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Newsline - October 31, 2005

Russia has called into question the findings of the Volcker Commission, which investigated alleged wrongdoing in the Iraq oil-for-food program, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will "demand explanations from the Volcker commission," and alleged that the commission used dubious sources. The commission, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, alleged widespread corruption in the oil-for-food program, including alleged abuses on the part of 20 Russian companies. "We are still carefully studying the report by Paul Volcker," Lavrov said, adding that Moscow suspects that the report relied on "some quite doubtful or explicitly forged documents" to reach its conclusions. "Russia has repeatedly inquired about the sources of the documents but received no reply. If forgeries appear again, after we have studied the facts, we will demand that the commission explain how it obtained these so-called documents," Lavrov said. BW

Lavrov also warned against politicizing a United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Russian news agencies reported on 31 October. "The UN Security Council is not an investigative authority," Lavrov said in New York on 30 October in remarks reported by Interfax the next day. "It would be wrong to mix criminal investigative mechanisms with relations between countries," he added. Lavrov was in New York for a 31 October UN Security Council meeting to debate a draft resolution submitted on 27 October by the United States, France, and Great Britain. The resolution calls on Syria to detain and hand over any official the UN considers a suspect in Hariri's 14 February killing, and threatens economic sanctions if Damascus does not cooperate. Moscow opposes threatening Syria with sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). BW

Aleksei Gordeev criticized the country's media on 29 October for overstating the threat of bird flu, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Calling the media's response to the spread of bird flu "unprofessional," he added that "this subject will be closed and forgotten in a week or two." Gordeev's comments came after State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said on 21 October that bird flu was an invention of the Americans who seek to dominate the world's poultry markets. On 28 October, three more villages in the Omsk Oblast registered cases of bird flu; and on 29 October cases of the disease were discovered in the Tambov and Vladimir oblasts in central Russia, Russian news agencies reported. The reports did not indicate whether the outbreaks included the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. BW

Aleksei Kudrin said he advocates limitations on state-owned companies borrowing money from foreign sources, Interfax reported on 30 October. "There are many factors suggesting that it would be correct to limit state companies' access to foreign credits," Kudrin said the same day, adding that they should instead borrow rubles on the domestic market for their investment projects. "This will be slightly more expensive, but the state would be able to keep the entire economy stable. I would back this measure now that the balance of payment is strong and dollars keep streaming in, so we hardly have enough time to sell them. It would be better to limit access to foreign credits," he added. Kudrin admitted, however, that when state companies take foreign credits "they start investing in oil extraction, pipelines, and industrial production." BW

At least 121 people from a boarding school have been hospitalized with a mysterious undiagnosed disease prompting a criminal investigation, Interfax reported on 30 October. Citing hospital officials, Interfax reported the previous day that students at Volgograd's Lider boarding school, where 350 students reside, inexplicably came down with symptoms of fever and nausea. "The tentative diagnosis is 'intestinal infection.' All patients have a fever and nausea," a hospital official said. On 30 October, Interfax cited officials from the Emergency Situations Ministry as saying that the number of people hospitalized had risen to 121, a total that includes one teacher. Preventive measures are being taken at the school and a criminal probe has been opened. BW

At a demonstration in central Moscow on 30 October, former world chess champion Garri Kasparov accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of destroying democratic freedoms, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "Today in Russia Putin has reestablished the most horrible aspects of our past," Ekho Moskvy quoted Kasparov as telling approximately 100 protesters gathered at the Stone of Solovki, a memorial to the victims of political repression, in Moscow's Lubyanka Square. The group gathered to mark the Day of Remembrance for Soviet-era political prisoners. At the demonstration, protesters held signs with slogans such as "Russia Without Putin!" and "No to Political Repression." Some carried pictures of jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. "The government is conducting a policy aiming to destroy all democratic freedoms," AFP quoted Kasparov as saying. BW

Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of Russia's Communist Party (KPRF), has called for nonviolent regime change in Russia, international and Russian news agencies reported on 29 October. "The regime will have to change its policies or quit," Interfax quoted Zyuganov as saying. "We have to concentrate on...a regime change [but] we want this change to be peaceful, without riot police or bloodshed," Zyuganov said. "A democratic and peaceful revolution of the people must have a slogan: elimination of the bureaucratic class," he added. BW

Speaking at the KPRF's annual party congress on 29 October, Zyuganov also angrily denounced a series of attacks on Communist Party members and their supporters, "The Moscow Times" reported on 31 October. "Attacks on our organization's headquarters and instances of physical violence against Communist Party activists have been carried out in 11 regions over three months," Zyuganov said in a speech to the 11th Communist Party Congress. "If this sort of thing continues, we are within our rights to organize troops for our defense. Believe me, there are more than a few Communists who know the art of hand-to-hand fighting, and not only hand-to-hand," he added. Zyuganov alleged that some of the attacks were the work of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi. "Today, the threat of Nashism is more real than ever," Zyuganov said on 29 October, adopting a term Nashi's critics use to imply that the group has fascist intentions. "Provocations and even the murder of our comrades is not news to us." BW

