Accessibility links

Newsline - December 10, 2002


NATO HEAD SEES 'NO OBSTACLES' TO FURTHER COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
During a live appearance on RTR television on 10 December, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said he sees no obstacles to cooperation between the alliance and Russia's military-industrial complex, strana.ru reported. Moscow and Brussels "are working along the entire spectrum of cooperation issues and there are no obstacles," Robertson was quoted as saying. "And this especially includes antimissile defense." He also said that "about 80 percent" of NATO's military bases have been closed down since the end of the Cold War and "all its offensive systems have been withdrawn and most of them dismantled." On 9 December, Robertson met with business leaders in Moscow and urged accelerated military reforms "both in the countries of the alliance and in Russia," RosBalt reported. He said that military reform in Russia could stimulate trade and investment and help the development of small business. RC

DUMA TO DISCUSS STRATEGIC-REDUCTIONS TREATY
President Vladimir Putin has submitted to the State Duma for confirmation the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which he and U.S. President George W. Bush signed in Moscow in May, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 9 December, citing the Kremlin's press office. Parliamentary hearings on the agreement are expected to begin in the near future. RC

RUSSIA, UKRAINE READY FOR 'NEW STAGE' IN RELATIONS
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych were in Moscow on 9 December for talks with their Russian counterparts, Russian news agencies reported. "I cannot see the future of my country without the warmest-possible relations with Russia," Kuchma told journalists, according to RosBalt. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Yanukovych ordered specialists to complete a treaty on the creation of a free-trade zone between the two countries. The agreement "should open a new stage in the development of trade relations within the CIS," Kasyanov was quoted by RosBalt as saying. According to strana.ru, the treaty could be ready for signing as early as February 2003. RC

NUCLEAR PLANTS BRACE FOR POSSIBLE TERRORIST ATTACKS
Security has been stepped up at Russia's nuclear-power plants following a recent statement in London by Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev that Chechen fighters may be targeting them, newsru.com reported on 9 December. Zakaev had warned in October that Chechen fighters might launch such an attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2002), while former Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 4 December as warning that "if Chechens get involved in nuclear terrorism, Chechnya will be wiped off the map." "It cannot be said that nuclear-power plants are completely able to withstand terrorists," said Rosenergoatom General Director Oleg Saraev. However, "organizational measures and measures taken by security agencies can make [their] actions much more difficult." The website also reported that in late November agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested a captain in the security detachment at the Kalinin Nuclear-Power Plant in Tver Oblast. According to the report, the suspect was found to be in possession of a classified plan of the facility and coded telephone numbers that turned out to belong to Chechen nationals. Tver Oblast Military Prosecutor Oleg Pribok reportedly confirmed that a criminal case has been filed against the unidentified officer. RC

GOVERNMENT, MEDIA SIGN 'COOPERATION PROTOCOL'
Leaders of the Federation Council, the State Duma, the Media Ministry, and the journalism community's Industrial Committee on 10 December signed a "protocol of cooperation," Interfax reported. Under the terms of the protocol, which was signed during a session of the Duma's Information Policy Committee, all participants agree to take active steps to coordinate their positions in order to revise and pass amendments quickly to the law on the mass media similar to those vetoed by President Putin on 25 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2002). The signers agreed to base their revisions on Putin's comments to the amendments. RC

PUTIN HAILS GEORGIAN CRACKDOWN ON PUTATIVE APARTMENT BOMBERS
Speaking in Moscow on 9 December, President Putin expressed appreciation for the "destruction" by Georgian special forces on 7 December of the "odious terrorists" who, Putin claimed, were responsible for the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk and for the extradition to Moscow of one other suspect, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). The men never stood trial, and there is little concrete evidence of their responsibility for those attacks. Putin said he hopes that "this cooperation between the special forces and law-enforcement agencies of Georgia and Russia" will help to improve bilateral relations between the two countries. LF

RUSSIAN POPULATION BECOMING INCREASINGLY MOBILE...
More than 7 million people have emigrated from Russia since 1991, newsru.com reported on 9 December, citing Vladimir Zorin, the government minister responsible for nationalities policies. Zorin noted that 27 million people -- about one-fifth of the country's population -- have changed their place of residence at least once in the last decade, a phenomenon that he evaluated as positive given Russia's demographic crisis and the needs of the labor market. He added that the migration of highly qualified specialists and young people continues to be a problem for Russia and lamented that this process is largely unregulated. RC

...AS 3 MILLION ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS LIVE IN RUSSIA
An estimated 3 million illegal immigrants reside in Russia, and every year they take some $8 billion out of the country illegally, according to statistics released on 9 December during State Duma hearings on immigration policy, REN-TV reported. The largest numbers of undocumented immigrants come from Ukraine, China, Turkey, and Vietnam. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) observed that immigration policy has already been strengthened by the passage of a new law on acquiring Russian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April and 11 May 2002) and the Duma's provisional approval last month of a bill on leaving and entering Russia, ORT reported. According to REN-TV, Rogozin also suggested that Russia could attract young, strong immigrants by creating a foreign legion similar to the one that exists in France. LB

MINISTRIES TO PROTECT ENVIRONMENT FROM THE MILITARY
The Natural Resources Ministry and the Defense Ministry have created a joint program intended to protect the environment from the consequences of military projects, RosBalt reported on 10 December. According to the report, the two ministries will draft new environmental-protection legislation and coordinate efforts to prevent and cope with environmental damage and emergency situations on military bases. Finally, they will work together to develop ways for the Natural Resources Ministry to monitor the environmental effects of military programs without violating the law on state secrets. An agreement on the program is expected to be formally signed early next year. RC

ANALYSTS SPLIT ON MEANING OF PETERSBURG ELECTIONS
With the official results of the 8 December legislative elections in St. Petersburg expected to be issued only late in the day on 10 December, analysts are split on the meaning of the poll for St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. About 38 of the 50 incumbent Legislative Assembly deputies are expected to retain their mandates, strana.ru reported. According to Aleksei Musakov, director of the St. Petersburg-based Political Center, the results should boost Yakovlev's position and his hopes of being able to seek a third term, the website reported on 9 December. Musakov argued that the likely wins of Balteximbank head Yurii Rydnik and businessman Dmitrii Volchek, described as "two strong financial players," are particularly significant for the governor. The website predicted that the assembly will have 31 nonparty deputies who are expected to support Yakovlev's efforts to amend the city charter to allow him to run again. The four parties that are widely believed to oppose such an amendment -- the Union of Rightist Forces, Yabloko, Unified Russia, and Petersburg's Will -- should have from 15-19 seats. In order to pass, a charter amendment must garner 34 votes. "Moskovskie novosti," No. 48, calculated that Yakovlev can count on the "firm support" of only 24 new deputies. Likewise, "Vremya novostei" commented, "It will be extremely difficult [for Yakovlev] to introduce changes to the city charter." RC

JAILED DEPUTY WINS RE-ELECTION
Among the St. Petersburg deputies who apparently retained their seats was Yurii Shutov, who has been jailed for more than three years on suspicion of ordering a number of high-profile contract murders. In September, the Supreme Court ruled that Shutov's November 1999 arrest was illegal, but he remains in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2002). According to preliminary results published by regnum.ru, Shutov received almost 33 percent of the vote, while his closest competitor, Sergei Ivanov, polled 21 percent. RC

