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Newsline - March 2, 2005

On the eve of a working trip to Germany and Italy beginning on 2 March, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made a number of statements in the Russian and international press. In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 1 March, Ivanov said that "in today's world, only power is respected and listened to." "Only democrats, with their split personalities, could believe that we might get help from abroad," said Ivanov, who is viewed by some analysts as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin in 2008. "Nobody will help us except ourselves. Therefore we should be powerful and capable of guaranteeing our national security in any situation...without being an ogre or a monster frightening the rest of the world." Ivanov added that there are "different kinds of democracy," saying, "I hope that, having borrowed the best from everyone, we will build our own Russian democracy." Ivanov criticized Russian liberals for declaring that the secret services are "tyrants and stranglers of freedom." He said they view Russia only as "a money-making enterprise." He responded to criticism that Unified Russia has "usurped" the Duma by noting that seven years ago "it was impossible to pass a single law, even the most sensible, needed, and nonpoliticized one." RC

Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists on 1 March that Russia will soon be armed with the most advanced missiles and that "there is and can be no defense against these missiles," Interfax reported. He added that "these missiles are not directed against any specific country." Ivanov also said that "as far as I know, the United States has no plans to increase its military presence in the Central Asia region," RIA-Novosti reported. He added that Moscow opposes any effort to deploy U.S. forces in Georgia. "We cannot see any sense in such bases being there," Ivanov said. RC

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 1 March that "it is important to ensure that Iran does not resume its uranium-enrichment program," ITAR-TASS reported. Lavrov added that Russia is working with "the European trio" -- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- to make sure that Tehran abides by all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. Russian Ambassador to Iran Aleksandr Maryasov told the news agency on 1 March that the recent bilateral agreement between Moscow and Tehran on the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel is "of great political importance" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). "Now there is no excuse for various sorts of falsehoods and biased statements," Maryasov said. Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists in Moscow the same day that Russia "will do everything to prevent events in Iran from following the Iraqi scenario," RIA-Novosti reported. He described the Iran situation as "one of the most important [problems] for the medium term." "Russia will do everything not to let nuclear weapons appear in Iran," Ivanov said, according to ITAR-TASS. RC

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller told NTV on 2 March that Gazprom will take over Rosneft, but the deal will not include Yuganskneftegaz. State-owned Rosneft took over Yuganskneftegaz in December after the government auctioned off the company in partial payment of Yukos's tax arrears. According to Miller, the government has decided to spin off Yuganskneftegaz into a separate, state-owned company to be headed by current Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov. Miller said that after the completion of the Rosneft deal, in which the state will acquire a controlling stake in Gazprom, the natural-gas giant will begin the process of liberalizing its shares to allow their purchase by foreigners. RC

President Putin has named two new deputy interior ministers in a reshuffling that earlier saw the dismissal of six deputy interior ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). The two new deputy ministers are Andrei Novikov and Mikhail Sukhodolskii. Novikov, a graduate of the Leningrad State University law department and a close associate of former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who is now speaker of the State Duma, formerly headed the ministry's branch in the Northwest Federal District. In 1999, he was severely reprimanded by his boss in St. Petersburg for "forging an official document" to inflate statistics for solved crimes. Sukhodolskii is originally from Pskov Oblast and has previously served as the head of the Interior Ministry's economic-crime unit and head of the ministry's office at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport. The dismissals and appointments are part of a ministry reorganization initiated in July 2004, under which the number of deputy ministers has been trimmed from 11 to three, with one first deputy minister. Aleksandr Chekalin was named first deputy minister last July. In September, Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant General Arkadii Edelev was named deputy minister in charge of the ministry's counterterrorism center in the North Caucasus. RC

Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin met on 1 February with President Putin to survey the human rights situation in Russia, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported. "The situation with human rights in Russia is, of course, far from ideal. Far from satisfactory," Lukin told the radio station after his meeting with Putin. Putin told Lukin that he has ordered the Interior Ministry to speed up its investigation of alleged police abuses in Blagoveshchensk. Lukin said that Russia continues to experience problems with anti-Semitism and xenophobia, but that these problems are not "catastrophic." "The real problem is that they are now overlapping with extremism," Lukin said. ORT on 1 March showed Lukin explaining to Putin that "we are getting complaints about violations of mass media rights, regional media most of all." Lukin said that regional journalists are complaining that governors are trying to install their own people in key media positions. "As for the mass media, I have given relevant instructions to the government, namely to develop a system to support regional media," Putin responded. RC

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who is a member of Unified Russia's Supreme Council, has written to party leader Boris Gryzlov to ask him to rewrite and reregister the party's official charter, reported on 2 March. He said that the charter that was registered does not reflect harsh criticisms by the party's regional branches regarding provisions that state the party's central leadership must approve candidates for regional legislature and executive-branch elections. He said the party congress in November accepted the charter without this provision, but it was nonetheless included in the version that the party registered with the Justice Ministry in December. An unnamed party source told the website that Luzhkov was mistaken and the registered version of the charter is the one that was approved by the congress. "Someone is bent on driving a wedge between the Moscow mayor and the federal leadership of the party," the source said. The website reported that the version of the charter on the party's website (, which the site says was adopted at the November congress, includes the provision about central approval of local candidates. RC

