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Newsline - November 3, 2004

More than 600 Russian politicians, journalists, and celebrities gathered at an election party on 2 November at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Ekho Moskvy and other media reported. The participants were invited by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow. Addressing the audience, Vershbow said that, regardless of the result, U.S.-Russian relations will be unaffected. "In case of President George W. Bush's re-election, there will be some changes in nuances, because a change in Bush's team is planned," Vershbow said, adding that the fact that so many Russians with different political views are watching the U.S. election shows a strong interest in democracy in Russia. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who was among the guests, told Ekho Moskvy that he has learned a lot from the U.S. elections, especially from television debates and the manner in which the election campaign was conducted. Noted journalist Aleksei Pushkov said that he believes that, if Bush is re-elected, the president will move toward the political center, taking into account criticism of his Russian policy by the Democrats. VY

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrived on 2 November in Moscow for a two-day visit to discuss with President Vladimir Putin the situation in Iraq, the fight against international terrorism, and bilateral trade and economic ties, NTV and other Russian media reported. After arriving in Moscow, Berlusconi watched coverage of the U.S. presidential election with Putin. On 3 November, Putin and Berlusconi opened a Russian-Italian summit. VY

Results of the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine might be disappointing for the pro-Moscow candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, wrote on 1 November. Despite having administrative resources at his disposal, Yanukovych not only failed to defeat opposition challenger Viktor Yushchenko in one round, but even failed to beat him convincingly, reported. According to a correspondent in Kyiv, this failure is explained by the sluggish work of Yanukovych's electoral staff and Yushchenko's ingenious and aggressive campaigning. Meanwhile, journalist Sergei Dorenko told Ekho Moskvy on 1 November that Moscow sent to Kyiv a large group of television journalists to help cover Yanukovych's campaign. The television team was charged with finessing Yanukovych's media campaign, in case Ukrainian journalists were "disloyal," Dorenko added. VY

The government is planning to revive a Soviet-era program aimed at instilling patriotism in young people through military training, sports, rallies, clubs, and video games, reported on 2 November. The government has asked the Finance Ministry to allocate 670 million rubles ($23 million) for the Ready For Work And Defense (GTO) program. The program will be jointly run by the Defense, Culture, and Education ministries. The original GTO program was initiated in the 1930s by Josef Stalin. VY

Russia ranked 140th out of 167 countries in a new press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 2 November. Last year, Russia was in 148th place. RSF made the assessment by sending out questionnaires to partner organizations, journalists, and human rights activists. Commenting on the report, Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said that "free speech in this country is in a catastrophic state and has become worse since last year, but you can't judge the situation by sending out four questionnaires," "The St. Petersburg Times" reported. In 2004, two journalists were killed in Russia and 25 others were assaulted. Russian "Forbes" Editor in Chief Paul Klebnikov was gunned down in Moscow on 9 July, and Reuters photographer Adlan Khasanov died in a 9 May bomb blast that killed the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, and several others in Grozny. VY

Presidential economy adviser Andrei Illarionov on 2 November told Interfax that the government should use any excess funds in its so-called stabilization fund to pay down Russia's foreign debt. The Finance Ministry announced on 29 October that the fund will reach 500 billion rubles ($16.7 billion) by the end of the year because of high world energy prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2004). Illarionov said it is extremely important that no money from the fund be spent domestically. This "should be written in gigantic neon letters and put on the roofs of the Finance Ministry, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the government building, and the Kremlin," Illarionov said. "Stabilization-fund money must not be spent inside the country. Never." Doing so, he said, would disrupt macroeconomic stability, hurt the ruble exchange rate, and "obstruct economic growth." He said that if the government had been more aggressive about paying down its debts since 2000, "we would have reduced our foreign debt by one-third, and would have had economic growth twice as high by now." Russia's foreign debt stood at $119.7 billion at the beginning of this year, Interfax reported. RC

The intraparliamentary commission investigating the September hostage taking at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, is cooperating with members of the U.S. commission that investigated the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Interfax and other Russian media reported on 2 November. Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Troshin, who chairs the Beslan commission, told journalists that "it has been agreed that members of the [U.S.] commission will help us organize open parliamentary hearings at which our report will be presented." He said that some U.S. commission members will travel to Russia in December to work on the presentation of the report, which "will clarify the circumstances and reasons for the Beslan attack." ITAR-TASS reported that Troshin discussed the matter on 2 November with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Vershbow. He said the U.S. investigation "worked out serious recommendations for the reinforcement of the special services" and that if such a commission had been formed in Russia following the October 2002 hostage taking at a Moscow theater, the Beslan tragedy might not have occurred. RC

