|Saturday, 17 April 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-11-01
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 DUMA GIVES FIRST NOD TO BILL ON APPOINTMENT OF REGIONAL GOVERNORS...The State Duma on 29 October passed in its first reading an administration-sponsored bill that would eliminate the direct election of regional governors and replace it with a system under which local legislatures approve candidates nominated by the president, Russian and international media reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the vote was 365-65, with four abstentions. Before the vote, presidential envoy to the Duma Aleksandr Kosopkin told deputies that the measure is constitutional because citizens will still be choosing their executive-branch heads, albeit through their elected representatives in the legislatures. Deputies are expected to consider the bill in its second reading on 16 November. Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Interfax on 30 October that the bill could become law as early as mid-December. RC
 ...AS SOME SUGGEST CHANGES TO BILLTsIK Chairman Veshnyakov also told the news agency on 30 October that the bill should be amended before its final adoption. He said that nominees to head regional executive branches should be compelled to submit annual income-and-asset statements, that there should be a mechanism by which political parties can suggest candidates for the president to nominate, that the current two-term limitation for regional executives should be maintained, and that the law should expire after 10 years. State Council of Tatarstan Chairman Farid Mukhametshin on 31 October expressed his concern about the provision of the bill that empowers the president to disband any regional legislature that twice fails to accept his nominee, newsru.com reported. The legislature of the Chuvash Republic on 28 October also expressed its objections to this provision, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 October. RC
 RUSSIANS KEEP CLOSE EYE ON UKRAINIAN ELECTIONMore than 600 election observers, several prominent politicians, and dozens of campaign specialists and spin doctors traveled from Russia to monitor Ukraine's 31 October presidential election, Russian media reported. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, Federation Council Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Torshin, and the head of the Duma's CIS Committee, Andrei Kokoshin, were among those who made the trip. The National Strategy Institute, headed by Stanislav Belkovskii, launched a website titled "Who Beat Whom In Ukraine" (http://www.v2004ua.com/). Several political groups and pollsters conducted exit polls in Ukraine. Speaking at a press center in Moscow early on 1 November, Political Research Institute Director Sergei Markov said that initial official results gave no clear-cut victory either to the government's candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, or to opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, which he cited as "evidence of political instability" but also "the presence of real democracy and pluralism in Ukraine," NTV reported. Institute of Globalization President Mikhail Delyagin said he is afraid that the impending runoff will feature a "clash of civilizations, East and West, over Ukraine," strana.ru reported on 1 November. Meanwhile, Sliska told ORT from Kyiv that Russian observers had witnessed some violations of electoral procedures by Yushchenko supporters in Western Ukraine, but said they were "within the norm." VY
 PUTIN MAKES GOOD ON PLEDGE TO PUSH FOR DUAL UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP...President Vladimir Putin said during a cabinet meeting on 30 October that it is necessary to speed up the adoption of legislation that will allow dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, ORT and RTR reported. Putin pledged to support the initiative during his recent visit to Ukraine, which was widely seen as showing the government's support for Yanukovych's presidential candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 27 October 2004). Putin also spoke in the Kremlin with Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and asked them to begin "practical consultations with their Ukrainian colleagues on this issue." Gryzlov said that dual citizenship will mean that between 4 million and 6 million Ukrainian citizens who permanently or temporarily live in Russia will be eligible for Russian citizenship. Mironov said that dual citizenship raises issues regarding compulsory military service and voting rights, but added that he believes that a citizen's residence should dictate his or her eligibility for voting and military service. VY
 ...AND FOR VISA-FREE TRAVELPresident Putin made good on another promise he made during his recent trip to Ukraine by asking Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a 30 October Security Council meeting to eliminate restrictions for Ukrainian citizens traveling to Russia, RTR and strana.ru reported. Nurgaliev said that according to an agreement reached with Kyiv, Ukrainians will be able to stay in Russia for up to 90 days without registering as of 1 November, and will be allowed entry into Russia using their own domestic documents beginning in January. National Strategy Institute head Belkovskii told Echo Moskvy on 26 October that the initiative constitutes no more than an "electoral trick" on the part of Putin to support Yanukovych's candidacy in the Ukrainian presidential election. Belkovskii predicted that Putin will retreat from the initiative as soon as the election is over, as the trafficking of humans and drugs across the Russian-Ukrainian border is already too difficult to control. VY
 WEEKLY EXPLAINS PUTIN'S INTEREST IN YANUKOVYCH"Argumenty i fakty," No 44, commented that the Russian president's support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential candidacy is driven by Putin's plans to resuscitate the Commonwealth of Independent States. If all goes to plan, the weekly wrote, Yanukovych will become the first post-Soviet leader who came to power with Moscow's help. According to the weekly, Putin's vision also includes the creation of a Single Economic Space, the introduction of a common currency, a joint labor market, and other ambitious goals. VY
 SECURITY CHIEFS PROPOSE CODIFYING TERRORIST-THREAT LEVELSSpeaking at a Duma hearing on terrorism on 29 October, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev proposed that a law be adopted that would institute a system under which terrorist-threat levels and dangers posed to national security would be codified, ITAR-TASS and the other media reported. He added that legal status of antiterrorism operations be codified. Patrushev also that severe punishments must be instituted not only for those who perpetrate terrorist acts, but also for those who organize them. He told deputies that the FSB is monitoring the activities of dozens of terrorist groups and that about 80 terrorists, some of whom have already been detained by the FSB, have been trained abroad to carry out suicide attacks on Russia. Interior Minister Nurgaliev said at the same hearing that the North Caucasus remains an "attractive target" for terrorists. He said that by the end of this year, the law enforcement community will submit to the Duma a package of 44 draft laws on strengthening national security, including federal legislation on combating terrorism. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov proposed that measures be enacted that would allow the confiscation of property of persons accused of terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). "We are at war and should behave as though we are at war," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. VY
