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Newsline - November 25, 2003

At a 24 November cabinet session, President Vladimir Putin said that the change of leadership in Tbilisi was "the logical result of serious systemic mistakes in foreign, domestic, and economic policy" made under former President Eduard Shevardnadze, ORT and RTR reported. Putin said Shevardnadze's foreign policy ignored "the historic and cultural roots of the Georgian people," while domestic policy was "helpless maneuvering between different political forces" and economic policy was "reduced to a demeaning struggle for handouts from abroad." Relations between Russia and Georgia have not been simple in recent years, but it should be stressed that Shevardnadze was not a dictator, noted the Russian president. Therefore, he continued, we are worried that change of power in Georgia occurred under "strong coercive pressure." Those who organize and encourage such actions take a great responsibility on themselves, Putin added. Putin also said that he hopes the new Georgian leadership will "restore the tradition of friendship" between the Russian and Georgian peoples. VY

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 24 November after returning from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2003), Russian Foreign Minster Igor Ivanov said that the main goal of his mission was to prevent bloodshed and violence and developments that could have jeopardized Georgia's territorial integrity, RTR and NTV reported. Ivanov noted that Russia's role in his talks with President Shevardnadze and opposition leaders Mikhail Saakashvili, Nino Burdjanadze, and Zurab Zhvania was restricted to mediation, and did not constitute intervention into Georgian affairs. Ivanov added that Moscow will determine its attitude to the post-Shevardnadze Georgian leadership after the forthcoming Georgian elections. Meanwhile, speaking on NTV on 24 November, National Movement leader Saakashvili praised Ivanov's role in resolving the crisis. "I simply did not expect it of him. He just arrived and turned the whole situation around, appearing at a meeting of the opposition and expressing support for us," Saakashvili said. On 23 November, NTV disclosed that Ivanov addressed the opposition meeting in Tbilisi that day in Georgian, which he learned as a child while living with his mother in Georgia. VY

Igor Ivanov told an Al-Jazeera interviewer on 24 November that the escalation of violence in Iraq is harming the prospects for a peaceful political dialogue in that country, RTR reported the same day. Ivanov said recent developments have demonstrated that Russia was correct in considering military intervention in Iraq a "mistake," the broadcaster reported. The Russian foreign minister also proposed an international conference on Iraq, and he repeated Moscow's view that the U.S.-led coalition should give way to UN participation in Iraq. VY

President Putin signed a decree on 24 November on creating within his administration a Council for Combating Corruption comprising the prime minister, the speakers of both chambers of parliament, the heads of the Constitutional, Supreme, and Arbitration courts, and other officials, Russian media reported. According to the decree, the main goal of the council, which will be a consultative body, is to help the president determine state priorities in fighting corruption. The council will include a commission for fighting corruption and a commission for resolving conflicts of interests. The first commission will deal with eradicating corruption at the federal, regional, and local organs of government, while the second "will regulate conflicts of interests in situations that can damage the interests of the Russian Federation, its constituent subjects, organizations and [individual] citizens." The council must present to the president an annual report on corruption in Russia. VY

Commenting on Putin's decree, Army General Nikolai Kovalev, who is a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the chairman of the Duma committee on combating corruption, said the president has made "a crucial political decision," Radio Mayak reported on 24 November. "Although the problem of combating corruption has not been completely solved anywhere in the world, it is possible to reduce the level of corruption to a level that does not threaten national security," Kovalev said. He added that he hopes that new council will help to adopt laws on combating corruption and on parliamentary investigations, together with a code on the conduct of civil servants. Kovalev estimated the annual damage from corruption in Russia at $15 billion-$20 billion. VY

VTsIOM-A together with Radio Mayak conducted a survey on 22 November in the cities of Belgorod, Vladimir, and Kyshtym (in Chelyabinsk Oblast), cities whose voting in 1995 and 1999 mirrored that of Russia as a whole, reported on 24 November. According to the website, the results of this survey differ from that of other recent opinion polls, which showed fairly even support between Unified Russia and the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2003). According to this new poll, Unified Russia got 32.7 percent -- more than twice the 14.3 percent support the Communists received. The Communists did poorly even in Belgorod, where they traditionally have strong support, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 November. In the VTsIOM-A/Mayak survey, Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party got 8 percent support, the Union of Rightist Forces got 7.5 percent, and Yabloko got 5.2 percent. JAC

The Petersburg Transit analytical center reviewed the content of 39 publications in the city of St. Petersburg from 15-21 November and ranked which State Duma candidates and parties received the most mentions, RosBalt reported on 24 November. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party got the most mentions, 17.1 percent, compared with Yabloko at 16.4 percent, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) at 14.3 percent, and the Communist Party at 8.6 percent. In the single-mandate districts, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, who heads the Party for Russia's Renewal, got 52 percent of the mentions among candidates in the contested 209th district. His closest competitor, Duma Deputy Chairwoman (SPS) Irina Khadamada, got 33 percent. In the other districts, incumbents as a rule were most frequently cited. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 24 November that he plans to complain to the Prosecutor-General's Office and to the Central Election Commission about the violations of election legislation by the central television channels, Ekho Moskvy reported. According to Zyuganov, other parties and blocs are being given more airtime than the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). JAC

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party declared its support for State Sports Committee Deputy Chairman Dmitrii Zelenin in the 7 December Tver Oblast gubernatorial campaign, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 November, citing the party's election headquarters. Unified Russia co-Chairman and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Tver on 24 November and told voters there that Zelenin is a "young, energetic, businessperson" who has been a "successful businessman without committing any serious violations of the law." Also participating in the election are incumbent Governor Vladimir Platov, chief federal inspector for Tver Oblast Yurii Tseberganov, Communist State Duma Deputy Tatyana Astrakhankina, and former Tver Oblast Deputy Governor Yurii Krasnov. In October, Platov was charged with abuse of office for allegedly helping an associate win a multimillion-dollar government contract. JAC

