TAX MINISTRY GOES AFTER MOBILE-PHONE OPERATOR...
The Tax Ministry has filed a claim against Vympelcom, Russia's second-largest mobile-phone company, for 4.4 billion rubles ($157.8 million) in back taxes and penalties for 2001, "Vedomosti" and other media reported on 8 December. Vympelcom, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is headed by Dmitrii Zimin, who together with a group of specialists from the Soviet military-industrial complex founded the company in 1992. Market analysts fear that Vympelcom could share the fate of the embattled oil giant Yukos, "Vedomosti" reported. The paper noted "that the next target of the authorities could be the financial-industrial group Alfa, which is one of the major shareholders of Vympelcom." VY
...AS ANOTHER YUKOS OFFICIAL IS DETAINED
Svetlana Bakhtina, the deputy head of Yukos's Moscow legal department, was arrested on 7 December on the orders of the Prosecutor-General's Office and taken into custody, newru.com. She is accused of "embezzlement as a member of an organized-crime group." The Prosecutor-General's Office also issued an international warrant for the head of Yukos's Moscow legal department, Dmitrii Gololobov, who is now in Britain, newru.com reported. Meanwhile, an unnamed Yukos representative said that by persecuting the company's legal staff, the authorities are trying to weaken the company's defenses and to disrupt its operations. VY
MILITARY PROSECUTOR RESURRECTS CASE AGAINST UKRAINIAN OPPOSITIONIST
Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov told journalists on 8 December that his agency has sent documents to Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, to support his case against Yuliya Tymoshenko, an Ukrainian opposition leader, whom he is accusing of financial crimes, RTR and rbk.com reported. He has accused Tymoshenko, who was deputy prime minister and head of Unified Energy Systems in Ukraine in the 1990s, of involvement in the payment of bribes to Defense Ministry officials to facilitate the signing at overvalued prices of contracts with Ukrainian companies. In September, Savenkov's office opened a legal case against Tymoshenko and sent her file to Interpol. On 8 December, RTR and NTV reported that an electronic dossier on Tymoshenko was posted on Interpol's website (http://www.interpol.int). The dossier was reportedly removed the same day "for lack of sufficient proof." VY
PUTIN ENVOY SAYS ONLY YANUKOVYCH CAN SAVE UKRAINE
Speaking to journalists on 8 December in Kazakhstan, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said that only the victory of the pro-Moscow presidential candidate and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych can save the country from disintegration, mosnews.com reported. Gryzlov, who was a Russian mediator and President Putin's envoy during the recent political crisis in Ukraine, said, "Only the victory of the pro-Russian candidate [Yanukovych]...can save the country from collapse." VY
RUSSIAN COMMENTATORS PREDICT DISINTEGRATION OF OSCE...
Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the Federation Council's International Relations Committee, told gazeta.ru on 8 December that he is satisfied with the position taken by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the recent OSCE foreign ministers' conference in Sofia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 December 2004). "The OSCE is the most senseless organization in Europe. Since the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the OSCE has transformed into a trough for loafers and international officials," Margelov said. Writing in "Izvestiya" on 8 December, commentator Nina Ratiani said: "The lack of a concluding political declaration and the disagreement between Russia and the West over Moldova and Ukraine is testimony to the likely disintegration of the OSCE." VY
...BUT NOT RESUMPTION OF COLD WAR
According to Margelov, a new Cold War between Russia and the United States will not develop, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 9 December. "We have a market economy and we are allies against international terrorism. To be in disagreement does not mean to be hostile," he said. Eurasia party head Aleksandr Dugin also told "Komsomolskaya pravda" that "Russia should increase its strength as the United States will be a friend only of a [country] like the Soviet Union." Deputy Duma Speaker Sergei Baburin said: "Our relations with the United States cannot be called friendly, but they are developing. Neither Iraq, nor Ukraine will lead us into a new Cold War." Sergei Belkovskii, the director of the National Strategy Institute, said: "We are not moving toward a new Cold War. The vast majority of the Russian elite has accounts in U.S. banks and property abroad, which could be damaged in the case of a Cold War." VY
UPPER HOUSE PASSES BILL RAISING MEMBERSHIP THRESHOLD FOR PARTIES
The Federation Council approved on 8 December a bill raising the minimum number of members of political parties from 10,000 to 50,000, Russian news agencies reported. Under the bill, parties must have no less than 250 members in each of their regional branches. The vote was 131 in favor with zero against and one abstention, according to Interfax. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has previously spoken out against the bill, nevertheless, it easily passed in the Duma earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004). JAC
NTV CENSURES ITS JOURNALIST
NTV's press service announced on 8 December that Aleksei Pivovarov, a host of "Strana i Mir," has been suspended from appearing on live broadcasts until the end of the year, Ekho Moskvy reported. An unidentified source in the television company told lenta.ru that the reason for the decision was Pivovarov's comment during a report on 7 December about the appointment of former NTV broadcaster Leonid Parfenov as the editor of the Russian edition of "Newsweek." Pivovarov said that Parfenov's decision to work at a weekly "proves the thesis that it is better to write in today's Russia than talk." Earlier this year, Parfenov was himself dismissed after he released to the media a written instruction from NTV Deputy General Director for News Aleksandr Gerasimov ordering him to remove from his program an interview with the widow of former acting Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 June 2004). NTV Assistant Director for Media Relations Maria Bezborodova said that Pivovarov violated journalistic ethics by using an information program to air his personal views. JAC
