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Newsline - January 25, 2005

In their first Kremlin meeting, President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko sought to soothe the tension caused by Putin's partisan support in the Ukrainian presidential election for Yushchenko's main challenger, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Russian and Western media reported. Yushchenko said after talks with Putin that it isn't important to him how "it was 30 days ago, but how it will be in the next five years," RTR reported. Yushchenko said Russia is Ukraine's "eternal strategic partner" and that he wants to make bilateral relations "better, easy, and transparent." He added that he discussed many issues with Putin, including the transit of Russian oil and gas, the problem of the Black See Fleet, and the free movement of people and capital across their border. Yushchenko said that Ukraine would be interested in participating in the Single Economic Space insofar as "it corresponds to its national interests and does not obstruct [Ukraine] moving toward other markets." During his meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, Yushchenko declined a request to support the Orthodox Church in its disputes with other confessions, NTV reported. "It is not my business to intervene," Yushchenko said. VY

President Putin said that his attitude toward Yushchenko was motivated by his good relations with the former Ukrainian leadership, RTR and NTV reported. "Russia never works behind the scenes with the opposition in post-Soviet space, only with the acting government and this completely relates to [the situation in] Ukraine. We have done what we were asked [to do] by the leadership [of President Leonid Kuchma]," Putin noted. "We hope that we will have the same trustful relations with you as well. We always say and now confirm that we will work with the leader elected by the Ukrainian people," Putin added. Asked about the nomination of Yuliya Tymoshenko as Ukrainian premier, Putin said that it is up to the Ukrainian citizens to judge their prime minister. "President Yushchenko briefed me about it...and I am thankful to him for that," Putin said. The Russian Military Prosecutors Office opened a criminal case against Tymoshenko last September and issued, through Interpol, an international warrant against her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 September and 8 and 9 December, 2004). VY

Vyacheslav Nikonov, the president of Politika foundation, told TV-Tsentr on 24 January that Yushchenko made his first trip to Moscow for pragmatic considerations. First he would like to pacify the Russian-speaking southern and eastern parts of Ukraine which voted for his main opponent, Viktor Yanukovych. Second, economic ties with Russia are a top priority for Yushchenko, as up to 60 percent of Ukraine's foreign trade is with Russia. Therefore, Russia is a big factor in Ukrainian economic growth, Nikonov said. In the same vein, the appointments of Tymoshenko as premier, Petro Poroshenko as head of the Ukrainian National Security Council, and Oleksander Zinchenko as Ukrainian state secretary are also for economic reasons, as all three are key businesspeople who have personal business interests in Russia, Nikonov concluded. VY

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov convened a government session on 24 January to discuss the ongoing crisis over social-benefits reforms, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov told the meeting that all monthly compensation payments for January will be completed in all regions by the end of this week. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that all matters involving compensation for the previous benefit of free public transportation will be solved within three to five days and that about 20 regions so far have adopted mechanisms to give eligible citizens free transport passes. Seventy-three regions have accepted the federal government's proposal to provide transportation subsidies of 50 rubles ($1.67) per beneficiary. Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency Director Mikhail Seslavinskii told the conference that public-relations specialists should be hired to help the government explain the reform to the public, Ekho Moskvy reported. RC

Prime Minister Fradkov, at the same 24 January government meeting, asked Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress to prepare a report on the problems with the government's social policies, including the new benefits reform, Interfax reported. "I have a feeling that there's something we have left unfinished and something we are overlooking," Fradkov said. Fradkov's request came after Kress delivered a stinging critique of the implementation of the benefits reform, focusing on problems with prescription medications in Tomsk Oblast. "The delivery of medicines to the region has been bad, orders for just one-third of the medicines [needed for beneficiaries] have been satisfied, and we are now running out of our regional stocks," Kress said. Like many analysts, Kress predicted a new and more serious wave of unrest when the government eliminates housing and utilities subsidies next month. RC

Although most regions have reportedly agreed to accept the federal government's offer of 50 rubles ($1.67) per beneficiary to cover public-transportation subsidies, Kurgan Oblast has refused to do so, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 January. Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov told journalists that 50 rubles is insufficient to allow pensioners to purchase transportation passes, which cost 300 rubles in the oblast. He said the oblast budget is not able to make up the shortfall. The Kurgan Oblast legislature on 19 January agreed to extend the benefit of free public transportation to pensioners until March. According to oblast officials, there are about 200,000 beneficiaries in the region. RC

"Kommersant-Daily" on 20 January summarized all the regions that have bowed to the demands of protestors and begun restoring in-kind social benefits. Tomsk Oblast on 19 January restored free public transportation until 1 February, after which a subsidized transport pass will be available to beneficiaries. The Kurgan city legislature on 19 January extended the right of free public transportation to virtually all categories of beneficiaries who enjoyed this right prior to the 1 January reform, at a cost of 75 million rubles ($2.5 million) to the city budget. On 19 January, Khabarovsk Krai restored free public transportation through 1 August, while Tatarstan will introduce subsidized transportation passes for beneficiaries on 1 February and will provide free public transportation through the end of this month. RC

