NORTH KOREA DETAINS RUSSIAN CARGO SHIP...
A Russian cargo ship was detained by North Korean border guards on 5 December after it strayed into territorial waters to avoid a storm, Russian news agencies reported on 7 December. Andrei Makeev, a manager with the Ardis navigation company, said the cargo ship, called the "Terney," was traveling to Vladivostok from the South Korean port of Busan, but had to change course due to a heavy storm, straying into North Korean waters. Interfax reported that North Korean border guards fired warning shots and escorted the ship and its 14 crew members to the nearest port. "The 'Terney' is currently anchored near Cape Mukuden under the escort of North Korean border patrol boats," ITAR-TASS quoted Makeev as saying. "There is a sufficient stock of food, water, and fuel aboard the ship. All crew members are feeling well. A permanent contact is being maintained with the ship. A group of [North Korean] border guards is present on board," Makeev said. BW
...AS COMPANY CLAIMS SHIP HAD PERMISSION TO ENTER NORTH KOREAN WATERS
According to the "Terney's" logbook, the cargo ship's captain had received official permission to enter North Korean territorial waters, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. "In order to rescue the ship and the crew, the skipper decided to take shelter from adverse weather," Makeev said. "Before entering [North Korean] territorial waters, the skipper requested permission from the North Korean authorities and received it," Makeev said. The Russian Consulate in the North Korean city of Chongjin is seeking to resolve the matter. "We have not yet received official word from the North Korean authorities about reasons for the detention of the ship," Makeev said. BW
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SATISFIED AFTER TALKS ON GAS PRICES WITH UKRAINIAN COUNTERPART
After a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on 7 December, Vladimir Putin said he is pleased with Kyiv's readiness to liberalize prices on Russian natural gas supplies and transit fees, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported the same day, citing the Kremlin press service. The Kremlin press service said experts will continue discussing the technicalities of issue. The details of the conversation between Yushchenko and Putin are unclear. Gazprom has been supplying natural gas to Ukraine under a barter agreement for $50 per 1,000 cubic meters. Gazprom is seeking to raise the price to $160 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is roughly the market price in Europe. Ukraine said it would agree to the price hike if Gazprom agreed to pay transit fees of $3.50 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers to transport gas across Ukrainian territory. Ukraine has said that it would agree to gradual price increases on some gas items (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005). In a press release on the previous day, Gazprom sharply criticized Ukraine. "Another round of talks between Gazprom and the Ukrainian delegation brought no result, despite the Ukrainian leadership's assertions [of its readiness] to resolve shortly the issues of gas supplies and transit on the basis of market principles," the company said in a news release cited by RIA-Novosti. BW
RUSSIA'S TOP DOCTOR CALLS FOR QUARANTINED BLOOD BANKS AFTER WOMAN IS INFECTED WITH HIV IN VORONEZH...
The head of Russia's State Health Inspectorate suggested on 7 December that quarantined blood banks be created to prevent HIV/AIDS from being spread through donor blood, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "There is a serious problem which, in this tragic case, must make us think of more effective ways of dealing with it," Gennadii Onishchenko, head of the State Health Inspectorate, said. He was responding to a case in Voronezh, where a pregnant woman has contracted HIV due to a blood transfusion. Onishchenko said that all blood, donor organs, and tissue should be placed in quarantine for a minimum of three months, after which they would be tested for HIV before being used. Prosecutors in Voronezh have opened a criminal investigation into how the woman was infected. Voronezh health authorities say as many as 208 patients could have been infected due to a female donor who was HIV-positive. BW
...AS MOSCOW OFFICIALS INVESTIGATE WHETHER CAPITAL'S BLOOD SUPPLIES INFECTED
Moscow's top health inspector, meanwhile, said on 8 December that it is possible that the Russian capital's blood supplies may already include HIV-infected plasma from Voronezh, Interfax reported. "There is a theoretical likelihood that [HIV-]infected plasma from Voronezh could have been supplied to the capital's medical institutions," Nikolai Filatov, Moscow's chief health inspector, said. He added that health officials are currently investigating "whether HIV-infected plasma could have really been delivered to Moscow. I hope we will be able to confirm or deny this within the next 24 hours and take every measure to prevent the use of HIV-infected plasma for medical purposes." BW
NEWSPAPER SAYS IRAN BECOMING MAIN IRRITANT IN U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS
The newspaper "Izvestiya" wrote on 7 December that dealing with Iran is becoming one of the most contentious issues between Russia and the United States. The United States has sharply criticized Russia for agreeing to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2,5, 6, and 7 December 2005). "Moscow and Washington seem to be speaking different languages when discussing Tehran, especially its nuclear ambitions and arms deliveries to it," "Izvestiya," which is owned by the state-controlled company Gazprom, wrote. "The Americans have their logic. The Tehran regime of the ayatollahs is extremist. Their ideology is radical Islam. To sell arms to them is dangerous," the paper continued." Moscow, on the other hand, is guided not by 'moral and ethnical' considerations but by the letter of international law," the newspaper continued, adding that since the United Nations has not approved sanctions against Iran, selling weapons to Tehran is not forbidden. Financial issues also play a role. "Iran is one of the few countries that regularly buys Russian arms," "Izvestiya" wrote. BW
DEFENDANTS IN KLEBNIKOV MURDER TO GET JURY TRIAL
The Moscow City Court ruled on 6 December that the defendants accused of participating in the murder of American journalist Paul Klebnikov will receive a jury trial, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Jury selection in the case will begin on 29 December. Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhaev are accused of shooting Klebnikov, the Russia editor of "Forbes" magazine and a U.S. citizen, outside "Forbes'" Moscow office in July 2004. A third defendant, Fail Sadretdinov, is accused of providing logistical support to the other two defendants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February, 6, 10, and 17 June and 23 November 2005). Prosecutors say the killing was ordered by alleged Chechen crime boss Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 December. Nukhaev was the subject of Klebnikov's book "Conversations with a Barbarian." He and two other ethnic Chechens are wanted in connection with the murder. BW
