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Newsline - November 10, 2004

The State Duma on 10 November ratified a protocol to the agreement between Ukraine and Russia on visa-free travel between the two countries, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. Four hundred thirty deputies voted for ratification and none were opposed. Under the protocol, citizens of the two countries will not have to register with the authorities if they plan to stay less than 90 days in the other country. and other Russian media noted that President Vladimir Putin had urged the legislature to expedite ratification as a way of supporting Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine's presidential-election campaign. On 30 October, the day before Ukraine's presidential election, President Putin asked State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov to launch consultations with their Ukrainian counterparts on the question of introducing dual citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2004). Some analysts noted that if the protocol is finally adopted, a resident of a Russian city such as Pskov or Smolensk must register in order to spend more than three days in Moscow, while a citizen of Ukraine may stay in the Russian capital for three months without notifying the authorities. JAC/RC

The police officers who were supposed to be protecting the school in Beslan that was taken over by terrorists on 1 September had been reassigned to protect the convoy of North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 November. As a result, only one unarmed traffic-police officer was at the school when three vehicles with more than 30 terrorists appeared and took more than 1,000 people hostage, Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said. Shepel said that if more police had been present at the time, many students and parents would have had time to flee and avoid becoming hostages. Shepel said that the terrorists likely used their connections within police command to divert officers away from the school. "As a result, the path of the vehicles of the terrorists to the school was completely open," Shepel said. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov told RIA-Novosti on 9 November that his office is investigating the actions of the command unit during the Beslan siege. He said that the actions of local Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry, and Emergency Situations Ministry officials are being probed. Kolesnikov also denied media reports that the terrorists had hidden weapons and explosives in the school before the raid. RC

Yukos shares rallied by 11 percent on 9 November after investors were encouraged by a statement from board Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko that the company's core shareholder, Menatep, might sell off its stake in the embattled oil giant, Russian and international media reported on 10 November. Gerashchenko, who is attending an investment conference in Hong Kong, told "Izvestiya" on 9 November that the company's troubles with the government could "be solved if Menatep sold its stake in the company." Menatep General Director Tim Osbourne told "The Moscow Times" on 10 November that "it is not clear whether Mr. Gerashchenko was talking on the basis of fact or whether he was on a frolic of his own." Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 November that former Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, who is on trial on charges of fraud and massive tax evasion, has filed a lawsuit against Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov. Lebedev accuses Biryukov of slander for an interview he gave to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 24 May for, among other things, saying that Lebedev's company did not pay anything for privatizing the Apatit fertilizer factory. That privatization lies at the heart of the fraud charges against Lebedev and former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. Biryukov also alleged that Yukos offered investigators $15 million in exchange for closing the investigation against the company. RC

Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Andrei Reus was named chairman of the board of directors of Zarubezhneft on 2 November, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 November. Reus also serves on the board of Rosneft and Transneftprodukt. Analysts believe that Zarubezhneft, like Rosneft, will soon merge with Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004). Presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev is board chairman of Gazprom, while deputy administration head Igor Sechin is chairman of Rosneft and deputy administration head Vladislav Surkov is chairman of Transneftprodukt. RC

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said that the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union led directly to the failure to create a "new world order" after the reunification of Germany, Interfax reported on 9 November. He said that in 1990, global political leaders "envisioned this kind of future." "Everybody spoke of a new world order, an all-European architecture for security, etc. But that chance was not used," Gorbachev said. He said that the collapse of the Soviet Union "changed the situation in a cardinal way" because "that country was a pillar of the world order." He said that he did not blame the West for reneging on pledges made to him that NATO would not expand eastward after German reunification. "Indeed, this was not on the agenda [at the time]," he said. "But first the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union disintegrated and the situation changed in a radical way." RC

The media fanned the spread of rumors last week that a serious accident had occurred at the Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant in Saratov Oblast, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 9 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 November 2004). "This hysteria was fueled by the media," Samara Oblast Search and Rescue Service head Oleg Mostar told the daily. "Some radio stations, without having any official information, broadcast reports of a radioactive cloud moving over the city." He added that "it seemed that somebody was artificially fueling the panic." Some media allegedly offered predictions as to how long it would take the radiation to reach the city of Samara. RC