Voronezh Oblast extended free public transportation for two months on 19 January, although Governor Vladimir Kulakov confessed the region does not have the money to cover this expense, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 January. Kursk Oblast announced on 19 January that it will issue subsidized transportation passes costing 100 rubles and will provide all pensioners with a 100 ruble addition to their pensions. The money to cover this benefit will reportedly come from the oblasts fund to support veterans' organizations. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov on 19 January handed out cash payments of 3,000-5,000 rubles to elderly residents of Gudermes in an event sponsored by the Hero of Russia Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Public Foundation. RC

The leader of the Communist Party (KPRF), Gennadii Zyuganov, said in Moscow on 24 January that his party is trying to collect the necessary number of signatures to request a Duma no-confidence vote in the government over its handling of the benefits reform, reported. "We have already collected 77 signatures of the 90 necessary to include this issue in the Duma's agenda," he added. Zyuganov said that some deputies from the Motherland faction as well as independents, including former Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, have joined the KPRF initiative. Zyuganov said the KPRF demands that the monetization law be abolished and that people be given the right to choose between in-kind benefits and financial compensation. He noted that he does not support such protests as the hunger strike announced by Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin and his comrades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2005). "To protest, you should go to the streets and say directly and loudly what your demands are," Zyuganov said. VY

Five State Duma deputies from the Motherland faction, including faction leader Rogozin, continued their hunger strike on 24 January in opposition to the benefits reform, "Gazeta" reported. Rogozin told the daily that the strikers are seeking the resignations of Health and Social Development Minister Zurabov, Finance Minister Kudrin, and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, as well as a moratorium on the implementation of the reform. They are also calling for the creation of a special commission to investigate the crisis and "the observance of the rights of the parliamentary majority," Rogozin said. He added that the state media has refused to cover the deputies' action and that First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) had come to persuade him "to find a solution to the situation using other methods." "We do not intend openly to admit that we are powerless," Rogozin said. "If the authorities sympathize with the country, let them see that 300 meters from the Kremlin a hunger strike is being held by people who used to look kindly on the president." RC

Hackers on 24 January shut down the Motherland party website (, which has a webcam providing constant coverage of the ongoing hunger strike, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. As of 25 January, the site was functioning normally. "Hackers have been attacking our site since yesterday," hunger-striking Deputy Mikhail Markelov told the news agency on 24 January. A scheduled Internet press conference with hunger-striking Deputy Aleksandr Savelev was cancelled because of the attack. State-controlled RTR television reported on 24 January that the site had been closed down by its Internet service provider because of high traffic demands. However, a statement by Rogozin posted on the site on 25 January maintained that the site had been attacked by hackers, and that it continues to repel similar assaults. Markelov added that he expects that next week the Duma will amend its regulations to ban such actions within the Duma building. RC

Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 January, said that Russia opposes "any attempts to rewrite history, to depart from clear historic and moral criteria in the assessment of Nazism and, especially, present-day Nazis and their ilk," ITAR-TASS reported. Lukin condemned anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia and lamented the prevalence of such views among the younger generation. "It is no secret that many anti-Semitic actions, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, have been inspired by radical youth groups, including 'skinheads,'" Lukin said. He added that, having experienced the horror of the Nazi death camps, the world wisely concluded that "there is no alternative to the collective-security system embodied in the United Nations charter." "It is our duty to treasure the memory of the dead, to preclude the possibility of outbreaks of world wars, to pool the efforts of the international community to cope with new challenges and threats, recognizing and respecting the cardinal role of the United Nations," Lukin said. RC

The deputy chairman of the Duma Information Policy Committee, Aleksandr Krutov (Motherland), said in Moscow on 24 January that a group of 19 deputies from Motherland, the Communist Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions in the Duma sent a letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking him to investigate the activity of "Jewish religious and ethnic organizations [that] provoke anti-Semitism in Russia and spread Jewish extremism," RosBalt and other mass media reported. The authors of the letter (published on said there has been an upsurge in the number of lawsuits filed by Jewish organizations accusing people of making anti-Semitic remarks. The authors of the letter admit that some "patriots" do make negative statements about Jews. But they said such statements are nothing more than a "self-defense of patriots" that are perhaps not always "proper in style" but are "justified in essence." According to RosBalt, in addition to Krutov the letter was signed by several people with long records of anti-Semitic remarks, including former Krasnodar Krai governor Nikolai Kondratenko and Colonel General Albert Makashov. It was also signed by former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and retired KGB Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, RosBalt reported. VY

The head of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia, Adolf Shaevich, said on 24 January that "it is impossible to comment on a document reflecting the delirious state of mind of a brutal anti-Semite," and that he hopes that the Prosecutor-General's Office will pay attention to "anti-constitutional statements," reported. Chief Russian Rabbi Berl Lazar said on 24 January that "the fact that people utter such things shows that Russians need to improve their tolerance and that these persons need psychiatric help," reported. Yevgenii Satanovskii, the president of the Israel and Middle East Studies Institute, said on 24 January that the initiative of the authors of the letter is not new and repeats accusations made by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Mikhail Fedotov, vice president of the INDEM foundation, said that the publication of the letter could be a public relations maneuver aimed at diverting public attention from the mass protests against benefit reforms to a "less painful" topic, reported. VY

Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel told Interfax on 24 January that a third person has been arrested on suspicion of complicity in the Beslan school hostage taking last September. Shepel did not name the suspect, but an unnamed official in the North Caucasus office of the Prosecutor-General told Interfax his name is Issa Khuchbarov, a relative of the presumed commander of the hostage takers, Ruslan Khuchbarov, who was killed when the school building was stormed on 3 September. LF