UPPER-CHAMBER HEAD LIKELY TO KEEP HIS POST
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who represents St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly in the upper chamber, is widely expected to be reconfirmed by the city's new legislature, Russian news agencies reported on 10 December. Mikhail Mikhailovskii, who represents Governor Yakovlev in the council, told RIA-Novosti that Mironov would be reconfirmed "even if the Legislative Assembly was 100 percent made up of supporters of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev." RC

TWO CANADIAN DIPLOMATS EXPELLED
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 9 December announced that two Canadian diplomats have been expelled from Russia "for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status," Russian news agencies reported. A spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Ministry said the two men, who were not identified, left Russia on 7 December. He flatly denied the charges of spying. According to Reuters, the move was a tit-for-tat reaction to the expulsion from Canada "a few weeks ago" of two Russian diplomats charged with spying. Ottawa and Moscow on 10 December exchanged statements expressing a commitment to improved relations in the future, ITAR-TASS reported. RC

SIBERIAN OFFICIAL BEATEN
Novosibirsk Deputy Mayor Viktor Lituev has been hospitalized following an attack by unknown assailants on the night of 9-10 December, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 December. Police confirmed that a criminal investigation has been opened but refused to speculate on possible motives for the attack. On 7 August 2001, Novosibirsk Deputy Mayor Igor Belyakov was shot dead by an unknown gunman. No arrests have been made in that case. RC

TENSION CONTINUES IN FAR EASTERN CITY...
Negotiations to end a two-week-old strike by municipal workers in the Far Eastern city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii broke down on 10 December when embattled Mayor Yurii Golenishchev failed to show up for the talks, polit.ru reported. More than 1,100 city workers are striking for wage arrears, a salary increase, the payment of benefits guaranteed by the law on northern territories, and the dismissal of a number of city officials. On 9 December, the city paid 4 million rubles ($129,000) in back wages and pledged to pay the remaining 8.3 million rubles within three days, Interfax reported. A petition calling for a referendum on Golenishchev's dismissal has been submitted to local authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). RC

...AS TEACHERS IN IRKUTSK HOLD WORK ACTION
More than 1,000 education-sector employees in Irkutsk Oblast held a one-day work stoppage on 9 December to protest wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Thirty-one rural schools were affected by the action. According to the report, the teachers were last paid in August and are owed a total of 177 million rubles ($5.7 million). RC

TAMBOV STRIKES A BLOW AGAINST TERRORISM
The Tambov municipal Commission on Place-Names has decided to rename several local streets named in honor of "revolutionary terrorists," regnum.ru reported on 10 December. Streets named for French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre and Bolshevik activists Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Nikolai Kuznetsov will have their prerevolutionary names restored. "After the terrorist acts in Moscow, the residents of these streets demanded the authorities remove the names of the revolutionary terrorists," a commission statement read. The commission's decision must be ratified by the city Duma before it takes effect. RC

MARII-EL MEDIA HEAD STEPS DOWN
The president of the Republic of Marii-El has accepted the resignation of the chairwoman of the republic's Press and Information Committee, Yelena Khripchenko, regnum.ru reported, citing the republican-controlled newspaper "Mariiskaya pravda." No further details were reported, except that Khripchenko's deputy, Tatyana Cheboksarinova, has been named acting chairwoman. RC

FORMER DUMA DEPUTY'S MURDERERS SENTENCED
An Altai Krai court on 9 December sentenced four unidentified men to from 10 to 18 years in prison for the February 2001 murder of former State Duma Deputy Mikhail Sirota, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Sirota was shot three times in the head and back outside his home in the village of Pervomaisk. According to lenta.ru, the motive for the killing was a commercial dispute between Sirota, who was the general director of a poultry farm, and the owner of a company doing construction work at the farm. RC

AUDIT CHAMBER TO CREATE PERMANENT INSPECTION TEAM FOR CHECHNYA...
The Audit Chamber plans to create a unit to monitor continuously how state funds are spent in Chechnya, Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin told RTR on 8 December. The chamber recently submitted to the Federal Security Service evidence that some 700 million rubles ($23.3 million) in government funds were misused in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002). Stepashin said that the new Chechen prime minister, Mikhail Babich, had written to him asking the Audit Chamber to thoroughly investigate the allocation of funds intended to rebuild the Chechen economy. LB

...AND WILL INDIRECTLY CHECK CENSUS RESULTS...
In the same interview with RTR on 8 December, Chairman Stepashin admitted that he and his colleagues had "serious doubts" about the census figures released concerning Chechnya, in particular statistics suggesting there are some 450,000 students and children in the republic. When asked whether the Audit Chamber will review the census results, Stepashin said: "That is not our function. We do not have those capabilities. But we can use economic analysis to see where the money is really going.... We can count and compare. I think that it will be interesting." Calculating the money actually spent on social benefits such as child allowances, wages, and pensions could reveal whether the official census figures inflated the number of children, adults, and pensioners in the war-ravaged republic. LB

...AS RUSSIAN MINISTER FOR CHECHNYA DENIES FUNDS EMBEZZLED
Speaking in Grozny on 9 December on a tour of inspection, former Chechen Premier Stanislav Ilyasov, who was recently named Russian minister for Chechen affairs, denied that more than 700 million rubles earmarked for reconstruction in Chechnya has been embezzled, Russian news agencies reported. Ilyasov admitted that some money was "redistributed" but added that the Russian government approved the redistribution. Meanwhile, on 9 December "Izvestiya" quoted the head of the FSB Chechen directorate, Sergei Babkin, as confirming that former Chechen Health Minister Uvais Magomadov has been charged with abuse of power and the embezzlement of 35 million rubles of budgetary funds. German journalists earlier this year quoted Isa Dudaev, one of Magomadov's deputies, who had sought in vain to publicize embezzlement within that ministry, as saying that Magomadov denied any theft or embezzlement within his ministry (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 21 March 2002). LF

MINERS PICKET GOVERNMENT HEADQUARTERS
Some 50 coal miners are picketing government headquarters in Moscow, demanding that the government keep promises made to settle protests during the summer, REN-TV reported on 9 December. The protesters have come from Kemerovo and Rostov oblasts, the Komi Republic, and Krasnoyarsk Krai and are seeking increases in wages and pensions, as well as the return of various social benefits once guaranteed to miners, such as annual holidays at resorts. They also want to meet with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov or his deputies. If their demands are not met, they will appeal directly to President Putin for assistance. TVS reported the miners are also threatening to begin a hunger strike demanding the dismissal of the government. REN-TV reported the miners are threatening to block the Trans-Siberian Railroad, a tactic that caused massive disruption during extensive miners' strikes in May and June 1998. LB

KRASNOYARSK COMMISSION CONTINUES TO FIGHT GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION RESULT
The Krasnoyarsk Krai Election Commission has filed a Constitutional Court appeal challenging the legality of actions by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) following the krai's 22 September gubernatorial election, "Kommersant" reported on 7 December. The krai commission had declared the results invalid in a move widely denounced as political interference on behalf of Aleksandr Uss, who trailed in the vote count. The TsIK reversed that decision and declared Aleksandr Khloponin the winner. He has been governing Krasnoyarsk for the last two months, as the krai election commission filed unsuccessful appeals to the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court and the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court is unlikely to take up the case, since its jurisdiction covers reviews of normative acts (such as laws and presidential decrees), not actions taken by state officials. LB

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ADVOCATES DUAL APPROACH TO CHECHNYA
Sergei Ivanov told a news conference in Moscow on 9 December that he believes a combined approach of continuing the "antiterrorism" campaign and promoting a political settlement should be followed in Chechnya, Interfax reported. He noted that a referendum on the new Chechen draft constitution will be held in March 2003. LF

