|Wednesday, 20 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 06-02-24
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RESCUE EFFORTS HALTED AT MOSCOW MARKET AS DEATH TOLL RISES TO 58...Rescue workers in Moscow said on 24 February that they have given up hope of finding any more survivors in the wreckage of a market roof that collapsed killing 58 people, Russian and international news agencies reported. The market collapsed on 23 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2006). Rescue workers with dogs who had been searching for survivors trapped under the rubble were replaced with excavators who will begin clearing the site. Over 20 people have been hospitalized. BW
 ...AS INVESTIGATORS SEEK ANSWERSPoor design, bad maintenance, and excessive snow buildup are three potential reasons for the market roof collapse in Moscow that killed 58 people, Russian and international news agencies reported on 23 February. RIA Novosti reported on 23 February that investigators have questioned architect Nodar Kancheli, who designed the market in eastern Moscow's Baumansky district. "He was questioned in connection with the investigation. We are planning to interrogate him in the future depending on the results of further investigation," an unidentified official told RIA Novosti. Kancheli also designed Moscow's Transvaal Park building, which collapsed on 14 February 2004, killing 28 people. Kancheli, for his part, blamed poor maintenance for the collapse, according to RIA Novosti. BW
 THOUSANDS OF COMMUNISTS, SCORES OF PACIFISTS DEMONSTRATE ON ARMY HOLIDAYAt least 3,000 people took part in protests in Moscow on 23 February called by assorted communists, National Bolsheviks, and other movements, mosnews.com reported the same day. Members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Avant-Garde of the Communist Youth, National Bolshevik Party, Officers' Union, and Labor Russia held a march in the center of Moscow. The groups were demonstrating to mark the army holiday called Defenders of the Fatherland Day, and were protesting the decline of Russia's armed forces. Also on 23 February, a group of about 50 members of the pacifist youth group Autonomous Action held an antiwar march. The group was blocked by police when it tried to approach the Kremlin and about 15 protesters were detained. BW
 OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA RANKS 136TH IN WORLD IN MALE LIFE EXPECTANCYThe Health and Social Development Ministry said on 22 February that Russia ranks 136th in the world in male life expectancy, RBC and mosnews.com reported the same day. Male life expectancy in Russia is 65.6 years. Life expectancy for women in Russia ranks 91st in the world. Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov said that of the Russians who died unnatural deaths in 2005, 35,000 were murdered, 36,000 died from alcohol poisoning, 40,000 died in road accidents, and 46,000 committed suicide. In remarks to the State Duma, Zurabov said that in the past 12 years, from 1993 to 2005, Russia's population has shrunk by 4 percent, or 5.8 million people. BW
 PUTIN SAYS ATTITUDE TOWARD RUSSIAN LANGUAGE INDICATOR OF ATTITUDE TOWARD RUSSIAPresident Vladimir Putin said on 22 February that he views a country's attitude toward the Russian language as a yardstick for attitudes toward Russia in general, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "One of the major factors we look at to see what kind of attitude this or that country has [toward] Russia and its Russian-speaking population is the attitude [toward] the Russian language," Putin said after talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku. "It is the indicator that determines whether there is strategic partnership, or there is none and the relationship is tactical, expected to help address current issues only," he added. Putin said that by such measures, Azerbaijan scores very high marks. BW
 THOUSANDS OF HENS DIE IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA SPARKING FRESH BIRD-FLU FEARSThe Emergency Situations Ministry said on 24 February that more than 24,000 hens died at a poultry farm in southern Russia, RIA Novosti reported. "From 20 February to 23 February, more than 24,000 birds died at a poultry farm in a village of Lavlinskaya," an unidentified ministry spokesperson said. Lavlinskaya is located 124 kilometers from Krasnodar. The official said initial information did not indicate bird flu, although further tests will be conducted. "Samples for further tests have been sent to a regional lab in Krasnodar," the official said. BW
 CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS HOLIDAY ATTACKS THWARTEDRuslan Alkhanov said on 23 February that law-enforcement officials have thwarted a series of attacks allegedly planned by militants for the Defenders of the Fatherland Day holiday, RIA Novosti reported the same day. Alkhanov said police seized 11 powerful homemade explosive devices from a cache in Grozny. "They were made in the form of buckets and canisters containing metal balls and reinforced concrete parts filled with explosives and covered with sealing foam," Alkhanov said. The cache also contained seven artillery shells, four grenade launchers, and small-arms ammunition, he added. BW
