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Newsline - November 30, 2005


RUSSIAN SECURITY CHIEF ACCUSES U.S. AND NATO OF CREATING INSTABILITY IN CENTRAL ASIA...
Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov on 29 November accused the United States and NATO of causing tension in Central Asia, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Ivanov said the region is part of the zone of responsibility of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and is therefore of concern for Moscow. "What we see are practical attempts to interfere in the political life of new independent states under the guise of advancing democratic values and freedoms, by putting pressure on authorities via protest processes," Ivanov said according to mosnews.com and Interfax. "International terrorism and extremism in all their forms, the increase in the unlawful circulation of drugs, transnational organized crime and the reality of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction pose a serious threat for member states of the CSTO," he added. The CSTO, comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia, held a meeting of its Defense Ministers' Council in Moscow on 29 November, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. BW

...AND SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO PLANS FOR BASES IN CSTO COUNTRIES
Security Council Secretary Ivanov also said on 29 November that Russia has no plans to open any new military bases on the territory of CSTO member countries, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. He added the CSTO is "getting on its feet" and is "stepping up cooperation" with the Commonwealth of Independent States and has "started contacts with NATO" and the Eurasian Economic Community, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "We are positive that cooperation with other organizations will help ensure our security," Ivanov said. Many analysts consider the CSTO an instrument of Russian foreign policy designed to prevent the further eastward expansion of NATO, RIA-Novosti reported. In other comments, Ivanov also warned Ukraine that technological cooperation between Kyiv and Moscow could be jeopardized should Ukraine join NATO, Russian news agencies reported the same day. BW

REPORT: INTRIGUE BEGINS IN RESHUFFLED CABINET
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov is attempting to defend himself against the rising power of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister and Security Council Secretary Ivanov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 November. Both men, promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a government reshuffle on 14 November, have been touted as potential presidential candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005). Fradkov "does not want to surrender his position without a fight," according to "Kommersant-Daily." According to the newspaper, Fradkov did not allow Ivanov to chair a commission on military and industrial issues. The prime minister also took control of a new commission on the development of the fuel and energy sector that Medvedev was supposed to chair. Fradkov also gave his chief of staff, Sergei Naryshkin, new powers over the civil service and in other areas, including the management of federal property. "Naryshkin's promotion shows that the prime minister has consolidated his positions in the bureaucratic struggle against Medvedev and Ivanov," according to "Kommersant-Daily." BW

RUSSIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER WANTS ALCOHOL UNDER STATE CONTROL IN 2006
Russia's Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said on 29 November that he expects the state to monopolize the country's alcohol market in 2006, Interfax and mosnews.com reported the same day. "We are planning the monopoly from next year, and it might be introduced not at the start of the year but, for example, in the middle of 2006," Gordeev said. According to Gordeev, the Agricultural Ministry believes that all alcohol sales and purchases of alcohol should be carried out through a state-owned company. The State Duma should make necessary changes in legislation by the end of this year. Illegal trade accounts for between 40-50 percent of Russia's alcohol market and up to 40,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning, mosnews.com reported. BW

RUSSIA TO SUPPORT THAILAND'S CANDIDATE FOR UN SECRETARY-GENERAL
Russia plans to support Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai in his bid to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported on 29 November. "Russia has reiterated its position on the next UN secretary-general in favor of the Asian candidate and took into consideration the candidacy of Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who was backed by ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]," a joint Russian-Thai statement, quoted by RIA-Novosti, said. The statement was released following talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Thai counterpart Khanthathi Suphamongkhon. Current UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's second five-year term expires in December 2006. BW

WITH SPILL APPROACHING, FAR EASTERN AUTHORITIES PROTECT WATER SUPPLIES...
As they wait for a toxic benzene spill to reach the local Amur River, authorities in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk have placed armed guards around local artesian wells and imposed price controls on bottled water, RIA-Novosti and Regnum reported on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2005). A government order was issued that sellers may not raise the price of bottled water by more than 10 percent until July 2006. According to Regnum, region authorities have also earmarked 500,000 euros ($600,000) just to clean up water contaminated by the spill, which is currently estimated to reach Khabarovsk on 2-3 December. Chinese authorities have promised to compensate Russia for the financial damages it incurs from the pollution of the Amur River, Rustem Khamitov, director of the Russian agency for water resources, told Radio Mayak on 29 November. JAC

...AND 'NEW CHRIST' ALSO HEADS FOR TOWN
Meanwhile, local TV stations in Khabarovsk have been carrying commercials for self-declared messiah Grigorii Grabovoi, who plans to lecture in the city, Regnum reported on 29 November. Grabovoi is perhaps best known for his promise to resurrect the children killed during the 2004 Beslan school tragedy on 15 October. When they didn't appear, he said the children's parents were not ready (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005). A representative for the advertising agency that placed the commercials on television told Regnum that the persons wishing to attend Grabovoi's lecture will have to pay 1,500 rubles ($52). JAC

