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Newsline - December 6, 2005

Unified Russia's Moscow leader said on 5 December that the party expects to nominate Mayor Yurii Luzhkov for a new term after his current term expires in 2007, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "Having won the polls to the Moscow City Duma...we will certainly submit Luzhkov's candidacy for consideration in 2007," said Andrei Metelskii, leader of the Unified Russia faction in the Moscow City Duma. Unified Russia won a large majority in the Moscow legislature in the 4 December elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). Luzhkov, who has been mayor since 1992, was widely expected to retire after his current term expires. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 December that there was even speculation that he would step down before his term ended. But some analysts believe keeping Luzhkov in power in Moscow could suit the Kremlin's interests. "President Vladimir Putin may follow the party's suggestion in the interest of maintaining stability, since the mayor of Moscow will be appointed just before the presidential election," "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 2 December, after Metelskii announced the previous day that Unified Russia was considering the move. BW

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 5 December that banning the Motherland (Rodina) party from elections to the Moscow City Duma is a good lesson for other parties, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "Of course, Motherland's removal from the ballot will be a good lesson to political parties that will prevent them from stirring up ethnic hatred," Veshnyakov said. "But the question is if the measure was adequate." He added that although the measure was justified, it may have been more effective to pull the party's controversial anti-immigrant television advertisement off the air, rather than dragging the process out. The Moscow City Court barred Motherland for inciting ethnic tension with the advertisement on 26 November and the Supreme Court upheld the ban on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November and 5 December 2005). BW

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov confirmed on 5 December that Russia and Iran have signed a deal under which Moscow will supply Tehran with TOR-M1 antiaircraft missiles, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "A contract for the supply of TOR antiaircraft missile units to Iran has indeed been signed," Interfax quoted Ivanov as telling reporters in Moscow. "This will not affect the balance of strength in the region. All Russian weapons supplies are being delivered within the law and in compliance with international commitments," Ivanov added. The newspaper "Vedomosti" reported the deal on 2 December, citing anonymous sources, and Israel quickly criticized the move (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 5 December 2005). BW

The United States on 5 December assailed Russia's decision to sell surface-to-air missiles to Iran, saying the move does not serve U.S. interests, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "We certainly don't feel that this is a sale that would serve the interests of us, or the region," State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said, according to the transcript of a briefing posted on the State Department's website ( "I think it's important to remember and underscore that Iran is a state sponsor of terror; they have engaged in actions that are...hostile and unhelpful; and that we view this proposed sale in that context," Ereli added. Reuters quoted an unidentified senior U.S. official as saying that while Washington considers the sale imprudent, it does not violate any international agreements, so it would be difficult for the United States to make much of an issue of the deal. BW

Defense Minister Ivanov on 5 December refuted media reports that he has been tapped to oversee a new agency that will deal with the defense industry, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "This is nonsense. No agencies or ministries on the defense industry will be created," Ivanov said. Russian media reports have suggested that Putin was planning to name Ivanov head of a new federal agency overseeing the defense industry, sparking a power struggle with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 1 December 2005). Ever since Ivanov was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and Dmitrii Medvedev was named first deputy prime minister on 14 November, both men have been touted at potential presidential candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005). BW

Talks between Russian President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began on 6 December in the Kremlin with improving economic ties high on the agenda, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "Russian-Indian relations are really strategic. We are also pointing to the permanent improvement of the quality of our relations," RIA-Novosti quoted Putin as saying the same day. ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified Kremlin official as saying the talks would focus on " broader trade-and-economic cooperation." The two will also discuss strategic cooperation, particularly between Russia, China, and India, the official said. Singh arrived in Moscow on 4 December for a three-day visit. BW

Sergei Lavrov has said that the six-party talks used to address the North Korean nuclear crisis could provide a model for resolving the ongoing dispute over Iran's nuclear program, Interfax reported on 5 December. "It is an obvious fact recognized by everyone that neither the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula nor the Iranian nuclear program can have a military solution," Lavrov wrote in an article titled "Foreign Political Results 2005: Thoughts and Conclusions," which was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website on 5 December. The ongoing six-party talks with North Korea involve China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. BW

With President Putin ordering changes to a controversial bill on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the State Duma has delayed the legislation's second reading, Russian news agencies reported on 6 December. The bill's crucial second reading, in which amendments are proposed and voted on, will take place on 16 December, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said. "We have 10 more days to discuss the proposed amendments to the bill," Gryzlov said in remarks reported by RIA-Novosti. "We need to discuss the amendments with members of the Public Chamber." The second reading was originally scheduled for 9 December, Interfax reported on 5 December. Putin ordered his government on 5 December to make changes in the bill, taking into consideration the views of European experts and members of the Public Chamber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). BW

The newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 December quoted an unidentified senior Kremlin official as saying that the NGO law would prevent a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution in Russia and would pass with minor changes. "Don't worry. There will be no Orange Revolutions," the official said. "Because this bill will become law in the nearest future," the official added, saying that there will be some changes in the bill to quell mounting opposition to the legislation. Speaking at a government meeting on 5 December, Putin said the controversial legislation is necessary "to safeguard our political system from outside interference, to safeguard society and individuals from the spread of terrorist and misanthropic ideologies that may be operating covertly," Interfax reported the same day. BW

REN-TV information service editor Yelena Fedorova, news anchor Olga Romanova, and other staff working for the "24" news program have handed in their resignations, RFE/RL's Russian Service and Russian news agencies reported on 5 December. "People who have worked to create this service...have been barred from decision making," Fedorova said in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 6 December. "This has an immediate impact on our product. I don't want to be held accountable for this kind of product anymore. I don't want to be responsible for the missing stories or skewed content. This is why I am making this difficult decision," she added. Editor Olga Shorina and program producer Tatyana Kolokova are also planning to leave the channel, RIA-Novosti reported. Romanova was barred from entering her studio by armed security guards on 24 November and her program, "24," has not aired since (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28, 29, and 30 November 2005). BW

Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov denied on 4 December that Prime Minister Sergei Abramov, who is currently recuperating in a Moscow hospital from an automobile accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2005) will not return to Grozny, reported quoting Interfax. Kadyrov dismissed as "fantasies" the rumor, reported on 5 December by "Nezavisimaya gazeta," that Abramov will be named governor of Volgograd Oblast. Nikolai Maksyuta (KPRF) was reelected for a third term as Vologograd governor 11 months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). Kadyrov did not, however, exclude the possibility that Abramov might leave Chechnya if he were offered an even more senior position. Asked whether in that case he might succeed Abramov as Chechen prime minister, Kadyrov said there are other qualified candidates available for that post, and that he considers his primary task to eradicate once for all time the factors that give rise to "repeated armed conflicts" in Chechnya. LF

Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov met in Kislovodsk on 3 December with the heads of North Caucasus federation subjects, reported the following day. The discussion focused on the need, as perceived in Moscow and articulated earlier by Kozak, to intensify central control over the spending of budget funds in those republics that are most dependent on subsidies from the federal center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). This would entail naming an expert from Moscow who would closely monitor budget implementation in the North Caucasus and would make recommendations to the federal government on increasing or cutting subsidies to individual regions. The presidents of Kabardino-Balkariya and North Ossetia, Arsen Kanokov and Teymuraz Mamsurov, both expressed approval of that proposal, even though their own regions are not targeted for such close supervision. But Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, whose republic is in line for such monitoring together with Chechnya (where budget funds are routinely embezzled), said he sees no need for imposing external controls. LF

The British Embassy in Yerevan released a statement on 2 December on behalf of the EU, which the U.K. currently chairs, expressing concern at reports that the 27 November referendum on a package of draft constitutional amendments was marred by ballot stuffing, manipulation of turnout figures, and intimidation of local observers, according to Noyan Tapan on 3 December and RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 5 December. The report said failure to prevent such intervention calls into question Armenia's commitment to transparency and democracy. "The EU urges the government of take seriously the Council of Europe's recommendation of a through investigation into the allegations of fraud ensure that those responsible are brought to account," the statement continued. LF

Artak Zeynalian, who heads a center coordinating the activities of some two dozen opposition parties that campaigned for a boycott of the 27 November referendum, told journalists in Yerevan on 5 December that police apprehended and detained for several hours at least 35 participants of the 2 December opposition protest rally in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Zeynalian said an unspecified number of detainees were ill-treated, and all were warned not to attend further opposition protest rallies. A senior police official admitted on 1 December that such warnings were issued to some opposition activists in connection with the referendum, but he denied that any of them were forcibly apprehended. LF

Mikhail Fradkov told journalists in Yerevan on 3 December after talks with President Robert Kocharian that the close political and economic ties between the two countries do not preclude "the adjustment of certain economic issues," including doubling the price of Russian gas supplied to Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 5 December. Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov announced last week that the price will rise from $56 per thousand cubic meters in 2005 to $110 per thousand cubic meters on 1 January 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). Also on 3 December, Fradkov pledged that Moscow will make further investments in the Armenian enterprises it acquired three years ago in payment of Armenia's $100 million debt. LF

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov met informally for dinner with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group on 4 December in Ljubljana on the sidelines of the annual OSCE foreign ministers' meeting, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 5 December. The discussion focused on the ongoing search for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Oskanian subsequently told RFE/RL that he and Mammadyarov failed to agree on a date for the next meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. The two presidents have met twice this year, in May and August, to discuss resolving the conflict, and the Minsk Group co-chairs were hoping to schedule a further meeting in January 2006, according to Armenpress on 14 November, as cited by Groong. Oskanian told RFE/RL that further progress toward a solution depends on the next meeting between the two presidents, thereby implying that the negotiating process is currently deadlocked. LF

