UNIFIED RUSSIA OFFICIAL SAYS DISCUSSION OF MOSCOW MAYOR CANDIDATES IS PREMATURE
A top Unified Russia official said it is premature to discuss the party's candidates for mayor of Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December. "This issue has not been discussed yet," Vyacheslav Volodin, secretary of the party's General Council Presidium, said. "As soon as this topic becomes the issue of the day, we will express our position," he added. Volodin's statement came just one day after Andrei Metelskii, leader of the Unified Russia faction in the Moscow City Duma, said the party would support Luzhkov's reelection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). Unified Russia won 28 out of 35 seats in the Moscow City Duma in elections on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). BW
2006 RUSSIAN BUDGET PASSES IN DUMA
The State Duma on 7 December passed Russia's 2006 federal budget in its fourth and final reading by a vote of 342-89, Russian news agencies reported the same day. The budget sets revenues at 5.0461 trillion rubles ($174.53 billion), expenditures at 4.2701 trillion rubles ($147.69 billion) and projects a budget surplus at 776 billion rubles ($26.84 billion), RIA-Novosti reported. Gross domestic product for 2006 is projected at 24.380 trillion rubles ($843.24 billion) and inflation is projected at 7-8.5 percent. The budget still must pass the Federation Council and be signed into law by President Putin. BW
GROUP SELLING FAKE KREMLIN PASSES BUSTED
The Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on 6 December that a group of 20 people, which included police officers, was arrested for selling fake Kremlin passes and government license plates, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "The quality of the license plates and documents was so good that it was impossible to see they were fake," dpa quoted FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko as saying. The group was also selling documents allowing access to restricted sites for up to $200,000. Additionally they sold medals, fake insurance policies, notary stamps, and forged ID papers of ministerial advisors and assistants to members of parliament. Ignatchenko said the FSB seized forged identification documents for law-enforcement agencies as well as special police and government license plates. BW
MUSLIM CLERICS CALL FOR CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS TO BE REMOVED FROM RUSSIAN COAT OF ARMS...
A group of Muslim clerics have accused Russian authorities of failing to respect secularism and called for Orthodox Christian symbols to be removed from Russia's official coat of arms, Interfax reported on 6 December. "This is not only a question of the Russian coat of arms. We can say that icons are all but put up on the walls of state offices," Mufti Nafigulla Ashirov, chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Asian Russia, said. Ashirov's comments drew a sharp rebuttal from the Kremlin-sponsored Council of Muftis of Russia. In an article published on 7 December in the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Radik Amirov, the Council of Muftis of Russia's press secretary, wrote that: "Grievances against the national emblem cannot be voiced on behalf of all the Muslims. The opinion of one religious leader does not at all mean that it is shared by the rest of the followers of Islam." BW
...AS ORTHODOX CHURCH ASSAILS DEMAND
A senior Russian Orthodox Church official on 7 December called on Russians to be on guard against the radical activities of Islamic scholars, RIA-Novosti reported. In response to the demand by some Muslim clerics to remove Christian symbols from the Russia coat of arms, Vsevolod Chaplin of the Moscow Patriarchate External Relations Department said: "I am afraid that this is being done to sow hatred between believers since the calls to de-Christianize Russia's history, its symbols, its present, and future have invariably provoked a backlash from the Orthodox [Church]. Neither Muslims nor Russian Orthodox believers are interested in fomenting a conflict." Chaplin alleged that those seeking to spark religious tensions "get funds from abroad to sow seeds of hatred in Russia, radicalize the Islamic community, embarrass its traditional leadership, and shoot to prominence atop this wave of radicalism." BW
RUSSIAN, INDIAN LEADERS TALK ENERGY AND TRADE
Russia agreed to help India meet its rising energy needs and New Delhi pledged to support Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization at a 6 December meeting between Russian President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. The two leaders also signed an agreement on protecting intellectual property and pledged to deepen military cooperation. "We are aware of India's interest in increased supplies of oil and gas," Putin said in remarks reported by ITAR-TASS. Russia and India also completed talks on Russia's accession to the WTO. "I have assured President Putin of India's support for Russia's accession to the WTO. We have decided that the bilateral accession agreement will be completed and signed soon," Singh said, according to international news agencies. BW
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW CLOSELY WATCHES REPOSITIONING OF U.S. FORCES IN EUROPE
Sergei Lavrov said on 7 December that Russia is paying close attention to the repositioning of American military forces in Europe following an agreement to base U.S. troops in Romania, Interfax reported the same day. "We are closely following the changes taking place with the American military presence in Europe," Lavrov told a news conference in Brussels, where he is on an official visit. "It is important to have a clear idea about the objectives of the changes, it is important to know how they conform with the restrictions coordinated in the adapted CFE treaty," he said, referring to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. The United States and Romania signed a deal on bases on 6 December during a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, international news agencies reported the same day. BW
DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL COMPLETE MISSILE DEAL WITH IRAN DESPITE OBJECTIONS
