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RFE/RL Review January 13, 2006

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The Best of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Reporting
December 17-January 13, 2005

RFE/RL COVERS HAJJ, LISTENERS' EXPERIENCES The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage of more than two million Muslims to Mecca was a top story for many RFE/RL Services in the first two weeks of January. Central News assigned a correspondent in the region cover the pilgrimage and all services pooled information and material that was compiled into a four-part series describing the background and meaning of Hajj rituals, as well as its modern-day problems. The three major reports looked at: "The History, Rituals and Meaning of the Pilgrimage" (, "Increasing Numbers of Younger Pilgrims Undertaking the Journey" (, "Complaints of Bribery, Corruption, Price-Gouging Taint Religious Pilgrimage" ( and "Pilgrims Dismiss Terror Fears Amid Saudi Security Deployment" ( Radio Free Iraq ( had a correspondent in Mecca who filed regular reports and audio cuts used by most broadcast services. He was able to interview pilgrims from Baghdad and Fallujah, reporting on the progress of the Hajj and the spiritual feelings of participants. In a program broadcast January 7, correspondent Kojogeldi Kuluev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service ( spoke with a representative of Kyrgyzstan's Hajj organization headquarters in Mecca, Daut Aby-Uulu, who confirmed that "1,600 Kyrgyz pilgrims have arrived by plane... [and] have already started the rituals of the Hajj." Contacted later in the week to comment on the tragic loss of life during a panic stampede in Mina, Aby-Uulu told RFE/RL that "the main issue there was that the pilgrims did not properly understand the rules and orders of the Saudi Hajj Ministry. If they had followed all the instructions by the Saudi's Hajj Ministry, there would not have been such a disaster." Radio Free Afghanistan ( broadcast interviews January 10 with two participants after their return from Saudi Arabia. A man named Wajehurahaman told Radio Free Afghanistan that "the Hajj is an obligation and one of the pillars of Islam. We performed the Hajj and I feel that Almighty God has forgiven our sins." Another, Mohammad Jalal said: "after Hajj, you get this feeling of humbleness. We hope that Almighty God has forgiven our sins. Hajj is the pillar of Islam that we performed. Obviously, we feel some changes in our morals. Hajj brings one down from haughtiness and arrogance."

UKRAINIAN SERVICE FOLLOWS GONGADZE TRIAL RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service had a correspondent at the courthouse in Kyiv on January 9, for the opening of the trial of three former Interior Ministry officers accused of involvement in the 2000 assassination of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. RFE/RL's correspondent said relatives, lawyers and journalists packed the tiny courtroom to overflowing ( Among those attending was Gongadze's wife Myroslava, who now lives in the United States. She spoke to reporters and separately, later, to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service ( Gongadze said the trial was just a first step, asserting that former Interior Ministry Oleksiy Pukach was one of the main organizers of her husband´┐Żs killing. Pukach is wanted in Ukraine, but remains at large, whereabouts unknown. Mrs. Gongadze said in the interview that "the next step will be when the organizers of this crime will be brought to justice... they are known and they must be punished as well as the people sitting in the dock today." The trial was adjourned until January 23. The three defendants, Valeriy Kostenko, Mykola Protasov and Oleksandr Popovych, are standing trial at the Kyiv Appeals Court, charged with the late 2000 murder of the 31-year old investigative reporter -- a crime that became a focal point for pro-democratic forces seeking the removal of then-President Leonid Kuchma. Gongadze's beheaded body was found in a forest near Kyiv two months after he disappeared in September 2000 (a timeline of the Gongadze case may be found at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Olga Buriak, may be reached by email at <>. The Ukrainian Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Ukraine can be found at

ROMANIA/MOLDOVA SERVICE MONITORS CIA PRISONS PUBLICITY RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service noted the continuing controversy over reports of secret CIA prisons in Romania and other countries in the region. The issue was revived by a Swiss intelligence report leaked to as Swiss newspaper ( RFE/RL reported the article and reaction of the Swiss government, as well as a fresh denial from the Romanian Defense Ministry. On January 10, the service aired an interview with British Labor MP Claude Moraes about the claim that a secret CIA prison was located in Romania and the possible impact such a revelation, if proven, might have on Romania's integration into the European Union ( Moraes said it is purely a human rights issue and that all countries wanting to join the European Union must respect human rights. "That's a very serious issue that Romania has to take seriously into consideration," Moraes said.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service, Oana Serafim, may be reached by email at <>. The Romania/Moldova Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Moldova can be found at and in Romania at

NORTH CAUCASUS REPORTS ON SPREADING MILITARY CONFLICT... The focus of RFE/RL North Caucasus Service coverage in the first days of 2006 has been on fighting in the region around Chechnya ( As Moscow and its local allies continue their military campaign in Chechnya, the conflict has spread outward to neighboring Russian republics. The beginning of the New Year brought the violence to Dagestan, where for several days the Russian Air Force, Army, marines and special units of the Russian Army's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), aided by Dagestani Interior Ministry troops and riot police, pounded suspected rebel positions with air and artillery strikes. RFE/RL brought daily updates of their attempts to eliminate a small band entrenched in the mountains near the villages of Gimry and Shamilkala, where authorities claim militant Islamic sentiment is strong. Despite the fact that security forces sealed off the area, North Caucasus service correspondents were able to talk to residents and local officials. One local resident, Abdulayev told RFE/RL, People feel as if laws are not created to defend citizens in Dagestan and officials and security forces can do whatever they want." Other villagers told RFE/RL that, notwithstanding the overwhelming force used against them for several days, most of the fighters survived, did not surrender and slipped away.

** The Director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Aslan Doukaev, may be reached by email at <>. English-language news about events in the North Caucasus region can be found at

...CHECHEN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ON HUNGER STRIKE The North Caucasus Service also followed the fate of Chechen human rights activist and former Soviet boxing champion Said-Emin Ibragimov, who has been on a hunger strike since December 10. Ibragimov, who spoke to the North Caucasus Service on January 3 from the French city of Strasbourg where he lives in exile, told the service that the international community must do more to solve the Chechen crisis ( During the interview, Ibragimov said, "We are asking for attention from the European Parliament, PACE, the United Nations... We are asking to recognize that the rights of the Chechen people have been violated. We are asking to state it in a legal form and to restore these rights. If these demands are met, the hunger strike will end."

** The Director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Aslan Doukaev, may be reached by email at <>. English-language news about events in the North Caucasus region can be found at

BELARUS SERVICE TRACKS HARASSMENT OF OPPOSITION CANDIDATES RFE/RL's Belarus Service is providing comprehensive coverage of the run-up to that country's March 19 presidential election, tracking presidential candidates and their attempts to collect the 100,000 voter signatures required to register on the ballot. Three of the seven candidates have managed to reach the mark, including united opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich. But signature collectors for Milinkevich and other opposition candidates say they are being harassed, routinely stopped by the authorities and prevented from canvassing voters, even having signature lists confiscated. Milinkevich is seen as the strongest of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's challengers, but in an RFE/RL interview he said he did not have sufficient support to defeat incumbent president Alyaksandr Lukashenka in March. "It's impossible to beat Lukashenka in the elections... we will use the elections -- which are our constitutional right -- to conduct a broad political campaign. We hope to win this campaign," Milinkevich said. Lukashenka, seeking an unprecedented third term, claims to have already collected nearly a million signatures. Milinkevich and another candidate, Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) leader Alyaksandr Kazulin, have also passed the 100,000-signature threshold, overcoming intimidation and threats to their supporters ( RFE/RL interviewed two activists who gathered signatures for independent candidates. Nina Kavalyova, an instructor at a workers' hostel in Vitsyebsk, told RFE/RL during a January 10 interview that "some people in our district collected signatures for Lukashenka, while I collected for Milinkevich. I got 124 signatures in Pershamayski District alone. Then yesterday, I was summoned by my manager who told me: 'Go to the human resources department. You need to tender your resignation'" ( Valyantsina Kudlatskaya from Homel was collecting signatures for both Milinkevich and Kazulin, when she and her colleagues were subjected to a police search: "Our nomination group was turned upside down by police last week. Police officers even called at our homes and workplaces. They had orders to check everything. There were phone calls from the KGB. Now some members of the nomination group are going to stop collecting signatures because they were told to choose between collecting signatures or keeping their jobs." Kudlatskaya said, during the January 9 interview, that other activists campaigning for Kazulin in Minsk were pressured to stop collecting signatures, while campaigners for Lukashenka collected signatures in workplaces during work hours, which is forbidden by the Electoral Code ( The Belarus Service has begun a series of weekly on-line conferences with the potential presidential candidates. So far, guests have included Milinkevich, Christian-Conservative Party leader-in-exile Zianon Pazniak, Liberal Democratic Party chairman Siarhiej Hajdukevich ( and former chairman of the Belarusian Senate Aliaksandr Vajtovich who has since dropped out of the race, calling the election "a farce" ( The service also conducted a roundtable on the issue of Russian natural gas supplies to its neighbors on January 8 with five of the candidates, including Hajdukevich, Kazulin, Milinkevich, Pazniak and former General Valery Fralou (an English transcript of the roundtable is available at A sampling of Belarus Service pre-election coverage can be found at:;;;;;;;

** The Director of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, Alexander Lukashuk, may be reached by email at <>. The Belarusian Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Belarus can be found at

TAJIK SERVICE AT SCENE OF FIRE TRAGEDY A correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service was at the scene of a deadly orphanage fire in Dushanbe on January 8 that killed thirteen children ( Zebunniso Sarifova, a woman who lives near the orphanage told RFE/RL that her family helped evacuate 66 children. In the interview, Sarifova said that firefighters did not arrive until the building had burnt to the ground. She said: "All six members of my family were here. When [the firefighters] came, we had already evacuated all the living children. I think 13 children have died. I was afraid to approach the dead children. It wasn't possible for us to enter the burning building." The Tajik Service continued to follow the story with reports of an ongoing investigation and criticism that lives might have been saved if firemen had arrived earlier on the scene ( On January 9, it aired a full report of an emergency meeting called by Tajik president Imomali Rahmanov and interviews with government officials, including Abdufattoh Sharipov, the president's spokesman. Three high ranking officials --Labor and Social Affairs Minister Zokir Vazirov, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs Kheirinessa Mavlanova and Social Affairs chief in the President's Office Bobokhon Mahmadov -- have been reprimanded for "negligence" in handling the fire ( The Tajik government is paying the cost of the funerals for the 13 children and has filed charges against the head of the orphanage, Ilhom Ashurov, who allegedly did not call the fire brigade until one hour after the fire started. A special committee has been set up to investigate the details and report to the President in 10 days.

** The Acting Director of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Normahmad Kholov, may be reached by email at <>. The Tajik Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Tajikistan can be found at

RFE/RL MOBILIZES CORRESPONDENTS FOR BIRD FLU COVERAGE RFE/RL mobilized correspondents in more than a dozen countries as the number of human bird flu cases rose in Turkey, alarming its neighbors and serving as a wake-up call to governments in the region. RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Georgian, Russian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar-Bashkir and other services, as well as correspondents in Turkey, the U.S., Belgium, and Britain reported on the situation, international efforts and official positions in affected countries. RFE/RL found that in Turkmenistan's southern Mary region, unconfirmed reports said birds were dying but government-controlled media remained silent and the population knows nothing of the disease or the dangers of handling and eating infected poultry ( Elsewhere in Central Asia, RFE/RL correspondents found local media were reporting the outbreak in Turkey and some governments, particularly Russian and Uzbek, strengthened border checks but there was no public information campaign to educate people about the disease, its treatment and prevention. Tajikistan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan banned poultry imports from Turkey and Russia imposed travel restrictions, even organizing special flights to bring home some of the thousands of Russian citizens on Hajj in the Middle East who had traveled through Turkey ( RFE/RL interviewed international experts and UN and other officials to broadcast programs on bird flu symptoms, medical recommendations and preventive measures. Earlier, a program broadcast by the Kyrgyz Service January 9, brought to listeners a taste of what it is like to live in an infected zone. RFE/RL interviewed several villagers in the Van province of eastern Turkey, a center of the bird flu epidemic, not far from the border with Armenia. The villagers were ethnic Kyrgyz from Uluu Pamir village in the Van province. Abdulaziz Kesikli told RFE/RL that the authorities were not able to collect and cull poultry everywhere and that "our people are voluntarily giving up their chickens and in some cases burnt their birds themselves." Kesikli is one of some 3000 ethnic Kyrgyz, originally from Afghanistan, who settled in Turkey in the 1980s, fleeing the Soviet invasion of their homeland.

** The Acting Executive Producer of RFE/RL's Central Newsroom, Nenad Pejic, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, may be reached by email at <>. The Kyrgyz Service's website is at http://www.

TAJIK SERVICE EXPLORES RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE ON IRAN RFE/RL's Tajik Service explored Russian views on the growing controversy over Iran's nuclear program. Russian officials including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently indicated they would not block a Security Council referral, although they would likely still oppose sanctions. Russia in the past has discouraged a push by the United States and Europe to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its pursuit of a complete nuclear fuel cycle that Western governments fear could be used to make atomic weapons. But Moscow now seems to be signaling a change in its stance toward Tehran. Vladimir Mukhin, a military analyst with the Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" and a professor at the country's Academy of Military Sciences, spoke on January 11 to Ivanov about Iran. Mukhin later shared his thoughts about the subject with RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Iskandar Aliev ( In his interview with RFE/RL, Mukhin said that, in his view, the Russian chiefs of staff are not excluding the possibility of a military solution. "That's exactly what we're thinking about right now," Mukhin told the Tajik Service. "Why? Because it is clear that Iran is challenging the West, particularly the United States, but also, to some extent, Russia. Tehran rejected Russia's proposal to enrich Iranian uranium on our soil, saying they wanted to do it on their own. We can speculate, with some certainty, on Iran's desire to build an A-bomb and, if we have sufficient basis for suspicion, then military action against Tehran will be highly likely." Mukhin said further that "it is not profitable for Russia to impose sanctions on Iran, since we just recently signed an agreement to sell them nearly $1 billion worth of medium-range anti-aircraft weapons. These modern weapons are capable of hitting targets of up to 25 kilometers away and will probably be used to defend various testing sites in Iran." Mukhin told RFE/RL that, because of its lucrative trade with Iran, he is "100 percent sure that Russia will block any sanctions, because it profits from trade with Iran and loses out from sanctions against the country. At the same time, Russia understands that the Iranian regime is taking certain false steps and this is where diplomacy must be put to work." Mukhin added that Iran may agree to enrich its uranium in Russia and that Russia has ways in which it can pressure Iran. In response to a final question from Aliev about growing Iranian investment in Tajikistan, Mukhin said "In Tajikistan, Iran is no competition for Russia... Russia profits from the investment, even if it comes from Iran. This isn't bad at all. It revives the country and Russia benefits from a stronger Tajikistan, so in this case Iran's actions are only welcome... You may be aware that currently, with India's help, Tajikistan is modernizing the airfield in Aigi and a new Russian air base will be stationed there."

** The Acting Director of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Normahmad Kholov, may be reached by email at <>. The Tajik Service's website is at; English-language news about events in Tajikistan can be found at

TURKMEN SERVICE INTERVIEW ON PRESS FREEDOMS The Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on January 4 released its annual global survey of press freedom, in which it reported that 63 journalists were killed in 2005 and some 1,300 were physically attacked ( RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondent Mohammad Tahir spoke with Anabel Arki, head of the organization's post-Soviet section, about press freedom issues in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan ( In programs broadcast that week, Arki said "the most dangerous zone in the world in 2005 without any doubt was Iraq." Asked about Turkmenistan, he noted that Russian journalist Viktor Panov of the RIA Novosti state press agency was expelled, ostensibly for spying. Arki said "there is very little information about what is happening in Turkmenistan because the country is quite closed... The regime of the president controls entirely the country. All media are controlled by the state and it is quite impossible for foreign journalists to get into Turkmenistan. They cannot get entry visas." Arki said there is little hope of any improvement this year since President Saparmurat Niyazov is elected for life.

** The Director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Alexander Narodetsky, may be reached by email at <>. English-language news about events in Turkmenistan can be found at

RFE/RL in the News

RFE/RL LAUNCHES NEW TELEVISION PROGRAM IN KYRGYZSTAN RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, in partnership with Kyrgyz state television has launched a new youth program that aired for the first time on January 16. Called "Azattyk Plus TV Show," the 30-minute program is aimed at young people aged 15 to 29. RFE/RL Acting President Jeff Trimble noted that latest census figures show nearly 30 percent of the Kyrgyz population, or one and a half million people, belong into this age bracket. "We aim to attract these young people to Radio Azattyk and its message of democracy," Trimble said. The first Azattyk Plus TV Show aired at 5:30 PM Kyrgyz time (6:30 AM EST) with segments on Internet cafes in Kyrgyzstan, the meaning and practice of flash-mobbing, how the Internet brings families together and other topics. RFE/RL's partner, the Kyrgyz National Broadcasting Corporation (KTR) is the only nation-wide TV network in the country. It will carry Azattyk Plus TV Show as a weekly, live program, providing technical support. Under the partnership agreement, RFE/RL has full editorial control. The show is prepared and moderated by broadcasters in RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau and the audio will be rebroadcast the next day on Radio Azattyk. Azattyk Plus TV Show is RFE/RL's second program on Kyrgyz television. Radio Azattyk's award-winning talk show, "Inconvenient Questions," has been on KTR since May 2005. The weekly program features one guest answering tough questions from an RFE/RL host on business, politics, social problems and the economy. The independent "Zamandash" magazine last month gave "Inconvenient Questions" an award for "the best TV show of 2005."

** The Director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, may be reached by email at <>. The Kyrgyz Service's website is at http://www.; English-language news about events in Kyrgyzstan can be found at

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Copyright (c) 2006. 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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