Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - October 14, 2005

Russian police, security forces, and army troops succeeded by mid-morning local time on 14 October in storming the two locations -- a police station and a souvenir shop -- where several armed militants were holding out in Nalchik, killing the fighters in question, Russian media reported. But reported on 14 October that one district of the city remains cordoned off, and a group of militants subjected a police post in Khasanya on the outskirts of the city to mortar fire, killing two policemen. LF

Russian and international media have cited diverging estimates of the number of fighters who participated in the Nalchik attack, their ethnicity, and the casualties they sustained. "The Guardian" on 14 October quoted Fedor Shcherbakov, spokesman for Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, as saying there were "dozens" of fighters, "all from different parts of the North Caucasus," but apparently all residents of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR). Shcherbakov said 20 militants were killed and 19 arrested. The "Financial Times" said local officials variously estimated the number of attackers at between 80-200, or even as many as 300, and quoted unnamed Russian Interior Ministry officials as saying that 50 militants, 12 Interior Ministry troops, and at least 12 civilians were killed in the fighting. RIA Novosti on 14 October quoted KBR security officials as saying 61 fighters have been killed, 27 apprehended, and a total of 24 Russian police and special forces personnel killed. Some 120 residents of Nalchik have been hospitalized with injuries, reported late on 13 October. LF

First Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin briefed President Vladimir Putin on 13 October about the raid on Nalchik, RTR and other media reported. Putin ordered Chekalin to surround Nalchik with troops "so nobody can slip out of the city" and to "shoot on sight all armed attackers offering resistance." At press briefings on 13-14 October, Chekalin said that Nalchik is sealed off with a double perimeter of troops, RTR and Channel One reported. On 14 October, Russian special forces managed to quash one of two remaining pockets of resistance in the city. RIA-Novosti reported. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said on 13 October that most of the attackers belong to the local Yarmuk militant group, led by Anzor Astemirov, who was killed during the fighting, RTR reported. Russian officials claimed to have wiped out Yarmuk in two raids in Nalchik in January and April of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January and 2 May 2005). Meanwhile, General Yurii Baluevskii, the chief of the Russian Army's General Staff, said he has no indications from military intelligence that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev was behind or took part in the attack, NTV reported. VY

Former KGB Colonel Sergei Goncharov, the chairman of a veterans' association for the Alfa antiterrorism force, said on 13 October that events in Nalchik show that militants can carry out well-planned full-scale operations throughout the North Caucasus, reported. "I cannot name any republic in the North Caucasus where the law-enforcement system is working. Everywhere there is pervasive corruption and complete treachery. It is laughable to talk about fighting terror," he said. Goncharov also said that the current federal policy in the North Caucasus has failed and it is necessary to introduce direct federal rule in the North Caucasian republics. Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia), a member of the Duma Security Committee and former security-service officer, said on 13 October that events in Nalchik show the "helplessness of the Federal Security Service [FSB], Interior Ministry, and other law-enforcement agencies riddled with corruption," reported. The raid on Nalchik shows that the FSB and Interior Ministry have failed to penetrate the militant organizations, as they have managed to launch a well-planned and well-equipped attack, Gudkov said VY

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 13 October, Motherland party leader and State Duma faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin called on the presidential administration to declare the North Caucasus an emergency zone and to limit the movement of people from this region to the rest of Russia. Rogozin said that the leadership of the Russian Federation should acknowledge that "normalization" of the situation in Chechnya and neighboring republics is not going to happen. "Enough of these games! Now we are going to elect a legitimate parliament there [in November]. This will give us nothing," he said. Rogozin believes that President Putin should withdraw his support for separatist leaders, who went over to the side of federal authorities, and instead "stake [his chances] on loyal Chechens, Daghestanis, Ingush, who fought for Russia with weapons in their hands." JAC

At a 13 October cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said that the government should adopt a 10-year strategic plan to develop the economically depressed Kuril Islands, a chain of Pacific islands the Soviet Army seized after World War II, Channel One and other Russian media reported. Fradkov said that the government is ready to earmark 15 billion rubles ($535 million) for the project. "The Kurils have both an important strategic position and are a resource for minerals and raw materials," he said. Speaking at the same meeting, Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev said that the program "will have a positive impact on the talks with Japan about the [status of the] islands," reported. Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov said the Kurils are not only an economic, but also a geopolitical issue, and that the islands' infrastructure has a civil and military importance. Ivanov added that the Defense Ministry is ready to assist with the economic development of the region with military contracts. One should not forget, Ivanov explained, that the majority of the islands' population is made up of servicemen and their families, Channel One reported. VY

