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Newsline - December 5, 2005

Unified Russia won a comfortable majority in the 4 December elections to the Moscow City Duma, Russian news agencies reported the next day. With 99.69 percent of the ballots counted, Unified Russia won 47.27 percent, the Communist Party (KPRF) won 16.74 percent, and the liberal Yabloko party took 11.09 percent, reported. No other party cleared the 10 percent threshold necessary to win seats in the legislature. Unified Russia also won all 15 single-member district seats, RIA-Novosti reported. The nationalist Motherland (Rodina) party, which polls suggested would finish second, was barred from the elections for a television advertisement that a Moscow court said incited ethnic strife. The Supreme Court on 2 December upheld the ban, Russian news agencies reported the same day. According to a preliminary tally, Unified Russia will have 28 seats in the 35-member Duma, the KPRF will take four seats, and Yabloko three. BW

Sergei Mitrokhin, the head of Yabloko's Moscow branch, said on 5 December that he has received reports of voting irregularities in elections to the Moscow City Duma, Interfax reported. "An enormous number of abuses took place, which allows us to speak of possible fabrications," Mitrokhin told Interfax. The most flagrant violation involved ballots being sent from several polling stations to territorial commissions where they were then counted in the absence of observers. Mitrokhin also said he has information "that a bus carrying people with absentee ballots" was "traveling around Moscow" on election day, Interfax reported. But making charges of fraud stick will be difficult for Yabloko, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 December. "Not a single candidate had asked a serious monitoring company to perform an exit poll," "Kommersant-Daily" wrote. "The lack of survey data will allow Unified Russia to insist that the official results are correct," the newspaper added. BW

Unified Russia's candidates also won two by-elections to the State Duma held in Moscow on 4 December, Russian news agencies reported the next day. In district 199 in Moscow's Preobrazhenskii Raion, Sergei Shavrin won 36.2 percent of the vote, defeating Vladimir Kvachkov, who took 28.9 percent, RIA-Novosti reported. In the 201st district in Moscow's Universitetskii Raion, film director Stanislav Govorukhin won 38.1 percent of the vote defeating satirist and television personality Viktor Shenderovich, who took 15.9 percent. BW

The elections to the Moscow City Duma resembled less a local election than an attempt to test the national mood ahead of elections to the State Duma next year, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 December. "On the whole, Moscow's election looked designed to reveal society's moods and potential junior partners of the winning party for the next Russian parliament," "Kommersant-Daily" wrote in an analysis of the election. But the newspaper added that "the poll has not completed this function in full" because Motherland was banned from the election. "Obviously, there was fear that [Motherland's] result would not be quite predictable and appropriate," "Kommersant-Daily" wrote. BW

Lawyers for jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii said on 2 December that they will fight his transfer to a penal colony in eastern Siberia's Chita Oblast in the European Court of Human Rights, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Karina Moskalenko, one of Khodorkovskii's attorneys, said she and other members of his defense team have discussed the appeal with him during a recent visit to the colony, RIA-Novosti reported. "We have already appealed the illegal custody and we discussed the [possibility for an] appeal of the unjust trial," Moskalenko said. She added that the local prison officials at the colony are not guilty of violating Khodorkovskii's rights. BW

Prison officials at the penal colony in Chita Oblast where Khodorkovskii is serving an eight-year term, meanwhile, have toughened the rules with regard to the former Yukos CEO, Russian news agencies reported on 2 December. "After Khodorkovskii arrived at the prison, there have been repeated inspections, the regime has been toughened, and the atmosphere is tense," Khodorkovskii's defense attorney Yurii Shmidt said. As part of his incarceration, Shmidt said Khodorkovskii was required to knit mittens. Shmidt said Khodorkovskii is required to work six hours a day, has access only to local newspapers and is allowed to watch only films on television. "Mikhail [Khodorkovskii] would love to write something new that is bursting from his soul, but he has no information whatsoever," Shmidt said. BW

Israel criticized Russia on 4 December over a reported deal to sell Iran surface-to-air missiles, reported the same day citing Israeli press reports. The Russian daily "Vedomosti" reported on 2 December that Moscow will sell Tehran 29 Tor-M1 surface-to-air missiles capable of taking down aircraft and missiles at low altitudes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2005). Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said the deal involved "exclusively defensive weapons," does not violate Russia's "international commitments," and is "in full compliance with Russian law," reported. "Whether you call it defensive or offensive, it just encourages the regime in Iran to continue with its dangerous polices," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said, according to the "Jerusalem Post." BW

President Vladimir Putin agreed on 3 December to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in mid-January, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Following his 3 December talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Putin said that Russia expects relations between Moscow and Berlin to remain friendly and cooperative, RIA-Novosti reported. "The FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] has always been and will continue to be our important partner both in the EU and in bilateral relations," Putin said, adding that he hopes the two sides will continue to cooperate and "address subjects of mutual interest." Russia had good relations with Germany under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but Merkel is widely expected to take a tougher line with Moscow over human rights and the war in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2005). BW

