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Newsline - October 13, 2005

Armed fighters carried out a series of attacks in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, on the morning of 13 October, Russian news agencies reported. Facilities targeted included the local headquarters of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service, and the city's airport. A statement posted on the website identified the attackers as fighters from the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the Caucasus Front. Chechen President Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev announced the appointment of commanders for all sectors of the Western front, including for Kabardino-Balkaria, five months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). ITAR-TASS quoted Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov as estimating that Russian troops had killed at least 50 of the estimated 150 fighters who participated in the attacks by around midday; local officials said at least 12 civilians had been killed in the fighting and some 64 injured. LF

Arriving in Nalchik on 13 October, Dmitrii Kozak, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, said that federal forces have pinned down the attackers in several parts of the city and have the situation under control, RTR reported. Kozak said that the clashes with attackers are continuing and the attackers have taken several law-enforcement officers hostage. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov and Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov arrived in Nalchik with Kozak. RTR reported that all exits to Nalchik are blocked by Interior Ministry and army troops. Duma State Security Committee Deputy Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (Communists) said on 13 October that the raid shows that neither the government nor the Duma has learnt from the Beslan tragedy, reported. The government is not paying enough attention in tackling the region's high unemployment, which is fuelling extremism, Ilyukhin added. VY

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a harshly worded response to the Georgian parliament's 11 October resolution threatening to demand the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones if they do not amend their tactics to conform more strictly with their respective mandates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2005). A statement posted on the Ministry's website on 12 October decries the Georgian resolution as "provocative" and "irresponsible," aimed at undermining peaceful negotiations, and as an attempt to offload responsibility for the existing tensions. It stresses that over the past two years Russia, together with its foreign partners, has made a considerable effort to preserve the "fragile balance" that has been constantly endangered by both militant statements on the part of unnamed Georgian politicians and "direct attempts to resolve the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the help of military force." In that context, it stresses that the international community considers the recourse to military might unacceptable. LF

Briefing journalists after a closed-door session on Russian policy in the CIS on 12 October, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appealed to Georgia to not take any "harsh measures regarding Russian peacekeepers in the South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts," TV-Tsentr reported. VY

At the same 12 October briefing, Lavrov said that Russia does not support the sanctions against Uzbekistan adopted by the European Union (EU) in September and "considers them inappropriate," reported. Moreover, he said, the EU announced sanctions against Uzbekistan in areas where neither side has any cooperation. Lavrov also said EU sanctions will stimulate closer ties between Uzbekistan and Russia. Russia, he said, would prefer "respectful dialogue, rather than coercion and pressure." "One should care not only about the sustainable and democratic development of Central Asia, but also about stopping the efforts of extremist forces [who are] trying to destabilize the situation there," he added. Speaking in Paris on the same topic a day earlier, Lavrov said there is no clash of Russian and U.S. interests in Central Asia, Voice of Russia reported on 12 October. VY

Speaking in Kaliningrad on 12 October, General Yurii Baluevskii, the chief of the Russian Army's General Staff, said that there will be no demilitarization in the Kaliningrad Oblast, RosBalt reported. He said that the presence of Russian troops in the oblast is a symbol of Russian sovereignty over this territory, which is surrounded by NATO forces. "It is pointless to talk about the full demilitarization of the oblast -- there will be none," he said. He also stressed that Russia does not consider NATO an adversary and does not want to confront it, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 October. "Speaking in military terms, we have an army of 1 million people and they have 4-5 million. It is reckless to fight a guy who is four to five times the weight of you," Baluevskii said. Today our army has other goals, Baluevskii continued, saying that "Its target is to discourage a state or group of states from changing the existing political order in the world or changing borders, which are recognized as fixed." VY

Writing for RosBalt on 12 October, historian and journalist Vladimir Nyrko suggested renaming Kaliningrad Oblast "Russian Prussia." The oblast was named in 1946 after Koenigsberg was transferred to the Soviet Union. It is an open secret that residents of the city dislike the present name and prefer to call it "Koenig," Nyrko wrote. Moreover, he wrote, Mikhail Kalinin was a close associate of Josef Stalin and signed many directives on mass repressions. Nyrko also argued that the word "Prussia" has Slavic rather than Germanic origins and that the word "Russian" in the proposed new name would stress Russian jurisdiction and protect against neighboring countries' claims. VY

Dmitrii Rogozin said on 12 October that the federal programs to improve health, education, and housing recently announced by President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005 and 11 October 2005) are "forced measures," reported. "It is not a better social policy. The government is just giving people crumbs off the table," he said. Rogozin also said that the country is continuing its course of oligarchical capitalism, under which pro-Kremlin oligarchs are in league with the state. This, he said, leads to an increased gap between rich and poor. VY

