Accessibility links

Newsline - February 3, 2005


PUTIN WANTS CLARITY ON PREEMPTIVE STRIKES AGAINST TERRORISTS ABROAD
President Vladimir Putin submitted to the Duma on 28 January amendments to the draft antiterrorism bill that would stipulate under what conditions Russian armed forces can be mobilized to strike terrorist bases beyond Russia's frontiers, Interfax reported on 2 February. The bill has been passed by the Duma in the first reading. Putin suggested that such an intervention could take the form of either using weapons based on Russian territory to target terrorists or their bases outside Russia, or alternatively "using Russia's armed forces to take measures to stop international terrorists' attacks outside Russia." Any decision on such action is to be made by the Russian president on the basis of decrees from the Federation Council. LF

KUDRIN TRIES TO BACK AWAY FROM COMMENTS ON CHINESE FUNDING OF YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ TAKEOVER...
The Finance Ministry on 2 February issued a "clarification" of recent remarks by Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who said state-controlled Vneshekonombank has received a $6 billion loan from a consortium of Chinese banks to help state-owned Rosneft purchase Yuganskneftegaz, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005). "Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has never claimed that Vneshekonombank drew credits from Chinese banks to finance the purchase of Yuganskneftegaz shares," the ministry's statement said, according to Prime-TASS. Kudrin responded on 1 February to a reporter's question about an increase in state borrowing by saying: "I can't quite comment on your figure. I can only say that it apparently refers to Vneshekonombank's borrowing $6 billion from certain Chinese banks to credit Rosneft." The ministry's 2 February statement quoted Kudrin as saying: "Regarding the credits, Vneshekonombank drew credits from Chinese banks. But I can't give a more detailed answer right now." RC

...AS MEDIA SPECULATE THAT KUDRIN'S STATEMENT COULD TORPEDO ROSNEFT'S PLANS
"Kommersant-Daily" on 2 February wrote that Finance Minister Kudrin's statement about the Chinese loan to Vneshekonombank "only at first glance looks like innocent outspokenness." The daily said the revelation gives Yukos considerable ammunition to use in its lawsuit against the sale of Yuganskneftegaz in the United States, as well as for other similar cases. Also on 1 February, Federal Energy Agency Director Sergei Oganesyan told journalists he believes Rosneft should retain ownership of Yuganskneftegaz and that Rosneft should not be taken over by Gazprom. He said he opposes the takeover of Rosneft because of "technical features and differences between oil extraction and gas extraction." The takeover of Rosneft by Gazprom has reportedly been intensely lobbied by presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev, who is chairman of the board of Gazprom. RC

BUSINESS SKEPTICAL AS GOVERNMENT REVISES 2004 GDP GROWTH TO 7.1 PERCENT
Analysts and businesspeople responded skeptically on 2 February when the Federal Statistics Service revised the country's official 2004 GPD growth-rate estimate up to 7.1 percent, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported. Just last week, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said GDP grew by 6.9 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Market analysts noted that the 7.1 percent figure corresponds neatly with the 7.2 growth rate that would be required to meet President Putin's stated goal of doubling GDP within a decade. GDP growth was 7.3 percent in 2003. "The numbers look suspicious," Troika Dialog analyst Anton Struchevskii told the daily. "Monthly data released by the service throughout the year do not match the end result." Renaissance Capital researcher Aleksei Moisseev expressed doubt over the Federal Statistics Service's assertion that there was a 40.5 percent buildup of inventories in 2004, saying it would be unhealthy for the manufacturing sector if such huge reserves of unsold goods had been stockpiled. RC

UPPER CHAMBER HEAD SAYS BENEFITS-REFORM COSTS SOARING
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told city legislators in St. Petersburg on 2 February the implementation of the controversial reform to convert in-kind benefits to cash payments has already cost the government four times what it initially planned, Regnum reported. Nonetheless, the upper chamber has recommended the government begin indexing benefits compensation for inflation as of 1 August, that it increase its transfers to regional budgets, and that it do more to control the access of benefits recipients to necessary medicines. RC

SPEAKER: LAWMAKERS' BENEFITS WILL BE MONETIZED TOO
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 2 February that legislation is being prepared to monetize the in-kind benefits currently enjoyed by State Duma deputies and Federation Council members, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Gryzlov said the legislation will be presented this month. Duma Regulations Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia) said benefits including housing, utilities, transportation, and communications will be replaced by cash payments. However, deputies on 2 February voted to maintain the in-kind benefits given to former Russian presidents and members of their families, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Only 35 deputies voted in favor of a proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) to strip former President Boris Yeltsin of such benefits as subsidized medical care, sanatorium treatment, health and life insurance, a state-owned dacha, and staff paid for from the federal budget. According to LDPR Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov, Yeltsin's benefits cost the state 7.2 million rubles ($240,000) per year. Mitrofanov said he plans to introduce a bill that would strip deputies and Federation Council members of their benefits. RC

