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Newsline - October 8, 2004

Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told a Moscow news conference on 6 October that the United States and Europe are concerned by some aspects of Russian nuclear policy with respect to outstanding commitments, local and international media reported the next day. Rademaker said the number of Russian tactical nuclear missiles deployed in European Russia and their targeting worries the European public. Washington is also concerned that Russian companies might have aided a purported Iranian attempt to acquire strategic, long-range missiles, Rademaker added. He then reportedly said the West is troubled over Moscow's failure to abide by a 1999 commitment laid out in the so-called Istanbul Agreement whereby Russia was to have withdrawn fully its troops from Moldova and negotiated a similar pullout from Georgia. "I must say, it's inexplicable to me why we don't see more progress," Interfax quoted Rademaker as saying. VY

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko shrugged off the U.S. criticism over nuclear issues and said on 7 October that as far as Europe is concerned, "the word 'commitment' in this context [of nuclear missiles] is incorrect," Interfax reported 7 October. In a separate statement the same day, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev said Russia "will continue to cooperate with Iran on the peaceful use of nuclear energy," Interfax and other media reported. Washington has opposed the roughly $800 million in Russian participation in the continuing construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in southern Iran. "It doesn't matter if there is pressure or not, but what does matter is that we will comply with all legal commitments in cooperation with Iran," Alekseev said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to visit Tehran on 10-11 October and is expected to discuss bilateral nuclear cooperation, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 October. VY

Moscow is unhappy with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) decision to grant a Georgian proposal to include Russian-Georgian relations on the agenda of the current PACE session, Ekho Moskvy and NTV reported on 7 October. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze accused Russia during a PACE debate the same day of supporting separatism in Georgia's breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, RIA-Novosti reported. "It is impossible to fight separatism in Chechnya and support it several kilometers from its border, in Georgia," Burdjanadze said. The head of Russia's PACE delegation and State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said Russia "opposes using the PACE podium as a place for settling accounts," RIA-Novosti reported. Kosachev added that he regrets that bilateral relations have been "narrowed to two issues: Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Endowment said in "Novye izvestiya" of 6 October that "it is not PACE's role to be an arbiter in the post-Soviet space," adding, "within PACE, the discussion of Russian-Georgian relations represents an element of provocation." VY

The State Duma's Environment Committee met on 7 October to begin consideration of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that seeks to limit emissions of the gases widely believed to contribute to global warming, Interfax reported. Committee Chairman Vladimir Grachev (Unified Russia) told the news agency that most committee members and most Duma deputies support ratification. First Deputy Chairman of the Budget and Taxes Committee Gleb Khor (Unified Russia) told ITAR-TASS that "the government should submit to us convincing arguments and figures" to support ratification. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told journalists on 7 October that the Natural Resources, Industry and Energy, and Economic Development and Trade ministries have all been told to report on the need for investments into energy-saving technologies because of the accord. The government will also calculate how much Russia might earn by selling its excess emissions quotas to other countries. RC

The Prosecutor-General's Office filed criminal charges on 8 October against three Ingushetian Interior Ministry officers in connection with the Beslan, North Ossetia, school hostage taking in early September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2004), Interfax reported. The three unidentified officers are charged with negligence resulting in death. "The investigation has shown that the inaction of responsible authorities in the Malgobeksk Raion [in Ingushetia] led to the tragic events," Deputy Prosecutor-General for the Southern Federal District Nikolai Shepel told the news agency. Earlier a criminal case was filed against two police commanders in North Ossetia's Pravoberezhnyi Raion, Shepel said. RC

"Izvestiya" on 7 October asked a number of political analysts to comment on a case now in the Constitutional Court that could eliminate the "against all" line on Russian ballots. Institute of Elections Director Aleksandr Ivanchenko connected the proposal with President Vladimir Putin's proposal to eliminate the single-mandate-district representatives in the Duma. "What does the switch to a proportional system mean?" Ivanchenko said. "Party lists are appointed. All that needs to be done is for that list to be coordinated with the Kremlin, and the voters will be left with nothing else to do but vote for it. And if the voters do not like this appointed list, it is better for the organizers that the 'against all' line not appear on the ballot paper." Center for Political Technologies General Director Igor Bunin said the "against all" line was introduced in Soviet times when there was no real choice in elections. He said the line was not needed during the genuinely pluralistic elections of the 1990s but that "now a new era is dawning -- a repetition of Soviet times, when choice is relatively limited." "Although I think that even if Putin's proposed reform is realized, there will still be some kind of choice in parliamentary elections," Bunin said. "Among five or six parties. But the 'against all' clause would be apt." RC

