|Saturday, 24 August 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-11-24
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN REACTS TO POLITICAL CRISIS IN UKRAINE...Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Lisbon on 23 November that Russia can neither recognize nor protest the the presidential runoff in Kyiv because "no official results have been announced," Russian and Western news agencies reported. He added that "I can advise others to follow our example," in an apparent jab at the U.S. and the EU for condemning the conduct of the election. Putin admitted that he was too quick to congratulate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on his victory on 22 November before all the votes were counted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). He added that it was an informal gesture. "I really only privately congratulated one of the presidential candidates on his victory according to the information provided by the exit polls," RIA-Novosti quoted the president as saying. That contrasts with the fact that Yanukovych's opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, was decidely ahead in all exit polls. Putin added that only the Ukrainian Central Election Commission can announce the official results, and he called on both sides to follow legal procedures in resolving the conflict. VY
 ...SLAMS EU AND OSCE FOR CRITICIZING UKRANIAN ELECTION...At the same press conference, Putin slammed as "inadmissible" doubts expressed by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about the outcome of the disputed presidential elections in Ukraine, RTR and Reuters reported. "The Ukraine is a large European country with a developed legal system, we don't have to give the country lessons, it is the Ukraine that can give lessons to others," Putin added. "I am aware of the statement made by the EU foreign ministers with reference to the OSCE observers, in which the results of the elections were put into question," he said. "If someone continues to use OSCE observers for such purposes this organization will lose its international prestige and the very goal of its existence," he added, reported RTR. VY
 ...AS ANALYST SUGGESTS U.S., RUSSIAN, AND POLISH MEDIATIONThe director of the National Strategy Institute, Stanislav Belkovskii, said that the present political crisis in Ukraine is the result of a bad strategy in the election campaign by the Russian and the Ukrainian pro-government strategists, apn.ru reported. Moscow made a one-sided and excessive push for Yanukovych, Belkovskii said, and added that "now a revolution has begun in Ukraine and it can be stopped by negotiations on the creation of a coalition government made up of Yanukovych and opposition leader Yushchenko." Such negotiations can be arranged only under outside mediation in which the role of mediator could be played by U.S., Russia, and Poland," he noted. It is true, Belkovskii said, that with its intervention in Ukrainian affairs, Moscow has already undermined its reputation in the eyes of the Ukrainian public. He added that he has information that the results of the runoff election were seriously rigged "by both sides." Belkovskii monitored the election campaign from Kyiv. VY
 RUSSIAN FM DISCUSSES PEACE ROAD MAP WITH PALESTINIAN AND ISRAELI LEADERSSpeaking in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 23 November that the Russian position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict coincides with both the Israeli and Palestinian policies, RIA-Novosti reported. Lavrov said that since the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, there are favorable prospects to implement the "road-map" plan for peace. In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected Lavrov's proposal "to broaden the involvement of Russia, the U.S., the EU, and the UN in a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestine conflict," www.cursor.ru reported. Sharon said that "until the election [takes place] within the Palestinian Authority, there is no place for new initiatives." VY
 LEGISLATORS WANT TO SAY 'GOODBYE' TO OCTOBER REVOLUTION HOLIDAY...State Duma deputies voted on 23 November to approve in its first reading a bill amending the Labor Code to alter the roster of national holidays, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 325 in favor with 100 against and six abstentions, according to Interfax. The draft bill cancels commemoration of 7 November, which had been celebrated in the Soviet era as the Great October Revolution Day and, under Yeltsin, as the Day of Reconciliation and Accord. A new holiday would be celebrated on 4 November and called National Unity Day, which is the anniversary of the Russian victory over Polish forces in 1612 and the end of the "Time of Troubles" from 1593-1613. The Interreligious Council suggested the date change. The bill would also extend the New Year holiday to 5 January. On 7 January, Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated. Other canceled holidays would be 2 May (an extended day for 1 May) and 12 December, Day of the Russian Constitution. According to ORT, the bill is expected to pass in all three readings, sail through the Federation Council, and be signed into law in time for the New Year's holiday. JAC
 ...AS RED PROTESTORS GATHER OUTSIDE DUMACommunist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has harshly criticized the bill, and about 300 people gathered at Moscow's Teatralnaya Square to protest, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). According to RosBalt, protestors carried red flags and portraits of Lenin. They tried to enter the State Duma building but were stopped by police. One participant commented that France still celebrates its revolution although it was far longer ago than the Russian one, while another concluded that "anti-Communism has become the official doctrine of today's government." JAC
 RESIDENTS OF NORTHWESTERN BORDER REGION WANT TO JOIN UKRAINEResidents in Zlynkovskii Raion in Bryansk Oblast are collecting signatures to separate from Russia and join Ukraine, Ren-TV reported on 22 November. According to the station, the raion residents feel that federal authorities never responded to the area's problems when it was hit by the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, but the recent government decision to convert benefits-in-kind to cash was "the last straw." According to Ren-TV, "people will now have to choose between buying either bread or medicine." A few years ago a neighboring raion, Krasnogorskii, which was also affected by Chornobyl, said that they wanted to join Belarus, a declaration which resulted in the dismissal of the raion's leader. Now Nikolai Zevako, the head of the Zlynkovskii Raion, has categorically denied reports about the petition. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 23 November that Zevako is currently lying low in fear of a reaction not only from Moscow, but from the oblast's capital, Bryansk. However, a member of his staff told the daily that signatures for the petition have been collected. Krasnogorskii has collected some 5,000 signatures. JAC
 CHALLENGER EMERGES FOR FAR NORTHERN GOVERNOR'S SEATAleksei Barinov, who was until recently the chief inspector for Nenets Autonomous Okrug, has announced plans to run for governor of that region, RosBalt and Regnum reported on 23 November. Barinov was replaced as chief federal inspector by Valerii Potapenko, who most recently served in the Federal Security Service directorate for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. Elections are scheduled for 23 January, and so far four people have shown an interest: former prosecutor's assistant Viktoria Bobrova, local timber plant Director Nikolai Kirikov, construction engineer Stanislav Bestuzhev, and emergency room guard Vladimir Kislyakov, Dvina-Inform reported on 16 November. According to that agency, incumbent Governor Vladimir Butov may yet try to run for a third term; however, the okrug charter forbids any governor from serving more than two consecutive terms. Earlier, some local legislators tried to pass a law amending the charter but it failed to pass. According to "Politicheskii zhurnal," no. 35, Butov's name has come up in several criminal cases over the course of the past four years, and during that same period several okrug prosecutors have resigned. JAC
