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Newsline - February 22, 2007


U.S. SLAMS RUSSIAN CRITICISM OF CZECHS, POLES
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a February 21 Berlin news conference that the United States has held many consultations with Russia over the proposed U.S. missile-defense system, which President Vladimir Putin and many other Russian officials have vehemently criticized in recent weeks, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 19, 20, and 21, 2007). She was responding to recent criticism from her host, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), who has publicly blamed Washington for not consulting Moscow, but has not criticized Russia's stance. Rice stressed on February 21 that "we have had no less than 10 formal contacts with the Russians about the missile-defense deployment -- the prospective deployment...of interceptors in Poland and radar sites in the Czech Republic -- [and] these discussions have gone all the way to the level of minister of defense. I myself have discussed this with Russian officials several times in more informal settings. We've had briefings at the NATO-Russia Council." She added that "Poland and the Czech Republic are independent countries that make their own decisions. And the government of Poland and the Czech Republic have decided to participate in missile defense. Secondly, these missiles defenses are for purposes having to do with post-9/11 threats.... Anyone who knows anything about this will tell you that there is no way that 10 interceptors in Poland and radar sites in the Czech Republic are a threat to Russia or that they are somehow going to diminish Russia's deterrent of thousands of warheads." She suggested that recent Russian threats to target Poland and the Czech Republic with missiles were "extremely unfortunate." On February 21, the Polish daily "Dziennik" reported that U.S. President George W. Bush may visit Warsaw this summer for talks on installing part of the missile-defense system in Poland. On February 21, the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" wrote that Bush might also visit the Czech Republic this summer. The paper noted that President Vaclav Klaus is expected to discuss missile defense with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington in early March. PM

U.S. CALLS ON EUROPE TO MAKE OBJECTIONS TO PUTIN KNOWN
U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters in Brussels on February 21 that Washington remains upset at President Putin's bellicose speech in Munich on February 10, Britain's "Financial Times" reported on February 22 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 13, 20, and 21, 2007). Hadley added that Putin's remarks were "a set of comments in which quite frankly we were disappointed.... I think a lot of Europeans were disappointed and dismayed. And one of the things that Europeans need to do is...to make that clear to Russia and...to...Putin." In Berlin on February 20, an unnamed German Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected recent charges by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) that Foreign Minister Steinmeier should have criticized Putin rather than the United States over missile defense, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on February 21. The spokesman added nonetheless that Russian statements about targeting Poland and the Czech Republic were "not helpful." An unnamed spokesman for Steinmeier admitted on February 21 that the minister had indeed been aware of "technical talks" between Moscow and Washington on missile defense when he recently criticized the United States for not consulting Russia, Britain's "Financial Times" reported on February 22. The spokesman added that Steinmeier was simply trying to caution against any return to "security stand-offs of the Cold War era." On February 19, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung (CDU), said that missile defense should be discussed in the NATO-Russia Council, euobserver.com reported. PM

U.S., RUSSIA CONTINUE 'DIALOGUE' IN MOSCOW
U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley began talks on a variety of issues with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov in Moscow on February 22, Interfax and news.ru reported. Before Hadley arrived, Ivanov said that the two countries have differences in their relations that should be settled through "intensive dialogue." Ivanov called U.S.-Russian relations "one of Russia's priorities" and noted the two countries' common interests in combating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Hadley said that "when we have disagreements, we are able to talk candidly about them and...work together constructively," Reuters reported. Missile defense is expected to figure prominently on the agenda of the Hadley-Ivanov talks, which were scheduled some time ago. PM

RUSSIA GIVES CAUTIOUS WELCOME TO POSSIBLE LIFTING OF JACKSON-VANIK AMENDMENT
On February 21, U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), who heads the House International Relations Committee, said in Washington that time has come to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which pegs normal U.S. trade relations with communist and former communist countries to their citizens' rights to emigrate freely, Reuters reported. He stressed that "the time is ripe to move ahead and put behind us this relic of the Cold War," but gave no timeline on repealing the measure, which Russia has long opposed. Generally known as a critic of Kremlin policies, Lantos said that "the United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals as important countries of the civilized world that we both need to understand the need to collaborate on a tremendous range of issues." He also downplayed criticism of President Putin's February 10 speech, saying that Putin simply needed "to get these things off his chest." On February 22, the daily "Izvestia" noted that Lantos seems to have softened his former "hawkish" attitude toward Russia and its president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 9, 2006). Also on February 22, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivanov said that if Jackson-Vanik is indeed repealed, "it will be one more important signal for the development of our relations," Interfax reported. PM

RUSSIANS DEBATE RESPONSE TO MISSILE DEFENSE
RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov wrote on February 21 that "a bad treaty is better than a good missile" and that there will be "many repercussions" if the Kremlin decides to abrogate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Washington, as General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, and Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, who commands the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, recently suggested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20 and 21, 2007). The two generals "directly linked the possibility of that step with plans for the implementation of an American antimissile defense program for European countries." Kislyakov noted that Russia has plans to update its own missile systems anyway and has stressed that it has no intention of getting into an expensive arms race with the United States. But he added that "adding intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles to such a [program] in the future is not a very happy choice." Kislyakov argued that an INF program will be complex and costly, and divert funds from domestic programs. He concluded that "Sergei Ivanov, Russia's former defense minister, may have been right to describe the INF Treaty as a relic. But all things old are not always worse than what's new." On February 22, the daily "Izvestia" commented that "it wouldn't take long for Moscow to resume production of missiles with a flight range between 500 and 5,000 kilometers. This could involve the intermediate-range [SS-20], a Soviet-era missile eliminated in accordance with the INF Treaty, or the modern Iskandr missile system." The paper suggested that this would be an "appropriate and asymmetric" -- meaning relatively cheap -- response to the U.S. missile-defense project. The daily suggested that "this is the final argument available to Moscow. Intermediate-range missiles have played a positive role in our history already: their deployment in Cuba averted a war between the United States and the USSR [in 1962]. Now, as in the 1960s...Baluyevsky is attempting to use this final argument.... At least we have been heard -- and that means [Washington] will start taking a new factor into account. Perhaps there won't be any missile-defense elements in Europe, and we won't have to spend money on recreating missile technology, or build any intermediate-range missiles." PM

