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Newsline - September 27, 2004

President Vladimir Putin told an international congress of news agencies in Moscow on 24 September that there will be "no turnaround" in the course that the country is on, and other media reported. "Russia made its choice 10 years ago. Russia wants to be, and will become, a democratic, socially oriented state with a market economy," Putin said. Putin defended the controversial political reforms he recently advocated. "For Russia, democracy and stability are of equal importance," he said. Putin repeated his statement that international terrorism has declared war on Russia and said the country must face this challenge. "If a robber comes up to you on the street and demands your wallet or your of course give him your wallet. But what do you do if he demands either your heart or your head? Do you have a choice [to fight him] or not? He gives you no choice," Putin said. Some 120 news agencies were represented at the congress. VY

Putin added that the mass media is a powerful tool and that journalists cannot be mere observers in the face of the international terror threat, reported. "Terrorists cynically exploit opportunities provided by the media and democracy in general to greatly increase the psychological and informational impact during hostage seizures and their aim, in the final judgment, is to destroy freedom of the press and the institutions of democracy," he said. Putin called on the media to find a way to make the mass media an effective "tool" against terrorists and to avoid "even the unintentional promotion of terrorists' goals." Putin admitted that he has difficulties working with the press. "There is a saying: 'Opening the window is noisy; closing it is stuffy.' But the war against terror should not be an excuse for suppressing the freedom and independence of the mass media," he added. "The critics within the mass media are very instrumental for the government at all levels, although sometimes [their criticism] can be very painful." VY

President Putin said that the international community should realize that international terrorism has already changed the world and that the international community should drop all double standards in defining terrorism and adopt a universal approach to international security, reported. "One should not use the links of the international terrorist network to try to achieve political objectives in relations with other countries," Putin said. "How can you say that two heads of a three-headed dragon are bad but one is good?" Putin also complained that the Western media use improper terminology regarding the events in Beslan and in writing about the resistance in Chechnya. "How can the awful tragedy in Beslan, the shooting of completely innocent children, be called a siege, as some media outlets called it, the 'Beslan siege'? Even animals don't act like that, and we call it a 'siege.' And we call the people who do this 'rebels'? If a person pursues political goals using these methods, all of us should have just one definition: murderer and terrorist," he concluded. VY

President Putin said at the congress of international news agencies that his administration has no plans to nationalize Yukos, RTR and the BBC reported. "The state did not set before itself the task of nationalizing this company or laying its hands on it. And there is no such aim now," he said. Putin noted, however, that in the event that the company goes bankrupt, the state could buy it. "If it comes to a sell-off of...assets or anything like this, any company, including those with state capital, can certainly take part," he said. He also noted that despite the possibility of such a development, the energy sector in Russia will, in general, stay in private hands, in contrast to most OPEC countries, where major oil concerns are state owned. VY

Mikhail Fradkov said after talks in Moscow with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on 24 September that despite the Yukos affair, Russia will provide the level of oil exports to China that was agreed upon in an earlier accord, RIA-Novosti reported. Fradkov also said that Russian-Chinese trade turnover this year is expected to hit $20 billion and could reach $60 billion by 2010. He added that China wants to make sizeable investments in gas-extraction projects in the Russian Far East and Siberia. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko stated that the government "will stimulate" all companies to export oil to China if Yukos is not be able to meet its obligations, reported on 24 September. On the same day, President Putin met Wen at the Kremlin. Speaking to journalists afterward, Wen said that Russia and China will sign an accord during Putin's planned state visit to China in mid-October on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. VY

Television commentator Mikhail Leontev said on 26 September that he supports President Putin's statement that outside forces are using international terrorism to promote the disintegration of Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2004). "There are such influential forces in the United States and Europe," said Leontev, speaking on Vladimir Pozner's prime-time ORT program, in an installment devoted to international terrorism. Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (Motherland); the chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia, Geidar Dzhamal; and head of the Political and Religious Researchers Center, Maksim Shevchenko, agreed with Leontev. Effective Politics Foundation President Gleb Pavlovskii, said "it is ridiculous to expect that the West will care about our territorial integrity more than our own politicians, who twice agreed to alienate our territory -- in 1991 during the disintegration of USSR and in 1996 during Khasavyurt, the accord with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov." "We still have legally functioning political parties whose leaders are calling for talks with Maskhadov and the leaders of terrorists," Pavlovskii continued. "As far as the West is concerned, what more can we expect from it, if it continues to call our mortal enemies 'separatists.'" VY

Aleksei Malashenko, a noted expert on Islam at the Moscow Carnegie Endowment, said on Pozner's program on 26 September that conflicts in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine undoubtedly fan the flames of international Islamist extremism. But, he said, everybody should pay attention to the fact that as quickly as terrorists from different groups all over the world are killed, their places are filled by others. "Today international terrorism has become an independent factor, and I assure you it will continue, even if there will be no more [conflicts in] Chechnya, Iraq, and Palestine. It is an international problem that will require an international solution," he said. VY