 MEDIA GROUP FEARS POLITICAL PAYBACK IN ST. PETERSBURG"The Moscow Times" reported on 24 November that St. Petersburg's Regional Press Institute has been ordered to vacate its offices in that city's House of Journalists by 5 December after residing there for more than a decade. Institute head Anna Sharogradskaya told the daily, "I believe there must have been serious reasons to justify the order to force us to leave the premises in a rush without even talking to me." Former State Duma Deputy and human rights activist Yulii Rybakov suggested that political rather than commercial reasons prompted the eviction. "The Regional Press Institute is, in fact, the last place to provide a forum for political organizations and parties in St. Petersburg to say things to citizens that would not be published in the media." The Union of St. Petersburg Journalists denies that the institute is being singled out, insisting that letters were sent to all the building's tenants. According to the daily, the institute provided a venue where opponents of St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko could talk about last year's gubernatorial campaign violations after most local media adopted a pro-Matvienko slant. JAC
 MOSCOW MAYOR DEMANDS THE STATE 'CIVILIZE' THE INTERNETWriting in "Izvestiya" on 23 November, Yurii Luzhkov called for more administrative regulation of the Internet in order "to stop its contamination by outright disinformation and spam." Luzhkov said that he believes the Internet should be put on equal footing with rest of the mass media, a step which would allow for current media laws to be applied to the Internet, including making Internet media companies responsible for the publication of "slanderous materials, the dissemination of extremist ideas, spam, and piracy." VY
 NEW DEPUTY NAMED FOR FEDERAL MIGRATION SERVICE HEADPresident Putin has signed a decree naming Yurii Demin as first deputy director of the Federal Migration Service, RBK reported on 23 November. Colonel-General Demin earlier served as first deputy justice minister and as chief military prosecutor. Demin will be in charge of legal issues and fighting corruption, according to RIA-Novosti. JAC
 SQUIRRELS ON THE MARCH IN SIBERIAHundreds of hungry squirrels have descended on the small Siberian city of Noyabrsk, where they are occupying apartment balconies, searching trash containers, and attacking pigeons and small dogs, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 November. Forest fires in neighboring regions reduced the harvest of cedar cones, berries, and mushrooms, according to the city's chief forestry official, uralpolit.ru reported. Residents have responded to the squirrels' plight by setting feeding stations in local parks and at schools. Some of the squirrels, according to vsluh.ru, have become so tame that they are eating from the hands of "delighted children." JAC
 INTERIM CHECHEN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN CALLS PEACE TALKS WITH MASKHADOV 'USELESS'Pro-Moscow State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov told a press conference at Interfax's head office in Moscow on 23 November that there is no point in conducting peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and his envoy in Europe, Akhmed Zakaev, Interfax reported. Dzhabrailov said this was because since 1999, the Chechen detachments responsible for terrorist acts have been controlled by radical field commander Shamil Basaev, over whom neither Maskhadov nor Zakaev exerts any influence, the agency reported. Dzhabrailov also said elections to a new Chechen parliament will not be held until the fall of 2005, as few Russian political parties except for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia are active in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. He also said work on the power-sharing treaty between the federal center and Chechnya is almost complete. Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Alu Alkhanov said earlier this month that a draft would be submitted to Moscow for signing within one week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2004). Dzhabrailov also criticized the ongoing reconstruction in Chechnya, pointing out that Moscow has disbursed more than 2 billion rubles ($70.4 million) for that purpose, but that "we have nothing to be proud of." LF
 CHECHEN RADICAL DENIES TIES TO BIN LADENIn a statement posted 23 November on www.kavkazcenter.com and reported by Reuters the same day, radical Chechen politician Movladi Udugov rejected as "a complete lie and a gross provocation" a recently declassified CIA report that contains details of alleged ties between Osama bin Laden and Chechnya. The report says that in 1998, bin Laden dispatched the Saudi-born Chechen field commander Khattab to Chechnya to act as a liaison between bin Laden and Udugov, and that bin Laden subsequently established a network of terrorist training camps across the North Caucasus. Udugov suggested that the CIA report was based at least in part on disinformation supplied by Russia's Federal Security Service. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN DENIES ROLE IN ATTACK ON JOURNALISTBusinessman and parliament deputy Gagik Tsarukian denied on 23 November any connection with an explosion in Yerevan the previous evening that destroyed a car belonging to Nikol Pashinian, editor of the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). Two associations representing Armenian journalists condemned the incident on 23 November and demanded a "serious and objective investigation." Also on 23 November, President Robert Kocharian accompanied Tsarukian to the ceremonial opening in Yerevan of a brandy distillery, part of Tsarukian's business empire. LF
 UNGA BEGINS KARABAKH DEBATE...At Azerbaijan's instigation, the UN General Assembly began debating on 23 November a draft resolution condemning and calling for an end to the occupation of seven districts of Azerbaijan bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Reuters reported. But UN envoys from the United States, France, and Russia -- the three countries that co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group's mediation efforts in the Karabakh conflict -- asked the General Assembly not to take any action that could negatively affect their efforts, and the debate was postponed indefinitely the same day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 24 November. At a meeting in Yerevan on 23 November with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Margherita Boniver said she expects EU member states to abstain from voting on the draft resolution, Groong quoted Mediamax as reporting. LF
 ...WHICH ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER AGAIN CALLS A 'MISTAKE'Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian said in Yerevan on 23 November that he considers the Azerbaijani initiative "a mistake" and warned that if the UN General Assembly adopts the draft resolution proposed by Azerbaijan, his series of meetings in Prague between April and August with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, "will prove dead," Mediamax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004). In a 22 November interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Stephen Mann, the American co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, said that the Prague meetings between Oskanian and Mammadyarov were not "negotiations" but rather, "an exchange of views." If the UN General Assembly does not approve the draft resolution, Oskanian said, Yerevan is ready to embark on "the second phase" of consultations. He further pointed out that neither Yerevan nor Stepanakert has ever objected to the dispatch, requested by Azerbaijan in the draft resolution, of an international fact-finding mission to the occupied Azerbaijani districts, but he added that doing so falls within the mandate of the Minsk Group, and therefore there is no need for the UN to undertake such a mission. LF
 U.S. OFFICIAL AGAIN SAYS KARABAKH SETTLEMENT DEPENDS ON ARMENIA, AZERBAIJANIn the 22 November interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, American Minsk Group co-chairman Mann stressed that the group's objective is not to draft or impose a plan for resolving the Karabakh conflict, but rather to encourage the parties to bridge their differences. "The important thing...is that this depends in the first instance on the parties to the conflict themselves. There must be political will in Armenia and Azerbaijan to settle this," Mann said. While not explicitly condemning Azerbaijan's initiative in calling for a UN General Assembly debate, he said: "traditionally, it has been the OSCE which handles Karabakh." LF
