PRESIDENT SAYS FIGHTING TERRORISM KEY TASK FOR INTELLIGENCE SERVICES...
President Vladimir Putin told a 20 December Moscow meeting to mark Security Service Officers' Day that the intelligence services are working with Russia's "allies and partners" against terrorism, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2005). He said that the services "are capable of efficiently neutralizing the attacks of bandits, neutralizing bandits, and liquidating them no matter where they hide." Putin stressed that "antiterror action requires today the competent use of the entire available arsenal of operative, technical, and analytical resources. The search for new, more effective methods is needed in this field more than ever before." He called for "more efficient coordination of actions, as well as the exchange of information between the appropriate structures of member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, between states and international associations." Putin argued that the October attack on Nalchik showed that "our security structures possess sufficient resources and means to give a tough response to criminals." PM
...AS IS COMBATING CRIME AND 'MILITANT NATIONALISM'
President Putin said in Moscow on 20 December that Russia's security services must work hard to "to eradicate organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption," Interfax reported. "This is not merely a condition for the economic and social welfare of Russia," he said. "A lower crime rate will serve to increase the international influence of our country and raise its attractiveness to business and investors." He also stressed that "it should be clearly understood that militant nationalism, xenophobia, and calls for violence and interethnic discord threaten the very stability of our multiethnic state." He called for "the resolute prevention of such crimes and for the unmasking of their organizers." PM
SECURITY STEPPED UP FOR MISSIONS ABROAD
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told Interfax in Moscow on 20 December that "against the background of the increasing activity of international terrorist groups, we had to significantly expand personnel in services responsible for the security of Russian establishments and places where Russian citizens live abroad." He noted that "during the financial difficulties of 1998, the ministry's staff abroad underwent significant cuts. However, we recently reached the previous level [of spending] and...even topped it." The reason for the change is that Russia has increased its international profile in recent years, he said. He pointed to "the gradual restoration of [Russia's] position as one of the leading world powers, the improvement of the authority of both the state on the whole and its leadership in the international arena, and the stabilization of the economic situation in the country." Kamynin said that improving security is no easy task because "Russia has 140 embassies, nine permanent representation offices under the aegises of international organizations, and 85 consulates general and consulates, which [altogether] employ about 8,000 diplomats and administrative and technical workers." PM
FSB DIRECTOR SAYS CORPORATE RAIDERS TARGET DEFENSE INDUSTRIES
Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev told the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 20 December that unnamed foreign companies are seeking to engineer the bankruptcy of key industries, including some in the defense sector, "The Moscow Times" reported. "A number of commercial structures are working actively to establish control over the activities of large enterprises and organizations, including those of strategic importance for the state's defense and security, with the aim of receiving super profits by selling their most liquid assets, unique equipment, and large property complexes," he said. Patrushev noted that the Omsk Plant of Transport Machine Building, which builds and repairs the T-80 tank, was the target of a bankruptcy, but the FSB intervened in time. He did not elaborate. PM
DEFENSE MINISTRY REPORTS SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF STRATEGIC MISSILE
The Defense Ministry announced on 21 December that a R-30 Bulava (Mace) solid-fuel strategic ballistic missile was launched from the Typhoon-class submarine "Dmitrii Donskoi" in the White Sea and hit its target at the Kura test site on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russian news agencies reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii that "the flight testing of...the Bulava will begin next year." This is the first test launch of a Bulava from a submerged position and the second test launch in the Bulava program, the first having been made from the same submarine on 27 September. At that time, President Putin said that Russia "will put into service new strategic complexes that nobody has at present and that are unlikely to be adopted by any country earlier than Russia." He argued that the new systems will be "virtually invulnerable, even to the antiballistic missile systems" of other countries. PM
DAM TO PROTECT KHABAROVSK'S WATER SUPPLY COMPLETED
Work was completed early on 21 December on a temporary dam on the Fuyuan waterway to help protect Khabarovsk's water sources from benzene and other chemical pollutants heading toward that city from China, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 12, 13, and 16 December 2005). ITAR-TASS quoted local officials of the Emergency Situations Ministry as saying that only one water-pumping station in Khabarovsk remains shut down, while two others are running again. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu has said repeatedly that water will be cut off in the Siberian city only as a matter of last resort. PM
NGO BILL GOES TO SECOND READING IN DUMA
The State Duma on 21 December voted down a proposal to postpone debate on a controversial bill on nongovernmental organizations, RIA-Novosti reported. A crucial second reading of the bill, in which amendments will be debated, was scheduled to go ahead as planned the same day. Sergei Popov, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Public Associations and Religious Organizations, said the bill was ready for its second reading and there was no need for delay further. The bill has come under intense criticism from Western governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 November, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 15 December 2005). "There should be control in everything, and controlling any organization is normal," the news agency quoted Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii as saying. BW
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CZECH NGO WILL NOT HAVE REGISTRATION RENEWED
Sergei Lavrov said that Russia will not renew the registration of the Czech humanitarian organization People in Need, which is working in Chechnya, mosnews.com reported on 21 December, citing a report by Czech Radio 1. Lavrov said Russian authorities found large quantities of arms and a wanted criminal in People in Need's Grozny office last year. Lavrov, who made his comments during talks with Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, said it is possible that the organization inadvertently chose untrustworthy people to work with it, but that it will not be granted registration until an investigation is complete. BW
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN OPPOSES MOVE TO ST. PETERSBURG
