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Newsline - January 15, 2003


DEFENSE MINISTER PROPOSES THREAT-REDUCTION TREATY WITH JAPAN...
Sergei Ivanov told journalists following a 14 January meeting in Moscow with Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba that he has proposed signing a bilateral treaty on reducing military threats, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov also said he has invited Japan to take part in a major Russian Far East military exercise later this year. He noted that Russia has already concluded threat-reduction treaties with all its Asian-Pacific neighbors except Japan and North Korea. Ishiba told ITAR-TASS that his visit came under the framework of the Joint Action Plan signed earlier this month by President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. One of the provisions of that plan calls for "defense and law enforcement cooperation." VY

...ANALYSTS DOUBT PROGRESS ON KURILE DISPUTE
Despite "unofficial information" prior to and during the Putin-Koizumi talks in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 January 2003) hinting at progress toward settling the longstanding Kurile Islands dispute, other recent indications seem to tell a different story, strana.ru commented on 14 January. During a visit to Far East military bases in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 November 2002), Defense Minister Ivanov announced a major military exercise to be held in the Far East Federal District in August, an element of which will be simulating the defense of the Kurile Islands from foreign invasion. In addition, President Putin recently commented in reference to the Kuriles that Russia "has already given up enough," the website continued. However, the website noted that although Japan wants the islands -- which were occupied by the Soviet Union following World War II -- returned, it is more interested in access to Siberian oil. Russia's position is also strengthened by North Korea's recent nuclear blackmail, a situation that causes Tokyo anxiety and that Moscow might be able to help defuse, the website added. VY

MOSCOW TO BUILD TWO NUCLEAR REACTORS IN SYRIA
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced on 14 January that Moscow and Damascus have reached an accord under which Russia will assist in the construction of a nuclear-power plant and a nuclear-powered desalination plant in Syria, gazeta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Although Yakovenko did not reveal the value of the agreement, experts estimate that it could be as much as $2 billion, gazeta.ru reported. Moscow's decision to provide such technology to Syria will no doubt irritate Israel, which has territorial disputes with Damascus, the website commented. These projects and other Russian initiatives in the region -- including the actual and proposed construction of several nuclear reactors in Iran -- will mean that there will be from eight to 10 nuclear plants in the Middle East. This will tie Israel's hands in the event that it seeks to conduct any military operations in the region and could complicate the Israeli-Arab conflict, gazeta.ru argued. The presidential press service announced that President Putin was expected to meet in Moscow on 15 January with Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who will bring a special message from Syrian President Bashir Assad, RIA-Novosti reported. It was expected the talks would focus on the Iraq conflict. VY

RUSSIA, NATO SIGN ACCORD ON WEAPONS STANDARDS
State Standards Committee (Gosstandart) Chairman Boris Aleshin and John Clark, chairman of NATO's Group of National Directors on Codification, have signed an agreement on the incorporation of Russia's military-industrial complex into NATO's codification system, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 January. "This development will open up tremendous prospects for us in markets that were previously impenetrable," Aleshin said. Beginning in 2004, all Russian weapons exports will feature NATO classification. The accord was necessitated by the fact that up to 40 percent of the arsenals of Greece and NATO member countries in Central Europe are made up of Russian arms and spare parts, the daily commented. VY

ELECTRICITY-SECTOR, LOCAL-GOVERNMENT REFORMS TOP THE LEGISLATIVE AGENDA...
The Duma Council met on 14 January to finalize the agenda for the Duma's first plenary session of the spring session, Russian news agencies reported. Representatives of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), Unity, and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) factions all told gazeta.ru that the package of bills reforming local administration will be one of the lower chamber's top priorities. OVR faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin said his group intends to introduce amendments to the bill that will regulate the number of state officials in each territory. He noted that the number of bureaucrats has increased from 1 million during the Soviet period to 1.3 million now, regions.ru reported. Unity and Russian Regions plan a joint initiative to drop the ban on state officials belonging to political parties, according to "Vedomosti" on 14 January. The most contentious issue is likely to be reform of the electricity sector, since "heated debates are expected over the date for a repeat second reading of the bills," the daily reported. JAC

