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Newsline - October 12, 2005


DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS CENTRAL ASIA IS RUSSIAN INTEREST ZONE...
Answering a question about U.S. military bases in Central Asia, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said at a press conference in Paris on 11 October that every country has the right to decide which military bases it has on its territory, RIA-Novosti and other media reported. However, he continued, "The countries of the region are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO]. And [if the countries of the region are] making a decision about hosting new bases on their territory, they should take into account the interests of Russia and coordinate this decision with our country," Radio Mayak reported. Ivanov added that he does not know whether U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss the bases issue on her current trip to Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2005). Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Paris on 10 October for talks with their French counterparts within the framework of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council. VY

...AS RUSSIAN GENERAL ANNOUNCES CREATION OF 'CENTRAL ASIAN ARMY'
CSTO Secretary-General Colonel General Nikolai Bordyuzha said on 11 October that a "large group of forces" will be created in Central Asia, similar to the Russia-Belarusian and Russian-Armenian integrated army groups, RIA-Novosti and centralasia.ru reported. The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia. Bordyuzha said that the Central Asian army group will be composed "not from battalions, but from regiments and divisions and, in the event of a serious military conflict, it will defend CSTO members from all sides," RIA-Novosti reported. In the event of an all-out war, CSTO members should transfer the command of their entire armed forces to the Central Asian group, he added. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES RUSSIAN POLICY TOWARD UKRAINE, KOSOVA
Speaking in Paris on 11 October, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia "cannot fence itself off from Ukraine as it is our nearest neighbor, old partner, and close relative," ITAR-TASS reported. Our population will not be able to comprehend a split with Ukraine, he said. However, Lavrov said, Ukraine is a sovereign state and can choose its own partners and development model. "If they want to be integrated into the Single Economic Space, we will be happy; if not, they should take into account the [potential] loss of integration benefits," Lavrov said. Answering a question about Kosova, Lavrov said that Russia does not support full independence for the province and considers this to be a dangerous precedent, Radio Mayak reported on 12 October. Kosova's independence could destabilize the situation in the Balkans and throughout the world, including conflict zones within the Commonwealth of Independent States, he said. VY

FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 11 October, Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that 2006 will be an important political year for Russia as it will take on the chairmanships of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), ITAR-TASS reported. However, he said, Russia has enough ill-wishers within PACE, and if the country does not abolish the death penalty, members can always use this as a pretext to prevent Moscow chairing the organization. Russia introduced a moratorium on the death penalty in 1997, but has not rejected it outright. Margelov suggested ratifying the Council of Europe protocol banning the death penalty by next spring, otherwise Russia will face problems, he concluded. VY

KHODORKOVSKII'S WHEREABOUTS STILL UNCLEAR...
Relatives and lawyers of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his business partner Platon Lebedev have no information about their whereabouts since they were reportedly transferred from a Moscow prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005), newru.com reported on 11 October. General Yurii Davydov, the deputy head of the Federal Corrections Service, confirmed that both prisoners were sent to "places where they will serve their terms" but refused to name them, newsru.com reported. "It would not be ethical," he said, "because it is not my secret, but the prisoners.'" he said. Meanwhile, according to unconfirmed reports in the Russian media, Khodorkovskii was sent to Yamal-Nenetsk Autonomous Okrug, while Lebedev has reportedly been sent to Chita Oblast. VY

...AS HUMAN RIGHTS VETERAN SUGGESTS SWAPPING KHODORKOVSKII FOR ADAMOV
Vladimir Bukovskii, the former Soviet political prisoner and democracy campaigner, proposed on 11 October exchanging Khodorkovskii for former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who is in Switzerland awaiting extradition to the United States, newru.com reported. Bukovskii, who was swapped for Chilean Communist leader Louis Corvalan in 1976, said Adamov's case is criminal and Khodorkovskii's is political. In the past, he said, "political prisoners were exchanged for spies." But Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Margelov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 October that connecting the two cases was akin to linking Khodorkovskii's case with global warming. And Stanislav Belkovskii, the founder of the National Strategy Institute, said that he believes the U.S. administration will make "no radical steps in favor of Khodorkovskii as it is quite satisfied with Putin as president of Russia." VY

MOSCOW DUMA WANTS TO ERECT MONUMENT TO TSARIST HERO AT LUBYANKA
Sergei Petrov, the chairman of the Moscow City Duma commission on monuments, said on 11 October that the commission proposes installing in Lubyanka Square a monument to a popular Tsarist commander, General Mikhail Skobelev (1843-1882), RIA-Novosti reported. In 1991, a monument to VChK-KGB founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii was removed from the square. Petrov said that the commission has received a number of requests from Muscovites to reinstall the Dzerzhinskii monument, but "we cannot support this proposal and cause a scandal." However, Skobelev deserves his place, he added. Skobelev, aka Ak Pasha, made his name during the brutal suppression of Central Asian uprisings in the 1860s and during the Russo-Turkish war in the Balkans in 1877-78. VY

