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Newsline - December 19, 2002


PRESIDENT ANSWERS PUBLIC'S QUESTIONS
President Vladimir Putin on 19 December answered questions from the public in a live appearance broadcast over national television, radio, and the Internet, Russian news agencies reported. In a two-hour session, Putin answered 51 questions covering many aspects of domestic and foreign policy, as well as questions about his personal preferences, Interfax reported. The event was announced about two weeks in advance and in the interim the presidential administration received 1.2 million questions, from which advisers chose the ones they deemed most topical. Asked about the possibility of restoring the Russian monarchy, Putin said this is not desirable because Russia has not yet firmly established a multiparty democracy. "It is true that monarchies complying with democratic norms exist in countries like Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain, but in Russia I cannot imagine how [democratic] executive authority could be formed," Putin said. VY

PUTIN SACKS TALKATIVE GENERAL...
President Putin has dismissed Colonel General Gennadii Troshev from his post as commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Russian news agencies reported on 19 December. Lieutenant General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of the Siberian Military District, was named to replace Troshev. On 18 December, Troshev was quoted in the media as saying he had rejected a proposal by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that he be transferred to command the Siberian Military District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). Troshev said that accepting the transfer would be "a betrayal of the Chechen people." Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii described Troshev's statements as "unacceptable," polit.ru reported. "Generals should not publicly discuss suggestions and orders from the defense minister," Yastrzhembskii was quoted as saying. Gazeta.ru reported that the military counterintelligence service has been ordered to monitor senior officers close to Troshev. VY

...AS SOME SEE THE MOVE AS PLOY
Colonel General Troshev's unexpected dismissal could signal the start of a bid by him to run for president of Chechnya in the election that was recently announced for next spring, Chechnya's Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov told nns.ru on 19 December. Aslakhanov added that Troshev has serious ambitions to become the republic's president and could be a serious candidate in the election. His refusal to accept Defense Minister Ivanov's proposal gives Troshev the appearance of being in opposition to the government, repeating a pattern established by other generals such as Aleksandr Lebed and Lev Rokhlin, "Izvestiya" noted. A former commander of federal forces in Chechnya, Vladimir Shamanov, was elected governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast in 2002, and Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov was elected president of Ingushetia in 2001. VY

DUMA ADOPTS 'LIBERAL' RESOLUTION ON CHECHNYA
By a vote of 252-0, the Duma on 18 December approved a resolution calling on President Putin to publicize a plan for a political settlement of the conflict in Chechnya, to declare a state of emergency in the republic, to create a unified civil-military administration there, to create a government ministry responsible for Chechnya, and to appoint a deputy prime minister to represent the republic's interests in the government, polit.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 18 December. The resolution was sponsored by Valentin Nikitin (Communist), the head of the Duma's commission on human rights in Chechnya. Nikitin noted that the declaration of a state of emergency would strengthen civilian control over the military and protect the civilian population. The resolution also urges Putin to continue withdrawing federal forces from the republic. VY

DUMA PUTS OFF EES REFORMS...
Duma Deputy Gennadii Raikov (People's Deputy) announced on 19 December that the Duma will not consider a package of reforms for the electrical-energy sector until next year, energy.ru reported. Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said that delays in approving the reforms have already cost the country $200 million, RTR reported on 18 December. He added that market speculators who want to see a reduction in the price of EES shares are behind the Duma's decision to postpone consideration of the reforms. VY

...AS CHUBAIS AND ILLARIONOV CLASH AGAIN
Speaking at the International Energy Forum in Moscow on 18 December, EES head Chubais said that a group of unnamed influential businesspeople are buying up EES shares, gazeta.ru reported. Chubais said that he has no exact information, but that "analysts" believe the speculators have used their political influence to reduce the price of EES shares. He said the speculators have purchased about 10 percent of the company for about $600 million. Presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov said the depreciation of EES shares is not the result of intrigues, but a natural market reaction to the company's poor management and the bad restructuring policies implemented by Chubais, gazeta.ru reported. VY

DUMA APPROVES RESTRICTIONS ON CHANGING ENERGY TARIFFS
The Duma on 19 December passed amendments to the law on energy tariffs that would make it more difficult to change prices for electricity and heating fuel, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. The revised amendments were worked out by a conciliation commission after the Federation Council rejected amendments passed by the Duma this summer. Under the latest amendments, only the government would have the authority to change energy rates. Furthermore, each year the government would set maximum energy rates for industrial and residential customers, and it would be illegal to change tariffs during a given fiscal year. The bill stipulates that energy prices be set once a year, immediately prior to the Duma's first reading of the federal budget. VY

IS THE UPPER CHAMBER PLAGUED BY ABSENTEEISM?
Federation Council members marked the occasion of their 100th session on 18 December by approving a bill passed earlier by the State Duma that would introduce jury trials in all Russian regions gradually over the course of four years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2002). Next month the upper chamber will celebrate another anniversary -- its first year operating under its new rules of formation, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 17 December. According to the daily, one of the chamber's main problems is "work discipline," because many of the senators are "truants." For example, Sergei Vasilev, representative for Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov, reportedly only comes to Moscow for full council sessions, and the Committee on Financial Markets and Currency Circulation, which he chairs, is "inactive." The daily also alleges that banker and oligarch Sergei Pugachev, who represents the executive branch of the Tuva Republic, and several of his colleagues are accustomed to leaving council sessions after the first break. Business trips also frequently take senators away from Moscow. France has been a popular destination with some 33 trips already logged. Some senators also traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a congress of international youth organizations and to Portugal to look into "security questions in the Western Mediterranean." JAC

CONSEQUENCES OF KASYANOV-FOR-PRESIDENT EFFORT PONDERED...
The political elite continued to puzzle over a conference held in Nizhnii Novgorod on 17 December to organize the nomination of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for president in 2004, Russian news agencies reported on 18 December. Ivan Melnikov, deputy chairman of the Communist Party's Central Committee, was quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" as saying the conference could have been "an attempt to pressure [President] Putin." Political analyst Mark Urnov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the event was likely the work of the so-called Family, which is "trying to secure Kasyanov's future in the short term." "On the one hand, this move makes Kasyanov a major political figure; on the other hand, it can stir up some scandal if the president should dismiss him," he explained. Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center argued in "Vedomosti" that while the Nizhnii Novgorod event is unlikely to sour relations between Putin and Kasyanov, the "seeds of mistrust have been successfully planted." Analyst Valerii Fedorov, director of the Center for Political Forecasting, agrees. "Under the present conditions of a super-presidential republic, the only possibility [for Kasyanov] to retain his post and, possibly, become Putin's successor, is to be 100 percent loyal. Any unsanctioned attempt to promote himself would mean automatic dismissal and the loss of any possible political future," Fedorov said. JAC/RC

...AS LOCAL GOVERNOR DECRIES EFFORT TO CREATE 'CITY OF SCANDALS'
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev told strana.ru the Kasyanov-for-president conference was attended by "25 self-proclaimed people who weren't elected by anyone." He added that holding the conference in Nizhnii Novgorod was an attempt to turn the city into "a city of political scandals" and to "plant doubt [about President Putin] in the minds and hearts of local residents." RC