DAILY DOCUMENTS ALLEGED WAHHABI THREAT IN CENTRAL RUSSIA
"Izvestiya" reported on 29 November that Wahhabis are taking over the "largest Tatar town in Middle Europe," Srednyaya Yeluzan in Penza Oblast, and have assumed control over four of the town's seven mosques. Local authorities recently conducted a search of local mosques and found what they consider suspicious literature. The daily also noted the presence of more than 800 registered weapons in the town. The raion prosecutor Aleksandr Nalivaev considers the situation out of control. "There are three policeman for 10,000 people in Yeluzan," he said. "It is around 40 kilometers to the raion center. I wrote to the oblast Interior Ministry about the necessity of [establishing] a separate police department in Srednyaya Yeluzan, and the answer was that there were not enough resources. But who is going to take up the struggle against extremism?" According to the daily, Wahhabi mosques have managed to attract many of the town's young people. JAC

EMBATTLED TV JOURNALIST SAYS SHE FEARS FOR HER SAFETY
Olga Romanova, the embattled TV anchor at Ren-TV, told reporters in Moscow on 29 November that she is afraid for her life, "gazeta.ru" reported on 30 November. Romanova told the daily that after a visit to the prosecutor's office, she noticed that a black Audi began following her car. She also reported that Ren-TV General Director Aleksandr Ordzhonikidze has security guards with him at all times, even when he goes to the toilet. She said: "What kind of life is this? Who is he afraid of?" The daily asked the Eurasia security firm which provides security for Ren-TV about Romanova's accusation, and Viktor Demidov, a top manager at the company, called the accusations "complete nonsense." According to Demidov, the firm uses the Audi A6 but it is not black but silver. On 24 November, members of the firm's security service prevented Romanova from entering the studios at Ren-TV to film her show, "24 Hours." She subsequently has been ordered off the air for three months and told to develop a new information program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2005). JAC

HEALTH MINISTRY SAYS BIRD FLU CASES DECREASING
The Russian Health Ministry said on 29 November that outbreaks of bird flu have eased in Russia with the virus known to be present in only two locations in the country, mosnews.com reported the next day. "There are still two areas on the territory of the Russian Federation affected by bird flu," a steep decline from the 10 regions infected a month ago, the ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian and international news agencies. The two regions are the Kurgan and Astrakhan oblasts, the report said. BW

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH REJECTS U.S. CLAIMS OF FAVORITISM
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has dismissed claims by the U.S. State Department that it is gaining a status approximating that of a state church, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 29 November. In an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Metropolitan Kirill, who heads the ROC's foreign relations department, wrote: "The Russian Orthodox Church is completely separate from the state apparatus and our clergy do not participate in the work of state organs or political parties and movements." The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom report for 2005 (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51576.htm) said "many government officials and citizens equate Russian Orthodoxy with the national identity. This belief appears to have manifested itself in the church-state relationship. The ROC has entered into a number of agreements, some formal, others informal, with government ministries on such matters as guidelines for public education, religious training for military personnel, and law enforcement and customs decisions." BW

ALLEGED PRISON PROTEST ORGANIZERS FACE MORE JAIL TIME
Four residents of a prison colony went on trial on 29 November in Lgov in Kursk Oblast, where prisoners in June mutilated themselves to protest brutal conditions, gazeta.ru reported on 30 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). The four men are charged with disrupting the organization of the prison colony, and if convicted they could face an additional five to 12 years in prison. During the protest, around 300 prisoners mutilated themselves. The four accused prisoners say that they were not the ringleaders and that the protest was organized by persons with more authority in the "criminal world." Meanwhile, on 1 December, a Lgov-raion court will consider a separate criminal case against two officials from the same prison colony on charges of exceeding their authority. Both officials are suspected of involvement in the beating of prisoners, which led to the prisoners' protest. JAC

THOUSANDS JOIN ARMENIAN REFERENDUM PROTEST
Almost 10,000 people attended a rally in Yerevan on 29 November to protest the perceived falsification by the authorities of the outcome of the 27 November referendum on a package of constitutional amendments, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian (Hanrapetutiun) and Stepan Demirchian (People's Party of Armenia), gave the authorities 72 hours (until Friday 2 December) to annul the outcome or risk mass popular protests that they hope will force the present leadership to step down. Also on 29 November, the Armenian NGO It's Your Choice unveiled the findings of its monitoring of the 27 November vote, which its leaders characterized as failing to meet international standards for democratic elections, Noyan Tapan reported. Meanwhile, President Robert Kocharian released a written address thanking the Armenian people for their "unequivocal and resolute" support of the amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said the new revised constitution "paves the way for turning Armenia into a thriving country of the 21st century." LF

