Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: September 11, 2002

11 September 2002, Volume 3, Number 37
IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN EURASIA WORSE SINCE 11 SEPTEMBER? The first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 has prompted considerable reflection on whether the justifiable need to fight international terrorism has unintentionally worsened the human rights situation at home and abroad, specifically in Eurasia. The U.S. has strengthened military and political ties with the Russian and Central Asian governments even as they persist in ignoring human rights standards. And some activists are pondering whether more attention should be paid to economic concerns along with civil and political liberties to prevent terrorist movements from gaining a foothold in transition societies.

A 10-day conference on human rights and democracy convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) opening this week has brought some 500 government officials, international experts, and nongovernmental-organization (NGO) activists together to discuss democracy and human rights. Some NGO leaders travelling from Central Asia to the meeting have a stark message. "With the formation of the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Uzbekistan after the well-known events of 11 September 2001, many people hoped for an improvement in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. But eventually all these hopes turned out to be illusions," says Abusalom Ergashev, leader of the Ferghana Valley branch of the Human Rights Society, in a statement prepared for the conference. As indicative of unchanging conditions, Ergashev cited the recent cases of women who demonstrated against the torture of their relatives in prison, and wound up in police custody themselves. Ergashev and other Central Asian activists have greater expectations from Western leaders now to put more pressure on their governments to implement human rights guarantees.

There is some sign that they are being heard. OSCE conference spokesman Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher told RFE/RL that one of the major issues of the conference will be the fight against terrorism and its international repercussions on the human rights situation in many of the 55 member countries of the OSCE (see "OSCE: Conference To Focus On Terrorism, Human Rights In Central Asia,", 9 September 2002). "There is no specific session on terrorism, but we expect this to be one of the major issues. And not only, of course, as regards the Western countries' response [to it], but also Central Asian countries. For example, using the fight against terrorism as a pretext to clamp down on human rights in their countries," Eschenbaecher said.

Some activists have come to see a kind of "axis of opportunism" emerging as certain U.S. allies in the war against terrorism have used the campaign as a cover to settle scores with their restive minorities and separatist movements, hoping to deflect criticism from the Western democracies. Speaking quite frankly during her last week in office as UN high commissioner for human rights, former Irish President Mary Robinson said the U.S., Russia, China and others were trampling on civil liberties to crush troublesome opponents, AP reported on 7 September. "Everything is justified by that T-word," Robinson said, referring to terrorism. "I hope that countries will put human rights back on the agenda because it tended to slip after 11 September," AP quoted her as saying.

With American military presence in the Central Asia, NGOs are taking a hard look at whether events since last year's terrorist attacks have worsened the human rights situation -- an impression many have but find hard to substantiate in numeric terms -- or whether the rising tide of expectations unleashed from increased U.S. military engagement as well as media attention to the region have made chronically bad human rights conditions more intolerable.

Acacia Shields, Central Asia researcher for the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told "(Un)Civil Societies" that trends in each country have to be analyzed separately and the relationship to the counterterrorism effort understood in more sophisticated fashion. "The way to understand the last year's changes is that even before [11 September], these countries in Central Asia were already going down the road of worsening human rights conditions and had already mastered the art of repression of their own people. But these governments have definitely been emboldened by the new strategic relationship with the U.S. to pursue increasingly brazen policies with very little lip service to international law or the standards of civil society since [11 September]," said Shields.

"In Kyrgyzstan, every day it is getting worse and worse -- there's no question -- and we can trace back this whole year [to last September] to see when it began to deteriorate dramatically," says Shields. "It's a total lack of public confidence in the government and a lack of trust by the government in the people," she says.

With Uzbekistan, "even before [11 September], we were in a long period with gruesome deaths in custody and there have been thousands of people in prison for their religious beliefs for years. It's hard to say this year has been 'worse' -- what has worsened is the attitude of the government. It's a new form of cynicism and sophistication, especially when reacting to expression of human rights concerns from the West. It is all window dressing. They are releasing a few prisoners, and mainly keeping the rest in the jails," said Shields.

To be sure, in Uzbekistan, for example, there have been small gestures achieved after Western interventions -- the registration of an NGO long denied legal status, the amnesty of some prisoners, the prosecution of some policemen caught using torture, and access to prisons for the International Committee for the Red Cross and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. There is new room to maneuver for democracy assistance programs as well. In a statement released on 20 August titled "Fighting for Fundamental Rights and Freedoms," and published on a website to commemorate the 11 September attacks (, the U.S. government outlined programs run by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (where U.S. military bases are now established) to "promote the growth of democratically oriented political parties," to establish a printing press in Kyrgyzstan "that will ensure access to free and independent information," and a two-year project to "strengthen responsible journalism in Central Asia." With greater urgency now since the attacks, the bureau has "sought to advance human rights and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide in order to change the climate of disenfranchisement and alienation that gives rise to terrorism."

