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Newsline - December 4, 2002


IN INDIA, PUTIN EMPHASIZES PRIVATE INITIATIVE...
President Vladimir Putin arrived in New Delhi late on 3 December for a one-day summit, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Speaking to a group of Indian businesspeople on 4 December, Putin emphasized that the agreements that would be signed during the summit are designed "to create new possibilities for business and public initiatives by our citizens," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin met on 4 December with Indian President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Prior to the meeting, Putin told journalists the talks would focus on combating international terrorism, but would also cover bilateral economic and military cooperation. Vajpayee told ITAR-TASS on 3 December that "Putin is a dependable friend and our personal relations help to promote mutual understanding." Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted by the news agency as saying there are "no problems" in bilateral relations, although the two countries "have much yet to do to promote commercial and economic cooperation." RC

...AS MINISTER OUTLINES JOINT PROJECTS
Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is accompanying President Putin in India, said on 4 December that Russia and India will launch a joint telecommunications project worth an estimated $1 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. He declined to give further details of the project, citing "commercial secrets," and added only that the Moscow-based Sistema company will participate on the Russian side. Klebanov also said that a number of metallurgy and energy-sector projects are in development that will be implemented in repayment of former Soviet debt to India, thereby converting the debts into direct investments. Finally, Klebanov announced that the two countries are developing military-hardware projects in air defense, combat aviation, and armored vehicles. He described bilateral military cooperation as "positive and dynamic." RC

ANALYST EXPLAINS IMPORTANCE OF CHINA-INDIA-RUSSIA RELATIONS
Mikhail Titarenko, director of the Academy of Science's Institute of Far East Studies, told strana.ru on 4 December that the partnership among Russia, India, and China can "counterbalance" U.S. policies. "In some aspects [these relations] counterbalance American policies and smooth out the extremes of unilateralism that still characterize U.S. policy," Titarenko said. He said that the three countries will continue "to fight to strengthen international law and the role of the United Nations as an institution for ensuring international security and reaching diplomatic solutions to problems in conflict situations." He added that both China and Russia continue to oppose NATO expansion. RC

RUSSIA REJECTS U.S. INVITATION TO JOIN ANTI-IRAQ COALITION
The Kremlin has flatly rejected a U.S. proposal to join a military coalition against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the event of his failure to comply with the latest UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, which Washington sent to the governments of more than 50 countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. In its response to the U.S. initiative, the Russian government wrote that it "prefers to concentrate on the complete fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and on facilitating the work of the international weapons inspectors in Iraq" rather than developing a military option. On 4 December, President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee issued a joint statement "strongly opposing" unilateral military action against Iraq and any interference in the country's domestic affairs outside the framework of the Security Council resolution. VY

DENMARK RELEASES DETAINED CHECHEN ENVOY...
The Danish authorities on 3 December released Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's personal envoy Akhmed Zakaev, who was arrested in late October following the hostage taking by Chechen militants at a Moscow theater, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). A Danish Justice Ministry statement explained that Russia had failed to provide adequate evidence to substantiate its demands for Zakaev's extradition to Moscow to face charges connected with crimes he is accused of committing in Chechnya from 1996-99. LF

...WHO ACCUSES RUSSIA OF SEEKING TO PROLONG WAR...
In an interview posted on chechenpress.com on 4 December, Zakaev expressed his gratitude to the Danish authorities and the EU for not caving in to pressure from Moscow for his extradition. He attributed that pressure to Russia's desire to neutralize those political figures seeking to end the fighting in Chechnya and vowed to resume his efforts to do so. LF

...AS KREMLIN CONDEMNS RELEASE, VOWS TO CONTINUE SEEKING EXTRADITION...
Foreign Minister Ivanov said Russia condemns the Danish government's decision to release Zakaev, RTR reported on 3 December. He added that Russia considers Zakaev a terrorist and will continue to demand his extradition from any country to which he travels. The head of the Prosecutor-General's Office's International Department, Robert Adelkhanyan, said his agency will challenge the Danish decision in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. "Russian gave Denmark enough evidence that Zakaev is guilty, and the decision to set him free was made purely for political reasons," Adelkhanyan charged. Speaking to reporters during a working visit to Japan, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev characterized Zakaev's release as "an unfriendly act" toward Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. VY/RC

...AND LEVELS NEW CHARGES
Meanwhile a Russian Federal Border Service official told ORT on 3 December that he witnessed the execution by Chechen militants acting on Zakaev's orders in March 1996 of three kidnapped Russian construction workers who had attempted to escape from a camp in the Chechen town of Starye Atagi, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

INTERIOR MINISTRY REMOVES CHECHEN FIGHTERS FROM THE WEB...
There is not a single "Wahhabite" Internet site operating in Russia, strana.ru reported on 4 December. Dmitrii Chepchugov, head of the Moscow Interior Ministry department for combating high-technology crime ("Department R"), told journalists that as part of the antiterrorism measures adopted following the 23-26 October hostage taking in Moscow, his department has identified all the Internet sites associated with Chechen fighters. An unspecified number of domestic sites have been shut down, and the Foreign Ministry has sent formal complaints to all foreign countries hosting such sites, acting on information provided by Chepchugov's office. Chepchugov said that the website Kavkaz-Tsentr was registered in Canada and was shut down following a Foreign Ministry appeal to the Canadian government, ITAR-TASS reported. RC

...AND SAYS 'TERRORISTS' FUNDED BY PORN SITES
At the same press conference, Chepchugov said that the profits generated by pornographic websites worldwide play a significant role in the financing of extremist and terrorist organizations, strana.ru reported on 4 December. He estimated that a child-porn site can bring in as much as $30,000 per month in illegal revenue. Since March, Chepchugov's office has been tracking 3,000 Internet sites and has launched 14 criminal cases. He said that, in addition to pornographic sites, his agency monitors sites "with extremist tendencies." RC

QUESTIONS LINGER 40 DAYS AFTER HOSTAGE DRAMA
Russia on 4 December marked the 40th day since the end of the October hostage drama in Moscow with solemn religious services, Russian news agencies reported. In Moscow, a service was held in the Christ the Savior Cathedral to remember the 129 hostages who died during the incident. Meanwhile, strana.ru reported that the Federal Security Service (FSB) declined to clarify conflicting reports on the number of Chechen fighters who were killed and/or captured during the 26 October storming of the theater. According to a 26 October Interfax report, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev told President Putin that day that 34 fighters had been killed, "several" were arrested, and none escaped. RIA-Novosti reported the same day that FSB sources said 50 fighters -- 18 women and 32 men -- had been killed and three arrested. An unidentified spokesman for the Moscow prosecutor's office told the website that three fighters remain in custody, as well as one person arrested later on charges of abetting the hostage takers. The same source told strana.ru that 41 fighters were killed in the storming operation -- 22 men and 19 women. RC

