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Newsline - January 24, 2005

Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov told RTR on 22 January that he is personally responsible for the shortcomings in the implementation of a controversial reform to replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments. "Understanding that the problems that have arisen came about because of the law that was adopted, and since I was one of the government representatives who took part in the presentation of the law in the State Duma, I acknowledge personal responsibility and understand that it is emphatically my failure," Zurabov said. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told the Duma on 21 January that he and other ministers "partly exposed the president and the Duma" to criticism. "We accept this and accept full responsibility," Kudrin said, according to "The Moscow Times" on 24 January. He added that the government will resolve the crisis within two weeks, RIA-Novosti reported. He added that it is possible that the government might use resources from the so-called stabilization fund to offset costs of the reform. Previously, Kudrin had ruled out any domestic use of the stabilization fund, arguing that doing so would spur inflation and undermine the government's macroeconomic plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 November 2004). RC

Five deputies from the State Duma's Motherland faction, including faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin, launched a hunger strike on 21 January and called for a moratorium on the social-benefits reform and the dismissal of Health and Social Development Minister Zurabov, Finance Minister Kudrin, and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported. "This aim can be reached not by one-off actions but by a real struggle for real results," Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy. "We are ready to fight for a long time, for several days, as long as we are able to stand it." Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov ordered a doctor to monitor the condition of the hunger-striking deputies. An unidentified Duma source told ITAR-TASS on 24 January that the Duma Regulations Committee is considering introducing a ban on such actions within the Duma building. RC

Demonstrations against the social-benefits reform continued over the weekend throughout Russia, with the largest protests reported in Rostov-na-Donu, Krasnodar, Cherkessk, Kazan, and Murmansk, Russian media reported. More than 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Murmansk, while protesters in other cities numbered in the hundreds. About 2,000 people demonstrated in the Chavash Republic capital of Cheboksary on 22 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, about 5,000 protestors demonstrated in the Bashkortostan capital of Ufa, demanding that the government resolve all conflicts associated with the reform by 26 February. In Krasnoyarsk, about 3,000 protesters took to the streets on 22 January to protest a proposed doubling of local electricity rates. Protestors, led by local Communist Party activists, attempted to block traffic on a bridge over the Yenisei River, but police prevented this, arresting five demonstration leaders. In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, drivers of the so-called marshrutki -- minivan taxis that traverse set routes -- went on strike on 24 January, demanding that local officials allow them to raise rates from seven rubles ($0.23) to 10 rubles per passenger and refusing to provide free transportation to those eligible for such benefits, Interfax reported. RC

Authorities in many regions continued the process of giving in to protestors' demands, as officials in Tambov Oblast and Tatarstan announced that the benefit of free public transportation will be restored for the rest of this year, Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 January. Similar measures are being implemented in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast and Krasnodar Krai. RC

A poll by the Public Opinion Foundation conducted on 15-16 January found that support for President Putin has slipped by 5 percent since December, with 77 percent of respondents describing his work as "satisfactory," "good," or "excellent," Interfax reported on 22 January. Forty-three percent of respondents said they trust Putin, down from 47 percent in December. On 22 January, a demonstration in Moscow organized by the Communist Party called for Putin's resignation, Ekho Moskvy reported. Attendance at that protest was estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 people. Interfax reported on 24 January that a poll conducted by the research arm of the Federation Council found that 80 percent of the officers in the Russian Army oppose the social-benefits reforms and sympathize with the demonstrators. Only 15 percent favor the reform. RC

The Defense Ministry has reported that numerous military units have claimed that it is impossible for them to send military personnel to duty stations because they do not have the money to pay for transportation now that military personnel have lost the benefit of free public transport, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported 24 January. According to the daily, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to President Putin in November that 34 percent of military personnel are living below the official poverty line. RC

Voting on 23 January in the gubernatorial election in Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the last direct gubernatorial election to be held in Russia following a political reform that took effect at the beginning of this year, failed to determine a winner in the first round, Russian media reported. RIA-Novosti reported that a second round of voting will be held on 6 February between local legislator Igor Koshin, who won 21.45 percent in the first round, and Arkhangelsk University Professor Aleksei Barinov, who polled 21.32 percent. Incumbent Governor Vladimir Butov was barred by the Supreme Court from seeking a third term in office, Ekho Moskvy reported. The first regions to select their governors under the new system -- according to which local legislatures confirm candidates nominated by the president -- will be Saratov and Vladimir oblasts and the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous okrugs. RC

RTR on 23 January reported that the competition to head the Nenets Autonomous Okrug was fierce because of the tiny region's oil wealth. The okrug, which is sometimes called the Kuwait of the north, has an annual budget equal to $2,500 per resident, compared to $1,300 per resident in Moscow and $800 per resident in St. Petersburg, RTR reported. However, the channel quoted a local resident as complaining that she has no central heating or indoor plumbing. RTR's local correspondent reported that "everything that does not produce oil dollars is suddenly not needed" and, as a result, the local fishing industry has been bankrupted, the Pechora River cargo port stands idle, the only cinema in the okrug has been closed down, and the okrug's only church has been handed over to a commercial enterprise. The local printing house is also bankrupt and local newspapers are flown in after being printed in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, RTR reported. The region has just 300 meters of paved roads for every 1,000 square kilometers. RC

