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Newsline - January 3, 2003


PRESIDENT THANKS THE PEOPLE...
In a televised New Year's greeting on 1 January that was shown by all the national television channels, President Vladimir Putin thanked the Russian people "for everything that has been accomplished by us this year." Putin also urged everyone both to remember the past and to think about the future. He also wished everyone success and said that each individual's well-being is a contribution to Russia's well-being. VY

...AS FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIR CALLS FOR ANOTHER HOLIDAY
Sergei Mironov told legislators in Vologda Oblast on 31 December that senators in 2003 will launch an initiative to amend the Labor Code to make 31 December an official holiday, RIA-Novosti reported. Mironov said that people should have the opportunity "to not hurry and to prepare thoroughly for the major holiday of the year." He added that this is especially important for women, who currently have to combine work with holiday preparations. Asked to comment on Mironov's suggestion, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok called the idea "interesting" but said that the addition of another non-working day would negatively impact the Russian economy and suggested transferring an established non-working day to 31 December instead. JAC

ANALYSTS PREDICT QUICK VICTORY FOR U.S. IN IRAQ
In the event of a U.S. military intervention against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "the most probable scenario" would be "a quick and decisive victory by the United States," "Trud" reported on 3 January, quoting an analytical report prepared by experts of the Institute of International Security Issues of the Russian Academy of Sciences. According to this scenario, which was given a 60 percent probability rating, the military action would last about four weeks. Another scenario, which the report considers 30-40 percent probable, envisages the Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against Israel and against U.S. forces. However, the use of such weapons would be inefficient and Iraq would nonetheless be defeated in six to 12 weeks. The least likely scenario, which is given a probability of 6-8 percent, predicts the massive Iraqi use of WMD, leading to widespread destabilization in the Middle East. In this case, the experts estimate, it would take the United States up to 25 weeks to achieve its objectives. VY

NEWSPAPER: COST-OF-LIVING RISE WILL EXCEED GOVERNMENT EXPECTATIONS
The government has estimated that inflation in 2003 will be between 12-14 percent, but there are reasons to believe the figure will actually be much higher, "Izvestiya" speculated on 3 January. The paper argued that the government's prediction is based on an ideal consumer in an ideal economy rather than on actual circumstances. Independent experts whom the paper surveyed believe the prices of meat and related products will rise from 15-20 percent, while the prices of vodka and beer will increase by at least 20 percent. Likewise, the experts predicted that the cost of gasoline will rise by 45 percent and the prices of tobacco products will jump by 80 percent. VY

ENERGY STRATEGY, PENSION REFORM ON GOVERNMENT PRIORITY LIST FOR 2003
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 31 December that at beginning of 2003 the government will examine a new law on underground resources, as well as a plan for the development of underground resources in eastern and western Siberia and the European part of Russia, RosBalt reported. These issues will be examined within the context of developing an energy strategy for Russia through 2020. Kasyanov also expressed confidence that new bills on insuring private bank deposits and currency regulation will be adopted during the Duma's spring session. He noted that the draft legislation is extremely important at the country's current stage of pension-system reform. JAC

YABLOKO BROADENS ITS BASE
The number of Yabloko party members increased by 2.5 times last year, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii announced on 30 December, RosBalt reported. According to Yavlinskii, the party now has 26,500 members in 60 regions. "We have seriously consolidated our position in the regions and created a structure for the party that has more branches," he said. JAC

PUTIN YOUTH MOVEMENT FINDS ANOTHER LITERARY TARGET
The pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together has reportedly pasted leaflets in the Moscow metro protesting against the work of Igor Plotnik, newsru.com reported on 31 December. The leaflets urge a ban on the publication and sale of Plotnik's "Kniga schastya" ("The Book of Happiness") and calls on citizens to write to the Media Ministry demanding that Plotnik's book be banned. According to newsru.com, both the office of Walking Together and Plotnik's publisher were closed and therefore no comments from them were available. For a description of Plotnik's book, see http://www.vagrius.com/books/na/plotn_01.shtml. If Walking Together is indeed responsible for the protest against Plotnik, it would be the latest effort in a broad campaign against contemporary writers. Earlier the movement compiled a list of "pernicious" writers and has interfered with the presentation of new books, in addition to urging criminal pornography cases against writers Kirill Vorobev and Vladimir Sorokin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002). JAC

MOSCOW BOASTS THE WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE HOTELS
According to data released by the Russian branch of the Thomas Cook Travel Agency, Moscow's hotels are the most expensive in the world, utro.ru reported on 2 January. The average cost of a single room in a five-star Moscow hotel is $197 a day. For three stars, the price is $171. In St. Petersburg, these figures are $165 and $141, respectively. According to Thomas Cook, the comparable figures in Paris are $138 and $118, respectively. In London, they are $141 and $122; in New York, $128 and $110; in Hong Kong, $148 and $123. VY

MAYOR NAMES HIS PRICE
Responding to a request by Kostroma Deputy Governor Oleg Lebedev that he resign his post, Kostroma Mayor Boris Korobov said he would be willing to quit if the governor contributed 1 million rubles ($31,250) to the city's budget, VolgaInform reported on 27 December, citing the Kostroma State Television and Radio Company. According to Korobov, that sum would enable municipal authorities to cover all the needs of city residents. Korobov and Kostroma Governor Viktor Shershunov have long been at odds and ran against one another in the 2000 gubernatorial election (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 November 2000). JAC

SARATOV COMMUNISTS TO ERECT STALIN MONUMENT
Valerii Rashkin, first secretary of the Saratov regional organization of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), has told journalists his organization has decided to erect a monument to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in a Saratov park, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported 29 December. An announcement about the monument signed by several local public figures was published in the 18 December issue of "Saratovskie vesti." The party is apparently still split on who should pay for the monument, with some calling for a collection of public donations and others arguing the party should use its own funds. VY

FOUR CONVICTED OF ILLEGALLY EXPORTING CHILDREN
A Volgograd Oblast court on 30 December sentenced Nadezhda Fratti and three local officials to from three to seven years' imprisonment for illegally sending children abroad for adoption, nns.ru reported. According to the report, Fratti -- a Russian woman who acquired Italian citizenship through her marriage to an Italian man -- was found guilty of forging documents and paying bribes to the three officials, who were identified only as the head doctor of the Mikhailovskii Orphanage, the former director of the Kirov Orphanage, and a former adviser to the oblast's Education Committee. In April, the court found Fratti and the others innocent, but the Supreme Court sent the case back for another hearing with different judges. RC

PUTIN SAYS TERRORIST ATTACKS WILL NOT THWART CHECHEN PEACE PROCESS
President Putin told government ministers on 30 December that the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen administration building in Grozny was an attempt by "terrorists" to sabotage the search for a political settlement in Chechnya, but added that such attempts are doomed to failure, Reuters and Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Chechen Committee for National Salvation reported in a 31 December press release posted on chechenpress.com that the population of Grozny is convinced the Russian military was behind the assault. The press release notes that a rocket or a mine -- but not car bombs -- could have left a crater 4 meters in diameter. On 1 January, chechenpress.com quoted field commander Ruslan Gelaev as saying he is again in Chechnya and fighting under the command of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Gelaev added that Maskhadov has ordered his field commanders to refrain from any military activities either in Chechnya or elsewhere that could result in the deaths of civilians. LF

