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Newsline - March 1, 2005

President Vladimir Putin on 28 February met with the cabinet to discuss the implementation of social-benefits reform and the recent criticisms of the law by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). Luzhkov addressed the session, the daily reported, and told ministers that the "constitutional-legal methods of regulation have been replaced by budgetary-legal methods." Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov told the meeting that the original mistakes in implementing the reforms have been corrected and that the situation is under control. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref defended the government's administrative reforms, which have transferred many spheres of authority from the regions to the Kremlin. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told Putin that the federal budget has allocated to the regions sufficient funding for the implementation of the benefits reform. According to the daily, Putin was satisfied with the government's defense. RC

President Putin's popularity rating sunk to a new low in February, according to the latest poll by the Public Opinion foundation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 March. Putin's rating fell from 44 percent last month to 42 percent, the lowest figure since Putin's popularity was first measured in 1999. Twenty-five percent said they view Putin "positively, with trust," down from 29 percent last month and from 41 percent one year ago. The percentage that said they view Putin "poorly" or "very poorly" rose from 13 percent last month to 17 percent now. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the Public Opinion foundation website originally published even more negative figures for Putin's popularity but they were quickly replaced by these figures without any explanation. RC

Duma Deputy and former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin (Unified Russia) told RIA-Novosti on 28 February that Russia will never grant any degree of control over its nuclear arsenals to the United States. "The leadership of the United States, in the preparation of the [Bratislava agreement on nuclear security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005)], apparently understood that the current Russian leadership is firmly and consistently defending the national interests of Russia and will never concede any of Russia's sovereign rights, especially in this area," Kokoshin said. His comments were provoked by a media storm in Russia following the 28 February publication in "Kommersant-Daily" of a draft of the bilateral agreement that included a paragraph that would have granted the United States unprecedented access to Russian nuclear facilities. The daily said it took the text from the Presidential Administration's official website,, last week and that it was later replaced on the site by a text identical to the one released in Bratislava. The Kremlin press office told "The Moscow Times" on 1 March that the release of the "Kommersant-Daily" text was due to "computer error." RC

Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev told a conference in Novosibirsk on 1 March that it is possible that weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorists, Interfax reported. He called for stepped-up international cooperation to combat this threat. "To counteract this dangerous form of criminal activity, we need to present an agreed-upon system of countermeasures," Patrushev said. He said that Moscow therefore advocates "settling problems relating to the struggle against terrorism on the basis of international law and the strengthening of a consolidating role for the United Nations." Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov, Federal Antinarcotics Agency Deputy Director Oleg Kharchkin, and several senior antiterrorism officials from the United Nations participated in the Novosibirsk conference. Patrushev said that "terrorist activity" is expanding in "Iraq, Israel, Spain, Russia, and a number of other countries." He cited the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens as an example of the successful cooperation of international antiterrorism agencies. RC

The chief of the General Staff, Army General Yurii Baluevskii, said on 1 March that, according to the government's military-political and military-strategic forecasts, Russia faces no direct military threats, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the main task of the military in recent years has been "to create weapons and military technology that is not merely of the next generation, but of the one after that." He praised the ongoing reform of the General Staff, which has allowed it to focus on "strategic thinking." He added that although the military must be ready for any kind of conflict, its focus must be on preventing and limiting them. RC

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said in Moscow on 28 February that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who said he might run for president in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005), has no chance as a "pro-American" candidate, TV-Tsentr reported. A politician who has received an "endorsement from Washington does not have the slightest chance of being president in today's Russia," Mironov said. Kasyanov said at a press conference on 25 February that he recently visited Washington while in the United States. Sergei Ivanenko, the deputy leader of Yabloko, told RTR on 27 February that "Kasyanov's statement has nothing to do with efforts to create a united democratic opposition and a broad coalition of democratic parties capable of regaining the electorate's trust." VY

Serge Markov, the director of the Political Research Institute, told RTR on 27 February that Kasyanov made his statement as a preemptive measure against "serious trouble [for him] from law enforcement agencies." Markov said it is known that Kasyanov's closest aides have long been under investigation for financial violations and it is probably Kasyanov's turn now. To avoid such trouble, Markov added, Kasyanov has announced the continuation of his political career. "How can you arrest him now, if he has practically proclaimed himself the leader of the liberal opposition?" Markov asked rhetorically. Speaking in Riga on 26 February, self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii said Kasyanov "could be the figure to consolidate all of the forces opposed to Vladimir Putin," RTR reported. "And that is why I believe I will return to Russia long before 2008," Berezovskii added. VY

Russian news agencies reported that 1 March is the 10th anniversary of the murder of ORT General Director Vladislav Listev, one of the highest-profile unsolved killings in Russia in the 1990s. The Prosecutor-General's Office issued a statement saying that "the investigation of this crime has not stopped for one minute and the most experienced law enforcement officials continue to work on it." The statement added that 100 volumes of material have been collected in the case, RIA-Novosti reported. Investigators have looked into all aspects of Listev's life, but they believe that the murder was almost certainly connected with his efforts to reorganize the business practices of ORT, Russia's premier television channel. Listev was named ORT general director in January 1995. RC