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev told a meeting of CIS internal-security chiefs in the Belarusian capital on 7 October that "no one doubts any longer that international terrorism has declared war on the entire civilized world," RIA-Novosti reported. Patrushev is chairing the meeting in his capacity as head of the CIS Council of Security Directors. He told the forum that security agencies should concentrate their activities on preventing the use of immigration channels by those with suspected links to terrorist organizations, RIA-Novosti reported. Patrushev added that security forces should work to localize the activities of extremist groups within the CIS. VY

Patrushev and other CIS security chiefs in Belarus for the same conference attended a ceremony on 7 October to unveil a memorial complex dedicated to Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii, NTV reported. The memorial, at the Dzerzhinskii family's estate of Dzyarzhynava, was reportedly funded by the CIS council that unites members' security chiefs. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told the audience at the ceremony that the CIS special services are not enjoying "the best of times, just as when the powerful organization of chekists was created" in 1917, according to NTV. VY

The head of the Russian state enterprise that manages broadcast-relay stations and cable networks said on 6 October that the number of television channels available in Russia should be increased 100-fold with an accompanying shift toward fee-based television, RBK reported. Svyatoslav Bunyaev, who heads the Russian Television and Broadcasting Network (RTRS), was addressing a telecommunications conference in the Russian capital. "The development of television through budgetary funds is completely exhausted, and we need a gradual transfer to a situation in which all citizens pay for television services," Bunyaev said. He added that the RTRS has proposed a bill that would codify a new system for the regulation of access to broadcast signals. VY

Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Alu Alkhanov criticized the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 7 October for its position on the political situation in Chechnya, RIA-Novosti reported. "If you listen to European parliamentarians, it would appear that [Chechen President Aslan] Maskhadov, who plunged the people into war, is legitimate, while Alkhanov, who won a fair election, is not," Alkhanov told a news conference in Strasbourg. Earlier that day, PACE adopted a resolution criticizing the August presidential election in Chechnya for deviations from democratic norms. Deputies rejected a proposed Russian amendment recognizing Alkhanov's legitimacy. "I would like to find out and understand exactly what circumstances led to such wording, which in a veiled way rejects the choice of the Chechen people," Alkhanov said. Duma Deputy Akhmar Zavgaev (Unified Russia) told ITAR-TASS on 7 October that a report on Chechnya by German Bundestag deputy Rudolf Bindig (SPD) "shows his misunderstanding of the objectives of the antiterrorism operation in the republic." RC

A bodyguard for a member of the Armenian parliament went on trial on 7 October for assaulting a journalist in an attack in late August, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The defendant, Gagik Stepanian, has been detained on charges of "hooliganism" since his arrest on 26 August for allegedly assaulting reporter Anna Israelian of the "Aravot" newspaper and Mkhitar Khachatrian, a photographer for the private Photolur agency. The assault is alleged to have occurred on 24 August as the two journalists were reporting the construction of luxury villas belonging to high-level Armenian officials and government-connected businessmen in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2004). If convicted, Stepanian, a bodyguard for Armenian parliamentarian Levon Sarkisian, could be sentenced to up to two years in prison. He already has two past criminal convictions. RG

According to a public-opinion poll released on 7 October, a slight majority of residents of the Armenian capital Yerevan favor the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. The survey of 650 Yerevan residents, conducted from 1-5 October by the independent Vox Populi polling organization, reported 57 percent in favor of an unconditional establishment of direct commercial links between Armenia and Turkey, with 33 percent of respondents opposed and another 10 percent undecided on the issue. The strongest political opponent to the unconditional opening of the border is the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a junior partner in the ruling coalition that fears a flood of cheap Turkish consumer goods into the Armenian market would weaken local manufacturers. The ARF holds that a full normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is only possible after the Turkish recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. RG

Results of the Vox Populi public-opinion poll announced on 7 October also suggest that 43 percent of Yerevan residents oppose Turkey's accession to the European Union and believe it would have a negative effect on Armenia, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Mediamax. A mere 17 percent expressed support for the Turkish bid to join the EU, and another 40 percent had no clear opinion on the issue. RG