MINISTER ADMITS RUSSIA WILL ALWAYS NEED THE DRAFT
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov conceded on 2 February it will be impossible for Russia to switch to an all-volunteer military force, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Because of geopolitical reality, Ivanov said, Russia must maintain an army of at least 1 million men, making proposals to create a volunteer force "unrealistic." "Theoretically it is possible, but practically it is unrealistic," Ivanov said. Earlier, Ivanov backed away from Defense Ministry proposals to drastically reduce the number of deferments for conscripts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). Ivanov said as soon as all of Russia's rapid-deployment units have been converted to contract service, the next step in the ministry's reform will be to make all sergeants volunteers, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov also endorsed a proposal to introduce "basic military preparedness" as a compulsory subject in Russian schools. He said the ministry still intends to reduce the conscription period from two years to one year. RC

GOVERNMENT TO KEEP CONTROL OF NEW PATRIOTIC TELEVISION CHANNEL
Defense Minister Ivanov also said on 2 February that the ministry is seeking private capital for its project to create the Zvezda patriotic television channel, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 2 February 2005). However, he said, the government will not cede control of the channel. "We want to attract private capital into this project as shareholders, but the controlling block of shares will be in the hands of the state and the Defense Ministry," Ivanov said. He added that the channel will only accept advertising from Russian firms. RC

PROSECUTORS SEND TYMOSHENKO CASE BACK TO INVESTIGATORS
First Deputy Military Prosecutor Anatolii Ponomarenko told "Kommersant-Daily" on 3 February that his agency has sent the case pending against Ukrainian Prime Minister-designate Yuliya Tymoshenko back to investigators for further work. Tymoshenko has been accused of paying bribes to Russian military personnel in exchange for business concessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 December 2004 and 27 January 2005). According to the daily, the decision to send the case back for further investigation came after lawyers for one of the defendants in the case filed a complaint pointing out numerous shortcomings in the case materials, including the fact that investigators had never questioned the defendant himself. RC

PATRIOTIC PARTIES MOVE TOWARD CONSOLIDATION
Patriots of Russia head and State Duma deputy Gennadii Semigin (independent) and People's Will head and Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin (Motherland) announced on 2 February they have signed an agreement on cooperation and partnership, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 February. According to the report, Patriots of Russia reached a similar accord with the People's Party, headed by Deputy Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia), earlier this month, and those two parties have already formed a joint slate of candidates for legislative elections in Amur Oblast. "Thus we have taken one more step toward the consolidation of all patriotic forces in the country," Semigin was quoted as saying. Baburin's party ran in the 2003 Duma elections as part of the Motherland bloc, and party leaders are members of the Motherland Duma faction, while Semigin has been more closely associated with the Communist Party, despite a recent public falling out with Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). RC

REGION'S EFFORT TO END DIRECT ELECTION OF MAYORS ANGERS LIBERALS
Representatives of Yabloko and other political parties held a demonstration on 2 February outside the Moscow representative office of the Kaluga Oblast administration to protest the oblast's decision to scrap the direct election of city mayors, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 February. The oblast made the decision last month, prompting the mayor of Obninsk, the region's second-largest city, to step down on 11 January, "The Moscow Times" reported on 3 February. Kaluga Oblast Governor Anatolii Artamonov has named Kaluga businessman Vladimir Morozov as Obninsk mayor. Kaluga Oblast lawmaker Tatyana Kotlyar told "The Moscow Times" that she is filing a lawsuit against the oblast's move to strip Obninsk residents of their right directly to elect their mayor. Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that "we do not need to see the experience of Kaluga Oblast spread around the country." RC

INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED INTO DEATH WHILE IN CUSTODY OF URALS LAWMAKER
Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Zolotov told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 2 February he is personally taking charge of the investigation into the death while in police custody of Yekaterinburg legislator Aleksandr Khabarov, ITAR-TASS reported. Khabarov died on 27 January in what was initially reported as a suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). He was found hanged in his cell at a pretrial detention facility, where he was awaiting trial on charges of extortion. Zolotov said police now suspect Khabarov was murdered. RC

CHECHEN RESISTANCE COMMANDER ORDERS UNILATERAL CEASE-FIRE
Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in 1997, issued a decree on 14 January ordering the resistance forces subordinate to him to suspend all offensive military operations, according to a 3 February statement by Chechen government representative Umar Khanbiev posted on chechenpress.info that day. That order, Khanbiev explained, was intended "as a gesture of goodwill," and to demonstrate that the Chechen resistance does not consist of autonomous groups, but is subordinate to Maskhadov as supreme commander. At the same time, Maskhadov has again invited Moscow to begin political negotiations on ending the conflict. Reuters on 2 February quoted radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev as having ordered his men to desist from offensive operations until 22 February. But "The Times" on 3 February quoted Basaev as saying he still considers attacks on Russian civilian targets, such as the Beslan hostage taking last September, as a justifiable response to Russia's military actions in Chechnya, and that he plans to stage further such attacks. LF