Sergei Ivanov said on 7 December that Moscow will follow through with its deal to supply Iran with anti-aircraft missiles despite objections from the United States and Israel, Interfax reported. "Whether someone likes it or not, the contract will be carried out in accordance with all international rules," Ivanov said. On 5 December, Ivanov confirmed press reports that Russia and Iran have signed a deal in which Moscow will supply Tehran with TOR-M1 antiaircraft missiles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 5, and 6 December 2005). Also on 7 December, Ivanov said Moscow will offer a more detailed reaction to the base deal with Romania when it learns more details, Interfax reported the same day. "We are aware of such plans. The American government has informed us. But we still do not know how many bases may be established and the number of units they may house. We will probably give our response after these aspects are clarified," Ivanov said. BW
COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES RUSSIA TO EASE NGO BILL
The Council of Europe on 6 December urged Russia to soften a bill restricting the activities of and funding for nongovernmental organizations, saying the legislation could violate the European Convention on Human Rights, international news agencies reported the same day. "The proposed amendments to the Russian Federation laws regulating the freedom of assembly are pursuing legitimate objectives of combating terrorism and money laundering," said Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, in a statement released on the organization's website. "But to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, any restriction on the freedom of assembly must not go beyond what is necessary and proportionate to achieve these legitimate goals.... Frankly, it looks to us as if some aspects of these amendments...are too restrictive," Davis added. The controversial law on NGOs passed its first reading in the State Duma on 23 November and a second reading is expected to take place on 16 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 November, 2, 5, and 6 December 2005). BW
ACTING CHECHEN PREMIER CALLS FOR REVERTING TO 'OLD' BORDERS
First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who is serving as prime minister while Sergei Abramov recuperates from an automobile accident, said on 5 December that Chechnya's newly elected parliament should address as a priority the question of restoring Chechnya's earlier borders to incorporate territory it has lost, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 December. He did not specify precisely which regions he has in mind, but said a solution to the problem has been delayed for the past 15 years. The Aukh district in the east of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR was transferred to Daghestan in the wake of the deportation of the Chechen people to Central Asia in 1944. The current border between Chechnya and Ingushetia was formalized by the two republics' presidents when the Checheno-Ingush ASSR split in the summer of 1992, leaving the districts of Sunzha and Malgobek, which belonged to Chechnya before the merger of the Chechen and Ingush autonomous oblasts in 1934, as part of Ingushetia. Pro-Kremlin Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov requested Moscow's help six months ago in expediting a formal delimitation of the Chechen-Ingush border that would restore Sunzha and Malgobek to Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). Ingush opposition leader Musa Ozdoev was quoted by regnum.ru on 6 December as characterizing Kadyrov's statement as "an alarming sign" that "will not lead to anything good." LF
INGUSHETIA'S PROSECUTOR TAKES PARLIAMENT TO COURT
The prosecutor's office in the Republic of Ingushetia has brought a court case against the republic's parliament, demanding that the legislature take action, in accordance with a directive issued by Russia's Constitutional Court in June 2000, to bring Ingushetia's constitution and laws into line with their federal counterparts, ingushetia.ru reported on 6 December, quoting the official website of the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor's office also called on the court to designate as illegal the parliament's failure to do so before now. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION MULLS TACTICS
Leaders of the three opposition parties aligned in the Azadlyq election bloc, as well as the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, and the National Unity movement met on 6 December to discuss tactics in their ongoing protest against the perceived falsification of the 6 November parliamentary election, Azerbaijani media reported. The opposition has still not received a response from the Baku municipal authorities to its request for permission to convene a further protest demonstration on 10 December. Also on 6 December, 25 opposition supporters who were detained when police resorted to violence against participants in a similar meeting on 26 November were released, according to echo-az.com on 7 December. LF
UN, EC LAUNCH TALKS ON ABKHAZ RECONSTRUCTION
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, chaired a meeting in Sukhum on 6 December of Abkhaz and Georgian government officials, foreign ambassadors, and representatives of the European Commission and the UNDP to discuss the first stage of a joint two-three year UN-EC program to rehabilitate the Abkhaz conflict zone, according to Caucasus Press and unomig.org. The EC has provided 2 million euros ($2,341,482) for the first stage of the program, which includes agriculture, electricity, and public-health projects in Abkhazia's Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli districts and in Georgia's Zugdidi district. LF
SOUTH OSSETIAN POLICE DETAIN, THEN RELEASE GEORGIANS
Police in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia detained a group of Georgians, including four police officers, on 6 December, apparently in retaliation for the arrest by Georgian police the previous day of a South Ossetian police officer whom Tbilisi has accused of circulating counterfeit U.S. dollar bills, Georgian media reported. The Georgian civilians were released almost immediately; two of the police officers were released on 6 December, apparently following the intervention of Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, who heads the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, and the remaining two on 7 December. All four had reportedly been beaten while in detention. LF
GEORGIAN RULING PARTY DENIES REPORT OF MASS DEFECTIONS TO OPPOSITION
