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Newsline - December 13, 2004

President Vladimir Putin signed on 12 December a bill canceling gubernatorial elections in favor of a system where governors are appointed with the approval of regional legislatures, Interfax and reported. The bill passed the Duma on 3 December and the Federation Council on 8 December. It amends the laws on the general principles for organizing legislative and executive organs of state power in the Russian Federation subjects and on guaranteeing basic voters' rights. Under the bill, the president will nominate a candidate to head a region 35 days before the expiration of the term of the current governor, and the regional legislative assembly will consider him or her within 14 days, according to If more than one-half of the legislature supports the candidate, then he or she will become governor. In republics with two legislative chambers, more than half of the representatives in both chambers must vote in favor of the candidate. JAC

If the candidate is rejected, then the president must submit his alternative choice no later than in seven days. If the legislature rejects the president's candidate for a second time, then the president can either appoint an acting head of the region to serve for no more than six months or dissolve the parliament. JAC

Russia on 12 December marked the Constitution Day holiday for what was most likely the last time, as a bill to cancel the holiday is currently working its way through the Duma, reported. The holiday marks the 12 December 1993 ratification of the current constitution. In Moscow, an estimated 15,000 people participated in a demonstration organized by the pro-Putin youth group Walking Together to show support for the constitution and the president. President Putin met on 12 December with the members of the Constitutional Court, Interfax reported. He told the justices that "there are no plans" to change the constitution, although he repeated Constitutional Court Chairman Valerii Zorkin's recent statement that the constitution is "a living legal organism." Putin praised the work of the court, saying that it has fulfilled its role as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution and has "acquired considerable authority" in recent years. RC

Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and other liberal groups on 12 December held a civic congress in Moscow titled Russia For Democracy, Against Dictatorship, Russian media reported. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called on all liberals in Russia to unite around his party in order to "overcome [our] helplessness and pseudo-democracy," Interfax reported. SPS Political Council member Boris Nemtsov told that congress that it is likely that the trend toward increased authoritarianism in Russia will continue over the next few years and that it could lead to "fascism." Committee-2008 member and Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) lamented "the loss of an independent Duma and Federation Council, the loss of federalism, of independent television, and much more." According to RIA-Novosti, a document was circulated at the congress that stated: "In the case of a severe and obvious violation of the constitution or human rights, we are ready for decisive action including the organization of mass actions of civil disobedience." National Strategy Institute President Stanislav Belkovskii told NTV on 12 December that "this gathering of the Yeltsin-era nomenklatura, which is presenting itself as the liberal opposition, is incapable of presenting any plan for the country's developments." RC

The Motherland Party on 12 December held a congress entitled the All-Russian Congress in Defense of the Rights of the Country and its Citizens, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. At the congress, party leader and Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin announced the formation of a new "national liberation movement" that will work "against the dictatorship of international and domestic oligarchs." He labeled such oligarchs "Russia's main enemy." He said that Motherland is preparing legislation on "economic measures" that would revise the results of 1990s privatizations, including a so-called compensation tax. He added that the party will not restrict its efforts to parliamentary means, but will also "take people into the streets" in the "struggle for social justice and the defense of Russia's national interests." "We have our own form of democracy, which is historically and geopolitically acceptable for the Russian people and which is different from Western democracy," Rogozin told the congress, according to REN-TV. "It implies state control over most important strategic areas of life." RC

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 10 December testified before the Supreme Court in the hearing of a case filed by the Communist Party and Yabloko seeking to overturn the results of the December 2003 State Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 December. Zyuganov testified about the media coverage of his party's campaign and said that the elections were the "dirtiest and most base" in Russia's post-Soviet history, worse even than the 1996 presidential election. He said that state media extensively reported on a book that alleged that the Communist Party aided Chechen "terrorists" without giving the party any chance to refute the allegations. State television also allegedly carried reports that Zyuganov owns a timber factory in Jordan and a hotel in Cuba. Zyuganov also testified that agents working for deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov purchased a house in Orel Oblast that Zyuganov built together with his father and created a "so-called museum" to Zyuganov there, complete with a statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin on which the head had been replaced by Zyuganov's likeness. Zyuganov showed justices a book that alleged that he had lost the so-called "Communist Party gold" of the Soviet era in a casino and that he drinks to excess. He charged that "the party of power," Unified Russia, ordered such "provocations." RC

The Federation Council voted on 10 December to approve the draft 2005 budget, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was unanimous, with 143 in favor and zero abstentions, according to RIA-Novosti. The State Duma approved the budget in its fourth and final reading on 8 December. That vote was 337 in favor with 90 against, and two abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the bill, revenues are set at 3.326 trillion rubles ($119 billion) and expenditures at 3.047 trillion rubles. The 2005 GDP growth is forecast to reach 6.3 percent. Inflation is predicted to hover between 7.5 and 8.5 percent. The budget will now be sent to the president for his signature. JAC

Motherland State Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin charged on the floor of the Duma on 10 December that the Duma's own gift store is selling globes that show some of Russia's Kurile Islands as belonging to Japan, REN-TV and Interfax reported. Baburin called on the Duma's rules committee "to stop selling antistate symbols, such as these globes, showing Russia with altered borders" "We are going down a dangerous road if we think that this is just a trifle," he said. State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov responded to Baburin's complaint by ordering Duma administration head Aleksandr Lotyrev to remove the globes from sale. Last month, President Putin seconded an earlier statement by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that Russia is prepared to hand over to Japan the two southernmost main Kurile Islands in accordance with a 1956 bilateral agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 November 2004). JAC

