|Thursday, 21 March 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-11-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN PREDICTS COMMISSIONING OF NEW NUCLEAR-WEAPONS SYSTEMSPresident Vladimir Putin told a gathering of military officials on 17 November that Russia is developing new nuclear-missile systems that are unequalled in the world, Russian and international media reported. "We are not just carrying out research and missile tests of new nuclear-missile systems," Putin said. "I am confident that they will be commissioned in the next few years. And no other nuclear powers will have developed such systems in the next few years." He said that even though international terrorism is the main threat facing Russia, nuclear-weapons development should remain a top priority. Putin also stressed that the military "must become flexible, open to all the best practices, [and] capable of self-development," ITAR-TASS reported. "The army should not slow down the pace of its modernization. This year is decisive for the fulfillment of the political decisions of military building." Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the same gathering on 17 November that Russia "possesses everything necessary to protect our nuclear arsenals from any forms of unsanctioned access and to prevent possible accidents." RC
 MINISTERS DIFFER ON POSSIBLE ARMS SALES, MILITARY ASSISTANCE TO IRAQDefense Minister Ivanov told Interfax on 16 November that Moscow is prepared to send weapons and military equipment to Iraq if Baghdad requests such assistance. He said that Moscow would also consider providing "technical help," but only in Russia or in third countries. "If the Iraqi leaders and the Defense Ministry ask us to train their personnel to handle the weapons, we will consider their request," Ivanov said. "But on one condition -- service personnel must be trained only in Russia or in third countries, but not in Iraq." Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the same day that Moscow has no plans to provide weapons or military assistance to Iraq. "We have received proposals of this kind on a number of occasions," Lavrov said, according to RIA-Novosti. "When we receive them, we study them. We have no plans at present to supply arms to Iraq." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 November speculated that Ivanov's announcement means that "Russia is entering the war." The paper cited "leaks from Washington" as indicating that "Russia has decided to get involved in the Iraqi campaign in exchange for U.S. recognition of the post-Soviet area as a zone of Russia's vitally important interests." RC
 RUSSIA EXPECTS SOMEWHAT HARDER LINE FROM NEW U.S. SECRETARY OF STATEMost Russian commentators agreed on 17 November that the nomination of U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state will not signal a profound change in U.S.-Russian relations, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported. Nikolai Zlobin, director of the U.S. Center for Defense Information's Russian and Asian programs, told the daily that "Russia will find things harder with Rice than with [Colin] Powell since she is a hard person and she has clear-cut, aggressive principles that were formed long ago." Dmitri Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center noted that Rice has been responsible for U.S.-Russian relations throughout George W. Bush's presidency. "Therefore, we should not expect any drastic changes in the dialog between Moscow and Washington," he argued. Zlobin told "Izvestiya," however, that Rice might pursue a harsher line vis-a-vis Moscow concerning Russia's assistance to Iran's nuclear program. RC
 PUTIN FORGING CLOSER TIES TO BUSINESSPresident Putin on 16 November attended a congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) and told attendees that "bureaucrats must protect private property just as they do state property," "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on 17 November. He also emphasized that business must develop the habit of paying taxes. For his part, he predicted that the tax burden for business will be reduced in the near future. Putin said that there are many "national projects" that the government and business can implement together, and urged business to invest more in "the economics of knowledge" and in "major infrastructure projects," "Vedomosti" reported. "Gazeta" reported on 17 November that a national survey of businesspeople conducted just before the congress found that 35 percent of respondents believe that "political instability" is possible in Russia, while 50 percent said that "social instability" is possible. RC
 DUMA SHOOTS DOWN EFFORT TO ASK COURT TO WEIGH IN ON PROPOSED POLITICAL REFORMThe State Duma on 16 November rejected a motion sponsored by the Communist Party that would have asked the Constitutional Court to assess the constitutionality of a bill that would replace the direct election of regional governors with a system under which local legislatures approve candidates nominated by the president, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. The proposal was voted on without discussion, and garnered only 66 of the 226 votes needed to pass. RC
 CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS LATIN SCRIPT FOR TATAR LANGUAGEThe Constitutional Court rejected on 16 November a suit by Tatarstan's parliament seeking to replace the use of the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin alphabet for the Tatar language, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2004). The court ruled that only federal-level legislators have the right to decide such linguistic matters, and that by introducing its own linguistic reform without special permission from federal legislative bodies, Tatarstan risked threatening the linguistic integrity of the Russian Federation. Following the decision, Tatar President Mintimir Shaimiev said that he does not consider the question closed. "I would say that yesterday's decision by the Constitutional Court does not deprive Russian Federation subjects of the right to consider this issue -- it can be resolved through the adoption of a federal law," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying on 17 November. Tatar parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin told reporters that the republic is not planning on removing street signs in Latin script because "there is a similar situation in Moscow, where I saw several buildings and restaurants [bearing signs] with Latin script." JAC
 REGIONAL PROTEST OVER SOCIAL-BENEFITS REFORM NEARLY TURNS RIOTOUSAbout 200-300 people rallied outside the Karelia Republic's parliament in Petrozavodsk on 17 November to protest against the conversion of certain in-kind social benefits to cash payments, Interfax-Northwest and Regnum reported. According to Interfax, some protesters began calling for an assault on the building, and only the presence of a reinforced police patrol stopped them from taking action. Republican legislators were expected the same day to consider a republican bill that would convert some benefits. Under the bill, local residents would be paid 200 rubles ($7) to compensate for losing free public-transportation and telephone services. The protest was organized jointly by the local branches of the Communist and Yabloko parties. Also on 17 November, Arkhangelsk Oblast legislator Lyubov Sycheva questioned the adequacy of a 450-ruble "social package" that the federal government has designated to compensate eligible people for the loss of in-kind benefits, such as free medicine, Regnum reported. "How is it possible that such an amount is provided for the population's medicine, when part of pensioners spend as much as 1,000 rubles a month for their medications?" JAC
 SURVEY FINDS ONE-THIRD BELIEVE RUSSIANS SHOULD HAVE MORE RIGHTS THAN OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS...The All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) on 16 November released the results of a survey that found that 34 percent of respondents believe that ethnic Russians should have more rights than other peoples in Russia, wciom.ru reported. The survey of 1,601 respondents was conducted between 23-24 October in 39 regions. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they believe everyone in Russia should have equal rights and no one should have any special advantages. Eleven percent said Russia should be a state inhabited by Russian people, compared to 17 percent of respondents when the same question was posed in a poll last year. JAC