Valerii Zorkin said on 21 December that he hopes the Constitutional Court will not relocate from Moscow to St. Petersburg, RIA-Novosti reported. "I cannot comment on [the proposed move] because we still do not have an official legislative document," Zorkin said. "But I hope that the country will make a correct decision, and the move will not happen anytime soon, and we will stay here [in Moscow] for a while," he added. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko said on 20 December she and the city's legislature have submitted a proposal to move the court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2005). State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 21 December that the lower house planned to consider the move as early as this week, RIA-Novosti reported. BW
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT UPHOLDS PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION OF GOVERNORS
Russia's Constitutional Court on 21 December upheld a December 2004 law stipulating that the Russian president nominate regional gubernatorial candidates, RIA-Novosti reported. The court ruled that the change did not violate "the principle of division of powers and federalism" because the president's nominees must be confirmed by regional legislatures before taking office. The complaint was filed by Vladimir Grishkevich, a resident of Tyumen Oblast. who was challenging the regional legislature's confirmation of Sergei Sobyanin as governor on 17 February. His suit was supported by the Union of Rightist Forces. The Duma on 19 December passed additional changes to the law, allowing parties with majorities in local legislatures to nominate gubernatorial candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2005). BW
MYSTERIOUS AILMENT SAID TO BE SPREADING IN CHECHNYA
Officials of Chechnya's pro-Russian administration said on 20 December in Grozny that a growing number of girls have been hospitalized in recent days with symptoms that suggest poisoning, RFE/RL reported. ITAR-TASS put the total figure at 39. The majority of the patients are from the village of Starogladovskaya in the eastern part of the Northern Caucasus republic. Sultan Alimkhadzhiev, who is Chechnya's deputy health minister and the head doctor at Grozny's Republican Pediatric Hospital, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that the children suffer from bouts of sickness that last from two to 15 minutes, and that the rest of the time they show no symptoms of an illness that he compared with psychosis or panic. Health authorities have ruled out food poisoning. PM
ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DECLINES TO PURSUE CASES RELATED TO DISPUTED REFERENDUM
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian announced on 20 December at a press conference in Yerevan that law-enforcement officials lack "concrete facts" to pursue any cases stemming from last month's disputed constitutional referendum, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hovsepian explained that all charges of fraud and formal allegations of voting irregularities during the 27 November referendum were investigated, but he argued that "no evidence has been found that would give me reason to confirm what has been said." Despite the submission of eyewitness reports and official reports from a variety of sources -- including parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian, Central Election Commission Chairman Garegin Azarian, and representatives of the opposition National Unity Party -- Hovsepian said that the information was insufficient. Some unnamed opposition leaders have pointed out that Hovsepian is unable to conduct an objective inquiry due to his active campaigning for the passage of the constitutional amendments and noted his threat to prosecute any opposition members of the election commissions who dared to boycott the referendum. Hovsepian's position was also seemingly at odds with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's statement that the vote was marred by "unnecessary" ballot stuffing and other unspecified violations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2005). RG
U.S. UNVEILS MASSIVE AID PACKAGE FOR ARMENIA...
The United States announced on 19 December its approval of a massive $235 million aid package for Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. The new assistance is to be provided through the new Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a recently formed initiative to channel U.S. aid to developing countries according to a strict set of eligibility requirements. Accounting for nearly one-third of the total Armenian state budget, the aid package is based on priority needs identified by the Armenian government last year. Disbursed over five years, the U.S. assistance will focus on the reconstruction and expansion of the country's irrigation networks, rural roads, and related infrastructure projects. At a Yerevan press conference on 20 December, Deputy Finance Minister Tigran Khachatrian predicted that "the rural poverty rate will fall from 41 percent to 35 percent" as a result of the five-year aid program, RFE/RL reported. Armenia is a leading recipient of U.S. economic assistance, having received more than $1.5 billion since 1992, and is expected to garner another $75 million in separate aid appropriated by the U.S. Congress. RG
...BUT IMPOSES NEW PRECONDITIONS
After announcing a new aid package for Armenia on 19 December, officials of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, which administers the MCA, warned that the aid will be conditional on the adoption of "corrective steps" designed to improve Armenia's human-rights record and strengthen democracy, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The officials also noted that the new preconditions include a requirement for the Armenian government to address reports of widespread voting irregularities during the 27 November referendum on constitutional reforms. Millennium Challenge Corporation official John Danilovich said that an official letter was sent to President Robert Kocharian expressing concern over the Armenian government's "lack of transparency and commitment to open and fair elections in the recent referendum." Danilovich further revealed that final approval of the aid package was delayed last month following "allegations of fraud, electoral mismanagement, mistreatment of individuals from opposition political parties, and uneven access to the media." RG
AZERBAIJANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENTS MEET TO INAUGURATE NEW GAS PIPELINE
President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad attended a ceremony in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan on 20 December to inaugurate a natural-gas pipeline, Turan reported. The new gas pipeline stems from a 2004 bilateral agreement establishing a 25-year "swap" accord whereby Iran is to supply some 350 million cubic meters of gas annually to Nakhichevan in exchange for a similar amount of gas from Azerbaijan. For 2006, Iran will supply 250 million cubic meters of gas before a planned increase to the agreed-upon higher level starting in 2007. In a meeting prior to the ceremony, the two presidents also signed a new memorandum of understanding on broader cooperation in the energy sector. RG
RUSSIAN ENERGY OFFICIAL ANNOUNCES PLANS TO INCREASE GAS SUPPLY TO GEORGIA...
