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Newsline - September 20, 2005

The Foreign Ministry on 19 September requested that Lithuania return Russian Air Force pilot Major Valerii Troyanov, Russian and international media reported. Troyanov's Su-27 fighter jet crashed near Kaunas on 15 September as he was flying from St. Petersburg to Russia's Kaliningrad exclave. Lithuania has detained Troyanov, who safely ejected from the jet, pending investigation of the crash. "The Russian side proceeds from the assumption that the fighter jet and its pilot got into Lithuanian territory by mistake," Russian Foreign Ministry officials said. "The jet and the pilot enjoy immunity from Lithuanian jurisdiction under international law and must be returned to Russia." Mindaugas Duda, the Lithuanian acting prosecutor-general in charge of investigating the incident, said on 19 September that Troyanov is being held in Vilnius "under suspicion of violation of international safety of flights," and that the term of his detention is not restricted by law, RTR reported. Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkalas said that Troyanov's explanations do not coincide with information provided by a Russian military commission that is observing the investigation. Russia is claiming that the plane crashed due to the malfunction of navigational instruments and has expressed readiness to pay for damages incurred by Lithuania, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

RTR commented on 19 September that the Russian side believes that Lithuania will try to turn "this flight event in a spy scandal." Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told the television station the same day that "too many people in Lithuania and other Baltic States want to use the incident for political purposes and to speculate on a Russian threat." Sergei Glazev (Motherland) said that Lithuania should laud Troyanov for downing the jet in an unpopulated area and allow Russia to investigate the incident itself. However, Duma Deputy Victor Alksnis (Motherland), a retired Air Force colonel and aviation engineer, said that the incident reveals "the miserable state" of Russian Air Force equipment, TV-Tsentr reported on 17 September. Alksnis also criticized Troyanov's actions and noted the failure of the Lithuanian air defenses to detect and force the jet to land. VY

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said at a cabinet meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin on 19 September that during his two-day trip to Kyrgyzstan he expects to sign a contract worth "several million dollars" to supply the Kyrgyz military with Russian helicopters and small arms, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin clarified that the weapons are intended mainly for "special units involved in antiterrorist activities." Ivanov was scheduled to arrive in Bishkek on 20 September on a trip that will also take him to Uzbekistan, where Russian-Uzbek military exercises are to begin the same day. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry announced that units of the 72d Pskov Airborne Division, which recently participated in Russian-Chinese war games (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005), arrived in Uzbekistan for the military exercises that are to end on 24 September, reported. VY

During the same cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Ivanov warned of rising "narco-aggression" from Afghanistan, saying that 90 percent of the world's heroin originates from that country, RTR reported. Ivanov estimated that about 500 tons of pure heroin will be smuggled from Afghanistan this year for sale in Russia and Western Europe. "It is clear that the just-completed parliamentary elections in Afghanistan will not reduce this threat," Interfax quoted him as saying. Ivanov added that he was alerted to this threat this month during the informal meeting of Russian and NATO foreign ministers in Berlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2005), and that it was decided that the CIS's Collective Security Treaty Organization will present a report on this topic to NATO by the end of the year, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Sergei Markov, director of the pro-Kremlin Political Research Institute, said on 19 September that Russia and Kazakhstan should play a more active role in Central Asia and stem the growing U.S. and Chinese influence in the region, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Markov highly praised Kazakhstan and its president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, for the "creation of a solid economic base for political progress" and a "European approach" on domestic issues. Markov said Russia is interested in closer economic cooperation with Kazakhstan and Belarus, its partners in the Single Economic Space, and should develop the economic bloc even if the fourth prospective member, Ukraine, decides against joining. VY

Representatives of Russia's oil majors announced on 19 September after meeting with Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko that they have decided to freeze the price of gasoline domestically until at least the end of the year, international media reported. Ministry spokesman Stanislav Naumov said that the heads of the oil giants, including LUKoil, Sibneft, Rosneft, TNK-BP, Tatneft, and Surgutneftegaz, made the decision "almost unanimously and absolutely voluntarily," reported. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov said that the step was taken "to stabilize fuel prices in Russia and, most importantly, to make them independent of world prices," RTR reported. The oil initiative followed a powerful campaign in the Duma and media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005) that accused Russia's oligarchs of running a "gasoline cartel" and demanded that they reduce fuel costs or face the "people's wrath." On 18 September, the host of the prime-time NTV talk show "Voskresnyi vecher," Vladimir Soloviev, suggested that his audience ask former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko how she managed to trim gasoline prices in Ukraine earlier this year. Tymoshenko, who was a guest on the show via a satellite link from Kyiv, responded that she did so with the help of state regulation. She also said that for a country as rich in oil as Russia, it is "shameful to have gasoline prices other than the lowest world market price." VY

