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Newsline - January 13, 2003


KREMLIN TAKING THE INITIATIVE ON NORTH KOREA
Moscow has stepped up its efforts to mediate the crisis resulting from North Korea's renunciation of international nuclear controls and may send a delegation to Pyongyang in the next few days, Russian news agencies reported on 13 January. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that Moscow's plan for resolving the crisis was worked out in a series of telephone consultations over the last few days with the United States, China, France, and South Korea, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the plan stipulates the continued non-nuclear status of the Korean Peninsula and envisages the initiation of bilateral and multilateral talks on security guarantees for North Korea and a package of humanitarian and economic assistance to Pyongyang. On 12 January, the Japanese news agency Kyodo cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov as saying Moscow might send a delegation to North Korea to discuss the situation. RC

RUSSIA CELEBRATES PRESS DAY
Russia marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Russian press on 13 January, Russian news agencies reported. On 13 January 1703, the first Russian newspaper, "Vedomosti," was published in Moscow at the order of Tsar Peter the Great. In his message of congratulations to journalists, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin lauded the development of the regional media and noted that journalism is "an unsafe profession," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and RTR reported. "We do not have the right to forget those who gave their lives in pursuit of their civic and professional obligations," Lesin said. RC

POLICE OFFICERS ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN KILLING OF INTERNET JOURNALIST...
Vladimir Sukhomlin, a 23-year-old software developer and Internet journalist, was abducted and brutally killed in Moscow on 4 January, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian news agencies reported on 13 January. According to the reports, Sukhomlin was on his way to meet a potential client when his car was stopped by two police officers and he was forced into a waiting Lada passenger car. Two police officers from the Moscow Oblast town of Balashikha, who were identified only as Goncharov and Vorotnikov, were arrested on 9 January, according to "Izvestiya" on 13 January, and they reportedly told police they had been paid $1,150 to kill Sukhomlin. On 10 January, police arrested Dmitrii Ivanchev, the director of the St. Petersburg-based company Plastorg, lenta.ru reported on 13 January. According to "Izvestiya," the police officers named Ivanchev as the man who hired them. According to "The Moscow Times," both of the arrested police officers "came from families of security officials -- one from the [Federal Security Service] and another from the Federal [Border Guard] Service." In addition to his software-development work, Sukhomlin in 1999 created the anti-NATO website serbia.ru, which was attacked by Western hackers. He also created the website chechnya.ru, which was designed to counter the pro-separatist site kavkaz.org. According to a colleague quoted in "The Moscow Times," Sukhomlin was also developing software for the Defense Ministry. RC

...AS PETERSBURG INTERNET JOURNALISTS BEATEN
Dmitrii and Lada Motrich, two journalists with the St. Petersburg website kandidat.ru, which monitors local elections, were hospitalized on 11 January after being severely beaten by unknown assailants, RosBalt reported on 13 January. The two were attacked by three youths late in the evening of 10 January, and their bags, mobile phones, and documents were stolen. The editor in chief of kandidat.ru is Ruslan Linkov, the head of the St. Petersburg branch of Democratic Russia and a former assistant to murdered State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova. "There have been pressure and threats against kandidat.ru practically since the first day of its existence," Linkov was quoted as saying. "Now that the elections and the coverage of them are no longer in the center of everyone's attention, the bandits have decided that they can deal with journalists with impunity." RC

INDEPENDENT RADIO STATION IN KARELIA CALLS IT QUITS
Radio Tochka, an independent radio station broadcasting throughout the Republic of Karelia, went off the air on 13 January, regnum.ru reported. According to the report, the owners of the station, which has been broadcasting a largely entertainment format for two years, decided the project was unprofitable. The regnum.ru report noted, however, that the closure of Radio Tochka coincides with the closure of "a whole series of Karelian publications that were independent of the local authorities" and expressed concern about the "negative impact" of the closures on the flow of information in the republic. RC

HEATING CRISIS GROWS...
Despite warnings and threats from federal officials directed at their regional counterparts, the heating crisis has not only continued but has grown in the European part of Russia and now affects more than 28,000 people, Russian news agencies reported on 12 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 January 2003). According to the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Northwest Federal District is the most severely affected, with some 23,000 residents without heat. In the town of Valdai in Novgorod Oblast, temperatures inside apartments have ranged from 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. Outside, temperatures have dipped to minus 20-25 degrees Celsius. The Valdai city prosecutor announced on 13 January that a criminal investigation has been launched into the causes of a 6 January accident at a heating plant that left more than 3,000 residents without heat, RosBalt reported. Meanwhile, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Gennadii Korotkin told ITAR-TASS that damage to pipes in Karelia from the extremely cold temperatures might have been less had the personnel at boiler plants and other public utilities been sober and conscientious on the evening of 31 December. Korotkin led a federal inspection team working in the area. He also announced that Karelia will receive the 50 million rubles ($1.6 million) that Karelian President Sergei Katanandov requested earlier to cope with the damages. JAC

...AS TV STATION ALLEGES LOCALS ANGRY AT ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY
Some residents in Khabarovsk and Novgorod hold the local branches of Unified Energy Systems responsible for the disruption in heat and water supplies to their homes, Tsentr-TV reported on 10 January. In Novgorod, a resident attacked a meter reader with a knife, and the company reported that other local customers have set their dogs upon company personnel. In Khabarovsk, a dam was washed out at a heating and power plant, and boiling water surged toward the town of Industrialnyi when the level of water at an ash-disposal site rose too quickly. According to the station, the plant's management has refused to say what caused the incident, in which no injuries were reported. JAC

WARMING BRINGS DANGER FROM ABOVE
Each winter, tens of thousands of Russians suffer injuries from ice falling from city buildings, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 January. As temperatures in European Russia begin to warm up this week, the number of injuries from falling icicles is expected to mount. Last winter, two people were killed in Moscow by falling ice and 27 were hospitalized, the daily reported. The paper also listed similar fatal accidents over the last two years in Murmansk, Pervouralsk, Vologda, Tyumen, and Ufa. RC

SEVERE COLD CAUSING IMMIGRANTS FROM MILDER CLIMATES TO RETURN HOME...
Sergei Smidovich, the head of Moscow's department overseeing migration policy, told Ekho Moskvy on 11 January that the severe cold weather has contributed to the stabilization of the city's migration situation. According to Smidovich, many citizens of warm countries have returned to their homelands during the recent spate of unusually cold weather. Smidovich also remarked that the deportation of illegal immigrants is a very complex legal process, the nuances of which are only now being worked out. Also, many countries neighboring Russia that were formerly in the Soviet Union have agreements with Moscow to allow visa-free travel, which means that people deported one day can return the next, he explained. JAC

...AS SOUTHERN REPUBLIC ISSUES RESTRICTION ON UNREGISTERED RESIDENTS
The Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria has introduced temporary restrictions on immigration to its territory, RTR reported on 11 January. Civil-registration offices will no longer register marriages if either of the spouses is not permanently registered in the republic. In addition, a ban has been imposed on issuing birth certificates for babies whose parents are not permanently resident in the republic, and nonresidents will also not be able to lease, buy, or sell property. JAC

KAMCHATKA STRIKERS RETURN TO WORK...
Municipal workers in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii on 13 January announced the end of their five-week long strike, lenta.ru reported. According to a spokesman for the strikers, Vladimir Mytsak, the work stoppage was ended at the request of the Central Committee of the Russian Communal-Services Workers Union in the wake of a decision to transfer control of municipal finances to the oblast. Mytsak added, however, that if a series of reforms to the local communal-services system is not rescinded by 20 January, workers at all eight municipal enterprises will resume their strike. RC

...AS ALTAI TEACHERS WALK OUT
Teachers in Smolensk Raion of Altai Krai announced on 13 January a three-day strike, newsru.com reported. The teachers are demanding compensation for purchases of classroom texts and materials and have said that if this action does not bring results, they will launch an indefinite strike. Lessons at all eight district schools have been cancelled. According to the teachers, they are owed about 2 million rubles ($62,500). The teachers have also applied to the courts for compensation. RC