MORE DISPLACED-PERSONS CAMPS IN INGUSHETIA THREATENED WITH CLOSURE
Five more camps in Ingushetia that house displaced persons from Chechnya are likely to be closed, chechenpress.com reported on 9 December. Camp residents are under pressure to return "voluntarily" to Chechnya and have been informed that gas and electricity supplies to the camps will be cut on 21 December. The Ingush authorities estimate that 19,000 displaced persons are still living in tent camps. Also on 9 December, Russian presidential representative for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov met in Nazran with Ingushetia's president, Murad Zyazikov, to discuss the repatriation process, ITAR-TASS reported. Sultygov told Interfax the same day that a group of five to 10 Chechen displaced persons is to travel to Grozny to inspect the provisional accommodation prepared there for returning displaced persons and will report back on their impressions. As other Russian political figures have consistently done, Sultygov denied that any displaced persons are being forced to return to Chechnya. LF

NEW GROUP TO SEARCH FOR MISSING PERSONS IN CHECHNYA
At the orders of the Russian Military Prosecutor's Office, the Chechen Prosecutor's Office has formed a special investigative group to search for people reported missing, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. That group will have access to Russian military facilities from which civilians are barred. In October, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev estimated the number of persons who have disappeared since the beginning of the second Chechen war at approximately 1,600. LF

COURT IMPOSES FINE ON AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER...
Baku's Sabayil District Court fined the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" 3 million manats ($615,000) on 9 December and ordered it to publish a retraction of an article printed in October that the court ruled insulted the honor and dignity and damaged the professional reputation of Saatli District Mayor Gulkhuseyn Akhmedov, Turan reported. Akhmedov had demanded 20 million manats in damages. The libel suit was the first of nine brought against "Yeni Musavat" in recent weeks. A second case is continuing in Baku's Sabail District Court, in which Deputy Defense Minister Mamed Beydullaev is demanding 300 million manats in damages, Turan reported on 9 December. Also on 9 December, journalists' and human rights organizations in Azerbaijan issued a joint statement demanding that the country's authorities stop pressuring the independent media, Turan reported. LF

...AS EDITORS WANT DEBT RELIEF EXTENDED
The editors of seven opposition and independent newspapers -- "Azadlyg," "Tazadlar," "Yeni Musavat," "Femida," "Jumhuriyyet," "Muhalifat," and "Sharg" -- have appealed to the director of Azerbaijan's state-run publishing house to extend the 10 January 2003 deadline by which they are required to pay their debts to that organization, Turan reported on 9 December. The seven editors said that demanding they meet the deadline would be tantamount to forcing them to cease publication. They recalled that when President Heidar Aliev issued a decree one year ago freezing newspapers' debts for one year, he mentioned the possibility of extending that moratorium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001). "Azadlyg" and "Sharg" on 4 December quoted presidential administration official Ali Hasanov as implying that Aliev would be willing to extend the moratorium. The total debts of Azerbaijan's 170 publications to the state publishing house amount to 1.5 billion manats, according to "Yeni Musavat" on 4 December. LF

CASPIAN WORKING-GROUP MEETING POSTPONED AGAIN
A meeting in Baku of deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states scheduled for 10-12 December has been postponed until early next year because one of the countries involved is unable to participate, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December without specifying the country in question. The meeting was originally scheduled for October then postponed to late November. Participants are to continue discussing a draft document specifying the legal status of the Caspian Sea. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION FACTIONS SEEK TO PREVENT SALE OF CHEMICAL GIANT TO ITERA
The Traditionalists, New Democrats, and Movement for Democratic Reforms parliamentary factions have called for the Audit Chamber to rule on the legality of the proposed sale of the Azot chemical plant in Rustavi to the gas-transport monopoly Itera for $500,000, Caucasus Press reported on 9 December. Georgia owes Itera some $100 million for supplies of natural gas over the past six years. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze approved the sale on 4 December, but no firm agreement has been signed. Itera has pledged to invest $14 million in Azot, which employs some 4,000 workers and produces saltpeter and chemical fertilizer. It will also repay the enterprise's $100 million debt over a period of three years and has waived its requirement for prepayment for supplies of gas to Tbilisi this winter, according to "Vremya MN" on 6 December. LF

FOUR GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS REMANDED FOR SUSPECTED ARMS, DRUGS SMUGGLING
The Tbilisi-based Sukhumi City Court in exile on 9 December remanded three members of the Abkhaz Interior Ministry in exile to pretrial detention for three months and sentenced a fourth officer to pretrial house arrest, Caucasus Press reported. The four were apprehended early on 7 December north of Tbilisi in possession of "huge" quantities of arms and drugs. Their lawyer claims the four men, who are reportedly members of one of the Georgian guerrilla organizations operating in Abkhazia, were transporting the weapons from Abkhazia to Tbilisi to hand them over to police. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT INCREASES DEFENSE FUNDING FOR 2003
Deputies voted on 6 December to increase funding for the armed forces in 2003 from 56 million to 80 million laris ($36.4 million), which constitutes some 11.1 percent of all planned budgetary spending, Caucasus Press reported. Deputies said that sum is needed for the successful completion of the ongoing reform of the armed forces. Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze had asked for a total of 129 million laris for next year. The armed forces were allocated 36 million laris in the 2002 budget. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT ATTENDS PARTY CONGRESS
Nursultan Nazarbaev delivered a speech in Pavlodar on 8 December to the third congress of the OTAN (Civic) Party, which was formed in early 1999 to serve as his support base, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev said the party's Pavlodar branch should seek to broaden its membership and recruit from agricultural, railroad and oil-industry workers. He also proposed that the party train politicians to serve in local government. Nazarbaev argued that a multiparty system is one of the prerequisites of a democratic society, but added that rivalry among political parties should not lead to "destabilization." LF

INTERNATIONAL AID FUELS KYRGYZ BUREAUCRACY
Of the $350 million in international grants that Kyrgyzstan was recently promised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002), approximately half is needed to fund the country's bureaucracy, akipress.org quoted parliament Deputy Kabay Karabekov as estimating on 9 December. At a government meeting on 7 December, it was reported that some 1,000 government posts have been abolished this year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

TAJIK OFFICIAL DENIES PRESENCE OF TERRORISTS
General Nurashilo Nazarov, who is first deputy chairman of Tajikistan's State Border Committee, told ITAR-TASS on 9 December there is no truth to reports of bases or training camps on Tajik territory belonging to the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or other terrorist organizations. He admitted that small groups of IMU fighters infiltrated Tajikistan earlier but claimed they were expelled in early 2000. Kyrgyz National Security Service Chairman Kalyk Imankulov said three months ago that the IMU has been transformed into a regional organization and that it is currently headquartered in the Afghan region of Badakhshan, which borders on southeastern Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2002). LF

TURKMENISTAN TO HOST UN FORUM
During talks in Ashgabat on 9 December with UN official Vladimir Goryaev, President Saparmural Niyazov agreed to the latter's proposal that Turkmenistan host an international forum on preventive diplomacy and sustainable development in Central Asia, Russian agencies reported. But Niyazov argued against forcing the pace of integration among Central Asian states, noting that they differ considerably in their levels of economic development. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT CONDEMNS DISTORTION OF NATIONAL TRADITIONS
In a 5 December speech to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of Uzbekistan's constitution, Islam Karimov condemned lavish expenditure on the celebration of weddings and funerals, uza.uz reported on 6 December. He argued that while it is necessary to preserve noble national traditions, unnecessarily lavish expenditure on such occasions discredits those traditions. He hinted that in some cases it could also be a form of money laundering. Karimov also proposed designating 2003 the Year of the Mahalla (local-community association), stressing the key role the mahallas can play in local politics and economic development. He proposed drafting legislation to grant them formal legal status. LF