OSCE MISSION IN CHECHNYA CLOSED
The OSCE mission in Chechnya, which resumed operations 18 months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001), was forced to close on 31 December after the OSCE failed to reach agreement with Moscow on the terms for prolonging its mandate, Russian news agencies reported. The Foreign Ministry had sought to narrow the mission's activities to supervising the distribution of humanitarian aid and to deprive it of the right to either monitor human rights violations or play a role in mediating a political settlement of the Chechen conflict (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 6, No. 1, 3 January 2003). In a 1 January press release, Human Rights Watch deplored the closure of the mission. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 2 January expressed "disappointment" with Russia's position, Reuters reported. Boucher said Washington is trying "to find a formula...that will allow the mission to continue its constructive engagement and highly beneficial humanitarian efforts." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer likewise said his country and other EU states will try to secure the extension of the mission's mandate, according to dpa as quoted by chechenpress.com. LF

BUDANOV ACQUITTED
The North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-na-Donu on 31 December acquitted Colonel Yurii Budanov on the grounds that he was insane when he murdered a young Chechen woman in the village of Tangi-Chu in March 2000, Reuters and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). Budanov claimed that he thought she was a sniper. The State Duma, Federation Council representative for Chechnya Akhmar Zavgaev, Russian commissioner for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, and Chechen deputy administration head Tauz Dzhabrailov all criticized the verdict, according to Interfax. A lawyer for the murdered woman's family told Interfax on 1 January that he will appeal it to the Supreme Court's Military Collegiate. LF

THREE ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH ARMENIAN TV HEAD'S MURDER
Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the 28 December murder in Yerevan of Armenian State Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, AFP on 30 December quoted an unnamed official from the Prosecutor-General's Office as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). The official did not disclose the identity of the suspects, but Noyan Tapan on 30 December named the three arrested as Fatherland and Honor Party Deputy Chairman Grisha Sargsian, Christian-Democratic Party ex-Chairman Azat Arshakian, and Albert Mkhitarian, a member of the board of the In Defense of the Liberated Territories organization. Also on 30 December, the opposition Hanrapetutiun Party issued a statement suggesting that Naghdalian was killed because he had information that might have shed new light on the 27 October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

TWO ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WITHDRAW...
Self-Determination Union (IM) Chairman Paruyr Hairikian announced in Yerevan on 30 December his decision to withdraw his candidacy in the 19 February presidential election, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He acknowledged that without the backing of a bloc of parties his chances in that ballot were slim. Hairikian said the IM will definitely back an opposition candidate, most likely either U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian or National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian. Hairikian ran for president in 1992, 1996, and 1998, when he polled 5.4 percent (compared with 0.45 percent for Geghamian). Democratic Fatherland Party Chairman Petros Makeyan announced on 31 December that he will not contest the ballot in the wake of Naghdalian's murder, ITAR-TASS and Armenpress reported. LF

...AND ONE FAILS TO SECURE REGISTRATION
The Central Election Commission on 31 December declined to register National Democratic Party Chairman Arshak Sadoyan as a presidential candidate as he failed to submit either the required signatures in his support or a $10,000 deposit, according to ITAR-TASS and Armenpress as cited by Groong. Eleven candidates have succeeded in registering to date. A court will rule on 6 January on Hovannisian's appeal against a ruling that his Armenian citizenship was granted only in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 25 December 2002), a ruling that would nullify his bid because presidential candidates must have been Armenian citizens for a minimum of 10 years. LF

OPPOSITION CANDIDATES LOSE OUT IN KAZAKH BY-ELECTIONS
Qarlyghash Zhaqiyanova, wife of imprisoned former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, was defeated in a 28 December by-election in Pavlodar to the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament), garnering 33 percent of the vote, according to "RFE/RL Central Asia Report " on 3 January. Vasilii Maksimenko, a local factory official, polled 53 percent. In a second by-election the same day in Qaraganda, Senator Mukhtar Tinikeev received 51 percent of the vote after a regional court delayed until early on 28 December issuing a ruling upholding a local election commission's annulment of the registration of Bolot Abilov, who quit the pro-presidential OTAN party in late 2001 to found the opposition Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan. Local governor Uzakkali Elubaev was elected in an Atyrau constituency with 84 percent of the vote. Opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan candidate Zhumabay Dospanov escaped injury in a suspicious automobile accident in Atyrau on 25 December, forumkz.org reported. LF

INVESTIGATORS SUSPECT TERRORISM IN KYRGYZ MARKET BLAST
The 27 December explosion in Bishkek's Dordoy market that killed seven people and injured 40 was almost certainly caused by explosives, rather than by improperly stored fireworks as initially believed, akipress.org and Interfax reported on 2 January, quoting Deputy Interior Minister and Bishkek police department head Keneshbek Duyshebaev. Police are hunting for two men "of Asiatic appearance" suspected of having planted the explosive device. U.S. specialists from the antiterrorism force stationed at Manas air base are assisting in the investigation. LF

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SAYS AKSY VERDICTS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED
Former Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 30 December that the three year prison sentence handed down to him two days earlier by the Osh military court was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). Kudaibergenov and two other local officials were found to have "exceeded their authority" in the measures they took to counter a protest demonstration in Aksy Raion in March 2002. Five people died when police opened fire on demonstrators. Also on 30 December, the independent Public Committee to Investigate the Aksy Events and the Institute for Freedom and Human Rights issued a joint statement branding the Osh court verdict an attempt by the authorities to hide the true circumstances of the Aksy shootings, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A lawyer representing Aksy residents told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 2 January that his clients are demanding that former Djalalabad Oblast Deputy Prosecutor Diushen Momunov be brought to trial. They believe that Momunov ordered police to open fire. LF

FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN
On a one-day visit to Dushanbe, Michele Alliot-Marie met on 30 December with her Tajik counterpart Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev and with President Imomali Rakhmonov, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two ministers signed an agreement on training Tajik military personnel in France. Alliot-Marie told journalists her talks with Rakhmonov focused on the situation in Central Asia and in post-Taliban Afghanistan. LF

FORMER TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTER SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT...
On 29 December, Turkmenistan's Supreme Court sentenced former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov to 25 years' imprisonment -- the maximum allowable under the Criminal Code -- for his imputed role in the reported 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported. On 30 December, Niyazov acceded to demands from delegates to the People's Council (the rubber-stamp legislature) to increase that term to life imprisonment, but rejected what appear to have been stage-managed calls for Shikhmuradov's execution. Interfax quoted the official Turkmen press as reporting that thousands of people have condemned Shikhmuradov's alleged crimes. But a letter posted on the website of the People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan (http://www.gundogar.org) and dated 26 December -- the day the Turkmen authorities announced Shikhmuradov's arrest -- said people in Ashgabat and throughout Turkmenistan are filled with admiration for his "courageous" decision to surrender voluntarily to the Turkmen authorities. LF

