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Newsline - January 14, 2003


RUSSIAN WARSHIPS HEAD TO THE GULF
Moscow will send the Pacific Fleet cruisers "Marshal Shaposhnikov" and "Admiral Panteleev" to the Persian Gulf in order "to protect Russian national interests in the event of an escalation of the military conflict between the United States and Iraq," Interfax and gazeta.ru reported on 13 January, quoting an unidentified source in the Pacific Fleet command in Vladivostok. According to the source, the cruisers will set sail in February and will be charged with monitoring the situation rather than participating in any conflict. The Russian Navy does not rule out sending additional ships to the region, gazeta.ru reported. The website also pointed out that the "Marshal Shaposhnikov" carried out a similar mission during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. President Vladimir Putin visited the cruiser in Vladivostok in August and mentioned that the ship would be sent on far-off missions in the future. VY

RUSSIA TO INCREASE OIL, GAS PRODUCTION...
Energy Minister Igor Yusufov said on 12 January that Russia will follow the lead of OPEC countries, which announced they will increase oil production by 1.5 million barrels beginning 1 February, nns.ru reported on 13 January. Yusufov said it is Russia's policy to compensate for any oil shortages that might develop on world markets and to keep oil prices stable. The ministry released its annual report, which said that Russia produced 2.274 billion barrels (379 million tons) of oil in 2002 and will produce 2.340 billion barrels (390 million tons) in 2003, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 January. Natural-gas production will be increased from 594 billion cubic meters in 2002 to 604 billion this year, the report states. In order to increase competition and reduce prices, the ministry has proposed the creation this year of an energy stock exchange, the daily noted. VY

...AS RUSSIAN OILMEN COMPLAIN THEY CAN'T BOOST EXPORTS
The heads of several Russian oil majors on 10 January sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov asking him to look into policies enforced by the state-run oil-transport monopoly Transneft that they claim are preventing private oil companies from increasing exports, strana.ru reported on 13 January. The oilmen complain that Transneft is ignoring their interests and barring the export of oil through the Latvian port of Ventspils in order to increase support for the government's Baltic Pipeline System and the newly built oil terminal in the Leningrad Oblast port of Primorsk. Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoriev charged that "the oil companies want to increase exports by any means and do not care about the interests of the country," according to strana.ru. VY

PRIME MINISTER SAYS PIPELINES WILL REMAIN UNDER STATE CONTROL...
Addressing a conference in Murmansk on 10 January, Prime Minister Kasyanov said the government will not tolerate the construction of private pipelines in Russia, "Vedomosti" reported on 13 January. "You must understand that according to Russian law, [such projects] would not be private initiatives," Kasyanov was quoted as saying. At present, all major oil pipelines are controlled by the state-run monopoly Transneft, and all natural-gas pipelines are run by Gazprom. The government has adopted a policy of trying to attract investment into the pipeline infrastructure by offering discounted transport tariffs, the daily wrote. Kasyanov's statement seems to have cast doubt on ambitious plans by Russian and foreign investors to build pipelines worth tens of billions of dollars, pravda.ru wrote on 13 January, including a plan by LUKoil, Yukos, TNK, and Sibneft to construct a $4.5 billion oil pipeline from western Siberia to Murmansk. Also seemingly affected is a project announced by Yukos and the Chinese state petrochemical concern CNPC to build a $1.7 billion pipeline from the Siberian city of Angarsk to China's Datsin capable of transporting 20 million to 30 million tons a year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). VY

...AS RUSSIA TO CHOOSE BETWEEN JAPANESE AND CHINESE OIL-TRANSIT ROUTES
An agreement reached during the recent visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Moscow has spurred competition between Japan and China over the proposed Far East transport route for Russian oil exports, pravda.ru reported on 13 January. According to the website, President Putin told a recent Security Council meeting that routing oil exports through China could jeopardize Russian national interests and that routing them through the port of Nakhodka could help Russia improve oil supplies to the Far East coastal region. These considerations seem to have been bolstered by Koizumi's offer to funnel $5 billion in Japanese investments into a pipeline in order to reduce Japan's dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Such a project could also enable Russia to export to the west coast of the United States. Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov has said that Moscow is currently reviewing both plans, neftegaz.ru reported on 13 January. Losyukov admitted that the Chinese option is more advanced but said the Angarsk-Nakhodka project could increase competition for Russian oil. He said a decision will be made quickly. VY

PUTIN SIGNS NEW PRESIDENTIAL-ELECTION LAW
President Putin on 13 January signed the law on presidential elections and the law on electronic voting, Russian news agencies reported. According to the law on presidential elections, the Russian president must be at least 35 years old and must have lived in Russia continually for the preceding 10 years. He or she cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. Candidates may be nominated without gathering signatures only by those parties or election blocs that attracted more than 5 percent of the total vote in the most recent federal parliamentary election. Other candidates must gather 2 million signatures in support of their candidacy. Putin also signed a bill authorizing the use of electronic voting machines in national elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 6 November 2002). JAC

REGIONS TO GET THEIR CRACK AT LOCAL-GOVERNMENT REFORMS
Deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Kozak told reporters in Moscow on 13 January that the Duma will most likely amend the package of legislation reforming Russia's system of local self-government that President Putin submitted earlier this month before adopting it, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Kozak added that the Duma Council is sending the bills to the regions and giving them one month to provide their feedback. He predicted the bills will be passed in their first reading by 1 March. On the same day, Duma Committee on Local Government Chairman Vladimir Mokryi (Unity) said that after the bills return from the regions, he has no doubt the overall concept of the reforms will be approved by his committee and by the lower house as a whole. JAC

EES CHIEF WEIGHS IN ON HEATING CRISIS
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais told EES's regional directors that Russia's energy system overall is coping with the unusually cold weather affecting most of Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that municipal utility companies are to blame for various local problems with heating and electricity supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 January 2003). However, he suggested that the heads of regional energy companies try to help their local counterparts to forestall and cope with problems. An unidentified EES official also complained to the agency that personnel at utility companies install makeshift fuses in residential buildings instead of using standard-issue equipment, and this causes breakdowns at electrical substations. Meanwhile, heating outages continued throughout the Northwest Federal District. In St. Petersburg, about 100 schools did not reopen on 13 January after the holiday break. JAC

POLITICAL PARTIES INFLATE MEMBERSHIP TOTALS
Russia's leading political parties simultaneously maintain several lists of party members -- one for the media and public consumption, one for the Justice Ministry, and a third for internal use, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 January. The differences among these lists can be marked. Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), for example, informed the Justice Ministry that it has 19,100 members nationally, while it tells the media it has 600,000 members. The Communist Party says that it has 500,000 members, but has registered with the Justice Ministry with only 19,300. According to the daily, there is an entire department at the ministry devoted to comparing the declared number of party members with independently acquired data. In theory, discrepancies can be a basis for refusing to register a party, but the head of the department for registering pubic and religious organizations, Galina Fokina, told the daily no declaration has ever been turned down for this reason, despite the fact that on some parties' lists of regional branches as many as a dozen of a total of 200 names turned out to be fictional. JAC

