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Newsline - September 9, 2004

Russian television on 8 September broadcast footage of Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov briefing President Vladimir Putin on the recent hostage crisis at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. Ustinov told Putin that 32 attackers, including two women, met in a forest before heading into Beslan in three vehicles packed with weapons and ammunition. According to testimony from the purported sole surviving attacker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004) and from released hostages, the school was mined with a large number of explosive devices and cameras were positioned to monitor events. The leader of the group told the hostages that they planned to die and demonstrated the terrorists' conviction by personally killing the two female members of the group by detonating explosives strapped to them, Ustinov said. On the third and final day of the siege, the hostage takers decided to reposition some of the explosives, at which point they apparently detonated one bomb by accident, which led to panic and the escape of some of the hostages. Ustinov also told Putin that the investigation is now focused on identifying the slain hostage takers. VY

The Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on 8 September a reward of up to 300 million rubles ($10.3 million) for information leading to the arrest of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev, Interfax reported. Appended to the announcement are telephone numbers in Moscow and Grozny for people willing to provide relevant information. Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov hailed the FSB announcement, commenting that "there are lots of members of illegal armed formations who would like to earn this money," Interfax reported. Alu Alkhanov, elected 10 days ago as pro-Moscow Chechen administration head, similarly said that the offered reward will encourage people not professionally engaged in hunting for terrorists to join the efforts to locate and apprehend the two men. In Moscow, Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee, told Interfax that the FSB offer of a reward is "absolutely correct" and that he hopes it brings the desired result. In the run-up to last year's State Duma elections, the Motherland-Patriotic Union election bloc offered a 15 million ruble reward for the capture of Basaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 20043). LF

Also on 8 September, Maskhadov's government made a similar offer of a $20 million reward to any state, organization, or individual who assists the Chechen law enforcement agencies in apprehending President Putin, whom it branded a "war criminal," reported. The statement accused Putin of unleashing "a criminal war against the sovereign Chechen state"; of responsibility for the deaths in Chechnya of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including tens of thousands of children; of condoning the systematic use of torture at so-called "filtration camps"; of actions, including the slaughter of adults and children in Beslan, aimed at discrediting the "legitimate Chechen national-liberation struggle against foreign military aggression;" of forming deaths squads that operate on Chechen territory; and of the total or partial destruction of dozens of Chechen towns and villages. LF

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized on 8 September as "inappropriate" U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher's 7 September statement that the U.S. supports a political solution in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Boucher said that Washington has held talks in the past with Chechen officials whose views differ from those of the Russian government and will continue to do so. At the same time, he stressed that the U.S. administration does not engage in talks with terrorists. Lavrov suggested that Boucher's remarks, which he termed "anti-Russian," reflect his own personal opinion rather than official U.S. policy. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko similarly said on 8 September that contacts between Washington and Chechen "separatists" are unacceptable, Interfax reported. He said Washington's rationale is to legitimize Maskhadov's emissaries abroad. LF

In a commentary published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 8 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" founder Vitalii Tretyakov accused Europeans who have questioned Russia's Chechen policy of having "double standards." "The European human rights advocates have become so keen on protecting the rights of the killers that they think less and less about the rights of their victims," Tretyakov wrote. "If somebody in Europe is thinking that the Russian soldiers in Chechnya are defending the imperial ambitions of Russia or the popularity of its president, such thinking cannot be called anything other than intellectual idiocy." Whether their behavior is good or bad, "Russian soldiers in the Caucasus are defending the values of Christian civilization and the Euro-Atlantic world, including the freedom and security of Europe," Tretyakov concluded. VY

Following the Beslan crisis, tons of humanitarian aid has been sent to North Ossetia from Western countries, RTR and ORT reported. France, Italy, Norway, and the United States have all flown in medical and other supplies needed to treat those injured in the siege. The aid is being distributed in coordination with the Emergency Situations Ministry. China has pledged $1.2 million in aid, according to ITAR-TASS. Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Ukraine, and Greece have all offered to treat children wounded in the siege. The United States has flown in three military cargo jets filled with supplies worth some $655,000, and such efforts will continue, U.S. State Department spokesman Boucher on 7 September, according to a State Department press release. British Queen Elizabeth II has reportedly donated an unspecified "considerable amount of money" to help the victims of Beslan, according to RTR on 8 September, and the British daily "The Sun" has collected more than 250,000 pounds ($420,000). VY

Chief of the General Staff General Yurii Baluevskii told journalists after his talks in Moscow on 8 September with NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. General James Jones that Russia is prepared, if necessary, to conduct preemptive strikes against terrorist bases anywhere in the world, Western and Russian news agencies reported. "It does not mean that we'll deliver nuclear strikes," Baluevskii said, stressing that the means of destruction will depend on the situation in the region that is targeted. "Of course, efficiently conducting the fight against terrorism can only result through joint efforts," Baluevskii said. VY

