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Newsline - October 4, 2005


PUTIN ANNOUNCES EXPANSION OF GAS EXPORTS TO EUROPE...
Speaking at a press-conference in Brussels on 3 October, President Vladimir Putin said that in the next few years Russia will increase its natural-gas exports to the European Union by 60 billion cubic meters and attract new partners for the North European gas-pipeline project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2005), RTR and other media reported. "For the first time we have made a strategic decision. We will not be simply supplying gas and increasing our gas supplies to Europe," Putin said. "What is more important is that we have agreed that some Western European companies will have a share in companies engaged in gas extraction in Russia. Together we will build a pipeline underneath the Baltic Sea. In turn, they have agreed that we will have shares in companies engaged in gas and electricity distribution in their countries." He said that Russia is interested in expanding the number of companies involved in the Baltic pipeline project. Putin denied that the increase of Russian gas exports could be used for political pressure on Europe, saying that the project "will enhance Europe's energy security because it diversifies energy sources." "The more the supplies, the lower the prices, or at least [more] stable," he added. Earlier the same day, Putin met for talks with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and King Albert II. VY

...AND FLIES TO LONDON FOR EU SUMMIT
President Putin arrived late on 3 October in London for the next day's EU-Russia summit and bilateral talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, international media reported. The summit agenda will focus on cooperation in four areas, on which both sides accepted "road maps" at the previous summit in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005), RIA-Novosti reported. Specifically, Putin will discuss with EU officials Iran's nuclear program; fighting terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime; trade and energy cooperation, and Russia's membership of the World Trade Organization; and easing visa requirements for Russian citizens traveling to the EU. According to Timofei Bordachev of the Russian Academy of Sciences Europe Institute, it would be unrealistic to expect a breakthrough, TV-Tsentr reported. In their talks, Putin and Blair will discuss the possible extension of the Baltic pipeline via Belgium to Britain, RBK-TV reported on 3 October. VY

U.S. OFFICIAL URGES RUSSIA TO HALT NUCLEAR EXCHANGE WITH IRAN
Speaking to the UN General Assembly's Disarmament Committee on 3 October, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for arms control Stephen Rademaker said that all governments should halt nuclear trade with Iran in light of the resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency on 24 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005) stressing Tehran's noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, AP and other media reported. "We think it's self-evident, for example, that in the face of such a finding, no government should permit new nuclear transfers to Iran and all ongoing nuclear projects should be frozen," Rademaker said. Meanwhile, "an informed source within the Kremlin," told RIA-Novosti on 3 October that Russia considers "direct threats or excessive pressure on Iran" to be "inefficient." Moscow is concerned that pressure on Tehran could eventually "push Iran out of the legal frameworks," the source said. It added that if the confrontation concerning the Iranian nuclear program escalates, Russia could suffer more than Iran because its contract "provides jobs to tens of thousands of people and hundreds of enterprises," RIA-Novosti reported. VY

PARLIAMENTARIANS SEE VARIOUS MOTIVES BEHIND FORMER MINISTER'S EXTRADITION...
The prevailing attitude in the State Duma to the Swiss Justice Ministry decision to extradite former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov to the United States is that it is "a slap in the face" for Russia and a "failure of its special services," RBK-TV reported on 3 October. Security Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Grishankov (Unified Russia) said that the decision is a "serious blow to Russia and the Foreign Ministry must do it [return Adamov to Russia], if it has only the smallest chance." Another deputy chairman of the committee, Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist Party), said the United States wants to get a "well-informed source about Iran." Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) agreed, saying, "The goal of Adamov's extradition might be to get extra information about all agreements between Russia and Iran because all such agreements were made when Adamov was minister," RBK-TV reported. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev said he sees in the case "a political component, namely the reluctance of Switzerland to quarrel with the U.S." Meanwhile, Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said he suspects "economic competition" is behind the decision. "It is not a secret that nuclear energy and waste processing is a very profitable business," he said. VY

...AND DEFENSE MINISTER PUTS ON BRAVE FACE
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 3 October that Adamov "has not been in possession of state secrets since 2000," but as a Russian citizen he should be protected, Channel One reported. If Adamov is extradited to the United States, he said, Russia should seek to ensure that all his rights are observed. Meanwhile, RBK-TV commented on 3 October that the real secrets Adamov knows are about corruption among Russian officials. RBK-TV also noted that the Duma Anticorruption Commission submitted a report on allegations of corruption against Adamov to President Putin in 2001 and, after reading that report, Putin dismissed Adamov as minister. VY

PUTIN PROPOSES ANOTHER CHANGE TO PROCEDURE FOR SELECTING GOVERNORS
Following up on a suggestion that was made during this year's state-of-the-nation address, Russian President Putin has submitted a bill to the State Duma that will allow the political party that has won the most seats in their respective regional legislative assembly to nominate a candidate for the post of regional governor, AK&M reported on 3 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). If more than one party has received an equal number of seats, then each party will be allowed to nominate a candidate. The reaction to the new bill from members of opposition parties was skeptical. Yabloko party Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko told Interfax that the bill is part of a "step-by-step process aimed at bolstering the position of Unified Russia." He continued, "Given the massive administrative resources that support [Unified Russia] today, it is virtually impossible for any other party to win regional elections." Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin agreed, noting that Unified Russia is the party with the majority of seats in most parliaments. "I am not sure that this step will change anything," Ekho Moskvy quoted him as saying. JAC

