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Newsline - September 30, 2005

Lithuania's Defense Ministry stated on 29 September that Russia has intentionally misinformed Lithuanian specialists investigating the crash of the Russian Su-27 near Kaunas on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September 2005) and is providing them with incorrect technical data, Russian media reported. Defense Ministry chief of staff Vitalijus Vaiksnoras said on 29 September that Russia gave his investigators information on black boxes related to different aircraft, RosBalt reported. And Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said that "there is increasingly the impression that the pilot of the aircraft was insufficiently trained and hadn't had enough flight time." Major General Sergei Bainetov, the head of the Russian Air Force safety service, admitted that the jet that crashed was 20 years old and some of its parts were replaced with parts from other aircraft and that caused confusion. Russia's Defense Ministry also denied accusations that pilot Valerii Troyanov was not qualified enough, NTV reported. All of Troyanov's actions in the air were absolutely correct, it added. VY

Russia's Defense Ministry also rejected reports that appeared in the Russian and Western media that Lithuania's military managed to get secret codes from the Russian aircraft, including a top-secret "friend or foe" recognition code, reported. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, so many Su-27s remained in the former Soviet republics that everything NATO wanted to know about it it already knows, the ministry said. As for the "friend or foe " code, it has a triple-duplicated self-destruct procedure and simply cannot remain intact after a crash, an unnamed source in the Defense Ministry told VY

Nikolai Popov, the research director of the polling center ROMIR Monitoring, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 29 September that three national networks -- Channel One, RTR, and NTV -- are the main source of information for 79 percent of Russians. According to a poll conducted by ROMIR on 22 September among 1,600 adults and published at, 21 percent said national radio stations are their main source of information, and 14 percent said regional television stations are their main source. Popov noted a sharp decline in interest in the print media, with only 14 percent saying they get their information from it. Similarly, national television has the highest level of public trust, 44 percent, followed by national radio at 8 percent and the Internet at 5 percent. Only 3 percent of respondents trust the national newspapers. Popov noted that the sharp fall in confidence in the media is a real contrast to the beginning of the 1990s, when the print media had the highest level of public trust, and was perceived as the "lever of democracy." Now the top spot in public confidence belongs to the office of the president, followed by the church and the army, leaving the media in fourth place, Popov said, though he gave no specific figures. VY

Commenting on President Vladimir Putin's remark during this week's national teleconference that after 2008 "he will find his place in the ranks," "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented on 29 September that "in light of the transfer of Russia's major oil and gas companies to state control, Putin can become the head of the 'national energy supercorporation.' Then Putin can pull the strings of not only the domestic, but the world economy and will not be like a tsar, but a sheikh." Meanwhile, Yevsei Gurvich, the head of the Economic Expert Group, said that the announced takeover of Sibneft by Gazprom is an example of the acquisition of an efficient company by an inefficient one, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 29 September. If the trend continues, Russia's entire economy will become as inefficient as Gazprom, which in the last five years has experienced no growth, he added. VY

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow after talks with Russian officials on 29 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005), Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said Tbilisi is very upset by "financial and military aid from Russia" to the authorities of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and the inability of the Russian peacekeepers to stop the flow of weapons into the republic, NTV reported "The [Russian] peacekeepers not only failed to prevent the appearance of heavy military equipment and to disarm illegal armed formations, but encourage this process. By so doing, they put in question the further status of peacekeeping operations in the current format," he said. In an interview with TV-Tsentr the same day, Khaindrava said that Georgia "is not against Russian peacekeepers, but the problem is that they do not fulfill their mandate. We are a small tourist country, but we cannot attract visitors here, as we have tanks rolling around like in South Ossetia," Khaindrava said. Also the same day, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin discussed the situation in the Ossetian conflict zone with U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns , RTR reported. Burns told Loshchinin that the United States is against a military solution to the situation and is ready to assist in defusing the conflict situation. VY

President Putin met in the Kremlin on 29 September with his envoys to the federal districts and asked them to concentrate their efforts on the federal social programs he announced on 5 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005), reported. The programs include increasing federal spending on education, health, housing, and agriculture. In a lengthy interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 29 September, presidential economic aide Igor Shuvalov said 134.7 billion rubles ($4.8 billion) will be spent on the new programs in 2006 and 193.2 billion rubles in 2007. These funds will not come from the so-called Stabilization Fund, but from the budget surplus, he explained. VY

Presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko submitted a list of candidates for the post of governor of Ivanovo Oblast on 29 September that included Moscow Deputy Mayor Mikhail Men, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 September. According to the daily, Men is likely to be confirmed by the oblast legislature since representatives of the two largest factions have already said that they will support him. Incumbent Governor Vladimir Tikhonov's current term expires on 27 December. Men told the daily that if he is offered the position, he will take it. Putin sharply criticized Tikhonov during the live question-and-answer session on 27 September for the poor arrangement local officials made there during the transition to cash benefits for persons eligible for free transportation. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 September that Poltavchenko had proposed nominating an outsider from Moscow to administer the region since there was no consensus among the local elite regarding who should replace Tikhonov. Tikhonov's administration has been rocked by scandals over bribes for road-building contracts. Former Moscow Vice Mayor Valerii Shantsev was recently named governor of Nizhnii Novgorod. JAC

Speaking to a meeting at the Central Election Commission on 29 September, Federal Registration Service Director Sergei Movchan reported that only 38 political parties are currently registered with the Justice Ministry, RIA-Novosti and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005). And courts have already decided to liquidate the Conservative Party and the Rus party. Movchan went on to predict the demise of six more parties this year, including the All-Russian Communist Party of the Future and the New Rightists, according to According to the website, Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces have more than the minimum 50,000 members required to retain their status as registered political parties. Party of Pensioners leader Valerii Gartung told the website that his party has 200,000 members, which is more than the Communist Party. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov predicted that only 10 parties will remain by 2007 and only three or four parties will win enough votes to enter the State Duma in elections expected for December of that year. JAC

The first conviction in the prosecution of policemen in Bashkortostan for their role in a massive police-abuse case in Blagoveshchensk in December 2004 was announced on 29 September, Russian news agencies reported. Albert Sultanov was given a three-year suspended sentence for his role in the scandal. Sultanov, according to Regnum, did not actually participate in the police raids, but instead falsified documents about the failure to launch criminal cases in response to citizens' statements about police misconduct for the hundreds of citizens who were taken into police custody during those raids. Of the 347 people detained during the raids, some 40 sustained serious injuries, and Sultanov made up other reasons in police documents for these injuries than the actions of police officials. Sentences for the principals in the case are expected to be announced on 12 October, according to Regnum. JAC

Twelve citizens of Uzbekistan, one from Kyrgyzstan, and one from Russia, who are being held in a pretrial-detention center in Ivanovo, have declared a hunger strike, reported on 28 September, citing the Memorial human rights organization. The Uzbeks were arrested in June on suspicion of taking part in the mid-May violence in the Uzbek city of Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2005). In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 29 September, Vitalii Ponomarev of Memorial said that only one of those in custody was even in Andijon at the time and this was because he was required to go back to have his passport changed after his 45th birthday. According to Memorial, the Russian citizen Khatam Khadzhimatov has been held for three months without a court order, which is a violation of the Russian Constitution. Memorial believes that Russian authorities are ignoring obvious violations of legal norms out of "political sympathy for the regime of [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov." JAC

A court in Irkutsk sentenced Aleksei Grebnev to 23 years in prison for the murder of two campaign workers, Marina Marakhovskaya and Yan Travinskii, in that city in September 2004, in the middle of a campaign for the oblast legislature, RIA-Novosti and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004). Marakhovskaya headed the Motherland party's election headquarters, while Travinskii was a well-known journalist in St. Petersburg who wrote widely on crime and on connections between criminal groups and political parties. According to the party's website, false news reports about the case have been circulating that the motive of the murder was "exclusively economic" and that receipts for $428,000 had been found on the victims. The party's website did report that the motive of the murder was material: the murderer stole more than 1 million rubles from the victims. JAC

President Putin named on 29 September new members to the State Council's presidium, RIA-Novosti reported. Members serve six-month terms. The new members are Magadan Oblast Governor Nikolai Dudkov, Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Nikolai Kiselev, Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov, Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta, Marii-El Republic President Leonid Markelov, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Yurii Neelov, and Buryatia President Leonid Potapov. JAC

Vartan Oskanian met on 29 September in Yerevan with Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Issues discussed included the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; Armenia's constitutional reforms, for which Talvitie publicly expressed support; Armenian-Turkish relations; and Armenia-EU relations. Talvitie told journalists after the talks that the EU will begin negotiations with Armenia within the next month on an Action Plan within the framework of the EU's European Neighborhood Program. He commented that "Armenia has really done a good job" of preparing for those talks. The EU intended to open such talks in September with all three South Caucasus states, but delayed doing so due to Azerbaijan's dispute with Cyprus over its policy of cultivating ties with the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 29 September, Oskanian said the Armenian leadership "assesses positively" the resolution adopted by the European Parliament the previous day stipulating that acknowledgement by Ankara of the 1915 genocide is considered a prerequisite for Turkish accession to the EU and calling on Turkey to open its borders with Armenia without preconditions, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Oskanian added: "If Turkey wants to be a member of the European Union it must behave like a European country. That means it must have open borders with Armenia and openly confront its past and accept what happened in 1915." LF