 AZERBAIJANI GOES ON TRIAL FOR KILLING OF ARMENIAN OFFICERIn Budapest on 23 November, the trial of Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army officer accused of the brutal murder of Armenian Gurgen Markarian, opened, ANS TV reported the same day, as cited by Groong and zerkalo.az on 24 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2004). Safarov and Markarian were fellow participants in a NATO-sponsored language-training course in February. At the trial, Safarov retracted part of his initial testimony, saying that he was questioned in English and Russian, neither of which he speaks fluently. Two Hungarian witnesses and a second Armenian officer offered testimony on 23 November; the latter said he saw Safarov break into Markarian's room and shout abuse at him before hacking him to death, according to Turan. The proceedings were adjourned until early 2005 to permit Safarov to summon an Azerbaijani army officer as a witness for his defense. LF
 JAILED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS APPEAL FOR CLEMENCYThe seven Azerbaijani opposition leaders who were sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment on charges of inciting violent protests in Baku after the October 2003 presidential election have asked Azerbaijan's top Muslim clergyman, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, to present President Ilham Aliyev with their collective appeal for a pardon, zerkalo.az reported on 24 November. Pashazade is a member of the presidential commission on pardons. Even before the seven men were sentenced, President Aliyev hinted that there was no doubt as to their guilt; he subsequently said they would not be pardoned in the near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 25 October 2004). LF
 ABKHAZ COUNCIL OF ELDERS ENDORSES OFFICIAL ELECTION RESULT...Meeting in Sukhum on 23 November, the Abkhaz Council of Elders, which has no formal authority under the constitution but enjoys considerable respect among the population, ruled that Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh is the legal winner of the 3 October presidential election, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The Central Election Commission proclaimed Bagapsh the winner on 11 October with 50.08 percent of the vote, but his defeated rival, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, disputed that ruling, and outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba called for a new ballot (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 12 November 2004). Council of Elders Chairman Pavel Adzinba ruled that Khadjimba should occupy a leading post in Bagapsh's team. Adzinba said both men attended the council session and expressed readiness to work together, according to zerkalo.az on 24 November. LF
 ...AS RUSSIA THREATENS TO SUSPEND ECONOMIC AIDInterfax on 23 November quoted an unnamed Russian government official as saying that Moscow may suspend financial aid to Abkhazia until the "legislative crisis" resulting from the dispute over the presidential election outcome is resolved. "We cannot provide financial and humanitarian support in a situation where we cannot control the use of those finances," that source was quoted as saying. He reportedly added that "certain people" in Abkhazia are "trying to seize power illegitimately." On 24 November, Caucasus Press similarly quoted Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev as branding Bagapsh and his supporters "criminal and anti-Russian forces" that have resorted to "political blackmail and blunt lies," and who pose a threat to Russia's national security. Tkachev further described President Ardzinba's decree calling for a repeat presidential ballot a "legitimate decision that must be obeyed." Caucasus Press later quoted Bagapsh as telling RIA-Novosti that Tkachev's statement, which he dismissed as "blackmail," does not reflect Russia's official position. Caucasus Press later quoted Bagapsh as telling RIA-Novosti that Tkachev's statement, which he dismissed as "blackmail," does not reflect Russia's official position. LF
 GEORGIAN COURT REJECTS REQUEST TO REOPEN CASE ON U.S. DIPLOMAT'S MURDERA Tbilisi district court rejected on 22 November an appeal by U.S. barrister Michael Pullara against a ruling by the Prosecutor General's office that there is insufficient evidence to warrant reopening the investigation into the August 1993 murder of U.S. diplomat Fred Woodruff, Caucasus Press reported. A young Georgian serviceman was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison for that killing, but Woodruff's family have questioned his guilt on the basis of an independent investigation into the circumstances of his death conducted by the FBI. Commenting on Pullara's appeal, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told students on 16 November that "Georgia is not a second- or third-rate country," implying that the rulings handed down by its courts are not open to question, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY SHUNS PARLIAMENT...Bulat Abilov, cochairman of Ak Zhol, told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 23 November that the opposition party will not participate in the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament). The party won one seat on its party slate in the 77-member legislature in recent parliamentary elections, but party cochairman Alikhan Baimenov gave up the seat to protest violations during the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004). The party had initially planned to name a replacement candidate to take Baimenov's place. DK
 ...AS OPPOSITION GAINS FORMER SPEAKER AS SUPPORTERZharmakhan Tuyakbai, the former speaker of the Mazhilis, has joined the coordinating council of Kazakhstan's opposition, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 23 November. Tuyakbai gave up his seat in parliament and his position as speaker to protest violations in the 19 September parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 21 October 2004), while claiming at the time that he remained on the team of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. At a 23 November press conference in Almaty, Tuyakbai explained that he decided to throw his lot in with the opposition after the president failed to answer his questions about election violations, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Tuyakbai said, "If the president had answered all of my questions properly, I would still have hopes that I would remain on his team.... But the president's decisions [after the elections] made my hopes wither and I cannot consider myself a member of his team any more." DK
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITION RALLIES OVER MISSING ACTIVISTMembers of Kyrgyzstan's People's Patriotic Movement and relatives and supporters of Tursunbek Akun held a rally in front of government offices in Bishkek on 23 November to draw attention to his disappearance, akipress.org reported. The demonstrators submitted a petition to President Askar Akaev asking him to clarify the situation and take appropriate measures to find Akun. Opposition political figures and legislators also joined the demonstration. Bolot Djanuzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, said that a criminal case has been opened and search efforts are under way, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 23 November. Djanuzakov also said that he met with Akun's wife, who had said earlier that her husband vanished on 16 November after telling her that he had been summoned to a meeting with the National Security Service. Kyrgyz officials have denied that any government agency was involved in Akun's disappearance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). DK
 FORMER TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTER GOES ON TRIALThe trial of former Interior Minister Yoqub Salimov began in Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 23 November, Avesta reported. Salimov faces charges of treason and attempting to initiate a coup. The trial is closed because prosecutors say the case materials include state secrets. Salimov was an influential field commander for the Popular Front during the 1992-97 civil war and a former close ally of President Imomali Rakhmonov. He fled the country in 1997 and was extradited from Russia in February. DK
