|Sunday, 11 April 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-11-29
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 UKRAINIAN CRISIS OVERSHADOWS RUSSIA-EU SUMMIT...The crisis over Ukraine's disputed presidential election cast a shadow over the European Union summit, as Moscow and Brussels failed to negotiate a "strategic partnership" agreement, Russian and international news agencies reported on 25 November. "We have not reached agreement on all" points, AP quoted Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende as saying after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "There is still a great deal to be done." However, both said the talks proved valuable. Putin said he hopes an agreement will be reached by the next EU summit in May 2005. Balkenende said the sides could not agree on security cooperation, specifically regarding Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and the Caucasus states. The EU wants to forge closer ties with the ex-Soviet states while Moscow is wary of an expanding Europe in its sphere of influence. Russia has complained about Europe's interference over human rights violations in Chechnya and about the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in new EU members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. BW
 ...MOSCOW'S EU ENVOY ACCUSES WEST OF MEDDLING IN UKRAINE...Russian envoy to the EU Sergei Yastrzhembskii accused the West, particularly the United States, of trying to unduly influence Ukraine's political crisis, Russian and international news agencies reported on 27 November. "It's impossible not to see the direct involvement of the American Congress, individual congressmen who are spending their days and nights in Kyiv -- foundations, nongovernmental organizations, consultants, experts," he said in an interview on RTR television on the same day. "It's clear and obvious to everyone." Yastrzhembskii said the street protests in Ukraine have "the same signature" as those that toppled Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, and also likened them to Poland's anticommunist Solidarity movement in the 1980s. He accused "certain forces in the West" of attempting to use "so-called street oligarchy and street democracy" to influence the outcome of Ukraine's political crisis. "Someone wants to make citizens of states of the post-Soviet space...think that many very serious political and electoral problems can be solved involving the crowd," Yastrzhembskii said. BW
 ...AND SAYS NEW EU MEMBERS HARMING RELATIONS...In the same interview, Russia's EU envoy Yastrzhembskii accused the new Eastern European EU members of attempting to harm relations between Moscow and Brussels, Interfax reported. "Some alarming points have emerged" in "the European Union's policy toward Russia for the past six months," Interfax quoted Yastrzhembskii as saying on RTR state television on 27 November. He added, however, that the problems are not between Moscow and larger EU powers such as France and Germany, but with "representatives of the 10" former Warsaw Pact countries "that have just joined the European Union." "I can literally feel this with my skin," Yastrzhembskii said. "With all their complexes, including Russophobia, those people have integrated into Europe," he added. But despite tension between Russia and Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004) Yastrzhembskii said neither side wants a major rift. He noted that the EU is Russia's "main trade partner" and the main source of foreign direct investment. Turning away from the West, he said, would be "extraordinarily painful." BW
 ...AS MOSCOW AND BRUSSELS SPAR OVER ELECTION RESULTSSpeaking after the EU summit meeting, Russian President Putin stood firm in his support of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, international news agencies reported on 25 November. "I congratulated Viktor Yanukovych" and the election "results are absolutely clear," AFP quoted Putin as saying after the EU summit in The Hague, Netherlands. "From my perspective, all issues should be addressed within the framework of the constitution and legislation. All claims should go to the courts," Putin said. "All of this should be addressed through dialogue," he added. But the EU leaders said Brussels considered the results of the election to be unacceptable. "The election did not meet international standards. Therefore the EU is not able to accept the result," Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende said. The Netherlands currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. BW
 RUSSIAN LIBERAL PARTIES PICKET UKRAINIAN EMBASSY...More than 200 protesters from the Yabloko party and the Union of Rightist Forces picketed the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow in support of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko on 28 November, ITAR-TASS reported on the same day. Wearing orange scarves and waving orange flags, the symbols of Yushchenko's presidential campaign, the demonstrators chanted "We Won't Be Overcome." A smaller group of counter demonstrators, led by the leader of the Working Russia party, Viktor Anpilov, gathered nearby to support Ukranian Prime Minister Yanukovych. About 20 police officers kept the two groups apart. BW
 ...AS COMMUNIST LEADER CRITICIZES UKRANIAN PARLIAMENTGennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, criticized members of Ukraine's parliament for passing a resolution calling the presidential elections invalid, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 November. "It is not a democracy when under the pressure of an aggressive mob the parliament adopts decisions trampling upon the expression of the will of the majority of the people," Zyuganov said. Zyuganov also criticized Ukrainian communists for endorsing a "document supporting aggressive ambitions of [Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor] Yushchenko." He added that developments in Ukraine must "be guided strictly by the letter of the law. Only the Central Election Commission, not the parliament, has the right to determine the results of the voting." BW
 PUTIN LAUDS NEW ANTIMISSILE SYSTEMPresident Putin commended the Russian Defense Ministry for successfully testing a new antimissile system on 29 November, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The test on the A-135 missile was completed on 29 November at the Sary-Shagaz testing range in Kazakhstan, Russian news agencies reported. "We intend to [continue] working to improve and modernize the country's antimissile defense system," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said. BW
 RUSSIA SIGNS ATOM DEAL WITH POLANDRussian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has signed a draft agreement to provide Poland with nuclear fuel for a research reactor, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 November. According to the agreement between Russia, Poland, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Russia will provide fuel for a reactor at the Institute of Atomic energy in Swierk. Poland agreed not to use the fuel to manufacture nuclear weapons or for any military purposes. BW
 DUMA APPROVES 2005 BUDGET IN THIRD READINGThe State Duma on 24 November approved the draft 2005 budget in its third reading with 339 votes in favor, Russian media reported. The final reading is set for 10 December. Although the budget easily passed, the process has generated controversy. Annoyed that various Duma committees rejected all of the amendments proposed by his Motherland faction, Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev charged that drafting the budget has become a partisan affair and proposed removing it from the Duma's agenda so that it could be considered at a Unified Russia party congress instead, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 November. Meanwhile, Deputy Duma Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) blasted the Russian budget process as a "profanation and fiction" in an interview in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 November. Boos argued that the "false" budget underestimates revenues, and by extension next year's likely budget surplus. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 24 November that planned expenditures on defense and national security will comprise more than 30 percent of the total planned expenditures of 3.048 trillion rubles. The Defense Ministry will receive the largest budget increase, even as the number of military personnel declines. LB
 HOUSING CODE CLEARS SECOND READINGThe Duma on 26 November approved a new Housing Code in the second reading, Russian Public Television (ORT) reported. Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia) told the television network that deputies have approved more than 400 amendments to the code since the first reading, while rejecting more than 850 proposed amendments. Krasheninnikov said the revised draft code would take effect on 1 March rather than 1 January, as was stipulated in the version passed in the first reading. One key provision that remained the same, however, states that as of 1 January 2007, citizens will no longer be able to privatize their rent-free apartments at no cost. If they want to privatize the rent-free apartments they live in, they will have to buy them. One big change in the new Housing Code would be new criteria for allocating rent-free housing. Under the new code, "social housing" will be means-tested: local authorities will determine who is impoverished enough to qualify. LB