Writing in the same issue of "Rossiiskaya gazeta," commentator Aleksandr Yemelyanenkov placed blame for the panic on local authorities, who failed to release sufficient official information. "Incomplete information from the authorities generates rumors and provokes panic among the population," Yemelyanenkov wrote, noting that this is "an old illness" for Russia. He noted that early official statements from the power station were "formulaic" and did not inspire confidence. "People have long since lost confidence in local bosses, who are accustomed to keeping malfunctions secret and who keep quiet about incidents in their reports to their superiors," Yemelyanenkov wrote. He criticized attempts "to scapegoat 'irresponsible journalists'" for the panic, saying that officials refused to release official information or to answer questions from journalists. He noted that it is interesting that the panic did not occur near one of the country's Chornobyl-type reactors, but in Saratov Oblast, where Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov is president of the Union of Nuclear Industry Territories and Enterprises and an advocate of the Russian nuclear-power industry. RC

Duma Speaker Gryzlov said on RTR on 9 November that "the growth in the price of oil and the favorable forecast for world prices must not be a reason for domestic prices to increase." He said the legislature is consulting with the Federal Antimonopoly Service to determine what must be done to control domestic energy prices. RC

The presidium of the Unified Russia faction in the State Duma has decided to exclude Deputy Anatolii Yermolin from the faction for his public discussion of how presidential administration officials interact with deputies, and Interfax reported on 9 November. Yermolin has sent a query to the chairman of the Constitutional Court complaining about the inappropriate and intimidating behavior of some administration officials, excluding deputy presidential administration head Surkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2004). Duma Regulations Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia) said the faction does not have any kind of relationship with Yermolin other than that he was included on the party's party list, which gave him the opportunity to work here. "But he doesn't work, he is [just trying] to get even," he concluded. Duma Speaker Gryzlov commented that "those deputies who speak with the presidential administration and members of the government, always [encounter] a very correct atmosphere of communications. I have no other information." JAC

Deputy Yermolin said that he will remain an independent legislator and not enter into any other factions, according to Interfax. He added that he wants to introduce a proposal to form a commission to investigate administration pressure on legislators. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 7 November, Yermolin said "when they invited me to be on the [party] list, they didn't tell me that it was in the capacity of a push button. I was invited [to join] a liberal-centrist party. To me, the understanding of liberal has an entirely different meaning." Yermolin, who opposes the legislation canceling gubernatorial elections, added that he thinks his fellow deputies failed to oppose the bill not because they lacked the courage, but because their material situation is in some way "dependent" on Kremlin officials. JAC

President Putin has reorganized the Human Rights Commission chaired by Ella Pamfilova into a Presidential Council for Assisting Civil Society and Human Rights Institutions, the presidential press service announced on 9 November. Pamfilova told Interfax that the reorganization "enhances the entity's status." The group will focus on the observation of human rights by law enforcement agencies, freedom of speech, human rights in the migration process, and improving the humanitarian situation in the North Caucasus. Joining the council are several well-known human rights activists, including Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva, Glasnost Defense Fund head Aleksei Simonov, Memorial head Oleg Orlov, pollster Yurii Levada, television commentator Aleksei Pushkov, and Russian Television Academy President Vladimir Pozner, according to Interfax and RIA-Novosti. JAC

The chief Muslim cleric in Tyumen Oblast, Fatykh Garifullin, has asked that prayers be said for fellow Muslims in Al-Fallujah, Iraq, reported on 9 November. "The fate of those martyrs under siege in Al-Fallujah awaits all those who do not agree to dance to the tune of [U.S. President George W.] Bush and his circle, if the world community does not stop the war in Iraq," Garifullin said. Garifullin called on all Muslims to pray for fellow believers, so that "Allah will help the heroic people of Iraq to stand up for their independence and freedom." As of November 2002, Tyumen Oblast had 64 mosques and 67 Russian Orthodox churches, according to on 12 November 2002. JAC

Police succeeded on 9 November in regaining control of the situation in Cherkassk, the capital of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, after several hundred angry protesters stormed the government building earlier that day to demand the resignation of President Mustafa Batdyev and the republic's top law and security officials, Russian agencies reported. The violence followed the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of seven young men who disappeared in mid-October after a shoot-out at the dacha of Ali Kaitov, Batdyev's son-in-law and the chairman of Kavkaztsement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 25, and 26 October and 9 November 2004), and the protesters on 9 November reportedly also demanded the renationalization of that enterprise. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 November quoted Boris Karnaukhov, an official from the Russian prosecutor-general's North Caucasus office, as denying earlier media reports that identified the seven men who disappeared as Kavkaztsement shareholders. The same newspaper quoted an unnamed official from Batdyev's administration as alleging that the 9 November unrest was the work of supporters of former President Vladimir Semenov, whom former republican bank head Batdyev defeated in the second round of the August 2003 presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August and 2 September 2004). Meeting on 8 November with the father of one of the slain men, Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak reportedly begged him to "desist from political demands," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. LF

