Accessibility links

Newsline - November 27, 2002


PUTIN SAYS ARMY SHOULD FOCUS ON TERRORISM...
Speaking to a gathering of senior military officers in Moscow on 26 November, President Vladimir Putin said the fight against international terrorism is their highest priority and urged them to cooperate more closely with law enforcement agencies, Russian news agencies reported. Putin also noted that the military experienced a large number of accidents and mishaps this year and said, "The country needs armed forces that can guarantee its security today and not just tomorrow," according to polit.ru. He added that the military must tighten its control over its finances and that this is the reason why some portions of the military budget have been declassified in the 2003 state budget. He concluded by giving an overall positive evaluation of the military's performance this year and said, "Public confidence that the armed forces are getting stronger and coping with the task of defending the nation's security is increasing," according to polit.ru. VY

...AND BACKS DEFENSE MINISTRY'S REQUEST TO RESTORE THE RED STAR
Addressing the same meeting, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov formally asked President Putin to restore the red star as the symbol on the military's red banner, nns.ru reported on 26 November. "The star is a sacred concept. Our grandfathers and fathers fought for this star, and we already have it on our epaulets," Ivanov said. The president then asked State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who were also in attendance, to prepare the necessary legislation. Leon Trotsky introduced the red star as the symbol of the Red Army in 1918. In December 2000, Putin signed a decree restoring the red banner as the Russian Army's official flag. VY

MEDIA BOSSES PREPARE THEIR OWN MEDIA-LAW AMENDMENTS
ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst has announced that the Industrial Committee, which unites the heads of Russia's leading media companies, has prepared a draft version of a revised mass-media law, polit.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 November. President Putin vetoed proposed amendments to the law on 25 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002) that would have strictly regulated media coverage of antiterrorism operations. Ernst said the Industrial Committee wants to finalize its revisions as quickly as possible. In addition to amendments regarding antiterrorism operations, the committee is proposing changes dealing with the coverage of natural disasters, as well as changes to the law covering the Internet. Ernst said the organization will ask Putin to submit its draft law to the Duma. VY

RUSSIA, JORDAN CALL FOR POLITICAL SETTLEMENT IN IRAQ
Speaking to journalists after a Kremlin meeting between President Putin and Jordanian King Abdullah II on 26 November, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov emphasized that the two leaders are calling for the strict implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, gazeta.ru reported. The two countries see this as "the way toward a political settlement, rather than a war." Asked if Russia is deviating from a policy of tacit consent for a possible U.S. military action against Iraq, Ivanov said Russia continues to believe "there is no military solution to the Iraqi problem." He added that the world should judge Russia's position on Iraq by its deeds. This is King Abdullah's fourth visit to Russia this year. The Jordanian monarch, who is related to the Saudi royal family, has been a staunch opponent of using military force against Hussein. VY

MOSCOW MAYOR AGAIN CALLS FOR 'PROPISKA' SYSTEM
Yurii Luzhkov has said that Moscow and other large Russian cities "must have" a mandatory residence-registration system -- such as the Soviet-era propiska system -- in order to ensure security and prevent terrorist acts, Russian news agencies reported on 26 November. Luzhkov also called for municipal authorities to be granted more control over private automobiles. He said that officials have no right to remove cars that they consider abandoned or suspicious. "Of course, we are removing them anyway in violation of the law, but this situation must be corrected," Luzhkov said. Independent commentators noted, however, that Luzhkov's long-standing adherence to rigid Soviet-style administrative measures has never increased security in the capital but has instead led to human rights violations and corruption. Moscow's residence-permit rules are used to discriminate against all non-residents, particularly those from the North Caucasus. They do not, critics contend, prevent criminals from penetrating Moscow, but simply compel them to pay large bribes to corrupt officials for permission to remain in the capital. VY

FSB TO REINDICT KRASNOYARSK SCIENTIST
Vladislav Dobrov, deputy head of the investigative department of the Krasnoyarsk branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), has said that his office will reindict local scientist Valentin Danilov in connection with suspected espionage for China, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 26 November. Danilov was arrested in February 2001 on suspicion of transferring classified information about a Russian satellite to Chinese intelligence agents. In September, a krai court found the FSB's case inadequate and sent it back for revision. The court also released Danilov from pretrial custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002). Dobrov told the newspaper that the FSB has more than enough evidence for a new indictment both for espionage and for fraud. VY

PROSECUTORS CONFISCATE EKHO MOSKVY TAPE
Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov told journalists on 26 November that an investigator from the Prosecutor-General's Office had confiscated an audio tape containing an interview with one of the Chechen fighters involved in the 23-26 October Moscow hostage drama, newsru.com reported. Venediktov said that he voluntarily handed over the tape, but noted that prosecutors had prepared a protocol saying the tape had been "confiscated." VY

PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR ARCTIC ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Speaking to a meeting of the government's Council for the Far North and the Arctic in Salekhard on 26 November, Mikhail Kasyanov said that organ was created in order to improve cooperation among the federal government, the legislature, the regional authorities, and the peoples of the Far North in developing Russia's northern and Arctic regions, Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov said that the region is crucially important for Russia because it contains the country's main reserves of natural gas and strategic metals, including nickel, cobalt, platinum, and palladium. Although only 1 percent of the country's population lives in the region, it produces 22 percent of its exports and 11 percent of the national income, Kasyanov said. He urged greater international cooperation in developing the Arctic, including joint projects to protect the environment, joint development of transportation corridors, and joint exploration of the continental shelf. Russia intends to play a more active role in the Arctic Council, an international forum that includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the United States of America, and Russia. VY

UPPER CHAMBER ENDORSES CYRILLIC-ONLY BILL...
The Federation Council on 27 November passed a series of amendments to the law on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation that would require all alphabets of such languages to be based on the Cyrillic alphabet, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 122 in favor, three opposed, and five abstentions. The Duma passed the amendments on 14 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2002). "This federal law only strengthens the graphic basis of these languages and only when their written form is used as a state language," said Valeriya Kadokhova, chairwoman of the council's Committee on the Federation and Regional Policies. "The right of the republics to establish their own state languages remains intact." Refqet Altynbayev, who represents Tatarstan in the council, spoke against the measure and said it violates the constitution. Karelia's representative Yurii Ponomarev said the mandatory use of Cyrillic would hinder the development of the Karelian language. "Some words would simply lose their meaning," he said. RC

...AND BAN ON RETURNING BODIES OF 'TERRORISTS'
The upper chamber on 27 November also approved amendments to the law on burials that would bar the government from returning to their relatives the bodies of "terrorists" killed in antiterrorism operations or informing those relatives where the bodies have been buried, Interfax reported. The amendments must now be signed by President Putin in order to become law. RC

REPORT: OLIGARCHS ARE BLOCKING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Russia's major financial and oligarchic structures are blocking the development of small and medium-sized business, KM-News reported on 27 November, citing a study by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). According to the EBRD's annual country report, the country's largest concerns are actively blocking the shift of resources away from the natural-resources sector toward the development of high technology. They also systematically destroy entrepreneurial initiative. The report singled out the leading oil and metals companies as wielding enormous political and economic power at all levels of the state. The report urged the government to curtail the influence of the oligarchs in order to facilitate balanced economic development. RC