The new Housing Code of the Russian Federation came into effect on 1 March, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The code was adopted by the Duma on 22 December and by the Federation Council on 24 December, and it was signed by President Putin on 29 December. The new code defines the responsibilities of the federal, regional, and local levels of government in the housing and communal-services sectors. Under the new code, residents of apartments can be evicted for nonpayment of rent upon a court order if the government provides them with at least 6 square meters of space per person in a dormitory or other facility. Also under the new code, a person who no longer has family relations -- as in the case of divorce -- with the owner of a residence no longer has any rights to the use of that residence. Russian citizens retain the right to privatize their state apartments free of charge until 1 January 2007. RC

The Federation Council on 27 February confirmed two new Constitutional Court judges, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 February. St. Petersburg State University Law Department Assistant Dean Sergei Mavrin and Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) prosecutor Nikolai Melnik were nominated by President Putin to replace former Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai and Justice Viktor Luchin. Mavrin becomes the third St. Petersburger to join the court. He studied at Leningrad State University with fellow justices Sergei Kazantsev and Vladimir Yaroslavtsev, the daily reported. RC

Deputies of the Duma's Motherland faction have submitted a bill on the rights of the political opposition for the Duma's consideration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 February. The bill is intended to ensure the rights of political minorities to carry out "opposition activity" and to compel the state media to regularly disseminate information regarding that activity. It was drafted by Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin and Deputy Sergei Glazev. Under the bill, the state media would be required to report on all legislative initiatives submitted by minority factions. The media would also be required to report on the opposition's political rallies and demonstrations. It would also ensure that minority factions have the right to submit alternative legislative initiatives and to speak at Duma plenary sessions and hearings. According to the daily, the bill is unlikely to be adopted. The paper noted that a similar bill was put forward by the Communist Party in 1996 and failed to pass the Duma even though leftist deputies controlled the lower house at the time. RC

President Putin has submitted to the Saratov Oblast legislature the name of Balakovskii nuclear-power plant Director Pavel Ipatov to replace Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 February. Ayatskov is the first incumbent governor to be passed over since a political reform to replace the direct election of regional governors was enacted at the beginning of this year. According to the daily, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko said that Ayatskov was not nominated for the post because he will soon be offered a post "at the federal level." The Saratov Oblast legislature is expected to vote on Ipatov's nomination on 3 March. RC

The NGO Cherkess Congress has released a statement condemning the publication in the 18-24 February issue of "Komsomolskaya pravda" of the findings of an opinion poll asking residents of Krasnodar Krai and the Republic of Adygeya how they would vote in a referendum on merging those two Russian entities, reported on 25 February (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 January 2005). The Cherkess Congress statement criticized the poll as "destructive" and likely to exacerbate interethnic tensions in Adygeya, where Cherkess make up some 24 percent of the population, and it rejected the argument that it is economically expedient to subsume "impoverished" Adygeya into "wealthy" Krasnodar. It also noted that Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has made discriminatory statements about some of the ethnic groups in the planned megaregion, and that the Krasnodar authorities have a record of oppressing minorities, including Armenians and Meskhetians. The statement further warned that there are 300,000 Cherkess in the North Caucasus and some 3 million dispersed across Eurasia who, the statement claimed, have the right to demand their own republic in the North Caucasus. LF

Preliminary hearings began on 28 February in the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (RKCh) in the case of eight men charged in connection with the killings last October at a dacha belonging to Ali Kaitov, former son-in-law of RKCh President Musatfa Batdyev, of seven shareholders in a local cement plant, Interfax reported. Kaitov is one of the eight accused. In a related case, eight Interior Ministry officials are charged with abuse of office and concealing a serious crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005). LF

Representatives of three pro-government parliament factions announced on 28 February their intention to vote against a government-sponsored bill that would raise from two years to between three and seven years the maximum prison sentence for tax evasion, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovespian complained last summer that the current penalties are "absurdly soft" and should be strengthened. But parliament deputies representing Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir party, the United Labor Party, and the People's Deputy faction all rejected the proposed amendments on 28 February. People's Deputy comprises a number of wealthy businessmen elected in single mandate constituencies. LF

In its annual report on human rights world-wide that was released on 28 February, the U.S. State Department noted that despite unspecified improvements in 2004, the Armenian government's human rights record "remains poor," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The report noted persistent police brutality, including against participants in protest demonstrations last spring; arbitrary arrests and detentions; and some unspecified limits on press freedom. LF

