Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - September 14, 2005

Sergei Ivanov arrived in Berlin on 13 September for an informal meeting with NATO defense ministers, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 September. The meeting is to focus on efforts to combat international terrorism and emerging threats to global security. Ivanov is also to hold separate, bilateral meetings with his counterparts from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Speaking at a press conference at the Russian Embassy in Germany, Ivanov warned that Russia will revise its foreign policies on Ukraine and Georgia if those states join NATO, adding that such revisions "will not touch only on the military aspects" of those relations. VY

At the same press conference, Ivanov said on 13 September that disagreements remain between Russia and NATO, including on their interpretation of democracy in the post-Soviet space, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said Russia and NATO have different interpretations of the crackdown by the Uzbek government in Andijon in May, with NATO believing government troops fired on a peaceful demonstration and Russia believing that armed demonstrators were attempting to seize power. Ivanov also dismissed opposition by the Baltic states and Poland to the Northern European pipeline linking Germany and Russia that is to be laid on the floor of the Baltic Sea, thus circumventing the former states. "There is no politics in this case, only various phobias existing in Latvia or Lithuania," RIA-Novosti quoted Ivanov as saying. VY

Speaking to journalists after his meeting in Moscow on 13 September with presidential chief of staff Dmitrii Medvedev, Ukrainian acting State Secretary Oleh Rybachuk said the purpose of his trip was to establish personal contacts and facilitate cooperation with his Russian counterpart, RTR reported. Rybachuk, who was serving as deputy prime minister for European integration when he was appointed acting state secretary following the resignation on 5 September of Oleksandr Zinchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005), said that there is no contradiction in strengthening contacts with Moscow as Ukraine pursues European integration. Rybachuk said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 13 September that his talks with Medvedev "exceeded his greatest expectations" and that they frankly discussed topics "that diplomats usually avoid." VY

National Strategy Institute founder Stanislav Belkovskii has predicted that ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko will lead a united opposition to victory in Ukraine's parliamentary elections next March, reported on 13 September. Belkovskii, who in April accurately predicted Tymoshenko's resignation in September, said that in the event of a Tymoshenko victory she will not include supporters of President Viktor Yushchenko in a new government. On 9 September, National Strategy Institute Vice President Viktor Militarev said Tymoshenko is "much less evil for Russia than Yushchenko," reported. VY

Speaking during a 13 September press conference organized by the National Strategy Institute, Belkovskii said that he has information that President Putin has already firmly decided not to seek a third term as president and that all "initiatives about his third term are no more than a smoke screen," reported. Belkovskii said the Kremlin has already selected a list of potential candidates topped by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. Among other possible suitors are Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, and Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev. Belkovskii speculated that Putin personally is more inclined to support Mironov. As for Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, his candidacy is not an option now due to his lack of popularity, Belkovskii said. VY

President Vladimir Putin arrived on 14 September in New York, where he is to attend the UN World Summit marking the organization's 60th anniversary, Russian media reported. More than 150 heads of state are to be on hand for the summit, which is expected to discuss ways to reform the world body, reported. Putin is expected during his trip to sign an international convention on combating nuclear terrorism that Russia earlier proposed to the UN General Assembly. He is also expected to meet on 15 September with foreign leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, and high-ranking members of the Russian Orthodox Church in New York. He is to fly to Washington for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on 16 September. VY

During his 13 September press conference, Defense Minister Ivanov expressed Russia's concern with the rapid increase of drug trafficking from Afghanistan, which he described as "narco-aggression," RTR and RIA-Novosti reported on 13 September. Ivanov said an estimated 360 tons of drugs were produced in Afghanistan in 2003, 420 tons in 2004, and the level is expected to reach 500 tons this year. Ivanov said that revenues generated in Afghanistan from drug trafficking -- which he estimated at $30 billion a year -- are used to fund terrorist and extremist acts abroad. VY

"Vedomosti" reported on 13 September, citing an unidentified Kremlin official, that the presidential administration has not found a worthy successor to replace Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich and therefore will not allow him to resign. The source noted that Chukotka is an "unprofitable project" for Abramovich, but said he has "brought order to the region." According to Konstantin Pulikovskii, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, Abramovich performs "better than any other leader in the district." Abramovich's term officially expires in December 2005. The daily noted that Abramovich has not let his duties as governor stand in the way of other pursuits: he still managed to acquire a controlling interest in the British soccer club Chelsea in 2003 and he sold his shares in Rusal to Oleg Deripaska. Sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya commented that the Kremlin must not want Abramovich to leave Russia. "If he weren't governor, he would sell his business ventures here and leave Russia. That would [register] as a damaging blow to Russia's image," she said. "It would generate another wave of speculation about the riskiness of investing in Russia." JAC

At a meeting on 12 September, Sibneft shareholders freed future buyers of the company from having to purchase minority shareholder's shares that would cost $4 billion, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 September. Abramovich's Millhouse Capital manages 72.5 percent of Sibneft's shares. According to Reuters, this decision by shareholders paves the way for the expected sale of the company by a group of the core owners led by Abramovich. Yukos owns a 20 percent stake in the company. JAC

Deputy Health and Social Development Minister Vladimir Starodubov told reporters on 13 September that the federal government plans to allocate 3.1 billion rubles ($110 million) in next year's budget to prevent and treat AIDS, an amount that would be 20 times the current amount of 150 million rubles, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. Starodubov promised that in 2006, "all those who need medicine [for AIDS prevention] will be able to get them." Vadim Pokrovskii of the Federal AIDS Center told AP in January that his center estimates that $161.7 million per year is needed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). He said that heterosexual intercourse is becoming an increasingly common method of HIV transmission in Russia. "In some regions, as many as half of new infections were the result of heterosexual intercourse," Pokrovskii said. JAC

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry for Omsk Oblast reported that an increasing number of women in the region are becoming infected with HIV, reported on 13 September, citing "Vremya Omskoe." Previously, the male-female ratio of HIV infection was 6:1 while now it is 2.7:1. An increase in the rate of HIV infection among rural residents since 2001 has also been recorded. JAC

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 13 September, State Duma deputy (Motherland) Nikolai Pavlov charged that literally hundreds of "black lobbyists" who have no relationship to the work of the parliament roam the halls of the Duma on a daily basis. Pavlov claimed that these lobbyists try to meet with legislators in order to buy their influence, and that the volume of this illegal lobbying adds up to millions of dollars. Pavlov suggested that to combat bribery in the lower legislative chamber it is necessary to adopt a law on lobbying, adding that such a bill was introduced to the State Duma in December 2003 by the then-leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces Irina Khakamada and Boris Nemtsov. Vyachelsav Nikonov of Politika Foundation commented that the situation in the Duma is far better than when the chamber was privatized by a series of oligarchic clans. "Yukos was the most effective lobbyist in the Duma," he said. "At the beginning of the century even amendments that had been initiated by the government could not make it through the Duma without the agreement of the lobbyists from Yukos or the company's leadership." JAC

REN-TV reported on 13 September that Moscow's annual International Book Fair featured numerous xenophobic and anti-Semitic publications. According to the station, the Algoritm publishing house offered books such as "Russophobia," "Notes By A Russian Extremist," and "The Jewish Issue in Russia." According to a public-relations director for the company, Algoritm has a "conspiracy of lawlessness" series, the third book of which deals with "Zionist plots" in Russia. The Russian Jewish Congress and the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights sent an open letter to the Russian Union of Book Publishers noting that publishing such literature is against Russian law, PRIMA-News reported on 12 August. JAC

Moscow city authorities plan to ask the Constitutional Court to judge the constitutionality of the federal Housing Code, RBK reported on 13 September. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said during a press conference the same day that the Housing Code, rather than improving the housing conditions of Russians, actually worsens them and violates their constitutional rights. He said that owners are allowed to do anything they want to their apartments in terms of renovations and that their neighbors have no legal recourse. Luzhkov added that the law does not take into account the experience of the federation subjects, reported. According to, the Housing Code came into force on 1 March of this year. On 4 December, Moscow voters will go to the polls to elect legislators for its City Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2005). JAC

Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on 13 September that the government has formally granted permission for the Iranian company Sanir to continue construction of the second section of a natural-gas pipeline connecting Armenia and Iran, Arminfo reported. Construction of the first section of the new Armenia-Iran gas pipeline is under way and the Armenian government is still engaged in an environmental-impact study of the full route. Energy Minister Movsisian also reported that the Iranian MAP group will complete the fifth energy unit of Armenia's Razdan thermal power plant. The first significant bilateral agreement on the 140-kilometer Armenia-Iran gas pipeline was reached in September 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001). RG

The annual joint military exercises between Armenia and Russia ended on 13 September, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo. The four-day exercises consisted of about 1,000 soldiers and dozens of tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, and two Russian MiG-29 fighter jets, in a simulated counteroffensive held at the Marshall Bagramyan Training Ground 40 kilometers west of Yerevan. The live-fire simulation included a training scenario that featured a coordinated Armenian and Russian infantry response designed to repel an imaginary invading force. The invasion scenario also presented a simulated enemy advance on the Armenian nuclear power station. Two motor-rifle regiments, the 128th motor-rifle regiment of the 102nd Russian base in Gumri and the 545th motor-rifle regiment of the Armenian armed forces participated in the exercises. The closing phase of the military exercise was attended by Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, along with several senior Russian officers and officials from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The joint exercises have been held annually for the past decade. RG

Armenian Deputy Trade Minister Tigran Davitian reported on 13 September that foreign direct investment in Armenia increased by 11.6 percent, to almost $140 million for the first half of the year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The increased investment was attributed by Armenian officials to the partial liberalization of the country's mobile-phone sector, noting competition between ArmenTel, Armenia's Greek-owned national telecommunications operator, and the Lebanese-owned cellular phone company VivaCell. Although ArmenTel was Armenia's single largest foreign investor, at $58 million, it is unknown to what degree ArmenTel reinvested in its underdeveloped wireless network that suffered widespread and repeated outage for most of July. Foreign investment in 2004 reached a record-high level of $305 million, and is expected to be surpassed in 2005 with significant investments by Russian and other foreign firms in the Armenian construction and mining sectors. RG

Following a meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and the leaders of the three-party government coalition late on 12 September, the country's national referendum on a set of proposed constitutional amendments is "tentatively set" for 20 November, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The announcement follows repeated delays and a warning earlier in the day by parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasaryan that the Armenian public remains largely apathetic toward the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September). The country's opposition parties have criticized the proposed changes to the constitution as being too weak for real reform, and argue that the referendum can only pass via voter fraud and irregularities by the authorities. RG

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) convened a one-day meeting in Paris on 12 September with Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia's A1+ and Azerbaijan's ANS-TV reported. The meeting, held under the auspices of a special PACE ad hoc subcommittee on the conflict, also included Goran Lenmarker, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Special Representative on Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict; Heikki Talvitie, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus; and officials from the OSCE Minsk Group. The Armenian side was represented by Varuzhan Nersessian, the head of the OSCE Department of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, and Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov represented the Azerbaijan side. The OSCE-mediation of the unresolved Karabakh conflict has assumed a more dynamic pace in recent months, with both Armenia and Azerbaijan participating in a series of presidential and ministerial meetings. The PACE subcommittee is scheduled to hold another session in mid-December. RG

In a formal ceremony in New York, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement on 12 September for the disbursement of a new $295.3 million aid package, the Caucasus Press and RFE/RL reported. Some two-thirds of the five-year aid package, coordinated by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, consists of four projects targeting the development and modernization of the infrastructure of the poorest regions of Georgia. Secretary of State Rice heralded the aid as a clear demonstration of the U.S. commitment to Georgia and promised that "our partnership will only to grow stronger as Georgia continues to establish the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, an independent media, a free economy and accountable, effective institutions of government." The aid is roughly $100 million more than Georgian officials initially expected during negotiations with U.S. officials in Washington earlier this year. The ceremony coincided with Saakashvili's participation in the opening of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly. Saakashvili also discussed the status of the unresolved Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts with Secretary Rice, and called for a "more active involvement" by the United States in the conflict-resolution process, Rustavi-2 TV reported. RG

A meeting of the bilateral Georgian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission on Commerce opened on 13 September in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 TV reported. With bilateral trade last year limited to only $506 million, the focus of the two-day meeting is on measures to expand bilateral trade, ease trade barriers, and modernize customs facilities at the main Sarpi border-crossing point. The head of the Turkish delegation, State Minister Kursad Tuzmen, announced that Turkey "aims to increase our bilateral-trade volume with Georgia to $6 billion within three years," and predicted that Turkish foreign investment in Georgia is expected to reach $1 billion by 2008. The Turkish minister also proposed the establishment of a regional free-trade zone for countries bordering the Black Sea. Georgian President Saakashvili, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, and various ministers are all scheduled to participate in the meetings. RG

Erasyl Abilkasymov, a deputy to the lower house of Kazakhstan's parliament, told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 13 September that he plans to take part in the 4 December presidential election. Abilkasymov represents the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan. Other candidates who have declared their intention to run are President Nursultan Nazarbaev; Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan; and Ualikhan Kaisarov, a deputy to the upper house of parliament. DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev has issued a decree removing Amangeldi Muraliev from the post of economic development minister and appointing Almaz Atambaev acting minister to replace him, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 13 September. Atambaev is a successful businessman who supported the opposition alliance that came to power when demonstrations brought down former President Askar Akaev on 24 March. The report noted that some observers saw Atambaev's appointment as a sign that the influence of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov is strengthening. DK

Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu told a news conference in Bishkek on 13 September that he has appealed to President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, and other officials to condemn nepotism and cronyism in diplomatic appointments, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakir uulu said that the practice of appointing individuals who are close to the ruling "family" needs to end. Bakir uulu said that handing out diplomatic postings to officials, ex-deputies, and businessmen who "don't know how to hold a knife and a fork and don't know a single foreign language...only harms the image of Kyrgyzstan's young state and ancient people." His remarks come against the backdrop of critical reactions to President Bakiev's recent decision to appoint his brother as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany. DK

The Kyrgyz and Japanese governments have signed an agreement to restructure Kyrgyzstan's $239 million debt to Japan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 13 September, citing Kyrgyzstan's Finance Ministry. Under the restructuring, Kyrgyzstan will now have 40 years to pay off the debt, with a 13-year grace period of paying 1.3-percent interest. DK

Miroslav Niyazov, secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, told journalists in Osh on 13 September that police arrested a suspect in the recent murder of local businessman Abdalim Junusov. The killing, which is believed to be linked to a dispute over ownership of the market in Karasuu, led to a brief outburst of unrest in Karasuu on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2005). DK

Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan met with Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloev in Dusanbe on 13 September, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Cao Gangchuan told journalists after the meeting that the purpose of his visit was to explore ways of expanding Chinese-Tajik military and technical cooperation. DK

Police recently arrested four suspected activists for the banned radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir as they were trying to distribute leaflets outside the main mosque in Khujand, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 13 September. The arrests marked the second incident involving Hizb ut-Tahrir in Sughd Province over the past week. Between 6-13 September, a total of 12 suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir activists were arrested, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 September. DK

A civil court in Tashkent ruled on 12 September to suspend for six months the activities of U.S.-based exchange organization IREX, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The court argued that IREX had engaged in activities and pursued goals not covered by the organization's charter. In a press release published on IREX's website on 13 September, President Mark G. Pomar stated, "Suspending the activities of IREX in Uzbekistan is an unfortunate step that will impede the development of Uzbek civil society and the strengthening of higher education." The press release called the move "part of a broader trend by the Uzbek government to close down both international and local nongovernmental organizations." Other international organizations that have been forced by court decisions to curtail or end their operations in Uzbekistan include the Open Society Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) and, only days ago, Internews (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2005). DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka is to attend this week's UN summit in New York, Belarusian media reported on 13 September. The U.S. Embassy in Minsk issued a statement saying a visa has been issued to Lukashenka under its obligation, as the host of UN headquarters, to allow entry to leaders attending its events, Reuters reported. Lukashenka, on whom EU countries have imposed travel restrictions over systematic violations of human rights, makes rare visits to the West. The last time he visited the United States was in 2000, for a previous UN summit. A 2003 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe report charged that former and present Belarusian officials were involved in arranging the disappearance of opposition figures in 1999 and 2000 and that "steps were taken at the highest level of the state to actively cover up the true background of the disappearances" (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 August 2004). JM

Viktor Yushchenko, acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and leaders of various parliamentary groups on 13 September signed a Declaration of Unity and Cooperation for the Future, Ukrainian and international media reported. The signatories agreed to pool their efforts "to secure the interests of the Ukrainian people, improve their welfare, consolidate society, and boost Ukraine's authority in the world." "This is the right step to show the nation that in this difficult time, before a parliamentary election, the political elite has united and showed its attitude to democracy, property, and business issues," Reuters quoted Yushchenko as saying at the signing ceremony. The parliamentary groups that joined the declaration reportedly comprise 237 deputies out of 425. There are currently 25 vacancies in the 450-seat Ukrainian legislature. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Social Democratic Party (united), the Communist Party, the United Ukraine group, and the Reform and Order Party did not sign the declaration. JM

In an interview with AP on 13 September, President Yushchenko accused former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko of abuse of office and said he fired her as a "matter of honor" because she abandoned the ideals of last year's Orange Revolution. Yushchenko accused Tymoshenko of trying to use her cabinet position to write off $1.5 billion worth of state debts of the Unified Energy System of Ukraine, now a defunct company Tymoshenko headed from 1995-97. Yushchenko also alleged that in addition to trying to have Unified Energy System's debts to the state written off, Tymoshenko also tried to cancel its debts to Russia. "The behavior that Yuliya Volodymyrovna displayed in government, and [within] the circle of her allies, was...contrary to state interests," Yushchenko said. Tymoshenko told AP that Yushchenko's charges are a shock to her, adding that he is trying to revive the "old repression that [former President Leonid] Kuchma used against me and my family." JM

Ukraine's gross domestic product (GDP) in August fell by 1.6 percent compared to that in August 2004, while January-August growth in GDP amounted to 2.8 percent, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 13 September, quoting a source in the government. In 2004, the Ukrainian government reported a 12 percent growth in GDP. Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinak said on 14 September that the government downgraded the expected GDP growth in 2005 to 4 percent from the 8.2 percent predicted in the beginning of this year. JM

The Republika Srpska parliament approved a resolution on 13 September rejecting the police reform package backed by the EU and the central authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August and 13 September 2005). The resolution called on the Bosnian Serb government to keep conducting negotiations with the central government and Croat-Muslim federation on the matter. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Pero Bukejlovic said that he hopes that "reason will prevail" and that discussions will indeed continue. Bosnia must present a plan for police reform to Brussels by 15 September or at least have an agreement on the matter signed and ready if it expects to start Stabilization and Association talks. The Bosnian Serb parliament's refusal to endorse the reform means that Bosnia's hopes of launching such talks probably have been dashed for 2005. Failure to reform the police along nonethnic administrative lines is the main obstacle to Bosnia's integration into the EU. The Bosnian Serbs consider the proposed police reform unconstitutional and a threat to the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska because the proposed police administrative boundaries will cross entity lines and deny each entity control of its own security forces. PM

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo on 13 September that forces of the EU's EUFOR peacekeeping mission and local police have been searching residents of Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital and their cars for the past two days. A EUFOR spokesman said that the peacekeepers are helping local police prevent unspecified "criminal activities." But officials in Sarajevo Canton's Interior Ministry told RFE/RL that the situation is the other way around and that the police are helping EUFOR in carrying out its mandate set down in the 1995 Dayton peace agreements. The officials noted, however, that not even the local police have the legal right to search citizens without due cause and a court order. Former Interior Minister Nermin Pecanac told the broadcaster that peacekeepers should say so if they have concrete suspicions regarding a possible crime, adding that nobody has the right to search cars and drivers without due cause. Srdjan Dizdarevic, who heads Bosnia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, told RFE/RL that he has no possibility of registering a complaint about the searches because EUFOR, the Office of the High Representative, and other unnamed international institutions have made themselves immune from prosecution before Bosnian courts (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2003 and 15 July 2005). PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic said in Belgrade on 13 September that Sredoje Lukic, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted for crimes against humanity, has turned himself in voluntarily to Bosnian Serb police at an undisclosed location, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. It is not clear when he will fly to the Netherlands. His brother, Milan Lukic, was recently arrested in Argentina and is awaiting extradition to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 August 2005). Both men are wanted in connection with atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1992-95 conflict there, particularly in the Visegrad area. PM

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova announced on 13 September that he has formed a four-member negotiating team for the talks on the province's final status, which are widely expected to begin later in 2005, Reuters reported. The team will consist of parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci and Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi from the governing coalition and Hashim Thaci and Veton Surroi from the opposition. Rugova said in a statement that all parties must join together for the negotiations and called on the opposition to leave political differences aside. Meanwhile in Mitrovica, Kosovar Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic dismissed the team as an "Albanian delegation" that cannot speak in the name of the local Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. At Belgrade's behest, most local Serbian politicians do not take part in the working of Kosova's elected institutions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May and 9 September 2005). PM

Adem Demaci, who is known as "Kosova's Mandela" for the long years he spent in communist prisons without compromising his principles, told the Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski list" of 14 September that there will be a new wave of violence in Kosova if the international community does not soon begin a process leading to Kosova's independence, the private Beta news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). Demaci warned that "official Belgrade's formula [for Kosova] of 'more than autonomy, less than independence' is a formula for new bloodshed, fire...and hell in Kosova." He stressed that the Albanians insist on independence but will "accept" the local Serbs if the Serbs "accept the real situation" in the province, in which the Albanians make up 90 percent of the population. Demaci warned of unrest if the international community forces Kosova to remain in any form of union with Serbia. PM

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic on 13 September confirmed a government decision to sack Dragan Pajovic as warden of the top-security Spuz prison and replace him with Bozidar Vuksanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 2 and 6 September 2005). Police recently launched a controversial raid on the prison in which several inmates were beaten. Police discovered cell phones and other evidence suggesting that some inmates were still actively conducting criminal activities from inside prison, including planning the recent murder of a top police official. PM

Infotag reported on 13 September that "gigantic" lines of Transdniestrian residents wishing to receive Ukrainian citizenship and Ukrainian foreign-travel passports can be seen in front of the Ukrainian Ethnic Community of Transdniester headquarters in Tiraspol this week. In accordance with amendments to a law on Ukrainian citizenship introduced by the Ukrainian parliament in July, Ukrainian citizenship may now be given to people having Ukrainian roots or whose ancestors lived in Transdniester before October 1940, that is, when the region -- which was called the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic at that time -- was part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The community will reportedly make public lists of Transdniestrians who are eligible to receive Ukrainian citizenship within the next three months. JM

Afghan voters go to polling stations on 18 September to choose their first parliament in more than three decades. When they do, they will be choosing candidates identified on ballot papers not only by their names but also by a complicated system of symbols. The symbols are necessary because a large majority of Afghanistan's voters are illiterate.

A cow, a duck, an ice cream cone, a bicycle, or a cell phone. These are some of the choices Afghan voters will see on their ballot papers alongside photographs of each candidate when they go to polling stations on 18 September.

UN and Afghan election organizers in the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) consider the symbols necessary to help illiterate voters identify the candidates of their choice.

"With 5,800 candidates standing, obviously one of the most challenging parts of the ballot-paper production was how do we present the candidates in a format that voters can locate and find and indicate the candidate they wish to vote for as quickly as possible," JEMB spokesman Aleem Siddique explained. "In Afghanistan, illiteracy has been a particular hurdle for us. With women, illiteracy rates can run as high as 85 percent in Afghanistan and with men it's up to 55 percent. So one of the key features of the ballot paper to help voters is that we've introduced a symbol to find, locate the candidate on polling day with greater ease."

As in the Afghan presidential election in October 2004, a photograph of each candidate will appear on the ballot next to his name and symbol. But in the presidential race, there were only 18 candidates. With so many candidates in the parliamentary elections, the JEMB says there is a significant chance that photographs may be very similar -- causing confusion for voters (for a sample, see the JEMB's website:

Siddique said the experience of using a numbering system during Afghanistan's Loya Jirga process in 2003 also shows that many illiterate Afghan voters struggle to cope with more than a single-digit number. So the JEMB has created ballot papers for the parliamentary vote that combine photographs of each candidate with their name, a candidate number, and the unusual system of symbols.

"Another feature of the ballot paper that we've introduced is that a photograph of each of the candidates is listed alongside their name and number," Siddique said. "Both the symbol and the photograph, we think, will help [voters] to find the candidate of their choice quickly on polling day."

Candidates have been busy trying to acquaint voters with the symbols they will use on the ballots by distributing leaflets and posters bearing the black-and-white marks alongside their photographs.

Some of the symbols are items that had been banned by the Taliban regime -- an audio cassette, a television, or equipment for sports like soccer and cricket.

In Kabul, Mohammad Siddiq Chakari's posters feature a mobile telephone. Ayatollah Allahyar's symbol is a camel while Abdul Ghafar Dawi's is a horse. Anahita Adar, one of many women running for parliament in Kabul, has two pairs of scissors for her symbol.

Sayid Ilmi owns a small shop in central Kabul where he sells fabrics and hand-carved stone artifacts. Ilmi said the candidate symbols are a good idea.

"The symbols are very important for the people of Afghanistan because 80 percent of them cannot read or write," Ilmi told RFE/RL. "So these symbols are like pictures. They can see the symbols of their candidate of choice and know how to vote for them. [For example], I know that the symbol of the television is the symbol for [Yunos] Qanuni. Every day and night, the national Afghan television is giving information to help the people know which symbol is their candidate."

In fact, candidate symbols also were used during the Afghan presidential election last year. In that election, each candidate was allowed to design their own symbol. But the JEMB decided to design the symbols for the parliamentary vote rather than allowing each candidates to do so.

Siddique explained that many would likely have chosen similar symbols -- especially symbols of cultural and historical significance like the Afghan flag or the Koran. Use of religious or historical symbols was ruled out so that some candidates wouldn't gain an unfair advantage.

Using the symbols of political parties also was ruled out because the parties are likely to support more than one candidate in many of the 69 different races -- so the symbols would not uniquely identify the candidates on the ballot. Party symbols also would cause problems for the many candidates who are running as independents.

Siddique said the JEMB also wanted to prevent the use of symbols that are culturally unacceptable to Afghans -- or that might incite and promote beliefs or behavior contrary to democratic values. "The symbols were allocated to the candidates at the candidate-nomination period," he said. "When the candidate stepped forward for nomination, they had a choice of three symbols which were literally pulled out of a hat by the candidate. And then the candidate could choose which symbol meant the most to them. And the other two symbols were put back into the hat. A lot of thought and consideration went into choosing these symbols. We held extensive focus-group research with communities across Afghanistan to ensure that they were culturally sensitive and appropriate to the people of Afghanistan."

Mohammad Isaq, who is running for a seat in the Wolesi Jirga as an independent candidate from Kapisa Province, told RFE/RL that he is happy with the symbol he randomly drew. "The symbols that we have on our ballot papers were presented to us by the JEMB. They gave us three chances [to randomly draw symbols]. Fortunately, the choice I drew included a deer. So I am happy," he said. "But many candidates are unhappy about the symbols they drew."

With so many candidates, the JEMB also had to double and triple the use of some symbols. So a candidate with the symbol of an apple will compete against others with two or three apples.

The symbol system has led to jokes amongst Afghans about voters who might mistakenly think they will get a car or an airplane if they vote for a candidate with that symbol.

The UN Security Council extended on 13 September the NATO-led multinational force in Afghanistan for another year, international agencies reported. "The situation in Afghanistan still constitutes a threat to international peace and security," the council said in a unanimously adopted statement. The resolution also urged governments to send more troops, equipment, and money to bolster the International Security Assistance Force, which currently numbers about 10,000. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 13 September that the United States, which has about 19,000 troops in Afghanistan, would like to see NATO troops ultimately take control of the operations currently handled by the U.S.-led coalition, AP reported. Rumsfeld did not set a specific timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. CP

Hamid Karzai urged his fellow Afghans on 13 September to elect honest candidates when they vote on 18 September, and asked them to go to the polls freely and without fear, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "If you have any complaints regarding official interference, inform the authorities, who will initiate action against the responsible people," Karzai said. Speaking to an audience in western Herat, the president also pledged to focus on education, road construction, rebuilding a historic mosque, and other public welfare projects in the province. He said that improving the network of roads in the province will help spur business growth as more people will be able to deliver their agricultural products. CP

Syed Mohammad Fatemi said on 13 September that Afghanistan will need $233 million to address its health problems over the next five years, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Speaking upon his return to Kabul after a 13-day visit to the United States, Fatemi said that rising infant and maternal mortality, as well as the lack of hospitals and other medical facilities, were the main concerns facing the Health Ministry. According to Fatemi, the United States has pledged to establish centers for emergency care and to send a delegation to assess medical needs. CP

The Afghan government has rebuffed Pakistan's proposal to build a fence between the two countries in order to curb cross-border violence, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 13 September. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told reporters that the countries first needed to demarcate the border under international law before discussing a barrier. When asked to comment on the situation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Navid Ahmad Maez said Pakistan has not formally contacted Afghanistan with its proposal, which he called a suggestion rather than a concrete plan. CP

Mahmud Ahmadinejad left for New York on 13 September, state television reported. Before leaving Tehran, Ahmadinejad suggested this will be an opportunity to discuss the contentious nuclear issue, saying, "We believe that nuclear energy is a divine gift. It...belongs to all nations and all people. All of the people on the surface of the Earth have the right to use this clean energy." Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on 14 September. Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said on 13 September that the Iranian president will probably submit his suggestions on how to proceed on the atomic front, ISNA reported. "Naturally we cannot know what promises to be an innovative idea, but we have heard a few things and have an idea what the framework of his talks will be. However, he will reveal the plan," Aqamohammadi said, adding that rejection of the plan will hurt those who have benefited from dialogue with Iran. BS

Tehran has submitted a 131-page response to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei's earlier report on the Iranian nuclear program, IRNA reported on 13 September. The IAEA report called for greater cooperation and transparency on Iran's part, and it referred to some specific concerns (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 September 2005). The Iranian response stressed Tehran's belief that the issue has become politicized and said the IAEA is being swayed by a propaganda campaign. The response referred to efforts to divert attention from recent violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by other countries, the proliferation of nuclear warheads, and the purported Israeli threat. BS

Masumeh Shafii, the wife of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, told Radio Farda on 13 September that she has not seen or heard from her husband for 18 days. Ganji recently ended a hunger strike. Jamal Karimirad, who serves as the judiciary spokesman and the justice minister, said on 12 September that Ganji is being kept in shared cell at Evin prison while he recuperates, Radio Farda reported on 13 September. However, Tehran prisons chief Sohrab Suleimani has said that Ganji is in medical quarantine. If Ganji is in quarantine, Shafii asked, what kind of quarantine does not allow him to use the telephone? Shafii told Radio Farda that prison authorities have sent Ganji to solitary confinement. Whenever she asks about her husband, she continued, the authorities refer her to Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi. BS

Ahmadinejad has appointed his brother, Davud Ahmadinejad, as his adviser and chief of the presidential inspectorate, state radio reported on 13 September. State radio noted that presidents tend to appoint close relatives to this position -- Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami selected his brother, Ali, and Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani selected his son, Mohsen. In addition, Ahmadinejad has selected Fada Hussein Maleki as secretary of the Drug Control Headquarters and Tehran municipal council head Mehdi Chamran as a special adviser, IRNA reported on 13 September. Ahmadinejad will appoint Tehran municipal council member Masud Zaribafan as his spokesman, Mehr News Agency reported on 12 September, citing an anonymous "informed source." Zaribafan is a member of two hard-line political organizations, the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) and the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami). Zaribafan was mayor of Mahabad and deputy governor of Kurdistan Province. Ahmadinejad appointed Parviz Davudi as his first vice president on 10 September, IRNA reported. BS

Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, headed by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, announced in a 14 September Internet statement that the "raid for avenging the Sunni people of Tal Afar has begun" ( Addressing the nation of Islam, the statement said the battles began yesterday: "The battalions of monotheism have set out pledging to die in support of the faith and its people. They were spearheaded by the best of the battalions, the Al-Bara bin Malik Battalion." That battalion is named after a Muslim warrior who threw himself into the midst of an enemy; jihadists consider him to be an example of early Islamic martyrdom. Addressing the insurgent fighters, the statement said: "You have followed the footsteps of the prophet and his guidance. You have not shirked your responsibility." The statement, addressing the Islamic nation, continued: "We will bring you more details once we receive reports about operations in Baghdad and other cities. We want your prayers, o nation of Islam." KR

A suicide bomber lured day laborers into a minivan with promises of work in the Al-Kadhimiyah district of Baghdad on 14 September and detonated the vehicle, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Initial reports indicated at least 114 were killed in the blast, and more than 156 wounded. An Interior Ministry source estimated the vehicle contained up to 500 pounds (220 kilograms) of explosives. A second car bomb detonated in central Baghdad hours later, and two subsequent car bombs followed, Reuters reported. The news agency said one of the blasts targeted the offices of a Shi'ite cleric in the Shu'lah district of Baghdad, killing five and wounding 24. In another attack, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near civilians queuing to fill gas canisters, killing at least 11 and wounding 14, police said. Three police officers were killed and three civilians were wounded in a separate car bomb attack on a police convoy in the Adil district of western Baghdad. Al-Jazeera reports that car bombs also detonated in Al-Waziriyah, killing two and wounding seven, and in nearby Al-Amiriyah. A ninth car bomb detonated in Al-Allawi district; and a 10th targeted a U.S. patrol in the Al-Salihiyah area of Baghdad. KR

Gunmen disguised in Iraqi military uniforms stormed houses in the Sunni-Shi'ite town of Al-Taji north of Baghdad overnight on 13-14 September, dragged male residents outside, and shot them dead, international media reported on 14 September. Al-Jazeera identified the victims as Shi'ite members of the Al-Bu Ta'mim tribe. AP cited Police Lieutenant Walid al-Hayali as saying that gunmen detained the victims after searching the village. The victims were handcuffed and blindfolded and shot about 1.5 kilometers from the village. KR

Deputy parliament speaker Husayn al-Shahristani said the final changes to the draft constitution have been made, and the document has been handed over to the United Nations mission in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 14 September. It appears that only minor changes have been made to the draft, including a stipulation that Iraq is part of the Islamic world and an active member of the Arab League; that the federal government is responsible for setting water resource policies. Other changes reportedly made include provisions on cabinet staffing and international treaties, reported on 14 September. It does not appear that the changes will be enough to satisfy Sunni Arab demands. Shi'ite Arab leaders said last week that they will not make concessions on the issue of federalism -- the main sticking point (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 September 2005). KR

Jalal Talabani met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on 13 September to discuss the situation in Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 14 September. Talabani thanked Bush and the American people for liberating Iraq, saying: "We are grateful for American generosity, and we honor the sacrifices of America in Iraq." He pledged that Iraq will remain America's ally in the war on terror. "With [U.S.] support, we could create a society enjoying democracy for the first time in history. Now Iraq is a free country; we have all kinds of democracy; all kinds of freedom of expression, of parties, groups, civil society organizations -- that we can say that our democracy is unique in the Middle East." Talabani retracted a claim he made earlier in the week that some 50,000 U.S. forces could withdraw by the end of the year, saying: "We will set no timetable for withdrawal.... We hope that by the end of 2006 our security forces are up to the level of taking responsibility from many American troops with complete agreement with the Americans." KR

The Victorious Sect Army has claimed it attacked Iraq's Interior and Foreign Affairs ministries, as well as the Green Zone and the Security Police School with chemical weapons on 13 September in an Internet statement ( "A group of your mujahedin brothers from the Ibn Taymiyah Brigades of the Victorious Sect Army attacked the fortresses of atheism, polytheism, and prostitution," the statement said, adding that the mujahedin "used long-range chemical missiles" in their attacks. "The operations are going on at this moment," the statement said, adding, "There go the missiles of the mujahedin destroying the hiding places of the apostates in retaliation for the crimes they committed in the heroic Tal Afar region." Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 13 September that five shells fell in Baghdad -- two inside the Green Zone and at least one on the Interior Ministry. A car bomb also exploded near the Martyr's Monument in central Baghdad. KR

The 13 September "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "U.S. Ambassador To Iraq Warns Syria" should have reported that Zalmay Khalilzad's comments were made in Washington.