PUTIN AT AUSCHWITZ: WE ARE ASHAMED OF ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA
President Vladimir Putin said on 27 January at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp that he is ashamed by the level of anti-Semitism in Russia, Russian news agencies reported. "Today we should be ashamed. Even in our country, which did so much in the victory over Fascism, we are seeing, regrettably, these [anti-Semitic] manifestations. And we are ashamed," RTR reported. "Russia will always not only condemn these manifestations, but fight them with the force of law and public opinion," Putin added. He also called on all countries to unite against the "new enemy," international terrorism. Putin arrived late in Krakow due to bad weather, according to his press service. An RFE/RL correspondent in Krakow reported that there was a demonstration against the war in Chechnya in Krakow organized by Chechen organizations. Putin met after the ceremony with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Israeli President Moshe Kazav, who invited him to visit Israel, RTR reported. VY
PUTIN SAYS MISSILE DEAL WITH SYRIA IS POSSIBLE...
In an interview with "The Jerusalem Post" on 27 January in Krakow, President Putin refused to exclude the possibility that Russia could legally sell antiaircraft missiles to Syria, saying that such missiles are a defensive weapon and cannot change the military balance in the region. Addressing Israel's concern that the Igla SA-18, shoulder-held antiaircraft missiles that Syria wants from Russia could ultimately be used by terrorist organizations, Putin said: "We understand our responsibilities. We have not taken a single step to disrupt the balance of forces and we will follow that pattern in the future." The United States is also opposed to such a sale because it believes that the missiles could be smuggled from Syria into Iraq and be used against U.S. troops, "The Jerusalem Post" noted. VY
...AS WEEKLY REVEALS RUSSIAN STRATEGY TOWARD UNITED STATES
In its analysis of Moscow's Mideast policy in the context of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's recent visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005), "Argumenty i Fakty," No. 4, wrote that Russia has serious reasons to refrain from selling weapons to Syria at this time. The newspaper quoted an anonymous Russian government official as saying: "We told the Syrians that a new reality has emerged in the world that is very unpleasant for all of us: no country in the world can stop the United States. Therefore, we should be patient and wait until they themselves break their neck." The weekly also quoted an unnamed Syrian minister who said that Soviet weapons are only efficient in conjunction with Soviet political might. "Modern Russia cannot provide us with the shield given to us by the Soviet Union. We understand that and do not want Russia to be at odds with the United States because of us," he added. VY
ZYUGANOV SAYS HE HAS ENOUGH VOTES TO HOLD NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN DUMA...
Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov said in Moscow on 27 January that the party has collected the 90 Duma deputy signatures necessary for holding a no-confidence vote in the government, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported. Zyuganov added that in addition to Communist deputies, members of the Motherland faction and 15-18 independent deputies also support the motion. Zyuganov said that the Duma is recessed this week but will "finalize the [no-confidence vote]" next week. Though the no-confidence vote will be on the agenda, the KPRF and its allies have no chance of passing it, as an absolute majority in the Duma is controlled by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. But by holding the no-confidence vote, Zyuganov and his allies can force Unified Russia to openly support the government that implemented the highly unpopular social-benefits reform, gazeta.ru commented. VY
...AND LEFT AND RIGHT FORCES TRY TO DRUM UP SUPPORT FOR ANTI-PUTIN REFERENDUM...
Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev (Motherland) said on 27 January that the Communist Party, the Party For A Decent Life -- which he leads -- and several small leftist and socialist parties have formed an initiative group to promote the holding of a national referendum on social-benefits reform and other issues, RosBalt reported. Glazev added that the initiative group is negotiating with the head of Our Choice, Irina Khakamada, Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), and Yabloko about the possibility of their joining the group. Glazev said the proposed referendum will contain at least 14 questions, including "Do you agree that the direct election of governors should be restored?" and "Do you want to eliminate the benefits monetization law?" VY
...BUT ELECTION OFFICIAL RULES OUT BENEFITS-REFORM REFERENDUM
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 January that federal law forbids conducting a referendum on the government's controversial social-benefits reform. "According to the law on referendums, referendums cannot include questions about finances, including questions about the budget," Veshnyakov said. An unidentified spokesman for the Communist Party told the daily that the party will proceed with plans to initiate a referendum despite Veshnyakov's comments. RC
MOSCOW OFFICIALS VOLUNTARILY RENOUNCE IN-KIND BENEFITS
Moscow City Duma deputies on 26 January passed a measure stripping city officials, including themselves, of such in-kind benefits as free public transportation and subsidized municipal services, "Vremya novostei" reported on 27 January. The daily cited Deputy Mayor Anatolii Petrov as saying that the city henceforth intends to "settle all questions relating to the material security [of officials] through their salaries." The city will increase salaries in the near future, Petrov said, perhaps as early as the first quarter of this year. RC
DUMA DEPUTY PREDICTS WORSE CRISES TO COME
Duma Deputy Oleg Shein (Motherland) told "Vremya novostei" on 27 January that the intense public reaction against the recent reform to convert most in-kind social benefits to cash payments "has been a surprise for the state." Shein, who is deputy chairman of the Duma's Labor and Social Policy Committee, added that it is possible that the crisis will result in the toppling of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's cabinet. "The problem is that last year a whole bouquet of laws was passed that hit the population very hard," Shein said. "This entire minefield is going to be exploding this year and the government has only stepped on the first land mine." Among the changes coming later this year, Shein mentioned the elimination of subsidies for housing and municipal services and changes to the state's financing of medical facilities as a result of the reduction of the unitary social tax and that may lead to the closure of many facilities. "The country is in a systemic crisis that can only get worse," Shein concluded. "But the state has secured its position: there is no structural opposition in the country today." RC
PUTIN RENOMINATES STEPASHIN AS CHIEF AUDITOR
President Putin has submitted Sergei Stepashin's name to the Duma to head the Audit Chamber, Interfax reported on 27 January. Stepashin submitted his resignation from the post in December, following the coming into effect of a new law on the formation of the Audit Chamber, under which the chamber's chairman and deputy chairman must be nominated by the president and approved by the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005). Stepashin met with Putin on 24 January, Russian media reported. Stepashin said on 27 January that the government will not pursue a policy of "deprivatization," although "the current system does not provide for the effective management of state property." He said that "the absence of personal accountability and poor public oversight encourage the use of state property in the shadow economy." He also said there are insufficient controls over foreign companies in which Russia holds stakes. Audits of 34 such companies found that only eight were profitable, Prime-TASS reported on 27 January. RC
