|Wednesday, 13 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-12-08
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES WESTERN INFLUENCE ON UKRAINE...Sergei
At the council session, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell challenged Lavrov, saying that he "categorically disagrees" with him and that OSCE regulations are in place to defend fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law, Western news agencies reported on 7 December. Powell expressed concern at political developments in Russia that are "affecting the freedom of the press and the rule of law" and especially the lack of independent television channels in Russia, AP reported. Powell also denied that the United States is attempting to influence Ukraine, and he stressed that the Ukrainian people deserve fair elections, Reuters reported. "We are not competing or fighting over these places. We are not asking them to choose between the East and the West," Powell said. VY.
 ...AS RUSSIA, U.S. PLAY DOWN DIFFERENCESLavrov also told journalists in Sofia that relations with the United States allow a frank discussion of contentious issues, Interfax reported on 7 December. A 7 December "Kommersant-Daily" article commented that it is not a coincidence that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has given the role of Russia critic to outgoing Secretary of State Powell in order to leave room for political maneuvering in its relations with the Kremlin. Meanwhile, in Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said at a press briefing on 7 December that the United States and Russia have a broad and complex relationship on a wide range of issues, according to a statement on the U.S. State Department's website (http://www.state.gov). "Just don't make a mountain out of a molehill.... The United States and Russia have an outstanding relationship," he said. VY
 U.S. TELLS RUSSIA NO CFE TREATY RATIFICATION BEFORE MOSCOW FULFILLS OSCE OBLIGATIONSPowell on 7 December told the Sofia OSCE meeting that Washington will not ratify the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) before Moscow abides by the 1999 OSCE Istanbul resolution, Flux reported. Powell said that the CFE treaty centers on the principle that states hosting foreign bases must consent to that military presence on their territory. The obligations assumed by Russia in Istanbul stipulate that Russia must withdraw its troops from Moldova and reach an agreement with the Georgian authorities on the length of the Russian presence in that country, Powell emphasized. He said the OSCE must undertake a new effort to ensure the fulfillment of the Istanbul resolution. MS
 PUTIN DISCUSSES RETURN OF RUSSIAN OIL COMPANIES TO IRAQ WITH IRAQI PRESIDENT...President Vladimir Putin told journalists after meeting in the Kremlin with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that he hopes that Russian oil companies can return to Iraq, Russian agencies reported on 7 December. "We have agreed to write off the Iraqi debts to a greater extent than any other member of the Paris Club of creditors. We have done this in the name of solidarity with the friendly Iraqi people, but we also believe that the interests of Russian companies will be taken into consideration by [the Iraqi] leadership and the future Iraqi government after the [30 January 2005] elections," Putin said, according to strana.ru. Allawi responded by saying that he hopes that Russia will play a key reconstruction role in the Iraqi economy. VY
 ...BUT SAYS CANNOT IMAGINE A FREE ELECTION IN IRAQPresident Putin also told journalists that he has doubts about the possibility of holding elections in Iraq under the present conditions, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. "I cannot imagine how it is possible to organize free elections in a country completely occupied by foreign troops," he said. "On the other hand, I cannot imagine that [being left] alone you can restore a country and prevent it from disintegration." VY
 RUSSIAN SPIN DOCTORS LEAVE UKRAINEA team of Russian public-relations consultants and campaign strategists that worked on the presidential campaign of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is returning to Russia as their services are reportedly no longer desired, "Trud" reported on 8 December. "We welcome advice, but all major decisions will be made by Viktor Yanukovych and his team," Yanukovych campaign manager Taras Chernovil said, according to strana.ru on 7 December. Gleb Pavlovskii and Marat Gelman headed the team. Meanwhile, Political Research Institute Director Sergei Markov, who also advised Yanukovych's presidential campaign, said that the Russian consultants are not to blame for the loss of Russian prestige in Ukraine, TV-Tsentr reported on 6 December. "Russian spin doctors remain among the best in the world," he said. "We were there to prepare an election, not a revolution." VY
 UPPER CHAMBER PASSES BILL ON APPOINTED GOVERNORSThe Federation Council on 8 December passed a bill on replacing the direct election of regional governors with a system under which local legislatures approve candidates nominated by the president, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The bill, which was submitted by the presidential administration and which was approved by the Duma on 3 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004), authorizes the president to disband a local legislature that rejects his nominee three times or to appoint an "acting governor" if a legislature twice refuses to approve his nominee. The bill will become law after President Putin signs it and it is published. The upper chamber also passed a bill that would prohibit the sale and consumption of beer in public places. RC
 BILL ON PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SUBMITTED TO DUMAThe presidential administration has submitted to the State Duma a bill that would change the way the Duma is elected, gazeta.ru reported on 8 December. Currently, one-half of deputies are elected in single-mandate districts, while the other half are elected from party lists according to the proportional-representation system. Under the new bill, the single-mandate districts will be eliminated and the entire Duma will be elected from party lists. President Putin has said that the change is intended to improve democracy by increasing the influence and prestige of Russia's political parties. RC
 YUKOS DEBTS MOUNT AS YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ AUCTION APPROACHES...Yukos board Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told ITAR-TASS on 7 December that a Yukos shareholders meeting on 20 December will make a decision regarding bankruptcy proceedings based on the results of the government's 19 December auction of Yuganskneftegaz, Yukos's main production subsidiary. "The convening of a shareholders meeting is necessary because the company is being pushed toward self-destruction," Gerashchenko said. He said that the company is paying $800 million per month in tax arrears and penalties. The tax authorities on 7 December presented Yuganskneftegaz with a bill for 34 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) in arrears and penalties for 2003, Interfax reported. As a result, Yukos's total outstanding debt is 735.7 billion rubles, which exceeds the government's combined projected spending in 2005 on defense and education. A government spokesman told the news agency that further tax claims can be expected. RC
