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Newsline - January 13, 2005


PENSIONERS CONTINUE STREET PROTESTS...
Public protests against the social-benefits reform replacing privileges such as free public transportation and medicine with cash payments continued for a third day on 12 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2005), Russian media reported. An estimated 1,000 pensioners gathered in a central square in Samara, where they blocked traffic, gazeta.ru reported. It was the second such demonstration in that city this week. An unspecified number of retirees also blocked a central street in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia. In Penza, 500 pensioners gathered outside the oblast administration building to demand that in-kind benefits be reinstated or that they be given their cash payments. Some 200 people gathered outside the mayor's office in the city of Podolsk in Moscow Oblast. Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 January that, according to one of its express opinion polls, some 97 percent of 9,686 callers believe that President Vladimir Putin and the government are responsible for the crisis brought about by reforming the benefits system, and only 3 percent believe that the governors and mayors are responsible. JAC

...AS POLICE ALSO CRITICIZE NEW SYSTEM...
"Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 12 January that police officers too are unhappy with the new social-benefits reform, which deprives them of the right to free public transportation. The newspaper quoted an unidentified police officer: "Not everyone has a service car. Occasionally we need to go to some address at various ends of city. Who will pay for this?" A police colonel identified only as "Igor B.," director of an operational police subdivision, said his younger employees tell him that they don't have any money to take the metro. "Should I give it to them out of my own pocket? Our wages don't come until the end of January, and the promised compensation of 600 rubles [$21.52] a month [on average] will hardly cover all the costs of my people traveling all over the city of Moscow and Moscow Oblast." JAC

...BUT DUMA DECLINES TO DEBATE BENEFITS REFORM
The State Duma decided on 12 January not to discuss the nationwide protests over the social-benefits reform, as was previously planned, Ekho Moskvy reported. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told his fellow legislators, "We are obliged to pay the closest attention to public opinion, but on the other hand, we should remember that it is not our aim to seek easy popularity," REN-TV reported. Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin, on the other hand, suggested that the majority party in the Duma, Unified Russia, decided to postpone debate on the issue until after President Putin returns to Moscow. "Only after that will Unified Russia be allowed to have an opinion on the issue," Rogozin said. JAC

MOSCOW DENIES REPORTED SALE OF MISSILES TO SYRIA
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Washington on 13 January that Russia is not holding talks regarding the possible sale of Iskander-E tactical missiles to Syria, Interfax reported. He said rumors of such a sale were sparked by the fact that Syrian President Bashar Assad is expected to visit Moscow on 24 January. "This is not the first time that reports of this kind have surfaced just before a Syrian visit to Moscow," Ivanov said. "We are used to it." Reports of the possible sale sparked an alarmed reaction in Israel and the United States, Western and Russian media reported. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 January that Moscow plans to sell the missiles, which have a range of 280 kilometers and could strike virtually any target in Israel. Some analysts speculated that the rumor might have been an effort by former oligarch Boris Berezovskii, who owns "Kommersant-Daily," to embarrass President Putin. RC

DUMA PASSES BILL THAT COULD BAN KREMLIN CRITICS FROM ENTERING RUSSIA
The State Duma passed in its first reading on 12 January a draft bill amending the laws on visas and on the legal status of foreigners, ITAR-TASS and RosBalt reported. The vote was 353 in favor, 44 against, and six abstentions. State Duma Constitutional Legislation Chairman Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia) said that under the current version of the bill, foreigners who fail to submit a certificate verifying that they are HIV-negative would not get visas, RIA-Novosti reported. In addition, foreigners who show "contempt for federal bodies of power and Russia's state symbols would not be granted visas." According to gazeta.ru, critics of the Russian president could find that they are unable to enter Russia. Tatyana Lokshina of the Demos analytical center told the website that in the opinion of the center's experts, people who have criticized Russian policies in Chechnya or the Russian authorities in any form could be blacklisted. JAC

KHODORKOVSKII RELINQUISHES CONTROL OF MENATEP
Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has transferred control of Menatep, the main shareholder of embattled oil giant Yukos, to his longtime partner Leonid Nevzlin, who currently lives in Israel, Russian and international media reported on 12 January. Khodorkovskii has turned over his 59.5 percent stake in Menatep to Nevzlin, Khodorkovskii's defense attorney Anton Drel told journalists on 12 January. "After the sale of Yuganskneftegaz, I rid myself of responsibility for the remaining business and money of the group," Drel quoted Khodorkovskii as saying. "It's over. Full stop." RC

OFFICIAL PREDICTS GAZPROM/ROSNEFT MERGER WITHIN MONTHS
Federal Property Management Director Valerii Nazarov told Interfax on 12 January that the takeover of Rosneft by Gazprom should be completed in the first quarter of this year. "It was possible to complete the business by the end of last year," he said. "The delay was caused by a significant delay in the valuation [of Rosneft and Gazprom]. Evidently, the companies were not as transparent as they were thought to be." RC

CONTROVERSIAL PRIVATIZATION-AUDIT REPORT POSTPONED INDEFINITELY
State Duma Speaker Gryzlov has said that a report on privatization by Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin will be indefinitely postponed, "Tribuna" reported on 12 January. Gryzlov said that the Duma Council has changed the rules for holding sessions with government officials and that, as a result, Stepashin's presentation will occur "in a different format which the Duma Council must determine." He did not say when Stepashin will appear or what the "different format" might be. The Audit Chamber's report is expected to be scandalous and has been called "a bomb for the oligarchs." Its presentation has already been postponed three times, the daily reported. Stepashin appeared in the Duma on 8 December as previously scheduled, but he was not given the floor to speak. According to the daily, the Audit Chamber has already sent information regarding many allegedly illegal cases of 1990s-era privatizations to law enforcement authorities, although no criminal cases are known to have been filed. The daily, which is owned by state-controlled Gazprom, noted that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Defense Minister Ivanov, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin are all scheduled to appear before the Duma in the near future. RC