Speaking at his traditional Monday meeting with cabinet ministers, President Putin on 19 September gave Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov two weeks to formulate a detailed plan for implementing new social projects in the health, education, housing, and agricultural sectors, Russian media reported. Putin announced ambitious plans for additional spending on social projects earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 13 September 2005). The government is scheduled to begin implementing the new projects on 1 January. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" asserted on 19 September that the salary increases announced by President Putin will affect only a small proportion of doctors. The newspaper quoted Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov as saying that 56,000 doctors fall into the categories of specialties promised an extra 10,000 ($350) rubles per month, including pediatricians and general practitioners. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," that will leave more than 90 percent of Russia's 686,000 doctors without any pay raise. LB

The government has approved a broad-ranging program for battling drug addiction and the illegal drug market from 2005 to 2009, reported on 17 September. The program states that some 6 million people in Russia currently use narcotics and sets the goal of reducing drug use by 16 to 20 percent by 2010, compared to the 2004 level. Federal budget expenditures on the program will exceed 3.62 billion rubles ($127 million). Of that total, some 1.24 billion rubles will be allocated to the Federal Drug Control Service, 218 million rubles to the Interior Ministry, 186 million rubles to the Defense Ministry, and 110 million rubles to the Federal Security Service. The program acknowledges that law-enforcement methods have proven insufficient to battle drug addiction. Consequently, some 366 million rubles will be allocated to the Health and Social Development Ministry to fight drug use, along with 225 million rubles to the Education and Science Ministry and nearly 118 million rubles to the Federal Sports Agency. Some 239 million rubles will go to the Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency to pay for public-service advertisements with antidrug messages. The text of the program can be downloaded at LB

The governors of Moscow, Leningrad, Tver, and Perm Oblasts are calling for personal income taxes to be collected in the localities where citizens live, rather than where they work, "Vedomosti" reported on 19 September. Personal income taxes paid in 2004 totaled 574.5 billion rubles ($20 billion). A third of income-tax payments go to local budgets, and the remainder to regional budgets. However, current law defines employers, not individuals, as the "tax agents" who pay income taxes to tax-collection agencies. "Vedomosti" quoted several experts who said it is unfair for some cities and regions to fund services for residents whose income taxes go to neighboring cities or regions. Moscow Oblast Duma Budget Committee Chairman Andrei Yepishin told the newspaper that the oblast loses up to 3 billion rubles a year because of residents whose income taxes are paid to the city of Moscow. Perm Oblast acting Governor Oleg Chirkunov said his region is ready to experiment with a new system for paying income taxes in 2007, but the Finance Ministry opposes the plan. An unidentified source in the ministry told "Vedomosti" that paying income taxes in taxpayers' place of residence would complicate collection and the monitoring of compliance. LB

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation on 17 September launched its nine-day unofficial "people's referendum" across the country, Russian news agencies reported. All of the ballots contain seven questions drafted by KPRF leaders. They ask voters their opinions on pegging the minimum wage and pension to the subsistence minimum level; limiting housing and utilities costs to 10 percent of a family's income; repealing the federal law monetizing social benefits; guaranteeing the right to free health care and education, as well as student deferments from the draft; keeping natural resources and various strategic enterprises or industries solely in state ownership; adopting a progressive personal income tax; and establishing legal accountability, including possible dismissal, for the president, cabinet ministers, and regional leaders if living standards decline. Many regional KPRF branches exercised the option of adding questions at the bottom. For instance, the ballots in Krasnoyarsk Krai ask whether Norilsk Nickel and other key enterprises should be returned to state property, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 September. Volgograd Oblast voters were asked about restoring the name Stalingrad to the region's capital city. Ballots in several regions included a question about the unification of Russia and Belarus. LB

Nizhnii Novgorod continues to battle an outbreak of hepatitis A that has hospitalized 710 people, including 137 children, Russian news agencies reported on 19 September. The Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast branch of the Federal Consumer Protection Service on 19 September announced that Yevgenii Petrov, the chief doctor in the oblast, has imposed tougher measures to fight the spread of the virus, RIA-Novosti reported. There will be extra chlorination of the water in the part of the oblast capital city that has had most of the infections. Schools are to give children boiled or bottled water and no food that comes from fresh fruits and vegetables. Certain foods, such as grilled chicken, are banned from street kiosks. Petrov has also recommended that the city's health department prepare up to 2,500 additional hospital beds for those who may catch hepatitis A. Authorities have not yet identified the source of the outbreak, according to Meanwhile, reported on 19 September that the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal investigation under Article 236 of the Criminal Code: "violation of sanitary and epidemiological norms, leading through carelessness to a mass infection of people." LB

In a lecture to resistance fighters and unidentified "foreign representatives" on 27 August, a translation of which from Chechen into Russian was posted on on 17 September, acting Chechen President and resistance commander Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev reaffirmed that the Chechens "will never leave" their territory and that "we are obliged to create an Islamic state here, on our native land." Sadullaev praised the military operations carried out by the resistance in recent months, but at the same time he expressed concern that during the bomb attack in Znamenskoe two months ago a child was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005). He said that Islamic justices will in future be assigned to all resistance detachments and will decide on the appropriate punishment for militants who inadvertently kill children or fellow Muslims. Sadullaev further warned that the resistance stance on peace talks with Russia has toughened, and that the Chechen resistance leadership will no longer compromise on its demands for independence, nor will it seek to offer Russia a face-saving way to end the war. He said an upcoming session of the Military Council will draft a new peace treaty, but he did not clarify in what circumstances that draft will be presented to Moscow. LF

Two men have been arrested in connection with the killing of Ansar Tebuev, deputy prime minister of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), one suspect has been killed, and two more are still at large, KChR President Musatafa Batdyev announced on 18 September at a ceremony to unveil a memorial to Tebuev, according to on 19 September, as cited by Unknown gunmen opened fire on Tebuev's car last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). In his previous post as first deputy interior minister, Tebuev launched an uncompromising struggle with religious extremism. LF

Elections took place on 18 September to select the mayors of three Yerevan districts, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 19 September. In Nubarashen, the poorest district of the city, Mher Hovannisian, 26, defeated incumbent Ruben Asatrian, who has administered the district for the past 22 years. Hovannisian's father is reportedly a business partner of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman and close associate of President Robert Kocharian, and Tsarukian reportedly helped finance Hovannisian's campaign. Several Nubarashen voters told RFE/RL how for a payment of 5,000 drams ($11) they surrendered their internal passports of the eve of the ballot to Hovannisian's representatives, who presumably used them to vote for Hovannisian. Spokesmen for Hovannisian's campaign on 19 September denied buying votes, claiming that passports were collected to eliminate "inaccuracies" in voter lists. In Avan district, incumbent Mher Sedrakian ran unopposed and won reelection, while the outcome of the ballot in Kanaker-Zeytun remains unclear. Incumbent Ruben Sinoyan finished in third place; according to initials returns, businessman Ara Kotanjian reportedly has an 84-vote leader over his rival and fellow entrepreneur Valerii Harutiunian, who in turn claims a 300-vote lead. LF

Azerbaijan's Appeals Court rejected on 19 September an appeal by Gadji-aga Nuriev, chairman of the unregistered Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA), against the annulment by the Central Election Commission (MSK) of his registration as a candidate for the Pro-Azerbaijani Forces bloc in the 6 November parliamentary election, reported on 20 September. Nuriev had every chance of being elected, as his chosen constituency includes three villages on the outskirts of Baku whose inhabitants are devout Muslims. The MSK argued that in the paperwork Nuriev submitted in support of his registration his party affiliation was given as IPA, and candidates from unregistered parties are not eligible to participate in elections. Nuriev told the online daily that the MSK yielded to persistent lobbying on the part of the opposition Musavat party, which has registered Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the party's newspaper "Yeni Musavat," as a candidate in the same constituency. Nuriev was quoted on 20 September by as saying he will challenge the Appeals Court ruling first in the Azerbaijan Supreme Court and then, if necessary, in the European Court of Human Rights. LF

Parliament Chairman Murtuz Alesqerov condemned on 20 September the panic that led to a precipitous decline on 17 September in the value of the U.S. dollar vis-a-vis the Azerbaijani manat, Turan reported. For reasons that remain unclear, within 24 hours, the U.S. dollar fell in value from 4,577:$1 to 3,500-3,800 manats/$1. An emergency session of the cabinet and the management of the National Bank of Azerbaijan on 18 September decided on an emission of 16 billion manats ($3.5 million) to meet the increased demand. LF

The Georgian Interior Ministry announced on 19 September the arrest of a senior Russian army officer attached to the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus, Georgian and Russian media reported. The officer, identified as Temur Grigalashvili, is accused of engaging in the large-scale sale of ammunition. Speaking on Georgian television on 19 September, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili called on the group of Russian forces to assist in apprehending Grigalashvili's assumed accomplices. But Colonel General Vladimir Kuparadze, deputy commander of the Russian troops in the Transcaucasus, stated on 19 September that Grigalashvili is neither a Russian citizen nor a member of the Russian military, Caucasus Press and reported. LF

Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, traveled on 19 September to Tskhinvali, capital of the similarly unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, where he and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity signed a formal treaty on friendship and bilateral cooperation, Georgian media and reported. The treaty covers numerous aspects of political and economic cooperation, defense and security, and also envisages coordinated efforts to combat terrorism and preclude armed conflict; it obliges the signatories to provide mutual help in the event of "natural catastrophes and other extreme situations." LF

Police in the southeastern Georgian district of Gardabani arrested Telman Gasanov and two other ethnic Azerbaijanis after an altercation on 16 September, Caucasus Press reported. The three men were among several dozen who blocked a highway to protest perceived discrimination of the Azerbaijani minority by the Georgian authorities. On 17 September, a local court sentenced Gasanov to three months' pretrial detention in a Tbilisi jail on charges of instigating disorder and obstructing the police. He responded by beginning a hunger strike. Since 1999, Gasanov has been protesting alleged discrimination of national minorities in Georgia and lobbying for dual citizenship for Georgia's more than 500,000 Azerbaijanis. LF

Kurmanbek Bakiev issued a decree on 19 September removing Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov and Deputy Prosecutor-General Nurlanbek Jeenaliev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. At a press conference the same day, Busurmankul Taabaldiev, who heads the department of defense and security issues in the presidential administration, told journalists that Beknazarov was removed for negligence and gross violations of procedure in the investigation of violence and unrest in the country's south, Kabar reported. Taabaldiev, who headed a commission charged with investigating unrest in the south, said that Beknazarov failed to detain two men who were clearly implicated in a shooting incident in Osh on 13 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2005). One of the men, an individual named Saparali Akanov linked to local businessman and parliamentary deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev, was later implicated in the slaying of businessman Junusov in Osh on 5 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005), Taabaldiev said. DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 19 September to strip Aidar Akaev, son of former President Askar Akaev, of his immunity from prosecution, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Sixty-six deputies took part in the vote, with 53 voting in favor. The younger Akaev, who won a seat in parliament in spring elections, faces a number of corruption charges. Maksim Maksimovich, a lawyer representing Akaev, said that his client may ask for political asylum in Russia, where he currently resides. Maksimovich stressed that if Kyrgyz authorities attempt to extradite Akaev, Russia "has never given anyone up," reported. The lawyer continued, "I'm saying this because I have contacts in the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office." Bermet Akaeva, Aidar's sister and also a deputy in parliament, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the parliamentary move to strip her brother of immunity was a political decision made under pressure. "They were presented with an ultimatum: either you give the go-ahead to criminal prosecution of Aidar or parliament will be dissolved," she said. "The deputies themselves were talking about this." DK

Kyrgyz Finance Minister Akylbek Japarov and Ashraf Malik, head of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) representative office in Kyrgyzstan, signed a memorandum of understanding in Bishkek on 19 September under which the ADB will provide Kyrgyzstan with $60 million in aid, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kyrgyzstan will receive $30 million in 2005 and an equal sum in 2006, with the funds going to support education, agriculture, the financial sector, and microfinancing projects. DK

Avaz Nazarov, a Tajik businessman living in London, has filed suit in England against Russian Aluminum (RusAl) head Oleg Deripaska, and the Tajik Aluminum Plant (TadAZ) claiming $700 million-$800 million in damages, Russia's "Vedomosti" reported on 19 September. In the suit, Nazarov alleges that he and his company, Ansol, had an agreement with RusAl to do business with TadAZ, but RusAl parlayed government contacts in Tajikistan into an unlawful scheme to squeeze Ansol out of the business and take control of TadAZ. Vera Kurochkina, a spokesperson for RusAl, told Avesta on 19 September that the suit is a "shameless" attempt to fight off a separate lawsuit filed against Ansol by TadAZ in February 2005 in which TadAZ charged Ansol with financial wrongdoing. DK

Saparmamed Valiev, former minister of oil, and Ilyas Chariev, former head of the oil and gas company Turkmenneftegaz, have received prison sentences of 24 and 25 years, respectively, for corruption, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. Turkmen official media did not carry any reports confirming or denying the news. DK

Russian-Uzbek joint military exercises began on 19 September in Uzbekistan's Jizzakh Province, about 250 kilometers outside of Tashkent, ITAR-TASS reported. The scenario for the exercises, which involve 200 paratroopers from Russia's Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division, has Russian and Uzbek forces retaking a population center that has been seized by terrorists. The war games will last until 24 September and will be attended by Uzbek Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. DK

At a press conference in Tashkent on 19 September, specialists from Uzbekistan's Health Ministry and other government agencies warned that the Tajik Aluminum Plant (TadAZ) in neighboring Tajikistan poses an environmental threat to Uzbekistan's Surkhandaryo Province, UzA reported. One speaker noted that current hydrogen-fluoride emissions from the plant are 300-400 tons a year, negatively affecting agriculture and livestock in the surrounding area; he stressed that plans by RusAl to expand the plant's production capacity will lead to even higher levels of emissions. Speakers stated that while RusAl plans to spend $1.5 billion to boost the plant's production capacity, modernization of the plant's environmental-safety systems alone would cost approximately $2 billion. They called for a broad-based public discussion of the issue. DK

A draft constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus union will be submitted for consideration to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in November, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September, quoting Russian State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov. Gryzlov was speaking to journalists in Minsk after a meeting of a commission of experts working on the constitution. The draft identifies the Supreme State Council as the union's main executive body as well as providing for the establishment of a bicameral parliament, a cabinet, and an audit chamber. Speaking at the same news conference, Belarusian Chamber of Representatives Chairman Uladzimir Kanaplyou said the adoption of the constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus union should precede that of a common currency. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 20 September failed to approve Yuriy Yekhanurov as Ukraine's new prime minister, Ukrainian media reported. With 226 votes required for approval, his candidacy was supported by 223 deputies. JM

Before the vote, President Viktor Yushchenko on 20 September appealed to the Verkhovna Rada to approve Yekhanurov as the country's new prime minister, Ukrainian media reported. "I'm convinced that today a cynical plan to ruin the system of power is being implemented in the country," Yushchenko said, adding that the plan has been joined by "some of the Maydan [Independence Square as a symbol of the Orange Revolution]" and "some who fought against it." According to Yushchenko, the voting on Yekhanurov will be a test of the Verkhovna Rada's ability to react appropriately to the situation in the country. Yushchenko stressed that approving Yekhanurov would mean securing stability for Ukraine. JM

President Yushchenko on 19 September met with former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, his main rival from the 2004 presidential election, the presidential press service reported. Yanukovych's Party of Regions joined last week's Declaration of Unity and Cooperation for the Future, which was signed by Yushchenko, Yekhanurov, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and leaders of several parliamentary groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2005). During the meeting, Yushchenko said it is time to forget "the emotions accompanying the presidential election and to make efforts toward leaving negative trends of the presidential race in the past." According to Yushchenko's press service, the meeting took place at Yanukovych's request, while Yanukovych's website ( said it was held at Yushchenko's request. "In our opinion, a coalition government could be formed following an immediate introduction of the political reform for a transitional period until the parliamentary elections," Yanukovych was quoted on his website as saying after the meeting. JM

Acting Premier Yekhanurov told the Verkhovna Rada before it voted on his candidacy on 20 September that a new cabinet would focus on assiduous everyday work rather than on "sensations" or "everyday news conferences," Ukrainian media reported. Yekhanurov said the main task of a new cabinet is to stabilize the economy. He pledged to give more attention to regional policies. Yekhanurov also said that in the event he is approved as prime minister, two-thirds of the posts in the cabinet will be given to new people. JM

Svyatoslav Piskun told journalists in Kyiv on 20 September that top presidential adviser Oleksandr Tretyakov, former National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, and Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus head Mykola Martynenko are not involved in the criminal offenses they were accused of earlier this month by former chief of presidential staff Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Zinchenko, who resigned on 2 September, told journalists on 5 September that Tretyakov, Poroshenko, and Martynenko were involved in corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). Piskun added that his office has launched five investigations into cases of exerting pressure on courts and meddling with economic activities by staffers of the National Security and Defense Council. Piskun also said former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko is not subject to any form of legal prosecution in Ukraine at present. JM

Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said on 19 September that she believes that leading fugitive indictee and former Croatian General Ante Gotovina is hiding in an undisclosed Franciscan monastery in Croatia, London's "Daily Telegraph" reported. The daily noted that she has "been 'extremely disappointed' to encounter a wall of silence from the Vatican. Frustrated by months of secret but fruitless appeals to leading Vatican officials, including a direct appeal to Pope Benedict XVI, Mrs. Del Ponte has decided to make the matter public." The pope has yet to reply to her written request that he intervene in the matter, she noted. The paper quoted her as saying that she has "information [Gotovina] is hiding in a Franciscan monastery, and so the [Roman] Catholic Church is protecting him. I have taken this up with the Vatican, and the Vatican refuses totally to co-operate with us." PM

The "Daily Telegraph" reported on 20 September that chief prosecutor "Del Ponte traveled to Rome [in July] to share her intelligence with the Vatican's 'foreign minister,' Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. He refused to help, telling her the Vatican was not a state and thus had 'no international obligations' to help the UN to hunt war criminals." Del Ponte stressed that her hosts "said they have no intelligence, [but] I don't believe that. I think that the Catholic Church has the most advanced intelligence services." She added: "Mgr. Lajolo said to me: 'Let me know in which monastery Gotovina is hiding.' I said, if I knew, I would not be here in Rome." Del Ponte pointed out that she is "doubly disappointed" by the Vatican because she is a Roman Catholic. She also asked the Holy See for a repudiation of a recent statement by Mile Bogovic, the Bishop of Gospic and Senj, denouncing the tribunal as a "political court" seeking to blacken Croatia's past. Bogovic also called Gotovina "a symbol of victory." PM

Damir Rovisan, who is a Croatian employee in the British embassy's mailroom in Zagreb, admitted on 20 September that he smuggled in and set off an explosive device the previous day, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005). He told police he wanted to protest a jail sentence he recently received for robbery and the court's refusal to grant him immunity despite his embassy job. Croatian Interior Minister Ivica Kirin told reporters that "this was not a terrorist act but the activity of an [ordinary] criminal." Reuters added, however, that police are not completely sure of Rovisan's motives and are continuing to investigate. PM

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has appointed Vasile Sturza as the country's ambassador to Russia, Infotag reported on 20 September. The post has been vacant since March 2005 when former Ambassador Vladimir Turkan was elected to the Moldovan Parliament. Sturza is leaving the post of Moldova's ambassador to Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, and Albania. JM

Russian politicians' love affair with youth movements continues to deepen with the emergence of new youth groups seemingly every other month. Parallel with this trend has been a growing -- but less visible -- cooperation with soccer fan clubs.

At the formal level, a Moscow city government committee approved a decree last week providing an estimated $3.5 billion rubles ($123 million) in 2006 for the creation of an association of fans of various sports clubs, the Civil Transition patriotic youth movement, and a youth TV channel. At an informal level, the pro-Kremlin youth movements Walking Together and its successor Nashi have been linked with various soccer fan clubs, whose members they reportedly use for security and other purposes.

Why soccer? One reason is that soccer attracts a young following, while politics in Russia does not. Most sociological research has shown over the past 10 years that less than 1 percent of Russian youth participate in public movements, according to "Profil" of 20 December 2004.

With their courtship of soccer fan clubs, Russian political authorities may be stepping where earlier counterparts feared to tread. In the early 1980s, Soviet law-enforcement officials were so alarmed by the growing zeal of Russian soccer fans and their adoration of British soccer hooligans that they started to crack down on any emotional displays by audiences during games. According to "Novye izvestiya" on 15 April, during matches, fans were banned not only from chanting or singing songs, but even applauding too fervently. Young people wearing the scarves of the clubs they favored were immediately under suspicion by the law-enforcement agencies. The disintegration of the Soviet Union helped dampen any remaining passion for soccer until the mid-1990s, when fan clubs experienced a rebirth.

One of the first Russian political leaders to see the political possibilities for an alliance with soccer fans was Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of Liberal Democratic Party of the Russia (LDPR). Speaking on the basis of anonymity, a young Moscow-based soccer hooligan identified only as Vasilii told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 20 December 2004 that Zhirinovskii's team actively courted devotees of Dynamo Moscow. "They financed trips for out-of-town matches, published several fan books, paid for parties," Vasilii said. "LDPR figured that attracting Dynamo fans to their enterprise would raise their party's rating among youth." Vasilii said that LDPR never tried to use the fan club to provide security, although Walking Together did.

According to Vasilii, fans of CSKA (Central Sporting Club of the Army) participated for money in the riot that occurred in central Moscow in June 2002 following Russia's loss to Japan in the World Cup. The riot happened just before the first reading in the State Duma of the law on political extremism. "The media was full of talk about youth extremism. And suddenly before the second reading there was disorder on Manezh Square with attempt to break into the State Duma building," Vasilii said.

Of course, Vasilii, if he indeed exists, was speaking anonymously, but suspicions about the violence have been voiced by any variety of different people. Soon after the incident, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov called the event a "well-planned escapade" and Communist legislator Vasilii Shandybin said that he believed the riot was a "specially planned action, timed to coincide with the Duma's discussion of the law on political extremism. "Izvestiya" on 11 June 2002 reported comments by a police officer, who was on the scene during the rioting, in which he wondered where rioters procured the sledgehammers and gasoline that they used to vandalize cars and storefronts. "Who brings a sledgehammer to watch a soccer match?" the unnamed officer said.

And suspicions persist two years later. In a talk show on Ekho Moskvy on 19 May, soccer trainer and player Aleksandr Shmurnov said he felt the incident "was to some measure a planned political action." "If it had only been about soccer, then it would have continued for 15 minutes and then everything would have dispersed or run out of steam."

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 September, Oleg Pilshchikov, director the Moscow city's Committee for Family and Youth Affairs, dismissed any possibility that Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's government wants to use soccer fans for any nefarious purpose. "There were suspicions that we are gathering soccer fanatics under our banner in order use them as fighters during the [upcoming] Moscow City Duma elections," he admitted. However, he explained that their goal is more innocent. "Our aim is to make every young Muscovite an active member of society," he said.

Meanwhile, officials from the Nashi youth movement and its predecessor, Walking Together, deny having any connection to soccer fans at all. Konstantin Lebedev, press secretary for Walking Together, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" in December 2004 that his organization "does not cooperate with any kind of fan grouping." However, Aleksei Mitrushin, leader of the CSKA fan group Gallant Steed, has been identified in a number of articles as the director of the northeast branch of Walking Together and as a Nashi coordinator ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 April, "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 14 March, and "Ekspert," on 5 September).

From its very beginning, stories about Nashi have been heavy with references to brawny soccer hooligans, and activists at competing organizations have been more than willing to name names. Sergei Shagrunov, head of the Motherland party's youth group ,and Vladimir Abel, a top official with the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), both identified Roman Verbitskii, the head of Spartak Moscow's Gladiator fan club, as the head of Nashi's regional-development department in articles in "Kommersant-Daily," "Moskovskii komsomolets," and "Vedomosti." "Ekspert" reported on 5 September that Verbitskii and another leader of the Gladiators, Vasilii Stepanov, aka Vasya the Killer, have attended meetings at the Kremlin with other Nashi members. However, Nashi press secretary Ivan Mostovich told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that he does not know any Roman Verbitskii.

Despite these denials, media stories alleging a connection between soccer hooligans and Nashi continue to proliferate. Verbitskii's name in particular has featured in recent stories about a 29 August incident in central Moscow. About 30-40 masked men armed with baseball bats and some wearing symbols of the Nashi youth organization attacked members of the NBP, Avant-Garde Red Youth, and youth organizations from the Motherland and Communist parties. Aleksandr Averin, an NBP activist who was a victim in the incident, said he saw Verbitskii among the attackers. NBP official Abel told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that this is not the first attack on the NBP in which Verbitskii has played a part. "Criminal charges involving a certain Roman Verbitskii have been filed in connection with three previous incidents," he said. The daily also cited an anonymous police source that Verbitskii was present at the attack.

So far, neither Verbitskii nor anyone else has been charged in this attack. Also, reports in and "Novaya gazeta" this week suggested that they are not likely to be. Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 68, Yabloko youth-branch head Ilya Yashin, citing an anonymous police source, reported that presidential-administration official Nikita Ivanov visited the police station where the group of men suspected of taking part in the attack were being held and arranged for them to be quickly released without following regular police procedures. According to Yashin, Ivanov, 31, is nominally the deputy head of the administration for interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries at the presidential administration, but his department is in fact primarily concerned with youth policy and preventing an Orange Revolution. So far, only has echoed Yashin's claims about Ivanov's activities that day, and Ivanov's office has declined to comment.

According to most detailed accounts of the Russian soccer fan clubs, the young men share certain prejudices, such as a hatred for persons from the Caucasus, but they lack any broader political agenda. Their role models are British soccer hooligans. Bill Buford, an American journalist who went undercover with fans of Manchester United's Red Devils, suggested that British hooligans seek an ecstatic, sex-like release in mass violence. Similarly, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote that Russian soccer fanatics "are directed not by political convictions but by the search for strong sensations." In their search for an adrenaline rush, they aren't likely to be easily controlled by anyone -- regardless of their bureaucratic rank within the Kremlin or without.

Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) chief electoral officer Peter Erben said on 19 September that voter turnout in elections a day earlier appeared to be about 6 million voters or just over 50 percent, far lower than the approximately 70 percent who voted in the presidential election last year, AFP reported. "We consider the turnout this year satisfactory," Erben told a news conference. He added that the turnout for the legislative elections was higher than in many countries, particularly postconflict states. A team of five NATO observers said they were impressed with the number of people who voted and said they did not see any "serious irregularities" during the vote. CP

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann stressed the need for the United States to maintain a long-term military presence there during a news conference on 19 September, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Neumann praised Afghans for successfully holding elections, calling it a step toward peace and democracy, but said the elections will not precipitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops. "As part of NATO, we will continue to play our active role," he said. Asked what would happen if the new parliament requested that U.S. troops leave, Neumann said that the majority of Afghans want the United States to have a presence in their country, but he added that Washington would respect the wishes of the Afghan legislature. CP

Ayman al-Zawahiri, a top lieutenant of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, said in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera on 19 September that the United States has not been successful in thwarting Al-Qaeda, CNN reported. He told an interviewer that Al-Qaeda has merely moved from the center of Kabul to its outskirts. "There is no reform except through jihad," al-Zawahiri said. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said the tape appears to be genuine. CP

An official in charge of the JEMB office in Balkh Province warned on 19 September that the use of private vehicles to take ballot boxes to counting centers raises concerns about potential voter fraud, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Timor Shah Timori said that 20 boxes were transported by private vehicles the previous night with just one electoral official accompanying them. More JEMB officials and security personnel should be on board when ballots are moved, he said. CP

Afghan news services and media-training organizations have joined together to form a union designed to improve the quality of reporting, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 19 September. The group, which includes The Killid Group, Inter Press Service, and Pajhwak Afghan News, Sayara Media and Communication, and the Centre for International Journalism, plans to offer workshops that will help train journalists do specialized reporting on issues such as gender, the environment, education, and human rights. The program is funded by the European Commission. CP

An anonymous "Western diplomat" told AFP on 19 September that France, Great Britain, and Germany are distributing a draft resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna that calls for Iran to be reported to the UN Security Council. The diplomat said the process is informal so far and the resolution will be formalized only after consultation with members of the IAEA's governing board. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's 17 September speech at the UN General Assembly only served to exacerbate European unease over Iran's nuclear ambitions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005). BS

"Our stance will not change," President Ahmadinejad said in a 19 September interview with Iranian state television when asked about the possibility of referral to the UN Security Council over his country's nuclear program. He predicted that there will be no sanctions. Ahmadinejad implied -- in an interview with "Time" magazine that appeared on its website on 17 September -- that Iran might deny access to international nuclear inspectors or manipulate international oil supplies. Parliamentarian Alaedin Borujerdi said in a state television roundtable on 18 September that Iran's "aggressive policy" is very effective. Borujerdi said the United States should abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and stop bullying other countries. If the issue is referred to the Security Council, Borujerdi said, Iran will close its doors to IAEA inspectors. He added that activities at the Natanz enrichment facility could begin. Borujerdi encouraged the Europeans to negotiate with Iran. BS

Judiciary spokesman and Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad said on 19 September that an Iranian ambassador was arrested four or five days earlier on financial corruption charges, Fars News Agency reported. Karimirad said the amount of money in the case is 16 million euros ($20 million) and it is connected with an official who served under former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Karimirad did not identify the individual, and earlier news reports asserted that Cyrus Nasseri, a senior representative to the IAEA, refused to go home to face corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 August and 12 September 2005). However, Nasseri appeared in photographs of the Iranian delegation at the IAEA meeting in Vienna on 19 September. BS

Large-scale corruption in Iraq, particularly in the Defense Ministry, has cost the country more than $1 billion and seriously impaired its efforts to combat the insurgency, the British daily newspaper "The Independent" reported on 19 September citing Finance Minister Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi. According to the newspaper, the money was "siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared" to finance the purchase of outdated arms in Poland and Pakistan, which the newspaper described as "museum-piece weapons." Allawi said that "nearly 100 percent of the ministry's [procurement] budget has gone AWOL." The newspaper added that the ministry had also purchased faulty armored cars and cheap Egyptian copies of American MP5 machine guns. BW

Iraqi law-enforcement is expected to issue an arrest warrant for the country's former defense minister in connection with alleged corruption in his ministry, Reuters reported on 19 September, citing senior Iraqi officials. Radhi al-Radhi, the head of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, said that two months ago he presented the country's criminal court with evidence against Hazim al-Sha'lan -- who served in interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government -- and expects a warrant for his arrest to be issued soon. "What al-Sha'lan and his ministry were responsible for is possibly the largest robbery in the world," Al-Radhi told Reuters. "Our estimates begin at $1.3 billion and go up to $2.3 billion. I expect the court will issue the warrants in the next week to 10 days, for al-Sha'lan and for other senior officials." Al-Sha'lan, who lives in Jordan, has denied any wrongdoing and said American authorities approved of his activities, Reuters reported. BW

British troops crashed through the walls of a jail in Al-Basrah with an armored vehicle on 19 September and freed two undercover soldiers who had been detained by Iraqi police, international news agencies reported the same day. British officials said the soldiers, who had been arrested after exchanging fire with Iraqi police, had been handed over to a local militia, Reuters reported. "From an early stage I had good reason to believe the lives of the two soldiers were at risk," Reuters quoted Brigadier John Lorimer as saying. Muhammad al-Waili, the governor of Al-Basrah, condemned the British for the action, which he called a "barbaric act of aggression," dpa reported. British Defense Secretary John Reid defended the use of force. "What happened yesterday was that two of our servicemen were arrested by Iraqi police and under the law as it stands they should have been handed back to the military authorities," Reid said. BW

The British action to free the two soldiers took place after rioting in Al-Basrah on 19 September in which angry crowds attacked British tanks with gasoline bombs and rocks, Reuters and the BBC World Service reported the same day. Rioters were angered by a shootout between the British soldiers and the Iraqi police. Iraqi police and Interior Ministry officials said the undercover British soldiers, who were wearing traditional Arab headdresses, were arrested after they fired on police. "A policeman approached them and then one of these guys fired at him. Then the police managed to capture them," said local official Muhammad al-Abadi, Reuters reported. "They refused to say what their mission was. They said they were British soldiers and [suggested that we] ask their commander about their mission," he added. BW

At least nine Iraqi police officers and one civilian were killed in suicide bombings on a road between Baghdad and Karbala on 19 September, the BBC reported the same day. At least 12 people were wounded in the attacks. More than one million Iraqi Shi'ites are in Karbala for a religious festival marking the birthday of Shi'a Imam Mahdi, a descendent of Islam's prophet Muhammad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005). Citing an unidentified Defense Ministry official, the BBC reported that car bombers targeted two separate checkpoints manned by Iraqi forces in the towns of Mahmudiya and Al-Latifiyah. Five people, including three foreigners, were arrested for allegedly planning to attack the festival after bombs were found on the outskirts of Karbala, the BBC reported on 19 September. Meanwhile, four Americans were killed and two wounded when a car bomber attacked a diplomatic convoy in Mosul, international news agencies reported on 20 September. The victims were attached to the U.S. Consulate in Mosul, the official said. BW

French police have arrested six men in the Paris area on suspicion of recruiting Muslim fighters for the Iraqi insurgency, AFP reported on 19 September, citing an unidentified official close to the investigation. The suspects were in their 20s and 30s. The arrests were part of a year-long investigation carried out by the DST, France's counterespionage unit, along with police and special antiterrorist judges. In January, a similar operation resulted in 11 arrests. AFP quoted French officials as saying that in 2004 some 20 young French Muslim men joined the Iraqi insurgency. Six were killed either fighting against U.S.-led forces or in suicide bomb attacks and three were taken prisoner. The fate of the others remains unknown. BW

An Iraqi court has sentenced former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's nephew to life in prison for financing the country's insurgency and for possession of explosives, Reuters reported on 19 September, citing a government statement. "The Central Criminal Court issued an initial sentence for life imprisonment against terrorist Ayman Sabawi," the statement said. Sabawi, the son of Hussein's half brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti -- a senior member of the ousted regime -- could also face more charges at a hearing on 1 November due to new evidence that emerged at his trial, the statement said. Ayman was captured in March near Hussein's hometown of Tikrit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005). BW

In a statement posted on the Internet, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq has declared a truce with Shi'ite groups that oppose the American military presence, international news agencies reported on 19 September. The group singled out Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. "It has become known to our group that some sects, such as the Sadr group...and others, have not taken part in the massacres and not helped the occupier," the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist website and quoted by Reuters. "So we have decided not to hurt these groups in any way, as long as they do not strike us," it added. The statement named six Shi'ite and Kurdish groups -- who are either in, or are supporting, the U.S.-backed government -- that it would continue to target. On 14 September, al-Zarqawi declared war on Iraqi Shi'a in a website statement, raising fears of more sectarian violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). BW