Activists feel it is not enough. "Central Asian governments justify a wide range of repressive actions against political opponents, religious movements, and independent media in terms of fighting terrorism, and they receive less criticism and pressure from abroad," Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), told "(Un)Civil Societies." "What is worse, the civil society communities in those countries, which have committed themselves to democracy, pluralism and human rights, often feel as if they no longer have friends and allies as Western governments take a short-sighted and expedient approach toward terrorism," says Rhodes. The IHF, a Vienna-based group uniting 41 Helsinki and other human rights groups in Europe and North America, has published a number of reports assessing conditions in Eurasia since the 11 September attacks (see

Activists want to make more explicit a linkage between improvement in human rights and foreign aid. In a statement released on 10 September, HRW accused the U.S. of "rubber-stamping" human rights improvements in Uzbekistan. HRW said Secretary of State Colin Powell had certified under U.S. law "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting the human rights and democracy commitments contained in a March 2002 bilateral agreement, although the actual situation in the country did not warrant it. The determination was required to release $45 million in additional assistance to the Uzbek government, now totaling $173 million this year, some of it earmarked for democracy and human rights promotion.

There has been some argument for pulling back on harsh criticism of Eurasian governments. Will support of democratic groups only cause unrest and untenable challenges for Central Asian strongmen who will see no choice but to crack down violently on citizens' demonstrations? In fact, say observers, such responses only help create the very terrorist movements they ostensibly sought to prevent. "I don't see why we should hand [Osama] bin Laden a victory and allow him to harm the human rights movement. To support repressive regimes in Central Asia constitutes a security threat because those regimes generate and export terrorism," says Rhodes.

As citizens continue to clash with authorities in Kyrgyzstan (see below), for example, human rights activists have warned that it is important not to confuse peaceful citizens' grassroots protest movements seeking redress of grievances and change -- and often provoking the violent backlash of brittle and nervous police states -- with terrorist groups bent on destruction or establishment of a fanatical system that would in turn itself violate civil rights.

Underlying the discussion about the backlash of counterterrorism on human rights is a deeper and often contentious debate both within governments and NGO movements about the hierarchy of types of rights or entitlements, and whether the focus should be on sustainable economic and social development or promotion of democracy and civil liberties. Speaking to a group of NGOs at the UN in New York on 9 September outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Robinson was asked about the ongoing controversy about "root causes" of terrorism, whether they are related to an absence of social and economic guarantees or a dearth of democracy and political freedoms. "A balance is needed," said Robinson. "Both sets of rights are needed to combat terrorism."

Yelena Bonner, chair of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation in Moscow, a veteran Russian human rights campaigner an outspoken critic of President's Putin's continued war in the North Caucasus, told "(Un)Civil Societies" that the situation had worsened considerably in Chechnya in the last year. This week a Russian human rights monitoring group, Memorial Society, discovered another mass grave of persons on its list of disappeared detainees; it was one of many such incidents of atrocities in the three-year war "essentially ignored by the West," says Bonner.

Even before 11 September, Putin's rule was notable for an erosion in media freedom and other backsliding, says Bonner; but particularly since last year's attack on the U.S. "the encouragement of patriotic sentiment has been accompanied by a worsening human rights situation," she says. She pointed to a decade-long downward spiral in all the former Soviet republics. "The Soviet dissidents were occupied with only some of the articles of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the guarantees for the freedom of speech, and freedom of dissemination of information and movement of people across frontiers. Today, these issues are less important for the average citizen than other articles of the Universal Declaration, regarding adequate social and economic rights such as health care, pensions, and education. Now these social rights are massively violated," says Bonner, noting that most people perceived the standards of social protection to have been greater in the Soviet era. Clearly, the upheavals of the last decade of transition, the resistance of Eurasian regimes to change and the increased expectations of their citizens, coupled with the unintended consequences of the war on terrorism, will pose serious challenges to Western governments still exploring the limits of their policies in the region. CAF

OPPOSITION RELEASES JOINT DECLARATION. The 16 opposition parties that aligned last week with the aim of fielding a single candidate to oppose incumbent Robert Kocharian in the presidential ballot scheduled for 19 February 2003 unveiled their joint declaration on 4 September. According to Noyan Tapan, it accuses Kocharian of neglecting the country's interests in his determination to retain power at all costs, and stresses the 16 parties' shared determination to bring about a change of leadership. The 16 parties pledge to coordinate their political activities and to agree on a single presidential candidate and program. But Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutiun Party, told journalists on 4 September that the opposition may in fact field several candidates in the first round of the presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Doing so would offer voters a choice of alternatives to the incumbent president and thus lessen his chances of gaining the 50 percent-plus-one vote needed for a first-round victory. "Haykakan zhamanak" observed on 5 September that at least six of the 16 opposition leaders have said they plan to contest the upcoming presidential election. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