General Baluevskii also told journalists on 8 September that he and General Jones discussed the exchange of operative information concerning particular terrorist organizations and cells, and the joint training of antiterrorism forces, Russian news agencies reported. Jones said the threat of international terrorism dictates the extension and intensification of cooperation between NATO and Russia. He also said that neither NATO nor the United States has plans to deploy military bases further eastward, once the recently announced restructuring of U.S. forces abroad is completed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). "This also concerns increasing the number of troops," he said, adding that "I am telling you this as the NATO commander in chief in Europe." VY

Two men have been arrested in Moscow in connection with the investigation into the apparent terrorist bombing of two jet airliners on 24 August that killed 90 people, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 9 September. One of the men was identified as Krasnodar resident Armen Artyunov, who reportedly specializes in securing tickets for sold-out flights. Artyunov reportedly arranged for the purchase of the tickets of the two Chechen women who are believed to have been involved in the destruction of the aircraft and helped them to get aboard the planes. He reportedly received 5,000 rubles ($167) for his help. The second man was identified only as an employee of Sibir Airlines, the company that operated one of the ill-fated flights. He is accused of accepting a 1,000 ruble bribe to secure a place on the flight for one of the women. According to the report, when one of the women was not able to get a seat on a sold-out Sibir flight to Volgograd, Artyunov accepted an additional 1,000 rubles to get her a ticket on the ill-fated Volgograd Aviaekspress flight to that city. RC

Moscow Helsinki Group Director Tatyana Lokshina told Ekho Moskvy on 8 September that the government was wrong to take measures to conceal from the public the scale of the recent hostage crisis in Beslan. She said that government arguments that it was trying to avoid panic "are no justification." "We believe that such disinformation is unacceptable, that it complicates the normal work of public control over the actions of the security structures," Lokshina said. A group of Russian and international human rights groups issued a statement the same day condemning the Beslan terrorism and calling on the government to observe all accepted human rights standards in its efforts to bring the perpetrators of those crimes to justice, reported. The statement also called for "a thorough investigation into the Beslan events, including an investigation into the manner in which the authorities presented information to the public at large and to the families of the hostages." RC

A group of Russian business organizations including the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), Business Russia, and the OPORA small-business association, issued a statement on 7 September pledging complete support for the government's policies in responding to the recent wave of terrorists attacks, "Vedomosti" reported on 8 September. They pledged that their members are ready to provide "financial and organizational resources." RSPP Executive Secretary Igor Yurgens said the organizations have expressed interest in the economic development of the North Caucasus "so as to raise the level of the population's employment and increase investment in real production preparatory work." OPORA President Sergei Borisov urged the government to introduce tax incentives to encourage investment in the region. Russian Red Cross Chairwoman Tatyana Nikolaenko said on 7 September on Ekho Moskvy that "we would understand if our business community responded to this tragedy." "But they are only helping those people of average or above-average incomes," she said. RC

President Putin told Western journalists and analysts during a Kremlin meeting on 8 September that he does not want to see oil giant Yukos bankrupted, "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 September. Harvard University Professor Marshal Goldman, who attended the meeting, was quoted as saying that Putin said, "It is the people in Yukos themselves who are raising [the idea of bankruptcy]." "Give me the names of the government officials who want to bankrupt Yukos and I'll fire them," Putin said, according to Goldman. "As regards members of my administration, we aren't worried about them taking over [Yukos assets]." Brookings Institute expert Fiona Hill told the daily that Putin said he cannot rule out the possibility that Yukos might sell some assets to state-controlled oil giant Rosneft to raise cash to pay its tax debt. Goldman speculated that Putin might be seeking to increase state influence over Yukos and the oil sector generally so that Moscow can have a greater role in OPEC. "It could be related to the talks [Putin] has had with OPEC, in which he has to tell them that Russia can't cooperate [on oil production] because it has no say in running oil majors," Goldman said. RC

The Central Bank and the Finance Ministry have drafted new legislative amendments that would simplify the process of merging banks, "Vedomosti" reported on 6 September. The amendments were reportedly drafted in consultation with the Association of Russian Banks and Rossiya, an association of regional banks. Among other things, the proposals would lift the requirement that all creditors of both banks involved in a merger be individually informed of the merger. Instead, a public notice in the Central Bank's bulletin will be sufficient. State Duma Banking Committee Deputy Chairman Pavel Medvedev (Unified Russia) said that the proposals do not go far enough. He urged that the current provision that allows creditors of merging banks to demand early repayment be repealed. "It is necessary to create a system under which the interests of creditors are protected, but not so strictly in regard to banks that are merging," Medvedev was quoted as saying. He said the right to demand early repayment is preventing many banks from merging. MDM-Bank Chairman Andrei Savelev told the daily, however, that this issue is not a real problem because "creditors understand that when two banks merge, a more stable financial institution is formed." The Central Bank and the government have announced a policy of encouraging consolidation in the banking sector (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 August 2004). RC

