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Newsline - September 7, 2004

Speaking in a televised address following the bloody hostage drama in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, President Vladimir Putin said on 4 September that the series of terrorist acts in recent weeks means that Russia faces "total and full-scale war," reported. " What we are dealing with are not isolated acts intended to frighten us, not isolated terrorist attacks. What we are facing is direct intervention of international terror directed against Russia," he said. "This is a challenge not to the president, parliament, or government, but to all of Russia, to all our people." Putin admitted that Russia has inadequate defenses and has failed to adapt to new challenges. "We demonstrated our weakness, and the weak are beaten." Putin didn't mention Chechnya, but said that the attacks on Russia have support from abroad. "Some want to tear off a big chunk of our country and others are helping them. They are helping them in the belief that Russia, as one of the greatest nuclear powers of the world, still poses a threat to them and, therefore, this threat has to be eliminated. Terrorism is their only tool," he said. Finally, Putin said that soon he will prepare "a range of measures designed to strengthen the unity of the country." He also called for the creation of "a new system to better coordinate forces and means for maintaining control in the North Caucasus" and for "more effective crisis management." VY

Earlier on 4 September, President Putin said during a brief visit to the site of the hostage taking in Beslan that North Ossetia was not chosen randomly as a target for terrorist attack, but as the "southern outpost of Russia" in the region, RTR and ORT reported. Addressing North Ossetian officials, Putin said that "one of the tasks pursued by the terrorists was to stoke ethnic hatred, to blow up the whole of our North Caucasus." He added, "Anyone who feels sympathetic toward such provocations will be viewed as accomplices of terrorists and terrorism. Please, keep this in mind." The predominately Christian North Ossetia is surrounded by Russian provinces populated mainly by Muslims. Putin also announced that he ordered the closure of North Ossetia's borders with neighboring republics and with Georgia. VY

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, President Putin's adviser on the North Caucasus who for three days was in Beslan maintaining telephone contact with the hostage takers, said on 6 September that during the siege the militants had satellite-telephone communications with people abroad and received their instructions from there, RTR reported. Aslakhanov, a Chechen whose presence for the talks was demanded by the hostage takers, said: "They weren't Chechens. When I spoke Chechen, they said: 'We don't understand. Talk Russian.' So I did. But they did have a Caucasian accent." Aslakhanov added that the hostage takers were very well trained and had learned lessons from the hostage taking at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in October 2002: They came to Beslan with gas masks and two dogs, and the first thing they did was break windows to prevent the use of sleeping gas, he said. VY

As of 6 September, the number of people killed during the initial stages of the Beslan hostage taking and during the shoot-out on 3 September had risen to 335 hostages and troops, plus 30 hostage takers; 411 people remain hospitalized, Russian media reported. More than 100 people are still missing. The death toll in the 2002 Moscow theater hostage taking was 129. Confusion still surrounds the events on 3 September that impelled Russian elite troops to storm the school building. Some eyewitnesses claim that the troops attacked the school after two explosions were heard inside, others say the hostage takers opened fire at Emergency Situations Ministry personnel whom the hostage takers had given permission to remove the bodies of dead hostages from the school yard, while former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev told "Novaya gazeta" on 6 September that parents of hostages opened fire on the hostage takers. LF

Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said on 3 September that two of the hostage takers, whom he claimed included Arabs as well as Chechens, Ingush, and Ossetians, were captured alive. On 6 September, RTR broadcast footage of a man it identified as the sole surviving hostage taker, Nur-Pasha Kulaev. Kulaev claimed a man known as "Colonel" ordered him and his fellow hostage takers to attack the school in Beslan, and that "they told us this task had been set" by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev. Kulaev apparently did not explain whom he meant by "they." The "Colonel" reportedly said the aim of the hostage taking was to unleash a war across the entire Caucasus. In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 7 September, Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev said the confession of the man shown on Russian television was clearly obtained under torture. He said claims of Maskhadov's involvement in the hostage taking, and the allegations that the hostage takers also included Arabs and African mercenaries, are "part of a well-planned disinformation campaign." Zakaev said the hostage taking was carried out by "local radical groups" that are supported by people overwhelmed by the need for personal revenge for the brutalities committed by the Russian Army. LF

The Chechen leadership resolutely condemns the school hostage taking in Beslan, the downing of two Russian passenger aircraft, and the suicide bombing in Moscow, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said in a statement posted on 5 September on the website. He reiterated his earlier condemnation of terrorist acts aimed at civilians, stressing that such actions hinder international recognition of Chechnya as an independent state. Maskhadov laid the blame for the Beslan hostage taking on President Putin's Chechnya policy, a policy that, Maskhadov noted, has cost the lives over the past decade of one-quarter of the Chechen population, including some 40,000 children. But Russian brutality, Maskhadov continued, does not justify waging war on women and children, and any Chechens who do so are no better than the Russian troops. In the name of preserving the moral purity of the Chechen people, Maskhadov appealed to Chechens to disassociate themselves from the few who, crazed by the desire for revenge, stoop to acts of terrorism. LF

In the same 6 September interview with RTR, presidential adviser Aslakhanov said that the Federal Security Service's (FSB) elite Vympel and Alfa antiterrorism units suffered their worst losses in a single operation in their 30 years of existence. Twenty officers of the units were killed and more than 20 others were wounded. Aslakhanov, who was a member of the operation staff in Beslan, added that the reason for the high losses was the fact that the storming of the building was not planned and there was no order to storm it. Everything happened spontaneously as two charges planted by the militants inside the building exploded and some of the hostages used the opportunity to escape, and the hostage takers opened fire. Federal forces returned fire to cover the escapees, Aslakhanov said. An unnamed wounded colonel of the Alfa unit told RTR, ORT, and "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 6 September that the first to open fire were Ossetian irregulars, among whom were many fathers of child hostages. At the time of the incident, Alfa officers were not wearing body armor in order to show the militants that they didn't intend to rush the school. During the fighting, Alfa officers were very reserved in using firepower as the hostage takers were using hostages as human shields at all times, the colonel said. VY

