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Newsline - November 15, 2004

Russia is prepared to compromise in order to normalize the country's relations with Japan, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on NTV on 14 November. Lavrov noted that Russia was able recently to resolve a decades-old border dispute with China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 29 October 2004) and said, "We want to regularize all our relations with Japan." Russia and Japan have never signed a peace treaty following World War II, primarily because of the dispute over the Kurile Islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces at the end of the war. Lavrov said that the Supreme Soviet in 1956 ratified a bilateral declaration that proposed a peace settlement based on the return to Japan of the two southernmost of the major Kuriles. Lavrov said that the agreement with China was possible only because relations with that country have evolved into "a strategic partnership." "An analogous approach to Russian-Japanese relations is a path to creating an atmosphere for dialogue on territorial matters," Lavrov said. RC

Members of a Sakhalin Oblast-based NGO called For the Inviolability of Russia's Eastern Territories on 15 November called for a 20 November demonstration against any proposal to restore any of the Kuriles to Japan, Interfax reported. "Residents of Sakhalin and the Kuriles are disturbed to the depths of their souls by the pronouncement Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made," said the group's leader, Aleksandr Marisov. reported on 15 November that most public-opinion polls in recent years have shown that a majority of Russians oppose giving up the Kuriles. Sergei Karaganov, the president of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said that Lavrov is attempting gradually to prepare the public for the loss of the Kurile Islands, Regnum reported on 15 November. RC

According to a new poll by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), President Vladimir Putin and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii are considered the country's leading democrats by more Russians than any other public figure, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 November. The poll of 1,500 respondents in 44 regions found that Putin and Zhirinovskii were named by 11 percent of respondents, while just 5 percent named Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. Twelve percent named no one. Asked to characterize Russian democrats, 32 percent of responded that they are people who stand up for democratic rights and principles, while 10 percent said they are "thieves, deceivers, bureaucrats, and idlers." Four percent agreed that democrats are "just, honorable, and responsible politicians." Although more respondents named Unified Russia as the most democratically oriented political party in Russia, 39 percent said the party's goals do not correspond to their own, up from 25 percent in September 2003. RC

Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko told a conference in Japan on 14 November that the government should take measures to control the Internet, RosBalt and other Russian media reported on 25 November. Unhindered access to the Internet "is creating a virtual world in which it is possible to go mad," Fursenko said. "As a result, a serious social problem is developing, connected to the interrelation of the individual and society." "The state bears the responsibility for controlling the use of scientific technologies, including the Internet," the minister said, according to RIA-Novosti. Communications Minister Leonid Reiman announced on 2 November that the government will not take any new measures to control the Internet, reported on 3 November. "We do not see the need for any special additional regulatory measures in addition to existing laws," Reiman said. RC

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 13 November denied rumors that the city intends to raze the infamous "house on the embankment," ITAR-TASS reported. The building, located across the Moskva River from the Kremlin, was built in the 1930s and served for many years as a residence for high-level functionaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, many of whom were imprisoned or executed during Stalin's purges. Last week, numerous Russian media reported that the building was slated for demolition after Luzkov told a meeting of the Central Moscow District Coordinating Council that the city must do more to get rid of outdated buildings. RC

Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii began a series of meetings with NATO officials in Brussels on 15 November, Interfax reported. Baluevskii will participate in a NATO-Russia Council session and a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on 16 November. RC

State Duma deputies on 12 November unanimously approved in its third and final reading a bill expanding the list of place where the smoking and sale of tobacco are banned, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. If approved by the Federation Council, the bill will come into force 180 days after it is signed by the president. The bill prohibits smoking in workplaces, on public transportation, and in enclosed sports facilities and health, education, and administrative buildings. Also approved in its third and final reading at the same session was a bill allowing the hospitalization without consent of drug addicts who are under 16 years old. The previous age limit was 15, Radio Rossii reported. According to a press release from the Prosecutor-General's Office, around 70 percent of illegal-drug users are under the age of 30, reported. JAC

With 97 percent of the vote counted on the evening of 14 November, Pskov Oblast Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov led that day's gubernatorial election with almost 30 percent of the vote, compared to almost 19 percent for his closest competitor, former State Duma Deputy Mikhail Kuznetsov, Pskov Information Agency reported. The "against all" option was third with 17.56 percent of the vote. The candidate considered to be Mikhailov's most serious challenger, Pskov Mayor Mikhail Khoronen, was disqualified about a week before the election by the presidium of the Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 November 2004). Khoronen declined to tell his supporters whom to back in the first round. Voter turnout was slightly higher than 50 percent of registered voters. The gubernatorial election in Ust-Ordinskii Autonomous Okrug and the mayoral election in Blagoveshchensk on 14 November also failed to determine first-round winners, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 November that the 5 December gubernatorial election in Volgograd Oblast will likely require two rounds. A court recently ruled that Volgograd Mayor Yevgenii Ishchenko, whose candidacy was rejected by the oblast election commission last month, should be allowed to registered as a candidate. According to RFE/RL's Volgograd correspondent on 28 October, the decision means that the election will probably go to a second-round runoff between Ishchenko and incumbent Governor Nikolai Maksyuta. Ishchenko's popularity rating closely trails that of Maksyuta, who has already announced that he will seek a third term and who has the support of the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2004). The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is supporting its Duma Deputy Vladimir Goryunov, although another Unified Russia Duma deputy, Oleg Savchenko, is also running in the race, the daily reported. Both men have less than 10 percent support, according various opinion polls. JAC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has appointed Oleg Belozerov to head the Federal Highways Agency, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 November. Belozerov has served as the agency's deputy director since July 2004. Former Director Anatolii Nasonov was fired about two weeks after Belozerov took the deputy post. According to the daily, Belozerov spent most of his professional career in St. Petersburg, where he founded dozens of small to medium-sized enterprises that had a wide range of specialties, from collecting medicinal herbs to manufacturing porcelain. From 1998 to 2000 he was deputy director of Lenenergo. He moved in 2002 to Moscow, where he became general director of the Russian Fuel Company. The Federal Highways Agency has a budget of $3 billion a year, according to the daily, and its future tasks include completing a ring road around St. Petersburg and constructing a highway connecting Chita and Khabarovsk. JAC

Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 November that regional officials are coming up with various ways to increase revenue. In Yaroslavl Oblast, for example, legislator Sergei Zamoraev has suggested that prostitution be legalized and -- more to the point -- taxed. Zamoraev believes that taxing prostitution could bring in some 700 million rubles ($24 million) per year, or about 10 percent of the annual oblast budget, Regnum reported on 10 November. Last month, Federation Council representative for Tuva Oblast Lyudmila Narusova suggested that the harvest of hemp be legalized for sale abroad and that some of the revenues go to the republican budget. She suggested that the yield could be sent to countries where marijuana is legal or where it is legal for medical purposes, reported on 18 October. JAC

First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told Interfax on 12 November that operations to neutralize the Chechen resistance should proceed without a break and be as brutal as necessary. He said that local police and government officials who fail to relay to their superiors information concerning the whereabouts of Chechen militants will be held responsible for that omission. Kadyrov further advocated more effective ideological work to explain to the Chechen population what he termed the "true nature of wahhabism" and "the real objectives" of the resistance. LF

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced on 12 November that a further 1,000 men from the airborne troops will be withdrawn from Chechnya early next year, Russian news agencies reported. Some 3,000 troops left Chechnya in the spring of 2004. Ivanov did not specify how many troops will be left in Chechnya after the upcoming withdrawal, but the figure is likely to be in excess of 50,000. Kadyrov commented later on 12 November that the announced pullout shows that Chechnya's law enforcement agencies are capable of waging the "counterterrorism" operation on their own, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov said the announced withdrawal is proof that the situation in Chechnya is stabilizing, and all Russian forces should therefore leave Chechnya except for those permanently stationed there, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 November. Those forces are the 42nd Motorized Infantry Division and the 46th Brigade of the Interior Ministry troops, a total of 26,000 men, Dzhabrailov continued. He estimated the strength of the Chechen police force at 15,400 men. LF

Dmitrii Kozak, who is presidential envoy to the Southern Russia Federal District, has briefed President Putin on the situation in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Interfax reported on 14 November. Kozak told journalists in Rostov-na-Donu on 12 November that he "really hopes" there will not be a repeat of the disturbances in Cherkessk on 10 November when angry demonstrators stormed the local administration building to demand the resignation of republican President Musatafa Batdyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 12 November 2004). Kozak said Batdyev is currently focusing his attention on this year's sugar-beet harvest. LF

National Democratic Union (AzhM) Chairman Vazgen Manukian, who served in the early 1990s first as prime minister and then as defense minister, told a press conference in Yerevan on 12 November that unless the opposition regroups, the existing authorities will retain their hold on power, Noyan Tapan reported. Manukian accused President Robert Kocharian last month of seeking to amend the Armenian Constitution to permit him to run for a third presidential term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2004). Manukian argued in favor of creating an opposition alliance that would unite the existing Artarutiun bloc, of which Manukian's AzhM is a member, together with extraparliamentary parties. He named as politicians whom he would like to join the new alliance Self-Determination Union Chairman and former Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hairikian and Ashot Manucharian, political secretary of the Union of Socialist Forces and the Intelligentsia. Manukian stressed the importance of ideas that would serve as a rallying point for the nation, suggesting that one reason why the Artarutiun's campaign in the spring of this year to force the present Armenian leadership to resign was its lack of an alternative concept of how the country should be governed. LF

The international media watchdog Article 19 has issued a statement calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that the implementation of a recent law on creating a public television broadcaster conforms both to international standards and to Azerbaijan's international obligations, Turan reported on 13 November. The Council of Europe last week criticized the law for failing to specify that both existing state-controlled television channels be subsumed into the new broadcaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 12 November 2004). The statement further stressed the need to ensure that the new broadcaster has complete editorial independence to enable it to "provide balanced and objective news coverage." LF

Magomed Salikhov, who is suspected of organizing the bombing five years ago of a residential building in Buinaksk, northern Daghestan, that housed the families of Russian military officers, was apprehended on 12 November in a joint operation by Azerbaijani and Daghestani Interior Ministry forces, Turan and Interfax reported on 13 November. In March 2001, Daghestan's Supreme Court sentenced two people to life imprisonment and two to nine years' imprisonment for their role in the bombing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999, 20 March 2001, and 22 January 2002). LF

