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Newsline - November 2, 2004

Ambassador to the United States Yurii Ushakov, in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's website ( on 1 November, said that the 2 November U.S. presidential election, regardless of who wins, will not disrupt relations between Washington and Moscow. Usually, Ushakov wrote, if an incumbent administration stays in power after an election, it takes stock and reevaluates its priorities, while a new administration is tempted to do "everything differently from its predecessor." Russia would like to avoid these scenarios and continue uninterrupted dialogue, Ushakov said. According to Ushakov, relations between the United States and Russia are based on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and other threats, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, maintaining strategic stability and resolving regional conflicts, and providing energy security for the international economy. VY

Dmitrii Rogozin has said that his faction in the Duma supports the extension of the political reforms proposed on 13 September by President Vladimir Putin to include the direct appointment by the president of the mayors of major cities, "Argumenty i fakty," No.44, reported. Rogozin sees Russia as an "indivisible state" and therefore supports the merging of Russian Federation subjects and the elimination of the national republics. Rogozin, whom many experts consider to be a potential successor to Putin, said that, to implement the changes he advocates, the Russian Constitution could be changed "carefully and gradually." "One should not think that the constitution is untouchable," he said. The Motherland leader also attacked Tatarstan and its president, Mintimer Shaimiev, after the Tatar State Council recently opposed part of Putin's proposed reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2004). "Who says that Shaimiev expresses the will of all Tatars [living in Russia]?" he asked. VY

Alu Alkhanov, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, told Ekho Moskvy on 1 November that he supports a proposal by Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to detain the family members of terrorists committing acts such as hostage taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 1 November 2004). "Such a law is dictated by the situation," Alkhanov said. Major General Ibragim Suleimenov, the military commandant of Chechnya, told NTV the same day that he too supports Ustinov's proposal. "The relatives of people involved in terrorist activity could be taken as hostages and used by Special Forces as a human shield during counterterrorism operations," he said. VY

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 1 November, journalist Sergei Dorenko said that repression against the family members of hostage takers "is a step backward from our civilization, but this might be an adequate method to communicate with people who commit terrorist acts." Moscow Lawyers Chamber Chairman Genri Reznik noted that some methods used to combat terrorism are the prerogative of the security services and should not be codified in the law. Noted Internet journalist and former editor in chief of, Anton Nosik, said that sometimes it is "better to survive illegally than to die decently," Ekho Moskvy reported. VY

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller has signed a directive on the creation of Gazpromneft, a wholly owned Gazprom oil subsidiary, Russian media reported on 1 November. Miller appointed Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov to head the new company. It is widely expected that Gazpromneft will buy the debt-stricken Yuganskneftegas, the main production subsidiary of the embattled oil giant Yukos. Commenting on this development, wrote that "the creation of the new company is considered by experts to be a victory for the Petersburg Chekists and personally for [deputy] presidential administration head Igor Sechin, who in August was appointed Rosneft's board chairman" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2004). VY

The Meshchanskii Raion Court in Moscow has extended the detention term of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii until 14 February 2005, and other Russian media reported on 1 November. The ruling followed a petition by Dmitrii Shokhin, the state prosecutor in the Khodorkovskii case. The court explained its decision by saying that, if released, Khodorkovskii could pressure witnesses or evade justice by using his international connections. Last week, the financial authorities brought new accusations of tax evasion against Yukos. Financial claims against the company now exceed $10 billion, reported. VY

The surplus of the federal budget this year is expected to reach 505.7 billion rubles ($16.86 billion) because of high world energy prices, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 October. Of that, 379 billion rubles are being placed in the so-called stabilization fund, which will reach the 500 billion-ruble level by the end of the year. Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova said the government plans to use some of the money in the fund to cover shortfalls in the Pension Fund's budget. Other state expenditures, including for defense and security, agriculture, and health care, will be increased by a total of 108.6 billion rubles over current budget figures. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 1 November that the formula for diverting money to the stabilization fund will be changed. Currently, oil revenues in excess of $20 a barrel are taxed for the fund, ITAR-TASS reported. In the near future, that figure will be raised to $21.50. "Each year of a favorable foreign economic situation brings us surplus economic growth and budget revenues," Kudrin said on 1 November, according to Interfax. "We think that these revenues must be spent carefully in line with the ruble-strengthening and inflation targets we set at the beginning of the year." RC

