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Newsline - February 8, 2005


DUMA PREPARES FOR NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov announced on 7 February that the Duma will vote on 9 February on a no-confidence motion in the government initiated by the Communist Party (KPRF) and Motherland faction, NTV reported. Gryzlov said that his faction, Unified Russia, which has a majority in the Duma, is against the government stepping down, although he said that the resignation of some cabinet members is possible. NTV commented that the minister most likely to resign could be Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) said that "the best punishment for this government" would be to stay and clean up the mess caused by the benefits reform, Ekho Moskvy reported on 8 February. Meanwhile, Ivan Melnikov, the deputy leader of the KPRF, said that he is convinced that "this cabinet is likely to resign, if not this time, then the next," Ekho Moskvy reported. Melnikov announced a Russia-wide day of protest to be held on 12 February and asked all opposition forces to take part. VY

PUTIN DEMANDS RISE IN MILITARY COMPENSATION
Speaking at a 7 February cabinet meeting, which was broadcast on RTR and ORT, President Vladimir Putin demanded that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin increase the benefits compensation payments to Russian military personnel, RTR reported. Speaking to Kudrin, Putin said they had already discussed the problem a week ago and it had still not been solved. As Kudrin tried to present his explanations, Putin interrupted him. "Please, no more comments. Do it in one week and report to the prime minister and me," Putin said. VY

FORMER PRIME MINISTER HEADS TO SYRIA AND IRAN...
Yevgenii Primakov, the director of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and an eminent expert on the Arab world, began on 6 February a four-day trip to Syria and Iran, Russian and Western media reported. Primakov is also visiting Lebanon and Jordan to discuss Russia's trade relations with countries in the Arab world. Before leaving Russia, Primakov met on 4 February in the Kremlin with President Putin, RTR reported. VY

...AND SAYS RUSSIA HAS A LOT TO OFFER THE ARAB WORLD
Speaking at a meeting of the Russian-Arab Business Council in Beirut on 7 February, Primakov said that, despite Russia's loss of economic potential in the 1990s, the country has a lot to offer the Arab world, RBK reported. In particular, Primakov mentioned cooperation in the aviation, energy, and transport sectors. Primakov, who was a co-chair of the meeting, said that the council's activities are relevant to the whole Arab world and have geopolitical significance, RBK reported. "It is no secret that there are forces that, in response to the challenge from international terrorism, want to divide the world along national-religious lines," he said. "Russia is a reliable partner of all those who are against the unilateral use of force without the authorization of the UN Security Council." According to Primakov, Russia is united with the Arab world on two issues: Iraq and Palestine. It is necessary, he said, to "transfer all power in Iraq to Iraqis while preserving [the country's] territorial integrity and stability." He also said that there should be a "just solution to the Palestinian problem on the basis of UN resolutions." VY

EXILED OLIGARCH SAYS CHECHEN RESISTANCE HAS NUCLEAR CAPABILITIES
In a 7 February interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda," the self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii said the Kremlin should accept the cease-fire proposed by Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 February 2005) and begin peace talks. Otherwise, Berezovskii said, Putin risks sharing the fate of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and facing the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Berezovskii alleged that the Chechen resistance has a miniature nuclear explosive device but lack all the parts to detonate it. He said that he received information about the alleged nuclear device in fall 2004 and informed Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev. In response to the interview, an unnamed FSB spokesman told "Komsomolskaya pravda" that the Russian special services are not going "to comment on the delirious statements of a person who is on an international wanted list." Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the independent Strategies and Technologies Analysis Center, said on 8 February that it is "very doubtful" that the Chechen resistance is in possession of nuclear devices, Ekho Moskvy reported. Besides, Pukhov said, even if Chechens do have such a device, it is impossible to activate one under field conditions. VY

SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS VALIDITY OF 2003 DUMA ELECTIONS
The Supreme Court's Appeals Collegium ruled on 7 February against an appeal by the Communist Party and Yabloko seeking to overturn the results of the December 2003 State Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the report, the ruling is final and the case is now closed. The plaintiffs said that the court's hearing of the case was perfunctory, and that only one of more than 100 possible witnesses was actually called to testify. They said that they will now take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, RIA-Novosti reported. Yabloko deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin said that as a result of the case, however, the Central Election Commission (TsIK) has proposed changes to election legislation and has positively changed its own procedures. TsIK representative Sergei Bolshakov also told RIA-Novosti that the case has produced positive changes. RC

OFFICIAL SAYS POVERTY DECLINING
The number of Russians living below the official subsistence level fell from 29.3 million in 2003 to 25.5 million in 2004, Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov said on 7 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Cutting poverty by half is one of President Putin's main economic goals. Sharonov noted, however, that "a rather considerable part of the able-bodied population, mainly those on the government payroll" continue to live in poverty. He also said that state aid to the poor is ineffective, and that only 18-22 kopecks of each ruble of poverty relief actually reach the poor. He concluded that the government should be wary of rapidly raising the minimum wage because doing so "would cause big distortions in the labor market, spur the shadow economy, and increase official unemployment." RC