 PROPOSAL TO ALLOW DETENTION OF TERRORISTS' FAMILY MEMBERS CAUSES UPROARMany deputies and journalists attending the open Duma hearing reacted with disbelief to Prosecutor-General Ustinov's proposal that the government be allowed to detain the relatives of hostage takers during hostage crises and to use them in efforts to secure the release of hostages, Echo Moskvy reported on 29 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). "What [Ustinov] proposed will return us to barbarism," First Deputy Speaker Sliska (Unified Russia) said, adding that Ustinov "better find another job." Deputy Sergei Baburin (Motherland) said such legislation would be "a stupid mistake," newsru.com reported. "What is the state to do to a terrorist's family members, if the terrorists kill hostages?" he asked. Deputy Vladmir Ryzhkov (independent) said the enactment of such legislation would constitute "state terrorism," and noted that Nazi Germany used the same practice. The human rights organization Memorial sent Putin a letter demanding Ustinov's dismissal, www.hro.ru reported on 30 October. "You can do this or not, but in either case your reaction will speak for itself," the letter reportedly read. VY
 NEW PARTY IS BORN ON THE RIGHT...Irina Khakamada was chosen on 30 October to head a new rightist political party called Our Choice, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on 1 November. Khakamada described the party as "social-liberal," saying that the main mistake of the rightists in the December 2003 Duma elections was "that we listened too little to the people, to how they are living, what they think, who they are, and what are their values." Our Choice claims to have 12,000 members and is applying to be registered by the Justice Ministry. Party delegates expressed the hope that the new party will be able to form a coalition with Yabloko and other liberal forces to contest the next Duma elections. "I view all democratic parties as my allies," Khakamada told REN-TV on 30 October. RC
 ...AND ANOTHER ON THE LEFTOn 30 October, 10 small leftist organizations signed a coalition agreement in Moscow to form a group called Patriots of Russia, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The group will be headed by former Communist Party member and People's Patriotic Union head Gennadii Semigin. Other leading figures in the movement include Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov and State Duma Deputies Valerii Gartung (Unified Russia) and Igor Rodionov (Motherland), "Vremya novostei" reported on 1 November. RC
 AIR FORCE GENERAL SHOT DEADMajor General Konstantin Dementev, deputy commander of Russia's strategic air forces, was shot dead in Smolensk Oblast on 31 October, Russian media reported. Dementev's driver was also killed in the incident and another man in the car was injured. According to Regnum, Dementev was shot by unknown gunmen as his car was traveling on the highway from Belarus to Smolensk. An unidentified local investigator told strana.ru that all possible motives are being investigated, including the possibility that Dementev was not the intended target of the attack. RC
 GUBERNATORIAL RACE IN KAMCHATKA HEATS UPThe presidium of the legislature of Kamchatka Oblast has appealed to Interior Minister Nurgaliev to prevent "a wave of negative publicity" in the ongoing local gubernatorial campaign, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 October. Deputies expressed concern about the appearance of campaign graffiti on the streets and about leaflets aimed at discrediting oblast legislator and candidate Boris Nevzorov. Nevzorov is considered the leading opponent of incumbent Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev in the 5 December election, in which nine candidates have registered to run. Mashkovtsev is supported by the local Communist Party branch, while the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is backing Nevzorov, the daily reported. A representative of the oblast election commission told the newspaper that only one complaint about the leaflets has been received and it is being investigated, adding that the Interior Ministry should only become involved at the request of the commission. RC
 PETERSBURGERS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST HATE CRIMESAbout 500 people participated in a March Against Hatred in St. Petersburg on 31 October, Ekho Moskvy reported. The demonstration was held to coincide with the birthday of ethnographer and xenophobia expert Nikolai Girenko, who was shot dead in the city on 19 June (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 11 August 2004). Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and State Duma Deputy Sergei Popov (independent) addressed the gathering, at which participants condemned several recent racially motivated killings in the city. RC
 RUSSIA MARKS 12TH ANNIVERSARY OF LAW ON REHABILITATION OF REPRESSION VICTIMSMore than 600,000 people have been rehabilitated during the 12 years that Russia's law on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression has been in effect, the Prosecutor-General's Office reported on 30 October, according to ITAR-TASS. In all, cases involving more than 900,000 people have been considered. So far this year, officials have considered 23,000 cases involving 31,000 people, of whom 20,641 were rehabilitated. The main reasons for refusing to rehabilitate some people, according to the report, are evidence of treason or collaboration with the enemy during World War II. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, work reviewing the cases has been completed in 52 of the federation's 89 subjects. RC
 PUTIN PROMISES 'COMPLETE INVESTIGATION' INTO BESLAN CRISISPresident Putin met in the Kremlin on 30 October with North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov to discuss the investigation into the September hostage taking at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, ORT and other Russian media reported. "The Prosecutor-General's Office will carry out a complete investigation," Putin told Dzasokhov. "The same is true of the intraparliamentary commission. We will bring this matter to its conclusion without fail." Also on 30 October, Putin signed a decree naming Aleksandr Tatyanko head of the North Ossetia branch of the FSB. The previous head, Valerii Andreev, resigned on 11 September following the Beslan crisis. Dzasokhov told Putin that his administration "knows the value of stability and is doing everything to prevent new outbursts of tensions" in North Ossetia. RC
 CHECHEN WARLORD WARNS OF NEW TERRORIST ATTACKSThe website chechenpress.info posted on 31 October extensive replies submitted by radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev to questions submitted in mid-September by a Canadian journalist. Basaev said he was "shaken" by Moscow's response to the seizure by Basaev's men of more than 1,000 hostages in Beslan in September, as he did not anticipate that President Putin would sacrifice Ossetian children. He said that he regrets that so many children died at the hands of the Russians, but not the seizure of the school. Basaev warned that as long as Russia continues to violate the Geneva Conventions, his fighters will do likewise. "It is the enemy who sets the limits to our actions, and we are free to resort to the methods and actions that the enemy first employed against us," including the use of chemical and biological weapons, Basaev argued. "We are ready, and want to wage war according to international law, it is even to our advantage to do so in terms of protecting the civilian population. But unlike President [Aslan] Maskhadov, we do not want to be the only side to espouse those tactics." Basaev further warned that his men may resort to terrorism against the citizens of states whose leaders support Putin's Chechen policy. LF
 CHECHEN LEADER DISAVOWS USE OF TERRORISMIn a statement released on 30 October, President Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev said that the legitimate Chechen government does not agree with Basaev's reasoning and "categorically rejects hostage taking and the killing of innocent civilians." "The fact that Russia systematically violates [the Geneva Conventions] cannot serve as grounds for us to commit crimes," Zakaev continued. In a tacit acknowledgement that Maskhadov does not control all resistance detachments fighting in Chechnya, Zakaev added that "the Chechen commanders and fighters subordinate to the legitimate government of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria have strict orders to limit their diversionist actions to specific legitimate targets and not to participate in terrorist acts." "Basaev is naive if he is counting on the use of terror against the civilian population to force the Russian authorities to agree to a political settlement," Zakaev said. He predicted that Moscow will resort to "provocations" to thwart a planned meeting between Chechen leaders and a delegation from an organization representing the mothers of Russian soldiers posted to Chechnya. LF