The three opposition parties aligned in the Azadlyq bloc, together with the Azerbaijan National Independence Party and the National Unity Movement, have issued a statement decrying what they termed the endorsement by the governments of Russia and Turkey of the outcome of the 6 November parliamentary election, and Turan reported on 6 December. The statement also criticized what it termed the "over hasty" endorsement by the U.S. Embassy in Baku of the 30 November Constitutional Court ruling approving the election results. The opposition parties accused the United States of double standards, noting that Washington's stance toward Azerbaijan differed from its support for the Rose Revolution in Georgia in November 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine one year later. Sardar Djalalloglu, first deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, one of the three members of Adazlyq, told journalists on 5 December that the opposition may refrain from contacts with the media and with ambassadors who described the 6 November ballot as democratic, reported. LF

As required by Azerbaijani law, the 15 members of Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (MSK) resigned their posts following the endorsement by the Constitutional Court of the results of the 6 November ballot, reported on 6 December. The newly elected parliament is to select candidates for a new MSK that will comprise 18 members, but the opposition Musavat party and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party have already indicated their intention to boycott the work of the MSK rather than to propose candidates. Outgoing MSK secretary Natik Mamedov, who is reportedly in the running to succeed Mazahir Panakhov as the next MSK chairman, was quoted by on 5 December as saying that repeat elections in those 10 constituencies where the outgoing MSK or the Constitutional Court annulled the outcome of the ballot cannot be held earlier than in four months. LF

The Georgian Interior Ministry dismissed on 5 December as "absurd" the allegation by Ganimat Zakhidov, editor of the Azerbaijani newspaper "Azadlyq," that Tbilisi is sheltering Tahir Khubanov, who is suspected of the murder in March 2005 of Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Huseinov, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2005). Zakhidov alleged that for a payment of $1,500, anyone can arrange to have his name erased from the Georgian Interior Ministry database. Ministry spokesman Guram Donadze denied this. LF

The Batumi City Court approved on 5 December a request by the Prosecutor General's office to issue an arrest warrant for Aslan Abashidze, who stepped down in May 2004 as leader of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, Georgian media reported. At that time, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili granted Abashidze and members of his immediate family immunity from prosecution; Abashidze now lives in Moscow. On 5 December, Saakashvili said that Abashidze's immunity from prosecution was only temporary. The Prosecutor-General's Office brought charges of embezzlement, abuse of power, and terrorism against Abashidze in July. Meanwhile, a former close associate of Abashidze, former Batumi Mayor Aslan Smirba, who was arrested and charged in September with embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2005), has been reimbursed after paying back the $100,000 he allegedly pocketed, Caucasus Press reported on 2 December. LF

The Georgian parliament has postponed indefinitely further discussion of the draft declaration on national consensus that opposition deputies rejected last month, Caucasus Press reported on 5 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). The opposition Democratic Front faction announced on 29 November after a two-hour meeting with parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze that it will draft an alternative document. LF

Speaking on 5 December in Astana, President Nursultan Nazarbaev called his apparent landslide victory in Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005) a vote for stability, unity, and modernization, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev said, "The people voted for our country's stability, for our nation's unity, for our state's modernization, for the improvement of people's lives, for the future of our children and grandchildren." The president said that he will use his next seven-year term to promote reforms. He said, "Kazakhstan has voted for me so I can use this mandate in the next seven years to implement the reforms that I have planned, including the economic modernization of the country to help Kazakhstan become one of the world's 50 most competitive countries." DK

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who took part in the election for the For a Just Kazakhstan opposition bloc, said in Almaty on 5 December that a preliminary official vote count giving Nazarbaev more than 90 percent of the vote "are a result of unprecedented violations of the constitution by the authorities," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Tuyakbai said that his campaign will file protests "in accordance with the constitution," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. But the opposition candidate ruled out street protests, saying, "We can, if necessary, bring thousands into the streets...but we have decided not to do this." A 5 December statement by For a Just Kazakhstan ( charged that "President Nazarbaev and his entourage not only failed to hold the promised 'free and fair elections,' they could not even create their illusion." It concluded, "The decision made by the authorities marks a new period in Kazakhstan's history, when the authoritarian system is openly transformed into a totalitarian one." DK

Vladimir Rushailo, the head of the Russian-led CIS election monitors, announced on 5 December that the 4 December presidential election was free and legitimate, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He said, "The state electoral bodies that organized elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan ensured the realization and protection of the electoral rights of citizens in the presidential elections of Kazakhstan. International observers from the CIS concluded that Kazakhstan's presidential elections were held in accordance with the country's legislation." As has been the case in previous elections in CIS countries, including Ukraine last year, the CIS monitors' conclusions differed from those of the OSCE, which rendered an ambiguous assessment of Kazakhstan's presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). DK

