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Newsline - October 19, 2005

Aleksandr Nikolaevich Yakovlev, 81, one of the primary authors of liberal reforms launched under CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, died in Moscow on 18 October after a long illness, local and international media reported. A historian and diplomat who was elevated to the Politburo in 1987, Yakovlev used the opportunity to uproot the totalitarian Soviet system and advance ideals of democracy. Responsible within the Soviet leadership for mass media, Yakovlev introduced the policy of media transparency and independence, known as "glasnost," in 1986. In 1987-89, Yakovlev was among the initiators of a rapprochement with the West and an end to Cold War confrontation. After 1988, Yakovlev presided over efforts to rehabilitate victims of Communist repression, and served as the chairman of a related commission until his death. Gorbachev called Yakovlev's death an "irreparable loss," ITAR-TASS reported on 18 October. President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to Yakovlev's widow and his family, saying that Yakovlev "did a lot for the development of civil society and the legal state in Russia, and helped to return the good names to thousands of victims of political repression," RIA-Novosti reported. Ex-President Boris Yeltsin said Yakovlev made a great contribution to the formation of democracy in Russia, reported. VY

Former Soviet Foreign Minister and ex-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 18 October called Yakovlev "a pragmatic and realistic politician who took an analytical approach to any process," adding, "His death is a great loss for international democracy," RIA-Novosti reported. In Moscow, federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin called Yakovlev "a historic figure, an outstanding personality, and a man of freedom," reported. One of the leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, said that Yakovlev was a "symbol of wisdom, courage, and open confrontation to the Communist and fascist ideologies," adding, "For this he was hated by his enemies and disliked by the authorities, but neither the former nor the latter forced him to abandon his convictions," reported on 18 October. Our Choice party leader Irina Khakamada said Yakovlev's death is a personal tragedy for her, reported on 18 October, "He was my teacher, and I think all democrats should learn from him." White House spokesman Scott McClellan was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying on 18 October that Yakovlev, together with Gorbachev, authored the perestroika policy that "allowed the U.S. and USSR to stop the Cold War for the benefit of all mankind." Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who was Yakovlev's partner in negotiations, said Yakovlev "set up the intellectual foundation for 'perestroika,' 'glasnost,' and free thought," ITAR-TASS reported on 18 October. VY

Russia supports Brazil's efforts to become a permanent member of a reformed United Nations Security Council, Interfax reported on 18 October, quoting from a joint declaration signed by Russian and Brazilian presidents in Moscow the same day. "President Vladimir Putin expressed Russia's support for Brazil as one of the strongest candidates for permanent membership of the reformed UN Security Council," the declaration said. The declaration followed talks between Putin and his Brazilian counterpart Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva in Moscow. BW

A Russian trawler that spent four days fleeing the Norwegian Coast Guard reached Russian waters on 19 October, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. Norwegian authorities stopped the trawler, the "Elektron," on 15 October on suspicion of illegal fishing. Norwegian authorities accused the crew of using illegal nets and began escorting the trawler to a port, but the "Elektron" abruptly broke away from its escort on 17 October and headed for Russian waters with two Norwegian Coast Guard inspectors on board. An antisubmarine vessel from Russia's Arctic Fleet is escorting the "Elektron" toward Murmansk, and a Norwegian ship is shadowing them on the other side of the maritime border. The two Norwegian officials on board will be handed over to a Norwegian ship as soon as weather permits, Bloomberg News reported, quoting Norwegian officials. Russian officials have said they are ready to assist Norway in investigating the incident, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 October. BW

An Israeli diplomat was beaten and robbed in downtown St. Petersburg on 17 October, Interfax reported the next day, quoting Israeli Embassy sources in Moscow. "Israeli diplomat Micky Boguslavsky, first secretary by rank and director of the Israeli Cultural Center in St. Petersburg by his position, was returning home from work on Monday evening. Several people attacked him in the city center, beat him up and took away everything valuable that he had, including a digital camera, cash, and credit cards," the embassy said, adding that Boguslavsky "lost consciousness for some time." Boguslavsky reported the attack to local police on 18 October. BW