Incumbent Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov announced on 9 December that he plans to participate in the okrug's 23 January 2005 gubernatorial election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 December. It is possible that Butov will not be allowed to participate in the election since the okrug prosecutor is challenging his right to seek a third term. The local parliament adopted a law on 25 November that would allow Butov to run again, but the prosecutor is arguing that since the law was adopted after the official start of the gubernatorial campaign, it doesn't apply to this race. According to Regnum on 10 December, another Vladimir Butov with a different patronymic has also informed the election commission of his desire to run. There are 17 candidates so far, including Aleksei Barinov, who was until recently the chief inspector for Nenets Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). JAC

The number of homeless children in Russia is growing by 100,000 to 130,000 every year and has reached about 1 million, according to human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on 10 December, Interfax reported. Lukin was speaking to reporters on International Human Rights Day. Lukin also revealed that complaints about the replacement of in-kind social benefits with cash payments increased sharply this year, as did complaints about delays in hazardous-duty pay owed to soldiers and their families. "Russkii kurer" reported on the same day that President Putin did not issue his traditional invitation to members of the Human Rights Commission to visit the Kremlin on 10 December because members of the commission, in anticipation of a meeting, had prepared several pointed questions. In particular, they wanted to raise the issue of the spy cases against political scientist Igor Sutyagin and physicist Valentin Danikov. According to the daily, the human rights activists believe that Putin does not hold them in high esteem because most of them planned to attend the civic congress on 12 December. JAC

The parliament of the Republic of Ingushetia approved in its first reading on 1 December a draft bill on municipalities that enumerates the republic's districts, reported on 13 December. That bill does not list as part of Ingushetian territory the disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, which was part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR until that territorial formation was abolished in the wake of the 1944 deportation to Central Asia of the Chechen and Ingush peoples. When both ethnic groups were rehabilitated in the late 1950s and the republic was recreated, Prigorodnyi Raion remained part of neighboring North Ossetia. The website claims the bill was prepared at the behest of the local chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and Ingushetia's deputy to the Russian State Duma, Mukharbek Aushev, whom it suggests may be defending the interests of "the Ossetian lobby." LF

An investigation conducted by the Russian Audit Chamber and the Interior Ministry Department for Economic Crime has established that since the election of former FSB General Murat Zyazikov as Ingushetian president in 2002, the government of Ingushetia has used millions of rubles of budget funds for unsanctioned purposes, extended new loans to heavily indebted enterprises, and condoned the embezzlement of funds intended for housing displaced persons, reported on 10 December quoting a letter from a senior Interior Ministry official to Ingushetian opposition parliamentarian Musa Ozdoev. Ozdoev has repeatedly written to President Putin to complain of high-level corruption in Ingushetia, which receives massive subsidies from the federal budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April, 21 June, and 27 October 2004). LF

Residents of Malgobek Raion have expressed concern and outrage at the detention during the night of 4-5 December of 27-year-old Adam Bersanov, reported. Bersanov was detained by armed men with documentation identifying them as Federal Security Service officials, who told police they planned to take him to the republican capital Magas. They did not give any reason for his detention or say what crimes, if any, he is suspected of committing. Bersanov's family have been unable to establish his whereabouts. LF

Robert Kocharian has taken issue with Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian's conclusion that currency speculation has played no role in the steep rise in value of the Armenian currency vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar over the past year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). Speaking on 10 December at an emergency meeting of the governing board of the Armenian Central Bank, Kocharian said "speculative activity has taken place," and he called on the bank to take "resolute and quick action" to prevent further fluctuations in the value of the dram. The dram's rise against the dollar leveled off on 10 December at 475 drams:$1. LF

Thousands of Azerbaijanis paid their respects on 12 December at the grave of former President Heidar Aliyev, Interfax and AFP reported. Aliyev's death was announced on 12 December 2003 months after he last appeared in public; it has been suggested that in fact he died in early August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). Addressing a government session on 7 December, Aliyev's son and successor Ilham Aliyev lauded his father's "determination, vision, and courage," according to the official daily "Azerbaycan" on 12 December. Aliyev assured the Georgian independent television station Rustavi-2 in a 12 December interview that he will continue to implement his father's policies which, he said, laid the foundation for political stability and economic growth, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

"Nezavizimaya gazeta" on 10 December quoted unnamed Russian Defense Ministry officials as warning that Russia may undertake preemptive strikes against several hundred Chechen militants who, those sources claimed, are ensconced in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze and Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Valeri Chechelashvili both denied later on 10 December that there are any Chechen resistance fighters in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. Chechenlashvili specifically denied that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is in Georgia, and he invited Russian journalists to travel to Pankisi to assure themselves that the allegations are untrue. Speaking in Brussels, where she attended last week's session of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili expressed surprise that Russian military officials should level such accusations after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had argued that the OSCE observers currently monitoring the Russian-Georgian border to prevent the incursion of Chechen militants should be withdrawn as they are no longer needed, Caucasus Press reported on 11 December (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 December 2004). LF

