UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MAKES UNSCHEDULED TRIP TO MOSCOW TO DISCUSS CRISIS...
President Vladimir Putin met for two hours on 2 December with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who made an unscheduled trip to Moscow to discuss Ukraine's political crisis (see Ukraine items, "RFE/RL Newsline Part 2"), Russian media reported. Addressing journalists following the talks at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, Putin expressed his disagreement with Ukrainian opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's demand that his disputed 21 November presidential runoff against government-backed and pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych be repeated. Putin voiced his support for holding a new election entirely, saying, "a re-vote could be conducted a third, a fourth, a 25th time, until one side gets the results it needs," RTR reported. Kuchma echoed Putin's sentiments, saying, "I don't know of a single country that has such a legal norm as a re-vote," RTR reported. Putin praised Kuchma for keeping the situation in Ukraine under control, and expressed Russia's concerns over "the possibility of Ukraine splitting up." He also said that Russia is prepared to help resolve the crisis, and that "Russia will always be together with Ukraine." VY
...AND PROMPTS SPECULATION AS TO HIS TRUE INTENTIONS
Commenting on Kuchma's visit to Moscow, Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin (Motherland) said on 2 December that he believes the Ukrainian president made the trip to persuade Putin to retreat from his open support for Yanukovych, TV-Tsentr on 2 December. Baburin said that while, as a Russian, he supports Yanukovych, as a politician he admires Yushchenko as "a revolutionary." The same evening in Kyiv, Yushchenko addressed his supporters with an unusual 20-minute speech in Russian, in which he called Russia Ukraine's most import neighbor and encouraged Ukrainians to acquire a good understanding of the Russian language. Meanwhile, gazeta.ru speculated on 2 December that during their meeting Putin probably advised Kuchma how to handle international pressure and the popular support that Yushchenko enjoys. The newspaper went on say that Putin and Kuchma's discussion likely centered on finding a common position on a proposal by an international group of mediators that Ukraine prepare a new presidential election law jointly with a constitutional reform that would shift the balance of power from the president to the parliament and the prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). VY
DUMA ASSAILS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT OVER UKRAINE...
The Russian State Duma passed a resolution on 3 December accusing members of the European Parliament, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of destabilizing Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution, which passed by a vote of 415-0 with eight abstentions, accused the Europeans of "destructive foreign interference in the development of the situation in Ukraine." The action of the Europeans "practically pushes the radically minded part of the Ukrainian population toward dangerous actions," which threatens to result in "mass disturbances, chaos, and a split of the country." The resolution harshly criticized the Ukrainian opposition supporting presidential hopeful Yushchenko for using the tactics of "street democracy." The resolution added that the Duma is sincerely interested in seeing that the situation in Ukraine is resolved in "a democratic and constitutional way," and stressed the lawmakers' "firm commitment to continuing efforts toward the strengthening of traditional friendship and fraternal relations between the peoples of Russia and Ukraine." BW
...AS KUCHMA SAYS RUSSIAN INVOLVEMENT IS ESSENTIAL
During his brief visit to Moscow on 2 December (see above), Ukrainian President Kuchma said that active Russian involvement is essential in resolving Ukraine's political crisis, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. "Without Russia's efforts it is impossible to find ways to overcome the political crisis," he said. "Otherwise Ukraine may lose its political identity." Kuchma also thanked State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov for taking part in roundtable negotiations on Ukraine's crisis as part of a group of international mediators. Kuchma added that if the crisis is not resolved, "we can predict economic consequences." BW
IS THE FEDERALIZATION OF UKRAINE IN THE CARDS?
National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii, who early this year predicted a political crisis in Ukraine (see "The Kremlin's Battle For Ukraine" [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/05/a3cc5af6-fde5-4032-af08-a8d6af4b6381.html]), wrote in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 48, that the crisis will be resolved via the formation of a coalition government including both Yushchenko and Yanukovych supporters as well as Socialists and Communists. He also wrote that reforms that will be implemented to end the crisis will include not only the redistribution of the balance of power (see above), but also the federalization of Ukraine. Belkovskii added that Russia should drop its unilateral support for Yanukovych and find other political allies in Ukraine. Such a position, he wrote, will reflect "the eclectic nature of Ukrainian state." VY
ELECTORAL COMMISSION HEAD SAYS UKRAINE-TYPE CRISIS IN RUSSIA IS IMPOSSIBLE
Central Elections Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii on 3 December that the political crisis that has developed in Ukraine could not possibly occur in Russia, Interfax reported. "We have different approaches to elections in the legal medium, to organizing voting and summing up the results," Veshnyakov said. "Technologically, the Russian elections system is much more effective, more open, and better controlled by the public." He added that "Russia's open election system gives no grounds for doubting election returns," as is the case in Ukraine's parliamentary and presidential elections. BW
PUTIN CRITICIZES WEST FOR HAVING A DOUBLE STANDARD ON TERRORISM...
President Putin said on 3 December that the West's tolerant attitude toward Chechen guerrilla leaders undermines the unity of the antiterrorism coalition and encourages their crimes, Interfax reported. The president criticized Western Europe and the United States for having a tolerant attitude toward the Chechen leadership elected in 1997, including President Aslan Maskhadov, Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, and Mashkadov's envoy in Europe Akhmed Zakaev -- all of whom the Kremlin has branded as terrorists. "Such steps undermine the unity and mutual trust of the participants in the antiterrorism front," Interfax quoted Putin as saying in an interview with India's "The Hindu" newspaper ahead of his visit. "There is no room for double standards in the antiterrorist fight. Otherwise such a struggle may become ineffective and pointless," Putin said. "Granting asylum to terrorists, their accomplices, and sponsors effectively justifies their crimes. Moreover it encourages them." BW
...AND EXPRESSES OPTIMISM ABOUT U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS
President Putin also said on 3 December that he is optimistic about the prospects for Russian-American relations during George W. Bush's second term as U.S. president, Interfax reported. "I am sure that Russian-American relations during George Bush's second term of office will be as dynamic and fruitful [as during his first term]," Putin said. "This does not mean that there are no differences between Russia and the United States, but we [will] resolve them through dialogue, proceeding from long-term interests of our countries." Putin also praised Bush for boosting Russian-U.S. cooperation, saying that "progress achieved in Russian-American relations over the past period has become possible thanks largely to George Bush's constructive efforts as a politician and statesman." BW
PRESIDENT PUTIN HEADS TO INDIA FOR STRATEGIC TALKS...