The Supreme Court on 27 September began hearing an appeal from Yabloko and the Communist Party seeking to invalidate the results of the 7 December 2003 parliamentary elections, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported. The suit charges that the Central Election Commission (TsIK) did not ensure equal participation for all parties in those elections and that it allowed the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party to exploit state resources, especially state-controlled national television, Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told the radio station. It also alleges irregularities in the counting of the ballots. Mitrokhin admitted that it is highly unlikely that the elections will be invalidated, but said a judicial examination of the campaign "will be very useful for making our election system more honest, transparent, objective, and fair." RC

The legislative commission investigating the Beslan school hostage taking earlier this month will not complete its work in less than six months, commission Chairman and Federation Council Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Torshin told RTR on 26 September. Torshin earlier said the commission would issue its report in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004). He said that the commission ended its fact-finding mission to North Ossetia with "more questions than answers" and said "the investigation will go far beyond North Ossetia and maybe beyond the North Caucasus," Interfax reported. Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told ITAR-TASS on 25 September that the commission has "tapped information that is not yet known either to the public or the media." NTV reported on 25 September that the commission had gathered some 4,000 pages of documents during its four days in Beslan. Torshin told NTV that the commander of the 58th Army and the North Ossetia emergency situations ministers sent their deputies instead of appearing themselves. The deputies were dismissed. The army commander appeared in person later and the minister will be summoned to testify in Moscow, Torshin said. RC

The Samara Oblast Prosecutor's Office has filed a case with a Samara court asking it to declare that the current term of Governor Konstantin Titov expired on 2 June 2004 and that his actions since that time have been illegal, Interfax reported on 24 September. Earlier an oblast court ruled that a 2002 amendment to the oblast charter extending the governor's term from four years to five does not apply to the current governor, "Gazeta" reported on 26 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). The TsIK appealed that ruling because it said the court named too early a date for holding a new gubernatorial election. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court has not yet heard the case, prosecutors are pushing to have the oblast court's decision enforced. "We received a clear order from the center and we will implement it," Lyudmila Gorozhanina, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office told "Gazeta." Titov dismissed the prosecutor's case as "political games," "Izvestiya" reported on 25 August. RC

The State Duma is expected to consider in the near future a bill on official state holidays that would increase the number of days off and would remove the anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution from that list, "Gazeta" reported on 27 September. The bill is cosponsored by Unified Russia, Motherland, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, meaning that it has every chance of making it through the lower chamber quickly. Among other changes, the bill would extend the official New Year's holiday from 1 January to 5 January and eliminate the Day of Reconciliation and Accord, which is now celebrated on 7 November, the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The latter holiday would be replaced with National Unity Day, to be celebrated on 4 November, the anniversary of the 1612 liberation of Muscovy from Polish occupiers. The bill would also cancel the 12 December Constitution Day holiday. In addition, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov has called for 27 April 2006 to be made a federal holiday marking the 100th anniversary of the creation of the State Duma, the daily reported. RC

Federal Pension Fund head Gennadii Batanov told a congress of the Russian Union of Pensioners on 25 September that Russia will have "worthy pensions" for women by 2022 and for men by 2027, NTV reported. He said that at present pensions average about one-third of the average salaries, while by those dates they should average 40-60 percent. He said the government's immediate goal is to raise average pensions above the official "pensioners' subsistence minimum" of 2,000 rubles ($67) per month. Batanov presented the results of a survey commissioned by the Pension Fund that found that 41 percent of pensioners say their pensions do not cover their minimal costs of living, while more than half do not believe the current pension reform will improve their personal situations, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 September. The fund anticipates problems in connection with the fact that the current ratio of 1.6 workers per pensioner is expected to fall to one worker per pensioner within 15 years. "We must begin thinking now how to resolve this problem, taking into consideration the experience of other countries," Batanov said, according to the daily. RC

Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev told ITAR-TASS on 25 September that "the Russian government needs to improve the support given to [agricultural] producers in Chechnya and the North Caucasus." "We should not kid ourselves with illusions that the general system of support will work in this region," Gordeev said. Gordeev noted that about 60 percent of the population of the region lives in rural areas and argued that agriculture "is capable not only of providing employment for the local population but also of speeding up the process of restoring peace here." He said that food-processing enterprises should be created in Chechnya. RC

The city of Moscow plans to issue 374 million euros ($458.3 million) worth of seven-year eurobonds with an annual yield of 6.45 percent, according to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 25 September. LF

Police arrested 13 leftist radicals who held an unsanctioned protest on Red Square on 26 September, Interfax reported. The demonstration was organized by the Red Youth Avant-garde to coincide with a sanctioned leftist demonstration elsewhere in the city. The sanctioned protest drew about 500 participants to a free concert on Slavyanskaya Square. Protestors carried signs saying, "Our home is the USSR" and "Down with the bourgeoisie," NTV reported, while participants in the unsanctioned demonstration shouted antigovernment slogans. RC

Two activists of the Motherland party were shot dead in Irkutsk on the night of 26-27 September, "Vesti Irkutska" reported. The victims were identified as Yan Travinskii, who was in charge of public relations for the local branch of Motherland, and Marina Murakhovskaya, who was a leader of the local branch. Travinskii was also a well-known journalist from St. Petersburg who wrote widely on crime and on connections between criminal groups and political parties. RC

