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Newsline - October 5, 2004

Several unidentified officials with French oil giant Total have been questioned by prosecutors in France in connection with allegations that they paid bribes to gain access to oil concessions in Russia and Iraq, "Vedomosti" reported on 4 October, citing the French daily "Le Monde." "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 1 October that investigators are looking into the possibility that as much as $20 million in bribes was passed through a Total subsidiary called Teliac in exchange for oil-exploration permits in Russia and Iraq between 1996 and 2001. News of the investigation came just days after Total announced that it was purchasing a 25 percent plus one share stake in Novatek, Russia's largest independent natural-gas producer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2004). RC

"The Sunday Times" reported on 3 October that an unnamed "former senior aid" to President Putin accepted about $580,000 in bribes in exchange for support for the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the U.S.-led military action to depose him. The newspaper reported that unnamed members of Russian political parties, Foreign Ministry officials, and Russian oil company managers are also implicated in the scandal. The unnamed Putin aid reportedly arranged for the sale of 3.9 million barrels of Iraqi oil in the second half of 2002. RC

Aleksandr Zhukov told a cabinet session on 4 October that the Duma will vote on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to limit the emission of gases widely believed to cause global warming, sometime this month, Interfax reported. It had earlier been reported that the Duma would consider the measure only next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). Zhukov said the government "has already begun the appropriate consultations with deputies," the news agency reported. RC

President Vladimir Putin on 4 October issued a decree increasing the wages of military personnel and officials and staff of the country's main security organs, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the Kremlin's website ( The decree increases the monthly salary of the heads of the Defense, Interior, and Emergency Situations ministries, as well as the heads of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and the Federal Antinarcotics Service to 21,600 rubles ($720). The decree also gives those officials a monthly bonus equal to 3.3 times their monthly salary and a quarterly bonus equal to one monthly salary. The decree also gave raises to military personnel and officials involved in combating terrorism, the news agency reported. RC

In a column published in "The Moscow Times" on 5 October, New Economic School assistant professor Konstantin Sonin argued that President Putin's proposal to replace the direct election of regional governors with a system under which local legislators approve candidates nominated by the president could mean the end of other direct elections in Russia. Sonin notes that in nearly half of the federation's 89 subjects, one-third or more of the population lives in the region's largest city. He argued that appointed governors would have extremely limited public legitimacy and influence and would be unable to compete with popularly elected heads of major cities. "Scrapping mayoral elections is therefore the obvious next step in the process," Sonin wrote. "Inductive reasoning suggests that all remaining direct elections will be gradually phased out as well." RC

Speaking on journalist Vladimir Pozner's popular talk show "Vremena" on 3 October, Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation chairman Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia), said he believes the political reforms proposed by President Putin do not violate the Russian Constitution as they do not end elections, but merely make them indirect. "If the people are unhappy with the governors selected by the president, according to the new regulations, they can [show their dissatisfaction by electing] a new president, and the new president would appoint new governors," he said. The leader of the Duma's Motherland faction, Dmitrii Rogozin, argued that that today's directly elected governors do not have full power in their regions, as the regional FSB and Interior Ministry offices are subordinate not to them, but to Moscow. "Such a situation leads to chaos and disorganization as we witnessed during the Beslan events," Rogozin noted. VY

The governors of Krasnodar and Krasnoyarsk krais, Aleksandr Tkachev and Aleksandr Khloponin, respectively, said on 3 October that they back Putin's reform proposals because they are supporters of an unitary, not federal state. Putin's proposals, in fact, would lead to greater decentralization, because currently he mistrusts some governors and therefore is continually striving to take powers away from those leaders, Khloponin said. If his trusted appointees are in power, Putin is likely to delegate more power to them, including economic powers, he added. The unitary state might be a good idea, but it is unconstitutional because the constitution states that Russia is a federation, political commentator Leonid Radzikhovskii said. Even more importantly, this proposal will cause strong opposition among Tatars, Bashkirs, and other peoples who already have their national republics, he added. "So we should convince them that the new order will be better," said Gleb Pavlovskii, the director of the Effective Politics Foundation. VY

In a separate interview on ORT on 3 October, Pavlovskii revealed that he took part in drafting President Putin's political reforms but advocated another variation of them. "True, I supported another variant of the elections of the governors because [Putin's] option is too risky and imposes too much responsibility on Putin. In addition, Putin's reforms do not solve the problem of corruption," noted Pavlovskii. The main problem, he continued, is that nobody except Putin is prepared to take responsibility for reforming the system. "Putin's opponents, who only yesterday criticized the old political system, now are saying 'don't touch it,' [but] without giving arguments as to why," he said. A lack of alternatives to Putin's plan shows, he said, that Putin's opponents will soon or later accept the reforms. VY