PUTIN PROMISES HEALTH-CARE IMPROVEMENTS...
President Vladimir Putin met in Penza on 11 October with members of the State Council's presidium to consider ways to improve Russia's health-care system, Russian news agencies reported. According to NTV, Putin made a special point of emphasizing that federal monies allocated for health care are intended to supplement -- not replace -- regional and local expenditures. Putin added that he has ordered his presidential envoys to the seven federal districts to monitor the use of federal funds allocated for health care, ITAR-TASS reported. According to gazeta.ru, Putin announced that primary health-care doctors' annual wages will be increased by 10,000 rubles ($350) and that the average health-care worker will be paid 5,000 rubles more. Putin also promised to build more high-tech medical centers so that Russia could provide more complex medical procedures to meet rising demand. JAC

...AS SPECIALIST DIFFERS ON PLANNED REFORM
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 29 September, well-known pediatrician Leonid Roshal criticized the government's plans to raise salaries. Roshal said that the authorities have forgotten about the interests of medical specialists, such as pediatricians, and that there is currently a shortage of such specialists. He added that if everyone's salaries are increased nothing will change, adding that the administrative reform has dealt a blow to municipal health care, which is now in a state of "chaos and collapse." JAC

SPIN DOCTOR PREDICTS UNIFIED RUSSIA'S DEMISE...
In an interview with "Versiya," No. 14, political spin doctor Marat Gelman predicted that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party "will disintegrate all by itself" with President Putin being forced to disassociate himself from it. Gelman noted one part of Unified Russia, lead by State Duma deputy Vladimir Pligin, is currently attempting to set up a conservative wing of the party. According to Gelman, this is an "attempt to set up a two-party system in Russia." Asked whether State Duma elections may be held early, Gelman said that if he were a decision maker and it was possible to hold the elections early, he would do so right away. "Six months before the election, Putin will not be able to control the situation: there will be no guarantee that he will be listened to. He will not be able to keep in check everyone who will be fighting for power.... But if a year before the elections Putin could help Unified Russia win the State Duma elections, then this would be only a plus [for him]." JAC

...AS SPS DEMOTES KHODORKOVSKII ALLY
"Novye izvestiya" reported on 11 October that the post held by Ivan Starikov in the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has been liquidated. Starikov, who headed the election headquarters for former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's aborted attempt to run for the State Duma from prison, until recently served as secretary for the party's political council for electoral work. SPS head Nikita Belykh said that the liquidation of the post has nothing to do with Starikov's activities, including his nomination of Khodorkovskii for the State Duma. However, Irina Khakamada, former presidential candidate and former SPS leader, told the daily that Starikov became an uncomfortable figure for the party because he was "conducting an anti-Putin policy." According to the daily, Starikov has so far refused to comment on the changes in the party's structure. JAC

FOREIGN STUDENTS IN VORONEZH DEMAND PROTECTION...
About 300 foreign students staged a rally in Voronezh's central square on 11 October to protest the murder of a Peruvian citizen on 9 October by a group of young men, gazeta.ru and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). The students carried signs saying "We want to live," "We are tired of being murdered," and "Give us life!" The meeting was unsanctioned, and Yurii Bykov, the deputy head of public security for the oblast, tried to reassure the students about their security and urge them to disperse -- a request they ignored. Later, an unnamed law-enforcement official told the students that police have picked up a suspect in the murder of one student and assault on two others. According to ITAR-TASS, a member of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi held their own protest against crimes against foreigners. JAC

...AS POLITICAL OPPOSITION INCREASES PRESSURE ON REGIONAL GOVERNOR
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has joined Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin in criticizing Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 October. Zyuganov said that Governor Kukakov, who earlier worked in the intelligence services, learned a lot there. But apparently he is not in a position to provide security to his own citizens or guests of the regions." He continued, "leaders such as governor of Voronezh Oblast, after such incidents, should quickly be dismissed." Kulakov is the former head of the Federal Security Services directorate in Voronezh and was elected last year with the support of Unified Russia. JAC

MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN LENINGRAD OBLAST RESULT IN MURDER, THREATS
Municipal elections held in Leningrad Oblast on 9 October resulted in a number of victories for Unified Russia candidates and a number of criminal cases, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau reported on 10 October. Candidates who nominated themselves have won the bulk of the seats -- some 1,916 -- but of the 352 candidates who were nominated by parties, 231 won from Unified Russia. Scandals plagued the races, which were held in cities such as Vyborg and raions such as Kirov and Lomonosov. Three days before the elections, 38-year-old businessman Sergei Plakhtii, a candidate for the Vyborg city council, was shot in the heart with a single sniper's bullet. A month before this the candidate's car was set on fire. Before his death, Plakhtii told "Vremya Vyborg" Editor Vyacheslav Kachnov that he was offered $15,000 to withdraw from the race. Plakhtii wasn't the only candidate facing pressure, according to Kachnov. He told RFE/RL that there was direct criminal pressure on candidates who openly declared themselves independent from the city administration. JAC