UPPER HOUSE BLOCKS TATARSTAN TREATY
On February 21, Russia's Federation Council voted 93-13, with 15 abstentions, to reject the 10-year power-sharing agreement between the federal authorities and the Republic of Tatarstan, which the Duma ratified on February 9, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 19, 2006, and February 12 and 21, 2007). Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said before the vote that "the approval of this bill and this agreement would create a dangerous political precedent in violation of the constitutional principle of equality of Russian Federation subjects. In effect, this would be a departure from the course of federal reform that has been pursued by...President...Putin for the past seven years." Tatarstan's State Council Chairman Ferid Mukhammetshin responded that the pact involves no special privileges for Tatarstan. He stressed that "while [Russia's] regions have equal rights, they are not equal. Our economic capabilities are different, our ecological and climate conditions are different, and we should speak about these things openly. Such agreements should be able to give each [region] an opportunity to find a mechanism of resolving problems in each particular territory, and a federative state should not be afraid of that." Mosnews.com suggested on February 22 that the Kremlin itself torpedoed the treaty in order to "thwart the ambitions" of oil-rich, mainly Muslim Tatarstan. But Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who represents the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, told reporters that the lower house stands by its decision to back the treaty. He argued that President Putin has signed the measure and that "we support the president." "The Moscow Times" of February 22 quoted Yury Sharandin, head of the Federation Council's Constitutional Law Committee, as saying that "the bill now returns to the Duma. If deputies pass the bill a second time, it will be sent directly to...Putin for final approval, bypassing the Federation Council." PM

INGUSH MILITANTS DENY ATTACKING CLERGYMEN
In a statement posted on the Chechen website "Daymohk" (http://www.daymohk.info) and reposted on February 22 on kavkazcenter.com, the Ingush sector of the Caucasus Front claimed responsibility for a February 6 attack on a Russian armored column near the settlement of Maysky, but gave no estimate of the ensuing Russian casualties. The statement stressed that the militants of the Ingush sector constitute a precisely organized system of subunits of fighters with considerable combat experience. The statement explicitly denies that Ingush militants were responsible for the January 31 attack that injured pro-Moscow Ingush mufti Isa-hadji Khamkhoyev and his young son, or the grenade attack on the home of a Nazran imam one week later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1 and 8, 2007). It condemned the shooting in cold blood on February 7 by FSB personnel of two Ingush civilians, one of whom was a renowned healer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, 2007). LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT DENIES HE WILL SEEK THIRD TERM
Arkady Ghukasian, who has served since 1997 as president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, formally denied on February 21 that he plans to run again for president when his second term expires in July 2007, even though the constitution adopted in October 2006 would permit the incumbent to run again, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and regnum.ru reported. He recalled that he made clear in October 2006 that he would not seek a third term, and said that ongoing media speculation to the contrary is damaging the unrecognized republic's image abroad. He did not mention specific publications, but the Yerevan daily "Haykakan zhamanak" reported on February 3, 8, and 10 that Ghukasian recently traveled to Moscow in an unsuccessful bid to secure approval from the Kremlin for his reelection. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY PLANS TO SUE JUSTICE MINISTRY
Ali Aliyev told day.az on February 21 that the Citizen and Development Party (VIP) he heads intends to file suit against the Justice Ministry for its repeated failure to register the party. The VIP was established in May 2006 following the exodus of Aliyev and his supporters from the Azerbaijan National Independence Party formerly headed by Etibar Mammadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 26, 2006). In an interview published by echo-az.com on August 10, 2006, Aliyev explained that his party submitted the requisite registration documents to the Justice Ministry on June 9, 2006. The ministry did not question the application, but neither has it registered the party; moreover, according to Aliyev, some senior ministry officials told him "there is no need" to register any additional political parties. LF

SEMINAR FOCUSES ON AZERBAIJANI MEDIA COVERAGE OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work With Religious Structures and the unofficial Press Council cosponsored a seminar in Baku on February 21 devoted to media coverage of religious issues, day.az and zerkalo.az reported on February 21 and 22, respectively. Hidayat Orujev, who chairs the state committee, criticized unnamed small religious communities in Azerbaijan that, he claimed, seek to "politicize" religion and to impose their creed on the population. At the same time, he denied that "wahhabism" poses a threat to Azerbaijan. The independent television channel ANS TV, however, on February 17 quoted an imam in the north Azerbaijani region of Quba as complaining that wahhabism is gaining in popularity in the north of the country and that its proselytizers "are becoming more aggressive." Orujev further complained that most of the 250-300 articles on religious issues published in the Azerbaijani press every month lack professionalism. LF

GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES ACCUSED OF 'QUIET GENOCIDE' OF AZERBAIJANI MINORITY
The temporary Supreme Committee of the National Assembly of Azerbaijanis of Georgia (NAAG) convened in Baku on February 21 to discuss the socioeconomic situation in those regions of southeastern Georgia in which Azeris constitute the majority of the population, day.az reported. NAAG President Dashyg Gyulmamedov accused the Georgian leadership that came to power in 2004 of neglect and discrimination tantamount to a "quiet genocide" of Georgia's Azerbaijani population. He said the NAAG will "soon" appeal to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to set up a special commission to investigate the circumstances of the forced sterilization of 2,578 Azerbaijani women in Georgian hospitals. It was not clear when the alleged sterilizations occurred. LF

