GOVERNMENT ACQUIESCES TO FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR PENSIONERS
At a televised cabinet session on 20 January, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov announced an agreement whereby each eligible pensioner will receive a concessionary travel card, and federal authorities will offset the costs where necessary by compensating regional governments, NTV reported. Meanwhile, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 20 January, former Finance Minister and Renaissance Capital Chairman Aleksandr Skokhin warned that meeting protesting pensioners' demands over social-benefits reform will undoubtedly lead to a surge in inflation. He said "the situation is such that spending on cash payments may many times exceed the actual spending on benefits which was traditionally included in the budgets and which could have been included in the 2005 budget had it not been for the monetization of benefits." Meanwhile, in an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 20 January, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said he considers the monetization of in-kind benefits a "shameful" way to cover up the fact that pensions are inadequate to cover the cost of living. JAC
OBSERVERS SPLIT OVER CABINET'S FATE...
The dni.ru website asked a number of policymakers and experts on 20 January whether President Vladimir Putin will dismiss the government following the flap over the social-benefits reform. Political consultant Marat Gelman commented that no ministers were dismissed over the handling of the Ukrainian election or the Beslan tragedy. He suggested that Putin understands that "people who insist on the government's resignation because of the [protests] over the monetization of social benefits are concerned about something else -- they see in the prime minister's platform, a place for the construction of a 'Successor Project'" to succeed Putin. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that if Putin planned to dismiss the government, he would have done so on 17 January. "Judging by everything, the president has decided to keep them. Why? Probably because the president doesn't have anyone to replace them -- there are simply no other people," Ryzhkov said. He said the government's dismissal has merely been postponed, adding that the current protests are only the beginning and they will continue all year. JAC
...AND OVER IMPACT OF BENEFITS-REFORM PROTESTS
Analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told dni.ru on 20 January that he thinks the dismissal of the government is "unavoidable" and will take place in the spring. According to Belkovskii, Putin made the decision in December, not because he foresaw the failure of the benefits monetization but because he understood that although Fradkov was fulfilling his orders as a loyal bureaucrat, at the same time he was planning to avoid full responsibility for what is happening with the economy. Belkovskii named as likely candidates to replace Fradkov presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. JAC
RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN DENIED PERMISSION TO ADDRESS DUMA
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said on 20 January that he intends to complain to the Constitutional Court because the Duma earlier that day denied him permission to address the chamber on 21 January, Interfax reported. "The human rights ombudsman was virtually denied the right to make a public assessment of the actions of the authorities at various levels [regarding the implementation of the social-benefits reforms]," Lukin said. "I am guaranteed the right to speak in the State Duma by [law]." "It is my firm belief that those who restrict the opportunities for serious dialog between the authorities and society widen the range of action for extremism," Lukin added. RC
RUSSIA PREPARES TO HOST NEW UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT
President Putin on 19 January congratulated Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko on his recent election victory, Russian and international media reported. Putin and the Russian government actively supported Yushchenko's opponent, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, in the election and Putin congratulated Yanukovych on 22 November following the second round of voting, which was later annulled because of massive fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). "I congratulated Viktor Yanukovych" and the election "results are absolutely clear," Putin was quoted by AFP as saying on 25 November. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 19 January that Yushchenko will make his first official trip abroad when he travels to Moscow on 24 January, following his 23 January inauguration. "Russia and Ukraine live together side by side, our peoples are linked by thousands of bonds, and the economies are interdependent in the good sense of the word," Lavrov said, according to ITAR-TASS. "Therefore there is nothing unnatural in the fact that the first visit will be to Russia." Lavrov said that Russia will be "represented at the highest levels" at Yushchenko's inauguration but that a precise decision has not yet been made. RC
ACTIVISTS DESCRIBE BASHKORTOSTAN RAIDS AS POLITICAL 'REVENGE'
Human rights workers who have been investigating the mass beatings and detentions by police in Blagoveshchensk, Bashkortostan, from 10-14 December plan to send materials they have collected to the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 January. Local human rights activist Ildar Isangulov claimed the initial account of what sparked the police raids (i.e., that a group of youths beat up some policemen) is false (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 20 January 2005). The real reason people were beaten, according to Isangulov, based on his interviews with residents, is that they voted "incorrectly" in the republic's December presidential election. "Novaya gazeta" correspondent Marat Khairullin offered Ekho Moskvy a similar account on 19 January, saying he is convinced the raids were "revenge" against the vast majority of Blagoveshchensk residents who voted against incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov. Khairullin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that what happened at Blagoveshchensk is a "result of the unlimited power of Rakhimov." He also confirmed earlier reports that dozens of women in the city were raped by policemen. JAC
BUSINESS LEADERS COMPLAIN OF TAX CLAIMS, UNCERTAIN PROPERTY RIGHTS, JUDICIAL CORRUPTION
Addressing a session of the government's Council on Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship on 20 January, EES head Chubais said that the government's economic-development plan is "excellent" but that it will not achieve the desired results because "it bears no relation to real life." Chubais said there is no trust between government and business and that without trust "no program can work." Chubais called for ceilings on government claims against businesses for past taxes, and he also demanded confirmation of the results of 1990s-era privatizations. Severstal CEO Aleksei Mordashov, at the same session, called for legal reform and an end to so-called Basmannyi justice, referring to Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court, which has a reputation for returning high-profile rulings that are convenient for the Kremlin. Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Aleksei Makarkin told "Vedomosti" on 21 January that the business leaders' appeals to Prime Minister Fradkov at the session will have no effect. "The lack of rules is convenient for the authorities since it allows them to interpret every situation the way they want to," Makarkin said. RC