The U.S. State Department registered a worsening of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan in 2004 following the disputed presidential ballot in October 2003, Turan reported on 1 March. The State Department's annual report noted that Azerbaijani police failed to investigate four deaths in police custody and numerous complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention. It said that the judiciary in Azerbaijan remains "corrupt and inefficient" and is strongly influenced by the executive, which generally fails to observe the constitutional prohibition on arbitrary arrest and detention. The report further criticized police harassment of members of religious minorities and restrictions on media freedom, including the government's failure to act on its pledge to create a public television channel. Finally, the report noted that the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan now exceeds 100, and it expressed concern at pressure on ethnic Armenians to emigrate. LF

Aleksandr Ankvab escaped uninjured late on 28 February when unidentified gunmen opened fire on the motorcade in which he and his deputy, Leonid Lakerbaya, were driving from Sukhum to Gudauta, Reuters and Georgian media reported the following day. Ankvab's car was hit by numerous bullets, but he was travelling in another vehicle with Lakerbaya. President Sergei Bagapsh convened an emergency meeting on 1 March with Interior Ministry officials, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz government condemned the attack in a 1 March press release as an attempt to sabotage reforms announced by the new leadership and to prevent the crackdown Ankvab has pledged on corruption and economic crime. On 28 February, Bagapsh gave newly appointed Interior Minister Colonel Otar Khetsia, the former Sukhum police chief, six months to improve law and order in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The opposition Labor Party has lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court against what it terms the "colossal" salary increases proposed for the president and members of the government, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 28 February. Party Secretary Giorgi Gunava argued that it is immoral that the monthly salary of the president and prime minister should be raised from the lari equivalent of $1,500 to $2,185 while the minimum monthly wage remains 40 laris ($22) and the average pension is 28 laris. He called for raising the minimum monthly wage to 150 laris. LF

Merchants who sell cigarettes and alcohol staged a protest on 28 February outside the Economy Ministry in Tbilisi to protest legislation passed by parliament last week banning such sales in open air markets and on the street unless the vendor has a special license, Georgian media reported. The merchants say they will be deprived of their sole source of income. A senior financial police official said on 28 February that the legislation is part of a campaign to control quality and crack down on smuggling, which, according to RFE/RL's Georgian Service, has skyrocketed since the introduction of the new tax code, which increases the duty on tobacco. Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli has not denied unofficial estimates that the losses from cigarette smuggling to the state budget amounted to 15 million laris in January alone. LF

Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Bolat Sembinov and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense James MacDougall met in Astana on 28 February to discuss the implementation of the five-year military cooperation plan Kazakhstan and the United States signed in September 2003, Interfax-AVN reported. Their talks focused on military-technical cooperation to upgrade Kazakhstan's armed forces, including shipments of U.S. Huey-2 helicopters, C-130 transport planes, and Hummer cross-country vehicles. DK

Sulaiman Imanbaev, the head of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, announced at a press conference in Bishkek on 28 February that 31 candidates scored first-round victories in 27 February elections to Kyrgyzstan's unicameral parliament, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Second-round races, in which 86 candidates will compete for 44 seats, will be held in two weeks, Kyrgyz Television 1 reported. Among the candidates vying in second-round races are the opposition figures Adakham Madumarov, Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, Kurmanbek Bakiev, Omurbek Tekebaev, Iskhak Masaliev, Marat Sultanov, and Ishenbai Kadyrbekov. Bermet Akaeva, the daughter of President Askar Akaev, will also fight for a seat in a second round, although her brother, Aidar Akaev, scored a first-round victory. Turnout was approximately 60 percent nationwide. A majority of voters in Kochkor District, which witnessed large-scale protests in the lead-up to the elections, voted against all candidates, triggering a second round of voting. And elections in Tong District, which also witnessed protests, were postponed earlier until 13 March. DK

Kyrgyzstan's opposition held a rally in Bishkek on 28 February with at least 300 people to express their dissatisfaction with the conduct of the 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Protestors denounced violations of the election law and government attempts to muzzle the independent media. Opposition representatives blamed a scuffle that broke out at one point as being caused by pro-government provocateurs. A Bishkek police official noted that the unsanctioned demonstration was technically illegal. Elsewhere on 28 February, 1,000-3,000 protestors gathered in the Aravan District of Osh Province to voice support for Tursunbai Alimov, the current administrative head of the Aravan District, who was trailing his opponent, Makhammadjan Mamasaidov, by a thin margin, reported. Alimov's supporters demanded a recount. DK

International observers from the CIS and OSCE on 28 February offered differing assessments of 27 February parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, agencies reported. Asan Kozhakov, head of the CIS observer mission, noted some irregularities but deemed the elections "transparent, open, and legitimate," ITAR-TASS reported on 28 February. But Kimmo Kiljunen, who headed the OSCE observer mission, told a news conference in Bishkek on 28 February that the elections, "while more competitive than previous elections, fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards in a number of important areas," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kiljunen cited such flaws as the "deregistration of candidates, interfering with independent media, vote buying, and a low level of confidence in electoral and judicial institutions on the part of candidates and voters." The CIS observer mission included 218 monitors from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; the OSCE observer mission also consisted of roughly 200 long-term and short-term observers. DK