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov arrived in Baku on 7 October from neighboring Armenia for a two-day state visit, Turan reported. The Bulgarian leader concluded eight bilateral agreements on trade, energy and investment during a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Although bilateral trade is rather limited, Bulgaria is a leading consumer of oil from Azerbaijan's offshore Caspian fields. The Bulgarian president's visit follows a visit to Bulgaria by an Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation in September that resulted in a preliminary agreement for the opening of an Azerbaijani embassy in Sofia by the end of 2004. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev is also due to visit Bulgaria in an official visit later this month. RG

Georgian Defense Minster Giorgi Baramidze met on 7 October with the deputy commander of the Russian Federation Ground Troops for peacekeeping forces, Valerii Yevnevich, and the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force, Marat Kulakhmetov, the Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. Baramidze discussed measures to ease tension in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia and raise the issue of control over the Roki Tunnel connecting South Ossetia to Russia. RG

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko announced in Astana on 7 October that the Kazakh-Russian Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission adopted a packet of documents at a meeting the same day, Kazinform reported. The documents, which should be signed later, include agreements to develop cooperation at the Baikonur cosmodrome and unify auto-insurance standards. The commission also reviewed a program for humanitarian cooperation between the two countries up through 2010, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Also on 7 October, Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov met with Viktor Remishevskii, deputy head of Russia's Federal Space Agency, to discuss Kazakh-Russian projects to create a rocket complex and geosynchronous satellite, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

Petr Tiablin, head of the Internal Affairs Directorate in Bishkek, said on 6 October that the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir might have up to 10 underground cells in the Kyrgyz capital, ITAR-TASS reported. The remarks came at a meeting in the office of Bishkek Mayor Medetbek Kerimkulov. For his part, Kerimkulov called on local authorities and the public to take part in the struggle against religious extremism. The report noted that Kyrgyz security services have observed a shift in Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities from the country's south to the north. DK

Kyrgyz State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Mark Grossman signed an accord in New York in late September agreeing not to hand over each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court without prior permission, reported on 7 October. In practical terms, the agreement means that the court will not have jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel serving at the air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan (unless they are charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes). The report noted that the United States has signed similar agreements with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov met with Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi in Dushanbe on 7 October, Tajik television reported. Talks between the two focused on bilateral and regional security issues. Iran's embassy in Tajikistan described the aim of Yunesi's visit as the further development of cooperation after Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's visit to Tajikistan in early September, IRNA reported. DK

Turkmenistan's fourth television channel has begun round-the-clock broadcasting in Turkmen, Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, and Russian, reported on 7 October. Programming will consist of 10-minute news segments on the hour interspersed with documentaries, talk shows, and films. The channel's purpose is "to disseminate truthful information about Turkmenistan." DK

A court in Tashkent sentenced 15 people to varying prison sentences on 7 October for their involvement in March-April terror attacks in Bukhara and Tashkent, Kazakhstan's Khabar TV reported. Sentences ranged from three to 15 years. The defendants, who were arrested in April, were not charged with direct roles in the terror attacks but rather with ties with the underground groups that carried out the violence, Kazinform reported. Defendants' relatives and defense lawyers criticized the sentences as unjust and pointed to the use of initial testimony given under duress, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. The report noted that the proceedings were relatively open and that defendants were given an opportunity to air complaints about torture and ill treatment, although their allegations did not affect the outcome of the case. DK

A center for studying and measuring radioactivity has opened in Tashkent at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, "Khalq Sozi" reported on 7 October. Aleksei Kist, head of the new Radiotahlil Center, said, "The center's primary task is to deal with issues of geology, mineral resources, medicine, biology, ecology, criminal investigations, archeology, and many other areas. The second task, or group of tasks, is the nuclear and radioactive safety of our republic and neighboring countries," according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. Kist's remarks came in the course of an international conference on nuclear physics in Tashkent. DK

On 6 October the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, which was adopted two days earlier by the U.S. House of Representatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 October 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 7 October. The act authorizes assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for nongovernmental organizations, independent media, and international exchanges. It also prohibits all U.S. government agencies from providing loans or investments to the Belarusian government unless it is for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 7 October opened a memorial complex at the birthplace of Feliks Dzerzhinskii (1877-1926), founder of the Soviet secret service Cheka, which was the originator of the Bolshevik terror and mass executions, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Addressing the chiefs of CIS secret services at the ceremony in Dzyarzhynava, Dzerzhinskii's native village 30 kilometers from Minsk, Lukashenka said the goals and principles pursued by Dzerzhinskii are a "good foundation for strengthening the cooperation of our special services." According to Lukashenka, the "great man" Dzerzhinskii devoted his life to building a peaceful and tranquil life in the "mighty state." "This task remains quite topical for the CIS countries at present, as well," Lukashenka added. JM