The Prosecutor General's Office of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has opened two criminal cases in connection with the storming and temporary occupation on 12 November by supporters of presidential candidate Sergei Bagapsh of the building in Sukhum that houses the government and presidential offices, Caucasus Press reported on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline" and "Abkhaz Standoff Turns Violent,", 12 November 2004). Three people were wounded when police guarding the building opened fire in a bid to prevent the raid; one of the three, a respected scholar, died of her injuries at a hospital later on 12 November. Bagapsh denied on 13 November that his supporters intended to oust either President Vladislav Ardzinba or Prime Minister Nodar Khashba. He said he is ready to continue negotiations with Russian representatives, members of the present leadership, and with his presidential rival, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba. Khadjimba for his part denounced the 12 November storm of the government building as "a crime," and said that he no longer believes it is feasible or appropriate to hold the repeat presidential elections that Ardzinba called for late last month, Caucasus Press reported on 13 November. On 14 November, some 60 armed men in camouflage uniforms forced their way into police headquarters in Sukhum and opened fire, then seized and retreated with two people who were being questioned in connection with the fatal 12 November shooting, Russian media reported. LF

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 12 November condemned as an attempt to oust the Abkhaz president and prime minister the seizure and temporary occupation earlier that day by Bagapsh's supporters of the building in Sukhum that houses the government and presidential offices, Russian news agencies reported. Yakovenko warned that if "illegal" actions continue, Russia will be compelled "to take steps to protect its interests," ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko did not explain what those interests are. Most Abkhaz, whether they support Bagapsh or Khadjimba, have acquired Russian passports. LF

Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili formally protested on 13 November Yakovenko's warning that, if necessary, Russia will take steps to "protect its interests" in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. "Russia has no interests in Abkhazia that need to be defended," Interfax quoted her as telling ambassadors representing EU member states in Tbilisi on 13 November. The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal statement on 13 November calling on Russia to "refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of an autonomous republic within a foreign state," according to Caucasus Press. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava likewise warned on 13 November that Russia should not interfere in Abkhazia's internal affairs, Interfax reported. LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Khaindrava told Caucasus Press on 15 November that although the process of dismantling fortifications in the South Ossetian conflict zone is under way, it will be impossible to meet the 20 November deadline for demilitarization, and that process is likely to last until the end of the year, Caucasus Press reported on 15 November. Under an agreement signed in Sochi on 5 November by South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, the two sides agreed to pull out all excess armed units from the conflict zone by 20 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). Two days earlier, Interfax quoted Khaindrava as dismissing as "absolutely groundless" the accusation by South Ossetian Defense Minister Hasssan Gassiev that Georgia has 2,000 troops in the conflict zone in addition to the 500 peacekeepers it is permitted to deploy there. At the same time, Khaindrava admitted that both sides have "masses" of weapons in the conflict zone, which he compared in terms of weapons concentrations to the Kursk salient, the scene of a decisive World War II battle, Caucasus Press reported on 13 November. LF

In a 14 November interview with the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2, South Ossetian President Kokoity claimed that there is a clear division within the Georgian leadership between, on the one hand, Zhvania and Khaindrava, whom he termed the "party of peace," and, on the other, Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili and Shida Kartli Governor Mikhail Kareli, representing the "party of war," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 14 and 15 November, respectively. Okruashvili and Kareli personally participated in fighting last summer between Georgian and South Ossetian forces (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 and 20 August 2004). On 15 November, Kareli predicted that South Ossetia will "never" agree to complete demilitarization, and that the withdrawal of all excess Georgian forces will place the region's Georgian population in danger, Caucasus Press reported. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met the leaders of the pro-presidential Otan party on 12 November at the party's Almaty headquarters, Kazinform reported. The president's press service noted that the meeting was the first after "the party's convincing win in [the 19 September] elections to the Mazhilis [lower chamber of parliament]," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The meeting focused on the party's grassroots activities throughout the country, its coming role in the implementation of the president's political program, and the party's participation in the National Commission on Democratization and Civil Society. Otan members hold 43 seats in the 77-member Mazhilis, augmented by a number of independent deputies who have joined the party fraction. DK

Major General Nuralisho Nazarov, commander of Tajikistan's border forces, said on 12 November that Russian border guards have begun to transfer the Pamir section of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajikistan's Border Control Committee, ITAR-TASS reported. Committee Chairman Lieutenant General Abdurahmon Azimov said that the handover is starting with the Ishkoshim section of the border, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. "Russian border guards are leaving their Tajik colleagues all of the moveable property including military hardware and ammunition," Azimov said. He added that after the Ishkoshim handover, the Russian-Tajik working group "will leave for the Khorugh border detachment, and then Qalai Khum. All three border detachments in the Pamir section will be transferred to Tajik border guards by mid-December." Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov, deputy head of Russia's Federal Border Service, is currently in Tajikistan to supervise the transfer for the Russian side, Avesta reported. According to Asia Plus, the Ishkoshim section is 569 kilometers long, Khorugh 212 kilometers, and Qalai Khum 173 kilometers. Tajik border guards took over 73 kilometers of the latter section in 1998. DK