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 4 September described a 3 September comment about the Beslan hostage drama by Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot as "insolent," RFE/RL and Russian media reported on 6 September. Bot told an EU meeting that the union sympathizes with Russia's loss but "would also like to know from the Russian authorities how this tragedy could have happened." Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchin said on 4 September that Bot's remark "is offensive and borders on the sacrilegious." RFE/RL reported that Bot's office later said Bot had been misquoted. On 4 September, the website of the Dutch EU presidency quoted Bot as saying, "In order to better understand what happened at the school, we would like to learn more details from the Russian authorities so we can help each other to combat terrorism in any form anywhere in the world." RFE/RL reported that unnamed EU sources said that Bot had come under considerable pressure from some EU colleagues -- particularly the foreign ministers of Latvia and Finland -- to go beyond merely expressing sympathy for Russia's losses. RC

Speaking to journalists in Jerusalem after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on 6 September that both countries have agreed to cooperate against terrorism, including exchanging intelligence information, Russian media reported. Lavrov also said that Russia agreed to accept Israeli humanitarian and other unspecified aid in connection with the hostage drama in Beslan. On 4 September, Sharon called President Putin to express his condolences at the loss of life in Beslan and called for international cooperation against terrorism, "which knows no borders and experiences no pangs of conscience," RIA-Novosti reported. Lavrov also called for "strengthening the united front against terror" and praised Israeli-Russian relations. He said that Moscow continues to support the "road map" Middle East peace plan and mentioned that Russia appreciates an Israeli offer to consider implementing visa-free travel for Russian citizens to Israel. VY

Raf Shakirov, the editor in chief of "Izvestiya," announced on 6 September that he has submitted his resignation because of differences with the newspaper's owners over coverage of the events in Beslan, RIA-Novosti reported. Shakirov told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the management of ProfMedia, the media-holding company controlled by oligarch Vladimir Potanin's financial-industrial group Interros, reprimanded him for the 4 September issue of the newspaper devoted to the hostage drama in Beslan "The management at ProfMedia and I disagreed about the format of presenting this material. It was considered too emotional and too poster-like, and [the publishers said] newspapers don't do that." The newspaper's executive secretary, Vladimir Borodin, will temporarily take his place, Shakirov said. Shakirov, who headed "Izvestiya " since November 2003, worked for various publications of the Kommersant publishing house from the early 1990s. Meanwhile, noted Marxist philosopher Sergei Kara-Mursa told RosBalt on 1 September that publishing photographs of terrorism victims should be banned as "it induces horror and in so doing promotes the goals of terrorists." VY

More than 100,000 Muscovites were expected to attend a rally against terrorism on 7 September, Ekho Moskvy reported on 6 September, citing rally organizer and Federation of Trade Unions Chairman Mikhail Nagaitsev. "We have one aim -- to unite society and demonstrate for everyone, to dispel the fear in our hearts a little," Nagaitsev said. Free Russia party Chairwoman Irina Khakamada told the station that such a rally is necessary but "it should not be organized by the authorities." "I will not be going, not because I am scared of the terrorists but because the slogans being prepared by the authorities do not coincide with what I and people from my party believe should be done to prevent this from happening again," Khakamada said. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) head and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii said that he will participate in the rally. About 40,000 people participated in a similar demonstration in St. Petersburg on 6 September, ORT reported. The station reported that the Mariinskii Theater will donate 5 million rubles ($167,000) to victims of the Beslan tragedy and will hold a global series of charity concerts to aid them. RC

Russian television has come under sharp criticism for its muted and delayed coverage of the Beslan events, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported on 4 September. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that NTV was the first to report the 3 September storming of the school at about 1 p.m. At 1:20 p.m., international channels such as Euronews and the BBC began showing live footage of the fighting around the school. The daily said that some foreign channels were receiving their material from state-owned RTR, although both RTR and ORT themselves continued to show regular programming until about 2 p.m. NTV began showing the events at about 1:30, the daily reported. ORT issued a five-minute news bulletin at 1:59 p.m., while RTR waited until its regular 2 p.m. news broadcast. RC

Unnamed RTR journalists told "Kommersant-Daily" that the channel delayed its coverage until it obtained clarification from the Kremlin as to the reasons for the storming of the school. Both ORT and RTR began their coverage with statements that the storming was a spontaneous reaction to events in the school, while NTV did not speculate on such matters. "We acted in strict compliance with legislation and did not broadcast unverified or unofficial information," NTV General Director Vladimir Kulistikov told the daily. ORT broadcast only brief informational bulletins during the day. RTR showed continuous coverage for about 90 minutes, while NTV continued live coverage for about 3 1/2 hours. At about 5 p.m. ORT aired footage of soldiers preventing local residents from killing a man described as a captured terrorist. "The people's emotions are easy to understand," ORT anchor Yelena Andreeva commented. RC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 September surveyed leading political figures on the steps Russia should take to combat terrorism more effectively. "All forces and all additional funds must be directed toward the development of secret-service operations work among the population," Duma Defense Committee member Andrei Golovatyuk (LDPR) said. Deputy Duma Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) said that terrorism "can only be counteracted by the alliance of a strong state with a strong civil society, one capable of influencing and controlling the actions of the power structure, including with respect to ensuring public order." Unified Russia's General Council on 6 September issued a statement pledging "to do everything in its power to help all efforts being taken by the president and the government in the fight against terrorism," Interfax reported. RC