BELARUS, OSCE BEGIN TALKS IN VIENNA
Representatives of the Belarusian government and the OSCE have begun talks in Vienna to reach a compromise on the presence of an OSCE mission in Belarus, Belapan reported on 10 December. The current round is being held at the level of Viktar Haysyonak, Belarus's permanent representative to the OSCE and ambassador to Austria, and representatives of the OSCE Permanent Council and Secretariat. Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz, who holds the OSCE's rotating presidency until the end of this year, said last week the talks will be based on agreements that were reached during the visit of an OSCE delegation to Minsk in November. According to da Cruz, Minsk has promised the talks will yield specific results by the end of the year. JM

OUR UKRAINE CONTINUES TO LOSE LAWMAKERS...
The Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus dwindled to 103 deputies as seven lawmakers left it in recent weeks, UNIAN reported on 10 December. "These wanderings from caucus to caucus are the work of the authorities, and this process is now at its peak," Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko commented. The pro-government majority now reportedly numbers 233 deputies. The current lineup in the Verkhovna Rada is as follows: Our Ukraine (103 deputies); the Communist Party (60); the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine (42); the Social Democratic Party-united (39); Ukraine's Regions (40); Democratic Initiatives (22); European Choice (20); the Socialist Party (20); the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (18); Power of the People (16); the Agrarian Party (16); the Popular Democratic Party (16); People's Choice (15); and, finally, nonaligned deputies (22). JM

...AND WANTS TO FORM 'NONPARTISAN' OPPOSITION GROUP IN PARLIAMENT
Yuriy Kostenko, a leader of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus, told UNIAN on 9 December that Our Ukraine is going to initiate the formation of a nonpartisan opposition association in the Verkhovna Rada. He made clear that Our Ukraine has in mind only opposition caucuses, the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc in particular. Kostenko also said Our Ukraine continues to hold talks with "possible political allies" on forming a broader coalition for the presidential election in 2004. JM

ESTONIA AND EU CONCLUDE MEMBERSHIP TALKS
Estonia completed its EU membership negotiations on 9 December, ETA reported the next day. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland said the country won some concessions, including rights to import steel from Russia and Ukraine without price restrictions; fish for Baltic herring, which is smaller than envisaged by EU standards, and continue hunting bears and lynx. The EU will also finance the testing of oil-shale products for entering the European markets and support improving borders to Schengen levels, including with some 60 million euros of funding. The annual milk-production quota was set at 646,000 tons -- a compromise between the EU's proposed 562,000 tons and Estonia's appeals for 900,000 tons -- but the figure may be raised if other candidate countries' quotas increase. SG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER VISITS LATVIA
A delegation from the Georgian parliament led by Chairwoman Nino Burdjanadze began an official two-day visit to Latvia on 9 December, LETA reported. Her counterpart Ingrida Udre shared Latvian experience in seeking integration to NATO and the EU and accepted an invitation to visit Georgia next year. The delegation also met with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, Foreign Affairs Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, and academician Norbert Reich. Responding to Burdjanadze's request that Latvia support Georgian interests in the EU and NATO, Riekstins said his country supports NATO's "open-door" policy and is ready to give advice concerning the formation of the national-defense system, democratic control over the armed forces, and the training of military and civil staff. On 10 December, following talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the delegation is scheduled to fly to the Estonian capital, Tallinn. SG

LITHUANIAN, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS EU MEMBERSHIP
Antanas Valionis traveled to Berlin on 9 December for talks with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer on the final terms of Lithuania's admission to the EU, BNS reported. After the meeting, he said Fischer predicted that accession talks will conclude at the 12-13 December summit in Copenhagen rather than in Brussels, as previously expected. Valionis said getting any additional funding from the EU will be difficult, but noted two issues of particular importance that merit further subsidies: funding for closure of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina, and transit between the Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia. He also said Fischer told him: "The issue of Kaliningrad transit is a shared affair of Lithuania and the European Union" which has to be resolved in a constructive and matter-of-fact way. SG

POLISH FARMERS WANT HIGHER EU SUBSIDIES, MILK QUOTA...
Wladyslaw Serafin, head of the trade association Farmers' Circles, on 8 December said Poland should agree to no less than 70 percent of the EU's full farm subsidy after joining the EU, PAP reported. Serafin was commenting on a Warsaw session the previous day of Farmers' Circles, which allies dairy-service providers. Farmers' Circles also demanded a reduction in the transition period to full farm subsidies to three years (the EU has proposed 10 years). Meanwhile, Peasant Party (PSL) Deputy Chairman Eugeniusz Klopotek on 9 December said the introduction of the EU's proposed 9.3 billion-liter milk-production quota for Poland would bankrupt one-fifth of Poland's dairy plants. Klopotek added that the PSL wants this quota set at 11.3 billion liters. According to a recent poll conducted by the CBOS polling center, 67 percent of Poles would back the country's EU entry in a referendum. Farmers are more skeptical, with 48 percent of them claiming they will vote against membership. A referendum is widely expected in mid-2003, though no official date has been set. JM

...AS GOVERNMENT IS SAID TO HAVE TAKEN 'FIRM' STAND IN EU TALKS
Polish Radio reported on 9 December that Poland "stood firm" on its demands in EU talks in Brussels the same day. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said the list of problems on which Poland disagrees with the EU is still "very long," but he did not reveal any details. "It seems to me that Poland's position and the long list of our proposals and postulates came as a surprise for the EU," PAP quoted Cimoszewicz as saying. Social Democratic Premier Leszek Miller said Poland's two main demands are that Brussels set a lower EU membership contribution and higher direct subsidies for farmers. JM

JOURNALISTS' STRIKE CRIPPLES POLISH DAILY
The supervisory board of Free Word Publishing House (DWWS), publisher of the nationwide daily "Zycie," has suspended the publication of the newspaper "until further notice," PAP reported on 9 December, quoting Tomasz Wolek, a cofounder of "Zycie" and member of the supervisory board. "Zycie" did not appear for the third consecutive day on 9 December because of a strike by journalists who claim the publisher owes them some 700,000 zlotys ($177,000) in back wages. JM

CONTROVERSIAL CATHOLIC RADIO STATION APPLIES FOR POLISH TV LICENSE
Ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja, headed by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, has applied to the Polish National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (KRRiTV) for a license to launch a satellite-television channel called Trwam ("I abide" in Polish), PAP reported on 9 December. The application specifies that Trwam is to be a commercial station and, in contrast to Radio Maryja, will air advertisements. KRRiTV spokeswoman Joanna Stepien said a decision on the application should be expected no sooner than two to three months. JM

WILL CZECHS WITHDRAW ANTICHEMICAL UNIT AFTER ALL?
Unidentified sources from the Czech Foreign and Defense ministries say the country might be forced to remove its antichemical unit from Kuwait at the end of the year due to a lack of funding, CTK reported on 9 December. Kuwaiti officials reconsidered their offer of 600 million crowns for the unit in 2003, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 10 December, adding that just 70 soldiers will remain in Kuwait to maintain the sensitive equipment. Kuwaiti officials last month reportedly said they were willing to finance fully the antichemical mission in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2002). The Czech cabinet allocated 580 million crowns ($18.8 million) to fund the 250-man detachment in 2002. But next year, the government wanted to keep the unit on a lower state of alert and spend about 40 percent of that figure. General Staff spokesman Vladimir Palan said Czech government officials will discuss the chemical warfare unit with officials in Kuwait next week. BW/AH

