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(Un)Civil Societies Report: December 12, 2001

12 December 2001, Volume 2, Number 49
ISLAM, DEMOCRACY AND MARKET ECONOMY: A DIALOGUE. Turkish Ambassador Ozdem Sanberk's presentation on 7 November on Islamic cultural values and democracy in a market economy is available in audio and text on the Center for International Private Enterprise website at Ambassador Sanberk is the director of the Istanbul-based Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), a former ambassador to the U.K., and undersecretary at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Laith Kubba, senior program officer for Middle East and North Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy, also contributed to the discussion. (Center for Civil Society International, 3 December)

COMPLETE RESTORATION OF EARTHQUAKE ZONE IS PLEDGED... Reconstruction of housing and infrastructure in northwestern Armenia destroyed during the December 1998 earthquake will be completed before the end of 2002, Urban Development Minister David Lokian told journalists in Yerevan on 5 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said a three-year, $150 million reconstruction program begun in 1999 is on schedule. That program is being funded almost entirely by donations from the diaspora. Lokian said that almost 2,000 families made homeless by the earthquake were allocated new housing this year. According to Noyan Tapan, some 14,000 families are still accommodated in temporary housing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

...OR IS IT? President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and other senior government officials traveled on 7 December to the city of Gyumri in northern Armenia that was devastated by an earthquake 13 years earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Implicitly contradicting the pledge made two days earlier by Urban Development Minister David Lokian that all housing and infrastructure destroyed by the quake will be rebuilt by the end of 2002, Markarian said that housing reconstruction may take a further two years. Unemployment in Gyumri and the surrounding area remains high, despite 4,000 new jobs this year, according to Noyan Tapan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

OPPOSITION LEADER CLAIMS MASS SUPPORT FOR CAMPAIGN TO IMPEACH PRESIDENT. Over 100,000 people throughout Armenia have responded positively to an appeal by opposition parties to sign their petition calling for the impeachment of President Robert Kocharian, National Unity Party leader Artashes Geghamian told Noyan Tapan on 6 December. The campaign to impeach the president, whom the opposition accuses of violating the Armenian Constitution, condoning terrorism, and precipitating the country into a deep political, moral, psychological, and socioeconomic crisis, was launched three months ago. Under the Armenian Constitution, only the parliament can begin impeachment proceedings, for which a two-thirds majority vote is needed. Also on 6 December, Communist Party of Armenia leader Khoren Sargsian told a press conference that his party has not yet decided whether to back that impeachment bid, but will probably do so in response to pressure from within the party, Noyan Tapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

OPPOSITION STAGES ANTIGOVERNMENT DEMO. Some 2,000 people attended a demonstration in Baku on 8 December convened by the opposition Democratic Congress to protest the Azerbaijani leadership's Karabakh policy and its abolition of social allowances, Turan reported. Geyrat Party leader Ashraf Mekhtiev and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party conservative wing leader Mirmahmud Fattaev both demanded the resignation of President Heidar Aliev, while Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar called for free presidential elections to prevent Aliyev from ensuring that his son Ilham succeeds him as president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

TRADE UNION LEADER REMAINS IN THE SADDLE. Uladzimir Hancharyk, the chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB), has told journalists that a FTUB conference held behind closed doors in Minsk on 6 December expressed "overwhelming" support for his policies despite an attempt to initiate a vote of no-confidence in him, Belapan reported. Belarusian independent media have repeatedly reported in the past two months that the authorities urged various regional and branch trade union leaders to vote Hancharyk out of his post. Hancharyk, as the democratic opposition's candidate, challenged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 9 September presidential ballot. Hancharyk said four regional trade union bosses sought but failed to initiate a special convention to elect a new leader of the FTUB. Asked if he plans to stay in politics, Hancharyk said that "one cannot avoid defending trade union rights using political methods." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

OPPOSITION RALLIES TO DEMAND TRUTH ABOUT DISAPPEARANCES. Some 500 opposition activists staged an unauthorized demonstration called "The Chain of Indifferent People" in Minsk on 9 December to demand from the authorities the truth about the disappearances of opponents to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, including Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, Belapan reported. Similar, albeit smaller demonstrations, were held in Homel, Brest, and other Belarusian cities. Police arrested 20 protesters in Brest and Baranavichy. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

EU DEMOCRATIZATION FUNDS. The EU has approved $57 million for projects to promote democracy and a civil society in Bosnia-Herzegovina, AP reported from Sarajevo on 7 December. The money will be distributed among 20 NGOs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

TWO ARRESTED OVER MOSQUE INCIDENT. Local police arrested two unidentified persons in connection with a recent incident at the construction site of a mosque in Stolac, dpa reported on 5 December. Police also issued arrest warrants for two additional suspects who are still at large. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

'BATTLE OF THE CAFES.' Several dozen Muslims and Croats clashed in Stolac on 5 and 6 December, smashing windows in each other's cafes, AP reported. Of the four Croats recently arrested by police for vandalizing the construction site of a mosque, two have been released and two escaped. The two escapees turned themselves in to police on 7 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