In comments during a press conference on 20 December in Tbilisi, an official of Russian natural-gas monopoly Gazprom announced plans for a substantial increase in the supply of natural gas to Georgia, RFE/RL and the Caucasus Press reported. Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov explained that supplies of Russian natural gas to Georgia will increase to 2.25 billion cubic meters in 2006, a significant increase over this year's level of 1.3 billion cubic meters. RG
...BUT CONFIRMS STEEP PRICE HIKE FOR GAS SUPPLIES
Gazprom Deputy Chairman Ryazanov also confirmed on 20 December that Gazprom will increase the price it charges for gas supplies to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to $110 per 1,000 cubic meters starting in 2006, according to the Caucasus Press and RFE/RL. The price rise is especially steep, compared to Gazprom's current rates of $64 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas for Georgia and $56 for Armenia. RG
BELGIAN SAYS KAZAKHSTAN 'GOOD CANDIDATE' FOR 2009 OSCE CHAIRMANSHIP
Pierre Chevalier, the coordinator for Belgium's chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2006, said in Almaty on 19 December that Kazakhstan is a "good candidate" for the organization's chairmanship in 2009, Kazinform reported. The comments came after a meeting with Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev. Chevalier said that recent OSCE reports indicate that Kazakhstan is making progress on human rights. "While some shortcomings were noted, the OSCE and Belgium, as the future chair of this organization, will do everything possible to help Kazakhstan to solve these problems," he commented. DK
KAZAKHSTAN SAYS KYRGYZSTAN ILLEGALLY TAKING GAS
Kyrgyzstan owes Kazakhstan more than $18 million for past shipments of natural gas and is currently taking gas illegally from the Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty pipeline, the Kazakh news agency Khabar reported on 19 December. Kubanychbek Jusupov, director of the company KyrKazGaz, said, "[Kyrgyz gas company] Kyrgyzgaz at present does not have sufficient resources to make good on its debt immediately," the Kyrgyz news agency Kabar reported on 20 December. Kabar reported that the issue will have to be resolved through negotiations between the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments. Khabar reported that a bilateral commission is being formed to solve the problem, noting that Kazakhstan intends to continue its commercial cooperation with Kyrgyzstan in this area. DK
SUPPORTERS OF JAILED KAZAKH OPPOSITION ACTIVIST HOLD RALLY IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
Supporters of Kazakh opposition activist Makhambet Abzhan held a rally in front of Kazakhstan's embassy in Bishkek on 20 December, ferghana.ru reported. Azamat Zhetpisbaev, a Kazakh opposition activist who was arrested along with Abzhan in Bishkek on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2005) but later released, said that Abzhan has appealed to the UN and to the Kyrgyz authorities for refugee status. Ferghana.ru reported that Abzhan, who was arrested at the request of Kazakh authorities, faces criminal charges of financial improprieties in Kazakhstan that could result in a prison term of eight to 12 years. Representatives of the Kyrgyz youth organizations KelKel and Birge also took part in the demonstration, which proceeded peacefully. DK
DISPUTED KYRGYZ CELL OPERATOR REPORTEDLY NOT COLLECTING PAYMENTS
Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 December that disputed Kyrgyz cellular operator Bitel is telling its clients to delay payments and use the company's services for free at present, Prime-TASS reported. Russia's Rezervspetsmet, which reports have linked to Russia's Alfa Group, seized the offices of Bitel on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2005), only days after Russia's Mobile TeleSystems announced that it had purchased a controlling stake in Bitel for $150 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2005). "Kommersant-Daily" also reported that 50,000 Bitel customers who need to add money to their accounts in order to reactivate their service are currently unable to do so. With 470,000 subscribers, Bitel controls nearly 90 percent of Kyrgyzstan's mobile-phone market. DK
NEW KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT SWORN IN