FORMER RULING PARTY WILL NOT JOIN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE. The Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) will not join the coalition of 16 opposition parties formed last week, HHSh election-campaign strategist Tigran Hakobian told RFE/RL on 3 September. He explained that the HHSh has grounds to believe that despite their criticism of the existing leadership, some unidentified parties in that alignment continue to cooperate with it. He further pointed out that the 16 have diverging priorities and ideologies, and predicted that their alliance will prove to be short-lived. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

SUPPORTERS OF FORMER PRESIDENT SENTENCED. Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes on 5 September handed down sentences of between five and 10 years to five supporters of former President Ayaz Mutalibov found guilty of planning to mount a coup d'etat in October 2001 with the aim of returning Mutalibov to power, Turan reported. Those charges were based on the testimony of a single witness. All five men pled not guilty. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

MILITARY CADETS LAUNCH PROTEST... Some 3,000 cadets from Azerbaijan's Higher Military Academy staged a walkout on 3 September to protest harsh conditions, poor food, and mistreatment by the college's administrative and teaching staff, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. They claim the situation at the college deteriorated after the departure of Turkish instructors. Some 600 cadets returned to the college on 4 September and several hundred parents gathered outside the premises. Turan reported on 4 September that the cadets were demanding a meeting with senior Defense Ministry personnel and President Heidar Aliev, and the return of the Turkish instructors. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev went to the college late on 3 September. Some 800 of the 2,000 cadets who walked out on 3 September returned on 4 September, Turan reported. The remainder vowed not to return unless their demands for improved conditions and return of the Turkish instructors are met, reported on 5 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 September)

...WITH NATO VS. RUSSIAN INSTRUCTION STYLE AT ISSUE. "Azerb@ijan," an electronic weekly bulletin published in Baku, reported on 5 September (No.36) that in addition to protesting hazing by senior officers, and lack of adequate food and clothing, the cadets rejected the Russian Army-style curriculum in favor of Turkish instruction with NATO standards. A beating of a first-year student seems to have sparked the student walkout, parents told reporters. They said the Turkish Defense Ministry had supplied instructors, taught courses according to the NATO system of military specialties rather than the Russian system, and allocated food and clothing for the students which they claim was stolen by school administrators. Students also said they had to give bribes to get home leave and were punished brutally for infractions. CAF

TRADERS CONTINUE STRIKE OVER FISCAL PRESSURE. Some 1,000 market vendors staged a demonstration in Minsk's central square to protest tax increases, insurance fees, and regulations they say are intended to make small business unprofitable, AP reported. Anatol Shumchenka, a representative of the United Council of Entrepreneurs, told the agency that some 70 percent of the 180,000 people registered as individual entrepreneurs are taking part in the strike that began on 1 September. Shumchenka said half the markets in 20 cities are effectively shut. He added that the 1 September strike was planned as a one-day action, but vendors groups decided to prolong it indefinitely because there was no reaction from the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

PARENTS KEEP KIDS AWAY FROM SCHOOL, PROTEST WAGE ARREARS. Unable to draw attention to their plight by other means, parents in the village of Guta, Vitebsk Oblast, kept their children home from school for a week in protest against nonpayment of salaries at a glass-making factory in the town where most local residents are employed, reported Charter 97 on 5 September. While authoritarian Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka often claims wages are paid on time, and Belarusians, while earning much less, have not experienced the lengthy delays of neighboring Russia, in the last year continuing deterioration in the economy has meant increasing incidents of nonpayment. CAF

OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATOR JAILED FOR 10 DAYS. A court in Hrodna on 6 September imposed a 10-day jail sentence on Dzmitry Ivanouski, the deputy chairman of the local branch of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front and leader of the Hrodna Choice coalition, Belapan reported. Ivanouski was punished for his participation in an unauthorized demonstration in Hrodna on 8 July to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance of Belarusian journalist Dmitry Zavadski. Ivanouski, an artist, declared a hunger strike after the judge's sentence and asked visitors to bring him paper and pencils, reported Charter 97. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September)

GOVERNMENT DECREES ACCREDITATION OF POLLING AGENCIES. The government has passed a resolution whereby all legal entities dealing with public-opinion polls on the political and social situation in the country are required to obtain official accreditation in order to pursue their activities, Belapan reported on 4 September. The resolution provides for the creation of a Commission for Studies of Public Opinion under the National Academy of Sciences to issue this accreditation. The commission is obliged within three months to work out a procedure and conditions for granting accreditation to agencies that conduct and publish public-opinion polls pertaining to "nationwide referendums, elections of the president of the Republic of Belarus, deputies of the Chamber of Representatives and members of the Council of the Republic, and the social and political situation in the country." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