IF YOU ARE GOING TO STEAL, STEAL BIG
FSB agents have arrested Nikolai Chemodanov, who is accused of forging a decree purportedly signed by President Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov authorizing the creation of a "Transport and Sports Maritime Service of the Russian Federation," newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 1 December. The counterfeit decree established the new agency's annual budget at 500 million rubles ($15.9 million) and authorized it to hire 15,000 people. Not only did Chemodanov allegedly forge the necessary signatures for the decree, he also fabricated a package of fake United Nations documents establishing the service's international credentials. According to the report, Chemodanov was arrested in the offices of the Property Relations Ministry, where he came to pick up documentation transferring to his agency a Moscow building worth a reported $5 million. According to an FSB source, Chemodanov admitted that he studied Russian and international law and documents on the Internet for more than a year before launching his project. VY

GORNYI PLANT TO FINALLY GO ON LINE?
A state commission on 3 December certified that the new plant in the Saratov Oblast town of Gornyi for the destruction of chemical weapons is ready to begin operation, ITAR-TASS reported. The plant, whose opening has been repeatedly delayed in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2000, and 8 January, 20 July, and 13 August 2002), is scheduled to begin work on 15 December. Meanwhile, the lower house of the Swiss parliament on 3 December overwhelmingly authorized a five-year allocation of $17 million Swiss francs ($11 million) to finance the destruction of Russia's stockpiles of chemical weapons. About a dozen countries, including the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Canada, are contributing funds to this work. RC

BASHKORTOSTAN ADOPTS NEW CONSTITUTION
A joint session of the parliament of the Republic of Bashkortostan on 3 December unanimously endorsed a new republican constitution, which was immediately signed into effect by Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported. The new constitution maintains a presidential form of government and combines the posts of president and prime minister. It does not use the word "sovereignty," a term that central authorities viewed as a violation of the federal constitution. Rakhimov said it is necessary "to maintain a strong executive system of power while simultaneously strengthening control over it by the legislative branch and establishing close working relations between them." RC

RUSSIANS SPLIT ON THIRD TERM FOR PUTIN
Nearly half of Russians believe the president should have the right to serve in office for three or more terms, lenta.ru reported, citing a poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). Forty-six percent of respondents in the national survey conducted from 22-25 November agreed with the proposition, while 43 percent said the president should continue to be limited to two consecutive terms in office. RC

NEW BILL COULD TRANSFORM RTR INTO SUBSCRIPTION-BASED PUBLIC TELEVISION
Former State Press Committee Chairman Mikhail Fedotov, who is a co-author of the media law adopted in 1990, has submitted to the Duma a bill that would transform RTR television, which is currently part of the VGTRK state broadcasting corporation, into an advertising-free public television channel, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 December. Under the bill, the station would be funded by public subscription fees, private donations, and federal grants. Fedotov told the radio station that the subscription fee would be minimal -- about 9 rubles ($0.30) per month per household. The bill would ban the channel from broadcasting advertising and authorize the creation of a board of trustees comprising prominent public figures. VY

GAZPROM TO INVEST $5 BILLION IN NORTHERN EUROPEAN PIPELINE
Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller has announced that the state gas giant has finalized plans to construct a new strategic natural-gas pipeline from the St. Petersburg region across the Baltic Sea to Germany and then continuing on to the United Kingdom, RTR reported on 3 December. The 3,000-kilometer pipeline will bypass the problematic countries of Belarus and Ukraine, Miller noted. The pipeline will eventually have branches providing gas to Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries and will be integrated in a pan-European pipeline network. Gazprom expects to invest up to $5.7 billion in the project, and the first stage of construction will be completed in 2007, Miller said. VY

FORMER HOSTAGES' ATTORNEY CONFIDENT ON LAWSUITS...
Igor Trunov, who is representing eight people who claim to have suffered losses during the 23-26 October hostage crisis in Moscow, is confident that the Tverskoi District Court will uphold his clients' claim for $7.5 million in damages from the Moscow city government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002), "Kommersant" reported on 3 December. Trunov noted that only a few days elapsed between the filing of the lawsuits and the beginning of hearings in the case. He believes the court's speedy action indicates that the judge might be favorably disposed toward the plaintiffs. One article in Russia's law on terrorism forms the crux of the plaintiffs' case; it states that funds compensating victims of terrorism shall come from the Russian Federation subject in which the terrorist attack occurred. That point of law has never been applied before. LB

...BUT LEGAL EXPERTS ARE NOT SO SURE
Several lawyers contacted by "Kommersant" said they considered Trunov's clients unlikely to prevail in the case. Pavel Astakhov, who has represented the Moscow government on several occasions, said Western governments that have compensated victims of terrorism have done so voluntarily, not because of lawsuits. Furthermore, Russian courts typically award modest sums for psychological damages, far lower than the $500,000-$1 million sought by each of Trunov's clients. Finally, Astakhov predicted the court will consider the Civil Code as well as the law on terrorism. The Civil Code requires that the source of the damages and the circumstances be determined in order to determine appropriate levels of compensation. Astakhov believes Trunov will not be able to prove that rescuers -- as opposed to terrorists -- harmed the hostages. Moscow officials have vowed to appeal any court ruling awarding damages to victims of the hostage crisis, "Kommersant" reported. LB

DAYS OF SALES TAX COULD BE NUMBERED
The Finance Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry favor eliminating the sales tax beginning in 2004, according to Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. He made the announcement at a conference of the Association of Auditors on 3 December, Radio Rossii reported. Kudrin said that at its 5 December session the government will consider tax policy for the next three years. Most countries levy either a sales tax or a value-added tax, but Russia has both, which has drawn criticism from many who advocate reducing the tax burden. LB

ECONOMIC THINK TANKS FORM NEW ASSOCIATION
Representatives of 15 think tanks from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Volga region have created the Association of Independent Centers of Economic Analysis, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 December. The economists marked the occasion on 29 November at the Expert Institute of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. The new association's president is Leonid Grigoriev, who has worked in the Economics Ministry and on the World Bank's Russia desk. He is also director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Grigoriev said the association's goals include improving the quality of economic analyses. Former Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin called for setting a standard of professionalism and forming a "strong team in order to outdo the bureaucrats." Yevgenii Gontmakher, who heads the social department of the government apparatus, urged the assembled economists to concentrate on long-term strategy, saying the authorities tend to focus on current problems. LB

ECONOMISTS CALL FOR SMALLER STATE ROLE IN ECONOMY
A group of economists led by former Economics Minister Yasin on 2 December proposed a "liberal alternative" for the country's economic policy, ORT and NTV reported. Presenting the report, Yasin noted that the state budget -- broadly defined to include, for example, the off-budget Pension Fund -- comprises some 40 percent of the gross domestic product. Taking into account various forms of corruption, the economists estimated the state's real share of GDP is 60-65 percent. The report claims that sharply reducing the number of state-owned enterprises and halving the state's "army of bureaucrats" would yield economic growth of 8 to 9 percent within a few years, "Vremya-MN" reported on 3 December. However, participants in the discussion that followed Yasin's presentation agreed that in light of the looming election cycle, the executive and legislative branches are unlikely to embark on unpopular liberal reforms. LB