Kyrgyzstan's new cabinet was sworn in at a ceremony in Bishkek on 20 December, akipress.org reported. The new government consists of: Prime Minister Feliks Kulov; First Deputy Prime Minister Medetbek Kerimkulov; Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov; Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov; Defense Minister Ismail Isakov; Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov; Economy and Finance Minister Akylbek Japarov; Agriculture, Water, and Processing Industry Minister Abdymalik Anarbaev; Emergency Situations Minister Janysh Rustenbekov; Health Minister Shailoobek Niyazov; Minister of Education, Science, and Youth Policy Dosbol Nur Uulu; Justice Minister Marat Kayipov; Industry, Trade, and Tourism Minister Almazbek Atambaev; Labor and Social Security Minister Yevgenii Semenenko; Transportation and Communications Minister Nurlan Sulaimanov; and Culture Minister Sultan Raev. DK
EBRD TO HELP TAJIK AIR CARRIER ACQUIRE NEW PLANES
Tajikistan's lower house of parliament, the Majlisi Namoyandagon, on 20 December ratified an agreement under which the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will loan air carrier Tojikiston $5 million to lease two new aircraft, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Debate in parliament noted that five of Tojikiston's nine Soviet-era TU-154s will have outlived their service life within two years, with the remaining four outliving their usefulness in five years, Regnum reported. Some deputies complained that Tojikiston has excessively high ticket prices and should be able to acquire its own planes, RFE/RL reported. But Tojikiston head Mirzo Anvarov replied that not one airline in the CIS has the financial resources to buy planes. DK
UZBEK PROSECUTOR FILES CHARGES AGAINST JAILED OPPOSITION FIGURE
The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office has released a statement confirming that it opened a criminal case of tax evasion against opposition leader Nodira Hidoyatova, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 December. As quoted by the news agency, the statement charged that Hidoyatova, the coordinator of the opposition Sunshine Coalition, was "part of an organized crime group [that] concealed large amounts foreign currency that should have been kept in accounts in approved Uzbek banks." Hidoyatova was detained in Tashkent airport on the night of 18 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2005). DK
UZBEK MINISTER REPORTEDLY QUITS GERMANY
A spokeswoman for the German Prosecutor-General's Office said on 20 December that Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov has left Uzbekistan, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported. Uzbek survivors of Andijon and the UN special rapporteur on torture recently called on Germany to arrest and prosecute Almatov, who had reportedly been undergoing treatment for cancer at a German clinic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 20 December 2005). Ferghana.ru cited an unconfirmed report that Almatov was recently seen in a Middle Eastern country. DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS TOUGH PUBLIC-SECURITY BILL INTO LAW
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed a bill of amendments to the Criminal Code that toughen penalties for activities "directed against people and public security" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 20 December. 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, which was adopted by the Belarusian legislature earlier this month, is widely seen as a measure to stifle freedom of speech in Belarus during the campaign for the 2006 presidential election. "Those representatives of alternate [presidential] candidates or candidates themselves who speak negatively about our reality -- and whose statements will be published in foreign media -- may be held accountable under these amendments," former Constitutional Court Judge Mikhail Pastukhou told RFE/RL. "To eliminate someone from the election process, it is sufficient to accuse him of destabilizing the situation by his speeches or discrediting the Republic of Belarus." JM
BELARUSIAN COURT REINSTATES HEAVY PENALTIES AGAINST HUMAN-RIGHTS WATCHDOG
The Supreme Economic Court on 20 December reinstated harsh sanctions against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BKhK) that were first introduced by tax authorities nearly two years ago, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. In early 2004, a district court in Minsk ordered the BKhK to pay 155 million rubles ($72,000) in allegedly unpaid taxes on European grants. The Minsk Economic Court annulled the penalties in July 2004, explaining that technical aid in the framework of the European Union's TACIS program was non-taxable under a memorandum signed between the Belarusian government and the European Union in May 1994. "This [20 December] ruling may serve as grounds for closing down the last remaining national human-rights organization and opens opportunities for the criminal prosecution of the BKhK officials who may face up to seven years in prison and property confiscation," BKhK Chairwoman Tatsyana Protska said. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES GAZPROM OF 'IRRESPONSIBLE APPROACH' IN GAS-PRICE DISPUTE...
