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Newsline - January 26, 2005


RUSSIA, SYRIA CONSOLIDATE TIES...
President Vladimir Putin met with visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Kremlin on 25 January and discussed with him the situation in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East issues, and bilateral relations, Russian and Western mass media reported. Opening the meeting, Putin said, "Syria is a country with which the Soviet Union and today's Russia have had especially warm relations," RTR reported. Putin and al-Assad signed a joint declaration calling for developing and strengthening bilateral cooperation and stressing their joint position in international affairs. Addressing students of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) the same day, al-Assad called on Russia to revive its Soviet-era role in the Middle East. "I would like to support Russia's political course and at the same time express a protest against the political course of the United States," Reuters quoted him as telling the students. "Russia's role is huge and Russia is well respected by Third World countries.... These countries are really hoping that Russia will try to revive its lost positions in the world," he added. VY

...AS SYRIAN PRESIDENT EVASIVE ABOUT BUYING RUSSIAN MISSILES...
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 24 January, Syrian President al-Assad denied that the goal of his four-day visit to Russia is to shop for Russian arms and, especially, Iskander-E tactical missiles. "The Russian Defense Minister [Sergei Ivanov] said there is no such deal and this is a clear answer," he said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). Al-Assad refused, however, to say whether his country has an agreement on such a deal, saying, "It is not for presidents to discuss specific projects," "Izvestiya" reported. And in his address to the MGIMO students on 25 January, al-Assad said that Syria has the right to defend itself and its airspace, "Ha'aretz" reported on 25 January "If Israel is against us acquiring them [missiles], it's as if it were saying, 'We want to attack Syria but we don't want them to protect themselves,'" he said. Israel and the United States have expressed concern about the possible sale of the Iskander missile to Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2005). VY

...WHILE MOSCOW SLASHES BILLIONS OFF SYRIAN DEBT
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 25 January that Presidents Putin and al-Assad signed an accord according to which Moscow will write off 73 percent of Soviet-era Syrian debt to Russia, or $9.8 billion, newsru.com reported. In exchange, Syria will begin to repay the rest of its $3.6 billion debt, with the first installment of $170 million to be paid this year, Kudrin added. Putin and al-Assad also agreed on Russian investments in the Syrian energy and tourist sectors, newsru.com reported. VY

DAILY SAYS MOSCOW USING SYRIA TO REGAIN GREAT-POWER STATUS
Moscow sees in the revival of its ties with Syria an opportunity to restore its status and role as a great power, "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 24 January. Today, Moscow has very few chances to fulfill its ambitions, except to be a mediator in international conflicts such as in the Middle East, and Syria can be very helpful in this regard, the daily added. According to the Kremlin's plan, Russia should first renew Syria's links to its military-industrial complex by exploiting Syrian fears of U.S. military might and then, by regaining the role of Syria's patron, mediate in Syrian-Israeli peace talks, "Kommersant-Daily" commented. VY

DUMA DEPUTIES DISTANCE SELVES FROM ANTI-SEMITIC LETTER...
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 25 January that Aleksandr Krutov, the deputy chairman of the Duma Information Policy Committee and co-author of a letter from 19 Duma deputies calling for an investigation of Jewish organizations in Russia for provoking "anti-Semitism in Russia and spreading Jewish extremism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005), has recalled the letter, newsru.com reported. A Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman said no action has been taken in connection with the letter. Krutov refused to comment on the letter's withdrawal. VY

...FOLLOWING INTERNATIONAL PROTEST
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on 25 January in Tel Aviv that his country will take "diplomatic steps" against the Duma deputies who sent the letter calling for Jewish groups to be investigated, cursor.il reported. "We can't allow any organization or any country to peacefully live with phenomena of this kind," he said. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the letter as containing "openly anti-Semitic statements," newsru.com reported. "The statement in question has nothing in common with the official position of the Russian leadership, which decisively spurns any display of ethnic tension and xenophobia, including anti-Semitism," the ministry's statement said. Mikhail Gabovich, an expert on Russian radical organizations, told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 25 January that the Duma deputies' letter looks like a provocation on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, to be commemorated on 27 January at a special ceremony in Poland attended by 40 world leaders, including President Putin. VY

JOURNALIST ACCUSED OF DISINFORMATION
The Foreign Ministry published on 24 January on its website (http://mid.ru) a statement accusing journalist Anna Politkovskaya of publishing disinformation in an article the same day in "Novaya gazeta," polit.ru reported. In her article, Politkovskaya wrote that Akhmed Zakaev, the envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, refrained from taking part in a seminar on Chechnya in Finland because the Finnish government allegedly refused to guarantee his security from possible actions by the Russian special services in Finland, polit.ru reported. In her article, Politkovskaya suggested that Russian agents could have seized Zakaev in the Helsinki airport and taken him away in a specially sent aircraft to Moscow. In its statement, the Foreign Ministry said that it usually does not comment on articles, especially those of a speculative nature, "but this is not distortion of the facts, but direct disinformation." VY

BENEFITS-REFORM PROTESTS CONTINUE, GROW IN SCALE
Mass demonstrations against the government's reform to convert most in-kind social benefits to cash payments continued across the country on 25-26 January, Russian media reported. A sanctioned demonstration was held on 26 January in the Sakhalin Oblast city of Kholmsk. On 25 January, some 7,000 protesters rallied outside the Belgorod Oblast administration building in Belgorod, ITAR-TASS reported. It was the first major protest in the city and came after local officials boosted electricity and utilities rates by 52 percent. Demonstrators called for a return to the old system of in-kind benefits. About 4,000 people protested on 25 January in a sanctioned demonstration in St. Petersburg, chanting slogans calling for an end to the benefits reform and for the resignation of the government, Ekho Moskvy reported. Representatives of Yabloko, the Communist Party, and the National Bolshevik Party addressed the Petersburg protest. Some 5,000 protesters gathered in Nizhnii Novgorod on 25 January, and the sanctioned demonstration briefly blocked downtown traffic, Interfax reported. About 300 people protested in Stavropol and demonstrators burnt an effigy of Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov. RC

