PRESIDENT TURNS TO HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS FOR HELP...
Meeting in the Kremlin with a group of human rights activists to mark International Human Rights Day on 10 December, President Vladimir Putin admitted that Russia has many unresolved problems in this area, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported. He said that the ignorance, corruption, and arbitrariness of many officials are preventing the government from implementing the human rights guarantees in the constitution. The president asked the activists, including Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential commission on human rights, and Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseeva to arrange an expert commission to evaluate all draft legislation connected with human rights and to assist the state in handling public petitions and complaints. VY
...AND PROMISES TO STOP FORCED EVICTIONS OF CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS
Speaking to journalists after the meeting with Putin on 10 December, Alekseeva said the president promised that displaced persons from Chechnya currently living in tent camps in Ingushetia will not be forced to return to their homes, despite Kremlin statements that the camps will be closed down by the end of the year, RTR reported. According to Alekseeva, Putin twice confirmed that no one will be forced to leave the camps and the government will not take any steps to evict the displaced persons. VY
GOVERNMENT TO DEREGULATE NATURAL-MONOPOLIES TARIFFS...
Addressing a cabinet meeting on 11 December, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the government plans to ease controls on tariffs charged by natural monopolies such as the Railways Ministry, Unified Energy Systems (EES), Gazprom, and Rosenergoatom, strana.ru reported. The government has already created a Federal Energy Commission, which is in charge of determining policies related to energy prices. The cabinet also approved a 20 percent increase in natural-gas prices, a 12-14 percent rise in railroad tariffs, and a 14 percent increase in electricity rates. Kasyanov noted that these increases have been incorporated into the 2003 draft budget. RC
...AS 2003 BUDGET PASSES THROUGH DUMA
The State Duma on 11 December adopted in its fourth and final reading the 2003 federal budget, Russian news agencies reported. According to strana.ru, 283 deputies voted in favor and 119 opposed the bill. There were no abstentions. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions), speaking before the vote, strongly urged legislators to support the budget. The approved budget foresees a GDP of 13.05 trillion rubles ($387 billion), inflation of 10-12 percent, and a ruble-dollar exchange rate of 33.7 to one. The budget predicts a surplus of 72 billion rubles. The bill will now be sent to the Federation Council. RC
GENERAL STAFF ORDERS TROOPS TO BE READY FOR TERRORIST ATTACKS
Chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin has ordered the commanders of all military units and garrisons to submit contingency plans for the prevention of terrorist attacks, newsru.com reported on 11 December. Analysts see the directive as a result of President Putin's recent decision to modify the country's security doctrine and name terrorism -- rather than NATO -- the primary threat to Russian national security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). Meanwhile, Kvashnin, who heads a special commission evaluating the combat readiness of the country's airborne forces, told airborne-forces commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak that he rates the readiness of Shpak's forces as "mediocre," "Izvestiya" reported. Kvashnin has long had an antagonistic relationship with Shpak and has proposed abolishing the airborne forces and creating instead a highly mobile rapid-reaction force capable of combating terrorism. VY
GOVERNMENT MUM ON HOSTAGE-CRISIS GAS
The Health Ministry on 10 December refused to answer a parliamentary request from Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) to identify the name of the sleeping gas used by special forces in the 26 October operation to free more than 700 hostages being held by Chechen fighters in a Moscow theater, Russian news agencies reported. In a letter to the Duma, Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko said his ministry cannot release the information because it is a state secret. He argued that all information dealing with intelligence and counterintelligence matters is classified and can only be made public by authorized security agencies. VY
RUSSIA TAKES LARGER STAKE IN EURONEWS
A general assembly of Euronews shareholders on 11 December announced that it has approved the sale of a 16 percent stake in the company to the Russian state broadcasting company VGTRK, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. With the acquisition, Russia -- which previously held just 1.8 percent of the company -- becomes one of the company's largest shareholders, alongside France, Italy, and Spain. Euronews is Europe's most popular all-news channel, and its signal covers Europe, Canada, the Near East, the Middle East, Russia, and the CIS. In 2001, it began Russian-language broadcasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2001). VY
IMPRISONED JOURNALIST WINS HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE
Imprisoned military journalist Grigorii Pasko won the 2002 Reporters Without Borders Fondation de France human rights prize, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 10 December. Moreover, on 5 December Amnesty International declared Pasko, who is serving a four-year prison term for spying for Japan, a prisoner of conscience and launched a campaign for his release. In its citation, Reporters Without Borders noted Pasko's "commitment to freedom of speech" and the fact that he has "suffered for his convictions." RC
UNION LOOKING FOR A SONG
On 10 December, a commission met in Moscow to begin the process of choosing the music and words for the official anthem of the Russia-Belarus Union, gazeta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. In all, 120 versions of the anthem were submitted. The commission will choose three winners, and the final decision will be made by the union's High Council. The lucky composer will receive a prize of 300,000 rubles ($9,680). RC
DISCUSSION ON TEACHING ORTHODOXY IN SCHOOLS CONTINUES
Schools will not be forced to include in their curricula a course on Orthodox culture, nns.ru reported on 11 December, citing Deputy Education Minister Aleksandr Kiselev. Inclusion of the course will be exclusively on a voluntary basis, with the decision to be made by the administration of each school. Schools will, however, be able to require that students take the course. Last week, Kiselev said, schools received a letter from Education Minister Vladimir Filippov recommending that they adopt the ministry's draft course "Foundations of Orthodox Culture" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). Kiselev added that the ministry's proposal merely corresponds with existing practice, as schools in about 40 federation subjects are already teaching Orthodox culture. He said the ministry is primarily interested in improving the quality of that instruction. RC
REPORT: IS KREMLIN SEEKING TO EDGE OUT CHECHNYA GENERALS?
Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, who has been commander of the North Caucasus Military District since 2000, will reportedly be transferred to command of the Siberian Military District, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 December, citing unidentified sources in the Defense Ministry. The paper commented that such a move might signal that the Kremlin wants to edge out those generals that commanded the military operation in Chechnya and who are now seen as obstacles to resolving the conflict there. RC
COMMUNISTS CONTINUE ANTI-YELTSIN PUSH
A group of Communist Duma deputies is continuing its efforts to prosecute former President Boris Yeltsin, APN reported on 11 December. On 11 November, the same group attempted to repeal Yeltsin's economic and social benefits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). Despite the fact that the law on guarantees to former presidents and their families grants Yeltsin immunity from prosecution, the group -- headed by Anatolii Lukyanov, Aleksandr Kulikov, Yegor Ligachev, and Nina Ostanina -- has reportedly drafted an appeal to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov asking him to look into evidence that Yeltsin committed illegal acts during his term in office. According to the report, the deputies allege that Yeltsin acted illegally in preparing and signing the December 1991 Belovezhsk accords that established the CIS and during the October 1993 Supreme Soviet crisis. Moreover, they allege that he attempted to postpone the 1996 presidential election. The deputies call on the prosecutor-general to take testimony from an array of officials from that period, including former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev, and former presidential aides Viktor Ilyushin, Sergei Shakhrai, and Georgii Satarov. The Communist deputies will submit the resolution to the full Duma in the near future. RC
KAMCHATKA LEGISLATORS APPEAL FOR PRESIDENTIAL INTERVENTION
The Kamchatka Oblast Council of People's Deputies has appealed to President Putin to step in and resolve a strike of municipal workers in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii that has lasted for more than two weeks, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 11 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 December 2002). More than 1,100 workers in the Far Eastern city are striking for wage arrears, salary increases, the restoration of benefits guaranteed by the law on northern territories, and the dismissal of several municipal officials. "In the peninsula's capital, a critical situation has developed in connection with the ill-advised policies of Mayor Yurii Golenishchev in the area of communal-services reform," the appeal states. Striking workers met on 10 December with Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, who stated that more than 12 million rubles ($387,000) has been released from the oblast budget to pay the wage arrears. For the second day in a row, Golenishchev did not show up for negotiations, newsru.com reported. Instead, he issued a statement saying that the strikers' economic demands have been met by the oblast's actions, and the city administration does not intend to consider their "political demands." The governor and the strikers appealed to Golenishchev to repeal his communal-services reform. If he declines to do so, the Council of People's Deputies is expected on 16 December to formally transfer the city's finances to the control of the oblast administration, lenta.ru reported. RC
DUMA TO CONSIDER ALLOWING TOP OFFICIALS TO BELONG TO PARTIES
Centrist factions in the Duma will soon introduce an amendment to the law on political parties that would permit "Class A" bureaucrats to be full members of parties, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 December. Class A bureaucrats in Russia include senior executive-branch officials and heads of federation subjects. The recent selection of Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to head the High Council of Unified Russia appears to have prompted the drafting of that amendment. Gryzlov has skirted the legal questions surrounding his position in Unified Russia by pointing out that he is not formally a member of the pro-Kremlin party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Gryzlov was elected to the Duma on the Unity ticket in 1999 and chaired Unity's Duma faction before becoming interior minister in 2001. LB
SELEZNEV, LDPR SUPPORT PROTESTING MINERS
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 9 December voiced his sympathy for the coal miners protesting outside the government's headquarters, "Vremya novostei" reported the next day. Seleznev added that he has urged government officials to let the miners come inside the building to discuss conditions in the coal sector with cabinet ministers. Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) has provided more concrete assistance to the coal miners, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 10 December. Nikolai Shtyrkov, chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners, told the newspaper the LDPR has helped the miners in various ways since 1998. The LDPR's press service confirmed the party has provided transportation, hot food, and legal and "informational" aid to the picketing miners. In exchange, the protesters are carrying the LDPR flag, "Novye izvestiya" noted. LB
TVS LOSING MONEY, PLANNING MANAGEMENT SHAKE-UP
The TVS network is facing a budget shortfall of $50 million for 2002, TVS General Director Oleg Kiselev confirmed in an interview published in "Kommersant" on 9 December. TVS began broadcasting on the Channel 6 frequency in June, and Kiselev said that managers overestimated potential advertising revenues, as well as the network's ability to compete with more established companies such as NTV. To cover the budget deficit, TVS will try to reduce costs, take out new bank loans, and turn to shareholders for capital investment. In the coming months, shareholders will select a new strategy for the network and appoint a new general director, but Kiselev would not comment on the candidates under consideration for that post. In recent months, Russian media have speculated that TVS shareholders are divided into two camps, one including the prominent businessmen Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska, and Aleksandr Mamut, and the other including EES Chairman Anatolii Chubais. LB
CHECHEN CONGRESS OPENS AMID TIGHT SECURITY
The Congress of the Peoples of Chechnya announced last month by Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov opened on 11 December, Russian agencies reported. Kadyrov had launched a Soviet-style campaign to mobilize the Chechen population to demand the congress be held in Grozny, but he decided on 11 December that for security reasons it should take place in Gudermes, the republic's second-largest town. The estimated 400 participants from Chechnya and elsewhere in the Russian Federation include deputies to the Chechen parliament elected in 1997. The main objective of the one-day congress is to back the referendum on Chechnya's new draft constitution, which is scheduled for March 2003 (see forthcoming issue of "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 12 December 2002). LF
ARMENIA ACCEPTED INTO WTO
The World Trade Organization's General Council voted in Geneva on 10 December to approve Armenia's application for membership, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Armenia began negotiations with the WTO in 1996. Speaking in Yerevan on 9 December before leaving for Geneva to attend the General Council session, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian termed admission to the WTO the most important step for his country after gaining admission to the Council of Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. On 29 November, Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian, told journalists in Yerevan that WTO membership will result in at least a 1-4 percent rise in GDP, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
OSCE URGES ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT TO ALLOW INDEPENDENT TV STATION TO RESUME BROADCASTING
Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the OSCE office in Yerevan, urged the Armenian authorities on 10 December to permit the A1+ television station to resume broadcasting before the presidential elections scheduled for 19 February 2003, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The station was forced off the air in early April after losing a tender for its broadcast frequency. A November tender it contested has been suspended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April and 20 November 2002). Reeve said the OSCE has informed the Armenian leadership it would like all television companies operational before the ballot and would prefer that the tender outcome not be further delayed by court proceedings. The independent television station Noyan Tapan has appealed its disqualification from the November tender, which the government justified on the grounds that the company failed to specify which frequency it was bidding for (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). LF
PLANS TO ASSASSINATE GEORGIAN PRESIDENT THWARTED
National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told Georgian state television on 10 December that a plan to assassinate President Eduard Shevardnadze has been uncovered, Interfax reported. He added that the Karachai militants apprehended on 6 December in the Pankisi Gorge might have been involved in the plan. Additional security measures have been taken in Tbilisi, according to an Interior Ministry spokesman quoted by Interfax. Also on 10 December, ITAR-TASS quoted an unnamed Russian Interior Ministry official as stating that a number of Chechen militants remain in the Pankisi Gorge. Meanwhile Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin accused Georgia of failing to make good on Shevardnadze's promise to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the CIS summit in Chisinau in early October to crack down on Chechen "terrorists" in Pankisi, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze reportedly assured U.S. President George Bush at the NATO summit in Prague last month that the Pankisi problem "is practically solved." LF