RUSSIA'S GAZ AUTO PLANT TO STOP VOLGA PRODUCTION
Russia's Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ) will stop manufacturing its trademark Volga car, the head of the plant's parent company announced on 7 December, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The plant will concentrate on the production of...trucks and buses," said Oleg Deripaska, chairman of the board of directors of the Bazovy Element Company, which owns GAZ. Deripaska made his announcement in Washington while giving a lecture on reforming former Soviet enterprises at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Volga first went on the market in 1956. Sometimes referred to as "the Russian Mercedes," the Volga was a status symbol for Soviet citizens until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sergei Lugovoi, head of public relations at GAZ, told RIA-Novosti that production of the Volga will gradually wind down in the next two years. "The car conveyor belt will not stop soon," he said. BW
RUSSIA LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE TO PROMOTE EXPORTS
The Ministry for Economic Development and Trade announced on 7 December that it has launched a new website to promote Russian products abroad, ITAR-TASS and mosnews.com reported the same day. "Our aim is to use the possibilities offered by the Internet to 'refine' Russian exports, their switch over from raw materials to high-tech products," Aleksei Kulbars, the head of the ministry's foreign-trade department, said. The site (http://www.exportsupport.ru), which is in Russian and English, lists more than 2,000 products that Russia exports. The list includes cartography products, medical equipment, software, and telecommunications products, and transportation and road-construction products. President Putin has urged foreign investors to look more closely at Russia's high-tech sector, rather than just at its energy and raw materials market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2005). BW
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS CUSTOMS OFFICIALS HAVE LINKS TO CRIMINALS
Mikhail Fradkov said on 8 December that many Russian customs officials have ties to organized crime, Interfax reported. Fradkov said at a cabinet meeting that, as a result, the Russian government is having difficulty evaluating the country's economic situation and determining which domestic producers deserve the state's support. "Customs and regulatory agencies are so connected with criminal groups that we cannot obtain a clear picture. We cannot say who should be supported and why, and if we should do that at all," Fradkov said. BW
POLICE SEARCH OFFICES OF MDM BANK
Police searched and seized documents from the Moscow office of MDM bank on 7 December, Russian news agencies reported the same day. An official at the bank, however, tried to downplay the incident, telling Interfax that the search is related to an investigation into another bank. "Yes, it's true that law-enforcement agencies are searching the central office of MDM Bank," MDM Bank senior Vice President Ilya Razbash said. "The investigation concerns another Russian bank. MDM Bank is helping in the investigation. This is a normal situation for MDM Bank like for any other Russian bank," Razbash added. Likewise, an unidentified official with the bank told RIA-Novosti that "the seizure of clients' documents is a routine matter," and added that "there are no assault-rifle-wielding commandos here." BW
CHECHEN STRONGMAN ELECTED HEAD OF REPUBLICAN BRANCH OF UNIFIED RUSSIA
Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov was elected on 7 December to head the Chechen branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, Interfax reported. In the 27 November elections for a new Chechen legislature, Unified Russia won 33 of the 58 mandates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). "The Moscow Times" on 24 November quoted Ruslan Yamadaev, a Unified Russia member who represents Chechnya in the State Duma, as claiming the party has 27,000 members in Chechnya. LF
POLICE PRESSURE ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS
Police detained two members of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party on 5 December, pressuring them to sign a pledge not to participate in a protest rally in Yerevan scheduled for 9 December, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 7 December. The two men, both from the town of Charantsavan north of Yerevan, refused to sign any such pledge. They were released after being held for 20 hours. A third local Hanrapetutiun activist and a member of the opposition National Democratic Union were similarly detained by police this week in the southern Armavir region. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER QUESTIONED OVER BAKU VIOLENCE
Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), was questioned for several hours on 7 December by the Baku city prosecutor's office about the circumstances of the 26 November rally in Baku to protest the perceived falsification of the 6 November parliamentary election, Azerbaijani media reported. Police resorted to violence when some protesters, including Kerimli, staged a sit-down protest at the rally venue after the two-hour timeframe for the rally had elapsed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). Kerimli told journalists after his 7 December interrogation that he explained to the prosecutor's office that the rally participants were not acting illegally and were simply demanding free elections. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADERS MEET WITH U.S. AMBASSADOR
The leaders of the opposition Azadlyq election bloc -- including AHCP progressive wing Chairman Kerimli -- and of the National Unity movement met on 7 December with U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish to discuss the political situation after the 6 November parliamentary ballot, echo-az.com and zerkalo.az reported on 8 December. In the course of what Kerimli subsequently implied was a heated discussion, the opposition leaders again accused the United States of double standards in officially endorsing Azerbaijani election returns that the opposition insists were falsified, after having supported opposition protests against similar falsification in Georgia in November 2003 and Ukraine last year. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan First Deputy Chairman Sardar Djalalologlu told day.az on 7 December that Harnish was unable to respond to their questions regarding the rationale for Washington's actions. Kerimli told journalists after the meeting that Harnish expressed the hope that those few opposition candidates elected will participate in the work of the new parliament, but that he responded that doing so is "utterly meaningless" as the election results were manipulated to deprive so many winning opposition candidates of their mandates, zerkalo.az reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DIVIDED OVER PARTICIPATING IN REPEAT VOTING