SOFIA MAYOR FORMS NEW POLITICAL PARTY. Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski on 9 December launched his new political party, the Union of Free Democrats, international agencies reported. Sofiyanski left the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) last month following months of infighting. He wanted the SDS to cooperate with the National Movement Simeon II, which won the parliamentary elections in October, and to carry out internal reforms after its electoral defeat. Sofiyanski, one of the most popular Bulgarian politicians, said the new rationale for the new formation was "concern that unfulfilled expectations and broken promises have made a considerable part of the population give up participation in public life," and because "after 12 years of painful reforms, a large number of Bulgarians [still] live in hardship." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

FRESH FROM CZECH JAIL, SOLIH TELLS WEST IT HAS CHOICES TO MAKE... Uzbek human rights activist Mohammad Solih said on 11 December that if the Czech Republic decides to extradite him to Uzbekistan, it would serve as a signal from Western countries that they side with Central Asia's dictators and not with the people in that region. Solih spoke at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague just hours after being released from detention in a Prague prison, pending the Czech authorities' decision on the Uzbek government's request for his extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). Solih said that as a Western nation, the Czech Republic has a responsibility to show Uzbek President Islam Karimov that he cannot hide behind the slogan of antiterrorism to crush dissent at home. The Uzbek authorities have accused him of complicity in a 1999 bomb attack in Tashkent, a charge he fully denies. The same day, Czech President Vaclav Havel told journalists that Solih is "a genuine human rights fighter, a democrat, and a man unjustly accused." Havel added: "I am looking forward to receiving him at Prague Castle [on 12 December]." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)

...AS RFE/RL PRESIDENT WELCOMES HIS RELEASE FROM CZECH PRISON. The same day, RFE/RL President Thomas Dine welcomed Solih's release from detention, saying he has "always believed Solih to be a fair, honest, and brave person promoting human rights and democratic institutions in his homeland." Dine said he is "sure that Solih will soon be able to return to his family in Norway." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December)

HAVEL SAYS SOLIH IS INNOCENT BUT CANNOT BE GRANTED PRESIDENTIAL PARDON... Vaclav Havel said in an interview with RFE/RL on 7 December that Uzbek human rights activist Solih is innocent of the charges levied against him by Uzbekistan, and expressed his conviction that Solih will not be extradited to that country and will be allowed to return to Norway, where he has been granted political asylum. Havel said Solih's detention by the Czech authorities "should never have happened" and "harms" the Czech Republic, but added that the Uzbek dissident cannot be granted a presidential pardon under existing legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

...AS SOLIH WITHDRAWS CZECH ASYLUM REQUEST. Solih withdrew on 6 December his application for receiving political asylum in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. His lawyer said Solih was doing so because his asylum in Norway has been "sufficiently proved," and called on Czech authorities to act in accordance with international provisions on the status of refugees. Under the internationally binding convention of refugee status, persons with that status cannot be extradited to a country where he faces danger because of his or her political opinions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS PLEA TO ABOLISH LUSTRATION LAWS. The Constitutional Court on 5 December rejected a plea by 44 deputies from the Social Democratic Party to abolish the lustration laws, CTK reported. The court ruled that the legislation continues to be "vital" for democracy. Lustration laws were approved in 1991 and in 1992 banning former prominent communists, secret service agents, and members of the communist militia from serving in the civil service, the judiciary, the army, the public media, the Czech National Bank, state- owned companies, police, the prison authorities, and the Interior Ministry. The laws were originally intended to be valid for five years but were extended for four more years in October 1995, and for an indefinite period in late 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

PRESIDENT VETOES CHURCH LAW. Vaclav Havel vetoed on 5 December the law on churches passed by the Chamber of Deputies on 27 November and returned the legislation to the chamber for renewed deliberation, CTK reported. He said the law infringes on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, since it prevents churches from running their own hospitals and charity foundations. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Czech Bishop's Conference welcomed Havel's decision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

NEW POLITICAL PARTY ESTABLISHED. The political association Res Publica became the political party Union for the Republic Res Publica at its founding congress on 7 December in Tallinn, ETA reported. The party unanimously elected 68-year-old emigre political science professor Rein Taagepera as its chairman, even though he said that he would serve in the post for only six months. Taagepera promised that the new party will be more transparent in its decision making, and expressed hope that it will win at least 15 seats in the next parliamentary elections in March 2003. The party also intends to participate in the elections to local councils in October 2002. Former President Lennart Meri welcomed the formation of the new party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

BREAKAWAY REGION HOLDS PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF. According to preliminary returns, businessman Eduard Kokoev won the runoff poll on 6 December for president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia with over 55 percent of the vote, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Kokoev's rival, regional Communist Party leader Stanislav Kochiev, polled 40 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 63 percent. Kokoev advocates the unification of the breakaway republic with the contiguous Republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya, which is part of the Russian Federation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

