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Newsline - September 26, 2005

Speaking at a meeting in the Kremlin with governors and heads of administration from Russia's southern regions on 23 September, President Vladimir Putin said the region is being strangled by corruption and clan interests that undermine the local economy, Channel One reported. "The volume of regional gross product is half the average national level and per capita income one-third lower," he said. Putin also harshly criticized the region's security agencies for their inability to provide public safety and security. "In the Southern Federal District is the highest concentration of law enforcement officers anywhere, not only in Russia, but in Europe and North America," he noted. Despite such an accumulation of human resources, "terrorist and extremist activity in the region continues to seriously destabilize the situation," he added. As a result, people do not feel protected, while the local economy cannot attract investment. Putin also approved the idea of his envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, to introduce "external" administration over those regions that receive subsidies from the federal budget, Channel One reported. VY

Putin also reportedly expressed approval of a bill drafted by his envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, Channel One reported. Under that bill, federation subject leaders who prove unable to improve socioeconomic conditions despite receiving huge subsidies from the federal budget will be constrained to forfeit their authority to appoint local officials and to decide how federal funds should be spent, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 September. But Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov rejected that proposal as inexpedient, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 September. More than 70 percent of Ingushetia's annual budget derives from subsidies from the federal budget. LF

The weekly newspaper "Yuzhnii federal'nyi" published last week an open letter to presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, purportedly from Yekaterina Bagrych, a student at Rostov-na-Donu State University, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 September. The letter harshly criticizes Moscow's policies in the North Caucasus, and some observers have construed it as part of a covert campaign to discredit Kozak and bring about his dismissal. Kozak's press spokesman Fedor Shcherbakov was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" as saying his office has been unable to locate Bagrych and that he doubts she exists. "The Moscow Times" on 26 September quoted Kozak as denying on 23 September persistent rumors that he plans to run for president in 2008 when Putin's second term expires (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 June 2005). LF

Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin, head of the parliamentary commission investigating the 2004 hostage crisis in Beslan, told reporters on 23 September that he plans to create a private investigative center and will collect information on terrorists just like the Simon Wiesenthal Center collected data on Nazis, reported Torshin said that in the time he has worked on the Beslan commission, he discovered that people are inclined to cooperate more with informal instances than official investigators. Torshin said that his center will accumulate both concrete information about terrorist groups and analytical materials on terrorism. The center will have its own private foundation and publish its own publications, Torshin added. VY

Speaking to journalists after a meeting of finance ministers of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrial countries in Washington, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 24 September that Russia will not become a full-fledged member of the G-8's financial club in 2006, Radio Mayak and other media reported. Russia, which as a member of the G-8's political club will host the annual meeting in February 2006, cannot join the financial club because it still has debts to the Paris Club of creditor countries and is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Kudrin noted. As for the Paris Club, Russia is planning an early repayment in 2006 of at least $10 billion out of the more than $30 billion it still owes, as well as another $3 billion-$5 billion to other donors outside the club. This year Russia has already repaid $15 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2005). As for the WTO, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref will begin this week in Washington active consultations with his U.S. counterpart to speed up Russia's joining the organization. "We will not join it like Ukraine, which is entering the WTO on very unfavorable terms," RIA-Novosti quoted Kudrin as saying. Kudrin also said that reducing inflation is an important goal for Russia in order to avoid strengthening the ruble. VY

Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Nataliya Veshnyakova announced that Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov has asked Justice Minister Yurii Chaika to disbar eight of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii's lawyers, including Yurii Shmidt, Karina Moskolenko, and Anton Drel, reported on 23 September. Biryukov accused Khodorkovskii's lawyers of trying to drag out the trial. This follows the 23 September expulsion of Khodorkovskii's Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2005). Igor Polyakov, the acting president of Moscow's Barristers Chamber, said that he has opened a disciplinary investigation of three of the lawyers mentioned in Chaika's request. Meanwhile, Shmidt said on 23 September that Khodorkovskii will take his appeal against his conviction to the European Court of Human Rights. VY

Within 10 days of rejecting Khodorkovskii's appeal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2005), officials at Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where he is being held, will decide where he will serve his sentence, REN-TV and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 24 September. This will not happen, however, if the Prosecutor-General's Office presents new charges against Khodorkovskii, as it has repeatedly promised to do. Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Veshnyakova said it is "too early to talk about new accusations," Prime-TASS reported on 24 September. Meanwhile, "Komsomolskaya pravda" noted that although Khodorkovskii's verdict makes no provisions for confiscation of property and assets, individuals, who believe Khodorkovskii's activities caused them damage can sue him privately. VY