In the same interview, Pavlovskii said that Russia openly supports Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the race for Ukrainian president because the Kremlin likes the main parts of his platform. Pavlovskii, who recently returned from Kyiv where he met with Yanukovych campaign officials, said that in the event that he is elected, Yanukovych has pledged to introduce dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship and make Russian the second state language in Ukraine. He has also promised that Kyiv would not join NATO. "The first point means that we will have two economies, but one common business; the second point means we will have two nations, but one community," Pavlovskii said. As for Yanukovych's pledge about NATO, Pavlovskii said it will help Ukraine preserve its military-industrial complex, which under NATO membership would be redundant. Pavlovskii also criticized the leader of Our Ukraine and the main opposition presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, for "his efforts to engage the West in an anti-Russian game." VY

Mark Levin, a professor at Moscow's Higher Economic School, said that according to a study by his institution, corruption in Russia's education system has reached staggering proportions, with parents spending about $1 billion to bribe teachers every year, TV-Tsentr reported on 4 October. Education is free in Russia but, in reality, bribes are taken by teachers from kindergarten to college. Buying a diploma from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) can cost $14,500, the study said. "I do not want to go to a dentist who did not learn his profession but simply bought a diploma," Levin said. "In the same way, I do not trust the political skills of a diplomat who bought his diploma as he likely believes that everything, including his diplomatic activity, can be bought and sold." He noted that corruption in higher education is "still very modest compared to corruption among state officials." VY

Aleksei Gordeev told President Putin on 4 October that the country will harvest 76 million tons of grain this year, an increase of 14 percent over last year, ITAR-TASS reported. "We will fully meet Russia's grain needs," Gordeev said. RC

Alu Alkhanov was sworn in as head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya on 5 October amid tight security in Grozny, Russian and international media reported. The ceremony was attended by the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, and the heads of the other federation subjects in the district, reported. Alkhanov was named the victor of a highly controversial election on 29 August that was held to replace former Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was assassinated in Grozny on 9 May. Chechnya's representative in the presidential administration, Ziyad Sabsabi, told Ekho Moskvy on 4 October that parliamentary elections will be held in the republic "in April or May." The elections had been scheduled for October, but were postponed following Kadyrov's assassination. Sabsabi noted that all the major parties in Russia have opened branches in the republic and said they will all participate in the elections. Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Aleksei Malashenko told on 5 October that the parliamentary elections present the republic's best chance to elect moderate leaders that are truly representative of the population. RC

A coalition of 50 Armenian nongovernmental organizations criticized a new Council of Europe report on 4 October for presenting an overly positive assessment of the Armenian government's human-rights record, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Council of Europe report, issued under the direction of Polish lawmaker Jerzy Jaskiernia, will serve as the basis for a new resolution on Armenia to be adopted by the council's 45-nation Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) at its autumn session next week. The new resolution will assess Armenia's compliance with an earlier April 2004 PACE resolution that had criticized Armenian authorities for a heavy-handed response to opposition demonstrations and its mass arrest of opposition activists as "contrary to the letter and the spirit" of their commitments to the Council of Europe. The earlier resolution called on the government to end "unjustified restrictions" on peaceful protests, release all opposition detainees, and investigate "human rights abuses" reported during the crackdown. RG

The new report cited the fact that nearly all opposition supporters and activists have been released from detention and noted that the government had conducted a thorough investigation of alleged human-rights abuses. It further stated that "peaceful demonstrations continue to be authorized and officials have refrained from suppressing free speech. Leaders of the civic groups condemned the report for "distorting facts" and for failing to "reflect the real situation in the country." RG

Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power plant resumed operations on 4 October after completing a cycle of regularly scheduled repairs and refueling, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The Medzamor light-water reactor, which meets about 40 percent of the country's total energy needs, was shut down for more than two months to undergo refueling and regular maintenance. The Soviet-designed reactor, initially constructed in 1979, was also subject to a safety inspection by a team of technical experts from the Czech Skoda engineering firm. A delivery of $12 million in Russian nuclear fuel was used to replace roughly one-third of the facility's fuel and is expected to ensure operations until at least 2005. The Russian RAO Unified Energy Systems utility assumed management of the Medzamor plant in 2003 in return for the cancellation of $40 million in outstanding Armenian debt for past Russian fuel supplies. The plant is roughly 35 kilometers west of Yerevan. RG

Vazgen Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Artarutiun (Justice) alliance, accused President Robert Kocharian of seeking a third term in office, in violation of the constitutional limit of two terms, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 October. Manukian, a former premier and defense minister, added that President Kocharian is using the planned deployment of Armenian military peacekeepers to Iraq as a way to garner U.S. support for his plans. The opposition leader explained that the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency will be revised by the Armenian authorities during a national referendum on proposed constitutional amendments planned for July 2005. The current set of amendments does not include any such measure, and Kocharian has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to remain in power after his second term expires in 2008. RG

Safar Abiev arrived in Ankara on 5 October for a two-day visit, Turan reported. Abiev met with General Hilmi Ozkok, the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, and other senior officials to review plans to update the May 2002 bilateral agreement on military cooperation treaty. To date, Azerbaijan and Turkey have signed two bilateral accords and seven protocols covering a wide range of military cooperation, training, and assistance. The Defense Minister also discussed proposed modifications to the agreement reached in July 1999 on the deployment of Azerbaijani peacekeepers to Kosovo as part of a larger Turkish contingent. Prior to his arrival in Ankara, Abiev also met on 4 October with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security James McDougal. The Defense Department official briefed Abiev on the expanded U.S. military program for Azerbaijan, including counterproliferation, pipeline and maritime security in the Caspian Sea. RG