REGISTRATION OF NEW RUSSIAN INTERNET ADDRESSES SOARS
The number of Internet addresses registered in Russia's "ru" domain grew by 66 percent in 2002 to a total of 156,000, Interfax reported on 13 January, citing RuCenter. The majority of the domain names -- some 66 percent -- are registered in Moscow, while St. Petersburg is in second place with just 5.8 percent. About 60 percent of the owners of domain names are legal entities. In comparison with other countries, Russia falls somewhere between Belgium and the Czech Republic, which have 208,000 and 120,000 domain names, respectively. JAC

JEWISH COMMUNITY COMMEMORATES VICTIMS OF STALIN-ERA REPRESSIONS
The Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia marked the 50th anniversary of the so-called Doctors' Plot at the Moscow Jewish Center on 13 January, newsru.com reported. The Doctors' Plot was a case fabricated by dictator Josef Stalin's security organs against a group of largely Jewish medical doctors and cultural figures in the early 1950s. The doctors were accused of conspiring to poison the Soviet leadership at the behest of U.S. and British intelligence agencies and Zionist organizations. Many prominent members of the Jewish community were arrested and perished in Soviet labor camps. VY

GRYZLOV'S FATE TO BE DECIDED SOON?
Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (LDPR) told "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 January that he expects rumors about a change of government personnel -- particularly at the Interior Ministry -- to be confirmed this week. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov was named to head the High Council of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in November, raising questions as to whether he can continue serving as interior minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). JAC

COSSACKS, POLICE CLASH IN KRASNODAR
An unspecified number of Cossacks in the Leningrad Raion of Krasnodar Krai have been participating in pickets and meetings to protest the recent arrest of Viktor Bradulo, the ataman for the Umanskii Cossack Station, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported on 13 January. Bradulo is accused of acting as the intermediary in conveying a bribe of 400 rubles ($13). Local Cossacks told RFE/RL they believe Bradulo's arrest is linked with a conflict between the Cossacks and local police. The Cossacks say they have been delivering poachers from Cossack-controlled forests to the police, who have not been prosecuting them. In addition, the Cossacks claim to have destroyed 10,000 plants from which unspecified narcotics are extracted. However, they say, local police were protecting the drug dealers, because they were getting a share of the profits. To protest his arrest, Bradulo has declared a hunger strike. JAC

RUSSIA RULES OUT FURTHER TALKS ON OSCE CHECHEN MISSION
Russian diplomats have indicated they see no point in continuing talks with the United States and the EU on a revised mandate for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Chechnya, Reuters reported on 13 January. The mission's mandate expired on 31 December after Russia and the West failed to reach consensus on the terms for its extension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 January 2003). Speaking to journalists in Vienna on 13 January, Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is the OSCE's new chairman-in-office, said he will try to persuade his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov to agree to a new mandate for the mission. In his first address to the OSCE Permanent Council, de Hoop Scheffer on 13 January stressed the importance of the OSCE field missions as a source of firsthand information. "We have to dispel the notion that they could be perceived as liabilities," he added. LF

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD, PREMIER AT ODDS OVER FINANCE MINISTER
Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich on 13 January criticized administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's decision to replace Sergei Abramov as finance minister with Abramov's deputy, Eli Isaev, Russian news agencies reported. Babich argued that Kadyrov's decree appointing Isaev violated a presidential decree on the functioning of the Chechen administration and a second decree by presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev. Babich also said there are no grounds for Abramov's dismissal. He said he has ordered the first deputy finance minister to discharge the functions of finance minister until the issue is resolved. LF

ARMENIAN STATE MEDIA ANNOUNCES TARIFFS FOR ELECTION-CAMPAIGN ADVERTISING
The governing board of state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio made public on 13 January the fees it will charge candidates in next month's presidential election for campaign advertising, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Each candidate is entitled to 60 minutes of airtime free of charge. In addition, candidates may purchase a maximum of 120 minutes television airtime and 180 minutes radio airtime at a cost of 70,800 drams ($120) and 17,700 drams per minute, respectively. In 1996, candidates were entitled to 120 minutes of free airtime on television and 180 minutes of paid airtime at a cost of $20 per minute. In 1998, free television airtime was set at 90 minutes, with the option of purchasing 180 additional minutes at $20 per minute. LF

ARMENIAN TRADERS SLAM GOVERNMENT HARASSMENT
At its annual conference in Yerevan on 13 January, the Union of Traders -- which represents some 700 small-business owners -- rejected government assertions that the business climate in Armenia is improving and complained that they are systematically harassed by tax officials demanding advance payments, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Delegates alleged the government is resorting to dubious methods, including extortion, in order to meet tax-revenue targets. Tax revenues in 2002 were reportedly 26 percent higher than the previous year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003) and are slated to increase again by 20 percent in 2003. LF

CONTROVERSIAL AZERBAIJANI SPLINTER GROUP OFFICIALLY REGISTERED
Azerbaijan's Justice Ministry has formally registered the so-called Three Gs party (Gruppa Gudrata Gasankulieva) as the successor organization to the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Turan reported on 13 January. In late summer 2000, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party split into two rival groups -- the "reformists" headed by Ali Kerimli and the "conservatives" headed by Mirmahmud Fattaev. Gudrat Gasankuliev, who served in 2000 as an opposition representative on the Central Election Commission, tried without success last year to reunite the two factions. He was subsequently expelled from the reformist wing on suspicion of colluding with the authorities (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 21 March, 4 and 26 April, and 18 July 2002). Gasankuliev's splinter group held its founding congress in August (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 August 2002). Kerimli, Fattaev, and other opposition party leaders on 13 January condemned the registration of Gasankuliev's group as illegal, zerkalo.az reported on 14 January. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SETS CONDITIONS FOR RENEWING CIS PEACEKEEPERS' MANDATE
In his traditional Monday radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze said on 13 January that he opposes extending the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone unless Russia halts the train service that recently resumed between the Russian Black Sea town of Sochi and Sukhum, capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 December. A Georgian government delegation headed by Transport and Communications Minister Merab Adeishvili was scheduled to travel to Moscow on 14 January to discuss the rail link. Shevardnadze stressed he does not object to the resumption of rail traffic per se, but that it should be postponed until after the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons who fled that republic during the 1992-93 war. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 13 January expressed the hope that Tbilisi will agree to extend the peacekeepers' mandate, Interfax reported. In Sukhum, Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba said the Abkhaz leadership categorically opposes the peacekeepers' withdrawal, arguing they are a guarantee of peace and stability in the region, Interfax reported. LF