Police picked up members of the Voice of Beslan group in Moscow on 27 October for protesting in a location for which they did not have permission, reported. The group is an offshoot of the Beslan Mothers Committee which split over the role of controversial self-declared messiah Grigorii Grabovoi and the utility of the group's meeting with President Putin in early September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September and 20 October 2005). Protesters say that city authorities allowed them to hold the protest in one location and at the last minute changed the location but neglected to tell them. According to Ekho Moskvy, the eight protesters included three persons who lost family members in the Moscow theater hostage crisis in October 2002. The protesters carried photographs of their lost loved ones and posters calling for an investigation by international experts. JAC

The State Duma will soon consider amendments that will allow a wider circle of foreign citizens to work on Russian territory, according to Georgii Gadenko of the Labor Department at the Federal Migration Service, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 October. Currently, some 350,000 foreign citizens work legally in Russia. The estimated number working illegally is much higher -- from 3.5 to 5 million people. Under the new proposed rules, a person would be permitted to work in Russia for three years with the possibility of an additional one-year extension. Permission is currently granted for one year only after which the foreigner must leave Russia and seek permission anew. The daily concluded that if the bill is adopted, the life of law-abiding foreigners in Russia will become a little easier. JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 October that the list of candidates for the post of president of Altai Republic is down to five: Aleksandr Berdnikov, chief federal inspector for Altai Krai; Aleksandr Borisov, head of Choiskii Raion; State Duma Deputy Sergei Pekpeev (Unified Russia); Vyacheslav Polezhaev, head of the Chita Oblast Federal Security Service (FSB); and Nikolai Taitakov, first deputy prime minister of the republic. However, a new candidate's name has recently been touted: Sergei Sokol, the deputy governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai. According to the daily, Vladimir Potanin's Interros has been actively lobbying for Sokol, reportedly because it is interested in the republic's tourist industry. In addition, some analysts are predicting that Altai Republic will be one of the next regions to be absorbed into a larger region, that is, the Republic of Khakassia. Sokol himself has commented in the local press that the job interests him, but Interros refused to comment on Sokol's possible inclusion on the list of candidates to head the republic. Current President Mikhail Lapshin is not being considered for another term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2005). JAC

A poll conducted by the oblast administration on 23 October in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii showed around 38 percent support for Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Maskovtsev becoming the governor of the new region Kamchatka Krai, which was created with the voter-approved merger of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug, reported on 27 October. More than 60 percent of the oblast's residents reside in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatkii, the oblast capital. Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Kozhemyako received 17 percent support, followed by 5 percent support for Vladislav Skvortsov, the mayor of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, and 4 percent for oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The category of "others" got 13 percent. Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii has often expressed his support for the candidacy of Vekselberg for the governorship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005). JAC

Nikolai Shepel claimed on 27 October that a forensic examination proves that Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov was shot dead by his nephew, Viskhan Khadjimuradov, when Russian troops stormed their hideout in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt on 8 March, Interfax reported. Shepel claimed that Maskhadov had told his bodyguards to kill him rather than let him be taken prisoner, and that Khadjimuradov has confessed to shooting him. But the daily "Kommersant" quoted Khadjimuradov as testifying on 27 October that he lost consciousness following an explosion, and found Maskhadov's body lying next to him when he regained consciousness, reported. On 31 October, the Special Working Group formed to clarify the circumstances of Maskhadov's death issued a press release, posted on, claiming that the Russian authorities are alarmed at the likely repercussions of the appeal by Maskhadov's family to the European Court of Human Rights against the Russian leadership's refusal to hand over his body for burial, and may try to kill Khadjimuradov and the other three witnesses. The trial of the four men opened on 10 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). LF

President Putin made a brief visit to Nalchik on 30 October to attend a memorial service for the former president of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), Valerii Kokov, who died of cancer in Moscow the previous day, Russian media reported. Putin lauded Kokov, who resigned as KBR president last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005), for having devoted his life to his people and to strengthening Russian statehood. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak noted Kokov's political wisdom and courage, reported. Putin also met in Nalchik with Kokov's succesor, Arsen Kanokov, who, Putin predicted, will soon manage to reverse the republic's political and economic decline, reported. LF

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denied on 27 October that the Chechen resistance has acquired Russian arms via Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, Interfax reported. Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told Russian journalists earlier on 27 October that weaponry from Russian arms depots in Transdniester has been sent to Chechnya, where some of it has found its way into the possession of the Chechen resistance and the militants responsible for the September 2004 attack on Beslan. The commander of Russia's land forces, Colonel General Aleksei Maslov, told Interfax on 27 October that an inspection of Russian arms depots in Transdniester two weeks earlier showed that "not a single bullet" has gone missing. Maslov said that he hopes Moldovan officials will share with Moscow any information they have concerning thefts of Russian weapons in Transdniester. Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Akhmad Dakaev told Interfax on 27 October that he has no information to corroborate Tarlev's allegations, which he dismissed as "politically motivated." LF

