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Newsline - September 16, 2005

President Vladimir Putin arrived on 16 September in Washington from New York for a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, international agencies reported. The two leaders will discuss combatting international terrorism, the situation in the Mideast, and U.S. concern about the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. According to the Russian presidential administration, Putin will meet with leading U.S. congressmen and the chiefs of oil majors ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil during his stay. Before leaving for Washington, Putin met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Putin told Ahmadinejad that Russia and Iran have many common regional interests. Ahmadinejad replied that "powerful Russia is the best friend of Iran." Addressing the opening of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly the previous day, Putin said international terrorism "is the main threat to the rights and freedom of mankind" and "the ideological successor to Nazism," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). VY

Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during their meeting in New York on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005) that Russia supports the pullout of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and "the personal courage of Sharon," who made this decision, reported. Putin said he hopes Sharon's policy will ultimately serve the interests of the Israeli people. Putin noted the positive developments in Russian-Israeli relations and said trade between the two countries has grown by 30 percent since the beginning of the year. Putin said Russia would support an Israeli draft of a UN resolution commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. Earlier this year, Russia announced plans to open in Moscow a Holocaust museum and to also build in the Russian capital the biggest synagogue in Europe. VY

President Putin met in New York on 15 September with Metropolitan Lavr, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and attended a church service presided over by Metropolitan Lavr and a representative of the Moscow patriarchate, RTR reported on 15 September. Putin said that the Kremlin is willing to assist in the process of mending the breach between the two churches. Commenting on the combined presence of church officials at the prayer service, Putin said "In my view this is a very good sign of reunification of the Russian people, of all Russian Orthodox people wherever they are, abroad or in their homeland in Russia." The previous day, ITAR-TASS quoted an unnamed "high-level" Kremlin source who said that the president is trying to heal the rift "going back to the period of the Russian civil war and bring the two Orthodox churches closer together." JAC

"Vremya novostei" asked a number of analysts and policymakers on 16 September to evaluate former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's chances of being elected president. Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the National Strategy Council, said he thinks Kasyanov does not plan to seriously participate in the presidential election. "He wants to force the authorities to negotiate with him" and "give him the opportunity to lead a peaceful life with no one asking him stupid questions." Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said "any politician who makes such a declaration should be ready for all of his cupboards to be dug through and a light shined on his past." Ryzhkov suggested that once this process is begun, "it will be impossible to predict when it will end." The previous day, investigative journalist and State Duma Deputy (Unified Russia) Aleksandr Khinshtein said he doubts Kasyanov's candidacy will be allowed to move forward, predicting that the office of the Prosecutor-General will take a serious interest in Kasyanov's real-estate holdings. Khinshtein estimated them to be valued at $200 million. Khinshtein initiated the investigation into Kasyanov's dacha (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12 and 19 July 2005). JAC

The 24-hour English language information channel Russia Today began experimental broadcasting on 14 September, reported the next day. However, channel editor in chief Margarita Simonyan acknowledged at a Moscow press conference that disseminating the channel's signal remains a "big problem." The channel was authorized to begin broadcasting in Europe on 14 September. Simonyan also revealed that some 344 people work at the channel, including 72 foreigners. She said the channel will air advertisements and hope that some day ad revenue will cover the station's expenses. According to the website, the channel's 2005 budget is around $30 million. Speaking in Moscow on 27 June, Leonid Nadirov, the deputy minister of culture and mass communications, said that after it is launched, Russia Today will extend broadcasting with broadcasts in Chinese, Turkish, and Pashto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005). JAC

Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov (Unified Russia) said on 15 September that he could not exclude the possibility of "mass street disturbances" breaking out in Ukraine as a result of the recent political crisis in the country, reported. He said the initiation of impeachment proceedings against Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko is also possible and added that it is important to preserve political stability in Ukraine. Gleb Pavlovskii, the head of the Fund for Effective Politics, compared the present situation in Ukraine with the "artificial interruption of a pregnancy" and said that by dismissing Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yushchenko has prevented the formation of a "second center of power," "Moskovskie novosti" No. 37 reported. Sergei Markov, the director of Political Research Institute, said on 15 September that Tymoshenko did not develop the economy but her own popularity rating, which at one point exceeded Yushchenko's rating and is the reason she was sacked, reported. VY

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, the Fund for Effective Politics' Pavlovskii said on 14 September that the process of choosing Putin's successor search will be "public" and that the candidate picked may not necessarily be from Putin's closed circle, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 September. Pavlovskii said the Kremlin is now working on creating three "political marketplaces" from where the candidates for the next Russian president should be selected. First, it is a pool of governors appointed by Putin after the adoption of his political reforms last year. Second, it is the new Public Chamber (which will have 126 members), which should be selected before the end of the year; and third, from a new so-called Presidential Council for monitoring social investment recently announced by Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2005). According to Pavlovskii, these three "political talent pools" should provide the Kremlin with feedback from society and aid in selecting Putin's successor. As for the opposition, Pavlovskii declared that it is simply unable to produce a viable president candidate for 2008. VY