Speaking on NTV's prime-time talk show "Voskresnyi vecher," "Moskovskii komsomolets" journalist Mark Deitch said that although Khodorkovskii deserves compassion as an inmate deprived of freedom, he cannot be called a political prisoner and leader of the opposition, which he simply bought off. Deitch said he has documents showing that in the 2003 Duma elections, Khodorkovskii had six candidates on the lists of each of the five parties that passed the vote threshold, plus 58 candidates in single-mandate districts. Khodorkovskii also spent "many tens of millions of dollars" for media support "plus $7.5 million on his lawyers," Deitch said. In light of these numbers, he can hardly be called a "prisoner of conscience," he added. Aleksandr Prokhanov, the publisher of the nationalist weekly "Zavtra," countered that Deitch's figures didn't impress him and that the Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela spent $15 million on lawyers while in prison in South Africa. Prokhanov blamed President Putin, "who eradicated any political opposition and pushed such different political forces as the National Bolsheviks and liberals to rally around such an unlikely figure as Khodorkovskii," he said. Following Prokhanov, Gleb Pavlovskii of the Foundation for Effective Politics said that around the former Yukos head there united a "coalition for the utilization of Khodorkovskii," and after he was sentenced it abandoned him. VY

A Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) party congress on 24 September and a Yabloko Moscow branch conference on 25 September agreed to campaign jointly for the 4 December elections to the Moscow City Duma, Russian media reported. The alliance will campaign under the Yabloko name, but the top candidate on the party list will be SPS member Ivan Novitskii, who was previously elected to the Moscow City Duma in 1993, 1997, and 2001. The No. 2 candidate will be Yabloko member Yevgenii Bunimovich, a poet, journalist, and founder of the weekly "Novaya gazeta," who was elected to the Moscow City Duma in 1997 and 2001. In all, the Yabloko party list contains 28 SPS members, 21 Yabloko members, one Green Party member and one representative of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, according to on 25 September. The alliance will also compete in 10 of Moscow's 15 single-mandate districts; three candidates will be SPS members and the rest will be Yabloko members. While Yabloko and the SPS have cooperated in regional legislative elections before, reaching agreement in Moscow was more difficult because of the longstanding animosity among federal leaders of both parties. LB

Yegor Gaidar, one of the SPS founders, on 24 September described the decision to campaign under the Yabloko banner as "mistaken," Russian media reported. Some leaders of regional SPS branches sharply criticized the agreement, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 September. But speaking to the party congress, SPS leader Nikita Belykh rejected the notion that uniting with Yabloko was "political suicide" and told delegates, "we are compromising for the sake of democracy." Other prominent members of the SPS political council, including former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Unified Energy Systems chief executive Anatolii Chubais, also defended the merger on strategic grounds. On the Yabloko side, party members such as Moscow branch leader Sergei Mitrokhin complained to Russian news agencies that SPS refused to honor decisions agreed upon earlier in the negotiations. In particular, Yabloko representatives wanted the top candidate on the joint party list to be Moscow Duma Deputy and SPS member Dmitrii Kataev, not Novitskii. State Duma Deputy Galina Khovanskaya, a Yabloko member who previously served in the Moscow Duma, told "Kommersant-Daily" that Novitskii consistently voted as the authorities wanted and that she was surprised he did not join Unified Russia. LB

The Moscow branch of Dmitrii Rogozin's Motherland party on 23 September confirmed its list of candidates for the Moscow City Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The top three candidates are Moscow Duma Deputy Yurii Popov, an outspoken advocate of cracking down on illegal migrants in the Russian capital; former Deputy Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Antonets; and Moscow Duma Deputy Viktor Volkov, who heads the Motherland faction in the city legislature. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Motherland leaders in Moscow asked Rogozin and State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev to top the party list, but both declined. Rogozin said Motherland will campaign on making the lives of Muscovites more secure and less costly, and has included on its list only "those who really will work in the Moscow City Duma." In the 2003 State Duma elections, Motherland received some 15 percent of the vote in the capital. "Kommersant-Daily" also reported on 24 September that the social-democratic People's Party has submitted its list of candidates, topped by party leader Gennadii Gudkov, to the Moscow Election Commission. Gudkov's party has slim chances of clearing the 10 percent threshold for winning seats allocated by proportional representation. LB

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has agreed to be nominated for another term in office, Russian news agencies reported on 23 September, citing the press secretary of Konstantin Pulikovskii, presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District. Abramovich, who rarely visits Chukotka, gave his consent during a telephone conversation with Pulikovskii. Later this month Pulikovskii will submit a list of candidates for Chukotka governor to President Putin. Abramovich's current term expires in December 2005. Meanwhile, Britain's "The Observer" reported on 25 September that investment banks are raising $12 billion to finance the impending sale of Abramovich's controlling stake in the Sibneft oil company to Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2005). The sale has not yet been agreed, and financial analysts told "The Observer" that the markets will closely watch whether Gazprom is able to acquire the Sibneft shares held by Abramovich's Millhouse Capital for well below their estimated market value. Moscow-based newspapers have speculated that the Kremlin was pressuring Abramovich to remain governor of Chukotka in exchange for ensuring that he received a good price for his Sibneft shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2005). LB