Echoing an article published on 27 October in "Haykakan zhamanak," Grigor Harutiunian of the opposition Artarutiun bloc alleged on 28 October that the Armenian authorities plan to lower the threshold for passage of the constitutional amendments in the 27 November referendum by deleting from voter lists the names of an estimated 300,000 people still in possession of an old Soviet-era passport rather than a new Republic of Armenia one, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A minimum of one third of all registered voters must express approval for the amendments to pass. But the daily "Hayots ashkharh" on 27 October quoted Central Election Commission secretary Hamlet Abrahamian as denying any such plans. He said the number of registered voters eligible to participate in the referendum remains roughly the same as at the time of the 2003 elections. Meanwhile, 18 opposition parties released a statement on 27 October rejecting participation in the referendum and calling on all "healthy forces" to cooperate in expediting free elections and systemic reform, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

A 10-day census of the population of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) has been successfully concluded, RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted NKR National Statistics Service head Benik Babayan as saying on 28 October. Preliminary results will be made public by late November and more detailed findings during the second half of 2006. The estimated population of the NKR in 2004 was 145,600, according to Mediamax on 14 March 2005 as cited by Groong. LF

National Security Ministry officials searched the apartment of former National Academy of Sciences head Eldar Salaev late on 27 October and then took him into custody, reported on 29 October. Salaev, a 72-year-old physicist, is a close friend and relative by marriage of former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev and a registered parliamentary candidate for the Azadlyq (Liberty) bloc, of which Guliev's Democratic Party of Azerbaijan is a member. Azadlyq subsequently released a statement demanding Salaev's release and comparing the ongoing arrests with the Stalinist repressions of 1937, reported on 29 October. Thirty prominent officials have been arrested on charges of either corruption or involvement in an alleged coup d'etat since Guliev's abortive attempt to return from exile to Baku two weeks ago, estimated on 29 October. LF

The Azerbaijani parliament amended the election law on 28 October to lift the prohibition on election monitoring by NGOs that receive more than one-third of their funding from abroad, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 28 October, a group of senior EU officials visiting Baku released a statement hailing the recent belated moves to ensure that the 6 November parliamentary election is free and democratic, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). Meanwhile, the Election Observation Mission of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has released its third preliminary assessment of the election campaign (, which expresses concern at the recent arrests as well as at "widespread police arrests and intimidation" of opposition party members and supporters. LF

Also on 28 October, the Azerbaijani parliament appealed to the population to unite around the figure of President Ilham Aliyev to counter efforts by "destructive forces" to destabilize the country for their own nefarious purposes, Turan reported. The statement stressed that the Azerbaijani authorities have taken all possible measures to preclude an "unfair and nontransparent" vote. LF

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on 28 October hailing Tbilisi's most recent proposal for resolving the South Ossetian conflict, reported. That plan, which Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli outlined to the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna on 27 October, envisages changing the composition of the peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported on 31 October. The U.S. statement affirmed support for Georgia's territorial integrity and called on both sides "to reject the use of force and embark on constructive dialogue as the only path to a just and lasting settlement." Noghaideli's plans to visit South Ossetia on 30 October together with Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili to inform local residents of the details of the new peace proposal were thwarted by inclement weather, reported on 30 October. South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva told journalists that the planned visit by Okruashvili, who is widely believed to favor a new war to bring the region back under Georgian control, would only exacerbate tensions, Caucasus Press reported on 31 October. Noghaideli will meet on 15 November with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava announced on 28 October, Interfax reported. LF

Revaz Adamia, who is Georgia's ambassador to the UN, has written to the UN Security Council to request a full-fledged UN peacekeeping mission for Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 29 October. Adamia argued that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the auspices of the CIS is ineffective, and he accused Russia of the "military annexation" of a part of Georgia's territory. Adamia further deplored as "cultural genocide" the Abkhaz authorities' refusal to condone the use of Georgian as the language of instruction in schools in Abkhazia's predominantly Georgian-populated Gali Raion. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern over that refusal in his most recent letter to the Security Council reviewing the situation in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). LF

Addressing a congress of entrepreneurs in Almaty on 28 October, President Nursultan Nazarbaev laid out a number of priorities for the further development of business in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Telling his listeners that the overall aim is to "transform Kazakhstan into one of the world's dynamically developing countries with a high standard of living," Nazarbaev identified his three main priorities as "economic partnership, social responsibility, and a civic position," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Turning to specifics, Nazarbaev listed five goals, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. They are: ensuring cooperation in which the state furthers entrepreneurship and helps the people; perfecting mechanisms for dialogue between business and the state at all levels; protecting private property; orienting the economy toward exports; and making the business climate in Kazakhstan as favorable as possible. DK