RACE FOR STATE DUMA SEAT GETS MORE CROWDED
Mariya Gaidar, daughter of former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and head of the youth group DA, along with Viktor Shenderovich, creator of the satirical puppet show "Kukly," have declared their intention to run in the 4 December State Duma by-election, Ekho Moskvy reported. Gaidar and Shenderovich are seeking the seat that former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii expressed an interest in (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 September 2005). The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party nominated film director Stanislav Govorukhin, who is a former State Duma deputy (Fatherland-Unified Russia). Shenderovich said he hopes his name on the ballot will make it easier for people who will have to choose between Govorukhin and the option of "against all." So far, the election commission has received documents from 28 potential candidates. JAC

UNIFIED RUSSIA PARTY TO REV UP YOUTH WING
"Gazeta" reported on 3 October that the Unified Russia party is planning on reviving its youth wing and has made new appointments to bolster the party's youth efforts. According to the daily, the party's General Council named Konstantin Kostin, a former public-relations manager at Yukos, to head the effort for publicity and youth policy. Since August, Andrei Turchak, the 29-year-old vice president of the St. Petersburg Leninets holding company, has headed the party's special commission on youth policy. More recently, Ivan Demidov, the head of the Russian Orthodox TV channel Spas, became a youth-affairs adviser to the party's central executive committee on 1 September. According to the daily, Unified Russia's youth movement "will hardly" be able to compete with the other pro-Kremlin youth movements such as Nashi or the Eurasian Youth Union. JAC

REGIONAL COURT FINDS MEMBERS OF ISLAMIST GROUP GUILTY
A court in Tobolsk in Tyumen Oblast on 3 October found several members of the local branch of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir guilty on all charges brought against them, including the involvement of people in terrorist activities and founding an extremist organization, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. Members were sentenced to terms ranging from one to six years in prison. The trial started on 15 February. Islam.ru reported that several human rights groups have noted that workers in law-enforcement agencies exerted moral and physical pressure on the accused. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 4 October, the accused not only participated in an organization that has been banned by the Supreme Court but also sought to establish an Islamic state on the territory of Russia. JAC

NEW PRESIDENT OF KABARDINO-BALKARIA OUTLINES PRIORITIES
Arsen Kanokov, who was confirmed last week by the republic's legislature as president of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic following the resignation of Valerii Kokov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005), has singled out economic stagnation and religious extremism as problems that require immediate attention. Kokov described the overall situation in the republic as "far from crisis," adding that while there are economic problems, he does not anticipate economic collapse, according to km.ru on 30 September. He announced an immediate audit of all republican enterprises, on the basis of which short-, medium- and long-term (covering respectively one year, three years, and five years) economic-development programs will be drafted. He further stressed the importance of switching to market mechanisms and encouraging the development of small businesses. Kanokov warned the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria that its members should make an effort to win back the respect of young believers who, disenchanted with the official clergy, are increasingly turning to radical Islam, according to islam.ru as cited by kavkazweb.net on 1 October (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 August 2005). But he downplayed the seriousness of that trend, claiming that what he termed "pseudo-religious extremism" is not a mass phenomenon, nor is it deeply rooted. He said the closure of a number of local mosques in Nalchik was "a mistake." Kanokov also announced the planned construction in Nalchik of an Orthodox cathedral, which will be partly financed by his own company, Sindika, annews.ru reported on 1 October. LF