Speaking at a Regional Development Ministry meeting, Mikhail Fradkov said on 12 October that he will put the new health-care, education, and housing programs under his personal control, reported. On 11 October, President Putin expressed concern that extra funds allotted to these programs could be misused. At the same meeting, Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev and Sergei Kruglik, the head of Rosstroi, a federal agency for housing and construction, presented to Fradkov the federal program for accessible housing for young families, RTR reported. According to Kruglik, in the next two years 213 billion rubles ($7.6 billion) will be allotted to this program. By 2010, the number of homes in the program will double and the number of mortgages will increase twentyfold, Kruglik said. By 2010, he said, over 350,000 young families will improve their housing situation, 40 percent of the housing costs within this program will be subsidized by the state, mortgages will be issued without down payments, and mortgage interest rates will be reduced from 15 percent to 8 percent. VY

Dmitrii Sheinberg, a lawyer representing Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's wife Yelena Baturina and one of her firms, Inteko-Agro, died on the evening of 11 October after being attacked two days earlier, Russian news agencies reported on 12 October. According to Ekho Moskvy, investigators believe the attack was connected to Shteinberg's professional activities. A similar attack on Inteko-Agro Executive Director Aleksandr Annenkov in Belgorod Oblast took place on 9 October. Baturina's brother, Viktor Baturin, who is first vice president of Inteko-Agro, accused Belgorod authorities of persecuting the company. JAC

According to, Inteko-Agro is cooperating with the political opposition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia in the oblast during the lead-up to the 16 October oblast-duma elections. Oblast Governor Yevgenii Savchenko leads the Unified Russia party list in the election. Savchenko has criticized the alliance between LDPR and Inteko, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 October. Tsentr-TV, which is close to Luzhkov, on 12 October criticized the slowness of the Unified Russia faction in the Duma to investigate events in Belgorod. JAC

State-sector workers began a nationwide protest on 12 October in a number of regions to demand pay raises and improved working conditions, and Mayak radio reported. Protests were launched in Kaliningrad, Sakhalin, Chita, Vologda, Irkutsk, Novgorod, Tver, Moscow, Sverdlovsk, and Chelyabinsk oblasts, as well as Stavropol, Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk, and Altai krais. Some of the biggest crowds were in the Far East, with 4,500 in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and 5,000 in Khabarovsk. According to demonstrators in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, doctors and teachers frequently must hold two or three jobs in order to make ends meet, Interfax reported. According to, some state-sector workers were ordered not to participate in protests. The deputy head of the education department in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Galina Shmyrina, said that local teachers "have no basis [on which] to participate in a protest or to strike." In Ulyanovsk Oblast, workers were "categorically not recommended" to take part in the public meetings. In Kaliningrad, authorities suggested that the meeting be limited to 150 people -- 500 showed up, according to Radio Mayak. JAC

"Vremya novostei" reported on 12 October that Kaliningrad Oblast will serve as one of the first regions to host a new and handsomely funded version of Unified Russia's youth movement. At least 300,000 rubles ($10,500) a month will reportedly be spent on the Kaliningrad branch of the movement alone. The daily, quoting an anonymous senior source in Kaliningrad's Unified Russia branch said the new organization will be called the Young Guards (Molodaya Gvardia). According to the daily, the Young Guards are supposed to deliver on what other youth branches of the party of power lacked: a coherent ideology. "Gazeta" reported earlier in the month that Unified Russia is planning to revive its youth wing and has made new appointments to bolster the party's youth efforts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2005). JAC

Meanwhile, Unified Russia representatives in Novgorod Oblast have reportedly recruited managers of large companies to pressure employees to join their party, Ren-TV reported on 11 October. According to the station, liberal activists have protested the activity, but oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, who is a member of Unified Russia, has been reluctant to intervene. At the Akron Mechanical Engineering factory, workers found party literature on their desks and their in-house newspapers carried interviews with senior management about the importance of becoming a member of Unified Russia. Meanwhile, the company's executive director, according to the station, said he is supporting Unified Russia in order to keep on friendly terms with the oblast administration. JAC

President Putin signed a law on 12 October providing for a delayed and gradual launch of local government reforms, First Channel reported on 12 October. The Federation Council passed the bill on 5 October amending the law on local self-rule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2005). Regions that are ready to launch the reforms can begin as early as 1 January, while others now have until 2009 to complete the process. JAC

The Artarutiun opposition bloc released a statement on 12 October appealing to the electorate to vote "no" in the 27 November referendum on the government's proposed constitutional amendments, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "By saying 'no' to the so-called constitutional changes, you will say 'no' to the regime that is responsible for the political terror of 27 October [1999], which rigged the 1998 and 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections, and which perpetrated barbaric acts against peaceful protesters on 13 April 2004," the statement said. A minimum of one-third of Armenia's estimated 2.4 million voters must approve the amendments for them to pass. The opposition National Unity Party headed by Artashes Geghamian also advocates persuading voters to reject the amendments, rather than calling on them to boycott the plebiscite. Arshak Sadoyan of the National Democratic Union, which advocates a boycott, was quoted on 13 October by Noyan Tapan as predicting that turnout in the referendum will be no higher than 350,000, of whom 250,000-300,000 will endorse the planned changes. LF

