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Newsline - November 30, 2004

The German government says Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to accept new elections in Ukraine and to respect the results, international news agencies reported on 30 November. Putin made the concession in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, dpa and Reuters reported. "The chancellor and the Russian president were in agreement that the results of a new election, based on Ukrainian law and the will of the Ukraine people, would be strictly respected," Bela Anda, the chief spokesman for the German government, said. Putin has openly supported pro-Moscow candidate Viktor Yanukovych and has congratulated him on winning the disputed election. BW

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 30 November that Ukraine could be headed for a violent breakup and bloodshed over its deadlocked presidential election, Russian and international news agencies reported on the same day. "The situation there is heading towards a split or towards bloodshed," Gryzlov said. "I see no other way the situation could develop," he added. Gryzlov briefly participated in attempts to mediate between pro-Moscow Prime Minister Yanukovych and West-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko last week. He accused Yushchenko of fomenting unrest. "Yushchenko was expected to urge the people to clear the streets, but the opposition did not do that," Gryzlov said. "On the contrary, it's distorting the essence of negotiations." Gryzlov added that the head of the city council of Donetsk, the largest city in heavily industrialized and predominantly Russian eastern Ukraine, will address the Duma on 1 December. "It'll be of interest for us to hear a representative of the supporters of Prime Minister Yanukovych, who was declared winner of the election," Gryzlov said. BW

Sergei Lavrov expressed his concern over the escalating crisis in Ukraine in a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 29 November, ITAR-TASS reported on the same day. "It is necessary to settle the conflict by legitimate means in compliance with Ukraine's Constitution and legislation," ITAR-TASS quoted Lavrov as saying. "It is very important [that] all political forces in restraint and bear responsibility for the situation in the country," Lavrov, who was in Laos on an official visit, added. Sharp differences over the Ukrainian election have caused a rift between Russia and the West, as the Kremlin has accused the United States and Europe of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). BW

Political instability in Ukraine could cause disruptions in energy supplies to Europe, Gennadii Shmal, the president of the Union of Oil and Gas Industrialists of Russia, said on 29 November, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The situation is hazardous not only for the creation of a Russo-Ukrainian gas transport consortium but also for other projects, first of all, in the gas area," Shmal said. In a veiled threat, he suggested that Germany, France, and other European countries receiving Russian gas by transit via Ukraine might reconsider their support for opposition leader Yushchenko and side with Moscow. "In the event that the export of Russian fuels to these countries stops, they will have problems with heating, and the expression 'cold war’' will no longer be allegorical to them," Shmal said. BW

As many as 200 joint Russo-Ukrainian academic projects could potentially be left without state financing in the event of unfavorable developments in Ukraine, Sergei Markianov, the head of the department for external relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said on 29 November, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The events in Ukraine have not yet affected the Russo-Ukrainian...ties in science and technology," Markianov said. He also did not specify exactly how or why this might happen, but noted that Boris Paton, the president of Ukraine's Academy of Sciences, is scheduled to visit Russia on 14 December to discuss future projects. BW

Russia's relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have risen to a new level with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, Foreign Minister Lavrov said on 29 November, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition to the 10 ASEAN members, Russia, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, and New Zealand have signed the accord, known as the Bali Treaty. "The Bali Treaty is a locomotive of integration processes in the Asia-Pacific Region. Our relations with ASEAN are becoming more and more intensive. We signed a political declaration on the fight against terrorism," Lavrov said. The Bali treaty was signed at the first summit of ASEAN on the Indonesian island of Bali on 24 February 1976. The treaty, which was opened to non-ASEAN members in 1987, seeks to expand the region's economic development through economic, social, cultural, scientific, and technical cooperation. BW

The Dalai Lama arrived in Russia on 29 November for his first visit in 10 years, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. Interfax reported that the Dalai Lama arrived in Elista -- the capital of the predominantly Buddhist region of Kalmykia in southern Russia -- on a chartered flight from the Indian city of Amritsar. Buddhist priests from the Russian regions of Buryatia and Tuva, as well as Mongolia, met the Dalai Lama's plane, the Interfax reported. It quoted the Dalai Lama as saying that the main purpose of his visit is to spread "human values." During the visit, he is due to consecrate a temple that was built in Elista eight years ago, Interfax reported. The Dalai Lama last visited Russia in 1994. Moscow has denied him a visa on several occasions since due to objections from China. The Foreign Ministry granted a visa on 26 November after he promised that his visit would be strictly pastoral. China protested the action. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue accused the Dalai Lama of pursuing "undercover religious separatist activities," dpa reported on 30 November. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov responded by saying that the visit "marks in no way a change in Russia's policy towards Tibet, which is an integral part of China." BW

Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom will participate in an auction of the Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz, Russian and international news agencies reported on 30 November. "Gazprom management made a decision today to participate in the auction for Yuganskneftegaz," Sergei Bogdanchikov, head of Gazprom's oil division said, according to Dow Jones Newswires. Yuganskneftegaz, which produces 1 million barrels per day, is scheduled to be auctioned off on 19 December with a starting price of $8.6 billion to offset Yukos' unpaid back taxes. Yukos challenges the legality of the planned sale and has said it will take any buyer to court. BW