Ilham Aliyev met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield on 4 October in Baku, Turan reported. The two discussed the status of bilateral relations, with a focus on the latest developments in U.S. foreign assistance to the country. Azerbaijani officials also updated Bloomfield on the country's energy sector and discussed the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline. RG

President Aliyev also met on 4 October with visiting Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, Turan reported. In Baku for a one-day visit, the Finnish Foreign Minister also met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade. They discussed bilateral relations and raised the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, stressing that the unresolved conflict must be addressed within the European Union's strategic initiative in the South Caucasus. RG

Officials of the Abkhaz Central Electoral Commission released in Sukhum preliminary results on 4 October from the five-candidate presidential elections held the previous day, the Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. With voter turnout estimated at 63 percent, the early results showed Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba as the winner, with 53 percent of the vote, followed by opposition candidate Sergei Bagapsh, with 34 percent of the vote, according to the Caucasus Press. The election of Khadjimba, the handpicked successor to President Vladislav Ardzinba, was immediately challenged by the opposition who argued that Bagapsh actually won with 63 percent of the vote. Soon after the release of the preliminary figures, however, election officials dismissed the release as premature and retracted the results. The two candidates dominated the contest and offer a contrast because of their different backgrounds even though each share the goal of an independent Abkhazia and close relations with Russia. The strongly pro-Russian Khadjimba, who also has the personal support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a former Soviet KGB officer, while Sergei Bagapsh, the head of the local state-run energy monopoly and also a former premier, presents a more moderate nationalist platform. RG

Some 1,000 supporters of Abkhaz Premier and presidential candidate Khadjimba rallied in the Abkhaz capital Sukhum to protest alleged voting irregularities in the recent presidential election, the Caucasus Press reported. Although initial figures announced a victory for Khadjimba, elections officials later rejected the announcement as premature and have not yet released decisive figures. In response to the confusion, Khadjimba accused unnamed groups of violating election regulations and intimidating voters in support of his rival, Bagapsh. In turn, Bagapsh claimed that he won an outright majority of votes and accused his rival of engaging in voter fraud. RG

The OSCE chairman-in-office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, issued a statement on 4 October expressing his concern over the holding of presidential elections in Abkhazia, Civil Georgia reported. The OSCE statement affirmed support for the territorial integrity of Georgia and stressed that it recognizes neither the independence of Abkhazia nor the election. Noting that "refugees and internally-displaced persons should be enabled to return to their homes in Abkhazia in safety and dignity before any election in the region can be held," the OSCE rejected the election as "illegitimate and unacceptable." RG

Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava stated in on 4 October that Bagapsh has won the Abkhaz presidential election with 60 percent of the vote, the Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. But Khaindrava noted that Abkhaz authorities have already begun to falsify the election results in order to ensure the victory of their candidate, Prime Minister Khadjimba. The Georgian minister added that the Georgian government seeks to resume negotiations with Abkhazia, and "with whoever is in power in Sukhumi," ITAR-TASS reported. RG

Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov met on 4 October in Astana with Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, Kazinform reported. The two discussed the possibility of transporting Kazakh oil to foreign markets from Iranian seaports, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Akhmetov said, "There are chances to develop the transport of oil through Iranian ports or rail transit to the seashore on Iran's foreign borders." Shariatmadari said that a new agreement could significantly increase the amount of Kazakh wheat and oil exports to Iran, IRNA reported. Akhmetov noted that trade volume between the two countries is rising, with $320 million in the first half of 2004 as against $400 million for all of 2000, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

Kazakhstan's opposition and independent observers offered critical statements in the wake of 3 October second-round elections in 22 single-mandate constituencies, agencies reported. Representatives of the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol told a news conference in Almaty on 4 October that "The second round exceeded any conceivable boundaries as far as vote-rigging, falsifications, and voter bribing are concerned," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Kazakh National Network of Independent Observers announced at a news conference on 4 October that "gross violations took place at all stages of the election process," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. For its part, the Central Election Commission announced that turnout in the 3 October run-offs was 44 percent, with over 1 million people voting, Khabar TV reported. DK

Two committees from Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly will examine allegations of widespread violations of electoral legislation during election campaigns for seats on local councils, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 4 October. The same day, reported that the Central Election Commission (CEC) has warned of violations of electoral legislation by officials from the executive branch. The CEC reminded officials of President Aksar Akaev's admonition to prevent interference in elections and the use of administrative resources. Elections to local councils are scheduled for 10 October. DK

Amnesty International condemned Belarus and Uzbekistan as "the last countries from the former Soviet Union that carry out the death penalty," in a 4 October press release on the organization's site ( The press release announces a new report, "Belarus/Uzbekistan: The Last Executioners," which contains case studies and recommendations. Dilobar Khudoiberganova, an activist with the Uzbekistan-based organization Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 4 October that "Most death sentences are issued on the basis of testimony obtained under duress during the investigation." Amnesty International's Anna Sunder-Plassman told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that she hopes Belarus and Uzbekistan will follow the example of other countries of the former Soviet Union in doing away with capital punishment.