The lower chamber of Tajikistan's parliament on 5 December approved the country's 2006 budget, Avesta reported. Finance Minister Safarali Najmuddinov told lawmakers that projected revenues in 2006 are 1.51 billion somonis ($470 million), with 1.54 billion somonis ($481 million) in expenditures. GDP is projected to grow 8 percent, totaling 8 billion somonis ($2.5 billion). Najmuddinov described the budget's focus as support for the social sector. DK

Uzbek courts have sentenced 33 defendants to prison terms ranging from 12 to 17 years for involvement in May violence in Andijon, the BBC and Interfax reported on 5 December, citing a press release from Uzbekistan's Supreme Court. Interfax reported that a criminal court in Tashkent sentenced groups of 18 and 15 suspects for murder, terrorism, and attempting to overthrow the constitutional system. The latest report follows news that Uzbek courts last week sentenced 25 individuals under similar circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). DK

Belarus's state postal service Belposhta has excluded the Minsk-based weekly "Tovarishch" from its subscription catalogue for 2006, Belapan reported on 5 December. "Tovarishch," linked to the opposition Belarusian Party of Communists, is one of a dozen of periodicals rejected by the state-controlled distribution monopolies over the last few weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2005). Belposhta notified "Tovarishch" that the distribution contract will not be extended for 2006 because of the weekly's failure to appear from January to March 2005. In that period the weekly was forced to suspend publication because the Minsk-based state-run Belarusian Printing House had annulled its printing contract. In April, "Tovarishch" signed a contract with a printing plant in Smolensk, Russia, 350 kilometers east of Minsk. Established in 1994, "Tovarishch" has a print run of 9,000 copies. Meanwhile, Belsayuzdruk, Belarus's state company running a countrywide network of newspaper kiosks and newsstands, and its subsidiary in Minsk Oblast have refused to extend a distribution contract with the private weekly "Nasha Niva" for 2006. "Nasha Niva" Editor in Chief Andrey Dynko told Belapan that his weekly is trying to establish an independent distribution network. JM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 5 December signed a declaration with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, following their talks in Beijing earlier the same day, Belapan reported. In particular, the declaration reportedly says that the People's Republic of China understands and respects Belarus's independent foreign and home policies and opposes interference in the country's internal affairs under any pretext. The same day other Belarusian and Chinese officials signed more than 10 cooperation agreements and some 20 economic contracts. Lukashenka said in Beijing on 6 December that Belarus may join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which was originated in 1996 and now consists of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. He also claimed that an economic windfall resulting from his visit to China will amount to some $500 million. "It is the first time in the history of our state when a single visit brings such hefty dividends," Lukashenka said. "I want to emphasize: No country in the world responds so quickly and efficiently to a request of financial nature in order to support another country. China has responded [to us]." JM

President Lukashenka told journalists in Beijing on 6 December that the Community of Democratic Choice, which was formally set up in Kyiv last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2005), has no "prospects" or "future," Belapan reported. "If you have chosen the so-called democracy, then follow your way," Lukashenka said about the nine countries that created the community. "Why to come up against the East and go to the West? First, nobody needs them in the West. The EU must chew up, digest the East European countries that joined it recently. Second, what will they bring to the West? Criminality, brigandage, banditry? Will they show how to come to power in an unconstitutional way? Europe does not want that." JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 5 December announced the sacking of Petro Verbytskyy, Ukraine's chief veterinarian, for the latter's inability to react in a timely manner to an outbreak of bird flu in Crimea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005), Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko was visiting one of the several Crimean villages subject to quarantine last week in connection with the flu outbreak. However, villagers have reportedly complained that their birds had been dying since September with officials taking no action. "Today, the issue is absolutely under control," Yushchenko said in Crimea. "The birds are being destroyed and by 12 December all residents, first of all children, will be vaccinated." Russia and Belarus on 5 December banned poultry imports from Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry said on 6 December that its staff has destroyed some 22,000 domestic birds seized in house-to-house checks of the villages affected by the outbreak of bird flu. JM

The Pecherskyy District Court in Kyiv on 5 December suspended President Yushchenko's decree appointing Oleksandr Medvedko as the country's prosecutor-general, Ukrainian media reported. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by former Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who was fired by Yushchenko in October and won a case for his reinstatement before the Shevchenkivskyy District Court in Kyiv in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty, acting on behalf of the president, has filed an appeal against the Shevchenkivskyy District Court's ruling. The Prosecutor-General's Office said on 5 December that the latest ruling in favor of Piskun was illegitimate, adding that it was made with "gross and manifest violations" of Ukraine's Code of Administrative Judicial Practice. The Prosecutor-General's Office also said it will appeal the ruling. JM