DEPUTY PROMISES NEW LETTER ON JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS
Duma Deputy Aleksandr Krutov (Motherland), the primary author of a recent controversial letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office complaining about the work of Jewish organizations in Russia, has said that he intends to write a new letter "in a corrected form," gzt.ru reported on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 January 2005). The original letter was signed by 20 Duma deputies from the Communist and Motherland factions and was retracted following an international outcry. Krutov told the website that the scandal surrounding the letter "was useful for those who want to make Russia look bad." "We only wanted the prosecutor to give a legal evaluation of certain facts," Krutov said. Fellow signatory and Communist Deputy Sergei Sobko said that the letter should not have been made public and that it was released by "provocateurs." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 February commented that state media were giving the incident exaggerated coverage in order to distract attention from the benefits-reform crisis. A Duma resolution adopted on 4 February that condemned the letter did not mention or rebuke any of the signatories, the website noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005), but was limited to a denunciation of anti-Semitism in general. RC

NATIONAL PROTEST AGAINST RISING GASOLINE PRICES CALLED FOR 10 FEBRUARY
A nationwide demonstration against high gasoline prices is scheduled for 10 February, organizers announced at a Moscow press conference on 8 February, Interfax reported. Organizers, who represent a number of automobile associations from across Russia, said they expect up to half a million people to participate in the protests, which will include picketing the State Duma and arranging a motorcade of up to 100 cars to travel along Moscow's ring road. Andrei Golubev, an official with the Association of International Automobile Transporters, said that gasoline prices in Russia have increased 93 percent over the last two years. Also on 8 February, human rights activists in Moscow announced that on 10 February they will launch a national campaign to encourage people who have suffered at the hands of the police to seek compensation through the courts, lenta.ru reported. Organizers said that "average loses" sustained by people who are beaten while in police custody amount to 10,000 rubles ($333). RC

INTERIOR MINISTRY TELLS BASHKIR POLICE TO CLEAN UP THEIR ACT
The Interior Ministry has determined that many "serious violations" were carried out by police in the Bashkortostan city of Blagoveshchensk during a sweep on 10-14 December, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004 and 21 January 2005). A ministry investigation into reports of illegal detention, assault, and rape found that "the measures adopted by the leadership of the republican police to root out shortcomings and to ensure legality and the protection of the constitutional rights and interests of the citizens were insufficient." Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has given Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev 30 days to complete "a principled evaluation of the activity of all leaders of Interior Ministry organs and divisions." Nurgaliev also called on the republic to activate the republican Interior Ministry's moribund public council on human rights and to create analogous councils at the local level throughout the republic. Bashkir police continue to maintain that only 50 people were detained during the December operation, while activists allege that 500-1,000 people were detained and many were beaten or raped at police stations. RC

RUMORS OF CHECHEN RADICAL'S DEATH PROVE PREMATURE
Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev has e-mailed to the Kavkaz-Tsentr website a four-minute video recorded on 6 February in which he rejects as unfounded Russian media speculation that he died in late January, chechenpress.com reported on 8 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 February 2005). Basaev affirmed that he has no health problems, and he rejected rumors that fellow field commander Doku Umarov has been killed in a Russian "sweep" operation. Basaev further confirmed that he and his men are complying with the cease-fire proclaimed by Chechen resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 February 2005). LF

DAGHESTAN MILITANT LEADER EVADES CAPTURE
The Daghestan Interior Ministry told yufo.ru on 7 February that reports that Rasul Makasharipov was one of the militants whom police battled in a shoot-out near Makhachkala on 5-6 February were based on a false identification, kavkazweb.net reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously reported on 7 February that Makasharipov was killed during that operation.) Makasharipov was reported killed in an apartment siege in Makhachkala on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005), but security forces later retracted that claim, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 January. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS DRAFT BILL ON COMPENSATION
The Armenian parliament refused on 7 February to schedule a debate on a bill drafted by opposition lawmaker Viktor Dallakian providing government compensation for people whose Soviet-era savings were wiped out by inflation in the early 1990s, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speaker Artur Baghdasarian accused the opposition on 4 February of seeking to score political points and exacerbate tensions, Noyan Tapan reported. He said for that reason he would vote against the bill, even though he does not reject in principle the argument that compensation should be paid. President Robert Kocharian set up a special government commission last week to examine the question of compensation for lost savings. LF

