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RFE/RL Newsline, 05-02-01

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>


CONTENTS

  • [01] RUSSIAN PUBLIC BLAMES PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT FOR BENEFITS CRISIS...
  • [02] ...AS PUTIN'S OFFICE IS FLOODED WITH COMPLAINTS
  • [03] MORE THAN HALF OF RUSSIAN REGIONS TO RETURN TO SUBSIDIZING TRANSPORTATION
  • [04] MOSCOW COURT DISMISSES LAND-FRAUD CASE AGAINST MINISTER'S WIFE
  • [05] DUMA DEPUTY SAYS NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN
  • [06] PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT FETED IN KREMLIN
  • [07] RUSSIAN JUDGE BECOMES PRESIDENTIAL AIDE
  • [08] RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY TELEVISION CHANNEL DUE TO BEGIN BROADCASTING
  • [09] CASE CLOSED AGAINST RUSSIAN MAN WHO STORED PLUTONIUM FOR A DECADE
  • [10] TWO YUKOS SHAREHOLDERS PLACED ON INTERNATIONAL WANTED LIST
  • [11] FAR EAST GOVERNOR FIRST TO BE NOMINATED UNDER NEW SELECTION SYSTEM
  • [12] 'POWER AGENCIES' INCRIMINATED IN ABDUCTIONS IN CHECHNYA
  • [13] INVESTIGATION OPENED INTO DISAPPEARANCE OF CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S RELATIVES
  • [14] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES, OMBUDSMAN DEMAND RELEASE OF DETAINED ANTI-SEMITE
  • [15] KARABAKH LEADER ASKS OSCE TO ASSESS AZERBAIJANI OCCUPATION
  • [16] SENIOR AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DISMISSED FOR CORRUPTION WITHIN PRISON SYSTEM
  • [17] CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DEMANDS AZERBAIJANI'S RELEASE
  • [18] BOMB EXPLODES NEAR SOUTH OSSETIAN CONFLICT ZONE
  • [19] DEFROCKED GEORGIAN PRIEST, FOLLOWERS SENTENCED FOR RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE
  • [20] GEORGIA'S GREEK MINORITY TARGET OF ARSON ATTACKS
  • [21] POLICE OFFICER KILLED ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER
  • [22] KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY VOWS MORE DEMONSTRATIONS
  • [23] KAZAKH SECURITY SERVICE WINS LIBEL CASE AGAINST NEWSPAPER
  • [24] KYRGYZ OPPOSITION HALTS RALLIES
  • [25] KYRGYZ PREMIER WARNS OF EXTREMIST THREAT
  • [26] BLAST KILLS ONE IN TAJIK CAPITAL
  • [27] LEADER OF BELARUSIAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS MAKES PRESIDENTIAL BID
  • [28] UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS TO BACK TYMOSHENKO IN EXCHANGE FOR EXECUTIVE-BRANCH POSITIONS
  • [29] UKRAINE LUKEWARM ON EU'S ENHANCED-COOPERATION PLAN
  • [30] CROATIA TELLS EU IT IS NOT 'PLAYING DOUBLE GAMES'
  • [31] HAGUE TRIBUNAL SENTENCES FORMER YUGOSLAV GENERAL FOR SHELLING DUBROVNIK
  • [32] BOSNIAN SERBS SLAM POLICE REFORM PLAN
  • [33] BOSNIA SET TO ASK U.S. TO FREE 'GUANTANAMO SIX'
  • [34] FORMER WITNESS IN KOSOVA WAR CRIMES TRIAL SERIOUSLY WOUNDED
  • [35] SERBIAN MINISTER DENIES PLANNING NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
  • [36] MACEDONIAN PREMIER PRESENTS ANSWERS TO EU QUESTIONNAIRE
  • [37] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN LONDON
  • [38] FORMER LIBERAL PARTY CHAIRMAN CRITICIZES ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER
  • [39] PSD LEADERS TO RUN JOINTLY FOR ROMANIAN PARTY'S LEADERSHIP
  • [40] PACE RAPPORTEURS VISIT MOLDOVA
  • [41] MOLDOVAN CIVIC COALITION PROTESTS AGAINST COMPULSORY SUBSCRIPTIONS
  • [42] UNCERTAINTY CONTINUES OVER DATE FOR AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
  • [43] EU BACKS AFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REPORT
  • [44] INTERIOR MINISTRY MOVES TO CURB ALCOHOL ABUSE
  • [45] AFGHAN LEADER PRAISES IRAQI ELECTIONS
  • [46] U.S., GULF STATES DISCUSS IRAN'S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS
  • [47] IRANIAN NUCLEAR OFFICIAL EXPRESSES DISPLEASURE WITH URANIUM-ENRICHMENT SUSPENSION
  • [48] IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY DECISION COULD KILL MOBILE-PHONE DEAL
  • [49] IRANIAN GOVERNMENT WELCOMES IRAQI ELECTIONS
  • [50] PRISONERS RIOT IN SOUTHERN IRAQ
  • [51] IOM SAYS 93 PERCENT OF REGISTERED EXPATRIATES VOTED
  • [52] IRAQIS IN NINAWAH GOVERNORATE PROTEST BEING UNABLE TO VOTE
  • [53] TWO POLICEMEN KILLED IN IRBIL
  • [54] AL-QAEDA TERRORISTS VOW TO MOVE FORWARD AGAINST DEMOCRACY
  • [55] STRANGE DAYS FOR RUSSIA'S AUDIT CHAMBER Volume 9 Number 19 Tuesday, 1 February 2005 Russia

  • [01] RUSSIAN PUBLIC BLAMES PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT FOR BENEFITS CRISIS...