Former Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has said that he would be willing to represent a coalition of leftist parties in the 2008 presidential election, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 February. "If there is a powerful force, a party behind you and the support of public associations, there is some sense in running in the presidential election. The leftist forces are now naming me as a possible leader," Seleznev said. He said that he is in the process of creating a Union of Patriots, which would include his own Party of Russia's Rebirth, the Party of Pensioners, the People's Patriotic Party, the Eurasian Party, and the Labor Party. He added that talks are currently being held with the Agrarian Party as well. The daily speculated that Seleznev might have made his statement in order to attract the Kremlin's attention and boost his purported bid to head the new Public Chamber. Likewise, the daily said, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov might have made his recent statement about running in 2008 in order to boost his chances of being named to replace Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov. RC

Information Technologies and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman told the State Duma on 1 March that there are 80 million mobile-phone subscribers in Russia and that the figure should top 100 million by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported. "Cellular is not only a means of everyday communication, but a driving force that boosts the development of other branches of the economy," Reiman said. He added that his ministry is drafting a bill that would protect the rights of cellular-phone users, including their right to keep their telephone number when switching service providers. RC

The Voronezh Oblast branch of the Motherland party on 28 February filed a suit against the Voronezh branch of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) for refusing to air one of the party's campaign advertisements for the oblast's 20 March legislative elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March. The advertisement includes a clip in which Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin calls Unified Russia "a collection of toadies, butt-kissers, and androids." The head of the Voronezh VGTRK branch, Aleksandr Solomatin, has told the party that it must remove the "inappropriate" words. Local Motherland supporters say that the VGTRK branch has always been extremely loyal to Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov, who heads the local Unified Russia branch. The daily noted that in the 2003 Voronezh legislative elections, the two parties ran a unified slate of candidates and that Rogozin backed Kulakov in the oblast's March 2004 gubernatorial election. Rogozin was elected to the State Duma from a single-mandate district in the oblast. RC

Parliamentarians representing the Orinats Yerkir party of speaker Artur Baghdasarian accused Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia on 1 March of corruption, mismanagement, and failing to clarify the shoot-out in Yerevan on 4 February in which one person was killed, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Specifically, unnamed members of the government were said to have sold off state property to friends at below cost price and to tolerate economic monopolies. Orinats Yerkir is one of two junior coalition partners, and has three government portfolios. Tensions between Markarian and Baghdasarian surfaced last week when the former accused the latter of exceeding his official powers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 February 2005). LF

The sixth round of talks between Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov, which was to have taken place in Prague on 2 March under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, has been postponed as Oskanian is ill, but may take place later this week, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 1 March, citing an Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman. Mammadyarov is also scheduled to meet in Prague on 2 March with his Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda, possibly to discuss the case of Saday Nazarov, who was granted asylum in the Czech Republic 10 years ago and detained when he returned to Azerbaijan in January, CTK reported on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 January and 2 and 15 February 2005). LF

On the first day of the spring parliament session, deputy Zahid Orudj, who represents the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), accused British Petroleum (BP) on 1 March of providing funding to opposition parties and their media outlets, Turan reported. He said the British government is guilty of double standards in its relations with Baku. Siyavush Novruzov, who likewise represents YAP, proposed that all political parties be required to submit an annual report on their sources of financing, reported on 2 March. The online daily on 2 March quoted BP spokesperson Tamam Bayatly as saying that BP is a purely commercial structure and has never meddled in the internal politics of any of the foreign countries in which it operates. She added that the Azerbaijani parliament ratified the agreement BP signed with the Azerbaijani government. LF

Experts from the PULS-R sociological service unveiled in Baku on 1 March the findings of an opinion poll conducted among 1,000 residents of 15 Azerbaijani regions and 12 towns in December 2004, Turan and reported on 1 and 2 March, respectively. Those findings suggested a very slight improvement in the economic situation, insofar as the percentage of respondents who considered that their families live in acute financial hardship declined to 14.4 percent compared with 19.2 percent during an analogous poll conducted by the same organization in 2003. Respondents identified as their primary focus of concern the unresolved Karabakh conflict (61.9 percent), corruption and incompetence within the government bureaucracy at all levels (16.2 percent), and crime (7.5 percent). Both in 2003 and in 2004 some 64 percent of respondents said they trust the country's president. But in 2004 the number of respondents who predicted mass disturbances in Azerbaijan more than doubled, to 4.7 percent compared with 2 percent the previous year, while the number who said such disturbances are possible rose from 8.1 percent in 2003 to 13.9 percent in 2004. Rasim Musabekov, who conducted the poll together with a representative of Germany's Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, noted that Azerbaijanis are not used to responding to such polls, and that the findings cannot therefore be regarded as a wholly accurate reflection of popular perceptions. LF

