|Sunday, 17 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-01-05
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 FOREIGN MINISTRY URGES ISRAEL TO 'FULFILL OBLIGATIONS' AHEAD OF PALESTINIAN VOTE...Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 4 January that Israel's military presence in the Palestinian territories is "having a direct effect" on the election of a successor to the late president of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat, which is scheduled for 9 January, RIA-Novosti reported. "It is necessary for Israel to fulfill its obligations and facilitate the success of the elections, withdraw its troops from Palestinian cities, and give freedom of movement to voters and candidates," Yakovenko said. He added that Israel's interest presumably lies in ensuring that the "election of the Palestinian Authority head fully reflects the choice of Palestinian society in order to see a rapid political settlement and an uncompromising fight against terror and anti-Israeli violence," the news agency reported. VY
 ...AS ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER CONCERNED BY RELATIONS WITH RUSSIAIsraeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened a special meeting of key cabinet members on 2 January to address signs that relations with Russia have been deteriorating, jewish.ru and jnews.ru reported. The meeting reportedly analyzed recent incidents that include "excessively warm" condolences on the death of Palestinian Authority President Arafat, a "disappointing visit" by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in December, President Vladimir Putin's gaffe at a December news conference at which he appeared to have confused Zionism with anti-Semitism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2004). Sharon instructed Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to examine whether Russian policy toward Israel has changed. Meanwhile, some Israeli analysts say that the era of warm relations between Russian and Israel is coming to an end, mignews.com reported. VY
 FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL SIGN BORDER TREATIES WITH LATVIA, ESTONIAForeign Minister Lavrov said in a 28 December interview to the German business daily "Handelsblatt" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005) that Russia wants "normal relations" with Latvia and Estonia and "favors a Russian-Baltic summit at which we want to agree on border agreements," mid.ru reported on 3 January. Lavrov also confirmed President Putin's invitation to the Estonian and Latvian presidents to come to Moscow on 9 May for the 60th anniversary of the end of Word War II to sign the border treaties. Lavrov also repeated Moscow's criticism of the treatment of the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states. "When there were referendums on the independence of Latvia and Estonia, the Russian-speaking population voted for them. Then, the governments of these countries reckoned with their voices, but now they are not needed," he said. VY
 EXPERT PREDICTS WEAKENING OF RUSSIA'S POSITION ABROAD IN 2005..."Russia in Global Policy" quarterly Editor in Chief Fedor Lukyanov said that in 2005 Russia's position in the CIS will further weaken and its relations with the West will continue to deteriorate, gazeta.ru reported on 31 December. Russia's failures in foreign policy during 2004 signaled to CIS leaders that Moscow is no longer a guarantor of power and, therefore, they can behave more independently, while looking for support from more powerful players, Lukyanov wrote. All this could lead to the demise of the CIS. Even more painful for Moscow will be the retreat from the Single Economic Space project, which will become pointless after the expected withdrawal of Ukraine. Relations between Russia and the European Union will likely continue to deteriorate, as "both sides find it hard to conceal their irritation with each other," but open confrontation is unlikely, Lukyanov noted. VY
 ...AS ANOTHER EXPERT EXPLAINS WHY PUTIN DIDN'T SACK HIS AIDEFormer Finance Minister Aleksandr Shokhin, who is chairman of the board of trustees of Renaissance Capital and former head of the Duma Banking Committee, said that for public-relations reasons President Putin will not fire his economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who recently publicly criticized the Kremlin's economic policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005), Ekho Moskvy reported on 4 January. "But the president will not take the initiative to remove Illarionov from his post as adviser, partly so as not to give the impression that he is against pluralism of opinions," he said. Shokhin said that Illarionov has publicly criticized his boss's policies not only in connection with the Yukos affair but also concerning the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Apparently, Putin can tolerate a person with his own opinion inside his team, but for outside contacts he needs somebody who represents his opinion, Shokhin said, commenting on the appointment of presidential aide Igor Shuvalov as the new Russian representative to the Group of Eight industrialized countries. VY