A spokesman for President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (GEM) denied on 6 December that all 3,000 members of that party's Kaspi branch have quit the GEM and joined the opposition Republican party, Caucasus Press reported. The defectors told Caucasus Press earlier on 6 December that the GEM has failed to deliver on Saakashvili's election promises or to improve the difficult economic situation in Kaspi. The GEM spokesman, however, said the people who claimed to have quit the GEM's Kaspi branch in protest were in fact expelled from that party long ago. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S REELECTION OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED
In a statement on 6 December, Central Election Commission Chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov announced that incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev was elected to another seven-year term on 4 December, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. According to the official tally, Nazarbaev received more than 90 percent of the vote with nearly 72 percent turnout, RIA-Novosti reported. DK
KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER DISPUTES OSCE ELECTION REPORT
Addressing the annual gathering of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) foreign ministers in Ljubljana on 6 December, Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev disputed the organization's critical stance on Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Toqaev expressed his "decisive disagreement with the negative assessments of the political process in our country by the [OSCE's] Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [ODIHR]," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Kazakhstan is not prepared to dramatize the ODIHR assessments, but they are, in essence, biased. For this reason, they have raised doubts in our country about ODIHR," he added. Toqaev blamed the OSCE's "technical approach" to election monitoring, arguing that it fails to take into account historical context. The OSCE's preliminary assessment of the election said that it "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER ADDRESSES SUCCESSION ISSUE
Darigha Nazarbaeva, the daughter of Kazakh President Nazarbaev, told a briefing in Astana on 6 December that she does not rule out a possible presidential run in 2012, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. She told journalists, "In a year or two we'll examine this issue." On the question of success, Nazarbaeva said that her father would have "the final say" on choosing a successor. "We may not see this politician yet. But we've seen the Russian experience, where [President] Vladimir Putin was unexpectedly thrust onto the political stage," she said. DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY REBUKED ENVOY TO U.S.
Akipress.org reported on 6 December that President Kurmanbek Bakiev issued a resolution on 30 November formally rebuking Zamira Sydykova, Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the United States, for statements she made about the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan. In mid-November, Sydykova spoke to the "Financial Times" and "The New York Times" about negotiations between Kyrgyzstan and the United States over payments for the use of the base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005). The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry later said that Sydykova had not been authorized to make such statements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2005). DK
TURKMEN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW GAS COMPANY HEAD
President Saparmurat Niyazov has issued a decree appointing Gurbanmurat Ataev, Turkmenistan's first deputy prime minister for the oil and gas industry, director of the state-run gas concern Turkmengaz, Turkmen Television reported on 6 December. Also on 6 December, ITAR-TASS reported that Turkmenistan's parliament has adopted legislation tightening the president's control over the country's energy sector. Under the new legislation, the state-run oil and gas companies cannot sign contracts, conduct exploration, or cooperate with foreign companies without a presidential resolution. DK
RIGHTS GROUP WANTS INVESTIGATION OF UZBEK MINISTER IN GERMANY
The German office of Amnesty International issued a press release on 5 December asking German Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm to investigate Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov and, if necessary, issue a warrant for his arrest. Although Almatov is on a list of Uzbek officials banned from the European Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005), he is reportedly undergoing medical treatment in Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005), with his admission justified on humanitarian grounds. Amnesty International alleged that Almatov is suspected of responsibility for the "systematic torture of prisoners in Uzbekistan" as well as involvement in the "massacre in Andijon in May of this year." Barbara Lochbihler, head of Amnesty International's German office, said that Germany is obligated by international law and the UN Convention Against Torture to investigate Almatov. DK
BELARUS NOTES STEADY RISE IN ALCOHOL ABUSE
Uladzimir Maksimchuk, chief addiction expert with the Belarusian Health Ministry, told journalists in Minsk on 6 December that the number of Belarusians with alcohol-abuse problems has been steadily rising, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. There are officially 175,000 regular alcoholics and some 60,000 people with serious alcohol-abuse problems registered in Belarus, which represents a 4 percent increase on last year's statistics. Citing a recent poll, Maksimchuk said that only 22 percent of Belarusians do not drink alcohol at all, while 42 percent may drink on rare occasions and 10 percent do on a regular basis. Last year's per capita alcohol consumption in Belarus was 9.4 liters, with smuggled and illegally distilled alcohol not included in the statistics. JM
RUSSIA CONFIRMS UNCHANGED GAS PRICE FOR BELARUS IN 2006
Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller confirmed during his talks with Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka in Moscow on 6 December that Gazprom is ready to deliver gas to Belarus in 2006 on the same terms as this year, ITAR-TASS and Belapan reported. The two sides reportedly renewed talks on the creation of a joint gas-transport company based on Belarus's Beltranshaz enterprise. Under the gas supply contract for 2005, Gazprom should deliver 19.1 billion cubic meters of gas at $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters. The charge for Russian gas transit across Belarus amounts to $0.75 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers of transit via the Beltranshaz network and $0.46 via the Gazprom-owned Yamal-Europe pipeline. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOT TO LEAD HIS PARTY IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
President Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 6 December that his name will not be on the list of candidates of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) for the March 2006 parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Last week, an NSNU convention approved a list of its parliamentary candidates with the name of Yushchenko, as NSNU honorary chairman, at the top. "I want other democratic forces that will come to the Ukrainian parliament in a coalition with Our Ukraine to feel the president's support as well. I don't want the president's name to split our political partners," Yushchenko said. The NSNU is planning to form an election coalition called the Our Ukraine Yushchenko Bloc with five other parties. The NSNU wants its coalition partners to provide 35 percent of the candidates to be included on a joint election list. JM
UKRAINE DISCOVERS NEW SUSPECTED BIRD-FLU CASES
Unexplained deaths of poultry have been registered in four villages in Crimea, in addition to the five villages in which a bird-flu outbreak was discovered last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005), Interfax-Ukraine reported on 7 December, quoting Mykola Patsyuk from the State Veterinary Department. Patsyuk added that samples of dead poultry were sent to Kyiv for tests to establish whether the birds were infected with avian flu. Moreover, Reuters quoted Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloha as saying on 7 December that suspected bird-flu cases were discovered in another village in Crimea not mentioned by Patsyuk. JM
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE LAUDS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT, DECRIES TORTURE
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 7 December in Kyiv after meeting with President Yushchenko that she believes the United States and Ukraine" can accelerate the pace of the development of our economic relations, including our trade relations," AFP reported. "We are certainly committed to Ukraine's full integration into the international economy and ultimately into Euro-Atlantic structures," she added. Yushchenko expressed optimism regarding Ukraine's chances of being granted market-economy status by the United States. "We have sent the remaining technical clarifications regarding the steps we have taken in various sectors of the economy and we hope the U.S. will be satisfied with this technical data," he said. Rice also addressed allegations that the U.S. CIA maintains secret prisons in Europe in which torture tactics are employed. "As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States obligations under the CAT (UN Convention Against Torture) which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said. MES
UKRAINE REPORTEDLY WANTS TO PAY MORE FOR SOME RUSSIAN GAS
Ukraine has offered to pay a higher price for some of the gas that Russia supplies to the country in 2006, Interfax reported on 7 December, quoting Valerii Yazev, chairman of the State Duma's Energy, Transport, and Communications Committee. According to Yazev, Ukraine wants Russia to supply 25 billion cubic meters of gas in 2006, including 17 billion cubic meters for the current barter price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters. Yazev added that Ukraine is offering to buy the remaining 8 billion cubic meters at a price that would gradually rise over the course of the year from the $80-$82 currently paid to $90-$96 per 1,000 cubic meters. Ukraine now pays $80 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas supplied by Gazprom outside the existing barter scheme, which involves Russian gas transit to Europe. The Ukrainian president's press service announced on 6 December that President Yushchenko plans to hold a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russian gas supplies, but no further official report on the issue has been released. JM
RUSSIA BLOCKS FINAL OSCE DECLARATION IN SLOVENIAN CAPITAL
The 13th conference of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) foreign ministers ended in Ljubljana on 6 December without a formal declaration, primarily because of Russian objections to a statement in the draft calling on it to pull its troops out of Moldova's breakaway province of Transdniester, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). The 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit hailed a previous Russian pledge to withdraw those forces, but Russia has not done so. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Ljubljana that Washington regrets "the continued lack of movement in 2005 on the withdrawal of Russian military forces from Moldova, and we call upon the Russian Federation to use its vast influence in the region to resume and complete that important work. This would also send an important signal to the separatist regime in Tiraspol that a status quo which they may find convenient will not last forever." Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, the outgoing OSCE chairman in office, said that "it is unfortunate that after six years we are still debating the 1999 Istanbul commitments on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova." He also stressed the importance of a continuing OSCE role in Serbia and elsewhere in the western Balkans (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2005, and End Note, below). PM
SERBIAN MINISTER SAYS TOP INDICTEE WILL NOT BE FOUND SOON
Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 7 December that he does not expect that top fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic will be found soon, Reuters reported. "I don't expect Ratko Mladic or any of the remaining indictees to go to The Hague before 15 December even though huge efforts are being made to locate them," Ljajic said. He spoke on the eve of a visit by Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, to assess the extent of Belgrade's cooperation with that body. "No one in Serbia nor in the international community knows where Mladic and the other indictees are hiding," the minister added. The tribunal announced in November that it will advise NATO and the EU to suspend moves toward Serbia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures if Mladic is not in prison by the end of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 29 July 2005). PM
HAGUE TRIBUNAL GIVES BOSNIAN CROAT 20 YEARS...