The practice of placing senior members of the presidential administration on the boards of state-controlled companies is creating a powerful lobbying bloc within the Kremlin, "Kompaniya," No. 42, reported. The magazine recalled that presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev is board chairman of Gazprom, presidential adviser Viktor Ivanov is board chairman of Almaz-Antei, deputy administration head Sechin is board chairman of Rosneft, and deputy administration head Vladislav Surkov heads the board of Transnefteprodukt. Moreover, presidential aid Sergei Prikhodko was recently named to head the board of nuclear-fuel exporter Tvel, while presidential aide Igor Shuvalov heads the board at Sovkomflot. Ivanov was recently named to the board of Aeroflot. The weekly commented that earlier the government's interests on corporate boards were defended by senior members of government ministries, including some such as the Atomic Energy Ministry and the Energy Ministry that were abolished during the government reform this spring. The magazine commented that Gazprom's efforts to take over Rosneft are an example of government officials seeming "to have difficulty distinguishing the state's interests from corporate interests." It also noted Shuvalov's recent public statements opposing the possible purchase by Rosneft of Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz. RC

"Profil," No. 40, argues that economic liberals such as presidential economy adviser Andrei Illarionov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Finance Minister Kudrin have become something of a "fifth column" within the government, growing increasingly critical of official economic policies. The weekly notes that these officials have given a number of highly critical interviews in recent weeks, including some to foreign publications like the "Financial Times" and "Die Zeit." The officials are increasingly frustrated by the structure of the economy -- especially the dominating roles of Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems (EES) -- and the country's inability to attract major foreign investment, according to the weekly. The journal concluded that if the Kremlin continues to ignore the public criticism of such figures, the "title of minister will become devalued" and these officials will stop being "minister-dissidents" and will become ordinary political dissidents. RC

The INDEM Foundation on 2 November released a study naming the six most corrupt regions of Russia, reported. According to the study, the most corrupt regions are Saratov, Volgograd, Chelyabinsk, Nizhnii Novgorod, Tyumen, and Moscow oblasts. The study found that the average citizen of Saratov Oblast gives 3.19 bribes per year. INDEM estimates that nationally Russians pay about 350 billion rubles ($11.7 billion) per year in bribes. INDEM sociologist Vladimir Rimskii said that corruption is most prevalent in the executive branch and the judiciary and that as a result "governance is being destroyed." RC

Leonid Grigorov, a resident of the Altai Krai town of Zmeinogorsk, on 1 November turned into police eight containers with radioactive plutonium-238 that he had reportedly been storing in his garage since the 1990s, "Gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 2 November. Grigorov was immediately charged with the illegal storage of radioactive materials. According to the daily, Grigorov was a geologist at a local laboratory that was dissolved in the 1990s. He found the plutonium, which was used for the laboratory's X-ray machines, in a garbage heap at the abandoned facility in 1997 or 1998. He claimed that he wrote several letters to the authorities trying to turn in the material, but they were all ignored. Later he placed the containers in a lead box and put it in his garage. Grigorov told police that he saw an advertisement for a police weapons buy-back program and decided to turn in the containers in order to get money for medical treatment. RC

President Putin has expressed concern that the reconstruction program in Chechnya is behind schedule, Interfax reported on 1 November. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak explained that the program has been amended several times since 2001; Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref admitted that funds earmarked for use in 2004 will not be spent. Gref further listed as priorities, first, building hospitals and vital facilities and paying financial compensation for destroyed housing to those Chechen families that have applied for but not yet received it; second, upgrading infrastructure including roads, bridges, and housing; and third, creating jobs in the agriculture, construction, and road-transportation sectors. Speaking on 1 November on Ekho Moskvy, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov similarly stressed the need to reduce unemployment, which he estimated at 70 percent of the able-bodied population, Reuters reported. Alkhanov pointed out that young Chechen men are impelled to join the Chechen resistance by the lack of any alternative means of earning a living. Alkhanov also said that Chechnya will be ready to hold elections to a new parliament by October 2005, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 November. LF

The dismembered body of Zorik Abeshian, a deacon at the Armenian church in Vladikavkaz, was found by the roadside near the North Ossetian capital on 31 October, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 1 November, citing the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic church in Echmiadzin. Abeshian disappeared on 10 October. Catholicos Garegin II expressed "profound grief" at what he termed a "monstrous deed." LF