UNITY FACTION FAVORS MORE LIMITS ON IMMIGRATION
Duma deputies from the Unity faction have expressed support for Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov's proposals to tighten Russia's immigration policy, ORT reported on 2 December. Oleg Kovalev, chairman of the Duma's Rules Committee, argued that illegal immigration must be stopped and legal immigration must be "planned," meaning that "we should invite immigrants and allow immigrants to come to Russia only where it is extremely necessary and only [to work] in those professions that are impossible to fill with our domestic labor resources." Gryzlov headed the Unity Duma faction before becoming interior minister in March 2001. Although he is officially not a member of the Unified Russia party to which Unity belongs, Gryzlov recently became chairman of Unified Russia's High Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). LB

DUMA LIKELY TO CONSIDER TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR TAX EVASION
The State Duma's Legislation Committee has approved a draft law to strengthen criminal penalties for citizens or organizations that evade taxes or mandatory contributions to state and non-state funds, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 December. The Duma might consider the bill in the spring. LB

OBSERVERS EXPECT LOW TURNOUT IN ST. PETERSBURG...
Turnout in the 8 December legislative elections in St. Petersburg might be low enough to invalidate the results in some of the city's 50 electoral districts, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 December, citing unnamed members of a State Duma commission formed to monitor the campaign. Turnout is expected to average 21 to 26 percent citywide. If that prognosis is correct, turnout in some districts would fall below the 20 percent required by city law for valid elections. "Izvestiya" pointed out that the campaign has generated relatively few advertisements, and many voters only have access to a minimum of information. One local television station is airing a spot reminding voters that legislative elections will take place in 2002, but without specifying the election date. LB

...WHICH MAY WORK IN GOVERNOR'S FAVOR
Low turnout might be good news for St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, "Izvestiya" speculated on 2 December. First elected in 1996, Yakovlev will have to step down when his current term expires in 2004, according to the St. Petersburg charter. However, if Yakovlev's supporters gain a majority in the new legislature, they might be able to amend the charter in time for next spring's gubernatorial election, which would allow Yakovlev to seek a third term. "Izvestiya" noted that Yakovlev has not openly endorsed a "governor's list" of candidates, although several versions of such a list have circulated on the Internet. Instead, his administration appears to be working quietly to help supporters win as many districts as possible. In districts where Yakovlev's allies have poor prospects, the administration is trying to ensure that either the governor's most vocal opponents lose or that the election is invalidated by low turnout. LB

SARATOV GOVERNOR FINDS RELIGION...
State officials representing Saratov Oblast and the Russian Orthodox Church, including Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov and Archbishop Aleksandr, met on 30 November to discuss cooperation to promote Russian Orthodoxy, "Gazeta" reported on 3 December. Participants in the meeting agreed that the state should help the Russian Orthodox Church to compete with other religious sects and missionaries. Ayatskov also favors earmarking budget funds at the oblast and raion levels to support religious projects such as rebuilding the Aleksandr Nevskii Cathedral, which Soviet officials tore down during the 1930s. "Gazeta" noted that Ayatskov long had poor relations with church officials, but that the two sides patched things up recently. The newspaper argued that the Saratov eparchy needs additional funding, and Ayatskov needs the authority of the church. LB

...BUT HIS PLANS TO USE BUDGET FUNDS MIGHT NOT FLY
Speaking to journalists in Saratov on 2 December, State Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unity) announced that budgetary funds cannot be spent on the religious activities proposed by Governor Ayatskov and that financing for the Russian Orthodox Church will have to come from private sponsors, "Gazeta" reported on 3 December. Article 14 of the Russian Constitution declares that Russia is a secular state. "Gazeta" argued that Ayatskov is quite capable of raising money from private business. However, the governor seems committed to cementing ties between his administration and the church. During the 30 November meeting of state and church officials, he declared: "It's not important that our church is separated from the state now. That boundary is purely conditional. The church and the authorities share one society. And we need consolidation with the Russian Orthodox Church like never before." LB

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER NOMINATED AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The opposition Hanrapetutiun (Republic) Party on 3 December nominated former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian as its candidate for the February 2003 presidential elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He is the 13th candidate to be nominated. Speaking at a party convention in Yerevan, Sargsian said he feels duty-bound to complete the work begun by his brother and predecessor as premier, Vazgen Sargsian, who was one of the victims of the October 1999 parliament shootings. Aram Sargsian and other leading members of Hanrapetutiun, including Chairman Albert Bazeyan, again blamed incumbent President Robert Kocharian for the 1999 killings. Bazeyan accused him of "usurping power" after the shootings and of violating the Armenian Constitution. LF

FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS DELAY RESTART OF ARMENIAN NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT
The reactivation after a seven-week shutdown for refueling of the Medzamor nuclear-power station, originally scheduled for 4 December, has been postponed due to a dispute between the Armenian and Russian governments over payment for past and current deliveries of nuclear fuel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau quoted President Kocharian as saying on 3 December at the annual session of the Council for Atomic Energy Safety. Kocharian predicted that agreement on payment of the $39 million debt will be reached within days. He also told the session that security has been tightened at the plant with the assistance of U.S. specialists. During the first nine months of this year, the Medzamor plant provided almost 52 percent of all electricity generated in Armenia. LF

PARENTS APPEAL TO PARLIAMENT ON BEHALF OF DISGRACED AZERBAIJAN CADETS
Parents of some of the approximately 100 cadets expelled in September after staging a walkout from Azerbaijan's Higher Military College told journalists in Baku on 3 December that they have asked the Azerbaijani parliament to form a special commission to investigate the causes of the protest, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Some 2,000 cadets left the military academy to protest poor teaching standards and harassment by instructors. Some of them were subsequently sent to the front line where, according to their parents, conditions are "unbearable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, 6, and 9 September and 10,11, and 18 October 2002). The parents complained that their appeals to the Ministry of Defense and President Heidar Aliev to allow their sons to return to the college have been ignored. They say that if the parliamentary commission establishes that the cadets acted criminally, they should face trial. LF

LUKOIL VICE PRESIDENT'S FATHER ABDUCTED IN GEORGIA
Sadi Sharifov, the 79-year-old father of LUKoil Vice President Vagit Sharifov, was abducted late on 2 December from his home in Georgia's predominantly Azerbaijani-populated Dmanisi Raion, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The Georgian daily "Mtavari gazeti" reported on 4 December that the kidnappers contacted Sharifov's daughter on 3 December to demand a ransom payment. The paper did not stipulate the sum involved. LF

