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Newsline - October 21, 2005

Receiving World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz in the Kremlin on 20 October, President Vladimir Putin said Russia has borrowed $8 billion from the bank for various programs and hopes to continue cooperation, RTR and Channel One reported. Wolfowitz opened his remarks in Russian, saying that he studied the language when he was trained as a mathematician. The World Bank president said that Russia needs the bank's expertise more than money and that the bank is committed to supporting economic reforms in Russia. During his two-day visit to Moscow, Wolfowitz also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatiev. VY

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov has criticized Naftohaz Ukrayiny, saying the petrochemical company's position on negotiations with Gazprom on gas transits to Europe via Ukraine in 2006 is "careless," NTV reported. Russia wants to triple the export gas price from 1 January 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2005), but Ukraine has suggested a gradual increase. Speaking in the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on 20 October, Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksandr Ivchenko said that if agreement is not reached by the end of the year, Ukraine will tap the gas from the pipelines, as it needs. Kupriyanov said that Ivchenko is trying to solve a business problem with the "language of threats and blackmail." He accused Ivchenko of saying that Ukraine is going to steal Russian gas targeted for European consumers. Meanwhile, according to the Russian presidential press service, President Putin on 20 October spoke with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and discussed "problems in the gas and energy sectors," RTR reported. VY

Tokyo law-enforcement officers have opened an investigation into a Russian trade official who allegedly obtained militarily sensitive documents from a former Toshiba worker, Kyodo and international media reported. Japanese police have said that the Russian official, who they suspect of being a Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) officer, allegedly purchased the documents for 1 million yen ($8,700), Kyodo reported. The names of the two men have not been disclosed. Aleksandr Lavrentiev, the head of Russia's trade mission in Tokyo, said that the Russian official in question returned to Moscow in summer 2005, RIA-Novosti reported. In Moscow, an unnamed SVR spokesman said that the service does not give information about its agents. VY

The Duma Information Policy Committee adopted on 20 October a resolution stating that Russian media contains too much "negative" information and causes the public to mistrust the government, and other Russian media reported. "The ideological slant of media has been replaced by a commercial one, while pornography and violence in media have become a national threat," the resolution states. Committee head Iosef Kobson (Unified Russia) said that Russian media just "entertains and teases" and called on the Duma to implement and amend media legislation, ITAR-TASS reported. He also proposed creating state channels for youth and regional news programs that will broadcast "positive information." Mikhail Shvydkoi, the head of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema, said any control over morality will lead to a spiritual dictatorship, reported. "One should not create a sterile image of the country. It is more important to preserve the freedom of creativity," he said. VY

Aleksandr Pleshakov, the head of the Federal Corrections Service in the Siberia Federal District, confirmed on 20 October that the former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who is sentenced to eight years' imprisonment, has arrived at a labor camp near Krasnokamensk, in the Chita Oblast, and other media reported. The camp in Krasnokamensk, where prisoners mainly work in uranium mines, is located some 70 kilometers from the Chinese border. In the Soviet era, it was a top-secret location. Genrikh Padva, the head of Khodorkovskii's defense team, said on 20 October in Moscow that he and other lawyers are contemplating the best way to reach their client as the camp is a six-hour flight from Moscow to Chita and a seven-hour drive to Krasnokamensk, RBK-TV reported. VY

In a 19 October interview with "The Times" of London, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said he supports President Putin's campaign against Khodorkovskii and said he would back similar measures against other oligarchs. Gorbachev also said that there is an ongoing struggle in the Russian government and, if the "wrong people" will win Russia will become destabilized. Gorbachev said he sees a "neoliberal threat," especially in the persons of Trade and Economic Development Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Kudrin. With their unsuccessful benefits reforms and attempts to avoid responsibility for them, they managed to provoke the first mass social protest since the fall of communism, Gorbachev said, adding that he is afraid such protests will happen again. VY

The NGO Reporters Without Borders has issued its fourth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index ranking 167 countries. Russia finished 138 out of 167, just one spot above what the organization characterizes as the "U.S. in Iraq," according to Russia edged up two spots from last year's ranking of 140 and all-time low of 148 in 2003, reported. However, did not specify how many countries were ranked in those years. Russia ranked ahead of other former Soviet republics such as Turkmenistan (165), Uzbekistan (155), Belarus (152), and Azerbaijan (141). JAC

Meanwhile, "Ekspert" Editor In Chief Valerii Fadaev told the State Duma on 20 October that Russia is experiencing a "very powerful expansion of foreign media [companies], especially in the magazine sector." He continued, "The expansion is so great that in the near future our moral ideals will be determined by foreign companies." JAC