PARLIAMENT SPEAKER MEETS WITH DEMONSTRATORS. As she earlier offered to do, Nino Burdjanadze met on 7 December with representatives of the students and opposition activists who resumed their picket of the parliament building two days earlier to demand preterm presidential and parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press reported. She reportedly tried to persuade the picketers to abandon further such protests and instead to agree to a regular exchange of views with the parliament. Addressing the first session of the new Georgian government on 8 December, President Eduard Shevardnadze rejected proposals for preterm elections, arguing that they would exacerbate the already tense situation in the country, Caucasus Press reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

EU REPRESENTATIVE MURDERED. Guenter Beuchel, a German diplomat with the European Commission representation in Tbilisi, was found bludgeoned to death outside his apartment building late on 9 December, Caucasus Press and Western agencies reported. He had been robbed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

ABDUCTED SPANISH BUSINESSMEN RELEASED. Two Spanish businessmen abducted in Georgia in November 2000 were freed late on 8 December following what Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania termed a series of operations by his ministry. He did not elaborate. A spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed the same day in Madrid that a ransom of 50 million pesetas ($270,000) was paid this summer to secure the men's release, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

MESKHETIANS INITIATE DIALOGUE WITH NGO'S. Representatives of the Meskhetian minority, exiled in 1944 on Joseph Stalin's orders from Georgia to Central Asia, began a series of consultations with Georgian NGOs in December. Funded by the Council of Europe, the project aims to promote mutual understanding and non-violent solutions to the repatriation of the Meskhetians to Georgia. For more information, contact (Union of Georgian Repatriates, 11 December)

CATHOLICS DEMAND RETURN OF CONFISCATED CHURCHES. Georgia's tiny Roman Catholic community has appealed to the Georgian government to return to them five churches, including those in the cities of Kutaisi, Gori, and Batumi, that were handed over to the Georgian Orthodox church in 1998, Caucasus Press reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

EU COMMISSION PRODS HUNGARY ON STATUS LAW. The European Commission does not recommend that Hungary amend its Status Law, but does encourage the country to reach agreement with its neighbors regarding its implementation, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told reporters on 6 December after meeting with EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen in Brussels. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

BUDAPEST HOSTS CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS. Former President Arpad Goncz told an international antidiscrimination conference in Budapest on 6 December that discrimination forms part of daily life in Hungary, and that eliminating it constitutes a "tremendous challenge" for the country. Goncz drew particular attention to the state of the Roma, saying that loopholes in the law create the possibility for discrimination. Minority rights ombudsman Jeno Kaltenbach outlined at the conference his office's recent drafting of a comprehensive antidiscrimination bill. In other news, Kaltenbach and Barnabas Lenkovics, the ombudsman for civil rights, released a joint statement warning that the eviction of persons from unlawfully occupied housing during winter can jeopardize the lives of those affected. Many of the evicted families belong to Hungary's Romany community. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

PARLIAMENT HOLDS FIRST SESSION... Kosova's 120-member legislature began its first session on 10 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) is the largest single faction with 47 seats, but he needs partners to form a viable government. So far, he has failed to put together a workable coalition. The Serbian minority, which constitutes less than 10 percent of the population, is represented by the Povratak (Return) coalition, which has 22 seats. This is the first time that Serbs and Albanians have sat together in a Kosovar legislature since former President Slobodan Milosevic ended the province's autonomy in 1988-1989, after which the Albanians set up their own parallel "shadow state." Security is tight for the opening session. Representatives of all ethic communities in Kosova have been invited to attend, but not Belgrade officials. Local Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije and Father Sava are on the guest list. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

...AND HEARS ADDRESS BY HAEKKERUP. The parliament will have some authority over matters of local self-administration, but real political power remains in the hands of Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN's civilian administration, AP reported from Prishtina on 10 December. Haekkerup told the Kosova legislators at their opening session that "this is a historical day for Kosovo.... For the first time in history, we are now participating in the opening of a truly democratically elected assembly representing the people of Kosovo." He reminded his listeners that they face "a very demanding task, taking decisions that will influence the life of each and every citizen in Kosovo. [That will require] a high degree of wisdom and moderation.... You will also bear the responsibility for ensuring that interethnic and political reconciliation takes firm root in Kosovo, and that all communities enjoy equal rights and responsibilities free from any form of discrimination," he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

'UNLAWFUL' BAN ON AMPLIFIED CALL TO PRAYER. The authorities in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalal-abad region have banned the reading of the call to prayer via loudspeakers, local Muslim leader Dilmurat Haji Orozov told the Keston News Service on 28 November. A phone call to the government's commission for religious affairs confirmed that the ban was unlawful, but the authorities are still enforcing it, Orozov complained. The local religious affairs official told Keston that the ban was imposed to protect those who are woken up early by the amplified calls to prayer. (Keston News Service, 6 December)

HIGH RANKING ON HIGHER EDUCATION. According to the Latvian statistics almanac for 2001, the country, with 43 higher education students per 1,000 residents, is tied with Spain for fourth place among the world's countries, BNS reported on 15 November. Only Canada (58), the U.S. (52), and Finland (47) have a greater per capita share of such students. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 5 December)

PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ABOLISHING LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT FROM ELECTION LAW. Vaira Vike-Freiberga told experts meeting at the Riga Palace on 6 December to assess the state language policy that the provision in the Election Law requiring candidates for parliament and local councils to be fluent in the official state language should be abolished, BNS reported. She stated that the provision is undemocratic because it creates unequal positions for Latvia's citizens. Vike-Freiberga called on the experts to offer suggestions by early January on how to amend the law, after which she will present those suggestions to the parliament. Deputies from the right-wing For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, and the People's Party were critical of the president's request, while those from Latvia's Way said they will provide comments only on specific proposals. Peter Semneby, the head of the OSCE's mission to Latvia, said that the president's request may help convince the OSCE to end the work of its mission to Latvia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

U.S. REPORT ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RELEASED. A report on religious freedom by the U.S. State Department declared that Lithuania's Constitution guarantees religious freedom, except when religious practices contradict laws, and that Lithuanian authorities respect this, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 3 November. According to the report, there are 923 traditional and 176 nontraditional registered religious communities, but 18.7 percent of the population does not practice any religion. About 70 percent of the 3.5 million population consider themselves Roman Catholics. The other major religions are Russian Orthodox (about 180,000 members), Old Believers (50,000), and Lutherans (30,000). Jewish and Muslim communities have about 5,000 members each. The report notes that although the activities of foreign missionary groups are not prohibited, it is sometimes difficult to obtain work permits and they encounter many bureaucratic difficulties when seeking permanent residence permits. The Catholic Church has had the greatest success in recovering property that was nationalized under Soviet rule, and the main obstacles hindering other religions are a lack of funds and the bureaucracy. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 5 December)

INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS TO REDRAFT SELF-GOVERNMENT LAW. The planned EU donors conference for Macedonia has been postponed indefinitely following the parliament's failure to pass a bill on local self-government, which is an integral part of the peace plan, Reuters reported from Skopje on 8 December. An unnamed Western diplomat told the news agency that it is "surprising" that "no one [among the politicians] seems desperate or upset now that it has been put off." Macedonian legislators objected to several provisions of the proposed legislation, especially one allowing municipalities to merge. Many ethnic Macedonian legislators see this as a first step toward the setting up of "cantons," or an ethnically based partition on the Bosnian model. But leaders of the four largest political parties met unexpectedly on 9 December and called for international mediation. EU envoy Alain Le Roy said World Bank experts will help revise the controversial legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

NGO SLAMS PARAMILITARY POLICE. The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said in a statement on 4 December that the special police unit known as the Lions "places the peace process in Macedonia at risk." The NGO noted that some of the members of the Lions are professionals, but that others have criminal backgrounds or incomplete training. The unit is close to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. The party's symbol is a lion rampant. The NGO also noted that the Interior Ministry, which is headed by VMRO-DPMNE hard-liner Ljube Boskovski, has recently named Orthodox St. Dimitri as patron saint of the ministry. The NGO said that establishing a tie between the ministry and a particular religion runs counter to the spirit of the Ohrid peace agreement. Most Macedonian Albanians are Muslims. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

PRESIDENT PARDONS ALBANIANS. On 7 December in Skopje, President Boris Trajkovski pardoned 22 additional ethnic Albanians charged in connection with the recent uprising, bringing the total pardoned to 33, Reuters reported. Some 55 Albanians still await pardons. Former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti called on parliament to pass an amnesty bill, dpa reported on 10 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

RUSSIAN 'SPY-MANIA' ON RISE. In the past three years, there has been a noticeable increase in the arrests and harassment of people accused of being spies by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). The pattern of arrests and harassment seems to focus on those who are scientists, environmentalists, nuclear activists, or people who have contact with foreigners or are foreigners. When arrested, they are often imprisoned without fully knowing the charges against them. There has been a pattern of planting drugs on individuals who will not fully cooperate with the FSB or finding other substantial "evidence" against them which does not exist. The FSB is then able to bring them to trial on drug charges. Some speculate President Putin is allowing his former colleagues too much freedom in their pursuits of keeping the state secure as those they target are not engaged in clandestine or illegal activity. For more information see (Digital Freedom Network, 11 December)

NEW UPPER HOUSE SPEAKER CALLS FOR EXTENDING PRESIDENTIAL TERM. Just two days after being selected for his new post, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov declared on 7 December that he considers Russia's four-year presidential term too short. He did not exclude the possibility that an initiative to amend the Russian Constitution to extend the presidential term might be introduced, Russian agencies reported. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" the next day, the presidential administration appeared surprised by Mironov's statement, and declared that President Putin has said on more than one occasion that he does not favor changing the constitution. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev also responded to Mironov's statement, saying that he considers it inexpedient to lengthen the current presidential term. "This question deals with serious constitutional amendments and cannot be resolved with one stroke [of a pen]," he said. Mironov is a former colleague of Putin from the president's days as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

ANOTHER ELECTION IN PRIMORE, ANOTHER ASSAULT. Vladimir Maksunov, a candidate in 23 December elections for Primorskii Krai's legislative assembly, told reporters in Vladivostok on 5 December that two unknown men attacked him the previous day, striking him over the head with a blunt object and causing him to be hospitalized, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to NTV, Maksunov also claimed that one of his attackers had a knife and that he had been receiving telephone threats demanding that he drop out of the race. Maksunov is a supporter of former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, who himself claimed that during the krai's gubernatorial elections someone from the opposing candidate's team was plotting to kill him. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