The Constitutional Court on 29 November upheld a Leningrad Oblast law under which first-round winners in municipal elections need to gain only 50 percent of votes cast for specific candidates, without taking into account "against all" votes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 November. Sergei Pashegorov, one of the citizens challenging the law, ran for head of the Kingiseppskii Raion in February 2003 and finished second with 43.9 percent of all votes cast. His main opponent, Aleksandr Nevskii, won 47.4 percent, but when the 6.5 percent of the "against all" votes were discarded, Nevskii was declared the first-round winner with 50.8 percent of the votes cast for candidates. The Constitutional Court found that Russian Federation subjects have the power to establish rules for electing municipal officials. The judges rejected the argument that the law discounted or discriminated against the views of those who vote against all. Their ruling noted that under Leningrad Oblast law, municipal elections are invalid if "against all" receives more votes than any individual candidate. Speaking to a "Kommersant-Daily" reporter, Constitutional Court Deputy Chairman Vladimir Strekozov emphasized that the ruling applies only to municipal elections. LB

The Bryansk Oblast Court on 28 November struck Governor Yurii Lodkin off the ballot for the 5 December gubernatorial election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 November. People's Party candidate Aleksandr Zhdanov filed the case seeking Lodkin's removal from the race, alleging that the incumbent violated numerous campaign rules and does not have the right to seek a fourth term. (President Boris Yeltsin fired Lodkin as governor in September 1993, but Lodkin won gubernatorial elections in 1996 and 2000.) Several hundred supporters of Lodkin gathered outside the oblast administration building on 29 November, accusing the federal authorities of using the court to clear the path for Unified Russia's candidate in the race, Nikolai Denin. Lodkin told the demonstrators that he will take the case to the Supreme Court and, if that fails to restore his name to the ballot, will call on supporters to vote against all candidates. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that boycotting the election would not be advantageous for Lodkin, because he heads the Communist and Agrarian bloc "For Victory," which is seeking to elect representantatives to the oblast legislature on the same day as the gubernatorial election. LB

A raion court in Ryazan temporarily removed Ryazan Mayor Pavel Mamatov from office on 24 November, pending criminal charges that he abused and exceeded his authority, reported on 26 November. According to Yurii Tereshkin, a senior investigator in the Ryazan Oblast Prosecutor's Office, Mamatov misappropriated approximately 2 million rubles ($66,000) from the city administration's reserve fund and gave it to construction firms owned by his friends. Oblast prosecutors also allege that after they recommended that the Ryazan City Council file a civil case against Mamatov, the mayor pressured city council members to reject that course of action. Tereshkin said that Mamatov has not been taken into custody but has signed a pledge to appear if summoned by investigators. The mayor may appeal the court ruling, but an appeal would not prevent his temporary removal from office, according to Tereshkin. LB

A raion court in Palana, the capital of Koryak Autonomous Okrug, on 30 November ordered that Deputy Governor Mikhail Sokolovskii be taken into custody, reported. Sokolovskii faces a criminal investigation for allegedly exceeding the powers of his office by transferring 57 million rubles ($1.9 million) to a Moscow company called Stroitek. That firm did not supply the promised amount of fuel, leading to power outages in some villages at the start of the Far-East winter. According to, the court rejected prosecutors' request in early September to arrest Sokolovskii on the grounds that the deputy governor has three children and had signed a pledge not to leave the okrug. However, a reportedly lengthy business trip to Moscow ended when Sokolovskii was detained there on 29 October. After being released in Koryak Autonomous Okrug on 1 November, Sokolovskii failed to appear for questioning in connection with the criminal investigation. LB

The parliament of the Republic of Kalmykia on 26 November appointed Russian Party of Workers' Self-Government (RPST) Chairman Levon Chakhmakhchyan to represent the republic in the Federation Council, reported. Chakhmakhchyan held various posts within the Communist Party during the Soviet period and has been associated with several minor political parties in the last 10 years. In 1996, he headed the presidential election campaign of famous eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov, who headed the RPST at that time. Earlier this year, Chakhmakhchyan became a co-chairman of the political coalition Patriots of Russia. The Federation Council on 24 November formally removed Chakhmakhchyan's predecessor, Igor Provkin, who earlier this month failed in his candidacy for governor of Pskov Oblast. LB

The parliament of the Republic of Mordovia on 25 November accepted the resignation of Nikolai Bychkov, who had been the Federation Council member designated by the republic's executive branch, reported. Bychkov was a high-ranking executive in the Yukos oil company, which has a large presence in Mordovia. The executive authorities in the republic have not yet nominated his successor. Also on 25 November, the Mordovian parliament recalled German Petrov, who had been the legislature's representative in the Federation Council, and selected Vladimir Lityushkin, deputy chairman of the republic's legislature, to replace him. LB

Representatives of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), and Orinats Yerkir failed at a meeting on 26 November to reach a consensus on allocation of the 131 seats in the National Assembly, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 November. The HHD and Orinats Yerkir want to increase the number of mandates allocated under the party list system from the current 75, and the HHK wants to preserve the maximum possible number of seats allocated under the majoritarian system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September, 21 October and 4 November 2004). The opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak" on 27 November quoted an unnamed HHD member as warning again that the party would quit the three-party ruling coalition unless the HHK agrees to its demands. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian (HHK) said the three parties hope to reach an agreement by the end of this year. LF