A number of civil-society groups held a demonstration in Bishkek on 28 October to protest perceived threats to national unity and the dangers of criminal involvement in politics, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and reported. The demonstration, which was organized by the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Kel-Kel, and other groups, drew between 500 and 2,000 people, according to various reports. Edil Baisalov, who heads the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, told that the protest was intended as a counterweight to recent political actions by the "criminal world." As of 28 October, two all-day protests -- one organized by the supporters of slain parliamentary deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), the other by supporters of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov -- also came to an end in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akmatbaev's supporters agreed to end their protest after meeting on 27 October with President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who promised a thorough investigation of Akmatbaev's killing, reported. DK

The trial in Bishkek of Ryspek Akmatbaev, brother of murdered deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev, was postponed on 28 October until 9 November because one of the lawyers could not attend the trial, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and reported. Ryspek Akmatbaev, along with a number of other defendants, faces charges of organizing three murders, including the May 2004 killing of Chynybek Aliev, head of the Interior Ministry's department for fighting corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). Akmatbaev has maintained his innocence and accused former Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov of involvement in the killing, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Serviced reported. Subanbekov is currently residing abroad. DK

Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) condemned on 28 October a recent decision by the country's Education Ministry forbidding female students from attending educational institutions while wearing a head scarf and a government ban at mosques for children under the age of 16, Avesta and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The authorities have justified the decisions as necessary steps to safeguard education in a secular society. But the IRP blasted the moves as an infringement on religious freedom and an attempt to foist the views of a single group on all of Tajik society. In a statement, the IRP said: "At a time when thousands of children and teenagers are, instead of attending school, occupied with hard physical labor such as harvesting cotton, pushing carts, and washing cars, another segment spends most of its time in dance clubs and bars. It seems that the Education Ministry wants to blame its deficiencies on others, which suggests incompetence on the part of ministry officials." DK

Mullojon Amirbekov, chief veterinary inspector at Tajikistan's Agriculture Ministry, told Avesta on 27 October that a quarantine is in effect at large poultry farms to prevent outbreaks of bird flu. Amirbekov warned that "There is a great probability that bird flu may reach Tajikistan from Russia, Kazakhstan, or Turkey, since these countries are Tajikistan's close economic partners." Agriculture Ministry official Abdurahmon Muhammadshoev confirmed to the BBC on 28 October that the country's six largest farms have been placed under quarantine. DK

Ukrainian Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Turkmen Oil Minister Guichnazar Tachnazarov signed a memorandum in Ashgabat on 27 October on the volume of goods supplied by Ukraine to pay for shipments of Turkmen gas in 2004-2005, Interfax-Ukraine reported. But as "Kommersant-Ukraine" reported on 28 October, the visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov to Turkmenistan on 26-27 October failed to produce a comprehensive accord on 2006 shipments. The price of 2006 shipments of Turkmen gas is still to be negotiated. Moreover, Ukraine has agreed to Russian participation in the 2006 price negotiations, the newspaper noted. DK

Rights activist Yelena Urlaeva was released from a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent on 27 October, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Urlaeva told RFE/RL that officials explained to her that she was released after a court reviewed an appeal on her behalf. Urlaeva said that in the course of nearly two months of detention she was at times treated humanely, but at other times beaten and subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment. Reports that Urlaeva was undergoing forcible psychiatric treatment prompted protests from Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 October 2005). Urlaeva told RFE/RL that she is grateful that "the whole world helped me," but she added that opposition leader Sanjar Umarov and rights activist Motabar Tojiboev remain jailed. DK

Daniel Fried, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, told a congressional committee in Washington on 27 October that the United States is still considering imposing sanctions on Uzbekistan, Reuters reported. EU foreign ministers resolved on 3 October to reduce aid and ban arms sales to Uzbekistan in response to the Uzbek government's refusal to allow an independent investigation into the violent suppression of an uprising in the eastern city of Andijon in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2005). While stressing that no decision has yet been made, Fried said that the United States "will consult with our European friends and evaluate whether what we are doing is sufficient." DK

U.S. Ambassador to Belarus George Kroll said on 28 October that Belarus's poor record in past elections and severe bias in the state media make it highly unlikely the 2006 presidential election will be fair, Reuters reported. "If the conduct of [2004] parliamentary elections and the referendum is a guide, if it is simply a repeat [of those elections] -- which denied Belarusians access to any alternative views -- it does not look like this election will be conducted freely and fairly," the agency quoted Kroll as saying. The referendum results, regarded by the West as rigged, gave Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka nearly 80 percent support for lifting all limits on the number of terms a president can serve. Regarding opposition candidate Ayaksandr Milinkevich, Kroll said: "Should Milinkevich be elected by the Belarusian people freely and fairly, we could expect there would be changes with respect to the democratic rights of the Belarusian people." AM

The Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) accused the West on 27 October of plotting to undermine President Lukashenka with tactics that could extend to direct intervention or terrorism, Reuters reported. "The main driving force of Western states' intelligence services, notably the United States, is to destabilize our country," deputy KGB head Vasil Dzemyantsey said during a parliamentary debate on extremism. "They have clear tactics, up to and including direct intervention," Dzemyantsey said. "We have seen full mobilization, including the creation of groups which, when required, can engage in activity to overthrow the constitutional order by all means of extremist activity which, in the most extreme case, means terrorism," he added. AM

