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Newsline - September 29, 2004

PUTIN SENIOR STAFFER DETAILS PROPOSED POLITICAL REFORMS...
Speaking at a briefing in Moscow on 28 September, deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov outlined President Vladimir Putin's proposal for political reforms that include the abolition of the direct election of governors, Russian media reported. Surkov said that under the proposals, the federation president would have the power both to dissolve local legislatures and to appoint acting regional governors if lawmakers twice fail to confirm his gubernatorial nominee. The local legislature would be granted the right to adopt no-confidence votes once governors are in office, but the president could accept or reject those motions in such cases. Surkov added that the proposals would eliminate term limits on governors, who currently may serve no more than two four- or five-year terms. Surkov said he expects the gubernatorial reforms to be fully implemented by 2009, although the current procedure would remain in place in regions where elections are scheduled before the legislation is approved. Incumbent governors will serve out their current terms under existing guidelines, he added. The presidential administration submitted the draft legislation to the Duma on 28 September. The full text of the 28 September briefing is available on the "Komsomolskaya pravda" website (http://www.kp.ru). VY

...AND ALLEGES 'FIFTH COLUMN' IS OUT TO 'DESTROY' RUSSIA
At the same briefing on 28 September, presidential-administration official Surkov warned of the activities of an unspecified "fifth column of left and right radicals united by a common hatred for 'Putin's Russia,' as they call it, and shared foreign backers," according to the text posted on the "Komsomolskaya pravda" website. He accused those people of touting "the defeat of their own country in the war on terror," adding, "God will judge them; we will manage without them." Surkov went on to divide political decision makers "in the United States, Europe, and the Orient" into two groups: "One supports our efforts at reviving and straightening out Russia; the second group consists of politicians suffering from Cold War phobias and continuing to view our country as the enemy. They take credit for the nearly bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union and want to further this achievement; their goal is the destruction of our country." VY

PUTIN WILL NOT REFORM UPPER LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER, ELIMINATE PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS
Deputy presidential-administration head Surkov also said on 28 September that the Kremlin has no plans to reform the Federation Council, and that the current structure of the upper house "absolutely corresponds to the present situation," ITAR-TASS reported. Surkov also said that the system of presidential envoys to the seven federal districts will be maintained at least through 2008, when the new system for choosing regional governors comes fully into effect. He suggested that envoys will help the president select gubernatorial nominees and will "coordinate the work of governors," Prime-TASS reported on 28 September. However, he said, the position of envoy may be eliminated after 2008. "Why have an additional federal inspector in each region when the governors are already nominated by the president?" Surkov said. RC

PUTIN DECREES 'STATE SUPPORT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS'
President Putin signed a decree on 28 September extending state financing to Russian human rights organizations and creating an International Human Rights Center, RTR reported. Putin asked his administration and the government to allocate the necessary funds, the broadcaster said. Ella Pamfilova, the chairwoman of the human rights commission within the presidential office, called it a timely measure that will ensure public control during a period of political reform. "It is our response to [Hungarian-born billionaire financier and philanthropist George] Soros," pravda.ru commented on 28 September. The website added that many Russia human rights groups have heretofore been bankrolled by Soros, the United States, or the United Nations. Independent human right activists have expressed skepticism over Putin's initiative. Aleksandr Podrabinek, who heads the Civil Liberties Fund, told Echo Moskvy the same day that Putin's decree is "a smokescreen." Memorial head Lev Ponamarev said the decree appears to be aimed at Western public opinion rather than at promoting human right groups in Russia. VY

POLISH PRESIDENT GETS CHILLY KREMLIN RECEPTION...
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski reportedly got an earful from his Russian counterpart during a visit to the Kremlin on 28 September, as Putin chided him over Polish media and investor relations, Russian media reported. Putin first challenged the way Polish media covered this month's hostage drama in Beslan, North Ossetia, REN-TV and other Russian media reported. He called Polish coverage of Moscow's handling of the situation "unfair, biased, [with] an anti-Russian prejudice, and generally negative," REN-TV reported. Putin then effectively accused Warsaw of waging a campaign against Russian investment, saying the country "is closed to Russian capital," according to REN-TV. Kwasniewski countered by saying that media in Poland are completely free and responsible for what they say or write, Interfax and PAP reported. "In Poland, there is no center that orders material [to be reported] against Russia," the Polish president said. He also denied that there is any discrimination against foreign companies in Poland, adding that Russia can participate in the tender for a Gdansk refinery as well as invest in other enterprises in the energy sector. VY

...DESPITE POLAND'S STATUS AS 'KEY ECONOMIC PARTNER'
Speaking to journalists after his meeting with President Kwasniewski on 28 September, Putin called Poland a "key economic partner" of Russia's, RTR and ORT reported. Putin cited a rapid increase in mutual economic cooperation in the energy sector, adding that bilateral trade should total around $7 billion for 2004, according to the same sources. Putin noted that Russian defense contractors are eager to participate in contracts related to the modernization of the Polish Air Force, which is Europe's largest outside of Russia in terms of Soviet-built aircraft. Putin and Kwasniewski also signed an agreement on the creation of a Russia-Poland 20th Century Fund to care for historical documents, including soon-to-be declassified materials on the Stalin-era NKVD's killings of Polish officers in Katyn in 1940. VY

MOSCOW POLICE ARREST TWO IN CONNECTION WITH AMERICAN JOURNALIST'S SLAYING...
Moscow police chief Lieutenant General Vladimir Pronin announced on 28 September that authorities have arrested two residents of Chechnya who are accused of killing the editor in chief of the Russian version of "Forbes" magazine, ITAR-TASS, RIA-Novosti, and other media reported. U.S. national Paul Klebnikov was gunned down in the Russian capital in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 13 July 2004). Pronin, who did not disclose the suspects' names, said ballistics tests show that one of three handguns confiscated from the men is the weapon used to kill Klebnikov. The suspects were detained after allegedly demanding ransom for two people whom they had kidnapped, RIA-Novosti reported. The suspects have denied any part in the Klebnikov slaying, saying they obtained the weapon in question from a third party. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and ntv.ru meanwhile reported on 28 September that investigators are pursuing one scenario that would implicate a one-time member of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov's former government, Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev. Klebnikov published a book in 2003, titled "Conversations with a Barbarian," in which former Chechen field commander Nukhaev speaks candidly about business deals that include the alleged diversion of funds from Tyumen oil exports to the Chechen resistance. VY