Speaking on 24 September at a conference in Grozny on human rights in Chechnya, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles called for an end to abductions and other human-rights violations in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Gil-Robles condemned as "unacceptable" the recent hostage taking in North Ossetia and other terrorist acts in Russia, but at the same time pointed out that the Chechen people, too, have been subjected to terrorism over a long period. He called for the creation in Chechnya of a civil society, for free parliamentary elections, and for "the judicial authorities to put an end to violence." Addressing the same conference, Taus Dzhabrailov, who is chairman of the interim pro-Moscow Chechen legislature, similarly condemned widespread abuses against the civilian population over the past decade, according to the "Sunday Telegraph" on 26 September. LF

Assyrian residents of the village of Dimitrov, south of Yerevan, claimed on 24 September that the head of the local Armenian administration has withheld relief aid that they were entitled to receive in the wake of last summer's severe drought, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Irina Gasparian, a spokeswoman for Armenia's tiny Assyrian minority, also told RFE/RL that Assyrians are subject to discrimination and barred from holding government jobs. But a government official attributed the Dimitrov case to simple corruption, claiming that Armenian residents in the village have also complained about the local administrator in question. LF

Filip Dimitrov, who is OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi's special representative for the Karabakh conflict, concluded his visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan last week by meeting in Yerevan on 23 September with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 September. Discussing possible measures that could promote a conflict settlement, Ghukasian said security guarantees and the unrecognized republic's legal status would be key aspects of any agreement. Also on 23 September, Pasi met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, according to an OSCE press release cited by Groong. The two men discussed OSCE efforts to mediate a solution to the conflict. In addition, Pasi briefed Aliyev on Bulgaria's proposals for reforming the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). LF

Members of the Modern Musavat party, which was established in late 2001, have appealed to the Azerbaijani leadership to arrest party chairman Hafiz Hadjiev, whom they accuse of "antistate activity," Turan reported on 24 September. Party members allege that Hadjiev, who quit the opposition Musavat party to form his own party, has "betrayed the political course of [former President] Heidar Aliyev" and threatened a "velvet revolution" to oust current President Aliyev if the latter behaves "incorrectly." They also claim that Hadjiev registered for a parliament by-election without first obtaining the endorsement of fellow party members. Hadjiev contested the October 2003 Azerbaijani presidential election but garnered less than 1 percent of the vote. LF

Azerbaijan's senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, deplored on 24 September the lack of control over the publication of religious literature in the country, especially works that "insult our religion," reported on 25 September. Rafik Aliev, head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, told the website that although religious literature imported from abroad is strictly vetted, it is difficult to monitor material published locally. He said that fines have been imposed on some unnamed publishing houses for printing works considered offensive. LF

Three prominent Azerbaijani opposition parties -- the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Musavat party -- have formally applied to the Baku municipal authorities for permission to stage a protest march in the city on 2 October, reported on 25 September. Marchers plan to protest the failure of Azerbaijani authorities to comply with their commitments to the Council of Europe and to demand the release of political prisoners, the restoration of Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, and changes in the composition of local election commissions before the 17 December local elections. LF

Police on 24 September sealed the premises of the Georgian national mint in Tbilisi, preventing the enterprise's new director, Akaki Ramishvili, from entering his office, Caucasus Press reported. That same day, police also opened a criminal case against Ramishvili's predecessor, David Lortkipanidze, who on 20 September accused Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania of seeking to privatize the mint and sell its gold abroad. Lortkipanidze also claimed that he was blackmailed by unnamed senior officials who demanded an unspecified sum from him in exchange for keeping his job. On 24 September, staff members at the mint staged a demonstration to protest Lortkipanidze's dismissal, the Caucasus Press reported. LF

Otar Charkviani, chief of staff of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, has been arrested in connection with the misappropriation of some 82,000 laris ($42,708) in 2003 and 2004, Georgian media reported on 24 September. Charkviani was charged with negligence and abuse of his official position. LF

Security chiefs from all CIS member states except Turkmenistan met on 24 September in Almaty, Kazakhstan to discuss cooperation in the fight against narcotics trafficking, illegal migration, and terrorism, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Turkmen representatives attended as observers. The group unanimously elected Nartai Dutbaev, head of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), to replace Sergei Lebedev, head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, as its chairman. A KNB press release said that the meeting participants agreed on the need for effective, coordinated measures to handle security threats in the region. Lebedev told a press conference on 24 September, "Since international groups exist, we must unite our efforts against them because it is impossible to fight against such crimes on one's own," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Lebedev added that recent terror attacks in Russia and Uzbekistan underscored the urgency of the issue. DK

Nursultan Nazarbaev made a working visit to China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on 24-25 September, Khabar TV reported. He met with Wang Lequan, secretary of the XUAR Communist Party Committee, and the two signed an agreement to create an international border cooperation center at the Khorgos crossing, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev said, "The effective implementation of this project will allow large import-export companies from both countries to benefit from the advantages of cross-border trade." According to the Chinese side, the agreement will eventually open the door to a substantial increase in the $3.3 billion annual trade volume between the two countries, Khabar TV reported. Nazarbaev also spoke by phone with Chinese President Hu Jintao. DK

Several Kyrgyz opposition parties have decided to form a new political bloc under the leadership of former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, reported on 24 September. Called the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, the bloc will bring together both of the country's communist parties, the New Kyrgyzstan party, the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, Erkindik, Erk, Asaba, Kairan El, and Respublika. The new bloc's primary aim is to ensure fair and honest elections, New Kyrgyzstan leader Dosbol Nur uulu said. DK