The newly elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, arrived in Moscow on 24 January, his first foreign trip since being sworn in as president the previous day, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Yushchenko will meet with President Putin and is expected to discuss the current state of bilateral relations in the aftermath of the Ukrainian presidential election in which Putin supported then Premier Viktor Yanukovych over Yushchenko. Other possible topics are the status of the border in the Kerch Straits and the deployment of Russia's Black Sea fleet on Ukrainian territory, NTV and other agencies reported. Yushchenko also is scheduled to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II. "I would like to form a successful policy with Russia and am sure that my proposals will meet with understanding in Moscow," the Ukrainian presidential press service quoted Yushchenko as saying, NTV reported on 24 January. "Moscow awaits Yushchenko as a crucial partner as our countries are linked by a common history, geography, economy, and fate," said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yakovenko on 24 January, RTR reported. VY

Russia officially sent Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov to the inauguration of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv on 23 January, while two former leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces, Boris Nemtsov and Anatolii Chubais, came on their own initiative, Russian media reported on 23 January. Nemtsov said that "the Ukrainian experience is invaluable for Russia" and that "if Ukraine succeeds, Russia also will have a chance to manage it," uteri .ru reported on 23 January. He added that the inauguration of Yushchenko is an "historic day for Ukraine and the whole Slavic world.... We are witness to the birth of a new Ukrainian nation." Meanwhile, Yushchenko said on the eve of his visit to Moscow that he will offer President Vladmir Putin "a new format of negotiations for deepening our relations," ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. VY

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and pro-Moscow presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who lost the presidential race to Yushchenko, arrived 23 January in Moscow for talks with Russian politicians, RosBalt and Regnum reported on 23 January, citing a "source within the administration of the Ukrainian president [Yushchenko]." In Moscow, Yanukovych reportedly met on 23 January with Putin, presidential administration chief Dmitrii Medvedev, and Duma Speaker Gryzlov. Yanukovych reportedly discussed his new role as leader of the opposition. He also reportedly asked Putin "to be tough" during forthcoming talks with Yushchenko and not to introduce "double citizenship" for residents of Ukraine, according to RosBalt's source. VY

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 21 January after his meeting in Moscow with his French counterpart Michel Barnier within the framework of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council that there is no alternative to holding negotiations with Iran to induce it to not produce nuclear weapons, Russian and Western media reported. Lavrov said Russia supports a French-German-British initiative aimed at forcing Tehran not to pursue a military nuclear program and said this goal should be reached through "political dialogue and peaceful means." For his part, Barnier proposed that the leaders of Russia, France, Germany, and Spain hold a special meeting on Iran in the first quarter of this year. The joint Russian-French statement comes as an alternative to the tougher position of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush toward the Iranian nuclear program, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 23 January. VY

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 21 January that U.S. claims that Syria has links to international terrorism are counterproductive and "damaging security in the Middle East," RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice listed Syria among the world's most dangerous regimes and accused it of supporting terrorism in testimony before a Senate committee on 18 January. Yakovenko said that "Syria is one of the key players in the region and the renewal of its peace talks with Israel is important for the peace process in the Middle East." Syrian President Bashar Assad is to arrive in Moscow on 24 January. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Putin on 21 January to discuss the issue of supplying advanced Russian weaponry to Syria, reported. In particular, Israel is concerned by denied reports that Moscow might supply Damascus with its Iskander tactical missile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). Israel also has information that Syria, with the aid of Russian scientists, continues to design advanced weapon systems, reported. VY

President Putin met in Moscow on 23 January with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev to discuss economic and trade relations, as well as cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, RTR reported. RTR suggested that the real purpose of Akaev's visit to Moscow is mutual concern over the fate of his regime in the run-up to the parliamentary elections to be held there on 27 February. Moscow, which has a military base in Kyrgyzstan, reportedly fears that Kyrgyzstan may follow the example of Ukraine and have its own "Orange Revolution," RTR commented. VY

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said in Moscow on 21 January that crime within the ranks of Russian law enforcement bodies has substantially increased in the last four years, reported. Ustinov said citizens are reporting that police officers "are stuffing their pockets with money and bottles [of vodka]" taken from businesses and citizens. Meanwhile, on the same day, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said that in 2004 some 2,000 officials in the Interior Ministry were arrested for corruption and other crimes, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Makhmut Magomadov, a 49-year-old Chechen lawyer, was snatched by force in Grozny on 20 January by a group of Chechen-speaking militants believed to be members of First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's so-called presidential security force, according to a Human Rights Watch press release dated 22 January. Magomadov was engaged in investigating reports of earlier abductions for ransom by the "kadyrovtsy." LF

Several hundred parents and grandparents of victims of the Beslan school hostage taking dispersed on 23 January, three days after they first blocked traffic on the main Rostov-na-Donu-Baku highway, Russian media reported. The protesters were demanding the resignation of North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov and an independent investigation into the circumstances of the hostage taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005). Dzasokhov met with the protesters on 21 January but failed to persuade them to disperse; the decision to do so was taken after a telephone call to the protest organizers from presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, who promised to meet with the protesters on 25 January. LF

A 13 January "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Police Round Up Organizers Of Protests" incorrectly reported the age of Civic Initiative movement leader Vladimir Soloveichik. He is 40 years old.