OSCE COMPLETES TOUR OF OCCUPIED AZERBAIJANI TERRITORIES
An OSCE fact-finding mission that included the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group has completely its week-long tour of inspection of seven districts of Azerbaijan adjacent to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic that are controlled by Armenian forces, Armenian agencies reported on 7 February. Azerbaijan called for the inspection last fall, claiming that the Armenian government was systematically settling Armenians in those regions. Members of the mission declined on 7 February to comment on their impressions and findings; they will submit a written report at a later date. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN
At a special congress on 6 February that was closed to the media and representatives of other political parties, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) elected a new chairman to succeed its founder Etibar Mammedov, who stepped down from that post in late December, Azerbaijani media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). Ali Nadir ogly Aliev, head of AMIP's youth organization, who began his career as an oppositionist when he joined the Azerbaijani Popular Front in 1989, the year it was founded, defeated four other candidates, receiving 151 votes from a total of 244 delegates present. AMIP's statutes were amended to introduce the post of party leader, to which Mamedov, who did not attend the congress, was elected. Aliev vowed that AMIP will remain in opposition to the present Azerbaijani leadership. He called for unity among opposition parties in the campaign to establish democratic principles for holding elections, but rejected the idea of opposition parties not fielding competing candidates in the upcoming parliamentary election. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS CHINA
Elmar Mammadyarov traveled to Beijing on 3 February for a three-day visit during which he met with his Chinese counterpart Ling Zhaoxing and with Deputy Prime Minister Huang Ju, Turan reported on 7 February. Issues discussed included arrangements for a visit by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to China next month, exports of Azerbaijani oil to China, participation of Chinese companies in Azerbaijan's oil sector, and the possibility of Chinese participation in the planned Akhalkalaki-Kars railway, which would enable China to export goods via Central Asia and the Caucasus within the framework of the TRACECA transport project. On his return journey to Azerbaijan, Mammadyarov made a stopover in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to meet with government representatives. The region's population are largely Turkophone Uighurs. LF

AZERBAIJAN ANNOUNCES PLANNED REDENOMINATION OF NATIONAL CURRENCY
President Aliyev issued a decree on 7 February under which the Azerbaijani manat will be redenominated as of 1 January 2006, Interfax and AFP reported. As of that date, 5,000 old manats will be worth 1 new manat; the current exchange rate is 4,906 manats to the U.S. dollar. LF

U.S. FORENSIC EXPERTS ARRIVE IN GEORGIA
Six U.S. forensic experts arrived in Tbilisi early on 8 February to participate in the ongoing investigation into the circumstances of the death on 4 February of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Caucasus Press reported. U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 8 February that the arrival of U.S. specialists does not reflect on the professionalism of the Georgian investigators assigned to the case. Miles also said that the U.S. experts will also help to investigate the 1 February car-bomb explosion in Gori, but he ruled out a connection between that incident and Zhvania's death. On 7 February, the independent television company Mze reported that Georgian Ambassador to the U.S. Levan Mikeladze telephoned Zhvania at 1.19 a.m. on 4 February, just hours before Zhvania died of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Meanwhile, opposition politician Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia told journalists on 7 February she is convinced that Zhvania's death was murder, and that other members of the Georgian leadership were responsible, rustavi2.com reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, KYRGYZSTAN DISCUSS WATER ISSUES
A 12-member Kazakh delegation headed by Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik began negotiations on water issues between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek on 7 February, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The core issue is the volume of water flowing out of Kyrgyzstan's Toktogul reservoir. Kazakhstan would like Kyrgyzstan to limit outflow to 600 cubic meters a second. The Kazakh side said that Kyrgyzstan is currently releasing 740 cubic meters a second, threatening southern regions of Kazakhstan with flooding, Kazinform reported. Although there were no reports on the outcome of the closed-door talks, a source in the office of Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Kyrgyz negotiators insisted that their country is abiding by all agreements. But according to "Kazakhstan Today," the Kazakh energy minister said that if outflow from Toktogul is not reduced, the water level in Kazakhstan's Shardara reservoir will reach a critical level in six days. DK

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN ASSERTS DUTY TO ENSURE VOTER RIGHTS
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu told a news conference in Bishkek on 7 February that his office should play an active role in ensuring the rights of voters during 27 February parliamentary elections, akipress.org reported. He charged that the Central Election Commission is hindering his work, adding, "The ombudsman's office should act as a controller for observing the rights of the electorate during the elections." Kyrgyz election law does not expressly assign a role to the ombudsman in elections, but Bakir uulu stressed that such activities fall within the purview of his office, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakir uulu also said that that voter lists should be openly displayed at polling stations; at present, voter rolls are sent to election commissions, but there is no requirement that they be displayed at polling stations. DK

UN TO HEAR KYRGYZ CASE ON AKSY EVENTS
Sarpai Jaichibekov, a lawyer for a number of residents of Kyrgyzstan's Aksy region, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 7 February that his clients' cases will be heard by a UN committee. The case involves individuals who suffered during demonstrations in Aksy in March 2002, when police opened fire, killing six protestors. While some court proceedings took place in Kyrgyzstan, Jaichibekov's clients feel that those who stand behind the tragedy went unpunished, and that the world body is now their only hope of obtaining justice. DK