Evenk Autonomous Okrug Governor and former Yukos executive Boris Zolotarev decided to interrupt his vacation in order to speak on 22 November with investors, who are looking into the election of former Yukos-Moscow head Vasilii Shakhnovskii as a representative of Evenk's legislature at the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 November. Shakhnovskii officially withdrew from the post after the okrug legislature refused to challenge a court decision invalidating his selection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). However, investigators are continuing to focus on how the previous representative, Nikolai Anisimov, was removed from office to allow for his replacement. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" had reported that rumors were circulating in Moscow political circles that Zolotarev was seeking to become a "political emigre" and would take up residence abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). In an interview with that newspaper, Zolotarev said he interrupted his vacation in part to calm the okrug population in light of the great number of rumors. JAC

More than 20 cases of attacks by skinheads against non-ethnic Russians have occurred in Nizhnii Novgorod over the past two months, reported on 24 November, citing Sergei Shimovolov, director of the Nizhnii Novgorod Human Rights Organization. According to the victims, the youths were usually between 14 and 20 years of age, and dressed in camouflage or jeans and heavy boots. At the time of the attacks, the youths reportedly shouted nationalistic slogans such as "Russia for Russians!" According to the website, various participants in the press conference, titled "Nazism Returns to Nizhnii Novgorod," expressed the opinion that the attacks on representatives of various nationalities are connected with the State Duma campaign because members of certain political parties express populist-patriotic slogans, such as "We are for Russians; we are for the poor." JAC

More than half of the 116 political parties currently registered with the Justice Ministry have applied for re-registration in accordance with the new law on political parties, and 22 of those 59 have been reregistered to date, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 November. Of the five parties that are represented by factions in parliament, the three members of the government coalition have been registered. Two of the nine parties comprising the opposition Artarutiun faction have not yet been re-registered, including the People's Party of Armenia headed by defeated presidential challenger Stepan Demirchian. LF

Addressing a 22 November parliament committee hearing on the draft budget for 2004, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said the military hardware Armenia will acquire next year will not be paid for from the official defense budget, which is set at 49.6 billion drams ($87 million), a 12 percent increase over 2003, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 24 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). "To put it more simply, no arms purchases will affect soldiers' food rations, clothing and other things," he explained. Sarkisian did not specify from what non-budgetary sources the planned new acquisitions will be financed, but stressed that the funds to be used are not illegal. LF

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov assured his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart, Vilayat Guliev, in Moscow on 24 November that Russian sales of arms to Armenia do and will not pose any danger to Azerbaijan's security, Russian agencies reported. Ivanov offered to increase Russian sales of military hardware to Azerbaijan. On 18 November, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement protesting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's announcement while visiting Armenia several days earlier that Moscow plans to provide new armaments to the Russian military base in Armenia and to establish a joint military grouping with Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). The two foreign ministers discussed preparations for, but did not name a date for, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's upcoming visit to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Acting President Burdjanadze told Georgian national television on 24 November that she expects Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenazde to resign voluntarily, branding him as responsible for the current economic and the irregularities that marred the 2 November parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. One of Djorbenadze's deputies, Giorgi Isakadze, has already stepped down. As acting president, Burdjanadze is not empowered to fire any government ministers. Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili announced his resignation late on 24 November following a demonstration by the student movement Kmara (Enough!) outside his ministry and criticism from National Movement leader Saakashvili, who accused the Georgian police of violating the law both before and after the elections. Narchemashvili had told journalists earlier on 24 November that he would not yield to pressure to resign, but subsequently said he will do so to preclude "a new confrontation emerging," Interfax reported. The fate of other government ministers, including Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, remains unclear. LF

Acting President Burdjanadze told Georgian officials on 25 November that, according to the most recent data, the economic situation is "worse than we thought" and the country is "facing economic collapse," Reuters reported. "The budget is absolutely empty. We have zero in the state budget, we are not able to pay salaries, we are not able to pay anything to the army, to the police," RFE/RL's Georgian Service quoted her as saying. On 24 November, Zurab Zhvania, co-leader with Burdjanadze of the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc, told journalists that the new leadership will begin talks on 25 November with the international community on securing "financial and technical assistance to solve the problems" inherited from the previous leadership, Reuters reported. LF

In response to a lawsuit brought by the NGO Fair Elections, Georgia's Supreme Court annulled on 25 November the results of the 2 November parliamentary ballot for the 150 mandates to be allocated under the proportional system, Caucasus Press reported. The final returns promulgated on 20 November by the Central Election Commission (CEC) gave the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) bloc 21.39 percent of the proportional vote, or 38 seats, followed by the Democratic Revival Union (DAK) (18.84 percent, 33 seats), and the Saakashvili-National Movement bloc (18.8 percent, 32 seats). Popular anger that the authorities rigged the outcome to give AS and DAK a majority served as the catalyst for the mass demonstrations that culminated in Shevardnadze's resignation. On 24 November, CEC Chairwoman Nana Devdariani said she considers it "practically impossible" to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections within the time frame required by the constitution. The presidential ballot must take place within 45 days, and on 25 November parliament scheduled it for 4 January. Devdariani pointed out that new election commissions must be appointed and voter lists revised and corrected, otherwise the repeat elections risk being as flawed as those of 2 November, Caucasus Press reported. On 25 November, acting President Burdjanadze said the priority is to hold new presidential elections, and that parliamentary elections might be postponed until April-May as it is "too difficult" to hold both ballots simultaneously, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Jean-Marie Guehenno, who is UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, met in Sukhum on 22 November with Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, and parliament speaker Nugzar Ashuba to discuss recent initiatives intended to expedite a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Guehenno also discussed with Ashuba questions related to economic reconstruction. Guehenno visited Sukhum and Tbilisi on a similar fact-finding mission one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 13 November 2003). LF

