15 March 2005, Volume
ZUBR IN BELARUS: KILLING THE 'DRAGON OF FEAR' WITHIN
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Legend has it that during World War II, in the primeval black forests of Belarus, the large, majestic bison, known as the "zubr," were mistaken for tanks and were able to frighten away Nazi occupiers in some battles. The image of the Belarusian bison is associated with the kind of stolid perseverance Belarusians have displayed over the centuries facing various occupiers. Graphic representations of the zubr can be seen today on everything from beer, vodka, and candy to industrial products and computer software.
When, in 1998 during a time of disappearances of political figures, several hundred young democracy activists gathered deep in the forest to strategize far from the prying eyes of the secret police, they consciously chose as their symbol the bison, knowing that it had a positive resonance in the public consciousness and could serve as a rallying symbol.
Originally concerned with environmental issues in the wake of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster and deforestation of the wilderness, Zubr expanded to take on a wide array of political and social issues as a loosely knit broad movement of young people in Belarusian cities and provincial towns. Its members are interested in opposing the dictatorship of President Aleksandr Lukashenka, who has wielded tight control over Belarus since 1996, jailing many of his opponents and shutting down independent media, often targeting young people, in particular for spray-painting graffiti messages such as "Time's Up!" for the dictator. Zubr has emerged among the leading civic groups in Belarus known for its willingness to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, i.e. to brave the heavy regulation of public assembly in Belarus to stage peaceful protests on behalf of political prisoners and other human rights issues. Like Otpor in Serbia and Kmara in Georgia, Zubr has focused on drawing attention to resistance to Lukashenka, who they say has long overstayed his welcome with staged public referendums to remain in power.
Zubr activists have made it their business to protest disappearances, beatings, and jailing of opposition leaders, even if they themselves are not affiliated with any of Belarus's major opposition parties per se. They represent a range of political opinion, but are within the broad coalition of Belarusian independent democratic forces. Some of Zubr's members were once active in the Belarusian Popular Front and its youth chapter, Mlady Front, but left it when they found no leadership opportunities. Others are active in local groups involved in a wide variety of single issues, but either temporarily or permanently use the Zubr banner as an umbrella group to participate in dissent against the government.
This week, for example, 10 activists in the provincial city of Borisov stood on a public square with portraits of jailed market vendor activist Valery Levonevsky and Mikhail Marynych, former ambassador to Latvia and minister who opposed Lukashenka in the past presidential election. Marynych has been imprisoned on charges that human rights groups believe to be fabricated. This time, by moving about rapidly from place to place, the Zubr picketers avoided arrest while maintaining visibility. Most of the time, however, their public actions lead to the arrest of at least some leaders, usually with 10-15 days of administrative detention.
Zubr recorded more than 650 incidents of human rights violations related to street protest last year, 350 of which were for distributing independent newspapers and leaflets. More than 200 Zubr activists were detained for street protests; three faced criminal charges, and 15 were expelled from university or dismissed from jobs. Dozens faced unauthorized searches of their homes. Together, they collectively spent 400 days in jail on misdemeanor charges for protests. About 250 individuals suffered police or court action of various types. Some Zubr participants are the children of parents who themselves take part in protest movements in Belarus; others are from ordinary working-class families. Some parents of activists, especially those working in the government sector, have faced harassment from officials for their children's actions. Still, by and large, the group has found support in Belarusian society, judging from independent public opinion polls, and has received public recognition for actions ranging from clean-up projects to street theater poking fun at Lukashenka's wackier antics.
While Zubr is very much an indigenous movement coming out of pre-existing movements ranging from the Popular Front to the United Civic Party to Charter 97 to various social democratic parties, the group has also contacted and received support from the more prominent Serbian student movement Otpor, which helped to topple Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
Zubr has also benefited from training organized by Western democracy organizations and, in particular, has adopted some of Gene Sharp's ideas on nonviolent protest. Sharp is the author of "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" (1973) and the booklet "From Dictatorship to Democracy," first printed in Thailand for Burmese dissidents and translated into 11 other languages. He is noted for his theories on organizing positive movements that, on the one hand, use street theater and comedy to discredit a dictator, while, on the other, draw in support from police and soldiers who begin to question their orders and identify with their fellow citizens who are protesting. Nonviolent theories have sustained Zubr through some years now as they have often faced violent suppression from the Belarusian regime, including physical injury from beatings, mistreatment in prison, and even a case involving a young man who committed suicide allegedly under pressure to become a police informer.
