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Newsline - November 18, 2005

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on 17 November that progress on resolving the Russian-Japanese dispute over the Kurile Islands is unlikely to be made during his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "We should think twice whether it is worth focusing on this issue at present," Koizumi told a news conference in Tokyo, RIA-Novosti reported. "The sides will hardly reach any agreement [during Putin's 20-22 November visit] on this complex issue, which has existed for 60 years." "It will take time and further discussions," he added. Koizumi said on 13 November that Russia and Japan could improve their relations despite the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). On 15 November, Putin's foreign-affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, accused Tokyo of taking an "uncompromising" stance on the issue. The same day, Ambassador to Japan Aleksander Losyukov denied media reports that a deal on the islands is in the works (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005). BW

A indigenous ethnic group in Japan has sent a letter to the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy claiming that it is the rightful owner of the disputed Kurile Islands, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 November. The Community of Birikamosiri, which represents a tribe called the Ainu, says the islands "are neither the Russian, nor the Japanese land." Moscow and Tokyo, therefore, "have no rights to negotiate" their ownership, and "should ask the Ainu people's opinion." The Ainu intend to use the islands to establish an autonomous area in the future, the letter said. "We have received this letter but we cannot treat the Ainu in a special way and thus single them out from all the rest of the population," the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to "Kommersant-Daily." The newspaper also quoted an unidentified "high-ranking Russian diplomat" as calling the demand "an oddity" and adding: "Who cares what a tribe that once lived on a territory demands." BW

President Putin met with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in South Korea on 18 November, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. Putin's foreign-affairs adviser Prikhodko, said the two leaders discussed the crises over Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs and the situation in Syria, ITAR-TASS reported. Prikhodko also said Putin thanked Bush for Washington's support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. A U.S. official told dpa that during their brief talk Bush stressed the importance of Russian-U.S. ties. "We value your advice, and we value the strategic relationship we've built," the official quoted Bush as telling Putin. "We've virtually had permanent contacts on almost all bilateral and international issues." BW

On 17 November, Putin held talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Samsun, Turkey, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters that the talks focused on European energy issues. Speaking at a ceremony of officially inaugurating the Blue Stream gas pipeline, Putin said Russia is prepared to assist Turkey in developing its gas infrastructure. "Russian companies are ready to cooperate on the Turkish gas and oil market," Putin said. "They are ready to increase energy resources [and] supplies [and to] take part in the development of the gas infrastructure in a variety of ways." The Blue Stream pipeline, which runs under the Black Sea, delivers natural gas from Russia to Turkey BW

Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential council for the promotion of civil society and human rights, said on 17 November that she opposes stricter state controls over domestic nongovernmental organizations, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Pamfilova said that the bill on implementing such restrictions that is currently being reviewed by the State Duma is "discriminatory in terms of registration for NGOs and nonprofit organizations," and "in some places cynical and erroneous." She warned that the bill's passage would complicate relations between Russian NGOs and their foreign counterparts. "The stated aim of the bill is to bring stabilization to civil society, but what it [civil society] needs is development," Pamfilova said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). BW

Paintings belonging to the Russian Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts were en route to Russia on 17 November after being briefly impounded by Swiss authorities the previous day, Interfax reported. "Four trucks equipped with special climate control to maintain suitable temperatures for the 54 canvases by French painters have crossed the Swiss-German border," said Konstantin Nefedov, an official with the Russian Embassy in Switzerland. The 54 paintings, including works by Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh, had been on show in the Swiss town of Martigny. They were seized on 16 November by Swiss customs on behalf of the Swiss firm Noga, which claims that Russia owes it approximately $800 million in unpaid debts. The same day, a Swiss court ordered that the paintings be released. Noga, a trading company, has in the past caused the temporary seizure of a ship, warplanes, and diplomatic property in a series of bids to secure payment of debts linked to deals for the supply of food in exchange for oil in 1991-92. BW

St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum and Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts have cancelled international exhibitions until laws protecting their works of art are clarified, Interfax reported on 17 November. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts has cancelled an exhibition in London because the British authorities could not guarantee the protection of artworks from legal claims by third parties, said Irina Antonova, the museum's director. Antonova said that Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovskii made a similar decision regarding three exhibitions in Switzerland. "I know that my colleague Mikhail Piotrovskii has suspended preparations for three exhibitions in Switzerland because we have no right, and the Culture Ministry will not allow us, to send exhibitions there until all legal issues are fully settled," Antonova said. BW

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly urged Russia on 16 November to ratify an agreement prohibiting the death penalty, Interfax reported the same day. If Russia fails to ratify the sixth protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the death penalty, it would be in the same boat with North Korea, China, the United States, Iran and Iraq, Giorgii Frunda, chairman of PACE's monitoring committee, said during a press conference at the State Duma. Frunda said Russia agreed to abolish the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996, but is currently the only country among 46 members that has not done so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 25 October 2005). BW

