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Newsline - November 28, 2005

The Moscow City Court on 26 November banned the nationalist Motherland (Rodina) party from participating in the Moscow City Duma elections scheduled for 4 December, Russian and international news agencies reported. The nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia filed a complaint against Motherland for inciting ethnic tension in an advertisement seen as insulting to people from the Caucasus, Interfax reported. The advertisement shows a blonde Slavic woman walking in Moscow surrounded by dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet republics. It ends with the slogan, "Let's clean the city of rubbish." According to a statement quoted by RIA-Novosti, the court ruled that the advertisement "incites hatred and enmity towards people of non-Russian ethnicity." Motherland says it plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. BW

"Kommersant-Daily" on 28 November cited analysts and politicians, who suggested that the case against Motherland is part of a political ploy between the Moscow Mayor's Office and the Kremlin. "The process against Motherland was well-staged," the newspaper noted. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin as saying that the case resulted from fears on the part of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov that the party will undermine Unified Russia's position in the 4 December elections. But the paper also quoted Sergei Baburin, leader of the People's Will Party, as saying that Motherland is actually a "pawn in the cunning games played by Luzhkov's team and the Kremlin" to get Motherland more seats in the City Duma. "Luzhkov has removed Motherland, the Kremlin will restore it...via the Supreme Court in the next move," Baburin said, adding that the party will then win more than the 14 percent of the vote it is currently projected as receiving. BW

State Duma Speaker and pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party head Boris Gryzlov said separate left and right platforms will not be allowed in the party, Russian news agencies reported on 26 November. Since the beginning of this year, Unified Russia has been divided between its left and right wings, but Gryzlov called the debate obsolete. "Our principle is that effective market tasks and social development objectives can be harmonized," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying at the party's sixth congress in Krasnoyarsk. He warned party members against getting "bogged down" in ideological battles. BW

Speaking at the same Unified Russia congress on 26 November, Gryzlov called for Russia's bloated bureaucracy to be streamlined, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "The country's modernization and the implementation of national priority projects require better state administration on all levels," Gryzlov said. "The number of bureaucrats today has exceeded 1.5 million - it is double what there was in the Soviet Union," Gryzlov said. He also urged Unified Russia to embrace its role as the country's dominant party. "The opposition has long been calling us the ruling party. Isn't it time to finally become one?" he said. "Unified Russia is a key political force in the country, and implementation of the most important projects is possible with the involvement of our party," he added. BW

As a toxic slick of benzene moved closer to Siberia from China, Beijing issued a formal and public apology to Russia, Russian and international news agencies reported on 27 November. The disaster began when approximately 100 tons of benzene was dumped into the Songhua River on 13 November after an explosion at a chemical plant in Jilin province, approximately 1,000 kilometers upriver from China's border with Russia. "On behalf of the Chinese government, I express regret over the possible harm to be done to the Russian people by the major environmental pollution accident," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Russian Ambassador to China Sergei Razov, AFP reported. "China fully understands and attaches great importance to the concerns of the Russian side." Russia has shipped extra stocks of purified water to Khabarovsk, located downstream from the toxic spill. Interfax quoted Emergency Situations Ministry officials as saying that toxic levels have not yet risen in the river and the city's water-purification facilities are working normally. BW

The Russian Natural Resources Ministry said on 28 November that the toxic chemical spill will reach Russia's Amur River in three days, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "The samples taken by the Teutonic and Geophysics Institute of Khabarovsk have revealed that the bulk of polluted water will enter the Amur and reach Russian cities and towns within the next two or three days," the ministry said in a press release. "The authorities of the Jewish Autonomous Okrug and the Khabarovsk Krai have taken precautions to reduce the environmental impact of the accident to the minimum and prevent its negative effect on human health," ministry official Oleg Mitvol said. BW

Moscow police on 27 November broke up an unsanctioned antinationalist demonstration by liberal groups in the city center, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "Police grabbing people who were chanting anti-Nazi slogans -- it was a great show," quoted journalist Yevgeniya Albats, who was participating in the rally, as saying. Among those detained were Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Nikita Belykh and satirist Viktor Shenderovich, who is running for a seat in the State Duma in a 4 December by-election, reported. BW

Former REN-TV news anchor Olga Romanova said on 25 November that she plans to sue the channel after being forced off the air, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Romanova said three security guards blocked her from entering the studio on 24 November, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. The incident happened hours after Romanova told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that REN-TV's management was blocking her reports. "Legal experts and I are preparing documents to be submitted to court," Romanova said. REN-TV was bought earlier this year by oil producer Surgutneftegaz, German broadcaster RTL, and the industrial group Severstal, which analysts believe has close ties to the Kremlin, reported. "Olga Romanova's treatment is a clarion call that tells us that we have lost the last station that kept even a little independence and objectivity in its coverage," Interfax quoted former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as saying. BW

