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Newsline - December 12, 2002


NATIONALIST SAYS CONSTITUTION SAVED COUNTRY FROM DICTATORSHIP...
Russia on 12 December marked Constitution Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the country's current constitution in 1993, Russian news agencies reported. Deputy Duma Speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovskii stated that the adoption of the constitution "saved the country from totalitarianism," RosBalt reported on 12 December. He pointed out that the LDPR was one of the largest factions in the Duma that was elected in December 1993 and that it worked actively to secure parliamentary approval of the new constitution. "We understood that if the constitution was not adopted -- and the Communists opposed it -- then there was the real threat of the creation in Russia of a totalitarian-dictatorial regime," Zhirinovskii said. However, he added that the constitution "is not a sacred cow." He repeated his calls to abolish the Federation Council and to reduce the number of federation subjects from the current 89 to 30. The new provinces (gubernii) should have populations of not more than 10 million and should not have their own constitutions. VY

...PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY LAUDS DOCUMENT...
Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov said on 12 December that the current constitution "facilitates the development of the rule of law in Russia," RosBalt reported. Cherkesov, who formerly persecuted political dissidents as a KGB investigator and later headed the St. Petersburg branch of Federal Security Service, said it creates the conditions necessary for "economic development and improving the social climate in the country" and that it "protects individual rights." Cherkesov's comments come just one day after President Vladimir Putin told reporters, "between our constitutional guarantees and the realistic possibilities of people to realize them there is a large gap," RosBalt reported. RC

...AND MOSCOW NON-CONFORMISTS PREPARE THEIR OWN TRIBUTE
A group of avant-garde painters in Moscow announced a new project to create a pop-art illustrated edition of the Russian Constitution, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 12 December. According to the project's organizer, Petr Vois, the edition will comprise 137 illustrations of constitutional provisions, including many frivolous ones. Vois added that many of the participating artists never read the constitution before they began working on the project and that one goal of the initiative is to educate both the artists and the public. The project will be completed by 12 December 2003, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution. VY

SURVEY PROBES RUSSIAN ATTITUDES TOWARD NATO
A majority of Russians continue to believe that Russia should cooperate more closely with NATO, polit.ru reported, citing a national poll by the Public Opinion Foundation. According to the poll, 56 percent of respondents support closer relations, while 23 percent oppose them. In May, these figures were 62 percent and 20 percent, respectively. In June 1999, 45 percent supported closer ties, while 32 percent opposed them. The latest survey also found that 35 percent of respondents favor Russian membership in the trans-Atlantic alliance, while 41 percent oppose it. Nonetheless, 48 percent of Russians view NATO as "an aggressive military bloc" and just 26 percent see it as "a defensive military bloc." These figures are virtually identical to the results of similar survey conducted in September 2001. Sixty-nine percent of respondents in the latest poll expressed opposition to the entry into NATO of the Baltic states. The survey found the strongest distrust of NATO among the elderly and the middle-aged. Among those under age 35, 35 percent oppose the entry into NATO of the Baltic states and 39 percent view the alliance as an "aggressive military bloc." RC

DUMA PUTS JURY TRIALS ON HOLD
The Duma on 11 December voted to postpone the introduction of jury trials by as much as four years, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Although Russia's 1993 constitution guarantees trials by jury, only in 2001 was a law passed calling for the introduction of such trials nationally by January 2003. However, by a vote of 263-92, deputies approved a Kremlin-proposed bill that would phase in jury trials gradually by 2007. Under the measure, jury trials will begin in Bashkortostan and about a dozen other subjects of the federation in January and in Moscow and about another dozen additional subjects on 1 July. All other regions except Chechnya will have jury trials by 1 January 2004, and Chechnya will have them by 1 January 2007, lenta.ru reported. AP quoted Duma Legislation Committee Deputy Chairwoman Yelena Mizulina (Union of Rightist Forces) as saying that the delay is necessary because of financial and technical difficulties. RC

U.S., RUSSIAN MILITARY CHIEFS TALK COOPERATION
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Meyers, met in Moscow on 11 and 12 December with his counterpart, General Anatolii Kvashnin, to discuss bilateral cooperation in combating international terrorism and strategic-stability issues, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Meyers also met with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to discuss Iraq, the Caucasus, and the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan. The two also visited the command center of the Russian Space Forces in Solnechnogorsk. VY

INVESTMENT GROWTH SLIPS IN 2002
Investment growth in Russia will measure some 3.5 percent in 2002, making this the first year in the post-Soviet period that investment grew at a slower rate than did GDP (4 percent), "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 December, quoting Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich. Official data show that financial institutions contribute about 1 percent of investment in the Russian economy, and banks contribute roughly 8 to 9 percent; comparable figures in other parts of the world are 7-8 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Speaking on 10 December, President Putin called on the government to create favorable tax conditions for attracting investment. However, "Vremya novostei" noted that past efforts to stimulate investment growth by lowering the profit tax and allowing regions to establish special tax breaks for foreigners have failed. Foreign investors are more interested in a stable legal environment than in tax breaks, the paper argued. LB

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES NEW DUMA-ELECTION LAW
The Federation Council on 11 December approved a new version of the law on elections to the State Duma, ORT reported. Beginning with the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007, political parties will have to receive at least 7 percent of the party-list vote in order to receive any of the 225 Duma seats distributed according to proportional representation. The current threshold of 5 percent will remain in force for next year's Duma elections. The new electoral law would also increase campaign spending limits to 250 million rubles ($7.4 million) for political parties and 6 million rubles for candidates running in single-member districts. Groups registered for the party-list ballot in 1999 were allowed to collect only 42 million rubles. In that election, as in 1995, it was an open secret that the leading parties and electoral blocs spent many times more than the legal limit. LB

DUMA THINKS YOUNG PRIME MINISTERS ARE JUST FINE
The Duma on 10 December rejected proposed amendments to the law on the government that would have introduced new restrictions on who may serve as prime minister, gazeta.ru reported on 11 December. The amendments would have mandated that prime ministers be at least 35 years of age and resident in Russia for the 10 years preceding their appointment. The amendments received 179 of the 300 votes necessary for adoption. Just eight deputies voted against them, while the remaining 263 refrained from voting. The government's liaison to the Duma, Andrei Loginov, told deputies the amendments are unnecessary and unconstitutional, since that document does not specify any restrictions on who may serve as prime minister. The president's liaison to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, also spoke against the changes. The author of the amendments, Deputy Andrei Klimov (Russian Regions), argued that since the prime minister takes over the duties of the president in case of the latter's death or incapacity, that post should be subject to the same restrictions as those stipulated for the president. RC

DRUG PROBLEM CONTINUES TO ESCALATE
The illegal drug trade in Russia is estimated to be worth $15 billion to $20 billion this year, up substantially from an estimated $1.5 billion in 1996, $7 billion in 1999, and $8 billion to $11 billion in 2001, the weekly "Profil" reported in its 9 December issue. Official statistics show there are some 500,000 drug addicts in Russia. In 1996, the estimated number was fewer than 40,000. However, officials tacitly acknowledge the real number of drug addicts is probably between 3 million and 4 million, according to "Profil." More than 60 percent of drug addicts are under the age of 30, and some 20 percent are school-aged children. Up to 99 percent of the narcotics circulating in Russia come from Central Asian countries, especially Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. LB

COURT DECLARES PLANNED AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS' STRIKE ILLEGAL
The Moscow City Court on 11 December ruled that a 24-hour strike planned by air-traffic controllers for 30 December is illegal because it threatens public safety, NTV reported. However, Federation of Air-Traffic Control Trade Unions President Sergei Kovalev vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court and warned of further protests if workers and management cannot reach agreement on wage increases in the coming weeks. If controllers are not permitted to strike, Kovalev said, "they will be forced to take up other forms of protest," such as hunger strikes, which would "halt the work of enterprises." A recent nine-day hunger strike by air-traffic controllers disrupted air travel in many parts of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). LB