CZECHS GRIPE THAT EU DISBURSEMENT LEAVES THEM OUT IN THE COLD
Amid heated negotiations over the eventual terms of EU membership, Czech negotiators complained that their country is likely to receive the least amount of "net gain" per capita among eight postcommunist aspirants, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 10 December. Under Brussels' current offer, Czechs would receive some 70 euros ($71) per citizen for the first three years after entry, or about 700 million euros in total. That is enough to construct several dozen kilometers of highway, the daily added. The "most successful" recipient, Lithuania, would net 360 euros per capita in the same period; while the next "least successful" country, Slovenia, would yield 108 euros per capita despite being wealthier than the Czech Republic. AH

SLOVAKIA 'TACKLES DRAMATIC ISSUES' IN EU TALKS
As other EU candidate countries pressed for concessions on farm aid, Slovakia and Cyprus conditionally wound up negotiations on joining the EU on 9 December, Slovak and international news agencies reported the same day. Acceptance, however, is conditional on those countries receiving any last-minute concessions granted to other candidates. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan would not confirm that Slovakia de facto closed entry negotiations. "I wouldn't play around with these deadlines, final decision will not be taken until in Copenhagen; but I can say that Slovakia has no more dramatic issues to tackle," Kukan said. "If in the next three days there is any change to our candidate counterparts' negotiating positions, Slovakia will want to debate it regarding its position," he added. BW

HUNGARIAN LAWMAKERS SQUABBLE OVER AFGHANISTAN CONTINGENT
The Hungarian parliament's Defense Committee approved a resolution for plenary debate on sending 40 soldiers to participate in the UN's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Hungarian media reported on 9 December. Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said every NATO member except Hungary or Iceland has contributed to the mission in Afghanistan, adding that Hungary's reputation in NATO would benefit from its participation in the mission. "When we signed the Washington treaty [to join NATO in 1999], we accepted a common fate. It is possible to backtrack from this common fate, but it is not necessarily expedient," he said. The opposition FIDESZ considers the mission too dangerous and would prefer to send "a technical or health contingent," said FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Istvan Simicsko. Parliament is expected to vote on the resolution next week. A two-thirds majority is required to send the troops. DW

FIVE REGIONAL PRESIDENTS SEND JOINT LETTER TO EU
Presidents Alfred Moisiu of Albania, Mirko Sarovic of the Bosnian joint Presidency, Stipe Mesic of Croatia, Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia, and Vojislav Kostunica of Yugoslavia called on the EU to give their countries a clear perspective for integration at the EU's upcoming summit in Copenhagen, MIA reported from Skopje on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). The presidents said: "We express our expectations that the...final documents will contain a reference to the prospects for membership of our countries, as a strong message and impetus to continue on our way to EU integration.... Fully aware of the hard work ahead of us to achieve this goal, we are confident that our common objective is in favor of the realization of our noble vision -- the unification of Europe." Trajkovski told reporters that "opening...perspectives for our membership in EU is very important for deepening...[the] ongoing democratic and reform processes, as well as for stability in the region." PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR COOPERATION WITH BOSNIA ON ROAD TO EU
Mesic said in Hrvatska Kostajnica on 9 December that Croatia and Bosnia should work together to seek EU membership, "Jutarnji List" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November and 6 December 2002). He stressed that Croatia respects the territorial integrity of Bosnia. His statement comes in the wake of recent remarks by Zdravko Tomac, who heads the Croatian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Tomac said that after visiting Bosnia, one can somewhat understand the policies of the late President Franjo Tudjman toward that republic. Tomac's remarks have been widely interpreted as expressing support for ethnic Croatian separatism in that country. Tomac maintains that he was misunderstood, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said Tomac is simply "polemicizing with himself" and does not reflect Croatian policy. The Bosnian Foreign Ministry has protested Tomac's comments. PM

CROATIA AND YUGOSLAVIA SIGN BORDER AGREEMENT
Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula and his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Svilanovic signed an agreement on 10 December at Konfin, which is on their border in the Prevlaka area, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 October and 6 December 2002). The agreement will enable the UN to end its decade-old monitoring presence in the area when the current mandate expires on 15 December. Under the deal, both sides will keep the area demilitarized and conduct joint maritime police patrols. Yugoslav navy ships may sail in and out of Kotor Bay but not stop or conduct any military activities, including training. The agreement is billed as temporary and includes provisions governing police and customs work. The Prevlaka Peninsula is Croatian territory but controls access to Kotor Bay, which is Yugoslavia's most important deep-water port. PM

POLICE RESERVISTS STAGE PROTEST IN SKOPJE
Several hundred police reservists staged a peaceful protest before the parliament building on 9 December, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. The reservists demanded that back wages be paid and their service during last year's conflict be recognized by the social-insurance program. "Some of us lost the jobs they had before the war just because they remained [in police service] for more than six months," Risto Stefanovski of the Union of Military Police Reservists said, adding that the reservists would be glad to have any job offered by the government. The reservists want a special parliamentary session to discuss their demands. However, parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski declined to receive the reservists' representatives and put their demands on the parliamentary agenda. Under the former government, the Interior Ministry was widely considered a hotbed of nationalist hard-liners. UB

EU REVIEWING SITUATION IN SERBIA
EU foreign ministers are scheduled to discuss the possible impact of the failed presidential vote on the reform process in Serbia during their meeting in Brussels on 10 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," "End Note," 9 December 2002). In Belgrade, OSCE election monitors said they fear the failure of the vote will negatively impact reforms. Former presidential candidate and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Labus called for parliamentary elections to end the political impasse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October and 12 November 2002). PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ASSUMES RESPONSIBILITY FOR LABOR LAW
The government on 9 December assumed responsibility in parliament for the labor law, Romanian media reported. Parliament cannot debate or modify the law, but deputies can submit a motion against the government within three days. National Liberal Party (PNL) deputies walked out on the joint session of the parliament's two chambers in protest against both the law and the way the government presented it. The PNL deputies threatened to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the law, arguing that the law will create tensions between employers and employees. Employers associations criticized the law for allegedly favoring employees over employers. In addition, Democratic Party leaders said they plan to initiate a motion against the government. ZsM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CNA CHAIRMAN
The 9 December joint parliamentary session approved Ralu Filip as the new chairman of the Audio/Visual Council (CNA), Mediafax reported. Filip will hold the seat for two years. The session failed to vote on the Senate's representatives in the council. ZsM

NEW ASSOCIATION AIMS AT STRENGTHENING POLITICAL RIGHT IN ROMANIA
An initiative group on 9 December launched the Popular Action Association, which will not engage in political activities but will aim to bring right and center-right parties together, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Founding members include former Finance Minister and current National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) member Decebal Traian Remes; PNTCD Deputy Chairman Nicolae Noica; former Romanian Radio Director Andrei Dimitriu; Zoe Petre, a former councilor to former President Emil Constantinescu; and several historians and political analysts. Despite earlier rumors that Constantinescu was behind the association, his name was not on the list of founders. ZsM