The Adygei national movement Adyge Khase has issued a statement condemning Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev's pronouncement that a merger of the Republic of Adygeya with Krasnodar Krai, which completely surrounds it, would be expedient, reported on 24 January. Adyge Khase argued that subsuming the Republic of Adygeya into Krasnodar Krai would effectively demolish the hopes of the Adygei people for a national rebirth. The population of the Republic of Adygeya is between 450,000-500,000, of whom some 22 percent are Adygeis and 70 percent Russians. LF

Leaders of Armenia's 1,000-strong Jewish minority met last month with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to express their concern at emerging anti-Semitism in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 24 January. They cited as cause for alarm anti-Semitic statements aired by a talk-show host on a TV channel loyal to the government, calls by the ultranationalist Armenian Aryan Union to expel all Jews from Armenia, the desecration in September 2004 of the Holocaust memorial in Yerevan, and a statement by the head of the government department on religious and minority affairs accusing Jews of "extreme intolerance" towards non-Jews. LF

In a 24 January interview with, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), claimed that since the Azerbaijani leadership is unwilling to make any concessions to resolve the Karabakh conflict, it is seeking to sideline the OSCE Minsk Group, which "advocates mutually acceptable compromises to resolve the conflict peacefully and which respects the position of Nagorno-Karabakh," and instead to involve other international organizations such as the UN General Assembly in the hope that such organizations will exert pressure on the Armenian side. Ghukasian said his republic is prepared to accept only equal relations with Azerbaijan as co-equal subjects of international law, and he pointed out that "the NKR has demonstrated to the world that the level of democratic transition here is higher than in Azerbaijan." LF

The so-called Ago group of the Council of Europe (CE) that monitors compliance by the three South Caucasus states with the commitments they made when accepted into full membership of the CE has called on the Azerbaijani authorities to speed up democratic reforms, amend the election law in accordance with recommendations from international organizations, embark on a dialogue with the opposition, and take steps to promote the independence of the courts and freedom of the media, Turan reported on 24 January. The group also expressed the hope that all remaining political prisoners in Azerbaijani jails will soon be released. LF

Following talks on 24 January mediated by the Joint Control Commission that monitors developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone, the South Ossetian authorities released Major Lado Chalauri later that day, Caucasus Press reported. Chalauri was apprehended in the conflict zone on 20 January. Chalauri identified his abductors as Ossetian "criminals" but failed to explain why they delivered him to a jail in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. The Georgian side reciprocated by freeing two Ossetians whose release Tskhinvali had demanded and transferring Alik Pukhaev, an Ossetian suspected of murdering two Georgians last year, into the custody of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone. Georgian residents of South Ossetia protested Pukhaev's release, Caucasus Press reported on 25 January. On 22 January, Caucasus Press quoted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as ruling out the exchange of the three Ossetians for Chalauri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2005). LF

President Saakashvili told Interfax that although the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia violated international law by holding presidential elections earlier this month, the Georgian authorities will not suspend their dialogue with Sukhum. He said that the Georgians and members of other ethnic groups who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war must be permitted to return to their homes and "live normal lives." He said that in tandem with that repatriation the issue of Abkhazia's future political status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government should be resolved, although he described that process as "not that urgent in the long term." Meanwhile, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry released a statement on 24 January excluding any further discussion of Abkhazia's status and calling on the Georgian authorities to recognize the region's independence in the interests of strengthening regional stability, Interfax reported. "A more flexible dialogue between Abkhazia and Georgia could mark a starting point for building trust and promoting strong and effective relations," the statement said. LF

President Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 24 January that the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia does not want independence but merely to preserve its language and culture, Caucasus Press reported. "We are ready to give the Ossetians everything they want," Saakashvili said, provided that they recognize Georgia's territorial integrity. But in an implicit contradiction, he added that if Georgia's proposals prove unpalatable to the South Ossetian side, the international community would not condemn Tbilisi for failing to resolve the conflict peacefully. LF

In accordance with President Saakashvili's election pledge one year ago, as of January 2005, the minimal monthly pension has been raised from 14 to 28 laris ($15), Caucasus Press reported on 24 January. Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli told a government session on 24 January that sufficient funds have been transferred to the regions to begin payment of the higher pensions. LF

Participants in a meeting of Kazakhstan's Commission on Issues of Democratization and Civil Society in Astana on 24 January decided to set up a working group on the development of civil society, Kazinform reported. The 10-hour meeting also discussed government decentralization, the strengthening of parliament, court sanctions for arrest, and the introduction of trial by jury, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Commission chairman Bulat Utemuratov told the session that he still hopes to involve the opposition, saying, "We haven't lost hope for constructive and mutually beneficial work with the opposition," Interfax reported. Although representatives of all 12 officially registered parties are included in the commission, the opposition Communist Party, Ak Zhol, and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (which is currently fighting a 6 January court ruling to dissolve the party; see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2005) have boycotted sessions. The commission will meet next in late February-early March. DK

