Accessibility links

Newsline - January 19, 2005

Street demonstrations against the substitution of cash payments for in-kind social benefits such as free public transportation continued in Russian cities for the 11th consecutive day on 19 January, Russian news agencies reported. Kazan, Kaluga, St. Petersburg, and Perm witnessed their second day of protests on 18 January, while some 5,000-7,000 people gathered in Tomsk, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. In Tomsk, pensioners shut down three central thoroughfares on 18 January. The same day, some 300-400 people in Perm shut down a federal highway for an unspecified length of time, Interfax reported. JAC

"Moskovskii komsomolets" noted on 18 January that the current round of protest demonstrations across Russia presents a rare opportunity for the political opposition to assert itself. "It isn't even necessary to think up some reason to bring people out to the streets. They are already there," the daily commented. The Communist Party's (KPRF) Central Committee appears to have been caught off-guard by events, according to the daily. In some regions, pensioners are carrying Communist Party banners, but this is thanks only to the initiative of the local KPRF organizers. According to the daily, when Communists from Izhevsk in Udmurtia telephoned the Central Committee with questions regarding organizing a protest in Udmurtia, they received no clear instructions. Former presidential candidate and head of the For a Decent Life movement Sergei Glazev told reporters on 15 January that he considers the rallies unlikely to yield any results and advised participants to pursue "legal forms" of protest. Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin told reporters that his party plans no federal-level protests of the social-benefits reforms and will participate in protests only in those regions where the local authorities cannot resolve the situation. JAC

Meanwhile, reported on 18 January that police in a number of cities have started to launch administrative cases against representatives of parties and public organizations that support the protesting pensioners. In Perm, police detained a representative of Yabloko, Yurii Bobrov, and the pensioners retaliated by detaining the acting governor until Bobrov was released. Another organizer was picked up by police on his way home while carrying a megaphone. In St. Petersburg, Vladimir Soloveichik, the 80-year-old leader of the Civic Initiative movement and an organizer of the recent rallies in St. Petersburg, has been detained along with seven demonstrators in Leningrad Oblast. JAC

According to RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau on 18 January, one pensioner who took part in the St. Petersburg rallies, Galina Tolmacheva, was detained and beaten by members of the Federal Security Service (FSB). She told the agents that she had had a stomach operation and was an invalid, she said, but they continued to beat her until she lost consciousness. They subsequently called an ambulance. In Samara, police picked up a 30-year-old representative of the voter-rights group Golos, Aleksandr Lashmankin, and a 22-year-old member of the local Union of Communist Youth after rally, reported. The two were charged with hooliganism, interfering with police work, and violating rules for holding demonstrations. A local court dismissed the case and, after the hearing, Lashmankin showed journalists injuries he claims he sustained in custody. JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued on 18 January that the state television broadcasters resolved the dilemma of how to cover the wave of pensioners' protests across Russia by showing no more than one or two protests a day -- that way, viewers will not get the impression that the unrest has seized the whole country. ORT and RTR have also found just the right emphasis, the paper added: they concentrate viewers' attention on the alleged mistakes of local authorities. The daily suggested that the analytical programs that air on Sunday could hardly ignore the protests, and ORT's and RTR's solution was to show only guests of one type: Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, and Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov. The same day, "Moskovskii komsomolets" commented that "the chief PR specialist of Russia is no longer Gleb Pavlovskii or Marat Gelman but television." It continued: "Whomever they get to explain things, it all comes out skewed. There is a huge difference between [the official] explanation of social benefits and what you hear on your bus or at the drugstore.... Now you want to throw rotten eggs at your television. And this was how it all started in Ukraine." JAC

Former Economy Minister Yevgenii Yasin told Echo Moskvy on 18 January that it would be a "tragedy" if the government's liberal economics ministers were forced to resign because of the current unrest over social-benefits reform. "In my view, the very same ministers who are currently being criticized most are the most competent ones -- namely [Economic Development and Trade Minister] German Gref, [Finance Minister] Aleksei Kudrin, and [Health and Social Development Minister] Mikhail Zurabov," Yasin said. I am not overestimating their abilities, but I suspect that in the present situation replacing them would be a tragedy for our country." He described the liberal ministers as "a kind of counterweight to the siloviki [security-force veterans] who work in the Kremlin." Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) said on 17 January that the resignations of some cabinet ministers would help reduce social tensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). RC

Bashkortostan's Interior Ministry announced on 18 January the first results of its investigation of the mass beatings and arrests by police in Blagoveshchensk from 10-14 December, RTR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004). According to the station, investigators concluded that the special operation was legal but was not carried out entirely correctly. Several high-ranking officers have been reprimanded, and the deputy head of the local police, along with members of the senior OMON group involved in the raid, have been demoted. After conducting an investigation of the incident, Lyudmila Alekseeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group told reporters in Ufa on 13 January that "there has not been such a mass violation of human rights anywhere in [post-Soviet] Russia outside of Chechnya." As many as 1,000 people were detained, many were beaten, and there were also reports of torture and rape, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 January. Of the more than 400 people who showed up at local hospitals, the majority had severe bruises, while many had sustained concussions or fractures. JAC