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel opened a two-day meeting of the 55-member OSCE in Ljubljana on 5 December in his capacity as that organization's current rotating chairman, dpa reported. He said that the OSCE entered "calmer waters" and experienced a "more constructive mood" during Slovenia's recent chairmanship. He called for the admission of all west Balkan states to the EU and for the abolition of visa requirements for their citizens. Rupel argued that the terrorist "attacks this year demonstrate that terrorism remains a threat to us all. It is therefore vital that the OSCE continues to play its part in the international effort to combat terrorism. We must not allow terror to undermine the principles and values on which our societies are built...[and we] must find a way to ensure security and defend human rights." Rupel also called on the OSCE to pay more attention to issues relating to migration and the integration of minorities, which he called "two of the most important issues" of the future. PM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the OSCE meeting in Ljubljana on 5 December that it "should work out clear-cut and transparent rules" by which it could function, ITAR-TASS reported. "In recent years, the organization has evolved into a structure which is a far cry from what it was initially intended to be -- an important political dialogue forum and a place for making decisions on really key European problems," he argued. Lavrov said that "ambitious plans are being set from year to year, but when it comes to making political decisions in December, we remain the hostages of three or four universally known problems." Lavrov suggested once again that the main reasons for the "existing conflict situations on the OSCE space is that the existing agreements are being neglected, the interests of the so-called 'nontitular' nations and of their respective [breakaway republics] are not taken into account, and that there is no desire to conduct a dialogue with them." Referring to the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, Lavrov argued that "the population of these countries is divided into the people of first and second [class]." PM

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the Ljubljana meeting of the OSCE on 5 December that Berlin backs reforms within that organization. He also implicitly rejected Russian criticism of it, dpa reported. He called on the OSCE to follow up on its 1999 appeal to Russia to withdraw its troops from the breakaway republics of North Ossetia (sic) and Transdniester. He also argued that the OSCE's election missions played a "key role" in helping promote democracy in the region. Most of the 55 countries are represented by their foreign ministers, but U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw are not present. It remains to be seen whether delegates will reach an agreement on a final political statement. OSCE declarations are the result of a consensus and are nonbinding. PM

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said in Belgrade on 5 January that Serbia and Montenegro does not have an easy road ahead in its efforts to become a full member of the Brussels-based bloc, dpa and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September and 7 October 2005, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2005). He stressed the importance of full cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Solana called on the Montenegrin authorities and opposition to pursue a "dialogue" on the future of that republic. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said that they will make use of all rights to determine Montenegro's future granted in the Belgrade Agreement and Constitutional Charter that form the legal basis of the joint state, which was founded in early 2003 with the direct involvement of Solana. The Montenegrin leaders said that the best solution is for their republic and Serbia to form a "union of independent and internationally recognized states." PM

Speaking in Belgrade on 5 December, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Solana did not go into specifics regarding the future of Kosova but said that the final status should be something that "will permit everybody to feel comfortable," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Prishtina the following day, he noted that the EU "has room" for other states if they support "European values," the private Beta news agency reported. Solana flew to Kosova on 6 December for the beginning of final status talks. PM

Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region wants to sign an agreement with the Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom to continue buying natural gas at reduced prices, RIA-Novosti reported on 5 December. "[Transdniester] is trying to close a direct agreement on gas supplies to the republic. I hope that the gas price will not be increased as it was to Moldova and will be $80 per [1,000] cubic meters," said Yevgenii Shevchuk, Transdniester's Supreme Council speaker. Gazprom has said it will increase the price for natural gas to Moldova next year to $160/1,000 cubic meters and Chisinau has threatened to raise transit costs for Russian gas in response (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 5 December 2005). BW

Cherkessk, the capital of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), is likely to be the next Nalchik, a place where popular anger at the authorities and Islamic militancy appear set to combine to produce an explosion of violence, according to a leading Moscow observer of the region.

On the one hand, Ivan Surkov writes in an essay posted online last week, Karachaevo-Cherkessia closely resembles Kabardino-Balkariya. Like the latter, it unites two nationalities, has a relatively large ethnic Russian community, and Islamic activism emerged there only relatively recently.

And on the other, divisions within the dominant Karachai community, increasing tensions between it and the Cherkess, and the rise of radical Islamic groups with close ties to the Chechens make its capital an obvious target for the same kind of violence as erupted in Nalchik in October (

If the global similarities between the two republics have frequently been noted, Surkov's analysis makes a genuine contribution to our understanding of the North Caucasus by his careful and detailed description of the three factors that appear likely to transform a tense situation into a truly explosive and violent one.

First, Surkov describes the way in which an ongoing court case involving the son-in-law of KChR President Mustafa Batdyev has divided the dominant Kabardian community to such a degree that no matter what the verdict, the Karachais will be weakened, and other groups, ethnic and religious, will seek to take advantage of that situation.