...ALTHOUGH JOURNALISTS QUESTION EXISTENCE OF CHECHEN LINK...
Leonid Bershidskii, the publisher of "Forbes" in Russia, said on 28 September that he sees no connection between Klebnikov's book and his slaying. "It was a pretty strongly worded, anti-separatist, anti-Islamic book in which he investigated a lot of things, including Chechens, and there could have been a million possibilities," he told Reuters on 28 September. Oleg Panfilov, the director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told Ekho Moskvy on 28 September that he does not believe reports of a Chechen link. He reportedly allowed for the possibility of "some coincidence or even a campaign," concluding, "I think that in this case, the authorities are trying to milk the Chechen connection for all it's worth." VY

...DESPITE UNCANNY TIMING OF DOCUMENTARY...
NTV aired a prime-time documentary titled "Contract Killing" on 26 September -- two days before the announcement that two Chechen suspects were detained over Klebnikov's death -- that implies indirect links between former Chechen field commander Nukhaev, oil giant Yukos, a suspected murderer for hire, and Klebnikov's killing. The program includes an excerpt of an interview with Klebnikov in which he describes Nukhaev as "not Islamic, but [of a] bandit mentality, the mentality of a barbarian." The NTV documentary then claims that shortly before his death, Klebnikov was interested in pursuing the "links between the Russian businessmen and the Caucasian criminal world." VY

...AND YUKOS'S FORMER CEO DEFENDS COMPANY'S NAME
The jailed former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, published a statement on his website (http://www.khodorkovsky.ru) on 24 September in which he lashes out at reports linking him or Yukos after its privatization to the Caucasian underworld or to Nukhaev. Khodorkovskii cites a piece by a "Moskovskii komsomolets" investigative reporter in particular. He also concedes that Yukos had been penetrated by criminal elements prior to its privatization. But he says that "after the company's privatization in 1995, we managed to rid the company of total control by bandits, including those from Chechnya." Khodorkovskii adds that an ongoing campaign of "public slander and speculation" directed at him is nothing more than a settling of accounts and an attempt to hide those really responsible for the "problem of banditry." VY

U.S. OIL MAJOR WINS LUKOIL STAKE
A 7.59 percent government-held stake in the oil company LUKoil was sold on 29 September for $1.988 billion to an affiliate of U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips, newsprom.ru and other Russian and international media reported. There were reportedly three participants in the tender for the stake, and the minimum bid was set at $1.928 billion. The other two bidders were Promsvyazbank and Promregion Holding, RosBalt reported. LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun described the sale as "the biggest privatization deal in the Russian Federation." President Putin met in July with ConocoPhillips President James Mulva and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004) and expressed his personal support for the companies' joint projects. RC

KEY PUTIN AID SAYS RUSSIA WILL RATIFY KYOTO ACCORD...
Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who has been a staunch opponent of Russian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, said on 28 September that he believes Moscow will approve the agreement, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 September. Reuters reported on 28 September that Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has endorsed ratification of the international agreement, which seeks to limit emissions of gases widely believed to cause global warming. Illarionov added that he believes ratifying the agreement will make it impossible for Russia to double its gross domestic product by 2010. Illarionov said Russia will ratify the agreement as a political gesture toward the European Union. "Nobody among Russian officials believes the protocol is good for Russia," he said. "Nobody sees any sense in the economic nature of this document. Nobody sees any scientific relevance in this document. It is just pure politics." RC

...AND THAT CAPITAL FLIGHT WILL CONTINUE FOR 'THE NEAR FUTURE'
Presidential adviser Illarionov also said on 27 September that "for the near future Russia will be producing more capital than it will be able to use effectively," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 September. Therefore, capital flight will continue, he said, noting that "Britain is a net exporter of capital but that does not stop it from being among the leading countries in terms of economic development." Earlier, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry forecast that Russia would become a net importer of capital by 2008, the daily reported. RC

PREMIER TO TAKE ANTIMONOPOLY SERVICE UNDER DIRECT CONTROL
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov announced on 27 September that he will take direct control of the Federal Antimonopoly Service, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 September. Fradkov told a Moscow conference that the step is being taken in order to boost competition. Service Director Anatolii Golomolzin told the daily that the move would enable the agency to better combat ministries and state organs that favor certain companies that are "close" to them. The daily reported that state officials are responsible for more antimonopoly-law violations than any other category of citizens. RC

INVESTIGATION CLEARS SARATOV GOVERNOR
Prosecutors will not file charges against Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 September (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 20 May 2004). An investigation into allegations that Ayatskov exceeded his authority found that he had "repaid the expenses incurred by the budget in the amount of 500,000 rubles [$16,700]," an unidentified investigator told the news agency. He added that many oblast administration employees who had received illegal bonuses from Ayatskov have returned the money and that lawsuits will be launched against others. RC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY SURROUNDED
Aslan Maskhadov is believed to be among a large band of Chechen fighters currently pinned down at the junction in southeastern Chechnya of the Nozhai-Yurt, Vedeno, and Kurchaloi districts, Russian media reported on 28 and 29 September. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose security forces lost several men in fighting on 27-28 September between Alleroi (Maskhadov's home village) and Mesketi, said he is 90 percent certain that Maskhadov is among the Chechen detachment, Interfax reported. ITAR-TASS on 29 September quoted Nozhai-Yurt district administrator Vakha Magamgaziev as saying that the call signs of persons known to be close to Maskhadov featured repeatedly in recently intercepted radio communications. Pro-Moscow Chechen officials claimed in early May to be closing in on a band of Chechen militants, including Maskhadov, in the same region of southeastern Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). LF

