PUTIN AGAIN STATES HIS COMMITMENT TO 'DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES'...
During a 20 October meeting in the Kremlin with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, President Vladimir Putin explained that Russia is in the process of seeking out a new and appropriate form of political and social organization, RIA-Novosti reported. He said the government is working on this problem, taking into account "traditions, realities, our enormous territory, and the enormous number of ethnic groups in the country." He emphasized, though, that "despite all the difficulties, we will remain within the framework of the current constitution and democratic principles." Putin said the authorities are acting "completely openly and transparently" in "transforming the political sphere and in reforming the economy, the state, and society." Fini reportedly told Putin that the Italian government supports Putin's reform proposals but noted that other European Union countries do not. "Not all EU countries hold the opinion that it is necessary to ensure security and stability during the implementation of reforms," Fini said. RC
...AS ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL WARNS OF 'NEW POLITICAL STRATEGY' THAT THREATENS DEMOCRACY
In an article published in "Izvestiya" on 19 October, Georgii Kunadze, deputy chief of staff to President Putin's human rights ombudsman, said that Putin's proposed political reforms have "nothing to do with combating terrorism." He said that critics of the reforms were wrong to focus their attention on the proposal to eliminate the direct election of regional governors, saying that "the quality of the leader elected by direct ballot" was not impressive and that the current system does not offer sufficient opportunity to remove incompetent leaders in subsequent elections. Instead, Kunadze suggested that attention should center on the proposed Public Chamber and Putin's recent edict on state support for human rights organizations. He said these efforts could "help ensure that the 'right' grants go to the 'right' human rights organizations, those that are oriented, as the president put it, toward 'upholding the people's real interests.'" "The gains of Russian democracy are threatened not so much by the innovations in the electoral system...as by the authorities' outwardly innocuous plans to enlist nongovernmental organizations," he concluded. "I would like to think I'm mistaken, but I seem to perceive a new political strategy behind these plans." RC
NEWSPAPER SAYS NUMBER OF BESLAN VICTIMS THREE TIMES GREATER THAN OFFICIAL FIGURES
The weekly "Versiya," No. 40, has reported that the morgue in Vladivostok has issued 648 death certificates in connection with the Beslan school hostage taking last month. The paper also reported that 540 victims have been buried so far. A correspondent for the paper reported counting 345 graves in the local cemetery on 1 October, many of which contained several people. In addition, he reported seeing 100 new graves being dug. According to official statistics, 323 people died during the 3 September storming of the school and 12 more died subsequently from their injuries. The weekly reported that the actual death toll could be around 1,000. The newspaper also reported that in the middle of August, police in Beslan issued an official warning of a possible terrorist act in connection with the beginning of the school year and urged citizens to be vigilant. Nonetheless, the paper reported, there were no police at all at the school on 1 September. The paper also claims to have received information from former hostages about four terrorists who are not accounted for in official accounts of the incident -- one of whom was reportedly killed by enraged local residents, one of whom was reportedly badly beaten by locals but was taken away alive by police, and two of whom may have escaped. RC
ELECTION COMMISSION HEAD NOT IMPRESSED BY BELARUSIAN REFERENDUM
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 21 October criticized the 17 October referendum in Belarus that set the stage for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to run for a third term, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that a lack of transparency and public control over the voting "gave grounds for all sorts of accusations, some of them biased." He noted that the regulations for conducting referendums in Belarus differ greatly from those in Russia, adding, "I don't think the model created in Belarus is the right model to follow." But Veshnyakov praised the high voter turnout for the vote in Belarus. On 18 October, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the referendum was transparent and reflected the will of the Belarusian people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004). RC
MINISTRY PUSHES FORWARD WITH PLANS TO PRIVATIZE CULTURAL MONUMENTS
The Culture and Mass Communications Ministry has asked the government to give the go-ahead to a proposal to privatize certain cultural monuments within the next six months, Interfax reported on 21 October, citing an unnamed ministry source (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2004). The cabinet discussed the proposal at its 21 October session. The ministry source told the news agency that first priority will be given to the privatization of buildings that are in such poor condition that they will be lost if they do not receive immediate investment. He said the government can prepare the regulations for such privatizations within six months, and added that the program could be extended to include monuments that are not in such poor condition. The ministry said work on the proposal is hampered by the fact that there is not a unified list of cultural monuments and no established procedure for assessing their condition. The privatization of certain cultural monuments is allowed under a June 2002 law. RC
DAILY: KREMLIN PREPARING TO LAUNCH RIGHTIST POLITICAL PARTY
The Kremlin is developing a plan to create yet another party of power that would work alongside Unified Russia and Motherland, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 21 October, citing unnamed sources in the Duma. One source said the Kremlin has already made preparations to open 51 regional branches of the new party, which will be a rightist, liberal party, possibly headed by Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, and Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin. The sources told the daily that the Kremlin wants a liberal counterbalance to the "bureaucratic" Unified Russia and the "leftist" Motherland. Duma Deputy Valerii Draganov (Unified Russia) told the paper that the Duma needs a rightist faction, but said that it should be created within Unified Russia. In a comment on politcom.ru, Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Aleksei Makarkin commented on recent efforts in the Duma to increase the minimal number of party members require to register a political party with the Justice Ministry. "This is the creation of a managed party system under which all political forces must operate either following the Kremlin's lead or, at the very minimum, taking its interests into account in their activity," Makarkin wrote. RC
COURT ORDERS KOMMERSANT TO PAY $11.7 MILLION TO ALFA BANK
The Moscow Arbitration Court on 20 October ordered the Kommersant publishing house to pay 321 million rubles ($11.7 million) to Alfa Bank for a story that appeared in "Kommersant-Daily" during the banking crisis earlier this year, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 2 August 2004). The court ruled that a 7 July article entitled "The Banking Crisis Hits The Streets" was untrue and damaged the business reputation of the bank. The court ordered the publishing house to pay all the damages that Alfa Bank sought. Kommersant General Director Andrei Vasilev told Ekho Moskvy on 20 October that Alfa Bank is trying to destroy his company because its owner, self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, refused to sell it to Alfa Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman. Vasilev said that the article merely described the situation on 6 July, when there were long lines at Alfa Bank offices, and depositors were unable to withdraw funds from automatic-teller machines. He said Kommersant will appeal the ruling. Berezovskii told Ekho Moskvy that by filing the suit, Alfa Bank "is playing hand-in-hand with those who are destroying the independent mass media." RC
LIBERAL WEEKLY TO SHUT DOWN?
Mikhail Berger, editor in chief of the liberal news weekly "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," told gazeta.ru on 21 October that media reports that the magazine will close at the end of the year are "complete lies." He admitted, however, that the magazine's owners do plan to review its status and its strategic plan in January. "Depending on whether the project has achieved certain specific results relating to various business parameters, the issue of the fate of the project will be considered in January," Berger said. RC
LEGISLATOR ATTACKS SOLDIERS' MOTHERS COMMITTEE...