 ...AS YAROSLAVL OFFICIALS CONSIDER DEPORTATION OF ROMA TO SOLVE DRUG PROBLEMDuring a discussion on measures to combat the drug trade, members of the Yaroslavl city commission for law and order called for the deportation of Roma who sell drugs, Volgainform reported on 17 November. "In Astrakhan and Leningrad oblasts, they have come up with initiatives to deport gypsies who sell drugs," city deputy Yevgenii Urlashov claimed. "Why hasn't this been done in Yaroslavl? [Wouldn't] this would be a lot more effective than propaganda or social advertising?" Municipal legislator Sergei Krivnyuk reportedly said: "In my electoral district, there are many gypsy families, and the police regularly arrest their children and pregnant women for selling drugs. Residents are ready to start setting the gypsies' houses on fire, and I want to head this process." JAC
 CHINA LOOKING FOR ARABLE LAND IN CENTRAL RUSSIA...A group of Chinese citizens is seeking to buy 500 hectares of agricultural land in Volgograd Oblast, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 17 November. A delegation from China's Tszilin Province has asked the oblast administration for permission to purchase the land, and Deputy Oblast Governor Pavel Chumakov has said the administration will examine the delegation's proposal, but that the land cannot be purchased, although it may be leased for a period of 49 years. According to the daily, the province and the oblast began cooperating in 1994 -- when they concluded an agreement on the exchange of specialists and workers -- because the oblast's agricultural sector was experiencing a shortage of workers. Every year for the past 10 years, about 600 Chinese have worked in various parts of the region. The government of Tszilin Province is seeking to raise the number of Chinese working in Volgograd Oblast to about 1,000 a year, and to carry out a variety of agricultural projects. Local farmers have reacted negatively to the possible "Chinese expansion," arguing that there are many unemployed people in the oblast. Under the Land Code, foreign citizens can only lease arable land, not purchase it. JAC
 ...AS CHINATOWN POPS UP IN URALS CAPITALA Chinatown where almost no Russian is spoken on the street has emerged in Yekaterinburg, NTV reported on 14 November. The area features Chinese stores, a Chinese clinic, and "even a bank where Russian employees had to learn to read Chinese characters." The television station reported that Sverdlovsk Oblast's migration service estimates that there are about 5,000 Chinese citizens living in Yekaterinburg, but in reality there are as many as 25,000. During a recent census, many Chinese reportedly hid because of fears they would be expelled from the country. JAC
 PATRIARCH CALLS FOR ORTHODOX MEDIA WITH NATIONAL REACHAddressing the first international festival of the Russian Orthodox media in Moscow on 16 November, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II declared that Russia needs "a nationwide Orthodox newspaper, television channel, and radio station" to promote the church's attitude toward "national and international problems," ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at the same event, Metropolitan of Kaluga and Borovskii Kliment called the creation of special bodies to guard against propaganda, violence, and vice in the media, Interfax reported. "We are talking not about censorship but about intolerance of moral deafness -- this is the only kind of intolerance that should exist in our country," Kliment said. Culture and Mass Media Minister Aleksandr Sokolov suggested that "a source of modern Russian culture should be Russian Orthodoxy and the Holy Writ, in which true spiritual values have been defined forever." JAC
 JEWISH CONGRESS ELECTS NEW HEADThe presidium of the Russian Jewish Congress on 16 November elected Federation Council representative for Chavashia Vladimir Slutsker as its new head, replacing Yevgenii Satanovskii, who resigned from the position, newsru.com reported. Slutsker, who is an observant Jew, is a politician and successful businessman, according to the congresses' press release. JAC
 TEENAGE INGUSH GIRL APPREHENDED ON SUSPICION OF TIES TO BESLAN HOSTAGE TAKERSMarina Korigova, a 16-year-old resident of the Ingush village of Sagopshi, was detained by North Ossetian police in Nalchik on 3 November on suspicion of ties with the band that held more than 1,000 people hostage for three days in a Beslan school in early September, ingushetiya.ru reported on 18 November. Police reportedly found on the body of Musa Tsechoev, one of the hostage takers and a former neighbor of Korigova, the number of a mobile telephone that Korigova borrowed from an acquaintance of Tsechoev's before her departure for Nalchik. Investigators have established that 16 calls were made from that mobile phone to Tsechoev. Korigova's lawyer Sharip Tepsaev was quoted by "Gazeta" on 18 November as saying that Korigova has not yet been formally charged with any crime. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TOURS FRONT LINERobert Kocharian, accompanied by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, conducted a detailed inspection of Armenian troop positions along the Line of Contact with Azerbaijani forces on 9-12 November, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 16 November, citing the presidential press service. The purpose of the inspection was reportedly "to take a close look at the combat and technical readiness of units, the implementation of training programs, and the social conditions of [military] personnel." The precise locations Kocharian visited were not specified, but photographs of the tour of inspection showed him in uniform accompanied by the commander of the armed forces of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian. On 3 November, the Armenian government daily "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" quoted Ohanian as saying that "we have a strong army," and that "we will defend to the bitter end every inch of the land where we have shed blood," an implicit rejection of Azerbaijani calls for the withdrawal of Karabakh Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani districts bordering on Karabakh, according to Groong on 4 November. LF
 WATER LEVEL OF THREATENED ARMENIAN LAKE CONTINUES TO RISEThe water level of Armenia's Lake Sevan has risen by more than one meter over the past year and is likely to rise a further six meters over the next three decades, Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 17 November. Excessive use of water from Sevan for irrigation purposes and hydroelectricity in the 1960s and 1970s reduced the water level by some 19 meters and severely damaged the lake's ecosystem. A tunnel was built in the 1970s to channel water from a mountain river into the lake to reverse the damage, but that was offset by the continued use of lake water for power generation, which was finally prohibited by a law enacted in 2002. A second tunnel to increase the inflow of water into Sevan was completed last year. The water level rose by 45 centimeters in 2002 and a similar amount in 2003, and now threatens to submerge some of the privately owned villas built illegally on its shores. LF
 SENTENCED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS CONCLUDE APPEALSThe last four of the seven Azerbaijani oppositionists sentenced last month on charges of inciting violent protests in Baku against the outcome of the October 2003 presidential ballot addressed the Appeals Court on 17 November, zerkalo.az reported the following day. All seven men insist they are innocent, and that the prosecution case against them was based on testimony extracted by torture and statements that were irrelevant to the charges against them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). The presiding judge at the appeal hearing, Mahmud Agalarov, asked the court on 18 November to leave the original sentences in force, Turan reported. LF