Tajikistan's Central Election Commission (CEC) announced on 28 February that the ruling People's Democratic Party won 38 of 41 races in single-mandate constituencies in 27 February elections to the lower chamber of parliament, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The remaining 22 seats are apportioned on the basis of party slates, and CEC head Mirzoali Boltuev said on 28 February that the People's Democratic Party, Islamic Renaissance Party, and Communist Party all cleared the five-percent hurdle, ITAR-TASS reported. Boltuev said that final results for party-slate elections will be announced later when a more complete tally is available, but noted that the People's Democratic Party garnered 80 percent of the party-slate vote, RFE/RL reported. Boltuev put overall turnout at 92.7 percent, with 2.9 million of 3.1 million registered voters casting ballots. DK

Representatives of four opposition parties -- the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Communist Party, the Democratic Party, and the Social-Democratic Party -- announced at a 28 February news conference that they refuse to recognize the election results for Dushanbe and want elections in the capital repeated, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The opposition alleged fraud, adding that if similar reports are confirmed for other districts they will request reruns there as well. But CEC spokesman Mizrob Kabirov told RFE/RL that the opposition's claims are groundless, adding that the CEC has yet to receive a single official complaint. DK

International observers from the CIS and OSCE differed sharply in their assessments of Tajikistan's 27 February elections to the lower chamber of parliament, agencies reported. Vladimir Rushailo, CIS executive secretary and head of the CIS observer mission, told Tajik Television First Channel on 28 February that the elections were "free and transparent." But Peter Eicher, head of the OSCE observer mission, told a news conference in Dushanbe the same day that the elections "failed to meet many key OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Eicher added, "Despite some positive aspects of the election process, including a few elements that showed improvement over previous elections, large-scale irregularities were evident, particularly on election day." DK

Saparmurat Niyazov returned to work on 28 February after undergoing a successful operation on his left eye on 22 February, Turkmen Television reported. Niyazov met with his cabinet at his residence and briefed them on the operation. Also on 28 February, Niyazov issued a decree removing Rashit Meredov as director of the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, the official Turkmen government website ( reported. DK

The U.S. said in its annual human rights report released on 28 February that the situation in Belarus worsened in some areas (for full report see It stated that the Belarusian government "continued to deny citizens the right to change their government through a transparent democratic process; opposition political parties and movements were subjected to increased pressure through both judicial and extrajudicial measures." The report noted that press freedoms were restricted and that law enforcement officials "used excessive force" against individuals and journalists peacefully protesting election processes. The trafficking of women and children was also mentioned, although the reports noted that Belarusian authorities have not had intensified efforts to stop such activities. RK

Belarus' Supreme Court has rejected an appeal filed by dissident former lawmaker Syargei Skrabets to allow him to register as a candidate in a 20 March parliamentary by-election in Hrodna's Tsentralny district, Belapan reported on 28 February. Skrabets was removed from the race after 81 medical students withdrew their signatures from a list in support of his candidacy. Skrabets claimed that the requests to annul the signatures were all written by the same person. Judge Halina Zhukowskaya turned down the politician's request to examine students as witnesses and stated that even if these signatures had not been withdrawn, Skrabets would not have the required 1,000 signatures to run in the election. RK

The Interior Ministry announced on 27 February that it has identified two men it believes abducted investigative Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000, Interfax reported. On 1 March, Interfax, citing a highly placed source in the Interior Ministry, announced that two men have been arrested by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in connection with the case. The unidentified men were said to be giving testimony about the killing. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko told the press last week that his ministry is determined to find Gongadze's killers, and "those who ordered his killing." RK

The U.S. State Department stated in its 2004 human rights report released on 28 February that the Ukrainian government's human rights record "remained poor and worsened in a number of areas," but added that "there were also improvements in some areas, particularly toward the end of the year." The report, titled "Country Reports On Human Rights Practices," is submitted to Congress every year (for full report see It stated that Ukrainian citizens' "right to change their government peacefully was restricted during most of the year," adding that the Orange Revolution in November and December did much to change this. The report also criticized Ukrainian authorities for interfering "with the news media by harassing and intimidating journalists, censoring material, blocking interregional broadcasts of independent media, closing down independent media outlets, and pressuring them into practicing self-censorship." RK

Former Bosnian General Rasim Delic and former Bosnian Serb General Radivoje Miletic surrendered to the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague on 28 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Using the principle that commanders are responsible for the actions of those formally subordinated to them, the tribunal indicted Delic on four counts involving atrocities allegedly committed by foreign mujahedin fighters under his command during the 1992-95 conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2005). Miletic is indicted for war crimes in connection with the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005). UB

The ICTY's Appeals Chamber confirmed on 28 February the verdicts in the trials against four Bosnian Serb commanders, who were found guilty in 2001 of crimes committed against Bosnians and Croats in the concentration camps of Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje during the 1992-95 conflict, according to the ICTY's official website ( The chamber confirmed the 25-year sentence for Zoran Zigic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002) and the prison terms for Mladen Radic (20 years), Miroslav Kvocka (seven years), and Dragoljub Prcac (five years). UB