Human rights ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 12 October that she believes the package of constitutional amendments "contain[s] provisions which broaden a person's capability to protect their rights." She noted specifically the right of individual citizens to appeal to the Constitutional Court. At the same time, Alaverdian conceded that the proposed restriction on the president's power to appoint and dismiss virtually all judges will only "theoretically" make courts independent of the executive branch. LF

The Armenian government announced on 12 October proposals for compensating some, but not all, people whose Soviet-era savings accounts were rendered worthless by the hyperinflation of the early 1990s, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told parliamentarians that the government will earmark 1 billion drams ($42.3 million) next year to compensate the most impoverished former savings-account holders. He said the compensation process will continue until 2009, but did not estimate the total cost of repayments, to which some 50,000 families are entitled. Under that government scheme, people who had 1,000 rubles deposited in the USSR Savings Bank would receive $200 compensation, while those who had 5,000 rubles and 10,000 rubles would receive $340 and $420, respectively. Markarian argued that the government's proposals are "more dignified" than those contained in a bill drafted by parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir party, and which envisage compensation being paid to all former savings-account holders at an estimated total cost of $83 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 October 2005). LF

Officers of the National Security Service arrested Vahe Grigorian, head of the Yerevan-based law firm Right, on 11 October and remanded him in pretrial custody, RFE/RL's Amenian Service reported, quoting Grigorian's colleagues. Grigorian, who represented Yerevan residents whose homes were targeted for demolition earlier this year to make way for government-approved redevelopment, claimed three months ago that the National Security Service opened a criminal case against him on what he said is a fabricated charge of cheating a client (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). LF

Presidential-administration official Ali Hasanov told the website on 13 October that while the Azerbaijani leadership considers "normal" the recent U.S. call for a resumption of the stalled dialogue between the Azerbaijani authorities and opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005), the former have no plans to embark on such talks at present as they are wholly occupied with preparations for the 6 November parliamentary elections. At the same time, he said, the authorities would respond positively to any "positive" initiative from the opposition aimed at "constructive cooperation." LF

The Azadlyq election bloc, which has defied a ban by the municipal authorities and staged three demonstrations in Baku in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September and 3 and 11 October 2005), has postponed until 23 October the rally it originally scheduled for 16 October, the online daily reported on 13 October. The daily quoted Serdar Djalaloglu, first deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), one of Azadlyq's three members, as saying the postponement is due to the anticipated return to Azerbaijan on 17 October of DPA Chairman and former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev. Guliev left Azerbaijan 11 years ago following a dispute with then President Heidar Aliyev. He has registered as a candidate in the 6 November parliamentary elections and announced his intention to return to Baku despite the risk of arrest on charges of large-scale embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). LF

The presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia -- Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Ilham Aliyev, and Mikheil Saakashvili respectively -- attended a ceremony on 12 October in Georgia's southeastern district of Gardabani to mark the launch of the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. The Azerbaijani section of the pipeline was inaugurated in late May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005); the first oil is scheduled to reach Ceyhan at the end of the year. Aliyev termed the pipeline launch "a great event," while Saakashvili noted its "great political importance," and predicted that it will promote economic development and investment in all three countries. "We are one region with a common economy," he said. Saakashvili further expressed support for his "personal friend" Aliyev and for the latter's policies, according to on 13 October, and he expressed gratitude for Turkish help and support, describing Turkey as one of Georgia's closest partners. LF

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Guram Donadze has rejected as untrue renewed Russian allegations that militants from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq continue to retreat to Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to recuperate from wounds sustained while fighting on the side of the Chechen resistance, Caucasus Press reported on 13 October. Donadze said the gorge is totally under the Georgian authorities' control. On 11 October, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkadii Yedelev alleged that dozens of "international terrorists" transit Pankisi en route for Chechnya or retreat there after clashes with Russian forces. LF

As part of her Central Asian tour, Condoleezza Rice visited Kazakhstan on 12-13 October, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. On 13 October, Rice visited Lev Gumilyov National University in Astana. During a meeting with teachers and students, Rice spoke about U.S. policy on Central Asia and U.S.-Kazakh relations. On the same day, Rice met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. According to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry press office, Rice and Nazarbaev discussed U.S.-Kazakh relations. AN

In an open letter to Kazakh President Nazarbaev on 12 October, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that "by imposing new restrictions on freedom of assembly and harassing political opposition and independent media, the Kazakh Government has cast doubt on the prospect of free and fair presidential elections on December 4." Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Director Holly Cartner also called on U.S. Secretary of State Rice to urge the Kazakh authorities to end their practice of imposing restrictions on freedom of assembly and intimidation of opposition and independent media. Cartner said that "President Nazarbaev needs to hear that harassing the opposition and suppressing civil society will carry consequences like downgrading of diplomatic and trade relations." In the run-up to the 4 December presidential election, the Kazakh authorities have tightened their grip over independent media and waged a campaign against opposition groups. In October, several independent journalists were beaten, and the authorities, under various pretexts, have shut down opposition and independent publications. AN