An unidentified technical failure is being blamed for the 9 July crash of a Tu-22M3 strategic bomber that killed four crewmembers and resulting in the grounding of all such planes, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). An unidentified source at the Nizhnii Novgorod Military Garrison's prosecutor's office told the agency that the "human factor" has been ruled out and no criminal case is being pursued in connection with the crash. The garrison is expected to accept formally the prosecutor's findings on 10 September. There was no report on whether the ban on flights of Tu-22M3s will be lifted. RC

Viktor Yakimov, mayor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast city of Kamensk-Uralsk, faces a possible 5,000 ruble ($167) fine for refusing to rescind an executive order banning the sale of hard liquor in the city between the hours of 9 p.m. and 10 a.m., reported on 8 September. The local office of the Federal Antimonopoly Service has declared the ban illegal and ordered that it be rescinded. The ban was reportedly the initiative of local citizens and Akimov promised to implement it during his successful campaign for the office in March. The initiative is also reportedly supported by major local employers and by the administration of Sverdlovsk Oblast. Oblast administration spokesman Aleksei Vorobev told the website that if the measure results in a reduction in crime, it could be introduced in other cities. The website reported that there have been small demonstrations in support of Yakimov almost continuously for the last three weeks and that Krasnouralsk Mayor Gennadii Voroshilov on 1 September issued an identical degree banning hard-liquor sales in his town during the same hours. Yakimov's appeal of the antimonopoly service's order will be heard by a local court, although a date for the hearing has not yet been set. RC

The body of former Ingushetian police officer Ali Taziev, aka Magas, whom Russian media identified as one of the four leaders of the Beslan hostage takers, was not among the bodies recovered from the school in the wake of the 3 September shoot-out, reported on 8 September, citing "Moskovskii komsomolets." LF

Aleksandr Dzasokhov told an estimated 3,500 demonstrators who congregated on 8 September in Vladikavkaz to demand his resignation that he plans within the next two days to fire the republic's defense and security ministers, and to dismiss the entire government, Russian media reported. The protesters argued that Dzasokhov should resign in light of his failure to travel to Beslan last week to meet with the parents of children who were being held hostage. But Dzasokhov countered that he has a duty to continue trying to solve the republic's most urgent problems, according to He added that he ought also to take into account the opinion of those who are not demanding his resignation. LF

President Khatami arrived in Yerevan on 8 September for a two-day Armenian visit, news agencies reported. The two sides signed agreements on bilateral cooperation and on cooperation in the energy, culture, and customs fields, Armenian public television and Arminfo reported. The energy agreements include one on construction of a gas pipeline from Megri to Kadzharan in southern Armenia and a second under which Iran will provide a $30 million loan to finance construction. Khatami and Armenian President Robert Kocharian issued a joint statement emphasizing their shared belief that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue should be settled peacefully, and they also agreed on counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts. Khatami visited the Blue Mosque in Yerevan and addressed the Armenian legislature. Khatami is expected to move on to Tajikistan and Belarus, IRNA reported on 8 September. Khatami is accompanied by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf, Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Safdar Husseini, and Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari. BS

Ilham Aliyev met on 7 September, the first day of a three-day working visit to Paris, with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac, Azerbaijani media reported. The two men discussed bilateral political and economic relations, the prospects for increased French investment in Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan's inclusion in the European Neighborhood Policy program, and the unresolved Karabakh conflict. Aliyev met on 8 September with Henri Jacolin, the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group engaged in trying to mediate a solution to the Karabakh. LF

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), signed a cooperation agreement in Baku on 8 September with former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov, leader of the Party of National Democracy of Azerbaijan (formerly the "Gray Wolves"), Turan and reported. Under that agreement, the two parties will work together against "the existing totalitarian leadership" and to secure the liberation of occupied Azerbaijani territory and a solution to the Karabakh conflict that meets Azerbaijan's national interests. They will also coordinate the nomination of candidates in the 2005 parliamentary election and, at Hamidov's suggestion, his party will support the AHCP candidate in the next presidential election. Hamidov was arrested and sentenced in September 1995 to 14 years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement, abuse of his official position, and causing grievous bodily harm. He was retried at the insistence of the Council of Europe, which had designated him a political prisoner, and sentenced in July 2003 to 11 years' imprisonment on the same charges, then pardoned in December 2003 by President Aliyev and released from jail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003 and 5 and 8 January 2004). LF

A journalist and a cameraman employed by the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2, who were apprehended by Russian police in Beslan on 4 September for allegedly entering Russia illegally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004), have been released for lack of evidence and have returned to Tbilisi, Georgian media reported on 8 September. Journalist Nana Lezhava said she was subjected to a body-cavity search and suspects she was then drugged. Neither was permitted access to a lawyer while in detention. LF

League of Refugees head Boris Kakubava told Caucasus Press in Tbilisi on 8 September that the Georgian displaced persons who were forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war will launch protest actions to demand the resignation of the Georgian government unless the Georgian authorities either take immediate steps to resolve the conflict or provide the displaced persons with financial compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihood. On 9 September, Kakubava made disparaging comments to Caucasus Press about the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, Temur Mzhavia, claiming that "he has no independent political platform." Mzhavia's election to that post six months ago triggered protests from displaced persons who said they have no idea who he is or what, if anything, he has ever done on their behalf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2004). Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is scheduled to meet with members of the parliament in exile on 9 September. LF

Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov chaired a cabinet meeting on 8 September to discuss the implementation of measures to combat terrorism and extremism, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The meeting focused on tasks outlined by President Nursultan Nazarbaev at a 6 September Security Council session against the backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in Russia. At the 8 September meeting, Akhmetov urged government agencies to take "effective measures to prevent terrorist and extremist activities, create a well-oiled crisis-management system to coordinate the work of government agencies, and introduce new technologies into border guarding and immigration control," Kazinform reported. The prime minister also asked the heads of force ministries and the Labor Ministry to analyze the current situation, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

The moderate opposition party Ak Zhol has sent an appeal to President Nazarbaev charging that state-run television is favoring specific candidates in the run-up to the 19 September parliamentary elections, Kazakh television reported on 8 September. Meanwhile, the election bloc of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan held a small unauthorized rally in Almaty on 8 September to protest violations of campaign-spending limits by the pro-presidential Asar party, Channel 31 reported. Two bloc candidates and 40 supporters charged that Asar has spent $700,000 more on political advertising than is allowed. Demonstrators handed a letter of protest to Khabar TV employees. Finally, the president's daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, who heads Asar and is director of Khabar news agency (a post she has left for the duration of elections), said that local administrations and business directors are pressuring people to vote for the pro-presidential Otan party, Khabar TV reported on 7 September. Nazarbaeva said that the "pressure, bullying, and blackmail" discredits the party's reputation. DK

Kazakh President Nazarbaev and Czech President Vaclav Klaus met on 8 September in Almaty for talks that focused on trade relations, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "We are, above all, interested in trade," Nazarbaev said. "Trade issues will be a priority in developing bilateral relations." Noting that trade volume between the two countries rose from $70 million in 2003 to $90 million in the first half of 2004, Nazarbaev said that the figures nevertheless leave much room for improvement. The two heads of state noted that their countries are both allies in the international antiterrorism coalition and are helping with the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported, citing the Kazakh presidential press service. The two leaders also agreed to set up a commission to resolve outstanding issues over Kazakhstan's $300 million Soviet-era debt to the Czech Republic, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Klaus also invited his Kazakh counterpart to Prague for an official visit. DK

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin paid a joint visit to Bishkek's Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University on 8 September, Kyrgyzinfo reported. President Akaev called Yeltsin's election as Russian president in 1991 a historic event and pointed to the university as an example of Kyrgyz-Russian friendship. The university will henceforth be known as the Boris Yeltsin Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, reported. DK

The Netherlands has transferred six F-16 fighter jets to Ganci Air Base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, reported on 8 September. The fighters will help to ensure security for the 9 October presidential elections in Afghanistan. Ninety Dutch pilots and service personnel have already arrived; an additional 80 are expected shortly. The F-16s will be ready for active duty on 15 September. DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov addressed the nation on 8 September in a televised speech on the eve of Tajikistan's Independence Day on 9 September, calling the protection of "the state and society from the threats of terrorism and extremism" the "prime and most significant task of every state," Tajik TV reported. In an apparent reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir, he also chided European countries for allowing extremist organizations to base themselves there. Rakhmonov also called for a global antidrug coalition, stressing that drug trafficking is a pressing problem, both for Central Asia and the rest of the world. Terming poverty "a serious problem resulting from many years of crisis in the country's social and economic sector," Rakhmonov hailed recent progress. He cited World Bank statistics showing that the poverty rate in Tajikistan has fallen from 83 percent in 1999 to 68 percent in 2003. Rakhmonov also said that construction on a large, economically beneficial road linking Tajikistan with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia will soon begin. DK

Gulchehra Mirzoeva, director of the NGO Modar, told Avesta on 8 September that the organization has begun a five-month program on human trafficking sponsored by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees. "We intend to work with law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors, border guards, and tourist agencies, who are the main witnesses of trafficking," Mirzoeva said. "We will also conduct seminars for students studying law and psychology." The project will also produce legal-aid materials for law enforcement and students. DK

Davlatali Davlatov, deputy chairman of Tajikistan's ruling People's Democratic Party, told Avesta on 8 September that he raised the question of employing more Tajik staff in local OSCE offices during a meeting with OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004). "We expressed our concern that OSCE structures do not employ Tajik citizens as staff," Davlatov said. "Tajikistan is a member-nation of the OSCE and we should be equally represented in OSCE structures." According to Davlatov, Kubis promised to look into the issue. DK