MORE MUNICIPALITIES FACE LABOR UNREST...
Workers at the municipal housing and communal-services enterprise in Kholmsk in Sakhalin Oblast went on strike on 18 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The 250 workers are demanding payment of six months of wage arrears. Earlier, the enterprise was declared bankrupt and the head of the liquidation committee, Vladimir Trikashnyi, told the news agency that capital repairs on the enterprise's housing stock have not been made for the last 20 years. The same day, some 3,000 public-utility workers in Kursk blocked a main road for 30 minutes, demanding that salary arrears dating to September be paid, Radio Rossii reported. Also, the monthlong strike of municipal workers in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii continued to ease as workers at yet another municipal enterprise agreed on 18 December to return to work, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). Workers at two other firms remain on strike. JAC

...AS LEADING COMMUNIST CRITICIZES HOUSING REFORMS
State Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev told reporters in Moscow on 18 December that reforms of the communal-housing and public-utilities sectors suggested by the government and supported a parliamentary majority are not reform at all and will neither reduce the indebtedness of the sectors nor stimulate their modernization, Interfax reported. Glaziev warned that implementation of the reforms will increase the number of people dependent on housing subsidies and will increase the gap in living standards among the regions. According to Glaziev, the use of worn-out equipment and outdated technology in the housing sector is causing large cities to lose up to 50 percent of their heat. Yabloko Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin also criticized the housing reforms in an interview with "Vremya MN" this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). JAC

KREMLIN OCCUPIES ITSELF WITH PARTY MATTERS, URALS POLITICS
Presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin has met with the chairmen of the Unified Russia political council for the Urals Federal District, Sergei Nosov and Oleg Bakin, for almost three hours, regions.ru reported on 18 December, citing "Novye region." Also present at the meeting was deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov and presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District Petr Latyshev. According to the site, the men discussed the current situation in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Nosov is the director of the Nizhnii Tagil Metallurgical Complex (NTMK) and leader of Unified Russia's Sverdlovsk Oblast branch, and he has been touted by some Urals-based analysts as a contender for a top spot in Unified Russia's party list in the 2003 State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002). Nosov has also been touted as a possible challenger in next year's gubernatorial election in Sverdlovsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). JAC

STAROVOITOVA INVESTIGATORS EXTEND DEADLINE AGAIN
The Prosecutor-General's Office extended on 18 December the deadline for the investigation into the November 1998 murder of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova from 20 December 2002 to 20 June 2003, RIA-Novosti reported. Last month, operatives in the St. Petersburg and central offices of the FSB, Interior Ministry, and Prosecutor-General's Office detained six men in connection with the slaying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). The names of the men have been given as A. Voronin, Yu. Ionov, V. Akishin, I. Krasnov, Yu. Kolchin, and I. Lelyavin, according to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev on 15 December. JAC

FROM TRAFFIC COP TO SENATOR
Deputies in the republican legislature in Karelia voted on 18 December to confirm Vladimir Fedorov, the republic's chief traffic inspector, to represent it in the Federation Council, Interfax-Northwest reported. Fedorov will replace Yurii Ponomarev, who will join the republican government. JAC

TVS GETS NEW GENERAL DIRECTOR
Ruslan Terekbaev, former general director of Radio Maximum, has been named general director of TVS, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 18 December, citing TVS's press office. Terekbaev replaces Oleg Kiselev, who has been named chairman of the station's board of directors. Earlier, the station's journalists threatened a mass resignation if former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh was appointed TVS general director (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2002). According to "Kommersant-Daily," Terekbaev, 43, "represented the interests of [oligarch] Oleg Deripaska" on the TVS board of directors. From 1991-2000, he was on the board of directors of "Moskovskie novosti," and in the early 1990s, he worked on a joint project to publish a Russian-language version of "The New York Times." RC

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REVAMPS POWER MINISTRIES
Robert Kocharian initiated a sweeping reorganization of the country's power ministries on 18 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. According to the presidential decree, Interior Minister Hayk Harutiunian and National Security Minister Karlos Petrosian have been stripped of their ministerial status, although both will remain in the cabinet. Harutiunian has been named chief of police, and Petrosian becomes National Security Service director. The ministries were also formally renamed the National Security Service and the Police of the Republic of Armenia. The restructuring also transfers to the president the authority to appoint deputy police chiefs and commanders of police units, an authority formerly allocated to the prime minister. Although the reform was defended as a move toward European standards, some critics contend the restructuring is closely tied to last summer's adoption of security-related laws that greatly strengthened presidential control over the security apparatus. Notably, the reorganization did not include any measures beyond the two power ministries, leaving powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian's powers unaltered. RG

ARMENIAN CENTRAL BANK INSTITUTES NEW MEASURES TO COMBAT TERRORIST FINANCING
The Armenian Central Bank began implementing new measures designed to combat terrorism-related financing and money laundering on 18 December, according to Arminfo. The measures stem from the expanded powers granted to the Central Bank by banking legislation enacted in October. The bank is imposing new requirements that depositors demonstrate the origin of any large deposits. The bank also is empowered to seize assets in cases of questionable transactions or if it cannot be demonstrated that the funds were legally obtained. RG

PHILIPPINES DEPORTS ARMENIAN TERROR SUSPECT
Armenian security officials on 18 December began questioning an Armenian citizen who was recently deported from the Philippines after being detained for allegedly plotting to attack the Turkish Embassy in Manila, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The 41-year-old suspect, Khachik Aslanian, reportedly served a prison sentence in Canada for attempting to board an aircraft with a hand grenade. His detention in Manila reportedly came at the request of the Turkish government, which claimed it had intelligence indicating that Aslanian was planning to bomb the embassy. An Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson alleged the man was "acting as a private individual" and said he had no links to any organized group or terrorist organization. RG

GEORGIAN NGO COALITION LAUNCHES CIVIL ADVOCACY CAMPAIGN
A coalition of several leading nongovernmental organizations on 18 December launched a new campaign aimed at strengthening civil society, Prime News and Civil Georgia reported. The campaign, funded in large part by grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), seeks to increase public awareness of relevant issues through several issue-based advocacy campaigns. RG

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VISITS GEORGIA
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze welcomed Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to Tbilisi on 18 December, the Civil Georgia online news agency reported. In comments following the one-day talks, Kuchma said he is prepared to "participate in settling the Abkhaz conflict" and offered to deploy Ukrainian peacekeepers to the conflict area "if the United Nations supports" such an operation. Both presidents also stated that they hope a third wave of NATO expansion will include Georgia and Ukraine. RG

GEORGIAN SOCIALISTS SEEK NEW RESTRICTIONS ON PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
Citing the growth of corruption among the country's political elite, parliament deputy Zakaria Kutsnashvili (Socialist) launched an effort on 18 December to garner the 118 signatures needed on a legislative petition to force the parliament to consider his proposal to restrict parliamentary immunity, "The Georgian Times" reported. Opposed by the Shevardnadze administration and many deputies, the initiative would introduce important new constraints on parliamentarians attempting to use their immunity to obstruct criminal investigations into corruption and other criminal activities. RG

