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RFE/RL Review December 31, 2004

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The Best of RFE/RL Broadcast Service Reporting
Week of December 18-31, 2004

SUMMARY: Elections, anniversaries, death and destruction dominated RFE/RL news in late December. RFE/RL broadcasts to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine focused on presidential and municipal elections in those countries. Radio Free Iraq was busy with the increase in killings and bombings, framing the continuing drive to register voters for the all- important January 30 parliamentary election in Iraq. RFE/RL broadcasts to Romania reminded listeners of the historical and bloody events of 1989 that toppled the communist regime of president Ceausescu while providing up to the minute reporting on formation of the new government in Romania, sworn in on December 29, 2004. Radio Free Afghanistan observed the 25th anniversary of the Soviet invasion, receiving a flood of calls from listeners in response to its invitation to share views and experiences during a live program with senior Afghan officials. RFE/RL's Russian Service brought much needed clarity and expert opinion to its listeners concerning the shadowy sale of Yukos assets, as well as debunking the many euphemisms and distortions on Chechnya, Yukos, media freedoms, etc. found in President Putin's public statements this past month. All RFE/RL services broadcast extensively this past week on the tsunami catastrophe in southern Asia. Programming included interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses from RFE/RL's broadcast region, relief workers and international scientists and officials coping with the disaster.

COVERING THE TSUNAMI DISASTER Radio Farda found out from Iranians in India about damage to nuclear facilities caused by the tsunami and broadcast the news December 26, two days before news agency reports made it general knowledge. The Russian Service spoke with several travel agencies in Russia confirming that the coast of southern Asia is a popular tourist site for Russians in winter and that most Russian holiday-makers were not being evacuated nor were they canceling plans to travel to tsunami-affected countries. The Kazakh Service responded to listeners' anxiety and broadcast a roundtable with experts discussing predictions for a major earthquake in Almaty. RFE/RL's Turkmen and Uzbek Services aired similar programs on the likelihood of earthquakes in their countries. In an interview broadcast 29 December, the Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman used RFE/RL airwaves to announce a warning to Kazakh citizens not to travel to Southeast Asia because of the threat of disease in the wake of the disaster. The Armenian Service aired an interview December 29 with NASA's leading geophysicist, Richard Gross about the impact of the quake and whether it had altered the earth's axis as stated by some media. Gross denounced the statement as untrue. The interview was also used by other services. The Belarusian Service and other RFE/RL broadcasters contacted foreign ministries to find out about citizens vacationing in the tsunami affected countries. The Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman said there were no Belarusian fatalities so far among the dead in Southeast Asia. RFE/RL's central News and Current Affairs department kept a steady flow of news reports and features for use by the services on major aspects of the disaster, including the rising death toll, threat of disease, mounting international relief effort, scale of destruction and economic consequences. A phone message news alert system in Prague was sent to advise service directors over the New Year holiday, when the casualty count reached 100,000. RFE/RL's English-language coverage of the Southeast Asian earthquake, tsunami and aftermath can be viewed at .

UKRAINIAN ELECTION ENDPLAY, START OF NEW ERA RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service went into its election drill for the third time December 26, covering the endplay of the presidential election with the same comprehensiveness and timeliness as in previous rounds despite some harassment and intimidation of RFE/RL reporters. A network of regional correspondents in Donetsk, Lviv, Kharkiv, Crimea and elsewhere watched the voting nationwide, reporting high turnout, an orderly process, and no major irregularities. But the next day, RFE/RL's correspondent in Simferopol, a pro-Russian, pro-Yanukovych stronghold, suffered extensive car damage when his car was vandalized in front of his house while he was filing a story for the live program on the elections. He received an anonymous phone call asking whether he liked what had happened to his car and whether he still liked his job as much as before. RFE/RL's three-hour live program Sunday night reviewed the election process nationwide with assessments by one political analyst in Germany and two experts in Ukraine about Ukraine's geopolitical position between Russia and the West. A two-hour live program Monday morning (Dec. 27) looked ahead to the next 100 days. Speakers noted that president-elect Victor Yushchenko will need quick and visible results to maintain momentum and not disappoint his supporters. RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine, in Kyiv on election day as a monitor for Freedom House, stayed on for discussions about media freedom with the speaker of Parliament, the mayor of Kyiv and others. He was invited to appear on Ukrainian TV on four channels discussing the role of public radio and TV in a democratic society and RFE/RL's contribution to press freedom. RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 23 December launched a news service for more than ten million cell phone users in Ukraine. The one- minute to one-and-half-minute news is updated hourly and available by dialing a special three-digit number.

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

RFE/RL REPORTS ON THE UZBEK ELECTION, NOTES CONTRAST WITH UKRAINE The parliamentary election in Uzbekistan on 26 December crowned an unexciting pre-election campaign drawing sparse international attention. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service broadcast comprehensive pre- election coverage with a number of exclusive interviews with foreign and local experts, government officials and opposition members. Finnish parliamentarian and former vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Kimmo Kiljunen told the service in an interview aired December 21 that he expected no cheating or irregularity because Uzbek authorities had already established rules that would make the election unfair and there was no need to manipulate the results. He said the media is mostly state controlled and biased and many opposition candidates have been eliminated from the race. "This is clearly a situation where you might have 'free' but not fair elections," he said ( In an exclusive interview December 22, Alain Deletroz, vice president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, noted that "all five registered parties have similar programs, and are not willing to change even a bit of Karimov's policy". He said Uzbeks cannot be expected to behave like Ukrainians because the level of repression and control in Uzbekistan is so high. "The regime in Uzbekistan becomes stronger year by year and people become poorer and this is an ideal recipe for disturbances in the future," he said ( On Election Day, the Uzbek Service stayed on the air live for four hours starting at 3 AM (Prague time). The first two hours it reported on voter turnout, assessments of observers, and the mood of voters. The Service interviewed also Uzbeks who did not go to the polls to find out why they opted not to exercise their civic rights. RFE/RL correspondents reported that many people felt the election had been ordered by the government, had nothing to do with them and it would not change their lives. The evening, two-hour, live program included reports from polling stations in all the major regions of Uzbekistan, as well as interviews with legal experts, independent observers, and voters. Many said they had not known for whom to vote, but didn't think it made any difference. Uzbekistan's Central Electoral Commission declared that more than 85 percent of 14 million voters had gone to the polls (, but RFE/RL correspondents said turnout was extremely low. In another segment of Election Day coverage, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service broadcast reaction to President Islam Karimov's remarks to the media, 26 December, rejecting western criticism of the election that as long as opposition candidates are excluded, elections in Uzbekistan will not be fair or democratic. Karimov said Uzbekistan has no real opposition and there is no popular support for those opposition groups that do exist. "Birlik discredited itself a long time ago," he said, adding criticism of the Erk and Ozod Dehqonlar parties which also were banned from participating in the election ( In response, "Birlik" leader Vasila Inoyatova declared in an RFE/RL interview that her movement has huge popularity among Uzbeks which is why Uzbek authorities would not allow the party to register for the election. Similarly, Erk party leader Muhammad Salih, noted in an RFE/RL interview that: "If we had no representation among the people as the president of Uzbekistan claimed, his government would have allowed us to participate in the elections". "Ozod Dehqonlar" party leader Nigora Hidoyatova said in the RFE/RL broadcast that in reality the people are not rejecting opposition parties, they are rejecting the government. She said the government in Uzbekistan is a group which ignores the law. "People do not trust this group anymore and this is the reality of today", she said. RFE/RL Uzbek Service coverage of the parliamentary elections (in Uzbek) can be sampled at the service's website, . English-language reports by RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs correspondents may be viewed at .

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

RFE/RL WITNESSES CLAMP-DOWN ON BELARUSIAN ELECTION MONITORS RFE/RL's Belarusian Service covered the unfolding story of 20 Belarusian election monitors who were arrested as they prepared to leave for Ukraine. The group was detained until they had missed their train and as a result the election -- but they left for Kyiv anyway the following day, December 27. The service was advised by an opposition politician that another group of Belarusian activists, who spent an entire month living in a tent on Kyiv's Independence Square, planned to return to Minsk on December 28 with their orange tent to erect it in the center of Minsk's Janka Kupala park, as a symbol of Belarusian democrats' solidarity with Victor Yushchenko's victory. In an interview broadcast the night before, the head of the Belarusian opposition United Civic Party, Anatol Liabedzka, told RFE/RL by phone from Kyiv that: "psychologically, emotionally -- [Yushchenko's victory] will send a very positive message to people in Belarus. And I hope that this process will continue, and to a certain degree will be repeated also in Belarus." However, when the group tried to put up their orange tent, all were arrested. They were released again a few hours later. Read Belarusian Service coverage of the official Belarusian government response to the Ukrainian election at , while reaction from several opposition leaders, including Liabedzka, can be found at .

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

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT RULES OUT 'TULIP' REVOLUTION IN KYRGYZSTAN RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, in addition to extensive broadcasting on events in Ukraine, is covering preparations for parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, set for 27 February. A series of party conferences and congresses all over Kyrgyzstan took place on the weekend of 24 December. The service aired highlights of a televised statement 25 December by President Askar Akayev, who appears nervous about a spillover of the Rose and Orange revolutions. Akayev accused the opposition of seeking to grab power through rallies similar to those in Ukraine in December and in Georgia in 2003, declaring that Kyrgyzstan will not undergo what he called "a foreign-aided political uprising along the lines of what happened in Georgia and Ukraine." He said his government will strive for a consensus in the country to block Western political groups that want to carry out 'a tulip revolution' in Kyrgyzstan. Asked to respond to Akayev, Jypar Jekshe, leader of the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement, told RFE/RL there would only be rallies if the government repeated what Jekshe called "past practices of election fraud." The service's reports (in Kyrgyz) on the party congress are available on its website, at:,, and Russian-language reports on the party congress are also available, at: . In its Monday morning show, 27 December, the service covered Kyrgyz reaction across the domestic political spectrum to the elections in Uzbekistan and Ukraine; coverage can be viewed at and . In an exclusive interview 29 December, the leader of the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev said that all opposition parties which had been going in different directions are now united in one front "to prevent any fraud during the parliamentary elections. If there were any illegal activities, then we would jointly fight them."

** The Director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL SOUTH SLAVIC & ALBANIAN LANGUAGES SERVICE: KOSOVO PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT ON SERB MINORITY... Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova gave an exclusive interview to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (SSALS) on 24 December about priorities and expectations for the formal talks on independence for the Serb Kosovo province that are set to begin next summer. Rugova stressed the priorities for Kosovo: the presence of stable institutions, protection of minorities and reform of local administration. He said that even if Serbs continue their boycott of Kosovo institutions, they cannot hold back the process of standards implementation. Rugova said his government has done all it can, offering Serbs 10 reserved seats in parliament, two ministries in the government, a guarantee of a deputy prime minister, guarantees for the Serbian language, minority rights in education, and other guarantees. Rugova maintains that without constant interference and manipulation by Belgrade, the Serb minority in Kosovo could be easily integrated and that 'minorities' issues be resolved when Kosovo gains its independence. He also mentioned the possibility of resuming a dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade, but noted that "Belgrade doesn't accept what happened after 1999 -- Kosovo today is something else, Kosovo is free, de facto it is an independent state and Belgrade always tries to destabilize this situation." The Rugova interview (in Albanian) is available on the SSALS website at and in Serbian at .

...MONTENEGRO PRESIDENT CALLS FOR INDEPENDENCE IN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Montenegro President Filip Vujanovic said, in an exclusive interview December 18 with RFE/RL's South Slavic & Albanian Languages Service (SSALS), that the Union of Serbia and Montenegro is unworkable, inefficient and expensive. Citing the current dispute over military reform as the latest example of financial inefficiency, Vujanovic said Serbia, as well as Montenegro would more easily integrate into Europe if the two countries were independent states. He took issue with a recent statement by Serbian president Boris Tadic that Montenegro could not join the EU before Serbia and this is one of the reasons why their union should be preserved, Vujanovic told SSALS that the speed of reform in Montenegro proves it has the capability to quickly move forward in joining the EU, while Serbia "faces an insurmountable obstacle" due to its failure to cooperate with The Hague tribunal. Vujanovic said a referendum should be held so that Montenegrin citizens could decide the status of their country in a democratic way. The referendum issue has been a stumbling block between Serbia and Montenegro as well as within Montenegro itself where almost half the population wants closer ties with Serbia. The EU, which brokered the Union of Serbia and Montenegro, does not support the concept of Montenegrin independence. The RFE/RL interview with Montenegrin president Filip Vujanovic attracted attention throughout the region and was quoted widely by media in the Balkans. It can be found on the service website, at .

...COVERS POLITICAL CRISIS IN BOSNIA SSALS coverage of the recent political crisis in Bosnia- Herzegovina helped clarify a complicated political issue that threatens to undermine the fragile peace in the country. The crisis began with the resignations of key Bosnian Serb government officials after international sanctions were applied in response to the failure of Bosnian Serbs to capture accused fugitive war criminals. RFE/RL's SSALS correspondents on both sides of the dispute in Banja Luka and Sarajevo provided accurate, timely reporting and analysis that earned praise from listeners and journalists throughout the region. They told SSALS that even members of the Bosnian Serb parliament tuned into SSALS's "3 PM news" program regularly to find out what was going on.

..RECEIVES AWARDS IN B-92 COMPETITION The work of two SSALS Serbian correspondents, Emilija Lilic and Dejan Radulovic, was rewarded on 24 December in a journalism competition sponsored by Radio TV B-92 -- the strongest private independent media company in Serbia. The jury gave 4 equal awards to the winners in the best radio story category, and SSALS correspondents received two of them. Lilic was recognized for a story on journalist Nenad Paunovic, who was ousted by authorities earlier this year. Paunovic was the host of "Labyrinth," the most popular show at local Radio Pirot, which dealt with citizens' everyday problems usually caused by governmental neglect. Paunovic exposed local authorities for their failure to tackle issues like corruption, security, and social welfare. When the Socialist party of Slobodan Milosevic returned to power in the local parliament, it sacked Paunovic. Lilic's compelling story depicted the unfavorable environment in which journalists work, particularly at the local level. She combined excerpts from Paunovic's shows and interviewed listeners disgruntled by the local authorities' actions against Paunovic. The other award-winning SSALS correspondent, Radulovic, won recognition for a human-interest story that changed the life of a homeless family from the Serbian town of Majdanpek. In mid- September, the SSALS' Serbian program broadcast the story, about the couple and their two children who were living in an old cemetery chapel with no electricity, water or heat. Radulovic visited the family and reported about their plight. The story stirred an outburst of compassion among RFE/RL listeners in Serbia, with the SSALS Belgrade bureau receiving numerous calls from people offering their help. SSALS also interviewed the Majdanpek mayor on the issue; he promised in the interview he would find a solution. The mayor kept his promise -- on 25 October, the family moved into a small flat owned by the municipality. Both stories can be found on SSALS website .

** The Director of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Omer Karabeg, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL in the Local News

* RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service launched a new daily 30-minute youth program on 27 December. The program airs in the evening, at 7 PM Bishkek time.

* RFE/RL's Azeri Service reports that, on 30 December, two of its Baku bureau members -- bureau chief Natiq Zeynalov and correspondent Shahnaz Huseynova appeared live for 20 minutes on the private Azerbaijani radio and television station ANS. Dozens of listeners called in to the program to ask questions and share comments. Starting on 1 January, RFE/RL Azeri Service programs will be broadcast every morning on the nationwide ANS radio and television network.

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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.

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