UN, RUSSIAN MEDIATORS URGE GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TO RESUME TALKS
Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, told journalists in Tbilisi on 13 January that during their talks in Sukhum on 10 January she and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin discussed convening a new meeting of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council that serves as a forum for discussions between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz suspended participation in the council's sessions in April, demanding that Georgia first withdraw its forces from the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge. Also on 13 January, ITAR-TASS quoted Loshchinin, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, as saying that while in Sukhum he urged Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia to agree to attend a new session of the Coordinating Council. Meanwhile, Russian and Georgian Foreign Ministers Igor Ivanov and Irakli Menagharishvili discussed the Abkhaz situation and Loshchinin's visit to Sukhum during a 13 January telephone conversation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN LABOR PARTY UNVEILS SALVATION PLAN
The opposition Labor Party on 13 January proposed to the government nine measures that it considers essential to save Georgia from "final collapse," Caucasus Press reported. They are the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the withdrawal of all Russian military bases from Georgia; the recalling of ambassadors from Moscow and Tbilisi and maintenance of contacts on the level of envoys; suspension of work on the framework agreement between Georgia and Russia until Georgia's jurisdiction over Abkhazia is restored; suing Russia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague; stripping Russia of its function as mediator between Georgia and Abkhazia; Georgia's withdrawal from the CIS; handing Abkhaz separatist leaders over to the international tribunal for crimes against humanity; and the deportation from Abkhazia of all persons with Russian citizenship currently staying in Abkhazia without Georgian visas. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SETS REFERENDUM DATE...
Askar Akaev on 13 January announced that a referendum on the amended Kyrgyz Constitution will be held on 2 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Voters will be required to answer "yes" or "no" to two questions. First, should the law of the Kyrgyz Republic on the new version of the constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic be adopted? And second, should Askar Akaev remain president of the Kyrgyz Republic until December 2005 (to the end of his constitutional term) in order to implement the approved constitutional amendments? Addressing a government session the same day, Akaev said he believes the amended constitution meets the requirements of the post-transition period and will contribute to harmonious relations among the various branches of power and between the authorities and the people. He said the final version of the constitution represents a compromise, as not all proposed amendments were approved during the public discussion. He also stressed that while he personally had agreed to unspecified concessions, parliament had refused to cede any of its powers, even in the interest of resolving the country's severe economic problems, Interfax reported. LF

...AS KYRGYZ OPPOSITION CRITICIZES PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
Opposition parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov pointed out that not only opposition politicians but also Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova and "persons loyal to the president" have criticized the planned constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said that all the main points agreed upon by government and opposition members of the Constitutional Council have been dropped. He further criticized the proposal that former presidents and all members of their families be guaranteed immunity from prosecution. A second parliament deputy, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, predicted that once the amendments have been approved, Akaev will dissolve the present parliament. But both Akaev in a 13 January address to the Kyrgyz people and First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov said that the present parliament and government will serve out their full terms in office, akipress.org and Interfax reported. LF

INVESTIGATORS SAY KYRGYZ MARKET BLAST NOT ACCIDENTAL
National Security Service investigators said on 13 January that the 27 December explosion at Bishkek's Dordoy market in which seven people were killed was caused by an explosive device, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The investigators said that the perpetrators have probably already left the country. Composite portraits of two suspects, both of Asiatic appearance, were released in early January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). LF

KYRGYZ, TAJIK GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS MEET
A meeting opened on 13 January in the Tajik town of Safara between a Kyrgyz delegation headed by Deputy Premier Bazarbai Mambetov and Tajik officials headed by Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The talks will focus on the 3 January clashes between Kyrgyz and Tajiks over border posts surrounding the Tajik exclave of Vorukh in southern Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 January 2003). LF

TAJIKISTAN, IRAN SEEK TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov met in Dushanbe on 11 January with Iranian Ambassador Nosir Sarmadi Porso to discuss cooperation in the sphere of power engineering, ways to encourage Iranian investment in Tajikistan, and the construction of a power line between the two countries via Afghanistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. They also touched on the problems involved in exporting Tajik aluminum by rail to Iran via Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. LF

TRIAL DATE SET FOR TURKMEN ASSASSINATION SUSPECTS
A total of 32 people suspected of involvement in the putative 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov will go on trial later this week, Niyazov announced on 12 January. He said 20 of them will be sentenced to prison terms and the remaining 12 exiled to remote regions of the country, Interfax reported. Another 29 people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the alleged assassination attempt, including five Russian and six Turkish citizens, ITAR-TASS quoted Niyazov as saying. Those who were only "indirectly" involved will be deported, he added. Niyazov said three suspects are still at large -- one in Russia, a second in Germany, and a third in Sweden. All three have been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for their alleged complicity (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 2 January 2003). LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS SUPPORT TO YOUTH UNION
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree on 13 January providing for state financial assistance to the Belarusian National Youth Union until 2006, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press office. The decree also guarantees leading union activists representation on the boards of the ministries of Information, Culture, Education, Agriculture, Sports and Tourism, and Labor and Social Security. The measure enables the National Youth Union "to take part in the discussion of major socioeconomic-development issues," the presidential press office stated. JM

BELARUS REPORTS 4.7 PERCENT ECONOMIC GROWTH
Belarus's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 4.7 percent year-on-year in 2002, Belapan reported on 13 January, quoting the Statistics and Analysis Ministry. The figure signals growth similar to that in 2001. According to the ministry, industrial production grew by 4.3 percent (5.9 percent in 2001), while agricultural output increased by 1.8 percent (1.5 percent in 2001). Consumer prices rose by 34.8 percent in 2002, the ministry reported. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION SAID TO BE OVERSTAFFED
Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko, head of the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information, told UNIAN on 13 January that staffing of the presidential administration includes 619 salaried posts. Tomenko stressed that the figure, which was communicated to him officially from the presidential administration, is double the number of positions in the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party in the 1980s. This "significant overbalance" of posts in comparison with the number of those in the communist-era Central Committee "looks unnatural," he added. Tomenko said the presidential administration in its current form operates not as a consultative body but as "the supreme organ of the executive power." He charged that such a situation contradicts the Ukrainian Constitution. JM

RESETTLED UKRAINIANS APPEAL TO PARLIAMENT FOR JUSTICE
A nationwide organization called the Congress of Ukrainians of the Chelm and Podlasie Regions, uniting individuals (and their descendents) who were forcefully resettled from eastern and southeastern Poland to the Ukrainian SSR in 1944-46, has called on the Verkhovna Rada to hold a parliamentary hearing devoted to their plight, UNIAN reported on 13 January. The congress is demanding that legislators provide a legal and political assessment of the forcible postwar resettlement of Ukrainians from Poland, give those resettled the status of deported persons, and compensate them for moral and material damages. According to an accord between the governments of Poland and the Ukrainian SSR at the time, some 460,000 Ukrainians were resettled from Polish territory to Ukraine in 1944-46. Another 140,000 Ukrainians were resettled in 1947 from southeastern Poland to the so-called Recovered Land, Poland's newly acquired areas in the north and the west (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 April 2002). JM