According to the opposition website Navigator, on 12 October some 20 police officers with automatic weapons detained Tolen Tokhtasynov, head of the election campaign for For A Just Kazakhstan presidential candidate Zharmahan Tuyaqbay. The arrest took place while Tokhtasynov was leaving the movement's office in Almaty. He was scheduled to fly to Astana to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Rice on 13 October. Tokhtasynov was taken to Almaty Administrative Court and, during a three-hour closed meeting, was charged with arranging an unauthorized meeting in Almaty on 8 October, Navigator reported on 13 October. AN

On 12 October, Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a new law on elections that annuls the requirement that a potential candidate must be physically present in the country for five consecutive years prior to elections, Khabar reported on 12 October. According to Khabar, the new law enables diplomats, businesspeople, and other Kyrgyz citizens who have worked outside the country at the request of the president or the parliament, to take part in parliamentary elections. The requirement was a sticking point during the February-March parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan. Several opposition candidates, including former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, who prior to elections served as Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States and Britain, were unable to participate as candidates. AN

On 12 October, Azimbek Beknazarov applied to the Aksy regional election commission to register as a candidate in the 25 November local elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov is a leader of the Asaba Party. By law, the election commission has 10 days to either register a candidate or give reasons for the application's rejection. Some other former officials, including former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev and former Foreign Minister Otunbaeva, have submitted their applications in other regions of Kyrgyzstan. AN

The Tajik Supreme Court's commission on criminal cases on 11 October reduced the sentence of journalist Jumaboi Tolibov, who was charged with abuse of power, hooliganism, and trespassing, Tribune-uz reported. At his appeal, Tolibov received one year of community service and will have 20 percent of his monthly income withheld for an unspecified period, Tribune-uz site reported on 12 October. Tolibov was originally sentenced by the Sugd regional court to two years' imprisonment. Tajikistan's Association of Independent Mass Media welcomed the Supreme Court's decision as an effort to promote the rule of law in the country, Tribune-uz reported. AN

On 12 October, quoted Uzbek human rights defender Abdusalom Ergashev as saying that Motabar Tojiboeva, head of the Brave Hearts human rights group in Ferghana, has been charged after an employee filed charges of extortion against her. On the night of 7 October, a group of police officers searched Tojiboeva's home and detained her, reported. Tojiboeva was planning to travel to Dublin to participate in a conference on human rights issues. To protest her detention, Tojiboeva on 12 October announced a hunger strike. Prior to her arrest on 7 October, Tojiboeva met with several journalists and informed them that local authorities in Ferghana have accused her of supporting Kyrgyz opposition groups and members of the Akramiya group, whose May trial provoked the unrest in Andijon. Tojoboeva has reportedly told journalists that she possesses documents proving that the group on trial was innocent. In a 13 October press release, Human Rights Watch called for Tojiboeva's immediate release. AN

Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists, will lead the 2006 presidential campaign headquarters for Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the candidate recently nominated by an opposition congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 12 October. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party, will head the National Committee -- essentially a shadow cabinet -- that will devise a proposed development strategy and other aspects of Milinkevich's campaign platform. Agreements to this effect were reached on 12 October during the first meeting of the Political Council, a body formed by opposition forces after Milinkevich's selection. "Democratic activists are to do an extremely difficult but necessary job," Milinkevich said at the meeting. "When people in our country learn about the true situation in Belarus, they will see that a majority in the country wants changes for the better. A key objective of pro-democracy forces is to help people overcome fear." JM

President Viktor Yushchenko has appointed Yuriy Polyachenko as health minister, thus completing the formation of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's cabinet, Ukrainian media reported on 12 October. Polyachenko, 42, was deputy health minister in 2002-03 and deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council in 2003-05. Of the 25 cabinet members appointed by Yushchenko within the past three weeks, 11 are new appointments. JM

President Yushchenko has signed a decree setting up a Political Council under the head of state for holding "permanent and constructive dialogue between the president and political forces represented in the Verkhovna Rada," Interfax-Ukraine reported on 12 October, quoting the presidential press service. The council, an advisory and consultative body chaired by the president, will include the heads of parliamentary caucuses and groups on a voluntary basis. The Verkhovna Rada currently has 15 deputy factions. JM

Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun told journalists in Kyiv on 12 October that he has signed a "secret" plan of investigative activities jointly with Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and Ukrainian Security Service Ihor Dryzhchanyy to complete the "second stage" of the investigation into the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "It is secret and that thick, [and it provides for] what needs to be done in order to conclude the second stage [of the investigation] -- identifying those who ordered and organized the crime," Piskun said of the plan. Commenting on President Yushchenko's dioxin poisoning last year, Piskun said it was an assassination attempt. Moreover, Piskun said that if Yushchenko fires him, he will fight in court to keep his job. Newly appointed Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy has recently suggested that Yushchenko should sack Piskun in order to see "real" progress in the Gongadze case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). JM