INDONESIAN ARMS DEAL SCUTTLED BY TSUNAMI
Indonesia has decided not to proceed with plans to purchase 12 Su-27 and Su-30 fighters because of the damage caused by the 26 December earthquake and tsunami, Reuters and other media reported on 12 January. An unidentified source in the Russian Defense Ministry told Reuters that Indonesia has also scrapped plans to purchase an unspecified number of Mi-35P strike helicopters. "We understand this decision by the Indonesian authorities and will be ready to renew the contracts at a more convenient time," an unnamed Defense Ministry source told Interfax on 12 January. Last week, Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said that Jakarta might purchase some transport airplanes and helicopters to be used in the recovery efforts. RC

HIV/AIDS SPREADING FASTER IN RUSSIA THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT
The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Russia is much higher than previously believed, according to a new study funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), AP reported on 12 January. According to the report by U.S. demographers Murray Feshbach and Cristina Galvin, there are an estimated 1 million HIV-infected people in Russia, approximately three times the officially recognized figure. The study estimated that about 13,000 Russians have died of AIDS. Vadim Pokrovskii of the Federal AIDS Center told AP that "despite all that we have been saying and international organizations have been saying, funding for HIV/AIDS is not being increased, but is actually being reduced because of inflation." Pokrovskii told the agency that federal AIDS spending in 2005 is set to be $4.3 million, while his center estimates that $161.7 million is needed. He said that heterosexual intercourse is becoming an increasingly common method of HIV transmission in Russia. "In some regions, as many as half of new infections were the result of heterosexual intercourse," Pokrovskii told AP. RC

LIBERAL ACTIVISTS WIN INTERNATIONAL PRIZE
Human rights activists Lyudmila Alekseeva and Sergei Kovalev and journalist Anna Politkovskaya have been named recipients of the 2004 Olof Palme Human Rights Prize, Russian and Western media reported on 13 January. The three will be presented the $50,000 award in Stockholm on 28 January. A statement by the Olof Palme Foundation described the three laureates as "influential symbols of the long struggle for human rights in Russia." RC

MAJORITY OF RUSSIANS FAVOR CONTINUED DRAFT DEFERMENTS FOR STUDENTS
Fifty-nine percent of respondents in a national poll by the Levada Analytical Center oppose the elimination of draft deferments for students, newsru.com reported on 13 January. Thirty-four percent favor the proposal, which the Defense Ministry has made in connection with plans to reduce the conscription period to one year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). RC

GOVERNOR FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES WHILEPROSECUTOR NURSES POLITICAL AMBITIONS
The Prosecutor-General's Office for the city of Samara launched a criminal case against Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov during the final days of December, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 January. Titov and two other oblast officials are suspected of having exceeded their authority and of abusing their offices. They allegedly issued an illegal loan of 300 million rubles ($10.8 million) in 2001-03 for the purchase of meat for local residents. Titov, who suddenly fell ill and is hospitalized, has not yet given evidence in the case. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 January that local residents connect the case with the expiration of Titov's term as governor. Had the new law canceling elections not taken effect at the beginning of this year, Titov would have sought reelection in July. According to the daily, Samara Oblast Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Yefremov is considered a likely candidate for the post of Samara governor. Yefremov's office would have been the logical one to file charges against Titov rather than the city prosecutor, but Yefremov purportedly wanted to avoid drawing attention to himself. JAC

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER URGES INSPECTIONS OF HOUSING AMID HEALTH CONCERNS
Chief Medical Inspector Gennadii Onishchenko has instructed his counterparts in the regions to inspect the condition of housing and apartment-building basements during the first quarter of 2005 because the level of services provided by local housing and public-utility services is "unsatisfactory," ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. According to the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Welfare Protection, the incidence of leptospirosis is increasing in certain parts of Russia, including Krasnodar Krai and the republics of Adygei and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, ufo.ru reported. The bacteria that leads to leptospirosis is spread via the urine of infected animals, which can get into water or soil. There were 0.11 cases for every 100,000 Russians during the last six months of 2004, but in Krasnodar Krai the number of registered cases reached 1.02 per 100,000 people. The service has received a significant number of complaints about flooded basements and ground floors of residential and nonresidential buildings in those areas. JAC

ARMENIAN CENTRAL BANK DEFENDS CURRENCY POLICY
Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 12 January that criticism of the bank expressed two days earlier by former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian is unfounded, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Bagratian alleged that Armenia has incurred huge financial losses by keeping the lion's share of its hard-currency reserves in U.S. dollars rather than switching over the past three years to the euro, which has gained dramatically in value vis-a-vis the dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2005). But Sarkisian said that over the past year the bank has changed the structure of its portfolio, reducing from 80 percent to 56 percent the share of its hard-currency reserves held in dollars. Of the remaining 44 percent, 24 percent is in euros and 20 percent in British pounds, Sarkisian said. At the same time, he stressed that "Armenia remains a dollar-based economy," in view of the fact that 95 percent of cash remittances from Armenians living and working abroad are in dollars. LF

AZERBAIJANI RELIGIOUS BOARD DEFENDS MONOPOLY RIGHT TO ORGANIZE HAJJ
The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Baku has lodged an official protest note with the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry after a group of Azerbaijani Muslims staged a protest on 10 January outside the embassy against its refusal to issue them visas to travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, Turan reported on11 January. The embassy explained that Azerbaijan has been granted a quota of 2,500 pilgrims, who are selected by the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus (DUMK). People who book flights to Saudi Arabia through travel agencies without having secured DUMK approval are not entitled to receive visas. DUMK First Deputy Chairman Salman Musaev told Turan on 6 January that DUMK should retain its monopoly over the selection of pilgrims and the organization of the hajj, rather than share that monopoly with commercial firms. LF

AZERBAIJANI ARMY OFFICERS ARRESTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES
Several high-ranking military officers from the Barda and Shamkir garrisons were arrested in December on charges of corruption, and dozens more have been demoted, zerkalo.az reported on 13 January, quoting reserve Lieutenant Colonel Uzeir Djafarov, who for years has investigated and publicized instances of corruption within the Azerbaijani armed forces. The officers are believed to have listed as servicemen people who have never performed military service and to have withheld part of servicemen's wages to finance the construction of canteens and other facilities. Djafarov identified as the suspected mastermind behind the scam the former commander of the Barda garrison, Major General Gabil Mamedov, whom President Ilham Aliyev dismissed from that position in March. Mamedov is currently serving as Azerbaijan's military attache in Kazakhstan. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry press service confirmed the reported arrests on 13 January, Turan reported. LF

BAGAPSH ELECTED ABKHAZ PRESIDENT
Preliminary returns from all 35 election districts cited by Abkhazia's Central Election Commission indicate that Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh won the 12 January repeat presidential election with 90.1 percent of the vote, Georgian and Russian media reported. His sole challenger, historian Yakub Lakoba, polled 4.5 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 58.5 percent. On 13 January, Bagapsh hailed the outcome of the ballot as a victory for the people of Abkhazia, adding that it will put an end to the ongoing political crisis and serve to stabilize the situation in the unrecognized republic. Election commission Chairman Batal Tabagua told ITAR-TASS that voting proceeded smoothly and he has received no complaints of irregularities. But Bagapsh said security forces dispatched from Sukhum intimidated voters in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005), while Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, who monitored the vote, told Interfax that observers for Lakoba tried to check voters' documentation and interfere with the work of all five precinct electoral commissions in Gali. Speaking on 12 January to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Lakoba said the election was "a circus," and he complained that tens of thousands of voters were excluded from voter registers while in violation of election law, candidates were not granted equal access to the media. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN ABKHAZIA
In a statement released on 12 January, the Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned what it termed Russia's encroachment on Georgian territory, meaning Duma Deputy Speaker Baburin's arrival in Abkhazia without first obtaining a Georgian visa or informing the Georgian government of his proposed visit, Caucasus Press reported. The statement called on the international community to condemn what it described as Russia's interference in Georgian domestic affairs. Also on 12 January, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania condemned Russia's actions in Abkhazia as "outrageous" and "alarming," Interfax reported. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDER DECRIES LOCATION OF GEORGIAN RESERVIST CAMP IN CONFLICT ZONE
Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, who commands the Russian contingent of the joint peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, told Interfax on 12 January that he considers the ongoing Georgian training of reservists at a camp in Dzevera, 10 kilometers from Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, "counterproductive." Kulakhmetov said there should be no such training camps in the conflict zone. Visiting Dzevera the same day, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that 20,000 reservists will be trained before the end of this year, Interfax reported. LF

PRIVATIZATION ROW IN GEORGIA CONTINUES
David Saganelidze of the opposition New Rightists parliamentary faction told journalists on 12 January that his caucus will call on the government to resign over alleged irregularities in the tender to privatize the country's merchant shipping company, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 28 December 2004 and 10 and 11 January 2005). Also on 12 January, Djondi Baghaturia of the opposition Labor Party similarly announced that his party will warn foreign investors against acquiring Georgian assets, as Labor would renationalize such companies if it came to power. Meanwhile, five economists from Tbilisi State University who wrote to the government pointing out perceived flaws in its privatization strategy embarked on a hunger strike on 12 January to reinforce their collective protest against the planned sale of key state-owned enterprises, Caucasus Press reported. LF

SUSPECTED MURDERERS OF BRITISH SUBJECT ARRESTED IN GEORGIAN CAPITAL
Tbilisi police arrested five people early on 12 January on suspicion of having committed three murders, including that of a British subject found shot dead last month, Caucasus Press reported, quoting Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004). The same gun is believed to have been used in the killing of the Briton and of two Georgian citizens of Azerbaijani ethnicity. LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES ENERGY, BORDER ISSUES IN KAZAKHSTAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Almaty on 12 January for talks that focused on energy cooperation and border delimitation, agencies reported. Nazarbaev told journalists that he supports increasing the capacity of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, in which Russia holds a 24-percent stake and Kazakhstan 19 percent, from 28 million tons a year to 67 million tons, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said he supports multilateral talks on the Caspian because of the number and complexity of issues involved, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Putin called energy cooperation a priority issue in Kazakh-Russian ties. Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said President Nazarbaev will visit Russia on 17-18 January to sign a border-delimitation agreement, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev stressed that the issue is one of delimitation, not demarcation, and citizens of the two countries will still be able to cross freely, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

KAZAKH MINISTRY SAYS PLANNED EXPLOSION MAY HAVE KILLED IRAQ PEACEKEEPER
A planned explosion might have been behind the munitions incident that killed a Kazakh peacekeeper in Iraq on 9 January, "Kazakhstan Today" reported, quoting an unidentified source within Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry. The blast also killed eight Ukrainian servicemen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). When queried about the possibility of a withdrawal of Kazakh peacekeepers from Iraq, the source said that such a decision is for "the country's political leadership" to make. DK

KYRGYZ COURT REJECTS FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER'S APPEAL
A Kyrgyz court on 12 January rejected an appeal by former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva to overturn a district election commission's 6 January decision to bar her from running for parliament in late-February elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The court upheld the commission's ruling that Otunbaeva cannot run because she has not resided in Kyrgyzstan for the last five years. Otunbaeva, who is co-chairwoman of the Ata-Jurt opposition movement, has argued that the principle of extraterritoriality should allow her to run, since she was abroad in a diplomatic capacity. The decision by the election commission, which initially approved Otunbaeva's candidacy before reversing its own decision hours later, prompted several days of demonstrations in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). The opposition decided on 10 January to suspend protests until 17 January. DK

RUSSIA, IRAN TO FINISH CONSTRUCTION OF TAJIK POWER PLANTS
Iran, Tajikistan, and Russia signed protocols in Dushanbe on 12 January for Iran and Russia to complete the construction of Tajikistan's Sangtuda-1 and Sangtuda-2 hydropower stations, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Anatolii Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), said that Sangtuda-1 will cost $400 million-$500 million to complete and that ownership shares will depend on contributions, Avesta reported. EES will look for investors but can finance the project itself if need be, Chubais said; Tajikistan has already invested approximately $100 million in Sangtuda-1, RFE/RL reported. Tajik Energy Minister Jurabek Nurmahmadov said that Sangtuda-2 will cost $160 million-$180 million, which Iran will invest, Avesta reported. Nurmahmadov said that Tajikistan will own 2 percent of Sangtuda-2, with the remainder belonging to Iran, RIA-Novosti reported. Russia will begin work on Sangtuda-1 "tomorrow," Chubais said; Iran will start work on Sangtuda-2 in three to four months, according to Nurmahmadov. The two stations should be finished in four years, AK&M reported, quoting Nurmahmadov. DK