ANOTHER ELECTION IN PRIMORSKII KRAI FAILS DUE TO LACK OF VOTER INTEREST. Despite intensive media coverage both locally and in the national press leading up to the 9 December election, Primorskii Krai's ballot for its legislature was declared invalid due to insufficient voter turnout. Only 13 of the krai's 39 districts had more than the necessary 25 percent minimum of registered voters participating, according to RIA-Novosti on 9 December. Elections will have to be reheld sometime within the next four to six months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

PACE CHAIRMAN CONCERNED AT DIVERGING STATEMENTS ON CHECHNYA. Speaking in Moscow on 6 December at the end of his visit to Chechnya, Lord Frank Judd, who is chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, again called for peace talks to end the Chechen conflict, stressing that a military solution is not an option. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 December, Judd expressed concern that while members of the Russian delegation to recent council hearings on Chechnya in Strasbourg were in favor of peace talks, including Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's participation, some unnamed senior officials with whom he spoke in Grozny this week oppose any negotiations with Maskhadov, adding that much of what they said is at odds with President Putin's pronouncements. Judd said that he was profoundly disturbed by conditions at displaced persons' camps in Chechnya, which he believes have deteriorated since his earlier visits. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

MUSLIM LEADER APPEALS TO PUTIN TO PARDON CHECHEN FIGHTERS. Nadirshakh Khachilaev, one of the leaders of the Union of Muslims of Russia, has appealed to President Putin to pardon all Chechen fighters "except terrorists and common criminals," Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 7 December. Khachilaev also rejected as untrue reports that he participated in the August 1999 assault on Daghestan by Chechen field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

KREMLIN ENVOY SAYS CHECHNYA MAY ELECT NEW PRESIDENT NEXT YEAR. Addressing a meeting of Chechen administration officials and local politicians in Grozny on 7 December, Viktor Kazantsev, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, again denied that during his talks last month with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev the possibility of changing Chechnya's political status within the Russian Federation was discussed, Russian agencies reported. Kazantsev said that he anticipates that a new Chechen Constitution will be adopted next year after which presidential elections will be held. Maskhadov's five-year term officially expires in January 2002. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

TWO CHECHEN PROSECUTORS KILLED. Two Chechen prosecutors died on 8 December when their car hit a remote-controlled mine in Grozny, Russian agencies reported. A Chechen woman was detained later that day on suspicion of laying the mine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

PUTIN APPOINTS NEW MINISTER IN CHARGE OF NATIONALITIES... On 6 December, Vladimir Zorin was appointed as minister without portfolio, and will be in charge of coordinating government institutions on nationalities issues, Russian media reported. The position of a minister-coordinator for nationalities was created in mid-October, after the Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationalities, and Migration Policies was abolished and its minister, Aleksandr Blokhin, was dismissed. Zorin started his political career in the Communist Party of Uzbekistan (1987-1991); then worked in Chechnya (1995-1996) and in the Duma where he directed the Nationalities Committee (1996-2000). In May 2000, he was elected as a member of the presidium of the Unity party and, since June 2000, had served as deputy presidential representative to the Volga federal district, where he was in charge of interethnic and religious issues. On 1 November, in a roundtable discussion with U.S. academics on minorities and religious policy in the Volga region, Zorin said that the issue of relationships among ethnic and religious minorities is a strategic issue for the entire country, quoted him as saying on 2 November. For Zorin, encouraging a deeper knowledge of Islam among Russian Muslims is a way to avoid "infiltration" of Russian Muslims by people educated abroad and susceptible to developing nontraditional aspects of Islam in Russia, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

...WILL ZORIN'S PORTFOLIO INCLUDE RELIGION? A new post of Russian Federation minister whose brief will include religious and social organizations as well as nationalities and regional affairs was announced by Prime Minister Kasyanov on 16 October, according to the Russian daily "Rossiiskaya Gazeta." Speaking to the Keston News Service recently, government officials expressed doubt that the post would do more than touch upon religious issues, let alone prove to be in place of the much-called-for state committee for religious affairs. (Keston News Service, 5 December)

BIN LADEN'S BROTHER WAS FREQUENT TRAVELER TO BASHKORTOSTAN. Tariq bin Laden, a brother of Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, visited Ufa, Bashkortostan on several occasions to meet with Talgat Tadjuddin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 4 December. According to the correspondent, the Muslim Religious Board confirmed the meetings, which were earlier reported by "Moskovskii komsomolets." However, Tadjuddin himself has not commented on reports alluding to his close ties to bin Laden's family. On 5 December, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow met with Tadjuddin and Gabdulla Shakaev, the mufti of Chelyabinsk and Kurgan, in Chelyabinsk. He assured them that U.S. actions in Afghanistan are not directed against Muslims and Afghan citizens. Tadjuddin noted that Russia's Muslims support U.S. policy against international terrorism, adding that terrorism is not a trait of Islam, and is not in the interest of Muslims. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