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at a conference in Petrozavodsk on 18 January, denounced a recent Finnish public-opinion poll on the status of Karelia and the city of Vyborg as "a provocation," Interfax reported. The poll found that 40 percent of Finns favor the restoration to Finland of the territory, which was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940 following the Russo-Finnish War. "Those who initiate such polls are instigators," Lavrov said. RC

Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin told a gathering of the Duma's Motherland faction on 18 January that he intends to submit his resignation in the near future, "Novye izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 19 January. Stepashin said that under a new law on the formation of the Audit Chamber, that body's chairman must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Duma. He did not rule out his reappointment to the post. However, analyst Dmitrii Oreshkin of the Merkator analytical group told the daily that the Kremlin might have other plans because Stepashin "is a man with unsatisfied political ambitions who is not caught up in any compromising games." RC

Audit Chamber Chairman Stepashin told the same Motherland faction meeting on 18 January that he will present the findings of the chamber's review of 1990s-era privatizations to the State Duma in March or April, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The presentation of the controversial report has been postponed three times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). "There has been an official decision by the leadership of the lower house to hear the address in March or April in the context of a report on the work of the Audit Chamber," Stepashin was quoted as saying. He noted that the report has already been submitted to both chambers of the legislature, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and President Vladimir Putin. Stepashin said that up to 70 percent of the country's assets remain in state hands, meaning that it is crucial that the legislature study the Audit Chamber's findings and make changes to Russia's privatization laws. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 January that it had obtained a copy of the controversial report, which it found to be ambiguous and open to many interpretations. The daily reported, however, that the report contains many references to Sibneft and its owner, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, and to Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais. RC

The Institute of Complex Social Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences has issued a new report on extreme nationalism and xenophobia in Russia, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 January. The report, which draws on data from several polling agencies, says that 53 percent of Russians support the idea of "Russia for Russians" and that two-thirds of those people oppose the country's market-oriented reforms. Those who support this nationalist idea cited the threat of terrorism and the poor standard of living as the main reasons why they do so. The study also found that although most respondents believe that the number of people holding "extreme nationalist views" has grown over the last five to six years, in fact that number has remained stable. Researchers concluded that this is because more information is now available regarding racially motivated assaults and other crimes. RC

The registration office of Moscow's Butyrka Raion has accepted a marriage application submitted by two men, the first time that a single-sex-marriage application has been accepted in Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported on 18 January. The application was submitted by Bashkortostan legislator Edvard Murzin and the editor of the national gay magazine "Kvir," Ed Mishin, as "simply a way of drawing public attention to the status of sexual minorities in Russia," Murzin said. Murzin explained that it was purely a political initiative and that the two men do not have an emotional relationship. "I ask myself who, if we do not do it ourselves, will defend the interests of such people," Murzin said, "who are forced to live a way of life imposed on them by society.... They are called names wherever they show themselves. There are all sorts of examples of them being harassed at work, being dismissed, being refused promotion. In fact, I think the fact that we are trying to defend our rights is a service not so much to gays as to society itself." Murzin said that he expects the registration office will deny his application within 10 days, since same-sex marriages are illegal in Russia. He then intends to take the case through the legal system to the Constitutional Court and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. RC

Bryansk Governor Nikolai Denin allegedly killed a female pedestrian during the early morning hours of 18 January while driving along the Moscow-Kyiv highway, and Radio Rossii reported on 18 January. According to the oblast administration, the traffic police's preliminary finding is that Denin was not at fault. JAC

A spokesman for Shamil Basaev told on 18 January that FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko's statement to Interfax earlier that day concerning Basaev's movements is untrue. Ignatchenko claimed that Basaev "spends most of his time abroad and only periodically visits Chechnya." Basaev's spokesman countered that Basaev has never ventured beyond the Caucasus or traveled abroad, and that in 2004 he visited Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Stavropol and Krasnodar krais several times. Basaev, in an extensive interview with a Canadian publication last fall, said he is constantly on the move, and he mentioned specifically his stay in Kabardino-Balkaria (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 November 2004). LF

Forty-six noncombat military personnel (including 31 drivers, 10 sappers, three doctors, and a liaison officer) left Yerevan on 18 January for Kuwait, where they will undergo two weeks of training before beginning their six-month tour of duty with the international peacekeeping force in Iraq, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The proposed deployment aroused considerable domestic political opposition (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 September 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 December 2004). Addressing the contingent at a farewell ceremony at Zvartnots Airport, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian stressed that their mission is "strictly humanitarian." U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans said Armenia's participation in the international peacekeeping operations will serve to strengthen the two countries' already close cooperation in security issues. LF