AL-QAEDA MEMBERS REPORTEDLY KILLED IN GUN BATTLE IN INGUSHETIA
Russian security services killed two militants on 11 October in a gun battle lasting several hours in Ingushetia's Sunzha Raion, close to the border with Chechnya, and captured an unspecified number of their comrades in arms, Interfax, rg.ru and ingushetiya.ru reported. The fighters were located during a search operation instigated by the Prosecutor General's Office into the presence in southern Russia of members of an international terrorist organization. That search was prompted by information extracted from a captured militant. According to ntv.ru, the terror network in question was discovered during the ongoing investigation into the Beslan hostage crisis of September 2004, and it was headed by Chechen resistance leader and President Aslan Maskhadov and radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. The Prosecutor-General's Office claimed the dead and captured militants belonged to a band led by Aslanbek Khatuev that was "directly subordinate" to the leaders of Al-Qaeda, rg.ru reported. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES LINK BETWEEN KARABAKH CONFLICT, RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE
Serzh Sarkisian took issue on 7 October with a hypothesis expressed the previous day at a NATO-organized seminar in Yerevan by Sir Brian Fall, who is the British special representative for the South Caucasus, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Fall suggested that the Armenian government's continued willingness to host a Russian military base is due to fears of renewed aggression from Azerbaijan, and he asked rhetorically whether Armenia would want a "substantial Russian military presence on its territory" even after the Karabakh conflict is resolved. Sarkisian responded on 7 October saying that the Russian military presence has "nothing to do with the Karabakh problem and our relations with Azerbaijan in general." He said the Russian troops constitute "an integral part" of Armenia's security and "could be useful" in light of the hypothetical threat from Turkey, which, Sarkisian continued, "has until now pursued a hostile policy toward us." LF

AZERBAIJANI AGENCY ATTRIBUTES FALSE STATEMENT TO FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
An unnamed close associate of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian told Noyan Tapan on 11 October that Ter-Petrossian never made a statement attributed to him earlier on 11 October by the Azerbaijani website day.az. That website quoted Ter-Petrossian as having given an interview to "the Armenian agency Groong," in which he allegedly said that the world will not indefinitely ignore the Karabakh conflict, which poses a threat to Western oil interests in Azerbaijan, and that "sooner or later" the international community will impose on the conflict sides its own compromise solution, which it will seek to pass off as based on international law. Noyan Tapan further pointed out that Groong is not a news agency and does not generate original reports, but republishes a broad selection of articles on Armenia and Armenians. LF

THINK TANK ADVOCATES REFERENDUM ON KARABAKH STATUS
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) unveiled on 11 October the second of two reports on the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A press release summarizing the report posted the same day on the ICG website (http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3740&m=1) noted signs that the conflict sides may be close to reaching a compromise peace agreement, but warned at the same time that "significant stumbling blocks remain," and that "time for a peace agreement is running out." The report called for the incremental withdrawal of Armenian forces from all districts of Azerbaijan they currently control, including the Lachin corridor linking Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), which would then be protected by an international peacekeeping force. It further stipulated the return of the NKR's former Azerbaijani minority to their homes and the holding under international control of a referendum to determine the region's future status. The report called on Azerbaijan to desist from threatening to resolve the conflict by force and to "resume direct contact with the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities." LF

EXECUTIVE RULES OUT PRIVATIZATION OF AZERBAIJAN'S NATIONAL OIL COMPANY
Natik Aliev, president of the Azerbaijani state-owned oil company SOCAR, said in Gyanja on 11 October that he is not aware of any move to privatize that company, and that doing so would be inexpedient, at least during the next five years, ITAR-TASS and day.az reported. He said that oil is "a major political and economic factor, which determines the country's economic growth." Aliev recalled that the Law on Privatization adopted in 1996 specifies that SOCAR can be privatized only with the personal approval of the Azerbaijani president. Aliev added that he has never met, and is not personally acquainted with, Czech businessman Viktor Kozeny, who was arrested in the Bahamas last week and has since been indicted on bribery charges for his efforts in the late 1990s to persuade unnamed Azerbaijani officials to permit a group of investors he headed to participate in the privatization of SOCAR. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS...
Following a debate lasting several hours, the Georgian parliament approved on 11 October a resolution setting deadlines of 10 February 2006 and 15 June 2006 respectively for the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflict zones to demonstrate they are complying with the terms of their respective mandates, Georgian and Russian media reported. In the event that the Russian peacekeepers continue to turn a blind eye to murders, abductions, smuggling, and other crimes, the Georgian parliament will insist on their withdrawal and replacement by an international peacekeeping force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2005). Deputies from the opposition Republican party and the Conservative party, which tabled an alternative resolution calling for the peacekeepers to be withdrawn earlier, abstained from the vote. LF

...WHICH RUSSIAN MINISTERS CONDEMN AS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
Speaking in Paris on 11 October, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov dismissed the Georgian parliament resolution as politically rather than militarily motivated, Caucasus Press reported. He acknowledged that Tbilisi has the right to request the peacekeepers' withdrawal, but said the resolution will not impact on their activities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for his part, argued that it would be more appropriate to try to rebuild trust between Georgia and the leaders of its breakaway republics, and he stressed that Russia is trying, together with the OSCE and the UN, to promote a political settlement of the two conflicts. In Sukhum, Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, said the Abkhaz leadership will not permit the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers, trud.ru reported. That force was dispatched to the conflict zone under the CIS aegis in the summer of 1994. Its mandate, which CIS presidents must regularly renew, stipulates that if one of the conflict sides demands its withdrawal, it must comply with that request. LF