...AS U.S., HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG EXPRESS CONCERN
In a written statement released on 31 December, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker expressed "deep concern" over the widespread arrests of persons suspected of involvement in the putative attempt to assassinate President Niyazov and called for due process and U.S. consular access to U.S. citizen Leonid Komarovsky, one of those arrested, Reuters reported. Also on 31 December, Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning Shikhmuradov's trial and conviction. It pointed out that "having the legislature, rather than a court, sentence a defendant is an unthinkable violation of due process rights." "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 31 December termed Shikhmuradov's televised confession -- in which he said he is a heroin addict and a traitor and praised Niyazov's polices as "absolutely correct" -- "grotesque" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). In a 24 December statement, Shikhmuradov referred to the Turkmen law enforcement agencies' customary practice of torturing suspects or treating them with psychotropic drugs and warned that any statement he might make incriminating himself should be regarded as having been extracted from him by such methods. LF

BELARUS AGREES TO NEW OSCE OFFICE IN MINSK...
The OSCE Permanent Council and a Belarusian government delegation agreed on 30 December to the opening of a new OSCE office in Minsk on 1 January, Belapan reported. Under the agreement, the new office replaces the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group, which ceased its activities on 31 December after Belarusian authorities gradually reduced the number of staff by denying them visas. The mandate of the new office is to "assist the Belarusian government in further promoting institution building, in further consolidating the rule of law, and in developing relations with civil society in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments," Belapan quoted from an accord between the two sides. Belarusian presidential aide Ihar Lyashchenya said in a statement that the compromise decision on the new OSCE presence in Minsk is evidence that Belarus abides by its OSCE commitments and seeks to start a new stage in its relations with the organization. AM

...BUT WILL EU COUNTRIES LIFT VISA BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS?
The EU countries that imposed travel bans on Belarusian top officials "should immediately lift them," Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou told journalists on 30 December, Belapan reported. Khvastou said the memorandum signed between the Belarusian government and the OSCE in Vienna on 30 December and the agreement to open the OSCE's new office in Minsk are evidence that Belarus has done its part: "We value relations with the EU as a whole and with each specific country that is a EU member, and would like them to have the same reciprocal attitude toward us." Khvastou added: "The political barriers that the EU spoke about have been lifted today." Khvastou also called on the United States to launch an open dialogue "based on the principles of mutual trust, free from stereotypes and double standards," and immediately lift a travel ban on senior Belarusian officials. AM

MINSK DENIES IT HAS CONSIDERED ASYLUM FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN
Khvastou said on 30 December that the Belarusian leadership has not considered, even hypothetically, granting political asylum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his family, Belapan reported on 31 December. He was commenting on U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent statement that Belarus is among countries that might offer asylum to the Iraqi leader. Khvastou reiterated Belarus's position that military action against Iraq would be inexpedient. He stressed that the UN Security Council should seek a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi crisis. AM

PRESIDENT STRESSES ROSY PROSPECTS FOR BELARUS IN NEW YEAR'S MESSAGE
"Despite all the false prophecy and direct counteraction by evildoers, we have no economic recession; all those who want to work do work and earn money in our country; it is warm, bright, and cozy in our homes; [and] we have not lost control of problems that have emerged under the influence of the ailing world economy," Belapan quoted Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying in his New Year's address to the nation on 31 December. Lukashenka also pledged not to change his course of enhancing the country's sovereignty, building an equitable union with Russia, and maintaining good neighborly relations with international partners. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY FINALLY HAS TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT
Leonid Kuchma said in his New Year's message on 31 December that for the first time in its independent history, Ukraine has finally got a "transparent power system that is comprehensible to everybody," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Kuchma was referring to the parliamentary majority and coalition government of Viktor Yanukovych formed in November and December. The Ukrainian president also suggested a shift in responsibility for state affairs under this new power system. "[Now] the president will interfere [in state affairs] in the event of political necessity, but the primary responsibility will rest upon the [parliamentary] majority and its government," Kuchma said. He said he has great expectations for the coming year: "All political conditions have been created to improve the economic situation of every Ukrainian; to put it simply, [to enhance] the prosperity of each of you." AM

NEW UKRAINIAN CENTRAL BANK CHIEF VOWS TO BE TOUGH ON MONEY LAUNDERERS
Newly appointed National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko has threatened to use tough measures against Ukrainian banks involved in money laundering, UNIAN reported on 3 January. Tyhypko pledged to issue official warnings to banks suspected of money laundering and to withdraw their licenses if they fail to heed such warnings. He did not name any banks suspected of facilitating money laundering. AM

ESTONIA RAISES MINIMUM WAGE BY 17 PERCENT
The country's minimum monthly wage was increased nearly 17 percent on 1 January on the basis of a tripartite agreement approved by the Estonian government in December, ETA reported on 31 December. The hike increases the wage threshold from 1,850 kroons ($124) to 2,160 kroons. The minimum hourly wage was increased from 10.95 kroons to 12.90 kroons. The government approved the increase after talks with trade unions and employer organizations. The three sides agreed that the minimum wage should represent 41 percent of the average wage by 2008. The average monthly salary in the second quarter of 2002 was 6,353 kroons, translating into a minimum wage of just 29.1 percent of that figure. The government, however, rejected a proposal to raise the income-tax exemption from 1,400 kroons a month. SG

ESTONIA BUDGET GOT REVENUES BOOST IN 2002
Citing preliminary figures, the Finance Ministry announced on 2 January that 2002 state budget revenues totaled 36.29 billion kroons, or 5.7 percent more than planned, ETA reported. Finance Minister Harri Ounapuu said the surplus was due to a better-than-anticipated economic situation in Estonia, better tax administration, along with a reduction in value-added-tax (VAT) fraud, the black-market economy, and unrecorded wages. The surplus would have been 1.2 billion kroons higher if legislators had not adopted two supplementary budgets during the year. The surplus is transferred into a reserve fund that may be used exclusively for reducing general economic risks and financing investments that deliver long-term returns. SG

LATVIAN CABINET HIKES MINIMUM WAGE AT YEAR-END SESSION
The minimum monthly wage in Latvia rose from 60 lats ($102) to 70 lats on 1 January, LETA reported. The minimum hourly wage is 0.419 lats for full-time employees and 0.479 lats for adolescents and part-time employees. The increase was approved by the government at its last cabinet meeting of the year on 27 December. The minimum wage has steadily increased in the eight years since a hike to 28 lats was announced in October 1994. SG

INCUMBENT RECEIVES FURTHER BACKING AHEAD OF LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Valdas Adamkus has been endorsed by all of Lithuania's major political parties except the left-wing Union of Farmers and New Democracy Parties after the Social Democrats' executive council backed the incumbent on 30 December, according to BNS. Party Chairman and Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas maintained his neutrality before and after the executive council's endorsement, however, the news agency added. The two-man runoff vote is slated for 5 January. All major parties except the right-of-center Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) (TSLK) nominated competing candidates for the first round to boost their showing in the concurrent local-council elections but have since urged followers to back Adamkus in the runoff. He thus has the support not only of the TSLK, but also the right-of-center Christian Democrats, Liberal Union, Center Union, and the left-of-center Social Liberals. Adamkus received 35.06 percent of the first-round vote, while Liberal Democratic Party Chairman and former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas was second with 19.4 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). The only party that has urged its backers to support Paksas in the second round is the leftist Union of Farmers and New Democracy Parties. SG