In a 14 October article in "Komsomolskaya pravda," the newspaper claimed that it has "sensational" proof that jailed military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov was involved in an apparent assassination attempt on Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 18, and 29 March, 21 and 22 April, and 3 May 2005). Kvachkov, who denies his involvement in the supposed plot, is an explosives specialist. However, according to leaks from an investigation that was completed last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005), investigators are convinced of Kvachkov's involvement, the newspaper wrote. More damning, according to the newspaper, are written statements that Kvachkov reportedly tried to smuggle out of prison, but which were intercepted by prison officials. According to the paper, Kvachkov wrote: "From a political point of view, the destruction of [people like] Chubais, [Economic Development Minister German] Gref, [Finance Minister Aleksei] Kudrin and [President] Putin can not be recognized as a crime. Our motherland is under international-Jewish occupation and armed actions are the actions of a national-liberation struggle," VY

The Prosecutor-General's Office in Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous Okrug confirmed that Platon Lebedev, the business partner of the former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, arrived at a labor camp in the village of Harp, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 October. The labor camp is in an isolated location and can only be reached by boat or helicopter. Lebedev was sentenced to eight years. Khodorkovskii's lawyers still do not have information about his whereabouts, but RBK reported on 13 October that he is headed for a labor camp in Engels, Saratov Oblast. The Engels camp reportedly holds 1,200 prisoners; in 2000-2002, National-Bolshevik Party head Eduard Limonov served his sentence there. VY

Israeli-Russian businessman Arkadii Gaidamak told "Kommersant" on 13 October that he will transform "Moskovskie novosti" from a liberal paper into a pro-government outlet. "As the leaders of public opinion, newspapers should not direct [their energies] against the establishment," Gaidamak said. "Political bodies in Russia are headed by people for whom the electorate voted in free and democratic elections. I consider it wrong to incite the public against them." Gaidamak bought the newspaper in July from Ukrainian media magnate Vadim Rabinovich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 July 2005). VY

Police have arrested two 17-year-old males in the recent murder of a Peruvian student in Voronezh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005), Interfax reported on 13 October. According to the agency, the two males were participating in sports in the park where the student was killed and race or ethnicity is not considered a factor in the murder. A search is under way for the other participants in the attack. According to "Izvestiya" on the same day, local human rights activists say that the attackers were local "skinheads." In a comment to the newspaper, Vladimir Lukin, human rights ombudsman, said that after the murder of a student from Africa in Voronezh in February 2004, the murderers were caught and sentenced to long prison terms, but "no additional social or organizational measures were taken" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). He continued, "Of course, it is impossible, as the city administration says, to assign a policeman to every foreign student, but it is possible to create a [different] public atmosphere." On 12 October, Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko said that he intends to review the list of Russian universities and colleges recommended for training foreign students "depending on an analysis of the situation in different regions." JAC

The presidential administration has submitted a bill amending the law on the civil chamber, reported on 13 October. The bill would give the chamber the function of "civil control" over freedom of speech on television and in other mass media and the power to report on breaches of freedom of expression in media outlets, "Nezavisimya gazeta" reported. Depending on the conclusions of the chamber's monitoring, its reports may be sent to the media outlets themselves, law-enforcement agencies, or governmental bodies that register and monitor media outlets. The daily noted that the body has no powers of enforcement and serves a purely advisory role. Yabloko deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin commented to the daily that the bill is just a smoke screen and/or PR device to persuade the West that freedom of expression is not a problem in Russia. Ekho Moskvy Editor In Chief Aleksei Venediktov commented "The creation of this artificial organ is unconstitutional, and an decision of this unconstitutional organ can be appealed to the Constitutional Court," reported. JAC

New Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Georgii Boos is preparing a "surprise" for the local political elite, according to "Vremya novostei" on 13 October. With the help of the Unified Russia faction in the oblast legislature, he plans to deprive all former high-ranking bureaucrats, including former governors, of cash bonuses and social benefits. Boos also plans to reduce the number of bureaucrats in the oblast administration from 1500 to 600, according to "Izvestiya." Boos told the daily that under the current law he would be entitled to 5 million rubles ($175,000) a year once he left his position as governor. Commenting on Boos's plan, Leonid Dimachev, from the oblast's association of state officials, said that his members are not only insulted but angry, Ekho Moskvy reported on 11 October. Boos assumed office in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005). JAC

President Putin signed into law on 13 October a bill changing the name of the city of Bednodemyanovskii in Penza Oblast to its historical name, Spassk, RTR reported citing the presidential press service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005). Residents of the town sought the name change, arguing that it made little sense to honor the poet Demyan Bednyi, who had no relationship to the town whatsoever and had never even visited. The town's original name was Bogdanovo but it was renamed Spassk at the end of the 18th century. JAC

The two top executives of the coffee importer Royal Armenia have been arrested on charges of fraud and smuggling, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 13 October, quoting the two men's lawyer, Ashot Sargsian. Royal Armenia alleged in July 2004, and again in June 2005, that beginning in 2003, Armenian customs officials solicited bribes from the company in return for grossly underestimating the value of its imports and then penalized Royal Armenia for its rejection of that scam (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004 and 28 June 2005). The Armenian National Security Service launched criminal proceedings against Royal Armenia earlier this year on the basis of a complaint from a U.S. citizen of Armenian descent who claims Royal Armenia owes him $164,000 for shipments of coffee beans. LF

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said at a session in Yerevan on 13 October of the bilateral intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, of which he is co-chairman, that Moscow has not yet met its commitment to restart production at several enterprises Armenia ceded to Russia two years ago in payment of its debts, Noyan Tapan reported. Levitin said it has not yet been decided whether those enterprises will be restructured for military purposes. Levitin also told journalists in Yerevan on 13 October that Russia and Georgia are close to signing a formal agreement on the resumption of rail traffic from Sochi to Tbilisi via Abkhazia, a move that would facilitate Armenian imports and exports, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Armenian commission co-chairman Serzh Sarkisian said Russia is prepared to cover most of the cost of repairs to that rail line, which has not been used for 13 years. LF

Members of a fact-finding commission from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe briefed journalists on 13 October on their conclusions following three days of consultations in Baku, reported on 14 October. The parliamentarians noted improvements in contrast with earlier election campaigns in terms of access to the media, but also highlighted persisting problems, including the inclusion in voter lists of a large number of people temporarily resident abroad. Stressing that Azerbaijan should avail itself of the opportunity to demonstrate to the world its willingness to hold free and fair elections, the delegation made four recommendations to the country's leadership: to ensure that local administrators comply with the presidential decree of 11 May on nonintervention in the ballot; to task the Central Election Commission (MSK) with making arrangements to mark voters' fingers with indelible ink to preclude multiple voting; to lift all restrictions on the freedom of assembly; and for the Prosecutor-General's office to open an investigation into all violations of the Election Law that have been reported to the MSK. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has released a statement in response to criticisms by its Russian counterpart on 12 October of the Georgian parliament's resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones, Caucasus Press reported on 14 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 October 2005). The Georgian statement accused Moscow of seeking to dupe world public opinion and rejected Russian charges that Georgia intends to resolve the conflict by recourse to arms. On 13 October, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia issued a statement condemning the Georgian parliamentary resolution in light of the "unprecedented militarization" under way in that country, reported. LF

For the second time in three months, members of the Association of Young Lawyers of Georgia have alleged that money from the presidential fund, which is intended for emergency expenditures, and from the government's disaster fund has been misspent, Caucasus Press reported on 13 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2005). They told journalists in Tbilisi on 13 October that of the 35 million laris ($19.4 million) President Mikheil Saakashvili has allocated this year from the presidential fund, only 4,000 laris were distributed among victims of recent floods. LF

The Interior Ministry's Counterintelligence Department has begun investigating the origin of leaflets distributed during the night of 11-12 October in the predominantly Armenian district of Akhalkalaki and signed by the hitherto unknown Brigade for the Liberation of Akhaltsikhe, Caucasus Press reported on 13 October. The leaflets, printed in Russian and bearing Turkish symbols, warn Armenians to leave the region or risk being killed. Meeting with journalists on 13 October, regional Governor Goga Khachidze dismissed the leaflets as a bad joke. LF

During her visit to Kazakhstan on 13 October, Condoleezza Rice visited the Eurasian University in Astana, met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and opposition leaders, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. At a joint press conference after the meeting with Nazarbaev, Rice reiterated that Kazakhstan, which is due to hold a presidential election on 4 December, "has an unprecedented opportunity to lead Central Asia towards democracy." Rice called on the Kazakh government to hold free and fair elections. Speaking about the situation in Uzbekistan, Rice appealed to the Uzbek government to "turn back from its current course and make a strategic choice in favor of democracy." The U.S. secretary of state concluded her visit to Kazakhstan by meeting leaders of the main opposition parties. On 12 October, prominent opposition figure Tolen Toqtasynov, who was on his way from Almaty to Astana to meet Rice, was briefly detained. AN

During a short visit to Tajikistan on 13 October, Rice said that the United States is not seeking a "permanent military presence in Tajikistan" and current military and technical cooperation is aimed at supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Rice urged the leadership of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to make sure that elections are free, fair, and inclusive. Speaking in Dushanbe to media after her meeting with the president, Rice said opposition parties should be given a chance to organize and to have free access to media. The same day, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said that his country remains a partner of the United States in international efforts to combat terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking. AN

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office has asked its Russian counterpart to assist in detaining Aydar Akaev, son of the ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 13 October. In an interview with RFE/RL, Deputy Prosecutor-General Jumadil Makeshov said that in accordance with the Minsk agreements that CIS countries are signatories to, Russian authorities should assist Kyrgyzstan in detaining Aydar Akaev, who currently lives in Russia. Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies have charged Akaev with abuse of power and financial malpractices. In September, the Kyrgyz parliament stripped him of his deputy's immunity, opening the way for a criminal case against him. AN

Kurmanbek Bakiev has called for the country's constitution to be amended in order to strip former presidents, prime ministers, and parliamentary deputies of the immunity they already enjoy, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October. Speaking the same day, Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Council -- a forum consisting of representatives of legislative and executive bodies, and NGOs -- Bakiev said that if a head of state and other top officials intend to serve their nation, they shouldn't need guarantees of immunity. The Kyrgyz president said former top officials' social benefits should also be limited. AN

The Tashkent City Court, in a brief 10 October session, rejected Internews's appeal on the closure of its office in Uzbekistan, the Arena website reported on 13 October. Internews Country Director Catherine Eldridge said the move was expected, yet very disappointing. In August, local employees of Internews were charged with producing unlicensed TV programs. The organization has also been charged with conducting unlicensed activities, using unregistered brand names, and trying to "monopolize Uzbek mass media [market]." Internews launched its operations in Uzbekistan a decade ago and provides training and legal assistance for journalists. AN

Uzbek authorities have closed the bridge connecting the Uzbek town of Qorasuv with Kyrgyzstan, reported on 14 October. Several thousand people gathered on both sides of the bridge in an effort to cross the border. quotes Uzbek officials as saying that the closure of the bridge is aimed at preventing the spread of anthrax from Kyrgyz territory. Uzbek authorities demolished the bridge two years ago but it was restored by local residents during the events in Andijon in May. The Kyrgyz border town of Karasuu is a big market and many Uzbek residents living close to the border went there to buy goods. AN

The Minsk City Prosecutor's Office has issued warnings to three individuals who petitioned President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in August over attacks on the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), Belapan reported on 13 October. Mikalai Kalinin, Andrey Pyatrovykh, and Alyaksandr Zyalko were warned for "acting on behalf of an unregistered organization." In early August, a group of eight people founded the Zhoda (Concord) initiative and adopted a petition requesting the head of state to put an end to pressure on the SPB. "Since the [Minsk City] Prosecutor's Office failed to find elements of a crime in the petition, it decided to warn us against acting on behalf of an unregistered organization, threatening a tough punishment," Zhoda leader Zyalko told Belapan. The SPB held a congress in August and elected a new leadership to replace the one elected in March, which was not accepted by the Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). Warsaw said the August congress was orchestrated by Belarusian special services and refused to recognize the new SPB leadership. SPB Chairman Jozef Lucznik told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 13 October that the Polish government has not renewed its financial support of the SPB since its suspension earlier this year. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 14 October signed a decree dismissing Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, Interfax-Ukraine reported, quoting Presidential Secretariat head Oleh Rybachuk. "I can say that we have probably saved Piskun from himself, from opening a criminal case against himself. He has been very excited in recent days, opening so many cases. I think this is a normal, well-timed decision by the president [to fire Piskun] so he doesn't open a case against himself, investigate it in one day and put himself in jail," Rybachuk said. Piskun told journalists earlier this week that if Yushchenko fires him, he will fight in court to keep his job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2005). JM

President Yushchenko assured his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, in a letter quoted by the Turkmen press on 13 October, that Kyiv will meet all its commitments regarding its payment for Turkmen gas supplies, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "This issue is under my personal control," Yushchenko wrote. It was reported earlier this year in the Russian press that Ukraine had accumulated up to $600 million in commodity debt for Turkmen gas (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 29 June 2005). Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 13 October that Ukraine's commodity debt for Turkmen gas supplies now stands somewhere between $450 million and $470 million. Meanwhile, earlier the same day Turkmen Television showed a meeting of Niyazov with a Ukrainian governmental delegation, at which he blasted Ukraine for not paying its gas debt to Turkmenistan, Reuters reported. "You only give empty promises," Niyazov said. "We are glad to see you here, but when will you implement your obligations?" Niyazov also said both states' planned 25-year gas contract has been put off indefinitely. JM

Former Sumy Oblast Governor Volodymyr Shcherban has been arrested in Tampa, Florida, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported on 13 October. Ukrainian prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Shcherban earlier this year, charging him with extortion and abuse of office. JM

Some 30,000 coal miners staged a rally in Donetsk on 13 October, demanding that the government increase financing for the coal industry and pay September wages at all mines, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. A state budget draft for 2006 envisages some $800 million for the coal industry, a figure seen as too low by miners. JM

Kai Eide, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Kosova, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 13 October that Kosova has "institutions in place that work, not perfectly, but they work" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). Referring to the report that he recently presented to Annan, who subsequently recommended the launching of talks on Kosova's future, Eide said that "the main findings are mixed." For example, he noted that the legal system has been built up from nothing since 1999 although the judicial system "is very weak." He also cited the health and education systems as Kosova's "main achievements" since liberation from Serbian rule in 1999. Eide argued, however, that the status process must proceed "with caution." He added that "it is very important that all parties are brought into the process and brought through the process. Once the process has started, it cannot be blocked by anybody" and must be continued until its conclusion. The Norwegian diplomat argued that "the whole region needs clarity" regarding Kosova's future, including Belgrade. PM

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said in Prishtina on 13 October that he expects talks on Kosova's final status will start "within 30 days," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2005). He noted that independence or autonomy are the only likely solutions and ruled out any partition of Kosova. Burns said that the United States does not favor any particular option. The UN Security Council will make a recommendation on status talks on 24 October, he added. Burns strongly warned against any resort to violence at this politically sensitive time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). PM

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal ruled on 13 October that Kosova's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who returned to Prishtina in June pending his trial, has permission to take part in politics, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2005). Haradinaj, who led the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), appealed to all citizens of Kosova to support the ongoing political process there. In Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic opposed the tribunal's decision. Serbian Minister for Capital Investments Velimir Ilic, who represents a small member of the governing coalition, said that the government will ask the tribunal to allow Serbian indictees who are awaiting their trials at home to engage in politics, too. PM

A two-day summit of Central European leaders opened in Zagreb on 14 October, with EU integration and relations with non-EU neighboring states topping the agenda, Croatian and international media reported. The gathering is the 12th in a series and brings together the heads of state of Albania, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Croatian President Stipe Mesic welcomed his guests by saying that there is "no alternative" to European integration" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 September 2005). PM

Croatian journalist Josip Jovic flew from Zagreb to The Hague on 14 October to face contempt-of-court charges before the war crimes tribunal that is based there, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2005). The tribunal had issued an arrest warrant for Jovic of the daily "Slobodna Dalmacija" and Marijan Krizic of the weekly "Hrvatsko slovo" because they published the name of a witness in the case against Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic for war crimes in central Bosnia's Lasva Valley between 1992 and 1994. Before leaving for The Hague, Jovic told reporters: "I assume the initial hearing, at which I will enter my plea, will be held today...and I expect to be back in Split this evening. Of course, I will plead not guilty and don't expect any surprises." PM

The Moldovan parliament on 13 October lifted the immunity from prosecution of Serafim Urechean, Ion Ciontoloi, and Vasile Colta, deputies of the opposition Our Moldova Alliance (AMN), BASA reported. The move was supported by 54 votes from the Communist Party caucus, while other parliamentary groups did not participate in the vote. AMN Deputy Chairman Veaceslav Untila described the decision as "a shameful vote that marks the beginning of the demolition of democracy in the country." The Prosecutor-General's Office has accused the three lawmakers of abuse of office. In particular, Urechean is charged with inflicting damage of some $240,000 on the state while he was mayor of Chisinau. JM

Members of Belarus's democratic opposition were bracing for some kind of provocation to take place during their congress in early October. They were, however, taken aback by the form that this action took. A group of young people dressed in colorful clothing carried signs declaring that members of Belarus's sexual minority support democrats, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 October.

Before cameras from Belarus's national television stations, they expressed their hope that upon coming to power, the opposition would legalize same-sex marriage. The leader of Belarus's registered movement of gays and lesbians said his group had nothing to do with the rally. The "gay" theme was nevertheless the main focus of Belarusian television broadcasts on the congress, according to

It is too early to say what effect this "performance" will have on the rating of the opposition's new candidate, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, but organizing such rallies by previously unknown groups of "gays and lesbians" has a long history in political campaigning in the former Soviet Union. It remains among the main weapons in the arsenal of "black PR," or dirty tricks. And while no polling agency has conducted systematic research into the effectiveness of smearing candidates or politicians by either associating them with gay groups or insinuating that they are gay, it is safe to assume that the techniques has met with some success. Otherwise, the practitioners of "black PR" would avoid it.

One early -- and successful -- use of the technique was during a September 1998 by-election for a State Duma seat in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Flamboyant activists were hired to go around the conservative town of Dzerzhinsk carrying posters and signs in favor of Muscovite advertising executive Sergei Lisovskii. According to "Izvestiya" on 27 May 2003, their antics had a "shocking effect" on voters and Lisovskii lost. Would Lisovskii have lost otherwise? Quite possibly, since he had to work against local voters' perceptions that he was an outsider. However, he had built up some goodwill among local voters by providing much-needed textbooks and medicines.

At the national level, during the 2000 presidential campaign, groups of youths were reportedly hired to carry signs around Moscow with the message "Gays and Lesbians for Yavlinskii." Andrei Vulf, a former State Duma deputy, told NTV on 27 May 2003 that Yavlinskii's popularity fell after these actions.

In the more recent, gubernatorial elections in Kurgan Oblast in 2004, a local legislator and head of the Motherland party branch in neighboring Sverdlovsk, Sergei Kapchuk, was expected to put up strong competition for incumbent Oleg Bogomolov. During the lead-up to the first round, graffiti appeared overnight on Kapchuk campaign materials with the word "gay," Novyi region reported 9 September 2004. Krapchuk told the agency "all of this is not especially pleasant, and if my ill-wishers succeed, then I will lose the first round of the election!" Kapchuk accused Bogomolov's headquarters of being behind the effort: "Bogomolov became afraid of me as soon as his rating reached 15 percent and mine 9 percent." Kapchuk was later disqualified on the eve of the first round, so he never had a chance to try to gauge how much the action hurt him.

An interesting feature of dirty tricks is that they seem to have a limited shelf life. As soon as voters develop a certain awareness of them and begin to suspect a trick is just that -- a trick -- then the target of the smear might in fact win more public sympathy. During a contentious mayoral race in Nizhnii Novgorod in July 2001, residents were treated to posters around their city with slogans that included "Gays for Andrei" and "Prostitutes for Andrei." (Former Mayor and convicted felon Klimentev was the only candidate with the first name Andrei.) That effort appeared to have little effect, according to Maksim Dianov, director of the Institute for Regional Problems, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 March 2003.

According to Dianov, dirty tricks can also sometimes have opposite effects of those intended. For example, five days before a State Duma election, Rostov Oblast candidate Igor Bratishchev was shown being picked up by the police seemingly drunk outside of a restaurant, according to "Izvestiya." He used obscene language and shoved at the policemen; his rating shot up immediately by 12 percentage points, and he won the election.

At the same time, it is difficult to imagine that Bratishchev's career would have survived similar film footage being shown of him being picked up by policemen outside of a gay nightclub. While it is true that Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii has been filmed inside of a gay nightclub, his reputation and "appeal" is built to a great extent on his clownish defiance of societal norms. Public attitudes toward homosexuality in most countries in the former Soviet space are not as tolerant as those toward drunkenness.

Recently, one national-level politician in Russia felt strongly enough about being labeled gay that he pursued a criminal case against a campaign consultant for libel. In June, a local court in Saratov sentenced Eduard Abrosimov, a journalist and former adviser to former Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, to seven months in jail for spreading compromising materials about Ayatskov rival and State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Volodin (Unified Russia) in the national weekly "Sobesednik."

The article, which was written by someone named Andrei Zabelin, suggested that Volodin has an "untraditional" sexual orientation. Local prosecutors also found on Abrosimov's personal computer the text of another article accusing local police investigators of taking bribes. According to an RFE/RL correspondent in Saratov, police also found on one of Abrosimov's computer disks details about the preparation of a PR campaign against Volodin. One of the proposed actions was organizing a scandal in a gay club in Europe with a person who looks like Volodin and then sending a tape of the event to the media.

Another option for victims of a smear campaign is appealing not to a court of law but rather to the court of public opinion. During the lead-up to Azerbaijan's November parliamentary elections, Ali Kerimli, leader of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan party, was greeted in June by a group of gay activists at an airport in Istanbul. Insinuations from his political enemies that he is gay have dogged Kerimli for years. In July, Kerimli had apparently had enough and issued the following challenge: "If anyone has any doubts about my manliness, let them send me their wives...." News reports did not provide a reaction from Mrs. Kerimli.

Hundreds of candidates who have lost in the 18 September elections in Afghanistan protested near the Presidential Palace in Kabul on 13 October, Xinhua news agency reported. Sayyed Murtaza, an independent candidate for the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the National Assembly, alleged that "mass irregularities have been committed in the ballot counting," and said that the protesters demand a recount. Abdul Shukur Waqif, a candidate from Kabul, told Xinhua that he has complained to Jean Arnault, UN secretary-general's special envoy to Afghanistan, about fraud in the elections. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), while acknowledging the occurrence of some irregularities in the polls, has maintained that the scale of these problems did not affect the overall elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). AT

Around 200 candidates in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, on 13 October prevented JEMB workers from entering the local vote-counting center, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Picketing candidates told AIP that an eight-member delegation invited by Governor Gol Agha Sherzai for talks aimed at responding to the complaints of protesting candidates, has not been "heard from." An unidentified candidate said that the delegation has not reported back to them, adding that their "mobile telephones are switched off and we do not know what happened to them." The candidates in Nangarhar have alleged that there was fraud in the vote counting and have also demanded that the suspect ballot boxes be counted in their presence. After the JEMB announces provisional results for each province, there is a five-day window in which complaints can be received. Thus far the JEMB has announced provisional election results for nine provinces (see AT

Around 200 candidates held a peaceful demonstration in Herat on 13 October to voice their displeasure with the counting process in their province, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported. The protesters demanded a recount of the votes. Governor Sayyed Hosayn Anwari promised to address the protesters' grievances, though it is not clear in what manner. AT

Staff Sergeant Brian Doyle was charged with dereliction of duty and maltreatment for ordering another solider to beat an Afghan detainee who later died in the U.S. military facility in Bagram, north of Kabul, the BBC reported on 13 October. Doyle was also accused of not preventing maltreatment of Afghan detainees by his subordinates. The detainee in question, identified as Habibullah, died in December 2002. AT

On 12 October NATO announced that troops and helicopters attached to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan will not be sent to Pakistan to help in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the devastating South Asian earthquake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005), the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 13 October, though its aircraft will continue to transport relief supplies from Europe to Pakistan. The first NATO aircraft from Europe reached Pakistan on 13 October and the alliance is planning to dispatch helicopters by sea if they are required in the rescue operations. NATO said that ISAF is stretched to its limit in Afghanistan. NATO member states that have troops or equipment under their national command are free to move them to Pakistan. AT

Manuchehr Mottaki was in China on 13 October, where he discussed with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing bilateral ties and cooperation, IRNA reported the same day. Li told Mottaki that China supports Iran's continued talks on its nuclear dossier with the European Union, and expressed hope the issue will be resolved within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), IRNA added. Mottaki expressed Iran's gratitude for Chinese support for peaceful use of nuclear energy by Iran, but said renewed talks with the EU must have a "direction," and be "constructive." Mottaki met separately with Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinhong, with whom he discussed the nuclear dossier, Middle East politics, and Iran-China trade, IRNA added. VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on 12 October that Iran's conduct over its nuclear program is "rational, lawful, and wise," and "Iran's enemies" could be sure "we will not retreat a single step from our principled and precise position," ISNA reported the next day. Iran's "situation and positions today in important international issues, especially the nuclear energy issue, are much more solid than before," he said at a joint meeting of government and parliamentary representatives. He said the "initiative" on this matter has passed to Iranian officials, as proven by the fact that "for the first time," in the last IAEA meeting, "members could not reach a consensus" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 October 2005). He said critics should not link the country's economic problems with the nuclear dossier, and separately rejected accusations that Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs. "It is surprising that occupiers from thousands of kilometers away come to control Iran's neighboring country, then brazenly accuse Iran of meddling," he said. VS

Politicians have expressed concern at Tehran's stagnant securities market, as well as the government response and its economic outlook. Legislator Hadi Haqshenas said on 12 October that stagnant money and stock markets were "a measure " of the new government's economic policies, and "the state of the stock market shows the direction of the government's economic policies," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. He said falling share prices are a "message on Ahmadinejad's electoral slogans." If "someone [else] had been elected, we would not be facing" a stagnant market, he said. He observed that the government's instruction to state-sector banks to buy stocks to prevent their prices falling is a palliative measure, and not a solution. That was echoed by former Deputy Finance Minister Mohsen Safai-Farahani, who told ILNA on 12 October that share purchases by those banks were an "inverse" solution that took private money out of the stock market. He blamed falling prices on various measures over the past year, including the decision to cap interest rates and the price of some goods. On 12 October, current Deputy Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri told reporters in Tehran that the government will soon make structural changes to the stock market, ensuring its stability and profitability, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 13 October. VS

A publication run by prominent conservative cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi has objected to the appointment by Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani of former President Mohammad Khatami to head the council's research center, Radio Farda reported on 13 October. The "Parto Sokhan" weekly has attacked the appointment and commented that the Expediency Council Strategic Research Center will become a "refuge" for "self-styled reformers" and Khatami allies, who could use public funds to carry out research that will help shape future policies beneficial to themselves, Radio Farda reported. The weekly observed that the appointment showed that Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami have similar views. Khatami succeeded Hashemi-Rafsanjani to the presidency in 1997, but also served in his cabinet as culture minister from 1989 to 1992. Separately, Mohammad Nabi Habibi, the head of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, told ISNA on 12 October that newly appointed state officials must have, among other qualities, "a security perspective." He rejected recent criticisms of the appointment of former security officials to Interior Ministry posts, and said "national security is among the most important red lines for the country and the system." VS

Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi, a representative of the Muslim Scholars Association, told reporters at a 13 October press briefing in Baghdad, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, that the association supports calls by other groups to boycott the referendum on the constitution. He named 21 political groups that he claimed support a boycott of the 15 October referendum vote. "I salute all these groups for the renewal [on 12 October] of their rejection of the constitution for what they are doing now, and for coming to the place from which they voiced a rejection of U.S. dictates," he said. Al-Kubaysi contended that the association considers it a duty "to confront any hand that is raised with the intention of stopping the Iraqis from slapping U.S. President [George W.] Bush in the face and opposing U.S. policy in Iraq. The [association] would like to draw more than one question mark on anyone who might want to protect the U.S. president from this slap, which is represented by the 'no' vote or by the boycott of this constitution, which we call a grand conspiracy," he told reporters. KR

The Al-Fallujah Ulama and municipal councils called on Iraqis to vote against the draft referendum on the constitution during a 13 October gathering in the city, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 14 October. Mosque preachers were reportedly asked to urge citizens during their Friday-prayer sermons to reject the constitution, the news channel reported. Meanwhile, an Al-Jazeera television correspondent in Baghdad claimed that journalists "have not seen the draft constitution" distributed by the Independent Election Commission, adding that he believed Iraqi citizens have also not seen the draft, the news channel reported on 13 October. KR

Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn issued an Internet statement ( on 13 October criticizing the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party for supporting the draft constitution. Saying the Iraqi nation's misfortune lies in another enemy form, in its countrymen, the statement noted: "Everyone knows that what the infidels [United States] plotted for Islam and its people will not be stopped by negotiations [such as those carried out by the Islamic Party over the text of the draft] and its evil will not be eliminated by entering the 'political game' as some like to call it." The statement also criticized the Islamic Party for calling itself a "Muslim" party, saying the party "went beyond shaming" itself when it agreed to support the draft. "We will not differentiate between rejectionists who cooperated with the Crusaders and someone who claims to be a Sunni who sold himself to the enemies of this religion," the statement said. "They are equal enemies in our eyes." KR

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqis to vote "yes" in the 15 October referendum on the draft constitution, international media reported on 13 October. Al-Sistani's office said in a statement that clerics should promote the affirmative vote in their Friday-prayer sermons. Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 14 October that the Sunni Waqf Office has also lent its support to the referendum. KR

Judge Ra'id al-Juhi, spokesman of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, told reporters in Baghdad on 13 October that the trial of former President Saddam Hussein will begin as scheduled on 19 October, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. He said the court panel, which is comprised of five judges, is ready to begin the trial against Hussein and seven other members of his regime for crimes against humanity in the Al-Dujayl case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). "In the coming days, our people, who were victimized by the former regime, look forward to seeing the day when justice is done and when the Iraqi judiciary conducts one of the fair trials that will be totally based on legal evidence and facts related to lawsuits, as well as on investigative procedures," al-Juhi told reporters. KR

Hospitalized and imprisoned Iraqis began casting ballots in the referendum on the draft constitution on 13 October, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. The news channel said that several teams of Human Rights Ministry personnel oversaw the voting process in U.S. and Iraqi prisons and detention camps, as well as in hospitals across the country. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 13 October that voting was under way at Abu Ghurayb Prison. KR