DEPUTY MINISTER KILLED IN DAGHESTAN, REGIONAL HEAD ESCAPES ASSASSINATION
Daghestan's Deputy Interior Minister Major General Magomed Omarov was killed late on 2 February with three of his bodyguards when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car in Makhachkala, Russian agencies reported. The attackers escaped. Omarov had survived an earlier bid to kill him in 2003, Reuters reported. Also on 2 February, Khasavyurt raion administration head Alisultan Alkhamatov was uninjured by an explosion on his way to work, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, COALITION LEADERS DISCUSS CONCESSIONS ON CONSTITUTION
Robert Kocharian and the leaders of the three political parties represented in the coalition government met late on 2 February to discuss proposals offered last month by the opposition intended to pave the way for a compromise agreement on amending the country's constitution, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2005). Those proposals include giving parliament a greater role in the formation of the government, restricting the president's right to appoint judges, and introducing elections for the post of Yerevan mayor. The opposition Artarutiun parliament bloc and the National Unity Party said on 19 January they will back Kocharian's proposals for constitutional reform if their own demands are also included in the package of amendments to be put to a nationwide referendum later this year. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Sergei Lavrov met in Baku on 2 February with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, and President Ilham Aliyev to evaluate the state of bilateral relations in the run-up to President Aliyev's planned visit to Moscow later this month. Aliyev during his meeting with Lavrov said there are no unresolved problems in relations between the two countries, which both he and Mammadyarov described as "a strategic partnership," Turan reported. Issues discussed included increasing cooperation in the energy sector and the fight against international terrorism, the legal status of the Caspian Sea, reform of the CIS, and Russia's role as a co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group in seeking to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Lavrov expressed cautious optimism that the ongoing series of Prague talks between Mammadyarov and his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian could expedite such a solution. LF

GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER DIES
Zurab Zhvania was found dead early on 3 February, together with his aide Raul Yusifov, in the latter's apartment, Georgian media reported. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said the two men apparently died of carbon-monoxide poisoning from a faulty Iranian-manufactured gas heater. Zhvania's bodyguards broke into the apartment after he failed to answer repeated calls on his mobile phone. Foul play is not suspected. President Mikheil Saakashvili praised Zhvania on 3 February as "my closest friend, who was also my most trusted adviser and ally," while former President Eduard Shevardnadze described him as "a man of great erudition and talent, with brilliant capacity for communication with people," adding that his death is "an irreparable loss for the country," Caucasus Press reported (see End Note.) LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST SPECULATION ABOUT GORI CAR BOMB
Georgian Conflict Resolution Minister Giorgi Khaindrava advised on 2 February against public speculation about who may have been responsible for the car bomb that detonated in Gori the previous day, killing three policemen and injuring some 20 people, Caucasus Press reported. Echoing fellow ministers, Khaindrava said he believes "external forces" were responsible for the blast. But he added that the authorities of both the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia and the Republic of North Ossetia (a Russian Federation subject) have expressed concern that unsubstantiated statements blaming Ossetians for the bombing could hinder the search for a resolution of the conflict in South Ossetia. Also on 2 February, Georgian Interior Minister Merabishvili said some 70 kilograms of explosives were used in the Gori blast, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ELECTION CAMPAIGNS START FOR KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT...
Election campaigning for the 27 February elections to Kyrgyzstan's parliament officially began on 2 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A total of 427 candidates will compete for 75 seats in the country's new unicameral parliament. Among the candidates are 68 members of the current bicameral parliament, RFE/RL reported. Women comprise less than 10 percent of the candidates. DK

...AS OPPOSITION STARTS PETITION DRIVE FOR IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT
Topchubek Turgunaliev, leader of the opposition party Erkindik, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 2 February that the bloc For the Impeachment of President Akaev and Reforms For the People has begun collecting signatures for Akaev's impeachment. The bloc, which was formed after police killed six demonstrators in Aksy in the spring of 2002, includes the political parties Erkin Kyrgyzstan, Republic, Kairan El, Erkindik, the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, and Asaba. Meanwhile, a group called For the People, With the People is carrying out another signature campaign in southern Kyrgyzstan; it has collected 50,000 signatures to grant Akaev another term in office after his current mandate expires in October, RFE/RL reported. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION COMMENT ON POLITICAL SITUATION
Both President Akaev and opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva commented on 2 February on the political situation in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections. Addressing representatives of councils of elders on 2 February, Akaev warned against "political games," an apparent reference to events in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004 and recent opposition demonstrations in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said, "Dear elders! We will not leave any chances to those who advance a worthless policy for our rapidly developing country, those who are breaking the law, those who are trying to bring to Kyrgyzstan the dangerous political games that have taken place in some countries..." Also on 2 February, the BBC asked Otunbaeva, co-chair of the Ata-Jurt opposition movement, whether Kyrgyzstan "is ripe for its own 'velvet,' 'rose,' or 'orange' revolution." Otunbaeva replied, "Absolutely, I feel. But I'd like to make a significant correction. We're not talking about a revolution, but about a peaceful, calm, and constitutional transfer of power in our country. The revolutions that ordinary people associate with blood, theft, and rioting did not occur either in Tbilisi or in Kyiv. And they won't happen here." DK