Sergei Lavrov said on 4 December that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should clarify the way it monitors and reports on elections to avoid double standards, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "The avoidance of double standards in election monitoring is a problem the OSCE needs to resolve," ITAR-TASS quoted Lavrov as saying. Lavrov spoke one day ahead of a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Ljubljana, Slovenia, scheduled to begin on 5 December. "It is necessary to define how monitoring missions are being formed, how a postelection statement is being composed, and what is the authority of the observing missions' heads," Lavrov added, according to In an article published on 5 December in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut implicitly rejected that argument, saying that countries that wish to enter the EU must conform to "strict standards," and that the OSCE helps such states to "strengthen democracy." He concluded that "Russia needs an effective OSCE, and the OSCE considers Russia's participation crucial." BW

Vagit Alekperov, who heads Russia's LUKoil company, told the German-based daily "Handelsblatt" of 5 December in Moscow that European consumers can expect to pay "significantly more" for oil from the Urals than they have been. He added that LUKoil will ensure that Europe is not "oversupplied" with Russian oil. He noted that new pipelines will take Russian, Kazakh, and Azerbaijani oil to China and Japan and away from Europe. Alekperov said that Russian crude has cost Europeans up to $7 less per barrel compared to Brent North Sea crude, but that this margin will shrink to about 50 or 70 cents. He added that LUKoil wants to expand significantly its network of refineries and gas stations in Western Europe. He did not provide a timeframe for any of his assertions. The German business daily noted that LUKoil produces more oil and gas than Kuwait and is the world's sixth-largest oil company. Russian companies exported $60.1 billion worth of oil in the booming market of the first nine months of 2005, compared to $59 billion in all of 2004. A barrel of crude from the Urals costs about $52 in Europe, which is cheaper than Brent crude but of lower quality. "Handelsblatt" added that "Forbes" rates Alekperov, who grew up as the son of a poor Azerbaijani oil worker, as Russia's 10th richest man with assets worth about $4.1 billion. PM

President Putin on 5 December instructed the head of the Kremlin administration to prepare amendments to a bill on nongovernmental organizations in the next five days, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. At a meeting with government officials, Putin said the amendments should include recommendations from Europe and should reflect recommendations from the Public Chamber and nongovernmental organizations. A bill restricting the activities and funding of nongovernmental organizations passed its first reading in the State Duma on 23 November, but has been severely criticized by human rights groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 22, 23, November and 2 December 2005). BW

Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Ismail Baykhanov announced on 3 December the final results of the 27 November parliamentary election, Russian media reported. As widely anticipated, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party won a majority of seats: 24 of the 40 mandates in the People's Assembly (the lower house) and nine in the 18-seat Council of the Republic (the upper house). The KPRF has a total of six seats, three in each house; the Union of Rightist Forces, four; and the Eurasian Union one, from a single-mandate constituency. The remaining 14 deputies are independent. The Eurasian Union, Yabloko, Motherland (Rodina), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and People's Will all failed to surmount the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to win representation under the party-list system, under which 20 of the 40 seats in the People's Assembly were allocated. LF

The Chechen Supreme Court passed judgment on 1 December on four close associates of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov who were captured in the wake of Maskhadov's death in March, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). All four men were charged with illegal possession of arms and membership in an illegal armed group. Vakhid Murdashev was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, Viskhan Khadjimuradov to seven years, and Skandarbek Usupov and Ilyas Iriskhanov to six years each. LF

Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 2 December that he believes the official data showing that 1.5 million Armenians voted in the 27 November referendum on a package of constitutional amendments is correct, and that more than the required minimum one-third of all registered voters endorsed those proposed changes, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Sarkisian dismissed as "unserious" and "a lie" allegations of multiple voting by tens of thousands of conscripts. Also on 2 December, Galust Sahakian, who heads the parliamentary faction of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, denounced as "unacceptable" comments by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, chairman of Orinats Yerkir. In a 1 December interview published in the independent daily "Aravot," Baghdasarian said "it is obvious that there was ballot-box stuffing," which he blamed on "certain individuals with a criminal mentality who are prepared [to do] everything to please their bosses." Sahakian challenged Baghdasarian to produce any evidence he possesses to substantiate his allegation. Orinats Yerkir parliamentarian Gagik Mkheyan told Noyan Tapan on 2 December that the party as a whole shares Baghdasarian's evaluation. On 5 December, Baghdasarian told the parliament he will submit evidence of falsification of the referendum outcome to the Prosecutor-General's Office "soon," Noyan Tapan reported. LF

At a 2 December rally in Yerevan to protest the alleged falsification of the referendum outcome, opposition party leaders announced the postponement for one week of their planned new campaign to force the present Armenian leadership to resign, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, who heads the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, told supporters to "be patient," arguing that it is impossible to topple the leadership with just one demonstration. He appealed instead to the population to attend protests in ever increasing numbers, and predicted that the final confrontation between the opposition and the present authorities will end with the flight of the latter. LF

Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court confirmed on 1 December the outcome of the 6 November parliamentary elections in 115 of the total 125 constituencies, Azerbaijani media reported. But the court also annulled the results in six constituencies, including two in which preliminary returns gave victory to prominent opposition candidates, according to Turan. The two are Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), and Gulamhuseyn Alibeyli, also of the AHCP progressive wing. The Central Election Commission annulled the outcome of the ballot in four constituencies last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 15, and 16 November 2005). Also on 1 December, the opposition Azadlyq bloc, of which the AHCP is a member, decided to postpone until 10 December the protest rally it originally scheduled for 3 December, Turan reported. The Baku municipal council refused permission earlier on 1 December to hold the rally on Gelebe Square, and Azadlyq rejected the alternative venue offered -- a motorcycle racing track on the city outskirts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2005). LF