Zinovy Kogan, head of the Russian Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations, said on 18 October that he is deeply concerned about resurgent anti-Semitism in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported the same day. Kogan cited the vandalizing of 50 tombstones at the city's Jewish cemetery and the 17 October attack on Israeli diplomat Boguslavsky. "Ahead of National Unity Day, marked on November 4, Russia must prove to itself that it can shake off all this filth," Kogan said. "Racism, xenophobia and religious enmity must not be allowed to spread further, entangling more and more young people." BW

Eight days after the murder of a Peruvian student in Voronezh, unknown assailants beat up and robbed a 23-year-old student from Albania in the same city on 17 October, NTV reported on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2005). The local police said the student was careless and should not have been out so late in such a dangerous spot in the city, and the city prosecutor said there is no reason to suspect that the incident was ethnically motivated. Meanwhile, the first secretary of the Albania Embassy in Moscow said that in April 2004 three Albanian students were also attacked. The embassy announced on 18 October that Albania will no longer send its students to Voronezh for higher education, RFE/RL's Russian service. JAC

Agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested a senior tax official as he was allegedly being handed a $1 million bribe in a Moscow hotel, Russian and international news agencies reported on 18 October, quoting prosecutors. The unidentified official, a deputy head of the tax service's banking department, had demanded $1 million from the chairman of an unidentified Moscow bank in exchanged for reducing the bank's tax bill, Reuters reported, quoting a spokesman for the Moscow prosecutor's office. FSB officers arrested the official on 17 October at Moscow's five-star Hotel Baltschug Kempinski. The arrest was announced the same day that corruption watchdog Transparency International published its annual corruption-perception survey suggesting graft in Russia had worsened to put it on the same level as Sierra Leone, Niger, and Albania, Reuters reported. BW

The Russian Republic Party (RRP), which is led by independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, and the Unified People's Party of Soldiers Mothers (ENPSM) will pool forces in order to meet the membership requirements for political parties to be registered, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 October. ENPSM leader Valentina Melnikova told the daily that her party also received offers of alliance from Yabloko and environmental groups but decided to accept Ryzhkov's. "All other politicians are still sitting on two chairs -- one in the Kremlin and the other in the party's executive committee," Melnikova said. "They all are afraid of generals and prosecutors, and the RRP alone is not afraid." Leonid Sedov of the Levada Center told the daily that the RRP-ENPSM alliance "will seek to win over part of the electorates of the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko." JAC

A criminal case against maternity-hospital employee Yelena Luchnikova has been sent to court in Vladivostok, Regnum and Interfax reported on 18 October. Luchnikova is suspected of having helped a U.S. family adopt two Russian infants by presenting forged documents stating that no Russian families wanted the boys because of their poor health. The young boys in the case already live in the United States and have become U.S. citizens. According to "Gazeta" on 19 October, Luchnikova was found guilty in a similar case a month ago regarding her attempt to arrange the illegal adoption of a 1-year old girl to an American couple. The grandmother of the would-be adoptee found out that her daughter's child was being sent overseas and appealed to the prosecutor. Luchnikova's co-workers say that she is a victim of circumstances and did not arrange the adoptions for profit. "She was simply worried about the fate of our rejected children," said one of her co-workers on the basis of anonymity. "If you saw how the children lie around here -- with chronic illnesses, with delayed development -- as invalids," said the co-worker. "And when wealthy foreigners will adopt these sick children, that is good fortune." JAC

The Dzerzhinsk federal court in St. Petersburg upheld on 18 October a lawsuit filed by Yurii Vdovin of the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information, obligating seven federal organs to open their own websites before 1 January, reported. Vdovin argued that the government agencies are violating a 2003 government order to maintain websites informing the public about their activities. The federal organs include the Federal Guard Service, Federal Bailiff Service, the Federal Service for Defense Orders, and the Ministry for Regional Development. JAC

Ruslan Alkhanov told senior law-enforcement officials in Grozny on 18 October that he has issued orders to his men to open fire on anyone wearing a mask in public, Interfax reported. "We will not allow anyone to commit crimes in Chechnya hiding behind a mask," the news agency quoted him as saying. Alkhanov issued a similar order 14 months ago empowering police to open fire on men wearing masks in urban areas, arguing that "most crimes are committed" by masked men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004). An unidentified senior Interior Ministry official told Interfax on 18 October, however, that Alkhanov's orders are legally flawed. Interior Troops spokesman Vasilii Panchenkov told Interfax that riot police are required to wear masks, which are also used in mountain areas in winter as protection from frostbite. But a presidential adviser on Cossack affairs, retired Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, who is a former commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, told Interfax for his part that FSB, Interior Ministry, and other troops operating in Chechnya should "act openly and not wear masks." LF