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN OFFICIAL DENIES WORRIES OVER AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN MILITARY TIESColonel General Mikael Harutiunian, chief of General Staff of Armenia's armed forces, dismissed on 23 February worries over deepening military ties between Azerbaijan and Russia, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Harutiunian explained that he does not see "anything dangerous" in the expanding Azerbaijani-Russian relationship and characterized it as an "internal matter" for both countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 February signed an agreement on military cooperation with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during a state visit to Azerbaijan, but noted that it will "not be directed against third countries and will not contradict the international obligations of both countries" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2006). RG
 ARMENIA APPEALS FOR INCREASED AID TO GUARD AGAINST BIRD FLUA meeting of the Armenian cabinet chaired by President Robert Kocharian adopted on 23 February an appeal for increased foreign assistance to help the country guard against the possible outbreak of bird flu, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The appeal, directed to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), specifically requests equipment, supplies, and training for Armenian veterinary experts and epidemiologists. Armenia is already set to receive some $4 million in loans and grants from the World Bank to help fund the implementation of its recently approved action plan to combat the danger of bird flu. The plan includes instructions for culling poultry in cases of emergency, the training of officials in charge of veterinary security, and the purchase of special laboratory equipment for quickly detecting the virus. Following several human deaths from bird flu in neighboring Turkey, the Armenian authorities imposed a ban on poultry imports on 9 January and have imposed mandatory sanitary controls at all border crossings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2006). RG
 NATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION DENOUNCES LACK OF ARMENIAN JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCEThe recently elected head of the Armenian Chamber of Advocates bar association, Ruben Sahakian, denounced on 23 February the Armenian judiciary for its pronounced lack of independence, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In comments during a public seminar in Yerevan, Sahakian argued that Armenian courts have only become more subservient to law-enforcement authorities in recent years, routinely condoning systematic human rights abuses, frequently issuing "unjust" guilty verdicts in favor of state prosecutors, and delivering nearly no acquittals of defendants in criminal cases. Public confidence in the Armenian judiciary has significantly declined in the wake of the arrests in 2003 and 2004 of hundreds of opposition activists, many of whom were imprisoned and denied due process. RG
 VISITING SWISS FOREIGN MINISTER OFFERS TO HOST NEW AZERBAIJANI-ARMENIAN TALKSSpeaking at a Baku press conference during a state visit to Azerbaijan, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey expressed on 23 February her country's willingness to host a new summit meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in an attempt to restart the mediation process over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Caucasus Press and Turan reported. Calmy-Rey also signed several new bilateral agreements with Azerbaijani officials, including accords on double taxation and tax evasion, foreign investment and financial services, and cooperation in humanitarian areas. RG
 AZERBAIJANI COURT SENTENCES NEWSPAPER EDITORAn Azerbaijani district court in the capital Baku on 23 February imposed a one-year prison sentence for a newspaper editor convicted for libel and "insulting the honor and dignity" of a state official, Turan reported. The editor and founder of the "Boyuk Millat" newspaper, Samir Adigozalov, was convicted of charges lodged by Baku State University rector Abel Maharramov in December 2005. The "Boyuk Millat" newspaper, first registered in 2003, is the organ of the small Great Nation Party and has published a mere four issues in the last three years. RG
 GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN DEPUTIES MEET IN VIENNAAmid mounting bilateral tensions, Georgian and Russian parliamentarians met on 23 February on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Vienna, Civil Georgia and ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting between Georgian and Russian parliamentary delegations, led respectively by parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze and Russian First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, ended with a new attempt to calm Georgian-Russian tension by agreeing to begin a fresh dialogue on bilateral problems and common approaches to resolving the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Burdjanadze explained that the Russian delegation requested that the Georgian deputies submit "two or three issues" to serve as the starting point for new bilateral talks within two weeks, Imedi TV reported. RG
 FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON SOUTH OSSETIAEduard Shevardnadze reflected on the 1992 peace agreement that halted the South Ossetian conflict in an interview on 23 February with RFE/RL's Georgian Service. Shevardnadze admitted that the decision by his predecessor Zviad Gamsakhurdia to invade South Ossetia in response to the region's self-declared independence was a mistake, adding that "we shouldn't have entered South Ossetia in the first place." Commenting on the recent call by Georgian lawmakers for a Russian pullout from South Ossetia, Shevardnadze argued that although the existing format of the peacekeeping mission "should be agreed upon with Russia," the Georgian government "should now negotiate with the Ossetian side." The Georgian parliament demanded on 15 February a review of the 1992 agreement that put an end to the war with South Ossetia and called for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2006 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 February 2006). RG