Between 600,000 and 1 million residents of the Russian Federation are infected with HIV, according to Vadim Pokrovskii, head of the Federal AIDS Center. Speaking to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly's subcommittee on health, which held a session in Moscow on 23 September, Pokrovskii said more than 330,000 cases of HIV have been registered, RIA-Novosti reported. However, he estimated that half of the Russian citizens who are infected do not know that they carry the virus that causes AIDS. Some 7,500 AIDS deaths have officially been recorded in Russia, and the Federal AIDS Center estimates that deaths attributed to AIDS may reach 100,000 by 2020. Pokrovskii said that heterosexual sex is increasingly the means of transmitting HIV, and that AIDS is concentrated in industrially developed parts of the country. He added that Russia has a good system of HIV testing, but he lamented federal budget funding, which, he said, only covers the cost of treating 500 HIV patients per year. Deputy Health and Social Development Minister Vladimir Starodubov recently announced a large increase in planned federal spending on AIDS prevention and treatment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2005). LB

The Armenian government has given its consent to the sale by Midland Resources of Armenia's national power grid to a subsidiary of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), Energy Minister Armen Movsisian told a press conference in Yerevan on 23 September, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. EES acquired the management rights to the network in a controversial $73 million deal three months ago, the legality of which the World Bank initially questioned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 July and 16 September 2005). LF

The 18 September election for the mayor of Yerevan's Kanaker-Zeytun district has been declared invalid, and repeat voting scheduled for 2 October, Noyan Tapan reported on 26 September. Only 53 votes separated nonpartisan candidates Ara Kotanjian and Valerii Harutiunian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005). The Electoral Code requires a repeat vote in cases where the margin separating the two leading candidates is smaller than the number of spoiled ballots, which in the Kanaker-Zeytoun vote was 96. Meanwhile, preliminary returns suggest that incumbent Deputy Mayor Hovhannes Shahinian overwhelmingly defeated David Gulamian of the pro-government United Labor Party in the vote on 25 September for mayor of Yerevan's Arabkir district, Noyan Tapan reported. Turnout was estimated at less than 30 percent of the district's 87,000 registered voters. LF

Police in Baku clashed with opposition supporters who sought to stage a preelection march and rally in Baku on 25 September for which the municipal authorities had refused permission, and Reuters reported. The opposition Azadlyq bloc proposed six alternative routes for the march, none of which the authorities approved. The Baku police said they detained 42 of the estimated 700-800 rally participants; 15 policemen were injured in the fracas, as were several of opposition Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar's bodyguards, according to Turan. Opposition representatives met later on 25 September with senior members of the presidential administration but failed to reach agreement on a venue for Azadlyq campaign rallies, Turan reported. The two sides will hold further talks on 27 September at the Baku mayor's office. LF

Meeting on 24 September in Akhalkalaki, the Forum of NGOs of Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Djavakheti adopted a resolution calling on the Georgian leadership to consider a federal structure for Georgia within which Djavakheti would be granted "the status of an autonomous territory," Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 September quoted David Rstakian, chairman of the radical Armenian organization Virk, as predicting that the Djavakheti Armenians' request for autonomy would trigger a negative reaction among many Georgians. The same Russian paper quoted Van Bayburt, an Armenian who is a Georgian parliamentary deputy, as arguing that thanks to recent measures undertaken by the Georgian leadership the socioeconomic situation in Djavakheti has improved markedly and is no longer worse than in most other regions of Georgia. LF

Addressing the National Security Council in Tbilisi on 23 September, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced plans to establish a coordinating council to implement his policy for resolving the conflict between the central Georgian government and the Russian-backed leadership of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January and 11 July 2005). Saakashvili named Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli to head the council; other members are Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, and Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava. LF

Following the Security Council meeting on 23 September, President Saakashvili called on the Russian leadership to recall Russian citizens named to positions of influence in South Ossetia, including the prime minister and interior minister, Georgian media reported. Saakashvili also demanded that Moscow stop supplying weaponry to South Ossetia. Also on 23 September, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze met with journalists at Saakashvili's request and informed them that the Georgian authorities remain committed to a peaceful solution of the conflict, Caucasus Press reported. But at a meeting on 23 September with Valerii Kenyaikin, Russia's envoy for the South Ossetian crisis, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity accused Tbilisi of seeking to exclude Russia from the conflict-settlement process with a view to resolving the conflict by military intervention, Caucasus Press reported. During those talks, Kenyaikin and Kokoity reportedly agreed that the meeting of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tentatively scheduled for 28-29 September would serve no useful purpose, and that meeting has been postponed indefinitely at South Ossetia's request, Khaindrava told Georgian media on 26 September. On 21 September, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin called for a meeting of the JCC to be convened as soon as possible to discuss the deteriorating situation in the conflict zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005). LF

Irakli Tughushi, who has headed the Union of Trade Unions of Georgia since before the collapse of the USSR, finally submitted his resignation at an emergency congress on 23 September, Georgian media reported. The following day, Tughushi's rival Irakli Petriashvili was elected the union's new chairman. The two men were engaged in a power struggle for leadership of the union for over one year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 September 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004 and 7 and 10 June 2005). LF

The opposition party Ak Zhol nominated Chairman Alikhan Baimenov as its candidate for president in the country's 4 December election in a party congress on 25 September, "Kazakhstan Today" and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In an address to the congress, Baimenov accepted the nomination. DK

The Civic Party of Kazakhstan nominated President Nursultan Nazarbaev as a candidate for the election at a party congress on 23 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In an address to the congress, Nazarbaev said, "Today, we need to continue the chosen course of reforms without being distracted by political games." Nazarbaev garnered another nomination at the 23 September congress of the Auyl Party. The president has already received the support of the ruling Otan Party and the pro-presidential Asar Party, headed by Darigha Nazarbaeva, Nazarbaev's daughter. DK

A number of recent reports have indicated that China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) $4.2 billion buyout bid for Canadian-registered PetroKazakhstan may face difficulties. AFP reported on 23 September that possible counterbids are in the works from India's ONGC Mittal Energy and an Abu Dhabi investment fund, although the news agency quoted a CNPC official as saying that the Chinese company decided not to raise its bid after a 22 September emergency meeting. Jeffrey Aul, PetroKazakhstan's vice president and treasurer, told AFX News on 23 September that there are no rival bids for the company. reported on 25 September that LUKoil strategic director Andrei Gaidamaka has said that the Russian oil company may try to derail the CNPC bid. The report quoted Gaidamaka as saying that LUKoil "has certain rights" in a joint venture with PetroKazakhstan. Meanwhile, Russia's "Gazeta" reported on 21 September that Darigha Nazarbaeva and a group of Kazakh lawmakers have raised the prospect of a tax-evasion lawsuit against PetroKazakhstan. The Canadian-registered company, which holds oil assets in Kazakhstan, is scheduled to hold a shareholders meeting in Calgary on 18 October to approve CNPC's bid. DK

In the wake of the 21 September killing of legislator Bayaman Erkinbaev, Kyrgyzstan's parliament has passed legislation allowing lawmakers to carry firearms for personal protection, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 23 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005). Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev told parliament on 22 September that other lawmakers may be targeted. Erkinbaev's killing was the second in recent months. On 10 June, businessman and legislator Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev was shot and killed in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005). DK

A demonstration that drew, according to its organizers, 12,000 people took place on 24 September in the Aksy District of Jalal-Abad Province to protest the recent dismissal of Aksy native Azimbek Beknazarov as prosecutor-general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and reported. Charging that Beknazarov was fired as a result of political intrigues, the protesters demanded his reinstatement and asked for a meeting with President Kurmanbek Bakiev by 28 September. Demonstrators said that they plan to organize a march to Bishkek if their demands are not met, reported. DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov told journalists on 23 September that his country has no plans to host a U.S. military base, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. "There has not been and there will not be a U.S. military [base] on the territory of Tajikistan. We have an agreement with only one state. This agreement, which was signed at the level of governments, is about the establishment of a Russian military base," he said. In an interview with ITAR-TASS the same day, Rakhmonov praised his country's partnership with Russia and Russia's role in Central Asia. "We have never concealed the fact that for us Russia is a reliable partner and strategic ally.... Russia is a guarantor of peace, stability, and security in Central Asia and an ally of Central Asian states in the fight against international terrorism, religious extremism, and the spread of drugs," Rakhmonov said. DK

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) believes that production forecasts from Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas field may not be sufficient to justify the construction of a planned pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan, Pakistan's "Dawn" reported on 22 September. ADB energy specialist Dan Millison said, "Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas field has gross reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic meters of gas, but production forecasts are lower than expected, causing analysts to doubt that it can meet the proposed target of piping 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year to South Asia." Millison noted also that information on reserves from Turkmenistan did not meet expectations for the $3.3 billion pipeline. DK

In a 23 September cabinet meeting, President Saparmurat Niyazov criticized regional officials for the slow pace of the cotton harvest, reported the next day. Niyazov said that the heads of the Lebap, Mary, Balkan, and Akhal provinces are not doing enough to bring in the harvest and threatened to take measures if the situation does not improve. Niyazov also called on the media to be "more objective" in criticizing the regional heads whose harvest statistics fall short of targets. DK

Four defendants, including one Kyrgyz citizen, testified on 23 September as the trial of the accused organizers of violence in Andijon went into its fourth day in Uzbekistan's Supreme Court, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Abdubois Ibragimov told the court that Akram Yoldoshev, whom Uzbek authorities have named as the leader of the "Akramiya" extremist movement, spoke by telephone from prison with his followers to give them instructions as they attacked government facilities in Andijon on 12-13 May. Ibragimov also testified that soldiers did not fire at unarmed civilians. Avaz Turghunov stressed in his testimony that he was not tortured and gave evidence of his own volition. Muhammadshokir Ortiqov described the attackers' aim as "the creation of a caliphate, first in Uzbekistan, and then in the whole world." Lochinbek Imonqulov, a Kyrgyz citizen, testified that on 13 May he saw "most of my brothers from Osh with pistols and automatic weapons in their hands. Seventy of us had arrived from Kyrgyzstan that day." DK

President Islam Karimov met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 23 September in the presidential residence in Tashkent as the first-ever joint Russian-Uzbek military exercises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005) wrapped up the same day, UzA reported. Karimov told Ivanov: "Your visit to Uzbekistan is connected not only with these exercises. It also testifies to the dynamically developing relations between our countries." Ivanov later commented on the war games, saying, "These antiterrorist exercises using the latest weapons are something we will definitely continue." DK

Speaking at a congress of the state-sponsored Belarusian Republican Youth Union in Minsk on 23 September, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said EU newcomers such as the Baltic states and Poland are "second-rate" EU members, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka stressed that the older EU members such as Germany and France discriminate against the new ones, restricting their basic rights -- in particular, the right to freedom of labor movement. "The strong, old European countries primarily see the territory of EU newcomers as a market for their production," Lukashenka said. "And those production capacities that had a competitive edge over the Western ones were liquidated. You see what would have happened if we had sought EU membership 10 years ago." JM

Russian prosecutors said on 26 September that they have lifted a warrant for the arrest of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko after she turned up for questioning, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Russian prosecutors, who suspect Tymoshenko of attempting to bribe Russian Defense Ministry officials in the 1990s, suspended the warrant when she became prime minister, but restated it after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko dismissed her earlier this month. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement that the decision to lift the warrant "was made because this weekend she voluntarily turned up at the Main Military Prosecutor's Office and gave the evidence requested by investigators." JM

Acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko said in an interview with the "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 September that President Viktor Yushchenko has abandoned his intention to postpone political reforms that will curtail his presidential powers. "Today the president is convinced of the necessity of the political reform, which will come into effect on 1 January," Lutsenko said. The reform, which was adopted in December 2004 as a political compromise to overcome a presidential election standoff, will give the parliament a decisive role in forming the cabinet and strengthen the position of the prime minister. JM

Former President Leonid Kravchuk was elected head of the Let's Unite Ukraine Civic Forum during the organization's founding congress in Kyiv on 24 September, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Our main goal is to establish peace and accord in society," Kravchuk said at the congress, stressing that Ukraine is witnessing a "crisis in all spheres of life" and a deepening social split between supporters of the authorities and the opposition. The congress was reportedly attended, among others, by activists of the Social Democratic Party-united, the Labor Ukraine Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. JM

Razumkov Center found in a poll conducted from 9-16 September among 2,011 Ukrainians that 21 percent of respondents assess the situation in the country as positive, while 44.3 percent are of the opposite opinion, Ukrainian media reported on 23 September. Former Prime Minister Tymoshenko is supported completely by 21.4 percent of Ukrainians, President Viktor Yushchenko by 19.8 percent, and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych by 17.2 percent, according to the poll. "At present, support for [Tymoshenko and Yushchenko] has reached the lowest level since the takeover of power in Ukraine," Razumkov Center said in a statement. The pollster also found that the dismissal of Tymoshenko's cabinet by Yushchenko on 8 September is supported by 39.8 percent of Ukrainians and opposed by 35.3 percent. JM

Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 24 September that Montenegro must not obtain independence without a prior agreement with Serbia because Podgorica's independence would make it more difficult for Belgrade to "defend" Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tadic based his argument on his view that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosova from 1999 says that the province is part of the joint state. The resolution says, however, that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia, which no longer exists. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in her memoirs that the reference to Kosova belonging to Yugoslavia was included in 1244 as a concession to obtain Russian and Greek agreement and not as a factual statement about its real or future status. The pro-independence Montenegrins, for their part, argue that Montenegro's future is for it alone to determine (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February, 26 August, and 9 September 2005). In related news, Tadic said that Serbia and Montenegro's joint Defense Ministry must remain headed by a Serb because Serbia pays about 95 percent of its budget. PM

Sandra Raskovic-Ivic, who recently succeeded Nebojsa Covic as Belgrade's chief representative for Kosova, said in the Serbian capital on 24 September that she recently spoke in "the name of the state and of herself personally" when she publicly discussed Serbian strategy for upcoming talks on Kosova's future, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian President Tadic criticized those remarks, saying that "some points of [Belgrade's] plan are of a tactical and strategic nature, and absolutely not to be made public at this time." He was apparently referring to Raskovic-Ivic's earlier statement that Belgrade's formula that Kosova should have "more than autonomy, [but] less than independence" will mean in practice that Serbia will retain sovereignty but Kosova will control its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. She stressed that "the government has no reason to conceal its position...from anybody" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February 2005). Elections are widely expected in Serbia in the coming months, and opinion polls suggest that Tadic is somewhat behind his main rival, Tomislav Nikolic of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS). PM

Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric won reelection as head of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Islamic Community in Sarajevo on 25 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. At a session of the Electoral Council, Ceric won 180 out of 300 votes in a secret ballot against 119 for Enes Karic, who is head of the School of Islamic Studies in the Bosnian capital. Hasan Makic, who is mufti of Bihac, was a candidate but received no votes. Karic and other critics of Ceric say that he spends too much time and money on foreign trips for himself and not enough on bread-and-butter issues affecting the believers in Bosnia. Critics charge that Ceric has in particular neglected matters regarding the Islamic Community's properties. They also claim that he meddles in politics in violation of Islamic principles. Ceric has denied the accusations and questioned his critics' motives (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October 2004). The Bosnian Muslims are, like most former Yugoslavs, a highly secular people. Ceric frequently points out that Islam came to Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire and not from the more fundamentalist centers in the Middle East. PM

Romanian President Traian Basescu assured his Moldovan counterpart, Vladimir Voronin, in Iasi, northeastern Romania, on 25 September that Moldova can count on Romania's support in all international bodies regarding Chisinau's attempts to settle the Transdniester conflict, Rompress and Infotag reported. JM

Moldova's Central Election Commission on 23 September decided that another ballot for the post of Chisinau mayor will be held on 27 November, Moldovan news agencies reported. The post has been vacant since April, when former Mayor Serafim Urechean gave it up in order to take up a parliamentary seat. Two mayoral ballots in June and July proved inconclusive due to low turnout -- 27 percent and 19 percent, respectively. At least one-third of registered voters are required to take part in a mayoral election for it to be considered valid. JM

As campaigning for the 6 November parliamentary elections gets under way, the Azerbaijani authorities are directing their efforts toward ensuring that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, together with ostensibly independent but loyal candidates, retains control of the new parliament. While such efforts are not unexpected in light of previous tainted elections, the Azerbaijani government's blatant disregard for the international community's insistence on electoral fairness and transparency is surprising. Moreover, this apparent disdain for world public opinion is at odds with -- and signals a retreat from -- initial moves apparently aimed at reversing the country's record of election "illegalities."

In mid-May, President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree warning election officials and local councils against any voting irregularities. The decree also tasked local election officials with compiling accurate and updated voter lists, set forth procedures for uniform exits polls, and made provision for all candidates to have equal access to state run media.

Just a few weeks later, however, in late June, the parliament adopted numerous minor amendments to the election law that failed to include a number of the most significant recommendations of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. Those changes, which opposition parties, too, deemed indispensable to ensuring a fair and democratic election, ranged from greater opposition representation on electoral commissions to the use of indelible ink to mark voters' fingers in a bid to prevent multiple voting.

The passage of half-hearted electoral reforms was soon eclipsed by much more disturbing events, however. Starting in early August, the country's already embattled political opposition was targeted in a new campaign of intimidation and innuendo. Ruslan Bashirli, chairman of the opposition youth movement Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), was arrested, charged with conspiring to overthrow the government and, for good measure, accused of accepting money from an unlikely combination of Armenian intelligence officers and American nongovernmental organizations. The case also implicated Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) Chairman Ali Kerimli by charging that Bashirli was acting on Kerimli's behalf.

Perhaps fearful of the Ukrainian example of the potential power of a youth movement, the Azerbaijani authorities arrested Yeni Fikir deputy head Said Nuri and another of the organization's leaders in September on similar treason charges. Those arrests were followed by a raid on the offices of the AHCP during which police "seized" three grenades and an undisclosed amount of explosives in a room used by the Yeni Fikir movement. Then, on 15 September, a special team of security officers from the Azerbaijani Border Service and National Security Ministry arrested Serhiy Yevtushenko -- an activist of the opposition Ukrainian youth movement Pora -- at the Baku airport and interrogated and later expelled him. Yevtushenko had been invited to Baku by the opposition Azadlyg bloc, of which the AHCP is a member, to attend a conference on democratization.

In a more imaginative move, some recent Azerbaijani media reports also "reported" that opposition Musavat party Chairman Isa Gambar recently met with an Armenian intelligence operative to discuss plans to disrupt the election. The most amusing aspect of that report was the contention that Gambar was able to meet freely with the Armenian during a visit to Turkey, not a country known for permitting Armenian intelligence such freedom of action.

Such actions on the part of the Azerbaijani government so close to the election raise several questions as to Baku's motives for such outright disregard for international opinion and, even more confusing, why the Aliyev administration assumes that it has far less to lose by adopting such confrontational tactics. Such actions also give grounds for serious concern over the actual conduct of the voting and the possibility of a repeat of the postelection violence that erupted in Baku after the flawed presidential ballot of October 2003.

One factor driving the Azerbaijani government's disregard for international reaction to its tactics over the past six weeks may be its inferences from Western -- specifically the U.S. -- response to two other developments.

The first test case for Azerbaijan was what Baku perceived to be the lukewarm Western reaction to the May unrest in Uzbekistan. Not only did Uzbek President Islam Karimov's bloody response to the violent events in the southeastern town of Andijon, his government's dubious definition of the events as an uprising by Islamic extremists, and the repressive handling of the victims and witnesses not result in international sanctions, most importantly, the Uzbek case was a direct and blatant challenge to U.S. credibility.

The second key development was Washington's praise for Egypt's presidential election earlier this month. That praise may have been construed in Baku as signaling that the United States would be content with even the most modest progress toward greater democracy.

Moreover, for a presidential republic like Azerbaijan, which remains as much a one-family state as a one-party state, the test for its November parliamentary election will be limited to the conduct, and not the outcome, of the poll. (By contrast, the role of the parliament in Azerbaijan is almost cosmetic.) Thus, assuming that the Azerbaijani authorities are acting in line with a carefully crafted strategy, they may be assuming they have wide latitude to ensure a victory for the pro-government majority, albeit allowing for greater opposition representation than before, perhaps in line with the prognosis by Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur Andreas Gross, who calculated that the opposition is capable of winning at least 25 of the 125 seats. If the Egyptian case is any indication, such an outcome -- which would be a marked improvement over previous Azerbaijani elections -- might induce Washington to overlook violations in the preelection campaign and deliver an overall favorable assessment.

A U.S. military transport helicopter crashed in Zabul Province on 25 September, according to a statement issued by the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. An unidentified U.S. military spokesman said that it was too soon to determine the cause of the crash. However, Zabul Province gubernatorial spokesman Golabshah Alikhayl told AIP that the helicopter was on its way to Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul, after dropping off soldiers in Deh Chopan District, when it crashed due to technical difficulties. Al-Jazeera television reported on 25 September that five U.S. military personnel on board the Chinook helicopter were killed. Purported neo-Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi on 25 September claimed that the militia downed the helicopter with the help of a lightweight surface-to-air weapon it recently acquired, AFP reported. "This weapon has been useful in targeting helicopters," he told AFP, without specifying what type of weapon was used. AT

Approximately 30 parliamentary and provincial council candidates from Zabul Province demanded on 25 September that the 18 September polls be reheld there, AIP reported. The candidates said at a press briefing in neighboring Kandahar Province that if the elections are not held again they will block the Kandahar-Zabul highway in protest. An official of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) in southern Afghanistan told AIP that it "will take notice" of the candidates' objections and "will take action if they submit their complaints" to the JEMB. It is not clear what the specific complaints might be. AT

Vote counting in Jowzjan Province was temporarily halted on 24 September after a number of candidates objected to the way in which the vote counting was being conducted, Sheberghan Aina TV reported. The candidates reportedly claimed that their observers have not been given the opportunity to supervise the count, as was agreed before the elections. Some candidates also reportedly alleged that foreign employees of the JEMB are attempting to undermine the transparency of the counting process. AT

Iranian officials have rejected the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] board of governor's 24 September resolution condemning aspects of Iran's nuclear activities and allowing for a later, undated referral to the UN Security Council for nonproliferation violations, international news agencies reported on 25 September. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on 25 September that the "political" resolution follows a "scenario" previously devised by the United States, ISNA reported the same day. "We do not see the legal bases" for the resolution, he said. There is no "juridical or logical" link, he said, between the dossier and any threat of referral to the Security Council. But because the connection is made, he said, "we shall take certain measures in coming days, which we shall report in due course," ISNA reported. Iran, he added, no longer considers itself obligated to continue its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] under which it allows spot checks of its installations, Mehr agency reported. The head of Iran's representative team at the IAEA, Javad Vaidi, said in Vienna on 25 September that Iran "will carefully study" the votes for the resolution unexpectedly cast by states like India and South Korea. India, he said, "completely changed its position in the past few days," ISNA reported. VS

Iran's parliament is expected to discuss the IAEA resolution during a closed session on 27 September attended by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani, while 170 legislators have signed a proposal that may be debated on 27 September, urging the country to suspend its implementation of the NPT Additional Protocol, ISNA reported on 25 September. Iran signed the protocol on 18 December 2003, and although it has yet to be ratified, the country pledged to apply the protocols pending entry into force. Legislator Muhammad Mirtajeddini said the proposed bill would suspend Iranian cooperation with the Additional Protocol "in response to the recent resolution," and because of "the initiative of the Europeans, who have done nothing" to show goodwill over the dossier, ISNA reported the same day. Given the number of signatures of support, he predicted that "the proposal will be examined and passed in parliament." The head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, told ISNA on 25 September that the committee has asked the government to inform it of the "volume of its economic ties" with the EU-3 (Germany, France, Britain), which proposed the resolution. "If parliament is given this report, a decision will be made on the basis of the position" of the EU-3 and "other countries" that voted for the resolution, he said. VS

Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew reportedly told Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki during a 20 September meeting in New York that Canada wants justice served in the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was killed while in state custody in Tehran in June 2003, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 25 September, citing "The Toronto Star" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July 2003). Iran's judiciary is expected to present soon its most recent decision on an earlier verdict issued on the case, AFP reported on 21 September. Pettigrew was reportedly angry at the end of his meeting with Mottaki, and told journalists at the UN that Canada will consider submitting a new resolution to the UN to condemn rights violations by Iran, Radio Farda reported. Pettigrew said he told Mottaki that Canada is "determined" to get to the bottom of the case, and that Iranian officials should stop "dragging their feet" over the appeals process, AFP reported. VS

A Health Ministry official said on 24 September that "about 12,000" Iranians have officially contracted HIV, and the total number of infected individuals could be as high as be 60,000, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 September. Minu Moharrez, a member of the State Committee to Fight AIDS, said the Health Ministry is providing free anti-retroviral drugs, although she did not say for how many people, and has taken preventive measures, which she describe as "very effective in many cases," including the provision of disposable needles for intravenous drug users. Officials believe most HIV-positive Iranians have contracted the virus through shared needles. Moharrez said that Blood Transfusion Organization centers, and specialized state clinics already carry out free AIDS tests, and provide infected people with free counseling. She urged Iranians, especially "people with high-risk behavior," to go there for tests. She noted a "novel" rise in the number of people infected by partners who engaged in "high-risk behavior" such as promiscuity, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

American troops killed four Shi'ite militiamen loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in clashes in eastern Baghdad on 25 September, international news agencies reported the same day. The fighting broke out when U.S. troops moved into eastern Baghdad's Al-Sadr City district to arrest members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, the BBC reported. An unidentified U.S. military spokesman told AFP that early on the morning of 25 September, American forces "were going out to conduct an operation with the Iraqi army, who had thrown a cordon around an area they wanted to search. It looks like they were attacked." The BBC quoted an unidentified spokesman for al-Sadr as saying that the Americans started the fighting unprovoked. "Several armored vehicles arrived in three areas of Sadr City" at about 1:00 a.m., the spokesman said. "American soldiers dismounted and opened fire at random," he claimed. BW

A suicide bomber crashed his automobile into a bus carrying employees of the Iraqi Oil Ministry on 26 September, killing at least six and wounding 14, international news agencies reported the same day. The attack followed a weekend of intensifying violence. In eastern Baghdad on 25 September, a suicide car bomber killed 13 Iraqi police officers and wounded 10 when he blew up his vehicle near a convoy of police special forces, international news agencies reported. The BBC reported that the police officers were part of Iraq's elite Wolf Brigade. In other violence, a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up at a crowded market in the southern city of Al-Hillah, killing at least four people -- including a woman and child -- and injuring 35, Reuters reported on 25 September, citing police sources. BW

Human Rights Watch published a report on 24 September accusing the U.S. military of torture and abuse of detainees at a base in central Iraq. The report, titled, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts Of Torture Of Iraqi Detainees By The U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division," cites three U.S. military personnel -- two sergeants and a captain -- and is posted on Human Rights Watch's website ( It alleges that in 2003 and 2004, U.S. troops at Forward Operating Base Mercury near Al-Fallujah utilized a variety of abuse techniques, including: applying corrosive chemicals to detainees' eyes and skin; forcing them to hold five-gallon (19-liter) jugs of water with their arms outstretched; stacking detainees in human pyramids; and exposing them to stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. The Pentagon dismissed the report. The BBC quoted a U.S. Defense Department official identified only as Lieutenant Colonel Skinner as saying that the rights organization sought to "advance an agenda through the use of distortions and errors of fact." BW

A judge in Al-Basrah has issued an arrest warrant for two U.K. special-forces soldiers, the BBC reported on 25 September. The soldiers were detained after a confrontation on 19 September and later freed by British troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, 22 and 23 September 2005). U.K. Defense Secretary John Reid said no warrant has been received and that British military personnel are immune from Iraqi laws. "Iraqi law is very clear: British forces remain subject to British jurisdiction," Reid said. Likewise, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC that he would "absolutely not" honor such a warrant. BW

U.K. Prime Minister Blair denied reports that British soldiers will begin withdrawing from Iraq in May, the BBC and Reuters reported on 25 September. A report in the 25 September of the weekly "The Observer" claimed that a detailed pullout plan for U.K. troops is being drawn up and will be presented to the Iraqi National Assembly next month. "The strategy has always been, we retire as the Iraqi capability builds up," Blair told the BBC. "The timescale is -- when the job is done," he added. Blair conceded in an interview with the BBC that the Iraqi insurgency is more ferocious than he anticipated. The United Kingdom has approximately 8,500 troops in Iraq, more than any coalition country except the United States. BW

Unknown gunmen held up a convoy of armored vehicles from Iraq's Finance Ministry on 25 September and stole $850,000, Reuters reported the same day, citing police officials. The Finance Ministry vehicles were traveling through the Mansour district in western Baghdad when the gunmen forced them to stop. Two guards were killed in the ensuing shoot-out and the gunmen escaped with the money, according to the report. BW

U.S. and Iraqi forces are preparing to release approximately 1,000 detainees from the notorious Abu Gurayb prison located on the outskirts of Baghdad, AFP reported on 26 September. "In the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan, the Iraqi government requested a special release board and worked with multinational forces to expedite the release of more than 1,000 security detainees from Abu Ghraib," the U.S. military said in a statement. "The release will take place over the next week with the first 500 detainees released on September 26," the statement continued. Those being released, according to the statement, are not guilty of serious offences and have "confessed to their crimes, renounced violence, and pledged to be good citizens of Iraq." BW