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told foreign military attaches in Moscow on 10 December that Moscow thinks it appropriate to take up Georgia's proposal that the two countries jointly establish an antiterrorism center on Georgian territory, Caucasus Press reported. "It's time to look for more flexible forms of cooperation in the fields of defense and coordination of antiterrorist efforts," Caucasus Press quoted him as saying. Georgian officials first proposed such a center in May, but the initial Russian response was noncommittal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2004). Caucasus Press on 10 December quoted U.S. Ambassador to Tbilisi Richard Miles as saying that Washington has no objections to the creation of such a Georgian-Russian center. LF

Former Finance Minister Yasha Chavleishvili and former Adjar Republic Council of Ministers Chairman Revaz Shamilashvili were arrested on 12 December on charges of misusing some $600,000 in government funds, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported on 13 December. The two men are accused of financing a trip to Tbilisi in mid-November 2003 by some 1,000 members of the All-Georgian Revival Union to participate in a demonstration in support of then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was facing mass protests against the falsification of the outcome of the November parliamentary elections. The participants were paid $11 per day; police in Adjara have collected $20,000 that the recipients have voluntarily returned, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Council of Foreign Investors under Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev held its 12th session in Astana on 10 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. President Nazarbaev praised the meeting for its "atmosphere of openness" and "direct dialogue," noting that the Kazakh economy has grown 42 percent over the last four years and is expected to grow 9 percent in 2004. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Jean Lemierre told meeting participants that Kazakhstan's future investment climate and economic diversification depend on improvements to the legal system, the strength of the banking sector, heightened competition, and a more developed educational system. President Nazarbaev called on foreign investors to put money into Kazakhstan's "chemical industry, transportation infrastructure, agricultural sector, and construction," Khabar Television reported. DK

President Nazarbaev told a news conference after the council session that the EBRD plans to invest $300 million in the development of Kazakhstan's private sector, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Addressing EBRD President Lemierre, Nazarbaev urged the EBRD to open a regional office in Astana, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev said that with a regional office in the Kazakh capital, the EBRD "would be able to continue providing funds for western China, Central Asia, and Afghanistan in the future, and perhaps Iraq, as well." According to Interfax, the EBRD has allocated over 1 billion euros ($1.32 billion) for projects in Kazakhstan, including 423 million euros in financial-sector loans. Allocations for Kazakhstan in 2003 were over 260 million euros. DK

Kazakhstan's Senate (upper chamber of parliament) voted on 10 December to end an agreement with Russia that had provided for the duty-free transit of Russian military cargo through Kazakhstan, Interfax-AVN reported. The agreement was originally signed on 9 September 1994, and renewed in 1999. It expired on 8 September and Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry informed Russia that it intended to end the agreement as of 1 January 2005. The Senate's explanatory note stated, "We find it economically inexpedient to prolong the agreement for another five-year term." DK

About 60 people demonstrated at the head offices of the Eurasian Industrial Association (EIA) in Almaty on 10 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. A spokesman for the protesters said that they are workers at EIA enterprises who are unhappy with poor social services and insufficient attention to workplace safety. Police dispersed the unsanctioned demonstration after an hour, detaining three protesters. In a 10 December press release, EIA accused the opposition parties Ak Zhol and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) of taking their cue from demonstrators in Ukraine in an attempt to destabilize Kazakh society. The press release stated, "If DVK, Ak Zhol, and their sponsors believe that they can use 'Ukrainian lessons' to shake Kazakh society and come to power, then let it be on their conscience." DK

The heads of antidrug agencies from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, met in Dushanbe on 10 December to discuss cooperation in their drug interdiction efforts, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rustam Nazarov, head of the Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, expressed serious concern at Afghanistan's burgeoning opium crop, noting that dozens of heroin-production facilities, each capable of producing 10-20 kilograms of heroin a day, are now located in northeastern Afghanistan. Oleg Kharichkin, deputy head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, told ITAR-TASS that the Dushanbe forum will produce an agreement that will "open a wide field of activity for conducting operational, investigative, and expert actions on the territory of SCO member states." Kharichkin also noted that Russia "will send liaison officers to Afghanistan to establish contacts and to cooperate with Afghan special services." DK

Russian police arrested Mahmudruzi Iskandarov, head of Tajikistan's opposition Democratic Party, in Moscow on 9 December, the party's executive secretary, Rahmatullo Valiev, told a news conference in Dushanbe the next day, RIA-Novosti reported. Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov told a news conference in Dushanbe on 11 December that Tajikistan had put out a warrant for Iskandarov on charges of embezzlement and links to an organized terror group in eastern Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Bobokhonov said that Tajikistan intends to request Iskandarov's extradition as soon as possible. Tajikistan's prosecutor-general opened a criminal case against Iskandarov in August, charging that he embezzled $2 million while he was director of Tojikgaz, RIA-Novosti reported. Valiev told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the arrest served political aims connected to February 2005 parliamentary elections. DK

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov oversaw the reburial of his parents and two brothers in a ceremony broadcast live on national television on 10 December, Turkmen TV reported. The bodies were moved from a cemetery in Kipchak, Niyazov's native village, to a mausoleum specially constructed in the village by the French firm Bouygues. Kipchak is also home to a Bouygues-built mosque capable of accommodating 10,000 people. Niyazov's father was killed in World War II at the age of 33; his mother and brothers perished in a 1948 earthquake in Ashgabat, the BBC reported. DK