POLISH SEJM SPEAKER ANNOUNCES REVISION OF MEDIA BILL
Lower house speaker Marek Borowski announced on 30 December that the Sejm will review a new media bill for legal errors following recent reports of bribery attempts in connection with its content (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). "I have decided to ask the Sejm's Expertise Bureau, the head of the prime minister's Legislative Council, and the chairman of the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council to go over the bill with a legislative fine-tooth comb," Borowski said. He noted that the draft was "controversial" from the beginning and added that the bribery affair has "further worsened the atmosphere" around it. "It would be a very bad thing if we let out a legislative monster," Borowski said. AM

POLISH RADICAL FARM LEADER SAYS 2002 WAS YEAR OF MISSED CHANCES, CORRUPTION
"This year we lost a chance to remove [National Bank Governor] Leszek Balcerowicz from public finances for good and restrict the Monetary Policy Council; we even failed to secure good EU membership conditions for Poland," PAP quoted Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper as saying in Lodz on 30 December. Lepper also said 2002 was characterized by corruption. "Just look at the most recent affair with bribe offers for media-law amendments. The case was uncovered by ["Gazeta Wyborcza"], and [Prime Minister Leszek] Miller's name came up in it," Lepper noted. He declared that Self-Defense will vote against Poland's EU entry if membership conditions are not renegotiated. Referring to the purchase of U.S.-made F-16 fighters, Lepper said, "This was a political and not a practical move. What we have bought is 1970s technology; besides, the planes will need extra fittings to meet our needs, which promises to run into [the] billions." AM

CZECH PREMIER, OPPOSITION LEADER WANT PRESIDENTIAL PREROGATIVES CURTAILED
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Miroslav Topolanek told a television audience on 1 January that some presidential powers should be curtailed, CTK reported. Both said they want presidential pardons to be countersigned by a member of the cabinet, adding that the president's prerogatives in appointing some officials should also be restricted. Under the current system, the president appoints some Constitutional Court judges and Czech National Bank executive board members. Spidla's Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the ODS failed to bring about an amendment of the constitution in this spirit when they were associates under the so-called opposition agreement in 1998-2002 after the Senate rejected a CSSD-ODS draft amendment to the constitution. Spidla said that under the current system, Czech presidents enjoy some prerogatives that are greater than those enjoyed by heads of state in countries that have a presidential system. MS

OPPONENTS OF CZECH NUCLEAR FACILITY LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE
About a dozen opponents of the controversial Temelin nuclear-power plant launched a four-day hunger strike in the Austrian border town of Freistadt on 2 January to protest continued preparations for Temelin's operation at full capacity, CTK and dpa reported. The plant's two units are expected to become fully operational in April. It is the first time that Temelin opponents have launched hunger strikes. They said a longer hunger strike will be declared in April unless the EU and the Czech Republic negotiate a new plan for the plant's operations under the Czech Republic's EU accession treaty. MS

HAVEL MAKES LAST NEW YEAR'S SPEECH AS CZECH PRESIDENT...
In his last New Year's speech as Czech president, Vaclav Havel said on 31 December that in the 10 years that have passed since the Czech and Slovak republics divided Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic has become a reliable and respected democratic state that enjoys internal stability and provides an outlet for its people's creative potential, CTK reported. Havel said he considers democratic development to be irreversible but that this does not mean the process of democracy building is over. Without disclosing a preference for any of the candidates to succeed him -- with a vote slated for 15 January at a joint session of the bicameral parliament -- Havel said he believes that individual "will be a wise, open, and responsible person who will be a creative partner of the political representatives elected in the last elections and whom citizens can consider to be their ally." MS

...AND SAYS 'VELVET DIVORCE' WAS UNAVOIDABLE
Havel also said he regrets people were not granted the opportunity to express their opinion on the "Velvet Divorce" that brought about the split of Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993, but that 10 years on he has come to the conclusion that the split was a "positive step," even if it was accompanied by "a certain bitterness and embarrassment," CTK and AP reported. Havel said that due to the split, "Czechs and Slovaks may be closer [to one another] than ever before." "There is no animosity, and they are united in their goals," he added in an apparent allusion to Czech and Slovak efforts to join the EU by 2004. MS

SLOVAKIA MARKS 10 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
In a ceremony attended by President Rudolf Schuster, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, and other leading officials, Slovakia on 1 January marked a decade of existence as a separate state, TASR reported. The ceremony was held in the building of the former parliament, where the Declaration on the Sovereignty and Constitution of the Slovak Republic was adopted on 1 January 1993. Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky told the audience that the founding of an independent state in the wake of the fall of the communist regime in 1989, along with the 2002 invitations to join NATO and the EU, are key events in the country's modern history. Hrusovsky said the "Velvet Revolution" heralded the creation of a "new, free society in Slovakia," adding that the country's independence is now "generally accepted" and misgivings regarding its viability "have been overcome." Dzurinda said the "birth pangs" of the new Slovak state are over and a stage of "new hope" has been ushered in with the invitations to join NATO and the EU, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CALLS FOR OVERCOMING 'STAINS OF PAST'
In his speech marking the 10th anniversary of independence, Hrusovsky also called for the acknowledgment of wrongs committed against Slovakia's Hungarian minority after World War II and for recognition of other "stains" on the country's history, CTK reported. Among the latter, Hrusovsky mentioned the suffering of Slovak Jews during the Holocaust and the deportation of Carpathian Germans after World War II. He said he hopes Hungary will also acknowledge the oppression of Slovaks at various times in history. "Mutual coping with history would free our future of repeated returns to the past and open the path to unburdened cooperation," he said. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER FILING CRIMINAL COMPLAINT OVER INCIDENT ON SKI LIFT
Premier Dzurinda on 30 December said he is filing a criminal complaint against a convicted criminal whom he saw violently pushing his way through a group of skiers waiting for a lift, Reuters and TASR reported. The incident took place at the ski resort of Strbske Pleso, some 300 kilometers northeast of Bratislava. Dzurinda said he saw Mikulas Cernak knock one hapless skier to the ground. Dzurinda said on Slovak Television that people in Slovakia "are afraid of terror, [and] afraid of the mafia and of criminals," and this is why he instructed Interior Minister Vladimir Palko and Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic to file charges against Cernak after the Prosecutor-General's Office refused to do so. Dzurinda called prosecutor's reluctance to file charges a display of "disgusting behavior." Cernak was paroled from prison last month on good behavior after serving half of an eight-and-a-half-year sentence for extortion. He is still on probation, and the charges could land him behind bars again. Cernak was also convicted of kidnapping and murdering a Polish businessman in 1999, but that ruling was overturned after witnesses changed their testimony. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT SAYS EU ACCESSION WILL BRING ABOUT REUNIFICATION OF MAGYARS...
In a televised speech marking the New Year, President Ferenc Madl said on 31 December that "the reunification of Europe also holds out the promise of a chance for the reunification of our nation," Hungarian media reported. Madl said that in one year, "We shall become politically and economically part of that Europe to which our history and culture are linked through myriad bonds ever since St. Stephen." MS