 UZBEK ELECTION CAMPAIGNS BEGINUzbekistan's five officially registered political parties presented their election platforms on national television on 22 November in preparation for 26 December parliamentary elections, Uzbek television reported. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has officially registered 517 candidates, UzA reported on 22 November: 119 candidates for the Liberal Democratic Party, 118 for the People's Democratic Party, 89 for the Fidokorlar National Democratic Party, 74 for the Adolat Social Democratic Party, 61 for the Milliy Tiklanish Democratic Party, and 56 candidates proposed by initiative groups. All five of the officially registered parties are pro-presidential. The country's opposition, which has been unable to obtain official registration, has charged that it was effectively prevented from registering candidates through initiative groups and has announced that it will boycott the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). DK
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES YANUKOVYCH ON PRESUMED PRESIDENTIAL VICTORYPresident Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 23 November congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on winning the 21 November presidential runoff despite the lack of a final tally in that vote, Belarusian media reported. In a telephone conversation, both politicians reportedly expressed their firm conviction that Belarusian-Ukrainian relations will continue developing dynamically and progressively. JM
 UKRAINE ENTERS THIRD DAY OF POSTELECTION PROTESTSTens of thousands of demonstrators in Kyiv renewed their protest on 24 November against the official but still partial results of the 21 November presidential runoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004) for the third consecutive day, Ukrainian media reported. More than 2,000 people spent the night in tents pitched along Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main thoroughfare, which was white after a heavy snowfall overnight. According to Channel 5, which has allied itself with the opposition, rallies pressing to install opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko as president were launched in "most Ukrainian cities" on 24 November. The previous day, tens of thousands of pro-Yushchenko demonstrators staged a peaceful picket at the presidential-administration headquarters, which were sealed off by riot police and special-forces troops. "I am asking you, the police, to be on the side of citizens of Ukraine!" Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's political ally, appealed to the guards of the presidential administration. JM
 OUTGOING UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES TALKS ON POSTELECTION STANDOFFPresident Leonid Kuchma on 23 November called on "representatives of all political forces in Ukraine" to meet at the negotiating table immediately to resolve the ongoing crisis over the disputed presidential vote, Ukrainian media reported, quoting a statement released by the presidential press service. "The political farce that is being staged now by the Our Ukraine bloc and its adherents who proclaim...a so-called 'popular president' and call for disobeying the orders of the legitimate authorities is extremely dangerous and could lead to unforeseen consequences," Kuchma said. Kuchma ruled out the possibility of authorities being the first to use force in the current crisis, he added that they are ready "to defend law and order [as well as] the rights and liberties of all citizens without exception." JM
 YUSHCHENKO TAKES SYMBOLIC OATH OF OFFICE AT ABORTIVE PARLIAMENTARY SESSIONOpposition presidential candidate Yushchenko declared himself the winner of the 21 November presidential runoff with Prime Minister Yanukovych on 23 November and took a mock oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The oath took place shortly after an emergency parliamentary session at which Yushchenko supporters unsuccessfully sought to adopt a resolution invalidating the Central Election Commission's preliminary election results, which by early on 24 November had not yet awarded a victory to Yanukovych but previously suggested he had won by a margin of roughly three percentage points. The session, which was boycotted by Yanukovych's allies and the Communist Party caucus, lacked a quorum (226 deputies) and failed to pass a resolution. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn commented that Yushchenko's oath was exclusively a "political act" that carries no legal weight. JM
 YANUKOVYCH SEES 'NOTHING EXTRAORDINARY' IN UKRAINEPrime Minister Yanukovych opened a cabinet meeting on 24 November and called on Ukrainians to live a "normal life," Interfax reported. "It is necessary for the people to live a normal life," Yanukovych said. "Nothing extraordinary is happening. That is why we need to carry out our constitutional duty and provide for the country's life." Yanukovych reportedly vowed to accept any legal resolution of the controversy over the presidential election. JM
 LEGAL EXPERT ADVISES YUSHCHENKO TO APPEAL TO SUPREME COURT OVER DISPUTED ELECTIONMykola Shelest -- head of the High Council of Justice, which is responsible for appointing Ukrainian judges -- told Channel 5 on 23 November that opposition candidate Yushchenko should ask the Supreme Court to invalidate the 21 November ballot in constituencies where the opposition has alleged election fraud. JM
 FOUR UKRAINIAN TV JOURNALISTS QUIT JOBS, CLAIMING CENSORSHIPFour journalists at the pro-government, oligarchic television channels 1+1 and Inter -- Kyrylo Yakubovskyy, Yevhen Hlibovytskyy, Viktor Zabolotskyy, and Yuliya Borysko -- have quit their jobs in protest of the censoring of newscasts, UNIAN reported on 23 November. During a news conference the same day, the journalists called on their colleagues at other television stations to either "speak the truth" or "follow our example and quit." JM
 UKRAINIAN DIPLOMATS BACK YUSHCHENKOSome 150 Ukrainian diplomats have signed a statement denouncing the official returns that suggest a victory in the 21 November presidential runoff by Prime Minister Yanukovych, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua) reported on 23 November, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy. "We cannot remain silent and observe a situation that could call into doubt Ukraine's democratic development and destroy the efforts of many years to return our country to Europe," the statement said. "A nation should be headed by a leader who enjoys the real trust of the Ukrainian people and whose personal moral authority will be decisive in strengthening Ukraine's authority." JM
 UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS WANT TO INVALIDATE ELECTION, GIVE POWER TO PARLIAMENTThe Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) has suggested it wants the presidential election to be invalidated and the country to be governed by the Verkhovna Rada until that body adopts a constitutional reform, UNIAN reported on 24 November, quoting KPU leader Petro Symonenko. According to Symonenko, the powers of the incumbent president need to be suspended and the cabinet should be guided solely by the parliament. JM
 WASHINGTON URGES KYIV TO INVESTIGATE VOTE-FRAUD ALLEGATIONSThe United States on 23 November urged Ukraine not to certify its presidential-election results until claims of fraud are investigated, and warned Ukrainian authorities against the use of violence against protesters who believe the 21 November vote was rigged, Reuters reported. "We strongly support efforts to review the conduct of the election and urge Ukrainian authorities not to certify results until investigations of organized fraud are resolved," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said. The same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington questions the preliminary results of the Ukrainian vote "as they've been released. We are calling for, along with others in the international community, a complete and immediate investigation into the conduct of the election in order to get to the bottom of reports of fraud." JM