VLADIMIR OBLAST BEGINS PROCESS OF SELECTING NEXT GOVERNOR
The office of presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko has submitted to the Kremlin two candidates for the post of governor of Vladimir Oblast, the first such nominations to be made under the new system for selecting regional leaders, RTR reported on 20 January. Under the new system, President Putin must nominate a candidate, who must then be endorsed by the oblast legislature. According to the report, 15 candidates were considered and the final choices are incumbent Governor Nikolai Vinogradov and Chief Federal Inspector of the region Gennadii Veretennikov. A representative of Poltavchenko told RTR that the choices were made following "numerous consultations with trade unions, dozens of parties, heads of enterprises, legislators, public figures, and clergy." RC
GAZPROM-MEDIA POISED FOR EXPANSION
Gazprom-Media General Director Nikolai Senkevich said on 20 January that his company "undoubtedly plans to build up and expand our business," Interfax reported. The media holding of state-controlled Gazprom controls NTV, TNT, Ekho Moskvy, "Itogi," "Tribuna," and numerous other media properties. When the company was caught up in the 2001 takeover of NTV and other Media-MOST properties, company officials said that Gazprom intended to divest itself of its media holdings and other noncore assets as soon as possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2002). "We had a difficult childhood," Senkevich said. "I am sincerely grateful to all those who were there at the start, who have ever worked, and who continue to work for the company." RC
MOSCOW HAS NO PLANS FOR STALIN STATUE
Moscow city authorities have denied recent media reports that a statue of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin will be erected at the city's Poklonnaya Gora World War II memorial complex, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). Moscow mayoral spokesman Mikhail Solomentsev denied the earlier statement about the monument by Federation Council representative Oleg Tolkachev and said the city plans to erect a monument at the site that will depict four typical soldiers from the anti-Hitler coalition. RC
SOBCHAK GETS A SQUARE
A square in St. Petersburg has been named after the late former Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, Interfax and fontanka.ru reported on 20 January. Current St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko signed the corresponding resolution on 17 January. The square is located in front of the southern facade of the Kirov Palace of Culture. A competition to create a bust of Sobchak for the square is currently being planned. The square is not far from the law school of St. Petersburg State University where Sobchak taught and President Putin graduated, according to RTR. Sobchak died on 20 February 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). JAC
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS CALL ON RUSSIA TO RELEASE CHECHEN LEADER'S RELATIVES
In a joint statement released on 20 January, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the International Human Rights Federation asked the Russian leadership to secure the release of relatives of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov who have been taken hostage over the past two months and to punish those responsible for apprehending them, Russian news agencies reported. The statement bases its appeal on information from the Russian human rights center Memorial and "other reliable Russian sources." Memorial reported earlier this month that several elderly relatives of Maskhadov, including two brothers and a sister, have been detained by security forces subordinate to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov and Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov have both denied that members of Maskhadov's family have been arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004 and 10 and 14 January 2005). LF
WHEREABOUTS OF ABDUCTED INGUSH MAN REMAIN A MYSTERY
Seven weeks after 27-year-old Adam Bersanov was detained in Malgobek by armed men claiming to be Federal Security Service (FSB) officers, his whereabouts remain unclear, ingushetiya.ru reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). On 20 January, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Bersanov has been charged with helping the militants responsible for the Beslan school hostage taking in September, but a North Ossetian procuracy employee denied that report in a telephone call to ingushetiya.ru. On 25 December, acting Ingush Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoev told Regnum that the investigation into Bersanov's disappearance has not yielded any indication that the FSB was involved. Bersanov's wife gave birth to a daughter just days after he disappeared. LF
BESLAN RELATIVES DEMAND NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
Some 50 parents and grandparents of victims of the September hostage taking at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, blocked the main Rostov-na-Donu-Baku highway on 20 January to demand the resignation of North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov and an independent international investigation into the circumstances of the hostage taking, kavkazweb.net reported. On 21 January, the number of protesters had increased to approximately 100, AP reported, quoting Russian media. Dzasokhov met with the protesters on 21 January and warned them against actions that could exacerbate tensions. He also said he will not resign and asked the protesters to wait until the parliamentary commission formed to investigate the hostage taking unveils its findings, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT REPORTS FALL IN UNEMPLOYMENT
Unemployment in Armenia declined in 2004 from 9.7 percent to 9.4 percent of the workforce, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 20 January, citing data released by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. Those statistics are, however, based only on the number of officially registered unemployed; experts from the UN World Food Program estimate the true figure at 20-30 percent. The Ararat Marz (region) registered 14 percent unemployment in November, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 November, while Kapan in southern Armenia registered 47 percent, Goris 30 percent, and Sisian 20 percent, according to Noyan Tapan on 23 December. Almost 70 percent of the registered unemployed in late August were women, according to Noyan Tapan on 5 October. LF
ARMENIA PLANS TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE
The Armenian government approved on 20 January and will soon forward to parliament a draft bill that envisages steeper fines for poaching and the destruction of wildlife or urban green areas, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported, quoting Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian. Hunters who illegally kill a rare species of mountain goat will be fined the equivalent of $6,000, while in a bid to prevent further deforestation, the felling of a single tree will be punishable by a $100 fine. The percentage of Armenia's territory covered by woodland has fallen from 11 percent in 1991 to below 8 percent today. LF
AZERBAIJAN MARKS 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF SOVIET INTERVENTION
Azerbaijan observed a day of mourning on 21 January in memory of the estimated 134 people killed when Soviet authorities sent troops into Baku in 1990 to put an end to widespread protests and reprisals against the city's ethnic Armenian population, Turan reported. Speaking on 18 January at a conference in Baku pegged to the anniversary, Shahin Sayylov, who is chairman of the State Committee for Prisoners, Hostages, and Missing Persons, blamed the intervention on "Armenian nationalists who had penetrated Soviet power structures," zerkalo.az reported on 19 January. LF
TWO GEORGIAN POLICE OFFICERS ABDUCTED IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Two Georgian police officers were apprehended in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia late on 19 January, Georgian news agencies reported the following day. Georgian sources initially identified the perpetrators as gunmen who sought to exchange the two officers for an Ossetian arrested in Georgia on suspicion of murder. But a spokeswoman for the South Ossetian government said the two were detained because they entered a "no-go" area. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili canceled his participation in a 20 January government session because of the officers' abduction, Interfax reported, quoting Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. One of the two Georgians was released on 20 January following talks between Georgian and South Ossetian representatives and Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone. Talks on securing the release of the second Georgian officer are continuing. LF
GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL PROPOSES JOINT INSPECTION OF PANKISI GORGE
Responding to what he termed "totally groundless" allegations by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov concerning the presence in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge of international terrorists and militants, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili proposed on 20 January that Georgia and Russia jointly monitor the region, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Khizri Aldamov, who heads the Chechen community in Georgia, likewise dismissed Russian allegations of a Chechen militant presence in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 20 January, Interfax quoted Ivanov as telling journalists in St. Petersburg that Russia reserves the right to launch preventive strikes to neutralize a perceived terrorist threat, but he stressed that nuclear weapons would not be used in any such attack. LF
KAZAKH POLICE DETAIN ALLEGED HIZB UT-TAHRIR DEMONSTRATORS
Police detained 40 alleged supporters of the Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization after the latter held an unsanctioned rally in Almaty on 20 January, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Almaty city police told the news agency that demonstrators gathered in the morning outside the city's central mosque with placards bearing extremist and anti-American slogans. According to a report in "Liter" on 21 January, the demonstrators condemned abuses committed against Iraqi Muslims. "The police have detained almost all the participants in the rally, about 40 people," a police spokesperson told Interfax. "Administrative measures have been applied to them for holding an unauthorized rally." Kazakh officials have warned recently that the group, which is unregistered in Kazakhstan and banned elsewhere in Central Asia, is growing more active. On 19 January, a court in Shymkent sentenced Hizb ut-Tahrir activist Serik Tulepbergenov to one year in prison for "active participation in an unregistered organization," Kazinform reported. The report noted that 2004 witnessed 39 criminal cases against Hizb ut-Tahrir in Southern-Kazakhstan Province, where Shymkent is located, a threefold increase over 2003. DK
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT VOTES TO LET EX-ENVOYS RUN FOR PARLIAMENT...
Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the country's election law on 20 January permitting former diplomats to run for office whether or not they meet the five-year in-country residency requirement, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The amendment, which still needs President Askar Akaev's signature to become law, would come too late to help several would-be candidates from the diplomatic corps who have been barred from running in 27 February parliamentary elections because they have not resided in Kyrgyzstan for the past five years; the deadline for submitting applications to run was 17 January. The in-country residency requirement has eliminated several potential opposition candidates from contention this year, including former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva and ex-envoys Mambetjunus Abylov, Medetkan Sherimkulov, and Usen Sydykov. DK
...AS ELECTION COMMISSION APPROVES CANDIDATES...
As of 19 January, Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission has registered 183 candidates out of 520 who have applied to run in the 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 20 January. Approximately 70 of the candidates were put forward by political parties. Among those registered are President Akaev's son and daughter, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev's son, and presidential-administration head Nurdin Kasymov's son. DK
...AND OPPOSITION FACES CHARGES OVER RALLY
The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry has filed administrative charges against Ishengul Boljurova, deputy chairwoman of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, and Topchubek Turgunaliev, the leader of the opposition party Erkindik, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 20 January. The two face charges in connection with an unsanctioned 19 January demonstration in support of Otunbaeva (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005), co-chairwoman of the opposition bloc Ata-Jurt, who was barred from participation in 27 February parliamentary elections for failing to meet the in-country residency requirement. Fifty Otunbaeva supporters rallied in Bishkek on 20 January demanding that she be granted the right to run. DK
TAJIK NEWSPAPER ORDERED TO PAY $16,000 IN DEFAMATION SUIT
