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Newsline - September 10, 2004

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev met with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on 9 September to report on the progress that has been made on the presidential directive to create operative groups to coordinate the antiterrorism activities of all security agencies in the Southern Federal District, Russian television reported. Nurgaliev told Putin that the groups, which are to be headed by senior Interior Ministry officers, are to be created in all 13 federal constituents of the district, including Chechnya. The officers will supervise all antiterrorism forces, including special units of the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and the Defense and Emergency Situations ministries. Under the system, each group is to coordinate its activities with the regional administration, and will have the authority to take administrative command in the event of a terrorist attack. Through this step, Putin is effectively reviving imperial Russia's policy in the Caucasus under which military, police, and civilian authority was unified under a single command, APN news agency commented on 9 September ( Judging by the range of their authority, the heads of the special operative groups can be called "military governors" of their respective areas of authority, the news agency commented. VY

Speaking to journalists in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 9 September that the government will not revise its policy in Chechnya as a result of the recent series of terrorist attacks in Russia, RTR reported. "When our Western partners call on us to change our tactics in Chechnya, I answer that we not employ 'tactics' but policy in Chechnya, and I recommend that they not hinder Russia's efforts to deal with its internal affairs," he said. Lavrov made the comments during a call-in program on Voice of Russia radio in which he accused the United States and Britain of having "double standards" regarding the fight against terrorism (for a transcript of the program see "To us, it is unclear what the political motivation of London and Washington might be when they call for a 'peaceful solution' in the Chechen Republic, although one can surmise that they probably have something in mind that varies from the normalization process that is currently under way there," Lavrov said. He also suggested that that there is a link between the Beslan hostage crisis and the conflict in South Ossetia. "Although we have no specific proof that these events were planned from a single center, the consequences of the two crises lead to the conclusion that they were not by chance," he added. VY

Lavrov also sharply criticized the Western media for their coverage of the Beslan hostage crisis; specifically, calls by some for international intervention to find a resolution to the Chechnya conflict, Voice of Russia reported ( "Such calls are very blasphemous, speculating on a tragedy, ignoring the real situation in Chechnya, and [amount to] interference in our internal affairs," Lavrov said. He also reiterated his criticisms of Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, for saying that Russia should provide more details about the Beslan siege to facilitate the international community's fight against terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 2004). Lavrov said that, on the one hand, Russia should share information with its partners to prevent further terrorist acts. However, he said, it is another thing altogether when somebody asks Russia not for information but for accountability as to how the situation came to such a conclusion. VY

Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on 9 September that Russia's avowed readiness to carry out preemptive strikes anywhere in the world as a means of fighting terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004) is justifiable, ORT and RTR reported. "War has been declared against us and, as the proverb goes, 'war is war.' We reserve the right to use all available means in confronting the enemy," he said. "We will react adequately to all terrorist threats and will we not inform anybody in advance. As to the means we choose to employ, everything will depend on the tactics we take. The only thing I can say for sure is that nuclear weapons will be not used." VY

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited the Russian Embassy in Washington on 9 September to express his condolences for those killed and injured in the Beslan siege, Russian media reported. Rumsfeld said the two countries "have a responsibility to seek out terrorists where they are, and to stop them, and to seek out their networks and to put pressure on them, and to make it more difficult for them to raise money and to move money, and to make it more difficult for them to move between countries, and to seek them out and find them, capture them, or kill them," ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the embassy the previous day to express his condolences. Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani met in Moscow on 9 September with Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and expressed his condolences in connection with the string of terrorist acts in Russia, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported. VY

President Putin on 10 September met with Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who informed the president that the council will hold an extraordinary session on 20 September to discuss new legal measures to combat terrorism, reported. Mironov also reportedly told Putin that he believes the council must form a special commission to look into the recent terrorist takeover of a school in North Ossetia. "We are all interested in getting a complete and objective picture of the tragic events connected with the hostage taking in Beslan," Putin reportedly told Mironov. He said that he would order executive-branch agencies to cooperate with the council's investigating commission. Putin has previously stated that he opposes a public probe into the Beslan events (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). RC

State Duma Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia) said on 9 September that many deputies believe Russia should rescind its moratorium on the death penalty and institute it as a punishment for terrorism, Interfax reported. "They were saying again today that they would like [the death penalty] to be introduced in some regions," Vasilev said. He also said that the Duma might investigate the conduct of journalists during the recent hostage crisis. "Terrorism would not achieve its objective, would not reach any audience without journalists' coverage," Vasilev said. He added that during a meeting of Duma committee leaders with Speaker Boris Gryzlov earlier that day, participants agreed that "it is necessary to pay attention to this aspect." "Fundamental provisions and constitutional principles will not be revised," he said. "But at the same time a certain restriction on freedoms cannot be avoided." RC