CHECHEN PREMIER INVITES FOREIGN ELECTION OBSERVERS...
Meeting with foreign journalists in Grozny on 26 November, Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich said the Chechen leadership will not create any obstacles to foreign organizations that wish to monitor voting in the referendum on a new Chechen constitution or subsequent elections for a new parliament and president, Interfax reported. On 27 November, presidential representative for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov said those elections could take place by the end of 2003 at the latest, Interfax reported. LF

...PREDICTS REPATRIATION OF ALL DISPLACED PERSONS TO CHECHNYA
Babich also said he anticipates that all camps in Ingushetia for displaced persons who fled the fighting in Chechnya will be closed by the end of January 2003 at the latest, ITAR-TASS reported. He said temporary accommodation is under construction in Grozny for the returnees. Babich's predecessor, Stanislav Ilyasov, who is now minister for reconstruction in Chechnya, said in Moscow on 22 November that there are still an estimated 69,000 displaced persons in Ingushetia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT OFFICIALLY NOMINATED FOR RE-ELECTION
A 26 November gathering of some 300 government officials, businessmen, and political figures officially nominated incumbent President Robert Kocharian as a candidate for the February 2003 presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Participants included representatives of the Republican Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, and Orinats Yerkir, all of which have pledged to back Kocharian's candidacy. Speakers at the meeting lavished praise on Kocharian, saying he has succeeded in reversing the economic decline he inherited from his predecessor. Kocharian further predicted that "with this team, it is impossible to lose the elections." Kocharian is the fifth presidential nominee; the others are People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian, Self-Determination Union Chairman Paryur Hairikian, National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, and Aram Karapetian, who heads the Perspective center. LF

ARMENIA, BELARUS DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION
Belarusian Defense Minister Colonel General Leanid Maltsau held talks in Yerevan on 25-26 November with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, members of the parliamentary committee on defense and national security, and President Kocharian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The discussions focused primarily on cooperation within the framework of the CIS and the Collective Security Treaty and reciprocal purchases of arms and other military equipment. Sarkisian told journalists on 25 November that Armenia is interested in acquiring Belarusian-manufactured telescopic sights and other optical devices, as well as equipment for repairing tanks and armored personnel carriers. A bilateral agreement signed during Kocharian's visit to Minsk in June exempts such purchases from taxes and customs duties. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY CELEBRATES 10TH ANNIVERSARY
President Heidar Aliev addressed members of the Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) at a formal meeting on 26 November to mark the 10th anniversary of the party's foundation, zerkalo.az reported. Aliev established YAP when he was still chairman of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic's parliament at the request of 91 former nomenklatura members, some of whom now occupy senior government positions. Aliev told the session he had just reread both that appeal and his response to it and concluded he had acted appropriately. Aliev reaffirmed his intention to run for a third term next fall, saying he is certain the electorate will vote for him. He also stressed his role as guarantor of freedom of the press in Azerbaijan, despite the fact that "I am the media's primary target." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMANDS PUBLICATION OF NEW DRAFT ELECTION LEGISLATION
Opposition deputies aligned in the Democratic Bloc distributed a statement in parliament on 26 November demanding the Azerbaijani leadership make public the new draft election law, zerkalo.az reported on 27 November. The Azerbaijan National Independence, Democratic, and Musavat parties and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party issued a similar demand earlier this month during talks with a visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights announced in October that it will launch a national discussion of the draft legislation at a roundtable discussion in Baku in early December. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT DOWNPLAYS RISKS TO GEORGIA FROM OIL EXPORT PIPELINE
Steven Mann, who is U.S. presidential adviser for Caspian Sea energy issues, visited Baku last week and Georgia on 25-26 November for talks on the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Turan and Caucasus Press reported. Studies by both West European and Georgian experts have concluded that routing that pipeline through Georgia's Borzhomi Gorge could negatively affect the local ecosystem, in particular its mineral-water springs. Georgia's Ministry for the Environment has asked British Petroleum, which heads the consortium formed to build the pipeline, to clarify 32 questions relating to possible risks. BP's David Woodward wrote on 7 November to President Eduard Shevardnadze pressing him to approve by the end of November the draft report on the environmental and social impact of the project. Azerbaijan's President Aliev also raised the issue during his meeting with Shevardnadze on the sidelines of the recent NATO summit in Prague. Georgian International Oil Corporation Chairman Gia Chanturia told journalists in Tbilisi on 25 November that Mann assured Shevardnadze during talks earlier that day that BP will take additional measures to ensure the pipeline does not cause any environmental damage, Caucasus Press reported. LF

EUROPEAN COURT GIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR CHECHENS' EXTRADITION FROM GEORGIA TO RUSSIA
The European Court of Human Rights declined on 26 November to extend its ruling suspending the extradition to Russia of eight Chechens detained in Georgia in early August after illegally entering that country from Russia, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. The Georgian National Security Ministry has established that two of the eight men are Georgian citizens and cannot therefore be extradited (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). Georgian Ombudswoman Nana Devdariani argued on 26 November that the remaining six should not be sent back to Russia as their safety cannot be guaranteed, Caucasus Press reported. She said she believes the European Court ruling was the result of pressure from Moscow. LF

ABKHAZ PREMIER, RUSSIAN ENVOY MEET
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is President Vladimir Putin's special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, said in Moscow after talks with Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia that it is in the interests of both Abkhazia and Georgia that Abkhazia be represented at an upcoming UN Security Council session at which the Abkhaz conflict is to be discussed and be allowed to outline its views on resolving the conflict, Caucasus Press reported on 27 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 19 November 2002). But President Shevardnadze said he doubts the Security Council will invite Abkhaz representatives to address the session. Meanwhile Djemal Gamakharia (Revival Union) told a session of the Georgian parliament commission on Abkhazia on 26 November that he has documentary proof that Moscow is resettling 5,000 Cossacks from the Urals in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

AUTONOMY DEMAND FOR SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN CONDEMNED
The coalition For Democracy and Civil Society issued a statement on 26 November condemning the resolution adopted at meetings the previous day by supporters of former Prime Minister Usen Sydykov, akipress.org reported. Sydykov's supporters warned they will demand autonomous status for the Batken, Osh, and Djalalabad oblasts unless Sydykov is permitted to contest a runoff by-election from which he was barred after polling 46 percent of the vote in the first round. The coalition called for pre-term parliamentary elections, which its members argue will put an end to the current political crisis that is undermining public confidence in the authorities. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ANTICIPATES NEW TERRORIST THREATS
Meeting on 26 November with members of the armed forces, Askar Akaev warned that the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq and tensions between India and Pakistan could result in the destabilization of the situation on Kyrgyzstan's borders, akipress.org reported. Noting the close connection between terrorism and extremism, he warned that extremism in Kyrgyzstan is fuelled by the "social disorientation" of part of the population, a lack of political and legal culture, and the efforts of "certain political forces" to capitalize on the social problems inherent in the transition period. LF

TAJIKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN SIGN CONSULAR AGREEMENT
Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah held talks in Dushanbe on 26 November with his Tajik counterpart Talbak Nazarov and with President Imomali Rakhmonov focusing on all aspects of bilateral relations, the peace process in Afghanistan, and postwar reconstruction, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported. Abdullah Abdullah and Nazarov also signed an agreement under which Afghanistan will open a consulate in Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, and Tajikistan will open one in Mazar-i-Sharif. LF

MORE ARRESTS REPORTED FOLLOWING TURKMEN ASSASSINATION BID
The number of people arrested in connection with the 25 November failed attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov has topped 100, including relatives of former Deputy Agriculture Minister Sapar Iklymov, according to an Amnesty International (AI) press release of 26 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November 2002). AI called on the Turkmen authorities "to ensure that those detained have access to legal counsel promptly...and that they are not subjected to torture or ill-treatment." Meanwhile Iklymov, one of four former officials whom Niyazov has accused of masterminding the attempt on his life, was quoted on 26 November by Eurasia View as saying he believes Niyazov himself staged the assault in order to create a pretext to crack down on suspected political opponents. LF

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS UZBEKISTAN
A German delegation headed by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer that also included members of the German parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs committees held talks in Tashkent on 26 November with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, according to Uzbek television, as quoted by uzreport.com. The talks focused on international cooperation in the global fight against terrorism and on guaranteeing stability in Central Asia. LF

U.S. IMPOSES TRAVEL BAN ON BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT
The United States on 26 November banned Alyaksandr Lukashenka from entering the country, Reuters reported. "The United States imposes this extraordinary measure in view of the continuing erosion of human rights and democratic principles in Belarus, specifically the forced shutdown of the Advisory and Monitoring Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe based in Minsk," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel said. The ban also extends to seven other high-ranking Belarusian officials and is identical to the visa ban 14 EU members imposed on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2002). Cassel added the United States will monitor the situation in Belarus in deciding how long the visa ban should continue. "I have thus far not visited the United States to discuss bilateral relations, and I think I can do without [such a visit] this time as well," Lukashenka said on 27 November. JM

JEWISH LEADER SLAMS BELARUSIAN LEGISLATOR FOR REMARKS ON SYNAGOGUES
Yakov Goodman, head of the U.S.-based World Association of Belarusian Jewry, called "unprecedented" a Belarusian legislator's recent remarks in response to his colleagues' appeal for protection for former Jewish synagogues in Belarus, Belapan reported. Seventy-five members of the Chamber of Representatives had signed an appeal urging President Lukashenka to halt development projects at the sites of two former synagogues in Minsk. Commenting on the appeal, Syarhey Kastsyan, deputy chairman of the Chamber of Representatives' Committee for Foreign Affairs, told "Belorusskaya gazeta" on 25 November he opposes attempts to "turn Belarus into a springboard for Zionism." "Moscow has been turned into a springboard for Zionism," Kastsyan said. "America is an absolutely Zionistic-fascist state, and now they want to do this to Belarus. That is why I do not give a damn about these synagogues. I do not care about them just as Ariel Sharon does not care about mosques or Palestinian children. If a mosque or a synagogue stands in the way of the city development plan, I believe it is OK to bulldoze it." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VISITS ITALY
President Leonid Kuchma on 26 November traveled to Italy for a three-day official visit, UNIAN reported. Kuchma told journalists in Rome that his visit attests to the fact that "today it is impossible to build Europe and European security without Ukraine." The same day, Kuchma met with Italian President Carlo Ciampi, who reportedly expressed Italy's support for Ukraine's efforts to join NATO and the World Trade Organization. Addressing a business forum in Rome on 27 November, Kuchma said that "Ukraine cannot live under circumstances of uncertainty" and called on European leaders to determine the place of Ukraine in the future Europe. Kuchma also said Ukraine is interested in Italian investment in its economy, particularly in aviation, machine building, communications, transport, and agriculture. JM

LAWMAKER SAID TO HAVE QUIT OUR UKRAINE UNDER PRESSURE
Lawmaker Petro Dyminskyy has left the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus headed by Viktor Yushchenko, Ukrainian media reported on 26 November. "He found himself in a very difficult situation," Our Ukraine lawmaker Yaroslav Kendzor said in comments posted on the caucus's website (http://www.razom.org.ua/). "The appointment of [Viktor] Yanukovych to the post of prime minister influenced [Dyminskyy's] decision to leave our faction. It is well known what furious pressure has been applied for the past eight months to businessmen who support Our Ukraine," Kendzor added. Meanwhile, Dyminskyy told the Lviv-based "Vysokyy zamok" on 25 November that the reason for his pullout was different. "I am quitting not Viktor Yushchenko, but the diktat that is being exercised by his entourage," Dyminskyy said. "In my opinion, recent resolutions adopted by the caucus were detrimental to both Our Ukraine and our region," he added. Dyminskyy was elected to the Verkhovna Rada on the Our Ukraine ticket from a constituency in Lviv Oblast. He headed the supervisory board of the oil refinery in Drohobych prior to the parliamentary election. JM

ESTONIA APPOINTS DELEGATION FOR NATO ACCESSION TALKS
The cabinet authorized Foreign Minister Kristina Ojuland on 26 November to accept last week's NATO invitation to join the alliance, BNS reported. It also appointed a delegation for the accession talks that includes officials from the Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, and Finance ministries, the General Staff, and Ambassador to NATO Sulev Kannike. Foreign Ministry adviser Juri Luik, who served as defense minister in 1993-94 and 1999-2002, was appointed to head the delegation. Luik, who said he does not intend to end his membership of the opposition Pro Patria Union, said Estonia expects to sign NATO membership protocols in March 2003. All 19 current NATO member states must approve Estonia for membership before the country can join the alliance. SG

LATVIAN TAX-AUTHORITY HEAD TEMPORARILY DISMISSED
The cabinet unanimously decided on 26 November to temporarily dismiss Andrejs Sonciks, director-general of the State Revenue Service, because of his office's inaction in recovering tax debts owed by the Dinaz Nafta oil company, BNS reported. It appointed Sonciks's deputy, Nellija Jezdakova, as acting director-general. The cabinet also suggested that Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis should file a disciplinary case against Sonciks. Prime Minister Einars Repse said that the chances of Sonciks regaining his post, regardless of the results of the investigation, are minimal because he considers Sonciks's work unsatisfactory. Former Finance Minister Gundars Berzins defended Sonciks, saying that all those responsible for the Dinaz Nafta tax scandal have already been discharged. SG

EUROPEAN COMMISSION GRANTS LITHUANIA TRANSITION PERIOD FOR LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS
In an unofficial meeting of negotiators in Brussels on 26 November, the European Commission agreed to grant Lithuania a transition period of seven years for the sale of farmland and forests to foreign legal entities, ELTA reported. Lithuania closed the EU's acquis communautaire chapter on the free movement of capital last year without requesting the transition period. Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, agreed that the transition period not be applicable to farmers from EU states who have been living and cultivating land in Lithuania for at least three years. The EC also agreed to raise Lithuania's milk quota upon accession to the EU to 1.65 million tons and by an additional 58,000 tons in 2006. In addition, the average cereals-yield rate, used as a basis for calculating direct payments to such farmers, will be increased to 2.7 tons per hectare. SG

POLISH PREMIER UPBEAT ON EU'S 'GENEROUS' FINANCIAL OFFER
Leszek Miller told journalists on 26 November that Poland will be a net beneficiary of EU financial assistance in 2004-06, Polish Television reported. Miller was commenting on his meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Rassmussen earlier the same day. "The overall balance...will turn out favorable for Poland in 2004. This will be a surplus of 1.5 billion euros ($1.48 billion), and in the years 2004-06 it will be more than 6 billion euros. The level of direct subsidies for agriculture is also rising," Miller explained. PAP quoted Rassmussen as saying that the EU's current financial offer for Poland is a "generous compromise" and will enable Warsaw to conclude its EU talks on time. According to PAP, Denmark, which is currently chairing the EU, proposed that Poland be given up to 40 percent of the EU's full farm subsidies in the first year of its EU membership, instead of the previously proposed 25 percent. JM

FORMER WORKERS FROM POLISH CABLE FACTORY CLASH WITH POLICE
Police and security guards used force on 26 November to unblock a road leading to a liquidated cable factory in Ozarow near Warsaw, PAP reported. The road has been blocked by former workers for the past 200 days in protest against the closure of the factory and the removal of machines and equipment. The plant, owned by Tele-Fonika Kable SA, Poland's largest cable producer, was closed down because of low profits. More than 900 people lost their jobs. Later on 26 November, the Mining and Power Solidarity Trade Union demanded the immediate dismissal of Prime Minister Miller's government. The unionists blame the government for the "shameful" police action at the Ozarow factory and its "incompetent" policies toward their sector. JM

POLISH RIGHT-WING LAWMAKERS ATTACK DOCUMENTARY ABOUT CATHOLIC BROADCASTER
Thirty-four lawmakers from the right-wing League of Polish Families, Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, and the Catholic-National Circle have protested the airing of a documentary about the Catholic radio station Radio Maryja and its head, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, by state-owned Polish Television on 25 November, PAP reported on 26 November. The documentary alleged that Father Rydzyk was involved in major tax evasion while setting up and running Radio Maryja. The protest slams the television station, saying the documentary was an action to besmirch "the good name" of Radio Maryja and its director. Radio Maryja is an influential, radical Catholic media outlet claiming a regular daily listenership of 1.4 million and a weekly audience of 5.9 million. The station is known for spreading strongly worded anti-EU and xenophobic messages. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, has sought to diminish the clout of Radio Maryja among believers by banning the operation of its bureaus at parishes in Warsaw Diocese (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 3 and 17 September 2002). JM

CHIEF CZECH NEGOTIATOR WITH EU CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC AFTER NEW OFFER
Chief Czech negotiator with the EU Pavel Telicka told CTK on 26 November that the proposal submitted by the Danish EU Presidency that day is a "significant shift" that "approaches our expectations" on some of the country's demands in its negotiations for accession to the EU. Telicka was quoted by Reuters as saying that the Danish offer is "an improvement compared with previous proposals." "Should we see more flexibility on the EU side, we may not be far from real progress," he added. Telicka also said that although current EU members are giving their national interests precedence over generosity, he believes all candidate countries are likely to drop further-reaching demands to avoid endangering the enlargement deal, according to Reuters. Under the Danish proposals -- which are reportedly still opposed by Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain -- the EU would offer an extra 1.3 billion euros ($1.29 billion) and some larger agriculture quotas to new EU member states, AP and Reuters reported. The new EU members would pay 2.5 billion euros less than initially expected in EU dues in their first year of membership and would receive a $1 billion euro refund. New member states would be allowed to increase subsidies from their individual budgets by up to 40 percent of the level current EU members provide to their own farmers. MS

FORMER CZECH PREMIER REITERATES THAT 'NICE WORDS DO NOT OBLITERATE INJUSTICE'
Addressing the Czech-EU Parliamentary Committee in Brussels on 26 November, former Premier Vaclav Klaus reiterated his opposition to EU's recent suggestion that the Czech Republic make a "political gesture" that would relieve the tension over the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. Klaus said that "nice words" introduced in parliamentary resolutions do nothing but "create new fictions" and cannot heal the wounds resulting from World War II and its immediate aftermath. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen reminded Klaus that by signing the Czech-German 1997 declaration, Klaus himself had actually made such a political gesture. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER TO LEAVE POLITICS IN 2006
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the BBC on 26 November that he is determined not to run in the 2006 parliamentary elections and to quit politics altogether, CTK reported. Tvrdik cited as reasons his "opinion about politics in general," responsibilities to his family, and the fact that he has become the target of threats, the nature of which he did not specify. Tvrdik took over the defense portfolio in May 2001 from his predecessor Vladimir Vetchy and immediately embarked on a program of extensive military reforms and the professionalization of the Czech Army. MS

'TOMATO THROWERS' LIKELY TO HAVE LEFT CZECH REPUBLIC
The two members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party who threw tomatoes at NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson on the last day of the alliance's Prague summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002) have probably left the Czech Republic, CTK reported on 26 November, citing a police spokeswoman. Eva Miklikova said the two men, a Russian and a Ukrainian citizen, were offered several options by police, including to prolong their visas, until a Czech court could examine their case. Miklikova said the two were charged with disturbing the peace and, if convicted, face up to two years in prison or a fine. MS

SLOVAKIA SAYS EU PROPOSAL IS STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Chief Slovak negotiator to the EU Jan Figel was quoted by CTK as saying on 26 November that the proposal offered by the Danish EU Presidency that day (see Czech item above) "can be regarded as a basis for a future agreement," while noting that "it is not yet an agreement." He called the offer "a shift in the right direction." TASR and CTK reported that Figel said the proposal, if approved, would amount to a total of 220 million euros ($218.5 million) in additional funding to Slovakia over the first three years of EU membership. Included in the additional 220 million euros would be 40 million euros for Slovakia to tighten its eastern border controls and 30 million euros to help it shut down its nuclear-power plant in Jaslovske Bohunice. MS

SLOVAKIA MULLS ADVANCING EU REFERENDUM DATE
Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky said on 26 November that Slovakia should hold a referendum on EU accession as soon as possible in order to take advantage of the current strong public support, lest that support is undermined by negative campaigning in other candidate countries, Reuters reported. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan earlier proposed that the plebiscite be held on 7 June 2003, but the exact date must still be approved by the parliament and confirmed by President Rudolf Schuster. Csaky said other candidate countries might hold plebiscites before Slovakia, and strong campaigns against accession could negatively affect support among Slovaks. However, he did not suggest an alternative date to that proposed by Kukan. MS

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER TAKES FIRM STAND ON WAR ON TERRORISM...
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told parliament on 26 November that the government's top foreign-policy priority is to address national interests and to become a reliable ally of the United States and the European Union, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy said terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the primary dangers to international security today, Budapest dailies reported. Recalling NATO's declaration last week that the alliance supports UN Security Council Resolution 1441 on Iraq, Medgyessy said that, in the event that NATO specifically requests Hungarian military assistance, the government would initiate multiparty talks and seek parliamentary approval. MSZ