President Viktor Yushchenko said at a news conference in Kyiv on 20 December that Gazprom is taking an "irresponsible approach" in demanding that prices for gas it exports to Ukraine in 2006 be increased more than fourfold, Ukrainian media reported. "I cannot comment on the statements of Gazprom officials that the price [for gas] in Ukraine will be $220 or $230 for 1,000 cubic meters. Why not $500 or $700? You know, this is not a basis for a political dialogue," Yushchenko said. "Those people who believe it is possible to do it [introduce new gas prices] starting 1 January -- I wouldn't call them professionals," he added. The Ukrainian president signaled that should Gazprom raise gas prices, Ukraine might increase the rent it charges Russia for the use of land and the port of Sevastopol by the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. JM
...AS PREMIER SUGGESTS POTENTIAL INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION
Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov assured journalists in Kyiv on 20 December that Russia does not intend to revise the existing gas delivery and transit contract with Ukraine until 2012, Ukrainian media reported. "We have a contract [in force] and all issues, if there are any problems, can be settled in the Stockholm court [Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce]," Yekhanurov said. The institute in Stockholm considers international disputes in which both parties agree to its arbitration. Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Russia's Gazprom concluded a contract in July 2002 on Russian gas transit across Ukraine from 2003-2013. A 2004 addendum to the contract stipulates that in 2005-2009 the gas transit tariff is $1.09 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, while the price of gas delivered to Ukraine as payment for transit is $50 per 1,000 cubic meters. On the other hand, Gazprom argues that, in accordance with an intergovernmental Russian-Ukrainian agreement of 2001, the volumes of shipped gas and conditions of payment for its transit are determined each year in a special intergovernmental protocol. Ukraine opposes signing such a protocol for 2006 with the higher prices proposed by Gazprom. JM
NEW UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO WASHINGTON APPOINTED
President Yushchenko has appointed Yuriy Shamshur as Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Ukrainian media reported on 20 December. Shamshur had served as a deputy foreign minister since February. He will replace Mykhaylo Reznik, whom Yushchenko dismissed in June. JM
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA TAKES STEPS TO STRENGTHEN CENTRAL GOVERNMENT
In an effort to ease ethnic tensions and foster more efficient decision making, Bosnia-Herzegovina's leaders have agreed to form a stronger central government, Reuters reported on 19 December. After the 1992-95 war, Bosnia was divided into the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation, united under a weak central government. Bosnian political leaders began talks in Brussels in November aimed at strengthening the country's central government, a key condition for joining NATO and the European Union. The talks are continuing in Washington. Douglas McElhaney, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, said Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian politicians have agreed to strengthen the central government by giving the prime minister the power to choose and dismiss members of his cabinet. Additionally, they agreed to set up two new ministries, the Agriculture Ministry and the Technology, Science, and Environmental Protection Ministry, in a nine-ministry government. "The changes that were made are substantive. I think that...a certain concentration of power within the cabinet and within the office of prime minister is extremely important in establishing the real parliamentary system," McElhaney said. BW
UNITED STATES APPOINTS ENVOY TO KOSOVA STATUS TALKS
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed career diplomat Frank G. Wisner on 20 December an envoy to the UN-led talks on Kosova's final status , Bloomberg News reported the same day. Wisner, a diplomat for more than 30 years, has served as U.S. ambassador to India, the Philippines, Egypt, and Zambia, according to the State Department. In a statement released on 20 December, the State Department said that Washington will support UN efforts to "secure a settlement on Kosovo's status that promotes security for all peoples of the Balkans and advances the region's integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions." BW
CROATIAN STATE TELEVISION CANCELS TALK SHOW OVER CRITICISM OF EX-PRESIDENT
Croatia's state-run HRT television station banned the popular talk show "Latinica" on 19 December after angry reactions to a broadcast that harshly criticized late President Franjo Tudjman, AKI reported the same day. The broadcast was aired on 12 December and set off a deluge of criticism in parliament and in the media. The station management cancelled the 19 December broadcast and is looking into disciplinary actions against the show's anchorman, Denis Latin. Tudjman is revered by many Croats for leading the country's secession from Yugoslavia, but criticism of him has increased since his death in 1999. Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the International Tribunal for War Crimes in former Yugoslavia, has said Tudjman would have been indicted for war crimes if he were alive. BW
MONTENEGRO SETS DATE FOR PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM...
Montenegro's parliament has scheduled a debate on an independence referendum for 7 February, B92 reported on 20 December. President Filip Vujanovic said the referendum could be held no less than 45 days after parliament makes a decision to go ahead with it, and no later than April 2006. Vujanovic also asked Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic to schedule a meeting of Serbia's and Montenegro's presidents and prime ministers to discuss future relations between the two states in the event that Montenegro becomes independent. "Montenegro is willing to affirm the principles of open borders and the free flow of people, goods, capital, and services in bilateral relations between the two states," Vujanovic wrote in a letter to Marovic. BW
...AS OPPOSITION AND SERBIA REACT
Predrag Bulatovic, leader of the opposition Socialist People's Party, which opposes independence. Said he would not discuss the referendum with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's government, B92 reported on 20 December. "There will be no discussion with the authorities. In our opinion, the referendum is not a good solution for 2006 and we shall confront any one-sided measures by the government," Bulatovic said. During a visit to France, Serbian President Boris Tadic said the referendum should take place in a manner that is acceptable to all sides, B92 reported. "That is why the standards for holding the referendum and the number of votes needed to proclaim independence are crucial to the process," Tadic said. Serbian government spokesman Srdjan Djuric said Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is opposed to the plan. Kostunica "informed the authorities in Podgorica in writing that the proposal was unacceptable on the very day it was put forward by Montenegrin authorities", Djuric said. BW
NATO RAIDS BOSNIAN SERB COMPANIES IN HUNT FOR MLADIC
NATO said on 20 December that its troops have raided two Bosnian Serb companies suspected of aiding war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, dpa reported the same day. The raids took place in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica. "The search is being conducted in an effort to find additional information about the support network, and in an effort to determine Ratko Mladic's location," NATO said a statement. NATO alleged that the companies, Sipad 10 August and Lorist, and one of their owners, Milje Kljestan, were associated with a network believed to be helping Mladic evade capture. BW
RUSSIAN OFFICIALS TURN UP HEAT ON MOLDOVA OVER TRANSDNIESTER
Russia Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov accused Moldova on 20 December of impeding a settlement on the breakaway Transdniester region and insisted the conflict can only be resolved through direct talks, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "As long as the Moldovan government insists on resolving the problem on its own terms and on the basis of its legislation, passed at the expense of abandoning all its previous initiatives, I don't see any chance to get the matter off the ground," Lavrov was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying. "It is only after persuading both sides to get down to the negotiating table that we can hope for success." Lavrov also said that Chisinau's insistence that Russian troops leave the region is holding up a settlement, Reuters reported. Also on 20 December, Russian Ambassador at Large Valerii Nesterushkin said Transdniester should have "a special status within the framework of one Moldova," ITAR-TASS reported. BW
KABARDINO-BALKARIA'S PRESIDENT ENCOURAGES DIALOGUE, ESPECIALLY AMONG THE YOUNG
After young militants launched multiple attacks on police and security agency targets in Nalchik in October, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov has made efforts to reach out to the younger generation.