The possibility of a pardon for seven opposition politicians sentenced last month on charges of inciting public protests after the October 2003 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2004) can only be considered after the men have appealed to Azerbaijan's Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, presidential administration official Ali Gasanov told Trend news agency, reported on 30 November. On 25 November, the same online daily quoted the head of the Committee to Defend the Rights of Rauf Arifoglu -- one of the seven men sentenced -- as denying media reports that the politicians have asked Azerbaijan's senior Muslim cleric to pass their appeal for a pardon to President Ilham Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry on 29 November summoned Azerbaijan's Ambassador to Tbilisi, Ramiz Gasanov, to explain why some 800 Georgia-bound rail freight cars, some of which are carrying humanitarian cargoes of grain, are backed up at the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia, reported on 29 November. On 30 November, quoted Azerbaijan Railways spokesman Nadir Azmamedov as saying that Azerbaijan Railways is not responsible for the delay, and that it was the Customs Committee that issued instructions not to permit the cargo to enter Georgia. The online daily also quoted Azerbaijani First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov as saying that some fuel shipments have reached Armenia via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Abbasov warned that while Azerbaijan considers Georgia "a partner" and a friendly country, it will suspend all rail freight traffic to Georgia if Georgia again forwards to Armenia freight that entered Georgia from Azerbaijani territory. Commentator Rauf Mirkadyrov suggested that Baku may have resorted to a retaliatory "railway war" after Georgia failed to support Azerbaijan's campaign to persuade the UN General Assembly to debate the occupation by Armenian forces of seven districts of Azerbaijan bordering the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. LF

Government representatives and the parliament bureau met for 12 hours on 29 November but failed to resolve their disagreements over the draft tax code, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze cancelled an emergency session of parliament scheduled for 3 December to discuss the bill in the second reading. At the same time, she stressed the need to pass the bill quickly in order to proceed to discussion and adoption of the draft budget for 2005 before 31 December. LF

The Georgian parliament postponed on 24 November the planned first reading of President Mikheil Saakashvili's proposed bill on financial amnesty, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 November 2004). In violation of an earlier agreement, the government submitted to the legislature an unamended version of the bill under which not only businessmen but also former government officials are eligible for amnesty. That failure reportedly precipitated a shouting match on 29 November between Givi Bokeria of the presidential administration, who accused the government of failing to abide by its agreement with the parliament to restrict the amnesty to businessmen, and Mikheil Machavariani, who is a parliament deputy and close associate of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who argued that the government cannot rewrite the bill to take into consideration all objections to it expressed by the parliament's Judicial Committee, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Georgia's Supreme Court acceded on 29 November to a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office to extend for a further 50 days the pretrial detention of former Audit Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Molashvili, who was arrested seven months ago, is charged with embezzling some 3 million laris ($1.64 million). His lawyer has already appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. In his first statement to the press since his arrest, Molashvili said on 29 November that it is "obvious" that he is being persecuted for political reasons. An investigation failed to confirm reports that he has been subjected to torture while in pretrial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 14 July and 26 October 2004). LF

Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Chechelashvili told RIA-Novosti on 29 November that there is no truth to Russian media reports released earlier that day that Chechen fighters have taken refuge in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. According to those Russian reports, two groups of Chechen militants, one comprising 200 men from the detachment formerly headed by field commander Ruslan Gelaev and another, numbering 50 men, have retreated to Georgian territory because of cold weather in the mountains and a lack of funds. Djafar Khangoshvili, who heads the village council in Duisi, one of the largest villages in Pankisi, similarly denied on 29 November that there are currently any Chechen militants in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. LF

In an appeal read out on 29 November at a meeting in Sukhum of several hundred war veterans who support former prime minister and defeated presidential candidate Raul Khadjimba, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba pledged to remain in office until new presidential elections are held to determine his successor, Caucasus Press reported. Ardzinba accused Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh -- whom the Central Election Commission, Supreme Court, and Abkhaz parliament have officially acknowledged as the winner of the 3 October presidential ballot -- of damaging the unrecognized republic's international reputation and ruining relations with Russia, Interfax reported. Ardzinba argued that new elections are the only way to produce legitimate leadership that will be able to lead Abkhazia to independence and strengthen relations with Russia. The pro-Khadjimba reservists' meeting on 29 November adopted a statement abjuring the use of force, and calling for the 3 October ballot to be invalidated and a date set for new elections, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 29 November, the local administrators in Sukhum and the Gudauta, Gulripsh, Tkvarcheli and Ochamchira Raions pledged their support for Ardzinba, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Prosecutor General Rauf Korua lodged a protest on 29 November with the Abkhaz Supreme Court arguing that President Ardzinba exceeded his authority when he issued a decree on 29 October calling on the Abkhaz parliament to schedule another presidential ballot, Russian media reported. Korua branded that decree illegal. But Ardzinba's representative to the Abkhaz parliament, Marina Pilia, told ITAR-TASS on 29 November that Korua's protest was a purely political statement that carries no legal weight, and that the Supreme Court is not empowered to rule on the legality of a presidential decree. LF