 SECURITY POLICE TARGETED IN GROZNYOne member of the presidential security guard headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov was killed and three wounded in an explosion in Grozny early on 31 October, Russian media reported. Sixteen people were injured in a second explosion at the entrance to a hospital where those injured in the first blast were being transported for treatment. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 November quoted Major General Ilya Shabalkin, head of the regional staff for antiterrorist operations in the North Caucasus, as blaming the attacks on "fighters from the band of [field commander] Yunali Turchaev acting on direct orders from Maskhadov and Basaev." On 28 October, Kadyrov met with Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak for the first time since his appointment as Kozak's adviser on security issues, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 October 2004). LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN SPOKESMAN DOWNPLAYS UN INITIATIVEArmenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told journalists in Yerevan on 28 October that the Armenian authorities do not believe that Azerbaijan's demand for a UN General Assembly debate on the Karabakh conflict is relevant to Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. On 27 October, the UN General Assembly acceded to Baku's request to schedule a debate on noncompliance with four UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993. Those resolution called for the withdrawal of "Armenian forces" from occupied Azerbaijani territory. The forces in question were part of the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, not the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia. Azerbaijan's permanent representative to the UN, Yashar Aliev, also accused Armenia of "colonizing" occupied Azerbaijani territory by building permanent settlements there, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 28 October. Armenia's UN representative Armen Martirosian denied that Yerevan has any official policy of resettling Armenians on occupied territory, as did Gasparian in a statement released on 27 October. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION...Presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev convened a press conference in Baku on 29 October at which he enumerated President Ilham Aliyev's achievements during the 12 months since his inauguration, Turan reported. Mekhtiev said that President Aliyev has repeatedly affirmed his readiness for dialogue with the opposition, but opposition leaders "are not ready" for "normal" relations with the authorities. Mekhtiev rejected international organizations' designation of seven leading oppositionists sentenced late last month for their role in the postelection violence in October 2003 as political prisoners. He criticized the Azerbaijani judicial system as "not always objective," and pledged that the authorities will continue to combat corruption. Mekhtiev dismissed as groundless complaints by the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) that it has been denied the use of premises in central Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2004). He said AMIP rejected the offices offered by the Economic Development Ministry. LF
 ...DENIES EXISTENCE OF INTER-REGIONAL TENSIONSAt the same 29 October press conference, Mekhtiev denied the existence within the Azerbaijani leadership of rival groupings representing people from different regions of the country, Turan reported. Commentators have for years posited a covert competition for influence between the so-called Nakhichevan clan, whose most prominent representatives are the presidential family, and a rival group composed of Azerbaijanis whose families were deported from Armenia in the 1950s (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 June 2001). Mekhtiev also issued a stern warning to unnamed local administrators that they should not behave like mini-dictators, Turan reported. LF
 EU SOUTH CAUCASUS ENVOY VISITS AZERBAIJANHeikki Talvitie, the EU special envoy for the South Caucasus, summarized his recent visit to the three South Caucasus states at a press conference in Baku on 29 October, Turan reported. Talvitie said the EU will monitor closely the 17 December municipal elections in Azerbaijan, and welcomed opposition parties' decision to contest those elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 October 2004). At the same time, he said that unspecified amendments should be made to the Election Law, and elections should be "more open and free." Talvitie said the EU supports ongoing efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, and is ready to help implement any peace agreement reached. LF
 ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER REJECTS SUPREME COURT RULINGSergei Bagapsh said on 30 October he plans to hold his presidential inauguration on 6 December, ITAR-TASS reported. On 29 October the Supreme Court had annulled its ruling naming Bagapsh the winner of the 3 October presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). Also on 30 October, outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba's aide Astamur Tania told journalists in Sukhum that Ardzinba has instructed the Central Election Commission to schedule repeat elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Tania said Ardzinba is the sole guarantor of the constitution as the judicial branch is "paralyzed" and the parliament cannot fill the resulting "legal vacuum." Most of the 35 parliament deputies support Bagapsh, whose supporters reportedly took control of the television station in Sukhum on 30 October, according to ITAR-TASS. LF
 NATO ENDORSES GEORGIAN ACTION PLANThe North Atlantic Council approved on 29 October the Membership Action Plan submitted by the Georgian leadership earlier this year, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2004). Addressing a session of the National Security Council the same day, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said formal approval of the plan constitutes Georgia's "first concrete step on the way to integration into the Euratlantic area." He expressed gratitude to Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states for their assistance in securing approval of the plan. Saakashvili further reiterated at the Security Council his earlier pledges that Georgia will not host any foreign military bases, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 THREE SENTENCED FOR INSULTING GEORGIAN MINISTERA Tbilisi district court passed sentence on 29 October on three supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia on charges of insulting Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze during a standoff in front of the ministry building in July, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22 and 26 July 2004). The three defendants, one of whom is only 16, were jailed for two years. LF
 U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE VISITS KAZAKHSTANU.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev and a number of other high-ranking Kazakh officials in Astana on 29 October, Khabar TV reported. Armitage's discussions with Nazarbaev focused on bilateral relations in the context of regional security. Armitage also met with Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev to discuss cooperation under NATO's Partnership for Peace Program and to thank Kazakhstan for its 27-strong peacekeeping force in Iraq. A Kazakh Defense Ministry press release stated that the deputy secretary of state "noted Kazakhstan's leading role in the establishment of professional armed forces and the strategic nature of the two countries' partnership in the area of defense and security," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN ATOMIC AGENCY HEAD...President Askar Akaev met with Aleksandr Rumyantsev, head of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency, at the presidential residence in Ala-Archa on 28 October, akipress.org reported the next day. Akaev praised the Intergovernmental Russian-Kyrgyz Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation, which Rumyantsev chairs, noting, "Each session of the commission acts as a stimulus. Over the last 10 months alone trade volume has risen 50 percent." Akaev also stated that Russia is a "strategic ally" of Kyrgyzstan. DK