 NEW ARRESTS IN MURDER OF KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER...A man identified as V. V. Miroshnikov was arrested on 22 February in connection with the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev, Khabar news agency reported the next day. The report said that Miroshnikov was the driver of a vehicle that took Sarsenbaev, his bodyguard, and driver to the place where they were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2006). Khabar also confirmed that Erzhan Utembaev, head of the administration of the Senate (upper chamber of parliament), has been arrested for "organizing" the crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2006). Investigators conducted a search of Utembaev's office in the Senate on 23 February, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK
 ...AS SECURITY SERVICE SAYS ARRESTED OFFICERS NOT INVOLVED IN ACTUAL KILLINGKenzhebolat Beknazarov, a spokesman for the National Security Committee (KNB), told "Kazakhstan Today" on 23 February that the five members of the KNB's elite Arystan special-forces unit who have been arrested in connection with the Sarsenbaev murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2006) are suspected of kidnapping, not killing, him. "Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov stated clearly that they are suspected of kidnapping Sarsenbaev and are confessing to this," Beknazarov said. DK
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION DEMANDS QUESTIONING OF PRESIDENT'S RELATIVES...Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, head of the opposition movement For a Just Kazakhstan and head of an independent opposition commission investigating the Sarsenbaev murder, has called on police to question a number of top political figures, some of them relatives of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, "Svoboda Slova" reported on 23 February. The appeal came in an open letter to Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusipbekov and Interior Minister Mukhamedzhanov published in "Svoboda Slova." Tuyakbai wrote that the independent commission is urging police to interrogate Rakhat Aliev, first deputy foreign minister and son-in-law of Nazarbaev; Darigha Nazarbaeva, a parliamentary deputy and Nazarbaev's daughter; Kairat Satypaldy, first deputy president of the national railway company and Nazarbaev's nephew; and businessmen Aleksandr Mashkevich, Patokh Shodiev, and Alidzhon Ibragimov. DK
 ...AND RESIGNATION OF SENATE SPEAKERTuyakbai told a news conference in Almaty on 23 February that Nurtai Abykaev, speaker of the Senate, should be dismissed, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Tuyakbai said that For a Just Kazakhstan is demanding Abykaev's removal because Erzhan Utembaev, who has been arrested in connection with the Sarsenbaev killing, was "directly subordinate" to Abykaev. Tuyakbai stated that Utembaev would not have been capable of organizing the Sarsenbaev murder on his own. Tuyakbai added that in light of Utembaev's arrest, Abykaev should be dismissed to prevent him from putting pressure on the investigation. DK
 RUSSIAN OIL COMPANY EYES KAZAKH PIPELINE TO CHINASergei Bogdanchikov, head of Russia's LUKoil, said on 23 February that his company is prepared to become a partner in the Atasu-Alashankou pipeline linking Kazakhstan and China, RBK TV reported. But Bogdanchikov said that LUKoil needs to learn more about the project first, adding that Kazakhstan may provide more information in April. The pipeline was opened in December 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2006). DK
 BELARUSIAN KGB ARRESTS FOUR NGO ACTIVISTSThe State Security Committee (KGB) on 21 February arrested Mikalay Astreyka, Alyaksandr Shalayka, Tsimafey Dranchuk, and Enira Branitskaya, all activists from the Minsk-based nongovernmental organization Partnership, Belarusian and international media reported on 23 February. Belarusian Television reported that Partnership, which was set up in 2002, is an illegal group financed by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. KGB spokesman Valery Nadtachayeu told the channel that the four are suspected of running an organization that "encroaches upon the individuality, rights, and duties of citizens." JM
 BELARUSIAN TELEVISION SAYS 77 PERCENT OF VOTERS BACK LUKASHENKABelarusian Television reported in its main newscast, "Panarama," on 23 February that "nearly 80 percent" of Belarusians deem the situation in Belarus in the ongoing presidential election campaign to be "quiet," while 3.7 percent "think otherwise." The channel was citing a poll conducted by an organization called the Ekoom Analytical Center involving some 3,000 respondents in all regions of the country in "January-February." The channel said that, according to the poll, 77.2 percent of Belarusians "believe it possible for themselves" to vote for incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 19 March election. The poll reportedly found that just 2.1 percent of voters wanted to vote for other candidates, while 12.7 percent have not decided whom to support and 8 percent have not decided whether they would go to the polls. The newscast did not mention any of Lukashenka's challengers by name. JM