    The ongoing crisis over the government's controversial effort to convert most in-kind social benefits to cash payments has affected public confidence in President Vladimir Putin, the government, and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, but it has not harmed the ratings of Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, lenta.ru reported on 1 February. Zurabov and Gref are the ministers most involved in the design and implementation of the reforms. According to a poll by the All-Russia Institute for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), about 10 percent of Russians said they disapprove of the work of Gref and Zurabov, while 44 percent said they are not satisfied with the government as a whole. In December, the latter figure was 37 percent. According to a poll released on 31 January by the Public Opinion foundation, just 42 percent of Russians approve of Putin, his lowest popularity rating since taking office in 2000, "The Guardian" reported on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). RC

    [02] ...AS PUTIN'S OFFICE IS FLOODED WITH COMPLAINTS

    President Putin has received 13,000 letters complaining about the controversial benefits reform, lenta.ru reported on 1 February, citing the presidential website (http//:www.kremlin.ru). Most of the letters complain that the compensation offered by the authorities does not cover all the benefits that have been lost. A significant minority of letter writers, especially those living in rural areas, support the monetization of benefits, the website reported. Protests continued around the country on 31 January, with demonstrations in Nakhodka, Novgorod, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Vladivostok. A raion-level court in Novosibirsk on 31 January sentenced activist Aleksandr Tarkov to a 1,000 ruble ($33) fine for his role in organizing a 20 January protest against the reforms, lenta.ru reported. The same day, a court in St. Petersburg dismissed similar charges against Vladimir Solveichik, the head of the St. Petersburg NGO Civic Initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005), after ruling that he had not attended the rally he was charged with organizing, REN-TV reported. "If the people had kept quiet yet again, nothing would have changed," one St. Petersburg pensioner told REN-TV outside the courtroom. RC

    [03] MORE THAN HALF OF RUSSIAN REGIONS TO RETURN TO SUBSIDIZING TRANSPORTATION

    As of 1 February, 22 Russian regions have introduced subsidized public-transportation passes for former benefits recipients in response to massive public protests against the monetization of in-kind benefits, Ekho Moskvy reported. A further 19 regions have reinstated free public transportation for beneficiaries and another 13 intend to introduce subsidized passes as of 1 March, the station quoted Transportation Minister Igor Levitin as saying. RC

    [04] MOSCOW COURT DISMISSES LAND-FRAUD CASE AGAINST MINISTER'S WIFE

    A Moscow Oblast court on 31 January dismissed a case against Yuliya Zurabova, wife of Health and Social Development Minister Zurabov, who had been accused of illegally taking possession of protected land in the oblast, "Tribuna" reported on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). A spokesperson for Zurabov has stated that the land was sold, but Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein (Unified Russia) told the daily that the land belonged to Zurabova when the case was originally filed in August 2004. The case was postponed several times because of Zurabova's frequent hospitalizations. Khinshtein said he has collected the signatures of 10 Duma deputies on a petition calling for Zurabov's resignation. RC

    [05] DUMA DEPUTY SAYS NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN

    Duma Regulations Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia) told ITAR-TASS on 31 January that a no-confidence motion in the government supported by the Communist Party has no chance of being adopted and likely will not even come to a vote. "It is unlikely they will have enough time to do that, especially since it will take at least two or three days to send out and consider a resolution after the receipt of the relevant conclusion," Kovalev said. He added that "the resignation of the cabinet of ministers is the easiest, but not the most correct solution," to the benefits-reform crisis, saying that if the government resigned, "a transition period" would ensue during which it would be impossible to implement further reforms. RC

    [06] PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT FETED IN KREMLIN

    President Putin met in the Kremlin on 31 January with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and called for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a portion of the West Bank, ORT reported. "We consider an Israeli departure from Gaza and part of the West Bank of the Jordan River an important step on the road to halting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories," Putin said at a joint press conference with Abbas. "The ultimate result of this work must be the creation of an independent Palestinian state, living in peace alongside Israel, which, needless to say, has the right not only to exist but to exist safely," Putin said, according to RTR. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Putin pledged to "continue in the future to render assistance to the Palestinian people in settling their most vital humanitarian problems." He announced that the Russian government will increase the number of scholarships it makes available to Palestinian students from 100 to 150 per year. Abbas also met on 31 January with Russian Union of Muftis head Ravil Gainutdin, who told ITAR-TASS that Abbas praised Russian Islam as "sober and enlightened." Gainutdin told the news agency that Russian Muslims "are firmly convinced that Abbas will find the road to a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict." RC

    [07] RUSSIAN JUDGE BECOMES PRESIDENTIAL AIDE

    President Putin on 31 January signed a decree naming former Arbitration Court Chairman Veniamin Yakovlev a presidential aide, RIA-Novosti reported. The decree did not specify Yakovlev's responsibilities. Yakovlev stepped down from the court in December when a new mandatory retirement age for judges took effect and was replaced last week by former Gazprom-Media First Deputy General Director Anton Ivanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Also on 31 January, Putin awarded Yakovlev the order "For Service to the Fatherland," first class, RIA-Novosti reported. RC

    [08] RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY TELEVISION CHANNEL DUE TO BEGIN BROADCASTING

    A new patriotic television channel, called Zvezda, being set up by the Defense Ministry, will begin broadcasting to Moscow and Moscow Oblast on 20 February, Interfax reported on 1 February. A Defense Ministry spokesman told the news agency that the channel will show patriotic Russian films and documentaries, as well as materials from the ministry's archives. Initially, the channel will broadcast 12 hours a day. After a two-month trial period, the ministry plans to begin satellite broadcasting to cover virtually the entire country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2005). RC

    [09] CASE CLOSED AGAINST RUSSIAN MAN WHO STORED PLUTONIUM FOR A DECADE

    A retired physicist in Altai Krai who turned in to police several containers of radioactive plutonium and cadmium in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004) will not be prosecuted for illegally storing the dangerous materials, Interfax reported on 1 February. Leonid Grigorev reportedly took the materials from a mining institute that was closed down in 1992 after authorities refused to remove the containers safely and stored them for more than a decade in his garage. He turned the materials in in response to a police advertisement offering cash payments for weapons. A raion-level court closed the investigation against Grigorev following a statement of support from the local administration and positive character references from his former colleagues. RC

    [10] TWO YUKOS SHAREHOLDERS PLACED ON INTERNATIONAL WANTED LIST

    Major Yukos shareholders Mikhail Brudno and Vladimir Dubov have been placed on an Interpol wanted list at the request of Russian prosecutors, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported on 1 February. An Interpol spokesperson told the daily that the appearance of the men on the list does not mean that Interpol member countries are obligated to detain them. More than a year ago, prosecutors announced that the men were wanted on embezzlement charges and stated that they would be sought through Interpol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). RC