President Putin arrived on 3 December in New Delhi for a three-day visit in course of which he will meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the other Indian leaders, Russian and international media reported. Discussions on bilateral, regional, and international issues are on the agenda, and several important trade and cooperation agreements are expected to be signed. Among these agreements are ones on cooperation on military technology, one involving computers and high technology, space, and energy. Strana.ru reported on 11 November that the visit is expected to culminate with the inking of an energy-investment project worth $3 billion. Half of this sum would constitute investment in the Sakhalin-3 petrochemical project, and the other half would represent Indian investment in developing Russian oil and gas deposits in the Caspian. VY
...AS MOSCOW, NEW DEHLI AGREE ON JOINT MISSILE PRODUCTION
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 2 December signed an accord in New Dehli with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee under which the two countries agreed to invest further into the countries' joint production of Brahmos cruise missiles, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Both sides want to mass produce the sea-based missiles, which have a range of 290 kilometers, for sale to other countries. Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi, Ivanov said the two countries agreed to work out "mutually acceptable" conditions for the lease of Russian-made long-range TU-22 bombers to India. He said that Russia hopes for further arms deals with India, whose military is equipped largely with Soviet- and Russian-made weapons. VY
NEWSPAPER NAME 10 MOST INFLUENTIAL POLITICIANS IN RUSSIA
"Argumenty i fakty," No. 48, published a list compiled by political scientist Sergei Markov of the most powerful political fugues in Russia. President Putin topped the list, followed by the head of the presidential administration, Dmitrii Medvedev, and his deputy Vladislav Surkov. Ranked fourth is another Medvedev deputy, Igor Sechin; Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is given the fifth spot; and Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev is listed sixth. Rounding out the list are Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, respectively. VY
DUMA APPROVES OVERHAUL OF GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS
President Putin's plans to change the way Russia's regional governors are selected easily passed in the State Duma on 3 December, Russian and international news agencies reported. Under the bill, Russia's president would nominate governors, who would then be ratified by regional legislatures. The bill passed its third and final reading in the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, by a margin of 358-68. To become law, it must now be passed by the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, and be signed by Putin -- both of which are considered a formality. The lower house also passed the second reading of a bill on reforming the way parliament is elected. The bill would require registered political parties to have at least 50,000 members, and would have the entire Duma be elected by proportional representation from party lists. Currently half the Duma is elected from party lists and half from single-mandate districts. Liberals have assailed the controversial changes as a power grab by Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). BW
FSB DETAINS SUSPECT IN 1999 APARTMENT-BUILDING BOMBINGS...
The Federal Security Service (FSB) said on 2 December that it has detained a suspect in the apartment-building bombings that served as rationale for Russia's invasion of Chechnya in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. The FSB said it has detained Magomed Salikhov, a native of Daghestan who is suspected of helping to organize the 1999 bombings of two apartment buildings -- one in Buinaksk, Daghestan, and the other in Volgodonsk in the Rostov region. A series of bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk in the autumn of 1999 killed more than 300 people and were the official reason for the invasion of Chechnya that year. Critics have alleged that the blasts were the work of Russia's security services. Salikhov was taken into FSB custody on 11 November, the FSB said in a statement on 2 December. He was arrested in Baku and extradited to Russia. BW
...AND CLAIMS TO HAVE FOILED ANOTHER ATTACK
The FSB also said on 2 December that it prevented two men from blowing up a gas-distribution facility in the Astrakhan region in November, "The Moscow Times" reported on 3 December. The FSB said its agents intercepted the suspects, Adam Sultanovich Magomadov and Adam Salmanovich Magomadov, as they were trying to blow up the facility. Adam Sultanovich Magomadov was shot and killed while trying to resist, and Adam Salmanovich Magomadov was wounded and taken into custody. According to the FSB, the two had planned a "major" terrorist attack at a facility of "strategic importance." The FSB provided no further about either the planned attack or the gas plant. BW
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT APPROVES SUBSIDIES FOR REGIONS
The Russian government will give the country's regions 2.77 million rubles ($99.1 million) in subsidies to balance local budgets, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. According to an order signed the same day by Prime Minister Fradkov, the largest subsidies will go to the Kemerovo Region, which will receive over 176 million rubles ($6.3 million). The Irkutsk Region will receive approximately 161 million rubles ($5.75 million) and Daghestan nearly160 million rubles ($5.71 million). Other regions receiving substantial subsidies include Stavropol, Volgograd, Voronezh, Saratov, and Chita. BW
SENIOR POLITICIAN SLAIN IN DAGHESTAN
Akhmet Batalov, deputy mayor of Makhachkala, was gunned down early in 2 December outside his home in that city, Interfax reported. His killers managed to escape. Batalov was at least the third prominent political figure to be killed in Daghestan this year; several other assassination attempts failed. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASKS EU TO ADDRESS TURKISH 'BLOCKADE'
Robert Kocharian has written to his EU counterparts asking them to discuss Turkey's blockade of Armenia during the EU summit to be held on 17 December, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told Armenian Public Television on 1 December, according to Mediamax on 2 December as cited by Groong. Oskanian said that Yerevan considers it "unacceptable" that Turkey, which is on the brink of opening talks with the EU on its future accession, should keep permanently closed its borders with a state that is part of the EU's New Neighborhood Policy. Also on 2 December, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denounced as "unacceptable" the Slovak parliament vote on 30 November designating as genocide the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, AFP reported. LF
IMF RELEASES FINAL TRANCHE OF ARMENIAN PRGF LOAN
The IMF released on 2 December the sixth and final tranche, worth $13.7 million, of a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported, citing Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian. An IMF statement released in Washington the previous day commended the Armenian authorities for the country's "strong economic performance" in recent years, but warned at the same time that more must be done to tackle "deficiencies" in the customs and tax administration. Khachatrian said on 2 December that Armenia will seek a further three-year IMF credit despite the marked rise in the value of the Armenian dram vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar over the past year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June and 28 July 2004). LF
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST ARRESTED
Vugar Mamedov, editor of the newspapers "Hurriyet" and "Football+," was detained by police late on 1 December and may face charges of illegal business activity and acquiring property by deception, Turan reported on 2 December. The Department for Organized Crime has chosen to construe the publication of betting pools in "Football+" as organizing a lottery, which is illegal without the appropriate license. LF
ITALIAN BANK MAY QUIT CAUCASUS PIPELINE PROJECT
Banca Intesa, one of Italy's largest banks in terms of assets, has sold about one-third of its $60 million stake in the consortium building the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export pipeline for Caspian oil and is seeking to sell the remainder of that stake, the "Financial Times" reported on 2 December. The estimated cost of construction has risen from the original $2.6 billion to $3.6 billion, and Natik Aliev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, said recently that it could rise to $4 billion. The scheduled date for export of the first oil via the BTC pipeline is the second quarter of 2005. LF
RUSSIA BANS EXPORT, IMPORT OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE FROM ABKHAZIA...