CANDIDATE REGISTRATION OFFICIALLY ENDS IN TAJIKISTAN
Although the registration of candidates for Tajikistan's 27 February parliamentary elections formally ended on 7 February, the country's Central Election Commission (CEC) has not yet received all the necessary materials from local election commissions, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Muhibullo Dodojonov, head of the CEC secretariat, said, "Since we have not yet received reports on candidates from some district election commissions, we can't announce the results of candidate registration. I think that in coming days, the final results will be ready with the number of candidates who are going to take part in elections," the BBC's Persian Service reported. As of 7 February, the CEC has registered 164 candidates, RFE/RL reported. Muhibullo Dodojonov told ITAR-TASS that the CEC has registered 62 candidates from the ruling People's Democratic Party, 35 candidates from the Islamic Renaissance Party, 27 candidates from the Communist Party, 17 from the Social-Democratic Party, 11 from the Socialist Party, and four from the Democratic Party. DK

RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER FORECASTS TOUGH TURKMEN-RUSSIAN GAS NEGOTIATIONS
Russia's "Gazeta" reported on 7 February, citing "informed sources in Turkmenistan," that a delegation from Russia's Gazprom is expected in Turkmenistan in the next two weeks to discuss the price the Russian gas giant pays for Turkmen gas. The current price is $44 per 1,000 cubic meters, paid half in cash and half in kind; after winning a price hike from $44 to $58 from Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005), Turkmenistan may be looking from more from Gazprom as well. But Turkmenistan has a long-term contract with Gazprom that is supposed to preclude any price hikes. Experts queried by "Gazeta" felt that Gazprom may walk away from the contract if the Turkmen side insists on a price rise. Dmitrii Tsaregorodtsev, an analyst with Rye, Man & Gor Securities, told the newspaper that Turkmenistan's only leverage is a threat to export gas on its own to Europe, but that Turkmenistan would need outside investment to do so, and European companies will be loathe to support the current political regime in the country. Dmitrii Mangilev, an analyst with Prospect Investment, commented, "In the end, Turkmenistan will be forced to agree to Russia's conditions." DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT ASKS NEW GOVERNMENT TO TACKLE CORRUPTION
President Islam Karimov addressed a cabinet meeting on 7 February, pointing out flaws in some ministries' work and urging ministers to combat corruption in law-enforcement organs, the official news agency UzA reported. The president defined the new government's primary goals as democratization, the renewal of society, and the deepening of liberal economic reforms. President Karimov also pointed to "serious deficiencies" in the Labor Ministry, Education Ministry, Health Ministry, and regional executive organs. He stressed that law-enforcement organs must root out corruption, graft, nepotism, and cronyism. The president warned the government that they must take care to ensure that new initiatives do not founder in the bureaucracy. DK

BELARUS PAYS OFF IMF DEBT
Belarus settled the last installment of its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 1 February, Belapan reported on 7 February, citing Finance Ministry spokesman Mikhail Valkouski. "Belarus has met its liabilities under IMF loans fully and in due time specified by the loan agreements," Valkouski said. A member of the IMF since 1992, Belarus received a total of $294.6 million from the fund in 1993-95. The IMF shifted its focus in Belarus to technical assistance in February 2004, after the National Bank of Belarus announced that it would no longer borrow from the fund. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES EUROINTEGRATION, PARTNERSHIP WITH RUSSIA...
While introducing newly appointed Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk to the Foreign Ministry staff on 8 February, President Viktor Yushchenko stressed that European integration is the country's strategic course, Interfax reported. He added, however, that in order to take this course, Ukraine first needs to resolve its problems in its relations with Russia, which he called Ukraine's "eternal strategic partner." "We cannot go to Europe with three or four valises of problems with Russia," Yushchenko said. Speaking about Ukraine's integration with Europe and potential EU membership, Yushchenko said it is a policy "not for one year." "But the answer to the question when Ukraine will become an EU member is in Kyiv, not in Brussels," he added. Yushchenko said he is fully convinced that Tarasyuk is able to ensure the implementation of all Ukrainian foreign-policy interests. JM

...AND WANTS SECURITY SERVICE TO TACKLE CORRUPTION
While introducing newly appointed Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Oleksandr Turchynov to the SBU staff on 8 February, President Yushchenko said he wants the SBU to focus primarily on fighting corruption and crime in the state, Interfax reported. "This is your sacrosanct duty -- begin with the customs service and police," Yushchenko said. "My goal is to have specific results by December.... Begin with three or four cases that are known to all people. I'm sure that several successful investigations regarding embezzlement of public funds will help prevent thousands of wrongdoings." The previous day, Yushchenko said that the appointment of Turchynov was a "very successful decision." "Turchynov is a well-known public politician, a kind of detonator, who will not let anyone feel safe," Yushchenko said. "On the other hand, he will act fairly and openly, which is the main thing to restore people's trust in the work of [the SBU]." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS PROSECUTORS TO LOOK INTO ALL PRIVATIZATIONS
Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 8 February that the government has requested that the Prosecutor-General's Office examine all privatization deals made in the country in the past, Interfax reported. "This examination will be concluded by 14 February, and the Prosecutor-General's Office will be able to provide the government with a full picture of how legally the privatization was conducted," Tymoshenko said. Tymoshenko added that the Prosecutor-General's Office has already appealed to the Supreme Court against a decision of the High Economic Court of October that acknowledged the controversial privatization of the Kryvorizhstal metallurgical giant as lawful (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2004). JM

