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Newsline - January 14, 2005


PENSIONERS CONTINUE BENEFITS PROTESTS...
On 13 January, pensioners staged protests for the fourth day in a row against the recent social-benefits reform. Retirees in the Krasnogorsk District of Moscow Oblast and in Samara gathered on 13 January in front of local administration buildings to register their objections to the replacement of in-kind benefits such as free public transportation with cash payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 13 January 2005). Local authorities have started to bring legal cases against people whom they have identified as the organizers of the protests, gazeta.ru reported. Ten demonstrators from Khimki who managed to stop traffic along a major thoroughfare to the city of Moscow are facing charges, and Udmurtia's prosecutor has vowed to pursue proceedings against the organizers of a 5,000-strong meeting in Izhevsk. Four participants in a rally in Podolsk, who were described as the most active, have legal actions pending against them, according to lenta.ru. However, police did not make arrests in Samara or in Krasnogorsk on 13 January, according to gazeta.ru. Police are reportedly sympathetic to the protestors because the police themselves have also been deprived of free public transportation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). JAC

...AS PATRIARCH, TOP MILITARY OFFICIAL SUPPORT PROTESTORS...
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II appeared to give the protesting pensioners his verbal support in comments made on 13 January, Interfax reported. He said that reforms must not "deprive people of the possibility to use transportation and communication tools, keep their housing, and have access to medical care and medicine." He continued: "If this is not the case, a tragedy is inevitable for millions of our citizens who have worked for the good of the country all their lives and now need protection and care." Air Force Commander Vladimir Mikhailov said on 13 January that the replacement of benefits with cash will negatively affect young officers, explaining that public-transportation costs have become a real burden for them, Ekho Moskvy reported. JAC

...AS SOME LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ROLL BACK CHANGES...
In Bashkortostan, the government announced that it is introducing a fare exemption for pensioners traveling on municipal buses and is doubling the level of cash compensation, according to Radio Rossii on 13 January. In Tatarstan, President Mintimer Shaimiev has promised to double the level of cash compensation, and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev reinstated free public transportation, according to lenta.ru. JAC

...WHILE THE SEARCH FOR SCAPEGOATS CONTINUES
"Kommersant-Daily" on 13 January asked a number of analysts and policymakers who will be scapegoated for the public uproar over the social-benefits reform. Independent Duma Deputy Aleksandr Yermolin predicted that the Duma will hold the government responsible, while Anatolii Dubovskii of the Independent Public Chamber of Bashkortostan singled out Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, and Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov for not working out the details of the transition thoroughly and rushing the reform through too quickly. "Izvestiya" on 13 January suggested that Zurabov will soon become for Russians the "second Chubais," referring to former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who oversaw an unpopular privatization plan under President Boris Yeltsin. According to the daily, Zurabov promised earlier to resign if the social-benefits reform did not go well. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated on 13 January that President Putin's trip to Kazakhstan was cut short in response to pensioners' demonstrations. JAC

DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES ANY AMBITIONS FOR PROMOTION
While on a visit to Washington, D.C., Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters on 12 January that he is not planning on running in the 2008 presidential election, Interfax reported. He said that he has been asked the question many times and "my answer is very simple: no." The next day, Unified Russia party leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov announced that his party will support whichever candidate is proposed by President Putin. Last year, Yelena Dikun published an article in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 9, arguing that the "liberal-security bloc" within the Kremlin -- which consists of all of the members of the so-called St. Petersburg team, such as Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Gref -- have chosen Sergei Ivanov as their favored successor to Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). JAC

DAILY SAYS ETHNIC RUSSIAN BEHIND 2004 TERRORIST ACTS
"Vremya novostei" reported on 13 January, citing unidentified sources in the intelligence services, that former military cadet Pavel Kosolapov led a group of rebels responsible for last year's explosions outside a Moscow subway station, at an outdoor market in Samara, and at bus stops in Voronezh. According to the daily, Kosolapov, who was born in Volgograd Oblast, converted to Islam in the 1990s, underwent training in the camps of Arab field commanders, and fought in Chechnya for the ethnic Chechens. According to the daily, radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev decided to send Kosolapov back to Russia to organize terrorist acts assuming that, because of his ethnic Russian looks, he would not arouse suspicion. JAC

SECURITY COUNCIL ISSUES STATEMENT ON DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS
The population of Russia will most likely dip to less than 100 million by 2050, Interfax reported on 13 January, citing a statement by the Russian Security Council. "Russia's internal demographic situation is extremely unfavorable and it might worsen further in the near future," the Security Council reported. The report blamed the situation on the high death rate and the low birthrate, noting that "not a single postwar generation has been able to reproduce itself." The council said the only hope for reversing the situation lies "in the migration-policy sphere." RC

PARLIAMENTARIAN PREDICTS NO BREAKTHROUGH IN TALKS WITH JAPAN
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura arrived in Moscow for a working visit on 13 January, Russian and international media reported. Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told ITAR-TASS on 13 January that it would be wrong to expect "any groundbreaking decisions in the direction of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan and the settlement of the territorial dispute." He said that Japan is unwilling to use a 1956 agreement as a basis for the talks, as President Vladimir Putin has urged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 November 2004) and "insists on the uncompromising position of the return of all the South Kurile Islands." Kosachev said the visit could nonetheless be important in terms of coordinating positions for the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program and on combating terrorism. RC