Representatives of Tajikistan's political parties outlined their hopes for February 2005 elections to the 63-member Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) in interviews with Asia Plus-Blitz on 12 November. Davlatali Davlatov, first deputy chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party, said that his party hopes to capture 80 percent of the vote. The People's Democratic Party will nominate candidates to all 22 seats reserved for party slates and run candidates in all 41 single-mandate constituencies, Davlatov said. Islamic Renaissance Party spokesman Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda said that his party will nominate no fewer than 15 candidates to its party slate and run in half of the single-mandate constituencies. Rahmatullo Valiev, executive secretary of the Democratic Party, said his party will nominate 10 candidates to its party slate and run six or seven candidates in single-mandate constituencies. All of the parties plan to train observers. The People's Democratic Party promises to place two observers at each polling station, while the Islamic Renaissance Party hopes to field 9,000 monitors and members of electoral commissions. DK

Dodojon Atovulloev, the editor in chief of Moscow-based opposition newspaper "Charoghi Ruz" and a noted critic of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov's government, told Iranian radio on 11 November that he does not believe upcoming parliamentary elections will be free and fair. "We have received information from reliable sources in the Tajik government that seats in the future Tajik parliament have already been distributed," he said. According to Atovulloev, the ruling People's Democratic Party is slated to receive most of the seats, with three to five seats for the Communist Party and one to two seats for the Islamic Renaissance Party to maintain appearances for the international community. DK

The Davra Kengashi, an NGO that brings together representatives of Uzbekistan's opposition parties and human rights activists, announced at a press conference in Tashkent on 12 November that it will boycott 26 December parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The group, which includes representatives of the unregistered opposition parties Erk and Birlik, made the decision after the opposition made numerous unsuccessful attempts to register candidates through initiative groups. At the news conference, Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Unity), and Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) party representatives told journalists that local authorities used every possible formal pretext -- from rejecting signatures to ignoring document submissions -- to prevent initiative groups from registering candidates. Moreover, some opposition activists suffered police harassment and even physical attacks by unidentified individuals. DK

Nodira Karimova, coordinator of the International Organization for Migration's countertrafficking project in Uzbekistan, told a news conference in Tashkent on 12 November that the project has rescued 179 victims of human trafficking in its first year, Uzbek Radio reported. Karimova said that the project had helped the victims to return home from abroad. A report by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service the same day quoted Muzaffar Aminov, a Surkhondaryo resident who recently returned from Russia, as saying that many Uzbeks are currently employed as virtual slaves in Russia. Victims of human traffickers told RFE/RL that most of the people in the criminal gangs that prey on Uzbeks desperate for work are also Uzbeks. DK

The Belarusian Supreme Court on 12 November rejected a complaint challenging the Justice Ministry's denial of registry to the Party of Freedom and Progress (PSP) led by outgoing Chamber of Representatives deputy Uladzimir Navasyad, Belapan reported. Navasyad applied twice for official registration and was twice denied for various reasons. After a PSP founding congress in November 2003, the Justice Ministry said the group's charter envisaged activities prohibited by the country's law on political parties. The PSP held another founding congress in May to amend its charter, but the ministry insisted this time that the party's founders had failed to act in accordance with established procedures for establishing a party. Navasyad has pledged to keep trying to register his party. He said the PSP will aim to promote liberal and democratic values, develop liberal reform, help establish civil society and the rule of law, and develop local self-government. JM

Andrey Shantarovich, editor in chief and founder of the private newspaper "Mestnaya gazeta" in Vaukavysk, Hrodna Oblast, has returned to work following a 20-day hunger strike to protest an Information Ministry decision to suspend the newspaper for a month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004), Belapan reported on 12 November. Shantarovich ended his hunger strike on 9 November on the advice of doctors. The authorities ignored his protest and never responded to his appeal for them to lift the ban. The next "Mestnaya gazeta" issue is to appear on 17 November. JM

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Ukraine on 12 November in what some observers regard as a show of support for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's presidential bid ahead of the latter's runoff with opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko on 21 November, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Putin was shown on Ukrainian Television channels embracing Yanukovych and wishing him luck in the runoff. Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma attended the signing in Kerch, Crimea, of a bilateral accord to establish a ferry line between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula. Putin visited Ukraine for three days before the 31 October presidential ballot, when he praised the economic performance of Prime Minister Yanukovych's cabinet in a question-and-answer session that was broadcast live on three television channels and attended a military parade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 November October 2004). JM

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz called for a free and fair vote in the 21 November runoff in neighboring Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv on 12 November, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Cimoszewicz, who was reportedly scheduled to meet Prime Minister Yanukovych and President Kuchma, instead met only with the speaker of parliament, the head of the Ukrainian Central Election Commission, and opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko showed Cimoszewicz what he later said appeared to be falsified election ballots during their meeting, according to dpa. Cimoszewicz, who is the new chairman-in-office of the Council of Europe, said he hopes Ukrainian authorities will clarify the origin of the documents presented by Yushchenko. Cimoszewicz also suggested that the Council of Europe will examine the problem itself if Ukrainian authorities fail to take appropriate action. JM

Opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko held a campaign rally on 13 November in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, the predominantly Russian-speaking region where he overwhelmingly lost to Prime Minister Yanukovych in the first round of voting on 31 October, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Yushchenko addressed, alternatively in Russian and Ukrainian, an estimated crowd of 20,000 people in Ukraine's second-largest city, assuring them that neither Russia nor the millions of Russian speakers in Ukraine will be neglected if he is elected. Some 5,000 people held a rally on 14 November in support of Yushchenko in Kherson in southern Ukraine, another region where Yanukovych bested Yushchenko in the first round. Yushchenko failed to attend the rally in Kherson, reportedly so he could prepare for a two-hour televised debate with Yanukovych on 16 November on state-owned UT-1. JM

President Kuchma gave an interview to the 1+1 channel on 15 November in which he credited himself with leaving a "strong basis" for further economic development in the country as he prepares to step down at the end of two terms as president. Asked to assess the economic performance of Prime Minister Yanukovych's cabinet on a five-point scale, Kuchma rated it a "strong four." Commenting on Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz's backing for Yushchenko in the 21 November runoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004), Kuchma said he sees the Moroz-Yushchenko alliance as the "crossing of a snake with a hedgehog." He added that the Moroz-Yushchenko election partnership is a combination of "two kinds of populism." Kuchma has made no secret of his preference for seeing Yanukovych succeed him as president. JM

Lawyer Bozo Prelevic, who heads the Independent Commission named by the Supreme Defense Council of Serbia and Montenegro to investigate the 3 October killings of two young soldiers, said in Belgrade on 13 November that his commission did not reveal its findings the previous day as planned because it and an army-appointed commission failed to agree on their findings, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October and 12 November 2004). Former military-intelligence chief Ljubodrag Stojadinovic told RFE/RL that the military refuses to accept any version of the incident other than that the two sentries shot each other. Also on 13 November, the governing Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) called on parents of draftees not to allow their sons to report for duty until the incident at Belgrade's Topcider military complex is clarified. Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic criticized the SPO's appeal as senseless. SPO leader and Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic suggested recently that the sentries were killed because they discovered the presence of one or more indicted war criminals at Topcider. PM

SPO leader and Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Draskovic reportedly held secret talks with Serbian President Boris Tadic in Belgrade recently aimed at bringing down the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, to which Draskovic's party belongs, and forcing early elections, Reuters reported on 12 November. The outspoken Draskovic has publicly criticized his own government over a variety of issues ever since it was set up early in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February and 19 April 2004). Tadic told reporters on 12 November that his talks with Draskovic were about Kosova and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, on which the two men share identical views, and not about electoral politics. Tadic's Democratic Party and Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) are bitter rivals. Recent public-opinion polls suggest that Tadic is Serbia's most popular politician, whereas Kostunica and the DSS finish a poor third after the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and Tomislav Nikolic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 8 October 2004). PM

Former Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic of the Democratic Party wrote in the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 14 November that the scandal surrounding the Topcider incident shows that "the army is running the country" and that General Aco Tomic is the power behind Kostunica, dpa reported. "Look at whose reports Kostunica bases his decisions on. I repeat, Aco Tomic is the chief of state [hiding] in the wings," Zivkovic charged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). Elsewhere, lawyer and prominent human rights activist Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco told the German news agency that the army is in need of a thoroughgoing reform. "The army was not only not reformed [after the fall of communism], it was frozen in the Cold War era, and that on the side of the Soviet Union," she stressed. The army "was never, ever touched and has continued influencing the country through manipulation, intimidation, blackmail, even murder," she said. PM

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader arrived in Belgrade on 15 November on the first official visit by an incumbent prime minister since Croatia became independent in 1991, international and regional media reported. Before leaving Zagreb for Serbia, Sanader said that promoting economic and other "normal relations" will make it easier to solve outstanding bilateral humanitarian and political issues. Croatian President Stipe Mesic visited the Serbian capital in 2003, when he and Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic exchanged apologies for the "evil" committed by their respective sides during the 1991-95 conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 15 September 2003). In related news, a Croatian Interior Ministry spokesman announced in Zagreb on 13 November that the authorities have denied admission to Milan Gurovic, who plays basketball for Partizan Belgrade and sought to enter Croatia for a game against Cibona Zagreb. The spokesman said that Gurovic was barred because he has a prominent tattoo depicting Serbian World War II monarchist leader Draza Mihajlovic on his left arm, and Croatian law forbids the "public display of symbols that call for ethnic or racial hatred." PM

Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul, his Macedonian counterpart Ilinka Mitreva, and Albania's Kastriot Islami signed a declaration with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones on the Croatian island of Brijuni on 12 November, pledging to increase participation in NATO missions and operations, including ISAF and the training of Iraqi soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 27 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 28 May 2004). PM

Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov announced his resignation on 15 November after fewer than six months in office, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June 2004). An economist and former banker, Kostov said the government's preoccupation with issues involving relations between the country's main ethnic groups has held up economic reforms. He also cited problems within the governing coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Recent media reports suggested that Kostov planned to quit because he felt he lacked sufficient influence on the composition of the government, "Vreme" and other Macedonian media reported on 15 November. According to reports quoting anonymous government sources, Kostov recently informed the cabinet and President Branko Crvenkovski that he would resign if he did not get a greater say over the composition of his government. Kostov, who is not a member of any of the governing parties, did not succeed in dismissing Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) earlier this year due to pressure from that party's leadership. UB