GEORGIA CONTINUES EFFORTS TO REPLACE RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS
Georgia is working on a package of proposals that would constitute the legal basis for changing the existing format of talks aimed at reaching a political solution of its conflicts with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and for replacing the Russian peacekeepers deployed in both conflict zones with international contingents, RFE/RL's Georgian Service quoted Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili as saying in Tbilisi on February 21. Bezhuashvili admitted that doing so would be "difficult, but not unrealistic." Foreign Ministry spokesman David Dondua told RFE/RL that in the case of Abkhazia, the existing agreement provides for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force at the request of one or other conflict side. The Georgian parliament called last year for the Russians' withdrawal, and Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, and Baltic leaders have expressed readiness to send substitute peacekeepers. In South Ossetia, Dondua continued, securing the Russians' withdrawal may prove problematic insofar as they were deployed on the basis of a quadripartite agreement between Russia, Georgia, the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, and North Ossetia, which is a Russian Federation subject. LF

KAZAKHSTAN THREATENS OIL CONSORTIUM WITH SANCTIONS
Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Isakov announced on February 21 in Astana that the Tengizchevroil consortium has one month to put an end to environmental violations or it could face a court-ordered work stoppage, Khabar reported. "We reserve the right, if the enterprise does not present us shortly, and we'll tell the media about this, with concrete actions in the near future to liquidate sulfur byproducts in compliance with environmental legislation, we reserve the right to halt the enterprise's activities through the courts," he said. Isakov said that Tengizchevroil, which is developing the Tengiz oil field, has stockpiled 9 million metric tons of sulfur, AP reported. The Chevron-led consortium also includes Exxon Mobil and Kazakh state energy company Kazmunaigaz. Oil production at the Tengiz field was 13.3 million metric tons in 2006, with production expected to double after 2008. DK

KAZAKH SECURITY COUNCIL ADOPTS NEW STRATEGY...
Berik Imashev, secretary of Kazakhstan's Security Council, told journalists in Astana on February 21 that the council adopted a new national security strategy at a session the same day, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Noting that the strategy rests on "the prioritization of Kazakhstan's national interests" and is designed for "anticipating and identifying potential threats and the integration of global and regional security systems," Imashev said that it "encourages state bodies to work more actively to establish a constructive and secure environment, both external and internal, and to use the existing and potential opportunities of state bodies for advancing Kazakhstan immediately in the Central Asian region and the whole world as well." DK

...DISCUSSES HIV/AIDS SITUATION...
Kazakh Health Minister Anatoly Dernovoi told a news conference after the Security Council meeting that the HIV/AIDS situation in Kazakhstan "is growing rather tense," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Dernovoi said that he briefed the council on measures being taken to fight an HIV/AIDS outbreak in the Southern Kazakhstan region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006), noting that 93 children and 14 mothers have tested HIV-positive in the region, with over 56,000 people tested in the wake of the outbreak. Dernovoi said that more than 50 specialists from Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Cuba, and such organizations as UNICEF and the World Health Organization are helping to combat the outbreak. On the overall HIV/AIDS situation in Kazakhstan, Dernovoi said, "The country has 7,557 registered cases of HIV infection and AIDS, with 1,745 [new] registered cases last year." DK

...AND LAUDS ANTICORRUPTION EFFORTS
President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who chaired the Security Council session, said that efforts to fight corruption in Kazakhstan are gaining strength, Khabar reported. Today, according to data from Transparency International, Kazakhstan has risen in a positive direction, from 135th place to 75th," he said. "We're in the group of countries that are considered developed. There is still a lot of work to do, but our tough measures have had an effect." DK

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS PLEDGE FURTHER COOPERATION WITH KYRGYZSTAN
A spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called Kyrgyzstan's decision not to join the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries debt-reduction initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2007) a "sovereign decision," and said the IMF will continue cooperation, Kabar reported on February 21. Kabar quoted the IMF's press service as saying, "In a dialogue with the authorities, the IMF and the World Bank said that they were ready to further support the Kyrgyz authorities' efforts to carry out economic reforms by providing financial resources as well as technical assistance." Also on February 21, Markus Mueller, head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek, told a press conference that while economic logic militated for Kyrgyzstan's participation in HIPC, the Kyrgyz government made a political decision not to join the program. Mueller said that the OSCE supports sovereign governments' right to decide which international programs to join. "We know that international institutions have many programs, some of which are good, while the rest can be just a waste of time," he commented. DK

UZBEK REFUGEES DEPART KYRGYZSTAN FOR THIRD COUNTRIES
Nineteen Uzbek refugees who fled the violence in Andijon in May 2005 have been relocated to third countries, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on February 21. The refugees are reportedly bound for the United States, Canada, and Austria. Cholpon Jakupova, the head of the Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization Adilet, said Kyrgyzstan could not guarantee the safety of all the Uzbeks who came to Kyrgyzstan after the Andijon violence. "In the current situation, we cannot provide safety for these people on the territory of Kyrgyzstan," she said. "Starting in May 2005 when they came to our country, for various reasons that unfortunately remain unknown, some 17 people disappeared from Kyrgyzstan, and no one knows the fate of these people." Akipress.org reported that the Bishkek office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees could not confirm that the 19 refugees were Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan after the May 2005 unrest in Andijon. DK