Zubr has struggled to keep the movement alive, especially after the successive failure of the democratic opposition in Belarus. Similar movements in Ukraine and Georgia have enjoyed greater success as well as sustenance from international media and funders. According to a statement on Zubr's website: "Despite massive repression, the movement's activists are prepared to continue the struggle. We have before us the examples of Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine. By virtue of their courage and solidarity, the youth of these countries have passed through repression and have rid themselves of the yoke of tyranny." Zubr also notes that it keeps records of those officials who violate human rights and hopes to ensure that they are brought to trial some day.
In February, Zubr met in Slovakia with other movements such as Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, Ukraine's Pora in order to compare notes on democracy movements in the region. Zubr leaders say openly they borrowed greatly from the experience of Otpor and Kmara and all of these youth groups were active in supporting Ukrainian democratic youth groups in the Orange Revolution. They represent a new kind of pan-regional solidarity movement that stresses freedom, democracy, along with diversity and national independence, unlike the pan-Slavic movement supported by past regimes and more conservative elements of Russian leadership.
While drawing on support from the West as well as the East, the Zubr activists are realistic about their own tough row to hoe in Belarus. "We are glad for our friends from other countries, but Belarus is our country and no one can solve our problems for us. History is bringing a lesson to Belarusians, but soon we must all pass the test in solidarity, personal courage, and determination. But above all, we must 'kill the dragon' in ourselves -- to defeat fear -- the faithful fellow traveler of any dictatorship," Zubr said recently in a statement on the Bratislava meetings on their website at zubr-belarus.com this month.WALKING WITH PUTIN
By Julie A. Corwin
The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced on 1 March that it has created a new youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a press release published on pravda.ru, which quotes Walking Together founder Vasilii Yakemenko, the goal of the new "anti-fascist" movement is to put an end to the "anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals." Several Moscow-based newspapers reported the goal of the new group is actually a bit more specific: to eventually replace the party of power, Unified Russia.
The movement's rallying cry is preventing the introduction of foreign control in Russia. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 February reported that it obtained documents outlining a "grandiose plan for the creation of a new youth movement" whose goal is to save the motherland from colonization by the United States. The daily quotes Walking Together leader Yakemenko as saying that "organizations in Russia are growing, on the basis of which the U.S. will create groups analogous to Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, or Ukraine's Pora. These groups are Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and Avant Garde Red Youth."
Yakemenko, 33, initially denied in interviews with Ekho Moskvy and "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that a new youth movement was in the works. However, later reports detailed Yakemenko's speeches at meetings in cities across Russia, such as Kursk, Orel, and St. Petersburg. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," Yakemenko told students in Kursk that "Europe long ago asked itself the question: Who will be working at European gas stations, Turks or Ukrainians? This question now has been decided in favor of the Ukrainians. In the final analysis, for practically its entire history, Ukraine has been a colony. It's just that previously it was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony."
On 26-27 February, Yakemenko spoke to about 200 assembled youths at the Senezh sanatorium in Moscow Oblast for what some news reports called Nashi's "founding congress" and what Yakemenko described as a conference called "Russia's New Intellectual Elite." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 February, the meeting was held in a building owned by the presidential administration. The daily's correspondent, Oleg Kashin, and the leader of Yabloko's youth movement Ilya Yashin managed to sneak in to the meeting, since only first names were used at the conference and no ID was required for checking in. However, when the two men were recognized, Yakemenko ordered his security guards to throw them out. Yashin told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that they were driven out of town, where he was thrown headfirst into a snow bank and kicked in the stomach several times. Yakemenko initially denied that he ever saw Yashin at the meeting. Later he said that security guards did remove Yashin from the conference hall but only after he kept trying to enter the proceedings to which he was not invited.
In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 1 March, Yabloko's Yashin suggested that "one of the tasks of the 'Nashisti' is to intimidate the opposition youth so that they are afraid to attend public meetings. He said that in the last couple of months there have been several clashes between the members of the political opposition and unaffiliated people. Yashin told gazeta.ru that former members of Walking Together along with skinheads in athletic clothing were the main attendees at the Nashi congress. "Kommersant-Daily's" Kashin described the participants, who were allegedly attending a conference on "Russia's New Intellectual Elite," as "very simple folk," who "when they are riding in elevators, laugh when they go up and down."