Askar Akaev left Kyrgyzstan on 25 September for a five-day tour of the United States, reported. The Kyrgyz president will be in Utah from 25-27 September to hold meetings with the state's governor and Utah business leaders. On 28 September, Akaev will be in New York to attend the 59th session of the UN General Assembly, and on 28-29 September he will visit Boston to present his latest book, "Memorable Ten Years." DK

Maksim Peshkov, Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, told ITAR-TASS on 24 September that the transfer of the Tajik-Afghan border from Russian to Tajik jurisdiction is currently under way. He stressed, however, that the two countries will continue to cooperate closely on border-related issues as the handover progresses. The report noted that Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering a request from Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to extend the border handover process until the end of 2006. Prikhodko stated, "This request will be considered within the framework of the functioning working groups." DK

Uzbekistan now has a total of 568,000 Internet users and 348 Internet cafes, Uzbekistan's "Delovoi partner" reported on 24 September. The newspaper said the statistics were made public at a 20-21 September information and communications technologies forum in Tashkent, but it did not provide a source or detail the methodology for calculating the number of users. DK

The Central Election Commission (TsVK) has sustained 40 out of the 164 complaints from persons who were denied registration by district election commissions for the 17 October legislative elections, Belapan reported on 25 September. Earlier this month, Belarus's district election commissions registered 359 candidates to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives out of the 692 seeking registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2004). The most common official reasons for denying registration were incorrectly filled income and property declarations by candidates or irregularities in the signature lists of citizens supporting candidates. The 40 candidates allowed by the TsVK to join the ballot included opposition activists Valery Fralou, Yury Khadyka, Mechyslau Hryb, and Anatol Astapenka. On the other hand, the TsVK rejected complaints by Uladzimir Hancharyk, a challenger to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2001 presidential election, and Yaraslau Ramanchuk, deputy chairman of the opposition United Civic Party. Those rejected by the TsVk still have a chance to make the ballot by appealing to the Supreme Court. JM

Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych on 24 September suggested that supporters of his main presidential rival, Viktor Yushchenko, were behind the attack on him in Ivano-Frankivsk earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004), Ukrainian media reported. "I am sorry for those young men who did this to me," Yanukovych said in a statement. "But I have no questions for them. At the same time, I have a question for [their] leaders, for Yushchenko's entourage, who pushed the young men to do this.... Is it your policy? Is it human?" The Interior Ministry said in a statement that some persons in a crowd shouting slogans in support of Yushchenko threw "several hard objects" that hit the premier in his head and chest as he was stepping out from a bus in Ivano-Frankivsk. However, video footage of the incident presented by Channel 5 television in Ukraine later the same day and subsequently by major European television channels shows that Yanukovych was hit in the right side of his chest only by one raw egg, after which he collapsed and was immediately evacuated from the site by bodyguards. Yanukovych spent several hours in hospital and was shown on television later on 24 September without any apparent injuries. JM

Oleksandr Zinchenko, manager of Yushchenko's presidential election campaign, commented on 24 September that the attack on Yanukovych was a "purposeful provocation" against Yushchenko, Interfax reported. "Feeling sympathy with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who actually endured some unpleasant moments [today], we, however, consider that the Ivano-Frankivsk incident was a purposeful provocation against Viktor Yushchenko, which developed under a scheme tested long ago," Zinchenko said. "This scheme implies that Yushchenko is traditionally held accountable for the actions that are staged spontaneously or following an order from his opponents by some citizens who have no relations whatsoever to Yushchenko." JM

The official version of the incident in Ivano-Frankivsk seems to be the one publicized by the Interior Ministry which mentions "several hard objects" that hit Yanukovych. However, there is no unanimity of views in Ukraine as to the nature of these objects. The antigovernment website "Ukrayinska pravda" claims that there were no other objects apart from an egg that hit Yanukovych, after which the premier, according to the website, feigned a picturesque collapse. This opinion was initially corroborated by an Interior Ministry spokeswoman who commented imediately after the incident that Yanukovych was hit only by an egg thrown by a 17-year-old, a view that seemed consistent with video footage of the incident. Later, however, the ministry modified its stance and spoke about "several hard objects." Lawmaker Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the pro-government parliamentary coalition, said Yanukovych was hit by an egg in his temple and collapsed from a "pain shock." Lawmaker Taras Chornovil, who supports Yanukovych's presidential bid, claimed to have seen from an upper deck of Yanukovych's bus that the premier was hit on his temple by a stone. Serhiy Tihipko, head of Yanukovych's election campaign, said the premier was hit by a battery from a video camera. JM

Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which form the coalition "Force of the People" supporting Yushchenko's presidential bid, nominated Verkhovna Rada Deputy Speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko as head of the coalition's "central staff" on 25 September, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Tymoshenko reportedly called on Yushchenko's campaign leaders and activists to work as "one united team, without intrigues and confrontation." Earlier, there were two coordinating centers for Yushchenko's election campaign: the Our Ukraine staff headed by Roman Bezsmertnyy and the election campaign staff led by Zinchenko (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 22 June 2004). JM