JAILED TAJIK PARTY LEADER TRANSFERRED TO PRISON
Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, the imprisoned head of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, has been transferred from the Justice Ministry's temporary detention center to a prison in Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on February 21. Rahmatullo Valiyev, Iskandarov's deputy, told RFE/RL that doctors will examine Iskandarov within a week and that Iskandarov's relatives will soon be able to visit him. Bahrom Abdulhaqov, a prison official, said that unresolved issues involving Iskandarov's case delayed his transfer to prison. Iskandarov received a 23-year prison term in October 2005 after he was convicted on charges of terrorism, the embezzlement of state funds, and the illegal storage of weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 2005). DK

TAJIK AMNESTY HALVES PRISON POPULATION
Gulzora Taygunshoyeva, an inspector in Tajikistan's prison administration, told Regnum on February 21 that the implementation of an August 2006 amnesty has halved the country's prison population. Taygunshoyeva said that a total of 6,731 inmates have been released, while 4,508 inmates had their sentences reduced. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT APPOINTS MINISTERS
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on February 21 appointed ministers to Turkmenistan's government, with most serving ministers retaining their posts, Altyn Asyr TV and Interfax reported. Orazgeldi Hudaiberdiev has been reappointed minister of railways, Asyrgeldi Zamanov minister of motor transport and roads, Yusup Davodov minister of energy and industry, and Enebai Ataeva minister of culture. Gurbannazar Kakaliev was appointed minister of social security. Yklymberdi Paromov was appointed minister of the textile industry, Gurbangeldi Melekeev minister of trade, and Hojamurat Geldimuradov minister of economy and finance. Garyagdy Tashliev was appointed head of state oil company Turkmennebit, a post with ministerial rank. And Gurbanmurat Ataev was reappointed minister of the oil and gas industry. DK

BELARUSIAN MINISTRY WARNS INDEPENDENT MONTHLY
The Information Ministry has issued two official warnings to the Belarusian-language monthly "Arche," a Minsk-based high-profile intellectual magazine devoted to literature and culture, thus putting the periodical under the threat of closure, Belapan reported on February 21. According to Deputy Information Minister Liliya Ananich, who signed both warnings, the monthly violated the media law by publishing three issues in January and thus changing its periodicity of publication. The Information Ministry suspended the publication of "Arche" for the last three months of 2006, objecting to articles on politics and the 2006 presidential election published in the monthly's September 2006 issue. To supply readers and subscribers with the three delayed issues, the editors published them in January. "Arche" Editor in Chief Valer Bulhakau explained that had "Arche" not done this, Belposhta, Belarus's postal monopoly, would have canceled the delivery contract and the subscribers would be left without the issues they had paid for. According to Bulhakau, the real reason behind the current warnings were articles critical of top-ranking government officials published by "Arche" in the past. Bulhakou said a potential new suspension would ruin the monthly. "To resume publication, we would need to get the approval of the ideology department of the Minsk City Executive Committee, which is impossible in the present situation," he added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE FOR FOREIGN MINISTER
The Verkhovna Rada on February 22 failed to approve Volodymyr Ohryzko as the country's new foreign minister, Ukrainian media reported. Ohryzko was supported by 196 opposition deputies, with at least 226 votes required for approval. President Viktor Yushchenko nominated Ohryzko for the post on February 5, following the resignation of former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on January 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31 and February 6, 2007). Also on February 22, the parliament rejected the presidential nomination of lawmaker Viktor Korol for the post of chief of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Korol's nomination was backed by 190 opposition deputies. Under the constitution, the nomination of the defense and foreign ministers as well as of the SBU chief is a presidential prerogative. In theory, President Yushchenko can submit Ohryzko's and Korol's candidacies once again. The law on the cabinet adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in January stipulates that the parliamentary majority shall appoint the defense and foreign ministers on its own if the president fails to submit their candidacy "within 15 days." President Yushchenko filed a protest against this law to the Constitutional Court. JM

KYIV BLASTS MOSCOW MAYOR'S PRONOUNCEMENTS IN SEVASTOPOL
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on February 22 that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's statements in Sevastopol the previous day were intended to stir up "tension in society" and undermine "good-neighborly relations," Ukrainian media reported. The ministry also said that Luzhkov publicly cast doubt on the status of the Crimean Peninsula as an integral part of Ukraine. "We should talk today about many problems that have appeared due to the processes that involved you in our time and tore Sevastopol away from Russia, tore Crimea away from Russia," Ukrainian media quoted Luzhkov as saying at a news conference in Sevastopol. "[Sevastopol] is a city that needs support in order to let all Russians, including those with Ukrainian passports, feel that they are close to their motherland," Luzhkov added. JM

NO CHANGE IN POSITIONS IN KOSOVA TALKS...
The UN's special envoy to Kosova, Martti Ahtisaari, said on February 21 after the first day of consultations about his plan for the contested region's future that "nothing has indicated the parties may move in a different direction than the one they had before," international media reported the same day. Once again, he indicated that a compromise or imposed solution is needed urgently, saying that "I have already delayed my plan too much" and that "if there's eternal delay in this process, then the security situation becomes problematic." The security threat has been thrown into focus by the deaths of two demonstrators on February 10 and repeated warnings of a new outbreak of hostilities between the UN-administered Serbian province's Albanian majority and Serbian minority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, 6, and 12, 2007). Ahtisaari has been highly skeptical about the prospects of a late breakthrough and has called on the international community to muster the courage needed to impose a solution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6, 2007). Nonetheless, Ahtisaari talked of "a good beginning" to the talks because "both [parties] have behaved in a proper manner." In comments to the media on February 21, Ahtisaari's deputy, Albert Rohan, said, "we have to differentiate: we are pessimistic as far as the status [issue] itself is concerned, and we are totally open and hopeful that there will be fruitful discussions on all these practical matters." AG