According to the Moscow-based newspapers, the real architect of Nashi is not Yakemenko but deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov. Surkov reportedly met with some 35-40 youths in St. Petersburg along with Yakemenko on 17 February to talk about setting up Nashi, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February. RosBalt confirmed that Surkov was indeed in St. Petersburg on 17 February; however, Yakemenko denied everything. Surkov was widely credited with masterminding Unified Russia's victory in the 2003 State Duma elections. He has now reportedly become disillusioned with his old creation as well as with Motherland, which was originally created to take votes away from the Communist Party. If Surkov is indeed seeking an alternative to Unified Russia, then that might explain the secrecy surrounding Nashi's creation. The presidential administration still needs obedience from Unified Russia members in the State Duma and elsewhere, which may be less forthcoming if they realize that their political careers are about to be cut short.
In an interview with kreml.org on 1 March, Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute, said that he thinks that Walking Together faltered as an organization because it was held together only by money and not by an ideology. Similarly, Unified Russia could have been a "powerful pro-presidential party that served as a repository of the people's hopes for the president and hostility for the thieves, oligarchs, and corrupt bureaucrats. Instead of this, we have a parody," he concluded. However, with Nashi, Yakemenko has recently been taking a smarter approach, according to Militarev. "For example, Yakemenko has given lectures to youth activists in which he described the American authorities as our geopolitical opponent and said that Russia needs to defend itself." According to Militarev, this is a more effective doctrine than "Putin is our president and he is always right."
Writing in politcom.ru on 22 February, Tatyana Stanovaya suggests that the Kremlin's presidential campaign in 2008 may assume the features of Yeltsin's 1996 race when Yeltsin managed to come from behind because of the "Red threat." "In 2008, the Kremlin might also motivate citizens to vote not 'for' (an unpopular president) but 'against' (this time against the Orange threat) and the 'geopolitical appetites of the West' and 'the powerful subversive network within the country.'" However, if INDEM foundation analyst Yurii Korgunyuk is correct, then Nashi proponents are not pursuing a cynical election ploy. He told "The Moscow Times" on 25 February that the "Kremlin has a paranoid fear of what happened in Ukraine happening here."KYRGYZSTAN YOUTH LEADER SPEAKS ABOUT OPPOSITION ORGANIZATION'S INTENTIONS
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
KelKel (New Epoch) is a youth organization in Kyrgyzstan that was established before the February 27 parliamentary elections. Many observers, particularly those who know what role Otpor, Kmara, and Pora played in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, respectively, say KelKel will become a driving force behind political changes in this Central Asian country, where the opposition is weak and fragmented but is the most active compared to other countries in the region. Alisher Mamasaliyev, the main leader of KelKel, spoke about the organization, its political positions, and its collaboration with Ukrainian and other Central Asian youth organizations in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL.
KelKel organized its first public event on 11 January after Roza Otunbaeva, leader of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) opposition party, was not allowed to register as a candidate for parliament. A group of young people from Bishkek went to a protest meeting organized in Otunbaeva's defense and distributed lemons to all attendees. They simply said that the lemons would help keep protesters healthy during a flu epidemic.
"For the first time for 15 years of independence," said thirty-year-old KelKel leader Alisher Mamasaliyev, "the Kyrgyz youth made an initiative and created a precedent of attempt to change the situation."
Mamasaliyev told RFE/RL that the young people who make up the largest part of the Kyrgyz population should be more active in the political life of the country, and he said that is one of KelKel's goals. A KelKel leaflet reads: "We don't fight for power, we fight for our rights."
"For the first time for 15 years of independence, the Kyrgyz youth made an initiative and created a precedent of attempt to change the situation."
Despite the declaration, the political position of KelKel is very clear: they want President Askar Akaev to step down at the end of his term in October. Mamasaliyev:
"Yes, Akaev must step down," Mamasaliyev said. "But we want it to happen peacefully in accordance with the law. This is our right under the constitution. Yes, we stand for a change of power in the White House [eds: the name of the Kyrgyz president's office]."