 ...AS KYRGYZ-RUSSIAN COMMISSION DISCUSSES LABOR MIGRATIONThe commission held its seventh session in Bishkek on 29 October, akipress.org reported. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev chaired the Kyrgyz side of the commission. At the request of Kyrgyz Legislative Assembly deputy Janysh Rustenbekov, the session discussed the situation of Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Official statistics put the number of Kyrgyz labor migrants in Russia at 300,000; only 5,000 of them are legally registered and many of them suffer discrimination and exploitation. In Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly on 29 October, Rustenbekov said that the cabinet should prepare over the next two months a program to support Kyrgyz workers in Russia, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told legislators that the issue of labor migration will grow more acute over time. The Foreign Ministry, however, is prepared to reduce its diplomatic representation in some countries in order to increase the number of consular sections in Russia to aid Kyrgyz citizens. DK
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITION GROUP STARTS IMPEACHMENT PETITIONThe Popular Patriotic Movement of Kyrgyzstan plans to gather signatures for a petition to impeach President Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 29 October. Tursunbek Akun, the movement's leader and a well-known human rights activist, said that the decision was a response to wide-ranging violations during 10 October elections to local councils. The Movement had asked President Akaev to remove Central Election Commission head Sulaiman Imanbaev for turning a blind eye to violations, but the president took no action. The movement intends to register its signature-collecting initiative group with the Justice Ministry in early November. DK
 TURKMEN DEPUTY PREMIER LOSES JOB OVER COTTON HARVESTPresident Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree on 30 October dismissing Enebai Ataeva from the posts of deputy prime minister and governor of Ahal province for "serious shortcomings," turkmenistan.ru reported the next day. A report on Turkmen TV on 30 October indicated that the president is unhappy with the results of this year's cotton harvest, which has collected 0.7 million tons of raw cotton instead of the planned 2.2 million tons. Ataeva's dismissal came in the course of a presidential tour through various provinces to examine agricultural affairs. Murat Atagarriyev, formerly chairman of the Food Industry Association of Turkmenistan, was appointed to replace Ataeva. DK
 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT WANTS TO ISOLATE BELARUSIAN REGIME EVEN FURTHERThe European Parliament on 28 October adopted a statement urging the European Commission and the EU member states to "reinforce their policy of isolation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the members of his regime" until the Belarusian authorities signal their readiness to respect democratic values and abide by the law, Belapan reported on 29 October. The European Parliament said Belarus's 17 October parliamentary elections and referendum that asked voters to change the constitution to allow Lukashenka to stand for a third term were neither free nor fair. According to European lawmakers, Belarus's new parliament does not possess a democratic mandate to represent the Belarusian people, while the Belarusian president has no constitutional right to run for another term in 2006. The European Parliament urged the EU Council "to decide on a set of targeted sanctions" against Belarus's senior officials and increase assistance to opponents of the incumbent government. AM
 LUKASHENKA BECOMES ONLY 'PRESIDENT' IN BELARUSThe Chamber of Representatives on 29 October approved President Lukashenka's decree that renamed the top positions at the National Academy of Sciences to exclude the word "president," Belapan reported. The decree, issued by the Belarusian leader earlier this month, renamed the president position at the academy, a post established in 1928 when it was founded, as chair of the presidium, and its vice presidents, as vice chairmen of the presidium. All organizations in the country were banned from using the word "president" for titles in May. AM
 RADIO SWEDEN TO AIR BIWEEKLY PROGRAM IN BELARUSIANRadio Sweden will start broadcasting on 7 November a biweekly 30-minute program in Belarusian, Belapan reported on 31 October, quoting Dzmitry Plaks, author and producer of the program. The program will be aired at 8 p.m. and rebroadcast at 9:30 p.m. It will be sent via shortwave (49m) to Belarus. "We will be reporting about the most important and interesting of what has happened in Sweden in the last two weeks in the cultural, political, and social spheres," he said. "We will [also] cover Swedish events that concern Belarus and include appearances of people whose activities are connected with Belarus." AM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT PROVES INCONCLUSIVE...With 94.2 percent of the ballots counted, the Central Election Commission announced on 1 November that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich won 40.11 percent of the vote, while his main rival Viktor Yushchenko obtained 39.16 percent of the vote in the 31 October presidential election, UNIAN reported. According to these incomplete results, Oleksandr Moroz was backed by 5.77 percent of voters, Petro Symonenko by 5.02 percent, and Natalya Vitrenko by 1.54 percent. Turnout stood at 74.38 percent. These results suggest that, as predicted by analysts and pollsters, Yanukovich and Yushchenko will fight for the Ukrainian presidency in a runoff on 21 November. AM
 ...AND GEOGRAPHICALLY DIVISIVEAs expected, Yanukovych was overwhelmingly supported in eastern Ukrainian regions, while Yushchenko received the most support in western Ukraine. With more than 90 percent of the vote counted, the Central Election Commission said Yanukovych obtained 86.74 percent of voters in Donetsk Oblast, 80.53 percent in Luhansk Oblast, 69.19 in Crimea, and 57.63 in Kharkiv Oblast. On the other hand, Yushchenko garnered 89.38 percent of the vote in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, 87.98 percent in Ternopil Oblast, 87.42 percent in Lviv Oblast, and 76.97 percent in Volhynia. In Kyiv, Yushchenko was backed by 62.36 percent of voters, while Yanukovych got 14.69 percent. AM
 YUSHCHENKO ALLY DEMANDS EMERGENCY PARLIAMENTARY SESSION OVER 'MASS FALSIFICATIONS'Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous bloc and political partner of Viktor Yushchenko, demanded on 1 November that the Verkhovna Rada hold an immediate emergency session to discuss what she said were "mass falsifications" in the 31 October presidential ballot, UNIAN reported. According to an exit poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and the Razumkov Center, a total of 44.4 percent of respondents voted for Yushchenko and 38 percent for Yanukovych. On the other hand, an exit poll by SOCIS and the Social Monitoring Center found that Yanukovych obtained 42.67 percent of the vote, while Yushchenko got 38.28 percent. According to the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU), the results of the 31 October ballot could have been influenced by "numerous irregularities" in voter lists. KVU head Ihor Popov said up to 10 percent of voters could have been unable to exercise their election right because of those irregularities. According to the Central Election Commission, 37.6 million voters were listed for the 31 October presidential elections. AM
 OUTGOING PRESIDENT SAYS UKRAINE WON'T CHANGE TACK AFTER ELECTIONSIncumbent President Leonid Kuchma said after casting his vote on 31 October that Ukraine's strategic course will not change after the presidential election, irrespective of who becomes the country's next president, UNIAN reported. "Ukraine's European choices have been, and will remain, [the same] for the president and society," Kuchma said. "Today nobody doubts that -- the path has been determined." Kuchma rejected journalists' suggestion that he might become prime minister following the presidential elections. AM