Russia will supply the Palestinian Authority with two transport helicopters and several dozen all-terrain vehicles, Interfax reported on 17 November, citing an unidentified Russian government official. The official told Interfax that Russia originally planned to supply the Palestinian Authority with BRDM-2 reconnaissance and patrol vehicles, but Israel objected to the plan. After "taking into consideration Israel's position," the official said Russia decided to supply the Palestinians with UAZ all-terrain vehicles instead. The official did not reveal the terms of the deal, but said the vehicles will only be used by police, and the helicopters will only be used to transport Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other top Palestinian leaders. BW

Russia has decided to post $500,000 in bail for jailed UN official Vladimir Kuznetsov, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. Kuznetsov, who chaired the UN General Assembly's budget advisory committee, was arrested by the FBI in September and charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. He has denied the charges. "We believe the bail, which shall be returned to the Russian side after the trial is over, will promote a speedy consideration of the case," said Mariya Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia's UN mission. According to the charges, Kuznetsov launched an offshore company in 2000 to which hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes paid to an unidentified UN procurement officer were transferred. Kuznetsov's total bail is $1.5 million, with $500,000 required up front to secure his release. BW

Great Britain has asked Russia for an explanation as to why a British attorney seeking to observe the controversial trial of a journalist was denied entry to Russia, Reuters reported on 18 November. Bill Bowring was planning to travel to Nizhnii Novgorod to observe the trial of Stanislav Dmitrievskii, a newspaper editor who was arrested for printing an article by deceased Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in which he called for talks to end the conflict in the breakaway region. Prosecutors opened a criminal case against Dimitrievskii for inciting "hatred or enmity on the basis of ethnicity or religion." Bowring, founder of the London-based European Human Rights Advocacy Center, was detained upon arrival at Moscow's main international airport, questioned for four hours, and ultimately refused entry despite having a valid visa. "We have concerns and we are quite surprised. We have taken up our concerns with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a high level," said Alan Holmes, a spokesman for the British Embassy. BW

Sergei Abramov has been hospitalized in Moscow with severe injuries sustained in an overnight car accident outside the capital, Western media reported on 18 November. Ziyad Sabsabi, who is the official representative in Moscow of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, excluded the possibility of an assassination attempt, Reuters reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov has been named acting prime minister, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

Spokesmen for the defense ministries of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic told Arminfo on 17 November that Armenian forces have not "recently" violated the cease-fire along the Line of Contact, according to They rejected as untrue Azerbaijani media claims that Armenian forces opened fire twice on Azerbaijani positions on 15 November. LF

Meeting in Baku on 16 November, more than 500 candidates who failed to win election to the Azerbaijani parliament on 6 November condemned what they termed the total falsification of the outcome of the ballot, reported on 17 November. The placed the blame on President Ilham Aliyev and signed a statement demanding new elections. Several opposition candidates who did win election also signed the document, hinting that they may give up their mandates. Those present including leading members of the three opposition parties aligned in the Azadlyq bloc, including Musavat party chairman Isa Qambar, who proposed establishing a commission on which both the authorities and the opposition would be represented to investigate allegations of widespread falsification, Turan reported. Meanwhile, some 420 unsuccessful candidates, most of them independent, have signed a statement by the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party affirming that the ballot was free and fair, reported on 17 November. LF

Eldar Salaev, the elderly and infirm former president of Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences who was arrested last month on charges of involvement in an alleged coup d'etat, was released from pretrial custody on 16 November, Turan and reported on 17 November. However, the charges against Salaev have not been dropped, and he may not leave the country without obtaining official permission. The coup was allegedly planned by former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, to whom Salaev is related by marriage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 1 November 2005). LF

Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze told journalists on 16 November that the delegation that she intended to head would not after all travel to St. Petersburg to attend a 17-18 November meeting of the CIS Parliamentary Assembly because one of its members, parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze, was initially refused a Russian visa, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry demanded an explanation from the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi, which issued a statement the same day saying that while Targamadze's initial visa application was rejected, he was subsequently informed he would be issued a visa either in Tbilisi or upon his arrival in Russia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili praised Burdjanadze's decision to boycott the St. Petersburg meeting. On 17 November Burdjanadze suggested -- as Georgian parliamentarians have done on numerous occasions in recent years -- that Georgia might quit the CIS as that body has forfeited all authority. LF

The OSCE-sponsored talks in Ljubljana on the South Ossetian conflict ended early on 17 November with the signing of a protocol that called for a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Georgia to discuss the conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Unidentified officials from the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia and from the Republic of North Ossetia would also attend those talks. On 16 November, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava walked out of the Ljubljana talks to protest the proposal by Russian representative Ambassador Valerii Kenyaikin to convene a meeting by the end of this month of the top leaders of all four polities to discuss the conflict, but later resumed his participation. LF

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity told journalists on 16 November that he is against Georgia's proposal to change the format of the Joint Control Commission that serves as the main forum for seeking a solution to the conflict, Caucasus Press reported. He also rejected Georgian calls for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zone. On 17 November, Kokoity again rejected Georgia's most recent peace initiative, which Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 27 October, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2005). Kokoity said Tbilisi should discuss its peace proposals with South Ossetia, rather than with the international community. LF