Rauf Arifoglu, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party, which is one of the three members of the Azadlyq bloc, told journalists on 7 December that he has the legal right to participate in the repeat vote in the constituency for which he sought representation in the 6 November ballot, day.az and echo-az.com reported. He added that he hopes opposition candidates will do likewise in nine other constituencies where the results have been annulled. Arifoglu dismissed warnings from other Musavat party members that he risks expulsion if he fails to abide by the bloc's decision to boycott both the work of the new parliament and the repeat elections. Also on 7 December, Ali Masimli of the opposition Yeni Siyaset (YeS) bloc told journalists that YeS's leadership has not yet discussed whether to participate in the repeat vote but will do so in the course of this month, day.az and zerkalo.az reported. LF
GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA REACH PRELIMINARY AGREEMENT ON DRAFT SECURITY MEASURES
During talks in Sukhum on 7 December mediated by Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava coordinated the text of a package of draft documents on guarantees of security and the non-resumption of hostilities, Russian media reported. Those documents will be finally endorsed at a meeting between the two sides for which no date has yet been set. Khaindrava told journalists upon his return to Tbilisi that he met informally in Sukhum with Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh to discuss security issues and other concerns, including spiraling crime and violence in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion and Abkhaz misgivings over Georgia's continuing military buildup, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATE ON 2006 DRAFT BUDGET...
Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli presented the draft budget for 2006 to parliament on 6 December, Caucasus Press reported. Following a two-day debate, deputies called on the government to revise the draft to take their proposals into account, a request that Noghaideli described as "normal." The initial draft envisages 7.5 percent GDP growth, but Noghaideli admitted some parameters may have to be revised downward in light of Gazprom's recent announcement that it will double the price of natural gas supplied to Georgia beginning on 1 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). LF
...AND TARGETS FINANCE MINISTER
Davit Kirkitadze, secretary of the majority National Movement faction, criticized Finance Minister Aleksi Aleksishvili during the budget debate for ignoring a request by the parliament's Defense and Security Committee to increase funding for the Border Protection Service, rustavi2.com reported on 6 December. But Noghaideli dismissed that criticism of Aleksishvili as unfounded, Caucasus Press reported on 7 December. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze similarly slammed Aleksishvili on 7 December for allegedly failing to discuss the draft budget with the majority faction, Caucasus Press reported. LF
UN OUTLINES BENEFITS OF COOPERATION FOR CENTRAL ASIA
The UN released its "Regional Cooperation for Human Development and Human Security in Central Asia" on 7 December, outlining the potential benefits increased cooperation could bring to the region, RFE/RL reported. The report, which was prepared in the course of a year and a half with input from more than 70 experts, argues that countries in the region could double per capita income within 10 years if they boost cooperation. But practical obstacles remain. Jacek Sukrowski, one of the report's authors, told RFE/RL that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are "ready to cooperate," while Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan "are not thinking seriously about regional cooperation." Kazakh analyst Dosym Satpaev, who heads the Risk Assessment Group, told Almaty Channel 31 following the report's release that differing levels of development make integration difficult. Satpaev noted, for example, "It is difficult to merge Kazakhstan's more or less advanced economy with the Kyrgyz economy, which is currently in stagnation." DK
KAZAKH-KYRGYZ BORDER REOPENED AFTER ELECTION
Kazakhstan's embassy in Kyrgyzstan confirmed on 7 December that the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is once again operating without restrictions, akipress.org reported. Kazakh authorities imposed restrictions on foreigners crossing into Kazakhstan in late November in the lead-up to Kazakhstan's presidential election on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2005). DK
TAJIK ANTIMONOPOLY COMMISSION OPENS CASE AGAINST AIR CARRIER
Tajikistan's Antimonopoly Agency has opened a case against the airline Tojikiston for excessively high prices, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 7 December. The agency took the step after the airline ignored a 25 November ruling by the agency giving it until 1 December to lower individual air fares by approximately $20-$25, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. A source in the Antimonopoly Agency told the news agency, "Despite the decision, the air carrier Tojikiston continues to ignore our ruling and sells tickets at previously set, rather than new, prices." The case will now go to the country's Economic Court. DK
TAJIK SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS RELEASE OF JOURNALIST
Tajikistan's Supreme Court ruled on 7 December to uphold a decision ordering the release of jailed journalist Jumaboy Tolibov, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The court had ruled in October to commute Tolibov's initial two-year sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 13 October 2005). But the Prosecutor-General's Office blocked Tolibov's release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005). The new ruling overturns the objection of the Prosecutor-General's Office and leaves in force the original ruling to release Tolibov. DK
ALLEGED IMU MEMBERS ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN
Police in Khujand arrested two suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) on 5 December, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 7 December. The two men were a 37-year-old Uzbek citizen and a 41-year-old Russian citizen. Six people from northern Tajikistan were also arrested for distributing literature calling for the overthrow of the government. DK
CHINESE, UZBEK DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET
Uzbek Defense Minister Ruslan Mirzaev met with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan in Beijing on 7 December to discuss bilateral ties and military cooperation, Xinhua reported. Cao said that Mirzaev's visit was intended to increase military cooperation between the two countries. Mirzaev commented, "Uzbekistan is ready to step up bilateral exchanges and defense cooperation with China," ITAR-TASS reported. DK
UZBEK LEADER'S DAUGHTER WANTS ENERGY ROLE FOR SCO
Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, announced in Tashkent on 7 December that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) should expand its activities to the energy sector, AP reported. Speaking at an energy conference in the Uzbek capital, Karimova said that the SCO "could consolidate its experience in fighting terrorism and create a common foundation, principles, and cooperation for oil and gas markets." In the course of the conference, Shavkat Majidov, deputy head of the Uzbek oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz, announced that his company plans to sign a $1 billion production-sharing agreement with Russia's Gazprom in March 2006 to develop gas fields in Uzbekistan, AFX reported. DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO 'HOOK' ECONOMY TO 'CHINESE BULLDOZER'
Belarusian Television's main newscast on 7 December hyped the political and economic results of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's visit to China on 4-6 December as "unprecedented." Lukashenka said earlier this week that an economic windfall resulting from his visit to China will amount to some $500 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). "The main purpose of this visit is to hook our economy to this powerful Chinese bulldozer to make China pull us and the well-being of our people a little bit ahead," Lukashenka told Belarusian journalists in Beijing. "In general, this visit is distinctive by the fact that I came here as to Russia, as to my own home. Russia has never been foreign to us. We are now building exactly the same relations with China." Meanwhile, the Warsaw-based "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 7 December that Lukashenka's trip to China has been completely ignored by China's English-language, international television channel CCTV-9. The daily added that Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke with Lukashenka in Beijing for one hour, "approximately as long as with the prime minister of Africa's Kingdom of Lesotho the previous day." JM
BELARUSIAN UPPER HOUSE APPROVES TOUGH PUBLIC-SECURITY BILL
The Council of the Republic on 8 December unanimously approved amendments to the country's Criminal Code that would toughen penalties for activities "directed against people and public security," Belapan reported. In particular, the bill proposes to penalize people for making statements that discredit Belarus in the international arena with jail terms of up to two years. The bill is widely seen as another measure to stifle the freedom of speech in Belarus during the upcoming campaign for the 2006 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). "The adoption of these new amendments deals a deadly blow to a press that is already suffering severe tyranny. The vague wording of this law makes any critical action illegal and liable to disproportionate sentences," Reporters Without Borders said in a 6 December statement, reacting to the passage of the bill by Belarus's lower house last week. JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER'S BLOC DRAFTS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION LIST
The eponymous political bloc of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko held a congress on 7 December, at which it approved the top 10 names on the bloc's list of candidates for the March 2006 parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine reported. The list is topped by Tymoshenko, former Security Service chief and her closest aide Oleksandr Turchynov, former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko, journalist Andriy Shevchenko, and parliamentary deputies Vasil Onopenko, Levko Lukyanenko, and Hryhoriy Omelchenko. The list is to be completed at a congress next week. Tymoshenko said on 7 December that if her bloc comes to power after the 2006 elections, she will give the opposition important prerogatives in forming the executive branch, including the right to nominate the prosecutor-general. At present the prosecutor-general is nominated by the president and appointed by the parliament. "We will build our legislation so that referendums will become such an everyday occurrence as breathing in fresh air," Tymoshenko pledged at the congress. Independent Ukraine held two nationwide referendums -- on 1 December 1991 and 16 April 2000. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which was in a coalition with Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine during last year's Orange Revolution, will run independently from the Our Ukraine Yushchenko Bloc in the 2006 elections. JM
KYIV SEES 'NO PROBLEMS' IN RUSSIAN GAS SHIPMENTS VIA UKRAINE IN 2006
Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteyko told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on 7 December that he sees no obstacles to the transit of Russian gas to Europe through Ukrainian territory in 2006, Interfax reported. "Ukraine and Russia have agreements on the gas transportation mechanism and payments up to 2013," Buteyko said. "If we do not come to an agreement with Russia in the near future, the prices we have coordinated for this year will stay in effect. This is why I can see no problems that could lead to dramatic consequences for the EU and Ukraine." Russia's Gazprom reportedly wants Ukraine to pay $160 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 2006, up from the $50 per 1,000 cubic meters paid under a current barter scheme involving Russian gas transit. The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian controversy over the 2006 gas price has spawned concerns that Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine may be disrupted in 2006. "Europeans are interested in receiving gas that flows freely [from Russia into the EU] via Ukraine. I hope this very convincing argument of the Europeans will get through to our Ukrainian friends and they will ensure such transit," Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told journalists in Brussels on 7 December. JM
CROATIA'S TOP WAR CRIMES FUGITIVE ARRESTED...