Zurab Samushia, who heads the White Legion guerrilla formation active in the Abkhaz conflict zone, on 24 November called on the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile and the parliament-in-exile headed by Tamaz Nadareishvili to resign immediately, Caucasus Press reported. Samushia argued that those bodies have betrayed the trust of Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war and look to the exiled leadership to forge a settlement that would enable them to return. Nadareishvili met in Tbilisi the same day with acting President Burdjanadze and with Zhvania, both of whom said they do not support Samushia's demand for Nadareishvili to step down. LF

Yevgenii Zhovtis, head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, one of Kazakhstan's most influential human rights NGOs, told a news conference in Almaty on 24 November that prison conditions in the country have deteriorated despite recent reforms of the penal system, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Earlier this year, administration of the penal system was transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry as part of sweeping reforms ostensibly aimed at bringing the system in line with international standards. According to Zhovtis, there is credible evidence that convicts continue to be tortured. Zhemis Turmagambetova, Zhovtis's deputy, blamed the practice on the fact that the prison system was taken over by former police officers who are unfamiliar with internationally accepted penal practices but are accustomed to beating confessions out of suspects. BB

Kazakh energy officials are conducting talks with an international consortium headed by Italy's Agip to determine the amount of compensation the consortium should pay because production at the giant Kashagan oil field will begin as much as two years behind schedule, Kazakh Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik told a press conference in Astana on 24 November, and reported the same day. The Kashagan field on the Caspian is one of the main elements of a Kazakh government program to develop the country's oil industry; a delay of the magnitude that Agip KCO says is unavoidable represents a major setback for the program. Shkolnik said the delay is a result of winter conditions in the northern Caspian and environmental requirements. The project drew media attention in October after a huge number of migratory birds died en masse there, although Atyrau Oblast environmental authorities, who are trying to fine Agip KCO for chemical discharges, insist the death of the birds was not caused by work at the oil field. BB

This month's bloodless transfer of power in Georgia has inspired the Kyrgyz opposition, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 24 November. Six members of the For the Resignation of (President Askar) Akaev and For Reforms for the People movement sent a letter to acting Georgian President Burdjanadze stating that events in Georgia will influence democratic processes in other CIS states, RFE/RL reported. Prominent Kyrgyz politician and human rights activist Topchubek Turgunaliev sent a similar message to Georgian opposition leader Saakashvili, asserting that the transfer of power in Georgia serves as inspiration for Kyrgyzstan's democrats. Kyrgyz opposition party Ar-Namys's leader Emil Aliev announced that a situation similar to that in Georgia arose in Kyrgyzstan in 2000 when Feliks Kulov, the most credible opponent to President Akaev, was forced out of the presidential race. But, said Aliev, the opposition was unable to make use of the situation despite its success in parliamentary elections. Aliev praised the political maturity of the Georgian people and the far-sightedness of ousted President Shevardnadze that led to a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Georgia. BB

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation (IHF) has sent a letter to Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov warning that the IHF recognizes only the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) under the leadership of Ramazan Dyryldaev, adding that the creation of another group with the same name is illegal, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on 24 November, quoting RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. The IHF letter called for a final resolution of the question of who heads the human rights group, Dyryldaev or Bolot Tynaliev, a former KCHR member who arranged for his election as chairman at a meeting that violated the KCHR charter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 August, 8, 17, and 29 September, and 9 October 2003). The new leadership has been seeking to re-register the KCHR under Tynaliev's leadership. The lingering dispute over the group's leadership has undermined the activities of the KCHR, one of the country's most influential human rights groups. BB

Eight of the 11 Tajik citizens incarcerated in U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay have never been involved with terrorist organizations, Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zukhurov asserted on 22 November, according to Interfax two days later. Zukhurov said the eight were probably Tajik refugees who had not returned home from Afghanistan after the Tajik civil war and were arrested in areas controlled at the time by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He added that they were probably in the area by accident. Zukhurov said he based his conclusions on the findings of a team of Tajik law enforcement agents who interviewed detainees at Guantanamo in May and found that only three of the Tajik citizens could be connected with terrorist groups. Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister Salokhiddin Nasreddinov said his ministry has requested the extradition of those eight prisoners. BB

Police detained 17 members of the opposition Youth Front during a demonstration in Minsk on 24 November against a possible referendum to extend President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's term in office, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The authorities designated Bangalore Square on the outskirts of the city for the demonstration, but about 30 Youth Front activists gathered instead at Yakub Kolas Square in downtown Minsk. Most of those arrested were minors, according to the report. JM

A motion introduced by President Leonid Kuchma to send a peacekeeping contingent to Liberia failed to attract the required 226 votes in the Verkhovna Rada on 25 November, UNIAN reported. The motion, which would have allowed 370 Ukrainian troops to travel to that African country under UN auspices, was supported by 217 deputies from the pro-presidential majority. Lawmakers from the opposition Our Ukraine, Communist Party, Socialist Party, and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc caucuses either ignored the vote or voted against the move. Kuchma pledged to consider sending peacekeepers to Liberia during a session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 September 2003). JM

The European Commission and the Ukrainian government on 24 November signed an accord whereby in 2004-06 Kyiv will receive technical assistance totaling 212 million euros ($250 million) from Brussels to promote reform efforts in Ukraine, Interfax reported. The funds should be spent on promoting legal, judicial, and administrative reforms; upgrading border controls; improving the business climate; developing civil society; and implementing training and educational programs. The EU has spent nearly 1.1 billion euros in aid to Ukraine in the past 10 years. JM

Juhan Parts and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder discussed bilateral relations, the work of the EU Intergovernmental Conference, cooperation within the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), and regional security issues in Berlin on 24 November, BNS reported. Parts reiterated his call for a constitutional structure in which each EU member state has its own voting commissioner, while Schroeder said the question of a qualified majority vote is a priority for Germany. Schroeder accepted an invitation to attend the meeting of CBSS heads of government in Tallinn next June. Earlier the same day, Parts held separate talks with Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Chairwoman Angela Merkel and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. In the evening, he delivered a report at the European Commission representation to German politicians and businessmen. Parts was scheduled to meet with Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber in Munich on 25 November before traveling to Rome the next day for talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. SG