The case, which has been going on for more than a year, involves a struggle over the control of a key industry in the republic that led to several killings. At present, Surkov argues, Ali Kaitov, the man at the center of the case, may soon be acquitted, an outcome that some hope might quiet things in Cherkessk but in fact could set them ablaze.

Second, the relations between the dominant Karachais and the generally subordinate Cherkess have worsened over the past year, with members of the latter group objecting to the increasingly highhanded way in which the Karachai president and members of his administration have behaved and thus reaching out to other Circassian groups for support.

Earlier this fall, Surkov notes, the Cherkess Stanislav Derev, a former Cherkessk mayor who was defeated in the 1999 KChR presidential election and now heads a major industrial concern, organized a congress of the Circassian ethnic communities -- a group that includes the Adygei, the Cherkess, and the Kabardians -- that many there saw as an effort to promote Adygei unity and thus a direct challenge to the current state of affairs.

While the meeting failed to develop into the radical forum some had expected, it did lead to Derev's dismissal from his post as an adviser to presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak. That dismissal has angered at least some members of the Cherkess community.

And third, although Karachaevo-Cherkessia was historically not a center of Islamic activism, it has become one over the last 15 years. A great deal of money has flowed into the republic from the Middle East, the Islamists have established close ties with the Chechens, and the official Muslim Spiritual Directorate has lost all influence.

According to the KChR Interior Ministry, there are more than 200 radical Islamists in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Surkov reports, but he adds that there may in fact be as many as 2,000, and their ranks are growing. Some of them have trained and fought in Chechnya, and in many places, the Islamists dominate the community.

These communities or "jamaats" are "network organizations," and consequently, when officials attempt to "neutralize" them by the arrest of one or another key figure, they are able to replicate themselves, sometimes under new names, but invariably driven by increasing hostility to the political authorities. Indeed, in Karachaevo-Cherkessia at the present time, Surkov continues, there are many "'unofficial' mosques [Islamic communities not registered with or subordinate to the spiritual directorate, which has close ties to the government] which 'official' imams are even afraid to approach."

In these circumstances, almost any event, even one superficially inconsequential, could trigger an explosion in a republic that Russian officials have sometimes described as "an island of stability." And there is one event on the horizon, Surkov says, that could easily light the fuse.

On 25 December, there will be a referendum on the creation of a new district for the Abaza, another ethnic group in the region. Both that and the as yet unscheduled vote on the creation of a district for the Nogai, another small ethnic community, challenge the existing territorial-administrative structure in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and thus threaten stability there.

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

U.S. military sources confirmed on 5 December that enemy fire forced two U.S. helicopters to make emergency landings on 4 December, AP reported. The first CH-47 Chinook made an emergency landing in Oruzgan Province, causing injury to one Afghan Army soldier, the American Forces Press Service reported on 4 December. The landing of the second Chinook -- which went down in neighboring Kandahar Province -- injured five U.S. soldiers. One of the two helicopters was damaged beyond repair. An unidentified neo-Taliban spokesman on 5 December claimed responsibility for the downing of a U.S. helicopter and said that it killed all aboard, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The neo-Taliban recently claimed to have access to new weapons, including antiaircraft systems. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces, Lieutenant Colonel Laurent Foc, said an investigation was under way to uncover what type of weapons were used to strike the helicopters. AT/MR

A suicide attacker targeting a U.S.-led coalition convoy botched a strike on 4 December, killing himself and one other person, AP reported on 5 December. The suicide attack came on a road near Kandahar as a coalition convoy passed. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai said the attacker, apparently carrying explosives, was hit by a motorcycle as the coalition convoy approached. The bomber and the motorcycle rider were killed. Two others were wounded, according to U.S. and Afghan authorities. Also, in Zabul Province, three U.S. soldiers suffered injuries when an improvised explosive device blew up near their convoy during combat operations in the Deh Chopan area, the U.S. military said 5 December. MR

Neo-Taliban militants beat villagers in a southern Afghan town 4 December for listening to music, the Afghan independent Pajhwok news agency reported. Villagers from the Garmser Disitrict of Helmand Province said neo-Taliban loyalists broke into a home where people were listening to music, beat them, shaved their heads and threatened to kill them if they listened to music again. Atiqollah, a resident of Mian-Pishta village, said: "[The Taliban] are still authoritative in our area, they outnumber the officials during night here." MR

Afghan Minister of Mines and Industries Mir Mohammad Sediq on 5 December rejected talk that uranium mines in Khanshin, in the southern Helmand Province, are being exploited by unidentified miners and the raw materials smuggled out of the country, Bakhtar News Agency reported. (Who suggested that someone was using the mines?) Mohammad Sediq explained that due to a lack of funds and the unavailability of nuclear experts in Afghanistan the government is not exploiting the mines. In the future, however, Sediq said (is his last name Mohammad Sediq like you wrote earlier or is it just Sediq like you write here?) uranium could be a good energy source for Afghanistan. AT