Speaking during a cabinet meeting devoted to the economic impact of the Beslan crisis, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov announced on 9 September that the government has decided to pay compensation to those who suffered as result of the siege, RTR and ORT reported. Relatives of those killed in the attack will be paid 100,000 rubles ($3,300) and an additional 18,000 rubles to cover funeral costs for each victim. People who were wounded in the attack will receive 50,000 rubles each, and those who were held hostage but were not injured will each receive 25,000 rubles. Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov said very few people are in the last category, as most of those not physically injured will still need psychiatric care. The total number of people eligible for compensation exceeds 1,200, Zurabov added. Meanwhile, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said that humanitarian aid from abroad is arriving in such large quantities that his agency is having difficulties distributing it. All together, he said, 18 countries have expressed their readiness to accept children who were taken hostage for treatment, he said. VY

Military sappers have removed 127 improvised explosive devices from the Beslan school that was the center of the recent hostage drama in North Ossetia, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 September, citing Defense Minister Ivanov. Ivanov also denied a recent statement by Health and Social Development Minister Zurabov that some hostages died during the storming of the school because adequate medical equipment was not available. Ivanov said no one died because of delayed medical assistance. and other Russian media reported on 10 September that 10 former Beslan hostages have been transferred to Moscow's Serbskii Psychiatric Hospital in highly suicidal states. A spokeswoman for the hospital told "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 September that hospital specialists are working in other hospitals among Beslan victims and at funerals and other memorial services. She said that one woman committed suicide after identifying the body of her child in a Beslan morgue. Medical personnel in Beslan have reported that at least 142 people in the town need emergency psychiatric assistance. RC

Magomed Tolboev, a Hero of Russia, test pilot, and former pilot of Russia's Buran space shuttle, was reportedly beaten by Moscow police officers on the evening of 9 September because of his Caucasian features, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 10 September. Tolboev was reportedly stopped by police officers as he emerged from the subway and was allegedly beaten despite showing the officers documents identifying him as a Duma deputy's aide. The officers reportedly ran off shouting racist epithets when passersby began calling the emergency services. Tolbaev told Ekho Moskvy that the two officers were sergeants and that he could identify them, although he does not intend to press charges. "I am a Russian officer, a colonel, and I don't want to crawl into that muck," he said. "Moreover, there are 10,000 of them and there's nothing that can be done about them." The Moscow police have launched an investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, several unidentified young people have been arrested in Yekaterinburg in connection with a recent spate of attacks on local Caucasian cafes, Interfax reported. Three cafes were reportedly attacked on the night of 8-9 September, with windows and furniture being broken and Molotov cocktails being thrown. Two people were hospitalized as a result of the incidents. RC

Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii on 10 September posted on his website ( an explanation of how he acquired his wealth. He wrote that more than 90 percent of his net worth is his stake in Yukos, a stake that he says was worth less than $500 million in 1995. After nine years of his management, during which he was paid only dividends, the value of his stake had increased by a factor of 30, he said. He rejected Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's claim that he could pay Yukos's tax debt of more than $7 billion from his personal funds. Noting that he has been in pretrial detention for more than 10 months, Khodorkovskii said his only regret was that he did not quit business and focus on the development of civil society in 2000-01. RC

The presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Ilya Klebanov, told Japanese journalists on 9 September that the tax-evasion case against oil giant Yukos has resulted in a noticeable increase in tax payments, Interfax reported. Previously, "many companies paid taxes in a way that suited them, and the state had no instruments to make them pay in an honest manner," Klebanov said. He said that "if Yukos had paid its taxes, there would be no 'Yukos affair' now." RC

President Putin on 9 September signed a decree dismissing Leonid Drachevskii from his post as presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District and naming former Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin to succeed him, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 10 September. At the same time, Putin discharged Kvashnin from the military. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin told Interfax that Drachevskii, 62, asked to be removed because of his age and said that it was regrettable because under Drachevskii "the region had become stable." Kvashnin on 10 September flew to Novosibirsk to meet with his new staff, RIA-Novosti reported. "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 September that some members of the presidential administration were dissatisfied with Drachevskii because of the victory of Mikhail Yevdokimov in the April election for the head of Altai Krai. The daily also noted that turnout in the district during the March presidential election was the lowest in the country, as was the level of support for Putin and the level of support for Unified Russia in last December's Duma elections. "Vremya novostei" reported that Drachevskii might be sent to Brussels as Russia's permanent representative to the European Union. RC

Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian met with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, and Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius in Vilnius on 8 September, according to BNS as cited by Groong. The Armenian defense minister signed a new agreement on bilateral cooperation that provides for the training of Armenian officers in Lithuanian military academies and at the Baltic Defense College in the Estonian city of Tartu. During his visit, Sarkisian also discussed issues of regional security in the Baltics, NATO enlargement, and the Lithuanian model of military reform. Lithuania already has similar agreements in place with Azerbaijan and Georgia. RG