A court in Dushanbe has ordered a correspondent for the independent newspaper "Nerui Sukhan" to pay 50,000 somonis ($16,400) to a professor at the National University of Tajikistan in damages for a defamatory article, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 20 January. The professor sued after an article alleged that he accepted bribes from students. Judge Fayzali Nozilov ruled that the newspaper did not provide proof of the allegations the article made. Mukhtor Boqizoda, the newspaper's editor in chief, expressed his dissatisfaction with the ruling and said that "Nerui Sukhan" plans to appeal. DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SHAKES UP KGB LEADERSHIP...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed a new chief of the State Security Committee (KGB), and replaced his deputies and the heads of KGB regional directorates, Belapan reported on 20 January, citing the presidential press service. The Belarusian KGB will now be led by Major General Stsyapan Sukharenka, who was KGB first deputy chairman in 2000-04 and acting KGB chairman following the dismissal of Leanid Yeryn in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). Lukashenka appointed Vasil Dzemyantsey KGB first deputy chairman; Viktar Vyahera KGB deputy chairman and head of the Main Counterintelligence Directorate; Mikalay Svorab KGB deputy chairman and head of the Main Directorate for Economic Security and the Fight Against Corruption; Alyaksey Yalfimau head of the KGB Military Counterintelligence Directorate; Syarhey Volkav head of the KGB Foreign Intelligence Directorate; and Viktar Rusak head of the KGB Economic Security Directorate. Belarus's regional directorates of the KGB will be headed by Ihar Kuznyatsou (Minsk City and Minsk Oblast), Ihar Bakhmatau (Brest Oblast), Uladzimir Palyashchuk (Vitsebsk Oblast), and Ihar Syarheyenka (Hrodna Oblast). JM
...AS OPPOSITION LEADER PREDICTS HARSHER POLITICAL REPRESSION
Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 20 January that Sukharenka's appointment signals that President Lukashenka wants to reinforce political repression in the country before the 2006 presidential election. "Stsyapan Sukharenka has a great passion for political repression," Lyabedzka said. "The presidential election campaign is approaching, and the priority for Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his entourage will be not so much fighting corruption or transnational crime as staying in power." Another opposition leader, Mikalay Statkevich, said that Lukashenka has begun to purge the KGB top ranks of people with "Moscow connections." "This is a trend," Statkevich said. "[The KGB top ranks are being filled by] a new draft of people who have no connections in Moscow and do not belong to the common clan of KGB people [of the former USSR]." JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES YUSHCHENKO ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL VICTORY
President Lukashenka on 20 January congratulated Viktor Yushchenko on his election as Ukraine's president, Belapan reported, citing the presidential press service. "Belarus knows you as a prominent statesman and experienced politician," the Belarusian president said in his message. "I hope that you will contribute to the expansion of Belarusian-Ukrainian cooperation and the strengthening of the good-neighborly relations between our countries." This was the second congratulation Lukashenka sent to Kyiv on the occasion of the Ukrainian election. On 23 November, Lukashenka congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on winning the 21 November presidential runoff despite the lack of a final tally in that vote. JM
BELARUSIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECLINE
The Statistics and Analysis Ministry has revealed that the population of Belarus decreased by some 49,900 people in 2004, bringing the country's population down to 9.799 million at the beginning of 2005, Belapan reported. According to the census held in February 1999, Belarus was inhabited by 10.045 million people, down 107,000 from the previous census in 1989. JM
UKRAINIAN'S YANUKOVYCH CALLS ON SUPPORTERS TO END PROTESTS...
Speaking on Donetsk-based Ukrayina television channel on 20 January, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who lost the 26 December presidential vote to Yushchenko, called on supporters protesting in tent camps in some cities of eastern Ukraine against the Yushchenko victory to dismantle their tents. "Today we are entering a new stage of our struggle that will require different means," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) quoted him as saying. "Let us dismantle our tent camps and begin a new stage of our political struggle that requires no less perseverance and courage." Yanukovych suggested that he may file a legal protest with an international court against the Ukrainian Supreme Court's 20 January decision to confirm Yushchenko's victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). "We will certainly try to appeal [against the Supreme Court ruling]," Yanukovych said. "But we should realize that Europe will not defend our choice." JM
...AND PREDICTS HARD TIMES FOR PRESIDENT-ELECT
Yanukovych said on Ukrayina television on 20 January that it will be very hard for President-elect Yushchenko to find a "common language" with the millions of voters who supported the prime minister in the presidential election, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. "It will [also] be difficult for him to build relations with Russia," Yanukovych noted. "And with Europe, too. What can he propose? The orange lawlessness for export?" Yanukovych predicted that his party will win the parliamentary election in March 2006 and form a new government. "The orange horror won't last long, we will [soon] remember it as a [mere] nightmare." JM
YUSHCHENKO FACES FULL SCHEDULE FOLLOWING INAUGURATION
Following his inauguration as Ukraine's new president on 23 January, Yushchenko will pay his first presidential visit to Moscow on 24 January (see also Russia section), Ukrainian and international media reported on 20 January. Yushchenko will address a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 25 January, and the following day he will travel to Poland for the 60th anniversary of the Soviet army's liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, where his father was imprisoned. JM
UNITED STATES CONGRATULATES YUSHCHENKO ON PRESIDENTIAL VICTORY
The U.S. State Department has congratulated Yushchenko on his election as president of Ukraine in a message posted on its website (http://www.state.gov). "We congratulate President-elect Yushchenko on his historic victory and wish him all success for his term in office," the message read. "We also congratulate the Ukrainian people for the courage they displayed in standing up for their democratic rights. The United States stands ready to strengthen its cooperation with Ukraine and looks forward to working closely with Ukraine's new president." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to Kyiv to represent Washington at Yushchenko's inauguration on 23 January. JM
QUESTIONS REMAIN OVER EU CHIEF DIPLOMAT'S POSTPONED TRIP TO SERBIA