Some 400 people formed a human chain on October Square in Minsk on 10 December to draw public attention to the disappearances of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's opponents -- politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski -- in 1999-2000, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Most participants in the demonstration, which was organized by the United Civic Party and the youth movement Zubr, were wearing orange clothes to display solidarity with Ukraine's opposition forces. Following the demonstration, some 200 Zubr members walked to the nearby KGB headquarters and pasted portraits of the missing persons to its doors and walls. Police did not intervene. JM

Volha Zavadskaya, the mother of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office why it did not resume the investigation into her son's disappearance following the "emergence of new facts," Belapan reported on 10 December. Zavadskaya petitioned the Prosecutor-General's Office in July to resume the inquiry into her son's disappearance and question Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a witness, following Lukashenka's news conference at which he claimed to be in possession of documents connected with the Zavadski disappearance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2004). JM

Dr. Michael Zimpfer, head of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic in Vienna where Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko was treated for a mysterious illness that has disfigured him, told journalists on 11 December that Yushchenko is a victim of dioxin poisoning, Ukrainian and international media reported. "There is no doubt," Zimpfer said. "There were high concentrations of dioxin, most likely orally administered.... We detected blood levels [of dioxin] at least a thousandfold above tolerable levels." Zimpfer added that the dioxin poisoning was confirmed earlier that day by a laboratory in Amsterdam, which had analyzed Yushchenko's blood sample. "We suspect a cause triggered by a third party," Zimpfer commented on the cause of the poisoning. "It would be easy to administer [the poison] in a soup that contains cream." Zimpfer said it will take years for Yushchenko's body to rid itself of the dioxin, which is one on the strongest poisons known. JM

After returning from Vienna to Kyiv on 12 December, Yushchenko reiterated charges that Ukrainian authorities had poisoned him, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "I am convinced that this [poisoning] is the work of those in power, absolutely convinced," Yushchenko said. "Time is now needed for the investigation. A lot of the circumstances are already known. I think if the Prosecutor-General's Office acts according to Ukraine's laws, both the country and the world will know soon who did this." The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office -- which is headed by Svyatoslav Piskun, who was reinstated in the post by a court ruling last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2004) -- has reportedly reopened the case of Yushchenko's poisoning. JM

Leonid Kuchma has proposed Volodymyr Stelmakh for the post of National Bank head for parliamentary approval, UNIAN reported on 13 November, quoting parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Stelmakh served as National Bank governor in 2000-2002; he was replaced by Serhiy Tihipko, who resigned last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). JM

The Central Election Commission has ordered 188,000 absentee ballots be printed for a repeat of the 21 November presidential runoff between Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, to be held on 26 December, Interfax reported on 13 December. The current number of absentee ballots is some eightfold less than the amount printed for the 21 November vote, which is a direct consequence of the amendments to the presidential law passed on 8 December aimed at eliminating election abuse and fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). JM

Milovan Zec, a Bosnian Serb whom a Croatian court has sentenced to one year in prison for war crimes, is working openly for the Bosnian Border Service (BGS) at the Dobrljin border crossing with Croatia in the Bosanski Novi region, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 13 December. The Croatian court sentenced Zec for allegedly mistreating Croatian civilians held by Krajina Serb rebel forces during the 1991-95 conflict. Croatian police have issued an international warrant for his arrest through Interpol. Brane Pecanac, who heads the Bosnian branch of Interpol, told the Sarajevo daily that he informed the BGS about the Croatian warrant as soon as Interpol told him about it. Nijaz Spahic, who is deputy director of the BGS, told the Croatian news agency Hina that "Zec was sentenced in absentia in Croatia and has not been convicted under Bosnian law." PM

Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 10 December that the failure of the Republika Srpska to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is the main reason why NATO foreign ministers have again declined to admit Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Atlantic alliance's Partnership for Peace program, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 12 November, and 10 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May and 17 September 2004). "I am now carefully considering the implications of NATO's assessment, and actively considering measures that will address the systemic deficiencies highlighted by both NATO" and the tribunal. He did not elaborate, but suggested that he might announce the measures as early as 16 December. PM

Bosnian Serb General Vinko Pandurevic contacted Bosnian Serb police at an undisclosed location on 10 December to discuss his possible surrender, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted him in conjunction with his role as a commander at Srebrenica during the July 1995 massacre there of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). He is widely believed to be hiding in Serbia in recent years, but unnamed Belgrade police officials told dpa that they had "no involvement in [Pandurevic's] surrender." PM

Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader agreed in Zagreb on 10 December to replace Josko Podbevsek as head of the counterintelligence service (POA) with Tomislav Karamarko, a former presidential security adviser, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). Mesic recently demanded Podbevsek's sacking after Helena Puljiz, who reports on the president's activities for the daily "Jutarnji List," said that POA agents tried to blackmail her into providing them with information on Mesic and his staff. Dpa reported that Sanader agreed to the sacking so that the scandal will not affect Croatia's chances of getting a firm date soon to start EU entry talks. Control over the intelligence services has been an important political issue in Croatia for years. PM