TURKMENISTAN CRITICIZES AZERBAIJAN ON CASPIAN OIL FIELD
An article in the online official newspaper turkmenistan.ru on 1 February criticized Azerbaijan's stance on recent negotiations between Turkmenistan and Canada's Buried Hill Energy on the possible development of the disputed Serdar/Kyapaz Caspian oil field, claimed by both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005). The article decried an "inappropriate reaction from the Western shore [of the Caspian]" after "one of Turkmenistan's potential partners merely expressed the intention of taking part in the exploitation of Serdar, which undoubtedly belongs to Ashgabat..." It continued, "They got into a fluster on the Western shore and suddenly remembered that the two countries do not yet have a border on the Caspian. But there was no border when work began at [Azerbaijan's] Chirag and Azeri [oil fields]..." The article concluded, "One wonders whether some of the young independent states that appeared after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and especially those that most ardently avow their adherence to Western models, in practice are not unwilling to employ the double standards that have become popular [in the West]. They forget that this approach may have a boomerang effect." DK

UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER PROMISES TO DO AWAY WITH DEATH PENALTY
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told a news conference in Brussels on 1 February that Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodiq Safoev has assured him Uzbekistan will abolish the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported. Safoev was speaking at a session of the Uzbekistan-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels. But Ona Jukneviciene, the European Parliament member who chairs the council, told the BBC's Uzbek Service in a 2 February interview that Safoev's assurances are not enough for her. Noting she was the World Bank's senior resident adviser for Uzbekistan in 1997-2000, Jukneviciene said, "I feel that we cannot close our eyes to the human rights situation there. I believe that we cannot forego criticism of the situation, and that it is in precisely this area that we must sit down together and have an open discussion of all the problems." DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS LEBANON
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Lebanese counterpart, Emile Lahud, signed three interstate agreements in Beirut 2 February on cooperation in the spheres of tourism, passenger and cargo transit by road, and anticrime efforts, Belapan reported on 3 February, citing official sources. Lukashenka arrived on a state visit in Lebanon earlier that day. "Our policy in the Middle East has always been stable and unvarying," Lukashenka said during a meeting with Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. JM

BELARUSIAN VENDORS PROTEST NEW VAT-COLLECTION RULE
Some 1,000 market vendors in Pinsk, Brest Oblast, protested on 2 February for the second consecutive day against a new taxation rule requiring that they pay a 18-percent value-added tax (VAT) on goods imported from Russia, Belapan reported. The vendors' walkout brought trade to a standstill at two of the city's three markets. The protesters reportedly want the government to abolish VAT for individual entrepreneurs who pay the so-called single tax (a fixed sum irrespective of their proceeds), streamline the procedure of registering goods with health authorities, and withdraw the requirement that individual entrepreneurs should make social security contributions mandatory. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE SUBMITS GOVERNMENT PROGRAM TO PARLIAMENT...
Prime Minister-Designate Yuliya Tymoshenko on 2 February submitted a program of Ukraine's new government to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian media reported. The program, titled "Toward the People" (Nazustrich lyudyam), reportedly calls for a number of reforms to boost the welfare of Ukrainians, meet European standards in state institutions, and create a civil society. A debate on Tymoshenko's approval as prime minister, initially scheduled to begin at noon on 3 February, was postponed one day. Tymoshenko needs at least 226 votes in the 450-seat legislature to be confirmed as the head of the future cabinet. JM

...AS MEDIA SPECULATE ABOUT CABINET APPOINTMENTS...
President Viktor Yushchenko on 2 February held a seven-hour meeting with Premier-designate Tymoshenko, Presidential Secretariat head Oleksandr Zinchenko, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, and top presidential aide Oleksandr Tretyakov to discuss the composition of a new cabinet, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko is expected to present a list of new ministers in the Verkhovna Rada, shortly after the anticipated approval of Tymoshenko and her "Toward the People" cabinet program. According to Ukrainian media, the new cabinet will most likely include Anatoliy Kinakh as first deputy premier, Oleh Rybachuk and Mykola Tomenko as deputy premiers, Viktor Pynzenyk as finance minister, Serhiy Teryokhin as economy minister, and Borys Tarasyuk as foreign minister. JM

...AND SOCIALISTS REPORTEDLY BACK OUT OF PRO-PRESIDENTIAL COALITION
The Socialist Party (SPU) has not proposed any candidate to Ukraine's new cabinet and is not going to vote for the "Toward the People" government program unveiled by Premier-designate Tymoshenko, Interfax reported on 3 February, citing SPU lawmaker Mykola Rudkovskyy. According to Rudkovskyy, the SPU will not support the government program since it calls, he explained, for the building of a "liberal state," and not a "social one." "There is nothing specific in the program, no figures," Rudkovskyy said. "It diverges from Viktor Yushchenko's [presidential election] program and from the agreement Yushchenko and [SPU leader] Oleksandr Moroz signed before the second election round." The Yushchenko-Moroz accord reportedly stipulated that the SPU would support Yushchenko's cabinet nominations if SPU representatives or nominees obtained one-sixth of the positions in the executive branch (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). JM