EU AND NATO SAY BOSNIAN SERBS MUST COOPERATE WITH THE HAGUE
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brussels on 8 February that the EU might open talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina on a Stabilization and Association Agreement provided that republic has made sufficient progress on political and economic reforms and on improving its human rights situation, Reuters reported. Referring to the recent transfer to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal of Bosnian Serb indictee Savo Todovic, Barroso said: "Now we need to see more positive steps in that direction.... If that [happens]...by May we can take a decision on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Bosnia. A lot has to be done from now to then, but I believe it's possible" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 30 December 2004, and 18 January and 4 February 2005). He made his statement after meeting with Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic. The previous day, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Terzic, who is a Muslim, that the Republika Srpska's failure to cooperate with the tribunal is holding up Bosnia's Euro-Atlantic integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

SERBIAN EX-GENERAL PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY' IN THE HAGUE
Former Serbian General Vladimir Lazarevic told the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 7 February that he is "not guilty" of expelling 800,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosova in 1999 and killing several hundred more, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 4 February 2005). He faces charges on four counts of crimes against humanity and one count of violation of laws and customs of war. PM

HAGUE PROSECUTORS OPEN NEW ROUND OF QUESTIONING IN MACEDONIA
Prosecutors from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal began questioning several former Macedonian officials in Skopje on 7 February in connection with the killing of about 10 civilians during a police operation in the village of Ljuboten in the last days of the 2001 interethnic conflict, dpa and "Dnevnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 August 2001 and 19 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 December 2001, 20 August 2004, and 14 January 2005). The first to appear in the UNHCR headquarters in Skopje was Zlatko Keckovski, the former head of late President Boris Trajkovski's bodyguards. In Croatia, former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who is charged with being responsible for the operation, previously told prosecutors that it was Trajkovski who ordered the operation. Other officials to be questioned by the prosecutors include former Public Prosecutor Stavre Dzikov. UB

KOSOVA'S UN CHIEF CALLS ON GREECE TO SUPPORT STATUS TALKS...
Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Athens on 7 February that he would like Greek help in possibly launching talks on the province's future status later in 2005, dpa reported. "I count on Greece to move up the Kosovo issue on the agenda of the European Union as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council" in a term that began in January 2005, he said. Jessen-Petersen added that "the process leading into status talks might be launched in the second half of the year" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 7 and 28 January 2005). Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis said talks can only start when Kosova meets the international community's standards. Greece is a traditional ally of Serbia, which opposes independence for Kosova. PM

...WHILE SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S FOREIGN MINISTER DELIVERS A MESSAGE IN NEW YORK
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic spoke to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 7 February in a discussion that dealt "exclusively" with Kosova, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Draskovic told reporters that he "insisted on two things. The first is that the democratic standards guaranteeing the rights of Serbs and other non-Albanian must be enforced, and the second is that the UN Charter and UN Security Council Resolution 1244 must be respected in all discussions related to the status" of the province. Official Belgrade regards those two documents as confirming Serbian sovereignty over Kosova, which the political parties representing the province's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority reject (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 7 and 28 January 2005). In her memoirs, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote that the mention of formal links between Belgrade and Kosova in Resolution 1244 was designed as a face-saving concession to Serbia and its friends in the international community without affecting the province's final status (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES BEING COMMUNIST-ERA INFORMANT
President Traian Basescu on 7 February told the Bucharest Municipal Court that allegations that he acted as an informer for the communist secret police are "pathetic and dirty," Mediafax, AP and dpa reported. Basescu told the court that as head of the maritime Romanian Navrom office in Antwerp, Belgium, in the 1980s, he had to inform the authorities about his family situation on an annual basis as well as presenting to Navrom "certain reports" from which "state institutions subsequently gathered information." Basescu insisted that this does not constitute proof of involvement with the Securitate. The case has been pending before courts since February 2004, following allegations by former presidential adviser Mugur Ciuvica that Basescu acted as an informer. Both sides appealed against the ruling of a lower court that found Ciuvica and his associate Max Badin innocent of slander, but ordered them to pay Basescu's legal fees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February, 27 May, and 1 and 10 October 2004). MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION, GOVERNMENT SEE EYE TO EYE ON ELECTORAL PROBE
The main opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) officially submitted on 7 February a request that parliament set up an ad hoc commission to investigate suspicions of electoral fraud in the November 2004 parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. The suggestion to set up the commission was first made by President Basescu, and the government said on 7 February that it supports the PSD request. The request is now to be discussed by the two chambers' Permanent bureaus in a joint session. MS