PACE, HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS UNLIKELY TO MONITOR CHECHEN BALLOT
Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia), who heads the State Duma delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told Interfax on 3 October that he doubts that PACE will send observers to monitor the 27 November parliamentary elections in Chechnya as it has no experience in monitoring regional elections. He said the PACE bureau will decide on 6 October whether to dispatch a token presence. Also on 3 October, Oleg Orlov told Interfax that the Memorial human rights center, which he heads, is unlikely to send election observers to Chechnya as "we think the current situation...excludes any genuine and independent elections." Orlov predicted that the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities will use "administrative resources" to ensure the desired allocation of mandates in the new bicameral parliament. On 27 September, Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Ismail Baikhanov told ITAR-TASS that 64 candidates have announced their intention to contest the 40 seats in the People's Assembly (the lower house) and 12 aspire to election to the 21-seat Council of the Republic (the upper house). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARLIAMENTARIAN DEMANDS DEBATE ON COMPENSATION FOR LOST SAVINGS
Hmayak Hovannisian (independent) challenged parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian on 3 October to revive a bill drafted last year by Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir (OY) party that would earmark $83 million in public funds to compensate citizens whose savings deposits were rendered worthless by the hyperinflation that marked the first years of Armenian independence, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Securing such compensation figured prominently in OY's manifesto for the 2003 parliamentary elections. But the government blocked passage of that bill, arguing that the sum called for was inadequate and should instead be spent on social programs. Galust Sahakian, who heads the parliamentary faction of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, said on 3 October that the parliamentary majority will again block any discussion of Baghdasarian's draft bill, at least until the government formally unveils its draft budget for 2006, which does not contain any provision for compensating former savings deposit holders. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER ANTICIPATES VISIT BY MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIR
Elmar Mammadyarov told journalists in Baku on 3 October that Steven Mann, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, will arrive in Azerbaijan in the second half of October, zerkalo.az reported on 4 October. Mammadyarov added that all three co-chairs may then come to Baku in late November or early December to discuss unspecified "conceptual details" of a Karabakh peace settlement. He said that the agreement already reached with Armenia on some seven-nine points remains in force. Also on 3 October, the radical Karabakh Liberation Organization unveiled the results of a poll of some 2,012 respondents conducted two days earlier, day.az reported on 4 October. The poll found that 51 percent of Azerbaijanis favor a military campaign to bring the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic back under the control of the central Azerbaijani government. Only 32 percent favored seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict. LF

AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSES OPPOSITION OF PREPARING FOR POSTELECTION STANDOFF
Ramil Usubov said on 3 October that his ministry has information that suggests the opposition plans violent protests on 7 November, the day after the upcoming parliamentary elections, Azerbaijani media reported. Usubov estimated the number of would-be participants in the 1 October opposition rally in Baku that was forcibly thwarted by police as only a few hundred. Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party that co-organized the 1 October protest, estimated attendance at several thousand (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). Meeting on 3 October with his visiting Latvian counterpart Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev again affirmed that "everything is being done that should be done to ensure truly free and fair elections," day.az reported. LF

RUSSIA CALLS ON GEORGIA TO SHOW 'RESPONSIBILITY' IN CONFLICT WITH SOUTH OSSETIA
In a 3 October statement posted on its website (http://www.ln.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/sps/42DED9C16B762282C325708F003681F1), the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Georgia of unleashing a propaganda campaign against Russia and the Russian involvement in peacekeeping in the South Ossetian conflict zone. The statement noted that First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin traveled to Tskhinvali last week to meet with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, whose "balanced proposals" for defusing the tensions that resulted from the 20 September mortar attack on Tskhinvali Loshchinin then passed to the Georgian leadership, which rejected them. The statement branded as "destructive" the Georgian parliament's stated intention to call for an end to the Russian peacekeeping mission and to the work of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring developments in the conflict zone, which it described as the sole effective mechanisms for resolving the conflict. It concluded by expressing the hope that Tbilisi will revert to a "balanced and responsible" approach to resolving its differences with the South Ossetian leadership. Meanwhile, two Georgian residents of South Ossetia were injured late on 2 October in what a local Georgian police official termed a drive-by shooting by Ossetians, ITAR-TASS reported. The gunmen have been apprehended. LF

PRESSURE ON GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY INTENSIFIES
The Samartlianoba (Justice) party headed by former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze has accused the Georgian authorities of seeking to prevent its emergency congress, scheduled to open in Tbilisi on 3 October, Georgian media reported. ITAR-TASS on 3 October quoted Giorgadze, who fled Georgia 10 years ago after being accused of a botched assassination attempt on then parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, as saying that cars in which Justice members were traveling to the congress from the towns of Zugdidi, Poti, Gori, and Kutaisi were halted by police. ITAR-TASS did not specify Giorgadze's whereabouts. Delegates to the congress branded the present Georgian leadership antidemocratic and antinational, and vowed to establish a movement to oppose the continued influence on Georgian politics of U.S. financier George Soros, whom Giorgadze accused of having bankrolled the advent to power of President Mikheil Saakashvili. LF

GEORGIAN EX-PRESIDENT ARGUES AGAINST REBURYING STALIN
Eduard Shevardnadze said on 3 October he does not consider it appropriate to return the remains of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to Georgia for reburial there, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze pointed out that Stalin was not only a son of Georgia, but "a symbol of the former USSR and the chief commander who won" victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said in Moscow last week that the Georgian leadership is prepared to reinter Stalin's remains, which were laid to rest in the Kremlin wall following his death in March 1953, according to Caucasus Press on 29 September. Georgian veterans of World War II similarly want Stalin's remains returned to Georgia for burial, Caucasus Press reported on 24 May, citing the daily "Akhali taoba." LF

NATO OFFICIAL ANNOUNCES EXPANSION OF BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN
In comments during a visit to Bishkek, NATO's special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, Robert Simmons, announced on 3 October that NATO will expand its use of the Ganci air base in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the Kabar news agency reported. Following a meeting with Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov, Simmons added that NATO also plans to deepen its partnership program with Kyrgyzstan by providing specific technical assistance in the Kyrgyz defense budgetary process and by increasing the scale of training programs for Kyrgyz military personnel. Simmons first unveiled plans for expanding NATO's relations with Kyrgyzstan during an earlier visit in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). Located at the Manas airport at Bishkek, the Ganci facility is integral to coalition operations in Afghanistan and its expansion stems from the Uzbek government's closure of the Karshi-Khanabad coalition base in Uzbekistan. RG