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 1 March blaming the failed attempt the previous day to kill Abkhaz Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab on unnamed forces that seek to prevent the resumption of efforts to resolve the Abkhaz conflict, Interfax reported. The statement reaffirmed Moscow's support for plans by the new Abkhaz leadership to promote social and economic development and resume talks with Tbilisi on resolving the conflict peacefully. In Tbilisi, Georgian Minister of State for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava rejected that line of argument as "absurd," Caucasus Press reported on 1 March. Khaindrava told the independent television channel Mze that the attack was the work of "forces that want to destabilize Abkhazia." Khaindrava told journalists on 1 March that those forces may include Russian political groups that have acquired economic interests in Abkhazia and fear losing them if the new leadership seeks to revise earlier privatizations. Ankvab for his part told Interfax that he blames criminal elements for the attack, and he pledged to continue fighting crime. Echoing President Sergei Bagapsh, Ankvab explicitly excluded any criminal motive for the attempt on his life. LF

A further 550 Georgian servicemen flew to Iraq on 1 March to join the 300 already serving there, Georgian media reported. The Georgian military personnel will guard UN facilities in Iraq. LF

The U.S. State Department painted a grim picture of the human rights situation in Central Asia in its annual country reports on human rights practices, which were released on 28 February. The reports recorded few changes in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, describing the situation in the former as "poor" and in the latter as "extremely poor." The State Department saw some improvements in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, although it evaluated the overall environment in both countries as "poor." Some improvements were also noted in Uzbekistan, but against the backdrop of a "very poor" situation. The report on Turkmenistan noted that a number of RFE/RL correspondents suffered arrest in Turkmenistan, and one correspondent was "brutally beaten" in Moscow by agents from the Turkmen National Security Ministry. DK

In an interview with the newspaper "Ekspress K" on 1 March, Kazakh presidential adviser Ermukhamet Ertysbaev said that presidential elections will take place in December 2006. Because President Nursultan Nazarbaev's seven-year term ends in January 2006, the question of when the next presidential elections will be held has given rise to speculation. In response to a question about the confusion, Ertysbaev denied any need for clarification, saying: "There's the constitution, and everything is precisely and clearly spelled out there. Elections will take place in December 2006." Ertysbaev provided no information about Nazarbaev's plans, however. Also on 1 March, the Internet newspaper "Navigator" published the text of a letter from Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission addressed to Donna Stewart, director of the International Republican Institute's (IRI) Kazakhstan office. The letter, which is dated 18 January and is formulated in response to a 17 January IRI query, states that Nazarbaev's term in office lasts seven years and that the next presidential elections will be held on 3 December 2006. No official confirmation of the letter's authenticity was provided. DK

President Nazarbaev met on 1 March in Astana with Rustam Inoyatov, director of Uzbekistan's National Security Service, and Nartai Dutbaev, director of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, Kazinform reported. Their talks focused on coordinating the two security agencies' efforts in the fight against international terrorism and religious extremism. DK

Approximately 3,000 supporters of Tursunbai Alimov, a candidate in Kyrgyzstan's 27 February parliamentary elections, unblocked the Osh-Aravan highway on 1 March after a court in Aravan district agreed to hear the candidate's complaint on 2 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Alimov is disputing election results that put him behind Makhamadjan Mamasaidov with 49 percent of the vote. Six hundred supporters of Arap Tolonov, a candidate in Karasuu district, blocked the Osh-Karasuu highway as Tolonov tried to gain a court hearing for a similar complaint. DK

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov announced on 1 March that the Foreign Ministry does not accept the OSCE's preliminary report on Kyrgyzstan's 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The OSCE announced on 28 February that the election "fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards in a number of important areas" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005). Aitmatov disputed the OSCE's assertion that the authorities hampered independent media in the run-up to elections, retorting, "The authorities made significant efforts to ensure that the information aspect of elections and campaigning took place openly." The Foreign Ministry also denied that official statements about preparations to maintain order had a negative effect on elections. A ministry statement said: "Sometimes our opposition acts irresponsibly. It does not accept direct responsibility for ensuring stability, civil order, and accord in society," Kabar news agency reported. Aitmatov also suggested that foreign observers failed to take into account the specific features of Kyrgyzstan's democratic transition, RFE/RL reported. DK