Interior Minister Maris Gulbis and his Spanish counterpart Angel Acabes signed a cooperation agreement in Madrid on 24 November on fighting terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and other crimes, BNS reported. The ministers noted that after the planned EU expansion in May, their countries will be responsible for guarding EU external borders and combating organized crime, in particular activities by Eastern European criminal groups, in the EU. The agreement calls for the formation of a joint committee that will meet annually to supervise such cooperation. Earlier the same day, Gulbis held talks with National Intelligence Center Director Jorge Dezcallar and Gonzalo Robles Orozco, the Spanish government representative to the national plan against drugs. Gulbis is heading an Interior Ministry delegation that will stay in Spain until 27 November. SG

Jonas Gecas on 24 November accepted an offer from President Rolandas Paksas to become the latter's national security adviser, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The 50-year-old Gecas was a deputy minister and secretary in the Lithuanian Defense Ministry from 1990 to 1996, and was Lithuania's defense attache to Denmark and Norway until 1999 before becoming deputy defense minister again in 2000. He will begin his duties as national security adviser on 1 December, taking over for Remigijus Acas, who is accused of ties to organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 20 November 2003). Paksas has already persuaded Lithuanian Ambassador to Latvia Petras Vaitiekunas to become his foreign affairs adviser. SG

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and his Estonian counterpart Kristiin Ojuland said in Warsaw on 24 November that there are no "troublesome issues" in relations between their countries, PAP reported. Ojuland said Estonia, like Poland, supports the system of voting in the EU stipulated by the Treaty of Nice in 2000. "This system guarantees a balance between small and large European Union states," she added. Cimoszewicz was of a similar opinion: "One of the basic reasons why Poland is so firm and determined to keep the Nice voting system in the EU council is because we are deeply convinced that the proposed changes would introduce a new, less balanced model of the European integration, and we simply do not like it." JM

Ratibor Majzlik, a deputy chairman of the junior coalition Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU), said the Democratic Union might opt to walk away from their joint party if the US-DEU does not change its leadership at its national conference scheduled for December, CTK reported. The US-DEU was formed by the merger in late 2001 of two center-right parties. Majzlik told journalists that a change of leadership is the US-DEU's last chance to secure a future for the party. He criticized the current leadership for making too many concessions to the senior coalition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), and said the party should cooperate more closely with the third party in the governing coalition, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL), and with the center-right opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Majzlik also said future leaders of the US-DEU should not serve on the cabinet, focusing instead on the party's survival. Polls show the US-DEU performing poorly in party preferences. According to CTK, if the DEU makes good its threat, the party would lose some 3,000 members. Deputy Chairman Jan Hadrava and other senior party members played down the apparent rift. "These opinions are legitimate but are in the minority," Hadrava told CTK. MS

President Vaclav Klaus on 24 November signed two more of the 11 bills that collectively represent the government's attempt to reform public finances and reduce the Czech budget deficit, CTK reported. One of the laws cuts the maximum state subsidy for the purchase or renovation of homes by one-third, while the other tightens the procedures for pension recipients. Klaus signed four of the other bills into law last week. MS

An Interior Ministry official in the German state of Saxony criticized the Czech Republic on 24 November for failing to act to curb child prostitution near their mutual border, CTK reported. In an interview with the daily "Berliner Zeitung," Axel Teichmann said Saxony and the Czech Republic have discussed the issue several times since 1997, but the Czech side has never followed up on its promises to take action. Teichmann was reacting to an alarming report on child prostitution published under the auspices of UNICEF in late October by a German NGO called Karo. Czech officials responded on several occasions that the report's findings are exaggerated and misleading. The Czech Interior Ministry responded on 24 November that the authorities in Saxony "know very well" that the Karo report "is a bubble blown out of any proportion" and called it "fiction rather than a report." MS

Two political formations that split from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) announced on 24 November that their merger is nearing completion, TASR reported. The two formations are the People's Union and the Movement for Democracy (HZD). Seven out of eight regional conferences of the People's Union have approved the merger. The new party will be called People's Union-Movement for Democracy (LU-HZD). The HZD, which is led by former parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic, split from the HZDS ahead of the 2002 general elections but failed to win any seats in parliament. Eleven deputies representing the HZDS set up the People's Union in March. People's Union Deputy Chairwoman Olga Keltosova told TASR that the merger congress might take place in January. Following the People's Union split, the HZDS changed its name to People's Party-Movement for Democracy (LS-HZDS) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2003). MS

The settlement of Krahule-Blaufuss (population 147) in central Slovakia is the last settlement with a German minority exceeding 20 percent, CTK reported on 24 November, citing the results of Slovakia's 2001 census. According to Slovak legislation, a settlement with a minority population of at least 20 percent must display bilingual street signs, and the members of such a minority may use their native tongue in contacts with local authorities. Most ethnic Germans in Krahule-Blaufuss are retirees whose children have left the locality. Some 5,400 people in Slovakia claimed German origin in the 2001 census. President Rudolf Schuster is himself of German descent. MS

Two Hungarian diplomats on 24 November flew to Iraq to investigate the circumstances under which Hungarian law student Peter Varga-Balazs was shot dead by U.S. soldiers, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told parliament the two diplomats will contact both U.S. and Iraqi authorities regarding the matter, but noted that the Pentagon and the CIA have not yet concluded their inquiries into the case. The 27-year-old student was in Iraq working as an interpreter for a Budapest-based company. He was shot dead by U.S. soldiers on 17 November, when he failed to stop his car at a checkpoint in the region of Ramad, some 130 kilometers from Baghdad. Hungarian television reported on 24 November that four Iraqis were riding in the car driven by Varga-Balazs, two of whom were also killed. MSZ

The main opposition FIDESZ party and its political partners will field their candidates for the European Parliament elections next year under the name "Free Europe," party Chairman Viktor Orban told Hungarian radio on 24 November. Orban said five or six Budapest politicians will be included in the FIDESZ list, as he believes the Hungarian capital should have a worthy representation in the EU decision-making process. MSZ

Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 25 November that his Social Democrats (SDP) have clearly lost the 23 November parliamentary elections to the conservative Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). "We congratulate the HDZ on its very good results," Racan said. "We expect them to take responsibility and form a new government as soon as possible," he added, noting that his government will continue in office in a caretaker capacity until HDZ leader Ivo Sanader forms a cabinet. Racan said the SDP will then go into the opposition. PM

Incomplete official returns from the Croatian parliamentary elections made public on 24 November show the HDZ the clear winner, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The HDZ is likely to have about 66 seats, the SDP 34, the Croatian People's Party (HNS) 10, the Croatian Peasants Party (HSS) nine, the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) eight, the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) four, Libra three, the Croatian Pensioners' Party (HSU) three, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) two, the Liberal Party (LS) two, and one each for the Democratic Center (DC), the regional Primorsko-goranski Alliance, and the Croatian Democratic Peasants' Party (HDSS). In addition, eight seats are reserved for representatives of ethnic minorities. About four additional seats will be assigned to representatives of the diaspora, all of which are expected to be HDZ. The exact number of diaspora seats will depend on exactly how many ballots were cast by Croats living outside Croatia. Final results will be released in early December. PM

Sanader said in Zagreb on 24 November that his government's priority will be raising the standard of living, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He pledged to cut the VAT from 22 percent to 20 percent, seek admission to the EU by 2007 and to NATO by 2006, and promote good relations with Croatia's neighbors. He added that his pledge to promote integration with the EU and NATO clearly includes cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Sanader stressed throughout the campaign that the HDZ has broken with its nationalistic and authoritarian past. Observers note, however, that nationalist rhetoric often emerged at HDZ campaign rallies. Most observers nonetheless agree that the HDZ won the election primarily because of voter discontent with the SDP's failure to sufficiently improve the standard of living. PM

Observers in Croatia and abroad noted on 24 November that an important question in the wake of the parliamentary elections is whether Sanader will be able to form a government without the open or tacit support of the far-right HSP, RFE/RL reported. The EU and Croatia's neighbors are likely to be wary of a government that includes HSP members or depends on HSP votes in the parliament. The HSP is likely to insist on a tough line on cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as part of any price for its support. Attention is focused on whether Sanader can put together a working legislative majority with other parties, especially the HSS, rather than with the HSP. HSS leader Zlatko Tomcic said in Zagreb that coalition talks will begin on 25 November. Vojislav Stanimirovic, who heads the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS), which will have three legislative seats allotted to the Serbian minority, noted that his party is willing to enter into a coalition with the HDZ. PM

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 24 November that Croatia will have a stable government, recalling that Slovenia has worked with previous HDZ-led governments, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told RFE/RL in Belgrade that cooperation between the two countries will continue regardless of who is in power in either of them. In Sarajevo, Dragan Covic, who heads the Bosnian Presidency and is a member of the Bosnian branch of the HDZ, hailed the Croatian election results. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica that he congratulated Sanader and looks forward to continuing good bilateral cooperation. In Brussels, an EU spokesman noted that the elections "took place in an orderly fashion," stressing that the EU will judge the new government on the basis of its deeds and not its words. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted the OSCE's observation that the elections were fully up to international standards. PM

On 24 November, the Macedonian government decided to deploy to Iraq a 31-strong crack military unit known as the Wolves to replace the Macedonian unit that is currently stationed there, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September and 12 November 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 27 June 2003). According to media reports, many Macedonian professional soldiers showed great interest in the Iraqi mission, mainly because of the generous pay. Former parliamentary speaker Tito Petkovski, who is a legislator for the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), demanded the parliament approve the latest deployment. "The previous parliamentary decision [to deploy troops] was based on the assumption that we would send the soldiers on a peacekeeping operation in a post-conflict situation," Petkovski said. "Today, the situation in Iraq is totally different. There is a real conflict going on, and dozens of soldiers die every day," he added. UB

Madalin Voicu, honorary chairman of the Romany Social Democratic Party, and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), signed on 24 November an agreement stipulating that the Romany Social Democratic Party will back the PSD in the 2004 elections, Mediafax reported. In the 2000 elections, Voicu was elected a deputy on the PSD lists. MS

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 25 November canceled a visit to Chisinau that the Moldovan presidency had announced the previous day, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. No reasons were given for the cancellation, but the bureau said demonstrators blocked traffic on Chisinau's main boulevard protesting the Russian plan for Moldova's federalization (see item below). On 24 November, President Vladimir Voronin announced that Putin would pay a "working visit" to Chisinau the next day. Presidential spokesman Valeriu Renita said on 24 November that Moldovan and Transdniester experts have succeeded in eliminating the last obstacles to approving the federalization plan Russia proposed earlier this month. Putin was to witness the signing of the agreement by Voronin and separatist leader Igor Smirnov, according to Infotag. MS

Ukraine "fully backs" the Russian plan for Moldova's federalization in its capacity as one of the mediators and guarantor-states, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 24 November, citing a statement by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma told visiting Russian deputy presidential-administration head Dmitrii Kozak that Ukraine considers the solution of the Transdniester conflict to be one of its priorities, and that the settlement must be based on Moldova's "sovereignty, territorial integrity" and "the respect of fundamental human rights" in that country. MS

The opposition Our Moldova Alliance said on 24 November that if President Voronin signs the federalization plan proposed by Russia, he will be "commit [-ting] high treason by [attempting to bring about the] liquidation of the Moldovan state" and consequently will have to be impeached, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca called on the OSCE members to reject the Russian plan at their December Maastricht meeting and "not to allow Moldova's destruction." Both opposition parties called on Moldovans to be ready to defend the country's independence and constitutional democracy. Twenty-two parliamentary and extraparliamentary formations announced on 24 November they have set up a Committee for the Defense of Moldova's Independence and Constitution, Flux reported. The extraparliamentary Democratic Party, one of the 22 parties, nonetheless said earlier the Russian plan is in "need of improvements." The Democrats re-elected former parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov as party chairman at a conference held on 22 November, Flux and Infotag reported. MS