The Croatian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro on 28 February to express its dissatisfaction with the fact that the authorities in Belgrade failed to condemn the foundation of a government-in-exile of the Republic of Serbian Krajina on 26 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In 1991, Serbs set up a rebel regime in the Croatian region of Krajina. The Croatian army reestablished control of the region in a military campaign in August 1995, during which war crimes were committed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 March 2004). Serbian media reported in the meantime that the head of the government-in-exile, Milorad Buha, is a member of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS). In September, SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic had told the Sarajevo weekly "Slobodna Bosnia" that his dream is that all Serbs, including those of a Republic of Serbian Krajina, will one day be united in a single Serbian state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2004). UB

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 28 February that the question of Montenegrin independence from Serbia is not connected with the final status of Kosova, Tanjug reported. Djukanovic dismissed as "nonsense" the thesis that the independence of Montenegro could trigger a domino effect and lead to Kosovar independence. The prime minister said this thesis only serves to cover up the inactivity of unnamed politicians and their failure to propose a solution for the status of Kosova. Djukanovic also said the Montenegrin proposal to form a union of two independent states is an offer to Belgrade either to participate in the creation of a new state union or to deal otherwise with Montenegro's independence after a referendum planned for 2006, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). UB

Vlado Buckovski met with his Serbian counterpart Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian President Boris Tadic, and Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic in Belgrade on 28 February, the private A1 TV reported. The talks focused on the demarcation of the border between Kosova and Macedonia. Buckovski has repeatedly demanded that the demarcation be finalized before the final status of Kosova is resolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January and 2 February 2005). Kostunica reportedly also raised the question of the ongoing dispute between the Serbian and the Macedonian Orthodox Churches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004), while Tadic said that economic cooperation between Macedonia and Serbia must be improved. UB

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Bucharest on 28 February that 2005 and 2006 will be "the years of challenges for Romania," adding that the country "has no time to waste" in implementing reforms in the public administration and the judiciary, stepping up the fight against corruption, and fulfilling its commitments in the field of competition and environment, the commissioner's official website announced ( Rehn said the European Commission will closely monitor Romania's progress in these areas. He warned that Romania's EU accession targeted for 1 January 2007 could be postponed by one year in order to protect both the EU and Romania if the government fails to deliver on its commitments. "This would of course be only a last resort action," Rehn said. "But let me make it clear: the commission will not hesitate to recommend the use of the postponement clause, if Romania is manifestly unprepared to cope with the requirements of accession" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). UB

Romania's Supreme Council for National Defense decided on 28 February to declassify the archives of the Dunearea company, a foreign-trade enterprise run by the communist-era secret services, "Ziua" and the BBC's Romanian Service reported. The archives will be handed over to the National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS). Junior coalition Humanist Party (PUR) Chairman Dan Voiculescu welcomed the decision. In January, Voiculescu announced that he will sue Britain's "Financial Times" for libel in connection with an article that alleged that Voiculescu ran a Cyprus-based, Lebanese-owned offshore company with the consent of the secret services in the 1980s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2005). UB

Vladimir Voronin issued a statement on 28 February saying that "extremists, thieves, the leaders of the separatist regime in Tiraspol, and the totalitarian opposition" have joined forces to take revenge for the problems suffered over the past four years, and the government's official website ( reported. Voronin said that international organized crime structures are infuriated by Ukrainian-Moldovan cooperation in resolving the Transdniester issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 February 2005). Also on 28 February, the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) claimed that the government is continuing its attempts to criminalize the opposition by circulating letters that claim that a well-known criminal, who is currently serving a prison term, is supporting the opposition ahead of the 6 March general elections, reported. UB

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio on 26 February, Moldovan President Voronin said he does not see any tensions with Russia, only a preelection situation, Infotag reported. Voronin said he is confident that the relations with Russia will normalize after the 6 March polls. Voronin has repeatedly accused Russia of supporting the Moldovan opposition, and Moldovan authorities have expelled representatives of Russian NGOs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005). Voronin said in the interview that he is not blaming the entire Russian leadership, but underscored that the Moldovan opposition is supported by unspecified Russian political forces there. UB

A court of appeals in the Moldovan capital Chisinau suspended on 28 February an earlier decision by the Chisinau authorities to allow the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) to hold 24-hour meetings in the city's central Grand National Assembly Square after the 6 March parliamentary elections, Infotag reported. The PPCD had planned to hold meetings from 7 through 22 March. The PPCD announced that it will challenge the ruling before a court of higher instance and will hold the meetings, regardless of any court decision. UB

With only four months before Iran's next presidential election, it still is not clear who will compete in the race. Five men have said they want to be the main conservative candidate and one of them has said he would even run as an independent; two men have announced their interest in being the reformist candidate; and a couple of others have expressed an interest in competing but seem to have no significant support. A few more names are mentioned as possible candidates, but these individuals have not made a commitment yet. This plethora of candidates and the accompanying indecision has led to speculation that there will be no clear victor on election day on 17 June, and there will be a second round to determine the next president.