Prime Minister-designate Vlado Buckovski on 10 December sent the government's program and a list of his cabinet ministers to the parliament for its approval, MIA news agency reported. Buckovski also reappointed incumbent Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) despite former Prime Minister Hari Kostov's charges of corruption in that ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 November and 3 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November and 10 December 2004). However, Buxhaku then told Buckovski in an open letter on 12 December that he is leaving the government because of what he called an "unscrupulous campaign" by Kostov and the Macedonian-language media against him. Buxhaku wrote that this campaign has politically damaged him to such an extent that he cannot carry out his duties as minister. Buckovski's planned government reshuffle affects several key ministries. UB

Prishtina media reported on 12 December that the Albanian authorities have placed Gafur Adilli, the leader of the underground Albanian National Army (AKSH), under house arrest, dpa reported. The move comes following recent statements by Adilli urging his followers to prepare to resume armed conflict in Macedonia because the politicians have proven unable to solve a dispute regarding an armed group in a Skopje suburb (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004). The media reports added that the Albanian authorities said they will expel Adilli if he does not stop what they called activities aimed at undermining the stability of the Balkans. The AKSH has been declared a terrorist organization by the UN civilian administration in Kosova, and Adilli himself has been blacklisted by the United States and the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April, 9 June, and 9 August 2004). PM

Preliminary results from vote counting in more than 99 percent of the polling stations on 13 December shows opposition candidate Traian Basescu winning the presidential runoff held the previous day, Mediafax reported the next day. Basescu, who is the candidate of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, leads with 51.23 percent of the vote against 48.77 percent for Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party (PUR) alliance candidate, outgoing Premier Adrian Nastase. On 12 December, when exit polls showed him leading with a small edge, Nastase said on Romanian Television that the electoral outcome should be awaited with "calm and tranquility" and that regardless of who won, the electorate is always right. There were celebrations in Bucharest, Constanta, Timisoara, Cluj and other major Romanian towns for a Basescu victory as soon as exit polls on 12 December showed the two candidates running neck-and-neck. Turnout was 53.3 percent, according to figures released by the Electoral Bureau one hour before polling stations closed (see End Note). MS

Nastase conceded defeat in the country's presidential run-off election in the afternoon of 13 December, Romanian agencies reported. Nastase, of the leftist Social Democrats, appeared on national television to say that he acknowledged Basescu as the new president. "[Results] indicate the fact that Traian Basescu is the next president of Romania. This was the will of the Romanians and I respect it." PB

Basescu said at a press conference on 13 December that "the top, top priority for the president of Romania is, at this moment, the formation of a political majority, which will allow us to tackle the EU integration process at full throttle," international media reported. He added that "Our main foreign policy objective is accession to the European Union on January 1, 2007." Basescu on 12 December thanked the electorate for having elected him president, Mediafax reported. He said that the vote has demonstrated that it is possible to defeat even "that power which has forgotten what decency means and tried to be master over everything." Outgoing President Iliescu said in reaction that Basescu is "inciting" the population and that he should "have the decency to await the decision of the electorate." Basescu countered by saying he respects whatever decision the voters made and that his words were an expression of hope. Basescu also said that the PNL-Democratic Party alliance would never form a ruling coalition with the Greater Romania Party (PRM). A CURS exit poll concluded that 68.8 percent of those who supported PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor in the 28 November presidential first round cast their ballot for Basescu in the runoff. MS/PB

Addressing the fifth congress of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), President Vladimir Voronin said it is the "strategic duty" of the PCM "to assimilate the entire ideological inheritance, political experience of communism, socialism, and European social democracy," BASA-Press reported. He said that the PCM is on its way toward becoming "a true, European-style left-wing party." Voronin also said at the congress that his orthodox communist rival and PCM Executive Secretary Victor Stepanciuc will be asked to resign from that position if he wants to remain leader of the PCM parliamentary group. He called the combination of the two posts "a mistake" and said the problem will be resolved soon. MS

President Voronin also told the gathering that the Russian military presence in Transdniester is "humiliating" for Moldova. This, he said, was the reason why he refused in November 2003 to sign the so-called Kozak memorandum, which would have legalized the presence of Russian troops in Transdniester for the next 20 years. He said he regretted that this refusal triggered a deterioration in relations with Russia, "but the PCM must cement Moldovan society against the dictatorship of the [Transdniestrian] transitional criminal grouping and forge a valuable partnership between Moldova and Russia." MS

Chisinau Mayor and leader of the Democratic Moldova bloc Serafim Urechean said on 9 December in an interview with Moscow's "Novye Izvestiya" that the policies pursued recently by President Voronin towards Moscow are erroneous, BASA-Press reported. Some 67 percent of Moldovan citizens have a pro-Russia orientation, he said without indicating how he reached that conclusion. Urechean also said that Moldova's economy is more dependent on Russia than any other state or international organization. He accused Voronin of wanting to bring about the weakening of Russia's presence in Transdniester in order to try and solve the conflict by force again and to gain the backing of the West, according to Infotag. Urechean also said in the interview that he has held several meetings with the Tiraspol separatist authorities. MS

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Checko criticized the Polish state mint company on 11 December for coining money for the separatist Transdniester region, AP reported. A shipment of 8 million coins made in Poland's state mint was halted on 25 November in Ukraine on its way to Tiraspol. MS

With almost all the votes counted in the 12 December presidential runoff, opposition candidate and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu appears to have won a surprise victory over outgoing Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. According to the Central Electoral Bureau, Basescu, who is the candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, has garnered 51.23 percent of the vote, as compared to 48.77 percent for his rival, who ran as the candidate of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party alliance. The results are based on 99 percent of polling stations counted.