Within days of his confirmation as president in late September, Kanokov, a Moscow-based businessman, was arguing the need to revitalize the economy, attract investment, create new jobs, end what he termed the "war" between the republic's senior Muslim clergy and young believers, and promote transparency within the government apparatus as a means of precluding cronyism and corruption.
The October attacks, which officially claimed more than 140 lives. have been blamed on entrenched corruption within the republic's leadership, appalling social and economic conditions, and the systematic and indiscriminate harassment by local police of practicing Muslims.
Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said on 15 December that more than 40 suspects have been charged and more than 60 people arrested in connection with the raids.
The Youth for Kanokov movement emerged in late November, and launched its own website (http://www.kanokov.org) intended to serve as a vehicle for discussions as to how the problems facing the republic could/should be solved. The site reportedly registered 540 visits on its first day and an average of 150-200 visits per day on subsequent days, kavkazweb.net reported on 29 November.
The movement already has branch organizations in Nalchik and 10 districts. It is unclear, however, whether it reflects a spontaneous initiative, or whether it was the brainchild of the presidential apparatus. Having been based in Moscow for several years prior to his appointment as president, Kanokov does not have a power base in Nalchik.
The fact that people wishing to attend the founding congress of Youth for Kanokov were required to e-mail their names beforehand to the organizers is likely to have precluded the participation of many of the impoverished and alienated rural residents.
Most members of the organization are students -- they also include businessmen, journalists, lawyers, and social workers. To judge from photos of the gathering posted on the movement's website, however, practicing Muslims are by no means excluded: one of the participants is a young woman wearing the hijab.
Kanokov is not just concentrating his attention on youth. He is also encouraging greater dialogue between the authorities and the population at large.
Shortly after the Nalchik raid, he gave an interview to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in which he deplored the total absence of such dialogue. The fact that Kanokov agreed to talk to Politkovskaya, whose reporting of abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya has almost cost her life on at least one occasion, sets him apart from both his predecessor Valerii Kokov and many of his fellow heads of North Caucasus regions.
In a bid to promote dialogue, Kanokov appealed to both parliamentary deputies and government officials to "go out and talk to people," annews.ru reported on 5 November. He reasoned that without doing so it is impossible to tackle the festering problems that helped trigger the Nalchik raids.
Kanokov delivered a similar message three weeks later at a meeting with heads of the republic's media outlets, his website prezident-kbr.ru reported on 25 November. Kanokov said on that occasion that not only the state-controlled media but privately owned media outlets should give the maximum coverage to the workings of the republic's government, which should in turn make the maximum amount of information available.
The media should, in turn, provide "feedback" from the population in the form of criticism and suggestions. Then, in early December, Kanokov convened a meeting to discuss setting up a presidential consultative council that, in Kanokov's words, would serve as a "bridge" between the republic's leadership and the public, rian.ru reported on 7 December.
And in December a confidential telephone hotline went into operation that citizens may use to inform the presidential apparatus of suspected criminal offenses or abuses of office by bureaucrats, Interfax reported on 15 December. During the first week the line was operational the presidential apparatus fielded a total of 437 complaints, 75 percent of which were about delays in payment of wages; only 2 percent focused on instances of corruption.
Much of the analysis of the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria in the wake of the October Nalchik attacks focused on perceived opposition to Kanokov within the republican leadership, especially the "power" ministries, which have reportedly engaged in systematic reprisals over the past couple of years against anyone suspected of sympathizing with, or of contacts to, Islamic radicals.
Those reprisals are believed to have contributed in no small measure to the emergence of the djamaats that constitute the underground opposition to the regime. But the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament, too, is now flexing its muscles, having proposed separate amendments to Russian legislation that would toughen the penalties for "terrorism" and "religious extremism," according to Interfax on 30 November and regnum.ru on 1 December.