DEFENSE MINISTRY SEEKS APPROVAL FOR PATRIOTIC TELEVISION CHANNEL
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has written to Prime Minister Fradkov asking him to support a ministry initiative to create a countrywide patriotic television channel to be called Zvezda (Star), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 January. The ministry wants to create a channel that would cover at least 51 federation subjects, saying that it would be "a socially important media outlet" that will "form effective informational and ideological influences to ensure the social activities of Russian citizens," Ivanov wrote, according to the daily. The proposed channel would show patriotic films, documentaries, and military reports. An unnamed official in the prime minister's office told "The Moscow Times" on 28 January that it is unlikely the government will support the proposal because of financial constraints. Officials in recent days have also called for the creation of a 24-hour news channel and for a Russian Orthodox channel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). RC
YUKOS PULLS PLUG ON OIL EXPORTS FOR FEBRUARY
Yukos Deputy CEO Aleksandr Temerko told reporters on 27 January that the company will not export any oil in February because it cannot pay export duties, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The news agency cited an unnamed source in the Industry and Energy Ministry as saying that Yukos has not exported any oil through the Transneft pipeline system since the beginning of this year and that the company's export quota for the first six months of this year has been slashed from 5 million tons to 2.48 million. The quotas for Rosneft, which recently took over Yukos's main production subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz, as well as for LUKoil and TNK-BP, have all been increased, according to the report. RC
LONGTIME SOCCER TSAR STEPS ASIDE
Vyacheslav Koloskov, the controversial longtime head of the Russian Soccer Union (RFS), resigned on 27 January following an intense campaign by the Kremlin to oust him, Russian media reported. Koloskov headed the union for 25 years, dominating Russian soccer, but was sharply criticized in recent years as the Russian national team has performed poorly in international competitions. The drive to remove him, which was orchestrated by Federal Physical Education and Sports Agency Director Vyacheslav Fetisov, came to a head in November when Russia was trounced by Portugal, 7-1, in a World Cup qualifying match. "I have thought about it, consulted with comrades from the Kremlin, and have decided to resign," Koloskov told reporters, "The Moscow Times" reported on 28 January. The daily reported the Koloskov met on 23 January in the Kremlin with deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov. The newspaper speculated that Federation Council member Vitalii Mutko, a former Premier League official and colleague of President Putin's in the St. Petersburg city hall, is the leading candidate to take over the RFS. RC
THERE ONCE WAS A DIPLOMAT FROM MOSCOW
A collection of poems by Russian diplomats, including 18 by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has been published to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of 19th-century Russian poet and diplomat Fedor Tyutchev, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. The book, "The Second Breath," also includes works by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, former CIS Relations Minister Anatolii Adamishin, and former Soviet Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh. "I am not saying that poetry should become more diplomatic, but I think that diplomacy should be more poetic," Lavrov said at the book's presentation at the Foreign Ministry. RC
POLICE SAY NALCHIK MILITANTS WERE PLANNING TERRORIST ATTACK
Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkadii Edelev told journalists in Nalchik on 27 January that the bodies of seven suspected militants -- five men and two women -- have been recovered from the apartment block on the outskirts of the city where police and special forces laid siege to them on 25-26 January, Russian media reported. He said the two women were would-be suicide-bombers preparing to perpetrate acts of terrorism, according to Interfax. The Interior Ministry of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria confirmed that the dead militants belonged to the Yarmuk group that was responsible for a shootout in Chegem last August and the attack last month on the Nalchik office of the Federal Antinarcotics Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August and 15 and 16 December 2004). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 January quoted an unnamed official involved in planning the raid on the apartment block as saying that the 36-hour delay in launching that operation was because the militants were Balkars, and the republic's authorities were afraid that their death would negatively affect interethnic relations. The Balkars account for only 8 percent of the republic's population, compared with the Kabardians (43 percent) and the Russians (33 percent). LF
SECOND 'PRESIDENTIAL GUARD' FORMED IN CHECHNYA
A special security detachment is being created within the Chechen Interior Ministry that will be responsible for the safety of pro-Moscow administration head Alu Alkhanov and members of his family, Vladimir Savchenkov, who is head of internal security within the Interior Ministry's main directorate for the South Russia Federal District, told journalists in Rostov-na-Donu on 27 January. Savchenkov did not specify the manpower of the new security unit, but he said its existence will not impinge on the so-called presidential security guard subordinate to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. But "Vremya novostei" on 28 January predicted that the so-called "kadyrovtsy," who have no official status, may soon be disbanded. Kadyrov, however, dismissed such speculation as "lies." LF
MILITARY SUSPECTED OF COMPLICITY IN BESLAN HOSTAGE TAKING
Two senior army or police officers have been arrested and three more are wanted for questioning on suspicion of abetting the militants who perpetrated the hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia last September, Aleksandr Torshin, who heads the Russian parliamentary commission created to investigate the crime, told journalists on 27 January, Interfax reported. Torshin did not identify the two men arrested. Torshin also said he believes last week's protests in North Ossetia by relatives of children who died in the storming of the Beslan school (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 January 2005) may have been masterminded by accomplices of the hostage takers, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI SERVICEMAN KILLED IN KARABAKH CEASE-FIRE VIOLATION
An Azerbaijani serviceman was killed on 26 January in an exchange of fire with Armenian troops in Agdam Raion, Russian media reported on 27 January. But a spokesman for the Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic denied to ITAR-TASS that any gunfire exchange took place. Turan reported on 28 January that Armenian troops resumed shooting shortly before midnight on 27 January and between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. local time on 28 January. LF
AZERBAIJAN REJECTS TURKMEN CASPIAN PROPOSAL
Baku does not consider it expedient to refer to the UN or any other international organization the dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over the borders of their respective sectors of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Metin Mirza told Interfax on 27 January. Turkmenistan recently held talks with a Canadian company on the possible joint development of the Kyapaz/Serdar oil field to which both countries lay claim; on 24 January the Turkmen Foreign Ministry suggested submitting the dispute over that deposit to international arbitration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 26 January 2005). LF
EU, VENICE COMMISSION OFFICIALS DISCUSS SOUTH OSSETIA
Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, who is the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, volunteered during talks in Tbilisi on 27 January with Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili to participate in talks with Russia and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia on implementing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's offer of broad autonomy to South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Also on 27 January, a delegation from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission headed by Ambassador Gianni Buquicchio met with Georgian Justice Ministry officials and Georgian Conflict Resolution Minister Giorgi Khaindrava to review Saakashvili's proposal, Caucasus Press reported. Khaindrava told journalists after his meeting with the Venice Commission members that the demilitarization of the South Ossetian conflict zone -- in compliance with agreements signed in August and November 2004 -- is a precondition for reaching a political settlement of the conflict. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DIVIDED OVER PRESIDENT'S SOUTH OSSETIA PROPOSAL
President Saakashvili's offer of broad autonomy to South Ossetia has split the parliamentary opposition, Caucasus Press reported on 27 January. The Conservatives, headed by Saakashvili's former close associate Koba Davitashvili, argued that talks with the leaders of either South Ossetia or Abkhazia are impermissible in current circumstances and can take place only after all Georgian displaced persons have returned to the two breakaway republics. The Republicans, for their part, expressed support for Saakashvili's initiative and offered to participate in talks on the future status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF
ABKHAZ PRESIDENT-ELECT SLAMS GEORGIAN 'DECLARATION OF WAR'
Sergei Bagapsh told journalists in Moscow on 27 January that President Saakashvili's 26 January address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe constituted a virtual declaration of war on Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Bagapsh quoted Saakashvili as having said in that address that a peaceful settlement of the Abkhaz conflict is impossible because the Abkhaz authorities have withdrawn from negotiations. The text of Saakashvili's speech, as posted on the Georgian Foreign Ministry website, does not, however, contain any such statement. It is not clear whether Russian media imputed to Saakashvili remarks he never made, or whether the text of his speech has been edited to remove references to Abkhazia. Bagapsh also met in Moscow on 27 January with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS AGREE ON NEED TO IMPROVE BILATERAL RELATIONS
During talks in Moscow on 26 January, Georgian Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov agreed that the existing tensions in relations between their respective countries are "abnormal" and should be improved, Russian media reported. Ivanov reportedly advocated "determining strategic goals and priorities," and affirmed Moscow's desire for "good-neighborly relations." LF
UN COUNTERTERRORISM SESSION ENDS IN KAZAKHSTAN...
The fourth session of the UN Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) closed in Almaty on 27 January with a joint statement from the specialists and representatives of international organizations who took part in the meeting, Khabar Television reported. The statement called on governments to adopt the 12 UN conventions on fighting terrorism and to coordinate their legislation, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. A statement by EU countries at the meeting urged stringent measures against terrorist funding, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. It read, "We need to work more actively to block funds that are being transferred, identify and freeze them as they go through the banking system." At the same time, CTC Executive Director Javier Ruperes cautioned that as law-enforcement bodies work to combat terrorism they must take care not to violate human rights, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK
...AS UN GIVES $9 MILLION TO FIGHT DRUG TRADE IN CENTRAL ASIA
Kazakh Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov and James Callahan, regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), signed five agreements in Almaty on 27 January clearing the way for the UN to give $9 million to fight the drug trade in Central Asia, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The money, which will come from the UN and the EU, is earmarked for technical aid, the creation of a single software system for anti-drug bodies in Central Asia, demand reduction, and other programs. DK
TWIN KYRGYZ STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS GIVE COMPETING NEWS CONFERENCES
Two Kyrgyz student organizations with identical names but varying points of view gave competing press conferences at the news agency Akipress in Bishkek on 27 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Aisuluu Aitbaeva, the leader of the Kel-Kel (roughly translated as New Era) that gave the first press conference, explained that the organization is nonpolitical and receives funding from a Kyrgyz entrepreneur identified as Ryspaev; members oppose the export of revolution and the destabilization of Kyrgyz society. Representatives of another student organization called Kel-Kel, led by Chinara Aitbaeva, alleged at a second news conference that the authorities cloned their organization in order to create confusion. Representatives of the second Kel-Kel expressed their support for nonviolent dissent and called attention to dubious pre-election activities by university authorities. Although the organizations deny any political ties, they both emerged amid increasing tension between Kyrgyzstan's authorities and the political opposition in the lead-up to the 27 February parliamentary elections. DK
TAJIK TAX POLICE IMPOUND OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
Tajikistan's tax police confiscated part of the print run of the independent weekly "Nerui Sukhan" and sealed the printing house Kayhon in Dushanbe on 26 January, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported the next day. Police said the newspaper and printing house were in violation of the tax law and registration procedures, Tajik Television First Channel reported. A Tax Ministry spokesman told the station that Kayhon was not authorized to print newspapers. But Nuriddin Qarshiboev, president of the National Association of Independent Media in Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that the shutdown was an attempt by officials to eliminate alternative sources of information in the lead-up to the 27 February parliamentary elections. This is the third time in recent months that tax police have halted the publication of "Nerui Sukhan." DK
BICAMERAL UZBEK LEGISLATURE HOLDS FIRST SESSION
The first sessions of Uzbekistan's newly elected Senate and Legislative Assembly, which together make up the country's new bicameral legislature, took place on 27 January in Tashkent, UzA reported. President Islam Karimov took part in the opening ceremonies of both legislative bodies. Uzbekistan's legislature was previously unicameral. DK
UZBEK RIGHTS ORGANIZATION LOOKS TO MONITOR POLICE
Uzbek human-rights defenders held a news conference on 27 January to mark the creation of a new center to monitor violations of the law committed by police, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Explaining that people feel defenseless in the face of police brutality, Yelena Urlaeva said that the new center will collect and publicize information on abuses and operate a hotline for concerned citizens. In a 25 January announcement made public on Centrasia.ru, the unregistered opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers) and two Uzbek human rights organizations announced their intention to form such a center to monitor police activities. The statement alleged that the Uzbek police "guard only the interests of the current political regime, behaving toward ordinary citizens like a band of marauders who blackmail, extort, pressure, and frighten citizens." DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REGISTERING ALL WORK-ABROAD AGENCIES...