FORMER INGUSH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR TALKS WITH 'MODERATE' CHECHENS
Speaking in Moscow on 28 September at a press conference at Interfax's head office, former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev urged the Russian authorities to embark on talks with the moderate wing of the Chechen resistance, which, he continued, outnumbers the "radicals," Interfax reported. He reasoned that the more Moscow indiscriminately brands all Chechen fighters as radicals, "the more radicals we create." He said that even the radical wing of the Chechen resistance acknowledges Maskhadov as the legitimate Chechen president. LF

ARMENIAN, TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Vartan Oskanian and Abdullah Gul met in New York on 27 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the following day. A spokesman for Oskanian said the two ministers discussed regional concerns and bilateral relations, including the possible reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border. He did not say whether any progress was made on the latter issue. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES AMENDED DRAFT LAW ON PUBLIC TELEVISION
Deputies approved on 28 September in the third and final reading an amended version of the Law on Public Television passed in January 2004, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. President Ilham Aliyev declined to sign that bill into law and returned it to parliament, which revised it, taking into consideration some but not all recommendations proposed by the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 29 September 2004). It is not clear whether recommendations by opposition deputies to stipulate a time frame for creation of the new broadcaster and the amount of funding it will receive from the state budget were incorporated into the final draft. Zerkalo.az on 29 September quoted Rizvan Djabiev, head of the working group that drafted the bill, as saying that President Aliyev will determine whether the first or second channel of Azerbaijan State Television will be taken as the basis for the new channel. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE DETAIN CORRUPTION WHISTLE-BLOWER
Police in Masally arrested Ahad Ahadov on the morning of 28 September in connection with alleged drug abuse, Turan reported. Ahadov, who heads an unofficial committee fighting to publicize details of corruption and embezzlement by Masally district council head Ahad Abiev and members of his family, was detained in Baku earlier this month and sentenced to 10 days' administrative arrest, but released after only a few days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 13 September 2004). LF

GEORGIA COMMEMORATES FALL OF SUKHUM
The 11th anniversary of the retreat of ethnic Georgians from Sukhum in 1993 was commemorated in Tbilisi and elsewhere in Georgia on 27 September, Georgian media reported. Addressing a rally in Tbilisi, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania called on Georgians to remember that Georgia has "unfinished business" in Abkhazia and that "the main objective lies ahead," Interfax reported. Both Zhvania and President Mikheil Saakashvili lauded as a model hero Abkhaz Council of Ministers Chairman Zhiuli Shartava, a protege of former President Eduard Shevardnadze who was executed in Sukhum by unknown perpetrators on 27 September 1993. Shevardnadze himself narrowly escaped from Sukhum before the city fell to advancing Abkhaz forces. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SACKS THREE REGIONAL GOVERNORS
President Saakashvili issued a decree on 28 September dismissing the governors of Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Mingrelia-Upper Svaneti, and Imereti, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Residents of Imereti have been lobbying for weeks for the sacking of Governor David Mumladze, whom they and the opposition New Rightists accuse of corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2004). Saakashvili appointed representatives of the police and security ministers to two of the vacant positions: Deputy Interior Minister Gia Getsadze in Imereti and Deputy State Security Minister Gigi Ugulava in Mingrelia-Upper Svaneti (his surname suggests that his family comes from that region). Parliament deputy Giorgi Khachidze was named governor of Mtskheta-Mtianeti. Saakashvili further appointed Deputy State Security Minister Irakli Alasania on 28 September to head the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT PREPARES NEW RESOLUTION ON SOUTH OSSETIA
The parliament bureau approved on 28 September and included in the legislature's agenda a resolution on South Ossetia drafted by Kakha Kukhava (National Movement-Democrats), Caucasus Press reported. The resolution envisages co-opting various Russian agencies, including the Foreign Ministry, in an attempt to preclude Russian assistance to the leadership of the unrecognized breakaway republic. Also on 28 September, Vasili Maghlaperidze, who is chairman of the interim parliament commission on restoring Georgia's territorial integrity, told Caucasus Press that Tbilisi is conducting intensive consultations with international donors on economic incentives to induce the South Ossetian leadership to accept a settlement of the conflict, presumably on Georgian terms. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN AUTHORITIES ACCUSES TBILISI OF PREPARING TERRORIST ACT
South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva said on 28 September that sappers from the Joint Peacekeeping Force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone defused a powerful booby-trap bomb concealed near a peacekeeping post, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The bomb was close to a river bank and could have been detonated from the opposite bank, which is controlled by Georgian forces, Gagloeva said. Aleksandre Kinkadze, who commands the Georgian peacekeeping contingent, denied that Georgia planned any terrorist action. He said that Russian peacekeepers found a "huge" amount of explosives on 27 September on neutral territory near the village of Tamarasheni. LF

GEORGIAN HOME GUARD PROTESTS ITS PLANNED ABOLITION
Members of two local militias formed several years ago in the high-mountain region of Svaneti and the Georgian-controlled upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge have denounced Givi Targamadze, chairman of the parliament commission on defense and security issues, as a "traitor" for proposing that the two volunteer units be disbanded, Caucasus Press reported on 28 September. Deputy Defense Minister David Sikharulidze told Caucasus Press the same day that no final decision has been made on the two militias, which he claimed are badly trained and undisciplined. He said they could be transformed into reservist battalions. Members of the two militias are paid $150 per month. The minimum monthly wage in Georgia is 20 laris ($10.40). LF