All Moscow schoolchildren will be issued special "security passports" and police guards will be posted at all schools by the end of next month, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 September. The new "passports" will contain biographical and health information about each child and contain instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency. City Education Department head Yevgenii Kushel told the news agency that work is continuing on the installation of alarms and security cameras at all schools. At present, 400 of the city's 1,500 schools have such equipment. RC

Investigators from the Prosecutor-General's Office on 6 September searched the office and home of head Yukos lawyer Dmitrii Gololobov, Interfax reported, citing the Yukos press office. Gololobov was also called in to the prosecutor's office for questioning. The search was reportedly carried out in connection with the investigation into major Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin and into allegations that Nevzlin embezzled money from the Eastern Oil Company. "I see this as absolute repression," Gololobov told journalists after leaving the prosecutor's office. "In the opinion of the company, the searches and the summoning of lawyer Dmitrii Gololobov for questioning are aimed at weakening the legal protection of the company and the intimidation of its staff," Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin said. RC

Average Russians increasingly resent Muscovites, reported on 7 September, citing a new poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). The survey was conducted on 28-29 August in 39 Russian regions and included 1,600 respondents. It found that the number of Russians expressing resentment of Muscovites has risen from 44 percent in 1993 to 74 percent now. The number of respondents who said they "strongly resent" Muscovites rose from 19 to 44 percent over the same period. Just 17 percent said they feel no such resentment. About 82 percent of respondents agreed that Moscow's well-being comes at the expense of the regions. About 72 percent of respondents in Moscow and St. Petersburg also agreed with this statement. RC

Edgar Arakelian, who was sentenced in May to 18 months' imprisonment for hitting a police officer with an empty plastic mineral-water bottle when police attacked peaceful demonstrators in Yerevan during the night of 12-13 April, was released from jail on 6 September for "good behavior," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2004). Also released on 6 September was opposition activist Lavrenti Kirakosian, who was sentenced first to 10 days' administrative arrest for participating in the 12-13 April rally and then in June to 18 months' imprisonment on charges of possession of marijuana that he claims police planted in his home in Armavir during a search (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004). Armenian human rights activists protested both sentences and designated Arakelian and Kirakosian, together with four other opposition activists who received similar sentences, political prisoners. LF

Senior Armenian police official Hovannes Hunanian has made public a list of "strategically important" locations across Armenia where rallies and demonstrations are banned in accordance with a new law on public gatherings, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 6 September. Those locations include the Medzamor nuclear power plant, the building that houses Armenia's Central Bank, and the area in front of the presidential palace. Gatherings on almost all squares in Yerevan are permitted only if the organizers inform the municipal authorities in advance. LF

Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree pardoning 266 prisoners, including Alikram Gumbatov, who in June 1993 declared an independent Talysh-Mughan Republic on Azerbaijan's southeastern border with Iran, Turan reported on 3 September. Gumbatov was apprehended in December 1993 but escaped from jail nine months later. He was recaptured and sentenced to death in February 1996 for crimes against the state; that sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. Following Azerbaijan's acceptance in early 2001 into full membership of the Council of Europe, that organization designated Gumbatov a political prisoner and demanded he be retried; he was resentenced to life imprisonment in July 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). Also on 3 September, President Aliyev stripped Gumbatov of his Azerbaijani citizenship, after which Gumbatov flew to the Netherlands, where his family now lives. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili sent a letter of protest to the Russian government on 6 September against the arrest in Beslan two days earlier of a journalist and a photographer employed by the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 and demanded their immediate release, Caucasus Press reported. The two were sentenced later on 6 September to 10 days' administrative arrest on charges of illegally entering the Russian Federation. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has sent a similar protest to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office. LF

The Supreme Court of the Adjar Autonomous Republic ruled on 6 September that the personal fortune of former Adjaran leader Aslan Abashidze and some 30 members of his family, variously estimated at between 100 million laris ($52 million) and $70 million, could not have been acquired legally, and should therefore be confiscated, Caucasus Press reported. That property includes land, several villas, bank accounts, and luxury cars. Abashidze stepped down under pressure from the Georgian central government in May and has since lived in Moscow. LF

A statement by Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii that one of the hostage takers who seized a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, was a Kazakh has evoked a skeptical reaction in Kazakhstan, Kazakh Channel 31 reported on 6 September. When a reporter for the station asked a representative of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office to comment on Fridinskii's remark, he said: "We cannot give anything else, neither clarification nor comments. We are not giving out any information. An investigation is under way. You should wait a little." Eduard Poletaev, director of the Kazakh office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told Channel 31, "It is possible that Kazakh citizens were among the terrorists. However, one should wait for more specific information because Russian media outlets have often been careless with unconfirmed information. If you recall, information that nine suicide bombers were moving through Kazakhstan was circulated by Russian media when the school was still controlled [by the hostage takers]. However, this information was not confirmed." DK

Darigha Nazarbaeva, who heads the Congress of Journalists of Kazakhstan, told a news conference on 3 September that the Congress's executive committee is developing a new draft law on the media, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nazarbaeva said the congress's draft law is not intended to replace the draft law recently submitted by Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2004); rather, it will be published in the media so that "all of the parties involved can discuss the draft law." The congress is now taking a brief break from its work on the draft law, she explained. Nazarbaeva went on to detail three key issues with which a new draft law on media must deal: publicizing information about the work of judges, ensuring that journalists have access to information, and forcing officials to respond to critical materials that appear in the media. The daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Nazarbaeva is also the head of the Khabar Agency and the leader of the pro-presidential Asar party. DK