GEORGIA ASSESSES STORM DAMAGE
President Eduard Shevardnadze on 4 December decreed the establishment of a special committee to cope with the damage inflicted by a severe storm that hit western Georgia the previous day, killing at least one person, Caucasus Press reported. The storm caused damage estimated at at least $1 million to power lines, homes, and the water system in the Tkibuli, Baghdadi, Terdjola, Samtredia, and Vani raions and in the towns of Kutaisi and Poti. The Defense Ministry has funds for the immediate restoration of barracks in western Georgia left roofless by the storm. LF

KAZAKH COURT FINES OIL JOINT VENTURE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE
The Atyrau Oblast Court has imposed an 11 billion tenge ($71 million) fine on the Tengizchevroil joint venture that is exploiting the vast Tengiz oil field in western Kazakhstan, Reuters and the "Financial Times" reported on 4 December. The court ruled that a 6 million ton dump of sulfur separated from the oil extracted at Tengiz since 1993 poses an ecological hazard. The consortium denies this, claiming that the sulfur is being stored in compliance with Kazakh and international safety standards. Tengizchevroil last month suspended plans to invest a further $3 billion in Tengiz following a disagreement over financing with the Kazakh government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). LF

OPPOSITION KAZAKH JOURNALIST HELD IN APPALLING CONDITIONS
Sergei Duvanov, who is being held in detention pending his trial on what are widely believed to be fabricated charges of rape, is confined in a cell without electricity or glass in the windows and is not permitted to receive from his family dairy products, meat, coffee, fruit, vegetables, or plastic cutlery, according to Interfax and forumkz.org. Duvanov is subjected to body searches before and after meeting with his lawyers and is not permitted any reading material except from the prison library, which stocks only the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. LF

KYRGYZ CAPITAL SET TO BAN DEMONSTRATIONS
In response to a request from local residents, the Bishkek City Council is considering imposing a one- or two-year moratorium on any unsanctioned meetings, according to akipress.org on 3 December. The city council has recommended that the mayor not issue any further permits for meetings, marches, or street demonstrations. Ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir Uulu said such a ban violates the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT VOWS ASSASSINATION INVESTIGATION WILL NOT VIOLATE LAW
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov said on 3 December that the ongoing investigation into the 25 November attempt to kill him will be conducted in accordance with the law, turkmenistan.ru reported. He said the abortive coup -- which he again blamed on exiled oppositionists Boris Shikhmuradov, Khudaiberdy Orazov, Sapar Iklymov, and Nurmukhammed Khanamov -- was backed by political forces of a foreign state that he failed to name. Also on 3 December, Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova announced on state television the names of some of those arrested in connection with the reported assassination attempt. They include three Chechens with Russian citizenship, six Turks, a Moldovan with a U.S. passport, and a man with an Armenian name whose citizenship is unclear. The U.S. passport-holder, according to "The Moscow Times" on 4 December, is Leonid Komarovsky, who arrived in Ashgabat several days before the assassination bid to discuss a possible business deal. Komarovsky is a close friend of Turkmen businessman Guvanch Djumaev, who is accused of coordinating the actions of the assailants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002). LF

TORTURE VICTIM SENTENCED TO DEATH IN UZBEKISTAN
A Tashkent court on 28 November handed down a death sentence to Iskandar Khudoiberganov, who with five associates was convicted of organizing a criminal group that propagated "religious extremism," according to a Human Rights Watch press release dated 4 December. Khudoiberganov was also charged with terrorism and murder. Khudoiberganov's family claims he confessed to the charges against him after being subjected to beatings and electric shocks. Two witnesses who incriminated Khudoiberganov retracted their testimony in court, saying they had given it under torture. Khudoiberganov's co-defendants received prison terms ranging from six to 16 years. LF

BELARUS'S DISCHARGED AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN PROMISES 'MAJOR SENSATIONS'
Former Belarusian Ambassador to Japan Pyotr Krauchanka, whose reported reluctance to return home from Tokyo has made headlines among Belarusian and international news agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 December 2002), said in Tokyo on 3 December that he intends to reveal "three major sensations" regarding political life in Belarus after his homecoming later this month, ITAR-TASS reported. Krauchanka claimed he has been the target of "pressure and provocations" from embassy staff in recent months. He added that a typescript of a book he wrote and his diary have disappeared from a safe in his Tokyo office. The previous day, Krauchanka told ITAR-TASS that he does not rule out running for the post of Belarusian president. "This whole scandal has come in handy for Krauchanka to attract attention to himself," Reuters quoted Alyaksandr Fyaduta, head of the independent Social Technology think tank in Minsk, as saying on 3 December. "This also gives him a definite guarantee of safety when he returns to the motherland," Fyaduta added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MULLS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The Verkhovna Rada on 4 December gathered for a hearing titled "Society, Media, Authorities: The Freedom of Expression and Censorship in Ukraine," Ukrainian media reported. Deputy parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko, who opened the debate, said the hearing should result in specific changes to legislation on Ukrainian media. More than 50 representatives from the government, parliament, and the media asked to speak at the hearing. A poll conducted last month by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies among 727 Ukrainian journalists revealed that 61.6 percent of them have come into contact with "manifestations of political censorship," UNIAN reported on 3 December. According to the poll, the most common forms of political censorship in Ukraine are self-censorship of journalists for fear of reprisals and removal of politically sensitive passages from texts by editors. JM

POLL SAYS 79 PERCENT OF UKRAINIANS REGARD THEMSELVES AS POOR
According to a survey conducted by the International Labor Organization and Ukraine's State Statistics Committee among 9,400 Ukrainian households earlier this year, 79 percent of respondents consider themselves "poor," UNIAN reported on 3 December. The poll found that more than 50 percent of Ukrainians have monthly incomes below 300 hryvnyas ($56). According to respondents, 510 hryvnyas is the minimum monthly income that would guarantee "normal existence." The official subsistence level in Ukraine is 342 hryvnyas per month. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES HIKE IN MINIMUM WAGE
Cabinet ministers on 3 December approved nearly a 17 percent increase in the monthly minimum wage, from the current 1,850 kroons ($120) to 2,160 kroons, from January, ETA reported. The hourly minimum wage will thus rise from 10.95 kroons to 12.90 kroons. The decision cemented an agreement that the Central Organization of Estonian Trade Unions and the Estonian Employers Confederation signed with trade unions on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 October 2002). The two sides pledged in August 2001 to raise the minimum wage to 41 percent of average gross wages by 2008. SG

LATVIAN PREMIER EQUATES BUDGET VOTE WITH CONFIDENCE MEASURE
Einars Repse told the parliamentary Budget and Finance Commission on 3 December that the 2003 budget will be drafted differently from previous budgets, saying the methods used in the past would lead to a deadlock and his center-right government's necessary objectives would be insufficiently financed, LETA reported. He said the budget should be qualitatively and quantitatively different from former budgets, cutting functions the state cannot afford, while ensuring that priority areas will receive full funding so that policemen, judges, teachers, and medical workers receive sufficient salaries. Among possible cuts, the rightist New Era party's Repse mentioned administration, services, and equipment purchases. Repse also called on parliament to abstain from amending the 2003 budget, saying it must be approved as a whole or rejected. He equated a rejection of the budget with a vote of no confidence in his government. SG