The Armenian government approved a set of measures on 9 September to significantly tighten food-safety standards, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The proposed measures, covering both domestic and imported food products, would impose stricter quality and packaging requirements, including new health warnings and detailed labeling. According to Mikael Grigorian, the head of the Agriculture Ministry's food-safety department, the proposals are necessitated by the inadequacy and poor enforcement of current food-safety regulations. The availability of low-cost but inferior foodstuffs that fail to meet minimum health standards in Armenia was confirmed by a recent inspection by the Health Ministry that revealed widespread noncompliance with basic safety requirements by many domestic agribusiness producers. RG

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev and the deputy commander of the US European Command, General Charles Wald, met in Baku on 9 September, Turan reported. Wald reviewed the preparations for Azerbaijan's hosting of the upcoming Cooperative Best Effort 2004 NATO exercises and discussed recent developments in bilateral military cooperation. Wald stressed that the 13 September NATO exercises should not be disrupted by the participation of Armenian military representatives, presumably a reference to a January incident in which two Armenian officers were prevented from traveling to Baku to attend a conference on preparations for those maneuvers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 14, and 15 January 2004). The Azerbaijani government has extended an invitation to an Armenian military delegation but has sought to limit it to no more than three officers, Yerkir reported. RG

Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) Deputy Chairman Shamil Mehti vowed on 9 September to stage mass demonstrations to protest the participation of Armenian military officers in NATO exercises, Turan reported. The group also plans to stage demonstrations in front of the Defense and Foreign ministries on 13 and 14 September. The QAT is a militant group that advocates a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. A local branch of QAT staged a protest demonstration on 9 September in the northern town of Sheki, "Baku Today" reported. RG

Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze announced on 8 September that Georgia will significantly expand the deployment of Georgian peacekeepers in Iraq, the "Civil Georgia" website and Interfax reported. In a statement to the media following his return from a fact-finding visit to Iraq, Baramidze added that the number of Georgian troops in Iraq will be increased from 159 to 300 in the next rotation, set for October. The planned increase is actually less than expected, as previous Defense Ministry plans called for an expansion of the Georgian contingent to 550 personnel. The Georgian contingent, deployed in Iraq since 2003, comprises troops from the 16th Mountain Battalion who graduated from the United States' Georgia Train and Equip program. Another 50 soldiers from the same U.S.-trained unit are also deployed in Afghanistan. RG

In comments during a swearing-in ceremony of a new Georgian Supreme Court justice, President Mikheil Saakashvili said on 9 September that he will implement a serious judicial reform effort, Caucasus Press and "Civil Georgia" reported. Saakashvili argued that corruption in the country's judicial system impedes economic development and hinders foreign investment. The president administered the oath of office to new Supreme Court Chief Justice Kote Kemularia, a former Georgian ambassador to Russia and co-chairman of Saakashvili's National Movement party. RG

Nurtai Dutbaev, who is chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), said on 9 September that the KNB has no information that any ethnic Kazakhs were involved in the bloody school siege in Beslan, in Russia's republic of North Ossetia, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Noting that the KNB has been in contact with Russian security services from the outset, Dutbaev stressed that "the situation has not yet been fully clarified." He said initial reports spoke of a Ukrainian-born ethnic Kazakh with Russian citizenship who went over to the side of Chechen militants after fighting in Chechnya for the Russian Army in 1994. Later reports indicated, however, that the alleged Beslan hostage taker was an ethnic Chechen who went by the nickname "The Kazakh." Dutbaev also said press reports of a group of terrorists headed for Russia through Kazakhstan were entirely false, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Our [Russian] colleagues have said that someone leaked false information to the press," Dutbaev added. DK

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Secretary-General Jan Kubis in Vienna on 9 September, Kazinform reported. In his meeting with el-Baradei, the Kazakh president affirmed his country's nuclear-free status and signed a protocol to the agreement that permits the IAEA to conduct random inspections of any Kazakh nuclear site, Khabar TV reported. Kubis told a news conference after his meeting with Nazarbaev that Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 indicates that the leadership has confidence in the country's economic stability and movement toward democracy, Kazinform reported. A decision on Kazakhstan's chairmanship bid will be made in 2006. DK

Addressing a government meeting in Bishkek on 9 September, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev called for active participation in 10 October elections to local assemblies, Kyrgyz television reported. Representatives of the Central Election Commission and all branches of government attended the meeting. Noting that the local elections are a warm-up for 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections, the president said that local authorities must ensure that they are free and fair, Kyrgyz radio reported. But Akaev noted that the nomination of candidates has been lackluster, calling the situation "troubling," Kyrgyzinfo reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Sulmaiman Imanbaev said that just 2,560 candidates had been nominated by 6 September for a total of 6,624 local assembly seats, Kyrgyzinfo reported. The deadline for registering candidates is 16 September. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited the Haryzont television plant in Minsk on 9 September to explain to its employees why he is seeking to lift the constitutional two-term limit on presidency in a referendum on 17 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. "Do not proceed [from the premise] that Lukashenka has been clutching at the presidential chair with his fingers gone blue and does not want to give it to someone else," the Belarusian president said. "This is not the point. It only grieves me [to think] that all what has been done might simply tumble down in no time. And it could tumble down very quickly in Belarus. Why? Because we don't have oil and gas." Former Belarusian Defense Minister Pavel Kazlouski told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that Lukashenka plans to be Belarus's president for life. "He has no other choice: He either remains the president or goes to prison," Kazlouski suggested. JM

