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Newsline - October 15, 2004

President Vladimir Putin began a three-day visit to China on 14 October by signing a bilateral agreement that ended a 40-year dispute over the two countries' 4,300-kilometer mutual border, RTR and other Russian and international media reported. "A most important political step has been taken," Putin said during the signing ceremony in Beijing. "We have put a full stop on the border issue between our countries." Putin called the summit one of "breakthrough decisions" and noted that the countries will endorse an action plan for 2005-08 that envisages increasing bilateral trade to $60 billion per year. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also described the border agreement as "a breakthrough," ITAR-TASS reported. "Any problems, even the most complex and sensitive ones, can be solved when cooperation between countries reaches the level of genuine partnership," Lavrov said, speaking from Beijing. "The most important thing is that now we can deal with social and economic problems that have accumulated and are creating obstacles for the population." RC

President Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao on 14 October issued a joint statement declaring that "it is necessary to settle international disputes and crisis situations under the auspices of the UN and on the basis of universal principles of international law," ITAR-TASS reported. The statement also declared that "Chechen and 'Eastern Turkestan' terrorists and separatists should be a target for the joint fight against terrorism by the international community." The declaration also says that the two countries support the convening of an international conference to discuss the situation in Iraq. "The parties expressed concern over the continuing escalation of violence in Iraq and underscored the need for rapid steps to normalize the situation," the statement said. It also expresses support for the so-called road map Middle East peace plan and said the two countries "want Afghanistan to develop as a sovereign, democratic, and prosperous state." Putin will travel to Tajikistan on 16 October. RC

Investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein released on 14 October its confidential report to the Justice Ministry in which it made a valuation of Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of embattled oil giant Yukos, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Earlier, the investment bank had said it would not release the report because of a confidentiality agreement with the ministry. The Justice Ministry has decided to value the company at $10.4 billion and to sell an unspecified stake in the company to pay off Yukos's tax debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2004). According to the Dresdner report, Yuganskneftegaz is worth $15.7 billion-$18.3 billion after its debts are taken into account. The report adds that if the current tax claims against the company are upheld in court, Yuganskneftegaz will be worth $14.7 billion-$17.3 billion. Oil-sector analyst Dmitrii Mangilev told on 14 October that the ultimate price of Yuganskneftegaz depends on whom the government wants the purchaser to be. "If it is Surgutneftegaz, then a controlling stake will cost the amount that that company has in cash --- about $6 billion. If it is Gazprom, then it will cost significantly less," Mangilev said. RC

Citing unidentified government sources, Interfax reported on 14 October that the government plans to sell 76.8 percent of Yuganskneftegaz at a 60 percent discount to the already-low value of $10.4 billion that the Justice Ministry has accepted as the price of the company. The report said the stake will be sold for $3 billion-$4 billion. "If this report is true, it would seriously hurt the credibility of the government," Hermitage Capital Management CEO William Browder told "The Moscow Times" on 15 October. The Interfax report also stated that "a company close to Gazprom" will likely participate in the Yuganskneftegaz tender, although Gazprom officials have repeatedly denied the company intends to bid., citing an unnamed government source, speculated that Gazprom's German partner E.ON would pay the purchase price for the Yuganskneftegaz stake. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told the German weekly "Die Zeit" this week that "it would be best if a private structure" purchased the Yukos subsidiary. Analysts quoted by "The Moscow Times" noted that the proposed purchase price for Yuganskneftegaz would cover only a fraction of Yukos's likely ultimate tax debt, meaning that other Yukos subsidiaries such as Samaraneftegaz and Tomskneft might also be sold. RC

Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko on 12 October won a libel lawsuit against "Novaya gazeta," which printed an article in June about a letter purportedly written by five U.S. congressmen alleging that Kirienko was involved in the misappropriation of a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan in 1998, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 June and 2 July 2004). The letter turned out to be a forgery. The court ordered the newspaper to retract all publications relating to the alleged misappropriation of the IMF loan. State Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist Party) testified in the case that he believes the IMF loan was misappropriated while Kirienko was prime minister and that many of the "Novaya gazeta" articles were based on his statements. The court ruled, however, that there is "a great deal of unverified information in the 'Novaya gazeta' articles" and ordered a blanket retraction. "Novaya gazeta" Deputy Editor in Chief Sergei Sokolov told the daily that the paper is ready to retract its articles about the forged letter but that questions remain about the loan. He said the paper will appeal the raion court's decision to the Moscow Municipal Court. RC

A bill to amend the law on political parties that would establish a threshold of 50,000 members for a political party to be registered has been submitted to the State Duma, Russian news agencies reported on 14 October. The current minimum is 10,000 members. The bill would also increase the minimum number of members required for a party's regional branches to 500. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told Ekho Moskvy that the proposal "fits very well with the logic of the current regime: cutting off the public as much as possible from governing the country and limiting Russian citizens' political and constitutional rights as much as possible." He added that only parties authorized by the Kremlin will be allowed to exist, since only they will be able "to negotiate all of these bureaucratic hurdles and register." Communist Party Deputy Secretary Ivan Melnikov told "Kommersant-Daily" that he considers the bill "antidemocratic." He said the bill would benefit the KPRF but "we have to take a broader view because [President] Putin's reforms will ruin the state and destroy democratic institutions." JAC

In comments broadcast on RTR and Radio Mayak and published by RIA-Novosti, Politika Foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov said on 14 October that, compared with the situations in Belgrade and Tbilisi after their recent elections, the Ukrainian "authorities have more rather than less chance of being the victor." "If [Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko does not gain a decisive victory, then [the chances of] a repetition of the Belgrade and Tbilisi scenarios are relatively high." Political analyst Sergei Markov charged: "Yushchenko's headquarters are trying to find an ideological basis for the transition to street actions. Their logic [will be] that Yushchenko led the entire time, but didn't win, which means that the election [results] were falsified." NTV suggested earlier in the week that Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's popularity among Ukrainian voters in Russia has been enhanced by a "massive propaganda campaign" sponsored by the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2004). JAC

Russia's level of HIV infection is nearing what health officials' define as an epidemic, with 0.7-0.8 percent of the population infected with HIV, Oleg Yurin, who is deputy director of the Federal Center for the Fight Against AIDS at the Health Ministry, told reporters in Moscow on 14 October, according to ITAR-TASS. An epidemic is defined as infection of 1 percent of the population. In some cities, such as Tolyatti, the percentage has surpassed the 1 percent threshold, Yurin reported, according to RBK. Other regions with the highest rates of infection are Irkutsk, Chelyabinsk, and Moscow oblasts and the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russia had some 293,786 registered individuals infected with HIV as of this month, RBK reported. Yurin also predicted that Russia will face a serious problem with cases of hepatitis B and C in 2005-08. Already, hepatitis B and C are among the leading causes of death among HIV-infected people. JAC

Vladimir Oblast Governor Nikolai Vinogradov has been accused of assaulting oblast legislator and member of the political opposition Sergei Kazakov, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 October. According to the daily, Kazakov, a long-time vocal opponent of the governor and member of the local Union of Rightist Forces, dropped in -- uninvited -- during a meeting of the head of cities and raions with Vinogradov in October 2003. Vinogradov asked him to leave; Kazakov refused; they traded insults; and then, according to Kazakov, the governor grabbed him by the chest and slapped him. Kazakov filed a criminal case and, at a hearing on 13 October, Vinogradov failed to show up or send a representative and a new hearing has been set for 29 October, Regnum reported. The press service for the oblast administration told "Izvestiya" that Kazakov made the accusation last year before State Duma elections. Now elections are approaching for the oblast legislature and he again needs to boost his popularity. The service added that "from a legal point of view, Kazakov's case has no chance of success." JAC

REN-TV reported on 14 October that police officers in Krasnodar Krai have been given special booklets instructing them on the finer points of etiquette. Colonel Vladimir Zaitsev, head of the training department at the krai's police directorate, revealed one nugget of wisdom from the book: "A person who has collapsed in the street is not necessarily drunk. He might be ill and in need of assistance." Policemen were also instructed to assist elderly women across busy streets more often. Local police headquarters has reportedly declared 2004 the year of "high culture" for law-enforcement officers, who are being forced to learn how to waltz. Younger policemen are being taught Russian grammar and vocabulary. JAC

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said in the Armenian capital Yerevan on 14 October that Russia will keep its borders with Georgia and Azerbaijan closed for another 30-40 days until unspecified measures to preclude the infiltration of terrorists into the Russian Federation have been implemented, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At the same time, Levitin hinted that the Verkhnii Lars border crossing between Russia and Georgia could again be opened for a short period to enable vehicles bound for Armenia to cross from Russia into Georgia. That crossing was opened for several hours on 10 October to permit traffic bound for Armenia to enter Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2004). In an implicit rejection of official Armenian requests that traffic bound for Armenia be allowed to pass freely through the Verkhnii Lars border post, Levitin said an alternative route via the Caspian Sea and Iran would prove "faster and cheaper." Levitin held talks in Yerevan with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and chaired jointly with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian a session of the bilateral intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. LF

Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov issued a decree on 13 October naming outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Abramov to head the new government, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. Abramov announced on 14 October that all key figures from the previous cabinet, including First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Eli Isaev, and the ministers of economic development, industry, and agriculture will be reappointed to those posts, and that any changes to the composition of the government will be "purely cosmetic," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 October. Speaking on 5 October after Alkhanov's inauguration, Abramov pledged to do all in his power to improve conditions in Chechnya, noting that "I have a lot of plans and a large number of projects that need to be implemented," Interfax reported on 5 October. LF

Vartan Oskanian met in Yerevan on 14 October with visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Laura Kennedy to discuss Armenian relations with Turkey and possible Armenian participation in postwar reconstruction in Iraq, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

Ambassador Maurizio Pavesi, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Baku, expressed approval and support on 14 October for the dialogue between the Azerbaijani authorities and opposition proposed last month by President Ilham Aliyev, Turan and reported on 14 and 15 October, respectively (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 September 2004). Pavesi said such a dialogue could help create "an atmosphere of trust." Opposition party leaders reacted with skepticism to Aliyev's overture, arguing that the authorities should demonstrate their good faith by releasing the seven opposition leaders currently on trial for their alleged role in the clashes in Baku that followed the disputed October 2003 presidential election. LF

Speaking at a conference in Baku on 14 October devoted to family and gender issues, Labor and Social Security Minister Ali Nagiev harshly criticized the country's education system, blaming inadequate education for all the problems Azerbaijan currently faces, reported on 15 October. He said 90 percent of graduates of Azerbaijan's schools and higher-education establishments are ignoramuses. Education Minister Misir Mardanov has been the subject of repeated criticism in the press in recent months, but predictions of his imminent dismissal have not yet become reality (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 April 2004). LF

Some 5,000-10,000 people instead of the anticipated 20,000-30,000 turned out on 14 October for a "Pan-National Assembly of the Abkhaz People" in Sukhum, capital of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, Russian media reported. Participants declared Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh, who according to Central Election Commission (CEC) data polled 50.08 percent of the vote in the 3 October presidential ballot, the lawful president-elect. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta," some 4,000 people attended a rival rally in Sukhum in support of former Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, who claims Bagapsh won only 49.9 percent of the vote. The independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 broadcast on 14 October unconfirmed reports that 600 Russian elite forces (spetsnaz) have been deployed to Abkhazia disguised as Abkhaz police. The Georgian volunteer Monadire battalion in the Kodori Gorge has been placed on alert in response to those reports, Caucasus Press reported on 14 October. The upper reaches of the gorge are the only section of Abkhaz territory still under Georgian control. LF

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the speaker of Kazakhstan's Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) and deputy chairman of the pro-presidential Otan party, told the newspaper "Vremya" on 14 October that recent parliamentary elections were deeply flawed. "The entire electoral process took place in an atmosphere of uninterrupted pressure on voters and election commissions from local executive officials," Tuyakbai said. "Elections held in this fashion carry a destructive charge that threatens the very basis for democratic development in our country." Representatives of opposition parties Ak Zhol, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan welcomed the speaker's remarks, which analysts told Interfax-Kazakhstan could reflect disputes within the ruling elite. DK

In an open letter to all political forces in Kazakhstan published in "Respublika" on 15 October, exiled former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin warned that the 14 months between now and the presidential election due in January 2006 will determine whether Kazakhstan becomes a democracy or remains an authoritarian dictatorship if incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev is elected for a sixth consecutive presidential term. Kazhegeldin branded last month's parliamentary elections less free and fair than any previous Kazakh elections. Kazhegeldin called on all democratic forces to unite immediately around the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol in order to create "a strong, modern party capable of fighting" Nazarbaev's "dictatorship" and ridding the country of corruption. Ak Zhol refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of last month's parliamentary elections, in which it won only two seats, and has called for repeat elections. LF

Kazhegeldin said in his open letter in "Respublika" on 15 October that the leaders of Ak Zhol should serve as leaders of the united opposition movement, and the heads of other opposition groups should consent to play a subordinate role. He expressed his own willingness to join an enlarged Ak Zhol, which, he argued, should propose a single candidate to contest the January 2006 ballot. Kazhegeldin expressed the hope that some members of Otan, the party that Nazarbaev created as his power base, will join the new united opposition. Kazhegeldin issued a similar call for opposition unity in the summer of 2002 following the passage of new legislation requiring the re-registration of all political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2002). That legislation was subsequently adduced as the rationale for liquidating Kazhegeldin's own Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). LF

Three Kazakh opposition parties are currently engaged in "vigorous consultations" with the aim of creating "a certain body, a certain structure, the goal of which will be to coordinate our activities for the next six months or one year," Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, head of the political council of the moderate Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice (DVK), told a news conference in Almaty on 13 October, Interfax reported. Kozhakhmetov hinted that the consultations could result in a merger between Ak Zhol and DVK. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 October quoted Ak Zhol Deputy Chairman Alikhan Baymenov as saying, "We are currently working on the creation of a coordinating council, and our future plans are for the creation of an alliance of democratic forces" that will propose a single presidential candidate. But he went on to explain that there is no question of merging to create a single party, and that the parties aligned in the new alliance will preserve their independence. LF

Representatives of the Kyrgyz civil union For Free Elections told a news conference in Bishkek on 14 October that the results of 10 October elections to local councils should be annulled, reported. Emil Aliev, deputy chairman of the Ar-Namys party, and Omurbek Tekebaev, head of the Ata-Meken party, said that numerous violations of election legislation took place in the course of elections, especially in Bishkek. They also called for a new election commission for Bishkek. DK

Jalgap Kazakbaev, an adviser to the director of Kyrgyzstan's Karabalta Mining Plant, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 14 October that the facility has not received any license from the Kyrgyz government to import uranium for reprocessing. The comment confirms a 13 October report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) that the Kyrgyz government has decided against allowing British Nuclear Fuels to send uranium-contaminated graphite to Kyrgyzstan for processing. DK

Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon, or lower chamber of parliament, ratified three UN antiterrorism conventions on 14 October, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. They are the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, and the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf. Deputy Foreign Minister Salohiddin Nasriddinov said Tajikistan is now obligated to bring its legislation into line with the provisions of the conventions, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Only one facility in Tajikistan, Vzryvprom, produces plastic explosives. DK

Tajikistan will retain the right to vote in the UN General Assembly until 30 June 2005 despite its $1.25 million debt to that world body, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 October. "During the latest visit of our delegation to the 59th session of the UN General Assembly, a decision was made that the deadline for paying our debt to [the UN] would be extended for another year," Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service the same day. "So our right to vote has not been revoked." DK

Peter Winglee, head of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) mission to Tajikistan, told a news conference in Dushanbe on 14 October that the poverty reduction program in the country has achieved good results, Avesta reported. "The mission stresses the need to improve the business and entrepreneurial environment to ensure a broader base for economic growth," Winglee added after a meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Rakhmonov said Tajikistan is poised to achieve 10 percent economic growth in 2004, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 14 October that his country will open a new military base in Tajikistan on 17 October to house Russia's 201st Motor Rifle Division, Interfax-AVN reported. The statement came during an informal meeting of NATO and Russian defense ministers in Romania. "We regard the opening of the Russian base as an important step in the strengthening of the regional collective security system and the designation of a new legal status for the military component of the Collective Security Treaty Organization," Ivanov said. DK

Great Britain has withdrawn Ambassador Craig Murray from Uzbekistan, the BBC reported on 14 October. The decision came after the "Financial Times" reported on 11 October that it had seen a confidential report in which Murray complained to the Foreign Office that Britain and the United States were receiving from Uzbek officials information extracted from terrorism suspects under torture. A Foreign Office spokesman told the BBC that Murray's removal was not a result of the newspaper story; he said, however, "It's now felt it's no longer possible Mr. Murray can do his job effectively so he's been withdrawn." Murray, who is currently receiving medical treatment in England, has been a vocal critic of the Uzbek government's human rights record since his appointment in 2002. DK

President Islam Karimov issued a decree on 13 October appointing Rustam Qosimov deputy prime minister and minister of education, UzA reported. DK

Three Belarusian opposition leaders, Anatol Lyabedzka, Syarhey Kalyakin, and Vintsuk Vyachorka, and independent election monitor Andrey Fyodarau on 14 October revealed a scenario under which they believe the authorities are going to rig the 17 October parliamentary election and presidential referendum, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. According to the opposition leaders, the authorities prepared two sets of election ballots, allowing for blank ballots to be given to voters while executive authority officials have already filled in another set of ballots that will actually be registered. These authorities, according to the opposition leaders, have also prepared falsified drafts of polling-station protocols registering the support for both President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's desire to run for the presidency for a third time and parliamentary candidates favored by the government. According to the opposition, falsified ballots and polling-station protocols will be passed to district election commissions while the real ballots will be destroyed by the Security Council immediately after the closure of polling stations on 17 October. JM

The three opposition leaders on 14 October showed journalists alleged copies of such falsified election protocols that were passed to the opposition by executive authority officials on conditions of anonymity, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. According to such a protocol for the constituency in Minsk where Kalyakin is running for a parliamentary seat, turnout was fixed at 85 percent, while support for Lukashenka's proposal to lift the constitutional term limit on the presidency at 75.3 percent (which translates into 64 percent of eligible voters in the constituency). The protocol registers that Kalyakin obtained 1.8 percent of the vote, while a candidate supported by the authorities garnered 85.1 percent. "It is an entire network resembling an organized criminal group that has been set up to undermine the constitutional foundations of the Republic of Belarus," Kalyakin said about the purported vote-rigging operators. "This group includes officials from the presidential administration, the security service, the Interior Ministry, ideological departments of oblast executive committees, and leaders of district and polling-station election commissions." JM

District election commissions have annulled the registration of three opposition candidates, Alyaksandr Tsynkevich from the United Civic Party, Aleh Volchak from the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and Alyaksey Mikhalevich from the Belarusian Popular Front, Belapan reported on 14 October. Tsynkevich and Volchak were accused of distributing leaflets that defamed the authorities and contained "knowingly false information," while Mikhalevich was blamed for distributing leaflets that had no imprint data. JM

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin on 14 October harshly criticized the Council of Europe's European Commission through Democracy and Law (also known as Venice Commission) for opining that Belarusian President Lukashenka's referendum proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency is unlawful, Belapan reported. "The Venice Commission has in fact discredited itself as an international legal body," Yesin told Belapan. "The commission's snap conclusions...are far from the methods traditionally used in international legal practice and bear a pronounced political character." The Venice Commission said earlier this week that Lukashenka's referendum proposal contradicts Belarus's Electoral Code, which prohibits questions about the election and removal of the president from being referred to a plebiscite. The commission also criticized Lukashenka for introducing what it called an "obviously illegal personal element into the referendum question." It said the question reveals an approach that directly contradicts European standards for democracy. JM

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 14 October read a statement expressing Washington's concern over many violations taking place in the campaign for the 31 October presidential ballot in Ukraine. "We urge the Ukrainian authorities to end immediately the ongoing violations of democratic norms, to allow Ukrainians to choose freely, and to adhere scrupulously to internationally accepted standards for tabulating and registering results on election day," the statement read. Boucher warned that if the elections fail to meet democratic standards, Ukraine cannot count on U.S. support for its aspirations to become "part of the Euro-Atlantic community." "We would also need to reexamine our relationship with those who engaged in election fraud and manipulation," Boucher added. JM

According to a poll conducted by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies, the Ukrainian Center of Political Management, and the Social Monitoring Center from 7-10 October, presidential candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych will be supported by 34.2 percent of voters in the first round and 42.2 percent in the runoff, while his main rival, Viktor Yushchenko, will be backed by 30.5 percent and 34.4 percent of voters, respectively, Interfax reported on 14 October. The poll also found that 16.5 percent of voters have not yet decided whom to support in the 31 October presidential ballot. Social Monitoring Center Olha Balakireva commented that Yanukovych has outdone Yushchenko in the presidential race by promising to make Russian an official language and to introduce double citizenship in Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych charged on 14 October that profiteers and "some political forces" wishing to destabilize the situation on the food markets are responsible for recent food-price hikes in Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. Yanukovych reportedly ordered that the law enforcement bodies intervene and keep food prices in check. Meanwhile, lawmaker Petro Poroshenko from the opposition Our Ukraine bloc said the primary reason for the price hikes is Yanukovych's recent decision to raise pensions for more than 11 million people in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2004). JM

A Bosnian Serb commission formed under international pressure to investigate the July 1995 massacre of mainly Muslim males from Srebrenica released a report in Banja Luka on 14 October in which it admitted for the first time that at least 7,000 people were killed by Serbian forces there, Reuters and dpa reported. "The newly compiled report [by the panel] says that more than 7,000 Muslims were killed in Srebrenica and also establishes their identity," Smail Cekic, the vice president of the seven-member panel, told the news agency. He declined to give a definite death toll until the government and the state human rights chamber approve the study (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May and 7, 14, and 23 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). In June, High Representative Paddy Ashdown sacked 59 Bosnian Serb officials for, among other things, allegedly obstructing the commission's work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 1 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM

In an exclusive online interview with users of the RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service website on 14 October, Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the Hague-based war crime tribunal's chief prosecutor, called for a full unveiling of the truth about the atrocities committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. She stressed that to deny that war crimes took place is to provide a basis for future "partitions and new violence." Hartmann argued that establishing justice is necessary for Bosnia to have a solid future. She also noted that the UN has "recognized its moral responsibility" for the massacre at Srebrenica, which was under the protection of UN peacekeepers at the time of its fall. Answering a question about the tribunal's problematic funding, she stressed that the tribunal will keep going as long as is necessary because that is "the best investment in the future" for the countries of the former Yugoslavia. PM

A well-known local criminal allegedly beat journalist Todor Micic with an iron bar near Bosansko Grahovo on 9 October, breaking both of Micic's legs and leaving him in a condition that will require surgery to correct, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 15 October. Serbian forces drove non-Serbs out of Bosansko Grahovo early in the 1992-95 conflict, and Croatian forces expelled the former Serbian majority in 1995. Micic and many other Serbs have since returned to their former homes in a region now under the control of Croatian nationalists and in which many homes lack water, electricity, or a telephone. His reporting for Deutsche Welle on the plight of the returnees and on behalf of a non-nationalist Bosnia made him unpopular with the Croatian and Serbian nationalists alike, local journalists told the Bonn-based German broadcaster. Some of Micic's journalist colleagues speculated that the assailant, who is on the run, might have been hired by unknown persons to intimidate Micic because the assailant did not take any of his victim's money or possessions but smashed his tape recorder. PM

Serbian President Boris Tadic said in a statement in Belgrade on 14 October that an unnamed government ministry funded a demonstration there the previous day of several hundred Serbian refugees from Kosova against Serbian participation in the 23 October parliamentary elections in that province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 8 October 2004). Tadic asked the government to confirm that the ministry in question was responsible for the rally. Unnamed government officials told reporters that the government has no information about any misuse of state funds. The president has called on Kosova's Serbian minority to participate in the ballot, but Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has advised a boycott. Tensions between the president and prime minister have become more public since the recent Serbian local elections, in which Tadic's Democratic Party and the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) emerged as the clear winners. Elsewhere, Oliver Ivanovic, who is a Serbian member of the Presidency of Kosova's parliament, said on 14 October that the protests had been organized, but did not elaborate. Momcilo Trajkovic, who is also a Kosovar Serb political leader, called on Tadic and Kostunica to work out their differences. PM

In a joint statement issued after a meeting in Ohrid on 14 October, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski and the leaders of the largest religious communities in Macedonia -- the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Religious Community, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, and the Jewish Community -- said that religious tolerance is a precondition for peace, stability, security, and prosperity for all citizens of Macedonia, "Dnevnik" reported. The leaders of the religious communities and Crvenkovski agreed to launch joint efforts to "protect the status and name" of the Macedonian Orthodox Church as well as the unity of the Islamic Religious Community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). Meanwhile, the imams of some 150 mosques from Skopje and the surrounding area announced that they have decided to call for the resignation of Skopje Mufti Zenun Berisha. They also decided that the head of the Islamic Religious Community, Reis-ul-ulema Hadzi Arif Efendi Emini, will not be granted the traditional honors during the prayers for the first day of Ramadan on 15 October. The imams claim that Emini is responsible for what they call the "illegitimate" election of Berisha as Skopje mufti (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October 2004). UB

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Poiana-Brasov, Romania, on 14 October that the alliance has no joint official position on Ukraine's construction of the Bystraya Canal in the Danube Delta, Mediafax reported. De Hoop Scheffer, who attended the informal two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Poiana-Brasov, said the dispute is one between Ukraine and Romania and that he hopes it will be soon settled. "If a country joins NATO, its problems with neighboring states do not necessarily become a problem of NATO," he said. Mediafax also reported that border police along the Romanian side of one of the main branches that flows into the Black Sea, the Chilia, have been reinforced in response to alleged attempts by Ukraine to alter the placement of buoys marking the border and incursions by Ukrainian vessels into Romanian waters. Romanian Ambassador to Ukraine Alexandru Cornea was summoned the Foreign Ministry in Kyiv in connection with a 9 October incident in which a Romanian vessel blocked the passage of a Ukrainian ship that allegedly entered Romania's territorial waters. MS

The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance on 14 October presented to journalists its prospective program in the event it wins the November parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. The program's main emphasis is on improving the business climate and financial system. Alliance co-Chairman Traian Basescu, who is also its candidate in the November presidential elections, said a flat 16 percent income and corporate tax (now averaging 23-25 percent, respectively) would raise living standards, facilitate tax collection, and encourage foreign firms to invest in Romania, Reuters reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD)'s candidate for the premiership, commented that the program is merely a list of promises and a declaration of intentions, and that some of its points have been "plagiarized' from the PSD's program while others have already been implemented by the current cabinet. MS

Matei Bratianu, secretary-general of the National Syndicate Bloc (BNS), on 14 October said the union will continue cooperating with the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and described a recent press release from the U.S. Embassy in Romania as "a purely Soviet-style" attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of another country, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2004). Bratianu said the PRM is not, as the embassy referred to it in its 13 October statement, an "extremist party, but a political party undergoing modernization, [and backing] democratic principles and values." Meanwhile, the Union of Public Service Members announced on 14 October that it is leaving the BNS in protest against the terms of the electoral cooperation agreement the BNS signed with the PRM. MS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase met in Budapest on 14 October with his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Gyurcsany, Mediafax reported. Nastase attended in the Hungarian capital the "Progressive Governance" meeting of 14 Socialist and Social-democratic heads of governments and states. Gyurcsany, who recently took over Hungary's premiership from Peter Medgyessy, promised Nastase to continue backing Romania's EU accession efforts, saying his country's policies toward Romania will not change. "Hungary has long suffered the whims of history, but we are looking toward the future, in a European framework of relations that can help us overcome [older] injuries and national insult without provoking any new conflicts," Gyurcsany said. Nastase said the Hungarian government has raised no objections to a Romanian draft law on aiding Romanians living outside the country's borders. He emphasized that the draft has been sent to Budapest ahead of its adoption "in line with the principles of good-neighborly relations." The two premiers agreed to set up a working group to examine the controversial Rosia Montana mining project in Transylvania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2004). MS

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 13 October in Poiana-Brasov, Romania, that his country's troops deployed in Transdniester will stay there until the evacuation of Russian weaponry from the region is completed, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov, who participated in a two-day meeting with NATO defense ministers, said that the Russian 14th Army was long ago withdrawn from Transdniester and only 1,500 peacekeeping troops remain there -- a number he said is barely enough to guard "such a huge quantity of ammunition." Ivanov also said he "cannot say how long [remaining troops] will be there," but noted that no Russian armaments have been withdrawn in the past six months. This, he said in an apparent allusion to Moldova's November 2003 refusal to sign the so-called Kozak memorandum, "is not our fault." MS

The Moldovan Supreme Security Council on 14 October called on President Vladimir Voronin to dismiss Defense Minister Brigadier General Victor Gaiciuc and Simion Rusu, who is a deputy director of the Information and Security Services, Infotag reported. Citing unidentified government sources, the agency said that the council discussed on the same day the discovery in August of massive weaponry thefts from military depots. Some of the stolen weaponry has been recouped and several people were detained. The council concluded that Gaiciuc and Rusu, who is in charge of military counterintelligence, are personally responsible for those incidents. According to Infotag, council head Voronin is expected to follow the recommendations. MS

The 3 October ballot to elect a successor to Vladislav Ardzinba, the ailing president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, has compounded tensions between rival political factions in Abkhazia and called into question the extent of Moscow's influence over developments there.

Initial returns released by the Central Election Commission on 4 October suggested a first-round victory for Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, whose candidacy both Ardzinba and Russian President Vladimir Putin had publicly endorsed. Khadjimba was said to have polled 52.84 percent of the vote, compared with 33.58 percent for his closest rival, Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh. Former Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba reportedly garnered 9.92 percent, Yakub Lakoba 2.73 percent, and former Prime Minister Anri Djergenia 0.94 percent.

Bagapsh's supporters immediately challenged those figures, claiming that he polled not less than 63 percent of the vote. Bagapsh's campaign staff later revised that figure to 52-53 percent.

Later on 4 October, Khadjimba told supporters in Sukhum that the ballot was neither fair nor democratic, and that voters in Ochamchira Raion were "pressured." Khadjimba said he would protest those alleged violations to the Supreme Court. (Late on 3 October, members of Khadjimba's staff had stated that they had deployed observers at all polling stations but had not witnessed any "serious" violations" of voting procedure, Caucasus Press reported, citing Apsnipress.)

On 5 October, Khadjimba, together with Shamba, Lakoba, and Djergenia jointly filed a complaint with the Supreme Court alleging violations of election regulations not in Ochamchira but in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, whose predominantly Georgian population overwhelmingly support Bagapsh. One of the key tenets of Bagapsh's election platform was improving socioeconomic conditions and security in Gali to encourage Georgians who fled the district during the 1992-93 war to return. Khadjimba's campaign manager, Guram Inapshba, told Apsnipress that members of election commissions in the three polling stations in Gali openly called on voters to cast their ballots for Bagapsh and tried to intimidate Khadjimba's observers. Bagapsh rejected those allegations of malpractice, pointing out on 5 October that international observers did not register any such procedural violations in Gali.

On 5 October, the Central Election Commission (CEC) released returns from Sukhum and Gagra showing Khadjimba in the lead. The following day, some 300 Bagapsh supporters congregated outside the CEC to demand that data for all districts be made public. The CEC then released returns from all seven districts except for Gali, giving Bagapsh 35,092 votes and Khadjimba 30,120. The total number of votes cast for all five candidates republic-wide was given as 76,656.

Also on 6 October, CEC Chairman Sergei Smyr announced that repeat voting would be held in Gali on 17 October. ITAR-TASS quoted Smyr as acknowledging that that ruling contradicted the Abkhaz law on the presidential election, which makes provision only for repeat voting throughout the republic but not in individual districts.

"Vremya novostei" on 7 October quoted Smyr as saying the decision on repeat elections in Gali was "political," and necessitated by "rising tension."

Ardzinba, however, criticized the CEC ruling on repeat voting in Gali as unconstitutional, as did Khadjimba. Apsnipress on 7 October quoted Khadjimba as calling for repeat voting throughout Abkhazia. Ardzinba dismissed Khadjimba as prime minister late on 6 October and named Nodar Khashba, an employee of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, as acting prime minister. Khashba told journalists in Sukhum on 7 October his brief was to "normalize" the situation in the run-up to the repeat vote on 17 October. Khashba met later on 7 October with both Bagapsh and Khadjimba but no details of those meetings were made public.