In a statement released on 1 November, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the UN General Assembly decision, taken in response to a request by Azerbaijan, to schedule a debate on Nagorno-Karabakh, according to RIA-Novosti as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2004). The Russian statement predicted that such a debate will not expedite a solution to the conflict. It further noted that Russia's representative to the UN had abstained from the vote on whether to convene such a debate, and that Russia "is promoting a settlement in every possible way, be it through bilateral efforts or as a co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group." LF

Addressing the Azdak political club in Yerevan on 30 October, Garnik Isagulian, who is President Robert Kocharian's adviser on national security issues, suggested that Yerevan might respond to the Azerbaijani initiative by proposing that the UN General Assembly also debate the expulsion by Azerbaijan of the Armenian population of the Getashen and Shaumian districts of Nagorno-Karabakh, Noyan Tapan reported on 1 November. Isagulian dubbed that expulsion, which took place in 1990, ethnic cleansing. LF

Nino Burdjanadze met in Moscow on 1 November with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and with Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Lavrov expressed the hope that more frequent contacts between the two countries will help to resolve the problems that still bedevil bilateral relations. He also warned Tbilisi against any attempt to resolve its problems with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. Ivanov, for his part, said problems in Russian-Georgian relations can only be resolved through dialogue, stressing the importance of "political will" to find such solutions. In a 1 November interview with Ekho Moskvy, Burdjanadze accused Moscow of double standards, pointing out that while Russia is battling against separatism in Chechnya, it simultaneously fuels separatist sentiments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by offering Russian citizenship to the local population, Caucasus Press reported. She also condemned Russia's unilateral decision in December 2003 to resume rail traffic from Sochi to Sukhum. LF

A meeting in Tbilisi on 1 November between senior Georgian government officials and Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitan failed to bridge the disagreement over the resumption of rail traffic from Russia via Abkhazia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Levitan argued that there are no obstacles to extending rail traffic from Sukhum to the rest of Georgia and thence to Armenia, and that doing so would be economically beneficial for the entire South Caucasus region. He said he hopes the issue will not cause bilateral relations to deteriorate. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, however, continued to insist that the resumption of rail traffic between Abkhazia and Tbilisi is contingent on a political solution to the Abkhaz conflict. LF

The Abkhaz government issued a decree on 1 November temporarily suspending all television broadcasting until the Interior Ministry disperses the supporters of presidential candidate Sergei Bagapsh who surrounded the television building two days earlier to protest the Supreme Court's annulment on 28 October of the Central Election Commission's 11 October ruling that Bagapsh is the rightful winner of the 3 October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. Also on 1 November, some 35 television journalists asked the government for protection against Bagapsh's supporters. Meanwhile, some 250 backers of rival presidential candidate Raul Khadjimba continue to picket the government building in Sukhum, Interfax reported on 1 November. Khadjimba's supporters also surrounded the parliament building, preventing a debate scheduled for 1 November on the Supreme Court ruling, reported. Most members of the 35-person Abkhaz legislature support Bagapsh. LF

Both Bagapsh and Khadjimba are currently in Moscow seeking support, Caucasus Press reported on 2 November quoting the Russian daily "Vremya novostei." On 1 November, the Georgian paper "24 saati" quoted Bagapsh as saying in a telephone interview that he considers himself the legally elected president and will not capitulate. LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Turdiqul Butoyarov, Uzbek ambassador to Kazakhstan, in Astana on 1 November to discuss bilateral relations, Khabar news agency reported. Butoyarov noted that the two countries could do more to exploit their "huge potential" for economic cooperation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Stressing that the Kazakh and Uzbek presidents are making significant efforts to carry out existing economic accords, Butoyarov pointed to the work of the intergovernmental commission for trade and economic cooperation, which holds its next session in November. The two men also reviewed the border delimitation process, which was completed in 2002, and the ongoing border demarcation process. DK

President Askar Akaev issued a decree on 1 November abolishing the National Council on Good Government, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported, The functions of the 25-member council, which was created two years ago to fight corruption, will be folded into the 11-member Consultative Council on Good Government, reported. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev had chaired the National Council; President Akaev chairs the Consultative Council. The presidential administration has set aside one month for the transformation of the National Council's secretariat into a secretariat for the Consultative Council on Good Government. DK