 ...AND GAZPROM REPORTEDLY PREPARES A BIDGazprom on 6 December completed polling its board members about whether the company should participate in the government's auction of Yuganskneftegaz, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. According to the paper, all board members, including all those who represent the state, favor acquiring Yuganskneftegaz. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, who is a Gazprom board member, initially opposed the acquisition and, according to the newspaper's sources, is looking for a way to resign from the government over the matter. The paper reported that Gref met with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 1 December and was ordered to support the acquisition. Gref was later ordered by presidential administration head and Gazprom board Chairman Dmitrii Medvedev to draw up a statement endorsing the move to be signed by the state's representatives on the Gazprom board. The paper reported that while in India on 3 December, President Putin discussed the possibility of an Indian oil consortium bidding together with Gazprom for Yuganskneftegaz. RC
 ENERGY SUPPLIER, MILITARY CLASH IN FAR EASTKamchatskenergo on 8 December began cutting back electricity supplies to Defense Ministry installations in Kamchatka Oblast because of payment arrears, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the Kamchatskenergo press service. The statement said that vital military installations are not affected by the cutbacks. Kamchatskenergo said that the local division of the Naval Engineering Service has "exceeded all limits in the use of electricity and heating" and that the company had no choice but to initiate the cutbacks. A spokesman for the military prosecutor's office told RIA-Novosti that his agency is looking into the situation in order to determine who is responsible for any arrears. He said investigators will question both military commanders and local government officials. According to ITAR-TASS, the military is the largest energy customer in Kamchatka Oblast, accounting for one-third of Kamchatskenergo's production. RC
 LOW GRADE FOR RUSSIAN SCHOOLSRussia's schools ranked 29th among 41 countries studied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year, newsru.com reported on 8 December. The OECD gave two-hour written examinations to more than 250,000 15-year-old in the 41 countries covering reading and mathematics. Finland ranked No. 1, while the United States ranked 27th. A summary of the OECD study can be found on the organization's website (http://www.oecd.org). RC
 RUSSIAN TEENS DYING AT AN ALARMING RATEA new report by the United Nations says that Russia's demographic crisis is being exacerbated by an extraordinarily high death rate among male teens, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 December. The UNICEF report blames alcoholism, stress, a culture that places little value on human rights, and widespread disregard for basic safety rules for the dismal statistics. According to the report, one in 30 Russian males aged 15 to 19 dies each year of accidents, poisoning, suicide, or violence. The rate is one in 120 among women. The combined total of one in 99 was the highest death rate in this category among the 27 Eastern European and former Soviet countries surveyed. Russia topped the ranking for teen suicides, with an annual rate of about 45 per 100,000 teens, and teen homicides, which occurred at a rate about 20 times greater than in Western European countries. RC
 NORTH CAUCASUS OFFICIAL SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTMukhtar Altuev, a Justice Ministry official in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was injured and his teenage son was killed on 7 December when unidentified assailants opened fire on their car in Nalchik, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN CURRENCY GAINS IN VALUE AGAINST U.S. DOLLARThe Armenian Central Bank will not intervene to curb the continuing strengthening of the dram vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian said on 7 December. "Only market factors will determine exchange rates in the Republic of Armenia," RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted him as saying. The dram has gained almost 17 percent in value against the dollar since the beginning of this year, rising from 500 drams to the dollar to 470:$1 in the past week alone (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June, 28 July 28 October 2004. The euro too has fallen in value against the dram during the past year, by 4 percent. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WARNS MINISTERSIlham Aliyev chaired a government session on 7 December that reviewed political and economic developments over the past year, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 7 and 8 December respectively. Aliyev gave a positive assessment of both the economic situation and the Karabakh peace process, saying that "at last the negotiations are continuing in the direction that we want." But Aliyev criticized unnamed government ministers for "engaging in politics," and warned them against meddling in affairs that do not concern them or resorting to public polemics in the media. Labor and Social Security Minister Ali Nagiev has recently publicly criticized Education Minister Misir Mardanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October and 22 November 2004), and there is also mutual animosity between Customs Committee Chairman Kamaladdin Haydarov and Economic Development Minister Fuad Aliyev, Turan observed on 8 December. That agency construed President Aliyev's stern warning to ministers as a reaction to criticism of him in an article from the "Monitor" journal reprinted on 7 December in the opposition daily "Azadlig." That article listed a lack of decisiveness among the president's "10 besetting sins." LF
 IS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION UNDER SURVEILLANCE?The "Azadlig" article criticizing President Aliyev was the subject of an impassioned parliamentary debate on 7 December in which deputies accused Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHChP), of "every imaginable sin," zerkalo.az reported the following day. "Azadlig" was originally founded as the AHChP paper. In the course of that debate, one unnamed deputy criticized deputy speaker Ziyafet Askerov for alleging that Kerimli is receiving funding from an Ukrainian opposition group to finance a "velvet revolution" in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). Alesqerov responded that his accusation was based on intelligence surveillance reports. The online daily pointed out that such surveillance constitutes a violation of both the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic and existing legislation on political parties. Kerimli for his part told zerkalo.az that "we have known for a long time whether or not they were following us and whether or not our telephones are tapped. We're not stupid enough to hold any important conversation over the telephone." LF
 AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT CONCERNED FOR CO-ETHNICS IN GEORGIAParliament deputies expressed collective concern on 7 December over the confrontation in Georgia's Marneuli Raion on 3 December in which an elderly Azerbaijani woman was shot dead, zerkalo.az reported on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). They accused Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of failing to abide by his pre-election pledge to end discrimination against Georgia's 500,000-strong Azerbaijani community. As one example of such discrimination, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov noted that not a single Azerbaijani was hired to work on the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Alesqerov called for the creation of a four-person commission that will travel to the predominantly Azerbaijani-populated southeastern districts of Georgia and compile a report on conditions there. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO RECONCILE TBILISI MAYOR, CITY COUNCILPresident Saakashvili met on 7 December with Tbilisi Mayor Zurab Chiaberashvili and senior municipal council officials in a bid to resolve the tensions resulting from Chiaberashvili's sacking of several municipal officials, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Also on 7 December, Bidzina Bregadze confirmed that he has resigned as head of the city administration and has been appointed to a more senior position, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). LF
 GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE SAYS GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE IMMINENTCaucasus Press on 8 December quoted an unnamed spokesman for Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania as saying that prior to his departure on 5 December for the United States, Zhvania reached agreement with President Saakashvili on a cabinet reshuffle. Those changes will reportedly affect primarily the "power" ministries, and include a merger of the Interior and State Security ministries, with the new ministry to be headed by current State Security Minister Vano Merabishvili. Current Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili is slated to take over as defense minister from Giorgi Baramidze. Some reports predict that Baramidze will be named ambassador to the UN, while others say he will become National Security Council secretary, replacing Gela Bezhuashvili. Bezhuashvili, however, told Caucasus Press on 8 December that he is not about to be replaced. Baramidze, Okruashvili, Merabishvili, and Bezhuashvili have all occupied their current positions for just six months, since Zhvania redistributed the military and security portfolios in early June (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 June 2004). LF
 SECURITY OFFICIAL ALLEGES THEFT, VANDALISM OF ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL OFFICEKochubei Kchach, who heads the Abkhaz government state security service, told Apsnipress on 7 December that objects were stolen from the premises of the presidential administration while the building was occupied by supporters of presidential candidate Sergrei Bagapsh. Caucasus Press on 8 December quoted a spokeswoman for the Abkhaz representation in Moscow as making similar allegations to RIA-Novosti; she said objects deliberately damaged or stolen include icons presented to outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba by Russian Patriarch Aleksii II. Bagapsh's supporters vacated the government and presidential complex on 7 December following the signing the previous day of an agreement between Bagapsh and his main rival, Raul Khadjimba, to run as a team in a repeat ballot to be held in early January 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 2004). LF
 FORMER KAZAKH SPEAKER HEADS OPPOSITION COUNCIL...Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, former speaker of the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) and a former member of the ruling Otan party, has been elected chairman of the Kazakh opposition's Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 7 December. The council announced at a news conference in Astana on 7 December that the decision was made at a session chaired by Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov, the leader of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, who is currently under house arrest. The council brings together the opposition Ak Zhol, the Communist Party, and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Tuyakbai gave up his seat in the Mazhilis and left the Otan party to protest violations in the course of 19 September parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 21 October and 24 November 2004). DK
 ...AS OPPOSITION SPURNS PRESIDENTIAL DEMOCRACY COMMISSIONTuyakbai announced at a press conference in Astana on 7 December that the Coordinating Council will not take part in President Nursultan Nazarbaev's National Commission on Issues of Democracy and Civil Society, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Noting that the opposition is not against "appropriate dialogue with the authorities," Tuyakbai stressed that it must be a dialogue of equals. Additionally, the council's new chairman said that the question of parliament's legitimacy must be resolved first. He added that the authorities and the president have not responded to questions about the fairness of 19 September parliamentary elections. The commission on democratization is scheduled to meet on 9 December. DK
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT SETS PRIORITIES FOR NATIONAL FUNDNazarbaev met with the board of the National Fund in Astana on 7 December to discuss how revenues from natural resources should be deposited in the fund and used, Kazinform reported. In the future, the fund will broaden its base, receiving tax monies from all oil and gas production and export facilities; it currently receives funds from a limited number of enterprises. The fund's operations also require greater openness, Nazarbaev said. At present, the fund contains $4.7 billion. It has grown 28 percent since the beginning of the year. DK
 KAZAKH JOURNALISTS CONGRESS PROPOSES NEW MEDIA LAWDarigha Nazarbaeva, daughter of President Nazarbaev and head of the Congress of Journalists of Kazakhstan, announced at a news conference on 7 December that the congress has drawn up a new draft law on media, Kazakh TV reported. The new law would require all state agencies and national companies to respond within 10 days to criticism voiced in the media. It would also extend the media's exemption from value-added tax for another five years until 2010. DK
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DELAYS RATIFICATION OF KAZAKH COOPERATION TREATYDeputies in Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (lower chamber of parliament) decided on 7 December that an agreement on relations with Kazakhstan signed in December 2003 requires amendment before it can be ratified, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). Deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov said that the agreement, which Kazakhstan has already ratified, fails to take into account Kyrgyzstan's interests on issues of labor migration, transit for Kyrgyz passengers, and goods through Kazakhstan, and joint use of water resources. DK