Police launched a search operation on 18 October in three southwestern districts of Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), in an attempt to locate and apprehend fighters who participated in the coordinated attacks on police and security targets in the city on 13 October, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 October 2005). ITAR-TASS quoted Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel as telling journalists in Vladikavkaz later on 18 October that an unspecified number of militants were apprehended. KBR police told Interfax on 18 October that one suspected militant was shot dead after he and two companions opened fire on police earlier that day. His two associates reportedly managed to escape. Also on 18 October, ITAR-TASS quoted forensic experts as saying that 56 participants in the raid on Nalchik have been identified; republican police said most of them were residents of the Baksan, Tesk, Chegem, or Zolsk districts. In a statement on 17 October, radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, who claims to have helped plan the attacks, gave the raiders' total casualties as 42 dead, wounded, or missing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2005). LF

Orkhan Dzemal, the politics editor for "Versiya," spent 15 hours in police custody on 17 October, during which time he was beaten, "Gazeta" reported on 18 October. Dzemal said police studied the contents of his notebook, which they "did not like." Near the end of his ordeal, some special-services officers apologized but warned him to "think carefully about the situation and 'how what you are going to say will actually sound.'" Dzemal authored a recent article about alleged Federal Security Service (FSB) torture and abuse of Muslims being held in police custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2005). Russian "Newsweek" correspondent Aleksandr Raskin told "Gazeta" that he and a British journalist were stopped by the chief of the passport office, who he said kicked them and pushed them with his rifle butt. The passport official reportedly took them to an FSB building, where they "were treated with kid gloves." JAC

Members of the Armenian NGO It's Your Choice took issue on 18 October with the generally positive assessment given by Council of Europe election observers the previous day to the 16 October mayoral and local-council elections in several Armenian provinces, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A Council of Europe monitor said on 17 October that the local elections were generally "satisfactory" and "in keeping with the Council of Europe's electoral standards." But It's Your Choice released a statement on 18 October claiming that the voting took place "in an atmosphere of extreme tension and intolerance, with hindrances to campaigning candidates and substantial shortcomings in voter lists." It singled out as particularly egregious the violations in the town of Echmiadzin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2005). The NGO's chairman, Harutiun Hambartsumian, pointed out that local election officials have clear instructions not to permit any procedural violations in the presence of foreign observers, and that the latter are hampered by their lack of knowledge of Armenian. LF

Visiting Vilnius on 18 October, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met with President Valdas Adamkus, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, and National Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, Noyan Tapan reported. The talks focused on Lithuania's support for Armenia's participation in the European Union's New Neighborhood program, a Lithuanian initiative to convene a meeting in Brussels in December of the foreign ministers of the three Baltic and the three South Caucasus states, Armenian-Turkish relations, Armenia's relations with NATO and the EU, developments in the South Caucasus, and the Karabakh conflict. LF

President Ilham Aliyev has dismissed Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev, reported on 19 October. Aliev told journalists in August he believes his life is in danger but did not specify from whom, and he subsequently requested police protection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 31 August and 6 September 2005). On 3 October, the daily "Azadlyq" quoted Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov as advising Aliev to "behave responsibly" and refrain from "self-advertisement." State Securities Commission Chairman Geidar Babaev, who worked for Most-Bank in Moscow before being appointed to that post in 1999 by Ilham Aliyev's father and predecessor as president, Heidar Aliyev, has been named to succeed Farkhad Aliev as economic development minister, reported. LF

The Azadlyq election bloc complained on 18 October to Azerbaijani State Television and to the Central Election Commission (MSK) over the former's refusal to permit a live campaign broadcast by Azadlyq the previous day, reported. Two leading Azadlyq members, including Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar, were denied access to television studios, and four minutes were cut from a pre-recorded Azadlyq campaign broadcast. MSK Chairman Panakhov said the MSK is not empowered to intervene in the dispute. The election law entitles the four parties and blocs that have nominated at least 60 candidates in the 6 November parliamentary elections to 90 minutes free airtime each on state television. LF