Government price increases in Uzbekistan caused the price of a 600-gram loaf of bread to rise from 125 sums ($0.12) to 150 sums ($0.144) on 2 October, reported on 4 October. This is the second increase this year; the price already rose from 110 sums to 125 sums. The report links the rise in bread prices to an August government decision to increase salaries for state-budget employees and pensions by 30 percent. Price hikes in other areas followed. But an employee at UzDonMahsulot, the state-run grain company, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 4 October on condition of anonymity that bread prices rose because the state is paying more for the wheat it purchases from peasants. Individuals queried by an RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent said that the price hike will come as a blow to Uzbekistan's large numbers of poor, whose diet consists primarily of bread and tea. DK

Police officers with submachine guns detained Henadz Ananyeu, a parliamentary election candidate from the opposition United Civic Party (AHP), and members of his election staff in Orsha on 3 October, preventing them from pasting Ananyeu's campaign posters around town, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 4 September. Ananyeu told RFE/RL that the police officers realized that he was conducting a legal election campaign but detained him and his supporters in order to intimidate them. "That's their usual way," Ananyeu said. "They keep us in custody for one or two hours and then let us go. In most cases they even do not draw up a [detention] record." Meanwhile, two other AHP candidates, Valyantsina Palevikova and Alyaksandr Dabravolski, have not yet recovered their campaign leaflets that police confiscated from them on 1 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2004). JM

The presidium of the government-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus has called on voters to say "yes" to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency in the 17 October referendum, Belapan reported on 3 October. "The foundation of a strong and prosperous state has already been laid in our country," the presidium said in a statement. "Belarus is ahead of all CIS countries in terms of economic development and per capita income. And today we should make a choice that will preserve and develop these welcome trends." A call for supporting Lukashenka in the referendum also came on 3 October from Chamber of Representatives Chairman Vadzim Papou, who opened the house's last session before the 17 October legislative elections. The session passed a 2005 budget bill in the first reading. The bill projects revenues at some $8.5 billion and a deficit of $420 million. JM

A group of Our Ukraine lawmakers and supporters on 2 October found some 100,000 leaflets caricaturizing opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko as a promoter of U.S. interests in Ukraine, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 4 October. The leaflets were discovered on the premises of the Novyy Druk printing house in Kyiv, which is reportedly co-owned by Vyacheslav Pustovoytenko, son of lawmaker and former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko. Vyacheslav Pustovoytenko reportedly was beaten in a scuffle that ensued after the discovery of the leaflets. Police have opened a criminal investigation into the alleged beating of the younger Pustovoytenko, while Our Ukraine has filed a suit against Novyy Druk for disseminating illegal publications. Moreover, on 2 October, another group of Our Ukraine deputies revealed some nine tons of anti-Yushchenko materials stored at a knitting factory in Kyiv. JM

Two leading presidential candidates, Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, have refused to take part in planned campaign debates on the national Ukrainian Television ahead of the presidential ballot on 31 October, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 4 October. Yanukovych's election staff announced that their candidate will take part in such a debate after he qualifies for the second round. Socialist Party leader and presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz, who agreed to take part in a draw that determined pairs of candidates for the televised debates, also withdrew on 5 October. Moroz said he would prefer a debate between the four major candidates: Yushchenko, Yanukovych, Petro Symonenko, and himself. "Only in such a format the debate could become not only an opportunity to demonstrate the art of oratory but also a realistic possibility to present different views and approaches regarding the resolution of state affairs to our compatriots," Moroz's press service said in a statement. JM

Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Belgrade on 4 October that the authorities there are not cooperating with the tribunal in bringing indicted war criminals to justice, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September, and 1 and 4 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 April 2004). "My opinion is that [former Bosnian Serb General Ratko] Mladic is still hiding in Serbia, and no one in Belgrade persuaded me otherwise," she said. Promised full cooperation by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, she replied that she expects "results immediately." "I would [then] be able to analyze and to see if [the pledge] I received from...Kostunica is the real truth. I am very optimistic. I think the prime minister understands the importance for [his] country to cooperate with us," Del Ponte added. She stressed that she "expects full cooperation -- meaning arrests of all war crimes suspects, as well as access to files and witnesses." PM

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica said in Belgrade on 4 October that he is "fully aware of our international obligations [to the tribunal], but we also have to consider political stability in the country," dpa reported. He has previously made references to preserving stability to justify foot-dragging in cooperating with the tribunal. For his part, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic has repeatedly argued that the victory of pro-reform candidate Boris Tadic in the June Serbian presidential election means that politicians can no longer argue that domestic political considerations prevent them from extraditing war crimes indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). Elsewhere, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said on 4 October he will resign unless there is full cooperation with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member and chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, announced in Sarajevo on 4 October that the EU will formally take charge of peacekeeping from NATO there in a 2 December ceremony, Hina reported. The new EUFOR will consist of some 7,500 soldiers under the command of British Major General David Leakey. The special NATO command in Sarajevo will include between 150 and 200 people, mostly Americans. Despite some EU reluctance over a continuing U.S. military presence in Bosnia, the Bosnian authorities invited the Americans to remain. The United States wants to be present in Bosnia to combat terrorism, arrest indicted war criminals, and help train the Bosnian military (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 2 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). PM