VETERANS ORGANIZATIONS COME OUT AGAINST BENEFITS REFORM
"Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" on 21 January reported that veterans' and service personnel's organizations across the country have been organizing and participating in protests against the social-benefits reform. Council of Veterans of War, Labor, and the Armed Forces Chairman Colonel Ivan Kovalev told the paper that the reform is "simply an outrage." He said that veterans have lost thousands of rubles from their pensions each year as a result of the reform, which "cuts like a sharp knife." The organization will hold a demonstration in the Moscow Oblast town of Zheleznodorozhnyi on 29 January. "Everything that is happening to us now...is our state unilaterally abandoning all the commitments with regard to benefits that were adopted in previous years for service personnel and their families," All-Russia Servicemen's Trade Union official Igor Kurochkin told the paper. "The state has reserved the right only to take taxes from them." The union is considering filing a court case against the reform on behalf of service personnel and veterans. Colonel General Yurii Bukreev of the Megapir Association of Reserve Officers told the daily that many remote units are suffering from the reforms because soldiers and officers cannot afford to travel to their postings. RC

PUTIN CALLS ON YOUTH, SOCIETY TO REJECT ALL FORMS OF EXTREMISM
President Putin met in Moscow with students of Moscow State University on 25 January to mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of the university, Russian media reported. During the meeting, Putin said that the problem of extremists infiltrating youth organizations is "a serious contemporary problem." "Orders have been given to the presidential administration and the government to formulate tasks that the state can undertake in an administrative way to eliminate this problem," Putin said. But he added that combating extremism requires "the joint efforts of the state and society." "The inclination of society itself to reject any such extremism is no less important," Putin said. "If you see that extremists choose some new form of activity, the same form must be counterpoised to them." He added that society must be vigilant against all forms of extremism -- "leftist, rightist, or religious." RC

MINISTRY PLANS FREE HIGHER EDUCATION FOR FORMER SOLDIERS...
The Education and Science Ministry has prepared a bill under which military personnel who complete contract service and enter the reserves will be given free access to institutions of higher learning and a monthly stipend of 3,000 rubles ($100), "Vedomosti" reported on 26 January. Under the bill, any soldier who completes a three-year tour of service will receive one year of higher education free of charge and the stipend. "Institutes will be obligated to create preparatory departments for contract soldiers or to begin enrolling them for free in existing departments," ministry official Natalya Tretyak told the daily. "The state will pay for their education and the stipend will correspond with the official poverty level." The ministry plans to request 215 million rubles for the program in 2006 and up to 1 billion rubles by 2010. RC

...WHILE TAKING AWAY THEIR RIGHT TO WRITE HOME FOR FREE
Russian service personnel have been stripped of their previous privilege of sending letters for free as of 1 January, REN-TV reported on 25 January. As of the beginning of the year, the Federal Postal Service began issuing special envelopes for service personnel at a cost of 8 rubles ($0.27), ending the long-standing tradition of allowing military personnel to write home without paying postal charges. REN-TV quoted a seaman in the Pacific Fleet as saying that he can afford only 15 envelopes a month and that he has sent only two letters back to his home in Bashkortostan so far this year. The report also quoted representatives of various military units as saying that the new, subsidized envelopes have not been received at most posts. A postal official told the station that the Defense Ministry owes the postal service 15 million rubles for handling service personnel's mail in the past and that the change is a result of these arrears. RC

PUSHKIN CAUGHT UP IN IVANOVO PORNOGRAPHY CASE
Police in Ivanovo last week raided a local bookstore after receiving complaints from a representative of the Russian United Industrialists Party that it was selling pornographic materials, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 January. Police reportedly seized a book entitled "Verses For Adults," which includes erotic poetry by 19th-century poets Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov, and other similar volumes by classic Russian writers. The complaint was filed by Vladimir Cherkashov, a local poet and political activist, who said that he does not believe that Pushkin actually wrote the poems in question. "It is not his style," Cherkashov told the daily. According to the daily, prosecutors are now determining whether to open a case on charges of disseminating pornography and a committee within the local culture department is evaluating the seized materials to determine whether they constitute pornography. According to a spokesperson for the bookstore, analyses of the books from the Moscow Institute of Psychiatry and from Duma sexology adviser Sergei Agarkov have ruled that the materials are "erotic" rather than pornographic. Under the law on disseminating pornography, it is illegal to distribute depictions of sexual acts "without artistic merit," but local officials are charged with determining whether particular works have such merit. RC

POLICE IN NALCHIK CLOSE IN ON SUSPECTED MILITANTS
Police in Nalchik, capital of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, surrounded an apartment block on the city outskirts late on 25 January where three members of the Yarmuk band of Islamic militants, including its leader Musliam Ataev, were believed to have taken refuge, Russian news agencies reported. Several hours of negotiations failed to persuade the militants to release two women accompanying them. Yarmuk claimed responsibility for the raid last month on the Nalchik headquarters of the Federal Antinarcotics Service in which three police officers and a driver were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 December 2004). LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY ACCUSES CHECHEN LEADER OF PLANNING TO KILL SENIOR OFFICIALS
Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov has tasked field commander Doku Umarov with the assassination of prominent Chechen political figures, Russian agencies reported on 25 January, citing an unnamed Russian military official in the North Caucasus. That official suggested that Maskhadov's rationale is to intimidate potential candidates in the elections to a new Chechen parliament. Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said last September that that vote could take place in April-May 2005. The same Russian military official predicted that Maskhadov might try to persuade his supporters to participate in the planned election. LF

CRIMINAL CASE OPENED IN CONNECTION WITH CHECHEN INCURSION INTO DAGHESTAN
The Daghestan prosecutor's office has opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the raid on 10 January by some 70-100 members of Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's so-called presidential security force on police headquarters in the Daghestani town of Khasavyurt, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 January, quoting Khasavyurt Raion prosecutor Rashidkhan Magomedov. The Chechen detachment traveled to Khasavyurt after Daghestani police detained Kadyrov's sister Zulay, who was travelling without identity papers, and used force to secure her release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 14 January 2005). Magomedov said that the investigation will seek to determine whether or not Kadyrov personally participated in the raid; he denies having done so. LF

NATIONALIST LEADER ARRESTED IN ARMENIA
Armen Avetisian, leader of the ultranationalist Armenian Aryan Union, was arrested late on 24 January on charges of inciting racial hatred, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the following day. Avetisian's repeated demands that all Jews be expelled from Armenia have contributed to fears among Armenia's tiny Jewish minority of burgeoning anti-Semitism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005). LF

