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Newsline - December 5, 2002


RUSSIA, INDIA DEFINE THEIR STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP...
President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihary Vajpayee signed eight bilateral agreements on 4 December, including a declaration on strategic partnership and another on strengthening economic, scientific, and technical cooperation, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The two leaders also presided over the signing of a vast array of other memorandums and commercial contracts. The strategic-partnership declaration notes that stability in Central Asia is crucial to both countries and pledges coordinated efforts in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. It also reaffirms Russia's long-standing support for making India a permanent member of an expanded UN Security Council. Putin on 5 December traveled on to Bishkek for a summit meeting with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. RC

...AS PAKISTAN REJECTS PUTIN'S CRITICISM
Speaking in New Delhi on 4 December, President Putin urged Pakistan to crack down on militants in the disputed Kashmir region and expressed concern that Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali on 5 December, however, told Reuters that "Pakistan does not believe in terrorism" and rejected allegations that his government is training or arming Kashmiri militants. He confirmed, though, that Pakistan extends political, diplomatic, and moral support for the "Kashmiri freedom struggle." Jamali also stated that "Pakistan's nuclear assets are in safe hands" and "there is no need for worry" about its arsenal. On 5 December, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued a statement decrying Putin's statements, dpa reported. "It is unfortunate that the Russian leadership has been taken in by Indian propaganda," a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying. RC

POPULATION OF SPACE TO DOUBLE BY 2006
Space agency representatives from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the European Union met in Tokyo on 5 December to discuss planning and management of the International Space Station (ISS), ITAR-TASS reported. According to an unidentified source, the agencies will announce that beginning in 2006, the ISS will host a six-member crew following the addition of a new living module. The size of the crew will be increased to seven by 2010, the source was quoted as saying. Yurii Koptev, head of the Russian Space and Aviation Agency (Rosaviakosmos), attended the Tokyo meeting. RC

GOVERNMENT SELLS 5.9 PERCENT STAKE IN LUKOIL
The Russian government has sold its 5.9 percent stake in LUKoil on the London financial market for $775 million ($15.50 per share), Ekho Moskvy reported on 4 December. The shares were sold in the form of 12.5 million American Depositary Receipts (ADRs). "Vedomosti" reported on 4 December that the government had postponed plans to sell LUKoil shares on the New York market during the first half of 2001 after British Petroleum unexpectedly sold its stake of nearly 8 percent. The government again shelved plans to sell its LUKoil stake in July because investors were willing to pay only about $14.50 per share. Valerii Nesterov, an analyst with Troika Dialog, told "Vedomosti" that the government timed the sale well, because the shares' value would likely drop in the event of a U.S. military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that the sale was "extremely successful" and could enable the government to reduce the tax burden in 2003, ITAR-TASS reported. LB

MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA MIGHT MISS INFLATION TARGET
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref announced on 4 December that the inflation rate in Russia could exceed the predicted level of 14 percent for 2002 but will not exceed 15 percent, Ekho Moskvy reported. At the same time, he asserted that other macroeconomic indicators will be in line with the government's expectations. For instance, Russia will achieve 4.2 percent growth in industrial production for the year and 4 percent growth in GDP. Gref said his ministry's data suggests that there is more optimism in the Russian business community now than when GDP growth measured 9 percent. LB

ANOTHER PIRATED-CD CACHE RAIDED
Police in Moscow have confiscated 50,000 pirated compact discs in a warehouse located on the property of an automobile-repair company, Interfax reported on 5 December. Police also found packaging and printing materials related to the illegal discs. According to a police spokesman, the discs allegedly belonged to a criminal group organized by unidentified residents of Chechnya. It was unclear from the report whether any arrests were made in connection with the seizure. Last month, Moscow police confiscated 70,000 illegal DVDs in a similar raid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2002). RC

MOSCOW MAYOR REVIVES OLD IDEA...
Yurii Luzhkov has reportedly asked President Putin and the federal government to consider realizing a Soviet-era project to redirect the flow of some Siberian rivers to provide water to Central Asia, Russian news agencies reported on 4 December. According to strana.ru, Luzhkov has proposed redirecting about 6-7 percent of the flow of the Ob River and selling it to agricultural and industrial enterprises in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. The project was originally developed by the Soviet government in the 1970s and 1980s but was shelved in 1986. Uzbek President Islam Karimov recently proposed reviving this project as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2002). RC

...OR DID HE?
Political analyst Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies, told strana.ru that he believes the reports about Mayor Luzhkov's initiative could be an attempt to discredit him. He noted that the river-diversion project historically has been extremely controversial and would certainly be widely opposed, especially in Europe. He argued as well that many powerful lobbying groups, including the automotive and aviation sectors, would oppose any attempt to divert state funds into the project. In a commentary on politcom.ru, analyst Dmitrii Bagiro also argues that the Siberian initiative is part of a campaign against Luzhkov. He argues that the coverage of recent events such as the controversy over Luzhkov's proposals to restore the statue of Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii and his statements regarding returning the Soviet-era residence-registration (propiska) system reflect "organized hysteria." He notes that the media have widely blamed the city for the fact that a large band of Chechen fighters was able to take over a Moscow theater on 23 October, rather than blaming Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov. Finally, he mentions that the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -- whose co-chairman Sergei Kirienko ran against Luzhkov in the last Moscow mayoral race -- recently organized an investigation into the hostage taking that was harshly critical of municipal authorities while completely exonerating the special forces. RC

SPS SLAMS EFFORT TO CHANGE STATUS OF FEDERATION COUNCIL SENATORS
The SPS political council has urged President Putin to oppose amendments to the law on the status of Federation Council members, "Gazeta" and "Vremya-MN" reported on 4 December. SPS believes the amendments, which the State Duma approved in their first reading on 29 November, violate constitutional principles, including those of federalism and the separation of powers. According to "Izvestiya" on 30 November, the amendments would bar the removal of Federation Council senators during their first year of service. In addition, a two-thirds vote in the Federation Council would be required to approve any motion from a regional legislature to recall a senator, "Gazeta" reported on 2 December. Finally, the amendments would also authorize senators to vote against the interests of the regions they ostensibly represent, if those interests conflict with recommendations from the president, the government, or a Federation Council committee. LB