Cristina Gallach, who is spokeswoman for EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, told the Podgorica daily "Dan" of 21 January that Solana personally decided to postpone his scheduled trip to Belgrade because so little progress had been made on virtually all topics on the planned agenda that his visit was unlikely to lead to any concrete results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). Elsewhere, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said that the main stumbling block is that Serbia and Montenegro cannot agree on whether to hold direct elections to their joint parliament. The Serbian side wants such a vote, while the Montenegrin government believes that any parliamentary election should take place only after Montenegro's planned referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004 and 13 and 20 January 2005). Finally, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote that Solana might have postponed his trip at least in part because of a possible government crisis in Serbia, where the G-17 Plus party has threatened to leave the ruling coalition unless the government starts arresting war crimes indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2004). PM
SERBIAN PRESIDENT LAUNCHES CONSTITUTIONAL INITIATIVE
Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 20 January that he has formed a group of experts to draw up a draft constitution for Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He called for Serbia to be constituted as one republic with the two provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina, adding that he wants Belgrade to take an active role in Kosova regarding its future status and the quality of life of its inhabitants. Tadic's latest remarks probably reflect his ongoing rivalry with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has proved more adept at using the Kosova issue for political gain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). The concept of Serbia as one republic with two provinces is taken from the 1974 Serbian and Yugoslav constitutions and probably intended to show an international public that Tadic is a non-nationalist alternative to Kostunica (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 November and 10 December 2004). The 1974 constitutions were reasonably popular in the two provinces, but were regarded by most Serbs as weakening Serbia. Such Serbs noted that no other Yugoslav republic was "partitioned" in that way, which provided a major Serbian grievance that surfaced in the mid-1980s and help fuel the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic, who eventually abolished the two provinces' autonomy. PM
FORMER GERMAN MINISTER AGREES TO LOBBY FOR MACEDONIA
Former German Finance Minister Theo Waigel has accepted the invitation of Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski to act as a adviser on international institutions such as the EU, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 21 January. Quoting government sources, the daily reported that Buckovski also expects Waigel to help draw German investors to Macedonia. In a letter to the government, Waigel said he will assist Macedonian preparations for EU membership over the next five years. Waigel, who belongs to Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), served as finance minister in the cabinet of Chancellor Helmut Kohl from 1989-98. Waigel's legacy from those years remains a matter of controversy in Germany. UB
BOSNIA'S FORMER TOP DIPLOMAT TO FIGHT EXTRADITION
Former Bosnian Ambassador to the UN and Foreign Minister Mohamed Sacirbey said in New York on 20 January that he intends to fight the recent decision by a U.S. magistrate to extradite him to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he has been charged with embezzling $2.5 million during his tenure at the UN in the 1990s, Reuters reported. Sacirbey, who claims that the charges are politically motivated, maintains his innocence. He plans to argue in the U.S. district court in Manhattan that there are no formal charges against him in Bosnia, only an ongoing investigation, and that "abuse of office" is not a charge for which one can be extradited. Sacirbey, who holds dual U.S. and Bosnian citizenship and is a trained lawyer and banker, also argues that one cannot charge him with abuse of any formal office because he was acting under the direct authority of then-President Alija Izetbegovic. Sacirbey was arrested in March 2003 at his home on Staten Island and held in prison until July 2004, when he was released on $6 million bail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 29 July 2004). He and his wife have challenged his accusers to say what he did with the allegedly embezzled funds, which the Sacirbeys deny ever having seen. Speculation in the regional media has suggested that he might have wanted money for a variety of purposes, including playing what was then a booming U.S. stock market or maintaining a jet-set lifestyle. PM
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY BACKS KOSOVA'S OFFER TO HELP TSUNAMI VICTIMS
UN officials and diplomatic representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy (known locally as "the Quint") agreed in Prishtina on 20 January to back an offer by the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) to assist with relief work in southeast Asia, dpa reported. Mark Dickinson, chief British diplomat in Prishtina, said that "the crisis in southeastern Asia is a good opportunity for the [TMK] to prove their skills and experience" in disaster-relief work. The 5,000-strong TMK is modeled on a French civilian organization. It is headed by a former commander of the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and regarded by most Kosovar Albanians as the core of the future army of an independent Kosova. Some of its camps look very much like military installations, with pictures of UCK heroes and memorabilia on display. PM
WINE NAMED AFTER CROATIA'S BEST-KNOWN WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
Unnamed producers recently presented to the public a wine named after fugitive indictee and former Croatian General Ante Gotovina in Zadar, his hometown, dpa reported on 20 January. Some visitors to former Yugoslavia have noted the presence of t-shirts with pictures of controversial local World War II personalities and more recent war crimes indictees, such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. PM
PREMIER SAYS ROMANIA DID NOT MEET CONDITIONS FOR CLOSING EU NEGOTIATIONS
Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said in an interview on Realitatea TV on 20 January that his country had not met all of its EU-accession conditions by 17 December, when the EU agreed to close the negotiations, Mediafax reported. Popescu-Tariceanu said the closure of the negotiations was tantamount to a "political gesture made by some EU heavyweights." He mentioned specifically France, Germany, and Great Britain. The negotiations were closed under Romania's previous cabinet, headed by Adrian Nastase. Popescu-Tariceanu said Romania now finds itself in a "race against the clock" to meet all the obligations it assumed during the negotiations. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TELLS PROSECUTORS TO CRACK DOWN ON CORRUPTION OR RESIGN...
