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Newsline - December 15, 2005


PUTIN WANTS TO BAN FOREIGN BANKS...
President Vladimir Putin said in Novosibirsk on 14 December that foreign banks should not be allowed to open branches in Russia, RFE/RL reported. He told a meeting of Russian bankers that his government believes the activities of foreign bank branches should be limited and, "in fact, they should be banned." Putin argued that the measure is necessary not only to preserve Russian banks from foreign competition, but also to make it easier for law-enforcement agencies to trace dirty money and terror-related funds. Foreign banks in Russia are currently allowed to operate only through subsidiaries that must be registered in the country. The United States, which has yet to agree to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), insists that foreign banks be allowed to open branches in Russia. It has made the issue a precondition for Moscow's membership. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, the Russian delegation to the WTO conference began four days of membership talks on 15 December, RIA-Novosti reported. One unnamed member of the delegation said that Russia's prospects will be heavily influenced by the position of the United States. PM

...AND 'MODERNIZE' STATE BANKS
President Putin told Russian bankers in Novosibirsk on 14 December that a "modernization of the system of state banks" is needed, Interfax reported. "There should be clear criteria of appropriateness and efficiency on which to assess the state's holding stakes in lending institutions," he stressed. Putin added that "where it is recognized as necessary, the role of government representatives in overseeing [the banks'] activity should certainly be enhanced." He believes that "purely market stimuli for promoting the banking industry have yet to be developed adequately.... I believe the state should hold an interest in certain lending institutions, but only on condition that these banks seek to achieve truly strategic goals." PM

FORMER MENATEP HEAD WARNS OF ECONOMIC COLLAPSE
Platon Lebedev, former head of the Meantep Group holding company that included the oil giant Yukos, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 14 December in a written interview that Russia's much-publicized economic development is an illusion that could disappear at any time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2005). He argued that Russia has nothing more than a "surplus of petrodollars...that are being kept [in the country] where they were printed." Lebedev, who is also top business adviser to imprisoned oligarch and former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, said that by sending their wealth out of the country, those in power show that they "do not believe in themselves or in others. They suspect everyone." Referring to the demise of Yukos, Lebedev warned that without the proper rule of law, all the wealth that has been accumulated in Russia could disappear quickly. "All of us, including the government, could find ourselves permanently back in poverty." Lebedev is serving an eight-year prison sentence in Kharp at the northern end of the Ural Mountains above the Arctic Circle without special medical care for his heart condition and chronic hepatitis, according to the German daily. PM

DUMA SOFTENS PROPOSED CITIZENSHIP LAW
The State Duma approved in its first reading on 14 December an amendment to proposed citizenship legislation that will extend the deadline for former Soviet citizens to obtain Russian passports under a simplified procedure, Russian news agencies reported. President Putin supports the measure, which extends the deadline by two years until 1 January 2008. The proposed legal changes would also make it possible for former Soviet citizens who obtained a residence permit in Russia after 1 July 2002 to apply for citizenship. Under the current legislation, only people who obtained a residence permit prior to that date can apply for citizenship. PM

DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES REPORTS OF MILITARY OVERHAUL
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on 14 December that there are no plans to radically reform the command of the armed forces, Russian news agencies reported. The previous day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily quoted unidentified Defense Ministry officials as saying the top military leadership is planning a radical reorganization of the army command. The newspaper report claimed that the reform envisioned replacing the current four fleets and six military districts with three large regional command centers -- Far Eastern, Central Asian, and West European. It said the changes are planned to start in 2006 and are expected to take several years to implement. Ivanov, while denying plans to scrap military districts, said he is not against setting up regional command centers, but only after careful evaluation. In other remarks, Ivanov denied reports that Ukraine has demanded an increase in rent payments for the presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory. PM

UPPER HOUSE APPROVES GAZPROM LIBERALIZATION
The Federation Council on 14 December passed a bill ending restrictions on foreign ownership of Gazprom stocks, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "The approved amendments will lift restrictions on the purchase of the company's shares by foreigners," said Valentin Zavadnikov, head of the Federation Council's committee on industrial policy. Prior to the legislation, foreign shareholders were allowed to own no more than 20 percent of Gazprom shares. The law stipulated, however, that at least 50 percent-plus-one share of Gazprom stock must always remain in state hands. The bill passed the State Duma on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2005). It still must be signed by President Putin to become law. BW

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS GAS DEAL WITH UKRAINE COULD COME SOON...
Sergei Lavrov said on 14 December that negotiations with Ukraine over gas prices are "at an advanced stage" and an agreement could come soon, ITAR-TASS reported. "The negotiations on how to bring this about are at an advanced stage. Negotiators believe there are certain chances of achieving an agreement," Lavrov said. Gazprom is seeking to raise the price to $220-230 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is roughly the market price in Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, 13, and 14 December 2005). BW

...AS RUSSIAN FINANCE MINISTER DEFENDS PRICE HIKE
Aleksei Kudrin said on 14 December that raising the price Ukraine pays for Russian natural gas is a long overdue step, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "I believe this is the right measure. It would have had to be taken sooner or later," Kudrin said. "The time when Russia pursued a policy of semi-subsidizing neighboring economies is gradually coming to an end. We must focus on our own interests," he said, adding that Ukraine could implement energy-saving measures to offset the increase. Kudrin said the higher gas price would increase federal budget revenues because Gazprom would subsequently be making larger tax contribution. BW