U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Lawrence Butler told the Albanian-language weekly "Lobi" of 24 September that if a planned referendum against the government's redistricting plans succeeds, the country would face "uncertainty and delay" in meeting its overall policy goals, according to the weekly's English-language website ( Butler said that for Macedonian citizens "the choice is between not complying and not fulfilling the Framework Agreement [also known as the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement] because, for the foreseeable future, if the referendum would succeed there would be no decentralization as envisioned in the Framework Agreement." He added that not fulfilling the peace agreement would diminish Skopje's chances for joining NATO and the EU. Butler said that if Macedonians support the referendum, political turmoil and new elections could result. He added that the government must "communicate that the new [redistricting] plan is as good as any plan we know about and is the only plan we are dealing with." He said he has not seen a better alternative. (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). In recent weeks, several EU diplomats have made similar points. UB

The Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) has sent letters to the Bulgarian and Greek Orthodox Churches to protest against the participation of Bulgarian Bishop Kiril of Varna and Greek Metropolitan Ignatios of Volos in a 19 September meeting with Jovan Vraniskovski, who is the representative of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Macedonia, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 25 September. According to the Holy Synod, the meeting with Vraniskovski's "schismatic organization" amounted to "malicious interference in the internal affairs of our autocephalous Macedonian Orthodox Church." Vraniskovski, or Bishop Jovan, is a former bishop of the MPC who put his bishopric under the canonical jurisdiction of the SPC and was then excommunicated by the MPC. Late in 2003, the SPC named Bishop Jovan the head of its autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid. In August, a Macedonian court sentenced him for allegedly inciting religious hatred. Neither the SPC nor any other Orthodox churches recognize the MPC, regarding it as schismatic and the creation of the former Yugoslav communist authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003, and 6 and 15 January, 20 August, and 24 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002, and 23 January and 6 August 2004). UB

Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, who heads Bosnia's Islamic Community, told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" recently that Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member and chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, did nothing wrong in visiting former Bosnian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the UN Mohamed Sacirbey -- known in Bosnia as Sacirbegovic -- on a recent visit to New York, Hina reported on 26 September. The previous Bosnian Social Democratic government charged Sacirbey with embezzlement, and he is now under house arrest awaiting possible extradition. Ceric suggested that the previous government maliciously sought to discredit Sacirbey because of his links to the conservative nationalist Muslim Party of Democratic Action. Referring to the 2 October local elections, Ceric called on Muslims to vote for candidates "who are known for having worked and are willing to continue working for our own benefit." Ceric added that unspecified media are "promoting debauchery." He also said that drugs, pornography, and homosexuality are "evil" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April and 24 September 2004). PM

Serbian President Boris Tadic, who heads the Democratic Party, and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who leads the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), reached an agreement on 25 September in Belgrade on cooperation before and after the 3 October second round of Serbian local elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2004). They agreed to divide local government offices on a proportional basis and for lower-level committees to work out the details. Earlier, the DSS and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) failed to reach an agreement on cooperation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). In the first round of elections on 19 September, the Democrats and the SRS were the strongest vote getters. PM

Vuk Draskovic told the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September that the "demand for the establishment of a sovereign state of Kosovo is a demand for the destruction of the sovereign union of Serbia and Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 19 December 2004). Draskovic stressed the importance of establishing a "joint future" with his country's neighbors and of reducing the importance of borders. PM

Speaking at a 24 September press conference in Bucharest, Romanian Physicians Association (CMR) Chairman Mircea Cinteza said the country's doctors should receive a 60 percent pay raise, Mediafax reported. Cinteza said doctors' wages are 20 percent less than the average Romanian wage, even though physicians must train for 11 years. Noting that the average monthly salary of a health system worker is only 4.7 million lei ($140), he warned that low pay levels lead to corruption because health workers are forced to accept bribes. Cinteza noted that the recent 30 percent raise given to the country's teachers proved that the government can find funds when it is pressured to do so. Romanian teachers held protests in early September and threatened to boycott the start of the school year. ZsM

In a 24 September interview with RFE/RL, Vladimir Voronin said Moldova is willing to "raise to the highest level" its relations with Romania in spite of the countries' differences. Moldova is already "doing something in that respect," he said, citing bilateral economic relations that "develop very well and are increasing." Voronin said Chisinau will not insist on solving linguistic and cultural disagreements at the expense of other bilateral relations, and vowed to promote "a very attractive good-neighborly policy, with very serious proposals for our Romanian friends." He also said that although Chisinau is prepared to cooperate with Bucharest no matter which party wins the November elections, the current differences between the two countries "have a historical character and will have to be solved." ZsM

In the same interview, Voronin criticized the five-party negotiation format between Moldova and Transdniester, arguing that it is no longer working because unnamed forces in Russia and Ukraine have been covertly supporting the separatists. He said he wants international peacekeepers to replace the 500-strong Russian contingent of peacekeepers stationed in Transdniester. Voronin also admitted that Moldova's relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are cooling off, which is why he did not attend the recent CIS summit in Kazakhstan. He added, however, that the CIS represents "a good opportunity for better bilateral and multilateral relations." Voronin said he sees a parallel between the crisis this past summer in Transdniester and the crisis in Georgia's breakaway, pro-Russian South Ossetia region; both, he said, were orchestrated by outside forces. ZsM