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow recently that the mandate of the Russian troops stationed in Transdniester might be extended until the year 2020 at most, Infotag reported on 24 November. Ivanov said the contingent should continue to be 2,000 strong, as stipulated in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. "If the Federation of Moldova and Transdniester decides that the contingent should be present as a peacemaking force, it shall be stationed there," Ivanov said. He added that its tasks would in that case be different from the current tasks of the contingent stationed in the separatist region. "Currently we guard depots with Russian ammunition, which will certainly be evacuated from the region to the last shell. The future contingent would be in charge of the demilitarization process. This means it might employ light weapons and helicopters to fulfill its peacekeeping mission," Ivanov said. MS

The Bulgarian government has stepped up security measures in the wake of this month's Istanbul bombings, reported on 24 November. Deputy Transport Minister Krasimira Martinova confirmed that controls have been tightened at airports and seaports as well as on the country's borders, while the security of foreign embassies and government buildings has been improved by a series of measures, including a ban on parking cars in the vicinity. The security measures were introduced on 17 November, two days after the first explosions outside synagogues in Istanbul. More than 100 foreigners were denied entry to Bulgaria in the wake of the bombings, bnn reported. "The main reasons to ban them was that they came from risk countries, had visa problems, or irregular identity papers," said the head of border police, Colonel Valeri Grigorov, on 24 November. UB

Former head Mufti Nedim Gendzhev told on 24 November that his successor, Selim Mehmed, is not doing enough to prevent radical Wahabbi imams from agitating in Bulgarian mosques. Gendzhev charged that foreign clergy are bribing Mehmed to close his eyes to their activities, including operating underground schools for Muslim clerics in Bulgaria. Mehmed has not issued a response. Gendzhev also accused the chief mufti's office of embezzlement. The chief mufti is the nominal leader of Bulgaria's 1 million Muslims, most of whom adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. Gendzhev's accusations come just weeks before a national assembly of Muslim clerics is scheduled to place in Sofia on 13 December. The assembly can replace the chief mufti. UB

As the 7 December Russian State Duma elections approach, the findings of public-opinion polls gauging the electorate's party preferences are becoming increasingly contradictory. Virtually all the polling agencies have Kremlin-backed Unified Russia leading, with the Communists poised to garner anywhere from 19 percent to 25 percent of the vote. The respected and independent polling agency VTsIOM-A claims that Russian voters are unpredictable, even irrational at times. When voters are asked sufficient questions covering a wide range of issues, it becomes clear that many voters have unclear opinions concerning politics and political parties. It is the candidates and how they present their political positions that is of the greatest interest to Russian voters, as it is for electorates around the world. Unified Russia has thus settled on a campaign strategy of merely supporting President Vladimir Putin, appealing to the president's "soccer moms."

The campaign debate broadcast by NTV on 22 November under the rubric of "Svoboda slova" (Freedom of Speech), which featured Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [LDPR]), Sergei Glazev (Motherland National-Patriotic Union), Anatolii Chubais (Union of Rightist Forces), and Grigorii Yavlinskii (Yabloko), provided a good sample of the quality of political rhetoric during this campaign. (Unified Russia opted out of participating in any televised debates -- a decision that might be paying political dividends among voters.)

Given the political figures participating in the debate, there was little doubt that there would be plenty of controversy and mutual accusations of who is responsible for Russia's present condition. Chubais was arguably the easiest target, given his role as the architect of the notorious "loans-for-shares" deals that assured former President Boris Yeltsin's re-election bid in 1996 and created the super-wealthy group called the "oligarchs" -- particularly with the ongoing Yukos-Khodorkovskii scandal casting a long shadow over the campaign season. Chubais held his ground without much exertion, even appearing to enjoy the spotlight as he responded to insults and taunts.

Glazev presented himself as the defender of those voters who have felt alienated during the past 12 years of Russia's transformation. Criticizing all of his opponents, he called for overturning the privatizations of the 1990s, as well using all the legal resources available to try and imprison those involved in illegal privatizations. Given that his Motherland party is faring poorly in public-opinion polls, attracting the support of just 2 percent of the electorate, Glazev put on a strong performance for voters who he hopes will agree with his mixture of leftist-patriotic slogans. A telephone call-in survey during the debate suggested his Motherland had won the debate, gathering 38.6 percent versus the LDPR's 13.1 percent.

Yavlinskii was his civil but reserved self, and focused on balanced economic growth, stressing the difference between Russia's current "quantitative growth" and the lack of "qualitative growth" that might increase social welfare. He also forcefully warned that fascism is developing in Russia.

Zhirinovskii, meanwhile, did not disappoint. Quiet and even respectful during the first 45 minutes of the 60-minute debate, he subsequently seized the stage and delivered the type of oration for which he is notorious. Savaging his opponents' "Russian-ness," honesty, and political commitment, Zhirinovskii played his well-known national-outrage card. Both Chubais and Yavlinskii reacted as if they had heard all of this before and simply waited for Zhirinovskii to use up the time allotted to him, not even looking at him as he delivered his tirade. Zhirinovskii's most critical remarks were directed toward Chubais in particular, and liberal-conservatives in general, although his primary concern appeared to be Glazev's purported attempt to capture the more "patriotically" inclined voters. (Immediately after the debate, Zhirinovskii engaged in a brawl with a member of the Motherland delegation over Chechnya.)

To be fair, all the candidates (as well as their fellow party members sitting behind them) made claims that are hard for many Russians to disagree with. Chubais pledged to protect and develop the gains Russia has achieved to create a market economy. Glazev preached a strategy of investing Russia's natural-resources wealth into its people and not the benefit of a small group of oligarchs. Yavlinskii opined that Russia needs "rule of law" to protect the interests of the state and private citizens alike. Zhirinovskii expressed the opinion that the state should run the economy -- to the benefit of all citizens -- while the service sector might be privately run; he also criticized the government's handling of the conflict in Chechnya. Each of the candidates said something that most Russian voters could agree with, but it is unclear whether anything was said that might sway undecided voters. This is where Putin's "soccer moms" (and "dads," for that matter) come into play.