Tajikistan's Central Election Commission announced on 1 March that the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) will, according to preliminary results from the 27 February elections, occupy 49 of 63 seats in the lower chamber of the country's parliament, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Commission Chairman Mirzoali Boltuev announced that the PDPT garnered 74 percent of the nationwide party-slate vote, with the Communist Party winning 13 percent and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) 8 percent. As a result, the PDPT won 17 seats on its party slate, the Communist Party three, and the IRP two. No other parties cleared the 5 percent barrier. In single-mandate districts, the PDPT won 32 seats and the Communist Party one. Five independent candidates won in single-mandate districts and three races will go to a second round on 13 March. The nationwide total of seats won in parliament as of 1 March is 49 for the PDPT, four for the Communist Party, two for the IRP, and five independents, with three races going to a second round. Turnout was 92.6 percent. DK

Opposition parties continued to allege on 1 March that the 27 February elections were marred by widespread fraud, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Rahmatullo Zoirov, leader of the Social Democratic Party, said that his party considers "the Central Election Commission's disregard for the people's will to be a usurpation of power and a total disregard for the country's election law," ITAR-TASS reported. "The New York Times" quoted Zoirov as saying: "I was expecting 50 percent fraud; we got 90 percent. It looks like the president wants to achieve absolute power." Zoirov stressed that the Social Democratic Party "reserves the right to use all legal means to struggle against the authorities, including filing appeals with the Supreme Court and international legal institutions, withdrawal from the Council for National Accord, and holding protest demonstrations," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Communist Party told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that fraud substantially reduced the party's showing in elections. DK

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed in a telephone conversation on 28 February to accelerate their efforts to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to India, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March, citing the Turkmen president's press service. The conversation took place after Karzai's 23-25 February visit to India, where he discussed the prospects of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline with Indian officials. Turkmen Television reported on 28 February that the two leaders hope to discuss the pipeline project at a "personal meeting in the near future." DK

An estimated 6,000 small retail traders gathered on a central square in Minsk on 1 March to protest the introduction of an 18-percent valued-added tax (VAT) on imports from Russia, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Some 1,500 protesters subsequently headed for the presidential-administration building, where they were stopped by police cordons. The protest was reportedly supported by a walkout of vendors in other major Belarusian cities. Operators of kiosks and other small retail outlets were previously subjected to a fixed tax of some $150 per month. As of January, Belarus switched to the country-of-destination rule in paying VAT in trade with Russia. Russian businesses selling goods to Belarusian vendors have reportedly been reluctant to cut prices after the adoption of the new VAT-payment rule. Belarusian vendors demand talks with top-ranking government officials and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the VAT collection. If talks do not take place or do not produce satisfying results, they are planning to stage an antigovernment rally in Minsk on 25 March. JM

The pro-government Communist Party of Belarus (KPB) has elected Tatsyana Holubeva -- a member of the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house -- as its new leader, Belapan reported on 1 March. The post has been vacant since the death of former KPB leader Valery Zakharchenka in July. Holubeva told Belapan that her party's priority tasks are to "fight for the establishment of the working people's rule, counteract the capitalization of the country and the coming of the bourgeoisie to power, develop Belarusian statehood, strengthen and develop the Belarusian-Russian Union State, and gradually reestablish the Union of Soviet Peoples on a voluntary basis." Belarus also has a Belarusian Party of Communists, which remains in opposition to the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said on 1 March that the resonant slaying of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000 has been solved and the suspected murderers have been arrested, Ukrainian media reported. "Yesterday, when we were discussing how to conduct the operation, I was made familiar with some circumstances of the last moments of the life of Giya [Heorhiy] Gongadze," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( quoted Yushchenko as saying. "It was a horrendous death, which has been corroborated by testimonies of the murderers." Yushchenko accused former President Leonid Kuchma's regime of lacking the "political will" to solve the murder and of protecting Gongadze's killers. "I and my team promised to solve this case, and we have done this," Yushchenko added. JM

Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun said in a telephone interview with Channel 5 on 1 March that investigators will not only disclose those who killed Gongadze but also those who ordered and organized this killing. "We have enough evidence to sanction the arrest of those who committed this terrible crime," he stressed. Piskun told journalists earlier the same day that two police officers of the rank of colonel have been arrested in the Gongadze case. Meanwhile, quoting a "reliable source," Interfax reported on 1 March that the Security Service of Ukraine detained three people in the Gongadze case, two colonels and one general. JM

Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko told Channel 5 on 1 March that he does not believe that the Gongadze murder has been solved. Melnychenko added that he does not trust Prosecutor-General Piskun. "Piskun is tripping Yushchenko up," Melnychenko said. Melnychenko reportedly made hundreds of hours of secret recordings in the office of former President Leonid Kuchma. Some of these recordings suggest that Kuchma and other former top officials, including former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, might have had a role in Gongadze's murder. "Without taking the Melnychenko tapes as evidence [in the Gongadze case], it is improbable to pin down the person who ordered the assassination, and Ukrainian society will hardly be satisfied if the investigators limit themselves to the executors [of the crime] and avoid touching those who ordered it," Ukrainian political scientist Dmytro Vydryn commented to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website. JM