LITHUANIA, UKRAINE ESTABLISH INTERPARLIAMENTARY FORUM
A delegation from the Ukrainian legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, headed by Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 3 December with a meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary head Arturas Paulauskas, ELTA reported. In a speech to lawmakers in the Seimas, Lytvyn announced that the countries' legislatures will establish a bilateral parliamentary forum similar to the one Lithuania has with Kaliningrad Oblast's Duma. Valerijus Tretjakovas and Oleksandr Tretyakov, representatives from the respective parliaments, signed an agreement establishing the forum prior to an official dinner in honor of the visit. In subsequent talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Lytvyn discussed domestic- and foreign-policy issues and ongoing reforms. He expressed dissatisfaction with Ukraine's imminent status as an EU neighbor, noting that his country will seek to become an EU associate member. On 4 December, Lytvyn was scheduled to meet with President Valdas Adamkus and Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas before flying to the Estonian capital, Tallinn. SG

NATIONAL AGREEMENT ON ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS SIGNED IN LITHUANIA
Ten major political parties and 14 public organizations uniting businessmen, youth, and the academic community signed a National Agreement on Economic and Social Progress in the Lithuanian parliament on 3 December, ELTA reported. The agreement envisages economic development through employing the state's own reserves and resources that will become available after Lithuania joins the EU. It emphasizes the importance of establishing a knowledge-based economy and the need for harmonizing the education and science system with that of Western Europe. The impetus for such an agreement came from the opposition Conservatives, who noted in the spring that Ireland produced a similar agreement in 1988 and now is ranked third in the EU in terms of per-capita GDP. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT MOVES TO SALVAGE CABLE PLANT, PLEDGES JOBS FOR SACKED MINERS
Labor Minister Jerzy Hausner on 3 December presented a scheme to revitalize the defunct Ozarow Cable Factory, which last week was the scene of tussles between police and former workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002), PAP reported. The scheme envisages turning the plant into a subsection of the Tarnobrzeg Special Economic Zone and implementing a program to boost local commerce. "Repairing the situation in Ozarow is beyond local possibilities, and this is why the government is trying to help," Hausner said. The same day, Economy Minister Jacek Piechota promised that each of the 17,000 miners who are to be laid off under a restructuring program in the coal industry next year will get a new job. The government has set up an interdepartmental team to provide assistance to those affected by the restructuring of the mining sector in Silesia. JM

THOUSANDS OF CZECH FARMERS PROTEST EU POSITION
An estimated 10,000 angry farmers turned up in the Czech capital on 4 December to march on the Agriculture Ministry and block downtown streets in an effort to be heard ahead of next week's EU summit in Copenhagen, dpa reported. Agrarian groups organized the demonstration to protest reduced subsidies being offered by Brussels in accession talks with the Czech Republic and nine other EU aspirants. Participants pelted the ministry building with eggs, beets, potatoes, and tomatoes, the news agency reported, in addition to setting small fires and blocking the entrance with a pile of manure. Social Democratic Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas invited three protest leaders in for brief talks after deciding not to address all the demonstrators, according to his spokesman, Hugo Roldan. "It was dangerous to go out there," the spokesman said, adding that the minister called the protest "a legitimate step" but chided those who damaged property. Roldan blamed the situation on "inaccurate information" coming from agricultural interest groups, dpa reported. AH

CZECH SENATE PRESIDENT RE-ELECTED TO THIRD TERM
Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) Senator Petr Pithart won re-election on 4 December to head the upper house on the strength of 50 votes during a secret vote in the 81-seat Senate, CTK reported. Pithart is highly regarded for his perceived fairness and integrity. A communist-era dissident and Czech prime minister from 1990-92, the 61-year-old political scientist was backed by the three governing parties. The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), whose Chairman Vaclav Klaus has consistently done battle with Pithart and other former dissidents, reportedly opposed Pithart's election but did not field its own candidate. In a brief speech after his re-election, Pithart thanked senators for participating and vowed to "always be impartial" in carrying out his duties, CTK reported. He also stressed "the international scene" as the Czech Republic faces a referendum on EU membership, tough talks on the terms of accession, and the country's place in the EU. Pithart served as Senate president from 1996-98 and from 2002 to the present. AH

U.K. TURNS AWAY ANOTHER GROUP OF CZECH ROMA ASYLUM SEEKERS
Great Britain has rejected requests for asylum from 39 Czech citizens, all believed to be members of the Roma minority, and deported the group, CTK reported on 3 December. The group of 39 asylum seekers was the seventh to be sent home from Great Britain since the country began the practice of deporting Czech asylum seekers in September. A total of 266 people have since been deported. British authorities have said all asylum requests by Czech Roma will be rejected because they believe Prague does not persecute its citizens. Roma advocates claim members of the minority suffer from discrimination. BW

SLOVAKIA REPORTEDLY WINS CONCESSIONS ON EU QUOTAS
The European Union has reacted favorably to Slovakia's requests to ease some of the conditions for the country's accession to the union, Bratislava's chief EU negotiator said on 3 December, TASR reported the same day. The EU agreed to increase Slovakia's production quotas for iso-glucose from 36,000 to 42,500 tons. Slovakia is also seeking higher milk quotas. "The EU today accepted several of Slovakia's important demands, but not all. We also want to discuss the remaining open questions," Figel said. He also said he believes Brussels would react favorably to requests for financing for the closure of two blocks of a nuclear-power plant in Jaslovske Bohunice. BW

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CONCLUDES UKRAINE VISIT
At the conclusion of his two-day visit to Ukraine, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 3 December said the two countries have not realized their full potential for bilateral trade, TASR reported. Accompanied by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Schuster visited the Pivdenmash rocket plant, which during the Cold War produced the majority of the former Soviet Union's nuclear missiles. The Ukrainian National Pedagogic University also awarded Schuster an honorary doctorate for literature, and he attended a session of the Ukrainian-Slovak economic forum. BW

HUNGARY SUBMITS NEW PROPOSALS TO EU
Hungary's chief negotiator with the EU, Endre Juhasz, on 3 December submitted in Brussels his country's new proposals for accession, Hungarian media reported. Budapest says it is ready to accept the Danish Presidency's proposals for 2004 but seeks rectification for 2005-06. Juhasz told journalists that differences between the sides' positions on direct agricultural subsidies are narrowing, since the EU -- according to the latest Danish proposals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002) -- is now recommending that subsidies be paid from the state budget to farmers, potentially offsetting some disadvantages. The daily "Napi Gazdasag" reported that Denmark gave a positive response to the Hungarian request for an increase in agricultural quotas, including of milk and beef. However, Juhasz said the Danish Presidency has stated that a concrete agreement on agricultural funding can only be expected at the 12-13 December Copenhagen summit itself. The dispute concerning Budapest's intention to do away with tax breaks for foreign investors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002) also remains to be solved. MS