ROMANIAN MINISTER UPBEAT ON COUNTRY'S PROSPECTS
Development and Prognosis Minister Leonard Cazan announced on 9 December that despite of the country's 2.6 percent inflation rate in November, average inflation for 2002 will not reach 19 percent, Romanian media reported. The government had projected 22 percent for the year. Cazan also said that his ministry estimates 4.7 percent economic growth for 2002, which would be slightly higher than the projected 4.5 percent. ZsM

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN WARNS THAT 2007 EU ACCESSION IS NOT A SURE THING
Dimitar Tsonev warned on 9 December that the EU might not set 2007 as the fixed accession date for Bulgaria's and Romania's accession to the EU during the European Council summit in Copenhagen on 13-15 December, mediapool.bg reported. Tsonev cited the global recession and uncertainty regarding the results of the first wave of EU enlargement as reasons for his skepticism. As for Bulgaria itself, he said the "internal division regarding the agreements with the EU that we have already reached, and the efforts of some political players to profit at the expense of our foreign policy" could negatively affect the country's chances. Tsonev called on politicians, state institutions, the media, and society as a whole to combine their efforts to promote EU accession. UB

BULGARIA TO CHAIR OSCE IN 2004
Bulgaria will take over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) chairmanship-in-office post in 2004, the OSCE Ministerial Council decided in Porto, Portugal, on 7 December, BTA reported. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, as the successor to the position, will thus join the so-called OSCE Troika comprising the past, present, and future chairman in office in 2003. "2004 is exceedingly important for Bulgaria: this is the year in which we expect to join NATO, and this is also when the 10 EU candidate countries are expected to join the union," Pasi said. "Precisely for these reasons, our chairmanship in office of the OSCE will help this country remain at the focus of world attention." UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER PLEDGES TO SUPPORT CROATIA'S BID FOR EU, NATO ACCESSION
Parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov told his visiting Croatian counterpart Zlatko Tomcic and Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan on 9 December that Bulgaria will support Croatia's bid for NATO and EU membership, BTA reported. "You have set for yourselves the ambitious task of joining the EU together with Romania and Bulgaria," Gerdzhikov said. "The path to EU membership has already been beaten and that is why it will be easier for you." The two sides agreed to step up cooperation between the countries' respective parliamentary committees involved in EU and NATO enlargement. UB

'FREE IRAQIS' MEET IN WASHINGTON TO DISCUSS RECONSTRUCTION


The second meeting of the Economic and Infrastructure Working Group on Iraq took place in Washington, D.C., on 2-3 December. The U.S. State Department sponsored the meeting, which was attended by 16 "free Iraqis." Tom Warrick, the special adviser to the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, facilitated the meeting. The working group included Iraqis from inside Iraq and the diaspora.

Following the meeting, four members of the working group gave a briefing on the two-day meeting. The first was Nasreen Sideek, an architect by profession, and the current minister for reconstruction and development in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil. Another was Ahmed al-Haydari, a telecommunications engineer by profession who lives in Ottawa and is the director of strategic alliances for a telecommunications company. He defected from Iraq in 1980 and is a member of Iraqi Forum for Democracy, an apolitical group advocating democracy in Iraq. The third was Rubar Sandi, chairman and CEO of Corporate Bank Business Group, an international finance and investment company based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on developing countries. He left Iraq in 1975 following the Kurdish uprising the year before. The fourth was Hasan al-Khatib, who left Iraq in 1976 to attend graduate school in the United States. Al-Khatib was a professor of computer engineering for 17 years in the United States and is now a U.S. citizen. He is chairman and chief technology officer of IP Dynamics, a high-tech start-up company in Silicon Valley. His background is computer networking and computer engineering. The participants noted that the technical working group included people from inside and outside Iraq, including Iraqis from the United Kingdom and Canada, from all ethnic and religious groups -- Sunni, Shia, Christians, Assyrians, and Kurds.

The four members of the working group addressed the achievements of their meeting in terms of developing a reconstruction plan for post-Saddam Iraq. They noted that the working group split into subcommittees following their previous meeting on 21 October. The subcommittees then put forth recommendations, which will be made available to a transition government in Iraq. Likewise, the Economic and Infrastructure Working Group will submit working papers and recommendations to the political meeting of Iraqi opposition parties that is scheduled to take place in London on 13-15 December.

Al-Khatib noted that they devised a three-stage plan to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. The first stage would cover the first six months following the liberation of Iraq, and focus on essential services, including an emergency infrastructure to distribute food, and establish communication as well as a sense of peace and security. The second stage would last two years and aim to restore the level of services to meet the basic needs of the people. The third stage would focus on aligning Iraq's infrastructure with nations with a GDP similar to Iraq. Rubar Sandi noted that the most important element would be to restore a feeling of safety and security to the population.

The two-day meeting also addressed ways in which Iraq could convert the military-industrial complex to civilian use, the development of new currency, and the reform of the banking system. One achievement noted was the establishment of the Iraq Development and Reconstruction Council. The council consists of subcommittees to address issues such as food distribution, telecommunications, health, banking, and the "oil-for-food" program. The participants noted that they reached a consensus that the "oil-for-food" program should remain in place for at least the first six months after liberation, since the country relies on it for funding public services at the present time. "Our vision is for the council to fill the administrative vacuum that will be created on the day after [liberation]. It will be composed of experts with a vision of developing the long-term plan for the country," Sideek said. "The formulation of such a group provides a consistent set of technical initiatives and projects that [seek] to bring Iraq into the modern world," al-Khatib added.

Asked whether the group will recommend that a new Iraqi government honor existing contracts made by President Saddam Hussein's regime, al-Khatib said: "We don't think Iraq should deviate from its commitments and from its obligations, but any agreement is subject to renegotiation if it is in the interests of the Iraqi people. If they were agreements that were done under duress or under the interests of those other parties to profit at the expense of the Iraqi people, then they need to be renegotiated."

Likewise on the issue of Iraq's outstanding international debts, the participants were asked if a new Iraqi government would seek debt forgiveness from the international community. Sandi said that the participants agreed that Iraq's debts are of two types: civilian debts -- for food, textiles, etc. -- and military debts. He said participants felt strongly that a new Iraqi government should honor civilian debts. However, he said military debts should be renegotiated because they were incurred by a government that was not representative of the population. "We recommend that all debt be frozen right now, and all claims be frozen for the time being until the new government has time to breathe and time to reschedule these debts," he added. The participants also recommend that all frozen Iraqi assets be released to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq.

Al-Khatib said he believes the U.S. government is doing the Iraqi people a great favor by facilitating discussions among Iraqis on reconstruction. "I hope it will go a long way in reconciling the differences between the West and the Middle East and [in] establishing a first step that is a positive step where America is contributing to the welfare of the people there," he said. "This effort to liberate Iraq goes a long way to show that America has a new agenda, a new interest, and [to] make Iraq an example for the rest of the Middle East to mimic." On the question of whether Iraq is ready for democracy, Sideek added: "People were ready yesterday...[they] are desperate for freedom but they cannot do it for themselves. It cannot happen from within. We need a positive intervention that can generate positive development. People want to be freed, want to be liberated."