FORMER SMOLENSK OFFICIAL ARRESTED FOR CORRUPTION
Former Smolensk Oblast Deputy Governor Anatolii Makarenko was arrested by local Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on 2 December on charges of embezzlement, lenta.ru reported on 5 December. He is accused of illegally allowing unidentified people to take over the debts owed by a local distillery, of which Makarenko was formerly the general director, to a regional oversight board. Makarenko played a key role in the May gubernatorial election, in which former local FSB chief Viktor Maslov narrowly defeated then-incumbent Governor Aleksandr Prokhorov in a particularly unpleasant campaign. On 16 May, Makarenko was the apparent target of an assassination attempt when unknown gunmen fired at his car, killing his driver and wounding his bodyguard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). At the time, Makarenko publicly accused Maslov of organizing the murder attempt. RC

AGRICULTURE MINISTRY SEEKS QUOTAS, HIGHER DUTIES ON MEAT IMPORTS
The Agriculture Ministry is proposing new quotas and huge increases in customs duties on imported meat, "Trud" reported on 4 December. The proposal would raise duties on pork from 15 to 80 percent, on beef from 15 to 25 percent, and on poultry from 25 to 35 percent. The ministry also wants to limit annual pork, beef, and poultry imports to 340,000 tons, 420,000 tons, and 750,000 tons, respectively. Those proposals would reduce meat imports from 2.5 million tons a year to 1.51 million tons. Consumers would face price hikes, since meat-processing plants in some large Russian cities buy up to 90 percent of their meat from European countries or Brazil. According to "Trud," governors from the Central Federal District asked President Putin to impose quotas on meat imports when they met with him in Ryazan on 29 November, and the president promised to instruct the government to do so. LB

PEOPLE'S PARTY LEADER OUTLINES ELECTION STRATEGY...
The People's Party of the Russian Federation (NPRF) will field about 60 candidates in single-member districts during next year's State Duma elections but may not compete on the party-list ballot, according to party leader Gennadii Raikov. In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 4 December, Raikov said party leaders will decide next spring whether to field a party list in the December 2003 elections. Asked where the NPRF fits into Russia's political spectrum, Raikov said, "We are a socially oriented party, located close to the center-left." Asked how his party will differentiate itself from others, Raikov said: "We are a pragmatic party and do not promise people a bright future. A person living today should live decently today." Asked about potential allies, Raikov did not name any specific party or political movement, but rather "patriotically oriented" public organizations "that think, as we do, that it's time to bring order to Russia." LB

...AS EXPERTS HANDICAP PARTY'S PROSPECTS
In comments published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 4 December, sociologist Leonid Sedov predicted that the People's Party has little chance of success on the party-list ballot but could do well in the single-member districts, particularly if many governors support NPRF candidates. In contrast, political commentator Sergei Markov suggested that with enough political, financial, administrative, and media support, the NPRF could clear the 5 percent barrier needed to win party-list Duma seats. Both Sedov and Markov agreed that Raikov's center-left posturing is aimed at winning votes at the expense of the Communist Party. Several other parties will try to fill the center-left niche next year, most notably former Communist Gennadii Seleznev's Party of Russia's Rebirth. The NPRF's populist initiatives, such as support for reinstating the death penalty and criminalizing homosexuality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002), are intended to win over voters who backed Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in earlier elections. LB

DUMA DEPUTY URGES CUTTING OFF TERRORISTS FROM MEDIA
LDPR Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov on 4 December told a roundtable sponsored by the Union of Journalists that one can "block 90 percent of terrorist activity by cutting off the flow of information to television and the newspapers," RosBalt reported. He said that a single terrorist act can generate more publicity than political parties are able to muster even if they spend millions of dollars on promotion. "The terrorists' goal of forcing the authorities to undertake political negotiations would be impossible to realize under conditions of an information blockade," Mitrofanov said. He added that even if the law on the mass media is revised, the government will continue using "informal methods" to close down "inconvenient" media outlets. RC

VESHNYAKOV PROPOSES OPEN PARTY LISTS FOR DUMA ELECTIONS
Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has proposed changing the way Duma deputies are elected from party lists, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 December. Half of the 450 Duma seats are distributed among the parties that win at least 5 percent of the vote nationally. Under current law, parties determine the order of candidates on "closed" lists. Candidates near the top of the list are certain to win seats as long as the party clears the 5 percent threshold. Speaking at a conference in Belgorod on 3 December, Veshnyakov argued that closed party lists foster corruption -- some businesspeople have allegedly purchased desirable spots -- and distrust among voters. Under the "open"-list system he prefers, parties would form regional lists, and voters could select not only the party they prefer, but the specific candidate they want to represent them in the Duma. LB

REGIONS FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO IMPLEMENT NEW ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Many regions are having trouble implementing the law on political parties, which requires that half of the seats in all regional legislatures be distributed to political parties according to proportional representation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 December. At a Belgorod conference involving TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov and representatives of many regional election commissions, participants noted that some regional legislatures have only 20 seats. It would be difficult to allocate half of those seats according to proportional representation if many party lists cleared the threshold for winning mandates. Using proportional representation to fill seats in small legislatures generally leads to more distortion of the voters' will, especially in a crowded field of parties, simply because a mandate can only go to one person. LB

NOVGOROD MAYORAL RACE TO TEST GOVERNOR'S STANDING...
The 8 December mayoral election in Novgorod might have serious implications for Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, one of Russia's most prominent regional leaders. The election is being held to replace Aleksandr Korsunov, who was killed in an automobile mishap on 8 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 September 2002) According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December, the local business elite, once united behind Prusak, is now divided between his favored candidate, Nikolai Grazhdankin, and acting Mayor Sergei Lobach. Telman Mkhitaryan, the leading businessman opposing Prusak, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that the dispute is not over economic policy. Rather, Prusak has "neglected" the local elite and gotten carried away with political games at the federal level, Mkhitaryan said. Prusak faced only token opposition in the gubernatorial races he won in 1995 and 1999. But local businesspeople may have a stronger candidate in mind for the next election, scheduled for September 2003. A victory for the current Novgorod mayor would embolden the opposition businesspeople ahead of Prusak's re-election campaign. LB

...AS RACE TIGHTENS
Vladimir Ulyanov, the SPS candidate in the Novgorod mayoral race, withdrew his candidacy on 5 December, just 30 minutes before the deadline for doing so, sobkor.ru reported. According to a spokesman for the local election commission, Ulyanov gave no reason for his decision. Ulyanov's departure leaves five candidates for the 8 December poll: Lobach, Grazhdankin, Communist candidate Valerii Gaidym, and independents Ivan Andreev and Vladimir Kondratev. Meanwhile, local activists called on voters to cast their ballots against all candidates following a 1 December public meeting with all the candidates in the race, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 December. The movement Civic Initiative, which is an umbrella organization of political parties and nongovernmental organizations, claims to have gathered 1,250 signatures on a petition calling for the city "to hire a worthy person" to serve as city manager. RC