KAZAKH POST-ELECTION POLEMICS CONTINUE
Representatives of the pro-presidential Otan party told a news conference in Almaty on 28 September that the party won an honest victory in the 19 September parliamentary elections, Khabar TV reported. Aleksei Tsekhovoi, a member of Otan's Political Council, called opponents' charges that Otan relied on "administrative resources" to secure votes a "widespread stereotype," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He added, "These rumors are much exaggerated." Also on 28 September, the National Security Committee (KNB) demanded an apology from the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol after party leaders claimed that KNB officers "shadowed" them, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Meanwhile, the Republican Network of Independent Observers announced on 27 September that second-round elections should be held in two Almaty single-mandate constituencies where the Central Election Commission pronounced winners after the first round, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Second-round races will be held on 3 October in 22 of the country's 67 single-mandate constituencies, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 27 September. DK

KAZAKHSTAN-CHINA PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION BEGINS
A ceremony on 28 September marked the start of construction of the 988-kilometer Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to China, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakh Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said that the pipeline will be finished in December 2005. Kazakh contractors will receive 60 percent of the $700 million earmarked for pipeline construction, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The pipeline will initially carry 10 million tons of oil a year, eventually upping its capacity to 20 million tons a year. DK

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION BLOC LOOKS AHEAD TO ELECTIONS
Kurmanbek Bakiev, chairman of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told a news conference in Bishkek on 28 September that the newly formed opposition bloc intends to participate actively in all upcoming elections, akipress.org reported. For his part, Bakiev plans a presidential run in 2005. Bakiev said that he does not support a review of privatization results. He also said that staffing decisions should provide fair representation for people from all regions of the country. Finally, he noted that the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan may consider an alliance with the civic union For Free Elections. DK

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT STOPS IN TAJIKISTAN
Armenian President Robert Kocharian stopped in Dushanbe on 26 September for a brief visit on his way to China, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Kocharian met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov; the two discussed the need to firm up the legislative basis for increased bilateral economic cooperation, Avesta reported. DK

INVESTIGATION OF FORMER TAJIK DRUG CHIEF EXTENDED
Manuchehr Nurov, chief investigator at the Main Military Prosecutor's Office, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 27 September that the preliminary investigation of former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev will continue until 20 November. Nurov said that the investigation, which had been scheduled to end on 6 October, was extended because of the large amount of evidence and witnesses involved. Abduqayum Yusupov, Mirzoev's lawyer, told Avesta that his client is in good health and willing to face punishment if the charges against him are proven. He added, however, that Mirzoev denies killing a police official in 1998. Mirzoev was arrested on 6 August; he faces charges ranging from corruption to murder. DK

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS UP TO 800,000 TAJIK MIGRANTS IN RUSSIA
Igor Yunash, first deputy director of Russia's Federal Migration Service, told Avesta on 28 September that 600,000-800,000 migrant laborers from Tajikistan are currently in Russia. The information was obtained through a survey of Russian police and border authorities. Yunash said that 90 percent of the migrants are in Russia illegally. Nonetheless, he told Avesta, "We feel that temporary labor migration is beneficial to Russia." He also noted that the Federal Migration Service is sponsoring legislation to ease the migration process. Yunash put the total number of illegal migrants in Russia at 5 million. DK

TURKMEN, UZBEK DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET
Uzbek Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov met with Turkmen Defense Minister Major General Agageldi Mammetgeldiyev in Turkmenistan on 28 September, Uzbek TV reported. The two discussed bilateral and regional security issues, and the need for heightened cooperation between the two countries. The meeting followed a 24 September phone conversation between Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in which the two leaders agreed to meet in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, in November. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT APPOINTS MINISTER, SETS UP NEW MINISTRY
President Karimov signed a decree on 28 September appointing Shermat Nurmatov minister of agriculture and water resources, UzA reported. Nurmatov replaced Ikromkhon Najmiddinov, who was appointed governor of Namangan Oblast on 18 September. On 27 September, the Uzbek president signed a decree to create a Ministry of Culture and Sports; it will replace the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the State Committee on Physical Culture and Sports. DK

EU, U.S. IMPOSE TRAVEL BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS OVER DISAPPEARANCES...
The European Union on 27 September banned four Belarusian officials from its territory over the unexplained disappearances of three opposition politicians and a journalist in 1999 and 2000, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. The same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington will follow suit. Brussels said it has received no official response to its call on Minsk to investigate the disappearances, and therefore instructed EU member countries to deny entry to officials alleged either to have a role in the disappearances or who have failed to launch a probe. The travel ban affects Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau, Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Sports Minister Yury Sivakou, and Dzmitry Paulichenka, commander of an Interior Troops brigade. The latter three have been accused by Cypriot lawmaker Christos Pourgourides, a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur on high-profile disappearances in Belarus, of being involved in arranging the disappearance of Yury Zakharanka (7 May 1999), Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski (16 December 1999), and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (7 July 2000) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003 and 28 January 2004). JM

...AND MINSK THREATENS RETALIATION
Minsk has threatened to take retaliatory steps in response to the travel ban imposed by the United States and the EU, Belapan reported on 28 September, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin. Yesin said the ministry is compiling a list of U.S. and EU officials who will be barred from entering Belarus. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 28 September that the four officials banned from entering the EU and the United States are "the most honest [and] reliable" servants of the state and the people, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "We won't tolerate any double standards or any kind of charlatanry with regard to our officials," Lukashenka said. "They have proposed to me: We will close our eyes on the [17 October] referendum and elections...if you remove these [four] officials, thus demonstrating a gesture of good will. They won't see it happening." Lukashenka did not identify the persons who made such a proposal to him. JM

AUSTRIAN HOSPITAL SAYS ALLEGATIONS OF YUSHCHENKO'S POISONING ARE 'ABSOLUTELY UNFOUNDED'
The Rudolfinerhaus clinic in Vienna, which treated Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2004), said in a statement on 28 September that the allegations that Yushchenko was poisoned are baseless, Reuters reported. The clinic is expected to hold a news conference on 29 September to discuss Yushchenko's illness. "False information about Mr. Yushchenko having been poisoned has been widely disseminated in Ukraine and taken up by the international press, in which our hospital was directly referred to," the clinic said. "The information disseminated about an alleged poisoning is absolutely unfounded in medical terms. In order to silence these rumors...the [hospital] has decided to abandon its usual attitude of reserve and make a public statement." JM