Russian authorities imposed restrictions on 2 December on the transportation in either direction of agricultural produce across its border with the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Hitherto, people entering Russia from Abkhazia were permitted to transport up to 200 kilograms of produce; that amount has been cut to 5 kilograms. Abkhazia imports food from Russia, and many residents of the republic make their living by transporting tangerines to Russia for sale. Abkhaz Minister for the Economy and Foreign Economic Relations Konstantin Tuzhba told ITAR-TASS that the restrictions will have a negative impact, a view that is shared by presidential challenger Sergei Bagapsh. Caucasus Press on 3 December quoted Bagapsh as saying that Abkhaz residents are outraged by the Russian restrictions, as most of them have acquired Russian citizenship. He said that despite the Russian pressure he still intends to be inaugurated as president on 6 December. LF
...AS GEORGIA PROTESTS 'INTERFERENCE' IN ITS INTERNAL AFFAIRS
Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili told Interfax in an exclusive interview on 2 December that Russia's intervention in Abkhazia is "impermissible" and unacceptable. She said the arrival in Sukhum of Russian government officials "plays a negative role" in a difficult situation, and that the standoff in Abkhazia resulting from the dispute over the outcome of the 3 October presidential ballot should be resolved "naturally," without outside interference. She further stressed Tbilisi's interest in "political stability" in Abkhazia. LF
SOUTH OSSETIA REJECTS GEORGIAN CHARGES OF FAILURE TO DEMILITARIZE
South Ossetian Minister Without Portfolio Boris Chochiev rejected on 2 December claims by Georgian officials that the unrecognized republic has not taken any steps toward compliance with a demilitarization agreement signed with Georgia in early November, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). That agency quoted Chochiev as telling RIA-Novosti by telephone that South Ossetia has not fully met its obligations under that agreement because Georgia has not done so either. Also on 2 December, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava sent an official note to Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin protesting Russia's failure to prevent South Ossetia from holding military maneuvers, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS GOVERNMENT'S MEDIA POLICY
The opposition New Rightists released a statement on 2 December taking issue with the recommendations of a commission tasked with preparing the transformation of the first channel of Georgian state television into a public broadcaster, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. The New Rightists specifically decried the commission's recommendation that journalists employed by state television under former President Eduard Shevardnadze should not be offered employment with the new broadcaster. New Rightists leader said that proposal reflects an ongoing dangerous division of Georgian society into "us" and "them." LF
U.K. CITIZEN KILLED IN GEORGIA
A 28-year-old British man was found shot dead in his apartment in Tbilisi on 2 December, Caucasus Press reported. Police have determined that nothing was stolen from the premises, and have launched a murder investigation. LF
KAZAKH BANKS PROMISE TO STAY OUT OF POLITICS
The heads of seven major Kazakh banks issued a statement on 2 December pledging support for President Nursultan Nazarbaev's policies and promising to stay out of politics, Kazinform reported. Noting that the state must play the key role in maintaining the stability that is necessary for the development of the banking sector, the bankers stated, "We...affirm our support for the president's program for preserving social harmony and stability and building civil society in Kazakhstan." The bankers also promised to remain apolitical. "We consider it inadmissible for banks to participate in the activities and financing of political parties," they said. "We will carefully follow this line in our practical activities in order to ensure social and political stability." The seven banks were ATF Bank, Bank TuranAlem, Bank CenterCredit, Eurasian Bank, Kazkommertsbank, the Halyk Bank, and Nurbank. DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT UPBRAIDS EDUCATION MINISTER FOR TUITION HIKE
President Nazarbaev reprimanded Education Minister Zhaksybek Kulekeev at a meeting on 2 December for the latter's recent decision to raise student loans for tuition, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nazarbaev ordered the reversal of the decision increasing loan payments for students who received tuition assistance between 1999 and 2003. "Why should students pay for your mistakes?" Nazarbaev asked Kulekeev. "Educational institutions do not have the right to make students sign additional agreements." The minister had explained the decision, which angered students, as an attempt to keep pace with the rising cost of education. DK
CONTRADICTORY CLAIMS SURROUND KYRGYZ RIGHTS ACTIVIST
High-ranking officials from Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) and Interior Ministry said at a 2 December press conference that rights activist Tursunbek Akun staged his own disappearance, prompting denials from other rights defenders, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akun reappeared on 1 December after disappearing on 16 November, saying that he had been abducted by Kyrgyz security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). SNB Deputy Chairman Tokon Mamytov called attention to contradictions in Akun's account, adding: "The farce is over, but Tursunbek Akun overdid his role. He looks very good for a person who was held in a basement for two weeks," akipress.org reported. A doctor told journalists that Akun displayed no symptoms of trauma or poisoning, Public Educational TV reported. But Nurlan Motuev, cochairman of the People's Patriotic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, and Topchubek Turgunaliev, director of the Institute for Human Rights and Liberties, disputed the officials' claims, RFE/RL reported. For his part, Akun told RFE/RL on 2 December that he was held in a basement for two weeks by SNB officers in an attempt to force him to stop his petition campaign for the impeachment of President Askar Akaev. DK
ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK TO LEND KYRGYZSTAN, TAJIKISTAN $18.2 MILLION FOR CUSTOMS MODERNIZATION
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will lend Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan a total of $18.2 million to modernize their customs infrastructure, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 December, citing Interfax. Asel Asekimova, a spokesperson for the ADB in Kyrgyzstan, told Interfax that the bank's board approved the decision on 26 November. Kyrgyzstan will receive $7.5 million and Tajikistan $10.5 million. DK
UN REPRESENTATIVE SAYS HIV-POSITIVE CASES IN TAJIKISTAN COULD NUMBER 4,000
William Payton, UNDP resident representative in Tajikistan, told a national forum on 1 December, World AIDS Day, that up to 4,000 people in Tajikistan may be HIV-positive, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Only 317 cases have been officially registered. Payton noted that unless measures are taken, the number of cases could double each year. But Payton was optimistic, saying, "I am confident that Tajikistan has a real chance of stopping the wide spread of the infection. The country could serve as a good example of how the problem of AIDS can be solved." DK
OUSTED TURKMEN GOVERNOR FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES
Ishankuly Gulmuradov, who was removed as the governor of Dashoguz Province on 1 December for corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004), faces criminal charges, turkmenistan.ru reported on 2 December. Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova that Gulmuradov received $400,000 in bribes in one year. She added, however, that the former governor returned the money to the state in a single day. Atadjanova said that an investigation of wrongdoing by regional officials is continuing. DK
DEMARCATION OF TURKMEN-UZBEK BORDER BEGINS
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan began the demarcation of their 1,800-kilometer mutual border on 1 December, official news agencies from both countries reported. The start of the demarcation process, which was agreed on in a 2000 accord, follows a warming of bilateral relations after Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov met in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, for a one-day summit on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 22 November 2004). DK
UZBEK LEADER BLAMES UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES FOR CRISIS...
President Karimov told journalists in Tashkent on 2 December during a break in a session of parliament that the "shortsighted policy of Ukraine's leadership" has led to the current crisis there, RIA-Novosti reported. He criticized Russia as well, saying that "Russia's excessive demonstration of its interest in the election results has had a less than ideal effect on the situation," fergana.ru reported. But Karimov also appeared to draw a dismissive parallel between protests in Kyiv and Georgia's so-called Rose Revolution. "It's clearly visible how seriously stage-managed these events are," he said. "First people stand around for days near parliament, then power changes hands easily, as if by command. You can see this in Ukraine. The funds were supplied in advance, and the statements were planned in advance." DK
...AND ADDRESSES DOMESTIC ISSUES, WAR ON TERROR
In an address before parliament, President Karimov said that Uzbekistan needs to take the international community's concerns into account when it holds 26 December parliamentary elections, UzA reported. "We recognize the experience of the international community and developed democratic states," he said. "It is also advisable to accept their critical and, at the same time, objective recommendations and advice." Speaking to journalists during a break in the session, Karimov said that he personally supports abolishing the death penalty, but that Uzbek public opinion is not ready for such a move, Uzbek radio reported. He praised U.S. President George W. Bush for "taking the lead" in the war on terror and criticized Europe for failing to take the issue seriously enough. Karimov also noted that an amnesty set for 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004) will free more than 5,000 prisoners and reduce sentences for another 8,000-9,000. DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO SPUR DOMESTIC TOURISM
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 2 December called on the government to develop domestic tourist attractions to reduce travel abroad and encourage Belarusians to spend their money inside the country, Belapan reported. According to official data, Belarusian tourists take out of the country a total of $1 billion annually. "I would like this money to remain in our country," Lukashenka said. The Belarusian president stressed that the campaign to develop tourist attractions at home would result in more jobs for locals as is the case in the hilly Lahoysk District, which has experienced a tourist boom after two Alpine ski centers were constructed there. According to Lukashenka, over 3,000 Belarusians visit the area every weekend. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM IRAQ...
The Verkhovna Rada on 3 December passed a resolution authorizing the pullout of the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq, Ukrainian media reported. The resolution was backed by 257 deputies. To become law, it must be signed by President Leonid Kuchma. The withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Iraq is one of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's election promises. It is noteworthy that just 24 out of 100 deputies of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus voted for the resolution, which was supported primarily by deputies from the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and pro-Kuchma groups. JM
...AND MOVES TO FREEZE PRICES FOR HOUSEHOLD COMMODITIES
The Verkhovna Rada on 3 December passed a resolution intended to prevent a financial crisis and a "further reduction of cash settlements between enterprises and the state budget" in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. The resolution was backed by 385 deputies. It obliges the government to freeze prices for household appliances at the level of those standing on 30 November. JM
UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS PROPOSE THEIR LEADER AS HEAD OF INTERIM CABINET
Socialist Party lawmaker Yuriy Lutsenko proposed at a session of the Verkhovna Rada on 3 December that a new parliamentary coalition be formed to run an interim government of "national salvation" in order to address the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. According to Lutsenko, such a government could function for some two months and be headed by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. The Verkhovna Rada passed a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Yanukovych's cabinet on 1 December but Yanukovych refused to quit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). JM
OPPOSITION LEADER TO TAKE 'ADEQUATE MEASURES' IF UKRAINIAN RUNOFF NOT REPEATED
Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko reiterated his stance to a crowd of backers on Independence Square in Kyiv on 2 December that he is interested in a rerun of the 21 November presidential runoff, not the whole presidential election, Ukrainian media reported. "Remember, speaking about a [totally] new election will lead to a catastrophe in Ukraine," he said. Yushchenko warned that if, following a verdict of the Supreme Court on the 21 November runoff, the authorities fail to agree to a rerun of the second round, the opposition will take "adequate measures." JM
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT WANTS NEW PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF IN UKRAINE
The European Parliament on 2 December passed a resolution on the situation in Ukraine condemning the 21 November presidential runoff in Ukraine as apparently fraudulent and rejecting the Central Election Commission's decision that declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner, the European Parliament website (http://www.europarl.eu.int) reported. The European Parliament called on the Ukrainian authorities to annul the official results of the runoff and hold an honest rerun of the second round before the end of this year with the participation of international observers. The resolution also called on Ukrainian protesters to allow the normal functioning of Ukraine's state organs and to refrain from barricading the main buildings of these organs. JM
FORMER BOSNIAN SERB COMMANDER GOES TO THE HAGUE
Carla Del Ponte, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said in Sarajevo on 3 December that war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Dragomir Milosevic will soon leave Belgrade on a flight to The Hague, Reuters and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. It is not clear whether he turned himself in voluntarily, or where he has been in recent years. Unnamed Serbian government officials in Belgrade refused to comment when contacted by journalists about the matter. The tribunal indicted Milosevic in 1998 in a sealed indictment that was made public in November 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2001). He was charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, together with the Bosnian Serb army's former chief of staff, General Stanislav Galic, with regard to the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo. The tribunal noted that "because of the shelling and sniping against civilians, the life of every Sarajevo inhabitant became a daily struggle to survive." Milosevic is a fairly common Serbian name, and the former general is no relation to the best-known resident of the tribunal's detention facility. PM
HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS BOSNIA MAY TRY SOME INDICTEES
The Hague-based tribunal's chief prosecutor Del Ponte said in Sarajevo on 2 December that the Bosnian judiciary is now capable of trying some war crimes cases itself. She noted that the tribunal has "prepared seven cases to be transferred to the War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Court, so the trials can start in January next year." PM
U.S. STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF CATCHING BOSNIAN WAR CRIMINALS
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 2 December that arresting leading Bosnian Serb war crimes indictees Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic remains a top priority even though NATO's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina has ended, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November and 2 December 2004). "The [current] U.S. policy on this is to apprehend these people and to lend every possible assistance to forces in the region and to people in the region who need to participate in that effort," Boucher said. PM
HAGUE TRIBUNAL CONDITIONALLY RELEASES TWO CROATIAN GENERALS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal said in a statement on 2 December that it will soon release on bail the former Croatian Generals Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak pending the start of their trials for war crimes they allegedly committed during the Croatian Army's Operation Storm against Serbian rebels in August 1995, Reuters reported. The two are charged with participating with the late President Franjo Tudjman in a "joint criminal enterprise...[for the] forcible and permanent" removal of the Serbian population from the Dalmatian hinterland. The two men must report to the police weekly and not contact each other prior to their trial, the date for which has not been set. They voluntarily turned themselves in to the tribunal in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 March 2004). PM
FORMER MACEDONIAN PREMIER AGAIN RAISES CORRUPTION CHARGES
Former Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov met with state prosecutors in Skopje on 2 December to share his insights into some cases of alleged corruption in the administration, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). In particular, Kostov talked about cases relating to documents for the transport of goods into the EU, the selling of two plots of land in downtown Skopje, and approval for 120 base stations for cell-phone networks. The former prime minister also said that he informed his coalition partners of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) about the cases but received no response. Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku of the BDI had jurisdiction over those bodies responsible for the alleged corruption. In response to Kostov's claims, BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti confirmed that Kostov spoke to BDI leader Ali Ahmeti about the matter but added that Buxhaku was never directly charged with corruption, the private A1 TV reported on 2 December. Because of the allegations, Vlado Buckovski, who is about to succeed Kostov, has reservations about keeping Buxhaku in the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 December 2004). UB
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT'S MAKEUP MAKES GOVERNMENT'S FORMATION PROBLEMATIC...
The distribution of seats in the new parliament elected on 28 November might make the formation of a ruling coalition problematic, according to data published by Mediafax on 2 December. The Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party (PUR) alliance has 132 seats in the 332-seat lower house, where it might be able to forge a majority with the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) (22 seats) and the 18 representatives of other national minorities that traditionally back ruling parties. Those national minorities are not represented in the 137-seat Senate, where the PSD-PUR has 57 senators and the UDMR has 10. The National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance is represented in the new legislature by 112 deputies and 49 senators. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) has 48 deputies and 21 senators (see also End Note, 2 December 2004). MS
...AS OUTGOING PREMIER REJECTS PRM OPTION
Outgoing Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, speaking in Arad on 2 December, ruled out forming a ruling coalition with the extremist PRM, Mediafax reported. Nastase said this option would "create serious communication problems with the United States and the EU." He said the PRM must undergo a process of modernization and "adapt itself to European standards." Nastase said that "at this moment, a coalition partnership with the PRM would be difficult -- to avoid using the word impossible." According to the daily "Adevarul," Nastase announced he has filed a lawsuit against PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who claimed in an article printed ahead of the elections in the weekly "Romania mare" to have proof that Nastase is a homosexual. MS
UDMR OPTS FOR RE-ALLYING ITSELF WITH ROMANIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS...
UDMR Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Borbely told Reuters on 2 December that his political formation will try to set up a ruling coalition with the PSD. Earlier on 2 December, UDMR senator Gyorgy Frunda told journalists that the ethnic Hungarian party would no longer agree to back the PSD in parliament without being represented in the government as well, Mediafax reported. Frunda also said his party will continue to pursue within the government its demand for autonomy for ethnic Hungarians. UDMR Covasna County Chairman Albert Almos said that among UDMR's demands is the appointment of an ethnic Hungarian as Covasna County prefect. The demand was promptly rejected by PSD Covasna branch chairman Adrian Vlad Casunean. MS
...BUT CONFLICT LOOMS OVER DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR ROMANIA'S HUNGARIANS
PSD presidential candidate Nastase said on 2 December while campaigning in Arad that it would be "against European practice" for Hungary to grant dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, Mediafax reported. A referendum on that possibility is to take place in Hungary on 5 December. The UDMR and its chairman, Marko Bela, expressed support for the Hungarian opposition FIDESZ-backed initiative. Nastase said the move is part of FIDESZ's "electoral gimmicks" two years ahead of the Hungarian parliamentary elections. Senator Frunda retorted that Nastase's statements are themselves "electoral." Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is slated for the prime minister's post by the PSD, sent his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Somogyi a letter on this matter, according to ministry spokesman Catalin Ionita. Ionita said Romania's government "shares the opinion" of the Hungarian cabinet, which opposes FIDESZ's initiative. Nastase said later in Oradea that he would agree to dual citizenship if it were limited to "special cases" rather than a right to which all ethnic Hungarians would be entitled. MS
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS OF ELECTORAL FRAUD
Foreign Minister and aspiring premier Geoana said on 2 December that the government will investigate allegations by opposition PNL-Democratic Party presidential candidate Traian Basescu and civil society organizations that the 28 November ballot was fraudulent, AP reported. Nastase said in Oradea the same day that the difference between the elections in Romania and Ukraine is that in the latter the ballot was indeed fraudulent, while in Romania "there have been [counting] errors that did not affect the elections' result." European Commission enlargement spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said the same day in Brussels that the elections "seem to have been conducted in an orderly manner" and the commission does not "see any direct link with the conduct of accession negotiations" with Bucharest, Reuters reported. MS
TRANSDNIESTRIAN SEPARATIST LEADER OPPOSES CHANGE IN NEGOTIATIONS FRAMEWORK
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov said on 2 December that Transdniester will oppose any attempt to change the current five-sided negotiations format, ITAR-TASS reported. Smirnov was commenting on the Moldova-proposed Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM), which would grant observer status to the EU and the United States in the negotiations. The proposal is to be discussed at the 6-7 December meeting in Sofia of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Also on 2 December, a statement released by the Transdniestrian "Foreign Ministry" said the current format of the negotiations "is inviolable, and may be changed only with the consent of all participants," Infotag reported. Aside from Moldova and Transdniester, the current format includes the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine as mediators. MS
AVOIDING A NEW EAST-WEST RIFT OVER UKRAINE
For hundreds of thousands of people displaying orange ribbons and banners who have been protesting in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities against the officially announced results of the presidential runoff on 21 November, it is of little importance that opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is "pro-Western" or that his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, is "pro-Russian." Most pro-Yushchenko demonstrators support him primarily because he has promised to oust "criminal clans" from power in Kyiv and improve the livelihood of ordinary Ukrainians, not because of his foreign-policy platform.
However, both Ukraine's "criminal clans" and Yushchenko's presidential rival come from the eastern part of the country, which traditionally has deep economic, historical, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic ties with Russia. Russia's financial and propagandistic support for Yanukovych in the presidential campaign thus unavoidably transformed the Ukrainian vote -- which was essentially a choice between the political continuity represented by the prime minister and the political change embodied by Yushchenko -- into a geopolitical choice between West and East.
The West, too, has considerably even if indirectly contributed to making the Ukrainian ballot a confrontation of external forces in addition to that of domestic ones. Many Western politicians and analysts have made no secret of the fact that they prefer "pro-Western" Yushchenko to "pro-Russian" Yanukovych, as if seeking to invite a Russian response. So it is no wonder that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally traveled to Ukraine before each of the election's two rounds to assure Ukrainian voters that Moscow's sympathies were unambiguously with Yanukovych. And Putin has already twice congratulated Yanukovych on winning the election. Putin's first congratulatory message came one day after the 21 November polling, when Ukraine's Central Election Commission was still tallying the vote. This fact alone is a good indicator of the Kremlin's eagerness to install Yanukovych as president in Kyiv.
A Western reaction to the Ukrainian presidential runoff came on 25 November. U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell rejected the officially announced results, according to which Yanukovych beat Yushchenko by nearly 3 percent of the vote, and warned Ukrainian authorities of "consequences" for U.S.-Ukrainian relations if they do not investigate "the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse." The Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, said the same day that the official results do not reflect the will of the Ukrainian people and called on Ukrainian authorities "to redress election irregularities" reported by foreign observers. Thus Washington and Brussels have jointly confronted Moscow along what seems to be a new Cold War fault line opened in Ukraine.
Can the threat of a new Cold War be averted? It can, provided that the Kremlin does not encourage incumbent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to suppress the ongoing "orange revolution" by force. The decision by Ukraine's Supreme Court to suspend the certification of the official election results until it examines Yushchenko's complaints of massive electoral fraud has left room for political dialogue and compromise in Ukraine. But if the Ukrainian authorities use forceful means to instate Yanukovych, Ukraine will likely be transformed into a hotbed of new confrontation between Russia and the West. And this will be the worst possible scenario for Ukraine. Because Ukraine cannot choose Russia versus the West (or the West versus Russia, for that matter). In order to survive as a single state, Ukraine needs to choose Russia and the West simultaneously, however schizophrenic that might sound.
Theoretically, the Supreme Court may reject Yushchenko's complaints or support them. The latter might entail invalidation of the vote in some electoral constituencies and a subsequent vote recount. According to the opposition, a vote recount could award the election victory to Yushchenko. Yushchenko alleges that electoral authorities illegally added more than 3 million votes to Yanukovych's support, primarily in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the east and Mykolayiv Oblast in the south. The vote gap between Yanukovych and Yushchenko, as announced by the Central Election Commission, amounts to some 870,000 votes. There is also a possibility that, following a political deal between the Yushchenko and Yanukovych camps, the 21 November vote might be invalidated and a new election called. (The current presidential election law does not provide for such a possibility.)
Kuchma has ruled out the possibility of authorities being the first to use force in the current crisis. Such a possibility is becoming increasingly problematic as police and security-service officers join the protests and pledge allegiance to the "people's president," Yushchenko. However, a strong-arm scenario for resolving the Ukrainian postelection impasse cannot be excluded completely. Kuchma still seems to be in full control of riot-police units and special-task troops that are now guarding the presidential administration and government offices in Kyiv.
As for Russia's role in the Ukrainian standoff, it should be noted that President Putin has misjudged the situation on two important points. First, he obviously did not expect that Ukrainians would take to the streets to back Yushchenko on such a massive scale. While commenting on Ukraine at a Russia-EU summit in The Hague on 25 November, Putin seemed to back down on his previous assurance that the election was indisputably won by Yanukovych. Putin noted that the election is Ukraine's internal affair and added that any election disputes should be resolved by in a legal way. "And we know what the legal way is -- all claims should be sent to the court," he said.
Second, Putin appears to have overrated the threat to Russian interests posed by Yushchenko's potential presidency. This is a curious miscalculation, given Yushchenko's record in the post of Ukrainian prime minister in 1999-2001. In that period, Yushchenko halted the decline in Russian-Ukrainian trade and put an end to the main irritant in bilateral relations -- the theft of Russian gas pumped to Europe via Ukrainian pipelines. Yushchenko also opened the Ukrainian market for major Russian companies and made the privatization process in Ukraine a highly transparent business. For Yushchenko, Russia remains Ukraine's strategic partner. In other words, Yushchenko is far from a Ukrainian replica of Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power in Georgia thanks to a "Rose Revolution" one year ago. Saakashvili nearly provoked armed clashes with Russian troops while trying to subjugate Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia to central rule. Yushchenko is a pragmatist who would be unlikely to resort to such adventurous policies in relations with Russia.
So why has Putin put his stake on Yanukovych after all? The most plausible answer is that the Kremlin saw in Yanukovych a perfect candidate for running a client regime in Ukraine, which would be isolated from the West and dependent primarily on Mother Russia, as the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus. According to this line of reasoning, Putin's Russia has eventually recovered from the trauma inflicted by the breakup of the Soviet Union and is now seeking to restore some of its lost domain under the name of Single Economic Space. Thus, Yanukovych's election platform calling to abandon Ukraine's aspirations to seek NATO and EU membership as well as promising to make Russian the second official language and introduce dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship in Ukraine is fully consistent with such "neo-imperial" sentiments in Russia.
It is another matter whether Yanukovych, if declared president, can deliver on his promises. His proposals to give official status to Russian and introduce dual citizenship would require a change in the constitution, which is a difficult task under the best of circumstances, let alone after an inauguration following such a bitter postelection standoff. As for Yanukovych's pledge to create favorable conditions for Russian businesses in Ukraine after his election, that should not be taken for granted, either. The "Donetsk clan" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report" 26 November and 10 December 2002), of which Yanukovych is a faithful representative and disciple, has its own peculiar way of doing business. Earlier this year Yanukovych's cabinet conducted the notorious privatization of Kryvorizhstal, the country's largest metallurgical plant, in which the company was sold to Yanukovych's political and economic partner, Rinat Akhmetov from Donetsk, and Viktor Pinchuk, President Kuchma's son-in-law, for a sum that was reportedly less than half the figures offered by Russian and Western bidders.
However, irrespective of who wins power in Ukraine, it is highly advisable that the West not give up its efforts to encourage Ukraine's aspirations for integration into Europe. An anticipated West-leaning government headed by Yushchenko would surely expect some financial and other support from the West in return for its pro-Western policies. And Yushchenko should unreservedly obtain such assistance.
The same is equally, if not more, applicable to Yanukovych's presidency. The pro-Western electorate in Ukraine should in no way be allowed to feel abandoned or betrayed by Europe. As demonstrated in the case of Belarus, isolating an anti-Western regime does not guarantee that the country will become more democratic.
U.S. ENVOY CALLS FOR THE NEO-TALIBAN TO END AFGHAN FIGHTING...
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on 2 December called on the neo-Taliban militias to end their struggle against the central government in Kabul, international news agencies reported. "The continuation of armed resistance against the elected government [in Afghanistan] is not only against the will of the Afghan people, but is also against Islam, which commands obedience to the legitimate authority," Khalilzad said, according to Reuters on 2 December. The U.S. envoy promised that those members of the neo-Taliban who pledge allegiance to the central government "will not be punished." Since April, Khalilzad has favored amnesty for all members of the former Taliban regime, with the exception of 100-150 officials who allied themselves with terrorists and committed crimes against humanity (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April, 25 October, and 8 November 2004). However, Lieutenant General Eric Olson, the operational commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said on 30 November that only around six neo-Taliban fighters have capitulated, AP reported 2 December. AT
...BUT THE OFFER IS REJECTED
Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban on 2 December, rejected Khalilzad's amnesty offer, Reuters reported. "The door of reconciliation and peace is not open to us," Hakimi said, adding that Khalilzad's comments were only "a deception." According to Hakimi, the problem of Afghanistan cannot be solved through peaceful means. Hamed Agha, also claming to speak for the neo-Taliban, had earlier rejected the reports that some members of the militia were in contact with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). AT
RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NO TO COMPROMISE WITH THE NEO-TALIBAN
Sergei Ivanov during a visit to India on 1 December said that dividing the neo-Taliban into "good" and "bad" factions is unacceptable to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia and India are "concerned about the attempts to Pashtunize Afghanistan," Ivanov said, referring to the Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan to which most members of the neo-Taliban belong. The policy of reconciliation with the neo-Taliban is tantamount to "starting a new war," Ivanov warned. "The so-called immoderate members of the Taliban are alive and kicking as well as the moderate ones...[who] walk the streets and make claims to be incorporated in the new Afghan government," the Russian Defense Minister added. Reports about efforts to include some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan's future administration have circulated since October 2003, when the United States reportedly released former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil who, according to a 17 October report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, intends to form a new political party (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July, 18 September, 9, 16, 23, and 30 October 2003; and 4 March and 10 June 2004). New Delhi and Moscow were staunch opponents of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. AT
U.S. REJECTS REPORTS THAT IT SPRAYED AFGHAN OPIUM FIELDS
Ambassador Khalilzad on 2 December rejected reports that the United States has sprayed opium-poppy fields in Afghanistan with chemicals, Reuters reported. The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, while stating that he was not certain who had sprayed the fields, added that he can say "categorically at this point that the United States has not done it." In early November, eyewitnesses reported seeing U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants on poppy fields in the Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. Later, the Afghan government said that it would not allow any country to carry out aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides, but failed to name the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November and 1 December 2004). Khalilzad speculated that perhaps "some drug-associated people may have" carried out the spraying to create distrust between "Afghanistan and some of its allies." AT
IRANIAN MILITANT GROUP MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF 1983 MARINE BOMBING
The Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement -- which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps -- on 2 December commemorated the 1983 suicide bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, in which 241 Americans were killed, Reuters reported. The event took place at Behesht-i Zahra cemetery, where about 200 men and women chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." The Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement began enrolling volunteer suicide bombers in May, and more volunteers were enrolled at this event. BS
IRAN STAGES NEW ROUND OF MILITARY EXERCISES
Brigadier General Nasir Mohammadifar, commander of Iran's regular ground forces, announced on 2 December that the country's biggest-ever military exercises will begin on 3 December, state radio reported. Codenamed "Followers of the Rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent" (Payrovan-i Vilayat), the exercises will take place in the southwestern provinces of Hamedan, Ilam, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, and Luristan. Mohammadifar said participants in the exercises will include airborne technicians, artillery units, missile units, and electronic warfare units. Rather than emphasizing conventional warfare, Mohammadifar said, asymmetric warfare will be employed. The purpose of this, according to the state radio, is "so that constant blows will be imposed on the enemy, without the enemy knowing from where the blows are coming." Naval war games took place in the Persian Gulf in late-November, and officials said these emphasized asymmetric warfare. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT ENCOURAGES HIGH VOTER TURNOUT
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, at the legislature on 2 December, said that Iran stands "on the brink of another historical moment, namely the elections, and we must meet the conditions for a massive and hopeful participation of the people in order to hold a lively election," IRNA reported. Khatami went on to say that a "totalitarian culture" precludes fulfilling public demands and achieving democracy. At the Mardom Salari party's 2 December congress in Tehran, Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that he still has not made up his mind on running for president, IRNA reported. BS
IRANIAN CONSERVATIVES UNDECIDED ON A CANDIDATE
The hard-line Islamic Coalition Party's secretary-general, Mohammad Nabi Habibi, said on 2 December in Tabriz that his organization will not back a candidate other than the one backed by the overall "fundamentalist trend," IRNA reported. Habibi said the most important thing in the upcoming presidential election is a high public turnout. "Opinion polls show that [Ayatollah Ali-Akbar] Hashemi-Rafsanjani is ahead of [Ali-Akbar] Velayati, [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad, and [Ali] Larijani, and he can win the presidential election if he decides to enter the election race," Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani said during a question-and-answer session at the Al-Hadi seminary in Qom on 2 December, Fars News Agency reported. Fallahian said Tehran Mayor Ahmadinejad is a competent official who is viewed more favorably that Velayati or Larijani, but the conservatives have not decided whether to back or reject his candidacy. If Hashemi-Rafsanjani decides against being a candidate, Fallahian speculated, then the conservatives probably will back Velayati. BS
IRAQ SEEKS DEBT RELIEF FROM ARAB CREDITORS
Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi announced on 1 December that he will seek a generous debt forgiveness plan from Arab states, the "Financial Times" reported. "We expect our Arab brothers will give us the highest reduction rate," al-Mahdi said. "Any negotiations should start with the 80 percent rate." At a November meeting of the Paris Club of creditor nations, approximately 80 percent of Iraq's debt was waived (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). Iraqi officials had sought a 95 percent debt reduction from the Paris Club. A third of Iraq's estimated $120 billion debt is owed to Arab countries. Most of the debt was incurred during the Iran-Iraq War and has previously been disputed by Iraq. EA
IRAQ SEEKS TO LIMIT KURDISH REBELS
Iraqi interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said on 2 December that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), now officially known as the Kurdistan Democracy and Freedom Congress, will not be allowed to operate in Iraq, but added that the country does not have the forces necessary to expel the group, NTV reported. On a visit to Ankara, al-Ja'fari said that he will not allow the rebel Kurdish faction to use Iraq as a base of operations, but that his priorities are stabilizing the country, not confronting the PKK. "We strongly reject such activities," al-Ja'fari said of the PKK's terrorist activities. "We would not like to disturb either Turkey, Iran, nor Syria. We will try to resolve it step by step." The PKK has launched a violent struggle over the past 15 years for Kurdish self rule. Turkey believes that there were between 4,500 and 5,000 PKK rebels in Iraq, AFP reported. EA
TROOPS RAID FORMER BA'ATHIST STRONGHOLD
U.S. and British troops launched an assault near Iskandariyah, some 40 kilometers south of Baghdad, on 2 December, Reuters reported. The area has been a center of violence and the site of numerous attacks. Troops raided several villas that were previously occupied by high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime. U.S. forces now believe that many of the homes are being used to store weapons used by insurgents. The raid was part of a new effort dubbed Operation Plymouth Rock that involves aggressive measures to confront the insurgents. U.S.-led forces have captured 210 militants in the week-long operation, AP reported. EA
CAR BOMB DETONATES IN NORTHERN BAGHDAD
Militants detonated a car bomb in northern Baghdad on 3 December, killing at least 14 and wounding 19, international media reported. The circumstances surrounding the bombing remain unclear. Reuters reported that the attack in the Sunni dominated Al-Adhamiyah neighborhood targeted a Shi'ite mosque. AP reported, however, that the bomb was detonated during clashes between security forces and militants around a police station. Al-Jazeera reported that a base for U.S. troops in the neighborhood came under heavy mortar attack on 3 December, resulting in sporadic clashes. Meanwhile, militants attacked a police department near the Iraqi International Airport, burning vehicles and seizing weapons, Al-Arabiyah reported on 3 December. Reuters reported that militants stormed the police station after hitting it with mortars, and hunted down police officers inside the building. Six policemen were wounded and several reportedly killed. Militants freed about 50 prisoners from the station's jail before fleeing, the news agency reported. KR