The Constitutional Court ruled on 12 October that only the people of Ukraine have the right to decide on the Ukrainian constitutional system or make any changes to the constitution directly through a nationwide referendum, Ukrainian media reported. The ruling quotes Article 5 in Part 3 of the constitution stipulating that the right to decide or change the constitutional system in Ukraine is the exclusive right of the people and may not be usurped by its bodies or officials. The ruling appears to call into question the political-reform bill adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in December, when deputies redistributed constitutional prerogatives of the top executive and legislative authorities in the country in order to overcome the presidential standoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). JM

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns said in Sarajevo on 12 October that Bosnia-Herzegovina should introduce several constitutional reforms aimed at making it a "normal country," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July, 12 August, and 23 September 2005). Burns said he hopes Bosnians "will commit themselves to...further constitutional reform in the spirit of [the 1995 peace agreement and constitution signed in] Dayton,... [including] a single presidency, a strengthened premiership, and an effective parliament." He added that "the process will start with the Washington summit meetings in November, and when [the task is completed at an unspecified future date] this country will become a more normal country like any other European country." On 13 October in Prishtina, Burns said that the coming year "is going to be an important year for Kosovo. It's a year where Kosovo makes its choice to define its future, and the United States will be very actively engaged in this process." PM

An unspecified number of NATO peacekeepers searched the electronics store of Branislav Jovicevic in Pale on 13 October in an effort to find evidence of support links to prominent war crimes fugitive and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 12 August 2005). An unnamed NATO spokesman told the news agency, "We have a strong suspicion that this business is connected to the support network of Radovan Karadzic." Jovicevic is the husband of Sonja Karadzic, the daughter of Radovan, who for several years ran a nationalist broadcasting station called Radio Sveti Jovan. PM

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 12 October that the EU's executive body will make public on 9 November its recommendation on Macedonia's application to join the bloc, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 February, 1 July, and 23 September 2005). Rehn said that the report will be "objective and realistic" and include reference to "certain shortcomings that will need to be addressed." He made the statement after meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski. PM

Iraq's transitional government has issued arrest warrants for former Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan and 23 other officials for the misappropriation of more than $1 billion during the administration of the interim government that ruled Iraq from June 2004 until April. Al-Sha'lan has denied any role in the corruption scandal and has claimed that the allegations are politically motivated by the current Iraqi government and Iran.

According to media reports, between 28 June 2004 and 13 February 2005 the Defense Ministry under al-Sha'lan signed 89 contracts worth $1.271 billion. Hadi al-Amiri, a member of Iraq's Integrity Commission, said last month that a contract worth $949 million was signed with a firm identified as Al-Ayn Company. The firm was paid in full in advance, he said, and the ministry failed to secure guarantees from the firm on the contract.

Another contract worth $226.8 million was reportedly signed for the purchase of 24 new helicopters, of which only four were delivered to Iraq. Other outdated helicopters in disrepair, he said, were also marked for delivery by the contractor -- which is in a former Soviet republic. According to al-Amiri, the second contract was also paid in full without guarantees. The contractor now wants to replace the undelivered helicopters with technical instruments and equipment, "Al-Zaman" reported on 19 September.

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord, has claimed that the scandal is part of a campaign by Iranian-supported political parties in Iraq to smear secular parties such as Allawi's, which object to Iran's growing influence in Iraq. The scandal threatens to thwart a potential comeback by Allawi to move back to the forefront of Iraq's political landscape in December elections after he and his party were largely kept from power in the current transitional government.

While he has not been directly linked to the corruption allegations, if such transgressions occurred under his administration Allawi and his party would be marred by the scandal. Allawi has worked to position himself for a comeback on the political scene in December's elections, and media reports have indicated that he is pursuing an alliance with Kurdish parties in the next Iraqi government.

Allawi has called on the Iraqi government to publicly open the corruption files. Allawi expressed concern that the al-Ja'fari government will use the scandal for political gain, telling Al-Sharqiyah television in an interview aired on 2 October: "Just as there are accusations [against the interim government], we also have accusations against ministers in the current government who abused power and misused state funds. But we do not come to announce this and talk in this matter on television, in the press, and other media."

Allawi has defended his administration of the interim government, telling Al-Sharqiyah in a 22 September interview that his administration did everything in its power to combat corruption. "We referred a number of ministries to investigation. We also adopted important decisions on the nature of contracts. I recall, for example, issuing a decision stating that any contract of more than $5 million must be referred to a higher economic committee made up of a number of ministers. It banned signing agreements of a higher ceiling. Contracts amounting to less than $5 million [were] handled by a ministerial committee headed by the minister," he said. Meanwhile, Hadi al-Amiri told "Al-Zaman" that the Defense Ministry's own committee had rejected the contract with Al-Ayn Company, the daily reported on 19 September, leaving it unclear as to how the contract was approved.