ESTONIAN PARTIES REJECT PRIME MINISTER'S CRITICISM
Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts reacted sharply to recent criticism by Reform Party Chairman and Prime Minister Siim Kallas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003), accusing Kallas of lying, BNS reported on 13 January. He countered Kallas's suggestion that Res Publica has no genuine party platform, saying the Reform Party has adopted Res Publica ideas like the abolition of politicians' perks. "Res Publica wants to teach the noncitizens living here to speak Estonian," Parts said in a reference to Kallas's claim that Res Publica wants to drop language requirements for non-Estonian speakers and enable a naturalized Estonian to be elected president. "That's a task with which the Reform Party has regrettably not coped." Center Party press officer Evelyn Sepp called Kallas's speech bravado and an effort to raise his party's falling popularity, adding that it "more likely lost support as a result." SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PRIORITIES FOR 2003 BUDGET
At an extraordinary session on 13 January, the center-right cabinet defined priorities for the 2003 budget and earmarked 51.79 million lats ($87.7 million) to pursue those objectives, LETA reported. The proposed spending represents less than one-fourth of the previous demand of 223.47 million lats. More than 40 percent of the sum (21.51 million lats) is related to Latvia's EU-integration effort. The ministries receiving the largest amounts were those of Interior (8.88 million lats), Finance (5.74 million lats), Agriculture (5.5 million lats), and Education and Science (2.98 million lats). New Era Prime Minister Einars Repse said that even after the national budget is passed by parliament, he expects that it will be amended and more funds added if additional revenues are found. Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis predicted that financing in priority areas will not change much as the budget is drafted, though some redistribution is likely. SG

LITHUANIA HOLDS FIRST ROUND OF MEMBERSHIP TALKS WITH NATO
A Lithuanian delegation headed by Foreign Ministry Secretary Giedrius Cekuolis participated in Brussels on 13 January in the first round of talks on NATO integration, ELTA reported. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Guenter Altenburg led the NATO delegation. "These are talks for joining the organization, and Lithuania can not bring changes to the Northern Atlantic Agreement. It will observe the major principle of NATO: 'All for one and one for all,'" Cekuolis said. He noted that Lithuania will keep its pledge to allocate 2 percent of GDP for defense in 2001-04 and to assign one of its battalions for NATO operations if needed. The second round of talks is scheduled for 23 January. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS WARSAW 'WILL NOT REFUSE COOPERATION' ON IRAQ
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, when asked about the participation of Polish troops in an eventual U.S. operation in Iraq, said in Washington, D.C., on 13 January that his country "is a loyal ally and will not refuse cooperation," PAP reported. Kwasniewski was scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on 14 January. On the first day of his two-day official visit to the United States, Kwasniewski met with the president of Lockheed Martin, which recently won a tender to supply Poland with 48 F-16 fighter jets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). Vance Coffman reportedly assured Kwasniewski that the roughly $6 billion in offsets accompanying the F-16 deal will be implemented. JM

POLISH PROSECUTORS TO QUESTION FILM PRODUCER OVER BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS
Warsaw Court of Appeals Judge Zygmunt Kapusta on 13 January said prosecutors will question film producer Lew Rywin but declined to give a date, PAP reported the same day. "Gazeta Wyborcza" alleged last month that Rywin solicited a bribe of $17.5 million from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, purportedly on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller's Democratic Left Alliance (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January 2003). "We are in permanent contact with Rywin and there is no danger that the [questioning] will not take place," Kapusta said, adding that evidence has been collected to determine whether Rywin sought a bribe from Agora in exchange for ensuring passage of a favorable version of the media law. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT CONDITIONALLY APPROVES AID FOR POSSIBLE IRAQ CAMPAIGN
Cabinet ministers on 13 January unanimously approved a decision to allow the participation in possible military operations against Iraq of a Czech unit currently stationed in Kuwait, CTK and international news agencies reported. The two chambers of the parliament are expected to debate the decision later this week. The motion says the participation of the antichemical-, antibacterological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit is conditioned on prior approval by the UN Security Council of military action or a statement by the council's chairman calling for military intervention. The condition, however, would not apply if Iraq makes use of weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors or against NATO allied forces. The cabinet also approved the transit of U.S. forces through Czech territory and the use of Czech airspace. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said 110 experts will join the currently 250 Czech soldiers in Kuwait within 10 days of parliamentary approval. MS

CZECH RIGHT-WING OPPOSITION READY TO SUPPORT GOVERNMENT ON IRAQ -- 'IF'
The Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) executive council on 13 January decided to support in parliament participation in potential military action against Iraq if the entire coalition rallies behind the cabinet, CTK reported. The ODS characterized its move as "constructive opposition." CTK reported that the three parties of the governing coalition -- the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL), and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) -- are not united behind the cabinet's decision (see above) despite its having been unanimously approved. The news agency cited sources in the ODS as saying some 20 CSSD deputies might vote against approving the decision. ODS Chairman Miroslav Topolanek said it would not be realistic to expect his party's legislators to "fill in" if CSSD is split. MS

CZECH RULING PARTY'S SENATORS MIGHT SUPPORT RIVAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
CSSD's parliamentary group leader in the Senate, Petr Smutny, on 13 January told CTK his group will not unanimously endorse his party's official presidential candidate, Jaroslav Bures, in the presidential elections slated to start on 15 January. Smutny said that while most of CSSD's 11 senators are likely to back Bures, some will probably endorse KDU-CSL candidate Petr Pithart. The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies vote separately in the first two rounds of the electoral contest. If Pithart won the first round (for which 41 votes are needed in the 81-seat upper house), he would advance to the second round to face the leading vote-getter from the Chamber of Deputies. Commentators have suggested the CSSD might cut a deal to ensure Pithart's victory in the Senate in exchange for KDU-CSL support for Bures in the lower house to prevent rival ODS candidate Vaclav Klaus from advancing. MS

VISEGRAD FOUR VOW TO CONTINUE COOPERATION WITHIN EU
Representatives of the so-called Visegrad Four -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia -- agreed in Bratislava on 13 January to continue group cooperation after EU accession, presumably in 2004, TASR and CTK reported. The chairmen of the four countries' parliamentary foreign-affairs and defense committees said after their meeting that cooperation has been a stabilizing factor in the region. It should continue and be extended to include other countries as well, they said. Jan Figel, chairman of the Slovak parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said EU membership will not end the cooperation but bring it to a higher level. The representatives also agreed to back quick ratification of Slovak membership in NATO and to participate in each other's referendum campaigns in support of EU membership. They also appealed to EU countries not to undertake structural reforms of the organization without the full participation of the 10 future EU members in the debate. MS

PROMINENT SLOVAK OPPOSITION LEADER RESIGNS PARTY POSITION
Another prominent member of the leadership of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) resigned on 13 January, TASR reported. Ivan Kino resigned as HZDS's Banska Bystrica regional leader, saying his decision is a result of HZDS's poor electoral performance in the December local elections and the party's inability to end its national and international isolation. Kino also said he agrees with the positions expressed by former HZDS Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac, who resigned last week and intends to form an independent parliamentary group in the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). Party Chairman and former Premier Meciar presents an obstacle to cooperation with a number of other parties, though his popularity remains high among the electorate. MS