State Duma Deputy Viktor Alksnis (Motherland) told Ekho Moskvy on 20 October that next week he will ask the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, which he accused of conducting an active "anti-army" campaign with Western money. Alksnis said that the activities of the group run counter to Russia's national interests. Responding to Alksnis's charges, Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees, told the station that it is an odd coincidence that Alksnis's charges came just as Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov has answered the group's appeal for talks. JAC
...AS MASKHADOV AGREES TO TALKS
When asked why they sought talks with the Chechens, Melnikova said her group will talk to whomever it can, but the Russian government refuses to negotiate. She added that Russian federal forces have lost 25,000 army officers and men and Interior Ministry personnel, and the losses of the Chechen people are measured in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives lost or ruined. She explained that her group would negotiate as an "injured party" and would discuss only the cessation of hostilities and not political arrangements concerning Chechnya's status. Melnikova concluded that "what Colonel [Alksnis] has done would be laughable if it had not been a political move." Melnikova announced earlier this year that her group is taking the necessary legal steps to become a political party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004). JAC
NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET HALFWAY THROUGH DUMA
The State Duma voted on 20 October to adopt the draft 2005 budget in its second reading, ITAR-TASS and RosBalt reported. The vote was 349 in favor with 86 opposed and one abstention. In order for the budget to pass on to the next step in the legislative process, consideration by the Federation Council, it must pass in four readings. In the draft, revenues are set at 3.326 trillion rubles ($114 billion) and expenditures at 3.048 trillion rubles, while gross domestic product is expected to grow by 6.3 percent and inflation will rise by 7.5-8.5 percent. Budget planners estimate that the price of oil will average $28 a barrel. According to RosBalt, expenditures on national defense were raised from the first reading by 2 billion rubles to 531.133 billion rubles. This represents a 29 percent increase over the 2004 budget. Interbudgetary transfers were increased by almost 8 billion rubles from the first reading. The third reading is scheduled for 24 November, according to RosBalt. JAC
TEACHERS, DOCTORS PARTICIPATE IN NATIONWIDE PROTEST FOR HIGHER WAGES
Public-sector workers such as teachers and doctors participated in protests across Russia on 20 October, Russian news agencies reported. NTV cited trade-union organizers as estimating the number of participants at 4 million. About 300 gathered in Vladivostok, and by official numbers, some 700 people protested at the Gorbatii Bridge in Moscow, but TV-Tsentr said that there appeared to be a lot more participants than officially reported. The protesters' main demand is higher wages; however, Yelena Barmina, a trade-union official, told the station that in Moscow teachers and students were also protesting against the introduction of paid education and a law on the privatization of institutes of higher learning. In Voronezh, some 5,000 protesters gathered at a main city square and adopted a resolution asking the government to raise wages by a factor of 1.5 this year and to double them in 2005, polit.ru reported. JAC
IS MOTHERLAND POISED TO GAIN GROUND AT UNIFIED RUSSIA'S EXPENSE?
"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 20 October that a dozen or more members of Unified Russia's State Duma faction are "rumored" to be ready to follow the example of Igor Morozov, who recently defected to the Motherland party faction. Morozov joined the Motherland party on 11 October, according to Motherland's website. According to the daily, unidentified members of Unified Russia are frustrated that all of the leadership posts in the party have already been doled out and therefore they are thinking of switching to Motherland in order "to claim a place in the reserved seating area." On 14 October, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted an unidentified official in Unified Russia as saying that Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin is Unified Russia's "enemy No. 1." JAC
CHELSEA'S GAIN IS CHUKOTKA'S LOSS
"Izvestiya" reported on 20 October that since becoming owner of London's Chelsea soccer team, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has been visiting the region he governs less frequently. "Izvestiya's" correspondent noted that Abramovich's tenure has resulted in great visible changes in the okrug's capital city, Anadyr. In addition, residents are now getting their wages, which was not the case before Abramovich assumed office. Now, however, Abramovich rarely appears in Anadyr, according to the daily, which commented that Abramovich approached his tasks as governor as if playing the computer game Sim City, ordering the construction of a drug store, a hairdressing salon, a gymnasium, and other facilities with as little difficulty as clicking a mouse. Some of Abramovich's benevolent efforts haven't panned out: Some 11,000 chickens were imported for a newly constructed factory but within a week some 8,000 had died because the workers had diluted the bird's vitamins with icy water and it should have been warm. The governor also imported sugar from the United States but residents wouldn't buy it because it was cane sugar and was useless in the production of samogon or moonshine. JAC
LOCAL OFFICIAL IN DAGHESTAN UNINJURED IN BOMB ATTACK
Abakar Akaev, head of the city administration in the northern town of Buinaksk, escaped uninjured on 20 October when a roadside bomb exploded as his motorcade drove past, Interfax reported. Akaev met in Buinaksk shortly before the explosion with Prime Minister Atai Aliev and the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Aleksandr Baranov. LF
ARMENIAN COALITION PARTNERS AGREE ON ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS
During a meeting on 15 October, the three parties represented in the Armenian coalition government secured the approval of President Robert Kocharian for increasing the number of parliament mandates distributed under the party-list system, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 20 October, citing deputy parliamentary speaker Tigran Torosian. At present, 75 lawmakers are elected from party lists and the remaining 56 in single-mandate constituencies. Torosian did not say whether the three coalition parties have resolved their disagreement over the optimum distribution of seats and, if so, what the future ratio will be (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2004). LF
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DENIES RENEWED TALKS WITH GOVERNMENT
Three senior opposition leaders denied on 20 October deputy speaker Torosian's claim in an interview published the previous day in the daily "Hayots ashkhar" that the opposition has resumed talks with the government on ways to resolve the protracted political standoff, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Aram Sargsian of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party said, "there have been no contacts or negotiations...," and that "the authorities have done everything possible to prevent such contacts." Stepan Demirchian of the People's Party of Armenia warned that anyone who embarks on such contacts without consulting the leaders of other parties aligned in the Artarutiun bloc risks expulsion from that alliance. LF
WIFE APPEALS ON BEHALF OF ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI ANTICORRUPTION CAMPAIGNER
The wife of Ahad Ahadov, who in August established an unofficial committee to protest illegal and criminal actions by Masally District administrator Ahad Abiev and members of his family, appealed on 20 October for her husband's release from pretrial detention, Turan reported. Ahadov was detained in late September and has been charged with illegal possession of drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 13, and 29 September 2004). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, PRIME MINISTER COMMENT ON BUDGET REJECTION
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania accused lawmakers during a cabinet session on 20 October of treating the government as an adversary by rejecting the 2005 draft budget, Caucasus Press reported. He invited lawmakers to engage in a televised debate on the budget's merits and shortcomings. On 19 October, Zhvania told journalists he is ready to cooperate with parliament in fine-tuning the budget, Caucasus Press reported. At the same time, he warned parliamentarians against trying to provoke a government crisis. Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze commented on 19 October that the individual ministries are pursuing separate agendas, and that failure to coordinate expenditures in the draft budget has precipitated a serious government crisis. Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli predicted on 20 October that parliament will ultimately approve the draft as it stands. President Mikheil Saakashvili for his part on 20 October dismissed the altercation as normal and predicted that the government and parliament will succeed in reaching a compromise, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIA SEEKS ACCOMMODATION WITH RUSSIA OVER BORDER CLOSURE
The Georgian State Border Protection Department has addressed an official request to its Russian counterpart to clarify the situation with regard to the Verkhnii Lars border crossing, which Russia closed to motor traffic last month, allegedly to prevent "terrorists" entering the Russian Federation from Georgian territory, Caucasus Press reported on 20 October. Georgian President Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 October that the Russian decision to close that border crossing was intended purely to exert pressure on the Georgian leadership. At the same time, he acknowledged that Georgia has no alternative but to try to find a common language with Russia, but that it should not forfeit its dignity in the process, Caucasus Press reported. LF
DATE SET FOR TOP-LEVEL GEORGIAN-OSSETIAN TALKS...