The Chisinau Appeals Court on 24 September rejected a complaint by the Committee for the Protection of Professional and Human Dignity (CADUP) filed on behalf of protesting journalists at Teleradio Moldova, Flux reported. The complaint asked for the dismissal of the current Teleradio leadership and the reversal of the results of a rehiring procedure. Judge Ion Secrieru said the complaint was "without basis" and that he will explain his decision within 15 days. CADUP lawyer Dorin Chirtoaca said he will appeal the decision. In a related development, a group of journalists who had been protesting in front of the radio building said they had ended those protests and stopped their hunger strikes. Journalist Svetlana Frumusachi said the protesters will begin holding daily rallies in front of the parliament building. ZsM

Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop told Reuters in Ljubljana on 23 September that his country might "not allow any further procedures regarding Croatia's accession to the EU." He added that Croatia must "accept the European policy of avoiding conflicts." A Slovenian diplomat who declined to be identified told the news agency that his government will raise the "issue of Croatia" at the EU foreign ministers' meeting slated for 11 October. The diplomat did not specify what Ljubljana will ask the EU to do.

These statements by Rop and the diplomat follow a recent incident in which Croatian border guards briefly arrested 12 Slovenes, including two legislators, for allegedly failing to show their documents at the Secovlje border crossing. The Slovenes had just visited Slovenian nationalist politician Josko Joras, who lives in one of three disputed villages in the border area.

The incident did not come out of the blue. As in previous summers, friction between Slovenia and Croatia over the Bay of Piran and other maritime issues have marred relations in 2004. Slovenian politicians are also using that --as well as the latest -- dispute to score points with voters ahead of the 3 October parliamentary elections.

On 11 September Rop, accompanied by Transportation Minister Marko Pavliha and Foreign Minister Ivo Vajgl, donned coveralls to cast shark nets into the bay in front of photographers. Later, Vajgl commented that Slovenian fishermen are afraid to cross the centerline of the bay because "pirates rather than colleagues" await them there.

The comment signaled a change of tone for the government, which until now has stressed friendly relations and support for Croatian EU membership, which is a top priority for Zagreb.

Nongoverning parties have been less reserved. The newly formed Active Slovenia (AS) party has reacted to tensions with Croatia with near hysteria. In a statement in "Delo" on 21 September, the party urged the government to respond to all incidents with official complaints to the EU, NATO, and the UN Security Council to block Croatian EU accession and to demand NATO protection.

Tensions at the coast have affected relations inland as well. On 19 September, Croatia opened a new cross-border tourism zone northwest of Zagreb, even though the necessary arrangements were not worked out with Slovenia. Mladen Norsic, the Croatian head of the project, commented, "We can't even talk with the Slovenes before their election, because at this moment they're obviously not ready to cooperate with Croatia," "Delo" reported on 22 September.

One of the thornier issues in Slovenian-Croatian relations is the dispute over three border villages, marked by the efforts of the aforementioned Joras to keep his property under Slovenian jurisdiction. Under the unratified 2001 Drnovsek-Racan agreement, the villages were ceded to Croatia. Croatia has now rejected the agreement but has insisted on extending its jurisdiction over the contested villages anyway. On 23 September, Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek commented that Croatia has essentially implemented the provisions of the agreement in its favor while rejecting others -- including concessions in the Bay of Piran.

Joras's troubles started 11 years ago, when Croatian authorities tried to bar him from "importing" 11 liters of milk and a washing machine purchased in Slovenia. On 21 August this year, after Croatian authorities impounded a load of lumber, Joras and his friends blocked the Secovlje border crossing for over an hour in protest.

An interview with Joras's neighbors published in "Delo" on 31 August raised the question of why Joras -- who moved to the area from Maribor -- continues to face such troubles. "We've been here for 150 years and have never had such problems," commented Costantino Pribaz. However, Joras's raised profile has clearly won him backing in some quarters -- Joras is a Slovenian People's Party (SLS) candidate in the upcoming elections, albeit for District 3 (Ljubljana-Center) and not District 2, where his house is located.

Tensions with Croatia escalated sharply on 23 September when Croatian police detained the head of the SLS, Janez Podobnik, and 12 other SLS members when they refused to identify themselves to Croatian officials at the Secovlje border crossing after they visited Joras. A struggle ensued in which Podobnik was punched in the stomach, and the Slovenes were held for five hours. Prime Minister Rop condemned the action by the Croatian police, and Foreign Minister Vajgl notified the EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, that the incident was unacceptable. Slovenian Interior Minister Rado Bohinc charged that the incident violated a bilateral agreement to avoid altercations.

The view was somewhat different from the other side of the border. Zagreb's "Vecernji list" reported that the politicians were escorted across the border after illegally entering Croatia, and Rijeka's "Novi list" printed a denial by the Croatian police that any physical abuse had occurred. President Stipe Mesic stressed the importance of rejecting violence and finding a solution "around a table," with outside mediation if need be.

In response to the incident, Slovenia recalled its ambassador to Croatia "for consultation." Slovenian political parties also took a tough stance. The Slovenian Youth Party criticized both the SLS for provoking the incident and condemned the government's policy toward Croatia as "spineless," the online news site reported. The Slovenian National Party called upon Slovenia to initiate procedures for removing Croatia's EU candidacy status.