KREMLIN PARTY GOES AFTER ONE OF ITS OWN
The local branch of Unified Russia in Pskov has filed a lawsuit against the oblast administration following remarks in the local media by oblast Deputy Governor Dmitrii Khitonenkov, RosBalt reported on 10 January. In his remarks, Khitonenkov -- who is a member of Unified Russia -- said that a regional party conference held in November was "illegitimate" and conducted by party "Mensheviks." The party's lawsuit argues that the comments distort the essence of local political processes, "discredit Unified Russia, and harm the image of the presidential party." RC

FORMER TATAR MEDIA HEAD CLAIMS SUCCESSION STRUGGLE UNDER WAY IN REPUBLIC
In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 11 January, Irek Murtazin, former head of Tatarstan's State Television and Radio Company, said his dismissal in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2002) was partly motivated by political intrigues around the struggle to replace Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev. Shaimiev is not expected to seek a fourth term when his current term expires. Murtazin was pressured to resign in November after airing a discussion program during the 23-26 October hostage crisis in Moscow. He was accused of sympathizing with the extremist ideas of the Chechen fighters who took over a Moscow theater. According to Murtazin, during the program he asked the question: "What is happening in Moscow? Is this terrorism, banditry, or the desperate act of people trying to attract attention to the Chechen problem?" However, this question was altered on a videotape of the program that was distributed in Moscow so that the end of the question was turned into a statement. According to Murtazin, certain unidentified political forces decided that he must be gotten rid of because he is loyal to Shaimiev. Murtazin explained that Moscow is seeking someone to replace Shaimiev who will be more manageable. JAC

DATE SET FOR CHECHEN REFERENDUM
The referendum on the draft Chechen constitution and election law will be held on 23 March, Chechen Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov announced on 10 January, according to ITAR-TASS. He added that only "insignificant irregularities" were discovered during the required authenticity check of some of the 13,000-plus signatures collected in support of the referendum. Also on 10 January, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that international organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the CIS, may send observers to monitor the voting, which, Veshnyakov added, will cost an estimated 50 million rubles ($1.57 million), ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONDEMNS RULING ON FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER'S CITIZENSHIP...
In a joint statement released on 10 January, four Armenian opposition parties, including the People's Party of Armenia and Hanrapetutiun, condemned the ruling handed down the previous day by a Yerevan court upholding the presidential administration's refusal to backdate former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian's Armenian citizenship, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003). Hovannisian had requested that his Armenian citizenship be dated from 1991, when he first applied for it, rather than 2001, when it was finally granted. Hovannisian plans to appeal the court ruling, which virtually excludes him from contesting next month's presidential election, as presidential candidates must have been citizens of the Republic of Armenia for a minimum of 10 years. Hovannisian's spokesman Ashot Aghababian told RFE/RL on 10 January that "the litigation proved that [incumbent President] Robert Kocharian is simply afraid of Raffi Hovannisian and his high approval ratings." LF

...AGAIN FAILS TO AGREE ON JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The 16 Armenian opposition parties that aligned in late August 2002 to coordinate tactics in the run-up to next month's presidential election again failed at a meeting on 11 January to reach agreement on fielding a joint candidate to run against President Kocharian in that ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Instead, participants focused on ways to ensure that the 19 February vote is free and fair. They also said they will challenge the legitimacy of Kocharian's candidacy with the Central Election Commission on the grounds that he does not meet the citizenship requirement. Prior to the March 1998 presidential election, the Armenian press published a photograph of Kocharian's passport that was dated as having being issued only shortly before. The leaders of eight of the 16 parties have registered as presidential candidates, and few of them are likely to withdraw in favor of a rival. LF

MINISTER REGISTERS ARMENIA'S FOREIGN-POLICY PROGRESS IN 2002
Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 10 January, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that progress was registered last year with regard to both regional and global aspects of foreign policy and in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. He said that Kocharian will meet again with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev before the end of this month to continue their talks on Karabakh. Oskanian noted positive shifts in Armenian-U.S. relations in 2002 including the expansion of bilateral military cooperation. He also noted progress in Armenian-Turkish relations as reflected in three meetings with his Turkish counterpart, but at the same time admitted to disappointment at the hard line adopted by the new Turkish government toward a possible rapprochement with Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

KARABAKH OFFICIALS DENOUNCE ALLEGED AZERBAIJANI INCURSION
The 8 January incident on the Agdam section of the Line of Contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces was the result of an attempt by Azerbaijani forces to enter the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) on a reconnaissance mission, Interfax and Caucasus Press quoted an unidentified NKR Defense Ministry official as saying on 9 January. One Azerbaijani serviceman was injured in the resulting exchange of fire, and a second was taken prisoner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 January 2003). OSCE representative Andrzej Kasprczyk told Turan on 10 January that efforts are being made to secure the release of the captured Azerbaijani. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT EXTENDS MORATORIUM ON PAYMENT OF MEDIA DEBTS...
President Aliev signed a decree on 9 January extending for a further three years, until 31 December 2005, the deadline for media outlets to pay their 2001 debts to the state publishing house, Turan reported. Independent journalists estimate those combined debts at some 1.5 billion manats (approximately $300,000). In December 2001, Aliev set a deadline of 10 January 2003 for media outlets to pay off their debts, but indicated that the deadline might be extended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001 and 10 December 2002). LF

...AND PARDONS OPPOSITION POLITICIAN
Also on 9 January, Aliev formally pardoned Adil Geybulla, a leading member of the opposition Musavat Party, on the grounds of his deteriorating health, Turan reported. Journalists and NGOs had repeatedly petitioned the president to release Geybulla, who was sentenced in 2001 to four years' imprisonment for killing a pedestrian in an automobile accident. The independent daily "Ekho" on 10 January quoted Geybulla as saying he intends to resume his political activities. LF

AZERBAIJANI BORDER GUARD KILLED IN SHOOT-OUT
One Azerbaijani border guard was killed on 8 January and a second wounded when a group of unidentified individuals who tried to enter Georgia illegally from Azerbaijan opened fire on an Azerbaijani border post, Caucasus Press reported. Azerbaijani and Georgian border guards have launched a hunt for the attackers. LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL DOUBTS SUSPECTED AFRICAN TERRORISTS WERE TRAINED IN PANKISI
Georgian Intelligence Service head Lieutenant General Avtandil Ioseliani told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 13 January that he doubts British and French media claims that four of the Africans detained last week in London on suspicion of manufacturing ricin were taught how to produce chemical weapons at a secret laboratory in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. He said he maintains regular contacts with his French and British colleagues but has never received from them any information that would substantiate those claims. Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania traveled to Pankisi on 11 January to assess the situation there, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES GEORGIA HELPED REPAIR IRANIAN AIRCRAFT
Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and a spokesman for the Tbilisi Aviation Plant denied on 11 January that specialists from the plant traveled to Iran last year to help repair SU-25 combat aircraft, ITAR-TASS reported. The plant has already repaired 22 such aircraft for Turkmenistan and plans to repair a further 46, Caucasus Press reported in September 2002. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION LEADER REJECTS MURDER ALLEGATION
Former Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania has rejected as absurd and unfounded allegations by former Mkhedrioni paramilitary leader Djaba Ioseliani that Zhvania and National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili were behind the murder of Union of Patriots leader Badri Zarandia, Caucasus Press reported on 10 January. Zarandia was shot dead in a cafe in Zugdidi on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). The Union of Patriots, the successor organization to Mkhedrioni, submitted evidence supporting Ioseliani's allegations to the Interior Ministry on 11 January, Caucasus Press reported. LF