Meeting for its first session on 2 December, the newly elected Azerbaijani parliament approved the candidacy of Oktai Asadov as its new speaker, Azerbaijani media reported. Asadov, who is 51, is president of the Azersu company and a member of the Political Council of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, which won the largest number of seats in the new parliament. His candidacy was proposed by Murtuz Alesqerov, who served as parliament speaker since 1996. Addressing the opening parliament session, President Ilham Aliyev declared that there is no chance of an Orange Revolution in Azerbaijan to overturn the election results, as was the case in Ukraine in November-December 2004, and reported. LF

Disagreement over the Tbilisi city budget for 2006 ended in a fistfight on 2 December between deputies representing the opposition Labor party and an unidentified group of young men believed to have been acting at the behest of the pro-presidential majority, Caucasus Press reported. City Mayor Gigi Ugulava told journalists earlier on 2 December that the 320 million-lari ($178.4 million) budget envisages higher spending than ever before on social needs, including free medical insurance for the most impoverished. But Labor faction Chairman Giorgi Gugava claimed that only 2 percent of the planned total expenditure is on social programs, while 3 million laris is earmarked for Ugulava's personal fund, and a further 10 million laris for "expensive cars and foreign travel." The opposition parliament faction Democratic Front appealed on 4 December to Prosecutor-General Zurab Adeishvili to open an investigation to determine who was to blame for the fistfight two days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. LF

In a response, subsequently posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website (, to a Russian journalist's question, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin denied on 2 December reports that Moscow has approved the most recent version of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's plan to resolve the South Ossetian conflict. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli outlined that plan to the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna in late October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2005). Kamynin said the revised plan contains numerous shortcomings that have been pointed out to the Georgian government and is inferior to the earlier version that Saakashvili presented to the UN General Assembly in late 2004 and which, according to Kamynin, the South Ossetian leadership was inclined to accept (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004). On 4 December, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying that the most recent version of the peace plan differs from the first version, Civil Georgia reported the same day. LF

Acting Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Kakha Sikharulidze rejected on 3 December as "absurd" claims by Dmitrii Medoev, the permanent representative in Moscow of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, that up to 50 Georgian special service troops wearing "NATO camouflage uniforms" tried but failed on 2 December to take control of a roadside checkpoint at Zari, northwest of Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported. Medoev claimed some of the Georgians were wounded in the shoot-out that precipitated their retreat. Interfax on 2 December quoted South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity as claiming he may have been the target of the failed "terrorist attack," as he planned to drive along the highway in question later on 2 December. Kokoity said the failed attack proves that Georgian peace overtures to South Ossetia are insincere. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava likewise denied on 3 December that Georgian forces were involved in the previous day's exchange of fire, which he attributed to a clash between rival Ossetian armed groups, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Meeting on 1 December with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said Abkhazia has approved, and is ready to begin implementing, the two-year program drafted by the UNHCR to enable Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war to return to their homes, and ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, he argued that since the previous round of talks on repatriation, the security situation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali district -- the first to which Georgians will return -- has deteriorated, and people there are increasingly "alarmed" by the "revanchist statements" of the Georgian authorities. Shamba warned that in the event of a resumption of hostilities, the Georgian repatriates would again flee Gali. reported on 1 December that the body of an Abkhaz policeman who was reported missing on 7 November has been found in the Gali village of Shamgona. LF

Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission says preliminary results show President Nursultan Nazarbaev has won a landslide victory in the 4 December presidential election, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Commission Chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov said results show Nazarbaev has won 91 percent of the vote, while his main challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai of the For a Just Kazakhstan bloc, finished the race a distant second with 6.6 percent. Zhumabekov also announced that 6.7 million voters, or 75 percent of those registered, took part in the election, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

In a preliminary assessment of the election made public on the OSCE website ( on 5 December, the organization stated that "Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections." The assessment noted "numerous and persistent examples of intimidation by the authorities," "overall media bias in favor of the incumbent," and a vote count assessed as "bad or very bad" in 27 percent of counts observed. The BBC quoted Bruce George, coordinator of OSCE observers, as saying, "Regrettably, despite some efforts which were undertaken to improve the process, the authorities did not exhibit sufficient political will to hold a genuinely good election." DK

Opposition candidates Tuyakbai and Alikhan Baimenov charged that the election was marred by numerous violations, Almaty Channel 31 and reported. Bulat Abilov, Tuyakbai's campaign manager, told a news conference in Almaty that Tuyakbai supporters have collected evidence of serious violations, reported. Lyudmila Zhulakova, Baimenov's campaign manager, told a press conference on the evening of 4 December that widespread violations plagued the election, reported. But while Zhulakova hinted at the possibility that Baimenov and Tuyakbai might join to protest the perceived fraud, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, Tuyakbai's deputy campaign manager, told, "We have not held, are not holding, and will not hold talks with Alikhan Baimenov." Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 4 December that it did not record any serious violations, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