ELECTION TSAR MAKES NEW SUGGESTION
Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov said on 8 December that a bill that will establish one day of the year to hold regional elections, the second Sunday in March, will be submitted to the Duma by the middle of December, ITAR-TASS reported. A reserve day for voting will be a Sunday in October. If a bill canceling gubernatorial elections passed by the Federation Council on 8 December is signed into law by President Putin, then those governors who were elected before the law came into force will serve until the end of their terms, according to Aleksandr Kotenkov, presidential envoy to the Federation Council, NTV reported. All gubernatorial elections that were scheduled to take place before the law comes into force will be held in line with old legislation. JAC
ENERGY UTILITY PULLS PLUG ON PACIFIC FLEET
Kamchatskenergo cut supplies of heat and hot water to Defense Ministry organizations in Kamchatka Oblast on 8 December because of a backlog of unpaid utility bills, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported. A utility spokesman argued that the company had the right to do so in accordance with a 2002 governmental decree; however, Assistant Chief Military Prosecutor Mikhail Yanenko announced that his office has launched an investigation of the incident. According to lenta.ru, the Defense Ministry consumes one-third of the energy in the oblast. According to gazeta.ru, electricity and hot water supplies were turned back on after Kamchatskenergo received a letter from the deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet Vladimir Balan promising that some 147 million rubles ($5.2 million) of debt would be paid by 25 December. The incident occurred some 10 days before the second round of gubernatorial elections in the oblast. Voters will choose on 19 December between incumbent Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev and Ust-Kamchatskii Raion head Boris Nevzorov. JAC
DUMA DEPUTY ACCUSES ORT COMMENTATOR OF ANTI-ISLAMIC REMARKS
Motherland Duma Deputy Shamil Sultanov has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the possible prosecution of ORT TV host Vladimir Pozner for inciting interethnic hatred with comments he made on a program that aired on 14 November, lenta.ru reported on 8 December. According to Sultanov, Pozner voiced "anti-Islamic" sentiments during a report on the murder of Dutch director Theo Van Gogh. According to a transcript of the program, Pozner said: "Gradually a completely different kind of feeling is building up in me, where along with others [I take] up a Kalashnikov or something else." Pozner confirmed, "Yes, I said that. I was very open." JAC
CHECHEN PARLIAMENT APPEALS TO UN
Akhyad Idigov, chairman of the Chechen parliament elected in 1997 under President Aslan Maskhadov, has written to the UN to request that a session of the UN Security Council be convened to address "the brutal extermination of the Chechen nation by the Russian Army and special services," chechenpress.info reported on 9 December. Idigov said that over 250,000 Chechens, or 25 percent of the republic's population, have been killed, and thousands of people have been summarily taken hostage, including elderly relatives of Maskhadov whose release Idigov asks the UN to insist upon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). Idigov argues that the Chechen people's struggle for national liberation should not be conflated with international terrorism. LF
EXPLOSION DAMAGES CAUCASUS GAS PIPELINE
An explosion badly damaged the Mozdok-Kazimagomed gas pipeline near Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, late on 8 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Over 20 people, including two firefighters, were injured by the resulting conflagration. Some 50 meters of pipe will need to be replaced; consequently, supplies of natural gas to northern Azerbaijan have been temporarily halted, Turan reported on 9 December. LF
ARMENIAN COALITION PARTIES AGREE 'IN PRINCIPLE' ON ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS
Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on 8 December that his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has reached agreement "in principle" with its junior coalition partners, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation --Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) and Orinats Yerkir, on amending the election law, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Markarian added that the HHK board has not yet endorsed the agreement. The HHK was previously unwilling to agree to the joint HHD and OY demand that the number of seats in the 131-member legislature allocated under the party list system be increased from the present 75 to 91 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September, 21 October, 4 and 30 November and 6 December 2004). Parliament will debate the proposed amendments when it reconvenes in February after the winter recess. LF
ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPROVES DISPATCH OF PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
Following deliberations on 8 December, Armenia's Constitutional Court ruled that there are no obstacles to the dispatch of a contingent of Armenian military doctors and engineers to Iraq to serve as part of a Polish-coordinated peacekeeping force there, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said the deployment is contingent on the Armenians performing only humanitarian tasks and on their physical separation from a larger Azerbaijani contingent that is also serving under the Polish command. Sarkisian was optimistic that the Armenian parliament will give approval to the proposed deployment. The small opposition Artarutiun bloc opposes the deployment, and some prominent members of the HHD have expressed serious reservations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 September 2004). Also on 8 December, Noyan Tapan reported, citing an Armenian Foreign Ministry press release, that the attack the previous day on an Armenian church in Mosul was motivated by purely religious, not ethnic animosity. LF
KARABAKH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW ELECTION LAW