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, announced in Belgrade on 8 December that leading Croatian war crimes fugitive and former General Ante Gotovina has been arrested on Spain's Canary Islands, Reuters and dpa reported. She did not elaborate on the circumstances of his arrest but added that he is in detention and will be transferred to The Hague. She said she now "expects" the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his former General Ratko Mladic, who are both on the run. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted Gotovina in 2001 for alleged crimes against Serbian civilians in August 1995, when Croatian forces under his command ended the Serbs' four year-long revolt. He went underground shortly after being indicted. The Zagreb authorities have long argued that Gotovina is not in Croatia and probably fled by using a French or other foreign passport dating from his earlier years in the French Foreign Legion. He is believed to have a large support network inside and outside Croatia. PM
...WHICH HELPS CROATIA'S BID FOR EU AND NATO MEMBERSHIP
In Brussels, a spokesman for the British EU presidency said on 8 December that former General Gotovina's arrest removes "an important obstacle" to Croatia's bid to join the EU, Reuters and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2005, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). The Council of the European Union agreed only on 3 October to start long-delayed membership talks with Zagreb. Those negotiations can be expected to proceed fairly smoothly now that Gotovina has been arrested and it is clear that he has been outside Croatia for at least part of the time. Elsewhere in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that the arrest is "good news" and will help bring Croatia closer to the alliance. Croatia wants to join both the EU and NATO. PM
NATO TO REMAIN IN KOSOVA FOR LONG HAUL
NATO foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on 8 December that the Atlantic alliance will maintain a strong role in Kosova during the upcoming talks on its future status, dpa reported. A press spokesman said that KFOR peacekeepers "will meet any attempt to derail the [peace] process with a very stiff response." NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed NATO's long-term commitment to Kosova's security. "We will underline our determination to remain engaged," he said (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, 17 December 2004, and 20 May 2005). PM
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO CHANGE ITS ROLE IN BOSNIA
The international community's Principal Deputy High Representative Larry Butler said in a statement on 7 December that Bosnia-Herzegovina "still needs an international engagement, but a transformed one," the website of the Office of the High Representative reported (http://www.ohr.int). Butler stressed that "from now on, this engagement must be at the level of conventional political, economic, and social partnership, of the type that the European Union and the United States have successfully developed with other European transition countries. This in itself testifies to the remarkable success of the process that was launched at Dayton a decade ago" just after hostilities ended (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline, 5 December 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 October and 25 November 2005). PM
CROATIAN JOURNALIST RECEIVES DEATH THREAT
Drago Hadl, who is an editor of the weekly "Feral Tribune" and a correspondent for RFE/RL, received an anonymous death threat in his mailbox in Osijek on 6 December, which was mailed in that city the previous day, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The text was written in letters cut out of newspapers and alluded to Hadl's articles on the torture and killing of Serbian civilians by Croats in that city in 1991. The letter said that "we shall kill you and your Levar," which is a reference to Milan Levar, who was killed in an explosion in Gospic in 2000, three years after he testified in The Hague about atrocities against Serbs, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). After Hadl announced that he had received a death threat, his paper's editorial board called on the police and state prosecutor's office to launch an urgent investigation. Police chief Stipo Rimac told Hina that his men are investigating the letter and providing protection to Hadl. The Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) said in a statement that the threat is one more example of pressure put on reporters who write about or investigate the dark side of Croatia in the 1990s. "Feral," as it is generally known, was founded in 1984 and quickly established itself in postcommunist Croatia as a hard-hitting, irreverent source of investigative journalism and satire. It has frequently run afoul of nationalists and various conservative institutions. PM
CROATIA MARKS FIRST ROBBERY-FREE DAY
A police spokesman said in Zagreb on 7 December that no robberies were reported between midnight and 7 p.m. that day, which was Croatia's first day in years with no armed thefts announced, dpa reported. It is not clear whether the lull in such criminal activities was the result of the well-publicized police killing of two would-be bank robbers in Zagreb the previous day. Croatia has experienced a wave of unsolved crimes in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). In November alone, there were 101 armed robberies registered in Croatia. PM
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOLDOVA SAYS TROOPS WILL STAY UNTIL SETTLEMENT
Nikolai Ryabov said on 7 December that Russian troops will remain in Transdniester until "the final stage of settlement" of the conflict in the breakaway region, Interfax reported the same day. "If Russian forces leave Transdniester, it would mean a return to 1992," Ryabov told reporters in Chisinau, referring to the year fighting broke out in the region. "Russia is ready to withdraw its forces from Transdniester. However, this will happen at the final stage of settlement of the Transdniester problem," he added. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, ended on 6 December without a formal declaration, primarily due to Russian objections to a statement in the draft calling on it to pull its troops out of the breakaway province (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005). Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan said on 7 December that Russian troops in Transdniester do not have legal status and the military presence is thus "a violation of the basic principles of international law," Flux reported the same day. BW
NAZARBAEV LANDSLIDE OBSCURES FUTURE PROBLEMS
What Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election lacked in suspense, it recouped in symbolic significance. The unsurprising result effectively changed nothing -- President Nursultan Nazarbaev, a hale and hearty 65, augmented a decade and a half in power with another seven-year term. But for all its predictability, the election neatly symbolized where Kazakhstan stands today under Nazarbaev, just as it signaled the problems that may arise over the next seven years.