STRIKING OIL WORKERS IN AZERBAIJAN WIN CONCESSIONS
Azerbaijani employees of McDermott Caspian Corporation Inc. and of a second international oil sector support company ended their protest strike on 29 November after management agreed to several of their demands, Turan and echo-az.com reported on 29 and 30 November respectively. The McDermott employees' annual vacation quota has been increased, they have been given permission to organize a trade union, and their wages will be raised by 20 percent. McDermott management will respond within one week to the workers' demand for medical insurance. LF

AZERBAIJANI REGIONAL ORGANIZATION PRESSURES GOVERNMENT
Leading members of the NGO Return to Western Azerbaijan, which represents the interests of Azerbaijanis who left or were expelled from the Armenian SSR in the 1950s and late 1980s, demanded at a press conference in Baku on 29 November that the Azerbaijani government resume paying the special allowances to which such expellees were entitled until 2000, together with arrears that have accrued since then, zerkalo.az reported on 30 November. They also demanded that an autonomous region be created in Armenia to which Azerbaijani expellees could return, and that all Azerbaijani bureaucrats married to Armenian women be dismissed from their posts. Rizvan Talybov, who heads both the NGO and a committee formed last month to defend the interests of former Health Minister Ali Insanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 October 2005), claimed at the press conference that since Insanov's dismissal the price of medications has increased by 30 percent, and Azerbaijanis from Armenia whom Insanov provided with employment within his ministry have been dismissed. Insanov remains in pretrial detention; he has been charged with conspiring with former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev to overthrow the country's leadership. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA REACH AGREEMENT ON DEBT REPAYMENT
After months of sometimes acrimonious talks, the governments of Azerbaijan and Georgia have finally reached agreement on rescheduling the repayment of a $16 million Georgian debt to Azerbaijan, day.az reported on 29 November, quoting Azerbaijani Finance Ministry official Mardan Mardanov. On 1 November, Azerbaijani First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov told journalists that although such an agreement had been negotiated, Azerbaijan would not sign it until Georgia concluded a new customs agreement with Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIA ASSESSES IMPACT OF INCREASE IN RUSSIAN GAS PRICE
Speaking in Moscow on 29 November, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov confirmed that his company will raise gas prices in 2006 to $110 per thousand cubic meters for Armenia and Georgia, compared with the current $60, Caucasus Press reported. He also announced similar prices increases for the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Moldova. Iveri Shalamberidze, who is a spokesman for Georgia's National Energy Regulatory Commission, estimated on 29 November that that increase will translate into a 35-percent price increase for gas consumers in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 29 November, Georgian International Gas Corporation President David Ingorokva said Russia has refused to transport Kazakh gas to Georgia via its pipeline system, Caucasus Press reported. During a visit to Astana earlier this month, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli negotiated an agreement under which Kazakhstan agreed to provide Tbilisi with 2 billion cubic meters of gas at a cost of $68 per thousand cubic meters. LF

EU ENDORSES GEORGIAN PEACE PLAN FOR SOUTH OSSETIA...
Meeting in Brussels with visiting Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, EU Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana expressed support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's most recent three-stage peace plan for South Ossetia, Georgian media reported on 30 November. Solana said the EU will actively participate in implementation of that plan. LF

...AS GEORGIA CONTINUES WAR OF WORDS AGAINST BREAKAWAY REGION
During his talks with NATO officials in Brussels on 28 November, Noghaideli claimed that Georgian special services have ascertained that large quantities of counterfeit euros and U.S. dollars are being produced on the territory of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 29 November. It is not clear whether he produced sample bank notes to substantiate that allegation. Several days earlier, the Georgian Interior Ministry accused top South Ossetian leaders of a variety of criminal offenses, including smuggling, arms trafficking, and abductions, but not counterfeiting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). On 28 November, regnum.ru quoted South Ossetian Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzaev as rejecting those accusations, which he termed "insulting and provocative." LF

GEORGIAN REGIONAL ORGANIZATION SLAMS NATIONAL LEADERSHIP
Samegrelo (Mingrelia), the political organization representing the eponymous west Georgian region, adopted on 29 November at its fourth congress a resolution criticizing the Georgian government's track record during its two years in power, Caucasus Press reported. Samegrelo leader Aleksandre Chachia specifically deplored Georgia's pro-NATO orientation, which he argued only serves to antagonize Russia, which retaliates by actively seeking to prevent a solution to Georgia's conflicts. Samegrelo also called on the government to undertake measures to improve socioeconomic conditions in the region, and to introduce the study of the Mingrelian and Svan languages at university level. It is not clear whether participants formally demanded autonomous status for Mingrelia within Georgia, although that issue reportedly figured on the congress agenda. LF