KYRGYZSTAN RESTRICTS TOBACCO AND ALCOHOL ADVERTISING
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov signed into law on 3 October new restrictions on tobacco and alcohol advertising on radio and television , Kyrgyz TV reported. The new restrictions, to be enforced during daytime broadcasts, are part of broader legislation governing media content and are accompanied by an outright ban on the sponsorship of programming, sporting events, or lotteries by tobacco and alcohol companies. RG

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY ACTIVISTS JAILED...
The Tajik Supreme Court sentenced opposition activist Yoribek Ibrohimov to 22 years in prison on 3 October, Avesta reported. The sentence follows the convictions of Ibrohimov and four of his supporters, including a former driver of opposition Democratic Party leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, for their role in an attack on the local branch of the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office in the eastern Tojikobod District. Two of the co-defendants received 16-year sentences, with the other two were sentenced to 15- and 11-year prison terms. RG

...AS TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER PLEADS NOT GUILTY
Democratic Party leader Iskandarov pled not guilty on 3 October to charges of terrorism and corruption before a court in Dushanbe, Avesta reported. Iskandarov appealed to the presiding judge for "a fair verdict" and demanded the launch of a criminal case into "the falsification of material of the criminal case and the use of force against him." The prosecutor in the trial requested on 28 September that the court sentence Iskandarov to 25 years in prison and impose a 1.5 million-somoni ($470,000) fine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2005). RG

TAJIKISTAN FORMS NEW MOBILE COUNTERNARCOTICS UNITS
The Tajik Drug Control Agency announced on 3 October the formation of new mobile antinarcotics units to be deployed along the border with Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Drug Control Agency spokesman Major Avaz Yuldoshev, the composition of the new units will reflect a "priority on former Russian border guards, who served on a contractual basis, and junior officers, as well as personnel from the Tajik law-enforcement agencies, who have experience in combating drugs." The announcement follows a recent bilateral agreement between the Tajik Border Protection Committee and the Afghan Interior Ministry for cooperation in border security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2005). RG

CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO TURKMENISTAN DETAILS BILATERAL RELATIONS
In an interview published on 1 October, Chinese Ambassador to Turkmenistan Lu Guisheng hailed "the year 2005 as the most productive" period in bilateral cooperation, the Turkmen government website turkmenistan.gov.tm reported. Lu said that bilateral trade surpassed $71 million in the first eight months of the year, reflecting a nearly 40 percent increase over the same period last year. Lu specifically identified the oil and gas sectors as the priority in Turkmen-Chinese relations. RG

UZBEK SOLDIERS TESTIFY AT ANDIJON TRIAL
Several Uzbek soldiers were called to testify on 3 October in the trial of 15 men accused of involvement in an antigovernment uprising in eastern Uzbekistan, RFE/RL and Uzbek Radio reported. In testimony supporting the prosecutor's charges against the defendants, the soldiers said that they were ordered to provide safe passage for demonstrators out of the city of Andijon, but accused protesters of attacking and firing on fellow demonstrators and civilians. The soldiers were members of military units deployed to the city of Andijon in mid-May to contain an uprising that the Uzbek authorities blame on Islamist militants attempting to overthrow the government. Each of the defendants in the trial, which is tainted by reports of torture and harsh interrogation, has confessed to the charges and admitted to membership in banned Islamist groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). RG

BELARUSIAN MINISTER EXPLAINS DIRECTIVE TO EXPEL 'POLITICIZED' STUDENTS...
Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkou told lawmakers in the Chamber of Representatives on 3 October that one of his ministry's duties is to ensure that the educational process is not "politicized," Belapan reported. Radzkou was commenting on a directive he issued in May, according to which educational institutions can expel students who participate in opposition demonstrations. Radzkou claims the directive does not infringe on students' constitutional rights. "[Students] have the right to participate in political life, [but schools are not the proper place] to declare their approaches and political views," he reportedly said, according to Belapan. The classified directive -- "On Measures to Prevent Attempts to Involve University and School Students in Illegal Political Activities" -- instructs educational institutions to conduct an investigation into any case of student participation in an unauthorized demonstration staged by opposition groups and take disciplinary action that could include expulsion. JM

...AND INTRODUCES NEW BILL ON HIGHER EDUCATION
Education Minister Radzkou introduced a bill on higher education to the Chamber of Representatives on 3 October that, if enacted, would empower the education minister to appoint and dismiss the heads of private institutions of higher education, Belapan reported. The bill proposes a two-stage system of higher education. The first stage would take four to five years, with another year or two of training to complete a master's degree. The bill also stipulates a two-year compulsory job assignment for university graduates. All graduates would be obliged to sign contracts with universities and would be required to reimburse education costs if they fail to work at a designated location for two years. Radzkou said there are currently 360,000 students enrolled in Belarusian institutions of higher learning, including 300,000 in state-run facilities. JM