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced Miroslav Bralo (aka Cicko), to 20 years in prison on 7 December on eight counts of war crimes, to which he has pleaded guilty, Reuters reported. He engaged in murder, rape, and torture as a soldier during the 1993 Croat-Muslim war in central Bosnia-Herzegovina. Judge Iain Bonomy said the crimes were sufficiently heinous to merit a 25-year sentence but noted that Bralo had turned himself in voluntarily, showed remorse, and eventually pleaded guilty. The judge said nonetheless that "You, Mr. Bralo, committed a range of appalling crimes, which must be condemned unequivocally. There can be no excuse or justification for your actions, nor can your reasons for abusing so many people be fathomed." Bralo belonged to a unit called the Jokers, which used Muslim prisoners to dig trenches and form human shields. He raped and tortured one Muslim woman repeatedly over a two-month period and participated in killings and torchings of the villages of Ahmici and Nadioci in April 1993. PM
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR DENIES MOSCOW USING ECONOMIC PRESSURE AGAINST MOLDOVA
Russian Ambassador to Moldova Nikolai Ryabov said on 7 December that Moscow is not trying to punish Chisinau with economic sanctions, ITAR-TASS reported. Regarding a ban on Moldovan meat and produce that Russia imposed in May, Ryabov said this was simply the observance of Russian health and safety standards. "We advocate the observance of necessary norms and standards during deliveries of Moldova's products to the Russian market," Ryabov said in an interview on the Chisinau outlet of Romania's PRO-TV. Likewise, Gazprom's decision to raise prices for natural gas starting next year was just a matter of market economics, the ambassador said. "The increase of the gas price is an objective reality in the modern world, and the gas prices have been repeatedly raised, including in Russia," Ryabov said. Moldovan exporters say they have lost 40-80 percent of their income due to the Russian ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2005) and Chisinau has threatened to raise transit prices for Russian gas if Gazprom follows through on the price increase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 5 December 2005). BW
RUSSIAN INTRANSIGENCE OVERSHADOWS ANNUAL OSCE MEETING
A meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ended on 6 December without a final document, following Russian objections to a passage concerning its troops in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. But delegations appeared satisfied that the foreign ministers meeting in Ljubljana had produced results that will go into effect -- even without the formal approval of the conference. In listing the conference's achievements, diplomats gave prominent place to an agreement that should help defuse some Russian criticisms about operations of the OSCE's human rights division.
The two-day conference had opened amid Russian concerns about the organization's election-monitoring activities in former Soviet countries.
But it was another issue altogether that took center stage at the Ljubljana conference, which for the third year in row ended with a statement by the group's chairman rather than a text formally approved by all 55 members.
Diplomats have told RFE/RL that the draft final document failed to win Russian approval largely due to a paragraph referring to the presence of Russian military forces in Moldova's breakaway province of Transdniester. Russia has yet to withdraw its troops from Transdniester, despite having pledged in the summer of 1999 to do so gradually by the end of 2002. The OSCE hailed that pledge in the declaration adopted at its summit in Istanbul in November 1999.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns addressed that issue at a news conference on 6 December in Ljubljana. "We regret the continued lack of movement in 2005 on the withdrawal of Russian military forces from Moldova, and we call upon the Russian Federation to use its vast influence in the region to resume and complete that important work," he said. "This would also send an important signal to the separatist regime in Tiraspol that a status quo which they may find convenient will not last forever."
Diplomats said that while Russia had doubts about some of the other 22 paragraphs in the draft Ljubljana document, its veto of that document was sparked by one passage: "The foreign ministers of the OSCE note the lack of movement in 2005 on withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. They reaffirmed their shared determination to promote the fulfillment of that commitment as soon as possible."
Earlier that day, Burns had linked Moldova to U.S. approval of new agreement on conventional weapons. The proposed agreement says individual countries have the right to decide whether they want foreign troops on their territory or not. He said both Moldova and Georgia had made clear that they do not want Russian troops on their territory.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, the outgoing OSCE chairman in office, concluded that "It is unfortunate that after six years we are still debating the 1999 Istanbul commitments on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova."
However, there were signs of progress elsewhere.
The OSCE feels it played a role in progress made this year on the withdrawal of Russian military forces in Georgia. One diplomat told journalists, "It's ever so slow, but at least there are hints of movement."The OSCE also believes it can take some credit for improvement in another slow-moving negotiation -- the long-running dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The OSCE has long been involved in efforts to negotiate a settlement. Other players have now been brought into the negotiations.