MAJOR SLOVAK ARTIST DIES AT 100
Koloman Sokol, a founder of Slovak graphic arts and a world-renowned painter, died on 12 January at his residence in Tucson, Arizona, TASR reported. He was 100. President Rudolf Schuster and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda expressed their condolences. Sokol studied in Bratislava and Prague and lived in Paris in the 1930s, later moving to Mexico City, where he taught at the School of Liberal Arts in 1937-41. He lived in New York in 1942-46 before returning to then-Czechoslovakia, where he became a member of the Slovak Academy of Arts and Sciences. He settled in the United States after the communist takeover in 1948. MS

HUNGARIAN ROMANY PARTY DEMANDS REPEAT OF ROMANY-AUTHORITY ELECTION
The Lungo Drom Romany party on 13 January demanded new balloting in Romany-authority elections after the left-wing Democratic Roma Coalition won the voting on 11 January, claiming legal violations and outright fraud, Hungarian media reported. Lungo Drom Chairman Florian Farkas, a parliamentary member of the opposition FIDESZ, vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court. The Democratic Roma Coalition won the elections after Farkas and other Lungo Drom representatives walked out of the election hall to protest voting procedures. Lungo Drom held a majority on the Romany authority until last weekend but was left out of the new, 53-member national Romany authority after the walkout. Meanwhile, Socialist parliamentary group leader Ildiko Lendvai said the country's election commission found the elections to be valid. FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Tamas Deutsch said the scandal could have been predicted and charged that the current government would resort to any possible means to ensure the establishment of a Romany authority that is close to the coalition Socialists and Free Democrats. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION QUESTIONS CABINET STATEMENTS OVER U.S. TRAINING
FIDESZ lawmaker Istvan Simicsko on 13 January charged that conflicting statements recently made by cabinet ministers regarding the training of Iraqi opposition personnel at Taszar make his party doubt that interpreters will be trained at the Hungarian military air base, "Nepszabadsag" reported. He maintained that if those to be trained by the U.S. military are only interpreters, then the conditions set by Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz are impossible to comprehend -- notably that those to be trained may not leave the air base and that they may not be sent into combat zones directly from Hungary. Simicsko asked Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy to clarify which cabinet member told the truth. In response, Medgyessy said that by offering the air base, Hungary is fulfilling its part in an alliance system. He charged that the FIDESZ politician "has no understanding" of the country's commitments. Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Matyuc said the Pentagon has made it clear that the goal of the operation is to train mediators who know local conditions and have public-administration skills for work in a future Iraqi public administration. MSZ

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER STARTS BALKAN TOUR IN MACEDONIA...
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou started a three-day tour of the western Balkans in Skopje on 13 January, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 January 2003). He met with Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and President Boris Trajkovski, as well as with Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union of Integration (BDI). Papandreou also spoke with representatives of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). His talks with Crvenkovski and Trajkovski focused on Greek efforts to integrate the countries of the western Balkans into the EU (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November and 6 December 2002). Regarding his recent statement about setting up a Balkan Federation, which had been criticized by Trajkovski's spokesman, Papandreou said he sought to "show to Europe and to the rest of the world that we intend to build strong, stable, and democratic Balkans within the EU." Greece currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. UB

...REASSURES ALBANIA...
Going on from Skopje to Tirana on 13 January, Papandreou told Albanian authorities the EU will soon open talks with that country on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, RFE/RL reported. Brussels recently warned Tirana that it must speed up reforms, especially regarding the electoral system and property rights, before an agreement can be concluded. Papandreou reminded his hosts of the need to proceed down the "difficult path of change," strengthen democracy, and fight organized crime. He stressed that the EU is "committed" to promoting the stabilization and association process, which will eventually lead to membership. The Greek minister added, however, that the Balkan countries "must also be committed" to meeting European political and economic standards. Reuters reported that Papandreou is bringing a "carrot-and-stick" message to his hosts on his five-country Balkan tour. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an unnamed Greek official told the news agency Papandreou wants his hosts to understand that EU interest in the Balkans is waning because the bloc is suffering from "enlargement fatigue." Reuters noted that EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana was slated to accompany Papandreou but instead went to a London conference on the Palestinian problem. PM

...AND GOES ON TO CROATIA
On his third stop on 13 January, Papandreou arrived in Zagreb and began talks with his counterpart Tonino Picula the next day, dpa reported. Papandreou praised Croatia's role in the Balkans, stressing that the country is committed to implementing "European values." In related news, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Vienna on 13 January that she expects that Croatia will apply to join the EU in the course of 2003. Croatia did not receive an invitation to join that body at its recent summit in Copenhagen, but the government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan wants to join the EU by 2007, at which time Romania and Bulgaria are expected to be admitted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November and 20 December 2002). PM

DATES SET FOR PAPAL VISIT TO CROATIA
Pope John Paul II will pay his third visit to Croatia from 5-8 June, Renato Boccardo of the Vatican's protocol office said in Zagreb on 13 January, dpa reported. His itinerary includes Rijeka, Zadar, and Dubrovnik on the Adriatic, as well as Osijek and Djakovo in Slavonia. The pope will beatify a Croatian Catholic layman, Ivan Merz. He previously visited Croatia in 1994 and 1998. No pope visited the former Yugoslavia before its breakup in 1991, but Pope John Paul II has since been to Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia. PM

BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NATIONALIST-LED GOVERNMENT
More than three months after the 5 October general elections, Bosnian lawmakers approved the government of Prime Minister Adnan Terzic of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 21 October and 23 December 2002). Legislators from the SDA, the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) from the Republika Srpska, and the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH) backed the cabinet. High Representative Paddy Ashdown approved seven of the eight nominees to the cabinet, the exception being the candidate of the SDS for justice minister. Terzic said that the post will be filled soon, Reuters reported. PM

YUGOSLAVIA OFFERS GUARANTEES FOR FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT
Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 13 January that the government will offer guarantees to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague to enable former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic to remain free until his trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002 and 13 January 2003). PM

MINORS RAISE ABUSE CHARGES AGAINST SERBIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP
Serbian Orthodox believers in Vranje are divided over charges made by three young men that Bishop Pahomije sexually abused them, "Vesti" and Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 13 January. The Bishops' Conference and a group of parents have defended the bishop, saying the charges are part of a campaign by unnamed "antichurch circles" seeking to slander a successful church leader. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN ALGERIA
Visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu held talks in Algiers on 13 January with his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Boutefilika, Romanian Radio and AFP reported. The commercial Romanian television station Antena 1 reported that the discussions were held at President Bouteflika's villa outside Algiers under strict security conditions due to last week's terrorist bombings in Algeria. Journalists were shown tapes of the talks, during which Iliescu expressed Romania's interest in boosting gas imports from Algeria and in participating in joint oil-drilling projects in that country. Industry Minister Dan Ioan Popescu, who is accompanying Iliescu on his visit, said he discussed with his hosts the feasibility of extending to Romania an undersea pipeline linking Algeria to Slovenia, according to Mediafax. Accords on bilateral cooperation in the economic, scientific, veterinary, and educational spheres were signed. Iliescu was also due to meet with Algerian Premier Ali Benflis and the chairmen of the parliament's two chambers, according to AFP, and to address a joint session of the chambers on 14 January. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN TEHRAN
Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 13 January met in Tehran with President Mohammad Khatami, to whom he delivered a message from President Iliescu, Romanian Radio and IRNA reported. Geoana said he expressed Romania's interest in intensifying bilateral economic cooperation. He also said Romania is interested in conducting political dialogue with Iran that he said should benefit the Middle East as a whole. Geoana also said Romania wants to cooperate with Iran in reconstructing Afghanistan. Khatami told Geoana that Romania is a "significant link" between Islam and the West, according to IRNA, and that Iran will fully comply with UN resolutions and international conventions. He expressed "deep concern" about the escalation of tensions in the Middle East and that "the Zionist regime is exploiting the current situation to intensify mass killings of defenseless Palestinians." MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY SHELVES RESHUFFLE...
The Social Democratic Party's Permanent Delegation on 13 January decided to shelve earlier considerations that favored a possible government reshuffle, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said after a meeting of the delegation that a reshuffle would "change nothing of substance," changing "only people" in government positions. Nastase also said the earlier debates on the possibility of reshuffling the cabinet created "nervousness." He said the party decided to opt neither for early elections nor for a restructuring of the cabinet. "We march forward with the same team," he said, which "has proven its efficiency." MS

...AND WANTS SHRUNKEN SENATE
Nastase also said the Permanent Delegation decided to promote a constitutional change whereby the Senate would be reduced by about one-fifth and would be elected by a system of multiple-constituency representation. Under the current proportional-representation system, the 2000 elections produced 140 senators, with counties being represented in the upper house according to the numerical strength of their population. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTY IN ROMANIA CONDITIONS SUPPORT ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko reiterated on 13 January that the formation will refuse to support envisaged constitutional amendments in parliament unless its own proposals are taken into consideration, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Marko spoke after meeting with Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc to discuss continuing in 2003 the agreement under which the UDMR supports the PSD in parliament. Marko said the UDMR wants a clearer definition of the concept of national minorities included in the amended constitution, which should also stipulate their right to use their mother tongues in contacts with local administrations, according to Mediafax. MS

...BUT CONTINUES TO BE TORN BY CONFLICT
Tibor Toro, leader of the Reform Bloc in the UDMR, warned on 13 January that the formation might split at the UDMR congress, which is scheduled for 30 January-1 February in Satu-Mare, Mediafax reported. Toro said that in the 12 years that have passed since the UDMR was set up, the Szeklers -- many of whom back the bloc -- were "merely given the right to vote, but not the right to choose," since the UDMR leadership has remained the same. Toro called for replacing "majoritarian democracy" inside the UDMR with "consensual democracy." The Reform Bloc is boycotting the next UDMR congress, claiming, as Toro put it on 13 January, that "the [electoral] game is over before it started" because no internal elections were held ahead of the gathering. Marko responded that the Reform Bloc is undergoing a "profound crisis" and its leaders are trying to "expand it at the UDMR's general level in order to solve their internal problems." MS

CEAUSESCU'S HOMETOWN REJECTS TUBERCULOSIS PATIENTS
Nearly 1,000 people clashed with police on 13 January in Scornicesti during protests against the decision by Olt County authorities to transfer patients suffering from tuberculosis from Slatina to the local hospital, Mediafax reported. Scornicesti is the birthplace of the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and was expanded from a village into a town as part of Ceausescu's cult of personality. Scornicesti Mayor Tiberiu Mateescu said the health of his townsfolk is endangered by the decision and warned that the tuberculosis patients would be attacked. Health authorities in Bucharest announced that as a result of the protest the decision has been canceled. MS

SECOND RUSSIAN MILITARY TRAINLOAD THIS YEAR LEAVES TRANSDNIESTER
On 13 January, the second Russian trainload this year evacuating ammunition and military equipment left the Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported, citing Russian military sources. The agency said the trainload carried 50 army trucks and 40 tons of other equipment, and that by a decision of the Russian government the separatist authorities in Transdniester received the same quantity of armaments from the former 14th Russian Army's arsenal. MS

MOLDOVAN ANTIGOVERNMENT DAILY SUSPENDS PUBLICATION
The daily "Tara" ("The Country") on 13 January suspended publication for an indefinite period, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Editor in Chief Petru Bogatu said the decision was made for financial reasons. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev late last week ordered government offices to cancel all subscriptions to publications that are critical of the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). The daily "Tara" began publication in 1990 as the newspaper of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) and later became an independent publication promoting reunion with Romania. MS

BULGARIAN POLITICIANS EXPECT U.S. REQUEST FOR SUPPORT IN MILITARY STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ SOON
President Georgi Parvanov said on 13 January that "the situation is such that we could be asked [by the United States at] any moment to provide an air corridor for a strike against Iraq," bnn reported. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the same day he does not believe a U.S. request for support for a possible war against Iraq would differ from requests it made during earlier campaigns, according to BTA. "We know how we have supported similar operations of the allied forces in Kosovo and during the Gulf crisis in 1991, also caused by Saddam Hussein, as well as during Operation Enduring Freedom," Pasi said. "I do not expect the requested support to differ greatly from the set precedents." UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER GETS MORE ASSISTANTS
Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev has announced that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski will be assisted by an additional two or three counselors, "Monitor" reported on 14 January. The counselors are to ease Saxecoburggotski's workload. Tsonev said the Prime Minister's Office is highly centralized and that the prime minister is overburdened by the number of issues he has to address. "It is not normal that a Bulgarian prime minister, independent of whether his name is Stefan Sofiyanski, Ivan Kostov, Zhan Videnov, or Simeon Saxecoburggotski, [has] to work 12 hours on weekdays and eight to 10 hours on Saturdays and Sundays," Tsonev said. Saxecoburggotski has rarely made public statements as of late, and some observers believe he cannot cope with the workload he has undertaken. UB

ETHNIC TURKISH LEADER FINED IN BULGARIA FOR DEFAMATION
A Sofia district court has ordered Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), to pay a fine 1 lev ($0.53) to his former deputy Osman Oktay for publicly defaming him, bnn reported. During a party meeting, Dogan accused Oktay of having embezzled approximately $350,000 from party funds. UB

There is no End Note today.