Up to 10,000 people staged a spontaneous demonstration in the Uzbek city of Kokand on 1 November to protest new government restrictions on individual traders at the market, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. The new rules prohibit the sale of imported goods through middlemen, and the protest began when tax officials confiscated goods at the market. By late morning, a crowd of 10,000 had gathered, overturning two police vehicles and setting them on fire. Eventually, a smaller crowd estimated at 1,000-1,500 marched on the city administration. After Mayor Maruf Usmonov promised to delay the implementation of the new measure, the crowd dispersed. Police, who refrained from confrontation during the demonstration, were reported to be massing in the city toward the evening. Deputy Mayor Salomat Abdullaev told the BBC that "hooligans" were responsible for the demonstration, but local human rights activist Ismoil Dadjonov said that it was a spontaneous expression of anger. The BBC noted that reports of unrest also came from Jizzakh. DK

Martti Ahtisaari, the OSCE chairman in office's personal envoy to Central Asia, met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and other high-ranking officials in Tashkent on 1 November, Uzbek TV reported. Upcoming parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan, scheduled for 26 December, were the focus of the talks. At a meeting with Central Election Commission head Buritosh Mustafoev, Ahtisaari noted that the OSCE is concerned that no opposition parties have been registered to take part in elections, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. As a result, the elections appear to be an "internal exercise" by pro-presidential forces, Ahtisaari said. DK

A district court in Hrodna on 1 November sentenced Pavel Mazheyka, head of the Hrodna branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, to seven days in jail for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration, Belapan reported. Mazheyka and four other journalists staged a demonstration on 27 October in Hrodna to protest the sentence given to Yalena Raubetskaya, editor in chief of the Hrodna-based independent weekly "Birzha infarmatsyi." Raubetskaya was fined 1.3 million rubles ($600) on 30 September for her critical story on the 17 October referendum. "I have [protested] and will always protest the persecution of the independent media. I feel indignant when they suspend or close newspapers, when my colleagues have to look for money to pay fines, when they are beaten during demonstrations, and when they are killed," Mazheyka said following his trial, adding that he will go on hunger strike. AM

Two Polish universities have announced their readiness to admit a total of 15 students from the European Humanities University (EHU), which was closed by Belarusian authorities in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 18 August 2004), Belapan reported on 1 November, citing an EHU official. The Higher School of Public Administration in Bialystok will offer free courses in international relations, philosophy, and administration for 10 EHU students, while the Higher School of Humanities and Journalism in Poznan is ready to admit five EHU students for programs in politics, international relations, sociology, culture, and computer science. AM

Ukrainian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych announced on 1 November that he is prepared for constructive dialogue with his main rival, Viktor Yushchenko, UNIAN reported. Yanukovych told journalists that he is "sincerely surprised" by some attacks on him by Yushchenko's team, but he recognizes this as "a tool of political fighting" that will never be accepted by society. "Thus I am ready for constructive dialogue [with Yushchenko] and I will consider this question," Yanukovych said. AM

The International Renaissance Foundation has called on Yanukovych and Yushchenko to hold live television debates before the 21 November runoff, Interfax reported on 1 November. The foundation announced in a statement its intent to support the holding of such debates. According to the foundation, other international donors are also ready to help in organizing and holding meetings between Yanukovych and Yushchenko. AM

Appeals judges of the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal ruled on 1 November that former Yugoslav and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has the right to defend himself, RFE/RL reported. The judges also ruled that two court-assigned defense lawyers will remain involved in the trial but will defend Milosevic only when he is unable to do so himself. The trial against the 63-year-old Milosevic has been put off on a number of occasion due to his ill health. The two defense lawyers asked to resign in late October because Milosevic refused to cooperate with them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 11 September 2004). Milosevic faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova in the 1990s. UB

Slobodan Samardzic, who is a political adviser to the Serbian government, said in Belgrade on 1 November that the Kosovar Serb politicians should freeze their mandate in the Kosovar parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Samardzic said the Kosovar Serbs should participate in the Kosovar institutions, including the parliament, only after they are granted autonomy. In related news, Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), is scheduled to meet with Serbian President Boris Tadic and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on 4 November. UB