As most observers anticipated, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party seems likely to win a majority of the 58 seats in the new bicameral Chechen parliament elected on 27 November, Russian media reported. Ismail Baykhanov, who heads Chechnya's Central Election Commission, announced on 28 November that three parties won the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to win representation under the proportional system, under which 20 of the 40 seats in the People's Assembly (the lower chamber) are to be distributed. Baykhanov estimated that Unified Russia won 60 percent of the party-list vote, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation 12 percent, and SPS 10 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. Baykhanov estimated voter turnout at 71.8 percent of the approximately 600,000 registered voters. LF

According to preliminary data from over 99 percent of all polling stations, 65.3 percent of Armenia's registered 2.3 million voters participated in the 27 November referendum on a package of constitutional amendments, Noyan Tapan reported on 28 November. Of that total, over 93 percent voted for the planned changes, which is more than the minimum one-third of all registered voters required for them to pass, and 5.4 percent voted against. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia told Noyan Tapan that the successful outcome demonstrates the total failure of the opposition's campaign calling for a boycott. LF

Opposition party leaders, including Aran Sargsian (Hanrapetutiun), Vazgen Manukian (National Democratic Union, AZhM)) and Artashes Geghamian (National Accord Party) all claimed on 27 November that the official statistics on voter participation were blatantly rigged, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A coalition of two dozen opposition parties that jointly campaigned against the amendments and observed the vote claimed that the actual turnout was below 17 percent, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "Polling stations in Armenia have never been so empty before," AZhM Chairman Manukian said at a late-night joint news conference with Sargsian on 27 November (see End Note below). LF

Police in Baku on 26 November used force to disperse protesters after a rally convened by the opposition Azadlyq election bloc, and for which the city authorities had guaranteed permission, overran its anticipated duration by several minutes, "The New York Times" and Azerbaijani agencies reported. Some 10,000 people attended the rally, fewer than turned out for three previous protests against the falsification of the 6 November parliamentary elections. Lala Shovket Gadjieva, head of the National Unity movement, estimated that hundreds of people were injured. The U.S. Embassy in Baku and the British Foreign Office released statements on 27 November condemning the "unjust" and "excessive" use of police force, according to "The Guardian" on 28 November. LF

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (MSK) submitted on 23 November for endorsement by the Constitutional Court the final results of the 6 November parliamentary ballot, Azerbaijani media reported. The MSK official protocol ( gave the names of the candidates elected in individual constituencies, but not a breakdown of how many mandates each party has. The online daily on 24 November reported that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party won 58 of the 125 mandates; independent candidates, 42; the opposition Musavat party, a member of the Azadlyq bloc, five; the reformist wing of the split Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, three; the Yeni Siyaset (YeS) bloc, Ana Veten and the Civic Solidarity Party, two each; and the Liberal Party, the Civic Welfare Party, Umid, the Democratic Reforms Party, the Single Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Great Creation, and the Civic Unity Party, one each. Three successful candidates did not specify their party affiliation. This, however, adds up to 124, and the MSK annulled the outcome of the ballot in four constituencies. The MSK also revised downwards, from 46.6 percent to 42.2 percent, its estimate of voter participation. The online daily commented on 25 November that the official results came as a total shock to the international community, as the MSK ignored virtually all opposition complaints of egregious fraud. On 7 November, MSK Chairman Mazahir Panahov hinted that disputed results might be revised or annulled in up to a dozen constituencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2005). Four MSK members representing opposition parties refused to sign the final protocol, reported on 24 November. LF

The Georgian Interior Ministry posted on 26 November on its website materials accusing the top leadership of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia of engaging in smuggling, arms-trafficking, and abductions, Civil Georgia reported the following day. Those materials further accused the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone of providing weapons to armed Ossetian groups. Also on 26 November. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili named in an interview with the independent television station Rustavi-2 five men he claimed were responsible for the abduction in South Ossetia three months ago of an 11-year-old Georgian boy, Caucasus Press reported. Merabishvili said the boy was taken to Tskhinvali in a vehicle belonging to the South Ossetian Defense Ministry. He said the child was recently released by the same people who originally abducted him. Merabishvili further challenged South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity to return to their families four Georgian men abducted in the conflict zone in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 June 2005), and who are presumed to have been killed. LF

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed during talks in Moscow that a meeting between Noghaideli and South Ossetian President Kokoity would contribute to alleviating tensions and pave the way for a solution of the South Ossetian conflict, Noghaideli told journalists in Moscow on 25 November, RIA-Novosti reported. Noghaideli added that he explained to Lavrov the details of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's most recent three-stage draft plan for resolving the conflict, the first stage of which entails demilitarization of the conflict zone. Noghaideli called for holding a meeting of the Joint Control Commission that monitors the situation in the conflict zone to discuss that demilitarization. In Tskhinvali, Yurii Dzitsoity, deputy speaker of the South Ossetian parliament, implicitly rejected the call for a meeting between Noghaideli and Kokoity, arguing that a meeting of the presidents of Russia, Georgia, and North and South Ossetia could best overcome the "stagnation" in the conflict resolution process, Caucasus Press reported on 26 November. Russian diplomat Valerii Kenyaikin proposed at a JCC session in Ljubljana 10 days ago convening such a meeting of the four presidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2005). LF