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin made an unannounced visit on 1 March to Kyiv, where he met with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko, Ukrainian and Moldovan media reported. Yushchenko's press service reported that the meeting was devoted exclusively to the development of bilateral relations between the two countries and the settlement of the Transdniester conflict. The meeting reportedly did not touch upon Moldova's 6 March parliamentary elections. Voronin has visibly stepped up his international contacts in recent days by telephoning Romanian President Traian Basescu (see Moldovan item below) and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili was expected to visit Chisinau on 2 March. JM/UB

Croatian parliamentary speaker Vladimir Seks warned during a 1 March press conference that pro-European forces in Croatia could be frustrated and discouraged should the EU decide to postpone the start of entry talks, which are scheduled for 17 March, reported. Seks nevertheless said he is optimistic that the membership negotiations will begin as planned. On 21 February, foreign ministers of EU member states announced that beginning membership with Croatia is conditional on the country's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Both the tribunal and the EU have pressed the Croatian government to hand over former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who has been indicted for war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 February 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 January 2005). NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told visiting Croatian President Stipe Mesic in Brussels on 1 March that Croatia's bid for EU and NATO membership depends on the handover of Gotovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB

Bosnian Serb politicians opted out of a ceremony in Sarajevo marking the anniversary of the referendum for Bosnian independence on 1 March 1992, Fena news agency reported. Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, said the absence of the Bosnian Serb politicians reflects their attitude toward the Bosnian state, the constitution, and the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, which ended the war in Bosnia. Tihic added that politicians from the Republika Srpska tend to cite the Dayton peace deal only if it suits them, while they ignore the obligations under the peace accord, such as cooperating with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal. UB

Some 100 inmates of the Tunjice prison near Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska took control of the first floor of that facility late on 28 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The inmates demanded the resignation of the prison director and administration, arguing that they were intimidated and beaten by corrupt staffers. The situation normalized after Deputy Justice Minister Mladjen Mandic arrived at the prison, Tanjug reported. UB

British Chief of General Staff General Michael Jackson said in Prishtina on 1 March that it is clear that the international community has understood that the current status of Kosova, which is regulated by UN Security Council Resolution 1244, cannot last forever and that the time has come to begin talks on Kosova's future status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In 1999, then-Lieutenant General Jackson led the first international peacekeeping troops to enter Kosova after the end of the Kosova conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005). UB

The Macedonian Interior Ministry has issued a warning saying that the use of the Albanian flag at campaign meetings of ethnic Albanian political parties is prohibited and will be subject to legal prosecution, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 1 March. The Interior Ministry argues that the use of foreign flags is restricted in Macedonia. However, the Macedonian Albanian parties say that the flag represents the Albanian people rather than the Albanian state. In 1997, two ethnic Albanian mayors were jailed in Macedonia for displaying the Albanian flag on their town halls. Although the 2001 Ohrid peace deal, which ended the conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the state authorities, allowed the use of flags representing national minorities on the local level, parliament has yet to adopt legislation regulating the use of national symbols (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2004). UB

Albania's two major political parties -- the governing Socialist Party and the opposition Democratic Party -- on 28 February reached an agreement on the demarcation of electoral districts, thus paving the way for parliamentary elections slated for June, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The deadlocked talks on the districts had jeopardized the elections. Both the OSCE's and the Council of Europe's missions to Albania welcomed the decision, urging parliament to approve the electoral districts as soon as possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005). UB

Former Foreign Minister and opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Mircea Geoana said on 1 March that PSD founder and former President Ion Iliescu has reached a point where "he doesn't know what he is saying any more," "Ziua" and other Romanian media reported. Geoana's statement came in response to a statement made by Iliescu the previous day during a meeting of PSD senators. Iliescu said that Geoana "behaved like an idiot during the two rounds of the presidential elections [on 28 November and 12 December] when he said...that the [Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR)] will enter the government alongside the PSD" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 15 December 2004 and 14 January 2005). Geoana said this was an "inexcusable insult." Also on 1 March, Iliescu denied that there is a conflict between him and PSD Chairman and former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 10, 14, and 22 February 2005). UB

Leading members of Romania's National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) have criticized the Council for National Defense's decision on 28 February to hand over part of the Securitate Archives to the CNSAS, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005). CNSAS President Gheorghe Onisoru said he would have preferred that the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) hand over the entire archives, not just part of it. He said the CNSAS will raise the issue in talks with President Traian Basescu slated for 15 March. CNSAS board member Mircea Dinescu said the part of the archives slated to be handed over is useless, since it was selected by the SRI without the participation of the CNSAS. UB

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu agreed in a 1 March telephone conversation to exchange European-integration experts following the 6 March parliamentary elections in Moldova, according to the Moldovan government's official website ( Voronin has recently stepped up his international contacts. A telephone conversation on 28 February with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili resulted in the scheduling of Saakashvili's official visit to Chisinau on 2 March. Voronin traveled to Kyiv on 1 March to meet with Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko (see Ukrainian item above). UB