Forensic experts exhumed another 15 bodies from a large mass grave site near Kozarac in northwest Bosnia on 29 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. So far, more than 400 bodies have been exhumed from the site. The dead are believed to be Bosnian Croats and Muslims killed in the Omarska and Keraterm concentration camps (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August and 29 October 2003 and 2 September 2004). UB

Menduh Thaci, who is the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), said in Tearce that Macedonia will not be the same after the 7 November referendum against the government's controversial redistricting plans, "Vreme" reported on 2 November, citing the Prishtina daily "Koha ditore." Thaci reportedly said that his party has long favored Macedonia's division into cantons. Ethnic Macedonians reject any cantonization or federalization of the country, fearing that it is tantamount to partitioning it along ethnic lines. At the same time, Thaci accused the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) of not doing enough to protect Albanian interests during the negotiations on the new Law on Territorial Organization (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 22 October 2004). Thaci ruled out the PDSH's participation in any coalition with the BDI and the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). UB

The 12 presidential candidates competing in the 28 November elections reached an agreement on 1 November on televised debates and on campaigning on public radio and television, Mediafax reported, citing Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu. Each candidate is to be granted 30 minutes on Romanian Television's second channel (TVR 2) to present his program. The first channel (TVR 1) is to broadcast six 30-minute debates between two candidates selected by drawing of lots. On 26 November, TVR 1 is to broadcast a three-hour discussion among all 12 candidates. MS

Ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Senator Adrian Paunescu on 1 November called in the upper house on President Ion Iliescu to shorten the 18-year prison term being served by miners' leader Miron Cozma for his role in the September 1991 attempt to overthrow the government by force, Mediafax reported. Greater Romania Party (PRM) Senator Doru Liviu Bindea called on the president to pardon Cozma. Paunescu is running for a seat in Hunedoara County (where Cozma's Jiu Valley is located) and Bindea is running for a seat in the mining region of Maramures. MS

Chisinau Mayor and Our Moldova bloc co-Chairman Serafim Urechean on 1 November said that the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and President Vladimir Voronin are plagiarizing ideas first publicized by the bloc he heads, Flux and Infotag reported. Urechean said that the bloc "proposed long ago" changing the five-sided negotiation format to include the United States, the EU, and Romania. "The Communists first rejected our idea and now insist on revising the format of the negotiations," Urechean said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2004). Urechean, who is widely regarded as a likely challenger to Voronin when parliament elects a new head of state next year, also said that he recently visited Moscow, Bucharest, and Kyiv because relations with all of Moldova's neighbors are important. According to Flux, Urechean met in Kyiv on 28 October with Russian President Vladimir Putin and separatist leader Igor Smirnov. The agency claimed they agreed to launch an immediate campaign to impeach Voronin and to ensure the victory of Our Moldova in the 2005 election. The Flux news agency is owned by a rival opposition leader, Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca. MS

President Voronin on 1 November dismissed Simion Rusu as deputy director of the Moldovan Information and Security Service, Flux reported. No reason was given for the decision, though it is likely to have been prompted by the massive weaponry thefts from military depots in August that led to the dismissal of former Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 18 October 2004). The Supreme Security Council recommended that both officials be dismissed as personally responsible for the thefts. MS

Hardly anyone in Armenia knew the timid and reticent man who was appointed as the new prime minister in the immediate aftermath of a bloody terrorist attack on parliament on 27 October 1999.

Aram Sargsian, then the director of a state-owned cement factory in the southern town of Ararat, had never engaged in politics or come under the public spotlight before. The reason he was chosen for the second-most-important post in the country was, quite simply, that he was the brother of the charismatic (and feared) Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, one of the eight officials assassinated in the parliament chamber. President Robert Kocharian is widely believed to have named him Vazgen's successor in an attempt to contain the fury of powerful government factions and top army generals who suspected him of engineering the carnage.

It was a brilliant, and Machiavellian, move. Kocharian fired the new, politically inexperienced prime minister six months later, reasserting his complete control over government. Aram Sargsian would later say that had he been more uncompromising and ruthless at the time, Kocharian would have lost the power struggle. He may have had a point.

The 42-year-old Sargsian has undergone a remarkable transformation from a political lightweight to the most dangerous challenger to the ruling regime. A man who felt uncomfortable before television cameras and had trouble expressing himself publicly five years ago is now the most passionate and rousing speaker at opposition rallies in Armenia, someone who can galvanize crowds with scathing and derogatory attacks on the authorities. He also projects a sense of optimism that is usually missing in the discourse of other opposition leaders.