 EU-FUNDED NEWS PROGRAMS FOR BELARUS TO START ON 26 FEBRUARYThe European Commission announced on 23 February that the first radio and television programs within a 2 million-euro ($2.4 million) EU broadcasting project for Belarus will be aired on 26 February, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported. "There will also be, before the elections [on 19 March], some election specials, some live programs providing an opportunity for debate on the subjects that arise from the election campaign," European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said. The broadcasting project for Belarus is managed by a consortium led by Germany's Media Consulta and involves partners from Poland (European Radio for Belarus), Lithuania (Radio Baltic Wave), Belarus (journalists, civil society, and NGOs), and Russia (RTVi). Media Consulta Managing Director Harald Zulauf told Belapan that European Radio for Belarus will make daily one-hour programs to be broadcast on medium waves and by satellite. The programs will be available for view at http://www.belradio.fm. RTVi, headquartered in Cologne, is expected to broadcast a 30-minute show for Belarus on Sundays with the assistance of Germany's ZDF television network. The show will be repeated from Monday through Thursday. Belarusian and Russian will both be used in these broadcasts. JM
 UKRAINE'S ORANGE REVOLUTION ALLIES FAIL TO FORM ELECTION COALITIONYuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc, said in a television interview on 23 February that her former allies from the 2004 Orange Revolution have declined her proposal to strike a coalition deal prior to the 26 March parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.com.ua) reported. Tymoshenko claimed that the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc is conducting talks on the formation of a possible postelection coalition with the Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych, President Viktor Yushchenko's main rival in the 2004 presidential election. According to Tymoshenko, Our Ukraine rejected her coalition proposal primarily because it contained a provision about excluding any alliances with the Party of Regions. Tymoshenko also criticized President Yushchenko for what she sees as rapprochement between him and his former oligarchic opponents. "I was shocked when Yushchenko gathered [Viktor] Pinchuk, [Heorhiy] Surkis, [Hennadiy] Boholyubov, [Vadym] Novinskyy, and other oligarchs and made them donate $26 million [for the arts]. I don't like this sugary, false democracy where the oligarchs, who have ruined the country, are being transformed into patrons of the arts," Tymoshenko said. JM
 UKRAINE NOT TO STORE SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL FROM ABROADUkrainian Nuclear Regulation Committee head Olena Mykolaychuk told journalists on 23 February that Ukraine will not store foreign spent nuclear fuel in a "central spent nuclear fuel storage facility" that the country is going to built at the former Chornobyl nuclear power plant, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Mykolaychuk was responding to criticism from some politicians in Ukraine, including Yuliya Tymoshenko, that the planned facility is to keep spent nuclear fuel from many foreign countries, including the United States. Tymoshenko also cast doubt on the credibility of the U.S. company Holtec, which was selected by Ukraine's Enerhoatom last year to built such a storage facility at Chornobyl. "One important lesson from the natural gas crisis in January 2006 is the need for Ukraine to strengthen its own energy security. The Holtec-Enerhoatom agreement is a major step in that direction," the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said in a statement disseminated on 23 February. JM
 EU GIVES SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO FIRM DEADLINE ON MLADIC...EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has said that Belgrade has until 27 February to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 and Beta reported on 23 February. If Mladic is not apprehended by that date, Rehn said he will recommend to the EU Council of Ministers that all negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro for a Stabilization and Association Agreement be suspended indefinitely. "I hope that Serbia will be able to complete its full cooperation and that we will not have to end the discussions," Rehn said. "It is up to Serbia to decide between its European future and its nationalistic past," he added. BW
 ...AS GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO DENY KNOWLEDGE OF HIS LOCATIONDeputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus denied on 23 February that the Serbian government knows Mladic's whereabouts, B92 reported the same day. Labus added that, contrary to media reports, there are no arrest operations in progress, and that as soon as Mladic is located he will be apprehended. The government cannot reveal everything because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, he said. Deputy Trade, Tourism, and Services Minister Vlajko Senic said he believes that Belgrade will be given an additional month after the 27 February deadline. "If the case is not taken care of by then, and I hope that it will be, then a mode will probably be found which will give a warning to Serbia and an additional month to take care of this problem," Senic said. BW