PREMIER WANTS RUSSIAN TO BE SECOND STATE LANGUAGE IN UKRAINE
Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych said at a meeting with representatives of Russian media in Kyiv on 27 September that Russian should become the second state language in Ukraine, Interfax reported. "The Russian language should be a language of business in Ukraine and a second state language," Yanukovych said. JM

EU WARNS SLOVENIA AND CROATIA TO PURSUE 'DIALOGUE'
The EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told Slovenian leaders in Brdo pri Kranju on 28 September that Ljubljana and Zagreb should resolve their differences through negotiations, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). "We would like that all the potential tensions in the region be solved in the European manner, which is dialogue, talking, [and] cooperation between different countries," Solana said. In a clear message to Slovenia regarding its relations with Croatia, he reminded his hosts that "membership in the European Union and NATO also carries some kind of obligation vis-a-vis other countries which are waiting to be a part of the EU.... We want to see the countries of the Balkans be a part of the EU, the sooner the better. You can help [EU candidate countries like Croatia], you can show them a way in which they have to move to be a part of the same institution." For his part, Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop said that he expects Slovenian-Croatian tensions to ease following Slovenia's 3 October parliamentary elections. Rop recently threatened to block Croatia's admission to the EU over the two countries' long-standing border dispute. PM

ANOTHER FAILED ATTEMPT TO CATCH MAJOR BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES INDICTEE?
London's "The Independent" and the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 29 September that members of a crack Serbian antiterrorist police unit conducted a search the previous day in the Valjevo region southwest of Belgrade for indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. The daily suggested that the move came in an effort to dissuade the United States from cutting off aid to Serbia and blocking Serbia's access to international financial institutions after the expiry of the 1 October deadline that Washington previously set for Belgrade to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 April 2004). Also on 29 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service quoted unnamed police officials in Valjevo as saying that they cannot confirm the media reports of a hunt for Mladic in their area. The police nonetheless denied that a Serbian antiterrorist squad is active in the Valjevo region. PM

U.S. CALLS ON SERBIA TO COOPERATE WITH THE HAGUE AS OF 'YESTERDAY'
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper said in The Hague on 28 September that Belgrade should have met its obligations to cooperate with the tribunal as of "yesterday," Reuters reported. After speaking with top officials of the tribunal, Prosper stressed that the world is losing patience with Belgrade's foot-dragging. He noted that the tribunal will agree to trials for Serbian war crimes indictees in Serbia only if Belgrade fully cooperates with The Hague. "So in order for there to be domestic trials there has to be first cooperation with the tribunal, and that [means] the arrest of Mladic and other senior persons" indicted for war crimes, Prosper said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 20 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February, 18 June, and 2 July 2004). In related news, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade that cooperation with the tribunal is essential if his country wants to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration and avoid a return to international isolation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 23 September 2004). PM

INTERNATIONAL MEDIATOR SAYS NO QUICK FIX FOR BOSNIA
Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the outgoing international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told German public ZDF television on 28 September that the overall situation in Bosnia is calm but that it will take a change of generations before the effects of the 1992-95 conflict will truly begin to ease and disappear. Comparing Bosnia with Germany after World War II, Schwarz-Schilling, who is a former German government minister, said that Germany had an easier time in making its transition to democracy because the Allies had already swept the Nazis from power. In Bosnia, he noted, many people involved in the wartime nationalist ethnic-cleansing campaigns still hold important positions. Looking back to his own 10 years as international mediator, Schwarz-Schilling said that time has come for the Bosnians to take control of their own affairs. He added, however, that he will return to Bosnia "perhaps a few more times" in the coming year on unspecified troubleshooting missions at the request of the Bosnian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003, and 24 June and 23 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM

MAIN MACEDONIAN POLITICAL PARTIES SLIP IN POLLS
According to an opinion poll carried out by the Skopje-based Institute for Solidarity, Democracy, and Civil Society on 27 September, both major ethnic Macedonian parties -- the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) -- have lost about half of their potential voter support since April, A1 TV reported. Only 9.9 percent of the respondents answered that they would vote for the SDSM if elections were held now, compared to 19.9 percent in April, while for the VMRO-DPMNE this number dropped from 14.7 percent to 8.8 percent. The governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) also lost about one-half a percentage point of its support (from 9.5 to 9 percent), whereas the support for the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) almost doubled (from 2.9 to 4.8 percent). As is typical of many polls in the western Balkans, the results indicate that a majority of respondents either would not vote at all or were undecided in their decision. Two-thirds of the respondents said they disapproved of the government. Vladimir Bozinovski of the polling institute said the poor ratings for the governing parties are mainly related to the upcoming referendum against the government's redistricting plans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3, 11, and 17 September 2004). UB

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER SEEKS INVESTMENTS
Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in New York on 27 September that his country is attractive for U.S. investors, stressing its potential for tourism in particular, RFE/RL reported. "Albania does not offer unpleasant surprises [any more] for the investor," he said, adding that "Albanian legislation on foreign investment is very liberal. There are no restrictions [on] participation of foreign capital or for repatriation of profits. Albania offers comparative advantages in labor force compared to the other countries of the former [communist] bloc of Eastern Europe." Nano stressed that "all the necessary conditions are in place for U.S. financial, manufacturing, and trade capital to be invested in [the] Albanian market.... That's why I invite American capital to aggressively participate in [Albania's] privatization. My government and I remain fully committed and guarantee you transparent, efficient, and standard procedures." PM