 UZBEKS RALLY FOR DISMISSED BRITISH ENVOYSeveral dozen demonstrators gathered in front of the British Embassy in Tashkent on 7 December demanding the reinstatement of former British envoy Craig Murray, Fergana.ru reported. Demonstrators told a Fergana.ru correspondent that they are convinced that the British Foreign Office gave in to pressure from the Uzbek authorities with the decision to remove Murray, who gained renown for his commitment to human-rights issues and his harsh criticism of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Murray was recalled in October and later removed from his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 18 October 2004). Protestors also called on Uzbek voters to boycott 26 December parliamentary elections. DK
 OSCE SOFIA MEETING ENDS IN DISCORDThe two-day Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) foreign ministers' conference ended in Sofia on 7 December without agreeing on a joint final statement, Infotag reported. Outgoing OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi, who is the Bulgarian foreign minister, said the failure to approve a final communique is due to broad differences between participants and a lack of consensus on the fulfillment of Russia's OSCE Istanbul summit commitment to withdraw its troops from Moldova. The chairmanship of the OSCE will pass to Slovenia on 1 January. MS
 EU REPORTEDLY IMPOSES TRAVEL BAN ON TWO BELARUSIAN OFFICIALSThe European Union has agreed to ban two senior Belarusian officials from its territory as part of sanctions against Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government for staging what it calls flawed elections and a referendum on 17 October (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 20 and 26 October 2004), Reuters reported on 7 December. The agency quoted an anonymous EU diplomat as saying that these officials in question are Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna and Yury Padabed, chief of the OMON riot police who broke up opposition protests following the 17 October polls. EU foreign ministers agreed in November on sanctions against Belarusian officials involving travel bans on officials and freezing contacts at ministerial level between member states and Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). JM
 MINSK LAMBASTES OSCE ELECTION MONITORS AS 'A DESTABILIZING FACTOR'Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau said at the annual meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Sofia on 6 December that the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a European election watchdog, is evolving from an institution for assistance in the democratization process to a "destabilizing factor," Belapan reported on 7 December. "The ODIHR's conclusions have in fact ceased to be technical recommendations to improve election processes, they have turned into a tool of political pressure obviously applied on the basis of double standards," Martynau said. "ODIHR reports have started to be used by certain countries as a pretext for imposing various sanctions if they find the results of elections unsatisfactory." JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILLS TO OVERCOME POLITICAL CRISIS...The Verkhovna Rada on 8 December voted by 402-21, with 19 abstentions, to adopt simultaneously a constitutional-reform bill to limit the president's powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament, as well as amendments to the presidential election law to eliminate election abuse and fraud, Ukrainian media reported. The vote is a breakthrough compromise between all major political forces in Ukraine and paves the way for a 26 December rerun of the invalidated 21 November presidential runoff. The adopted legislative package, which also includes a bill of constitutional amendments to Ukraine's self-government system, was immediately signed by President Leonid Kuchma, who arrived in the session hall a few minutes before the vote. Kuchma told lawmakers that shortly before coming to the parliament he signed a decree dismissing of Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev, a move demanded by the People's Power coalition supporting opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's presidential bid. JM
 ...AND APPROVES 'NEW' CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSIONIn a second vote on 8 December, the Verkhovna Rada dissolved the Central Election Commission (TsVK) that declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of the 21 November presidential runoff. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn then announced a list of 18 candidates for the 15-seat TsVK that was submitted by the president and 18 separate votes, one for each candidate, were held. The new TsVK, which was sworn in immediately after the votes, consists of Oleksandr Chupakhin, Yaroslav Davydovych, Yuriy Donchenko, Serhiy Dubovyk, Ihor Kachur, Ruslan Knyazevych, Andriy Mahera, Mykola Melnyk, Anatoliy Pysarenko, Bronislav Raykovskyy, Valeriy Sheludko, Maryna Stavniychuk, Zhanna Usenko-Chorna, Valentyna Zavalyovska, and Mykhaylo Okhendovskyy. Eleven of the members were on the previous TsVK. JM
 KUCHMA SENDS YANUKOVYCH ON LEAVEPresident Kuchma on 7 December signed a decree allowing Premier Viktor Yanukovych to go on leave to campaign for the rerun presidential election on 26 December, Ukrainian media reported. This effectively defies the Verkhovna Rada's vote of no confidence in Yanukovych's cabinet on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). Kuchma also appointed First Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov as acting head of the cabinet. Yanukovych has reportedly left Kyiv for his native region of Donbas to meet with voters there. JM
 SERBIA REPORTEDLY PULLS OUT OF KOSOVA TALKS...The Belgrade authorities have withdrawn from the so-called "Vienna talks" on Kosova, which deal primarily with practical issues, the "Financial Times" reported from the Serbian capital on 8 December. The move follows Belgrade's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK) to block the election of Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) as Kosovar prime minister on the grounds that he is suspected of war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 7 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). Slobodan Samardzic, who is an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, told the daily that "Haradinaj's election obstructs...what have been promising talks on technical issues" between Serbia, Kosova, and the international community. Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service commented on 6 December that Serbia's own record on cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has deprived it of moral authority in raising war-crimes charges against others. Belgrade officials have shunned Haradinaj's offer for dialogue and to go to the Serbian capital for talks. PM
 ...AS KOSOVA'S PREMIER SAYS BELGRADE TRIED TO FRAME HIM...Kosovar Prime Minister Haradinaj told Reuters in Prishtina on 7 December that the Serbian authorities have provided the Hague-based war crimes tribunal with unspecified "fabricated" materials in an effort to link him to war crimes dating from his time as a commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) during the 1998-99 conflict. The prime minister added that "all the tribunal has [against him] is the stuff the Belgrade government gave it. I explained to [tribunal officials recently] that I did my duty as a citizen at that time [and served in the UCK]. " Haradinaj stressed that the tribunal would be "wrong to pursue the fabrications of a government which committed genocide here. [The tribunal] wouldn't wait until now if they really had a case" against him. The news agency noted that materials appearing in the Serbian press purporting to link Haradinaj to atrocities are based only on unspecified "police sources." PM