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 9 September urged the Belarusian government to ensure that the recently announced 17 October presidential referendum in Belarus is preceded by an open debate and held according to international democratic standards, international news agencies reported. Boucher said in a statement that Belarus's poor record on human rights "raises grave doubts whether the results will freely and fairly reflect the views of the Belarusian people." "Flawed parliamentary elections and a flawed referendum will only serve to isolate Belarus further...and will compel us to review our relationship and policies towards the Belarusian leadership," Boucher added. JM

Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych told the 10 September issue of the "Financial Times" that Kyiv has ceased urging Brussels to pledge unambiguously that Ukraine's will become an EU member and has proposed instead developing relations through two- or three-year agreements covering specific issues like trade or the free movement of labor. Yanukovych said he hopes this new step-by-step approach will still lead to Ukraine "one day becoming a European Union member." JM

Opposition presidential candidate and Our Ukraine bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko wrote in the "International Herald Tribune" on 10 September that Ukrainians are anxious about Brussels drawing a new division line between EU member states and non-EU countries and thus creating "a bipolar Europe." According to Yushchenko's piece, titled "Plotting Europe's Eastern Border," non-EU countries in Eastern Europe are witnessing the emergence of "rampant capitalism, Soviet authoritarianism, and even a dose of medieval feudalism." Specifically Ukraine is seeing "ominous signs of a neo-Soviet revival," Yushchenko asserts. Yushchenko says such threatening phenomena in his country can be warded off by the West by proposing full EU membership to Ukraine "on the basis of established criteria for membership." JM

The parliamentary caucus of the Popular Agrarian Party of Ukraine (NAPU) has relieved itself of "coalition obligations" and suspended its membership in the parliamentary majority that supports the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, UNIAN reported on 10 September. The NAPU, which has 21 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada, is headed by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Moreover, 11 lawmakers from the 16-strong Center group in the Verkhovna Rada said the same day that they are leaving the pro-government majority. The previous day, the Democratic Initiatives-People's Power caucus, which has 15 deputies, also announced its pullout from the pro-government parliamentary coalition. Both the NAPU and the Democratic Initiatives-People's Power caucuses cited a lack of coordination and communication between the government and people's deputies as the main reasons for their withdrawal. JM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Education Minister Ljiljana Colic agreed on 9 September to reverse her recent decision banning the teaching of the theory of evolution in eighth-grade biology courses in the coming school year, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). The short-lived ban led to ridicule in domestic and foreign media, particularly her remark that the ban was "her mark" as a minister. Serbian Deputy Education Minister Milan Brdar told a Belgrade news conference on 9 September that Colic was "away on business" and that it was left to him to announce that "Charles Darwin is still alive...[and the government] has decided to return the theory of evolution" to the classrooms. The news agency reported that "a cartoon by Corax, Serbia's favorite [cartoonist], depicted Colic kicking a white-haired Darwin down the stairs, along with a sad-looking ape, as the black cassock of a priest disappeared through the doors into Serbia's primary school system." PM

Emma Udwin, who is foreign-affairs spokeswoman for the European Commission, said in Brussels on 9 September that the EU will "closely monitor the ethnic situation" in Vojvodina following recent complaints by Hungary regarding a series of incidents directed against the Hungarian minority there, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004). She stressed that "respect for minority rights is a major issue in relations between the EU and other countries." But the news agency quoted an unnamed "EU diplomat" as saying that EU foreign ministers are unlikely to comply at their 13 September meeting with Hungary's request for a public declaration on what Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs has called "atrocities against non-Serb communities in Vojvodina." The diplomat added that "there is no eagerness" in Brussels to make the dispute between Budapest and Belgrade "a European issue at this moment." Reuters suggested that Hungary might be interested in testing how much clout it wields as a new member of the EU. Furthermore, domestic politics in both Hungary and Serbia clearly plays a role in the bilateral dispute. In related news, the office of Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic announced on 10 September that his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Madl will pay a three-day visit to that country, including Vojvodina, starting on 14 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

Alexandra Milenov, who is a spokeswoman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 9 September that the "tribunal is not even examining the possibility of ceding the case [of four indicted Serbian former generals] to domestic courts" in Serbia as part of a deal for the men to give themselves up voluntarily, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). She warned unnamed Serbian politicians against "contributing to the mistaken belief that the tribunal is a political institution with which they can bargain." There has been much speculation in the Serbian and international media that such a deal is indeed in the works. Meanwhile at Castel Gandolfo near Rome, Pope John Paul II received Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, who stressed that Belgrade must cooperate seriously with the tribunal if it intends to join NATO and the EU. Draskovic is one of the most outspoken Serbian politicians on this issue. He also informed the pope about the situation of the Serbian minority in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