'TIS THE SEASON
Police in Novgorod Oblast will intensify patrols in local forests between 23 and 31 December in a bid to cut down on New Year's tree poaching, RIA-Novosti reported on 5 December. People caught illegally cutting trees will be fined up to 2,790 rubles ($87). Last year, police caught 12 people with 97 illegal trees. In addition, according to the report, the oblast administration will take steps to ensure that every family in the oblast is able to have a tree. RC

INCUMBENTS HAVE THE EDGE IN ST. PETERSBURG
Experts predict that only five or six out of St. Petersburg's 50 legislative districts will elect new deputies in the 8 December elections, according to an analysis of the campaign published in "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" on 3 December. Incumbents generally bring advantages to campaigns, such as better name recognition, but the key edge enjoyed by the 48 incumbents seeking re-election is the city law earmarking 2 percent of budget expenditures for legislators to spend in their districts at their discretion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). Sociologist Tatyana Protasenko told "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" that many deputies use the funds to buy foodstuffs for pensioners over a period of years. By the time these politicians face re-election, they may have fed 10 percent of district residents, making it all but impossible for challengers to prevail, especially when turnout is low. LB

ALTAI KRAI LEGISLATOR WANTS REFERENDA ON MERGER WITH ALTAI REPUBLIC
Aleksandr Nazarchuk, who chairs the Legislative Assembly of Altai Krai, has proposed holding referenda in that krai and in neighboring Altai Republic on merging the two regions, "Kommersant" reported on 4 December. Nazarchuk first proposed holding such referenda in May 2001, but the leader of the Altai Republic, Semen Zubakin, opposed the idea. Nazarchuk has worked closely in the past with current Altai Republic leader Mikhail Lapshin, who was elected in December 2001. Lapshin and Nazarchuk were the top two party-list candidates for the Agrarian Party of Russia in the 1995 State Duma elections. However, Lapshin opposes a merger with Altai Krai, according to "Kommersant." The paper said Nazarchuk revived the proposal after politicians in the Altai Republic, including an aide to Lapshin, called for transferring a city and several rural raions from the krai to the republic. LB

UN PROTESTS CLOSURE OF CAMP FOR CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS
Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is UN high commissioner for human rights, pledged in Geneva on 4 December to do all in his power to prevent the closure of tent camps in Ingushetia for Chechen displaced persons and the forced return of those displaced persons to Chechnya, Reuters reported. "It is not the moment to evacuate displaced persons or to force them to return to Chechnya," he said. On 3 December, between 1,000 and 1,500 people were evicted from the Iman camp near Aki-Yurt, and the tents they had occupied were dismantled, Interfax reported. But Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told a press conference in Moscow on 4 December that it would be "totally wrong" to claim that displaced persons are being forcibly returned to Chechnya. Federal Migration Service spokesman Igor Pogosov similarly denied reports that the Ingush authorities cut off electricity and gas supplies to the camps in Ingushetia to force people to leave, Interfax reported on 4 December. He claimed that 99 percent of the inmates left the Aki-Yurt camp voluntarily and were transported in a convoy to Chechnya. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR PEACE TALKS
Akhmed Zakaev told journalists in Copenhagen on 4 December, one day after his release from detention, that the hostage taking by Chechen militants at a Moscow theater in late October was a serious setback to efforts to negotiate an end to the war in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Zakaev said again, as President Aslan Maskhadov has done on several occasions this year, that "the Chechen leadership is ready, without preconditions, to give up the armed struggle and adopt political methods" of resolving the conflict. Usman Ferzauli, who is Maskhadov's representative in Scandinavia, told Prime News on 4 December that Zakaev has spoken by telephone with Maskhadov to discuss "future plans," chechenpress.com reported. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES 'ASSETS-FOR-DEBT' DEAL
Deputies voted on 4 December by a narrow majority (67 of 131 deputies voted in favor) to ratify the agreement signed one month earlier under which Armenia cedes to Russia five state-run enterprises in payment of its $95 million debt, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 July and 6 November 2002). The previous day, several deputies expressed reservations over endorsing the deal. Left-wing opposition deputy Aghasi Arshakian accused the government of "selling our homeland's independence a bit at a time." But on 4 December, only three deputies voted against ratification. LF

AZERBAIJANI EDITORS APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Azerbaijan's Council of Editors appealed on 4 December to the Council of Europe to intervene to halt what they term a new and aggressive campaign by the country's authorities to silence the opposition media, Turan reported. They noted that 31 court cases have been brought against media outlets since January this year, 14 of them in the past two months. They appealed to Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan Andreas Gross to attend court cases against media outlets scheduled for this month or to send observers to do so. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO TAX RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES...
Deputies addressed on 4 December the issue of requiring that the Russian military bases on Georgian territory adopt the Georgian lari for all financial transactions, and pay rent and other appropriate taxes, Caucasus Press reported. Deputy Finance Minister Lasha Zhvania said that rent for the Russian bases amounts to $38 million annually. On 5 December, deputies voted by 119 to one in favor of levying taxes on Russian bases, Caucasus Press reported. In the event that Moscow refuses to comply with that requirement, Georgia will automatically deduct the sums involved from its total $117 million debt to Russia. LF

...AND MULLS HOW TO THWART RUSSIA'S WTO MEMBERSHIP BID...
Deputies also on 4 December began debating a resolution drafted by the opposition United democrats faction affirming that Russia may not be admitted to the World Trade Organization without the consent of Georgia, which joined that body two years ago, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). The resolution makes Georgian support for Russian membership of the WTO contingent on Russia curtailing its economic engagement in Abkhazia, annulling the visa requirement for Georgian citizens, respecting intellectual property rights, and complying with border agreements intended to preclude the smuggling of contraband goods into Georgia. In October 2002, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said Georgian support for Russia's WTO membership bid hinges on Russia's compliance with the latter two demands. LF