President Traian Basescu told prosecutors on 20 January that they must crack down on organized-crime groups that jeopardize Romania's development, or resign, Mediafax and AP reported. Basescu said the prosecutors should focus on catching high-level individuals involved in corruption and organized crime. "These are the people who cause Romania to be labeled a mafia-like country, not the [occasional] prostitute we show on television," Basescu said. Also on 20 January, the government dismissed Police Chief Dumitru Sorescu and Interior Ministry State Secretary Toma Zaharia, Mediafax and dpa reported. The cabinet appointed Dan Valentin Fatuloiu, who led the Bucharest police department's organized-crime-fighting efforts, as new police chief. Former police chief Anghel Andreescu was named to replace Zaharia. Sorescu's and Zaharia's names figured on the "list of shame" published the previous day by associations representing 1989 revolutionaries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). MS
...OPPOSES AUSTRIAN PROJECT TO BUILD PRISONS IN ROMANIA
President Basescu said on 20 January that he is opposed to an Austrian proposal agreed to last year under which the country will help build prisons in Romania that could house Romanian citizens currently imprisoned in Austria, Mediafax and AFP reported. "We can build our own prisons for our own criminals," Basescu said in an interview with Austria's ORF television. The project was approved last year by the former Social Democratic government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). The Austrian Justice Ministry said it regrets Basescu's stance on the issue, adding that the project is in its advanced stages and that a site for the prison has already been chosen. MS
ROMANIA COMMEMORATES VICTIMS OF 1941 POGROM
Romania on 20 January commemorated the 121 Jewish victims of the 1941 pogrom perpetrated by the Iron Guard in Bucharest, AP reported. In a message read out at the Choral Temple in Bucharest by presidential adviser Claudiu Saftoiu, President Basescu said the tragedy of the Holocaust "cannot and should not be forgotten," according to the Romanian presidency's website, www.presidency.ro. "I believe that it is our duty to fellow Jews who lived in those times and to the youth of this country to remember what happened then," Basescu said. "I believe the role of education is paramount. The Holocaust must be taught in Romanian schools and universities more and more, in order for the mistakes of the past not to be repeated. Remembering the Holocaust should not be limited to a one-day commemoration." MS
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PARTNERSHIP WITH BUCHAREST IS MOLDOVA'S ROAD TO EUROPE
Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu said on 20 January that Romania's "European partnership with Moldova is not merely a project, it is a mission" of his ministry, Moldpres reported. Ungureanu said Romania "is offering Europe to Moldova," as it is highly supportive of that country's integration into the EU. He also said his ministry plans to allocate more resources to improve Romania's partnership with Moldova, the first step in this direction being the construction of a new and larger embassy in Chisinau. On 19 January, the Romanian presidential office announced that President Basescu will pay an official visit to Chisinau on 21 January, at the invitation of his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin. It will be Basescu's first official visit abroad. Meanwhile, on 20 January the Romanian government announced it will export 300 million kilowatt hours of electricity to Moldova at a reduced price. Moldova is facing an electricity crisis after having been cut off from its main Transdniester-based electricity supplier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2005). MS
MOLDOVA PREVENTS RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADORS FROM TRAVELING TO TRANSDNIESTER
Moldovan border guards on 20 January stopped Russian Ambassador Nikolai Ryabov and Ukrainian Ambassador Petro Chalyy from crossing into Transdniester, Moldpres and Infotag reported. The two diplomats were traveling with the head of the OSCE's mission to Moldova, William Hill, who was allowed to cross because he possessed authorization issued by the Moldovan Foreign Ministry. A regulation curbing the travel of diplomats to Transdniester has been enforced this month and has been protested by Russia and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, and 20 January 2005). MS
MOSCOW SHEDS LIGHT ON KARABAKH TALKS
In order not to risk jeopardizing any rapprochement that has been achieved, the participants in what has come to be known as the "Prague process" on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict have until now abided by a gentlemen's agreement not to divulge to the press the specific topics under discussion.
In line with that agreement, neither Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian nor his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov have divulged any details of their most recent talks under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group in Prague on 10-11 January. But four days after those talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a press release listing specific issues under discussion, adding that on some of those issues the two sides' positions have become closer.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian Service after meeting with Mammadyarov on 11 January, Oskanian characterized the mood of the talks as "positive." He said that "full agreement" has not yet been reached on the principles of a settlement, but that "there is a general framework of issues, but as this meeting showed, they need to be consolidated." He added that "it is still too early to disclose any details." Briefing journalists in Yerevan the following day, Oskanian predicted that settlement talks this year will be "quite intensive," thus marking a qualitative shift to a new, more serious phase of discussions. Noyan Tapan quoted him as saying that "all elements" related to a peaceful solution of the conflict are on the table, without listing those elements.
Oskanian further noted that Azerbaijani media frequently misrepresent the nature and focus of the talks, and that "everyone" -- presumably meaning both Mammadyarov and the U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group -- agree that "officials should be more circumspect when making statements."
On 13 January, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov similarly briefed journalists in Baku on the Prague talks. Azimov said that while Baku insists that any solution to the conflict must preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, the restoration of territorial integrity alone will not solve all problems: in that context he mentioned specifically the future peaceful coexistence of the Armenian population of Karabakh and those Azerbaijanis who fled the region over a decade ago when the conflict first turned violent and hope to return there.
Azimov also listed issues that could form part of a hypothetical solution to the conflict. He said that if Armenian troops are withdrawn from Azerbaijani territory, Azerbaijan will be ready to restore economic and other relations with Armenia. He was quoted by zerkalo.az as saying that "a little later, the question of the return to the region of the Azerbaijani population and the coexistence of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Nagorno-Karabakh must be addressed. Once interregional ties and ties between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia [on the one hand] and the government of Azerbaijan are established, it will be possible to achieve a normalization of the situation and set about seeking a solution to other political questions." Whether Oskanian and Mammadyarov have discussed that specific sequence of events is not clear, however.