DUMA SPEAKER SAYS NGO BILL DELAYED AGAIN
Boris Gryzlov said on 13 December that the second reading of a controversial bill on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has been postponed, Russian news agencies reported. The crucial second reading, in which the Duma will vote on amendments to the bill, was originally scheduled for 16 December, but has been pushed back to 21 December. "The bill has been postponed again because there are many amendments," Gryzlov said. President Vladimir Putin ordered amendments to the bill, which restricts the activities and financing of NGOs, after it became the subject of strong criticism from Western governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 November, 2, 5, 6, and 7 December 2005). BW

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CALLS ON RUSSIA TO HALT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Amnesty International's Russia coordinator Friederike Behr said in Moscow on 14 December that steps should be taken to combat domestic violence, RFE/RL reported. She appealed to lawmakers to pass appropriate legislation on countering domestic abuses that kill thousands of Russian women every year. Behr said that one woman dies at the hand of her husband every hour. She also cited unofficial figures indicating that in 2003 alone 9,000 women were killed through domestic violence. Amnesty also issued a report saying that as many as 70 percent of Russian women are subjected to domestic abuse, either physical, sexual, or psychological. Women's Alliance (Zhenskii Alyans), a Barnaul-based nongovernmental organization that deals with domestic violence, says there are fewer than 200 centers in Russia to help abused women. PM

COURT SENDS SIX YOUNG TOUGHS TO JAIL
The St. Petersburg city court convicted six members of a radical youth group on 14 December of inciting racial and interethnic hatred and sentenced them to prison terms of up to three years, lenta.ru and RFE/RL reported. The members of the Mad Crowd (Bezumnaya Tolpa) group were accused of beating up foreigners, including people from the Caucasus, in a series of attacks in 2002 and 2003. The court sentenced five of the defendants to between two and three years in a penal colony. One defendant was given a suspended sentence. The ruling comes less than a week after the court gave a six-year sentence to the leader of another skinhead group known for beating up people from the Caucasus. PM

CENTRAL REGION HOPING THAT TRANSPLANTED GOVERNOR WILL BRING NEW INVESTMENT MONEY
Ivanovo Governor and Moscow's former Vice Mayor Mikhail Men will be able to use his Moscow connections to open up political and economic opportunities for this insular Russian region, "Ekspert" reported on 28 November. According to the weekly, Men, as a political outsider, is not associated with local interest groups and thus will be able to work outside of the region's exclusionary patronage system. Nevertheless, the weekly cautioned, Ivanovo lacks Moscow's vibrant local economy and is plagued by problems that an influx of investment monies from the capital may not easily overcome. Among the challenges Men will face, "Ekspert" explained, is a shortage of qualified workers in the region and the threat of increasing Chinese competition to Ivanovo's textile industry. In Ivanovo Oblast, "there are no useful resources, no manufacturing giants, and no oligarchs," according to one of Men's aides. Under these conditions, "Ekspert" concluded, the main basis for optimism in Ivanovo Oblast is that systemic economic reform will reveal the central region's hidden potential. MCS

CHECHEN STRONGMAN ARGUES AGAINST RENAMING GROZNY
Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, who is speaker of the lower chamber of the new Chechen parliament, proposed on 14 December renaming Grozny Akhmed-Kala in memory of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-Hadji Kadyrov, who was killed in a terrorist bombing last year, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). Abdurakhmanov said the current toponym (which means "dread" or "terror-inducing" in Russian) reflects "the darkest pages of Chechen history." But Kadyrov's son Ramzan, who is Chechen first deputy prime minister, told lenta.ru on 14 December he sees no reason to rename the capital, and that the most appropriate way to honor his father's memory would be to rebuild the ruined city. Russian human rights activists, too, rejected Abdurakhmanov's suggestion as inappropriate, Interfax reported. Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, a Chechen who coordinates ethnic policy for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, suggested to Interfax on 14 December that once Grozny has been rebuilt a referendum could be held among the population of Chechnya on whether it should be renamed. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ENDS PARTICIPATION IN MASS RALLIES
A leading member of the Armenian opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc, Stepan Demirchian, announced on 14 December that he will no longer participate in mass rallies and demonstrations organized by the opposition in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Demirchian, who heads the major opposition People's Party of Armenia, explained that his decision "does not mean we are abandoning" the tactical use of mass demonstrations but added that "at this point it is not expedient to organize rallies." The opposition Artarutiun bloc and about a dozen smaller opposition groups have staged a series of mass protest rallies in Yerevan since the 27 November constitutional referendum in an attempt to galvanize popular discontent with the Armenian government, but failed to sustain any mass participation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). The decision to break with the strategy of his opposition partners followed a widening division within the country's opposition over the past few months. RG