During a seven-hour meeting in Tbilisi of the co-chairmen of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, it was agreed that the proposed meeting between Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania and Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, will take place in Sochi no later than 10 November, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The co-chairmen noted with satisfaction that "most" illegal armed units have been withdrawn from the conflict zone. Russian co-Chairman Valerii Kenyaikin said that during a separate meeting with Zhvania, the latter advocated measures to reduce tensions and build confidence between the opposing communities and stressed the importance of economic reconstruction, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
...AS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR EXPEDITING SETTLEMENT
Commenting to journalists in Tbilisi on 20 October on the announced meeting between Zhvania and Kokoity, President Saakashvili said that only one issue should be on the agenda: how to resolve the conflict, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili said talks on a solution to the conflict should not be delayed any further, and expressed his readiness to travel to Tskhinvali to participate in such negotiations. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS SEEK TO END MINERS' STRIKE
Prime Minister Zhvania ordered Economy Minister Bendukidze and Regional Development Minister Zurab Melikishvili on 20 October to pay wage arrears owed to several thousand miners at the Chiatura manganese mine, Caucasus Press reported. Nineteen miners launched a protest on 16 October to demand back pay for the previous two months; six more joined the protest the following day. Imereti Governor Gia Getsadze met with the miners on 20 October and assured them that their demand will be met. LF
NEW GEORGIAN NATIONAL OIL COMPANY HEAD NAMED
Former National Security Council Deputy Secretary Nikoloz Vashakidze has been named to head the Georgian International Oil Corporation, Caucasus Press reported on 19 October. Prime Minister Zhvania told journalists that Vashakidze, who in his previous post was responsible for pipeline security, "has an excellent reputation." He added that he hopes Vashakidze will protect Georgia's interests while breathing new life into ongoing oil projects. Vashakidze replaces Giorgi Chanturia, once a close associate of former President Eduard Shevardnadze who reportedly considered him a possible successor. Chanturia has accepted a senior position with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, SOCAR President Natik Aliev announced on 18 October, Caucasus Press reported. LF
BOMB EXPLODES IN GEORGIAN CAPITAL
A small explosive device detonated in an underpass in central Tbilisi on 20 October, causing minor damage and no injuries, Georgian media reported. A letter addressed to President Saakashvili and composed in medieval script was found near the site of the blast. LF
FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S WIFE DIES
Nanuli Shevardnadze died of a heart attack in a Tbilisi hospital early on 20 October at the age of 75, Georgian media reported. Eduard Shevardnadze, who left Tbilisi for Germany the previous day on his first visit abroad since stepping down as Georgian president in November 2003, returned to Tbilisi on 21 October. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION COUNCIL SUPPORTS OUTGOING SPEAKER
In a statement published by "Navigator" on 20 October, the Coordinating Council of Kazakhstan's Democratic Forces officially expressed its support for Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who announced on 18 October that he will step down as the speaker of the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) and leave the pro-presidential Otan party to protest election fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004). The council stated, "The statement by Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, speaker of the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament and the top of the Otan party slate, on the illegitimacy of the recently elected parliament rendered a decisive verdict on those elections.... We feel that the civilized way out of the current situation lies through the annulment of the official results and the holding of new, fair, and just elections." The council brings together Ak Zhol, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. For his part, Tuyakbai, who has pledged to give up his seat in the new parliament, chaired a Mazhilis session "in normal fashion" on 20 October, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK
IMPRISONED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER FILES APPEAL
Feliks Kulov, the imprisoned leader of Kyrgyz opposition party Ar-Namys, has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, a party spokesperson told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 20 October. The appeal concerns an August court ruling that Kulov will only be eligible for parole in late 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004). Kulov's lawyer disputes the method used to calculate Kulov's time served and believes that his client should have been paroled in July or August 2004; his opinion is supported by Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman and the findings of a parliamentary committee. DK
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL SIGNS AGREEMENT IN TAJIKISTAN
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Tajikistan on 20 October, where he signed a bilateral transit agreement on support for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Avesta reported. De Hoop Scheffer noted that Tajikistan is the first country in Central Asia to conclude such an agreement, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. De Hoop Scheffer met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, who said, "Comprehensive cooperation with NATO through the Partnership for Peace program is an important aspect of our foreign policy," Avesta reported. De Hoop Scheffer also addressed on 20 October the subject of Russia's recently opened military base in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). He said: "We are not in competition with Russia in this area. It is Tajikistan's unquestioned right to grant a base to Russia or any other country," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK
RUSSIAN BASE IN TAJIKISTAN TO HAVE 20 AIRCRAFT
The air component in Russia's newly opened military base in Tajikistan will include up to 20 fighter planes and helicopters, Interfax-AVN reported on 20 October, citing Russia's Defense Ministry. The report said that fighter planes and helicopter gunships will be deployed to an airfield outside Dushanbe in 2005. Russia's two other foreign air bases are located in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. DK
TAJIK MINISTRY DISAVOWS 'OFFICIAL' NABBED IN KYRGYZ DRUG BUST
Tajik Deputy Justice Minister Azizmat Imomov told Avesta on 20 October that a man arrested recently on narcotics charges in Kyrgyzstan and identified as a Tajik official is no longer a Justice Ministry employee. Imomov told the news agency, "Alisher Toshpulotov, who was detained in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast, has not worked in [Tajikistan's] justice system since September of this year." Previously, Toshpulotov had worked as a senior inspector of correctional labor in Soghd Oblast. According to Kyrgyz law enforcement officials, Toshpulotov was arrested while trying to sell nearly 100 kilograms of heroin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004). DK
CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH TURKMEN PRESIDENT
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 20 October, Turkmen TV reported. The two discussed bilateral relations and signed two agreements, turkmenistan.ru reported. Under the agreements, China will give Turkmenistan a five-year interest-free loan of $6 million and a grant of $2.5 million. The meeting also featured the official signing of a contract for Turkmenistan's Ministry of Railway Transport to acquire $128 million of railway cars and equipment from China's Capital-Longji SciTech Company. DK
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL MEETS WITH UZBEK PRESIDENT
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on 20 October to discuss bilateral relations and the situation in Afghanistan, UzA reported. President Karimov said, "Uzbekistan values its ties with NATO and supports the consistent development of mutual cooperation." De Hoop Scheffer praised Uzbekistan for its rapid implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan, Interfax-AVN reported. Addressing the danger of terrorism, de Hoop Scheffer stressed the need to "focus efforts on defending and supporting institutions of democracy, basic freedoms, and legality in our countries" because "terrorism finds a breeding ground where there is a lack of these principles," ITAR-TASS reported. He also met with Uzbekistan's foreign and defense ministers. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service quoted de Hoop Scheffer as saying: "We discussed...the Uzbek Army, the training, the peacekeeping units, the light infantry battalion which Uzbekistan is providing for peacekeeping operations. We discussed interoperability. What we did not discuss is equipping Uzbek forces by NATO. That is not in the books and not in the plans." DK
BELARUSIAN COURT JAILS SOME REFERENDUM PROTESTERS...
A district court in Minsk on 20 October jailed some 30 people who participated in a 19 October rally protesting the official results of the 17 October referendum and legislative elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Pavel Sevyarynets and Mikalay Statkevich, whom the court found guilty of organizing the unsanctioned rally, will spend 15 and 10 days in jail, respectively. According to official data, riot police rounded up 44 demonstrators in Minsk on 19 October. Opposition leader Anatol Lyabedzka has been hospitalized for numerous injuries he sustained at the hands of police during the 19 October protest. JM
...AS POLICE ROUND UP MORE PREY
Riot police arrested from five to 10 young opposition activists in downtown Minsk on 20 October, where some 50 people gathered for the third consecutive day of protests against the officially announced results of the parliamentary elections and referendum, Belapan reported. Demonstrators were handing passers-by leaflets reading, "I voted against; will you kill me for this?" The same day, the police in Minsk also detained Yauhen Afnahel, an opposition youth leader. Afnahel was first arrested by the KGB during a 18 October opposition protest but released at the order of KGB Chairman Leanid Yeryn after several hundred opposition demonstrators amassed in front of the KGB headquarters. JM
OSCE MONITORS SAY BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT DOMINATED ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission for the 17 October legislative elections has said in a preliminary report that the Belarusian government overly dominated the campaign that led up to the 17 October elections and the referendum held the same day, Belapan reported on 20 October. The mission also said the government failed to ensure the independence of the election administration and improve electoral regulations as recommended by the OSCE following the 2001 presidential election. The mission's overall conclusion is that the elections fell significantly short of the OSCE standards for democratic elections. "State media demonstrated a strong bias in a wide range of programs, on the one hand portraying the opposition in overwhelmingly negative terms, and on the other hand conducting an extensive campaign in favor of the incumbent political forces and the 'yes' campaign in favor of the republican referendum," the OSCE assessment said. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 20 October accused the OSCE monitoring mission of failing to overcome what it called a "preset inclination to a negative assessment of the results of the elections and referendum under the conditions of open pressure on international observers on the part of the United States and the European Union." JM
BELARUSIAN LEGISLATOR SEEKS ASYLUM IN RUSSIA
Syarhey Skrabets, a deputy in Belarus's outgoing Chamber of Representatives, has petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin to grant him political asylum, Belapan reported on 20 October. Skrabets said Belarusian Prosecutor-General Viktor Sheyman initiated criminal proceedings against him last year on trumped-up embezzlement charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003). "The criminal case against me is politically motivated," Skrabets noted in his petition. Skrabets and his two colleagues in the Chamber of Representatives staged an unsuccessful three-week hunger strike in June, demanding democratic changes to the Election Code. Commenting on his choice of Russia as an asylum country, Skrabets said emigration to some Western country would mean giving up the struggle against the Belarusian regime. Meanwhile, Aleksei Simonov, president of Russia's Glasnost Defense Foundation, has warned Belarusian democrats against pinning hopes on Russia's support. "Belarus is a testing ground for Russia's [own] policy," Simonov told journalists in Moscow on 20 October. "With its repressive measures against the media, intelligentsia, opposition, and independent trade unions, Belarus is four or five years ahead of Russia." JM
U.S. PRESIDENT SIGNS BELARUS DEMOCRACY ACT
U.S. President George W. Bush on 20 October signed the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, which was passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The legislation authorizes necessary assistance for pro-democracy activism in Belarus and proposes to prohibit the extension of U.S. government loans and investment to the Belarusian government, except for the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. "This bipartisan legislation demonstrates America's deep concern over events in Belarus and a commitment to sustain those Belarusians who must labor in the shadows to return freedom to their country," Bush said in a statement accompanying the signing of the act. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION WANTS EMERGENCY SESSION OF NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL...
The parliamentary caucus of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc has called on the National Defense and Security Council to hold an emergency meeting devoted to the deteriorating situation in the country, Interfax reported on 20 October. "The authorities have launched a terror campaign against people who have their own views and are in political opposition [to the government]," Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko said in the Verkhovna Rada. "Everyday, police arrest student activists and other active Ukrainian citizens for their opposition to the government-supported [presidential] candidate, [Viktor] Yanukovych." Tomenko also demanded that Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon be dismissed. "We have signals from policemen that a strong-arm scenario of developments is being prepared," Tomenko said. "In particular, we have information about the formation by the Kyiv police department of a special unit called 'Ninja' that will use chemical weapons against the civilian population." JM
...AND WARNS AGAINST DISRUPTING PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT
The Kharkiv branch of People's Power, the coalition of forces supporting Viktor Yushchenko's presidential bid, has issued a statement claiming that the authorities have begun implementing a "strong-arm scenario" for derailing the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported on 20 October. The statement was issued in connection with the arrest of Yuriy Patykun, head of Yushchenko's regional election staff in Kharkiv. Earlier the same day police detained Patykun, who was driving a car, and reportedly found a bomb in the car. Bomb experts detonated the bomb near the car. Patykun's deputy, Ihor Korol, who was present during the search, told journalists that the police planted the bomb in Patykun's car in order to be able to accuse him of preparing a terrorist act. Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 students demonstrated in front of the police headquarters in Lviv the same day, protesting the police clampdown on the antigovernment youth organization Pora, which was also accused of terrorism (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 20 October 2004). Pora announced on its website (http://kuchmizm.info) that student protests against the arrest of two of Pora activists are expected in Chernihiv on 21 October. JM
WILL UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES CLOSE PRO-YUSHCHENKO TV CHANNEL?
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has called on a Ukrainian court to reverse a ruling that froze the accounts of Ukraine's Channel 5, the television station owned by Petro Poroshenko, a political ally of Yushchenko. "[The case] is completely political," Reporters Without Borders's Soria Blatmann told RFE/RL on 20 October. "It is so amazing and strange that two weeks before the elections this only [opposition] channel is going to close. It's an anomaly." The court ruling came as the result of a libel suit brought by lawmaker Volodymyr Sivkovych against Poroshenko. Earlier this month, Poroshenko accused Sivkovych of lying in a report on the findings of the parliamentary commission investigating the alleged poisoning of opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2004). The court reportedly blocked the Channel 5 accounts to make Poroshenko apologize. JM
INTERFAX REPORTS ON POLL PUTTING YANUKOVYCH AHEAD OF YUSHCHENKO
The Kyiv-based Interfax news agency, Interfax-Ukraine, on 21 October carried a "paid press release" by the Russian Club in Kyiv reporting on the results of a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Fund from 12-17 October. Many analysts believe that the Russian Club, which was opened in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2004), serves as an additional venue for employing murky election techniques by those Russian spin doctors who are backing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's presidential bid. According to the poll, Yanukovych will be supported by 37 percent and 43 percent of voters in the first round and the possible runoff of the 31 October presidential elections, respectively, while the corresponding support figures for his main rival Viktor Yushchenko are 31 percent and 35 percent. Ukraine's presidential-election law prohibits the Ukrainian media from publicizing the results of polls concerning the popularity of presidential candidates within 15 days of voting day, as stated in the report. It is not clear from the report whether this prohibition applies to Interfax-Ukraine news releases as well. JM
MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS TROOPS WILL STAY IN IRAQ
Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in Skopje on 20 October that the apparent recent beheadings of two Macedonian contract workers in Iraq will not affect Macedonia's participation in the U.S.-led coalition in that country, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 19, and 20 October 2004). "This incident will not put in question the stay of [the 32] Macedonian soldiers in Iraq, nor our participation in the international anti-terrorist coalition," she said. She added, however, that her government will soon begin repatriating 19 Macedonian citizens working for the same company as the two kidnap victims did. The news agency reported that up to 500 Macedonian contract workers are believed to be employed in Iraq. PM
MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER AND BULGARIAN ARMY CHIEF DISCUSS COOPERATION
Macedonia's Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski met with the chief of the General Staff of the Bulgarian Army, General Nikola Kolev, in Skopje on 20 October, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Kolev reassured Buckovski of Bulgaria's support for Macedonia's hopes for NATO membership, while Buckovski said that Bulgarian-Macedonian relations have never been better (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). During the meeting, the Bulgarians also confirmed that they will donate to the Macedonian Army radar equipment that must, however, first be upgraded with new electronic devices to meet NATO standards. In 1999, Bulgaria gave Macedonia 90 outdated T-55 tanks, 60 of which had to be scrapped in the course of the subsequent military reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002, 17 December 2003, and 13 January 2004). Buckovski and Kolev also discussed holding joint maneuvers of the Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian, and Turkish armies. UB
KOSOVA PREPARES TO VOTE
The pre-election ban on political activity before the 23 October parliamentary elections in Kosova came into effect at midnight on 20 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The previous afternoon, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana issued a statement in which he called "upon all communities in Kosovo, and on all those eligible to vote outside it, to...cast their votes," Reuters reported. "The successful holding of free and fair elections resulting in an effective and representative government is fundamental...for bringing Kosovo closer to Europe," he added. Alluding to a planned boycott of the vote by many Serbs, Solana argued that "the new assembly will work during a particularly crucial period in Kosovo. It is essential that it obtains the broadest possible support" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August, 17 September, and 8 October 2004). In Prishtina, Lawrence Rossin, who is the deputy head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova, told RFE/RL that the boycott campaign does not help democracy. Meanwhile in Mitrovica, about 1,500 Serbs demonstrated against the vote. Speakers stressed that the elections are part of a process aimed at making Kosova independent of Serbia. PM
CROATIA ORDERS ARREST OF WAR CRIMES INDICTEES
Spomenka Tonkovic, who heads the war crimes court in Split, ordered police on 20 October to arrest five former Croatian military policemen who went missing before the resumption of their trial, Reuters and dpa reported. Police took three additional indictees into custody recently but claim they do not know where the remaining five are. The eight men were acquitted of killing and abusing Serbian prisoners at the Lora prison camp in 1992 after a controversial trial in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November and 5 December 2002). In August 2004, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in response to protests by the prosecution. The Croatian authorities are keen to show that Croatia can try and punish its own war crimes suspects. PM
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE DESIGNATES CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER...
The National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance on 20 October selected Calin Popescu-Tariceanu as its candidate for prime minister, Mediafax and Reuters reported. The alliance's presidential candidate, Traian Basescu, said Popescu-Tariceanu can count on his full support and that "on 29 November we shall both share the joy of learning that the alliance has won the elections." Tariceanu said the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) has been an obstacle on the road to Romania's accession to the EU, creating "generalized and institutionalized corruption," and putting the "brakes on entrepreneurship and undermining democracy." He said the government he would form would not be "a business of feudal oligarchs" and would "return to being Romania's government." Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who is the PSD's candidate for president in the November elections, responded that Popescu-Tariceanu is an "instrument of the PNL financial oligarchy." The PSD's candidate for prime minister, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, said that 253,000 jobs were lost between 1997-2000, when Popescu-Tariceanu served as industry and trade minister. MS
...AS POLL SHOWS PSD AHEAD IN ELECTORAL RACE
The PSD-Humanist Party (PUR) alliance is leading in electoral preferences, Mediafax reported on 20 October, citing a public-opinion poll conducted by Gallup Romania between 27 September-15 October. The poll's findings show the PSR-PUR alliance backed by 43 percent, followed by the PNL-Democratic Party alliance with 38 percent, and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) with 13 percent. No other political formation passes the 5 percent electoral hurdle, according to the poll's findings. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania is credited with 4 percent support. Meanwhile, the Electoral Bureau on 20 October refused registration for the November parliamentary elections to the Union of Szeklers in Romania (USR) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004). MS
ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS PRM APPEAL AGAINST BASESCU'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
The Constitutional Court on 20 October rejected an appeal by the PRM against registering Basescu's candidacy in the November presidential elections, Mediafax reported. The court said the grounds for its decision will be published in the official gazette "Monitorul oficial" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 October 2004). MS
ROMANIA, MOLDOVA FARE POORLY IN TI INDEX
Romania and Moldova scored poorly in the Transparency International index for 2004. The antigraft watchdog said in its report, which is based on evaluations of corruption by foreign and domestic investors, that corruption in Romania decreased only slightly compared with last year and continues to be worse in other EU candidate countries. Out of a score between one and 10, Romania received a mark of 2.9, compared to 2.8 in 2003, placing it in a tie for 87th place in this year's index out of the 146 countries surveyed. Moldova's score was 2.3 -- the same as the previous year, and good for a tie for 112th place (for the full report, see: http://www.transparency.org/pressreleases_archive/2004/2004.10.20.cpi.en.html.) MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR RECONSTRUCTING RAIL LINE BYPASSING BENDERY-TIGHINA
President Vladimir Voronin said on 20 October that reconstructing the 80-kilometer rail line that links the central town of Revaca with the southern locality of Cainari would provide Moldova with strategic and economic benefits, Infotag and Flux reported. That section of the line was abandoned 60 years ago. Its reconstruction would make possible the circumvention of the town of Bendery-Tighina, which is partly under the control of the Tiraspol separatists. In August, the Tiraspol authorities seized the Bendery-Tighina railway station and subordinated the link between that town and Ukraine to the newly created Transdniester Railways. Preliminary estimates evaluate the costs of the reconstruction of the Revaca-Cainari line at some 300 million leis ($25 million). MS
MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS OPPOSE LEGISLATION ON REREGISTERING MEDIA OUTLETS...
Five Moldovan organizations representing journalists said on 20 October that they oppose legislation currently under consideration by parliament that would oblige media outlets to reregister with the authorities, Flux and Infotag reported. The Independent Press Association, the Independent Journalism Center, the Committee of Freedom of the Press, the Moldovan Union of Journalists, and the Access-Info Center said a bill approved in first reading by parliament last week might be indirectly aimed at "suppressing press freedom ahead of the 2005 elections, so that media outlets would be more preoccupied with reregistering than with coverage of events before the polls." The bill seeks to unify the registration system, placing responsibility for registration with the Justice Ministry. Currently, some outlets must be registered with that ministry, while others are required to register with the Department of Information and Technology. The five organizations said parliament should either cancel the bill's second reading or postpone it until after the 2005 elections. MS
...WHILE OPPOSITION PARTY SEEKS TO SILENCE FOREIGN BROADCASTERS' COVERAGE OF MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS
The opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) on 20 October submitted to parliament a draft that would amend electoral legislation by prohibiting the relay in Moldova of foreign radio and television broadcasts and the dissemination of publications carrying articles and commentary related to the Moldovan elections, Flux reported. The PPCD said the influence of foreign media outlets in Moldova is considerable and they should be prevented from influencing Moldovan voters in favor of one political party and "discrediting" other parties, thereby inhibiting fair competition. MS
PUTIN'S SECRET PLAN TO COMBAT CORRUPTION?
This week, Russia wound up again at the top of another international ranking of corruption. Russia shared the 90th slot with India and Gambia in a ranking of 146 countries, with the countries perceived to be the least corrupt on top, according to a survey by Transparency International. Last week, Russia got another vote of no confidence, when it finished fifth in terms of corruption, according to a survey of business leaders in 104 countries conducted by the World Economic Forum. Only Madagascar, Ukraine, Macedonia, and Chad registered higher levels of corruption. That survey concluded that corruption is Russia's greatest economic weakness.
Help might be on the way, according to Jonathan Schiffer, vice president of Moody's Investors Service. In an interview with Interfax published on 15 October, Schiffer argued that President Vladimir Putin's recent proposal to abolish gubernatorial elections could reduce corruption. "It is possible that the new reforms for the appointment of governors could lead to a different situation in the regions and a more efficient economic situation with less close connections between regional governors, banks, and, local wealthy individuals; more room for competition; and more room for small business enterprises," he said.
"We all know that many regional administrations in the past even interfered with taxation legislation and things like this formally and informally through some pressure on local entrepreneurs," Schiffer continued. "I think it's possible that an unintended consequence of these reforms in the economic area will be a little more space for local and regional entrepreneurs and a little more competition."
In addition, Schiffer said the cancellation of the elections could have a positive impact on the judiciary. "Breaking up the power of the local public administrations can be seen as a 'necessary if not sufficient' condition for the possibility of a more independent judiciary operating in the regions in the future," he said.
Putin did not link his proposals with the fight against corruption when unveiling them on 13 September. However, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 15 September that an unnamed administration official admitted that the proposals had been developed long ago and that the tragic school hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, last month merely created an appropriate political atmosphere for bringing them forward. "Izvestiya" wrote on 16 September that an unnamed "upper-level" official divulged that "the point" of the president's proposals "is to remove regional leaders from the influence of regional circumstances and private businesses." In addition, Sergei Markov of the Institute of Political Studies told ORT on 14 September that "the promotion of executive-branch unity should become an instrument, a lever to significantly decrease corruption."
The optimism of analysts like Schiffer and Markov seems based on the assumption that when making his regional-executive appointments, Putin will clean house, removing corrupt or ineffective members of the current crew of governors.
Interestingly, the governors themselves do not seem to be worrying about this possibility. Almost without exception they have publicly embraced Putin's proposal, and according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 October, they have been meeting with Putin in droves seeking the renewal of their current "contracts." Center for Political Technologies Deputy General Director Aleksei Markarkin told the daily that "each [regional leader] wants a solid guarantee from the Kremlin that he will remain in power, or at the very least will be able to name his successor."
Putin's track record in past gubernatorial elections undoubtedly contributes to the governors' sense of ease. In those gubernatorial races in which the presidential administration expressed a preference, loyalty -- often measured in terms of the ability to deliver local votes for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in the State Duma elections -- seems to have been the only requirement. In 2000, Putin showed some sign of wanting to install his own people in the regions. However, by the time the 2003 State Duma elections rolled around, pragmatism prevailed. The Kremlin backed for reelection, for example, the authoritarian president of Bashkortostan, Murtaza Rakhimov, head of a republic where there is little political or economic pluralism. Like former President Boris Yeltsin, Putin has placed the highest value on loyalty.
Perhaps for this reason, few of Russia's leading experts on both corruption and elections have rushed to embrace Putin's plan. Georgii Satarov, head of the INDEM Foundation and author of many studies of corruption, has condemned Putin's plan to cancel regional elections. In remarks published in "Izvestiya" on 16 September, Satarov said, "when viewed as a whole, the measures proposed by the president indicate the intention to create a simulation of politics, a simulation of activity, a simulation of civic oversight." Commenting on Putin's proposed Public Chamber, Saratov noted that "Putin has already created a body that was supposed to oversee lawmaking: the Anticorruption Council. And the only thing this council ever did was elect [then Prime Minister] Mikhail Kasyanov as its chairman. In my view, civic oversight is not a matter for state bodies created from the top down."
Putin's proposal also attracted criticism from the usually loyal Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov. While on a trip to Vologda last week, Veshnyakov said that among the possible negative consequences of appointing regional governors could be increased opportunities for corruption, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 15 October. He noted that once elections are abolished, the fate of each regional leader will be decided by an increasingly small number of people -- no more than 200 -- who work in the presidential administration and regional legislatures. "There might be a temptation," Veshnyakov said, "to make some incorrect decisions, in connection with personal or financial relations." And this was not Veshnyakov's first mention of corruption in connection with the election reforms. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 15 September, Veshnyakov recommended that "it would make sense to retain the four-year election cycle for regional leaders and introduce a number of measures to deter the spread of corruption during the process of electing regional leaders."
Schiffer and Markov apparently want to give Putin the benefit of the doubt. However, if the past is any guide to the future, there is little reason to expect that this set of reforms was intended to produce anything but greater centralization, the increased marginalization of regional political elites in the formation of national policy, and less economic and political pluralism at the regional level.
INABILITY TO DISRUPT ELECTIONS LEADS TO DISCORD AMONG TALIBAN LEADERS
Major Scott Nelson, spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said on 20 October that the failure by the neo-Taliban to disrupt the 9 October presidential election has led to disagreements among the organization's leaders, Afghanistan's official Bakhtar News Agency reported. "Some intelligence reports from Pakistan and Afghanistan show that serious disagreements have emerged between Mullah [Mohammad] Omar, the leader of the Taliban, and other leaders of the group," Nelson said. According to Nelson, the discord may become a factor that could lead to Mullah Omar's arrest. Nelson referred to the "cooperation of the public" as the key to arresting the former head of the Taliban regime. Nelson added that "the election showed that the Taliban lacks the capability to conduct coordinated, sustained, and effective operations," dpa reported on 20 October. Nelson said he believes that Mullah Omar is still in charge of the Taliban's day-to-day operations, adding that he is uncertain as to the Taliban leader's whereabouts, AP reported on 20 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004). AT
TWO NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDERS ARRESTED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...
General Abdul Zaher Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said that the Afghan National Army has arrested two neo-Taliban commanders in the Daichopan District of Oruzgan Province, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 20 October. The two men were identified by Azimi as Mullah Abdul Qahar Akhund and Mawlawi Shahaboddin. Referring to the two men as "senior Taliban leaders," dpa on 20 October identified them as Mullah Abdul Qahar and Abdul Ghaffar. AT
...AND ANOTHER APPREHENDED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
U.S.-led coalition forces in southeastern Afghanistan, with help of local citizens, on 19 October arrested a man suspected of being involved in an attack the previous day on a vehicle operated and used by the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), Bakhtar News Agency reported on 20 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 19 October 2004). U.S. forces spokesman Major Nelson said that "the arrested man is a Taliban commander." Five people riding in a JEMB jeep were killed in the 18 October roadside blast in Paktika Province. AT
UN SAYS IT HAS RECEIVED 285 FORMAL COMPLAINTS REGARDING AFGHAN ELECTION
The United Nations' chief spokesman in Afghanistan, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said on 20 October that the JEMB has received 285 formal complaints related to Afghanistan's presidential election, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) (http://www.unama-afg.org). De Almeida e Silva said that 180 of the complaints "either do not require action or action has been taken, or action is currently being taken." Around 45 percent of all of the complaints pertained to the issue of indelible ink used to mark voters' hands; 13 percent pertain to the election process in general; and 8 percent of the complaints pertain to polling personnel. "Other complaints were about shortage[s] of polling material [6.9 percent], multiple voting or under-aged voters [5 percent], and insufficient voter education [4 percent], de Almeida e Silva added (for more on the Afghan presidential election, see RFE/RL's special website on the elections at http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections/). AT
TURKEY SET TO ASSUME COMMAND OF ISAF IN 2005
Based on a decision by the Military Committee of NATO, Turkey will assume command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan starting in February 2005, Anatolia news agency reported on 20 October. The duration of the Turkish command would be between six to eight months and it would be followed by Italy, the United Kingdom, and Spain, respectively. Turkey will also take command of the Kabul international airport in February 2005, after which time Romania and then the Czech Republic are to assume responsibility for the airport. An unidentified NATO official said that securing command of ISAF through 2007 guarantees the operation "stability and planning," AFP reported on 20 October. Eurocorps, commanded by a French general, currently commands ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Both Turkey and the United Kingdom have previously led ISAF. AT
IRAN-HERAT CONTRACTS AWAIT ELECTION RESULTS
Herat Province Governor Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwa met on 20 October with the Iranian consul to the province, Ali Najafimanesh, and discussed bilateral relations, Herat television reported. Among the topics of discussion were direct flights between Mashhad and Herat, road construction, a Herati cultural exhibition in Iran, and border security. Khairkhwa told his Iranian guest that government ministries will sign contracts on new projects when the results of the 9 October presidential election are finalized. In Kabul on 19 October, government spokesman Jawed Ludin noted the positive attitude of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami towards Afghanistan and Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Hindukush news agency reported. Ludin went on to say, however, that some Iranian media elements have made negative comments about the presidential election (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 October 2004). BS
IRANIAN MUJAHEDIN SURRENDER TO GOVERNMENT
Iran's Intelligence and Security Ministry announced on 20 October that nine members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) have returned from Iraq to Iran, state radio reported. The U.S. State Department classifies the MKO as a foreign terrorist organization, and the Iranian government has offered an amnesty to lower-ranking MKO personnel who return to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). Commenting in the international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" on 18 October, Member of the European Parliament Paulo Casca said that he visited the MKO's Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and "I left the camp with the clear impression that the Iranian [mujahedin] is a legitimate resistance movement that merits the support of the free world." Casca, a Portuguese socialist, recommends taking the MKO off the terrorist list. BS
IRANIAN PRESS CRACKDOWN CONTINUES...
"From Saturday to Sunday," a student publication from the University of Shahr-i Kurd in Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province, has been suspended for six months for publishing an offensive article, ISNA reported on 20 October. In an 18 October press release, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomed the release from prison of journalist Ali-Reza Jabari. Jabari was sentenced in April 2003 to four years in prison, a flogging, and fined for drinking and distributing alcoholic beverages, adultery, and incitement to immorality. BS
...AND INTERNET FACES PROBLEMS, TOO
Javad Gholam-Tamimi, the editor of "Mardom Salari," was arrested on 19 October, according to the "Sharq" website (http://www.sharghnewspaper.com). The editor was summoned to court and arrested after being informed of the charges against him, which relate to allegedly illegal websites. Omid Memarian was arrested on 10 October for contributing to reformist websites, according to RSF (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11598). Memarian, as well as Shahram Rafizadeh, Hanif Mazrui, and Ruzbeh Mir-Ibrahimi, is accused of "propaganda against the regime, threatening national security and incitement to rebellion and insulting leading figures in the regime." The aforementioned individuals are cited in a 29 September article in "Kayhan" newspaper about a vast conspiracy that allegedly includes Radio Farda. BS
IRANIAN AND EUROPEAN OFFICIAL MEET ON NUCLEAR ISSUE
Asked about the possibility of not enriching uranium, Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 20 October that Iran will reject "any proposal which deprives Iran of [the nuclear] fuel cycle," state radio reported. According to AFP on 21 October, foreign ministry officials from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom will meet in a secret location with Amir Hussein Zamani-Nia, the international political affairs director of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and offer assistance in building a light-water reactor, as well as other forms of nuclear technology, in exchange for Iranian reassurances that it is not secretly building nuclear weapons. A "confidential document obtained by AFP and confirmed in Vienna by diplomats" describes the offer. It is reportedly Iran's last chance to suspend all activities relating to uranium enrichment. BS
AZERBAIJANI CONSULATE FINALLY OPENS IN TABRIZ
An Azerbaijani consulate opened in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz on 20 October, IRNA reported. The Iranian ambassador to Baku, Afshar Suleimani, said this development would contribute to bilateral relations, and it would facilitate trade, business, and scholarly exchanges. He went on to say that the consulate will provide visas for Iranians in the northwest who wish to travel to Azerbaijan. Iran and Azerbaijan signed an agreement in August 1992 under which Iran received the right to open a consulate in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, which it did later that year. A reciprocal agreement on opening an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz was signed in 1993, but Tehran systematically declined to implement it. The first Azerbaijani consul in Tabriz is Djavanshir Rasulov, whom zerkalo.az on 21 October characterized as "an experienced diplomat and well-known orientalist." Rasulov served as a Soviet diplomat in Iran and Afghanistan prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and most recently as a political officer at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran. He has reportedly published numerous articles in the Iranian press. BS/LF
PROMINENT SHI'A CLERIC SEVERS TIES WITH IRAQ'S AL-SADR
Senior Shi'a cleric Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri announced on 20 October that Muqtada Al-Sadr is no longer his representative in Iraq, the BBC reported. Al-Sadr was appointed "deputy and representative in all fatwa affairs" by the Qom-based al-Ha'iri in late April, and has since led an armed movement largely composed of urban poor. Al-Ha'iri's brother and spokesperson, Muhammad Husayn al-Ha'iri, said the rift was caused by al-Sadr's teachings, which no longer coincides with Ha'iri's. The spokesperson said that al-Sadr was not responsible for damage to the Imam Ali Shrine incurred during fighting in Al-Najaf between U.S. forces and members of Al-Sadr's militia who were ensconced in the shrine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004), and that blame lay with the United States. Al-Ha'iri, who previously distanced himself from Al-Sadr after his forces were accused of themselves damaging the shrine, absolved al-Sadr for the damage, but criticized his direct confrontation with U.S. forces and encouraged the disarmament currently under way. EA
SUNNI GROUP SEEKS TO PREVENT AL-FALLUJAH ASSAULT
Sunni cleric Harith al-Dari on 20 October called on the interim government to prevent a large-scale assault on Al-Fallujah, international media reported. Al-Dari made the announcement following a Baghdad meeting of the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni group that al-Dari heads. An invasion of Al-Fallujah would jeopardize the January elections, al-Dari explained. "It is unacceptable to use the pretext of elections to invade towns. We will call on Iraqis to boycott the polls and to consider the results null and void in case of operations in Al-Fallujah," Al-Jazeera quoted al-Dari as saying. U.S. and Iraqi officials view reclaiming insurgent-held Al-Fallujah as a vital step to ensure fair elections. U.S. forces suspended an assault on Al-Fallujah in April following widespread criticism and significant casualties. Meanwhile, U.S. forces continued air raids on Al-Fallujah on 20 October, killing six members of one family, the BBC reported. EA
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR GREATER UN SUPPORT
Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari has asked the United Nations to send more election experts to assist with the January elections, AP reported on 20 October. Zebari complained that the UN's contribution is smaller than the 300 troops sent to assist East Timor during its 1999 wartime election. "It is unfortunate that the contribution and participation of UN employees in this process is not up to expectations," he said. According to al-Zebari, more election officials will lend greater legitimacy to the election. The UN has held training programs outside the country for Iraqis who will assist in the election. EA
FIJI TO CONTRIBUTE TROOPS TO UN PROTECTION FORCE IN IRAQ
The United Nations announced on 20 October that Fiji has offered to contribute troops that will provide security for senior UN officials working in Iraq as well as a guard unit to protect UN facilities in Baghdad, UN News Center reported on 20 October (http://www.un.org/news). Australia will provide most of the equipment to support the Fijian troops, according to the report. "These contributions are critical to the UN's efforts to strengthen the security arrangements for its personnel in Iraq," UN spokesperson Marie Okabe explained. Some 130 Fijian troops will make up the contingent, Reuters reported. No other countries have stepped forward to meet Annan's request for troops to protect the UN in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 October 2004). KR/EA
U.S. SOLDIER PLEADS GUILTY TO ABUSE AT ABU GHURAYB
U.S. reservist Sergeant Ivan Frederick pleaded guilty on 20 October to five separate charges of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghurayb Prison, international media reported. Frederick was the highest-ranking soldier accused of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghurayb scandal. Frederick, who worked a night shift at the prison, said inadequate training and poor directions from his superiors contributed to the abuses. As part of the guilty plea, several other charges against Frederick were dropped. Frederick has agreed to cooperate in the cases against his fellow soldiers and expressed remorse. "I was wrong about what I did," Frederick told the military tribunal, according to "The Washington Post." Legal action has been taken against eight soldiers in connection with the Abu Ghurayb prisoner-abuse scandal, and three have pleaded guilty. EA
IRAQ APPOINTS ARAB LEAGUE REPRESENTATIVE
Ra'd al-Allusi assumed on 20 October the post of Iraqi representative to the Arab League, dpa reported. Al-Allusi presented his credentials to the Cairo-based organization to become the first emissary to the Arab League since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Al-Allusi succeeds Muhsin Khalil, who withdrew from the position after the U.S.-led invasion. Prior to his appointment, al-Allusi served as a consultant for the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. The announcement follows the September appointment of Safiya al-Suhail as Iraqi ambassador to Egypt. There are differing reports on whether al-Suhail has assumed the post in Egypt, which was reluctant to accept a Baghdad representative while U.S. forces remained in Iraq, according to dpa. EA