    [11] FAR EAST GOVERNOR FIRST TO BE NOMINATED UNDER NEW SELECTION SYSTEM

    Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin has become the first person to be nominated to a gubernatorial post by President Putin under a new system for selecting regional executive-branch heads that came into effect at the beginning of this year, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported on 31 January. Putin submitted Darkin's name to the Primorskii Krai legislature, which must vote to confirm or reject him within two weeks. Darkin's first term was due to expire on 25 June, but he asked Putin during a 17 January meeting at the Kremlin to apply the new system to his region early, the news agency reported. "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 February quoted local legislator Leonid Beltyukov as saying: "Everything has been decided. Next week a special session will be held at which Darkin will be confirmed." Primorskii Krai legislature Chairman Sergei Sopchuk told the daily "the fact that Darkin will be confirmed is 100 percent." RC

    [12] 'POWER AGENCIES' INCRIMINATED IN ABDUCTIONS IN CHECHNYA

    Speaking on NTV on 31 January, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant General Arkadii Edelev accused senior Chechen military and police officials, as well as members of the Chechen resistance, of involvement in abductions, Interfax reported. The same television station cited Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko as saying members of the federal forces are responsible for 10 percent of all abductions in Chechnya. He added that the number of abductions in Chechnya is falling, and the percentage of such crimes solved has risen from 4.6 percent in 2003 to 10 percent in 2004. Russian journalists and human rights activists have repeatedly drawn attention to the systematic abduction of Chechen civilians by members of the so-called presidential security force headed by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Also on 31 January, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev told Interfax that a database will be established of all persons reported to have been abducted or disappeared. LF

    [13] INVESTIGATION OPENED INTO DISAPPEARANCE OF CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S RELATIVES

    Edelev also announced on 31 January that three criminal cases have been opened in connection with the disappearance in December 2004 of eight relatives of Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997, Interfax and regnum.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004 and 10, 14 and 21 January 2005). Kravchenko confirmed on 31 January to Interfax that the persons in question were indeed kidnapped, and did not just "disappear." But he added that there is no evidence the Russian military or law enforcement agencies were responsible for abducting Maskhadov's close family members. LF

    Transcaucasia And Central Asia

    [14] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES, OMBUDSMAN DEMAND RELEASE OF DETAINED ANTI-SEMITE

    Viktor Dallakian and Manuk Gasparian of the opposition Artarutiun bloc offered on 28 January to post bail for Armen Avetisian, leader of the tiny Armenian Aryan Union, who was arrested several days earlier on charges of inciting racial hatred, Noyan Tapan reported. Avetisian has called for the expulsion of all Jews from Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 January 2005). Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian was quoted on 29 January by the independent daily "Azg" as saying she will ask Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to agree to Avetisian's release pending trial, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 31 January. She said she sees no danger of Avetisian either hiding from police or seeking to leave the country. Alaverdian also denied that anti-Semitism is condoned in Armenia either by official policy or public opinion. LF

    [15] KARABAKH LEADER ASKS OSCE TO ASSESS AZERBAIJANI OCCUPATION

    Meeting late on 30 January with members of an OSCE mission tasked with evaluating the situation in seven districts of Azerbaijan currently under Armenian control, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, stressed that while his government has extended assistance to Armenians expelled from other regions of Azerbaijan who sought to settle in those territories, such resettlement does not constitute official policy, according to Arminfo as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). Ghukasian further suggested that the mission should also travel to the northern Shaumian and Getashen districts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azerbaijani control since the Armenian population was expelled in 1990 and evaluate the situation there. The former Armenian residents of Shaumian and Getashen appealed their forced expulsion to the European Court of Human Rights late last year, Noyan Tapan reported on 31 January. LF

    [16] SENIOR AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DISMISSED FOR CORRUPTION WITHIN PRISON SYSTEM

    Aydyn Gasymov, deputy justice minister in charge of the prison system, and two lower-level Justice Ministry officials have been dismissed in connection with widespread abuses and corruption within the prison system, Turan reported on 1 February. President Ilham Aliyev signed the decree dismissing Gasymov on 28 January. Among the abuses being investigated are the misappropriation of funds, including money allocated to purchase food for prisoners; forgery of official documents to release prisoners before they served their full terms; and permitting prisoners privileges to which they were not entitled. LF

    [17] CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DEMANDS AZERBAIJANI'S RELEASE

    Cyril Svoboda has written to Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov to request the immediate release from detention of Saday Nazarov, who has been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. Nazarov was arrested on 22 January and charged with treason, days after returning to Azerbaijan to visit his elderly father, CTK reported on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 January 2005). Nazarov, 58, is a close associate of former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, who was pardoned last year after serving five years of a life sentence on charges of organizing a coup in 1994 against then President Heidar Aliyev. LF

    [18] BOMB EXPLODES NEAR SOUTH OSSETIAN CONFLICT ZONE

    A car bomb exploded outside a police station in Gori at midday local time on 1 February, killing three people and injuring up to 12, rustavi2.com and Caucasus Press reported. Regional police chief Aleko Sukhitashvili and regional governor Mikheil Kareli both said the blast was a "terrorist act." LF

    [19] DEFROCKED GEORGIAN PRIEST, FOLLOWERS SENTENCED FOR RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE

    A Tbilisi district court passed sentence on 31 January on Father Basil Mkalavishvili and six other members of his so-called Gldani eparchy on charges of physical violence against congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses and the deliberate destruction of their property and literature over a period of several years (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 18 July 2002), Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Mkalavishvili was sentenced to six years in prison, one year less than the prosecutor had demanded. Two of his followers received prison terms of one and four years, while four others were acquitted. Mkalavishvili's lawyers plan to appeal the verdict. LF