Former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski moved out of his office at the Skopje headquarters of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) on 4 October, "Vreme" reported. In what was seen by the Macedonian media as a clear break with the party he founded, Georgievski moved into new offices at the rival VMRO-Narodna, which was founded by his followers in July (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June and 9 July 2004). Georgievski said he will be a "guest" at the VMRO-Narodna headquarters while formally remaining a member of the VMRO-DPMNE. If Georgievski had officially quit the VMRO-DPMNE, he would have been legally obliged to give up his parliamentary seat. The former prime minister nonetheless called on his followers to join the new party. The split between incumbent VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski and his predecessor Georgievski stems from ideological differences. Whereas Gruevski wants to transform the VMRO-DPMNE into a European-style conservative party, the party wing headed by Georgievski wants the VMRO-DPMNE to remain a nationalist party. UB

Following its 3 October election victory, Janez Jansa's conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), with 29 seats expected in the 90-seat parliament, has not yet announced its coalition partners, pending final election results on 13 October and a possible recount, RFE/RL reported from Ljubljana. Jansa said on 4 October that he is "ready to talk to everyone," but the most likely potential coalition partners are the New Slovenia party (NSi), which will probably have nine seats, and the Slovenian People's Party (SLS), which is likely to have seven seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). However, the three parties currently appear likely to control only 45 of the 90 seats. The six seats won by the far-right Slovenian National Party (SNS) would cement a majority for an SDS-led coalition, but an invitation to the SNS to join the government could lead to criticism from abroad. Attention is otherwise focused on the governing Pensioners Party (DeSUS), which won 4.02 percent (four seats) in preliminary returns. However, the latest figures indicate only 3.8 percent for DeSUS. If DeSUS falls below the 4 percent threshold, the expected three-party center-right coalition will win two more seats and thereby have a clear majority. The two deputies representing the interests of ethnic minorities cannot legally be included in a coalition. DR

SDS leader Jansa said in Ljubljana on 4 October that he does not "expect any significant turnaround" in Slovenia's troubled relations with Croatia, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 October 2004). "Every Croatian government will protect Croatia's interests, and a Slovenian government should protect Slovenia's interests," he added. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul sought to accent the positive despite the outgoing center-left Slovenian government's threat to block Croatia's admission to the EU on account of their ongoing border dispute and despite every indication that a Jansa-led government will be even less accommodating. "We are entering a stable political period in Slovenia and a stable period of bilateral relations. We are ready to openly cooperate with any Slovene government," Zuzul said. PM

The leadership of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance approved on 4 October the candidacy of Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu for the November presidential election, Mediafax reported. Basescu will replace PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan, who withdrew from the race on health grounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). Earlier on 4 October, the PNL Permanent Delegation -- the party's highest forum -- approved Basescu's candidacy. Expectedly, however, the group in the PNL led by Dinu Patriciu opposed the proposal and suggested that the PNL select another candidate (see End-Note in "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). PNL interim Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu vowed to promote PNL interests in negotiations with Basescu to a greater degree than has been done in the past. MS

In a statement issued on 4 October, the PNL-Democratic Party Alliance said Health Minister Ovidiu Branzan has displayed "a lack of decency" and has violated medical ethics by making public a report on Stolojan's health on 3 October, Mediafax reported. The report said Stolojan's condition had improved after he underwent surgery last year and he was capable of participating in the presidential race. Basescu told journalists on 3 October that Stolojan's withdrawal from the race was largely due to stress caused by threats and blackmail rather than medical reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). Popescu-Tariceanu confirmed on 4 October that Stolojan had received threats but said he is not aware of any blackmailing attempts. Mircea Cinteza, head of the Romanian Medical College, said Branzan has abused his position and that the college would consider possible action against Branzan, who is a medical doctor. MS

Adrian Nastase met on 4 October in Brussels with his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt to discuss bilateral relations and Romania's bid to join the European Union, Mediafax reported. Belgium currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. The European Commission's forthcoming annual report due on 6 October is critical for Bucharest's negotiations to close accession by 2007. Nastase said after the talks that he is confident the report will mention numerous positive points, but at the same time it will have some reservations and will make the finalization of negotiations conditional on achieving certain goals. He said it was "natural" for a report of several hundred pages to include "some buts." According to a BBC report cited by Mediafax, the commission's report is, among other things, critical of the freedom of the media and of the lack of transparency in the privatization process. Nastase also met in Brussels with the European Parliament's new rapporteur for Romania, Pierre Moscovici. MS