Sargsian's oratorical skills were most recently on display in the opposition campaign of spring street protests aimed at forcing Kocharian to step down. Addressing the first major opposition rally in Yerevan on 9 April, he appeared to succeed in persuading tens of thousands of people that Kocharian's resignation was just a matter of days away. Sargsian sounded strikingly bullish even on the night of 12-13 April, when riot police used excessive force to break up an opposition protest near the presidential residence. Hiding from the police, he told the author that he believes the security forces suffered more casualties than the demonstrators. He stated proudly that he himself threw a few punches in self-defense.

Two months later, when it was clear that the bid for regime change was fizzling out, Sargsian told supporters at another rally that he deliberately misled them with upbeat statements to make them believe in their victory. There were no boos from the crowd.

The ill-fated spring campaign was clearly inspired by the November 2003 "Rose Revolution" in neighboring Georgia, where veteran President Eduard Shevardnadze was toppled in a popular uprising led by Mikheil Saakashvili, then a firebrand opposition politician. If there is anyone in Armenia who even remotely resembles the current Georgian president, it is Sargsian. In an interview last week, he did not object to being compared with Saakashvili. "Why not?" he said. "The people of Georgia see that their government is democratic and is demanding compensation from former plunderers."

Sargsian may still be far from becoming as popular as Saakashvili. But he has been the main target of government attacks in recent years. Senior members of his Hanrapetutiun (Republic) party were the only prominent political figures arrested and kept in jail for several months during a harsh crackdown on the opposition launched by Kocharian in March. Hanrapetutiun is one of nine parties aligned in Armenia's main opposition alliance, Artarutiun (Justice). It reportedly pushed for more radical opposition actions both in the spring and during last year's disputed presidential elections, when Artarutiun's top leader, Stepan Demirchian, was Kocharian's main challenger.

Demirchian is the son of parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, who was also slain in the October 1999 attack. Though more popular than Sargsian, he is notoriously indecisive and therefore seen as less dangerous for the regime. Demirchian too believes that Kocharian covered up, if not masterminded, the parliament killings. Yet he scoffs at suggestions that the relatives of the two most prominent victims of the parliament attack are primarily motivated by vengeance in their struggle against Kocharian.

Sargsian, by contrast, does not deny that. "Love and revenge are values of almost the same significance," he said bluntly. "A human being is characterized by both love and revenge. While being more of a loving person, I am no exception when it comes to hatred."

Sargsian suffered a second personal blow during the 2003 presidential race. On 5 March, immediately after polls closed in the second round of voting, his brother Armen was charged with commissioning the December 2002 murder of Tigran Naghdalian, director of Armenian state television and radio, over the latter's alleged role in the parliament massacre. Armen Sargsian was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison despite pleading not guilty to the charges. His family denounced his imprisonment as politically motivated.

That case raised the stakes for Aram Sargsian. So far he has acted in the shadow of Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, another opposition leader who made a strong showing in the 2003 presidential ballot. But experience has shown that the same opposition candidates do not do well in two consecutive elections in Armenia. Public support for Demirchian and Geghamian seems to have declined since 2003, as evidenced by their failure to pull huge crowds during their joint spring campaign.

Sargsian might thus feel that their time is gone and try to take center stage in the opposition camp next time around. He is among those who stand to gain from a possible deepening of the ongoing government infighting fueled by uncertainty over what Kocharian will do after completing his second term in 2008. Armenia's constitution bars him from seeking a third term.

But whether disenchanted voters could embrace Sargsian as a new viable alternative to Kocharian is also an open question. The former prime minister has until now appealed to their hearts but not minds, failing to come up with a clear vision of Armenia's future. He has yet to convince most Armenians that there is more to his political activities than a mere desire for vengeance.

Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent.