KARABAKH LEADER QUESTIONS PROSPECTS FOR CONFLICT SETTLEMENT...
Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, questioned on 14 December suggestions that recent progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks offered a new opportunity for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Karabakh leader added that "we are pretty far from a settlement today" and dismissed the contention that next year will be "an optimal time for settling" the conflict as "a mere desire." He also indicated that representatives from Karabakh should be included in the negotiations, warning that "we do not believe any success is possible without our participation," Yerkir reported. The statement followed a meeting with the French, Russian and U.S. OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen in Yerevan. The visiting OSCE mediators also met on 14 December with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and are expected to arrive in Baku on 15 December. RG

...BUT ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER EXPRESSES OPTIMISM
Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian expressed "optimism" on 14 December for the Karabakh peace process in a Yerevan press conference, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The foreign minister added that "2005 was a productive year" and noted the recent statement by EU Foreign and Security Policy Commissioner Javier Solana defining the coming year as a new opportunity for a solution to the Karabakh conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2005). Oskanian added that further progress in the peace process now rests on the outcome of next month's planned meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. Peace talks are reportedly now centering on a phased settlement that would address the status of Karabakh through a referendum that would follow the return of liberation of six of the seven Armenian-held districts of Azerbaijani districts beyond the borders of Nagorno Karabakh. RG

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CALLS FOR IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT
In a joint letter released on 14 December, several leading Azerbaijani opposition parties appealed to the country's Constitutional Court to launch impeachment proceedings against President Ilham Aliyev, Turan and RFE/RL reported. The appeal, signed by the leaders of the Azadlyk (Freedom) bloc, the Milli Birlik (National Unity) opposition alliance, and the Azerbaijani National Independence Party, charged the Azerbaijani president with complicity in the "massive fraud" during last month's disputed parliamentary elections. Under the terms of the Azerbaijani constitution, the president can be subjected to impeachment proceedings if he is convicted of serious crimes. RG

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH EU OFFICIALS
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met on 14 December with senior EU officials in Brussels, Turan reported. The foreign minister held talks with EU Foreign and Security Policy Commissioner Solana, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Heikki Talvitie, and Brian Fall, the United Kingdom's special representative for the South Caucasus. The talks focused on the draft action plan for Azerbaijan within the framework of the New Neighborhood Policy, the status of the mediation effort of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and also reviewed the recent Azerbaijani parliamentary elections, which were widely criticized for voting irregularities. RG

ABKHAZ OFFICIAL DENIES REPORTS OF FORCED INDUCTION INTO ARMED FORCES...
Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Anatolii Zaitsev has rejected as untrue Georgian media reports that young Georgian men have been taken by force from their homes in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali district and inducted into the armed forces of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, apsny.ru reported on 14 December. Caucasus Press reported on 14 December that Abkhaz police took 15 young Georgians by force from their homes in Gali's Okumi village; on 14 December, Caucasus Press gave the number of young men involved first as 17, and then as 19, but said later three of them have been released. The young men's parents staged a protest on 14 December outside the Gali district police headquarters but failed to secure their sons' release, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS REPATRIATION SHOULD BE RESTRICTED TO ONE DISTRICT
Sergei Shamba told the newspaper "Respublika Abkhaziya" on 13 December that Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war should for the moment be permitted to return and settle only in Gali district, apsny.ru reported. Shamba said allowing Georgians to settle elsewhere at this juncture would only create conditions conducive to "new conflicts, new bloodshed, and a new war." Shamba said it is imperative to implement policies that will make the Georgian residents of Gali "exemplary citizens" of Abkhazia. At the same time, he said it is important that the international community should acknowledge that Georgians have been permitted to return to Gali so that their alleged inability to do so can no longer be adduced as an excuse for not addressing other issues. Shamba said the Abkhaz authorities are not against permitting Georgian-language schools in Gali, only against the use of Georgian-language textbooks printed in Tbilisi that "deliberately distort" the history of the region and thereby perpetuate the conflict. LF

KAZAKH ONLINE OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER LEAVES 'CIS ZONE'
The editors of the Kazakh online opposition website Navigator announced in a 14 December article that the website (www.mizinov.net) has moved out of the "CIS zone," giving up Moscow-based hosting for a location outside the CIS. The editors noted that three days before Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election, representatives of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) visited the website's Internet service provider in Moscow and asked it to stop hosting the site. The FSB officers said they were acting on a request from their Kazakh colleagues. After this incident, the editors decided to move the website outside the CIS. They noted that in October the website had been forced to move out of Kazakhstan's .kz domain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2005). DK

JAILED KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER ONE STEP CLOSER TO PAROLE
A court in Ekibastuz ruled on 14 December to release jailed opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov on parole, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Navigator reported. For now, Zhaqiyanov remains in custody for 10 days while prosecutors decide whether or not they will appeal the ruling, Navigator reported. Zhaqiyanov is serving a seven-year sentence for corruption that his supporters believe was politically motivated. DK

OUSTED KYRGYZ GOVERNOR CRITICIZES PRESIDENT
Anvar Artykov, the recently dismissed governor of Kyrgyzstan's Osh Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2005), criticized President Kurmanbek Bakiev in a 14 December interview with Kyrgyzstan's NTS television station, akipress.org reported. Ferghana.ru quoted Artykov as saying, "Kurmanbek Bakiev is afraid of strong personalities on his team. This is the main reason for my dismissal as Osh governor. The same reason lies behind the dismissals, for various reasons, of Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov and Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva." Noting that he is no longer "on Bakiev's team," Artykov said Bakiev needs to stop "putting his own people in place of working managers and governors." Artykov also linked his dismissal to upcoming local elections in which the "role of the governor carries special weight." DK