BOSNIAN SERB REPORT ON SREBRENICA CALLS MASSACRE IMAGINARY. A new Bosnian Serb government report seeks to deny that the Srebrenica massacre took place and to portray Serbs as victims in the Bosnian war, international media reported on 3 September. The study suggests that exhausted Muslim men imagined a massacre or invented stories to attract the attention of the international community. Reuters quoted the report as saying that "to walk for almost 20 days in an area that might be full of landmines, without any food and water, under the fear of being shot from any direction, was such a trauma that Muslim soldiers sometimes mixed reality with illusions. Having looked at dead bodies under such psychological [pressure], some Muslim soldiers could have believed what they imagined." The report calls a Serbian soldier who admitted taking part in the killings "mentally disturbed." Following international outcry over the report (see below), authorities seemed to back down. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said in Banja Luka on 9 September that the controversial report does not represent government policy, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ivanic said that the study was an early version for the media and that the final document has yet to be released. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 September)

'IRRESPONSIBLE' REPORT ATTEMPT TO MISLEAD VOTERS. A spokesman for Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 3 September that the report is a "callous and irresponsible attempt to misguide voters [in the 5 October general elections] and exploit the trauma of those who survived or were bereaved by the massacre.... History cannot be rewritten in this way," AP reported. Ashdown himself said that the Bosnian Serb document is "so far from the truth as to be almost not worth dignifying with a response." He added that "pretending [the massacre] didn't happen is an insult to people of all ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Reuters reported. Ashdown dubbed the report "tendentious, preposterous, and inflammatory." In Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb government press office called the foreigners' reactions hasty and ill-informed, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 4 September. But the Bosnian Serb Helsinki Committee for Human Rights called the report "unacceptable." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

EU SLAMS BOSNIAN SERB REPORT ON SREBRENICA. In the name of the European Union, the Danish Embassy in Sarajevo released a statement saying that it fully supports the objections raised by Ashdown to a recent Bosnian Serb report denying that a massacre took place in Srebrenica, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 5 September. The EU called on "all responsible people and institutions" to reject the study. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

U.S. JOINS CRITICISM OF BOSNIAN SERB REPORT. The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo has called on the Bosnian Serb authorities to repudiate a recent study that denies that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre took place, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 6 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

BOSNIAN CROATS FACE EVICTION FROM KNIN. An association of Croatian refugees from Bosnia said that more than 50 families living in homes owned by Serbs in Knin have received notices from the Croatian authorities saying that they must evacuate the premises within 15 days or face eviction, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. One of the major problems in facilitating the return of refugees and displaced persons in former Yugoslavia is that those who want to go home are often unable to do so because their homes are occupied by refugees from somewhere else -- who themselves are unable to go home. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

RULING COALITION STRESSES NEED FOR POLITICAL CONSENSUS. Replying to threats from the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) that the party will move a vote of no confidence if the government of Bulgaria is not invited to join NATO this fall, Plamen Panayotov, the chairman of the parliamentary group of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), said on 4 September that it is time for the opposition to show whether it places national interests above increasing its popularity rating by a few points, BTA reported. "Let us discuss the country's real problems: its economic development, social policies, and the fight against crime and corruption," Panayotov said. Lutfi Mestan of the NDSV's junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), also stressed the need for political stability prior to the NATO summit in Prague. Mestan underscored the role of the country's economic development. "Regardless of all political juggling, if we fail to meet the economic standards, membership in the EU will remain a dream," Mestan said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

FARMERS STAGE PROTEST. Some 1,500 farmers protested in Sofia on 5 September to demand higher prices for agricultural produce as well as legal mechanisms to defend Bulgarian farmers from foreign competitors, BTA reported. Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme said the government will not yield to pressure from producers. "It is not possible to set minimum purchase prices because this country is in a currency-board arrangement [with the International Monetary Fund] and this contradicts market principles," Dikme said. The government recently announced that will purchase part of this year's wheat harvests and will reschedule farmers' debts in order to stabilize the agricultural commodities market. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

PRESIDENT PROPOSES STRIKE BAN AT STRATEGIC FACILITIES. Following weeks of strikes by power-sector workers demanding the payment of wage arrears, President Eduard Shevardnadze proposed at a government session on 4 September drafting legislation banning strikes at strategic facilities, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He also ordered Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava to pay all outstanding wages in the energy sector. Addressing the same session, National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said he has information that some opposition factions are planning to incite energy-sector workers to mass strikes in the autumn and winter months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS URGE GOVERNMENT NOT TO EXTRADITE TURKMEN DISSIDENT. Amnesty International has appealed to the Kazakh authorities not to hand over opposition politician Gulgeldy Annaniyazov to the Turkmen government, Interfax reported on 6 September. Annaniyazov was extradited on 2 September from Russia to Kazakhstan after arriving at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport from the Kazakh city of Aqtau earlier that day. According to the Russian human rights group Memorial, Annaniyazov requested political asylum upon his arrival in Moscow but the request was refused. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September)

GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO IMPOSE THREE-MONTH BAN ON MEETINGS. In the wake of the grenade attack on Security Council Secretary and acting presidential administration head Misir Ashyrkulov, the government issued a decree on 7 September on urgent measures to prevent the destabilization of the situation in Kyrgyzstan, reported. On 9 September, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev submitted to the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament) a bill imposing a three-month moratorium on all public marches, meetings, and rallies, Interfax reported. But Ata-Meken Party Chairman Omurbek Tekebaev and Ar-Namys Party Deputy Chairman Emil Aliyev protested that both the government decree and the draft bill violate the constitution and the right to assembly. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

KYRGYZ OFFICIALS IDENTIFY NEW ISLAMIC THREAT... Addressing the Legislative Assembly on 9 September, Tanaev said that the proposed three-month ban on meetings and demonstrations is intended to thwart the activities of the banned Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir which, Tanaev claimed, has developed a radical wing that does not eschew violence in its bid to establish an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia, reported. Tanaev added that Kyrgyzstan's security services have identified a new organization named the Islamic Movement of Central Asia, which operates in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz National Security Service Chairman Kalyk Imankulov said in Bishkek the same day that the new organization was formed on the basis of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), together with "Islamic separatists" from Tajikistan and Chechnya and Uighur separatists, and is headed by a former IMU leading member, Takhir Yuldashev, Interfax reported. Imankulov said the new movement has its base in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

...WARN THAT PROTEST MARCH COULD TURN VIOLENT. First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmanov on 9 September linked the ban on meetings and demonstrations with the ongoing protest march on Bishkek by villagers demanding President Askar Akaev's resignation, Interfax reported. Parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov told Interfax the marchers, who on 9 September reached Kara-Kul, number roughly 2,000, while gave the figure as 400. Osmanov accused unnamed "political forces" of seeking to tap popular discontent with socioeconomic conditions to achieve their own political ends. He appealed to parliament deputies to set up an "initiative group" to talk with marchers in order to "prevent illegal steps" and "keep passions from flaring up." National Security Service First Deputy Chairman Boris Poluektov similarly warned parliament deputies that "if the protest march arrives in Bishkek, there may be...provocations that could result in bloodshed," Interfax reported. He accused the marchers of intending "to hinder the work of the parliament and government, which could result in a civil war," as in neighboring Tajikistan. Tanaev told parliament deputies that the marchers would not be allowed to proceed from Kara-Kul to Bishkek. He added that the police would use only truncheons, but not firearms, to prevent them doing so, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

PRIME MINISTER PROPOSES CHECKING OPPOSITION GROUPS' FINANCING. Speaking on 3 September at the opening session of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament), Tanaev proposed investigating how the opposition parties planning a protest march to Bishkek are financed, Interfax reported. He accused "so-called human rights organizations" of deliberately fuelling tensions and aspiring to power, and said that the government will take all necessary measures to preserve political stability. Kyrgyz State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov issued a similar warning last week . ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS ISLAMIC ORGANIZATION 'THIRD FORCE' IN KYRGYZ POLITICS. The banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir operates in close conjunction with Al-Qaeda and the outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and has become a "third force" that intends, together with drug traffickers, to destabilize the political situation in Kyrgyzstan, National Security Service Director Imankulov told Interfax on 3 September. He said Hizb ut-Tahrir is "undoubtedly financed from abroad," and that it draws support primarily from the poorer strata of the population. Some 82 percent of Kyrgyz families live below the poverty line, and almost 40 percent of the country's 5 million population subsist on per-capita incomes of less than 140 soms ($3) per month. Imankulov said membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir is officially estimated at 2,000, but may be much higher. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

OFFICIAL WOUNDED IN GRENADE ATTACK. Security Council Secretary and acting presidential administration head Misir Ashyrkulov received multiple, but not life-threatening injuries when unidentified assailants threw three grenades at his automobile as he was approaching his home late on 6 September, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Presidential aide Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists the following day that the attack was a politically motivated terrorist act, according to Reuters. Speaking in Moscow on 7 September, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said it is hard to say who might have tried to kill Ashyrkulov and why. Ashyrkulov himself told journalists from his hospital bed that religious extremists might have been responsible, Interfax reported. RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau quoted Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov as saying that Ashyrkulov may have incurred the disapproval of other senior Kyrgyz officials by his recent efforts to promote reconciliation between the authorities and the opposition. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an opposition figure similarly suggested to Reuters that "it looks like internal bickering" within the government. He also suggested that Hizb ut-Tahrir might have been responsible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September)

PRESIDENT REJECTS CALLS FOR PARLIAMENTARY REPUBLIC. Chairing the first session of the Constitutional Council on 4 September, Akaev rejected calls by some opposition parties to abolish the presidency, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akaev argued that a parliamentary republic is not viable because Kyrgyz political parties are weak and "do not represent public views and sentiments." He said the experience of other CIS states has demonstrated the advantages of strong presidential rule combined with "a competent parliament." Akaev did, however, offer to replace the present bicameral legislature with a unicameral one. Council members rejected an opposition proposal to rename the council a consultative council and to appoint an opposition representative as co-chairman. Some opposition politicians left the session in protest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