Acting on a denunciation by three ambassadors, the Georgian parliament's committee on foreign relations demanded on 18 October that Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli fire Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, Georgian media reported. Committee members accused Zourbachvili of failing to communicate with ambassadors abroad and of "neglecting" the parliament, Caucasus Press reported. Parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze similarly accused Zourabichvili of "disrespect" for the parliament and characterized her behavior as "unprofessional." Burdjnadze said the parliament "cannot continue" to work with Zourabichvili. Noghaideli has postponed for two days his departure, originally scheduled for 19 October, for a two-day visit to the United States and will meet later today with President Mikheil Saakashvili to discuss the issue. Saakashvili persuaded Zourabichvili, a career diplomat with the French Foreign Ministry, to join the Georgian government early last year. LF

A meeting of PetroKazakhstan shareholders in Calgary on 18 October ended in a 99 percent vote in favor of China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) $4.2 billion bid to buy out the Canadian-registered company with oil assets in Kazakhstan, Reuters reported. The news followed reports that CNPC would sell at least one-third of PetroKazakhstan to the Kazakh government after the acquisition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2005). But the deal could still face hurdles. A Canadian judge said on 18 October that he will rule on 26 October on a claim by Russia's LUKoil that its right of first refusal to a stake in PetroKazakhstan has been ignored in the course of the CNPC buyout, CP reported. DK

A group of employees of Kyrgyz Public and Educational Radio and Television (KOORT) was on strike for a second day on 18 October to protest the 15 October removal of chief producer Omurbek Sataev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Sataev told RFE/RL that he considers his removal punishment for KOORT's critical coverage of the new government and President Kurmanbek Bakiev. But "MSN" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Kim, who was elected KOORT chairman at a 15 October shareholders meeting, stressed that with 52 percent of KOORT shares frozen by court order, the owners of the remaining 48 percent have the right to make personnel changes. In an 18 October open letter, KOORT employees described the channel's new management as "incompetent" and charged that the new managers ordered journalists to add materials praising top officials to a recent analytical program, reported. For his part, Kim warned that the striking journalists could face dismissal if they do not return to work soon. DK

Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2005," released on the organization's website ( on 18 October, ranked Turkmenistan one of the most corrupt countries in the world. With a score of 1.8 (where 10 is "highly clean" and 0 is "highly corrupt"), Turkmenistan shared 155th place with Haiti and Myanmar. The only countries rated as more corrupt were Bangladesh and Chad, sharing 158th place with identical scores of 1.7. Other Central Asian countries fared better than Turkmenistan but still found themselves in the lower realms of the survey, which evaluates "perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts." Tajikistan placed 144th with a score of 2.1; Uzbekistan 137th at 2.2; and Kyrgyzstan 130th at 2.3. The survey scored Kazakhstan the least corrupt country in Central Asia, in 107th place with a score of 2.6. By way of comparison, Russia placed 126th with a score of 2.4, on par with Albania, Niger, and Sierra Leone. DK

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced in a 17 October press release that Galima Bukharbaeva, the former Uzbekistan correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), is among four recipients of the CPJ's 2005 International Press Freedom Awards. Bukharbaeva won acclaim for her eyewitness reporting from Andijon in May. She reported extensively on the 12-13 May violence in Uzbekistan for IWPR and subsequently testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission that government forces massacred protestors. Bukharbaeva was forced to flee Uzbekistan, where she faces criminal charges; she now resides in New York. DK