The opposition New Slovenia party blamed the current center-left government for taking a weak stance on Croatia, while the coalition member Democratic Party of Retired Persons blamed the diplomacy of ex-Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel -- now a candidate for the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party -- for poor relations with Croatia. Foreign Minister Vajgl of the governing Liberal Democracy of Slovenia party, characterized the incident as a stunt staged by the SLS.

It remains to be seen whether Slovenian parties will find common ground on relations with Croatia, let alone reach an understanding with their Croatian colleagues. At least until 3 October, the chance for any solution appears remote.

Donald Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University doctoral candidate based in Ljubljana.

Suspected neo-Taliban militiamen killed nine Afghan soldiers in attacks on security checkpoints in Helmand Province on 24 September, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported the next day. Helmand security commander Amanullah said the attacks occurred in the vicinity of Shorab, adding that he has no doubt that the assailants were neo-Taliban. No arrests have been made, Amanullah said. Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, offered different figures. Hakimi told AIP on 25 September that "three groups of Taliban fighters attacked three security checkpoints on the highway in Helmand," killing 11 soldiers. AT

Abdul Ghafar, a "prominent" neo-Taliban commander according to a senior Afghan official, was killed in Oruzgan Province on 25 September, AIP reported the next day. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad said that provincial forces ambushed Abdul Ghafar, killing him and two of his bodyguards. Purported neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi told AIP that he does not "know any Taliban commander whose name is Mawlawi Abdul Ghafar." He claimed that the Afghan "government authorities usually, for their own benefit, describe an ordinary Taliban member as a senior commander." Abdul Latif Hakimi (not to be confused with Latifullah Hakimi), also purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, confirmed Abdul Ghafar's death but denied that he was a regional commander, adding that the neo-Taliban "commander for Oruzgan Province is sound and alive," AFP reported on 27 September. This is not the first time that contradictory information has emerged from seemingly different individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban. AT

Abdul Ghafar, described as a neo-Taliban regional commander in reports of his death, was released from U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay in February, AFP reported on 27 September, quoting Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad. Abdul Ghafar "rejoined the ousted Taliban after being released from prison...[and] was appointed as Taliban regional financial and operational commander for southern Afghanistan," Jan Mohammad said. In his statement denying that Abdul Ghafar was a senior neo-Taliban commander, Abdul Latif Hakimi asked: "If he was a top commander, why he was released from U.S. prison in Guantanamo [Bay]?" During his recent trip to the United States to attend the UN General Assembly, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai secured the release of 11 Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including a former senior Taliban commander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 September 2004). AT

Chairman Karzai's 26 September visit to Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jowzjan Province, to inaugurate a road was reportedly intended to provide an opportunity for Karzai to meet rival presidential candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Akbar Bay, a former representative of Dostum's in Kabul, claimed to Hindukosh that the primary aim of Karzai's visit was to seek a deal with Dostum, whose power base lies in Sheberghan. In a rare visit to northern Afghanistan, Karzai jokingly hinted that Dostum ought to drop out of the race, Reuters reported on 26 September. Many observers see Karzai as the front-runner to win the first round of the presidential election on 9 October. But there are reportedly concerns in Karzai's camp that with 17 other candidates in the race, the current Afghan leader might fail to secure an outright majority, necessitating a runoff vote. AT

Antiriot police and other security personnel turned out and the streets around Tehran University were closed as a mysterious demonstration began in the early afternoon of 26 September, Radio Farda reported ( From Tehran, Radio Farda's Arsh Qavidel reported that he did not hear slogans being chanted, but that Vali Asr Avenue was full of people. He also said he did not witness any violence between demonstrators and security forces. The reason for the demonstration was unclear, Qavidel said, but it took place on the anniversary of the liberation of Khorramshahr in the Iran-Iraq War, and certain foreign satellite television stations had been broadcasting calls to demonstrate. Qavidel added that he saw people congratulating each other during the demonstration. ISNA reported on 26 September that demonstrators in front of Tehran University were chanting slogans, dancing, and distributing flowers. BS

Attorney Mohammad Sadeq Al-Mohammad was quoted by Iranian newspapers on 26 September as saying that the country's Supreme Court has partially overturned a 27-year jail sentence on his client, Shahram Jazayeri-Arab, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 November 2002). Jazayeri was the central defendant in a recent corruption case involving 50 defendants, many of them sons of prominent clerics known colloquially as "aqazadeh." Al-Mohammad said the case has been sent back to the lower court and that he will file another appeal with the Supreme Court. In another corruption-related matter, Tehran Public Prosecutor Hojatoleslam Said Mortazavi was quoted by "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 26 September as saying that an assassination attempt had been made on an official who was investigating corruption in Karaj. Mortazavi said efforts are under way to identify the gunmen who opened fire on Motamedi's car while it was traveling on the Tehran-Karaj highway. Seven bullets hit the vehicle but Motamedi was not killed. BS