A conference of the leaders of opposition organizations decided in Minsk on 8 September to pool efforts aimed at counteracting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's plans to lift the constitutional two-term restriction on the presidency through a referendum on 17 October and seek a third term in office in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. An opposition movement against the referendum reportedly unites the Popular Coalition Five Plus and the European Coalition Free Belarus alliance, which are fielding two separate sets of candidates for the 17 October legislative elections. The opposition believes that if it manages to mobilize at least 65 percent of the voters who oppose Lukashenka's third term to go to the polls on 17 October, the Belarusian president will lose the referendum. A June poll suggested that 51 percent of Belarusians do not want Lukashenka to extend his rule beyond 2006. A referendum may amend the constitution only if it is backed by more than 50 percent of all eligible voters, according to Belarusian law. JM

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told journalists on 8 August that it is the sovereign right of the Belarusian people to decide whether Alyaksandr Lukashenka should stand for reelection, Belapan reported. "Belarus is a sovereign country, and making decisions on vital state and public matters is its internal affair," Yakovenko said. "It is vitally important, in our opinion, that the referendum be held in a transparent way, in line with electoral regulations and universally accepted democratic standards." JM

A district court in Minsk on 8 September sentenced Zmitser Dashkevich, a member of the opposition Youth Front, to 10 days in jail for shouting an antipresidential slogan on the city's central square following President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's address to the nation announcing a referendum on 17 October, Belapan reported. Dashkevich was arrested after he and several others started shouting "Shame on you!" after Lukashenka's speech, which was broadcast on a huge television screen on the square. Some 400 students, mostly from vocational schools, were brought by their school administrators to the square under the pretext of holding a government-organized rally against terrorism, Belapan reported. Instead, they saw Lukashenka's referendum speech. JM

Our Ukraine official Taras Stetskiv warned on 8 September of an upcoming rally by a radical nationalist group that he suggested is aimed at tainting Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko by associating his presidential bid with nationalism, Interfax reported. Stetskiv told journalists that the nationalist Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) party plans to stage a rally and a march in Kyiv on 9 September at which UNA members are to shout anti-Russian and anti-Semitic slogans and express unsolicited support for Yushchenko. "The goal [of the UNA] is obvious -- to discredit presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko," Stetskiv said, according to Interfax. He added that Our Ukraine has notified foreign embassies in Kyiv of the UNA's purported plans. Our Ukraine lawmaker Yuriy Klyuchkovskyy on 9 September called on the Interior Ministry, the Ukrainian Security Service, and the Prosecutor-General's Office to prevent the UNA action. "This is their last chance to prove that they are law enforcement bodies, not a department in the [presidential-campaign] staff of [Prime Minister] Viktor Yanukovych for the organization of provocations," Klyuchkovskyy added. He also appealed to the Verkhovna Rada to pass a resolution on counteracting "fascist manifestations" in Ukraine. JM

Stetskiv also told journalists on 8 September that the Interior Ministry has created regional groups of police officers from departments dealing with economic and organized crime to support the presidential campaign of Prime Minister Yanukovych and counteract the campaigns of opposition candidates, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Stetskiv alleged that such groups are coordinated by the ministry with unsigned faxes with secret directives sent to the provinces. "Only members of these groups know about the existence of such directives," Stetskiv added. He showed one such purported fax to journalists. The document included instructions to monitor election meetings in the regions, prevent opposition candidates from placing their campaign advertisements on commercial billboards, spot those officials in local power bodies who sympathize with the opposition, prevent opposition election staff members in Kyiv from sending advertising materials or money to the provinces, and thwart the printing of election campaign advertisements by opposition candidates in the provinces. JM

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs John Tefft told journalists in Kyiv on 8 September that the Unites States hopes that the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine is democratic, Interfax reported. Tefft said Washington has received reports that not all of Ukraine's presidential candidates enjoy equal access to regional media and that there have been cases of intimidation of voters in Ukraine. Tefft added, however, that Washington does not think that the election process in Ukraine is "doomed." Tefft also expressed hope that Ukraine does not withdraw its contingent from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004). Tefft held his conference following a meeting with President Leonid Kuchma. JM

Leading diplomats from the international Contact Group on Kosova -- which consists of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and Italy -- will issue a policy declaration during the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported from Berlin on 9 September. The move comes in response to increasing UN and Western criticism of the current "standards before status" policy, which many feel has turned into a dogma leading to frustration among Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority and complacency or arrogance within the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). On 7 September, German Defense Minister Peter Struck told his parliament's defense committee that the time has come to move more quickly on resolving the status question, a view that has gained strength in the United States, the United Kingdom, and among some top-ranking UN diplomats in the wake of the 17-18 March violence in Kosova (see The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 9 September that Struck's comments reflect frustration in the Defense Ministry and the military at being given a thankless task in Kosova while the Foreign Ministry pursues allegedly ineffective and unimaginative policies. PM

Speaking on a visit to Tirana on 8 September, Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova urged that Kosova become independent "as soon as possible," dpa reported. "This would bring peace to this part of Europe and the world," he said, adding that independence "would bring peace to the Albanians in the Southeast European region." Rugova noted that continuing delays in defining Kosova's final status promote instability and play into the hands of unnamed "extremists" among Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 20 August 2004). PM