The deadline for candidates to submit documents for the Moscow City Duma elections on 4 December and for the State Duma by-election passed on 19 October, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Although 44 people, including former Yukos head Khodorkovskii, expressed an interest in the State Duma seat, only 15 candidates have submitted the necessary materials, which will now be checked by the city election commission. Maria Gaidar, 22, the daughter of former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, is among the potential candidates for the seat, along with Unified Russia candidate and film director Stanislav Govorukhin. Also running is former military intelligence Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, who is in jail charged with the March assassination attempt on Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2005). In the city duma race, four parties, including Unified Russia and the Communist Party, have already been registered and at least three more, including Yabloko and Motherland, are expected to pay a deposit to register. Four other parties have submitted signatures. JAC

Pensioners Party head and State Duma Deputy Valerii Gartung told reporters in Moscow on 19 October that the presidential administration is trying to pressure his party's members to force him out of his leadership role, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 October. Writing on, Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology argued that relations between Gartung and the Kremlin have suffered for two reasons. Firstly, in the fall of 2004, the Pensioners Party performed well in regional oblast elections and could be seen as an alternative political force for the State Duma. In 11 out of 12 regional elections, the party received a large enough percentage of the total votes to enter the legislatures. Secondly, Gartung, when he was still a member of the Unified Russia faction, decided to support a vote of no-confidence in the government. His party's electorate was unhappy with the monetization of social benefits and Gartung decided to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction. JAC

Speaking to reporters in Yelizarovo in Kamchatka Oblast, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said on 20 October that oligarch Viktor Vekselberg may become the first governor of Kamchatka Krai, a new territory that would be formed on the basis of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Russian news agencies reported. On 23 October, voters in both regions will cast their votes for or against a referendum on the merger of the two territories. Pulikovskii said he met with Vekselberg in May to discuss the possibility of him becoming a governor in the region. In August, news agencies reported that Vekselberg's representatives were looking for a house for him to buy in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, the capital of the oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005). On 21 October, legislators in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug confirmed incumbent Governor Roman Abramovich for a second term, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

Bishop Kornilii of Kazan and Vyatka has been elected to head the Old Believers, who split from the main Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 October. The new head is a member of the more progressive branch of the sect as was his predecessor Andrian, who died in August after serving in the position for only 18 months, according to the daily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2005). During that period, Andrian developed a reputation as a reformer. According to Aleksandr Dugin, an Old Believer and political analyst, Kornilii's election represents a victory for Andrian's supporters. According to "Vremya novostei," Kornilii is 58 years old. He also has some political experience as a deputy in the raion legislature in Moscow Oblast, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." JAC

Robert Kocharian met in Brussels on 20 October with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Their talks focused primarily on Armenia's relations with the EU and with EU candidate Turkey, and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Solana said he hopes talks on Armenia's participation in the EU's New Neighborhood policy will begin soon, and he spoke in favor of Turkey opening its border with Armenia, a move that would render unnecessary construction of a planned $400 million rail-link from Kars in eastern Anatolia via southern Georgia to Tbilisi. He also assured Kocharian that the EU is both willing and ready to contribute to the ongoing search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 20 October, senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official Jerome Kremers noted with approval the double-digit economic growth that Armenia has registered in each of the past five years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At the same time, he added that Armenia "should not be satisfied" with progress to date but continue with reforms and try to increase tax collection and customs revenues and reduce poverty. He said the IMF will make available a $33 million credit in the next three years help achieve those objectives. He also urged further developing the financial sector, Noyan Tapan reported. Kremers met on 18 October with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Finance and Economy Minister Vardan Khachatrian. LF

President Ilham Aliyev dismissed Health Minister Ali Insanov on 20 October, together with presidential-administration official Akif Muraverdiev, Azerbaijani media reported. Reports that Education Minister Misir Mardanov, who last year engaged in a public polemic with Insanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October and 22 November 2004), Labor and Social Security Minister Ali Nagiev, and the latter's brother Nazim, a senior Baku police official, have also been dismissed proved mistaken. President Aliyev has named Oktai Shiraliev, the 55-years-old head of the Baku Diagnostic Center, to succeed Insanov as health minister, reported. LF

Azerbaijan's State Security Ministry, Interior Ministry, and Prosecutor-General's Office released a statement on 20 October substantiating earlier allegations that former Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov acted as go-between for former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev and channeled large sums of money from Guliev to Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev in order to finance a coup that was allegedly intended to bring Guliev to power, Azerbaijani media reported. Yusifov, who was detained in Baku several days ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2005), was said to have "voluntarily" provided that information to investigators. Speaking on 20 October in Ukraine after a Simferopol court declined to remand him in custody, Guliev denied ever having met or had any contact with either Yusifov or Farkhad Aliev. He suggested that the testimony attributed to Yusifov incriminating Guliev and Aliev was extracted under torture. LF