HAGUE PROSECUTOR URGES MONTENEGRO TO COOPERATE
Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Podgorica on 2 February that Montenegro must do more to cooperate with the tribunal, Mina news agency reported. "I have been to Belgrade and I have put them under pressure," Del Ponte said. "Today, I am going to Brussels to report about Belgrade's insufficient cooperation. Nevertheless, this is not only about Belgrade. We have information that the fugitives are on the move and some of them come to stay in Montenegro every now and then." Del Ponte also repeated a threat made in Sarajevo on 1 February that she will disclose information about the failure to arrest indicted war criminals in Bosnia and Serbia. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said after a meeting with Del Ponte that Montenegro is set to fully cooperate with The Hague "because this is our obligation deriving from the respect to war crimes victims"(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005). UB

SERBIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GENERAL ELECTIONS
Serbian President Boris Tadic said in an interview with the public Radio Television Republika Srpska on 1 February that general elections should be held in Serbia as soon as possible, Tanjug reported. Tadic said the elections are necessary for Serbia to get a democratic government that can meet all international obligations and resolve the problem of Kosova in an efficient way (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 January 2005). UB

UNMIK HEAD WELCOMES BELGRADE'S PROPOSAL TO RESUME TALKS WITH PRISHTINA
Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 2 February that he welcomes the decision by the Serbian authorities to resume talks on practical issues with their Kosovar counterparts, kosovakosovo.com reported. Jessen-Petersen noted, however, that two weeks have passed since he presented the request for the resumption of the talks during his visit to Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January and 2 February 2005). The dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina focuses on missing persons, electricity, and religious sites. UB

INTERNATIONAL CONTACT GROUP CALLS FOR ADHERENCE TO DEMOCRATIC NORMS IN KOSOVA
The international Contact Group on Kosova -- which comprises the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and Italy -- issued a statement in Prishtina on 2 February saying that the full implementation of democratic standards and the rule of law remains an important factor for Kosova's European future, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The group also called on the Kosovar Serbs to participate in Kosovar institutions, appealing to the authorities in Belgrade and Prishtina to support the Kosovar Serbs' inclusion in the political life of the province. UB

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT REPORTEDLY NEGOTIATED WITH WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
Representatives of the Croatian government have reportedly held talks with former General Ante Gotovina, who is wanted by the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 3 February. An unnamed high-ranking source in the government confirmed to the daily "Jutarnij list" earlier reports by the daily "Globus" that representatives of the government met with Gotovina "somewhere in Bosnia" 2 1/2 months ago to discuss the conditions for his handover to The Hague. The Croatian authorities insist that they do not know where Gotovina is hiding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January and 1 and 2 February 2005). UB

EAST CENTRAL EUROPEAN STATES LAUNCH 'DECADE OF ROMA INCLUSION'
Eight east-central European states announced in Sofia on 2 February a 10-year initiative to end discrimination against and segregation and poverty of the Romany minority in their countries, Reuters and AP reported. In a joint statement announcing the initiative, prime ministers and government officials from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia-Montenegro said their governments will "work to lift discrimination and overcome unacceptable differences between the Roma and the remaining members of society." The project, dubbed the 2005-15 Decade of Roma Inclusion, is sponsored by the World Bank and the Open Society Institute. It was initiated by Open Society Institute chairman and philanthropist George Soros, who is to contribute $30 million for its implementation. Governments, international corporations, and private organizations and individuals have also contributed to the newly established Roma Education Fund, which is part of the project and which has received more than $43 million in pledges. Some 6 million Roma live in Central and Eastern Europe. MS

ROMANIA RETURNS TOXIC WASTE TO FRANCE
Romania on 2 February dispatched back to France the first 20-ton shipment of toxic chemical waste that was illegally imported last year, AFP reported, citing the Romanian Environment Ministry. A total of 100 tons of waste is to be returned to France in 404 containers. A Romanian firm in Arad imported the waste in February 2004 by disguising it as raw materials. The ministry said a French company appears to have attempted to cut the costs of disposing of the waste properly by sending it to Romania. It said the French authorities, as well as officials in the transit countries of Hungary, Austria, and Germany "cooperated in an exemplary manner in helping the Romanian government solve this problem." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS MOLDOVAN COUNTERPART ON LONDON VISIT
Romanian President Traian Basescu briefed his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin on 2 February on his recent visit to London, Mediafax, Infotag, and Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). Basescu told Voronin that he has asked British Prime Minister Tony Blair to support the appointment of a permanent European Commission representative to Moldova and that he told him that all Moldovan political parties support the country's EU-integration efforts. Basescu reiterated Romania's readiness to assist Moldova in its efforts to meet EU standards. The two presidents also discussed the possibility of building a gas pipeline that would transit Moldova, linking Drochia, Falesti, and Ungheni in Moldova with the Romanian town of Iasi. They agreed that a team of experts from the two countries will meet to discuss the possibility of Romanian participation in road-construction projects in Moldova. MS