Armenian parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Viktor Dallakian, secretary of the opposition Artarutiun alliance, met on 21 January to discuss a package of constitutional amendments proposed by Artarutiun and the opposition National Unity Party, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo as cited by Groong. Those changes would empower the National Assembly to endorse prime ministerial candidates nominated by the president, seriously limit the president's authority to appoint and dismiss judges, and require that the mayor of Yerevan be elected in future rather than appointed by the president. The opposition parties said they would endorse other constitutional amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian in return for the majority's backing for those three proposals. Dallakian stressed after the talks that the majority must accept or reject all three proposals, and that the three parties comprising the coalition government should hammer out a single position on them. Baghdasarian assured Dallakian that he will begin consultations with the leaders of the remaining two coalition parties and respond formally within 10 days. LF

Speaking on Armenian Public Television on 21 January, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones telephoned him earlier that day to apologize for the furore caused by her comments on 13 January at a press conference with Russian journalists, according to Arminfo as cited by Groong. Jones was quoted as branding the authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, along with the leadership of Transdniester, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, as "criminal secessionist regimes" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). According to Oskanian, Jones explained that she "did not and could not" mean to include the Karabakh leadership in the category of "criminal regimes." Also on 21 January, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans told Arminfo that Jones made two separate points: first, that the United States and Russia should cooperate more closely to resolve the conflict in Abkhazia, and second, that there are "extremist criminal elements" in unspecified territories bordering on Russia. Evans also said that two international principles of conflict resolution collide in the Karabakh peace process, that of territorial integrity and the right to national self-determination, according to Arminfo on 22 January as cited by Groong. Evans said that contradiction does not , however, make a settlement of the conflict impossible given flexibility and readiness for compromise. LF

Saday Nazarov, a close associate of former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, was arrested on the Gyanja-Yevlakh highway on 22 January, just 11 days after returning to Azerbaijan from the Czech Republic, where he had been granted refugee status 10 years earlier, Turan reported on 24 January. An arrest warrant was issued for Nazarov in 1995 on charges of murder following what was said to be a botched coup attempt led by Huseinov against then President Heidar Aliyev in October 1994. Huseinov was sentenced in 1999 to life imprisonment but pardoned last year by President Ilham Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2004). LF

Talks between Georgian and South Ossetian representatives on 21 January and a telephone conversation the following day between Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and South Ossetian Parliament Speaker Znaur Gassiev failed to secure the release of Georgian policeman Lado Chalauri, who was apprehended in the South Ossetian conflict zone two days earlier, Georgian and Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005). On 22 January, Georgian inhabitants of South Ossetia took 12 Ossetians hostage -- including South Ossetian Deputy Minister for Special Assignments Makha Gassiev -- and said they would release those hostages only after Chalauri is released. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement the same day expressing concern over the escalation of tensions in recent days and calling for the immediate release of "innocent people," Interfax reported. Gassiev was released later on 22 January and eight more of the detained Ossetians by 24 January, as a result of mediation by the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili said on 22 January that Tbilisi will not agree to the South Ossetian demand to exchange Chalauri for Ossetians held in Georgia on suspicion of murder, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili also said on 22 January that the Russian peacekeepers deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have become a source of destabilization, and he accused them of turning a blind eye to reprisals against ethnic Georgian inhabitants of those two unrecognized republics, Caucasus Press reported. LF

President Saakashvili told a National Security Council session on 22 January that he has asked the Prosecutor-General's office to reopen the investigation into the August 1993 shooting of U.S. diplomat Fred Woodruff, Caucasus Press reported. A Tbilisi court ruled two months ago that there was not enough evidence to reopen the investigation, and Saakashvili expressed approval of that court ruling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004). A young Georgian serviceman confessed to the killing, for which he was sentenced in February 1994 to 15 years imprisonment, but later retracted his confession, saying it was extracted under torture. In 1996, a Russian newspaper quoted then Georgian State Security Minister Shota Kviraya as claiming that his predecessor in that post, Igor Giorgadze, set up the murder at Moscow's instigation. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev led a meeting of the Security Council in Astana on 21 January to discuss long-term plans for ensuring the country's supply of water, Kazakh TV1 reported. Participants noted that seasonal irregularities in the water supply act as a brake on the exploitation of natural resources and stable development, Kazinform reported. The session also touched on border issues, with the president asking officials to prepare measures to improve border security and control over migration. DK

Sultan Aazam Taimori, acting superintendent of police in Islamabad, told a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on 21 January that police have arrested two suspects in the murder of Sapargali Aubakirov, an adviser to the Kazakh Embassy in Pakistan, Pakistan TV 1 reported. Aubakirov died in the hospital on 21 January after sustaining a gunshot wound on 19 January. According to Taimori, the two suspects shot Aubakirov while trying to steal his car. DK