HUNGARIAN CHURCHES OBJECT TO GOVERNMENT'S INTENTION TO AMEND FUNDING
The Bench of Catholic Bishops on 3 December issued a statement asserting that no progress was made at a meeting that day between Eger Archbishop Istvan Sergely and Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on the government's intention to amend the way churches are funded, Hungarian media reported. The cabinet intends to abolish a law approved in 2001 -- by which churches are funded according to the number of declared believers in the latest census -- and replace it with legislation providing for funding on the base of a 1 percent tax deduction. Speaking on behalf of the Calvinist synod, Bishop Gusztav Bolcskei also expressed opposition to the cabinet's intention. Media report that if the law is amended, the Catholic Church will receive some 700 million forints ($2.9 million) less funding and the Calvinist Church 44 million forints more -- while other denominations, such as the Lutherans and the Jews, will also receive reduced financing. Istvan Szalay, undersecretary for church affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, told "Nepszabadsag" that he is pledging that all religious communities negatively affected will be compensated from the state budget. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS PREMIER'S PARTICIPATION IN ROMANIAN CELEBRATIONS
Opposition deputies on 3 December criticized Premier Medgyessy's presence on 1 December at a reception hosted in a Budapest hotel by Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase to mark his country's national day, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002). Romania marks its national day on 1 December in memory of the 1918 decision in Blaj, Transylvania, of a constituent assembly attended mostly by ethnic Romanians to have Transylvania join Romania. "Romania ransacked and humiliated Hungary, raping Hungarian women, and [via Medgyessy's participating in the reception] we pardoned that, although nobody ever apologized to us," FIDESZ parliamentary deputy Istvan Simicsko said. Hungarian Democratic Forum deputy Gyorgy Gemesi also criticized the premier for "celebrating the loss of Transylvania together [with Nastase] on...a day of mourning for Hungary." Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs countered that 1 December is not about the Trianon treaty or the annexation of Transylvania by Romania, and the premier's meeting with Nastase served the cause of reconciliation. He also questioned whether the opposition's attack and an accompanying demonstration serve ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania. MS

CONTROVERSY GROWS OVER ALLEGED CONTINUING YUGOSLAV ARMS SALES TO IRAQ...
After an apparent delay of several days, the NGO International Crisis Group has published a report alleging that the current Yugoslav government knowingly sold arms to Iraq in violation of international sanctions, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 3 December (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002 and http://www.crisisweb.org). James Lyon, who heads the ICG's Belgrade office, said in a statement that "strong outside pressure will be needed to ensure Belgrade gets to the bottom of this scandal, implements reforms and complies with its international obligations." But the BBC's Serbian Service quoted an unnamed official of the U.S. State Department, who said the ICG report includes unspecified speculation and factual errors. He added that Yugoslav authorities understand the seriousness of the situation and are cooperating fully with the United States. The broadcast cited an American Balkan expert as saying the ICG has not clearly proven that Yugoslavia violated the sanctions systematically. He added that relations between Washington, D.C., and Belgrade appear largely unaffected by the controversy. PM

...WITH STRONG REACTIONS FROM YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT
President Vojislav Kostunica said in Novi Sad on 3 December that the ICG is a group that tends "to stir up and inflame crises rather than resolve them," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Predrag Simic, who is Kostunica's foreign policy adviser, told "RFE/RL Newsline" that the ICG report is unfounded. He stressed that Yugoslavia wants to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, adding that Belgrade is cooperating closely with Washington in investigating possible violations of the arms embargo. Simic argued that U.S. officials have long been monitoring Yugoslav arms sales and would have easily identified any systematic violation of the embargo. PM

KOSOVA BUFFER ZONE NARROWS
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Belgrade on 3 December that the demilitarized buffer zone on Serbian and Montenegrin territory bordering Kosova will soon be reduced from 10 to five kilometers, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Covic added that he has informed NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson of the change and hopes the demilitarized zone can be completely eliminated in the next six months. Yugoslav troops and Serbian and Montenegrin police are prohibited from entering the zone, which was established as a confidence-building measure following the 1999 conflict in Kosova. PM

AGREEMENT ON THE SAVA RIVER BASIN SIGNED IN SLOVENIA
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel hosted Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, and Bosnian Civilian Affairs and Communications Minister Svetozar Mihajlovic in Kranjska Gora on 3 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They signed an agreement regarding the use of the Sava River basin and a protocol dealing with traffic on the river. Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, also attended the session. In related news, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic took possession in Wiesbaden, Germany, of a ship equipped to test water quality and marine life in rivers. Valued at $20 million, the ship is Germany's single largest gift to Serbia. PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEGISLATORS LEAVE BOSNIAN PARALIAMENT
Deputies from the Republika Srpska walked out of the Bosnian parliament on 3 December to protest a new ruling by High Representative Paddy Ashdown, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The decree, which he implemented without legislative approval, effectively makes the Bosnian central government independent of control of the two entities. Under the decree, the prime minister's job will no longer rotate frequently among Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian ministers. Voting in the Council of Ministers will be by simple majority. A spokesman for Ashdown said the Bosnian Serb deputies are simply trying to buy time in the run-up to forming a new coalition government. PM

MACEDONIAN RAILWAY WORKERS END STRIKE
Following the management's announcement that it will pay back wages, striking workers of state-owned Macedonian Railways ended their labor stoppage on 2 December, MIA news agency reported. The workers warned, however, that they will strike again if management fails to pay up before 20 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002). UB

MACEDONIAN PROSECUTOR SACKED
The parliament fired Stavre Djikov as public prosecutor on 4 December for poor performance of duties, dpa reported. Djikov was an appointee of the last government and has called for a hard line toward ethnic Albanian former guerrillas. PM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY IN MACEDONIA TO SUE NEWSPAPER
The ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), which is part of the ruling coalition, announced on 3 December that it will sue the Macedonian-language daily "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik" and "Dnevnik" reported. BDI spokesman Agron Buxhaku dismissed a recent report in "Dnevnik" stating that the BDI has paid some 300 ethnic Macedonians in eastern and southern Macedonia up to $2,500 each to join the party, dpa reported. "What was published in the newspapers were only lies," Buxhaku said. He added that Macedonians join the party because they agree that the BDI is "the only alternative -- not only for the Albanians, but also for the Macedonians" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). UB