RUSSIAN ELECTORAL EXPERTS INVOLVED IN MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS...
Gleb Pavlovskii, a Russian political strategist and head of the Foundation for Effective Policies, told journalists in Moscow on 4 February that Russian electoral experts are working for and with different Moldovan political parties ahead of the country's parliamentary elections slated for 6 March, Infotag reported on 7 February. Pavlovskii stressed that this involvement is on professional basis and was not prompted by any involvement by the Kremlin in the Moldovan electoral process. Moldovan observers, however, have long been stressing that Russia is interested in removing from power the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and President Vladimir Voronin, who backtracked from his previous pro-Russian line in 2002. MS

...AS SPECULATION EMERGES ABOUT TRANSDNIESTRIANS' PARTICIPATION IN MARCH VOTE
Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov might have discussed during his visit to Moscow last week the possibility of allowing voting for the upcoming Moldovan parliamentary elections to be held for the first time in the separatist territory, Infotag reported. The agency said many in Moscow and Tiraspol believe this would be a unique opportunity for Transdniester to bring about the removal of the PCM from power. It said that in the event this decision is made, most Transdiestrians are expected to vote either for the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) or for the Patria-Rodina Bloc. The Moldovan Electoral Bureau has asked Transdniester to organize elections on its territory, but imposed conditions that most observers believe that the separatists will be unable to meet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005). Since Moldova declared independence in 1990, Transdniester has allowed residents to cross the Dniester River for voting purposes. MS

EXPERTS BELIEVE MOLDOVAN MEDIA HEAVILY BIASED IN RULING PARTY'S FAVOR
Media experts from Coalition 2005 -- an association of 152 nongovernmental Moldovan organizations set up in May 2004 to ensure free, fair, transparent, and democratic elections -- said on 7 February in a preliminary report that electronic media in Moldova is heavily biased in favor of the government, Flux reported. According to the report, the only exceptions to this rule are the Chisinau-based Radio Antena C and Euro TV Chisinau, but those local stations do not cover the entire territory of Moldova. MS

AFGHANS DEMAND RECKONING WITH PAST ABUSES
A new report on human rights issued by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) presents Afghanistan's leadership with a dilemma. The report, released on 29 January, asserts that the majority of Afghans want people who have violated human rights in the past declared ineligible for public office. However, the leaders of postconflict Afghanistan are inclined to try to forget, if not forgive, the grave violations of human rights committed by successive regimes, warlords, gangs, and their foreign backers. They want to secure quickly the country's future as a stable and secure society based on law -- without a reckoning with the past.

Afghanistan's recent misfortunes date back to April 1978, when the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a bloody coup d'etat and continued through a decade-long Soviet-led occupation, four years of civil war, and five years of Taliban rule that ended in December 2001. Throughout these 23 years, Afghans suffered a variety of abuses on a massive scale. So far, no one in Afghanistan has ever been indicted for human rights violations. Not even a symbolic effort has been made in the country to address the grievances of the Afghan people.

The AIHRC, established by the Bonn agreement of 2001 that charted Afghanistan's transitional period after the defeat of the Taliban regime, was mandated specifically to consider the issue of justice during Afghanistan's transitional period. According to the 29 January press release announcing the report, from January to August 2004 the AIHRC conducted its National Consultation on Transitional Justice by interviewing around 6,000 Afghans on past human rights abuses and by making recommendations on how to deal with the perpetrators of these crimes.

Discussing the report, AIHRC Chairwoman Sima Samar said that "unfortunately, proper attention has not been paid to a fundamental element of peace and stability since the beginning of Afghanistan's transition process. That element is the realization of justice [for past misdeeds] in Afghanistan." The AIHRC believes that realization of peace without examining past abuses is an impossible task. Samar added that "the issue of deciding how and when the justice is to be accomplished is up to the people" of Afghanistan.

According to the AIHRC report, 69 percent of survey respondents identified themselves as victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes; 40 percent desire the prosecution of notorious perpetrators; and 90 percent requested the removal of human rights violators from public offices.

The survey indicated that the majority of people interviewed identified themselves as victims of human rights violations during the 23 years of conflict, and said they believe that such crimes continue today. "The people are of the opinion that continued impunity has given the perpetrators the opportunity to commit further abuses with no fear of prosecution," the AIHRC press release indicated.

In its report, the AIHRC calls on President Hamid Karzai to "articulate a political commitment to justice," initially by implementing "a series of symbolic acts that could serve to acknowledge victims." As overall policy, the report urges Karzai and his team to commit "publicly to redressing the crimes of the past through a long-term and integrated strategy, encompassing vetting, criminal justice, truth-seeking, and reparations."

According to Karzai's spokesman, the Afghan president has "noted the recommendations" in the AIHRC report, and has responded that some "of these can be implemented, while others may need to be discussed further." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the European Union welcomed the report's findings and have called on Kabul to take heed of the commission's recommendations.

The recommendations put forth by AIHRC are an articulation of the wishes of ordinary and voiceless Afghans. If acted upon with diligence and foresight, they could be the most effective and, indeed just, method of disenfranchising those warlords and others who are still violating the law and abusing the rights of the country's citizens in an attempt to secure a part of Afghanistan's political future. Unless human rights violators are identified and brought to justice -- albeit even if only symbolically -- Afghanistan faces the grim prospect of having one of its main democratic institutions -- the soon-to-be elected National Assembly -- filled with people who have records of abuse against the very people they are suppose to represent. After all, the danger exists that those who have used violence and abuse in the past to intimidate Afghans will try to do again to gain votes.

EASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE CLAIMS TO BE POPPY FREE...
Nangarhar Province officials have declared that nearly all of the opium-poppy plantations in the province have been eradicated, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 7 February. Provincial security commander Hazrat Ali told Pajhwak on 6 February that a "poppy-eradication campaign started throughout the province following a presidential decree and so far 99 percent of the poppy cultivations have been eradicated." It is not clear which presidential decree Hazrat Ali was referring to. According to Deputy Interior Minister General Daud, 70 percent of Nangarhar's land has been cleared of opium poppies. Nangarhar Province is one of Afghanistan's major opium-poppy growing regions, and such levels of eradication would be a major success for Afghanistan's counternarcotics efforts. AT

...WHILE SOUTHERN PROVINCE GOVERNOR CLAIMS AERIAL SPRAYING TAKING PLACE
Governor of Helmand Province Sher Mohammad Akhondzada claimed on 6 February that opium-poppy fields in Nawzad District have been sprayed with a "poisonous substance," the BBC reported. According to Akhondazda, elders from the area told him that following the alleged spraying, "children in their area suffered from itching" and that wheat fields were damaged. "We do not know who sent [the aircraft] and consequently we were unable to identify the country that did this," Akhondzada said. A delegation dispatched to the area confirmed the elders' claim, the governor added. Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi told the BBC that he has no information about the alleged incident, adding that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is opposed to the practice of aerial spraying to destroy opium-poppy crops. After eyewitnesses reportedly saw U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants on poppy fields in Nangarhar Province in early November, the Afghan government said that it would not allow any country to carry out aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004 and 31 January 2005). AT

NORTHERN AFGHAN TELEVISION STATION EXPANDS COVERAGE AREA...
The independent Aina TV based in Sheberghan, capital of Jowzjan Province, has extended its broadcast range, Aina TV reported on 6 February. Three receivers and transmitters of Aina TV have been set up in Konduz, Samangan, and Takhar provinces to the west of Jowzjan. Broadcasting to the capitals of the three provinces has already begun. AT

...AS NEW LOCAL RADIO GOES ON AIR IN SOUTHERN PROVINCE
A new radio station began broadcasting in Zabul on 5 February, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Zabul's Information and Culture Department installed the radio transmitters with help from coalition forces operating in the area. The station will broadcast four hours daily and has a range of 25 kilometers. AT

IRAN, U.S. DISAGREE AT INTERNATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CONFERENCE
On the third day of a counterterrorism conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, participants tried to focus on practical solutions and avoided touchier issues, such as defining terrorism, Radio Farda reported. Among the practical issues that require attention are individuals' economic well-being, young people, and the emergence of political Islam. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah also called for the creation of an international counterterrorism center. An argument between the Iranian and U.S. delegations took place on the sidelines of the event, international news agencies reported. The Iranians took exception to the definition of Hizballah as a terrorist organization, and they reportedly compared the perspectives of the United States and Al-Qaeda. Amir Seyyed Iravani, head of the Iranian delegation, claimed that Iran is the world's biggest victim of terrorism and it has suffered the greatest damage as a result of this phenomenon. Iravani also discussed the connection between international narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, and terrorism. Iravani said the "worst form" of terrorism takes place in Palestine. BS

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR U.S. GOODWILL...
Expediency Council Chairman and former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 6 February in an exclusive interview with "USA Today" that Tehran is not worried about Washington's recent tough statements about Iran. He said the resumption of Iran-U.S. dialogue should be preceded by an American goodwill gesture, such as the unfreezing of Iranian assets that he estimated to be about $8 billion plus interest. He said he is one of the people who can restore relations between the two countries, and indicated that there is no need for continued difficulties. "The mere fact that I am sitting here talking to you is an indication that we have no differences with the American people. This would not happen with an Israeli journalist. We want good relations with the American people. There has to be a dialogue between the governments, but what can one do when your government has always wronged us?" BS

...AND SAYS ACCUSATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES NOT APPRECIATED
Asked during his 6 February interview with "USA Today" about the arrest of web bloggers and their allegations of prison abuse, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said: "I am essentially against any harsh approach to these issues in Iran. There is no need for such actions. Each department and institution has its own authorities and responsibilities, and they act on that basis. It is wrong to even compare such actions to what is done in Guantanamo or elsewhere by the Americans. They do not stand on a high moral platform to preach to others." According to a 28 January release from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist Taqi Rahmani has spent the last 19 months in jail without being charged, and he has spent 5,000 days in prison since 1981. Rahmani was tried behind closed doors in May 2003 and given an 11-year prison sentence, plus a 10-year loss of civil rights. RSF has characterized Iran as the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East. BS

