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RFE/RL Review August 20, 2004

The Best of RFE/RL Broadcast Service Reporting
Week of August 14-20, 2004

RFE/RL's Arabic language service, broadcasting as Radio Free Iraq (RFI), provided in-depth coverage of one of the most important and controversial political events to take place in post-Saddam Iraq - the National Conference that was tasked to select a 100-member interim legislative National Assembly. The gathering took place in the context of a critical security situation, as gunmen loyal to cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr clashed with multinational forces and Iraqi police and military forces.
RFI correspondent Jumana Al-Obeidi spent all four days at the conference, reporting on the main events and challenges facing the forum and securing many interviews with representatives of the major political, ethnic, religious and other groups. Al-Obeidi's coverage was supplemented with the reports of other RFI correspondents based in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq and throughout the region. Listeners were able to hear the views of political parties, movements and a variety of other organizations, as well as political analysts and members of the public surveyed in the streets about the importance of the National Conference, its major difficulties and potential influence on the future of Iraq. RFI broadcasters in Prague assembled analytical pieces that looked at different aspects of the National Conference.
The stand-off between the Mahdi Army loyal to Moqtada Al-Sadr and multinational forces in Najaf, Baghdad and other cities was also a focus of RFI's coverage, as it had a direct connection to developments at the National Conference. RFI correspondents provided reports on the most intense battles and interviewed witnesses as well as members of the delegation sent by the National Conference to Najaf to conduct talks with Al-Sadr about ending the crisis.
Reports and audio of RFI's coverage of the National Conference, in Arabic, are posted on Radio Free Iraq's website at:,,,,
A report in English on the National Conference, by RFE/RL correspondents Charles Recknagel and Peyman Pejman, is on RFE/RL's website at

** The Acting Director of Radio Free Iraq, Sergey Danilochkin, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service is broadcasting reports from the field as well as interviews with local experts and officials as part of its coverage of the explosive crisis between the Georgian government and the separatist republic of South Ossetia, where ongoing clashes are undermining a ceasefire signed late last week. Among those interviewed by the service is Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili, who spoke to the Georgian Service by phone from Vienna on August 18.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and other Georgian officials have called for an international conference to bring an end to instability in South Ossetia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Russia sees no need for such a forum. Russian President Vladimir Putin faulted the Georgian government for the unrest, citing Tbilisi's decision in December 1990 to end the autonomy of South Ossetia.
A report on the situation in South Ossetia by News and Current Affairs correspondent Jean-Christophe Peuch is available on the RFE/RL website at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Robert Parsons, may be reached by email at <>.

Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA), the Dari- and Pashto-language service of RFE/RL, was one of the first media outlets in Afghanistan to report on the fighting that took place on August 14 in the western Afghanistan province of Herat. RFA correspondent Basir Bekzad was on the scene, reporting live on the clashes. RFA also secured interviews with Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi and Pashtun militia force commander Amanulluh Khan, which are featured in an NCA report available on RFE/RL's website at
Battles have raged in Herat province since August 13 between the forces of two rival warlords, Amanulluh Khan and Herat Governor Ismail Khan -- the most powerful warlord in western Afghanistan. The fighting has so far left at least 25 people dead.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has sent hundreds of national army soldiers and their U.S. trainers to the area in an attempt to stop the violence, which adds to security concerns that have been voiced as Afghanistan prepares for a milestone presidential election in October.

** The Director of Radio Free Afghanistan, Andres Ilves, may be reached by email at <>.

On August 16th, RFE/RL's Georgian Service aired an exclusive interview with the country's new Minister of Economy, Kakha Bendukidze. The interview, conducted by Tbilisi-based correspondent Tamar Chikovani, can be heard in Georgian on the service's website at
Bendukidze made his name and fortune as an industrialist in Russia, putting together Russia's biggest heavy-industry group, OMZ. He returned to his native Georgia in June 2004, with a mandate to reverse more than a decade of post-Soviet economic decay. Bendukidze has made some very unpopular decisions since becoming a minister, shocking Georgians with statements asserting that Georgia should be ready to sell "everything that can be sold, except its conscience."
Bendukidze is also known for his confrontational attitude towards journalists, whom he holds responsible for spreading inaccurate information about the role of business because of their ignorance of economics. Thus it is no small coup for the Georgian Service to obtain an interview with the minister and to hear his comments on Georgia's economic situation and future prospects.
The interview did not lack for interesting statements, either. Among other assertions, Bendukidze told Chikovani that "There are businessmen coming up to me and saying, 'Mr. Bendukidze, you should understand that we are not just common businessmen, we are acting for the sake of Georgia's national interests.' These people are either mad or they are lying, for a businessman should be thinking of making money, not serving national interests."
RFE/RL Newsline Editor-in-Chief Liz Fuller's report on the interview can be found on the RFE/RL website, at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Robert Parsons, may be reached by email at <>.

Following the presentation on August 16 by U.S. President George W. Bush of his plans to redeploy U.S. troops currently stationed around the world, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service has focused on the impact this plan could have on Central Asia. President Bush gave few details in his presentation, but much of the discussion has focused on the U.S. military bases being shifted from their current locations in places like Germany and South Korea to new locations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The Uzbek Service interviewed U.S., Russian and Uzbek experts, as well as Uzbek human rights activists and opposition members for their August 17 report, a transcript of which can be read (in Uzbek) on service's website at
Alexey Arbatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences described his view of the geopolitical intentions underlying the U.S. plan: "This all causes much concern to Russia, because it is obvious that such a redeployment is not necessary for the struggle against terrorism. It seems to me that it is a pretext for military engagement and not letting Russia influence neighboring countries."
Kamoliddin Rabbimov, an independent Uzbek expert, does not expect a large increase in the number of U.S. troops stationed in Uzbekistan: "In recent months, U.S.-Uzbek relations have become more complicated. Uzbekistan has shifted its foreign policy by 180 degrees. Now it seems that the vectors of Uzbekistan's foreign policy are pointed towards Russia."
"Erk" party activist Atonazar Arifov said a more permanent U.S. military presence could strengthen anti-American feeling among Uzbeks. "I welcome American democracy, but I cannot respect the use of force," Arifov said. "Uzbekistan might turn into a center of anti-Americanism. Three or four years ago it was possible here to speak about the absence of Anti-Americanism. Since Uzbekistan joined the anti-terror coalition, we feel some anti-American feelings among people and now these are increasing in Uzbekistan."

** The Director of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Adolat Najimova, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service hosted a live on-line conference on August 18 with the dean of the recently closed Minsk-based European Humanities University, Prof. Anatol Mikhaylaw. Excerpts from the conference is featured on RFE/RL's Belarus Service website at
The conference lasted for almost two hours. Some 500 participants submitted more than 80 questions to Prof. Mikhaylaw.
Mikhaylaw, currently participating in a training program in Washington, said all displaced students of EHU will be offered places at foreign institutions of higher learning, in countries such as the U.S., Germany, Poland and Bulgaria.
A Belarusian government directive in late July to close the EHU, which was financed by grants from international organizations and staffed by western professors, has been met with widespread condemnation by the international community.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, Alexander Lukashuk, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service aired a series of special programs to commemorate the 50th anniversary of RFE/RL broadcasts to Ukraine. Ukrainian language programs were first broadcast by Radio Liberty on August 16, 1954.
On August 15th, the hour-long roundtable show "Pro i Contra," broadcast from the service's bureau in Kyiv, took a look at the last fifty years of Ukrainian Service programming. Roundtable participants included former dissident and political prisoner Yevhen Sverstiuk, who started listening RFE/RL's programs in the 50s, Larisa Mudrak, a former employee and now editor-in-chief of the weekly "Delovaja Nedelia" (Business Week), and Aleksander Narodetsky, Ukrainian Service director and veteran broadcaster. The program, in Ukrainian, can be heard at
Ukrainian Service broadcasting on the actual date of the anniversary was dominated by special programs that brought in as featured guests Soviet-era officials who were involved in "jamming" Ukrainian-language transmissions into the country. One of those interviewed, Ukraine's first post-Soviet President Leonid Kravchuk, was one of the key officials in charge of ideology at the Ukrainian communist party during the 1980's. Kravchuk told listeners how party functionaries dealt with RFE/RL programs, saying that ''During the Soviet era, the system of jamming radio programs was invented. The Soviet authorities, the Communist party and the KGB organized it. I knew some of the costs. Now I don't remember them, but I remember that the cost of our jamming was much higher than the costs they (the Americans) needed to run this radio station.'' Another guest, Mr. Filipchenko, was a technician whose job involved the jamming of RFE/RL transmissions in the Kyiv region. A note of welcome irony: it was noted during the programs that the same facilities used to jam RFE/RL broadcasts were used, during the 1990's, to transmit Ukrainian Service programs to listeners in Ukraine. Audio from these interviews (in Ukrainian) can be heard at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Alexander Narodetsky, may be reached by email at <>.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a private, international communications service to Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central and Southwestern Asia funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

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Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. "RFE/RL Review" is a weekly compilation of the best programming produced by the 19 services of the RFE/RL broadcast network. RFE/RL broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of programming a week in 28 languages to 20 countries in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central and Southwestern Asia.

For more information about any of the stories mentioned in "RFE/RL Review," or to learn more about RFE/RL, please contact Martins Zvaners at <> or by calling +1-202-457-6948.