FOREIGN MINISTRY REFUSES VISA FOR ZHIRINOVSKII. Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Vilmars Henins told LETA on 3 September that Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskii's application for a visa to visit Latvia has been turned down. The chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Duma deputy speaker applied on 30 August for a visa for 4-10 September to attend the celebrations for the fifth anniversary of the television show "Balzams dveselei" (Balsam to the Soul). According to the daily "Diena," Zhirinovskii sent a letter to Latvian Ambassador to Russia Normans Penke declaring that he would demand Penke's expulsion from Russia if his visa was not granted. Latvia declared Zhirinovskii persona non grata in 1993. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

PRO-PPCD RALLY CALLS ON AUTHORITIES TO FREE MEMBERS OF 'ILASCU GROUP'... A resolution approved at a rally organized in Chisinau by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) on 1 September called on Moldovan authorities to "take all necessary measures" leading to the liberation of the three members of the Ilie Ilascu group still being detained in Tiraspol, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The resolution asserts that the "tragic situation" of the three members of the group, who have been imprisoned for 10 years, "once again attests to the inhuman and illegal character of the separatist group headed by [Igor Smirnov], a citizen of the Russian Federation." The rally also approved a resolution demanding the unconditional and full withdrawal of Russian forces from the separatist region and the disarming and dissolution of the paramilitary forces subordinated to the regime in Tiraspol. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)

...DEMANDS COUNTRY LEAVE CIS... The 1 September rally participants also approved a resolution saying it is "vitally necessary" for Moldova to break away from the CIS in order to attain integration in Europe, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The resolution says the 11 years' experience garnered since independence shows that Moldova's foreign policy was "duplicitous." It adds that while the Baltic states and other former communist countries had a consistent policy of integration into the EU, Moldova has remained a hostage of the Russian Federation within the CIS and does nothing more than have its leaders deliver occasional pro-Western speeches that are backed by neither concrete diplomatic, legislative, nor economic action. In a separate resolution, the rally's participants called for Moldova to join NATO. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)

...AND POLICIES OF COUNTRY'S RUSSIFICATION BE STOPPED. Participants at the 1 September rally also approved a resolution calling on the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists to put an end to the policies of Russification of both the Romanian majority and of non-Russian national minorities, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The resolution also denounced the destruction of the country's democratic institutions, infringements on the independence of the judiciary and on local autonomy, censorship at national radio and television broadcasters, the alleged persecution of the opposition, and the attempt to impose the communist ideology on society as a whole. Estimates of participation in the rally ranged from 4,000-15,000. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca accused authorities of having prevented people from reaching Chisinau to participate in the rally. Rosca also said another rally of PPCD supporters will take place on 6 October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)

YET ANOTHER RNE REGIONAL BRANCH FACING CLOSURE. Omsk Oblast Prosecutor Sergei Kazakov has filed an appeal to an oblast court asking it to rescind the registration of the local branch of the nationalist political party Russian National Unity (RNE), and RIA-Novosti reported on 4 September. According to Kazakov's press service, the prosecutor believes that RNE's charter and its emblem -- a stylized swastika -- are in violation of federal law. The party is also charged with inflaming racial, ethnic, and religious hatred, as well as slandering the authorities. The local RNE branch in Tomsk is also being challenged in court and branches in Khabarovsk Krai, Primore, and the Republic of Karelia have already been liquidated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June and 30 July 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

LOCAL DEPUTIES BAN THEMSELVES FROM SEEKING RE-ELECTION. Deputies of the Novgorod Oblast legislature have amended the oblast charter to forbid municipal heads from serving as legislative deputies as of 2006, reported on 3 September. In doing so, the legislature brought the charter into accord with federal legislation. The move, however, was unprecedented because municipal heads currently compose more than half of the legislature meaning that, in effect, they banned themselves from seeking re-election. The changes must now be approved by Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)

STREET FIGHTING MARS CITY DAY. One person was killed and one injured during a massive street brawl during the celebration of Moscow's City Day on 31 August, Russian news agencies reported on 1 September. Sixteen-year-old Valerii Panikhin was killed by a knife wound to the neck in the fight, which involved several hundred people, according to Fifteen people were arrested during the incident, according to, although Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was quoted by Interfax as saying that 30 people were detained. Interfax reported that the fight broke out between skinheads and fans of rap music. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)

U.S. EMBASSY EMPLOYEE VICTIM OF ASSAULT. A 23-year-old employee of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was attacked in the Moscow metro on the evening of 31 August, "The Moscow Times" and reported. Murdoch Lucas, an African-American who works as an embassy librarian, was reportedly attacked by two unidentified men while riding a train. The men allegedly struck Lucas in the face several times and fled when the train stopped. Lucas was treated at a local clinic. The embassy has declined to comment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)

