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Newsline - March 10, 2005

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov (Unified Russia) said on 9 March that the death of Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov means "there will be less evil in Chechnya," reported. Federation Council Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said "a dog deserves a dog's death." Presidential aide for the North Caucasus Aslambek Aslakhanov said Maskhadov's death will mean less financial support for Chechen separatists, RTR reported. "The special services of some states that illegally bankrolled the guerilla war in Chechnya will not want to help someone who does not have the political status [that Maskhadov had]," Aslakhanov noted. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) compared Maskhadov's death with winning a decisive battle in World War II, reported. Finally, Politika foundation President Vyacheslav Nikonov compared the event with the capture by U.S. troops of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, adding that Maskhadov's death is a "pivotal moment in the Chechen war," reported. VY

Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov said on 9 March that the killing of Maskhadov "does not radically change the situation in Chechnya," reported. "The real organizers of terror are sitting here in Moscow and nearby," said Zyuganov, adding that he considers former President Boris Yeltsin responsible for unleashing the first Chechen war. Former Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov said that then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 1999 promised "to wipe out all terrorists," but the situation in Chechnya has not changed much since then, reported. Finally, Aleksei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert from Moscow's Carnegie Center, said on 9 March that the death of Maskhadov will most likely not have much of an impact on the military struggle in Chechnya, TV-Tsentr reported. Nor will it have much influence on the financing of separatist activity, he continued. According to a separatist archive captured by federal troops, most funds used by the separatists were stolen from the Russian budget or from funds earmarked for the pro-Moscow Chechen administration for reconstruction in the republic, Malashenko said. VY

In separate statements posted on 10 March on, Akhmed Zakaev, envoy for the Chechen resistance in London, and radical field commander Shamil Basaev announced that in accordance with a decision adopted at a July-August 2002 session of the State Defense Committee, the duties of the Chechen president devolve to Abdul-Khalim Saidulaev, chairman of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria Shari'a Supreme Court following the killing on 8 March of Aslan Maskhadov. Saidulaev will serve as acting president until such time as free elections can be held in Chechnya, Zakaev continued. The "Guardian" on 10 March quoted Zakaev as describing the new leader as "young and energetic, worthy...and with authority." LF

Zakaev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 9 March that the account promulgated by Russian officials of the events that culminated in Maskhadov's death is not true. Specifically, Zakaev denied Russian military spokesman Major-General Ilya Shabalkin's claim that Maskhadov was hiding in a concrete bunker located under a house in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt, where he and associates were planning a terrorist attack, and that federal forces used explosives to destroy the bunker. In a series of articles on Basaev in November, "Izvestiya" claimed that Basaev has an extensive network of such bunkers at his disposal. Zakaev said "there was no bunker," nor was Maskhadov blown up. The footage of Maskhadov's body shown on Russian television did not bear the kind of injuries that would result from being buried under concrete slabs. Curiously, the initial photograph of Maskhadov's body posted on showed him wearing a white shirt, while in later photographs he was naked to the waist. Zakaev also denied that someone betrayed Maskhadov's whereabouts to the federal troops. Instead, according to Zakaev, the Russians stumbled across Maskhadov purely by chance in the course of a routine house-to-house search and "he died in a shootout." LF

Former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, who liaised with Maskhadov in the run-up to the signing in May 1997 of the Russian-Chechen treaty and, in 2002 appealed to President Putin to begin talks aimed at ending the Chechen war (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 September 2002), told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 9 March that he always considered Maskhadov "a legitimately elected president of the Chechen Republic." Rybkin condemned Maskhadov's "elimination" as "totally inappropriate," noting that Maskhadov "represented the moderate wing of the Chechen resistance," and consistently sought a negotiated end to the ongoing conflict. Rybkin predicted that those Russian officials who rejected peace talks with Maskhadov will ultimately have to sit at the negotiating table with far less savory representatives of the Chechen resistance. LF

Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov told Interfax on 9 March that Maskhadov's death is unlikely to have a major impact on the situation in Chechnya. He condemned Maskhadov as a "puppet" manipulated by Basaev. Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov predicted that Maskhadov's demise will lead to the collapse of the group that claims to represent the "political and legitimate wing" of the resistance and to "a fierce and irreconcilable fight" over who will be named Maskhadov's successor. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov appealed to resistance fighters on 9 March to surrender, ITAR-TASS reported. On 10 March, quoted Kadyrov as denying an report that his men killed Maskhadov on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). LF

Speaking on the 20th anniversary of his election as the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said on 9 March that President Putin could face serious social unrest if he continues to pursue his cabinet's unpopular economic policy, Russian media reported. Saying the government miscalculated in abolishing Soviet-style social benefits, Gorbachev stated: "I don't know what is preventing the president from...completely changing the government [or at least] reacting to such things," Interfax reported. He added that utility rates and other costs are rising at a very rapid rate, and if the present situation continues, it could provoke a "merciless revolt." He also warned Putin to beware of reactionaries among his advisers who believe the government can suppress popular protests. Finally, Gorbachev recalled his own political fate and called on people to support Putin against his political opponents. "They got rid of me, but it's important that they don't get rid of Putin; we should support him in order not to lose this president," said Gorbachev, AP reported on 9 March. VY