TAJIK MINE CENTER CANNOT CONFIRM UZBEK STATEMENTS ON MINE-CLEARING
Jonmuhammad Rajabov, the head of Tajikistan's mine-clearing center, has said that he cannot confirm the recent statement by Uzbek Ambassador Shoqosim Shoislomov that Uzbekistan has begun clearing mines along the Tajik-Uzbek border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2005), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 14 December. While Uzbekistan may have begun mine-clearing operations in locations deep within Uzbekistan, Rajabov said that his center has received no notification of mine-clearing operations on the border itself. Specialists from the center noted that most of the mines are located in remote, mountainous regions where mine-clearing operations would be especially difficult now that ice and snow have covered the ground. Nevertheless, Rajabov described Shoislomov's statement as encouraging. Uzbekistan mined the border several years ago to prevent incursions by Islamist militants. In Tajikistan, seven people have been killed by mines and 12 wounded since the beginning of 2005. DK

NEW ANDIJON TRIALS PUT UZBEK OFFICIALS IN THE DOCK
Uzbekistan's Supreme Court announced on 14 December that a number of officials are now on trial for negligence and other alleged crimes in connection with violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, RFE/RL reported. One trial involves 10 policemen, including former Andijon Province Interior Ministry head Dilmurod Oqmirzaev, and two prison medics. The medics testified at an earlier trial that they supplied a mobile phone and relayed messages to Akram Yoldoshev, the jailed leader of the so-called Akramiya movement who Uzbek authorities say was behind the violence in Andijon. Another trial involves five prison guards and 19 soldiers. The primary charge against the former officials is dereliction of duty, allegedly allowing armed militants to attack a prison and military post and seize the provincial administration building in central Andijon on 12-13 May. Elsewhere, 78 individuals are on trial charged with direct involvement in the violence. All of the trials are being conducted behind closed doors. DK

BELARUSIAN LOWER HOUSE ENDORSES ANTICORRUPTION BILL...
The Chamber of Representatives on 14 December approved on first reading an anticorruption bill, Belapan reported. The bill would enlarge the list of those who can be prosecuted for corruption by adding foreign citizens, presidential candidates, and people who are not civil servants but serve public needs. Government officials would be banned from opening and keeping accounts with foreign banks and fulfilling orders coming from parties and nongovernmental organizations. The bill would also require officials and their family members to file annual income and property statements and notify the tax authorities about the sale or purchase of property worth more than $27,000. JM

...AS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS CORRUPTION ENGULFS COUNTRY
Prosecutor-General Pyotr Miklashevich said in the Chamber of Representatives on 14 December that some 4,000 corruption cases were recorded in Belarus in the first 11 months of this year. He noted that corruption is not rare even among those whose duty is to combat it. Miklashevich told the deputies that the Supreme Court is soon to try a group of 46 individuals, including six law-enforcement officers and a KGB officer, which has been involved in illegal sales of alcohol. He also disclosed that prosecutors are soon expected to complete an investigation into the crimes committed by the so-called Marozau gang in Homel from 1990 to 2004. The gang, named after its leader Syarhey Marozau, reportedly included a police colonel and several other police officers. JM

POLISH JOURNALIST EXPELLED FROM BELARUS
Polish Television journalist Agnieszka Romaszewska was deported from Minsk on 14 December, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. She was detained at the Minsk international airport the previous day and spent a night there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2005). The Belarusian authorities reportedly annulled Romaszewska's visa and handed her a deportation decision without giving any specific explanations. Romaszewska covered the Minsk-Warsaw conflict over an organization of ethnic Poles in Belarus for Polish Television earlier this year. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS INDUSTRY SHOULD TAKE THE BRUNT OF GAS PRICE HIKE
President Viktor Yushchenko said on Ukrainian Television on 14 December that the Russian gas that is to be supplied at a new price outside a barter scheme next year should be sold primarily in the country's industrial sector, while gas prices for Ukrainian private and municipal consumers should be increased gradually. "This is a concept envisioning that liberalized prices will be met by the industrial sector, while private and municipal consumers will be given the possibility to conclude the heating season with traditional prices, as they are today, or with a small increase in them during the second quarter [of 2006]," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko explained that with new gas prices and transit tariffs in 2006, Ukraine will be able to receive a somewhat lesser volume of Russian gas under the barter scheme than it does now. Yushchenko did not say what new Russian gas price could be acceptable to Ukraine or what gas transit tariff Ukraine would levy on Gazprom in 2006. Gazprom deputy chief Aleksandr Medvedev said on 14 December that Russia is going to sell gas to Ukraine for $220-$230 per 1,000 cubic meter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2006). Ukraine now pays $50 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas received as payment for transit of Russian gas to Europe, and $80 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas supplied by Gazprom outside this barter scheme. JM