EU SOUTH CAUCASUS ENVOY VISITS ARMENIA
Ambassador Heikki Talvitie met in Yerevan on 24 -25 January with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian to discuss the Karabakh conflict and Armenian-Turkish relations, according to Arminfo and Armenian Public Television as cited by Groong. Sarkisian stressed Armenia's commitment to a peaceful solution of the Karabakh conflict and its aspiration to become a full-fledged member of the European family. Talvitie for his part stressed that the international community cannot impose a solution to the Karabakh conflict, and that Armenia and Azerbaijan must reach such a solution together. He also said that Armenia should make "a very special effort" to improve relations with Turkey, but offered no suggestions as to what concrete measures this might entail, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 25 January. LF

PACE ADOPTS REPORT ON KARABAKH CONFLICT...
At its spring session in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) debated on 25 January and then adopted a slightly revised version of a report on the Karabakh conflict drafted by British parliamentarian David Atkinson, who last year succeeded Terry Davis as rapporteur for that region, Turan reported. Lobbying efforts by both the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations to try to change wording they considered unfair or misleading proved only partially successful. The final draft of the report states that "considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces, and separatist forces are still in control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region." It terms the occupation of the territory of one Council of Europe member state by another "a grave violation" and stresses that the independence and secession of a territory may be achieved only through a lawful and peaceful process and not in the wake of an armed conflict leading to the expulsion of part of the region's population. It calls for compliance with four UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993 calling for the withdrawal of unnamed occupying forces from districts of Azerbaijan bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh. And it calls on the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to expedite a formal agreement on cessation of the conflict that would "eliminate the major consequences of the conflict for all parties" and pave the way for the so-called Minsk Conference that would address the region's future status vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani commentators on 26 January termed the wording of the report a major defeat for Armenia. LF

...CALLS FOR TALKS BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI, KARABAKH LEADERS
The PACE report adopted in Strasbourg on 25 January further called on the Azerbaijani leadership to embark immediately and unconditionally on talks with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the region's future status, echo-az.com and zerkalo.az reported on 26 January. Addressing the assembly on 25 January, Atkinson argued that Azerbaijan should be expelled from the Council of Europe if it attempts to restore its hegemony over Nagorno-Karabakh by military means. LF

THREE OPPOSITION PARTIES CRITICIZE GEORGIAN PRESIDENT
The Conservative Party, the Labor Party, and the New Right Wing (AM) have issued separate critical evaluations of President Mikheil Saakashvili's first year in power. Conservative leaders Zviad Dzidziguri and Koba Davitashvili (who is a former close associate of Saakashvili) told journalists on 25 January that Saakashvili has not kept the promises he made prior to his election. They argued that the recent 100 percent increase in pensions does not benefit the recipients as prices have risen drastically, Caucasus Press reported on 25 January. Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili compared Saakashvili to "a devastating tsunami" that destroyed much of what former President Eduard Shevardnadze accomplished, Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili too pointed to rising prices, and he further claimed that the birthrate has declined and the suicide rate has risen in the 12 months since Saakashvili was sworn in as president. Natelashvili challenged Saakashvili to a televised debate with the aim of demonstrating his incompetence to the Georgian people and forcing him to resign. AM leader David Gamkrelidze told journalists on 26 January that the most appropriate verdict on Saakashvili's first year was the resolution adopted on 24 January by PACE that condemned the violation of the balance of power between the executive and legislature that greatly augments the authority of the president, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIAN AGREE ON DEBT RESCHEDULING
The finance ministers of Georgia and Russia, Zurab Nogaideli and Aleksei Kudrin, respectively, signed an agreement on 24 January on restructuring part of Georgia's $158 million debt to Russia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported the following day. The agreement covers a total of $94.4 million in overdue debts and debts not included in the agreement Georgia signed last year with the Paris Club. Half of that sum is to be repaid by December 2006 and the remaining 50 percent over a period of 23 years with a grace period of six years. After that time, the annual interest rate will be 4 percent. Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze hailed the agreement on 25 January as "a constructive step" on Russia's part, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIA FINALIZES SALE OF MERCHANT FLEET
Having suspended an almost completed deal to sell the Georgian merchant fleet to the Greenoak Group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 28 December 2004), the Georgian government signed an agreement on 25 January selling it for $161 million to a British-Australian consortium, Caucasus Press reported. Greenoak had offered $107 million. Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania explained later on 25 January that initially it was planned to sell the fleet as part of a package together with extensive port facilities at Batumi, but that competition proved so keen that it was decided to sell the fleet separately. Zhvania said that the new owner has pledged to increase the fleet from 15 to 30 vessels, which will sail under the Georgian flag, and that all Georgian seamen will keep their jobs for 12 years. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT-ELECT SEEKS CLOSER ECONOMIC TIES WITH RUSSIA...
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 25 January, Sergei Bagapsh said that Abkhazia seeks to intensify relations with Russia, primarily in the economic sphere, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the following day. To that end, Bagapsh continued, Abkhaz legislation will be brought into line with Russian to ensure the maximum protection for Russian investments in Abkhazia. Bagapsh told journalists that he met on 25 January with State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and will meet with members of the Russian Security Council later this week. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 January, Bagapsh and Abkhaz Vice President Raul Khadjimba, who accompanied him to Moscow, will not meet with Kremlin officials before returning to Sukhum on 26 January. LF

...AND 'GOOD-NEIGHBORLY' RELATIONS WITH GEORGIA
Bagapsh also told journalists in Moscow on 25 January that he is ready to discuss with Georgian officials the establishment of good-neighborly relations, but he considers it inappropriate at this point to meet with Georgian President Saakashvili, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Bagapsh also said he considers the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war to any district other than Gali inexpedient at this juncture, but he did not exclude the return of those displaced persons at some unspecified later date. LF