Speaking at the same press conference in Moscow on 25 November, Georgian Prime Minister Noghaideli took issue with a recently published report by Amnesty International detailing the continuing use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects by Georgian police, Caucasus Press reported on 26 November. That report quoted Georgian ombudsman Sozar Subar as saying in late 2004 that since the Rose Revolution of November 2003, some 11,000 people have been subjected to torture in Tbilisi alone. It also quoted President Saakashvili as admitting in June that in the months immediately following the Rose Revolution, drugs and arms were planted on some people during the course of their arrest. Saakashvili said no similar instances were recorded in recent months, as did Noghaideli, who claimed that public confidence in the police has risen dramatically over the past two years. LF

Georgian Minister of Economic Development Irakli Chogovadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 21 November that at the sixth conference of ministers of member states of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong next month Georgia will support Russia's bid for WTO membership only if Moscow agrees to the deployment of Georgian customs officials and border guards on the Abkhaz side of the Leselidze border crossing between Abkhazia and the Russian Federation and at the southern entrance to the Roki tunnel linking Russia and the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. Prime Minister Noghaideli told RTV television on 24 November that Tbilisi has no intention of creating obstacles to Russia's accession to the WTO, but that it will nonetheless insist on what he termed its "legitimate" right to monitor the border checkpoints between Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Russia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava similarly told Ekho Moskvy on 24 November that Georgia has not put forward any "new" conditions for Russian accession to the WTO, Caucasus Press reported. LF

In a statement released on 28 November, the Interior Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia blamed Georgian guerrillas for having laid the radio-controlled mine that blew up a car in which three Abkhaz, including a customs official, were driving between the villages of Tagiloni and Chuburkhindji in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali District, and reported. The White Legion guerrilla formation, which voluntarily disbanded two years ago, announced earlier this month plans to resume its activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 November 2005). LF

Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission announced in Astana on 27 November that it has revoked the accreditation of four observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Interfax reported. The four observers are from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which has been monitoring the Kazakh presidential election campaign. No explanation was given for the decision, although the move follows a similar withdrawal of the accreditation of the CIS Election Monitoring Organization on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). The ODIHR observer mission encountered no such problems since beginning its mission in October with 40 long-term observers in the country. Another 400 short-term observers have already received official election commission accreditation and are expected to arrive in Kazakhstan on 30 November, joining roughly 1,000 international observers in monitoring the 4 December presidential election. RG

Central Election Commission Chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov said on 26 November that the commission is "studying" an appeal lodged by three of the five presidential candidates, Interfax reported. The appeal, presented by the campaign offices of Alikhan Baimenov, Mels Eleusizov, and Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, calls on the commission to ensure free and fair elections by adopting measures to provide voters with a choice of electronic voting or paper ballots and to strictly enforce the rights of voters, candidates, and observers during the presidential election. RG

The National Security Committee issued a statement on 25 November warning of the threat of a "conflict situation" by "marginal" youth groups, according to Interfax. The statement added that the security forces were alarmed by reports of "provocative" youth groups organizing to disrupt the 4 December presidential election. The warning follows a recent statement by Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov alleging that "radical forces" are planning to "stage mass disturbances" during the election period (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2005). RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on 25 November establishing a new Financial Police Service to "protect economic security" and combat "economic crimes and tax evasion," the Kabar news agency reported. The new police unit is to be a stand-alone law-enforcement body under the direct jurisdiction of the executive branch of government. RG

Kyrgyz Deputy Defense Minister Major General Boris Yugai signed a new agreement on military cooperation on 25 November with a visiting Turkish military delegation in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Television reported. The new agreement calls for a new package of Turkish military assistance worth over $800,000, as part of a broader bilateral protocol reached in October. The aid includes equipment and supplies for the Kyrgyz armed forces and facilities for Kyrgyz border-guard units. In 2002, Turkey presented Kyrgyzstan with weaponry worth $1.1 million. RG

The Tajik presidential press service released a statement on 25 November reporting the appointment of a new security minister and deputy foreign minister, Asia-Plus reported. According to a presidential decree issued on 24 November, Deputy Security Minister Saidmumin Yatimov was named first deputy foreign minister and Qosim Gafforov assumed the post of deputy security minister. RG

Tajik Energy Ministry spokesman Nozir Yodgori confirmed on 24 November that a complete power blackout has struck northern Sughd province after a cutoff of electricity and gas supplies from neighboring Uzbekistan, Asia-Plus reported. Yodgori also warned that a steep reduction in the water level of the Norak reservoir threatens to lead to a new energy crisis in Tajikistan within two months. He added that although electricity rationing has been introduced in the region, limiting daily electricity to just three hours, the country still needs some $90 million to cover its energy shortfall. The cut in power supplies from Uzbekistan is reportedly linked to stalled negotiations in Tashkent between Tajik energy officials and Uzbek suppliers, ITAR-TASS reported. RG