 ...AND GETS DOWN TO BUSINESSHaradinaj told Reuters in Prishtina on 7 December that "we have proven our commitment to international justice and to the Hague tribunal. If more is needed from us -- and from me personally -- I will fulfill my duty as a citizen," which is an apparent reference to his earlier pledge to go to The Hague voluntarily if the tribunal indicts him. The prime minister argued that Kosova does not "have time to lose. We must all work to end the process of [resolving Kosova's] final status.... Belgrade is a neighbor and an important factor in the region, but we don't give it a veto on our future." PM
 BOSNIAN SERB AUTHORITIES OFFER NEW INCENTIVES FOR INDICTEES TO SURRENDERThe Bosnian Serb government announced a new package of financial incentives on 7 December to encourage war crimes indictees to turn themselves in voluntarily by the end of 2004, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The measures are more generous than a similar offer in July 2003, which found no takers. The new package is designed to show evidence of Bosnian Serb cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, the lack of which remains Bosnia's biggest obstacle to joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003, and 3 and 12 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May and 17 September 2004). The government statement promised a flat payment of over $34,000 to any of the 13 indictees still at large who turns himself in by 31 December. In addition, families of those who surrender will receive a monthly support allowance of about $275, while children in school will receive an additional scholarship of up to $200. PM
 A GENEROUS PENSION FOR FORMER BOSNIAN SERB COMMANDER?The Belgrade mass-circulation daily "Blic" reported on 7 December that war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is receiving a monthly pension of $520 from Serbia and Montenegro's army, Reuters reported. Serbian President Boris Tadic recently confirmed in a Bosnian Serb newspaper interview that Mladic is entitled to a pension and that someone, presumably from his family, is collecting it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 2004). "Blic" reported that this is indeed the case but did not say precisely how it came upon that information or that regarding the size of the pension. If the sum of $520 is correct, it would amount to more than double the average monthly wage in Serbia. PM
 SERBIAN AND BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENTS CALL ON INDICTEES TO SURRENDER...Serbian President Tadic and Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 7 December that all people indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal should surrender in order to "remove the burden" on Serbia and the Bosnian Serb entity, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 2004). Tadic added that the "institutional future" of the Republika Srpska and the future of Serbia both depend on cooperation with the tribunal. PM
 ...WHILE ONE INDICTEE'S BROTHER HAS A DIFFERENT MESSAGEIn Podgorica on 8 December, Luka Karadzic, the brother of fugitive indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, published an appeal to his brother in the opposition daily "Dan," urging him to "hold out a little longer because things in the world are slowly changing...regarding how people view the Serbian struggle and suffering." PM
 MACEDONIAN TENSIONS RISE OVER ALLEGED ARMED GROUPLegislators of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) demanded during the parliamentary session on 7 December that the parliament's defense committee meet as soon as possible to discuss the situation in the village of Kondovo on the outskirts of Skopje, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November, and 6 and 7 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2004). Their demand came after the parliamentary majority of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) voted down demands that the issue be discussed in the plenary. There is widespread speculation as to whether or not an armed group of ethnic Albanians is controlling the village and, if so, how many armed men belong to the group. Deputy Interior Minister Hazbi Lika of the BDI said on 7 December that the existence of an armed group in Kondovo is not confirmed, the private A1 TV reported, while media reports suggest that uniformed armed men have been patrolling the village for several weeks. UB
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT DEMANDS APOLOGY FROM PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...The government on 7 December demanded that Traian Basescu publicly apologize for having alleged that the 28 November parliamentary and presidential ballots were rigged by the cabinet, Mediafax reported. A press release cited by the agency reported the cabinet as saying that Basescu, who is the presidential candidate of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, has "told [an] untruth whose single purpose was to make political capital and use it for private purposes." The communique also said the government "notes with concern that some representatives of the PNL and the Democratic Party...continue to spread in the national and international media allegations about the rigging of the elections, for which there is no proof whatsoever." MS
 ...WHILE PRO-OPPOSITION DAILIES ARE 'HIJACKED' FOR DISSEMINATING ANTI-BASESCU PROPAGANDAThe pro-opposition dailies "Evenimentul zilei" and "Ziua" reported on 8 December that anti-Basescu leaflets were placed in their newspapers by unidentified perpetrators the previous day. "Evenimentul zilei" said negative propaganda aimed at the PNL-Democratic Party candidate was found in copies of the daily sold in Timisoara. "Ziua" wrote on 8 December that home subscribers received the previous day unrequested free copies of the pro-Social Democratic Party (PSD) weekly "Mesagerul roman," which reprinted allegations that Basescu is a former Securitate informer. MS
 ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN ROMANIA UNHAPPY WITH OUTCOME OF HUNGARIAN REFERENDUMThe owners of a cafe in the Transylvanian town of Odorheiu-Secuiesc on 7 December displayed a sign in the window saying: "Entrance to Hungarian citizens prohibited," Mediafax reported. The owners installed the sign to protest the outcome of the 5 December referendum in Hungary. Supporters of the movement to grant dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries failed to garner sufficient backing for the proposal in the plebiscite, the holding of which upset many non-Hungarians in neighboring countries. Also in protest of the referendum's results, an ethnic Hungarian professor at the Sfantu-Gheorghe-based Public Administration College announced he will stop teaching in the Hungarian language and return to the Hungarian government the ID card making him eligible for certain privileges under the 2001-approved Status Law (see also End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). MS