IS GEORGIA PLANNING AN INCURSION INTO SOUTH OSSETIA?
Two Georgian ministers offered widely diverging prognoses on 4 December regarding the 1 December abduction of Sadi Sharifov, father of LUKoil Vice President Vagit Sharifov. Interfax quoted Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili as predicting that Sharifov might be freed within the next 24 hours. But the same agency also quoted Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania as suggesting that Sharifov might have been taken from his home in Dmanisi, southeast of Tbilisi, to the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, which borders on the Russian Federation. In recent months, Georgian officials have repeatedly raised the possibility of launching an "anticrime" operation in South Ossetia similar to that begun in September in the Pankisi Gorge. On 28 November, Giorgi Shervashidze, commander of the Georgian Interior Ministry troops, warned the operation in Pankisi might have to be abandoned for lack of funds, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VISITS 'SOUTHERN CAPITAL'
Askar Akaev traveled on 3 December to Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, where he again criticized the Kyrgyz opposition, claiming that its members abuse the right of freedom of speech in a bid to divide the nation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Meeting with local officials, Akaev listed his accomplishments as president, noting in particular the stable exchange rate of the som, low inflation, and successes in attracting foreign investment and increasing GDP. In fact, during the first eight months of 2002, GDP grew by only 1.8 percent instead of the planned 4.5 percent, First Deputy Finance Minister Emirlan Toremyrzaev told a government session in Bishkek on 26 September, according to RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau. Akaev also visited a mosque in Osh together with city elders and attended a ceremonial dinner to mark the end of Ramadan, akipress.org reported. LF

WAS TURKMEN SECURITY MINISTRY BEHIND ATTEMPT TO ASSASSINATE PRESIDENT?
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 5 December, former Turkmen First Deputy Agriculture Minister Saparmurat Iklymov claimed that the 25 November bid to kill President Saparmurat Niyazov was undertaken by the National Security Committee (KNB), and that the KamAZ truck used to ram Niyazov's motorcade was confiscated in 1999 by the KNB from his brother Parakhat, who left Turkmenistan the following year. Niyazov conducted a major purge of the KNB in the spring of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 15 March, 9 May, and 18 June 2002). Iklymov denied any role in the assassination bid, for which Niyazov has blamed him and three other former senior officials. Iklymov, who currently lives in Sweden where he was granted political asylum, said that he has never before had any contact with other exile Turkmen opposition groups but that he now intends to align with them to protect his reputation and "rid my country of this tyrant." Speaking in Moscow on 4 December, former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdi Kuliev likewise said that opposition to Niyazov has emerged within Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Kuliev predicted that Niyazov will "leave the political scene" within one or two years. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT AMNESTIES PRISONERS
Islam Karimov has signed an amnesty pegged to the 10th anniversary of the adoption of Uzbekistan's constitution, Interfax and uza.uz reported on 4 December. Beneficiaries will include over half the current prison population, which is estimated at 40,000. Eligible are minors, women, men over 60, first offenders, and persons jailed for economic crimes. Persons sentenced for their religious beliefs will be freed if the conviction was their first and if they were not convicted of involvement in "extremist organizations" or of crimes against the constitution, according to uzreport.com. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT READY TO START TALKS ON OSCE MISSION
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 4 December said Belarus is ready to start talks immediately with the OSCE to establish a new mandate for that organization's mission in Minsk, Belarusian Television reported. "We are ready to personally invite to our country all those -- even if there are 100 of them -- [empowered] for talks on the mandate of an OSCE mission, on the forms and terms of its presence," Lukashenka said. The Belarusian president made this pledge at a meeting with three U.S. congressmen: Representative Curt Weldon (Republican-Pennsylvania), Representative Roscoe Bartlett (Republican-Maryland), and Senator Conrad Burns (Republican-Montana). "We are not going to confront anybody, even in diplomacy, be it Europe or the United States," Lukashenka added. The visiting U.S. lawmakers promised to appeal to the U.S. government to lift the U.S. travel ban on Lukashenka and other Belarusian officials as soon as OSCE representatives are granted Belarusian visas for conducting talks on the OSCE mission in Minsk, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. JM

MINSK DENIES VISAS TO DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS
Robert Bach from the Prague-based People in Need foundation and Adrianu Mararu from Romania, who planned to participate in a conference on democratic-election standards in Raubichy near Minsk on 5-6 December, have not been granted Belarusian visas, Belapan reported on 4 December, quoting a representative of the Vyasna human rights group. Mararu, who observed the presidential election in Belarus in 2001, applied for a visa weeks in advance, but the Belarusian Embassy in Bucharest dragged out a decision on his application and later said it was too late to grant such permission. Mararu also asked a travel agency to get him a Belarusian visa, but the agency was reportedly told at the embassy that he was on a list of persons barred from traveling to Belarus. Bach believes the Belarusian Embassy in Prague denied him a visa in retaliation for the Czech government's decision to deny a visa to President Lukashenka, who sought to attend the NATO Prague summit last month. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST ACCUSES PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OF STIFLING MEDIA...
Addressing a parliamentary hearing on the freedom of expression on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002), the nascent Independent Trade Union of Journalists' Kyivan leader Andriy Shevchenko described a policy whereby the presidential administration effectively dictates news coverage through unsigned cues sent to media outlets, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. He said such prompts, or "temnyky," detail what news and in what manner the presidential administration wishes to see information reported in newspapers and on radio and television. "In actual fact, television news coverage in Ukraine is made in a remote-control mode. Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels," Shevchenko said. "Let us admit honestly: Instead of news coverage, Ukraine gets lies. Because every half-truth is a lie, and there should be no illusions about that." Shevchenko proposed that media legislation be amended to broaden the definition of illegal interference in journalistic activities and toughen sanctions for such interference. JM

...AND NEWS AGENCY'S EDITOR PROVIDES MORE DETAILS
Oleksandr Kharchenko, editor in chief of the UNIAN news agency, said at the same hearing that authorities have recently begun "taming" Ukrainian news agencies to encourage a certain manner of reportage, UNIAN reported. According to Kharchenko, UNIAN's pluralistic information policy has undergone change since the appointment of Executive Director Vasyl Yurychko earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 October 2002). Kharchenko said Yurychko has limited journalists' opportunities to present differing points of view in their news coverage and initiated a policy of publication that can be construed as politically biased. Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk proposed setting up a working group comprising lawmakers, government officials, and journalists to propose amendments to media legislation. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TO CONTINUE EFFORTS TO OUST KUCHMA
Three opposition leaders -- Yuliya Tymoshenko, Petro Symonenko, and Oleksandr Moroz -- pledged on 4 December to continue the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest campaign to force President Leonid Kuchma to resign, UNIAN reported. The upcoming stage of the campaign will be called "Releasing Ukraine from Kuchma," they added. The three leaders told journalists they will soon begin touring Ukrainian regions to persuade citizens that it is necessary to continue fighting "the criminal regime headed by Leonid Kuchma." The opposition also intends to stage a nationwide strike on 9 March. JM