Under the current constitution, Akaev cannot run for another term as president. But opposition members fear he may decide to stay in power and try to change the constitution in order to allow him to run once again.
The Kyrgyz authorities have impeded KelKel's work on several occasions, said Mamasaliyev: "We had an office, but it was taken away. At the moment, we don't think about developing further, but rather about surviving."
The government attempted to stop KelKel's activity by creating its own organization, also named KelKel. Unlike Mamasaliyev's KelKel, the other organization was registered by officials very quickly. The government version of KelKel does have a different slogan: "They threaten us with lemons. We simply squeeze them."
Many observers believe KelKel can play the same role as Otpor, Kmara, and Pora did in the "velvet revolutions" in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, respectively.
Mamasaliyev said KelKel does have contacts with Ukraine's Pora organization. "Yes, I would like to say that we contacted Pora," he said. "Our friends from Ukraine came [to Kyrgyzstan], did some training for us. They gave us recommendations on how to correctly establish an organization, so that one part of the organization is in charge of the website, the other one is in charge of security; they told us how to deal with the media, which international donors to contact. Of course, we would like to become a serious organization like Otpor, Kmara, or Ukrainian Pora. But at the moment we have a priority of tasks regarding the presidential elections."
KelKel plans to organize summer courses for young people with the purpose of raising the political awareness of a young electorate and to train election observers ahead of October's presidential ballot.
KelKel also collaborates with a youth organization in Kazakhstan. However, cooperation with organizations in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan is not possible at the moment. "At present, we collaborate with the Kazakh youth organization Kakhar, which has a very developed system because they get assistance from Kazakh businesspeople," Mamasaliyev said. "As for cooperation with Tashkent, to be honest, we didn't even think about it. We know what the situation in Tashkent is like; we listened to the recent interview of [Uzbek] President Islam Karimov. I don't think it is realistic to speak of a possible partnership with the [Uzbek] youth organization. Neither do we have contacts with Tajiks."
Mamasaliyev said that despite all the difficulties, KelKel continues to operate. Some 300 young people have joined the movement since the first meeting in January. It opened a new branch in Aksy a few days ahead of the elections.UKRAINE'S PORA TO SET UP PERMANENT THINK TANK
By Jeremy Bransten
The time for street demonstrations has passed, but Pora, the Ukrainian youth movement that played a key role in the country's recent Orange Revolution, plans to transform itself into a permanent think tank. The Kyiv-based center will offer training and advice to all those seeking their own peaceful revolutions.
As Ukraine's revolutionary leaders make the transition from leading street protests to governing the nation, the Orange Revolution's youth activists are also seeking a new mission.
Vladyslav Kaskiv is one of the leaders of the Pora movement, whose demonstrations -- often laced with biting humor -- became a memorable feature of those exuberant winter days. Pora drew its inspiration from pro-democracy youth movements in Serbia and Georgia that also helped topple authoritarian regimes.
Kaskiv told RFE/RL he and his colleagues planned to institutionalize their experience by setting up an international center in Kyiv to offer assistance and practical advice to democracy advocates throughout the region.
"We are now in a very active phase of establishing this center," Kaskiv said. "Unfortunately, we have not yet come up with its official name, but the idea is that this center will function as an international organization, with its central office in Kyiv. The center's priority activities will be to support democratic movements in the countries of the region -- above all, in the countries of the former Soviet Union."
Kaskiv explained the center's mission in more detail: "[The center's task] will be to gather the collective experience of the successful democratic movements, beginning with Poland's Solidarity movement, Slovakia's OK '98, [Serbia's] Otpor, [Georgia's] Kmara, etc. We hope that this will become a genuine organization with a very influential board of overseers. We have invited a whole range of famous democracy leaders, including Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and other influential democratic leaders [to join us.]"
Kaskiv said he hoped financial and moral backing for the project would come from the Ukrainian government as well as international organizations and possibly foreign governments.
"We're very much counting on the [financial] support of the Ukrainian government," he said. "We even hope that part of the future development of this center will include the creation of a Ukrainian agency for international development as a government body. Of course, these are related issues but not mutually exclusive. We have already held a series of talks with representatives of international organizations about possible cooperation. We hope for support from the democratic countries of Europe and America."