Some 5,000-6,000 people responded on 20 October to a television appeal that Salome Zourabichvili made shortly before her dismissal as foreign minister the previous day, Georgian media reported. Those present included Conservative party leader Koba Davitashvili, a former supporter of President Mikheil Saakashvili who split with him in early 2004, and the veteran chairman of the Georgian Popular Front, Nodar Natadze, reported. Addressing her supporters, Zourabichvili accused the political figures who came to power in November 2003 of betraying the so-called Rose Revolution, Caucasus Press reported. She said those in Georgia who still support freedom, democracy, and European values will eventually come to power through democratic elections. In her 19 October television address, Zourabichvili characterized the parliament's campaign to force her ouster as a "revolt...directed not only against me but against the president," according to a EurasiaView analysis of 20 October. And in a 20 October interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service, she said "corruption is as widespread today as ever, many top leaders believe that power belongs to them personally, the old modus operandi is returning and I think this is most alarming." LF

Giga Bokeria of the ruling United National Movement told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 October that Zourabichvili's dismissal does not herald any changes in foreign policy, Caucasus Press reported. Georgia's ambassador to the United States, Levan Mikeladze, similarly told a conference in Washington on 20 October that Tbilisi will continue its current course aimed at Euro-Atlantic integration. Davit Gamkrelidze, head of the opposition New Rightists (aka New Conservatives) parliamentary faction, predicted on 20 October that Georgia will "return to the Russian orbit" following Zourabichvili's dismissal, while Ivliane Khaindrava of the opposition Republican party suggested that President Saakashvili approved Zourabichvili's dismissal because her commitment to improving relations with Europe constituted an obstacle to his preferred strategy of closer ties with the United States, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Violence at a prison outside Bishkek on 20 October left four dead, including parliamentary deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev, reported citing a Kyrgyz government statement. Akmatbaev and three individuals accompanying him were killed after a conflict with inmates that arose during a visit to Penal Colony No. 31, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Penitentiary system head Ikmatullo Polotov was hospitalized in a critical condition after the incident, reported. Unidentified sources said that a fight broke out when the deputy addressed inmates harshly; a journalist at the scene quoted inmates as saying that the deputy and his assistants opened fire on prisoners, the government statement said. reported that Akmatbaev's brother, described by the news agency as the "criminal kingpin" Ryspek Akmatbaev, was embroiled in a conflict with Aziz Batukaev, an underworld leader imprisoned at Penal Colony No. 31. The government statement said that Prime Minister Feliks Kulov later arrived at the scene and convinced the prisoners to surrender their arms, hand over the bodies, and agree to an investigation. The BBC reported that the prison holds 450 inmates. Reports did not clarify whether the authorities have regained control of the facility. Akmatbaev is the third deputy to die a violent death since the ouster of President Askar Akaev on 24 March. DK

Edward Lieberman, a lawyer engaged by the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office to track down assets belonging to former President Askar Akaev, told a news conference in Bishkek on 20 October that the FBI has presented the Kyrgyz government with information about the ex-president's financial dealings, Kabar reported. Lieberman said that ABN Amro Bank and Citibank have indicated that Manas Airport and fuel-service company Aalam Service "have ties to deals with arms dealers and a huge number of suspicious American shell companies linked to the Akaev group." The FBI has apparently informed the Kyrgyz government that between 18 December 2001 and 12 November 2003 Citibank processed payments of nearly $40 million for Manas. The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office is currently studying the information, the report said. DK

Rashid Habibov, deputy commander of Uzbekistan's border troops, announced on 20 October that Uzbekistan has begun clearing mines along the Uzbek-Tajik border, but Tajik officials said they cannot confirm this, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Avesta reported. Habibov, who is in Dushanbe for a meeting of CIS border-service heads, stated that 20 percent of the mines have been cleared from the border along Uzbekistan's Surkhandaryo Province, RFE/RL reported. But Saidamir Zuhurov, the head of Tajikistan's Border Protection Committee, said that he was unaware that mine-clearing operations have begun. Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov told Avesta that the ministry has not received notification of mine-clearing operations from Uzbekistan. He added, "However, if mine-clearing work has begun, Tajikistan can only welcome this process." DK

In a 19 October news alert, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed outrage at a decision by the Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office to keep journalist Jumaboy Tolibov in prison despite a Supreme Court ruling to release him. The Supreme Court ruled on 11 October to commute Tolibov's two-year prison term for abuse of office and hooliganism to one year of community service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2005). But the Prosecutor-General's Office subsequently suspended the Supreme Court's decision, Varorud reported on 19 October. CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper commented, "The fact that the Prosecutor-General's Office felt free to ignore Tajikistan's highest court calls into question the country's commitment to the rule of law." DK