    [20] GEORGIA'S GREEK MINORITY TARGET OF ARSON ATTACKS

    Relations in Georgia's southern Tsalka Raion between the small Greek minority and Svans and Georgians from Adjara who were resettled there over the past two decades have deteriorated in recent months, Noyan Tapan reported on 31 January. Over the past month, there have been more than 15 arson attacks on homes or cattle sheds belonging to Greeks. Only some 2,000 mostly elderly Greeks still live in Tsalka out of a previous population of more than 20,000 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 June 2000). LF

    [21] POLICE OFFICER KILLED ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER

    One Georgian police officer was killed and three wounded on 30 January when their vehicle came under fire near a bridge over the River Inguri, which marks the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Georgian media reported. In a separate incident, another Georgian policeman was killed in a car accident during an anti-smuggling operation in Gori Raion, which borders the South Ossetian conflict zone. LF

    [22] KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY VOWS MORE DEMONSTRATIONS

    The opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) held a press conference on 31 January to protest the detention of seven party members after an unsanctioned demonstration in Almaty on 29 January, DVK announced in a 31 January press release. DVK leaders denounced the actions of the police and courts as illegal, noting that seven party activists received fines and jail terms of two to seven days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). The DVK faces closure after a court ruling last month said the party poses a threat to national security. The 29 January rally was held to protest that ruling. DVK leader Asylbek Kozhakhmetov vowed that the party will conduct similar protests in the future. Kozhakhmetov also called attention to a news blackout around the events of 29 January by Kazakh media, many of which are state-controlled or owned by individuals with ties to the authorities, and said the party will change its approach to the media if the blackout continues. DK

    [23] KAZAKH SECURITY SERVICE WINS LIBEL CASE AGAINST NEWSPAPER

    A Kazakh court on 31 January ordered the opposition newspaper "Soz" to pay the National Security Committee (KNB) 5 million tenges ($38,500) in damages, Almaty Channel 31 reported. The KNB filed a libel suit against the newspaper after a September 2004 article that alleged the KNB was spying on the leaders of the opposition Ak Zhol party. DK

    [24] KYRGYZ OPPOSITION HALTS RALLIES

    Supporters of former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, co-chair of the opposition movement Ata-Jurt, announced at a press conference in Bishkek on 31 January that they have suspended their public protest to take part in the election campaigns of opposition candidates for parliament, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Protests have taken place in Bishkek since a district election commission barred Otunbaeva on 6 January from running in the 27 February parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 20 January 2005). The commission argued that Otunbaeva did not meet the five-year in-country residency requirement, a provision that has kept other ex-envoys off the ballot as well. Otunbaeva told journalists at the 31 January press conference that she and other former ambassadors will appeal to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to secure the right to participate in elections. DK

    [25] KYRGYZ PREMIER WARNS OF EXTREMIST THREAT

    Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev warned on 31 January that religious extremists are stepping up their activities in Kyrgyzstan, the official Kabar news agency reported. Tanaev was responding to a question from the Spanish ambassador to Kyrgyzstan at a meeting with envoys from member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bishkek. Tanaev specifically cited the banned Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir and splinter groups from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as threats. He added that Kyrgyz authorities are concerned about mosques and religious schools currently being constructed with funds from foreign sponsors. On the subject of the 27 February parliamentary elections, the prime minister stressed that the government will not interfere in the electoral process, Kyrgyzinfo reported. DK

    [26] BLAST KILLS ONE IN TAJIK CAPITAL

    A suspected car bomb in front of Tajikistan's Emergency Situations Ministry on 31 January killed at least one person and injured four others, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Emergency Situations Minister Mirzo Ziyoev told RFE/RL that the cause of the explosion remains unclear, but the Military Prosecutor's Office said the blast appears to have been a terrorist act, Avesta reported. The explosion, which was powerful enough to damage nearby buildings, killed the presumed suicide car bomber -- a 40-year-old Dushanbe resident, Avesta reported. No further information on the individual's identity was available. Tajik security forces have opened a criminal case under Article 179 of the Criminal Code, which covers acts of terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. Sayfullo Safarov, deputy head of the Strategic Research Center of Tajikistan, told Avesta the blast could be an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country in the run-up to the 27 February parliamentary elections. In an apparently unrelated incident the same day, a fire broke out in the building that houses the State Security Ministry. A ministry spokesman told Avesta that the fire was started as a result of a short circuit and was brought under control with no casualties. DK

    Eastern Europe

    [27] LEADER OF BELARUSIAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS MAKES PRESIDENTIAL BID

    The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has announced that it has started forming regional committees of a political movement called New Belarus-Unity to support Syarhey Haydukevich, LDP leader and a member of the Chamber of Representatives, as a potential candidate in the 2006 presidential election, Belapan reported on 31 January. "While others are only discussing who will become the common candidate, the LDP is acting," Haydukevich said, calling on the Belarusian pro-democracy forces to support his candidacy as a common candidate in the election. Haydukevich took part in the 2001 presidential vote, in which the Belarusian democratic opposition put forward Uladzimir Hancharyk to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Hancharyk officially obtained 15.4 percent of the vote, while Haydukevich garnered 2.5 percent. Two candidates from the Belarusian opposition, Mikalay Statkevich and Zyanon Paznyak, have already declared their readiness to run in the 2006 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2005). JM

    [28] UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS TO BACK TYMOSHENKO IN EXCHANGE FOR EXECUTIVE-BRANCH POSITIONS

    Socialist Party (SPU) leader Oleksandr Moroz told journalists on 31 January that his party will vote in the Verkhovna Rada for Yuliya Tymoshenko as Ukraine's new prime minister if President Viktor Yushchenko and Tymoshenko guarantee that SPU representatives or nominees obtain one-sixth of the positions in the executive branch, Interfax reported. According to Moroz, such a quota of government posts for the SPU was promised in an accord he signed with presidential candidate Yushchenko in November, when the SPU pledged to support Yushchenko's presidential bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). Moroz added that the accord did not specify the number of ministerial portfolios for the SPU. The Verkhovna Rada is scheduled to vote on Tymoshenko's approval as prime minister on 3 February. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, Moroz's SPU, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc control 140 votes in the 450-seat legislature. Tymoshenko needs at least 226 votes to be approved as the head of a new cabinet. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn predicted on 31 January that the parliament will confirm Tymoshenko as prime minister with a safety margin of 25 votes. JM