The two-day gathering also appeared to offer an interim solution to Russian concerns about the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which, among other things, runs election-monitoring operations.
Complaints by Moscow that OSCE election monitoring in places like Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia were biased led Russia to temporarily block the organization's budget this year.
Speaking to reporters here on 5 December, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced some of Russia's concerns: "As far as the core area [of OSCE activities] is concerned, an area that provokes the most heated discussions, and that is election monitoring, it is absolutely necessary to introduce clear and transparent principles and methods with respect to the composition of observer missions and the appointment of their leaders."
But the next day, Lavrov said Moscow could live with a compromise deal on monitoring.
This month, the ODIHR will conduct an intensive review of what it does and consider whether some of its practices could be improved or changed. At the end of the year, the ODIHR will present its recommendations to the OSCE foreign ministers, who will then decide what changes are needed.
Diplomats in Ljubljana concede that this sets the stage for confrontation next year between pro-ODIHR states and those who oppose its methods. But it did satisfy Russia for the time being.
Most diplomats credit Rupel for creating a new atmosphere in the organization over the last year. Above all, his frequent trips to Moscow and consultations with the Russians are said to have played a major role in recently lifting the veto on the budget.
Rupel also satisfied Russian demands for a revision of the contributions made by the 55 member states to the OSCE budget. The outcome is that Russia will pay less and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy will pay more into the budget.
In his closing address on 6 December, Rupel outlined some of the tasks facing Belgium as it takes over the OSCE chairmanship for the next year. He said the OSCE will have to capitalize on the work done this year in Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh. He strongly urged the government of Kyrgyzstan to expedite constitutional reform, saying, "this was a promise made to the Kyrgyz people and in many ways is a cornerstone of lasting stability."
Speaking about his own region, he said the role of the OSCE in the western Balkans will remain important. He also called on the OSCE to help Serbia achieve a clear European perspective.
Roland Eggleston is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich.
NEO-TALIBAN EXECUTE AFGHAN CAPTIVE
Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, said the guerillas have executed an Afghan they abducted for allegedly spying for U.S.-led coalition forces in the Kandahar area, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported on 6 December. Mohammad Yusof said the execution took place on 5 December. "After some investigation, the Taliban executed a certain Hayat Khan on charges of spying for the Americans last night," he said. "He was arrested in the Mirwais Mena area of Kandahar city on 4 December." The claim has not been independently verified, and the Afghan authorities have not commented on it. MR
AFGHAN CABINET PASSES LAW PROTECTING INVESTORS
The cabinet of President Hamid Karzai has passed a new law aimed at protecting investors, Commerce Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala said on 5 December, AFP reported. "I am happy to announce that a new law on domestic and foreign investment was passed by the cabinet two weeks ago and will be enacted after the president's signature," Arsala told a U.S.-Afghan trade forum in Washington. Arsala did not say when the law will go into effect. Arsala said the law will provide "even more encouraging protection of investors." Some critics say the fledgling government in Kabul has done too little to help investors seeking to get involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. "The government of Afghanistan is the biggest obstacle for the private sector today -- the lack of capacity, professionalism, and corruption and [the existence] of [outdated] rules and regulations," Afghan Builders Association President Abdullah Nadi told AFP. Nadi claims his company has invested $7 million to build apartment projects in Afghanistan over the last 4 1/2 years. "We have not received anything from the government but obstacles and lip service," he said. "It costs us a lot more because of obstacles the government creates every day." MR
AFGHAN PARLIAMENT SETS DATE TO CONVENE
The newly elected Afghan parliament plans to convene for the first time on 19 December, AP reported on 6 December. Azizullah Ludin, head of the parliament secretariat, said the National Assembly session will be held in the newly reconstructed parliament building, which was last used by the legislature in 1973. "I am happy to announce...that everything is ready for the session of parliament for 19 December," Ludin said. "We have no problems." MR
NEO-TALIBAN ATTACKS KILL FOUR AFGHANS IN SOUTH
Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents killed four Afghans in two separate attacks in eastern and southern Afghanistan on 5 December, AFP reported on 6 December. In one attack, a bomb ripped apart a vehicle in Orgun, a restive district in eastern Paktika Province. Officials said the blast killed the driver and injured General Zia ul-Haq of the Afghan National Army and his bodyguard. Military official Sana ul-Haq blamed the neo-Taliban and claimed the bomb was detonated remotely. In the second attack, a policeman and two civilians died when gunmen thought to be neo-Taliban guerillas fired on them in southern Helmand Province, Deputy Governor Ghulam Muheedin said, AFP reported. Two other policemen suffered injuries during the fighting as well, Muheedin said. Meanwhile, AP reported on 6 December that Afghan security forces killed nine neo-Taliban fighters during a gun battle at an insurgent hideout in Oruzgan Province the same day. Six other insurgents were reportedly arrested. MR