DUMA DEPUTY SAYS MOSCOW CONDUCTING CAMPAIGN OF PRESSURE AGAINST TATARSTAN. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 27 November, State Duma Deputy Fandas Safiullin (Russian Regions) said Moscow is guilty of using pressure and legal attacks during the process of seeking the harmonization of the constitutions of Tatarstan and Russia. According to Safiullin, Moscow is trying "to drive all of the republics into one barn," and thus form a unitary state. Safiullin added that a recent article in the newspaper "Zavtra" represented a direct call for an anti-Tatar pogrom addressed to Russians living outside of Tatarstan, many of whom he claims are ignorant about Tatarstan and Tatars. The daily claimed that Tatars have destroyed a monument to Ivan the Terrible in Kazan, but, according to Safiullin, most Russian citizens are unaware that such a monument never existed in Kazan. Meanwhile, several of Safiullin's colleagues in the State Duma have filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court challenging a provision of the Tatar Constitution that requires the president to speak both Russian and Tatar. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 December)

AFGHAN REFUGEES FACE HARD TIMES IN MOSCOW. Under Russian law, people without valid Moscow papers should be fined $3 for the first offense, receive a warning for their second infraction, and deportation for the third offense. All too often, say Afghan refugees living in Moscow, the police demand bribes -- sometimes several times a day -- or expect monthly payoffs. Russian immigration authorities maintain that the Afghans are partly to blame because they use false names and destroy their passports, and so it is impossible to get accurate information on their legal status. Leaders of the Moscow Afghan community claim that they offered to pay the Kremlin $10 million a year for residency permits for about 50,000 Afghans living in the city, but the government refused. Members of the Afghan community have also been subject to numerous assaults by racists. ("The Baltimore Sun," 29 November)

RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS ELECTS NEW LEADER. The board of the Russian Jewish Congress (REK) elected Yevgenii Satanovskii as its new president on 6 December, RIA-Novosti reported. Satanovskii, who previously directed the organization's Institute of the Middle East and Israel, replaces Leonid Nevzlin, who is leaving his position after being elected to represent Mordovia in the Federation Council. In an interview with the same day, Satanovskii said improving relations between the REK and the larger Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR) will be his top priority. REK is made up mainly of reform and conservative Jewish organizations, while FEOR is an umbrella organization for Orthodox communities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

FIVE-METER MENORAH INSTALLED NEAR KREMLIN. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov joined Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and several hundred people on Manezh Square on 10 December to light a five-meter-high menorah to mark the beginning of Hanukkah. Lazar thanked Luzhkov for his assistance in having the menorah moved closer to the Kremlin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

BRICKS SHATTER OMSK SYNAGOGUE WINDOWS. According to local sources speaking to the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, someone threw bricks at windows in the Omsk synagogue on 8 December, shattering several of them. Despite a police post set up earlier this year at the synagogue after earlier incidents, no one was caught. Police have been informed. (Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, 10 December)

300 AMENDMENTS TO RELIGION LAW... Over the coming months some 300 amendments to Russia's religion law will be considered by a working group attached to the state Commission for Religious Associations, the group's chairman, Andrei Sebentsov, told the Keston News Service on 28 November. The group is comprised of representatives of various faith communities and religious affairs officials from different government departments. After the lengthy drafting process, these amendments must gain the approval of the Duma religion committee before being considered by parliament. (Keston News Service, 4 December)

...ALTHOUGH MOST ARE 'AGAINST CONSTITUTION.' Most of the hundreds of proposed amendments to Russia's 1997 law on religion, such as the new term "traditional religion," cannot be adopted because they contradict the Russian Constitution, Andrei Sebentsov, vice chairman of the government's Commission for Religious Associations, told Keston News Service on 28 November. Amendments have been suggested by Russian Federation regions and by the Commission for Religious Affairs. (Keston News Service, 4 December)

INTERIOR MINISTRY ARRESTS SEVEN FOR ATTEMPTING TO SELL NUCLEAR MATERIAL. A spokesman for Moscow's Interior Ministry said that his agency arrested seven organized crime members on 6 December after they tried to sell more than one kilogram of uranium-235 to undercover officers, RTR reported. Ministry investigators are now trying to find out the origin of the radioactive material. They suspect that it may have come from a facility that processes fuel for nuclear submarines. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

TRIAL OF RUSSIAN FOLLOWERS OF AUM SENRIKE IS OPENED IN VLADIVOSTOK. A Primorskii Krai court opened hearings in the case of a group of Russians affiliated with the Japanese extremist sect Aum Senrike who planned terrorist acts against Japan and an operation to liberate imprisoned sect leader Seku Asakhara, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 December. The group of five men in their mid-20s are accused of visiting Japan to establish contacts with their Japanese counterparts and to lay plans for terrorist acts. According to the daily, the group's final goal was to issue an ultimatum to the Japanese government -- release Asakhara or face mass terrorist attacks in Tokyo. The five were arrested by local Federal Security Service agents in the summer of 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