At the same press conference, Pavlovskii harshly criticized political opposition to Putin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 15 September. In Pavlovskii's words, the opposition in Russia "is not more than an international coalition of several nongovernmental centers abroad plus [National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard] Limonov and Yabloko, which is bankrolled by Boris Berezovskii, and Yukos." Pavlovskii also said that the jailed ex-head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodrkovskii, "is not an independent politician." "All his texts are written outside of prison and then sent abroad for approval by his partners in Yukos," Pavlovskii said. "The aim of this coalition is not to come to power in a legitimate way, but simply by overthrowing Putin," he concluded. One of the goals of Pavlovskii's press conference was to to neutralize the effect of a press conference given by Pavlovskii's eternal competitor, national Strategy Institute founder Stanislav Belkovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2005), "Izvestiya" commented on 15 September. At his press conference, Belkovskii listed possible successors to Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005 and said all other interpretations are a "smoke screen." VY

The number of residents in Nizhnii Novgorod diagnosed with hepatitis A continues to increase, and doctors are predicting the cases will keep climbing, Russian news agencies reported on 15 September. Almost 500 cases have been registered this week, including 70 children, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Specialists are still trying to determine the source of the outbreak, and they suspect it is from the drinking water, Ekho Moskvy reported. Medical specialists from Moscow and St. Petersburg have arrived in the city to help their colleagues. JAC

The head of the protocol department for the Chelyabinsk Oblast Administration, Aleksei Sergeev, has been arrested on suspicion of large-scale embezzlement in large measure, "Vremya novostei" on 15 September. According to the daily, Sergeev is the former head of Universalstroiservis, a company involved in the construction of a new oblast administration building worth some 250 million rubles ($8.8 million), of which 127 million rubles was paid to Universalstroiservis. According to the daily, the oblast prosecutor believes that the oblast budget lost 12 million rubles because of work not performed by Universalstroiservis. The daily also reported that the prosecutor's investigation was ordered by State Duma Deputy (Unified Russia) Mikhail Grishankov, who has declared on more than one occasion his desire to become governor of Chelyabinsk. Current Governor Petr Sumin was reconfirmed for this position last April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005). JAC

Gazprom plans to establish a new public and political radio station in Moscow oriented toward "young, smart, independent, and well-off people," reported on 15 September. According to radio journalist Aleksandr Gerasimov, who is working on the project, the new radio will not compete with Ekho Moskvy because the audience of this station "is not young or rich people." VY

The Armenian government released a statement on 15 September indicating that the Ministry of Energy will announce a final decision on the sale of the national power grid to a Russian company, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. The ministry is expected to conclude a review of the pending sale by 19 September. The statement follows a recent announcement by the Armenian Public Service Regulatory Commission Chairman revealing that the U.K.-registered owner of the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) petitioned the Armenian government for permission to accept an offer by a little-known subsidiary of the RAO Unified Energy Systems (EES) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2005). Armenia's national electricity network has been managed by the Russian EES group since June 2005 after a 99-year, $73 million acquisition that was legally upheld by the Regulatory Commission last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2005). RG

Responding to the pending sale of the Armenian national electricity network to a Russian firm, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on 15 September that "a transparent and robust decision-making process, managed by a strong regulator, is key to protecting the interests of energy consumers," according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The USAID statement further warned that it "will continue to observe, with interest, the process currently under way." RG

The largest Armenian election-monitoring group warned on 15 September that the "deeply flawed" condition of the country's voter lists endangers the performance of both the upcoming parliamentary election and the national referendum on constitutional amendments, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The warning by the nongovernmental "Choice is Yours" organization follows a month-long monitoring and evaluation project that examined voter registration lists. The evaluation, conducted in Yerevan and other parts of the country, found that serious inaccuracies remain on the voter lists despite the authorities attempt in May 2005 to remedy the situation by shifting voter registration duties from local government officials to police. The problem of inaccurate lists was a consistent source of electoral irregularities in the past election and, will most likely influence local elections scheduled in five of Yerevan's 10 administrative districts on 18 and 25 September. RG

Robert Kocharian rebuked senior customs officials on 14 September, criticizing their failure to combat corruption and smuggling, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian expressed specific criticism of the "unacceptable" situation at the Megri customs checkpoint on the Armenian-Iranian border, charging that customs officers regularly engage in "extortion" and force businessmen, travelers, and commercial trucks to wait unnecessarily for hours. The president promised that a special investigatory team from the presidential Oversight Service will be deployed to the Megri checkpoint and "will not leave it until the situation is sorted out." Addressing State Customs Committee chief Armen Avetisian, Kocharian noted that although there has been a marked increase in import duties, none of the reforms he demanded in a January 2005 meeting have been implemented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 March 2005). RG