Speaking on 27 January at a conference in Minsk on stopping human trafficking, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered that the government register all Belarusian-based agencies offering jobs abroad, Belapan reported. A presidential decree to that effect called "on certain measures to counteract trade in people" has already been drafted. In addition, Lukashenka said that all contracts signed with people seeking employment abroad should be reviewed to enable workers to return home at any time. According to Lukashenka, Belarus, because of its geographical location, has been exposed to crime, such as trafficking drugs as well as in women and children for sexual exploitation; however, he insisted that "trade in people has not acquired a mass scale in Belarus." JAC
...AND FOR ADVERTISING TO USE ONLY BELARUSIAN MODELS
During the discussion of human trafficking, President Lukashenka ordered that billboards in Belarus feature only Belarusian models, because this would help prevent women from accepting dubious jobs abroad, Belapan reported. He noted that he suggested the same thing last year to the Chamber of Representatives but instead of executing his directive they simply removed billboards from the streets. Last year, Lukashenka ordered the mayor of Minsk to remove French models "with grimy faces" on billboards along his route to work and employ Belarusian beauties to advertise domestic watches. "Take photos of our girls to advertise watches of our enterprise [the Luch plant in Minsk]," Lukashenka stressed (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 23 November 2004). JAC
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST SEEKS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN UKRAINE
An activist in Zhodzina, east of Minsk, for the opposition United Civic Party, Alyaksandr Vauchanin, has applied for political asylum in Ukraine, Belapan reported on 27 January. Vauchanin charged that an unnamed secret-service officer told him that the authorities may orchestrate his killing in retaliation for his political and human rights activities. He added that he has faced increased pressure since taking part in protests supporting Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv in 2004. Vauchanin said that he supported Lukashenka in 1994 and 2001, and helped collect signatures to get him "on the ballot as an opposition candidate," despite government harassment. "Years have passed since then and now Mr. Lukashenka treats his opponents in the same manner," Vauchanin said. "Has he forgotten everything?" JAC
UKRAINIAN COURT STOPS STEEL GIANT'S PRIVATIZATION TO KUCHMA, YANUKOVYCH CRONIES
A district court in Kyiv has blocked the final transfer of a 93.02 percent stake in Kryvorizhstal steelmaker to the Investment-Metallurgical Union (IMS), Interfax and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Investment-Metallurgical Union represents the interests of Interpipe corporation, which is owned by former President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, and the System Capital Management company, which is controlled by Rynat Akhmetov, a longtime associate of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 June 2004). In August, then presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko said that his Our Ukraine bloc considered the Kryvorizhstal privatization illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2004). He said that the company was worth $4 billion-$5 billion but was bought by IMS for only $800 million, despite other bids of up to $1.2 billion. IMS has 15 days to appeal the court decision. Kryvorizhstal employs some 52,000 people and produces roughly one-third of Ukraine's steel, according to dpa. JAC
YUSHCHENKO MEETS WITH EUROPEAN LEADERS AT AUSCHWITZ
During a visit to Krakow, Poland, on 27 January, Ukrainian President Yushchenko met with the leaders of Poland, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and the Czech Republic as well as U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, Ukrainian Television and Interfax reported. Yushchenko was in Poland to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Yushchenko recalled that his father, Andriy, was a camp inmate, and he vowed to fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine. Following his meeting with Cheney, Yushchenko said that he assured the U.S. vice president that Ukraine "has changed a lot over the past few months" and is "capable of pursuing an effective, responsible policy." According to AP, Cheney, wearing a bright orange tie, declared that "the world has been inspired by the remarkable images from Ukraine in recent months." The meeting between the two men lasted twice as long as scheduled, according to the agency. JAC
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES THREE GOVERNORS
President Yushchenko has accepted the resignations of three regional governors: Luhansk Oblast Governor Oleksandr Yefremov, Poltava Oblast Governor Oleksandr Udovichenko, and Kirovohrad Oblast Governor Vasyl Kompaniets, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 27 January, citing the presidential press service. Udovichenko, 47, had been governor since June 2003, while Kompaniets, 50, spent less than a year in office, according to Ukrayinski novini. JAC
TRANSPORT MINISTER'S DEATH RULED SUICIDE
Law-enforcement officials have decided that the 27 December death of Ukrainian Transport Minister Heorhiy Kirpa, 58, was a suicide, UNIAN reported on 27 January, citing the Kyiv-based daily "Segodnya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). Kirpa fired one shot that killed him instantly. JAC
PROMINENT SERBIAN WAR CRIMES INDICTEE SURRENDERS
The Serbian government announced in a statement on 28 January that former army General Vladimir Lazarevic has voluntarily surrendered to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and will soon travel to The Hague, where the international criminal tribunal has indicted him for war crimes, Reuters and dpa reported. Along with Sreten Lukic, Vlastimir Djordjevic, and Nebojsa Pavkovic, Lazarevic is one of four prominent former army or police generals indicted by the tribunal for crimes allegedly committed in Kosova during the 1998-99 conflict. Djordjevic is believed to be in Russia, but the other three are reportedly in Serbia. Belgrade's failure to arrest and extradite them has seriously harmed its relations with the tribunal, the United States, and the European Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004, and 14 and 21 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 19 November 2004). Kostunica has stressed that the only politically practical approach is for the government to persuade indictees to give themselves up voluntarily. His critics accuse him of foot-dragging, saying that holding off on cooperation with the tribunal is delaying Serbia's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM
U.S. RULES OUT EARLY DECISION ON KOSOVA'S STATUS...