Belarusian opposition activists have said President Lukashenka's calls on government officials on 6 October to win the 17 October legislative elections and presidential referendum "overwhelmingly" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2004) were actually an order to falsify the polls, Belapan reported on 7 October. Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka said the government is rumored to be planning to make 60 percent of the voters cast their ballots before the polling day. "Our people account for less than 1 percent of election commission members," United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka said. "These can hardly be called election commissions, they are rather 'falsification' commissions." According to Lyabedzka, election commissions have been ordered to ensure an 80 percent turnout and a 75 percent vote in favor of the referendum proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency. JM

The ad hoc parliamentary commission for investigating an alleged poisoning of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has failed to confirm that the Our Ukraine leader was deliberately poisoned, Ukrainian media reported on 7 October. "[The commission's investigation] gives no grounds today to assert that there has been an attempt on the life of Viktor Yushchenko," lawmaker Volodymyr Sivkovych, head of the commission, said in the Verkhovna Rada on 7 October. "[The investigation] also gives no grounds to say that Viktor Yushchenko's organism has not been influenced by some poison or other substance," Sivkovych added. Deputy speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko read a statement -- signed by Ukrainian doctor Mykola Korpan and Michael Zimpfer, director of the Rudolfinerhaus hospital in Vienna, which has been treating Yushchenko's mysterious illness -- saying that Yushchenko may have been affected by a biological agent. JM

Lawmakers from the pro-government coalition in the Verkhovna Rada on 8 October walked out of the session hall in protest against what they say is the opposition's use of the parliamentary rostrum for exercising "shady election techniques," Interfax reported. Lawmaker Volodymyr Zubanov read the pro-government coalition's statement saying that the opposition in the Verkhovna Rada "is defaming the honor and dignity of the authorities." The statement also accused the parliamentary leadership of failing to "counteract the rudeness of the political opposition forces." According to Interfax, two deputies from the pro-government Agrarian Party and Regions of Ukraine caucuses remained in the hall and took part in several votes, using the magnetic voting cards of their absent colleagues and thus contributing to the formal passage of several bills. It is not clear whether these bills will be considered as legally adopted by the legislature. JM

The End Note of 23 July 2004 titled "Estonian War Veterans Stir Up Russian Propaganda Campaign By Proxy" implied that the Estonian Legion (also termed Estonian Waffen-SS) was a criminal organization. In 1949-50, a United Nations commission investigated the Estonian and Latvian "SS" and found these military units to be neither criminal nor Nazi collaborators. On 12 September 1950, Harry N. Rosenfield, the United Nations Refugee Relief Association commissioner, wrote to Julijs Feldmanis, Latvia's charge d'affaires in Washington, saying that "the Waffen-SS units of the Baltic States [the Baltic Legions] are to be seen as units that stood apart and were different from the German SS in terms of goals, ideologies, operations and constitution, and the Commission does not, therefore, consider them to be a movement that is hostile to the government of the United States under Section 13 of the Displaced Persons Act, as amended." "RFE/RL Newsline" regrets any misunderstandings caused by the article.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 7 October that his recent remarks critical of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government should not be understood as an attempt to topple it, Reuters reported. "I don't have a right to overthrow it," he noted. Referring to a proposal by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) for Tadic's recall, he said that he is "fully ready to face [an investigation] by the nation." He charged, however, that his nationalist critics have "no understanding...of how to fight for our national interests" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October 2004). Elsewhere, Kostunica said that he and the government stand by their decision to advise Kosova's Serbian minority to boycott the 23 October parliamentary elections there, which Tadic has criticized, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

More than 30 political parties and nongovernmental organizations supporting a referendum against government plans to reduce the number of administrative districts started their official campaign with a parade in Skopje on 7 October, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3, 11, and 17 September, and 4 October 2004). The referendum is slated for 7 November. To be successful, two conditions must be met: more than half of the registered voters must participate in the referendum, and a majority of participants must vote against the new Law on Territorial Organization. In related news, the Council on Radio Broadcasting called on the electronic media to cover the campaign in a balanced and unbiased way, "Dnevnik" reported. Gjorgji Varoslija, who heads the council, said the law on referendums does not, unlike the law on the election of legislators on which it is based, contain any provisions regarding media coverage of the campaign. UB

National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) members Andrei Plesu and Mircea Dinescu resigned on 7 October to protest the college's ruling that Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor was not an informer for the communist secret police, Mediafax reported. The decision was made by the college the previous day with a split vote of 4 to 4, but Chairman Gheorghe Onisoru's vote counts double in such cases. Plesu and Dinescu said that it was evident from the files that Tudor acted as a "voluntary informer," acting "zealously" against his peers among Romania's writers. They said that it is unimportant that no evidence exists of Tudor having signed a pledge to act as an informer. Chairman Onisoru said Tudor has handed the Securitate only "notes taken from conversations" and that the law requires proof of a pledge to act as informer or of "informative notes." CNSAS member Horia-Roman Patapievici said he backs Plesu and Dinescu, but will not resign yet in order to "provide opposition" to Onisoru. Tudor said he would sue the four CNSAS members who voted against him. MS

President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase met on 7 October, discussing the lineup on the electoral lists of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Mediafax reported. Iliescu is to run as an independent on the PSD lists for the Senate in the November parliamentary elections. MS

Parliament on 7 October decided to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate how opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca amassed his wealth, Infotag reported. The initiative to set up the commission was taken by Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Deputy Simon Dragan. Last month, Dragan gave the legislature data showing that Rosca owns several expensive mansions in downtown Chisinau, a printing house, the daily "Flux," and the news agency with the same name. Dragan said it is necessary to "learn where the money for Rosca's fortune comes from." The ad hoc commission includes representatives of the PCM and the opposition Our Moldova alliance, as well as independent deputies. The PPCD refused to name a delegate to the commission, which it described as "established to prepare reprisals against our party's leader." MS

Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 7 October issued a decree on the holding of a census in the breakaway republic of Transdniester between 11-18 November, Infotag reported. Moldova is conducting a census between 5-12 October and Chisinau officials earlier expressed the hope that the Transdniester authorities would carry out the census simultaneously. Vitalii Valcov, head of Moldova's Statistics and Sociology Department, said Chisinau would not recognize the validity of the census conducted by Tiraspol which, unlike the census in Moldova, is not monitored by international experts. MS

Management representatives of the Council of Observers, which oversees Teleradio Moldova broadcasts, and of the Committee for the Protection of Professional and Human Dignity (CADUP), set up by the affected journalists, decided on 7 October to set up a conciliation commission, Flux reported. The commission, which is made up of three representatives from each side, seeks a compromise solution to the conflict over the alleged politicization of the hiring process at the public broadcasting company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 27, and 30 August 2004). MS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 6 October that the Belarus Democracy Act, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives on 4 October, is a "step of foolish pressure on our country," Belapan reported, quoting official sources. "The authorities could not wish for a better gift," Lukashenka said. "If you [presumably, the U.S. lawmakers -- ed.] scold me for seeking internal and external enemies, why are you giving me a pretext for finding such an enemy outside the country? Why are you supplying me with such a chance?"

According to Lukashenka, the adoption of the Belarus Democracy Act by the U.S. lower house "gives the [Belarusian] authorities a 10 percent bonus." He failed to explain whether he means the electorate's backing for the government or, specifically, enthusiasm for his proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency in a referendum on 17 October.

"With important parliamentary elections and a questionable referendum to extend Lukashenka's rule beyond his two-term tenure set to expire in 2006, the United States has demonstrated our unwavering support for pro-democracy forces in Belarus," Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, commented on the bill. "With passage of the Belarus Democracy Act, we send a strong signal that we stand firmly on the side of those who long for freedom."

The Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 is designed to promote democratic development, human rights, and the rule of law in Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus's sovereignty and independence. The bill authorizes necessary assistance -- leaving the determination of its volume for the U.S. president -- for supporting Belarusian political parties and nongovernmental organizations; independent media, including radio and television broadcasting into Belarus; and international exchanges. The document also prohibits all agencies of the U.S. government to provide loans and investment to the Belarusian government, except for the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products.

The bill obliges the U.S. president to present annual reports to the U.S. Congress on the sale and delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to any country supporting international terrorism; goods, services, and credits received by Belarus in exchange for the weapons or weapons-related technologies; and the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior Belarusian government officials.

Originally, the Belarus Democracy Act was introduced to the U.S. Congress in November 2001 -- shortly after the controversial presidential elections in Belarus -- with much harsher provisions regarding the Lukashenka regime than those approved this week. The 2001 bill proposed that the U.S. government freeze Belarusian assets in the United States, prohibit trade with Belarusian government-run businesses, and deny Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka, the right to travel to the United States. It also proposed the appropriation of $30 million to assist Belarusian democratic institutions and organizations, including funding for radio broadcasting in and to Belarus.

Another version of the Belarus Democracy appeared in March 2003, when it called for $40 million over the 2004-05 fiscal year to promote democracy and civil society in Belarus. It also projected an additional $5 million to support Voice of America and RFE/RL broadcasts into Belarus. The 2004 Belarus Democracy Act is "meeker" than its 2003 predecessor -- it does not contain provisions about the travel ban on Belarusian officials and the prohibition of U.S. strategic exports to Belarus. It also remains noncommittal about the volume of necessary assistance to democracy advocates in Belarus. And, notably, it leaves out a reference, enclosed in the 2003 version, about Russia's role in promoting democracy in Belarus.

"They have wanted to have democracy in Belarus, they have become worried about our elections and referendum," Lukashenka commented ironically on the Belarus Democracy Act on 6 October. "They have forgotten that they have enough of their own problems!" Lukashenka countercharged that the United States has "the most archaic election system" in the world. "As a result, the current [U.S.] president obtained fewer votes than the one who took second place," Lukashenka added. "Is it normal? And such people are worrying about the situation in Belarus!"

"What do the parliamentary elections and referendum have to do with the president's income?" Lukashenka wondered sarcastically, referring to the act's provision about his assets and wealth. "Anyway, I have ordered the immediate calculation of everything that I have been paid by the state and send [the result] to America. But afterwards our new parliament will convene and demand that [U.S. President George W.] Bush make public his own income. And we will compare [our incomes]."

Meanwhile, Belarusian independent media earlier this month cited two polling organizations, the Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys from Lithuania and the Yurii Levada Analytical Center from Russia, which found in separate polls conducted in Belarus after the announcement on 7 September of a presidential referendum that Lukashenka's desire to run for the presidency for a third time is supported by 37 percent and 39 percent of eligible voters, respectively.

According to the Belarusian Constitution, a referendum may amend the constitution only if it is backed by more than 50 percent of all eligible voters. However, it is not clear how many eligible voters Belarus has at present. According to official data, there were 7.1 million eligible voters in the local elections in Belarus on 2 March 2003. But on 9 September, Belapan cited "preliminary data" from the Central Election Commission asserting that Belarus now has "some 6.5 million" eligible voters.

Thus, a question may arise: Where have some 600,000 voters disappeared to in the past 18 months in a country of 10 million people that did not register either a deadly epidemic or an outbreak of frantic emigration in that period? Some in Belarus worry that the "preliminary data" regarding Belarus's eligible voters may signal that the Central Election Commission is set to significantly slash their actual number in order to help the president win the referendum in an "elegant" way, as Lukashenka himself referred to his victory in the 2001 presidential ballot.

On 6 October, a representative of the opposition United Civic Party who is on the Central Election Commission with the right to a "consultative voice" proposed that election monitors be given the right to familiarize themselves with lists of voters in each constituency in order to make the 17 October parliamentary election and referendum more transparent. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Central Election Commission flatly rejected this idea.

The National Movement of Afghanistan said in a statement issued on 7 October that the party continues to support the candidacy of Mohammad Yunos Qanuni despite the announcement by Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, the party's chairman, that he backs Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Afghan Minister of Returnees Affairs and member of National Movement, Enayatullah Nazari, read a statement claming that Wali Mas'ud's decision to support Karzai was his personal opinion and that "there is no change in the National Movement's stance.... [as the party] resolutely supports" Qanuni. AT

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL on 9 October, Wali Mas'ud said that Nazari is not a founding member of the party and that his statement is not valid. According to Mas'ud, whose older brother Ahmad Zia Mas'ud is Karzai's first vice president, the National Movement has reached an agreement with Karzai and backs his candidacy. In an interview with RFE/RL in August, Wali Mas'ud indicated the dilemma faced by his party in supporting a candidate, saying "on one side we have Ahmad Zia, who is a prominent member of Nahzat [party's short name in Dari], and on the other side we have Qanuni, who is also a key member of Nahzat (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004)." AT