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and Irakli Alasania, who heads the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, met on 17 November with Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, and with the ambassadors in Tbilisi of the five states that constitute the Friends of the UN Secretary General Group (France, Germany, the U.K., the U.S., and Russia), Caucasus Press and reported. The Georgian representatives appealed to the international community to condemn violations by the Abkhaz authorities of the human rights of the predominantly Georgian population of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. On 15 and 17 November, respectively, the Georgian Foreign Ministry and the Georgian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee issued separate statements calling on the international community to protest the Abkhaz authorities' ultimatum to the Gali Georgians either to accept citizenship of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia or leave, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Abkhaz Interior Minister Otar Khetsia denied on 17 November that additional police and armored vehicles have been deployed to Gali Raion, reported. Caucasus Press quoted unnamed local observers as linking that deployment to an upcoming visit by President Saakashvili to the west Georgian region of Mingrelia, and to the threat last week by the White Legion Georgian guerrilla formation to resume attacks on Abkhaz in Gali. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 November 2005). LF

Four NGOs engaged in monitoring human rights, together with two Georgian veterans of the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia, picketed the state chancellery on 18 November to protest what they term the government's antinational policies, Caucasus Press reported. The war veterans began a hunger strike six days ago and have submitted a written list of demands to President Saakashvili. Those demands are to appoint to the Central Election Commission people who enjoy public trust; to reduce the threshold for parliamentary representation under the proportional system from 7 to 4 percent of the vote; to review and correct voter lists; to adopt an "optimal" law on self-government; to appoint an opposition representative to head the Audit Chamber; and to introduce nationwide elections for the post of Supreme Court chairman. LF

Kazakh officials warned of opposition plans to destabilize the situation in the country during the 4 December presidential election, while the opposition accused President Nursultan Nazarbaev's supporters of dirty tricks, news agencies reported on 16-17 November. Central Election Commission (CEC) head Onalsyn Zhumabekov told a news conference in Astana on 16 November that "certain forces" will try to stir unrest on 4 December over allegedly incomplete voter rolls, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zhumabekov said that the state has made every effort to ensure the voter rolls are complete. Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov told reporters in Astana on 17 November that "radical forces" are planning to "stage mass disturbances" during the election period, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He warned that "any attempts to destabilize the social and political situation will be resolutely prevented by the police." Meanwhile, opposition candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai's campaign headquarters issued statements on 16-17 November charging abuses, the website Navigator reported. Tuyakbai called on President Nazarbaev to investigate a 15 November attack on Zhanibek Kozhyk, a member of the opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol and a staffer on Tuyakbai's campaign. Another statement reported an attack on 16 November on two relatives of Tuyakbai supporter Altynbek Sarsenbaev. Police later announced the arrest of two suspects in the attack on Kozhyk, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

Four of the five presidential candidates took part in a debate on national television aired by Khabar on 17 November. The participants were Tuyakbai, from the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan; Alikhan Baimenov, from the opposition party Ak Zhol; Erasyl Abylkasymov, from the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan; and environmentalist Mels Eleusizov. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who was on an official visit to Ukraine, did not take part. Tuyakbai charged that under Nazarbaev poverty and unemployment are increasing as a result of "theft, corruption, injustice, and the arbitrariness of those who are in the governmental system." Tuyakbai also called for an investigation into allegations that Nazarbaev received bribes to arrange oil contracts through American consultant James Giffen -- who is currently awaiting trial in the United States -- in what has been dubbed Kazakhgate. DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced on 17 November that he is in favor of retaining the status of Russian as an official language in Kyrgyzstan, reported. The Russian Union of Compatriots, an organization bringing together Russian speakers in Kyrgyzstan, recently sent an open letter to Bakiev criticizing recent initiatives by some organizations to end the official status of the Russian language in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Emil Kaptagaev, the leader of the Uluu Birimdik movement, responded that the initiative to strip Russian of its official status is not directed against the Russian language but rather toward encouraging the use and development of Kyrgyz. Uluu Birimdik is one of the organizations that has supported a move to include in constitutional reforms a provision to end Russian's official status. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 16 November disavowing recent comments by Zamira Sydykova, Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States, on a purported dispute over back payments for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005), reported. The statement said, "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not authorize Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States Zamira Sydykova to make any statements on this issue, and published comments and statements [by her] do not reflect the official position of the Kyrgyz Republic." The ministry termed recent reports of financial disagreements between Kyrgyzstan and the United States over the base inaccurate, noted that negotiations on changes to the base agreement are ongoing, and stressed Kyrgyzstan's readiness to "continue developing mutually beneficial cooperation for the good of our two countries' peoples." DK

Police in Tajikistan's Sughd Province have arrested a former imam with suspected ties to the banned extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir and the terrorist organization Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 17 November. ITAR-TASS identified the individual as Abbos Mirahmadov, describing him as a Tajik citizen who had been the imam of a mosque in Perm, Russia. A police spokesman in Khujand told the news agency that Mirahmadov faces terrorism and weapons possession charges. Mirahmadov has allegedly spent the last two years in Tajikistan recruiting for the IMU. DK