Kyrgyz legislators spoke out at a 6 September session of parliament in favor of an effort to win back the Shakhimardan resort region from Uzbekistan, reported. Major General Ismail Isakov, chairman of the Security Committee, said the region, which is located 55 kilometers south of the Uzbek city of Fergana, was given to Uzbekistan by Soviet authorities in the 1930s. Isakov noted that the transfer was extrajudicial, "which is why the Legislative Assembly decided two years ago to negotiate with Uzbekistan to return Shakhimardan." Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev supported Isakov, saying: "Shakhimardan is Kyrgyz territory. We will defend our rights, and this issue will be raised along with other issues during the negotiations to delimit and demarcate the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border currently under way in Tashkent." DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov met with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Secretary-General Jan Kubis in Dushanbe on 6 September, Tajik television reported. Their discussion focused on cooperation between the OSCE and Tajikistan, as well as on the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. After the meeting, Kubis said he raised the issue of press freedom with the president, Avesta reported. Several independent Tajik newspapers have recently had difficulty finding printing houses, raising concerns about press freedom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004). "The president informed me that one of the newspapers and the printing press where it was printed have had tax problems," Kubis said, adding that the OSCE center in Dushanbe will prepare a report on the situation. But Kubis also struck a positive note in his remarks, saying, "The situation with freedom of speech in Tajikistan has grown noticeably better over the last few years." DK

Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev met with French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie in Dushanbe on 3 September to discuss the current state of bilateral cooperation on defense issues, Avesta reported. "The French side is actively involved in preparing Tajik military specialists, teaching them French, and conducting joint exercises," Alliot-Marie said. The French defense minister also noted that France has stepped up its involvement in international counterterrorism activities since the events of 11 September 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. "The forms of cooperation are diverse, including the exchange of intelligence and information about the sources of financing for terrorist organizations," the news agency quoted Alliot-Marie as saying. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov conducted a number of business-related meetings on 3 and 6 September, Turkmen television and reported. On 3 September, Niyazov met with Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah, Oman's minister responsible for foreign affairs, and Jean Chretien, formerly the prime minister of Canada and currently a consultant for Bennett Jones, a Canadian law firm with a focus on energy issues, Turkmen television reported. Niyazov invited businessmen from Oman and Canada to take part in the modernization of Turkmenistan's Seidi oil refinery and the construction of a planned trans-Afghan gas pipeline. On 6 September, Niyazov met with Igor Makarov, head of Russia's Itera, and Yurii Kudimov, chairman of Russia's National Reserve Bank, reported. They discussed the development of hydrocarbon resources in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea under the aegis of Zarit, a joint venture involving Itera, the National Reserve Bank, and other Russian companies. DK

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has given Uzbekistan a $30 million stabilization credit for school construction, renovation, and equipment, UzA reported on 3 September. The ADB also plans to provide $40 million in two tranches in 2005-06 to fund improvements to Uzbekistan's educational system. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 3 September signed a decree allowing all political parties that field nominees for the 17 October legislative elections to delegate one representative each to the Central Election Commission (TsVK), Belarusian media reported. The decree stipulates that these representatives will be given "the right of a consultative voice" on the TsVK but may not vote. In particular, such consultants may make proposals regarding the TsVK agenda, address the TsVK during its sessions, and put questions to TsVK members. JM

A district court in Hrodna on 7 September sentenced Valery Levaneuski, leader of a local market vendors' strike committee, and Alyaksandr Vasilyeu, deputy chairman of the same strike committee, to two years each in prison for insulting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in leaflets they distributed in May, the Charter-97 website ( reported. The judge reportedly ruled that an insult to Lukashenka was intentional in the following appeal to citizens included in the leaflet: "Come and say that you are against [the situation] where SOMEBODY goes to Austria to ski and live happily at your expense." Lukashenka vacationed in Austria in March 2002. Journalist Mikola Markevich, who was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in 2002 for insulting Lukashenka, asserted to RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 6 September that the charges against Levaneuski and Vasilyeu were trumped up. "Belarus needs to put an end to [such defamation processes] in some way, this is a sort of conveyor belt, this is a hellish machine that demands victims all the time," Markevich added. JM

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has established an Election Observation Mission to monitor the 31 October presidential elections in Ukraine, the OSCE website ( reported on 6 September. The mission will be led by Ambassador Geert Ahrens. The mission will comprise 12 international experts based currently in Kyiv, who will be joined by 45 long-term observers based in regional cities throughout Ukraine. Shortly before election day, the ODIHR will deploy some 600 short-term observers across Ukraine. On the day after the election, the mission will issue a statement of preliminary findings and conclusions. A comprehensive final report will be released approximately six weeks after the completion of the election process. JM

The Verkhovna Rada opened its plenary session in Kyiv on 7 September, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Lawmakers approved an agenda for the session, which includes some 1,300 bills and resolutions. The legislature rejected a supplement to the agenda proposing to hear a report by an ad hoc parliamentary commission on its investigation into the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. JM

After meeting with top officials in Belgrade on 3 September, diplomats from the six-member international Contact Group called on members of Kosova's Serbian minority to vote in the 23 October parliamentary elections in that province, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 30, and 31 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August 2004). The diplomats from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and Italy stressed that voting is the best way for the minority to ensure that it has a voice in Kosova's future. Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that the international community should institutionalize protection for the minorities through decentralization based on the separate plans put forward by Belgrade and the UN's Kosovo Working Group. Several Serbian leaders support a boycott of the parliamentary elections on the grounds that there is not sufficient security for Serbs to go to the polls. Kosova's elected government notes that many Serbs in Kosova had no problem casting their ballots in the June Serbian presidential election. Albanian leaders charge that the real motive for the boycott is to pressure the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) to accept Belgrade's decentralization proposal, which the UN rejects and the ethnic Albanian majority regards as a first step toward partition. PM