CHECHENS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT FOR ASYLUM
Three Chechen detainees appealed for political asylum in a letter to President Shevardnadze on 18 December, according to RIA-Novosti. The three Chechens, part of a larger group arrested in August after attempting to enter Georgia illegally, are facing a court hearing to consider their appeal of a decision by the prosecutor-general authorizing their extradition to Russia. In comments on the case, Georgian Ministry for Refugee Affairs official Otar Keinishvili said it is unlikely the asylum requests will be granted. RG

KAZAKH PRODUCTION ON THE RISE
Production at Kazakh industrial enterprises and small businesses rose in 2002 by 9.8 percent over last year's figures, with the largest increases being 26 percent in the natural-gas sector and 17 percent in oil production, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Iron and ferrous-metal mining also showed strong growth ranging between 7-15 percent. The only reported declines were in machine building, water services, and electricity production. The numbers also show that economic improvements are spread throughout the country, with production growth reported in all oblasts. AA

KYRGYZSTAN TO BOOST TIES WITH RUSSIA IN 2003
In an interview with Interfax on 18 December, presidential foreign policy adviser Muratbek Imanaliev said Bishkek will work to develop closer political and economic cooperation with Russia next year. He rejected the suggestion that Moscow's efforts to raise its military profile in Central Asia was a reaction to U.S. deployments in the region, saying the move was "dictated by Russia's foreign political interests." He added that the mutual antiterrorism interests of Russia and the United States might increase cooperation. Imanaliev worried that an attack on Iraq would destabilize Kyrgyzstan's relations with Middle Eastern countries and pressed for a peaceful resolution to the problem of Iraq. Bishkek has said it will not allow the Manas air base to be used for an assault against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. AA

KYRGYZSTAN PLANNING MINIMUM-WAGE INCREASE IN THREE YEARS
Minimum salaries will rise by 50 percent in 2005, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Roza Aknazarova told journalists in Bishkek on 18 December, Kabar news agency reported. She said the increase has been included in a draft law on salary reform for the years 2003-10 that has been approved by President Askar Akaev and is currently under development. The bill contains provisions on strengthening the right of workers to receive their wages on time and on improving market mechanisms. AA

TAJIK SECURITY OFFICIAL CALLS FOR MORE SOCIAL-WELFARE SPENDING
Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov told ITAR-TASS on 18 December that Central Asian states are wasting resources by pouring money into securing their mutual borders when they could be guarding the southern frontiers of the CIS jointly and devoting more resources to social welfare. He said the international antiterrorism coalition's operations in Afghanistan have created a more cooperative spirit within the region but that it is still "not enough." Azimov advocated more social spending as a security measure, because "terrorist organizations replenish their ranks through recruitment among the poor and unemployed." AA

TURKMEN GOVERNMENT ALLEGES SHIKHMURADOV HID IN UZBEK EMBASSY
Speaking on Turkmen television on 18 December, Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova claimed that former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov secretly entered Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan on the night of the 23-24 November in order to be on hand to seize power after the planned assassination of President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 November. Atajanova accused Uzbekistan's ambassador in Ashgabat, Abdurashid Kadyrov, of hiding Shikhmuradov and an accomplice in the Uzbek Embassy from 26 November until 7 December. Shikhmuradov is still being sought, while the alleged accomplice, Nurmuhammed Orazgeldyev, was arrested on 14 December at a bus station in Mary while reportedly dressed in women's clothes, the prosecutor-general said. Turkmen police raided the Uzbek Embassy earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). AA

TURKMENISTAN TELEVISES CONFESSION BY ACCUSED U.S. CITIZEN...
Prosecutor-General Atajanova also said that Leonid Komarovsky, an American citizen arrested last month in Ashgabat (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 5 December 2002), had met Shikhmuradov and had agreed to write a proclamation from the conspirators to be read to the country after President Niyazov's assassination, AP and Turkmen television reported. The same day, Komarovsky appeared on national television to apologize for his role, saying he became involved in the plan by accident by purchasing satellite telephones for the plotters. "I am ready to atone for my guilt and to do my best to find the masterminds of this crime," he said. AA

...AND BY FORMER TURKMEN OFFICIAL
In a further television confession on 18 December, former Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyev said his role in the conspiracy was to contact foreign embassies following President Niyazov's removal to ensure that the new government was internationally recognized. In addition to Berdyev, another top official now in custody in connection with the assassination bid is former Tashoguz Province Governor Yazgeldy Gundogdyev, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 December. Former parliament speaker Tagandurdy Khallyev has also been implicated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2002). AA

TURKMENISTAN NEARLY DOUBLES FOREIGN-INVESTMENT FORECAST
Addressing an oil-and-gas conference in Ashgabat on 18 December, Turkmenistan's Petrochemicals and Mineral Resources Minister Tachberdy Tagiev said the government is forecasting investments of $46 billion in its hydrocarbons sector by 2010, three-quarters of which is expected to come from foreign companies, Interfax reported. Previously the government projected investments worth $25 billion during this period. According to official statistics, the country received $170 million in foreign direct investment in 2001. Also on 18 December, the government announced 21 percent growth in investment in the industrial sector for the first 11 months of this year compared to 2001, turkmenistan.ru reported. AA

ADB LOAN TO IMPROVE UZBEK SCHOOLING
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a loan package totaling $108.5 million to help Uzbekistan reform its educational system, uza.uz and Interfax reported on 18 December. Of that total, $38.5 million is earmarked for financing secondary education, while the remainder is to be invested in teacher training, modernizing educational materials and methods, and other sectoral reforms. About 6 million Uzbek students in secondary education should benefit from the reforms, according to an ADB official. AA

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL DECREE
The 110-seat Chamber of Representatives on 18 December voted 86 to four to cancel President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree abolishing income-tax exemptions for inpatient medical treatment, Belapan reported. The move marks the first time the Belarusian lower house has ever struck down a Lukashenka decree. Under the 1996 constitution, introduced through what is widely believed to have been a rigged referendum, a two-thirds majority is needed in the lower house to kill a presidential decree. None of more than 20 legislators who spoke during the debate suggested approving the decree. They condemned it as "antisocial" but blamed those who drew it up, not President Lukashenka. JM

BELARUSIAN KGB REPORTEDLY FOILS FOREIGNERS' ILLEGAL-MIGRANT PLAN
Belarusian Television reported on 18 December that KGB officers in Brest thwarted an attempt by a Pole and an Israeli to "organize a channel of illegal migration of residents of the Afro-Asian region" across the Belarusian-Polish border. The men reportedly tried to contact Belarusian border guards in a cafe in Brest in order to set their criminal plan in motion but were met there by undercover KGB agents. The Polish national was immediately expelled from Belarus, while authorities must still decide on the fate of the Israeli, who has a Belarusian residency permit. "All documentary materials we have testify that the detained persons made an attempt at political provocation according to the scenario presented in the Polish weekly 'Wprost,'" Brest Oblast KGB chief Pyotr Aksyuchyts commented. "Wprost" reported last week that, under a plan concocted by the KGB, President Lukashenka intends to allow some 50,000 illegal migrants from Asia and the Caucasus now staying in "transitory camps" in Belarus to enter into Poland by Christmas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 December 2002). JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO BLOCK PARLIAMENTARY PROCEEDINGS
The four opposition parliamentary groups -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- have continued to protest what they consider illegitimate voting on 17 December by the parliamentary majority to replace the head of the National Bank and reappoint parliamentary committee leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002), UNIAN reported on 19 December. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn closed the session on 18 December after some 20 minutes because of angry protests from opposition deputies and was not able to proceed the following day either. "We think yesterday's vote is illegal," Reuters quoted Socialist Party lawmaker Stanislav Nikolayenko as saying on 18 December. "Nobody has shown ballots to us. Four opposition groups demand annulment of the results. Until our demands are met, the session will not work." Meanwhile, lawmaker Volodymyr Zayets from the pro-government majority has accused the opposition of stealing all the ballots from the contested vote. JM