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a press conference on 27 January that the United States remains committed to the international community's policy on Kosova, according to the State Department's website (see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2005/41335.htm). Boucher said that "the U.S. position on Kosovo is the international position on Kosovo. We think it would be premature at this time for the U.S. to begin discussing future status options for Kosovo. We support the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the UN Security Council way ahead...that's been endorsed by the UN Security Council." His comment came in response to a question about the NGO International Crisis Group's new report recommending that action be speeded up on Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 January 2005). PM
...AND STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF STANDARDS...
Speaking at a Washington press briefing on 27 January, U.S. State Department spokesman Boucher stressed that the UN Security Council's program "calls for a comprehensive review of Kosovo's progress on standards...around mid-2005. If that review is positive, then the international community will begin a political process to talk about Kosovo's future status." He added that Washington encourages "Kosovo to continue to work to implement all the standards, and we think that more remains to be done in that regard, but we'll see where we are when we get to the mid-year review." PM
...WHILE LEADING EU REPRESENTATIVE RULES OUT INDEPENDENCE
Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said in Ljubljana on 27 January that his recently announced plan for the "Europeanization" of Kosova excludes both independence and a return to Serbian rule, Reuters reported. Busek argued that "two radical points of view are impossible [as options]. The one is reintegration of Kosovo into Serbia, the other is independence. We have to choose a kind of autonomy...maybe a province with half-independent status under the monitoring of the EU." He also stressed the need for a gradual approach. "I am very much in favor of Europeanization -- step by step, not from one day to the other," he said. Busek's proposal is likely to be rejected by Kosova's ethnic Albanian leadership, which seeks independence sooner rather than later and rejects a continuation of what many Kosovars regard as "colonial" rule (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, 17 December 2004, and 21 January 2005). PM
KOSOVA'S SERBIAN CABINET MEMBER CHALLENGES CRITICS
Kosova's Minister for Returns Slavisa Petkovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 27 January that Serbian politicians who criticize him for joining the cabinet have themselves dodged their responsibility to Kosova's Serbian population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 January 2005). Petkovic argued that the most important issue facing the local Serbs is the safe return of up to 250,000 displaced Serbs and providing jobs for them. He charged that Serbian politicians who served in Kosova's parliament "for the past three years did nothing" to solve this problem. He added that politicians in Belgrade are interested only in manipulating the Serbs of Kosova and not in helping them. Petkovic argued that it is the duty of politicians to help their people and that is why he joined the cabinet. He stressed that jobs are the key to the future because Kosova's problems are "99 percent economic...and only 1 percent political." Petkovic called on Albanians as individuals to help Serbs overcome their fear by "taking a walk through town with a Serbian neighbor" to show that people can again live "together, like we once did." PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES PRIVATIZATION OF ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY
Macedonian Economy Minister Fatmir Besimi announced on 27 January that the cabinet has agreed to sell the state electricity monopoly Elekrostopanstvo Makedonija (ESM) in an international tender, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Prospective buyers can bid for a 51 percent package of ESM shares. The cabinet decided not to set a minimum price. The state has reserved a 30 percent stake for itself, in order to oversee the company's finances. On 1 January, ESM was restructured by dividing it into the electricity-providing branch, or ESM, and the power-grid provider, or MEPSO. Only ESM is up for sale, while the state will remain the owner of the power grid. According to some estimates, ESM is worth about $1.7 billion. UB
ROMANIA ABOLISHES IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION FOR FORMER MINISTERS
The government on 27 January decided to abolish legislation that grants immunity from prosecution to former cabinet ministers, Mediafax and Reuters reported. The legislation now in force stipulates that former cabinet members can be investigated and prosecuted only after parliament has agreed to lift their immunity. Justice Minister Monica Macovei said the change in the legislation was demanded by the European Commission and by the International Monetary Fund. She said the cabinet's decision "opened the way for transparency." Former Prime Minister and current lower-house speaker Adrian Nastase criticized the decision, saying he fears it is aimed at making it possible to "harass" former ministers with lawsuits. MS
ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES FLAT TAX, ANNULMENT OF DEBT WRITE-OFF
The Romanian upper house on 27 January narrowly approved the government's decision to introduce a 16 percent flat tax as of 1 January 2005, Mediafax reported. The vote was 58 in favor and 53 against. The opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Greater Romania Party voted against the flat tax. Also on 27 January, the Senate approved a government ordinance that annuls the write-off of debts to the state granted by the former PSD government to the Rafo and Carom refinery and tire maker, respectively. Meanwhile, managers of the two companies have been charged by prosecutors with tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 13, and 26 January 2005). MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER OUTLINES LIBERAL POLICIES
Addressing an international economic forum in Bucharest on 27 January, Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said he is Romania's first postcommunist liberal politician and as such his cabinet is guided by five main liberal economic principles, according to an official government press release. He said the cabinet will strive to introduce "liberation from fiscal burdens" for companies and individuals; "liberation from state-dominance" by completing the process of privatization and "withdrawing the state from the economy"; "liberation from the political class" by abolishing political clientelism; "liberation from corruption"; and "liberation from bureaucracy." Popescu-Tariceanu said he is "fully dedicated to respecting the principles of a state based on the rule of law." Such a state, he said, is based on "a free and professional judiciary," a free and independent media, a strong legislature, a strong civil society, and "a professional and moral corps of civil service." MS
RUSSIA STOPS EVACUATION OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT FROM TRANSDNIESTER...