Six policemen, two soldiers, and a civilian were killed in clashes between Afghan National Army and police forces on 1 November in Qalat, the capital of Zabul Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. However, Zabul Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni told AIP that the fighting was not between the army and the police. "Soldiers of the National Army belonging to [the Afghan] Defense Ministry attacked a security post at the Electricity Department this afternoon [1 November] and then ordered the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] soldiers, who are Afghans, to surrender. As a result fighting broke out between the National Army and the ISAF forces," Hosayni said. The claim by Hosayni is problematic, as there is no ISAF presence in Zabul and the force does not use Afghan forces for its operations in areas where it is present, such as Kabul and northern parts of Afghanistan. AT

Anticoalition militants attacked a U.S. patrol in Paktika Province on 1 November, killing one soldier and injuring two, CBS News reported. U.S. military spokesman Major Mark McCann said that the incident occurred in Orgun, where the patrol came under small arms and rocket fire. The two injured soldiers were listed in stable condition. The identity of the attackers is not known. AT

Saber Mo'min, identified as a Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) military commander, rejected reports that the group set a deadline of 3 November for killing their three hostages if their demands were not met, AIP reported on 1 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2004). "We have Friday [5 November] as the final deadline for our demands to be met. If our demands are not met by then we will kill these three people," Mo'min told AIP. The deadline is still flexible, Mo'min said. "If the Americans for the Afghan government start talking to us then the deadline set by us could be extended." Army of the Muslims, a splinter group of the neo-Taliban, claimed responsibility for abducting three foreign employees of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body on 28 October in Kabul and have demanded that the United Kingdom pull its forces out of Afghanistan and that all of the Afghan detainees in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be released. The demands also include a UN withdrawal from Afghanistan and the organization's condemnation of U.S. and U.K. "meddling" in Afghanistan. AT

Saber Mo'min, speaking on behalf of Army of the Muslims, told AIP on 1 November that the group has formed a four-man delegation to negotiate the fate of the hostages. "If the Americans for the [Afghan] government want our delegation [to contact them]" the delegation "can go anywhere for talks." In a related story, the hostage takers indicated that they are holding the three hostages in separate locations to thwart any potential rescue attempt, AP reported on 1 November. "If the government and coalition forces find one of them, we will kill the other two," Army of the Muslims spokesman Ishaq Manzur told AP. AT

Representatives of 15 political parties held a meeting in Kabul on 1 November in which they called on the future Afghan government not to give an opportunity to those "involved in the destruction of cities, violation of human rights, war crimes, and in the violation of people's integrity," the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The unidentified representatives asked for people with professional qualifications to be appointed to cabinet posts. A current cabinet minister, on condition of anonymity, said choosing a new cabinet will be a huge challenge for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, "The Boston Globe" reported on 30 October. "Expectations will be much, much higher on all fronts," the minister added. Kabul's "Da Kpulwaki Wazhma" in its 1 November issue published a list of what it claims is Karzai's future cabinet. The 25-member cabinet differs drastically from the current cabinet and with the exception of former Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, who is listed as the minister of civil aviation, no other warlords are included. Also excluded are the current defense and foreign ministers, Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Abdullah Abdullah. The list, which reportedly was obtained from a close aide to Karzai's first vice-presidential running mate Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, does not include Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, Mohammad Mohaqeq, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Latif Pedram, or Mas'uda Jalal, the top vote getters after Karzai. Prior to the 9 October election, Karzai had promised not to form a coalition government and the list, if authentic, confirms his pledge (for more on the Afghan presidential election and political parties, see RFE/RL's special website on the elections at AT

The Islamic world does not foresee a change in U.S. policies regardless of who wins in the 2 November U.S. presidential election, the Mehr News Agency commented on 1 November. It accused both candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, of being pro-Zionist, so Muslims are pessimistic, and it added that they are capitalists, so the masses of the Third World will not benefit. The commentary added that many U.S. voters no longer think they have a real choice in elections, and they are likely to opt out of the process due to their unhappiness with the Democratic and Republican parties. Nor is there much difference between the parties, according to the commentary, and third parties do not play a serious role. BS

The U.S. presidential election is "not without significance for Iran," according to a commentary in the 1 November "Etemad" newspaper, and Iranian nuclear activities have been addressed during the presidential debates. The commentary said the Republicans and the Democrats both want to deny Iran access to nuclear technology and where they diverge is that the Republicans favor a unilateral approach to dealing with Iran, whereas the Democrats would take a multilateral approach and build an international coalition against Iran. Whoever wins, therefore, there will be no change in the policy of pressuring Iran. The commentary noted that since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, security has become the most important issue for Americans, and both candidates portray themselves as the most able to deal with the terrorism threat. The election, the commentary concluded, marks the beginning of a new phase in Iran-U.S. relations. BS