The Artarutiun bloc and 10 other Armenian opposition groups released a statement on 29 September pledging to coordinate their efforts to prevent the passage -- in a referendum tentatively scheduled for 20 November -- of the package of draft constitutional amendments approved by parliament earlier this week, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). Artashes Geghamian's National Unity Party and the Zharangutiun party headed by former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, which has pledged to draft an alternative constitution, did not sign the statement. The signatories have, moreover, not yet reached agreement among themselves whether to appeal to voters to boycott the referendum or to ask them to vote against the amendments. LF

Yerevan's Kanaker-Zeytoun District Court overturned on 29 September a ruling by the district election commission declaring the 18 September mayoral election void and calling for a repeat vote, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Wealthy businessman Valerii Harutiunian had challenged the initial returns, which showed he lost by an extremely narrow margin to Ara Kotanjian, whereupon the district election commission declared the vote void and scheduled a repeat ballot for 2 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 26 September 2005). But after examining disputed ballot papers, the court concluded that the local election commission deliberately and unjustly invalidated ballots cast for Kotanjian, whom it declared legally elected. LF

Representatives of the Baku municipal authorities and the presidential administration failed to show up on 29 September for a planned third round of talks with the opposition Azadlyq election bloc, Turan and reported on 29 and 30 September, respectively. The talks, which began on 25 September at the instigation of U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish, were aimed at reaching agreement on a venue for opposition rallies in the run-up to the 6 November parliamentary election, including one planned for 1 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). The opposition has proposed six alternative venues, all of which the municipal authorities have rejected, offering in turn sites that the opposition considers unacceptable. Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, one of Azadlyq's three members, told Turan the authorities' failure to show up for the planned meeting testifies to their insincerity. He said the 1 October rally will take place even if permission for it is withheld. Presidential-administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev for his part said he sees no reason why the opposition needs to hold such meetings, given that the Azerbaijani authorities have publicly espoused all the demands the opposition raises at its meetings, including the need for the elections to be free, fair, and democratic, reported. Mekhtiev added that if the opposition violates the law by staging rallies without permission, they will be held legally responsible, Turan reported. Harnish told that the United States "is against chaos in Azerbaijan" and hopes the two sides will reach a compromise "in a gentlemanly, civilized fashion." LF

Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze unveiled on 29 September a five-page draft resolution assessing the situation in the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflict zones, Georgian media reported. The resolution accuses the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed there of turning a blind eye to murders, abductions, smuggling, arms trafficking, and other crimes, and calls on Moscow to ensure by late February 2006 that both peacekeeping detachments act in strict accordance with their respective mandates. If no improvement is registered by that date, Tbilisi will demand the immediate withdrawal of the South Ossetian peacekeeping force, and an end to the peacekeepers' deployment in Abkhazia by 1 July 2006. On 29 September, Georgian police arrested two members of the Russian peacekeeping force in the Abkhaz conflict zone in a village near Zugdidi, western Georgia, for illegally selling gasoline, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. LF

Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, who commands the Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia, issued a statement on 30 September rejecting as "unsubstantiated" the Georgian parliament's accusations, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. He called on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring developments in the conflict zone to define his force's future priorities, saying he will abide by any ruling they issue. The JCC comprises representatives from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and the Republic of North Ossetia. Speaking in Moscow on 29 September, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava hinted that Georgia considers the JCC ineffective and may refuse to attend further sessions, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who heads the opposition Samartlianoba (Justice) party, issued a statement on 29 September protesting reprisals by the Georgian authorities against Samartlianoba members in recent days, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. Three Samartlianoba activists were abducted and beaten late on 28 September, and several more the following day. Interfax on 29 September quoted Giorgadze as accusing the Georgian authorities of engaging in open reprisals against the opposition. He further claimed that Samartlianoba has the highest membership of any opposition party, with over 21,000 members and regional organizations in 59 towns and villages. Giorgadze fled Georgia 10 years ago after being accused of masterminding the August 1995 car-bomb attack on then Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. His current whereabouts are unknown. LF

Sergei Bagapsh, who is president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, rejected on 29 September as "absurd" a statement made earlier that day by Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Khaindrava that Russia "is openly supporting and giving arms to" Abkhazia and the similarly unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Interfax reported. "We have enough budget funds to maintain our own armed forces," Interfax quoted Bagapsh as saying. On 17 August, Interfax quoted Bagapsh as similarly denying that Russia finances the Abkhaz Army. He said Abkhazia spends approximately 22 percent of its budget on defense. LF