Representatives of the security services from the member states of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO), which comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, met in Dushanbe on 21 January to discuss cooperation in combating threats to the region, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. In a written statement after the session, participants said that they discussed the need for a common list of terrorist and extremist organizations and their known members in the CACO region. Tajik Security Minister Khayriddin Abdurahimov said, "This would enable the security services to fight terrorism and prevent the activities of terrorist organizations more effectively," ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting also examined the issue of simplified extradition procedures for citizens of CACO member states involved in terrorist and extremist activities, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

Elections to Uzbekistan's Senate (upper chamber of parliament) have finished, official news agency UzA reported on 20 January. The 100-member body consists of six representatives from each of the country's 12 provinces, one autonomous region, and capital of Tashkent. Senators were elected by secret ballot at joint meetings of province, district, and city assemblies from among the members of those bodies. President Islam Karimov appointed the remaining 16 members. The 120-member Legislative Assembly, elected in two rounds on 26 December 2004 and 9 January, and 100-member Senate together replace the previous 250-member unicameral parliament. DK

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 21 January expelled Czech diplomat Pavel Krivohlavy, accusing him of depraving minors and inciting them to "antisocial behavior," Belarusian Television reported. "To put it plainly, Czech diplomat Pavel Krivohlavy made juvenile boys drunk in order to subsequently try dragging them into bed," Belarusian Television commented. The network's comment linked Krivohlavy's reported behavior in Minsk with the activities of the Czech Foreign Ministry's Department for the Struggle Against Undemocratic and Totalitarian Regimes, which supports the Belarusian democratic opposition. "You'll certainly agree that our neighbors' understanding of democracy is peculiar: intoxication of youths, debauchery, and pornography," Belarusian Television noted. "Do they have the moral right -- they who are spreading the worst, vile predilections in our country -- to teach us how to live?" JM

The Czech Foreign Ministry on 21 January expelled an unnamed Belarusian diplomat from Prague, reacting to the expulsion of Pavel Krivohlavy from Minsk earlier the same day, CTK reported. Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh commented on the expulsion by saying that the Czech authorities misunderstand the principle of reciprocity, Belapan reported. "Pavel Krivohlavy had to leave Belarus in connection with a properly documented and evidenced violation of law punishable under two articles of the Criminal Code of Belarus," Savinykh added. Czech-Belarusian relations have deteriorated since the Czech denial of a visa to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a NATO summit in Prague on 21-22 November 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2002). The Czech Embassy in Minsk and the Belarusian Embassy in Prague have been headed by charges d'affaires since then, not full-fledged ambassadors. JM

Addressing the Belarusian Security Council on 21 January, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said U.S. President George W. Bush's call to expand freedom worldwide is "soaked in blood and smelling of oil," Reuters and Belapan reported. "It appears that they are prepared to offer something to the entire world," Lukashenka said. "Suppose someone or other didn't really want such freedom, soaked in blood and smelling of oil?" Lukashenka's words came one day after Bush in his inauguration speech vowed to fight against "rulers of outlaw regimes" and "support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Earlier last week, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's nominee for secretary of state, listed Belarus along with Cuba, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Iran, and North Korea as "outposts of tyranny" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). JM

Viktor Yushchenko formally became Ukraine's president on 23 January, taking an oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv, Ukrainian and international media reported. Yushchenko swore the oath on the Ukrainian Constitution and the Peresopnytske Gospels, a Ukrainian book dating back to the 1550s. In a subsequent speech to the lawmakers, Yushchenko thanked them for "[defending] Ukrainian democracy" and "[saving] the unity, integrity, and independence of our nation." "Today I would like to extend my hand to every parliamentarian of each faction, to every leader of each faction, and ask for your cooperation. We have one goal -- a prosperous and democratic Ukraine," Yushchenko said. JM

Following his oath in the Verkhovna Rada and a review of the guard of honor of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in front of the presidential palace, President Yushchenko addressed a 500,000-strong crowd of cheering supporters on Independence Square, Ukrainian media reported. "Ukrainians will occupy their rightful place in the community of nations. Ukraine will be neither a buffer zone, nor a playing field for somebody else's competition," Yushchenko said. "We, with the [European] nations, belong to the same civilization. We share the same values. History, economic perspective [and] the interests of our people give us a clear answer to the question: Where is our destiny? Our place is in the European Union and my goal is 'Ukraine in United Europe'." JM

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who led a U.S. delegation to President Yushchenko's inauguration, told Yushchenko in Kyiv on 23 January that Washington will do all it can "to help you meet the expectations that the Ukrainian people now have," Reuters reported. Powell also praised the "magnificent success on your part because you prevailed in open, free, and fair elections." Speaking with journalists before his meeting with Yushchenko, Powell said Washington will help Ukraine boost its economy and join the World Trade Organization. The previous day, U.S. President George W. Bush called Yushchenko to congratulate him on his election, Interfax reported. A Russian delegation to Yushchenko's inauguration was headed by Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Council of the Federation, Russia's upper house. Fulfilling his election pledge, Yushchenko flew to Moscow on 24 January, on his first official visit as Ukraine's president. JM