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov hailed his government's new "partnership" with the U.S. Boeing aircraft corporation, Turkmen TV reported on 22 November. The announcement followed the signing of a new agreement between senior Boeing executives and Turkmenistan in Ashgabat for the purchase of two Boeing 737-800 aircraft. To date, Turkmenistan has purchased some 15 Boeing aircraft for both domestic and international operations. RG

The Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house, voted 94 to one on 25 November to approve in the first reading a bill that would introduce severe punishment for activities "directed against people and public security," Belapan reported. The bill was submitted to the legislature by the presidential administration two days earlier. The bill stipulates a sentence of up to six months' detention or a prison sentence of up to two years for training people to take part in "group activities that flagrantly violate the public peace" and for financing such training. Under the bill, an appeal to a foreign country, a foreign or international organization to act "to the detriment of [the country's] security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity," as well as the distribution of material containing such appeals, carries a jail sentence of six to 36 months or a prison sentence of two to five years. The bill also proposes penalizing people with jail terms of up to two years for "providing a foreign country, a foreign or international organization with patently false information about the political, economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus." JM

Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) Chairman Stsyapan Sukharenka told journalists on 25 November that the tougher measures against violators of public security introduced in a bill earlier the same day will discourage Belarus's opposition forces from staging street protests during the 2006 presidential race, Belapan reported. Sukharenka said the country's opposition itself does not constitute any threat to national security, adding that the main threat originates from abroad. According to him, the opposition seeks to discredit Belarus in the international arena in order to increase outside pressure on the country and destabilize the situation. Sukharenka insisted that opposition forces have several camps to train people to organize mass disturbances. He promised that the KGB will take reporters to show them such camps in Vileyka and Krupki districts. JM

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told the leadership of the Belarusian National Assembly on 24 November that the West is ready to offer safety guarantees and money to him and his family for his refusal to run in the 2006 presidential election, Belapan reported. "I want you to know that I've made up my mind and am not going to be sitting still somewhere for any money," Lukashenka's press office quoted him as saying. Lukashenka also denied the media allegations that the presidential administration is in the process of creating a movement that will become the basis of a "party of power" to reflect broader public support for his reelection for a third term in 2006. JM

Two major Polish dailies, "Rzeczpospolita" and "Gazeta Wyborcza," blacked out large sections of their front pages on 23 November to follow an Amnesty International-led protest against media repression in Belarus, Belapan and international news agencies reported. A black marker was run through headlines, photographs, and text in the two newspapers, suggesting that a censor worked on them. At the bottom of the two front pages, Amnesty International ran a caption: "This is what freedom of speech looks like in Belarus." The dailies printed their front page in full on page three, and carried commentaries and reports about human rights abuses in Belarus. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 25 November called on the international community to recognize the man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The same day, Yushchenko participated in a ceremony of lighting 33,000 candles -- the daily number of deaths at the famine's height -- on a square in Kyiv to commemorate the estimated 7.5 million Ukrainians who died during the famine. "The famine was a crime against humanity that had perpetrators, but from a legal standpoint, no guilty parties have been found," Yushchenko told some 5,000 people on the square. Historians say the famine was created by Soviet leader Josef Stalin to force Ukrainian peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. JM

Ukraine's state company Naftohaz Ukrayiny vowed on 24 November to "stand to the death" to defend the country's interests in talks with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom on gas supplies and transit for next year, Reuters reported. "This has now turned into a strictly political issue. Gazprom has painted itself into a corner with its ultimatums," Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksiy Ivchenko told journalists. "A proposal has been put forth to buy [Russia] gas at European prices," ITAR-TASS quoted Ivchenko as saying. Ukraine now pays some $50 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas under a barter scheme, while Gazprom reportedly wants to switch to cash payments for gas supplies to Ukraine. Russian media has reported that Gazprom wants Ukraine to pay $160 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas in 2006 but the Russian gas monopoly has not officially confirmed this new tariff. JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has submitted a case against three former police officers accused of murdering Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000 to the Supreme Court, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 25 November. The Prosecutor-General's Office said the investigation has not yet found out who ordered Gongadze's murder. JM

Six Ukrainian parties signed an accord in Kyiv on 25 November to set up the Our Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko Bloc to form a joint election list for the 2006 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian media reported. In particular, the pro-Yushchenko bloc includes the Our Ukraine People's Union, the People's Rukh of Ukraine (led by Borys Tarasyuk), and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the Fatherland Party led by former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko resolved at a convention on 26 November to form a Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc for the elections. The bloc is expected to come up with an election program and a list of candidates in December. At a convention on 27 November, the Communist Party approved an election program and a list of 450 candidates for the parliamentary ballot. Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on 26 November announced the entering of the parliamentary campaign by his Party of Regions from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, where he was attending a congress of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. According to a Razumkov Center poll conducted on 3-13 November, if elections were held now the Party of Regions would win 17.5 percent of the vote, the Our Ukraine Bloc 13.5 percent, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 12.4 percent, the Communist Party 5.8 percent, the Socialist Party 5.6 percent, the Lytvyn Bloc 3.3 percent, and the Progressive Socialist Party 2.6 percent. JM