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Baku released a statement on 18 January rejecting as untrue media reports blaming the embassy for the inability of a group of would-be pilgrims from Azerbaijan to perform the hajj, Turan reported. The statement pointed out that the people in question were refused Saudi Arabian visas because they had not received endorsement from the Muslim Spiritual Board of the Caucasus, which has a quota of 2,500 pilgrims from Azerbaijan. The statement further accused Rafig Aliev, chairman of the Azerbaijan State Committee for Religious Affairs, of organizing the 10 January protest outside the embassy by those would-be pilgrims who had been refused visas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). LF

Ilham Aliyev arrived back in Baku late on 18 January after spending a vacation with his family at Davos, Switzerland, Turan reported on 19 January. Aliyev's protracted unexplained absence fueled media speculation concerning his health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). LF

In the absence of President Aliyev, Azerbaijani officials reacted cautiously on 18 January to the announcement the previous day by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov that Ashgabat has discussed with Canada's Buried Hill Energy the joint exploitation of the Serdar/Kyapaz Caspian oil field, reported on 19 January. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have disputed ownership of that field for several years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1998, 17 March 2000, and 9 April and 9 and 10 August 2001). Reuters on 18 January quoted Khoshbakht Yusufzade, first deputy president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, as saying that Azerbaijan discovered and prospected the deposit and is the rightful owner. But Deputy Foreign Minister Halaf Halafov declined to comment on Niyazov's statement. Former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov reasoned that international oil companies engaged in the Caspian observe an unwritten code of conduct and that he doubts Buried Hill would violate that code by embarking on the development of an oil field whose ownership is legally unclear. The five Caspian littoral states have still to finalize a document clarifying the borders of their respective sectors of the sea. LF

Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi on 18 January, Nino Burdjanadze accused the Russian leadership of trying to exacerbate tensions with Georgia by reviving its hackneyed allegations of an international terrorist presence in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Georgian and Russian media reported. Burdjanadze argued that if Russia fears the infiltration of Chechen militants into Pankisi, it should not have vetoed the continued deployment of OSCE monitors on the Georgian border with Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan. She also argued that Russia should comply with its obligations to close its military bases in Georgia and desist from "double standards" in its dealings with Georgia. In other comments, Burdjanadze said Georgia will ignore the recommendation made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to expand the powers of the Republic of Adjara under that region's constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). LF

The Georgian government dispatched a contingent of special-forces troops to the Kodori Gorge in western Georgia on 18 January after unidentified saboteurs opened fire on, and incapacitated, the Kavkazioni power line that supplies Georgia with electricity from Russia, Georgian media reported. It is unclear whether the troops are to search for the saboteurs or to protect specialists who will repair the power line. The saboteurs reportedly left behind a written warning that they will target anyone who attempts to repair the power line. ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January that repairs will take two days. Kavkazioni supplies some 20 percent of Georgia's electricity. LF

Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 18 January that the new legislation empowering the president to appoint all nine members of the Constitutional Court heralds the end of Georgia's "spring of democracy" and the onset of an "ice age of dictatorship," Caucasus Press reported. Hitherto the president has named only three Constitutional Court judges; the parliament and the Supreme Court also proposed three members each. Supreme Court Chairman Kote Kemularia denied on 5 January that the new regulations pave the way for the creation of a "judicial monster," Caucasus Press reported. LF

Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, chairman of the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), told a news conference in Almaty on 18 January that the authorities are pressuring the party throughout the country, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kozhakhmetov said that police are visiting party members and querying them on their political views. In one province, police asked members "why they joined DVK, who persuaded them to do so, and why they oppose the president," Kozhakhmetov said. The party faces dissolution after a 6 January court ruling; it also lost an appeal on 17 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 18 January 2005). Noting that DVK has until 2 February to file another appeal, Kozhakhmetov said the embattled opposition party will do so. But Yevgenii Zhovtis, who is representing DVK in court, charged that the authorities are interfering in the judicial process and that future appeals are unlikely to overturn the initial ruling. DK

A number of Kyrgyz opposition groups held a forum on Kyrgyzstan's "democracy deficit" in Bishkek on 18 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Participants included Muratbek Imanaliev, leader of the bloc New Direction; Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of the opposition movement Ata-Jurt; and Emil Aliev, deputy leader of opposition party Ar-Namys. "We have been driven into a cage. There is intimidation everywhere.... Any other head of state is better than [Kyrgyz President Askar] Akaev. We have a right to the article in the constitution entitled 'transfer of power,'" Otunbaeva said. Otunbaeva, whose recent disqualification from running in 27 February parliamentary elections sparked protests in Bishkek, pledged to continue fighting for Kyrgyz democracy. Other speakers criticized the politicization of the Central Election Commission and the authorities' failure to make good on promises of democratic reform. DK

Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told a news conference in Bishkek on 18 January that transcripts of an alleged secret government meeting that have recently appeared in Internet publications are forgeries, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In the purported transcripts, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev calls on regional authorities to take harsh actions against opposition political figures in the lead-up to 27 February parliamentary elections, up to and including the "liquidation" of troublesome individuals. Januzakov called the publication of the transcripts "a smear campaign that aims to sow discord and dissent in society and start a conflict situation in the country." He said the authors intended to "discredit the president and the government." On 17 January, the lower chamber of parliament tasked the Prosecutor-General's Office with discovering the transcript's author and bringing criminal charges. DK

Kalyk Imankulov, head of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service, told journalists on 18 January that extremists could try to influence the outcome of the 27 February parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. "Extremists may hire a candidate, lobby laws through him, and turn Kyrgyzstan into a base for conquering the entire Ferghana Valley," Imankulov said. He also warned of possible terror attacks by the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Finally, Imankulov commented on the prospects of the country's opposition. "I have not heard a single opposition leader say in clear terms how our country should be run," he said. "The only group our 'revolutionaries' may rely on is indolent and idle young people who cannot name a single political party," but will gladly take to the streets for money and for mere fun. "Two or three provocations are enough to spark bloodshed," Imankulov added. "This is where the danger lies." DK

Lubomir Kopaj, who will head the OSCE observer mission to monitor Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections on 27 February, told a news conference in Bishkek on 18 January that the mission will include a total of 200 observers, Interfax reported. The mission will consist of 12 international staff members, 18 long-term observers, and 170 short-term observers, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK

Urdur Gunnardottir, spokeswomen for the OSCE's Warsaw based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 18 January that the organization's observers will begin arriving in Tajikistan next week to monitor the 27 February parliamentary elections. She said that the initial group will comprise about 20 people, including a core group of 10 in Dushanbe. A group of 130 short-term observers will monitor voting on election day. DK

Tracey Ann Jacobson, U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 18 January, Turkmen Television reported. Their talks reportedly focused on bilateral ties and mutual cooperation. Jacobson noted that the United States has a deep interest in the planned trans-Afghan gas-pipeline project. On other topics, she said, "We also discussed cooperation in the spheres of human rights and education." DK

The European Coalition Free Belarus, one of Belarus's two major opposition blocs, on 18 January proposed Mikalay Statkevich as a candidate for the 2006 presidential election, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Statkevich, until recently head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), was replaced as the party leader at a disputed convention last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). "The primary qualities of those [candidates] taking part in the [2006] campaign should be courage, honesty, decency, and readiness to fight until the end," Statkevich said. "Belarusians will take to the street only if they see leaders who do not hide behind someone else's back and will tell them: 'Time to move ahead -- we will take the lead.'" The same day, the opposition bloc Popular Coalition Five Plus met to discuss principles for fielding a single opposition candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 2006. According to United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka from Five Plus, there will be five to seven "realistic" presidential candidates from the opposition. JM

Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the opposition Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (KKhP-BNF), told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 18 January that he is planning to run in the 2006 presidential election. "It has been decided that I will run, my candidacy has been called a national alternative," Paznyak said. "I will lean not only on the Belarusian Popular Front and my party, but also on the entire Belarusian nation. I will take my political position...from the threat posed by Russia to our nation, independence, culture, and economy." Paznyak left Belarus in 1996 citing threats to his life and obtained political asylum in the United States later the same year. For the past several years, he has been living in Poland, from where he is coordinating the activities of the KKhP-BNF. The KKhP-BNF has evolved from the Belarusian Popular Front, the opposition group headed by Paznyak in 1988-99, which split in 1999 into the faction led by Paznyak and another one headed by Vintsuk Vyachorka (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 November 1999). JM

The Supreme Court -- which is currently mulling the appeal by presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych against the victory of his rival, Viktor Yushchenko -- decided on 18 January to lift its last week's ban on publication of the official results of the 26 December 2004 vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005), Ukrainian and international media reported. The court said the results may be published in "Uryadovyy Kuryer" and "Holos Ukrayiny" after 19 January, thus opening the way for Yushchenko's inauguration. The decision is widely regarded as a signal that the court will soon reject Yanukovych's appeal. "This is a brutal violation of our rights. Now we know what the final verdict of the court will be," Yanukovych's proxy Nestor Shufrych told AFP on 18 January. JM