 NEW SOLUTION PROPOSED FOR ABKHAZ ELECTION DEADLOCKFormer Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba -- who refuses to accept the 11 October ruling by Abkhazia's Central Election Commission that his rival, Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh, won the 3 October presidential ballot with 50.08 percent of the vote -- proposed to Bagapsh on 17 November that they should both agree not to participate in the repeat presidential ballot that outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba called for on 29 October. The Abkhaz Council of Elders endorsed Khadjimba's proposal, but Bagapsh, who has already scheduled his inauguration for 6 December, rejected it as "unaccaptable for us," Caucasus Press reported. Bagapsh and Khadjimba met separately on 17 November with Prime Minister Nodar Khashba, who on 15 November told ITAR-TASS that he hoped to bring the two rival challengers together to reach "a mutual decision that will make possible a way out of the crisis." They also both attended the Council of Elders session. LF
 ABKHAZ INTERIOR MINISTRY DEFIES PRIME MINISTERSome 50 senior officials of the Abkhaz Interior Ministry, which has an estimated total staff of some 2,500 people, issued a statement on 17 November saying they will no longer take orders from Prime Minister Khashba, whom they blamed for the ongoing "chaos and disorder" in Abkhazia, Reuters reported. Also on 17 November, President Ardzinba suspended his deputy, Vice President Valerii Arshba, on the grounds that he has expressed his support for Bagapsh, and that his actions since the storm by Bagapsh's supporters on 12 November of the presidential and government offices in Sukhum "violated the law and run counter to the republic's constitution," Interfax reported. LF
 GEORGIAN NGOS PROTEST ELECTION-LAW AMENDMENTSRepresentatives of Georgian NGOs have requested a meeting with President Mikheil Saakashvili at which they hope to explain to him their serious reservations over the election law amendments passed by parliament in its first reading on 11 November. Caucasus Press on 17 November quoted Tamar Zhvania of the NGO Fair Elections as saying she cannot comprehend why the amendments are being pushed through parliament so fast without any prior public discussion. The amendments empower the president to appoint all seven members of the Central Election Commission, including its chairman, according to Caucasus Press on 8 November; his nominees must be approved by parliament. Opposition deputy Koba Davitashvili commented after the first reading of the draft amendments that "we have lost the multiparty [election commission] on which all parties represented in parliament were represented," Caucasus Press reported on 11 November. LF
 OFFICIAL SAYS KAZAKHSTAN FACES TERROR THREATVladimir Bozhko, first deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), said on 16 November in Astana that Kazakhstan faces a growing threat from Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other terrorist groups, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The remarks came at a roundtable on fighting terrorism, and only days after the KNB announced its split from an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). Bozhko noted that Kazakhstan has deported 14 members of Uighur separatist organizations to Kyrgyzstan and China over the last six years, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Mark Allison, a researcher with Amnesty International's East Asia team, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 17 November that China is putting political and economic pressure on Central Asian governments to curb Uighur activists. Bozhko also said that Kazakhstan must take steps to ensure that diaspora communities from the Caucasus in Kazakhstan do not support illegal activities in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. DK
 KAZAKHSTAN, WORLD BANK CONTINUE COOPERATIONKazakh Economy Minister Kairat Kelimbetov and World Bank Vice President Shigeo Katsu signed a protocol in Astana on 16 November to continue the Joint Economic Research Program for 2005-07, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Cooperation between the Kazakh government and the World Bank is making a weighty contribution to the strengthening of our country's economy," Kelimbetov told a briefing, according to Kazinform. At a meeting with World Bank President James Wolfensohn in Astana the same day, Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov stressed, "We attach great significance to the program of economic cooperation with the World Bank," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Since Kazakhstan joined the World Bank in 1992, it has received $1.9 billion for agriculture, ecology, and infrastructure-development projects. DK
 INMATES CUT VEINS IN KYRGYZ PRISON PROTESTA group of 18 inmates at a detention center in Osh cut their veins and declared a hunger strike on 16 November to protest conditions at the facility, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the next day. Human rights activist Sadyk Makhmudov told reporters on 17 November that medics provided first aid to the prisoners who maimed themselves. However, Makhmudov said that the inmates were insisting that they will continue their hunger strike until they can hold talks with regional penitentiary authorities about improving the conditions of their detention. DK
 U.S. PROMISES TAJIKISTAN HELP ON BORDER...Laura Kennedy, U.S. State Department assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 16 November, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Their talks focused on bilateral cooperation, the fight against terrorism, narcotics interdiction, and the February 2005 parliamentary elections in Tajikistan. "The United States hopes, of course, that the elections are democratic," Avesta quoted Kennedy as saying. Addressing the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border, where Russian guards have begun transferring jurisdiction to their Tajik colleagues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004), Kennedy said that the United States will provide "technical assistance" to strengthen the border and will ask international organizations to do the same, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Kennedy also said that the United States will support Rakhmonov's proposal to create an international alliance against drug trafficking. As regards the narcotics front, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said he is encouraged by U.S. and Afghan plans to step up the fight against the growing of opium poppies in Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK
 ...AS TAJIK DELEGATION VISITS PENTAGONA Tajik delegation led by Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Grudyno visited Washington on 15-16 November for consultations with their colleagues in the U.S. Defense Department, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Talks focused on military cooperation, defense reform, border security, and security in Central Asia. An unidentified source at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe told the news agency that "the consultations are yet another step forward in the developing relations between our two countries." The Tajik delegation included representatives from the Defense Ministry, Emergency Situations Ministry, Border Protection Committee, and National Guard. DK
 TURKMEN, IRANIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS COOPERATIONTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov spoke by telephone on 17 November with Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, turkmenistan.ru reported. Their conversation focused on the Friendship dam, a joint hydropower project along the countries' border. According to Turkmenistan's official news agency, the two presidents will attend a ceremony tentatively scheduled for February-March 2005 to mark the official opening of the dam. The two also discussed talks on the legal status of the Caspian Sea to be held in Ashgabat in January 2005 at the level of deputy foreign ministers. DK