BISHOPS STILL DON'T HAVE A PRAYER OF ENTRY. More than a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote to Pope John Paul II to explain why one of Russia's four Catholic bishops is being denied entry to the country, the exact reasons he gave remain unclear. "The letter is in the hands of the Holy Father. Not many in the Vatican have seen it," a Vatican official was quoted as saying by Keston News Service on 5 September. He noted that Catholic leaders had decided it would be better not to make Putin's letter public. The pope had sought an explanation from Putin in the wake of the stripping of the visa from Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk, a Polish citizen, at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport in April and a similar move against the Italian Catholic priest Stefano Caprio. The pope had also asked for these moves to be revoked. A Vatican official close to Russian affairs told Keston that Putin's letter has not led to any progress in resolving the visa denials. "I don't know of any moves forward. But our hope is great. Prayer is very important," said the official. (Keston News Service, 5 September)

GOVERNMENT ADOPTS ENVIRONMENTAL DOCTRINE. The government's Information Department announced on 3 September that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed a national environmental doctrine, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. The document formulates state policy concerning environmental protection and lays out priorities for implementing that policy. The doctrine includes such measures as incorporating into economic indicators the full cost of environmental impact, plus costs associated with protecting the environment. It also calls for the creation of a mechanism for collecting payments from natural-resources developers and the distribution of these funds for environmental preservation. The government also directed all relevant organizations to submit plans for implementing the doctrine by 15 November. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

PACE DELEGATION VISITS GROZNY. A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) headed by Lord Frank Judd traveled to Grozny on 3 September and met the following day with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov, and Chechen displaced persons who recently returned from Ingushetia to Grozny, Interfax and "The Moscow Times" reported. Judd described the conditions in hostels for displaced persons as "grim," noting the absence of running water, disruptions in power supplies, and shortages of food. He expressed concern over widespread reports that displaced persons are being pressured to leave Ingushetia and that during searches for Chechen fighters Russian soldiers indiscriminately target civilians or abduct them and hold them for ransom. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR CHECHNYA OPERATION DECLINING. The number of Russian citizens who approve of Russia's military operation in Chechnya has fallen to 30 percent, RosBalt reported on 8 September, citing a study by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). Forty-eight percent of those polled expressed a negative opinion of the conflict. The survey polled 1,500 respondents in 44 regions. In July 2000, VTsIOM recorded 64 percent support for the campaign. In July 2001, 59 percent of Russians approved of the military action, while that figure had declined to 37 percent in February of this year. However, VTsIOM also found that 48 percent of Russians think that President Putin's performance has been "excellent," and 38 percent describe it as "satisfactory." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September)

ROMANY ORGANIZATION SUES SMER, PSNS... In a complaint filed with the Prosecutor-General's Office on 3 September, the Romany Initiative of Slovakia (RIS) accused Smer (Direction) and the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) of inciting racial and ethnic hatred, TASR reported. The RIS also asked the Central Election Commission to ban Smer and the PSNS from running in the elections scheduled for 20-21 September. RIS Chairman Alexander Patkolo said that the electoral campaigns of both formations are primarily targeting the Romany minority, with racial hatred and intolerance being spread at electoral rallies and roundtables. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

...WHILE EXTREME NATIONALISTS COMPETE ON POPULIST RHETORIC. Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairwoman Anna Malikova said on 1 September on Slovak television that in the September ballot Slovaks will have to opt between NATO membership and "normal life," TASR reported. Malikova said that if Slovakia remains out of NATO, the money saved could be used for increasing pensions and reviving the economy. She also said the SNS supports free university education and raising teachers' salaries. Jan Slota, Malikova's predecessor as SNS chairman who is now heading the PSNS, said his formation's priority is to "solve the problem of the Hungarians and the Gypsies" in Slovakia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

CONFLICTING POLLS PREDICT CLOSE RACE IN ELECTIONS. Contrary to trends shown by the latest opinion polls, the prestigious Institute for Research of Public Opinion (UVVM) on 4 September released a survey showing the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) ahead of Smer, TASR and CTK reported. According to the UVVM, the HZDS has the support of 18.7 percent of voters, while Smer is backed by 15.2 percent. The UVVM poll was conducted in late August and early September. The MVK polling institute on the same day released a survey showing Smer ahead of the HZDS. This poll was also conducted in late August-early September and shows Smer backed by 18.5 percent, with the HZDS garnering 17.6 percent. Sociologist Pavel Haulik of the MVK was quoted by CTK as saying the outcome of the elections will be "a lottery" and is less predictable than ever before. Since Slovak law forbids publication of opinion-poll results in the final two weeks before the ballot and in view of the close race between the HZDS and Smer, it will not be possible for pollsters to do more than measure the mood of the public two weeks ahead of the vote, and that mood may change, Haulik said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