 EU FOREIGN-POLICY CHIEF FEARS VIOLENCE IN UKRAINEEU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told lawmakers in the European Parliament on 24 November that violence is possible in Ukraine in the wake of the bitterly contested presidential election, Reuters reported. "The country is now at the crossroads," he said. "We cannot rule out the outbreak of violence." Solana stressed that the future of EU-Ukraine relations is at stake in the ongoing Ukrainian standoff. "The way Ukraine handled the aftermath of the election will be the crucial test for our relations," he said. "The quality of relations between Ukraine and the EU will depend very much on the quality of democracy." JM
 HAGUE WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR SLAMS SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER FOR NONCOOPERATION...Carla Del Ponte, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, told the UN Security Council on 23 November that Serbia's lack of cooperation with the tribunal is "the single most important obstacle" to the tribunal completing its work by 2008 and closing down by 2010, Reuters reported. She stressed that the tribunal must continue working until every important indictee is brought to justice. Del Ponte noted that 20 indictees have not been arrested, about 12 of whom live openly in Serbia. And she dismissed Serbian claims that former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is not in Serbia, calling the assertion "absolutely wrong. [The Belgrade authorities] are not cooperative in arresting fugitives. It's a scandal." Del Ponte singled out Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica as being unwilling to arrest indicted war criminals and again criticized Bosnian Serb authorities for failing to arrest any indictees despite promises of cooperation. Turning to Croatia, the prosecutor argued that there are unspecified "strong indications" that former General Ante Gotovina is being protected by a support network "within state structures" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October, and 12 and 23 November 2004). PM
 ...AS SECRETARY-GENERAL GIVES KOSOVA A COLD SHOWERChief Prosecutor Del Ponte also told the UN Security Council on 23 November that "both in Serbia proper and in Kosovo [among the Albanians], aggressive nationalist rhetoric are being used in smear campaigns against the tribunal and its prosecutor," RFE/RL reported. "The message is the same: if the [local] authorities cooperate with the [tribunal], this will destabilize the country," she said. Elsewhere, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it is too early to discuss Kosova's final status because not enough progress has been made toward achieving the international community's standards for the province, Reuters reported. He called the progress made on the standards so far "uneven and limited" (see "RFE/R Newsline," 6 and 18 October, and 19 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August, and 10 and 17 September 2004). Most Kosovar Albanians expect talks on final status, which for them means independence, to begin in mid-2005. PM
 EU MILITARY FORCE IN BOSNIA VOWS TO CATCH WAR CRIMINALSBritish Major General David Leakey, who will command the new EUFOR military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina when it comes into being on 2 December, said in Sarajevo on 23 November that European peacekeepers "will confront those who threaten the safety and stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August and 23 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). He stressed that EUFOR will work with Bosnian authorities to catch war-crimes indictees, saying, "EUFOR is a capable force." U.S. Brigadier General Steven Schook, who commands NATO's current SFOR mission, said "NATO continues to aggressively find and detain persons indicted for war crimes. We must keep working together. This is a team effort between NATO, the EU, and the [Bosnian] authorities. We are better together." Most of the 7,000 EUFOR peacekeepers are currently serving with SFOR and will simply change the insignia on their uniforms on 2 December. PM
 SERBIAN POLICE DETAIN EX-MINISTER ON CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONSOn 23 November, police in Belgrade detained Marija Raseta-Vukosavljevic, who served as communications minister in the governments of former Prime Ministers Zoran Djindjic and Zoran Zivkovic, on suspicion of corruption, dpa reported. While in government, she was linked to several scandals. The latest charges reportedly involve the alleged forging or doctoring of invoices from the ongoing reconstruction of Belgrade Airport. PM
 FORMER MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER TESTIFIES AT THE HAGUEVlado Boskovski began testifying before prosecutors from the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal in the Croatian town of Pula on 22 November, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 24 November. The daily described Boskovski's testimony, given in connection with the killing of 10 ethnic civilians in the village of Ljuboten in August 2001, as a "four-hour monologue" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 3 September, 1 October, and 1 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May and 20 August 2004). Boskovski, whose accusers say he knew about the killings, reportedly described the incident as a shootout between armed ethnic Macedonian civilians and ethnic Albanian insurgents. He said he was ordered to go to Ljuboten by President Boris Trajkovski to calm the situation, according to the private A1 TV. Boskovski's hearing ended on 23 November. UB
 SLOVENIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT REPORTEDLY TO MOVE CLOSER TO THE U.S.Janez Jansa, who is Slovenia's newly appointed prime minister, presented his center-right cabinet in Ljubljana on 23 November, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October 2004). Dimitrij Rupel will become foreign minister for the fourth time since Slovenia became independent in 1991, while Andrej Bajuk, who briefly served as prime minister in 2000, will be finance minister. The news agency quoted several Ljubljana-based analysts as saying that Rupel is likely to move Slovenian foreign policy closer to that of the United States than some EU members would like. "I think the cooperation with the United States will be even closer than it was so far," political analyst Urban Vehovar said. "This might become a problem if that would go contrary to the European Union's common foreign policy." Jansa hopes to adopt the euro in 2007 and has pledged to cut taxes, promote growth and investment, and speed privatization. PM
 ROMANIA READY TO RESCHEDULE, BUT NOT WRITE OFF, IRAQI DEBTPrime Minister Adrian Nastase and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 23 November in Iasi that Romania cannot afford to write off the Iraqi debt but is prepared to consider rescheduling it, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. The Paris Club of creditor countries on 21 November decided to write off some 80 percent of the $31 billion owed by Iraq. Nastase and Geoana, who visited Iasi while campaigning for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), pointed out that Romania is not a member of the Paris Club. Also on 23 November, Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu sent letters to his Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish, and Slovak counterparts calling for coordinating positions on the Iraqi debt. According to estimates cited by AP and AFP, Iraq's debt to Romania totals $2.5 billion. The debt dates back to the rule of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. MS
 EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER DEALS BLOW TO RULING ROMANIAN PARTY'S ELECTORAL HOPES...Olli Rehn, the newly installed European commissioner in charge of enlargement, said on 23 November that the EU should conclude negotiations with Romania before its 16-17 December summit, Mediafax reported, citing the BBC. Rehn refrained from repeating the call of his predecessor, Guenter Verheugen, to conclude negotiations this month, four days ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections in Romania slated for 28 November. Verheugen's proposal was criticized in Romania for allegedly putting the ruling PSD at an advantage ahead of the voting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004). AP quoted an unidentified "EU diplomat" as saying that "two [of the EU's 25 members] believe Romania should be given two or three more months to demonstrate its seriousness about the reforms." The diplomat added that he does not believe this line will prevail and suggested the negotiations will be concluded at the end of this year. Mediafax cited Romanian chief EU negotiator Vasile Puscas as saying Romania wants to re-negotiate the chapter on taxation, securing grace periods of between two to six years after accession. MS