LIBERALS LAMENT STATE OF PRESS FREEDOM
On 13 January, Russia marked Press Day, the professional holiday of journalists, Russian media reported. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 13 January, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" Editor in Chief Mikhail Berger said: "It is amazing how the print media are willing to cater to the ruling elite's needs rather than to society's information needs." He said that the reluctance of journalists to defend the rights that they gained during the perestroika and post-perestroika eras "calls for some serious thought." Russian Union of Journalists Secretary-General Igor Yakovenko told Interfax on 12 January that "the problem of the government monopoly of the media market has not been resolved and has even grown worse." Yabloko party deputy head Sergei Ivanenko told the news agency: "Today the state of freedom of speech and access to objective information is probably the worst it has been in 15 years." RC

PUBLIC PESSIMISTIC ABOUT CORRUPTION
According to a poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 65 percent of Russians believe that it is impossible to defeat corruption, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 13 January. Thirty percent said they think anticorruption campaigns can be effective in controlling this problem. Respondents listed local governments and the law-enforcement organs as the most corrupt public institutions, while nearly one-third of respondents agreed that "society as a whole" is corrupt. The institutions considered least corrupt included legislatures, the media, and political parties. Forty-six percent of respondents said they believe that the main causes of corruption are the ineffectiveness of the government and imperfections in the laws; 37 percent blamed the "greed and amorality" of bureaucrats. Twenty-nine percent agreed that battling corruption is a task for the entire society, while 27 percent said it is a task "for President Putin personally." One-third of respondents said that they would not report instances of corruption to the authorities and 42 percent said that other people should not do so either. RC

CHECHEN OFFICIAL DENIES PRESIDENT'S RELATIVES DETAINED
Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told Interfax on 13 January that he has ordered a probe into Russian media reports that Chechen security bodies have detained several elderly relatives of Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, and that probe established that the reports are untrue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004 and 10 January 2005). The Russian human rights group Memorial reported on 12 January that relatives of Maskhadov's vanished relatives have established that they are being held at an unauthorized detention site in the village of Tsentoroi run by Kadyrov's so-called presidential security service. Also on 13 January, the pro-Maskhadov chechenpress.com reported, citing a Memorial press release, that eight relatives of Maskhadov including two brothers and a sister, have been rounded up since 3 December 2004. The website quotes unnamed Chechens as being convinced that Kadyrov's men abducted members of Maskhadov's family in attempt to blackmail him into surrendering. LF

PROMINENT DIASPORA CHECHEN ACTIVIST'S BROTHER TARGETED
First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov personally commanded an 8 January attack by members of his security force on a residence in the village of Alkhan-Yurt in Urus Martan Raion belonging to prominent Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev, chechenpress.com reported on 13 January. The assailants beat up Saidullaev's 30-year-old brother Usam, leaving him paralyzed. He has been airlifted to Moscow for medical treatment. Malik Saidullaev was barred from participating in the 2003 and 2004 elections for Chechen administration head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004 and 12 and 26 September 2004). LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DEPLORE ATTACK ON CHECHEN STRONGMAN'S SISTER IN DAGHESTAN
At the behest of Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkadii Yegelev chaired a meeting of Interior Ministry officials from Chechnya and Daghestan on 13 January to discuss the repercussions of the 10 January assault by police in the Daghestani town of Khasavyurt on Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov's sister Zulay Kadyrova, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005). Daghestani officials said Kadyrova was detained for questioning because she was travelling without identification papers. The Chechen government has accused the police in Daghestan of acting unconstitutionally and of systematic discrimination against Chechens. LF

U.S., CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE SEEK TO BRIDGE RIFT WITHIN OSCE
Stephen Minikes, who is the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, appealed to that body's Permanent Council in Vienna on 13 January to support an extension of the OSCE monitoring mission on the Georgian-Russian border, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Russia last month argued that the monitors deployed on the Georgian border with Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan are no longer needed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). Minikes also said he hopes Russia will withdraw its objections to the OSCE's proposed budget for 2005. Russia wants to reduce its contribution to the budget from 9 percent to 1.62 percent, AFP reported on 13 January. Slovenian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Dmitrij Rupel likewise told the Permanent Council on 13 January that he hopes a solution can be found to the budget dispute with Russia, AFP reported. He said he believes the OSCE "offers good value for money." LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS IN SOUTH CAUCASUS STATES
In its annual overview of human rights observance worldwide, released on 13 January, Human Rights Watch noted that Armenia failed in 2004 to improve its human rights record, resorting in April to police violence against peaceful demonstrators and imposing restrictions on the freedom of assembly. The report noted that torture and ill-treatment in police custody persist and that there are restrictions on full media freedom; at the same time it registered an improvement in religious freedom in Armenia. The report said that the ongoing pressure by the Azerbaijani government on the political opposition reached "a new intensity" in the wake of the 2003 presidential election, as reflected by the trials of over 100 activists, of whom 46 were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years. The report also highlighted reprisals against independent and opposition media. On the plus side, it noted that 32 political prisoners have been released, although others remain in jail. In Georgia, religious tolerance has improved but torture and ill-treatment in pre-trial custody remain widespread, one prominent victim being former Control Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili. The report registered concern that the new leadership's much-publicized anticorruption campaign "is not being applied equally to all," and notes that constitutional changes enacted in February that empower the president to appoint and dismiss judges contravene international human rights norms. LF