UN ENVOY MEETS WITH ABKHAZ PREMIER, RUSSIA'S ABKHAZ MEDIATOR
Heidi Tagliavini, who is the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, met in Sukhum on 10 January with Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia and with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Tagliavini discussed with Gagulia scheduling meetings of the Coordinating Council -- which was set up under UN auspices in 1997 to discuss issues related to the settlement of the Abkhaz conflict -- and of the so-called "Friends of the UN Secretary-General" group of five countries that seeks to promote a settlement. She also raised the possibility of a conference on confidence-building measures. The UN Security Council is to discuss the Abkhaz situation on 31 January. Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said on 10 January that the Abkhaz leadership wants Loshchinin to explain its position to that session. LF

GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS DEMAND WITHDRAWAL OF CIS PEACEKEEPERS FROM ABKHAZ CONFLICT ZONE
The Georgian displaced persons who began blocking traffic across the Inguri River on 6 January asked Londer Tsaava, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, on 11 January to communicate to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze their demand for the immediate withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 December. LF

KAZAKH ADVISORY BODY MULLS AMENDING ELECTION LAW
At a session in Astana on 10 January, the permanent body to advise on questions of democratization established by President Nursultan Nazarbaev last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 November 2002) concluded that constitutional amendments are needed as a precondition for drafting a new democratic election law, Interfax reported. Parliament deputy Ghany Qasymov proposed that the number of members of the lower chamber of parliament be doubled from 77 to 154, and that the number of deputies elected under the proportional system be increased from 10 to 77. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION CHALLENGES PRESIDENT OVER CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
On 10 January, 11 opposition members of the Constitutional Council established last summer accused President Askar Akaev of violating the constitution by proposing to submit the amendments drafted by the council to a national referendum in the immediate future, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The constitution stipulates that referendums can be held only after the passage, by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of parliament, of a law on referendums. Parliament has not yet passed such a law. The Constitutional Council members also complained that Akaev violated the prerogatives of the council by submitting its proposed draft amendments to a separate experts' group for editing. They accused the president of seeking to change the constitution according to his wishes. They also demanded that the 4,500 suggestions made during the public discussion of the draft amendments be made public, according to akipress.org. First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov on 11 January rejected the accusations against Akaev, saying that the experts' group will only "classify" the amendments and rephrase them in the appropriate legal terminology. In an interview with akipress.org on 10 January, Central Election Commission Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova said a minimum of six months is needed for the experts' group to review the proposed amendments. She proposed postponing the referendum on them until 2004. LF

...REJECTS PROPOSAL TO RENAME COUNTRY
Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement Party leader Djypar Djeksheev on 12 January rejected State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov's proposal at a 3 January session of the Assembly of People of Kyrgyzstan to revert to the Soviet-era spelling of "Kirghiz" in place of "Kyrgyz," and to rename the country the Republic of Kyrgyzstan (instead of the "Kyrgyz Republic"), akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER TWICE DETAINED, RELEASED
Dushanbe police detained Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, leader of the former opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT), during the early morning of 10 January for questioning concerning the detention two days earlier of two of his bodyguards for illegal weapons possession, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Iskandarov was released but summoned to police headquarters a second time only hours later. He was finally released on orders from President Imomali Rakhmonov, whom he met with during the evening of 10 January. The DPT, which plans to field candidates in upcoming by-elections, condemned the detentions as politically motivated. LF

SENIOR TAJIK OFFICIAL SENTENCED FOR POLYGAMY
Tajikistan's Supreme Court has sentenced Sulaimon Cholov, a former deputy chairman of the Dushanbe Municipal Customs Committee, to six years' imprisonment on charges of polygamy, ordering an abduction, marrying an underage girl, abuse of his official position, and extortion, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 10 January. In an earlier trial, Cholov was acquitted of those charges due to lack of evidence. LF

BELARUS TO START REREGISTERING RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
Alyaksandr Kalinau, a senior official with the government's Committee for Issues of Religions and Nationalities, told Belapan on 10 January that authorities will start reregistering religious organizations in Belarus in late January, in accordance with a new law on religions that came into effect in November (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 October 2002). Kalinau said the process is expected to last two years and is not aimed at dissolving any previously registered religious associations. The new law on religions requires that a religious community must have at last 20 members and a religious association must consist of at least 10 communities, including one that has practiced religion in the country for at least 20 years, in order to be granted legal recognition. The law has been widely criticized by domestic and foreign human rights groups who claim it is restrictive and gives preference to the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus. JM

UKRAINE FACES NEW U.S. ALLEGATIONS OF MILITARY SALES TO IRAQ
The London-based daily "The Times" on 10 January quoted an unnamed U.S. official saying Ukraine might have transferred a pontoon bridge to Iraq in breach of UN sanctions. The official added that other Ukrainian transfers to Iraq are a "continuing problem." U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the same day that he cannot confirm the new allegations but added that Washington will look into them. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said on 10 January that Kyiv has exported pontoon bridges but never to Iraq. "If there are any pontoon bridges in Iraq, our government doesn't have any responsibility for it because Ukraine never sold such bridges directly to Iraq," an RFE/RL correspondent quoted Zlenko as saying. The U.S. administration reduced its aid and reviewed its policy toward Ukraine over allegations that Kyiv sold Kolchuga radar systems to Baghdad in contravention of UN sanctions. JM

ESTONIA'S COALITION SAID TO BE DOOMED AFTER ELECTIONS
Speaking at a general assembly of the Reform Party in Parnu on 12 January, Chairman Prime Minister Siim Kallas said his party's ruling coalition with the Center Party is unlikely to continue after the March parliamentary elections, ETA reported. He said the Reform Party cannot accept the graduated income tax that the Center Party is pushing and wants to slash individual income tax across the board from the current 26 percent to 20 percent. Kallas also criticized the Center Party's unwillingness to take a clear stand in support of Estonian membership in the European Union. He also accused Res Publica of seeking the support of non-ethnic Estonians by advocating less stringent language requirements to gain citizenship. The assembly approved a list of candidates for the March elections that is headed by Kallas, parliament Chairman Toomas Savi, and Justice Minister Mart Rask. SG

RUSSIAN OILMEN SEEK REVISED APPROACH TO LATVIAN PORT
The heads of some of Russia's largest oil companies have sent a letter to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov demanding that exports of oil through the Latvian port of Ventspils be increased as much as possible, BNS reported on 10 January. Signatories include LUKoil's Vagit Alekperov, Yukos's Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Rosneft's Sergei Bogdanchikov, and Surgutneftegaz's Vladimir Bogdanov. In the letter, the magnates criticize an 18 December decision by the government commission for the use of main pipelines not to include Ventspils in the oil-export schedule for the first quarter of 2003. Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs expressed doubt whether the letter will have any effect, since the oil companies have sent two similar letters, though they did not specifically mention Ventspils. Russia's "Kommersant" business weekly commented that the request will probably be heeded, since OPEC wants to boost oil exports and it might be difficult for Russia to do the same without utilizing Ventspils. SG