British Major General David Leakey, who commands the new EUFOR military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina that came into being on 2 December 2004, told London's "Daily Telegraph" on 22 January that EUFOR will seek to destroy Bosnia's criminal networks as well as catch war crimes indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). "We are going to break some bones," he said, adding that "we want to tackle these networks on an industrial scale. We don't just want to scratch them." He argued that the previous NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping mission "made pinpricks [against the networks] across the map, which might have hurt but had very little lasting impact." It is not clear how his 7,000-strong force will succeed in areas where the larger NATO operation did not, although he pledged to use up to 2,000 troops in important missions to help guarantee success. The EU attaches much importance to its Bosnian mission in order to show that it can manage European security problems without direct involvement by the United States or NATO. PM

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a 40-page report released in Prishtina, Belgrade, and Brussels on 24 January that "either 2005 will see the start of a final status solution that consolidates peace and development, or Kosovo may return to conflict and generate regional instability" ( The study argues that "Kosovo's de jure sovereignty should be recognized by the international community" by mid-2006, adding that "the potential for renewed violence is very real" if the Serbian-dominated north calls in Serbian forces or breaks away (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 17 December 2004). "Reintroduction of violence into the equation has raised the very real possibility the process may be decided by brute force on the ground rather than peaceful negotiation," the report notes, adding that the international community must act to ensure the protection of minority rights by attaching some conditions to Kosova's future status. The study nonetheless stresses that "while legitimate Serbian concerns should be taken fully into account, particularly about the status of Kosovo's Serb minority, Belgrade should be cautioned from the outset that 'the train is leaving, with or without you,' and encouraged to participate fully in achieving the best possible terms of settlement." PM

Boris Tadic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade on 21 January that independence for Kosova is "unacceptable," even though the province is "on the verge of independence" and its ethnic Albanian majority is in practice beyond Belgrade's control. Tadic stressed that " unacceptable for very specific reasons...[because it would lead to the] fragmentation of the region...[and] the establishment of a new Albanian independent state with its own army and foreign policy, which would in the long run be directed against Serbia. This is absolutely unacceptable to Serbia." He argued that an independent Kosova would not be economically viable and that "that state could live only from smuggling drugs, people, and weapons." Since the times of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, official Belgrade and the Serbian lobby abroad have often sought to portray Albanians in general and those of Kosova in particular as criminals and drug dealers. PM

In a recent interview with the Athens daily "Kathimerini," Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski repeated the Macedonian government's proposal for resolving the long-standing name dispute with Greece, Makfax news agency reported on 23 January. Under Greek pressure, international institutions recognized Macedonia in the 1990s under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) rather than under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 3, 5, and 12 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003 and 12 November 2004). Crvenkovski said Macedonia proposes using the constitutional name in international relations and a different name acceptable to Greece in bilateral Greek-Macedonian relations. In November 2004, the United States recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name. UB

Sorin Vicol, a member of the Humanist Party (PUR), resigned on 21 January, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Vicol becomes the first minister to resign from the four-party, center-right cabinet headed by Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, less than one month after the cabinet was formed. He said his decision was prompted by the transfer of the Customs Department and the Financial Police to the jurisdiction of the Finance Ministry. The PUR said the resignation would not trigger a government crisis, but added it will not appoint one of its members to replace Vicol. MS

Mioara Mantale, a member of the Democratic Party, was sworn in as Bucharest's new prefect on 23 January, Mediafax reported. Mantale replaces Silvian Iosifescu, who resigned from that position only a few days after his appointment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2005). Mantale is only the second woman to be appointed by Romania's new government as one of the country's 41 prefects. MS

Culture Minister Mona Musca and Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu said on 22 and 23 January, respectively, that the cabinet will ask parliament to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate allegations of censorship and biased political coverage at Romanian state radio and television, Mediafax reported. Journalists from the two institutions complained last week that under the previous Social Democratic government news coverage was distorted and censored. The journalists also said they would like the National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives to investigate whether some of their current supervisors were informers for the communist regime. Romanian Radio Chairman Dragos Seuleanu and Romanian Television Director General Valentin Nicolau deny the allegations. Seuleanu has also threatened to sue the journalists for libel. MS

In his first official visit abroad, President Traian Basescu on 21 January told journalists after talks with his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin that the two countries "have a common history of which none of us is ashamed, and therefore our future in the large European family should also be common," Mediafax reported. Basescu said Romania will never allow Moldova to become a victim of "blackmail" by Transdniester on electricity deliveries and that "whenever Moldova needs anything, it should keep in mind that it has a friend" at its borders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004). He said Romania is determined to treat Moldova "with the respect due to a sovereign, independent country." Basescu also said that he hopes the 6 March Moldovan parliamentary elections will be free and fair, adding that if the outcome of the ballot is questioned, "no one will be able to help Moldova on its way to Europe," according to Infotag. MS

President Voronin said after his talks with Basescu that both sides agree that it is "abnormal" to have "frozen or semi-frozen relations" and that he and Basescu reached several "highly important" decisions during their talks, Mediafax reported. He and Basescu signed a joint declaration on bilateral cooperation aimed at European integration and pledged to promote European values, regional and international security, and bilateral economic, social, and cultural relations. Romania pledged to help Moldova "consolidate its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity," as well as bring about a settlement of the Transdniester conflict. It also said it was ready to sign the Moldova-proposed Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova, which envisages enlarging the Transdniester conflict-resolution format to include the EU and the U.S. MS