COMPUTER GLITCH CLOGS TRAFFIC ACROSS UKRAINIAN-POLISH BORDER
A computer failure at a Ukrainian Customs Service data-processing center has slowed traffic at three checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Polish border and created lengthy lines of trucks on the Polish side, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 3 October. Hauliers carrying goods into Ukraine have been forced to wait 24 hours, while the border crossing normally requires two to three hours. "This is the third failure of the [computer] system within the past six months," Yuriy Sendetskyy, the director of a cargo company, told Interfax-Ukraine, adding, "The system is out of order every time a serious personnel change takes place in the Ukrainian Customs Service, and this is not accidental." Sendetskyy suggested that the system failure might be the result of an attempt by customs officers to destroy evidence of wrongdoing. Prime Minister Viktor Yekhanurov reportedly has told Oleksandr Yehorov, the new head of the Ukrainian Customs Service appointed on 23 September, that his priority is to eradicate corruption among customs officers. JM

UKRAINIAN WHISTLEBLOWER REPORTEDLY FLEES WASHINGTON FOLLOWING ATTEMPT ON HIS LIFE
Serhiy Taran, director of the Kyiv-based Mass Media Institute, told journalists in Kyiv on 4 October that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko has had to flee Washington following a purported attempt on his life, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Taran said the news came in an e-mail from Melnychenko's lawyer. The so-called Melnychenko tapes or recordings, allegedly made secretly by him in the office of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, implicate Kuchma and other former and current Ukrainian officials in the kidnapping and murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. Meanwhile, Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun said on 4 October that the Gongadze case will go to court in October or early November, UNIAN reported. JM

EU GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO CROATIA FOR ADMISSION TALKS...
The Council of the European Union agreed in Luxembourg on 3 October to start long-delayed membership talks with Croatia, the EU said in a press release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). The move came following a positive assessment by Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, on Croatia's cooperation with that body. The decision to start talks with Croatia also appears to have been part of a deal between Austria, which is a staunch backer of Croatia, and the other 24 EU countries whereby Vienna gave up its opposition to launching preliminary talks with Turkey aimed at eventual full membership. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said that his country wants "to assist and to help our region and our neighbors to achieve their goals, and I'm sure the sooner Croatia becomes a full member of the EU, the sooner Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all others [will become members]," RFE/RL reported. He added that tough talks lie ahead but noted that "no country that joined the EU has asked to walk out, and all EU citizens are better off for joining" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 September 2005). PM

...AND TO SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO START THE PROCESS...
The Council of the European Union also agreed in Luxembourg on 3 October to authorize the commission to start talks with Serbia and Montenegro for a stabilization and association agreement (SAA) "at the earliest opportunity. The decision marks the first important step towards the establishment of contractual relations between the EU and Serbia and Montenegro," the press statement noted. Chief prosecutor Del Ponte said, however, that she "would like to have Serbia and Montenegro cooperating as Croatia is cooperating with us. We are far away from that kind of cooperation," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July 2005). But Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn announced that he will go to Belgrade on 10 October to get the talks rolling, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He said that he considers 2009 a realistic date by which Croatia can expect to join the EU but did not mention a timetable for Serbia and Montenegro. PM

...WHILE MONTENEGRO CLARIFIES ITS POSITION
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told reporters in Podgorica on 3 October that he is glad about the EU's decision on starting SAA talks, adding, however, that he is "sorry that it was necessary to wait so long for this day," Beta reported. Djukanovic stressed that the negotiations will have no affect on his government's plans to seek independence through a referendum. "There will be [unspecified] attempts to speed up the [SAA] talks, but I consider it mistaken to think that one can discourage Montenegro from moving toward independence and full international sovereignty in that way," he said (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). PM

HUNGARY EXPRESSES 'WORRY' OVER TREATMENT OF MINORITY IN SERBIA
Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom told a Budapest news conference on 3 October that his country is concerned about a series of recent incidents directed against members of the Hungarian minority in Serbia's Vojvodina province, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July and 30 and 31 August 2005). He told visiting Serbian President Boris Tadic that "the atrocities against the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina fills us with particular worry. We expect Serbia to act to bring such incidents to an end." Tadic replied that Belgrade "will punish criminals in every way possible so that people don't think they can carry out ethnically based attacks with impunity. However, greater meaning shouldn't be attached to those attacks that are not ethnically based." The news agency estimates that 300,000 ethnic Hungarians live in Vojvodina, which was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until the end of World War I. In related news, Tamas Korhec, who is secretary for minority issues in the Vojvodina government, said in Novi Sad that sending EU monitors there and other forms of outside pressure will not improve the situation of Vojvodina's minorities, Beta reported. He stressed that the key to better interethnic relations is "projects aimed at [promoting] multiculturalism," particularly among young people. PM