    [29] UKRAINE LUKEWARM ON EU'S ENHANCED-COOPERATION PLAN

    Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy told journalists on 1 February that Kyiv's preliminary assessment of the recently upgraded EU-Ukraine Action Plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005), which was approved by the EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 31 January, is "far from being euphoric," UNIAN reported. The upgraded plan offers Ukraine closer cooperation on trade, immigration, and security. Under the plan the EU will also support Ukraine as it seeks membership in the World Trade Organization and make it easier for Kyiv to obtain loans from the European Investment Bank. The plan does not, however, mention any prospect of EU membership for Ukraine. JM

    Southeastern Europe

    [30] CROATIA TELLS EU IT IS NOT 'PLAYING DOUBLE GAMES'

    EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 31 January that Croatia's EU accession talks, which are slated for 17 March, are unlikely to go ahead so long as war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina remains on the run, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 18 January 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). "I trust the Croatian government will take this message seriously. If there is no progress on the Croatian side [regarding Gotovina], we are prepared to postpone accession talks," he said. On 1 February, Croatian Justice Minister Vesna Skare Ozbolt told Reuters in Zagreb that her country does not want its integrity challenged any more by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which believes that Gotovina is hiding in Croatia or in neighboring regions of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croatian authorities maintain that they do not know where Gotovina is and are not in contact with him. "We are just as unhappy that Gotovina is not before the tribunal. It is the only place where he can answer charges against him," the minister said. She added that Croatia "is not playing double games." Joining the EU is Croatia's top foreign-policy priority. PM

    [31] HAGUE TRIBUNAL SENTENCES FORMER YUGOSLAV GENERAL FOR SHELLING DUBROVNIK

    The Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced former Yugoslav General Pavle Strugar to eight years in prison on 31 January for failing to prevent attacks on civilian targets during the 6 December 1991 shelling of the historic city of Dubrovnik by his forces, international and regional media reported. The tribunal found him guilty on two of six counts of violating the laws and customs of war, namely for not doing enough to deter attack on civilians and protected buildings, and for not punishing the officers responsible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September and 8 December 2003, and 4 June 2004). PM

    [32] BOSNIAN SERBS SLAM POLICE REFORM PLAN

    Dusan Stojicic, who is speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, said in Banja Luka on 31 January that plans by High Representative Paddy Ashdown to divide the police administration into 10 districts for all of Bosnia-Herzegovina are unacceptable to the institutions of the Republika Srpska because doing so would undermine the legal separation of responsibility for police affairs between the Interior Ministry of the Republika Srpska and its counterpart in the Muslim-Croat Federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, outgoing Bosnian Serb Interior Minister Darko Matijasevic said that Ashdown's proposal is not a serious basis for any discussion of reforms. Much of the Bosnian Serb leadership is resisting Ashdown's attempt to strengthen several Bosnia-wide institutions on the grounds that such moves undermine the legal status of the Republika Srpska as set down in the 1995 Dayton peace agreements. Ashdown's 10 districts are based on geographic rather than ethnic criteria. He is expected to present the plan to the central authorities soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 30 December 2004, and 4 and 7 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 22 October 2004). PM

    [33] BOSNIA SET TO ASK U.S. TO FREE 'GUANTANAMO SIX'

    Bosnian government spokesman Bojan Zec Filipovic told Reuters in Sarajevo on 31 January that the authorities will soon ask the United States to free six former Islamic fighters in the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict now being held prisoner in Guantanamo on suspicion of having Al-Qaeda links. The six men of Arab origin married Bosnian wives and stayed on in that country, and four of the men became Bosnian citizens. The arrest and extradition of the men in 2002 led to many protests and media discussions in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January and 22 February 2002, and 17 December 2003). PM

    [34] FORMER WITNESS IN KOSOVA WAR CRIMES TRIAL SERIOUSLY WOUNDED

    Unidentified gunmen seriously wounded Sadik Musa in a shoot-out in Peja on 31 January, dpa reported. Local media suggested that the apparent attack might be in retribution for Musa's testimony in 2004 in a war crimes trial against Daut Haradinaj, the brother of current Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. Police are investigating. PM

    [35] SERBIAN MINISTER DENIES PLANNING NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

    Serbia's Minister of Science and the Environment Aleksandar Popovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 1 February that there is no truth to recent charges by the Belgrade-based NGO Ecological Movement of Serbia and Montenegro that he is planning to construct a nuclear power plant in Serbia. The Ecological Movement has filed legal charges against Popovic for allegedly wanting to build such a plant even though it would pose safety and environmental risks and be illegal under current legislation. PM

    [36] MACEDONIAN PREMIER PRESENTS ANSWERS TO EU QUESTIONNAIRE

    Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva, and Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska presented the government's answers to the EU's questionnaire on Macedonia's readiness for EU membership talks on 31 January, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. "I have promised that Macedonia will be granted candidate status in 2006," Buckovski said, in what the daily described as a "manifestation of complacency and self-confidence." "Today, on the 45th day of my term [as prime minister], I can say that we get closer to this goal every day." Buckovski added that the procedure of answering the questionnaire helped the government become more efficient and better coordinated and get a clearer picture of the state of things. A government delegation headed by Buckovski will present the 14,000-page document to representatives of the European Commission in a ceremony in Brussels on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004 and 20 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October 2004). UB

    [37] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN LONDON

    Romanian President Traian Basescu met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on 31 January to discuss various avenues of cooperation between their two countries, Mediafax reported. Among the topics were bilateral economic cooperation, Romania's efforts to join the EU, combating corruption in Romania, and Romania's participation under British command in peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mediafax reported. A joint statement issued at the end of the meeting said the two politicians "stressed the importance of improving the business climate in Romania, especially through a far-reaching and impartial campaign to combat corruption at all levels," AFP reported. Blair pledged support for Romania's ambitions to join the EU, and an agreement was reached under which London will send two experts to Bucharest to facilitate the country's EU integration and anticorruption efforts. The joint statement drew "attention to the strategic importance of Romania's status as the eastern border of NATO and the EU" and said that Basescu and Blair "agreed to work closely together to include the issue of the Greater Black Sea region on the Euro-Atlantic agenda." They also said they are ready to work with Moldova and Ukraine to facilitate future integration with the EU. Basescu also met with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jean Lemierre. MS