UKRAINE PARLIAMENT REJECTS TWO WTO-RELATED BILLS
The Verkhovna Rada on 14 December rejected two bills required for Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Interfax-Ukraine reported. The bills proposed lowering export tariffs on ferrous scrap metal, live cattle, and leather materials. Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told journalists in Hong Kong on 14 December, on the sidelines of an ongoing WTO ministerial conference, that Russia and Ukraine should join the World Trade Organization together, Interfax reported. "I hope Ukraine and Russia come into the WTO and they come in together," Portman said, adding that the accession negotiations for the two countries will be completed "soon." JM

GERMAN OFFICIAL SCHWARTZ-SCHILLING NAMED BOSNIAN HIGH REPRESENTATIVE...
Former German Postal Minister Christian Schwarz-Schilling was named the new High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina on 14 December, international agencies reported the same day. A meeting of the Peace Implementation Council for Bosnia-Herzegovina approved Schwarz-Schilling, 75, at a meeting in Paris to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the1992-95 Bosnian war, Reuters reported. Schwarz-Schilling, who served as a member of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's cabinet, will assume his duties on 31 January. "Probably no one in Europe knows Bosnia-Herzegovina better," dpa quoted outgoing High Representative Paddy Ashdown as saying. Schwarz-Schilling, who will be the country's fifth international overseer, worked as an international mediator after the war to supervise the return of refugees to the country. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said he hoped "Schwarz-Schilling will be the last High Representative" and that the country would soon become a fully sovereign nation, dpa reported. BW

...AS OUTGOING HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SAYS BOSNIA ON THE WAY TO EUROPE...
Ashdown also said on 14 December that Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the path to European integration and eventual membership in the European Union, dpa reported the same day. "Bosnia-Herzegovina has turned to the future [and] is well on the way to...meeting the challenges of European integration," Ashdown said. "The question is when does it reach that destination." Prime Minister Terzic agreed with Ashdown, saying: "It is certain that the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is in the European Union." Terzic, however, warned against the reluctance of some EU members to admit countries from the Balkan region. "If EU countries are afraid of Balkan countries, then it is possible that what happened 10 years ago can break out again," he said. BW

...WHILE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SAYS BOSNIA'S WOUNDS HAVE STILL NOT HEALED
The international human rights group Amnesty International said on 14 December that 10 years after the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina stopped, the "wounds of war" have yet to heal, dpa reported the same day. "The wounds of the war may have closed but they have not yet healed," the organization said in a statement in London marking a decade since the conflict ended. The group called on Bosnian authorities "to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed during the war." BW

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA POLICE ARREST SIX WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS
Police in Republika Srpska on 14 December detained six people suspected of committing war crimes against Croats and Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war, dpa and Hina reported the same day. Bosnian Serbs Dragan Bajraktarevic, Radenko Vucenovic, Zeljko Bulatovic, Zoran Gajic, Sinisa Teodorovic, and Milorad Topic were detained on the orders of the district prosecutor in Banja Luka, dpa reported citing police. According to unidentified officials cited by Hina, the six men worked in 1992 at the Manjaca prison camp near Banja Luka, where Muslim and Croat prisoners were held. BW

COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS 13 RELIGIOUS SITES IN KOSOVA FOR RESTORATION
The Experts Committee on the Rehabilitation and Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Kosova has recommended that seven Orthodox Christian and six Islamic monuments in the province should be the first to be restored over the next two years, B92 reported on 14 December. The committee made the recommendations in Paris on 9 December at a meeting with UNESCO, the United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), and the Council of Europe. "This meeting certainly represents an essential step in the protection of an invaluable cultural heritage that is not only a strong symbolic reference but also a factor of reconciliation," UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said. BW

TRIAL OF MILAN MARTIC BEGINS IN HAGUE
The trial of Milan Martic, who tried to install a Serbian state in Croatia's Krajina region, began at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 13 December, international news agencies reported the same day. Martic is accused of crimes against humanity and of violations of the laws and customs of war, including ordering rocket attacks on civilians in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, in 1995 in which at least seven people were killed and many more were wounded, Reuters reported. Prosecutors at the start of the trial said Martic tried to install a Serbian state in Croatia by forcibly removing and killing Croats, Muslims, and other non-Serbs. "The case is simple and straight forward," prosecutor Alex Whiting said in court. The goal, he added, was to "rid the planned Serb state of Croats and others non-Serbs that resided there. This was achieved by ethnic cleansing." Martic, who surrendered to the ICTY in 2002, pleaded not guilty. "Everything in the indictment except for my name is erroneous. All I did was protect the citizens of Serb Krajina regardless of where they were from," Martic said. BW

POLICE THWART PRISON BREAK IN KOSOVA
International police thwarted an escape attempt at Kosova's Dubrava prison on 12 December, dpa reported the next day. According to a police statement, approximately 14 prisoners tried to break out of the prison near the town of Istok late on 12 December. One inmate assaulted a guard, took his keys, and let the other prisoners out, according to police officials cited by dpa. Police suspect the prisoners had outside help because shots were fired from outside the prison, hitting two police vehicles. BW