Speaking in Marseilles, French President Jacques Chirac reiterated support on 14 November for simultaneous accession in 2007 for candidate countries Romania and Bulgaria despite what are currently different levels of preparedness, Mediafax reported. "Bulgaria is ready to adhere [to EU legislative guidelines], but Romania faces some delays," Chirac said, adding that "friendly pressures" might be applied to Bucharest to accelerate preparations. Chirac also dismissed the argument that EU expansion to include Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Croatia would negatively affect European cohesion, and he said the membership of former Yugoslav states would be welcomed. "Anyone can see the Balkan area is one of permanent commotion, of continuous drama, of war and ethnic conflicts," and "the only way to assert peace and mutual respect is the integration of these countries into the European Union," Chirac said. ZsM

Eugen Bejinariu, the minister overseeing the government's general secretariat, said on 13 November that the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) could invite the opposition Democratic Party and a Democratic Party ally, the National Liberal Party (PNL), to join a future government, Mediafax reported. Speaking at a news conference in the northern city of Suceava, Bejinariu predicted that a government formed by the PSD/Humanist Party (PUR) alliance after November's elections should have a sufficient mandate to pursue EU membership. He added that the Social Democrats have already made overtures to Democratic Party members. Social Democratic Executive Chairman Octav Cozmanca recently said his party has discussed the possibility of ruling together with "a negotiation group from the PNL," but PNL leaders rejected that offer. ZsM

The Bucharest-based daily "Ziua" on 13 November published a statement from several Moldovan student groups from Romania protesting Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's 12 November visit. The signatories called Voronin the "arch enemy of Romanians and the last Communist of Europe" and accused him of using "sacred [Romanian] symbols" to further his own electoral interests ahead of the 2005 Moldovan elections. Voronin and his delegation, including Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, on 12 November visited the Putna monastery in northern Romanian, where he laid a wreath at the tomb of former Moldovan leader Stefan cel Mare. In July, Voronin was invited to participate in ceremonies marking 500 years since Stefan's death but declined when Moldovan-Romanian negotiations failed to produce a joint declaration on Moldova's statehood. ZsM

A media-monitoring report for September published on 13 November suggests the public Radio Moldova and Moldova 1 television stations are serving the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and news reports show favoritism, Flux reported. The report -- carried out by the Center for Independent Journalism and CIVIS, a center for political and sociological research -- also concludes that news broadcasts overwhelmingly present government and ruling Communist Party activities. The opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) has the least access to the public media, the report shows. ZsM

Serbian President Boris Tadic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade recently that his country must observe its international obligations and meet the expectations of the most developed countries if it wants to escape its chronic poverty and improve its standard of living. He added that this in no way means that Serbs must renounce their traditions or national goals.

Tadic argued that the government must cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal because Serbia's own laws oblige it to do so. "This country has a law stating that all who have been indicted for war crimes by The Hague tribunal must be arrested and extradited" to that body, he noted.

Moreover, it is in Serbia's own interest to do so. "Non-cooperation with The Hague tribunal will hold us up from achieving [international] integration for political and security purposes as well as the economic development of our society. Without economic development and without political and security integration, we cannot resolve the problem of Kosovo and Metohija, or that of [the joint state of] Serbia and Montenegro, or any other vital question facing our country.... That is the point," he stressed.

In a similar vein, Tadic argued that Serbia's pursuit of EU membership is aimed at achieving concrete goals, namely economic benefits and a standard of living "similar to that of the most developed countries.... And until we gain EU membership...we must work toward that goal."

He noted, moreover, that there is no alternative to joining the EU. Tadic warned that those Serbian politicians who say that Serbia does not need EU membership are seeking to manipulate uninformed voters. He added that there is no political future for such anti-EU doctrines. Tadic also stressed that some EU states have ethnic and human rights problems similar to Serbia's and pointed out that these issues are more easily dealt with once a country is inside the EU and has achieved a certain level of prosperity.

Referring to the joint state with Montenegro, which was set up in 2002-03 under strong EU pressure, Tadic said that Montenegro's "demand for a redefinition of relations [between the two republics] is fully legitimate." On the other hand, he added, each state has its own interests to pursue, and Serbia's interest lies in European integration. To that end, Serbs -- and Montenegrins -- should respect the EU's wishes that the joint state be preserved as the best vehicle for achieving European integration. "Montenegro will not be able to become a member of the EU ahead of Serbia [as some of its pro-independence leaders suggest], because that is a matter for the EU to decide," and Brussels' position is clear.

Turning to Serbia's relations with the United States during the second administration of President George W. Bush, Tadic charged that it is a "tragic fact" that most Serbian "politicians, citizens, and even experts" do not have a good understanding of the United States, its institutions, or its decision-making processes. He stressed that Serbia cannot expect any special treatment from Washington. This, Tadic argued, is because "America does not retreat from its demands or principles, and that means cooperation with The Hague tribunal and observing international standards...which are European standards and part of the Western civilization in which we live because we want to share in the economic benefits of that civilization."