GEORGIAN ELECTION BODY CONFIRMS BY-ELECTION RESULTS
The Central Election Commission confirmed on 12 October the final returns in four of five by-elections held on 1 October, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. Those returns show that candidates representing the ruling United National Movement (GEM) won in all five constituencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). The opposition Conservative Party has filed suit against the ruling that GEM candidate Koba Kharazi won election in Kobuleti, Adjara. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT PRIORITIZES ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 11 October that economic development is his government's top priority, RFE/RL and Interfax reported. Nazarbaev stressed that his government will continue its economic reform program to forge a liberalized economy conforming to "developed market standards" and will bolster the "favorable investment climate" in Kazakhstan. RG

RUSSIAN SPACE CAPSULE LANDS IN KAZAKHSTAN
A Russian Soyuz space capsule touched down on 11 October in Kazakhstan, only 3 1/2 hours after it undocked from the International Space Station, RFE/RL and AFP reported. The Russian capsule was carrying two crewmembers and U.S. scientist and businessman Gregory Olsen, who paid $20 million to become the third "space tourist" to visit the space station. The two crewmembers, Russian Sergei Krikalev and American John Phillips, spent nearly six months in orbit aboard the space station. They were replaced by Russian Valerii Tokarev and American William McArthur as the space station's long-term crew. RG

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE BEGINS REGIONAL TOUR WITH VISIT TO KYRGYZSTAN...
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived on 11 October in Kyrgyzstan, in her first stop on a tour that will also take her to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, RFE/RL and Akipress reported. Following her arrival in Bishkek, Rice traveled to the Ganci air base at the Manas airport, a strategic facility essential for coalition stabilization operations in neighboring Afghanistan. After her inspection of the coalition air base, Rice participated in a roundtable discussion on Kyrgyz reforms and constitutional issues in Bishkek before meeting with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov. In comments to reporters as she arrived in Kyrgyzstan, the secretary of state urged regional leaders to hold free and fair elections, explaining that the United States will consider any progress toward democracy as a key element in its relations with Central Asian states, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. RG

...CLARIFIES U.S. POSITION ON KYRGYZ BASE...
In an interview with RFE/RL on 11 October following her arrival in Bishkek, U.S. Secretary of State Rice explained the U.S. position on the Ganci coalition air base in Kyrgyzstan. Rice stated that "the United States has made very clear that we are not seeking a permanent set of bases in Central Asia," and she added, "We are operating here to support the war on terrorism, which is important to us and important to the region because the terrorists threaten both of us." She also revealed that "we will have a team coming" to Kyrgyzstan to discuss "certain technical issues concerning the base" with Kyrgyz officials. RG

...AND COMMENTS ON UZBEKISTAN, RUSSIA, AND CHINA
In the same 11 October interview with RFE/RL, Rice commented on Uzbekistan's recent decision to evict coalition forces. She warned that "Uzbekistan is not fulfilling its international responsibilities" and pointed out that "Uzbekistan is losing support throughout Europe and certainly with the United States, and that cannot be good for the people of Uzbekistan." Rice went on to say, "We want Kyrgyzstan to have good relations with its neighbors, good relations with Russia, good relations with China, good relations in the region," and she noted, "We do not consider that there should be any reason to choose between good relations between Russia and the United States," Akipress reported. RG

UZBEK INTERIOR MINISTRY ISSUES WARNING TO JOURNALISTS
In a statement issued on 11 October in Tashkent, the Uzbek Interior Ministry warned journalists about their coverage of the trial of alleged Islamist extremists charged with organizing May's uprising in the eastern province of Andijon, RFE/RL and AFP reported. The statement specifically denounced a media report revealing that the defendants were tortured while in pretrial detention and called on journalists to strictly abide by journalistic ethics and principles. RG