ROAD ACCIDENTS CAUSE 30,000 DEATHS THIS YEAR
Some 170,000 road accidents in Russia during the first 11 months of 2002 claimed 30,000 lives and injured an estimated 200,000 others, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 11 December, citing figures released at a Moscow conference on road safety. According to Vladimir Fedorov, the head of the main department in the Interior Ministry's Traffic Police, buses are causing a growing number of fatal accidents on Russian roads, partly because bus drivers do not obey traffic rules and partly because bus drivers are increasingly likely to be under the influence while behind the wheel. In addition, about one-fourth of buses are considered beyond repair, and there are insufficient funds to maintain them or to acquire new buses. LB

RUSSIA LISTS CONDITIONS FOR $40 MILLION LOAN TO BELARUS
Russia pledged to make available a $40 million loan to Belarus if the Belarusian government meets a number of requirements, Belapan reported on 11 December, quoting the Russian government press service. To disburse the loan, Moscow wants the Belarusian government to unify export and import tariffs; agree with the Russian government on the procedure of collecting export duties on petroleum products; ensure that the Belarusian budget deficit does not exceed 1.5 percent of GDP; ensure that monthly inflation rate is no higher than 3 percent; switch to common principles of depreciation policy; and enact a law that would ban individual tax exemptions and rebates as well as abolish previously granted tax preferences. JM

MOSCOW MAYOR OFFERS TO HELP BELGRADE
Yurii Luzhkov said in Belgrade on 11 December that his visit to the Serbian capital "has no political goals," ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). He noted that the two cities have many problems in common and that Moscow can help Belgrade deal with questions of water supplies, housing, and how best to use downtown properties to attract investment. For her part, Belgrade Mayor Radmila Hrustanovic noted that her city is anxious to expand its market in Moscow for pharmaceuticals and products of the Ikarbus company. Luzhkov is scheduled to meet with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church. PM

DUMA HEAD'S MOTHER ASSAULTED, ROBBED
Unknown assailants in St. Petersburg attacked and robbed 77-year-old Vera Fokina, the mother of State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, outside her home on 11 December, Russian news agencies reported. Fokina has been hospitalized in serious condition, newsru.com reported. A criminal investigation on charges of robbery has been launched. Seleznev told Interfax on 11 December that Fokina's purse, containing about 700 rubles ($22.60), was stolen. On 22 December 1997, two unidentified young men broke into Fokina's apartment, beat her, and stole cash and goods worth just over 12,000 rubles, fontanka.ru reported. "When such a thing happens once, you think it is just a coincidence," Seleznev was quoted by Interfax as saying. "But when the same thing repeats in a sort of system, you involuntarily begin to think that the attackers knew whom they were attacking and that maybe they weren't targeting the mother so much as the son." RC

MORE COMPLAINTS ABOUT VIOLENCE ON TELEVISION
Residents of the central Russian town of Galich have addressed an open letter to first lady Lyudmila Putina expressing dismay at the violence shown on the country's main television channels and at the "negativity" of the news broadcasts, regnum.ru reported, citing Kostroma State Television. The letter also bemoans the lack of children's programming. Copies of the letter were sent to the State Duma, the Kostroma Oblast legislature and the Media Ministry. In October, more than 1,000 residents of the Karelian city of Segezha signed a petition with similar complaints (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). RC

FORMER PRIME MINISTER RETAINS HONORARY TITLE
Deputies of the Budennovsk city duma on 11 December rejected an initiative that would have stripped former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of his title as an honorary citizen of the city and of the 300 ruble ($9.70) monthly stipend that comes with that title, gazeta.ru reported on 12 December. The initiative was presented to the council by a local resident who argued that "the man who allowed Shamil Basaev and his band to escape the city unharmed in June 1995, which led to the collapse of the actions of the federal forces in Chechnya, does not have the right to bear an honorary title," Interfax reported. Duma Chairman Georgii Yuzbashev was quoted as saying that the views expressed in the initiative are not shared by the lawmakers or by the majority of Budennovsk residents. RC

CHECHEN CONGRESS AFFIRMS RUSSIAN ORIENTATION...
Delegates to the Congress of Peoples in Chechnya held under strict security on 11 December in Gudermes adopted a resolution affirming their shared vision of Chechnya as a part of Russia, Interfax reported. "Chechnya wants to be a full-fledged member of the Russian Federation and live together with Russia in compliance with the Russian Constitution and Russian laws," the statement read. Delegates also expressed support for the proposed referendum on a new Chechen constitution that is to pave the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections in 2003. Copies of the draft constitution and election legislation were distributed to congress participants. In addition to some 400 delegates, Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov, State Duma Deputy for Chechnya Aslanbek Aslakhanov, and Federation Council member Akhmar Zavgaev also attended the congress. LF

...RULES OUT TALKS WITH CHECHEN MILITANTS...
Congress participants rejected a proposal by Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov to begin peace talks with those members of the Chechen resistance who have not engaged in bloodshed, Interfax reported. Addressing the congress, Nemtsov argued that Russia should begin withdrawing surplus forces from Chechnya lest persisting tensions between Russian forces and the civilian population impel the latter to reject the draft constitution. LF

...PROPOSES ADMINISTRATION HEAD AS PRESIDENT
Delegates to the congress praised the "courage and political skill" of Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and his role in promoting "stability and peace" in Chechnya, Interfax reported. They suggested that Kadyrov should be nominated as a candidate for the Chechen presidency, although he had earlier asked the congress to refrain from proposing specific candidates for that post. Chechen Security Council head Rudnik Dudaev likewise told Interfax would not nominate a presidential candidate. LF

ZAKAEV APPEALS FOR EU PEACEKEEPING FORCE FOR CHECHNYA...
Speaking on 11 December at a press conference in London, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev called for an EU peacekeeping force for Chechnya, the "Daily Telegraph" reported on 12 December. Zakaev similarly told Ekho Moskvy that he considers the EU the sole international organization that could exercise a positive influence on the situation in Chechnya, according to chechenpress.com on 11 December. Earlier on 11 December, a London court again remanded Zakaev on bail until 9 January. He faces demands by Russia for his extradition for alleged war crimes, which he has repeatedly denied (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002). LF

...AS ACTIVISTS PROTEST CHECHEN WAR
About 400 Muscovites participated in a downtown demonstration against the war in Chechnya organized by the Committee for Antimilitarist Action, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, and the Sakharov Center, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 12 December. Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev addressed the gathering and appealed to the government to begin peace negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. President Putin on 12 December signed a decree ordering a referendum on the new constitution of Chechnya to be held before March 2003, dpa reported. VY

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES WAGE HIKE FOR TOP OFFICIALS
Deputies on 11 December passed in its first reading a government bill that would double the salary of the country's president, government ministers, parliament deputies, and judges, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The president's monthly salary would be increased from the dram equivalent of $350 to $700, while parliament deputies would in future receive just over $500. Those increases are smaller than those envisaged by the original version of the bill, which deputies rejected last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002). Some deputies argued on 11 December that the salary increase should be extended to all public-sector employees, whose monthly salaries average $40. LF