MOLDOVAN REINTEGRATION MINISTER BRIEFS AMBASSADORS ON TRANSDNIESTER MILITARY BUILDUP
Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova on 2 February met with U.S. and EU representative to discuss the concentration of military forces on the Transdniester side of the security zone separating the region from Moldova, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005). Sova met with EU ambassadors serving in Moldova, with U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges, and with OSCE mission head William Hill, calling on them to do everything in their power to prevent the situation from deteriorating. Meanwhile, a meeting of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) that oversees the truce in the security zone was canceled on 2 February in Bendery-Tighina, after the Russian and Ukrainian representatives failed to show up. The representatives were again prevented from entering Transdniester by Moldovan guards at a border crossing near Bendery-Tighina, after failing to produce crossing permits in line with a Moldovan governmental decision made in January. Moldovan representative on the JCC Ion Solonencu said the Moldovan Foreign Ministry will grant the crossing permits if the Russian and Ukrainian representatives apply (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, 20, and 21 January 2004). MS

TIRASPOL WANTS 'SERBIA-MONTENEGRO' MODEL TO BE APPLIED IN TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Transdniester Foreign Minister Valerii Litskay told the Council of Europe's rapporteurs for Moldova Josette Durrieu and Andre Kvakkestad in Tiraspol on 1 February that Transdniester advocates a "Serbia-Montenegro" confederation model as the blueprint for the resolution of its conflict with Moldova, Infotag and Flux reported. That model would grant each side the right to hold a referendum on possible independence. Summing up a three-day visit to Moldova, Durrieu told journalists in Chisinau that Moldova's efforts to integrate with Europe will largely depend on whether the 6 March parliamentary elections are free and fair, and on reaching a settlement of the Transdniester conflict. MS

ZHVANIA WILL BE REMEMBERED AS ONE OF GEORGIA'S MOST ASTUTE POLITICIANS
Zurab Zhvania, who died at the age of 41 in the early hours of 3 February, reportedly of gas poisoning, was one of Georgia's most urbane, intelligent, astute and experienced politicians.

Born on 9 December 1963, Zhvania studied biology at Tbilisi State University, graduating in 1985. In the late 1980s, when then CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of liberalization gave the green light for the emergence of informal political organizations across the Soviet Union, Zhvania founded Georgia's Green Party, and in late 1992 he was elected to the country's first post-Soviet parliament. It was in his capacity as a young and eloquent parliament deputy that Zhvania first came to the notice of then parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, who catapulted Zhvania to the chairmanship of the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), the political party Shevardnadze created as his personal power base in 1993.

Following the parliamentary elections in 1995, in which the SMK won an absolute majority, Zhvania as head of the SMK became parliament chairman, the de facto second most influential post in the country. Within a couple of years, many observers concluded that Shevardnadze was grooming Zhvania to succeed him as president.

But the period of close political cooperation between Zhvania and Shevardnadze proved to be comparatively short-lived. In July 1998, Zhvania warned that corruption and the government's failure to implement systemic reform had brought the country to "the edge of the abyss." "The fact that laws are not implemented has generated a lack of popular trust in the leadership," he told a meeting of Georgia's NGOs.

Zhvania threatened to resign and take on the role of "constructive opposition" within parliament unless radical measures were adopted to kick start reform. Six week later, in late August, the SMK parliament faction elected as its chairman U.S.-trained lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili, a Zhvania protege. Over the next few years, the two men took an increasingly tougher stand on Shevardnadze's apparent unwillingness to implement a drastic crackdown on corruption, which they perceived as hindering economic revival and tarnishing Georgia's international reputation. They also took a far more radical position than did Shevardnadze on the issue of relations with Russia.

In late 2000 and early 2001 Zhvania and Shevardnadze both repeatedly denied persistent rumors of tensions between them, but those tensions between the president and the would-be young reformers within the SMK came to a head in November 2001 when, faced by mass popular protests over a crackdown on the popular independent television station Rustavi-2, Shevardnadze outmaneuvered Zhvania and forced his resignation.

Even before that, the SMK had split into rival factions, but it was not until May 2002, when he was refused registration as a candidate in local elections, that Zhvania definitively broke with that party and formed the United Democrats parliament faction, which was headed by another close Zhvania associate, Giorgi Baramidze. In November 2002, Zhvania announced that he planned to run in the presidential elections due in 2005 when Shevardnadze's second presidential term was set to expire.