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in Prishtina on 6 September that "whatever the future status of Kosovo may prove to be, there are certain demands and realities that must be taken into account. This status must contribute to stability and regional cooperation in Europe, to have laws that are compatible with European laws, and certainly guarantee the protection of minorities," the daily "Koha" reported, as quoted by UNMIK's "Media Monitoring." He argued that "a very important gesture by Kosovar Albanians toward Serbs [would be] the implementation of...decentralization, while Serbs must trust Kosovo institutions, and this trust [would be] created by participating in the upcoming [23 October parliamentary] elections." Barnier also said, "I can imagine some experts from Belgrade participating in the meetings of these groups [dealing with decentralization]," the daily "Koha Sot" reported. "This [would be] the gesture of understanding that I ask from Kosovo Albanians and which would then lead to other gestures," he added. It is not clear which decentralization plan he meant, or precisely what the role of the experts from Belgrade would be (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 20 August 2004). PM

The EU and the Contact Group are willing to consult Belgrade on decentralization but not as a precondition for Serbian participation in the elections, "Zeri" reported on 6 September. The daily added that unnamed "Western diplomatic sources" denied recent Serbian media reports to the effect that EU foreign ministers are willing to include some of Belgrade's decentralization proposals in their final plan. The diplomats also told "Zeri" that Belgrade might be preparing public opinion for a change in its position regarding Serbian participation in the Kosova elections by suggesting that Belgrade has already achieved at least some of its aims regarding Kosova. The daily quoted U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Michael Polt as saying that the final decision regarding Kosova will be made in Kosova, even though Belgrade will be asked to contribute ideas. Polt added that the United States agrees with UN diplomat Kai Eide that more progress needs to be made towards clarifying Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August 2004). Polt stressed that "standards before status" remains Washington's official policy, adding, however, that policy should be linked to action and not to "slogans." PM

At an informal meeting in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, on 3-4 September, EU foreign ministers agreed that it might be necessary to use a "two-track" approach in negotiating a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia and Montenegro because each of the two constituent republics has its own separate internal market and customs system, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The ministers stressed that Brussels nonetheless supports the continuation of the joint state and insists on a single final Stabilization and Association Agreement, albeit one with two separate additional protocols. PM

In Belgrade on 5 September, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, who is an outspoken critic of the joint state, called the Valkenburg meeting "a historic one for Serbia" because it removes a potential obstacle to Serbia's EU integration by recognizing that the Serbian and Montenegrin economies have little in common, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Podgorica on 6 September, pro-independence Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said that the Valkenburg meeting enables each of the two republics to move ahead towards EU integration. He stressed that the union has proven counterproductive and expensive, adding that Serbs and Montenegrins should resolve the tensions between them peacefully, "like the Czechs and Slovaks did" in agreeing to dissolve the former Czechoslovakia as of 1 January 1993 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June and 16 July 2004). PM

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader arrived in the Macedonian capital Skopje on 6 September for a two-day official visit, meeting with his Macedonian counterpart Hari Kostov and Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski, "Dnevnik" reported. Sanader's talks with Kostov focused on bilateral cooperation and Macedonia's plans for EU membership. Sanader said Croatia can share its experiences in seeking EU membership with Macedonia. Kostov said the two governments will promote better economic links, noting that Croatia is one of the few countries with which Macedonia has a trade surplus. On the sidelines of Sanader's visit, Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul and his Macedonian counterpart Ilinka Mitreva signed a bilateral agreement on cooperation aimed at EU integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January and 13 February 2004). Sanader is the first Croatian prime minister to visit Macedonia since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. UB

Albania's former Prime Minister Ilir Meta announced in Tirana on 6 September that he and 10 other parliamentary deputies have left the Socialist Party to found the Socialist Movement for Integration, dpa reported. The new party is the first numerically significant group to break away from the Socialists, who are the successors to the former ruling communist Party of Labor of Albania, and the 81st party to be founded in that country since the fall of communism in 1991. Meta was prime minister from 2000-02, when a long-standing feud with party leader and current Prime Minister Fatos Nano led to his resignation. Meta and his followers accuse Nano of being more interested in holding onto power through corruption and traditional patronage networks than in promoting reform and European integration. Nano and his supporters counter that Meta and his backers are overtly ambitious and unwilling to submit to the decisions of the party's majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

More than 500,000 members of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) cast votes on 5 September to nominate party candidates for the November parliamentary elections, Romanian media reported. PSD Chairman and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 6 September that the internal elections, a first in the party's history, broke existing "blockades" between PSD leaders and "common members." More than half of the party's current parliamentarians were removed from the party list, according to the reported results of the voting. Candidates still have to be approved by a party ethics council. The party's executive bureau must then approve the final list of candidates. The opposition Truth and Justice Alliance recently criticized the PSD's internal elections, arguing they were intended merely to repair the party's image after disappointing results in local elections in June. ZsM

The Romanian Humanist Party's (PUR) national council voted on 5 September to rejoin the PSD in an alliance ahead of November's parliamentary elections, Romanian media reported. Two hundred and two members voted to join the PSD, 142 backed a solo campaign for the Humanists, and 19 voted for an alliance with the opposition Truth and Justice Alliance. PUR Deputy Chairman Codrut Seres said the party will field a list of 32 parliamentary candidates on the common lists. PUR Chairman Dan Voiculescu said negotiations with the Social Democrats are continuing over the alliance's electoral and governing programs. The same day, PSD Chairman Nastase said the alliance will be called PSD+PUR National Union, to be established at a joint PSD and PUR congress. Truth and Justice Alliance spokesman Calin Popescu Tariceanu invited all PUR members who are unwilling to cooperate with the PSD to join his alliance. The PUR formed a governing coalition with the PSD in 2000 but walked out on that partnership in August 2003. ZsM