The allegations of corruption at the Defense Ministry go far beyond the illicit contracts. Al-Amiri said that charges have been filed against one Defense Ministry official for some 60 million dinars ($40,827) paid to ghost employees. One ministry officer put his three-year-old daughter on the payroll and, another, his seven-year-old son.

While the Defense Ministry scandal may amount to the largest misuse of public funds, at least five other ministries face allegations of corruption, including the interior, public works, trade, oil, and electricity ministries. According to Integrity Commission officials, the committee has identified more than 1,100 cases of administrative corruption and crimes.

There are at least 450 cases under investigation at the Interior Ministry, including investigations into officers who funneled equipment and other property to insurgent groups. Trade Ministry employees are under investigation for selling off goods from the ration-card program -- some of which have ended up in neighboring states, or for replacing goods with lower-quality substitutes. There are also discrepancies within Oil Ministry accounts, and investigators are looking into reports of widespread oil smuggling across Iraq's borders.

The Public Works Ministry has been under investigation for months, and Minister Nisreen Barwari was accused in a 3 October National Assembly session of failing to cooperate with the Inspector General's office. Barwari, who has admitted to at least two cases of corruption in her ministry, has said that the inspector general was the uncooperative one, adding that he did not accept explanations presented to him by the ministry.

The blame for Iraq's corruption scandal cannot be laid entirely on the Allawi administration. Improper control mechanisms, poor accounting procedures, and inexperience coupled with a huge influx of money into Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime made it impossible for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to track disbursements. According to a report ( issued in 2004 by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for Iraq (IAMB), $5 billion in reconstruction funds disbursed by the CPA in the first half of 2004 were unaccounted for, including $1.4 billion deposited into a Kurdistan Regional Government bank account in northern Iraq.

In the same audit, the IAMB discovered that the Finance Ministry was maintaining two sets of accounting records -- "manual records for transactions post-hostilities [the U.S.-led invasion] and computerized records representing the continuation of the official records." The IAMB found significant discrepancies when reconciling the two sets of accounting records. "The accounting systems at the Iraqi ministries, including their divisions, were primarily manual-based with limited computerization," the report noted.

The Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., concluded in a 30 January report to the U.S. Congress that some $9 billion in funds earmarked for the reconstruction of Iraq went unaccounted for due to inefficiencies and bad management by the CPA between April 2003 and 28 June 2004. "The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial, and contractual controls to ensure that [Development Fund for Iraq] funds were used in a transparent manner," Bowen said. CPA Administrator Paul Bremer responded to the report by saying the auditors presumed "the coalition could achieve a standard of budgetary transparency and execution that even peaceful Western nations would have trouble meeting within a year, especially in the midst of a war," reported on 30 January.

In addition to poor accounting procedures, it appears that ministries are either unaware of, or ignore, proper contracting procedures, leading to widespread chaos. Inspector generals assigned to review contracting procedures at ministries are ineffective due to staffing shortages and incompetence. Reports indicate that inspector generals may also face intimidation and, in some cases, are unable to work without government interference.

It is not surprising that Iraq's postwar administrations have been marred by chaos and corruption, whether in the CPA, the interim government, or likely, what has yet to be revealed about the administration of the current transitional government.

The CPA, by all accounts, was unprepared to administer the enormous influx of cash coming from outside in the form of donor aid, unfrozen Hussein-era assets, and millions of dollars left over from UN oil-for-food funds, which were doled out to ministries with outdated accounting practices, little to no oversight, and almost certainly, records maintained in a foreign language. And, as Bremer said, in the midst of a war. The interim government inherited the system and, it appears, some took advantage of it.

But greed, incompetence, and poor mechanisms are only part of the problem. Iraqi society, like the rest of the Middle East, remains entrenched in a system of patronage and clientelism, where contracts are doled out on the basis of personal and professional relationships rather than competence. Until that mindset changes -- which could take generations -- corruption will remain a problem in Iraq.

During a brief visit to Kabul on 12 October, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that Washington will not abandon Afghanistan, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai told reporters in Kabul that by "leaving Afghanistan alone," the United States "experienced the events of 11 September [2001] and now they understand that Afghanistan should not be left alone," according to Radio Afghanistan. Rice reportedly said the recent escalation in violence in Afghanistan indicates the weakness of "enemies of peace" who are shocked that the country held successful elections on 18 September, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 12 October. "As long as our ability to run the combat [conduct independent operations without troop support] is not complete, we need the support of the United States and other countries," Karzai said. Rice also said her country wants a "clean and sincere government" in Afghanistan that can fight drugs and prevent corruption. AT