 WEBSITE PUBLISHES LIST OF TOP 100 RUSSIAN INTELLECTUALS OF 2004The "Intellectual Russia" website (http://intelros.ru) published on 31 December a list of Russia's top 100 intellectuals of 2004 compiled for the website by the editors in chief of 30 leading Russian electronic and print publications. First place went to Levada Analytical Center head Yurii Levada, second place to Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovskii, third place to Nobel Prize winner for Literature Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, fourth place to the of Higher Economics School head Yevgenii Yasin, fifth place to philosopher Aleksandr Zinoviev, sixth place to Globalization Institute Director Mikhail Delyagin, seven place to jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, eighth place to economist and State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev (Motherland), and the ninth and 10th spots went to noted journalists Vitalii Tretyakov and Vladimir Pozner. VY
 SPACE AGENCY OUTLINES SCHEDULE FOR ISS CONSTRUCTIONThis year, Russia's space program will focus on working on the Russian components of the International Space Station (ISS), ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January, citing Rosaviakosmos Director Anatolii Perminov. Perminov noted that Russia has borne the entire burden of servicing the ISS since the February 2003 "Columbia" space shuttle disaster. Last year, Russia sent two manned missions and five unmanned cargo ships to the ISS. According to Rosaviakosmos Deputy Director Nikolai Moiseev, the Russian segment of the ISS will be completed in 2011, while a laboratory module will be launched in 2007, a power platform in 2009, and another laboratory module in 2011. RC
 2004 A GOOD YEAR FOR RUSSIAN ARMS EXPORTSRussian arms exporters set a record for deliveries in 2004, gazeta.ru reported on 4 January. Total exports were about $5.7 billion last year, the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service reported, about a $300 million increase over 2003. Approximately half the total was accounted for by aviation sales, with Sukhoi fighters playing the most prominent role. China and India are Russia's most important arms customers. China last year took delivery of 24 Su-30MK2 fighters under a $1 billion deal signed in 2003. RC
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIA SCORES HIGH IN RANKING OF ECONOMIC FREEDOMArmenia received the highest marks for economic freedom among former Soviet states in a recent survey, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 January. The Washington-based Heritage Foundation think tank and "The Wall Street Journal" released their annual ranking, the "2005 Index of Economic Freedom," on 4 January, rating some 161 countries of the world on 10 different factors such as trade policy, government intervention in the economy, regulation, and property rights. The Armenian economy was ranked above France and South Korea in 42nd place and was the only former Soviet economy to be judged as "mostly free." Armenia improved over last year's ranking of 44th in the index. Although the report noted that Armenian President Robert Kocharian is "more willing to use authoritarian measures against his critics," it concluded overall that "Armenia remained committed to the gradual pursuit of a democratic society and free-market economy in 2004." Neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan were judged as "mostly unfree" and were ranked 100th and 103rd, respectively. RG
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT EXPRESSES NEW OPTIMISM ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH TALKS...Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressed new optimism on 3 January regarding the outlook for negotiations over the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turan and Azerbaijani TV reported. After a closed session of his National Security Council, Aliyev announced that "a new stage of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has almost started" and confirmed reports that the talks have shifted to a "phased" or "stage-by-stage" approach to resolving the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). Such a staged approach involves a timed withdrawal by Armenian forces from areas of Azerbaijani territory that it holds beyond the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev specifically cited progress in a series of talks held in Prague with the Armenian side and assisted by the U.S., French, and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk Group. A new round of talks is set to reconvene in Prague in coming weeks. The statement follows similarly hopeful remarks in Aliyev's recent New Year's address to the nation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). RG
 ...BUT EXTREMIST GROUP URGES MILITARY OFFENSIVEThe militant Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) announced on 4 January that it has prepared a "unified platform" detailing plans for the military "liberation of Azerbaijani territories from Armenian occupation," ANS-TV reported. QAT leader Akif Nagi called on the Azerbaijani authorities to abandon negotiations and concentrate on rebuilding the military. The group's "platform," to be widely distributed, calls for an immediate mobilization of the armed forces and urges a military offensive to retake Armenian-held areas of Azerbaijan. RG
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER REJECTS NEW ANTICORRUPTION LAWSAzerbaijani opposition Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar dismissed the introduction of new anticorruption laws on 4 January and questioned the state's commitment to sincerely fighting corruption, Turan reported. Qambar also reported that the opposition Our Azerbaijan bloc he heads is preparing for the coming parliamentary elections and will release a number of proposed changes to electoral laws that seek to modify the structures of election commissions and call for the reinstitution of the mixed majoritarian-proportional election system. RG
 GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES CONFISCATE NEARLY $31 MILLION IN ANTICORRUPTION EFFORTAccording to a report compiled by the nongovernmental Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, Georgian authorities have accumulated 55.7 million laris ($30.9 million) in fines and seized assets as part of their anticorruption program, Civil Georgia reported on 4 January. Based on information from the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office, the amount only covers the period from January to November 2004 and consists of 20 cases involving 80 individuals. The enforcement effort uses the anticorruption law adopted by parliament in February and allows for the seizure of funds and property belonging to current and former state officials who are unable to certify that they acquired their assets legally. RG
 GEORGIAN MINISTER COMMENTS ON NEW DRAFT PEACE PLAN FOR ABKHAZIA AND SOUTH OSSETIAGeorgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said on 3 January that the government is developing a new draft plan delineating the status of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Imedi TV and Civil Georgia reported. The new proposal is to be submitted to the Georgian National Security Council for consideration on 10 January. Khaindrava added that the government will convene talks with "representatives of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities" to review the proposal, Imedi TV reported on 3 January. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili issued instructions on 17 December ordering the preparation of such a peace plan that would include the proposed formation of a "federal arrangement" that would provide the "widest form of status" for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a new "common state" of Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). Khaindrava confirmed that the proposal would utilize an earlier draft plan for Abkhazia that was developed by a group of Georgian political and legal experts, Rustavi-2 reported. That earlier plan called for the transformation of Georgia into a two-member federation, with Abkhazia offered the "highest possible degree of autonomy" in exchange for ending its drive for independence (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 June 2004). RG
 FORMER GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER RELEASED FROM PRISONFormer Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili was released on bail after paying a fine of 300,000 laris ($165,000) to "compensate for the financial loss" he is alleged to have caused the Georgian state, Rustavi-2 and Caucasus Press reported on 4 January. Narchemashvili, who was interior minister from November 2001 to November 2003, has been imprisoned for the last 2 1/2 months after his arrest on charges of corruption and abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2004). He was also charged with "customs violations" for the alleged illegal import of tear gas from Azerbaijan during the anti-Shevardnadze street protests in Tbilisi in November 2003. Although prosecutors are still conducting a formal investigation, Narchemashvili's case will reportedly not proceed to trial, Rustavi-2 reported. RG
 RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SEIZE ALMOST 4 TONS OF DRUGS ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER IN 2004Russian border guards seized 3,750 kilograms of narcotics, including 2,440 kilograms of heroin, on the Tajik-Afghan border in 2004, a spokesperson for Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in Tajikistan told Avesta on 4 January. Russian guards also confiscated 27 firearms and 43,600 pieces of ammunition, including 1,445 tank shells and 757 mines, and $334,280 in cash. Russian guards detained 297 people for illegally crossing the border, an FSB spokesperson told Asia Plus-Blitz. The spokesperson described the main reasons for illegal crossings as "attempts to achieve financial gain by organized narcotics groups, collecting debts for past drug deals, gold prospecting, collecting reeds and wood, and pasturing and searching for lost cattle on Tajik territory by Afghan residents." DK
 422 TAJIKS RETURNED HOME IN COFFINS FROM RUSSIA IN 2004A spokesperson for Tajikistan's Interior Ministry told Asia Plus-Blitz on 4 January that the bodies of 422 Tajik citizens were returned to Tajikistan from Russia in 2004. Sixty Tajiks were killed by violence, 46 died in traffic accidents, 181 perished as a result of illness, and 129 were killed in various accidents. The Interior Ministry totals included bodies returned by air and rail, but not buses and cars, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Even so, the number represented an increase on 2003 figures. DK
 UZBEK ELECTION COMMISSION ANNOUNCES FIRST-ROUND RESULTSUzbekistan's Central Election Commission announced on 4 January the final results for the first round of elections to the lower chamber of the country's parliament, which were held on 26 December, UzA reported. First-round winners were declared in 62 of 120 constituencies, with the Liberal-Democratic Party garnering 21 seats, the People's Democratic Party 18, the Fidokorlar National-Democratic Party nine, the National Renaissance Democratic Party six, the Adolat Social-Democratic Party two, and initiative-group candidates six. Women comprised 12.9 percent of those elected in the first round. Second-round elections will be held in 58 constituencies on 9 January. International observers criticized the 26 December elections for falling short of democratic standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). DK
 BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT TO REGULATE MEAT PRICESThe Belarusian government has included pork and beef on its "list of socially significant goods" subject to price controls, Belarusian Television reported on 4 January. The list comprises some 60 commodities, mostly foodstuffs, whose prices are regulated by the Economy Ministry. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ACCEPTS YANUKOVYCH'S RESIGNATION, APPOINTS ACTING PREMIEROutgoing President Leonid Kuchma has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and appointed First Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov as acting head of the government, Interfax reported on 5 January, quoting the presidential press service. Yanukovych tendered his resignation on 31 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said during a meeting with OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dimitrij Rupel in Kyiv on 5 January that Ukraine's new cabinet should be formed by the end of January. Meanwhile, it is still unclear when the Central Election Commission might announce the final results of the 26 December presidential vote and when Viktor Yushchenko might be inaugurated as the country's new president. JM
 TYMOSHENKO UPBEAT ON CHANCES OF BECOMING UKRAINIAN PREMIERYuliya Tymoshenko, the head of an eponymous political bloc and an ally of Our Ukraine leader and President-elect Yushchenko, said on 4 January that she could secure the required 226 parliamentary votes for approval if Yushchenko designated her to be the country's new prime minister, Interfax reported. "I have been trying for a year now to join [the effort to introduce] order in the country," Tymoshenko said. "Introducing order is a key task for me. Therefore I believe I would make a pretty good prime minister." Tymoshenko said that, under a Yushchenko presidency, business should be separated from government. Tymoshenko called her previous career as a senior energy executive and businesswoman "an incident in my life." "I think my true vocation is politics, and I'm busy with it full-blast." Tymoshenko, 44, was a deputy prime minister for energy and fuel in Yushchenko's cabinet from January 2000 to January 2001. Yushchenko suggested last week that Our Ukraine might support Tymoshenko for the prime minister's post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004). JM
 CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER QUITS AMID CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONSForeign Minister Miomir Zuzul of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) resigned his post on 4 January, the first member of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's year-old cabinet to leave office, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Zuzul, who was ambassador to Washington from 1996 to 2000, wrote in a letter of resignation that -- because of persistent corruption allegations that he denies -- he might become a "burden to the government" as it prepares for membership talks with the EU in March if he remains in office. Zuzul survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence in November but continues to be dogged by several unproven allegations of corruption. Critics charge that Sanader should have removed Zuzul earlier to allow a new and untainted foreign minister ample time to prepare for the EU talks. Joining the EU is the central aim of Croatian foreign policy, which has been jointly developed by Sanader and Zuzul over the past year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 June, 24 September, and 1 October 2004). It is unclear who Zuzul's successor will be. PM
 NEW MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER URGES REFORMS, STABILITYJovan Manasievski, who is the new Macedonian defense minister, said in an interview with the private A1 TV on 2 January that if Macedonia hopes to join NATO in 2006, it must not only reform the judicial system and the economy but also ensure political and institutional stability. This includes holding fair and free local elections in March 2005 as well as fully implementing the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, he added. Regarding Macedonia's engagement in peacekeeping missions abroad, Manasievski said the government will not change the current number of peacekeepers in Iraq but will step up its presence in Afghanistan, where it will participate in a joint medical mission with Albania and Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 May and 12 and 27 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 28 May 2004). Manasievski also said Macedonia will deploy more than 160 servicemen to participate in the multinational Southeastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG), which includes Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey, and is based in Constanta, Romania. UB
 ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTER OUTLINES PRIORITIESNew Romanian Justice Minister Monica Macovei told journalists on 4 January that combating "corruption at the top" must be a priority for the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA), Mediafax reported. She said the PNA must investigate "correctly, allowing no political interference and [regardless of] interests." Macovei, who headed one of Romania's most influential nongovernmental organizations before her recent appointment, said she continues to be politically independent and her independence will "show during my term, regardless of whether that term is short or long." She also said she accepted the ministerial appointment in order to implement "the reforms I was demanding when I was on the other side of the barricades." Macovei said she demands that judges be politically independent, adding that she will never interfere in the judicial process. MS
 IMF BACKS ROMANIAN FLAT TAX, CRACKDOWN ON NONPAYMENTThe International Monetary Fund's (IMF) permanent representative to Romania, Graeme Justice, told Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu on 4 January that the IMF considers the recent introduction of a 16 percent flat tax through an emergency ordinance to be "sound fiscal policy," Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004). At the same time, Justice warned against allowing the budget deficit to grow too large. Popescu-Tariceanu told Justice that the cabinet is determined to lower taxes in order to attract foreign investors and promote competition ahead of EU accession, tentatively slated for 2007. Justice also told Popescu-Tariceanu that the IMF backs the cabinet's determination to act against companies with large tax debts to the state budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003 and 4 January 2004). MS
 TRANSYLVANIAN AUTHORITIES SUCCESSFULLY OPPOSE AUTONOMY REFERENDUMA Covasna County court ruled on 4 January that a decision by the local council in the Transylvanian village of Ilieni to hold a plebiscite on autonomy for lands inhabited by ethnic Hungarian Szeklers is illegal, Mediafax reported. Covasna County official Horia Grama challenged the decision to hold the referendum and appealed a similar decision by the local council in the village of Batani. Meanwhile, an official in Harghita County on 4 January appealed a decision by the municipal council in Gheorgheni to hold a similar referendum on 30 January. The Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) in December called on local councils in areas inhabited by Szeklers to hold plebiscites on autonomy. The Szeklers are a group within the Hungarian minority, and the region historically known as the Szekler Lands has a centuries-long tradition of autonomous rule. That tradition was quashed first by the Habsburgs monarchy and later by the Romanian state. MS
 OPPOSITION PREDICTS TWO-PARTY MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTThe opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) predicted in a 4 January statement to the press that the elections planned for 6 March will result in just two parliamentary formations, the PPCD and the currently ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), Flux reported. The PPCD called the Braghis Alliance -- which won parliamentary seats in 2001 and has since merged with Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean's Party of Independents and the Liberal Party to form the centrist Our Moldova alliance -- a "one-time party" that has neither an identity nor a solid electoral base. The Our Moldova alliance later merged with Dumitru Diacov's Democratic Party and with the Social Liberal Party headed by Oleg Serebrian, creating the Democratic Moldova Bloc, which would require at least 12 percent of the vote to gain parliamentary representation. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 CALM RETURNS TO AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER FOLLOWING DEADLY EXCHANGE...The border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan has calmed since an exchange of fire between the two sides on 2-3 January, with no further incidents reported, PTV reported on 4 January. One Pakistani paramilitary soldier was killed in a gun battle with Afghan militiamen on 2 January in North Waziristan Agency along the border with Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). Major General Shaukat Sultan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Army, said Pakistan forces responded to artillery and mortar fire from the Afghan side but that "the situation remained quite normal" on 4 January. AT
 ...AND KABUL AND ISLAMABAD DOWNPLAY TENSIONPakistani General Sultan dismissed reports of a prevailing tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan beyond the border incident as "totally incorrect," PTV reported on 4 January. "Locally, it is possible that someone [on the Afghan side] made a mistake" by firing across the border to Pakistan, however, "fraternal relations exist between the two governments," Sultan said. In 2003, Afghanistan and Pakistan came close to large-scale conflict over claims by Kabul that Pakistani troops had entered Afghan territory. The border between the two countries, which has never been demarcated nor recognized by Afghanistan, remains a point of friction between Kabul and Islamabad (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). AT
 DEMOBILIZED COMMANDERS WILL RECEIVE SALARIESThe Afghan Defense Ministry announced on 4 January that 28 commanders who have joined the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program will receive monthly salaries based on their military ranks, Afghanistan Television reported. Lieutenant General Mohebollah, deputy defense minister in charge of policy and strategy, said on 4 January that around 96 percent of the heavy artillery in the country has been collected under the DDR program. AT