Representatives of the Azpetrol company of Azerbaijan and the Moldovan government signed an agreement in Chisinau on 21 January under which the assets of the Giurgiulesti oil terminal on the Danube River were transferred to Azpetrol, Infotag and Flux reported. Azpetrol undertook to complete building the terminal and its infrastructure, which was stopped in 1998 due to a lack of funds. Moldova's $23 million debt to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for the construction of the terminal was transferred to Azpetrol. The EBRD will continue to hold 20 percent of the terminal's shares, which will hence be called Terminal Co. The Azerbaijani company is to invest $200 million in building an oil refinery in Giurgiulesti, $15 million in constructing the port, and $35 million to build gas stations, according to Azpetrol Vice President Thomas Mozer, Infotag reported. Azpetrol will receive tax breaks for eight years. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev hailed the agreement, saying it will transform Moldova from an oil importer to an oil exporter and will ensure the country's energy independence. MS

The Iraqi media has served as the single most important venue for election coalition lists in a campaign that is virtually absent of campaigning. The security situation is so dire in some areas of the country during the lead-up to the 30 January election that the names of candidates on most lists have not been released to the public. Some Iraqi citizens complain that they know virtually nothing of the 112 lists on the ballot, according to newspaper reports. However, the political parties and coalitions are making use of print and broadcast media to present their platforms, and media outlets in turn are promoting messages encouraging voter participation in the election.

The coalition lists are comprised of the major political parties -- the majority of which belonged to the former Iraqi opposition that returned with U.S. financial support after the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime. The parties on the lists all have their own newspapers; many have radio and local-access television programs, which they use to promote their platforms. Some independent newspapers have made efforts to devote space to covering smaller party lists, but it is unknown how much effect that will have on the election.

The United Iraqi Alliance has the candidate list expected to win a majority of votes in the election, and rival parties and coalitions have accused it of attempting to sway voters by placing pictures of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on their list posters and campaign material. That way, detractors claim, the alliance sends the message to Shi'ites that al-Sistani has endorsed the list. The ayatollah has stopped short of giving official endorsement to any list, although he is given credit for assembling the United Iraqi Alliance list. In reality, it was his representatives that played a role in negotiating the composition of the list among the Shi'a parties.

Sunni groups opposed to participating in the election regularly espouse their views in supporting newspapers and are often quoted in what would be considered the popular press, owned by independent or pro-election party newspapers. Sunni groups that will participate in the elections despite some hesitancy over the issue have also made their platforms known.

Reports and commentaries in print media have devoted much attention to debating topics such as the efficacy of postponing elections, the role that Islam will play in a future Iraqi state presumably led by a Shi'ite majority, the possible withdrawal of multinational forces, the Kurdish issue and the Kirkuk election, the coming constitution that will be drafted by the elected parliament, and the need to support democracy and transparent elections. Newspapers have also covered official statements from the Iraqi Independent Election Commission concerning the elections. At least three dailies claim to have their own research institutes that regularly carry out public-opinion polls on the election, which they routinely publish. Coverage of the local governorate elections has been sparse outside the areas of Kirkuk and Baghdad.

As for television, Prime Minister Allawi has received the bulk of airtime, giving interviews and participating in discussions about the election on Iraqi terrestrial and satellite broadcasting channels. Other candidates have also participated in roundtable discussions broadcast on various channels, but Allawi -- whether by virtue of being prime minister or by intention -- has dominated the airwaves. Kurdish television channels have devoted much airtime to discussions and debates on both national and local elections.

As far as advertising, Allawi's Iraqi List with its sleek ads that appear as if they were produced by a Manhattan advertising firm, again dominate television -- some media outlets have reported the ads were made in London. The United Iraqi Alliance is also advertising on television. But again, the majority of the candidate lists do not have the means to produce such ads, let alone pay for television advertising space. Some reports indicate that at least one television channel, Al-Iraqiyah, has offered free airtime for lists wishing to advertise, but that claim has not been confirmed.

Iraqi television channels have done a thorough job of promoting voter participation, and have frequently carried public-information advertisements urging Iraqis to vote. However, the ads give little information about where and how to vote. Iraqi radio has also devoted much time to election coverage, particularly stations that support a radio call-in format.

Generally speaking, the media overwhelmingly supports elections at this time, and takes great pains to stress that it is the duty of Iraqis to take part in the election. Some stress a historical duty, while others stress a religious duty; still others claim that nonparticipation will only strengthen terrorist elements trying to destabilize the country.

Afghan Interior Ministry and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have dispatched separate teams to investigate the attempt on the northern Afghan strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum's life, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 23 January. Jowzjan Province security commander General Mohammad Nader Fahimi told AIP that thus far "no documents have been found that would provide information about or confirm the identity of the attacker." A suicide bomber tried to kill Dostum on 20 January in Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jowzjan, but Dostum escaped unharmed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). Fahimi denied reports that Sheberghan police had arrested a large number of people in connection to the attack. "However, I have no information if another security body has arrested anyone," Fahimi told AIP. In a separate report, Jowzjan Television on 23 January stated that, in addition to the investigation teams from the Interior Ministry and ISAF, the U.S. FBI has also sent a team to Sheberghan. AT

A Sheberghan security official involved in the investigation of the attempt on Dostum's life said that the plot was engineered by people inside Pakistan, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 23 January. The official identified as Fayzollah said on 22 January that a telephone number was found in the pocket of the suicide attacker. "I dialed the number, and the person who answered the phone congratulated me on the start of [the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha], but hung up when he became suspicious," Fayzollah said. Jowzjan security commander General Fahimi told AIP on 23 January that, while a telephone number was found in the attacker's pocket, he had "no information about that number." After the attack, Dostum initially blamed Al-Qaeda for the attack without providing any evidence, while the neo-Taliban claimed that it had carried out the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005). AT

An Afghan National Army soldier was killed and five others wounded on 19 January when their vehicle hit a land mine in Deh Rawud District of Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 23 January. General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, confirmed the report about the incident and said another Afghan soldier was killed and two terrorists detained in a separate military operation in Oruzgan. Azimi did not provide a date for the second incident nor give details on the identity of the terrorists. AT

Wazir Mohammad, security commander of the Chahar Chino District of Oruzgan, was killed on 22 January when a remote-controlled device targeted his vehicle, AIP reported. Wazir Mohammad's father, brother, and one of his bodyguards were also killed in the blast. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan blamed the neo-Taliban for the attack, adding that an investigation is underway to find the perpetrators. In a separate report on 23 January, AIP indicated that a neo-Taliban spokesman, Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, had called the news agency and claimed that the militia carried out the attack against Wazir Mohammad. AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed on 23 January the recent statements by U.S. officials and the threat of military strikes against Iran as "psychological warfare" designed to interrupt Iran's dialogue with the European Union, IRNA reported the same day. "The Americans do not want the Europeans to succeed in their talks with Iran," he said in Tehran. Britain, France, and Germany are negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program and about a possible trade agreement. U.S. officials have termed Iran's government tyrannical and the country a potential trouble spot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 January 2005). Assefi said Iran can defend itself against any military threat by the U.S. or Israel. "Iran has sufficient power and defensive capability to resist such threats," Assefi said. "We consider such statements and accusations [part of] a war of nerves and a military attack on Iran is not likely, unless someone were to make a strategic mistake," he said. VS

Ali Yunesi agreed with Assefi's view that the U.S. is waging "psychological warfare" to "influence Iran's nuclear negotiations with [the EU]," Iranian news agencies reported on 23 January. Iran, Yunesi said in Tehran, fears no threats, and has "immense popular, military, and global power" with which to "unravel any plot," IRNA reported. "I see the likelihood of their acting on threats as very, very weak." He dismissed concerns that U.S. secret agents may have infiltrated Iran, reportedly to identify potential bombing targets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 January 2005). "We [hope] American commandos will come to Iran, because they are like little chicks our eagles will swiftly gather in. The Americans are stupid, but not that stupid," he said. Meanwhile, Britain's Foreign Office has released a 200-page document arguing for diplomacy as the way to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is not defensive, AFP and "The Sunday Times" reported on 23 January. VS

Unnamed Pakistani officials have accused Iran of aiding a tribal insurgency in Baluchistan -- a region near the Iranian border -- against Pakistan's government, "The Sunday Telegraph" reported on 23 January. Iran has its own Baluchi tribesmen, which a Pakistani official said it has sent into Pakistan's Baluchi areas to support rebels. The boldness of the rebels, he said, shows that they enjoy the "backing of a foreign hand," reported. Last year, Pakistan's intelligence agency set up an office in Quetta, near the Iranian border, to monitor Iranian activities, while unnamed officials have stated that Iranian Radio broadcasts "between 90 and 100 minutes" of daily programs including "propaganda against Pakistan's government," reported. It added that Iran's alleged aid to the rebels is a response to Pakistan's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism and the construction of a deep-water port in Gwadar, near Iran's border, which it fears the U.S. may use to watch Iran. VS

President Mohammad Khatami said at the Tehran airport on 20 January upon returning from a tour of seven African states that he should have made the trip three years ago to benefit Iran's economic and international situation, IRNA reported on 21 January. Khatami signed agreements with unspecified countries on technology transfers, agriculture, as well as setting up car manufacturing plants and power stations, IRNA reported. Khatami said Africans favor relations with countries like Iran because of distrust of "colonial" countries, and he praised their stand against U.S. "greed" at past International Atomic Energy Agency board meetings. Khatami visited, among others, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, IRNA reported on 10 January. Zimbabwe and Iran, which enjoy cordial relations, were termed two outposts of tyranny on 18 January by U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice. VS

Intelligence and Security Minister Yunesi rejected in Tehran on 23 January charges of Iranian interference in Iraq, IRNA reported. The accusations were recently made by Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan. Al-Sha'lan's intermittent charges against Iran have been criticized by some Iraqi officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005). "Iraq's Defense Ministry and [Iraqi] security officials are not in a situation to threaten us. They need help and the things they say are to attract American support," Yunesi said. Separately, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in a 23 January meeting in Tehran with Spanish Ambassador Antonio Perez Hernandez Tora that Spain's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq was "courageous," IRNA reported. Spain withdrew its forces after the March 2004 election win by the Socialist Party, which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. VS

"Gilan-i Imruz" Editor in Chief Arash Sigarchi was arrested on 16 January after responding to a court summons in the northern city of Rasht, "Sharq" reported on 20 January. The summons reportedly is for giving interviews to Radio Farda and the BBC. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Sigarchi spoke out against the recent arrests of online webloggers and other Internet activists on the banned "Panjareh-yi Eltehab" website. Access from within Iran to Sigarchi's website (http:// is reportedly blocked. RSF reports that bail for him is 200 million rials (approximately $22,600), and added that his mother was pressured to deny that her son was arrested. BS

A suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle at a checkpoint near the offices of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on 24 January, international media reported. At least 10 people were wounded in the attack, with Health Ministry officials reporting that seven of the injured were policemen; three were civilians, Reuters reported. Three people were killed in an attack at that location on 3 January, Al-Arabiyah reported. Militants stormed an Iraqi police station in Al-Ramadi on 23 January, seizing weapons and other unspecified equipment, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. The militants forced police to evacuate the building during the raid and threatened to kill them if they returned. The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army posted a statement to a jihadist website on 22 January claiming it killed 15 Iraqi policemen kidnapped by the group on 15 January in Hit. KR

Falah al-Naqib told reporters at a 22 January press briefing in Baghdad broadcast live on Al-Jazeera television that special emergency measures, including a two-day closure of Baghdad International Airport, will be implemented this week ahead of the 30 January elections. The other measures include designating 29, 30, and 31 January a national holiday, during which time an extended curfew will be imposed on most areas of the country from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. During this period, the carrying of firearms will be prohibited and the movement of vehicles between governorates restricted. All civilian traffic will be halted on election day, he added. International borders will be closed except for Iraqis returning from pilgrimage to Mecca; citizens' movement in and around polling centers will be subject to restriction. The Transport and Interior ministries will help transport the elderly and disabled to the polling stations, al-Naqib said. The minister also announced the arrest of several insurgents, releasing their pictures and outlining the charges against them. Asked about rumors of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005), al-Naqib said more information will be available to the media this week. KR

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced on 23 January that it has extended expatriate voter registration for two additional days in most countries ( Registration was due to end on 23 January. According to a 23 January email update issued by the organization, about 132,000 Iraqi expatriates have registered to vote in the 14 countries participating in the vote. The organization said only about one-tenth of eligible expatriate voters have registered. Australian media has reported that as of 22 January, only 8,200 Iraqis out of an estimated 40-50,000 eligible voters had registered. Part of the problem may stem from fear of repercussions by host countries against Iraqi refugees who take part in the election. The organization has stressed that expatriates can vote with confidentiality, saying: "Data will not be shared with any other state or nonstate agency, including immigration services of host countries." KR

Members of the Iraqi Independent Election Commission have reportedly clashed over accusations of mismanagement and inappropriate actions, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 22 January. Commission spokesman Farid Ayar has reportedly said that some commission officials rigged election lists. He specifically accused commission head Abd al-Husayn al-Hindawi of making adjustments to lists after the deadline expired for the submission of candidates' names for each list, essentially adding and deleting names on lists at the request of those lists. Meanwhile, al-Hindawi announced that the commission has decided to remove Ayar as spokesman following what he called leaking reports about the commission without the knowledge of its members. KR

London's "The Sunday Times" reported on 23 January that militants in Iraq have obtained confidential information identifying the yet-to-be-announced location of polling centers in Iraq from sympathizers working for the Independent Election Commission. The information has allowed the militants to plan their attacks on the sites, the newspaper reported. A senior commander from Al-Fallujah told the paper: "The insurgents have their own spies in the election commission. They have leaked details about many of the locations of the polling stations." According to an unidentified commander based in Baghdad, "Most cells in Baghdad have stocked up on extra rocket-propelled grenades as well as Grad missiles." He added that militants have already begun planning where they need to site their weapons in order to be within range of hitting the centers. The commander said that his group's main goal was to cause chaos, not kill voters. "The aim is to prevent the candidates who are running from gaining office. They are the target, not the voters," he said, adding, however, that voters have been warned not to go to the polls. "We cannot protect those who insist on going and ignoring our warnings," he said. KR

An audiotape attributed to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was posted to a jihadist website on 21 January ( in which the speaker attacks the tenets of democracy and concludes that the enemy's plan in Iraq is to establish a Shi'ite-dominated government. "It is very strange...that although the democratic experiments brought bad and evil results to the Muslims...there are some who are still loving democracy and defending it as though they are the ones who made and invented it," he said. The speaker contends that a Shi'ite-majority government would "control the state's main strategic, economic, and security facilities under the banner of preserving the homeland and the citizen, advancing towards establishing the democratic project...At that point, the Shi'ites would start to settle their ideological scores by taking out the Sunni symbols and cadres including clergymen, preachers, and experienced people" after which "Baghdad and the Sunnah areas would become Shi'ite in only a few years time." The speaker then contends that all those who participate in the elections are supporters of this ideology and therefore viewed as apostates. KR