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT DENIES CHECHEN WARLORD IS IN ABKHAZIA
Speaking at the same Moscow press conference on 25 January, Abkhaz Vice President-elect Khadjimba rejected as without foundation rumors that either radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev or any other Chechen radicals are currently in Abkhazia, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Russian Federal Security Service spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko claimed last week that Basaev spends much of his time outside Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT, PREMIER HOLD BUSINESS MEETINGS
President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov held a number of business meetings with company heads on 25 January, agencies reported. Nazarbaev met with Lloyd Paxton, chairman of Air Astana, who updated him on the airline's activities over the last three years and future development plans, Kazinform reported. Akhmetov met with Maqbul bin Ali bin Sultan, Oman's trade minister and chairman of the Oman Oil Company, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Their talks focused on preparation for the signing of a production-sharing agreement on hydrocarbon deposits in the north Caspian; they agreed that experts and working groups will continue talks on the issue. Akhmetov also met with the management of Singapore Technologies Engineering and the recently formed Kazakh-Singaporean joint venture Kaz-ST Engineering Bastua, Kazinform reported. They discussed cooperation in the fields of information technology, ship building, and Kazakhstan's e-government project. DK

KAZAKH POLICE DETAIN TAJIKS WITH 24 KILOGRAMS OF HEROIN
Officers from Kazakhstan's National Security Committee in Aqtobe Province arrested two Tajik citizens with 24.5 kilograms of heroin on 25 January, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The report noted that a criminal case has been open but provided no further details. DK

BRITISH AMBASSADOR HIGHLIGHTS ELECTION AID TO KYRGYZSTAN...
James Sharpe, Britain's ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, told a news conference in Bishkek on 25 January that the British government will provide $92,000 to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan on 27 February, Kyrgyz Television reported. Stressing that the aid is not intended to influence the election outcome, Sharpe said that the money will go to Kyrgyz NGOs, ITAR-TASS reported. Sharpe explained that Britain has supported a number of programs, including the training of 2,000 independent observers, information campaigns for voters, and exit polls, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Noting that Kyrgyz officials "have promised full cooperation with the OSCE in the conduct and monitoring of elections," Sharpe added, "The hope is, of course, that Kyrgyzstan will, again, lead the way in the region, not just in the conduct of elections, but also in us witnessing a peaceful transition of power in this country." DK

CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY OPENS OBSERVER MISSION IN TAJIKISTAN
CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 25 January and officially opened the CIS observer mission for the 27 February parliamentary elections, agencies reported. In his meeting with Rakhmonov, Rushailo discussed the observer mission's activities, as well as CIS counterterrorism efforts, ITAR-TASS reported. For his part, Rakhmonov said that recent agreements with Russia and Russian investment plans in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004) mark a new phase in bilateral ties. Rushailo told a press conference after the opening of the CIS mission in Dushanbe that the total number of CIS observers will likely exceed 100. When queried about the possibility of a "Georgian" or "Ukrainian" scenario in Tajikistan, Rushailo replied that a repetition of those events could take place both in CIS countries and elsewhere, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTRY HINTS AT UN APPEAL ON CASPIAN LEGAL STATUS
In a 25 January press release, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry indirectly criticized the participants in negotiations to settle the legal status of the Caspian Sea and hinted at a possible appeal to the United Nations. Noting that negotiations have been protracted, the statement said that "the only correct, legitimate, and civilized way [to resolve the issue] will be an appeal to the appropriate international organizations, including international courts of arbitration...." The statement chided some of the littoral states without identifying them. "Certain participants in the negotiating process express one-sided points of view that do not take into account the lawful interests of other states, and at times infringe on their sovereign rights." The statement concluded, "If negotiations between the sides do not lead to mutually acceptable decisions, it will be necessary to appeal to international organizations, including the United Nations." DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO HANDLE KGB WITHOUT 'CIVIL SOCIETY'
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 25 January said he will continue to oversee the State Security Committee (KGB) single-handedly without passing this supervision to any civil body, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "I have not made the KGB subject to oversight by some civil society [organization]," Lukashenka said. "Oversight by civil society would mean the collapse of the security services. Under the constitution and laws, I, as the head of state, am capable of controlling the security services personally, including the KGB. It will be so forever." Lukashenka revealed that the recent massive reshuffle in the KGB leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005) was caused by his dissatisfaction with its performance. JM

TREATMENT OF CHORNOBYL-AFFECTED CHILDREN IN BELARUS SEEN AS INEFFECTIVE
Uladzimir Tsalko, head of the Belarusian government's Chornobyl Committee, said last week that the medical treatment and recuperation of children residing in the country's areas affected by the fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident has been inefficient, Belapan reported on 25 January. According to Tsalko, only 40 percent of children in affected areas are treated at children's health establishments, while the rest are sent to poorly equipped facilities. He revealed that since 2001 the incidence of thyroid cancer among children residing in contaminated areas has increased by 250 percent. Tsalko also said that, as of early 2004, the incidence of malignant tumors was 13.9 cases per 100,000 children, while the incidence of endocrine system diseases in radioactively contaminated areas is 20 percent higher than the country's average. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VISITS STRASBOURG, SAYS DEMOCRACY IS HERE TO STAY...
Viktor Yushchenko addressed a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 25 January and vowed to make democracy irreversible in Ukraine, Ukrainian and international media reported. "As the president of Ukraine, I will do all I can to secure the irreversibility of democratic changes in my country and to make the fundamental principals of the Council of Europe -- protection of human rights, pluralistic democracy, and the rule of law -- prevail in my country," Yushchenko was quoted as saying by his personal website (http://www.yuschenko.com.ua). Yushchenko also pledged to make every effort to assist the investigation of the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. JM

...AND CAMPAIGNS FOR UKRAINE'S EU MEMBERSHIP
President Yushchenko also made clear at the PACE session on 25 January that Ukraine's strategic goal under his leadership will be to join the EU, Ukrainian and international media reported. "I have a clear plan of transformations in our country for the next five years and a team that can carry it out," Yushchenko said. "I will not speak about its details now; I will only say that it is based on the realization of our strategic foreign policy goal -- membership in the European Union." Yushchenko welcomed the EU's intention to work out a "new strategy of relations" with Ukraine. "I'm convinced that [this strategy] should foresee a prospect of [EU] membership [for Ukraine]," Yushchenko added. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told the European Parliament on 24 January that a new type of agreement with Ukraine will be put in place in early 2008. Yushchenko said in an interview with the BBC on 26 January that Ukraine may apply for EU membership in several weeks, after a new government is formed in the country, Interfax reported. JM