In reports published on 18 October, Uzbekistan's leading official newspapers and news agency harshly criticized Mahbuba Zokirova, a witness in the ongoing terror trial in Tashkent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005) who testified on 14 October that government forces shot unarmed demonstrators in Andijon on 13 May. "Xalq Sozi" wrote that Zokirova's testimony "unintentionally revealed...that her mind was completely poisoned by the teachings of Akramiya [the alleged extremist group that Uzbek authorities accuse of masterminding the violence]." An article in "Ozbekiston Ovozi" quoted Zokirova's mother-in-law, who reportedly said, "[Zokirova] does not understand the right path. I have heard what she said in court. I do not agree with her remarks." "Ishonch" wrote, "Covering up crimes committed by those behind the tragic events...Zokirova described them as innocent people. In doing so, she tried to mislead the court." Official news agency UzA raised the prospect of perjury, citing a discrepancy in the number of relatives Zokirova said are currently residing in Romania. UzA commented, "Zokirova, who was warned about criminal liability...for knowingly providing false testimony and refusing to testify, consciously gave incorrect information about her relatives in Romania." DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov in Minsk on 18 October that he is satisfied with the "current trend" in relations between Belarus and Ukraine, Belarusian and Ukrainian media reported. "Taking into account the proximity of our countries and peoples, we have always made and will continue to make some concessions for the sake of the future, and we are ready to resolve problems on mutually beneficial terms," Lukashenka added. Yekhanurov also met with Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sikorski, with whom he discussed outstanding debt to Belarus dating back to the early 1990s. The two sides signed four cooperation accords, including on joint research and design projects regarding weaponry and military equipment. JM

The global anticorruption watchdog Transparency International on 18 October published its "Corruption Perceptions Index 2005," an annual study analyzing "perceptions of corruption" based on a number of surveys held among business leaders, analysts, and economic experts around the world. Countries are ranked on a scale of one to 10, with 10 signifying the country is "highly clean" in terms of perceived corruption. Belarus and Ukraine were jointly ranked 107th among 158 countries, with ratings of 2.6. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in London on 18 October that the government will go ahead with the planned sale of the country's largest steel mill, Kryvorizhstal, despite the Verkhovna Rada's two votes earlier the same day to block the privatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2005), the "Financial Times" reported. "Yes, of course, this is a bad signal [to investors]. But it has a purely political meaning, nothing more," Yushchenko said of the parliament's decision. Meanwhile, Ukraine's State Property Fund revealed the same day that three bidders have provided $200 million deposits to participate in the Kryvorizhstal auction that is to be resolved on 24 October: Mittal Steel, the world's largest steel group; the Luxembourg-based Arcelor, bidding jointly with the Industrial Union of Donbas; and the Russian-Ukrainian LCC Smart Group. JM

Serb political leaders in Kosova are divided about how to approach upcoming negotiations about the province's final status, B-92 reported on 18 October. Goran Bogdanovic, an official with the Serbian List for Kosova party, said on 17 October that Serbs will be part of the Belgrade negotiating team. But the party's leader, Oliver Ivanovic, said a decision on the issue has not yet been made. Ivanovic added that he believes the best option would be for the Kosova Serbs to field their own separate delegation at the talks. "This doesn't in any way subvert Belgrade's position, but would help to better explain the Serbian position because we would be able to give practical examples," Ivanovic said, although he added that he would not object if "Belgrade believes that we Kosovars must be under its wing." BW

Veton Surroi, a member of Kosova's negotiating team, meanwhile, has asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to inform Kosova Serb representatives that they belong in the Kosova delegation, B-92 reported on 18 October. Surroi said it is unacceptable for Kosova's Serbs to be part of the Belgrade delegation discussing the province's future. Kosova Serbs must consult with the Kosova delegation and have their needs included in that delegation's general position, Surroi said. After meeting with OSCE ambassadors, Surroi said that Kosova's eventual independence is not subject to negotiation. BW

NATO said on 17 October that "criminals" have been setting up check points and stopping cars in western Kosova, AP reported the same day. "We have some information about some criminals who are acting" in western Kosova, said Lieutenant Colonel Siegfried Jooss, spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR. "They tried to stop cars," he added. The NATO announcement came after local media reported that a group calling itself "The Army for Kosova's Independence" was setting up checkpoints in western Kosova and threatening UN and Kosovar officials with death or kidnapping if they attempt to block the province's independence. The UN has warned its staff against nighttime travel in UN-marked vehicles in western Kosova, AP reported, citing an official speaking on condition of anonymity. BW

The upper house of Bosnia-Herzegovina's central parliament passed a bill on police reform on 18 October, meeting a key condition for closer ties with the European Union, Reuters reported the same day. According to the bill, Bosnia-Herzegovina must create a multiethnic police force at the state level to replace the ethnically based forces in Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. The bill's passage removes the last hurdle before Bosnia-Herzegovina can begin negotiations with the EU for a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Many in Republika Srpska saw the legislation as a threat to their autonomy, and repeated rejection of the measure held up the reform for almost a year. BW