President Valdas Adamkus arrived in Kabul on 11 October for a two-day official visit, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai told Adamkus that Lithuania's involvement in Afghanistan brings "peace and security," adding that the Afghan national will never forget this assistance, ELTA reported on 12 October. Adamkus also traveled to the Ghor Province in central Afghanistan, where a contingent of Lithuanian forces is commanding a provisional reconstruction team (PRT) as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2005). During his visit to Kabul, Adamkus also met with Secretary Rice, who praised Lithuania's participation in ISAF. AT

Five members of the nongovernmental Afghan Health and Development Services were killed and three others were wounded on 12 October when they were attacked by unidentified assailants in Kandahar Province, international news agencies reported. The NGO's Mohammad Kabir confirmed the attack but did not provide further details, AIP reported on 12 October. In a press release, President Karzai strongly condemned the killing of health workers in Kandahar, Radio Afghanistan reported on 12 October. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Kandahar remains a stronghold of the neo-Taliban, who have escalated attacks in that province and surrounding areas in recent weeks. AT

Six police officers were killed and one is missing after unidentified attackers ambushed them on 11 October in Oruzgan Province, AFP reported on 12 October. Four police vehicles were damaged in the attack. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad told AFP that the attack was "the work of the Taliban," although that group has not claimed responsibility for the act. According to a 12 October report by AIP, the six killed were soldiers who were providing security for a U.S. convoy carrying supplies to the provincial capital Tarin Kot. AT

Two rockets hit Kabul on 12 October, one of which injured two security guards at the residence of the Canadian ambassador, AIP reported. AT

A statement by the Iranian Foreign Ministry on 11 October declares Iran's readiness to resume talks on its nuclear program without preconditions, "to assure Iran's right to expand and access the nuclear fuel cycle within the balance of rights and duties stated" in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) charter, to which Iran is a signatory, ISNA and AFP reported on 12 October. The statement adds that talks would be "useful" now to build confidence over its program, ISNA reported. The statement coincides with calls by Great Britain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2005), France, and the United States for Iran to respect nonproliferation commitments. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Paris on 11 October that "our aim" is to negotiate with Iran, not provoke a "crisis," but Iran must respect the Paris accord of 2004, Reuters reported the same day. Iran is committed under that accord to halting all uranium-enrichment and related activities during talks. In Washington on 11 October, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli reiterated U.S. support for Iran-EU talks and said the United States wants to see "concrete action" to show Iranian respect for IAEA resolutions, according to the State Department website. VS

Iran's conservative-dominated parliament and government hope to coordinate their work and minimize differences, Iranian news agencies reported on 11 October. Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said in Tehran the same day that in the fight against "economic corruption," the "general feeling is that with government, there has been more coordination among the three branches," IRNA reported. He was speaking after a meeting of the state anticorruption headquarters attended by the president and judiciary chief. Separately, the government and parliament held their first joint meeting attended by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Haddad-Adel, legislators, Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari, and Farhad Rahbar, the head of the state planning and budgeting body, Fars News Agency reported on 11 October. Haddad-Adel told Ahmadinejad at the meeting that parliamentary committees and provincial associations of legislators want to meet with the president weekly, or at least once a month, Fars quoted legislator Ali Riaz as saying. Also, Vice President Ahmad Musavi told IRNA on 12 October that a committee on government-parliament relations is to be formed, including four legislators, himself, Rahbar and Danesh-Jafari. VS

Masumeh Shafii, the wife of jailed dissident Akbar Ganji, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 12 October that her husband is once more being prevented from seeing his family, who have no idea where he is. "It has been 48 days since we saw" Ganji, she said, adding that Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad knows this fact despite reportedly stating that visits should be allowed. "They do not want any talk about [Ganji] outside prison, so they have cut off all communication channels," she said. She said she thinks it "possible he is not being kept in Evin prison" in northern Tehran, where political prisoners are usually kept, adding, "It is not clear which unknown prison they have taken him to." She said when she telephones, staff at Evin tell her to contact Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi, she told Radio Farda. Separately, Masumeh Dehqan, the wife of detained lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, told Radio Farda on 12 October that prison officials canceled a scheduled 10 October family visit with her husband. The judiciary has told her Fattahi is currently subject to "renewed investigations," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 October. VS

Justice Minister Karimirad said in Tehran on 11 October that "in the justice system, nobody must be left without an answer" and that the judiciary has worked to ensure "that not a single person's rights are violated," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 October. "We are faced with the actions of certain countries" in Ganji's case, Karimirad said, "although domestic actions and reactions are not without effect." The judiciary, he said, does not want Ganji to become "a subject" of publicity. "Certain people going to meet him do things...against his health. Naturally, family meetings with Ganji must be resolved," he said. Separately, three Kurdish-Iranian journalists are to be tried on 21 December for charges relating to recent unrest in western Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2005), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 October. Charges against Ejlal Qavami, Said Saedi and Roya Tolui, include acting against national security, collaborating with PJAK, a Kurdish guerrilla group, organizing the unrest, and "inciting public opinion," lawyer Abbas Jamali told ILNA on 11 October. VS