A car-bomb explosion on 26 September killed Hamas official Izz al-Din al-Sheikh Khalil, international news agencies reported. Unnamed security sources reportedly claimed that Israel was involved in the killing, "Ha'aretz" reported on 27 September, but a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denied any knowledge of the bombing, which occurred just after Khalil entered his parked sports utility vehicle. According to Arab affairs commentator Oded Granot, Khalil was a relatively low-ranking member of Hamas in charge of smuggling weapons into the occupied territories of Israel, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 27 September. Avi Dichter, director of Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency, told the Israeli cabinet on 19 September that Iran has been managing Hamas activities in Gaza directly, the Voice of Israel reported on 20 September. The U.S. State Department, furthermore, said in its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report that Hamas "receives some funding from Iran but primarily relies on donations from Palestinian expatriates around the world and private benefactors." BS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 26 September that Tehran's diplomatic efforts to secure the release of a kidnapped diplomat have not borne fruit, IRNA reported. Consular official Fereidun Jahani disappeared on the highway from Baghdad to Karbala on 8 August and, soon after, the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to be holding him (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004). Later that month, a delegation that included personnel from the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security went to Baghdad to pursue the case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 August 2004). Assefi said on 26 September: "We have taken many measures for the release of Mr. Jahani and used all our diplomatic capacities." He added that Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi discussed Jahani's case with his counterpart, Hoshyar al-Zebari, when they met at the 21-24 September UN General Assembly meeting in New York. BS

Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani traveled to Tehran on 25 September, according to Kurdistan Satellite television, and met the following day with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, news agencies reported. Both Khatami and Rohani told Barzani that they hope foreign troops will leave Iraq soon, and stressed the importance of unity between the country's different ethnic groups, IRNA reported. Khatami and Rohani also said that democratic elections and a constitution are essential to the establishment of an Iraqi government. Khatami said that Iran respects the views and activities of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. With regard to bilateral relations, Khatami said that "insecurity in Iraq will have negative impacts [sic] on Iran-Iraq relations," IRNA reported. Barzani told his hosts that the majority of Iraqi people have good feelings towards Iran and want friendly ties. BS

U.S. military forces mounted a second day of raids on insurgent-held Al-Fallujah on 25 September, the BBC reported on 26 September. The U.S. military said the strike targeted about 10 suspected militants affiliated with terrorist Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi who were meeting in the city center and planning future attacks, Reuters reported on 26 September. In an official statement, the U.S. military said, "Multiple secondary explosions following the strike indicate the site was used by terrorists to store explosives and weapons." Witnesses said that two buildings were destroyed, the AP reported on 25 September. Hospital officials said 16 people were killed and 37 wounded. Al-Fallujah City Commissioner Mahmud Al-Jarisi said the attack occurred in a densely populated area and killed only civilians, Al-Jazeera reported on 27 September. Insurgents seized control of Al-Fallujah in April following a three-week assault by U.S.-led forces. EA

Attacks in Iraq have increased to approximately 70 daily, according to a study by U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Kroll Security International, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 September. The company's survey of attacks chronicled a diverse array of tactics, ranging from Molotov cocktails hurled by young men to explosions by suicide bombers. In the period before the 28 June transfer of power to the interim government, between 40 and 50 attacks were being reported daily. In a separate report, statistics from the Iraq Health Ministry revealed that U.S.-led strikes are killing twice as many Iraqis as are attacks by insurgents, Knight Ridder reported on 25 September. Appearing on ABC's "This Week" on 26 September, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged the rise in attacks, international media reported the same day. "Yes, it's getting worse, and the reason it's getting worse is that they are determined to disrupt the elections," Powell said. EA

Officials from the Iraqi Health Ministry said a strain of Hepatitis that especially affects pregnant women has broken out, "The New York Times" reported on 25 September. The outbreak of Hepatitis E has occurred in Sadr City, near the outskirts of Baghdad, and Mahmudiya, 35 miles south of Baghdad. The disease has so far caused five deaths, with 125 cases of illness reported in Sadr City and 60 in Mahmudiya, although those numbers may be low due to underreporting. The outbreak has been linked to the breakdown of sewage and sanitation systems in these areas, but a direct cause has not been determined. In an effort to stem the spread of the disease, the World Health Organization is sending testing kits and water purification tablets to Iraq. There is no known vaccine for the disease, and scientists are uncertain why survival rates for Hepatitis E are lower among pregnant women. EA

Talib Al-Lahibi, a senior commander with the Iraqi National Guard, was arrested on 23 September for suspected links to the insurgency, the AP reported on 26 September. Al-Lahibi led three battalions around Baquba and was responsible for security in the Diyala governorate, which is located north of Baghdad and contains much of the restive Sunni Triangle. Al-Lahibi previously served as an officer under deposed President Saddam Hussein and had been in his current post for less than one week, the BBC reported on 26 September. He was nominated for the position by fellow guardsmen after his predecessor was assassinated. U.S. Army spokesman Major Neal O'Brien, who announced the arrest, did not disclose any of the evidence connecting Al-Lahibi to the insurgency. EA

Trade on the Baghdad Stock Exchange is approaching the daily volume that typically occurred under Saddam Hussein's regime, Al-Zaman reported on 23 September. Nearly 100 companies are listed on the exchange, approximately the same number that traded before the U.S.-led invasion. Officials reported high volume over the past week due to the initial public offering of Al-Hukma Pharmaceuticals, which traded more than 112 million shares. More than 4 billion dinars ($2.8 million) of stock changed hands during the first session last week, with high volume in the agricultural sector. The Baghdad Stock Exchange has been operating for 10 years and is open two days a week. EA