 RUSSIAN GAS COMPANY WANTS MORE INFO ON TURKMEN GAS RESERVESAleksandr Ryazanov, deputy chairman of Gazprom, said on 16 November in Ashgabat that the Russian gas monopoly would like to have a clearer picture of Turkmenistan's gas reserves, ITAR-TASS reported. "By 2008, [Gazprom's annual] purchases of Turkmen gas will be 80 billion cubic meters, which is why it is already important to have a clear picture of raw material availability," Ryazanov said. Gazprom is not the only party with an interest in greater clarity. Pakistani officials recently canceled a meeting of the steering committee for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan natural-gas-pipeline project because Turkmenistan has not yet provided certified evidence of reserves at its Daulatabad gas field (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). DK
 U.S. OFFICIAL VISITS UZBEKISTANMichael Kozak, U.S. principal assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, held talks with high-ranking Uzbek officials in Tashkent on 16-17 November in the course of a fact-finding visit, UzReport reported. Kozak met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev on 16 November to discuss political reforms, Uzbekistan's upcoming introduction of a bicameral parliament, and the 26 December parliamentary elections. On 17 November, Kozak met with officials from the Interior and Justice ministries, Prosecutor-General's Office, and Central Election Commission, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Kozak's inquiry about the difficulties opposition parties are having nominating candidates through initiative groups was met with an objection from Central Election Commission Deputy Chairwoman Sayyora Khujaeva. "There are various initiative-group candidates who have been denied registration, including some who work in sate structures," Khujaeva said. Kozak's visit will travel to Namangan and Andijon on 18-19 November. DK
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO MAINTAIN FORMER COURSE...Speaking to Belarusian lawmakers and government officials on 17 November, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka stressed that the government's strategic course will not change, Belapan reported. "It was this course that the Belarusian people have voted for, and we have no right to change it," Lukashenka said at a signing ceremony for amendments to the constitution that will effectively allow him to run for president an unlimited number of times. The amendments were ostensibly approved in a 17 October referendum that was said by an OSCE monitoring mission to have fallen "significantly short" of democratic standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004), and considered by an international pollster as falsified by some 30 percent in favor of Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 October 2004). "No irregularities that could influence the results of the plebiscite were discovered," Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna said during the signing ceremony for the referendum, which officially confirmed Lukashenka's right to run for the presidency in 2006 with an officially reported 90.28 percent of the vote. JM
 ...AND CALLS ON OPPOSITION TO RECOGNIZE HIS 'ACHIEVEMENTS'President Lukashenka also urged the opposition on 17 November to recognize the achievements of Belarus under his rule and condemn calls for the country's international isolation, Belapan reported. "The opposition should split up," Lukashenka said. "If they still have just a trace of living and realistic ideas...they should, firstly, recognize the positive achievements in the most modern history of Belarusian society and, secondly, condemn strongly those mean appeals to Western countries to initiate activities aimed at our country's isolation, which were voiced by some opposition activists." In particular, Lukashenka said the opposition could appeal to the United States to repeal the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, which was adopted last month (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 8 October 2004). Mikalay Statkevich, the leader of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly), countered: "The opposition can, in fact, call on the West to cancel all acts and restrictions against the Belarusian authorities if Lukashenka acknowledges that there was a farce in Belarus instead of parliamentary elections and a referendum that resulted in an illegitimate constitutional change that granted him the right to stay in power for life." JM
 BELARUS'S NEW LOWER HOUSE HOLDS FIRST SESSIONThe Chamber of Representatives elected in 17 October legislative balloting held its first session on 16 November, Belapan reported. Deputies elected Uladzimir Kanaplyou as speaker of the Chamber of Representatives. Kanaplyou, who was deputy speaker in the previous lower house, told journalists in Minsk on 16 November that European parliamentary organizations should take the first step toward improving relations with the Belarusian legislature. JM
 UKRAINIAN STUDENTS DEMAND FAIR PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFFThe youth organization Pora (It's Time) announced on 17 November a nationwide strike campaign among Ukrainian students to urge the authorities to conduct a fair presidential runoff between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko on 21 November, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The same day, some 5,000 students rallied in Ivano-Frankivsk to demand fair presidential elections and urge educational authorities to avoid politicizing the educational process or persecuting students for their convictions. Also the same day, 4,000 students picketed the local police headquarters in Lviv with similar demands. Many participants in the protests -- who, apart from Pora, included activists of the Chysta Ukrayina (Clean Ukraine) and Studentska Khvylya (Students' Wave) youth organizations -- had the orange bands and stickers of the pro-Yushchenko election campaign. JM
 UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS CHALLENGE 31 OCTOBER VOTE IN 35 CONSTITUENCIESYosyp Vinskyy, a proxy of presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz of the Socialist Party, has appealed to the Ukrainian Supreme Court to rule on the authenticity of the official election results announced by the Central Election Commission (TsVK) on 10 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004), UNIAN reported on 18 November. According to Vinskyy, Moroz's election staff revealed discrepancies between protocols from 35 of the country's 225 electoral districts and the results in those constituencies made public by the TsVK on 10 November. Socialist Party leader Moroz, who received 5.8 percent of the vote on 31 October, has thrown its support behind Yushchenko in the runoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). Meanwhile, following a ruling by the Supreme Court, the TsVK will revise the official results of the 31 October ballot by taking into account the formerly invalidated ballot in constituency No. 100 in Kirovohrad, where Yushchenko reportedly beat Yanukovych by some 25,000 votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004). JM
 YUSHCHENKO SUPPORTERS TO HOLD PARALLEL VOTE COUNT ON KYIV SQUAREBackers of opposition candidate Yushchenko will gather on Independence Square in Kyiv after the close of polling stations for the 21 November presidential runoff to take part in a parallel vote count, Interfax reported on 18 November, quoting lawmaker Mykola Tomenko from Yushchenko's election staff. According to Tomenko, the parallel vote count will be conducted on the basis of copies of the official election protocols that will be successively issued by territorial election commissions. Meanwhile, Serhiy Tihipko, manager of Yanukovych's election campaign, told journalists on 17 November that Yanukovych's supporters might call up to 40,000 miners from Ukraine's eastern regions to Kyiv "to defend the Central Election Commission" if the situation in the city is "aggravated" on the eve of the runoff, according to Interfax. JM