Whether the police and Prosecutor-General's Office would go so far as to adduce that legislation in a future crackdown on isolated members of Youth for Kanokov in a bid to discredit the entire organization remains to be seen.
TALIBAN LEADER DENOUNCES AFGHAN PARLIAMENT
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the former head of the Taliban regime, condemned the newly formed Afghan National Assembly in a statement issued on 20 December, calling it a "fake" and predicting eventual victory for the neo-Taliban. The Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency received the statement by telephone from purported spokesman Mohammad Hanif. "Whenever Americans plan to occupy a territory they start to create pretexts and false events, such as symbolic elections and setting up a parliament, for their military invasion and occupation," the statement said. Omar also said that Afghans were pressured to vote, and those who did not have voting cards were not allowed in hospitals. "The Americans, apart from organizing elections and parliamentary process, will be forced to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan just as they are forced to withdraw from Iraq. Our struggle will turn into a national movement because every zealous Afghan Muslim knows that our soil has been given to the Americans by a few puppets. Such fake democracy and parliament cannot change the opinion of the Afghan people any more," the statement concluded. MR
UN VOICES CONCERN ABOUT U.S. DRAWDOWN IN AFGHANISTAN
Following an announcement in Washington that 3,000 U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by spring, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guehenno urged the international community to make sure military forces stay at a robust level in Afghanistan, AFP reported on 20 December. Guehenno said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) needs adequate resources to maintain military capabilities in southern Afghanistan. "As ISAF takes on new responsibility in Afghanistan, it will be important to maintain the same level of support for the security of Afghanistan. This is essential," Guehenno told reporters in Kabul. An ISAF force of about 10,000 soldiers plans to move into southern Afghanistan next year, and NATO has approved an additional 6,000 troops for duty in Afghanistan. MR
AFGHAN INSURGENTS KILL PROSECUTOR, WOUND THREE ITALIAN SOLDIERS
Gunmen killed a district prosecutor in southern Afghanistan and three Italian soldiers were wounded in a separate bombing attack in the western city of Herat, AFP reported on 20 December. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents shot the unnamed prosecutor on 19 December in Helmand Province, district police chief Abdul Rehman Abir said. In Herat, three Italian ISAF peacekeepers suffered injuries in an apparent suicide attack on their convoy on 20 December. "There was a vehicle that pulled up alongside and blew up next to one of our vehicles," ISAF spokesman Andy Elmes said, adding that the three were "lightly injured." Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusuf Stanizai called it "a possible suicide attack." The attacker reportedly died in the blast. MR
IRAN-AZERBAIJAN GAS PIPELINE INAUGURATED
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev participated in the 20 December inauguration of a natural-gas pipeline connecting their two countries, Baku Public Service television, Turan, and IRNA reported. Also in attendance were Iranian Petroleum Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh and Nateq Aliyev, president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). Iran began supplying the Nakhichevan exclave with gas in early November, and this will reach 70 million cubic meters by the end of 2005. In 2006, Nakhichevan will receive 250 million cubic meters of natural gas, and this will increase to 350 million cubic meters from 2009-2024. In exchange, Azerbaijan will deliver 80.5 million cubic meters of gas to Iran at the Astara border crossing by November 2006. Iran will keep 15 percent of the gas as a swap fee, according to IRNA. The two sides also signed agreements on the expansion of political ties. BS
IRAN ARRESTS ATTACKERS OF PRESIDENTIAL MOTORCADE
Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, chief of Iran's national police force, said on 20 December that an attack on the presidential motorcade in Sistan va Baluchistan Province the previous week was not an assassination attempt, dpa reported, citing ISNA. President Ahmadinejad was not in the motorcade at the time of the 14 December attack. A bodyguard and a driver, as well as one of the attackers, were killed in the incident. Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham on 19 December described the attackers as bandits who contribute to local insecurity while pursuing materialistic goals. Elham said the bandits were identified and arrested. BS
IRAN PURSUES INTERNATIONAL INVOLVEMENT IN NUCLEAR EFFORTS
Supreme National Security Council spokesman Hussein Entezami said on 20 December that in upcoming talks with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and Great Britain), Iran will propose that it enrich uranium on its own territory with international participation, dpa reported. The talks are scheduled to begin on 21 December in Vienna. An anonymous "diplomat close to intelligence sources" said on 20 December that Iran is "laying the groundwork of uranium enrichment," AFP reported. The EU-3 cancelled nuclear talks with Iran in August, after Tehran resumed uranium-conversion activities, and European officials said at the time that the talks could not resume until nuclear-fuel-related activities came to halt. Tehran has repeatedly asserted that it will not forsake what it sees as its right to develop an independent nuclear capability, which includes mastery of the complete nuclear-fuel cycle. BS
IRANIAN STUDENT ACTIVIST GIVEN PRISON SENTENCE