ARMENIA REJECTS AZERBAIJANI ACCUSATION OVER HOSTAGES
A spokesman for Armenia's National Security Ministry on 11 December rejected as untrue an article in the independent Azerbaijani newspaper "525-gazeti" claiming that Armenia is holding 335 Azerbaijani women and 71 children hostage, Noyan Tapan reported. The spokesman denied that Armenia is holding any Azerbaijani hostages or prisoners of war. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION TO BOYCOTT OSCE ROUNDTABLE
Meeting in Baku on 11 December, representatives of the nine opposition parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center decided not to participate in roundtable discussions organized by the OSCE's Baku office to discuss the new draft election law, according to Turan on 11 December and zerkalo.az on 12 December. Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov explained that the opposition is not happy with the proposed format of the discussion, which is to be held behind closed doors and which foresees an extensive presentation of the draft bill by pro-government officials, followed by five-minute speeches by other participants. Mamedov said the OSCE has rejected the opposition's proposals to change that format. LF

AZERBAIJAN, KAZAKHSTAN DISCUSS CASPIAN DELIMITATION
On a three-day visit to Baku on 9-11 December, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov discussed with his Azerbaijani counterpart Khalaf Khalafov the text of a draft protocol on delimiting the two countries' respective sectors of the Caspian Sea bed, Turan and Interfax reported. In November 2001, the two countries' presidents signed an agreement in Moscow affirming the similarity of their positions on the legal status of the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). LF

AZERBAIJAN TO EXPORT NATURAL GAS TO GREECE
During talks in Athens on 9-10 December, Greece's DEPA expressed an interest in purchasing no less than 500 million cubic meters of gas annually of the natural gas to be extracted from the Shah Deniz Caspian field and exported via the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum (BTE) pipeline, Azerbaijan State Oil company (SOCAR) President Natik Aliev told Azerbaijan state television on 11 December, according to Interfax. Aliev explained that Turkey, which was originally envisaged as the main buyer of gas from Shah Deniz, will not need all the gas that field is expected to produce, and therefore SOCAR and British Petroleum, which is developing Shah Deniz, are seeking alternative markets. By 2006, when the BTE pipeline is commissioned, Shah Deniz is expected to produce 8.1 billion cubic meters of gas annually. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA RESUME TALKS ON CLOSURE OF MILITARY BASES
Georgian and Russian experts began two days of talks in Tbilisi on 11 December on the optimum time frame for the closure of the remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. It was the first such meeting since July. Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze said Georgia will "never" agree to the 11-year period Russia has proposed for the closure; Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili reiterated the Georgian demand for the Russians to leave within three or four years. Agreement was reached, however, on speeding up the destruction or transport to Russia of unusable Russian ammunition stored in Sagaredjo (southeastern Georgia) and on handing over to Georgia a storage facility in Tbilisi and a state farm in Akhalkalaki Raion owned by the Russian military, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ABDUCTED FATHER OF LUKOIL EXECUTIVE FOUND MURDERED IN GEORGIA...
The body of Sadi Sharipov, the 79-year-old father of LUKoil Vice President Vagit Sharipov, was found on 12 December by a roadside in Bolnisi Raion, Caucasus Press reported, quoting the Georgian Interior Ministry. Sharipov was snatched from his home in neighboring Dmanisi Raion on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002). Georgian parliament Deputy Izumrud Gurbanov said a preliminary examination suggested that Sharipov died over a week ago of heart failure, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...AS KIDNAPPERS OF SLAVNEFT OFFICIAL'S MOTHER CONTACT RELATIVES
The persons, whose identities remain unknown, who kidnapped Elene Tkebuchava from her home in Tkvarcheli last month have contacted her relatives to announce they will soon stipulate the size of the ransom they are demanding, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002). Tkebuchava's son Djumber is vice president for public relations of the Russian oil giant Slavneft. LF

JAILED FORMER KAZAKH MINISTER BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE
Former Energy Industry and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov, who was sentenced in July to six years' imprisonment on what are widely regarded as fabricated charges of abuse of office and financial mismanagement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2002), has embarked on a hunger strike to protest being sentenced to 15 days' solitary confinement, Interfax reported on 11 December. It is not clear why Abliyazov has been disciplined. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT UNDER LEGAL PRESSURE IN U.S.
Federal prosecutors have established that Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev accepted huge bribes from U.S. oil companies in the early 1990s and, when evidence of those payments surfaced, sought to thwart the federal inquiry into the affair, "The New York Times" reported on 11 December. The paper said a lawyer for the Kazakh leadership approached Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson three months ago and said Nazarbaev would be prepared to "cooperate" with the investigation into the kickbacks in return for a formal assurance that he would not be indicted. That suggestion was reportedly rejected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). LF

INDIAN DIPLOMAT VISITS TURKMENISTAN
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov met in Ashgabat on 11 December with visiting Indian Deputy Foreign Minister Rajendra Abhiankar, turkmenistan.ru reported. The two discussed regional developments and expanding bilateral economic cooperation, especially in the energy sphere. Niyazov stressed that the planned pipeline to export Turkmen natural gas via Afghanistan to Pakistan could also benefit India. LF

BELARUSIAN EXECUTIVES DISMISSED OVER ENERGY ARREARS
Henadz Navitski's cabinet on 11 December sacked seven directors of state-run enterprises for their failure to pay for electricity and heat supplies in a timely manner, Belarusian Television reported. Last month, Belenerha, the country's electricity supplier, cut off electricity to 799 enterprises and organizations and reduced its supplies to 4,000 debtors, Belapan reported. JM

RUSSIA LISTS CONDITIONS FOR $40 MILLION LOAN TO BELARUS
Russia pledged to make available a $40 million loan to Belarus if the Belarusian government meets a number of requirements, Belapan reported on 11 December, quoting the Russian government press service. To disburse the loan, Moscow wants the Belarusian government to unify export and import tariffs; agree with the Russian government on the procedure of collecting export duties on petroleum products; ensure that the Belarusian budget deficit does not exceed 1.5 percent of GDP; ensure that monthly inflation rate is no higher than 3 percent; switch to common principles of depreciation policy; and enact a law that would ban individual tax exemptions and rebates as well as abolish previously granted tax preferences. JM

WILL BELARUS FLOOD POLAND WITH 50,000 MIGRANTS BY CHRISTMAS?
The Polish weekly "Wprost" reported in its latest issue, dated 15 December 2002, that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka intends to allow some 50,000 illegal migrants from Asia and the Caucasus who are now staying in "transitory camps" in Belarus to enter into Poland by Christmas. According to "Wprost," a plan to flood Poland with illegal migrants has been worked out by the Belarusian KGB. Under the plan, Belarusian police and border guards have reportedly been instructed to quit patrolling the Belarusian-Polish border for several days and even "help" migrants cross the border into Poland. Reporters of "Wprost" claim to have met with migrants in several "transitory camps" in Belarus as well as with people helping illegal migrants, who confirmed that such a plan has been set in motion. In recent months, President Lukashenka repeatedly threatened to stop catching illegal migrants unless European countries reimburse Belarus for its expenses on border control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2002). JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT IN TURMOIL OVER CENTRAL-BANK LEADERSHIP
Lawmakers from the opposition caucuses -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- blocked the parliamentary rostrum on 12 December after parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn proposed a vote to dismiss National Bank Chairman Volodymyr Stelmakh and replace him with Serhiy Tihipko, UNIAN reported. The opposition argues that a similar, abortive vote was held last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002) and maintains that proposing a repeat vote contravenes Verkhovna Rada procedural rules. After a recess, Volodymyr announced that Stelmakh submitted his resignation. [There was no confirmation of such a move by Stelmakh by midday on 12 December.] That announcement provoked a scuffle in which the main parliamentary microphone was broken and deputy Oleksandr Volkov of the pro-presidential Social Democratic Party-united was reportedly assaulted. "Someone has to defend the parliamentary majority," Volkov said to explain his involvement in the scuffle. Opposition deputies displayed antipresidential and antimajority slogans in the session hall that were subsequently torn down by deputy Hryhoriy Surkis and other Social Democratic Party-united deputies. JM