 HAGUE TRIBUNAL REFUSES MILOSEVIC'S REQUEST FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT IN MOSCOWThe International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague on 24 February denied former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's request for temporary release to receive medical treatment in Moscow, B92 reported. The tribunal's Court Council said the request was denied because it could not guarantee that Milosevic would return to The Hague. The council also said there is no reason Milosevic has to leave Holland to receive medical treatment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). BW
 MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT ASKS EU TO CHANGE POSITION ON REFERENDUMThe Montenegrin government has asked the EU to alter its proposal regarding the independence referendum, B92 reported on 23 February. The EU's envoy to the Montenegrin independence referendum, Miroslav Lajcak, has proposed that 55 percent of those casting ballots must support independence for the referendum to pass (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 February 2006). "Such a solution is not seen in the laws of any of the EU member countries, nor was one like this implemented anywhere else in the world," read a letter addressed to EU senior officials and signed by the Montenegro's president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker. "With this we would be facing a situation where the democratic majority which supports independence would have a solution imposed on them which is supported by the minority, which would call for a stronger federal union with Serbia," the letter continued. The Montenegrin government has proposed that the referendum follow what it called the "Danish model," in which 41 percent of all registered voters must support a referendum, regardless of turnout, in order for it to pass. BW
 BOSNIAN LAWYER IN GENOCIDE SUIT AGAINST BELGRADE SAYS CASE IS ABOUT THE FUTURE...A lawyer representing Bosnia-Herzegovina in a civil lawsuit against Serbia and Montenegro said on 23 February that the case is part of an effort to heal past wounds in the region, Reuters reported the same day. The International Court of Justice at The Hague will begin hearing testimony in the case, in which Bosnia is suing Serbia and Montenegro for genocide in the 1992-95 war, on 27 February. "We would ask for damages according to international norms but the essence of our claim is of a moral, not material nature," Bosnian lawyer Sakib Softic said. "It is more important for us that it establishes that genocide had been committed. Such a judgment is directed towards our future, not our past...it is necessary to build our good neighborly relations for the future," Softic, a Bosnian Muslim, added. The proceedings are expected to last until 9 May with a ruling coming by the end of 2006. BW
 ...AS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S ATTORNEY SAYS THERE WAS NO GENOCIDESerbia and Montenegro's lawyer, Radoslav Stojanovic, said on 23 February that while individuals may have sought to commit genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was not state policy, Reuters reported the same day. Stojanovic said that "nobody and nothing" could prove that his country and the Serbian people had the intention to commit genocide. "I don't exclude the possibility that there were individuals who had that intention, but I can say with certainty that the state of Serbia and Montenegro and the Serbian people did not have such intentions," Stojanovic said. BW
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 BRITISH FORCES IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN NOT TAKING PART IN COUNTERNARCOTICS OPERATIONSNewly deployed British forces in Helmand Province are not expecting to get involved in counternarcotics operations, "The Independent" reported on 23 February. The United Kingdom, the lead country in charge of counternarcotic programs in Afghanistan, has maintained that its 5,700-strong force in Helmand will have counternarcotics as part of its mandate, but Colonel Gordon Messenger said that there "will be absolutely no maroon berets [of the Royal Marines] with scythes in a poppy field." Meanwhile, the British regional coordinator for southern Afghanistan, Nick Kay, said that it took 30 years to end opium production in Thailand, where the situation was much more "benign" compared to Afghanistan. He predicted that dealing with narcotics in Afghanistan "will not be an easy process." British troops are part of the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into southern Afghanistan. While Britain has in the past been involved in counternarcotic operations in Afghanistan, ISAF has tried to steer clear of the problem even though NATO officials regard drugs as the greatest threat to stability (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 and 21 February 2006). AT
 NATO IN AFGHANISTAN FOR LONG HAULThe commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, Major General Michel Gauthier, said that the country is plagued by "huge problems" and NATO troops will remain there for "years and years," "The Guardian" reported on 23 February. Gauthier said the situation was particularly difficult in the south where the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command has taken a lead role in Kandahar Province. In 2006, NATO-led ISAF is expected to expand to six south-central Afghan provinces: Daikondi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Oruzgan, and Zabul. As part of the expansion, ISAF is expected to grow from its current strength of 9,000 soldiers from 26 NATO and 10 non-NATO countries to 16,000 troops -- with most of the reinforcements coming from Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Australia (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2005 and 21 February 2006). AT