A combined operation by police and FSB operatives in Makhachkala during the night of 9-10 November to arrest three members of a group of criminals believed responsible for the murder over the past year of dozens of police and FSB personnel failed, reported on 10 November. The security forces surrounded and then stormed an apartment where the three suspects were holed up together with two women, but the suspects managed to escape following a shoot-out in which one special police officer was killed and Deputy Interior Minister Colonel Muslim Dakhaev was wounded. LF

In an exclusive interview on 9 November with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Vartan Oskanian said that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov made "serious progress" during their four rounds of talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. Oskanian said it is now possible to begin a second stage of talks building on what was achieved earlier, and that Azerbaijan has signaled its readiness for such talks. "Armenia has already given its positive answer and is ready to resume the negotiations as early as tomorrow," Oskanian said. Since May, Oskanian and Mammadyarov have met four times in Strasbourg and Prague. Whatever provisional consensus they reached was the subject of discussion at a meeting on 15 September between the two countries' presidents, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Astana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 September 2004), after which Oskanian said there would be an "interval" before the second stage of his talks with Mammadyarov. LF

Also in his 9 November interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Oskanian criticized as "a diplomatic error" Baku's insistence on including on the agenda of the UN General Assembly the issue of the resettlement of Armenian families on territory controlled by Armenian forces. He warned that Azerbaijan should not proceed on the assumption that it can continue negotiations on resolving the Karabakh conflict under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group while at the same time seeking the assistance of other international organizations in resolving individual issues related to that conflict. "Either we continue the negotiations within the Minsk Group, trying to reach a solution of the whole problem, or Azerbaijan can take the issue to other instances, seeking separate solutions," Oskanian said. Should Azerbaijan choose the latter approach, Oskanian said, the Azerbaijani authorities will have to negotiate with the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership. "Today the ball is in [Azerbaijan's] court," Oskanian concluded. LF

Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told the Armenian television program Haylur on 8 November that the Karabakh authorities "are ready to negotiate with Azerbaijan in any format, with or without Armenia," according to Armenian Public Television as cited by Groong. "We are ready to discuss with Azerbaijan any issues, starting with the status of refugees [from Nagorno-Karabakh] and the territories [surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that are currently controlled by the Karabakh armed forces]," Ghukasian continued. But he pointed out that "Azerbaijan is not ready today to negotiate with Karabakh, and in fact Azerbaijan's current position is an ultimatum." Azerbaijani leaders have consistently argued that Azerbaijan is at war with Armenia and can negotiate only with Armenian officials on the terms of a conflict settlement. LF

Touring four southern regions of Azerbaijan on 9 November, President Aliyev said that Baku will not sign a formal Karabakh peace agreement until Armenian forces have retreated from the districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh that they currently occupy, ITAR-TASS reported. "We demand with justification that the seized territory be freed and the occupying forces withdraw," he said while visiting Astara, where he formally opened a new cargo terminal on the border with Iran, reported on 10 November. LF

The Azerbaijani media published on 9 November the long-awaited law passed in late September on the creation of a public television broadcaster, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Media Matters," 30 September 2004). The new broadcaster will be founded on the basis of the second channel of Azerbaijani state television, which shares both its premises and equipment with the first state television channel. It will be funded from the state budget until 2010, after which it will be financed by license fees. Arif Aliev, head of the independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil, pointed out that Baku pledged to the Council of Europe in mid-September that the new public broadcaster would replace the first channel of state television and inherit its premises and equipment. Press Council member Zeynal Mamedli, who helped draft the law, noted that the draft 2005 budget currently under discussion in the Mill Mejlis allocates 71 billion manats ($14.5 million) for the first channel of state television but only 5 billion for the new broadcaster. "The government is taking every possible step to prevent the creation of public television in Azerbaijan," Mamedli said. LF

Members of both the pro-government majority and the opposition New Rightists-Industrialists faction expressed outrage on 9 November at the screening by the first channel of Georgian National Television the previous evening of a program attacking New Rightist leaders, Caucasus Press reported. Pikria Chikhradze of the New Rightists said the broadcast was reminiscent of the era (1964-1982) of CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, in which any manifestations of dissent were brutally suppressed. Giga Bokeria of the majority faction characterized the broadcast as a violation of journalistic ethics, adding that it showed yet again the need to create an independent public broadcaster. LF