Meeting with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Ashgabat on 20 October, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said that Russia should pay more for the gas it buys from Turkmenistan, AP and reported. Interfax reported that Niyazov said, "We sell gas for $44 per 1,000 cubic meters, but you're raising prices for your export. Until 2007, we have a price agreement, but metal is getting more expensive, and the prices for your pipes, which we buy, have tripled. So let's put the price for 2006 not at $44, but at $50, and at $60 for the 25-year agreement." The official Russian reaction is not yet known. Analysts queried by offered varying opinions. Sergei Suverov, an analyst with Gazprombank, said that Russia will probably reject the price hike, citing its long-term contract with Turkmenistan. But Aleksei Kormshchikov, an analyst with Uralsib, said that Gazprom, the Russian purchaser of the gas, is increasingly dependent on Turkmenistan's reserves and would be forced to accept what the analyst described as an "insignificant" price increase. DK

In a 20 October press release, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) decried the Uzbek government's "Stalinist-era tactic" of ordering Uzbek rights activist Elena Urlaeva to "undergo forcible psychiatric treatment." Urlaeva, who was arrested in Tashkent in late August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2005), is currently detained at a mental-health facility and about to undergo forcible treatment even though a commission has declared her sane, HRW stated. Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said, "This is an insidious attempt to equate criticism of the government with insanity." "The Uzbek government has resorted to brutal Soviet-era methods to try to stop Urlaeva's political and human rights activities," she added. The HRW statement concluded with an appeal to "the international community, particularly the United States and E.U. member countries with embassies in Tashkent, to take up Urlaeva's case and call for her immediate release." DK

Colleagues and relatives on 20 October visited the grave of journalist Veranika Charkasava, who was stabbed to death in her Minsk apartment one year ago, Belapan reported. Reporters Without Borders wrote in a press release the same day that Charkasava covered a wide range of subjects, noting that she undertook investigative work on sects and organized crime and wrote a series of articles headlined "The KGB Is Still Watching You." Shortly before her murder, Charkasava had been investigating possible Belarusian government arms sales to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Charkasava's case remains unsolved. Meanwhile, on 18 October Vasil Hrodnikau, a freelancer for the opposition daily "Narodnaya volya," was found dead in his apartment outside Minsk, reportedly after being hit on the head with a blunt object. An investigator from the Minsk District Prosecutor's Office told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 20 October that evidence and expert examinations so far do not warrant a criminal probe into Hrodnikau's death. JM

Russian State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov said in Moscow on 20 October that the bilateral commission tasked with preparing the draft constitution for a planned Russia-Belarus Union State has concluded its work and is ready to submit the document for consideration by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by 15 November, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported. "Only those issues that need to be agreed upon at a meeting of the Union State's Supreme State Council have remained open," said Belarusian Chamber of Representatives Chairman Uladzimir Kanaplyou, who along with Gryzlov co-chairs the commission. "It's throwing dust in everybody's eyes, nothing more. I will tell you as a lawyer: From a juridical point of view, a state comprising two independent states is a total absurdity," Alyaksandr Dabravolski, deputy head of the opposition Belarusian United Civic Party, commented on the draft to RFE/RL's Belarus Service. Uladzimir Nistsyuk of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party told RFE/RL that it is impossible to unite Russia and Belarus, since the former has an "oligarchic-capitalism economy" while the latter is developing a "market-socialism economy." JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 20 October rejected the government's draft budget for 2006 and scheduled a new first reading for 1 November, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Deputies want to raise the deficit from 1.9 percent to 3 percent of GDP to direct more funds to social benefits, whereas the government opposes such an increase. JM

The Ukrainian parliament on 20 October imposed a six-month ban on all poultry imports in an attempt to protect the country from bird flu, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The measure was supported by 229 deputies in the 450-seat legislature. JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has concluded its investigation of Petro Poroshenko, former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council and a close ally of President Viktor Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukrainian media reported. The case against Poroshenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005) was opened by former Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who was subsequently sacked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 18 October 2005). "The case was closed due to the lack of evidence," a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Oleksiy Babel, said. JM

The Institute of Demography and Social Studies of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences estimates that the country's population will dwindle from the 47 million people recorded last month to 35 million in 2050 if the current demographic trend continues, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 21 October. JM

Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic has canceled a planned visit by his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek over the latter's comments in support of independence for Kosova, international news agencies reported on 20 October. In a letter to the Slovenian president canceling the 2 November visit, Marovic wrote that he "looked forward very much" to meeting Drnovsek to "improve friendly relations and strengthen already flourishing political and economic ties" between the two ex-Yugoslav countries. "In that sense...your statement how, 'after fulfilling certain key conditions, Kosovo's only realistic option is independence' has baffled the public in our country and caused a protest," Marovic continued, according to AP. Drnovsek made the comments during a speech in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, naming security and rights for the ethnic Serb minority in Kosova, as well as protection of Serbian cultural heritage there, as key conditions for Kosova's independence. BW

Kosova's government has sharply criticized police for using force against pro-independence demonstrators protesting outside the United Nations mission in Kosova, Hina reported on 20 October. Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi called for an investigation into whether police overstepped their authority when they attacked the group Self-Determination with tear gas. Self-Determination, which is led by former political prisoner Albin Kurti, staged a protest outside the UNMIK offices in Prishtina on 19 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005). The group sprayed UNMIK vehicles with graffiti and called on the UN, which it accuses of undermining the province's aspirations for independence, to leave Kosova. Police attacked the protestors with tear gas and arrested 37 people. BW

Police in Bosnia-Herzegovina have arrested three people suspected of terrorist activities, international news agencies reported on 21 October. "A Turkish, Swedish, and a Bosnian national were apprehended over suspicion that they were preparing terrorist activities," AP quoted police spokesman Robert Cvrtak as saying. "We searched two facilities and found a certain amount of explosives, firearms, and other military equipment." The three were arrested on 19 and 20 October. The daily Sarajevo newspaper "Dnevni Avaz" quoted unidentified police sources as saying that one of the suspects, an 18-year-old, was planning a suicide attack on the embassy of an unspecified EU country. "The news of the detention of individuals by the Bosnian authorities is serious, but it is evidence that Bosnia is a capable partner in the international fight against terrorism," High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in a statement on 21 October. BW

Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-member presidency, said on 19 October that a Dutch diplomat should not be named the country's new international administrator, AP reported the same day. Michiel Patijn, who recently stepped down as the Netherlands' ambassador to the NATO, is considered the most serious candidate to replace Ashdown as Bosnia's high representative. Tihic said he objects to the Dutchman holding the job because of lingering anger over Dutch peacekeepers' failure to protect Muslims during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. "We feel that it would not be politically wise to name a person from Holland, having in mind the harsh experience we had with the Dutch battalion that was supposed to protect the citizens in the UN-protected safe heaven of Srebrenica," Tihic said. BW

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on 20 October that Bosnia-Herzegovina will need to radically amend its constitution before it can be considered for membership in the bloc, Reuters reported the same day. "It is high time to have a real discussion among the politicians in the country about how to make Bosnia and Herzegovina more viable and functional," Rehn told a conference in Geneva convened to discuss Bosnia's future a decade after the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Bosnia and its people, Rehn said, "must now make the choice whether to maintain the current constitution...or to opt for constitutional changes necessary to make herself a stable and functional country, ready to progress towards the EU." Reuters quoted unidentified diplomats as saying that Rehn's remarks reflected frustration among EU officials at the slow pace of efforts to move Bosnia-Herzegovina toward a unified state. After Bosnia passed a key police reform measure this week, the EU said it will open talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, which is seen as a step toward membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 October 2005). BW

Mihail Formuzal -- mayor of Ceadar Lunga in Moldova's Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region -- was detained on 19 October on suspicion of abuse of office in 1999-2004 that allegedly cost the local budget 5 million lei ($400,000), Moldovan news agencies reported on 20 October. "I describe my arrest as an attempt by the [Gagauz-Yeri] leadership to settle accounts with a political opponent through law-enforcement structures," BASA quoted Farmuzal as saying. Farmazul was released later the same day on his own recognizance. Farmuzal belongs to the leadership of the opposition People's Republican Party and heads the United Gagauz movement. He lost to Gagauz-Yeri Governor Gheorghe Tabunscic in the 2002 gubernatorial election. "The real intentions of the current Gagauz authorities become absolutely clear in the context of the upcoming election for the post of the autonomy's governor and the fact that Formuzal is the only real rival to the current governor, who represents the Communist Party," the People's Republican Party said in a statement on 19 October. JM

An international corruption-monitoring organization has reported that businesspeople and analysts both in and outside Iran see the country as profusely corrupt. Inside Iran, meanwhile, there is criticism of the failure to eliminate corruption, even though a government agency was created for this very function four years ago. There have also been allegations of a cover-up, and one parliamentarian is calling for an investigation of this agency.

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 egregiously 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."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded the elimination of corruption in a 30 April 2001 decree to the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The decree established an official headquarters against economic corruption, and it called for cooperation between the State Inspectorate, the State Audit Office, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

One day later, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in a letter to Khamenei that a committee made up of personnel from the judiciary, the Tehran Justice Administration, the State Inspectorate, State Audit Office, and the MOIS has been created to deal with economic and financial corruption, IRNA reported.