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced at a 12 October news conference that the National Assembly approved an agreement reached with the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party and made the agreed-upon changes to the draft constitution, thereby paving the way for the Islamic Party's support of a "yes" vote in this week's referendum, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2005). Talabani praised the roles of Shi'ite leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in helping mediate the agreement. Calling the Islamic Party "courageous," Talabani added: "I believe that there are no more justifications or excuses for our Sunni brothers to boycott the referendum, after we met all their demands and agreed to all their suggestions without changing [those suggestions] even slightly. Therefore, it is their patriotic duty to actively participate in the referendum and vote in favor of the constitution and to contribute in the future to our democratic process." KR

Harith al-Dari, head of the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association, reacted to the 12 October deal between Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders and the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Islamic Party by criticizing the Islamic Party's support for the constitution in an interview with Al-Jazeera television on 12 October. "We think that this decision is disappointing and not based on a political view and vigilant understanding of the situation," al-Dari said. He added that the agreement "does not bring about change...because there are no real guarantees to achieve the coming National Assembly." Al-Dari maintained that the Islamic Party entered into the agreement based on its political interests rather than the national interest. "They have given legitimacy to the political process, which is in crisis, and paved the way to [accommodate] the U.S. desire to pass the constitution successfully, and have saved the U.S. president's face based on their ignorance or let us say, non-vigilant understanding of the situation," al-Dari said of the Islamic Party. Al-Dari further said that many groups, including Turkomans and Christians, are opposed to the draft constitution. KR

The Victorious Sect Army also criticizes the Iraqi Islamic Party's reversal in favor of supporting the constitution in a 12 October statement posted on the Internet ( "We are not surprised by what we see and hear from the so-called Iraqi Islamic Party, which is not an Islamic party and is not even Iraqi, as it is coming from an agent party that placed its hand in the hand of the rapist occupier," the statement says, adding: "Everyone knows that merely voting for this infidel constitution is recognizing its legitimacy and is therefore assisting the infidels against Muslims." The statement claims that the Islamic Party "does not represent the Salafis in Iraq and does not have the right to speak of the Sunnis. This party has previously disappointed the Sunni [Arab] Iraqis and the mujahidin insisted on raising the heads of the Sunnis with the power of weapons since this party entered the [Governing Council]." Adding that "their souls have lured them to trespass against the laws of God," the Victorious Sect Army claims that Islamic Party members Tariq al-Hashimi and Muhsin Abd al-Hamid will now be considered legitimate targets for the mujahedin. "They must not receive anything but punishment in this life before the hereafter," the statement said. KR

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters in Baghdad on 12 October that one of the additions to the draft constitution is the inclusion of the phrase: "Iraq is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-sect country. It is a founding and active member of the Arab League and committed to its charter and it is part of the Islamic world," RFI reported. Al-Ja'fari said his deputies met the league's delegation during its visit to Iraq to convey the Iraqi government's position on the league. "We are committed to maintaining our relations with all Arab countries and with the Arab League," al-Ja'fari said. "We have some reservations about the performance of the Arab League but they do not conflict with the Arab League's endeavors to unite all Arab countries." KR

Prime Minister al-Ja'fari told reporters in Baghdad on 12 October that all Iraqis reject an Arab League proposal to reconcile with the Ba'ath Party, RFI reported. Asked about league Secretary-General Amr Musa's offer of sponsoring a national reconciliation conference, al-Ja'fari said: "I believe the concept of national reconciliation, as perceived by the Iraqi citizens, means reconciliation with the Ba'ath Party. This is a red line for us." He said he believed the Arab League delegation realized this during its trip to Iraq and subsequently changed its position from one of sponsoring reconciliation to sponsoring dialogue, "which means the delegation realized that all the Iraqi politicians are totally convinced and that they unanimously reject reconciliation with the Ba'ath Party." KR

Interior Ministry Staff Major General Husayn Ali Kamal told London's "Al-Hayat" that Iraqis are very much against the British troops in Al-Basrah, the daily reported on 12 October. "The tension between the southern street and the British makes it liable for political exploitation by some parties," Kamal said. "There is a plan to withdraw the excess [British] troops from Al-Basrah and other cities." He noted, however, that Iraqi security forces are not sufficiently prepared to take over security in the south. Meanwhile, Hizballah leader Abd al-Karim Muhammadawi claimed to the daily that the British "have not done anything positive" in Al-Basrah. "The British created a corrupt situation by building Iraqi security forces from suspicious elements that are loyal to them," Muhammadawi said. "Therefore any withdrawal [by British forces] will allow the security forces to continue their corruption." He further claimed that the British have handed over control of the ports and city administration to "corrupt people," saying, "This is extremely dangerous and signals a bad situation in Al-Basrah and other cities." KR