"Vremya novostei" on 3 November reported that one of the terrorists killed during the Beslan school hostage taking was Bashir Pliev, a former internal-security officer of the Ingushetian Interior Ministry. Pliev has been wanted by the police ever since the raids on Interior Ministry facilities in Ingushetia on 21-22 June. Citing unnamed Beslan investigators, the daily reported that officials believe Pliev used his car to bring radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev and his fellow field commander, Doku Umarov, into Ingushetia. Last month, officials filed charges against two North Ossetian police officers and one Ingushetian police officer in connection with the Beslan events (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2004). In a statement posted on on 31 October, Basaev wrote that last year he was seriously wounded in Kabardino-Balkaria and a police colonel gave him shelter for a week. RC

Newspapers and periodicals have not experienced a significant decline in sales since Moscow authorities banned their sale within the subway system and within 25 meters of subway stations last month, reported on 1 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2004). The government introduced the ban as part of its new antiterrorism measures in the wake of the Beslan hostage taking. At the time, analysts predicted that sales would decline by between 20-70 percent. Most newspapers reported only about a 2 percent decline in sales since the ban, while several, including "Moskovskii komsomolets," reported circulation increases. Most publications have been able to maintain sales by setting up distribution points in shopping centers and increasing the number of street vendors, the website reported. RC

Pskov Deputy Mayor Pavel Drozdov was detained on 1 November on suspicion of accepting a bribe, reported on 2 November, citing Pskov police. Drozdov allegedly accepted $7,000 and vouchers for almost 35,000 rubles ($1,170) of gasoline from a local businessman. The city is in the midst of the campaign for the 14 November gubernatorial election, in which Pskov Mayor Mikhail Khoronen is running against incumbent Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov. A spokesman for Khoronen's campaign told a local news agency that Drozdov's arrest was a "planned provocation" to support Mikhailov. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 November that Drozdov is also a member of the political council of the local branch of Unified Russia and Khoronen's campaign manager. According to the daily, a local court earlier struck Khoronen from the race, but that ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court. A local prosecutor confirmed to the daily that Drozdov has been detained, but said the investigation is underway and no charges have been filed. RC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 November reported that 13 candidates have been certified to participate in the 5 December gubernatorial race in Ulyanovsk Oblast. The candidates include incumbent Governor Vladimir Shamanov, who is seeking re-election despite being asked by the local branch of Unified Russia to withdraw. Unified Russia State Duma Deputy Margarita Barzhanova, who was also asked by the party not to run, is running against Shamanov. The pro-Kremlin party is supporting Dimitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov. A local unknown named Sergei Morozov was registered in the race on the last day of registration, a move that was widely seen as an effort to siphon votes from the Dmitrovgrad mayor. Mayor Morozov told the daily that Shamanov is desperate because "the federal authorities are giving a stern assessment of the situation in Ulyanovsk Oblast." "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 November that Shamanov met in the Kremlin with President Putin on 1 November and that Putin offered him an unspecified security-related position in exchange for withdrawing from the race. The daily reported that local federally controlled television has been heavily supporting Mayor Morozov. RC

Armenian parliament deputy Arshak Sadoyan (National Democratic Union/Ardarutiun) alleged on 2 November that OTE, the Greek owner of the ArmenTel telecommunications operator, offered a government representative whom he declined to name $7 million worth of ArmenTel shares in return for a pledge to delay the liberalization of the Armenian telecom market, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian government embarked one year ago on an attempt to revoke ArmenTel's monopoly on all forms of telecommunications, but halted that campaign after OTE threatened a lawsuit; in June 2004 the Armenian government suspended its liberalization plans. Under a compromise agreement with OTE negotiated by Justice Minister David Harutiunian, ArmenTel would lose its control of mobile telephone communications but retain control of Internet access and receive the green light to raise fixed-line phone charges. Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian reportedly expressed strong opposition to that compromise proposal at a cabinet session on 1 November, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A spokesman for Harutiunian declined on 2 November to comment on Sadoyan's bribe allegation. LF

Ashot Gulian, foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), dismissed on 2 November as "a propaganda ploy" Azerbaijan's initiative to induce the UN General Assembly to schedule a debate on noncompliance with four resolutions passed by the UN Security Council in 1993 calling for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 November 2004), Interfax reported. Those resolutions failed to specify that the forces in question are part of the Republic of Armenia armed forces. Gulian added that "Azerbaijan is fully aware that these territories are under the control of Nagorno-Karabakh forces and that Armenia has nothing to do with them." He further argued that the swiftest way to reach a solution to the conflict is to include the NKR as a full-fledged party in the negotiating process. LF

Bowing finally to pressure from the IMF, the Azerbaijani government decreed on 1 November to raise the price to domestic consumers of natural gas and gasoline, and ITAR-TASS reported the following day. The price of natural gas more than doubled and is now 81,000 manats ($16.5) per thousand cubic meters. Gasoline prices rose by an average of 10-12 percent. The IMF has for over two years been pressuring the Azerbaijani government to raise domestic oil and gas prices, most recently during a visit by an IMF delegation to Baku late last month, reported on 28 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 September 2004). Speaking at a press conference in Sheki on 30 October, Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev said gas prices would not be raised before the new year, reported on 2 November. On 3 November, the online daily quoted opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov as predicting that the price hikes will exacerbate social tensions and could trigger mass protests. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 2 November, Nino Burdjanadze said Georgia realizes that full membership of the EU is a "remote prospect," but hopes to obtain associate membership in the next three years, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 2 November, Burdjanadze told students at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO) that Georgia aspires to membership of both the EU and NATO because those organizations "share the same values we do," and joining them would enhance Georgia's stability, unity, and prosperity, Interfax reported. Asked whether Georgia intends to quit the Commonwealth of Independent States, Burdjanadze said she does not think it will prove necessary to do so in order to join the EU. LF

Former Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba and Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh met in Moscow on 2 November in a bid to resolve the deadlock surrounding the outcome of the 3 October Abkhaz presidential ballot, Russian media reported. On 11 October, the Central Election Commission declared Bagapsh the winner with 50.08 percent of the vote, a figure that Khadjimba challenged. On 28 October, the Abkhaz Supreme Court upheld the CEC ruling but less than 24 hours later reversed that decision under pressure from Khadjimba's supporters and declared the poll invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 1 November 2004). Bagapsh nonetheless continues to assert that he is the legitimately elected president. Khadjimba told ITAR-TASS on 2 November that "everything depends on Sergei Bagapsh, his supporters and myself." He added that he is confident that a solution to the standoff can be found but did not suggest what form it might take. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman denied on 2 November that any meeting between the two Abkhaz officials and ministry personnel is planned, Interfax reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 November quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as likewise denying that Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Khadjimba and Bagapsh. That official said the two men may meet either with presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev or with Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov. LF

Abkhaz parliament speaker Nugzar Ashuba told ITAR-TASS on 2 November that the legislature has not taken and will not take any action towards implementing outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba's 29 October decree ordering a new presidential ballot within two months. Ashuba explained that although the decree violates the Abkhaz Constitution and election law, the parliament is not empowered to annul it; doing so is the prerogative of the Constitutional Court, but no such body has yet been established. LF

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who gave up his seat in parliament and his position as speaker to protest violations in 19 September elections, questioned the legislature's new start date in critical comments on 2 November, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The newly elected parliament had been slated to start on 1 December; instead, it will begin its work on 3 November. "I am surprised. What's wrong? Why the rush? I don't see any reason for this decision. It's as though we've done something wrong and need to be gotten rid of immediately," Tuyakbai said. He also offered more general criticisms, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. "Democracy is not developing in our land.... And the main reason for this is the lack of the rule of law.... Those who disrespect our laws most of all are our leaders," Tuyakbai said. The outgoing speaker continued: "In the last five years we have tried to do our best to get rid of our nickname 'pocket parliament.' But we failed to do much because of the narrow legislative space provided by the current constitution and regulations." DK

Alikhan Baimenov, co-chairman of the opposition party Ak Zhol, announced on 2 November that his party is giving up its single party-slate seat in the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) to protest violations in the course of 19 September elections, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "Our party has never entertained any illusions about the desire and ability of the current authorities to hold these elections on the basis of fair and honest competition. But the extent of violations and falsifications exceeded our most negative expectations," an Ak Zhol press release said. Ten of the 77 seats in the Mazhilis were apportioned on the basis of party slates, with Ak Zhol receiving one. Overall, pro-presidential parties garnered an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament. DK

Anne-Marie Lizin, the president of Belgium's Senate, said on 2 November in Astana that Belgium will aid Kazakhstan in the latter's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The remark came after Lizin met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Noting that she takes a sympathetic view of Kazakhstan's official policy of a gradual transition to democracy, the Belgian senator said, "I am truly delighted that a young Central Asian democracy wants to take on the responsibility of chairing [the OSCE in 2009]," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

President Askar Akaev ended a visit to Greece and returned home on 2 November, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Kyrgyz president met with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis during the trip. "Kyrgyzstan places great significance on the signing of several bilateral agreements at the governmental and ministerial level," quoted Akaev as saying. The agreements are intended to increase economic and political ties. DK

Aleksandr Andrianov, deputy director of Tajikistan's passenger railway company, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 2 November that Uzbek rail authorities are waging an "undeclared war" against their Tajik counterparts. Andrianov said that the recently introduced requirement of an Uzbek transit visa for Tajik citizens en route through Uzbekistan by train began with a 21 October telegram from Uzbek railroad authorities. He said that the telegram and the requirement violate an existing agreement between the two countries that allows rail travel without a visa. Amonhoja Hojibekov, also a deputy director in Tajikistan's passenger rail company, added: "We sent a letter to the Tajik Foreign Ministry asking them to explain to the Uzbek side...the absurdity of such telegrams and decisions in violation of the abovementioned agreement, but 10 days have gone by and our Foreign Ministry has done nothing." DK

Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Tadao Chino met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 2 November to discuss 2004-2006 cooperation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. ADB Regional Director Muhammad Tusnim said that work has begun on an ADB-financed highway from Dushanbe that will eventually reach Kyrgyzstan, Avesta reported. The project's first phase will receive $15 million this year; the $20 million second phase is set to begin in 2005. Additionally, the ABD will provide Tajikistan with $32 million in grants and loans in 2005, with $22 million going to irrigation and $10 million to customs modernization. DK

Also on 2 November, Chino met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent, Uzbek TV reported. The two discussed cooperation and signed agreements for projects on health care, textbooks for schools, irrigation systems, and crop yields. Chino and Karimov reached an agreement on a new $150 million ADB loan to Uzbekistan through 2008, UzA reported. DK

Uzbek law enforcement sources told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 2 November that Kazakhstan has extradited three terror suspects to Uzbekistan. Uzbek authorities believe that the three residents of Southern Kazakhstan were involved in spring terror attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara. "They were mentioned on many occasions in the testimony given at a trial in Tashkent as people who had provided secret addresses and aided and abetted the perpetrators of acts of terrorism in Uzbekistan," the source told Interfax-Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan has also extradited to Kazakhstan two individuals already convicted of involvement of terror in Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan's National Security Service, which confirmed the extradition to Interfax-Kazakhstan, said that the two are needed as witnesses in an ongoing investigation. DK

The Belarusian Justice Ministry recently issued a directive ordering political parties to relocate their local branches from residential to office buildings, Belapan reported on 2 November. Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau said in a letter to political parties that they are allowed to use apartments as chapter offices only if they have a separate entrance from those leading to the residential area. In particular, the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) was told to obey the directive by 1 February. According to BNF lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, the BNF will have to find new locations for 90 percent of its chapters. "It's extremely hard to find premises in office buildings, especially in the provinces," Labkovich said. "Besides, this requires considerable amounts of money, which parties, as nonprofit organizations, don't have." Belarusian Party of Communist Secretary Alena Skryhan told Belapan that this new directive threatens the existence of many Belarusian political parties. JM

The International Election Observation Mission, which included some 600 observers from the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said in a statement posted on the OSCE website ( on 1 November that the 31 October presidential ballot in Ukraine did not meet a "considerable number" of OSCE, Council of Europe, and other European standards for democratic elections. According to the mission, the presidential elections were tainted by bias in the state media, interference by the state administration in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the disruption or obstruction of opposition campaign events by the state authorities, and inadequacies in the Central Election Commission's handling of complaints. "This election process constitutes a step backward from the 2002 [parliamentary] elections," said Bruce George, president emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Special coordinator for the short-term observers. "Although we are grateful to the Ukrainian authorities for their cooperation during our mission, we regret that they did not create equal campaign conditions," said Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, head of the OSCE's long-term observation mission. JM

Central Electoral Commission head Serhiy Kivalov said on Ukrainian Television on 1 November that there were widespread irregularities regarding electoral registers in the 31 October presidential poll. "There are citizens who have appealed to courts, territorial commissions, the Central Electoral Commission, [and] district commissions," Kivalov said. "Some had their problems solved and were entered on the register, while others remained outside and were denied their constitutional right [to vote]." Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko wrote in the "Financial Times" on 3 November that "millions of opposition supporters" were denied the opportunity to vote on 31 October or were too poor to defend their right in court. Supreme Court Deputy Chairman Anatoliy Yarema said on 1 November that Ukrainian courts have examined some 42,500 complaints linked to the right of citizens to take part in voting in the 31 October ballot. According to Yarema, this number of electoral complaints was unprecedented for Ukraine. JM

The Central Election Commission has not yet finished counting votes in the 31 October presidential ballot, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 3 November. With 97.67 percent of the ballots counted, the commission said on 2 November that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won 39.88 percent of the vote, while main rival Viktor Yushchenko obtained 39.22 percent, meaning that there will be a runoff between them on 21 November. It is not clear when the final results of the 31 October vote will be announced. The Central Election Commission is legally obliged to do this within 10 days following polling day. Meanwhile, some 5,000 students demonstrated in Kyiv on 2 November, protesting what they allege were falsified results from the 31 October vote. "An all-out falsification of election returns is going on," Yushchenko's campaign manager, Oleksandr Zinchenko, told the rally. According to Zinchenko, the Central Elections Commission has stopped announcing elections returns "since it has realized that no report will be in favor of the authorities." JM

Paddy Ashdown said before the Republika Srpska Parliament in Banja Luka on 2 November that it is the only entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina that does not adhere to the 1995 Dayton peace agreement and the Bosnian Constitution because it has not cooperated with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, reported. "For nine full years, Republika Srpska has utterly failed to abide by those provisions -- not just in part, but totally," Ashdown said. "For nine full years, the authorities of Republika Srpska have failed to cooperate even in the smallest degree in the detention of Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic. For nine full years you have failed to arrest a single war criminal." Ashdown said the prize for cooperating with The Hague is within Bosnia's reach. "By next year this country could join NATO's Partnership for Peace program and begin a serious negotiation with the European Union on a Stabilization and Association Agreement -- the first, formal step on the road towards membership in the EU" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 12 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September 2004). UB

Oliver Ivanovic, who leads the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija, said after talks in Prishtina on 2 November with the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), Soren Jessen-Petersen, that it is still too early to say whether his party will accept seats in the Kosovar parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ivanovic said his list will wait for a signal from the Serbian government in Belgrade, which could raise the credibility of the Serbian members of the Kosovar Parliament. Ivanovic argued that the Serbian deputies in the parliament do not lack legitimacy but credibility, since voter turnout among the Kosovar Serbs was less than 1 percent. Ivanovic also said that his list will not participate in any governing coalition in Kosova though his list is open to cooperation with the Albanian parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 October 2004). UB

The Croatian government decided on 2 November to hold presidential elections on 2 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The government decided to hold the elections, which were originally slated for 21 December, on a Sunday rather than a working day because an additional holiday would be costly for the Croatian economy. Incumbent President Stipe Mesic currently leads polls by some 30 percent over his main rival, Jadranka Kosor of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), the "Southeast European Times" reported. UB

After a meeting with his Croatian counterpart Miomir Zuzul, Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic apologized in Zagreb on 2 November for all physical damage caused by the Yugoslav Army in Croatia during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, in which Montenegrin officers and soldiers participated, Tanjug reported. Vlahovic said Montenegro is fully aware of this damage and will not cover it up. UB

Speaking in Berlin on 2 November, Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov said he does not see any legal reason for Macedonia not to be internationally recognized under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, RFE/RL reported from Berlin. Asked to comment on the ongoing name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, Kostov said foreign states cannot impose names on Macedonia. Under Greek pressure, both the EU and the UN have recognized Macedonia under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), responding to Greek allegations that the name Macedonia refers to a wider region including territories in Greece and Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July and 1 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003). Kostov said similar or equal names for different states or regions are quite common, even in Europe, citing the examples of Great Britain and the French Bretagne or the Republic of Georgia and the U.S. federal state of the same name -- with neither case implying any territorial claims. UB

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is widening his lead over the main rival in the November presidential contest, according to the daily "Jurnalul national" on 3 November. The daily cites a public opinion poll carried out by Data Media, which credits the Social Democratic Party (PSD) candidate with 40 percent support -- 9 points more than National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party candidate Traian Basescu. Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor is third, with 15 percent support. In the parliamentary elections slated for November, the PSD is given 39 percent in the poll, the PNL-Democratic Party alliance 32 percent, and the PRM 14 percent. The poll was conducted between 16-22 October and has a 2.5 percent margin of error. MS

Premier Nastase launched a volume of memoirs on 2 November called "From Karl Marx to Coca-Cola," the dailies "Adevarul" and "Ziua" reported the next day. Nastase told an audience including President Ion Iliescu that the book's title was chosen to illustrate not only his own personal evolution, but also that of the country. He said Romania has swung from one pole to the other -- from an austere communist society to consumerism. Neither extreme, Nastase said, serves the interest of the many. MS

The Moldovan Defense Ministry received a letter signed by 83 U.S. congressmen expressing gratitude for the service of the Moldovan contingent in Iraq, Infotag reported on 2 November. The congressmen praised the Moldovan military engineers for demining nearly 54 tons of explosive in only three months. The 12-soldier contingent has been in Iraq since July and will return to Moldova in December. MS

The Moldavskaya Power Plant near Tiraspol announced on 2 November that it has suspended electricity deliveries to the Union Fenosa Group, a Spanish company that supplies electricity to Chisinau and other parts of central and southern Moldova, Infotag reported. The plant was purchased this year by a Russian-Belgian company. The new management said Union Fenosa rescinded an earlier price-hike agreement for deliveries. It said that Union Fenosa must "bear the entire responsibility for creating stress in [Moldovan] society." In related news, the Transdniester authority announced on 2 November that they plan to sell two of the region's largest enterprises -- the Tiroteks textile factory and the Kvint distillery, both of which are based in Tiraspol, ITAR-TASS reported. Transdniester "Economics Minister" Yelena Chernenko said bids are expected from Russia, the Netherlands, and other countries. MS

Parents and students at Moldovan schools teaching in the Latin script, as well as representatives of several nongovernmental organizations, started picketing the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on 3 November, Flux and Infotag reported. They said Russia is responsible for the controversy -- in which several schools were closed because they refused to stop using the Latin alphabet -- because of Moscow's support of Tiraspol. Moldovan Helsinki Committee Chairman Stefan Uratu was cited by Infotag as saying the picketing will continue indefinitely. The Chisinau mayoralty has authorized the protest. MS

Turkish newspapers this week are reporting that the Turkish government has formulated a contingency plan that would place at least 20,000 Turkish troops inside northern Iraq in an effort to prevent Kurdish leaders from changing the demographic structure of the highly contested city of Kirkuk.

The plan ostensibly calls for the reentry of Turkish forces into northern Iraq to rout out Turkish-Kurdish militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and also calls for Turkish troops to prevent further Iraqi Kurdish migration to Kirkuk. The city has a large Turkoman (ethnic Turkish) population, and vast oil reserves.

Media reports in recent months indicate that large numbers of Kurds are migrating to the city. Kurds say that they were displaced under the Saddam Hussein regime and are returning to their rightful homes; Turkey claims that Iraqi Kurdish leaders Mas'ud Barzani and Jalal Talabani want to ensure a Kurdish majority in the city under the next census in order to claim it as rightfully theirs, and possibly seek its inclusion in a federal Kurdistan.

Barzani heightened Turkish concern over Kirkuk in recent weeks through a number of inflammatory statements that made clear that Iraqi Kurds seek the return of Kirkuk to Kurdistan. He told reporters in the Turkish capital on 12 October that Kirkuk has a Kurdish "identity," and vowed to fight any force that attempts to intercede in the issue.

According to news reports published in Istanbul dailies "Cumhuriyet," "Milliyet," and "Sabah" between 30 October and 1 November, Ankara's contingency plan was reviewed during a 14 October cabinet meeting attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chief of General Staff General Hilmi Ozkok, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, and Turkish envoy to Iraq Osman Koruturk, among others. "Milliyet" reported on 1 November that the plan calls for the deployment of two army corps to the area, including a 40,000-strong force to stand ready to enter northern Iraq on 18-hour notice. Those troops would first focus on PKK camps in the Qandil mountain range with the assistance of air support.

Turkish concerns over the presence of PKK militants in northern Iraq have been heightened by reports that Syrian and Iranian Kurds have joined Turkish Kurds in northern Iraq, "Sabah" reported on 31 October. The daily claimed that the number of militants present there has increased dramatically from the 2,000 who fled across the Turkish-Iraqi border on the orders of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan four years ago. "Sabah" cited as "proof" the discovery of Syrian and Iranian nationals among those militants killed in clashes "over the past few days."

"Cumhuriyet" reported on 30 October that the Turkish force would consist of 20,000 troops, and claimed that military forces have already begun their deployment toward the Turkish-Iraqi border. The daily also claimed that Turkey has received tacit approval from U.S. officials to intervene in Kirkuk. "Cumhuriyet" also reported that the contingency plan was further discussed at a 27 October meeting between the Turkish National Security Council and the Turkish armed forces.

The newspapers' reports claim that Barzani and Talabani are operating under the false assumption that Turkey would not take action against the "Kurdization" of Kirkuk before the 17 December EU summit, when Turkey will begin accession talks with the European Union. But as "Sabah" contended: "There are national goals and causes that are more important than the EU.... For Kirkuk is in fact not the heart of Kurdistan, but rather that of Turkey's Iraq policy."

It remains rather unlikely that the United States has given any sort of tacit approval for a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. While the dailies are correct in reporting that the United States is perhaps wary of any demographic transformation of the city, it is a far stretch to assume that the United States would permit Turkish troops to move deep into northern Iraq. Iraq's Kurds would interpret such as move as an invasion, and large-scale fighting would ensue. Baghdad, too, would not welcome such an incursion, since it would destabilize the whole of northern Iraq, which has experienced relative quiet since the fall of the Hussein regime.

However, it is clear that something is afoot in northern Iraq. A 12 October MENA report stated that Kurdish peshmerga forces were moving troops further north and digging tunnels and establishing military outposts near Dahuk, close to the Turkish border. The news agency said the new peshmerga positions would effectively give them control over the major entry points along the border. Turkey has had a long-standing interest in Kirkuk because of its vast oil reserves, and Turkish leaders in 2003 attempted to claim a Turkish historical right to the city.

Reports regarding the death of nine people in Zabul Province on 1 November remain unclear. Initial reports indicated that the clashes were between the Afghan National Army and police, while Zabul Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni maintained that the clash was between the National Army and the International Security Assistance Force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004). A Zabul provincial deputy police chief told AFP on 2 November that "some 11 people were martyred and four others were injured in the fighting between the National Army, police and militia forces." Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, however, said on 2 November that only four "armed men" were killed and 20 others arrested in clashes between the National Army and an unidentified armed group in Zabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to Azimi, the incident occurred when two armed men who were illegally searching residential houses were arrested by the National Army. According to Azimi, five members of the National Army were wounded. AT

Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) has indicated that they are negotiating the fate of three foreign UN workers it took hostage in Kabul on 28 October, "The Irish Times" reported on 2 November. Mullah Ishaq Manzur, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban splinter group, rejected earlier reports that the deadline for killing their hostages if the group's demands are not met remains 3 November. On 1 November, Saber Mo'min, identified as a military commander of Jaysh al-Muslimin, said that the deadline was extended to 5 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004). Defense Ministry spokesman General Azimi said he has the "impression that there is confusion among the kidnappers which is why we can't take their deadline seriously." Afghan authorities in the past have been able to secure the release of foreign hostages, reportedly by paying a ransom, "The Irish Times," added. AT

Afghan's Ulema Council condemned the abduction of three UN employees by the Jaysh al-Muslimin, Radio Afghanistan reported, citing a 2 November statement. The council's statement said that "it considers" the hostage taking to be against Islamic law. The council said that the three UN workers were in Afghanistan to help and, according to the prophet Muhammad, "if anyone kills people of the covenant [with whom you have made a peace agreement], he will not even have a smell of heaven." The council asked the hostage takers to release their hostages, AFP reported on 2 November. AT

The Afghan National Army killed one person and wounded two others in Kandahar on 1 November, Afghanistan Television reported on 2 November. According to the Afghan Defense Ministry, the National Army fired on a vehicle, which failed to stop at one of the security gates into Kandahar and fired at the guards. An investigation is under way. The National Army is seen by many observers as the backbone of long-term stability in Afghanistan and the means by which Kabul could extend its authority over the entire country. AT

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters on 2 November that he is not very optimistic about the course of Iranian-U.S. relations, IRNA reported. While refusing to indicate a preference in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, Khatami hoped, "either Bush or Kerry will act realistically and rationally in the long-term interest of the United States to reduce tension by not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries," reported. BS

Hamedan parliamentary representative Hamid-Reza Haji-Babai said on 2 November that the outcome of the U.S. presidential election will not have an impact on Iran, IRNA reported. The two parties' basic objectives are identical, he said, but the Republicans ignore international organizations and rely on force, whereas the Democrats use diplomacy. The electoral system is capitalistic, Haji-Babai went on to say, "and the Zionists are the main investors." BS

"It is not important if Bush or Kerry win the election, because the Republican and Democratic parties are the same and, as the saying goes, the yellow dog is the brother of the jackal, and they are both after pillaging the other nations and fooling the people of America," the hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" newspaper editorialized on 1 November. Nevertheless, according to the daily, this is the most sensitive U.S. election ever for Muslims living in the East. The daily accused Republicans of being hawkish and cited the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the reference to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil;" and support for Israel as examples of President George W. Bush's "aggressive and warmongering performance." The Democrats are just as bad, it continued, citing the Vietnam War and support for Israel. BS

International affairs expert Hussein Mohammadi predicted that the U.S. election will be "sensational and fraudulent," the hard-line "Resalat" reported on 1 November. He went on to claim that most Republican party support comes from neoconservatives, Zionists, multinational corporations, and arms manufacturers, whereas Democratic Party support comes from the middle class, academics, intellectuals, and environmentalists. Whoever wins, Mohammadi said, the president must serve the Zionists' interests rather than those of the American people. BS

Twenty-five years ago a group calling itself the Students Following the Imam's Line stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and, as a result, 53 American citizens were held hostage for 444 days. That event is being commemorated in Iran on 3 November (13 Aban) this year, and the Islamic Propagation Organization invited Iranians to participate in nationwide rallies, IRNA reported on 2 November. State radio reported on 1 November that there will be a rally in front of the former U.S. Embassy and similar events in other cities. Speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad Adel praised the seizure of the embassy on 2 November, IRNA reported. The General Headquarters of the Armed Forces congratulated the nation on 1 November, IRNA reported. 13 Aban also marks the day the father of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was exiled to Turkey in 1964 and university students were killed by the shah's troops in 1978. BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters during a 31 October press conference that neither Osama bin Laden nor any other high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda is in Iran, IRNA reported, although lower-level Al-Qaeda personnel are in Iranian prisons. On 27 October "The Washington Times" published an excerpt from Richard Miniter's recent book, "Shadow War -- The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror." Miniter writes that bin Laden asked for Iran's help in an audiotape to "Ali Khomeini, the grand ayatollah of Iran's Supreme Council." Bin Laden reportedly promised that in exchange for safe haven and money, his organization would serve at Iranian behest against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reportedly entered Iran on 26 July 2002 and traveled with Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other Al-Qaeda leaders reportedly in Iran are Saad bin Laden and Saif al-Adel. Miniter cites an anonymous "former Iranian intelligence officer" -- and one assumes that such an individual would be able to correctly identify Iran's top official, Ali Khamenei, who is not a "grand ayatollah." It is not clear what the "Supreme Council" is, either. BS

The secretariat of the Supreme National Security Council announced in the 2 November edition of "Etemad" that it has not issued orders for the closure of the "Baztab" website, nor does it know anything about this matter. BS

An American contractor of Lebanese descent was kidnapped overnight from his home in the upscale Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 3 November. An Iraqi police source told the news channel that the man works in Baghdad's green zone. The contractor is the second American to be kidnapped in the Iraqi capital in two days. Four Jordanian truck drivers were also kidnapped in Iraq yesterday, Al-Arabiyah cited Jordanian government spokesperson Asma Khadr as saying. A Filipino civilian working as an accountant in Baghdad has also been kidnapped. Militants holding hostage Margaret Hassan threatened in a videotaped message sent to Al-Jazeera on 2 November that they will hand Hassan over to Al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi if British troops fail to withdraw from Iraq within 48 hours. Al-Jazeera only aired a brief clip of the video, saying it would not broadcast the entire tape because of "humanitarian reasons" related to Hassan's condition in the video. Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) posted a statement on its website ( on 2 November denying reports that a U.S. soldier had been kidnapped in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004). KR

A senior official from the Oil Ministry was gunned down in the Iraqi capital on 3 November, Al-Jazeera reported. Husayn al-Fattal, director general of the state-owned Refined Oil Products company, was shot and killed as he left his home in the Al-Qadisiyah District. Militants bombed a northern pipeline near Kirkuk on 2 November, forcing officials to close down exports to Turkey, cited Iraqi officials as saying on 3 November. The pipeline normally carries 400,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the export terminal in Turkey. KR

Muna Muhammad Jaff, the local head of the Kurdistan Women's Union, was kidnapped outside her Mosul home on 1 November, "Khabat" reported on 2 November. Eyewitnesses said that armed men traveling in four vehicles abducted Jaff. There has been no word on her fate. Union representatives confirmed the abduction to "Khabat." The Kurdistan Women's Union is an organization established in 1952 affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The organization works to advance women's issues within the party and in society at large, according to the KDP website ( KR

The U.S. military has set up an anonymous tip line and has urged residents in the Iraqi capital to call in any information related to the insurgency, AP reported on 2 November. The agency reported that Brigadier General Jeffrey Hammond gave interviews to Arabic television networks on 1 November, asking Iraqis to provide information on planned attacks. "When you see this terrible insurgent about to do something, pick up your phone and call me. I'll do something about it," Hammond said. "We can fight this war together. You can help me fight -- in secret," he added. The First Cavalry Division, which Hammond commands, has received up to 30 calls per day since the line was set up two weeks ago, but has yet to yield any significant results. Division spokesman Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton said that it has been helpful in vetting intelligence and generating leads. AP cited Hammond as saying that the tip line is part of an Arabic media blitz organized by the division that includes weekly Arabic-only news conferences and interviews on radio call-in shows in Baghdad. KR