European Union election observers for the Afghan parliamentary vote on 18 September reported balloting irregularities on 4 December, dpa reported on 5 December. The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) in Afghanistan released a statement the previous day saying observers witnessed incidents of ballot stuffing, possible voter intimidation, and proxy voting. The statement said the alleged fraud did not appear to be widespread. But the incidents remain a cause for concern nonetheless, the statement said, and called on the election administration to address the issue. The EU EOM plans to remain in Afghanistan until all complaints are adjudicated before it will issue a final report on the process. The September elections were the first held in Afghanistan in more than 30 years. MR

Khawja Hakim, a security official in the northern Jowzjan Province, said that more than 2,400 kilograms of narcotics that had been seized have been stolen by "officials," the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 5 December. Hakim added that an investigation has been launched into the case but did not name any suspects. AT

Sayyed Mohammad Amin Fatemi urged his countrymen at a ceremony marking World AIDS Day in Kabul on 5 December (the UN World AIDS Day is 1 December) to be tolerant towards people with AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Fatemi also asked Afghans to break the stigma attached to AIDS and argued that by doing so Afghanistan would be able to prevent the spread of the disease. While there are only 49 registered AIDS cases in the country, it is estimated that between 1,300 and 1,500 people in Afghanistan are HIV positive or have AIDS. "According to the culture we have in Afghanistan, people who are affected [with AIDS] will not come to the health facilities or to doctors because they think that society considers this a bad [or shameful] sickness," Fatemi explained. "My advice to society is that it shouldn't view the affected people in such a bad light," Fatemi said. Afghanistan's AIDS problem is mainly related to the sharing of syringes by drug addicts. AT

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Ljubljana on 5 December that Iran has "in a way, unilaterally" rejected a Russian proposal to have its nuclear fuel made in Russia, a proposal intended to allay Western concerns over its nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported the same day. He said the West is not "trying to humiliate" Iran in its negotiations, but "Iran has said 'no' to everything." The EU, he said, has done its "utmost" to resume talks with Iran and "bring them back within the international community," Reuters reported. In Iran, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told AFP on 4 December that Iran will only discuss "uranium enrichment intended to make nuclear fuel in Iran...and there will be no other subject." He said Iran would continue to suspend sensitive fuel-production related activities "for a few more months" but not permanently, as the West requires. "It is not very difficult to find a compromise formula" if negotiating parties are "serious," he said. He added that "research, and the development and manufacture of centrifuges" are nonnegotiable issues, AFP reported. VS

Larijani told reporters in Tehran on 5 December that "Iran's position is uranium enrichment, and cannot include other matters," adding that there will be "no behind-the-scenes" talks about enrichment "which is one of the rights of Iranians," reported that day. He said the main subject of talks "is the nondeviation of the enrichment process in the production of nuclear fuel," and added that "other issues are not a part of the talks, and we should not pursue" matters unrelated to enrichment including "economic incentives." He said if talks focus on "the main axes, they will be useful." Separately, the government has decided to build Iran's second nuclear plant in the southern Khuzistan Province, AP reported on 5 December, citing Iranian television, though no date was given. Larijani said the same day that "the country's program this year is to realize two 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors," through a tender, ISNA reported. On 28 November, legislator Alaedin Borujerdi, the head of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, had said Iran will issue tenders "this year" for the construction of two nuclear plants, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. The Persian year ends on 20 March. VS

Larijani dismissed recent threatening statements by Israel on Iran's nuclear ambitions and urged the press in Tehran "not to take these matters very seriously," ISNA reported on 5 December. Israeli statesmen have voiced their opposition to Iran's nuclear program, with one prime minister candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the option of preemptive strikes on nuclear installations, AP reported on 5 December. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also said on 1 December that Israel could not tolerate an Iran with nuclear bombs. But Larijani said "Iran is a strong country and a difficult target, and few countries can confront a country with this level of forces." Separately, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said in Mashhad on 5 December that Iran is a "great regional power" that the United States and Israel have "no capacity to resist," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. The U.S., he told a military gathering, has failed to make itself the only power in the world, and spent $300 billion and lost "more than 5,000" soldiers in Iraq without attaining the "aims of Iraq's occupation." VS

Activist Arjang Davudi, jailed for 15 years for forming illegal political parties, was recently transferred from a prison near Tehran to one in Bandar Abbas, a southern port, as a punitive measure, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, a friend of Davudi, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 5 December. Fakhravar, Davudi, and Ahmad Batebi -- another detainee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004) -- are the founders of an independent student movement and the Movement for the Freedom of Iranians, Fakhravar said. (This is distinct from the Iran Freedom Movement, a liberal political party.) Davudi was given a 15-year jail term, apparently in 2002, for founding the party. His term included 100 days of solitary confinement and "very bad torture," prison transfers -- including the recent one to Bandar Abbas -- where he is "among very dangerous prisoners," Fakhravar said, Radio Farda reported (see Fakhravar said provincial prisons are "harrowing" and that "there is no supervision." Iran's "most frightening prisons" are in the provinces, he said. Davudi, he added, has no access to news or television, and is allowed to make a "two- to three-minute phone call" once a week, Radio Farda reported. VS

A woman identified only as "witness A" testified against former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his seven codefendants in the Al-Dujayl trial in Baghdad on 6 December. The testimony was carried on several western and Arab satellite channels. The witness was hidden behind a curtain and her voice was digitally altered to protect her identity. The session began but audio was quickly interrupted after Hussein and other defendants complained that they could not understand the woman's altered voice. The video continued to play on several satellite channels but audio of the testimony was intermittent. The woman said she was arrested after the attempted assassination of Hussein in Al-Dujayl in 1982. She claimed that during her four years in prison she was forced by male prison guards to strip while in custody; she also claimed to have suffered beatings and electric shocks. She said male family members were forced by prison guards to undress and run naked in front of her and other women. Chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin reprimanded Witness A several times for relating stories told to her by others in detention rather than testifying only to those events that she witnessed personally. KR

Two women wearing suicide vests reportedly walked into a classroom at the Baghdad Police Academy and blew themselves up on 6 December, international media cited a U.S. military statement as saying. Initial reports indicated that 27 police cadets were killed and 32 were wounded in the attack. It is unclear how the women managed to enter the building. There were no U.S. forces at the academy at the time of the attack, Reuters reported. KR

Ahmad Chalabi told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 5 December that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime would not have been brought down without a tacit agreement between the U.S. and Iran. Chalabi denied that he ever acted as a go-between for the two states, adding: "The relationship between the two [states] is more complicated than [my] mediation. The basic rule is that Saddam's fall would not have taken place without a U.S.-Iranian tacit agreement, just as the two [states] have realized the difficulty of turning Iraq into an arena for conflict between them after they sensed an Iraqi rejection of that." He further contended that U.S.-Iranian relations would not lead to an armed conflict, saying: "I believe that a U.S.-Iranian accord has occurred and could lead to stability in the region that was translated in my recent talks with the two sides and will soon be translated into actions on the ground." KR

The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission (IECI) announced on 3 December that 88 candidates have been banned from taking part in the 15 December National Assembly election due to their affiliation with the deposed Ba'ath Party, Al-Arabiyah television reported on the same day. IECI Chief Electoral Officer Adil al-Lami said the IECI has asked the political parties involved to respond within three days "to determine the status of those candidates." "The political parties should either visit the IECI to obtain an exception, contest the IECI's decision within three days, or nominate other candidates.... Otherwise, the IECI will drop the names of those candidates in compliance with the de-Ba'athification Commission law," al-Lami said. Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 4 December that five unidentified electoral lists have filed a complaint against the IECI for ignoring the exploitation of religious figures by some parties in their campaigning. The exploitation of religious figures and symbols during election campaigning is forbidden by the IECI (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2005). KR

Iraqi police reported the discovery of 20 bodies found in two locations in western Iraq on 6 December, international media reported. The bodies of 11 men were found near Al-Rutbah on the main highway between Baghdad and Jordan. The hands of the victims were bound; police said they appeared to have been dead for three days. Nine others were found on 5 December near Al-Fallujah with gunshot wounds, Reuters reported on 6 December. KR

French engineer Bernard Planche was kidnapped outside his home in the upscale Al-Mansur neighborhood in Baghdad on 5 November, international media reported. Planche was working for a nongovernmental organization that was involved in a sewage project at the Eastern Baghdad Water Company, reported. Witnesses said armed men dragged Planche from his vehicle and pistol-whipped him before taking off with him. No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction. The Brigades of the Swords of Right, a militant group holding four westerners working for the Christian Peacemaker Teams issued a statement on 2 December saying the group will kill the hostages on 8 December unless all prisoners held in the Interior and "occupation" prisons are freed. Meanwhile, French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie announced in Doha on 4 December that France has asked permission from Qatar to train Iraqi security forces in the Gulf state, Doha's "The Peninsula" reported on 5 December. KR

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appointed retired General Montgomery C. Meigs to head a joint task force on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as part of the military's effort to deal with the insurgency in Iraq, AFP reported on 6 December. Meigs takes over the two-year program from Brigadier General Joseph L. Votel. The news agency reported that the Pentagon has invested $1 billion to solve the problem. Meigs will set up a center at Fort Irwin, California, and will train U.S. troops before they are sent to Iraq. KR