Moldiyar Orazaliev, the head of the Almaty police department, said on 29 November that police are focusing on vandalism as the possible reason for two explosions at the ruling Otan party's headquarters in Almaty on 28 November, Khabar TV reported. The blasts caused light damage to the building that houses Otan's headquarters and slightly injured one passerby (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). President Nursultan Nazarbaev has taken personal control of the investigation, which Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov is heading, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The police expect to report their preliminary findings in 10 days. Orazaliev said the National Security Committee is also examining several other theories for the blasts, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Members of Otan's political council downplayed the possibility of vandalism and suggested that the explosions were an attempt to destabilize the country, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 November. Bulat Abilov, co-chairman of the opposition party Ak Zhol, condemned the attack and said, "I believe democratic [opposition] forces have nothing to do with this," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

Aleksandr Kosukhin, coordinator of UNDP HIV/AIDS control programs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told a news conference in Almaty on 29 November that the number of HIV-infected people in Kazakhstan rose 20 percent in 2004 and stands at some 13,000, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The number of officially registered HIV-infected individuals is around 4,500. Kazakhstan still has a relatively low number of HIV cases, but experts told journalists that the rapid rate of increase underscores the need for effective countermeasures. Kosukhin said Kazakhstan developed a good program to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS from 2001-2005 but insufficient funding has hampered its implementation. DK

A coalition of nine Kyrgyz opposition parties and various NGOs began collecting signatures on 29 November in support of the impeachment of President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The impeachment drive was launched after opposition members warned that they would start to collect signatures unless the authorities found missing rights activist Tursunbek Akun, who has not been seen since 16 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 29 November 2004). DK

President Akaev met with Martti Ahtisaari, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office's envoy for Central Asia, in Bishkek on 29 November, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. During the meeting, Akaev thanked the OSCE for helping reform Kyrgyzstan's law-enforcement bodies. Ahtisaari also met with Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov. Ahtisaari's visit, which is expected to include discussions of the OSCE's role in the February 2005 parliamentary elections, ends on 30 November. DK

On 27 November, Turkmenistan's Mejlis (parliament) ratified the Turkmen-Uzbek friendship treaty that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed on 19 November in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, reported on 28 November. The report noted that the ratification took place in record time. The accords were aimed at easing cross-border travel for residents of the two countries, but a 29 November report by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service said that many Uzbek border-region residents report that travel to Turkmenistan has not become easier for them since the agreements were signed. DK

Sadyk Safaev met with Vladimir Rushailo, chairman of the CIS Executive Committee, in Tashkent on 29 November, Uzbek television reported. The report noted that the two men discussed events in the CIS "and in particular, the situation in Ukraine." Other topics included the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, UzA reported. Safaev and Rushailo also exchanged ideas on the formation of the CIS Executive Committee's planned observer mission to monitor Uzbek parliamentary elections on 26 December. DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 November issued a decree appointing Viktar Sheyman head of the presidential administration, Belapan reported. Sheyman will replace Ural Latypau, who was dismissed. Latypau, 53, who was a KGB officer in the Soviet era, served under Lukashenka as presidential aide for foreign-policy matters (1994-98), foreign minister (1998-2000), and secretary of the Security Council (2000-2001). Sheyman, who served as prosecutor-general until his current appointment, is among a select few of Lukashenka's aides who have remained with him since Lukashenka became president in 1994. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe suspects Sheyman of planning the disappearances of several opponents of the Lukashenka regime in 1999-2000 (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 August 2000). Pyotr Miklashevich, until now first deputy chairman of the Supreme Court, will replace Sheyman in the post of prosecutor-general. JM

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko demanded in the Verkhovna Rada on 30 November that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych resign because of its responsibility for encouraging calls for regional autonomy in the east of the country, provoking a budgetary crisis, and perpetrating election fraud during the 21 November presidential runoff vote, Ukrainian media reported. The Verkhovna Rada failed to pass a resolution on "anticonstitutional actions and manifestations of separatism that threatens Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," which also provided for the dismissal of Yanukovych's government and Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev. The resolution was supported by 196 deputies (226 were required for approval); pro-Yanukovych deputies and the Communist Party parliamentary caucus did not take part in the vote. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 30 November voted to cancel its 27 November resolution branding the 21 November presidential vote as having taken place "with violations of the law and does not reflect the will of the citizens" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004), UNIAN reported. The move was supported by 232 deputies from the pro-government parliamentary groups and the Communist Party. JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych said on 30 November that if he is confirmed as president he will propose the post of prime minister to opposition leader Yushchenko and will support a constitutional reform redistributing the balance of powers in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. "I am ready to offer Viktor Andriyovych [Yushchenko] the post of prime minister, which will in fact become the top position of duty in our country under the new constitution, so he can form a government together with a coalition," Yanukovych said. JM

Leonid Kuchma said during a meeting with Prime Minister Yanukovych, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, as well as some cabinet ministers and local governors in Kyiv on 29 November that a new presidential election could be a way out of the ongoing conflict over the results of the 21 November presidential runoff in Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. "If we really want to preserve peace and harmony, if we really want to build a democratic society based on the rule of law...then let us go the legal route, let us organize new elections," he said. Simultaneously, Kuchma said that he is not planning to be a candidate in such elections. JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych on 29 November declared that he would agree to stage a new presidential vote in two regions if mass fraud were proven to have taken place in the 21 November runoff, as alleged by his rival, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "If chaos, this lawlessness, this violation of human rights, violation of all democratic norms goes ahead and...a decision is taken, even this illegal decision about a repeat vote in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- let it happen," Reuters quoted Yanukovych as saying. JM