Four and one-half years later, not everyone is impressed with the anticorruption campaign. According to state radio, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his 7 October Friday prayers sermon in Tehran, "There are many instances of financial corruption, and many of these instances are covered up." He continued: "I wish to question these cover-ups. To what extent will it serve the interests of the state to hide the instances of corruption? Of course there may be some expediency, but there are disadvantages too."

Those sentiments have been repeated by others. Tehran parliamentary representative Imad Afrugh said on 10 October that corruption problems persist, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 October. He said there is a legal vacuum on how to deal with economically corrupt individuals, and suggested that the guilty are being shielded. "Perhaps hidden hands are involved which protect those people," Afrugh said, suggesting an investigation of the anticorruption headquarters might be in order.

Within days of these official critiques, the anticorruption headquarters announced its discoveries. Its spokesman, Hojatoleslam Abdolreza Izadpanah, announced on 14 October that Supreme Leader Khamenei has been given a report detailing 3 trillion rials (approximately $348 million) worth of corrupt activities in 11 firms affiliated with the Petroleum Ministry, "Iran Daily" and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 October. Izadpanah referred to cases involving land speculation and said 6,300 billion rials have been returned to the treasury. Other cases involved personnel from the Supreme Leader's Office and unnamed "Islamic revolutionary institutions." Izadpanah said that 110 companies have falsified profit-and-loss statements, forged contracts, and engaged in other activities with the cooperation of Management and Planning Organization officials. In the last three years, he said, the MOIS has dealt with almost 1,500 economic cases, more than half of which have been referred to the judiciary. He said 1,100 people have been arrested so far.

In an 18 October interview with Radio Farda, Transparency International chairman Peter Eigen explained that there is more to economic corruption than ill-gotten gains. Eigen said corruption undermines the proper functioning of governments. "The policies are distorted by corruption. The whole purpose of corruption is that you want to change decisions and very often you want to buy the wrong decisions," Eigen said. "If you are for instance a private company, which tries to get the big contract for constructing a power station, then you try to get the contract even though you may not be the best supplier. Therefore there is a very negative, destructive relationship between, in particular, economic policy and corruption." Eigen added that corruption is harmful to public welfare as well. "Corruption perverts economic policymaking and therefore corruption leads to poverty and leads to the impossibility of a government to deal with poverty in its society."

Corruption may not be the worst crime, Eigen posited. Nevertheless, he continued, "corruption has destroyed the possibility of people to fight poverty, to develop a democratic society, and, in that sense, it is in my opinion a crime against mankind." The elimination of corruption will require steps that are more proactive than issuing reports and making arrests. Judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi explained in September: "The more the regulations and laws related to financial and administrative performance are transparent and open, the less the possibility of corruption and abuse," "Mardom Salari" reported. He went on to say that there is a duplication of effort among Iranian supervisory bodies, and not only does this waste money but it hinders the actual supervisory function. Izadpanah, spokesman for the anticorruption headquarters, identified other necessary steps. He said the MOIS must control and supervise foreign contracts, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 October. He also called for the revision of tax laws, the elimination of numerous import tariffs, amendment of foreign investment and trade laws, and the transformation of nontariff barriers.

Official concern about the corruption problem persists in Iran, and the anticorruption headquarters' report did not satisfy everybody. Parliamentarian Imad Afruq said on 18 October that 50 of his colleagues have called for a probe into the headquarters' activities, Mehr News Agency reported. Karaj parliamentary representative Rashid Jalali-Jafari said on 19 October that the judiciary should reveal the names of corrupt officials, even the "big shots," "Sharq" reported on 20 October. The fight against corruption will not be effective if such a step is not taken, he said. Mujtaba Bigdeli, spokesman for the hard-line Hizbullah organization, said in the 20 October issue of "Etemad" that the anticorruption headquarters' record to date is not bad. However, he called on the headquarters to identify the corrupt individuals. "We expect the headquarters to name and shame the accused and those who have been engaged in economic corruption, because with their activities they have deprived the people of the assets necessary for work creation," he said. "We hope that Mr. [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad will implement his programs on economic justice as soon as possible."