    [38] FORMER LIBERAL PARTY CHAIRMAN CRITICIZES ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER

    Former National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Valeriu Stoica told journalists on 31 January that interim PNL Chairman and Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu seeks to establish "absolute control" over the party and the government. Stoica said he will not challenge Popescu-Tariceanu for the post of PNL chairman at a party congress slated for 4-6 February, as doing so might undermine the PNL's ability to govern. Instead, Stoica intends to propose to the congress an "alternative platform" based on a merger of the PNL and the Democratic Party. MS

    [39] PSD LEADERS TO RUN JOINTLY FOR ROMANIAN PARTY'S LEADERSHIP

    Social Democratic Party (PSD) leaders Ion Iliescu and Adrian Nastase agreed on 31 January to run jointly for the party's top slots, Mediafax reported. Former President Iliescu, who founded the party, previously told journalists he would not accept an honorary chairman position. Asked how they would divide the leadership tasks among them, Nastase, who is current PSD chairman, said; "We are discussing a team formula, a tandem." "Whether one would be called party chairman and the other executive chairman or founding chairman, is a decision for the [party] congress to make," he added. A PSD congress is to be held in April. MS

    [40] PACE RAPPORTEURS VISIT MOLDOVA

    Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) chief rapporteur for Moldova Josette Durrieu told journalists in Chisinau on 31 January that holding free and fair elections on 6 March will be a key factor in the country's efforts to join the EU, Infotag reported. She said that if the general impression conveyed by the ballot is negative, Moldova's place will not be in Europe. Durrieu and PACE rapporteur for Moldova Andre Kvakkestad are on a three-day visit to Moldova. They met on 31 January with media representatives and with leaders of groups represented in parliament. Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) parliamentary group leader Dumitru Braghis and Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca claimed that the opposition is being harassed ahead of the election, and complained about Teleradio Moldova's decision not to stage debates among party representatives and not to cover the election campaign, Flux reported. Durrieu and Kvakkestad are to meet during their visit with President Vladimir Voronin, Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, and Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova. They might also travel to Tiraspol for talks with the separatist leadership. MS

    [41] MOLDOVAN CIVIC COALITION PROTESTS AGAINST COMPULSORY SUBSCRIPTIONS

    Coalition 2005 -- an association of 152 nongovernmental Moldovan organizations set up in May 2004 to ensure free, fair, transparent, and democratic elections -- on 31 January protested against a government decision requiring that institutions financed by the state budget subscribe to certain pro-government publications, Infotag reported. According to the government's directive, all such institutions must subscribe to the "Moldovan"-language governmental daily "Moldova suverana," to its Russian-language counterpart "Nezavisimaya Moldova," and to the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) publication "Comunistul." The coalition said the order contravenes the PCM's pledge to hold free and fair elections and characterized the spending of taxpayer's money on progovernment publications "indecent" and "incompatible with democratic standards." MS

    Southwestern Asia And The Middle East

    [42] UNCERTAINTY CONTINUES OVER DATE FOR AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

    Besmellah Besmel, head of Afghanistan's Election Commission, on 29 January said that his team will do its utmost to ensure that the country's parliamentary elections are held as scheduled during the Afghan calendar month of Saur (20 April-21 May), Pajhwak News Agency reported on 30 January. President Hamid Karzai said on 28 January that he would be "very, very happy if they [the electoral commission] manage to hold" the elections at the scheduled time. However, the same day, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, that the vote will be delayed because of technical problems, Pajhwak added. Besmel said that the country still lacks a precise census and that some donors have yet to provide funding they pledged for the elections, thus leaving the door open for a delay of the election. Besmel did not mention the current Afghan election law, which stipulates that the country's electoral boundaries must be determined at least 120 days prior to the polls. That deadline has already expired (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). AT

    [43] EU BACKS AFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REPORT

    The EU Presidency, currently represented in Kabul by the Netherlands Embassy, in a 29 January press release expressed its support for Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's (AIHRC) report calling for a special court to prosecute those who perpetrated rights abuses in Afghanistan in recent decades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). According to the statement, the EU is impressed by the results of the national consultation undertaken by the AIHRC, which it said shows that the Afghan people have a clear sense of justice and are aware of "past and present human rights abuses to which they have been subjected." The statement added that the EU "sincerely" hopes that the Afghan cabinet "will take the AIHRC's recommendations into account and develop a strategy...to tackle issues of transitional justice" in the country. AIHRC's report, titled "A Call for Justice" can be found at (http://www.aihrc.org.af/). AT

    [44] INTERIOR MINISTRY MOVES TO CURB ALCOHOL ABUSE

    The Interior Ministry on 31 January launched an initiative to crack down on the serving of alcoholic beverages by hotels and restaurants in Kabul, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The country's religious scholars' councils and some citizens have complained about establishments that serve alcohol and where guests "were involved in illegal moral offenses," according to the news agency. A meeting held on 31 January between senior officials representing the Interior Ministry and the governorate of Kabul decided to set up a task force to check suspected establishments for wrongdoing. "We start our work from tonight [31 January] and will pay visits to the guest houses," said Abdul Jabar Sabit, a legal adviser to the Interior Ministry. While consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and Afghanistan is officially an "Islamic State," many restaurants and hotels in Kabul freely serve such beverages and alcoholic beverages are readily available in many shops in the city. AT

    [45] AFGHAN LEADER PRAISES IRAQI ELECTIONS

    President Karzai in a 31 January press release said Iraq's national elections the previous day constituted a "great victory" for Iraqis and that the level of voter participation was encouraging, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai also expressed his hope for the return of peace in Iraq. AT

    [46] U.S., GULF STATES DISCUSS IRAN'S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS

    U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in Bahrain on 31 January that he has explained to the leaders of Arab Persian Gulf states how the United States has responded and intends to respond in the future to the threat posed by Iran's suspected efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, AP reported the same day. Those states are "well aware" of the threat posed by Iran, Bolton said, adding that he has discussed in Kuwait and Bahrain possible "diplomatic pressures" that could help prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear-weapons technology. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes, and is legal. Israel and the United States suspect that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Bolton said a nuclear Iran could pose a threat as a state or by giving such weaponry to terrorists. Meanwhile, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 30 January that Iran might end its current suspension of uranium enrichment, which came as part of ongoing talks with European states on the status of the country's nuclear program, possibly as early as August, AFP reported on 31 January. Western states have called for a full cessation of the fuel-production cycle, which Iran rejects. VS

    [47] IRANIAN NUCLEAR OFFICIAL EXPRESSES DISPLEASURE WITH URANIUM-ENRICHMENT SUSPENSION

    Atomic Energy Organization head Gholamreza Aqazedeh-Khoi said in Brussels on 31 January that "the Iranian government and people are not pleased with a continued suspension of uranium enrichment," ISNA reported the same day. "It would be a mistake to imagine that Iran will have a substitute for its nuclear [energy] program." He said after a meeting with Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Monteiro that Iran has taken steps over the past two years to reassure the international community over its nuclear program, but that "there is an imbalance in the existing situation here." The European Union, he added, "must make an effort so the negotiations produce clear conclusions within a short time." Iran wants the European Union to sign a trade deal and facilitate Iran's access to nuclear technology, once it is assured that the Iranian program is purely for civilian purposes. Monteiro said that Europe wants Iran to become its trusted partner, and for doubts on its nuclear program to be resolved through talks. Aqazadeh is to meet with EU foreign policy head Javier Solana on 1 February. VS

    [48] IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY DECISION COULD KILL MOBILE-PHONE DEAL

    A 30 January parliamentary committee decision to deprive a Turkish firm of its majority stake in a mobile-phone operating contract in Iran could cancel the firm's deal with the government, AFP and Iranian news agencies reported on 31 January, citing a company spokesman. The deal, signed in February 2004, gives Turkcell's Iranian affiliate Irancell a majority stake and license to operate Iran's second mobile-phone network, and the first run by a private firm, once a 300 million euro fee ($391 million) is paid, AFP reported. But if parliament approves the decision to reduce Irancell's stake from 70 to 49 percent, "Turkcell has no choice but to drop the deal," company spokesman Hakan Toygar told IRNA. Iran's parliament voted in September 2004 to review the Turkcell and another international deal over a Tehran airport, citing the need to examine security concerns (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). Iranian conservatives believe private-sector and foreign involvement in the telecommunications and transportation industries may threaten national security. VS

    [49] IRANIAN GOVERNMENT WELCOMES IRAQI ELECTIONS

    Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 31 January welcomed the national elections that took place in Iraq the previous day, but expressed regret that "certain innocent" Iraqis were killed on election day, ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). "The future government of Iraq concerns [Iraqis] and we shall not interfere in the decision of the Iraqi people," Ramezanzadeh said. "We respect their decision and will work with that government, whatever its leanings." He said that voter turnout in Iraq was at an "acceptable" level, and expressed his hope that "there will be similar participation" in Iran's presidential elections scheduled for 17 June. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi sent a message to his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar al-Zebari on 31 January to congratulate him on Iraq's "lively and successful" elections, IRNA reported. The message described the vote as an "important step toward the construction of democratic structures," which hopefully would lead to better bilateral ties and regional security "without the presence of foreign forces," IRNA reported. VS

    [50] PRISONERS RIOT IN SOUTHERN IRAQ

    A riot broke out at the Camp Bucca prison south of Al-Basrah on 31 January after a routine search for contraband at one of the camp's 10 compounds, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a press release posted on its website (http://www.centcom.mil). The riot spread quickly to three other compounds as detainees threw rocks and other materials taken from inside their living areas, the statement said. Four detainees were killed in the rioting and six injured. "Guards attempted to calm the increasingly volatile situation using verbal warnings and, when that failed, by use of nonlethal force. After about 45 minutes of escalating danger, lethal force was used to quell the violence," the statement said, adding that the injuries resulted from both the use of force to control the situation and from violence by detainees. Three of the injured detainees were evacuated for treatment at a military hospital. The four compounds involved in the riot house more than 2,900 of Camp Bucca's 5,300 detainees, CENTCOM reported. The incident is under investigation by the chain of command and the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigations Division according to standard operating procedures taken when a detainee death occurs, the statement said. KR

    [51] IOM SAYS 93 PERCENT OF REGISTERED EXPATRIATES VOTED

    The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a 31 January press release posted to its Iraq Out-of-Country Voting website (http://www.iraqocv.org) that 93.6 percent of Iraqi expatriates who registered to take part in 30 January elections cast their ballots on election day. "I have worked on many post-conflict out-of-country elections but this is honestly the first time I have seen this level of emotion and excitement among voters," said Peter Erben, director of the IOM's Iraq Out-of-Country Voting program. The statement confirmed that ballot counting had begun in most of the 14 countries where expatriate voting was carried out. According to IOM figures, turnout was highest in Turkey, Germany, Canada, and Australia. KR

    [52] IRAQIS IN NINAWAH GOVERNORATE PROTEST BEING UNABLE TO VOTE

    Some 250,000 Iraqis reportedly protested on 31 January in the Ninawah governorate after they were unable to vote in the 30 January elections, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Residents in at least five towns stretching as far west as Tel Afar near the Syrian border said that ballot boxes were not delivered to their communities. The protestors accused Ninawah governorate officials of failing to keep their promise to open the polling centers on 31 January to allow those who were not able to vote to cast their ballots. The towns include Ba'shiqah, Qaraqush, Bartallah, and Shekhan, the latter being a Yezidi town. KurdSat television claimed in a 31 January report that the protesters demanded that their towns be incorporated into the Kurdish region, but that claim has not been independently verified. KR

    [53] TWO POLICEMEN KILLED IN IRBIL

    Two Iraqi policemen were killed in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on 1 February as they attempted to defuse a bomb in the city, Kurdistan Satellite television reported. A third policeman was wounded in the explosion. The event came on the anniversary of the near simultaneous bombings of Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan offices in the city during the Eid Al-Adha celebrations last year that killed some 50 Kurds and wounded around 200 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2004). KR