LITHUANIA'S OUTGOING PRESIDENT TRIES TO RALLY THE OPPOSITION
In a meeting with Liberal Union Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas and Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Deputy Chairman Andrius Kubilius on 10 January, Valdas Adamkus proposed that liberal and conservative forces establish an opposition coalition that would be capable of winning parliamentary elections in 2004, ELTA reported. Adamkus suggested that the alliance, which would be open to other parties, form a shadow cabinet and elect a parliament leader for the joint opposition. The parties, moreover, should form a joint list for parliamentary elections or, "in the worst case, make two lists but distribute among themselves single-mandate districts." Kubilius said such a coalition should prove more successful than past efforts, since it will be based on joint values and not personal initiatives. Adamkus will be replaced in late February following his defeat at the hands of former Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic leader Rolandas Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT TO PROBE ALLEGATIONS OF BIG-TICKET CORRUPTION
The Sejm on 10 January voted 394 to one to set up a 10-member commission to investigate allegations by "Gazeta Wyborcza" that film producer Lew Rywin tried to solicit a bribe of $17.5 million from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, purportedly on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller's Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Polish media reported. The ruling SLD has five seats on the commission. Quoting from a conversation secretly taped last July between Rywin and "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, the newspaper on 27 December alleged that Rywin offered, in exchange for money, to lobby the government for a media law that would allow Agora to buy the Polsat television station, which is reportedly worth $350 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). Miller, who was questioned by prosecutors last week in connection with the allegations, denies any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, in a letter to Miller last week, Rywin said the press presented his contacts with Agora "mendaciously" and apologized to Miller for the fact that the premier's name has been exposed to "unfounded attacks" in the media in connection with the allegations. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT APPROVES RESTRUCTURING OF STEEL INDUSTRY
The Social Democratic-led government has approved a restructuring program that will cut nearly one-third of the steel industry's 23,000 jobs by 2006, PAP reported on 10 January, quoting Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner. The reductions should reduce the industry's work force to 16,000. "The program envisages that the production of finished [steel] products will be reduced by 991,000 tons by 2006. It also foresees that by the end of 2003, steel mills will be covered by public assistance in the total amount of 3.39 billion zlotys [$887 million], 600 million zlotys of which has already been transferred," Hausner told journalists. JM

OUTGOING CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. SHOULD NOT BE LEFT TO FIGHT IRAQ ALONE...
Czech President Vaclav Havel, whose mandate expires on 2 February, said in an interview with the weekly "Respekt" of 13 January that the United States should not be put in the position of having to fight a war against Iraq alone, CTK reported. Havel said it would be "against the interest of our civilization if the Americans were isolated and forced to wage war against the whole Arab or Muslim world." It is also not in the Czech interest to see a divided NATO, he added. Havel said he believes the war against Iraq is "virtually inevitable," adding: "There are situations in which it is necessary to use force to save peace. We have our own historical experience with Hitler." Havel, who was to attend a 13 January cabinet meeting at which ministers were expected to discuss a U.S. request for the participation of Czech forces in possible operations in Iraq, said the government must consider the consequences of a negative answer and of leaving Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein armed and in possession of weapons of mass destruction. MS

...AS U.S. SEEKS EARLY CZECH RESPONSE ON MILITARY AID...
The United States has asked the Czech Republic to decide by 20 January on the participation in possible military action against Iraq of the antichemical-, antibacterological- and antinuclear-warfare Czech unit stationed in Kuwait, CTK and dpa reported. If the government approves such participation, parliament is expected to convene this week to approve the move. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told "Lidove noviny" of 11 January that the unit has already analyzed samples of suspected Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. Tvrdik added that Saddam Hussein is prepared to use those weapons if Iraq is attacked. The United States has requested approval for temporarily stationing troops on Czech soil and overflight rights. It also wants Czech soldiers to be dispatched to Afghanistan to replace U.S. forces that might be used in a campaign against Iraq. MS

...AND CZECH RULING PARTY REMAINS SPLIT ON IRAQ
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists on 10 January after a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leadership that there is no consensus within the party on Czech participation in possible military operations against Iraq, CTK reported. Spidla said the disagreement has prevented a vote on the issue, and added that he will recommend that the government approve Washington's request. However, he added, it would be "constitutionally unacceptable" for the decision to be made solely by the government without submitting it to a vote by parliament. He also said failure by the Czech Republic to respond positively to the U.S. request would be tantamount to "a negative answer." MS

EXPLOSIVE DISCOVERED ON CZECH RAIL LINE
Czech Railways staff on 10 January discovered an explosive device on tracks between the northern Moravian towns of Ceska Trebova and Zabreh, removing it without damage or injury, CTK and dpa reported. It was the third such incident since November, when Czech police defused a homemade bomb on a suburban rail line near the capital. A few days later, a similar bomb was defused near Nymburk. MS

CZECH NEO-NAZIS PROTEST 'PALESTINIAN HOLOCAUST'
Several dozen neo-Nazis marched on 11 January in the Jewish quarter in Prague's Old Town, protesting what they called "the anti-Palestinian Holocaust" being perpetrated by Israel, CTK reported. The group dispersed after a Prague city councilor announced the march was banned. Jewish Communities Federation head Jan Munk previously said he considers it "scandalous" that such demonstrations -- of a clearly anti-Semitic character -- are allowed to take place. In related news, a court in Ostrava on 10 January sentenced four skinheads to prison terms of between four and five years for having attacked and injured three Roma in June 2001, CTK reported. One of the Roma was stabbed in the back three times, but police were unable to determine which of the four suspects was wielding the knife. MS

WILL SLOVAKIA JOIN CZECH UNIT IN KUWAIT?
Political consultations are under way concerning possible Slovak participation in the Czech military unit deployed in Kuwait, CTK reported on 10 January. The Slovak daily "Pravda," cited by CTK, wrote the same day that the two countries' defense ministries are considering Slovak participation in the antichemical-, antibacterological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit. Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Skopek told CTK the "special relationship" between the two countries would facilitate such participation, once a political decision is made. Skopek noted linguistic similarities, technological compatibilities, and similar professional procedures. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER'S OPPONENTS RESIGN FROM PARTY LEADERSHIP
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac on 11 January resigned his leadership position at the party's National Executive Committee session held in Nitra, TASR reported. Jan Gabriel, who is also a HZDS deputy chairman and, like Tkac, a critic of former Slovak Premier and HZDS Chairman Vladimir Meciar, offered to resign. Tkac, who has already announced his intention to form a separate parliamentary group, said his decision is final and he will consider his political future in the coming days. Meciar on 12 January said he does not expect the HZDS parliamentary group to split. HZDS parliamentary deputy Viliam Veteska told the daily "Sme" of 11 January that the entire HZDS leadership, including Meciar, should be replaced. Asked whether he would agree to take over the party's chairmanship, Veteska said he would deal with this issue when it became relevant. He praised Meciar but noted that the former premier is a controversial personality in Slovak politics. He said Tkac's decision to leave the party is not the most effective way to bring about its democratization, adding that Tkac and his supporters should now resign their seats in parliament. MS

SLOVAK TELEVISION COUNCIL ELECTS NEW STATE-TV DIRECTOR
The Slovak Television Council on 10 January chose in a secret vote Richard Rybnicek as the next director of Slovak Television, TASR and CTK reported. Rybnicek currently is director of commercial broadcaster TV Joj. Before the vote, the council shortlisted Rybnicek and the Slovak National Gallery's public relations manager, Vladimir Cervenak, from a list of 39 candidates. Of the council's nine members, seven voted for Rybnicek, one voted against him, and one abstained. Cervenak was not supported by any member of the council, with six members voting against him and three abstaining. Rybnicek's selection as director must now be confirmed by parliament. Former Slovak Television Director Milan Materak was dismissed in August after a scandal triggered by an agreement providing generous severance pay for the television's management (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July, 9 and 21 August 2002). MS

HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL SUGGESTS U.S. TRAINING AIMED AT ADMINISTRATORS, LAW ENFORCEMENT FOR POSTWAR IRAQ
The political state secretary for secret services in the Prime Minister's Office, Andras Toth, on 10 January told Hungarian television that the Iraqi oppositionists to be trained at Hungary's Taszar air base are not simply interpreters, as some reports have suggested. Toth said the U.S. Army unit at Taszar is primarily concerning itself with the development of public administration and methods for maintaining law and order during a possible transition period in Iraq. He said one must prepare for the possibility of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime being toppled by force before a system of democratic institutions is in place there. Meanwhile, the first batch of about 150 U.S. military police arrived on 12 January at the air base, following the arrival of technical staff last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003), Hungarian dailies reported. Somogy County Defense Commission Chairman Istvan Gyenesei said technical gear and equipment necessary for training are now continuously arriving by air and road. MSZ

HUNGARY PREPARES MILITARY MEDICAL TEAM FOR AFGHANISTAN MISSION
A medical team of 31 soldiers will travel to Afghanistan in February after they have been trained in Budapest and Szolnok, Hungarian Army Chief of Staff General Lajos Fodor, told "Magyar Hirlap" of 10 January. Twenty-five members of the team will serve at a field hospital and at Kabul airport's health unit, while two staff officers will be transferred to command posts and four troops will serve as logistics experts. The contingent will be officially assigned to a joint German-Dutch military hospital in Kabul. MSZ

CHALLENGER SEEKS TO UNSEAT HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST PARTY LEADER
The Hungarian Justice and Life Reform Grouping (MIERT) announced on 10 January that it has nominated Erno Rozgonyi to challenge incumbent Istvan Csurka for the post of Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) chairman at the party's national conference due in February, Budapest dailies reported. Tibor Jozsef Biber, a member of the MIERT leadership, said Csurka's mandate expired in December, meaning he is no longer chairman under the party statutes. MSZ

A BIG YEAR AHEAD FOR THE WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL?
Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. special envoy dealing with war crimes issues, told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" that he expects that both former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic will be in The Hague before the end of 2003, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 12 January. He added that the war crimes tribunal will not cease its work until the two men have been arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Prosper noted that he will travel to Sarajevo and Banja Luka at the end of January to point out what consequences the countries of the region will face if they do not cooperate with the tribunal. He added that the tribunal knows exactly where Karadzic and Mladic are hiding but will not make the information public. PM

UN MEDICAL TEAM DUE SHORTLY IN CROATIA
A team of doctors sent by the war crimes tribunal is expected in Zagreb shortly to examine former General Janko Bobetko and decide if he is fit to travel to The Hague, Reuters reported from Zagreb on 10 January, quoting a government statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October and 2 December 2002 and 8 January 2003). In other news relating to the tribunal, the Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti" reported on 11 January that former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic will fly to The Hague on a regular JAT Yugoslav Airlines flight on 15 January. The daily did not identify the sources of its information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 9 January 2003). PM

IMBROGLIO CONTINUES OVER SERBIAN AND MONTENEGRIN CONSTITUTIONAL CHARTER
The "Financial Times" reported from Belgrade on 13 January that "negotiations over the final dissolution of Yugoslavia broke down at the weekend as Serbian and Montenegrin representatives quarreled over how to reframe relations with international financial institutions. International Monetary Fund advisers say a new Serbian central bank, the republic's planned successor to the federal Yugoslav central bank, should take charge of international dealings for both republics. Independence-minded Montenegrins, seeking to limit Belgrade's financial control over the envisaged new state, vehemently oppose the idea" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 23, and 27 December 2002). Dpa reported on 11 January that the committee drafting the proposed Constitutional Charter plans to send the document to the Serbian and Montenegrin parliaments soon even though a number of other points remain unresolved as well, including legislation on implementing the document and the mechanism for electing deputies to the joint parliament. Representatives of the pro-Belgrade Montenegrin opposition say they and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) oppose the draft document, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 12 January. PM

DIFFERENCES PERSIST OVER STATUS OF KOSOVA
Javier Solana, the EU's security and foreign policy chief, told the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" that the final status of Kosova will be determined "at the appropriate time" in keeping with UN Security Council 1244, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that the leaders in Belgrade and the elected leaders and representatives of institutions of Kosova will be included in the process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 January 2003). The previous day, Kosova President Ibrahim Rugova and speaker of the parliament Nexhat Daci said any negotiations on the future of Kosova can take place only through the offices of the international community and that the outcome must be approved by the people of Kosova in a referendum. In related news, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 10 January that only the elected representatives of the Serbs in Kosova can decide whether they will end their boycott of the parliament. He added, however, that he believes participation in Kosova's joint institutions is the best way to solve problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003). PM

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES REPORTS THAT ARMY WILL ALSO USE ALBANIAN LANGUAGE
The Defense Ministry denied reports by Prishtina-based Radio 21 that the military plans to make Albanian an official language in the Macedonian Army, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 10 January. In its statement, the ministry insisted that the constitution and the Defense Law stipulate that the official language in the army is Macedonian, which is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. The ministry called the report, according to which military tours of duty will be reduced from nine months to two, "crude disinformation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002 and 7 and 8 January 2003). UB

BOSNIA TO RESTORE MEMORIAL TO FAMED ASSASSIN
The city of Sarajevo will restore its memorial to the young Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, setting off a chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I, Reuters reported on 13 January. The memorial consisted of footprints set into the pavement of the sidewalk where Princip reportedly stood when he fired at the archduke's passing car. The site was destroyed by Bosnian Serb shelling during the 1992-95 siege. Supporters of restoring the footprints say Sarajevo should commemorate an event that made it known throughout the world. Opponents of the project argue that Princip was a "Serbian terrorist" who killed not only the archduke but also his pregnant wife. The museum on the site is also being restored, but the exhibits will offer a more balanced interpretation than did its communist-era predecessor, which depicted Princip as a national hero. PM

TEACHERS STRIKE IN CROATIA
Elementary-school teachers across Croatia launched a five-day strike for higher wages on 13 January, dpa reported from Zagreb. The average monthly wage for teachers is about $470 per month. The government says it cannot afford the 10 percent raise that the teachers' union demands, but the union argues that the government has more money than it admits. PM

WINTER WEATHER BATTERS CROATIA
The coldest temperature of the winter -- minus 30 degrees Celsius -- was recorded on 13 January at Otocac between Senj and the Plitvice Lakes, dpa reported from Zagreb. In the capital and elsewhere, at least 35 people have been injured in recent days by falling icicles. Winter-related problems led to a brief electricity blackout in parts of southern Dalmatia on 12 January. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN TUNISIA
Visiting President Ion Iliescu on 10 and 11 January met with his Tunisian counterpart Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to discuss bilateral relations, Romanian Radio reported. Their talks focused on ways to boost trade between the two countries and to reinvigorate cultural ties, Romanian Radio reported. They also discussed the Iraq crisis and agreed on the need to find a peaceful solution, according to Mediafax. However, Iliescu also stressed that if military operations begin, Romania "will be on the side of its allies." On 12 January, Iliescu addressed a forum of Tunisian businessmen, emphasizing opportunities to invest in his country. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT CANCELS INTERNATIONAL CREDITS TO BUCHAREST MAYORALTY
The cabinet on 10 January annulled a $300 million credit extended by the European Investment Bank and by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to the Bucharest mayoralty for several modernization projects, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The announcement was made by Finance Minister Mihail Tanasescu. The Bucharest Municipal Council, which is dominated by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), earlier decided to channel the $300 million to projects different from those approved by the banks, in an apparent attempt to damage Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu's image. Basescu on 10 January wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in which he protested the decision and requested an urgent meeting with the premier. The National Liberal Party called for Tanasescu's dismissal for acting "against the interests of the citizens" and for "seriously damaging Romania's credibility in the eyes of international financing institutions." MS

ROMANIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST BILL ON PENAL CODE
Romanian journalists on 11 January denounced the proposed draft law that would amend the Penal Code to make "offense against the Romanian nation" punishable by two years in prison, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and AP reported. The offense would also apply to those who publish in or disseminate to foreign media "untrue or biased news injuring the country's interests and honor." Opposition parties and prominent intellectuals have also denounced the draft law. The provision in the Penal Code that makes defamation punishable by prison sentences would be maintained under the new legislation. MS