Kaskiv said Pora activists had made contact with pro-democracy youth groups in several CIS countries and that he hoped a more formal relationship -- through the center -- could be established.
"Representative offices will be opened in all countries that are interested in having such a center -- Moldova, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, perhaps Kyrgyzstan if we find good partners there, etc.," Kaskiv said.
Mindful of accusations by government officials in those countries that Pora and other NGOs are part of a Western plot to destabilize the post-Soviet region, Kaskiv said he and his colleagues were consulting with legal experts to ensure the center's activities were transparent and conformed to international standards.
"We are working out very clear criteria based on the legislation of these countries and based on international law about possible cooperation with local partners, since we want to clearly define our mission and want to avoid possible accusations of interference in the domestic affairs of these countries," Kaskiv said.
Responding to recent charges by Kyrgyz officials of alleged foreign interference in the country's election campaign, Kaskiv said Pora activists had no activities at this time in Kyrgyzstan and had not had any contacts with pro-democracy groups from the country.
NORTHERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR CALLS DEMONSTRATORS 'STUPID.'
Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur, in an interview with the state-run Balkh Television on 7 March, said that those who staged a demonstration in the provincial capital of Mazar-e Sharif were "stupid people" who were misusing democracy. Between 500 and 1,000 protestors staged a demonstration in Mazar-e Sharif on 7 March demanding Nur's resignation for allegedly taking people's land, and also called for the dismissal of a senior health official, Sayyed Habib, who according to the demonstrators illegally fired a number of doctors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005). In his interview, Nur dismissed the land-grab charges and said that the doctors who have been dismissed were lazy. Nur contended that the demonstrators came from neighboring provinces and have "links with thieves" from Mazar-e Sharif. "This demonstration will never ever affect us," Nur added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005PROTESTERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN CITY DEMAND SECURITY...
A large demonstration took place in the center of Kandahar city on 7 March, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "The aim of our gathering and demonstration today is to raise our voice against the lack of security in the city of Kandahar and the province," an unidentified protester said. Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) estimated the number of protesters at thousands and in several reports from the scene on 7 March reported that up to 100 people were injured during the clashes between demonstrators and Afghan security forces. Some of the demonstrators were chanting slogans against the United States and in support of the ousted Taliban regime. An eyewitness told AIP that the police took control of the situation and the rally ended. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005)...AS INTERIOR MINISTRY WANTS TO INVESTIGATE CAUSES FOR RALLY.
In a statement issued on 7 March in Kabul, the Afghan Interior Ministry said that it has dispatched a "high-ranking" delegation to Kandahar to "to investigate the cause of demonstrations and the recent increase in criminal activities" in Kandahar Province. According the statement, the 7 March protests in Kandahar city were over "concerns of security issues and child kidnapping." The government also intends to send another delegation to Kandahar to "take any necessary measures to ensure that local residents have faith in their law enforcement officials." The personal security situation in Kandahar Province has recently deteriorated. According to a BBC report on 7 March, one child is kidnapped per week in Kandahar, and there are fears that the actual number of kidnappings is higher as many parents do not report the disappearance of their children, fearing reprisals. It was the lack of personal security that propelled the Taliban into the Afghan political scene in Kandahar in 1994. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005)
U.S. NOTES HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN ARMENIA.
In its annual report on human rights world-wide that was released on 28 February, the U.S. State Department noted that despite unspecified improvements in 2004, the Armenian government's human rights record "remains poor," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The report noted persistent police brutality, including against participants in protest demonstrations last spring; arbitrary arrests and detentions; and some unspecified limits on press freedom. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005)
POLL SUGGESTS 'VELVET REVOLUTION' UNLIKELY IN AZERBAIJAN.