The Supreme Court on 29 November began hearing complaints by the election staff of Yushchenko that election authorities resorted to massive fraud to award victory in the 21 November runoff to his rival, Premier Yanukovych, Ukrainian media reported. Last week the Supreme Court barred the publication of the official election results, thus preventing the official winner, Yanukovych, from being inaugurated as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). It is not clear when the court may announce its ruling on the election dispute. JM

Ukrainian National Bank acting head Arseniy Yatsenyuk told Reuters on 29 November that the ongoing controversy over the results of the 21 November presidential runoff in Ukraine has fuelled a run on bank deposits. "We decided to satisfy everybody's needs in order to convince people that all deposits will be paid," Yatsenyuk added. Earlier the same day, President Kuchma expressed his apprehension that Ukraine's financial system may collapse "like a house of cards in several days' time" because of the current political crisis. JM

Serhiy Tihipko on 29 November resigned as head of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), Ukrainian media reported. "Now, in my opinion, it is impossible to combine positions of NBU governor and [Labor Ukraine] party leader," Tyhipko told journalists. "I will concentrate fully on politics." Tihipko, who was manager of Premier Yanukovych's presidential campaign, distanced himself from the prime minister. "I am not staying on as the head of the Yanukovych campaign," Tihipko said. "We fulfilled our function when the voting took place [on 21 November]." JM

The U.S. Embassy in Skopje was closed for all but essential business on 29 November, dpa reported. In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "I really can't go into the reason [for the closing], other than to say it's [in response to] information that we acquired locally that relates to U.S. government facilities. The embassy is looking at its security posture and they will reopen at the appropriate time once they decide it's okay." The State Department also advised U.S. citizens to stay away from other U.S. government offices in the city. An unnamed Macedonian security official told the German news agency that his American colleagues "probably know something we don't." He added, "The re-emergence of Albanian gunmen around Skopje seems unlikely to be the reason behind this move." The embassy and other U.S. offices reopened on 30 November. Unnamed U.S. officials told the news agency that an unspecified "threat to U.S. government facilities" in Macedonia had been received over the Thanksgiving weekend, and that the buildings reopened after a "security check." PM

In response to an announcement by Macedonian Prime Minister-designate Vlado Buckovski that his government will deal with an armed group allegedly patrolling the village of Kondovo outside Skopje, Ali Ahmeti -- who heads the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- said on 29 November that there is no such group, the daily "Dnevnik" reported, quoting an interview with Ahmeti by Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service. Ahmeti said the armed men are "only some young people" who do not pose any threat, and he called reports about the group an "inflated media balloon." Buckovski told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 28 November that, according to his information, the group is not big enough to pose a threat to the stability of the country, but added: "The existence of armed individuals or groups cannot be tolerated for too long a period." For several weeks, the daily "Vreme" has been reporting on the group, while other media largely ignored the story. Meanwhile, the OSCE mission in Skopje said the situation in Kondovo is under control, according to A1 TV. UB

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, told the UN Security Council on 29 November that he is prepared to use sanctions and other disciplinary measures to ensure that local officials comply with UN guidelines on security, minority rights, and rule of law, RFE/RL's UN correspondent reported. Jessen-Petersen added that he is looking at ways to enforce the accountability of local leaders with reforms aimed at building a multiethnic society. He said the ethnic Albanian-dominated local government must prove that it is serious about things like safeguarding the return of displaced persons. "UNMIK and KFOR are now better positioned to provide protection, but only Kosovo Albanian leaders and society can and must effectively dispel the need for such protection and create true security," Jessen-Petersen said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 24, and 29 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August, and 10 and 17 September 2004). He nonetheless dismissed Serbian proposals for a partition of the province, saying: "Territorial division is neither desirable in principle nor workable in a relatively small territory where only one-third of the Kosovo Serb population is concentrated north of the Ibar River, and the remaining two-thirds are scattered across the rest of Kosovo, mostly in rural areas." PM

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said in Brussels on 29 November that Kosova's progress toward meeting international standards and launching talks on its final status could be delayed if Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova is confirmed as prime minister in Kosova's new coalition government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Haradinaj is believed to be under investigation by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). PM

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released the latest edition of its "Book of the Missing" in Geneva on 25 November, which contains the names of 16,600 people still listed as missing from the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, Reuters reported. The ICRC said it hopes the publication of the names will prompt governments and individuals to provide more information about the missing persons. PM

Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 29 November that the new EUFOR military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina "is the only real industrial-scale attempt to implement European security and defense policy on the ground," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August and 23, 24, and 29 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). He said: "If we cannot do this, many will see that policy as a piece of rhetoric." PM

