqi Defense Ministry to gather information that would corroborate its accusations of Iranian involvement in Iraqi insurgency. At a 7 January news conference in Baghdad, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i played a 24 December recording in which Jaysh Muhammad leader Mu'ayyad Yasin Aziz al-Nasiri described Iranian involvement in terrorist activities in his country, "Al-Hayah" reported on 8 January. Al-Nasiri said leaders of armed Iraqi factions met with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Khamenei. Al-Nasiri said they received $1 million and two carloads of weapons and purchased more weapons from Iranians in southern Iraq. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed the claims, Mehr News Agency reported, and said the Iraqi defense minister does not want the 30 January elections to take place because he will lose his position. BS
IRANIAN ONLINE JOURNALISTS GET COURT SUMMONS
Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi told ILNA on 7 January that the Public Prosecutor's Office has summoned him and his colleague, Omid Memarian. Mir-Ebrahimi said he would go with his attorneys, Shirin Ebadi, Yusef Molai, and Mohammad Sharif, but he does no know if he is to be a defendant in his own case or a witness for another case. On 6 January, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the mistreatment of "cyberdissidents and webloggers." The international media watchdog reported that Mir-Ebrahimi and Memarian were mistreated while in custody and coerced into making public confessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2004). The online journalists have been released, RSF added, but the authorities summon them for questioning several times a week. The two have also received death threats. BS
IRAQI OFFICIALS KIDNAPPED...
At least two members of a delegation of Iraqi officials from the Salah Al-Din Governorate were kidnapped south of Baghdad on 8 January, according to international media reports. The deputy governor, chairman of the governorate's municipal council, and a college dean were taken hostage by militants who stopped their convoy en route to the north as they were returning from meetings with Shi'ite leaders in Al-Najaf and Karbala on the Iraqi elections. A Danish-based website (http://www.iraq4allnews.dk) reported that the delegation met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's son, Muhammad Rida al-Sistani. The meeting focused on aligning the views of Sunnis and Shi'ites toward the elections. Meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped the local director of the Iraqi Human Rights Organization near Kirkuk on 9 January, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Amin Khadir was taken by unknown assailants. The news channel reported that a number of political figures, party leaders, and high-ranking Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman officials have been targeted for assassination in the northern Iraqi city. KR
...AS ASSASSINATIONS ON THE RISE
Two Iraqi police officials have been assassinated in as many days, according to media reports. Militants assassinated Samarra's deputy police chief, Major Muhammad Muthaffar on 9 January, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Muthaffar was killed when gunmen opened fire on him in the street, the news channel said. Samarra local councilman Madlul Hasan al-Bazi was assassinated in front of his home in the city on 7 January. Militants also gunned down Baghdad's deputy police director Amir Nayif as he left his home in the capital on 10 January. Nayif and his son were killed in the ambush, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Militants also assassinated on 8 January the deputy secretary for the National Front for the Iraqi Tribes political party, former Major General Abbud Khalaf al-Lahibi, the satellite news channel reported. KR
SUNNI LEADERS MAY ABANDON BOYCOTT
Sunni leaders may abandon their calls for an election boycott if the United States commits to a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition forces, AP reported on 9 January. Members of the Muslim Scholars Association told the news agency that the condition was relayed to U.S. embassy officials during an 8 January meeting in Baghdad. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan confirmed the meeting but did not elaborate, AP reported. An unidentified Sunni official told AP that the association's spokesman Harith al-Dari attended the meeting and "insisted that a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces be set and guaranteed by the United Nations." "If this happened, the association will call on other parties who declared the boycott to participate in the elections," the official said. KR
AIDE SAYS SHI'ITE CLERIC WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN IRAQI ELECTIONS
Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji, an aide to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, on 9 January denied allegations that any associates of the cleric will take part in the elections, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Al-Sadr is not taking part in the elections. Al-Darraji said that rumors and false statements have surfaced suggesting that al-Sadr's movement has joined one of the election lists of candidates, or that it supports one particular list of candidates. "The Supreme Political Committee of [al-Sadr's office] wants to confirm that such allegations are completely devoid of the truth. They are nothing but slander and libel. We want to declare that the blessed al-Sadr line does not participate in any candidates' list and has not supported any candidates' list," al-Darraji said. Asked if there were any conditions under which the cleric would participate in elections, al-Darraji told RFI: "al-Sadr has laid down the principal condition when he said that if the occupiers left our country, we would look positively at the participation in the election process." He added that if a deadline was set for the end of the occupation "then our participation in the elections may be possible." KR
SAMARRA ELECTION COMMISSION RESIGNS, SCHOOLS BOMBED
Election commission members working in the Iraqi city of Samarra, located 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, resigned from their posts on 8 January, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The 24-member commission reportedly resigned to boycott the elections, slated for 30 January. Al-Sharqiyah reported that election commission members have resigned en masse to protest the poll. Meanwhile, militants have reportedly bombed four schools in the northern city of Kirkuk slated to be used as polling centers, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 9 January. Another school marked for use as a polling center in the city of Tikrit was attacked and destroyed on 8 January. KR
JAYSH MUHAMMAD COMMANDER ADMITS SYRIAN, IRANIAN SUPPORT IN IRAQ...
Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan told reporters at a 7 January press briefing that the commander of Jaysh Muhammad (Muhammad's Army), who was captured recently in Iraq, has admitted to receiving Syrian and Iranian aid, "Al-Hayat" reported on 8 January. Al-Sha'lan played a videotape in which Mu'ayyad Yasin Aziz al-Nasiri said Iranian aid "played a major role in supporting armed factions and their formations in southern Iraq." He added that several former Iraqi commanders "met with a number of Iranian officials including Supreme Leader [Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei and were given $1 million and two cars laden with weapons in support." His group also allegedly bought weapons from Iranian arms dealers in southern Iraq. Regarding Syria, al-Nasiri said that he had met with Ba'ath Party regional commander Fawzi al-Rawi in Syria and received aid taken from frozen Iraqi assets and donations to the so-called resistance. He added that Syrian intelligence officials were aware of the activities of former Ba'athists. Al-Nasiri also noted that a number of foreign fighters infiltrated Iraq from Syria. KR
...AS MILITANT DESCRIBES FORMATION OF GROUP
Al-Nasiri said that his group was formed after the fall of the Hussein regime by the deposed president, who appointed his half-brother Sab'awi to head the army. Command of the army was later reassigned to Sa'd Hamad Shihab, the son of the former defense minister, "Al-Hayat" reported on 8 January. The militant leader also confessed on video to forming guerilla networks in the Ninawa, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Al-Ramadi, and Al-Basrah governorates. He claimed to have 800 fighters organized in a decentralized "cell" structure. Defense Minister al-Sha'lan told reporters that a woman came to the ministry volunteering information on the whereabouts of regime fugitive Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. "Following our meeting...she tried to assassinate [me] with a pistol she was carrying, but refrained from doing so at the last moment and confessed that she was sent to assassinate al-Sha'lan during Id al-Fitr by leading officials in the Syrian Ba'ath Party." She added that she was later taken to al-Nasiri's location, which she apparently relayed to ministry officials. KR
UKRAINIAN, KAZAKH TROOPS KILLED IN MINE-CLEARING OPERATION IN IRAQ
Eight Ukrainians and one Kazakh peacekeeper were killed and four other Kazakhs injured in Iraq's Wasit Province on 9 January when a bomb exploded during a munitions-clearing operation, Kazinform reported. Colonel Zdzieslaw Gnatowski, a Polish military spokesman, told AFP, "An aerial bomb found during mine-clearing operations in the area exploded accidentally when the soldiers were about to make it safe." A source in Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS that the wounded were airlifted to a military hospital in Baghdad for treatment. Kazakhstan's contingent of 27 peacekeepers in Iraq, who are primarily involved in mine-clearing operations, has been a source of heated debate in the country's parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part 1" 15 April 2004). DK