PetroKazakhstan faces a court decision ordering it to return 96 billion tenges ($720 million) in 2003 revenue, Bloomberg reported on 2 December citing an e-mailed statement from the company. The report said that the decision, which was handed down by a court in Shymkent on 24 November, goes into effect on 5 December. A spokesperson for the Canadian-registered company, which was recently acquired by the China National Petroleum Corporation for $4.18 billion, told the news agency that the company disagrees with the ruling and plans to appeal. The ruling charged that PetroKazakhstan abused its position on the market in order to generate illegal revenues. DK

Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged in a 3 December press release on the organization's website ( that Kazakhstan has forcibly returned 10 people to Uzbekistan and may yet return a second group of Uzbeks. Arguing that the Uzbeks risk torture upon their forcible return, HRW called on Kazakhstan to halt the deportations. HRW said that one of the 10 Uzbeks, Nozim Rakhmonov, had registered an application for asylum with the UN before Kazakh authorities extradited him to Uzbekistan. Kazakh authorities have maintained an official silence on reports that Uzbeks are being detained and extradited from southern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). Addressing the issue of individuals possibly awaiting extradition, HRW called on the Kazakh government to "provide information about the men's whereabouts and, if they are in custody, allow them immediate access to their attorneys, and bring legally cognizable charges, or release them." DK

Bishkek's central heating plant has been forced to lower the temperature in the city's heating grid by 15-20 degrees Celsius as a result of a gas shortage, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 2 December. The press service of the Electrical Stations company announced on 2 December that the lower temperatures went into effect on 30 November after pressure dropped in the Bukhara-Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty natural gas pipeline, reported. Salamat Aitikeev, deputy head of national gas concern Kyrgyzgaz, said that Kyrgyz gas officials will head to Tashkent on 5 December to negotiate new gas deliveries, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Previous talks foundered when Uzbekistan announced that it wants to raise the price of 1,000 cubic meters of gas from $42 to $55 starting 1 January. DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 2 December to confirm Medetbek Kerimkulov as first deputy prime minister, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Fifty-eight deputies voted in favor of Kerimkulov's candidacy, five against. Kerimkulov's previous posts include mayor of Osh and mayor of Bishkek. DK

Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry issued a press release late on 1 December urging Russia to begin price negotiations for 2006 natural gas shipments and offering to provide information on Turkmenistan's gas reserves. As reported by, the press release stated, "An audit of Turkmenistan's hydrocarbon resources was conducted last year by independent international experts from an Anglo-American company and the Turkmen side is not concealing its results. At the same time, for the Russian side to familiarize itself with the results of the independent audit, it must begin talks on the price and amount of natural gas supplied by Turkmenistan." Turkmenistan is currently seeking to raise the export price of its natural gas from $44 per 1,000 cubic meters to $60 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). DK

Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Atamurat Berdiev met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing on 2 December, Xinhua reported. Talks focused on the need to increase bilateral cooperation in energy, trade, and security issues. Berdiev stated, "We are paying serious attention to deepening relations with China," reported. DK

Courts in the city of Tashkent and Tashkent Province have sentenced 25 defendants to prison terms ranging from 12 to 25 years for their involvement in violence in Andijon in May, Ekho Moskvy reported on 2 December. The BBC reported on 4 December that Uzbekistan's Supreme Court announced on 3 December that a court in Tashkent Province sentenced 13 defendants, while a court in Tashkent city sentenced 12. DK

President Islam Karimov issued a decree on 2 December appointing Alisher Shaykhov minister of foreign economic relations, investments, and trade, UzA reported. DK

The EU's British Presidency said in a statement on 3 December that some provisions of the public-security bill passed the previous day by Belarus's lower house, the Chamber of Representatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2005), "seem to go entirely against many of Belarus's human-rights commitments," Belapan reported. The EU urged the Belarusian legislature to reject the bill. "This bill seems clearly aimed at intimidating Belarusian citizens and stifling free speech as the country approaches presidential elections in 2006," U.S. Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack said the same day. "Adopting such undemocratic legislation could incur serious consequences for Belarusian authorities. The United States remains ready to take further restrictive measures against the responsible Belarusian authorities in the event of failure to uphold international standards," McCormac added. Adrian Severin, the UN Human Rights Commission's rapporteur on Belarus, told Belapan that he expects the bill to increase Belarus's international isolation even further. In particular, the bill proposes to penalize people for discrediting Belarus in the international arena with jail terms of up to two years. JM

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived in Beijing on 4 December for a three-day official visit, Belapan reported. During the visit, Lukashenka is expected to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and meet with other senior Chinese officials. Lukashenka and his Chinese counterpart will discuss the prospects for increasing bilateral cooperation and sign a declaration outlining strategic cooperation areas. On 6 December, Lukashenka is to attend an opening ceremony for Days of Belarusian Culture in China. "The People's Republic of China is the main political, trading, and economic partner of Belarus in Asia, that is why the present visit at the highest level is a continuation of the established fruitful bilateral contacts," the Belarusian president's press office said. Lukashenka visited China in 1995 and 1997. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 3 December declared a state of emergency in five villages in the Crimean Peninsula after the Agricultural Ministry had identified the H5 subtype of bird-flu virus that reportedly killed more than 2,500 domestic birds in the area, Ukrainian and international media reported. The government sent Interior Ministry troops to the area, which has been subject to quarantine. Soldiers wearing plastic clothing and masks culled domestic birds in the affected villages and trucked them away for disposal in specially excavated pits. According to local villagers, a mysterious disease has been killing their birds for more than a month, the "Financial Times" reported on 4 December. The infection outbreak occurred near the Syvash Bay, a marshy lagoon next to the Azov Sea where birds stop over each autumn as they migrate between Russia and Africa. JM

Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych outlined the parliamentary election program of his Party of Regions during a convention in Kyiv on 2 December, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yanukovych said the short-term goals of his party are to reduce unemployment, create well-paid jobs, and provide people with decent salaries. Yanukovych stressed that his party favors a transition to a federal system that could help balance the level of socioeconomic development of various regions. Speaking about foreign political priorities, Yanukovych said the Party of Regions is "against haste in joining international organizations." Yanukovych also said his party is for granting the Russian language official status. The convention endorsed the party's list of candidates for the 26 March 2006 legislative elections. According to recent polls, Yanukovych's is the most popular party in Ukraine and can count on some 18 percent of the vote. JM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 4 December that security must be stepped up following an unexplained overnight grenade attack on a bus near Prizren, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and Reuters reported. He called for "stringent measures to enhance security," including extra police patrols and checkpoints, following the nonfatal attack on a bus carrying primarily ethnic Albanians on the regular route from Dragash in southwestern Kosova to Prizren and on to Belgrade. "Incidents such as the one last night demonstrate that, during the status [negotiation] process, which has just begun, isolated individuals or groups who do not have Kosovo's best interests in mind may attempt to disrupt Kosovo's way forward for their own ulterior motives," Jessen-Petersen said in a statement. Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi called for strengthening security measures at what he called "one of the most significant periods in determining the future of [Kosova's] citizens." In Mitrovica, Marko Jaksic, who belongs to the Serbian negotiating team on Kosova's future status, said that the incident shows that the "Albanians" have resorted to violence because they have run out of arguments to support their demands for independence. Most of the violence in Kosova and elsewhere in former Yugoslavia is probably criminal or personal in nature rather than politically or ethnically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). PM

Dusan Janjic, the director of the Forum for Interethnic Relations, told the Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski list" of 5 December that it is not realistic to expect that Martti Ahtisaari, who is the UN's envoy for Kosova, will have his mandate extended to include Vojvodina, as some local Hungarian leaders have suggested, the private Beta news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 16 November 2005). Under the 1974 Serbian and Yugoslav constitutions, Kosova and Vojvodina had identical legal status that was virtually equivalent to that of the six federal republics. Both Kosova and Vojvodina lost their autonomy under Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1980s. PM

Heavy rains hit Albania on 3 December, drowning at least two people in central Elbasan and leading to further electricity shortages in the center and south of the country, in addition to those caused by a previous drought, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2005). Flash floods were reported in central and southern regions, but people in the north welcomed the rain that filled the reservoirs of the three hydroelectric plants. The drought recently led to power cuts of about 50 percent, although power imports restored much of the service in a country where electricity and water supplies are often unreliable. PM

Romanian President Traian Basescu called on 2 December for Russian troops to leave Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, Flux reported on 3 December. Speaking in Kyiv, Basescu said the first step in settling the conflict in Transdniester is the withdrawal of foreign troops and the "dissolution of the military and paramilitary forces of the separatist regime." Basescu added that Bucharest's " greatest preoccupation remains the existence of some conflict hotbeds in this part of Europe, which are real 'black holes' beyond international law." BW

Vasile Tarlev said on 2 December that his government has set up a working group to address the issue of Russia charging higher prices for natural gas, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Moldova has been paying $80 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas since 1996, which represents the highest price in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Tarlev said. "Gazprom promised to cut prices in 2002 if we start paying current debts," he added. "We met the commitment, but the prices did not go down. Instead, they are speaking about a price rise." Gazprom Deputy CEO Aleksandr Ryazanov said last week that Gazprom sought to rise that price to $160 per 1,000 cubic meters starting in 2006. Tarlev has said that Chisinau would consider raising the price it charges Russia to transport gas through Moldova in response (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2005). BW

Sunni and Shi'ite Arab leaders in Baghdad last week questioned the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government after it began drilling for oil in the Dahuk Governorate. Several Arab leaders in Baghdad claimed that Kurdistan did not have the authority constitutionally to undertake a venture, particularly without the approval of the central government. Kurdish authorities however, maintained that it is their right to develop and control oil resources in their region.

The Kurdistan Regional Government and the Norwegian oil company DNO broke ground on an oil-prospecting venture in the village of Tawuke, located in the Dahuk Governorate on 29 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Dahuk Governor Tamir Ramadan told RFI in a interview at the ground-breaking ceremony in Tawuke that the Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad was well aware of the project. "As [Kurdistan's] Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has noted, the Oil Ministry has helped and expended great effort [on the project] so it was a party in this project," he told RFI.

The new Iraqi Constitution ratified on 15 November is unclear on the issue, and arguably does not ban regional governments from drilling for oil in their territories. The issue, if pursued by Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs, could prove to be the Iraqi government's first constitutional dilemma.

Article 108 states, "Oil and gas are the ownership of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates."