There have been similar televised debates during this campaign, including other parties running candidate lists. However, the results have been no different. Pollster VTsIOM-A's head, Yurii Levada, suggested that televised debates rarely influence voters. The specifics of policy platforms are invariably forgotten amid personal attacks and recriminations about what "should have" and what "should not have" happened in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unified Russia's strategy of remaining above the fray, like its patron Putin, appeals to what might be considered Russia's "soccer moms." Polling data reveal that Putin's core supporters are not particularly interested in the debates and thus not particularly concerned that Unified Russia has opted not to participate in them. What they are interested in is the president's politics.

Russia's "soccer moms" appreciate Putin's straightforward confidence and hope for a strong, prosperous Russia. They want to look forward, in stark contrast to the Communists, who still cling to elements of the Soviet past, or the liberal-conservative parties that appear dogmatic and more Western than Russian. They also probably find it appealing that Putin supports many of the same common-sense ideas expressed by political parties that treat each other with contempt over the airwaves, with Unified Russia attempting to do the same.

In what appears to be Kremlin design on the heels of the Khodorkovskii-Yukos affair, political parties campaigning for seats in the next Duma have been forced to debate what Russia's recent past means instead of focusing on where Putin intends to take Russia. A significant majority of Russians approve of the way the president is running the country, and seem to support his "rose garden" strategy, as opposed to what political parties call campaigning. "Soccer moms" believe in Putin's "trust me" approach and in his ability to pick and choose, and adopt for his own uses, the most popular ideas that his opponents come up with to attract voters.

Peter Lavelle is an independent Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly electronic newsletter "Untimely Thoughts" (

The Afghan Foreign Ministry responded sharply on 24 November to Pakistan's suggestion that Kabul "put its [own] house in order" before criticizing Islamabad, calling a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman's statement "irresponsible," according to a copy of a statement issued by the Afghan Foreign Ministry. The ministry says that Masood Khan said on 23 November that "what the Afghan leaders can and must do is to talk less and do more in putting their house in order." Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai had recently suggested that his country cannot stop terrorism without cooperation from Islamabad. The Afghan Foreign Ministry's latest statement said that to "lecture another country about its internal challenges, while the shadow of the recent history of foreign meddling and destructive policies toward Afghanistan looms large in the background, falls outside diplomatic norms and the bounds of the new friendly relations" that Kabul hopes to establish with Pakistan. Islamabad was the main supporter of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, something which most Afghan authorities regard as direct interference in their country's internal affairs. AT

Pakistan's increased cooperation aimed at ending the activities of Taliban loyalists and terrorists would have a considerable effect on Afghanistan's stability, the official Afghan news agency Bakhtar opined on 24 November. Bakhtar said Pakistan's "interference in Afghan domestic affairs abated" with the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001, but noted that "fresh activities" by the Taliban or their supporters began in parts of Afghanistan after the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration. "A lack of cooperation on the part of the Pakistani government in arresting warring Taliban and terrorists once again puts a question mark over Pakistan's role," the news agency commented. Bakhtar concluded that Islamabad does not appear to be "supporting enduring stability and peace in Afghanistan," adding a call for Pakistan to cooperate with authorities in Kabul in ensuring those goals. AT

Work began on 23 November to prepare an Indian satellite to broadcast the programming of Afghanistan's official state television station, Afghanistan Television reported. The project, which should be completed in May and is being supported by the Indian government, would enable Afghanistan to broadcast its programs throughout the country and even into parts of Central Asia. India is also likely to help set up a 100-kilowatt radio transmitter to strengthen Radio Afghanistan's short-wave capabilities. AT

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 22 November that the central government's disarmament program to collect heavy weapons in northern Afghanistan will be implemented in other parts of the country, Afghanistan Television reported. Jalali added that the Afghan Transitional Administration has formulated a program for the collection of heavy weapons from Kabul and the Panjsher Valley, as well as the Kandahar, Paktiya, Herat, Farah, and Nimroz provinces. The disarmament program was begun in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003) because of persistent fighting in the region, Jalali said. He warned against any expectation that the collection of weapons alone will provide for peace and security. Jalali said the "culture of violence" must be overcome. AT

The United States is negotiating to ensure that the UN nuclear watchdog will draft a tough resolution to stop Iran from secretly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in its disputed nuclear program, Reuters reported on 24 November. Washington wants a resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to include a "trigger mechanism" that would take Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council for any actions that Washington suspects are oriented toward making nuclear bombs. European members of the IAEA board of governors proposed on 24 November that the board meet to consider "all options at its disposal" should Iran persist in hiding suspect activities, according to Reuters. That will not satisfy Washington, Reuters cited diplomats as saying, as it does not threaten Iran with immediate referral to the UN Security Council, with possible sanctions to follow. Iran says it has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program to meet domestic energy needs. VS

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an Iranian vice president, insisted his country does not want nuclear bombs and will respect earlier commitments to allow full checks of its nuclear program that were made to the foreign ministers of France, Britain, and Germany, IRNA reported on 24 November. "We shall proceed according to the signed document known as the 'Tehran Declaration,' approved by the Europeans and the IAEA," Abtahi said. The Europeans, he said, unlike Washington, have realized the efficacy of the diplomatic approach with Iran. An EU official confirmed on 24 November that "the Tehran Declaration is valid for the EU," according to IRNA. Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana, told IRNA in Brussels that Solana hopes the issue "will not be referred to the UN Security Council." Ali Akbar Salehi, representing Iran at the IAEA, said Iran is consulting with friendly and nonaligned states and that it is "definite" its case will not go to the Security Council, "Sharq" reported on 24 November. VS