KAZAKH POLICE REPORTEDLY CONCLUDE THAT OPPOSITION FIGURE'S DEATH WAS 'SUICIDE'
An unnamed Kazakh law-enforcement official told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 29 November that police investigators have concluded that opposition figure Zamanbek Nurkadilov's death on 12 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005) was a suicide. The source said that "numerous tests" showed that Nurkadilov shot himself twice in the chest, but, "realizing that he missed," proceeded to shoot himself fatally in the head. The alleged suicide took place following "squabbles and conflicts within the family," the source said. Serikkali Musin, a lawyer representing Nurkadilov's widow, Makpal Zhunusova, told a news conference in Almaty on 29 November that Zhunusova considers the suicide theory "untenable," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. A spokesperson for the Almaty police department told "Kazakhstan Today" that investigators are continuing to examine several possible explanations for Nurkadilov's death. DK

KAZAKHSTAN DENIES CLOSURE OF KYRGYZ BORDER
A spokesperson for Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) told "Kazakhstan Today" on 29 November that Kazakh border guards have stepped up patrols along the Kyrgyz border. Describing the measure as intended to prevent "the possible penetration into Kazakhstan of undesirable elements," the spokesperson specifically denied reports of a border closure. Quoting an unnamed spokesperson for Kazakh border forces, Kyrgyzstan's akipress.org had reported earlier the same day that Kazakhstan unilaterally decided on 28 November to close its border with Kyrgyzstan in the lead-up to Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election. DK

KAZAKHSTAN DEPORTS WORKERS FROM NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES
Arman Zhusanbai, a spokesman for the Kazakh police in Almaty, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 29 November that police in the capital have detained 546 foreign nationals since 26 November, deporting 211 of them. Zhusanbai said that the operation, which is slated to continue until 2 December, targets only individuals who lack documents permitting them to live and work in Kazakhstan. He denied any connection to the upcoming 4 December presidential election. But deported Kyrgyz workers told ferghana.ru that they were in Kazakhstan legally and said that they were deported because someone in Kazakhstan wanted to eliminate competition from cheap Kyrgyz labor. The news agency reported that Aigul Ryskulova, the head of Kyrgyzstan's committee on migration and employment, has flown to Astana for talks with Kazakh officials on the issue. DK

KYRGYZ INVESTIGATORS SEE DRUG TIE IN LAWMAKER'S SLAYING
National Security Service head Tashtemir Aitbaev told Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 29 November that the 21 September killing of lawmaker Bayaman Erkinbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005) was drug-related, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Aitbaev said an investigation revealed that Erkinbaev was shot dead after he refused to deliver drugs to a prison. Two individuals with alleged criminal ties, identified as Batyrov and Ruzimetov, are currently in custody for allegedly organizing the murder, akipress.org reported. A third individual, an ethnic Chechen and Russian citizen identified as Sultan Abalaev, purportedly fled to Russia after carrying out the killing; Kyrgyz authorities are currently seeking his extradition. Aitbaev also noted that Erkinbaev owned real estate whose value security officials have estimated at $20 million-$25 million, akipress.org reported. Commenting on another recent high-profile slaying, Aitbaev said the murder of lawmaker Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev on 10 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005) was not politically motivated but rather related to the latter's Azamat car dealership, akipress.org reported. The investigation of Surabaldiev's death is ongoing. DK

AT LEAST NINE UZBEKS REPORTEDLY DETAINED IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN...
The Moscow-based rights organization Memorial reported in a 28 November press release that Kazakh security forces have detained at least nine Uzbek nationals in Shymkent, Kazakhstan since 24 November. A police source in Kazakhstan told Memorial that Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) carried out the arrests. Four men were arrested on 24 November, including Ruhiddin Fakhruddinov, who is wanted in Uzbekistan for alleged ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU); another five, and possible six, men were detained on 27 November, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Kazakh officials have not commented on the detentions. Narasimha Rao, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Almaty, told the BBC's Uzbek Service on 29 November that some of those detained are asylum seekers. "We have appealed to the Kazakh government for information about their fate," Rao said. "We hope that the Kazakh government will fulfill its international obligations and will not deport them to a country where their lives are in danger." DK

...AS UZBEK OPPOSITION LEADER'S HUSBAND IS SHOT
Nigora Hidoyatova, head of the unregistered Uzbek opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers), told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 29 November that her husband was shot and wounded in southern Kazakhstan on 28 November in what Hidoyatova believes was a politically motivated attempt on his life. Orifjon Oydin, a Turkish citizen, suffered a single gunshot wound to the head in the Kazakh town of Sariagach. Hidoyatova said that Oydin is currently hospitalized after surgeons removed the bullet that struck him. Saltanat Qoraquzova, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry in southern Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL that a criminal case has been opened and an investigation begun. Qoraquzova would neither confirm nor deny reports that the individuals who fired on Oydin had arrived from Tashkent. DK