A meeting of representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania's (UDMR) Council of Union Representatives in Targu-Mures on 4 September nominated Chairman Bela Marko to be that party's candidate in November's presidential election, Mediafax reported. Marko said his electoral program is the UDMR's program, adding that his nomination is "a task, a responsibility, and an honor far greater than being UDMR chairman." He asked ethnic Hungarians to vote for the UDMR candidate only if they consider he is fit for that role. Marko also said the ethnic issue can be solved by democratic methods, adding that Romania needs to build a society in which becoming president is a real possibility for members of ethnic minorities. Marko also vowed that the UDMR will be transparent in its nomination of candidates for the November parliamentary elections. He said internal elections will be open to "every group, all opinions" from the Hungarian community, including the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) formed by former dissenters within the UDMR. ZsM

The Romanian Interior Ministry, the delegation of the European Commission in Bucharest, the Dutch Center for International Cooperation, and the Austrian Interior Ministry announced in Bucharest on 3 September a project aimed at establishing a Romanian Europol unit and aligning Romanian legislation with European norms, Mediafax reported. The project is largely financed by the EU (600,000 euros, or $531,000), while the Romanian government will contribute 50,000 euros. The yearlong project also is aimed at strengthening cooperation between EU member states and Romania in combating cross-border crime. ZsM

The Moldovan government decided on 3 September to open a permanent delegation at the European Commission in Brussels on 1 January 2005, Flux reported. A government press release said the move will improve Moldova's international image and demonstrate the seriousness of Moldova's intentions to join the EU. The mission is to focus primarily on implementing the Moldova-EU action plan. ZsM

Moldovan Railway (CFM) Chairman Miron Gagauz said on 6 September that the company will have to halt passenger transport to and from Transdniester and stop cargo transit from Russia as it no longer controls the company's activities in the region, Flux reported. Gagauz said Tiraspol authorities and police early the same day evacuated all CFM employees from the CFM's Tighina station in Transdniester. Tiraspol authorities named a new chief of the Tighina station and evacuated and arrested CFM's Tighina sector chief, Vasilii Magaleas, as well as taking over control of the station. Gagauz also said a journalist from the TV Moldova station in Chisinau was arrested by Transdniestrian police. Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova said the action represents "a real threat to stability in the security zone, and an attempt to destabilize the situation." ZsM

On 6 September, "Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov, one of Russia's most respected journalists, submitted his resignation, a belated casualty of the horrific terrorist attack on the school in Beslan, North Ossetia. The resignation came amid widespread criticism both in Russia and abroad that state-controlled television had done much to minimize and sanitize the hostage crisis, in which well over 300 people were killed.

Shakirov told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 6 September that he had been obliged to resign following a dispute with his publisher over the 4 September issue of "Izvestiya," which featured large-format, heart-wrenching pictures of the storming of the school. "Generally speaking, I and the management of ProfMedia [the media holding company of oligarch Vladimir Potanin that controls "Izvestiya," "Komsomolskaya pravda," and other media properties] disagreed over the format of that issue," Shakirov told RFE/RL. "Some felt it was too emotional and too poster-like, that newspapers do not in principle do such things."

Shakirov said that half of the 4 September issue was devoted to the events in Beslan and that the editorial board decided consciously to create a poster-like impression. "The first page has an enormous photograph, and the last page does too," Shakirov said. "We did this, of course, not because of some sort of pretentiousness, but out of a sense of the enormous significance [of the events] for the country. And in general that sense was later confirmed -- that this is a war. People tell me that this is like 22 June [the date of the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941] and I really believe that this is [another] 22 June."

The 4 September issue of "Izvestiya" was certainly a radical departure from the daily's normally staid format, one that is still somewhat reminiscent of its Soviet-era appearance. However, it was not unlike the kind of design that many U.S. and world newspapers used in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. Visually, it embodies the same sentiment that President Vladimir Putin expressed to the country later the same day. "This is a challenge to all of Russia, to all our people," Putin said. "This is an attack against all of us. We are dealing with a direct intervention of international terror against Russia, with total and full-scale war." The front-page photograph of the 4 September issue of "Izvestiya," depicting a nearly naked and hysterical girl being carried from the scene by a shocked, but determined-looking man illustrates exactly what Putin was describing.

Shakirov, who formerly served as editor in chief of "Kommersant-Daily" and "Gazeta," was named head of "Izvestiya" in November 2003. Under his leadership, the paper blossomed and largely shed its previously conservative stance. During the Beslan crisis, the daily distinguished itself from the state media by, among other things, casting doubt on official information that there were only about 350 hostages in the school. On 2 September, the paper printed a harsh front-page editorial by Deputy Editor Georgii Bovt that described the hostage crisis as "a moment of truth" for Putin. That editorial was translated and reprinted in the 3 September issue of "The Moscow Times."

On 3 September, the paper printed critical comments from a range of political and cultural figures, all of which pointed to the same conclusion: Russia has become a more dangerous country since Putin became president. "We see helplessness and loss of control on the part of the federal government and the special services," independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said. "They cannot prevent acts of terrorism, nor can they clean up the consequences." "We simply cannot live that way, closing our eyes to the past and to the situation we find ourselves in," theater director Yurii Lyubimov was quoted as saying.