The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a 28 October statement accused the Belarusian authorities of harassing journalists belonging to the country's Polish minority, and demanded that "they be allowed total freedom of expression and movement." The authorities reportedly detained Andrzej Poczobut, editor of the Polish newspaper "Magazyn Polski," for a few hours on 20 October in Hrodna, interrogated him, and prevented him from leaving the country, according to RSF. "For the umpteenth time, the Polish-language media are at the heart of the political crisis between Poland and Belarus," RSF said in its statement, adding that "17 journalists from the country's Polish minority have been arrested in the past three months." The state cable network provider in Hrodna Oblast cut off access to Poland's main channel TVP1 on 24 October at the order of the Information Ministry, according to the RSF statement. The cutoff took place following the station's decision to air a 30-minute weekly program titled "Belarus Today" and to open an office in Hrodna to produce regular programs. AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has nominated Vasyl Prysyazhnyuk as prosecutor-general, Interfax reported on 31 October. The nomination is subject to approval by the Verkhovna Rada. Prysyazhnyuk currently serves as a deputy prosecutor-general and a Kyiv prosecutor. The post of the prosecutor-general has been vacant since Yushchenko dismissed Svyatoslav Piskun on 14 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2005). AM

President Yushchenko on 28 October called on the Ukrainian government to intensify its efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the end of this year, Interfax reported. "[We are] bringing domestic legislation in line with WTO requirements," Yushchenko said, adding that "means of protecting the interests of domestic manufacturers are under development." According to the Ukrainian Economy Ministry, Ukraine is currently in compliance with approximately 80 percent of the WTO's accession requirements. AM

Presidential Secretariat head Oleh Rybachuk said on 28 October that Ukraine is not conducting talks with Russia regarding their joint efforts to join the WTO, UNIAN reported. "It is technically impossible to synchronize the two independent countries' entry, and Ukraine is not conducting any talks [on synchronization]," Rybachuk said, adding that a decision on Ukraine's accession to the WTO will be made by the organization itself. Rybachuk also announced that a Ukrainian delegation intends to visit Washington regarding the WTO efforts, but did not indicate when this will happen. AM

Serbia and Montenegro's new Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic said in the 28 October issue of the Belgrade weekly "NIN" that fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic should turn himself in to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal voluntarily if he believes in his innocence, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Addressing his old friend Mladic directly, Stankovic added that "if you believe that you are guilty," suicide is a proper way out. Stankovic's appointment was criticized in some pro-reform circles in Serbia because of his former personal links to Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 29 July 2005). PM

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who is widely expected to lead the upcoming talks on the final status of Kosova, said in Helsinki on 29 October that NATO should retain its security presence there, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 25 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). He said that Kosova finds itself "in a difficult situation," adding that "there are still some armed groups that are not under control, and it is important that NATO retains its security role, no matter what the solution." Ahtisaari declined to speculate on the possible outcome of the talks, saying only that "time will tell whether it will be a compromise, and what kind of a compromise." He also noted that "there is still a lot of basic work to be done before any kind of specific discussions can begin." There are more than 17,000 KFOR peacekeepers stationed in Kosova. They play an important role in reassuring minorities that Albanian extremists will not attack them and in providing a guarantee for the Albanian majority that Serbian forces will not return. PM

Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the former international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is Germany's candidate to succeed Britain's Paddy Ashdown as the international community's and EU's high representative in Bosnia later in 2005, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 31 October, citing unnamed Foreign Ministry sources in Berlin. The former Christian Democratic government minister knows Bosnia well from serving as international mediator for nearly a decade, and having paid over 180 visits to more than 50 communities. He is widely respected among all three main ethnic groups as an impartial arbitrator. The Frankfurt daily noted that no leading Bosnian politician or media outlet has criticized Schwarz-Schilling's possible appointment, whereas other contenders from Italy, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic have received negative commentary from various sources. The former minister declined to comment on his candidacy for the post. He has criticized Ashdown for allegedly making too extensive use of his powers, and "acting as the legislative, executive, and judiciary on his own behalf." Ashdown, for his part, has reportedly suggested that he has been the victim of unfair criticism from unnamed German political figures and NGOs in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference announced in a document in Sarajevo on 29 October a plan to scrap the present political system based on two entities and replace it with one involving four cantons, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Cardinal Vinko Puljic said that the cantons would be based on Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, and Banja Luka and be formed on the basis of unspecified economic, geographic, historical, and ethnic criteria. The underlying concept is that Muslims, Serbs, and Croats are to enjoy truly equal legal status throughout the country. Each of the three groups would control at least 30 percent of the legislative and executive posts in each canton, and no one group could be outvoted by the other two. The exact size of each ethnic group at present is unclear, but the Roman Catholic Croats are generally believed to make up no more than 18 percent of the total. The international community has rejected previous Croatian calls for redividing Bosnia into three entities, one for each group. As the smallest of Bosnia's three main ethnic groups, many Croats fear a loss of control over their lives unless they have a legal entity of their own (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July and 14 October 2005). PM