...AS ABSENTEEISM AMONG DEPUTIES IS EXPECTED TO GROW
Communist Deputy Nikolai Kolomeitsev told gazeta.ru that he senses the Duma election campaign has already started and predicted there will be even fewer deputies in the Duma chamber than previously. According to Kolomeitsev, there are around 50 deputies who don't even bother to come the lower legislative chamber for their paychecks. In December, "Gazeta" reported that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov had ordered all Communist deputies to hold at least 300 meetings with constituents in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). JAC

INITIAL ELEMENTS OF RAILWAY REFORM SIGNED INTO LAW
President Putin on 14 January signed the law on railroad transportation and amendments to the law on natural monopolies, RBK and Interfax reported. Both bills are part of the government's program to reform the railways sector. Also, on 14 January, Putin ordered the government to take up work on the other bills related to the railways reform, including a bill on the particularities of administering railways property that was rejected earlier by the Federation Council, Interfax reported. JAC

LUZHKOV SOUNDS THE ALARM
At a 14 January Moscow city government session devoted to discussing the city's anticrime program in 2003-05, Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said there have been serious attempts to destroy vertical power in Moscow, RBK reported. The mayor did not specify precisely who was behind these efforts, but he added that "if these attempts are either fully or partly realized, we will not achieve any kind of results in the struggle against crime." According to Luzhkov, only strong local authority can solve the problem of security in the capital. In 2003, the city plans to spend 835 million rubles ($26 million) on terrorism prevention and security. An additional 5.31 billion rubles will be allocated for the city's law enforcement agencies and another 449 million rubles for improving the "material and technical base" of the city police. JAC

EURASIA PARTY HEAD DECLARES AMBITIOUS ELECTION GOALS
The Eurasia Party and the Union of Patriots of Russia (EP-SPR) plan to head a broad leftist coalition in this year's Duma elections, the chairman of the presidium of the party's political council, Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, told RosBalt on 14 January. According to Niyazov, the EP-SPR has 102,000 members and will receive the support of 12-14 percent of the electorate. At one of the party's first meetings in 2001, Niyazov said the party seeks to promote the Eurasian ideology, which "must become the basis for integration processes and for the creation of a new union in place of the former USSR" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2001). Niyazov, a State Duma deputy, was expelled from the Unity faction in March 2001 after angering the party's leadership by expressing support for radical opposition groups in Turkey and making unauthorized statements on Unity's behalf. JAC

FOREIGN INVESTORS' PARADISE NOW CONSIDERED BANKRUPT?
The city of Novgorod is essentially bankrupt, with debts amounted to 67 percent of its revenues, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 January. If the local-government reform currently pending in the Duma were already enacted, then external administration over the city's finances would have to be introduced. Although the oblast has long enjoyed a favorable reputation among investors, foreign investment in the region overall fell by 41 percent last year compared with 2001. According to the daily, the poor state of the city's finances was revealed during last month's mayoral race by one of the candidates, Vladimir Kondratev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). The daily suggested that Kondratev, backed by several major local entrepreneurs, participated in the mayoral race as a kind of warm-up for the oblast's gubernatorial election in September. JAC

ENVOY MULLS ROLE OF COSSACKS IN SOUTHERN POLITICAL EQUATION
Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev is conducting meetings with the heads of various Cossack regiments to discuss the possible role of the Cossacks in stabilizing the sociopolitical situation in the south, regions.ru reported on 14 January. Kazantsev is meeting with the atamans from the Don, Kuban, and Tersk Cossack troops. Earlier this week, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported that in the Leningrad Raion of Krasnodar Krai Cossacks are protesting the arrest of their ataman by the local police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). JAC

CHECHEN LEADERS' QUARREL INTENSIFIES
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 14 January rejected as "a provocation" Prime Minister Mikhail Babich's statement of the previous day that Kadyrov violated a presidential decree by dismissing Finance Minister Sergei Abramov without first consulting with Babich, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). But Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko on 14 January likewise stated that Kadyrov's dismissal of Abramov constituted a violation of established procedure, ITAR-TASS reported. Abramov, for his part, explained to Interfax that he submitted his resignation shortly after Babich's appointment as premier in November, but that Babich had not yet approved it. "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 January quoted Abramov as saying he has been offered a more prestigious post within the apparatus of the Southern Federal District. "Izvestiya" on 15 January reported that Kadyrov is currently in Moscow, where he has for days been seeking a meeting with President Putin, albeit without success. The paper speculates that the spat over Abramov is likely to cost either Kadyrov or Babich his job. LF