Students at the Ribnita Evrica Lyceum, which was closed by separatist authorities earlier this year, are returning to class, Infotag reported on 4 October, citing an official communique of the Moldovan Education Ministry. The resumption of teaching at the lyceum (where Moldovan is taught with the Latin script) was made possible after an agreement was reached with the municipal authorities to allow classes to be held in the kindergarten of a local plant. The lyceum's building was damaged when Transdniestrian militiamen stormed the building in July. Last week, the separatist authorities announced they had registered for one year the Evrica Lyceum and the Tiraspol-based Blaga Lyceum as foreign educational institutions. The Moldovan Education Ministry has said teaching at the Tiraspol lyceum, the building of which was damaged by militiamen, cannot be resumed for lack of an alternative facility. The ministry said it is attempting to persuade the Tiraspol municipality to provide alternative premises. MS

Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis said in Chisinau on 4 October that Transdniester's shutting down of schools where Moldovan (Romanian) is taught with the Latin script is unacceptable and that innocent children should not suffer because of politics, Infotag reported. Davis is in Chisinau attending a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is debating the struggle against international terrorism. MS

EU Progress Report Casts Doubt On Romania's Accession Readiness
The European Commission's annual progress report on Romania will make for painful reading in Bucharest when it is unveiled tomorrow. An advance copy seen by RFE/RL severely criticizes Romania's record in a number of areas crucial to the so-called Copenhagen political entry criteria. Media freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and the country's civil and human rights records, among other issues, are said to leave a lot to be desired. The report falls short of saying Romania fails to meet the Copenhagen criteria, but it does suggest Bucharest has much work to do if it is to sign the accession treaty together with Bulgaria next spring.

The European Commission is no stranger to putting pressure on applicant countries as accession deadlines loom. The months before the closure of talks with the first wave of accession countries in 2002 were a rough ride for many of them.

In Romania's case, however, the pressure comes close to testing the limits. While the commission's annual progress report does recognize for the first time Romania's "functioning market economy," the shortcomings of the country's political system occasionally appear so severe that the question must arise whether Romania is ready for membership -- especially as soon as the "common objective" of 1 January 2007.

Although the Copenhagen criteria are intended to be met before a candidate country begins accession talks -- witness Turkey -- the report on Romania could be construed to suggest that there is still some way to go. The report proposes a "safeguard clause" that could delay by one year the entry of either Romania or Bulgaria if economic and administrative reforms stall.

Freedom of the media is a case in point. The commission report says that "certain structural problems may affect the practical realization of the freedom of expression," despite legislation adopted over the past few years.

It goes on to suggest that the Romanian state is propping up "most private TV stations," refraining from calling in debts in return for preferential coverage. Such a situation, the report observes, may compromise editorial independence, adding that studies suggest Romanian television is notably less critical of the government than the printed press. Locally elected officials use their public offices to influence the local media -- through the selective awarding of advertising contracts, for example. The report also says studies show "financial inducements" often lead to self-censorship among journalists.

Finally, the report says, "cases of serious physical attacks against journalists have increased" since 2003. Local investigative journalists are said to be particular targets.

Coming to the freedom of association, the report says legislation adopted on local elections earlier this year -- together with earlier laws on political parties -- make it "increasingly difficult for new or regionally based parties to participate in the political process." The report blames considerable bureaucratic hurdles and high registration thresholds.

Local government is said to lack transparency, and there are "credible reports" that resources are misappropriated by specific political groups. Officials regularly change party affiliation during office, with most deciding to shift to the ruling party.

Some of the severest criticism is reserved for the Romanian judicial system, where insufficient progress has been made in guaranteeing its independence from the executive branch. The report notes a "recent official survey found that a majority of judges had come under political pressure while exercising their official duties." Political interference in the nomination process is a "common practice." There is also said to be a shortage of judges, and the quality of judgments "also remains a problem."

Romania's legislative process is said to be opaque, and laws are prepared hastily and with little consultation of relevant interest groups -- even other ministries involved. As a result, this leads to "low-quality legislative output."

The fight against corruption, although bolstered by recent administrative changes, is said to be ill-coordinated and have little or no parliamentary oversight. The report says corruption remains a "serious and widespread problem." The number of successful prosecutions remains low, "particularly for high-level corruption." The report notes this is the case despite the fact that Romania's anticorruption legislation is well-developed and broadly in line with relevant EU laws.

The report stresses in its introductory passages that the ability to implement and enforce EU law -- requiring an "adequate judicial and administrative capacity" -- is a key condition of membership.

Under the heading "civil and political rights," the report says that, despite positive legislative developments, cases of "ill treatment" in police stations, prisons, and psychiatric hospitals continue to be reported. Violence is said to be "most common" against the disadvantaged, such as the Roma.

The "de facto" discrimination of the Roma is said to continue to be widespread, despite recent legislative changes and the setting up of equality-monitoring bodies. The report says the Roma are still exposed to considerable social inequalities.

It notes that while official census figures estimate the Romany population at 535,000, rights groups say the actual number ranges between 1,800,000 and 2,500,000. The discrepancy is explained at least partly "by the reluctance of some Roma to identify themselves as such."

Trafficking in human beings is said to be rife and the impact of the Romanian measures taken so far is judged as "rather modest."Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.