A UN committee's condemnation of Iran for human rights abuses has fueled political disputes in that country, AFP reported on 24 November. Iran denounced the Canadian proposal, approved by a UN committee on 21 November, as retaliation for the death of a Canadian-Iranian photographer while detained in Tehran in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 16, 17, and 21 July 2003). The Iranian judiciary has in turn denounced Canadian justice as "backward and racist," unable to deal with the killing of an Iranian teenager by Canadian police the same month, AFP reported. But reformists are blaming conservatives for the UN committee vote. Hussein Loqmanian, a legislator, called it "the greatest damage conservatives have inflicted on reforms," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 24 November. Iran's parliament has failed thus far to subject the hard-line judiciary to its supervisory powers. The Tehran chief prosecutor told the Iran Labor News Agency on 24 November that "in cases where I feel parliament does not have the competence to enter into judicial cases, I shall not attend the [parliamentary] committee, nor answer deputies' questions nor am I prepared to cooperate." VS

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for "the exchange of views and cooperation" to ensure peace and stability among regional states, in a meeting with Jordan's foreign minister on 23 November, "Sharq" reported on 24 November. He welcomed improving relations between Iran and Jordan, a Western ally, and called King Abdallah II's recent visit to Tehran "a turning point in bilateral ties." Foreign Minister Marwan Muashir said Jordanian ministers and specialists will travel to Iran in coming months to build on improved relations after years of hostility following Iran's 1979 revolution. "Regarding Iraqi affairs, [Tehran and Amman] desire that country's territorial security and unity," "Sharq" quoted him as saying. A member of Iraq's provisional ruling council has in turn praised Iran's positive attitude to the council, IRNA reported on 24 November. Jalal Talabani said the council has invited Iran's interior minister to Baghdad to sign a draft security agreement between the two neighboring countries, IRNA reported. VS

The Iraqi Governing Council submitted to the UN Security Council on 24 November a timetable for self-rule, Reuters reported on the same day. The timetable was called for under UN Security Council Resolution 1511 in October. The Governing Council also called on the UN to issue a new resolution in support of an end to the U.S.-led occupation by June. In a letter to the Security Council, Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of November Jalal Talabani said the Iraqi council intends to draft "a fundamental law to administer the Iraqi state" by February, AP reported on 25 November. The law will respect human rights and religious freedom and equality among citizens and will introduce "a degree of decentralization" in administering the country. KR

In his letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Talabani said the Iraqi Governing Council will also select a "provisional legislative body" by 31 May that will in turn elect a provisional government by the end of June, AP reported on 25 November. Once the provisional government is elected, "the Coalition Provisional Authority will be dissolved and the occupation...will end," the letter noted. The transitional government would organize elections by 15 March 2005 for a constitutional convention, which would draft a constitution to be ratified in a referendum. The transitional government would also oversee a national census, the adoption of regulations for political parties and elections, and voter registration. A new Iraqi government would be elected by 31 December 2005. KR

Two radioactive capsules looted from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's main battlefield testing site have been discovered near homes in the villages of Al-Amiriyah and Shamiyah, reported on 25 November. One village man and a boy have tested positive for radiation sickness. One of the cobalt capsules was found in the yard of a villager's home in Al-Amiriyah, while a second capsule was found partly buried near a house in Shamiyah. The capsules are less than 13 centimeters in height, and contained thumbnail amounts of the radioactive material Cobalt-60. They were held in concrete crypts at the base of the towers and raised on cables into the towers to create an irradiated environment on the simulated battlefield, reported. Parts of the testing poles were also found with the capsules. KR

The capsules were taken from a vast site used to test the effects of radiation on animals and maybe even humans, reported. The U.S. military knew of the existence of the capsules at the site, and the U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, has ordered a full investigation into why the arc of eight 23-meter radioactive testing poles at the site was not properly secured after the site was inspected in May, the website reported. Local Iraqis have thus far refused to cooperate in the investigation in the two villages. The site was believed looted in September, and the capsules discovered in early October. The U.S. military used helicopters fitted with radiation detectors to track down the capsules. KR

The Iraqi Governing Council on 24 November banned the Arab satellite news channel Al-Arabiyah from broadcasting from Iraq for an unspecified period of time, international media reported on 25 November. The decision came after Al-Arabiyah broadcast an audiotape purportedly carrying the voice of deposed Iraqi President Hussein calling for attacks against Iraqis that cooperate with coalition forces. "Al-Arabiyah incites murder because it's calling for killings through the voice of Saddam Hussein," Governing Council President Talabani told reporters in Baghdad, the BBC reported. Talabani added that the Governing Council intends to sue the satellite news channel through the Iraqi courts for violating a council ban on incitement through the media. Al-Arabiyah issued a statement expressing surprise at the Governing Council decision, stating that it "adheres to covering the news in an objective and precise manner." The news channel also reported on 24 November that the council said it will consider reopening Al-Arabiyah's offices if it pledges in writing to not propagate violence. The United States supported the council's decision to ban Al-Arabiyah. KR

The UN Security Council decided on 24 November to form a new committee to track the financial assets removed from Iraq by individuals linked to deposed President Hussein, the UN News Center reported on 24 November ( The committee will continue the work of the 661 Committee, which was established under UN Security Council Resolution 661 on Iraqi sanctions and dissolved, effective 21 November, under UN Security Council Resolution 1483 in May. The new committee will update the list of individuals with connections to Hussein, as well as entities owned or controlled by individuals acting on Hussein's behalf, and other former senior Iraqi officials or their family members, the UN News Center reported. KR

Igor Ivanov told an Al-Jazeera interviewer on 24 November that the escalation of violence in Iraq is harming the prospects for a peaceful political dialogue in Iraq, RTR reported the same day. Ivanov said recent developments have demonstrated that Russia was correct in considering military intervention in Iraq a "mistake," the broadcaster reported. The Russian foreign minister also proposed an international conference on Iraq, and he repeated Moscow's view that the U.S.-led coalition should give way to UN participation in Iraq. VY