Preliminary official results, announced by the Central Election Commission on 5 December, gave the incumbent president 91 percent of the vote. His leading challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, garnered a mere 6.6 percent. The commission put turnout at 6.7 million, or 75 percent of those registered.
The OSCE's preliminary assessment, made available on the organization's website (http://www.osce.org) on 5 December, stated, "Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections."
The candidates offered their own clashing assessments. President Nazarbaev called the election a vote for stability, unity, and modernization. Echoing the central theme of his campaign, he said, "Kazakhstan has voted for me so I can use this mandate in the next seven years to implement the reforms that I have planned, including the economic modernization of the country to help Kazakhstan become one of the world's 50 most competitive countries," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.
Tuyakbai, a former Nazarbaev ally who split with the president after the September 2004 parliamentary elections, lambasted the authorities for "unprecedented violations of the constitution," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. His campaign issued a bitterly worded statement warning that "the decision made by the authorities marks a new period in Kazakhstan's history, when the authoritarian system is openly transformed into a totalitarian one." But while Tuyakbai promised to file protests over violations, he seemed to rule out street protests, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "We can, if necessary, bring thousands into the streets...but we have decided not to do this," he said.
In fact, as the 4 December election demonstrates, Nursultan Nazarbaev bestrides Kazakh politics like a colossus. All views of Nazarbaev, from the most positive to the most negative, confirm his dominant position. In the former, he is simply beloved of 90 percent of Kazakhstan's population. In the latter, he is a malign mastermind capable of bending the electoral system to his will.
A compromise view would note a preelection poll by the U.S.-based survey group Intermedia finding 70 percent support for Nazarbaev, factor in some skepticism on the basis of a residual Soviet tendency toward political conformity, allow for the manipulations of the democratic process described in the OSCE's preliminary report, and conclude that while Nazarbaev would almost certainly have won a fully free and fair election, the political system he has overseen for the past decade 1) rendered an unblemished ballot unlikely, and 2) ensured long before the election began that the president would face scant opposition. In all three cases, Nazarbaev stands alone at center stage.
Among the challenges facing Nazarbaev as he embarks on his new term is managing Kazakhstan's transformation into one of the world's leading oil producers and exporters. As virtually every news report in the lead-up to the election hastened to mention, Kazakhstan aims to triple its oil production to 3 million barrels a day by 2015, securing it a place among the world's top 10 producers.
A number of tasks loom on the energy-sector horizon. The first is the diversification of export routes, with pipelines to China and exports to the West through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline intended to reduce dependency on Russia. Nazarbaev has already proved himself adept at the "multivector" diplomacy required to balance relations with Russia, China, and the West, and while the next stage will surely test his skills, not only is there every reason to believe that he is up to the task, his dominant position in Kazakh politics will likely ease it for him.
The same cannot be said about another energy-sector task -- ensuring that the country's oil potential is used to encourage economic diversification with an eye to including as broad a swath of the population as possible in the windfall. A competitive and representative political arena would create natural pressures for taking such steps. An all-powerful president who faces no competitors of comparable stature, oversees a pliant legislature, and personally controls the appointment of virtually all top officials may certainly take the same steps.
But with benevolence the only guarantee that he will do so, the unquestioned leader may just as easily end up atop a pyramid of patronage, with the issue of succession gradually eclipsing long-promised political reforms as he moves into his twilight years.
The real question raised by Kazakhstan's election and Nazarbaev's 90 percent victory is, of course, that of political reforms. For his part, Nazarbaev has consistently promised gradual reform with an emphasis on economics above politics. Now, a paradox prevails. A basic premise of democracy is that, human nature being what it is, a genuinely competitive political system is the only way to keep politicians honest. The paradox in Kazakhstan today is that Nazarbaev's landslide reelection, however one explains its causes, demonstrates a lack of competitiveness in the political system, which, in turn, underscores that any impetus for reform will have to come from Nazarbaev himself, and not the system he has thus far labored to create.
The broader question concerns the general thrust of post-Soviet democratization. Political upheaval in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-05 highlighted the risk of catastrophic failure that comes with "managed democracy," in which ruling elites accept elections as necessary for legitimacy but do everything in their power to predetermine the outcome. But what happens when the system avoids catastrophic failure? Does it tend toward gradual reform? Or does it degenerate, ensuring ever more splendid victories for the status quo even as it undermines competitiveness and thus retains the risk of an eventual catastrophic failure?