 DUMA TRIES AGAIN TO LIMIT BEER CONSUMPTIONThe Duma on 26 November approved a new version of a law restricting the sale and consumption of beer in public places, Russian media reported. The Federation Council rejected an earlier version of the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 12 November 2004), and the revised version emerged from a conciliation commission formed by deputies representing both chambers. According to ORT, the new version is tougher, containing a longer list of places where beer cannot be sold, such as cultural and sports events as well as near or while riding public transportation. Russian Television (RTR) reported that the new draft specifies that organs of local government will have the authority to determine the locations at which beer sales will be banned. NTV noted that under the new version of the law, the restrictions on beer sales and consumption will take effect 30 days after the law's publication, whereas the previous version delayed the introduction of those restrictions until 1 April. LB
 TRANSNEFT ENDS BARTER AGREEMENT WITH YUKOSRussia's pipeline monopoly Transneft has ended a barter deal with Yukos under which it was taking oil in exchange for shipping fees, Reuters reported on 29 November. "We have dropped the barter deal idea and we are now shipping Yukos' volumes on credit. We will continue doing this as long as it is needed because we cannot halt shipments in the middle of the winter," Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoryev said. "But it cannot last forever and we hope a solution will be found soon," he added. Yukos had made the barter deal with Transneft in October, agreeing to give Transneft 400,000 tons of oil a month in lieu of shipping fees. Grigoryev said Transneft had failed to find a customer for the crude because as a state-owned company it faces limits on independently marketing its own oil. Yukos could not pay the shipping fees because the company's bank accounts are frozen. Yukos faces financial ruin due to a $25-billion back tax claim and the company's main owner, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, is in prison facing fraud and tax evasion charges that many analysts view as politically motivated. BW
 FEDERATION COUNCIL SEEKS TO REDUCE TURNOVER...The Federation Council on 24 November changed the upper chamber's rules to [or: approved a law that would] limit the power of governors and regional legislatures to recall their representatives in the chamber, REN-TV [or: Regions.ru] reported. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov pushed for the changes to eliminate the high turnover of senators. The new rules enumerate valid grounds for recalling a senator. Not only can the upper chamber reject an attempted recall by regional authorities, the new rules empower the Federation Council, under certain circumstances, to remove a senator in the absence of any initiative from the region that senator represents. Regional authorities will be required to appoint Federation Council representatives within three months, a change inspired by the fact that Chukotka Autonomous Okrug has left one of its seats in the upper chamber vacant for nearly two years. LB
 ...AND APPROVES MANY LAWSAmong the many other laws approved by the Federation Council on 24 November were amendments to the second part of the Tax Code, which establish a local tax called the "land tax," Regions.ru reported. The upper chamber had rejected an earlier version of these amendments, passed by the Duma last month. Senators also approved an amendment to the law on narcotics and psychotropic substances, which raises from 15 to 16 the minimum age at which a drug addict may refuse medical treatment for his or her addiction. In addition, senators passed a law aimed at closing loopholes and resolving contradictions in Russia's legislation on pensions, as well as amendments to the law on stock companies (ob aktsionernnykh obshchestvakh), which specify the terms and deadlines for challenging decisions by boards of directors or observer councils in the courts. Several laws affecting the justice system also passed, including amendments clarifying aspects of the law on judges and amendments to the Criminal-Procedural Code related to jury selection and relieving jury members from duty. LB
 COURT UPHOLDS DANILOV CONVICTIONThe Krasnoyarsk Krai Court on 24 November upheld physicist Valentin Danilov's 5 November conviction on espionage and embezzlement charges, Russian media reported. The judges sentenced 56-year-old Danilov to 14 years in prison and ordered him to return 466,000 rubles ($15,500), which he was convicted of taking from Krasnoyarsk Technical University. Danilov's attorney, Yelena Yevmenova, announced that her client's appeal to the Supreme Court is ready to be filed, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 November. That appeal is likely to fail, in light of the fact that the Supreme Court took the unusual step in June of overturning Danilov's December 2003 acquittal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). The physicist and Nobel laureate Vitalii Ginzburg told Ekho Moskvy on 24 November that Danilov's conviction "does irreparable harm to our state" and recalls Stalin-era trials of prominent scientists, "Vremya-novostei" reported the next day. Fifteen human rights activists, including Yelena Bonner, Lev Ponomarev, and Yulii Rybakov signed a statement declaring Danilov a "political prisoner," while the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has been collecting signatures in his defense, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 25 November. Danilov is a member of the SPS political council in Krasnoyarsk Krai. LB
 YABLOKO PROTESTS ELECTRONIC VOTING TABULATIONSome 30 members of Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko party gathered outside the Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 23 November to protest plans to tabulate the votes from an upcoming State Duma by-election electronically, Ekho Moskvy reported. Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin is among the candidates for the Duma race, which is scheduled for 5 December. Votes are normally counted by hand in Russia, but the TsIK has ordered electronic tabulation for this race as an experiment. The Yabloko activists charge that counting the votes by computer will invite fraud. They urged the TsIK to verify the votes from at least some precincts by hand, which might deter attempts to tamper with the results, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 November. Meanwhile, Yabloko leader Yavlinskii, a native of Lvov and fluent Ukrainian speaker, issued a statement on 26 November blasting Russian state media coverage of the current Ukrainian political crisis, lenta.ru reported. Yavlinskii urged journalists not to "shame" Russia with "lies" that are obvious to anyone who compares Russian state media reports to information coming out of Ukraine. LB
 TOP LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS FIRED IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIARepublican Interior Minister Aleksandr Obukhov and Boris Khalizov, head of the police department in Cherkessk, the capital of Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (RKCh), have been fired for "shortcomings" in their job performance, Interfax reported on 25 November. The two men's dismissal was one of several demands made by demonstrators in Cherkessk on 9 and 10 November who were protesting the murder several weeks earlier of seven young men at a dacha belonging to Ali Kaitov, the son-in-law of RKCh President Mustafa Batdyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 November 2004). Nikolai Khazikov, who heads the North Caucasus branch of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, said on 25 November that RKCh Prosecutor Vladimir Gannochka's letter of resignation has also been accepted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). LF
 ABDUCTED SLOVAK AID WORKER RELEASEDRussian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives located and released on 24 November Miriam Jevikova, the Slovak aid worker who was abducted in Ingushetia six months ago on her way to Chechnya, Interfax reported on 25 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June and 4 August 2004). Jevikova, who works for the Prague-based charity was found in an abandoned building in Grozny and taken by plane to Moscow. No ransom was paid for her release, although her captors initially demanded $1 million to free her. Her abductors have not been apprehended. LF
 FORMER RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER IDENTIFIES CAUSES OF FIRST, SECOND CHECHEN WARSIn an interview published in the 22 November issue of "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," Ruslan Khasbulatov said that the decision to send Russian troops into Chechnya in late 1994 was taken partly to distract public attention from growing economic problems, and partly because then Russian President Boris Yeltsin feared that Khasbulatov himself -- one of the leaders of the October 1993 confrontation between Yeltsin and the Duma -- might come to power in Chechnya in the event that his campaign to oust Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev peacefully was successful. Khasbulatov claimed that hundreds of thousands of Chechens supported that ill-fated campaign. As for the second Chechen war, Khasbulatov argued that it could have ended in 2000-2001 if the Russian military had apprehended the leaders of the Chechen resistance, but that Chief of Army General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin did all in his power to prolong the conflict while constantly affirming that it was "manageable" and "localized." LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER URGES OPPOSITION TO ABANDON BOYCOTTIn his annual report on the activities of the National Assembly, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on 24 November appealed to opposition deputies to abandon their boycott of legislative proceedings, Noyan Tapan reported. Opposition deputies walked out of the parliament chamber nine months ago to protest the majority's refusal to debate a draft constitutional amendment that would have allowed a national referendum on the question of confidence in President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2004). Baghdasarian argued that "real participation" by the opposition is critical to the ongoing discussions about planned reforms to the electoral code and the constitutional and judicial systems. (For a profile of Baghdasarian, see "End Note" below.) LF
 FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS KARABAKH SETTLEMENT NOW 'INCREASINGLY COMPLICATED'...On his return from a personal visit to the U.S., Levon Ter-Petrossian told journalists at Yerevan's Zvartnots Airport on 24 November that he believes a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with terms as favorable as those offered in 1997 is no longer possible, and that Armenia is paying a heavy price for failing to accept those terms, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In an article published in most Armenian newspapers on 1 November 1997 titled, "Time for Serious Thought," Ter-Petrossian argued that Armenia should agree to concessions rather than risk continued isolation and economic stagnation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). That opinion met with resistance from senior Armenian ministers, and the ensuing controversy culminated in Ter-Petrossian's forced resignation in February 1998. Ter-Petrossian said on 24 November that no progress has been made toward a solution of the conflict, but declined to say what the present government should do to expedite such a settlement. He hinted that he might return to active politics "if there is a task, a mission, and I feel that my involvement...is necessary," but would not say if he will run in the next presidential election, due in 2008. LF
 ...BUT HIS SUCCESSOR DISAGREESPresident Kocharian -- who as prime minister at the time was among the group of officials that forced Ter-Petrossian to step down in February 1998 -- rejected on 26 November Ter-Petrossian's argument that Armenia is paying dearly for its refusal in 1997 to accept a conciliatory solution to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian said that both he and Ter-Petrossian stand by their earlier positions. Kocharian added that he will offer a detailed analysis of the Karabakh negotiations in a television interview before the end of this year. LF
 ARMENIA FAILS TO SEND REPRESENTATIVES TO NATO SEMINAR IN AZERBAIJANTwo Armenian parliamentarians, Defense and Security Committee Chairman Mher Shahgeldian (Orinats Yerkir) and Aleksan Karapetian of the opposition National Unity Party, cancelled on 25 November their participation in a three-day NATO seminar on security issues in the South Caucasus that opened in Baku that day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Shahgeldian told journalists that Orinats Yerkir Chairman and parliament speaker Baghdasarian had written to his Azerbaijani counterpart Murtuz Alesqerov to request guarantees of protection for the two Armenian delegates, but did not receive a response to that request. The unofficial Azerbaijani Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) staged repeated protests in Baku last week against the Armenians' anticipated arrival; police forcibly dispersed a QAT protest on 25 November outside the hotel where the seminar was taking place and detained 10 of the protest participants, Turan reported. LF
 AZERBAIJAN BLOCKS RAIL CARGO TRANSIT TO GEORGIASome 900 freight cars bound for Georgia have been halted in Azerbaijan, and Georgian Railways Commercial Director Ramaz Giorgadze was scheduled to travel to Baku on 29 November to discuss the issue with Azerbaijani officials, Caucasus Press reported. Although no official explanation has been given for the delay, Caucasus Press said that some Azerbaijani functionaries have admitted that security personnel are checking the cargoes on suspicion that they are destined for Armenia. But Georgian Railways Director General David Onoprishvili said the cargo is destined not for Armenia but the Georgian Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi. LF
 SOME ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES ENDORSE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OUTCOME...The parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia adopted on 26 November an appeal to outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba to "respect the will of the people" and to recognize the validity of the Central Election Commission's 11 October statement designating Sergei Bagapsh the winner of the 3 October presidential election, Russian agencies reported. The parliament denounced as illegal Ardzinba's decree of 29 October calling on it to schedule a new presidential ballot. Ardzinba's spokesman, Roin Agrba, however, said on 24 November that Ardzinba will remain in office even after 6 December, which is the date for which Bagapsh has scheduled his inauguration, Interfax reported. LF
 ...BUT MINORITY OPPOSE ITITAR-TASS on 27 November reported that up to one-third of the 35 parliament deputies opposed the appeal to Ardzinba passed by the majority the previous day. The agency quoted Teimuraz Achugba of the pro-Ardzinba Republic faction as saying that the appeal is anticonstitutional. Achugba added that his faction believes the 3 October ballot cannot be considered valid due to "numerous flagrant violations" of the election law. Bagapsh's main rival, former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, told ITAR-TASS that the parliament appeal to Ardzinba is "an absurd decision, that will deepen the rift" in Abkhaz society. LF
 KAZAKH, KYRGYZ, UZBEK LEADERS CONGRATULATE YANUKOVYCHKazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov have all congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on his victory in the bitterly disputed 21 November presidential runoff, agencies reported. President Nazarbaev expressed his "heartfelt congratulations," adding, "Your victory testifies to the Ukrainian people's choice in favor of a united nation, a democratic path of development, and economic progress," RIA-Novosti reported on 25 November. In his congratulatory message, President Akaev voiced the hope that Yanukovych's election would lead to broader ties between Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 26 November. President Karimov's message struck a similar tone, RIA-Novosti reported. The runoff results have sparked mass protests in Ukraine and widespread international skepticism; the only other world leaders to have congratulated Yanukovych are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. DK
 BLASTS SHAKE KAZAKH PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY HEADQUARTERSTwo explosions took place on the evening of 28 November at the headquarters of the pro-presidential Otan party in Almaty, RIA-Novosti reported. A 20-year-old passerby was hospitalized with light injuries. A source in the Emergency Situations Ministry told the news agency that the explosives, the equivalent of 300-400 grams of TNT, were planted on a telephone switchboard on the building and on a first-floor windowsill. Bolatkhan Taizhan, a high-ranking Otan adviser, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that extremists could be behind the attack. He said, "Despite differences in their views, all [political] parties [in Kazakhstan] say that the main thing is to maintain stability in Kazakhstan.... This is what the leadership and members of opposition parties say as well. That's why I think the blasts could be accidental. But one shouldn't be surprised if they turn out to be the work of extremists." President Nazarbaev heads Otan. DK
 CIS, SHANGHAI PROSECUTOR-GENERALS MEET IN KAZAKHSTANProsecutor-generals from CIS countries met in Almaty on 24 November to discuss improved cooperation in the fight against terrorism, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Kazakh Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov said, "The main focus in the fight against international terrorism will be interaction, exchange of information, including the sources of financing," ITAR-TASS reported. Other topics covered included corruption and drug trafficking. Also in Almaty on 24 November, prosecutor-generals from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) agreed to simplify rules for mutual assistance on criminal cases, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. A statement by the Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office said that the agreement will "significantly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of cooperation between SCO prosecutor-generals in fighting crime." DK
 KAZAKHSTAN BOOSTS DEFENSE SPENDINGKazakhstan will increase annual defense spending by $75.5 million to $455 million in 2005, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 25 November citing Deputy Defense Minister Kozy-Korpesh Dzhanburchin. Dzhanburchin noted that defense spending is slated to amount to 1 percent of GDP in 2005-2006, and 1.2 percent by 2007. DK
 KAZAKH PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES FORM PARLIAMENTARY FACTIONThe pro-presidential Civic and Agrarian Parties, which ran in tandem as the AIST bloc in recent elections, have formed a parliamentary faction, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 26 November. The faction includes 17 deputies -- 13 from the Mazhilis (lower chamber) and four from the Senate (upper chamber), "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK
 MISSING RIGHTS ACTIVIST GALVANIZES KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONOpposition legislators Azimbek Beknazarov and Alevtina Pronenko announced at a 25 November press conference in Bishkek that they will join the People's Patriotic Movement's petition drive to remove Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev from office if rights activist Tursunbek Akun is not found, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Demonstrations continued in support of Akun, who has not been seen since 16 November, including a protest in the Aksy Raion that drew 2,000 people. Meanwhile, the Bishkek office of Freedom House announced in a 26 November press release that it is beginning an independent investigation into Akun's disappearance, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Stuart Kahn, program director for Freedom House's human rights defender support project in Kyrgyzstan, said, "We will concentrate on those aspects of the case which have not been fully clarified, and we have officially appealed to the National Security Service and the Interior Ministry with an offer of cooperation and a request for access to information." DK
 DONORS NOTE SHORTCOMINGS IN KYRGYZSTAN PROGRAMS...Representatives of international lending institutions expressed concern over certain projects in Kyrgyzstan at a meeting with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev at the Ala-Archa government residence on 26 November, akipress.org reported. Participants noted that two World Bank projects currently have "unsatisfactory" ratings and two Asian Development Bank projects now fall into the "risk" category. Noting these, and other, problem projects, the participants stressed that the government must carefully monitor ongoing projects to ensure successful completion, Kyrgyzinfo reported. The meeting also covered such issues as cooperation among donors, investment prioritization, procedural harmonization, and taxation of donor projects. Attendees included representatives of the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the German Development Bank, and the World Bank. DK
 ...AS WORLD BANK READIES NEW PROJECTSThe World Bank has developed three projects for 2005 designed to improve living standards in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 28 November. Dinara Joldosheva, head of the Bank's Credit Department in Bishkek, told RFE/RL that the projects total $45 million and will come partly in the form of grants. One project aims to improve rural education, another to improve the social infrastructure in small towns, and a third to develop agrobusiness in villages. DK
 STUDY SAYS TAJIKISTAN LEADS CENTRAL ASIA IN CHILD MORTALITYA recent UNICEF study shows that Tajikistan has the highest child mortality rates in Central Asia, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 26 November. According to the study, 78 children per 1,000 do not survive their first year; 106 per 1,000 do not live to the age of five. The most frequent causes of death were accidents during childbirth (22 percent), pneumonia (20 percent), and diarrhea (12 percent). The study also noted that Tajikistan has the highest rates of severe and chronic malnourishment in children under five -- 36.2 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. In an apparent critical reference to the study, Tajik Health Minister Nusratullo Fayzulloev told Avesta on 26 November that statistics on Tajikistan are not always reliable. He said, "For example, the statistical data that UNICEF and other international organizations are presenting does not always agree with data provided by the Tajik State Statistics Committee." DK
 REGIONAL GOVERNOR REPLACED IN UZBEKISTANAn extraordinary meeting of People's Deputies in Tashkent on 26 November in Uzbekistan's Sirdaryo Province removed Governor Ravshan Haydarov from his post, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. President Karimov, who attended the meeting, criticized shortcomings in the region's agricultural sector, noting that Sirdaryo has failed to meet cotton harvest targets for 13 years. Abdurahim Jalolov, first deputy minister of agricultural and water resources, was appointed to replace Haydarov by presidential decree. DK
 PROSECUTORS REFUSE TO PROBE BEATING OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADERA district prosecutor's office in Minsk has refused to open an investigation into the alleged police beating of Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Party, during a protest in the capital on 19 October against the official results of the 17 October presidential referendum, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 25 November. Lyabedzka was reportedly beaten by riot police and subsequently hospitalized with injuries to his head and kidneys as well as with two broken ribs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2004). "We have not found any grounds for opening an investigation," prosecutor Alyaksey Stuk said. "Bodily injuries were inflicted on him [Lyabedzka], but all this happened, so to say, in a process of the lawful arrest." JM
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REELECTED HEAD OF OLYMPIC COMMITTEEAlyaksandr Lukashenka on 25 November was reelected as president of Belarus's National Olympic Committee, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka's candidacy was reportedly proposed by Yuliya Nestsyarenka, the 2004 Athens Olympic gold-medal winner in the 100-meters, "at numerous requests from the sports community of Belarus." JM
 YUSHCHENKO ADHERENTS BLOCK GOVERNMENT, PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OFFICESTens of thousands of people came to Independence Square in Kyiv on 29 November for the eighth consecutive day of protests against what the opposition deems to be massive fraud in favor of Premier Viktor Yanukovych in the 21 November presidential vote, Ukrainian media reported. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua/), two separate groups of pro-Yushchenko backers have been blocking the government offices and the presidential administration headquarters by forming "living chains" before entrances to these buildings since last night. JM
 UKRAINIAN EASTERN, SOUTHERN REGIONS WANT YANUKOVYCH FOR PRESIDENT...Some 4,000 local councilors from 15 Ukrainian eastern and southern regions at a congress in Severodonetsk on 28 November expressed their support for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as the legally elected president and condemned the pro-Yushchenko opposition for leading Ukraine toward a "territorial split and catastrophe," Ukrainian media reported. "If the [current] coup d'etat is being developed further and an illegitimate president comes to power, participants in the congress reserve themselves the right to 'adequate actions and self-defense,'" the congress said in a statement. The participants warned that they will hold on 12 December a "referendum on a possible change of Ukraine's administrative-territorial system" if the situation in Ukraine develops under "the worst crisis scenario." The congress was attended by Yanukovych and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Yanukovych told Reuters that he does not support the idea of a referendum on regional autonomy." JM
 ...AS DONETSK COUNCILLORS VOTE TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON AUTONOMY IN FEDERATION...The Donetsk Oblast Council on 28 November voted 155 to one to set a regional referendum for 5 December on introducing constitutional amendments that would change Ukraine into a federal state and give Donetsk Oblast a status of republic in the new federation, Ukrainian media reported. The Donetsk councilors justified their proposal by the ongoing postelection standoff which, according to them, "is threatening public security, the constitutional system, [as well as] the life and heath of citizens." The Donetsk Oblast Council also affirmed that Yanukovych is the legally elected president and expressed its lack of confidence in the Verkhovna Rada, which passed a resolution declaring the presidential runoff flawed. Yanukovych, who attended the Donetsk Oblast Council session, reportedly called on the councilors "not to take any radical steps." JM
 ...AND OPPOSITION CALLS ON KUCHMA TO REACT AGAINST SEPARATISM THREATThe Committee of National Salvation (KNP), a body set up by Yushchenko political backers and allies to coordinate the ongoing protest actions in Ukraine, posed on 28 November an ultimatum to incumbent President Leonid Kuchma, the "Ukrayinska pravda" reported on 28 November. The committee demanded that Kuchma sack Prime Minister Yanukovych for his contribution to the falsification of the 21 November presidential ballot and for participating in "separatist actions;" submit new candidates for the Central Election Commission membership to the Verkhovna Rada; fire the governors of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv Oblasts for initiating a "split of Ukraine;" and order the Prosecutor-General's Office to immediately launch a probe against "secessionists" in Ukraine. The KNP has threatened to begin blocking Kuchma's travels in Ukraine if he fails to comply with the ultimatum within 24 hours. JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DECLARES PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF UNACCEPTABLEThe Verkhovna Rada on 27 November passed a nonbinding resolution saying that the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine on 21 November "took place with violations of the law and does not reflect the will of the citizens," Ukrainian media reported. The resolution was supported by 255 deputies. There were also proposals to declare the presidential runoff invalid or to deem the entire November presidential ballot inconclusive and repeat the runoff or the entire election after introducing amendments to the presidential election law, but these proposals failed to obtain a majority of 226 votes. "We think that declaring the election invalid would put us into a complex legal situation," lawmaker Roman Zvarych from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus commented. The Ukrainian parliament has no legal authority to annul the election results. JM
 YUSHCHENKO DEMANDS NEW PRESIDENTIAL BALLOTYushchenko told a crowd of his backers demonstrating for the fifth consecutive day in Kyiv on 26 November that he wants a new presidential vote on 12 December in order to overcome the current standoff over the official results of the 21 November presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Yushchenko's proposal is supported by the European Union, according to Reuters. JM
 WEST REJECTS OFFICIAL RESULTS OF UKRAINIAN BALLOT, MEDIATES IN ONGOING STANDOFFU.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 25 November rejected the officially announced results of the Ukrainian election, according to which Yanukovych beat Yushchenko by nearly 3 percent of the vote, and warned Ukrainian authorities of "consequences" for the U.S.-Ukrainian relations if they do not investigate "the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse," Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The Netherlands, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said the same day that the official results do not reflect the will of the Ukrainian people and called on Ukrainian authorities "to redress election irregularities" reported by foreign observers. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski visited Kyiv on 26 November to press Yanukovych and Yushchenko to sit at a negotiating table. Yanukovych and Yushchenko, in the presence of Solana, Kwasniewski, and Russian Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov, agreed to form a working group to address the postelection crisis. JM
 UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT SUSPENDS VERDICT AWARDING VICTORY TO YANUKOVYCHThe Supreme Court on 25 November blocked the publication of the official presidential election results awarding victory to Yanukovych, Ukrainian media reported. The decision means that until the court has finished examining complaints about alleged massive election fraud from the Yushchenko election staff, Yanukovych cannot be inaugurated as president. The previous day, the Central Election Commission announced that Yanukovych won the 21 November runoff with 49.46 percent of the vote (15.1 million votes) to Yushchenko's 46.61 percent (14.2 million votes). Yushchenko claims that the election authorities stole more than 3 million votes from him, primarily in Ukraine's eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. The Supreme Court began reviewing Yushchenko's complaints on 29 November. JM
 MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW PRIME MINISTERBranko Crvenkovski nominated Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski as prime minister on 26 November, Reuters reported. Buckovski will succeed Hari Kostov, who resigned on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Buckovski's nomination came shortly after a congress of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) elected him its new party chairman. On the second ballot, Buckovski was backed by 391 delegates, while Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska received 265 votes. Former parliamentary speaker Tito Petkovski was eliminated in the first round of voting. The party chairmanship has been vacant since earlier this year, when former SDSM leader Crvenkovski assumed the presidency and gave up his party post. After his nomination as prime minister, Buckovski told RFE/RL's Macedonian Service that he expects the government to be confirmed by parliament by mid-December. He also announced that he will reshuffle the present cabinet, but offered no details. UB
 ONE SERBIAN MINISTER SAYS HAGUE CRITICISM WILL NOT HURT THE ECONOMY...Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said in Belgrade on 24 November that his country's economy is unlikely to be affected by recent charges by Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, that Serbia is not cooperating with the court, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 November 2004). "As an economist, I am not worried," he said. "The Americans produce most of the negative reports about our cooperation with The Hague, but at the same time they remain [the biggest] investors in Serbia and [they] continue to invest." But Jovan Simic, who is an adviser to Serbian President Boris Tadic, suggested that ordinary Serbs will continue to bear the burden for their government's failure to cooperate with the tribunal. He argued that "nothing is going to change [regarding Serbia's international status] until the government arrests [an indictee], and I do not believe they are going to make any arrests." Simic also said "the Serbian government is not taken seriously by anyone in the international community [and, as a consequence, Serbian citizens will continue to find themselves] queuing in long lines for Western visas." PM
 ...BUT ANOTHER DISAGREESSerbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 25 November that all government bodies of that state are cooperating with the Hague-based tribunal but that the Serbian government is not, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Draskovic argued that Serbia's situation is even more extreme than that, since indictees are widely regarded as national heroes. In Washington, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper said that he plans to have a "very serious" discussion with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whom Del Ponte recently singled out as the main obstacle to Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague. In Brussels, unnamed EU officials told RFE/RL that they plan to inquire as to why Kostunica did not make good on his earlier pledge to provide concrete evidence of cooperation by 23 November. PM
 CROATIA ASKS THE HAGUE FOR PROOF...Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 24 November that Del Ponte's recent charges that former General Ante Gotovina continues to avoid arrest with the help of some unnamed "state structures" are inaccurate, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October, and 12, 23, and 24 November 2004). Sanader called on Del Ponte to provide proof of her claims. On 25 November, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn said that Croatia must improve its cooperation with the tribunal by mid-December or risk slowing the pace of its progress toward EU membership. PM
 ...AS THE PRESIDENT AND PRIME MINISTER SPARCroatian Prime Minister Sanader confirmed on 27 November that presidential elections will take place on 2 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). Polls suggest that President Stipe Mesic enjoys a comfortable lead over all his rivals. In recent days, Sanader and Mesic have traded charges over the political future of Josko Podbevsek, whom Mesic wants fired from his post as head of the counterintelligence service (POA) for allegedly ordering the intimidation of a journalist by three POA agents. Sanader refuses to approve the sacking, which he wants to refer to the National Security Council. Mesic maintains that the issue is for him and the prime minister alone to work out. Control over the intelligence services has been an important political issue in Croatia for years. PM
 KOSOVA'S PROGRESS TO BE MEASURED IN MID-2005Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian mission in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Belgrade on 26 November that the international community will decide in mid-2005 whether Kosova has made sufficient progress toward meeting the international community's standards for final status talks to begin, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 18 October, and 19 and 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August, and 10 and 17 September 2004). PM
 EU BOSNIAN MISSION TO CONCENTRATE ON CRIME AS WELL AS CATCHING WAR CRIMINALSBritish Major General David Leakey, who will command the new EUFOR military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina when it comes into being on 2 December, told London's "The Times" on 29 November that EUFOR will seek to destroy Bosnia's criminal networks as well as catch war crimes indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 2 August, and 23 and 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). In related news, the U.S. military formally dissolved its Task Force Eagle at Eagle Base in northern Bosnia on 24 November, Reuters reported. The outgoing 700-strong U.S. Bosnian mission will be replaced with a 150-strong unit at Eagle Base and an additional 100 personnel in Sarajevo under U.S. Brigadier General Steven Schook, who commands NATO's current SFOR mission. The Americans will concentrate on catching war crimes indictees, training Bosnian military personnel, and combating terrorism. Despite some EU reluctance over a continuing U.S. military presence in Bosnia, the Bosnian authorities invited the Americans to remain. PM
 PRELIMINARY RESULTS SHOW ROMANIA'S RULING PARTY SLIGHTLY AHEAD IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...Preliminary results of the ballot cast on 28 November in Romania's parliamentary elections show the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party (PUR) some 2.5 percentage points ahead of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, Mediafax reported on 29 November. With nearly 50 percent of the vote officially counted, the PSD-PUR garnered 34.80 percent of the vote for the lower house, as against 32.30 percent garnered by the PNL-Democratic Party. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) has 12.51 percent of the vote for that chamber and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) 7.99 percent. In the vote for the Senate, the PSD-PUR is ahead with 35.17 percent, followed by the PNL-Democratic Party (32.59), the PRM (13.13 percent) and the UDMR (8.05 percent). Final results are due later on 29 November. PSD candidate for the post of premier, Mircea Geoana, said the PSD will not form a coalition with the PRM, Reuters reported. MS
 ...AND NASTASE FACING BASESCU IN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFFPreliminary results in the presidential contest held on 28 November indicate that PSD candidate Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is to face PNL-Democratic Party candidate Traian Basescu in the 12 December runoff, Mediafax reported on 29 November. Out of the votes thus far counted, Nastase garnered 38.90 percent and Basescu 34.82 percent. PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor placed third (11.99 percent) and UDMR Chairman Bela Marko fourth (6.71 percent). MS
 ROMANIA CLOSES MORE CHAPTERS IN EU ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS, WINS AIDOn 26 November, Romania closed the environment and the miscellaneous chapters in its negotiations with the EU, and successfully negotiated new "transition periods" for the already-closed taxation chapter, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Bucharest must still complete negotiations on the remaining two chapters, justice and internal affairs, and competition. Romania also secured an extra 559.8 million euros ($729.9 million) in EU aid for 2007-2009 to strengthen its border controls and prop up the national budget, Reuters reported. Pierre Moscovici, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Romania, on 25 November recommended that accession negotiations finish by the end of 2004 and that the accession treaty with Romania and Bulgaria be signed in 2007. He said that although Romania must still cope with "crucial" problems such as corruption, securing an independent judiciary, and press freedom, it would be "unjust" not to acknowledge the country's progress and "de-couple" the country from Bulgaria. MS
 MOLDOVA REJECTS RESULTS OF UKRAINIAN ELECTIONSThe Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 26 November that said the Ukrainian presidential election does "not meet standards [that would allow the results to be] accepted by the international community," dpa, Infotag, and Flux reported. Earlier that day, the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) said in a statement that the rejection of the 21 November ballot by Ukrainian Communist Party First Secretary Petro Symonenko is "fully justified," according to Infotag. MS
 MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REBUFFS RUSSIAN AMBASSADORThe Moldovan Foreign Ministry said on 25 November that a statement issued the previous day by Russia's new ambassador to Moldova, Nikolai Ryabov, "is out of line with diplomatic etiquette and norms," Infotag and Flux reported. Ryabov said that at the December meeting in Sofia of the Ministerial Committee of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Moscow will not sign the Declaration on Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova (DSSM), as proposed by President Vladimir Voronin. Ryabov said Moscow would only sign the declaration if it guaranteed not just Moldova's sovereignty and independence, but also the peaceful settlement of the Transdniester conflict. He said Chisinau has not answered a Russian proposal to this effect, but instead "agreed straightway to sign the version proposed by the U.S.," according to Infotag. Ryabov also said that both Moldova and Transdniester are guilty of the "disgraceful" use of children for political purposes in the ongoing conflict over Transdniestrian schools teaching the "Moldovan" language and Latin script. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN DELEGATION APPEALS FOR $1 BILLION TO RID COUNTRY OF MINES, HELP VICTIMSThe central Afghan government appealed on 28 November for some $1 billion in international funding toward clearing that country of land mines and assisting the some 2 million Afghan victims of land mines, AFP reported. The appeal came at the start of a weeklong international summit on land mines in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. "The task of clearing mines and helping victims is enormous," Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Haider Reza said, according to AFP. "We need international community support." Another Afghan official, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasem Hashimzai, said: "We need as much as $1 billion to have the whole business of land mines done.... Nearly the whole country is covered by mines, from the Soviet war to the Taliban times." AH
 HUNDREDS TURN OUT TO SUPPORT FORMER WESTERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR ISMAIL KHANAn estimated 500 supporters demonstrated on 28 November to show their support for former provincial Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, who was ousted by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in mid-September, AFP reported. It was unclear from the report what sparked the demonstration, but protesters demanded a position for Ismail Khan in the cabinet that Karzai is expected to form after being sworn in as the country's president in early December. Ismail Khan is a warlord who wields tremendous influence in western Afghanistan and whose administration consistently refused to hand over revenues earned particularly from lucrative cross-border trade with Iran. AH
 FOUR KILLED IN SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN ATTACK ON NGO IN AFGHANISTANThree members of the support staff and a local soldier were killed early in the morning on 28 November when attackers raided the Farah Province offices of the nongovernmental development agency Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA), the Herat News Center reported the same day. The agency quoted Farah security chief Mohammad Rasul as saying "a large number of Taliban" attacked the office around 4 a.m. local time, "killing the agency's two security guards and a cook" as well as a soldier from a nearby security post. The report was confirmed by a VARA representative in Kandahar. AH