PRIME MINISTER-DESIGNATE UPBEAT ABOUT HER APPROVAL
Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was recently designated by President Viktor Yushchenko as Ukraine's acting prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005), said in an interview with the Moscow-based "Izvestiya" on 26 January that she will be approved in her post by the Verkhovna Rada with "many more" votes than the minimum 226 necessary for this procedure. "I have spoken with virtually all parliamentary forces; they are ready to back me," Tymoshenko said. She said the new government's key priorities will be to change Ukraine's taxation system and to reduce the shadow economy. "The main problem right now is not how to divide [government] posts," Yushchenko said. "The basic question is where we are to find so many honest, patriotic, and devoted...professionals in order to fill the posts that will be vacated by the old team." JM

CROATIA, ALBANIA, AND MACEDONIA TO SEND JOINT MEDICAL TEAM TO AFGHANISTAN
The defense ministers of Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia agreed in Zagreb on 25 January to send a joint medical team to Afghanistan, perhaps as early as August, as part of their joint efforts to obtain NATO membership, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Also present at the third meeting of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter, which includes the United States and the three western Balkan NATO hopefuls, were unnamed officials of the U.S. Defense Department (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 28 May 2004). The Croatian, Albanian, and Macedonian ministers said in a statement that they want to improve cooperation among their respective countries to prepare for joining NATO. Croatian Defense Minister Berislav Roncevic noted that various "NATO representatives, including the secretary-general himself, have reaffirmed their support to the countries of the charter on their road to [joining] the North Atlantic alliance." Roncevic said in response to a reporter's question that the ministers did not discuss Kosova in particular, adding, however, that the ministers hope that NATO will finish its mission in Kosova as successfully as it did its mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT SAYS EDUCATION KEY TO RESOLVING SOCIAL PROBLEMS
In his keynote address to a conference on education for the Romany minority, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in Skopje on 25 January that education is the basic precondition for resolving social issues such as unemployment, low standards of living, social marginalization, and various forms of violence, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Crvenkovski said dealing with the specific culture of the Roma requires a special and responsible approach, MIA news agency reported. Nezdet Mustafa, a Romany member of parliament, protested that the Education Ministry told Romany representatives that Romany education is not a priority for the ministry when those representatives sought improvements. More than 90 percent of the Romany pupils in Macedonia drop out of elementary school before finishing, according to official statistics quoted by "Utrinski vesnik." The conference was organized by the Open Society Institute Macedonia and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. UB

KOSOVAR SERB POLITICIANS SLAM COLLEAGUE FOR JOINING GOVERNMENT
Several local Serbian political leaders told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 25 January that the recent decision by Slavisa Petkovic of the small Citizens Initiative Srbija party to join the cabinet of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was opportunistic and without any political significance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005). Randjel Nojkic of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija, which is headed by Oliver Ivanovic and nine other members of the previous parliament belonging to the Povratak (Return) coalition, said that Petkovic's decision comes as "no surprise" to him. Nojkic noted that Petkovic has long argued that he can resolve the Kosova question with Kosovar Albanian leaders and does not want or need the involvement of Belgrade. Nojkic also said that Haradinaj is attempting to split and manipulate the local Serbian leadership, just as former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic sought to split the Albanians in the late 1980s and 1990s by finding some who would work with him. For his part, Milan Ivanovic of the Serbian National Council for Northern Kosmet said that Petkovic made his decision out of personal self-interest. The terms Metohija and Kosmet are favored by many Serbs because they allude to the previous ownership of land in the province by Serbian Orthodox monks. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER CALLS ON PARTIES TO RALLY BEHIND EU INTEGRATION EFFORT
Returning on 25 January from a visit to Brussels, Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu called on all political parties to back the government's EU integration efforts, Mediafax reported. He said it is Romania's "national interest to accede to the EU on 1 January 2007 with dignity." Earlier on 25 January, Popescu-Tariceanu met in Brussels with European Parliament President Josep Borell, who told him he would like to visit Romania one month ahead of the country's planned 2007 accession to solve any last-minute problems. Borell warned Popescu-Tariceanu that a number of political groups in the European Parliament are "concerned" about Romania and Bulgaria's ability to meet the accession criteria by 2007. MS

ROMANIAN BUSINESSMAN INDICTED OVER TAX EVASION
Prosecutors on 25 January indicted businessman Corneliu Iacobov over tax evasion, money laundering, and embezzlement, Mediafax reported. Iacobov, who is a member of the former ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), denies the charges and says they are politically motivated. Nineteen other people are being investigated for alleged illicit dealings at the Onesti-based Rafo oil refinery and Carom tire maker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 13 January 2005). According to a 25 January report in the daily "Curentul," PSD Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc was the "mastermind" behind the alleged financial crimes. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ISSUES STATEMENT ON AUSCHWITZ LIBERATION ANNIVERSARY...
The Romanian government said on 25 January it wishes to pay respect to the memory of those who perished during World War II "for the only reason that they were Jews," according to an official press release. The government pledged to abide by and "firmly implement legislation prohibiting xenophobic and anti-Semitic manifestations." The statement emphasized the importance of education in promoting awareness of the Holocaust and said research on the Holocaust is "an investment in our own future." It said it "counts on the help of countries experienced in this research, and particularly on the framework created by the International Task Force for Holocaust Education," of which Romania recently became a member. It also pledged to implement the recommendations included in the November 2004 report of the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania. MS

...WHILE EDUCATION MINISTRY SAYS HUNDREDS OF PEDAGOGUES TRAINED IN TEACHING THE HOLOCAUST
A statement issued on 25 January by the Education Ministry said hundreds of Romanian teachers have been trained on how to teach the Holocaust, AP reported. The statement said 100 teachers participated in a program organized in Israel by the Yad Va'Shem Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, while another 400 were trained in Romania. MS

TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS REMAIN STALLED
Consultations held in Odessa on 25 January did not succeed in breaking the stalemate around the resumption of negotiations on the Transdniester conflict, Infotag and Flux reported. The consultations were held at the initiative of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and were attended by Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova, Transdniester "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay, and representatives of the three mediators -- Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova Petro Chalyy, Russian Special Representative Valerii Nesterushkin, and William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission to Moldova. A similar attempt to resume the negotiations failed in Varna in November 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 12 November 2004). Flux cited Sova as saying the attempt failed due to the "mediators' passivity and Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov's lack of will to reach an agreement." MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTIES COMPLAIN OF ELECTORAL HARASSMENT BY AUTHORITIES
Democratic Moldova Block (BMD) official Victor Ossipov told journalists on 25 January that the authorities are attempting to intimidate BMD members who are engaged in electoral campaigning, Flux and Infotag reported. Ossipov said several BMD activists have been detained, some BMD deputies have been prevented from attending election rallies, and at some rallies police officers have noted the content of speakers' speeches. He also said the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has worked out a plan to rig the elections and that the 6 March ballot will be "neither free nor democratic." Meanwhile, several representatives of the extraparliamentary Social Democratic Party (SDPM) told journalists in Chisinau on 25 January that SDPM activists engaged in campaigning are being arbitrarily detained by police. They threatened to alert international organizations of the PCM's alleged abuse of power and intention to rig the elections. MS

PROVINCIAL UNREST EXPOSES NATIONAL GRIEVANCES AND FACTIONAL POLITICS IN IRAN
Western media coverage of Iran tends to concentrate on issues such as press freedom or political clashes between reformists and conservatives. These issues have ramifications throughout Iran, but they are magnified in Tehran, where so many of those correspondents are based.

Iranians in the periphery tend to have more mundane concerns, such as the provision of social services and hospitals. And although such issues receive scant attention, they have a considerable bearing on voting patterns. Unrest last summer in one southern Iranian town illustrates the point, and is arguably indicative of recent protests elsewhere in the country.

Violent protests erupted in the southern Iranian port of Genaveh on 24 August, apparently directed at the district governor, Iranian and other media reported in September. Protestors vandalized local government buildings and water and electricity installations, the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 15 September, although it did not specify the cause of discontent. People chanted anti-regime slogans during several hours of rioting, until Iranian security forces stepped in and made many arrests, according to an unconfirmed report from an exiled opposition group's website (http://www.iranncrfac.org). The group is a front for the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a U.S. State Department- and EU-designated terrorist group.

Twenty-two people were later convicted on public-disorder-related charges and given jail terms of between seven months and four years, and also variously sentenced to be whipped between 10 and 74 times, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 15 September, citing an unnamed judiciary official. In total, 70 people were charged over the unrest, the official said on 14 September.

According to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), one reason for the unrest was the "rumors" that a hospital in Genaveh was to be transferred to another town, Dashtestan. Qasem Moradi, a deputy governor of Bushehr Province in charge of security affairs, said on 5 September that "villains and rascals" exploited concern over the rumors to provoke unrest, attack government buildings, and cause "irreparable and great" damage, IRNA reported. He cited the conclusions drawn by a provincial investigating committee, which also criticized unspecified local government bodies for failing to "convince public opinion," ignoring grievances, and failing to respond firmly to the unrest.

A separate letter to the Bushehr provincial governor, Ismail Tabadar, published on 14 September in "Bushehr Lian," a local paper, hinted at the scope of the violence by stating that the Genaveh district governor appointed by Tabadar took refuge in a "security institution." It added that government and municipal offices and the local electricity plant were "the scene of...plundering, but neither your governor nor the [police] were brave enough to go among the people."

The provincial governor was finally forced to call on the "mobilization force," which ended the unrest in "the fastest possible time," according to the "Bushehr Lian" letter. This was presumably a reference to the Basij militia, a paramilitary unit attached to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps that is often used to stem civil disturbances.

The open letter stated that Genaveh residents were angered by the district governor's refusal to address unspecified grievances. Its author accused provincial governor Tabadar of making a politically motivated appointment in choosing a man rejected, on an unspecified occasion, as unfit for public office by the Guardians Council, the body that vets electoral hopefuls. "This [district] governor of yours has a record of confrontation with the people of Tangestan, and his [administration] of Bandar-i Reeg [a port] is famous," the letter stated. Had the provincial governor mingled with the people and listened to local clerics, the letter added, he would not have appointed an incompetent person for political reasons.

In the past, the conservative-led Guardians Council has been accused of barring numerous reformers from running for elected bodies, although formally it rejects people on legal grounds, such as having a criminal record. Iran's provincial governors are appointed by the Interior Ministry, currently in reformist hands. In an indication of its conservative inclination, "Bushehr Lian" criticized the appointment of a man rejected by the Guardians Council. The letter deplored Tabadar's rejection of other nominees for the post who were proposed by the local member of the current, conservative-dominated parliament.

Whether he is a reformist or a conservative, the Genaveh district governor's actions angered some locals. Nor is incompetence the preserve of one political tendency. At a provincial level, reformist and conservative labels are less significant than they are in national politics. The labels merely identify local cliques or individuals with shifting loyalties who seek the rewards of administrative posts in a country where such jobs are for many an economic necessity.

Mohammad Baqer Abbasi, a local affiliate of the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front, suggested in a commentary in the 12 September "Nasir-i Bushehr" that unemployment, interventionist policies that disrupt economic and farming activities in Bushehr, and official incompetence contributed to local dissatisfaction in Genaveh. Abbasi advised officials to reconsider their own records before accusing local residents of being "rascals."

Iran "is one of the safest countries in the world," Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi declared in Tehran on 24 August, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). In fact, the country intermittently witnesses expressions of public discontent. These range in size from large-scale rioting, as in the 1999 student and public demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities, to small gatherings that sometimes degenerate into more serious unrest. Unpaid wages among state-sector employees or provincial or district boundary changes that might affect public services and budget allocations often prompt such gatherings. The anger, as in Genaveh, is often symptomatic of Iranians' frustration at the perceived distance between officials and ordinary people, and the reluctance of those officials to account for their actions.

The letter to the provincial governor in "Bushehr Lian" stated that Genaveh residents were incensed when the district governor rudely refused to listen to their grievances because, he said, he had a meeting to attend. This is particularly ironic, because Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has dubbed this the Year of Accountability.