AFGHANS DISCUSS HUMAN RIGHTS AT KABUL CONFERENCE...
A conference was held in Kabul on 9 December to commemorate the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 9 December. A participant identified as Ramizpour, who represented the Progressive Council of Afghanistan, said that when "discussing human rights -- freedom of speech, the right to choose one's career, the right to work, and the right to own property need to be included." Ramizpour added that in some of these areas, human rights are not being respected in Afghanistan and steps should be taken to remedy the problem areas. "More that 20 conferences and meetings have been organized in various parts of Afghanistan to make the Afghans aware of human rights, but all of these are not enough," he said. Considering the gravity of human rights abuses in the past, much more public awareness is necessary, he added. Ramizpour concluded by saying that another problem for safeguarding the human rights of Afghans is warlordism, noting that in some areas people cannot discuss issues related to human rights because the "rule of the gun" prevails, the report added. AT

...WHERE WOMEN LOBBY FOR MORE RIGHTS
A female participant of the Kabul conference identified as Palika told Radio Free Afghanistan on 9 December that "women cannot even broadcast" on radio and television stations in Kabul, which she said "is a clear violation of their human rights." Palika added that women are absent from the decision-making levels of the Afghan government, "other than one or two who have more of a symbolic value," RFE/RL's Afghan Service quoted her as saying. AT

DISABLED AFGHANS DEMONSTRATE IN KABUL
A group of about 100 disabled Afghans held a demonstration in Kabul on 9 December, marching on the Afghan presidential palace and demanding the resignation of Abdullah Wardak, the minister of martyrs and the disabled, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. One unidentified demonstrator representing the disabled of Kabul, told RFE/RL's Afghan Service that they are "very unsatisfied with the work of the ministry and want the Karzai government to dismiss the minister and hand [leadership of the] ministry over to the disabled themselves by 10 December." "Otherwise, serious steps will be taken," he added, without saying what those steps might be. A deputy of Wardak's named Ahmadi claimed that "the demonstration is organized by saboteurs," but agreed that benefits for the disabled are low. According to the report, some demonstrators "were very angry," but loudspeakers urged the crowed "not to take political sides and be peaceful," Radio Free Afghanistan reported. AT

THREE AFGHANS INJURED BY MINES EVERY DAY
Commenting on the demonstration held by disabled Afghans in Kabul on 9 December, Radio Free Afghanistan reported that the war against Soviet occupation and the ensuing civil war has left more that 1 million Afghans disabled and, according to international agencies working in Afghanistan, land mines continue to injure or kill three people in Afghanistan every day. AT

HUNGARIAN LAWMAKERS SQUABBLE OVER AFGHANISTAN CONTINGENT
The Hungarian parliament's Defense Committee approved a resolution for plenary debate on sending 40 soldiers to participate in the UN's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Hungarian media reported on 9 December. Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said every NATO member but Hungary or Iceland has contributed to the mission in Afghanistan, adding that Hungary's reputation in NATO would benefit from its participation in the mission. "When we signed the Washington treaty [to join NATO in 1999], we accepted a common fate. It is possible to backtrack from this common fate, but it is not necessarily expedient," he said. The opposition FIDESZ considers the mission too dangerous and would prefer to send "a technical or health contingent," said FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Istvan Simicsko. Parliament is expected to vote on the resolution next week. A two-thirds majority is required to send the troops. DW

TAJIK OFFICIAL DENIES PRESENCE OF TERRORISTS
General Nurashilo Nazarov, who is first deputy chairman of Tajikistan's State Border Committee, told ITAR-TASS on 9 December there is no truth to reports of bases or training camps on Tajik territory belonging to the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or other terrorist organizations. He admitted that small groups of IMU fighters infiltrated Tajikistan earlier but claimed they were expelled in early 2000. Kyrgyz National Security Service Chairman Kalyk Imankulov said three months ago that the IMU has been transformed into a regional organization and that it is currently headquartered in the Afghan region of Badakhshan, which borders on southeastern Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2002). LF

IRAN ACCUSES U.S. OF SEEKING TO CONTROL OIL AND GAS IN CENTRAL ASIA...
Discussing the shift in U.S. priorities in Afghanistan from searching for remaining Al-Qaeda and Taliban members to maintaining security and road construction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002), Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran commented on 8 December that the United States has "succeeded in getting completely rid of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda" and now "plans to redeploy its forces in some other parts of Afghanistan" in order to "perpetuate its military presence in the region in a bid to dominate Central Asian gas-and-oil resources and to take control of the world markets." The Iranian state radio network cited the U.S. military action in Shindand on 1 December as an example of the new U.S. policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 9 December 2002). AT

...AS SIGNING OF TRANS-AFGHAN GAS-PIPELINE PROJECT NEARS
the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 10 December that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan are scheduled to sign a framework agreement for the Trans-Afghan gas pipeline project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002) on 26-27 December. The signing was originally scheduled for October but was postponed at the request of Pakistan's President Parvez Musharraf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 29 October 2002). Abdullah Yousaf, Pakistan's petroleum secretary, told the daily that a steering-committee meeting that was originally scheduled for 16-17 December in Islamabad has been postponed until February 2003. However, the Asian Development Bank will meet on 16-17 December "at the operational level in Islamabad to hold final discussions" on the pipeline project, he said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai "is reported to have already confirmed his availability for the tripartite summit" on 26-27 December, "Dawn" added. AT

STUDENT CLASHES RESUME IN TEHRAN...
A 9 December gathering of some 1,500-2,000 people at a sports hall at Tehran's Amir Kabir University turned violent when about 150 or 500 Basijis took exception to speakers' comments on behalf of individuals such as political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari -- who faces a death sentence for an allegedly blasphemous speech -- and student leader Ali Afshari -- who is being held for his part in July 1999 demonstrations, RFE/RL and IRNA reported. Security forces had kept hard-liners and protestors apart during 7 December demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002), thereby preventing serious violence, and they tried to keep people from storming the campus on 9 December. However, the police did not intervene when violence erupted this time, the "Financial Times" reported on 10 December. BS

...AMID MORE SUBDUED DEMONSTRATIONS
Students at Tehran University's College of Social Sciences staged a hunger strike on 9 December to protest the continued detention of another student, Behnam Amini, who was detained during a 22 November ceremony commemorating the murders of national-religious activists Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, RFE/RL and the IRNA reported. The participants in the hunger strike arranged their empty plates to spell out Amini's name. Meanwhile, a peaceful gathering was held at Isfahan University, RFE/RL reported. BS

IRAN'S PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER VISITS CHINA
Iranian Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi left Tehran on 9 December for a six-day visit to China, Iranian state television reported. Mines and Industries Minister Ishaq Jahangiri, who also heads the Iran-China Joint Economic Commission; Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Hadi; and some parliamentarians are accompanying Karrubi, according to IRNA. "I hope the visit will prepare suitable grounds for further expansion of Tehran-Beijing ties in all areas," Karrubi told reporters at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, IRNA reported. Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Iran in April, and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami visited China in June 2000 ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 April 2002). BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS SYRIA...
Kamal Kharrazi, accompanied by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi and former Ambassador to Syria Mohammad Ali Sobhani, arrived in Damascus on 8 December for a one-day visit, IRNA reported. Kharrazi met with President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara to discuss Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and bilateral relations. Kharrazi told his Syrian counterpart that U.S. objectives in the Middle East region are "suspicious," and he called on Islamic states to remain alert, IRNA reported. "America has been exploiting the 11 September event to intensify its pressures on Iraq and dominate the whole region," al-Shara opined. BS

...AND LEBANON...
Foreign Minister Kharrazi arrived in Beirut on 9 December to meet with President Emil Lahud, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and to discuss regional events and bilateral relations, according to IRNA. Kharrazi told Lahud that Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are blocking Israel's achievement of its aims, the official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran television network reported. Berri praised Iran's stance on regional issues, saying, "While the Islamic world, especially Middle Eastern countries, remain in a special situation, the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran is more outstanding than others." BS