ESTONIAN EU REFERENDUM PROPOSED FOR MID-SEPTEMBER
Parliament's Constitutional Committee recommended on 4 December that Estonia hold a referendum on accession to the European Union on 14 September 2003, ETA reported. Committee Chairman Indrek Meelak said it is still unclear whether citizens will be asked one or two questions in the plebiscite. One proposal is: "Do you support Estonia's accession to the EU and amending the constitution in this context?" The second foresees two separate questions. Lawmakers are also discussing a bill submitted by 74 deputies on amending the constitution with a provision that allows Estonia to belong to the EU. SG

OSCE MINORITIES COMMISSIONER VISITS LATVIA
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus began a three-day visit to Riga on 3 December, LETA reported. Prime Minister Einars Repse told him the next day that Latvia is ready "for constructive cooperation with the OSCE" and plans to ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities, although with some reservations to be specified in the future, BNS reported. In regard to increasing naturalization, he called this a question of motivating noncitizens, adding that Latvia's admission to the EU should provide an incentive. Ekeus expressed support for Latvia's public-integration policy, which should benefit from the establishment of the post of state minister for integration affairs. During his visit, he also held talks with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis, State Minister for Integration Affairs Mils Muiznieks, Naturalization Board Director Eizenija Aldermane, and parliamentary deputies from all parties. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CANCELS SESSIONS TO MAKE WAY FOR CAMPAIGNING
Although the constitution provides for parliament's fall session to last until 23 December, the legislature's board decided on 4 December not to convene any plenary sessions after 10 December, when the 2003 budget comes up for approval, BNS reported. The board cited a declining number of deputies in attendance as they campaign for the presidential or local elections, to be held on 22 December. Nine deputies are running for president and about 80 are seeking seats on local councils. An extraordinary session may be called if pressing issues arise. Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Gintaras Steponavicius said parliament will continue the fall session in January, since it has so far debated just half of the issues included on the fall agenda. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENTARIANS DIFFER OVER INTEGRATION WITH EU
The Sejm on 4 December held a debate on Poland's EU accession, PAP reported. Jerzy Jaskiernia of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance said the government continues to make efforts to improve the terms of Poland's EU membership. Janusz Lewandowski of the opposition Civic Platform said the EU is not a charity organization but an "elevator of progress." Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, while stressing that his party is not anti-European, noted that the proposed membership conditions are unfavorable for Poland and added that in the present situation, Self-Defense must say "no" to Poland's EU membership. Roman Giertych of the opposition League of Polish Families said the proposed EU membership conditions are "dramatically unfavorable," adding that their acceptance would harm the interests of the Polish nation and state. JM

POLISH BROADCASTING AUTHORITY TO SCRUTINIZE CONTROVERSIAL CATHOLIC STATION
The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) on 3 December decided that it will monitor the programming of Radio Maryja, headed by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, and re-examine the station's financial reports for last year, PAP reported. The KRRiT will also analyze the documentary "Father Rydzyk's Empire," shown on Polish Television last month, which alleged that the station was involved in tax evasion and illegal money transfers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November and 2 December 2002). The KRRiT said it was prompted to adopt a stance toward the station and the documentary by a request from state officials, including President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Deputy Finance Minister Waclaw Ciesielski. JM

CZECH CABINET DISCUSSES HOSPITAL DEBT
The Czech government is holding emergency talks on 5 December to discuss a mounting debt crisis among the country's hospitals, Czech media reported on 4 December. Health Minister Marie Souckova said combined debts of Czech hospitals total 800 million crowns ($25.7 million). Drug makers, meanwhile, are selling medicines to some hospitals on a cash-only basis and are threatening legal action against others for nonpayment. "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 4 December that as many as one-third of the country's hospital beds are unnecessary and that the Health Ministry will begin closing some facilities down as a cost-cutting measure. Citing government officials, the daily wrote that the biggest cuts will be in Plzen, Usti nad Labem, and Central Bohemia, where up to 40 percent of beds are unnecessary. BW

CURRENT, FORMER PREMIERS FEUD OVER CZECH PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION
A behind-the-scenes feud between Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and his predecessor and party colleague Milos Zeman over who should be the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) candidate for president has gone public, Czech media reported on 4 December. Spidla has voiced support for Ombudsman Otakar Motejl, while Zeman has sought the nomination himself -- although he is conditioning his candidacy on the failure of initial voting in a joint session of parliament. At a meeting of the CSSD's parliamentary caucus, Spidla accused Zeman's supporters of disrupting the party, "Lidove noviny" reported on 4 December. The prime minister called a potential Zeman candidacy a "threat to the unity of social democracy." Sources present at the meeting said Spidla spoke bluntly and used crude language, "Hospodarsky noviny" reported the same day. The daily noted that such behavior has generally been linked with Zeman rather than the more staid historian-cum-premier, Spidla. BW

SLOVAK DOCUMENTARY ON KIDNAPPING STIRS CONTROVERSY
An effort to produce a documentary film about the 1995 abduction of Michal Kovac Jr., son of the former Slovak president, is already creating controversy, "Sme" reported on 4 December. Film director Mario Homolka and the editor of the weekly "Plus 7 Dni," Luba Lesna, are producing the film about the kidnapping, which some believe was carried out by allies of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar within the SIS secret service. For the project, Homolka and Lesna filmed the home of one of the accused, identified only as "Lubos K." The same suspect called Homolka and forbid usage of the tape, Homolka alleged. Twelve people were charged in connection with Kovac Jr.'s abduction -- which occurred amid a continuing power struggle between his father and Meciar -- although the charges were dismissed in June 2002 by a court that cited amnesties issued by Meciar while he was temporarily executing the duties of the Slovak president. BW

SLOVAK LEFT TO UNITE
Five leftist parties that failed to win seats in the Slovak parliament in September are planning to function "under one umbrella" in 2003, Slovak Social Democratic Party (SDSS) leader Peter Barath said on 4 December, according to TASR. The parties -- the SDSS, Social Democratic Alternative (SDA), Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), and Left Bloc (LB) -- plan to announce the details of their agreement on 5 December. The move will signal that the creation of a common leftist platform is not just formal, Barath said. Leaders of the five parties also said they do not rule out cooperation with Smer, the second-largest parliamentary opposition party, led by entrepreneur Robert Fico. "We take Smer primarily as a natural partner," said SDL acting Chairman Lubomir Petrak. BW