Ghaffor Mirzoev, a former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency who was jailed in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2005), has studied the government's case against him and now denies all of the charges he faces, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 17 November. Qayum Yusufov, a lawyer representing Mirzoev, said that his client had previously admitted partial guilt on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2005) only because he had not had an opportunity to review his case. Mirzoev is charged with violating 34 articles of the Criminal Code, including attempting a coup d'etat and numerous acts of corruption. DK

The United States has paid Uzbekistan $22.9 million for the use of the K-2 base in Khanabad, covering the period from January 2003 to March 2005, Reuters reported on 16 November. Uzbekistan gave the U.S. six months to vacate the base on 29 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Arguing that the United States should not reward a dictatorial regime, U.S. lawmakers voted in October for a bill to halt the payment, but the bill was not passed. An unnamed State Department official told Reuters that while "we certainly don't like how Uzbekistan is behaving...we have to pay our bills for services rendered." The official noted that the decision to make the payment was "taken unanimously at the highest government levels." ITAR-TASS cited an unnamed Uzbek government source on 17 August as saying that the Uzbek decision to ask the United States to leave the base "remains invariable." DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told university students in Mahilyou on 17 November that more than 90 percent of the country's villagers are ready to vote for his reelection in 2006, compared to 84 percent in district centers and 67 percent in Minsk, Belapan reported. According to Lukashenka, these are the findings of a commissioned sociological survey. Lukashenka stressed that, if reelected, he will continue his current policies. "I'll hardly increase my efforts because I work at the peak of capabilities now, but I will not turn off the road," he added. According to Lukashenka, the Belarusian people understand that "colored revolutions" have no prospects and only make life worse. JM

President Lukashenka also told students in Mahilyou on 17 November that Belarus's state-run television provides more truthful coverage than foreign television networks, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. Lukashenka slammed foreign television channels for broadcasting what he considers to be violent content. However, he said their broadcasts to Belarus will not be barred as "most of our people would not support it." Lukashenka said Belarusian television, unlike foreign networks, is not filled with violent scenes. He expressed his wish that Belarusian television reporters, whom he described as "decent, honest, and truthful," gain a bit more professionalism. Lukashenka said the government will continue interfering in the media sector but will do it in a "civilized manner." JM

Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the united opposition's challenger to Belarusian President Lukashenka in next year's election, on 16 November launched his website at, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Only a Belarusian version of the website was accessible on that day, but Syarhey Vaznyak, Milinkevich's spokesman, told journalists that its Russian and English versions will appear within the next few days. The website contains Milinkevich's biography, his campaign headquarters organization, his recent interviews, articles about the candidate, a photo gallery, and official documents of the National Congress of Democratic Forces. The site currently opens also at the address JM

The Central Election Commission on 18 November decided that the election campaign for the 26 March 2006 parliamentary election will begin on 26 November, Ukrainian media reported. Under a constitutional-reform law of December 2004 and a parliamentary-election law adopted in July 2005, Ukrainians will elect a 450-seat Verkhovna Rada in March for a five-year term under a fully proportional, party-list system and with a 3 percent voting threshold required for parliamentary representation. In 2002, the Ukrainian legislature was elected for a four-year term under a mixed electoral system (225 deputies were elected from party lists and 225 from one-seat constituencies). The voting threshold for parties in 2002 was 4 percent. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 17 November adopted a resolution urging the government to stop carrying out inspections of media outlets from 1 December to the conclusion of the 2006 parliamentary election campaign, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Legislators also approved amendments to the parliamentary election law, which barred the media from editorializing about political forces during the campaign and empowered the Central Election Commission to close down or suspend any media outlet found in violation of this provision. Under the adopted changes, the ground rules were loosened and only a court was given the right to shut down media outlets for non-compliance. JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko has urged caution against the isolation of Belarus in the international arena, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 16 November. Yushchenko was addressing a meeting of politicians and businesspeople in Paris on 15 November, during his two-day official visit to France. "Belarus should not be left in isolation, we need to have contacts and to render help to Belarus on the way to democracy," Yushchenko said. "Europe will be making a mistake if it encloses Belarus in a cocoon," he added. On 16 November in Minsk, Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko and his Belarusian counterpart Leonid Maltsau signed a cooperation plan for 2006 between the Belarusian and Ukrainian armed forces. JM

Kosova's legislature voted overwhelmingly on 17 November to approve a "political platform" for the Kosovar delegation in upcoming talks on the province's final status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 16 November 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). The resolution made it clear that the only acceptable outcome of the talks for the parliament is independence, which is nonnegotiable. The legislature also affirmed that the result of the negotiations must be approved by the parliament or a referendum. The resolution reaffirmed the inviolability of Kosova's frontiers, the desire to live in peace with all peoples of the region, and the need to observe international standards. The lawmakers noted that the UN guarantees the right of all peoples to self-determination, which the Kosovars claim for themselves. Kosova will need the support of the UN, the United States, the EU, and unspecified other states when it begins its life as an "independent and sovereign state," the resolution added. PM