FORMER SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER FILES CHARGES OVER IMPRISONMENT
Serbian opposition politician and former Justice Minister Vladan Batic filed charges on 3 October against Zoran Stojkovic, who is the current justice minister, for abuse of office in connection with Batic's recent detention by police for about 48 hours, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). Batic maintains that his detention was politically motivated. PM

POLICE CLASH WITH STREET VENDORS IN MOLDOVAN CAPITAL
Police forcibly dispersed a rally of some 500 street vendors near the presidential office in Chisinau on 3 October, Infotag reported. The rally was organized to protest a municipal ban on street trade that took effect the same day. City authorities introduced the ban in an effort to move street vendors to city markets, but vendors claim the required fees of more than $500 per month are too high for them. "I am a nurse by education, but I cannot work in the public health sector for a monthly salary of 300 lei [$25]," a female protester told Infotag. "I have children to feed. The street commerce is, so far, the only source of subsistence for my family. We do not object to making a civilized European city of Chisinau, without flea markets on every corner, but how can we survive?" JM

GAZPROM WANTS TRANSDNIESTER'S STAKE IN MOLDOVA-GAS THROUGH DEBT-REDUCTION SCHEME
Russian gas monopoly Gazprom wants to acquire Transdniester's stake in Moldova-Gas, a Moldovan-Russian joint venture, Infotag reported on 3 October, quoting Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Ryazanov. "The talks [on the takeover], although difficult, are in progress," Ryazanov said, adding that the move would reduce Transdniester's mounting debt to Gazprom. Tiraspol reportedly owes Gazprom $1 billion for gas supplies. "It's an enormous figure for such a small region," Ryazanov said. "Part of the debt will have to be repaid in kind with industrial assets, which is what we have been negotiating." Moldova-Gas was created in 1999 with capital of 1.33 billion lei ($100 million at the current exchange rate), in which 50 percent plus one share belonged to Gazprom, 35.33 percent of shares were controlled by the Moldovan government, 13.44 percent of shares belonged to Tiraspol, and the remainder was split among more than 1,700 private holders. JM

CAN BELARUS'S OPPOSITION UNITE TO CHALLENGE LUKASHENKA?
A congress of pro-democratic forces in Minsk on 1-2 October selected Alyaksandr Milinkevich as its candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in next year's presidential election. More than 800 delegates cast their votes for three contenders aspiring to represent the unified Belarusian opposition in the 2006 presidential ballot: United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, Party of Communists leader Syarhey Kalyakin, and Milinkevich, a representative of Belarus's civil society. Kalyakin dropped out after the first round, and Milinkevich edged out Lyabedzka in the second round, with 399 votes to Lyabedzka's 391.

Milinkevich, 58, holds a doctorate in physics and mathematics but has been a civil-society activist for most of the past decade, leading the nongovernmental organization Ratusha (1996-2003) and the Belarusian Association of Resource Centers (since 1998). Milinkevich previously worked with the Physics Institute of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and the University of Hrodna in western Belarus, and he served as deputy head of the Hrodna Oblast Executive Committee from 1990-96. In addition to Belarusian and Russian, he speaks English, French, and Polish.

To date, Milinkevich has participated little in Belarus's political life and is relatively unknown to the broader public. Paradoxically, this might be an advantage in the presidential campaign next summer. All the other opposition leaders in the country, including Lyabedzka, have been repeatedly vilified by official propaganda and, according to independent polls, are distrusted by the overwhelming majority of Belarusians, who are highly skeptical of party politics in general. Milinkevich has not been targeted by the state media. In addition, his nonpartisanship gives him a certain edge over other opposition politicians in what seems to be the uphill task of maintaining the unity of the cantankerous Belarusian opposition until the 2006 election.

Milinkevich seems to be taking a realistic view of the political situation in Belarus and does not hold out much hope of beating Lukashenka. He told RFE/RL on 3 October that Belarus's Central Election Commission will confirm any election result that Lukashenka dictates without actually bothering to count the votes. The real aim of his presidential bid, Milinkevich stressed, is to launch a wide "door-to-door campaign" to mobilize people and take them to the streets to defend "their dignity." Regime change in Belarus, according to Milinkevich, can only occur following a wide popular protest, similar to Ukraine's Orange Revolution of 2004.

Milinkevich said the 1-2 October congress actually gathered all the important democratic forces in Belarus aside from the Social Democratic Party, which is led by former Belarus State University rector Alyaksandr Kazulin. Milinkevich does not dismiss the possibility of Kazulin or other opposition figures running in the 2006 presidential election on a claim of representing the democratic opposition. Such a development, he said, would be deplorable, since the opposition's strength lies in unity.

Independent surveys suggest that some 45 percent of Belarusian voters think Lukashenka, who has served as the country's president since 1994, should be replaced in 2006. Ten percent of respondents declare that they will back any presidential candidate from the united opposition. Thus, in theory, the potential for a "colored revolution" exists in Belarus. It is up to the opposition in general, and Milinkevich in particular, to determine how the democratic camp might exploit this potential.