 UKRAINE REPORTS RECORD GRAIN HARVESTUkraine harvested 45 million tons of grain in 2004, which is the country's highest grain crop since independence, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 17 November, Farm Workers Day in Ukraine. Authorities organized a gala concert the same day that served as a platform for outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to once again endorse Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential bid. Kuchma, who was presented a wheat sheaf by a child in national dress at the concert, handed the sheaf to Yanukovych. "I want this sheaf to be safeguarded by a reliable pair of hands," Reuters quoted Kuchma as saying. "I am therefore turning it over to the prime minister." JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO ON LAND SALES MORATORIUMThe Verkhovna Rada on 18 November overrode President Kuchma's veto of a law to extend a moratorium on the sale of farmland by individuals and legal entities in Ukraine from 1 January 2005 to 1 January 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2004), UNIAN reported. Three hundred ten of the 437 deputies registered for the session voted to override the veto. JM
 KOSOVA REPORTEDLY HAS NEW COALITION GOVERNMENT...A spokesman for President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), which has the single largest bloc of seats in the new parliament, said in Prishtina on 17 November that his party has put together a coalition government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2004). The spokesman noted that the other members of the coalition are Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), which has the third-largest group of legislative seats, the small Christian Democratic Party of the Albanians (PSHDK), and representatives of the non-Serbian minorities. Rugova will continue to serve as president, while Haradinaj will become prime minister, the spokesman added. PM
 ...AND A NEW OPPOSITION...A spokesman for Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), which is the second-strongest party in the parliament, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 17 September that he congratulates the new coalition but does not think it will last long. The spokesman noted that the PDK wanted a broad-based coalition government, such as the outgoing one that includes the LDK, PDK, and AAK. The spokesman added, however, that the new coalition was formed democratically and "we are ready to go into the opposition." Elsewhere, a spokesman for newly founded Ora party, which is the fourth-largest group in the legislature, said that the coalition agreement will prove short-lived and does not solve any of Kosova's institutional problems. He argued that the pact has merely postponed the emergence of a crisis "by a few weeks or months." Meanwhile, Ora leader Veton Surroi said that "the fact that this [coalition building] process started once again in the office of the head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) [Soren Jessen-Petersen] shows that the political evolution of Kosova is at a standstill," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). PM
 ...BUT WHAT DO THE FOREIGNERS REALLY THINK?A spokeswoman for UNMIK chief Jessen-Petersen said in Prishtina on 17 November that he welcomes the fact that consultations between the political parties have led to an agreement without the involvement of the international community, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But Reuters reported that unnamed UNMIK officials are unhappy with the LDK's announcement regarding the pact. Those officials reportedly still hope for a continuation of the current broad-based coalition. The news agency suggested that the international community has found the PDK to be a more cooperative partner than the LDK or AAK. PM
 SPECULATION RUNS HIGH IN MACEDONIA OVER NEW PREMIER AND GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLEFollowing the resignation of Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov on 15 November, speculation was rife regarding his possible successor and a possible government reshuffle, "Utrinski vesnik" and other Macedonian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 November 2004). Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva, Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska, Finance Minister Nikola Popovski, and Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) met on 17 November to discuss which of them will be nominated as new party chairman. The position has been vacant since Branko Crvenkovski was elected president earlier this year and resigned his party offices. The four ministers reportedly agreed that the new chairman will also become the new prime minister. On 18 November, the parliament accepted Kostov's resignation, dpa reported. Crvenkovski now has 10 days in which to name a new prime minister, who will then have an additional 20 days to announce a cabinet. Elsewhere, the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) demanded an investigation into Kostov's claims that some members of his cabinet are corrupt, the private A1 TV reported. UB
 GERMANY PLEDGES TO CONTINUE ITS ROLE IN THE BALKANSGerman Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told a Berlin conference on Balkan economic development on 17 November that his country will keep its troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova so long as they are needed to maintain stability, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Schroeder told leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro that Germany will remain their reliable partner as they seek admission to the EU, adding that the main tasks confronting the Balkans are to promote economic development and avoid new ethnic conflicts (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 October 2003 and 5 March and 16 July 2004). Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his country welcomes investors from Western countries, especially from Germany, in its efforts to promote economic and political stability. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic argued that the countries of the region now have a "realistic European perspective" and that the only question is when they will finally join the EU. PM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REBUFFS CRITICISM OF HIS CAMPAIGN PRESENCEPresident Ion Iliescu told journalists on 16 November that he "could not care less" about criticism of his involvement in the electoral campaign of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Mediafax reported. Asked whether he was compromising presidential neutrality, Iliescu replied: "What neutrality am I infringing on? I am not Switzerland. I am the president of Romania, and it is natural that I would meet the premier and the foreign minister [when necessary]," he said. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is the PSD's candidate for president, and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana is the party's candidate for prime minister in the presidential and parliamentary elections slated for 28 November. Iliescu has appeared in public with them on several occasions during the electoral campaign. The Romanian Electoral Bureau on 16 November rejected a complaint by the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance over posters showing Iliescu under the PSD banner. MS
 EUROPEAN COMMISSION DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ROMANIAN ELECTIONSEuropean Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori on 17 November denied suggestions by several Romanian civic rights groups that Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen is somehow backing the ruling Social Democrats in the November elections, international news agencies reported. Five groups said Verheugen's proposal to end accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania on 24 November, just four days ahead of the elections, "would put the government at considerable advantage," according to AP. Reuters cited the Romanian Academic Society, the Romania Think Tank, the Pro-Democratia Association, and the Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania-Helsinki Committee as saying that Verheugen "has seriously prejudiced the duty of the European Commission to remain neutral in the forthcoming Romanian elections." Filori said the date for concluding negotiations was set long before the date of the Romanian vote became known and that the decision on whether to admit Romania into the EU is made not by the commission but by each of its 25 members. MS