AFGHAN POLITICIANS DOUBT PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS WILL BE HELD ON TIME
Citing technical and security problems, Afghan political figures expressed doubt that Afghanistan's parliamentary elections can be held in May, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 25 January (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 22 January 2005). Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed, deputy leader of Harakat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan and a former cabinet minister in Afghanistan's Transitional Administration, said that only after a census is taken and "people's representatives are elected on the basis of the proportion of the people in each province and district" can parliamentary elections be held successfully. While Afghan government officials have said that population estimates for 30 out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are complete, many people in those provinces have complained about the counting process. Abdul Rashid Aryan, head of the National Party of Afghanistan, told Pajhwak News Agency that in many provinces warlords still hold power and, unless these people are disarmed and disenfranchised, the elections will be delayed further. Apart from security concerns and population numbers, Afghanistan's electoral boundaries need to be determined at least 120 days before the poll and election procedures have to be finalized. AT

NEO-TALIBAN CLAIMS ATTACK ON SOUTHERN AFGHAN SECURITY OFFICIAL
The security commander of Ghorak District of Kandahar Province, Azim Khan, was injured in a 24 January attack, in which his two bodyguards were killed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 25 January. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mofti Latifollah Hakimi told AIP on 25 January that Azim Khan and seven other people were killed in the attack by the militia. In recent days, the neo-Taliban has increased its attacks against government officials in southern Afghanistan, especially in Helmand, Oruzgan, and Kandahar provinces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 24 January 2005). AT

NEW ZEALAND EXTENDS ITS ROLE IN AFGHAN SECURITY
Prime Minister Helen Clark announced on 25 January that New Zealand is extending its force deployment in Afghanistan until September 2006, New Zealand's government website indicated (http://www.beehive.govt.nz). In addition to the extension of the deployment of the 120-strong New Zealand-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in the central Afghan Bamiyan Province, "two police officers will be deployed to assist with the training of Afghani police officers," Clark said. "Failure to stabilize Afghanistan would have consequences for the campaign against terrorism," Clark added. In addition to personnel in Bamiyan, New Zealand has a small number of personnel working with the coalition forces and helping the Afghan National Army. AT

GREECE TO EXPAND ITS PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
The Greek government has decided to increase the number of its personnel in Afghanistan, Athens News Agency reported on 24 January. Athens will send an additional medical unit to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for a period of 18 months. Currently, Greece maintains 122 military personnel in Afghanistan, the majority of whom are engineers and medical staff, dpa reported on 24 January. The number of additional Greek medical teams going to Afghanistan is not clear from the reports. AT

ONE OF LAST TWO AFGHAN JEWS DIES
Yitzhak Levi, one of the two remaining Jews living in Afghanistan, has died, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 24 January. According to AP on 25 January, Afghanistan's Jewish community once numbered up to 40,000. At the request of Levi's family, his body is being flown to Uzbekistan via Israel for burial. AT

IRANIAN LEADER BANS INTERPELLATIONS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced in a 25 January letter to Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel that the legislature should not interpellate any cabinet members in the months before the June presidential election, Radio Farda reported. In the letter, which was read out by Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Khamenei referred to the possibility of a no-confidence motion for Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem and added that not only will this not help the country but might also be harmful. The 234 legislators who were present thanked Khamenei for his letter, Radio Farda reported, and said that cooperation with the executive branch is their priority. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES NEW ROADS AND TRANSPORT MINISTER
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami proposed Mohammad Rahmati as the next roads and transport minister on 25 January, IRNA reported. The legislature voted no-confidence in Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram in October 2004, and it voted against Ahmad Sadeq Bonab, who Khatami proposed in January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004 and 17 January 2005). Rahmati succeeded Bonab as the acting minister. BS

IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS COMMANDERS READY FOR U.S.
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps ground forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on 25 January that Iran will respond decisively to an attack by the United States or Israel, ILNA reported. Iran is militarily powerful and highly motivated, he said, and it will apply the lessons of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and utilize the help of God to defeat the enemy in less than 1 and 1/2 months. "In addition to our defense capacity within the country, we have powerful defensive capability outside the country," Jafari said. Brigadier General Qasem Suleimani, commander of the IRGC's special operations Qods Force, said on 20 January that Iran is rich because of the sacrifices made in the Iran-Iraq War, Fars News Agency reported. "It is for this reason that America cannot do a damned thing," he concluded. BS

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CONTINUES MEETINGS WITH IRANIAN OFFICIALS
Ilham Aliyev met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in Tehran on 25 January, IRNA reported. They discussed close bilateral relations that are based on religious and cultural ties, and Hashemi-Rafsanjani said economic and trade cooperation should increase. Aliyev reportedly had a similar conversation with Speaker of Parliament Haddad-Adel on 25 January, according to IRNA. They also discussed the Caspian Sea legal regime. Aliyev visited the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, on 25 January, IRNA reported. BS

FORMER IRANIAN OFFICIAL FACES TRAVEL BAN
The Revolutionary Court in Tehran confirmed on 25 January that Former Deputy Minister for Islamic Culture and Guidance Issa Saharkhiz is banned from foreign travel, ILNA reported. The State Inspectorate has lodged a complaint against Saharkhiz, who heads a press-freedom association, saying that he gave interviews to foreign media, spread propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and waged psychological warfare against Iran. Other charges against Saharkhiz, according to ILNA, are namely that he exploited his position, misused government property, and earned money illegally. Saharkhiz learned of the travel ban when he tried to go to a conference in the Netherlands in late 2004. "I was told about the ban order, which was issued by the Revolutionary Court, at the airport," he told ISNA on 28 November 2004. It is embarrassing that an Iranian journalist cannot speak at an international conference because of a travel ban, he said, and it makes the human rights situation look bad. BS

ISLAMABAD DENIES IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN BALUCHISTAN UNREST
"Dawn," an English-language Pakistani daily, reported on 25 January that Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan rejected "The Sunday Telegraph's" report of Iranian support to Baluchi insurgents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2004). If there are any problems, he said, Islamabad and Tehran could have direct discussions. Meanwhile, Pakistani Ambassador to Tehran Iqbal Ahmad Khan said on 25 January that his country has not given basing rights to the U.S. military, Fars News Agency reported. "The territory of Pakistan will never be used against the interests of Iran," he added. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote recently in "The New Yorker" that U.S. military personnel have infiltrated Iran from Pakistani territory to conduct reconnaissance missions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2005). BS

THIRTY-ONE U.S. MARINES KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASH IN IRAQ
A U.S. Marine Corps transport helicopter crashed near Al-Rutbah in western Iraq on 26 January, killing 31 Marines, CNN reported. The crash occurred during a security and stabilization operation, according to a U.S. Central Command press release issued earlier in the day (http://www.centcom.mil). "Personnel from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing were transporting personnel from the 1st Marine Division when the crash occurred," the statement said. Further details have not been released. KR