Slovenian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Dimitrij Rupel met with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan in Chisinau on 18 October, Moldovan news agencies reported, citing official sources. Their talks focused on Moldova's cooperation with the OSCE and that organization's role in the resolution of the Transdniester conflict. Voronin and Stratan told Rupel that they want the planned OSCE ministerial summit in Ljubljana on 5-6 December to record the need for a Transdniester settlement and for the pullout of Russian troops from the separatist region in the summit's concluding documents. Rupel -- whose trip to Chisinau was part of his ongoing tour of Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- traveled to Tiraspol later the same day. JM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov on 18 October paid an official visit to Minsk, where he held talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski. The visit suggests that Ukrainian-Belarusian relations, which soured after President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in the Orange Revolution, are warming up.

Lukashenka could not have been pleased by Yushchenko's presidential victory. Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenka congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on having won the presidential runoff with Yushchenko in November despite the lack of a final tally in that vote. The ensuing mass protests in Ukraine and Yushchenko's triumph in the repeat runoff in December no doubt came as a nasty surprise to Lukashenka -- who had only recently staged a dubious referendum that allows him to run for a third term as president in 2006. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine has inevitably kindled hopes that deposing Lukashenka through a similar, popular revolt in Belarus is not out of the question.

By January, before Yushchenko was even inaugurated, Lukashenka had publicly announced that "there will be no pink, orange, or banana revolutions in Belarus." Lukashenka's irritation with Yushchenko in particular, and the Orange Revolution in general, was evidently increased by a statement that the latter signed in early April with U.S. President George W. Bush, pledging "to support the advance of freedom in countries such as Belarus and Cuba." Delivering his annual address to the Belarusian legislature later the same month, Lukashenka slammed Ukraine for allegedly "forming camps" that were intended to train "revolutionaries" for Belarus.

A brief diplomatic squabble between Kyiv and Minsk followed in May, after Belarusian police arrested five young Ukrainians and 14 Russian youths who had come to Minsk to support their Belarusian colleagues during an antigovernment rally. Minsk granted early release to the Russians, while the Ukrainians had to serve jail terms of 10-15 days in full and were subsequently deported and banned from re-entering Belarus for five years. Yushchenko accused the Belarusian authorities of applying double standards to the Russian and Ukrainian demonstrators.

But afterward, the official Kyiv toned down its public statements noticeably regarding Belarus. Before the political crisis caused by the dismissal of Yuliya Tymoshenko's cabinet in September, Ukraine experienced a distressing gasoline crisis. Kyiv appealed for help in dealing with its gasoline shortage over the summer to Belarusian oil refineries. The issue of advancing freedom in Belarus appears to have lost its priority status for Yushchenko; realpolitik appears to have gained the upper hand in Kyiv's relations with Minsk.

Ukraine is an important trade partner for Belarus. Both Yekhanurov and Sidorski have declared that they intend to increase bilateral trade turnover to $2 billion this year, which would represent a 50 percent increase on 2004. Ukraine absorbed some 4 percent of Belarus's exports last year.

However, there is a lingering problem of an economic nature in relations between Minsk and Kyiv. Their governments cannot agree on the topic of Ukrainian debts to Belarus that date back to 1992. Ukraine (or Ukrainian entities) reportedly failed to pay for Belarusian commodities imported by Ukrainian firms in the early 1990s. Belarus subsequently made the ratification of a border treaty with Ukraine conditional on the repayment of those obligations.

Sidorski recalled during his meeting with Yekhanurov that both sides signed an official protocol in 2003, fixing the outstanding debt figure at $134 million. Sidorski proposed that Kyiv repay the obligations through supplies of goods and electricity, while Yekhanurov called the proposal interesting but remained noncommittal on any promises. The Ukrainian prime minister stressed, however, that the debts were incurred by Ukrainian enterprises and cannot be regarded as a liability of the Ukrainian state.