PROBLEM REGIONS IDENTIFIED. On 4 December, Deputy Finance Minister Bella Zlatkis announced that her ministry is examining the possibility of proclaiming seven subjects of the Russian Federation bankrupt, but that she wasn't at liberty to name names. "Kommersant-Daily" the next day suggested that there are at least seven economically plagued regions that would qualify -- the Koryak and Evenk autonomous okrugs, and the republics of Sakha, Adygei, Buryatia, Altai and usertyoduced by the Organiz and Kabardino-Balkaria. The daily also suggested that there are eight regions that have not fulfilled their federal tax obligations that could be considered -- the republics of Tuva, North Ossetia, Buryatia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachai-Cherkessiya; and the Kurgan, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Omsk oblasts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

VORKUTA MAYOR SEEKS TO SOLVE FEMALE UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM. Vorkuta Mayor Igor Shpektor has suggested that his city could solve the problem of high unemployment among females there by legalizing prostitution and building a large brothel, reported on 5 December, citing The website also cites "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," which concluded that Shpektor is not trying to create a "Bangkok in the Arctic," but is merely suggesting that a workspace of maximum comfort be created. He is also guaranteeing workers at the brothel a 46-day paid vacation and 75 percent salary bonus -- which is the usual subsidy for work performed in Russia's Far North. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

MOST REGRET DEMISE OF USSR, BUT DO NOT FAVOR ITS RESTORATION. Over 70 percent of Russians lament the fall of the Soviet Union, and this number continues to rise, reported on 9 December, citing an opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion agency on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the official dissolution of the Soviet Union on 8 December 1991. But the poll of 1,500 respondents in 44 regions also reported that some 72 percent do not think that restoring the Soviet Union is possible or necessary. The number of those who regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union has grown by 10 percent since 1992, when the first poll on that issue was conducted, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

MILITARY DEFENDS ROLE. General Vladimir Lazarevic -- who commanded the Prishtina Corps during the 1999 Kosova conflict and is now in charge of the Third Army in southern Serbia -- said in Nis on 5 December that he is "ready to appear before all responsible military and state bodies and respond" to questions about his role in the conflict, "Vesti" reported. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal and Human Rights Watch have recently called attention to Serbia's war crimes in Kosova in 1998 and 1999. Members of the Third Army have openly expressed support for their former commander, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who now heads the General Staff. They called on the government and people to "support the soldiers who fought for them." The Hague has launched an investigation of Pavkovic's role in Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

INTELLECTUALS FORM COMMITTEE FOR 'TRUTH ABOUT KARADZIC.' An unspecified number of Serbian intellectuals have formed the International Committee For The Truth About [Radovan] Karadzic and held their first press conference at the Tanjug center in Belgrade, "Vesti" reported on 7 December. Chairman Kosta Cavoski said that the Belgrade political leadership has treated Karadzic shabbily under pressure from foreigners and removed him from public life. Committee member Dragos Kalajic stressed that the group's aim is not to plead Karadzic's defense before the tribunal because it "does not recognize the pseudoamerican [sic] Hague tribunal." He added that The Hague's goal is to brand "the Serbs" as the aggressor in the Bosnian conflict so that Croatia and Bosnia can collect a war indemnity of $35 billion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

PROMINENT KOSOVAR ACTIVIST RELEASED... Student leader Albin Kurti, who had been the most prominent Kosovar activist still held in a Serbian jail, has been quietly released from prison in Nis, "Danas" reported on 10 December. He was arrested in Prishtina by police loyal to Milosevic on 27 April 1999. The Belgrade authorities subsequently ignored numerous pleas from Western leaders and human rights organizations for his release. It is not clear why he was released now, but some observers suggest a link to French President Jacques Chirac's recent visit. Kurti's last political role in Kosova was as spokesman for Adem Demaci, who was a political representative of the Kosova Liberation Army at the time. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

...AND SAYS THAT 'OTHERS REMAIN HOSTAGES.' In a telephone interview with RFE/RL on 9 December, Kurti said that "what happened was what I least wanted: I was released while others remain hostages in Serbian prisons." He stressed that the "semidemocratic regime in Belgrade has used my freedom in order to prolong the slavery of my friends and keep them in jail." Kurti said that the prison authorities used to mistreat the Albanians for no reason, while now they find an excuse that the Albanians allegedly broke some rule. "Nothing of substance has changed," Kurti noted. He added that "Kosova is now free from Yugoslavia and Serbia, but it is not yet free in the sense that it can freely determine its own destiny." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

TREATMENT OF DETAINED PERSONS CRITICIZED. The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture issued a report on 6 December that harshly criticized Slovakia for mistreating people detained by police, and for the country's prison conditions, CTK reported. The committee said police use "aggressive behavior" and "brutal methods" in interrogation of suspects, going as far as to have them bitten by dogs. It also said the right of suspects to consult a defense lawyer is often infringed upon, and that prisons are overcrowded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