Nazarbaev provided a clue to his own vision of the future in remarks he delivered in Astana on 5 December. Addressing his supporters, he said that he harbors no ill will toward the 9 percent of voters who cast their ballots against him, Interfax reported. "I know they have problems," he said, promising to "help them find jobs, supply drinking water, and protect our children and those not able to work." More to the point, Nazarbaev affirmed his faith in the disgruntled 9 percent, as "Kommersant-Daily" reported. "I'm sure that in time these Kazakhstanis will support me as well," he said.
AFGHAN LEADER SAYS FOREIGN TROOPS TO STAY 10 YEARS
President Hamid Karzai said in a television interview on 6 December that U.S.-led coalition forces will likely be needed in Afghanistan for 10 years. "We started to build the army and today we have 30,000 soldiers and the figure will reach 70,000," Karzai told Saudi Al-Ikhbariyah TV while in Mecca for a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. "We need to train the police and this requires several years. If you come to Afghanistan, you will see the huge size of destruction that was inflicted on these heroic Muslim people. There was nothing left there. We started the reconstruction process of everything, roads, hospitals, schools, clinics, and institutions.... We will need five years for the infrastructure and 10 years for other things," Karzai said. "As soon as Afghanistan's army and police get stronger as well as Afghanistan's institutions, the forces will leave and we will no longer need them in our country." MR
U.S. SAYS 22 INSURGENTS KILLED IN TWO BATTLES IN AFGHANISTAN
The U.S. military announced that Afghan and coalition forces killed 22 neo-Taliban fighters in two separate battles this week, AP reported on 7 December. U.S. and Afghan forces killed 13 suspected neo-Taliban guerrillas on 4 December in an attack on a group of fighters near Kandahar thought to be conducting a bombing campaign in southern Afghanistan, U.S. military officials said. And on 6 December, a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol skirmished with suspected neo-Taliban fighters near Tarin Kowt, killing nine with the help of air strikes and arresting six others. MR
FOREIGN GUN SMUGGLERS CONVICTED BY AFGHAN COURT
An Afghan court convicted one Indian and two U.K. citizens on 7 December of smuggling guns and sentenced each to a two-year suspended sentence, AP reported the same day. An American brought before the court on the same charges was cleared. In October, Afghan authorities arrested the four during a raid on a guest house in Kabul. Afghan prosecutors accused the four men of trying to sell 100 guns to an undercover police officer acting as a buyer. They denied the charges, saying the guns in their possession were only for personal protection. The Indian man said Afghan police forced a confession from him with beatings and threatened to shoot him. The judge allowed the three convicted men to remain free while they appeal their case. MR
DRUG CLINIC OPENS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Provincial health officials in northern Afghanistan have opened a free treatment clinic in Mazar-e Sharif to deal with increasing numbers of drug addicts, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 7 December. Gholam Faruq Sawez, an official at the clinic, said the center has already treated four addicts. Addicts who come to the center are given support and a diagnosis and then sent to the state hospital in Mazar-e Sharif. The world's leading producer of opium, Afghanistan is estimated to have around 1 million drug addicts, according to figures compiled by the United Nations and Afghan health officials. A joint survey released in November said 80 percent of the addicts are men, 13 percent women, and 7 percent children. MR
IRAN OFFICIALS MOURN CRASH VICTIMS, AS DEATH TOLL RISES
Officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad have presented their condolences to the country following a 6 December plane crash in Tehran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005), news agencies reported on 6 and 7 December. The death toll now reportedly stands at 128, with 90 injuries, according to Radio Farda. A statement by the armed forces headquarters observed that in accordance with armed forces regulations, the plane's 94 passengers were not mere casualties but martyrs, Fars news agency reported on 7 December. Culture Minister Hussein Saffar-Herandi said on 7 December that the tragedy was "very difficult" for him personally, as a former journalist, Fars reported. Many of the victims were journalists the transport plane was taking to southern Iran to report on planned military maneuvers. Angry relatives of victims at the main coroner's office in Tehran were blaming the military for allowing passengers onto a plane they allegedly knew had technical problems, Reuters reported on 7 December. Military spokesman Hassan Nami has denied the plane was unfit to fly. VS
IRAN UNHELPFUL OVER NUCLEAR TALKS, SAY DIPLOMATS
Iran's recent insistence on its right to make nuclear fuel, and research and manufacture centrifuges -- a component in the nuclear fuel-production process -- is undermining prospects for resumed talks with the EU, unnamed EU diplomats told Reuters in Vienna on 7 December. The diplomats said the EU-3 -- Great Britain, France and Germany -- will soon issue a statement conveying their disappointment. Iran has recently expressed its positions through its ranking nuclear diplomat, Ali Larijani, and the statement may cite his comments on centrifuge research, one diplomat told Reuters. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said in Paris on 7 December that the Iranians "risk compromising the ability" to find a "basis" for resumed talks with their "statements and conditions they set." Separately, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has said the world has started to "lose its patience with Iran" over its nuclear plans, though a "military solution" to the problem is not "realistic," Reuters reported on 7 December, citing an interview with "Al-Hayat." Iran insists it has a peaceful program, but with the know-how to enrich uranium, el-Baradei said, Iran "is not far from the capability to produce nuclear weapons." VS
RIGHTS GROUP REPORTS ON ABUSES IN IRAN