Court proceedings against Ishengul Boljurova, deputy chair of the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, began in Bishkek on 24 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Boljurova faces administrative charges in connection with an unauthorized demonstration on 19 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). In court, Boljurova maintained her innocence, saying that Kyrgyzstan's constitution guarantees the right of assembly. The court will reconvene on 25 January. Proceedings are set to begin on 26 January against Roza Otunbaeva, deputy chair of the opposition bloc Ata-Jurt, and Topchubek Turgunaliev, head of the Erkindik party. They face administrative charges over the same 19 January demonstration, which was part of a series of rallies to protest Otunbaeva's exclusion from 27 February parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). DK

A spokesperson for Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission (CEC) told on 24 January that the deadline for submitting applications to run in the 27 February parliamentary elections expired on 22 January. The spokesperson said that the CEC is currently reviewing applications and will complete the registration process on 1 February. As of 24 January, the CEC has received nominations for 469 candidates, 73 of them put forward by political parties, reported. The CEC has registered 378 candidates and denied registration to seven. Nineteen would-be candidates have removed their own candidacies and nine submitted incomplete documentation. DK

A spokesperson for Tajikistan's Central Election Commission (CEC) confirmed that the CEC has received official complaints against local commissions in the Farkhor, Maskav, and Hamadoni districts, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 24 January. One complaint came from businessman Abdujabbor Rahmonov, who alleged that local authorities in Farkhor have refused to register his candidacy for 27 February parliamentary elections, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Muhibullo Dodojonov, head of the CEC secretariat, said that a working group has gone to the region to investigate. Additionally, Muhiddin Kabiri, deputy leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 24 January that the district commission in Fayzobod has refused to register him, although it registered his opponent, Akbarali Hakimov, who represents the ruling People's Democratic Party, on 14 January, the first day of registration. Kabiri said, "Unequal conditions have been set for us. Hakimov has been campaigning for the past 10 days but I'm not authorized to do that for the moment." DK

CIS Executive Committee Chairman Vladimir Rushailo arrived in Dushanbe on 24 January to launch the CIS observer mission for Tajikistan's 27 February parliamentary elections, Tajik Television reported. Rushailo noted that he will meet with President Imomali Rakhmonov and the head of the Central Election Commission. A total of 70 observers from CIS states will monitor the elections, Interfax reported. DK

Military prosecutors have extended the investigation of former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev by two months to look into new materials in the case, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 24 January. Prosecutor Manuchehr Nurov gave no details, but said that prosecutors need more time to work through extensive case materials. Mirzoev was arrested on 6 August on corruption and weapons charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). The latest extension marks the third time that the investigation of his case has been prolonged. DK

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan told Pakistan's "The News" on 24 January that recent reports that Uzbek militant leader Tohir Yuldosh was captured in Pakistan are untrue. Sultan specifically denied that Yuldosh, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), was captured in a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation in Pakistan, saying, "No joint operation has been conducted on Pakistani soil with U.S. forces." Various reports have suggested that Yuldosh was recently in Kabul. Deutsche Welle reported on 23 January, citing an anonymous source in Pakistani intelligence, that Yuldosh and a number of other IMU fighters are currently in Afghanistan, where they are preparing to put pressure on the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Official sources in Afghanistan, queried by Deutsche Welle, denied that any such meetings took place, however. DK

Belarusian Supreme Court Chairman Valyantsin Sukala told journalists on 24 January that two people were sentenced to death in Belarus last year, Belapan reported. According to Sukala, the figure means that Belarus "has come close to declaring a moratorium on the death penalty." Sukala noted that life imprisonment is currently an alternative to the death penalty in the country, adding that 12 people were sentenced to life in 2004 for grave crimes. Meanwhile, in an interview with the "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" in November, Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau said that five people were sentenced to death and executed in the country that year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). JM

Alyaksandr Karachun, a senior official with the Information Ministry, told journalists on 24 January that all FM stations in the country have been complying with the government's requirement that Belarusian-made music should account for 75 percent of all tracks on their playlists (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 24 January 2005), Belapan reported. Karachun said his ministry has examined the FM stations' playlists on a daily basis to establish whether they give enough airtime to home-grown music. He also said the Information Ministry suggests setting up a state-run records company to give a boost to the domestic music industry. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 24 January named his political ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous bloc, as the country's acting prime minister, Ukrainian and international media reported. Tymoshenko's nomination must still be approved by at least 226 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. Tymoshenko served in the cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko in 2000 as deputy prime minister for energy and fuel issues. She was fired as deputy prime minister in early 2001 by then President Leonid Kuchma on charges of forgery and gas smuggling in the 1990s and spent a month in a detention center. A court cleared her but prosecutors have been continuing to investigate her case. JM

President Yushchenko on 24 January abolished the presidential administration and replaced it with a secretariat of the Ukrainian president, Ukrainian and international media reported. Simultaneously, Yushchenko appointed Oleksandr Zinchenko, manager of his election campaign, as state secretary to head the presidential secretariat. Also the same day, Yushchenko appointed lawmaker and businessman Petro Poroshenko, head of the Solidarity Party in the Our Ukraine bloc, as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO). The RNBO is a constitutional body for coordinating national-security and defense policies. The RNBO is chaired by the president of Ukraine and obligatorily includes the prime minister, the defense minister, the interior minister, the foreign minister, and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine. RNBO decisions are put into effect by presidential decrees. JM