 KOSOVA ELECTION COMMISSION ORDERS RECOUNTPaschal Fieschi, who heads the Kosova mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and also chairs the province's election commission, ordered on 29 October a recount of all ballots cast in the 23 October parliamentary elections, the mission's website (http://www.osce.org/kosovo) reported. "A review of the valid ballots is the most reliable and efficient way to ensure that mistakes, whatever their origin, are eliminated and not reflected in the results," Fieschi said, adding that the recount will show that "the system does not allow discrepancies to go unnoticed, and that remedial action can be taken. When it comes to counting the ballots, no margin of error can be tolerated." The election commission decided to order the recount after a number of inaccuracies were found as a result of internal checks and complaints filed with the election commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 October 2004). UB
 SERBIAN MINISTRY SEEKS INFORMATION ON MASS GRAVES OF ETHNIC ALBANIANSThe Serbian Interior Ministry has called on former Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic to present any documents or information confirming his statement that there are 17 mass graves in Serbia filled with Kosovar Albanians, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 29 October. Mihajlovic had said the Serbian police knew about these mass graves. UB
 DETAINED FORMER MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER GOES ON HUNGER STRIKEFormer Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski went on a hunger strike on 29 October to protest against his ongoing detention by Croatian authorities, "Dnevnik" and other Macedonian media reported. Boskovski, who holds Croatian citizenship, was detained by Croatian authorities on 31 August in connection with the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian in Macedonia in March 2002. The migrants were killed by members of a special police unit known as the Lions, allegedly with the knowledge of Boskovski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 3 September and 1 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). On 7 November, prosecutors of the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal are expected to arrive in Pula to talk to Boskovski about his connection with the deaths of the migrants and with the alleged killing by Macedonian security forces of some ethnic Albanian civilians in the village of Ljuboten between 10 and 12 August 2001, an incident that Macedonian officials firmly deny took place (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August 2004). UB
 GERMAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON MACEDONIAThe lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, adopted a resolution on Macedonia on 29 October, MIA news agency reported. The resolution called for the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, saying the referendum slated for 7 November against the government's redistricting plans would undermine interethnic trust. Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva welcomed the resolution as an important step, since it also calls on the German government to urge the adoption of Macedonia's constitutional name -- the Republic of Macedonia -- within the EU, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Under Greek pressure, Macedonia is recognized by the UN and the EU as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003). The resolution was proposed by the governing Social Democratic Party and the Greens. UB
 ALBANIAN PREMIER WARNS OF ETHNIC TENSIONS IN MACEDONIAFatos Nano said in Liqenas near the Albanian-Macedonian border on 29 October that the referendum against the Macedonian government's redistricting plans endangers the peaceful interethnic relations between Albanians and Macedonians, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. He added that the referendum is detrimental to Macedonia's ambitions to join NATO and the EU. UB
 ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS EU-ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS TO BE 'TECHNICALLY CLOSED' IN WEEKS...Adrian Nastase said in Suceava on 31 October that the accession negotiations with the EU might be "technically closed" within the next few weeks, Mediafax reported. Nastase said that negotiations on the chapters on the environment and on freedom of competition in economics have practically been concluded, but the most difficult chapter to close is that of justice and internal affairs. He said that unlike other chapters of the acquis communautaire, that one requires immediate implementation. Nastase said the EU might decide to apply the "super safeguard clause," which could delay Romania's accession by one year if the country reneges on pledges to meet EU standards. He said Romania intends to negotiate with the EU a strict calendar for the implementation of the chapter's provisions in 2005. MS
 ...BUT DUTCH PRESIDENCY IS SKEPTICALDutch Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm told visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 28 October that Bulgaria "should not be blamed for things that are not happening [fast] enough in Romania," AFP reported. According to the calendar established with the EU, both countries are to end accessing negotiations by the end of this year. Zalm said he hopes "Romania will speed up its progress" to make possible the signing of the accession treaty in the first half of 2005. The Dutch parliament one day earlier rejected a motion by the Christian Democratic Party to delay by three months the closing of negotiations with Romania, Mediafax reported. Holland currently holds the EU rotating presidency. MS
 ROMANIA HAS DOZEN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULSThe Electoral Bureau on 30 October registered two more candidates for the November presidential elections, bringing the number of presidential hopefuls to 12, Mediafax reported. Registration ended the same day. The last two candidates to be registered, Gheorghe Ciuhandru and Aurel Radulescu, represent extraparliamentary formations -- the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and the Popular Christian Democratic Alliance, respectively. The bureau rejected the registration bids of 12 aspirants on the grounds that they did not meet legal provisions. MS
 GERMAN MEDIA GROUP REITERATES PLEDGE TO RESPECT EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE AT ROMANIAN DAILYKlaus Overbeck, the new chairman of the board at the company that publishes the daily "Romania libera," reiterated on 29 October the promise to respect the daily's editorial independence, Mediafax reported. Overbeck, who replaced Petre Mihai Bacanu in that position, said Bacanu will stay on as the daily's director and Bogdan Ficeac will continue to be its editor in chief. When Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung purchased a majority stake in the "R" company, Overbeck said, "we knew we were purchasing a newspaper whose editorial line is critical [of the government] and we do not wish to change that in future." Overbeck added that "Romania libera" would have to undergo "restructuring" because it has lost 38 percent of its readership since October 2002. But he denied any intention to transform the daily into a tabloid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT INVITES U.S., EU TO PARTICIPATE AS OBSERVERS IN TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONSPresident Vladimir Voronin on 30 October officially invited the U.S. and the EU to participate as observers in the current five-sided framework of negotiations on the Transdniester conflict, ITAR-TASS, Flux, and Infotag reported. The invitation was extended at a meeting held by Voronin with U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Heather Hodges. Hodges told Voronin that the United States considers it possible to sign at the next Organization For Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) December ministerial meeting in Sofia the Stability and Security Pact for Moldova (SSPM), which was proposed by Voronin on 1 June. Last week, EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana also endorsed the plan and, according to Infotag, German Ambassador to Moldova Wolfgang Lerke earlier on 29 October submitted to Voronin the EU's own proposals on the envisaged SSPM. Voronin and Hodges agreed that the document should leave no room for ambiguous interpretations and must reflect the interests of all signatories -- Moldova, the EU, the OSCE, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June and 29 October 2004). MS