Ahead of the 2001 presidential election, the Belarusian opposition -- strongly influenced by Hans Georg Wieck, then the head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk -- made a disastrous choice, selecting Soviet-era trade-union functionary Uladzimir Hancharyk to challenge Lukashenka. The result was that some opposition forces refused to campaign for Hancharyk, and Hancharyk failed to mobilize Belarusians for an anticipated anti-Lukashenka protest after the elections.

If Milinkevich wants to succeed in his "door-to-door campaign," he should now be prudent and flexible and steer clear of any conflicts within the tentative coalition formed at the opposition congress in Minsk. So far, he appears to have a good chance of doing just that.

NORTHERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN CANDIDATE'S ASSASSINATION...
Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur has denied allegations that he was involved in the assassination of Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, a People's Council candidate who was gunned down in Mazar-e Sharif on 27 September, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 2 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). An estimated 1,000 demonstrators gathered on 2 October to accuse Nur of involvement in the murder and call for his removal from office. Nur called the accusations "irresponsible behavior" and said he has never used assassination -- neither "during the time of war on terror nor during the struggle against the communists and the Russians." Nur said he has appointed a commission of "influential people" to investigate the killing, adding that he will provide evidence that there was no enmity between Ramazan and himself. The neo-Taliban initially claimed that they attacked Ramazan, who ran as an independent candidate but was affiliated with the Shi'a Wahdat party. Around 4,000 demonstrators marched in Kabul on 3 October to protest Ramazan's murder, RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan reported. AT

...AND ALLEGES FORMER PLANNING MINISTER IS 'A TERRORIST'
Speaking at a news conference on 3 October in Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh Governor Nur claimed that former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq has accused him of involvement in Ramazan's death and then charged that Mohaqeq "has assassinated a lot of intellectuals, and he is a terrorist himself," the Mazar-e Sharif-based daily "Baztab" reported. Mohaqeq is leader of the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardum-e Afghanistan), a newly formed party that splintered from the main Wahdat party, and is a candidate for the national People's Council from Kabul Province. With close to 50 percent of votes counted in Kabul, Mohaqeq led the vote count and was all but assured of a seat in the lower house of the Afghan parliament. In Balkh, also with 50 percent of votes counted, Ramazan was fourth and would probably have won a seat in the parliament. AT

AFGHAN LEADER MEETS WITH FRENCH COUNTERPART
Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac in Paris on 3 October, AFP reported. Karzai, who arrived in Paris for his first official visit to France on 2 October, said he came to "thank the French people for the help France has given to Afghanistan." For his part, Chirac confirmed his country's continued commitment in Afghanistan. In a joint statement released after their meeting, Chirac said France will continue to provide military and civilian assistance to Afghanistan and noted that country's status on the front line of the fight against Al-Qaeda. France maintains roughly 600 personnel within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and participates in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the remnants of Al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban insurgents. AT

AFGHAN FORCES KILL DOZENS OF SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN MILITANTS
Afghan Defense Minister spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said on 3 October that 28 neo-Taliban members have been killed in clashes with Afghan National Army (ANA) forces in southeastern Paktika Province, AFP reported. Four ANA troops were injured in that fighting, Azimi added. In a separate clash in neighboring Paktiya Province, three more suspected neo-Taliban fighters were killed in clashes with government security personnel. AT

BODY OF KIDNAPPED FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIAL FOUND IN PAKISTAN
The body of Mawlawi Mohammad Yasin was found in Bara, near Peshawar, on 1 October, the Lahore-based "Daily Times" reported on 3 October. Mohammad Yasin, the former deputy director general of the Taliban intelligence apparatus, had been abducted in Peshawar. No further details were available. AT

AFGHAN-AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PROMOTES AFGHAN INVESTMENT
A conference organized by the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce near Washington on 3 October brought together business and government personalities from Afghanistan and the United States to promote further investment in Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported. Speaking at the gathering, senior presidential adviser and Afghan Commerce Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala said the objective of Afghan development cannot be attained without the participation of the private sector. A socially responsible private sector based on the free-market principle is essential for the establishment of a free and democratic society in Afghanistan, Arsala added. The gathering, which was expected to continue on 4 October, is aimed at matching potential U.S.-based investors with partners in Afghanistan. AT

EU READY TO RESUME DISCUSSIONS WITH IRAN
Javier Solana, the European Union's high representative for common foreign and security policy, suggested on 3 October that the EU is prepared to restart talks if Iran complies with calls to halt some nuclear-related activities. "If, taking the international community's view into account, Iran is ready to halt uranium enrichment work, the EU, for its part, will be ready for a resumption of talks with Tehran," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. Solana said the UN Security Council should increase the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) powers to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. "We regard Iran's refusal to carry out its obligations under the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a very serious question, and we want the UN Security Council to widen IAEA's powers to resolve it," Solana said. An EU-Russia summit is scheduled to begin in London on 4 October, and the Iranian nuclear program is reportedly on the agenda. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE CONSIDERS ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL
The day after the IAEA governing board passed a resolution criticizing Iran for its inadequate cooperation and transparency, Iranian legislators called on their government to suspend its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). Legislators put the item at the top of the parliamentary agenda, but they are still debating the issue. Kazem Jalali, rapporteur for the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told state radio on 3 October that some legislators do not believe there is a need for such a bill, because the government's implementation of the Additional Protocol without parliamentary ratification was improper. On 2 October, Jalali told IRNA that the issue was debated extensively. BS