FOREIGN EXPERTS TO BE ALLOWED TO ATTEND KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S TRIAL
In a statement issued on 10 December, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said that foreign experts will be permitted to attend the trial, for which no date has yet been set, of opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, Reuters and Interfax reported. Duvanov faces charges, which most domestic and international observers are convinced were fabricated, of raping a 14-year old girl at his dacha in late October. President Nursultan Nazarbaev said in Brussels on 29 November that tests have established Duvanov's guilt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 October and 2 December 2002). Reversing an earlier refusal, the Foreign Ministry also said that representatives from the Ontario coroner's office who requested the opportunity to study materials pertaining to the death under unclear circumstances of Leila Baysetova, will be allowed to do so. Baysetova's mother Lira published in the newspaper "Respublika," of which she is editor, an interview with a Swiss prosecutor who is investigating reports that Nazarbaev and his family have accumulated millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2002). LF
KYRGYZSTAN EXONERATED OVER RUSSIAN FORCED LANDINGS
A Kyrgyz-Russian commission has established that the emergency landing of two Russian aircraft in Aqtobe during the night of 5-6 December was not necessitated by the allegedly inferior-grade fuel with which the aircraft were refueled in Bishkek, akipress.org and ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. The planes were carrying some 107 Russian government officials and journalists who accompanied President Putin on his tour last week of China, India, and Kyrgyzstan. The fuel in question was refined in Omsk and found to be of the required quality. The fuel gauges from the two aircraft will be transported to Moscow for further tests. LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT PROTESTS RESTRICTIONS ON DEMONSTRATIONS
Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (the lower parliamentary chamber) on 10 December hosted a roundtable discussion of the moratoriums on meetings and demonstrations imposed by the municipal councils of Bishkek and Osh, akipress.org reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 December 2002). The participants agreed that such attempts to curtail the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate constitute a destabilizing factor, but they also conceded that the law on demonstrations adopted in July 2002 is ambiguous and requires reworking. They further agreed to establish a working group to create a public movement to protest restrictions on the freedom of assembly. Also on 10 December, parliament deputy Ismail Isakov told akipress.org that the Osh municipal authorities have forbidden the holding in the city of the planned opposition People's Congress. Isakov said an alternative venue will be found for the congress. LF
TAJIK PRESIDENT ENDS U.S. VISIT
During a two-day visit -- his first -- to the United States on 8-10 December, Imomali Rakhmonov met with U.S. President George W. Bush to discuss expanding bilateral relations -- especially in the security sphere -- the situation in Afghanistan and the war on international terrorism, combating drug trafficking, and economic reforms and poverty reduction in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov also met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, and IMF representatives. Tajikistan will open an embassy in Washington early in 2003, ITAR-TASS quoted Rakhmonov as saying on 10 December. LF
UN APPEALS FOR FURTHER HUMANITARIAN AID FOR TAJIKISTAN
Speaking in Dushanbe on 10 December, Matthew Kahane, who is the resident representative of the UN Development Program (UNDP), pleaded for donor states to provide additional humanitarian aid, arguing that Tajikistan remains "vulnerable," Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He said $62 million is needed in 2003 to finance 53 projects, including to provide safe drinking water and to prevent chronic malnutrition among the most impoverished strata of the population. LF
TAJIKISTAN WILL NOT MAKE AIRFIELDS AVAILABLE FOR ATTACK ON IRAQ
Even though Tajikistan has made its airfields available to participants in the ongoing international antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan, it will not do the same in the event of a war on Iraq, Interfax quoted Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov as saying on 10 December in Bishkek, where he is attending a meeting of security council secretaries from member states of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. LF
TURKMENISTAN IMPOSES MORE RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN TOURISTS
The newspaper "Ashgabat" has published new regulations stipulating that foreign tourists visiting the city must stay at hotels and not with private individuals, Interfax reported on 10 December. In addition, foreigners hired for temporary employment in Ashgabat may switch jobs only after registering with the labor exchange. Local employers may not hire foreigners with temporary visas or those whose visas were issued on the basis of a private invitation. It is not clear whether the new restrictions are connected with the reported 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov. LF
UZBEKISTAN BLAMES KYRGYZ FOR FAILED BORDER TALKS
The most recent round of border delimitation talks between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which began in Bishkek on 26 November, failed to make any headway, Interfax quoted an unnamed Uzbek government official as saying on 10 December. That official claimed the Kyrgyz side constantly changes the composition of its commission on border issues and is sabotaging the talks by using the incomplete and legally inconsistent materials of a commission created in 1955 to address the issue. He added that Kyrgyzstan's proposals run counter to protocols signed in February and April 2000 by the inter-governmental commission on border delimitation agreeing to base their talks on documents signed in 1924-28. He further noted that Kyrgyzstan has received far more disputed territory from Uzbekistan than Uzbekistan has from Kyrgyzstan. LF
BELARUSIANS DEMONSTRATE OVER UNEXPLAINED DISAPPEARANCES
Some 250 people formed a "chain of concerned people" in Minsk on 10 December to demand the truth about the unaccounted-for disappearances of opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, Belapan reported. Demonstrators held portraits of politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, all of whom disappeared without a trace in 1998-2000. Last month, the Prosecutor-General's Office sent a letter to the lower house, the Chamber of Representatives, saying the investigation has found no evidence that Belarusian secret services or officials were involved in the disappearances of those figures. JM
BELARUS, RUSSIA EARMARK GAS SUPPLIES FOR 2003
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his Belarusian counterpart Henadz Navitski agreed in Moscow on 10 December that Belarus will receive 18.5 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia in 2003, Belarusian Television reported, quoting Navitski. Gazprom will deliver 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas to Belarus at the price set for domestic consumers in Smolensk Oblast, while the remainder will be shipped by other suppliers at "unrestricted prices." JM
UKRAINE, RUSSIA AGREE ON GAS TRANSIT FOR NEXT YEAR
In Moscow on 10 December, Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Russia's Gazprom signed a package of agreements on mutual cooperation and Russian gas transit through Ukraine, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The accords stipulate that Russia pump 110 billon cubic meters of gas via Ukraine's gas-pipeline system in 2003. Gazprom reportedly is to provide 26 billon cubic meters of gas to Ukraine as a fee for the use of transit pipelines, while the rest of the fees will be paid in cash. Both companies also agreed that Gazprom will replace Itera next year as the operator of Turkmen gas exports to Ukraine. According to the agreement, Ukrainian expenditures on the transit of Turkmen gas in 2003 will fall to 38 percent of the cost of the gas, compared to 41 percent in 2002. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS EMBEZZLEMENT PROBE
The Verkhovna Rada on 10 December endorsed a motion by lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchuk to request that Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun launch an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of $42 million by state officials in 2000, UNIAN reported. According to Omelchuk, the sum was stolen by managers of Naftohaz Ukrayiny (headed at the time by current lawmaker Ihor Bakay) and Ukrhazbank (headed in 2000 by current lawmaker Vasyl Horbal) during payment transactions for gas supplies between Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Itera International Energy. JM
BALTIC STATES HOLD MILITARY-COOPERATION TALKS
At a trilateral meeting in Riga on 10 December, the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian defense ministers issued a communique calling for continued military cooperation to enhance their countries' contribution to European security and NATO missions, BNS reported. Lithuania's Linas Linkevicius said that while previous Baltic cooperation was important politically, it should now acquire a more pragmatic and useful nature. The ministers decided to instruct their respective army commanders to submit proposals on how best to integrate regional defense projects -- including: BALTBAT (land forces), BALTRON (navy), BALTDEFCOL (training), BALTNET (airspace control), and BALTCCIS (command-and-management IT systems) -- into common NATO projects by their next meeting in Vilnius in March. SG
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS WELFARE LAW
Parliament on 10 December approved by a vote of 43 to 38 amendments to the law on social support that backers say will result in annual savings of 137 million kroons ($8.8 million), ETA and BNS reported. The Center and Reform parties voted for the amendments, while the Pro Patria Union and Moderates rejected them and most People's Party deputies did not vote. The changes define students up to the age of 24 as dependents unless they are married or have children of their own. The amendments also base eligibility for benefits on more than a family's income, including real estate, buildings, vehicles, bank accounts, and securities holdings. The articles on students will go into effect from 1 January and for others from 1 July 2003. SG
LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER TAKES NEW BUDGET TACK, WILL SUBMIT DRAFT IN NEW YEAR
After a meeting on 9 December with the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) permanent representative in Latvia, Prime Minister Einars Repse vowed to establish new guidelines for drafting a 2003 budget, LETA reported the following day. The IMF's Adalbert Knoble reportedly recommended to Repse that Latvia's 2003 budget deficit not surpass the current year's deficit. Repse panned what he described as the previous philosophy, "Give us money, and we will then figure out how to spend it," saying the new approach will be one in which budget funds are allocated only after the government decides they are justified. A special task force was established for a detailed review of the financial objectives of each ministry and government agency, LETA reported, and the draft 2003 budget will be submitted to parliament only next year so as to invoke those findings. SG
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2003 BUDGET
The Lithuanian parliament in its last scheduled session this year adopted on 10 December the 2003 national budget by a vote of 72 to 43 with five abstentions, ELTA reported. It foresees revenues increasing by 6.8 percent year-on-year to 11.09 billion litas ($3.2 billion) and expenditures 7.7 percent higher at 12.41 billion litas. The center-left government touted the budget as one that is "socially geared and meeting the needs of Euro-Atlantic integration." The opposition claimed the deficit -- which represents almost 14 percent of the state budget or, according to BNS, roughly 2.4 percent of GDP -- is too high, adding that there is an excessive increase in the cost of public administration. Lawmakers also approved by a vote of 45 to 11 with seven abstentions the 2003 budget for the state-run social-insurance fund, SoDra, including a planned surplus of 825,000 litas. They also amended the social-security law to raise the monthly benefits of pensioners with at least 25 years of work experience and set minimum disability pensions at 325 litas from 1 January. SG
U.K. SAID READY TO OPEN LABOR MARKET TO POLES AFTER EU ENTRY
Polish Premier Leszek Miller said on 10 December that the British government has decided to fully open its labor market to Poles on the day of Poland's EU entry, PAP reported. Miller said he was informed of the decision by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "It is an important gesture, and it also has a symbolic significance," Miller noted. JM
FORMER POLISH SECRET-SERVICE GENERAL ACQUITTED OF PLANNING PRIEST'S MURDER
The Provincial Court in Warsaw on 9 December acquitted former Security Service General Wladyslaw Ciaston of charges that he incited and masterminded the murder of Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszko in 1984 by three security service officers, PAP reported. A similar verdict concerning Ciaston and another former Interior Ministry official, General Zenon Platek, was pronounced by the same court in 1994. JM
POLES, CZECHS, SLOVAKS, AND HUNGARIANS MAKE PUBLIC APPEAL FOR BETTER EU TERMS...
In an article published in the U.K.-based "Financial Times" daily on 9 December and noted among international news agencies, the prime ministers of four candidate countries urged the EU to offer more generous financial terms to new members. "There is a view among the current 15 members that this enlargement will be a costly one and that they will have to tighten their belts as they welcome us into the club," the prime ministers wrote. "This is not the case. One should not forget that the new member states will not only receive EU support but also will contribute fully to the further development of the EU. We will be like every other member state." The plea appeared just three days before the 12-13 December EU summit in Copenhagen. The Visegrad Four leaders appealed to Brussels not to tarnish the expansion with arguments over money and to offer more favorable terms. The EU is offering the 10 candidates a total of about 40 billion euros when they join, expected in mid-2004. That is approximately 2 billion euros less than the financial package agreed to by EU leaders in 1999. A number of candidates, led by Poland, are campaigning hard for a better deal. BW
...AS CZECH OPPOSITION SLAMS CABINET ON CONDITIONS...
At the initiative of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Chamber of Deputies has scheduled an extraordinary debate on conditions attached to the country's EU accession for 11 December, CTK reported on 10 December. The debate thus will come just one day before the EU is set in Copenhagen to issue invitations to as many as 10 new members, including the Czech Republic. The ODS initiated the debate after press reports that the Czech Republic secured the worst financial benefits among new members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). "The comparison that was published by some media today indicates that the Czech Republic has ended [up] worst in the negotiations," Vlastimil Tlusty, head of the ODS parliamentary caucus, said. If those press reports prove true, this means "the government has achieved absolutely nothing in the negotiations and has accepted the worst proposals...offered to any member country," Tlusty said, according to CTK. BW
...AND SLOVAKIA STRESSES THAT VISEGRAD FOUR WILL MAKE JOINT EU STAND
Slovakia's chief negotiator said his country will join the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in a joint appeal for better conditions for joining the EU, TASR reported on 10 December. The Visegrad Four will push for higher direct agricultural payments and budgetary compensation, increased production quotas for milk, and a shorter transition period toward full benefits. "We will fight for these demands at all discussions, including the meeting today [10 December], and we will keep to a common approach in Copenhagen, as well," negotiator Jan Figel said. According to Denmark, current holder of the EU Presidency, Slovakia has already accepted the EU conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). BW
SLOVAKIA BEGINS NATO TALKS
Slovakia on 9 December began its first round of talks on joining NATO with a pledge to respect the alliance's principles and obligations, Slovak and Czech media reported the next day. In the opening round of talks, which should run through 16 December, the two sides will discuss political, military, defense, financial, and legislative issues. The two sides will later negotiate a list of Slovakia's obligations and a timetable for fulfilling them. The talks are expected to last until March, when an accession protocol should be signed. Slovakia is one of seven countries that received invitations to join NATO at the alliance's Prague summit in November. BW
U.S. DELIVERS REQUEST TO TRAIN IRAQI OPPOSITION IN HUNGARY
Hungary has received an official U.S. request to use the Taszar military air base to train Iraqi opposition members as interpreters and administrators in the event of military action against Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002), the Hungarian Defense Ministry announced on 10 December. A formal letter from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was presented to Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz by U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker, Hungarian media reported. Juhasz said the government is not legally obliged to seek parliamentary approval but will do so by the end of the year. He told reporters that a maximum of 4,500 people can be trained in Taszar --assuming two three-month periods -- but Juhasz said he will not share details of the letter until the return from abroad of Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy. MSZ
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT WEAKENS SECRET-AGENT BILL
Parliament on 10 December passed a proposed amendment to Hungary's so-called secret-agents bill, submitted by the senior coalition Socialist Party, Hungarian media reported. A Socialist motion to narrow the sphere of those to be vetted passed with 173 votes in favor, 172 of which came from Socialist deputies, 168 votes against, and three abstentions. The junior coalition Free Democrats and opposition parties voted against the amendment. As a result of the changes, vetting for involvement with the communist-era secret services would not be extended to church leaders, journalists with the exception of those working for state news agency MTI, or members of trustee boards founded by parliament or the government. According to the proposal, the following persons are to be vetted: the president, members of the cabinet, state secretaries, members of the Constitutional Court, leaders of the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor-General's Office, leaders of the State Audit Office and the National Bank, ombudsmen, members of the country's monetary council, the mayor of Budapest and his deputies, the heads of county councils, and mayors of towns with more than 10,000 residents. The final vote on the amendment is set for next week. MSZ
HUNGARY SETS NEW HOLOCAUST-COMPENSATION FIGURE
The cabinet on 10 December voted to set compensation for lost lives payable to the families of Holocaust victims as well as to the heirs of those killed in Soviet forced-labor camps at 400,000 forints ($1,700), Justice Minister Peter Barandy told reporters. The Central Compensation Office has registered 64,284 deceased, while family members have submitted 191,748 claims for compensation, 116,172 of which were accepted, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The 1998 budget set a mere 30,000 forints ($120) compensation for deaths, but that sum was struck down as inadequate by the Constitutional Court. The Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary, the Hungarian Political Prisoners Federation, and the Historical Justice Commission welcomed the proposal. MSZ
SERBIAN COURT REJECTS ELECTION CHALLENGE...
The Serbian Supreme Court on 10 December rejected a challenge by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) regarding the voters' lists approved by the Serbian Republican Election Commission (RIK) for the recent Serbian presidential ballot, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," "End Note," 9 December 2002). The court ruled the commission compiled the lists correctly on the basis of information supplied to it by local government bodies. The DSS complained that the list of 6,525,760 voters included up to 450,000 invalid entries, such as the deceased or emigrants. If one subtracts 450,000 from the RIK's electoral rolls, the turnout of 2,947,748 voters still fell short of the 50 percent requirement for the vote to be valid. PM
...AS FINAL ELECTION FIGURES ARE ANNOUNCED...
The RIK announced on 10 December that Kostunica won 1,699,098 votes, or 57.66 percent, in the invalid race for the Serbian presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His leading challenger, Vojislav Seselj, received 1,063,296 votes, or 36.08 percent, followed by Borislav Pelevic with 103,926 votes, or 3.53 percent. A total of 80,396 ballots were declared invalid. PM
...AND EU FOREIGN MINISTERS EXPRESS CONCERN
In Brussels on 10 December, EU foreign ministers expressed concern over the failure of the vote, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). The ministers called on Serbian political leaders to resolve the crisis through democratic means in order to preserve institutional stability and promote the reform process. The ministers also expressed serious concern over illegal arms trading in the region in violation of UN embargoes (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October and 8 and 29 November 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002). PM
NEW YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR PRESENTS CREDENTIALS IN WASHINGTON
Ivan Vujacic presented his credentials to President George W. Bush at the White House on 10 December, AP reported. Vujacic told Bush that "our two countries are now united by a common commitment to democracy and the rule of law as well as by a shared vision of peace, security, and prosperity." The ambassador added that U.S. and Yugoslav officials are cooperating to keep radioactive materials from Yugoslav nuclear facilities out of terrorists' hands. He also noted that Belgrade is working together with Washington to prevent "the proliferation of weapons to all states under UN sanctions," including Iraq. Vujacic has held senior positions in Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party. He studied at the University of Michigan as a Fulbright scholar in from 1983-84. The Yugoslav ambassador's post has been vacant for 15 months following the sacking of the outspoken former Ambassador Milan Protic, who differed openly on policy questions with Kostunica and others in Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001). PM
POWELL ENCOURAGES REFORM PROCESS IN MACEDONIA
Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Washington on 10 December with Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva to discuss the reform process and Macedonia's hopes of joining NATO, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). The two signed an agreement on the preservation and protection of cultural properties, including places of worship, cemeteries, historical sites and monuments, and archives. PM
SFOR SEIZES WEAPONS IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
SFOR peacekeepers took custody of 10 rocket launchers, 39 rifle grenades and hand grenades, two rifles, two boxes of ammunition, and a box of explosives in the village of Duzi near Trebinje, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 10 December. In other news, the Bosnian central government began issuing uniform identity cards to all Bosnians regardless of ethnicity. PM
EX-YUGOSLAV BUSINESS LEADERS CALL FOR FREE-TRADE ZONE
Meeting in Ljubljana on 10 December, the heads of the chambers of commerce of Slovenia, Croatia, the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Croat and Muslim federation, Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosova, and Macedonia endorsed the establishment of a free-trade zone in Southeastern Europe, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Observers note that trade barriers and visa requirements act as a substantial brake on regional cooperation and development. PM
RUSSIAN DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY REGARDING THE BALKANS INCREASES
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov discussed Balkan and bilateral issues with his Albanian counterpart Ilir Meta in Moscow on 11 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Meta is accompanied by 28 businessmen and will meet with officials of Gazprom and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Agreements on cooperation in energy and between Moscow and Tirana universities are expected to emerge from the visit. Elsewhere in Moscow, a Foreign Ministry spokesman commented on the current visit of High Representative Paddy Ashdown by saying that Russia supports him and his policies in Bosnia. Meanwhile in Skopje, a Moscow city-government delegation headed by Mayor Yurii Luzhkov arrived for meetings with Skopje city officials as well as with President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski. Luzhkov said the delegation, which began its trip in Sofia, will next go to Belgrade for "more substantial" meetings. PM
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS 'ROSIA MONTANA' MOTION
The Chamber of Deputies on 10 December rejected a simple motion dubbed "Rosia Montana" initiated by the Greater Romania Party (PRM), Mediafax reported. The motion was rejected with 65 votes in favor to 188 against. The motion called for retaining the state monopoly on gold extraction and questioned the legality of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation's activity in the Rosia Montana gold mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002). Ruling Social Democratic Party Deputy Liviu Bara dubbed the PRM's motion as "cheap election propaganda." ZsM
PRESIDENT RETURNS LAW ON ROMANIAN LANGUAGE TO PARLIAMENT
President Ion Iliescu returned the recently adopted Law on the Defense of Romanian Language to parliament for further debate, Mediafax reported on 10 December. The controversial law, nicknamed the "Pruteanu law," after its main proponent, Senator George Pruteanu, stipulates that foreign words displayed in public places must be accompanied by translation into Romanian. Presidential Councilor Serban Nicolae on 10 December said Iliescu asked parliament to remove from the bill the levying of fines for the incorrect use of Romanian language in advertisements, and to add to the exceptions to the law the use of foreign words in sports-related texts, as many of these words cannot be translated. ZsM
POLICE INVESTIGATE MISUSE OF EU FUNDS IN ROMANIA
Victor Ponta, director of the Romanian government's Control Office, announced at a press conference on 10 December that authorities have uncovered two cases in which EU funds distributed in Romania were misused, Romanian media reported. Ponta said that in one case a company was paid twice for the same project, and in a second case four companies used false contracts allegedly signed with the European Commission to obtain local funds for their project. One of the companies involved in the misuse of funds is partly owned by President Ion Iliescu's adviser Dan Iosif, who has denied any knowledge of the issue. Last September, the European Commission's Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) presented to the Romanian government 10 cases of suspected misuse of EU funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002). ZsM
ROMANIAN PEASANT-PARTY LEADERS SANCTIONED
The National Executive Committee of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 10 December decided to suspend Deputy Chairmen Ioan Muresan and Decebal Traian Remes from their posts for one year and six months, respectively, Mediafax reported. Muresan was suspended for repeated declarations criticizing party leadership over the last months. PNTCD Chairman Victor Ciorbea said Muresan is close to being excluded from the party. Muresan responded that his suspension resulted from an agreement between the PNTCD and the PSD. Remes was suspended for participating in the 9 December launching of the Popular Action Association as a founding member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). Ciorbea said Remes will be excluded from the party should he "persist" in continuing his activities with the association. Deputy Chairman Nicolae Noica, who also participated at the event as a member, was asked to choose between the association and the PNTCD. ZsM
ROMA PROTEST DISCRIMINATION IN ROMANIA
A group of 50 people, the majority of them Roma, held a meeting in downtown Bucharest on 10 December to protest police discrimination, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The meeting was organized by the Romani CRISS association after two Roma delinquents were shot dead by police in the northern Romanian city of Buhusi last week. According to police, the police officers fired in self-defense after they were attacked by the victims. Romani CRISS leaders charge that the police officers used their weapons unjustifiably and that the suspects were targeted because of their race. ZsM
BULGARIA'S RULING COALITION MOVES AMENDMENTS TO PRIVATIZATION LEGISLATION...
On 10 December, the ruling coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) decided to amend the Privatization Act, mediapool.bg reported. The draft amendment aims at restricting the rights of the judiciary to interfere in privatization procedures, for which the parliament has formulated a strategy. The amendment is to be backdated and will come into force as of 23 March, when the current Privatization Act was adopted. Pending lawsuits and judicial decisions will be nullified by the amendment. UB
...AS PROSECUTORS ASK SUPREME ADMINISTRATIVE COURT TO NULLIFY TELECOM PRIVATIZATION
The Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Administrative Court recommended on 10 December that the court nullify the privatization of the state-owned Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), "Sega" reported. According to the prosecutors, the state Privatization Agency ignored the parliament's decision regarding the privatization strategy and violated the laws on privatization and foreign investment when it named Austria's Viva Ventures as the winner of the BTK tender. The BTK privatization procedure was halted on 6 December by the Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals, after opposition members handed over documents to the court that alleged legal violations during the privatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 December 2002). After the Bulgartabak privatization, the BTK deal is the second privatization procedure that has been halted by the judiciary this year. UB
U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS BULGARIAN ARMS CONTROL CRUCIAL FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP RATIFICATION
Elizabeth Jones, assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department's Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs, told President Georgi Parvanov in Sofia on 10 December that control over exports of dual-use goods will be of crucial importance if the House of Representatives and the Senate are to ratify Bulgaria's NATO accession, novinite.com reported. She added that Bulgaria should concentrate on strengthening the rule of law, improving civil society, and continuing the fight against corruption. Parvanov expressed his gratitude for support Bulgaria has received from the United States for its membership of NATO. UB
LATVIA'S ROAD TO THE WEST: NEXT STOP EU
The short interval between last month's NATO summit in Prague and the EU Copenhagen summit this week has made for a packed enlargement-related agenda in countries receiving invitations to both the clubs.
Latvia, which two weeks ago was extended an invitation to begin accession negotiations with NATO along with six other countries, is savoring the success of attaining the first of its two key strategic goals. In the aftermath of the Prague summit, the glow of NATO's invitation and the formal start last week of accession talks between Latvia and the trans-Atlantic alliance is leaving room for relatively little discussion of the momentous EU decision to be made in Denmark's capital later this week.
Also diverting attention from EU enlargement matters is the effort by Latvia's newly formed government coalition -- made up of four parties: the New Era Party, the For Fatherland and Freedom-Latvian National Independence Movement, the First Party, and the Union of Greens and Farmers -- to put the final touches on its policy program and budget. New Prime Minister Einars Repse, the former Central Bank governor who leads the New Era Party, has a very ambitious reform agenda, including tackling corruption and improving his country's business regulatory environment.
In light of this flurry of activity, the lack of discussion on EU accession is in some respects understandable, as it is difficult for the public to concentrate on too many subjects at once. But the relative paucity of EU discussion raises questions concerning the preparation of the Latvian public for the responsibilities and benefits of EU membership, as well as Latvians' broader expectations from the EU.
Unlike NATO, which has the benefit of pondering the lessons learned from its first round of post-Soviet enlargement, there is no road map available to gauge how Latvia and other similarly positioned countries will perform in the EU. Within the Nordic context, Finland and Sweden -- which joined the EU as advanced, prosperous states and did not have to overcome decades of involuntary participation in a failed Soviet system -- are not truly appropriate models.
Uldis Osis, former finance minister who now heads the Konsorts consulting firm in Riga, said: "For half a century, the Baltics weren't part of Europe. The experience in the Soviet Union was something very different from European culture. We will need time to make adjustments to Europe."
In the run-up to EU membership, Latvians must consider whether their country is best advised to focus on its own key internal reform questions before entering the EU and whether it will be prepared to compete within EU frameworks by the assumed entry date.
Public opinion reflects some of the ambivalence that comes with such questions. Public support in Latvia for the EU has consistently been among the softest in candidate countries, hovering just around 50 percent. Polling conducted by the market research firm "Latvijas Fakti" in cooperation with the European Integration Bureau (EIB) in Riga put support at 49 percent in October 2002, with 35 percent opposed. According to the Latvijas Fakti-EIB polling, over the course of 2002 overall support has gradually increased from 36 percent in February of this year, while opposition is at 35 percent, with a further 15 percent undecided.
In contrast to NATO's accession process, the EU's has been rather contentious. NATO and the EU are different animals, to be sure, and the heated battles between EU members and candidates come down to money. Indeed, with only days to go before the Copenhagen summit, the squabbling over the final EU aid package to candidates was continuing.
Latvia, like virtually all the other candidate countries, is looking to find its place in the new Europe. Latvia is a small land in a tough neighborhood, and Latvians recognize that in the long run there is no sound substitute for obtaining seats at the table of the key Euro-Atlantic institutions. But joining these organizations will present its own unique challenges and, in policy terms, a country of this size can feel pinched. "Latvia now gets pressed from both sides by very strong forces. Sometimes, it seems the range of our own choices becomes rather narrow," Osis observed.
Latvia can expect to enjoy the benefits that will accrue from a formal association with the developed and wealthy European states. At the same time, meeting the responsibilities poses enormous challenges. There will also be considerable work to do in bringing the Latvian public up to speed on these issues as Latvia approaches accession.
Low levels of support for EU membership can be explained by insufficient public-education efforts by both Brussels and the Latvian authorities. Upgrading the communication effort from this point forward could facilitate better understanding of EU benefits and obligations, as well as more realistic expectations of what membership will bring.
Even with the undercurrent of ambivalence now running through Latvian society regarding EU accession, when citizens cast their vote in next year's referendum a majority are unlikely to risk a "no" vote.
Christopher Walker is head of the Rapid Response Unit at the EastWest Institute. The views expressed in this article are his own.
KABUL DAILY COMMENTS ON U.S. SECURITY POLICY IN AFGHANISTAN
Stating that from the outset President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan leaders have called for the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond the Afghan capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 November 2002), the Kabul daily "Anis" in a 10 December commentary gave a cautious welcome to the U.S. command's decision to deploy a number of American and British forces in Afghan provinces other than Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002). Commenting that the United States was the first country to object to the presence of ISAF in Afghan provinces, "Anis" wrote that the new U.S. policy is a "good piece of news" despite the fact that the scope and timeframe of the U.S. deployment is not clear. The paper also wrote that the United States should respect "special Afghan traditions" and that "issues that are sensitive among rural Afghans must not be touched," without explaining what those sensitive issues might be. AT
U.S. PLANS BORDER CHECKPOINTS FOR AFGHANISTAN
At a conference sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on 8 December to discuss investment in Afghanistan, U.S. officials announced a plan to build 177 checkpoints along Afghanistan's borders, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 10 December. Major General Karl Eikenberry, who is in charge of the U.S. military's training of the Afghan national army, said a tender will be offered by April for the construction of the checkpoints. He did not elaborate on how the border will be policed, the daily reported. Afghan Border Affairs Minister Mohammad Arif Nurzai told Radio Free Afghanistan on 8 December that, while he has not been informed by U.S. officials of the plan to construct these checkpoints, he welcomes the initiative, the RFE/RL service reported on 10 December. Afghan borders are notoriously porous, allowing illegal goods, narcotics, and terrorists to cross between Afghanistan and neighboring countries. AT
BAMYAN PROVINCE HIGHLIGHTS AFGHANISTAN'S HOSPITAL SHORTAGE
The Central Hospital in the central Afghan province of Bamyan is the only functioning hospital in the region and serves patients from five provinces -- Maidan, Baghlan, Parwan, Uruzgan, and Bamyan province itself, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 10 December. Dr. Mohammad Fahim, the hospital's acting director and internal-medicine specialist, told the RFE/RL service that the hospital has just eight doctors, 12 nurses, and 44 beds and treats 150 patients daily. Dr. Fahim said the hospital has no x-ray facilities, labs, or blood bank, and that only the internal-medicine and surgery departments are functional. Dr. Fahim said he has informed the Health Ministry of the dire situation, Radio Free Afghanistan added. AT
AFGHAN CABINET MEETS TO ADDRESS THE PLIGHT OF DISABLED
The cabinet met in an emergency session on 10 December to discuss the demonstration held by disabled citizens in Kabul on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002), Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The cabinet decided to increase financial benefits for the disabled and ordered the establishment of a commission to review the situation of hundreds of thousands of disabled Afghan citizens, the RFE/RL service reported. The demonstrators held a peaceful protest rally during which they called for the resignation of Martyrs and the Disabled Minister Abdullah Wardak. AT
STUDENT UNREST AVOIDED IN TEHRAN...
Efforts by hard-line vigilantes to break into a 10 December student meeting at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University were foiled when the students barricaded themselves into the lecture hall, according to an AFP correspondent. Some 400 people had gathered to hear speeches by national-religious activists Ebrahim Yazdi, Habibullah Peyman, and Gholam Abbas Tavassoli, the IRNA reported. BS
...AS PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR ATTENTION TO THEIR DEMANDS
Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami, a leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, told IRNA on 10 December that the government risks losing the students' confidence if it ignores their demands. These demands are not exclusive to the students, Khatami said, but are shared by the public at large. Nor should the demands be dismissed as being inspired by foreign agents. "We might not like some slogans the students are chanting, but we should think over them to find out why such slogans are being uttered by the students," Khatami advised. BS
IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TO CRACK DOWN ON VIGILANTES, PRESSURE GROUPS
Interior Ministry official Ali Baqeri said in a 10 December interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that his organization and the Law Enforcement Forces have decided to act against the presence of hard-line vigilantes at gatherings and demonstrations. Often identified as being in "plain-clothes," these vigilantes usually are members of the Ansar-i Hizbullah and/or the Basij Resistance Force. Baqeri said authorities have identified some of these individuals, and their disruption of meetings "undermines the authority" of official organizations. Baqeri pointed out that the vigilantes have the unofficial backing of high-ranking officials, although those organizations are unlicensed. "There are some influential groups that are currently active without the necessary license and some prominent figures of the state attend their meetings." Ansar-i Hizbullah is connected with Guardians Council head Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati; it receives its funding from the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation and its membership is drawn from war veterans and the Basij. BS
MERCY OF COURT SOUGHT IN POLLING-INSTITUTE TRIAL IN IRAN
The second hearing in the trial of chiefs of the Ayandeh Research Institute, which conducted a survey that claimed two-thirds of the citizens in Tehran favor a resumption of formal relations with the United States, was held on 10 December, IRNA and state television reported. Ayandeh's managing director, Hussein Qazian, appeared before the court and Abbas Abdi, a member of Ayandeh's board of directors, was also present. After hearing all the charges, Qazian admitted that he made a mistake in cooperating with the Washington-based Gallup Organization but said he that he was unaware of the "intelligence-related nature of such institutions," according to state television. Qazian apologized and expressed the hope that he had not harmed Iran's national interests. He also apologized for his "contacts with universities and antirevolutionary elements." Qazian's attorney Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi concurred that his client had made some mistakes, but added: "Some of the charges about having contact with academic circles and traveling abroad are, in my view, not criminal offences. They were, in fact, normal, academic exchanges." BS
EMBATTLED IRANIAN PROFESSOR FILES LAWSUIT
Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari filed a lawsuit on 10 December with the legislature's Article 90 Committee to complain about his detention and the judiciary's methodology against him, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Article 90 of the constitution states that anybody who has a complaint regarding the legislative, executive, or judicial branches can submit it in writing to the parliament, which must investigate the matter and, in cases where it is of public interest, make its findings public. Rudsar parliamentary representative Davud Hasanzadegan told ISNA that Aghajari filed the lawsuit from Hamedan, where he is imprisoned. Hasanzadegan said that Aghajari claims he is being held in temporary detention despite bail being set for him, and the charges mentioned in his trial are very different from what he actually said during a speech he made in Hamedan in June. Aghajari was sentenced in August to death, prison time, a flogging, and a ban from teaching for allegedly blasphemous statements during his speech. BS
KDP LEADER MEETS WITH IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE AND REVOLUTION GUARDS LEADERS
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani in a 10 December press conference rejected reports of a military agreement with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and said military action had not featured during his talks in Iran, IRNA reported on 11 December. Nevertheless, Barzani met with several leading Iranian intelligence and military leaders on 9 and 10 December. Barzani met on 10 December with Intelligence and Security Ministry (MOIS) chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi at MOIS headquarters, Kurdistan satellite television reported. On 9 December, Barzani met with IRGC commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi and Qods Force commander Suleimani at IRGC headquarters, according to Erbil's "Brayati" newspaper on the next day. Moreover, Brigadier-General Reza Seifullahi of the IRGC's Nasr military garrison attended Barzani's meeting with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and Barzani met with Nasr military officials on the first day of his visit to Iran. The Nasr garrison is near the Iraqi border. The Qods Force is the IRGC's special operations unit, tasked with exporting the revolution and dealing with groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Lebanese Hizballah. BS
IRAQ CHARGES THAT KUWAIT VIOLATED ARAB LEAGUE RESOLUTIONS
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has sent a letter to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa charging that Kuwait has violated the resolutions of the Beirut Summit, international law, the UN Charter, the Arab League Charter, UN Security Council resolutions, and the resolutions of the Arab League Ministerial Council. Republic of Iraq Radio on 10 December carried the text of the letter, in which Sabri specifically charged that Kuwait has continued negative media campaigns against Iraq despite the decisions of the Beirut Summit and Arab League to uphold the territorial integrity of Iraq. Sabri also said Kuwait has not met its commitments under agreements pertaining to the terms of the 1991 cease-fire agreement and subsequent agreements regarding POWs. He added that Kuwait continues to allow a buildup of U.S. and British forces, which carry out military attacks on Iraq from Kuwait. The minister further charged that Kuwait is interfering in Iraq's domestic affairs by meeting with Iraqi opposition members and through its intention to attend the 13-15 December opposition meeting in London. KR
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES U.S. RECEPTION OF DECLARATION
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 10 December, charging the United States with commandeering Iraq's declaration to the UN Security Council on 9 December. The ministry said the United States' reception of the document was "in violation of Paragraph 3 of UN Security Council Resolution 1441," and that the United States seeks to tamper with UN documents regarding Iraq, Iraq Satellite TV reported on 10 December. The statement said: "The United States forced the UN Security Council (UNSC) president to hand over the original copy of Iraq's declaration...in violation of the agreement that the UNSC...reached on 6 December 2002. This agreement says that the declaration should be kept with the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to have their experts first study the declaration in accordance with the international agreements on disarmament and nonproliferation.... This U.S. behavior disparages the UN Charter, the authority of the UNSC and the United Nations." The Foreign Ministry statement also recalled that Iraq's foreign minister warned UNMOVIC and the IAEA against publishing the declarations because "some of the information they contain would have some repercussions and such action would conflict with the nonproliferation regulations." KR
IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT CRITICIZES U.S. ALLIES IN THE REGION
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan has said that Iraq's neighbors who contribute to the U.S. military effort against Iraq are "shameful," Al-Jazeera television reported on 10 December. "The only thing I would say is that any facilitation of the aggression against Iraq and any contribution, even if it is termed as indirect, is a crime and a shame on that country and its rulers until doomsday," Ramadan said. "This applies to any country that offers any service to the criminal U.S. administration in attacking Iraqi people," he added. "We are confident that if they facilitate the aggression against Iraq, they would also be facilitating an aggression against themselves later on." KR
IRAQI TROOPS MAY TRY TO RECLAIM KURDISH AREAS
The London-based Libyan daily "Al-Arab al-Alamiyah" reported on 10 December that "Iraqi troops and paramilitary militias numbering thousands of volunteers have completed their preparations in the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul to pave the way for reclaiming the area under the control of the Kurdish gangs that are operating under the supervision of the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services in northern Iraq." The report quotes Iraqi officials as telling their Turkish counterparts that any U.S. aggression launched from Kurdish areas could lead to a refugee crisis, "should these gangs decide to run away as they did in 1991." KR
IRAQI PRESIDENT SPEAKS OF WAR, LEADERSHIP
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein addressed a meeting of ministers, military leaders, Bath Party members, and his sons, Iraq Satellite TV reported on 10 December. "War is savage and detestable," Hussein said, "It has implications and demands sacrifices." "Man is sometimes put in a situation where he either loses his entire cause, his honor, the honor of the homeland and the honor of the coming generations, and principles and their meanings; or upholds his faith and advances," he added. "Your heads will remain high, God willing, and your enemy will lose with God's help." The Iraqi leader also addressed the issue of leadership, recalling that he has asked ministers to work as district officers. "This is what we did with the party," he said. "There was interaction between the higher and lower cadres in a way where the higher cadres gave experience to the lower ones and learned from them.... This is because all of us should learn and teach at the same time," he explained. "There will be no leadership if the leader does not carry out the task of the teacher and instructor along with that of the leadership." KR
UNMOVIC INSPECTIONS CONTINUE IN IRAQ...
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has released a statement on the activities of UN weapons inspectors for 10 December, according to a report by Iraq News Agency on 11 December. An UNMOVIC team visited the site of the "national project for combating contagious abortion and tuberculosis that affect cattle" that belongs to the State Veterinary Company/Agriculture Ministry located west of Baghdad. The project reportedly produces vaccines. The team also visited the Saddam Center for Research on Biological Technologies, which is part of Baghdad University and is listed in the 7 December Iraq declaration as containing "dual-use" equipment. The statement said the center was founded in 1999 "for building scientific laboratories in the field of biological technologies." Inspectors also visited the center for infectious-disease control in Baghdad. KR
...AS IAEA INSPECTORS FAN OUT
According to the Foreign Ministry statement, an IAEA team visited the Ibn al-Haytham site north of Baghdad, which belongs to the Al-Karamah State Company. The site specializes in producing missile parts "within the range allowable." IAEA inspectors also visited the Al-Karamah owned Al-Fath and Al-Sumud sites, as well as the State Company for Electrical Industries in Baghdad. The IAEA also revisited the Atomic Energy Organization in Al-Tuwaythah to resume testing begun on 9 December. The Al-Furat State Company for Chemical Industries, located 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, was also inspected. It produces liquid chlorine, concentrated sulfuric acid, and diluted sulfuric acid for use in batteries and chemical products for domestic use, the ministry reported. Inspectors also visited the Al-Siddah cement plant's water-pumping station, as well as the Babil project belonging to the Al-Qaqa State Company and the State Phosphate Company in Al-Qaim, 400 kilometers west of Baghdad, which produces agricultural fertilizers and houses stored uranium. KR