The National Assembly of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic adopted a new election law in the second and final reading on 8 December, Noyan Tapan reported. The HHD opposition faction finally dropped its objections to the article stipulating that only 11, rather than all the 33 deputies, should be elected according to the proportional system. Vahram Atanessian, deputy chairman of the parliament's Democratic Artsakh Union faction that supports President Arkadii Ghukasian, explained in an article published in the unrecognized republic's paper "Azat Artsakh" on 27 November and circulated by Groong that it is unrealistic to elect all deputies on party lists as very few of the republic's population identify with a specific political party. Some deputies expressed concern during the 8 December debate that the new law permits the nomination as parliamentary or presidential candidates persons without higher education, or who have been convicted of a criminal offense. The author of the draft, Artur Mosian, further pointed out that the law does not require candidates to collect signatures in support of their registration to participate in an election. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH IRANIAN DIPLOMAT
Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on 8 December with Mehdi Safari, Iranian presidential envoy for Caspian issues, Turan reported. The two men discussed Aliyev's upcoming visit to Iran, scheduled for late January 2005, and the imminent resumption of exports of Iranian gas to Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhichevan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY APPEALS TO SUPREME COURT
The Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) has appealed to the Supreme Court rulings handed down in August by the Economic Court and October by the Appeal Court upholding the Economic Court's rejection of a suit brought by AMIP against the Economic Development Ministry, Turan reported on 8 December. That ministry demanded AMIP's eviction from its temporary headquarters in Baku and failed repeatedly to make available alternative premises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April, 27 August, and 22 October 2004). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON RUMORED GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE
Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 December that no cabinet changes will be announced as long as Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze are out of the country, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. But he did not rule out that some changes will be announced on their return "in order to strengthen work in certain sectors." Saakashvili added, however, that "many" of the anticipated dismissals and new appointments discussed in the media in recent days will not materialize (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). LF
ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT ENDORSES AGREEMENT BETWEEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
The parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia approved on 8 December the Agreement on Measures to Attain National Accord signed two days earlier by presidential rivals Sergei Bagapsh and Raul Khadjimba, according to which they will participate as one team in a repeat presidential ballot in early January 2005, Apnsipress reported. Bagapsh will seek the post of president with Khadjimba as his prospective vice president; the constitution will be amended to augment the powers of the latter. At a joint press conference on 8 December, Bagapsh said that if he and Khadjimba win the repeat ballot, Khadjimba will assume responsibility for foreign policy and law and order, and former Interior Minister Aleksandr Ankvab will be named prime minister. Current Prime Minister Nugzar Khashba will be transferred to another, unspecified post. Bagapsh did not specify what position he will offer to Stanislav Lakoba, his prospective vice president in the abortive 3 October presidential ballot, observing only that "clever people are needed in any team," Apsnipress reported. LF
GEORGIAN TRADE UNIONS AGAIN PROTEST GOVERNMENT PRESSURE
Lasha Chichinadze, deputy chairman of the Union of Trade Unions of Georgia, has accused the country's leadership of resorting to pressure and blackmail in an attempt to gain possession of the trade unions' remaining property, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 September 2004). The trade unions have already yielded to government pressure and signed away their right to hotel and leisure facilities in Borzhomi. They have also created, on the basis of real-estate holdings, a fund for the development of national culture that the trade unions administer jointly with the government. The Prosecutor-General's Office has now called for an investigation of the trade unions' remaining real-estate holdings. LF
RUSSIAN DUMA SPEAKER MEETS WITH KAZAKH PRESIDENT
Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on 8 December amid ceremonies to mark the end of the Year of Russia in Kazakhstan, Kazinform reported. The two discussed bilateral relations, with Gryzlov noting that each country can benefit from the other's experience with reforms, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. On international issues, Gryzlov stressed that while the political situation in Ukraine is "complicated," it will not impair the development of the CIS Single Economic Space, which brings together Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, Kazakh Television reported. Also on 8 December, President Nazarbaev spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussing in particular cooperation in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community, Khabar Television reported. DK
KAZAKH DEMOCRACY COMMISSION MEETS
Kazakhstan's National Commission on Issues of Democracy and Civil Society held its first session in Astana on 8 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Chairman Bulat Utemuratov said that the commission will develop plans for political modernization and constitutional reform for President Nazarbaev's consideration. Utemuratov described the commission's priorities as "strengthening the representative branch, carrying out reforms in the judiciary, strengthening the role of the courts, reducing the power of central executive bodies, and bolstering rights mechanisms." Utemuratov expressed his regret that opposition parties Ak Zhol, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan have chosen not to take part in the commission's work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). DK