BELARUS JOINS INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION
At a session of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva on 29 November, it was unanimously agreed to grant Belarus IOM membership, Belapan reported, quoting the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Speaking at the session, Belarusian Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau reportedly praised the IOM for helping the country better manage migration flows and handle their negative consequences. Meanwhile, Belarusian KGB chief Stsyapan Sukharenka told Reuters on 28 November that Washington and Brussels do not provide Belarus with sufficient help to curb the movement into the EU of migrants who could pose a terrorist threat. "It must be said that the level of interaction between Belarus and foreign intelligence services and security forces is largely determined by the political situation," Sukharenka said. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ON GAS TALKS WITH RUSSIA
Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov told journalists on 29 November that there will be progress "soon" in Ukrainian-Russian talks on Russian gas transit across Ukraine and Russian gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006, Reuters reported. Yekhanurov's words followed Gazprom's accusations on 28 November that Kyiv is sabotaging the talks by insisting on prices far below European market levels. "As far as we are concerned, the talks are proceeding normally. If someone is getting excited, that's his problem. Russia is making proposals, as is Ukraine. The gap in the positions is closing," Yekhanurov said. Meanwhile, Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Medvedev told journalists on 30 November that Gazprom has proposed a "compromise" price for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 -- $160 per 1,000 cubic meters, up from $50 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2005, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "If we had proposed a European-level price for gas as of 1 January, it would have been significantly higher than $160," Medvedev said. "The talks with Ukraine disturb us, as there is no progress," he added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARTY REPORTEDLY MOVES TOWARD REFERENDUM ON NATO, SES ENTRY
The Central Election Commission has agreed to register initiative groups seeking a referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO and the Single Economic Space (SES) -- a declared community comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 30 November, quoting Olha Buyanovska, a spokeswoman for Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) lawmaker Nestor Shufrych. According to Buyanovska, the commission also decided that signatures in support of the referendum should be collected by 1 March 2006. In order to hold a referendum in Ukraine, an initiator needs to collect no fewer than 3 million signatures in at least two-thirds of the country's regions within three months. The SDPU-o filed a motion to seek a referendum on Ukraine's NATO and SES membership to the Central Election Commission last week. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS PROBE DEATH OF FORMER REGIONAL GOVERNOR
Regional prosecutors in Lviv has opened a criminal case in connection with the murder of Stepan Senchuk, Lviv Oblast governor from 1999-2001, Interfax Ukraine reported on 29 November. Earlier the same day Senchuk was found shot dead, lying beside his car in a village near Lviv. Senchuk joined the pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union earlier this year. JM

FORMER BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENT ARRESTED
Police arrested Mirko Sarovic, a former president of the Republika Srpska, in Eastern Sarajevo on 29 November on embezzlement charges filed against him by the prosecutor's office, RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The charges stem from a period several years ago when he was a top official of the city of Eastern Sarajevo, which was then called Srpsko Sarajevo. He is alleged to have founded a fictitious company that was used to funnel millions of dollars from the Privredna Banka Srpsko Sarajevo to the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and its leaders. Two of his alleged accomplices were also taken into custody on 29 November, and the bank's former director, Momcilo Mandic, has been in detention for several months. Mandic is also a former Bosnian Serb defense minister. All three major ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina are heavily influenced by structures that emerged from the 1992-95 war in which the worlds of politics, business, the military and security forces, and organized crime come together. PM

CROATIA FINALLY GETS A COMMUNIST PARTY
Calling it the "party of the true Left," about 50 mainly elderly people founded the Communist Party of Croatia in Vukovar on 29 November, which was Day of the Republic in socialist Yugoslavia, RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ceremony took place following the singing of "The Internationale" and under a portrait of the late President Josip Broz Tito and communist flags with the hammer and sickle. Police guarded the event, which passed without incident. Participants arrived from as far away as Istria and Dalmatia. Croatia is the one former Yugoslav republic where the postcommunist Left has been virtually absent from the political scene, partly because communism is widely associated with subordination to Serbia. Many former members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia gravitated to the Social Democratic Party, which is the only major party that does not contain the word "Croatian" in its name and which is a moderate party in the mold of West European Social Democrats. PM

ALBANIANS IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA MARK FLAG DAY
Thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosova, Macedonia, and southern Serbia marked Albanian national day on 28 November, which is the anniversary of the founding of independent Albania in 1912 and also regarded as by Albanian communities throughout the world as flag day, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported. Albania's red flag with a black two-headed eagle was also the official flag of former Yugoslavia's ethnic Albanian population. In recent years, Albanians in Macedonia have celebrated flag day in ways that many ethnic Macedonians consider provocative. This year, demonstrators in Skopje unfurled a large Albanian flag at the laying of the cornerstone of a monument to medieval Albanian national hero Skanderbeg in violation of the law regarding the display of national symbols. In Prishtina, veterans of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) demanded the recognition of the Albanian flag as the symbol of an independent Kosova and burned the alternative flag that President Ibrahim Rugova has favored. In Bujanovac in southern Serbia, police prevented protesters from bringing an Albanian flag into the town hall. PM