POLISH AMBASSADOR RETURNS TO BELARUS
Polish Ambassador to Belarus Tadeusz Pawlak has returned to his post in Minsk, Polish media reported on 11 October. Warsaw recalled Pawlak for consultations on 28 July amid a diplomatic standoff over the election of a new leadership of the Union of Poles in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 16 August 2005). Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Checko said Pawlak's return was caused by the end of what he termed "provocations and accusations" from the Belarusian authorities toward Polish diplomats in Belarus. Checko added that the situation around the Union of Poles in Belarus has also changed slightly. "The climate has with all certainty changed, and there are also certain undertakings by our partners from the European Union. And this is a fundamental matter, we are not being left alone here," Checko said. Meanwhile, Marek Bucko, a Polish diplomat who was expelled from Minsk in May, criticized Pawlak's return as inconsistent and a sign of Warsaw's weakness, Belapan reported. Bucko added that the decision to send Pawlak back to Minsk is "a stab in the back" for ethnic Poles struggling for democracy in Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN EDITOR APPEALS TO LAWMAKERS OVER OFFICIAL HARASSMENT
Iosif Syaredzich, editor in chief of the opposition daily "Narodnaya volya," has appealed to the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house, to help stop what he sees as the persecution of his newspaper by the authorities, Belapan reported on 11 October. Belsayuzdruk, Belarus's state monopoly operator of a national network of press kiosks and newsstands, terminated a contract last month for the distribution of "Narodnaya volya," while a Minsk-based printing plant annulled its contract for printing the daily. "Narodnaya volya" is now printed in Russia and distributed through the state postal service Belposhta (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2005). In addition, Chamber of Representatives deputy Volha Abramava has sent a letter to Information Minister Uladzimir Rusakevich asking him to explain the reasons for the termination of the distribution and print contracts with "Narodnaya volya." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ASSOCIATES DENY TAKING MONEY FROM BEREZOVSKII
Former first presidential aide Oleksandr Tretyakov denied on 12 October that he gave Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii any list of companies to which the latter allegedly was to transfer funds to support civil-society institutions in Ukraine and the presidential election campaign of Viktor Yushchenko, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The same day, former Transport Minister David Zhvaniya also denied that he asked Berezovskii for money to finance Yushchenko's election campaign. Tretyakov and Zhvaniya were reacting to the published details of a meeting last week between three Ukrainian lawmakers and Berezovskii in London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005), which were carried by a number of Ukrainian websites on 11 October. According to that account of the meeting, Berezovskii told the three lawmakers that Zhvaniya contacted him personally and Tretyakov by telephone long before the 2004 presidential election campaign, asking him to sponsor civil society in Ukraine. Berezovskii claimed that he did not know how the sums he transferred to companies indicated by Tretyakov were spent or whether he actually broke the law by sponsoring the election campaign from abroad. JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER VOWS TO COMPETE INDEPENDENTLY IN LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists on 11 October that the recently created People's Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005) will participate independently in the 2006 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "Today it is impossible to form a bloc with political forces that are favorites in the parliamentary race because of a number of conditions presented by each side," Lytvyn said. He said that he declined an offer earlier this year to form a joint election list with the Our Ukraine People's Union and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. The offer purportedly specified that President Viktor Yushchenko personally, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine People's Union, Tymoshenko's bloc, and Lytvyn's People's Party would each supply one-fourth of the list's candidates. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology from 18-25 September concluded that seven Ukrainian parties would be able to overcome the 3 percent voting threshold for parliamentary representation: Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions (20.9 percent), the Our Ukraine People's Union (20.1 percent), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (19.5 percent), Petro Symonenko's Communist Party (9.5 percent), Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party (6.6 percent), Volodymyr Lytvyn's People's Party (4.6 percent), and Natalya Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party (3.5 percent). JM

THREE SERBS GO ON TRIAL IN THE HAGUE FOR VUKOVAR KILLINGS...
The so-called Vukovar Three -- former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) officers Miroslav Radic, Veselin Sljivancanin, and Mile Mrksic -- went on trial before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 11 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The three indictees have been charged with complicity in the killing of at least 264 Croats and other non-Serbs who were in the local hospital when the Croatian town of Vukovar fell to Serbian forces in November 1991. The bodies of the dead were bulldozed into a mass grave near Ovcara, where the murders took place. The three officers have pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity and of violations of the laws or customs of war. Prosecutor Markus Moore told the tribunal that the three are "criminally liable" for failing to "prevent or punish their subordinates" who actually carried out the killings, adding that the three commanders had broken an agreement to evacuate the hospital in conjunction with the International Red Cross. PM

...AS REACTIONS COME IN
Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic told RFE/RL in Belgrade on 11 October that unspecified "political games" are responsible for his country's failure to get the Vukovar Three case reassigned to a Serbian court, as the Serbian authorities had wished (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004 and 3 March 2005). In Zagreb, Croatian President Stipe Mesic welcomed the trial of the Vukovar Three but said that it is "not enough." Mesic demanded that the JNA's top commanders at the time also be put on trial for complicity. Mesic was Croatia's last representative on the rotating Yugoslav Presidency when that federation broke up in 1991 and was closely involved in public affairs at the time. PM

EU GENTLY WARNS MONTENEGRO AGAINST INDEPENDENCE
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the Belgrade daily "Politika" of 12 October that the newly opened Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) talks will have to be restarted if Montenegro opts for independence in a referendum widely expected to be held in 2006, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He said the European Commission would have to seek a fresh mandate for SAA talks in the event that the joint state broke up. Rehn warned that this procedure would take time even if it were possible to restart negotiations with two separate states from the point where talks with the joint one had left off (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). Brussels' official position is that it will abide by any decision that Montenegrin voters take, but the joint state owes its existence to the efforts of EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, which prompted local wags to dub it "Solania" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2005). PM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW DEPUTY PREMIER
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has dismissed Zinaida Greceanii from the post of finance minister and appointed her as deputy prime minister, Moldovan news agencies reported on 11 October. Some Moldovan media speculate that Greceanii's promotion in Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev's cabinet is connected with Tarlev's possible bid for the post of Chisinau mayor on behalf of the Communist Party of Moldova in a ballot scheduled for 27 November. According to such speculation, Tarlev's potential participation in the mayoral ballot could mobilize voters in Chisinau, at least one-third of whom must take part in order for it to be valid. Chisinau held two mayoral elections earlier this year, but both proved abortive because of low turnout (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). JM

RUSSIANS UP, NON-RUSSIANS DOWN, FEDERALISM OUT IN NEW CONCEPT DRAFT
Moscow's new draft concept paper on nationality policy elevates the status of the Russians as a nation, lowers that of non-Russian groups, and drops any mention of either federalism or the need for the government to address the problems of those nationalities who were deported in 1943-44 on orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

As such, it represents a potentially significant departure from the Russian government's 1996 concept paper. But both because this is only a partial draft rather than the approved whole and because Moscow has frequently ignored the provisions of the earlier concept paper and may do so again, the practical impact of these shifts is far from certain.