RUSSIA BELIEVES UN AGENCY MAY RESOLVE IRANIAN NUCLEAR IMPASSE
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow on 6 December that Russia believes "the potential of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to resolve" the impasse over Iran's nuclear program "to be far from exhausted," Reuters reported the same day. Russia, he said, will help "develop the dialogue between our Iranian partners and...interested parties." Iran and the EU may soon renew discussion of the program. Putin said he hopes Iranians "will observe their obligations, including those [taken] unilaterally," AP reported. On 5 December, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted by Radio Farda as telling Russian television that uranium ore could be turned to uranium hexafluoride gas inside Iran, and the gas then enriched into fuel inside Russia. The proposal is intended to allay Western fears of possible abuse of enrichment know-how by Iran for military purposes. Speaking in Ljubljana on 5 December, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also repeated Russia's offer of enrichment on its territory, AFP reported. Iran has shown scant interest in the offer. Lavrov has also suggested six-party nuclear talks for Iran, similar to those on North Korea, Interfax reported on 5 December, citing an article by Lavrov on the Russian Foreign Ministry website. VS
IRANIAN MILITARY PLANE CRASHES INTO TEHRAN APARTMENTS
A military transport plane crashed into a 10-story apartment block in southern Tehran on 6 December, killing at least 119 people, news agencies reported. ISNA gave 116 as the number of casualties. All 94 people on board died, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf told AP. They included soldiers, seven crew members, and 68 reporters, Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr told Fars news agency. The plane was heading for the southern port of Bandar Abbas, near the site of planned military maneuvers. The crash set the building on fire, while pieces falling onto a nearby gas station caused another fire, Radio Farda reported, citing the police. The number of injured is "between 27 and 40 people" who inhaled smoke, were burned or traumatized, Radio Farda quoted the head of Tehran emergency services as telling Iranian television. Firemen later managed to extinguish the fire in the building, part of a housing complex for military personnel. The plane crashed when it sought, after a technical glitch, to land at nearby Mehrabad airport where it had taken off, AP reported. VS
IRAN'S PRESIDENT IN SAUDI ARABIA FOR ISLAMIC SUMMIT...
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived in the Saudi port of Jeddah on 6 December, heading a delegation for the Third Extraordinary Summit of heads of state of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), scheduled for 7 and 8 December in Mecca, IRNA reported on 6 December. The delegation was met in Jeddah by Prince Abd al-Majid bin Abd al-Aziz, the governor of the Mecca region, and then went to Mecca for a pilgrimage, IRNA added. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was already in Saudi Arabia, attending a 6 December foreign ministers' meeting to prepare the summit agenda, IRNA and dpa reported. The OIC summit is intended to strengthen the image of Islam, harmed by "terrorist attacks carried out in the name of this righteous religion," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said in Mecca on 4 December, according to AFP. VS
...AND OFFERS OWN VIEW OF SUMMIT'S AIM BEFORE DEPARTURE
President Ahmadinejad spoke on what he thought the aims of the OIC summit are before leaving Tehran on 6 December. The summit, he said, will address the "challenges facing the Islamic world," including "foreign aggression and intervention in Islamic countries" as well as "internal discord" in some states, ISNA reported. Islam, he added, wants "peace and dignity" for all peoples in the world, and "any decision made in the Islamic world can have effects on the entire world." He said Iran will actively participate in the summit, while he will have private meetings with heads of state. Ahmadinejad is accompanied by Intelligence and Security Minister Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei, government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham, and adviser Mehdi Chamran, ISNA reported. Before leaving, Ahmadinejad met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who he briefed on the summit's agenda. VS
AL-ZARQAWI CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR BOMBING OF IRAQI POLICE ACADEMY
Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the 6 December bombing of the Baghdad Police Academy in a same-day statement posted to the Internet (http://www.almeer.net). The attack left more than 40 dead and 67 wounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). The statement claimed that two men, not two women, were responsible for the attack. "Two noble brothers of the Al-Bara' Ibn Malik Brigades [targeted] the police academy, which still graduates dogs that bite Muslims [an insulting reference to Iraq's Shi'a] and attack and violate the honor of the Sunni people," the statement said. It further claimed that the bombers targeted members of the Shi'ite Badr Organization "who have prepared to torture the Sunni people in the perimeter of Baghdad." Many former members of the Badr Corps militia have joined the ranks of security forces. KR
U.K. AMBASSADOR SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL LISTEN TO IRAQI CAPTORS