EU EXPECTS AGREEMENT WITH ALBANIA BY JULY
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brussels on 29 November after meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha that the EU hopes to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Tirana by July 2006, Reuters reported. Barroso stressed that "the fight against corruption, the fight against organized crime, [and] everything that can be done in terms of improving the governance and administrative capabilities of Albania [are] really central in this process," which is the first step toward full EU membership. Berisha said that his government's main priority is fighting corruption, adding, "The very fact that the bosses of major mafia clans are facing the law, the main trafficking groups are facing the law, shows that things are in the right direction." PM

SERBIAN MINISTER QUESTIONS PRESIDENT'S TIES TO OLIGARCH
Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said in Belgrade on 29 November that President Boris Tadic is working together with oligarch and politician Bogoljub Karic to bring down the government at a time when Serbia needs to conclude an important agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2005). A spokesman for Tadic denied the charges, adding that Tadic's office will ask the public prosecutor to investigate Dinkic's allegations and take "appropriate measures." Recent polls suggest that Tadic and Karic would do well if early elections were held, whereas Dinkic's G-17 Plus party would probably not win the necessary 5 percent to enter the parliament. PM

OSCE CHIEF LAMENTS INVALID CHISINAU ELECTION, CALLS FOR CHANGES IN MINIMUM TURNOUT REQUIREMENT
The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) mission to Moldova regrets that recent mayoral elections in Chisinau were invalidated due to low turnout, according to a 28 November statement on the OSCE website (http://www.osce.org). The 27 November vote was declared invalid because the 23 percent turnout fell below the required one-third of eligible voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2005). "It is most unfortunate that elections for this very important office have failed for the third time in less than five months," Ambassador William Hill, the head of the OSCE Mission in Moldova, said. "The OSCE has already recommended the elimination of the current threshold of one-third of voters for local elections. We have also noted an extremely low-key electoral campaign, so the latest failure to elect a mayor does not come as a surprise." BW

PROMINENT RUSSIAN ANCHORWOMAN TO DEFEND JOURNALISTS' RIGHTS
Just when it seemed impossible for Russian television to become any less controversial, the new owners of REN-TV announced on 28 November that they have pulled journalist Olga Romanova off the air for a three-month period.

REN-TV is considered by many to be the last remaining independent television station with a national reach.

Romanova has vowed to fight the station's decision, saying she will take the case to court. At a news conference in Moscow on 29 November, she said that she wants to create a precedent and see if the law can be enforced in Russia, AFP reported.

"The management of REN-TV is knowingly ignoring Russian law on journalists' rights. They refuse to understand that a journalist...has responsibility towards society, not just to management," she said.

Romanova's suspension follows an incident on 24 November in which armed security guards prevented her from entering the studio to host her program, "24 Hours."

Romanova told RFE/RL on 25 November that prior to the showdown, REN-TV General Director Aleksandr Ordzhonikidze had pulled two recent stories for what she considered political reasons.

She said one of the censored segments featured an investigation into the involvement of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's son in a traffic accident in which a woman was killed. Romanova complained to Ekho Moskvy on the air about the alleged censorship on 23 November -- the day before she was barred from entering her studio.

The management of REN-TV has denied that political considerations motivated its decision to cancel Romanova's program. Ordzhonikidze told Ekho Moskvy on 28 November that Romanova's dismissal should not have been unexpected for her, since "for the past month, we have been thinking about how to raise the ratings of our programs." The general director also said that he could not provide greater detail about what was happening at the station because to do so would violate corporate ethics.

His remarks suggest that since Romanova aired her grievances with company management publicly, she could be held liable for violating company ethics.

A similar charge was levied at Leonid Parfenov, a popular NTV host, who was fired in June 2004 for violating his employment agreement, which obligated him "to support the company leadership." Parfenov had complained when the channel decided not to air an interview with the widow of former acting Chechen President Zemlikhan Yandarbiev on his show "Namedni." That show was canceled despite its high ratings.

Few Russian media watchers were surprised by the move against Romanova. "After the ownership of the television station changed, I watched especially closely all of Olga Romanova's programs, and with each program, it seemed to me that [the program] would be yanked off the air at any moment," Oleg Panfilov, of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told RFE/RL.

Panfilov also said that only REN-TV -- and not the other national television stations -- showed the 4 November march of some 3,000 people from ultranationalist groups, such as Pamyat and Russian National Unity, through the streets of central Moscow.

Some have suggested that the Kremlin -- albeit indirectly -- is putting pressure on REN-TV.

In July, the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES) sold its 70 percent stake in REN-TV to the steel producer Severstal. Severstal in turn sold a 35 percent stake to Russia's fourth-largest oil producer, Surgutneftegaz, in September. The German RTL Group owns a 30 percent stake in REN-TV.

When Surgutneftegaz made its purchase, Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies suggested that Severstal served as a "political middleman." According to Makarkin, transferring shares directly from EES to Surgutneftgaz, which is considered close to the St. Petersburg "siloviki" in Putin's entourage, would have looked like official pressure on REN-TV's editorial policy.