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION ALLIANCE SELECTS PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES
The People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, which brings together nine political parties, primarily from the opposition, met in Bishkek on 8 December and drew up a preliminary list of candidates for the February 2005 parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Representatives of the alliance, which hopes to win a majority in parliament, will run in 59 districts. Its leader, former prime minister and current parliamentary deputy Kurmanbek Bakiev, has already announced that he plans to run in the October 2005 presidential election. DK
INTERNATIONAL LENDERS VISIT KYRGYZSTAN
Jean Lemierre, director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 8 December, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In remarks to the press, Lemierre said that Kyrgyzstan is currently experiencing rapid growth. An International Monetary Fund delegation led by Tapio Saavalainen was also in Kyrgyzstan on 8 December. Saavalainen met with Deputy Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev to discuss Kyrgyzstan's poverty-reduction program. DK
TAJIK PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BIOWEAPONS CONVENTION
Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons on 8 December, Avesta reported. Mirzodavlat Odinaev, chairman of the parliamentary committee on international affairs, called the move a step toward ensuring Tajikistan's security. Parliament also passed a law on biological security. DK
EUROPEAN ENVOYS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER TAJIK NEWSPAPER
The embassies of France, Germany, and Great Britain issued a statement on 7 December expressing regret at the Tajik authorities' decision to confiscate the print run of the independent newspaper "Ruzi Nav" in early November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004), Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. "The heads of the diplomatic missions underscore the importance of allowing a free and independent press to act in Tajikistan, especially on the eve of parliamentary elections," the statement read. "As the friends and partners of Tajikistan, the heads of the three EU embassies call on the Tajik government to take all necessary measures to demonstrate support for free media and guarantee that 'Ruzi Nav' and other newspapers are able to be printed and distributed without obstacles and limitations." DK
RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER REPORTS FORMER TURKMEN ENVOY UNDER HOUSE ARREST
Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 8 December that Niyazklych Nurklychev, the former Turkmen Ambassador to Belgium, is under house arrest and facing criminal charges in Ashgabat. Earlier reports indicated that Nurklychev may have sought political asylum in Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). According to the Russian newspaper, Nurklychev incurred Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's displeasure when Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov suggested that Nurklychev's lax diplomatic efforts led to the UN General Assembly's 18 November passage of a resolution condemning Turkmenistan for human rights violations. DK
UZBEK PRESIDENT LAUDS ECONOMY, LAMBASTES OFFICIALS
Islam Karimov delivered an address on 7 December, the eve of Constitution Day, praising the country's achievements, criticizing irresponsible officials, and declaring 2005 the Year of Good Health, Uzbek television reported. Karimov lauded economic growth amid moderate inflation. He condemned officials who are "brutally violating the law and abusing their power for their own interests." He also looked ahead to 26 December parliamentary elections, calling on future deputies to "prevent officials from abusing their power." Karimov noted that 30 percent of seats in parliament will, by law, be occupied by women. He also said that policy initiatives will be forthcoming to mark the Year of Good Health. DK
PRO-GOVERNMENT LABOR BOSS BLASTS INDEPENDENT UNIONISTS IN BELARUS
Leanid Kozik, chairman of the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB), accused independent trade-union leaders on 8 December of "engaging in politics and planning to overthrow the government and the president," Belapan reported. Kozik, who replaced Uladzimir Hancharyk in 2002 after the latter tried unsuccessfully to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a presidential election, is seen by independent Belarusian observers as Lukashenka's figurehead in the FPB. Kozik slammed independent unionists for what he described as their attempts "to undermine" the unity of the country's trade-union movement and accused them of taking orders "from their Western masters" to overthrow Lukashenka. According to Kozik, there are currently about 5,000 independent trade-union members in Belarus. JM
PROTESTERS UNBLOCK UKRAINE'S GOVERNMENT BUILDING, NOT PRESIDENTIAL OFFICES
Backers of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko have ended a two-week blockade of the government building in downtown Kyiv but pledged to continue blocking the presidential-administration offices until their leader becomes president, Ukrainian and international media reported on 9 December. There are also protester tents remaining on Khreshchatyk, the capital's main thoroughfare, and on Independence Square, where people have gathered for pro-Yushchenko rallies since 22 November. Yushchenko told a 100,000-strong crowd on Independence Square on the evening of 8 December that the political compromise reached in the Verkhovna Rada earlier the same day (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004) means a "great victory" for them and the opposition. "From the very first day, I was certain we would win," he said. "I believed it in every bone. I was saying that every day." Yushchenko called on his backers to take an active part in the expected 26 December presidential vote to seal their victory. JM
NEW UKRAINIAN ELECTION COMMISSION PICKS CHAIRMAN...