 AFGHAN OFFICIAL SAYS ALL KABUL SECURITY BARRIERS WILL BE REMOVEDKabul Traffic Department General Director Abdul Shokur Khairkhwah said on 23 February that all of the security barriers erected by foreign missions and nongovernmental organizations will be removed, Tolu Television reported. After the Afghan National Assembly debated the issue of barriers as a public nuisance, President Hamid Karzai ordered the Interior Ministry to issue a notice on 31 December to declare all security barriers hampering public movement illegal and remove them by force after one week if they were not removed voluntarily (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2006). After objections from many foreign governments and organizations, most of the barriers are still in place. Khairkhwah told Tolu that the work of removing the barriers has restarted and all of them will be removed without exception. When it ordered the removal of unauthorized security barriers, the Karzai administration essentially conceded that the new parliament can force issues upon it. If the administration grants exemptions to some of the foreign organizations seeking to negotiate the removal of security barriers (as some have suggested they will), the executive branch's credibility will almost certainly be challenged by voices inside the parliament. AT
 IRANIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS COMMEMORATE EXECUTED MANPolitical prisoners at Karaj's Gohardasht Prison commemorated the execution of Hojat Zamani on 22 February, Radio Farda reported on 23 February. Convicted for his alleged involvement in a 1998 bombing of a court and accused of membership in an armed opposition group known as the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, Zamani was executed in early February. His family was not informed of the execution for more than a week. Sadeq Naqashkar, spokesman for the political prisoners, told Radio Farda that at 9 p.m. on 22 February all political prisoners stood for a one-minute moment of silence. Then a candle was lit in Zamani's name, and the prisoners sang the protest songs "Ay, Iran" and "Sorud-i Dabestani." Naqashkar told Radio Farda that the authorities refuse to release Zamani's corpse to his family. BS
 IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT MEETS WITH SYRIAN LEADERSParviz Davudi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met in Damascus on 23 February, news agencies reported. Al-Assad hailed Iran-Syria ties and hoped for their expansion. He said the "occupation forces" in Iraq are stranded because of Iraqi, Iranian, and Syrian pressure. He said unidentified enemies envy Iran's access to the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. Davudi also met with his Syrian counterpart, Faruq al-Shara, SANA and IRNA reported. Davudi is in Damascus to participate in the second annual Iran-Syria consular-cooperation session. BS
 IRANIANS MOURN SAMARRA BOMBINGSAs people across Iran participated in 23 February gatherings condemning the previous day's bombing of the Imam Al-Hadi Mosque in Samara, Iraq, more officials, including President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, spoke out against the violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2005). At one such gathering, at the Grand Mosque in Ahvaz, seminarians chanted "Down with Israel" and "Down with America," provincial television reported. On Iran's Arabic language Al-Alam television, a "political analyst" identified as Mahdi Hassan said on 23 February that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Israel's Mossad are behind the bombing because they want the occupation of Iraq to continue. Mahdi Hassan went on to say the occupation forces rather than the Iraqi government are responsible for security. A Shi'ite scholar in Qom, Adil al-Alawi, told Al-Alam that "British hands" and the United States are responsible for the attack, and they are trying to create sectarian divisions in order to protect their interests. He did not identify those interests. BS
 IRANIAN PRESIDENT SELECTS ANOTHER ADVISERPresident Ahmadinejad appointed University Jihad head Ali Montazeri as his adviser on 22 February, Mehr News Agency reported. The letter of appointment referred to Montazeri's experience with young people and expressed the hope that he will be able to capitalize on their capabilities. Ahmadinejad selection of advisers -- who are noted for their relative lack of government experience, conservative credentials, and ultraorthodox religious behavior -- has elicited adverse commentary in Iranian political circles. BS
 IRANIAN LEGISLATURE APPROVES ANTI-U.S. FUNDINGLegislator Mohammad Mehdi Mofatteh has announced that the legislature approved a budget item requesting funds for foiling "American plots," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 22 February. The unspecified amount of money will be used for supporting Iranian cases against the United States at international tribunals and will be used to counter any U.S. cultural offensives. BS