Romanova, however, has disputed claims that the Kremlin had a hand in the station pulling her program. She told "The Moscow Times" on 28 November that Ordzhonikidze is "simply doing the best he can to please the Kremlin."

In the meantime, Romanova is supposed to use the next three months to develop a new program. If she follows in the footsteps of fellow television journalist Parfenov, she will switch to a format that is less controversial with the authorities and less popular with viewers, such as documentaries.

AFGHAN PRESIDENT MAKES RARE VISIT TO THE SOUTH
President Hamid Karzai left Kabul on 28 November for a trip to Kandahar Province in order to hold talks with local elders and religious scholars, state-run Kabul daily "Islah" reported. Arriving in his native city, Karzai described his visit as "part of a series of visits" that he intends to pay to the provinces, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 28 November. Speaking on 29 November in Kandahar, Karzai challenged former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, saying that as a citizen of Afghanistan the latter should not be ordering the killing of construction workers, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "If these [road construction] people were really killed on your order, I can say that this is clearly an attack on Islam and Afghanistan," Karzai said. The neo-Taliban have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and later killing an Indian national working on a road project in southern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 21, 22 and 23 November 2005). AT

DISTRICT SECURITY HEAD KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
The head of security in the Mizan district of Zabul Province and one of his bodyguards were killed and a police officer was wounded in an ambush on 28 November, the Kabul-based daily "Anis" reported on 29 November. Five suspects have been arrested in the case, the paper added. Mizan district chief Mohammad Yunos told AIP on 28 November that the Taliban were responsible for killing the security official, identified as Abdullah. Mohammad Yunos reportedly said that 15 people have been arrested in connection with the case. No one has claimed responsibility for carrying out the attack. AT

SWEDEN SET TO ALLOCATE MORE FORCES TO AFGHANISTAN...
The Swedish parliament decided on 29 November that Stockholm is prepared to send a total of 375 troops to Afghanistan for a two-year assignment, Stockholm's Ekot radio reported. The Swedish military is already planning to dispatch 200 new troops to Afghanistan. The 375 mark is the maximum number of Swedish troops that legislators have approved for deployment to Afghanistan, AFP reported on 29 November. Sweden currently has around 100 troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. AT

...WHILE NO SUSPECTS HAVE EMERGED IN DEADLY ATTACKS ON SWEDES IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
It is still unclear who was responsible for planting the explosive device that killed one Swedish ISAF soldier and injured three others in Balkh Province on 25 November, Ekot radio reported on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). Swedish commander Haakan Syren said that Afghan authorities initially arrested six people in connection with the attack in Balkh, but those individuals were later released. The Swedish patrol was on a reconnaissance mission in anticipation of the deployment of additional personnel from that country when it was attacked. Balkh is not considered a neo-Taliban stronghold. AT

IRAN, EU TO SET DATE SOON FOR NUCLEAR DOSSIER TALKS
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Tehran on 29 November that a date will be set "in the next week or two" for Iran and the EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany) to resume talks on Iran's nuclear program, but he said they will not yet discuss a Russian proposal on uranium enrichment for Iran in Russia, ISNA reported the same day. Larijani said after a meeting with Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi that the proposal is "not an issue" at present. "The subject for now is...negotiations over nuclear-technology activity and the production of nuclear fuel. So these matters are only being mentioned by the media," he said. Two Iranian legislators, Mahmud Mohammadi and Hussein Nejabat, told ISNA on 28 November that enrichment inside Iran is a "red line" in any talks. Mohammadi, a member of the parliamentary national-security and foreign policy committee, warned that Iran should not "enter a new game" if the EU wishes to make cessation of enrichment activities the basis of talks. VS

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT APPOINTS NEW SPOKESMAN
The government appointed Gholamhussein Elham as its spokesman on 23 November, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 29 November, citing agency reports. Elham heads the presidential office and has served as spokesman for the judiciary as well as the Guardians Council, a body of senior clerics and jurists. The appointment comes despite earlier reluctance to have a spokesman at all. Some observers have suggested the move is a response to public pressure. Said Purazizi, the head of the government news and media office under former President Mohammad Khatami, told ISNA on 27 November that while the new president did not highlight "accountability" in his electoral slogans, "the demands of society and criticisms made of the government's performance, especially over...appointments, have created the need for a spokesman" to explain government "conduct and positions." VS

TEHRAN STUDENTS REJECT UNIVERSITY HEAD
Tehran University students have responded with "sporadic sit-ins and protests" and a statement objecting to the appointment of a cleric without a university degree to head that university, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 29 November, quoting Tehran University student Ali Nik-Nesbati (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). He said students will continue protests in various forms until Ayatollah Abbas Ali Amid-Zanjani resigns. Without "a university qualification, he cannot be a university head. Would Mr. Zanjani as a cleric tolerate someone with the highest university education heading the Qom seminary?" Nik-Nesbati asked. He said the Higher Education Ministry has not yet responded to student demands but unspecified students have attacked protesting students at the law and politics faculty, apparently reacting to alleged disrespect to the cleric. "One could not say for sure that they belonged to a specific group," Nik-Nesbati said of the assailants, but "these friends are generally based among the Basij," a pro-government militia, or might have been "injured veterans at the law faculty." Injured veterans from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, or their relatives, are often given university places as a reward for service in the war. VS