WERE REPRISALS AGAINST AZERBAIJANI OFFICERS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED?
At least some of the army officers who were recently demoted or charged with corruption were victims of political repression, Turan reported on 14 January, citing military journalist Uzeir Djafarov. On 13 January, the daily "Ekho" quoted Djafarov as saying that some officers from the Barda and Shamkir garrisons have been demoted or charged with embezzlement or other offenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). But Turan quoted Djafarov as saying that those charges are without foundation, and that some Barda officers fell into disfavor because they supported opposition candidate and Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar in the October 2003 presidential election. LF

GEORGIA SLAMS ABKHAZ BALLOT AS ILLEGAL...
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili dismissed the 12 January Abkhaz presidential ballot as illegal given that many Georgians and other former residents of Abkhazia now living in exile were unable to participate, Georgian media reported. Commenting on President-elect Sergei Bagapsh's 13 January statement that he will accept congratulations on his election only if they are addressed to the president of Abkhazia, Saakashvili said "we shall congratulate ourselves when Georgia's territorial integrity is restored." Also on 13 January, Irakli Alasania, who heads the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, told Interfax that the previous day's ballot "fell short of all international standards" and was not legitimate. LF

...AS VICTOR ALLEGES VIOLATIONS
Bagapsh, whom the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia confirmed on 13 January as winner of the 12 January repeat presidential election, said in Sukhum on 13 January that he will prepare for outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba a report of egregious violations of election procedure committed by security forces in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, ITAR-TASS reported. CEC Chairman Batal Tabagua denied that any violations had been reported, but admitted on 13 January that voter turnout in Gali was lower than in other districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). Bagapsh said on 13 January he will set about forming a coalition government, and that he will discuss with Ardzinba the possibility of holding his inauguration as president earlier than by the 30th day after publication of the election returns. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 January speculated that Russia may try to prevent Bagapsh's inauguration. LF

RUSSIA REJECTS GEORGIAN CRITICISM OVER ABKHAZ ELECTION
An unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on 13 January that Moscow will not respond to what he termed Georgia's "irresponsible" protest concerning the monitoring of the Abkhaz presidential ballot by members of the Russian State Duma, including Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 13 January that Baburin and his fellow deputies traveled to Abkhazia in a private capacity rather than as representatives of the Russian state. Speaking in Moscow on 13 January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed the hope that now the Abkhaz elections are over, Tbilisi and Sukhum will resume talks under the UN aegis on resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Russian media reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN UPS EFFORTS TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Deputy Justice Minister Ubaidulla Stamkulov told a commission on fighting human trafficking on 13 January that "law-enforcement bodies and the National Security Committee have considerably stepped up their activities against this problem," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Stamkulov said that 12 criminal cases were opened under the Criminal Code's "human trafficking" statute in 2004, twice as many as in 2003. He also noted that "five channels for trafficking Kazakh citizens abroad for sexual and other exploitation were identified and blocked [in 2004]." DK

KAZAKH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NO IRAQ WITHDRAWAL UNDER CONSIDERATION
Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev told journalists on 13 January that the issue of withdrawing Kazakhstan's 27 peacekeepers from Iraq "has not been raised yet," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The remarks came as the body of Kayrat Kudabaev, who was killed in Iraq on 9 January, was returned home. Altynbaev said that an investigation into Kudabaev's death will be completed, and that preparations are underway to send another group of peacekeepers to Iraq. DK

NEW KYRGYZ OPPOSITION BLOC EMERGES...
A new opposition bloc, the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, has been formed to bring together eight opposition parties in the lead-up to 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 13 January. The new bloc includes the communists, Asaba, New Kyrgyzstan, Republic, and Erkindik. It intends to help opposition candidates gain as many seats as possible in parliament. Confusingly, another opposition group called the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan already exists under the leadership of former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev. DK

...AS ACTIVIST FACES CHARGES OVER PROTESTS
A civil case against rights activist Tursunbek Akun began in a Bishkek court on 13 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akun heads the defense committee for former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, who was recently denied registration as a candidate in upcoming parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 January 2005). Akun faces a charge of violating public order by organizing a demonstration in support of Otunbaeva. He argues that Kyrgyzstan's constitution permits such acts of peaceful protest. The hearing is set to continue on 17 January. DK

TAJIK DRUG AGENCY OPENS SECOND AFGHAN OFFICE
Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency has opened a second office in Afghanistan, Avesta reported on 13 January. The office, which has two employees, will liaise with Afghan forces to combat trafficking and gather information on drug smugglers. In addition to its two offices in Afghanistan, the agency has an office in Kazakhstan. DK

PAKISTANI PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY MEETS WITH TURKMEN PRESIDENT
Riaz Khokhar, Pakistan's foreign secretary and special envoy of President Pervez Musharraf, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 13 January, News Central Asia reported. Their talks focused on cooperation in energy, transportation, and communications. The report noted that Niyazov told journalists on 3 January that the steering committee of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline (TAP) project, which would involve the transport of Turkmen natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan, will meet in Islamabad next month. The Karachi-based daily "Dawn" had reported in November 2004 that Pakistan cancelled a steering-committee meeting planned for late November after Turkmenistan failed to provide certified evidence of gas reserves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). DK