On the heels of his visit to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 November 2004), Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi made a one-day trip to Doha, Qatar, on 31 October, IRNA reported. While there he met with the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, as well as Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabar al-Thani, who serves as first deputy prime minister and foreign minister. A major topic of conversation was events in Iraq, and Kharrazi reportedly said a free election there would contribute to security and could lead to the withdrawal of occupation forces. Kharrazi also reassured Sheikh Hamad on Iran's nuclear activities, telling his host that Iran is willing to work with other countries to prove that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. According to a 1 November Foreign Ministry press release, Kharrazi also stressed that regional security can be enhanced through cooperation. In Tehran the same day, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani told reporters that Iran would like to enter a nonaggression pact with neighboring states, Mehr News Agency reported. BS

The Iranian judiciary has ordered the closure of the Baztab website (, Radio Farda reported on 1 November, citing ISNA. The conservative website is associated with Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai. According to Radio Farda, the website was closed due to alleged security violations. In reality, the closure may be connected with Baztab's reporting on the involvement of a former "Hamshahri" newspaper director in a cement contract. The cement reportedly was sold at very inflated prices due to the involvement of the newspaper official (see BS

Militants kidnapped an American, two Nepalese, and two Iraqi security guards in Baghdad on 1 November, international media reported. The Iraqis were later released; a third Iraqi guard was killed during the attack. The hostages were kidnapped from a residential building housing the employees of the Saudi Arabian Trading and Contracting Company (Satco) in Baghdad, a firm supplying U.S. forces in Iraq, Reuters reported. The Interior Ministry confirmed the kidnappings on 2 November, Al-Jazeera television reported. A ministry official told the satellite news channel that militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers attacked the house, spraying it with bullets before kidnapping the men. A U.S. official said a second American at the house escaped capture, reported on 2 November. One militant was also found dead at the site, the website reported. The abduction took place just 500 meters from the house where two Americans and a British national were kidnapped in September. Those men were later beheaded. The abduction of the American national marks the 12th U.S. citizen reported kidnapped or missing in Iraq, reported. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. KR

A car bomb detonated near the Education Ministry in the Iraqi capital on 2 November, international media reported. Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported that five people were killed in the blast, while Reuters reported that as many as six died, and cited an Education Ministry official who said that the death toll could be as high as 20. The ministry is located in the Al-Adhamiyah district and is close to several government buildings and a number of schools, Al-Arabiyah reported. Several vehicles were destroyed by the blast. A second bomb targeted a convoy of national guardsmen near the Abu Ghurayb prison. That blast killed at least four Iraqis and wounded 12, Al-Jazeera reported. Seven guardsmen acting as escorts for National Guard commander Rashid Fulayyih were wounded in a car bombing targeting Fulayyih's convoy in Mosul on 2 November, Al-Jazeera reported. That attack destroyed one National Guard vehicle and three civilian cars. KR

A U.S. Marine was reportedly kidnapped on 1 November in the city of Samarra, located north of Baghdad, Reuters reported on 2 November. Samarra police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Ahmad told reporters that gunmen in two cars seized him during an apparent nighttime patrol. Al-Arabiyah also reported that a Marine was kidnapped in Samarra. Ahmad said that U.S. forces notified Iraqi security forces to search for the soldier, adding that U.S. troops were out in full force in the city on 2 November. A U.S. military spokesman has said he has no information on the incident, Reuters reported. KR

Nineteen members of Iraq's security apparatus began training at the NATO Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway, on 1 November, according to a press release posted on the NATO website ( The eight-day course is the first NATO training of Iraqi forces to commence outside Iraq, and will focus on training mid- to high-level security personnel. The participants include senior military officers and civilian staff working for the Iraqi Defense and Interior ministries. Participants were specifically identified as "key leaders" by their superiors to participate in the training, the press release stated. The training course will focus on the function of an operational-level headquarters and will include instruction on command and control of forces, crisis management, civil-military cooperation, and operational planning. KR

Militants in Iraq attacked a train operating along the Baghdad-Damascus railway in the Ninawa Governorate in northwestern Iraq on 1 November, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. A source at the Iraqi Transportation Ministry said that the militants killed the four train drivers and set fire to five boxcars containing a shipment of wood being imported from Syria. Al-Sharqiyah reported that similar attacks have taken place in recent weeks on trains transporting grain and other commodities from Syria to Iraq. KR