Despite his close ties with Saakashvili, Zhvania was reluctant to align closely with him: the newspaper "Akhali versia" on 4 February 2002 quoted Zhvania as criticizing what he termed Saakashvili's "excessive radicalism." In the run-up to the 2 November 2003 parliamentary elections, Zhvania's United Democrats forged an election alliance not with Saakashvili's National Movement but with the eponymous political bloc formed by Zhvania's successor as parliament speaker, Nino Burdjanadze.

When the election bloc cobbled together by Shevardnadze to replace the SMK set about manipulating the election returns, Zhvania, Burdjanadze and Saakashvili joined forces to mobilize popular protest. Initially their objectives differed: Burdjanadze and Zhvania, who was on record as telling "Akhali versia" that "I hate all revolutions," wanted the election returns invalidated and new elections held, whereas Saakashvili demanded that the authorities acknowledge his bloc as the winner.

Shevardnadze's forced resignation on 23 November paved the way for a division of power in which Saakashvili ran for, and won, the presidency, and then named Zhvania to the reintroduced post of prime minister and Burdjanadze as parliament speaker. In that post, Zhvania demonstrated his authority as a statesman, seeking to ensure that the government functioned as a cohesive team, and conducting difficult negotiations in August and November 2004 to defuse tensions between Tbilisi and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia.Opinion polls consistently listed Zhvania among the most intelligent and intellectual political figures in Georgia, but not as one of the most popular or the most trusted. Rumors of his involvement in questionable business activities were never substantiated, nor is it clear whether economic factors were behind the periodic alarms, most recently in August 2003, that he was a possible assassination target, or his uncompromising criticism of Moscow's policy towards Georgia.

Those rumors may fuel speculation about the somewhat bizarre circumstances of his death.

Speaking on 3 February, a clearly shaken Saakashvili paid tribute to Zhvania as a close friend and trusted political adviser. His loss will be felt the more acutely in that there is no figure of comparable political stature, authority and ability to replace him.

AFGHAN COUNTERNARCOTICS MINISTRY REBUKES UN DRUG CZAR
The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry in a 2 February statement objected to a suggestion by UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa that international aid to Afghanistan be made conditional on the elimination of the country's opium-poppy cultivation. Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said that while his country is fully committed to comprehensive antidrug programs, his government "will not accept the suggestion that international aid to Afghanistan be tied, in any direct or indirect way, to the fight against narcotics." Qaderi urged Costa to encourage international donors to provide in a timely matter resources that would allow farmers who rely on the cultivation of poppy to find alternative means of supporting themselves. Costa was quoted by as saying that "I want to introduce and I want the international financial lenders to introduce a negative pledge in their lending...so that the resources will be made available [only] if there is a pledge that no opium will be cultivated in" any given area of Afghanistan, AFP reported. AT

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN REACTS TO HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin in a 1 February press release expressed the first official reaction to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's (AIHRC) report calling for a special court to prosecute those who perpetrated rights abuses in Afghanistan in the past 25 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 1 February 2005). Ludin said Karzai was "very satisfied" with the AIHRC's efforts in consulting with Afghan citizens regarding injustices they suffered in the course of recent wars and conflicts in the country. Ludin said Karzai has taken note of the recommendations in the report. "Some of these [recommendations] can be implemented, while others may need to be discussed further," Ludin concluded, without further elaborating. AIHRC's report, titled "A Call for Justice" can be seen in its entirety at http://www.aihrc.org.af. AT

WOMEN'S RADIO STATION INAUGURATED IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan Deputy Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Hosyan Fazel Sangcharaki on 31 January inaugurated the first independent women's radio station in Maymana, the capital of Faryab Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. The FM radio station, called Qoyash (the Sun in Uzbek), is funded by the Canadian government and has a broadcast radius of 25 kilometers. Station director Rana Sherzai said it will broadcast programs that reflect the social realities of women in the area. AT

NEW IRANIAN ROADS AND TRANSPORT MINISTER APPROVED
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 25 January proposed Mohammad Rahmati as the next roads and transport minister, and the legislature gave him a vote of confidence on 2 February, Radio Farda reported. He received 170 votes in favor, 29 against, and 11 legislators abstained. Rahmati was appointed as acting minister on 11 January, after the legislature rejected the nomination of Ahmad Sadiq Bonab (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004 and 17 January and 1 February 2005). This suggests, according to Radio Farda, that Rahmati will be able to run the ministry free of hard-line pressure in the remaining months of the Khatami administration. This development is the result of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's letter to the legislature against interpellating cabinet members. One hard-line legislator, Tehran parliamentary representative Manuchehr Mottaki, even praised Rahmati's revolutionary experience during his student days, Radio Farda reported. BS

PALESTINIAN LEADER TO VISIT IRAN
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas has accepted an invitation to visit Iran, international news agencies reported on 2 February. An anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry source told Reuters that the trip demonstrates Iran's interest in friendly relations "with all Palestinian groups." Tehran announced that it respects the outcome of the 9 January Palestinian Authority presidential election won by Abbas (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 January 2005). BS