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN PARTY WANTS GOLD EXTRACTION TO REMAIN STATE MONOPOLY
The Greater Romania Party (PRM) forwarded a motion dubbed "Rosia Montana" to the Chamber of Deputies on 3 December that calls for retaining the state monopoly on gold extraction, Romanian Television reported. The PRM called on the National Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office to examine the details of the deal under which a majority stake of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, which operates the Rosia Montana gold mine in western Romania, was sold to the Canadian company Gabriel Resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2002). The Canadian company has been working on a $400 million project that would make Rosia Montana Europe's largest gold mine and involves relocating more than 2,000 people and demolishing about 900 homes in the area. The motion calls for the government to protect those being relocated and to protect environmental and archeological sites in the region. Premier Adrian Nastase has previously said the government will decide on the issue pending a report from an international commission investigating the project. ZsM

ROMANIAN LIBERAL, DEMOCRATIC LEADERS CONSIDER ALLIANCE
National Liberal Party (PNL) Deputy Chairman Paul Pacuraru said on 3 December that in the event the ruling Social Democratic Party convokes early elections in 2003, his party might form an alliance with the Democratic Party, Mediafax reported. He added that the PNL is currently concentrating on "consolidating" the political right wing in Romania and intends to merge with two smaller liberal parties, the PNL-Cimpeanu and the Union of Rightist Forces. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said the same day that his party is willing to form an electoral or postelectoral alliance with the PNL. ZsM

FORMER ROMANIAN RULING-PARTY DEPUTY SENTENCED IN FRAUD CASE
The Supreme Court on 3 December sentenced former parliamentary deputy Gabriel Bivolaru to three years in prison on charges that include defrauding a state-owned bank in the mid-90s. He was ordered to pay more than 2.25 trillion lei (approximately $67.3 million) in compensation to the Romanian Development Bank, Mediafax reported. Bivolaru was found guilty of forging checks and money orders between 1992-96. He represented the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) in parliament from 1996-2000; that party later became the current Social Democratic Party. Parliament refused to lift Bivolaru's immunity in 1997 but finally did so in 1999. Bivolaru can appeal the decision within 10 days. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES 'REINTEGRATION' MINISTER
Vladimir Voronin on 3 December proposed setting up a new government post for a minister in charge of the country's "reintegration," an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. According to a presidential press release, Voronin has sent a draft bill to parliament that would amend the law on the government's structure. The minister would be tasked with coordinating government negotiations for resolving the Transdniester conflict as well as overseeing the "process of restoring Moldova's juridical, social, economical, cultural, and educational unity." ZsM

OPINION POLL SHOWS BULGARIANS ARE UNINFORMED ABOUT KOZLODUY
Institute for Analysis and Marketing Director Yulii Pavlov wrote in an article for mediapool.bg on 3 December that most Bulgarians are not aware of the facts regarding the expected shutdown of part of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant. According to an opinion poll conducted by the institute, the majority of Bulgarians are not aware that only the oldest blocks of the nuclear-power plant are slated for closure, or that those blocks account for only about 10 percent of the country's electricity production. The vast majority has no idea that the profits from the plant are slight compared to the financial support the country stands to receive from the EU during the accession process, according Pavlov. As a result, Pavlov concluded, it is easy for politicians to manipulate public opinion on the importance of the power plant and to fuel sentiments against the EU, which is demanding that the older blocks be decommissioned. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT ACCUSES OPPOSITION OF USING JUDICIARY FOR POLITICAL MEANS
Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev accused the opposition of involving the judiciary in political battles, BTA reported on 3 December. Tsonev said in a press release that the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) took the first step when it filed a lawsuit against the government's signing of an agreement with the EU closing the energy chapter of the EU's acquis communautaire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2002). The second step, according Tsonev, was taken by the opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) on 2 December when it informed the Supreme Court of Appeals about alleged legal violations that occurred during the privatization of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002). Tsonev accused both the BSP and the ODS of trying to undermine Bulgaria's position prior to the Copenhagen European Council and to harm the investment climate in the country. UB

RUSSIAN POLITICIAN WARNS BULGARIA NOT TO DONATE ARMS TO GEORGIA
Speaking at a press conference in Sofia on 3 December, Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov warned the Bulgarian government not to donate arms or ammunition to Georgia, mediapool.bg reported. The Russian politician said such donations are "not friendly to Russia" and opined that "Russia is more important for Bulgaria than Georgia." Nemtsov claimed that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is unable to control materiel in Georgia. The Bulgarian government decided in September 2002 to donate arms and ammunition worth about $89,000 to Georgia under NATO's Partnership for Peace program. UB

There is no End Note today.


GERMAN CABINET EXTENDS MANDATE FOR TROOPS IN ISAF
The German cabinet on 3 December extended by one year the mandate for German soldiers serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, ddp reported. Germany currently has a contingent of 1,289 troops in the ISAF and that number will be increased to approximately 2,000 when Germany and the Netherlands assume joint command of ISAF in mid-February, ddp reported. AT

CLASHES IN KANDAHAR LEAVE THREE DEAD
Three people were killed and 11 bystanders were injured in Kandahar on 2 December when four armed men "without legal permits for carrying weapons" clashed with government forces, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The radio station did not elaborate what led to the deaths. According to the report, the military commission of Kandahar Province recently declared that only people with newly registered arms permits are allowed to carry weapons, and asked people holding old licenses to renew them. While the radio station did not specify what is meant by old weapons permits, it is believed that the measure is intended to make those who were authorized under Taliban rule to carry weapons to renew their licenses. The Taliban allowed only people loyal to them to carry weapons. AT

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION TO REPATRIATE PROFESSORS FOR KHOST UNIVERSITY
As part of the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) "Return of Qualified Afghans Program," a number of professors will be resettled in Khost Province and teach at Khost University, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 3 December. IOM will guarantee a salary of $200 per month for each returning professor for up to one year and the organization will provide each returnee with $600 for relocation to Afghanistan, the report added. According to Najibullah Samim, an IOM representative in Peshawar, Pakistan, the organization has facilitated the return of 328 qualified Afghans in the past year. Samim told Radio Free Afghanistan that 247 of those returnees, who have been employed in the education, health, agriculture, and judiciary sectors, were repatriated from Pakistan. AT

KABUL UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR MURDERED
Kabul police discovered the mutilated corpse of Kabul University Professor Abdul Hamid on 3 December, Radio Free Afghanistan reported the next day. The victim's family told police that he attended a party that night and never returned. Police are investigating whether the murder was personally or politically motivated, according to the report. Thus far, there is no indication that the murder is linked to the 10-11 November student demonstrations at Kabul University. AT

U.S. REPORTEDLY IN CONTROL OF SHINDAND AIR BASE IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. troops have taken control of the Shindand air base in western Afghanistan "under the pretext of putting an end" to clashes between Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan and his rival Amanullah Khan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 December 2002), Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 December. The report claimed that after a U.S. B-52 bombed the area around Shindand, the United States "sent hundreds of its troops to Shindand and surrounding areas near the Iranian border." As part of the ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom and war on terrorism, the United States has used the Shindand air base on several occasions in the past and contingents of U.S. Special Forces regularly patrol the area. AT