Some 5,000 people took part in a rally in Donetsk on 18 January to express support for former Prime Minister Yanukovych, whom they believe to be the elected president of Ukraine, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Yanukovych's supporters have also pitched some 90 tents on Donetsk's central square for the past week. They are collecting signatures under a petition to hold a referendum on establishing a federal system in Ukraine. According to ITAR-TASS, more than 50,000 Donetsk residents signed up by 18 January. JM

The residents of a tent camp on Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main thoroughfare, have begun dismantling their tents, following a 15 January directive from President-elect Yushchenko, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 18 January, quoting Yushchenko's spokeswoman Tetyana Mokridi. Mokridi said some 100 tents are still remaining on Khreshchatyk, out of more than 450 pitched there by Yushchenko's supporters after the second presidential election round on 21 November 2004. According to Ukrainian news agencies, some residents of the tent camp on Khreshchatyk have decided to remain there until Yushchenko's inauguration. JM

Ukrainian President-elect Yushchenko is scheduled to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 25 January, Council of Europe press officer Andrew Cutting reported. The same day, Yushchenko will hold a joint news conference with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who will address the PACE on 26 January. Lawmaker Oleh Rybachuk from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc told Interfax that in Strasbourg Yushchenko will present his five-year action plan. " [Ukraine's] full membership of the European Union has been and remains the strategic aim of Viktor Yushchenko as president," Rybachuk said. JM

Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prague on 18 January that the EU needs a clear strategy on Kosova in the run-up to discussions on the province's final status widely expected later in 2005. Busek also stressed that the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) should be "Europeanized" because Kosova is of far more importance to the EU than it is to countries on other continents. He argued that the processes of the Europeanization of Kosova and developing a EU strategy for the province will go hand in hand. Busek said that "if the Europeans are not moving, then it is typical for the United lose patience" and act "unilaterally." He argued that the United States "didn't ask the Europeans" when it recently recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June and 5 November 2004). Busek believes that UNMIK contains officials from "too many states" and that "too many cooks spoil the broth." He did not, however, address the view of many observers that the province's ethnic Albanian majority trusts Washington much more than it does Brussels and would be suspicious of any attempt by the EU to elbow the United States out of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 3 March, 20 August, and 10 September 2004). PM

Busek told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prague on 18 January that he wants Kosova's elected "provisional government to take more responsibility concerning security in the country, which means the security of the Serbian minority as well." He stressed that 2005 is when the EU -- with the help of the international Contact Group for Kosova and the UN Security Council -- must try to "bring together" the Serbs and Albanians in Kosova and the governments in Prishtina and Belgrade. Busek argued that there are two "open problems" in the Balkans: one is "Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo," and the other is Bosnia-Herzegovina. He said he feels that the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro must be made to work efficiently soon or else be dissolved. Busek is more optimistic about Bosnia, where, he believes, High Representative Paddy Ashdown has moved matters "in the right direction." Busek's speeches and writings usually attract attention in the region and among outside experts because the Stability Pact is a clearing house for a wide variety of aid development projects. Busek himself, moreover, is a senior Austrian political figure with long years of experience in Balkan affairs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2003, and 21 May and 11 June 2004). PM

The leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and former Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik chaired a meeting in Banja Luka on 18 January to launch the book "Svedocim" ("I Testify") by former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, who is serving an 11-year war crimes sentence in Sweden, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In what was billed as the first of three volumes, Plavsic claimed that former Bosnian Serb leader and fugitive war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic is in "constant contact" with the prosecutor's office of the Hague-based tribunal. The Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" has posted excerpts from the book on its website ( PM

The Macedonian Justice Ministry announced on 18 January that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has informed it that the tribunal will continue investigating alleged war crimes committed in the Macedonian village of Ljuboten in August 2001, MIA news agency reported. About 10 civilians were killed there during a police operation in the last days of the 2001 interethnic conflict. In November 2004, Hague prosecutors questioned former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski in connection with the case. Boskovski is being held in pretrial detention in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 August 2001 and 1 and 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 December 2001, 20 August 2004, and 14 January 2005). In related news, some 200 Boskovski supporters and members of a disbanded special police unit known as the Lions staged street protests outside the Croatian Embassy in Skopje, the Macedonian parliament, and the Skopje city court on 18 January, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. They demanded the release of Boskovski and some former members of the Lions, who face trial in connection with the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian in March 2002 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). UB

Traian Basescu on 18 January told foreign ambassadors serving in Romania that the main foreign-policy objective for the years 2005-06 is to fulfill all the obligations Romania has assumed ahead of accessing the EU, Mediafax reported. Basescu said Romania will be strictly monitored by the European Commission and intends to become an example for "profound reforms." He said a "dignified integration" in the EU would be impossible without first solving the country's major problems -- corruption and poverty. "I intend to be a president who translates intentions into deeds. I am determined to demand from all state institutions efficient action in combating corruption, ensuring the freedom of the press, and continuing the reform of the justice system," he said. He emphasized that the Supreme Defense Council will at its next meeting declare corruption to be a national security risk. MS