AFGHAN DRAFT CONSTITUTION TO BE READY BY MARCH
Vice President and Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Commission Nematullah Shahrani announced on 11 January that the preliminary draft of the new Afghanistan constitution is expected to be ready by March 2003, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced on 12 January. Shahrani added that the draft will then be published for debate by civil society and experts in all 32 Afghan provinces, following which the final draft will be presented for adoption by the Constitutional Loya Jirga in October, UNAMA reported. Lakhdar Brahimi, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said the work of the Constitutional Drafting Commission is "vital for the consolidation of peace in Afghanistan" and expressed the hope that it will meet its self-imposed October deadline, UNAMA reported. (For more on the new Afghan constitution, see the forthcoming "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003.) AT

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES U.S. POLICY IN AFGHANISTAN...
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 14 January released its 558-page "World Report 2003," which criticizes the United States for its handling of the war on terrorism. The report states that while "terrorists violate basic human rights principles because they target civilians...the United States undermines those principles when it overlooks human rights abuses by antiterror allies such as Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, and Afghan warlords." Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, criticized the United States for its reluctance to expand international peacekeeping forces beyond Kabul, claiming it is instead relying "on abusive warlords who are inhibiting the human rights progress made possible by the fall of the Taliban." In a separate report issued on 5 December 2002, HRW claimed that warlords are "the primary threat to peace and stability" in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002). AT

...KABUL ACCEDES TO ICC, WILL SUBMIT CRIMINALS FOR TRIAL
Sayyed Fazel Akbar, spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, announced on 13 January that Afghanistan has acceded to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a decision that would allow the extradition and trial of warlords, Reuters reported. Akbar said the Afghan cabinet approved the decision to join the ICC during its 13 January meeting, adding that Afghanistan will submit a list of criminals for trial "based on the evidence delivered [to it] and the principles of the ICC," Reuters reported. The Karzai administration's move could allow it to indict and prosecute some of the more notorious warlords who have committed crimes against humanity in the past 23 years of civil war in Afghanistan, some of whom belong to the country's current power structure. Asma Jahangir, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, recommended on 11 January that the United Nations establish a commission to investigate human rights abuses in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). AT

UNKNOWN GROUP THREATENS FUEL SUPPLIERS TO THE U.S.
An unknown group calling itself "Taliban and Sincere Mujahedin" has threatened to blow up fuel suppliers if they continue to provide fuel to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 14 January. A statement sent to AIP's offices in Peshawar said the "supply of fuel and food items to U.S. forces in Afghanistan is forbidden," and warned tanker owners of "death and execution" if they continue such supplies. AT

U.S. LIFTS TARIFFS ON AFGHAN PRODUCTS
U.S. President George W. Bush signed a proclamation on 10 January making Afghanistan a beneficiary of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), thus eliminating U.S. tariffs on approximately 5,700 Afghan products imported by the United States, the U.S. State Department announced on 13 January. According to a White House press statement of 13 January, the GSP designation marks Afghanistan's return to the global trading system and will provide more trade opportunities for Afghans looking to build a more prosperous future. Afghanistan's traditional exports include carpets, dried fruits, leather goods, and pelts. The reports did not elaborate on what products Afghanistan is currently exporting to the United States. AT

IRAN TO PROVIDE HERAT WITH ELECTRICITY
Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Masud Hojat and Afghan Water and Power Minister Mohammad Shaker Kargar signed on 13 January in Kabul an agreement on the provision of Iranian electricity to Herat Province, Afghanistan state television and IRNA reported. The two-phase project will be completed in a year at an estimated cost of $16.5 million, and this amount will be deducted from Iran's earlier pledge of some $500 million for Afghanistan's reconstruction. The visiting Iranian delegation also visited a thermoelectric-power plant in Kabul's suburbs and promised to help rebuild it. BS

AFGHAN OFFICIAL SAYS IRANIAN WOMEN BETTER OFF
Afghan Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi met with Iranian presidential adviser for women's affairs Zahra Shojai in Tehran on 13 January and said that 23 years of war in her country forced women into their homes, IRNA reported. She described her "main goal" as ensuring that women's social, political, and economic rights are respected, and she added that illiteracy is the main problem of Afghan women now. Sorabi told Radio Farda in an interview broadcast on 14 January that a U.S.-based organization is helping overcome the illiteracy problem. Sorabi said Afghan women continue to encounter difficulties, although the situation varies from province to province. She said women in Iran face a much better situation than their Afghan counterparts, especially in terms of literacy. BS

GEORGIAN EXPERTS WORKING IN IRAN
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said during a 13 January briefing in Tbilisi that Georgia did not sell Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack aircraft to Iran, although they are built in his country's Tbilaviamsheni Plant, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze added that some former employees of the aircraft factory are working in Iran, and he attributed this to the massive layoffs of the company's workers in the 1990s. "We are in fact unable to control the dismissed personnel and forbid them from starting work abroad," Georgian Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said, according to Tbilisi's "Mtavari gazeti" on 13 January. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili on 11 January denied that Georgian specialists traveled to Iran last year to work on the Su-25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). BS

IRANIAN CARTOON DISPUTE CONTINUES
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Rahmat, who heads the Shahid Motahari Seminary in Tonekabon, Mazandaran Province, told a gathering there that in some of the recent protests against the publication of a cartoon in "Hayat-i No" newspaper that many deemed offensive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003) the only thing that has not been mentioned is the cartoon itself, "Toseh" daily newspaper reported on 14 January. "The publication of a cartoon must not be used as a pretext for insulting [President Mohammad Khatami's] reform process and the president himself," he added. An example of this tendency was Qom seminarian Mohammad Reza Faker telling one of the protest gatherings that Khatami's supporters are insulting people's beliefs by publishing such items, and Faker added that U.S. forces are in the region to defend the reformists, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 January. The "Hayat-i No" office in Khorramabad suffered an arson attack on 13 January, "Toseh" reported the next day. BS

HOJJATIEH SOCIETY RESURGENT
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said during an 8 January press conference that any members of the Hojjatieh Society who infiltrate the government will be dealt with in the same way as other citizens, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. The newspaper also quoted Assembly of Experts member Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi as saying that the infiltration of the government by radicals from groups like the Hojjatieh Society undermines the search for national solidarity and threatens the Islamic system. The Hojjatieh Society was founded in the 1950s as an anti-Bahai group, and it was ordered to disband in 1983. The ultraconservative Islamic Coalition Association (Jamiyat-i Motalifih-yi Islami) subsequently absorbed many of its members. BS

PIJ LEADER DESCRIBES IRANIAN AID
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Ramadan Abdallah Shallah has said that his organization receives financial support from Iran in an interview that was published in the 11 January issue of "Al-Hayah" from London. But Shallah said the support comes from the religious community and organizations supervised by clerics, so really these are non-governmental organizations. Shallah refused to criticize the disparity between Iranian funding for Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas and for the PIJ, and he added that this disparity probably is not related to Sunni-Shia sectarian differences. The U.S. State Department in its annual report "Patterns of Global Terrorism" describes the PIJ as a foreign terrorist organization that receives Iranian financial assistance. BS