An Iranian court on 20 December sentenced Abdullah Momeni, former leader of a student political organization called the Office for Strengthening Unity, to five years in prison for undermining national security, Radio Farda reported. The sentence is described as "habs taziri," which means that the prison sentence must be served in full. Momeni also is banned from public affairs for five years. The day before, according to Radio Farda, the trial of several student activists and three national-religious activists began. Momeni told Radio Farda his was a closed trial without a jury, and the accusations against him were based on his pro-democracy activities and were therefore baseless. His activities, Momeni continued, had nothing to do with national security. Momeni said he protests these charges and believes the sentence will not deter the student movement from the promotion of democracy, human rights, and civil society. BS
JAILED IRANIAN LAWYER'S CONDITION WORSENS
The wife of imprisoned lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani told Radio Farda on 20 December that her husband is getting weaker every day. Soltani was detained in July, and he has spent a great deal of time in solitary confinement. In late November almost 200 jurists wrote to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to demand Soltani's release (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 December 2005). Soltani's wife, Masumeh Dehqan, told Radio Farda that she sees her husband every two weeks and last visited him on 19 December. She said that his health is deteriorating and fears he will succumb to illness. Dehqan said she has written to Hashemi-Shahrudi and expressed concern about her husband's well-being. BS
AL-DUJAYL TRIAL RESUMES IN IRAQ
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants returned to court on 21 December as the Al-Dujayl trial resumed after a two-week break, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Prosecutor Ja'far al-Musawi told Al-Sharqiyah television prior to the start of the trial that between five and seven witnesses are expected to testify. Witness Ali Hasan Muhammad al-Haydari al-Dujayli testified before the tribunal, saying his entire family was arrested, in all 43 people, by Iraqi security forces following the attempted assassination of Hussein in 1982; two of his brothers were executed. Old and young alike were tortured in prison, he said, adding that Iraqi security forces made his sister watch them torture her brother. Another sister was born and died in Abu Ghurayb Prison. He said no medical treatment or baby formula was given to the children. Al-Haydari added that detainees were threatened with rape unless they confessed to crimes. He identified Barzan al-Tikriti as being present when prisoners were tortured, and said that Abdullah Ruwayd told his sister that the regime intended to eliminate the Shi'a from the city. After four years in prison, he said Al-Dujayl was unrecognizable because the farms and orchards were razed. KR
IRAQI JUSTICE MINISTER SLAMS TRIBUNAL
Justice Minister Abd al-Husayn Shandal criticized the Iraqi Special Tribunal in a 21 December statement, saying the judges on the tribunal were unqualified despite their foreign training, dpa reported. Shandal added that the tribunal justices exhibited incompetence for failing to deal with "subjects who violated court procedures in public, some of whom offended the judges" and the prosecution, dpa reported. Meanwhile, Higher Judicial Council Chief Judge Midhat al-Mahmud escaped assassination in Baghdad on 20 December, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. KR
IRAQI PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON ALLIANCES, ELECTION
Jalal Talabani told reporters at a 20 December press briefing in Baghdad that he hopes that the Iraqi Accordance Front and Iraqi National List will join the Kurdistan Coalition and United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) in forming a coalition government next year, Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Asked about the Kurdistan Coalition's relationship with the UIA at the end of the transitional government's term, he said, "Our experience with [Prime Minister Ibrahim] al-Ja'fari has not been successful and he did not fulfill his promises" on Kirkuk, and "the Kurdistan Coalition was intensely displeased with this." Asked about the Kurdistan Coalition's relationship with Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List, Talabani said: "We have good relations with everyone.... Our relations are good with Dr. Allawi. They are not documented but are good." KR
U.S. ARMY FINDS OVER 1,000 ROCKETS AND MISSILES AFTER IRAQI TIP
The 101st Airborne Division uncovered more than 1,000 old rockets and missiles wrapped in plastic and buried in the desert 240 kilometers north of Baghdad on 20 December following a tip from an informant , AP reported the same day. Some of the rockets appeared to have been buried as recently as two weeks ago. Soldiers were using metal detectors to locate more mines, mortars, and machine-gun rounds at the site; some of the rockets were of Soviet, German, and French origin and appeared to have been wrapped in fresh plastic, which had not deteriorated as it had on other weapons. Second Lieutenant Patrick Vardaro declined to say whether there were indications that the caches had been used to make recent bombs, but he did tell AP, "In our eyes, every one of these rockets represents one less" improvised explosive device. KR
JORDANIAN EMBASSY DRIVER ABDUCTED IN IRAQ
A Jordanian national who worked as a driver for his embassy in Baghdad was abducted outside his home in the capital on 20 December, international media reported the same day. Jordan's Petra news agency said gunmen in three cars abducted Mahmud Sa'idat, who was described as an embassy driver; Iraqi police said Sa'idat was the ambassador's personal driver. Prime Minister Ma'ruf al-Bakhit said on 20 December that the government was considering moving the embassy staff to safer ground in Iraq, either inside the U.S.-controlled Green Zone or to the Jordanian base in Al-Fallujah, Petra reported the same day. KR