Experts from the PULS-R sociological service unveiled in Baku on 1 March the findings of an opinion poll conducted among 1,000 residents of 15 Azerbaijani regions and 12 towns in December 2004, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 1 and 2 March, respectively. Those findings suggested a very slight improvement in the economic situation, insofar as the percentage of respondents who considered that their families live in acute financial hardship declined to 14.4 percent compared with 19.2 percent during an analogous poll conducted by the same organization in 2003. Respondents identified as their primary focus of concern the unresolved Karabakh conflict (61.9 percent), corruption and incompetence within the government bureaucracy at all levels (16.2 percent), and crime (7.5 percent). Both in 2003 and in 2004 some 64 percent of respondents said they trust the country's president. But in 2004 the number of respondents who predicted mass disturbances in Azerbaijan more than doubled, to 4.7 percent compared with 2 percent the previous year, while the number who said such disturbances are possible rose from 8.1 percent in 2003 to 13.9 percent in 2004. Rasim Musabekov, who conducted the poll together with a representative of Germany's Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, noted that Azerbaijanis are not used to responding to such polls, and that the findings cannot therefore be regarded as a wholly accurate reflection of popular perceptions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005)HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION WORSENS IN AZERBAIJAN.
The U.S. State Department registered a worsening of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan in 2004 following the disputed presidential ballot in October 2003, Turan reported on 1 March. The State Department's annual report noted that Azerbaijani police failed to investigate four deaths in police custody and numerous complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention. It said that the judiciary in Azerbaijan remains "corrupt and inefficient" and is strongly influenced by the executive, which generally fails to observe the constitutional prohibition on arbitrary arrest and detention. The report further criticized police harassment of members of religious minorities and restrictions on media freedom, including the government's failure to act on its pledge to create a public television channel. Finally, the report noted that the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan now exceeds 100, and it expressed concern at pressure on ethnic Armenians to emigrate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005)
BELARUSIAN VENDORS STRIKE FOR EIGHTH DAY.
Nearly half of all non-food market vendors in the provinces and 30 percent in Minsk continued on 8 March their nationwide strike over value-added tax (VAT) on Russian imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005), Belapan reported. Alyaksandr Lapotka, deputy leader of the Perspektyva small business association that called the strike, told Belapan that many vendors have refused to pay not only the controversial VAT tax but also the so-called single tax (fixed sum irrespective of profits). In an attempt to stave off losses and lure the striking vendors back, market administrations have reportedly allowed them to reopen their stalls without paying the taxes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005)U.S. SAYS BELARUS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION WORSENING.
The United States said in its annual human rights report released on 28 February that the situation in Belarus worsened in some areas (for full report see http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/). It stated that the Belarusian government "continued to deny citizens the right to change their government through a transparent democratic process; opposition political parties and movements were subjected to increased pressure through both judicial and extrajudicial measures." The report noted that press freedoms were restricted and that law enforcement officials "used excessive force" against individuals and journalists peacefully protesting election processes. The trafficking of women and children was also mentioned, although the reports noted that Belarusian authorities have not had intensified efforts to stop such activities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005)
IRANIAN STUDENTS DISRUPT CAMPAIGN SPEECH.
Students in Isfahan, central Iran, disrupted a campaign speech by Mustafa Mo'in, a hopeful in the presidential election set for June, and forced him to give up and leave, Radio Farda reported on 7 March. Mo'in, a former higher education minister, is favored by the Participation Front and Organization of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin, two reformist groups. Members of the Islamic Association of Isfahan Universities and Medical Faculties, an umbrella student group, reportedly sang and shouted slogans against Mo'in as he spoke, and waved placards denouncing the now stagnant reforms initiated in 1997 by President Mohammad Khatami. The placards displayed calls for a referendum instead on Iran's form of government, a recent demand made by some Iranians (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 2005). The student group had issued two previous statements telling Mo'in not to come, stating in one that the presidential elections will be "neither genuine nor free" but a means of "ridiculing the intelligence" of Iranians, Radio Farda reported. Prospective electoral candidates must be approved by the Guardians Council, a vetting and supervisory body, before they can run for public office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005)RIGHTS BODY TAKING MUNICIPALITY TO COURT.
The Society of Defenders of Human Rights (Kanun-e Modafe'an-e Hoquq-e Bashar) is taking the Isfahan municipality in central Iran to court for building a high-rise tower block next to a 17th-century complex of buildings, considered a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, Radio Farda reported on 6 March. The municipality is hastening construction despite complaints by Iranians, and UNESCO, and two court orders to stop the building, Society member Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda. He said the judge who had ordered the construction stopped has been replaced by a judge who overturned his ruling. Dadkhah said the action being taken against municipal authorities, the provincial governor's office and the provincial prosecutor-general, "will certainly get somewhere, though it may take time." The building would have to be reduced by three stories, he said. Separately, Harvard University experts are to visit Iran in May or June to study antiquities in Golestan Province, near the border with Turkmenistan, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 March. The university has signed an agreement with the state heritage organization, it added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005)STATE DEPARTMENT CRITICIZES IRAN'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD.