Martti Ahtisaari, who is the UN's envoy for Kosova, said in Belgrade on 25 November that he hopes direct negotiations can begin "at the beginning of the new year" on the province's future status, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). But in Skopje two days later, he noted that the date of the talks has not been set, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Nor is it clear which interested parties will be negotiating on which issues and in which format. The Kosovar Albanians reject any central role for Belgrade in the talks. The international community has made it clear that Serbia will not have a veto over the final settlement but has involved Belgrade in the preparations for the talks far more than Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority finds acceptable. Serbian President Boris Tadic recently unveiled the Serbian plan for Kosova's future, which is a nonstarter as far as the Albanians are concerned, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 26 November. It involves not only a Bosnian-style partition of the province along ethnic lines but also the administrative union of all Serbian enclaves and religious sites under Serbian control. Both the Albanians and the international community have repeatedly ruled out any ethnically based partition. Ahtisaari is on a tour of regional centers and is currently in Skopje after stops in Prishtina, Belgrade, Tirana, and Podgorica. PM

Serbia's legislature voted on 28 November to approve the minority government's budget for 2006, with 130 deputies voting in favor and 120 opposition legislators boycotting the ballot, dpa reported. The $6 billion budget is based on a projected growth rate of 5 percent, with inflation at 9.3 percent. The government hopes that the measure will meet the demands of the country's foreign creditors. The day before the vote, the state prosecutor's office called on the Interior Ministry to collect all relevant information on possible cash payments to legislators to vote against the proposed budget, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Belgrade media recently suggested that politician and oligarch Bogoljub Karic had offered $240,000 to five deputies to oppose the budget and thereby threaten the government's survival (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004). Karic called the allegations an attempt by his political rivals to fool voters and hide their own shortcomings. Also on the eve of the ballot, the parliament accepted the decision of the governing G-17 Plus party to strip two of its legislators of their mandates following their decision to oppose the budget. President Tadic's Democratic Party criticized the parliament's move. Polls suggest that Tadic's party, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), and Karic would be the big winners in new elections, while most of the governing coalition would fail to reenter parliament. PM

The international community's Office of the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina announced in Sarajevo on 26 November that the Muslim-Croat Federation must move five of its ministries from that city to Mostar without further delay, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Any minister who declines to move will be asked to resign. The Herzegovinian Croats, who regard Mostar as their political center, frequently complain that the more numerous Muslims treat them as junior partners rather than as equals. The constitution makes it clear that the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats are fully equal under the law. PM

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 26 November that Slovenia is Montenegro's most important economic partner after the United States, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He noted U.S. assistance during "the difficult years [at the end of] the last century" while adding that Slovenia has become Montenegro's most important partner in implementing democratic and economic reforms. Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek is expected to arrive in Montenegro on 28 November. The Serbian authorities recently canceled Drnovsek's planned trip to Belgrade to protest Drnovsek's plan in favor of independence for Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 November 2005). The EU and international community have long encouraged Slovenia to help promote democratic reforms elsewhere in former Yugoslavia. Slovenian businesses are eager to regain and expand their markets in those republics. PM

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin made a private visit to Russia in which he attempted to resolve his country's energy crisis, Flux reported on 26 November. But "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Voronin, who was in Moscow on 26-27 November, was denied meetings with Kremlin officials. "He has chosen some unofficial occasion to come...and even tried to get to [President Vladimir] Putin. They did not let him in at the very top, so he started knocking on the doors of a lower level -- the Security Council, the government, and the Foreign Ministry. But he was turned down everywhere," an unidentified Kremlin official told "Kommersant-Daily." Flux quoted unidentified diplomatic sources as saying that prior to Voronin's visit, on 22-24 November, a Moldovan delegation went to Moscow to negotiate with state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom over the cost of gas deliveries. Earlier this month, a major power plant in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region cut off energy supplies to other parts of Moldova, causing blackouts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 23 November 2005). BW

Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis has asked Russia to accept that the breakaway Transdniester region is part of Moldova, Flux reported on 26 November. Davis noted that in the interests of consistency, if Russia wishes the Council of Europe to recognize Chechnya as part of Russia, then Moscow should recognize Transdniester as part of Moldova. "There cannot be any discussions on this subject," Davis said. "I accept that the Chechen Republic is part of the Russian Federation, but, Moscow, in its turn, should accept that Transdniester is part of the Republic of Moldova," Davis said. BW

The Armenian opposition has rejected as fraudulent the preliminary official results of the 27 November constitutional referendum, which showed a surprisingly high voter turnout despite a visible lack of public interest in the vote. According to the Central Election Commission, 63 percent of the country's 2.3 million eligible voters took part in the vote -- more than cast their ballots in the tightly contested second round of the 2003 presidential election -- and 93.3 percent of those who participated voted "yes" for the draft amendments, which are intended to curtail sweeping powers enjoyed by the Armenian president and to strengthen the parliament and the local courts.

Most of the proposed constitutional changes, if adopted, would take effect after the next parliamentary elections due in 2007, meaning that their impact on incumbent President Robert Kocharian's second term in office, which ends in 2008, would be minimal. The authorities in Yerevan, as well as the U.S. and European governments, say passage of the amendments would accelerate political reform in Armenia.

Casting his own ballot in Yerevan, President Kocharian declined to forecast the outcome of the referendum, but he pledged to "respect" it either way. He also predicted that the referendum would be free and fair. "Today the people of Armenia are facing a choice: to have a more balanced structure of state governance or retain the strong presidential authority envisaged by the current constitution," said Kocharian. "It's a very clear pattern. I will undoubtedly respect both choices."

According to Armenian law, a minimum of one-third of the country's registered voters must approve the amendments for them to pass; but a coalition of two dozen opposition parties that jointly campaigned against the amendments and deployed their own observers to monitor the voting claimed that the actual turnout was below 17 percent. That estimate was borne out by anecdotal evidence, with polling stations across the country unusually empty throughout the day. Officials at a polling station in Yerevan's southwestern Malatia-Sebastia district said less than 8 percent of local voters had visited it by 5 p.m. RFE/RL correspondents who spent about 40 minutes there counted just four voters casting their ballots. "Compared with the presidential election, turnout is much smaller," said Gohar Atabekian, secretary of the local precinct commission handling the vote. Two other precincts in Malatia-Sebastia and one in the central Kentron district were similarly deserted, with voters appearing there only at a rate of one every few minutes. Still, election officials put the turnout at about 25 percent late in the afternoon.

Opposition leaders were quick to denounce the official figures, saying that they were the result of "unprecedented" falsifications. Some of them rallied more than 1,000 people in Yerevan late on 27 November and urged supporters to take to the streets in larger numbers on 28 November. "The authorities will not manage to digest the referendum," said Aram Sargsian of the radical Hanrapetutiun party.

But leaders of the ruling government coalition who led the campaign for a "yes" vote flatly denied the fraud charges. Deputy parliamentary speaker Tigran Torosian, insisted that the Central Election Commission figures are trustworthy. "I believe the referendum showed that popular interest in this process was great," he told journalists. "This turnout also showed that efforts to disrupt the process completely failed."

The opposition Artarutiun bloc and the National Unity Party (AMK) effectively withdrew their representatives from the election commissions but claimed to have closely monitored the vote, deploying thousands of observers. Artarutiun leaders said state prosecutors intimidated their election officials refusing to participate in the conduct of the referendum. "Throughout yesterday opposition members of the commissions were harassed en masse all over the republic," alleged Felix Khachatrian, an election-commission member representing Artarutiun. Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian warned on 26 November that Khachatrian and other commission members from the opposition could face criminal proceedings for boycotting the process.

AMK leader Artashes Geghamian cried foul shortly after the polls opened at 8 a.m. local time, alleging that his observers were forcibly evicted from polling stations in Vartenis, a town in the northeastern Gegharkunik region. He also said voting there began with ballot boxes already filled with ballots. But the chairman of the Vartenis electoral district, Karmen Madoyan, denied the charges. "There were no such incidents," he told RFE/RL. "The oppositionists may say different things, but they have no concrete facts." Artarutiun's election observers also were constrained to leave local precincts in Giumri after being subjected to threats and verbal abuse.

National Democratic Union (AZhM) Chairman Vazgen Manukian, Sargsian, and another radical oppositionist, Aram Karapetian, reaffirmed their plans to launch a campaign of sustained street protests that they hope will force the resignation of the current government. They admitted that the success of the effort depends on the number of people who will attend those rallies. "We need to have a critical mass [of supporters]," said Sargsian. Sargsian would not be drawn on what exactly the opposition plans to do in the coming days, saying only that it will avoid violent methods of political struggle.

Emil Danielyan, Ruzanna Stepanian, and Narek Galstian are RFE/RL correspondents based in Yerevan.

Elections for two-thirds of the members of the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) in the Afghan National Assembly have been completed, the Joint Electoral Management Body announced on 27 November. The remaining one-third of the 102-member upper house will be appointed by President Hamid Karzai. Under the Afghan Constitution, 34 members of the Council of Elders should be elected from among the members of the provincial councils and 34 should be elected from among the members of the district councils. However, since district-council elections were postponed indefinitely, the cabinet recently decided to temporarily fill the seats designated for district-council representatives with members of the provincial councils (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 8 November 2005). AT

Approximately half of the 68 elected full and temporary members of the Council of Elders are current or past members of the mujahedin groups that fought against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 27 November. According to a survey conducted by Pajhwak, in addition to the mujahedin representatives, 5 percent of members of the Afghan National Assembly's upper house are former communists and 4 percent are former members of the Taliban regime. Only two women were elected as full members of the Council of Elders, while three additional women were elected as temporary members of the upper chamber. The constitution stipulates that from the 34 members appointed by the president, 50 percent should be women. Thus, the Council of Elders should have 22 female representatives. AT

India has decided to continue participating in reconstruction projects in Afghanistan despite the kidnapping and subsequent killing of an Indian working for India's state-owned Border Roads Organization, the New Delhi daily "Navbharat Times" reported on 26 November. The neo-Taliban abducted Shri Maniappan Raman Kutty on 19 November in Nimroz Province in southwestern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 23 November 2005). The security protecting the 290 employees of the Border Roads Organization is expected to increase, the report noted. A senior, but unidentified Indian External Affairs Ministry official said on 25 November in New Delhi that Indian defense agencies are assisting their Afghan counterparts in trying to find Kutty's killers and investigating whether Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency was involved. Some officials in Kabul and New Delhi have accused Islamabad of backing the neo-Taliban, while Pakistan has traditionally opposed close cooperation between Afghanistan and India. AT

A Swedish soldier serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) died on 26 November from wounds received on 25 November when the vehicle he was traveling in was caught in an explosion in Mazar-e Sharif, an ISAF press release indicated on 26 November. The explosion injured three other Swedish soldiers as well. AT

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said in Kabul on 27 November that seven men were arrested in Kabul with explosive-laden vehicles, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Azimi did not discuss the possible targets of the would-be bombers. A unidentified senior Afghan official said on 27 November that the men, whom he described as would-be suicide bombers, were all Afghans. In the past, Afghan officials have tried to portray suicide bombers as foreigners. AT

The U.S. military on 26 November admitted its troops burned the bodies of two dead Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan in October, but said it had not meant it as an act of desecration, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005). Major General Jason Kamiya, the operational commander of the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said an investigation concluded U.S. soldiers had burned the bodies for "hygienic reasons." Kamiya said it would reprimand two noncommissioned officers for taunting the Taliban about it over a loudspeaker. However, Kamiya said the investigation found "there was no intent to desecrate the remains." The investigation was ordered after footage was shown on Australian television of U.S. soldiers watching two burning corpses in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. At the time, Afghan President Karzai's office "strongly" condemned "any disrespect" to enemy dead. AT

The European Union informed Iran on 27 November of its interest in renewing interrupted talks on Iran's nuclear program, news agencies reported, in spite of an earlier demand that it halt all fuel production and related activities before further talks. These would consist of "conversations" to "see if we have enough common basis to start negotiations," Reuters and AFP quoted EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana as saying in Barcelona on 27 November. A letter given to Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi at a meeting with the ambassadors of the EU-3 -- Great Britain, France, and Germany -- mentions 10 December as a possible date, Mehr News Agency reported, citing unnamed diplomatic sources. An unnamed EU diplomat told AFP in Tehran the same day that the letter proposes "an exploratory meeting" with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani. Talks may focus on a Russian proposal to have nuclear fuel produced for Iran in Russia, Reuters reported, citing the letter. Iran wants to produce its own fuel for a program it says is intended strictly to generate electricity. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 27 November that any talks must meet certain conditions, including firstly that "negotiations must be in the framework of the [International Atomic Energy] Agency laws " like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ISNA reported the same day. The EU, he added, "should not make up specific rules for Iran, [which] should be treated without discrimination." Iran, he said, wants "nothing more" than its rights, and "we will not be satisfied with less." He said a third condition must be "an objective guarantee on realizing nuclear fuel in Iran, and that must be the subject of talks. And the time of the talks must be reasonable," not intended merely to "create opportunities." If these conditions are met, he said, "and the Europeans provide a date," talks could proceed. But he added that Iran has not received any formal proposals from Russia over uranium enrichment in Russia. "Clearly any plan they give us, which includes producing nuclear fuel inside Iran, can be examined...though the subject of research and development is...separate" and "does not need negotiation, and is not a subject of talks," he said. VS

Students from Amir Kabir University in Tehran met at the university on 27 November to protest "the political closure in the country and...inside universities," Radio Farda reported the same day, quoting activist Nasrullah Keshavarz. He said that a "free forum" at the university heard students' views on political prisoners in Iran, and the university's "increasingly policed" environment, including checks by guards and "harassment" of students entering and leaving campus. Students from other universities were barred from attending the meeting, Keshavarz told Radio Farda. The government, he added, has replaced the university head without consulting with academics. Separately, it has replaced the head of Tehran University with a cleric who has no university degree, Radio Farda reported on 27 November, citing former Tehran University head Muhammad Maleki. He said the replacement of Reza Faraji-Dana with Abbas Ali Amid-Zanjani is intended to "see how the academic community will react" so "slowly they can do the same in all universities, and universities can be run under the supervision of seminaries." VS