Ukraine's newly formed Central Election Commission (TsVK) elected Yaroslav Davydovych chairman on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004), Interfax reported. Davydovych was among the three members of the previous commission who did not sign its protocol of 24 November declaring Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of the flawed 21 November presidential runoff. The two other members were Ruslan Knyazevych and Andriy Mahera, who also serve on the new commission. JM
...AND PRIME MINISTER ALLEGES 'CREEPING COUP D'ETAT'
"There is a creeping coup d'etat in the country," Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yanukovych told voters in his native region of Donbas on 8 December, according to Interfax. "The presidential candidate who won the second round has actually been left without his representatives on the [Central Election Commission]." JM
UKRAINIAN COURT REINSTATES FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Kyiv's Pecherskyy district court on 9 December ordered the reinstatement of former Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, Channel 5 reported. The court reportedly concluded that Piskun, who recently appealed his 2003 dismissal, may take up the prosecutor-general's post "immediately." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Serhiy Rudenko, told Interfax that President Leonid Kuchma has not notified his office as to whether he signed current Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev's resignation. Kuchma told legislators in the Verkhovna Rada on 8 December that he had accepted Vasilyev's resignation. JM
WASHINGTON CONGRATULATES KYIV FOR OVERCOMING ELECTION STANDOFF
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has telephoned Ukrainian President Kuchma to congratulate him on the adoption on 8 December of a package of legislative and constitutional reforms aimed at settling the political crisis in Ukraine, Interfax reported, quoting the Ukrainian presidential press service. JM
NATO POSTPONES TALKS WITH UKRAINIAN MINISTER
NATO on 8 December called off a planned meeting between its foreign ministers and their Ukrainian counterpart to distance itself from a government accused of election fraud, Reuters reported. The event had been scheduled for 9 December. "NATO values its relationship with Ukraine. It does not support any candidate but it values free and fair elections," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told journalists. "We know from all observers that these elections were not free and fair." A NATO source reportedly told Reuters that the alliance will invite the foreign minister of "a new and legitimate government" in Kyiv to Brussels as soon as possible and that it does not want to be seen as legitimizing the existing government. JM
SERBIAN PRESIDENT WARNS FELLOW LEADERS OF RESPONSIBILITIES
Returning from a three-day visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 8 December that Serbian leaders must not speak of cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as though it were an act of treason against Serbian interests, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 8 December 2004). Tadic recently described failure to cooperate with the tribunal as the real betrayal of Serbian national interests. Asked by reporters whether Belgrade should talk with Kosova's elected officials following the recent election as prime minister of Ramush Haradinaj, whom many Serbs consider a war criminal, Tadic stressed that Serbian politicians should know that they must not pass up opportunities to protect their people's interests, wherever those interests might be under threat. PM
KOSOVAR SERB LEADER CALLS FOR 'PARALLEL LIFE'
Kosovar Serb leader Marko Jaksic, who is close to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said in Mitrovica on 8 December that the Serbian minority must create its own "parallel political life" in relation to that of the Albanian majority following Haradinaj's election, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and December 2004). It is unclear whether Jaksic made the remarks only on behalf of himself and his Mitrovica-based Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo or whether he has wider backing. The news agency noted that "many Serbs in the province already use exclusively Serb-run 'parallel structures' such as clinics and schools that are funded by the Serbian government in Belgrade." The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has repeatedly called the parallel structures illegal but has done little to put an end to them. UNMIK and Kosova's ethnic Albanian elected officials have rejected any moves aimed at partitioning the province along ethnic lines (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 16 April 2004). PM
SERBIAN MINISTER RULES OUT EXTRADITION OF TWO INDICTEES
Serbia's Investment Minister Velimir Ilic said in Belgrade on 8 December that the government cannot extradite to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal former police General Sreten Lukic and former chief of the General Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic because of "humanitarian reasons," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ilic noted that both men are undergoing medical treatment. PM
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEMANDS QUICK DEMARCATION OF MACEDONIAN BORDER WITH KOSOVA
Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Skopje on 8 December that the demarcation of Macedonia's border with Kosova must start as soon as possible, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The demarcation must be finalized before any talks on the future status of Kosova begin, Lavrov argued, adding that Russia regards Macedonia as a factor for stability in the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September and 1 and 7 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). Russia will therefore ask the UN Security Council, authorities in Belgrade, UNMIK, and the elected authorities in Prishtina to speed up the border demarcation. Lavrov added that Russia will ask the Security Council to pass a resolution on demarcation. Lavrov's Macedonian counterpart Ilinka Mitreva called relations with Russia "excellent," adding that they are a "priority" for Macedonia. She said Skopje hopes to improve the cooperation with Moscow in economic as well as in "military-technological" matters. UB
ROMANIA WRAPS UP EU ACCESSION TALKS, ACCEPTS STRICT MONITORING
Romania concluded accession negotiations with the European Union on 8 December, Reuters and Mediafax reported the same day. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana accepted entry terms that provide for the strict monitoring of judicial reform, border protection, anticorruption measures, and reductions in state aid to industry. Geoana called the day "historic" and "a moment of joy and also of responsibility." The agreement stipulates that accession could be put off from 2007 to 2008 if Romania fails to meet its commitments in the areas of economic competition, subsidy levels, or justice and home affairs. Romania's accession may be delayed by a qualified majority of EU member states under the deal, compared with unanimity that would be required for a similar postponement in the case of neighboring Bulgaria. The accession agreement must still be approved by members at the 16-17 December EU summit. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS DEBATE ON PUBLIC TELEVISION
Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu told presidential rival Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in a televised debate on 9 December that "Romania's problem is that [15 years after the fall of communism] it could not find people other than two former communists like myself and yourself to run for the highest office." Basescu, who is running as a candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, reiterated his allegation of electoral fraud in the 28 November vote. Nastase rejected the claim and said Basescu is "irresponsibly" damaging Romania's reputation by charging vote fraud. Nastase conceded in the debate that when he learned of Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor's intention to drop out of the first round, he phoned and asked Tudor not to do so. Basescu failed to substantiate his claim that Theodor Stolojan, who dropped out of the presidential race, had been blackmailed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Stolojan attributed his move to exhaustion. A presidential runoff between Nastase and Basescu is slated for 12 December. MS
ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTY APPLIES TO JOIN EUROPEAN GROUPING
The National Council of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) approved an application on 8 December for the party's membership of the conservative European People's Party (EPP), Mediafax reported. The EPP is the single largest bloc in the European Parliament. The PRM describes itself in the application as a "Christian, pacifist, and moderately conservative" political formation. Local and international observers often depict the PRM as an extremist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic party. MS
MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER PUTS BRIGHT FACE ON OSCE MEETING
Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan said on 8 December that the international community was made aware of the need for a solution to the Transdniestrian crisis at the recent meeting in Sofia of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Flux reported. The 6-7 December meeting concluded with no joint declaration and without signing the Moldovan-backed Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004), which would have expanded the framework of negotiations to end a long-standing dispute over Transdniestrian self-rule. Stratan said Russia and Ukraine did not directly address the issue of the DSSM at the meeting and that Chisinau hopes for a "more constructive" position from Moscow in the future. MS
CHISINAU MAYOR ASKS PROSECUTION TO DROP CORRUPTION CHARGES
Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean officially asked Prosecutor-General Valeriu Balaban on 8 December to drop charges that he and other staff members abused their positions in connection with dubious real-estate deals, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). Seven members of the mayor's staff have been placed under "preventive detention." Urechean also demanded that Balaban open an investigation into the legality of the charges and punish prosecutors who, he suggested, acted on political orders. MS
WHO WON UKRAINE'S 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'?