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on 29 October accused authorities in Transdniester of supplying arms-manufacturing equipment to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Voronin said Moldova has "official documents from Hussein's office indicating that he received...whole [production] lines for the manufacture of weapons from the Dniester region." Chisinau has turned a folder of documents over to Russia outlining the unlawful activities of 13 defense industries in Transdniester. Voronin's allegations came after Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on 27 October accused the Transdniester region of supplying weapons to other "trouble spots" (see Russia section above). Transdniester's Foreign Ministry denied the claims. BW

Stung by a report that Ukraine now has fewer Russian-language schools than does Uzbekistan, and apparently convinced that such linguistic shifts are a cause and not simply a consequence of political changes, Moscow officials are planning to step up their efforts to defend and promote the use of the Russian language in the post-Soviet states.

In an interview in the 27 October issue of "Parlamentskaya gazeta," Irina Khaleeva, who is head of the Moscow State Linguistic University, said knowledge of Russian in these countries, while still high, is falling rapidly because schools there are not teaching Russian, and the governments of those countries are requiring the use of other languages (

Only three of these countries -- Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan -- now grant Russian the status of a state language, and in many, the governments are actively working to promote their national languages at the expense of Russian, something Khaleeva said threatens to create new divisions not only among peoples but among countries as well.

Indeed, she argued, the only country among this group where the status of Russian is where it should be is Belarus. There it is a required subject in schools, and specialists in Russian language and literature are still being trained in universities. That approach, she continued, should be but at present is not "a model for other countries."

Khaleeva suggested, somewhat improbably, that the decline in the use of Russian was part of a plan by the West to weaken Russia, noting that during the Cold War, the United States and its allies had concluded that "they did not need to use the atomic bomb; they only needed to convince these peoples they could cope without a knowledge of the Russian language."

And she said that many of the 40,000 nongovernmental organizations that the West has set up in the countries of the post-Soviet states continue to have among their goals the promotion of national languages and the of use of English as the new language of international communication.

To counter these threats, to defend Russian speakers abroad, and to promote Moscow's ties with these countries, Khaleeva said, she and other officials are working on plans for a three-pronged counterattack to defend the Russian language and expand its use outside the Russian Federation -- especially among the younger generation.

First, she said, her university is setting up an institute to train specialists in "the organization of carrying out information work abroad, [training] professionals who will be able not only to promote the international image of [Russia] and work with compatriots, but also to block various PR efforts against Russia," particularly in the language area.

Second, she continued, there are intense, ongoing discussions about establishing a special administration of interregional and cultural ties with foreign countries within the Russian Federation's presidential administration. Once set up, that body too will seek to promote the use of Russian in the former Soviet republics.

And third, she and others are urging that the newly established Russian Federation Social Chamber and the long-established Social Chamber of the Union of Belarus and Russia be tasked with the defense of the Russian language throughout the region.

In other comments, Khaleeva suggested that the Russian language is also under attack within the Russian Federation, and that some of the national languages spoken in other countries are at risk of degradation as well because of the actions of unwelcome outside forces.

"Within Russia itself," she said, one cannot fail to notice that the Russian language does not always find itself in a comfortable position. On the contrary, the leaders of some national republics -- she named Tatarstan in particular -- are striving to promote their local languages at the expense of Russian.

At the same time, the Russian language itself is being corrupted by the introduction of Western terms and slang, a development that Khaleeva argues undercuts its attractiveness not only to others but even to native speakers of Russian, and in this way also threatens the future of the country.

In other countries in the region, she continued, the impact of foreign languages on the local language is also taking place. She claimed that Ukrainian is being "subjected to serious deformation" by the imposition of Polish syntax and English vocabulary, after having been, according to her, promoted and protected in the Soviet Union.

Khaleeva's comments obviously reflect her bureaucratic self-interest, but her words are nonetheless a measure of mounting concern about the extent to which the former Soviet republics are moving away from Russia, and an indication that Moscow may finally, after much discussion, be preparing to try to reverse that trend.

(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

Suspected neo-Taliban militants torched a girls' school in Logar Province on 29 October, AFP reported the next day. Local authorities in the province, where four other girls' schools have recently been burned, said the latest school to be attacked was being renovated and tents were being used as student facilities pending completion. "The school, the tents, the chairs, generator, and a vehicle were destroyed in the fire," said Qudratullah Arabzai, the chief investigator in the area. Arabzai blamed the fire on "enemies of Afghanistan," an apparent reference to the neo-Taliban, who are suspected of being behind the previous school attacks. Before losing power in 2001, the Taliban outlawed education for girls in Afghanistan. The legacy of the practice is enduring. A report by the United Nations released in October said school enrolment for girls in Afghanistan is less than 10 percent, one of the lowest rates in the world. MR

Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents attacked a security post in southeastern Afghanistan on 29 October, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported on 30 October. No one was hurt in the attack, in which insurgents used heavy weapons and small arms. The head of security for Paktiya Province, Mohammad Nabi Saleh, said the attackers ran off after the brief skirmish. "Unidentified men attacked a security post in [the] Naiknam area of Zormat District last night," Saleh said. "The assailants used rocket launchers apart from light weapons, but the government forces did not sustain any casualties or material losses." Saleh said a hunt for the attackers is under way. MR

The U.S. military has announced charges against two soldiers accused of abusing prisoners in Afghanistan, AP reported 30 October. Two U.S. soldiers allegedly punched two Afghan detainees in the stomach, shoulder, and chest while they were held at a military base in Afghanistan. The alleged beatings took place in July at a U.S. military base in Oruzgan Province, said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O'Hara. Neither detainee required medical treatment, according to a military statement. The statement also said the soldiers in question could face disciplinary action if the charges are proven. "The command remains committed to investigat[ing] all allegations of misconduct and will hold individuals responsible for their actions consistent with U.S. military law," said Brigadier General Jack Sterling, a deputy coalition commander. One of the detainees who claimed he suffered abuse has been released; the other is now being held at the U.S. military headquarters in Bagram, outside Kabul. MR

Counternarcotics forces in eastern Afghanistan have in recent days set fire to 30 opium laboratories, several drug stores, and a cache of tools used for producing heroin, the Pajhwok Afghan news agency reported 30 October. The Afghan Special Narcotics Force destroyed drug facilities in Nangarhar Province in operations that also destroyed 4,000 kilograms of opiates and 5,000 kilograms of chemicals used to process opium into heroin. Authorities say opium production in the province is down compared to last year. However, authorities acknowledge that many heroin labs are still in operation. MR

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's demand for the elimination of Israel in a 26 October speech was condemned by the UN Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). Mihnea Motoc, Romania's ambassador to the UN and current Security Council president, said on 28 October, "The members of the Security Council condemn the remarks about Israel attributed to his excellency Mr. Mahmud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran," RFE/RL reported. Motoc said all UN members are committed to not using force or threatening to use force against other states. Israel welcomed the UN's statement. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman said on 28 October at UN headquarters in New York that "Israel welcomes the condemnation by the Security Council of the outrageous remarks by the president of Iran, remarks which are not only alarming and dangerous, but have actually unmasked what extremism, fundamentalism, and madness is actually part of that world-threatening regime," RFE/RL reported. Israel has demanded Iran's expulsion from the UN, and officials from a number of countries have spoken out against Ahmadinejad's comments. Even Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat described the comments as "unacceptable," "The Observer" reported on 30 October. BS

According to a 29 October Iranian Foreign Ministry statement, "The statement issued by the head of the Security Council on the international Qods Day was proposed by the Zionist regime and aimed at overlooking the crimes of this regime and misrepresenting the events, and is therefore not acceptable," IRNA reported. BS

During a 30 October meeting of Basij Resistance Force members in Tehran, President Ahmadinejad spoke out against countries that intend to normalize their relations with Israel, IRNA reported. He reportedly reiterated his paraphrasing of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's statement about Israel: "The Jerusalem occupying regime must be eliminated from the surface of earth." Ahmadinejad said Iran neither needs nor wants nuclear weapons. Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel dismissed Israeli concerns in his comments to the legislature on 30 October, IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 30 October that Israel uses any pretext as propaganda against Iran, IRNA reported. "The Zionists and their allies played unskillfully this time, making it clear that their allegations against the Iranian nuclear program emanate from Iranian objection to Israel's systematic killing of defenseless Palestinians," Assefi said in reaction to foreign media reporting about Ahmadinejad's comments. The previous day, according to IRNA, Assefi dismissed the affair as "nothing new" and said Israel is trying to create a commotion over the nuclear issue, IRNA reported. BS

Parliamentarian Kamal Daneshyar, who chairs the legislature's Energy Committee, said the executive branch will propose Alireza Zareh as the next petroleum minister, "Aftab-i Yazd," "Iran," and "Sharq" reported on 30 October. Zareh currently heads the university lecturers' Basij organization. Another member of the Energy Committee, Hassan Moradi, said his colleagues are worried about Zareh's lack of experience. Parliamentarians objected to and ultimately rejected the first proposed petroleum minister, Ali Saidlu, because of his inexperience. President Ahmadinejad subsequently appointed Saidlu as his vice president for executive affairs. Ahmadinejad said that Saidlu was rejected because of a campaign by a Petroleum Ministry mafia, "Iran Daily" reported on 1 October. BS

Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi expressed his sympathies in a letter to the wife of imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, Radio Farda reported on 30 October. In the letter to Masumeh Shafii, Montazeri wrote that imprisoning people for their political beliefs is a "blatant injustice" and if this is done in the name of Islam, it is "contrary to spiritual law [khalaf-i shar]." As somebody who played a part in the victory of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Montazeri wrote, this affair makes him feel ashamed. Without identifying Ganji by name, another leading cleric, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, said on 29 October that it is shameful when people create an uproar if a person defends the innocent with his pen, Radio Farda reported. BS