UZBEKISTAN APPOINTS AMBASSADOR TO TURKMENISTAN
Uzbek President Islam Karimov issued a decree on 12 January appointing Alisher Qodirov ambassador to Turkmenistan, UzA reported. Uzbekistan has not had an ambassador in Ashgabat since Turkmenistan expelled the Uzbek ambassador in December 2002 for alleged complicity in a plot to assassinate Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). The appointment follows a meeting between the two countries' presidents in Bukhara, Uzbekistan in November 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT ENDORSES PREEMPTIVE STRIKES AGAINST TERRORISTS
In a congratulatory message to members of Uzbekistan's armed forces on 13 January in honor of Homeland Defenders' Day, President Islam Karimov expressed his support for preemptive strikes against terrorists, state-run Uzbek First Channel reported. "We should be ready to launch preemptive strikes and neutralize armed attacks by international terrorists and the centers which direct them." Karimov stressed the importance of vigilance in the face of terrorist threats. "Today, we all understand...what threats and great dangers are being posed to our region, and the entire world, by international terrorism.... Our task is to continue our work to reinforce our armed forces." DK

BRUSSELS REPORTEDLY TO CONSIDER FUNDING INFORMATION CENTER FOR BELARUS
The European Commission will consider funding a foreign-based information center that would provide unbiased coverage of the situation in Belarus, Belapan reported on 13 January, citing Bogdan Klich, a member of the European Parliament from Poland. Klich said a group of Belarusian journalists have come out with a proposal to launch a center that would run a television channel and a radio station broadcasting to Belarus, as well as several websites. Klich added that EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has promised to study the project and look for possibilities to provide funds for such a center this year. According to Klich, the resumption of broadcasts by Radio Racja, a Polish-based radio station, could become the first stage of the project. Radio Racja, which was supported by U.S. and EU grants, broadcast to Belarus on shortwave from 1999 to 2002. JM

UKRAINIAN ELECTION LOSER FILES LAST-DITCH APPEAL...
Presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych on 14 January filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the officially announced victory of Viktor Yushchenko in the 26 December presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005), Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The appeal, which is Yanukovych's final attempt at challenging the election results, is reportedly accompanied by 621 volumes of printed materials and some 233 audio and videocassettes. "We are requesting that the Supreme Court consider the possibility of holding a repeat election," Yanukovych campaign manager Taras Chornovil said. The appeal is widely expected to be rejected by the court, thus opening the way for Yushchenko's inauguration next week. JM

...AS HIS SUPPORTERS RALLY IN DONETSK, LUHANSK
Some 6,000 people took part in a rally in support of former Prime Minister Yanukovych in Donetsk on 13 January, Interfax reported. Speakers at the rally, which was organized by the Progressive Socialist Party of Natalya Vitrenko, called for autonomy for the Donbas coal-mining region and for annulling the official results of the 26 December presidential vote awarding victory to Yushchenko. Yanukovych's supporters have pitched 30 tents on Donetsk's central square for several days now. Also on 13 January, 1,000 Yanukovych supporters held a rally in Luhansk, another large city in eastern Ukraine. They adopted a resolution calling for the annulment of the official results of the presidential election. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDERS REPORT ON ELECTION EXPENSES
President-elect Yushchenko spent 16.8 million hryvnyas ($3.2 million) for his election campaign while his rival Yanukovych spent 14.4 million hryvnyas ($2.7 million), Interfax reported, citing their official financial reports published in the 14 January issues of "Holos Ukrayiny" and "Uryadovyy Kuryer." JM

EU VOTE KINDLES UKRAINE'S MEMBERSHIP HOPES
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on 13 January to pass a nonbinding resolution calling on the EU authorities to give Ukraine "a clear European perspective, possibly leading to EU membership," the "Financial Times" reported. The vote reflected "the great sympathy among the populations and governments of democratic countries towards the 'Orange Revolution,'" commented Borys Tarasyuk, President-elect Yushchenko's top foreign-policy adviser. The daily reported that the European Commission is expected next month to designate Ukraine a "market economy," a move that would help Ukrainian exporters avoid stiff EU anti-dumping duties on such commodities as steel and fertilizers. JM

U.S. BLOCKS $10 MILLION IN AID TO SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO OVER WAR CRIMES ISSUES
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 13 January that Secretary of State Colin Powell has decided to withhold $10 million in assistance to Belgrade for fiscal 2005 because of its failure to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported. "In light of the continuing record of noncooperation, the secretary has decided to withhold $10 million in assistance for fiscal year 2005," Boucher said. He added that "we call on the authorities in Belgrade to cooperate fully with the tribunal by arresting and transferring fugitive indictees, particularly [former Bosnian Serb General] Ratko Mladic, to face justice in The Hague" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July and 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 19 November 2004). PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM PARTY NOT TO SERVE IN NEXT REPUBLIKA SRPSKA CABINET
Officials of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) serving in the parliament and government of the Republika Srpska agreed with the SDA leadership in Sarajevo on 13 January not to take part in the next Bosnian Serb government or support Prime Minister-designate Pero Bukejlovic of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 17 and 20 December 2004, and 4, 7, and 10 January 2005). Sefket Hafizovic, who is deputy speaker of the Republika Srpska parliament, said that the decision was prompted by the recent conclusion of a political pact among six Bosnian Serb parties, in which Muslim and Croatian parties were not asked to participate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). PM

CROAT PARTIES IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA TAKE SIDES IN CROATIA'S PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
The Croatian political parties based in Mostar, which is Herzegovina's main city, have endorsed Jadranka Kosor of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in the 16 January Croatian presidential runoff election, Hina reported on 13 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). Herzegovinian HDZ leader Barisa Colak said that Kosor will make a better president than Stipe Mesic, who is seeking reelection. The Croatian parties based in Sarajevo are backing Mesic, however. The New Croatian Initiative (NHI) founded by Kresimir Zubak said in a press statement that "Mesic confirms that he will use his presidential authority to help complete the return of Croats to northern and central Bosnia and make their return tenable." Most ethnic Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina hold dual citizenship. The Herzegovinians and the local HDZ were pillars of support for the late President Franjo Tudjman until his death in 1999. Living in a largely ethnically compact area contiguous to Croatia, they have traditionally favored union with that country. Mesic was elected in 2000 and soon began reducing the influence of the Herzegovinians in Zagreb. He is politically closer to the Croats of central and northern Bosnia, who generally live in ethnically mixed areas and were not always happy with Tudjman's plans to resettle them in Herzegovina or former Serbian territories in Croatia. PM

SLOVENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OUTLINES PRIORITIES AS OSCE CHAIR
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman Dimitrij Rupel, who is also Slovenia's foreign minister, said in Vienna on 13 January that one of the OSCE's priorities during Slovenia's chairmanship will be the Balkans, especially Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005). In his first speech to the OSCE's Permanent Council since taking the chair on 1 January, Rupel also stressed the importance of dealing with issues related to security, peace, and terrorism, as well as with illegal migration and human trafficking. PM

MACEDONIAN PREMIER ORDERS LAW ON DIPLOMATIC SERVICE
During a meeting with Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva, Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 13 January that the Foreign Ministry should present the parliament a draft law dealing with the diplomatic service within 60 days, MIA news agency and "Dnevnik" reported. At present, there are no laws governing the diplomatic service. The meeting came just days after a row broke out over the nomination of Xhevat Ademi as Macedonian ambassador to Bulgaria. Ademi -- whose nomination has since been withdrawn -- is blacklisted by the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005). Mitreva called on the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which proposed Ademi, to be "more serious" when nominating candidates, adding that the position could be filled by a candidate from another governing party, too. Mitreva and Buckovski also discussed foreign-policy goals, especially EU and NATO integration. UB

NATO COMMANDER MEETS ROMANIAN MINISTERS
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones met on 13 January with Defense Minister Teodor Atanasiu, Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, and army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Eugen Badalan, AP reported. Jones was forced to cancel a tour of Romanian military bases near the Black Sea port of Constanta because of heavy fog preventing flights to the area. Atanasiu reconfirmed Romania's wish to host U.S. bases. Jones said after meeting with Badalan that the United States "is trying to readjust its global footprint in such a way as to make our forces more strategically feasible, flexible." He added that Romania "has been very generous in offering us the opportunity to look at several bases that might be strategically positioned in such a way that by working together on Romanian bases we can enhance the capability of the [NATO] alliance." He did not elaborate. MS

ROMANIAN PARTY LEADER TO SUE 'FINANCIAL TIMES' FOR LIBEL
Junior coalition Humanist Party (PUR) Chairman Dan Voiculescu said in a open letter in the daily "Jurnalul national" on 14 January that he is filing a libel suit against London's "Financial Times." The British daily wrote on 10 January that Voiculescu "is compromised by his past involvement with the communist regime and wealthy because of deals that relied on political connections." The article cited journalist Mihai Pelin, who has had access to the files of the communist secret police, as saying Voiculescu ran a Lebanese-owned, Cyprus-based offshore import-export company in the 1980s, when the Securitate controlled all Romanian foreign trade. Voiculescu said the National College for the Study of Securitate Files (CNSAS) has cleared him of similar allegations in the past and denied he ever had access to foreign bank accounts of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Voiculescu owns both "Jurnalul national" and the private television channel Antena 1. MS

BUCHAREST PREFECT RESIGNS AFTER SIX DAYS IN OFFICE
Bucharest Prefect Silvian Iosifescu resigned on 13 January, only six days after taking office, Mediafax reported. Iosifescu has worked for the Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Directorate and his appointment was criticized by President Traian Basescu in an interview with the private Realitatea TV on 10 January. Reuters quoted Iosifescu as saying: "I quit my job. The president's disappointment prevailed over the support offered by my [Democratic Party] colleagues." Meanwhile, the government on 13 January completed the appointment of prefects. After the PUR announced it would not take up the offer of having prefects appointed from among its members, the government appointed three prefects from the ranks of the National Liberal Party (PNL), three from among the Democratic Party and one from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). MS

SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY HEAD TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR PRESIDENTIAL BID FAILURE
Adrian Nastase on 12 January told a forum of Social Democratic Party (PSD) local branch leaders that he is "assuming responsibility" for his failure in the November-December presidential election, Mediafax reported the next day. Nastase said that while all PSD leaders are responsible for the failure, his own responsibility as party chairman is greater than any. He said he would have resigned or asked for a new vote of confidence if a new PSD congress were not slated to be held soon. "It makes little sense," he said, to hold two congresses within one month. Nastase said that the congress due to elect a new leadership will take place in late March or early April. Meanwhile, in an interview with Mediafax on 12 January, former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said the PSD must reform and introduce more intraparty democracy. Geoana warned that failure to do so would be "catastrophic" for the party's future. MS