Serbian Economics Minister Predrag Bubalo said in Belgrade on 17 November that the Kosovar parliament's resolution is "unacceptable" to Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Mitrovica, delegates representing the communities inhabited by the Serbian minority within Kosova as well as Serbian displaced persons and refugees passed a resolution affirming that Kosova "was, is, and will remain a part of Serbia." Elsewhere, Serbian commentators debated what might be the purpose and meaning of a recent proposal by Serbian President Boris Tadic to divide Kosova into "entities," perhaps on the model of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Dayton agreement. It remains unclear whether he was acting on his own or in consultation with other Serbian leaders. Political leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority have long rejected any proposal that would, in effect, partition the province. PM

About 60 clerics from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro said in a communique in Tirana on 18 November that they "support and encourage each other as religious communities in promoting multifaith dialogue and building interreligious councils in order to transform conflict, build peace, and advance sustainable development," news agencies reported. The religious leaders also noted the role of women and religious communities in promoting stability in the Balkans. PM

The judges on the Hague-based war crimes tribunal elected Italy's Fausto Pocar as its president on 17 November, international media reported. He replaces Theodor Meron, who has served for two years. Pocar was Meron's vice president. The new vice president is Australia's Kevin Parker. PM

A Banja Luka court sentenced three former Bosnian Serb police officers on 18 November to prison terms ranging up to 20 years for killing six Muslim civilians in 1994 at the Prijedor concentration camp, Reuters reported. One of the three men was tried in absentia. The war crimes verdict was the first by a Bosnian Serb court and was announced without representatives of the media present. PM

Representatives of Croatian refugees from the Serbian-held Posavina region of northern Bosnia-Herzegovina told a press conference in Zagreb on 18 November that they want the constitution set down in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement scrapped because it has created an "asymmetrical and nonfunctioning state consisting of two entities," Hina reported. The Posavina Croats instead proposed dividing Bosnia into autonomous cantons in which Muslims, Serbs, and Croats alike would enjoy full equality. PM

Described by its founders as the first Muslim gay organization in the Balkans, The International Initiative for Visibility of Queer Muslims said in a statement issued in Sarajevo on 18 November that they are "the first queers' organization of primarily religious orientation in the Balkans," AP reported. The statement added that the founders are unnamed young activists from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon. Open discussion of gay issues is rare in most of former Yugoslavia. Gay rights organizations have taken firm root there only in Slovenia, where they are a long-established part of the NGO landscape. PM

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and his Romanian counterpart Calin Popescu-Tariceanu sent a joint letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso asking for financial assistance for joint energy projects, Flux reported on 17 November. The two prime ministers are seeking funds to develop a new electric power grid and a gas pipeline to transfer energy from Romania to Moldova. According to a Romanian government press release, the two prime ministers believe "the implementation of these projects will significantly increase the level of regional integration in the field of electric power" and increase Moldova's energy independence. Romanian Economic Minister Codrut Ceres said on 15 November that Bucharest wants to help Moldova solve its chronic energy problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 16 November 2005). BW

The international community is putting pressure on politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a thorough constitutional reform. It remains to be seen whether the deeply-entrenched power structures will prove sufficiently pliant.

The 10th anniversary of the conclusion of the Dayton agreements that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict falls on 21 November. That peace deal, backed by NATO-led troops, has been a success in that the guns have remained silent and the constitution included in it has remained in force.

But the Dayton system has its critics, both at home and abroad. They charge that some of the structures set in place 10 years ago have proven dysfunctional and led to the consolidation of gains by the Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian nationalists who have effectively ruled their respective ethnic groups since the first postcommunist elections that took place in November and December 1990.

Critics note that Dayton set up two parastates, or entities, namely the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation. The Serbs in particular have been adamant defenders of the entity system, arguing that Dayton confirmed the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska. Those who consider Dayton dysfunctional stress that the entities prevent the proper functioning of the central state, which must become the locus of real power if Bosnia is to achieve the long-sought aim of Euro-Atlantic integration and membership in the EU and NATO.

Support for the central state within Bosnia-Herzegovina is confined chiefly among the Muslims and some small nonnationalist parties. The Muslims are the largest single ethnic group and, unlike the Serbs and Croats, have no nation-state outside Bosnia that they might aspire to join or look to for protection. Exact population statistics will emerge only with a new census, but many observers feel that the breakdown among the three main ethnic groups would be something like 44 percent Muslim, 38 percent Serbian, and 18 percent Croatian.

Starting with the 1990 elections, most voters returned to the precommunist pattern of supporting parties associated with their own ethnic group, with notable exceptions in places like Sarajevo and Tuzla, where nonnationalist parties have been strong. Muslims have tended to favor the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) founded by late President Alija Izetbegovic. The SDA seeks to assert Muslim primacy within the federation and Bosnia as a whole and contains both secular and clerical currents.