Article 109 notes: " First: The federal government with the producing governorates and regional governments shall undertake the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields provided that it distributes oil and gas revenues in a fair manner in proportion to the population distribution in all parts of the country with a set allotment for a set time for the damaged regions that were unjustly deprived by the former regime and the regions that were damaged later on, and in a way that assures balanced development in different areas of the country, and this will be regulated by law.

"Second: The federal government with the producing regional and governorate governments shall together formulate the necessary strategic policies to develop the oil and gas wealth in a way that achieves the highest benefit to the Iraqi people using the most advanced techniques of the market principles and encourages investment."

Former Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban told RFI in a 30 November interview in Baghdad: "Any future [oil] research or development project on oil fields in Iraq that would be undertaken in cooperation with foreign companies must be approved by the future [Iraqi parliament's] Council of Representatives.... Another thing is that, according to the current law, oil research and development projects [are the sole responsibility of] the Oil Ministry and any change in [the oil] sector that is performed in cooperation with oil companies -- be they Arab or foreign, international or regional -- must also be a subject of legal regulation."

Meanwhile, Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, told reporters in Baghdad that the central government was never formally informed of the deal and will refer the matter to its legal adviser, reported on 2 December.

The issue could be further complicated after Kurdistan President Mas'ud Barzani claimed in a 1 December speech in Salah Al-Din that the highly contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk will join the Kurdistan region in 2007, Kurdish and Turkish media reported on 2 December. The Kirkuk Governorate has some 10 billion barrels of proven reserves remaining. Any oil revenues from those reserves, according to the constitution, would fall under the control of the central government.

Turkoman and Arab residents of Kirkuk claim the two main Kurdish parties -- Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- have pursued a campaign to make Kurds a majority in Kirkuk by building settlements for Kurds displaced from the city under the Hussein regime.

Arabs and Turkomans claim the parties have relocated some 350,000 Kurds to Kirkuk since the fall of the Hussein regime, "The Washington Post" reported on 30 October. In 2007, Kirkuk residents will vote on the status of the city, and whether it should be incorporated into the Kurdistan region, reported on 2 December.

The issue of Kirkuk has already provoked an outspoken response from Turkey, a fervent supporter of Iraq's Turkoman population, largely concerning the situation in and around Kirkuk.

Observers had predicted that the Kurdistan-DNO agreement might spark negative reactions from Turkey, Iran, and Syria, which all have large Kurdish populations, arguing that Kurdish government's control over the oil fields might bolster local calls to secede and establish an independent Kurdish state, which could in turn spark unrest among Kurdish populations in neighboring states. However, there has thus far been little reaction on the Dahuk project from neighboring states.

RFI asked Dahuk Governor Ramadan if he anticipates any future regional fallout from the Dahuk drilling. "The opposite is true. I think that it will have a positive impact...I do not think there will be any negative impact on the neighboring countries," he said. "Some companies from neighboring countries may benefit from these important projects that will be accompanied by tourism [development] projects and other investment projects."

Turkish investors have a 15 percent stake in an oil venture in another Iraqi town near Koi Sinjak (Taq Taq wells 1 and 2) between the Kurdistan-based Eagle Group and a subsidiary of the Canadian-based Heritage Oil Corporation (each own a 42.5 percent stake in their new company, Heritage Erbil Oil). Heritage Oil is also involved in talks with the central government in Baghdad to develop other fields.

Esmatullah Mohabat, a newly elected member of the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the Afghan National Assembly, was gunned down in Laghman Province east of Kabul on 4 December, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Mohabat's brother Hajji Naqibullah told AIP that the "enemies attacked" the vehicle of his brother while he was traveling to their sister's home." In addition to Mohabat, two of his bodyguards were killed and one was wounded. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanizai said that Mohabat was trying to confront a businessman who had captured one of his men when he and his bodyguards were killed, AFP reported on 4 December. Laghman Governor Shah Mahmud Safi said that Afghan security forces supported by U.S. forces apprehended a man identified as Sardar and two of his accomplices in connection with Mohabat's killing, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 4 December. Mohabat was a warlord in Laghman and was captured after clashing with U.S. forces in neighboring Nangarhar Province in 2004. He spent time in U.S. detention before being released a few months prior to the September elections in which he won one of four seats allocated for Laghman. Mohabat participated in the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program. AT

A two-day regional economic conference began in the Afghan capital on 4 December, international news agencies reported. Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered Afghanistan as a conduit for regional trade and a market for energy and skilled labor to fuel its reconstruction efforts, AP reported. He also said that all countries in the region are affected by terrorism. "Another very effective area of cooperation would be a joint struggle against terrorism to facilitate better growth, more confidence of the businesses and investment in all of our countries -- and in the region," he added. British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, whose country is co-chairing the meeting, said cooperation is crucial for the region. He said foreign investment in Afghanistan has reached nearly $1 billion and is likely to keep rising. In addition to officials from Afghanistan and six neighboring states -- China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- representatives from India, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are also attending the conference. AT