Without prior announcement by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal or the Croatian government, six indicted Herzegovinian Croats arrived in Zagreb late on 9 September after Croatian authorities gave the tribunal assurances that the men will return to the Netherlands for trial, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 5, and 12 August 2004). Retired Generals Slobodan Praljak and Milivoj Petkovic, former Prime Minister Jadranko Prlic, former Defense Minister Bruno Stojic, former military police chief Valentin Coric, and Berislav Pusic all maintain that they are innocent. It is not clear why the tribunal reversed its recent decision that to release the former officials of the para-state known as Herceg-Bosna would undermine the work of the prosecution. The news agency reported that the Croatian government kept the news of the men's return secret because it wanted to avoid a public display of support for the six at the airport. Cooperation with the tribunal is an important issue affecting Croatia's plans to join both the EU and NATO. PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski told Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), in Skopje on 9 September that Macedonia is interested in a peaceful, stable, and democratic Kosova, "Dnevnik" reported. But Crvenkovski and Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva also demanded that the border demarcation between Macedonia and Kosova be finalized before the future status of Kosova is determined (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July and 7 November 2003 and 5 January 2004). Jessen-Petersen promised that this question will be resolved before talks on Kosova's status begin. The UNMIK head also stressed the necessity of a regular and intensive dialogue with all countries in the region that will be affected by the final status of Kosova, MIA news agency reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004). UB

A joint congress of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) on 9 September voted to establish an electoral alliance with the name PSD+PUR National Union, then nominated PSD Chairman and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase as the alliance's candidate for the November presidential election, Romanian media reported. The congress also nominated Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana as candidate for prime minister after the November elections and PUR Deputy Chairman Codrut Seres as deputy prime minister -- a function that does not exist in the current government structure. The PUR decided to return to the PSD fold on 6 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004). The PUR formed a governing coalition with the PSD in 2000 but walked out on the partnership in August 2003. At the congress, Nastase said he "honestly" believes "we made a mistake when we broke up." ZsM

Speaking at a news conference in Bucharest, visiting Iraqi Housing Minister Amr al-Faruk Salim al-Damluji invited Romanian companies to participate in Iraq's reconstruction, Romanian media reported. Al-Damluji said the needs of the Iraqi society are huge, so there is something to do for every Romanian businessman. Al-Damluji met with Prime Minister Nastase and participated in a Romanian-Iraqi business forum, inviting Romanian companies to participate directly in tenders. Romanian companies are already present in Iraq, but only as subcontractors. ZsM

The Federation of Education Free Trade Unions (FSLI) announced on 9 September that it will boycott the 15 September opening of the new school year and organize protest meetings throughout the country, Mediafax reported. FSLI leader Aurel Cornea said the union could not accept the government's offer of a 500,000-2 million leis (roughly $15-$60), or 4-5 percent, increase in monthly gross wages. Unions are seeking a 50 percent salary hike. Two other trade unions have already refused the offer and vowed to stage protests on 15 September and 1 October, when universities start the academic year. Government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe said the same day that Prime Minister Nastase asked the education minister, the finance minister, and the minister in charge of relations with social partners to find a solution to the trade unions' demands. ZsM

Opposition National Liberal Party and Democratic Party deputies appealed to the Constitutional Court on 9 September over a recently adopted law on the election of parliamentarians, Mediafax reported. Opposition members argue that a clause leaving open the chance for the president to participate as an independent candidate on a party list is unconstitutional. Speaking at a news conference, Democratic Party Deputy Ioan Onisei said the president's role is to mediate between the state and society, and he or she should therefore remain neutral. The Chamber of Deputies adopted laws on the election of parliamentarians and on the election of the president on 7 September. Both laws require the president's signature before they may go into effect. ZsM

During his 9 September meeting with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) special envoy Petar Stoyanov in Chisinau, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said only the international community's "concentrated and sustained efforts" can positively influence the situation in Transdniester, Flux reported, citing a Moldovan presidential-office press release. Voronin asked the OSCE to send a mission, together with the EU, to monitor the Moldovan-Ukrainian border in order to "ensure a customs and border-control system according to European standards." Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova also met with Stoyanov, a former Bulgarian president, and asked for the organization of an international conference on how to resolve the issue. Stoyanov, who the same day also met with Transdniestrian chief negotiator Valerii Litskai, urged "both sides to ease...tensions and to work out solutions to the various disputes at the negotiating table," according to the OSCE website ( ZsM

Nearly a week after the horrifying denouement of the hostage crisis at a school in North Ossetia, the Russian government seems to have formulated its response, a reaction that is characterized by bolstering the mechanisms the administration of President Vladimir Putin has installed over the last five years, rather than by any perceptible change of course. Putin and other officials have, predictably, ruled out any softening of the government's policies in Chechnya, going so far as to deny that there is any connection between the situation in the breakaway republic and the Beslan hostage crisis. "Just imagine that people who shoot children in the back came to power anywhere on our planet," Putin told Western journalists and experts during a Kremlin meeting on 7 September, Russian media reported. "Just ask yourself that and you will have no more questions about our policy in Chechnya."