A new report presented in Chisinau on 1 March by four nongovernmental organizations -- the Independent Journalism Center; the CIVIS Center for Analysis and Social, Political, and Psychological Studies; the Independent Press Association; and the freedom of speech watchdog Article 19 -- confirmed earlier reports that the country's electronic media are covering the election campaign in a biased way, Infotag reported. Most state-owned electronic and print media favor the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), according to the report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 15, and 18 February 2005). UB

The Central Election Commission decided on 1 March that an electronic-voting system will be tested in one polling station during the 6 March general elections, and Interlic reported. The system presented by the company Registru will use video cameras installed on special ballpoint pens in the polling booth, so that the marking of the ballot can be electronically transmitted. The ballots themselves will then be put in ballot boxes as usual so they can be counted in a separate tabulation process. CEC members said this system is less expensive than other electronic-voting systems. UB

The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced on 1 March that it has created a new youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a press release published on, which quotes Walking Together founder Vasilii Yakemenko, the goal of the new "anti-fascist" movement is to put an end to the "anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals." Several Moscow-based newspapers reported the goal of the new group is actually a bit more specific: to eventually replace the party of power, Unified Russia.

The movement's rallying cry is preventing the introduction of foreign control in Russia. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 February reported that it obtained documents outlining a "grandiose plan for the creation of a new youth movement" whose goal is to save the motherland from colonization by the United States. The daily quotes Walking Together leader Yakemenko as saying that "organizations in Russia are growing, on the basis of which the U.S. will create groups analogous to Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, or Ukraine's Pora. These groups are Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and Avant Garde Red Youth."

Yakemenko, 33, initially denied in interviews with Ekho Moskvy and "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that a new youth movement was in the works. However, later reports detailed Yakemenko's speeches at meetings in cities across Russia, such as Kursk, Orel, and St. Petersburg. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," Yakemenko told students in Kursk that "Europe long ago asked itself the question: Who will be working at European gas stations, Turks or Ukrainians? This question now has been decided in favor of the Ukrainians. In the final analysis, for practically its entire history, Ukraine has been a colony. It's just that previously it was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony."

On 26-27 February, Yakemenko spoke to about 200 assembled youths at the Senezh sanatorium in Moscow Oblast for what some news reports called Nashi's "founding congress" and what Yakemenko described as a conference called "Russia's New Intellectual Elite." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 February, the meeting was held in a building owned by the presidential administration. The daily's correspondent, Oleg Kashin, and the leader of Yabloko's youth movement Ilya Yashin managed to sneak in to the meeting, since only first names were used at the conference and no ID was required for checking in. However, when the two men were recognized, Yakemenko ordered his security guards to throw them out. Yashin told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that they were driven out of town, where he was thrown headfirst into a snow bank and kicked in the stomach several times. Yakemenko initially denied that he ever saw Yashin at the meeting. Later he said that security guards did remove Yashin from the conference hall but only after he kept trying to enter the proceedings to which he was not invited.

In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 1 March, Yabloko's Yashin suggested that "one of the tasks of the 'Nashisti' is to intimidate the opposition youth so that they are afraid to attend public meetings." He said that in the last couple of months there have been several clashes between the members of the political opposition and unaffiliated people. Yashin told that former members of Walking Together along with skinheads in athletic clothing were the main attendees at the Nashi congress. "Kommersant-Daily's" Kashin described the participants, who were allegedly attending a conference on "Russia's New Intellectual Elite," as "very simple folk," who "when they are riding in elevators, laugh when they go up and down."

According to the Moscow-based newspapers, the real architect of Nashi is not Yakemenko but deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov. Surkov reportedly met with some 35-40 youths in St. Petersburg along with Yakemenko on 17 February to talk about setting up Nashi, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February. RosBalt confirmed that Surkov was indeed in St. Petersburg on 17 February; however, Yakemenko denied everything. Surkov was widely credited with masterminding Unified Russia's victory in the 2003 State Duma elections. He has now reportedly become disillusioned with his old creation as well as with Motherland, which was originally created to take votes away from the Communist Party. If Surkov is indeed seeking an alternative to Unified Russia, then that might explain the secrecy surrounding Nashi's creation. The presidential administration still needs obedience from Unified Russia members in the State Duma and elsewhere, which may be less forthcoming if they realize that their political careers are about to be cut short.

In an interview with on 1 March, Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute, said that he thinks that Walking Together faltered as an organization because it was held together only by money and not by an ideology. Similarly, Unified Russia could have been a "powerful pro-presidential party that served as a repository of the people's hopes for the president and hostility for the thieves, oligarchs, and corrupt bureaucrats. Instead of this, we have a parody," he concluded. However, with Nashi, Yakemenko has recently been taking a smarter approach, according to Militarev. "For example, Yakemenko has given lectures to youth activists in which he described the American authorities as our geopolitical opponent and said that Russia needs to defend itself." According to Militarev, this is a more effective doctrine than "Putin is our president and he is always right."