 TWO CIVILIANS KILLED IN LAND-MINE EXPLOSIONTwo people were killed in western Herat Province on 3 January when a land mine exploded, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 4 January. The explosion occurred near the air base in Shindand District. Lotfollah Nikzad, district police chief in Shindand, denied the reports that the land mine was freshly planted. AT
 CONSERVATIVE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DEFENDS RECORDAli Larijani, who recently declared his intention to run in the June presidential election, defended his record as head of the state radio and television organization Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) during a 3 January interview, "Etemad" reported on 4 January. Responding to a question about the amount of airtime given to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Larijani said many of his speeches were broadcast live and he received more news coverage than his predecessor, Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a former president who is reportedly considering his own bid to return to the presidency. Responding to an "Etemad" question about the perception that IRIB was not impartial on domestic politics, Larijani said, "On some occasions, the circulars issued by the Supreme National Security Council prevented [IRIB] from broadcasting some reports and political programs." Asked if such a circular was behind IRIB's failure to report on the sit-in by legislators who were not allowed to compete in the 2004 parliamentary elections, Larijani said, "I can't remember." BS
 IRANIAN REFORMIST FRONT TO BACK SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATESeyyed Hadi Khamenei, who currently chairs the reformist front's coordinating council, argued in the 4 January "Sharq" that the reformists could win the upcoming presidential election if they were able decide on a single candidate. Khamenei said there is time to reach a consensus and that opinion polls will contribute to the ultimate decision. Former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin stand the best chance of getting the reformist front's endorsement, Khamenei claimed. Nobody else is in the running, according to Khamenei, who added, "The reform front is not considering others whose names are mentioned." BS
 IRANIAN MILITARY COMMANDER DENOUNCES REGIONAL PRESENCE OF FOREIGN FORCES"The presence of forces from outside the region will cause insecurity in this region," Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said in a 4 January speech in Bandar Abbas, state radio reported. He went on to allege that the U.S. objective in the region is to control energy resources and destroy occupied countries' national identities. Rahim-Safavi said Iran is monitoring regional developments. BS
 IRAN DISMISSES AMMAN CONFERENCE ON IRAQ AS 'INTERFERENCE'...Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 2 January in Tehran that Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will not attend the upcoming conference on Iraq that is scheduled to be held in Amman, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. Assefi explained that the step signals Tehran's irritation with King Abdullah's early December comments about Iran's regional ambitions and its interference in Iraqi affairs. "Well, what they have said is baseless. We have already announced that Iran does not interfere in Iraq's internal affairs," Assefi said. "It believes that security and stability in Iraq mean security and stability in the region and ultimately in Iran." He continued, "Those who interfere in Iraq's affairs are the ones who hold meetings with Ba'athists in their own countries and invite them for talks to find out how they can put obstacles in the way of the elections." Tehran is not boycotting the event, however. Assefi said, "Despite the fact that we care about developments in Iraq and have been in a way the initiator of such conferences, we will participate in the conference at a lower level." BS
 ...DISAPPOINTING BAGHDADIraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Ahmad Salih said he regrets Iran's decision not to attend the upcoming Amman conference, "Al-Ufuq" reported on 3 January. "We were in Jordan some time ago and we talked to King Abdullah on his recent statements," Salih said. "He explained the situation to us and said he was misunderstood." Salih said Baghdad and Tehran resolve their differences "wisely and rationally," conceded that "we have objections to the behavior and intentions of some neighboring countries," and added that "efforts are under way to solve any problems." Asked about Defense Minister Hazim Shalan al-Khuza'i's repeated statements about Iranian interference, Salih said this does not reflect Baghdad's position. "We have several known problems with the Iranian side, and we have objections to some of its actions," Salih said, but he said his colleague's approach smacks of "racist logic" and gives the false appearance of an "Arab-Persian conflict." Salih said, "We look forward to establishing balanced relations and we must deal with Iran in a different manner." BS