With nearly 88 percent of the ballots cast on 28 November for Romania's new parliament counted, the Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party (PUR) alliance leads its main rival, the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, Mediafax reported on 29 November. In the election for the lower house, the PSD-PUR alliance has garnered 36.37 percent of the vote, against 31 percent for the PNL-Democratic Party. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) is third, with 12.94 percent, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) is in fourth place, with 6.79 percent. In the ballot for the Senate, the PSD-PUR leads with 36.88 percent, the PNL-Democratic Party is second with 31.41 percent, the PRM has 13.65 percent, and the UDMR, 6.87 percent. With 40.71 percent, PSD presidential candidate Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has a 6-point lead over PNL-Democratic Party presidential candidate, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, who has 33.55 percent. The two men will face one another in a 12 December runoff. MS

The Pro-Democratia Association announced on 29 November that it will not send observers to the 12 December presidential runoff in protest of numerous irregularities during the 28 November elections, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Pro-Democratia Chairman Cristian Parvulescu said suggestions by his group on how to improve the electoral law have been ignored by Romania's "political class" and that all parties in the outgoing parliament share the blame. The 2 to 5 percent difference between both parties and the main presidential candidates, he said, could be the result of voting irregularities, including: multiple voting made possible by the failure to issue electoral ID cards; "electoral tourism" by political parties that sent supporters to vote two or more times in different counties; failure to banish voting on "special lists" for people casting ballots outside their place of residence; and unsupervised ballot boxes sent to the homes of electors who allegedly couldn't come to polling stations. MS

Democratic Party Chairman Basescu said on 29 November that the PNL-Democratic Party alliance will not contest the outcome of the elections, despite being convinced that fraud may distort the final results as much as 3-5 percent, Mediafax reported. Basescu said some 300,000-350,000 voters probably voted more than once. He also announced that the Democratic Party has expelled Brandusel Nichitean from the party on suspicion of voting twice. Brandusel ran on the PNL-Democratic Party Senate lists in Suceava County. Basescu also said that the PNL-Democratic Party Alliance is demanding that the Electoral Bureau verify all voters who cast their ballots outside their place of residence to make sure they did not vote more than once. Prime Minister Nastase said the irregularities were not numerous enough to influence the electoral outcome. MS

Nastase said on 29 November that his ruling PSD intends to launch negotiations to form the next government coalition as soon as the official election results are announced, Mediafax reported. Nastase refused to specify which political parties he is considering as coalition partners. Later that same day, he said some Democratic Party parliamentarians might decide to join the ranks of the PSD because they realize the Democratic Party has lost the support of the Socialist International and is heading toward a merger with the PNL. MS

PNL Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said on 29 November that the two wings of the main opposition alliance might consider merging into a single party after the presidential runoff, Mediafax reported. In response, Democratic Party Chairman Basescu said that Popescu-Tariceanu was talking about a theoretical possibility, and that no merger is being considered before 2008, when the agreement on the PNL-Democratic Party alliance ends. MS

The Democratic Moldova bloc (an alliance of centrist opposition parties set up last year and comprising the Our Moldova bloc, the Democratic Party, and several other extraparliamentary formations) on 29 November held a rally in Chisinau against the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), Infotag and Flux reported. Some 2,000-5,000 protesters shouted anticommunist slogans and listened to speeches by the bloc's leaders. Former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis said the parliamentary elections slated for 2005 will decide whether "Moldova returns to democracy or becomes an isolated island governed by dictatorship and despotism," according to Infotag. Braghis also warned that Moldova might repeat the recent Ukrainian electoral experience "because the communists are agonizing in their incompetence and in fear of losing the elections to the Democratic Moldova bloc." Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean told the rally that the recent arrest of four Chisinau mayoralty employees on alleged corruption charges is aimed at intimidating the PCM's opponents. MS

As hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating in Kyiv and many other Ukrainian cities for the seventh consecutive day against what they believe was massive electoral fraud that denied victory in the 21 November presidential runoff to opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's supporters counterattacked on 28 November by threatening to seek autonomy for Ukraine's eastern and southern regions if Yanukovych was not installed as president.

Ukraine's east-west economic, cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic division -- which was reflected in voter preferences in both the 31 October and 21 November rounds of the presidential election -- has become a major topic on the country's already-overheated political agenda.

The handling of this issue by both the authorities and the opposition will be of utmost importance to the country's political and social stability.

On 28 November, some 4,000 local councilors from 15 eastern and southern Ukrainian regions gathered in Severodonetsk in Donetsk Oblast to express their support for Yanukovych as the legally elected president and to condemn the pro-Yushchenko opposition for leading Ukraine toward a "territorial split and catastrophe." "If the [current] coup d'etat is being developed further and an illegitimate president comes to power, participants in the congress reserve themselves the right to 'adequate actions and self-defense,'" the congress said in a statement. The participants warned that they will hold a "referendum on a possible change of Ukraine's administrative-territorial system" on 12 December if the situation in Ukraine develops under "the worst-case scenario."

There was an apparent Russian hand behind this congress. The Severodonetsk gathering was attended by one of Russia's most influential politicians: Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. It is unclear whether Luzhkov's visit to Severodonetsk was coordinated with the Kremlin, but his behavior and statements there were fully consistent with Yanukovych's Russian-inspired electoral platform, which calls on Ukrainians to abandon their aspirations to join NATO and the EU and promises to make Russian the second official language and introduce dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship. Luzhkov brought with him the unambiguous message that Russia continues to stand beside Yanukovych in the current crisis in Ukraine. "On one hand, we see the Sabbath of witches who have been fattened up with oranges and who pretend that they represent the whole of the nation," Luzhkov told the congress in an apparent reference to the pro-Yushchenko "orange revolution" in Ukraine. "On the other, we see the peaceful power of constructive forces that has gathered in this hall."