IRAN, LEBANON SIGN MEMORANDUM
Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani and his Lebanese counterpart Abd-al-Rahim Murad signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation on 2 February, IRNA reported. Murad told reporters afterward that the two countries have similar attitudes on Palestine, Iraq, and on what they perceive as Western threats against Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Murad complained that the United States has always sided with Israel. "Lebanon has set a unique example of resistance against the Zionist enemy and scoring a victory over it," President Khatami told Murad on 1 February, the Lebanese National News Agency reported. Khatami said Iran is willing to continue its support of the Lebanese government and people. Murad said the victory of national and Islamic resistance in Lebanon is due to four factors: Iran and Syria's support; the Lebanese people's attachment to the resistance; cooperation between the Lebanese army and the resistance; and the sacrifices of martyrs and heroes in the resistance. BS

TEHRAN ANTICIPATES END OF IRAQ'S OCCUPATION
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during a 2 February visit to the southern city of Bushehr that the unexpectedly high turnout in the Iraqi election demonstrates that Iraqis abhor the occupation of their country, IRNA reported. Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel told an open legislative session on 2 February that the high turnout is a sign that Iraqis are determined to regain control of their destinies, IRNA reported. It is also a sign that they hate despotism, he said. The election results are not known yet, he said, but the Iraqi people are the real winners. BS

MILITANTS KILL 12 IRAQI SOLDIERS NEAR KIRKUK
Armed gunmen stopped a bus transporting 12 Iraqi soldiers near Kirkuk on 2 February, dragged the men off the bus, and killed them execution-style, international media reported on 3 February. The soldiers were returning from a scheduled leave, Reuters reported. Two of the soldiers apparently survived the attack and fled to a nearby village, the news agency reported. Al-Jazeera reported that the soldiers were assigned to protect an oil installation south of Kirkuk. In Al-Samawah on 2 February, one policeman was killed and three injured when militants stormed a police station, Kyodo World Service reported. One insurgent was killed in the attack and police arrested two others; other members of the armed group fled to a nearby farmhouse where a gunfight with police ensued. Dutch military helicopters were dispatched to the scene, Kyodo reported. Meanwhile, seven militants were killed in clashes with Iraqi forces in the Ninawah governorate that includes Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul, MENA reported on 2 February. Eighteen people were detained during a raid on residential buildings in the area, the news agency reported, citing an Iraqi military statement. KR

IRAQI MUSLIM SCHOLARS OFFICIAL VISITS LEBANON
Muthanna Harith al-Dari, spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, met at the Tripoli headquarters of the Islamic Unification Movement on 2 February with representatives of a number of Islamic organizations, Lebanese National News Agency reported the same day. Dari told reporters after the meeting that the visit was held in order to strengthen relations with Islamic organizations in Lebanon. The organizations "are living every moment of the details of the Iraqi cause and they stay in touch with their people in Iraq through contacts," al-Dari said. "This is an occasion to present details of the Iraqi cause, particularly the subject of elections." He added that "all of the announcements made about the elections are not true," backing a 2 February statement from the Muslim Scholars Association that said the Iraqi national elections lacked legitimacy. When asked about the resistance in Iraq, al-Dari said that "the activities of the resistance have not receded, but are in fact escalating." He denied that the resistance was involved in any election-day attacks, however. KR

IRAQI ELECTION OFFICIALS ADDRESS COMPLAINTS
In a press briefing aired on Al-Sharqiyah television on 2 February, Independent Election Commission representatives Adil al-Lami and Farid Ayar addressed complaints by some parties and citizens relating to the elections. Both men said that security was the cause of the lack of open polling centers and shortage of ballot boxes in some areas of Mosul. "In the 93 centers we opened in Mosul, we had all the materials; we had the ballot boxes," al-Lami said, adding that election centers were open in Rabi'ah, Sinjar, Fa'idah, and north Sikhan, contrary to some parties' claims. "They were opened but nobody would take the trouble to travel a few kilometers to cast his vote," he said. "It was possible for them to coordinate with police forces and take licensed buses that would travel accompanied by police and thus they would have cast their votes." Ayar told the press that scores of Iraqis demanded on 30 January that additional polling centers be opened after "the fear barrier was broken" in the first few hours of the day. "You cannot provide this in one day," Ayar said. KR

U.K. PRIME MINISTER SAYS BRITAIN SHOULD STAY THE COURSE IN IRAQ
Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons on 2 February that Britain must "stay the course" in Iraq, AFP reported. Blair praised voter turnout in the Iraqi elections, saying it was "truly heart-warming to see literally millions" of Iraqis voting. "What the Iraqis have done is magnificent, but it is also quite right that we have got to stay there, not quit the course but stay the course and make sure that we see them establish their democracy with their own security forces, their own economy," he said. "And if they do that, the impact will be felt not just in Iraq but across the region, and even on the security" in the United Kingdom. Blair has declined to give a firm timetable for the withdrawal of U.K. troops from Iraq, saying the matter will be decided when the Iraqi forces are able to maintain security on their own. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG