|Tuesday, 13 April 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-11-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 GAZPROM REPORTEDLY PREPARING BID FOR YUKOS SUBSIDIARY..."The Wall Street Journal" reported on 22 November that the state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom is actively preparing a bid for Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of Yukos that is scheduled to be sold off by the state on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). Citing unnamed sources, the daily reported that Gazprom has approached several Western companies, including Germany's E.ON and Italy's ENI in a bid to create a consortium to participate in the tender. Although many analysts have speculated that the Kremlin wants Gazprom to take control of Yuganskneftegaz, Gazprom already has $12.5 billion in debts and no available cash to make the purchase, "The Moscow Times" reported on 23 November. According to "The Wall Street Journal," Western companies are not eager to get involved in the tender, as Yukos's major shareholder, Menatep, has promised to fight the sell-off in court. "Whoever buys Yuganskneftegaz is going to be buying themselves a lifetime of litigation," Menatep Director Tim Osbourne told "The Moscow Times" on 13 October. RC
 ...AS GAZPROM SIDESTEPS THE QUESTIONAsked whether Gazprom intends to participate in the Yuganskneftegaz auction, Gazprom financial analyst Petr Bakaev told journalists on 22 November that "there have been no decisions made on this," Interfax reported. Gazprom has previously stated that it has no interest in acquiring Yukos assets. Gazprom senior accountant Yelena Vasileva told journalists the same day that the company expects to complete the scheme for Gazprom's takeover of state-owned oil major Rosneft by the end of the year, Interfax reported. RC
 GOVERNMENT PRESENTS NEW TAX CLAIMS AGAINST YUKOS SUBSIDIARIESThe government has filed new tax-arrears claims against two more Yukos subsidiaries, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 November. The tax authorities are seeking a total of 10.4 billion rubles ($347 million) from Samaraneftegaz and Tomskneft, the daily reported. A spokesman for Samaraneftegaz told the paper that his company expects additional claims. The government has also been investigating Yukos's Achinsk oil refinery. The daily noted that the government is seeking just 3.6 billion rubles from Tomskneft, even though its production during the period in question was about one-third more than that of Samaraneftegaz. The paper speculated that the "relatively small claims against Tomskneft might be due to the interest displayed in this company by Sibneft." According to the newspaper, Sibneft agents "act as if they are in charge of" Tomsk Oblast and have told locals that "you might as well forget about Yukos -- that company no longer exists." RC
 PUTIN TALKS TRADE ON BRAZIL VISITStating that Brazil is a "strategic partner of Russia," President Vladimir Putin during his 22 November meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva argued that the two countries should triple bilateral trade, which currently stands at about $2 billion a year, Russian and Western media reported. Brazil, which has the eighth largest economy in the world, according to RTR, follows only the United States in the Western Hemisphere in terms of economic importance to Russia. While in Brasilia, Putin discussed bilateral trade issues with Brazilian leaders, including energy and the provision of nuclear-power technology, aerospace, and military-technical cooperation. Russian is among the bidders in a $700 million tender for the modernization of Brazil's Air Force. Putin also said that Russia supports Brazil's ambitions to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. VY
 PUTIN QUICK TO ACKNOWLEDGE UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER'S PRESIDENTIAL VICTORY...Presidential press spokesman Aleksei Gromov announced on 22 November that President Putin called Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych from Brazil that day to congratulate him on his victory in the second round of Ukraine's presidential election, RIA-Novosti reported (see Ukraine items in today's "RFE/RL Newsline Part 2"). "The race was fierce -- but open and fair -- and the victory is convincing," Gromov quoted Putin as saying. Putin thus became the first foreign leader to acknowledge Yanukovych as the victor in the highly contentious election. VY
 ...AS RUSSIAN SENATOR SAYS HE IS 'BEWILDERED' BY U.S. REACTION TO UKRAINIAN ELECTIONFederation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin has expressed bewilderment at criticism of Ukraine's 21 November runoff election by U.S. President George W. Bush's representative at the Ukrainian presidential election, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), RTR reported on 22 November. Lugar on 22 November accused Ukrainian authorities of encouraging fraud in the election. "It is now apparent that a concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities," Lugar said, AFP reported. Torshin responded to Lugar's remarks by saying in Moscow on 22 November, "Ukraine is not part of Russia, but Kyiv is also not a suburb of Washington. The history of Ukraine is older than yours and ours -- let Ukrainians make their choice by themselves." VY
 COMMUNIST LEADER VOWS TO OPPOSE CANCELLATION OF OCTOBER REVOLUTION HOLIDAY...Speaking during a briefing in Moscow on 22 November, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said the party's Duma faction will vote against a bill proposed by Unified Russia that calls for the cancellation of 7 November as a national holiday, kprf.ru and pravda.info reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). The holiday, which is now officially known as the Day of Reconciliation and Accord, is celebrated on the anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. The bill envisages the introduction of a new holiday on 4 November that would commemorate the liberation of Moscow in 1612 from Polish occupation, thus ending the Time of Troubles. "The authorities are committing one stupid act after another," Zyuganov said, adding that instead of solving existing problems they are creating new ones. Zyuganov said that, firstly, Russian troops merely entered Moscow on 4 November 1612, but did not liberate the city on that date. Secondly, he said, such a holiday could harm Russia's relations with Poland. And thirdly, it could cause tensions among Russia's citizenry, Zyuganov said. VY
 ...AND CRITICIZES PUTIN'S POLITICAL REFORMCommunist Party leader Zyuganov on 22 November accused the Kremlin of using the September tragedy in Beslan as a means of strengthening its own power, pravda.info reported. He said that while President Putin's proposed government reform is intended to strengthen the federal government's power, it will fail not only in this task but also in aiding the fight against terrorism. Instead, Zyuganov said, Putin's plan will make the country even more corrupt and oligarchic. He said he is unsure whether the current government is capable of fighting terrorism, and that up to this point it has succeeded only in harming democracy and strengthening a police state. VY
 GOVERNMENT TO GIVE TAX BREAK TO FAMILIES WITH CHILDRENThe Finance Ministry has prepared a package of tax incentives intended to encourage families to have more children, "Vremya novostei" reported on 23 November. Under the proposal, the standard-deduction for each child under the age of 18 will be increased from 300 rubles ($10) to 600 rubles, while the deduction for single parents will rise to 1,200 rubles. These changes and others included in the package will save families earning less than 40,000 rubles per year from 600 to 14,000 rubles in taxes annually. RC
 EXTREMISTS CONVICTED IN CASE OF MURDERED ROMANY GIRLA jury in St. Petersburg on 22 November convicted seven confessed skinheads of the 21 September 2003 murder of a six-year-old Romany girl, Russian media reported. According to Ekho Moskvy, a large group of young men armed with truncheons and other weapons attacked a Romany camp near a train platform, seriously injuring two girls. One of them, Nilufar Sangboeva, died in the hospital the day after the attack. The men were convicted of premeditated homicide and sentencing is scheduled for early next month, Interfax reported. RC
 BELGIAN GOVERNMENT BLOCKS MEETING WITH ZAKAEV...The Belgian Embassy in Moscow on 22 November refused to issue visas to a delegation from the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, which was scheduled to meet in Brussels on 23 November with Akhmed Zakaev, the representative of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2003). Delegation head Valentina Melnikova told journalists that the embassy did not say that no visas would be issued, but merely that "a decision on this has to be made in Brussels." In a statement on 22 November, Zakaev wrote: "I intended to fly to Brussels tomorrow with a package of our proposals regarding the entire complex of issues, which I am sure would open up a concrete path to peace. I hope that the situation with the visas will be cleared up in the near future and that we can present our position to the Russian public through the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers," grani.ru reported. RC
 ...AND IS ACCUSED OF 'KOWTOWING' TO THE KREMLINGrani.ru speculated that Brussels did not issue the visas because the Kremlin threatened to cancel a planned 22-23 December visit to Moscow by Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht. "It is funny to kowtow to the Russians this way at a time when other European countries are acting quite differently," Belgian Europarliamentarian Bart Staes, who was acting as intermediary between Zakaev and the committee, told grani.ru. RC
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN EDITOR ESCAPES APPARENT ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTA car belonging to Nikol Pashinian, editor of the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak," was destroyed by an explosion outside the paper's Yerevan office at 8:40 p.m. local time on 22 November, the time at which Pashinian generally drove home, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Pashinian blamed the blast on wealthy businessman and parliament deputy Gagik Tsarukian, whom the paper recently accused of illegal tree-felling in the resort town of Tsakhkadzor. LF
 UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES VISITS ARMENIARuud Lubbers met in Yerevan on 22 November with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to discuss the plight of the Armenians who fled Azerbaijan in the late 1980s during the initial stage of the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Some of those estimated 300,000 refugees have since left Armenia for Russia or other former Soviet republics; those who remain still live in poverty, and 3,000 of them are still accommodated in temporary housing. In August 2003, the Armenian government announced a new program to provide housing for them, but said at the same time it can provide only $5 million of the estimated $20 million cost. LF
 AZERBAIJAI PRESIDENT SUGGESTS NEW APPROACH TO RESOLVING KARABAKH CONFLICTIlham Aliyev told journalists on 22 November while visiting Azerbaijan's oldest offshore oil facility that if Armenia wants Azerbaijan to negotiate with the authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), then it should first "withdraw its troops from occupied territory" and then stop subsidizing the unrecognized republic from the Armenian state budget, Interfax and zerkalo.az reported on 22 and 23 November, respectively. That formulation fails to take into account the fact that it is the NKR armed forces that currently control seven Azerbaijani districts adjacent to the NKR, not those of the Republic of Armenia. Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian warned two weeks ago that if Azerbaijan continued to insist on the UN General Assembly debating the occupation of Azerbaijani territory, rather than confine attempts to resolve the Karabakh conflict to the OSCE Minsk Group, then Baku would find itself constrained to negotiate with the NKR (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004). Aliyev also said on 22 November that Baku will seek to pressure the UN to adopt a further resolution on Karabakh. LF
 PRO-REGIME GEORGIAN PARTIES MERGEPresident Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement and the United Democrats jointly led by Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze united into one political formation, the United National Movement, at a congress on 22 November, the first anniversary of the so-called Rose Revolution that brought those three leaders to power, Georgian media reported. Burdjanadze told journalists on 19 November that she and her supporters will not formally join the new merged party, although they will continue to cooperate with it. Zhvania denied on 22 November that Burdjanadze plans to found a separate political party, Caucasus Press reported. The daily "Alia" reported on 2 November that Burdjanadze was planning to found a party comprising members of the intelligentsia, and that it would support Saakashvili while criticizing the government. Saakashvili was elected chairman of the new party, and Zhvania a member of its 20-person governing board. LF
 GEORGIAN TRADE UNION BOSS REELECTEDIrakli Tughushi was reelected on 19 November for a fourth consecutive term as chairman of Georgia's Union of Trade Unions, surviving a bid by his deputy, Irakli Petriashvili, and other younger members of the union to unseat him, Caucasus Press reported on 20 November. Petriashvili said afterward that he will try to form an alternative union. Petriashvili has accused Tughushi of seeking to remain in his post indefinitely in order to preserve control over the union's property, which Petriashvili wanted to sell off in order to finance social programs for union members. Saakashvili too has pressured Tughushi to sell off the union's property (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 September 2004). LF
 GEORGIA, RUSSIA SEND MIXED SIGNALS ON FRAMEWORK TREATY, LAVROV VISITValerii Chechelashvili, Georgia's ambassador to Russia, told journalists on 22 November that the new framework treaty on Georgian-Russian relations is 90 percent complete, and further discussions on it will take place during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Georgia planned for February 2005, Caucasus Press reported. That visit was originally scheduled for the fall of 2004; ITAR-TASS on 11 November quoted Zhvania as saying during a visit to London that the treaty "might" be ready for signing within two months, and that he expected Lavrov to visit Georgia in January 2005. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko, however, told journalists in Moscow on 22 November that work on the framework treaty is continuing, and that "we are still a long way away from the final stage," Caucasus Press reported. President Saakashvili for his part said in Tbilisi on 22 November that Russia and Georgia will sign in February economic and military agreements that he hopes will create a basis for talks on the closure of Russia's remaining military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Addressing the United National Movement congress, Saakashvili stressed that Georgia wants to establish friendly relations with Russia, but not at the expense of Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT THREATENS TO RESIGNNodar Khashba, prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, told ITAR-TASS on 23 November that he and the entire cabinet will step down unless supporters of rival presidential candidates Sergei Bagapsh and Raul Khadjimba immediately vacate the government buildings they have occupied in recent weeks. On 22 November, the newspaper "Novyi den" published a statement by outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba in which he condemned what he termed "attempts to overthrow" the existing leadership, and expressed the hope that Russia "will play a major role" in resolving the standoff between Bagapsh and Khadjimba, Interfax reported. LF
 GUUAM TRADE TURNOVER REACHES $1 BILLIONTrade between the five members of the GUUAM alignment (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) grew by 24 percent over the first nine months of 2004 compared with the 2003, and now stands at $1 billion, Caucasus Press reported on 22 November, quoting Ukraine's Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Berezniy. LF
 KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTRY DENIES ROLE IN RIGHTS ACTIVIST'S DISAPPEARANCEInterior Ministry spokesman Joldoshbek Busurmankulov told a news conference in Bishkek on 22 November that none of Kyrgyzstan's law-enforcement or other government agencies had any hand in the disappearance of rights activist Tursunbek Akun, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akun had been planning a demonstration calling for an early end to President Askar Akaev's term in office; Busurmankulov said that it would only have given him "additional political capital" to detain him, Kabar news agency reported. Meanwhile, Akun's relatives and supporters are planning to hold a demonstration in front of government offices on 23 November, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akun's 73-year-old father said, "If they don't return my son, I'll set myself on fire." Akun, a prominent rights defender who heads the People's Patriotic Movement, was last seen on 16 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). Before he vanished, he told family members that he had been summoned by the National Security Service. DK
 KYRGYZ POLICE SEEK SUSPECTS IN OSH BOMB BLASTPolot Tolonov, head of the Interior Ministry department in the city of Osh, told a news conference on 22 November that police are seeking five people in connection with an incident that left two people dead in Osh on the early morning of 20 November, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service reported. According to Tolonov, the incident began when police stopped a car with four passengers. Later, one of the men fled, a policeman gave chase, and both were killed when the fleeing suspect set off an explosive device. The other three men escaped in the confusion. Police later cornered a suspect at the home of Hasanbai Sulaimanov, whose passport was found in the dead suspect's pocket, but the blockaded suspect managed to escape after threatening police with a grenade. Police also conducted searches at a number of residences in connection with the case, confiscating ammunition and printed materials, akipress.org reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Busurmankulov said on 22 November that the explosion was not an act of terrorism, Kyrgyz television reported. Busurmankulov also said that the suspects' passports indicated that they were Kyrgyz citizens. However, "Vechernii Bishkek" cited "informed sources" on 22 November as saying that investigators are not ruling out the possibility that the suspects may have links to a terrorist group. DK
 RUSAL DETAILS INVESTMENT PLANS IN TAJIKISTANAleksandr Livshits, deputy director of Russian Aluminum (Rusal), announced on 22 November in Dushanbe that Rusal plans to invest $600 million to build an aluminum smelter in southern Tajikistan, Avesta reported. The smelter's first line is slated for completion in 2010, and the second in 2013, with eventual annual production capacity of 200,000 tons of aluminum. Rusal will also invest $150 million to modernize the Tajik Aluminum Plant, raising its annual production capacity to 100,000 tons. Finally, Rusal will invest more than $550 million in the construction of the Rogun hydropower plant. A Tajik Energy Ministry official told Asia Plus-Blitz on 22 November that the construction of the Rogun hydropower plant will require a total of $1.3 billion. DK
 TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER HANDOVER CONTINUESColonel Aleksandr Kondratev, spokesman for the Russia's Federal Border Service in Tajikistan, has said that the transfer for the Ishkoshim section of the Tajik-Afghan border is complete, RFE/RL's Tajik service reported on 22 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004). According to Asia Plus-Blitz, the 569-kilometer section includes six checkpoints, nine outposts, and one car crossing. Additionally, Russian border guards have begun transferring the 212-kilomter Khorog section of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik jurisdiction, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 22 November. The transfer of the Khorog section will end with a ceremony and the lowering of the Russian flag on 1 December. The transfer is taking place under a 16 October agreement between Russia and Tajikistan. DK
 INVESTIGATION OF FORMER TAJIK DRUG-AGENCY CHIEF EXTENDEDThe investigation of Ghaffor Mirzoev, former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency and the country's National Guard, has been extended until 20 February 2005, Abduqayum Yusupov, Mirzoev's lawyer, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 22 November. According to Yusupov, the Prosecutor-General's Office says that it needs the additional time because of the case's complexity and the large number of witnesses. For his part, Yusupov plans to file suit in order to gain a one-on-one meeting with his client. Mirzoev, whose case has been officially labeled "secret" by prosecutors because it contains classified information, was arrested on 6 August on murder and corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). DK
 UZBEK POLICE IDENTIFY SUICIDE BOMBERS AS KAZAKH CITIZENSSvetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General's Office, announced on 22 November that investigators have established that the three suicide bombers who struck Tashkent on 30 July were Kazakh citizens, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Four law-enforcement personnel were killed in the attacks in addition to the bombers. Ortiqova identified the attackers as Avaz Shoyusupov, who blew himself up in the foyer of the Prosecutor-General's Office; Mavlon Valiev, who blew himself up outside the Israeli Embassy; and Dulat Iskakov, who blew himself up outside the U.S. Embassy. Shoyusupov had been identified earlier by Uzbek authorities. Ortiqova attributed the findings to a joint Uzbek-Kazakh investigation and said that DNA evidence confirmed the identifications. DK
 EU EXTENDS TRAVEL BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALSThe EU foreign ministers on 22 November approved a plan to ban senior Belarusian officials from entering EU territory to punish the Belarusian government for what Brussels considers to have been the fraudulent legislative elections and presidential referendum on 17 October, Reuters reported. According to CTK, the present travel ban will add some 15 people to the list of four Belarusian officials barred from entry in September in connection with the disappearances of political opponents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). JM
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MOVES TO UNITE AHEAD OF 2006 PRESIDENTIAL VOTEThe leaders of pro-democracy forces have reached an agreement to form a coalition and map out a joint strategy for the 2006 presidential elections, Belapan reported on 22 November, quoting Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) leader Mikalay Statkevich. The agreement was signed by Statkevich, Anatol Lyabedzka of the United Civic Party, Vintsuk Vyachorka of the Belarusian Popular Front, Valyantsina Matusevich of the Belarusian Women's Party-Hope, Syarhey Kalyakin of the Belarusian Party of Communists, trade union leader Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, and the youth group leaders Uladzimir Navasyad and Pavel Sevyarynets. The document says the signatories will seek to make Belarus "an independent state based on European democratic values." JM
 PROTESTS OVER PRESIDENTIAL VOTE CONTINUE IN KYIV...A crowd estimated to be at least 100,000 strong took part in a rally on Kyiv's Independence Square in the evening of 22 November, protesting what they see as the government's falsification of the previous day's presidential runoff between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, Channel 5 reported. Yushchenko told the rally that the authorities stole the victory from him by adding 3.1 million votes to his opponent's total. Yushchenko's backers have pitched some 300 tents along Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main thoroughfare, and are reportedly determined to stay in them until Yushchenko is declared the country's elected president. The government has said they must be removed. Tens of thousands of Kyiv residents and Yushchenko backers from the provinces began gathering on the square on 23 November for the second consecutive day of antigovernment protests. With 99.38 percent of the vote tallied, the Central Election Commission announced on 22 November that Yanukovych won 49.42 percent of the vote to Yushchenko's 46.7 percent. JM
 ...AND UKRAINIAN REGIONSAntigovernment protests in support of Yushchenko took place on 22 November in the cities of Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Lutsk, Ternopil, Vinnytsya, and Khmelnytskyy, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The city councils of deputies in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Vinnytsya adopted resolutions declaring Yushchenko the legal president. According to Channel 5, people from the Ukrainian provinces are coming to Kyiv to reinforce the pro-Yushchenko rally on Independence Square despite police blockades on the Ukrainian roads. JM
 OSCE MONITORS DEEM UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE UNDEMOCRATICThe OSCE International Election Observation Mission for the Ukrainian presidential runoff said in its preliminary conclusions on 22 November that the vote did not meet a considerable number of democratic election standards, the OSCE website (www.osce.org/) reported. According to the OSCE mission, the Ukrainian executive authorities and the TsVK "displayed a lack of will to conduct a genuine democratic election process." "With an even heavier heart than three weeks ago, I have to repeat the message from the first round -- this election did not meet a considerable number of international standards for democratic elections," Bruce George, coordinator for the OSCE short-term observers, said on 22 November. "The abuse of state resources in favor of the prime minister continued, as well as an overwhelming media bias in his favor." JM
 UKRAINIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR CALMIn a prerecorded appeal broadcast by the 1+1 television channel on 22 November, Prime Minister Yanukovych thanked his voters for supporting him in the 21 November presidential runoff, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www-all.pravda.com.ua) reported. "You have voted for peace, stability, and democracy," Yanukovych added. Yanukovych assured those who voted for Yushchenko that their "view of the Ukrainian perspective" will be taken into account by "Ukraine's new leadership." "I do not want you [Yushchenko backers] to think that you are losers," Yanukovych noted. "All of us have won, and we will win even more if we preserve tranquility and peace in Ukraine and unity of the entire society." JM
 MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS KOSOVA THE 'LAST UNRESOLVED QUESTION IN THE BALKANS'Branko Crvenkovski told the Belgrade weekly "NIN" that Kosova remains the last unresolved question in the Balkans, "Dnevnik" reported on 22 November. Crvenkovski said that he shares neither Belgrade's stance that an independent Kosova would lead to the disintegration of Macedonia nor the view of some Kosovar politicians that it would be catastrophic for Macedonia if Kosova does not become independent soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March and 5 April 2004). The president added that the rule of law must be introduced in Kosova and that institutions must be set up there to promote it. The rule of law in Kosova could help prevent extremists from destabilizing the region, according to Crvenkovski. "The major routes for trafficking in drugs, arms, and human beings run through this area and end in the countries of western Europe. That is why resolving the Kosova question is important not only for us, but for the whole of Europe," Crvenkovski said. UB
 THOUSANDS OF KOSOVARS PROTEST WAR-CRIMES TRIALMore than 10,000 people rallied in Prishtina on 22 November to protest the war crimes trial of Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala, and Isak Musliu, who were members of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2004). The three are charged with allegedly abducting and killing up to 35 Serbian civilians and ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in central Kosova in 1998. Much of Kosovar Albanian opinion believes that the three were defending the province against Milosevic's forces and should not be put on trial abroad. Sherif Krasniqi, who heads a UCK veterans organization, told the latest rally that "if this [trial] continues, we will find other ways to prevent the dignity and blood of the martyrs from being trampled on." PM
 SERBIAN AND BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS URGE WAR CRIMES INDICTEES TO SURRENDER...Serbian President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and their Bosnian Serb counterparts, Dragan Cavic and Dragan Mikerevic, respectively, issued a call in Belgrade on 22 November for all war-crimes indictees to give themselves up voluntarily, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tadic repeated his view that those indictees who do not turn themselves in will be arrested and extradited to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which is a position that Kostunica does not share. For his part, Cavic said that unspecified "new forms of cooperation" between the Serbian and Bosnian Serb interior ministries have been worked out, though he did not elaborate. Before leaving for Belgrade, Cavic said that he would ask Serbian leaders to help secure the transfer of Bosnian Serb indictees from Serbia and Montenegro to the Republika Srpska because, he claimed, there are no indictees hiding on Bosnian Serb territory. PM
 ...BECAUSE THE STAKES ARE HIGHPresidents Tadic and Cavic said in Belgrade on 21 November that Serbia and the Republika Srpska face unspecified "serious consequences" from the international community if the UN Security Council decides that they are not cooperating with the Hague-based war-crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Cavic stressed that the Republika Srpska might face particularly draconian measures because it is not sovereign, but rather under the authority of international community High Representative Paddy Ashdown, who has a wide range of disciplinary powers at his disposal. The meeting of Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders came one day before Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, is due to report to the UN Security Council on the extent to which the individual former Yugoslav republics cooperate with the tribunal. Theodor Meron, who heads that body, said at the UN on 15 November that Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal is nonexistent, while the Republika Srpska does not cooperate enough (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October and 12 November 2004). PM
 UN APPROVES EU FORCE FOR BOSNIAThe UN Security Council voted on 22 November to authorize a one-year EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina to succeed the NATO-led SFOR, the mandate of which runs out in December 2004, international and regional media reported. The new EUFOR will come into being on 2 December and consist of some 7,500 soldiers under the command of British Major General David Leakey. A special NATO command in Sarajevo will include between 150 and 200 people, mostly Americans. Despite some EU reluctance over a continuing U.S. military presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosnian authorities invited the Americans to remain. The U.S. wants to be present in Bosnia to combat terrorism, arrest indicted war criminals, and help train the Bosnian military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). PM
 IRAQ SEEKS BOSNIAN HELP IN SEARCH FOR MISSING PERSONSIraqi Minister for Human Rights Bakhtiar Amin spoke in Sarajevo on 21 November with representatives of Bosnia-Herzegovina's International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) about possible assistance in the search for up to 1 million people who disappeared during the rule of Saddam Hussein, dpa reported. Amin visited several ICMP facilities and talked with forensics experts about techniques in exhumation and identification procedures. "We are at the very beginning, and Bosnia-Herzegovina has done tremendous work in this field, so we are here to learn from their experience," Amin said. He added that Iraq has only 20 forensic pathologists and no anthropologists or DNA laboratory. He noted that the central medical institute receives up to 800 bodies monthly but has space to store only 78. The ICMP recently offered Iraq access to a database that tracks the process of exhumation and identification starting with burial site reconnaissance and continuing to notification of family members and final burial. PM
 ROMANIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS RULE OUT POSTELECTION COMPROMISE...Opposition alliance National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party Co-Chairmen Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and Traian Basescu on 22 November ruled out participation in a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) after the 28 November parliamentary ballot, Mediafax reported. Popescu-Tariceanu told journalists that as long as he remains the head of the PNL, the party will never govern together with the PSD. Basescu, who is the alliance's candidate in the presidential ballot slated for the same day, said the Democratic Party rules out an all-party government. Such governing formulas, he said, are justifiable only at times of war. Basescu also said he refuses to negotiate with other parties on enlisting their support in a likely presidential runoff. He said a party leader cannot order supporters to vote for a specific candidate in a runoff if that leader dropped out of the race himself. Basescu was alluding to rumors that Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor contacted him and PSD Chairman Adrian Nastase to negotiate PRM support in a runoff. MS
 ...BUT ONE MORE POLL SHOWS THEM TRAILING PSDPSD presidential candidate Nastase has a 10 percent lead over Basescu in the upcoming presidential ballot, Mediafax reported on 22 November, citing a poll conducted by CURS. Nastase is credited with the support of 42 percent in the poll versus 32 percent for Basescu. The ruling PSD likewise has a lead of 41 percent to 34 percent over the PNL-Democratic Party alliance. According to the CURS estimates, the PRM is likely to garner 12 percent and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania 5 percent in the parliamentary ballot. Thirty percent of voters are either undecided or do not intend to vote. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT GIVES YAD VASHEM DOCUMENTS ON HOLOCAUSTPresident Vladimir Voronin, on an official three-day visit to Israel, on 22 November visited the Yad Vashem Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, Flux reported. Voronin gave representatives of the Israeli Holocaust memorial institute documents pertaining to the mass extermination of Jews on what is today Moldovan and Ukrainian territory perpetrated under Romanian and German administration. During his visit, Voronin is to meet with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Katzav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and other officials. MS
 RUSSIA REITERATES OPPOSITION TO CHANGING TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS FORMATRussian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov told journalists in Moscow on 22 November that Russia "does not see any need for enlarging the current format of the Transdniester negotiations," Infotag reported. Chizhov said Russia considers the current five-sided format "optimal." The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is to consider at a meeting of its Committee of Ministers next month in Sofia the Declaration of Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM), which Voronin has proposed. It envisages the participation of the United States and the EU in the negotiations as observers. The current five-sided format includes the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine as mediators, alongside the belligerents -- Moldova and Transdniester representatives. MS
 REPORT SHOWS CONTINUATION OF BIAS IN MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL MEDIAA media-monitoring report for October said that despite "salutary modifications" in the way Teleradio Moldova is covering the activity of political parties, both Radio Moldova and Moldova 1 television continue to be biased toward the government, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2003, for the evaluation of September coverage). The report -- carried out by the Center for Independent Journalism and by the CIVIS center for political and sociological research -- found that President Voronin figured in media coverage 419 times on radio and 125 times on television; Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev was mentioned 267 times by the radio and shown 72 times on television and Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc was mentioned 122 times by the radio and shown on television 32 times during the month of October. This compares with 38 radio mentions of opposition Democratic Moldova bloc Cochairman Serafim Urechean and 17 radio mentions (as well as five television appearances) for opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 UN HOSTAGES FREED IN AFGHANISTANThree foreign UN workers held hostage in Afghanistan were released on 23 November after they were abducted in the capital Kabul almost four weeks ago, international agencies reported. According to Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, the hostages -- Annetta Flanigan, Shqipe Hebibi, and Angelito Nayan -- were unharmed and all in good health, Reuters reported. Jalali said no deal was made with the kidnappers after Akbar Agha, a member of the little-known Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) allegedly holding the hostages, had said that the hostages were released in exchange for 24 Taliban prisoners. "No prisoners were released, no money was paid, no demand was met of the hostage takers," Jalali said, according to Reuters. "And to my knowledge, no other parties paid money." Some Afghan authorities believe the group might simply be a criminal gang rather than organized insurgents. LA
 VIGILANTE TERRORIST HUNTERS LAUNCH APPEALThree U.S. citizens facing jail terms up to 10 years for waging a "private war on terror" have appealed their conviction in an Afghan court in Kabul, AFP reported on 22 November. The three Americans appeared at a closed-door hearing that day to air their appeal. Jonathan "Jack" Idema, the ringleader of the group, berated reporters as he entered the court, stating that the media "lies." An Afghan court convicted the three on 15 September of running a private prison in Kabul and torturing at least eight Afghans in their self-declared counterterror mission. The court sentenced Idema and Bennett to 10-year jail terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). Caraballo, who was apparently documenting the operation, was sentenced to eight years. Arrested in July, the three men spent the first part of their sentences in Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi jail, where many of the Taliban prisoners whom Idema and the others claimed to be hunting are held. MR
 U.S. FORCES SKIRMISH WITH GUERRILLAS NEAR JALALABADSuspected neo-Taliban fighters attacked a U.S. patrol near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in a clash that killed one insurgent and injured a U.S. solider, AP reported on 22 November. The insurgents bombed a U.S. patrol moving near Jalalabad, and a gun battle broke out after the explosion. Guerrillas opened fire on the patrol after the homemade bomb went off, a U.S. military statement said. "The patrol returned fire, killing one insurgent and capturing three more," the statement said. The attack followed weekend raids in the area by U.S. forces, who sacked suspected Al-Qaeda safe houses. Four suspected insurgents were killed in that fighting. Meanwhile, U.S. forces said another bomb exploded near a patrol in neighboring Paktiya Province. A vehicle was damaged but no one was injured in the blast. MR
 UZBEK WARLORD GIVES UP 45 TANKS, AMMUNITION CACHEUzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum gave up 45 tanks and a large ammunition cache as part of Afghanistan's disarmament drive, AP reported on 22 November. Representatives of Dostum, who controls much of the territory north of Kabul, handed over the tanks during a ceremony in the warlord's northern stronghold of Shiberghan on 21 November. Also, 330 soldiers from a militia loyal to Dostum handed over their weapons, said Rick Grant, a spokesman for the U.N.-sponsored disarmament program. Dostum gave up 40 ammunition depots in 10 locations in all. "The amount of ammunition is very, very substantial and may be in the hundreds of tons," Grant said. Afghanistan's estimated 60,000 irregular fighters were supposed to give up their arms according to international agreements signed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. But the disarmament process has failed to make steady progress, with many fighters loyal to regional warlords still involved in local disputes. Clashes among various warlord militias have left dozens dead this year. But some 23,000 Afghan fighters have nonetheless handed over their weapons in order to join programs that offer training for new careers in farming or demining. MR
 IRAN HALTS ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES...Iran reportedly suspended all uranium-enrichment related activities on 22 November, honoring a 14 November deal with Britain, France, and Germany intended to avoid its referral to the UN Security Council for violating nonproliferation rules, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, 18, and 19 November 2004). The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad el-Baradei, said in Vienna on 22 November he believes "pretty much everything has come to a halt," Reuters reported. IAEA inspectors in Iran must now "apply seals and make sure everything has been stopped," el-Baradei added. He urged Tehran to maintain the suspension while inspectors check its installations to "restore confidence that the program is for peaceful purposes." In Tehran, Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said Iran will "determine the limits...and duration of this suspension," IRNA reported. The move is designed to "prevent the warmongering ideas of some in the world," he said, perhaps referring to the United States, which suspects Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists this is a voluntary and temporary suspension of its recognized right to make fuel for civilian power plants. VS
 ...AND DIPLOMAT CLARIFIES ENRICHMENT REPORTSAn unnamed Iranian diplomat told IRNA in Vienna on 22 November that Iran has not recently made uranium hexafluoride (UF6) -- the gas that is enriched to make fuel for a power station or for bombs -- "for military purposes." The production of "two tons of [UF6] was not to make a bomb but an experimental initiative for peaceful purposes," he said. IAEA cameras have been installed and are recording the operations at the Isfahan conversion facility, where uranium ore was turned into UF6, he said, "and it is clear to [inspectors] that what goes on has nothing to do with making atomic bombs." The gas was produced to test the efficacy of equipment at the plant, he said, to know "whether or not the equipment and systems installed are capable of manufacture." He said Iran has no intention of mass-producing UF6, and its enrichment systems are designed to make low-enriched uranium destined for the civilian electricity plant being built at Bushehr, in southern Iran. The aforementioned amount is not enough for a bomb, Reuters cited IAEA head el-Baradei as saying in Vienna on 22 November. VS
 GENERAL DENOUNCES U.S., WANTS A REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT...Brigadier-General Muhammad Baqir Zulqadr, a deputy head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said in Tehran on 22 November that Iran's next government, to be formed after presidential elections due in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October 2004), must be "revolutionary and in harmony with all the pillars of the system," IRNA reported. He told a gathering of the Basij, a militia affiliated with the IRGC, that "cowardly elements and enemy mercenaries within the system" must be removed and Iran must become a "center of struggle against arrogance," the term Iranian officials often use to refer to the United States. Elsewhere, he referred to unnamed individuals as "vulnerable," "weak," and "infiltrators" who make Iran vulnerable. The United States, he said, constitutes "the greatest threat" to Iran, and Iranians must be in a state of permanent readiness in the face of that threat. The reelection of President George W. Bush, he added, is a "warning, because this [administration] is inclined to military action." Iranian conservatives have in the past accused reformers of favoring policies that serve U.S. interests. VS
 ...WHILE DEPUTY-MINISTER SAYS IRAN A REPUBLICDeputy Interior Minister Morteza Moballeq said in Kermanshah, in western Iran, that a lively voter turnout in coming elections "is the system's main support and its cornerstone," IRNA reported on 22 November. "We must create hope and liveliness among the people, and [ensure they vote] with enthusiasm," he said. "We must not restrict the path to aspirants' participation and then expect a maximum turnout," he said. He was referring to the usually strict vetting of electoral hopefuls by the conservative-dominated Guardians Council, the electoral supervisory body that barred thousands of candidates, many of them reformers, from running in the February parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 and 23 February 2004). In Tehran on 22 November, government spokesman Ramezanzadeh expressed hope that there will be a "fully competitive atmosphere" in the 2005 elections, "not like the atmosphere in the [February parliamentary] elections." He said the government will use "its instruments" to ensure competition, without giving details, ISNA reported. Separately, President Mohammad Khatami has appointed Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister and member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, as his adviser, ISNA reported on 22 November. VS
 IRANIAN MINISTER WANTS A DEMOCRATIC IRAQIranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Sharm el-Sheikh on 22 November, before an international meeting to discuss Iraq, that a "secure and democratic" Iraq will benefit the region, while elections held on time there will "be an effective help to regional security," IRNA reported the same day. He said that "everybody must help restore security and peace to Iraq, and all countries are responsible in this respect," IRNA reported. "So far the measures taken in Iraq have not [contributed to] security, so other methods must be used to make up for the mistakes of America and its allies," he said. Interior ministers from Iraq's neighboring states are to meet in Tehran on 30 November, IRNA reported. In Tehran, Iranian government spokesman Ramezanzadeh said Iran "will do anything we can to resolve the security problem and end Iraq's occupation," ISNA reported on 22 November. VS
 INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON IRAQ CONVENES IN EGYPT...A two-day conference opened in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 22 November to back the interim Iraqi government as it prepares for January elections, AP reported. Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi plans to call for greater cooperation between Iraq and its neighbors. "Certainly, some brothers and leaders in some neighboring nations did not do enough," Allawi remarked before the conference opening. "They should have tried to help us at a time when we needed help." Citing a draft of the final communique from the conference, UPI reported that the 22 countries represented at the conference will resolve to assist the Iraqi people achieve their national objectives. According to AP, the resolution will also encourage greater political participation. "The ministers encourage the interim government of Iraq to convene in Iraq, at the earliest date before the general elections, representatives of the Iraqi political spectrum and civil society with a view to encouraging broader participation in the general elections," the draft said. EA
 ...DESPITE PROTEST FROM EXCLUDED OPPOSITION GROUPSOpposition parties who are not participating in the interim government will not attend the conference, Bloomberg reported on 22 November. France had sought the inclusion of opposition groups such as the Islamic Party, whose one representative quit the government in protest of the U.S.-led assault on Al-Fallujah. The Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential Iraqi group that was excluded from the conference, criticized the meeting. "We have no hope in the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, with its current composition and officially announced targets," commented AMS head Harith al-Dhari, Aljazeera.net, reported. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit said the opinions of the Association of Muslim Scholars will be heard. "Once their letter is received, it will be presented to the conference," he said, AP reported. EA
 SUNNI CLERIC KILLED IN MOSULHospital officials said Sheikh Faidh Muhammad Amin al-Faidhi, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, was assassinated on 22 November, AP reported. He was shot in the morning as he left his home in Mosul, AP reported, citing officials at Al-Jumhuri Hospital. Aljazeera.net, however, reported that al-Faidhi was killed as he was leaving a place of worship in Mosul's Al-Rifaq District in the morning. The Association of Muslim Scholars, a leading Sunni group, has been a vocal critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Al-Fallujah and encourages Iraqis to boycott the 30 January vote in protest. EA
 GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATES MOSQUE RAID FOLLOWING CRITICISMIraqi interim Prime Minister Allawi announced on 22 November that he has launched an investigation into the U.S.-led raid on Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Mosque, AP reported. The 19 November raid on one of Islam's holiest shrines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2004) brought widespread criticism, including protests from Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "The raid on Abu Hanifa Mosque is unacceptable and we denounce and condemn this action," al-Sistani spokesman Hamed al-Khafaf told Al-Manar, AP reported. A statement from Allawi's office responded to al-Sistani's criticism. "The prime minister shared [their] concern and said that although there had been reports of terrorist activity around the mosque, mistakes appeared to have been made and that he had ordered a full investigation," the statement said. EA
 RED CROSS COMPLAINS IT CANNOT REACH IRAQISThe International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement on 20 November that it is vital for "everything possible to be done" to allow aid agencies to help Iraqis, the BBC reported. "As hostilities continue in Fallujah and elsewhere, every day seems to bring news of yet another act of utter contempt for the most basic tenet of humanity," said Pierre Kraehenbuhl, the ICRC's director of operations, UPI reported. "Regrettably, recent events have again shown just how difficult it has become for neutral, independent, and impartial humanitarian organizations to assist and protect the victims of the conflict in Iraq," he said. EA
 FORMER MOSUL POLICE CHIEF ARRESTEDIraqi Brigadier General Muhammad Khayri al-Birhawi, the former police chief of Mosul, was formally arrested on 21 November for allowing insurgents to seize control of police stations in that city, AP reported, citing an Iraqi official. Khisro Goran, the deputy governor of Mosul, said al-Birhawi was arrested by a Kurdish militia in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, where he fled following the uprising, Aljazeera.com reported. Goran said he expects al-Birhawi to be turned over to Iraqi Interior Ministry officials soon. U.S.-led forces have reasserted control over Mosul following a rebellion that may have been precipitated by the assault in rebel-held Al-Fallujah. Insurgents seized control of police stations during the Mosul uprisings, and many police officers were reported to be siding with the rebels during the insurgency (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 November 2004). EA
 UKRAINE IN TURMOIL AFTER PRESIDENTIAL VOTEBy Jan Maksymiuk
A crowd estimated to number at least 100,000 took part in a rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on the evening of 22 November to protest what they perceive to be government fraud during the previous day's presidential runoff between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. With 99.38 percent of the vote tallied, the Central Election Commission (TsVK) had announced earlier in the day that Yanukovych won 49.42 percent of the vote to Yushchenko's 46.7 percent. Meanwhile, Yushchenko told the crowd on Independence Square that by resorting to massive fraud, primarily in Ukraine's eastern regions, the authorities stole 3.1 million votes from him and, consequently, his election victory.
Speaking to some 60,000 people at the same rally earlier in the day, Yushchenko called on Ukrainians to organize popular resistance against the alleged vote fraud and defend what he described as his election victory. In addition, Yushchenko's political ally Yuliya Tymoshenko has called on Ukrainians to launch a nationwide strike. Yushchenko's backers have pitched some 300 tents along Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main thoroughfare, and have reportedly vowed to stay in them until Yushchenko is declared the country's elected president. There have been also reports that Yushchenko's supporters are coming to Kyiv from the provinces despite police blockades of the roads around the capital and elsewhere in the country, while the authorities are bringing Yanukovych's adherents to Kyiv in busses.
In the meantime, local councilors in several cities in western Ukraine, including Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, have adopted resolutions claiming that they will recognize only Yushchenko as the legitimate president and supporting the opposition call for a general strike. The Kyiv City Council passed a resolution expressing distrust in the Central Election Commission. The opposition has also managed to collect 150 signatures among parliamentary deputies calling for an emergency session on 23 November to discuss the situation in the country and move a vote of no confidence in the commission. It is unclear how such a vote, if passed, could influence the official results of the 21 November ballot. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists on 22 November that any resolution of the Verkhovna Rada concerning the Central Election Commission would be merely a "political gesture."
Both Western and domestic independent election monitors have concurred that the 21 November vote in Ukraine was far from democratic. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU), a nongovernmental electoral watchdog, reported on 21 November that illegal voting by absentee ballot was the biggest problem in the runoff, UNIAN reported. "Our observers have registered more than 100 buses carrying these people [voting illegally], and one can gather that tens of thousands [of people] have voted in this way," KVU head Ihor Popov told journalists.
The KVU also reported numerous incidents of assault on observers and journalists, and even kidnappings. "Up to a dozen people have been kidnapped today by criminal-looking individuals," Popov claimed. Other alleged irregularities included preventing observers, both domestic and international, and journalists from entering polling stations, the use of counterfeit ballots, and the failure to sign or stamp ballot papers by some commission members.
The OSCE International Election Observation Mission for the Ukrainian presidential runoff said in its preliminary conclusions on 22 November that the vote failed to meet a considerable number of democratic standards. According to the OSCE mission, Ukrainian executive authorities and the Central Election Commission "displayed a lack of will to conduct a genuine democratic election process." U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), President George W. Bush's special envoy for the Ukrainian election, charged that the Ukrainian government was involved in a "concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse."
However, the West's remonstrations against the Ukrainian ballot seem to carry little weight with Ukrainian authorities. For them, much more important was the position of the Kremlin, which did not hide its sympathies for Yanukovych during the election campaign. On 22 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly congratulated Yanukovych on his election victory, saying that "the battle has been hard-fought, but open and honest."
It appears highly improbable that Ukrainian authorities will yield to the current surge of anti-Yanukovych protests and declare Yushchenko the winner. Two other options appear more likely -- either the authorities will wait with Yanukovych's inauguration until the anti-government rebellion peters out, if the protests prove to be persistent and well attended, the presidential ballot might be declared invalid and incumbent President Leonid Kuchma could continue to rule for another half year in order to prepare for a new election.
Yet, irrespective of the final outcome of the current standoff in Ukraine, it will be problematic, if not impossible, for Kuchma to assure political continuity for his regime, something he repeatedly urged during the election campaign. Ukraine seems to have awakened to a new political life in which millions of people are no longer prepared to mutely endure electoral manipulation, official lies, and autocratic governance.
Seen from this perspective, Ukraine's presidential election of 2004 appears to offer an opportunity unprecedented in Ukraine's 13 years of independence for politicians, from both the pro-Yanukovych and the pro-Yushchenko camps, to practice the difficult art of political compromise in order to ensure the unity of their bitterly divided country.