In a news conference held in Kabul on 4 October, Robert Barry, head of the OSCE Election Support Team, said it was difficult for a country such as Afghanistan to hold free and fair elections in accordance with international standards, Radio Afghanistan reported. Therefore, the OSCE team will not supervise the 9 October presidential election according to international standards, Barry said, and the OSCE will not issue a statement about the fairness of the poll. "If we did issue such a statement it would have to be based on the whole line of rules and regulations where they literally observe every polling station, enter every complaint in their logbook," Barry told journalists, according to AFP on 4 October. In total, 14 international OSCE teams are currently being deployed to Kabul, seven to regional centers, and three to the provinces. AT

In a 4 October press release (, the OSCE said that its role in Afghanistan was to analyze the election preparations and the polls on election day. "On the basis of [the election monitors'] findings, we will put together a set of recommendations that will be given to the Afghan Government and the electoral administration in order to assist them with the holding of future elections," Barry said, according to the OSCE statement. Since the EU is one of the largest funders of the Afghan election, "analysts say it would be in an awkward position if a body [OSCE] with many EU members had to declare the election process flawed," AFP commented. AT

In a report released on 5 October, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, "warlords and the Taliban are undermining Afghan women's participation in the political process through ongoing threats and attacks." The 39-page report, titled "Between Hope and Fear: Intimidation and Threats Against Women in Public Life in Afghanistan" (, documents how warlord factions, the neo-Taliban, and various insurgent groups attack and harass female government officials, election workers, journalists, and women's rights activities. "Many Afghan women risk their safety if they participate in public life," LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of HRW, is quoted as saying in a 5 October press release. According to HRW, the upcoming presidential election will be a key test of women's ability to participate in the Afghan public sphere on an equal basis with men. An important sign of progress has been the large numbers of women registered to vote (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 and 18 August 2004). Near the Pakistani border, continuing insecurity has contributed to women comprising less than 10 percent of registered voters in the southern Zabul and Oruzgan provinces. AT

Voter registration for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan came to a close on 4 October with an estimated 650,000 expatriate Afghans registering to vote in their country's presidential election, international news agencies reported. According to Peter Erban, director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the "response of the Afghan community in Pakistan has been very enthusiastic," IRNA reported on 4 October, quoting an IOM press release. Around 600,000 Afghan refugees living in Iran are also eligible to vote, the BBC reported on 4 October. While the expatriate Afghans who have registered make up about 10 percent of the total number of Afghans eligible to vote, another estimated 2 million Afghans, also living in Iran and Pakistan, were not registered. "It was regrettable that registration was not possible for some areas. The limited timeframe available to conduct the program was not sufficient to allow the establishment of facilities all over Pakistan," Erban said, according to the IRNA report. Registration for Afghan refugees in Pakistan began on 1 October and was originally scheduled to last three days. It was then extended an extra day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). AT

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, who is regarded as the main challenger to the frontrunner Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential election, said in a speech on 4 October in Mazar-e Sharif that 14 candidates will withdraw their nominations and will back one candidate, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Qanuni said that he was in complete agreement with Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Satar Sirat, Mohammad Mohaqeq, and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai that "if not in the first round, we will definitely form a coalition in the second round." Qanuni dismissed the rumors that the international community, led by the United States, was supporting Karzai's candidacy, adding that in his talks with the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and other countries' envoys in Kabul, he has been assured of their "support for the decision of the [Afghan] people in the election." Qanuni could force a runoff if no other candidate wins at least 51 percent of the vote. AT

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 4 October that Ahmad Sadeq Bonab has been appointed as the temporary roads and transport minister, IRNA reported. In parliament, 188 out of 258 members gave a no-confidence vote to Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram on 3 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2004). Ramezanzadeh said Khoram is now a presidential adviser. Bonab was the deputy roads and transport minister in charge of economic affairs. Ramezanzadeh also added that the cabinet is not being treated fairly. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref criticized the timing of the interpellation, pointing out that the government is reviewing and revising the fourth development plan and the annual budget, Iranian state radio reported. BS

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi has submitted his resignation, international news agencies reported on 4 October. "Because my political opinion is different from the majority of the Majlis [parliament] deputies...I have come to conclude that I can no longer fulfill my responsibilities," Abtahi explained, according to ISNA. According to Fars News Agency, Abtahi submitted his resignation to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami prior to his trip to Algeria, Sudan, and Oman. Khatami rejected Abtahi's previous resignation, which he submitted after the seventh parliamentary elections in February. In the most recent letter of resignation, Abtahi underlined his inability to create a harmonious relationship between the executive and legislative branches. Anonymous "sources close to the government" said that former Tehran legislative representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, a member of the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez), could succeed Abtahi. President Khatami has not accepted Abtahi's resignation yet, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 4 October, IRNA reported. BS

In an interview published in "The Washington Post" on 4 October, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi refused to be drawn on Tehran's preferred outcome in the November U.S. presidential election although he did express displeasure with the incumbent. "We are not happy with President [George W.] Bush. He has adopted wrong policies -- against Iran and the Middle East," Kharrazi said. The foreign minister went on to say that Muslim countries hate the United States because of current White House policies. BS