 EU, U.S. CRITICIZE TIRASPOL OVER PROCRASTINATION IN SOLVING MOLDOVAN SCHOOL PROBLEMThe United States and the EU criticized Transdniester at a meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council on 28 October for delaying the reopening of the Moldovan schools that teach with the Latin script, Infotag and Flux reported. They said the closed schools should be allowed to immediately resume normal teaching and that the "linguistic purge campaign" undertaken by Tiraspol must cease. OSCE High Commissioner on Ethnic Minorities Rolf Ekeus told the meeting he was deeply disappointed by the separatist authorities' continued action against the right of hundreds of children to study in their native tongue. MS
 PRELIMINARY MOLDOVAN CENSUS DATA RELEASEDVitalii Valcov, who heads the Department of Statistics and Sociology, said on 29 October in Chisinau that preliminary results of the census carried out between 5-12 October count 3,358,906 Moldovan citizens, which is some 250,000 less than the estimates submitted to the Department of Statistics by local authorities, Infotag reported. Valcov said that the difference probably reflects the number of Moldovans who work abroad. According to the census, 48 percent of the population is male. Valcov said the census (the first carried out since 1989) had covered 93.1 percent of the Moldovan population. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 KIDNAPPERS THREATEN TO KILL UN WORKERS IN AFGHANISTAN...The splinter group of the neo-Taliban which claimed to have kidnapped three UN employees in Afghanistan threatened on 31 October to kill the hostages unless foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. Three employees of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) -- two women from Northern Ireland and Kosova, respectively, and a male Filipino -- were abducted by unidentified gunmen on 28 October in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). A splinter group of the neo-Taliban, using the Arabic name Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims), has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Mullah Mohammad Ishaq, claiming to speak for the group, told AFP on 31 October: "Our demand is [that] the invader countries that these people belong to should withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and rethink their policies towards Afghanistan." Otherwise "we will kill the hostages." When Mohammad Ishaq was informed that neither Serbia and Montenegro nor the Philippines had any troops in Afghanistan, he said that those "countries should condemn the invasion [of Afghanistan] by other countries." AT
 ...AND RELEASE VIDEO OF HOSTAGES, SET DEADLINEA video released by Al-Jazeera television on 31 October showed the three UN employees kidnapped in Kabul, Al-Jazeera's English website reported (http://www.aljazeera.com). According to the Doha-based news organization, the abductors of the three UN employees have demanded that the United Kingdom pull its forces out of Afghanistan and all of the Afghan detainees in U.S. custody be released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The unidentified spokesman of the Army of Muslims also demanded that "the UN should leave Afghanistan and it should call Britain and American's meddling in Afghanistan as illegal." The spokesman warned that the hostages would be killed unless Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay are released by 3 November. AT
 MAINSTREAM NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM NO INVOLVEMENT IN KIDNAPPINGHamid Agha, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, told Reuters on 31 October that the group was not involved in the abduction of the UN employees. "We have no comments about the issue. It is their [Army of Muslims] work and we are not involved in it," Hamid Agha claimed. Information about the breakaway faction of the neo-Taliban called Taliban Jami'at Jaish-e Muslemin (Muslim Army of the Taliban Society), which reportedly is led by Mullah Sayyed Mohammad Akbar Agha, emerged in August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 August 2004). At the time Hamid Agha indicated that the organization was not "the Taliban." On 28 October, however, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, also purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said that although his group had no information regarding the kidnapping in Kabul, it admired the action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). The current incident is Afghanistan's first case of an Iraq-style kidnapping of foreign hostages which, like this case, includes displaying the hostages on videotape. In light of recent reports that some former members of the Taliban regime may be seeking reconciliation with Kabul, observers believe that the incident may be an outcome of struggles within the fragmented groups formerly belonging to the Taliban regime. AT
 KARZAI CALLS ANTINARCOTIC WAR HIS TOP PRIORITYSoon-to-be Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called fighting his country's surging drug problem his top priority, the Pakistani daily "The News International" reported on 30 October. "The fight against narcotics will be my top priority in the future." Karzai, who is leading in the vote count for Afghanistan's presidential elections but is still awaiting a formal announcement by the JEMB, said in a statement released in Kabul that Afghanistan's opium production is expected to increase once again in 2004 (for more see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003; and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, and 1 September 2004). AT
 IRANIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO MOVE FORWARD ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM...Iran's conservative-dominated parliament ratified the outline of a bill on 31 October urging the government to pursue its quest "to access peaceful nuclear technology," which includes mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, news agencies reported the same day. The bill states that Iran would endanger "national interests" by making its program dependent on imported fuel, Radio Farda reported. Western states want Iran to import fuel for any future reactors instead of enriching uranium itself, and to return all spent fuel to prevent any diverting of it to military ends. Iran says it has a right to make fuel for what it insists is a civilian program. Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said in Tehran that the bill, which was approved by all 247 lawmakers in parliament, shows that the parliament supports Iran's determination "to use peaceful nuclear energy within the framework of [IAEA] rules," Mehr news agency reported on 31 October. He added that the bill obligates the government, when negotiating with foreign powers, not to "overlook the right of [Iranians] to use peaceful nuclear energy." Parliament will vote later on details of the bill, AP reported on 31 October. VS
 ...BUT COMPROMISE ON FUEL PRODUCTION POSSIBLEForeign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 31 October that the bill does not contradict Iran's current talks with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom over the possibility of suspending uranium enrichment in return for trade and other concessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004), IRNA reported the same day. He said the European offer to supply fuel is "a positive step...that does not negate the natural right" to have "peaceful nuclear technology," IRNA reported. "These are two separate issues," he said, and "we will not forego our natural right." To reach an agreement, he said, Iran wishes to see "definite...precise, and clear" commitments from Europe, IRNA reported. Separately, Hussein Musavian, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, told AP on 31 October that there is a "50 percent chance of a nuclear compromise" with the European states. He ruled out a definite end to enrichment-related activities, but said Iran may agree not to build fuel-producing installations beside those in Natanz and Isfahan, which are to supply fuel for the plant being built in Bushehr, in southern Iran, AP added. "If they guarantee nuclear fuel...it will be the best guarantee [against] expansion," AP stated. VS
 FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECTS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REBUKE ON HUMAN RIGHTSForeign Ministry spokesman Assefi also rejected a recent European Parliament resolution deploring human rights violations in Iran and said "there is no need for [that] parliament...to tell Iran what to do and what not to do," IRNA reported on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2004). Iran, he said, "considers itself bound to respect human rights...and has sought, where there are...shortcomings, to resolve them," IRNA stated. He advised the European Parliament to focus instead "on the problems of religious minorities, Muslims, and others" in Europe. Separately, Rajab Ali Mazrui, a former reformist lawmaker, has written a third open letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to protest the nearly two-month detention of his son, Hanif Mazrui, Radio Farda reported on 31 October. There has been no reply to his first two letters. Hanif Mazrui is one of several journalists arrested for working with websites that Iran's hard-line judiciary has ordered blocked (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20, 27 September and 4 October 2004). Mazrui knows nothing about the condition or whereabouts of his son, Radio Farda reported. VS
 IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER AGAIN ACCUSES IRAN OF MEDDLINGHazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i has again accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, IRNA reported on 31 October, citing the Kuwaiti daily "Al-Rai al-Aam." Al-Sha'lan reportedly said that Iraq has "firm evidence" of Iranian interference, without giving further details. Iran has denied such accusations in the past (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2004). Separately, Iraqi authorities have arrested 94 Iranians and Afghans crossing into southern Iraq, AP reported on 31 October, citing an unnamed military official who gave no date for the arrests. The infiltrators had no travel documents or had faulty papers, and an Iraqi court has ordered their expulsion, the official told AP (see item below). Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said in Tehran that Iranian police and security forces are working hard to block the illegal flow of arms and individuals into Iraq, though "on rare occasions" people evade controls, ISNA reported on 31 October. VS
 DEPUTY GOVERNORS ASSASSINATED IN IRAQThe deputy governor of Baghdad, Hatim Kamal Abd al-Fattah al-Bayati, was shot and killed by unidentified assassins as he was traveling to work in the Iraqi capital on 1 November, international media reported. An Interior Ministry source said that four of al-Bayati's bodyguards were wounded in the attack, which took place in the Al-Dura District, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television reported that three governorate employees were killed in the attack. Aqil Hamid al-Abbali, the deputy governor of the Diyala Governorate located northwest of Baghdad, was shot and killed in Ba'qubah on 29 October, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. KR
 VOTER, POLITICAL PARTY REGISTRATION BEGINS IN IRAQ...Iraqis over the age of 18 wishing to cast their ballots in the January elections can register to vote at over 545 registration centers across Iraq beginning on 1 November, according to international media reports. Political parties can also begin to register their lists for the elections as of 1 November. Both processes will be open for the next six weeks. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 30 October that some 6,500 employees will be hired by the Election Commission to help prepare for the elections. KR
 ...AS ELECTION WORKERS THREATENEDThe official start of the electoral process was overshadowed by threats issued by the militant group associated with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, international media reported. Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn has sent letters to the Mosul and Baghdad offices of the Independent Electoral Commission that read in part: "The members of the [commission] and anyone associated with fraudulent democracy will feel the sword of righteousness on their necks," London's "The Guardian" reported on 30 October. Elections Commission spokesman Farid Ayar confirmed the existence of the letters to Xinhua news agency on the same day, saying: "We have received typewritten letters in the name of Tawhid and Jihad [a reference to al-Zarqawi's group, which changed its name last week] in the commission's offices in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul this week." Ayar added that the letters threatened to kill commission members and their family members if they continue to remain at their posts. "The Guardian" reported that a female poll worker was kidnapped and killed in recent days in Al-Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad. KR
 U.S. FORCES BATTLE MILITANTS IN AL-RAMADIClashes broke out on 1 November between U.S. forces and militants in the volatile city of Al-Ramadi, located 110 kilometers west of Baghdad, Reuters reported. Witnesses and hospital officials told the news agency that the clashes appeared to be some of the fiercest fighting in weeks, as groups of militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds at U.S. forces. The news agency also reported that Iraqi families could be seen fleeing the city as fighting intensified. At least eight Iraqis were killed and 10 wounded in fighting in Al-Ramadi on 31 October, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The news channel also reported that nine Marines were killed and nine others wounded on 30 October across the Al-Anbar Governorate, which encompasses the cities of Al-Ramadi and Al-Fallujah. KR
 ALLAWI SAYS GOVERNMENT'S PATIENCE 'RUNNING THIN'Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told reporters in a 31 October press briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera television that he has extended an olive branch to militants throughout Iraq and specifically in Al-Fallujah, Al-Ramadi, and Mosul, but added that the government's patience is "running thin." "The Iraqi government has clear demands. We want the terrorists handed over or expelled from the city [Al-Fallujah], or the Iraqi forces, police and National Guard [will] be called upon to enter the cities and capture those criminals," Allawi said. The prime minister also said that Iraqi security forces have arrested 167 non-Iraqi terrorists, including Saudi, Sudanese, and Syrian nationals. He did not say when or where the terrorists were arrested. KR
 94 AFGHANS ARRESTED IN IRAQNinety-four Afghan nationals were arrested in Al-Basrah after illegally crossing the Iran-Iraq border, the Iraqi border police chief said on 31 October, AFP reported. Ali Hamadi al-Musawi said that the Afghans were arrested and "put before the court." He did not elaborate on the circumstances of the arrests or court appearances. "We hope that the neighboring countries will help in the domain of security during this sensitive period in the run-up to the elections," he told AFP. KR
 IRANIAN MILITARY RHETORIC REFLECTS OUTSIDE PRESSURESBy Alex Vatanka
The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC), Brigadier General Yahya Rahim Safavi, said on 8 October that U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are merely the foundations of an expansionist U.S. military strategy to subdue the entire Middle East, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported. Safavi added: "If this strategy fails heavily in Iraq, it will, undoubtedly, stop. Otherwise it may extend to neighboring countries."