An Internet poll of 28,470 people over a 15-day period identified 24 possible candidates, the Baztab website reported on 20 January. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who has not declared his candidacy yet, was the top candidate, earning 17.2 percent of the votes cast, and the reformists' Mustafa Moin followed him with 14.9 percent. Baztab noted that several of the named individuals have said they will not be candidates. A report in the 27 January "Farhang-i Ashti" identified 16 candidates.

The abundance of candidates reflects the large number of political factions. This includes the traditional right; new or extremist right (osulgarayan); moderate or practical right (amalgarayan); the traditional left; and the new left, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 27 January. The traditional right currently favors the candidacy of Supreme Leader's adviser Ali-Akbar Velayati. The new right has five choices -- Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Supreme Leader's adviser Ali Larijani, police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli. The moderate right has only one choice, Supreme National Security Council secretary Hassan Rohani.

Velayati has said that he will withdraw if Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race, and this raises the question of where the traditional right will shift its support. "Farhang-i Ashti" asserted that the traditional right is likely to side with the moderate right in order to offset the rise of the new or extremist right.

Yet there are more divisions between the conservatives, according to "Farhang-i Ashti." These are "temporary inclinations" that will disappear after the election. The independent right is symbolized by Mohsen Rezai. Two other candidates are described as "market-heaters," meaning that they are not serious candidates, and their presence is only intended to generate interest in the election. The "market-heating right" candidate ("rast-i bazar garmkon") is Reza Zavarei. Normally he would be considered a traditionalist, but the main conservative body, the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, does not back him. "Farhang-i Ashti" describes Zavarei as the least important candidate. The newspaper adds that candidates of the "market-heating left" ("rast-i bazar garmkon") are the head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Mardom Salari party leader Mustafa Kavakebian.

Amir Mohebbian, an editor for the conservative "Resalat" newspaper, believes there is a three-way split within the conservative camp but uses slightly different labels. Mohebbian says the traditionalist right consists of older and more experienced right-wingers who prefer a revolutionary foreign policy, "Etemad" reported on 16 February. The fundamentalist (osulgara) right wing, he said, does not believe in reform and advocates continuous revolution. The modernist right wing (jarian-i noandish) believes in the goals and ideals of the revolution, but it advocates achieving them through a reformist process. Modernists oppose a state of perpetual anxiety to maintain revolutionary fervor.

Mohebbian goes on to say that the fundamentalists have misinterpreted the failure of the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement. The reformists failed because they did not deliver economic development. This does not mean, as the fundamentalists believe, that people are willing to forsake political freedom for economic well-being. The modernists believe that people are interested in economic development but they have not given up on political reform.

An earlier classification of the conservative groupings appeared in "The Washington Post" on 29 November. The most puritanical group is the "ideological conservatives" or Kayhanis, whose views appear in the "Kayhan" newspaper and which take a tough stance on dealing with the outside world. The most influential group is the "new right," or neoconservatives, who dominated the February 2004 parliamentary polls and whose platform mixes theocracy and modernism. This religiously conservative grouping calls for competent government and job creation through a stronger private sector. While going along with the EU nuclear stance, it is tougher when it comes to reengaging the United States. According to "The Washington Post," Larijani and Velayati are neoconservatives.

The "pragmatic conservatives" are connected with the Moderation and Development Party and the Executives of Construction Party and are flexible on foreign policy issues, "The Washington Post" reports. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a member of this camp. "Traditional conservatives," such as Shi'a clerics in Qom and many bazaar merchants, tend to be less involved in political affairs than the other groups.

Two men have expressed an interest in being the candidate for the left-wing, which is still reeling from the drubbing it received in the 2003 municipal council elections and the 2004 parliamentary elections. But if Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race it is likely to upset Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and Mustafa Moin's plans. Meanwhile, many lesser-known parties are creating new factions.

The 15-party Islamic Iran Popular Front was created on 21 February, ISNA reported. The head of the front's coordination council, Mohtashami-Pur, announced that the front backs the candidacies of Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Karrubi, and Rezai.

The 20-party Front for Consensus in Islamic Iran announced on 18 January that it backs Rezai's candidacy, Mehr News Agency reported. Amir Hussein Marvi, a member of the front's central council, said most members are young people and teenagers, and he said they are frustrated with the constant political disputes.

The Mardom Salari party's Kavakebian announced the creation of the 14-party Front for Consolidation of Democracy on 7 January, ISNA reported. He noted that none of the front's members are involved with the current government and are therefore not responsible for the current state of affairs. The front does not include groups that are viewed as opposition groups by other countries and legal opposition groups domestically, he said, because their candidates will never be allowed to run for office. Other members of the front, according to the ISNA report, include the National Harmony Party, the organization for Defending the National Interests of Iran, and the Society of Tomorrow's Iran.