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT STRIKES OUT CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENT TO PENAL CODEThe lower house on 16 November agreed to drop a controversial amendment to the Penal Code on the right of prosecution and defense counsels to appeal to the High Court of Justice and Cassation against final court decisions, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). Lawmakers said the right contravenes EU legislation. MS
 ROMANIAN OPPOSITION DAILIES ACCUSE PRESIDENT OF SCHEMING WITH GORBACHEV ON MOLDOVAThree Romanian dailies -- "Romania libera," "Ziua," and "Cotidianul" -- on 16 November printed the purported minutes of a 5 April 1991 Moscow meeting between President Iliescu and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that suggest Iliescu pledged on that occasion to work with the Soviet Union against pro-unionist forces in Moldova. The minutes were reportedly handed over by former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovskii, who photocopied Soviet archives. They suggest Iliescu and Gorbachev agreed that "extremist" forces in Moldova must be neutralized. According to the minutes, Iliescu asked Gorbachev to show "understanding" for his having to display a different attitude on reunification with Moldova in speeches targeting domestic audiences, because the opposition was cornering him on that issue. The three dailies are generally regarded as critical of Iliescu and of the ruling Social Democrats. Adrian Nastase, who is now that party's candidate for the presidency, was serving as foreign minister at the time; some observers believe the publication of the meeting's minutes are aimed at hurting his chances in the 28 November ballot. MS
 EU DELEGATION VISITS MOLDOVA...A delegation of the European Union headed by Dutch diplomat Jan Lucas van Hoorn met in Chisinau on 16 November with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Among the topics discussed were the pending Moldovan-European Union Action Plan, Chisinau's relations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the search for a solution to the conflict with Transdniester, and the observance of democratic standards in Moldova's parliamentary elections slated for 2005. Voronin told the delegation that Moldova is "actively preparing" for the action plan's implementation, and the visitors said they hope the plan will be signed by the end of this year. The EU delegation reiterated Brussels' interest in successfully completing consultations on the signing of a Declaration of Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM) and said the EU hopes the declaration might be signed at the December session of the OSCE Committee of Ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria. Voronin told the visitors that he considers the holding of free and fair elections a "matter of personal prestige." MS
 ...AS DOES U.S. OFFICIALVisiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs John Tefft met in Chisinau on 17 November with President Voronin, Reintegration Minister Sova, and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, Flux reported. Tefft, who on 6 June replaced Steven Pifer in that position, told Voronin that the existence of a "hotbed of corruption and instability" in the immediate neighborhood of the EU "cannot be tolerated endlessly" and that the Transdniester conflict settlement requires the participation of European and "international structures" in the search for a solution. He also said Russia must comply with the decisions of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit and withdraw its troops and arsenal from Transdniester. Tefft said the United States, like the EU, backs the signing of the DSSM in Sofia next month. He also said Washington is aware of some democratic deficiencies in Moldova, adding that these run counter to "the spirit of the OSCE Charter" by which Moldova has pledged to abide. He thanked Voronin for Moldova's contribution to the international struggle against terrorism and to restoring stability in Iraq. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS ARMY OF THE MUSLIMS NOT HOLDING HOSTAGES...Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said on 17 November that he believes the group calling itself Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) is not holding the three UN workers hostage, as it has claimed, Reuters reported. "You can tell by the deadlines and the demands, which keep being broken and relaxed," Mashal said, justifying the Afghan government's opinion. "We think they [hostages] are being held by some armed robbers who abducted them. Our reports suggest that the hostages are still in or around Kabul," Mashal added. Army of the Muslims, a splinter group of the neo-Taliban, reportedly abducted the UN election workers on 28 October and has repeatedly changed its demands and deadlines for ending the hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004 and "The UN Afghan Kidnappers And Their Motives," rferl.org, 9 November 2004). AT
 ...AS NEO-TALIBAN CONCUR...Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told RFE/RL on 17 November that he does not think anyone associated with his movement is involved in the UN kidnappings. "Kidnapping or taking people hostage, I believe, is neither an action that could be effective against the enemy nor will there be a reasonable response to the demands," Hakimi said. "There is also another problem: It is said that women are among the hostages. I believe kidnapping women does not conform to Islamic Shari'a law." Immediately after the hostage crisis began, Hakimi had said that he doubted that Army of the Muslims was behind the kidnappings because of that group's inability to carry out such operations in Kabul. Latifullah Hakimi, also claming to speak for the neo-Taliban, while denying any involvement in the kidnappings had praised the action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). Both the neo-Taliban and splinter groups like Army of the Muslims have different individuals speaking for them, often in contradictory terms -- reflecting either a tactical decision to confuse their enemies or a sign of a fragmented and undisciplined organizational structure. AT
 ...BUT HOSTAGE TAKERS REJECT CLAIMThe purported leader of Army of the Muslims, Sayyed Akbar Agha, on 17 November rejected speculation that his group does not have the UN hostages, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "We have kidnapped them and they are with us. Any such rumors and propaganda are baseless and untrue," Akbar Agha told AIP. The group's next steps regarding the hostages, according to Akbar Agha, are: "The first possibility is to hold further talks to keep the hostages safe and alive. The second possibility is to extend the deadline. The third is to decide on beheading the hostages. The fourth option is to release all or one of the three hostages." Such a decision must be made by the group's council, which could meet once two of its members arrive from a remote region, Akbar Agha reported. AT
 AFGHAN COMMISSION MEETS OVER CABLE PROGRAMMINGThe commission formed to examine the appropriateness of cable-television broadcasts held a meeting on 16 November at the Information and Culture Ministry, Radio Afghanistan reported. The meeting was chaired by Mawlawi Mostafa Barakzai, a representative of the Afghan Supreme Court, which on 10 November ordered a ban on cable-television broadcasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"12 November 2004). Hamed Elmi, representing the government on the commission, said discussion revolved around Chapter 2, Article 4 of the press law, which stipulates that "no real or incorporeal person including the government and government officials can interdict, prohibit, censor, or limit the activities of mass media or interfere in the affairs of mass media through other means." Elmi said that "since a complete ban on this phenomenon [cable television] is against the constitution and the press law, therefore, a strategy should be adopted that will utilize the positive aspects of cable broadcasts that meet both the requirements of freedom as well as Islamic teachings and national culture." Article 8 of the country's press law states that "matters contrary to principles of Islam and offensive to other religions and sects" cannot be allowed in the mass media. The Supreme Court justified its ban on religious grounds (for more on the Afghan press law, see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 2 July 2004). AT