UKRAINE RESTRICTS RUSSIAN AUTO IMPORTS
The Ukrainian government has introduced a four-year limit on the import of Russian cars, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 December. An interdepartmental commission for foreign trade said Ukrainian car dealers may not import more than 15,777 Russian cars a year with engine volumes up to 1,500 cubic centimeters. Earlier this year, the commission organized an inquiry into the import of new Russian cars and introduced a special import duty of 31.7 percent on them. According to the Ukrainian Economy Ministry, Ukraine imported some 25,000 Russian cars in 2001. JM

U.K. TO OPEN LABOR MARKET TO BALTS AND OTHER EU CANDIDATES IN 2004
British Prime Minister Tony Blair informed Lithuanian Prime Minister Antanas Brazauskas on 11 December that Lithuanian citizens will have the opportunity to work in Great Britain after Lithuania joins the EU in 2004, BNS reported. In its EU membership negotiations last year, Lithuania agreed to the EU's proposal of a seven-year transition period restricting the free movement of its labor, but Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden announced they will open their labor markets to Lithuania when it joins the EU. Blair apparently sent similar letters to other postcommunist EU candidate countries; Foreign Minister Jack Straw said later that the opening of the U.K. labor market to Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian, Slovak, and Czech workers will be beneficial to the country's economy. SG

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 2003 DEFICIT BUDGET
Parliament on 11 December passed a 2003 state budget with projected revenues of 38.43 billion kroons ($2.46 billion) and expenditure of 38.76 billion kroons, ETA reported. The bill was approved by a vote of 48 to 36 with 12 abstentions. Eight People's Union deputies left the chamber to enable passage despite the party's stated opposition to the center-right government's draft. People's Union Chairman Jaan Mannik reasoned that it would have been irresponsible to leave Estonia without a budget ahead of the March parliamentary elections, adding: "The new ruling coalition will have an opportunity to amend the budget...to its liking." This marks the first time since Estonia regained independence in 1991 that lawmakers have approved a deficit budget, projected at 324 million kroons. SG

ESTONIA SUPPORTS BAN ON SINGLE-HULL TANKERS IN BALTIC SEA
The government issued a statement on 10 December urging an immediate ban on the use of single-hull oil tankers in the Baltic Sea, ETA reported the next day. It noted that the Baltic is a relatively narrow and closed sea and thus especially sensitive to environmental pollution. Estonia called on all countries on the Baltic Sea to support a 6 December decision of the European Union transport, telecommunications, and energy ministers' council and cooperate in protecting the environment of the Baltic Sea by banning the entry of single-hull tankers to Baltic Sea ports. SG

LATVIA ASKED TO KEEP QUIET ON AGREED NATO BUDGET PAYMENTS
The head of the Latvian delegation for NATO membership negotiations, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, told the newspaper "Diena" that Latvia has been asked not to disclose the amount it agreed to pay into the alliance's budget until similar negotiations are completed with the other six candidate countries, BNS reported on 11 December. In talks that day in Brussels, Latvia reached an agreement on NATO budget payments and on the approximate number of posts in NATO's international offices that will go to Latvia. "Diena" wrote on 12 December that the annual membership fee is less than $3 million. SG

LITHUANIAN NGO THAT BATTLES HUMAN TRAFFICKING TO RECEIVE UN AWARD
Lithuanian Support Center for Families of Missing Persons will receive this year's UN Vienna Civil Society Award, BNS reported on 11 December. UN representative Cihan Sultanoglu told a press conference in Vilnius that the UN representative in Vienna, in cooperation with the Austrian Foreign Ministry and Vienna city officials, selected the center among first-place winners from 220 nominees. The center -- which was founded in 1999 to combat human trafficking, assist with integrating victims into society, provide assistance to their families, and search for missing persons -- will be awarded a medal and split the $100,000 award with two individuals and another organization in official ceremonies in Vienna on 17 December. Sultanoglu noted that the Support Center is the first nongovernmental organization (NGO) to receive the award and should encourage the work of other NGOs in Lithuania. SG

EU OFFERS POLAND HIGHER DIRECT SUBSIDIES, WARSAW FIGHTS FOR MORE
Polish government spokesman Michal Tober said on 11 December that the EU agreed to an increase in direct subsidies to Polish farmers in 2004-06 -- to 50 percent of the EU average from the previously proposed level of 40 percent -- Polish media reported. The increase would be financed from EU rural development funds and the Polish budget. Tober added that "the remaining part of the negotiating package" will be negotiated by Poland at the EU summit in Copenhagen. Earlier the same day, Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski accused the EU of forcing Poland "to surrender totally" and threatened that his Peasant Party will "say 'no' to European integration" if the cabinet fails to secure "certain negotiating minimums" that he did not specify. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who represents the EU Presidency, is to meet with Polish Premier Leszek Miller, all deputy premiers, and the Polish foreign minister on the morning of 13 December at a special round of negotiations at the EU summit in Copenhagen, which started 12 December. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT SIGNS ACCORD WITH MINING UNIONS
Most mining trade unions on 11 December signed an agreement with the government on the restructuring program that is to be implemented in the mining industry, PAP reported. Under the accord, a special team is to analyze the rationale for the closure of seven mines -- a move that was proposed by the government last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2002). The unions that signed the accord have withdrawn from a previously announced general strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). Four unions, however, including Solidarity, did not put their names to the accord. JM

POLAND TO GET $1.3 BILLION FROM WORLD BANK
The World Bank will lend Poland $1.3 billion in 2003-05, PAP reported on 11 December, quoting a World Bank communique. The bank said the loan will support a tightening of fiscal policy in the medium term that, in its opinion, should be based on limiting spending. Poland joined the World Bank in 1986. Since then, the World Bank has financed Polish projects to the tune of more than $4 billion. JM

POLAND TO ANNOUNCE WINNER OF MULTITASK-PLANE TENDER ON 27 DECEMBER
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski on 11 December said the government will announce on 27 December its decision in a $3.5 billion tender for the delivery of 48 multitask fighters, PAP reported. U.S.-based Lockheed Martin (F-16), Sweden's Saab and Britain's BAE Systems (Gripen), and Dassault of France (Mirage) are taking part in the tender. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT MIFFED OVER LEAKED POLICE PROBE
Vaclav Havel on 11 December turned to Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross to explain an investigation of suspected improper manipulation of the presidential-pardon process, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 12 December. Gross, whose Social Democrats are locked in a political battle over the election of a Havel successor in early 2003, confirmed the investigation on commercial television on 10 December. With less than two months left in his final term, Havel and the presidential office have been in the media spotlight in recent months. Havel contacted Gross the day after the probe was confirmed, the daily wrote, expressing surprise that he had not been informed of the investigation. CTK reported on 10 December that the police anticorruption unit is looking into whether someone falsified information used in considering a presidential pardon. "We are checking the suspicion concerning the granting of pardons, and there is some evidence which has prompted the suspicion," Gross said on 10 December. "We must either refute or confirm the evidence." BW/AH

SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES ROMANY ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
The Slovak government on 11 December approved 37 new programs at a combined cost of 12.7 million crowns ($309,000) to address problems of the Romany minority, TASR reported. The government programs aim to improve Romany living standards by reconstructing housing, schools, and community centers. They also seek to improve health care within the half-a-million-strong Romany community. The programs will be concentrated mostly in the eastern Presov and Kosice regions. BW

SLOVAK JUSTICE MINISTER TO HEAD NEW ANTICORRUPTION UNIT
Cabinet ministers on 11 December assigned Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic the task of overseeing the right-wing government's anticorruption activities, TASR reported. In January, a special department for fighting corruption will replace an existing office headed by former Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos. Lipsic said the change does not denote a lack of confidence in Miklos. "The fight against corruption is closer to the Justice Ministry," Lipsic said. BW

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES CHEMICAL-DEFENSE BILL
The cabinet on 11 December approved draft legislation to protect the country against possible terrorist attack with chemical weapons, TASR reported the same day. "Chemical weapons are [a] reality, and citizens of every single country must be prepared to protect themselves against them," Interior Minister Vladimir Palko said during the government session. According to the draft, proposed by the Interior, Defense, Economy, and Health ministries, Slovakia faces a constant threat of chemical attack from groups originating in Central Asia and the Balkans. BW

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER BLASTS OPPOSITION FOR RESISTING AFGHAN MISSION
Hungary will likely be unable to send an armed unit to join the UN security mission in Afghanistan, since FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum oppose the idea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002), Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told Hungarian media on 11 December. The Democratic Forum has said it will not support any commitment in Afghanistan or any other part of the world until the Hungarian armed forces have been overhauled. FIDESZ rejected the idea of sending a combat unit, but suggested it would agree to dispatching a medical or technical contingent to Afghanistan. Juhasz said failure to take part in the Afghan mission would entail a major loss of prestige for Hungary, as the country's political partners would not take Hungary seriously. He said, "It will be seen at voting time in parliament how the opposition feels about fighting terrorism and meeting NATO commitments." A two-third parliamentary majority must approve any plan to dispatch a combat unit abroad, and a vote is expected next week. MSZ

HUNGARIAN RIGHT-WING GROUP CONTINUES CAMPAIGN OVER ROMANIAN CELEBRATION
The right-wing Alliance for the Nation group, which includes former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, on 11 December issued an open letter calling on Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy to apologize to ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania for hosting a recent reception to commemorate the merger of Romania and Transylvania on 1 December 1918 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 December 2002). Medgyessy's Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase was a guest of honor at the Budapest event. The letter also calls on Medgyessy to apologize to the 15 million Hungarians abroad, to Hungary, and to those who serve the cause of cross-border unity of the Hungarian nation, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT SLAMS SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN CHARTER AS 'PROVOCATION'
The Kosovar government in a statement on 11 December called the preamble of the Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro a "grave provocation against peace" because it includes a reference to Kosova as part of Serbia, dpa reported. The statement added that the preamble is also a threat to the "democratic processes initiated in Kosova and throughout the region." The preamble states that Serbia includes "the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohija, [which is] currently under international administration in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1244" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November and 9 December 2002). Kosova's population is more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian. All Kosovar political parties favor independence. PM

NEW MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCED
Predrag Sekulic, a leading official of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), announced the new cabinet of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in Podgorica on 11 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The incoming government is very similar to the outgoing one. The new Ministry for European Integration will be headed by Slavica Milacic, who has recently represented Montenegro in Brussels. The new foreign minister is Dragisa Burzan, who currently is responsible for labor and social affairs. State Security chief Dusko Markovic will head the Interior Ministry. Dragan Djurovic, Branimir Gvozdenovic, and Jusuf Kalamperovic will be deputy prime ministers. Suad Manovic is minister without portfolio. Slobodan Backovic will head the Education Ministry, and Vesna Kilibarda will be minister of culture. Miodrag Caro Pavlicic will head the Health Ministry, and Andrija Lompar will be minister for transportation and shipping. Most other ministries remain unchanged. PM

KOSTUNICA SUPPORTERS TO PRESS CHARGES OVER SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...
Nebojsa Bakarec, a senior official in Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said in Belgrade on 11 December that his party will continue its legal battle to get the 8 December Serbian presidential voting declared valid, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 11 December 2002). Bakarec stressed, "We will fight for our rights to the end. Today we will first file a complaint with the Republican Electoral Commission, and if it is rejected, an appeal will be filed with the Supreme Court of Serbia." He did not elaborate beyond saying that he is confident that this "victory of Vojislav Kostunica will be recognized." PM

...WHILE HIS RIVAL VOWS TO OUST SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER
Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who lost to Kostunica in the 8 December race, told London's "The Times" of 12 December that he is determined to oust Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The outspoken Seselj called Djindjic "able and nasty," while he referred to Kostunica as "nasty and useless." Seselj added that he is nonetheless willing to join forces with Kostunica to oust the prime minister. The Radical leader argued, "Djindjic is completely a political product of [the] mafia. Kostunica is not, but he is surrounded by many mafia people [among] his advisers." Seselj alleged that Djindjic knows who is responsible for the unsolved murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija during the rule of President Slobodan Milosevic and that unnamed government officials are linked to the disappearance of veteran politician Ivan Stambolic at the end of Milosevic's tenure. Seselj recently published a book attacking a deputy prime minister entitled "Nebojsa Covic: A Mafia Poodle." Seselj sent copies of the text to Kostunica and Djindjic for reviews, but it is not clear what response he received, if any. For his part, Djindjic on 11 December told RFE/RL that he is not worried about losing a vote of confidence. PM

FIRST-EVER YUGOSLAV TOLERANCE PRIZE AWARDED
Dragoljub Micunovic, speaker of the Yugoslav parliament, leader of the small Democratic Center, and a veteran moderate politician, received the country's first prize for tolerance on 11 December, AP reported from Belgrade. The independent radio station B-92 was also singled out for recognition. The prize is sponsored by the government ministry for ethnic minorities and the U.S. and British embassies. Kostunica and many other dignitaries attended the ceremony. PM

CITY OF MOSCOW OFFERS TO HELP BELGRADE
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said in Belgrade on 11 December that his visit to the Serbian capital "has no political goals," ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). He noted that the two cities have many problems in common, and that Moscow can help Belgrade deal with questions of water supplies, housing, and how best to use downtown properties to attract investment. For her part, Belgrade Mayor Radmila Hrustanovic noted that her city is anxious to expand its market in Moscow for pharmaceuticals and products of the Ikarbus company. Luzhkov is scheduled to meet with Kostunica, Djindjic, and Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church. PM

RUSSIA READY TO JOIN EU POLICE MISSION IN BOSNIA
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in Moscow on 10 December that Russia is "optimistic about the EU's decision to conduct a police operation [in Bosnia], which will replace the UN International Police Task Force [IPTF]. We hail the EU's intention to draw on representatives of the OSCE and countries that are not members of the EU, including Russia, which have considerable practical experience in the IPTF and similar operations in the Balkans," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). Yakovenko added that a Russian call for an international conference on the Balkans remains in effect. Russia's proposal has been criticized in the West and in much of the Balkans as an effort to predetermine the status of Kosova and Montenegro by including a declaration on the inviolability of current international boundaries as part of the conference's agenda. PM

CROATIA DEMANDS INVESTIGATION OF INCIDENT INVOLVING SFOR TROOPS
The government called on SFOR to provide a detailed explanation of a recent incident in which four unidentified but "visibly intoxicated" soldiers vandalized a brick wall honoring Croatian dead and missing from the 1991-95 War of Independence, dpa reported from Zagreb on 11 December. The Wall of Pain was built in 1993 in front of what were then UN offices to call international attention to the plight of Croats in the war. The news agency noted that the incident "caused public outrage in Croatia, as the wall has strong emotional and symbolic meaning for Croats, especially for the families of missing persons." PM

PRIME MINISTER ELECTED IN SLOVENIA
Some 63 members of the 90-seat parliament voted in Ljubljana on 11 December to elect Anton Rop prime minister, Hina reported. The outgoing finance minister succeeds Janez Drnovsek, who was recently elected president (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002). Both men belong to the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) party. PM

NATO TO REMAIN IN MACEDONIA EVEN IF EU TAKES OVER MILITARY PART OF MISSION
NATO deputy spokesman Mark Laity announced in Skopje on 11 December that the alliance will remain in Macedonia to help with military reforms, even if the EU takes over the military mission, Makfax news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Laity added that NATO's new mission in Macedonia, Allied Harmony, will be made up of 450 servicemen from various member states. It replaces the outgoing mission Amber Fox on 15 December. Unlike Amber Fox, Allied Harmony will not be led by any one country but will be coordinated through mission quarters in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 October and 15 and 28 November 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February, 8 March, 3 May, 16 August, and 15 November 2002). UB

ROMANIA HANDS U.S. HISTORIAN SEVEN-YEAR SENTENCE FOR PEDOPHILIA
A court in the northern Romanian city of Iasi on 12 December sentenced both U.S. historian Kurt Treptow and his accomplice Tatiana Popovici to seven years' imprisonment for "sexual corruption" and "sexual perversion" involving minors, Mediafax reported. The court also ruled the two should together pay $35,000 in compensation to two victims. Romanian media outlets noted the quick proceedings in the case; the court ruled on the issue in less than one month. The two were arrested on 11 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). Lawyers of both Treptow and Popovici announced they will appeal the ruling. ZsM

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES RELATIONS WITH ROMANIA
After meeting with Premier Adrian Nastase in Bucharest on 11 December, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said the Hungarian Status Law will be amended to mitigate tensions or misunderstandings between Hungary and its neighbors, Mediafax reported. Kovacs added that, as far as Romania is concerned, the law aims at supporting the cultural identity of ethnic Hungarians there without affecting Romania's interests. After meeting with his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana, Kovacs announced the six basic principles that will be included in the amended law. One of the principles would require the consent of the neighboring country for support granted by Hungary to ethnic Hungarians living in that country. Kovacs also discussed Romanian restitution claims for assets belonging to the Gojdu Romanian foundation in Budapest. The Romanian side submitted an aide-memoire that proposes reestablishing the foundation and transforming it into a Romanian-Hungarian European Institute, based on the French-German reconciliation model. ZsM

OSI REPORT CONDEMNS CORRUPTION IN ROMANIA
An Open Society Institute report presented on 11 December in Bucharest says Romania is one of the most corrupt EU candidate countries, Mediafax reported. According to the report, the Romanian political system generates corruption, rather than combating it. Corruption in Romania is "endemic, if not even systematic" in most areas of public life, the report argues. The report notes, however, that anticorruption measures intensified in the past few years. The same day, Justice Ministry State Secretary Simona Teodoriu rejected the report's findings, arguing it contains a series of serious accusations based on incorrect information. In related news, General Anticorruption Prosecutor Ioan Amarie said at a seminar in Bucharest on 11 December that the law establishing the National Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office is unclear and needs improvement. ZsM

ROMANIA SIGNS PHARE 2002 FINANCING PROGRAM
European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak and European Commission delegation to Romania chief Jonathan Scheele on 11 December signed three memorandums for PHARE 2002 financing programs, Romanian media reported. The programs grant a total of 278.5 million euros (some $280 million) and are part of the annual 660 million euros granted to Romania by the EU. Scheele said the utilization of funding has improved considerably in the last year, and by March 2003 -- when the PHARE 2000 program ends -- some 99 percent of funds will have been used up. He added that the EU has thus far granted 1.7 billion euros in nonrefundable financing to Romania. ZsM

PPCD INITIATES REFERENDUM ON MOLDOVA'S ACCESSION TO EU, NATO
At a press conference in Chisinau, Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) leaders announced that they have initiated legal proceedings required for a national referendum on Moldova's accession to the EU and NATO, Flux reported. PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov said the referendum could take place in late 2003. He said that, in order to develop the party's future strategies, the PPCD needs to know Moldovan citizens' views regarding European integration. Cubreacov expressed his optimism that the required 200,000 signatures in support of the referendum can be obtained. Parliament will have the final say on the referendum. ZsM

BULGARIAN CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION ACCUSES RULING MAJORITY OF TOTALITARIANISM...
Ekaterina Mihailova of the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) said on 11 December that totalitarian rule will be reborn should the Privatization Act be amended as proposed by the ruling majority of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), mediapool.bg reported. Mihailova added that the draft amendment would undermine the constitutional provisions of the separation of powers, eliminate public control over privatization procedures, and negatively affect competition in the market economy. The NDSV-DPS coalition earlier drafted an amendment to the Privatization Act that would restrict the judiciary's rights to interfere in the privatization process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). UB

...WHILE SOCIALIST OPPOSITION CONSIDERS APPEALING TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) is considering challenging the draft amendment to the Privatization Act before the Constitutional Court, mediapool.bg reported on 11 December. "If one deprives the state of the possibility to exercise control over the deals realized by the executive power, then the state is deprived of the control over any accomplished activity," BSP lawmaker Boyko Rashkov said. "This is against the public interest." In related news, some 30 members of the ruling coalition expressed its opposition to the draft amendment, which would mean that the coalition could fall short of the necessary majority in a possible parliamentary vote on the amendment. UB

BULGARIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST YET ANOTHER TEREM MANAGER
Bulgarian border police arrested Valentin Tahchiev, a former director of the TEREM ordnance factory, at the Sofia airport on 10 December, BTA reported. Tahchiev is accused of being involved in the export to Syria of dual-use goods, whose final destination is alleged to be Iraq. Tahchiev, who was thought to have been hiding in Russia, arrived in Sofia on a flight from Beirut (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 December 2002). UB

BULGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY SAYS 6,000 MACEDONIANS HAVE APPLIED FOR BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP
Following a report in Skopje's "Dnevnik" of 9 December, Deputy Justice Minister Mario Dimitrov said on 10 December that some 6,000 Macedonian citizens have applied for Bulgarian citizenship this year alone, BTA reported. Dimitrov said the growing number of applications for Bulgarian citizenship is mainly due to the fact that Bulgarian citizens can travel freely to those EU countries that are members of the Schengen agreement. He added that Albanian nationals as well as Bulgarians from Moldova and Ukraine are also applying for Bulgarian citizenship. UB

BULGARIA'S OPPOSITION STRENGTHENS THE GOVERNMENT
Bulgaria's government, led by the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (representing Bulgaria's Turkish minority), came to power in August 2001. The political newcomer NDSV, which is headed by Bulgaria's former monarch Simeon Saxecoburggotski, defeated both the ruling United Democratic Forces (ODS) and the opposition Socialist Party (BSP). Ever since, the parliamentary opposition has been struggling to come to terms with its election defeat.

That defeat contributed to the breakup of the ODS, whose largest coalition member is the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). Moreover, the new government is now occupying the SDS's political terrain, having espoused Euro-Atlantic-integration, NATO membership, and privatization -- policies that initially contributed to the SDS's good international reputation.

Unlike the SDS, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has had some experience as an opposition party. Although it failed last year to defeat the ODS and reassert itself as the strongest political force, it nonetheless remained what it was -- the country's strongest opposition party. Most of the areas to which the BSP attaches particular importance, like social and employment policy, or the country's energy policy, affect the majority of voters.

Stripped of both voter support and its traditional policy fields, the SDS has embarked on internal reforms, which have so far yielded little success. As a second-class opposition party, the SDS's means of attracting voters' attention are restricted.

Its most spectacular option is to move a vote of no confidence in the government, even if there is only slight chance of succeeding. In January 2002, the party used this option for the first time. At that time, the party's greatest fear was that if the BSP supported it, it might lose its reputation as an anticommunist force. Moving the no-confidence vote, the SDS for the first time adopted populist rhetoric, condemning the introduction of VAT on medicines as well as the government's taxation policy in general. As expected, the ruling coalition turned down the vote, while the BSP abstained.

In early September, the SDS threatened to move a new vote of no confidence should Bulgaria fail to receive an invitation to join NATO at the alliance's 21-22 November Prague summit. But even though Bulgaria was invited, the SDS has now found another pretext for a no-confidence vote.

This time, the SDS, joined by the BSP, criticized the government's energy policy. Both parties decided to move separate votes of no-confidence after the government signed an agreement with the EU on 18 November. With its signature, Bulgaria not only closed the energy chapter of the EU's acquis communautaire, but also undertook to decommission blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant by 2006.

What angered the opposition was that the government tried to "sell" the agreement as a provisional one, claiming that the agreement could be renegotiated after additional safety checks of the power plant. Both the BSP and the SDS accused the government of violating the constitution by flouting the parliamentary decision of 2 October, which explicitly states that Bulgaria should close down the reactors only after EU accession; that is, at some point after 2007. For the SDS, the alleged violation of the constitution was in itself reason enough to move the vote of no confidence. The BSP also argued that the government acted against national interests, as early closure could mean an increase in energy prices.

With the votes of no confidence, both the SDS and the BSP have therefore continued their populist policy, instead of developing alternatives. They are exploiting the fact that the population is uninformed about issues like Kozloduy. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Analysis and Marketing, the majority of Bulgarians are unaware that only the oldest blocks of the nuclear-power plant are slated for closure, or that those blocks account for only about 10 percent of the country's electricity production. The vast majority has no idea that the profits from the plant are slight compared to the financial support the country stands to receive from the EU during the accession process.

Some critics say that the SDS made a mistake when it attacked the government in parliament for allegedly violating the constitution. But the only alternative would have been for the SDS to appeal to the Constitutional Court.

During the vote on 29 November, something happened that neither the SDS nor the BSP previously had even thought of: the two old political opponents supported each other's vote of no confidence. Nevertheless, they did not succeed in destabilizing the ruling coalition. And the SDS had not prepared a strategy for the time after the vote, as the BSP had done. The BSP announced that it will call for a referendum on the future of the country's nuclear industry, meaning Kozloduy.

As long as the government and the EU alike fail to inform the population about the benefits from the closures of the older blocks in Kozloduy, the BSP stands every chance to succeed with the referendum. However, the vote will not have any consequences because, under Bulgarian law, government decisions cannot be changed by a referendum.

INTERNATIONAL FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN STATIONED IN GARDAYZ
Commander Mohammad Ismail Zazai, spokesperson for Afghanistan's 3rd Army Corps, said on 11 December that about 200 troops belonging to the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) arrived in Gardayz, the capital of Paktiya Province, on 10 December and "more troops will arrive...soon," Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 11 December. Zazai added that a treaty has been signed between the Afghan Army and the ISAF under which armed units in Logar, Paktiya, Ghazni, Paktika, and Khost provinces "should surrender their weapons to the 3rd Corps within 10 days; otherwise, Afghan security forces and the ISAF will conduct joint operations against them," AIP reported. RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 12 December, citing the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli," that U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King has said a number of coalition forces are in Paktiya and that the decision to send the forces there was made following discussions with President Hamid Karzai. The forces in Paktiya are not part of ISAF but are part of the international coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which some are confusing with the ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002). AT

AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN DISCUSS PRISONER RELEASES...
Afghan Refugees and Repatriation Minister Enayatullah Nazari said during a visit to an Afghan refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, on 11 December that his country and Pakistan have "agreed to expedite the release of each other's citizens from their prisons," Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 12 December. Nazari complained to the Pakistani officials about the "high-highhandedness" of the Pakistani police with regard to Afghan refugees, the report added. Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province hosts more than 1 million of the remaining 1.8 million Afghan refugees still in Pakistan, "Dawn" added. AT

...AS CONFERENCE IN QUETTA DEMANDS ACTION
Participants of a 10 December conference in the Pakistani city of Quetta that was organized by the Afghanistan-Pakistan Peoples' Friendship Association "demanded that the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan should release each other's citizens languishing in their jails because of minor crimes," "Dawn," reported on 12 December. Conference participants noted that Afghanistan has illustrated its goodwill by releasing many Pakistanis from Afghan jails and that Pakistan should reciprocate by relaxing visa restrictions on Afghan applicants. AT

U.S. AGENCY TO SURVEY AFGHAN OIL-AND-GAS RESOURCES
A survey of Afghanistan's natural-gas and oil resources and the feasibility of laying a pipeline from Shebarghan in northern Afghanistan to Kabul, is to be conduced with the assistance of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), Radio Afghanistan reported on 11 December. During a meeting on 11 December between representatives of the USTDA and Mines and Industries Minister Juma Mohammad Mohammadi, the U.S. side said they are prepared to soon begin the $3 million feasibility study. Gas fields in Jowzjan Province were discovered in the 1970s by French teams, but the Soviet Union -- opposing a French presence near its border and seeking to control Afghanistan's natural resources -- forced the Afghans to hand management of the gas projects over to them. AT

IRANIAN PRESIDENT COMPARES AMERICANS TO TALIBAN
Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 11 December that the United States and the Taliban are similar, IRNA reported. "God's religion today is lying between two blades of the same scissors: One blade is the Islam of the Taliban, while the other is trying to impose war, hatred, animosity, and imperialism on the whole world under the pretext of [fighting] the Islam of the Taliban," Khatami said. He added that the Taliban's "backward ideology" has made Islam seem ugly, while "on the opposite side are those powers that are trying to tarnish the image of God's religion, which has turned to a source of uprising for freedom and independence and a threat to the illegitimate interests of imperialist powers in many countries." BS

STUDENTS COMPLAIN OF DETENTIONS IN IRAN...
Iranian students complained during an 11 December news conference that up to 12 of their colleagues have been detained by "rogue elements" from the Intelligence and Security Ministry (MOIS), Reuters reported the same day and "The New York Times" reported on 12 December. Reza Delbari, a member of the Amir Kabir University branch of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, claimed that some of these students were snatched from the streets and others are being watched and followed. Delbari compared such incidents to the serial murders of dissident intellectuals and writers in 1998, saying, "We believe that hard-liners are implementing a project of cleansing universities of pro-reform students." There also were complaints about President Khatami's failure to protect the students and suggestions were made that he resign. "Some students may have come to the conclusion that [Khatami's] absence would help reforms proceed better and exert more pressure on those who hold power," Reuters quoted Delbari as saying. BS

...AND PRESIDENTIAL SNUB IS EXPLAINED
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi on 11 December explained President Khatami's reasons for deciding not to attend any events on Students Day (7 December) this year, IRNA reported. Abtahi said Khatami did not attend the students' events because their demand that political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari's death sentence be lifted has not yet been met. Abtahi said the verdict against Aghajari is unacceptable. This was the first time since his election in 1997 that Khatami did not participate in any Students Day events. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN BACKS SUBSIDIES FOR PARTIES
Zanjan parliamentary representative Abolfazl Shakuri told an ISNA correspondent on 11 December that he favors government subsidies for Iranian political parties. Shakuri explained that increased party activism would bring Iran out of its current situation, and he held up as an exemplar the multiparty system prevalent elsewhere. Shakuri said parties in the United States and Europe have money allocated to them on the basis of their background and role, and this could be done in Iran, too. Mr. Baqeri, an Interior Ministry official who deals with political affairs, said on 30 November that the legislature has ratified a directive on the allocation of subsidies to political parties, state television reported. Baqeri explained the criteria under which the money will be allocated. "The amount of the subsidy will be based on the number of members, provincial branches, administrative personnel, publications, congresses, and central-council meetings,... [and on] the extent of the party's educational activities and its participation in elections." BS

IRAN-EU TRADE TALKS COMMENCE...
The European Commission and Iran launched negotiations on a trade and cooperation agreement on 12 December, and an EU statement from the previous day (see, http://europa.eu.int) said they will be conducted "alongside the parallel negotiations on political dialogue and counterterrorism conducted by the EU Presidency," which Denmark currently holds. Closer relations with Iran would depend on progress on political, economic, and social reform, and the two agreements would go into effect codependently, according to the statement. Furthermore, it claims that President Khatami has attempted to introduce reforms, and the statement said the EU supports efforts to bring about changes through economic and political reforms. The EU wants Iran to adopt World Trade Organization rules and provisions, and it wants these provisions to govern Iran-EU trade. The EU also supports the rule of law and respect for human rights, and a human rights clause will be part of the trade and cooperation agreement, according to the statement. The EU Troika (which comprises the immediate past, present, and future presidents of the EU) will meet in Tehran on 16-17 December 2002 to discuss human rights issues. BS

...ON TEHRAN'S TERMS
Tehran is opposed to the imposition of conditions in any negotiations with the EU, whereas the EU has expressed its interest in discussing topics such as terrorism, Middle East peace, recognition of Israel, and human rights (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002). An anonymous EU official said on 11 December that there are no conditions on opening negotiations with Tehran, IRNA reported. "The EU has set out very clearly its views, its ambitions, and its expectations," the official said. "The agreement is there to serve as a frame, to help us move forward in the goals we set ourselves." It is estimated, according to IRNA, that the two sides will meet every two or three months. In Ireland, meanwhile, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with Special Responsibility for Overseas Development Aid and Human Rights Tom Kitt told visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister For Euro-American Affairs Ali Ahani that his country supports the expansion of Iran-EU ties, according to IRNA. BS

TEHRAN REVIEWS POSITION ON IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETINGS...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during an 11 December press conference that Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) chief Jalal Talabani met with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim in Tehran in advance of the 13-15 December Iraqi opposition conference in London, IRNA reported. Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi was in Tehran as well, and there was persistent speculation that Talabani would be there, but this appears to be the first confirmation of Talabani's presence. Assefi said Iran did not play a direct role in the Iraqi opposition groups' negotiations, and he added that Iran will not participate in the London conference, even as an observer. BS

...AND FUTURE CONFLICT
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told an 11 December news conference that "Iran will not allow its soil to be used for military purposes against any neighboring country," Reuters reported. Ramezanzadeh was responding to a question about Iraqi opposition groups launching attacks from their sanctuaries in Iran. Ramezanzadeh's statement conflicts with an earlier one made by INC leader Chalabi. In a 9 December interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television, Chalabi said that "all troops of the Iraqi opposition groups, wherever they are, will participate in the liberation of Iraq." The SCIRI claims that its Badr Corps has 10,000 troops. BS

SCIRI REPRESENTATIVE OUTLINES FORMAT OF IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETING...
Hamid al-Bayati, the London representative of the SCIRI and a member of the preparatory committee for the 13-15 December Iraqi opposition meeting, told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 11 December that preparations have been completed for the meeting. Al-Bayati said the list of Islamists slated to participate in the conference stands at 40 percent of participants, with 33 percent being Shiite Islamists and 7 percent being Sunnis. He added that the figure was decided based on the percentages agreed upon at the 1992 Salah al-Din conference in which the INC was founded. However, he said the Iraqi Constitutional Movement, the National Accord, and the INC are now opposed to those percentages because their groups will have less representation than the Kurds and Shiite Islamists. Al-Bayati said the conference will focus on three objectives: "Agreement on a unified political message from the Iraqi opposition commensurate with the current stage; drawing up a vision of Iraq's future and the transitional period after regime change until free and democratic elections are held; and agreement on a follow-up and coordination committee that follows up the conference's resolutions." KR

...WHICH WILL NOT INCLUDE EVERY GROUP
Al-Bayati told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that independent Sunni and Shiite leaders will participate in the London meeting, including Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum and Abd al-Majid al-Khui (Shiite); and Abd al-Sattar al-Duri, Faris al-Ani, Rashid al-Hadithi, and Abd al-Muhsin al-Uraybi (Sunni). Salah Umar al-Ali, a representative from the Democratic Accord, told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that "I am not the only one who has decided not to participate. There are national, pan-Arab, democratic, and Islamic forces representing the real Iraqi opposition that have refused to participate in it." Al-Ani added that the National Accord believes that the "minimum conditions" for a national plan have not been met because "some influential parties in the preparatory committee" monopolized decision making and "imposed their views" on the other groups. KR

KUWAIT FORMALLY CONDEMNS IRAQI APOLOGY...
Kuwait's First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah condemned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's 7 December apology to Kuwait for his country's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Al-Sabah's condemnation was outlined in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Kuwait News Agency reported on 11 December. "An attentive reading of the Iraqi message proves it contained no apology by the Iraqi leadership to the Kuwaiti people," al-Sabah's letter stated. He insisted that Iraq continues to interfere in Kuwait's internal affairs, and pointed out a comment Hussein made in his apology in which he said that "The Americans seek to...plunder your resources and...turn your leaders into local heads of a U.S. oil firm." Al-Sabah concluded, "This is not only a negative step and a step backward as far as the Iraqi regional and international obligations toward Kuwait are concerned, but also a clear shunning of relevant UN resolutions and the decisions of the Beirut Arab summit resolutions held last March." KR

...AS MINISTER SAYS KUWAIT 'REINFORCING' SECURITY
Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah said his country has taken steps to reinforce security following the above-mentioned apology by Iraqi President Hussein, Kuwait News Agency reported on 11 December. According to the agency, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak told "Al-Rai al-Aam" that the tone of the Iraqi speech was perceived as an escalation of threats against Kuwait. KR

UNMOVIC CONCENTRATES ON IRAQI ARMS MANUFACTURERS...
The UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) has released details of inspections carried out on 11 December by UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to a press briefing posted on the UNMOVIC website (http://www.un.org/depts/unmovic/), UNMOVIC visited the Al-Fath factory, which is located northwest of Baghdad and belongs to the Al-Karama State Company. The factory was opened in 1999 and remains under construction. "The site is concerned principally with the manufacture of mechanical parts for the guidance and control system of the Al Samood ballistic missile, as well as parts of the engine and airframe," the UNMOVIC report stated. "The factory also manufactures components for the control system of the T-72 tank and for the shoulder-launched Saddam's Arrow surface-to-air missile." A second UNMOVIC team visited the Al-Razi Research Center, located in Al-America, 25 kilometers west of Baghdad, which produces "small amounts of diagnostic reagents for a limited number of human and animal diseases." KR

...AS IAEA INVENTORIES NUCLEAR MATERIAL
According to the UNMOVIC website, the IAEA completed inspections at two sites and visited four additional sites on 11 December. IAEA teams completed inventory of the nuclear materials stored at the Al-Tuwaythah site, as well as at the uranium-extraction plant at Al-Qaim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). A team also visited the Ibn Sina Company, which lies 40 kilometers north of Baghdad. UNMOVIC reports that this site was previously known as Tarmiya and was the site of an uranium-enrichment plant that was destroyed by coalition forces in 1991. There are reportedly "dual-use activities" at the site. The inspectors also visited the Amil liquid-nitrogen plant located 10 kilometers from the Ibn Sina Company. In addition, inspectors visited the Saddam GE and Amir Factories, which are located approximately 120 kilometers west of Baghdad. The two facilities provide "support to the military in the field of armaments," according to UNMOVIC. KR

STATE DEPARTMENT HOSTS DEFENSE WORKING GROUP
The U.S. State Department hosted the first meeting of the working group on Defense Policy and Institutions 10-11 December, according to a press release dated 10 December. The Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs reportedly hosted 10 "free Iraqis" "for discussions of major issues and challenges to be faced in the defense policy of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, complies with Security Council resolutions, and maintains Iraq's territorial integrity." KR

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