William Patey, reiterating an earlier statement by U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said on 6 December that the British government is ready to talk to the abductors of four hostages held captive in Iraq, international media reported. Speaking at a press briefing in Baghdad, Patey said: "I think that our position is clear and firm in this regard. We are ready to talk to the abductors. But this does not mean that we are ready to make significant concessions or pay a ransom." The Brigades of the Swords of Right issued a statement on 2 December saying the group will kill the hostages on 8 December unless all prisoners held in the Interior Ministry and "occupation" prisons are freed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). Meanwhile, AP obtained a videotape showing two of the four kidnap victims on 6 December. The tape shows one hostage, Norman Kember, calling on U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair to withdraw British forces from Iraq. KR
FORMER IRAQI LEADER'S TRIAL RESUMES AFTER MORNING DELAY
The Al-Dujayl trial resumed in Baghdad on 7 December following a morning delay during which Saddam Hussein refused to attend the court session, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Defense attorneys spent nearly three hours in separate discussions with tribunal judges and Hussein, after which the trial began without him. The former dictator had appealed to chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin at the close of the 6 December session for a change of clothes and a shower, saying that he was tired and had been wearing the same clothes for three days. Amin refused to delay the 7 December session, saying that two witnesses were scheduled to testify. Hussein then retorted, "I will not be in a court without justice," adding, "Go to hell, you and all the agents of America." Hussein and his co-defendants attempted to disrupt the court proceedings with outbursts on 5 and 6 December (see "Iraq: Hussein's Al-Dujayl Trial Descends Into Chaos," rferl.org, 6 December 2005. KR
KURDISH PARTY'S OFFICE ATTACKED IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Four people were killed in Dahuk on 6 December when a "mob of youths" attacked the Kurdistan Islamic Union's office in the city, Reuters reported on 7 December. A senior party member was among those killed. An unidentified senior official told the news agency that angry youths threw stones and set fire to party buildings in six towns, including Irbil and Zakho. Ten people were reportedly injured in the attacks. Reuters reported that youths stood on the roof of a building in Dahuk holding flags of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Kurdish President Mas'ud Barzani condemned the attack, saying: "Everyone and all political parties are free in Kurdistan. No one should restrict the political activities of parties as long as they are free," Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 6 December. The Kurdistan Islamic Union pulled out of the Kurdistan Coalition last month, choosing to run its own list in the 15 December elections. The union criticized the dominance of the two leading Kurdish parties over political life in Kurdistan and corruption in the Kurdistan Regional Government (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 November 2005). KR
GUNMEN ATTACK HOSPITAL IN IRAQ TO FREE DETAINEE...
Some 20 gunmen stormed a hospital in Kirkuk on 7 December to free a wounded man who was detained for his alleged involvement in planning the assassination of Iraqi Special Tribunal Judge Ra'id al-Juhi. Three policemen were killed and six others wounded in the attack, Al-Sharqiyah television reported, citing hospital security chief Captain Salam Abd al-Qadir. An unidentified doctor at the hospital said the gunman was receiving treatment in a guarded room on the second floor of the building for wounds sustained during his arrest. KR
...AND KIDNAP SON OF IRAQI GUARD
Gunmen kidnapped the 8-year-old son of a guard assigned to the Al-Dujayl trial in front of his Baghdad home on 6 December, Reuters reported on 7 December. "He was playing with children outside the house at about 5:30 p.m. He was playing football. They [neighbors] told me that a yellow car came and snatched him in seconds," the boy's father, Salam Jirjis, said. Reuters said it was not immediately clear whether the abduction was related to the trial. The Iraqi Special Tribunal said it was unaware of the kidnapping. KR
IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER ASKS U.A.E. TO HAND OVER SUSPECTS
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has asked his United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) counterpart Sayf bin Zayid al-Nuhayan to hand over 42 people suspected of committing crimes against Iraq, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 7 December. No former Hussein regime members are on the list, the news channel reported, without providing any further details. During a press conference in Abu Dhabi, Jabr also reportedly criticized the German government's commitment to training Iraqi troops. He told the German ambassador there that Iraq is not satisfied with the level of training Germany is offering the Iraqi police, adding that the Germans are not serious about their commitment. Germany refused to join an EU-sponsored training program for Iraqi security forces inside Iraq, and instead said it would set up its own training programs in the U.A.E. KR
IRAQ'S GRAND AYATOLLAH DENIES FATWA ON VOTING
Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's office in Al-Najaf denied that the ayatollah has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Iraqis to vote for Shi'ite religious lists instead of secular lists, Iraqi media reported on 6 December. The office denied media reports that said al-Sistani has banned voting for secular candidates or lists in the 15 December National Assembly elections. Shi'ite websites and media in Iraq have suggested in recent weeks that certain clergy, including the "religious authority" -- a reference to al-Sistani and other senior ayatollahs -- have endorsed the United Iraqi Alliance list. Al-Sistani endorsed the list in the January elections, but said in November that he would not endorse any particular list for the December elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2005). KR