Kiro Gligorov, who was Macedonia's president when it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, said on 8 September in a speech marking the 13th anniversary of the independence referendum that the country's political leaders must preserve and protect national unity, MIA news agency reported. "Regardless of how small, poor, and pressured it is, Macedonia is our one and only fatherland. We do not have another fatherland," Gligorov said. In a clear allusion to claims that government plans to cut the number of administrative districts could lead to a polarization of Macedonia along ethnic lines, Gligorov said that citizens must not allow new divisions to arise because history showed that every time Macedonia was divided it suffered defeats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 27 August and 3 September 2004). In his speech before political leaders, former and current members of parliament, and foreign diplomats, Gligorov said that foreign support is always welcome but added, "We must show that we are a state and that we are able to make decisions for a better future on our own." UB

Following several months of incidents against the Hungarian and Croatian minorities in Vojvodina, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Subotica on 8 September that the Belgrade authorities are determined to resolve interethnic tensions there, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May and 22 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). He suggested that unnamed politicians and media have blown the situation out of proportion for their own gain. Kostunica was apparently referring in part to some recent statements by politicians in Hungary, which Kostunica criticized as unnecessary attempts to "internationalize the issue," Reuters reported. On 8 September in Budapest, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs appealed to EU foreign ministers to issue a statement at their 13 September meeting expressing concern "over atrocities against non-Serbian communities in Vojvodina, which endangers democratic stability and the safety in the region." Jozef Kasza, who heads the League of Vojvodina Hungarians, said recently that the Serbian police have not faced up to the seriousness of the recent incidents, dismissing them as the work of "drunken kids." Anti-Croat and anti-Hungarian incidents increased following the strong showing by Serbian Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic in the December 2003 Serbian presidential election. PM

After meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw, visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu said on 8 September that Britain supports Romania's efforts to conclude accession negotiations with the EU this year and join the EU in 2007, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said his British interlocutors appreciate Romania's participation in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. Iliescu is expected to conclude his official British visit on 10 September. ZsM

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced in a press release on 8 September that OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi has named former Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov as a OSCE special envoy and asked him to travel to Moldova in an attempt to give new impetus to negotiations. Flux meanwhile reported that William Hill, the head of the OSCE mission in Chisinau, held talks in Tiraspol on 7 September with Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa. Hill's spokesman, Claus Neukirch, said the two discussed recent developments in the region, including relations between parliaments in Chisinau and Tiraspol. ZsM

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 6 September that "foreign secret services" told him that weapons used by the Beslan hostage takers were manufactured in Transdniestrian factories, Deutsche Welle's Romanian-language website ( reported on 7 September. "After this painful case, our friends in the Russian Federation should change their position toward the Transdniester separatists," Tarlev said. He accused Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov of being "the head of a criminal group that terrorizes hundreds of thousands of people" for his own "and his foreign bosses'" financial interests. ZsM

Several international media organizations on 8 September protested the recent arrest of Moldova-1 TV cameraman in Transdniester Dinu Mija and urged that he be released, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004). The organizations include the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO). According to Flux, the Council of Europe is to discuss the issue on 9 September. Ion Leahu, Moldova's representative on the Joint Control Commission (CUC), said on 8 September that CUC members have not been allowed to meet with Mija and cannot get information on the issue. ZsM

German Defense Minister Peter Struck told his parliament's defense committee on 7 September that the time has come for the West to reconsider its policy toward Kosova. He is not alone in his views.

Support has grown recently among some key UN Security Council members -- such as the United States and Britain -- for accelerating the handover of some authorities to ethnic Albanian-led institutions in Kosova while maintaining pressure for key reforms. A recent report by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several statements by Danish diplomat Soren Jessen-Petersen, who is the new head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), indicate that the UN is moving in a similar direction.

These are not the only signs that some changes in the international community's policy toward Kosova might be in the offing. Struck argued that the international community's "standards before status" policy on Kosova "is not the only solution" regarding the final status of the province.

He did not elaborate but questioned the efficacy of several aspects of current international policy in Kosova. He noted, for example, that it takes much money and many troops to protect often small and isolated settlements inhabited primarily by elderly members of ethnic minorities. Struck suggested that the current "security policy has failed," adding that time has come to consider establishing "more consolidated" Serbian enclaves.

Struck also promised a "thorough investigation" into the role of the German KFOR troops during the 17-18 March violence. German and some other European KFOR troops have recently come in for heavy criticism from nongovernmental organizations and the German military for their performance during the March unrest.

The minister himself is no stranger to controversy, including charges that he has not always done his homework. Against this background, it is not clear whether Struck's statements on 7 September were carefully planned or not.

His latest remarks nonetheless appear striking because in another part of Berlin from where Struck was speaking, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was telling a gathering of Germany's diplomats posted around the world that the current international policy in Kosova is working.