Writing in on 22 February, Tatyana Stanovaya suggests that the Kremlin's presidential campaign in 2008 may assume the features of Yeltsin's 1996 race when Yeltsin managed to come from behind because of the "Red threat." "In 2008, the Kremlin might also motivate citizens to vote not 'for' (an unpopular president) but 'against' (this time against the Orange threat) and the 'geopolitical appetites of the West' and 'the powerful subversive network within the country.'" However, if INDEM foundation analyst Yurii Korgunyuk is correct, then Nashi proponents are not pursuing a cynical election ploy. He told "The Moscow Times" on 25 February that the "Kremlin has a paranoid fear of what happened in Ukraine happening here."

Hamid Karzai on 1 March appointed the head of Junbish-e Melli-yi Islami-ye Afghanistan, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, as chief of staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 24 February 2005). While not a surprise, the appointment might alarm human rights groups "who have been calling for those who committed war crimes during the country's bloody civil war to be brought to justice," AFP commented on 1 March. Troops loyal to Dostum's Junbish party have been named by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission as among those who committed war crimes during the Afghan civil war (1992-95) and for bombing Kabul's residential areas. Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin said that Dostum's appointment is a "good thing, a positive one." Dostum finished fourth in Afghanistan's October presidential elections with 10 percent of the vote. AT

The head of the Independent Election Commission, Besmellah Besmel, said in an interview on 28 February that Afghanistan's parliamentary elections have been postponed for a further three months, Tolu television reported. Besmel dismissed the argument made by some Afghan politicians that the delay is due to political considerations. "We cannot see any political problem, but the time mentioned in the electoral law [for the parliamentary elections] has expired," Besmel contended. The already delayed polls were due to take place in the month of Saur (20 April-21 May) and the three-month delay would push the election date to the month of Asad (22 July-21 August). In a meeting on 28 February, the Afghan cabinet could not agree on a fixed date for the elections due to disputes over the demarcation of district boundaries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). AT

A commission set up to investigate complaints lodged by Afghans who made the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj has issued a report that led to the suspension of several officials of the Endowments and Islamic Affairs and Transport ministries, Radio Afghanistan reported on 28 February. The report concluded that "serious cases of embezzlement and corruption" took place, and that the people involved in the improprieties -- including officials from the two ministries -- acted in "an organized manner." According to a decree by Karzai, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has suspended seven officials, including Deputy Minister Ata al-Rahman Salim, and the Transport Ministry has suspended five officials, including Jahed Azimi, the deputy minister in charge of administration. Salim was briefly detained by Kabul police and released on bail because of complaints by pilgrims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). AT

Members of the former Taliban regime who have been negotiating with the Afghan government have asked for identity cards, Afghanistan Television reported on 1 March. Ludin said that those members of the former Taliban regime who have accepted the government's offer of reconciliation have asked for "special identity cards" in order to "feel safe." According to Ludin, the government and coalition forces are studying the request. AT

Pakistan's Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon announced that Islamabad, Tehran, and New Delhi will sign an agreement on a natural-gas pipeline connecting their countries on 18 March, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported on 1 March. Jadoon said discussions on the pipeline would coincide with the two-day South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation ministerial conference that begins on 17 March. Jadoon was in Iran in the last week of February to discuss the pipeline project. BS

Iran figured prominently in the U.S. State Department's annual country report on human rights released on 28 February ( "The government's poor human rights record worsened, and it continued to commit numerous, serious abuses," the Iran country report stated. The report described abuses such as summary executions; torture; floggings and amputations; arbitrary arrest and detention; and a frequent absence of fair trials. Politically motivated killings and executions were cited. Also noted is that the Iranian people's right to change the government is restricted -- the Assembly of Experts, a body of clerics, selects and can dismiss the Supreme Leader, and the Guardians Council vets candidates for elected office. BS

An anonymous spokesperson at Novosibirsk's chemical-concentrates plant said on 1 March that fuel for the nuclear facility at Bushehr is ready and can be delivered at any time, ITAR-TASS reported. Citing security concerns, the spokesperson would not disclose where the fuel is stored. Russian Atomic Energy Agency chief Aleksandr Rumyantsev said in Bushehr on 27 February that fuel delivery will take place six months before the facility's completion, which should take place at the end of 2006, ITAR-TASS reported. He predicted delivery of 100 tons of fuel. Rumyantsev said in Moscow on 28 February that Iranian mastery of the complete nuclear fuel cycle is inadvisable, ITAR-TASS reported. The fuel cycle -- uranium extraction and enrichment; fuel production; loading the reactor with fuel; and then unloading, reprocessing, and storing the spent fuel -- is only economically viable if the facility has an 8,000-10,000 megawatt capacity, he said. He added that Iran is planning for only 7,000 megawatts. BS