RULING MOLDOVAN PARTY LAUNCHES ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) on 13 January presented its lists for the 6 March parliamentary elections and released its electoral program, Infotag reported. The program is titled "From Stabilization to Modernization" and is divided into four sections, one of which deals with European integration. The PCM proposes to create 300,000 new jobs and increase average monthly wages threefold to the equivalent of $300. It also says that by the year 2009, when the parliament's term will end, investments in Moldova's economy will double. The PCM says all ethnic groups living in Moldova must be integrated in society, corruption and bureaucratic red tape must be fought, and a society based on individual freedom and the right to choose should emerge in Moldova. MS

TIRASPOL PRISONER TO RUN FOR MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT
Andrei Ivantoc, who is serving a 15-year sentence in a Tiraspol prison, on 13 January announced through friends his intention to run as an independent in the March parliamentary elections, Infotag reported. Ivantoc is a member of the "Ilascu group" sentenced in 1993 on terrorism charges. He has two more years to serve, as does Tudor Petrov-Popa, who received the same sentence. Ilie Ilascu himself was freed in 2001 and Alexandru Lescu was released last year, after serving a 12-year sentence. MS

RUSSIAN PENSIONERS SAY ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
For four days in a row, pensioners across cities and towns in Russia staged public protests -- in many cases blocking major thoroughfares -- demanding that a new system of cash payments for social benefits such as free medicine be overturned. The new system took effect on 1 January, but due to the long New Year's holidays most Russians didn't feel the pinch until 10 January. According to Andrei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology, their resulting anger has sparked a wave of public protests on the scale of which Russia hasn't seen since the 1998 coal miners' strikes, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 January.

The chief demand of retirees in cities as diverse as Penza, Samara, Tolyatti, Kursk, Barnaul, Moscow, Izhevsk, Ufa, Sterlitamak, and Almetevsk, is that free public transportation be reinstituted. Residents of Khimki organized one of the most effective protests, blocking a key transportation route to the city of Moscow on 10 January for several hours. A Khimki retiree explained to "Gazeta" on 11 January that she was given only 200 rubles ($7) cash compensation for the loss of free travel privileges, while the cost of one round-trip visit to her health clinic is 46 rubles. In Samara, retirees were given 126 rubles a month, which will cover the cost of only 18 one-way trips. The response of passengers has not been passive acceptance: Dozens of conductors across the country have reportedly been assaulted, according to Channel 3 on 11 January. In Cherkessk, a senior citizen beat up a female tram conductor, who was demanding his fare, with his crutches, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 January.

On 13 January, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov finally weighed in on the growing controversy. He told ministers at a government session that although these "problems are now the responsibility of local administrations, people are looking for protection, so to speak, and primarily from the center, so we have to get involved here, take an active part, and where possible help to reduce the tension." Fradkov's comments echo earlier remarks of State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and other members of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party shifting responsibility to regional authorities for the rocky transition to the new system. State Duma Labor and Social Policy Chairman Committee Andrei Isaev (Unified Russia) was quoted on RTR and by ITAR-TASS on 11 January as blaming local authorities for the negative reaction the reform has received. He said that monetary compensation must be equal to the benefits that are being replaced and that a number of regional authorities are in breach of this requirement. "We will ask the prosecutors to check into this," he said.

However, it's unclear whether the expert community or more importantly the public are buying this argument. 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 systems, and only 3 percent believe that governors and mayors are responsible. Of course, the listenership of Ekho Moskvy is hardly representative of Russia as a whole. But even such Kremlin stalwarts as ORT commentator Mikhail Leontev has described the social-benefits reform as a "provocation" orchestrated by people inside the government who are plotting to undermine Russia's leadership, apn.ru reported on 11 January.

Independent analysts have pinned the lion's share of the blame for the current snafu on the federal government. According to Sergei Smirnov of the Institute for Social Policy at the Higher Economic School, federal authorities did not discuss the reform plan with the regions, did not define precisely who was responsible for what, and did not explain the details of the plan to benefit recipients, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 January. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 12 January that the widespread discontent over the elimination of free public transportation for pensioners was "entirely predictable." "The wave of protests might have been averted if this benefit had been retained at the federal level," the daily continued. "However, creating the new system of funding public transportation required the participation of all regions, and thousands of transport enterprises. Therefore, the government -- which was preparing for monetization in an artificially induced hurry -- preferred to simply 'forget' about the problem." "Izvestiya" suggested on 13 January that Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov will soon become for Russians the "second Chubais," after former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who oversaw an unpopular privatization plan under then President Boris Yeltsin.

However, some analysts believe the problem is bigger than a lack of administrative coordination. Konstantin Simonov, director of the Center for Political Forecasting, told "Izvestiya" on 13 January that he thinks that some kind of crisis was inevitable even without the monetization of social benefits. "The negative reaction to the state's social policy had to erupt at some point because the population has for a year been hearing reports of how rich the country is, how oil prices and the size of the stabilization fund and gold and foreign currency reserves are rising, yet the citizens themselves feel poor and do not understand this," he said. Analyst Dmitrii Oreshkin of the Merkator Group drew hope for Russia's future from the recent street protests: "In my view, what is going on is a sign that society has grown and over 15 years of perestroika has ceased to fear the authorities. The authorities will reach an understanding [with the public] before the [next] presidential election."

AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS REPORTEDLY UNDERFUNDED
The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), which oversaw the October presidential elections, said that the upcoming parliamentary elections lack funding, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 13 January. According to the report, the JEMB has $35 million left over from the presidential election fund of $200 million. However, the JEMB estimates the total cost of holding parliamentary elections will be $165 million. Ariane Quentier, a spokeswoman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said that a budget for holding parliamentary elections will be worked out after President Hamid Karzai appoints a new election commission, and thereafter donor countries will be requested to contribute. Mohammad Sadeq Modaber, speaking for the JEMB, said that the estimated budget for parliamentary elections does not include extra security measures that will be undertaken by the U.S.-led coalition forces or the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Karzai is expected to announce the new commission soon. The already delayed parliamentary elections, which were set to take place in April, will have to be pushed back further, since Karzai has to issue a decree that will define the electoral constituencies and which should come at least 120 days before the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). AT

SIX POLICEMEN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
The bodies of six policemen were found in Helmand Province on 13 January, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Unidentified kidnappers had abducted the policemen on 12 January in Helmand's Washir District. Provincial officials have blamed the neo-Taliban for the incident, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 13 January, though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT

TRIBAL DELEGATION FROM SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN CONFERS WITH U.S. ENVOY ON TALIBAN AMNESTY
A tribal delegation led by Paktiya Province Governor Hajji Asadollah Wafa is in Kabul to confer with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, AIP reported on 13 January. "I have come to Kabul with a delegation of representatives from all tribes in Paktiya Province to discuss the Taliban issue with" Khalilzad, Wafa told AIP. According to Wafa, Khalilzad has assured him "that the Taliban could return home and resume their lives and that they would be given amnesty." The delegation of Paktiya elders "would like to play a mediators' role between the [Afghan] government and the Taliban," Wafa added. Wafa said that he believes that all of the Taliban "will return home, except a few ones," and also he believes "that the government will give them amnesty in a real way." The issue of reconciliation with most members of the former Taliban regime was raised by Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been elaborated on by Khalilzad since April 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 25 April, 25 October, 8 November, 8 and 17 December 2004). AT

NEW APPOINTMENTS IN INFORMATION AND CULTURE MINISTRY APPROVED
Three deputy ministers and two other appointments in the Information and Culture Ministry have been approved by President Karzai, Radio Afghanistan reported on 12 January. Sayyed Aqa Hussein Sangcharaki has been named as the deputy minister for publication and broadcasting, Nasrollah Stanakzai as deputy minister for tourism, Omar Sultan as deputy minister for cultural affairs, Mirwais Zaher as general adviser to the ministry, and Azam Rahnaward Zarib as the head of the High Council of Press and Culture. Former Deputy Information and Culture Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez resigned in December in protest of what he described as censorship of the media by Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 January 2005). AT

KABUL UNIVERSITY LIBRARY REOPENED
The library at Kabul University, which was destroyed during the Afghan civil war, was reopened on 13 January, Afghan Voice Agency reported. The library was rebuilt with help from the United Kingdom. AT

IRANIAN NOBEL LAUREATE RECEIVES COURT SUMMONS
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said on 13 January that the judiciary has summoned her, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported, but the reason for the summons is not specified. "In the summons, it simply says that I must present myself to the court within three days to provide some explanations and that I will be arrested if I refuse," she said. As a lawyer, Ebadi is involved with the serial killings of dissidents and intellectuals in 1998-99 and with the summer 2003 killing of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. International Federation of Human Rights Leagues Vice President Abdolkarim Lahiji told Radio Farda that these cases involve two judicial officials, Said Mortazavi and Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi. Lahiji added, "When the judiciary is in the hands of two people like this, it is obvious that for freedom lovers and defenders of human rights and supporters of the rule of law, every day there is a conspiracy, a plot, against them." Ebadi also has denied signing an online referendum that has attracted some attention (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 December 2004). BS

IRANIAN WEBLOGGERS MEET WITH JUDICIARY CHIEF
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi and other judicial officials met on the evening of 11 January with several of the webloggers who have alleged that they were mistreated while in custody, ILNA reported. Mahbubeh Abbasqoli, Hanif Mazrui, Omid Memarian, Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi, Arash Naderpur, Fereshteh Qazi, Masud Qoreshi, and Shahram Rafizadeh reviewed allegations they had discussed previously with presidential adviser Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi and the Committee for Monitoring Implementation of the Constitution. They described beatings, humiliating questions about their sexual habits and relationships, solitary confinement, lack of access to lawyers, and being forced to write confessions. BS

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES IRAN
"The [Iranian] judiciary...has been at the center of many serious human rights violations," according to the most recent report from Human Rights Watch (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/01/13/iran9803.htm). The report also notes the activities of the so-called parallel organizations that have a quasi-official role but do not seem answerable to anybody. The report refers to clandestine detention centers run by the judiciary and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in which "severe physical torture," solitary confinement, and lack of access to legal counsel are used to secure confessions. Although judiciary chief Shahrudi's April 2004 directive bans torture, there is no mechanism to enforce this. Minorities, such as Baha'is, Sunnis, and Baluchis, also encounter discrimination and persecution, according to Human Rights Watch. BS