FREED GUANTANAMO INMATE FROM TAJIKISTAN DETAILS HEALTH PROBLEMS, BROKEN AID PROMISE
Abdurahmon Rajabov, a Tajik citizen who was an inmate at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than two years, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 12 January that the intense psychological pressure and a liver operation he endured in captivity have left him with chronic health problems. Rajabov said that he was promised aid for medical treatment when he was released, and that he has appealed unsuccessfully to both the Red Cross and the U.S. Embassy. Red Cross representative Pidrom Yazdi told RFE/RL that the Red Cross helped Rajabov to obtain a diagnosis but cannot provide further assistance. For his part, Rajabov said his condition cannot be treated in Tajikistan. In a written response to RFE/RL, the U.S. Embassy said that detainees are given medical treatment while in custody in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, but that once detainees are freed and returned home they are the responsibility of their countries of origin. DK

UZBEK OPPOSITION PARTIES DEMAND RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS
Human rights activists and representatives of the unregistered Uzbek opposition parties Erk (Freedom) and Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers) demonstrated outside the Prosecutor-General's Office in Tashkent on 12 January to demand the release of political prisoners, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Otanazar Oripov, first secretary of the Erk Party, told RFE/RL that the protest marks the beginning of a campaign to free political prisoners and remove political statutes from the criminal code. Erk member Azam Turghunov said the party is currently asking for the release of 10 prisoners, including the 80-year-old writer Mamadali Mahmudov. An official came out and wrote down the protestors' demands. A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Svetlana Ortiqova, told RFE/RL that her office will respond to issues in its competence but said the demand to free political prisoners does not fall under its jurisdiction. DK

UZBEK GOVERNMENT TO ALLOW INDEPENDENT MONITORS IN TORTURE CASE...
The Uzbek government has asked the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House to monitor the official investigation of a recent suspicious death in custody and has agreed to include Uzbek human rights defenders and foreign specialists as independent observers, Freedom House Senior Program Officer Margarita Assenova told RFE/RL on 12 January. The investigation will examine the 2 January death of Samandar Umarov, who is alleged to have died under torture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 January 2005). Umarov was serving a 17-year sentence for membership in the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The independent observers include Abdusalom Ergashev, an Uzbek specialist on religious rights, and Dr. Ronald Suarez, chief medical examiner of Morris County, New Jersey. The Polish, Swiss, and U.S. Embassies will also monitor the investigation's progress. Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov has given the observers his personal assurance that they will have free and unrestricted access to the government commission's work. The investigation's conclusions are expected to be made public early next week. DK

...AS DEATH IN CUSTODY RAISES NEW ALLEGATIONS
Allegations of mistreatment have come to light in the death of 32-year-old Rayim Quldoshev in custody on 2 January, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 12 January. Quldoshev was summoned for questioning by police in Jizzakh at 10 a.m. on 2 January after a 31 December conflict with passengers in his car. When Quldoshev died four hours later, a heart attack was listed as the official cause of death. But Bakhtiyor Hamroev, head of the local branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, told RFE/RL, "We don't believe the conclusion. According to our information, Rayim died after a blow to the chest while he was being interrogated by four policemen." Jizzakh police chief Olim Qosimov told the BBC that Quldoshev's death was not the result of torture, but added that a criminal case has been opened in the wake of the incident. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WARY ABOUT APPLYING FOR SOVEREIGN CREDIT RATING
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told the government on 12 January that he has a "very cautious" attitude to having Belarus's creditworthiness rated by some of the world's three major rating agencies, Moody's, Standard and Poor's, or Fitch IBCA, Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. A country's general creditworthiness, called a sovereign credit rating, is a key indicator for foreign investors and reflects factors such as the country's economic status, transparency in the capital market, levels of public and private investment flows, foreign direct investment, foreign currency reserves, and political stability. Lukashenka expressed his fears that the U.S.-based rating agencies might underrate Belarus. "What if we pay money and they give us a sovereign credit rating at a speculative or default level?" Lukashenka said. "Most likely this will be so.... [While] we should have a very respectable rating compared with [other CIS countries]." The Belarusian Finance Ministry is reportedly planning to issue Eurobonds in the first half of 2005 but Belarus has to obtain a credit rating first. JM

BELARUSIAN FM STATIONS WARNED FOR FAILING TO GIVE REQUIRED AIRTIME TO DOMESTIC MUSIC
The Information Ministry on 12 January issued official warnings to three FM stations -- Hit FM, Unistar Radio BDU, and Novoye Radio -- for their failure to execute the government's order that Belarusian musicians or artists of Belarusian origin be given at least 75 percent of the total music airtime as of 1 January, Belapan reported. According to the ministry, monitoring established that the three stations failed to abide by their commitments regarding the broadcasting of local artists in prime time. The FM stations may have their licenses revoked by the National Commission for Television and Radio Broadcasting if they fail to take corrective measures within seven days after receiving the warning. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL LOSER DEFERS COURT APPEAL AGAINST ELECTION RESULT
Presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who was expected to appeal to the Supreme Court on 12 January against the officially announced victory of Viktor Yushchenko in the 26 December presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005), has postponed the move, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported on 12 January. Yanukovych's campaign manager, Taras Chornovil, told journalists that the appeal may be filed on 13 January or at some later date. The final deadline to submit the appeal is seven days after 10 January, when the Central Election Commission announced Yushchenko's victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2005). "The violations registered by us in the so-called third round [on 26 December] are much more significant [than those of which Yushchenko complained following the 21 November presidential ballot]," Chornovil said. "They know the judicial hopelessness of the case," Reuters quoted Yushchenko's campaign manager Oleksandr Zinchenko as saying. "The Supreme Court has already examined and dismissed their claims. Their goal is not to challenge the outcome of the poll but to put off Yushchenko coming to power as long as possible." JM

ANOTHER CANDIDATE ASPIRES TO UKRAINE'S PREMIERSHIP
Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz said on the NTN television channel on 12 January that he is ready to assume the post of prime minister if he is offered it by Viktor Yushchenko followed the latter's presidential inauguration. "I can name dozens of states that are being run not by economists or business managers," Moroz said in a reference to his lack of experience as a cabinet member or business executive. "Possibly, this is why they have more successes than we do," he added. Moroz, who served as speaker of the Verkhovna Rada in 1994-98, has been in opposition to the government and President Leonid Kuchma since then. Moroz is the fourth politician, after Yuliya Tymoshenko, Anatoliy Kinakh, and Petro Poroshenko, who has publicly announced his desire to head a new cabinet (see End Note below and "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 7 January 2005). Yushchenko separately met with Moroz and Kinakh in Kyiv earlier on 12 January to discuss what Moroz described as "principles" for the formation of a new government. JM