Assuming the final results confirm Basescu's victory, it is close to sensational. He went into the runoff with a serious handicap, lagging some 700,000 votes behind his rival after the 28 November first round. In the first round, Nastase received 40.04 percent, whereas Basescu got 33.92 percent.

Basescu, the chairman of the Democratic Party, has pulled late surprises in elections before. In the first round of the Bucharest mayoral contest of 2000, he was more than 20 percentage points behind PSD candidate Sorin Oprescu. He won that election and was reelected Bucharest mayor in the first round four years later.

It's too early to say how Basescu managed this latest come-from-behind victory, but several points seem to be worth mentioning regardless of the final outcome. First, Basescu used the only opportunity he had in a face-to-face televised debate with Nastase on 9 December to try to convince Romanian audiences of his sincerity and intentions to curb corruption and pursue genuine reform. The PSD had been avoiding precisely such a confrontation and agreed to hold only one, aware as it apparently was that Basescu is more convincing that the rigid and formal Nastase.

Perhaps the key moment for audiences came when Basescu turned to Nastase and said, "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." It should be borne in mind that research shows that for 73 percent of Romanians, television is the main instrument of information, and that the debate (relayed also by Realitatea TV) had very high viewership.

Second, Basescu attempted to attract votes from supporters of other parties whose candidates did not make it to the runoff. Above all, he said he would welcome "any vote, from wherever it came," because "I make no distinction among Romania's citizens." The appeal was primarily aimed at voters for the Greater Romania Party (PRM), which is the third-largest force in Romania's political spectrum. He was apparently successful in this tactic. Exit polls conducted by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) found that 68.8 percent of those who cast a ballot for PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor in the first round opted for the PNL-Democratic Party alliance candidate, and only 31.2 percent chose Nastase.

This was quite unexpected, as the PRM is a lot closer to the PSD than the opposition alliance. Basescu, however, convinced PRM voters that if need be, he can be just as much of a nationalist as their leader. In a quite populist manner, he attacked Nastase and the PSD, accusing them of committing "high treason" by allegedly agreeing to grant territorial autonomy to Romania's Szeklers, a group within the ethnic Hungarian minority. The accusation came right after the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) announced it would enter coalition talks with the PSD. Basescu also pledged to be the president of a "Romania that belongs to Romanians," in what was reminiscent of the words used by far-rightist Gigi Becali in his unsuccessful election campaign.

Basescu's presumed victory may have also been influenced by the fact that UDMR voters did not fully heed the advice of UDMR Chairman Bela Marko to support Nastase at the polls. Although 75.3 percent did so, according to the CURS exit-poll findings, almost one UDMR voter in four (24.7 percent) opted for Basescu.

This is the first time that a Romanian president is being elected for a five-year term rather than four, following a constitutional amendment passed earlier this year. This means that whoever occupies the official presidential residence at Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest will play a larger role than any of his predecessors. If this is Basescu, the first question that arises is whom he would designate as prime minister. In several instances, Basescu said he would appoint PNL Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu to the post. But the constitution obliges him to appoint the prime minister either from the party with a majority of members of both the lower and upper houses of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, or after consultations with the parties represented in the legislature. Since no party has a majority, and since the PSD claims it has already formed one, this may lead to a first serious confrontation in a "cohabitation" scenario.

Basescu said in his first reaction to his victory that appointing a new prime minister will be his first priority. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said that "for now" his party maintains its decision to cooperate with the PSD and the Humanist Party (PUR) in forming a new coalition. However, he added, this might change if the PUR changes its pledge. The PUR (which owes its presence in parliament to having run on joint lists with the PSD) issued an ambiguous statement, pointing out that it is a party with a separate identity and doctrine from the PSD. According to the statement, the PUR doctrine combines social democracy with liberalism and "puts national interest above everything." Some may read in this a hint that the PUR is ready for any deal that would promote its interests.

The Romanian electorate is very polarized and it is doubtful whether a cohabitation scenario could work. At this point, that scenario is just one of many possible options. Early elections are not a remote possibility either.

What Basescu's election will not change, however, is Romania's continued quest for EU membership. Basescu has criticized the outgoing government for agreeing to the conditions imposed by the EU, after negotiations were closed on 8 December. He even said he would demand to reopen negotiations on some closed chapters. But it is more likely that he would refrain from doing so. After all, even Basescu must be aware that Romania cannot risk being left out of the envisaged 2007 enlargement after having been passed over in the previous round.