"Kazakhstan Today" and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 September that the editors of a number of independent Kazakh newspapers ended a hunger strike in Almaty after concluding a new agreement to publish the newspapers with the printing press Dauir. The reports cited a press release by the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan. But in a statement published on 29 September by the opposition website "Navigator" (, the editors of five independent newspapers rebutted reports by KTK and Channel 31 on 28 September that they have ended their hunger strike. The protest began earlier in the week when Vremya-Print annulled a contract to print the newspapers, prompting opposition charges of a clampdown on the media in the lead-up to Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). DK

Kurmanbek Bakiev on 29 September submitted six new candidacies to parliament after legislators voted down six of 16 proposed members of the new government on 27 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The new candidates are Alikbek Jekshenkulov, who currently heads the international politics section of the presidential administration, as foreign minister; Yevgenii Semenenko as labor and social security minister; Nurlan Sulaimanov as transportation and communications minister; Sultan Raev as culture minister; Aigul Ryskulova as head of the State Migration Committee; and Turusbek Koenaliev as director of the prime minister's administration. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service noted that the new candidates are not well-known public figures. Later on 29 September, parliamentary committees approved the six candidates, clearing the way for parliament to vote on them. DK

A prosecutor in the trial of Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov asked Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 28 September to sentence Iskandarov to a 25-year prison term and impose a 1.5 million somoni ($470,000) fine, Avesta reported. Iskandarov, who faces a variety of terrorism and corruption charges, maintains his innocence. A verdict is expected next week. DK

Officials from Tajikistan's Border Protection Committee and Afghanistan's Interior Ministry signed a protocol in Dushanbe on 29 September to strengthen their cooperation in guarding the border between the two countries, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. In remarks after the signing, Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Daud expressed concern at signs of increasing cooperation between drug-smuggling gangs. Nuralisho Nazarov, deputy commander of Tajikistan's border troops, admitted that the border contains a number of "black holes" that smugglers can exploit, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Daud and Nazarov, there are approximately 100 kilometers of the border on the Afghan side and 50 kilometers on the Tajik side that are effectively unguarded, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK

A coalition of NGOs addressed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a letter dated 28 September that expresses concern over the "dire and worsening situation of religious freedom in Turkmenistan," and calls for designating Turkmenistan a "country of particular concern" (CPC) under the terms of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. Emphasizing that "there is no freedom of religion in Turkmenistan, that the situation is worsening, and there have been severe violations of religious freedom as defined in the statute," the letter's authors noted "the [Turkmen] government's bad-faith implementation of reforms urged by the U.S. government." The authors said that Turkmenistan must "cease all forms of harassment and undue interference in the activities of religious groups," amend the country's 2003 religion law, and free imprisoned former mufti Nasrulla ibn Ibadulla to avoid CPC designation. Signatories include Human Rights Watch, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, International Crisis Group, the International Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Memorial Human Rights Center (see the letter: DK

The European Parliament on 29 September passed a resolution condemning the Belarusian authorities for "indiscriminate attacks" against perceived opponents, Belarusian and international media reported. The parliament recommended that the EU Council and the European Commission discuss the situation in Belarus with Russian authorities. The parliament also called for expanding the list of banned Belarusian officials if the situation in the country does not improve. According to the resolution, all EU member states should introduce free visas for Belarusian citizens, and European political parties and groups represented in the European Parliament should increase contacts with and political support for the Belarusian opposition. "It causes concern that the European Parliament is engaged in the manufacture of documents abundant in fact distortions, routine accusations, and dubious allegations," Ruslan Yesin, spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, said later the same day. JM

Rajendra Kumar Tyagi, India's new ambassador to Belarus, presented his credentials to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 September, Belapan reported. "When they say that Belarus is being isolated or is isolated, I always cite just one fact -- we have wonderful relations with India and China," Lukashenka said during the presentation ceremony. "We have union, brotherly relations with neighboring Russia, one of the world's richest countries. Belarus maintains good relations with many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. What isolation are they talking about? Our country is proud of its friendship with powerful states like India, China, and Russia." JM

Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council Secretary Anatoliy Kinakh said in Kyiv on 29 September that Ukraine will counter attempts to isolate Belarus in the international arena, Ukrainian media reported, quoting Channel 5. Kinakh was speaking at a meeting with his Belarusian and Polish counterparts, Security Council head Henadz Nyavyhlas and National Security Bureau chief Jerzy Bar, respectively. "Ukraine's position is clear -- to inflexibly resist attempts to isolate Belarus internationally," Kinakh said. "Ukraine will support an active participation of friendly Belarus in the European and world arena." JM

People's Rukh of Ukraine leader Borys Tarasyuk and Ukrainian People's Party leader Yuriy Kostenko have signed a statement calling on "all patriotic, democratic forces and all Ukrainian citizens to unite around the program of President Viktor Yushchenko," Interfax-Ukraine reported on 29 September. "The elections are not far away, and given the political will and political wisdom, it is possible once again to unite all those who won on the orange Maydan [the name of Kyiv's Independence Square during the 2004 Orange Revolution]," Tarasyuk commented in the statement. JM

Former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko said in an interview with "Le Figaro" on 29 September that the new cabinet of Yuriy Yekhanurov is of a "technical" nature and will not last long, adding that it is the presidential entourage that will actually govern the country. "It is practically the same government [as the previous one], which means that it was the dismissal of the prime minister, not the previous cabinet. The new head of the government, Yekhanurov, maintains very friendly relations with former President [Leonid] Kuchma. So I think that in its spirit this government will be very close to the past regime." Meanwhile, Ukrainian Presidential Secretariat head Oleh Rybachuk said in an interview with the 30 September issue of "Kommersant-Daily" that Tymoshenko's style of management was a "one-woman show." "I was a member of Yuliya Tymoshenko's cabinet. The meetings of the cabinet lasted from 12-14 hours. But she was the only person to make decisions there, no matter who attended the meetings," Rybachuk said. JM

Vladan Batic, who was Serbian justice minister under the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, has been on hunger strike since his arrest in Belgrade late on 28 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). An unnamed Interior Ministry official told Batic's lawyers that police are unlikely to interrogate him before the evening of 30 September because the case is "complicated." Batic is being held for 48 hours for having allegedly abused his office by releasing a gangster from prison in June 2003. Since the charge against him involves organized crime, police are holding Batic in a special prison detention area for such criminals. His lawyers said that the law requires Batic to be released if he has not been brought before an investigating judge by 11:30 p.m. on 30 September, or 48 hours after his arrest. Batic's conservative monarchist Christian Democratic Party of Serbia says the arrest is politically motivated since Batic had pledged to expose corruption in the current government. Zarko Korac, who is president of the Social Democratic Union, told the private Beta news agency that the authorities arrested Batic in an attempt to intimidate their critics. "This is the revenge of those people whom Batic has criticized," Korac stressed. PM

Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor and a long-established critic of the Serbian authorities, said in Belgrade on 29 September that she is "very pleased about the cooperation we received from Belgrade, particularly in the transfer of 16 fugitives since October last year," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July 2005). She added, however, that her "big disappointment is that six fugitives are still at large, most probably in Serbia, and of course [former Bosnian Serb Army General Ratko] Mladic." She appealed to the Belgrade authorities to arrest and extradite Mladic to The Hague by 14 December, which is the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton peace agreements that ended the Bosnian conflict. Later in Sveti Stefan, she told Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic that she is pleased with that republic's cooperation with the tribunal. On 30 September, she is scheduled to meet in Zagreb with Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. It will be the first time she has met with the two men together. Mesic and Sanader represent somewhat different currents in Croatian politics. PM

Serbian President Boris Tadic met Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on 29 September and invited him to visit Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 April 2005). Tadic said that he hopes the visit will go ahead as soon as "all the preconditions are met," by which he meant obtaining the approval of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Tadic also informed the pope about the Serbian position on Kosova. Benedict replied that he hopes to go to Serbia. It is one of the few Christian countries that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was never invited to visit, primarily due to opposition from the Orthodox Church. Benedict met recently with Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic, but this is the first time that a reigning pope has met with a Serbian president. PM

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal sent Bosnian Serb indictee Radovan Stankovic to Sarajevo for trial on 29 September, the first time that the tribunal has transferred a case back to a national court, Reuters reported. Stankovic is charged with four counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes relating to his role in assaults on and the rape of up to nine Muslim women and girls in a Foca brothel during the 1992-95 war. In July 2002, he told the tribunal: "I do not wish to plead to any of these charges and counts. I am guilty [in the eyes of my accusers] because I am a Serb and because I defended my people" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002, and 18 May and 31 August 2005). PM

Estonian President Arnold Ruutel assured his Moldovan counterpart, Vladimir Voronin, in Tallinn on 29 September that Estonia will render assistance to Moldova in conducting democratic and economic reforms and stands ready to back Moldova's European integration efforts, Infotag reported. On that day Voronin completed his four-day tour of the three Baltic states. JM

On 27 and 28 September, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko appointed some 20 ministers to the new cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov. The appointments apparently marked Yushchenko's recovery of control over a government that found itself in a serious political crisis, triggered by public allegations of corruption in the presidential entourage and the sacking of the previous cabinet of Yuliya Tymoshenko. However, many in Ukraine and abroad wonder if Yushchenko has not paid an excessive price for getting the new cabinet down to work so quickly.

Yushchenko suffered an unpleasant setback in the Verkhovna Rada on 20 September, when Yekhanurov fell three votes short of being approved as prime minister. Therefore, to secure himself against such nasty surprises in the future, Yushchenko made a political deal with his main rival in the 2004 presidential election, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. After that, Yanukovych's Party of Regions parliamentary caucus, consisting of 50 deputies, threw its support to Yekhanurov and the latter's nomination was easily endorsed on 22 September with 289 votes (226 were required for approval).

Yushchenko and Yanukovych outlined their political pact in the 10-point "Memorandum Of Understanding Between The Authorities And The Opposition," which was signed by both politicians and by Yekhanurov shortly before the 22 September vote. Some Ukrainian media have speculated that the memorandum was accompanied by a "secret protocol," in which Yushchenko allegedly made even more concessions to Yanukovych in exchange for the latter's support for the new cabinet. But even without any supplement, the memorandum is such a bewildering document that it has prompted many in Ukraine to assert that Yushchenko has betrayed the ideals of the November-December 2004 Orange Revolution and backed down on many of his election promises.

To start with, the memorandum stresses the need to implement the political reform that was a cornerstone of the compromise reached by Yushchenko and the Verkhovna Rada in the 2004 election standoff and that paved the way for his victory. According to a package of laws passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 8 December 2004, the political-reform law redistributing powers among the president, the parliament, and the prime minister is to take effect automatically on 1 January 2006. There was no apparent reason to include such a point in the memorandum, perhaps apart from Yanukovych's personal desire implicitly to insult Yushchenko by suggesting that the latter might have played with the idea of canceling the reform in order not to lose his current presidential prerogatives.

Point two of the memorandum emphasizes "the impermissibility of political repression against the opposition." However one looks at this statement, it is obviously embarrassing and disadvantageous for Yushchenko. Because the phrase either implies that Yushchenko might resort to such repressions or provides the opposition with a strong point of reference if the authorities undertake any legal action against opposition figures who might violate the law.

However, the most stunning statement in the memorandum is the third point, whereby Yushchenko obliges himself to draft a bill on amnesty for those guilty of election fraud. It was the massive election fraud in the 2004 presidential election's second round that pushed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the streets and made Yushchenko's victory in the repeat second round possible.

Now Yushchenko seems to have forgotten or ignored that fact and is offering general pardon for the fraudsters, taking upon himself the role of top judge. Additionally, in the fourth point Yushchenko agrees to legislation to extend immunity from criminal prosecution to local council members, which seems to be another guarantee of the unaccountability to many individuals involved in the 2004 election fraud. What has become of Yushchenko's solemn promise during the Orange Revolution to send "all bandits to jail"?

The signatories of the memorandum also agree that it is necessary to urgently adopt laws on the opposition, the cabinet of ministers, and the president; form a cabinet on the principle of separation of government from business; provide legislative guarantees of ownership rights; ban pressure on judicial bodies; and conduct the parliamentary and local elections on 26 March 2006 without governmental interference or the use of "administrative resources." Each of these pledges, if interpreted in a manner unfavorable to Yushchenko, represents a significant step back from Yushchenko's election manifesto or, at a minimum, testifies to Yushchenko's public humiliation by his former presidential rival, whose political career seemed to have been tarnished forever by his behavior in the 2004 presidential.

"Signing the memorandum, the president may have earnestly wished to put an end to the crisis. But the price he paid was too high: The deal gave rise to a more serious crisis, a crisis of trust," the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" opined. And Yushchenko's staunch ally in the Orange Revolution, former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko, described the Yushchenko-Yanukovych pact in even more bitter words: "For the people, the ideals of the Maydan [Kyiv's Independence Square, seen as the Orange Revolution's main rostrum] mean that the law should be the same for everyone, that evil should always be punished, and that those involved in corruption should be removed from politics," Tomenko wrote in an article for the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 28 September. "For the new authorities, however, it is acceptable to collaborate with Yanukovych, who personifies all the worst features of the previous regime and who became the catalyst of the Orange Revolution."

Arguably, the Yushchenko-Yanukovych deal provides a lot of propagandistic ammunition for former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who intends to launch her 2006 parliamentary election campaign under the slogan of continuing the Orange Revolution until a victorious conclusion and with the intent of regaining the job of prime minister after the elections. Now Tymoshenko can persuasively claim that she, not Yushchenko, has remained true to the Orange Revolution ideals.

A recent poll by the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Fund found that Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc is supported by 20.7 percent of Ukrainians, about the same as Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine People's Union is third, with the support of 13.9 percent. It seems that Yushchenko's political troubles, temporarily alleviated by the deal with his former rival, will return to him amplified by the 2006 parliamentary elections.

In an operation conducted on 29 September, Pakistani security forces arrested a wanted neo-Taliban leader identified only as Ahmad near the Afghan-Pakistan border, the Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA reported. Ahmad has been identified as a nephew of Jalaluddin Haqani, who is believed to be the mastermind behind a recent upsurge of neo-Taliban terrorist activities. A Pakistani Inter-Services Public Relations official said on condition of anonymity that Ahmad was on the list of "people wanted by the Pakistani government," Pajhwak News Agency reported on 29 September. Haqani was a celebrated mujahedin commander during the anti-Soviet resistance before joining the Taliban regime in a ministerial capacity. Since the demise of the Taliban regime, Haqani has been regarded as one of the top leaders of the neo-Taliban and as a key coordinator of activities between the Afghan militants and Al-Qaeda members. AT

A militant group calling itself the Mujahedin Secret Army has threatened to kill Afghan parliament and provincial council candidates, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 28 September. "The 6,000 parliamentary candidates have signed their own death warrants," a group statement faxed to AIP indicated. The mujahedin will not "spare any" of the candidates "because they are all the servants and slaves of America," the statement added. In a statement likely directed to members of the Afghan resistance to the Soviets, the warning adds that "it is shameful that the former mujahedin have forgotten their God and are worshipping [U.S. President George W.] Bush." Signed by Khaled Habib, the statement ends: "Death to all the 6,000 parliamentary candidates." In February 2004, the renegade leader of Hizb-e Islami, former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, declared that he and Jalaluddin Haqani will direct a new strategy which will be carried out by the Secret Army of Mujahedin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). Other than the statement by Hekmatyar, the new group has been unheard of among militant organizations opposing the Afghan government and its foreign backers. AT

Sayyed Ali Ahmad Jawed, spokesman for the National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli), claimed on 29 September that the voter turnout for Afghanistan's 18 September elections was less than 40 percent overall, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Jawed said that the 50 percent voter participation claimed by the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) was an exaggeration. According to Jawed, former mujahedin leaders and what others describe as "warlords" have polled the highest number of votes. Jawed attributed lack of mass participation in the elections to disenchantment by the people in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Despite his criticism, Jawed viewed the elections as a chance for the establishment of peace and national unity in Afghanistan. The opposition front is led by former presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni. Meanwhile, Peter Erben of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body said on 29 September that the vote-counting is about half finished and that "We will have a target date for the completion of the count of around 4 October." AT

More than 30 candidates for parliament and provincial council seats from Nangarhar Province issued a joint statement on 29 September claiming that the election process has not been transparent, Pajhwak News Agency reported. "Powerful and wealthy individuals will make their way to the new parliament, while those having roots among the masses will lag behind," the statement said. The candidates claimed that after "sensing the widespread irregularities" people did not vote, the statement added. Mia Malang Qaderi, an official from the JEMB, described the statement by the candidates as a tactic by those who are sure they will lose the elections. AT

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spoke on 29 September at a meeting of Martyrs Foundations officials in Tehran and at a ceremony of regular armed forces cadets in the capital marking the beginning of the academic year, IRNA reported. At the former event he said the "Divine Reward" (heaven, presumably) is what all martyrs, devotees to Iran and Islam, and the families of martyrs will receive in the hereafter. Nevertheless, he continued, the Martyrs Foundation should deal with the problems they encounter in the present life. At the cadet ceremony, he described the military as "a symbol of power, national glory, and the potential to defend national identity." BS

Kurdish Islamist Mullah Krekar was deported from Iran to Norway in 2002, and now an Oslo court has ruled that he can be expelled from Norway, AFP reported on 29 September. An Iraqi, Krekar (aka Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad) founded Ansar al-Islam, which has also used the names Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan (Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan) and Jund al-Islam. The U.S. State Department lists Ansar Al-Islam as a foreign terrorist organization. The most recent annual State Department report on terrorism notes: "Ansar Al-Islam also has operational and logistic support cells in Europe." Krekar occasionally traveled to Iran, and Tehran reportedly backed his organization, though it is not clear why Iran ended the relationship so dramatically (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 June and 23 September 2002). Norway would like to expel Krekar because he is a national security concern. BS

The commander of the Basij Resistance Force, General Mohammad Hejazi, participated in the 29 September ceremony introducing the new Basij commander in Tabriz, Brigadier General Mohammad Yusef Shakeri, Fars News Agency reported. Hejazi described access to nuclear technology as an "inalienable right" and urged the country's officials to defend this right. He said Iran rejects the International Atomic Energy Agency governing board's most recent resolution on Iran. BS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi issued a directive on 26 September giving a leave of absence to all imprisoned students, citing it as an example of "Islamic mercy," IRNA reported. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said this applies to all students, regardless of their crimes, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 28 September. Within hours of the directive being issued, Radio Farda reported on 29 September, student leader Ali Afshari was sentenced to six years in jail for acting against national security. In addition, Afshari is barred from public office for five years. Afshari has vowed to appeal the verdict. Emadedin Baqi, who heads the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners, told Radio Farda that just a week earlier his organization sent a letter to Shahrudi requesting the release of 34 people, including journalists, website bloggers, lawyers, and political prisoners. Baqi noted that a number of these people were imprisoned in connection with the July 1999 student unrest. BS

Three car bombs killed at least 98 people in Balad, north of Baghdad, on 29 September, international news agencies reported the same day. The three blasts went off in Shi'ite districts within 40 minutes of each other in an apparent coordinated attack, Reuters reported. The dead included at least 35 women and 22 children, AFP reported citing local police officials. In other violence, at least 12 people were killed and 30 wounded when a car bomb exploded in crowded market in the southern town of Al-Hillah on 30 September, international news agencies reported the same day. The attack involved "a Mercedes car which was detonated by remote control in the town's market," AFP reported, citing local police. The explosion set several other cars on fire and blew out nearby storefronts. BW

With a referendum on Iraq's constitution two weeks away, Sunnis remain opposed to the document, Reuters reported on 29 September, citing leading Sunni negotiators. "The constitution issue is dead until the referendum," Sunni negotiator Hussein al-Falluji said. "We will vote 'no' and we will not accept the American policy of aggression to get what they want. There is no way we will support it," he added. Al-Falluji's statement came after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with Kurdish leaders about changes in the draft to win Sunni approval (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). "We will reject the constitution and we will say no to it no matter what happens," Abd al-Salam al-Kubaisi of the Muslim Clerics Association said. "We weren't informed about these new suggestions and whether the U.S. ambassador carried them to the Kurds or not. We stay firm and hold to our terms," he added. BW

American troops raided the homes of two officials from prominent Sunni groups on 29 September, international news agencies reported the same day. Adnan al-Dulaimi, secretary-general of the Conference of Iraqi Peoples, said soldiers arrived at his home in western Baghdad in tanks and Humvees, raided and searched his home as helicopters hovered overhead, AP reported. "It was as if they were attacking a castle, not the home of a normal person who advises Iraq's interim government and has called for reconciliation and renounced sectarianism," al-Dulaimi said, adding that the troops arrested four of his bodyguards and confiscated their weapons. The second raid took place at the home of Harith al-Obeidi, a senior official in the Iraqi Islamic party, AP reported. The U.S. military confirmed that it conducted several raids on 29 September but would not say where, AP reported. BW

The Japanese government has denied media reports that it is considering pulling its 600 troops out of Iraq in the first half of 2006, Reuters reported on 29 September. The daily newspaper "Yomiuri Shimbun" reported on 29 September that Tokyo was considering an exit plan. Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary has denied the report and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said no decision has been made, Reuters reported. "It will be a comprehensive decision in the future," Koizumi said. "It is a topic [to be decided] in the future." Japan's troops are limited to humanitarian and reconstruction tasks, with British and Australian troops providing their security. BW

Senior U.S. generals said on 29 September that just one of the 120 Iraqi police and army battalions is able to operate without help from American forces, Reuters reported the same day. The number is a decrease from the three Iraqi battalions the Pentagon said were combat ready in July. "We fully recognize that Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time because they don't have the institutional base to support them," General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told senators in Congress. Casey said, however, that the development does not mean the U.S. is "taking a step backwards" in Iraq. Casey and General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, briefed senators. Senator Susan Collins (R, Maine) said, "That contributes to a loss of public confidence in how the war is going and whether this strategy is the appropriate one and it's being executed properly, (and) whether or not we're making progress." BW

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Defense Department to release 74 photos and three videos showing prisoner abuse at Abu Ghurayb, Reuters reported on 29 September. The Defense Department had sought to suppress their release, arguing that their publication could incite more violence in Iraq. The ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union. In his ruling, the U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan rejected the Pentagon's argument, saying, "the terrorists in Iraq do not need pretexts for their barbarism" and that America "does not surrender to blackmail and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument." The judge gave the government 20 days to appeal. BW