ROMANIAN TELEVISION REPORT TO PARLIAMENT STIRS POLITICAL CONTROVERSY
A recommendation approved last week by the Culture committees of both houses of parliament to reject a report presented by Romanian Television's (RTV) management on its activity in 2003 has triggered political controversy, Romanian dailies and Mediafax reported on 27-28 September. The recommendation was approved on 22 September after prompting by ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Senators Adrian Paunescu and George Pruteanu, both of whom resent the discontinuation of programs they anchored on RTV. Chamber of Deputies Culture Committee Chairman Mihai Malaimare (PSD) and other PSD and opposition parliamentarians criticized the recommendation, while the Greater Romania Party (PRM) commended it. If a joint session of the legislature approves the recommendation, the RTV management will be considered dismissed. Meanwhile, a Freedom House report on 2003 published on 27 September says that although Romania has made progress in democratization, corruption and intimidation of the media continue to be obstacles on the path to that goal. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES CONFLICT WITH UKRAINE, TRANSDNIESTER WITH NATO HEAD
Mircea Geoana discussed in a telephone conversation on 27 September with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer the latest developments in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine over the Bystraya Canal and the continental shelf around Serpents Island, Mediafax reported. De Hoop Scheffer briefed Geoana on his visit to Moldova on 23 September and on the discussions he held there on the Transdniester conflict. Geoana said Romania considers the recent declaration by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on improving bilateral relations between the two countries highly important (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 September 2004). De Hoop Scheffer also told Geoana that NATO will continue to demand that Russia fully withdraw its forces from Transdniester. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO OSCE, MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CONVEY SAME MESSAGE ON CLOSED SCHOOLS
U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephen Minikes told a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna last week that the "international community's message" to the Tiraspol authorities is that "children must not be turned into hostages of political negotiations," Flux reported on 28 September. Minikes said that 23 days after the start of the school year, two schools in Bendery-Tighina teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script are still closed and some 1,000 children deprived of access to learning. Despite calls by the United States, the EU, Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova, the Transdniestrian authorities refuse to take measures "to end this futile drama," he said. Speaking in Chisinau on 28 September at a solidarity meeting with the closed schools, President Voronin said the Moldovan leadership will "not allow anyone to use children for the purpose of pursuing political goals," Infotag reported. MS

TRANSDNIESTER CALLS FOR RESUMING FIVE-SIDED NEGOTIATIONS
Valerii Litskay, foreign minister of the breakaway Moldovan province of Transdniester, called on 27 September for the resumption of negotiations with Moldova under the five-sided format in which the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine participate as mediators alongside Moldova and Transdniester, ITAR-TASS, Flux, and Infotag reported. MS

UKRAINE TO DEMAND MOLDOVAN COMPENSATION FOR BORDER-TRAFFIC RESTRICTIONS
The Ukrainian delegation at a 24 September meeting in Chisinau on border consultations said Kyiv will demand that Moldova compensate it for the restrictions on cross-border trade imposed at crossing points between Ukraine and Transdniester, Infotag reported on 27 September. A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry press release said the same day that the restrictions imposed on 1 August by Chisinau have not been coordinated with Ukraine and their result was "not only a graver confrontation between Chisinau and Transdniester, but also...negative consequences for Ukrainian enterprises." MS

VORONIN PROPOSES DRAFT LAW ON PRIVATIZING FIRMS IN TRANSDNIESTER
Moldovan President Voronin on 28 September sent to parliament a draft law on the privatization of enterprises in Transdniester, Infotag reported. According to the draft, the enterprises will be turned into closed joint-stock companies and the shares given to the firm's current and retired employees free of charge. If approved by parliament, the law will come into force on 1 January. In the past, the Moldovan government has warned foreign investors in Transdniester (most of whom are Russian) that their investments are illegal and they face the threat of loss of property. MS

MOLDOVA SIGNS AGREEMENT ON JOINING UN PEACEKEEPING SYSTEM
Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan and UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno signed an agreement on 28 September in New York on Moldova's participation in the UN stand-by system for peacekeeping operations, Infotag reported. Currently, 12 Moldovan engineering troops are participating in de-mining operations in Iraq. Stratan is participating in the 59th session of the UN's General Assembly. MS

ENERGY GEOPOLITICS IN THE CASPIAN SEA BASIN
Intense competition for unimpeded access to the world's natural resources is continuing and is likely to increase, "Jane's Foreign Report" reported on 21 April. The current unprecedented surge in fuel prices illustrates the growing need for a greater supply and consequently demonstrates the volatile nature of the energy market.

The Caspian Sea could meet some of that demand because it has sizeable proven and possible oil and gas reserves -- "proven reserves" are defined as oil and natural-gas deposits that are considered 90 percent probable, and "possible reserves" are defined as deposits that are considered 50 percent probable. The littoral states of the Caspian Sea -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan -- collectively have an estimated 10 billion-32 billion barrels of proven and another 233 billion barrels of possible oil reserves. In comparison, Saudi Arabia has 261 trillion barrels of oil, while the United States, China, and India's proven oil reserves are respectively 22.677 trillion, 18.25 trillion, and 5.371 trillion barrels. The proven natural-gas reserve of the five Caspian countries is an estimated 170.4 trillion cubic feet (4.83 trillion cubic meters) while their possible reserve is 293 trillion cubic feet (8.30 trillion cubic meters).

Like the Persian Gulf, Nigeria, Venezuela, and other regions rich in energy resources, the Caspian Sea is becoming a battleground for states and business entities with competing interests. Eni, BP, ChevronTexaco, Caltex, LUKoil, and Royal Dutch Shell are the main companies actively developing Caspian Basin oil and gas as they continue building pipelines to transport those hydrocarbons to international markets. The United States, China, Russia, Iran, some European countries, and to a lesser extent Japan are interested in exploring and investing in Caspian resources as a supplement to Persian Gulf supplies.