 ...AS ALLEGED MINUTES OF LEADERSHIP MEETINGS CAUSE EMBARRASSMENT IN RUN-UP TO ELECTIONSSeveral Romanian dailies on 23 and 24 November printed the purported minutes of high-level PSD leadership meetings in 2003 and 2004 that suggest the ruling party was scheming against political adversaries and against media outlets who criticized the party, Mediafax and AFP reported.. The minutes were published on 23 November on a website (http://www.istorie.info) that was soon blocked, according to the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 24 November. A second set of purported documents appeared on the site http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stenograme, which was also blocked a few hours later, the daily reported. Prime Minister Nastase dismissed the authenticity of the documents, calling them "fabrications." Former PSD Secretary-General Cosmin Gusa, who left the PSD in July 2003 and joined the Democratic Party in January 2004, claimed the minutes are authentic and that he personally attended one of the meetings. President Ion Iliescu suggested that Gusa might have "stolen the minutes," but he added that he does not know if they are genuine, according to Mediafax. MS
 ROMANIAN POLICE TAKE DOWN 'SZEKLER LAND' ROAD SIGNPolice in Covasna County on 23 November dismantled a road sign marking the entrance to "Szeklers' Land," Mediafax and the daily "Adevarul" reported on 23 and 24 November. The trilingual sign (in Romanian, Hungarian, and German) had been placed by Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) politicians at crossing point between the Brasov and Covasna counties. UDMR parliamentary deputy Sandor Tamas told Mediafax that the sign is a symbolic "first step toward autonomy" for the lands inhabited by that Hungarian minority group, and that the UDMR intends to submit to parliament a draft bill in which "Szeklers' Land" is designated as one of Romania's "development regions." Covasna County Prefect Horia Grama said police "did their duty," as the road sign was illegal. Early Grama threatened to remove the sign "with bulldozers, if need be." MS
 MOLDOVA, ISRAEL SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENTSCooperation agreements on tourism and health and an accord on customs were signed on 22 November during Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's visit to Israel, Flux reported the next day. The sides also signed an agreement on joint actions aimed at improving relations between the two states. Israeli President Moshe Katzav said his country appreciates Moldova's treatment of its 17,000-strong Jewish minority, which enjoys full equality of rights. Katzav also said Israel took note of Chisinau's marking in 2003 of 100 years since the first European pogrom of the 20th century, perpetrated under Czarist rule in what is now Moldova's capital. Voronin dwelt at length on the Transdniester conflict and at Moldova's efforts to bring about its resolution. He thanked Israel for help extended to "overcome separatism and safeguard Moldova's territorial integrity." Voronin also met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. MS
 MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN PUBLISHES 'BLACK BOOK OF RED RULE'Opposition Our Moldova Alliance Chairman Vyacheslav Untila has published a volume called "The Black Book of Communist Rule" in which he analyzes the alleged mistakes committed by the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) since its 2001 victory in the parliamentary elections and outlines ways to overcome those mistakes, Infotag reported on 23 November. Untila says there is a huge disparity between the claims made by the PCM in the economic growth figures and daily reality. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN GROUP MAINTAINS THAT DEAL IS IN THE WORKS OVER FREED HOSTAGESThe reputed leader of the Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) group that recently freed three UN hostages told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on 24 November that a prisoner release based on a purported agreement with unnamed officials "will be completed very soon." Akbar Agha added, "We hope that 24 of our prisoners will be released in accordance with a list provided by us." He further claimed, however, following the hostages' release that "talks are continuing," adding that "official [Afghan government] statements and declarations are occasionally different from the reality." Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali has insisted that no deal was made with the kidnappers to secure the UN election workers' release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). AH
 U.S. AMBASSADOR REPORTEDLY MEETS WITH AFGHAN WARLORD DOSTUMZalmay Khalilzad met with Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful northern Afghan warlord and third-place finisher in last month's presidential election, in the city of Shibirghan on 23 November, according to local television channel Jawzjan Aina. The report claimed that Khalilzad thanked Dostum for his "sincere efforts" in helping realize the UN-backed disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program, which he called an important step toward sustainable peace in the country. An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman was quoted recently by the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Dari service as saying that "24,000 light weapons and 90 percent of heavy artillery" has been collected, with the demilitarization to be completed by June 2005. AH
 NGO ADVISES QUICK ACTION TO PREPARE AFGHANISTAN FOR LOCAL AND NATIONAL ELECTIONS...The independent, nonprofit International Crisis Group (ICG) on 23 November published an assessment of Afghanistan's preparedness for national, provincial, and district elections slated for April. The report, titled "Afghanistan: From Presidential to Parliamentary Elections," suggests that the coming process "will be considerably more complicated" than the presidential process that culminated in voting on 9 October and stresses that "preparations are going too slowly," according to the group's executive summary and recommendations. President-elect Hamid Karzai's "government and the international community need to put in more resources and make more progress in the next few months on improving security, cutting down the power of the warlords, and attacking the spreading influence of the drug trade" in order to avoid a postponement or other detrimental developments, the ICG asserts. A further delay in holding these elections could "seriously tarnish" the Karzai administration, it adds. The report also stresses that "given the deep ethnic polarization, it is essential that the multiethnic, multiregional population has pluralistic and participatory avenues to express its demands and articulate its grievances through parliamentary elections." AH
 ...AND OFFERS ADVICE TO KARZAI GOVERNMENT...Recommendations in the 23 November ICG report include moves to better inform the public, "strengthen the role of political parties," push for further disarmament and reintegration of militias, increase safeguards and the transparency of the registration and complaints processes, and distance the international coalition from militia commanders with stakes in the drug trade while fostering a stronger counternarcotics effort, according to an ICG executive summary on the Internet. The ICG specifically urges President-elect Karzai's government to "seek necessary funding" for the elections, "define powers and responsibilities of provincial and district councils," embark on a "comprehensive public information campaign," work to bolster the role of political parties by ushering in a party-list system, and preparing the Joint Electoral Management Body to "vet...candidates for linkages to drugs, Al-Qaeda, Taliban violence, or involvement in human rights abuses." Other priorities include "reviewing appointments to provincial and district security posts," planning for the operation of the national and local councils (including construction of a building for the National Assembly), and handing control over registration to a new interim electoral commission that should be appointed through a transparent process as soon as possible. AH