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS DEMAND IRANIAN LAWYER'S FREEDOM
Radio Farda reported on 3 October that several Iranian and international human rights organizations are demanding the release of jailed lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who was detained some two months ago and is in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda that Soltani has not been allowed to meet with his lawyers, in contravention of the law. Dadkhah added that, as far as he knows, Soltani was allowed to see his family the previous week. The human rights groups believe that Soltani's prolonged detention is connected with the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist who was beaten to death at Evin in summer 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14, 21, and 28 July 2003). BS

THREE KURDISH JOURNALISTS INDICTED IN IRAN
The public prosecutor in the city of Sanandaj has issued indictments for three Kurdish journalists who are in detention, ILNA reported on 3 October. Attorney Abbas Jamali said the warrants for Ejlal Qavami, Said Saedi, and Roya Tolui refer them to the Revolutionary Court. Jamali said his clients -- Qavami and Saedi -- have been detained for 60 days already, and they are accused of acting against national security. BS

SHI'ITE, KURDISH LAWMAKERS MAKE REJECTION OF IRAQI DRAFT CONSTITUTION MORE DIFFICULT
Shi'ite and Kurdish parliamentarians pushed through an amendment to the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) pertaining to the vote on the draft constitution that observers say will make the document impossible to defeat when it goes to referendum on 15 October, nytimes.com reported on 4 October. The change means that the draft can only be rejected if two-thirds of all registered voters -- instead of two-thirds of those casting ballots -- reject it in at least three of the 18 governorates. Iraqis who do not vote in the referendum will thus effectively be backing the draft. The United States and the United Nations have expressed concern over the change, the website reported. Independent Kurdish politician and National Assembly member Mahmud Uthman likened the change to a "double standard," calling it unfair. The website reported that because backers do not consider the change an amendment, but rather a clarification, they did not seek the approval of the Presidency Council as the law requires of legislative amendments. President Jalal Talabani told reporters following a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus in Prague on 3 October that he expects the draft to be approved, Czech news agency CTK reported the same day. KR

IRAQIS WILL HAVE JUST DAYS TO REVIEW DRAFT CONSTITUTION...
Mahmud Uthman told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) on 3 October that time is running short to distribute copies of the draft constitution to voters. "We should rush and distribute the copies as soon as we can," he said. Uthman added that Kurds have yet to receive the Kurdish-language version of the draft, which was printed on 1 October. Uthman told RFI that it is still possible to make changes to the draft constitution, saying it is useful to make changes if they will help elicit Sunni support. Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the UN Dindar al-Zebari said on 29 September that 1 million Kurdish-language copies are expected to reach Irbil by 5 October, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 30 September. Four hundred thousand copies will be transferred to the Al-Sulaymaniyah governorate by 8 October, and 200,000 to the Dahuk governorate by 11 October. KR

...AS TALKS CONTINUE IN ATTEMPT TO BRING SUNNIS ON BOARD
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad is reportedly urging Shi'ite and Kurdish parties to meet six Sunni demands for changes to the draft constitution in an effort to encourage Sunni support for the document, washingtonpost.com reported on 4 October. Leading Sunni negotiator Nasir al-Janabi told the website the demands "are our last suggestions." Shi'ite negotiator Ali al-Dabbagh and Kurdish negotiator Mahmud Uthman said that neither Shi'ite nor Kurdish leaders have agreed to the demands, which include the reinsertion of a clause that says Iraq should not be divided for any reason. Other demands include clauses stipulating that Iraq's oil and natural resources remain under the control of the central government, and that the future form of government (federalism) be decided by the next parliament. Another demand calls for identifying Iraq as part of the Arab and Islamic nations. Sunnis also reportedly want the elimination of a phrase that refers to the Ba'ath Party as a terrorist group. Al-Dabbagh said that Shi'ites are considering four of the points but that they will not concede on federalism. Irbil's "Jamawar" reported on 3 October that Kurds have agreed to three of the demands. KR

TRIBUNAL CONFIRMS SADDAM HUSSEIN TRIAL DATE
The Iraqi Special Tribunal confirmed in a 3 October press release that Saddam Hussein and seven other members of his regime will go on trial on 19 October for crimes related to the Al-Dujayl massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). The tribunal also said the prosecution shared evidence in the case with defense attorneys for each of the regime members on 10 August, included witness testimonies. "The [tribunal] prosecutor has on file signed confirmations that defense counsel received the above notification and its attachments on August 10, 2005," the statement said. Saddam Hussein's defense attorney has claimed that the defense has not been allowed to review any evidence in the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). KR

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