SLOVAKIA CANCELS SOVIET-ERA PACT WITH CHINA
The Slovak government will cancel a communist-era treaty signed between Czechoslovakia and China in 1957, TASR reported on 4 December. The treaty on friendship and cooperation contained clauses about brotherly relations and obliges the parties to negotiate on important international issues. Those obligations, Slovak officials said, are incompatible with Bratislava's goals of joining NATO and the European Union. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 4 December that there are only a handful of such communist-era treaties that are still valid. "They were only political treaties, and they have been concluded with former socialist countries. Most of them have already been annulled because they are obsolete," Kukan said, adding that in some cases, the continuation of such formal treaties must be negotiated to avoid any misunderstanding. The treaty was annulled after discussion with China. BW

REPORT: FORMER HUNGARIAN SPY CHIEF'S AIDE TRADING IN SECRETS
The former press officer for Ervin Demeter, the previous government's minister in charge of secret services, allegedly sent a letter to the head of the National Security Office demanding a well-paid job or 3 million forints ($12,500) in exchange for not disclosing information about the current government, Hungarian media reported on 4 December. Andras Toth, state secretary in charge of the national security services for the current Social Democrat-led government, said he has passed the letter on to police, adding that the government "cannot be blackmailed." Demeter told Hungarian radio that the former press officer, "Gergely B.," did not come into contact with state secrets in his work. "Nepszabadsag," however, reported that documentation suggests that the aide, who has declined to respond to the allegation, indeed had access to top-secret information. DW

SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ENDS
Campaigning in the 8 December presidential race officially ends at midnight on 5 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) will face far-right Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and Borislav Pelevic of the Party of Serbian Unity, which was founded by the late paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan." Attention centers on whether the necessary 50 percent of the electorate will cast its ballots so the vote can be valid. Kostunica has frequently criticized Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, whom he accuses of wanting the election to fail. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 4 December that the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) is widely expected to break up into two or three new political constellations soon. Several leading politicians within DOS have already aligned themselves with Kostunica rather than with Djindjic. In a recent budget-related vote in parliament, Kostunica's supporters broke with DOS deputies in what several commentators described as a power play. PM

YUGOSLAVIA CALLS FOR THE HAGUE TO INTERVENE IN CROATIAN WAR CRIMES CASE
The Yugoslav government's commission for cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague has called on that body to take over from the Croatian judiciary the case regarding war crimes allegedly committed by eight former Croatian military officers against Serbs at the Lora military prison in 1992, Tanjug reported on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). Split-based Judge Slavko Lozina recently freed the eight. He has made no secret of his nationalist views, and many critics have demanded his exclusion from trying war crimes cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July and 19 September 2002). Belgrade now wants the trial out of Croatian hands altogether. Many observers suggest the "Lora affair" shows that the tribunal is indispensable so long as some courts in the former Yugoslavia remain politicized. PM

YUGOSLAVIA ISSUES ARREST WARRANTS FOR TWO BOSNIAN SERBS
The Yugoslav Justice Ministry issued arrest warrants on 4 December for Ljubisa Beara and Vujadin Popovic, whom the war crimes tribunal in The Hague has accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of practices of war in conjunction with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dpa reported. PM

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION PARTY DIGS IN ITS HEELS
Objections by members of the Montenegrin opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) continue to hold up the finalization of the long-awaited Constitutional Charter governing future relations between Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002). The next meeting of the commission is slated for 6 December. In related news, U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery said he considers unacceptable the Montenegrin opposition's plans to boycott the 22 December presidential elections. He stressed that democratic principles are best pursued by taking part in free elections, not boycotting them. PM

FORMER EU OFFICIAL IN KOSOVA REPORTED ARRESTED ON FRAUD CHARGES
Police in Spain have arrested Joe Trutschler, a German citizen, in connection with a $4.5 million graft affair, dpa reported from Prishtina on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May and 17 October 2002). The case centers on 133 gigawatts of energy imported in January and February from Bulgaria for Kosova but that never reached the province. Trutschler was a manager at the Kosova Energy Corporation (KEK) at the time. The money paid for the power that was never received subsequently turned up in an offshore account in Gibraltar. Trutschler left his post in February and has not responded to the allegations linking him to the fraud, which have appeared in the Kosova media. PM

MACEDONIAN ARMY TO SELL TANKS AND REDUCE MILITARY SERVICE
The Defense Ministry has decided to sell the army's outdated T-55 tanks and reduce the term of compulsory military service, "Dnevnik" reported on 5 December. The T-55 tanks, which were a donation from Bulgaria, are to be replaced by either T-72 or T-84 tanks. The ministry is planning to sell the tanks to an unspecified country from NATO's Partnership for Peace program that is not under an arms embargo. Military service will be reduced from the current nine months to about six months in January. Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said: "The conscripts will learn what they need to know in six months, or maybe in an even shorter period of time. I believe that military service will be reduced from six to two months in about 2007." UB

BOSNIAN FEDERAL PARLIAMENT ELECTS TOP OFFICIALS
The legislature of the Muslim-Croat federation elected Muhamed Ibrahimovic of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) as speaker and Josip Merdzo of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) as his deputy, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 4 December. Velimir Kunic of the moderate Bosnian Serb Party of Independent Social-Democrats (SNSD) withdrew his candidacy for the second deputy post, saying the "SNSD will not participate in any legislative or executive body if power is to be shared with nationalist parties." The SDA and HDZ won the 5 October general elections in the federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION CRITICIZES CNSAS ACTIVITY
The commission overseeing the activity of the Romanian Information Service on 4 December criticized the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In a memo addressed to the Senate's Permanent Bureau, commission Chairman Ion Stan argued that the CNSAS's recently filed report on its activities since 2000 should be returned to the CNSAS and a new deadline should be set for a new report. Stan called for an investigation into the CNSAS's financial situation, saying there is an "obvious discrepancy" between the CNSAS's operating costs and the results it achieves. He further accused the CNSAS of exceeding its authority and not respecting its obligation to be politically independent. According to Mediafax, Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu intends to set up a parliamentary sub-commission to fully investigate the CNSAS's activities. ZsM