Nevertheless, the Belarusian president was conspicuously pleased during his meeting with the Ukrainian premier. "I am ready to conduct a dialogue [with Ukraine] proceeding from what interests us," Lukashenka told Yekhanurov. "Taking into account the proximity of our countries and peoples, we have always made and will continue to make some concessions for the sake of the future, and we are ready to resolve problems on mutually beneficial terms."

Lukashenka's contentment is understandable. Yekhanurov's 18 October trip was only the second such senior official visit in Belarus this year. (Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visited Minsk in September.) Lukashenka is a pariah in the international arena and only rarely travels abroad or receives foreign officials in Belarus. His international contacts are largely limited to receiving Russian governors in Minsk -- no big deal for someone who dreamed of taking the helm of a united Russian and Belarusian state during the era of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. This time, however, Lukashenka was doubly lucky: Yekhanurov brought along an invitation for Lukashenka to meet with President Yushchenko in Kyiv.

Four Afghan officers were reportedly killed and one sustained injuries during a firefight that occurred between Afghan police and U.S. troops in Kandahar Province's Maiwand district on 18 October, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khaled told reporters on 18 October in Kandahar that the incident resulted from "a misunderstanding" in which U.S. forces "mistook the police forces for Taliban fighters and opened fire on them." Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanizai said in Kabul on 18 October that both the Afghan police and the U.S. troops were responding to an attack on the district governor's office when "firing started between both sides" AFP reported. No immediate comments were available from the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. AT

Presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi said at a news conference in Kabul on 18 October that the separate killings of three religious scholars recently in Afghanistan are acts of terrorism, official Afghanistan Television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2005). Rahimi said insurgents have resorted to terrorism because they have been prevented by security forces from carrying out their guerrilla activities. It is unusual for the Afghan government to identify members of the insurgency, who usually belong to the neo-Taliban, as terrorists. Afghan officials usually refer to them as antigovernment forces or simply "Taliban." An unidentified person took responsibility on behalf of the neo-Taliban for one of the killings, and the movement is suspected of having a role in the other two. AT

Jowzjan Province Governor Joma Khan Hamdard has complained that the recently built road between his province and neighboring Sar-e Pol Province is of poor quality, predicting that it will be damaged or destroyed after the first rainfall, Sheberghan Aina TV reported on 16 October. Hamdard said that the central Afghan government is responsible for the poor quality of the road, adding that it should not have signed a contract on the project "unless the work was guaranteed for at least one year." He noted that the road is an important national artery and said it would have been better had the government taken longer to complete a better road. Hamdard further complained about the lack of construction projects in Jowzjan Province. AT

Presidential spokesman Rahimi said on 18 October that Afghanistan will not recognize Israel until an independent Palestinian state is formed, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Rahimi said that aside from that issue, Afghanistan has no other problems with establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier discussed the issue during in an interview with an Israeli television station. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah during a visit to RFE/RL headquarters in Washington on 17 October affirmed Karzai's and Rahimi's comments without mentioning any additional conditions. AT

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on 18 October in Tehran that there is no evidence to date to disprove British involvement in the fatal 15 October bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, state television reported. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have been fairly consistent in accusing the United Kingdom of involvement in the bombings. Intelligence and Security Minister Qolamhussein Mohseni-Ejei said on 18 October that "some clues have been [tracked] down and we have a suspicion about the U.K.," IRNA reported. He said 20 people have been arrested so far. Moreover, Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said on 18 October that several arrests have been made, and the arrestees were trained outside Iran, IRNA reported. He said he has asked the legislature for additional funding for enhanced border security. Qolamreza Shariati, deputy governor-general of Khuzestan for political-security affairs, said on 18 October that a heretofore unknown group called Usamah Mahdi took credit for the bombings on its website, state radio reported. "Be that as it may, there are stronger indications pointing to British involvement, which is well-known for creating divisions, suggesting that not much credence can be given to this unknown group's claims," Shariati continued. BS

Iran ranked 88th out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2005," which was released on 18 October. The survey's methodology shows the perceptions of "business people and country analysts, both resident and non-resident," and is derived from 16 different polls. A perfect score is 10, and Iran scored 2.9. Nearly half the countries surveyed had scores lower than 3.0, which means they are rampantly corrupt. Transparency International's press release urges national leaders to go "beyond lip service and make good on their promises to provide the commitment and resources to improve governance, transparency, and accountability." In Tehran, meanwhile, parliamentarian Imad Afruq on 18 October spoke out against the government's headquarters against economic corruption, Mehr News Agency reported. Afruq said the headquarters was created four years ago, and every year there is a ceremony to commemorate this event. He said 50 of his colleagues have called for a probe into the headquarters' activities. BS