Pakistani security forces on 11 December arrested the alleged leader of the Army of the Muslims (Jaysh al-Muslimin), the group involved in the recent kidnapping of three UN employees in Kabul, Pakistan TV 1 reported. Pakistan's Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, told Dubai-based Geo TV on 11 December that Sayyed Akbar Agha was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi. Asked whether Abkar Agha will be extradited to Afghanistan for questioning, Ahmad said that Pakistan is capable "better than any other country of the world in carrying out the interrogation" of the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping in Kabul. An unidentified Pakistani government official said that Kabul has not requested Akbar Agha's extradition, AFP reported on 11 December. "Even if a request comes, it will not be an instant extradition," the source added. AT

Kabul welcomed Akbar Agha's arrest, AFP reported on 11 December. "This is very good news," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said. Afghanistan has information that "half of the [Army of the Muslims] group are still in Pakistan and so we hope that this arrest means that those people who are in Peshawar might be arrested," Mashal said, referring to the administrative capital of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, which is close to the Afghan border. The hostage crisis in Kabul, the only such case since the collapse of the Taliban regime, ended when the hostages were released unharmed by their captors, however the identity and motives of the captors as well as the way the crisis ended remain unclear (for more on the hostage crisis, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November and 3 December 2004). AT

Afghan Minister of Planning Ramazan Bachardost has declared 1,935 nongovernmental organizations illegal and ordered them to close down, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 11 December. The NGOs, which include 260 foreign ones, according to Bachardost, do not cooperate "with the government of Afghanistan or the authorities and they do not give reports of the results of their work to the Planning Ministry and they work for their own benefit," Reuters reported on 11 December. Anja de Beer, executive coordinator for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, said that the NGOs in Afghanistan would be "extremely disappointed and worried" if President Hamid Karzai retained Bachardost in his future cabinet. However "Arman-e Melli" commented that "laudable measures" by Bachardost that are "supported by the majority of the people...have inspired the lifeless structure of the [Afghan] government with a new spirit, and...have opened the way to further...reforms within the government apparatus." Bachardost has long insisted that the majority of NGOs in Afghanistan do not work for the benefit of the country and are counterproductive. AT

Afghan presidential spokesman Kaliq Ahmad said on 11 December that Bachardost's comments regarding the closure of NGOs "do not constitute a governmental decision," AFP reported. "We will make sure that he [Bachardost] apologizes to the international and local NGOs," Ahmad added. According to Karzai's spokesman, the Planning Minister is "trying to get media attention." An anonymous Afghan governmental source told AFP that Karzai will not include Bachardost in this new cabinet that is expected to be announced soon (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). AT

Lufthansa flew to Kabul from Frankfurt, Germany on 11 December, commencing the first direct commercial air link between Europe and Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to an agreement singed between Lufthansa and Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines, the German carrier will make two weekly flights between Kabul and Frankfurt and will also carry passengers of Ariana to European destinations. AT

Speaking in the Sistan va Baluchistan Province city of Zahedan on 12 December, Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told reporters that those individuals responsible for circulating compact discs that promote Sunni-Shi'a discord are trying to undermine peace and civil society, IRNA reported. Yunesi said Iran is cooperating with neighboring states to eradicate the causes of insecurity, and he added that that these causes mainly come from outside the country. Yunesi frequently bemoans what he sees as foreign efforts aimed at fomenting sectarian strife (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September, 4 October, and 15 and 23 November 2004). BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 12 December that only a few Iranian sympathizers of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization have been tried in Iran, Mehr News Agency reported. He put the number at less than 10, and he stressed that these were not Al-Qaeda members. A Tehran Province Justice Department official said on 6 December that a number of Al-Qaeda members were tried in a special court and a verdict was issued, but Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi denied this on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 December 2004). BS

Former Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting chief Ali Larijani has agreed to be a candidate in the 2005 presidential election, Followers of Imam and Leadership Front official Maryam Behruzi said on 11 December, Mehr News Agency reported. The conservative group's Behruzi said that her organization will meet with other prospective candidates. She said the candidacy of former speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi-Karrubi would be a welcome development. Two other conservatives, Ali Akbar Velayati and Ahmad Tavakoli, have already announced their intention to run for president. BS

Seyyed Reza Zavarei, who competed in the 1997 presidential election, announced on 12 December that he will compete in the 2005 race as an independent, ISNA reported. Zavarei, who has served on the Guardians Council as one of its jurists, gave as reasons for his decision "God's will," the "country's conditions," and the need to resolve society's problems. Cabinet members will not be chosen on factional grounds, he said, but honesty and competence will be the determining factors. Zavarei has previous experience as a legislator and a Revolutionary Court prosecutor. BS

During an 11-12 December visit to Iran, Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, and Speaker of Parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, international news agencies reported. Among the topics of discussion were the Caspian Sea, Chechnya, terrorism, regional security, and Iran's nuclear activities. Khatami told his guest that Iran opposes the interference of outside powers in the Caspian and said Iran and Russia should restore security in the Caucasus. "We call for an all-out campaign against the indecent phenomenon of terrorism and at the same time reject the double standard in the international campaign against terrorism," Khatami said on 12 December according to IRNA. Rafsanjani told his guest that Russia can play a bigger role in global affairs, and he expressed irritation over delays in the conclusion of the Bushehr nuclear facility, state television reported on 12 December. He warned of alleged U.S. ambitions in the Caspian region. Mironov noted that bilateral trade for the last year was $1.4 billion. Mironov told Iranian legislators that Russia appreciates support for its territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported. BS