Azimov dismissed as "speculation" reports that the liberation of three of the seven districts of Azerbaijan currently under Armenian control is under discussion: he said that "in the course of the Prague process the question of liberating all seven districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh at the first stage is being discussed." According to echo-az.com, Azimov likewise denied that the possibility of holding a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh on the region's future status was addressed in Prague and he expressed regret that such "unreliable information" finds its way into the press. In an article published in "Le Figaro" last month, former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio and Pierre Lellouche, who is NATO Parliamentary Assembly president, argued that the Karabakh conflict differs fundamentally from those in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester, and that "the Europeans, Americans, and Russians should jointly defend a compromise [settlement] that would give Armenia temporary control of Karabakh in exchange for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territory, [with] the final status of Karabakh to be decided by its inhabitants in a referendum in five or 10 years' time."
The Russian Foreign Ministry press release listed among the "contentious issues" under discussion: the withdrawal of [Armenian] troops, demilitarization of the previously occupied territories, international security guarantees for the Armenian population of Karabakh, and the unrecognized republic's future status vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. The press release reaffirmed Moscow's readiness to contribute, together with the other two Minsk Group co-chairs, to "deepening the mutual understanding between Armenia and Azerbaijan" with a view to bringing about a peaceful solution to the conflict.
NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD BLAMES AL-QAEDA FOR ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT...
General Abdul Rashid Dostum on 20 January blamed Al-Qaeda for the suicide bomb attack that targeted him earlier that day in Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan Province, Aina Television reported. "Although it is not yet certain [who the suicide bomber was], I know who my enemy is. The terrorists and Al-Qaeda are responsible for this," Dostum said, without providing any evidence. More than 20 people were injured in the assassination attempt, some seriously, and the person who perpetrated the attack was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). Security forces reportedly thwarted an earlier attempt on Dostum's life in Sheberghan in January 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). AT
...WHILE NEO-TALIBAN TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Abdul Latif Hakimi, who serves as a spokesman for the neo-Taliban, said on 20 January that the militia was responsible for the attempt on Dostum's life, "The New York Times" reported. Hakimi told the newspaper in a telephone interview that the suicide bomber was a member of the neo-Taliban from northern Afghanistan, and that Dostum was targeted for his close collaboration with U.S. forces in 2001 against the Taliban regime and for his maltreatment of Taliban prisoners following the regime's collapse. AT
FORMER TALIBAN LEADER REJECTS RECONCILIATION OFFERS
Mullah Mohammad Omar has rejected any reconciliation with the Afghan government, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 20 January. In a statement faxed to the news agency, Mullah Omar offered holiday greetings on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha. He went on to state that "Americans are continuing their occupation" of Afghanistan, while at the same time "they are proposing peace and negotiations with the Taliban." "We make it clear to the occupiers and the puppet administration that the Taliban leadership will not negotiate unless the last occupying solider has left Afghanistan," the statement read. The issue of reconciliation with most members of the former Taliban regime was raised by President Hamid Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been elaborated by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April 2004. However, senior members of the Taliban such as Mullah Omar are not considered part of the deal (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 25 April, 25 October, 8 November, and 8 and 17 December 2004). AT
DUTCH COURT RELEASES FORMER AFGHAN COMMUNIST OFFICIAL
A local court in The Hague on 20 January ordered the release of a former head of Afghan military intelligence who was arrested in November on war crimes charges, AFP reported, citing the ANP news agency. The man, identified only a Hesamuddin H., was released due to unspecified personal circumstances. However, he remains a suspect, according to the report. Hesamuddin H. is accused of involvement in war crimes while he headed Afghanistan's military intelligence between 1983 and 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). The Netherlands has been a favorite destination for former high-ranking Afghan communists who ruled the country from 1978-92. AT
FORMER ELECTION CHIEF APPOINTED AS PRESIDENTIAL FINANCIAL ADVISER
Hamid Karzai issued a decree on 20 January appointing Zakim Shah as his adviser on financial affairs, Radio Afghanistan reported. Shah previously served as the head of the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body that oversaw the country's presidential elections in 2004. AT
AFGHANS IMPRISONED IN IRAN GRANTED AMNESTY
The Iranian judiciary has announced an amnesty for imprisoned Afghans, including those on death row, Mashhad radio's Dari service reported on 20 January. Afghans who are being sued by others will not be eligible for release, unless the complainant pardons them. Supreme Court official Ali Qahramani said the released Afghans will be repatriated, adding that if they return to Iran and commit another crime the remainder of the previous sentence will be added to the new sentence. Qahramani said he does not know how many Afghan prisoners are currently being held in Iran. He described the amnesty as a measure intended to improve good-neighborly relations between two countries sharing a common religion. "Furthermore, this act will encourage Afghan refugees to return to their country," he said. BS
IRAN TOPS U.S. VICE PRESIDENT'S 'POTENTIAL TROUBLE SPOT' LIST...