...WHERE HE MENTIONS AL-QAEDA...
Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 9 December rejected rumors of an Al-Qaeda/Hizballah relationship, RFE/RL reported. "There is no common ideological or political background that links Al-Qaeda with the Lebanese people or Hizballah," Kharrazi said. Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud added that "Israel is trying to manipulate the situation in the region to its own advantage in order to eliminate the Palestinian issue by fabricating accusations linking Lebanon, the Lebanese resistance, and Palestinians to Al-Qaeda. These are things that don't convince politicians or even ordinary people." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claimed during a 5 December news conference in Tel Aviv that Al-Qaeda personnel have entered the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and joined forces with Hizballah, "The New York Times" reported on 6 December. "There's no doubt that Israel is a target for an attack," the daily quoted Sharon as saying. Israeli President Moshe Katsav added on 9 December that "there is a cooperation between Al-Qaeda, Hizballah, and Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Middle East," RFE/RL reported. "[There is] a cooperation between Iran, Hizballah and Syria in Lebanon for attacking Israel. So the threats against Israel are very serious," Katsav said. BS

...AND PRAISES 'RESISTANCE'
During a 9 December press conference in Beirut, Foreign Minister Kharrazi said: "As long as Israel occupies Lebanese lands, the Lebanese people have the right to put up resistance. The people of Lebanon are brave and they will define their destiny themselves," Iranian state television reported. "Resistance" is a term used by Tehran to describe the activities of what it calls "liberation movements," and it sees Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and similar organizations in this light. In the evening of 9 December, Kharrazi met with Hizballah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah and reiterated that Tehran will continue its support for the Lebanese and Palestinian "resistance," according to IRNA. According to dpa on 9 December, Hizballah sources said that "the meeting focused on the situation in the Middle East as a whole, particularly the situation inside the Palestinian territories and the crisis in Iraq." BS

IRAQI OPPOSITION LEADERS PREPARE FOR LONDON...
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani met with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi on 9 December in Tehran, and Barzani met with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim in a separate meeting, IRNA reported. The three men later held a joint meeting, Chalabi told Al-Jazeera television on 9 December. IRNA reported that speculation continues as to whether Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) chief Jalal Talabani will visit Tehran. The meetings are being organized in the run-up to the 13-15 December Iraqi opposition meeting in London. BS

...AND EVERYBODY PREPARED TO FIGHT IN IRAQ
There has been contradictory commentary and reporting out of Tehran regarding the role of the SCIRI in possible hostilities in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 August 2002 and 2 December 2002). "All troops of the Iraqi opposition groups, wherever they are, will participate in the liberation of Iraq," Al-Jazeera quoted Chalabi as saying on 9 December in response to a question about his discussions with SCIRI leader al-Hakim and the possibility of Iraqi oppositionists opening a front from Iranian territory. "We are working to mobilize all our resources," he added. "For many long years, the Islamic Republic has been backing and supporting the Iraqi opposition," Chalabi said, referring to Iran's role in the event of an attack on Iraq. "It will not stand in the way of the Iraqi people's efforts to liberate Iraq. We are grateful to the Islamic Republic for these positions." BS

IRAQI UN REPRESENTATIVE SAYS DECLARATION WAS WELL-RECEIVED...
Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Muhammad Al-Duri told Al-Jazeera television that the Iraqi declaration sent to the United Nations on 7 December has been well-received thus far. "In general, the reactions before and after the arrival of the report were positive," al-Duri said. He also noted that the only negative positions in regard to the report have come from the United States and Britain. "This was the stand of the United States and Britain even before they receive the report and study it," he said. "This stand, however, was expected from both countries." KR

...AS OPPOSITION FIGURE SAYS IT WILL ONLY BUY IRAQ SOME TIME
Iraqi Military Council spokesman Tawfiq al-Yasiri has said that the Iraqi declaration of weapons of mass destruction submitted to the UN on 7 December will only buy President Saddam Hussein time, "Der Standard" reported on 9 December. The Iraqi Military Council is an opposition group founded in 2002 and is composed of some 300 Iraqi military officers who defected from Iraq. He told "Der Standard" that his organization is financially independent, but that it maintains contact with the United States. Al-Yasiri added that he remains in contact with Republican Guard members in Baghdad, and he estimates that in a war, anti-Hussein militias in Iraq could number some 100,000. Al-Yasiri also noted that the Iraqi-based Iranian opposition group Mujahedin Khalq is militarily involved in Iraq's defense, and questioned why some U.S. figures sought to remove it from the U.S. terror list in November. The Mujahedin Khalq numbers some 25,000 men. KR

U.S. AUTHORIZES MILITARY ASSISTANCE TO OPPOSITION GROUPS...
U.S. President George W. Bush on 9 December issued a determination on defense aid to Iraqi opposition groups, according to a State Department press release. The determination provides "up to $92 million in defense articles from the [U.S.] Department of Defense, defense services from the Department of Defense, and military education and training" for Iraqi opposition groups. The determination specifically mentions the Iraqi National Accord, the INC, the KDP, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, and the SCIRI, but funding will be made available to all groups designated by the White House as eligible to receive assistance. KR

...AND ADDS TO LIST OF GROUPS ELIGIBLE FOR FINANCIAL, MATERIAL ASSISTANCE
U.S. President Bush on 9 December designated five Iraqi opposition groups "democratic opposition organizations," making them eligible to receive U.S. financial and material aid, according to State Department press release. "A presidential determination issued by the White House on 9 December identified the five groups as the Assyrian Democratic Movement; the Iraqi Free Officers and Civilians Movement; the Iraqi National Front; the Iraqi National Movement; the Iraqi Turkmen Front; and the Islamic Accord of Iraq," according to the statement. The determination falls under the provisions of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Currently, the INC, the SCIRI, the KDP, and the PUK all receive U.S. assistance. KR

WEAPONS INSPECTIONS CONTINUE IN IRAQ
An Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a statement detailing the activities of weapons inspectors on 9 December, Iraq Satellite TV reported. According to the statement, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) visited a chlorine factory and a phenol factory in Al-Fallujah, north of Baghdad. Both factories are connected to the Al-Tariq State Company, which is part of the Military Industrial Organization. The Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the chlorine factory has not operated since August 2002 due to a shortage of spare parts, and the phenol factory is used to manufacture medicine and pesticides from oil products for civilian use. A team of 18 inspectors also returned to the Al-Tuwaythah site (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002) to inspect a warehouse containing nuclear material, and to collect water and soil samples and conduct radiation scanning around the Atomic Energy Organization. Another team visited the State Al-Qaqa Company outside Baghdad where it seized the prototype of an 81-millimeter missile. KR

KUWAIT TO RESPOND TO IRAQI LEADER'S APOLOGY
Kuwaiti Minister of Information and acting Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahed al-Sabah said his government will respond to the 7 December apology issued by Iraqi President Hussein to the Kuwaiti people for his country's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Al-Fahed told the Kuwait News Agency on 9 December that the Kuwaiti government's response will be made through "legal channels [and] regional and international organizations." "It was not an explicit apology, rather, it was an equivocal apology in which [President Hussein] made use of the Arabic vocabulary," the minister said. "It was not a clear apology that affirms good intentions in words and deeds." He added that the "speech did not mention any of our crucial causes that the Kuwaiti people and the world realize; namely, the POWs' cause, returning Kuwaiti properties and Kuwait's security and sovereignty." Al-Fahed said the speech reflected Hussein's arrogance and aggressiveness. His comments followed a meeting of the cabinet's Political and Security Affairs Committee, which convened to study the Iraqi leader's apology. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG