Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - November 4, 2004

President Vladimir Putin on 3 November, before U.S. President George W. Bush had been named the winner of the 2 November U.S. presidential election, welcomed Bush's apparent victory, Interfax reported. "If Bush wins, I will be heartened that the American people did not allow itself to be intimidated and made a logical decision," Putin said. Putin added that Bush has been a "strong and methodical politician" in conducting the war against international terrorism. "He is a reliable and predictable partner," Putin said. "This struggle is not a joke and will be long and will demand serious efforts," he said. "We now have established cooperation tools and much has been done. I hope that this will continue. We can demonstrate our unity in the struggle against this threat." RC

Leading figures in the State Duma on 3 November commented on the reelection of U.S. President Bush, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Duma Deputy Speaker Dmitrii Rogozin, who heads the Motherland party, said that "the choice between the Republicans and Democrats for Russia is like a choice between a hurricane and a typhoon." He warned that Moscow must resist being dragged into any U.S. "adventures." He said he expects Bush to continue the main policies of his first term, which he described as "the maintenance of instability in the Persian Gulf region and the threat of the use of force against Iran and Syria." Economic Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov (Unified Russia) said that with Bush's reelection "the United States will be more predictable." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov noted the close and hard-fought U.S. election. "One serious conclusion can be drawn: the destruction of the balance of the planet has to a certain degree caused the destruction of the U.S. political system as well." RC

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 3 November that Moscow "respects the choice" of the American people, ITAR-TASS reported. "We and the current U.S. administration hold identical views on many international issues, including a common approach to the antiterrorism struggle," Gryzlov said. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Katrenko expressed the hope "that the U.S. policy of double standards toward terrorists will recede into the past." "I don't rule out that the United States is going to revise its approach to the Iraqi problem," he added. Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said "we know [Bush] and his administration." He said that if U.S. Senator John Kerry had won, the United States might have withdrawn from the fight against terrorism "and Russia would have had to deal with all of this." RC

Thirteen of the terrorists who took more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in September, escaped when security forces stormed the building, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote on 4 November. Citing an unnamed special-forces agent who participated in the 3 September storming and is working on the investigation, the daily reported that 52 terrorists were killed at the school. Officially, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has said that 31 terrorists were killed and one was captured. "I personally counted 52 fighters, 49 were killed and three were captured," the source told the daily. "In addition, there were 13 people, including one woman, who probably escaped." The source identified one of the terrorists who was captured as Vladimir Khodov and said the third one was a woman. The government has said that only Nur-Pasha Kulaev was taken alive and that Khodov was among the dead. Earlier, the weekly "Versiya" claimed that the number of people killed in the incident was much greater than the 335 officially reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2004). RC

The website on 3 November refuted earlier media reports that Ingushetian police officer Bashir Pliev was identified as being among the terrorists killed during the storming of the Beslan school (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). The website reported that Pliev's relatives are in contact with him and that he is alive. The website also reported that none of the families of accused Beslan terrorists who were from the Ingushetian village of Sagopshi have been in mourning since the storming, indicating that they believe their relatives are still alive. The website also claimed that Ruslan Khuchbarov, aka the Colonel, who was reported to be the leader of the raid, is alive and fighting in Chechnya. "Komsomolskaya pravda," citing its unnamed special-forces source, reported on 4 November that Khuchbarov did not command the raid. The source said the terrorists were led by Magomed Evloev, aka Magas, who was identified as the personal bodyguard of radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. He said that Evloev was killed during the storming of the school. But reported in early September that "Magas" is not Evloev but a former Ingush police officer, whose body was not among those recovered after the storing of the school (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 6 September 2004). According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 October, relatives of those killed in the Beslan hostage taking are lobbying for the deportation of all Ingush from North Ossetia. RC/LF

The Finance Ministry on 3 November submitted to the government its recommendation that excess funds in the so-called stabilization fund be used only for the repayment of foreign debt for at least the next two years, Interfax reported. Earlier, presidential economy adviser Andrei Illarionov said that spending any of the money domestically would disrupt macroeconomic stability and harm growth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). RC

President Putin on 3 November named Astrakhan Oblast Deputy Governor Aleksandr Glazkov as acting governor of the oblast, and other Russian media reported, citing the presidential press service. After the 17 August death of longtime Astrakhan Oblast Governor Anatolii Guzhvin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004), First Deputy Governor Aleksandr Zhilkin became acting governor. However, he has now stepped aside because he is officially a candidate in the 5 December election to replace Guzhvin. RC

Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov on 2 November resigned his commission in the army, Russian media reported on 4 November. Earlier media reports indicated that Shamanov would be offered a government post related to security in exchange for agreeing not to run for a second term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). RBK reported on 4 November that Shamanov will soon be named to the Security Council. RC

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who observed the 2 November U.S. presidential election in California, said on 3 November that electronic voting in the United States "does not provide a 100 percent guarantee against possible manipulations of the elections," ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Russia is looking at electronic-voting systems and intends "to test a system of this kind on the quiet as early as next year." Veshnyakov also said that Russia should not adopt a system similar to the U.S. Electoral College and that it should not hold elections on working days as the United States does. "Russia and the United States can learn from one another regarding the practice of holding elections," Veshnyakov said on Ekho Moskvy on 3 November. "America could learn the Russian lesson of safeguards against all sorts of machinations, to which some candidates sometimes resort." RC

President Putin on 4 November signed into law a measure that will allow senior government officials, including cabinet members, to occupy leadership posts in political parties and other nongovernmental organizations. The measure was approved by the Duma on 13 October and by the Federation Council on 27 October. The ban on political-party leadership was put in place in the immediate post-Soviet period as part of the reaction against the dominant role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. RC

Police in Yekaterinburg on the night of 3-4 November searched the office of the city administration and seized documents related to municipal housing policy, Interfax reported. A police spokesman told the news agency that several unnamed municipal officials are suspected of abuse of office in connection with some elite housing in the city. On 4 November, police also searched the offices of three local real-estate agencies. No one has been arrested. RC

The total number of Russians eligible to receive social benefits could be more than 1 million more than the official figure of 12.25 million, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 November, citing Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov. According to Zurabov, the number of eligible combat veterans is 750,000 greater than had previously been reported. He said his ministry is now working to ensure that all eligible people are able to get the benefits to which they are entitled. RC

A 2 November "RFE/RL Newsline" item entitled "Moscow Says U.S. Election Result Will Not Interfere With U.S.-Russian Relations" erroneously stated that the comments made by Russian Ambassador to the United States Yurii Ushakov were posted in an official statement on the Foreign Ministry's website. They were actually made in an interview with "Itogi," No. 42, which was posted on the ministry's website ( on 19 October. RC

Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov has told the Chechen newspaper "Daimokhk" that his security guards are ready to "restore order" in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge by neutralizing the Chechen resistance fighters he claims still use the area as a base, Reuters reported on 3 November. Kadyrov said the Chechen leadership "is fed up" with the threat emanating from Pankisi and wants to "restore order," even though "some sensitive Georgian politicians" might object to such an operation. He added that his men, whom he characterized as "effective and capable," are ready to fight anywhere in Russia. Georgian State Security Minister Vano Merabishvili said on 3 October after touring Pankisi with a delegation of observers from Russia, the United States, and the OSCE, that no traces of any Chechen militants had been found during a search operation in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). Radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev denied in a recent interview that his men have ever used Pankisi as a base camp (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 November 2004). LF

During the first 10 months of 2004, 140 people were abducted in Chechnya, which represents a more than 50 percent drop compared with the same period in 2003, when the figure was 382, Ruslan Alkhanov told a press conference in Grozny on 3 November, Russian media reported. Citing data complied by the Moscow Helsinki Group, "Vremya novostei" on 11 August gave the number of abductions since the beginning of 2004 as 200. Alkhanov added that the number of terrorist acts committed in Chechnya as a whole fell by 36 percent, and in Grozny by 43 percent. LF

Leading members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) warned on 3 November that the HHD may leave the coalition government unless important provisions contained in the June 2003 memorandum on forming that coalition are met, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. HHD governing board member Armen Rustamian listed specifically his party's demand for an increase in the number of parliamentary mandates allocated under the party-list system, and more effective measures to combat corruption. The senior coalition partner, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, opposes major changes in the election system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 21 October 2004). LF

The government approved late on 3 November a compromise agreement negotiated by Justice Minister David Harutiunian with the Greek-owned telecommunications operator Armentel, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Under that deal, which some government ministers opposed, Armentel will keep for several years its monopoly on wireless services and on Internet access to the outside world, and will be permitted to raise fixed-line phone charges. Opposition parliament deputy Arshak Sadoyan, who has implicitly accused Harutiunian of accepting a multimillion-dollar bribe from Armentel, has appealed to Armenians to rally outside the government building on 4 November to protest the concessions to Armentel, according to Arminfo on 2 November as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). LF

Senior Armenian and Russian railroad officials signed an agreement in Yerevan on 3 November under which rail transport between the two countries will be restored in 2005, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Russian State Railways head Gennadii Fadeev argued that Armenia is currently "under blockade" as a result of which almost all exports and imports are by road or air. Fadeev said he very much hopes that Georgia will agree to rail transport from Russia to Armenia across its territory. He said the Russian-Armenian agreement could form the cornerstone for a four-sided agreement between Russia and the three South Caucasus states. Azerbaijan's Transport Ministry rejected that idea, however, on the grounds that the country is at war with Armenia, according to Caucasus Press on 4 November. The Azerbaijani statement said the resumption of rail traffic from Russia via Georgia to Armenia is therefore not in Azerbaijan's interests. LF

Speaking to journalists in Baku on 3 November, Ilham Aliyev sought to downplay the recent rise in prices of consumer goods, arguing that salaries in Azerbaijan are rising faster than consumer prices, reported on 4 November. Aliyev attributed the increase in the price of goods imported from Europe to increased transport costs resulting from the worldwide rise in oil prices. At the same time, he hinted that the government will no longer tolerate individual monopolies on the import of some consumer items. LF

Aliyev told journalists in Baku on 3 November that he does not anticipate that the debate on Nagorno-Karabakh scheduled by the UN General Assembly at Azerbaijan's request will negatively affect efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, reported. Aliyev said Baku is not ready to have any other organization take over mediation responsibility from the Minsk Group, but he would nonetheless like the conflict to be debated more widely by international organizations, including the UN and the Council of Europe. He claimed that the root of the conflict is the occupation by Armenia of Azerbaijani territory. LF

Aliyev hinted to journalists on 3 November that predictions that the seven oppositionists sentenced last month for their role in violent clashes in Baku in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential ballot will soon be amnestied are overly optimistic, reported. "There have already been quite enough pardons," the online daily quoted Aliyev as saying. "If the need arises, we can return to this issue, but pardon decrees cannot be issued on a monthly basis." In an interview with Reuters one month ago, Aliyev similarly implied that there can be no doubt the seven men are guilty, claiming that the crimes they were charged with committing were recorded by television cameras (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2004). LF

Former Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba and Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh flew back to Sukhum from Moscow on separate planes on 3 November after talks the previous day with senior Russian officials aimed at finding a solution to the legal impasse over the outcome of the 3 October presidential ballot, Georgian and Russian media reported. Bagapsh told his supporters in Sukhum later on 3 November that he and Khadjimba met with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and with Federal Security Service head Nikolai Patrushev, Caucasus Press reported. Bagapsh said the Russian side proposed holding a repeat presidential ballot, as called for by outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba, but he considers that option unacceptable in light of the 11 October Central Election Commission statement that Bagapsh won the ballot. Interfax quoted Bagapsh as saying that "someone" threatened a blockade of the Russian-Abkhaz border if the proposal to hold a new ballot was rejected, but that he was not intimidated by that threat. Bagash said that he is in excellent spirits, and hopes to reach a consensus with Khadjimba by means of dialogue. LF

Khadjimba for his part declined on his return to Sukhum to divulge which Russian officials he met with in Moscow, saying only that the officials in question are keen to "stabilize the situation" in Abkhazia, according to Interfax on 3 November. Stressing that he and Bagapsh are "rivals not enemies," Khadjimba said he will contest the repeat presidential ballot, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 November. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev addressed the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) on 3 November as it reconvened after the 19 September elections, Khabar TV reported. Nazarbaev said that the national commission on democracy and civil society will resume its work, which was suspended for the duration of the election campaign. He urged the legislature to support steps to speed reforms and reduce corruption, saying that a 30 percent decrease in the shadow economy will boost budget revenues by 20 percent. And he noted the need to raise teachers' salaries and ensure that young people are proficient in Kazakh, Russian, and English, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. For their part, legislators elected Oral Mukhamedzhanov, who previously occupied a position in the presidential administration, as the new speaker of the Mazhilis, Kazinform reported. DK

President Nazarbaev stated that "about 10 megaholdings control almost 80 percent of Kazakhstan's total GDP," Khabar TV reported. He stressed that these inefficient and nontransparent oligarchic structures hinder the development of small and medium-sized businesses. "We should work to transfer the secondary functions of megaholdings to medium and small business," he concluded, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In comments to journalists later in the day, presidential adviser Ermukhamet Ertsybaev [Interfax spells him Ertysbaev - which is correct?] said, "What the president had in mind is that the 10 financial and oligarchic groups in Kazakhstan that control 80 percent of the economy should in no way influence decision making in the government and in parliament," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ertsybaev said that demonopolization laws are needed, but that it will take parliament "two to five years" to enact them. DK

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) released a statement on 3 November providing details on recent counterterrorism cooperation with Uzbek law enforcement, Kazinform reported. "The investigative sections of the KNB and their counterparts in Uzbekistan had a need to double-check the testimony of individuals charged with crimes in connection with the terrorist attacks in Tashkent (in March and June 2004)," the statement read. The KNB said that prosecutors from the two countries agreed that Uzbek authorities will surrender two Uzbek citizens to Kazakh authorities for questioning, and Kazakh authorities will hand over three Kazakh citizens to Uzbekistan for questioning. The press release noted that the accused gave written consent in the presence of lawyers and that all of the individuals will be returned to their countries of origin when investigations are complete. DK

President Askar Akaev addressed a conference of international donors in Bishkek on 3 November, Kyrgyz Radio reported. Akaev hailed his country's accomplishments, noting the stability of its currency and the "lowest rate of inflation in the CIS." "Over the past five years we have managed to reduce poverty by 15 percent," he said, adding that real wages are increasing. Akaev noted that talks with the Paris Club to restructure the country's external debt have made "significant progress." In his remarks to the conference, World Bank Vice President Shigeo Katsu sounded a more critical note, stressing the need to fight corruption in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The World Bank lists Kyrgyzstan's external debt as of the first quarter of 2004 at nearly $1.8 billion, or 94.5 percent of GDP. DK

Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) passed a new Tax Code and Customs Code on 3 November, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The new Tax Code introduces a two-tier income tax with rates of 8 percent for those who earn less than 100 somonis a month ($36), and 13 percent for those who earn more, Avesta reported. Tax Minister Ghulom Boboev told the news agency that the tax code has been simplified and improved. "Agricultural producers will pay a single land tax instead of six-seven taxes," he said. "Rates have been reduced for income taxes and tax on profit. There are incentives for foreign and domestic investors." But economist Hojimuhammad Umarov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that high rates in the new code will force businesses to conceal revenues, leading to increased corruption. DK

The European Humanities University (EHU), which was closed by Belarusian authorities in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 18 August 2004), has registered a "virtual" educational division in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 3 November. The new educational initiative, called EHU-international, will start its via-the-Internet tuition for a projected group of 200 students later this month. EHU Deputy Rector Tatsyana Halko told RFE/RL that the EHU-international is negotiating with education officials in Italy, Germany, Poland, and Lithuanian to have its future baccalaureates recognized by these countries. After the closure of the EHU, some 200 students reportedly left Belarus to continue their education abroad, including in Poland, Germany, and the United States. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in September that the authorities closed the private EHU because the university's main goal was to educate a new Belarusian elite that would make the nation pro-Western (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2004). JM

Central Election Commission (TsVK) head Serhiy Kivalov told journalists in Kyiv on 3 November that the 31 October presidential ballot may be declared invalid in some constituencies, ITAR-TASS reported. "About 50 election constituencies did not submit their protocols or the protocols they submitted were not properly executed. Courts are now considering violations in some of the [225] constituencies," Kivalov said. The TsVK stopped the vote count on 2 November, announcing that with 97.67 percent of the ballots counted Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won 39.88 percent of the vote, while opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko obtained 39.22 percent. Meanwhile, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 3 November that the TsVK has decided to verify 30 percent of the polling-station protocols in 132 constituencies. Yushchenko's campaigners have charged that the verification was ordered to steal what they believe to be a win by Yushchenko. Yushchenko wrote in the "Financial Times" on 3 November that his staff will "challenge" the 31 October poll results. His staff pledged to complete a parallel vote count by 7 November. JM

Lawmaker Oleh Rybachuk from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus, said in Kyiv on 3 November that TsVK chef Serhiy Kivalov has not yet announced the final vote count in the presidential election because the presidential administration has threatened to instigate a criminal case against his daughter if he fails to ensure a "necessary election result" for Premier Yanukovych, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported on 3 November. Rybachuk said the criminal case could be linked with the business activity of the Antarktyka fishing company, but failed to provide details. Kivalov denied that the presidential administration is putting pressure on him personally and on the commission concerning the release of final results of the voting. "[My daughter] is not involved in any business activities," Interfax quoted him as saying. JM

President Leonid Kuchma has congratulated U.S. President George W. Bush on his victory in the 2 November presidential election, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 4 November, quoting the presidential press service. In his congratulatory message Kuchma said he hopes the United States under Bush's leadership will remain a "world leader that guards peace, stability, and democracy." "I believe that the second term of your presidency will become a new stage in developing the constructive Ukrainain-American cooperation, founded on the commonality of democratic values and proximity of interests in the international arena," Kuchma noted. JM

The Central Election Commission of Kosova and the OSCE mission in Prishtina announced on 3 November the final results of the 23 October elections for the Kosovar parliament, reported. President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) won 45.4 percent of the votes, which translated into 47 seats in the 120-seat parliament. Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party (PDK) garnered 28.9 percent (30 seats), Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) won 8.4 percent (9 seats), and the newly founded Ora party of publisher Veton Surroi won 6.2 percent (7 seats). Four smaller Kosovar Albanian parties took a total of five seats. Of the 10 parliamentary seats reserved for the Serbian minority, eight will be given to the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija and two to the Citizens' Initiative of Serbia. The 10 seats reserved for the smaller ethnic minorities will be shared by the parties of the Bosnian, Turkish, Ashkali, Romany, and Gorani minorities. Women will make up 29 percent of the new members of parliament. Voter turnout was 53.57 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 October and 1, 2, and 3 November 2004). UB

British Major General David Leakey confirmed in Sarajevo on 3 November that the EU-led peacekeeping mission Althea will take over the mandate from the current NATO-led SFOR mission on 2 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Leakey, who has been appointed the EU force commander, said some 80 percent of the some 7,500 troops currently stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina will only change the insignia on their uniforms, while the mandate given to them in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement will remain the same. British General John Reith has been appointed EU Operation Commander for Althea, according to the mission's official homepage ( (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 July and 17 September 2004). UB

Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said in Belgrade on 3 November that the police are working "intensively" to track down indicted war criminals and to cooperate with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Jocic said the media concentrate on the "most repressive" part of the cooperation with the tribunal, the arrests, but should not forget those war criminals who voluntarily surrender to the ICTY. In related news, the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry presented a report on 3 November, according to which the police in that Bosnian entity carried out three major operations to arrest indicted war criminals between 1 July and 16 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The report was made public one day after High Representative Paddy Ashdown harshly criticized the Republika Srpska for its failure to cooperate with the war-crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). UB

Speaking before NATO's Permanent Council on 3 November, Carla del Ponte, who is the ICTY's chief prosecutor, criticized SFOR peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as the authorities of Serbia-Montenegro, Croatia, and the Republika Srpska for their failure to arrest indicted war criminals, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Del Ponte said 21 indicted war criminals are still at large, adding that there are networks that protect former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, former Croat General Ante Gotovina, and other indictees. Del Ponte said she believes that these networks are waiting for the mandate of the war crimes tribunal to end in 2010. Del Ponte's main criticism was directed at the authorities in Belgrade, which failed to arrest 15 indictees who are believed to be hiding in Serbia. UB

The parliament of Serbia's Vojvodina Province in Novi Sad elected on 30 October a new parliamentary speaker and a new head of the provincial administration, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina Secretary-General Bojan Kostres, 30, was elected parliamentary speaker. Kostres replaces Nenad Canak, who is that party's chairman. Democratic Party (DS) Deputy Chairman Bojan Pajtic was elected the new head of the provincial administration. Apart from the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina and the Democratic Party, the new provincial administration also includes members of the League of Vojvodina Hungarians and Bogoljub Karic's Snaga Srbije movement. In September, ethnic tensions in the province led to diplomatic tension between Serbia and Hungary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 14, 15, and 16 September 2004). UB

Ali Ahmeti, who is the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), said in an open letter to the Macedonian public on 3 November that people must decide on 7 November whether they will participate in the referendum against the government's controversial redistricting plans, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. "The key question for all of us is: 'What shall we do on 7 November?" Ahmeti wrote. "Shall we participate in the referendum, thus becoming a stumbling block for our country's integration into the European Union, or shall we vote for Europe by ignoring the referendum? Shall we vote for the future or the past?" Ahmeti asked. Recent opinion polls suggest that most Macedonians oppose the government's plan to reduce the number of administrative districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 22 October 2004). UB

President Ion Iliescu said on 3 November that the win by incumbent U.S. President George W. Bush "would somehow mean a victory for Romania as well, because it would ensure the continuity of a beneficial relationship" between the two countries, Mediafax reported. Iliescu spoke while visiting Barlad, before Bush's challenger, Senator John Kerry, had conceded the race. Iliescu said Romania's experience with the current administration "is good." MS

President Iliescu said during his visit to Barlad on 3 November that "the time has come to take a position" on the possibility of pardoning miners' leader Miron Cozma, Mediafax reported. He thus hinted that he might do so before his term as head of state ends in December. Cozma is serving an 18-year sentence for attempting to overthrow the government in 1991. Recently, a senator from the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and one from the opposition Greater Romania Party (PRM) renewed appeals on Iliescu to either shorten Cozma's sentence or to pardon him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004). MS

Gerhard Schroeder said on 3 November that he believes the negotiations for Romania and Bulgaria's accession to the EU should be closed this month, Mediafax reported. Schroeder met in Essen with Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase at a German-Romanian economic forum. He said he sees no reason why closing negotiations should be postponed if both sides -- the EU and the two candidate countries -- display good will. According to the calendar of the European Commission, negotiations should close by the end of 2004 and the accession treaty should be signed in the first half of 2005. Romania is still negotiating three chapters of the acquis communautaire with Brussels, whereas Bulgaria has closed negotiations on all chapters. MS

The Senate on 3 November rejected a government initiative to debate, in rapid procedure, compensating former King Mihai I for the nationalization of the Peles Royal Castle in Sinaia, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2004). Legislators from the ruling PSD, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) rejected the government's request for the quick debate by a vote of 57 to 27 with eight abstentions. Among those who voted against the initiative was Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu. The decision means that the proposed 30 million euros ($38.4 million) in compensation will have to await debate in the next legislature. Elections are slated for 28 November. MS

The Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) said on 3 November it is ready to renounce two earlier demands in order to facilitate approval by the incumbent parliament of a bill on religious denominations, the daily "Adevarul" reported the next day. The demands were for BOR's recognition as Romania's "National Church" and for other religions to be officially registered only if they make up at least 0.5 percent of the population. A draft bill on religious denominations, including the two BOR demands, was submitted for debate in 1999, but was withdrawn by former Romanian Premier Radu Vasile after it was criticized as restricting freedom of religion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 September 1999). The legislature's term ends in November. MS

The Center for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism in Romania (MCA) on 1 November asked Electoral Bureau Chairman Emil Ghergut to launch an investigation into the use by the New Generation Party (PNG) of posters with a slogan used by Romanian fascists in the interwar period, the daily "Romania libera" reported on 2 November. The slogan has PNG Chairman Gigi Becali saying, "I swear before God to make Romania into a country like the holy sun in the sky." The MCA says the slogan infringes on the provisions of Emergency Ordinance 31 of 2002 which prohibits the public display of fascist symbols. MS

The State Duma, by a vote of 365-64 with four abstentions, voted on 29 October to adopt in its first reading President Vladimir Putin's controversial proposal to eliminate the direct election of regional executive-branch heads, Russian media reported. Putin put forward the proposal in a 13 September speech outlining the government's response to the tragic school hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, earlier that month.

"The outdated executive-branch system" is being renovated, Deputy Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) told RIA-Novosti on 29 October, in order to "enhance the unity of the country and to forestall the emergence of crises in Russia.

As adopted in its first reading, the bill would replace the direct election of all regional executive-branch heads -- including the presidents of the so-called ethnic republics -- with a system under which regional legislatures confirm candidates nominated by the president of the Russian Federation. Legislators will confirm candidates by a simple majority; in the cases of regions with bicameral legislatures, both chambers will vote.

If a legislature twice declines to confirm the president's nominee, the president has the right to disband the legislature and to appoint an acting regional head to serve until a new legislature is elected. The president would also have the right to dismiss any regional head for failure to fulfill his duties or if he "loses the president's confidence." Deputies were particularly concerned during the 29 October discussion of the bill about the vagueness of that formulation, "Gazeta" reported on 1 November.

According to media reports, the government and the Duma solicited comments from regional officials prior to the first reading of the bill. According to "Vedomosti" on 1 November, officials received 71 comments from local legislatures and 58 from local executive branches, all but one of which was positive. "The vote might not have taken place if more than one-third of the regional organs of power had sent negative conclusions about the bill," Duma staff member Yurii Ovsyannikov told the daily.

Political analysts were split over whether the bill would be significantly modified before its second reading, which is scheduled for 16 November. Some viewed the current bill as an intentionally harsh formulation that the Kremlin intends to modify in order to create the impression that it is responding to the concerns of legislators and the public. Others, citing unnamed sources within the presidential administration, said the Kremlin is in no mood to compromise on this matter. "The presidential side made it clear that the hopes of deputies that the bill can be softened for its second reading are in vain," "Gazeta" wrote on 1 November.

The one acknowledged dissenting review came from the legislature of the Chuvash Republic, which objected to the provision that would allow the president to disband recalcitrant legislatures. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and the Tatar State Council expressed the exact same concern on 25 October, Interfax reported, but they otherwise endorsed the proposal. A number of deputies also objected to this provision and expressed the hope that it could be modified before the measure is adopted, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 1 November. "Vedomosti" reported the same day that Bashkir legislative Chairman Konstantin Tolkachev has said that "the dissolution of regional parliaments might create political instability in a region or even a state of permanent crisis."

However, the provision on disbanding legislatures is nearly an exact mirror of the constitutional provision that allows the president to disband a Duma that three times rejects his candidate for prime minister. With this precedent, it seems less likely that the Kremlin will feel obligated to compromise on this point. "Vedomosti," however, reported on 1 November that the Kremlin is prepared to agree to hold nonbinding consultations with regional legislatures prior to submitting nominees. Federation Council Regional Policy Committee Chairman Viktor Grishin told the daily that "if there are advance consultations, then the process for disbanding the legislature loses its sense."

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Interfax on 30 October that his agency has proposed four major changes to the bill. First, nominees for gubernatorial posts should be obligated to submit income-and-asset statements. Second, a mechanism should be codified according to which political parties would be able to suggest candidates to the president for nomination. Third, the current two-term restriction for regional executive-branch heads should be maintained. Finally, the law should expire automatically in 10 years.

As for the latter suggestion, presidential envoy to the Duma Aleksandr Kosopkin said that the Kremlin will not agree to a time limitation for the law, saying that the Duma can vote to change the law whenever it wants, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. Kosopkin also reacted harshly to suggestions from some deputies that the so-called ethnic republics should be allowed to continue electing their presidents. "There can be no disparity among the subjects of the federation in this matter," Kosopkin told deputies, according to Interfax on 29 October.

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that the Duma has received 120 specific suggestions for changes in the regions, and some of them might be introduced. Many Unified Russia deputies reportedly want the law to contain more detailed provisions for the process of selecting nominees, including a plan of mandatory consultations.

Other proposed changes reportedly are: limiting the term of acting regional heads to not more than one year and including a more specific description of the division of authority between regional governors and regional legislatures, adding a mechanism by which legislatures can vote no confidence in an executive-branch head. "Izvestiya" on 30 October reported that some deputies want the bill to include a solid definition of the term of the executive-branch heads.

All discussion of possible modifications of the bill, however, has been hidden behind a facade of overwhelming support for the measure. Virtually all of Russia's current governors have come out in favor of the proposed reform. The concerns expressed about certain provisions of the bill have been muted and tenuous, except for the objection of the Chuvash legislature. However, whether strengthening the executive branch will have the desired results of unifying the country remains to be seen. "The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union had no deficit of executive-branch power," Duma Deputy Nikolai Gonchar (independent) said during the 29 October debate, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 October. "And you know how those states ended up."

The chairman of the Afghan Transitional Administration, Hamid Karzai, was formally declared on 3 November the winner of his country's first popularly contested presidential election, international news agencies reported. UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Chairman Zakim Shah, after thanking the people of Afghanistan for their participation in the 9 October presidential election and the international community for their cooperation, said that a total of 11.5 million people voted in the election, Afghanistan Television reported. President-elect Karzai won 55.4 percent or 4,442,000 of the legally cast votes. His closest rival, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, won 16.3 percent, followed by Mohammad Mohaqeq with 11.7 percent, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum with 10 percent. The JEMB therefore declared Karzai the winner of the election and "the first elected president of Afghanistan" for a five-year term (for more on the Afghan presidential election, see RFE/RL's special website on the elections at AT

Yassa, a representative of Mohaqeq, said that while Mohaqeq accepts the results of the election in the interest of Afghanistan, he continues to reject the findings of the UN panel set up to investigate allegations of irregularities made by most of Karzai's 15 opponents, "The New York Times" reported on 3 November (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 October 2004). Craig Jenness, one of the three members of the UN panel, said, "there were fewer problems on election day than many experts had anticipated," while the panel reported on 3 November that the problems cited by Karzai's opponents "did not have a significant effect on the credibility of the election process as a whole." Yassa said the candidates' meeting with the panel was a "farce" as the UN team repeated "like a mantra" that the problems were not significant enough to have given Karzai the victory. Dastagir Hazhabr, representing Latif Pedram, who stood fifth with 1.4 percent of the votes, said that the election results are illegitimate, making Karzai's rule illegitimate as well. Qanuni's second vice-presidential running mate, Sayyed Hosayn Alemi-Balkhi, said that the report of the UN panel was "unacceptable" as it was "not able" to answer many of the questions presented to the panel, AP reported on 3 November. Alemi-Balkhi did not specifically challenge Karzai's victory. AT

Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) has indicated that midnight on 3 November was their deadline for deciding the fate of their three hostages, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 3 November. The purported leader of the splinter neo-Taliban group, Mohammad Akbar Agha, told AIP that the group does "not regard the hostages as UN workers but the citizens of their respective countries." The hitherto little known Army of Muslims on 28 October abducted two women, from Northern Ireland and Kosovo, and one Filipino, all employees of the JEMB. "Britain has committed aggression in our country and one of the hostages is a citizen of that country, which we regard as an aggressor. Our final deadline is midnight tonight and there will not be any change to it," Akbar Agha told AIP. The group has changed their deadline and demands since the hostage crisis began, prompting observers to believe that that group may not be politically motivated but has kidnapped the three in hope of getting a ransom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 1, 2, and 3 November 2004). AT

Akbar Agha told AP on 3 November that the group has received a call from "the authorities," but was expecting them to make contact again. "We want the Afghan government and the UN to officially declare that they are in contact with us," Akbar Agha added. An unidentified UN spokesman said that he would not comment on the hostage crisis as the investigation on the case is "ongoing." AT

President George W. Bush's reelection may be good news for his supporters, "particularly the Zionists," but it will not serve U.S. interests, Iranian state radio said on 3 November. The gap between the U.S. and the international community will widen if the White House continues with its "unilateral" approach, the commentary went on to say, and it accused the Bush administration of warmongering and hegemony. It advised the White House to work on confidence-building measures. The commentary also said that approximately 50 percent of the U.S. population opposes President Bush's domestic and foreign policies. BS

"Kerry's victory would not have brought us any joy; Bush's victory is no source of fear for us," Tehran parliamentary representative Manuchehr Mottaki said as he paraphrased a colleague, state television reported on 3 November. Mottaki, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. policy towards Iran has always been unreasonable and aggressive. "In the field of foreign policy there are no differences between the Republicans and the Democrats," he said. Turning to regional issues, Mottaki said, "Both parties have similar policies in the Middle East." He allowed that the parties have different methods of operating, but said their interaction with Iran has always been unacceptable. BS

The U.S. election is taking place under circumstances different from the last two decades, the "Farhang-i Ashti" newspaper reported on 2 November. It states that whoever wins the election will have to continue policies connected with the war on terrorism. The security issue now dominates other American concerns, the daily claims, such as unemployment, the budget deficit, welfare, and abortion. It continues, saying that under a Republican administration the U.S. will try hard to have the Iranian nuclear case brought before the UN Security Council, and it would then be able to pressure Iran or even attack it militarily. BS

The International Atomic Energy Agency's summary report on its two-year investigation of the Iranian nuclear program, which is to be presented next week, could say that the agency has found no evidence of a weaponization program, Reuters reported on 3 November, citing anonymous diplomats. This wording would weaken the U.S. case for referring Iran to the UN Security Council but, according to an anonymous diplomat, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei will balance this by saying that the Iranian uranium-enrichment program is out of proportion with the rest of its nuclear program. El-Baradei reportedly told Tehran that the nature of his report depends on the outcome of Tehran-EU talks scheduled for 5 November. EU demands have been watered down ahead of the meeting, anonymous diplomats said on 2 November, AFP reported. The ambassadors from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in Tehran will submit the EU offer, which no longer calls for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment indefinitely. Also on 2 November, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami decried in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan what he described as the double standards of major powers on the nuclear issue, IRNA reported. BS

In a 3 November fax to ISNA and Mehr News Agencies, Baztab asserted that the court lifted the ban on the website in a response to an appeal from its managing director to Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, ISNA reported. BS

A car bomb detonated south of the Iraqi capital in Al-Iskandariyah on 4 November in what appears to be another targeting of Iraqi National Guardsmen, international media reported. Al-Jazeera reported that the booby-trapped car detonated near two National Guard vehicles. At least 10 people were wounded in the attack but no National Guardsmen were reported injured. The satellite news channel also reported that militants killed two guardsmen in an attack near Al-Musayyib, south of Baghdad on 4 November. Six others were injured. Al-Jazeera did not provide further details on the incident. KR

U.S. planes attacked the restive city of Al-Fallujah overnight on 3-4 November, in two air raids that destroyed "fighting barricades" set up by militants in the northeast and southeast sectors of the city, Reuters reported on 4 November. Planes and tanks also struck the eastern and northwestern sections of the city, witnesses said. The bombing reportedly killed five people, including a woman and child, Dr. Ahmad Muhammad said, Reuters reported. The five were killed when their vehicle was struck as they tried to leave the city. Iraqi media cited National Assembly members on 3 November as saying that the negotiations between the interim government and representatives of Al-Fallujah had failed. Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan was cited on Dar Al-Salam Radio as saying that the Al-Fallujah negotiating team was pushing the government towards a showdown. He added that the city's negotiating delegation set what he termed illogical conditions in their talks with the government. The team sought to determine the size and location of military forces should they enter the city and the duration of their stay there. KR

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a press statement on 3 November ( citing a report that appeared in the London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" reporting that militants have forced four Arabic-language media outlets out of Al-Fallujah in recent days. The press release states that Al-Arabiyah television, the Lebanese Broadcasting Company (LBC), Al-Iraqiyah television, and Middle East Broadcasting Company were forced to leave Al-Fallujah by militants who claimed the media outlets' coverage was biased in favor of multinational forces. The news outlets had reportedly refused to air stock footage provided by the militants who depicted alleged civilian casualties. Reporters from Al-Arabiyah and MBC told coalition officials that correspondents in the city were threatened and said some correspondents had left the city for safety reasons. KR

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi offered his congratulations and support for U.S. President George W. Bush on 4 November after Bush won reelection to a second term in office, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Allawi made his statement in Italy where he is scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope John Paul II, after which he will travel to Brussels for the European Union summit. KR

Three Jordanian nationals kidnapped in Iraq this week were seen in a videotaped message obtained by Reuters on 4 November begging the Jordanian government to warn its nationals about working for multinational forces in Iraq. The men are seen in the videotape sitting in front of militants under a banner that reads "Army of Islam Counterattack Brigades," the news agency reported. "We will not have mercy on anyone. We will strike with an iron fist whoever deals with the occupation," one of the militants claimed in the video. One of the hostages, who identified himself as Muhammad Zaitun, spoke in the video, saying: "God grant victory to the mujahedin." The Jordanian government has not issued a statement regarding the videotape. KR

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has reportedly formed a grouping called the National Front for the Liberation of Iraq, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 3 November. The grouping was announced by al-Sadr spokesman Ali Sumaysim, who said that the front will comprise all forces and parties opposed to the occupation. It will also seek to form a national government that represents various political trends in Iraq. Sumaysim added that the front will work to encourage all al-Sadr supporters to vote for its candidates in January elections. He did not say whether the front will form alliances with other political parties ahead of the elections. KR

Recently reinstated National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i led a delegation of Iraqi Christian leaders in a meeting with Ayatollah Husayn Isma'il al-Sadr in Baghdad on 3 November, reported. The meeting focused on recent attempts by militant groups to drive Christians from Iraq through terrorism and intimidation. Al-Rubay'i outlined a number of initiatives taken by the interim government in cooperation with the Christian community to prevent the departure of Christians from Iraq, reported. Iraqi leaders estimate that as many as 40,000 Christians may have fled Iraq in recent months, seeking asylum in Syria and Jordan. The UN says that figure is too high, but concedes it is difficult to know exactly how many have left, according to A delegation of Christian leaders met with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Al-Najaf last week. Al-Sistani voiced his support for Christians in Iraq in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks targeting the Christian community. KR

Court martial proceedings began in Los Angeles on 3 November for the last of nine U.S. Marines charged in the death of an Iraqi prisoner of war (POW), Reuters reported the same day. The POW, identified as Nagem Sa'dun Hatab, was detained at Camp Whitehorse in Al-Nasiriyah in June 2003 on suspicion of taking part in an attack on an armed convoy that killed 11 U.S. soldiers and captured U.S. soldier Jessica Lynch. Hatab was reportedly dragged by the neck to a holding pen and later found dead there. An Army pathologist has testified in pretrial hearings that Hatab likely suffocated due to a broken bone in his throat. On trial is Major Clarke Paulus, one of the highest-ranking Marines charged with abusing prisoners in Iraq. Paulus headed the jail at Camp Whitehorse and has been charged with assault, dereliction of duty, and maltreatment. Only one Marine court-martialed in the incident has been convicted. Reuters reported that the handling of forensic evidence in the case was highly contested and led to the dismissal of charges against most of the other eight Marines. KR

The militant group Ansar Al-Sunnah Army posted a statement on its website ( on 3 November claiming to have killed an Iraqi National Guard officer. The statement was accompanied by two photographs of the victim, Major Husayn Shanun, before and after the beheading. The group claims in the statement that militant operations in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have "caused the Crusaders to lose sleep." "We can see that the power of the soldiers of God has increased and that the remnants of the Crusaders and their supporters have decreased," the statement adds. The statement claims Shanun took part in operations alongside multinational forces in Mosul, and was later captured by the Al-Dhil (Shadow) Brigade of Ansar Al-Sunnah. It says Shanun confessed during interrogation to his actions, and was killed by the group. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported last week that large numbers of militants have moved into Mosul and many groups are hiring children to hand out fliers on the streets that threaten citizens and promote the militants' message. KR