COURT HEARS APPEAL AGAINST LEXA'S RELEASE FROM DETENTION. A district court in Bratislava on 3 September began examining the prosecution's appeal against the Supreme Court's August decision to free Ivan Lexa from detention, TASR and CTK reported. The former chief of the Slovak Information Service was extradited to Slovakia from South Africa in July but was freed from detention by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds. Lexa told the court that he has no reason to flee the country because he is innocent and does not fear the court proceedings. Lexa fled the country in 1999 while awaiting trial. Upon leaving the court on 3 September, Lexa accused Prosecutor Michal Serbin of acting on the political orders of Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky and Premier Mikulas Dzurinda. The judge has yet to rule on the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

OPPOSITION LEADERS MUSTER REGIONAL SUPPORT FOR PLANNED PROTEST. Some 10,000 people attended a meeting with Yuliya Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Petro Symonenko in Zhytomyr on 4 September, UNIAN reported. According to what the agency was told by the Socialist Party press service, participants in the rally voiced "whole-hearted support" for the opposition protest campaign that is scheduled to start on 16 September. Later the same day, the three opposition leaders met with some 9,000 people at a similar rally in Rivne. "[The rally in Rivne] took place under slogans demanding that President Leonid Kuchma be ousted, early presidential elections be held, and honest politicians come to power," the Fatherland Party press service told UNIAN. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION WANTS PRESIDENT TO BE INDICTED IN GONGADZE CASE. The Verkhovna Rada's ad hoc commission for investigating the disappearance of Heorhiy Gongadze has decided to address a request to the Prosecutor-General's Office to instigate criminal proceedings against President Kuchma and other current and former top officials over the kidnapping of the journalist, UNIAN reported on 3 September, quoting lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko, the chairman of the commission. "There is sufficient evidence indicating that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Verkhovna Rada head Volodymyr Lytvyn, former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and lawmaker Leonid Derkach were collaborators in crime as organizers of the kidnapping of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze," Omelchenko said. Meanwhile, police have arrested Serhiy Obozov, the prosecutor of Tarashcha Raion where Gongadze's decapitated body was found nearly two years ago. "Obozov is not the last official to be arrested in the [Gongadze] case," Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun told journalists on 3 September. He did not comment on the charges against Obozov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September)

BELGRADE FIRM IN DEFENSE OF SERBIAN EXTREMIST. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said on 5 September in Prishtina that it is possible that ethnic Serb members of Kosova's legislature will boycott that body unless the authorities withdraw an arrest warrant for Serbian extremist politician Milan Ivanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ivanovic is wanted for murder by the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), which has asked the Serbian authorities to extradite him. He is living openly in Belgrade. Elsewhere, Michael Steiner, who heads the UNMIK, turned down a demand by Covic that Steiner withdraw the arrest warrant. Steiner stressed that only the courts have the power to do that. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

SOLANA APPLIES FRESH PRESSURE TO SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO. EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana began talks with leading political figures in Belgrade on 6 September aimed at urging the conclusion of a Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro, AP reported. The governments of the two republics have already reached a deal, but Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and several other leading politicians have objected that the new state is too weak. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic takes a very different view, arguing that Serbia must become fully independent of its much smaller neighbor. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

SPS LEADER CAUGHT CONSPIRING WITH BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION. Duma Deputy and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said on 5 September that he will sue the newspaper "Sovetskaya Rossiya" for publishing on 4 September a transcript of a late-August telephone conversation between Nemtsov and a leader of the Belarusian opposition, reported on 5 September. According to the report, Nemtsov has acknowledged that the conversation took place. In the transcript, Nemtsov discussed with Anatol Lyabedzka possible models for uniting Russia and Belarus that would be amenable to the opposition lined up against Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Nemtsov said that he supports President Putin's line toward Lukashenka and discussed developing a joint strategy against the Belarusian president. "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported that it acquired the tape from the nationalist weekly newspaper "Zavtra," which in turn purchased it from a man who offered an entire collection of taped telephone conversations featuring leading Duma members. "Zavtra" claimed that it only had enough money to purchase one of the tapes. Nemtsov also said that he will ask the Prosecutor-General's Office to explain how the telephone conversations of Duma members could have been illegally recorded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)

MOSCOW EXTRADITES TURKMEN DISSIDENT. The Russian authorities sent Turkmen dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov back to Kazakhstan on 2 September after he arrived at Domodedovo Airport on a flight from Aqtau earlier that day with false travel documents, Yevgeniy Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakh Bureau of Human Rights, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 4 September. Annaniyazov, who is 42, has been forbidden to leave Turkmenistan because of his political activities; he reportedly crossed the Turkmen-Kazakh border in late August. In a 3 September press release, Amnesty International noted that as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Kazakhstan is legally obliged not to return Annaniyazov to Turkmenistan, where he might be subject to torture in detention. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September)