 CAR BOMBS CLAIM 12 LIVES IN IRAQMilitants apparently targeting a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad killed two civilians and wounded four others on 5 January, Reuters quoted a police official as saying. The attack took place in Al-Amiriyah near the Baghdad International Airport, where the U.S. military is routinely targeted. Meanwhile, 100 kilometers south of Baghdad in Al-Hillah, a suicide car bomber attacked a police academy, killing at least 10 and wounding 25, Reuters reported. Police spokesman Hadi Hatif said the bomber drove into the compound and came under fire from police before detonating his vehicle. Hatif said at least four cars and three buildings were damaged by the blast. Militants targeted a police-commando headquarters in Baghdad on 4 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). KR
 IRAQI ISLAMIC PARTY OFFICIAL ASSASSINATED IN MOSULMilitants kidnapped and killed a senior official of the Sunni-dominated Islamic Party of Iraq on 4 January, Reuters reported on 5 January. Umar Mahmud Abdullah, who has authored several books on Islam, was kidnapped from his pharmacy in the city and shot in the head, an unnamed official said. The party earlier withdrew its participation in the 30 January elections. Meanwhile, militants in Ba'qubah reportedly kidnapped the head of a polling station in the city, located about 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 5 January. Ahmad Sulayman Wahhab was warned by his captors not to participate in January elections, the satellite news channel said. Al-Arabiyah also reported that gunmen have distributed leaflets throughout the city warning citizens against promoting the election process in the city. KR
 SUNNI CONFERENCE CALLS FOR POSTPONEMENT OF ELECTIONSA number of Sunni groups from throughout Iraqi met in Baghdad on 4 January and called for a postponement of the national and provincial elections slated for 30 January, the Islamic Party's Dar Al-Salam Radio reported the same day. A statement issued by the conferees said it is not in Iraq's interest to hold the elections in the current atmosphere. Muhammad Adnan Salman al-Dulaymi told the station: "We held this conference in the name of Sunnis in Iraq. This does not mean that we want to cancel [the role of] others. However, we want to affirm to the world that there is a large number of Sunnis in this country who cannot be marginalized. Those who seek to marginalize Ahl al-Sunnah will not succeed. Their attempts will only lead to the destruction of Iraq." KR
 IRAQI MINISTER SAYS 'CLEANSING OPERATIONS' TO BEGIN IN MOSULState Minister for National Security Affairs Qassim Dawud announced that a military operation will soon be launched in Mosul to cleanse that city of what he described as criminal groups, Al-Jazeera reported on 4 January. Dawud said the city will "witness cleansing operations against all these criminal groups, who wrought havoc on the city of Mosul. We found many headless bodies. We found out things that do not come to one's mind and which were committed through evil practices." President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told Al-Sharqiyah television on 4 January that the operation will not be on the scale of previous operations in the restive city of Al-Fallujah. "By no means will we allow a similar thing to take place in Mosul, namely, a comprehensive battle," al-Yawir said. "The number of residents in Mosul is more than 1 1/2 million people, and they cannot be subject to aircraft and artillery bombardment." KR
 IRAQI INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAYS NUMBER OF INSURGENTS HIGHER THAN U.S. ESTIMATESIntelligence chief General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani told AFP that the number of insurgents in Iraq "is more than 200,000 people," including active fighters and sympathizers, the news agency reported on 3 January. Shahwani said the figure includes a core of at least 40,000 hard-core fighters; the remainder are part-time fighters and volunteers who provide militants with logistical help, shelter, or intelligence. An unnamed senior military officer could neither confirm nor deny the claims, AFP reported. "As for the size of the insurgency, we don't have a good resolution on the size," the officer said. Shahwani said that militants receive wide support in the governorates of Baghdad, Babil, Diyala, Ninawah, Salah Al-Din, and Ta'mim -- governorates with strong Sunni populations. Shahwani criticized U.S.-led operations to cleanse Al-Fallujah of insurgents in November. "What we have now is an empty city almost destroyed...and most of the insurgents are free. They have gone either to Mosul or to Baghdad or other areas," he said. Asked if the militants were winning in Iraq, he replied, "I would say they aren't losing." KR
 IRAQI PRESIDENT CALLS ON UN TO DECIDE OVER VOTE DELAYPresident Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir called on the United Nations to decide whether Iraqi elections slated for 30 January should be postponed, Abu Dhabi television reported on 4 January. "I think that the most important party that could make its judgment in this regard and be acceptable to all parties is the United Nations, particularly the Security Council," he said. "This is because this government emanated from [Security Council] Resolution 1546 [in June 2004]." He added that it is his belief that the UN is the only party that can issue a recommendation on the issue. KR