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT HOLDS MEETINGS IN TEHRAN
Adil Abd al-Mahdi continued meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran on 29 November, including Ali Larijani, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, Iranian news agencies reported. Ayatollah Shahrudi said Iranians, "like [Iraqis], want Saddam's crimes dealt with in a revolutionary court, and the speedier punishment of that criminal," ISNA reported. Instead of "an ordinary court that takes a lot of time, it is fitting to form a special, revolutionary court to deal with Saddam's countless crimes, and for them to examine the dossier quickly." He said he hopes Iraq will be rid of "the sinister shadow of the occupiers" and suggested that a "solid security apparatus" would resolve "many" problems in Iraq. Haddad-Adel separately condemned "terrorist attacks" in Iraq and said that "if the terrorists were certain they had the people's support, they would not resort to assassination," ISNA reported. Electoral participation in Iraq, he said, is "far more extensive than in many Arab countries, and this is not a lesson Iraqis have learned from the Americans, but...from Islam." Al-Mahdi discussed bilateral ties and security with Larijani, reportedly expressing the hope that improving ties will help quell "disorder" in "both countries and on their borders." VS

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY TO AVOID USE OF TERM 'INSURGENTS' IN IRAQ
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a 29 November press briefing in Washington that he no longer likes using the term "insurgents" to describe the "enemies of the government" in Iraq, according to the Defense Department website (http://www.dod.gov). " I thought to myself, 'You know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit.' Why do you -- why would you call [Mus'ab al-] Zarqawi and his people insurgents against a legitimate Iraqi government with their own constitution?" Rumsfeld asked rhetorically. "I think that you can have a legitimate insurgency in a country that has popular support and has a cohesiveness and has a legitimate gripe. These people don't have a legitimate gripe.... These people aren't trying to promote something other than disorder and to take over that country and turn it into a caliphate, and then spread it around the world. This is a group of people who don't merit the word 'insurgency,'" he continued. Speaking about the size of the insurgency, Rumsfeld said, "There may be 10,000 [insurgents], or any multiple of that that you want, against 27 [million]-28 million [Iraqi] people." KR

GUNMEN KILL NINE SHI'ITES IN BUS ATTACK NORTH OF IRAQI CAPITAL
Armed gunmen opened fire on a minibus outside Ba'qubah on 30 November, killing nine passengers and wounding two others, international media reported. Reuters quoted a police official as saying 10 masked gunmen were involved. KR

SUNNI IMAM, COMPANION FOUND DEAD OUTSIDE IRAQI CAPITAL
Police discovered the bodies of a Sunni imam and an acquaintance in Al-Ubaydi, east of Baghdad, on 29 November, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Sheikh Bashir Hadi al-Hasani, imam of the Bilal Mosque in Kirkuk, was shot in the head and chest. His acquaintance, Sayf Abdallah, had had his skull pierced with an electric drill. Al-Hasani's father, who was not otherwise identified, told al-Sharqiyah that his son had traveled to Baghdad over one week ago to prepare for a trip to Bahrain, where he was scheduled to take part in a Koran-recitation contest. He was staying with Abdallah, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party. KR

AL-JAZEERA BROADCASTS VIDEO OF AID WORKERS KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ...
Al-Jazeera television broadcast video footage on 29 November of four aid workers kidnapped in Iraq on 26 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). A group identifying itself as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade claimed responsibility for the abductions, calling the aid workers "spies working under the cover of Christian peace activists." KR

...AS U.S. AID GROUP CONFIRMS IDENTITIES OF HOSTAGES
The Christian Peacemaker Teams said in a 30 November statement posted on its website (http://www.cpt.org) that four of their workers have been kidnapped in Iraq, saying it is "deeply disturbed by [the workers'] abduction." "We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," the statement continued. The website identified the four aid workers as Tom Fox of Clearbrook, Virginia; Norman Kember of London; and James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, both Canadian nationals. The Quaker aid group has worked in Iraq since October 2002; since that time it has hosted 120 people on 16 delegations to Iraq, according to its website. KR

KIDNAPPED IRANIAN WOMEN, GUIDE RELEASED IN IRAQ
Two Iranian women and their female guide were released from captivity on 29 November, international media reported the same day. The women were abducted on 28 November near Balad and released on a highway between Balad and Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. News of the other three hostages -- all men -- was not immediately available. The abductees were all pilgrims who reportedly entered Iraq illegally, Iranian state television reported on 29 November. KR

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