The Supreme Court was originally scheduled to deliver a ruling on 8 October on the validity of Khadjimba's complaint, but postponed doing so until 11 October, and then until 15 October. On 11 October, the CEC announced that 12 of its 15 members considered the 3 October poll valid and proclaimed Bagapsh the winner with 43,366 votes of a total of 76,645 votes cast, compared with 30,815 for Khadjimba. That is equal to 50.08 percent of the total vote. On 13 October, however, Khadjimba belatedly challenged the CEC's arithmetic, claiming that Bagapsh polled only 49.89 percent of the vote, according to ITAR-TASS. Smyr was one of the CEC members who did not endorse Bagapsh; he submitted his resignation as CEC chairman later on 11 October.

On 12 October, Ardzinba criticized as "illegal and absurd" the CEC ruling designating Bagapsh the winner of the 3 October ballot. Ardzinba said the CEC should have waited until the Supreme Court considered Khadjimba's appeal. Prime Minister Khashba similarly told some 2,500 Khadjimba supporters who convened in Sukhum on 12 October that "the legal procedure of the presidential election is not over yet, and we must wait for a ruling by the Supreme Court."

Meanwhile, on 12 October the Abkhaz parliament voted to amend the law on the presidential election to permit repeat voting at individual polling stations, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 October.Khadjimba immediately appealed to the Supreme Court the CEC ruling naming Bagapsh the winner, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 October. But Interfax on 12 October quoted Bagapsh as saying that "we won the election in an honest battle." He stressed that he does not oppose the campaign for Abkhazia's international recognition as an independent state, but that "there is opposition to the system of authority that has taken shape in Abkhazia." In that respect, what is at stake in this election is less future government policy than assets and power. Bagapsh told RFE/RL on 13 October that the current leadership simply "do not want to leave power." Moreover, Bagapsh and former Interior Minister Aleksandr Ankvab, tipped as Bagapsh's choice for prime minister, have vowed to make combating crime and corruption a priority. In mid-August, before Ankvab was denied registration for the ballot, "Russkii kurer" predicted that in the event he became president, many members of the present leadership who have accumulated wealth and property by dubious if not criminal means would be faced with the choice of jail or fleeing Abkhazia.

Given the similarities between the five candidates' election platforms, what induced voters to reject the candidate who stood for continuity? A correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting suggested that Russia's unambiguous promotion of Khadjimba may have misfired, and that many voters may have backed Bagapsh because they are suspicious of Moscow's ultimate objective in Abkhazia. Others, especially those struggling to survive financially, may have been seduced by Bagapsh's plans to turn Abkhazia into an offshore zone.

While counting of ballots from Logar, Kabul, Ghazni, and Wardak provinces commenced on 14 October to determine the outcome of Afghanistan's 9 October presidential elections, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) ordered that ballot boxes "from 10 polling stations and 11 other ballot boxes from 11 zones" be sequestered until an investigation is completed into allegations of voter fraud, state-run Kabul Radio reported. JEMB spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin reportedly told the official Bakhtar News Agency that recommendations issued by the international fact-finding delegation tasked with investigating the allegations have been adopted by the JEMB. These include the sequestering of certain ballot boxes so the delegation can further investigate complaints that were filed after the elections by some presidential candidates. KM

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 14 October told the nation that "I want to congratulate you today on the successful end of a major historic day and turning point in Afghanistan." "Afghans...took part in a secret, direct, and free election in every part of the country on this day [9 October] to choose their future leader," he added during the speech broadcast on Kabul Radio. "Our people's massive, calm, and dramatic participation in the election has not only surprised and attracted the attention of other countries in the region, but has also surprised those countries and people who have held such elections for several years." Karzai praised the fact that security was ensured throughout the country during the elections, proving, he said, that Afghanistan "is a united nation and wants peace." He concluded by saying that "every Afghan voter, be he young or old, woman or girl, proved that their constitution and government had given them the right to determine their fate and choose their future leader through their vote." KM

"Kabul Weekly" commented on 13 October that by "extensively participating in the presidential election on [9 October]...the Afghan people surprised the world and displayed their great political an unprecedented manner." The weekly continued: "The presidential election was held in a manner that had not been predicted by the international community and the Afghan authorities.... They expected that the government's rivals and the local commanders would seriously disrupt the participation of the people in the voting, and that the process would not end without bloodshed." Regarding the winner of the presidential race, "the real winner in the election is the Afghan people, who have extensively participated in it and frustrated the arch rivals of their land and opened up a new peaceful way to determine the political system and the struggle for power.... The Afghan people should now feel proud that they have taken a major step toward development and can live beside other nations with honor," the "Kabul Weekly" concluded. Meanwhile, an editorial in the daily "Erada" on 14 October noted that "everybody feared that the enemies of the peace would once again victimize the nation for their illogical desires on that day." KM

Afghan Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak met on 14 October with the coordinator of Afghan affairs for the U.S. State Department, Maureen Copen, according to Afghanistan's daily "Erada" the same day. Copen reportedly praised the role of the Afghan National Army in guaranteeing security throughout the presidential election process and congratulated the Defense Ministry and the country as a whole on the successful elections. In addition, both sides discussed continuing challenges facing Afghanistan, including disarmament issues such as weapons collection and demobilization. KM

National Youth Organization head Rahim Ebadi told "Sharq" of 14 October that, "currently, the unemployment rate has reached 27 percent." He went on to say that the government is trying to reduce the unemployment rate to 15 percent and added that half of his organization's assets go toward creating work opportunities for young people. The World Bank's Country Brief on Iran states, "The rate of unemployment dropped in 2004 for the second year in a row, reaching 11.2 percent (from 14.7 percent in 2002)." Approximately 700,000 jobs must be created annually to account for new entrants in the work force, according to the World Bank, but only about 500,000 have been created. BS

The Czech Republic's Security Information Service (BIS) in 2003 tracked the activities on its soil of intelligence services from states suspected of "covertly supporting terrorist organizations," according to the Czech intelligence agency's annual report. "Among the most frequently observed intelligence services are those of Iran, North Korea, and several states of the former USSR," CTK cited the report as saying on 14 October. In Baghdad, Iraqi intelligence chief Muhammad al-Shahwani claimed on 14 October that 27 staffers at the Iranian Embassy are engaged in espionage, and that they recruited the assassins of 18 Iraqi intelligence personnel, Al-Sharqiyah television reported (also see Iraq item below). The Iraqi official said documents secured in raids on 29 September linked Iran with the killings. BS

Mehdi Safari, Iran's special envoy for Caspian Sea affairs, said on 13 October at a conference in Tehran that Iran is entitled to 20.4 percent of the sea's resources, IRNA reported. The division of resources has not been determined yet, he said, and Iran's share would be between 20.4 and 25.5 percent on the basis of commonly accepted formulas. Safari said Iran is insisting on "the principle of equitable distribution." Hitherto Iran has insisted that the sea be divided equally, giving each of the five littoral states 20 percent. He dismissed the bilateral agreements that other littoral states have entered into. Safari went on to say that the Caspian Sea should be demilitarized, and he noted that Iran held military exercises there only after other countries did so. "Moreover, the military exercises were held for the sole purpose of preparing for the defense of the country's coastlines, fighting terrorism" and similar aims. BS

Construction of the Bushehr nuclear facility's first power-generating unit is complete, an anonymous spokesman for Russia's Atomic Energy Agency told ITAR-TASS on 14 October. "It only remains for the Russian specialists to assemble the unit's control and safety equipment," most of which is Russian but some of which must be secured in third countries, according to the spokesman. Commissioning of the power unit will take place in mid-2005 and it will commence full operations in 2006, he added. Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev discussed the Bushehr project with a visiting delegation of Iranian parliamentarians led by National Security and Foreign Policy Committee head Alaedin Borujerdi on 14 October, Interfax reported. The two sides also discussed bilateral economic relations. In Tehran on 10 October, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Bushehr project should be completed as soon as possible, Fars News Agency reported. BS

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov during his 10 October visit discussed the nuclear issue and other subjects with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rohani, Fars News Agency reported. Rohani reportedly told his Russian guest that if Iran's right to enrich uranium and engage in other nuclear activities is blocked, Iran will abandon the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Fars News Agency reported. Rohani described uranium enrichment as Iran's "legitimate right." BS

A car bomb detonated in the Al-Dura area of Baghdad on 15 October, international media reported. Al-Jazeera reported that five people were killed and six wounded in the explosion, which took place outside the Al-Dura police station. Reuters reported that five police officers and five civilians were wounded in the attack. An Interior Ministry spokesman could not confirm to Reuters if a suicide bomber was involved in the attack. KR

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major incursion into the volatile Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah on 14 October, international media reported. Al-Jazeera reported on 15 October that one person was killed and seven wounded in overnight bombing. Families were said to be fleeing the city following the overnight attacks. The satellite news channel said that five people were killed and 16 wounded in raids on 14 October. An unidentified member of the Al-Fallujah negotiating team told Al-Arabiyah on 14 October that talks with the interim government broke down after Prime Minister Iyad Allawi demanded that citizens turn over fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). Al-Zarqawi's Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad has claimed responsibility for the 14 October attacks on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad. KR

Iraqi intelligence chief Muhammad al-Shahwani accused 27 members of the Iranian Embassy's Baghdad staff of espionage, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 14 October. Al-Shahwani said that embassy personnel were also recruiting people to carry out assassinations that led to the deaths of some 18 members of the intelligence force since mid-September. He contended that documents uncovered during a series of raids on Iranian places (not further identified) in Baghdad on 29 September link Iran with the intelligence killings. The attacks were purportedly carried out by an unnamed political organization operating in Iraq, according to the report. KR

A group of armed men torched a movie theater in the Iraqi city of Al-Samawah on 14 October, Kyodo World Service reported on 15 October. Japanese forces stationed in the city and Iraqi police said no one was seriously injured in the attack. Four masked men drove out moviegoers and threatened the theater's manager at gunpoint before beating him and setting fire to the theater, the news agency reported. The theater is the only movie house in the city. The men were reportedly angered over the showing of movies with sexual content. KR

Dawud al-Bagistani, head of the Human Rights Association in Iraq, told Al-Jazeera television in a 15 October interview that he expects to reach an agreement between multinational forces and militants in Tal Afar within the next 48 hours. The city, located near the Syrian border in northwestern Iraq, has been the scene of sporadic fighting between multinational forces and insurgents in recent weeks. Al-Bagistani said that the agreement would "allow the coalition forces and the Iraqi police to enter Tal Afar and bring about the handover of heavy and medium-sized weapons, as happened in Al-Sadr City." The negotiator added that he believes the situation in the city improved after Iraqi officials met with their Syrian counterparts to beef up security along the border. KR