Iranian Human Rights Activists Groups in EU and North America, a coalition of 15 groups, has issued a report detailing rights abuses against students in the year to 21 November, coalition member Hussein Mahutiha told Radio Farda on 7 December. These include what the report calls the "suspect" death of three students, the closure of 35 student publications, and the arrests, summonses, and expulsion from university of a number of other students, Mahutiha said. "All the security and police organs of the Islamic Republic are coordinated to suppress student and political activities," or it would be "impossible" for such abuses to occur "in such an extensive and continuous manner," he told Radio Farda. Separately, jurist and government critic Mehrangiz Kar told Radio Farda on 7 December that the refusal to release certain detained dissidents and restrictions on student groups and liberal political activists all indicate a hardening of Iran's stance on dissent and criticism since the June election of President Ahmadinejad. VS
IRAN'S PRESIDENT URGES RESPONSE TO MUSLIM PROBLEMS
President Ahmadinejad deplored the existence of Israel and condemned foreign threats to Islamic states, when he listed the Islamic world's problems at a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Mecca on 7 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005), IRNA reported the same day. He regretted the existence of poverty and technological backwardness in Islamic states, IRNA added. "The enemies of Islam," he added, are dividing Muslims, while "the system of arrogance" meddles in the region. He suggested a union of Islamic states to precede Muslim unity. A union of Islamic broadcasting networks would help the interchange of information and technologies, he said. There should be a regional common market, and a regional court of justice. "The usurping state in Palestine," he said, is a problem requiring a "wise" solution: the return of Palestinian refugees and a referendum on government for "all people of Palestinian origin." There "is no rational or reasonable way to recognize this artificial government," he said, referring to Israel. The "great powers," he complained, are threatening "certain Islamic states," and unless Muslim states respond, those powers "will recognize no limits to their violations," IRNA reported. VS
BUS BOMB KILLS 30 IN IRAQI CAPITAL
A suicide bomb destroyed a bus in Baghdad on 8 December, killing 30 and wounding 25, international media reported, citing police officials. The bus was preparing to leave for the town of Al-Nasiriyah when the bomb exploded. Iraqi officials expect a surge in bombings ahead of the 15 December National Assembly elections. KR
IRAQ CAPTORS EXTEND DEADLINE FOR HOSTAGES...
A group holding four Western hostages in Iraq said on 7 December that it will extend a deadline for the safe release of its hostages until 10 December, Al-Jazeera television reported. The Brigades of the Swords of Right had originally said they would execute the four hostages from the Christian Peacemaker Teams on 8 December unless all prisoners were released from jails controlled by multinational forces. The satellite news channel also aired new video footage of the hostages appealing for their release on 7 December. "I would ask the American people to do what they can to free us all from this captivity," American hostage Tom Fox said. British hostage Norman Kember appealed to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, his government, and the British people to work for his release. KR
...AS NEWS CHANNEL REPORTS THAT HALF OF ALL DETAINEES IN IRAQ WILL BE RELEASED
Al-Sharqiyah television cited sources on 7 December as saying that a committee examining the files of detainees in Iraq has decided to release half of the detainees held in coalition and Iraqi prisons. A committee looking into the files of detainees has reportedly already examined between 200 and 300 files. The committee is comprised of representatives from the Justice Ministry, U.S. military, the Iraqi National Assembly, and the Human Rights Society organization. The report has not been independently confirmed. The Iraqi government agreed at talks with the opposition in Cairo last month to examine the files of detainees in Iraq and release those held without sufficient evidence (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 November 2005). KR
SUNNI GROUP IN IRAQ EXPLAINS BOYCOTT OF ELECTION
The Muslim Scholars Association announced on its website (http://iraq-amsi.org) on 7 December that it will boycott the 15 December parliamentary elections so as to not give "legitimacy to the Iraqi occupation." "Out of its sense of responsibility the association has adopted its policies in light of Islamic law and the homeland's needs, defined its principles and priorities, and urged the occupation to depart from the country in accordance with a timetable so that Iraqis can exercise authority, run their own affairs, and prevent the disruption of the homeland's geography and history," the statement noted. Association member Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi read a similar statement to the press on 6 December, and called on the world to reassess U.S. policy on Iraq, and the American people to oppose the behavior of their politicians. The association called on "genuine, honorable Iraqis" to reject the current Iraqi government's policies, which the association claims are harming Sunni Arab Iraqis. KR
IRAQI MEDIA REPORT SAYS AMBASSADORS ABROAD CAMPAIGNING FOR THEIR PARTIES
Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 7 December that Iraqi ambassadors are using their positions to campaign abroad for their political parties in the 15 December elections. Out-of-country voting will take place in 15 countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). According to the satellite news channel, the ambassadors are making use of their embassies' buildings, equipment, and communications technology such as faxes, Internet, telephones, and mail to campaign for the parties they belong to. Al-Sharqiyah reported that employees at a number of embassies have complained about the practice to the Foreign Ministry and prime minister's office. The news channel contended that the Iraqi Independent Election Commission is aware of the practice, but has not dealt with it. KR