The situation in the Persian Gulf has increased pressure on Caspian countries and oil companies to contribute to global oil supplies. The Persian Gulf contains 715 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, representing over half (57 percent) of the world's oil reserves, and 2,462 trillion cubic feet (69.72 trillion cubic meters) of natural gas reserves (45 percent of the world total), according to the Energy Information Administration's "International Energy Outlook 2003." At the end of 2003, Persian Gulf countries maintained about 22.9 million barrels per day of oil production capacity, or 32 percent of the world total. Perhaps even more significantly, the Persian Gulf countries normally maintain almost all of the world's excess oil production capacity. As of early September, excess world oil production capacity was only about 0.5-1 million barrels per day, all of which was located in Saudi Arabia.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and emergence of independent states in Central Asia and the Caucasus, a major issue in the Caspian Basin has been the division of the energy resources that lie beneath the sea. Other sources of regional tension include the complex unsettled legal status of the sea; the existence of unresolved conflicts in Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia; terrorism; and increasing Islamic militancy. The landlocked position of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan causes further tension, as all three countries depend on their neighbors' good will in order to export their oil and natural gas to international markets.

In terms of reserves, production, and access to international markets, Russia and Iran are in better positions than their neighbors. The CIA "World Factbook 2004" put Russia's proven oil reserves at 51.22 billion barrels, its proven natural-gas reserves at 47.86 trillion cubic meters (1 January 2002), and its natural-gas exports at 205.4 billion cubic meters (2001 estimates). It puts Iran's proven oil reserves at 94.39 billion barrels (1 January 2002), its proven natural-gas reserves at 24.8 trillion cubic meters (1 January 2002), and its natural-gas exports at 110 million cubic meters (2001 estimate).

Regardless of how much oil is produced, there will still be enough customers. For example, China's rapid economic growth means the country's energy needs are increasing. China already uses a great deal of foreign energy, and in a decade or so it is expected to be totally dependent on the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea area for its energy needs. Russia and Kazakhstan are both already eyeing the expanding Chinese market. The United States, Europe, India, Japan, South Korea, and many other countries will also be seeking alternative supplies of oil. Guaranteed access to energy resources is becoming an important component of foreign policy for these states and is gaining even more prominence in light of the continuing insurgency in Iraq, as well as the expanding U.S. presence in the Caspian region at the expense of Iran, Russia, China, and India.

Caspian Sea Basin energy assets have the potential to significantly reduce consumers' reliance on Middle Eastern oil. Yet this raises the prospect of crises and conflicts that directly involve China, Iran, Russia, and the United States. The actual production of oil and gas is not the only potential source of competition between international actors; for the last decade there have been disputes over the best routes for pipelines that would transport oil and gas to markets. Iran promotes itself as the most economical route from Central Asia, while the United States promotes the export of Caspian oil via Georgia and Turkey.

Houchang Hassan-Yari is the head of the Department of Political and Economic Science at the Royal Military College of Canada.

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP WARNS OF WARLORDS' INTERFERENCE IN AFGHAN ELECTION
In a report released on 29 September, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that human rights abuses by warlords are jeopardizing the integrity of the country's first presidential election scheduled for 9 October. The 52-page report, entitled "The Rule of the Gun: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in the Run-Up to Afghanistan's Presidential Election," (http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan0904), documents how human rights abuses are fueling a pervasive atmosphere of repression and fear in many parts of the country. The report explains how voters in many areas of the country do not understand the ballot or have faith in its secrecy, and how they face threats and are offered bribes by militia factions. An HRW press release quoted Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, as saying, "the warlords are still calling the shots." Adams added, "many voters in rural areas say the militias have already told them how to vote, and that they're afraid of disobeying them. Activists and political organizers who oppose the warlords fear for their lives." Politically active Afghans are "afraid of warlords and their factions, much more than they're afraid of the Taliban," Adams said. Beyond the upcoming presidential elections, HRW warns that if the international community does not take urgent steps to disarm the warlords and provide adequate security for average Afghans, serious human rights problems could disrupt next year's local and parliamentary elections, which are likely to be much more fiercely contested than the presidential election (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). AT

KABUL DAILY SAYS OUTCOME OF ELECTIONS 'PREDETERMINED'
In a 28 September editorial on the upcoming presidential election in Afghanistan, Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" wrote, "the outcome of the election is predetermined." According to the daily, there has been numerous "national and international efforts to keep the head of the transitional state [Chairman Hamid Karzai] in power by any means possible." The paper alleges that "all the facilities of the transitional state and the foreign material and military assistance have been put at the disposal of a certain person since long ago," without naming Karzai. "Arman-e Melli" compares what it considers interference in the election process with actions by some "officials in the ruling administration [to] exert unjustifiable influence over the whole process of drafting and approving the constitution" that was adopted in January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003, 8 January and 5 February 2004). According to the editorial, since the election process has been erroneous from the beginning, its results "cannot duly create confidence and fail to resolve the problems" in Afghanistan. AT

AFGHAN LEADER SAYS ELECTIONS WILL BRING LEGITIMACY...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai held a news conference on 27 September to discuss the election, Radio Afghanistan reported. Responding to a question regarding the demand by the majority of the 18 presidential candidates for the elections to be postponed (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004), Karzai rejected the idea, adding that he wants the elections to "be held as soon as possible to bring about a stronger legitimacy." According to Karzai, "security conditions are far better than what" had been anticipated. Answering another question regarding the slow implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program before the elections -- where Karzai had, according to the unidentified questioner, said that 27,000 men should be disarmed before the election, while only 15,000 have gone from the program -- Karzai said: "DDR is not dependent on the election. It is a consistent process taking years." The DDR program has fallen behind schedule and many powerful warlords have not yet surrendered weapons. According to the DDR's stated schedule, 40 percent of militia forces were to have been disarmed by July, with a further 20 percent disarmed ahead of the elections. AT

...AND REJECTS FORMING COALITION
During his 27 September news conference in Kabul, Chairman Karzai said that he will not form a coalition government if he wins the election, Radio Afghanistan reported. Responding to a question about reports of negotiations between his camp and that of his main rival, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004), Karzai said that he has no specific conditions for Qanuni to join his ticket. "I have recently introduced my platform and stressed that I did not support a coalition and would not form a coalition government at any price," Karzai added. However, he left the door open for Qanuni and others to join him in a future government "where there are no factions and differences of opinion and policy," and which would "act under one leadership and follow one strategy." AT