 COALITION SAYS IT REGRETS DETENTION OF WOMAN IN EASTERN AFGHANISTANA spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition on 29 November apologized for the detention of a woman whose husband is believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda, adding that she was freed after being asked a few questions by female coalition forces, Kabul-based Hindukosh News Agency reported the same day. The woman was detained along with three men, and the U.S. spokesman said the United States regretted all four detentions. The incident, in Nangarhar Province, sparked reports of public protests by Afghans offended by the detention of a woman by American forces. One unconfirmed report by Afghan Islamic Press on 28 November reported that a young girl was killed when she was caught in the crossfire between an angry mob and security guards protecting a nearby construction company. AH
 PAKISTAN SAYS IT WILL PULL HUNDREDS OF TROOPS FROM TENSE BORDER AREA WITH AFGHANISTANPakistani Army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said on 27 November that his country will withdraw hundreds of soldiers from a tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, where ethnic and tribal tensions run high, AP and AFP reported. The Pakistani troops have reportedly been engaged in the continuing hunt for Al-Qaeda elements. Military checkpoints will be handed over to police, Sultan said, but Pakistani soldiers will remain in other parts of the region. Some 200 soldiers and 300 suspected militants have been killed in an eight-month effort to drive suspected Al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban elements out of the region, the news agencies reported. AH
 DISPUTE OVER DATE OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION DATE CONTINUES IN IRANInterior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari on 17 November said the next presidential election will be on 20 May 2005, IRNA reported. He had previously recommended a date of 13 May, which the Guardians Council rejected (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October and 15 November 2004). On 27 November, Guardians Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said Musavi-Lari's latest proposal is also unacceptable, IRNA reported. Elham cited a legal requirement that the election occur three months before the end of the president's term -- President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's term ends on 2 August -- and said therefore the election process should begin on 2 May, with voting in early June. Dispute has also arisen over the vote-counting process. Elham said the Interior Ministry has proposed using the same vote-counting equipment from the previous presidential election (in 2001), but the equipment is reportedly outdated and inefficient. New software and hardware should be designed, he said, so Guardians Council staff can monitor its performance. BS
 FIRST CANDIDATE ANNOUNCED FOR IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACERadio Farda reported on 27 November that the first person to announce their candidacy for the 2005 presidential election is former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, currently an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Velayati is considered a conservative candidate. Other prospective conservative candidates include Ali Larijani, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Ahmad Tavakoli. BS
 IAEA TO CONTINUE CONSIDERING IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAMIAEA discussion of Iran's nuclear program, which began on 25 November, will resume on 29 November, IRNA reported on 27 November. France, Germany, and the U.K. warned Iran that if an agreement to freeze parts of the country's nuclear program is not finalized by 29 November, they will not oppose the imposition of economic sanctions against Iran, Reuters reported from Vienna on 27 November, citing unnamed diplomats. Tehran jeopardized the discussions when it demanded an exemption from the freeze so it could continue to use 20 centrifuges. An unnamed "senior Iranian diplomat at the IAEA" told IRNA late on 26 November that Tehran will not drop its demand for the exemption. AP reported on 28 November that Iran has agreed not to test any centrifuges. The centrifuges that Iran wants exempted will not be sealed by the IAEA -- broken seals indicate use of the equipment -- but will be monitored by cameras. BS
 GERMAN MAGAZINE DESCRIBES SECRET IRANIAN NUCLEAR FACILITYGermany's "Der Spiegel" magazine announced on 27 November that it has acquired documents describing a secret underground facility near Isfahan that could be used for producing uranium hexafluoride (UF6), Reuters reported. The documents reportedly come from an unnamed intelligence agency. According to "Der Spiegel," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a directive for construction of the underground facility. BS
 CENTCOM COMMANDER WARNS IRANU.S. Army General and CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid said in a 26 November interview that Iran and other countries should not underestimate U.S. military power, Radio Farda reported, citing AFP. Abizaid was responding to a question about the U.S. military's ability to take action against Iran despite its engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Why the Iranians would want to move against us in an overt manner that would cause us to use our air or naval power against them would be beyond me," Abizaid said. "We have an incredible amount of power." He cited the recent attack on Al-Fallujah as an example of what a relatively limited number of troops could accomplish when supported by air power. "And so we can generate more military power per square inch than anybody else on earth, and everybody knows it," he said. BS
 VIOLENCE FLARES IN WESTERN IRAQI TOWNA suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside a police station in the town of Al-Ramadi on 29 November, killing 12 police officers, Al-Jazeera reported. Reuters reported that 10 persons were wounded. Local physician Nazar al-Hiti told Reuters that 90 percent of the victims were policemen who were waiting to receive their paychecks when the attack happened. Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day that Brigadier General Fadi al-Namrawi, a commander in the Iraqi National Guard, survived an assassination attempt while traveling back to Al-Ramadi from the nearby city of Hit on 28 November. A civilian was also killed by a sniper in the center of Al-Ramadi on 28 November, Al-Sharqiyah reported. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 28 November that gunmen in the town took control of a government building and a police station and, after telling police to evacuate and seizing weapons that were stored in the police station, blew both buildings up. Al-Arabiyah reported on 27 November that U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out an operation in the eastern neighborhoods of the town that included a raid on the homes of doctors and certain wards in the Al-Ramadi hospital. KR
 KARBALA POLICE CATCH WOULD-BE BOMBER AT CENTRAL PRISONPolice arrested a would-be suicide bomber at the Karbala Central Prison on 28 November, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Police spokesman Rahman Mushawi said a man attempting to carry a large quantity of explosives into the inner prison courtyard during visiting hours was caught by police before he could detonate the explosives. Mushawi said the man told police that he planned to detonate the bomb inside the prison, but that he did not say why. KR
 WEAPONS, BOMB-LADEN CARS UNCOVERED IN BAGHDAD MOSQUE RAIDNational Guard forces reportedly uncovered a weapons cache and seven booby-trapped cars in a raid on the Yasin Mosque in Baghdad on 27 November, the Shi'ite News Agency (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 28 November. The report cited a National Guard source as saying that one Strela rocket, nine Strela missiles, 30 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 25 Kalashnikov rifles and other automatic weapons, dozens of hand grenades, and equipment to make car bombs were seized in the raid. Seized documents included pamphlets urging Iraqis not to participate in the January elections, the website reported. KR
 U.K. TO SEND 1,000 SOLDIERS TO IRAQ BEFORE ELECTIONSThe British government is finalizing a plan to deploy up to 1,000 soldiers to Iraq in the run-up to the national elections scheduled for 30 January, London's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 28 November. Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, have been put on notice and are expected to leave for southern Iraq by the end of the year, the report said. The 650-member unit will be supported by soldiers from other units to form a 1,000-strong force. KR
 The Canny Populist Who Could Become Armenia's Next PresidentBy Emil Danielyan
When a new party called Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) was set up in Armenia nearly five years ago, it was widely dismissed as one of myriad political groups doomed to political oblivion. But it went on to win six parliament seats in the May 1999 elections and more than three times that number in the next polls four years later, becoming the country's second largest pro-establishment force.
The key to the party's success is its 36-year-old leader, Artur Baghdasarian, who became speaker of the current Armenian parliament and is regarded as a potential successor to President Robert Kocharian. Revered by his supporters but despised by his foes, Baghdasarian has made a spectacular career over the past decade. He has managed to adapt swiftly to the changing political environment and build a solid grassroots structure, something that no other party supporting Kocharian can boast.
A lawyer by training, Baghdasarian began his political activities in 1995 as an enthusiastic supporter of then President Levon Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) party. Baghdasarian made his name as the head of a lawyers association and the host of a TV program that promoted Armenia's post-Soviet Constitution, which was endorsed in a controversial referendum in July 1995. He was elected to parliament on the HHSh ticket in the parliamentary ballot held concurrently with that referendum.
Baghdasarian was among dozens of lawmakers who defected from the HHSh-led parliament majority in February 1998 and thus helped precipitate Ter-Petrosian's resignation. He has since played down his past links with the unpopular "former regime," repeatedly criticizing it in public speeches.
Orinats Yerkir contested the relatively clean 1999 elections along with scores of other small parties and blocs, most of which also had vague populist platforms and were likewise loyal to Kocharian. But Orinats Yerkir outperformed them with a barrage of television advertisements and Baghdasarian's populist appeal, its most potent weapon. It was also the first Armenian party to understand the importance of grassroots and targeting of specific segments of the population.
Orinats Yerkir currently claims to have tens of thousands of members across the country. Significantly, its structures comprise nationwide associations of small traders, teachers, doctors and other professionals. It also numbers among its members a growing number of wealthy individuals with connections to the present government.
All of this greatly contributed to Orinats Yerkir's much stronger showing in the elections held in May 2003. The party now has the second largest faction in the National Assembly, holding 22 of its 131 seats. Anecdotal evidence suggests that unlike the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the main powerful government faction led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Orinats Yerkir did not benefit from the numerous vote irregularities reported by both domestic and international observers.
Immediately after he created Orinats Yerkir, rumors identified Baghdasarian as a protege of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Kocharian's most powerful associate. That hypothesis was reinforced by Baghdasarian's election as parliament speaker in June 2003, to which the HHK, which has more parliament seats, agreed only under strong pressure from Kocharian and Sarkisian. In addition, Orinats Yerkir formally became a governing party, obtaining three ministerial posts in Markarian's cabinet.
Baghdasarian's growing political clout fueled speculation that he is being groomed as Armenia's next president in the event that Kocharian decides to resign after completing his second term in office in 2008, in accordance with the article of the constitution that bars any one individual from serving more than two consecutive terms. Indeed, Baghdasarian is arguably the most popular and "electable" pro-Kocharian politician in Armenia.
But observers caution that Kocharian is likely to select as his successor only someone whom he can fully trust. Sarkisian, they say, has proved a more reliable ally, especially during last spring's failed opposition campaign for Kocharian's resignation, which Baghdasarian failed to explicitly condemn. Sarkisian, by contrast, is believed to have played a key role in a tough crackdown on the Armenian opposition which quelled the street protests in Yerevan.
Baghdasarian's ambiguous stance reinforced the perception that he is inconsistent and switches sides easily. It also underscored his close attention to the popular mood, which does not seem to favor the Armenian president. Baghdasarian may have publicly campaigned for Kocharian's reelection in 2003, but he never emphasized his close ties with the ruling regime during parliamentary election campaigns.
On the contrary, Orinats Yerkir posed as a vocal opposition force, even though it has never been in opposition to the ruling regime. Baghdasarian's discourse on government corruption and the difficult socioeconomic situation in Armenia still differs very little from that of opposition leaders, except for the fact that he rarely names names. In one such exception, in May Baghdasarian publicly accused Justice Minister David Harutiunian (another potential Kocharian successor) of misappropriating a $4.5 million World Bank loan designed to shore up Armenia's judiciary. Both Harutiunian and the World Bank denied the allegations, but that did not prevent Baghdasarian from scoring more points with the disgruntled electorate.
Orinats Yerkir's own track record in government has been less than impressive. Two of its three ministers were forced to step down last April under scandalous circumstances. Its third cabinet member, Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, is also in a shaky position, dogged by reports about persisting large-scale bribery in the admission of students to state-run universities.
The party's key 2003 campaign pledge was to compensate Armenians whose Soviet-era bank savings were wiped out by the hyperinflation of the early 1990s, but that effort is falling flat. An Orinats Yerkir bill put forward earlier this year called for $70 million in public funds to be set aside for that purpose. However, its passage was blocked by the government, which argues that it has no money to finance the scheme. The Orinats Yerkir ministers have voiced no objections to that argument.
Yet this will not necessarily lose Orinats Yerkir votes in the next elections. Its leaders, no doubt, will say that they need more parliament seats and ministerial portfolios to pull the government strings. Baghdasarian, better known for his politicking flair than intelligence, has already proved how rewarding populism can be in Armenia.
Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent in Yerevan.