CROATIAN FUGITIVE SEEKS A DEAL...
Fugitive former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who is one of the indictees most wanted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, recently wrote in a letter to his lawyer, Luka Misetic, that he will surrender if he will be tried by a Croatian court, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 12 January. Misetic forwarded the letter on 5 January to Jean Asselborn, who is the foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency. Luxembourg must decide soon if Zagreb is sufficiently cooperating with the tribunal for Croatia's EU ascension talks, which are slated for 17 March, to go ahead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). A copy of the letter appeared on 12 January in some Zagreb media. PM

...BUT FINDS NO TAKERS
Officials of the Croatian Justice Ministry said in Zagreb on 12 January that Gotovina must go to The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Florence Hartmann, the spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the Hague-based war crime tribunal's chief prosecutor, told Reuters that "there is no way we [would] consider such a proposal [as the one Gotovina made]. It's a matter of principle. We do not negotiate with an accused at large." An unnamed EU diplomat in Zagreb told the news agency that the letter will probably do more harm than good. "The letter was a nonstarter from the beginning. If the lawyer were serious, he would write to the tribunal and not to the EU presidency. It also proves once again that it is possible to contact Gotovina. Hence, Gotovina is a symbol of something more serious, the lack of the rule of law," in Croatia, the diplomat argued. PM

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS INDEPENDENCE BY YEAR'S END
Kosova's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj told the Zagreb weekly "Globus" of 13 January that independence for the province will soon be a reality. "The independence of Kosova is the only solution that can satisfy the will of Kosovars. I think that by the end of this year this goal will be reached," he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 7 January 2005). In related news, Ranko Krivokapic, who is the speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, and Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service in Podgorica on 12 January that they want the status of Kosova to be resolved as soon as possible lest that issue continue to be an international diplomatic obstacle to Montenegro's own moves toward independence (see http://www2.dw-world.de/serbian/Srbija/1.119454.1.html, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004 and 13 January 2005). PM

EXPLOSIVE DEVICE REPORTEDLY KILLS UN POLICE OFFICER IN KOSOVA
A UN police spokesman said in Prishtina on 13 January that an unnamed Nigerian policeman was killed in an apparent car-bomb explosion in Prizren earlier that day, Reuters reported. Police are investigating the "nature of the explosive device," the spokesman added. No other information regarding the incident or the possible circumstances behind it is available. There are more than 3,000 UN police in Kosova. Violent incidents in much of former Yugoslavia are often criminal rather than political or ethnic in nature. PM

MACEDONIAN PREMIER MAKES OFFICIAL VISIT TO TIRANA
Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski arrived in Tirana on 12 January for a two-day official visit, MIA news agency reported. He and his Albanian counterpart Fatos Nano told reporters that their respective governments will focus on economic cooperation in 2005. The prime ministers announced that their governments will sign an agreement on cooperation in culture, tourism, and scientific work in mid-2005. In May, the three member states of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter -- Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- will meet to promote their integration into NATO structures. Representatives from Greece, Italy, and Turkey will also attend. In Tirana, Buckovski and Nano also discussed the Macedonian minority in Albania. "The government of Albania is prepared to respond to all demands regarding the Macedonian minority," Nano said. Buckovski also invited Albania to participate "symbolically" in the demarcation of the border between Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro. Most Kosovar Albanian politicians reject the Belgrade-Skopje border agreement as having been reached without them. UB

NATO COMMANDER MEETS WITH ROMANIAN PRESIDENT...
Following talks in Bucharest with NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones, President Traian Basescu said on 12 January that "Romania wants to take a major role in providing stability in the region, and can be a strong element of balance in the Black Sea region," AP reported. Jones arrived in Romania from Bulgaria. In both countries, he is inspecting military sites that might host U.S. troops as part of a plan to set up flexible bases in Eastern Europe. According to Mediafax, Jones thanked Romania for its offer to host such bases and said its geostrategic position on the Black Sea is of great importance. He and Basescu also discussed Romanian participation in international antiterrorist operations. Jones is to visit the Black Sea port of Constanta on 13 January and former military bases in the area. MS

...WHO VOWS TO FIGHT CORRUPTION...
President Basescu told a meeting of the Supreme Magistrates Council on 12 January that Romania "might stumble in the process of joining the European Union" if it fails to fight corruption and does not set in place a properly functioning judicial system, Mediafax and AP reported. Basescu also said that as chairman of the council he will oppose any political interference in the judicial process. Meanwhile, prosecutors on 12 January barred 19 persons, including former executives of the Onesti-based Rafo and Carom companies who are suspected of tax evasion, from leaving the country. On 30 December, the cabinet "suspended" for 90 days an emergency ordinance issued by the previous Social Democratic government that would have written off $532 million in unpaid taxes owed by the Rafo oil refinery and the Carom tire maker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). MS

...AS DOES ROMANIAN PREMIER
Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said in an interview with Reuters on 12 January that his cabinet is determined to fight endemic corruption and that measures are already being taken. Popescu-Tariceanu said these measures range from ordering investigations into suspect deals to preparing laws making tax evasion a crime. He said that making the courts independent is essential and this is why he appointed civil rights campaigner and independent lawyer Monica Macovei as justice minister. Popescu-Tariceanu said his government might consider organizing early elections, but not before Romania has joined the EU in 2007. He said he does not expect the EU to apply the "safety clause" that would postpone Romania's accession for one year because "the main issues of concern in the past --justice, competition, corruption--are [also] the main objectives of the new government." MS

ROMANIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC IDEOLOGUE WARNS AGAINST BASESCU'S 'CAESARISM'
Former Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin on 12 January warned against the possibility that President Basescu "might be slipping into 'Caesarism,'" Mediafax reported. Severin, who is currently director of the Ovidiu Sincai Social Democratic Institute, said Basescu succeeded in winning the 12 December presidential runoff by alleging that the 28 November parliamentary elections had been rigged, but the charge was never proved. He said there are many other indications that Basescu is "employing democratic rhetoric in order to promote neo-Caesarism." He defined Caesarism as "an authoritarian single-leadership style under which legal institutions (government, parliament, parties) are gradually emptied of content and legal authority is being subordinated to a personal political authority." Severin said Basescu is "trying to be simultaneously president, prime minister and party chairman," which is tantamount to "eliminating the essence of the 1989 bloody revolution that replaced a dictatorship with democracy." MS

DISMISSED MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER NAMED AMBASSADOR TO NATO
Former Moldovan Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc was appointed ambassador to NATO and to Belgium on 12 January, Flux reported. Brigadier General Gaiciuc was dismissed as defense minister in October in the wake of large-scale theft of weapons from military arms depots (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 18 October 2004). MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS POLICE ABUSE OF POWER MUST BE CURBED
President Vladimir Voronin on 11 January ordered the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office to take resolute measures to curb abuse of power by police, Infotag reported the next day. Voronin told a meeting of the Supreme Security Council that there are many instances in which police officers ignore the law and pose a danger to citizens. "We do back the Interior Ministry's struggle against crime, but this struggle must never affect the rights of law-abiding citizens," Voronin said. MS

POROSHENKO SEEKS UKRAINE'S NEXT POSTELECTION PRIZE
Ukrainian lawmaker and businessman Petro Poroshenko announced last week on Channel 5 that he is prepared to accept the post of prime minister from Viktor Yushchenko, whom the Central Election Commission on 10 January declared the official winner of the 26 December presidential vote.

Poroshenko's public declaration of readiness to head Ukraine's new cabinet followed similar signals from two other political allies of Yushchenko: Yuliya Tymoshenko and Anatoliy Kinakh. Ukrainian political observers mention two more potential candidates for the post of prime minister: Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Our Ukraine Party head Viktor Pynzenyk. Yushchenko might thus develop a headache over the number of hopefuls for the premiership now that he is back from his vacation in the Carpathian Mountains.

Just who is Petro Poroshenko? And why does he think he might be taken seriously by Yushchenko in the company of such political heavyweights as Tymoshenko and Moroz? Indeed, even Kinakh and Pynzenyk are better known in the Ukrainian political arena than Poroshenko. All of Poroshenko's would-be rivals for the post of prime minister have previous experience in senior government jobs: Moroz was parliamentary speaker in 1994-98; Tymoshenko was deputy prime minister in Yushchenko's cabinet in 2000; Kinakh was prime minister in 2001-02; and Pynzenyk served in the government as a minister and deputy prime minister in 1992-93 and 1994-97. As for Poroshenko, his most prestigious public post to date has been his leadership of the parliamentary Budget Committee, which he has headed since 2002.

To begin with, Poroshenko is the owner of the Channel 5 television station, which contributed mightily to the success of the Yushchenko-driven "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. Channel 5 was the country's only television channel sympathetic to Yushchenko's presidential bid throughout the 2004 election campaign and in the first week of the "Orange Revolution" that followed the discredited presidential runoff of 21 November that went to then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. It was only in the second week of protests by orange-clad Ukrainians on Independence Square in Kyiv that journalists on other television channels, both private and state-controlled, rebelled against official censorship and started to cover events in Ukraine in a more unbiased manner. Channel 5 spearheaded a major breakthrough in Ukraine's electronic media sector toward more pluralistic and balanced news coverage, which clearly benefited opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko.

Notably, Poroshenko is also a wealthy businessman whose financial contribution to the Yushchenko presidential campaign -- in addition to that from Tymoshenko -- was surely hefty, although we will most likely never learn exactly who paid what in sponsoring Yushchenko's campaign. Poroshenko runs the Ukrprominvest concern, which includes five confectionery plants and a business that sells foreign-made automobiles and motorcycles, and also manufactures domestic motor vehicles and ships. Poroshenko is the largest confectionery manufacturer in Ukraine and has been dubbed the country's "Chocolate King." He once said that "more than $100 million" has been invested in Ukrprominvest.

Asked by Channel 5 to comment on Yushchenko's requirement that the next prime minister not have business connections, Poroshenko said he has no business interests "from a formal point of view." Some Ukrainian media have reported that a significant portion of Ukrprominvest assets legally belong to Petro Poroshenko's father, Oleksiy Poroshenko, who is now general director of Ukrprominvest.

Petro Poroshenko was born on 26 September 1965 in the city of Bolhrad, Odesa Oblast, near the Ukrainian-Moldovan border and near the Danube Delta. He debuted in national politics in March 1998, when he was elected to the Verkhovna Rada from a first-past-the-post constituency in Vinnytsya Oblast. At the time, Poroshenko was a member of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) led by Viktor Medvedchuk and was a member of its political bureau. In 2000, Poroshenko quit the SDPU-o to form his own parliamentary caucus, called Solidarity, and a political party called the Party of Solidarity of Ukraine. By the end of 2000, his party had joined the Party of Regions of Ukraine (now headed by Yanukovych), of which he became a co-chairman. In 2001, Poroshenko left the Party of Regions, recast his former party into the Solidarity Party and joined Yushchenko's Our Ukraine election bloc. Poroshenko become manager of the Our Ukraine parliamentary campaign staff in 2002 and, after his election to the Verkhovna Rada in March 2002, became head of the Budget Committee.

Poroshenko, who was deputy manager of Yushchenko's landmark presidential campaign in 2004, is generally described as a highly influential person in the Yushchenko entourage. He is also regarded as a moderate, particularly in comparison with radical populist Tymoshenko. Although Poroshenko has kept a low political profile so far, his maneuverings in party politics and the Verkhovna Rada have demonstrated that, if nothing else, he is capable of forging political alliances with oligarchic groups -- a talent that no doubt boosts his stock as a potential prime minister. Poroshenko's constructive political relations with parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn are another advantage, especially as Lytvyn's 30-strong Popular Agrarian Party caucus is tapped to join a pro-Yushchenko coalition in parliament; Lytvyn, whose political stature has risen markedly during the 2004 election standoff, is expected to guarantee the stability of the pro-Yushchenko parliamentary coalition in the first year of his presidency.

Poroshenko's strong business ties arguably represent his most serious shortcoming as a candidate for the top cabinet post, regardless of his freedom from the "formal point of view." Too many businessmen in Ukraine appear to perceive Yushchenko's victory as an opportunity for revenge against the oligarchs who supported the Kuchma-Yanukovych regime and for a "redivision" of the spheres of economic influence under the new regime. Would Poroshenko be similarly tempted to mete out "economic justice" and promote his "wronged" associates to the posts and benefits they were denied during the era of President Leonid Kuchma?

In other words, Yushchenko must think long and hard before any possible decision to nominate Poroshenko to the prime minister's post. Yushchenko needs not a war with Ukrainian oligarchs, but rather their cooperation, primarily in replenishing the state budget.

Poroshenko told an interviewer in mid-2004 that it is entirely possible for the Ukrainian budget to post annual revenues of 100 billion hryvnyas ($19 billion) by reclaiming some of the money circulating in the country's shadow economy. (Budget revenues for 2005 are expected to total 86.5 billion hryvnyas.) To make that happen, the government arguably needs to cajole the old oligarchs out of the shadow economy and into the light, rather than to replace them with new, formerly "wronged" substitutes.

AFGHAN LEADER PLEDGES TO HOLD PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS SOON
President Hamid Karzai on 12 January promised to ensure that the parliamentary elections that were slated for April are held as soon as possible, Reuters reported. "We will make every effort so that this crucial pillar of Afghanistan's government, which is the legislative power, is prepared as soon as possible," Karzai told reporters in Kabul. Without offering details, Karzai said that he will appoint the independent election commission to oversee the parliamentary vote "in the coming days." Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, which were due to take place alongside the presidential elections in October, were postponed until April in order to disarm the militias and warlords and to determine the electoral map of the country. The April date is no longer valid as Karzai has not issued a decree that would define the electoral constituencies, which must be issued at least 120 days before the election. In addition to defining constituencies, Afghanistan has yet to have a scientific census to determine the number of voters in each constituency. AT

OPIUM POPPY FARMERS COMPLAIN AFTER DESTRUCTION OF CROP
Farmers in the southern Helmand Province complained on 11 January that after their opium-poppy fields were bulldozed, local young people had to leave the country in search of employment, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 12 January. Helmand Governor Mullah Sher Mohammad Akhund echoed the poppy farmers' views in a meeting with counternarcotics authorities from Kabul. An opium-poppy farmer in Helmand's Nad Ali District told Pajhwak that two of his sons left for Pakistan "and became bricklayers," after antinarcotics authorities destroyed his fields. General Daud, the head of the counternarcotics department in the Interior Ministry, assured "authorities and farmers in Helmand Province that they will receive more help than other provinces." With Afghanistan's opium-poppy cultivation rising, Kabul is facing a dilemma of curbing narcotic production while keeping the farmers from losing their livelihood. AT

AFGHAN DRUG TRAFFICKERS MAY BE OFFERED AMNESTY
President Karzai said on 12 January in Kabul that he is considering offering an amnesty for drug traffickers, AFP reported. According to the report, "many" of these traffickers "allegedly hold senior government positions and are making millions of dollars from the opium trade." Karzai said that while the idea of offering amnesty to the traffickers has not been brought before his cabinet, the plan "is not a bad idea." However, any such plan "has to be done with very careful thought, with very careful guarantees...that it is going to discourage the traffickers," he said. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES U.S. SENATE DELEGATION
Hamid Karzai met with a U.S. Senate delegation in Kabul on 12 January, Radio Afghanistan reported. The head of the delegation, U.S. Senate Majority Leader William Frist (Republican, Tennessee), assured Karzai that the United States will continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan until the country can stand on its own feet. Karzai told the delegation that Afghanistan hopes to "pay back the U.S. government for its services in Afghanistan," Afghan Voice Agency reported on 12 January. AT

IRAN-EU TRADE AND COOPERATION TALKS RESUME
Iran and the European Union resumed discussions on a trade and cooperation agreement on 12 January, Radio Farda and Reuters reported. There was a two-year pause in the talks due to EU discomfort over Iran's nuclear program. The talks show the EU's interest in working with Iran, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, according to Reuters. She added, "Iran can look forward to a richer relationship with the European Union, as long as the international community can be confident that Iran's nuclear program is not being developed for military purposes." The EU is unwilling to write a blank check, Radio Farda reported. Therefore the discussions will address four issues: human rights, Middle East security, counterterrorism, and nuclear nonproliferation, Radio Farda reported. Other topics will be counternarcotics, refugees, and migration. BS

IAEA NUCLEAR INSPECTORS ARRIVE IN IRAN
A delegation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials arrived in Iran on 12 January and will commence inspection of the Parchin military site the next day, state television reported. The inspectors will look into allegations that the military tested conventional explosives that can be used to detonate nuclear weapons at Parchin, which is southwest of Tehran. Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 12 January that the inspectors will not be allowed to spy on Iranian military activities, Mehr News Agency reported. They can only take environmental samples, he said, adding that no secret nuclear activities take place at Parchin. BS

IRAQI VOTERS IN IRAN MAY HAVE PROBLEMS
Muhsin al-Hakim, a political adviser to the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said on 11 January that the out-of-country-voting program for Iraqis in Iran is flawed, IRNA reported. Iraqis who want to vote in Iran must prove that they were born before 31 December 1986 and provide documentation of their identity, he said, but Iraqis voting in other countries only have to meet the age requirement. Al-Hakim went on to say that there are not enough ballot boxes and polling places. There are polling facilities in Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Qom, Tehran, and Urumiyeh, but there are also sizable Iraqi communities in Ilam, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd. In Isfahan, for example, there are 40,000 Iraqis, al-Hakim said. Voter registration will take place from 17-23 January, and voting will take place from 28-30 January. BS

IRAN HAS GOOD NEIGHBOR POLICY
Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi told Iraqi Ambassador to Tehran Muhammad Majid al-Shaykh on 12 January in Tehran that improving relations with neighboring states tops the Iranian foreign-policy agenda, IRNA reported. Instability in one country has regional implications, he said. Iran is firm in its position on Iraqi territorial integrity, solidarity, and development. Aref-Yazdi said Iran hopes to participate in Iraq's reconstruction and development. Al-Shaykh said Iraq is ready to benefit from Iranian expertise and that Iran is not interfering in Iraqi affairs. BS

SCIRI LEADER DISMISSES CLAIMS OF IRANIAN INTERFERENCE
SCIRI Chairman Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim said in a 10 January interview with Al-Arabiyah television that accusations of Iranian interference in his country are "irresponsible." He added, "Let the Iraqi people see your evidence." Al-Hakim also denounced the televised confession of Jaysh Muhammad leader Mu'ayyad Yasin Aziz al-Nasiri, in which he alleged Iraqi insurgent leaders traveled to Iran and received arms and money from Iran. Al-Hakim said the claims of a "criminal" are unreliable and, furthermore, al-Nasiri is trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad. Rather than relying on such confessions, al-Hakim said, there should be a thorough investigation. Al-Hakim said nobody approves of foreign interference in Iraqi affairs and the provision of weapons to the combatants there, and he condemned the "the regional and other countries, particularly the men of religion, [who] are completely silent over this issue." BS

TWO AIDES TO SENIOR IRAQI AYATOLLAH KILLED IN SEPARATE INCIDENTS
Two aides to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have been assassinated in separate attacks, international media reported on 13 January. Sheikh Mahmud Finjan al-Mada'ini was assassinated south of Baghdad in Mada'in along with his son and four bodyguards on 12 January. Al-Mada'ini had received several death threats and reportedly escaped at least one previous assassination attempt, according to Al-Jazeera. Reuters reported that al-Mada'ini worked as al-Sistani's representative in Salman Pak. Another aide to the ayatollah, Halim al-Afghani, was found slain inside his office in Al-Najaf, Al-Jazeera reported. Meanwhile, militants ambushed a minibus picking up a Turkish businessman from a Baghdad hotel on 13 January, kidnapping the businessman, Abd al-Kadir Tanrikulu, AP reported. The bus driver and five employees of the businessman waiting in the bus were killed in the attack. Tanrikulu reportedly owns a construction company that works with the U.S. military. KR

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S COALITION PAYS FEES TO JOURNALISTS
Officials associated with the election bloc that includes the party of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi have admitted that they routinely hands out to journalists attending its press conferences envelopes containing $100 notes, London's "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 12 January. Some 20 envelopes were handed to local and international reporters after one recent campaign meeting, the daily said. "We have no excuse in your culture but I'm from a tribal background, and in ours, it is just hospitality," Adnan Janabi said. "Our Iraqi press are used to being treated nicely. My people think it impolite to let guests leave without offering hospitality. We could not give them a meal, so they were given money instead. Most of the Iraqi journalists were happy to use it for transport or whatever," he added. The paying of journalists was common practice under the Hussein regime, "The Daily Telegraph" noted. The daily added that $100 equates to about two weeks' pay for most journalists. Al-Janabi also told the daily, "If we wanted to bribe the press, we would have to pay a lot more." KR

SIX ARRESTED IN SLAYING OF BAGHDAD GOVERNOR
U.S. Central Command announced in a press release (http://www.centcom.mil) dated 12 January that Task Force Baghdad soldiers arrested six possible militants suspected of involvement in the 4 January assassination of Baghdad Governor Ali Radi al-Haydari. Al-Haydari was gunned down in an early-morning attack outside his home in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). The military said that the raid and subsequent arrests came as the result of tips from local sources. Major Web Wright said that tips from local Baghdad residents are becoming more commonplace. "The citizens of Baghdad are really starting to turn over good information that we can put to use. They are obviously fed up with the violence that the terrorists are causing," Wright said. KR

POLITICAL COALITION WITHDRAWS FROM ELECTIONS
The National Front for the Unity of Iraq announced on 12 January that it will not participate in the 30 January elections, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The front is a coalition of political parties, tribes, and independent candidates. A press statement released by the coalition cited lack of security and human rights violations -- including the December arrest of its head Sheikh Hasan Zaydan Khalaf -- as the reason for the withdrawal. Khalaf remains in U.S. custody. KR

PARTIES COMPLAIN THAT SOME GROUPS USE RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS IN CAMPAIGNING
The Iraqi Independent Election Commission issued a statement on 12 January citing complaints by a number of political parties about the use by some candidates and electoral coalitions of religious symbols and fatwas (religious rulings) in their campaigning, Al-Diyar television reported the same day. Those who complained said that the use of religious symbols violates a code of ethics signed by political parties participating in the election. The commission said it will study the complaints, Al-Diyar television reported. KR

UN AMBASSADOR SAYS IRAQ WILL HOLD OIL-FOR-FOOD ABUSERS ACCOUNTABLE
Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Samir al-Sumaydi'i said on 12 January that his government will seek to hold those who mismanaged oil-for-food funds accountable, and may seek reparations, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. "It has been confirmed that Iraqi funds were mismanaged. There were gaps in the monitoring of those funds and in the required assurances to see they were spent properly," al-Sumaydi'i said. He added that his government will study the UN report by Paul Volcker when it is issued at the end of January and "take the required position." "Accountability is extremely necessary. We will insist that the roles of those responsible will be exposed and that they be held accountable.... We will demand that measures be taken to compensate Iraq," al-Sumaydi'i said. He acknowledged that compensation "might or might not be feasible," but said his government reserves the right to seek reparations. KR

POWELL SAYS U.S. TROOP NUMBERS SHOULD BE REDUCED THIS YEAR
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told U.S.-based National Public Radio in a 12 January interview that U.S. troop numbers in Iraq should be reduced sometime in 2005. "With the assumption of that greater burden, the burden on our troops should go down, and we should start to see our numbers going in the other direction," Powell said. He declined to give a timeline as to when forces would begin downsizing. "The issue now is not more American troops or coalition troops for the long haul, but more Iraqi troops for the long haul, and that's where all of our resources and energy are now going," he said. Powell said that the elections in Iraq should not be postponed, "because the Iraqi people know it's their government that's being assaulted, not an appointed government." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters at a press briefing the same day in Washington: "We recognize that there are still those trying to intimidate voters and make it difficult to vote. Nonetheless, there are some 6,000 polling places being established in Iraq. There are some 14 million voters on the list. And we think they should have this opportunity." KR

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