IRAN'S LEGISLATURE APPROVES PRICE CONTROLS
On 11 January the legislature approved a bill on stabilization of prices during the year starting in March, Mehr News Agency reported. This measure is intended to stem inflation and will affect the price of gasoline and other petroleum products, gas, electricity, water, telephone, and postal services. Reformist parliamentarian Iraj Nadimi said this is not a new plan and it is not even a very good one, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 10 January. He went on to describe the discussions on the plan's formulation as more political than economic. BS

IRAQI SHI'A CANDIDATE DESCRIBES RELATIONSHIP WITH IRAN
Unified Iraqi Coalition co-creator and nuclear scientist Husayn al-Shahristani is a Shi'a Muslim who has been accused of being an Iranian stooge by Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan, but in an 11 January interview with Al-Sharqiyah television he dismissed these allegations and put the issue in context. Al-Shahristani said he spent 12 years (1979-91) in Saddam Hussein's jails, and when he fled the country with thousands of his countrymen the only open border was the Iranian one. After some time in a refugee camp he taught at the university level, and he helped in some "research laboratories, which are located at nuclear facilities." Al-Shahristani said that the Iranian authorities threw him out of the country and he became a refugee again. BS

IRAQI COMMUNIST PARTY MEMBER ASSASSINATED...
Militants assassinated Mu'ayyad Sami, a Communist Party member and member of the Diyala Governorate Council, on 13 January, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Sami was gunned down outside his home, located just outside Ba'qubah, his brother Ahmad Sami said. He is the third official from the party to be assassinated in less than a month, Al-Sharqiyah reported. Meanwhile, seven people were killed and 60 wounded in a booby-trapped-car explosion outside the Khan Bani Sa'd Husayniyah building in southwestern Ba'qubah following evening prayers on 13 January, Al-Arabiyah reported. The building is reportedly a Shi'ite assembly hall for religious, social, and cultural activities. Ba'qubah is a largely Sunni-populated city. KR

...AS AL-UMMAH PARTY HEAD ESCAPES ASSASSINATION
Al-Ummah (Nation) Party head Mithal al-Alusi escaped an assassination attempt overnight on 11-12 January, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 13 January. Al-Alusi told RFI that he and his guards were about to go to bed after midnight when the bedroom they were staying in was attacked. "At the moment of the explosion we were outside the room...the brother assistant was in apparent danger because he was supposed to be in the room at the moment. That means that the purpose of the terrorists indeed was to kill all people in my house. It was a terrorist, criminal act, aimed at slaughtering people and obstructing the political and humanitarian work in Iraq." Al-Alusi criticized the slow response of Iraqi police, who did not arrive on the scene of the attack for more than an hour. Al-Alusi is a former member of the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmad Chalabi. He was dismissed from the party in September after traveling to Israel for a conference. KR

IRAQI TURKOMAN FRONT SAYS IT MAY PULL OUT OF ELECTIONS
The Iraqi Turkoman Front announced on 13 January that it may withdraw its participation in the 30 January elections due to what it said was manipulation of the electoral process and Kurdish attempts to change the demographic nature of Kirkuk, Anatolia news agency reported the same day. The party criticized the Iraqi Independent Election Commission for its decision to extend the registration period for voters in Kirkuk less than three weeks before the scheduled elections, saying, "We don't approve of the commission's yielding to the demands of two spoiled Kurdish parties and becoming a part of the intrigues regarding Kirkuk." The party also lashed out at the two major Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, saying that those parties' efforts to postpone the elections failed so instead they have sped up their initiatives to change the demographic structure of Kirkuk. "After 150,000 Kurds were brought from the north and neighboring countries and settled in and around Kirkuk, we know see that 72,000 Kurds are registered in the ballot boxes," the Turkoman Front claimed. KR

INTERIOR MINISTER ANNOUNCES ARREST OF PURPORTED AL-ZARQAWI TERRORIST
Falah al-Naqib announced on 13 January that Iraqi security forces have arrested a Saudi national with ties to the terrorist group led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, KUNA reported the same day. The unnamed man is suspected of detonating a fuel tanker in Baghdad in December; the resulting explosion killed eight people. Al-Naqib added that six other suspected militants thought to be involved in another fuel-tanker bombing at a Baghdad checkpoint this month have also been arrested. KR

SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CLAIMS IRAQ DID NOT SIGN SECURITY PROTOCOL
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar'a has said that his country has taken steps to secure its border with Iraq and prevent the movement of militants across its borders, but he accused the interim Iraqi government of failing to sign a recently-agreed-to security protocol, Al-Jazeera reported on 14 January. "We in Syria do not permit infiltration, nor do we allow individuals to carry arms. As you know, the borders are long. We set up a sand barrier. We drafted with our brothers in Iraq a border protocol, which the Iraqi side has thus far not come to discuss with us," al-Shar'a said. Meanwhile, Western and Israeli intelligence sources have reportedly said that the United States and Iraq are preparing to launch military operations along the Iraq-Syria border in order to eliminate areas occupied by former Iraqi Ba'athists, elaph.com reported on 13 January. KR

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