Serbian voters have generally gravitated to the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) set up by Radovan Karadzic, who is now a leading fugitive war crimes indictee. The SDS stresses the sovereignty of the Bosnian Serb entity and has long fought the police reform demanded by the EU because this would create new police structures and administrative units that would cross the interentity boundaries. It should be recalled that former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic convinced Serbs to accept Dayton in 1995-96 precisely because it affirmed the sovereignty of that entity. Bosnian Serb sentiment remains strong in favor of joining Serbia rather than accept a centralized Bosnian state. It might be noted that the ideological basis for the Serbian revolts in Croatia and Bosnia at the beginning of the 1990s was the desire to "remain in Yugoslavia," meaning under the rule of Belgrade, rather than become a minority in a state dominated by others.

Ethnic Croats, particularly those in western Herzegovina, tend to support the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which was closely linked to the Croatian party of the same name, particularly during the rule of President Franjo Tudjman in the 1990s. The Croats main concern is not to become a powerless minority in a state dominated by Muslims and Serbs. Croatian sentiment has accordingly been strong either for a wholesale reorganization of the internal boundaries on a multiethnic basis or, for the creation of a third, Croatian entity based on but not limited to Croat-majority cantons within the federation, despite the vigorous opposition of the Muslims and the international community to this proposal. The Croats of central Bosnia and Sarajevo are used to living in ethnically mixed areas, but the temptation for the Herzegovinians in the southwest and the Posavina Croats in the north has always been to turn their backs on Bosnia and join Croatia, which their homelands border.

The legacy of the war and nationalist rule goes far beyond voting patterns, however. Critics of Dayton charge that the borders of the Republika Srpska in particular have served only to set in stone the results of ethnic cleansing campaigns during the war. In fact, members of all three ethnic groups lost their homes in the course of the conflict and have little hope of going back to an area now controlled by another nationality, to the extent that they have not begun new lives elsewhere. Many who do return do so simply to sell their property and leave again, even though statistics might record them as returnees.

Moreover, the SDA, SDS, and HDZ are all linked to power structures that emerged during the war and encompass the interlocking worlds of politics, business, the security forces and, in the last analysis, organized crime. These structures are the real beneficiaries of Dayton, which in practice largely left each ethnic group to manage its own affairs.

The central state remains weak and is best epitomized by the three-member Bosnian Presidency, which consists of one member from each main ethnic group, each of whom has a veto. This is but the latest manifestation of the "nationality key" principle associated with the last decades of communist rule in former Yugoslavia to ensure that no one ethnic group can lord it over the others, but in practice it has meant the paralysis of Bosnia as a state. Dayton Bosnia, in fact, is an impoverished country of just over 4 million people that supports 14 governments: the central body, two entities, 10 cantons, and the special UN-administered Brcko District.

The only way in which decisions ranging from the issuing of uniform Bosnian license plates to the firing of top nationalist officials for corruption have been taken was that Dayton established the post of high representative, who is a European foreigner appointed by the international community. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has virtually unlimited powers and is not subject to any control by elected Bosnian officials. More than once the high representative has found himself in the position of overruling or sacking elected officials -- who happen to be nationalists -- in the name of promoting democratic values.

This paradoxical situation of imposing democracy by fiat has led to a lively debate in recent years about reforming the Dayton system, in the course of which four models emerged (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July and 14 October 2005). One calls for strengthening the OHR on the grounds that it is the only institution that is capable of breaking the structures that emerged in wartime. The second advocates phasing out the OHR in the name of promoting democracy. The third approach would throw out Dayton and call a new constitutional convention, even if it would be dominated by the nationalists. The fourth model is the most radical, in that it calls for declaring the Bosnian state a failure and partitioning it between Serbia and Croatia, with the Muslims left with a rump ministate or the option of joining one of the neighbors.

In recent months, the discussion has begun moving in other directions, namely in favor of setting up a functioning centralized state. The idea is to have a new constitutional system agreed to by the Bosnian politicians themselves, albeit under great foreign pressure. What has made the centralized state a realistic option at the end of 2005 is that the Bosnians now have the clear assurance that the road to EU and NATO membership is open to them following the agreement on military reform that was a prerequisite to joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program and similar progress on police reform that the EU demanded before agreeing to launch talks aimed at securing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), possibly in the very near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 November 2005). The argument runs that Euro-Atlantic integration will come all the faster if the dysfunctional, entity-based state is scrapped for one in which effective power lies in a single cabinet headed by a prime minister. In addition, one directly-elected individual would act as a largely ceremonial president. The state would have a unicameral, popularly elected legislature in which the veto rights of the three ethnic groups would be limited. Any reform that would speed the prospect of full EU membership would, moreover, have great appeal to the voters, who associate Brussels with aid money, job-creating investments, and the visa-free travel that all former Yugoslavs remember from the last decades of communist rule.

The international community's initial attempt at bringing leaders of Bosnia's eight main political parties to accept a new state model designed primarily by U.S. diplomats took place in Brussels from 12 to 14 November. The meeting did not produce even a final declaration, but U.S. representative Donald Hays said nonetheless that he hopes an agreement can still be reached by the spring of 2006 so that constitutional changes could take effect in time for elections due in October of that year. A second round of talks is slated for 19-20 November in Washington, on the eve of Dayton's 10th anniversary.