...BUT AMENDED STATUS LAW WILL NOT APPLY IN SLOVAKIA, SLOVENIA
The amended version of the Status Law stipulates that the legislation does not apply to ethnic Hungarians in EU countries, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 3 January. The amendments took into consideration criticism of the law by EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, who said EU legislation forbids discrimination among citizens of member states on ethnic grounds. The amendments also stipulate that Hungarian identification cards issued to members of the minority in foreign countries cannot be used as personal identification documents and that certificates issued to family members can be distributed only to citizens of countries that do not object. The text of the amended version has been dispatched to Bratislava, and the Slovak and Hungarian foreign ministers are to discuss the proposals later this month. The amendments are slated for debate in parliament before February. MS

HUNGARIANS MOST ENTHUSIASTIC AMONG EU CANDIDATES
Support for EU accession among the 10 countries invited to join the organization is highest in Hungary, where 67 percent back joining the EU, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 31 December. However, half of the respondents to the Eurobarometer survey -- which was carried out in November -- also said they feel they lack sufficient information about the consequences of EU membership. The findings confirm those of a poll conducted by the Tarki pollster in May 2002. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SPENDS HOLIDAY IN CUBA
Government spokesman Zoltan Gal on 30 December confirmed earlier media reports that Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and his wife flew to Cuba for the holidays, according to Hungarian media reports. He said the premier will return to work on 6 January. Gal also said that Medgyessy will neither take part in official activities in Cuba nor meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro. FIDESZ parliamentary deputy Annamaria Szalai told journalists on 2 January that her party expects an explanation as to when exactly Medgyessy left for Cuba and for what purposes. She said Gal should resign on grounds of misleading the public, as a taped television interview broadcast at New Year's gave the impression the premier was in Hungary, whereas he was already abroad. Gal told journalists on the same day that Medgyessy spent Christmas at home and then left for Cuba at his own expense. MS

HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZI GROUP FACES BAN
The National Security Office on 2 January asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to review the registration of the Blood and Honor Cultural Society, as the association is run by a neo-Nazi group, "Magyar Hirlap" and Hungarian Radio reported on 2 January. Interior Ministry State Secretary Andras Toth said the group's official registration aim was given as "preservation of [Hungarian] traditions" but it is in fact a neo-Nazi group and thus transgressing Hungarian law. An AFP report on 2 January has the group describing itself as fighting for "survival and prosperity of the white race." On 31 December, "Nepszabadsag" reported that Blood and Honor intends to host an international meeting of neo-Nazis in Budapest in February. The intention was announced at a concert organized by the group in Szoedliget on 21 December. Those attending the concert sang Arrow Cross marches. Government spokesman Gal said a bill designed to ban meetings of extreme-right groups is being drafted and will be submitted to parliament in the first half of 2003. MS

EU TAKES OVER BOSNIAN POLICE MISSION...
The UN ended its mandate to monitor and train Bosnian police on 31 December, regional and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). U.S. diplomat Jacques Klein, who headed the UN's International Police Task Force (IPTF), told dpa in Sarajevo that the UN carried out the largest police-restructuring mission anywhere by reducing the number of police in Bosnia from 40,000 to about 16,000 and training them to meet European standards. He added that the smaller European Union Police Mission (EUPM) will continue several IPTF projects, including ending human trafficking and strengthening the Bosnian State Border Service. An EUPM official told Reuters on 1 January on condition of anonymity, "This is a big test case for the EU's Security and Defense Policy, whether it can work or not. This mission has to succeed, and the [European] Union cannot allow it to fail." The EUPM consists of about 500 officers from EU member states, 17 other European countries, and Canada. It is headed by Commissioner Sven Fredriksen of Denmark. Reuters noted that the EUPM faces few serious problems that could lead to its demise. PM

...AS MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS REMAIN FREE
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in London on 1 January that former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic will most likely be arrested once he has lost the support of local Serbs and not on account of any military operation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ashdown stressed that Karadzic's arrest and extradition to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague will go far to normalize and calm the situation in Bosnia. Klein said in Sarajevo on 31 December that NATO has not shown the political will to arrest Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). PM

NATO TROOPS SEARCH BOSNIAN SERB RADIO STATION
SFOR soldiers carried out a search on 2 January of the Pale-based [Serbian] Orthodox Radio Sveti Jovan, which is owned by Karadzic's daughter, Sonja, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Sarajevo that the investigation took place in line with SFOR's mandate to monitor communications facilities and had nothing to do with the elder Karadzic. Dpa reported that "SFOR...had been trying to determine if the facilities were being used by other organizations for military communications, planting listening devices on communications equipment, or illicit monitoring of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens." PM

BOSNIAN DUAL CITIZENSHIP PRESERVED
High Representative Ashdown announced legislation permitting dual citizenship for a further 10 years, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 30 December. The Bosnian House of Representatives has approved the new legislation, but the House of Nations has not because it has not met since the elections in October. Had Ashdown not acted, hundreds of thousands of people would have lost their claims to Bosnian citizenship because they also hold passports of countries with which Bosnia does not yet have an agreement on dual citizenship. PM

U.S. CALLS FOR STRICT COOPERATION WITH THE WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL...
Pierre-Richard Prosper, who is U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, told reporters in Belgrade on 31 December that Yugoslavia must arrest General Ratko Mladic and other indicted war criminals if it hopes to receive further U.S. aid after 31 March, when the State Department is scheduled to certify whether Belgrade is cooperating with the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, Reuters reported. Prosper also warned the Republika Srpska to stop "dancing around the issue" of arresting war criminals. He called on Croatia to arrest former Generals Janko Bobetko and Ante Gotovina, who are wanted in The Hague. PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT LEAVES OFFICE...
Milan Milutinovic, who has been indicted by the war crimes tribunal, has left office but remains in Serbia, Reuters reported on 30 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 December 2002). Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said Yugoslav authorities are responsible for his case. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is opposed to extraditing Milutinovic and asked: "How many more presidents should we extradite to get the tribunal's recognition [that Belgrade is cooperating fully]?" An unnamed official of Serbia's governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition said the tribunal rejected a request from Belgrade that Milutinovic be tried in a Serbian court. An aide to Milutinovic said the former president will neither go to The Hague voluntarily nor "run and hide." It is not clear exactly what he intends to do. PM

...AND A CARETAKER PRESIDENT IS INSTALLED
Natasa Micic, who is speaker of the Serbian parliament, took office as interim president on 30 December, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). The date of a new Serbian presidential vote is to be announced in February, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 December 2002). In related news, Montenegro will hold a new presidential vote on 9 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). All 11 candidates who ran in the previous, invalid election will be eligible to run again. PM

CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS RESIGNATION OF KOSOVAR SERB PARLIAMENTARY LEADER
Rada Trajkovic resigned on 29 December as head of the Povratak (Return) coalition of ethnic Serbian deputies in the Kosovar parliament, "Vesti" reported. She said she no longer has the confidence of her colleagues, at least 18 of whom voted against her continuing in that post, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Her critics charge that she does not tell all her colleagues about details of her meetings with officials of the international community. Her supporters argue that she was ousted at the behest of Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in a power play. Covic denied the charge. Povratak holds 22 of 120 seats in the parliament. Serbs make up less than 10 percent of the population. "Vesti" reported on 27 December that a delegation of Kosovar Serb leaders, including Bishop Artemije, met in Belgrade with Kostunica, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and others. The article suggested that some Belgrade leaders told the Kosovar Serbs that they must take responsibility for their own future and not expect Serbia to do it for them. PM

KOSOVAR PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR REVISING UN RESOLUTION
Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 31 December that UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which defines the mandate of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), is out-of-date and needs to be revised, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Rexhepi stressed that UNMIK should not exist as an end in itself or to give orders but to assist the Kosovars in attaining self-government. He wants Resolution 1244 to make this clear and to create greater scope for self-rule. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER ANNOUNCES AMBITIOUS AGENDA
Parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski said on 30 December that parliament will remain the center of political activity even though some politicians might wish otherwise, MIA reported. Popovski alluded to the latest meeting of party leaders under the auspices of President Boris Trajkovski and to the opposition's recent announcement that it will stage street protests against the government. He announced that the parliament will discuss four packages of legislation in 2003, including ratifying international agreements and setting up the legal framework for economic reforms. Bringing legislation into harmony with the recent constitutional amendments and decentralizing power as stipulated in the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement will also be high on the agenda. UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ERADICATING CORRUPTION
President Ion Iliescu said in his New Year's message on 31 December that measures adopted thus far with the aim of eradicating corruption in his country are insufficient and parliament must soon adopt new legislation to cope with the phenomenon, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu also said that those representing the people, including the head of state and all government officials, must be examples of "responsible behavior and high moral standards, honesty, correctness, decency, and modesty." Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said in his New Year's message that Romania's time as an isolated state focused on interpreting its past has ended and that it must now concentrate on its future. "Today's Romania has ceased to be an isolated corner in a European continent divided between hostile empires," he said. "We are now part of a powerful alliance that is not based on arbitrary rule, but on commonly shared values. We received an invitation to join NATO because we deserved it," he added, noting that Romania recently received assurances that it will be part of the EU in 2007. MS

LEADING ROMANIAN JOURNALIST DIES IN AUTO ACCIDENT
Dumitru Tinu, director of the daily "Adevarul," died on 1 January in a car accident, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tinu apparently lost control of his automobile while driving from Bucharest to his vacation house in Breaza, in the Carpathian Mountains. The accident occurred in the village of Romanesti, some 50 kilometers north of Bucharest. MS

MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS COUNTRY SHOULD NOT JOIN NATO
Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc recently said that Romania's invitation to join NATO and Ukraine's announced intention to join that organization must not lead Moldova to change its neutrality, which is stipulated in the country's constitution, Flux reported on 2 January. Gaiciuc said Moldova's chances of becoming an EU member will not be negatively influence by its non-membership of NATO, since the EU does not regard NATO membership as an obligatory condition. He said Moldovan soldiers will continue to participate in Partnership for Peace activities and that 11 such joint exercises with Moldovan participation are planned for 2003. MS

MOLDOVA CALLS ON FOREIGN COUNTRIES NOT TO ISSUE VISAS TO TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIALS
The Moldovan Foreign Ministry on 30 December requested foreign diplomatic missions accredited in Chisinau to refrain from issuing entry visas to Transdniester officials, Infotag reported. The ministry also requested that no such visas be issued by diplomatic missions abroad and that Transdniester officials be refused entry visas even if they produce foreign passports. In early December, Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov was briefly detained in Vienna, but was freed after producing a Russian passport with a valid entry visa to the Schengen zone. Smirnov is now in Germany for medical treatment. MS

MOLDOVAN ECONOMY MINISTER UNDERLINES POSITIVE TRENDS
Economy Minister Stefan Odagiu on 30 December said the year 2002 produced positive trends in the country's economy, Infotag reported. He said economic decline was stopped and GDP growth is likely to be 7 percent, as compared to 5.9 percent in 2001. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CONCENTRATION ON SOCIAL POLICY
In his televised New Year's address to the nation, President Georgi Parvanov said on 31 December that 2002 was a successful year on the international stage for Bulgaria but also a year of frustrated hopes and expectations, BTA reported. Parvanov said the country's road to Europe remains difficult, since "there are new, even more complicated negotiations ahead in which we must defend our national interests, [while] preserving and developing our national identity at the same time." "If we want to be good Europeans," he added, "then the first sign of our Europeanism should be our solidarity and empathy with the socially disadvantaged, the poor, the unemployed, the suffering -- with all those who paid the heaviest social cost for our progress to Europe." He called on politicians to put social issues high on the agenda, adding that there are "no grounds to say that the state prospers when there are still a lot of people who are struggling for their mere survival." UB

BULGARIAN COURT TO DECIDE IF NATO ACCESSION NECESSITATES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
President Georgi Parvanov asked the Constitutional Court on 2 January to determine whether the constitution must be amended for the country to join NATO, bnn reported. Parvanov wants the court to interpret the constitutional provisions regulating the presence of foreign troops on Bulgarian territory. Under the current provisions parliament must grant its permission for such situations on a case-by-case basis. Politicians have voiced fears that the constitution might hinder the country's ratification for accession by NATO member states. Parvanov has previously stated that the constitution must be amended if it poses problems to NATO accession. UB

BULGARIA SHUTS DOWN OLDEST BLOCKS OF KOZLODUY NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT
The two oldest blocks of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant were taken off the grid on 31 December, BTA reported. Reactors in blocks No. 1 and No. 2 were shut down during a ceremony attended by Energy Minister Milko Kovachev and officials of the company running the plant. Kovachev said in a short speech that the decommissioning of the blocks will not have any impact on the country's energy supply nor on electricity rates. Addressing fears that energy shortages might occur when blocks No. 3 and No. 4 are closed down in 2006, Kovachev said the capacities of these blocks will be compensated by conventional power plants, as the planned new nuclear-power plant in Belene will not be ready by that time. UB

There is no End Note today.