Mullah Dost Mohammad Akhund has denied that the neo-Taliban were behind the abduction and killing of Shri Maniappan Raman Kutty, Kabul-based Tolu television reported on 3 December. Kutty, who worked as a driver for India's state-owned Border Roads Organization, was abducted on 19 November in Nimroz Province in southwestern Afghanistan and later found dead, after which the neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for both his abduction and killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 23 and 28 November 2005). "The Indian engineer working on a road-construction project was not in a position to harm the government or to do something good for the Islamic Emirate. It is undoubtedly an act of the enemies of Afghanistan. They have done it, but they blame the Taliban for the incident," Dost Mohammad told Tolu. The "Islamic Emirate" was the name for Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Dost Mohammad did not elaborate on the identity of "the enemies of Afghanistan," a term frequently used by the Afghan government to describe the armed opposition to it, including the neo-Taliban. AT

Hayatullah Popal, district chief of Shah Wali Kot District of Kandahar Province, and three of his bodyguards were killed by a remote-controlled explosive device on 2 December, AIP reported on 3 December. Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told AIP that the "Taliban blew up" Popal's vehicle. AT

A suicide bomber on foot blew himself up in Kandahar city on 4 December, killing a passerby and wounding two others, AFP reported. Abdul Hakim Angar, a Kandahar police official, told AFP that the bomber was targeting a U.S. military convoy but missed it. However, according to an eyewitness named Gol Mohammad, the suicide attack was carried out by a man driving a vehicle who wanted to hit an Afghan police patrol car, but missed it and hit a civilian motorcycle, killing the rider, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 4 December. Kandahar police chief Abdul Manan declined to comment on the incident. AT

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad named a fourth candidate for oil minister on 4 December: Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh, a former deputy oil minister and caretaker minister since August, news agencies reported the same day. Legislators have rejected three candidates so far as unsuited to the post (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 November 2005). Legislator Hasan Moradi told ISNA on 4 December that "Vaziri-Hamaneh is an experienced oil manager...[who] does not belong to any faction." But deputies have complained that Ahmadinejad again did not consult with them over his choice. Deputy speaker of parliament Muhammad Reza Bahonar told ISNA on 3 December that Ahmadinejad mentioned Vaziri-Hamaneh to legislators "last week," but "there was no particular consultation with us." Deputy Mohammad Reza Mirtajeddini said on 4 December that Vaziri-Hamaneh will meet with key members of the majority "fundamentalist" faction in parliament on 5 December to discuss his intended policies, Fars News Agency reported. A larger assembly of that faction will meet on 6 December to decide on Vaziri-Hamaneh's suitability, he added. Parliament is to vote on 11 December, AFP reported on 4 December. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 4 December that Iranian and EU specialists will discuss Iran's nuclear dossier at a date to be "set in coming days," ISNA reported the same day. He said talks will go well if the Europeans "respect our rights and follow reason," and judge Iran by its "very serious and transparent" cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Senior negotiators would continue talks, he said, if initial contacts go well. "The level of talks is important, but more important is the content...and results of talks, because you can have important talks at a relatively low level, giving important results. Still, initial talks will determine the following stages," he said. Separately, the Guardians Council, which must approve all parliamentary bills before they become law, has approved a 22 November bill to block IAEA inspections of nuclear installations if Iran's dossier is referred to the UN Security Council for alleged nonproliferation violations, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 4 December. The council ruled the bill does not contravene Iran's constitution or religion. VS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Farhang Memar-Nahavandi to head the regular army's security and intelligence department, IRNA reported on 4 December. He is to replace Akbar Dianatfar, IRNA added. Separately, Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi has appointed Abdullah Roshan, commander since 2002 of the Tehran Basij militia, as the new deputy governor of Tehran Province for political and security affairs, ISNA reported on 4 December. Roshan was proposed by Tehran Governor Kamran Daneshju, and replaces Ali Awsat-Hashemi, ISNA added. The militia is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and Roshan is the second military man to recently take over an Interior Ministry post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2005). In Tehran on 4 December, conservative legislator Imad Afrugh said appointments of IRGC personnel to political posts could undermine the force's credibility. He said such appointments may lead to "failures" or "opposition" that would be associated with an "entirely popular body" that may be needed one day "to come to the nation's rescue." VS

Some 25 activists and relatives of detained lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani gathered outside the judiciary building in Tehran on 3 December, urging a swift clarification of his case by the judiciary, Radio Farda reported on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). The crowd included liberal politicians Ibrahim Yazdi and Ahmad Sadr Haji-Seyyed-Javadi, and theologian Hassan Yusefi-Eshkevari. Lawyer Farideh Gheirat told Radio Farda that a representative of judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi listened to the crowd and took notes of their comments, then took a letter for Hashemi-Shahrudi, which he promised would be swiftly answered. Gheirat said the judiciary changed Soltani's interrogator "last week," but the first interrogator had told his lawyers he was not facing espionage charges; she did not state the charges against Soltani. "So far we have not been able as his attorneys to [meet] him. He has [only met with] his wife and mother," Gheirat said. VS

Health Minister Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani said in Tehran on 2 December that Iran will seek to cut HIV infection rates in the next 10 years, through youth education, "active disease search," and "reducing vulnerability," ISNA reported the same day. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. He said that of an estimated 200,000 injecting-drug users in Iran, "60 percent in some areas and on average 25 percent are" HIV-positive, with 7 percent of infections now from "abnormal sexual conduct." Tehran education official Soheila Tabrizi said on 2 December that girls in secondary schools in Tehran began an AIDS-prevention course on 1 December, due to last to March 2006, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 3 December. Separately, legislator and parliamentary Health Committee member Bijan Shahbazkhani told ILNA on 2 December that Iran has just over 11,000 known HIV-positive people, but may have as many as 40,000. Aside from infection through needle use, he said, a very large youth population augments the risk of more infections though "very risky sexual conduct." He said officials must inform youngsters about AIDS "without any denials, or political or religious considerations." VS