Iran figured prominently in the U.S. State Department's annual country report on human rights released on 28 February (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41721.htm). "The government's poor human rights record worsened, and it continued to commit numerous, serious abuses," the Iran country report stated. The report described abuses such as summary executions; torture; floggings and amputations; arbitrary arrest and detention; and a frequent absence of fair trials. Politically motivated killings and executions were cited. Also noted is that the Iranian people's right to change the government is restricted -- the Assembly of Experts, a body of clerics, selects and can dismiss the Supreme Leader, and the Guardians Council vets candidates for elected office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005)
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT LISTS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES BY IRAQI GOVERNMENT.
The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report released on 28 February lists a number of abuses carried out by the interim Iraqi government, including rape, torture, and illegal detentions by police and security forces (for full report see, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41722.htm). The document, titled "2004 Country Reports On Human Rights Practices," said that Iraqis "generally respected human rights, but serious problems remained." It went on to cite reports that "coerced confessions and interrogation continued to be the favored method of investigation by police." The document also cited "occasional reports of killings particularly at the local level by the [interim] government or its agents, which may have been politically motivated. In early December, Basrah police reported that officers in the Internal Affairs Unit were involved in the killings of 10 members of the Ba'ath Party." It also cites a Human Rights Watch report that documents torture and ill treatment of detainees by police in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005). The State Department report also notes "allegations that local police sometimes used excessive force against both citizens and foreigners," and abuses allegedly carried out by members of the Iraqi National Guard. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005)
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION KEEPS UP ELECTION PROTESTS.
Protests related to the first round of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections continued in various parts of the country on 8 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Three hundred supporters of Duishenkul Chotonov, who lost in the 27 March elections in Karakulja District, marched toward Osh. The marchers met with Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairman of the Ata-Jurt bloc, in Uzgen, where 500 supporters of second-round parliamentary candidate Adakham Madumarov continued to demand the resignation of President Askar Akaev. Protests continued in Jalal-Abad for a fourth day. And Bektur Asanov, a member of the outgoing parliament, said that 40 legislators now support the opposition's initiative to hold an emergency session of parliament on 10 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005)KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES PROMISE TO PUNISH ORGANIZERS.
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a press conference on 5 March that the government is playing a "waiting game" with protestors, but warned that the instigators will be punished, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Tanaev as saying, "The organizers of these actions will be brought to account and we will not slip a single case of violation of the laws of this country." Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told a news conference in Bishkek on 5 March that the protests were a pre-planned power grab by the opposition and claimed that demonstrators were paid to participate in protests, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005)
LEADER OF EURASIAN YOUTH MOVEMENT SAYS HE WILL STOP 'ORANGE REVOLUTION.'
Speaking at a roundtable devoted to Russian political youth subculture, Pavel Zarifulin, leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, said on 4 March that the main goal of his organization is "to prevent an Orange Revolution in Russia," RosBalt, the organizer of the roundtable, reported. Zarifulin said his organization -- which is the youth branch of the Eurasia movement led by Aleksandr Dugin -- is an organization of "direct action" that is a counterpart to the radical left National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard Limonov. Zarifulin said the Eurasian Youth Union will use "coercion" when needed. Oleg Bondarenko, the leader of the Motherland youth organization; Darya Mitina, leader of the Communist Party youth organization Komsomol; Iliya Yashin, the leader of Yabloko's youth division; and Roman Dobrokhotov, the head of the Moscow branch of the youth group Walking Without Putin, also attended the roundtable and discussed their organizations' programs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005)OFFICIAL URGES DEPOLITICIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS...
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told ITAR-TASS on 5 March that the human rights situation in Russia "is more complex than the West thinks." He said improving the public's legal education and awareness is the most important goal for long-term improvement in the human rights situation. Lukin also urged that the fight for human rights be "intensified and depoliticized." He added that about one-third of the complaints received by his office relate to alleged abuses by law enforcement personnel. Lukin also announced on 5 March that Bashkortostan's Supreme Court has invalidated 172 police protocols related to the detentions of civilians in Blagoveshchensk during a December police operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2005). The court has recognized 120 people as victims of police excess during the operation, Lukin said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005)...AND CALLS FOR PROSECUTION OF HIGH-LEVEL OFFICIALS IN BLAGOVESHCHENSK CASE.