Cyrus Nasseri, Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in Vienna on 1 March that Iran will not permanently suspend uranium enrichment despite European Union and U.S. demands, dpa reported. Nasseri said Iran has a right to enrich uranium but it will guarantee that these activities will have peaceful applications. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 1 March that Iran will not give up mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle in exchange for concessions from Europe, Fars News Agency reported. "This is not a right to be exchanged for economic concessions," he said. Kharrazi also said, according to IRNA, that Iran needs 20 nuclear power plants to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity. BS

IAEA inspectors have visited sites at Isfahan, Natanz, and Tehran, Safeguards Chief Pierre Goldschmidt told the IAEA board of governors on 1 March in Vienna, according to the agency's website ( Inspectors were allowed to visit one out of four sites they wanted to see at Parchin. "As a result of its limited scope visit to Parchin, the agency is able to inform the board that it saw no relevant dual use equipment or materials in the location visited," Goldschmidt reported to the board. "The agency is awaiting the results of environmental sampling analysis to ascertain whether any nuclear material had been used in the area visited." The previous day, Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei asked Iran for "additional information that can accelerate our work," the agency's website reported. He said there has been progress on "the substance of important issues -- like contamination; like the nature of the enrichment program." Efforts to understand the nature of the program in the past are continuing. He said Iran is entitled to use nuclear energy peacefully, but there is concern about Iran's capability to enrich uranium. Confidence building must continue, el-Baradei said, as must efforts to make sure there are no undeclared activities. The almost 20 years of clandestine activities delay this process, he said. BS

An Iraqi judge sitting on the special tribunal that will try former members of the Hussein regime was assassinated in Baghdad on 1 March along with his son, international media reported on 2 March. Perwiz Muhammad Mahmud al-Meriwani and his son, lawyer Aryan Perwiz al-Meriwani, were killed when gunmen attacked their vehicle in Baghdad's Al-Adhamiyah neighborhood, international media reported. An unidentified court official told AP that the killing was not related to the tribunal. "It was something personal. I don't have details, but investigations are still going on," the official said. Police said that another tribunal judge, Mu'ayyad Hamad, survived an attack on 1 March in the capital, KUNA reported. Militants driving a minibus reportedly followed Hamad's automobile and sprayed it with bullets. KR

Ziad al-Khasawanah, head of Saddam Hussein's defense team, called the Iraqi special tribunal illegitimate, and claimed that lawyers for the deposed president have been denied access to him, AP reported on 1 March. Al-Khasawanah told reporters in Tokyo that under Iraqi law, Hussein and other regime members are immune from prosecution. "Iraqi law before the occupation must apply" to the case, he said. Al-Khasawanah also claimed that lawyers have not had access to Hussein since November. "President Saddam is isolated from the outside world," Al-Khasawanah said. "He is in a small cell and not allowed to meet his attorneys or family members despite repeated requests. He doesn't have TV or radio and he isn't allowed to read the newspapers. He doesn't know anything about what is going on," the lawyer contended. Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin has told the press repeatedly that he has personally visited Hussein and inspected his living conditions, which he described to Britain's "The Guardian on 26 July as "good." KR

Militants detonated a car bomb outside an army-recruitment center in Baghdad on 2 March, killing six and wounding 38 people, Reuters reported. A second car bomb targeted a convoy of Iraqi soldiers, killing seven and wounding two, the news agency reported. Al-Arabiyah television reported that the blast targeted a National Guard checkpoint. The bombings came as Iraqis were holding an official day of mourning for Iraq's deadliest attack since the fall of the Hussein regime, which occurred on 28 February. That blast killed 125 people. About 2,000 people demonstrated outside the site of the 28 February attack on 1 March, chanting "No to terrorism!" and "No to Ba'athism and Wahhabism!" AP reported on 2 March. Demonstrators also reportedly called for the resignation of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported that an even larger demonstration took place on 2 March. Local authorities in the Babil governorate declared a security alert in the governorate because of the demonstration, RFI reported. KR

U.S. Central Command head General John Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 1 March that multinational forces are making gains against the movement led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, international media reported on 2 March. Abizaid said that improvements in Iraqi intelligence gathering, and treason within al-Zarqawi's own organization, have led to recent successes in capturing members of his group. "His days in Iraq are numbered," Reuters quoted Abizaid as saying. Six Iraqi policemen were killed and 16 others wounded on 1 March in clashes with unidentified militants in Al-Dawrah, south of Baghdad, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR

A source at the Interior Ministry told "Al-Ittihad" that an intelligence operations center is being established at the headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Police, the daily reported on 1 March. The center will reportedly play a major role in combating acts of sabotage by enabling the police to receive immediate and direct reports from across the country. It will also enable police to have a direct line of communication with the ministry via the Internet, the daily reported. The center will provide police with the latest security developments. KR