He pledged that the Kremlin will proceed with its policy of installing a new administration in Chechnya. "We will strengthen law enforcement by staffing the police with Chechens and gradually withdraw our troops to barracks, and leave as small a contingent there as we feel necessary, just like the United States does in California and Texas," Putin said. On 9 September, the government announced a $10 million reward for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and for radical field commander Shamil Basaev, formally assigning the two men equal culpability for the Beslan events and seeming to destroy any remaining hope that the government might choose to consider Maskhadov an acceptable partner in the search for a political solution in the republic.

Having ruled out a change of course in this area, the Putin administration has focused on containing the public and political reaction to the events, which have been widely viewed as a failure of the administration in the very area -- security -- that it came to power promising to prioritize. The administration cannot help but be stung by comparisons between the latest series of terrorist attacks -- in which well over 400 people have been killed, including the 90 who died when two civilian airliners were blown up on 24 August -- with the fall of 1999, when more than 200 people were killed in a series of apartment-building bombings in several Russian cities and Chechen militants launched a major incursion into neighboring Daghestan. Putin was elected in large part because of his tough talk in response to those events and widespread public insecurity.

Now, of course, the administration is doing everything it can to make the claim that the latest incidents are not a continuation of this violence, but the launching of a new war against Russia by unspecified outside forces that are backed by other unspecified outside forces. The administration so far has been more proactive in responding to the potential for a political crisis created by the Beslan events than in responding to that attack itself.

Measures have been taken to keep the public focused on the tragedy of the events and on the need for ever greater unity, themes that Putin stressed during his 4 September speech to the country. "This is not a challenge to the president, parliament, or government," Putin said. "It is a challenge to all of Russia, to our entire people." He called on people to show their "responsibility as citizens" and said Russia is stronger than the terrorists because of "our sense of solidarity." The wave of government-orchestrated public demonstrations against terrorism in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities was the most visible of these efforts, with the administration marshalling its control of national television and of the quasi-independent Federation of Trade Unions to bring out good crowds. Only a few voices, such as that of Free Russia leader Irina Khakamada, could be heard pointing out that a spontaneous demonstration would have been more satisfying.

On the political level, the Kremlin-linked leftist "opposition" party Motherland has called for the resignation of the government in response to Beslan, a move that takes some of the pressure off of Putin. If truly independent forces in the Duma such as the Communist Party insist on forcing a discussion of the terrorist attacks, Motherland and Unified Russia will easily be able to make sure the spotlight remains on the cabinet and not on the administration. Although such a turn of events is highly unlikely, even the resignations of some cabinet members would not be perceived as a personal defeat for Putin, since the current government has been widely billed as a "technical government" intended to implement and take the heat for painful reforms such as the recently adopted social-benefits bill.

Perhaps the most telling example of how the government used the tools at its disposal to protect itself is how deftly the security forces were apparently able to deal with journalistic threats to the regime, as opposed to their less-stellar protection of civilians from terrorists. "Novaya gazeta" reporter Anna Politkovskaya and RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii, both of whom have long been considered by the Kremlin to be sympathetic to the Chechen cause, were both intercepted well before they got anywhere near Beslan and entirely prevented from reporting on the crisis. Babitskii was arrested on trumped-up charges in a Moscow airport, while Politkovskaya was apparently poisoned on a flight to Rostov-na-Donu, spending the rest of the crisis in a local hospital. In these cases, the security organs, the police, and the courts seem to have worked in close coordination to prevent any damage to the Kremlin's image or version of reality.

The Kremlin's response to Beslan is predictable, given the instruments of management that it has strengthened and cultivated over the past five years. Other instruments -- independent political parties, judiciary, mass media, and public organizations -- might have produced a significant change in political course, or perhaps even a significant crisis of stability. Instead, the administration's control of the security organs, law enforcement, the mass media, public debate, and the political process predetermine that its focus will be on managing the perception of the crisis first of all. And the more the foundations of that system are shaken by the events, the more the administration will bolster its control over those instruments, ensuring a policy that amounts to nothing more than "more of the same."

Of course, the security situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general will have to be addressed. But that response will not take into consideration calls for a real political process there to replace the sham of stage-managed referendums and elections and the facade of local administrations that is fully controlled by the Kremlin. It will not take into consideration calls for an end to human rights violations by federal forces in Chechnya: when asked about this during his 7 September meeting with Western journalists, Putin compared them to the events at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison, saying, "In war there are ugly processes that have their own logic." It will not take into consideration the widely perceived need to root out the corruption that has almost certainly played a role in every major terrorist incident Russia has faced in recent years.