...WHILE PRISHTINA CRITICIZES BELGRADE FOR 'GROUNDHOG DAY' APPROACH...
Negotiators representing the ethnic Albanian majority cast doubt on the prospect of a breakthrough, with the chief negotiator, Veton Surroi, telling the media the talks were "like [the film] 'Groundhog Day': you wake up and find exactly the same proposals from Belgrade." Surroi said that his team's proposed amendments "will in no way change the structure" of the UN blueprint and would "preserve its spine and the shape given to it by Mr. Ahtisaari." Serbia's chief negotiator, Slobodan Samardzic, told the media that "We are not rejecting the entire plan. We reject only the provisions violating the territorial integrity of Serbia." Samardzic did, though, say his team has "completely alternative proposals" to the draft. Ahtisaari said on February 21 that he is "willing to consider constructive amendments and to incorporate compromise agreements." The consultative process is expected to continue until March 10. Ahtisaari anticipates that he will present his plan to the UN Security Council toward the end of March. AG

...AND FORMER RUSSIAN MINISTER ACCUSES U.S. OF 'ACTING IN HASTE'
Yevgeny Primakov, who as foreign minister was responsible for Russian diplomacy in the years leading up to the outbreak of violence in Kosova, has called on the United States to accept the need for a slower process of negotiation about Kosova's future. In an article published on February 21 in the Russian weekly "Moscow News," Primakov wrote that, in supporting the Ahtisaari plan, the United States is "acting in haste, apparently without assessing the possible fallout of this haste." Primakov, a former prime minister, is now an academic, but he expressed the hope that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "with whom I used to have good business contacts and, I hope, still have a friendly relationship," would accept Russia's motives for advocating a slower process because "clearly, they far outweigh the desire of the U.S. administration to achieve at least one success story in settling a crisis." Primakov outlined an alternative approach in which the Ahtisaari plan would serve "as a basis for serious negotiations between the parties involved, even if this requires considerable time," adding that in a number of other violently divided parts of Europe -- Cyprus and Northern Ireland -- talks have lasted "for decades." Primakov said, "this is not to suggest that the Kosovo crisis should be allowed to drag on," but that "jumping the gun can be as dangerous as marking time." Russia has adopted a strong line of opposition to any plan that goes against Serbia's wishes, with occasional hints of a softer line (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6 and 12, 2007). In one of the most clear-cut statements by a Russian politician, Konstantin Kosachyov, the pro-Kremlin head of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters on February 20 that "I hope that our partners have the wisdom not to insist on taking this to the Security Council, because in that case Russia and China will be obliged to use their vetoes." AG

KILLING OF MONTENEGRIN EDITOR COMMEMORATED
The Montenegrin newspaper "Dan" devoted much of its February 21 edition to marking the thousandth day since the killing of its publisher and editor in chief Dusko Jovanovic, a case that remains unresolved and a continuing source of political tension and unease about the state of the media in Montenegro, local media reported. On December 27, a court in Podgorica ruled that there is not enough evidence to convict the one person brought to trial for the murder. Damic Mandic, a former karate champion and a suspected organized-crime boss, was alleged to have driven the car from which gunmen fired the shots that killed Jovanovic in May 2004. However, Jovanovic was a highly public and controversial media and political figure, fueling speculation about the motives for his killing. As the editor of "Dan," he became the first journalist to be indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), after revealing the identity of a protected witness. The indictment, which was brought in October 2002, was dropped in April 2004 after he wrote an editorial expressing "true remorse." As a former member of parliament and a close political associate of a party that supported former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic through the 1990s, he represented the tensions in Montenegro's relations with Serbia, with which Montenegro shared a state until mid-2006. On occasion, Jovanovic's media role and political profile came particularly controversially into the spotlight, as they did in June 2002 when a court ordered him to pay damages to then-President Milo Djukanovic after linking him to a trafficking case. Jovanovic's family has accused the Montenegrin authorities of obstructing a full investigation. The political reverberations were felt on January 30 when the Montenegrin parliament refused to call a debate about the Jovanovic case, during which the opposition would have called for the resignations of senior figures in the judiciary and the police, the MINA news agency reported. The editor of the newspaper "Vijesti" has said the failure to find and convict Jovanovic's killers exposes "the naked powerlessness of the state." AG

U.S. REITERATES SUPPORT FOR BOSNIA'S NATO BID
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for NATO and Europe Daniel Fata on February 21 underscored Washington's material and political support for Bosnia-Herzegovina's wish to join NATO, the Croatian news agency Hina reported the same day. During a visit to Sarajevo, Fata stressed the need first to meet the standards set by NATO's Partnership for Peace program, the initial phase in the preaccession process. Bosnia was invited to join the program at a NATO summit in the Latvian capital, Riga, in November 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). Bosnia is currently upgrading its hardware to meet NATO standards and reforming its military structures, a process that has proved less problematic than reform of the police force. However, it has recently led to some controversy, with claims of ethnic discrimination in a mass lay-off of soldiers in January. Roughly 2,500 soldiers were fired, reducing the size of Bosnia's armed forces to about 8,300. A Bosnian Serb newspaper, "Nezavisne novine," on February 19 quoted an unnamed NATO official as saying NATO may soon ask Bosnian troops to serve in Afghanistan, a claim that has not been corroborated. AG

CROATIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT IN INTENSIVE CARE
Former Croatian presidential candidate Tomislav Mercep, who is under investigation for war crimes, is in intensive care after suffering a stroke, the Croatian news agency Hina reported on February 21. Mercep, who was hospitalized in Zagreb on February 19, is under investigation for war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs and for the torture of civilians. The Hague-based ICTY in February 2006 passed documentation of his alleged crimes to Croatia's Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. During fighting with ethnic Serbs in 1991, Mercep organized Croatian paramilitary forces around Vukovar and subsequently assumed command of a special police unit, eventually becoming Croatia's deputy interior minister and, in 1993, a member of parliament. Despite years of allegations of war crimes, Mercep has remained a prominent figure as both leader of the Croatian Popular Party, which he founded, and the head of the Association of Croatian Volunteers of the Homeland War. Members of his unit have confessed to taking part in the murder of ethnic Serbian civilians, and one of his subordinates directly implicated Mercep in murder and torture. However, Mercep has won a number of libel cases against such accusations. AG

IMF PRAISES ALBANIA'S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE
In a report published on February 21, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described Albania's macroeconomic performance as "strong," its economic polices as "good" and "sound," and its progress in structural reform as "generally good." The report said Albania has met "all quantitative program targets" set by the IMF, which, under its mandate to promote stability in the global financial system, also acts as a highly influential adviser on reform. The IMF said Albania complied with all its timelines "except for two brief delays" and that the Albanian economy is likely to enjoy export-led growth of 6 percent in 2007. This positive assessment comes at a sensitive time for Albania, as its hopes of enhancing its prospects of EU membership were dented by flawed local elections held on February 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2007). The report also struck an optimistic note on the key financial challenge it highlighted, a large road-building program, saying that "the current fiscal framework could accommodate this without crowding out other poverty-reducing expenditure." More generally, though, the report concluded that "these achievements notwithstanding, major further efforts will be needed for Albania to reach European standards in institutions, infrastructure, and the business environment." Albania has one of the lowest levels of gross domestic product per capita in Europe, ahead of Moldova's but on a par with the figures for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. AG

MOLDOVAN BROADCAST PRIVATIZATION -- REFORM OR CENSORSHIP?
For the past two months, a controversy has raged in Moldova over the closure of two popular public broadcasters in the capital Chisinau -- the Antena C radio station and the Euro TV channel. Is this a case of reforms needed to ensure the independence of the media, as the government has argued, or is it a blatant attempt to silence critical voices ahead of the May local elections?

The case filed by the staffs of Antena C and Euro TV was due to be heard in court on February 20. But the hearing was postponed for a week after the judge said he had fallen ill.

It's the fourth adjournment in a month for the case, which is coming under increasing scrutiny from the international community. Both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. Embassy in Moldova have released statements criticizing the handling of the closures of the two stations, as well as a second radio broadcaster, 103.5 FM, in the city of Balti. Among the concerns was fear of the deterioration of the free press in Moldova ahead of local elections in May.

Ambassador Louis O'Neill, head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, said in a January 19 press release that "the broadcasting code adopted by the Moldovan parliament in 2006 provided the country with an excellent opportunity for real progress in creating a free and vibrant broadcasting landscape. It is disappointing to see that this chance may be lost due to missteps in the way the new legislation is being implemented."

And in an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service and the BBC conducted in Chisinau on February 16, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Colleen Graffy said the closures represent a serious challenge to media freedom. "We believe that the development of free independent and pluralistic broadcasting media is vital for the establishment of a functioning democracy in the Republic of Moldova, and for its declared goal of European integration," she said. "And therefore, examples such as Antena C and 103.5 FM give us grave concern."

The fight over the broadcasters began on December 14, 2006, when the stations' directors, Antena C's Vasile State and Euro TV's Arcadie Gherasim, were dismissed and new directors were named. In response, the staff of the two stations interrupted an extraordinary session of the Chisinau municipal council and threatened other acts of civil disobedience.

On December 16, Antena C -- which frequently aired reports critical of the government -- went off the air in the middle of a talk show debate about its reorganization, reportedly because of technical issues.

The municipal council then opened bidding for Antena C on January 2. After some difficulty in acquiring bids, Dunitru Liuticov was announced as the winning bidder on January 17, after offering 1.05 million Moldovan lei (about $80,000) for the station. On January 22, the sale was approved by the municipal council, and the station was back on the air on January 23.

Further controversy was sparked when, on February 5, the new director announced the liquidation of all departments and programs, adding that the station would broadcast news and music programs without DJs.

Under the new plan, the focus of the station will be on publicity, employing 40 public relations agents. According to a statement signed on February 7 by 10 media nongovernmental organizations in Moldova, this process would involve firing 25 of its 27 journalists.

U.S. State Department official Graffy said the changes at Antena C would deprive Moldovan audiences of access to a variety of news and information. "We believe that this presents a serious challenge to freedom of the press in Moldova and to the diversity of opinion and ideas available to the Moldovan public," Graffy said. "The [U.S.] Embassy, together with members of the international community, really deplore this arbitrary manner in which the radio was reorganized and its staff fired."

The closure of Antena C and the other broadcasters had its roots in Moldova's adoption of a new Audiovisual Code, which came into force on August 18. The code was a response to recommendations from the Council of Europe that the government construct measures to ensure the freedom of the media and unify media laws. These reforms were to include privatization of most public media outlets and further guarantees of independence for outlets which remained public.

The first draft code generally conformed to these goals, but notably absent was any mention of local public media outlets. The Council of Europe noted this absence in its reports on the draft versions of the law, saying that the absence of regulation might result in the liquidation or privatization of local public stations.

This was especially troubling for the authors of the report in areas where there was not a sufficient market to support private stations. They recommended, as one option, "incorporating one or all of these public radio stations into TRM" -- the state-owned national radio-television broadcaster, TeleRadio Moldova.

In responding to these recommendations, the final version of the Audiovisual Code left the Chisinau municipal council with the option of affiliating Antena C and Euro TV with TRM -- which has also been criticized by the OSCE for not being independent. Alternately, they could pass them into private property, using a public tender. The municipal council decided they should be privatized.