Nonetheless, the new draft does highlight the centralizing thrust of Russian policy under President Vladimir Putin while at the same time calling attention to the lack of agreement within the country's political elite over precisely how to handle what has been and remains one of the most neuralgic issues of post-Soviet life.

Moscow's "Kommersant-Daily" published on 11 October portions of the draft concept paper. That document, prepared by an interagency governmental commission and leaked now to test public reaction, is explicitly intended to replace the 1996 paper and reflect "the end of one stage of the development of society and its transition to the next."

It says that the primary function of Russian policy in the area of ethnic relations no longer is to prevent the disintegration of the country, as was the case earlier, but rather to promote "the formation of the institutes of civil society and the formation of the Russian ["rossiiskii"] people ["narod"] as a single nation ["natsiya"]."

And the document, as reproduced in "Kommersant-Daily," further asserts that Russia must become "a single multinational society in which the Russian ["russkii"] people plays the consolidating role," even as it implicitly reduces the status of ethnicity by talking about a "civil society" and of all other nations there by referring to them as "ethnic groups."

Some may view these provisions as a clear victory for Russian nationalists, but there are reasons for thinking otherwise. On the one hand, the draft's confusing -- even contradictory -- use of terms for Russian, nation, and people, will offend many Russian nationalists. And on the other, the draft includes some provisions non-Russians may see as benefiting them.

Among the draft's many specific provisions Russian nationalists will like and many non-Russians will find troubling are its assertions about "the consolidating role of the Russian people" in the life of the country and its calls for "the defense and support of the Russian language as the state language" and for Russian "compatriots" living abroad.

But among the draft's ideas that some non-Russians will like and many Russian nationalists won't, include its declaration that the country remains a "multinational" one and its calls for taking national differences into account, defending the rights of national minorities and their historic territories, and promoting tolerance and training non-Russian cadres.

Because of these contradictions, both the Russian authorities as well as Russians and non-Russians alike will probably view this document less as a final decision about the direction that their country should take than as an indication of where that debate now stands.

And consequently, perhaps the most thoughtful comment on the draft concept offered so far came from Rafael Khakimov, the director of the Institute of History in Kazan, an adviser to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, and a frequent commentator on ethnic and religious issues.

In remarks quoted by "Kommersant-Daily," Khakimov said that the document represented a bow "to the Big Brother," a reference to the Elder Brother, as Russians were styled in Soviet times. "If this does not have any impact except to elicit the gratitude of the Russians, then why not do it." But if it has real world "consequences," that would be something else.

If, for example, Khakimov continued, this concept paper leads Moscow to adopt policies in which one language has priority and others are denied that status, then this will have consequences for many people -- and in his native Tatarstan, he warned, those consequences could prove to be both "political" and "serious."(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

MORE AFGHAN PROVISIONAL ELECTION RESULTS RELEASED
The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) announced on 11 October the release of provisional results from the 18 September elections in Bamiyan, Parwan, and Zabul provinces, bringing the number of provinces where all the votes have been counted to seven (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2005). JEMB Chairman Besmellah Besmel vowed that his agency will "not compromise the accuracy" of its counting operation and asked candidates for patience. There is a five-day period after each provisional result is announced in which complaints may be filed. Complaints will be adjudicated by the Electoral Complaints Commission before certified final results are released. In the restive Zabul Province, former mujahedin commander and Taliban ally Mullah Abdul Salam Raketi appears to have won the highest number of votes and, unless challenged, is assured of a seat in the national People's Council (Wolesi Jirga). AT

KABUL DAILY WARNS VOTE IRREGULARITIES COULD UNDERMINE PARLIAMENT'S LEGITIMACY
The independent "Arman-e Melli" charges in a 10 October editorial that "an overwhelming majority" of candidates are "questioning the legitimacy" of the 18 September elections in a wave of protests. The editorial claims officials of the JEMB have "been criticized" for fraud, adding that the "level of fraud and offenses during the elections and vote count is too great to be ignored" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). The protests and popular dissatisfaction with the electoral process are fostering "hatred and anger toward both the national and foreign authorities" working for the JEMB, "Arman-e Melli" adds. Evidence so far "includes the stealing of ballot boxes, using fake ballot papers, changing the results of the vote count, and the buying and selling of people's votes," the paper says, before concluding that popular disdain for the electoral process "will undermine the partial reputation and credibility of our still-nascent democracy." AT