There are about 100 licensed political organizations in Iran. Most of them stir into action around election time, and afterwards they are not very active. All the indications are that this is what is taking place now. As election day nears, there probably will be greater consolidation and a winnowing of the political field. Given the current plethora of prospective candidates, an editorial in the 8 February "Aftab-i Yazd" suggested that no candidate will win outright in the first round of voting.

President Hamid Karzai met with his cabinet on 28 February to discuss the country's upcoming parliamentary elections and other issues, Afghanistan Television reported. The head of the Independent Election Commission, Besmellah Besmel, also attended the session. The cabinet reportedly could not agree on a date for the parliamentary elections, according to AFP on 28 February. The main point of contention is the demarcation of districts for local elections that are to be held together with parliamentary and provincial polls. The boundaries of "between 40 and 50 districts are disputed in 22 provinces," Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin explained. According to a 26 February statement from Ludin's office, the cabinet in an earlier session decided to refer the issue of district boundaries to the parliament itself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). It is conceivable that Afghanistan may hold its parliamentary elections prior to district elections. The parliamentary polls, which have already been delayed, are slated for the Afghan month of Saur, which means they would take place before 21 May. AT

Deputy Endowments and Islamic Affairs Minister Ata al-Rahman Salim has been released from police custody on bail, Radio Afghanistan reported on 28 February. Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said that Salim was arrested at the request and petition of "a large number" of Afghan pilgrims. It is unclear how long he was detained or when he was arrested. The petitioners claimed that Salim failed to carry out his duties as head of the delegation responsible for providing accommodation and other services to Afghan pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims had reportedly prepaid for these services. Mashal said the investigation into the case will continue. Salim has denied the charges leveled against him, saying that some of the problems faced by the pilgrims were caused by floods in Saudi Arabia, Tolu television reported on 26 February. Salim also contended that a number of Afghan pilgrims who had traveled from Pakistan insulted Afghan government officials and hoisted the flag of the ousted Taliban regime. Legal action against government officials is not common in Afghanistan and Salim's case, if followed through, could establish a precedent for people to take legal action as a means of resolving grievances with officials. AT

Mawlawi Mohammad Yunos Khales, who heads his own faction of Hizb-e Islami, vowed on 27 February to continue the jihad until Afghanistan "is liberated and the Islamic system is established," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported, citing a faxed statement. Khales stated that "instead of withdrawing their troops" from Afghanistan, the United States is "speaking of establishing permanent [military] bases." Therefore, "holding talks with aggressive forces and with their puppet government in Kabul means obvious surrender," he argued, adding that "[we] will not remain indifferent to those who want to surrender to the enemy and assist the enemy by negotiating with them on behalf of the Taliban or mujahedin or any other party." Khales issued a similar declaration in 2003 that prompted claims that the elderly cleric had been kidnapped and forced to write the declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). Since the fall of the communist government in Kabul in 1992, Khales has mostly remained outside of politics and did not actively participation in the civil war. His base of support was the eastern Nangarhar Province. AT

Assailants have killed two National Police officers in a clash in Takhar Province, Tolu television reported on 28 February. Four people have been arrested in the case. Takhar's security commander, Hajji Mohammad Akram Begzad, claimed that the assailants belonged to the neo-Taliban and that they had roles in several explosions in Takhar. AT

Former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin, the presidential candidate of the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, will go on his first provincial campaign trip on 1 March, "Sharq" newspaper's website reported on 28 February ( He is scheduled to visit Tabriz and meet with student organizations, as will provincial representatives of the political parties. "Sharq" also reported that Moin's election website will go online soon, "Sharq" newspaper's website reported on 28 February ( The newspaper added that Ali Akbar Velayati, Ali Larijani, and Mehdi Karrubi already have websites, although it did not provide their addresses. In Ahvaz, meanwhile, more than 200 ethnic Arab, reformist political activists met to discuss the presidential election and Moin's candidacy, "Sharq" reported. BS

Justice Minister Ismail Shushtari said after the 28 February cabinet session that he eagerly awaits learning the fate of web-log writers from judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad, "Sharq" newspaper's website reported on 28 February ( The same day, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced that the prison sentence of Mohammad Reza Nasab Abdullahi, who edits a blog called "Webnegar" (, has been confirmed. Abdullahi was sentenced on 23 February to six months' imprisonment and a fine of 1 million rials (approximately $127). RSF condemned Tehran's crackdown on bloggers. Abdullahi edits a student newspaper, and according to RSF he is being punished for posting a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on his blog. Another blogger, Arash Sigarchi, was sentenced to 14 years in jail in late January, and many other online activists were detained for their activities in the fall. BS

Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Alizadeh said on 28 February that judiciary chief Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi has issued guidelines that appear to slightly ease restrictions on reporters, ISNA reported. In the first instance the reporter should be cautioned, and when that is not sufficient he or the publication's managing editor should be summoned. Journalists Guild head Rajabali Mazrui welcomed this development, ISNA reported, but he said that this will not remedy the earlier abuse of the media. Association in Defense of Press Freedoms spokesman Mashallah Shamsolvaezin said that Shahrudi's statement shows that the previous arrests of journalists were illegal, and the judiciary should acknowledge this officially. BS