 AL-BASRAH SUNNI LEADER PRAISES IRAQI SHI'ITE RESPONSEAbd al-Karim al-Khazraji, head of the Sunni Waqf (Endowments) Office in Al-Basrah, told Al-Jazeera television that Shi'ite clerics in the city helped calm the situation and stem further violence in a 24 February interview. Shi'ite authorities "have sought dialogue and negotiations.... They honestly sought to stand by our side to defend [Sunni] mosques," he said. Al-Khazraji noted that at least four mosques were burned in retaliatory attacks and several Sunnis killed, but that the situation has begun to stabilize. Nonetheless, one Sunni imam was "arrested" after midnight by unknown men and later found dead, al-Khazraji added. All Shi'a responded to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's 22 February call to demonstrate, but when al-Sistani called for calm, Shi'a failed to listen, he added. AFP reported on 24 February that a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in Al-Basrah, wounding two. KR
 CURFEW ANNOUNCED IN IRAQI CAPITAL, SURROUNDING REGION...Iraqi officials called a last-minute curfew in Baghdad and three surrounding governorates on 24 February, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The curfew, which extends to the Babil Governorate south of Baghdad, and to the Diyala and Salah Al-Din governorates to the north, was set until 4 p.m., while a nighttime curfew will resume at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, Royal Jordanian Airlines announced on 24 February that it will suspend service to Baghdad until the security situation stabilizes, MENA reported. "A curfew was imposed there which made it unsafe for operating flights," an unnamed official from the airline told the news agency. "The company will resume flights to Baghdad once the curfew is lifted and security and safety are restored." KR
 ...AFTER IRAQI PRESIDENT CALLS NATIONAL UNITY SACRED DUTYPolitical party representatives met in Baghdad on 23 February to discuss the deteriorating security situation following the bombing of a Shi'ite mosque in Samarra on 22 February, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Speaking to reporters following the meeting, President Jalal Talabani read a joint statement calling for self-restraint and adherence to the law. "Our country is going through a critical phase where it stands face to face with a crucial test," the statement noted. "In order to pass this phase successfully, we need to dismiss fragmentation, build solidarity through a unified stand, and give terrorists, Takfiris [Muslims who consider other Muslims infidels] and those who seek sedition, a deadly blow back." Talabani praised those Iraqis who demonstrated peacefully, and said political leaders at the meeting agreed that the best response to the terrorist attack is to form a national-unity government. KR
 IRAQI PREMIER MEETS WITH RELIGIOUS LEADERSPrime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari met with Sunni Waqf (Endowments) head Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i and Shi'ite Waqf head Salih al-Haydari in Baghdad on 23 February, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Speaking to reporters following the meeting, al-Ja'fari praised the positions taken by the two leaders, saying both emphasized the need for unity. Al-Ja'fari told reporters that as it is the government's responsibility to ensure security, it will pay to repair all the mosques damaged in attacks since 22 February. He called on Friday prayer leaders to preach good relations, adding that he encouraged al-Samarra'i to invite Shi'ite imams to take part in Friday prayers at Sunni mosques and asked al-Haydari to invite Sunni imams to attend Shi'ite prayer services in an effort to demonstrate unity. Al-Samarra'i told reporters that he thanked Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for their leadership. Al-Haydari told reporters that Shi'a reject any attacks on Sunnis or their mosques, and called on Iraqis to adhere to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. KR
 IRAQI GRAND AYATOLLAH CALLS FOR UNITY, SUNNIS CALL FOR JUSTICEGrand Ayatollah al-Sistani has reiterated his call for Iraqis to maintain unity, his representative told reporters in Al-Najaf on 23 February. Sheikh Muhammad al-Khaqani said that al-Sistani stressed the need for Iraqis to reject sectarianism and adopt a more unified position. Meanwhile, the Sunni Waqf (Endowments) Office has called for an investigation into the attack on the Al-Hadi and Al-Askari shrines, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 23 February. Sheikh Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i, head of the endowments office, called for security forces to identify and arrest the perpetrators of the attack and bring them to justice. Al-Sharqiyah reported that more than 130 Sunni mosques have been destroyed in retaliatory attacks in Iraq. KR
 'THE FIRST NAIL IN THE COFFIN OF COMMUNISM'By Paul Goble
Fifty years ago this month, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered to a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union remarks about his predecessor Josef Stalin and the latter's "cult of personality" that have passed into history as "the secret speech."
On the basis of his later comments, Khrushchev appears to have decided to deliver that speech as both a tactical move against his opponents within the Soviet leadership and as a broader effort to enhance the legitimacy of the communist system. But whatever his intentions, his remarks on 24-25 February 1956 had a far broader and deeper set of implications. Indeed, by what he said in that speech and even more by what he left unsaid, Khrushchev, in the words of Anatoly Chubais, drove "the first nail into the coffin" of that system.