 IRAQI PARTY LEADER REITERATES CALL FOR ELECTION POSTPONEMENTAdnan Pachachi, head of the Independent Iraqi Democrats Movement, issued a plea for an election postponement in "Al-Mu'tamar" newspaper on 4 January. Pachachi said that while his party has registered a list of candidates to participate in the elections, he still believes the deteriorating security situation warrants a postponement. The security situation and power outages have made it difficult to publish and disseminate party platforms. While conceding that there is truth to the argument that a delay would represent a victory for the terrorists, he argued that the terrorists will also succeed if Iraqis are too terrified to cast their ballots. He added that candidates have been unable to organize public rallies ahead of the elections because such events would be "an open and frank invitation to these terrorists and murderers to point their machine guns at the chest of the electorate." Pachachi also criticized the Independent Electoral Commission for not properly educating Iraqis ahead of the vote. "Many wrongly think the next Iraqi president will be elected in a direct vote," he wrote. A postponement would not only help to rectify these issues, but also allow for a national reconciliation conference to strengthen the unity of Iraq, he said. KR
 RUSSIA BIDS FAREWELL TO REGIONAL ELECTIONSBy Julie A. Corwin
Russia wound up its latest -- and last -- batch of gubernatorial elections on 19 and 26 December with the expected results. A bevy of incumbents and candidates supported by the current party of power was reelected by the usual means -- physical attacks, last-minute court decisions disqualifying their opponents, and the dissemination of compromising materials in the media.
The percentage of votes cast "against all" candidates rose to new levels, suggesting that at least some voters will not miss the short-lived experiment with electing regional executives that President Boris Yeltsin launched some 11 years ago.
Five elections were held on 19 December and another three 26 December. In six of the eight races, incumbents were reelected. In the remaining two regions, the incumbents in question had either been eased out or forced out prior to election day. Communist Governor of Bryansk Oblast Yurii Lodkin was disqualified shortly before the first round, and unpopular incumbent Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov was lured to Moscow with a better job offer.
Not only incumbents but also representatives of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party fared well in these two sets of elections. Five of eight winning candidates were aligned with Unified Russia. But upon closer examination, the tally might be less impressive than it first appears. The party had a difficult time electing its handpicked candidates, while the ones it supported only nominally did well. For example, in Khabarovsk Krai, incumbent Governor Viktor Ishaev won a third term by a hefty margin: 85.3 in the first round on 26 December. But he secured the central party's support only on the eve of the first round, "Vremya novostei" reported on 21 December. Prior to that, the party's unofficial and the president's official envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii has been waging a multiyear struggle against Ishaev.
Meanwhile, in Ulyanovsk, Dimitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov, who was supported by Unified Russia, won with 52.8 percent of the vote but only after his close competitor, local dairy magnate Sergei Gerasimov, was disqualified just before the second round. Gerasimov had only 40,000 fewer votes than Morozov in the first round. According to RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent on 23 December, print media controlled by the oblast administration published disparaging materials about the relationship between presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko and Morozov. The publications also hinted that it would be better to vote "against all" candidates in the second round and wait for Putin to appoint a new governor for the region. Whether it was because of such exhortations or frustration with candidates who did make it on to the ballot, the electorate responded. The percentage voting for "against all" was unusually high at 25.2 percent.
The Communist Party managed to hold on to two governorships, but not without a struggle. Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, who won a second term on 19 December, was facing criminal charges for months leading up to the election. Local police dragged him into the prosecutor's office a week before the first round to review materials in his case. In Volgograd, incumbent Governor Nikolai Maksuta suffered not just the usual verbal blows from bruising debates with political competitors. He actually sustained a concussion when struck by the falling clapper of a church bell during a visit to a local church. While he was at the hospital recovering and receiving three stitches to his head, his house was burgled. Unknown thieves stole jewelry and other expensive items and even drank up the governor's supply of cognac, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 December. According to "Izvestiya," the governor's press service issued a report on the day of the election saying that the incidents involving the governor "could be the result of purposeful actions by his political opponents."
Russia's last gubernatorial election for the foreseeable future will take place on 23 January in the tiny Far Northern Province in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. There, current Governor Vladimir Butov is fighting multiple legal cases in order to be able to seek a third term. Butov, however, has much experience with the law. 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.