Lukin added that it seems officials in Bashkortostan are trying to blame the incident on low-level officers, and he said "those really responsible, the people who gave that sort of order or did not properly control the implementation of their correct orders, must be punished," RBK-TV reported. RBK-TV also reported that Blagoveshchensk police have threatened to hold a 10-day strike to protest what they call violations of their civil rights. Such a strike is illegal under a federal law that forbids police and other civil servants from taking such actions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005)FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT AS 'POLITICALLY BIASED.'
The Foreign Ministry's press department told Interfax on 2 March that the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights is "politically biased" and "in no way can be described as objective." The report, according to the ministry, is "mainly based on arbitrary interpretations of the facts and sometimes even rumors." The ministry also noted that "the ambiguous 'track record' of the United States itself, which arouses serious concern among international human rights organizations, has been ignored." In the report, the list of countries where the problem of human rights is most urgent was expanded this year to include Russia. Other countries in that category are North Korea, China, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Belarus. The report noted that in contrast to a number of other countries that increased direct public control over government, the Russian authorities further strengthened the power of the executive branch and imposed greater restrictions on the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005)
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT HIGHLIGHTS CENTRAL ASIA RIGHTS PROBLEMS.
The U.S. State Department painted a grim picture of the human rights situation in Central Asia in its annual country reports on human rights practices, which were released on 28 February. The reports recorded few changes in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, describing the situation in the former as "poor" and in the latter as "extremely poor." The State Department saw some improvements in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, although it evaluated the overall environment in both countries as "poor." Some improvements were also noted in Uzbekistan, but against the backdrop of a "very poor" situation. The report on Turkmenistan noted that a number of RFE/RL correspondents suffered arrest in Turkmenistan, and one correspondent was "brutally beaten" in Moscow by agents from the Turkmen National Security Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005)TURKMEN PRESIDENT RETURNS TO WORK, SACKS RIGHTS HEAD.
Saparmurat Niyazov returned to work on 28 February after undergoing a successful operation on his left eye on 22 February, Turkmen Television reported. Niyazov met with his cabinet at his residence and briefed them on the operation. Also on 28 February, Niyazov issued a decree removing Rashit Meredov as director of the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, the official Turkmen government website (http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm) reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005)
U.S. REPORT CITES LATE IMPROVEMENT IN UKRAINIAN HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD.
The U.S. State Department stated in its 2004 human rights report released on 28 February that the Ukrainian government's human rights record "remained poor and worsened in a number of areas," but added that "there were also improvements in some areas, particularly toward the end of the year." The report, titled "Country Reports On Human Rights Practices," is submitted to Congress every year (for full report see http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/). It stated that Ukrainian citizens' "right to change their government peacefully was restricted during most of the year," adding that the Orange Revolution in November and December did much to change this. The report also criticized Ukrainian authorities for interfering "with the news media by harassing and intimidating journalists, censoring material, blocking interregional broadcasts of independent media, closing down independent media outlets, and pressuring them into practicing self-censorship." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005)
UZBEKISTAN CANCELS VISIT BY BRITISH OFFICIAL OVER RIGHTS FOCUS.
Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry cancelled a planned visit to Uzbekistan on 2 March by British Foreign Office official Bill Rammell, the BBC reported. The ministry stated in a press release that the visit could not take place in light of Rammell's "unacceptable and impolite comments...which are an attempt at direct interference in the internal affairs of independent Uzbekistan," tribune.uz reported on 2 March. Although the Uzbek Foreign Ministry laid the blame for the visit's cancellation on the British side, a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said "it is the Uzbek government's decision in response to the minister's undertaking to continue to press over human rights," scotsman.com reported. On 26 February, uzreport.uz quoted Rammell as saying: "The issue of human rights in Uzbekistan is of serious concern, and I believe that critical engagement is the best way to improve the situation. I will be pressing the Uzbek government about human rights." Rammell had planned to meet with a number of independent human rights organizations in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005)