AFGHAN PRESIDENT PROMISES A DEMOCRACY BASED ON ISLAMIC VALUES
Hamid Karzai said in a radio address on 2 January that his administration wants to establish a democratic system that will be in full compliance with the historical and social circumstances of Afghanistan and will respect the wishes of the people, Islamic teachings, and national values, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said democracy is in complete harmony with the tenets of Islam. He pointed to the traditional Afghan social system of grand assemblies (loya jirgas) as an example of "traditional democracy," adding that democracy is "deeply rooted" in Afghan history. AT

U.S. AND PAKISTAN 'PLAY DOWN' AFGHAN BORDER CLASH...
A U.S. military spokeswoman on 2 January said the U.S. soldier shot by a Pakistani border guard on the Afghan-Pakistani border on 29 December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003) is in stable condition and the "person who fired is in the custody of the Pakistani government," "The New York Times" reported on 3 January. U.S. and Pakistani officials have "played down the shooting," the report added, but Islamist lawmakers in Pakistan have condemned the United States for bombing an abandoned compound that includes a seminary during the incident. The United States has claimed the bombing in question took place on Afghan territory, but Pakistani residents in the area claim the attack took place inside Pakistan. Major General Rashid Qureshi, a Pakistani military spokesman, "discounted what the residents said, saying that the clash and the bombing had happened inside Afghanistan," according to the daily. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan and has been at the core of Afghan-Pakistani flare-ups since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The lingering border dispute and the accompanying desire for a friendly government in Kabul is seen by some as a factor in Islamabad's erstwhile support for the Taliban. AT

...AS KARACHI PAPER ALLEGES U.S. BOMB LANDED IN PAKISTAN
A high-level inquiry into the U.S. bombing on 29 December of the seminary has been launched by Pakistani defense authorities, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 3 January, identifying the damaged location as South Waziristan in Pakistan. Inter-Services spokesman Major General Qureshi said the inquiry was "ordered into the incident of exchange of fire to ascertain the facts," the paper reported. Qureshi -- who was quoted by "The New York Times" saying the bombing happened inside Afghanistan (see item above) -- "confirmed that U.S. planes did attack and a bomb fell [a] few hundred meters inside Pakistani territory." The Provincial Assembly of the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan "strongly condemned" the bombing in a resolution adopted on 1 January and demanded that Islamabad "lodge a strong protest" to the United States over the incident, "Dawn" reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003). Qazi Husayn Ahmad, head of the Jamat-e Islami, an Islamist party in Pakistan, called for mass rallies against the U.S. bombing, calling it "an open violation of Pakistan's sovereignty," the paper reported. AT

BALKH POLICE DETAIN MEN FOR GAMBLING
Twenty-one men have been detained in the northern Balkh Province city of Mazar-e Sharif for gambling, Balkh Television reported on 1 January. According to the report, an intelligence official dealing with the case said gambling is unlawful according to Islam and must be eradicated in Afghanistan; thus the men have been detained until their cases can be reviewed. AT

LARGE CACHE OF ROCKETS SEIZED IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan border authorities seized more than 300 rockets on 1 January, Reuters reported the next day. Colonel Sayyed Rahman, an overseer of frontier security in Nangarhar Province, said his forces arrested men near Torkham, a major border-crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan, hauling the rockets with donkeys and horses, the reported added. Sayyed Rahman said the artillery rockets are BM-12s, some of which are Russian-made, Reuters reported. The identities of the men arrested in the case, which is one of the largest rocket seizures since the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001, is being investigated by Afghan authorities. AT

CANDIDATES REGISTER FOR MUNICIPAL-COUNCIL ELECTIONS IN IRAN
Some 1,259 people had registered by 1 January for next month's municipal-council elections in Tehran Province, ISNA reported. Council elections, which are called for under Article 100 of the 1979 Iranian Constitution, were held for the first time only in February 1999 because Article 68 of the constitution allows for the suspension of elections during wartime. The Western press viewed the election results as a sweeping victory for "reformists" allied with the relatively moderate President Mohammad Khatami, but in reality they were victories for populist candidates from across the political spectrum (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 1999 and 8 March 1999). Moreover, since that time the councils have not been able to accomplish a great deal due to legislative and financial shortcomings. BS

ISFAHAN STUDENTS STAGE SIT-IN...
Students at Isfahan's University of Art staged a sit-in on 1 January to protest university administrators' failure to consider their demands, ISNA reported. The ISNA report did not mention their demands. BS

...AND MASHHAD STUDENTS END THEIR PROTEST
A protest at Mashhad's Ferdowsi University against the simultaneous closure of three student publications and the suspension of a student ended in the early morning of 2 January, ISNA reported. The deputy chancellor for student affairs, identified as Dr. Davudi, said the managing editors of the student publications can appeal the ruling. Davudi also said nobody was arrested and that a complaint regarding an assault on a student editor is being investigated. BS

AHVAZ WORKERS HOLD PROTEST MARCH...
About 100 employees of a pipe-manufacturing factory in southeastern Khuzestan Province marched in Ahvaz on 31 December to protest the nonpayment of their salaries, ISNA reported. The protesting employees have not been paid in several months and demanded their arrears. Security personnel immediately appeared and forced the protestors onto waiting buses. According to ISNA, the employees of the Ahvaz-based company have been experiencing such problems since 1997-98. BS

...AND LOCALS STAGE RALLY
Some 50 residents of the Kut Abdullah area in Khuzestan Province staged a rally on 28 December, blocking roads and attacking vehicles and banks, "Entekhab" reported on 31 December. The newspaper did not give the reason for the protest, but it did report that Law Enforcement Forces arrested 21 people. BS

PRISON RIOT IN AHVAZ...
Clashes between convicts and guards occurred at the Karun 4 prison in Ahvaz when 300 inmates tried to prevent the transfer of a prisoner to the execution site, "Entekhab" reported on 31 December. The prisoner faced the death penalty for killing a policeman during a robbery. The protesting prisoners set fires, but when the riot spread security forces came in and some of the protestors were relocated to a prison in Bandar-i Imam. BS

...AND PRISON FIRE IN GORGAN
A 30 December fire in a prison in northeastern Gorgan Province killed 27 inmates and injured 50 others, IRNA reported. Provincial prisons head Abbasali Arab said all the victims were male and had been convicted by local courts on charges that included theft and drug trafficking. Arab also said a short circuit caused the fire. Prisons Organization chief Morteza Bakhtiari said on 1 January that the fire is being investigated by a special team. Iranian corrections facilities suffer from overcrowding as the prison population grows due to drug-related arrests. BS

IRANIAN RADAR MIGHT BE BEHIND PLANE CRASH
Pavlo Naumenko, head of the Kharkiv aviation plant that built the An-140 aircraft that crashed near Isfahan in late December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), said on 2 January that Iranian statements attributing the crash to pilot error are premature, Ukrainian 1+1 television reported. Naumenko said the pilots were experienced and had flown the route before, and that local radar systems could be to blame. "Indeed, the radar system has some peculiar features," he said. "The state commission [investigating the crash] will establish how those features affected the causes of the tragedy. The pilots were experienced.... Each of them flew along this route many times, they flew to this airfield, [and] they flew both in daytime and at night." Retired Ukrainian pilot Yuriy Lukin described the peculiarities of radar in Iran. "The air-traffic controller virtually does not see you, because there are no radars," he said. "The equipment is probably old; there is no modern equipment. Ukraine is probably 100 times better equipped than Iran." BS

INTELLIGENCE MINISTER ISSUES WARNINGS ABOUT U.S.
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi on 2 January told a gathering of political party leaders that the United States started a "political, economic, and cultural war against Islam" a few months ago, Iranian state television reported. "The foreign intelligence services are trying to set the stage for tribal and religious wars," Yunesi claimed. "During the past year, the [Ministry of Intelligence and Security's (MOIS)] agents have discovered and neutralized a large number of these plots inside the country." He reiterated this theme in a 20 December speech in Khorasan, saying, "The enemy intends to take advantage of ethnic and religious differences in the country," ISNA reported. And in a 21 October meeting with Lebanese Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus, Yunesi said that the United States is trying to cause discord among Muslims, IRNA reported. BS