PROTESTS FOLLOW ARREST OF SUSPECTS IN MURDER OF NORTHERN AFGHAN CANDIDATE
An unspecified number of residents of Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh, staged a demonstration on 10 October to demand the release of suspects facing charges in the case of slain parliamentary candidate Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, Mazar-e Sharif-daily "Baztab" reported on 11 October. Ramazan, a leading People's Council candidate, was gunned down in Mazar-e Sharif on 27 September, leading to protests in Balkh and Kabul in which some people accused Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur of involvement in the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 October 2005). Police sent from Kabul subsequently arrested as many as four suspects, but the 10 October protesters claimed the authorities have the wrong men. The killing of Ramazan, who was poised to win a parliamentary seat, has become an ethnically charged case. AT

IRANIAN OFFICIAL CALLS PRESIDENTIAL PLAN BEST ASSURANCE ON NUCLEAR SAFETY
Mohammad Saidi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on 11 October that his organization "is drawing up the details" of proposals by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that "can be one of the most important ways of coming out of our recent crisis with the West" over Iran's nuclear ambitions, ISNA reported the same day. Ahmadinejad has proposed that Western firms participate in producing nuclear fuel in Iran and thus prevent its possible use in bomb-making, a Western concern. Saidi said the plan would ensure "the highest level of confidence-building" through joint-ownership of the production process. "That means that with the presence of Western firms present in the [uranium-] enrichment project in Iran, the possibility of deviation in Iran's peaceful nuclear activities will go below zero, because they will be producing alongside Iran," he added. Saidi said the "broad axes" of Iran's future discussions with European powers will be on safeguarding "Iran's nuclear rights," the "provision of objective guarantees to remove the concerns of certain countries, and commitments negotiating parties can give on expanding nuclear technology in our country." VS

U.K. DEMANDS IRAN'S FULL COMPLIANCE WITH NONPROLIFERATION COMMITMENTS
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London on 11 October that the international community expects Iran's "full obedience" regarding nonproliferation commitments and that Western powers are united and determined to ensure it complies, news agencies reported the same day. The EU and United States, he said, have the same position on this. "We will continue the pressure," Reuters quoted Blair, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, as saying. "They have to abide by the rules of the international community on their nuclear capability [and] stop support for terrorism, whether...in the Middle East or elsewhere." Iran would be mistaken, he added, "if they thought the international community lacked the will to make sure that is done." Blair said Europe will continue talks with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program if Iran honors its "obligations under IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] rules," Reuters reported. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to discuss a common EU-U.S. response to Iran during a European visit later this week, Reuters reported on 10 October, quoting an unnamed State Department official. In Vienna on 11 October, unnamed European diplomats suggested to AP that Iran might give IAEA inspectors closer access to and information on its nuclear program. An IAEA team was in Tehran on 11 October to discuss the IAEA's request for access to two military sites, certain military officials, and relevant documents, AP reported. VS

IRAN'S PARLIAMENT REJECTS FORMATION OF NEW POLICE FORCE
The Iranian parliament has rejected a proposal by the judiciary to form a new police corps that would combine policing duties with some judicial powers (see "RFE/RL Newline," 12 September 2005), Radio Farda and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 11 October. The parliamentary social affairs committee rejected the proposal, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported, because deputies feared an overlap with duties carried out by regular law enforcement, according to Radio Farda. But Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad said in Tehran on 10 October that the creation of the so-called judicial police would "not negate the competency of police agents or other judiciary agents" but would provide "a specialist police at the disposal of" the judiciary, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. The head of the Tehran public and revolutionary courts, Muhammad Karami, said on 10 October that the judiciary needs a specialist force due to the "special complexities" of judiciary work and "because the police force, in addition to acting as agents of the judiciary, has other duties," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. Iran has already tried but abandoned a judicial police force in the past, Radio Farda stated on 11 October. VS

IRAQI GROUPS REACH TENTATIVE AGREEMENT WITH SUNNI PARTY ON CONSTITUTION
Iraqi Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders have reached a tentative agreement with the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party to bring that group on board in support of the draft constitution, international media reported on 12 October. Islamic Party head Tariq al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera television on 11 October that his party would not formally change its position on the draft until after the National Assembly made the agreed changes on 12 October. "We believe that if this [agreement] materializes [on 12 October] and if the amendment is drafted properly, then the position of the Iraqi Islamic Party should be reconsidered," al-Hashimi said, adding that its position, "up to this moment, is one of rejecting" the draft. Asked to clarify whether he would encourage a "yes" vote in the 15 October referendum, al-Hashimi said: "It is premature to comment on this.... We want a legal document to be presented to the National Assembly tomorrow.... If we find an appropriate formula [in the document] that meets the proposals we presented in this regard...then the Iraqi Islamic Party will have a different position on the draft constitution." Another Sunni group, Mu'tamar Ahl al-Sunnah, led by Adnan al-Dulaymi also took part in the agreement, nytimes.com reported on 12 October. KR