 EXILES SAY IRAN HAS BOMB DESIGN, ENRICHED URANIUMA Pakistani scientist gave Iran designs for nuclear weapons and a sample of weapons-grade enriched uranium, according to the Iranian exile group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), news agencies reported on 17 November. The NCRI, a front for the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist group, has made previous claims on aspects of Iran's nuclear program (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 June and 6 September 2004). The scientist was purportedly Abdul Qadeer Khan, who developed Pakistan's nuclear program but also ran an international black market in nuclear know-how and parts until his arrest in 2001. Khan reportedly gave Iran designs for a Chinese-developed warhead between 1994 and 1996 and "a quantity of highly enriched uranium" in 2001, Reuters quoted NCRI spokesman Farid Suleimani as saying in Vienna. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry rejected the claim on 17 November, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported. Iran recently agreed to temporarily suspend all uranium-enrichment related activities to allay Western suspicions of its nuclear program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2004). But Suleimani claimed that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium "as we speak" at a secret site near Tehran despite its recent pledge, AP reported. VS
 PRESIDENT REITERATES IRAN'S INTENTION TO MASTER FUEL CYCLEPresident Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 17 November that Iran is not "moving toward nor do we wish to move toward nuclear weapons," but has a right "to make uranium for nuclear fuel" within the bounds of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which it is a signatory, ISNA reported the same day. Khatami said "working groups" will discuss for three months from "mid-December" how Iran can assure the West of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and how European states intend to assure Iran that they will allow and assist its peaceful nuclear program, ISNA reported. The continued suspension of enrichment activities will depend on the results of those discussions, ISNA and AFP quoted Khatami as saying. Dutch Foreign Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, warned in Strasbourg on 17 November that Iran might still be referred to the UN Security Council for violating nuclear nonproliferation rules, unless it allows UN nuclear inspectors to rapidly verify the full suspension of enrichment and related activities, AFP reported the same day. VS
 IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS UNHAPPY ABOUT NUCLEAR DEALConservative parliamentarians are reportedly unhappy with Iran's recent deal with three European countries and invited Hassan Rohani, the country's top nuclear negotiator and Supreme National Security Council secretary, to answer their questions at closed parliamentary sessions on 16 and 17 November, Radio Farda reported on 17 November. Rohani said separately in Tehran on 17 November that Iran await the results of the 25 November meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board, which will discuss Iran, but warned, "Europe knows how we will react if our confidence is not won. I hope both sides will...take firm steps to implement the recent agreement," Fars News Agency reported. Iran, he said, does not want nuclear weapons but cannot follow the "Libyan model" of abandoning its nuclear program altogether. "That model cannot by any means be considered by revolutionary Iran," farsnews.com quoted him as saying. VS
 IRANIAN INDUSTRY MINISTER LEADS DELEGATION TO LONDONIranian Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri led a trade delegation to London on 16 November, where he met with Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons, Radio Farda reported on 17 November. A statement issued by Symons' office describes the visit as "timely," adding that the implementation of the recent nuclear deal will help boost confidence between Iran and the EU, according to the Foreign Office website (http://www.fco.gov.uk). The delegation also met with members of the British-Iranian Commerce Chamber at the Trade and Industry Department in London on 17 November, Radio Farda reported. VS
 PRESIDENT SAYS IRAN WILL DO ALL TO RESOLVE IRAQ'S PROBLEMSPresident Khatami told reporters in Tehran on 17 November that Iran will do "everything" it can to "solve the Iraq problem," ISNA reported the same day. He added that Iran's positive response to the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, a regional gathering to discuss Iraq scheduled for 22-24 November, "does not mean we will negotiate with America," ISNA reported. The United States, he said, is "stuck in a quagmire" in Iraq, and "we are prepared to help and save it, to save the Iraqi people, otherwise there is no agenda for negotiations with America." He said "there is no possibility of Iraq's problems being solved without [regard for] Iran's opinion, not in the sense that we are interfering, but that we are the people closest to Iraq." Iranian and U.S. officials might meet at the conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). VS
 VIOLENCE CONTINUES THROUGHOUT IRAQA car bomb detonated in the northern Iraqi town of Bayji on 18 November, killing four Iraqis, Reuters reported. Lieutenant Colonel Kifah Muhammad told the news agency that two women, a man, and child were killed in the incident. Three U.S. soldiers were injured in the blast, washingtonpost.com reported. Fifteen Iraqis were killed in the city on 17 November when a suicide bomber drove his car into a U.S. patrol, Reuters reported. Nine people were killed and 15 wounded in clashes in Al-Ramadi on 17 November, Al-Arabiyah television reported. U.S. forces closed entrances to the city, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, Al-Jazeera reported on 17 November. Shops remained closed in Al-Ramadi, which was reportedly without electricity for eight days. Gunmen shot and killed two Turkish truck drivers in Balad on 17 November, Anatolia news agency reported. Militants burned the bodies of the drivers after killing them, Anatolia reported. Gunmen also attacked a U.S. patrol in Samarra on 17 November, setting an armored personnel carrier and a Hummer on fire, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. KR
 MOSUL GOVERNOR'S OFFICE ATTACKEDMilitants attacked the office of Mosul Governor Durayd Kashmula on 18 November, Reuters reported. One bodyguard was killed in the attack and four others were wounded, U.S. military officials said. Militants fired 10 mortar rounds at the building during the attack, setting a fuel tanker parked nearby on fire. Militants also fired six mortar rounds at a U.S. military base in the city. There were no reported injuries in that attack, an unnamed U.S. military spokeswoman said. Militants stormed a police station and set two police cars on fire in the northern Iraqi city on 17 November, Al-Arabiyah reported the same day. Al-Jazeera television reported on 16 November that the United States has deployed some 5,000 troops to Mosul to fight alongside an Iraqi National Guard brigade in the city. KR
 CLASHES REPORTEDLY ERUPT IN AL-NAJAFThe Al-Najaf News Network reported on 17 November that armed clashes took place between police and a group of Shi'ite men on 16 November after the men were discovered to have been coordinating with a group of Al-Fallujah militants to disrupt the calm in the holy city. Local residents alerted police to the situation, and police reportedly apprehended the suspected militants, the website reported. Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has been widely criticized by Sunnis in recent days for not taking a stand against the U.S.-led incursion on Al-Fallujah. KR