Instead, the Kremlin will most likely rely on its control of society, of information, and of the political process to cover up an intensification of the military policies it has pursued in Chechnya for most of the post-Soviet period. The information blockade of the republic will be redoubled and the seemingly endless "antiterrorism operation" there will continue. But these policies are not without their risks. "There is fear if no one knows the truth," Khakamada told "The Moscow Times" on 8 September. "If people don't understand, it makes it easier for terrorists to buy people off. If we are slaves, it is easier for them to recruit. The more things are pushed underground, the better it is for the terrorists."

Presidential candidates Abdul Satar Sirat, Mohammad Mohaqeq, and Mohammad Yunos Qanuni have reportedly reached an agreement to form a coalition, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 8 September. According to the report, Mohaqeq and Sirat are to withdraw from the race in favor of Qanuni, who is seen as the most credible challenger to the front-runner, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 5 August 2004). Under the agreement, if Qanuni wins the election, Mohaqeq would become a key minister while Sirat, who served as justice minister under King Mohammad Zaher, would become the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Other candidates, such as Abdul Latif Pedram and Abdul Hafez Mansur, might also join the coalition against Karzai, the report added. AT

Presidential candidate Qanuni said that Afghanistan's presidential election is "coming rather early," Paris daily "Le Figaro" reported on 9 September. Qanuni said that more time is needed to prepare the people of Afghanistan for their first-ever democratic election. "People do not yet have identification cards; how can we ensure all that the voting stations will function in a rigorous manner?" Qanuni asked. The former interior and then education minister under Karzai's administration charged that the United States "was absolutely insistent that the [presidential] election take place," and it is essentially "being held for the Americans." Qanuni accused Karzai of not working to foster national unity, which he said is "disintegrating." AT

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous on 8 September rejected Afghan Planning Minister Ramazan Bashardost's recent claims that nongovernmental organizations supported by France are campaigning against him, according to a statement issued by the ministry ( Ladsous said that Bashardost's comments "deal, for the most part, with his country's domestic situation," and said the insinuation that France would campaign against a member of the Afghan government is groundless. Bashardost has also claimed that employees of all NGOs working in Afghanistan are harming the country by using up funding allocated to their organizations to pay their own salaries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). AT

Chairman Karzai expressed his deep concern regarding recent terrorist attacks against nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 September. A statement issued by the office of Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said that Karzai has ordered an investigation into the recent attack against an NGO run by the Agha Khan Development Network in northeastern Badakhshan Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). The statement said that Karzai lauds those NGOs that have provided valuable services to the needy people of Afghanistan in extremely difficult times. However, the statement also acknowledged that Karzai is aware that there are a number of other firms known as NGOs, whose workers are interested in their own personal gain. These organizations, according to the statement, should be distinguished from "real" NGOs, which he defined as those that do not seek monetary or political gains. Planning Minister Bashardost recently criticized NGOs and in May launched an investigation into their activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2004). Karzai's statement did not touch on Bashardost's comments. AT

President Aleksandr Lukashenka of Belarus officially greeted President Mohammad Khatami on 10 September, IRNA reported. Khatami arrived in Minsk on 9 September, and the same day he told Iranians living in Belarus that trade is an important means of communication. Khatami added that trade exhibitions can strengthen bilateral ties, IRNA reported. Iranian Ambassador to Minsk Mohammad Musa Hashemi-Golpayegani said on 9 September that the two sides will sign agreements on agriculture, trade, bilateral relations, culture, sports, and customs, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Khatami is scheduled to leave for Dushanbe on 11 September. BS

Radio Farda reported on 9 September that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed outrage over the recent arrest of three journalists -- Hanif Mazrui, Babak Ghafuri-Azar, and Shahram Rafizadeh -- and called on the Iranian government to release them promptly (; see also The arrests are part of a recent crackdown on pro-reform Internet sites and, according to Radio Farda, many Iranian weblogs have expressed concern about this issue. Radio Farda's correspondent noted that the government blocked access to three websites --,, and -- in late August. The sites later reappeared, albeit with different addresses and formats, the BBC reported ( The government also closed three Internet cafes in Bushehr, RSF reported ( Moreover, Hamid Motaghi, the head of the Naqshineh website ( in Qom, which has been blocked since March, was summoned to court on 21 August and freed after posting bail of 100 million rials ($12,658). BS

Iranian and Afghan officials met in Tehran on 8 September in what IRNA described as their first joint meeting within the framework of the 1973 Helmand (Hirmand) River treaty. The river flows from Afghanistan to Lake Hamun, and its waters are then used in Iran's Sistan va Baluchistan Province. Availability of water has been hampered in recent decades by Soviet tactics during the war in Afghanistan, drought, and poor relations between the former Taliban regime and the Iranian government. The situation has improved since 2002, but Iranians still complain of water shortages (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 May 2000; 10 and 23 September, 4, 11, and 25 November, 9 December 2002; 6 January and 20 October 2003, and 6 September 2004). Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian told IRNA that they are preparing the grounds for implementing the treaty. He said that under normal circumstances, Iran's annual share is 820 million cubic meters. Ardakanian added that decisions made at the meeting will go into effect on 22 September, when the "water year" begins. BS