Russian Defense Ministry official Lieutenant General Georgii Sokolov said on 27 January that the evacuation of the Russian military arsenal stationed in Transdniester "has been stopped until further orders," Flux reported, citing ITAR-TASS. Sokolov said no military equipment has been evacuated from the separatist region in the last six months, adding that this was "not the fault of Russia." He said that 50 percent of the equipment had been evacuated up to mid-2004 and that some 45 trains with 20 cars each are needed for the evacuation of the remaining arsenal. Russia has not fulfilled its pledge to evacuate the equipment that it undertook at the Organization for Security and Corporation in Europe (OSCE) summits in Istanbul in 1999 and in Porto in 2001. MS
...AS SMIRNOV THREATENS TO SEND ARMY TO RIVER DNIESTER...
In an interview with the Russian daily "Novye izvestiya," separatist leader Igor Smirnov said Transdniester would move its army to the banks of Dniester River if an attempt is made to send an international peacekeeping contingent to the region, Flux reported. Smirnov also said that Chisinau has brought relations between the sides to "the brink of war" and that he does not rule out a final break in negotiations, the Romanian daily "Ziua" reported on 28 January. He said Transdniester opposes any presence of peacekeepers other than the Russian contingent currently stationed there or of Ukrainian troops. Smirnov said that only the presence of Russian troops guarantees that fighting does not resume. He also said he is confident that new Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko would never allow Moldovan customs officials on Ukrainian territory for the purpose of setting up joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs checkpoints, as advocated by Chisinau. Smirnov said this would encroach on the Ukrainian Constitution and would damage Ukrainian interests "more than our own interests." MS
...RULES OUT ROMANIAN PARTICIPATION IN CONFLICT SETTLEMENT
Smirnov also said in the interview with "Novye izvestiya" that Tiraspol opposes any Romanian participation in negotiations to settle the conflict, according to the 28 January "Ziua" report. He said Romania "openly backed Moldova's military aggression against Transdniester" and was therefore "eliminated" as a mediator in the conflict. Although Romania is currently coordinating its foreign policy with the EU, he added, Bucharest has not renounced its aspirations to become a regional leader and to play a key role in the Transdniester conflict settlement. MS
GETTING OUT THE SUNNI VOTE
As 30 January edges closer, political pundits are keeping their eyes on the Sunni vote -- or lack thereof. In all of this analysis, the focus has remained on the declaration by Sunni religious groups such as the Muslim Scholars' Association and the Iraqi Islamic Party that they will not participate in Iraq's national elections. Many other Sunni parties, however, will participate in the elections and their leaders have called on Sunnis to vote.
At least a dozen Sunni-led lists are registered on the ballot, representing more mainstream -- or more appropriately, more secular -- Sunni groups. One of the best-known is the Independent Democrats Movement, led by veteran diplomat Adnan Pachachi. Although Pachachi lobbied for an election postponement and expressed reservations about the vote given the security conditions in the country, he was adamant that his party's list should participate in the elections. Other Sunni-dominated lists have expressed their reservations about holding the elections in January, including Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hasan's National Democratic Coalition, and President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir's "Iraqis" list.
Regarding his party's stance, Pachachi told Al-Arabiyah television in a 24 January interview: "We have decided to participate in the elections despite our reservations and our call for their postponement. We believe it is in everyone's interest to ensure the largest possible participation in elections, so they will have the needed legitimacy, particularly since the National Assembly will formulate the permanent constitution. We believe it is very important to have a presence in the National Assembly that represents views that could be different from those of other members." Speaking about the boycott of elections by some Sunni groups, Pachachi added, "I hope that some sides and parties that decided to boycott elections would revise their position, if not by running in these elections, then at least by urging their supporters to vote."
In a 22 January interview published in Jeddah's "Ukaz," Constitutional Monarchy Movement head Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn said: "The Sunni boycott of the election is not voluntary. The Sunni voter wants to participate in the election but this participation will be weak because the government did not provide him with security. Indeed, it sent a message to him saying that the western regions are not safe, when it announced that the four governorates in the west and the north will not participate in the election because security is not maintained there. This reflected on the Sunni voter, who felt that he is not safe and that, even if he participates, his vote will not have any weight."
Many Sunni leaders are pushing for greater participation -- from both party lists and voters. Al-Husayn said that his party has tried to convince the Muslim Scholars Association to take part in the elections. "We told them: If you boycott you will have no role to play in the next government, and it is better for you to be represented in the next government to be able to convey your viewpoints," al-Husayn said. Asked why his party did not boycott the election, al-Husayn said: "We told the boycotters that their position would entrench the occupation. It is regrettable that the Iraqi resistance has no real strategy. It should have participated in the election and obtained a seat in the government.... But now they have no political influence, and the influence of the booby-trapped car is not enough."
The Sunni-led Mosul Tribal Council headed by Sheikh Anwar al-Luhaybi has also called upon all Iraqis to participate in the elections. In a statement on Mosul's governorate elections, the council said that the greatest danger facing the city is the nonparticipation of some groups, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 25 January. The statement was signed by 32 tribal sheikhs who are candidates on the council's list.
Sunni leader Mish'an al-Juburi from the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc told "The Washington Post" this week that part of the problem in campaigning is that Sunni groups are being threatened by militants. "The people who are against the election have warned me to withdraw. They have focused on me because I am a Sunni with a strong voice," he told the daily. Al-Juburi's comments reflect the main challenge facing Sunni leaders in this election: eliciting support from a segment of society feeling fearful, disconnected, and disenfranchised, while avoiding the wrath of those Sunni militants who will stop at nothing in their efforts to obstruct the political process.
AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS DELAYED UNTIL SUMMER
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters on 27 January in Davos, Switzerland, that his country's parliamentary elections, slated to take place before 21 May, will be delayed until the summer, AP reported. "Even if it is not on time because of technical preparations, which are needed, it will be around one or two months from the original time," Abdullah told AP. However, the head of Afghanistan's newly appointed Independent Election Commission, Besmellah Besmel, said that no decision has been made to delay the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). According to the Afghan electoral law, the boundaries of electoral districts should be determined at least 120 days before the election can take place. Unless that law is amended, the possibility of holding elections on 21 May has already passed. AT
AFGHAN SOLIDER KILLS FIVE OTHERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
An Afghan National Army soldier killed five of his comrades and injured six others in a base used by U.S. troops in Greshk District of Helmand Province on 27 January before he was shot by other soldiers, international news agencies reported. General Abdul Halim, deputy commander of the Army Corps No. 205, to which all of the soldiers belonged, indicated that the soldier who opened fire "was mentally ill," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 27 January. A statement issued by the U.S. military on 27 January indicated that no "evidence indicates this attack was conducted by any anticoalition militia forces," AP reported. AT
NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Hajji Mohammad Wali, spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, said on 27 January that a high-profile neo-Taliban commander named Mohammad Allah was killed on 26 January by police in Musa Qala District, AIP reported. In addition, another neo-Taliban commander identified as Abdul Ghafar was wounded and captured in the operation, in which one policeman was also killed. In a separate report, AIP noted that Latifollah Hakimi, speaking on behalf the neo-Taliban, confirmed to the agency on 27 January that Mullah Mohammad Allah has been killed. Hakimi described Mohammad Allah as commander of "only 10 Taliban." Hakimi claimed that Mullah Abdul Ghafar was placed "in a well and later he was also martyred." According to Hakimi, two policemen were killed in the attack. AT
SOUTHERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR ISSUES WARNING ON POPPY CULTIVATION
Gol Agha Sherzai, the newly reappointed governor of Kandahar Province, threatened his district chiefs with dismissal if they do not eradicate opium-poppy fields in their areas, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 27 January. "I will severely punish the person responsible before dismissing him if poppy is seen in his district," Sherzai warned. Sherzai served as governor of Kandahar from late 2001 until 2003, when he became minister of urban development. In December, Sherzai was reappointed to his old post (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 December 2004). AT
AFGHAN PRESIDENT VISITS EASTERN IRAN
President Hamid Karzai, accompanied by his Iranian counterpart, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, traveled to Iran's eastern Khorasan Province on 27 January, international news agencies reported. While there they inaugurated the new highway linking Herat and Dogharun. Karzai said at the ceremony, "Today, with the inauguration of the Herat-Dogharun road, not only do we facilitate travel and transit for the people of Afghanistan and Iran but also for our neighboring countries," Radio Farda reported. "Peace and stability in Afghanistan and the reconstruction of Afghanistan are in the interests of Afghanistan, its neighboring countries, and the region." Officials from the two countries signed cooperation documents relating to the highway's inauguration, Iran's provision of electricity to Herat Province, and the construction of checkpoints along the border. On 26 January, IRNA reported, the handover of seven such checkpoints along the shared border of Iran's South Khorasan Province and Afghanistan's Farah Province took place. Farah Governor Asadollah Falah expressed his gratitude. BS
IRANIAN MILITARY COMMANDER REMINDS COLLEAGUES OF IRAQ'S PLIGHT
Major General Gholam-Ali Rashidi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's regular armed forces, said at a 27 January wreath-laying ceremony at the Imam Khomeini mausoleum in Tehran that the U.S. presence in Iraq, Saddam Hussein's fate, and Iraqis' current plight are a lesson and a warning, ISNA reported. If the Iraqi military had depended on the people, Rashidi said, Iraq would not be occupied right now. Independence has a price, Rashidi said. Rashidi concluded by saying that Iran can depend on its experience from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. He added that the enemy should be prevented from initiating aggressive measures, and if it does attack, "we must...turn this land into the killing ground of aggressors." BS
CONTRADICTORY REPORTS ON IRANIAN ELECTION CANDIDATE
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 26 January in Rasht, Gilan Province, that he will make up his mind on whether to run in the upcoming presidential election within a fortnight, Mehr News Agency reported. Two days earlier, "Iran" newspaper reported that Rohani announced he is ready to be a candidate. He allegedly met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei beforehand to discuss the issue. BS
CONTROVERSY PERSISTS OVER GUARDIANS COUNCIL AND WOMEN...
Guardians Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham on 22 January rejected statements attributed to him that for the first time women will be allowed to run for president, IRNA reported. According to Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution, a presidential candidate must be of Iranian origin and have Iranian nationality; must be a resourceful administrator; must have a good record; must be trustworthy and pious; and must believe in the Islamic republic system and its fundamental principles. A more controversial aspect of the article on presidential qualifications is its assertion that the president must be a religious-political individual (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi). This vague sentence leads to questions of whether or not the president should be a clergyman and also leaves it unclear as to whether or not a woman can be president. The Front for Consolidating Democracy had announced on 22 January that according to spokesman Elham, "Women who have the necessary qualifications have the right to run in the presidential elections," IRNA reported. A letter from the front thanked the Guardians Council for this decision. BS
...COUNCIL'S OVERALL ELECTION ROLE...
Article 99 of the Iranian Constitution states that the Guardians Council supervises presidential, parliamentary, and Assembly of Experts elections. An editorial in the 19 January "Mardom Salari" notes that conflicts between the Guardians Council and the Interior Ministry, which runs elections, date back to the country's second parliament (1984-88). The controversy centers on the meaning of "supervision." Does this mean "approbatory supervision" (nizarat-i estisvabi), where "approbatory" means that something is legally binding, or is it "advisory," which suggests that a choice is involved? The Guardians Council has abused this power, the editorial suggested, to reject many worthwhile candidates. Looking back at the February 2004 parliamentary elections, when the council disqualified many incumbents, the editorial suggested that the council should prove a candidate is not qualified. The prospective candidate should not have to prove his or her own innocence. BS
...AND UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Citing Guardians Council spokesman Elham's statement that the rejection of candidates is not the main consideration in the upcoming presidential election, "Sharq" reported on 16 January that the council does not intend to reject any of the candidates. Elham explained his statement by saying that this will be a free election in which public desires are respected. "Sharq" interpreted this as an effort to ensure high public participation in the election, which is a strategy announced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Nevertheless, "Sharq" reported, Elham said that instead of investigating individuals' negative traits, the council will concentrate on determining their positive qualities. Elham said prospective candidates will have to submit evidence that they are eligible and competent. BS
MILITANTS BOMB IRAQI POLLING CENTERS, POWER STATION
A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at a police checkpoint outside the Al-Dawrah Power Station in Baghdad on 28 January, Al-Jazeera reported. Six security men were killed in the attack, the satellite news channel said. A second car bomb detonated outside a school that was to be used as a polling station in Baghdad. Al-Arabiyah reported that one policeman was killed and two wounded in attacks on six polling centers north of the capital since late on 27 January. Another policeman was killed and three wounded in an attack in Al-Basrah, Al-Arabiyah reported. Meanwhile, the bodies of four Iraqi soldiers shot dead in Al-Ramadi were discovered in the city on 27 January, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. The news channel said that the bodies are not those of four Iraqi soldiers kidnapped after leaving a U.S. military base in the city earlier the same day. In the southern Al-Muthanna Governorate, Iraqi border police reportedly arrested four Saudi nationals who crossed the border riding bicycles accompanied by a drug dealer from Samawah, Al-Diyar television reported on 27 January. The Saudis reportedly confessed to the intent to carry out terrorist attacks in Mosul. KR
IRAQI EXPATRIATE VOTING GETS UNDER WAY...
Iraqis living outside Iraq who have registered to vote began casting their ballots in 14 countries around the world on 28 January in the first of three days of voting outside Iraq, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced on 28 January (http://www.iraqocv.org). The IOM is organizing the expatriate vote. "Over 280,000 expatriate Iraqis registered to vote between 17 and 25 January and we look forward to them casting their vote in this historic election this weekend," IOM Director Peter Erben said in a 27 January press release. "Our staff has been fully trained and are all in place to ensure that everything runs smoothly throughout the polling process." KR
...AS ONE OFFICIAL JUSTIFIES LOW REGISTRATION NUMBERS
The IOM head for expatriate voting in the United Arab Emirates, Michael Burke, said that the disappointing numbers of registered voters in that country could be due to an overestimation of the number of eligible Iraqis, Dubai's "The Gulf Today" reported on 27 January. "As we said earlier it was a rough estimate. We had no accurate statistics to rely on. We still believe that there are 60,000-65,000 potential Iraqi voters in the U.A.E. If most of them decided not to vote it's their choice," Burke said. The IOM earlier estimated that there were 100,000 Iraqis living in the U.A.E. who were eligible to vote in the election. Al-Jazeera reported on 28 January that voting got under way in Jordan and was running smoothly. Only 20 percent of the estimated number of eligible Iraqis registered to vote in Jordan. In Australia, Iraqi expatriate Ali al-Kabir described what the vote means to him, telling AFP: "I'm doing this for my children.... It's the first step in a thousand-mile journey." KR
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER SAYS IRAQI ELECTIONS NOT PURELY DEMOCRATIC
Recep Tayyib Erdogan has reportedly commented that Iraq's upcoming national elections should not be regarded as "purely democratic," according to a 27 January report by Anatolia news agency. Erdogan cited nonparticipation by some groups as the reason for his bleak assessment. "The elections may be a step towards transition into a democracy. The whole population of Iraq will not be able to participate in the elections. There is an approach to transfer populations. The elections seem to be relying on the ethnicity factor. Any decision by an ethnic group to refuse participation in the election will not create a positive atmosphere after the election," he said. KR
EU APPROVES 200 MILLION-EURO AID PACKAGE FOR IRAQ
The European Commission has approved a 200 million-euro ($260 million) aid package for Iraq, dpa reported on 28 January. The funds will help the Iraqi government in the areas of job creation, health care, and education, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters. The EU is also considering whether to offer support to train Iraqi police, administrators, and judges, dpa reported. KR
MILITANT GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR SHOOTING DOWN MARINE HELICOPTER IN IRAQ
An unknown militant group has announced in a statement that it was responsible for the 26 January downing of a U.S. Marine transport helicopter in western Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2005), Al-Arabiyah television reported on 27 January. The group, Jaysh Al-Haq (Army of Truth), said in a statement obtained by Al-Arabiyah that it will release a videotape of the attack, which occurred after midnight. The statement also threatened more attacks against U.S. troops through car bombings and attacks on polling centers. KR