ANOTHER LAWMAKER ABANDONS OUR UKRAINE
Volodymyr Maystryshyn has quit Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus, thus reducing it to 102 deputies, UNIAN reported on 18 December. Maystryshyn told journalists that Our Ukraine "is not planning its actions" and is therefore losing ground in the Verkhovna Rada. Maystryshyn said he is not going to join the pro-government majority for the time being. "It is better not to join anybody today, since one cannot figure out what will be next," he added. JM

ESTONIA SETS EU REFERENDUM DATE, ADOPTS EUROPARLIAMENT ELECTION LAW
By a vote of 88 to one with one abstention, the Estonian parliament on 18 December approved a referendum on EU membership for 14 September 2003, pursuant to a recommendation from the Constitutional Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002). Voters will be asked to answer the question: "Do you support Estonia's accession to the European Union and the adoption of a law amending the Estonian Constitution?" Lawmakers on 18 December also adopted a European Parliament election law, clearing a path for the country's elections to that chamber on 13 June 2004, ETA reported. Estonia is entitled to elect six deputies for five-year terms. According to the law, a candidate must be at least 21 years old and an Estonian citizen or an EU citizen permanently residing in Estonia. Only political parties appearing under their own name and single candidates can compete for seats. A party list may contain a maximum of 12 names, and members of parties are banned from running on the list of another party. SG

LATVIA INKS NEW PHARE DEAL
Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and the European Commission's delegation head in Latvia, Andrew Rasbash, signed a financial memorandum on the PHARE National Program 2002 in Riga on 18 December, LETA reported. The program provides for the implementation of 18 projects totaling 42.5 million euros ($43.6 million), of which PHARE will provide 32.14 million euros and Latvia 10.36 million euros. Dombrovskis said he considers an integrated coast-guard system (5.07 million euros) and bolstered customs (5.4 million euros) the most significant projects. All agreements for the projects must be concluded by 15 October 2004 and the financing paid out by 15 October 2005. Rasbash said the EU is "very satisfied with how Latvia is moving on in the accession process," adding that this will be the last PHARE program signed with Latvia, which is already bound for EU membership. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT PERMITS RUSSIAN CONSULATE IN KAUNAS
The cabinet decided on 18 December to grant Russia permission to open a consulate in Lithuania's second-largest city, Kaunas, BNS reported. Lithuanian citizens must have visas to travel to the Kaliningrad Oblast from 1 July 2003. Russia, meanwhile, has not yet approved a Lithuanian request filed several years ago to open a consulate in Sovetsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast. Foreign Ministry Consular Department Director Gediminas Siaudvytis told a press conference in Kaliningrad that he will not be able to sign a planned Lithuanian-Russian travel agreement on 19 December because the Russian government has not yet finalized its preparation. Kaliningrad Oblast Deputy Governor Mikhail Tsikel countered that the agreement will be signed "in a few days." Lithuanian officials have expressed concern over the delay, since the existing travel agreement expires on 1 January and the new agreement should offer a simplified visa for haulers, railway employees, and passenger-transport crews. SG

POLISH FINANCE MINISTER SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE OVER TAX-AMNESTY BILL
The Sejm on 18 December voted 249 to 150 with three abstentions to reject a motion of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko, PAP reported. The motion -- filed by the opposition Civic Platform and backed by Law and Justice and the League of Polish Families -- accused Kolodko of "endangering democratic and legal statehood" in attempting to put through a controversial tax-amnesty bill that was subsequently rejected by the Constitutional Tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2003). The Civic Platform also criticized Kolodko's 2003 budget bill, claiming it is deceptively optimistic and unrealistic. Premier Leszek Miller spoke in the Sejm in Kolodko's defense, arguing that the minister has also made numerous good moves to his credit and "breathed optimism into Polish commerce." JM

POLISH PREMIER URGES NONPARTISAN SUPPORT IN EU REFERENDUM
Leszek Miller on 18 December addressed the Senate with an appeal for cooperation "above divisions" in order to seal Poland's EU entry in a referendum expected in mid-2003, Polish Radio reported. "It's important that on this significant day, which is ahead of us, the greatest possible number of Poles be willing to participate in the referendum and that all of them be able to take an appropriate decision according to their conscience -- a decision based on reliable information that we must convey and that our countrymen themselves must get," Miller said. Finance Minister Kolodko, who also addressed the Senate the same day, estimated that Poland would have to pay 11 billion zlotys ($2.8 billion) into the EU budget in 2004 while payments from the EU would likely reach 13.1 billion zlotys. JM

FOURTH OFFICIAL CANDIDACY FOR CZECH PRESIDENT SUBMITTED TO PARLIAMENT
The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 18 December officially submitted the candidacy of former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures for the post of president, CTK reported. A joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate on 15 January will convene to elect President Vaclav Havel's successor. Sixty-two of 70 CSSD deputies backed Bures's candidacy. He thus became the fourth official candidate for the post, alongside the Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) candidate, former Premier Vaclav Klaus; Senate President Petr Pithart, who is backed by the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party; and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia's candidate, Miroslav Krizenecky, who was chief military prosecutor from 1990-92. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT SCORES EU VICTORY OVER OPPOSITION
The Chamber of Deputies on 18 December approved a resolution praising the successful completion of EU accession talks and rejected a resolution proposed by the opposition criticizing the outcome of the parleys, CTK reported. The ODS draft would have described the negotiations' outcome as unsatisfactory and as failing to reflect the leading position of the Czech Republic among candidate countries. The resolution that was approved also expresses gratitude to President Havel and all Czech postcommunist premiers -- Klaus, Josef Tosovsky, Milos Zeman, and Vladimir Spidla -- for their contributions to the successful outcome of the negotiations. Similar thanks are expressed in the resolution to former Foreign Ministers Josef Zieleniec, Jaroslav Sedivy, and Jan Kavan along with current Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. The deputies also praised the contribution of chief Czech negotiator and soon-to-be Ambassador to the EU Pavel Telicka. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SATISFIED WITH EU COMMISSIONER'S STANCE ON STATUS LAW
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 18 December said a letter on the Hungarian Status Law recently sent to the premiers of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia by Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enlargement, is basically in line with Slovak reservations about that legislation, TASR reported. Kukan said amendments to the law proposed by the Hungarian government do not address the objections raised in Verheugen's letter, but he declined to reveal the letter's content. Kukan also said his Hungarian counterpart Laszlo Kovacs has not requested a meeting with him, despite having told Hungarian journalists he will do so. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES NOMINATE CUBAN DISSIDENT FOR NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
Forty Slovak lawmakers on 18 December signed an appeal to nominate Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardinas for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, TASR reported. Paya's nomination was also supported by former President Michal Kovacs, and parliamentarians who signed the appeal include chamber speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, Human Rights Commission Chairman Laszlo Nagy, and former Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky. The nomination is to be submitted to the Nobel Prize Committee by the People in Need civic organization and the Pontis Foundation in January. Paya's candidacy for the prize was initiated by Czech President Havel. MS