Himself one of Stalin's closest lieutenants, Khrushchev faced an impossible task, even in his own terms. In order to reassure his party comrades that there would be no going back to the arbitrary violence of the past, he had to blame Stalin for all the evils of the system over which the late Soviet dictator had presided for so long without implicating himself and his supporters in those crimes or disowning the accomplishments of the system -- the collectivization of agriculture, the construction of a powerful industrial base, and the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Khrushchev devoted almost all of his speech to the ways in which Stalin arbitrarily and brutally destroyed Lenin's legacy and the cream of the Communist Party, forcing party leaders to confess to crimes they had not committed and then executing them. All of the cases that the party had examined after Stalin's death, Khrushchev said, were found to have been "fabricated," and consequently he and the leadership were moving to "posthumously rehabilitate" them -- perhaps guaranteeing that that term will be as closely linked to Khrushchev as the phrase "enemy of the people" that Khrushchev insisted -- incorrectly -- that Stalin had invented is with him.
Throughout that part of his speech, Khrushchev repeatedly insisted that "Stalin decided everything." But as he documented the crimes of his predecessor -- the torture, the forced confessions to crimes no one had committed, and the killing of so many leading party members -- Khrushchev in 1956 was not able to avoid mentioning those who had been Stalin's henchmen: Khrushchev talks about one official who served Stalin loyally as having "the brain of a bird and being completely degenerate morally," and he describes as especially evil Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria.
Khrushchev was obviously aware that some in his audience would be asking themselves just where Khrushchev and other members of the Politburo had been when all this was taking place. And not surprisingly, Khrushchev went to great lengths to address that as-yet unspoken question. Pointing out that Stalin was prepared to kill anyone he suspected of resisting him in any way, Khrushchev suggested that senior officials were thus put in "a difficult position" whenever they in fact disagreed with the dictator.
Another section of the speech was devoted to demolishing Stalin's efforts to promote himself as an equal of Lenin and as a brilliant wartime leader. Neither is accurate, Khrushchev said, and again he provided details about Lenin's now famous testament calling for the party to remove Stalin as party secretary because of his "rudeness," about Stalin's editing of his own biography and that of others concerning the revolution, and his failure to prepare the Soviet Union for the war with Hitler that so many people had warned him of -- and then his disastrous involvement in the planning of military actions.
And in yet a third section of his long speech, Khrushchev detailed Stalin's increasing suspiciousness and capriciousness in the postwar years, a period when members of the Communist Party and the Soviet people expected that their remarkable and heroic efforts in that conflict would be rewarded. But instead of doing that, Stalin dreamed up conspiracies that never were, from the Leningrad Affair to the Doctors' Plot, to justify a return to the kind of repression he had overseen before 1941.
In only two places, however, did Khrushchev even mention the consequences of Stalin's crimes for those other than the party and state elite itself. He did discuss Stalin's baseless and criminal decision at the end of World War II to exile entire peoples from the Caucasus to Central Asia. And he suggested that Stalin's capriciousness had unsettled many Soviet citizens and meant that they worked less effectively for the party and the common cause of building communism.
But those few remarks had the effect of calling attention to what Khrushchev had avoided talking about -- the party's lack of concern for the people in whose name it ruled and its willingness to try to defend its own members regardless of what happened to others. Thus, Khrushchev did not mention the millions of deaths from the Soviet dictator's "terror famine" in Ukraine and elsewhere. He did not talk about the millions of ordinary Soviet citizens who were swept up in the terror of the late 1930s and sent to build the factories in which Khrushchev took such pride. And he did not talk about the destruction of the culture and way of life of all the peoples of the Soviet Union, Russian and non-Russian alike.
Khrushchev was clearly aware at the time of the danger of any broader discussion of the issues he had raised and not raised. At the end of his speech, Khrushchev told his comrades, "We cannot let this matter get out of the party, especially not to the press.... We should not give ammunition to the enemy; we should not wash our dirty linen before their eyes." But within hours of the moment at which his remarks were received with what the transcript describes as "tumultuous applause," Khrushchev's "secret speech" had been leaked to the West and, thanks to the efforts of international broadcasters like Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, and the Voice of America, reached the peoples of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union in particular.
Their reactions were rather different than those of Khrushchev's fellow party members, and as a result, the man who only a few years later would claim that Communism would "bury" the West had taken the first step on a road that ultimately meant that he, like others who tried to save that system or who now hope to revive it by posing only some questions while ignoring others, is now recognized as one of the most important gravediggers of that system.
(Paul Goble is the former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government. He is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)