 CONFUSION OVER BODY FOUND IN AL-FALLUJAHThe mutilated body of a Caucasian woman found earlier this week in Al-Fallujah appears to be that of CARE International Director Margaret Hassan, AFP quoted Australian Prime Minister John Howard as saying on 18 November. "The body found in Fallujah appears to have been Margaret's and the video of the execution of a Western woman appears, on all available information, to have been genuine," Howard said. He appeared to recant his statement later in the day, however, telling reporters: "The body has not been returned by those who killed her," Al-Jazeera reported. The satellite news channel reported on 16 November that it had obtained video footage depicting Hassan's apparent killing; the British government said on 17 November that the tape appeared to be authentic. According to AFP, the body was that of a blonde-haired woman. Her legs and arms were severed and throat slit. It was discovered on 14 November. Al-Jazeera reported that the woman killed on the videotape was shot in the back of the head. Hassan's husband has appealed to her abductors to return her body. KR
 NEWS CHANNEL REPORTS 46 POLITICAL PARTIES WILL BOYCOTT ELECTIONAl-Jazeera television reported on 18 November that it has obtained a statement signed by representatives of 46 Iraqi political parties that says the groups will boycott national elections in January. The news channel named the Muslim Scholars Association, the Pan-Arab Current Movement, the Iraqi Turkoman Front, and the Democratic Christian Party as signatories to the document. The news channel interviewed Muslim Scholars Association member Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i about the statement. He said the parties "consider elections under the U.S. occupation false and believe that they do not express the Iraqi people's ambitions." He said the groups were motivated to boycott the elections "because of the barbaric measures, including genocide and the police of scorched earth that were taken against the people of Al-Fallujah." (For background on Iraqi political groups, see http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis/.) KR
 FRENCH PRESIDENT DOUBTS ASSERTION THAT HUSSEIN'S REMOVAL HAS MADE WORLD SAFERFrench President Jacques Chirac suggested in a 17 November interview on BBC television that the world has become more dangerous as a result of the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, bbc.co.uk reported the same day. Asked if he agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush's statements that the world is safer after Hussein's removal, Chirac said: "To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing. But it also provoked reactions, such as the mobilization in a number of countries, of men and women of Islam, which has made the world more dangerous." "There's no doubt that there has been an increase in terrorism and one of the origins of that has been the situation in Iraq," he added. "I'm not at all sure that one can say that the world is safer." KR
 HAS IRAN TRADED A 'PEARL' FOR A 'BONBON'?By Bill Samii
Iran will voluntarily "continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," according to its 14 November agreement with the European Union's "Big Three" -- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Officials in Europe and in Iran have welcomed the deal because it forestalls Iran's being referred to the UN Security Council and facing sanctions. On the other hand, representatives of Iran's top official, conservative legislators, and the press have objected to the deal.
The Iran-EU agreement notes that the suspension is "a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation." Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani stressed this point on 15 November, Mehr News Agency reported. Rohani also noted that the agreement does not mention a permanent suspension of uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, according to IRNA, Rohani said that Iran will suspend its uranium-conversion activities on 22 November, including the making and assembling of centrifuge components. He was adamant that Iran still wants to master the entire fuel cycle.
The next day, Rohani had to appear at the legislature to explain the deal with the EU at a closed-door session. Afterward, he told reporters that the Iran-EU agreement is just a preliminary document that will determine future activities and it does not need parliamentary approval, IRNA reported. "Once long-term agreements are finalized, they will have to be ratified by the parliament," he said. He added that the actual suspension of enrichment-related activities will last only as long as the negotiations, but if they break down or reach a dead end, Iran will no longer be committed to the suspension.
Apparently, Rohani's explanation did not satisfy the parliamentarians, and he had to return for another closed-door session on 17 November, ILNA reported.
Legislators' dissatisfaction with the Iran-EU accord was noted in the Western media on 16 and 17 November, including "The New York Times" ("Nuclear Deal with Iranians Has Angered Hard-Liners," 17 November 2004).
Of greater relevance is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's opinion of the agreement with the Europeans, because he has the final say in all matters of policy. Khamenei's representative at the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, dismissed the agreement for making concessions in exchange for nothing tangible, Fars News Agency reported. Larijani said Iran effectively exchanged a "pearl" for a "bonbon." Larijani went on to say that although he respected the Iranian diplomats who interacted with the Europeans, he had reservations about the negotiations themselves.
Uranium enrichment should not be halted without securing economic concessions, he said. The European promise of assistance in gaining World Trade Organization membership, furthermore, is a one-time deal whereas suspending uranium enrichment is a continuous commitment, according to Larijani.
Hussein Shariatmadari, the supreme leader's representative at the Kayhan Institute, also came out against the agreement. In an editorial in the 15 November "Kayhan," he wrote that the Iranian negotiators were "swindled." Shariatmadari wrote that in accordance with the September 2004 IAEA board of governors resolution, the negotiators have agreed to fully stop enrichment activities. Doing this, he continued, is a "retreat" from Iran's previously announced "red line."
In an attempt to calm the dispute over the wisdom of the agreement with the Europeans, Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) official Hussein Musavian said on 17 November that the supreme leader has been supervising Iranian nuclear affairs from the outset, IRNA reported. Musavian added that his colleague, SNSC Secretary Hassan Rohani, is just a coordinator.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami also tried to pour oil on the troubled waters. "Production of uranium and its enrichment as nuclear fuel is Iran's right," he told reporters after a 17 November cabinet meeting. "If we see that the Europeans are not fulfilling their promises, then it is natural that we cannot remain committed to this issue either." Khatami also urged the EU and the IAEA to act in a way that will reassure Iran.
Iran's press, meanwhile, kept up a veritable barrage of criticism about the Iran-EU agreement. The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 17 November, for example, said the officials treat Iranian people as if they are "simple-minded" and the Europeans believe this, too. Even the moderate "Mardom Salari" said on 17 November that the agreement returns Iran to "square one." The reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" said on 16 November that the deal might be the best that Iran can secure, but in a factional jibe it called on the negotiators to explain Iran's weakened position in the negotiating process.
"Nobody could claim that America has increased its power in the past two or three years, and has thus, in coordination with Europe, increased pressures on Iran," "Aftab-i Yazd" added. "So it is we who are weaker, and we must think of the reasons why."