A group of 182 jurists have written to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi asking him to "swiftly process and free" lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who has been detained since July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 October 2005), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 27 November. The statement noted that Soltani has spent 42 days of his detention in solitary confinement and "the rest in conditions similar to [that] with only one other person in the cell," the daily added. Separately, a branch of the Supreme Court has confirmed sentences of 15, 20, and 15 years in prison for Kurdish activists Reza Amini, Helmat Azarpur, and Abdullah Muhammadi, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 27 November. Also, the former head of the official Islamic Republic News Agency, Abdullah Naseri, is to be tried on 30 November in Tehran on charge of "spreading false reports and intending to incite public opinion," ILNA reported on 26 November. A Tehran court is also to examine at an unspecified time the same charges against former Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram, ILNA reported. Parliament sacked Khorram for alleged incompetence in October 2004. The charges against him were brought by the state broadcasting body. VS

Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi arrived in Tehran on 27 November leading a political delegation for talks with Iranian officials, news agencies reported the same day. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told him Iran is ready to help Iraqis inside Iran vote in the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections, and said he hopes those polls hasten the departure of foreign troops, Mehr News Agency reported. In a separate meeting, Vice President Ali Saidlu called for enhanced industrial, banking, and trade ties through the joint economic commission, and asked for Iraqi support for Iranian private-sector participation in Iraqi reconstruction, Mehr reported. Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 27 November that "all Islamic states" must help Iraq attain stability and peace, and Iran's "interest lies in Iraqi peace and unity," Mehr reported. Iraqis, he told al-Mahdi, can resolve their problems without foreign interference, adding that foreign powers "are troubled by" Iraqis' "desire for Islam." VS

The Iraqi Special Tribunal resumed its hearing of the Al-Dujayl trial of former dictator Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants in Baghdad on 28 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2005). Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nu'aymi were officially added as defense team advisers during the court session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). Meanwhile, Hussein argued with presiding Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin, claiming that multinational forces have violated his rights. "I was brought here, right to the door, in handcuffs," Hussein said. "In the meantime, the elevator was out of order. I was holding the Koran handcuffed." He said that he was forced to walk up four flights of stairs in this condition. When Amin said he would address the issue with multinational forces, Hussein retorted: "You are a sovereign, an Iraqi, and they are foreigners, occupiers, and invaders. You must order them to do what is right." Hussein also complained that his pen and paper were taken from him. "How can the accused, not just Saddam Hussein, be able to defend himself without pen and without paper?" The trail will reconvene on 5 December. KR

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told reporters on 27 November that border guards stopped 11 cars transporting would-be insurgents into Iraq the day before, Iraqi media reported the same day. Jabr said two other vehicles eluded capture and returned to the country from which they came, which he refused to identify. Jabr said the authorities of that country were notified about the incident. He declined to identify the nationalities of those in custody. Meanwhile, IRNA reported on 26 November that three armed men were arrested upon entering Iran from Iraq on 25 November. The men were reportedly carrying three machine guns and two bombs when they were arrested. KR

The Iraqi government has postponed the launch of a large-scale military operation against insurgents nationwide, after the Sunni-Arab led Muslim Scholars Association called upon the Arab League to intervene on its behalf and pressure the government to cancel all operations ahead of the 15 December National Assembly elections, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 27 November. Interior Minister Jabr announced the cancellation after President Jalal Talabani received a call from Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa. Jabr told reporters on 24 November that the military would launch the operation before or after the elections, using some 10,000 security personnel and 1,000 military vehicles. KR

Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Muthanna Harith al-Dari told Al-Jazeera television in a 27 November interview that it was necessary to seek the Arab League's help in pressuring the Iraqi government. "We do not believe that the [Iraqi] government will pay heed to any request made to it.... We do not address this government because it did not fulfill many of the requests made by the parties that intervene in such cases. Therefore, we immediately turned to the Arab League to prevent this military campaign," al-Dari said. He added that despite Interior Minister Jabr's announcement, other military campaigns were initiated by the Iraqi military on 27 November in Baghdad and the Diyala Governorate. Al-Dari contended that any military campaigns carried out ahead of the elections will arouse the fears of Sunni Arabs. KR

The Iraqi Independent Election Commission announced on 27 November that out-of-country voting will be held for the 15 December parliamentary elections in 15 countries, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The countries are: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The commission said that Iraqis living in countries that do not have polling centers may, at their own expense, travel to countries where voting is being carried out to cast their ballots. There will be 521 external polling centers open on election day. Meanwhile, gunmen attacked campaign workers in Baghdad on 26 November as they hung campaign banners in the Al-Amil district of the capital, killing one and wounding three others, Iraqi media reported the same day. KR

Two Canadians, a Briton, and an American aid worker have been kidnapped in Baghdad, Reuters reported on 27 November. The employer of the aid workers refused to be identified publicly. The news agency reported that the workers were thought to have been abducted in a violent neighborhood of western Baghdad on 26 November; a representative of their humanitarian group said the group has received no word on the condition of the aid workers. The Canadian Foreign Ministry confirmed that two Canadian nationals were missing in Iraq on 27 November. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said it is looking into reports that an American was abducted. The British Foreign Office identified the missing Briton as Norman Kember from London. Kember's wife said he worked for a number of aid groups in Iraq, Reuters cited the BBC as reporting. KR