The Al-Dujayl trial against Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants from his regime for crimes against humanity resumed in Baghdad on 5 December, international media reported. Chief Judge Muhammad Rizgar Amin appeared to lose control early on in the morning session, when defense attorneys, as well as Hussein and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti shouted at the tribunal after Amin refused to allow defense attorneys to discuss their complaints at the trial, saying the court would consider written complaints and address them later. Al-Tikriti jumped up and said, "Long Live Saddam," while Hussein told Amin that should the court attempt to replace his defense attorneys, he would reject court-appointed attorneys. Hussein's chief attorney, Khalil al-Dulaymi, also asked that a discussion be opened on the court's legitimacy before defense attorneys walked out of the courtroom in protest. The trial resumed more than one hour later, and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark addressed the court and questioned its legitimacy. Clark was given five minutes to address the court, as was former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nu'aymi. KR

A witness identified as Ahmad Hasan Muhammad testified before the Iraqi Special Tribunal in the Al-Dujayl trial on 5 December; the testimony was broadcast on several satellite channels with delay. Muhammad, who hails from Al-Dujayl, appeared quite agitated at the start of his testimony and was shouting about the purported crimes committed by the Hussein regime in that town, saying, "They should all be executed," to which Barzan al-Tikriti shouted, "Go to hell." As the situation calmed down and Muhammad began recounting the events he witnessed, al-Tikriti again interrupted the testimony with an outburst and accused Judge Amin of being under the influence of the Iranian government. At another point in the middle of Muhammad's testimony, Hussein interrupted to tell Judge Amin that his paper and pen had been taken away. KR

Iyad Allawi was attacked outside the Imam Ali Shrine in the holy city of Al-Najaf on 4 December in what the former prime minister called an assassination attempt, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 4 December. Allawi was in Al-Najaf to launch his election campaign there. As Allawi was leaving the shrine, the mob threw stones and shoes at his entourage, according to wire reports. Witnesses told Western news agencies that when confronted by the belligerent crowd, Allawi's guards began shooting in the air to disperse the crowd. One witness told "The Washington Post" that police and army personnel nearby did not intervene in the incident. KR

Former Prime Minister Allawi told reporters at a press briefing later on 4 December that some 60 men in black clothes and wielding pistols and swords surrounded him at the shrine and opened fire, international media reported. "We believe that these are hurtful rebels. This will increase our insistence to cleanse the country of [their presence]. We warn [these rebels] that after the elections, we, the people in power, will pursue them toughly," reported on 5 December. Allawi told Al-Sharqiyah television on 4 December that he was also confronted inside the mosque by an armed gunman. He said those responsible for the attack belonged to a militia, but did not identify the militia by name. Allawi told Al-Sharqiyah television in a 2 December interview that he met with some 300 tribal and religious leaders in Baghdad that day who had complained about a deterioration of the security situation. KR

Armed gunmen attacked and killed an aide to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad on 4 December, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Abd al-Salam al-Bahadili was reportedly killed as he drove in Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. No further details were released on the attack. Meanwhile, Midhat al-Mahmud, head of the Higher Judicial Council, survived an assassination attempt when a booby-trapped car was detonated outside his Baghdad home on 4 December, the satellite news channel reported. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 4 December that the Iraqi National Security Council (NSC) uncovered a plot to attack the office of NSC chief Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, as well as the building where the trial of former President Saddam Hussein is being held. A source close to the NSC said that the 1920 Revolution Brigades were behind the plot. KR

Muslim Scholars Association leader Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi claimed to reporters at a 3 December press briefing in Baghdad that scores of people have been detained and later killed by the U.S. military or forces loyal to the Interior Ministry, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. "What is taking place in Iraq is killing and mutilation," al-Kubaysi said. He showed "evidence" in the form of photographs of innocent civilians he claimed were killed in such circumstances. Calling the incidents, as well as the security operations being carried out in Sunni Arab areas of the country, "the harshest crimes committed against humanity." He added that the association believed it is its duty to speak out, and the association "finds itself compelled to reconsider" its commitment made at last month's reconciliation conference in Cairo (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 November 2005). Al-Kubaysi called on the government to adhere to its commitment to form investigation committees that will work on releasing detainees, as well as ending military operations and "stop killing people." The association also posted a press release to its website reiterating its position ( KR

Leaders from the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) told reporters at a 3 December press briefing in Baghdad that the Shi'ite-led government has made a number of achievements on the security and political fronts, RFI reported the same day. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim said that the issues of providing security and fighting terrorism top the government's agenda. He added that the government is also working to end corruption, institute reform, and build the economy. Addressing the UIA's platform, he said, "We will work to establish regions, especially in the center and southern region, the Baghdad region, and other regions, and will endeavor to activate Article 58 of the State Administration Law concerning the borders of the Iraqi governorates." Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters that Iraq's relations with neighboring states have improved, adding, "Only Syria remains...we have specific conditions that have to be met" before relations can normalize. KR