Qazi Mohammad Amin Weqad, the first vice president of candidate Abdul Satar Sirat, on 7 October announced his decision to back Hamid Karzai's candidacy, AIP reported. Weqad told AIP that he has resigned as Sirat's running mate and will support Karzai, "in the interest of Afghanistan and to avoid the possibility of the election going into the second round." Karzai, widely regarded as the frontrunner, is facing the possibility of a runoff since his efforts to persuade major challengers -- including Qanuni and Sirat -- to drop out of the race. Qanuni earlier had indicated that in case there is a second round of votes, he and a number of other candidates, including Sirat, would form a united front against Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October 2004). AT

In a statement issued on 7 October, Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Mas'ud Khan denied Afghan presidential candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum's allegation that Islamabad was forcing Afghan refugees to cast their vote in favor of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported. According to the report, the statement expressed Pakistan's "shock and dismay" over Dostum's charges. In a separate statement, the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul on 7 October said that Dostum did not have any evidence to substantiate his claim, therefore his allegations were baseless, Radio Afghanistan reported. Dostum, who heads Junbish-e Melli party and controls his own militia, is running as an independent candidate in the upcoming presidential election. It is not clear when Dostum made his remarks (for more on Afghan presidential candidates and political parties, see RFE/RL's special website on the elections at AT

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement on 7 October that General Dostum made a false statement about reconstruction work on a road in northern Afghanistan. "General Dostum's statement this week that work has stopped on" the road from Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jawzjan Province, to Sar-e Pol, the provincial capital of Sar-e Pol Province, "is false," the U.S. Embassy stated. "As with any major construction project, activity on this road will be more visible in certain phases than in others, but the work on this road has been initiated and will continue until its completion," the statement added. Dostum, who was an ally of the United States and Karzai until recently, has reportedly refused to quit the presidential race in favor of Karzai. While not a strong candidate throughout Afghanistan, Dostum is expected to secure most of the votes from the country's ethnic Uzbeks, estimated at around 10 percent of the population. It is not clear when and under what context Dostum made his charges regarding the reconstruction project. AT

A rocket attack targeted central Kabul on 8 October, one day before national voting to choose the first directly elected president in the country's history, international media reported. There were no reported casualties. The rocket reportedly detonated in midair before landing a few hundred meters from the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions, AFP and AP reported. The headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is also in the area. Hours earlier, two rockets were fired at another base used by an 850-strong Italian contingent of the NATO-led force on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, agencies reported. The rockets missed the Italian base at Camp Activia and there were no reported casualties. AT

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in Tokyo on 7 October that his agency's inspectors must verify Iran's claim that it is not developing nuclear weapons, Reuters reported. Progress is being made, el-Baradei said, adding "We have not completed our job to be able to say that no undeclared activities exist in Iran." Speaking in Berlin on 7 October, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he is concerned about the Iranian nuclear program and believes it should be added to the North Atlantic Council's agenda, dpa reported. He stressed that he is not calling for military action, saying, "I'm not implying that NATO...would come to engage in hard power." BS

Meanwhile, in Qom on 7 October, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told what state television referred to as a "huge gathering of clerics," that Iran must continue its nuclear pursuits as a matter of national prestige. "We are determined to keep the nuclear technology at any cost," he said. "Because, any shortcoming in this respect would be considered a historic humiliation for the Iranian nation." He also posed the issue in religio-cultural terms, saying: "Today the enemies of Islam are not afraid of any movement as much as they are afraid of Islam." "Islam, as a flourishing school of thought, is standing firm against Western aggression," he added. BS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami arrived in Damascus on 7 October in a last-minute addition to a trip that has already taken him to Algeria, Sudan, and Oman. Khatami told Syrian television, according to Syria's official SANA news agency, that American and Israeli "pressure on Syria, Iran, and Lebanon is nothing new. It always existed. Cooperation among us would drive this pressure away from all of us." Khatami told Hizballah's Al-Manar television that the three countries are coordinating their activities to withstand such pressure. What Khatami refers to as Israeli and American pressure is UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and the disarming of militias there. Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi discussed Israel's allegedly "inhuman operations" against Palestinian Arabs, as well as Iraq and the Darfur crisis in Sudan, with President Bashar al-Assad, Vice President Abd al-Halim Khaddam, and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, SANA reported. After the meeting, Khatami visited the shrines of Zeinabieh and Ruqayyah (the sister and daughter of the third Shi'a Imam). BS

Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi arrived in Dushanbe on 7 October for a three day visit, IRNA reported. The Iranian embassy announced that Yunesi will follow up on issues raised when President Khatami visited Tajikistan in early September, including counterterrorism and counternarcotics (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 September 2004). Yunesi met with President Imamali Rahmonov on the first day of his visit and is scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Security Minister Khayriddin Abdurahimov. BS

Iranian police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on 7 October that his organization is doing all it can to secure the Iran-Iraq border but "the Iraqi side is not doing the same," state radio reported. He added that weapons that were stolen from Iraqi military garrisons are being smuggled into Iran via the southern and northwestern border areas, and these weapons are being used in armed robberies in Iran. Abadan police and border security official Captain Issa Maknali said that in the October 2003-September 2004 period some 7,000 illegal pilgrims were arrested as they tried to enter Iraq, "Iran Daily" reported. A reported 25 human traffickers were arrested, he added, and people trying to visit Iraqi shrines illegally will be fined 50,000 rials (about $6.25). BS

The interim Iraqi government said on 8 October that it welcomes an initiative by radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to disarm his militia, Reuters reported. "The government welcomes the announcement by al-Sadr that his militia will disband, hand over their weapons, respect the authority and the unity of the state, and abide by the rule of law in Iraq," National Security Adviser Qassim Dawud said in a statement. Asked in a 7 October interview with Al-Arabiyah television whether he thought al-Sadr would keep his word, Dawud said: "We must not look at the dark side...Let us hope that political and social atmospheres would be created to contribute to pushing the new Iraqi march forward." Al-Sadr has flip-flopped on previous commitments. Al-Sadr aide Ali Sumaysim announced the al-Sadr initiative on Al-Arabiyah television on 7 October, saying militiamen would hand over medium-caliber and heavy weapons and cooperate with security forces to establish security and the rule of law. U.S. forces released al-Sadr aide Mu'ayyad al-Khazraji on 7 October as part of the negotiated agreement. The interim government has vowed to compensate victims of the ongoing fighting. KR

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told "Hawlati" in an interview published on 7 October that corruption remains a problem within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Salih, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is the former prime minister of the KRG. Asked about corruption in the KRG, Salih said: "Unquestionably, cleansing and reform are necessary." He credited PUK head Jalal Talabani for his role in a campaign to end corruption within the regional government. "When [I] was the chairman the process of reform was an ongoing effort, though not an announced campaign [as] in the present form," he added. "Conscientious people know that we made our best [effort] and did all we could within the framework of the authority of the government to confront corruption and return most of the people's funds and utilize them in the service of the people," Salih said. "Yet there was corruption and it still remains." Salih called the corruption problem in Kurdistan a "tremendous political and administrative epidemic." KR

Leaders from four prominent Iraqi tribes met at an undisclosed location and vowed to help put a stop to terrorism in Iraq, Baghdad's "Al-Da'wah" reported on 7 October. The leaders said that they would issue a warning to armed groups operating in and around Al-Fallujah to surrender voluntarily or face death. Their decision reportedly came after it became clear that multinational forces were prepared to launch a major incursion into the restive city in the coming days, the daily reported. The tribes are: the Al-Hamamidah tribe from Al-Ramadi; the Al-Jubur tribe from Tikrit; the Al-Gharir tribe from Al-Yusufiyah; and a clan of the Al-Janabat tribe from Al-Latifiyah. The daily reported that the tribal leaders will remind Iraqi militants that they will be eligible for a general pardon if they surrender voluntarily; it is unclear whether foreign militants would be eligible for a pardon, but they will be encouraged to surrender nonetheless. The tribal leaders voiced their support for the Iraqi police and National Guard in their efforts to establish security in Al-Fallujah, the newspaper reported. KR

Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reportedly given his approval for Iraqi clerics to run as candidates in the January elections, a leading Shi'ite figure told Al-Manar television on 7 October. Abu Had al-Ka'bi, deputy secretary general of the Shahid Al-Mihrab Foundation for Islamic Preaching in Iraq, which is affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that al-Sistani said it is "acceptable" for clerics to participate in the elections. "Al-Mu'tamar" reported on 6 October that the ayatollah instructed cleric Ahmad al-Safi to stress the importance of participation in the election during his Friday prayer sermons in Karbala. Other Iraqi media reported this week that al-Sistani has called on others to also raise awareness among the population about the importance of elections. KR