"Mardom Salari" newspaper reported on 4 October that an "important" member of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) who was hiding in a bathroom at the Shalamcheh border crossing was arrested. The Iranian government has offered an amnesty to lower-ranking MKO members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). BS

President Mohammad Khatami left Tehran for Algiers on 2 October, and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika greeted him at the airport, Algerian radio reported. Khatami later told his counterpart that the two countries could cooperate in "technical and engineering services, oil, gas, petrochemistry, and intermediate industries," IRNA reported on 3 October. On the first day of the visit, the two sides signed an agreement on animal health, as well as memorandums of understanding on small and medium enterprises, handicrafts, fisheries, and housing, Algerian television reported. Khatami received Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia on 3 October and promoted the expansion of economic ties, IRNA reported, and they also discussed events in Iraq and Israel. Khatami met with parliamentary speaker Ammar Saidani on 3 October and then addressed the legislature, IRNA reported. The legislature awarded Khatami a Robe of Courage. BS

Khatami arrived in Khartoum on 4 October, Sudan television reported. Iranian Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati and three Sudanese officials signed agreements on the elimination of double taxation, on agricultural quarantines, and on banking in the presence of Khatami and his Sudanese counterpart, Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, IRNA reported. In his meeting with al-Bashir, Khatami said both Iran and Sudan pursue Islamic-based democracy and progress. Khatami added that Iran supports the Sudanese government's activities in southern Sudan. BS

Hazim al-Sha'lan al-Khuza'i said on 4 October that 105 foreign fighters were arrested in Samarra and turned over to multinational forces for interrogation, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. Among the foreigners were 18 Egyptians, 18 Sudanese, and one Tunisian, the minister said. Al-Sha'lan added that the fighters will be returned to Iraqi custody once their interrogations are complete. In a separate interview with Al-Arabiyah, al-Sha'lan said that the Samarra operation "has been completed with minimum losses." He added that there were well over 200 foreign fighters in the city. "Believe me that we could have killed many of them but we let them leave the city. We seek to liberate our people in Samarra.... Had we wanted to kill them, we could have killed hundreds more, but we let them run away to other areas. We will confront them if they do not return to their senses," he said. KR

The Islamic Army in Iraq released two female Indonesian hostages on 4 October, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. The group said in a statement that it released the women at the request of the spiritual head of Jama'ah Islamiyah, Abu Bakir Bashir in Indonesia. Bashir is serving a four-year prison term on charges of forgery and treason. The hostages were delivered to the embassy of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) along with a letter addressed to the Indonesian embassy. Since Indonesia does not have an embassy in Baghdad, the letter was readdressed to the U.A.E. embassy, an unidentified embassy official told Abu Dhabi television on 4 October. KR

The Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Salafist Brigades reportedly released a videotaped statement dated 2 October claiming to have executed an Iraqi and Turkish national, Al-Jazeera television reported on 4 October. The group claimed in the statement that the Turkish national was employed by the Turkish intelligence service, while the Iraqi, identified as Anwar Iyad Wali, was working for Israeli intelligence. The group further claimed that Wali was attempting to sell red mercury from Iraq to unidentified foreign parties. Wali was kidnapped from his Baghdad office several weeks ago. He had been living in Italy for some 20 years, but did not hold an Italian passport, according to Al-Jazeera. Meanwhile, London's Sky News reported on 4 October that U.K. hostage Kenneth Bigley has been handed over to a second militant group in Iraq. Bigley's brother Paul said that he had received reports from Kuwait that the switch could pave the way for "a financial settlement" that would ensure his brother's release. The last known video of Kenneth Bigley surfaced last week and depicted him held captive in a cage, Sky News reported. KR

Jose Bono said on 4 October that Spanish troops could return to Iraq at the request of the United Nations, the Madrid daily "ABC" reported on 5 October. "We came [back] from Iraq and we have fulfilled the mission. If the UN asked us to go [to Iraq] to cover the elections, as in Afghanistan, we would consider it and we would take it to parliament," Bono told a television news program. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said on numerous occasions that Spain will not return its troops to Iraq under any circumstances. KR

Police discovered the bodies of two decapitated men in Mosul on 5 October, Reuters reported. The bodies, which were found in separate locations in the city center, were reportedly identified as Iraqi nationals. The news agency reported that there is no known motive for their murder. The body of a third man also believed to be an Iraqi national was discovered on 3 October near a bus station in Mosul, police and hospital officials told Reuters. KR

The former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq L. Paul Bremer said on 4 October that an insufficient number of troops contributed to the coalition's inability to sustain order in the early days of the U.S.-led occupation, reported on 5 October. Bremer contended that the United States also erred by not containing the subsequent violence and looting that took place after the regime fell. "We paid a big price for not stopping [the looting] because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," he said in a speech at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Bremer also said that the U.S. plans for the postwar period erred in their projections of what might happen following the fall of the Hussein regime. Too much focus, he said, was placed on humanitarian aid and possible refugee problems rather than planning for a potential insurgency. Meanwhile, an unidentified Pentagon official denied on 4 October Bremer's claims that he had requested additional troops for Iraq, saying that Bremer only requested additional troops days before his June departure, reported. KR