IRANIAN OFFICERS DESCRIBE NATIONAL CAPABILITIES
Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said in the daily "Sharq" of 7 February that "since the first day I took the office, I have said that we do not need nuclear arms," IRNA reported. Shamkhani said Iran has signed international nonproliferation treaties and its nuclear sites are open to international inspectors. Shamkhani also said that before the revolution Iran depended on foreign advisers and foreign sources, but the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War gave Iran the opportunity to design and produce all its weaponry needs, state radio reported. Deputy Defense Minister Admiral Mohammad Shafii-Rudsari referred to Iran's production of the Shihab-3 and other missiles, as well as tanks and armored personnel carriers. Shafii-Rudsari added that Iran can design and produce all kinds of ships. Brigadier-General Hussein Alai, chairman of the Iranian armed forces' Aviation Industry Organization, said Iran manufactures unmanned aircraft, can make six types of helicopters, and it is trying to build passenger aircraft. BS

ARMENIAN DEFENSE OFFICIALS VISIT TEHRAN
Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who also serves as secretary of his country's presidential security council, left for Tehran on 7 February, Noyan Tapan reported. Sarkisian and his colleagues were invited by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani and are scheduled to meet with Mehdi Safari, who heads the Iranian Foreign Ministry's CIS department, and former Ambassador to Armenia Farhad Koleini. Serzh met regularly with Koleini when Koleini was ambassador in Yerevan. The Armenian delegation was to meet on 8 February with Rohani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The Armenian delegation is scheduled to leave on 9 February. BS

CORRECTION:
The 7 February "RFE/RL Newsline" item entitled "As It Refurbishes Holy Sites" should have identified the Imam Ali shrine as being located in Al-Najaf. The shrines of Imam Hussein and his brother, Abbas Alamdar, are located in Karbala. BS

U.S. TROOPS FREE EGYPTIAN HOSTAGES...
U.S. forces stormed a house in Baghdad on 7 February and freed four Egyptians who had been taken hostage the previous day, international news agencies reported on 8 February. Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Egypt's Orascom Telecom, the parent company of the firm the men work for, told Reuters that U.S. forces raided a villa and freed two of the four Egyptians. The other two escaped on their own in the automobile they had been locked in, Sawiris added. "All four are free," Reuters quoted Sawiris as saying. The four Egyptians were taken captive near western Baghdad's Mansour district on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005). BW

...AS MILITANT GROUP SAYS IT WILL RELEASE ITALIAN JOURNALIST
A militant group that took Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena hostage now says it plans to release her, international news agencies reported on 7 February. "After the judicial committee of the Jihad Organization interrogated the Italian captive Giuliana Sgrena, it has been found that the Italian captive is not involved in spying for the infidels in Iraq," AP quoted the group as saying in a statement posted on the Internet. "In response to the appeal made by the Muslim Scholars' Association, we, in the Jihad Organization, will free the Italian captive in the next few days," the statement added. The authenticity of the statement could not be verified. A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed to have kidnapped Sgrena on 4 February, and said Italy had 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005). BW

SUICIDE BOMB KILLS AT LEAST 13 PEOPLE NEAR IRAQI ARMY BASE
A suicide bomb attack killed at least 13 people on 8 February near an Iraqi Army recruitment center in west Baghdad, international news agencies reported the same day, citing the U.S. Army, Iraqi police, and hospital officials. A suicide bomber, who was on foot, detonated the blast next to a truck carrying recruits into the Iraqi base, located in a disused airport, Reuters reported, citing police and U.S. military officials. The attack marked the second consecutive day of major suicide attacks, following a brief lull after the 30 January elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005). BW

IRAQI POLITICIAN SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Gunmen in western Baghdad ambushed the convoy of a controversial Iraqi politician on 8 February, killing two of his sons, international news agencies reported the same day. Mithal al-Alusi - secretary general of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation and the apparent target of the ambush - survived the attack, Reuters reported, citing police sources. Alusi, a vocal critic of Syria and Iran, survived two assassination attempts in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2005) and was expelled from Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress after he paid a visit to Israel last year. "Yes, my two sons died and my bodyguard as well," AFP quoted Alusi as saying. "It was a gunfire attack on my car near my house in Baghdad." BW

KURDISH PARTY MOVES INTO SECOND PLACE IN VOTE COUNT
A Kurdish party list has moved into second place in Iraq's elections, ahead of the ticket headed by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, international news agencies reported on 8 February. After ballots from Iraq's Kurdish self-governing area of the north were counted, a ticket made up of the two major Kurdish parties was in second place nationally with about 24 percent of the total votes tallied so far, AP reported on 8 February. The ticket headed by Prime Minister Allawi, called Iraqi List, was in third place with 13 percent. The United Iraqi Alliance, backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, still holds a commanding lead, winning more than half the votes counted so far. Final results are expected this week. Formerly bitter rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party formed an alliance for the 30 January election. On 3 February, they announced that Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, will be their candidate for prime minister or president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2005). BW

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