IRAN'S REVOLUTION GUARDS REPEAT THREATS AGAINST UNITED STATES
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a 2 January meeting of army commanders and martyrs that the Iranian people's morale is the most important factor in resisting the enemy and that is why the enemy has targeted Iran, especially its young people, with a "cultural onslaught," the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. "The warmongering hawks of America should know that the Iranian people will stand up to threats and will once again foil their conspiracies," Rahim-Safavi said. IRGC public relations department chief General Masud Jazayeri said on 26 December that the United States, Israel, counter-revolutionaries abroad, and mercenaries in Iran are waging psychological warfare against Iran in order to undermine popular resistance, ISNA reported. "Every so often, the Americans think they should flex their muscles in the face of this grand, experienced nation," Jazayeri said. "If America embarks on such a stupid act, it will receive such a slap in the face from Islamic Iran that will be remembered as an important turning point in the political history of the world," he added. BS

IRAN PREPARES FOR IRAQI REFUGEES
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 1 January that Iran is ready to help Iraqi refugees and indicated that they will not be allowed to cross very far beyond the Iranian border, IRNA reported. "If a number of Iraqi nationals require Iran's humanitarian assistance, we would take actions to host them under UN supervision beyond the border," Ramezanzadeh said. On 31 December, Interior Ministry official Javid Mahmudi said Iran is readying 19 refugee camps along its western border, AFP reported. Mahmudi said the camps are just a few meters inside Iranian territory. Moreover, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari indicated Iran's reluctance to allow refugees to get too far into the country. "We already have 2.5 million refugees, and no international organization has seriously cooperated with us. We do not have the capacity to accept new refugees," Musavi-Lari said. BS

IRAQI NATIONAL MONITORING HEAD ON COOPERATION, SCIENTISTS
Husam Muhammad Amin, director of the National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), said during a press conference on 2 January that inspections of 230 sites over the past five weeks have "proven the credibility of the Iraqi declarations and showed that there are no banned activities and no omitted paragraphs," Al-Jazzera television reported. Regarding the list provided to UN inspectors on 28 December of scientists involved in previous chemical, biological, and missile programs in Iraq, Amin said: "The lists are aimed at making sure these scientists work at sites that have nothing to do with their previous specialization and banned activities. The second aim of the list is to conduct interviews with some of the scientists to clarify some ambiguous things and alleged gaps." Amin said the scientists thus far have refused to be interviewed by UN inspectors without the presence of representatives of the NMD. "We believe that it is up to the person to decide the manner of the interview to guarantee his personal and human rights," he added. KR

NEW IRAQI OPPOSITION PARTY ESTABLISHED
A statement published in the Al-Sulaymaniyah-based newspaper "Al-Ittihad" on 28 December announced the establishment of a new Iraqi opposition party -- the Iraqi Justice and Development Party, which was described as a "political, social and civil party that calls for political participation within a federal Iraq.... It is a party that respects religious and ideological freedom...and believes that Iraqi policy should be based on tolerance and dialogue." The statement added that the party will not reject any form of governance that the Iraqi people choose. The party's statement further noted Iraq's "honorable national task" in serving Arab and Islamic causes, citing the "Palestinian cause and the Arab-Zionist conflict." The statement said Islam is the religion of Iraq and the basic source of the country's legislation. It called for the government to guarantee the right of equality for all Iraqis without discrimination and stated that the final arbiter of differences is the ballot box. The Iraqi Justice and Development Party also called for an independent military establishment, the revitalization of agriculture and livestock in Iraq, the protection of archaeological sites, and free education for everyone. KR

NEW 'OIL-FOR-FOOD' RESTRICTIONS ON IRAQ
The UN Security Council tightened restrictions on Iraqi imports of antibiotics and communications equipment through its ratification of Resolution 1454 on 30 December. While the Iraqi government has not formally reacted to the resolution, the state-run press criticized it in editorials on 2 January. The Iraqi daily "Al-Jumhuriya" stated that Resolution 1454 is further evidence of U.S. "hegemony" over the Security Council, AP reported on 2 January. "This is a bad resolution which would lead to inflicting deliberate damage and harm to our people," AP cited the daily as stating. Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov said Russia managed to stave off proposals to tighten supplies of other medicines and prevented the UN from being able to add to the list at will, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 December. Lavrov apparently called the ban on some commercial commodities groundless. The Security Council passed the resolution unanimously, with Russia and Syria abstaining. KR

TURKISH DAILY REPORTS ON ESTABLISHMENT OF REFUGEE CAMPS
The Turkish daily "Cumhuriyet" reported on 2 January on the establishment of 13 refugee camps in anticipation of an influx of up to 250,000 refugees that could result from a possible war in Iraq. According to the report, 13 camps will be set up along two lines above and below the 36th parallel in Iraq and five camps will be located on Turkish soil. The report adds that the UN is recruiting English and Kurdish-speaking medical personnel to work in the camps during the anticipated war. KR

INSPECTORS RETURN TO SOME SITES, VISIT NEW ONES...
Fifty-seven UN inspectors visited six sites on 2 January, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. A team of 22 UNMOVIC inspectors made a return visit to the Al-Fatah State Company in the Al-Amirya area of Baghdad, where they inquired about the company's missile production. Meanwhile, a team of four UNMOVIC inspectors made their third visit to the Ibn Firnas State Company, located 15 kilometers north of Baghdad. A UNMOVIC statement described the company as an engineering and procurement facility that supports the air force. In addition, a team of eight IAEA inspectors visited the Lead Foundry, an affiliate of the State Company of Battery Industrialization that is located in Khan Dhari, 30 kilometers west of Baghdad. Inspectors toured the buildings and storage areas and conducted a radiological survey before visiting the storage area of the Ibn Younis Center located in the same area, where they inspected storage areas, tagged equipment, and conducted radiological testing. KR

...AS BIOLOGICAL, CHEMICAL INSPECTIONS CONTINUE FULL FORCE
The Foreign Ministry also stated that a team of 15 biological inspectors surveyed the Air Force Technical Armories in Al-Taji on 2 January and inquired about equipment deliveries over the last four years. They also toured workshops and storage areas, where they took samples of damaged fuel tanks and conducted radiological testing. A team of eight chemical inspectors toured the Al-Hader State Company, located 270 kilometers north of Baghdad (formerly known as the Al-Sharqat Uranium Enrichment Facility). UNMOVIC defines the site as a chemical plant that produces nitric acid and ammonium nitrate. KR

MINSK DENIES IT HAS CONSIDERED ASYLUM FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN
Khvastou said on 30 December that the Belarusian leadership has not considered, even hypothetically, granting political asylum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his family, Belapan reported on 31 December. He was commenting on U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent statement that Belarus is among countries that might offer asylum to the Iraqi leader. Khvastou reiterated Belarus's position that military action against Iraq would be inexpedient. He stressed that the UN Security Council should seek a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi crisis. AM

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