The discrepancy was noted by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," as well as by German parliamentary deputy Rainer Stinner of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), which advocates making Kosova a protectorate of the EU with the U.S. role limited to KFOR peacekeeping. Addressing the parliament on 8 September, Stinner said that Struck's remarks showed that at least one member of the government recognizes that the current policy on Kosova is at a dead end, and that time has come to develop new ideas. Stinner called on the parliament to discuss the matter in a full session.

Only a few days before Struck spoke, former German General Klaus Reinhardt was quoted by the "Stuttgarter Zeitung" on 2 September as saying that new policy options for Kosova must be developed by the EU and the United States. He charged that too much emphasis has been placed on the military aspects of the situation in the province and on the "standards before status" formula. He recommended that the West develop a new strategy for the region as a whole, suggesting that the lack of a clear plan for the final status of Kosova is a big part of the problem.

U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Michael Polt told regional media of 6 September that the United States agrees with Norwegian diplomat Eide that more progress needs to be made toward clarifying Kosova's final status. Polt stressed that "standards before status" remains Washington's official policy, adding, however, that policy should be linked to action and not to "slogans."

Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute of Peace has also said that resolving the status issue is essential for improving the overall situation in Kosova. Indeed, many Balkan experts have long argued that failure to resolve the status question will only fuel instability, and that the violence of 17-18 March 2004 was a wakeup call for the international community to act.

At a gathering held at a stadium in Kabul on 8 September, Afghan leaders gathered along with thousands of people at a stadium in Kabul on 8 September to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, Afghanistan Television reported. Two Arabs, reportedly on orders from Al-Qaeda, posed as journalists and then killed Mas'ud, the military leader of the United Front (aka Northern Alliance) on 9 September 2001. In the ceremony, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, many members of his cabinet, some former mujahedin party leaders, and one of Mas'ud's brothers delivered speeches about the slain commander. On 7 September, in a speech read at a conference commemorating Mas'ud's legacy, Karzai called Mas'ud "a hero and a patriotic mujahed with high morality." Mas'ud is generally regarded as the most renowned hero of the struggle against the Taliban regime, and several candidates have invoked his image or memory as the Afghan presidential election nears. Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, a brother of the slain commander, is the first vice-presidential running mate of Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 5 and 26 August 2004). AT

The neo-Taliban militia carried out an attack in the Nawbahar District of the Zabul Province on 6 September, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported the next day. According to Gholam Gailani, a Zabul security official, around 70 militants launched an attack on at the center of Nawbahar District. In fighting that lasted five hours, four neo-Taliban militiamen and one Afghan soldier were killed. Nawbahar has been the scene of neo-Taliban activity in the past and the central government had been largely unable to function there. More recently, however, government forces are operating in the district; this marks the first attack since those central forces arrived, AIP reported. AT

In clashes with U.S. forces in the village of Dewalak near Zabul's capital Qalat, two neo-Taliban militiamen were killed, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 7 September. Zabul Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni said the clashes lasted for about an hour, during which U.S. forces did not sustain any casualties. According to the Iranian broadcaster, the neo-Taliban have not commented on the incident. AT

Chairman Karzai has issued a decree ordering the release of 372 prisoners, Afghanistan Television reported on 8 September. Ahmad Wahid Muzhda, a spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court, said the prisoners are "Taliban members and will be released very soon," AFP reported on 8 September. According to Muzhda, the prisoners are all Afghan nationals. The release order came after a recent request by a UN human rights expert for the release of more than 700 former Taliban fighters who remain in Afghan or U.S. custody, AFP reported. AT

Major Ra'is Khan, head of finance section of Division No. 9 in the northeastern Konar Province, was killed by a bodyguard on 6 September, AIP reported the next day. Two other people were injured in the attack. Ra'is Khan was the son of General Malik Mohammad Zarin, the commander of Division No. 9. The motive behind the killing is unclear, but AIP speculated that personal disputes might have been behind the incident. The report also added that Ra'is Khan previously worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces based in Afghanistan. AT

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami telephoned his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahud on 7 September to congratulate him on having his presidency extended by three years, the Lebanese National News Agency (LNNA) reported. The previous day, a Hizballah delegation visited Lahud to convey Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's congratulations, LNNA reported. The extension of Lahud's six-year presidential term is the result of a constitutional amendment pushed for by Syria. The Lebanese parliament voted 96 to 29 in favor of the amendment on 3 September. Four cabinet members resigned on 7 September to protest the passage of the amendment, news agencies reported. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on 2 September that calls for free elections in Lebanon "without foreign interference or influence" -- widely interpreted as a call for an end to Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. The UN resolution also calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country and the disarmament of militias in what is seen as a reference to Hizballah. Syrian Ambassador to the UN Fayssal Mekdad retorted, saying, "Syria is not a foreign force in Lebanon; it is there at the request of the Lebanese government," the "Financial Times" reported on 3 September. There are 15,000-20,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon. BS