The Afghan Defense Ministry demanded in a statement on 20 October that the U.S. soldiers who allegedly burned the bodies of two antigovernment insurgents in southern Afghanistan be punished, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. Australia's SBS Television aired footage on 19 October that shows two bodies being burned in Kandahar Province. Stephen Dupont, an Australian reporter embedded with U.S. forces who filmed the incident, said the corpses were burned for "hygiene purposes" but that a psychological-operations unit later used the incident to "incite...anger from the Taliban so the Taliban" would emerge from hiding places and attack the U.S. forces. In the footage, two U.S. military personnel discuss taunting the neo-Taliban over their fallen comrades. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi called the action "contrary to the holy religion of Islam,... international law, and all laws of the United States," AFP reported on 20 October. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office is awaiting the outcome of investigations but, according to presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi, the Afghan government "strongly condemns any disrespect to the human body, regardless of whether it is an enemy's body or a friend's body." AT

The U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division has begun an investigation into alleged misconduct in connection with the burning of the neo-Taliban corpses, American Forces Press Service reported on 20 October. Calling the alleged misconduct "repugnant," U.S. Major General Jason Kamiya, said at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that if "the allegation is substantiated, the appropriate course of action under" the U.S. military code of justice will be taken. Kamiya said that his command "does not condone the mistreatment of enemy combatants or the desecration of their religious and cultural beliefs." The troops involved in the alleged misconduct were attached to the Combined Joint Task Force 76, which is commanded by Kamiya. The Afghan Defense Ministry has launched its own investigation into the case, AFP reported on 20 October. AT

The Taliban-era governor of Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan who recently won a seat in the national parliament told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in a 19 October interview that he was not involved in the Taliban's demolition of the so-called Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001. Mohammadi's alleged association with the destruction of the massive statues came to the fore after he won a Samangan Province seat in the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the National Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2005). Mohammadi told RFE/RL that he was in another district of the province when the statues were blown up. The demolition was carried out by the military wing of the Taliban under foreign supervision, Mohammadi added without identifying those foreign elements. He said his affiliation with the Taliban regime was a way for him to save his people but that he had no real authority. Mohammadi said his plan in parliament is to bring the people and the government together and uphold democratic values, which he said are also affirmed in Islamic law. AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 20 October that Iran does not plan to take part in bilateral discussions with the United States, ISNA reported. Assefi was reacting to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statements the previous day, when she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration is considering direct contacts with Iran in an effort to bring about stability in Iraq, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 20 October. Rice said such contacts would take place at the embassy level in Baghdad and probably would be limited to Iraqi affairs. Washington-Tehran contacts are currently made indirectly through third parties. "The American administration's request is not compatible with their approach and performance," Assefi said, adding a call for the United States to change its behavior. BS

The British Foreign Office is investigating reports that the Iranian government has imposed a trade embargo against it in retaliation for the British stand on the nuclear issue, "The Guardian" reported on 20 October. U.K. entities reportedly sell some $1 billion worth of goods to Iran annually. The purported embargo is reportedly an informal move and not official Iranian policy, but neither would it be unprecedented. A British official said tactics such as visa delays and problems with customs papers accompany such a move. Seoul's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry intends to summon Iranian Ambassador Jahanbakhsh Mozaffari to find out if South Korea is being embargoed, Yonhap news agency reported on 20 October. Yonhap reported that South Korean PVC and steel products were denied entry to Iran earlier in the week. An anonymous Iranian official said he knew nothing about the issue. The Iranian charge in Prague, Hussein Rezvani, denied on 19 October that Czech goods are being embargoed, CTK news agency reported, quoting Czech Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Martin Tlapa. Tlapa said an embargo would undermine Iran's relations with the European Union. BS

The Iranian Embassy in Baghdad announced on 20 October that a consignment of aid has arrived from Iran, IRNA reported. The shipment reportedly includes food, tents, medicine, and other relief supplies, and it is destined for Tal Afar, the site of intense fighting in recent weeks. Then Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 24 February 2004 that he was suspicious of many of Iran's "humanitarian and outreach programs" in Iraq, according to testimony posted on the Senate website. BS

Iraqi Kurds want Masud Rajavi, leader of an Iranian opposition organization based in Iraq, to be arrested and tried, Radio Farda reported on 20 October. Rajavi's group, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), settled in Iraq in the 1980s, where it received assistance from and cooperated with Saddam Hussein. The Kurds say they want Rajavi to be tried because of the role his organization played in their repression by the Hussein regime. Mohammad Tofiq Rahim, an official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said in an interview with Radio Farda that his organization has documentary evidence of Rajavi's role. He said that when the Kurds seized control of northern parts of Iraq with U.S. assistance at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the MKO cooperated with the Iraqi Army in retaking control of the city of Kirkuk. In the process, he charged, hundreds of the city's residents were killed by the MKO. "Everyone in Iraqi Kurdistan knows that Masud Rajavi cooperated with the Mukhaberat [intelligence] and security forces of Saddam Hussein not only in the suppression of the Kurds, but all the opponents of the regime of Saddam," Rahim added. BS

The Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement saying that party representatives observed ballot rigging at several polling centers in the Ninawah governorate during the 15 October referendum on the draft constitution, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 20 October. Party representatives also claimed that state security forces intimidated people and pressured some to vote in favor of the document. The Islamic Party said it holds the Independent Electoral Commission responsible for the violations, according to Al-Sharqiyah. The Islamic Party joined the Shi'ite and Kurdish alliances in voicing support for the draft constitution just days before the referendum. Meanwhile, reported on 21 October that Sunni Arabs turned out in significantly higher numbers to cast ballots in the referendum than they did in the January elections. The report quoted a spokesman for multinational forces as saying that 30 percent of registered voters turned out in the Al-Anbar governorate. That figure is a 15-fold increase from January, when only about 2 percent of registered voters cast ballots. KR

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa arrived in Iraq on 20 October for a three-day visit aimed at fostering reconciliation between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ite and Kurdish groups in Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. "This initiative is an important step on the path of the Iraqi political activities as it gives assurances to Arab countries on the future of Iraq," Musa told reporters on arrival at the Baghdad airport, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters at a separate 20 October press briefing in Baghdad that the Iraqi government welcomes the efforts of the Arab League on Musa's first visit to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, RFI reported. Kubba added that the visit might also lead to future economic support from member states. Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary-General Tariq al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera television on 20 October following a meeting with Musa that the Arab League will sponsor a reconciliation conference in Cairo in mid-November. Al-Hashimi said his party will ask that the "national resistance" be allowed to participate in the conference and that the conference address the setting of a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces. KR

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told reporters at a 20 October press briefing with Arab League Secretary-General Musa in Baghdad that SCIRI has insisted that no terrorist groups take part in the upcoming reconciliation conference, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. "We insist that there should be no dialogue with the terrorist groups that have always killed the Iraqis," al-Hakim said. "[Musa] showed deep understanding that it is inconceivable to conduct a dialogue or seek reconciliation with such groups as they are the true enemies of the Iraqis.... Of course, we openly blame the Arab League and Arab states for taking belated stands regarding Iraq and Iraqis." Iraqi Vice President and Sunni leader Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told reporters at another press briefing with Musa in Baghdad that the league does not intend to impose a specific agenda on the conference, MENA reported the same day. Musa also met with Adnan al-Dulaymi, head of the Iraqi People's Conference, and Faruk Abdullah, head of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, on 20 October, MENA reported. KR

Najib al-Nu'aymi told Al-Jazeera television on 20 October that he has agreed to join Saddam Hussein's defense team and will be present at the 28 November hearing when the Al-Dujayl trial reconvenes. He said Hussein personally requested that he join the defense. "We have a specific strategy to defend [Hussein], and we will develop it after we become acquainted with the facts, documents, or CDs which the [Iraqi] attorney general speaks of" as evidence," al-Nu'aymi said. Asked about his decision to defend Hussein, he said: "I am convinced that [Hussein's rights have been violated]. One of these rights, as Saddam himself said [in court], is that the [Iraqi Special] Tribunal has no legitimacy according to the constitution [written under Hussein] and that it violates international law, which stipulates that an occupying country or a country taking control of another one must preserve the constitutional and legal order [of the occupied country] and must not change it." Al-Nu'aymi contended that the United States violated the UN Charter and Geneva Convention, and international humanitarian law, adding that Hussein's defense is considering filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government. KR

Sa'dun Antar al-Janabi, the lawyer for Hussein co-defendant and former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court Awad Hamad Bandar Sa'dun, was kidnapped in Baghdad on 20 October and subsequently found dead, international media reported on 21 October. According to Reuters, al-Janabi was kidnapped from his office by around 20 armed men and his body found with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Hussein's attorney spoke of the abduction in a 20 October interview with Al-Jazeera television, saying: "We hold the U.S. troops and the Iraqi government responsible for protecting the lives of all the lawyers on the defense panel. We have submitted several requests [for protection],... however, all our requests...have fallen on deaf ears." Al-Dulaymi contended the abduction was "meant to frighten the [defense] attorneys who are defending members of the legitimate leadership." He added that members of the defense have been threatened through e-mail, mobile-phone messages, and even in person. KR

An Irish journalist abducted in Iraq on 19 October was freed unharmed by his captors on 20 October, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005). Rory Carroll, who works for London's "The Guardian" newspaper, telephoned his father after his release. "I'm absolutely fine, both physically and psychologically," the paper quoted Carroll as saying. "I've been well-treated, apart from a bit of initial roughness when they first took me." Carroll reportedly telephoned from the offices of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, and was said to be enjoying a beer in celebration, "The Irish Times" reported. Carroll said he was held in a basement for 24 hours and allowed out only twice for food. He said he did not know the identities of his abductors. KR