Supporters of the decision argue that, in addition to complying with the Audiovisual Code, privatization would resolve what some suggested was a bias in Antena C's coverage of news and information. In particular, they accuse the station of being overly influenced by the former mayor of Chisinau, Serafim Urechean, who is now the head of the Our Moldova alliance in parliament.

As Antena C's new director, Veaceslav Satnic, said, "The product that was broadcast was not an objective, equidistant one, and pluralism of opinion was not respected."

A number of other groups disagreed with the municipal council decision. In a commentary, the news agency Info-Prim Neo called the reorganization "the most far-reaching attack on the press and journalists who are inconvenient to the ruling party since 2004" -- the year TRM was liquidated by the Moldovan parliament in a move critics said was an attempt to eliminate government critics.

The commentary accuses the ruling coalition of communists and Christian democrats of trying to predetermine the outcome of the May 2007 local elections by eliminating some of the few media outlets that were critical of their policies.

In protest at what they labeled "antidemocratic proceedings" against Antena C and Euro TV, two members of the municipal council left the Christian Democratic People's Party.

On February 10, 11 media and human rights NGOs working on the Soros-funded project, "Monitoring of the Audiovisual Code Implementation," came out with their criticism of the implementation of the new Audiovisual Code. Among their complaints was that the application of the new law to the Chisinau public stations Antena C and Euro TV had deprived the public of the right to information, ignored the community's opinion, and infringed on staff members rights.

It remains to be seen whether the lawsuit brought by Antena C and Euro TV staffers will reverse the fate of the broadcasters. The plaintiffs hope the lawsuit, brought against the municipal council and Chisinau's former interim mayor, Vasile Ursu, will overturn the decision to sell the media institutions and appoint new management.

They have also asked that proper working conditions be restored and that 100,000 Moldovan lei be paid to each claimant to compensate for moral damages and to develop the stations.

(Ryan Kennedy is a Ph.D candidate and a Fulbright researcher from Ohio State University who recently returned to the United States after living in Moldova.)

ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS OVER AFGHAN VOTE
Romano Prodi submitted his resignation to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on February 21 after his coalition government failed to win a vote in the Italian Senate to extend the mandate of Italian forces serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, UPI reported. Prodi and Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema had lobbied to extend the mandate for approximately 1,900 Italian troops serving with ISAF, but failed to obtain the necessary 160 votes, securing only 158. Prodi's government, which came to power in May, has faced strong opposition from the far-left parties in his coalition to its foreign-policy initiative, namely Italy's role in ISAF. AT

SPANISH, BRITISH SOLDIERS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
A female Spanish soldier serving with ISAF was killed and two other soldiers were wounded in an attack in Herat Province on February 21, Madrid's EFE reported. The soldiers were traveling in an armored ambulance with four other vehicles on a mission to support Italian soldiers. The soldier was killed by a bomb, Madrid's Canal 24 Horas TV reported on February 21. Meanwhile, a British Royal Marine was killed by an antipersonnel mine on February 21 while on patrol in the Sangin district of the southern Helmand Province, the website of the British Ministry of Defense (http://www.mod.uk) reported. AT

DENMARK MAY INCREASE FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN
Danish Prime Minister Andres Fogh Rasmussen indicated on February 21 that his country might increase the size of its forces serving with ISAF in Afghanistan, AP reported. Rasmussen said that while no firm decision has been made, "we cannot exclude that we will go from the present 400 to 600." Copenhagen has announced it will withdraw all of its forces from Iraq in 2007 (see Iraq below). AT

MEDIA WATCHDOG SENDS OPEN LETTER TO AFGHAN MINISTER ON MEDIA LAW
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on February 21 made public extracts from a letter it sent to Afghan Information and Culture Minister Abdul Karim Khorram asking "him to ensure that proposed amendments to the country's media law do not violate freedom of expression." The press release mistakenly identifies the minister as "Sayed Makhdoom Raheen" -- the current Afghan envoy to India who held the post before Khorram took over in August. The Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house, is currently debating the country's media law decreed by President Hamid Karzai in 2005 in order to change it from a presidential decree to a law, but observers have noted that there are attempts by some in the lower house to curtail some of the freedoms guaranteed by the current law (see "RFE/RL's Afghanistan Report," February 6, 2007). According to the RSF letter, the revision of the media law in the name of "respect for Islamic values," is expected to result in tighter control over the content of television programs. The Wolesi Jirga is expected to vote soon on the revised media law. Proposed changes to the legislation have not been made public. AT

IRAN DEFIANT AS UN DEADLINE PASSES
Iranian officials made defiant statements on February 21, ahead of a report due to be given to the UN Security Council by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), agencies reported. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Langarud in the northern Gilan Province that "the train of [Iran's] progress is set in motion," and "if all the [Western] powers were to mobilize, they cannot stop" that movement, IRNA reported. He stressed that Iran will use "all the potential of a peaceful nuclear program" and enjoy "all its nuclear rights," and Iranians "will not take a single step back on this path." Separately, AFP reported "no discussions or agreements [were] made over the suspension of nuclear activities" at a meeting on February 20 in Vienna between Iran's nuclear negotiations chief Ali Larijani and IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei. The agency cited Iran's envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh. El-Baradei is to issue a report to the UN Security Council, perhaps by February 24, probably confirming Iran's failure to meet UN demands that it halt fuel-making and related activities, AFP reported on February 21. The Security Council would then decide whether or not to take punitive measures, probably in the form of sanctions, against Iran. VS