PARTY CHAPTER DISTANCES ITSELF FROM CALLS FOR FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER'S OUSTER
The Kosice regional branch of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 18 December distanced itself from branch Deputy Chairman Jaroslav Olenak's call for former Premier Vladimir Meciar to resign his party chairmanship, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). The branch's executive board issued a statement saying Olenak's initiative was personal and does not reflect the position of the Kosice HZDS. Olenak did not attend the meeting on health grounds but confirmed in a statement to TASR that he stands by his statements. He added that he will personally present his appeal to the party chairman at a meeting between Meciar and district HZDS chairmen scheduled for 19 December. MS

HUNGARY APPROVES U.S. USE OF AIR BASE TO TRAIN IRAQI OPPOSITION...
Cabinet ministers on 18 December approved a U.S. request to use Hungary's military air base at Taszar to train some 3,000 Iraqi opposition personnel in two stages next year. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal told Hungarian media that the trainees might eventually serve as translators, interpreters, or guides in the event of international military action against Iraq or potentially help set up a new civil administration in Iraq. He said the United States will provide all the necessary supplies for the training, and those trained at the camp will not be deployed directly in combat roles in Iraq. David Lapan, spokesman for the Pentagon, said in Washington that the Arabs trained at the air base will not be U.S. nationals but emigres, the Hungarian MTI news agency reported. MSZ

...AND PASSES STATUS LAW AMENDMENT
The cabinet on 18 December agreed basic principles for amending the Hungarian Status Law, spokesman Gal told reporters after the government session. Gal reiterated that Hungarian Certificates issued for ethnic Hungarians abroad will not create any political link between Hungary and ethnic Hungarians abroad and are intended solely to symbolize cultural and linguistic bonds, as well as to verify legal entitlement to cultural and educational benefits in Hungary. He said the Hungarian Standing Conference, which consists of representatives of ethnic Hungarian organizations abroad, might be convened in January to hold consultations on the amendment, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Opposition FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Zsolt Nemeth, a former political state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, released a statement after Gal's press briefing saying he finds it regrettable that the cabinet has not made it clear to what extent it will honor basic principles accepted in the last closing statement of the Hungarian Standing Conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT SLASHES CONTROVERSIAL BUDAPEST MUSEUM'S BUDGET
Parliament on 17 December voted in favor of a motion submitted by Free Democrat Ivan Peto to reduce the annual state subsidy for the House of Terror Museum to 180 million forints ($780,000), from 330 million forints, Budapest dailies reported. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and Socialist ministers and state secretaries voted against the motion. Opposition deputies, who walked out of the session over an unrelated disagreement with the justice minister, did not attend the voting. Museum Director Maria Schmidt recently said she finds it "particularly significant" that the motion was submitted by Peto, whose father's name was inscribed on a wall of the museum as a onetime officer in Hungary's dreaded communist-run state security department of the late 1940s. She also threatened to sue the state unless it honors the contract signed with the museum during the previous government's term of office. The opposition FIDESZ's cultural section and the right-wing group Alliance for the Nation released similar statements. MSZ

NATO OFFICIAL CRITICIZES EU DECLARATION ON BOSNIA
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an unnamed NATO official told Reuters in Brussels on 18 December that the EU announced plans at its recent Copenhagen summit to take over Bosnian peacekeeping from SFOR without consulting NATO, SFOR, or Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). The official said the Atlantic alliance does not oppose the idea of an EU mission in principle, but the Copenhagen statement "was a less-than-optimal way of announcing" the EU's intentions. The official added that NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson has urged that the EU proposal first be examined to see if it is viable, and that Bosnia be consulted. The official also noted: "The EU is there to act if NATO decides not to. The forces are the same. It's the circumstances in which they will be used that will vary" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 October and 15 and 27 November 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February, 8 March, 3 May, 16 August, and 15 November 2002). PM

BOSNIAN COURT FREES THREE SERBS HELD OVER IRAQ ARMS DEALS
A court in Bijeljina on 18 December ordered the freeing of three Orao company officials who have been held for one month while that firm's illegal arms deals with Iraq are under investigation, dpa reported. The three are former Orao Director Milan Prica, technical department head Teodosije Kecman, and marketing chief Gordan Santrac (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 25 October and 8 and 29 November 2002). PM

PROSECUTION SEEKS UP TO 25-YEAR SENTENCE FOR FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER
Prosecutors at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 18 December said they want a sentence of between 15 and 25 years for former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and 18 December 2002). Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte noted that the prosecution would have sought a life sentence for the 72-year-old Plavsic had she not pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity. Plavsic's attorney stressed she has shown remorse and should be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison. Critics charge that she has not apologized for her actions during the 1992-95 war and that she has been less than enthusiastic about cooperating with the tribunal on other cases. PM

UN WANTS BELGRADE TO COOPERATE FULLY WITH THE HAGUE
Speaking in The Hague on 18 December, Del Ponte called on the UN to take unspecified steps to put pressure on Belgrade to cooperate with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She said specifically that the tribunal wants unspecified documents in several archives to use in the case against former President Slobodan Milosevic. In New York, the Security Council approved a declaration calling on Yugoslav authorities to cooperate fully with the tribunal. In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that outgoing Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who is an indicted war criminal, is obliged to go to The Hague after he leaves office on 5 January and "explain his role" in the developments that prompted his indictment. PM

SERBIAN LEADER PLAYS DOWN CHANCE OF ELECTIONS
Djindjic said in Belgrade on 18 December that a new constitution for Serbia could be submitted to the parliament in mid-2003, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). He added that he does not see any link between approving a new constitution and holding new parliamentary elections. PM

POVERTY GRIPS SERBIA
The Serbian government said in a report on 18 December that about 800,000 people, or 10 percent of the population, live in poverty with an average income of about $60 per month, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. An additional 20 percent of the population lives just above the poverty level. PM

HUMAN-TRAFFICKING SCANDAL LOOMS OVER MONTENEGRO
Prime Minister-designate Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 18 December that charges that officials are involved in human trafficking will be thoroughly and completely investigated, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002). But Helga Conrad, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact's department dealing with human trafficking, said that outgoing Interior Minister Andrija Jovicevic told her that the reason he was dropped from the new cabinet is because he arrested Deputy State Prosecutor Zoran Piperovic in conjunction with the scandal without consulting Djukanovic. Elsewhere, Jovicevic called on government bodies to remove criminal elements from their ranks, "Vesti" reported on 19 December. PM

MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION WARNS GOVERNMENT
The spokesman for the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), Marjan Gjorcev, demanded on 18 December that the government halt what he called the "Stalinist persecutions" of high-ranking VMRO-DPMNE members and their relatives, "Dnevnik" reported. Gjorcev added that the party leadership is under constant pressure from its members to adopt a more radical approach toward "Stalinist methods...[and] totalitarianism." He added: "We can control [the party members'] dissatisfaction to a certain degree. But if the totalitarianism continues, we will not be able to control the emotions and behavior of certain groups, which could assemble and provoke unrest." Since the new Social Democratic-led government took office on 1 November, it has begun investigating cases of corruption and mismanagement by members of the previous administration, which was led by the VMRO-DPMNE. A number of prominent VMRO-DPMNE members have been arrested, including the director of state-run Nova Makedonija publishing house (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). UB

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KOSOVA
Ilir Meta said in Prishtina on 18 December that "Kosova's political status has to be resolved in cooperation and understanding with and be accepted by the international community and not in confrontation with it." He suggested that the best way to do this is "to ensure Kosova's integration with the EU and not isolate it from the entire region's integration processes" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 and 29 November 2002). Meta and Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), signed an agreement "to start early negotiations in 2003 on a free-trade agreement between Albania and Kosova." Meta added, "[This] shows clearly that the last obstacles for economic and trade cooperation between the two countries are coming down." In related news, Albanian Ambassador to Yugoslavia Petrit Bushati said a "new climate" exists between Belgrade and Tirana, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported from the Serbian capital on 18 December. He noted that Serbia's JAT airlines has recently resumed regular flights between the two capitals after a break of many years. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AT ODDS ON GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE
President Ion Iliescu said on 18 December that the government headed by Adrian Nastase will not resign and that the reshuffle agreed upon with the premier the previous day will result from personnel changes in the cabinet, Mediafax reported. Nastase told journalists one day earlier that the reshuffle envisaged for February would result from the resignation of the cabinet he heads, a scenario that would allow him to present parliament with a new government structure with himself at its helm. Government spokesman Claudiu Lucaci clarified later on 18 December that the resignation of the cabinet is "the personal option of the premier" and must yet be discussed with cabinet members. MS

GREATER ROMANIA PARTY PROTESTS FOREIGN MINISTER'S STATEMENT
In a press release issued on 18 December, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) protested Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana's statement the previous day in which he described the PRM as "extremist," Romanian Radio reported. The PRM said Geoana apparently "receives instructions from the West" and seeks "the marginalization of the PRM." MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION FINALIZES LIST OF AGREED AMENDMENTS
The ad hoc parliamentary commission examining proposed amendments to the Romanian Constitution announced on 18 December that it has ended debate after the parliamentary parties represented on the commission reached agreement, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The commission said several proposed amendments have not been backed by the required 60 percent majority, and they will now be circulated among members of parliament. The commission will then resume work on 15 January 2003. MS

KING CAROL II TO BE REBURIED IN ROMANIA
King Carol II, who died in exile in Portugal in 1953, will be reinterred at the Curtea de Arges Monastery next year, Mediafax reported, citing government spokesman Claudiu Lucaci. Lucaci said the royal family has consented to interring Carol II's remains at the monastery where Carol II's predecessors on the Romanian throne are buried. MS

MOLDOVAN MILITARY ENGINEERS TO PARTICIPATE IN AFGHANISTAN DEMINING OPERATIONS
Five members of the Moldovan military-engineering corps will participate in demining operations in Afghanistan. President Vladimir Voronin conveyed the information to U.S. President George W. Bush at their meeting at the White House on 17 December and Bush welcomed the initiative, Flux reported on 19 December. In an interview with RFE/RL on 18 December, Moldovan military-engineering official Igor Cutie said the five specialists are among the elite of Moldova's troops and have vast experience in demining operations undertaken after the cessation of military hostilities in Transdniester. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH WORLD BANK PRESIDENT, IMF OFFICIAL
President Voronin, currently on a visit to the United States, met in Washington on 17 December with World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Infotag reported. In an interview with Moldovan Radio, First Deputy Finance Minister Mariana Durlesteanu, who is accompanying Voronin on his visit, described the talks as "quite tough, but covering the entire range of relations between Moldova and the World Bank." Voronin secured Wolfensohn's support to continue backing the reform process in Moldova and to display particular understanding toward the problems faced by Chisinau. Wolfensohn was cited by Infotag as telling Voronin that Moldova is the only country to which the bank is prepared to make concessions on contentious matters. Voronin met in Washington on 19 December with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Horst Koehler to discuss economic reforms in Moldova, ITAR-TASS reported. Koehler told Voronin the business climate in his country needs to be improved to attract foreign investors and generate economic growth. They agreed that the reforms must root out corruption, ensure judicial independence, and restructure the state administration. Koehler reiterated that the IMF will not resume lending to Moldova as long as its conditions are not met. MS

NEGOTIATIONS OVER TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT RESUMED
Negotiations to settle the Transdniester conflict were resumed in Moscow on 18 December, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The sides met in the presence of representatives of the three mediators -- Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They agreed on an agenda for continuing the parleys. The agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov as saying the negotiation process must be intensified and the sides must display "more political will" to reach a solution. MS

BULGARIAN SUPREME JUDICIAL COUNCIL URGES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO RESIGN...
The Supreme Judicial Council decided on 18 December to ask Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev to resign, mediapool.bg reported. The council cannot lift Filchev's immunity but can ask parliament to do so. The council cited a number of accusations leveled against Filchev as reasons for the decision, including alleged violations of the Judiciary Act and abuse of office. According to the council, Filchev set up an administration of his own and thus violated budgetary provisions. In addition, he is accused of ignoring the Supreme Judicial Council when nominating or promoting public prosecutors. The council's decision also claimed that Filchev has created a system of fear among prosecutors and magistrates by demoting them without justification. The prosecutor-general enjoys considerable immunity under Bulgarian law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June, 11 July, and 9 and 18 December 2002). UB

...PROMPTING NEGATIVE REACTIONS
Deputy Prosecutor-General Hristo Manchev said on 18 December that the council's decision has no legal basis and that Filchev will not resign, bnn reported. Lawmakers of both members of the ruling coalition between the National Movement Simeon II and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, as well as from the opposition Socialist Party and the conservative United Democratic Forces, expressed their belief that the council's decision is not legally binding. They interpreted the decision as an expression of disunity among the leading members of the country's judiciary. Justice Minister Anton Stankov warned that the council's decision undermines the judiciary's authority. UB

U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS BULGARIAN COURTS SEND WRONG SIGNALS TO INTERNATIONAL INVESTORS
Speaking in Sofia on 18 December, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew criticized opposition parties and the courts for halting the privatization of the state-run Bulgartabac tobacco company and the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), mediapool.bg reported. Underscoring that internationally recognized companies such as Advent International and Deutsche Bank participated in the privatization tenders, Pardew said: The "parties, courts, and prosecutors who are aggressive in finding fault with this privatization and blocking an open and fair privatization process are the same ones who are failing to be aggressive against organized crime and corruption.... This sends exactly the wrong signals to international investors." He said this does real harm to the country's economic prospects. UB

RUSSIA DEMANDS RESTITUTION OF SOVIET PROPERTY IN BULGARIA
In a diplomatic note handed to the Bulgarian ambassador in Moscow on 18 December, the Russian government demanded that parts of Bulgartabac and the GORUBSO mining company be restituted to the Russian state. The Russian side reiterated its position that the property, which was originally transferred to the USSR after World War II as war reparations, was leased -- not given -- to the Bulgarian state in the 1950s. The Russian note follows a decision by the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court to declare the Bulgartabac privatization procedure null and void. Three Russian consortiums participated in the Bulgartabac tender and later challenged the Privatization Agency's decision to name the Tobacco Capital Partners consortium as the winning bidder. Tobacco Capital Partners was backed by Deutsche Bank (see "End Note" in "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). UB

There is no End Note today.