WORLD BANK APPROVES $50 MILLION TO REDUCE POVERTY IN COUNTRYSIDE. The World Bank on 5 December proposed a $50.21 million loan aimed at reducing poverty in Ukraine's rural areas, AP reported. The loan is to sponsor from 750 to 900 small projects in Ukraine's poorest regions over six years to support health, education, and other facilities. These projects will be created and controlled by local communities, and will be selected in a competition. The communities are to sponsor 10 percent of the projects' cost with the rest funded by the bank. The biggest possible grant may not exceed $150,000. The World Bank urged the Ukrainian government and lawmakers to approve the loan project as soon as possible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

ANTICORRUPTION FORUM EMERGES. A number of NGOs and government officials on 10 December set up a nationwide anticorruption forum, New Channel television reported. Party of Regions leader and State Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov -- who was an initiator of the forum -- said the country needs to fight corruption at all levels of power and establish public control over corrupt groups. According to Azarov, the forum can initiate a code of good practice for bureaucrats, expose officials' corrupt actions, and help establish closer contacts between Ukraine and Western anticorruption organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

REFERENDUM ON EXTENDING PRESIDENT'S TERM. Uzbekistan's legislature voted overwhelmingly, with only two abstentions, on 6 December in favor of conducting a referendum on 27 January on whether to extend President Islam Karimov's term as president by two years, from 2005 until 2007, Reuters and Interfax reported. Karimov was first elected to that post for a five-year term in 1991, but that term was extended until 2000 by a referendum in 1995. He was re-elected in January 2000 for a further five years with 92 percent of the vote in a ballot condemned by the international community as neither free nor fair. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

PRESIDENT WANTS PROOF THAT IMU LEADER IS DEAD. President Karimov said on 6 December that "there has been no documentary or visual evidence" to substantiate reports that Djuma Namangani, a leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was killed during the battle for Kondoz last month. Karimov said he will continue to suspend judgment "until we have made sure he is really buried somewhere." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

APPEAL TO REOPEN MOSQUE REJECTED. A mosque opened in Namangan in the 1980s -- but closed five years ago by Ferghana valley regional authorities -- is still closed despite repeated attempts by local Muslims to reopen and register it. Speaking to the Keston News Service, the head of the local mahalla (a small district within a town), who has blocked the application, dismissed a complaint that the nearest mosque is four kilometers away. A human rights activist told Keston that "authorities give the mahalla committees secret instructions to 'hold back' believers' attempts to register a local mosque," he said. (Keston News Service, 6 December)

SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY CLAIMS RUSSIA IS VICTIM OF DOUBLE STANDARD ON TERRORISM. While addressing a meeting with his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Belarus, and Moldova, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said that "some countries in the West cannot refrain from adding fuel to conflicts in Russia's sphere of influence," Russian media reported. At the same time, Rushailo said that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a "double standard policy regarding Chechen terrorists," especially as far as their financing is concerned. Rushailo added that Russia is consulting with the United States on the issue, and would like to initiate an investigation of countries' compliance with the UN resolution on preventing the financing of terrorist organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December)

TATAR OFFICIALS PROTEST CENSUS PLANS IN RUSSIA, UKRAINE. On 3 December, Tatarstan's legislature adopted an appeal to the Russian State Duma protesting plans to divide Tatars into six ethnic groups in the 2002 census, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 7 December. Deputies said such a move would reduce the overall number of Tatars to a fraction of the 7 million reported in the 1989 census. One Tatar legislator said that in Ulyanovsk he watched videotaped appeals to Tatars telling them that they are "Bulgars" rather than "Tatars." Meanwhile, RFE/RL reported on 5 December that Crimean Tatars are being divided into three ethnic groups -- Nogais, Crimeans, and Crimean Tatars -- in the Ukrainian census scheduled for 5-15 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

MOSCOW WOOS UKRAINIANS IN RUSSIA. In his opening remarks to a congress of ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin said in Moscow on 9 December that President Putin's administration is interesting in creating a "Ukrainian lobby" from the more than 4 million ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, ORT and NTV reported. Deputy Prime Ministers Viktor Khristenko and Valentina Matvienko, and Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, who are all ethnic Ukrainians, sent greetings to the congress. In addition, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Seminozhenko told the audience that "the way of Ukraine into Europe goes through Moscow," and that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has announced that 2002 will be the "Year of Russia in Ukraine." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

REPORTS SLAM EU AID TO MACEDONIA, ALBANIA. Two independent reports -- one French and one Italian -- have criticized the EU's aid program for Macedonia and Albania as having failed to create civil society institutions or to fight corruption, the "Financial Times" reported from Brussels on 10 December. The reports added that the EU aid program is "formalist," too tied up in bureaucratic infighting, and lacking in focus. Since 1991, the EU has given $1.35 billion to the two countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

NEW HUMAN RIGHTS GUIDE. An English-language human rights guide for the countries of the former USSR, produced by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and the UN, is available on the Internet at (Human Rights Education Newsletter, November)

WEB-OF-WORDS SITE. Over 40 minority languages spoken in the European Union (EU) are presented on the new Web-of-Words site at The site describes each EU minority language, its status, history, and usage. Created with funding from the European Commission, the "Web-of-Words" includes a downloadable multilingual screen saver; more poems and photos will soon be online. (MINELRES, 11 December)