Azerbaijani police raided a Baku office of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party on 15 September and seized three grenades and an undisclosed amount of explosives, Turan reported. Police allege that the grenades and explosives were seized from a room in the office being used by the opposition Yeni Fikir youth movement, leading to speculation that the authorities are attempting to bolster their treason charges against the jailed leaders of the youth group. RG

Azerbaijani security forces detained an official adviser to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 15 September at the Baku airport, Turan reported. Azerbaijani officials refused to explain the circumstances of the arrest of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry adviser Sergey Yevtushenko and Estonian citizen Andrei Popov by security officers from the Azerbaijani Border Service and National Security Ministry. Opposition Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Sulhaddin Akbar announced that the two visitors arrived in Baku at his party's invitation to participate in an international conference on democracy. Two other Ukrainians were also arrested but released after undergoing interrogation by security officers. RG

The deputy chairman of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), Said Nuriev, was released from detention late on 14 September, Turan reported. Although formally released from police custody, Nuriev remains hospitalized for anemia and other health problems exacerbated by his detention. Nuriev was arrested on 12 September and was the second of three opposition youth activists recently arrested by Azerbaijani security forces. Yeni Fikir Chairman Ruslan Bashirli was arrested last month on charges of treason and accepting money from Armenian intelligence agents, and Ramin Tagiev was detained earlier on 14 September and charged with activities against the state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 August 2005). RG

Georgian State Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze announced on 15 September that a new anticorruption strategy will be formally presented to the Council of Europe, the Caucasus Press reported. After soliciting Council of Europe review of the new plan, it is then to be revised and presented to the Georgian Parliament for consideration in October. The current draft strategy includes a call for the formation of a new special anticorruption division within the Prosecutor-General's Office, attempting to bolster the independence and power of the body and to encourage investigations of the broadest possible scope. RG

Fourteen Georgian parliamentarians from the opposition New Rights faction issued a collective statement on 15 September calling for early elections, Imedi TV and Civil Georgia reported. The leader of the opposition New Rights group, Davit Gamkrelidze, justified the demand for early elections as the only way to prevent a political crisis and called on Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to dissolve parliament. In comments during a press conference, Gamkrelidze added that the current parliament "has lost the confidence of the society" and argued that a new, stronger parliament is essential to counter "recent threats to the freedom of speech and the judiciary system." RG

The recently named commander of the Georgian peacekeeping battalion participating in the Joint Peacekeeping Force for South Ossetia was denied official permission on 15 to enter South Ossetia, according to Interfax and Civil Georgia. South Ossetian officials released a statement explaining that the new commander, Paata Bedianashvili, was denied entry because he "actively participated in armed conflicts against Ossetians in 2004 when he was deputy chief of police of the Shida Kartli region." The overall commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force, Marat Kulakhmetov, held an impromptu meeting with Bedianashvili and Colonel Aleksandre Kiknadze, the deputy chief of the Georgian General Staff, prior to meeting with Ossetian officials in an unsuccessful attempt to mediate the situation. RG

The World Bank announced on 15 September that it has decided to extend a new $13.5 million grant to support Georgia's poverty reduction program, ITAR-TASS reported. The World Bank statement added that the country's poverty reduction effort will focus on "strengthening public-sector accountability, efficiency, and transparency; improve electricity and gas sector services; improve the environment for private sector development; and improve social protection, education, and health care services." The 40-year credit package comes in the wake of the formalization of a five-year $295.3 million U.S. aid package to promote social and economic development (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2005). RG

Dimitrij Rupel, the chairman-in-office of the OSCE and foreign minister of Slovenia, has linked Kazakhstan's chances to chair the OSCE in 2009 with the conduct of December's presidential election, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 15 September. In the course of talks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, Rupel said, "If the election takes place in accordance with international standards, Kazakhstan will have every chance of chairing the OSCE." DK

Seven hundred protestors seized 36 hectares (89 acres) of land in southern Bishkek on 15 September, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A spokesperson for the group said that Kyrgyz officials had promised them plots of land in the spring but have since failed to keep their word. The protestors claimed to have documents proving their right to the plots. Mayor Arstanbek Nogoev met with the protestors, promising to raise the issue with the city council and telling them that the plots of land in question have already been zoned for a park. Police were present but did not interfere. A rash of land seizures took place in Bishkek after the fall of President Askar Akaev on 24 March. DK