 ROMANIAN PREMIER URGES BUSH TO ORDER THE RETURN OF U.S. MARINE INVOLVED IN ACCIDENTOutgoing Premier and PSD presidential candidate Adrian Nastase urged U.S. President George W. Bush on 7 December to order Marine Robert Christopher to return to Bucharest and face a local investigation into the car accident in which he was involved last week, AFP and Reuters reported. Nastase wrote to Bush that "the sudden departure for the United States of this marine...and his refusal to take a blood alcohol test, [has] sparked outrage in Romanian public opinion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). He also demanded that the marine's diplomatic immunity be lifted so he could "answer for his actions before Romanian justice." Also on 7 December, thousands attended the burial in Cluj of jazz musician Teo Peter, who died in the accident. MS
 MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER REITERATES STAND AGAINST 'RUSSIAN OCCUPATION'...Andrei Stratan on 7 December told the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Sofia that the presence in Moldova of Russian troops "is in contradiction with the will of Moldovan constitutional authorities and an infringement on unanimously recognized international norms and principles," Infotag and Flux reported. Stratan said that Russia's presence in Transdniester obstructs the search for a resolution of the conflict in the region and seeks to "manipulate the criminal Transdniester leaders" to serve Moscow's purposes. Stratan called on all states that were asked to do so to sign the Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova proposed in June by President Vladimir Voronin (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN PRESIDENT STATES HIS PRIORITIESIn his inaugural speech in Kabul on 7 December, President Hamid Karzai outlined the tasks ahead for his government, Afghanistan Television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004). Karzai listed "strengthening the security forces, ensuring full security and stability throughout the country, eradicating poppy cultivation, combating narcotics production and trafficking, disarmament and reintegration, tackling poverty, creating wealth and making efforts towards public welfare, particularly in rural areas," as the main tasks to be tackled by his administration. He promised to enforce the law, uphold human rights, and strive to reform government administration. Karzai also promised to strengthen national unity and to rebuild the country. AT
 U.S. VICE PRESIDENT SAYS AFGHANISTAN STILL HAS ENEMIESDick Cheney visited U.S. troops based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan on 7 December and said that their work is still not finished, the American Forces Press Service reported. "Freedom still has enemies here in Afghanistan. And you are here to make those enemies miserable," Cheney told the troops. He was in Afghanistan to attend the inauguration of Afghan President Karzai. In his inaugural speech, Karzai said that in the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan is still in "serious need of regional and international cooperation," Afghanistan Television reported. In a press conference after meeting with Cheney and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Karzai referred to "terrorism as individuals and individual acts of terrorism" which, he said, pose a greater danger than large groups of militants such as the neo-Taliban, AFP reported on 7 December. AT
 TEN KILLED IN NEO-TALIBAN ATTACK IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTANSix suspected neo-Taliban militiamen and four Afghan government soldiers were killed during a night raid on a security checkpoint on 6 December in Khost Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported (http://www.pajhwak.com), quoting General Khyalbaz Sherzai, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division. Unnamed Afghan government officials claimed that up to 50 neo-Taliban fighters were killed in the attack. However, Mullah Abdul Samad, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, told Pajhwak that his side killed 15 soldiers and only one of their ranks suffered injuries. Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, also claming to speak for the neo-Taliban, told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press that 120 of the group's fighters were involved in the attack, which resulted in the death of 15 government soldiers. Hakimi also said that only one militiaman was wounded. This incident is one of the most serious attacks reported in Khost in recent months. AT
 RUSSIA BELIEVES IT CAN DO MORE IN AFGHANISTANDeputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev, who represented the Russian Federation at Karzai's inauguration ceremony, said in Kabul that he believes that Moscow still has substantial interests in Afghanistan despite the U.S. military presence there, NTV reported on 7 December. "In my view, the U.S.A. unequivocally views [Afghanistan] -- and not only Afghanistan -- as a zone of its absolute, complete, and all-consuming interests," Alekseev said. But he said Russia can help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, adding that when the Soviet Union "had an alliance with Afghanistan" it "built a great deal here." Kabul was upset by recent comments made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on the composition of the future Afghan government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 6, and 7 December 2004). AT
 U.S. MILITARY BASE IN HERAT TO BE NEAR IRANIranian state radio's Mashhad-based, Dari-language service and "The New York Sun" reported on 6 December that U.S. military personnel have been scouting Afghanistan's Herat Province in order to establish a base there. The radio station cited locals who noted the increased presence of U.S. soldiers, and it also cited Afghan military spokesman General Azimi, who confirmed that the U.S. has chosen a location in the province for a base. American officials confirmed in 5 December interviews with "The New York Sun" that the area they have been scouting is in Herat Province and is some 20 miles from the Iranian border. They said this would mainly be an Afghan army base and American aircraft "would probably be deployed there as well." BS
 IRAN FEARFUL OF ENCIRCLEMENTExpediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 5 December in Tehran that the Islamic community will be beset with problems if the U.S. establishes itself in Iraq, IRNA reported. "Farhang-i Ashti" newspaper had reported on 17 November that occupation forces in Iraq are refurbishing military outposts along the eastern border and will deploy Iraqi intelligence personnel and Mujahedin Khalq Organization members in them. Citing an anonymous "informed source," the Iranian newspaper reported that troops from the United Kingdom and northern European countries would be involved in surveillance activities. "The New York Times" had reported on 20 April 2003 that the U.S. hopes to a have a "long-term military relationship" with Iraq, have access to bases there, and be able to project influence in the region; U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a 21 April 2003 press conference, dismissed as "inaccurate and unfortunate" the suggestion that the U.S. is planning a permanent military presence in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 April 2003). Iran is quite wary of the increasing U.S. presence on its borders. BS