Immediately following news of Shakirov's resignation, the Russian media was full of reports that the move had been ordered by the Kremlin. An unidentified "Izvestiya" staff member told "The Moscow Times" on 7 September that "there was a call from the Kremlin asking that the editor be fired." Seemingly confirming this version of events, ProfMedia Deputy Director Yevgenii Abov told "The Moscow Times" that he learned about Shakirov's departure from media reports.

The journalistic community was clearly shaken by Shakirov's departure, noting that only the media were punished following the October 2002 hostage crisis at a Moscow theater. Following that event, NTV General Director Boris Jordan was forced to step down and journalists were compelled to create standards of conduct on the coverage of terrorist incidents following serious threats of legal limitations on press freedom. RFE/RL reported that ProfMedia head Rafael Akopov also was forced to leave NTV with Jordan following the October 2002 events. "Akopov simply could not have treated Shakirov the same way on his own initiative," journalist Yelena Rykovtseva told RFE/RL on 6 September.

"The current departure of a significant journalist follows a certain tendency that simply cannot not be frightening," "Ogonek" Editor in Chief Viktor Loshak told RFE/RL on 6 September, "because this is a departure from the basic principles of the country that we have been building for the last 10 years." Kommersant publishing house General Director Andrei Vasilev told "Vedomosti" on 7 September that Shakirov's departure is "a conscious signal from the Kremlin to journalists and the elites that now it is extending its hand to the print media as well." An unidentified analyst described as being "close to the Kremlin" told the daily that the Kremlin considers "Izvestiya," "Komsomolskaya pravda," and "Argumenty i fakty" to be "national treasures." "Potanin apparently received a reproach from the Kremlin, where this issue was seen as a hostile leaflet of the opposition," the source said.

Campaigning for Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election on 9 October officially began on 7 September, international news agencies reported. But Sima Samar, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, alleged that powerful forces are intimidating voters and prompting some political parties to refrain from openly discussing their platforms for fear of retaliation, the BBC reported on 6 September. No one is expecting the elections to be fully free and fair, Samar said, but her organization would be satisfied if the process were 60 percent free and fair. Both the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have scaled back their election-monitoring teams due to perceived insecurity, AFP reported on 7 September. "If it is too dangerous for monitors to monitor, isn't it too dangerous for Afghans to vote?" asked Andrew Wilder, head of the independent Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit. AT

Independent candidate and former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq has charged that by appointing a new education minister, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has broken the country's electoral law, the Kabul-based daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 5 September. Mohaqeq said the appointment of Ahmad Shah Moshahed as education minister to replace another presidential candidate, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, is a breach of the electoral law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2004). "Ministers who resign after standing as presidential candidates can resume their jobs 20 days after the elections, if they are not elected president," Mohaqeq claimed. Clause 4 of Article 13, Chapter IV of the Electoral Law stipulates the following: "Those members of the government, judges, public prosecutors and civil servants [officials] who want to be candidates to the posts of the Presidential, National Assembly and Provincial and District Councils, are required to tender their resignations 75 days prior to the elections." Clause 5 then states: "In case candidates of sub article [clause] (4) are not successful in the elections, implications of their resignation do not apply and until 20 days after the elections they can return to their posts. AT

Chairman Karzai on 5 September defended his decision to appoint a new education minister to replace presidential candidate Qanuni, Radio Kelid reported on 6 September. "The ministries should not remain without a minister or a head for a long time," Karzai told a news conference. He contends that the reference to "members of the government" in Clause 4 of the Electoral Law refers to senior government officials, not cabinet ministers. AT

Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan in a speech on 3 September argued that he should not join the government in Kabul, Herat Television reported the next day. Speaking about the bloody clashes that occurred in Herat in August, the self-styled "amir" of Herat said that "they were calling us 'warlords,' but no one gave this title to the rebels in Zerkoh of Shindand," in a reference to militiamen loyal to local warlord Amanullah Khan who attacked Governor Ismail Khan's militia on 13 August (see REF/RL Afghanistan Report" 18 and 26 August 2004). "I was asked to serve as a minister in Kabul," Ismail Khan said. "However, I want to say that I do not want to be an interior minister, I do not want to be a defense minister, I do not want to be a president." The governor added that he has asked Chairman Karzai "many times to give" him "two more years to serve the people of Herat." Recent setbacks for Ismail Khan's militia have enabled Kabul to exert greater authority on Herat. AT

Ismail Khan also said in his 3 September speech that Amanullah Khan's militia killed 134 of Ismail Khan's people and injured another 52, Herat Television reported on 3 September. Three of the dead were beheaded, Ismail Khan claimed. He also blamed the central government in Kabul for the loss of life in Herat. Ismail Khan expressed relief that Kabul has summoned Amanullah Khan and placed him under house arrest. "However, we are awaiting the trial of the criminals," Ismail Khan said. Rumors among villagers living near the areas of conflict put the death toll at around 200, "The New York Times" reported on 6 September. AT

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 6 September that Tehran is committed to discussing its nuclear program with the European Union, Radio Farda reported. Ramezanzadeh said Iran expects the Europeans to fulfill commitments they made when the British, French, and German foreign ministers visited Tehran in October 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003; for the full text of the agreement, see Ramezanzadeh said Iran is committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol, and it expects other countries to fulfill their commitments. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors is scheduled to meet on 13 September, and the most recent IAEA report indicates that Iranian cooperation with the agency has improved (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 2004). BS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani discussed the nuclear issue, as well as bilateral trade, with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Foreign Minister Bernard Bot on 6 September, Radio Farda reported. The Netherlands currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. Rohani told Iranian state television afterwards that the two sides discussed a total of 10 topics, including Iran-EU relations and the nuclear program. Rohani stressed that Iran will not forsake its right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities, and he emphasized that questions on this subject can be resolved through dialogue. Rohani added that Iran expects the Europeans to fulfill their October 2003 commitments (see above), IRNA reported. BS