Border guard representatives from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are holding talks to resolve an incident that occurred on a disputed section of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on 5 September, reported on 15 September citing the press service of Kyrgyzstan's border troops. The press service said that a fight took place between Kyrgyz and Uzbek border guards on 5 September at the Koshdobo crossing of Kyrgyzstan's Jalalabad border detachment, after which the Uzbek side confiscated an assault rifle and ammunition. Each side claims that the other crossed over to the neighboring state's territory, although the area has not been demarcated. The Kyrgyz press service noted, "Border forces deputy commander Sadyrbek Dubanaev is representing the Kyrgyz side, which wants to retrieve the assault rife." DK

In an address to the United Nations summit in New York on 15 September, President Imomali Rakhmonov asked international donors to double aid to Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He explained, "Tajikistan is among the countries in which social and economic development at this stage depends on external assistance." Rakhmonov also stressed the importance of Afghan reconstruction to the future of Central Asia. He said, "The countries in our region are deeply interested in positive development of the complex processes going on in Afghanistan. Involvement of the Central Asian neighbors in the economic development of Afghanistan, on account of the regional context in the country's postconflict recovery, is the key to success of efforts undertaken over there with the aim to establish peace and stability." He added, "We are convinced that multidimensional regional cooperation must fully embrace Afghanistan within the concept of 'Greater Central Asia' united by common vision." DK

First Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev briefed journalists in Tashkent on 15 September on the upcoming trial of 15 alleged organizers of violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, UzA reported. The 15 individuals, who include three Kyrgyz citizens, will go on trial at the Supreme Court on 20 September, Interfax reported. Charging that militants who aimed to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan trained at three locations in Kyrgyzstan, Nabiev said, "Doesn't this testify to the fact that the Kyrgyz authorities knew about the planned attacks?" Reuters reported. Nabiev said that unidentified sponsors provided $300,000 to fund the unrest, with $200,000 coming from Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Tohir Yoldosh, ITAR-TASS reported. Nabiev also said that 25 officials in Andijon face criminal charges for their failure to prevent the violence, while 106 suspects remain under investigation. DK

Nabiev blasted foreign media for their coverage of the Andijon events, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. He said, "Specially assigned members of the extremist organization deliberately gave false information favorable to the masterminds of foreign mass media and human rights activists. Correspondents of such media outlets as the BBC, the Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, Ozodlik [RFE/RL's Uzbek Service] and other news agencies, by order from external forces, blatantly and dishonestly circulated biased and slanderous information about the events in foreign mass media, including on the Internet." He continued, "Even those correspondents who saw with their own eyes the brutalities and outrage of the terrorists in the local government building deliberately kept silent, contrary to the generally accepted norms of journalistic ethics, about the evil deeds of the criminals. Strangely enough, bandits running around with guns in their hands became the heroes of their interviews and were presented as peaceful citizens." DK

Valerii Khan, deputy secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, and Deputy Foreign Minister Erkin Mamkulov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 15 September that the Uzbek allegations are not true. Khan said, "All these accusations are absolutely groundless. As I have already said, we do not have any information today that militants were trained on Kyrgyz territory. We have neither official nor operational information that they were trained on Kyrgyz territory. The accusations that the leadership of our country connived at that are all the more groundless." Khan noted, however, that Kyrgyzstan is willing to check any information that Uzbek investigators may have. Mamkulov made a similar point, saying, "When such serious issues are at hand there should be cooperation between our law enforcement agencies. This should be a two-way street. We are ready to cooperate in resolving all issues on the agenda, however Uzbekistan should raise these issues officially." DK

Speaking at a UN summit in New York on 15 September, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the breakup of the Soviet Union 15 years ago has upset the global balance and led to a "unipolar" world, Belarusian Television reported. "The Soviet Union, despite all the mistakes and blunders of its leaders, was the source of hope and support for many states and peoples," Lukashenka said. "Today the world is unipolar, with all the ensuing consequences: The once prospering Yugoslavia has been devastated and disappeared from the map of the world; the much-suffering Afghanistan has been turned into a hotbed of conflicts and drug trafficking; the bloody carnage in Iraq has been continuing until this day." JM

Lukashenka told the UN summit on 15 September that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein are being unjustly held in captivity, Belarusian Television reported. "The heads of the sovereign states of Yugoslavia and Iraq have been imprisoned on uncorroborated, far-fetched, absurd accusations," Lukashenka said. "The trial of Milosevic has since long turned into a caricature. Saddam Hussein has been left to the winner's mercy, like in barbarian times. There is no one apart from the UN to defend their rights, since their countries do not exist any longer, they have been destroyed." JM

Lukashenka also said in New York on 15 September that some political powers seeking to control the unipolar world do not like the fact that Belarus is developing by using its "own wits" and based on its "own traditions," Belarusian Television reported. According to Lukashenka, those powers control the contemporary world by fomenting and intervening in conflicts. "If there are no conflicts -- they are invented," Lukashenka asserted. "If there are no pretexts for intervention -- imaginary ones are created. A very convenient justification has been found to do this -- democracy and human rights. Moreover, these terms are not used sincerely -- as the power of the people and the dignity of the nation -- but they are used as the U.S. leadership sees fit," Lukashenka said. "Unfortunately, the UN, which is our common organization, allows itself to be used as a tool of such politics," he added. JM

Oleksandr Turchynov, whose resignation from the post of head of the Ukrainian Security Service was recently accepted by President Viktor Yushchenko, told journalists in Kyiv on 15 September that Ukraine's energy security is endangered, Ukrainian media reported. According to Turchynov, high-ranking officials in the Yushchenko administration continue "to patronize" the shady "transnational" system of gas supplies to Ukraine that was created in the era of former President Leonid Kuchma. Turchynov explained that Turkmen gas is supplied to Ukraine by an unnecessary intermediary -- previously EuralTransGas, now RosUkrEnergo -- which is paid for its services with gas priced at $50 per 1,000 cubic meters and subsequently resells it to Europe for $200 per 1,000 cubic meters. Turchynov charged that Yushchenko's aide, Oleksandr Tretyakov, pressured him to abandon an investigation into this gas scheme. "The authorities have changed but the [gas-supply] system has remained," Turchynov said. "In this year alone, Ukraine will have a gas deficit of nearly 7.5 million cubic meters. It is very serious, since Ukraine will have to buy this amount of gas for $160-$180 [per 1,000 cubic meters]." JM

The Executive Committee of the People's Party, headed by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, has decided to set up a People's Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn, Ukrainian media reported on 15 September. According to the People's Party press service, the main reason behind the bloc's creation was "a large number of appeals to the People's Party from political parties and public organizations regarding the coordination of positions and formation of a bloc" for the 2006 parliamentary elections. In March, during the founding congress of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU), President Yushchenko called for an election coalition of the NSNU with Lytvyn's party and then-Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc. JM

Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 16 September that the Bosnian Serbs' governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) is to blame for blocking the proposed police reform, as a result of which Bosnia will not be able to start negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). He stressed that the Bosnian Serbs are now isolated without any possibility of visa-free travel or serious foreign investments. Ashdown said that Belgrade and Podgorica want European integration for themselves and are unlikely to help the Republika Srpska out of a bind it has created for itself. Referring to statements by Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Pero Bukejlovic that he hopes talks can continue, Ashdown said that there is nothing to discuss. He told the Bosnian Serbs to "call us when you're ready" to accept the proposed reforms that will move control of the police from the two entities to central Bosnian authorities and establish administrative districts not based on ethnic criteria. He reminded Bosnian Serbs that the EU has not compromised its principles to enable other states to join and is not about to do so. PM

A U.S. NATO spokesman told Reuters by telephone on 16 September that peacekeepers are conducting an ongoing operation in Vojkovici, east of Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital. They "raided" the home of Mladjen Kenjic, who is a former bodyguard of fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Kenjic is suspected of helping Mladic stay on the run (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 12 August 2005). PM

Several top government officials in Kosova told the "Financial Times" of 16 September in Prishtina that the recent arrest of three members of the UN police on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking are "not isolated cases" of such activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). Avni Arifi, who is a senior adviser to Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi, told the London daily that "there are probably other cases, too," adding that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) quietly dealt with "several" similar cases in recent years. The daily noted that "UN police refuse to release details of suspects, and UN personnel operate [there] with blanket immunity from criminal prosecution, to the dismay of local human rights lawyers." Kosumi has called on the UN to acknowledge what he called its "failure" in law enforcement work and hand over more responsibility to elected Kosovar authorities. "Unfortunately, we do not have exact data about human trafficking here. But I can say that the citizens of Kosova do not trust UNMIK's structures in some fields," he added. PM

Serbia's Interior Ministry announced on 15 September that police have arrested Supreme Court Judge Ljubomir Vuckovic and Deputy State Prosecutor Milan Radovanovic on suspicion of aiding organized criminals in a case on which both men are working, dpa reported. Vuckovic is suspected of having accepted a bribe, while Radovanovic allegedly passed on confidential information. Radovanovic has also worked on the trial dealing with the 12 March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003 and 26 August 2005). PM

The Zagreb County Court on 15 September sentenced five Croatian former Interior Ministry reservist soldiers for killing an unspecified number of ethnic Serbian civilians in 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. It gave sentences of two to 10 years to Munib Suljic, Igor Mikola, Sinisa Rimac, Miroslav Bajramovic, and Branko Saric for kidnapping some Serbian civilians living in Zagreb and taking them to the Pakrac area. There, according to the presiding judge, they tortured and killed the Serbs in "an where people were treated as in Nazi times." PM

A large but unspecified number of supporters of Macedonia's opposition parties gathered on 15 September outside government offices in Skopje to demand the cabinet's resignation and new elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The protesters charged that the government has brought the country to "economic collapse" and reduced countless citizens to poverty (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April and 6 May 2005). PM

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will not monitor the parliamentary elections that the authorities of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester are holding on 11 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September, quoting William Hill, head of the OSCE mission in Chisinau. In June, the Moldovan parliament endorsed amendments to the so-called Yushchenko plan for settling the Transdniester conflict. One of the amendments called for holding legislative elections in Transdniester under Moldovan legislation. Tiraspol ignored this requirement. JM

Signs are growing that the EU and some western Balkan countries are losing their attraction for each other. This could prove a blessing in disguise if the Balkan states take advantage of the opportunity to challenge old dogmas and explore new alternatives.

One truism of postcommunist Europe is that all the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans will sooner or later join the EU and NATO. This has proven valid for much of the region, but not for what has become known as the western Balkans, namely Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Croatia's plans for EU membership by 2007 are on hold because of Zagreb's failure to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina, while the other countries have always been considered relative long shots to join that body.

Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia had hopes of joining NATO reasonably soon, but U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Kurt Volker said in Brussels on 8 September that NATO should hold off on any further expansion until at least 2008.

The EU has a particular attraction for the countries of the region for three reasons. First, membership in the bloc means a seat at the table where decisions affecting all of Europe are made. Second, joining the EU symbolizes the end of the continent's division and the inclusion of former communist countries in the "rich man's club." And third, as poorer members of a wealthy organization, the western Balkan states can look forward to a cornucopia of subsidies, as well as opportunities for fairly unfettered study, travel, and work. In short, even if NATO membership will some day provide for these countries' security requirements, joining the EU is still regarded in the region as an essential part of its rite of passage into the modern and democratic world.

For Brussels, integrating the western Balkans means that there will be no "black hole" in the middle of the EU -- especially after Bulgaria and Romania join -- in which organized crime could flourish. By offering the prospect of membership, the EU has a powerful lever to influence precisely the kind of changes -- called "reforms" -- that it wants to see implemented.

But on 29 May, French voters rejected the proposed EU constitution by a clear majority, and Dutch voters did the same by an even larger margin three days later. In both cases, objections to further enlargement of the EU after the admission of 10 new members in 2004 played at least some role in the vote. Consequently, many people in countries hoping to join that body began to fear that their chances of obtaining membership within a reasonable time frame had become slimmer as a result.

And even if some people in the Balkans failed to get the message that something had changed in Western Europe, it was clear to the political class in the older EU member states that further enlargement is not likely in the near future. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who comes from Finland, repeatedly stressed that the EU must meet its commitments to candidates. But it was clear that he would have his hands full in getting Brussels to stay on track with Romania and Bulgaria. Croatia would be even more problematic, with or without Gotovina, and there seemed to be little enthusiasm for fully integrating the other countries of the western Balkans, even though they are fairly small states that probably would not require too much money or effort to bring into the EU.

Balkan reactions to the new developments were not slow in coming. Sensing that the EU had lost its leverage and might not be able to offer serious membership prospects in the foreseeable future, the Bosnian Serb government and parliament repeatedly refused to approve EU-backed proposals for police reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Banja Luka's failure to do so by 15 September meant that Bosnia has no chance of starting Stabilization and Association talks in 2005 and possibly in 2006.

In Croatia, the EU increasingly came to be seen as a bully because of the Gotovina affair, which resulted in a decline of popular support for EU membership. By late August, only 39 percent of Croats were in favor of joining the bloc -- in contrast to strong majorities in previous years -- and only 12 percent expected membership negotiations to start by the end of 2005, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Deutsche Welle noted other poll results showing that 57 percent of Croats oppose EU membership and only 34 percent support it.

Euroskepticism was also fueled by reports in the Croatian media that tarnished the bloc's image as the land of milk and honey. Croats began to pay more attention to the high unemployment rates in some EU member states, the inflationary problems that followed the introduction of the euro currency, the acrimonious dispute over the proposed EU constitution, and charges by some prominent figures like Czech President Vaclav Klaus that the EU is an undemocratic and bureaucratic super-state that rides roughshod over the sovereignty of newly independent nation-states.

RFE/RL recently reported interviews with ordinary Croats who said things about membership like "it's all the same to me." Others argued that the EU countries "need us more than we need them, but still we can't get on without them." One Zagreb resident said bluntly, "I've lived for 25 years in the EU, and it's better that we don't join." Another Croat told Deutsche Welle that EU membership is Croatia's only hope for getting real legislative reform, while someone else said that "we can live without the EU. We're a rich country. We just need to work."

The question then arises: if Brussels is unlikely to offer the western Balkans a serious "European perspective" within a clear time frame and if some people in those countries are becoming less enamored of the EU, might it not be time for them to reexamine old beliefs about the necessary postcommunist rite of passage and look for alternatives? How else might the countries of the region modernize their economies and expand their markets? Might it not be to their advantage to concentrate first on developing straightforward free-trade arrangements that would not involve compromising what for most of them is newly won sovereignty in favor of a distant and unelected bureaucracy?

Some Euroskeptics have long argued that the EU is cumbersome, inflexible, nontransparent, and dominated by Paris and Berlin. Might some other parts of Europe now find themselves faced with an opportunity to develop alternative ideas to the EU model that are simpler, more democratic, and hence more likely to produce clear results and win popular support?

New York-based Human Rights Watch released a survey on 15 September suggesting that Afghans are concerned that alleged war criminals and human-rights abusers are running in the 18 September elections, AFP reported. Such individuals include Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoi, a parliamentary candidate from Khost Province who served in a senior position under the Soviet-backed regime. Former high-level leaders in the Taliban regime are also running, including Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the Taliban's foreign minister, and Qalamuddin, the former minister for the prevention of vice and the promotion of virtue. Human Rights Watch also said that some of the candidates had censured themselves during the campaign in order to avoid conflict with local commanders or warlords. "When we give a speech, we don't name these people, or criticize them, we just make veiled references to them, and to warlordism," a candidate told the rights group. CP

Unidentified gunmen attacked and wounded Hawa Alam Nuristani, a candidate for the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) on 14 September in Nuristan Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. A provincial deputy police chief said that armed men opened fire on the candidate and that she was receiving treatment at the air base in Bagram. The police chief, al-Haj Ghulamullah Nuristani, said candidates have been asked to let the police know when they are campaigning in remote areas. He also said that the reason for the attack was unknown but that more information would be available when an investigation was concluded. CP

Disabled Afghans in western Herat Province are asking the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) to set up polling stations near their homes, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 15 September. Some people with disabilities say that without such separate polling stations, they would have to travel long distances and wait in lines that could prevent them from being able to vote. Officials with the JEMB responded that special measures to help disabled people vote had already been taken, including setting up three new polling stations in the province. Mohammad Yaqub Qazizada, head of the provincial department of disabled and martyr affairs, encouraged other Afghans to let the disabled vote first. CP

Canada has pledged $4.2 million to support Afghanistan's elections on 18 September, the "Pak Tribune" reported. "We are stepping up to facilitate the government of Afghanistan's transition to a fully independent and democratically elected government that expresses the will of the people," said Canadian Minister of International Cooperation Aileen Carroll. CP

Nuclear weapons do not have a role in Iranian defense policy, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad Najjar said on 15 September, state radio reported. Najjar explained that Iran insists on the acquisition of nuclear technology so it can produce energy. In New York, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Tehran is willing to transfer nuclear technology to other Islamic states, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons. BS

Muhammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is asking the United States to give Iran another opportunity to cease alleged nuclear-weapons related activities, AFP reported on 15 September, citing anonymous diplomats. Reuters reported one day earlier that the IAEA suspects that referring Iran to the UN Security Council will lead to divisions within the nuclear body. An anonymous diplomat suggested a three-to-four week delay would be "in everybody's favor." El-Baradei reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the IAEA governing board could set a deadline for Iran to resume the suspension of its nuclear activities. Tehran, however, has told the IAEA it will cooperate only if it can enrich uranium, Reuters reported. President Ahmadinejad is scheduled to announce the Iranian position on the nuclear issue on 17 September, state television reported on 14 September. BS

The United States would like to see immediate action by the UN Security Council, but its efforts to persuade other countries are not going well, the "Financial Times" reported on 15 September. Neither China nor India have made any commitments in this regard, according to the newspaper. Earlier in the week, U.S. Energy Department officials made a presentation to International Atomic Energy Agency officials and governing board members that purportedly shows evidence of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, ABC News reported on 14 September. The presentation describes Iran's violations of nuclear safeguards and a pattern of concealment. The U.S. presentation rejects Iranian claims that the nuclear program is for power generation and argues that it is on the scale of a weapons program. BS

Among the protestors outside the Iranian mission to the UN in New York City are Barry Rosen and Kevin Hermening, Radio Farda reported on 15 September. Rosen is a former U.S. government official and Hermening is a former U.S. Marine who were held hostage in Iran in 1979-1981, when the U.S. embassy was seized by militants. In a press conference one day earlier, former United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights Manuchehr Ganji said that President Ahmadinejad was involved in the interrogation of the hostages, as did another former hostage, Colonel Dave Roeder. BS

Brigadier General Ali Akbar Ahmadian said in a 15 September speech at a conference of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commanders in Tehran, "We have formulated a new and evolutionary strategic management system in the corps," ISNA reported. Once Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approves this system, relevant plans will be distributed to all branches of the armed forces. Ahmadian mentioned long-term plans and programs, and added that the IRGC's Imam Hussein University will implement the strategic training programs. He did not provide any details on the system, plans, or programs. BS

Mustafa Mohammad Najjar said in a 15 September speech at a conference of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commanders in Tehran that his ministry has presented its plans to the legislature, ILNA reported. Among the objectives in the plan are budget increases, a stronger air defense capability, attention to the ministry's research and industries, and information security. He also mentioned greater unity between the armed forces headquarters and the ministry, as well as the elimination of duplication. To compensate for budget shortfalls, he said, Iran will export more goods. Najjar said some of the military industries will be relocated in order to create jobs. BS

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi and Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi told reporters at a 15 September press briefing that the cabinet has formed a ministerial committee that will alert citizens living in areas where military operations are planned in order to avoid endangering the public, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Dulaymi told reporters that the Tal Afar operation has been successful, adding, that the "operation was a quality action because the civilians, who want to live in a free, tolerant, Iraq, were isolated from those who support or provide shelter for terrorists. This has driven al-Zarqawi and his followers crazy because no civilians were killed except the six people who were killed by terrorists in a car bomb attack." Chalabi told reporters that it is the duty of the international community to help Iraq defeat terrorism. "We call on the UN, the Security Council members, and Arab and neighboring countries to bear their responsibility and help the Iraqi government defend the safety and security of the Iraqi people." KR

Iraqi Brigadier General Abd al-Aziz Muhammad Jassim and Haidar al-Ibadi, a spokesmen for the prime minister, briefed the media on the situation in Tal Afar on 15 September, telling reporters that the "security situation is stable in general," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. "Once Tal Afar becomes secure and the city is cleared of terrorists and suspects, the political and reconstruction process will start," al-Ibadi said. According to al-Jasim, "The situation in Tal Afar is generally calm. The units of the [Iraqi] Third Division are continuing the storming and search operations in various neighborhoods...the Al-Saray and Al-Ba'ath neighborhoods have been completely purged [of terrorists]." He added that there has been strong cooperation among residents and the military, and noted that residents evacuated before the operation provided the military with information about the terrorists who fled the city with the civilian population. KR

Qom-based Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Husayni al-Ha'iri issued a fatwa ordering all physically able Iraqis to take security into their own hands, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported on 15 September. "We know that it is the American occupiers who back and encourage the murderers. However, now that the security services have proven their incompetence, it is the religious and legal duty of all our physically able sons to take security into their own hands so that God may bring about the demise of the wrongdoers. The government, for its part, must back this step," al-Ha'iri said. The ayatollah is the former mentor of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; the latter served as al-Ha'iri's representative in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom until the two fell out in late 2004. KR

The Sunni Muslim Scholars Association reportedly called on fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to retract his threat against Sunnis and Shi'ites engaged in the political process on the grounds that his tactics are wrong and threaten jihad, Al-Jazeera television reported on 15 September. The association, in a 15 September statement, described al-Zarqawi's threats as serious, adding that they will foment sectarian sedition. The association also said that Iraqi Shi'ites cannot be held accountable for the government's "sectarian policy," adding that al-Zarqawi's statements will lead to the shedding of more innocent Iraqi blood. KR

Adnan Muhammad Salman al-Dulaymi, secretary-general of the Sunni People's Conference (Mu'tamar Ahl Al-Sunnah), told reporters in Baghdad on 15 September that his group has condemned the previous day's terrorist attacks, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. "We condemn these bombings that led to the death of scores of Iraqi people. These bombings do not distinguish between Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Shi'ites, or Sunnis. They aim at spreading chaos in Iraq. We condemn all these acts. We do not support those who cause terrorism, violence, or killings in Iraq.... We call on everyone to beware of [attempts at] sedition and war. We call for national reconciliation and cooperation," he said. Al-Dulaymi invited religious and political leaders to meet at a general conference to discuss what can be done to "guide us to the shore of safety and stability." He also announced that his group will now be known as the Iraqi People's Conference (Ahl Al-Iraq). KR

Salih al-Mutlaq, spokesman for the National Dialogue Council, demanded on 15 September changes to the draft constitution, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. "There are certain essential and fundamental clauses that we believe threaten the future of Iraq," he said, adding, "If changes are made to these clauses then we will add our voices to those of our brothers who welcome the constitution." The proposed changes include the reinstatement of a clause stating: "Iraq, in its geography, people, and sovereignty, is a single indivisible entity." Al-Mutlaq also called for "an annulment to the concept of federations;" a commitment to Iraq's Arab identity; a change in the clause deeming only children born to Iraqi mothers are considered citizens -- the council wants only children born to Iraqi fathers to be considered citizens; and the addition of an accountability clause that "holds all those who harmed Iraqis at any point in time accountable in a transparent and legally sound fashion." The last demand appears to be a counter to the Shi'ite demand for a clause in the draft that refers to Ba'athists and "Saddamists." KR