...FAILS TO REACH AGREEMENT WITH SLOVAK COUNTERPART ON STATUS LAW
Prime Minister Medgyessy on 26 November failed to convince his visiting Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda regarding recently proposed amendments to Hungary's Status Law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 18 November 2002), Hungarian media reported. Dzurinda said the law is unacceptable even if it were amended, as it violates the sovereignty of Slovakia and discriminates against Slovak citizens. Medgyessy said the Hungarian government will not give up the Status Law, and will submit the draft amendments to parliament for approval. He said Hungary will not be influenced by the issue when it decides on ratifying Slovakia's NATO accession, but expressed regret that the two sides could not make any progress regarding the Status Law. MSZ

HUNGARY WELCOMES NEW EU OFFER TO CANDIDATE COUNTRIES
Hungary's chief EU negotiator Endre Juhasz expressed optimism on 26 November after the Danish EU Presidency presented a new, more favorable proposal regarding the financial terms on which new members will join the EU (see Czech, Slovak items above), "Nepszabadsag" reported. Hungary would stand to gain 170 million euros if the proposal is approved. A new element of the offer is a fund designed to establish and fortify Schengen borders, from which Hungary would receive a further 147 million euros. In addition, Hungary would be granted 24 seats in the European Parliament. MSZ

HUNGARIAN MEDIA BOARD REGISTERS RIGHT-WING TV
The National Radio and Television Board (ORTT) on 26 November registered the right-wing news channel Hir TV, which will begin broadcasting on 2 December, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Board chairwoman Judit Kormendy-Ekes as well as the opposition FIDESZ and Democratic Forum appointees to the five-person board voted for the registration. The Socialist member voted against (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002) and the Free Democrat representative abstained. The ORTT also suspended broadcasts by the television stations TV-2 and RTL Klub for 30 minutes after ruling that both networks recently broadcast unacceptable sexual scenes on their "reality TV" programs. In other news, President Ferenc Madl on 26 November appointed Matyas Vince head of the Hungarian news agency MTI for a five-year term, beginning on 1 December. MSZ

BRITAIN CALLS FOR FIGHT AGAINST CRIME AND TERRORISM IN THE BALKANS
Speaking at an international conference on crime in Southeastern Europe, British Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane said in London on 25 November that "the more we do to defeat organized crime in the southeast corner of Europe, the more we...defeat the flows of money that go to terrorism through conduits there [and] the people who come into our countries via channels and agents in that region.... We learn the important lessons of how to disrupt the financial oxygen via banking secrecy that helps to pay for global terrorism," RFE/RL reported. He stressed that "bad marks on the fight against crime and corruption and failure to comply with the international [war crimes] tribunal in The Hague are not doing any of the countries in the region any good at all in their legitimate and welcomed desire to come into the European Union" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002). PM

ANOTHER HIGH-PROFILE MURDER IN SERBIA
An unidentified gunman or gunmen killed Nenad Batocanin, who was a top Yugoslav police official and a former bodyguard to President Slobodan Milosevic, outside Belgrade's Red Star stadium on 26 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The gunmen also killed a man who was with Batocanin. The killing of Batocanin is but the latest in a long series of high-profile killings that have taken place over more than a decade. Few of the murders have been solved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October 2002, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 21 November 2002). PM

YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS DENY KNOWLEDGE OF ARMS SALES TO IRAQ
The office of President Vojislav Kostunica, the Yugoslav government, and several individual ministers have denied any knowledge of the illicit arms trade with Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 26 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October and 8 November 2002). In related news, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic called for a reform of the armed forces. He stressed that the current military apparatus is too large and too expensive. PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT RAISES ITS PAY
The legislature voted on 26 November to hike the salaries of deputies and other employees by 10 percent, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. New monthly salaries for legislators will range from about $350 for ordinary deputies to $490 for the speaker. PM

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BELGRADE
Ilir Meta signed three economic-cooperation agreements with the Yugoslav authorities on 26 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He is the highest-ranking Albanian official to visit the Serbian capital for some time. PM

MACEDONIAN COURTS HAND OVER CASES TO THE HAGUE
A Skopje city court and a court in Tetovo announced on 26 November that they will hand over five cases of alleged war crimes to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The cases date from last year's armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces. The cases involve the fighting in the village of Ljuboten, where security forces allegedly slaughtered ethnic Albanian civilians in August 2001, and war crimes allegedly committed by the UCK leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 13, and 28 August, 21 November 2001, and 19 July 2002; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 December 2001). The courts withdrew arrest warrants for 35 persons, but two indicted ethnic Albanians remain in custody. The international community recently urged the Macedonian authorities to transfer the cases to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2002). UB

AN EU MISSION FOR BOSNIA?
German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in Berlin on 26 November that the planned EU rapid-reaction force could take over peacekeeping in Bosnia from SFOR, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. It is not clear how he or his cash-strapped ministry would go about such a project in view of the fact that the EU has so far been unable to assume responsibility from NATO for peacekeeping in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 October and 15 November 2002; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February, 8 March, 3 May, 16 August, and 15 November 2002). PM

ROMANIA OFFICIALLY ACCEPTS INVITATION TO JOIN NATO
Romania on 26 November sent a letter of response to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, saying that it is "honored, and accepts the invitation to join NATO with a sense of responsibility," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said a Romanian delegation headed by state secretaries Mihnea Motoc and George Cristian Maior will begin negotiations on 13 December to join NATO. MS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NATO BASES ARE 'NOT RULED OUT'
Ioan Mircea Pascu said on 26 November in Timisoara that the possible setting up of NATO bases in his country must not be ruled out, Mediafax reported. He said if Romania is to become "NATO's spearhead," as U.S. President George W. Bush described it shortly before the country was invited to join NATO, the option of setting up bases on its soil would be "logical." Pascu said such bases could be "mere military depots," adding that "we have not joined NATO in order to state 'we want this, but not that.'" Pascu added that any NATO decision will be made only in consultation with Romania. "This is the big difference between NATO and the Warsaw Pact," he commented. On the same day, Chief of Staff General Mihail Popescu said in Cluj that a military airfield meeting NATO standards will be constructed in nearby Campia-Turzii, according to Mediafax. MS

RULING PARTY OFFICIAL PREDICTS ILIESCU-NASTASE COMPETITION FOR PARTY LEADERSHIP
Social Democratic Party (PSD) Secretary-General Cozmin Gusa told journalists on 26 November he believes President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase could compete for the PSD leadership after Iliescu's term ends in 2004, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Gusa said the PSD would be "well-served" by having two politicians known for their ability to "dominate adversaries" compete for the party's leadership. He added that he is expressing a personal opinion and has not discussed the scenario with either Iliescu or Nastase. MS

ROMANIAN AUDIOVISUAL COUNCIL ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN
The National Audiovisual Council on 26 November elected journalist Ralu Filip as its next chairman and Atilla Gaspari as deputy chairman, Romanian Radio reported. Filip's election must be approved by parliament. In related news, the Chamber of Deputies on the same day approved legislation on the national news agency Rompres. The forum did not accept President Iliescu's request to eliminate from the bill a stipulation that guarantees the confidentiality of the sources of information used by Rompres journalists. Iliescu proposed that the law guarantee confidentiality "except when public interest is at stake" and a court order obliges journalists to disclose their sources. MS

ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE APPROVES 'YOUTH BILL'...
The Chamber of Deputies on 26 November unanimously approved a bill stipulating that people aged 18-35 receive at no cost land on which to build privately owned houses, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The bill was proposed by the PSD and the Democratic Party and stipulates that those eligible are to receive plots of 250-500 square meters from land owned by local councils. To qualify for the plots, individuals must promise to begin building on them within one year and prove that they own neither houses nor land. MS

...AND FINAL VERSION OF 'LANGUAGE-DEFENSE' BILL
The Chamber of Deputies also approved on 26 November the final version of the Law on the Defense of Romanian Language, also known as the "Pruteanu law," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Senate has already approved the legislation, which now awaits promulgation by President Iliescu. The controversial law, nicknamed after its main proponent, Senator George Pruteanu, stipulates that foreign words displayed in public places must be accompanied by translation into Romanian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 October 2002). MS

ROMANIA TO RESPOND TO VORONIN'S STATEMENT
Romanian Foreign Minister Geoana on 26 November said his country will "within hours" prepare an official reaction to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's statement the previous day, in which Bucharest was accused of "revanchist policies" toward Moldova, Romanian Radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002). Geoana said Romania considers that it is "its obligation to follow developments in Moldova with particular attention" and "will not hesitate to speak up whenever it is persuaded that European standards are not respected" there. He said Romania will continue to follow "with utmost attention" the debates on the Transdniester in the OSCE and that body's meeting of its Council of Ministers in Porto, Portugal, on 7-8 December. Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said on the same day that President Iliescu does not rule out the possibility that private Romanian citizens might have commercial links with "Moldovan citizens in the Transdniester," but that such links would by no means reflect official commercial ties between the two countries, Romanian Radio Reported. The statement came in response to Voronin's allegation that Romania has become an outlet for Transdniester exports after Chisinau revoked Tiraspol's right to issue its own customs certificates. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES OSCE...
Meeting on 26 November with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov in Chisinau, President Voronin said that Moldova cannot agree to see "OSCE delegations saying one thing in Tiraspol and another thing in Chisinau," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In an apparent reference to a recent visit by an OSCE delegation to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 November 2002), Voronin added, "They come and they go, and no results are seen." Voronin said the policies of separatist leader Igor Smirnov "are not directed only against Moldova; they are also directed against the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and mankind as a whole." He said Russia would have been able to abide by the end 2002 withdrawal deadline set by the OSCE 1999 summit if a political solution had been found for the Transdniester conflict before that deadline. The president added that even after an agreement is reached, a Russian contingent would have to be temporarily stationed in Moldova to "mediate" the integration of the two sides' armed forces. MS

...WHILE RUSSIAN VISITOR HOPES FOR OSCE 'UNDERSTANDING'
Trubnikov said at the meeting that the negotiation process with the separatists must be restarted and emphasized that the OSCE project envisaging Moldova's federalization must serve as the basis for those talks. He also said he hopes the OSCE will "display understanding" toward Russia's inability to withdraw its forces from the Transdniester when the OSCE Committee of Ministers holds its next meeting on 7-8 December in Portugal, because the blame for the state of affairs is entirely Tiraspol's. MS

MOLDOVA COMPLETES LIQUIDATION OF ANTIPERSONNEL MINES
The Moldovan Army has completed the process of liquidating all antipersonnel mines from its arsenal, Infotag reported on 26 November. Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc said at a briefing that day the mines were destroyed in line with the 1997 Ottawa convention, which Moldova ratified in 2000. MS

BULGARIA OFFERS SUPPORT FOR COALITION IN EVENT OF INTERVENTION IN IRAQ
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 26 November following a meeting with President Georgi Parvanov and Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski that Bulgaria has positively responded to the U.S. government's request to participate in a possible coalition to disarm Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. As no concrete request for military support was made, Bulgaria said it would offer political support, Svinarov said. He added that by law, any request for military support must be answered by the government and the parliament. Svinarov's statement ended days of speculation as to whether the government had received such a request from the United States. UB

BULGARIAN AUTHORITIES TO CONTROL DONATIONS TO MUSLIM COMMUNITY
Bulgaria's Chief Mufti Selim Mehmed said on 26 November that the government authorities will tighten their control over foreign donations to Bulgaria's Muslim community, bnn reported. According to Mehmed, any donations are to be made to a special bank account overseen by the Finance Ministry, which will also control the bank accounts of the chief mufti's office and its local branches. Mehmed added that his office will maintain a list of the Muslim clergy working in Bulgaria that will contain information about individual's education, career, and specialization abroad. The measures are intended to stem the influence of radical Muslim organizations in Bulgaria. UB

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS LEAD IN OPINION POLLS
According to an opinion poll conducted by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion (NTsIOM) in early November, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) would be the leading party if parliamentary elections were held now, mediapool.bg reported on 27 November. The BSP would garner about 20 percent of the votes, followed by the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) with 12 percent and the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) with 10 percent of the vote, according to the poll. The NDSV's junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), would increase its support from its previous 4 percent to 6 percent. Approximately 49 percent of the electorate would not vote at all, according to the poll. UB

FLU EPIDEMIC HALTS SURGERIES, CLOSES SCHOOLS IN BULGARIA
The Health Ministry has initiated a ban on all surgeries in hospitals in eight Bulgarian districts due to an ongoing influenza epidemic, "Standart" reported on 27 November. Approximately 24,000 people came down with the flu last week nationwide. The significant number of infected students and teachers led to the closure of many schools in the areas worst hit by the epidemic. UB

QUIET! THE GAME'S STARTING!
For Aleksandr Simanchev, the gear is what won him over: the gladiator-like helmets, the swollen shoulder pads, the perforated jerseys from teams with names like Patriots and Eagles. As a teen, Simanchev first glimpsed the hulking players clashing on a field in Moscow, and he knew he had to get out on the turf and butt heads. Never mind that he had no idea what rules governed the movement of that lemon-shaped ball up the field. He signed up for the city's American Football Youth League.

"I spent the first year not knowing what I was doing because everything's so different," he says. "After my first game, I went home and told my mom we lost. Only later did I find out that we had actually won."

Now 20 and a center on Russia's European championship football team, Simanchev is a part of a growing phenomenon in a land better known for ice hockey and walrus swims. Forget the sport that the rest of the world calls "futbol," in which a sphere is booted up and down a field and occasionally ricochets off somebody's head into a net, to the delirium of stadiums full of Bolivians. These Muscovites are crazy about North America's greatest contribution to the civilization of a mostly indifferent planet: the game of gridiron.

Simanchev plays for the Moscow Patriots, one of two adult amateur teams in town (the other is the Moscow Bears). Throw in the 600 junior- and senior-high-aged youngsters playing in full pads and helmets, and you've got the beginnings of a sports revolution. There are even more than 400 girls high-kicking on the sidelines as cheerleaders. And football is sprouting up elsewhere in the former Eastern bloc -- from Prague to the southern Russian Volga River city of Astrakhan.

Football evolved in America and Canada from common roots in the mid-1800s. The two countries now play on different-sized fields, with variations in the rules and numbers of players. Think of it as a form of rugby in which the players stop after every tackle and talk about what they'll do next (offense and defense huddle separately to strategize). The contact is bruising. Play after play, 22 men (24 in Canada) line up and smash into each other, and so an armature of helmets and pads have been added over the years.

Russians began playing American football in the late 1980s, soon after glasnost opened the Soviet Union to Western influences and ideas, says Moscow Patriots coach Vasilii Dobryakov. The sport has since been nurtured by the National Football League, which established a six-team professional league in Europe (although not yet in Moscow) and has held exhibition games in Japan and Mexico. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, it seemed urgent to evangelize the football-deprived territory known as Russia.

Perhaps Harry Gamble will one day be remembered as the man who did for football what medieval monks did for Orthodox Christianity in Russia. Gamble is a New Jersey resident who has coached the University of Pennsylvania, served as a Philadelphia Eagles coach and club president, and worked as an executive in the NFL's head office in New York. Now retired, Gamble started visiting Moscow in the mid-1990s to coach, donate used equipment, and provide encouragement.

"Going to Russia was something special, because we'd been adversaries for so many years, and it had been a closed society," Gamble says. "And it was only four or five years after the end of the Soviet Union that we started out there."

He still returns regularly, bringing coaches he has worked with in the past (the Russians no longer need equipment donations after National Capital Bank and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party agreed to sponsor the team).

The youth football league and the Moscow Patriots share an office crammed with boxes of gear in the northern Moscow neighborhood of Petrovsko-Razumovskaya. When they are not working out game strategies or coaching the younger kids, burly fullbacks and tackles fiddle with football computer games or watch old NFL footage featuring beloved legends such as the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.

Surveying the scene, Patriots coach Dobryakov says, "You can call this the main center for the development of American football in Russia."

Russia's youth teams often have to start from scratch in teaching kids the basics. With only 600 youths on teams feeding into the city's two adult amateur teams, the Patriots and Bears have a comparatively small pool of players to draw on.

But Dobryakov has found ways of improving kids skills. He sends the youths to compete against teams from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Europe in an annual international football competition in America. And they have clashed with high-school and Pop Warner teams in Miami, Milwaukee, Chicago, and elsewhere.

The coach himself isn't above learning new tricks. He spent a season with the Allegheny College football team in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Along the way he attended practices, traveled to games with the team, and absorbed strategies. He even got to see a few NFL games, where he was a little overwhelmed by the spectacle. "The first pro game I saw was Pittsburgh versus Jacksonville," he says. "I didn't see three touchdowns out of five. I was too busy looking around at the stands."

Russian players and coaches admit they are in a disadvantage in a country that is more devoted to soccer and hockey. But Gamble has rounded up coaches who worked with him during past jobs and dragged them over to Russia to advise the players. Although he has retired, the NFL still foots the bill for his travel and expenses.

The NFL has used other clever ways of spreading interest in football. For instance, it flies a Russian broadcaster to the Super Bowl game every year to broadcast the championship match back home.

All this effort has paid off. Last summer, the Russians won the European championship in a round-robin competition among teams from places like the Czech Republic and Germany. The team was especially proud of their 26-20 defeat of Germany in the final game; football has much deeper roots in that country, where American troops have been based for nearly six decades.

Upon the Russian team's return home, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov held a reception for the football heroes. A pleased if bewildered government promptly honored them with Russia s most prestigious sports title. They are now Master Sportsmen of American Football.

Says Gamble: "When a team like Russia, which has only been doing this for seven years or so, is able to defeat Germany that has played American football for so many years, it's a real feather in their cap."

Russell Working is a freelance journalist who specializes in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

AFGHAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER ORDERS ARMS COLLECTION
General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful commander of northern Afghanistan who officially holds the post of deputy defense minister in President Hamid Karzai's transitional administration, told Radio Free Afghanistan on 26 November that he has ordered the collection of arms, both from his own fighters belonging to the Jumbish-e Islami party and from those belonging to the rival Jamiat-e Islami party. Dostum said the collection of arms began five days ago in the Dara-ye Suf District of Balkh Province. He added that rival commanders are not allowed to have their troops out of their camps without having authorization and "weapons cards." Dostum added that he sees no difficulties collecting arms from people in the cities. However, he said there might be problems with the armed groups in the mountainous areas. He told the radio station that arms collection in Jawzjan, Sar-e Pul, Samangan, and Balkh provinces "will be completed in 10 to 15 days." In response to a question from Radio Free Afghanistan about his views on the formation of an Afghan national army and the position of his rival, General Mohammad Ata, regarding the arms collection, Dostum said he thinks a 70,000-strong army will be needed to protect "Afghanistan's territorial integrity and its people." Dostum added that all parties agreed upon the disarmament program, including Ata. AT

WORLD BANK GIVES AFGHANISTAN HIGH MARKS
World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President Nicholas Stern during a visit to Kabul "strongly endorsed Afghanistan's development strategy with its focus on the private sector and community empowerment," according to a 26 November World Bank press release from Kabul. "Afghanistan's leadership is striving to build an effective and accountable state from the ruins of more than two decades of war and destruction," Stern was quoted as saying. These "efforts deserve the international community's strong and continuing support," he added. Stern was especially impressed by the recognition that local communities should be central in shaping reconstruction, adding that it "is local communities that best understand the local priorities." "If they are empowered to shape projects and programs, these are likely to be much more effective and sustainable over the longer run," Stern said. AT

U.S. CONGRESSMAN PLEDGES NOT TO 'ABANDON' AFGHANISTAN...
U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, California) during a visit to Afghanistan told a news conference at the U.S. Embassy Kabul on 25 November that those Afghan forces who helped topple the Taliban regime and oust the Al-Qaeda terrorist network should become part of the national army of Afghanistan, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 26 November. Rohrabacher added that the United States wants to see a strong Afghan national army so that the presence of international troops will become unnecessary. He added that the United States owes a debt to the Afghans both for driving the Soviets out of their country and for their help in defeating Al-Qaeda. Rohrabacher added that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan, the radio reported. AT

...AND GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS THE SAME...
At a meeting with President Karzai, visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on 26 November that Afghanistan requires more assistance from the international community for its reconstruction projects and security needs, Radio Free Afghanistan reported the same day. Fischer said Germany will host a conference near Bonn on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002) to address these issues and to ensure the world does not forget Afghanistan, the radio station added. Fischer told Karzai that Germany will support the efforts of nongovernmental organizations working in Afghanistan and will continue to help train the Afghan police force. In response, Karzai thanked Germany for its continued support. AT

...BUT REJECTS KARZAI'S REQUEST TO EXTEND THE COMMAND OF ISAF
President Karzai also said at the same meeting that he would like the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be extended for more than six months. Germany and the Netherlands are expected to assume joint command of ISAF after its current mandate is extended beyond 22 December by the UN Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002). German Foreign Minister Fischer rejected Karzai's proposal, Deutschlandfunk radio reported on 26 November. Fischer said the supreme command of ISAF "is valid for six months, and this should not be changed," the radio station reported. AT

TAJIKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN SIGN CONSULAR AGREEMENT
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah held talks in Dushanbe on 26 November with his Tajik counterpart Talbak Nazarov and with President Imomali Rakhmonov focusing on all aspects of bilateral relations, the peace process in Afghanistan, and postwar reconstruction, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported. Abdullah and Nazarov also signed an agreement under which Afghanistan will open a consulate in Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, and Tajikistan will open one in Mazar-i-Sharif. LF

DETAINED STUDENT ACTIVISTS RELEASED IN IRAN...
Four activists from the pro-reform student movement Office for Strengthening Unity were released from custody in Tehran on 27 November following a court ruling, IRNA reported. The court had ordered that the four men -- Said Razavi Faqih, Abdullah Momeni, Akbar Atri, and Amir Hussein Balali -- be detained for their alleged roles in leading recent student protests that broke out after university Professor Hashem Aghajari was sentenced to death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 18, and 19 November 2002), Reuters reported. The four are accused of "insulting the president, blasphemy, and taking measures against national security," according to "a reliable source" closely associated with the individuals, IRNA reported. The activists will reportedly go to court on 30 November to face the charges. The detention of the four activists was criticized on 26 November by Rezai Babadi, the Tehran Province deputy governor-general for political and security affairs. MS

...AS PROSECUTOR SAYS AGHAJARI'S DEATH SENTENCE WILL STAND IF NOT APPEALED
Chief Prosecutor Ayatollah Abdonnabi Namazi said on 26 November that if Professor Aghajari does not appeal his death sentence by 3 December the local-court decision will be final, IRNA reported. Aghajari has vowed not to appeal the death sentence handed down by a Hamedan court on 6 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002). However, judiciary spokesman Hussein Mir-Mohammad-Sadeqi, noting a recent order from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Aghajari's sentence be reviewed, announced on 25 November that the judiciary would follow Khamenei's order. MS

JAPANESE ENVOY VISITS IRAN
Former Japanese Foreign Minister and special envoy Taro Nakayama met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on 26 November, IRNA reported. The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the purpose of the visit was to seek Iran's support for encouraging Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441, tehrantimes.com reported on 26 November. During the meeting, Nakayama called Iran a "powerful" state that can influence regional security and praised President Khatami's Dialogue Among Civilizations initiative, IRNA reported. Khatami told Nakayama that Iran is "strongly opposed" to a possible U.S. attack on Iraq. An unidentified Japanese Foreign Ministry official said that his government considered sending an envoy to Baghdad but did not "for fear of appearing too 'conciliatory'" toward Baghdad, according to tehrantimes.com. KR

IRAN WILL NOT ALLOW BADR CORPS TO FIGHT ALONGSIDE U.S. TROOPS
The London-based daily "Al-Hayat" reported on 26 November that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have told the Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) that its military wing, the Badr Corps, should not cooperate with the United States in the event of an attack on Iraq. "The border with Iraq will remain secure and calm even if the ruling regime in Baghdad collapses as a result of the anticipated U.S. campaign," the daily quoted Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani as saying recently. SCIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim has vacillated in his support for a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq in the past. He did not attend U.S.-sponsored talks in Washington in August, but he sent a delegation comprising his younger brother, Abdulaziz al-Hakim, political adviser Ibrahim Hamoudi, and SCIRI's London representative, Hamid al-Bayyati (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report" 9 August 2002). KR

UN INSPECTIONS UNDER WAY IN IRAQ
UN weapons inspectors began their first day of full inspections in Iraq on 27 November. Inspectors set off from their headquarters in nine four-wheel-drive vehicles and vans and were expected to split into two inspection teams, AP reported. Officials from the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate escorted the convoy. According to a report by Reuters, the convoy headed east of Baghdad to a "large military compound" 19 kilometers outside the city. Cnn.com reported that the inspection site was a heavily guarded walled compound that consisted of about six "warehouse-type" buildings. International media have reported that air-raid sirens went off for 10 minutes in Baghdad shortly after the arrival of inspectors at the compound. The sirens are normally used to signal the presence of allied aircraft in the area, but a British Defense Ministry spokesman denied the presence of U.S. and British planes over Baghdad on 27 November. "I can confirm there has been no coalition air activity in the region," Reuters quoted the spokesman as saying. KR

IRAQI DEPUTY PREMIER COMMENTS ON 'PARTY PLURALISM' AFTER NATIONAL ALLIANCE VISIT...
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that the Arab Socialist Bath Party believes in party pluralism "within the framework of the nationalist and pan-Arab stand," Iraq Radio reported on 26 November. Aziz criticized those opposition groups that refuse relations with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government. "Regarding the Iraqis who work for the interests of Iraq, we have common language and bridges with them because they sincerely represent prominent banners for their homeland based on fairness," he said. Aziz made the comments during a symposium hosted by the Bayt Al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) cultural center as part of the Iraqi National Alliance's visit to Baghdad this week. Iraq Radio also reported that "a number of the INA members -- Abd-al-Jabbar al-Kubaysi, Fadil al-Rubayi, and Awni al-Qalamji -- spoke about the importance of mobilizing resources and energies to establish a broad nationalist front with the aim of confronting the threats to, and plots against, great Iraq. These plots are aimed at obstructing Iraq's cultural and pan-Arab plan." KR

...AS NATIONAL ALLIANCE MEMBER SAYS IRAQ 'INTERESTED' IN POLITICAL DEMOCRACY
Al-Kubaysi, a National Alliance member and former leader of the Syrian branch of the Bath Party, told the London-based "Al-Arab al-Alamiyah" of 26 November that his group's visit with Iraqi officials "confirmed our expectations that the political leadership in Iraq is interested in political democracy issues...and is always willing to discuss the party pluralism laws." "We were told that there is action to legislate and achieve these laws within the framework of the Iraqi constitutional mechanisms," he added. When questioned whether the Iraqi regime might allow for political participation, al-Kubaysi told the daily that resistance to the United States is the first priority under the current circumstances. "They [the Iraqi regime] are not upset by criticisms and agree to deal with all proposals that could be used to serve the homeland's supreme interest and the plan for its cultural renaissance," he said. KR

YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS DENY KNOWLEDGE OF ARMS SALES TO IRAQ
The office of President Vojislav Kostunica, the Yugoslav government, and several individual ministers have denied any knowledge of the illicit arms trade with Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 26 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October and 8 November 2002). In related news, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic called for a reform of the armed forces. He stressed that the current military apparatus is too large and too expensive. PM

RUSSIA, JORDAN CALL FOR POLITICAL SETTLEMENT IN IRAQ
Speaking to journalists after a Kremlin meeting between President Putin and Jordanian King Abdullah II on 26 November, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov emphasized that the two leaders are calling for the strict implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, gazeta.ru reported. The two countries see this as "the way toward a political settlement, rather than a war." Asked if Russia is deviating from a policy of tacit consent for a possible U.S. military action against Iraq, Ivanov said Russia continues to believe "there is no military solution to the Iraqi problem." He added that the world should judge Russia's position on Iraq by its deeds. This is King Abdullah's fourth visit to Russia this year. The Jordanian monarch, who is related to the Saudi royal family, has been a staunch opponent of using military force against Hussein. VY

XS
SM
MD
LG