Also on 28 November, the Donetsk Oblast Council voted 155-1 to set a regional referendum for 5 December on introducing constitutional amendments that would ostensibly change Ukraine into a federal state and give Donetsk Oblast the status of a republic within that new federation. The Donetsk councilors justified their proposal by citing the postelection standoff, which, they said, "is threatening public security, the constitutional system [as well as] the life and heath of citizens." The Donetsk Oblast Council also affirmed that Yanukovych is the legally elected president and expressed its lack of confidence in the Verkhovna Rada, the national legislature that on 27 November passed a resolution declaring the presidential runoff flawed.

Yanukovych, who attended the congress in Severodonetsk, appeared to distance himself from the radical atmosphere during the gathering. "I appeal to you to avoid any radical measures," he told the gathering. "When the first drop of blood is spilled, we will not be able to stop it. And if this happens, it will be on the conscience of those people who provoked this situation." Yanukovych left the Severodonetsk meeting before the resolution on a possible referendum on regional autonomy was adopted. But his maneuvers did not convincingly erase the impression that he was personally embroiled in a scheme that threatened to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine as a "unified state," as proclaimed by the country's constitution.

Even if the threat of "separatist" plebiscites in eastern regions is nothing more than the Yanukovych camp's political bluff intended to counterbalance the pro-Yushchenko demonstrations in Kyiv and the west of the country, this move could boomerang on the prime minister and deprive him of any realistic chance of not only becoming president but also of pursuing any other political career in Kyiv. After all, a politician aspiring to become a nationwide leader should presumably avoid association with actions that threaten to splinter the country territorially for the sole purpose of satisfying his or her political ambitions.

The pro-Yushchenko camp counterattacked immediately. The Committee of National Salvation (KNP), a body set up by Yushchenko's political backers and allies to coordinate the ongoing protest actions in Ukraine, delivered an ultimatum to incumbent President Leonid Kuchma on 28 November. The committee demanded that Kuchma take the following steps: sack Prime Minister Yanukovych for his alleged contributions to the falsification of the 21 November presidential ballot and participation in "separatist actions"; submit new candidates for Central Election Commission membership to the Verkhovna Rada; fire the governors of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv oblasts for initiating a "split of Ukraine"; and order the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch an immediate probe against "secessionists" in Ukraine. The Committee of National Salvation threatened to begin blocking Kuchma's travels in Ukraine if he failed to comply with the ultimatum within 24 hours.

Kuchma on 29 November condemned the calls for autonomy from Ukraine's eastern regions. But he also stressed that Ukraine's threatened split was initiated in the western part of the country, where local councilors have pledged allegiance to "people's president" Yushchenko and effectively refused to obey instructions and orders from the central government.

Thus, ironically, the standoff in Ukraine is strengthening the position of President Kuchma as the "father of the nation" and an "arbitrator" who is ostensibly uninvolved on either side of the postelection confrontation. This situation has already revived speculation that Kuchma might be considering another run for the post of president if the Supreme Court strikes down the results of the 2004 presidential election, presumably leading to a repeat ballot. Under such a scenario, Yushchenko and Yanukovych, as the candidates already "used up" in the previous campaign, would have little chance against Kuchma, posing as he would as the guarantor of stability for a society polarized by the Yushchenko-Yanukovych rivalry.

However, regardless of who eventually becomes Ukraine's president, it is already evident that a radical readjustment of the way the country has been governed is in order. The adventurous policy of playing up the country's east against its west needs to be abandoned once and for all if Ukraine is to survive as a single state. And there must be a daring political compromise on the formation of a coalition government capable of assuring people in both eastern and western Ukraine that their interests are truly represented in Kyiv.

These appear to be the two greatest challenges facing Ukraine's political class once the current turmoil subsides and people begin to think about how to proceed with their everyday lives.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum requested that Afghan fighters who agree to disarm and demobilize be "rewarded" for their cooperative efforts and offered service in the national army, according to Sheberghan Jowzjan Aina Television on 29 November. Dostum called at a meeting with Afghan Defense Ministry officials and representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Clearance in Afghanistan (UNAMAC) on 29 November for unspecified rewards to be given to such fighters. "As we were together with our international friends in tough situations and in fighting international terrorism, we offer our honest assistance in reconstruction and in maintaining lasting stability in the country," Dostum said. "We want those officers and soldiers, who underwent the [official Disarmament, Demilitarization, and Rehabilitation] (DDR) process, to be appreciated in line with their professionalism and competency." The centralization of Afghanistan's military power has been difficult in the fractionalized country, and the inability of national and international agencies to convince warlords to disband their militias contributes to the country's security problems. KM

Concerns were raised on 29 November by the Health and Agriculture ministries about drug eradication efforts that include the aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides, according to state-run Radio Afghanistan that day. The report was presented to the cabinet of the Afghan Transitional Administration by Public Health Minister Sohaila Sediq on 29 November. Surveys taken in the Khogiani and Shinwar districts of eastern Nangarhar Province, where fields have been sprayed, reportedly show that the herbicides have had bad affects on health and the environment. Contaminated water from the spraying has allegedly caused an increase in asthma and diarrhea among people in the region, according to the report. Voluntary poppy eradication has proven difficult in Afghanistan, where farmers have grown to rely on the lucrative crop in a system controlled by powerful drug and warlords. KM