GENERAL SAYS IRAN HAS 'LAST SAY' ON REGIONAL SECURITY
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a seminar in Tehran on February 21 that "the Americans cannot change the security structure of the Middle East...without considering Iran's opinion," IRNA reported. He said Iran "has the last say in the establishment of [regional] security" since it is "the heart" of a region currently in "delicate conditions." He said "we have to work harder to defend the country," adding that the IRGC proposes to draft a comprehensive defensive plan and hold numerous war games for this purpose. He was addressing the Salman Farsi conference, which reviews research and innovation in the defense industry. Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar told the gathering that research is the means of attaining "scientific power" that will in turn improve Iran's defenses, IRNA reported. He said Iran should first identify its weaknesses and the specific threats it faces in order to focus its research. The state of innovation and the manufacture of weaponry in Iran is "brilliant," he added, "and we are almost on the verge of [our own] design." VS

CORRUPTION SUSPECT ESCAPES IN IRAN
Shahram Jazayeri-Arab, a key suspect in an ongoing corruption trial who initially faced charges including bribery and "disruption" of Iran's economy, has escaped police custody, Radio Farda reported on February 21, citing Iranian agencies. Jazayeri was initially convicted and jailed for 27 years in 2002, but the Supreme Court partially cancelled his conviction in 2004 and he was to be given a new sentence within days, Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," November 25, 2002, and October 4, 2004). The court prosecuting Jazayeri was cited on February 21 as stating that the Tehran Revolutionary Court has ordered all security and police forces to arrest Jazayeri. The Fars news agency, which has good contacts with the judiciary, suggested that Jazayeri may have fled the country. Fars added that the authorities have charged the officials who were guarding him with negligence. VS

IRANIAN DISSIDENT FALLS ILL IN JAIL
Radio Farda reported on February 21 that the imprisoned former student Ahmad Batebi has been suffering convulsions in jail. Batebi, who is about 30, was jailed for his involvement in 1999 demonstrations in Tehran and was taken to hospital on February 18 after suffering a nervous breakdown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, 2007). Batebi's lawyer, Khalil Bahramian, told Radio Farda on February 21 that the prisoner has had convulsions several times, though "it is not clear if [they] are due to his nervous state or another matter." He was taken to a hospital in northern Tehran, not far from Evin prison, where is he is kept. Doctors reportedly complained that they could not treat Batebi with security agents standing in the room, Bahramian said. He added that Batebi was then taken to another Tehran hospital and back to Evin prison on February 19. He added that Batebi is not in a "normal" state. "Any prisoner spending a long time in jail, especially if he is young and sees his future being wasted, will have a nervous condition. The life of...Batebi's family," he told Radio Farda, has "fallen apart." VS

DANISH, LITHUANIAN TROOPS TO LEAVE IRAQ...
Danish Defense Minister Soren Gade said that his country will withdraw its 470 troops from Iraq by August, international media reported on February 21. "We can say that our part of the assignment is done," Gade told berlingske.dk, adding that Denmark will now focus on providing civilian assistance to Iraq. The Danish decision follows an announcement the same day by U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair on the draw-down of British soldiers from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2007). Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that a unit of nine soldiers will remain in Iraq to operate four observational helicopters, Reuters reported. Lithuania announced it will not replace its squad of 50 soldiers once their tour is up in summer. However, it will probably keep a small number of soldiers in the country to train Iraqi troops, BNS reported on February 21. Danish and Lithuanian soldiers served under British forces in southern Iraq. KR

...WHILE CZECH, BULGARIAN, AND ESTONIAN TROOPS TO REMAIN
Czech Defense Ministry spokesman Andrej Cirtek said that Czech soldiers will remain in Iraq until at least year-end, CTK reported on February 21. The Czech Republic has some 100 soldiers stationed in Iraq to train Iraqi police. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said on February 20 that Estonia will keep its 34 troops in Iraq. "The will of the Iraqi government to move ahead is great and it would be irresponsible now not to contribute to the development in Iraq," Paet said. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian parliament extended its mission to Iraq for one year on February 21, BTA reported. The resolution commits a new contingent of up to 155 troops, including a 120-strong company and a 35-person national support element, which will be tasked with providing security at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, which houses 3,500 members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq. KR

U.S. GENERAL DISCUSSES RAPE ALLEGATIONS...
Major General William Caldwell, the spokesman for U.S. troops in Iraq, told reporters at a February 21 press briefing in Baghdad that the United States did not turn over the medical records of a woman who alleged she was raped by Iraqi security forces to the Iraqi government. Caldwell said the U.S. military did not discuss anything associated with the care provided to the woman at U.S.-run Ibn Sina Hospital with Iraqi officials. "She was released with her medical records. What she does with those is her own decision. But nothing out of the Multinational Force would be released from us," Caldwell said. The prime minister's office made public what it claimed was the woman's medical records on February 21 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2007). Caldwell added that a U.S. investigation into the incident is under way. He also contended that Iraqis should not link the alleged incident to the current Baghdad security plan. "This operation is for all Iraqis.... It's for all the people of Baghdad. Because there's two or three that are alleged to have done something wrong should not be taken and made as an allegation against the entire [Iraqi] force." KR

...AS ANOTHER IRAQI WOMAN COMES FORWARD WITH RAPE ALLEGATION
An Iraqi woman identified as Wajidah Muhammad Amin has accused six Iraqi police and army soldiers of raping her at gunpoint "a few days ago," Al-Jazeera television reported on February 21. Amin told the news channel that the soldiers threatened to kill her when she denied knowing the whereabouts of suspected insurgents. "Two of them [apparently police] were from Tal Afar and four others were army members. Two were filming, and three others were from the army. They threatened to kill me at gunpoint.... They told me that if I do not cooperate with them, they will make public" the film, she said. KR

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