EU AMBASSADOR ADVISES BUCHAREST TO RESOLVE CONFLICT OVER FUNDS
In a letter addressed to Premier Adrian Nastase, European Commission delegation to Romania chief Jonathan Scheele has asked the government to resolve the issue of an unused credit intended for the modernization of the Romanian capital, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 4 December. The Bucharest mayoralty obtained a loan from the European Investment Bank in 2000 to be used for modernizing the city's central-heating system, among other things. However, the Bucharest Council's majority Social Democratic Party (PSD) group wants to use the funds for other repair projects. While stressing that he does not want to interfere in Romania's internal politics, Scheele said the issue could have a "serious negative impact" on Romania's credibility in the eyes of foreign lenders. He also added that he hopes Nastase, who is also PSD chairman, will be able "to use his influence" to resolve "this unfortunate situation." ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO FULFILL COMMITMENTS TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Vladimir Voronin pledged during a meeting on 4 December with Jorgen Grunnet, the Council of Europe general-secretary's special envoy to Moldova, that the country will fulfill all the commitments it assumed when it joined the organization in 1995, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Voronin said taking over the council's Committee of Ministers' chairmanship next year is "of strategic importance" for Moldova. ZsM

GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT APPROVES LOCAL GOVERNMENT
The Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly on 4 December approved the autonomous region's cabinet proposed by Governor Gheorghi Tabunshik, Flux reported. The assembly named former acting Governor Gheorghi Mollo as deputy governor. ZsM

BULGARIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST FORMER DIRECTOR OF ORDNANCE FACTORY
Bulgarian authorities on 4 December arrested Vlado Vladov, a former executive director of the state-owned TEREM ordnance factory, mediapool.bg reported. Vladov was apprehended in connection with the export of dual-use goods to Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 18 November 2002), but also in connection with other breaches of export regulations regarding dual-use goods, according to Deputy Prosecutor-General Hristo Manchev. There have been allegations that spare parts for armored troop transporters that TEREM exported to Syria were destined for Iraq. Vladov was sacked by Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov immediately after the scandal was made public. He is the third person to be arrested in connection with TEREM's alleged illegal dealings. Interpol has issued an international warrant for Valentin Tahchiev, another former director of TEREM, who is believed to have left the country for Russia, according to Darik Radio. In related news, Svinarov told parliament that the government will report to the U.S. State Department regarding the TEREM case by the end of this week. UB

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS TO MOVE REFERENDUM ON KOZLODUY
The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) announced on 3 December that it will initiate a motion for a referendum over the future of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, BTA reported. A working group is to draft a motion for submission to parliament. Meanwhile, President Georgi Parvanov, a former BDP chairman, told journalists that he is not opposed to a referendum on the use of nuclear energy in general. However, he said he believes a referendum should not focus on specific questions such as the closure of certain blocks of Kozloduy, as it has been proposed by leading BSP members, mediapool.bg reported. UB

BULGARIAN SUPREME ADMINISTRATIVE COURT REJECTS APPEAL AGAINST DRAFT BUDGET
The Supreme Administrative Court on 4 December rejected an appeal against the 2003 state budget filed by the Supreme Judicial Council, bnn reported. The Supreme Judicial Council had demanded that the government increase the budget for the judiciary from $70 million to $130 million, arguing that the Finance Ministry had unconstitutionally interfered with the council's budgetary rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 21, and 22 November 2002). UB

NEW BULGARIAN AIRLINE TAKES TO THE AIR
Bulgaria's new national airline Balkan Air Tour began operating flights on 4 December, BTA reported. It replaces the bankrupt state-owned Balkan Airlines, which was forced to halt its flight operations due to insolvency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April and 18 October 2001, and 29 and 30 October 2002). UB

There is no End Note today.


ROCKETS HIT AFGHAN CAPITAL
Three rockets struck Kabul's Aqa Ali Shams district on 4 December, Radio Afghanistan reported. The attack did not cause any casualties and Afghan security officials discovered two rockets in Bagrami, east of Kabul, that were positioned to be fired at the capital. A number of mines and mortars were also discovered in Kabul by Afghan security forces, the radio station reported, adding that "terrorists" intended to use the weapons during the Muslim Eid holiday on 5 December. AT

DISARMAMENT PROJECT FINDS SUCCESS IN AFGHANISTAN'S KONDUZ PROVINCE
A UN-supervised disarmament project in the northern provinces of Afghanistan has yielded positive results in Konduz Province, Afghan Islamic Press reported on 4 December. More than 6,000 heavy and light weapons have been collected from various parts of the province since the project began earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002). The weapons-collection teams begin by establishing a "commission of elders and influential figures in every area and then collects weapons via them," a method that has "produced good and positive results," according to the news agency. AT

AFGHAN-CURRENCY REPLACEMENT DELAYED
The original 4 December deadline for phasing out all old Afghan currency and replacing it with the new afghani has been pushed back to 6 January, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 4 December. Logistical problems in delivering the new currency to rural areas are largely responsible for the delay, according to the report. "We only have two helicopters to deliver new money to the north -- this is not enough," IRIN quoted central bank Deputy Governor Isa Turab as saying. However, Turab said that despite some setbacks the distribution of the new currency that began on 7 October is proceeding well. He said 27 billion new afghanis -- one of which is equal to 1,000 old afghanis -- have been printed to replace about 15 trillion afghanis' worth of the old notes, but he admitted that the bank has no clear idea of how many "old afghanis were in circulation after unrestrained printing under Taliban rule and during wars and occupation before it," IRIN reported. According to estimates, 2,000 tons of old afghanis will be destroyed, the report added. AT

IRANIAN EMBASSY IN KABUL FACES TERRORIST THREAT
The Iranian charge d'affaires in Kabul, Ashjazadeh, told embassy staff on 4 December that Iranian facilities in the Afghan capital face a serious threat from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 5 December. Ashjazadeh said two Al-Qaeda Arabs disguised as Afghans have entered Kabul either to blow up the embassy, kill Iranian diplomats, or to conduct a suicide operation. "In the current circumstances and because there is an absence of security the threat is very serious and a source of concern," "Entekhab" quoted Ashjazadeh as saying. "The bombers have plans for dispatching vehicles packed with bombs, placing explosives in cars used by the embassy and other Iranian offices, or causing explosions in front of the main embassy building," he added. Ashjazadeh did not describe the source of his information, but he said the Iranian Embassy has no security measures. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES U.S. 'EXTREMISTS'...
President Mohammad Khatami in a 4 December news conference complained that Iran has always faced U.S. repression, IRNA and Iranian state television reported. Khatami went on to say that he could not make any predictions about the resumption of Iran-U.S. ties because an "extremist" wing whose policies threaten the whole world is in power in the United States. Khatami did not rule out relations with the United States because "we are pursuing policy of detente toward all countries." Nevertheless, he said that it is up to the actor who has committed injustices to change its policies and behavior. BS