Afghan newspapers and magazines are debating details regarding the holding of national parliamentary elections, scheduled for mid-May. While some argue that "thorough preparations" must be taken, as the daily "Anis" newspaper did on 28 November, others state that the elections should be postponed. The Afghan monthly journal "Rozgaran" set out a list of arguments for delaying the election in its 24 November edition, based on its belief that warlords will undermine the parliament structure and processes to ensure that they continue ruling the provinces. "Rozgaran" focuses on disarmament as a necessary precondition for the parliamentary elections: "If general disarmament is not implemented and guns are not collected, we will not witness [a] democratic election, particularly in regions that are under the influence of the warlords." "Anis" also touched on this issue in a more subtle way when it noted, "if the election is influenced by the carrot and stick tactics and if the real representatives of the people are not allowed in parliament, then such a parliament will automatically create many problems." KM

"Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 29 November that Deputy Interior Minister Ali Asqar Ahmadi said no group in Iran has a law regulating suicide bombers (a.k.a. martyrdom operations). Earlier on 24 November, however, the head of public relations for the Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement, Mohammad Ali Samadi, said that his organization will announce the creation of the first company of martyrs on 2 December, the Baztab website reported. Samadi said the move is in sympathy with the people of Al-Fallujah and in response to a message from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The announcement will reportedly take place at Behesht-i Zahra cemetery at the same time as the inauguration of a stone tablet commemorating "the biggest martyrdom operation against American occupiers." Samadi added that more martyrdom volunteers will be enrolled during the ceremony. The enrollment of volunteers began in May (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2004). BS

Ali Mobasheri, head of the Revolutionary Court, said on 28 November that the trial of persons accused of spying on Iran's nuclear program continues, Fars News Agency reported. He refused to divulge any more information before a verdict is issued. The second part of the case, Mobasheri added, is being prepared by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Iran announced the arrest of several suspected nuclear spies in late August and the trial began in mid-September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September and 23 November 2004). "Sharq" reported on 18 November that the alleged spies appear to be members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. "Sharq" also noted that in 2002, journalist Abbas Abdi was accused of passing the same kind of nuclear information to foreign countries. Abdi was acquitted of that charge but was imprisoned for the activities of the Ayandeh Research Institute -- where he was a director -- whose polling showed that a majority of respondents favored a restoration of Iran-U.S. relations. BS

Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi said on 28 November that Iran is ready to train and equip Iraqi police and border guards, IRNA reported. The announcement precedes a 30 November meeting in Tehran of interior ministry and security officials from Iraq's neighbors. Ahmadi said officials from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, as well as a UN representative, will attend the meeting. A major meeting on Iraq took place in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on 22-23 November, and Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jafari visited Tehran on 26 November. Al-Jafari's adviser, Javad Taleb, said al-Jafari has requested Iranian assistance in quelling the Iraqi insurgency, AP reported on 27 November. BS

The Al-Najaf News Network ( cited sources within the Al-Najaf governorate on 29 November as saying that Iraqi and multinational forces have arrested Deputy Governor Ali al-Shaybani, as well as a number of government employees who sit on a committee led by al-Shaybani, for embezzling funds earmarked to compensate victims of the Al-Najaf standoff earlier this year. Those arrested reportedly embezzled the funds by forging claims. However, AP reported on 29 November that al-Shaybani was arrested after police uncovered an alleged plot to assassinate Governor Adnan al-Zurufi and other top officials. KR

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Mas'ud Barzani said that his party would not oppose a postponement of national elections in Iraq, "Khabat" reported on 29 November, citing Kurdistan satellite television. "We are in favor of holding the election as scheduled for 30 January 2005 and we do not call for [its] postponement. However, if there is a conviction among the Iraqi political parties and forces to postpone the elections for a limited period that is not more than six months and that would guarantee comprehensive and fair elections, we will not oppose it," Barzani was quoted as saying. AP cited an unnamed Shi'ite official on 29 November as saying that the Kurdish leaders -- who days earlier had called for a postponement of elections -- changed their stance after Shi'ite leaders rejected a possible postponement. KR

Government offices, businesses, and schools in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul remain closed due to the continued insurgency there, "Al-Zaman" reported on 27 November. The daily reported that gunmen have expanded their network throughout the city and are distributing their directives house-to-house and district-to-district, leaving residents with no choice but to obey orders, which recently included a call for people to remain indoors on 24 November. The militant group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad in Bilad al-Rafidayn -- which is led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi -- posted a statement on a website on 28 November claiming responsibility for the killing of 17 Iraqi forces and a Kurdish peshmerga in the city, AP reported on 29 November. Some 50 Iraqis have been killed in Mosul in the past 10 days, AP reported, while the "Chicago Tribune" reported on 28 November that as many as 70 Iraqis were found dead in the city in a little more than a week, with many bodies dumped in the city center. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Erik Kurilla said the surge in violence has led to an increase in the number of residents coming forward with information on the insurgents, the "Chicago Tribune" reported. KR