During a 20 January appearance on MSNBC's "Imus In The Morning" talk show, Vice President Dick Cheney said that when "you look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list." In his interview with syndicated talk-show host Don Imus, which came just hours before he was sworn in for a second term, Cheney expressed concern that Israel will stage a preemptive strike against Iran. "If, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward." Cheney said the administration does not "want a war in the Middle East" and added that diplomacy is the key. "Certainly, in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited by or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically" (for a full transcript of the show, see http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6847999/). BS
...AS IRANIAN-U.S. WAR OF WORDS CONTINUES
"The New Yorker" writer Seymour Hersh's allegations of U.S. commando operations in Iran continue to have an impact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 20 January in Kampala that, "I do not think that America is in a position to resort to the madness of attacking Iran," Iranian state radio reported. Khatami described the possibility of a U.S. attack as "very negligible." Nevertheless, Khatami said, "we have prepared ourselves and will prepare more, should they -- God forbid -- resort to an act of aggression; and we have plans for such a day." Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi on 20 January described Hersh's report as "ridiculous," IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 20 January that U.S. officials' threats to attack Iran are only "psychological warfare," IRNA reported. Kharrazi said Iran would defend itself. BS
IRAN, IRAQ HOLD TRADE DISCUSSIONS
Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi met with Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari on 20 January in Tehran and discussed the expansion of bilateral trade, IRNA reported. Shariatmadari referred to the need for free-trade agreements, cooperation in banking, trade exchanges, and border markets. He also mentioned letters of credit and insurance cover. Abd al-Mahdi expressed an interest in learning from Iran's postwar reconstruction experience, and he described legal reforms and Iraqi Central Bank independence as recent measures implemented in his country. BS
CAR BOMB DETONATES OUTSIDE SHI'ITE MOSQUE IN IRAQI CAPITAL
Militants detonated a car bomb outside a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad on 21 January, international media reported. Initial reports indicated that at least 13 people were killed in the blast and 40 wounded, many of them worshippers leaving morning prayers, AP reported. The attack was the second on a Shi'ite mosque in the capital this week. The first detonated outside a mosque before noon prayers on 19 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005). Meanwhile, militants attacked a police station in Hit on 21 January, chasing away police officers and stealing their weapons, Reuters reported. Police said about 15 gunmen were involved in the raid; CNN reported that the gunmen stole flak jackets and weapons before setting the police station on fire. Five Iraqi Army personnel were killed in Samarra on 20 January when an explosive charge went off in the city center as a patrol passed, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 21 January. An explosion outside a logistics base in Al-Basrah wounded five British soldiers and several Iraqi civilians on 20 January, the U.K. military said in a statement. KR
U.S. FORCES ENCOURAGE VOTING IN AL-FALLUJAH
U.S. forces have started distributing informational material to residents of Al-Fallujah in an effort to encourage voting in the city, which was the object of a major U.S.-led counterinsurgency offensive in November, Al-Arabiyah reported on 21 January. The material includes information on voting procedures and notes that tight security measures will be implemented at polling stations, the satellite news channel reported. KR
IRAQIS COMMITTED TO ELECTION, U.S.-BASED POLLSTER CONCLUDES
A public-opinion poll carried out by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute from 26 December to 7 January found that more than 80 percent of respondents said they are likely to vote in the 30 January elections, the organization said in a 20 January press release. The poll found that 45 percent of Iraqis currently support a political party or feel that there is one that shares their values or ideas -- a threefold increase since May. Eighty percent of respondents reportedly said they have heard or read about the elections in the media, a stark difference from recent reports in the Iraqi media, which often quote citizens as saying that they have little information about the elections, with many wrongly believing they will elect a president on 30 January. KR
THREE KIDNAPPED OFFICIALS RELEASED IN IRAQ
Militants in Iraq have released three members of a delegation from the Salah Al-Din Governorate who were kidnapped south of Baghdad in Al-Latifiyah on 7 January, AP reported on 20 January. The deputy governor, chairman of the governorate's municipal council, and a university dean were taken hostage as they were returning from meetings with Shi'ite leaders in Al-Najaf and Karbala on the Iraqi elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). Details of the abduction and release have not been revealed. KR
PURPORTED AL-ZARQAWI AUDIOTAPE URGES STEADFASTNESS IN IRAQ...
A 75-minute audiotape purportedly recorded by suspected Jordanian terrorist and Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was posted to a jihadist chatroom (http://www.alezah.com/vb) on 20 January. The speaker urges fighters to be patient, saying victory "calls for steadfastness...as we witnessed in Al-Fallujah," where the battle is "the only battle on the first front line of Islam." "The results of fierce wars cannot be decided in days or weeks," he claims, " rather they take time until one of the two sides achieves victory." He also claims that the November battle with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Al-Fallujah "rekindled the determination of the sons of Islam inside and outside Iraq." He praises the fighting tactics used by militants in Al-Fallujah, saying, "The U.S. enemy...was surprised by the Mujahidin's ability to maneuver and to attack and retreat. The American soldiers had to be engaged in close-range battles they never experienced in which they lost hundreds of soldiers and vehicles." KR
...AND ATTEMPTS TO INCITE SUNNIS AGAINST SHI'A, KURDS
The speaker in the audiotape posted to the jihadist website on 20 January also attempts to incite hatred of the Shi'a, claiming that they played "a major role in the acts of killing, looting, and destroying; in addition to killing the defenseless children, women, and old people" in Al-Fallujah. "They raided and desecrated God's safe worship places, hanging the pictures of their Satan, [Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani, on the walls and writing on them with hatred." The speaker goes on to say that 90 percent of the Iraqi National Guard is Shi'ite, while the remaining 10 percent is from the Kurdish peshmerga forces. The speaker also claims that 800 Israeli soldiers participated in the fighting in Al-Fallujah, as did 18 rabbis. "There was also a Jordanian military participation," the speaker claims. The speaker further says the Al-Fallujah fighters experienced acts of divine intervention in the battle: one fighter was shot in the head. "His brain spread on his right shoulder. His brothers rushed to gather the pieces of his brain and put them back in their place. Then they tied the wound...[and] he recovered a few days later" and is alive and well, save for a speech impediment. The speaker also suggests that divine intervention provided the fighters with food and water in Al-Fallujah. KR