Although the EU, and the EC before it, have sought to play a dominant role in the Balkans, the circumstances leading to the 1995 Dayton agreement -- which was concluded on a U.S. Air Force base -- and to the end of Serbian atrocities in Kosova about four years later, have shown that the U.S. military and diplomatic role has been crucial in regional affairs. And in 2005, even with the prospect of EU membership as the main "carrot" being offered to Bosnian politicians and their voters, the U.S. still appears to be the necessary catalyst if real change is to have a chance of taking place.

A recent broadcast of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service noted, however, that the international community bears a good deal of the responsibility for the present dysfunctional constitutional system and the continuation of ethnically-based politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The commentators argued that it will ultimately be the task of the Bosnians themselves, with foreign assistance of course, to bring about a society based on the civic principle through elections in which civic-based parties triumph over the nationalist ones. This will be a tall order, indeed.

President Hamid Karzai told a news conference in Vienna on 15 November that he cannot set a timetable for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led forces from his country, "Pak Tribune" reported on 17 November. Afghanistan needs the presence of the U.S.-led forces until it "develops its own capacity, its, police, and other relevant institutions," Karzai said. "I can't set a timetable [for the withdrawal of foreign troops]. I hoped it will be soon but nation-building takes its own time," Karzai told the news conference. In an interview with Vienna's ORF Television on 16 November, the Afghan leader said that international forces might have to stay in his country for "five, 10, 15 years." Plans are under way to join the command of the current U.S.-led forces with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and reduce the number of U.S. forces, which stands at around 18,000 although there are also more NATO and troops from non-NATO member states. AT

In an interview published by the Vienna daily "Der Standard" on 17 November, President Karzai said that the Taliban ideology has been defeated. Responding to a question on how to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban ideology, Karzai responded: "this ideology has been defeated once and for all." The Afghan leader further emphasized the point by adding that the "Taliban and their ideology are a thing of the past; there is no doubt about that." He did acknowledge that 2005 has "definitely not [been] an easy year." Karzai said that there is a need to ponder the reasons for the escalation in violence. Thus far in 2005, 87 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan compared to 44 in 2004; 30 in 2003; 22 in 2002 and 3 in 2001, "USA Today" reported on 17 November. AT

The European Union and Afghanistan on 16 November signed a joint political declaration in Strasbourg, an EU press statement said. According to the statement, the declaration endorses EU's continuing support for building a secure, stable, free, and prosperous Afghanistan. The EU and its member states pledged more than $3 billion in aid from 2002 to 2006 for Afghanistan. The Joint Declaration sets out how the EU and Afghanistan plan to strengthen this partnership across a wide range of areas: political and economic governance, security and justice reform, counternarcotics, development, human rights, civil society, return of refugees, education, and culture. The full text of the declaration is available on the EU's website ( AT

The European Union has called on Iran to resume discussions on the nuclear issue, AFP reported on 16 November. British Europe Minister Douglas Alexander said in Strasbourg that Iran should reinstate the suspension of uranium-conversion activity, and added, "We urge Iran to come back to talks on long-term arrangements on the basis of the Paris agreement [of 2004]." Meanwhile, an anonymous diplomat in Vienna close to the International Atomic Energy told AFP on 16 November that Iran is about to resume uranium-conversion activities. The diplomat said Iran is scheduled to convert 50 tons of uranium ore into feedstock gas that is used to enrich uranium. An anonymous diplomat speaking to Reuters, however, said on 16 November that the conversion process has already commenced. BS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in a 16 November speech at a gathering in Tehran of the country's Friday Prayer leaders that "We praise the worthy services rendered by the past managers of the nation," IRNA reported. This could have been a response to an earlier speech by Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who said a purge of the country's officials is harmful. "Some individuals are throwing into question the 25-year achievements of the Islamic Revolution, and this is the biggest calamity facing our society today," ILNA reported. He warned that this would make young people question the accomplishments of the last two-and-a-half decades, whereas the revolution, the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, and the subsequent "reconstruction era" were valuable experiences. Rafsanjani said corruption must be proven before accusations are made, and he advocated solidarity. In other parts of his speech, Ahmadinejad said he is striving to eliminate corruption and conspicuous consumption by officials. He said the deprived regions of the country will have better access to banking facilities and he described the laying of natural gas pipelines to 9,000 villages and the creation of the Imam Reza Fund to help young people afford marriage. BS

Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, who until August was secretary of the Supreme National Security and who led nuclear negotiations with the international community, has delivered a blistering attack on President Ahmadinejad's foreign policy approach. Rohani said at a 16 November meeting in Tehran of Friday Prayer leaders, "Under the new government, we live in a harsher international environment, because international pressure on our country has increased," Fars News Agency reported. Rohani noted that in the last three months -- the time since Ahmadinejad's inauguration -- the Iranian nuclear file has earned a negative evaluation from the International Atomic Energy Agency. He contrasted this with the Khatami era -- "Iran had a good reputation in the world and was seen as a country pursuing freedom and political development." Rohani also contrasted the Ahmadinejad presidency with that of Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- "his government was known as a moderate one and...was considered a rational one." Rohani stressed the need for unity and said Iran is facing a difficult international situation. BS