Hojatoleslam Husseini-Bushehri, who is either director of the Qom Theological Seminaries (Howzeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom) or the Qom Theological Lecturers Association (Jameh-yi Mudarresin-i Howzeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom), announced recently that there are hundreds of scholars from around the world studying at religious institutions in Isfahan, Mashhad, Qom, Tehran, and other cities, "Resalat" reported on 5 September. In Qom alone, Husseini-Bushehri said, there are 50,000 students from 70 countries. There are 300 religious-research centers in Qom, he added, and 3,000 seminaries in the entire country. "Resalat" commented that the Iranian government budgets less money for religious proselytization than governments in Egypt, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. The newspaper said the legislature and the government must explain this situation. BS

Hamid Reza Taraqi, a member of the Islamic Coalition Party's central council, said its strategy is to encourage high public participation in the election by supporting the candidate most likely to unite the voters and gather the highest number of votes, ISNA reported on 7 September. Taraqi said former Foreign Minister and current adviser to the supreme leader Ali Akbar Velayati might be a candidate, but the Islamic Coalition Party has not started considering candidates. Taraqi concluded that the party has not made a decision on Velayati or anybody else. BS

The Israeli Defense ministry announced on 6 September that the launch of its "Ofek-6" satellite failed, Jerusalem's Channel 2 television and "Yediot Aharonot's" website ( reported. One of its four directional engines malfunctioned and the rocket and payload crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. "Ofek-6" was intended to replace "Ofek-5," and according to "Haaretz" it was supposed to provide real-time information on Iran's missile program. "Ofek-5" will function for a few more years, and an anonymous source close to the project estimates that another satellite can be put in place if the necessary money is available. The failure of the "Ofek-6" cost approximately $50 million. BS

Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Masud Pezeshkian said at the Iran Nutrition Congress on 6 September that a balanced diet contributes to longevity by preventing heart disease, IRNA reported. He said lifestyle and diet should be linked. Pezeshkian noted that about 600,000 people die of obesity in the United States and Europe every year. BS

Iraqi officials have retracted claims that National Guard forces captured Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the former Iraqi vice president and vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Reuters reported on 6 September. Al-Duri is sixth on the list of the 55 most-wanted fugitives from the Hussein regime, and the highest-ranking fugitive from Saddam Hussein's inner circle. Unidentified government officials claimed on 5 August that al-Duri was captured in a raid in his hometown of Tikrit as he sought medical treatment for leukemia. The officials said that 70 Hussein loyalists were killed in the raid and 80 arrested, but U.S. military officials and Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan al-Khuza'i said they have no knowledge of the raid, reported on 6 September, while National Guard commander General Ahmad Khalaf Salman told Reuters, "No units of ours took part in such an operation." The United States is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture or killing of al-Duri, who was a senior official in northern Iraq when the Hussein government attacked and killed some 5,000 Kurds using chemical weapons in the town of Halabja in 1988. KR

Baghdad Governor Ali al-Haydari escaped an assassination attempt in the capital on 7 September, international media reported. Al-Haydari told Al-Arabiyah television that a roadside bomb detonated as his car approached it. He said he is sure that the bomb targeted his vehicle, since it detonated just 1 meter away. Al-Jazeera and Reuters reported that gunmen opened fire on the convoy before the roadside bomb exploded. Reuters also reported that one bystander was killed in the attack; al-Haydari said two civilians were killed. KR

Militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr battled U.S. forces in the Al-Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad on 6 and 7 September, Al-Jazeera television reported on 7 September. The satellite news channel cited Iraqi government officials as saying that 15 people were killed and 70 wounded in the fighting. One U.S. soldier was also killed, Reuters reported on 7 September. Meanwhile, a car bomb targeted a convoy transporting U.S. Marines near Al-Fallujah on 6 September, killing seven Marines and three Iraqis, reported on 7 September. The website described the attack as the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in four months. KR

The militant group Islamic Army of Iraq posted a statement to a jihadist website ( on 6 September listing its final conditions for the release of two French journalists held captive in Iraq. The group's demands, which appear to be addressed to the French government, include a $5 million ransom payment, in addition to a commitment apparently on the part of the French government to not enter into any military or commercial trade with Iraq, as well as acceptance of a truce between the French government and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The statement said that the group will wait 48 hours for its demands to be met. The Muslim Scholars Association issued a religious edict or fatwa on 5 September calling on the militant group to release the hostages, Abu Dhabi television reported on the same day. The fatwa came after the group said it would stop kidnapping individuals thought to be working with U.S. forces in Iraq if the Sunni organization ordered it to do so. Salifi leader Sheikh Mahdi al-Sumaydi'i also condemned the journalists' kidnapping on 5 August, Al-Arabiyah reported the same day. KR

Iraqi National Guard forces and police carried out a joint raid on a suspected insurgent hideout in Al-Latifiyah, 25 kilometers south of Baghdad, on 5 September that resulted in the arrest of 500 suspected insurgents, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Twelve policemen were killed and 16 policemen and National Guard officers were wounded in the operation, which resulted in the confiscation of what Al-Sharqiyah described as "huge quantities" of explosives, including 1,500 liters of TNT, mortar shells, and antitank weapons. The Sunni Muslim Scholars Association denounced the operation, and accused Iraqi forces of carrying out "arbitrary arrests," Radio Dijlah reported on 6 September. The organization called for an investigation into the operation. KR