This line of thinking reflects Iran's fear that it is the next candidate for regime change in the context of the White House's "axis of evil," and it explains regime hard-liners' efforts to undermine U.S. objectives in Iraq. From the hard-liners' perspective, the survival of the Islamic Republic is at stake. The IRGC -- constitutionally designated to be the guardian of the Islamic revolution and Iran's territorial integrity, and which is believed to control the country's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs -- therefore has a unique responsibility, and this arm of the regime has found itself to be in the ascendancy as pressure piles on Iran.
In contrast with the IRGC's apparent policy of brinkmanship -- senior IRGC official Hassan Abbasi cited "a strategy drawn up for the destruction of the Anglo-Saxon civilization" -- more moderate political figures like President Mohammad Khatami emphasize the peaceful nature of the country's nuclear program, underscore the defensive nature of Iranian military doctrine, and argue that the ballistic-missile program is only a deterrent.
Many in the regime deem it necessary to be bellicose in order to avoid the fate of Iraq's Ba'athist regime. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the recently installed hard-line-dominated parliament, ranking officers in the regular armed services and the IRGC, and the conservative media are increasingly emphasizing Iran's abilities to avenge a possible U.S. or Israeli strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, as well as a capacity to sabotage U.S. initiatives throughout the wider Middle East. As Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told AFP on 18 August, Iranian assets and capabilities can be activated region-wide and presumably utilized in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the waters of the Persian Gulf. In the same interview, Shamkhani said that the "U.S. military presence [in Iraq] will not become an element of strength [for Washington] at our [Iran's] expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage in Iranian hands in the event of an attack" on Iran. The clear message from that interview and similar statements is that the regime in Tehran will fully mobilize all resources at its disposal to hurt the United States, although Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi later claimed that Shamkhani was misquoted.
Coinciding with the last two International Atomic Energy Agency sessions debating Iran's file, the IRGC put on a show of military muscle. In September the largest-ever "Ashura" exercises were conducted with prominence given to "asymmetric assets" and "resistance units" staging "deep defense." In October, the IRGC test-fired a Shihab-3 missile with allegedly improved range and accuracy.
During the September Ashura exercises, IRGC commanders noted that Iran's military commanders have learned from the country's eight-year war with Iraq (1980-88) and by observing recent U.S. military invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. IRGC spokesman Masud Jazayeri said that "considering that some powers can observe some parts of our military exercise, we hope that the greedy enemies avoid carrying out any possible attack against our country after witnessing our capabilities," ISNA reported on 14 September. Whether such rhetoric can help the IRGC gain the upper hand remains to be seen. But the Iranians have clearly monitored the U.S. military's performance in Iraq and registered its tactical and operational shortcomings. The latter seem to have shaped the nature of the latest Ashura drills, where the focus was on small rapid-reaction forces, speedy transportation of ground-force units, and enhancing the military skills of the paramilitary Basij forces. In other words, Iranian military leaders hope to deter a U.S. military invasion by emphasizing the heavy costs that Washington is likely to incur once it has entered Iran.
Iran's mass media openly discuss the country's military options. The brazen rhetoric often runs parallel with debate on guerrilla warfare. That the U.S. military will have superiority in conventional battle is taken for granted. On 21 September, the reformist "Mardom Salari" newspaper ran an analysis on "deep defense" that quotes an assessment from the U.K.-based Center for Defense Studies which concludes, "if it [Iran] should come under attack, the advantage of deep defense in the cities by the IRGC and Basij volunteer forces can mobilize a devastating defense against foreign aggression." Safavi has claimed that the Basij paramilitary force is 10 million strong and organized along 3,000 battalions. This is an outlandish figure, but it is very difficult to estimate the extent of popular mobilization against a U.S. military intervention.
As far as "asymmetric assets" are concerned, the opinions of the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Hassan Firuzabadi, are revealing. When the current parliament rejected a bill drafted by the outgoing reformist deputies on the professionalization of the military, Firuzabadi declared that a professional military would be "mercenary," "Kayhan" reported on 20 September. Harkening back to the heyday of the Iran-Iraq war, Firuzabadi appealed instead to religious fervor by suggesting that the regime's military strategy depends on "young individuals between 18 and 25 who have no dependents and are ready to sacrifice their lives to defend Islam, the Koran, and the country."
In reality, Iran has moved a long way since the early 1980s when revolutionary zeal could mobilize the public. There is no doubt that the IRGC and senior officials in the regular armed forces are very fearful about Washington's intentions. As the regime's survival is the ultimate goal, however, even the ideologues of the IRGC can be expected to compromise.
Alex Vatanka is an analyst at Jane's Information Group.