    [54] AL-QAEDA TERRORISTS VOW TO MOVE FORWARD AGAINST DEMOCRACY

    A statement posted on a jihadist website (http://www.almjlah.net/vb) on 31 January and attributed to "Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi", the spokesman of Al-Qaeda-affiliated fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, vowed that the mujahedin in Iraq will continue to move forward "against democracy and its people, and all those who promote it, until we defeat all of them." The statement claimed that no voting took place in the Sunni areas of Iraq, "except for some made up to delude people." "The attack of the mujahedin forced them to close the polling centers early and unlike what was earlier planned, forces them to cancel the extension of the elections for another day," it further claimed. "We, in [Tanzim] Al-Qa'idat Al-Jihad [fi Bilad al-Rafidayn] give our assurances to the whole nation that this step [voting] -- just like the steps taken before it, such as the formation of the governing council and Allawi's government -- will not affect us. We will not be affected by the elections and their outcome." The statement vowed that jihad will be continued "until the banner of monotheism flies over the skies of Iraq. It is either victory or martyrdom." KR

    End Note

    [55] STRANGE DAYS FOR RUSSIA'S AUDIT CHAMBER

    By Robert Coalson

    Although President Vladimir Putin re-nominated Sergei Stepashin to his post as Audit Chamber chairman on 27 January, the political elites in Russia were caught off-guard when Stepashin told a meeting of the Duma's Motherland faction on 18 January that he had submitted his resignation.

    Stepashin, whose term was scheduled to end in April 2006, said that he considered it his duty to tender his resignation in keeping with the spirit of a new law on the formation of the Audit Chamber, which stipulates that the president nominates that body's chairman and that the Duma confirm the nomination.

    Until Putin reaffirmed his support for Stepashin, there was a frenzy of discussion about what Stepashin's move might mean. Most analysts saw it as a clear appeal for a vote of confidence from Putin, although some doubted whether that nod would come. Dmitrii Oreshkin of the Merkator analytical group told "Novye izvestiya" on 19 January that some within the administration might try to take advantage of Stepashin's move because the chief auditor "is a man with unsatisfied political ambitions who is not caught up in any compromising games."

    The announcement of Stepashin's resignation was given additional political gravitas by the fact that the Duma has now three times postponed hearing his potentially scandalous report on his chamber's review of 1990s-era privatizations. On 12 January, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov announced that the report would not be put on the Duma's agenda because changes in the legislature's rules had made it unclear what "format" was appropriate for Stepashin's appearance. "Tribuna" noted on 12 January that Stepashin had already appeared in the Duma chamber on 8 December 2004 to present the report but deputies refused to give him the floor. A few analysts, including Lydia Andrusenko, writing in "Politicheskii zhurnal," No. 2, speculated that Stepashin's resignation was a protest to the Kremlin against possible moves to quash the report.

    However, at the 18 January Motherland faction meeting, Stepashin told deputies that the Duma's leadership had scheduled his report for sometime "in March or April in the context of a report on the work of the Audit Chamber." He added that he has already submitted the report to both legislative chambers, Putin, and the Prosecutor-General's Office.

    "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 January reported that it had obtained a copy of Stepashin's report and that it was characterized mostly by ambiguous conclusions and statements that could be variously interpreted. However, the daily, which is owned by avowed Kremlin foe and former oligarch Boris Berezovskii, wrote that the document could serve "as the basis for the mass reexamination of privatization results" and that "the authorities don't seem to be in any hurry to play this card." Some analysts have raised the concern that the report could signal a qualitative change in the state's assault of private enterprise, inasmuch as the Yukos affair and other high-profile cases to date have centered on the issue of minimizing tax obligations rather than on the core issue of property ownership.

    The daily reported that the report repeats longstanding general criticisms of privatization, including that it was conducted without a complete legal foundation; that the State Property Committee frequently failed to register its instructions with the Justice Ministry, making them technically void; and that most tenders were insufficiently competitive and transparent. The report also reportedly includes general conclusions such as that privatization failed to achieve such stated goals as boosting industrial production and economic growth. The report concludes vaguely but menacingly that "it is essential to establish through the courts the violated rights of the legal property owner, that is, the state," the daily reported.

    The "Kommersant-Daily" article reports that the main ambiguity in the possible repercussions of the report lies in the fact that it does not really examine specific privatization cases in detail. It surveys the oil and energy sectors, according to the daily, and lingers on Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich's Sibneft. It also covers the tobacco industry and other sectors, but mostly in order to demonstrate various privatization-related schemes that allegedly harmed the state's interests rather than to point fingers at particular companies or individuals.

    KM.ru speculated on 21 January that the Kremlin is benefiting from the uncertainty over Stepashin's report, which the news agency described as "a bomb hanging over" the oligarchs. On the other hand, National Strategy Council General Director Valerii Khomyakov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 January that "clearly, some points in the report may not have pleased the Kremlin-linked oligarchs very much." Despite Stepashin's renomination, the fate of the privatization report remains unclear.

    Putin met with Stepashin on 24 January and listened to his report on the Audit Chamber's plans for 2005. At that meeting, Stepashin announced that the chamber would "move away from petty topics" and instead study larger matters such as the overall effectiveness of government spending. On 21 January, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told ABN that Stepashin deserves to keep his post, noting that Stepashin is a "gosudarstvennik," or a person who believes in a strong state, and "that is very important." Stepashin told reporters on 27 January, the day of his renomination, that the government will not pursue a policy of "deprivatization" and he shifted the focus of his criticisms from privatization issues to concerns about the management of state property.

    Former Duma Deputy Yurii Boldyrev, who helped write the original law on the Audit Chamber, told derrick.ru, the official website of the Union of Oil and Gas Equipment Producers, on 25 January that the most important thing is neither Stepashin nor even the privatization report, but the fate of the Audit Chamber itself, which has gone largely unremarked. He said that the new law that allows the president to nominate the Audit Chamber's chairman spells the end of its independence and turns it into "a fifth wheel" in the structure of the government. "The Audit Chamber made sense when it operated independently of the president and made public things he wanted to cover up," Boldyrev said.


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