Gorbachev said that he made a strategically correct choice but committed many tactical mistakes when he was Soviet leader, Interfax and the other media reported. The main errors, he said, were that he was late in reforming the Communist Party and restructuring the Soviet Union, which slowed down the whole process. He said another mistake was in defending Boris Yeltsin against Communist hard-liners. "If I had known what was going to come from it, I would have sent him far away," Gorbachev said. VY

Speaking at a Federation Council hearing on proposed changes to the natural resources law, Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev defended a draft amendment proposed by his ministry that bans foreign companies from participating in tenders for major mineral deposits in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 18 February 2005), Prime-TASS reported on 9 March. "Russia has the full authority to introduce a restriction for nonresident [business] rights, as it does not violate European law," Trutnev said. He added that those countries that complain that Russia is violating their rights have the same practices in their laws. Speaking after him, Trutnev's deputy, Anatolii Temkin, told the Federation Council that the revised law will include a provision that will lead to the replacement of licenses for the exploration of mineral resources with a contract system, Prime-TASS reported. VY

Addressing the Duma on the crime situation in Russia in 2004, Vladimir Ustinov on 9 March accused the Interior Ministry (MVD) and its head, Rashid Nurgaliev, of underreporting the number of crimes in order to conceal a growth in crime, RTR and ORT reported. Speaking before Ustinov, Nurgaliev told the Duma that 2.9 million crimes were committed in Russia last year. Ustinov said the MVD tends to register only 20 percent of all crimes and to cover up the rest. The real number of crimes committed is not less than 9 million to 12 million, he said. The practice of covering up crimes leads to the formation of so-called "shadow justice" as citizens lose confidence in law enforcement and begin settling accounts with offenders themselves. In response to a remark by Nurgaliev that his ministry registers crimes according to the law and can only improve the practice if legislation is changed, Ustinov responded: "You do need a change in the law but in your basic honesty," NTV reported. VY

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev told State Duma deputies on 9 March that there are currently 1.397 million personnel serving in his ministry. "Whether that is too few or too many, this number enables us to meet our tasks," Nurgaliev said. He noted that some Interior Ministry personnel are serving in the combat zone in the North Caucasus and, therefore, undergo military preparation. RC

About two-thirds of Russians said in a recent survey that in principle they think it would be acceptable for a woman to become president of Russia, reported on 10 March. In a survey conducted by the Bashkirov and Partners public-relations firm, 21.1 percent of respondents said they think St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko would make a good president, while 10.5 percent named Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada, 8.6 percent support former cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and 5.1 percent named First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska. Survey organizers noted that Matvienko is the only woman currently serving as the head of one of Russia's 89 federation subjects and that 28 percent of her support came from respondents in the Northwest Federal District, where St. Petersburg is located. Almost 31 percent of respondents said that a woman should not be president of Russia. RC

President Putin on 9 March signed into law legislation that sharply restricts the public sale and consumption of beer, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The measure was approved by the Duma on 9 February and the Federation Council on 25 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2005). The measure bans the sale and consumption of beer at schools, children's centers, health-care facilities, public transportation, sports and recreational centers, and cultural monuments. It also bans the consumption of beer by minors. RC

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref reported to President Putin on 9 March that the government could be able to create a unified aircraft-construction corporation by the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier this year Putin called on the government to streamline and centralize the country's aviation sector in order to improve its competitiveness. Gref said that his ministry will draft a plan for the creation of the corporation by the end of March, at which time it will be submitted to the government for approval. Putin ordered Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to personally "control the quality of this work and compliance with deadlines." RC

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 9 March presented ORT correspondent Olga Kirii and RTR correspondent Margarita Simonyan with medals for their coverage of the Beslan school hostage taking last September, ORT and other Russian media reported. Ivanov said the correspondents' reports allowed "millions of people [to see] the self-sacrificing actions by law enforcement, security service, and Defense Ministry personnel to provide help to Russian citizens dying at the hands of terrorists," ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov described the journalists as "lovely, charming ladies [who] showed courage, tenacity, and those qualities that are usually associated with soldiers and law enforcement employees." RC

President Putin on 9 March named Oleg Kozhemyako as acting governor of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug after dismissing Governor Vladimir Loginov earlier in the day, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Putin, using new authority granted him under a recent reform that eliminated the direct election of governors, fired Loginov for failing to cope adequately with the problems of heating fuel in the far northern region. A statement by the Kremlin press office said that Loginov's failures had "resulted in mass violations of the rights and freedoms of citizens" in the region, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. According to the news agency, fuel suppliers refused to ship diesel fuel to the region last fall because of arrears of 706 million rubles ($23.5 million) accumulated last winter. After negotiations, suppliers agreed to begin shipping fuel, but succeeded in supplying only 64 percent of the needed stocks before navigation was closed for the winter in the Sea of Okhotsk. ITAR-TASS reported that emergency situations have been declared in nine villages in the oblast, some of which have only three to five days of heating fuel on hand. Putin ordered the government to assist the okrug administration in resolving the crisis. Kozhemyako previously served as deputy governor of the okrug. RC