Adgur Kharazia told journalists in Sukhum on 9 November that he thinks Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh and former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, who are engaged in a fierce dispute over the legality of the outcome of the 3 October presidential election, should both abandon their leadership ambitions, Caucasus Press reported. Bagapsh argues he is the legitimate president-elect as the Supreme Court upheld on 28 October a ruling made on 11 October by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) that he won the ballot with 50.08 percent of the vote. Khadjimba insists on compliance with Ardzinba's decree of 29 October, issued after the Supreme Court rescinded its endorsement of the TsIK ruling, that the ballot was invalid and repeat elections should be held. Kharazia suggested that a coalition government be formed in which all political parties would be represented, and that the parliament should choose the next president from among its members. Khadjimba has rejected Bagapsh's offer of a senior position in a proposed coalition government. Ardzinba named Kharazia acting mayor of Sukhum on 5 November, replacing Leonid Lolua, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Acting Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Zurab Nonikashvili said on 9 November that four political parties that failed to comply with a legal requirement to submit to the CEC details of their expenditures during the 28 March parliamentary election campaign have been stripped of the right to contest future elections, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The four parties are the Democratic Revival Union (headed by Aslan Abashidze, ousted former leader of the Adjaran Autonomous Republic), National Revival, the All-Georgian People's Alliance (formed in late 2003), and the National Democratic Party-Union of Traditionalists alliance. "Akhali taoba" on 10 November quoted Uta Lopartia of the latter alliance as saying that it will appeal the CEC ban, Caucasus Press reported. He explained that an unnamed party member compiled the requisite report but for reasons that are unclear failed to submit it to the CEC. The party should not be penalized for the negligence of one of its members, he argued. LF

French Industry Minister Patrick Devedjian met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on 9 November, Khabar news agency reported. The two discussed trade ties between the two countries and a planned visit to Kazakhstan by French President Jacques Chirac set for early 2005. A meeting between Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov and Devedjian focused on energy-industry issues. "During recent negotiations in London [in early November], [France's] Total supported Kazakhstan's desire to buy a stake in the North Caspian consortium [developing the Kashagan oilfield]. We gratefully accept this support and believe that it will serve as the basis for deepening our future cooperation in the oil and gas sphere," Akhmetov said, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. And at a meeting with Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev in Astana on 8 November, Devedjian said, "France very much wishes to expand the presence of its companies in Kazakhstan," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, passed amendments to the country's law on concessions on 9 November, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Under the amendments, parliamentary approval is required for concession arrangements for facilities of strategic significance. Ravshan Jeenbekov, head of the Committee for the Management of State Property, said that the most significant change in the new law is that parliament will approve and ratify concession agreements, Kyrgyzinfo reported. He also said that Kyrgyz companies will be allowed to take part in bidding along with foreign firms. DK

Rajab Mirzo, editor in chief of the Tajik independent newspaper "Ruzi Nav," said on 9 November that he intends to file suit against the transportation tax police, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Police confiscated the newspaper's print run when it arrived in Dushanbe by plane from Bishkek on 4 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). Mirzo told the news agency that tax officials gave conflicting reasons for their actions, citing discrepancies in the stated size of the print run, the possibility of a virus infection, and the need for a special permit to bring in an object of cultural value. Mirzo said that tax police acted illegally and that the seizure of the 15,000-copy print run had cost the newspaper at least $5,000. Karim Jangiev, head of the Tax Ministry's transportation police department, told Tajik television on 9 November that the weekly was impounded because its contract with printers stated that the publication was registered under Kyrgyz law, while "Ruzi Nav" is officially registered with Tajikistan's Justice Ministry. Jangiev said that officials will hold the newspaper's print run pending an investigation. DK

A court in Sughd Province on 9 November sentenced 20 individuals to prison terms ranging from three to eight years for criminal activities on behalf of the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The defendants, who included one ethnic Russian and a former National Security Committee officer, were found guilty of inciting strife along national and religious lines and calling for the overthrow of the state. The group was arrested in Khujand in early 2004. Mahmud Sotiboldiev, a lawyer for the accused, told RFE/RL that the defendants were forced to confess under torture. DK