 ...THE AFGHAN ELECTORAL WATCHDOG...In its 23 November report, the ICG further urges the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) to take quick action to prepare the ground for the national parliamentary and local council elections. The group suggests that the JEMB announce a specific date for the local and national elections, reopen voter registration "particularly in provinces where there was low voter registration in the presidential election or low female voter registration," appoint an independent panel to field complaints before and after the balloting, and make extensive arrangements to make voting easier and more accessible to the electorate. AH
 ...AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY...The ICG also advises in its 23 November report that the United Nations "prioritize preparations" for the elections, stressing administrative measures along with demographic assistance and informational campaigns. It encourages donors and multilateral organizations to "call for elections to be held in April 2005 and provide all necessary financial and logistical support to keep them on schedule," stressing the need for a proper census and new-voter registration, to assure funding for international election observers, and parliamentary visits for "future Afghan legislators." AH
 ...INCLUDING NATO AND THE COALITIONThe ICG report of 23 November encourages the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to "secure troop commitments" to expand that security mission to the western part of the country, complete deployment ahead of the balloting, and commit to timetables for further phases for the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. It advises international forces to "support the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process" and back the previously agreed decommissioning of some Afghan military forces. The ICG also suggests that NATO and coalition forces launch a thorough assessment of unsanctioned militias with an eye to demilitarization and "distance the coalition from militia commanders who have stakes in the drugs trade but are currently cooperating in anti-Taliban operations" and crack down on narcotics cultivation and trade (see the International Crisis Group's full report at: http://www.icg.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3116). AH
 IRAN OBJECTS TO EUROPEAN DRAFT TEXT ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM...Iran has objected to parts of a draft resolution proposed by France, Britain, and Germany to regulate a recent suspension by Iran of all uranium-enrichment and related activities, news agencies reported on 23 November. Iran halted those activities on 22 November to avoid possible referral to the UN Security Council for any alleged violation of nonproliferation commitments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, and 22 November 2004). Tehran insists the suspension is temporary and that it has a right in principle to enrich uranium as fuel for power plants. The draft states that suspension is "essential" for resolving Iran's case "within the framework of" the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Reuters reported, quoting an unnamed British official speaking on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. That wording implicitly allows for other measures, like Security Council referral and possible sanctions subsequently. The text does not otherwise mention punitive measures, but urges the IAEA director-general to immediately inform the governing board of suspension violations or if inspectors are prevented from "monitoring all aspects of the suspension," Reuters reported. VS
 ...AS DOES UNITED STATESUnnamed diplomats in Vienna were quoted by Reuters on 23 November as saying that the United States finds the text of the draft resolution weak and wants an automatic trigger referring Iran to the Security Council for any suspension violations. Reuters quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that European states rejected a direct trigger as contrary to their 14 November agreement with Tehran. Separately, U.S. President George W. Bush said in Cartagena de Indias on 23 November that Iran must "allow for verification" of the suspension to "earn the trust of those of us...worried about them developing a nuclear weapon," usatoday.com reported the same day. Verification, he stressed, will show if progress with Iran is "real." The IAEA is expected to discuss Iran's program on 25 November. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 23 November that the suspension will encourage the governing board to consider Iran's case more favorably. She said the IAEA will continue its work in Iran, irrespective of other factors, until it finds answers to its questions on aspects of Iran's nuclear program, then ease its scrutiny once the international community is reassured. VS
 FACTIONS PURSUE QUEST FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATESThe Islamic Coalition Society, a conservative political group, met with Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and current adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to discuss presidential elections scheduled for 2005, "Sharq" reported on 23 November, interpreting the visit as a sign of its support for his candidacy. Velayati said in the meeting that the 2003 municipal and 2004 parliamentary elections in Iran, which produced conservative victories with sharply reduced voter turnouts (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March 2003 and 23 February and 1 March 2004), showed that Iranians have rejected a current "hostile to the statements of the revolution and [popular] ideals" for one whose "first concern" is to "safeguard national interests and the ideas for which pure blood has been shed," "Sharq" reported. He was presumably referring to the reformist and conservative factions respectively. Velayati has still not decided whether he will run, "Sharq" reported on 23 November. Separately, Mohammad Sadayi, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, told ISNA on 23 November that his party and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, both reformist groups, favor Mostafa Moin, a former higher-education minister, as a possible presidential candidate. VS
 IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS ON IRAQForeign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Sharm el-Sheikh on 23 November that Iran respects Iraq's territorial integrity and independence and wants general elections held there on time, Radio Farda reported the same day. He said Iran condemns "all terrorist operations in Iraq" because these help maintain foreign forces there, radiofarda.org stated. Separately, he rejected all allegations of Iranian involvement in unrest in Iraq and said that "anyone accusing Iran must prove this accusation," IRNA reported on 23 November, citing an interview with Al-Jazeera. Kharrazi added that interior ministers from Iraq's neighboring states scheduled to meet in Tehran on 30 November will, among other topics, discuss ways of strengthening Iraqi police and frontier security and of preventing "terrorist groups" in Iraq from entering neighboring states. Iran is concerned by the presence in Iraq of members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a violent left-wing rebel group. Kharrazi told the media on 23 November that he negotiated nothing with U.S. Secretary of States Colin Powell, with whom he chatted at dinner on 22 November, and their meeting was "in line with diplomatic courtesies, which is natural," IRNA reported the same day. VS