Duma Speaker Gryzlov on 9 March lauded President Putin's sacking of Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Loginov, saying that other regional leaders should bear in mind their responsibility for providing for the basic needs of their subjects, ITAR-TASS reported. "Mismanagement should not be allowed and people shouldn't freeze," Gryzlov said. Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev said Putin's decision to fire Loginov was "timely," the news agency reported on 9 March. "It is a result of inaction by the regional leadership, which has been unable for the past few years to perform its constitutional duties to ensure the basic conditions of life." Yakovlev added that the move "draws the attention of [other] regional leaders to the necessity of taking a responsible approach to performing their duties." Yakovlev added that his ministry has set up a working group to assist the new administration of the okrug. RC

President Putin on 9 March submitted the name of incumbent Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Yurii Neelov to the okrug legislature for another term of office, ITAR-TASS reported. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 9 March that the deadline for submitting a candidate had expired on 4 March, leading some observers to speculate that Neelov's standing with the Kremlin is shaky. The daily reported that the presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District, Petr Latyshev, should have submitted his recommendations for the post to the Kremlin by 8 January, but he did so only on 2 March. RC

The Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a statement on 8 March saying that its forces successfully repelled an attempt by Azerbaijani forces to penetrate behind Armenian lines near the village of Seysulan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 9 March. The Karabakh forces did not incur any losses, the statement said. In Baku, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on 9 March its forces were subjected to machine-gun fire at three locations on the front line (in Ter-Ter, Geranboi, and Aghdam raions) during the evening of 8 March. The Azerbaijani statement claimed that "the enemy's fire was suppressed," and the Armenians lost several men in the exchange of fire. LF

Police blocked access on 9 March to the grave in a Baku cemetery of murdered journalist Elmar Huseinov in a bid to prevent his relatives and friends congregating to celebrate the traditional repast seven days after his death, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 2005). Also on 8 March, Baku city officials refused permission for a mass meeting of journalists scheduled for that day to protest Huseinov's killing. LF

The Georgian parliament postponed on 9 March until the following day a debate on a draft bill setting a May deadline for Russia to agree to close its two remaining military bases in Georgia by 1 January 2006, Georgian and Russian media reported. The bases will be declared illegal if Russia fails to agree to that timeframe. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili both argued there is little point in issuing an ultimatum to Moscow given that a bilateral working group is currently seeking a compromise on the Russian withdrawal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005). Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli similarly argued that the two sides should try to reach an agreement, ITAR-TASS reported. But he added that the eight-year grace-period the Russians are now requesting is too long. On 10 March, quoted an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry source as suggesting a shorter timeframe. That official said Russia has no desire to keep its bases in Georgia indefinitely, but that they will be closed only after the formation of new mountain rifle brigades that will be deployed in the Caucasus, a process that will, he estimated, take between three and four years. Meanwhile, Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told journalists on 9 March that Moscow will demand substantial financial compensation for closing the bases, while Georgian parliamentarians propose presenting Moscow with a utilities bill for electricity and water supplies to the bases. LF

Having traveled on a recent visit to Italy to Alto Adige, the former Austrian province of South Tyrol that was granted autonomy within Italy in 1972, Mikheil Saakashvili proposed on 9 March using a similar model to resolve Tbilisi's conflicts with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. He said Tbilisi is ready to grant the population of those republics even greater autonomy than that enjoyed by Alto Adige. But Temur Iakobashvili, president of the International Strategic Research Fund, told the daily "Akhali taoba" on 8 March that the Alto Adige model is not suitable for Georgia, given that the inhabitants of that region only ever demanded regional self-government but not independence. LF

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry noted in a press release on 9 March that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently wrote to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev offering to increase the alliance's cooperation with Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to the press release, NATO member states hail Kazakhstan's desire to draw up an individual partnership action plan with NATO. Also on 9 March, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Robert Simmons, on a three-day visit to Kazakhstan, offered NATO assistance to Kazakhstan in processing the country's "huge stocks of obsolete ammunition and arms, particularly, obsolete portable antiaircraft missiles," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Simmons also announced the appointment of Aleksandr Katranis as the NATO communications officer in Kazakhstan. DK

An Almaty court on 9 March upheld a $38,500 libel ruling against the Kazakh opposition newspaper "Soz," Channel 31 reported. Under the ruling, the newspaper will have to pay the fine and issue an apology to Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) for an article that claimed that KNB officers shadowed opposition members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 18 February 2005). The newspaper's staff said that the publication lacks the funds to pay the fine. DK

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, chairman of Kazakhstan's Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, announced at a 9 March news conference in Almaty that the country's opposition has set up a new movement called For a Just Kazakhstan, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The movement, which will hold its first meeting on 20 March, is not a political party, Tuyakbai stressed. It aims to select a single opposition candidate for upcoming presidential elections, which are officially scheduled for December 2006. But with current President Nursultan Nazarbaev's seven-year term ending in January 2006, there has been considerable speculation about the possibility of preterm presidential elections. DK

Markus Mueller, the head of the OSCE's Center in Bishkek, said in a written statement on 9 March that Kyrgyzstan's opposition should observe the country's laws in its election-related protests, reported. Mueller stated, "Flaws in the election process cannot give cause to occupy government buildings and block roads." The OSCE also praised the Kyrgyz authorities for their "patience and competence" in responding to demonstrations. The OSCE expressed concern at a recent spate of "aggressive and insulting" declarations in the Kyrgyz press and called on all sides to resolve conflicts with recourse to the law, according to Demonstrations involving the seizure of government buildings and blockading of roads have taken place in a number of Kyrgyz cities since 27 February first-round parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2005). DK

A court in Naryn Province left unchanged on 9 March an earlier decision removing candidate Ishenbai Kadyrbekov from the 13 March second round of voting, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Earlier decisions by election committees had pulled Kadyrbekov from the race on 5 March for violating campaign rules. In an interview with RFE/RL after the court ruling, Kadyrbekov called the decision politically motivated. Protests continued in Naryn after the decision, as police prevented demonstrators from seizing a government office. DK

A column of 200 protestors from the Karakulja District arrived on 9 March in the city of Osh, where they called for the resignation of President Askar Akaev, urged pre-term presidential elections, and condemned fraud in 27 February first-round parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Mayor Satybaldy Chyrmashev told journalists that the authorities will do what is necessary to prevent tensions from rising in the city, and that they would declare a state of emergency if conditions warrant. Demonstrations also continued for a fifth day in Jalal-Abad. DK

Parliamentary committees met on 9 March to discuss the possibility of an emergency joint session of Kyrgyzstan's legislature in order to review the tense political situation in the wake of 27 February first-round parliamentary elections and calls for preterm presidential elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The initiators of the session called on President Akaev to support the idea. Although 23 deputies of the outgoing 70-seat lower chamber and 11 deputies of the 35-seat upper chamber support a joint session on 10 March, two-thirds of legislators must be present for a quorum. The lawmakers who support an emergency session said that if they cannot obtain a quorum they will hold hearings with the participation of political parties, civil society, and the media. DK

Turkmenistan's natural gas exports recorded a 12 percent year-on-year drop in January-February 2005, Prime-TASS reported on 9 March, citing data from Turkmenistan's Ministry of Oil and Gas. The leading buyers of Turkmen gas for the period were Ukraine and Iran, with purchases of 6.6 billion cubic meters and 1.5 billion cubic meters, respectively. A price dispute between Turkmenistan and Russia's Gazprom has temporarily halted gas shipments from Turkmenistan to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 22 February 2005). DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 9 March signed a decree against human trafficking, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported, quoting official sources. The decree specifies punishment -- including prison sentences, property confiscation, and bans on holding some official positions -- for crimes related to human trafficking. Under the decree, matchmaking and foreign-employment agencies are required to obtain licenses from the Interior Ministry and model agencies from the Education Ministry by 1 July. Casting for roles in advertising projects with the aim of finding a job abroad may be arranged only by local state employment services or licensed model and employment agencies. The decree also bans the involvement of foreign companies or foreigners in the production of advertisements for domestic goods and services. JM

Lukashenka's decree against human trafficking also provides for tougher controls over foreign adoptions and study abroad by Belarusian citizens, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 9 March. Those foreigners who want to adopt Belarusian children and those Belarusians who wish to study abroad must apply for permits from the Education Ministry. Alyaksandr Rukhlya, a recently sacked official responsible for the foreign contacts of Belarusian State University in Minsk, told RFE/RL that the decree's provisions related to studying abroad will affect "thousands" of Belarusians. "It is a path to closing a [new] Iron Curtain," Rukhlya said. "It is a control over departures [from the country] on one hand and arrivals on the other, to prevent information exchange. It is a trend toward self-isolation." JM

Viktor Yushchenko promised in a speech to the German Bundestag on 9 March that the world will soon see a "different Ukraine," international news agencies reported. Yushchenko specified that this country is going to become stronger, healthier, economically robust, democratic, and free of corruption. Yushchenko also told German lawmakers that he sees Ukraine in a unified Europe in the "not-too-distant future." He expressed his hope that Germany will soon recognize the "European prospect" of his country. Yushchenko also advocated more liberal EU visa regulations for his compatriots, mentioning specifically such categories of Ukrainians as adolescents, students, artists, journalists, and businesspeople. JM

Gerhard Schroeder told a news conference in Berlin on 9 March that Germany will offer support to Ukraine in restructuring the country on the basis of democracy and market economy and bring "new dynamism" into bilateral relations, international media reported. Schroeder was speaking after a meeting with Ukrainian President Yushchenko earlier the same day. Schroeder also pledged to help Ukraine on its path toward "the Western community of states" and toward establishing "closer relations with the Euro-Atlantic organizations," ddp reported. The German chancellor said he agreed with Yushchenko on forming a bilateral group to work out important joint economic projects and ensure their implementation. JM

The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office will interrogate former President Leonid Kuchma regarding the kidnapping and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, Interfax reported, quoting Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Vyacheslav Astapov. "He [Kuchma] will be interrogated without fail, particularly since he himself has expressed such a wish," Astapov said but did not specify any date. The so-called Melnychenko tapes implicate Kuchma and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko in the abduction of Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 6 March 2005). According to a February poll by the Razumkov Center, 64 percent of Ukrainians have a "negative attitude" toward Kuchma, while 35 percent believe that Kuchma should be "held accountable" for his past deeds. JM

Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of Luxembourg and current president of the Council of the European Union, said in an interview with Germany's public Deutschlandfunk radio on 9 March that he is still optimistic that Croatia can prove that it is fully cooperating with the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague before the Council of the European Union decides on 16 March whether to start membership talks with Croatia or not. In recent weeks, pressure has grown on Croatia to arrest and hand over indicted former Croatian General Ante Gotovina to the ICTY. Croatia has insisted that it is doing everything it can to arrest Gotovina, reiterating that Gotovina is not in Croatia. Asselborn said that Croatia must fully cooperate with The Hague, adding, however, that he does not rule out the possibility that Croatia will manage to convince both the ICTY and the EU that it is fully cooperating with the tribunal even if Gotovina is not handed over (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 February and 2, 7, and 8 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 January 2005). Asselborn said it will be a negative signal for the whole Balkans if the EU decides not to start membership talks with Croatia. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 9 March that he expects the EU to give the green light for membership talks to start on 17 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB

High Representative Paddy Ashdown, ICTY President Theodor Meron, and ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte attended the official inauguration of the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on 9 March, Bosnian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). "The development of the rule of law is a key component for national reconstruction and reconciliation, and the War Crimes Chamber goes far toward solidifying the rule of law in national institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina," the ICTY's official website ( quoted Meron as saying. The chamber is the first court in former Yugoslavia to try war crimes committed during the war accompanying that country's breakup in the 1990s. UB

In reaction to Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj's decision to surrender to the ICTY on 8 March, Rafiz Aliti, the deputy chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), said that Haradinaj and his family did a lot to free Kosova from the chauvinist regime of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, "Vreme" reported. "By accepting the invitation to The Hague, Haradinaj is showing the international community that he fights for the right of his people," Aliti said. Opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians Chairman Arben Xhaferi said that the 1998 and 1999 Kosova conflict was a "just war against the Serbian [state] apparatus that intended to carry out a genocide." "The indictment [of Haradinaj] does not only worry us, but raises deep concerns among us," he added. Most ethnic Macedonian parties reacted with restraint to the news, warning of possible unrest among the Kosovar population in the wake of Haradinaj's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 March 2005). UB

Former Chief of General Staff of the Yugoslav Army General Momcilo Perisic pleaded not guilty during his first appearance before the ICTY on 9 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Perisic is charged with war crimes on 13 counts, among others in connection with the shelling of Sarajevo and Zagreb and the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 March 2005). UB

Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana signed on 7 March an agreement on Albania's participation in the EU's peacekeeping mission EUFOR (aka Althea) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Under the agreement, Albania will send a 70-strong contingent to serve under EU command. Albania already participated in the NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping operation. The EU took command of the mission in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 2 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2005). UB

Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region has offered to resume talks with Chisinau on the province's status, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March citing Valery Litskai, the foreign minister of the self-proclaimed republic. "The success of negotiations depends in many ways on the composition of the executive and legislative bodies and the group of negotiators for Chisinau," Litskai said. "If this group includes pragmatic people, the tempo and quality of discussion will be high," Litskai said. BW

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on 9 March that Moldova's parliamentary elections failed to meet democratic standards, citing a lack of transparency and biased media coverage, AP reported the same day. "Over the course of the electoral campaign...the Moldovan authorities were intensely using administrative resources," the ministry said in a statement, claiming that the Moldovan state-run media had given "an unfair and biased coverage" to the race. Moscow also criticized Moldovan officials for what the Foreign Ministry called their refusal to let Russian observers monitor the 6 March vote, saying, "The degree of their transparency arouses doubts." Moscow's assessment contrasted with that of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said the vote met broad international democratic standards, although the organization assailed largely pro-government coverage on state television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005). BW

Russia has also decried what it called a "double standard" among international election observers who called Moldova's election free and fair, Interfax reported on 10 March. "A significant number of Moldovan citizens staying abroad were in effect deprived of the chance to realize their electoral rights.... Of the hundreds of thousands of Moldovans who were in Russia at the time of the election, only about 3,000 were able to vote," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement posted on its website on 9 March said. "Unfortunately, facts of this nature were for some reason overlooked by the international observers working in Moldavia. What we see here is the same practice of double standards, which should be eradicated through drawing up common criteria for monitoring the election process, wherever it takes place," the commentary said. The Russian statement was an apparent reference to international condemnation of elections in Ukraine last year. BW

The results of a parallel vote count of Moldova's parliamentary vote undertaken by the Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections do not differ significantly from the official results, Infotag reported on 9 March. The organization reported that voter turnout was 63.62 percent, with the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) winning 45.42 percent, the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BDM) taking 29 percent, and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) 8.95 percent. According to official results, turnout was 63.71 percent, with the PCM winning 46.1 percent, the BMD taking 28.41 percent and the PPCD 9.07 percent. Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections united more than 150 civic organizations and deployed 2,184 observers to monitor the elections. BW

Moldova's Prosecutor-General's Office has charged two Russian women with money laundering in connection with their activities in the country's parliamentary election campaign, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 March. According to RIA-Novosti, the two sisters, identified by their last name Romaschenko, were detained in February for illegal campaigning. The two, who had been working with a group of Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh citizens, were charged with illegally taking $500,000 into the country. BW

Although the outcome of the 6 March parliamentary elections in Moldova deprived the opposition of a reason to stage massive street protests, it, nonetheless opened an alternative route for the transfer of power in the country. The failure of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) to regain a constitutional majority of at least 61 seats offers the opposition the chance to boycott the presidential vote and secure a new parliamentary poll. New elections will be called if the opposition succeeds in blocking parliament's election of a new president three times.

According to preliminary results, the PCM stands as the clear winner with 46 percent of the vote, followed by the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) with 29 percent, and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) with 9 percent. Only these three groups managed to pass the hurdle of 6 percent for representation in parliament.

The Communists' share of the vote translates into 56 seats out of the total of 101. This is a comfortable majority, enough to allow them to form a government and elect the parliamentary speaker. But they fell short of the 61 votes necessary to elect the president, so they will need to find some support among the opposition.

However, both BMD leader Serafim Urechean and PPCD leader Iurie Rosca said on 8 March they intend to boycott the vote in parliament in order to force new parliamentary elections. "We will not participate in parliament's vote for the president. That will trigger an early parliamentary election," Reuters quoted Urechean as saying on 8 March. Yet the boycott scenario depends on the two leaders' ability to enforce party discipline during the secret voting in parliament, as well as the certainty that a repeat vote would yield a more favorable outcome for a united opposition.

Neither of these conditions actually hold. A united opposition remains just a dream due to Urechean's questionable ability to control such a loose coalition of coalitions as the BMD. Similarly problematic is the anticipated solidarity between Urechean and Rosca. Rosca's most vicious attacks during the election campaign were directed at Urechean as they competed for the same right-of-center electorate. Also, their foreign-policy priorities are irreconcilable, with the PPCD vowing to curb Russia's political influence in Moldova, while the BMD supports stronger ties with Russia.

There is also great uncertainty as to whether a repeat poll would increase the opposition's showing. Rosca's PPCD has a stable backing of about 10 percent, but the BMD could actually lose ground, which would only help the Communists regain their constitutional majority.

Urechean's popularity has been greatly damaged because of his links to Moscow and the Transdniestrian separatists. Despite intense propaganda by separatist leader Igor Smirnov in favor of Urechean, the BMD only managed to do slightly better than the PCM in the small town of Varnitsa where Moldovans from Bender and Tiraspol cast their ballots. It is also quite unlikely that smaller parties that failed to pass the 6 percent barrier to make it into parliament will unite under Urechean's banner, let alone under Rosca's, to forge a single anti-Communist front.

Rather, such an uncompromising position reveals the opposition's intention to extract as many concessions as possible from acting President and PCM head Vladimir Voronin in exchange for those six necessary votes. A simple communist majority is enough for them form a government and elect the parliamentary speaker. For this reason, the opposition's support for Voronin's reelection would be just a one-time alliance. Nevertheless, it grants Rosca and Urechean great bargaining leverage.

At his first postelection press conference, Voronin reiterated the PCM's intent to seek support from among the rank-and-file members of the opposition, not their leaders. To this end, the Communists boast a rich experience of co-optation from the previous parliament. More than half of the deputies elected in 2001 from the Braghis Alliance, which is now part of the BMD, defected to the PCM, while occasionally an entire opposition parliamentary faction voted with the Communists. In an interview with France's "Le Figaro" on 9 March, Voronin revealed the possibility of collaborating with deputies from the Social Liberal Party and the Democratic Party -- both of which are part of the BMD -- to select the president and avoid early elections. The Communists could possibly offer the position of deputy speaker, cabinet portfolios, or, even diplomatic positions.

The fact that Voronin has not yet made public his intention to run for a second term points to the possibility of him dropping out in favor of an independent candidate favored by the opposition. Instead, Voronin could become speaker and move the center of power to parliament, consistent with Moldova's parliamentary republic. Another option to overcome the present deadlock would be to muster the two-thirds majority for modifying the constitution to reintroduce direct elections of the president. But, again, this would benefit Voronin and would also hinge on co-opting opposition deputies.

Moldova lacks the culture of compromise characteristic of Western politics, and its experience with a four-party coalition (Alliance for Democracy and Reforms) in 1998-2001 proved detrimental to effective governance. Policy reforms and their implementation were often compromised by interminable squabbles among the coalition's partners over the distribution of key portfolios. Such lack of solidarity would be especially undesirable now, when the new government faces the task of successfully enforcing the Action Plan it signed with the EU on 22 February to pave the way for Moldova's potential accession.

The Communist's victory in the 6 March election, although predictable, turned the logic of the transfer of power in the region upside-down. Voronin wholeheartedly embraced the slogans of victorious opposition forces in Romania, Georgia, and, Ukraine, in order to avoid a similar popular revolution in his own country. Conversely, Russia was compelled to seek partners among the Moldovan opposition.

A major challenge for Moldova's Communists remains staying firmly on course for European integration and securing concessions from Russia on restoring the country's territorial integrity. The new government should continue pressing for a broadening of the current five-party format for settling the Transdniester conflict to include the EU, United States, and, Romania. Such a change seems more likely in light of the international community's growing awareness of the serious security risks that Transdniester poses for Southeastern Europe.

The current elections also demonstrated the pragmatic approach of the West with regard to the ideological label of the ruling party. Policy stability, effective governance, and respect of the democratic rules of the game ranked higher on Western concerns than anticommunism. However, changing the party's name to reflect its social-democratic orientation is necessary to reflect its intended modernization. Voronin, for his part, reiterated at his first postelection press conference his desire to change the party's name.

In 2001, the PCM won the parliamentary vote by a wider margin, but that was largely a protest vote against the center-right coalition's failure in government. The 2005 electoral success, although short of an absolute majority, constitutes a confidence vote for the Communists' social, economic, and foreign-policy accomplishments during the past four years. The ruling party passed the minimum test for democracy, as foreign observers declared the elections consistent with international standards. But democratic institutions in the country are in urgent need of being strengthened and consolidated, hence the main objective for the renewed popular mandate.

The behind-the-scenes bargaining among the three winners of elections is well under way in Moldova. So far, the boycott scenario is just as unrealistic as an Orange Revolution. Reasonable compromises, and not early elections, are in the best interest of all parties.

Ilian Cashu is a Ph.D. student in political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University specializing in postcommunist social policy.

Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai told journalists in Kandahar city on 8 March that foreigners were behind the demonstrations that took place in the city on 7 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March), the Kabul daily "Cheragh" reported. Sherzai described the protests as an organized attack on government officials in the province and blamed "foreigners," naming the Taliban and Jaysh al-Muslimin for instigating the upheaval. According to Sherzai, the two groups organized the riots in order to create an opportunity for their comrades to escape from prison in Kandahar city. In an interview with "Cheragh," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal did not mention any involvement by opposition groups in the demonstrations. Sherzai, however, told journalists that four armed members of Jaysh al-Muslimin have been arrested in connection with the protests. It is not clear what Sherzai meant by describing these groups as foreigners. A group calling itself Jaysh al-Muslimin, which reportedly has broken away from the mainstream Taliban, briefly came under the spotlight when it claimed responsibility for the abduction of three foreign UN employees in October 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). AT

Major General Solaymankhayl, security commander for the southeastern Paktiya Province, said that talks with former Taliban officials have been "80 percent successful," Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 8 March. Solaymankhayl said that reconciliatory negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban were initiated by former governor of Paktiya, Hakim Taniwal, and have been continued by the province's current governor, Asadullah Wafa. Solaymankhayl did not elaborate on what 80 percent success means. In January, Wafa said that elders from Paktiya were mediating between the Taliban and Kabul, and in February, four former Taliban officials, all from Paktiya, announced that they will cooperate with the Afghan government (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 January 2005). AT

In an editorial on 7 March, the Herat biweekly "Payam-e Hambastagi" warned that negotiations with former Taliban officials will undermine peace and security in Afghanistan. The editorial said that some political parties in the country believe that Kabul's decision to negotiate with the Taliban is a "kind of political blackmail by Pakistan." The editorial also criticized Kabul's lack of transparency in not keeping the public informed about the negotiations, writing that Afghans first learned of them from "U.S. officials" regarding the issue. The commentary adds that Kabul "has formally recognized" the Taliban and "has ignored their crimes against humanity and their non-Islamic acts." "Payam-e Hambastagi" warns that, if former Taliban members begin to join the Afghan government, "they will undermine peace and the people's confidence in the government." The issue of reconciliation with most members of the Taliban was raised by President Hamid Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been discussed by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April 2004 and more recently by Afghan officials (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 28 April, 25 October, 8 November, 8 and 17 December 2004, and 25 February and 8 March 2005). AT

The assassination of Steve MacQueen, who was gunned down in Kabul on 7 March, may have been the work of Afghan drug lords, London's "The Independent" reported on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005). MacQueen worked as an adviser for the Afghan Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development and was involved in developing microcredit plans for opium farmers who wanted to grow alternative crops. A theory forwarded by "The Independent" suggests that MacQueen may have been targeted for his involvement in the microcredit scheme and for being a British citizen, since the United Kingdom is the lead country assisting Afghanistan's counternarcotics efforts. The claim by the neo-Taliban that the militia killed MacQueen has been met with skepticism by security sources in Kabul, who believe that the organization does not have the capability to carry out such attacks in Kabul. In the past, the neo-Taliban has claimed responsibility for actions that later were proven not to have been its work. AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected on 9 March recent remarks by U.S. President George W. Bush expressing concern over the lack of freedom in Iran and the country's nuclear activities, IRNA reported the same day. In a statement posted on the White House website, Bush told the National Defense University on 8 March that Iran's acquisition of nuclear bombs would threaten the region, and its government should "listen to [Iranians] who long for their liberty." Iran and Syria, he said, have a long history of support for terrorism. Assefi dismissed the remarks as "disseminating lies," and he accused the United States of supporting the "state terrorism" of Israel, IRNA reported. He said Bush should stop abusing terms like "terrorism" and "democracy," and "stop following the racist ideas" of the Israelis. The United States, he said, must respect the Iranian people's desire to use peaceful nuclear energy, IRNA reported. VS

Iranian Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in Tehran on 9 March that judiciary departments have been asked not to close down newspapers "as far as possible," though he added no formal directive has been issued in that regard, IRNA reported the same day. His comment followed a similar 28 February statement by the Tehran judiciary chief, Abbas Ali Alizadeh, indicating an informal relaxation of press restrictions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 March 2005). Iran has seen dozens of reformist papers closed in the past five years. Shahrudi told the press after a weekly meeting with members of the public that the judiciary has instructed departments to take action against specific persons -- like the author of an allegedly offending article -- rather than publications, IRNA reported. "The press can be a strong factor in preventing corruption among officials," he said. Separately, Shahrudi said the judiciary is currently processing "700 to 800" corruption dossiers relating to state officials. But he said one should not expect the highest officials to be prosecuted for the corruption of their subordinates. These offences, he said, are usually the work of "junior administrators," IRNA reported. VS

A branch of Iran's Supreme Court has lifted the ban on a reformist daily closed six years ago, IRNA and Radio Farda reported on 9 March, citing Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, an editor of the banned daily "Neshat" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 and 13 September 1999). "Branch 35 of the State Supreme Court has rescinded the rulings of the primary and appeal courts issued four years ago" against "Neshat," IRNA quoted Shamsolvaezin as saying. He said that the paper is free to publish again, though not before the presidential election set for June. Shamsolvaezin said that he, along with colleagues Latif Safari and Emadedin Baqi, who were jailed for press activities relating to the daily's closure, want the judiciary to compensate them for "moral and material damages," and the sentencing judge Said Mortazavi dismissed and disciplined. "We went to jail for 19 months [each]...because of his ruling," Shamsolvaezin told Radio Farda." VS

Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in Gorgan, northern Iran, on 9 March that he is unsure if he will run in the presidential election set for June, but insisted he wants to serve the country "as long as I live," news agencies reported the same day. "I am not trying to play politics in my positions regarding the elections, but have not yet reached a conclusion," ISNA quoted him as saying. Rafsanjani was president twice before 1997, but failed to win a seat for Tehran in parliamentary elections in 2000. Iran's clergy, he added, should "practise what we preach," though he said it is "rude" to suggest clerics constitute a new ruling class, IRNA and Radio Farda reported. Meanwhile, Ebrahim Yazdi, a former Islamic Republic foreign minister now turned dissident, announced in Tehran on 8 March that he will run for the presidency, if approved by electoral authorities, "Sharq" reported on 9 March. Yazdi is secretary-general of the Iran Freedom Movement, a liberal group the government does not formally recognize as a party. Electoral supervisors have previously rejected his candidacy several times. VS

Militants posing as police officers assassinated a Baghdad police chief, Ahmad Ubayyis, on 10 March after stopping his truck at a fake checkpoint, Reuters reported. The militants asked his identity before killing him, and reportedly filmed the attack, police said. Ubayyis was en route to work when the attack happened; two other policemen were killed in the attack. Militants posing as police detonated an explosives-packed garbage truck outside the Al-Sadir Hotel and Agriculture Ministry on 9 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). Jama'at Al-Tawhid Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for that attack. KR

Negotiations between the United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdish groups have led to an agreement on the composition of the Presidency Council in the transitional government, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 9 March. Citing unspecified sources, the news channel said that Patriotic Union of Kurdistan head Jalal Talabani will assume the presidency while interim Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi and interim Industry Minister Hajim al-Hasani will assume the deputy presidential posts. Meanwhile, Amman's "Al-Ghadd" reported on 10 March that interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is in Jordan for meetings with Iraqi figures on the commencement of the transitional National Assembly. London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 9 March that the alliance agreed that the Transitional Administrative Law will be the legal term of reference for the next government in dealing with the issue of Kirkuk. KR

Mahdi al-Hafiz survived an attack on his motorcade in Baghdad on 9 March that killed two of his bodyguards and injured a third, Al-Arabiyah television reported on the same day. Al-Hafiz told the satellite news channel said he does not know why he was targeted, adding: "I want to emphasize that such terrorist actions will not prevent us from working to rescue the country and restore peace and calm to Iraq and to the peaceful Iraqi people." Reuters reported on 10 March that foreign security guards, not assassins, were behind the attack. The security guards were working for a Western company in the Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad. Al-Hafiz was traveling to visit former Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi when the attack occurred, Reuters reported. KR

The newly elected Al-Najaf Governorate Council has elected Asad Abu Kalal as governor at a 8 March meeting in Al-Najaf, reported on 9 March. Abu Kalal is a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Abd al-Husayn Abtan was elected deputy governor, and Abd al-Husayn al-Musawi, an independent, was elected as chairman of the governorate council, the website reported. Two SCIRI officials were elected as deputies. Interim Governor Adnan al-Zurfi said of the election: "I believe this is a democratic process. I will remain a member in the new council. It is up to my brothers in the council to appoint me to any other position." KR

The European Union Presidency in Brussels expressed regret on 9 March over Baghdad's decision to withdraw its support for the International Criminal Court (ICC), AFP reported on the same day. The interim government became a signatory to the Rome Statute on 17 February, only to withdraw its support on 2 March. The EU presidency said that it hopes Iraq "will go back on the decision and that Iraq will adhere to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court when the time comes." KR