SENIOR U.S. SENATOR WANTS LONG-TERM PLANS FOR AFGHANISTAN
Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who is preparing to take over as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has said he wants the Bush administration to develop long-term plans for peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan that would prevent the country from slipping further into anarchy, "The New York Times" reported on 4 December. Lugar said that "somebody has to organize this" as no one is doing so now. AT

IRANIAN POLLSTERS' TRIAL ADJOURNED FOR FIVE DAYS...
The first session in the trial of the managing directors of the Ayandeh Research Institute -- Hussein Qazian, Abbas Abdi, and Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar -- was held in Tehran on 3 December. Public Prosecutor's Office representative Mr. Tashakori said information in the case came from queries submitted to the Intelligence and Security Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, according to state radio. The trial relates to a poll conducted in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002 and 2 December 2002), and the three are charged with setting up an unofficial Gallup office in Iran. Other charges include "secret and unlicensed contacts with institutes and individuals affiliated to foreign intelligence and security services"; secret contacts with a "Zionist institute, belonging to Jewish and Zionist elements in America, via a counterrevolutionary middleman"; and gathering information for a Swiss human rights organization. They also are charged with having "secret and unlicensed contacts and repeated meetings" with Columbia University Professor Gary Sick, with an MI6 official in Tehran, and participating in counter-revolutionaries' meetings in the United States and the United Kingdom. The next session is scheduled for 8 December, according to IRNA. BS

...AS PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE CASE
President Mohammad Khatami has appointed a three-member committee to look into the polling-institute trial, IRNA reported on 3 December. The appointments came in response to a letter Khatami received from 156 members of parliament in which they asked the president to ensure there will be a fair decision in the case and to stop recent actions against national research institutions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 December 2002). The committee consists of Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Justice Minister Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ismail Shushtari, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei. BS

AGHAJARI SAYS DEATH SENTENCE POLITICALLY MOTIVATED...
Political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari, who was convicted to death in early November for an allegedly blasphemous speech he made in June, said in an open letter faxed to IRNA on 3 December that the verdict against him resulted from the judge's misinterpretation of his philosophical challenge. Aghajari in his speech questioned the system of religious hierarchy and advocated people's freedom in choosing a source of emulation. Aghajari said that the verdict was politically motivated. BS

...AS HIS LAWYER THREATENS TO SUE
Aghajari's legal representative, Saleh Nikbakht, said at a 2 December press conference that he has filed an appeal on his client's behalf because the 20-day deadline to do so was approaching, the Iranian Students News Agency reported. Nikbakht said the case should be dealt with in Tehran, where the judges are more experienced. Nikbakht pointed out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a review of the case on 17 November, and he questioned why the president of the Supreme Court, the state prosecutor-general, and the head of the Judges' Disciplinary Court have not yet called for such a review. Nikbakht said Aghajari should be freed on bail. "I shall definitely file a lawsuit against the judge who spoke on television before the verdict was finalized," he added. BS

UN REPORTS ON IRANIAN POPULATION
The UN's Population Fund on 3 December released its "State of World Population 2002" report (see http://www.unfpa.org) in which it says global population is projected to increase from 6.2 billion people today to 9.2 billion by 2050. Iran's total population in 2002 is listed at 72.4 million people and is projected to rise to 121.4 million by 2050, according to the UNFPA report. The average population-growth rate is 1.4 percent. The infant-mortality rate is 36 out of 1,000 live births. Male/female life-expectancy rates are 68.8 years and 70.8 years, respectively. Approximately 65 percent of the population is urban, and the urban growth rate is 2.4 percent. BS

INSPECTORS VISIT IRAQI PRESIDENTIAL PALACE
UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC) and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors paid an unannounced visit to a presidential palace in Iraq on 3 December, Egypt's MENA news agency reported. It was the first time inspectors have visited a presidential site since inspections resumed on 27 November. "Flustered guards initially blocked the convoy" when it drove up unannounced to the front and rear entrances of Saddam Hussein's Sijood Palace in central Baghdad, according to "The Washington Post." Afterward, an anonymous UN spokesman said that "access to the entire site was provided without any difficulty" and inspectors were able to search "every room, every corner." Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said the inspections indicate Baghdad's commitment to the inspectors' mission, "Al-Rafidayn" newspaper reported, according to MENA. BS

TURKEY WILLING TO PROVIDE BASES
Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said on 3 December that his country prefers to resolve the Iraq issue peacefully, but if this does not happen Turkey would open its airspace and its bases to the U.S. armed forces to support an operation, Turkish TRT-2 television reported. Yakis noted that it would be difficult to explain the presence of "tens of thousands U.S. soldiers" to the Turkish people. BS

IRAQI OPPOSITION CONSIDERATE OF TURKOMAN
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official Zaim Ali on 2 December met with a delegation from the Turkoman National Association, the KDP's "Brayati" newspaper reported on 3 December. Members of the delegation represented the Turkoman Brotherhood Party, the Turkoman Unity Party, the Kurdistani Turkoman Democratic Party, the Turkoman Liberation Party, and the Turkoman Cultural Association in Kurdistan. The two sides discussed a number of issues, including the protected status of the Turkoman under the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq. Iraqi National Congress Chairman Ahmad Chalabi also stated his support for the Turkoman and for Iraq's territorial integrity, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan newspaper "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 25 November. Chalabi declared his support for "more than three federal regions with full respect to all the national and cultural rights of the Kurdish nation and also the Assyrian and Turkoman ones," the daily reported. BS

UN REPORTS ON IRAQI POPULATION
The UN's Population Fund on 3 December released its "State of World Population 2002" report (http://www.unfpa.org) in which it listed Iraq's total population in 2002 at 24.2 million people. The total population is projected to be 53.6 million by 2050, according to the report. The average population growth rate was given at 2.7 percent and the infant-mortality rate is 64 out of 1,000 live births, the report stated. Male/female life expectancy rates are 60.1 years and 59.6 years, respectively. Approximately 67 percent of the population is urban, and the urban growth rate is 2.7 percent, according to the report. BS

WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES IRAQ-RELATED APPOINTMENTS
U.S. President George W. Bush announced on 2 December the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as his special envoy and ambassador at large for "free Iraqis," international media reported. Khalilzad will serve as the U.S. government's focal point and coordinator for contacts with "free Iraqis" in planning for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Khalilzad will continue to serve the Bush administration as special envoy for Afghanistan, but he will give up his positions as special assistant to the president and senior director for Southwest Asia, Near East, and North African affairs in the National Security Council. Another 2 December White House statement announced the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and North African Affairs. He was a member and later chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001 and was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center from 1996 to 2001. Abrams served as an assistant secretary of state under former President Ronald Reagan, dealing with Latin America. Abrams pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings but received a pardon in 1992. BS

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