Basescu also said that Romania intends to pursue "special relations" with Great Britain and have a "strategic, direct, and honest dialogue" with the United States, both of which should be "in resonance with the great European project" of the EU, Mediafax reported. He said the strategic partnership with the United States is a "special and essential landmark" in Romania's foreign policy and that he expects to have an "intensive dialogue" with President George W. Bush on how Washington can help Romania implement political, economic, military, and administrative reforms. "America can count on Romania's contribution to the global campaign against terrorism," Basescu added. He also said Romania can help bring stability to the Black Sea region, which is one of "maximal regional strategic importance." He said Bucharest will "pragmatically cooperate" with regional partners such as Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as with its eastern Slavic neighbors and the Caucasus states. MS

Basescu also said the Romanian authorities are determined to protect the national identity of all ethnic minorities living in the country, but in an allusion to the Hungarian minority's demands for autonomy, he emphasized that "creating territorial enclaves based on ethnic criteria is unacceptable." He also said that as president he will be "intransigent with any manifestation of extremism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism" and will "not tolerate" situations that suggest Romania condones such phenomena. MS

The Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) on 18 January presented its electoral program and its candidates for the 6 March parliamentary elections, Moldpres and Flux reported. BMD Chairman and Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean said the alliance intends to create 100,000 new jobs every year and to treble average monthly wages to the equivalent of $250-$300. BMD Deputy Chairman and former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis said the alliance would be ready to set up a coalition with both the currently ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and with the current opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD). The BMD comprises the Our Moldova alliance, the Democratic Party, and the Social Liberal Party. It needs to gain at least 12 percent of the vote in order to be represented in the next parliament. MS

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy said in Kyiv on 18 January that his country was "surprised, putting it mildly" by Moldova's decision to curb the freedom of movement to Transdniester of foreign diplomats accredited in the country, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). Lubkivskyy said the three mediators in the Transdniester conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) will soon issue a joint statement on the Moldovan decision. MS

The Lucian Blaga lyceum in Tiraspol, which was closed down by the separatist authorities in July 2004, resumed regular classes on 18 January, Flux and Infotag reported. Teaching at the lyceum was brought to a standstill following the separatist authorities' decision to shut down schools where the Moldovan (Romanian) language is taught using the Latin script. The school was subsequently besieged by separatist militiamen and the building suffered damages that made resumption of teaching impossible until now. Only half of the students can attend classes, because parts of the lyceum are still undergoing reparations. MS

A debate is under way in Macedonia about a new amnesty for crimes linked to the 2001 interethnic conflict between the Macedonian authorities and ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK). Most legal experts and commentators doubt, however, that an additional amnesty would make sufficient sense.

An amnesty for minor crimes linked to the 2001 conflict was among the preconditions for the UCK to end its insurgency. After lengthy debates, parliament passed an amnesty law in March 2002. The delay in the adoption of the law mirrored the opposition to the amnesty of then-Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his conservative nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). As a result of the amnesty, the Macedonian authorities released most UCK members who were under arrest or already sentenced.

In December, however, the question of an additional amnesty surfaced. The debate was triggered by two separate developments. The first took place in the village of Kondovo outside Skopje. Leaders of an armed Albanian group that controlled the village for several weeks subsequently demanded that they be included under the 2002 amnesty.

The second development was a call for a new amnesty from a rather unexpected source: the prestigious Macedonian PEN center. "The new amnesty law must benefit all Macedonian defenders, including former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who in those days was also a poet," "Dnevnik" on 10 December quoted PEN member Katica Kjulafkova as saying. Macedonian politicians and media refer to the police and army members who fought against the UCK as national "defenders," which is a term also used in Croatia for most veterans of the 1991-95 conflict. The PEN center argued that if the state tries and sentences government officials in connection with the armed conflict, it acknowledges that the state was responsible for the conflict.

The background to the PEN club's demand is the fact that Boskovski and a number of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials are being held in detention. They are under investigation in connection with two separate incidents: a police operation in the village of Ljuboten in the last days of the conflict in August 2001 in which about 10 civilians were killed, and the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian outside Skopje on 2 March 2002.

The case of Ljuboten might have fallen under the 2002 amnesty because it took place during the conflict. But the killing of the Pakistanis and the Indian occurred after the peace deal. As the investigation has so far shown, the Pakistanis and the Indian were ambushed by the police in an apparent setup so that they could later claim that they had killed Islamist terrorists.