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 28 February criticized Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati's comments about corruption in the legislature, Radio Farda reported. "Something smells bad," Jannati said during the 25 February Tehran Friday Prayers sermon, Iranian state radio reported. He claimed that people who want something from legislators try to entice them by "throwing dinner parties, by making promises, and by offering assistance...they buy influential people." Jannati advised, "Do not accept gifts and do not accept pre-mediated aid packages." Ramezanzadeh said this is not the first time Jannati has accused legislators of impropriety without offering proof. Isfahan representative Mohsen Kuhkan responded to Jannati by saying, "If it is said that certain odors are arising from the seventh parliament, then the gentleman must certainly say what he has smelled," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 27 February. Several legislators expressed concern that the public will suspect that all parliamentarians are corrupt. BS

Speaker of Parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel and other legislators arrived in New Delhi on 28 February, IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was in New Delhi from 21-23 February to discuss the construction of a natural-gas pipeline. BS

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan on 27 February rejected a report in "The Washington Post" the same day that claimed Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan's associates met with Iranian officials and provided them with nuclear assistance, the "Pakistan" daily reported on 28 February. Khan said this is an old claim and there is no new evidence. "The New York Times" reported on 28 February that Iranian officials submitted a document that shows they met with A.Q. Khan's representatives in 1987. BS

United Iraqi Alliance premier candidate Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari told the French daily "Le Monde" in an interview published on 1 March that he will not support the establishment of permanent foreign military bases in Iraq. "Once the Iraqi forces are capable of controlling security in our country, perhaps in a year's time, perhaps a little more, we will ask all the multinational forces to return home," he said. "It would be unhealthy for the country to accept permanent foreign military bases in Iraq." Regarding the debate over Islam in the future constitution, al-Ja'fari said: "Islam must be our state religion, because over three-fourths of our people are Muslims. But we are working to establish a democratic and pluralistic system -- a system in which Islam will be one of the sources of our law, and not the only source." Elaborating, he said: "We must take [into] account the imperatives of our age and of the pluralistic, as well as religious and ethnic character of our society.... The new constitution must be acceptable to all Iraqis, whatever their religious and political beliefs." KR

Muhsin Abd al-Hamid told KurdSat television on 28 February that his party supports Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani's aspirations to be Iraq's transitional president. His comments followed a meeting between Islamic party members and Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Al-Sulaymaniyah. Commenting on Talabani's nomination to the presidency, Abd al-Hamid said: "We welcome him. Jalal Talabani is a well-heeled and experienced politician who understands very well the state of Iraqi society and he is a true Iraqi." Abd al-Hamid also voiced support for the implementation of Transitional Administrative Law Article 58, which calls for the normalization of Kirkuk and "the return of Kirkuk or the boundary of the Kirkuk Governorate to its previous state" -- in apparent support for the Kurdish demand to incorporate the governorate into a federal Kurdistan. KR

The Iraqi Special Tribunal announced on 28 February that five former members of the Hussein regime will be tried for alleged crimes against humanity, international media reported the same day. The men will be tried for their alleged participation in the arrest of some 1,500 residents from the Shi'ite town of Dujayl in 1982 following an assassination attempt there against Saddam Hussein. One hundred forty-three men were executed following the attack, and the village was razed. On trial will be Hussein's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; former Revolutionary Court chief Judge Awad Haman Bandar Sa'dun, who sentenced the men to death; and Dujayl residents and Ba'ath Party members Abdullah Ruwayid and Muzhir Abdullah Ruwayid, who are father and son. The Ruwayids purportedly rounded up the residents at the order of the party. They have been charged in connection with the 147 deaths. "The Ba'ath Party would give [Abdullah Ruwayid] lists of names of people to arrest," former Ba'ath Party member Mish'an Faisal said, reported on 27 February. "He would go and activate the orders." No trial date has been set, Reuters reported on 28 February, but earlier estimates by officials indicate proceedings could begin within six weeks. KR

The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report released on 28 February lists a number of abuses carried out by the interim Iraqi government, including rape, torture, and illegal detentions by police and security forces (for full report see, The document, titled "2004 Country Reports On Human Rights Practices," said that Iraqis "generally respected human rights, but serious problems remained." It went on to cite reports that "coerced confessions and interrogation continued to be the favored method of investigation by police." The document also cited "occasional reports of killings particularly at the local level by the [interim] government or its agents, which may have been politically motivated. In early December, Basrah police reported that officers in the Internal Affairs Unit were involved in the killings of 10 members of the Ba'ath Party." It also cites a Human Rights Watch report that documents torture and ill treatment of detainees by police in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005). The State Department report also notes "allegations that local police sometimes used excessive force against both citizens and foreigners," and abuses allegedly carried out by members of the Iraqi National Guard. KR