SELF-STYLED IRANIAN PROPHET FORESEES REGIME'S END
Ahura Piruz Khalegi Yazdi announced in a 27 September press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that hundreds of thousands of Iranians demonstrated against the regime on 26 September, but U.S. and European media did not give this event "the coverage that it deserved," according to the Rang-A-Rang television website (http://rang-a-rang.com/YazdiVideos.htm). Seconds later, he said that millions actually protested, but the international media minimized the significance of this event. When the Iranian revolution comes, Yazdi said, the people of Iran will hold the media responsible if it does not report "honestly and objectively." Reporters at Yazdi's press conference showed no interest in asking any questions, so he asked the reporters for their reaction to his comments. According to Yazdi's website, furthermore, he intends to return to Tehran on 1 October and will charter 50 aircraft to transport his followers. His declaration of intentions is at http://www.ahura.info. BS

INCIDENTS OF PUBLIC UNREST IN IRAN
One person was killed and 18 people were injured in 28 September clashes with the security forces in the city of Nurabad, Fars Province, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. A local official said two banks and a number of office buildings were damaged, and "a number of people" were arrested. The police chief of Miyandoab, West Azerbaijan Province, and another policeman were killed on 22 September, ISNA reported the next day. The incident occurred when police clashed with villagers in the village of Seh-Tapeh. Miyandoab Governor Hamid Shokri dismissed claims that a Kurdish religious sect was involved in the incident. On 23 September unidentified attackers killed a Turkish soldier near the border with Iran, Anatolia news agency reported. BS

VISITING IRAQI OFFICIAL MEETS IRANIAN LEGISLATOR...
Speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel met with visiting Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani on 27 September, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel said the end of the occupation and free elections would guarantee Iraqi freedom and cohesion. Haddad-Adel said the Iranian legislature can help achieve the goal of improving bilateral ties. BS

...AS ANOTHER MEETS SENIOR CLERICS IN QOM
Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) chief Hojatoleslam Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim met with Grand Ayatollahs Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, Vahid-Khorasani, and Javad-Tabrizi in Qom on 27 September, ISNA reported. The clerics told the visitor that sources of emulation can be influential in solving Iraq's problems. BS

ITALIAN HOSTAGES FREED IN IRAQ
The two Italian aid workers who were kidnapped three weeks ago have been released, international media reported on 28 September. Simona Pari and Simona Torretta were seized on 7 September from the Baghdad office of the Italian aid agency Bridge to Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004) and released unscathed. Two different groups claimed responsibility for their capture and authorities have not announced which group was responsible. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described the release as a "moment of joy" and denied rumors that a ransom had been paid, the BBC reported on 29 September. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini suggested that negotiations had occurred with the kidnappers through an intermediary. "I and the Italian government want to thank the Arab and Islamic world for the great help they have offered in freeing the two hostages. Without their help the hostages would not have been released," Al-Jazeera quoted Frattini as saying on 29 September. EA

IRAQ PLANS MULTILATERAL CONFERENCE...
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari announced on 28 September that a conference will be held in November to support stability in Iraq and the approaching January elections, Reuters reported on 29 September. Al-Zebari said participants will include foreign ministers from most of Iraq's neighbors, including Turkey, Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as the Group of Eight industrial states, and China, as well as representatives from the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the EU. "The goal of the conference is clearly defined to seek the support of all these countries for the political stabilization of Iraq and to support the electoral process," al-Zebari said after meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Al-Zebari said he hopes the January elections will include participation of all sections of Iraq and the conference "is to help us reach that stage," he said. However, the conference "will not include opposition or nongovernmental or political entities," al-Zebari said. EA

...BUT FRANCE INSISTS ON DISCUSSING TROOP WITHDRAWAL
If an international conference on Iraq is to be held, the removal of U.S. troops should be considered, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said on 27 September, international media reported the same day. After U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested on 26 September that an international conference be convened in Amman or Cairo to discuss Iraq, Barnier said that the withdrawal of foreign troops "is an issue which should be on the agenda of such a conference, if we want it to take place," the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 28 September, citing Radio France Internationale. Barnier also suggested that militant groups be invited to the conference. The conference should seek to include "a certain number of groups or people who now have chosen the path of resistance by arms," Barnier said. Comparing the situation in Iraq to a "black hole," Barnier also said that the conference ought to be held at the United Nations, the BBC reported on 27 September. Barnier added, "We are in a process set out by UN [Security Council] Resolution 1546, and we must stick to it." EA

JORDANIAN KING CASTS DOUBT ON IRAQI ELECTIONS
In an interview with the French newspaper "Le Figaro," Jordan's King Abdullah voiced concerns regarding the elections scheduled for January, international media reported on 28 September. Unless the security situation improves before the January elections, only extremists would benefit from the vote, said Abdullah, a staunch U.S. ally. Abdullah added that partial elections in Iraq that exclude areas such as insurgent-controlled Al-Fallujah will exacerbate the existing divides within the country and jeopardize the election's legitimacy. "It seems impossible to me to organize indisputable elections in the chaos we see today," he said. Abdullah also encouraged the Iraqi armed forces to enlist the help of former mid-level officers under Saddam Hussein to help train new recruits. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte said on 27 September that the election will continue as scheduled regardless of the security situation or the number of UN election monitors, AP reported the same day. EA

CHARGES AGAINST CHALABI DISMISSED
The charges against Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi have been dropped due to a lack of evidence, "The New York Times" reported on 28 September. Judge Zuhair al-Maliki said the case will be reopened if new evidence emerges. The charges were dropped following discussions between Chalabi's lawyers and representatives of the Iraqi Central Bank. A onetime favorite of some within the U.S. Defense Department, Chalabi was charged in August for counterfeiting currency, but prosecutors could not find adequate evidence to prove Chalabi's ownership of the Chinese-style mansion where the counterfeiting was done, "The Washington Post" reported. EA

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