President Khatami arrived in Yerevan on 8 September for a two-day Armenian visit, news agencies reported. The two sides signed agreements on bilateral cooperation and on cooperation in the energy, culture, and customs fields, Armenian public television and Arminfo reported. The energy agreements include one on construction of a gas pipeline from Megri to Kadzharan in southern Armenia and a second under which Iran will provide a $30 million loan to finance construction. Khatami and Armenian President Robert Kocharian issued a joint statement emphasizing their shared belief that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue should be settled peacefully, and they also agreed on counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts. Khatami visited the Blue Mosque in Yerevan and addressed the Armenian legislature. Khatami is expected to move on to Tajikistan and Belarus, IRNA reported on 8 September. Khatami is accompanied by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf, Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Safdar Husseini, and Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari. BS

An anonymous British official quoted by "The Guardian" on 9 September said that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom decided during a recent weekend meeting in the Netherlands that Iran must suspend all its nuclear-weapon-related activities by November or face sanctions. "Iran needs to meet its commitments," the official is quoted as saying. "We would like it to meet its commitments before then, but if it doesn't, Iran needs to know and it needs to know now, that there is going to be a decision point in November and at that point a very serious referral to the United Nations Security Council." The official said negotiations with Iran cannot go on "forever." In a different perspective on the same issue, Bush administration officials said on 8 September that some of its allies are resisting the U.S. campaign to get Iran to abandon its nuclear-weapons pursuits, "The New York Times" reported on 9 September. The White House has tried to have the matter referred to the Security Council five times already, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said, and it will try again at the 13 September meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). BS

A recent nationwide poll by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) suggests that 82 percent of Iranians listen to less than one hour of radio daily, and 60 percent of respondents watch one hour of television per day, ISNA reported on 8 September. Slightly more than 12 percent watch less than 30 minutes of satellite television daily, while 26 percent watch up to one hour a day of satellite television. Internet use is low, with 81 percent of respondents not having any access at all and 74 percent not having a computer at home. Of those who do have Internet access, according to the poll, 42 percent use it less than 30 minutes a day. Nearly 39 percent of respondents do not read newspapers at all, 24.7 percent read a newspaper for less than 30 minutes a day, and 23 percent read the newspaper for up to one hour a day. BS/AH

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched attacks on 9 August against militants in a fifth consecutive day of fighting in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, located some 48 kilometers west of Mosul, international media reported. AP cited unnamed military officials as saying that the attacks were launched following failed negotiations between Ninawah Governor Durayd Kashmula and local leaders that were aimed at restoring order in the area. Both Reuters and Al-Jazeera cited local doctors as saying that 17 people were killed and 51 wounded in the fighting. Iraq's Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 7 September that thousands of families were fleeing the town to escape the fighting. Masked gunmen could be seen on the streets of the town, carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons. The radio station also reported on 7 September that government offices and local businesses were closed as a result of the clashes. A U.S. military statement said that the U.S.-Iraqi offensive is aimed at regaining control over the town after "a large terrorist element" displaced local Iraqi security forces in recent weeks, Reuters reported on 9 August. KR

U.S. forces bombed the restive city of Al-Fallujah for a third consecutive night on 8-9 August, international media reported. Reuters cited a military statement as saying that a "precision strike" was launched against an operating base believed used by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. "The target was a building frequently used by terrorists at the time of the strike. Three Zarqawi associates were reported to be in the area, no other individuals were present at the time of the strike," Reuters cited the statement as saying. The news agency reported that local doctors said eight people were killed, including four children and two women. Sixteen were reportedly wounded, including eight children. Witnesses said that at least two houses were destroyed in the bombing. Al-Jazeera reported on 8 September that a U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed in Al-Fallujah; all four crewmembers survived the crash, according to the satellite news channel. KR

Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank released a report on 8 September that says the U.S. government needs to revise its assistance programs to Iraq in order to bring concrete benefits to the Iraqi people. The report, titled "Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq's Reconstruction Progress," is based on six months of research that included some 400 interviews and field research across 15 Iraqi cities from 12-27 June. It contends that Iraqis remain optimistic about their situation but have judged the U.S. presence in Iraq based on its ability or inability to affect the daily lives of people on the ground. It recommends that U.S. donor aid focus on providing direct assistance to Iraqis through local and provincial governing councils "to generate local ownership of the rebuilding process." The report also encourages the United States to give funding precedence to the Iraqi judiciary and to encourage a return of the United Nations and international organizations in preparation for the January elections. The 100-page report can be accessed on the CSIS website ( KR

Sources in Paris told that it is unlikely that any agreement will be reached for a quick write-off of Iraq's debt at a meeting of creditor countries in the French capital on 9 September. "It's total stalemate," one unnamed European official said. Paris Club creditor countries are owed about $40 billion by Iraq. Iraq's total foreign debt stands at about $120 billion, said Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who chairs Paris Club meetings. French officials have said that their government would not be willing to write off more than 50 percent of the debt. One source told the website that the 9 September meeting is "basically a review of the situation," adding, "we don't expect anything to change and the Iraqis are not there." KR