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT DOES NOT RULE OUT DIRECT TALKS WITH RUSSIA ON TRANSDNIESTER
Vladimir Voronin said on 14 December that Chisinau does not rule out direct talks with Russia to settle the Transdniester conflict, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We do not rule out that we will initiate direct talks with Russia, taking into account that the separatist leaders are puppets of Moscow," Voronin said. "The problems we have, including the prices of gas, energy, and traditional goods exported to Russian markets will not force Moldova to give up the fight for the peaceful unification of the country. We cannot make concessions. Otherwise we will betray our history, prospects, and future," he added. Voronin added, however, that the main breakthrough in resolving the conflict is establishing an expanded negotiations format with U.S. and European Union participation. BW

HAS RAMZAN KADYROV LAUNCHED HIS PRESIDENTIAL BID?
Numerous commentators both in Russia and abroad have observed that, whether or not the results of the 27 November parliamentary election in which the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia won 33 of the 58 mandates are an accurate reflection of voters' preferences, they serve to strengthen even further the power of Chechnya's de facto ruler, First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Those observers point out that the new parliament would almost certainly support unequivocally Kadyrov's candidacy for republic head as soon as he reaches the minimum age of 30 in October 2006. Kadyrov's moves and statements over the past two weeks may be intended to garner popular support for an eventual bid to formalize his position as the most powerful man in Chechnya.

True, Kadyrov told journalists on 4 December that he does not aspire to succeed present Prime Minister Sergei Abramov should the latter be appointed to a more senior position. But at the same time, Kadyrov's press service announced -- erroneously, as it turned out -- that Kadyrov has been elected to succeed Frants Klintsevich as head of the Chechen regional branch of Unified Russia. Klintsevich denied that report in an interview with "Kommersant" summarized on 8 December by apn.ru.

Kadyrov then called on 5 December for revising and formally demarcating Chechnya's borders to include lands that were Chechen in the 1930s, prior to the abolition of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR in the wake of the 1944 deportation and its subsequent restoration, with slightly different borders, in 1957. He argued that "it is well-known both in neighboring republics and in Chechnya where the border ran" before the then Chechen and Ingush autonomous oblasts were merged in 1936, adding that "we should be masters of our own lands," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 December.

It is not clear whether Kadyrov's postelection statements were intended as a covert challenge to his nominal superior, Alu Alkhanov, or as a response to Alkhanov's 29 November announcement that he plans to met "soon" in Brussels with unnamed representatives of the Chechen regime formerly headed by President Aslan Maskhadov in an apparent bid to end armed resistance in Chechnya.

A formal end to the Chechen conflict -- however utopian it may now seem -- would strengthen the case for disbanding Kadyrov's private security force, which is estimated to number between 5,000-7,000 men, and thus undercut his influence. As one Russian analyst observed, writing in "Ekspert" No. 45, Kadyrov therefore has a vested interest in maintaining instability on Chechnya as long as possible.

Western journalists who visited Grozny for the elections remarked on the palpable tension between Kadyrov and Alkhanov, tensions that Alkhanov's characterization of his younger rival as a kindred spirit and close and reliable colleague did little to dispel.

Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's rapporteur for Chechnya, similarly commented in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 November on the uneasy and potentially destabilizing relationship between the two men.

Gross observed that "real power" in Chechnya lies with "private semiofficial security forces" that derive their legitimacy from their role in the fight against terrorism, and he identified Kadyrov as exemplifying that "real power," in contrast to Alkhanov, whom he characterized as "far more serious" and more inclined to listen to, and accept, criticism.

Gross implied that Kadyrov is seeking to undermine Alkhanov's position, and he warned that "the Kremlin should not delegate too many of its powers to Ramzan Kadyrov, insofar as that would not only discredit the basic interests of Russian society, but would undermine such fundamental values as human rights and democracy."

If Kadyrov is indeed ultimately confirmed as head of Unified Russia's Chechen branch, which according to Duma Deputy Ruslan Yamadaev numbers 27,000 members, it would be difficult to construe that appointment as anything other than a further affirmation by the Russian leadership of their collective faith in Kadyrov. And that position could be more effective in promoting a bid for supreme leadership than could that of the prime minister, who could be held responsible by a hypothetical rival candidate for continuing socioeconomic problems.

PRO-GOVERNMENT CLERIC KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Mullah Ahmad Shah, a member of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar Province, was killed in Kandahar city on 15 December, AFP reported. Security commander of Kandahar Colonel Abdul Malik Wadedi identified Ahmad Shah as the deputy chief of the province's Council of Ulema in "charge of a public awareness campaign," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 14 December. According to AIP, Ahmad Shah was stabbed on his way back home from a mosque. AFP reported that he was shot by gunmen on a motorcycle. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing. In May, the neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for killing Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, the head of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar who was also pro-government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). AT

SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS HIMSELF IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh on 14 December, AFP reported. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanizai told AFP that the man who was killed in the explosion "was either carrying explosives or had them strapped to his body." The blast, which took place in the courtyard of Afghanistan's most venerated shrine attributed to Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, did not cause any additional casualties. Balkh police spokesman Sher Jan Durrani said that the blast occurred ahead of a planned visit to the shrine by Amena Afzali, the Afghan minister of youth affairs, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 14 December. Afzali's visit was canceled as a result, Durrani added. A senior police official speculated that since usually a large number of visitors attend the shrine on Wednesdays, the bomber was aiming for large casualties, but detonated his explosives prematurely. AT