President Yushchenko said at a news conference in Moscow on 24 January that Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs head Anatoliy Kinakh, who pledged their support for him following the first presidential election round on 31 October, will be rewarded with posts in Ukraine's government and "other power bodies," Interfax reported. "We have come to an agreement in consultations with them, and you will soon [see this agreement reflected] in my personnel decrees," Yushchenko said. JM

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner have drawn up a 10-point addendum to the three-year EU-Ukraine Action Plan, taking account of pressure to respond to Ukraine's elevated expectations in the wake of the Ukrainian presidential election, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported on 24 January. Ferrero-Waldner's spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the chief additions to the action plan include offering Ukraine market-economy status and stating clearly that upgrading the current Partnership and Cooperation Treaty with Ukraine is possible in the long run. However, Udwin emphasized that the added list does not amount to a full review of the action plan, which already includes plans for making it easier for Ukrainians to obtain visas. Solana told the European Parliament on 24 January that a new type of agreement with Ukraine will be put in place in early 2008. Meanwhile, Ferrero-Waldner told the European Parliament on 25 January that the European Union should not rush into "premature steps" to bring Ukraine into the 25-member bloc, Reuters reported. "Let us be realistic: a lot has to be done by Ukraine," she added. JM

In his first visit to the western Balkans since taking office recently, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Belgrade on 24 January that "countries that are to join the EU have to live up to their international obligations, including to locate and transfer war criminals, and fully cooperate with the tribunal in The Hague," dpa reported. "For Serbia and Montenegro, EU membership is a realistic and valuable goal [and] certainly worth the effort required. It is now for Serbs and Montenegrins to clear away the hurdles of the past," Rehn added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004 and 20 January 2005). Serbia and Montenegro has not yet been approved by Brussels to start talks on a Stabilization and Association agreement with the EU. PM

Prior to arriving in Belgrade, EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn said in Prishtina on 24 January that Kosova and the rest of the western Balkans have a "European perspective" provided they "accept European standards and values," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, 17 December 2004, and 7 and 21 January 2005). He stressed that the EU is working together with "our American friends" regarding the Balkans and Kosova, particularly the latter's final status. Rehn noted that he and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana intend to discuss Balkan issues, especially Kosova, with U.S. President George W. Bush during his planned visit to Brussels in February. Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova replied to Rehn's remarks by stressing that Kosova is prepared to observe all the requirements of independent statehood, including the protection of minority rights. PM

Slavisa Petkovic, who heads the small Citizens Initiative Srbija party, joined the cabinet of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on 24 January, the first member of the Serbian minority to do so, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Petkovic took up the portfolio of the Ministry for Returns, which is reserved for the Serbian minority. He stressed that he wants Serbian refugees and displaced persons to be able to return directly to their former homes and not to new internment centers. About 180,000 Serbs fled Kosova in the late spring of 1999 with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces, many fearing retribution from their ethnic Albanian neighbors, who often regard local Serbs as a fifth column that aided Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" policies. Most Serbian politicians boycotted Kosova's 23 October 2004 parliamentary elections at Belgrade's urging. Asked by RFE/RL how he feels being in the Kosovar legislature, Petkovic joked that he feels like former Soviet leaders "[Nikita] Khrushchev or [Leonid] Brezhnev [would have] in the U.S. Congress," adding, however, that in reality he feels quite at home because he is a native of the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004 and 24 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August and 17 December 2004, and 7 January 2005).

An unspecified number of supporters of the opposition Democratic Party placed alarm clocks, radios, and toy mobile phones on the doorstep of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade on 24 January, Reuters reported. The protesters called on him to "wake up...and communicate with the nation" and stop trying to "lead Serbia back into the darkness" of international isolation by failing to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM

Boban Simisic, a former Bosnian Serb policeman, surrendered to police of the Croat-Muslim Federation at an unspecified location on 24 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The police then transferred Simisic to the Gorazde Cantonal Court, which placed him in detention for one month. With the approval of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, the Gorazde court indicted Simisic in April 2003 for alleged war crimes against local non-Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict. He has since remained in Visegrad in the Republika Srpska. It is not clear why he decided to turn himself in. PM

The Republika Srpska's Interior Ministry has launched a formal investigation of a 15 January incident in which unnamed members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Border Service (DGS) allegedly fired upon an aircraft taking some police officials and war crimes indictee Savo Todovic to The Hague, where he is wanted for war crimes, the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" reported on 25 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). The incident allegedly took place at the airport in Banja Luka. PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said on 24 January that he will not issue any pardon in the Rastanski lozja case, in which six Pakistanis and one Indian were killed in March 2002, according to a press release issued by his office ( Crvenkovski's statement came in response to the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization's (VMRO-DPMNE) demand that the president pardon those former Interior Ministry officials charged in connection with the incident. As the investigation has so far shown, the Pakistanis and the Indian were ambushed by the police in an apparent setup so that the security forces could later claim that they had killed Islamist terrorists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May 2004 and 14 January 2005). In his statement, Crvenkovski argued that it is in Macedonia's interest to disclose the full truth in this case, and the best way to do so is through a court trial. UB

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso, speaking in Brussels on 24 January, told visiting Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu that he will propose delaying Romania's accession to the EU until 2008 if the country does not make sufficient progress in fighting corruption or meet EU standards on competition and environmental protection, Mediafax and AP reported. Popescu-Tariceanu said that he is confident that his country will meet all EU requirements over the next two years and accede to the EU as planned in 2007. Barosso said the EU is prepared to help Romania meet its demands by extending financial support and technical assistance. Popescu-Tariceanu also met with his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt, discussing mainly economic relations between the two countries. MS

European Commission President Barosso told journalists in Brussels on 24 January that Romania should verify whether several contracts awarded by the former Social Democratic government conform with EU legislation, Mediafax reported. Last week Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu said his government will reexamine the motorway-construction contracts signed with the U.S. and French construction companies Bechtel and Vinci in 2003 and 2004, respectively, and with the European defense giant EADS for reinforcing Romania's borders. The contracts were awarded without tender. MS

Two news agencies on 24 January protested an alleged attempt by the Interior Ministry's intelligence service (DGIPI) to tap their telephones last year, AP and Mediafax reported. According to a report in the daily "Ziua," the DGIPI in October 2003 filed with prosecutors a request to monitor phone calls at Mediafax and AM Press. The DGIPI told prosecutors that it suspects police officials were giving the media unauthorized information about ongoing investigations. The National Anticorruption Prosecution has confirmed it received the request but said it turned it down because it would have run counter to the right to seek information and to freedom of expression. MS

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 24 January that the 20 January incident in which the Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors to Moldova were forced by the Moldovan authorities to interrupt their journey to Tiraspol is "contrary to the interest of peace and stability in the region" and evidence of "unfriendly" behavior, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005). The Russian ministry said the "practice of blockading and artificially isolating counterproductive and leads to unjustified delays in solving important issues in relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol." The ministry said it has summoned the Moldovan charge d'affairs in Moscow and demanded an explanation. In turn, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on 24 January that the travel restrictions imposed by Moldova on diplomats impede the Russian and Ukrainian effectiveness in resolving the Transdniester conflict. MS

Skepticism -- or even cynicism -- has been a common reaction in Russia to the recent Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, and the pensioners' protests that have shut down streets in dozens of Russian cities over the past month are eliciting much the same reaction -- at least within Russian officialdom.

During the Kyiv protests, many Russian policymakers and pundits voiced the belief that the West, specifically the CIA and/or the Soros Foundation, orchestrated the appearance of thousands of people on the streets of the Ukrainian capital. Now, the pensioners' protests are likewise seen not as a spontaneous expression of dissatisfaction but rather as a series of "provocations" organized by political opportunists.

In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 17 January, acting Moscow Oblast Governor Aleksei Panteleev suggested that provocateurs were behind the recent protests. "Forces -- for whom their main concern is not the protection of their fellow citizens' interests but their own political [public relations] -- often exploit the mood of protestors, or sometimes [their motivation] is even worse: a provocative desire 'to rock the boat' in a city or raion," Panteleev said. He added that he has held meetings with a number of political organizations active in the oblast and that the "extremists" were "warned not to indulge in provocations or they would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." According to Panteleev, who was filling in for the vacationing Governor Boris Gromov, "[Our] law enforcement organs have videotapes of all those people younger than pension age who are traveling back and forth from city to city, inciting the population to close streets and engage in other violations of the law. They have been detained in accordance with the law." Earlier, Governor Gromov declared that it is not "the pensioners who are guilty, but the provocateurs."

In St. Petersburg, Governor Valentina Matvienko appeared to have been given the same set of talking points. She told reporters on 17 January that "St Petersburg's law and order agencies will take strict measures against people who provoke pensioners to carry out illegal actions," ITAR-TASS reported. "I want to give assurances that no force will be used against people attending rallies," she told reporters. "However, there are those who are making use of this situation to reap false political dividends." According to on 18 January and "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 January, Matvienko ordered local police to arrest only young people and ignore elderly demonstrators. Representatives of the city prosecutor's office quoted by on 19 January appeared to follow that distinction between youthful organizers and old participants by saying that administrative cases are being brought only "against the organizers of the actions, not the participants, the majority of whom are pensioners."

In St. Petersburg, police detained eight people on 18 January for organizing unsanctioned meetings. In a program aired on 20 January, Maksim Reznik, chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, told RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau that police targeted not only young people but also older citizens, and not only individuals known to have connections with existing political organizations but also people who assumed any kind of organizational role in the protests. For example, the police picked up 67-year-old pensioner Galina Tolmacheva, who was not associated with any political structure but had telephoned some 600 people asking them to participate in an unauthorized protest in front of St. Petersburg's mayoral offices. She has alleged that she was beaten by policemen at the police station until she lost consciousness.

On 19 January, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin jumped on the provocateur-theory bandwagon, telling reporters in Moscow that the protesting pensioners "have organizers, and highly skilled ones at that," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kudrin, the Communist Party (KPRF) and National Bolshevik Party created schedules for blocking roads that have appeared on the Internet. In Samara, the oblast prosecutor Aleksandr Yefremov claimed that his office had information that the National Bolshevik Party was among the main organizers of rallies in the oblast capital of Samara, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 January. However, later that day, National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov told the station that this was news to him, although he would be delighted if it turned out to be the case. Oleg Kulikov, secretary of the KPRF's central committee, did take credit for the protests in Samara in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January. He said the KPRF encouraged hundreds of protestors to block the streets of Samara and that it also played a role in organizing the large protests in Ufa.

Despite Kulikov's claims, some news reports suggest that the Communist Party is responding to events rather than leading them. After all, the party did fail last July in its bid to launch a nationwide protest against the social benefits reform. "Moskovskii komsomolets" charged on 18 January that the 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. The daily reported that when Communists from Izhevsk in Udmurtia telephoned the Central Committee with questions regarding organizing a protest in Udmurtia, they received no clear instructions.

Rather than organizing events, the Communist Party might be trying to gain political capital from the protests after the fact. Ekho Moskvy reported from St. Petersburg on 15 January that leaders of the Communist Workers' Party and members of the National Bolshevik Party showed up at the rally that day long after it had already started. In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 18 January, 64-year-old Olga Fedorova, who is facing administrative proceedings regarding her role in Khimki protests held in Moscow Oblast, said that "all the talk about 'young instigators' is rubbish."

Fedorova said she telephoned some of her acquaintances about the 10 January meeting at the Leningrad Highway and didn't expect more than 20 people to be there. According to police records, around 2,000 people took part. When she arrived with a megaphone in hand, people approached her asking if she was in charge; but she arrived after the highway was blocked. The police picked her up the next day in the hallway of her apartment building. She denied having been at the demonstration, but the police told her that they had her image on film. According to the daily, Fedorova supports Viktor Anpilov's Working Russia Party, but her motivation to protest was more personal than political. With a 1,500 ruble ($54) monthly pension, she could no longer afford her daily visits to relatives in the city of Moscow. She commented at the end of her interview with the daily, "It would be strange if people with a 1,500-ruble-a-month pension didn't protest."

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections slated for April and delayed until May might be delayed even further, AFP reported on 24 January. Electoral district boundaries should be fixed at least 120 days before the polls, but this has not yet been done. "We are currently working on the district boundaries. It has not been finished, it is not finalized," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfollah Mashal told AFP. While Afghan authorities, including President Hamid Karzai, have indicated that they would like to hold the elections as soon as possible, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in Berlin on 21 January that there "are indications that Karzai considers postponing the elections until the fall" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 22 January 2005). AT

The United States has backed off from plans to destroy Afghanistan's opium poppy fields using aerial spraying of herbicides, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 22 January. The U.S. decision is based on the wishes of President Karzai. "Aerial spraying is postponed," U.S. Representative Mark Steven Kirk (Republican, Illinois) said. "Karzai has not ruled it out. He said he will revisit the issue if the current efforts fail," Kirk added. After aircraft were witnessed spraying opium poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan, Karzai's government stated that it would not allow any country to carry out aerial sprayings in the country and the United States at the time denied that it had carried out the spraying (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November and 8 December 2004). AT

Twenty-five Afghan children have died of whooping cough (pertussis) in Daykundi Province, AP reported on 24 January. Since the roads to Daykundi have been blocked by heavy snow, U.S. military airlifted 10 medics to the area on 23 January to vaccinate children against the disease. In January 2003, pertussis was blamed for the deaths of more than 60 children in northeastern Badakhshan Province, where in January 2004 reports indicated that 16 children died of the disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003 and 20 January 2004). AT

Latifollah Hakimi, a neo-Taliban spokesman, claimed on 24 January that the militia has killed Mohammad Nabi, a resident of Greshk District of Helmand Province, Hindukosh News Agency reported. "He was charged with spying for the Americans," and killed in public on 23 January, Hakimi said. Mohammad Nabi was executed in public so that others would refrain from aiding U.S. forces operating in the area, the report added. AT

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 24 January that President George W. Bush has nominated Major General Karl Eikenberry to be appointed to the rank of lieutenant general and assigned as the commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, a U.S. Defense Department press release indicated ( AT

The father of former Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) member Said Masuri told Radio Farda that his son has been held at Evin prison in Tehran for about four years, and he has been in solitary confinement for the last three months. The unnamed father added that his son's first 14 months were in solitary confinement, Radio Farda reported, and the jailers will not give a reason for the most recent solitary confinement. He asked that his son be amnestied. The MKO is an Iranian opposition group that is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the EU and has been based in Iraq since the early 1980s. After the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom most members of the organization were confined to Camp Ashraf. Tehran has demanded the extradition of the group's leaders and offered an amnesty to lower-ranking members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). Thirteen former members of the MKO rejoined their families on 19 January, Mehr News Agency and ILNA reported. Another 28 rejoined their families on 28 December, Iranian state radio reported. Former MKO member Ebrahim Khodabandeh said about 1,000 people have left the MKO but they are afraid to return to Iran because of bad publicity, state radio reported. BS

Ilham Aliyev arrived in Tehran on 24 January for a three-day working visit, Iranian and Azerbaijani news agencies reported. Aliyev is accompanied by several cabinet members. Aliyev first met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, who said at their joint press conference that Iran hopes to see Azerbaijan and Armenia settle the Karabakh crisis peacefully, IRNA reported. Responding to a reporter's question, Khatami said the situations in Palestine and in Nagorno-Karabakh are not comparable. "I believe Israel has occupied the entire Palestine and has established an illegitimate existence, but Armenia is a country itself and at the same time occupation and seizure of an inch of the other's territory is condemned and the international community should help end the occupation," Khatami said. Aliyev is scheduled to meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, visit Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's mausoleum, and inspect the Iran Khodro auto plant. Aliyev also will visit Tabriz, East Azerbaijan Province. The two sides will sign between eight and 10 agreements on 26 January, Baku Trend News Agency reported. BS