AFGHAN VICE PRESIDENT DISCUSSES PIPELINE PROJECT
Afghan Vice President Hedayat Amin Arsala said on 18 December during an official visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, that "substantial progress has been achieved to sign a tripartite agreement" for laying the Trans-Afghan pipeline to carry Turkmen gas to Pakistan via Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002), the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 19 December. During a news conference with Shaukat Aziz, a financial adviser to Pakistan's prime minister, Arsala said the Asian Development Bank has shown interest in the pipeline project and has funded its feasibility study. He added that a "number of contentious issues" regarding the project have been sorted out without indicating what those contentious issues might be, "Dawn" reported. The pipeline project faces a variety of problems beyond the issues of security and lack of central-government control in western Afghanistan. One issue that has not been discussed much is the issue of availability of markets for the Turkmen gas in Pakistan. AT

KONDUZ TELEVISION INAUGURATED, BUT NEEDS HELP
Sayyed Ismail Ansari, director of radio and television in northern Afghanistan's Konduz Province, has said that -- for the first time since the fall of the Taliban regime -- Konduz television has resumed operations, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 18 December. Although the station has "very minimum technical facilities," programming will air for four hours every night, and the station will receive technical and programming support from the Bakhtar News Agency, Radio Afghanistan, and German television, according to Ansari. He added that delegations from Iran, Japan, South Korea, and the United States have visited the Konduz television facilities and "have pledged to assist us, but none of their promises have materialized thus far," "Arman-e Melli" reported. AT

AFGHAN COMMANDER REFUSES TO HAND OVER HIS WEAPONS
Pacha Khan Zadran, an Afghan warlord who opposes President Hamid Karzai's government, has said he is not prepared under the current circumstances to hand his weapons over to the central government, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 18 December. "Disarmament was a pretext, [but] in actual fact everything was directed against Pashtuns," Zadran said. "I do not recognize the present government [so why would] I turn my weapons over to them?" The central government announced on 12 December that it is expanding its arms-collection program with the aid of international coalition forces to provinces in southeastern Afghanistan, where Zadran is one of the most powerful warlords (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 December 2002). Zadran was an ally of Karzai and the United States, as well as a signatory to the 2001 Bonn agreement, but later took up armed opposition against the central government. His forces are based in Paktiya Province. AT

PERPETRATORS OF ATTACK AGAINST U.S. TROOPS IN KABUL ARRESTED
Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak told reporters at a Kabul news conference on 18 December that authorities have arrested three men accused of perpetrating a recent attack against two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002), Radio Afghanistan reported. Wardak said two of the men are foreigners, "while the third one introduced himself as a Saudi citizen, but later it was determined that he is from Herat Province." Wardak said the three men arrested "have openly admitted their crime and admitted they came" to Kabul for the sole purpose of carrying out such attacks, the radio station reported. According to Wardak, any links between the three arrestees and terrorist organizations will be announced after the completion of investigations, Radio Afghanistan reported. The report did not indicate the nationalities of the two men said to be foreigners. AT

IRANIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES POLLSTERS' TRIAL, SECRET DOCUMENTS
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters on 18 December that he hopes the trial of individuals associated with the Ayandeh Research Institute will conducted fairly and that it will not be politicized, ISNA reported. Khatami condemned reports that the presidential office provided the accused with classified documents. "I am so sorry to hear such things about a case that is still being investigated and [in which] no verdict has yet been issued," he said. "What they say distorts public opinion. It is illegal to say that people who are being tried are lawbreakers." But after denying that he or his office had anything to do with the transfer of secret documents to Ayandeh, Khatami seemed to equivocate slightly. "Of course, there is always the possibility of moving a document from somewhere," he said. "This should be investigated fairly and the matter should not be politicized." BS

SATELLITE TELEVISION BILL GETS SECOND READING
The second reading of the bill to reform the law on satellite- receiving equipment took place in the legislature on 18 December, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). One of the articles that was ratified authorizes police confiscation of unauthorized satellite equipment if use of that equipment continues after the owners are given a week's notice and a warning. Another ratified article decrees that permits are required to receive satellite-television programs. Five out of eight articles of the bill were approved on 18 December, according to IRNA, and the remaining articles will be examined at the next open session of the legislature, to begin after a 10-day recess. The parliament ratified the general points of the bill on 17 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). BS

TEHRAN-EU HUMAN RIGHTS TALKS CONCLUDE...
A European Union delegation on the evening of 17 December concluded a two-day visit to Iran to discuss human rights issues with Iranian judicial and parliamentary representatives, ISNA reported the next day. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said the talks went well but that some differences remain. The Danish Embassy in Teheran released a statement that the talks focused on the prevention of torture and discrimination against women and religious minorities, dpa reported on 18 December. The EU delegation also persuaded Tehran to receive UN rapporteurs. BS

...AFTER VISIT WITH POLITICAL PRISONER
An unidentified Italian diplomat said the Italian and Danish ambassadors to Tehran and a Dutch official on 17 December met with political prisoner Siamak Purzand at his sister's home in Tehran, the "Financial Times" reported on 19 December. The 73-year-old Purzand is on temporary leave from prison, and the visitors found that he is "in not a bad physical and psychological condition," according to the diplomat. BS

RUSSIA MIGHT DECIDE ON IRAN-ARMENIA PIPELINE
The 18 December issue of Armenia's "Aykakan Zhamanak" newspaper reported that Russia runs Armenia's largest natural-gas consumer, the Razdan Power Plant; therefore, it will decide on the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia. Citing anonymous "informed observers," the newspaper reported the Russians are unhappy about the proposed construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline and that, when combined with direct U.S. opposition to the pipeline's construction, "it is therefore not clear how the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline will be constructed." BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS NUCLEAR ALLEGATIONS...
President Khatami on 18 December rejected U.S. allegations that Iran is developing a nuclear-weapons capability, IRNA reported. Responding to a reporter's question, Khatami said the allegations are baseless and that Iran is in compliance with international standards. "Iran is working under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not seek nuclear arms," Khatami said, according to IRNA. BS

...AND TECHNICALLY HE IS RIGHT...
According to the "The Washington Post" of 19 December, Iranian government front companies acquire the materials and equipment for producing weapons-grade nuclear fuel from foreign firms. In this way, they appear to remain within the NPT regime. Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Executive Director Henry Sokolski appeared to confirm this when he told "The Washington Post" that "the problem is that Iran is not cheating. They haven't broken any rules, and they won't until they have weapons." BS

...AS MOSCOW SAYS IRANIANS ARE INCAPABLE OF DEVELOPING NUCLEAR WEAPONS...
Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said in an 18 December interview with ITAR-TASS that Iran is not capable of developing nuclear weapons. Rumyantsev said Iran has a right to develop peaceful nuclear capabilities. "Iran does not conceal its plans regarding nuclear-power generation. It has the right to develop this direction," he said. Rumyantsev also recommended waiting for the results of the IAEA's February 2003 inspection trip to Iran. BS

...AND IAEA CHIEF'S VISIT SCHEDULED
The IAEA has announced that its director-general, Mohammad el-Baradei, will visit Iran on 25 February, Iranian state radio reported on 19 December. According to previous reports, Tehran has postponed el-Baradei's visit several times (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 December 2002). BS

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER COMPLAINS ABOUT BUDGET
President Khatami on 18 December submitted next year's budget to parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002), and the same day Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said that "our defense budget is far below our expectations," ISNA reported. In response to a question about the possibility of reducing other ministries' budgets in order to meet the Defense Ministry's requirements, Shamkhani said: "This is not in the plan, but some solution must be found. We must, and we will, resolve the problems of the armed forces." Shamkhani said the budgetary shortfall would create management difficulties in the Defense Ministry, but the situation would be dealt with. "We will certainly make changes, and these changes must maintain the capabilities of the armed forces," he said. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON WAR IN IRAQ
Former President and current Expediency Council head Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 18 December told a planning session of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) that U.S. President George W. Bush "continues relentlessly to beat the drums of war," Iranian state television reported. Rafsanjani warned that a war in Iraq would be very different than the one in Afghanistan, because "the Americans do not have the experience of confronting Iraq's war-engineering methods and will get caught in a quagmire." Rafsanjani also reassured his audience that Iran will not be an American target. "The enemy will not have the courage to attack Iran thanks to our forces' epical capability and courage," he said. BS

UNMOVIC HEAD TO TELL UN THAT IRAQI DECLARATION IS INCOMPLETE...
UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix is expected to tell the UN Security Council that the Iraqi declaration on weapons of mass destruction submitted to the United Nations on 7 December is incomplete, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported on 18 December, citing UN sources. Blix will tell the UN Security Council the declaration does not sufficiently address Iraq's chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction as well as its ballistic missiles, KUNA reported. IAEA Director-General el-Baradei will tell the Security Council that the IAEA is missing some information from the Iraqis, including diagrams for nuclear equipment that was destroyed by inspectors in 1991, Reuters reported. The report added that items missing from the declaration include two Scud missiles, 50 mustard-gas shells, 150 aerial bombs "that at one time were filled with either anthrax or other biological agents," and 200 tons of chemicals used to make the VX nerve agent, as well as warheads with traces of VX. KR

...AS IAEA CHIEF SAYS NO EVIDENCE OF IRAQI NUCLEAR-WEAPONS PROGRAM HAS BEEN FOUND
IAEA Director-General el-Baradei told the Cairo-based "Al-Ahram" that his organization has no evidence Iraq resumed its nuclear program following the withdrawal of UN inspectors from Iraq in 1998. In an interview published on 18 December, el-Baradei said he plans to tell the UN Security Council on 19 December that Iraq has stressed it has no atomic weapons and has not undertaken activities currently banned under international agreements and UN resolutions. El-Baradei said his report will be a preliminary one. "In general, so far, there has been no sign indicating that these facilities are any different from what they were in 1998," he added. However, the IAEA chief said other states have provided his organization with information on Iraq's nuclear program. He told "Al-Ahram" that the IAEA is waiting for additional information from these states. El-Baradei said inspectors will continue with inspections. "There is a great deal of work to verify that the Iraqi declaration was complete and accurate, as required, and does not contain any ambiguous points," he said. KR

KDP LEADER URGES NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
In his closing remarks at the 14-17 December Iraqi opposition conference in London, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani called for national reconciliation, the Irbil-based "Brayati" newspaper reported on 18 December. In his speech, Barzani urged Iraqis to look to forgiveness instead of revenge and to place the interests of Iraq above all else, respecting the rule of law. "I consider all the victims of the Iraqi people as my own family members -- be they victims of Halabjah and Anfal, and all those who have been annihilated all over Iraq -- [and] I lost 37 members of my family and 8,000 members of my tribe," he said. "However, for the sake of the supreme interests of the people and the homeland, we have discarded the issue of revenge. We urge all other sides to look to the future with tolerance, [to turn] away from hatred and revenge, and to consider the supreme interests of Iraq and its peace. Let only the law deal with perpetrators." KR

IAEA FOCUSES ON RADIOLOGICAL SURVEYS...
IAEA inspectors visited the Institute of Special Engineering Industries in Baghdad on 18 December, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. Three inspectors verified the institute's semiannual report and checked the seal on one machine before moving to the Al-Fida State Company, which specializes in hydroelectric operations. The company is part of the Military Industrialization Organization (MIO). After checking the machines and touring the company, inspectors visited the Baghdad-based Vehicles Manufacturing Company, which belongs to the Industry and Minerals Ministry. The inspectors toured the plant and inspected machinery. A second group of 15 inspectors continued work in Mosul, visiting the Saddam Dam, where they inspected a water-storage station and buildings on the site. Inspectors then proceeded to the Irrigation Ministry's Al-Jazeera (Island) Irrigation Project, where they reviewed pumping operations and took swabs from various areas. The MIO's Al-Rimah project was also visited, as was the Al-Raikiyah gas plant, the ministry stated. Radiological surveys were conducted at every site inspected in Mosul, according to the Foreign Ministry. KR

...WHILE UNMOVIC INSPECTS MISSILE-DUMPING GROUND AND OTHER SITES
A team of four UNMOVIC inspectors visited the Al-Saqlawiyah/Aqarquq destruction dump north of Baghdad on 18 December, the Foreign Ministry reported. A second group of six inspectors visited a "military site" where "destroyed missiles" are stored. Inspectors checked warehouses and photographed the "sheds and covered galleries" that store destroyed weapons. A team of 12 chemical inspectors visited the Modern Paints Company south of Baghdad. The company belongs to a joint public/private venture, according to the ministry, and manufactures "all kinds of paints." A team of 18 chemical, biological, and missile inspectors returned to the Nasr State Company for Mechanical Industries located 30 kilometers north of Baghdad. Inspectors toured workshops "specializing in the manufacture of strips, frames, and oil tanks" as well as its foundry and molds. A team of 12 biological inspectors visited the departments of biological sciences, chemistry, and mechanical engineering at Mosul University, where it checked the Iraqi declarations and verified tagged and marked equipment. Inspectors took two bacterial samples from one lab. Inspectors then went to the Mosul Yeast Factory, which is an affiliate of the Industry and Minerals Ministry, to verify declarations. KR

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