A Tehran court has sentenced blogger Omid Sheikhan to a flogging and one year in jail, ILNA reported on 18 October. Sheikhan's lawyer, Mohammad Seifzadeh, said he has filed an appeal. Also on 18 October, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused Tehran of attempting to increase its control, surveillance, and censorship of Internet use. It said Iran is working on a "woefully oppressive model of Internet management." RSF described this as "very bad news for Iranian bloggers and Internet users." RSF said an Iranian firm, Delta Global, has been contracted to establish the censorship system. BS

The 18-month jail sentence of Mohammad Sedigh Kabovand, editor of the weekly "Payam-i Mardom-i Kurdistan," has just come to light, Reporters Without Borders reported on 18 October. The sentence was handed down in August, the media watchdog stated, and the fact that it was revealed two months later is a sign of the lack of transparency in the Iranian legal system. According to RSF, Kabovand's trial took place despite the absence of his lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani. Soltani has been in jail since late-July. BS

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven other defendants appeared before the Iraqi Special Tribunal on 19 October on charges of crimes against humanity for the killing of 143 Iraqis and the arrest and deportation of 1,500 more following a failed assassination attempt against Hussein in the town of Al-Dujayl in 1982, international media reported. According to video footage of the trial released by the multinational forces, Hussein refused to identify himself to chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin, saying he does not recognize the legitimacy of the tribunal. "Out of respect to the Iraqi people for choosing me, and I say that I won't answer this...what is called a court, with all due respect, and I reserve my constitutional right as the president of the country of Iraq," he said, referring to his immunity from prosecution under Iraq's former constitution, written under his rule. He later told the court: "I will not go along.... You asked for my ID, but this is a formality of the court. Therefore I...acknowledge neither the entity that authorized you nor the aggression, because everything that is based on falsehood is false," Hussein told the tribunal. KR

The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in a 17 October statement posted on called for stronger resistance to the Iraqi government and multinational forces in light of the impending trial of Hussein and his associates. The statement claimed that the trial will "inspire the heroic resisters, strengthen the resolution of the brave mujahedin, and solidify the positions of the fighting Ba'athists." Addressing Hussein supporters, the statement said: "Greet the commander [Hussein] when he appears in court with shots of killing and missile launches of death" targeting multinational and Iraqi security forces. "Greet the commander with cheers for him and the Ba'ath [Party].... Remember and affirm that millions of Arabs will be cheering at that moment with you and like you for the commander." KR

Insurgents fired at least two mortars into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on 19 October, where the Hussein trial is being held, international media reported. Meanwhile, Hussein supporters demonstrated on 19 October in Tikrit, a town known as Hussein's base of support, Reuters reported. Dozens of demonstrators chanted "long live Saddam Hussein," while carrying banners with slogans such as "Down with the occupation and the puppet government," the news agency reported. Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops are maintaining tight security around Tikrit, located about 175 kilometers north of Baghdad. Police did not intervene in the demonstration, however. KR

An 18 October Internet statement ( attributed to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, which is led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, claimed the Arab League will not succeed in ending the insurgency in Iraq. League Secretary-General Amr Musa is scheduled to arrive in Iraq this week to help forge reconciliation among Sunni Arabs opposed to the government and Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders. "Our fight [in Iraq] was not and never will be solely to get the occupier out of Iraq or to keep its 'national' identity and territorial integrity...or to preserve the 'national and Pan Arab identity'" of Iraq, the statement said, referring to the Arab League's position on Iraq. "Rather, our fight is a religious duty.... It is a jihad for the sake of God [to] establish the caliphate and the state of Islam," and as such, Islamic insurgents will not adhere to any compromise. The statement blasted the Arab League, saying: "The division of Muslim land was validated" under its watch, "Palestine was cheaply sold, and the rule of tyrants was established to slaughter Muslims whose blood was spilled at the hands of 'national' governments.... This is the league that did not care about the hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in Iraq under the [UN] embargo." KR