KUWAIT, IRAN SIGN GAS AND WATER AGREEMENTS
Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan-Namdar Zanganeh and Kuwaiti Information Minister and acting Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah on 12 January signed a memorandum of understanding that deals with the Kuwaiti import of natural gas from Iran and another memorandum under which Iran will provide Kuwait with 210 million gallons of desalinated water, IRNA and Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported on 13 January. BS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN TEHRAN
Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 13 January met in Tehran with President Khatami, to whom he delivered a message from President Iliescu, Romanian Radio and IRNA reported. Geoana said he expressed Romania's interest in intensifying bilateral economic cooperation. He also said Romania is interested in conducting political dialogue with Iran that he said should benefit the Middle East as a whole. Geoana also said Romania wants to cooperate with Iran in reconstructing Afghanistan. Khatami told Geoana that Romania is a "significant link" between Islam and the West, according to IRNA, and that Iran will fully comply with UN resolutions and international conventions. He expressed "deep concern" about the escalation of tensions in the Middle East and that "the Zionist regime is exploiting the current situation to intensify mass killings of defenseless Palestinians." MS

U.S. OPPOSES DEMOCRACY, FAVORS THEOCRACY IN IRAQ
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) chief Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim has told a group of seminary students and clerics that the United States and some Arab countries do not want to see an independent, democratic Iraq because they want to control the country's national resources and wealth, IRNA on 13 January quoted the Qom-based weekly "Badr" as reporting. Ali Reza Sheikh-Attar, who serves in the Iranian Expediency Council's Strategic Studies Center, said during a recent presentation on the possibility of a war in Iraq that the United States might hope for a post-Saddam theocracy there, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 13 January, but it does not want Iraq's government to resemble Iran's. Other possible scenarios envisioned by Sheikh-Attar include a U.S.-appointed military strongman leading Iraq or a mix of opposition groups, which would limit Iranian influence in Iraq. Sheikh-Attar said the appointment of an Iraqi general by the United States would enable it to control Iraqi oil. BS

UNMOVIC HEAD SAYS IRAQ MUST COME CLEAN...
UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix told AP that Iraq must provide further evidence to UN weapons inspectors about its chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-weapons programs if it wants to avert war. "We need to have more evidence supplied to us. There are a great many open questions as to [Iraq's] possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the Security Council and the world would like to be assured that these questions [are being] sorted out," Blix said in an interview with AP published on 14 January. "We think they have more evidence," the UN chief said, adding, "In the situation in which they find themselves, I think they should make a very strong effort to produce this." KR

...AND INSPECTORS ARE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF INTELLIGENCE INFORMATION...
Referring to U.S. and British claims of evidence regarding Iraq's WMD programs, Blix stated, "We are getting much more information from several sources, and...that increases our credibility and the number of places [inspectors] can go to," AP reported. Blix later told ITV Television on 14 January that the United States and Britain "have given us a lot of information about how they calculate their programs and what size they are and so forth." However, he added that "we need actionable evidence. That is, indications of where we can go, places we can inspect." On the subject of interviewing Iraqi scientists abroad, he added, "We don't think we should be a mechanism for defection." He hinted that there are no immediate plans for interviewing scientists outside Iraq, AP reported. KR

...AND THAT SECURITY COUNCIL WILL DECIDE ON CONTINUING INSPECTIONS
In his interview with AP, Blix said inspections could continue for months but the decision to do so will lay with the UN Security Council. "We can see a lot of work ahead of us beyond that date [27 January] if we are allowed to do so." Blix said. He added that he does not know if the United States would be willing to wait for inspectors to complete their activities. "It could be that one day they will say, 'Move aside boys, we are coming in,'" AP quoted Blix as telling the BBC on 13 January. The UN chief said inspectors will identify key disarmament tasks that Iraq must fulfill in order for sanctions to be lifted by March, AP reported. Blix also told AP that inspections are a far less costly endeavor than war. "We are perhaps 250 or 300 people on the inspection side. We cost about $80 million a year," he said. "If you take the armed path, you are talking about $100 billion. You're talking about 250,000 men. You're talking about a lot of people killed and injured, a lot of damage." KR

IRAQ REPORTS SIX CITIZENS WOUNDED BY U.S.-U.K. AIR RAIDS
A spokesman from the Iraqi Air Defense Command stated on 13 January that six citizens were wounded in a U.S.-U.K. attack on service and civilian installations in the Basra Governorate that day, Iraq Radio reported. "U.S. and British 'ravens of evil' violated our airspace coming from the land of Kuwait," the spokesman said, adding that the U.S.-U.K. planes conducted approximately 60 combat sorties with the support of AWACS aircraft operating inside Saudi airspace. "This brings the number of combat air sorties carried out by the ravens from the land of Kuwait since the Day of Conquest on 17 December 1998 to date to a total of 19,637," the spokesman said. He added that 14 sorties were also carried out from military bases in Turkey, backed by an AWACS aircraft inside Turkish airspace, bringing the total number of sorties from Turkish territory "since the day of conquest" to 9,986. He said the total number of sorties carried out from military bases in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait since 17 December 1998 is 47,135. KR

IRAQI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER SAYS INSPECTORS SEEK INTELLIGENCE THROUGH QUESTIONS
Iraqi presidential adviser Amir al-Sadi has said UN inspectors are asking questions that are unrelated to the production of arms and UN monitoring, calling them instead "intelligence questions." In an undated interview with the Amman-based "Al-Arab Al-Yawm" of 13 January, al-Sadi added that Iraq has been forthright in its declaration of weapons of mass destruction. "From our viewpoint, there aren't any gaps in the Iraqi declarations," he said. "The things we heard about the so-called gaps are a legacy of the UN Commission, UNSCOM, which lost its credibility, gave up work, and left behind a bad report, which Iraq did not accept as a realistic one or having anything to do with weapons of mass destruction." Al-Sadi said in response to comments by UNMOVIC head Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei that Iraq must show more cooperation that, "We have taken note of that and seen it in their report to the Security Council." "This matter will be the subject of discussion," he said in reference to the upcoming meeting of the UN and International Atomic Energy Agency heads and Iraqi officials. KR

BRITISH PREMIER SAYS IRAQ MUST COOPERATE OR BE 'DISARMED BY FORCE'
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 13 January that Iraq has been given a chance by the United Nations Security Council to disarm peacefully, adding that should Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fail to do so, "he will be disarmed by force." Blair's comments came during his opening statement at the Downing Street monthly press conference in London. The statement can be viewed in its entirety at the 10 Downing Street website (http://www.number-10.gov.uk). KR

RUSSIAN WARSHIPS HEAD TO THE GULF
Moscow will send the Pacific Fleet cruisers "Marshal Shaposhnikov" and "Admiral Panteleev" to the Persian Gulf in order "to protect Russian national interests in the event of an escalation of the military conflict between the United States and Iraq," Interfax and gazeta.ru reported on 13 January, quoting an unidentified source in the Pacific Fleet command in Vladivostok. According to the source, the cruisers will set sail in February and will be charged with monitoring the situation rather than participating in any conflict. The Russian Navy does not exclude the possibility that it will send additional ships to the region, gazeta.ru reported. The website also pointed out that the "Marshal Shaposhnikov" carried out a similar mission during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. President Vladimir Putin visited the cruiser in Vladivostok in August and mentioned that the ship would be sent on far-off missions in the future. VY

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