Tadic noted that many of Serbia's difficulties in reaching its goals are of its own making. "Many people involved in politics in Serbia...demonstrate on a daily basis that they understand absolutely nothing about how the modern world functions." Furthermore, he called his countrymen's attention to the progress that Croatia has made in recent years in breaking with its own nationalist past, a development that he "greatly respects." He argued that all the former Yugoslav republics can improve their economies and standards of living by working together more closely.

But what about Serbia's own specific traditions and political goals? Tadic noted that he himself has no difficulty in reconciling his Western political orientation with his cultural roots in the East and his Serbian Orthodox faith. He pointed out that Greece has long been a member of the EU and obtained more than $130 billion in economic assistance from Brussels over the years while preserving its strong national and religious identity.

Turning to Kosovo, Tadic said that Serbs are deluding themselves if they think the clock can be turned back to the years before 1999. At the same time, he stressed that "Kosovo must not become independent" because that would "destabilize one part of the Balkans and Southeastern Europe on a long-term basis." The Serbian president argued that the only solution for the province is through European integration, which "is not an empty phrase" but the only serious option for the future.

Sayyed Khaled, purporting to speak on behalf of Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims), told AFP on 15 November that his group has extended until 16 November its deadline to determine the fate of three UN workers being held hostage. "Now we are waiting for the final deadline at sunset tomorrow [16 November]. We must be contacted by tomorrow sunset otherwise our tribal council will take a final decision on the fate of the hostages," Khaled told AFP in a telephone interview. Army of the Muslims, a splinter group of the neo-Taliban, abducted the UN election workers on 28 October and has repeatedly changed its demands and deadlines for ending the hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). However, the group dropped most of its demands after 8 November and claimed it gave Afghan authorities a list of 26 individuals to be released in exchange for the hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 12 November 2004). Khaled claimed 19 of the individuals on its list of demands have been located. AT

Sayyed Mohammad Akbar Agha, the self-described leader of Army of the Muslims, said that negotiations over the fate of the three UN hostages held by his group were moving in a positive direction until the visit of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Kabul on 10 November, AFP reported on 15 November, citing the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP). "Our negotiations entered in a last phase at one point and we were told that the problem will end,... but when the U.S. assistant secretary of state visited Kabul, everything changed," Abkar Agha told AIP. Army of the Muslims spokesman Khaled told AFP on 15 November that prior to Armitage's visit to Kabul, his group believed the United Nations was acting independently, however, after the visit the group "suspect[s] that the UN is acting under U.S. orders." Khaled warned that if the group realizes "that the UN is acting with American direction," it "will behave as [it behaves] against the Americans." "We are in a war against the Americans, so we will kill them if our demands are not met," Khaled added. Armitage said in Kabul that negotiating with hostage takers encourages further hostage taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). AT

Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a statement on the occasion of the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, which was faxed to AIP on 12 November by Hamed Agha, the spokesman of the neo-Taliban. In it, Mullah Omar promised that the jihad will continue against "Americans and their agents" to win the "independence" of Afghanistan. Mullah Omar added that his movement is united and "steadfast" in achieving his goals. The statement alleges that "adultery, moral turpitude, drinking alcohol, and the violation of Muslim rights and dignity happens in broad daylight," leading young Afghans astray in the name of "fake democracy." The statement from Mullah Omar comes at a time when his leadership of the neo-Taliban and the strength of the movement are in question. AT

Ten Afghan citizens were reportedly arrested trying to enter Iraq through Iran recently, KurdSat reported on 14 November. According to the report, border guards in the city of Khanaqin arrested the Afghans on 13 November. No details were reported except that an investigation is under way. AT

In what could be interpreted as a gesture to Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a 13 November interview with CNBC's "Wall Street Journal Report" that Washington is not considering regime change in Iran. Powell had announced at a 9 November news conference that he expects to meet Iranian officials at a conference on Iraq that will take place in Egypt on 22-24 November. Anonymous U.S. government officials told Reuters on 12 November that the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting could provide the opportunity to discuss U.S. concerns "more directly." They added that a specific agenda for a possible meeting has not been set. BS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani announced on 14 November that the final draft of an agreement on nuclear issues between Iran and the European Union's "Big Three" -- France, Germany, and Great Britain -- will be finalized on 15 November, Mehr News Agency reported. Rohani said Iran will suspend parts of its uranium-enrichment program, and he added that Iran and the Europeans agreed on security issues. An anonymous Western diplomat said the same day that Iran has agreed to suspend the enrichment program but it has not informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) when the suspension will begin or how extensive it will be, Reuters reported. If IAEA inspectors confirm that the suspension has taken place, Iran probably will not be referred to the UN Security Council for sanctions during the IAEA's board of governors meeting scheduled for 25 November, according to Reuters. BS

Guardians Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 13 November that the date on which the Interior Ministry would like to hold the country's next presidential election is too early, IRNA reported. The Interior Ministry announced in a letter to the Guardians Council that the election should take place on 13 May 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). Elham explained the council's objection: "The election law has not been observed in setting the date for the presidential election. According to Articles One and Three of the Electoral Law, the Interior Ministry is required to do executive preliminaries for presidential election three months ahead of expiry of the president's term on 2 August 2005." This means that prospective candidates would register on 2 May, rather than 5 April. In 2001, prospective candidates registered from 2-6 May, the Guardians Council announced eligible candidates on 18 May, campaigning took place from 19 May-6 June, and the election took place on 8 June. An anonymous "informed source" said in mid-October that the Guardians Council is likely to approve a proposal that the election take place on 9 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October 2004). BS

Events in Iraq and Palestine are part of an "unannounced war that the global arrogance has begun against Islam," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 14 November sermon on Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, state television reported. Khamenei described U.S. politicians as "an enemy of Islam, an enemy of Muslims, an enemy of the Islamic nation." Speaking beforehand, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said events in Iraq and Palestine have made an otherwise celebratory event a bitter one, state radio reported. "We only wait in hope for the day when Muslims and innocent people awaken, stand up, and liberate themselves," Khatami said. One day earlier, Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told a gathering of Muslim diplomats, "Today, the security of Muslim countries in the region is being threatened by a blind terrorism scourge, Israel and America," IRNA reported. BS

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed on 15 November to move quickly to rebuild the city of Al-Fallujah, where a major offensive has been under way by U.S. and Iraqi forces to rid the city of insurgents, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Media reports in recent days indicate that large portions of the city have been destroyed, including power and telephone lines. "We are now planning to return the security forces and administrative teams to the city and embark on the program for the reconstruction of Al-Fallujah. We hope this will take place as soon as possible," Al-Arabiyah quoted the prime minister as saying. KR

The U.S. military claimed on 15 November that it has full control over the volatile city of Al-Fallujah but pockets of resistance remain, Reuters reported. A correspondent for the news agency in the city reported seeing demolished homes, ruined mosques, and bloated and decomposed bodies lying in the streets as he drove from the northern to the southern part of the city. Aid convoys sent by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society remain positioned outside the city awaiting U.S. permission to enter, international media reported. The Red Crescent said that at least 150 families are trapped in the city. U.S. Marine Commander Colonel Mike Shupp said he did not know of any Iraqis trapped in the city, saying: "There is no need to bring supplies in because we have supplies of our own for the people. Now that the bridge is open, I will bring out casualties and all aid work can be done here" at Al-Fallujah's hospital, Reuters quoted Shupp as saying. The U.S. military reported that 38 U.S. soldiers, six Iraqi soldiers, and more than 1,200 militants have been killed in seven days of fighting. KR

Militants clashed with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Ba'qubah's city center on 15 November, Al-Jazeera television reported. A journalist in the city told Al-Jazeera that militants are in control of most of the city. He said fighting broke out in the early morning hours when militants attacked a police station and the governor's offices in the city. The headquarters for U.S. forces also came under mortar attack in the center of town. Militants reportedly also took control of the Islamic Party offices that the journalist described as being in a tall building in the city center. Reuters quoted U.S. military spokesman Captain Bill Coppernoll as saying that about 20 militants were killed in gun battles and air strikes in the city. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded, he said. Al-Diyar television reported on 12 November that three commanders of the former Iraqi Army were arrested in Ba'qubah for organizing attacks in the city, including the killing of a National Guardsman and the wounding of three others the previous day. KR

U.S. Brigadier General Carter Ham announced on 14 November that calm has been restored to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul after several days of fighting between U.S. forces and militants there, Reuters reported the same day. Ham said the city's 33 police stations have been secured but added that he expects more attacks. Prime Minister Allawi dispatched Iraqi National Guardsmen -- mainly former peshmerga forces -- to the city in recent days after scores of policemen defected and joined up with insurgents, international media reported. Meanwhile, MENA reported on 15 November that U.S. forces stormed the Al-Salam hospital in the city. The news agency also reported fierce fighting between U.S. forces and militants, which left some 20 people dead on both sides. KR

Khasraw Goran, the deputy governor of the Ninawa Governorate, which includes Mosul, accused police of colluding with insurgents, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 13 November. "We are convinced, because we have evidence...that many policemen in Mosul are loyal to the former regime and sympathetic to the terrorists. Their loyalty is not for the new Iraqi regime," Goran said. Goran added that the police directorate in the city was advised several months ago to purge the police organization of Saddam Hussein loyalists, but the directorate failed to do so. KR

NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General James Jones said 10 member states have refused to send troops to Iraq as part of the alliance's new training mission there, reported on 15 November. Jones said the move by the 10 states, which he refused to name publicly, could undermine the alliance and threaten the long-term viability of the operation. "It is worrisome for its implications for the future cohesion of the alliance in future missions," Jones told The website reported that the U.S. government has already complained that France and Germany have ordered their staff members seconded to NATO headquarters in Belgium or to Norfolk, Virginia, not to participate in Iraq missions. NATO committed itself to sending 300 trainers to Baghdad and between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers to the capital to provide protection for the program. KR

Two female relatives of Prime Minister Allawi were released from captivity on 14 November, Arab media reported. The women were kidnapped on 9 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004). One male relative, Ghazi Allawi, the cousin of the prime minister, remains in captivity. Members of his daughter-in-law's family pleaded for her release on 11 November, saying she was nine months pregnant, international media reported. KR