KIRKUK ROCKED BY THREE CAR BOMBINGS
Seven Iraqis were killed in three car bomb attacks in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk on 26 January, Al-Jazeera reported. The dead included three policemen, two soldiers, and two civilians. Iraqi police said that the first bomb went off near a police station, the second in a popular market, and the third near a U.S. military patrol. It is unclear whether any U.S. soldiers were injured in the attack. Tensions have been heightened in the city in recent days after the election commission announced it will opening polling centers to Kurds previously displaced by the Hussein regime. Meanwhile, militants attacked two political party offices in the city of Ba'qubah on 26 January, Al-Jazeera reported. The offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Arab Unity Grouping were blown up after insurgents and guards at both buildings exchanged gunfire. Gunmen also blew up five polling centers in Al-Khalis on 26 January, the satellite news channel reported. KR

IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER UPDATES PRESS ON SECURITY
Falah al-Naqib told a 26 January press briefing broadcast live on CNN that Iraqi security forces have been working under a high state of alert since 25 January. A curfew will be imposed beginning at 7 p.m. on 28 January. Al-Naqib said that the curfew would not be absolute. However, a complete ban will be in place during 30 January, except for vehicles with special licenses. He added that governors and police chiefs in each of Iraq's 18 governorates have been given permission to implement special measures depending upon the security situation in their governorates. The minister also said that special rewards will be given to Iraqi security forces for capturing terrorists, identifying booby-trapped cars, and obstructing attempts to derail the elections. The rewards amount to 300 million Iraqi dinars ($200,000). Al-Naqib also announced the names of several terrorists affiliated with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, saying: "We are beginning to dismantle the terrorist cells. We have penetrated the terrorist cells." KR

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES PLAN FOR WITHDRAWAL OF MULTINATIONAL FORCES
Iyad Allawi announced at a press briefing broadcast live on Al-Arabiyah television on 25 January a six-point plan for the departure of multinational forces from Iraq. Allawi declined to give a specific date for the withdrawal, saying that the process will be gradual and depend on the strength of Iraqi security forces. "After the elections, I will focus my attention on enhancing the structure of national security, in a manner that will ensure more cohesion and coordination between the various security forces.... When the number of trained and qualified security forces and army [personnel] reaches the required level, we will be qualified to assume responsibility for the security process in most city centers instead of the multinational troops.... When we reach this stage, we will be able to start a significant reduction of the presence of the multinational forces," he said. Allawi took the opportunity to plug his candidate list ahead of 30 January elections saying: "Next Sunday, you will choose who you trust to lead your country toward a new era of security and prosperity. You must elect the Iraqi list, which is the only list that can build a free, strong, and independent Iraq." KR

OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTER REGISTRATION ENDS WITH DISAPPOINTING NUMBER OF REGISTRANTS
The International Organization for Migration released figures on 25 January of the number of Iraqis that have registered to vote outside Iraq in the 30 January elections (http://www.iraqocv.org). According to the figures, which did not include the final day of registration, some 255,000 Iraqis registered to vote in 14 countries. The organization said it estimated that more than 1 million Iraqi expatriates were eligible to participate in the vote. Voter turnout was strongest in Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden, but still disappointingly low. Only 10 percent of eligible Iraqis registered to vote in the United States. The polls will be open to Iraqi expatriates for three days, from 28 and 30 January. Iraqi Election Commission spokesman Farid Ayar told reporters in Baghdad on 25 January that the initial election results will be available about a week after the polls close on 30 January, with final results expected after 10 days, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. KR

MILITANTS PASS OUT LEAFLETS IN BAGHDAD WARNING CITIZENS NOT TO VOTE
Militants walked the streets of at least one Baghdad neighborhood on 25 January, handing out leaflets warning Iraqis not to participate in the 30 January elections, international media reported. "This is a final warning to all of those who plan to participate in the election," nytimes.com cited the leaflets as saying. "We vow to wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters' blood." The leaflets also warned Iraqis to stay at least 500 yards away from polling centers, which they intend to target with rockets, mortar shells, and car bombs, the website reported. "To those of you who think you can vote and then run away, we will shadow you and catch you, and we will cut off your heads and the heads of your children." Iraqi police confronted the militants, killing two of them; the rest of the militants escaped, nytimes.com reported. Three police officers were killed in the battle. Al-Jazeera reported that 11 policemen were killed in the incident. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said that militants gunned down a police colonel and his 5-year-old daughter in southern Baghdad on 25 January, international media reported. KR

IRAQI SUNNI LEADER DISCUSSES CONTACTS WITH BA'ATH PARTY
Sunni leader Sa'd Abd al-Razzaq told London's "Al-Hayat" that his party, the Independent Democrats Grouping, has held negotiations with members of the dissolved Ba'ath Party aimed at bringing the party into the political process, the daily reported on 25 January. The grouping is led by veteran politician Adnan Pachachi; other unnamed "nationalist" groups were also involved in the discussions. Abd al-Razzaq said that the Ba'ath Party -- which was banned in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority -- will not participate in elections, but the discussions laid the foundation for "some kind of reconciliation on sound bases." Ba'athist representatives reportedly demanded participation in the political process under the party's official name, Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. Abd al-Razzaq said that demand "needs more discussion even though it is acceptable in principle." The Ba'athists also conceded that party members from the former regime should be prosecuted for their alleged crimes but demanded that a timetable be set on the pursuit of party members, "Al-Hayat" reported. Ba'ath Party members also demanded the withdrawal of multinational forces and the postponement of the elections, Abd al-Razzaq said. KR

INTERIM ASSEMBLY MEMBER CALLS ON SUNNI CLERICS TO DEFINE THEIR STANCE ON WANTED TERRORIST
Sheikh Humam Hammudi, a member of the interim National Assembly, reportedly called on Sunni clerics at a 24 January press briefing to define their stance towards fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, Republic of Iraq radio reported the same day. Hammudi said Sunni clerics in Iraq and in the Arab world should made their opinions of al-Zarqawi's terrorist operations known, in an apparent effort to gain Sunni support against the terrorist. KR

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