Iran's Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh on 24 January indicated his displeasure at BP's decision to forego business in Iran, Radio Farda reported. BP chief executive Lord John Browne said on 20 January that BP will avoid Iran because of U.S. economic sanctions, Bloomberg reported on 21 January. "To do business with Iran at the moment would be offensive to the United States, and therefore against BP's interests,'' Browne said. "We're very heavily influenced by our American position.'' According to Bloomberg, BP gets half its revenue from the United States. Browne added that buy-back deals, in which foreign companies run a project in Iran to cover their costs and earn a profit, preclude long-term planning. Namdar-Zanganeh said BP has not been active in Iran during the last eight years, Radio Farda reported. He said Iran never counted on BP, Radio Farda reported. He said this is an unfriendly action taken on America's behalf, Radio Farda reported, and Iran will not forget it. BP

According to Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 24 January, U.S. policy towards Iran remains unchanged, IRNA reported. "Given that the American government has started its new term with threats, it is clear that no major change has occurred in the Americans' policy," Ramezanzadeh said. "We will use the same language if anyone chooses to use a language of force and threats against us.... But if they opt to engage in dialogue without any precondition on an equal footing, we will consider that," he added. BS

Judge Qais Hashim al-Shammari was assassinated along with his son as they left their Baghdad home, international media reported on 25 January. Police sources told Al-Arabiyah television that the men were killed in a roadside ambush. U.S. Brigadier General Erv Lessel has said that militants may be planning a "spectacular" attack ahead of 30 January elections, Reuters reported on 25 January. "We think it's the calm before the storm, that they're unable to sustain the level of attacks that they've had, but they're saving up for something more spectacular in the days preceding elections and on election day," Lessel said. Meanwhile, five U.S. soldiers were killed and two injured in a road accident near Khan Bani Sa'd on 24 January, Al-Arabiyah cited a military statement as saying. KR

Iraqi Independent Election Commission spokesman Farid Ayar told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in a 24 January interview that the latest audiotape purportedly issued by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2005) proves that "it is important for [Iraqis] to be united to face...a terrorist who [has] killed many Iraqis." The spokesman criticized al-Zarqawi's recent statements about the elections, saying his allegations demonstrate that he knows nothing about the electoral process in Iraq. KR

The Iraqi interim government announced the arrest of two associates of al-Zarqawi on 24 January, Reuters reported the same day. Abu Omar al-Kurdi (aka Sami Muhammad al-Jafi) was arrested in a Baghdad raid on 15 January. Nayif Abbas al-Zubaydi was also arrested, but it is unclear when. According to the interim government, Abu Omar is responsible for more than 30 bombings, including the 19 August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad and the 29 August 2003 assassination of Shi'ite Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. "Kurdi has confessed to some 75 percent of the car bombs that were used for attacks in Baghdad since March 2003 and to making the explosives used in the attack on the Jordanian embassy in August 2003," government spokesman Thair al-Naqib said. Reuters also cited U.S. military officials as saying they are investigating a tip on the whereabouts of al-Zarqawi. "We have heard he entered [Al-Fallujah] in a six-car convoy. We hear lots of rumors but we are not dismissing this," Marine Captain Leonard Coleman said. The United States has offered a $25 million reward for information leading to the killing or capture of al-Zarqawi. KR

Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir met with tribal leaders in the Salah Al-Din governorate to discuss the importance of voting in Iraq's elections on 30 January, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 January. "The goal is to encourage the residents of these areas to participate in elections and make them aware that this is everybody's homeland and that whoever wants to oppose [the government] should make his voice heard and participate in the political process. Refraining and avoiding elections is not useful.... It does not matter who you vote for, but I beg you to vote because it is very important that all Iraqis participate in Iraqi elections," al-Yawir told Al-Sharqiyah. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued the same call in a meeting with tribal leaders in Al-Basrah on 23 January. "I call on [the Al-Basrah residents] to participate in the elections to elect the persons they deem suitable to lead the country, strengthen unity and brotherhood among all Iraqis, and defend the country against any outside interference," Allawi said in his address, according to Al-Sharqiyah on 23 January. KR

Human Rights Watch ( released a 94-page report on 25 January on the torture and abuse of detainees in Iraqi custody. The report documents the unlawful arrest, long-term "incommunicado detention," torture, and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, by Iraqi authorities, the organization said in a press release. Such treatment has become "routine and commonplace," the organization claims. The report is based on interviews over a four-month period from July to October 2004 with 90 detainees, 72 of whom alleged being tortured or abused by Iraqi authorities, particularly during interrogation. Detainees reported methods of torture that included routine beatings "to the body using cables, hose pipes, and other implements." They also claimed to have been kicked, slapped, and punched. Others reported electric shocks to the body, including genitals and earlobes; and prolonged suspension by the wrists with the hands tied behind the back, HRW said. Detainees reported being deprived of food and water, and several detainees said Iraqi police sought bribes in return for their release, access to food and water, or access to their families. KR