DONKEY USED IN EXPLOSION IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
A remote-controlled explosive device strapped to a donkey detonated in Fayzabad, the provincial capital of Badakhshan, on 14 December, Hindukosh News Agency reported. An eyewitness said the explosion occurred as a vehicle belonging to the German Society for Technical Cooperation passed by. Badakhshan Governor Monshi Abdul Majid said that one person is under investigation in relation to the explosion. Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the Fayzabad blast, AIP reported on 14 December. In a telephone interview with AIP, Hanif claimed that the "Taliban blew up a vehicle belonging to the Provincial Reconstruction Team," killing at least two people. There were no reports of any human casualties in the blast. This marks the first reported case of the neo-Taliban using an animal to carry an explosive device. AT

PAKISTANI GENERAL IN KABUL
Pakistan's deputy chief of army staff, General Ahsan Salim Hayat, is leading the Pakistan delegation to the 14th meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-United States Tripartite Commission on Border Security, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 14 December. Hayat will stay in Kabul until 15 December. General Besmellah Khan, the chief of general staff of the Afghan National Army, will lead Afghanistan's delegation and Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry will represent the United States in ongoing talks to coordinate security efforts and prevent any misunderstanding over the conduct of military operations along the restive Afghan-Pakistani border area. AT

IRANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES HOLOCAUST, WANTS ISRAEL RELOCATED
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad reiterated, in a 14 December speech in Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, his belief that the Holocaust did not really take place, state television reported. He said, "They have created a myth today and they call it the massacre of the Jews [the Holocaust]." If Westerners feel so guilty about this event, Ahmadinejad said, they should allocate some of their land for the creation of a Jewish state. "I propose that if you have committed a crime, it's good if you allocate a part of your country or Europe, America, Canada, or Alaska to them so that they can establish a country for themselves. You can be sure that if you do such a thing, the Iranian nation will never protest to you. We won't even hold a demonstration on Qods Day and we will not shout any slogans against you or this usurper Zionist regime." Ahmadinejad made similar statements on 8 December on the sidelines of the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Saudi Arabia. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS PAKISTAN
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki arrived in Islamabad on 14 December for a two-day visit, IRNA and PTV World reported. IRNA reported that Mottaki would meet with his counterpart, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, as well as President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. They are scheduled to discuss regional issues, including Afghanistan and the proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. In his meeting with Aziz, PTV reported that Mottaki also expressed condolences for those affected by the earthquake in Pakistan and pledged continued assistance. Mottaki and Kasuri discussed the same issues as well as bilateral trade and Iranian interaction with the International Atomic Energy Agency. BS

NAVAL EXERCISES IN SOUTHEAST IRAN CONCLUDE
The six-day Devotees of Velayat naval exercises in the Sea of Oman concluded on 14 December, ISNA reported. President Ahmadinejad attended the final phase aboard the flagship "Kharg." Afterwards, Ahmadinejad said: "The armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran are the guarantor of security and peace in the region and their power poses no threat to any country." The exercises involved surface warfare units, submarines, and fixed and rotary wing aircraft from the conventional naval forces. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Basij, and the police also took part. BS

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN DENIES PRESIDENTIAL COMMENTS ON AURA
Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said on 13 December that a CD that purports to show President Ahmadinejad saying he was surrounded by an aura when addressing the United Nations in September is a fake, ISNA reported (see "President Says Light Surrounded Him During UN Speech," rferl.org, 29 November 2005). On the CD, furthermore, Ahmadinejad reportedly tells Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi that nobody blinked during his 25-30 minute speech to the General Assembly. Elham said he was at the private meeting between Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi, and no filming took place. "I believe it was a montage of the meeting and this matter must be investigated," Elham added. The spokesman went on to say that Ahmadinejad has a doctoral degree in a technological field, and he works 16 to 20 hours a day on government business. Ahmadinejad does not use "heavenly affairs" to make decisions, Elham said and, furthermore, Mesbah-Yazdi is a religious expert and one cannot raise such issues with him. BS

IRAQIS VOTING IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Voting centers across Iraq opened on 15 December, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Voters expressed optimism at the polls; one voter in Baghdad told RFI: "At 7 a.m. I was the first to go into the polling center, together with my wife. During the [October] referendum on the constitution I was also the first at the polling center. This is indescribable. I simply don't believe this is happening in Iraq. Even in my dreams I would not have imagined this would occur in Iraq." A female voter outside Ba'qubah told RFI: "Today is an Iraqi feast. We are defying terror for stability and security to be achieved, God willing. We are looking to a better future in a democratic, united Iraq." KR

SOME VIOLENCE REPORTED IN CITIES ACROSS IRAQ
There were reports of sporadic violence in several cities across Iraq as the polls opened on 15 December, RFI reported. Voter turnout was reportedly moderate in the early morning hours, but was picked up later in the day. At least one mortar round was reportedly fired near a polling center in Al-Ramadi in the early morning hours. Three mortar rounds were launched in Baghdad, one of which landed near the U.S. Embassy in the fortified green zone, wounding a few people. In Mosul, several blasts were heard throughout the city, and one mortar landed outside a voting center, killing a guard and wounding a policeman, Reuters reported. Mortars were also reportedly launched in Samarra and Tikrit, according to the news agency. KR