 MAIN PHASE OF IRANIAN WAR GAMES TAKES PLACEBrigadier General Nasir Mohammadifar, commander of Iran's regular ground forces, said on 7 December that the main phase of the "Followers of the Rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent" (Payrovan-i Vilayat) war games, which are under way in southwestern Iran, will take place on 8 December, state television reported. On 6 December, the exercises focused on a night assault by air and ground units of the regular armed forces, state television reported. Another aspect of that day's activities was defense against chemical warfare and use of decontamination equipment. State television also reported that naval exercises took place in the northern Persian Gulf that day. In the third phase on 5 December, infantry, artillery, and armor units participated in an air-assault. Combat engineers, according to state television, put up temporary suspension bridges. The military exercises began on 3 December. BS
 SCIRI LEADER VISITS IRANSupreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) chief Hojatoleslam Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim visited Iran on 4 December and met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and President Khatami, IRNA and SCIRI's Voice of the Mujahedin reported. Khatami told his guest that the holding of elections in Iraq and the establishment of a permanent government will contribute greatly to security there. Khatami added that that Iranian policy is to not interfere in Iraqi domestic affairs. Rafsanjani voiced similarly enthusiastic comments about the election, which is scheduled for January. Al-Hakim visited Iran in late September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). BS
 ...AMIDST IRAQI COMPLAINTS ABOUT IRANIAN INTERFERENCEPolice in the Iraqi city of Karbala have closed the offices of six Iranian tourism agencies and ordered their staffs to leave Iraq, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 7 December. The police did not explain their actions. Moreover, the police reportedly arrested 210 people, most of them Iranians, who did not have proper passports. A delegation from the theological center in the Iranian city of Qom has come to Iraq and is at Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's office, "Al-Ufuq" reported on 5 December. The delegation reportedly intends to discuss election-related issues. The contacts between Shi'a clerics in Iran and Iraq are reportedly being facilitated by the Qom-based and Iraqi-born Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri. BS
 IRAQI CHURCHES BOMBEDTwo churches were bombed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 7 December, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. The bombings were carried out simultaneously. According to Al-Arabiyah, militants forced the guards of the Chaldean Bishopric Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church to leave the buildings before detonating explosive charges inside the churches. The Chaldean church sustained severe damage, having caught fire following the bombing. Al-Arabiyah reported that 60 percent of the church was destroyed in the bombing. Reuters reported on 7 December that the attackers were not identified. Militants have regularly targeted Christian churches in recent months. Two booby-trapped cars detonated in front of two churches in the Iraqi capital on 8 November; a bomb exploded outside a Mosul church on 1 August, killing one person (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004); and five churches were bombed in Baghdad on 16 October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 October 2004). The Christian community in Mosul has said that its members, particularly women, have been targeted in individual attacks and kidnappings in the city. KR
 ALLAWI, INTERIOR MINISTRY SUPPORT STAGGERED VOTINGThe Interior Ministry is supporting a proposal by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to stagger national elections in January over several days in order to meet security provisions, Reuters reported on 8 December. An unidentified ministry spokesman was cited as saying that staggering the voting would "improve security because people would not rush to vote and form long lines that could be attacked." Allawi was reportedly quoted on 7 December as saying that elections could be spread over a two- or three-week period to ensure that all citizens are given the opportunity to cast their ballots. "One can imagine elections spread out over 15 or 20 days, with the dates differing according to the provinces," Reuters quoted the prime minister as telling France's "Le Temps" newspaper. The Electoral Commission has not commented on the proposal. KR
 ALLEGED IRAQI NERVE-GAS SUPPLIER ARRESTED IN NETHERLANDS...Dutch police have arrested a 62-year-old man on suspicion that he supplied the regime of Saddam Hussein with thousands of tons of raw materials used to produce chemical weapons between 1984 and 1988, international media reported on 7 December. The chemicals were allegedly used in the 1988 attack on Kurds in the northern Iraqi city of Halabjah, prosecutors contended. The man, identified as Frans van Anraat, was arrested while preparing to leave the Netherlands, Reuters reported. Prosecutor Digna van Boedzelaer said of van Anraat: "We are talking about 36 shipments which amounted to tons and tons of chemicals to make mustard gas and nerve gas," Reuters reported. She said the chemicals were shipped from the U.S. to Belgium and then to Iraq via Jordan. The BBC reported that some of the chemicals also came from Japan. KR
 ...AFTER YEARS OF AVOIDING ARRESTProsecutors said van Anraat was detained in Milan in 1989 at the request of the United States, but released two months later, Reuters reported. He fled to Iraq where he remained until the U.S.-led war in 2003, when he returned to the Netherlands via Syria. Reuters reported that the U.S. asked Dutch officials to arrest him in 1997, but police reportedly could not locate him. Van Anraat reportedly used a Panamanian front company based in Switzerland to carry out his transactions with Hussein's regime. He admitted in a 2003 interview with Dutch magazine "Revu" that he sold chemicals to Iraq. "The images of the gas attack on...Halabjah were a shock. But I did not give the order to do that. How many products, such as bullets, do we make in the Netherlands?" Reuters quoted him as telling the magazine. KR
 IRAQI MOBILE PHONE COMPANY'S OPERATIONS SUSPENDEDThe Telecommunications Ministry has reportedly suspended the activities of the Orascom mobile telephone company in Iraq, which operates under the name Iraqna, due to mismanagement and poor performance, a Denmark-based website reported on 7 December (http://www.iraq4allnews.dk). The website reports numerous complaints regarding the service and Iraqi newspapers have widely reported similar complaints. Subscribers had reportedly complained that the company sold more phone lines than it could accommodate, which overburdened the system. "Al-Ufuq" reported on 30 November that the ministry had fined Orascom due to poor service. KR
 DIFFICULT CHOICES, CONSTITUTIONAL DILEMMAS CONFRONT AFGHAN PRESIDENTBy Amin Tarzi
Hamid Karzai was sworn as the first popularly elected president in Afghanistan's history in the presence of an unprecedented number of foreign dignitaries in Kabul on 7 December.
Such a demonstration of support for Karzai by his foreign allies might well be the last grand act of the nearly three-year honeymoon that the Afghan leader has enjoyed with his international backers. That is likely to be the case if Karzai is unable to deliver on his election promises -- which include effecting an end to "warlordism," serious counternarcotics efforts, enacting accountability in government, fighting poverty, and more.
Since the inception of the current transitional administrative system that was established for Afghanistan in December 2001, Karzai has rightfully argued that his hands have been tied by a set of arrangements in which he was not even a participant. (Karzai was leading an effort against Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime in southern Afghanistan when the deal on a new regime was being worked out in Bonn, Germany).
In light of his recent landslide victory in the 9 October presidential election -- granting him an accompanying popular mandate -- and an Afghan Constitution that affords the president far-reaching powers, Karzai will have few credible alibis if the situation in his country does not improve. Worse still if conditions deteriorate further due to decisions taken by him.
Without a doubt, Karzai's first test and the foundation upon which his five-year term as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be built is his choice of cabinet ministers. In this task, Karzai faces a challenge and a constitutional dilemma -- with the latter giving him greater power but also placing greater responsibility squarely on his shoulders.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Karzai maintained that he would not form a coalition government if he were successful in the election. And his comfortable margin of victory -- 55 percent versus 16 percent for his nearest rival, former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni -- suggests that he need not seek coalition partners.
While rejecting the idea of a coalition government, Karzai did leave the door open during the campaign for his opponents to join his cabinet -- with the understanding that they should share similar views as Karzai.
Speculation about the new composition of the Afghan cabinet has circulated for some time, with much of the focus on whether Karzai might include warlords or those who -- if a court existed in which crimes in Afghanistan against humanity might be tried -- might have been indicted as war criminals.
Karzai's dilemma is that while his margin of victory was wide, the vote was split along ethnic lines. Moreover, some people with questionable pasts secured large numbers of votes from their respective co-ethnics. For Karzai to rule effectively, he must somehow deal with such these elements -- however unsavory that might seem. And in the absence of a strong military force that is loyal to the central authorities in Kabul and the Afghan Constitution, appeasement in the form of cabinet posts remains Karzai's only real choice at the moment.
Beyond the choice of a cabinet, which is expected to be announced soon, there remains a constitutional vagueness surrounding the new government.
Article 71 of Afghanistan's new constitution, adopted in January, stipulates that members of the cabinet "are appointed by the President and shall be introduced for approval to the National Assembly." An amended Article 160 states that "every effort shall be made to hold the first presidential election and the parliamentary election at the same time." However, since that situation did not occur -- as the drafters of the constitution must have speculated -- they wrote into the constitution that "until the establishment of the National Assembly, the powers of the National Assembly...shall be held by the Government."
This essentially means that Karzai and his two vice presidents, as the only members of the "government" for the time being, enjoy the power to appoint a cabinet -- and thus form a government -- without scrutiny by the National Assembly.
While this loophole in the constitution affords Karzai absolute authority to appoint the government of his choice, the absence of any National Assembly that might act as a check on that power places the burden of possible failure squarely on his shoulders.
Article 161 of the constitution seeks to afford the National Assembly its powers retroactively by stipulating that the legislative body "shall exercise its powers immediately after its establishment." If Afghanistan is to have a reasonably representative National Assembly, some of the personnel choices made by Karzai might come under criticism and even face eventual dismissal. While a distant and remote possibility, the existence of such a clause in the constitution (if the document is respected to the letter) could lead to a cabinet that is analogous to the wishes of the Afghan people.
In some cases, the popular choice might well be a warlord or "regional leader" -- to use the more politically correct version of the term -- who has support among his people.
With the ethnic imbalance in the presidential vote and the possibility of similarly divided results in the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2005, President Karzai has a golden opportunity of several months in which to select a cabinet that -- for reasons of political expediency might include a warlord or two. But on the whole, the makeup of the government should reflect and adhere to the president's vision for his country and possess the merits to carry out their respective tasks.
If that delicate balance is not achieved, Karzai might lose more than simply his domestic backing. He could alienate many of those who were on his guest list for the 7 December inauguration ceremony.