Two weeks of antigovernment protests in Kyiv by backers of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko culminated in the passage on 8 December of legislation that appears to have ended Ukraine's political impasse and paved the way for a democratic vote on 26 December.
At a dizzying pace, lawmakers adopted a constitutional-reform bill to limit presidential powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament, amended the law on presidential elections to safeguard against abuse and fraud, approved a bill of constitutional amendments "in the first reading" to reform local self-government, and replaced the Central Election Commission that awarded a dubious victory to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych following the flawed 21 November presidential runoff with Yushchenko.
There have been many surprises in Ukraine's political and social life over the past two weeks -- including the momentous invalidation of the runoff by the Supreme Court on 3 December -- but they pale in comparison with the events of 8 December.
Yushchenko commented that 8 December 2004 should be recorded in national annals as a day of historic compromise. He also predicted that the decisions taken on that day cleared a path for his victory on 26 December in 18-20 Ukrainian regions, presumably enough to secure a Yushchenko presidency. Given that the amended election law severely reduces the number of voters authorized to cast their ballots from home and places tight controls on absentee ballots (thus minimizing the risk of massive electoral fraud of the type that marred last month's runoff), Yushchenko's optimism ahead of the new vote is perhaps warranted.
But there was also a bitter undertone to his address to 100,000 orange-clad supporters on Kyiv's Independence Square on 8 December when he interpreted what happened in the parliament earlier that day and thanked the public for its decisive contribution to Ukraine's "orange revolution."
The constitutional reform suggests that the balance of power in the country will be radically shifted from the president to the parliament and the prime minister. Most Ukrainian commentators agree that Ukraine is poised for a transformation from its current presidential system to a parliamentary one. If Yushchenko eventually becomes the head of state, he will thus have significantly curtailed his prerogatives in comparison with those of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. The power shift will occur on 1 September 2005 if the Verkhovna Rada approves the bill on local self-government "in the second reading" prior to that date, or, failing such passage, it will automatically go into effect on 1 January 2006. Yushchenko is apparently disconcerted with that prospect. He avoided any reference to the constitutional-reform bill while recounting the events of the day to his sea of orange on Independence Square. Indeed, he even was not among those 78 deputies of his parliamentary caucus who supported the package of bills intended to resolve the political crisis. What's more, the parliamentary caucus headed by his staunch political ally and prominent firebrand Yuliya Tymoshenko voted against the reform bill.
Ironically, it was Kuchma -- whose handpicked successor was denied the presidency on the strength of opposition outcry and subsequent events -- who assumed the role of a victor on 8 December. Kuchma claimed the lion's share of the credit for the historic political compromise as he signed the reform bill immediately after its passage. Kuchma and his aides devised the political reform as a stratagem for remaining in the political game beyond 2004 through their leverage in a parliament reinforced with extensive powers regardless of who wins the presidency. At first glance, everything appears to point to a scenario in which a Yushchenko victory is offset by a parliament filled with Kuchma cronies: Yanukovych has arguably lost credibility in the eyes of voters, and the parliament is set to become a pivotal player in the country a year from now. But what of the Ukrainian people, whom the "orange revolution" has miraculously transformed from a pliant electorate into mature and responsible citizens? It is difficult to imagine them allowing Ukrainian politicians to play backstage political games on the scale of the Kuchma era.
The belief that the Ukrainian president will become a figurehead following the implementation of the constitutional reform is an obvious misconception. This misconception might have originated and been nourished for both domestic and foreign consumption by Yushchenko's camp, which entered the 2004 election campaign in an "all-or-nothing-at-all" mood. True, the president loses the right to nominate all cabinet ministers under the constitutional reform. But the president retains the right to propose the country's prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister for parliamentary approval. No less important, the president has the sole right to appoint all regional governors. And the president's right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to form a viable government coalition can be an effective tool for defusing political conflicts and shaping government policy.
On the other hand, the reform offers an increased set of checks and balances in government, making many important decisions dependent on concerted agreement between the presidency, the legislature, and the cabinet. What can be seen as an impediment to an efficient presidency is in fact an indisputable gain for Ukrainian democracy. It appears that in the long run, the most important achievement of Ukraine's "orange revolution" in 2004 will be neither the democratized presidential-election law (that can be changed at any time by a simple majority in the Verkhovna Rada) nor even Yushchenko's likely presidency. The key accomplishment just might be the constitutional reform that seeks to dismantle the authoritarian executive system of power, so characteristic of many post-Soviet states, and recast it into something more similar to European-model democracy.