WITNESS SAYS PSD DEPUTY TORTURED HIM AS SECURITATE OFFICER
Werner Sommerauer, who participated in the November 1987 Brasov workers' protest against the communist regime, on 10 January told a Bucharest tribunal that Ristea Priboi, currently a deputy representing the PSD in parliament, personally tortured him after his arrest by the Securitate. Sommerauer was called as a defense witness in the ongoing trial in which Priboi appears as plaintiff, having sued historian Marius Oprea and journalists Cornel Nistorescu and Petre Mihai Bacanu for defamation for accusing him of being a member of the "political police" and failing to declare his membership in the force before his election to parliament, as is stipulated by law. Sommerauer said former Securitate chief Iulian Vlad was also among those who tortured him when he was under investigation for his role in the protest. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REFUSES REGISTRATION OF PPCD-INSPIRED REFERENDUM DRIVE
The Constitutional Court on 11 January refused to register the initiative drive of a Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD)-inspired group to gather signatures in support of holding a plebiscite on joining NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In its ruling, the court said Moldova's constitutional provision of neutrality rules out joining NATO. It also said that gathering signatures in favor of a petition to join the EU would only become relevant if and when the country becomes a candidate for EU accession. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca responded that the court's ruling is proof that "the communist totalitarian regime has fully erased democratic institutions." Rosca said that under the current circumstances "it would make no sense to entertain the illusion that participation in elections or appeals to justice could bring any change," and that consequently the PPCD will shortly resume street protests "against the communist dictatorship." On 12 January, the PPCD announced the protests will be resumed as of 19 January. MS

RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN TRANSDNIESTER CONFIRMS TROOPS WILL NOT WITHDRAW
General Valerii Yevnevich, head of the Russian operations group in the Transdniester and deputy commander in chief of Russia's ground forces, confirmed in an interview with ITAR-TASS on 10 January that Russia does not intend to withdraw its troops from the separatist region by the end of 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003). Yevnevich, who commands the 1,500-strong group, told the agency that "as long as our group, including peacemakers..., remains in the region there will be law and order here, and there is no alternative to the settlement of the conflict by peaceful means." He said that "in the opinion of the UN and of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE], the Russian servicemen are the main guarantors of peace and stability in the Transdniester region." At its December 2002 summit in Porto, Portugal, the OSCE extended the deadline for the withdrawal of Russian troops to 31 December 2003. MS

FIRE AT MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT OFFICE
A fire that broke out at the seat of the Moldovan government on 10 January resulted in relatively slight damage, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The fire was apparently due to a short circuit. It broke out in the office of Deputy Premier Vasile Iovv and also affected the offices of Deputy Premier Valerian Cristea and of Vasile Sturza, chairman of the Moldovan State Commission for the Settlement of the Transdniester Conflict. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu in a letter that no evidence of arson has been found. However, after the firefighting service stated that arson could not be ruled out, Tarlev set up a special commission to further investigate the incident. In a separate action, Tarlev on 10 January ordered government ministries to cancel subscriptions to several opposition dailies and weeklies. MS

MOLDOVANS AMONG VICTIMS OF TERRORIST ATTACK IN ISRAEL
Among the victims of the 5 January terrorist suicide bombing in Tel Aviv (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 January 2003) were two Moldovans who were wounded in the blast, Flux reported on 10 January, citing a Foreign Ministry official. The two were hospitalized, one of them suffering from severe injuries. In an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, Moldovan Ambassador to Israel Artur Cosma said he does not rule out the possibility that other Moldovan citizens might have been wounded in the blast but failed to request medical help, fearing expulsion from Israel. Some 7,000 to 8,000 Moldovans are believed to work in Israel illegally. MS

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL ACCUSES POLITICAL LEADERSHIP OF NOT SUPPORTING HIM
In an interview with the daily "Trud" of 10 January, an obviously deeply disappointed General Boyko Borisov, the chief secretary of the Interior Ministry, harshly criticized the government, the president, and the parliament. Borisov, who is in charge of the country's police services, accused the country's leadership and the judiciary of not supporting him in his efforts to combat organized crime. Borisov has proposed that Bulgaria's constitution be revised in order to introduce a more centralized system like those used in France, Russia, and the United States. "In Bulgaria, we have a lot of authorities" who have a say, Borisov said. "The president is an authority, the prime minister is an authority, [parliamentary speaker Ognyan] Gerdzhikov is an authority, [Prosecutor-General Nikola] Filchev is an authority, [Supreme Court of Appeals head Ivan] Grigorov is an authority, [television talk-show host] Slavi Trifonov is an authority. All are independent and everybody does what he likes. There is no uniting figure.... Who has constructed the state in such a way that it has resulted in such chaos?" UB

BULGARIAN TOP BRASS SAYS REFORM OF MILITARY LEADERSHIP MUST BE POSTPONED
Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev said on 10 January that the reform of the armed forces' leadership should be postponed and be carried out only after the forthcoming strategic review by NATO, mediapool.bg reported. According to Kolev, the current leadership is preparing the military reform and should therefore not be changed. According to the reform plans, the number of officers is to be reduced drastically (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 March and 5 April 2002). The same day, President Georgi Parvanov told high-ranking military officers that he is worried about reports regarding leaks of classified information and the theft of weapons. According to Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, several officers have recently been sacked for leaking classified information. UB

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS SEE COURT DECISION AS VICTORY
The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) on 10 January lauded the Supreme Administrative Court's decision to cancel the government's decision on early closure of the older blocks of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003). At a press conference, leading BSP members demanded that the government reopen the energy chapter of the EU's acquis communautaire, which was closed on the basis of the government's decision to shut down the Kozloduy blocks. Deputy party Chairman Rumen Ovcharov demanded that Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, Energy Minister Milko Kovachev, and European Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva resign because they discredited the country before the EU. The government has announced that it will appeal the court ruling. UB

AFGHAN OPIUM COULD YIELD IRAN-U.S. COOPERATION


U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson said on 8 January that opium-production levels in Afghanistan currently are comparable to those during the Taliban-era, "The Washington Times" reported on 9 January. And the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) estimates that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan will yield 3,400 tons of opium this year. The desire to end opium cultivation in Afghanistan could result in Iran-U.S. cooperation.

The impact of narcotics is felt among all of Afghanistan's neighbors, and Iran has been especially active in trying to address this problem. Iranian Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ) head Ali Hashemi said on 1 January that the ease with which Afghan narcotics enter Iran is contributing to drug abuse, Iranian state radio reported. Hashemi said Iran will increase its interdiction efforts with the addition of X-ray equipment and radar systems. He added that Iran will train Afghan policemen, strengthen guard posts on both sides of the border, and increase intelligence exchanges. Four days later, Hashemi and a delegation of Iranian officials arrived in Kabul to discuss the campaign against narcotics with Afghan, British, German, and UN officials.

Hashemi met with Afghan Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak on 6 January, Radio Afghanistan reported. Wardak asked for help in training the police and he asked the Iranians to share their experience, IRNA reported the next day. Hashemi called on the Afghans to get serious about counternarcotics efforts, according to IRNA. Hashemi warned against victimizing already impoverished farmers, and he said it would be more effective to train Afghan police, formulate effective laws, and develop alternatives for farmers. Hashemi said they should strengthen border-control cooperation, and he described the need for a "security belt" around Afghanistan to interrupt the flow of smuggled drugs.

Hashemi on 7 January participated in a counternarcotics conference. Also in attendance were Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his national security adviser Zalmay Rasul, UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, a delegation from the UN, and a British delegation. A 7 January IRNA report said U.S. and German delegates were expected to attend the meeting, but it did not say whether they did so.

Hashemi said in a 9 January interview with Mashhad radio that the trip to Afghanistan and the conference in Kabul were successful. He described meetings with relevant officials at the Afghan Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice ministries and with national security forces. Hashemi said the conference dealt with crop substitution in Afghanistan, and he conceded that this could take time to yield results.

Opium cultivation was a source of money for the Taliban, but the current Afghan leadership is keen to end dependence on this crop and thus banned opium cultivation in January 2001. President Karzai's national security adviser Rasul said in late December that Afghanistan's five-year plan for crop substitution would soon become operational, and he met with Iranian officials in Tehran to discuss increased cooperation.