TERMS OF IRAQI AGREEMENT REVEALED...
The apparent agreement reached between Sunnis and the Shi'ite and Kurdish leadership calls for the next parliament, due to be elected in December, to establish a panel to review the constitution and consider amendments, international media reported. The National Assembly would then be asked to ratify any changes made by the panel, although it remains unclear what kind of majority would be required. Shi'ite leaders told AP on 11 October that amendments would have to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in parliament; Sunni leaders in recent days have demanded that any future changes require a simple majority. The purported agreement also calls for a clause stressing Iraqi unity and another mandating the use of Arabic in the Kurdistan region alongside Kurdish, as well as for a stipulation in the constitution that says former Ba'ath Party members will only be prosecuted if they committed crimes, AP reported on 12 October. In essence, the agreement appears to have made the draft that will be put to referendum on 15 October an interim document, leaving many to question the necessity of this week's referendum. KR

...WHILE MUSLIM SCHOLARS ASSOCIATION CRITICIZES THE DEAL
Muhammad Ayyash al-Kubaysi, a representative of the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association, denied any knowledge of the tentative agreement reached between the Islamic Party and the Shi'ite and Kurdish leadership in an interview with Al-Jazeera television on 11 October. Al-Kubaysi said the agreement would not change the position of the Muslim Scholars Association, however. "The constitution, which was drafted under the occupation, is rejected in part and parcel because it lacks legitimacy," he told the satellite news channel. "If this report is true and if the Iraqis -- including the Iraqi Islamic Party -- decide to vote 'yes' to this constitution, they will only do so because this will help them get out of the dilemma in which the occupier put them, not because they consider it a legal constitution," al-Kubaysi argued. Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari called on Iraqis to boycott the draft constitution on referendum day, "Al-Basa'ir" reported on 5 October. KR

IRAQI NATIONAL DIALOGUE COUNCIL COMMENTS ON PURPORTED AGREEMENT
Salih al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Arab representative on the constitution-drafting committee and the spokesman for the National Dialogue Council, told AP that he is not convinced that the late-hour agreement is better for Sunni Arabs, the news agency reported on 12 October. He also criticized the Iraqi Islamic Party for its negotiations with the Shi'ites and Kurds, saying the party does not speak for all Sunni Arabs. Al-Mutlaq did not say what position his party will take on the draft constitution following the latest developments. Last month, the National Dialogue Council called on Iraqis to vote "no" in the referendum on the draft constitution. KR

IRAQI MINISTER'S CONVOY TARGETED IN ATTACK
The convoy of State Minister for Governorate Affairs Sa'd Nayif Mujhim al-Hardan was attacked in the Al-Qadisiyah neighborhood of Baghdad on 12 October, international media reported. A suicide car bomber drove his vehicle into the convoy and detonated it, destroying three cars in the convoy and wounding four guards and two passers-by, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The convoy was en route to al-Hardan's home to pick him up when the attack occurred. Gunmen assassinated tribal leader Hikmat Mumtaz outside his home in Samarra on 11 October, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Mumtaz was a chieftain of the Al-Baz tribe, and head of the Samarra Tribal Council, which comprises the representatives of more than 20 tribes. KR

AL-NAJAF TRIBAL COUNCIL ACCUSES IRAN OF INTERFERING IN IRAQI AFFAIRS...
The Al-Najaf Tribal Council criticized Iran for interfering in Iraqi affairs in a statement issued after a council meeting, "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on 10 October. "We denounce and condemn external meddling in domestic Iraqi affairs particularly from Iran," the tribal elders said. The statement contended that Iran has penetrated the southern and central parts of the country, working to divide Iraq into autonomous regions along sectarian lines. KR

...AS FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS IRAN HAS PENETRATED SECURITY SERVICES
Former Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan said on 11 October that the corruption charges leveled against him recently are part of a campaign sponsored by Iran to cover up Iranian penetration of Iraqi government structures, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. "There are some parties within the [Shi'ite] alliance who are trying their best to drag Hazim al-Sha'lan into a political battle...for no reason other than the fact that [I] spoke out loudly about Iran; and that is the truth," al-Sha'lan said. "Through the institutions of the state, Iran has currently penetrated every structure of the state of Iraq -- be it the security services, the popular entities, or the official entities. The Iranian is present in the blood, formation, and structure of some persons who are in power." Al-Sha'lan was the most vocal member of Iyad Allawi's interim administration of Iraq in his criticism of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. KR

IRAQI MINISTER, IN TEHRAN, SIGNS BILATERAL COOPERATION DOCUMENT
Iraqi Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki was in Tehran on 10-11 October to meet with senior officials, including President Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, Iranian news agencies reported. Ahmadinejad told him on 11 October that Iran supports the establishment of "complete security" in Iraq, but said ongoing insecurity is "affected by the presence of foreign powers and outsiders" in Iraq, ILNA reported. "One of the ways to prolong occupation is to create divisions between Iraq and neighboring states," Ahmadinejad reportedly said, adding that Iran is determined "in spite of foreign plots" to help resolve "Iraq's problems with certain neighbors," without elaborating, ILNA reported. Maliki expressed gratitude and praised Iran's "political, security, and services assistance" to Iraq. Separately, Maliki and Iranian Industries Minister Alireza Tahmasbi signed a communique on 11 October obliging four committees to follow up on documents signed during a visit to Iran in July by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 2005). The two ministers also signed a memorandum on industrial and mining cooperation, IRNA reported. VS

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