Last but not least, providing the parliament with a decisive voice in most political decisions in Ukraine seems the best possible way to heal the country's troubling east-west divide. That rift is more likely to be healed if the responsibility for such decisions lies with 450 deputies elected all across Ukraine, rather than by one man elected by half the country.
It was thus unwise for Yushchenko to remain silent about constitutional reform on Independence Square, implying that the reform represents a Kuchma victory within a broader "orange revolution." First and foremost, it was a victory for hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters who have been taking to the streets for the past two weeks despite the cold and snow. And the political reform fits well indeed into the stunning transformation of Ukrainians, for whom Yushchenko's likely installment as president will be only one stage -- albeit a crucial one -- on their path toward Europe.
AFGHAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO REIN IN SENIOR OFFICIALS
Newly inaugurated President Hamid Karzai issued a code of conduct in the form of a presidential decree on 8 December aimed at high-ranking public officials in the country, Afghanistan Television reported. The 11-article code instructs senior government officials to report on the performance of their subordinates and to recruit personnel for their departments "based on a system of meritocracy." The code forbids the discussion of issues debated in cabinet sessions by those in attendance without the consent of the president. Officials covered under the code are required within 14 days to provide the president with complete information "on their personal revenue, movable and immovable property, trade activities, and any debts of their own, of their spouses, or of their under-age children," according to Afghan Television. The president is mentioned as being "the only authority entitled to judge the implementation or violation of the provisions" of the code of conduct. The decree represents Karzai's first act since taking the oath of office on 7 December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). AT
U.S. TO BACK KABUL'S RECONCILIATION PROGRAM WITH FORMER TALIBAN MEMBERS
U.S. military spokesman Mark McCann said in Kabul on 8 December that Washington would back efforts by the Afghan government to reconcile with former members of the Taliban regime, RFE/RL reported. McCann explained that the Afghan government's view is that there is a peaceful way to engage former members of the Taliban aside from "a very select few." There are indications that "there are people out there [among the neo-Taliban] who wish to reconcile and become part of the peaceful political process" in Afghanistan, McCann said, adding that United States and the coalition governments "stand firmly behind the Afghan government in their efforts to try to reconcile" with the militia. The issue of reconciliation with most members of the neo-Taliban was raised by President Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been elaborated on by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April of this year (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 28 April, 25 October, 8 November, and 8 December 2004). AT
IRANIAN ENVOY QUESTIONS PROPRIETORSHIP OF MILITARY BASE IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Bahrami declined on 8 December to comment on the construction of a military base in Herat Province near the Afghan-Iranian border, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "We cannot express our views as long as the issue is not clear whether the base belongs to the U.S.-led coalition or the Afghan National Army," Bahrami said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi explained that at "the Ghorian military base [45 kilometers from the Iranian border], the coalition forces and the Afghan National Army are working together, but this base is [being] built by the leadership of the United States." Azimi did not, however, explain whether U.S. forces will use the base once it is completed. The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been an issue of concern for Tehran. The United States maintains a military presence in Herat, mainly at Shindand air base, situated southeast of Ghorian District and farther from the border with Iran. AT
DUTCH POLICE ARREST MEMBER OF AFGHAN COMMUNIST REGIME
The Netherlands' National Investigation Service arrested a member of Afghanistan's former military-intelligence service on 2 December, "NRC Handelsblad" reported on 7 December. The man, identified only as Habibullah J. and believed to be the former chief of interrogations in the communist-era service, is suspected of committing war crimes. In November, Dutch authorities arrested another former Afghan communist official, also on suspension of having committed war crimes. A Dutch court recently overturned a decision by the government to reject an asylum request from former Afghan Communist Vice President Abdul Rahim Hatef on the grounds that he had carried out political assassinations and torture (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October and 8 December 2004). AT
TEHRAN DENIES EGYPTIAN ESPIONAGE ALLEGATIONS
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 8 December dismissed reports from Cairo of an Iranian diplomat's plot against Egyptian officials, IRNA reported. The previous day, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported, Egyptian state prosecutor Mahir Abd al-Wahid said that Iranian diplomat Mohammad Rezadust tried to recruit Egyptian national Mahmud Id Mohammad Dabus as an agent. The Egyptian prosecutor said Rezadust asked his agent to gather information on a third country, and Dabus agreed to work for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and to conduct terrorist actions in Egypt. Dabus provided information, Abd al-Wahid said, and agreed to attack targets in Saudi Arabia in an effort to disrupt Riyadh-Cairo relations. Assefi described the charges as a "sheer lie," and added, "Iran is itself a terrorism victim and our stance against terrorism is fully clear and transparent." BS
ISRAEL ARRESTS ALLEGED IRANIAN SPY
Israeli police arrested Mohammad Ghanem, an Israeli Arab from Baka al-Gharbiya, on 9 November for alleged membership of Iranian intelligence and for recruiting other Israeli Arabs to participate in terrorist activities, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 7 December. Ghanem allegedly was recruited by Nabil Mahzuma -- with whom he had served time in prison in 1973 and who is an operative with the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) -- during a 2001 trip to Mecca. The two met again in Mecca in August 2003. On the second trip, an Iranian identified as Abu Osama allegedly told Ghanem to recruit Israeli Arabs for Iranian -funded terrorism training in Jordan. Israel has previously complained of Iranian recruitment of Israeli Arabs as a fifth column (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 December 2003 and 19 January 2004). "Hopefully, the publicity of this investigation will deter other Israeli Arabs from joining the Iranians," the International Crimes Unit's Lieutenant-Commander Amichai Shai said. "Israeli Arabs who think they can make easy money should think again, since we are always watching." BS
IRAN WRAPS UP WAR GAMES
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei watched the final day of the "Followers of the Rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent" (Payrovan-i Vilayat) war games in southwestern Iran on 8 December, IRNA and state television reported. During the exercises, Khamenei was briefed by regular armed forces commander-in-chief Major General Mohammad Salimi, ground forces commander Brigadier General Nasir Mohammadifar, and regular air force commander Brigadier General Karim Qavami. The Rapid Deployment Force of the regular armed forces, which appears to be a new unit, reportedly participated in this final phase of the exercise. BS
JAPAN EXTENDS TROOP MISSION TO IRAQ FOR ONE YEAR
The Japanese cabinet endorsed an extension of the humanitarian and reconstruction mission in Iraq of its Self Defense Forces for one year, through 14 December 2005, Kyodo World Service reported on 9 December. The 570 ground-force troops are currently based in Samawah in south-central Iraq. The plan includes conditions under which Japan may judge whether to withdraw its troops from the city depending on the security situation, Jiji Press reported. Japanese media has reported that the situation in the city has been relatively calm in recent months. Meanwhile, Hungary announced on 8 December that it will send 150 noncombat troops to Iraq at midyear 2005 as part of a NATO mission. The troops will serve from 1 June until 30 September 2006, government spokeswoman Boglar Laszlo said, according to AFP. The troops will help provide security at a NATO training base outside Baghdad. Laszlo said the cabinet rejected a NATO request that Hungarian troops carry out logistical operations in Iraq. Hungary currently has some 300 troops in Iraq serving under the U.S.-led coalition. Those troops will be withdrawn at the end of December. KR
IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETS ARAB LEAGUE CHIEF IN CAIRO
A delegation of Iraqi groups opposed to the U.S.-led occupation and at odds with Iraq's interim government has met with Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa in Cairo, Al-Jazeera reported on 9 December. Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Muthanna Harith al-Dari said the group proposed the convening of a conference addressing national reconciliation. "The issue of national dialogue is a demand of the Iraqi national forces," al-Dari said. "The interim government is trying to avoid the issue of national reconciliation. Therefore, we have come to warn the Arab League, and through it tell the entire world that the Iraqi national forces have an alternative plan for solving the political issue." The plan includes a demand for drawing up a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces, he said. Al-Jazeera reported that the groups have said the conference should exclude those individuals with ties to the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein. KR
WORLD BANK TARGETS IRAQI INFRASTRUCTURE WITH $90 MILLION GRANT
Iraq has signed an agreement with the World Bank by which the bank will provide a $90 million grant to fund 12 water- and sewage-treatment projects, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 9 December. Minister of Public Works and Municipalities Nisrin Barwari told Al-Arabiyah that her ministry is carrying out its work in more than 300 municipalities throughout Iraq. This latest agreement is the fourth between Iraq and the World Bank accounting for some $235 million in grants, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR
CHAIRMAN SUGGESTS IRAQI ELECTORAL COMMISSION MIGHT CONSIDER VOTE DELAY
Abd al-Husayn al-Hindawi, chairman of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, reportedly has said that the commission might examine a request to postpone national and local elections if the interim government formally requests it, Al-Jazeera reported on 9 December. "Al-Bayan" quoted al-Hindawi in a 7 December report as saying that political parties who called for a postponement have begun to change their positions. "This development prompts a sense that the elections will be held on the planned date" with broad-based participation, al-Hindawi said. He noted that the commission extended for a second time the final date for political parties to submit their candidate lists. The final date for submission is 15 December. "This month, specifically on the 15th, candidates will begin to launch their campaigns and promote their programs. Also, ballot papers will be printed," al-Hindawi said. "The promotion campaign will continue until 28 January, two days before the date of elections. During this period, the participating political parties will be able to promote their political platforms and promises to the electorate." Expatriate voting will be held from 28 to 30 January, al-Hindawi noted. KR
MILITANT LEADER'S SONS REPORTED KILLED IN AL-FALLUJAH
London-based "Quds Press" reported on 8 December that sources claim two sons of militant leader Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi were killed in recent fighting in the volatile city of Al-Fallujah. Al-Janabi is the head of the Al-Fallujah Mujahedin Shura Council and imam of the Sa'd bin Abi Waqas Mosque in the city. An arrest warrant was issued for him in June on charges that he incited locals to execute and mutilate the bodies of six Shi'ite youths from Al-Sadr city while they were in Al-Fallujah, "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 30 June. Al-Janabi vowed in October to resist a U.S.-Iraqi incursion on the city. Xinhua news agency quoted Iraqi National Security Adviser Qasim Dawud on 14 November as saying that al-Janabi had escaped the fighting in Al-Fallujah along with suspected Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. KR