Iyad Allawi announced the formation of a new electoral list for December parliamentary elections on 29 October, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on the same day. The list, called the Iraqi National List, will include the Iraqiyun List, led by Hajim al-Hasani and Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir; the Iraqi Communist Party, led by Hamid Majid Musa; the Independent Democrats Grouping, led by Adnan Pachachi; the National Democratic Party, led by Nasir Kamil al-Chadirchi; the Arab Socialist Movement; and the Islamic Democratic Movement. Allawi told reporters that candidates on the list will run on a platform of national unity, and the list's goals will be to increase security and economic development. He added that all parties to the list put the benefit of Iraq over their own personal interests. Pachachi told reporters that the list seeks to build a democratic, modern, and open Iraqi society "that renounces sectarianism in political work and improves relations with Arab and neighboring countries." KR

The Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance announced its list for December elections at a 29 October press conference in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told reporters that the list comprises his party and some 16 other political parties, including: the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party (both branches), the Islamic Virtue Party, the Al-Sadr Current, the Badr Organization, Al-Adalah Party, Hizballah Movement in Iraq, Masters of the Martyrs Movement, Central Grouping Party, the Iraqi Turkoman Loyalty Movement, the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkomans, the Justice and Equality Grouping, the Reform and Construction Gathering, the Iraqi Democrats Movement, and the Free Iraqis Party. Speaking about the changes in the coalition, Hakim told reporters that "Difficult circumstances prevented us from including some political entities.... Therefore, we are announcing that the door will remain open before all the virtuous forces to join the coalition after the elections." On Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's decision not to back any particular list for the election, he said al-Sistani "will strongly support the entire electoral process." KR

Ahmad Chalabi, deputy prime minister and head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), has left the United Iraqi Alliance and formed a new coalition list ahead of December elections, Al-Jazeera television reported on 28 October. The list will reportedly be called the National Congress Coalition and will include the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, led by Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, and other moderate political and religious figures including Sheikh Fawwaz al-Jarba, according to INC spokesman Muhammad Hasan al-Musawi. Other members include Justice Minister Abd al-Husayn Shandal, and former United Iraqi Alliance member and parliamentarian Salama al-Khafaji, reported on 29 October. Chalabi told Al-Jazeera in a 30 October interview that he has left the United Iraqi Alliance because he does not agree with its calls for an Islamic state in Iraq. "Now that the constitution has been is obvious that there is a need to have a list that represents a large segment of the Iraqi people, who are faithful Muslims [and] who also believe in a democratic, pluralistic, and a federal system of government. They respect the religious authority but they do not recognize the political Islamic ideology." KR

A number of Iraqi political parties have formed a national coalition for December elections, Hasan Zaydan, head of the National Front for a Free and United Iraq announced at a 29 October press briefing in Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Zaydan said the coalition's name and platform will be announced in the coming days, but added that the basic platform will be built on maintaining Iraqi unity, liberating the country, and serving the sons of Iraq. The coalition includes Zaydan's party; the Iraqi National Front, led by Salih al-Mutlaq; the Christian Democratic Party, led by Minas al-Yusufi; the Arab Democratic Front, led by Farhan al-Sudayd; and the Sons of Iraq Movement, led by Ali al-Suhayri. Zaydan told reporters that the coalition includes all segments of Iraqi society -- Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and Shabaks. "None of the segments of the Iraqi people were deprived of participating in this front," he said. KR

Hatim Jasim Mukhlis, secretary-general of the Iraqi National Movement, announced the formation of the Wataniyun (Patriots') Grouping at a 30 October press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The grouping includes: United Iraq Council, Al-Ahrar Party, Al-Furatayn Bloc from Karbala, the Arab and Iraqi Tribes Council, and the Central Tribal Leaders of Iraq Council. Mukhlis told reporters that the grouping's platform calls for the rebuilding of the Iraqi Army, stripping armed militias of power, addressing the security crisis, battling unemployment, and dealing with administrative and financial corruption. KR

Security forces in Al-Basrah are reportedly pursuing members of two political parties that are purportedly receiving support from Iran, "Al-Zaman" reported on 29 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005.) Local officials told the daily that an earlier raid on the Tha'r Allah Movement offices has uncovered documents indicating that Iranian intelligence offered financial and logistical support to the organization. Documents also link Iranian intelligence to recent violence in Al-Basrah, including armed attacks and plots to assassinate political leaders. The Al-Basrah advisory council has reportedly called on citizens to report any relevant information on Tha'r Allah and another party, the Iraqi Lions Movement to the authorities. Police and security forces are pursuing members of both parties on an order from the Supreme Judiciary and have thus far arrested some 50 Iraqi Lions Movement members and its leader. The detainees have reportedly confessed to carrying out rapes, robberies, assassinations, and to extorting money from business owners and university professors. Tha'r Allah leader Yusif Sanawi al-Musawi has not been located. KR