Afghan Antidrug Commission head Abdul Hai Elahi said in a 4 January interview with Mashhad radio that Kabul is determined to eliminate opium-poppy cultivation, and the government has promised farmers they will be compensated with alternative crops. Elahi vowed on 3 January that the necessary resources to fight narcotics production and trafficking will be mobilized, and he called on the international community to help, IRNA reported.

By the time the Afghan interim administration announced the poppy-cultivation ban in January 2002, however, farmers had already planted their crops and subsequent efforts at crop eradication and crop substitution failed due to inadequate finances, corruption, and incompetence. These problems persist to this day.

Helmand Province Deputy Governor Haji Hayatollah complained on 5 January about the failure of the central government to help farmers who have destroyed their opium-poppy crops, Mashhad radio reported. Hayatollah described crop destruction in seven provincial districts. The central government vowed to compensate or otherwise help the farmers, but this has not happened. "High-ranking officials have made many promises," Hayatollah said, "but they have not carried any of them out." To stop poppy cultivation, Hayatollah said, farmers should receive food assistance, financial compensation, and seeds, and irrigation systems should be repaired.

According to Iranian officials, some 2 million people in the country are addicted to or are casual users of narcotics that mostly originate in Afghanistan. Afghan narcotics are not a similar problem for the United States. Seizure data suggest that only around 5 percent of the heroin (which is made from opium) imported to the United States originates in Afghanistan, according to a March 2001 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration report. Nevertheless, Washington is trying to eliminate the trafficking of heroin from Afghanistan because of its connection to terrorism.

The U.S. Justice Department has therefore implemented a $17.4 million program called Operation Containment in its fiscal-year 2003 budget, "The Washington Times" reported. The program aims to identify, target, investigate, disrupt, and dismantle transnational heroin-trafficking organizations in Afghanistan. This will be a "multifaceted approach to drug enforcement," according to the Justice Department.

Tehran and Washington, therefore, share an interest in eliminating Afghan opium cultivation, and in the past this subject has been the basis for dialogue between the two countries. The State Department's March 2001 "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report" noted that Iran and the United States have worked together productively on counternarcotics issues within the context of international forums, such as the "Six Plus Two" group. Given their continuing interest in this subject, they might be working together again.

UN OFFICIALS WANT A COMMISSION ON AFGHAN KILLINGS
Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said at a conference in Peshawar on 11 January that as a result of her visit to several Afghan cities she will recommend next week that the United Nations establish a commission to investigate human rights abuses that have taken place in Afghanistan over the past 23 years, the BBC reported. "If this issue can create a rumpus, why not now, instead of waiting five years when there will be no one to guarantee peace?" Jahangir said, according to the BBC. The issue of past human rights abuses in Afghanistan remains a very sensitive political issue, as some of those accused of being serious violators of human rights in the past are either part of the current Afghan Transitional Administration or control swaths of the country and have more military power than the central government in Kabul. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT DECREES THE FORMATION OF MILITARY-TRAINING COMMISSION
President Hamid Karzai has decreed the formation of a subcommission for the training and recruitment of the Afghan National Army, Radio Afghanistan reported on 12 January. The presidential order was made to facilitate the work of the Defense Commission established on 2 December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002). The subcommission will be headed by General Abdul Rahim Wardak and will report to the Defense Commission, the report added. Karzai and the international forces present in Afghanistan are hoping the Afghan National Army be soon be formed and be capable of taking over security of the country. However, the process has been hampered by power struggles within the Afghan Transitional Administration. AT

PROTEST BY AFGHAN JOURNALISTS IMMINENT...
A number of unidentified journalists have hinted that they will stage a protest against Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin when the Afghan cabinet discusses laws and regulations on public demonstrations, the Kabul weekly "Farda" reported on 12 January. The report did not elaborate on the reasons for the journalists' planned protest nor has the date of the cabinet meeting been announced (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 January 2003 for more on issues regarding Afghan media freedoms). AT

...AS KABUL PAPER CONDEMNS 'MEDIA WARS'
The Kabul daily "Anis" on 11 January commented on claims that new media laws in Afghanistan have ushered in a new era of freedom of press in Afghanistan and the establishment of dozens of publications "parallel to the government press," saying most of "these publications are funded by political groups and individuals or foreign sources in Kabul." "Anis" claimed that these publications propagate their own ideologies and write whatever they want and have "restricted their freedom to criticize the government." The daily added that instead of concentrating on reconstruction of the country, most of the new publications are busy conspiring against one another, with "no consideration of journalistic values." Freedom of the press is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, a country that has only enjoyed a relatively unrestricted media in 1964-73 during what is known as the "Decade of Democracy" under former King Mohammad Zahir. AT

HERAT GOVERNOR BANS WOMEN FROM CO-ED LANGUAGE COURSES
Ismail Khan has ordered female students not to attend language courses with their male counterparts, "Farda" reported on 12 January. Mohammad Fahim, an official from the Herat governor's office, added that "co-education is against Islamic law." However, he insisted that the governor has "never prevented women from learning and teaching" as long as they are segregated from men, "Farda" added. Human Rights Watch on 17 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002) released a report entitled "'We Want to Live as Humans': Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan" (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/afghnwmn1202), which focused on the conditions of women in Herat under Ismail Khan's administration. AT

AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said in Tehran on 11 January that he hopes for expanded commercial and economic cooperation, as well as greater cooperation on refugee issues, IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called for a permanent solution to the problem of the Hirmand River's irregular flow into Iran, and he called for cooperation in counternarcotics efforts. After a meeting with Iranian Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri, Abdullah Abdullah said construction of the Dogharun-Herat highway and connection of the Herat Province electrical-power grid with Iran are among the most important projects that are under way, and Mazaheri and Abdullah signed an economic, cultural, and social-affairs memorandum of understanding, Mashhad radio reported on 12 January. The Afghans also visited the southern Iranian town of Khash. Abdullah Abdullah on 12 January said his visit was fruitful and added, "No country can strain relations between Tehran and Kabul," IRNA reported. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES IMPORTANCE OF AFGHAN CONSTITUTION
President Mohammad Khatami met with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on 12 January and said the Afghan constitution, which is being developed, should consider the country's specific values and traditions, IRNA reported. The "Afghan constitution must be based on the nation's religious criteria and national identity, and must consider democracy according to the public culture and understanding," he said. Khatami mentioned the importance of democracy and the free exchange of ideas. Khatami has emphasized the importance of adhering to the constitution in his efforts to achieve changes in Iran. BS

IRANIAN POLLSTER TRANSFERRED FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
Judge Said Mortazavi announced that he has ordered the transfer from solitary confinement of Ayandeh Research Institute board of directors' member Abbas Abdi, the "Tehran Times" reported on 11 January. Saleh Nikbakht, Abdi's lawyer, confirmed this and said his client was not subjected to mental or physical duress during his confinement. Nikbakht said Abdi's defense will be presented on 12 January. BS

KUWAITIS DISCUSS IRAQ AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION IN TEHRAN
Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah said before his 11 January departure for Tehran that the main reason for his trip is to discuss the situation in Iraq, Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported. He added that the two sides will also discuss bilateral political and economic relations, as well as issues relating to water, gas, and the continent shelf. He hinted that he might meet with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) head Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. Sheikh Sabah met on 11 January with Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi and on 12 January with President Khatami and Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, IRNA and KUNA reported. Khatami expressed Iranian opposition to a U.S. attack on Iraq. The Kuwaiti delegation included Information Minister and acting Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah, and Talal al-Ayyar, who serves as electricity and water minister and social affairs and labor minister, and they are scheduled to meet with Iran's Oil and Gas Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh. BS

KUWAITIS DISCUSS GCC-TEHRAN SECURITY COOPERATION
Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah said during a 12 January meeting with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is eager for joint security cooperation with Iran, IRNA reported. Kuwait Army Chief of Staff General Ali al-Mumin visited Iran in late December, and the two sides signed a defense-related memorandum of understanding in October. BS

ONE TEHRAN DAILY BANNED...
The Tehran Public Court on 11 January banned the "Bahar" daily, IRNA reported. The court's letter to Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei stated: "The daily 'Bahar,' despite earlier suspension and conviction on several charges, has been persisting in propagating against the [Islamic] system and publishing lies in order to instigate public opinion.... Please require that the daily is prevented from printing and publishing until further notice." BS

...AND ANOTHER FOLLOWS...
Tehran's Special Court for the Clergy on 11 January ordered the suspension of the "Hayat-i No" daily after it published a cartoon deemed insulting to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian state radio reported. Publication of the cartoon led to demonstrations on 10 January in the holy city of Qom, and the cities of Birjand, Isfahan, Shahrud, and Tehran, IRNA reported. Grand Ayatollahs Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani, Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, and Hussein Nuri-Hamedani criticized the cartoon, as did Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli, the Qom Theological Seminary Lecturers Association, and the Supreme Council of the Qom Theological Seminary, according to state television. All the country's seminaries closed in protest on 12 January, as did the Qom bazaar. The daily apologized, voluntarily suspended publication for two days, and explained that the cartoon was found on the Internet. BS

...AS JOURNALISTS ARE ARRESTED FOR PUBLISHING CARTOON
Ministry of Intelligence and Security chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi announced on 12 January the arrest of the individuals responsible for publishing the cartoon, state television reported. An anonymous "informed source" told IRNA that those arrested are Alireza Eshraqi, Hamid Qazvini, and an individual identified only as Ahmadi. BS

TURKISH PREMIER DISCUSSES IRAQ IN TEHRAN
Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul visited Iran for one day on 12 January as part of his tour of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to ward off a war in Iraq. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi told Gul that Iran opposes any unilateral actions on Iraq, IRNA reported. "Iran believes that [the] Iraqi crisis should be settled through diplomatic and peaceful means," Aref said. Aref warned that the United States cannot be trusted, and he predicted that success in Iraq would lead the United States to turn against another regional state. President Khatami told Aref, in IRNA's words, that "unilateral and military action by the U.S.A. in the Middle East was meant to serve the Zionist regime." Gul said a glimmer of hope remains to avoid a conflict. He also met with Foreign Minister Kharrazi. BS

ANSAR AL-ISLAM LEADER VOWS TO USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS IF U.S. TROOPS INVADE IRAQ
The new leader of Ansar Al-Islam, Mullah Mohammad Hasan, has said, "If America invades Iraq, we will attack its troops," London's "The Sunday Telegraph" reported on 12 January. Hasan's comments were made to Turkish journalist Namik Durukan in the town of Biyare (northern Iraq). Ansar apparently has stores of chemical agents, including cyanide gas, ricin, and aflatoxin. A former Iraqi Mukhabarat agent named Abu Wail is reportedly responsible for smuggling the chemical agents into northern Iraq. "Ansar has taken chemical weapons left over from the Iran-Iraq war," according to Kurdish official Mohammad Aziz. "We feel the pressure of waiting in fear that [Ansar] will throw chemicals on us again and hell will return," Aziz added. Other Kurdish officials have reported that the group is carrying out chemical-weapons testing on animals and humans, and has dispatched suicide bombers targeting Kurdish leaders on at least one occasion, according to the newspaper report. The 2,000-strong group claims to have killed 1,000 Kurdish peshmerga since last year. Durukan reported that he observed hundreds of foreign fighters in the region, many of them believed to be Taliban, walking the streets with their families in tow. In addition, Western intelligence officials have observed members of the Iraqi Republican Guard in two Ansar-run villages last year, "The Sunday Telegraph" reported. KR

SCIRI REPRESENTATIVE SAYS IRAQ STORING WEAPONS IN CIVILIAN AREAS
Mohammad Hariri, representative for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Lebanon office, has said General Ali Hassan al-Majid is leading an Iraqi government initiative to divide Iraq into four security zones, designating potentially unstable areas where uprisings might occur as "black" areas, according to an 11 January report in Beirut's "The Daily Star." "If there is any uprising [Iraqi troops] are going to completely raze the black areas," Hariri said. In addition, he said radar centers and rocket launchers have been installed in civilian areas such as Najaf and Amarah. They are typically placed near schools and mosques, the daily reported. In addition, chemical and biological weapons as well as "large containers of fuel oil" have also been stored in civilian areas and will be blown up if Iraq is invaded. "Most of the preparations being taken by the regime are against the people rather than against an American invasion," Hariri said, adding that the regime fears an uprising. He claimed the first line of defense would be Al-Kut, south of Baghdad. His information reportedly came from Sunni tribes and some Iraqi army officers. KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH TURKISH MINISTER
Saddam Hussein on 12 January met with Turkish Treasury Minister and trade envoy Kursat Tuzmen during the minister's trade visit to Iraq, Iraq Satellite TV reported. Tuzmen delivered a message from Turkish Prime Minister Gul that discussed the Turkish government's desire for increased trade and economic cooperation with Iraq. It also reportedly commented on Turkey's stand on the unity of Iraq. Tuzmen reportedly told Hussein that Iraq's development is tantamount to Turkey's development, Iraq Satellite TV reported. Last week, Gul declined to comment on statements made by Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis that Turkey would investigate its "legitimate and strategic interests" in northern Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). For his part, Hussein said, "With clarity, serious ideas, and a fraternal dialogue, we can achieve the best solutions for joint cooperation, and thus make numerous achievements and achieve a reasonable measure of regional stability." KR

BABIL NEWSPAPER ACKNOWLEDGES U.S. E-MAIL CAMPAIGN
Iraq's "Babil" newspaper, run by President Hussein's son Uday Saddam Hussein, has published an article on its website (http://www.iraq2000.com/babil) acknowledging the U.S. e-mail campaign aimed at encouraging Iraqi soldiers and civilian officials to not involve themselves should war break out between U.S.-led forces and Iraq. "Babil" reported that the e-mail messages were in Arabic, adding, "A number of Iraqis, especially government employees, senior officials, academics, and scientists, use e-mail." "Visitors to the Iraqi capital...have confirmed the e-mail campaign, which is within the context of the psychological warfare launched by the U.S. Special Operations Command," the website reported. The South African "Independent Online" (http://www.iol.co.za) reported on 12 January that Internet access was temporarily cut off in Iraq. An Internet-cafe worker told "Independent Online" that "there has been a problem for two days but it will work again tomorrow morning [13 January]." One of the e-mails reportedly stated, "If you provide information on weapons of mass destruction or you take steps to hamper their use, we will do what is necessary to protect you and protect your families.... Failing to do that will lead to grave personal consequences," "Independent Online" reported. KR

TURKISH-U.S. DEAL ON IRAQ?
The Turkish daily "Vatan" reported on 11 January that Turkey has reached a $22 billion agreement with the United States in exchange for Turkish assistance should the United States launch a military campaign against Iraq. The deal includes an aid package that would erase Turkey's $4.7 billion defense debt to the United States, as well as provide aircraft, ships, and weapons and a "donation" of $4 billion. "The United States will provide...an $8 billion loan from the IMF" and "loans will be opened through the "Eximbank for U.S. companies" to invest in southeastern Turkey, the daily reported. Textile quotas for Turkish products will also be increased by 50 percent, according to "Vatan." KR

IAEA OFFICIAL SAYS ONE YEAR NEEDED FOR INSPECTIONS
Mark Gwozdecky, a representative from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has said that one year is needed to complete inspections in Iraq, the BBC reported on 13 January. "For a credible inspection process we believe we do need in the vicinity of a year," Gwozdecky told the BBC's "Talking Point" program. "It's a very large country, there is a lot of terrain to cover, a lot of facilities to inspect," he added. "Given the fairly good access we've been given to date, [weapons inspectors] can -- the longer we're there -- have a real role to play in terms of detecting anything illegal," Gwozdecky said. KR

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