The Turkmen Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 9 November that 9,000 prisoners have been released under an amnesty in honor of the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr, reported. Among the freed prisoners are 150 foreign citizens. A full list of prisoners covered by the amnesty was published in national newspapers on 24 October. End-of-Ramadan amnesties for prisoners convicted of lesser offenses have been an annual tradition in Turkmenistan since parliament passed a law on amnesties in 1999. According to, 130,000 prisoners have been amnestied in the country over 12 years of independence. DK

Craig Murray, Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan and an outspoken critic of Uzbek President Islam Karimov's human rights record, told the BBC's Uzbek Service in an interview on 9 November that the Uzbek president uses the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking as an excuse to limit freedoms in the country. Murray stressed the need for frank talk, saying, "The Americans' criticism of the Uzbek government behind closed doors, for example, has had virtually no effect." Murray said that he lost his post for his criticism of Britain's Foreign Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004), and added that "diplomats who have tried to criticize the human rights situation in countries that have joined the war on terror are certainly thinking about the possibility that they might lose their posts." Commenting on recent unrest in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004), he said, "I don't support violence...but considering the political pressure and miserable economic situation in Uzbekistan, no one should be surprised at disturbances like this." DK

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has stripped four Moscow-based journalists working for the French television channel TF1 of their temporary accreditation in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 9 November. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh said the accreditation was withdrawn for an "activity that contradicts the principles of objective journalism." A three-member TF1 film crew was detained in Minsk on 5 November after it filmed classes of the officially closed Yakub Kolas Lyceum that were held on private premises and the unfolding of a poster reading "Lukashenka Lost" by an opposition youth group. The three journalists were detained and taken to a police station, where policemen confiscated a videocassette. JM

Ukraine's Central Election Commission (TsVK) announced on 10 November that opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko won the 31 October presidential ballot with 39.87 percent of the vote, while Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych received 39.32 percent of the vote, UNIAN reported. The two men will face each other in a runoff on 21 November. Earlier on 10 November, the TsVK invalidated presidential voting in district No. 100 in Kirovohrad, saying the protocol on voting results there was approved without the required two-thirds majority of territorial commission members, according to the same news agency. According to a copy of the protocol obtained by UNIAN, Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych in constituency No. 100 by a margin of 25,000 votes. Yushchenko's election staff said it will challenge the TsVK's decision before the Supreme Court. Earlier this week, a court invalidated presidential voting in two other constituencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2004). JM

Serhiy Tihipko, the manager of Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential campaign, said on 9 November that Yanukovych never refused to take part in a televised debate with opposition rival Yushchenko ahead of the 21 November runoff, Interfax reported. Tihipko said Yanukovych will meet Yushchenko for debates if the latter apologizes for what Tihipko called "personal insults." Tihipko said Yanukovych has behaved "absolutely correctly" in all of his public appearances and addresses, whereas Yushchenko "insulted Yanukovych in practically all of his public speeches." Last week, Yanukovych told journalists he will not have a television debate with Yushchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 November 2004). JM

Mykola Kanishevskyy, first vice president of the National Television Company, has sacked a presenter of the "Visti" evening newscast on the First National Television channel (UT1), the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported on 9 November. The presenter, Volodymyr Holosnyak, refused last week to read a statement from Prime Minister Yanukovych's election staff addressing a running dispute with rival candidate Yushchenko over televised presidential debates, saying it would be necessary to present Yushchenko's point of view on the issue as well. The management of UT-1 reportedly refused to present both positions and Holosnyak was taken off the air. Holosnyak is among more than 300 Ukrainian television journalists who protested censorship on television shortly before the presidential ballot on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 8 November 2004). JM

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana met with Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski and other political leaders in Skopje on 9 November to discuss the results of the 7 November referendum and the country's commitment to EU integration, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 November 2004). Crvenkovski informed Solana about his plan to host a meeting in Ohrid on 10 November of the leaders of all political parties who will be asked to sign a joint declaration on their commitment to build a multiethnic society. Solana welcomed the idea, adding that the meeting could speed implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. According to unconfirmed reports, Crvenkovski also raised the question of the EU's possible recognition of the constitutional name of Macedonia, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Crvenkovski reportedly urged the EU to follow the recent example of the United States and recognize the country as Republic of Macedonia rather than clinging to the term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which was introduced under Greek pressure a decade ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2004). UB

Representatives of Bosnia-Herzegovina's five governing political parties agreed in Sarajevo on 9 November not to accept Prime Minister Adnan Terzic's recent letter of resignation and to support his reform program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). Terzic's letter was prompted by the failure of the parliament to approve important reforms, including a unified value-added tax (VAT) in both the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim federation. The Bosnian Presidency is expected to formally reject the letter of resignation soon. PM

Nebojsa Covic, who is the Serbian government's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia, said in Belgrade on 9 November that he is disappointed by recent public statements on Kosova by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus and other unnamed officials because they expressed views at variance with official Serbian policy, the private Beta news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2004). Covic stressed that Belgrade must remain united on Kosova policy lest it be marginalized by leaders of the province's ethnic Albanian minority and unnamed international officials. The news agency also quoted unnamed EU and NATO officials as saying in Brussels on 10 November that they do not take particularly seriously Labus's call for an international meeting on Kosova on the model of the 1995 Dayton conference for Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September and 22 October 2004). PM

Speaking at a 9 November news conference, Romanian Audiovisual Council (CNA) Chairman Ralu Filip said the council will not punish radio or television stations airing electoral news during weekend programming, Romanian media reported. CNA members said they cannot agree with a recent Central Electoral Bureau (BEC) decision to ban electoral news during the weekend, arguing the BEC was referring to campaigning but not to news material. Filip added that there is a conflict between audiovisual legislation and the country's law on general elections, as the two grant different organizations responsibility for controlling the media, the CNA, and the BEC. The same day, BEC spokesman Victor Pasca-Camenita said the BEC was only applying legislation, as it is the only organization tasked with overseeing implementation and with interpreting electoral laws. ZsM

Romanian Trade Minister Vasile Radu said in the Moldovan capital on 9 November that Romania is ready to share with Chisinau its experience regarding the EU integration process, Flux reported. He added that Romania is prepared to supply Moldova with electricity should Moldova face an electricity crisis. Radu said these and several other issues are in the phase of primary negotiations. Radu was participating in a new session of a joint intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, where participants reportedly declared that bilateral relations will rise to "a new level of quality." The same day, Radu and Moldovan Economy Minister Marian Lupu signed three protocols on improving bilateral relations in the fields of statistics, industry, and standardization. Radu also met with Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and said Romania supports President Vladimir Voronin's Stability and Security Pact for Moldova (SSPM) initiative. ZsM

In the late evening hours of 7 November, Macedonian State Election Commission (DIK) spokesman Zoran Tanevski announced the preliminary results of that day's referendum to scrap the government's redistricting plans. Tanevski said that, based on 95 percent of the results, voter turnout was just over 26 percent, thus failing to meet the requirement that more than 50 percent of registered voters participate for the referendum to be valid.

The preliminary results suggest that the World Macedonian Congress (SMK) -- a nationalist lobby organization -- and the Macedonian conservative opposition parties did not succeed in convincing enough voters to participate in the referendum to veto the government's plans to reduce the number of administrative districts.

Both the SMK and the opposition parties argued that the new territorial organization would change the ethnic composition of some districts in favor of the country's large ethnic Albanian majority, which makes up almost a quarter of the total population. The opponents of the government plans exploited the fears among many ethnic Macedonians that the new district borders are tantamount to partitioning the country along ethnic lines.

It was clear that the arguments of the SMK and the opposition parties were aimed at the Macedonian majority only. At the same time, the use of such arguments also served to raise fears among the Albanian minority that the referendum sought to hamper, if not stop, the implementation of important provisions of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, which granted greater rights to the Albanians.

It was thus to be expected that almost all Albanian voters followed the calls of the major ethnic Albanian parties to boycott the referendum. In the western Macedonian districts of Debar and Tetovo, which have an overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian population, voter turnout was 0.8 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively.

At the same time, voter turnout was surprisingly low in those administrative districts where the ethnic composition will change when the new Law on Territorial Organization is implemented. In Struga, for example, which was the scene of violent clashes between opponents of the new territorial organization and the police in August, voter turnout was only slightly higher (29 percent) than the country's average.

Given that recent opinion polls suggested that most citizens were willing to support the referendum, it is not yet clear why the vote failed to attract voters.

It is likely that a number of factors contributed to the referendum's failure. First of all, it was easier for the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats, and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) to call for a boycott of the referendum than for the opposition parties to mobilize their electorate and get them to the polls.

Secondly, the governing coalition's main argument was that a successful referendum would mean a serious stumbling block for the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement. This, they said, would lead to considerable delays for the country's ambitions to join NATO and the EU. In this, the governing coalition received strong support from the international community. Representatives of the United States, the EU, the OSCE, and NATO repeatedly called on the Macedonian public not to participate in the referendum.

Although opinion polls suggested that many Macedonians regarded such warnings as interference in internal affairs, the persistence of such appeals may have played a role in persuading many people not to vote. At the same time, the organizers of the referendum apparently failed to find convincing arguments to show why they were right and the international community wrong.

The impact of a third potential factor is extremely difficult to assess. On 4 November, the United States officially announced that it will recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, thus giving up the practice of using the term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), under which that country is recognized by the UN and the EU under Greek pressure.

The reactions to the referendum results were predictable. While the governing parties and the international community welcomed them, the opposition parties tried to downplay their defeat. SMK Chairman Todor Petrov, meanwhile predictably announced that his organization will challenge the results.

The outcome of the referendum is hardly a victory for the governing coalition. The fact that more than one-quarter of all registered voters went to the polls to express their discontent with government policies should serve as a warning to the authorities and prompt them to quickly carry out reforms -- especially in the economic sector.

Purporting to speak on behalf of the Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) group that is holding three UN workers hostage, Sayyed Khaled told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 9 November that negotiations with Afghan authorities are continuing in an effort to resolve the hostage crisis. "Negotiations are continuing in a positive manner. We are very optimistic that the issue will be resolved soon," Khaled said, adding that the government in Kabul now "seems" to be "sincere in negotiations." Army of the Muslims, a little-known neo-Taliban offshoot, abducted the three UN election workers on 28 October in Kabul and has repeatedly changed its demands and deadlines for ending the hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). A spokesman for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan on 8 November confirmed that talks had begun with Army of the Muslims, however, an unidentified Afghan Interior Ministry official quoted by the newly established Pajhwak Afghan News ( rejected the claim that officials were engaged in negotiations with the kidnappers. AT

Sayyed Khaled told AIP on 9 November that there is no need to set a deadline to determine the fate of the three UN employees held by the group "as long as negotiations are continuing." However, he warned that if negotiations failed, an Army of the Muslims' council would determine what to do with the hostages. Khaled was meanwhile quoted by Reuters on 9 November as warning that the group has extended the deadline to 10 November, after which time the group's council would decide to kill the hostages. Saber Mo'min, also claming to speak for Army of the Muslims, told Reuters that the hostage from Kosova would be killed first and the "beheading" shown on video to see what reaction the Afghan government and the United Nations would have. Referring to the Kosovar hostage, Mo'min said that she is a Muslim who has helped "infidels or America...[and thus] will be punished first." AT

Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 8 November that the group has killed the security commander of Lawlash District of Faryab Province along with his three bodyguards, AIP reported. Hakimi did not identify the commander by name. AT

Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin has criticized the state and private television stations along with cable operators for broadcasting "vain, misleading things," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 7 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). "It's not only television and radio that does this, all the wire services, starting from our own television [state-run Afghanistan Television] to the cable networks are annoying and misleading people," Rahin told Pajhwak. Rahin, who has in the past championed freedom of the press and resisted a call by the Afghan Supreme Court to ban cable television in January 2003, appears to have modified his stance. Mohammad Sediq Pusarlay, an expert in Afghan politics, told Pajhwak that "Rahin is beginning to feel that there is no room for him in the next cabinet" and is therefore "calling for harmonization of the media programs with national and Islamic interests." Mohammad Hasan Wulasmal, editor of the monthly "Afghan Journal," told Pajhwak that Rahin is trying to gain public support by championing a conservative stance. According to an unconfirmed list of the planned Afghan cabinet, Rahin would be replaced by his current deputy, Abdul Hamid Mubarez. AT

In response to a question about possible preemptive strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 9 November that Iran is not worried because it can mass-produce the Shihab-3 missile, ISNA reported. "We have no problem in maintaining the defense capabilities of the country; we have passed that [stage] and scientific steps have been taken in this respect," Shamkhani said. "With regard to the production of Shihab-3 missiles, we have reached the point that we can now mass-produce Shihab-3 missiles like Peykan [cars]." When a reporter asked Shamkhani about the alleged production of a missile with a range of 4,000 kilometers, Shamkhani responded: "The Zionists say this and they mean [that] we want to threaten Europe. But neither do we feel any threat from Europe nor do we feel the need to invest in this respect." BS

WATER DISPUTE IN CENTRAL IRAN TURNS FATAL reported on 9 November that three people, including a police officer, were killed and three others were wounded during a dispute in Rafsanjan, Kerman Province, over the digging of a water well. Two hundred people from the village of Ismailabad had gathered to protest the digging of a well in territory they claimed as their own by villagers from Dolatabad. Armed villagers turned on the security personnel sent to calm the situation and there was an exchange of gunfire. BS

A firefight erupted between Iranian soldiers and eight men with the PKK/Kongra Gel, wounding one soldier, reported on 9 November. The incident occurred in the Dalman region near the West Azerbaijan Province city of Urumiyeh. According to Baztab, PKK splinter groups sometimes infiltrate to extort food or money from villagers. Recent press reports assert that the Iranian military is arming villagers in the northwest and forming them into civil-defense units. An identical development took place along the eastern borders several years ago (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 September and 30 October 2000), and the creation of such units is a common counterinsurgency tool. BS

Mohammad-Ali Kamali, who heads the Karaj-based Institute of Research on Livestock Sciences and works for the Agricultural Jihad Ministry, said on 7 November that the level of chicken consumption in Iran is approaching that of Europe, reported. The site describes itself as "a free information resource for the global poultry industry, supported by some of the key industry players." Kamali claimed Iranians eat an average of 15.2 kilograms of chicken annually, compared to 17.8 kilograms in Europe and 11.2 kilograms globally. Kamali also said Iranian chicken production stands at 1.1 million tons this year and predicted it will reach 2 million tons in 10 years. Kamali said on 7 January that the country's livestock exports have problems with packaging and quality, as well as meeting international standards, IRNA reported. BS

Three members of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's family were reportedly abducted by armed gunmen as they left their Baghdad home late on 9 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the next day. The broadcaster quoted a member of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, Muna Ali, saying the three were a cousin of the prime minister, the cousin's wife, and the cousin's daughter-in-law. The Islamist group Ansar al-Jihad reportedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping through a statement on the Internet, adding that it would kill them unless the assault on Al-Fallujah is halted and prisoners are released. AH

U.S. Major Francis Piccoli said on 10 November that U.S. and allied forces now control 70 percent of the central Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah, where they are continuing an offensive to assert central government control and round up or kill insurgents, international news agencies reported the same day. U.S. military sources said at least 10 U.S. and two Iraqi soldiers have been killed in the effort, which began on 8 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2004). The same sources said some 70 insurgents have been killed in the past day. AH

U.S. Lieutenant General Thomas Metz told an 8 November press briefing at the Pentagon that suspected Al-Qaeda-linked Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi is probably not in the besieged city of Al-Fallujah, RFE/RL reported. "From a tactical point of view, I'm making an assumption that Zarqawi has left [Al-Fallujah]. I still have the [intelligence] capability to hunt him in the city as we fight. But because we think he moves around Iraq, we are keeping the [intelligence] capability looking for him outside of Al-Fallujah also," Metz said. Metz, who is in charge of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said the number of insurgents in Al-Fallujah appears to be 2,000-3,000, as U.S. military commanders predicted. "As we've progressed, we feel like we've encountered the portion of those that we anticipated to this stage," he said. Metz said Iraqi security forces "have performed admirably as an integral part of the multinational corps" in Al-Fallujah. KR

Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told AP on 9 November that military operations in Al-Fallujah will not last long. Al-Zebari declined to give a possible time frame for the end of military operations in the volatile Sunni city, but he predicted they will end before January elections, AP reported. He added that restoring security to Al-Fallujah is crucial the January voting. "This is the only way for us to [achieve] any credibility to hold general elections throughout the country. All of Iraq should be conducive to such voting, and no area should be outside the government," al-Zebari said. KR

Militants attacked three Iraqi police stations in Ba'qubah on 9 November, international media reported. Reuters reported that there were conflicting reports coming from the city on the number of dead and wounded. Ahmad Fuad, the official in charge of the city's main morgue, told Reuters that 45 bodies were received following the attacks, adding that 32 people were wounded. He later retracted the figures, denying that any deceased victims of the attacks had been brought to the morgue. Diyala governorate police chief Walid Abd al-Salam told Reuters that four policemen and four civilians were wounded in the attacks. Reuters cited Abd al-Salam as telling Al-Jazeera that seven militants were killed and four wounded in the clashes. Reuters reported that a statement attributed to Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn was posted on the Internet on 9 November claiming attacks on three police stations in Ba'qubah that killed more than 45 policemen. Meanwhile, Arab satellite television channels reported on 9 November that gunmen control the cities of Hit and Al-Ramadi. Those reports were not confirmed. KR