 CLERIC AL-SADR TELLS FOLLOWERS NOT TO VOTE IN IRAQI ELECTIONSFirebrand Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding his followers from participating in the country's January elections, "Azzaman" reported on 22 November. Although al-Sadr does not have ultimate religious authority, he has a sizable following composed largely of urban poor. "The elections are not necessary, since they are being held under the supervision of foreign occupiers -- and the main beneficiaries of their success will be [U.S. President George W.] Bush," al-Sadr said. Although more than 50 Sunni groups have declared their intentions to boycott the election, al-Sadr is the first major Shi'a leader to oppose the vote. Earlier statements by his representative, Ali Sumaysim, suggested that al-Sadr would form a party and participate in the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2004) EA
 U.S. COMMANDER LAMBASTES NATO MEMBERS OVER IRAQThe chief U.S. commander in Europe criticized NATO countries on 23 November for failing to contribute troops to its training exercises, AP reported. France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Greece have declared that they will not send personnel. "It's important to recognize that once the alliance gets involved in an operation, it is important that all allies support the operation," said General James Jones, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The planned operation would train an Iraqi security force capable of defending the country and require 400 trainers and 1,200 troops to provide security. Several countries that will not send troops voted to approve the operation. EA
 U.S. SAYS IT WILL INCREASE TROOP LEVELS IN IRAQThe U.S. Defense Department announced on 23 November that it plans to add troops in Iraq ahead of the January elections, AFP reported. "We will have more troops, because the Iraqi security forces are going up, and we've decided to overlap some troops during the election period," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters during a Pentagon briefing. The United States has about 140,000 soldiers deployed in Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Air Force General Richard B. Myers suggested that partner countries and Iraqi recruits would make significant contributions, American Forces Press Service reported. "Obviously, we're a big part of the troop-contributing nations over there, but Iraq would be next and the coalition would be after that," Meyers said. EA
 MALNUTRITION INCREASING AMONG IRAQI YOUTH?A new study suggests that malnutrition has nearly doubled among Iraqi children following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, AP reported on 22 November. According to figures produced by the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science, a Norway-based research group, malnutrition among children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old has grown from 4 percent to 7.7 percent. The study surveyed 22,000 Iraqi homes and found that approximately 400,000 children are suffering from malnutrition. EA
 EXPERTS PONDER POSSIBLE OUTCOME OF UKRAINIAN ELECTION DISPUTEBy Jean-Christophe Peuch
Despite government warnings that any lawlessness will be quickly suppressed, Ukraine's liberal opposition has vowed a campaign of mass street protests and civil disobedience to overturn the results of the controversial 21 November presidential runoff. Regional experts, however, do not anticipate violence. They believe both the government and the opposition will try to seek a peaceful solution to their dispute.
The latest official returns suggested that with nearly all ballots counted, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won the 21 November runoff with nearly 49.5 percent of the vote.
But opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who according to the official count received less than 47 percent of the votes, is not conceding defeat. Instead, the opposition -- which claims the voting was rigged -- is vowing to stage round-the-clock protests in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
In response, the government -- which denies the fraud charge -- is accusing the opposition of contemplating a coup.
But despite the tensions -- and the apparent split between pro-Yushchenko western Ukraine and the pro-Yanukovych eastern regions -- analysts generally believe both sides will try to seek peaceful solutions.
Oleksandr Betsa, program director at the Kyiv-based Vidrozhdennya (Renaissance) nongovernmental think tank, said that despite Kuchma's pledges to not allow any "revolution" take place in Ukraine, he does not expect political developments to take a violent turn.
"To our view it is unlikely that authorities will consider a forceful solution. It is equally unlikely that the opposition will push the authorities into making such a decision. Everyone will rather seek a peaceful outcome," Betsa said. "One possible outcome would be, [for the opposition], to appeal to a court so that election results in those polling stations or constituencies where flagrant fraud was documented are cancelled. But for this to happen, they must first gather evidence showing that such violations did take place."
Speaking by telephone from Kyiv, Adrian Karatnycky, a senior scholar of the Washington-based Freedom House, said that Western countries and organizations might be instrumental in pressing outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to exert restraint in dealing with his opponents.
But he said that ultimately the outcome of the crisis will depend on the determination of Yushchenko's supporters -- particularly to continue with street protests when temperatures are already freezing.
"Winter is approaching. The temperatures are going to drop below zero in the coming days and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Ukrainian people in Kyiv and other cities are going to view [these protests] as a one- or two-day kind of a thing, or whether they will be very persistent in trying to uphold their rights," Karatnycky said.
One of the factors that might influence the determination of the opposition is the stance adopted by the Ukrainian legislature.
Members of the Verkhovna Rada met on 23 November in an emergency session to assess the political situation. However, opposition deputies failed to gather a quorum of 226 legislators that would have allowed them to move a no-confidence motion against the Central Election Commission.
Still, Betsa insisted before that session took place that more and more deputies were declaring support for the liberal opposition.
"We know that the number of those who [in the parliament] support the opposition is growing," Betsa said on 22 November. "Parties or deputies who were previously holding a centrist position now see that there were vote violations. If more than 50 percent of deputies declare themselves in support of the opposition, the legislature will be a more efficient force and will find itself in a better position to initiate any decision regarding the recognition of this election. The speaker of the parliament, [Volodymyr Lytvyn], has already strongly criticized the use that has been made of the country's administrative resources [during this election], and we know that he will press those deputies that are still hesitating to behave as people's representatives and act in accordance with the constitution."
One way the government might seek to defuse political confrontation could be to try to co-opt opposition leaders and convince them to join a coalition cabinet.
Karatnycky of Freedom House said that the Kuchma administration is giving serious consideration to such plans. However, he believes the opposition is unlikely to accept the offer.
"I've spoken with high-ranking [government] officials on the eve of [the runoff] and they basically gave me this scenario [under which] Yanukovych would win with two or four percent and they would need to have a coalition government because the country is divided. [But] I think that in the mood that currently exists, this is not likely," Karatnycky said. "I don't think the mood right now is for that kind of compromise on the part of these leaders. Knowing what I know about the opposition, there is no discussion of that kind at all right now."
Betsa of Vidrozhdennya also does not see any efforts at co-opting the opposition succeeding at the present stage.
"A coalition government is out of the question because it is up to an elected president to make such a move. As long as the opposition does not recognize the president as legitimate, then the chances are that it will refuse to enter any government," he said. "Only at a later stage can this option be considered."
(Jean-Christophe Peuch is a senior RFE/RL correspondent in Prague.)