In a reaction to the PEN center's proposal, the ethnic Albanian journalist Daut Dauti accused the writers and poets of "intellectual blindness." Dauti wrote in "Dnevnik" of 18 December that "if the intellectuals demand that Boskovski be granted an amnesty, this means that they acknowledge that he [is guilty] of conducting his own war." He added that "the liquidation of a group of young Pakistani citizens [and one Indian] is one of the most shameful events in peacetime Macedonia, about which the Macedonian authorities cannot and must not remain silent."

For the new political party of former Prime Minister Georgievski, the VMRO-Narodna, such arguments do not hold water. When the relatives of the detained high-ranking police officials began setting up roadblocks outside the Skopje courthouse and the parliament in late December, the VMRO-Narodna followed the PEN center in its demand for a new amnesty law. The VMRO-Narodna argues that only members of the UCK have benefited from the 2002 amnesty, while members of the Macedonian Army and police can still be prosecuted.

At present, it is unclear which political parties will support the VMRO-Narodna's draft amnesty law. Janevska said that the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the Liberal Party will support it. There are conflicting reports as to whether the governing Social Democrats (SDSM) or the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) will back the proposal.

In the meantime, legal experts argue that granting a new amnesty could open the door for endless calls for yet further amnesties. Nazim Maliqi, who is a law professor at Skopje University, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 10 January that "the best thing would be for those who propose the new amnesty law to take a look at the questions [presented to Macedonia by the EU], especially the questions pertaining to the country's judiciary."

The Afghan Supreme Court has rejected suggestions made by President Hamid Karzai to grant a pardon to the country's drug traffickers, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 17 January. Supreme Court spokesman Wahid Mujhda said that such a move would be against international norms and Islamic laws. In an attempt to curb his country's growing narcotics problem, Karzai suggested offering amnesty to drug traffickers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). AT

Oruzgan Province security commander Rozi Khan said on 18 January that the neo-Taliban is trying to disrupt the opium-poppy-eradication program in the province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Rozi Khan told AIP that, despite attempts at disruption by the neo-Taliban, 98 percent of opium-poppy crops in Oruzgan have been destroyed. He also said, however, that he narrowly escaped being killed while engaged in the eradication programs. According to Rozi Khan, a land mine planted by the neo-Taliban nearly destroyed his car and slightly wounded him. According to the security commander, the opium-poppy-eradication program in Oruzgan is being spearheaded by the local farmers who have yet to receive assistance from Kabul or international organizations. AT

A woman in 8th District of Kabul burned herself to death on 17 January, Afghan Voice Agency reported the following day. According to an unidentified police source, the woman burned herself because of problems with her husband. According to the report, in the past year 60 to 70 women have burned themselves in western parts of Afghanistan mostly because of family problems and a lack of respect for women's rights within families (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). AT

The all-women Voice of Afghan Women radio station resumed transmission in Kabul on 18 January, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The station, which is run by women and has programming on issues related to women, originally began broadcasting in March 2003 with limited funding provided by UNESCO. The radio's director, Jamila Mojahed, has said the station intends to become self-sufficient through advertisement (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 March 2003). The radio station hopes to expand its broadcasting to provinces outside Kabul. It is not clear when the radio station first stopped its broadcasting. AT

Alireza Naderi, a counternarcotics official in Fars Province, said on 18 January that more than 32 million opium poppy plants were destroyed during the last two years, ISNA reported. That could have yielded 3,000 kilograms of opium. Naderi said opium is mostly cultivated in the mountainous areas of Firuzabad, Kazerun, and Nurabad Mamessani. Fars Province police chief Ahmad Alireza Beygi said the cultivated areas are identified by helicopters and then troops are dispatched to destroy the plants. A 1993 U.S. survey of Iran estimated that 3,500 hectares of opium poppy were under cultivation and produced up to 70 tons of heroin each year ( In 1996, the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs described Iran as a transshipment country for morphine base and opium on its way from Afghanistan to refineries in Turkey, and added that Kurdish and Baluch clans supervise the shipments ( In 1999, the State Department reported that the opium-poppy crop in Iran is "negligible," and added, "Iran no longer fits the statutory definition of a major drug-producing country." BS

Ali Aqa-Mohammadi, a public affairs official from the Supreme National Security Council, on 18 January dismissed a recent "New Yorker" article about U.S. special operations personnel and local agents carrying out missions in Iran as "psychological warfare," state radio reported. "It is not so easy for American commandos to enter Iran for espionage purposes, and it is simple minded to believe this [report]." BS

One hundred sixty-five out of 233 parliamentarians approved a bill authorizing legislative investigations of the judiciary on 18 January, Radio Farda reported. If the bill becomes law, the legislature can look into the judiciary's anticorruption campaign, moral and ethical issues, budgetary matters, and implementation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's orders, Radio Farda reported. The previous legislature, which was dominated by reformists, failed to secure these investigative powers, Radio Farda reported. The current conservative-dominated legislature may get more cooperation from the judiciary, Radio Farda reported, but so far judiciary officials have not looked favorably on the matter. The judiciary and the legislature now are considered to be in the hands of conservatives, but there are age-cohort divisions among the conservatives that have resulted in the emergence of competing factions. The legislature's push to investigate the judiciary may relate to these divisions. BS