...AND CONDUCT OF COURTS
President Khatami said during a 4 December press conference that he is not very happy with the conduct of the courts recently. Referring to the trial that is to resume on 8 December involving three men who work for an opinion-polling agency, Khatami said, "I am not a judge but I believe that the way the case was dealt with and its reporting in the press were not right. I hope that the case will be dealt with on the basis of the law," Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. IRNA reported that Khatami also criticized the judiciary for its failure to review the case of political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instructed on 17 November. BS

MORE IRANIAN WOMEN IMMOLATING THEMSELVES
Dr. Amuzegar, the head of the burns unit at Mashhad's Imam Reza Hospital, said on 4 December that women were responsible for 80 percent of the cases of self-immolation in Khorasan Province since March, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Amuzegar said this marks an increase over the previous year and attributed these incidents to family disputes, forced marriages, poverty, and poor living standards. "Most of the individuals who take this action are totally unaware of its consequences and resulting problems and regret it within the first few seconds," Amuzegar said. BS

TEHRAN CONSIDERS GASOLINE RATIONING
Parliamentary Energy Committee head Hussein Afarideh said on 4 December that gasoline should be rationed in order to check excessive consumption of it, IRNA reported. Gasoline is heavily subsidized in Iran, and Afarideh said that adjustment to the subsidy regime could reduce excessive gasoline use. Gasoline use is 9 percent higher since March 2002 than for the same period in 2001. The average gasoline-consumption level was as high as 59.5 million liters a day in the Iranian month of Shahrivar (23 August-22 September), according to IRNA. Iran imported 9.5 million liters of gasoline in the first seven months of the Iranian year, 28 percent more than in the same period last year. Gasoline imports are expected to cost as much as $1 million by March 2003. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATORS CALL FOR LARGER FARMING BUDGET
Two-thirds of the parliamentarians who came to work on 3 December called for a 30 percent increase in next year's budget for the agricultural and water-resources sectors, IRNA reported. In a letter to President Khatami, 200 representatives wrote that it is logical to extend more credit to these sectors because of their importance to sustainable development and employment. The letter called for allocating funds for irrigation projects that can turn a quick profit, rescheduling loan repayments, and earmarking enough hard currency to strengthen mechanized farming and processing industries. The letter also called for a television channel that would exclusively cover farming matters. BS

U.S. OFFICIALS DISCUSS POTENTIAL TURKISH ROLE...
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a group of journalists in Ankara after his meetings with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and with ruling Justice and Development Party head Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 4 December that some progress had been made in planning for possible military action in Iraq, according to a Defense Department press release. "We have agreement to move forward with concrete measures of military planning and preparations that have frankly been in a bit of a holding pattern while the new government was getting established," Wolfowitz said. "That planning effort and those preparatory measures are essential to working out with some specificity what kinds of forces might be based in Turkey, where they might be based, and what kinds of improvements would have to be made to facilities," he added. BS

...AND USE OF AIR BASES IN EVENT OF ATTACK ON IRAQ
In response to a question at the 4 December press conference regarding Turkey's stand on the use of its air bases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002), Wolfowitz indicated that there has been some progress but there are financial issues to consider. "I would say we're close but not yet exactly at the point of saying which bases we would use, certainly under which conditions," the State Department press release quoted him as saying. "In fact, the immediate focus of our planning efforts needs to be to identify how much investment we've got to make in various bases if we are going to use them." Wolfowitz said investment in various facilities could cost "tens of millions, probably several hundred million dollars." He added, "It's a step that we want to tee up for a political decision quickly, because it's an important step to take. But I think that's an immediate military task." BS

PUK FIGHTS ANSAR AL-ISLAM NEAR HALABJA
A Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) military spokesman said on 4 December that Ansar al-Islam personnel stormed PUK fortifications near Halabja earlier that day, PUK's KurdSat television reported. A number of PUK personnel were killed or wounded and several Ansar al-Islam bodies were left behind. "In accordance with a masterly and carefully thought-out plan, the protectors of the people and the homeland launched a counterattack against the Ansar al-Islam terrorists and managed in record time to cleanse the positions that the gunmen of the supporters of anti-Islam [referring to Ansar al-Islam] had occupied for a short time," the PUK spokesman said. He said it was not possible to determine the number of Ansar al-Islam fatalities because there were so many of them. BS

PUK LEADER TALABANI VISITS KUWAIT
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani met on 3 December with the Kuwaiti Crown Prince and Council of Ministers Chairman Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported the next day. Talabani held other meetings with Emiri Court Affairs Minister Sheikh [Nasir] Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Emiri adviser Abd-al-Rahman Salim Al-Atiqi, second deputy head of the Council of Ministers and Interior Minister Sheikh Muhammad Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah, and many others. Among the topics they discussed were relations between Kuwait and Iraq following possible regime change in Iraq. Talabani said Kurds who have been released recently from Iraqi prisons say that Kuwaitis are still being detained there and are being transferred from one prison to another. BS

KUWAIT DENIES HARBORING IRAQI OPPOSITION
Kuwaiti First Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah said on 4 December that Baghdad must account for missing and imprisoned Kuwaitis, KUNA news agency reported. He denied, however, that Kuwait is harboring any Iraqi opposition members and said Talabani's visit was a normally scheduled meeting. Sheikh Sabah expressed his hope that a possible new regime in Iraq would be democratic and respect its neighbors. BS

BAGHDAD DENIES NAVAL WARFARE REPORTS
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry denied on 4 December that an Iraqi vessel had fired on two Kuwaiti vessels, Iraq's INA news agency reported. An Iraqi spokesman said that such an accident never occurred. Kuwait's Interior Ministry said on 3 December that an Iraqi vessel fired on a Kuwaiti Coast Guard patrol of two boats near the northern Kuwaiti island of Warba, KUNA reported. Nobody was injured in the shooting but a Kuwaiti Coast Guard member was slightly wounded when the two Kuwaiti boats bumped into each other after the shooting. BS

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