During a 9 September meeting with students and staff at Yerevan State University, President Khatami dismissed the possibility of his country's East Azerbaijan Province merging with the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mediamax reported. Khatami said that Iranian-Azeris are active in Iranian economic and political affairs, as well as culture and science. Irredentist groups in Azerbaijan have cited suppression of co-ethnics in Iran in calling for unification. Also on 9 September, Khatami met with Iranians who live in Armenia, IRNA reported. Khatami noted Armenians' ability to protect their ethnic identity through 70 years of Soviet rule and added that ethnic Armenians are active in many aspects of Iranian life. BS

There is no letup in the on-again/off-again story of former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi's possible bid in Iran's upcoming presidential election (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 2004). An anonymous "informed source" said in the 8 September "Resalat" that Musavi definitely will not be a candidate. Quoting an anonymous "prominent theoretician of the 2nd of Khordad Front," the source said: "The 2nd of Khordad Front groups are now going to select another person as their candidate in the presidential elections. This is because Mir Hussein Musavi has announced explicitly and clearly that he is definitely not going to stand as a candidate." Musavi reportedly gave many reasons for not running, but the source did not identify them. BS

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Ahmad Salih, who visited Iran in late August, said afterward that the discussions there were frank and cordial, "Al-Shira" reported on 4 September. Allegations of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest continue to trouble bilateral relations. "We will not allow the country to turn into an arena for settling accounts between Iran and the United States, for example," Salih told "Al-Shira." He added, in what could be a reassurance to Iran, "We will not allow our country to turn into a launching pad for strikes at the interests of our neighbors." He said coalition forces are in Iraq the help bring about security and stability, and those who want the coalition to leave must help the Iraqi government maintain security. BS

U.S. forces continued to battle Iraqi militants in the cities of Al-Fallujah, Al-Ramadi, and Tal Afar on 10 September, international media reported. Iraqi medical sources told Al-Arabiyah television that as many as 45 people were killed and scores wounded during 13 hours of intense overnight fighting in Tel Afar, where U.S. forces have been battling insurgents for six days. The U.S. military said that 57 militants were killed in the town, AP reported. Meanwhile, an Al-Arabiyah correspondent in Al-Ramadi said an Iraqi police officer was killed and four others wounded when U.S. forces opened fire at them on 10 September. The incident appears to have been accidental; the correspondent said U.S. forces opened fire at the Iraqi patrol after the U.S. patrol was hit by an explosive charge. U.S. forces also launched the third air strike in as many days against militant positions in the restive city of Al-Fallujah overnight. A two-story house was destroyed and two adjacent homes sustained damage, AP reported. Al-Sharqiyah reported that 17 people were killed and 13 wounded -- many of them Iraqi forces -- in fighting in Al-Latifiyah, located some 40 kilometers south of Baghdad on 10 September. KR

U.S. forces entered into negotiations with city officials and tribal leaders in Samarra, located some 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, on 9 September, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The station reported that U.S. forces had not entered the city since fighting erupted there in July (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 July 2004). City council Chairman Taha al-Hindirah told Al-Sharqiyah that the talks came after the signing of a multilateral agreement aimed at reopening a major bridge that the U.S. had closed in the city, which has effectively divided the city and cut off communications between the two areas of the city for the past two months. Al-Hindirah added that city officials also demanded in a 28 August meeting with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that the interim government issue an amnesty for detained citizens and compensate people affected by the fighting. In return, al-Hindirah vowed to disarm the city and return control over it to the Iraqi National Guard and police. City council member Ra'd Hatim said the agreement also calls for the appointment of a new mayor and police chief, AP reported on 10 September. U.S. forces have also agreed to stop raiding private homes there, AP reported. KR

Kurdish officials confirmed the discovery of a mass grave in the northern Iraqi town of Halabjah, Al-Arabiyah reported on 9 September. The grave was discovered during the construction of a new road in the town. The grave reportedly contains the remains of women, children, and men dressed in Kurdish civilian attire and is thought to date to the 1988 massacre of the Kurds by the former Hussein regime in Halabjah. Al-Diyar television also reported the discovery of a mass grave in the southern Iraqi governorate of Al-Najaf on 9 September. The grave reportedly contains the bodies of 30 Iraqi policemen and civilians. KR

The Badr Organization of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) released a statement on SCIRI's website ( on 9 September criticizing loyalists of Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for attacking SCIRI's Al-Sadr City office in the Iraqi capital. The statement expressed surprise at the attack, adding: "The attack was perpetrated by ignorant persons who want to drag us into an internal battle, which we rise above. Therefore we appeal to the brothers in the Al-Sadr current to denounce such acts, punish those responsible, and cleanse this current of these ignorant elements, who want to drag us and them into internal fighting, which is prohibited under [Islamic] Shari'a law and is a red line that we all should not cross." KR