Nearly 2,000 employees of the Pars Minu confectionary gathered in front of the company headquarters on 18 January to demand payment of unpaid wages, ILNA reported. The workers demanded that the government pay attention to their plight. BS

Two high-level Iraqi officials have taken exception to Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan's allegations of interference in their country's internal affairs. Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari said in the 18 January issue of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that his colleague's statements "are not useful for us." "We do not deny that there are interferences by some countries but the way of raising and dealing with them should not be through the media and satellite channels," al-Zebari added. He also dismissed allegations of a plan to create a Shi'a crescent from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi told Al-Arabiyah television on 17 January that Iran has no control over the names on the United Iraqi Alliance list. Chalabi described Defense Minister al-Sha'lan's statements as "reckless and unrealistic." Chalabi then claimed that the Defense Ministry transferred $500 million in cash from Iraq's Central Bank to Beirut by airplane. BS

Militants stepped up the insurgency on 19 January, targeting police and foreign targets in five separate incidents in Baghdad, international media reported. A car bomb that detonated near the Australian Embassy killed two Iraqis and injured two Australian soldiers and at least five civilians, Reuters reported. Minutes later, a car bomb detonated close to a hospital and police headquarters, killing at least 18 people, include five police officers. A third car bomb killed two Iraqi security guards near Baghdad International Airport; a fourth car bomb killed two Iraqi soldiers and two civilians at a military complex in Baghdad, the news agency reported. A bomb was also detonated outside a Baghdad bank. The apparent target was police officers queuing to collect their salaries. Militants targeted the Baghdad office of the Iraqi Homeland Party, led by Mish'an al-Juburi on 18 January, wounding three people, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 18 January. Al-Juburi is a member of the interim National Assembly. KR

Militants gunned down a candidate in Al-Basrah's local governorate election on 17 January, Iraqi media reported on 18 January. Riyad Radi Habib was a member of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord's list. Gunmen reportedly opened fire on him in a marketplace in the city where he was walking with his two sons. Al-Sharqiyah television reported that Habib ran from the gunmen, who pursued him into a house and shot him in the head. Iraqi National Accord candidate Ala Hamid Nasih was found dead in Al-Basrah on 17 January. Militants are increasingly targeting candidates for Iraq's local elections in attacks across Iraq. KR

Falah al-Naqib told reporters at a Baghdad press briefing on 18 January that civil war could break out in Iraq if there is not broad participation in the elections, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The interior minister likened nonparticipation in the election to treason, adding that should the transitional National Assembly elected on 30 January fail to represent all Iraqis, Iraq will be dismembered. A number of Sunni political groups have said they will not participate in the 30 January vote and have urged their followers to boycott the elections. KR

Rumors of the death of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the capture of fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi have appeared in the Iraqi press in recent days. The rumors of al-Sistani's death first surfaced in the Turkish newspaper "Yeni Safak" on 16 January, which said that the ayatollah had died of a massive heart attack in a Baghdad hospital and that his death would be announced within two days. Akram al-Zubaydi, the ayatollah's spokesman, reportedly responded to the rumors on 18 January, telling Al-Diyar television that al-Sistani is in good health. News of al-Zarqawi's capture surfaced a week ago. Reports indicated that the terrorist was captured during a raid. A news website ( asked Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan about the reports in an interview published on 17 January. He responded by saying that Iraqi and multinational forces have arrested hundreds of foreign fighters, adding: "We hope that al-Zarqawi is among them. Efforts are being made to identify him, because he changes the features of his face and moves in disguise in different forms every day." KR

Iraqi-American businessman Samir A. Vincent has pleaded guilty to four charges related to the illegal lobbying of U.S. officials on behalf of the Saddam Hussein government in exchange for which he received millions of dollars in cash payments and allocations of oil under the oil-for-food program, reported on 19 January. The guilty plea marks the first conviction in connection to the oil-for-food scandal, the website reported. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters in Washington on 18 January that Vincent was an accomplice in "corrupting and weakening the international sanctions program" imposed on Iraq. Ashcroft said that Vincent is cooperating with an ongoing investigation into the scandal. Vincent pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered agent of Iraq, conspiracy, violating a law regulating certain financial transactions with Iraq, and filing false income tax statements, the website reported. The Justice Department alleged that Vincent lobbied UN and U.S. officials on behalf of the Iraqi government from 1992 to 2003. The court papers did not name the U.S. officials involved, but said they included former government officials who "maintained close contacts to high-ranking members of both the Clinton and Bush administrations," reported. KR