Artashes Tumanian, who heads the Armenian presidential administration, conveyed a message from President Robert Kocharian to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran on 16 November, Arminfo reported. Ahmadinejad told his guest that Iran is interested in Armenian gas and electric projects and cooperation in other economic fields, IRNA reported. Also in Tehran on 16 November, Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian signed a contract with the Iranian Export Promotion Bank for the financing of an Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline, IRNA reported. Completion of the pipeline is scheduled for 2007. Movsisian noted that Iran is his country's second-biggest gas supplier, and he mentioned 13 joint energy projects. Some members of the Armenian delegation visited the Aras Economic Zone in Jolfa on 14 November. BS

Israel's deputy chief of mission in Washington, Jeremy Issacharoff, said on 17 November that Iran has supplied Lebanese Hizballah with 10,000 rockets that have a 110-kilometer range, AP reported. He said the rockets are deployed mostly in southern Lebanon and are aimed at Israel. BS

The Iranian Embassy in Prague announced on 17 November that a delegation of Iranian legislators will visit the Czech Republic in the coming week, CTK reported. They are scheduled to arrive on 21 November and will stay for a week. The two countries' relationship has been strained since RFE/RL began broadcasting to Iran from Prague in October 1998, and the Czech government's spring 2000 decision to forgo working on or supplying the Bushehr nuclear facility also threatened to undermine relations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 November 1998; 24 May, 21 June, 12 July, and 13 December 1999; and 31 January, 28 February, 13 March, 27 March, and 17 April 2000). In fact, Czech trade with Iran has increased since 1998. In the first 11 months of 1999, Czech firms exported $30.1 million worth of goods to Iran, $600,000 more than for all of 1998. Over the same time period, Czech imports from Iran increased as well. These trends continued in 2004 and, in just the first eights months of 2005, the Czech Republic exported $86.4 million in goods to Iran and imported $9.7 million of Iranian goods. BS

Two suicide truck bombs targeted a hotel complex used by western journalists in Baghdad on 18 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Early reports indicated that the first truck attempted to break through a security barrier outside the Al-Hamra Hotel in order to clear the way for a second truck. Both vehicles detonated just inside the barrier, killing at least six and wounding some 40 others. The incident is similar to an attack on the Palestine Hotel on 24 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). KR

Two suicide bombers targeted Shi'ite mosques in Khanaqin, outside Ba'qubah on 18 November, international media reported. Initial reports from Reuters indicate that some 50 people were killed and more than 50 wounded, while CNN reported 50 dead. The blasts went off during Friday prayers and destroyed both mosques, Reuters reported. Khanaqin is a mixed Shi'ite Arab and Kurdish town. KR

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said on 17 November in Baghdad that allegations of prisoner abuse and torture in ministry detention centers are exaggerated, RFI reported on the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005). Jabr said that he believed that seven detainees had been abused at the facility out of 170 detainees. He added that General George W. Casey, commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, told him that five prisoners were abused in the detention facility. "Nobody in the facility has been beheaded or slain," Jabr said, responding to some Arab media reports. He also denied reports that 69 Iranian intelligence agents were in charge of the facility. KR

Interior Minister Jabr told reporters on 17 November that a joint investigation will be carried out with the U.S. military into allegations of detainee torture, RFI reported on the same day. "I reject any acts of torture. I said from the very beginning that I will bring to account anyone who commits acts of torture. We do not need to torture anybody," Jabr said. Responding to a question from RFI, Jabr said: "Those who have beaten seven out of 170 or 176 prisoners will be punished in accordance with the law." He invited international journalists to visit any prison to film detainee conditions. CNN reported on 18 November that it attempted to visit a detention center the previous day but was turned away. KR

Muthanna Harith al-Dari, spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, told Al-Jazeera television in a 17 November interview that the association warned the United Nations six months ago that Sunni Arab detainees were being abused by Iraqi security forces. The association also called on the Arab League to intervene in the issue in October, al-Dari said, adding it is necessary for an independent international commission to look into the allegations. "We do not fully trust the government agencies that currently exist [in Iraq]. Under these agencies, all these kinds of torture were practiced. Now, the interior minister is admitting frankly...that there is torture at that place. He is trying to reduce the number and say that seven [were abused]. What is the difference between one, seven, or 100?" al-Dari asked. KR

Amr Musa told reporters at a 17 November press briefing in Cairo that members of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party will attend the league-sponsored Iraq reconciliation conference in Cairo on 19 November, MENA reported on 17 November. Musa said that no armed men will attend the meeting, "because the meeting is about dialogue." Musa added that a number of Arab ministers, representatives of Turkey and Iran, and the ambassadors of the five permanent UN Security Council members will attend the opening session of the meeting. Musa contended to journalists that the meeting would not have been possible one year ago because various Iraqi forces were not qualified to attend such meetings, MENA reported. On Iran, Musa said: "Iran...has interests [in Iraq] like all of us, so these interests should be taken into consideration." The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on 16 November that Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abd al-Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah will also attend the meeting. KR