IRAQI LEADERS CAST BALLOTS
Iraqi leaders cast their ballots for the elections in Baghdad and other cities, and stressed the importance of the vote, RFI reported. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari cast his ballot in Baghdad, telling reporters: "Today Iraq is sending a message to the entire world, that people's will for democracy is stronger than tyranny. Democracy does not mean election only. It means that the people doing the electing will keep a watchful eye scrutinizing the conduct of parliament and the conduct of government." Al-Ja'fari's transitional government has been widely criticized for inefficiencies and corruption. President Jalal Talabani cast his vote in Al-Sulaymaniyah, telling reporters: "This is a national day for all the Iraqis. For the first time our Iraqi people have the freedom to choose their representatives for a permanent parliament. The people had previously elected the National Assembly, but this time the people will elect a permanent parliament or Council of Representatives, which will have a four-year term," Al-Jazeera television reported. KR

IRAQI ELECTORAL COMMISSION REPORTS ON OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTING
The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission (IECI) released figures for the first of three days of out-of-country voting in Iraq's parliamentary election on 14 December (http://www.ieci-ocv.org). A total of 81,033 ballots were cast in 15 countries on 13 December, with the highest turnouts reported in Iran, followed by Jordan, Sweden, the United States, the United Kingdom, Syria, and Germany. More than 11,000 Iraqis cast ballots in Iran, while some 7,000 votes were cast in Germany. The IECI reported that "all voting operations" on 13 and 14 December were proceeding smoothly. Meanwhile, firebombs were thrown at a polling station in Stockholm overnight on 14-15 December, dpa reported. The bombs did not ignite the building. KR

STATEMENT ATTRIBUTED TO AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ ANNOUNCES NEW CONQUEST
A 14 December Internet statement (http://www.almeer.net) attributed to Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers) claimed the group has launched a new conquest in Iraq aimed at shaking "the bastions of the infidels and the apostates and to ruin for them the 'democratic' wedding of heresy and immorality." The statement claimed the "brigades of the mujahedin" had begun launching attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces in "the caliphate of" Baghdad and in the Al-Anbar, Diyala, Mosul, and Salah Al-Din governorates. The statement listed several sites that the group claims to have targeted. Those purported attacks have not been confirmed, however. KR

IRAQI POLLSTERS IN TIKRIT TEMPORARILY RESIGN AFTER ALTERCATION WITH ARMY
IECI staffers working in Tikrit temporarily resigned from their positions on 14 December after an altercation with Iraqi security forces, Al-Arabiyah television reported on the same day. IECI local director Salah Khalil told Al-Arabiyah that he and his staff resigned in protest of assaults committed by the National Guard forces, who had arrested four IECI employees three days earlier. On 13 December, Khalil claimed, Iraqi security forces assaulted IECI employees in Samarra, and raided IECI offices in Tikrit. The situation escalated in an armed confrontation outside the IECI's Tikrit office on 14 December but was later resolved after Salah Al-Din Governor Hamad Humud al-Shakti, Army Commander Staff Lieutenant General Abd al-Aziz al-Mufti, and representatives from the police force intervened. Al-Mufti played down the events, telling Al-Arabiyah: "I don't believe there was a disagreement. It was a mere difference of opinion regarding duties. The matter has been resolved." Meanwhile, Governor Hamud told the news channel that Khalil closed the office "in a moment of anger," adding that the election workers are back at work. KR

IRAQI OFFICIALS DENY TRUCK CARRYING FAKE BALLOTS ENTERED IRAQ
Officials in Iraq denied 14 December reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2005) that a tanker truck carrying partially completed forged election ballots entered Iraq from Iran, RFI reported on the same day. Adil al-Lami, director-general for the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission, told RFI: "It is impossible to forge the bulletins because they are protected by special security features, they have certain serial numbers. The numbers are specific to certain polling centers...[and] all the polling centers work under tight security arrangements. Moreover, more than 320,000 monitors -- local, international, and from political formations -- are present at the stations. This will help to ensure the proper elections process as well as exclude undermining actions." Meanwhile, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Adnan al-Asadi also denied the reports of the forged ballots making their way into Iraq, as did Iraqi Border Guard commander Major General Ahmad al-Khafaji, Al-Jazeera reported on 14 December. KR

IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS AL-ZARQAWI ARRESTED, RELEASED ONE YEAR AGO
Major General Husayn Ali Kamal, deputy undersecretary for intelligence affairs at the Interior Ministry, told Beirut-based LBC satellite channel in an interview aired on 15 December that fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was arrested one year ago and "mistakenly released because Iraqi police interrogators did not identify him." Kamal claimed that the arrest was made in Al-Fallujah, adding that al-Zarqawi was not armed at the time of his arrest. A Saudi terrorist in custody apparently later told police of al-Zarqawi's identity during an interrogation. Kamal claimed that Iraqi security forces are better prepared now and "are lying in wait" for al-Zarqawi's fighters, adding: "We are aware of their mindset. We are waiting for them and we will deal with them in a tough way." KR

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