A car bomb detonated outside Baghdad's green zone on 13 December, killing seven and wounding at least 19 people, international media reported. Al-Jazeera reported that the bomb went off as cars were lining up at a checkpoint to the secured area. A correspondent on the scene reported that 15 vehicles were completely destroyed in the blast. A car bomb was also detonated on the main highway north of Baghdad at Al-Tarmiyah, the news agency reported. Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said that seven Marines were killed in the volatile Al-Anbar Province on 12 December. The province contains the restive cities of Al-Ramadi and Al-Fallujah. Officials declined to give details about the deaths for security reasons, international media reported. KR

The Constitutional Monarchy Movement, headed by Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, announced on 12 December that it has submitted a 275-member list to the Electoral Commission, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. The Iraqi Communist Party also announced a list under the name the People's Union, Al-Sharqiyah reported. Party Secretary-General Hamid Majid Musa said in a statement that the list includes 257 cultural, social, and political figures from various sects. The deadline for the submission of lists to the Electoral Commission is 15 December. KR

The U.S. military said that eight of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's top aides are refusing to eat, Reuters reported on 13 December. Al-Jazeera television reported on 12 December, however, that Hussein himself and 11 of his aides in U.S. custody have launched a hunger strike. Hussein attorney Ziyad al-Khasawinah told Al-Jazeera that the hunger strike began on 9 December. He claimed that the hunger strike was launched "due to the coercion meted out against them" to testify against Hussein. Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson told Reuters on 13 December that the detainees are taking liquids, adding that several did not eat breakfast today but requested a "late breakfast, which was provided to them." He added that seven of the detainees refused some meals on 12 December, although they continued to snack and drink. Today marks the first anniversary of the capture of Hussein. KR

According to an article in the 9 December issue of "The New England Journal of Medicine," 10 percent of U.S. soldiers have died from their war wounds from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. The article, "Casualties of War -- Military Care for the Wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan," suggests that this low percentage is primarily due to the military's medical system, which has made "fundamental -- and apparently effective -- changes in the strategies and systems of battle care, even since the Persian Gulf War." As of 16 November, some 10,726 military members have suffered war injuries. Of these, 1,361 died, 1,004 of them killed in action; 5,174 were wounded and could not return to duty; and 4,191 returned to duty within 72 hours. DI

The U.S. spent $99.1 billion through 30 August on operations in Iraq, with costs running at an average pace of about $4.4 billion a month, reported on 9 December. That figure covers the period starting with the initial deployment of troops in the late fall and winter of 2002. But it excludes several billion for intelligence spending and another $5 billion to $6 billion in obligations for September 2004, the last month of the fiscal year. The $99.1 billion also does not include $9.4 billion that's part of $25 billion in emergency spending for Iraq included in the fiscal 2005 defense-spending bill. The $9.4 billion has been released to the services but not spent. The Pentagon spent $6 billion in August, the largest amount since January, when the Pentagon spent $6.4 billion, according to figures from the Pentagon comptroller's office. Bush administration officials in February 2005 may seek as much as $70 billion in additional Iraq funding in a request that is separate from the fiscal 2006 defense budget. DI

Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper reported on 13 December that Baghdad is in the grip of the most serious fuel crisis since the war. Drivers are forced to spend more than a day in gas lines, underlining the government's struggle to maintain even basic services weeks ahead of elections. In the past two weeks, lines often hundreds of cars long have stretched for miles, and disputes between drivers and police have turned violent. In one incident last week at a gas station in Yarmouk, an affluent area in western Baghdad, a police major was killed by a man waiting in line. Government officials blamed attacks by insurgents for the shortage. But gas station managers say the problems stem more from electricity shortages that prevent pumps from working, higher demand from Iraqis who rely on gas not just for their cars but to run generators for their homes, and from the dramatic increase in the number of cars on the road since last year's war. A new curfew in Baghdad also means gas stations do not stay open late. DI

Saboteurs attacked Iraq's northern export pipeline on 10 December, though oil is still flowing intermittently to Turkey's Ceyhan port, Reuters reported on 13 December. The bombing late on 10 December in the Riyad area southwest of the oil center Kirkuk blew a hole in a section of the twin pipeline, according to Iraqi officials. They said that oil is still reaching the storage tanks at the pumping station near Bayji via a second pipeline. Sabotage reduced last month's shipments of Kirkuk crude to Ceyhan to 3.8 million barrels, compared to the 7.5 million barrels that were scheduled to be loaded. Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban said on 12 December that Iraqi insurgents hoping to disrupt next month's elections are sabotaging oil wells in hopes of creating a fuel shortage that will drive up fuel prices, according to AFP. Al-Ghadban said the number of attacks on oil pipelines jumped to 27 last month from only one or two in the beginning of the year. DI

Contract killers are being offered as little as $50 to hunt down coalition troops on the streets of Iraq, Sydney's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 12 December. The hit men are reportedly being lured to Baghdad from poor neighboring countries in the Middle East with the promise of cash payments for every Western soldier they kill. Air Commodore Greg Evans, commander of Australian forces in the Middle East, told the newspaper that Iraqi insurgents have turned to hired assassins to do the dirty work. "We are seeing zealots brought in from outside Iraq and paid $50 for contract killings. These forces are a general threat to the coalition." Evans said he has not heard specific cases of mercenaries targeting Australians, but added that intelligence reports warned the killers would not make any distinction between U.S., British, and Australian troops. He expects a "campaign of murder" to begin in Baghdad over the holiday season. DI