DEFENSE MINISTER CLAIMS CHECHEN FIGHTERS SEEKING TO OBTAIN TOXINS...
In yet another example of Russian officials' systematic demonization of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on 14 January that a manual on the production of toxic substances, including ricin, was found on the body of a Chechen fighter loyal to Maskhadov who was killed in Chechnya several days ago, Interfax reported. Ivanov said Russia has evidence that Chechen "terrorists" are trying to acquire toxic substances. Also on 14 January, senior Moscow security official Viktor Zakharov told Interfax that Interpol has informed his department that Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev has threatened to perpetrate a new terrorist attack in Moscow. Basaev belatedly claimed responsibility for the October hostage taking at a Moscow theater (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002). LF

...AS MINISTRY SAYS CHECHEN FIGHTERS DO NOT HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS...
Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Kotelnikov has written a letter to the State Duma in which he states that Chechen fighters do not have any nuclear-weapons capability, strana.ru reported on 14 January. Responding to an inquiry from Duma Security Committee Chairman Aleksandr Gurov, Kotelnikov said that there is no chance the Chechen commanders have sufficient weapons-grade fissile material and the high technology necessary to produce a standard nuclear bomb. However, it is possible that they could deploy a so-called dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse low-level radioactive contamination over a wide area, Kotelnikov said. Although the destructive power of such weapons is limited, they can provoke mass terror and panic, he said. VY

...AND EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA DEFENSELESS AGAINST NUCLEAR TERRORISM
Vladimir Slivnyak, co-chairman of the international environmental organization Ecological Defense, told strana.ru that existing security systems do not protect Russia against nuclear terrorism. According to Ecological Defense experts, the two most likely threats of nuclear terrorism are an attack on a nuclear-power plant and the use of a "dirty," or radioactively contaminated, bomb. Slivnyak said that to attack a nuclear-power station it is not necessary to penetrate the plant itself but merely to cut off its power-supply system. Nuclear-power plants receive electricity externally through supply systems that, as a rule, are in very poor condition. Slivnyak mentioned that a 1993 windstorm knocked out power to the Kolskaya Nuclear Power Station, very nearly causing a major catastrophe. He added that it would be relatively easy to destroy the control centers of several old Soviet-era reactors. As for dirty weapons, Slivnyak said that radioactive materials such as cesium-137 and spent nuclear fuel are practically unguarded. VY

LAWYER CLAIMS ARMENIAN TV HEAD'S KILLING LINKED TO PARLIAMENT KILLINGS
Russian lawyer Oleg Yunoshev, who represents the family of former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, told a press conference in Yerevan on 14 January that Armenian Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian might have known who masterminded the October 1999 parliament shootings, in which Sargsian and seven other senior officials were killed, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yunoshev pointed out that shortly before Naghdalian's 28 December killing, he had claimed that the video footage of the five gunmen bursting into the parliament chamber was edited before being handed over to investigators and that a crucial 11-minute segment was cut. On 13 January, Armenia's chief military prosecutor, Gagik Djahangirian, who headed the investigation into the parliament shootings, said experts are examining the video footage to establish whether anyone tampered with the tape. LF

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER CLAIMS ARMENIA POSES THREAT TO OIL-EXPORT PIPELINE
Meeting in Baku on 14 January with British Ambassador Andrew Tucker, Colonel General Safar Abiev alleged that the buildup of military hardware in Armenia poses a threat to the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL ADMITS TERRORISTS UNDERWENT TRAINING IN PANKISI
Georgian National Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 14 January that a training camp for Chechen fighters and Arab mercenaries existed in the Pankisi Gorge until February 2002, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Laliashvili said that terrorists at the camp studied the manufacture of explosives and poisons, including ricin. But he said no link has been established between the terrorists who spent time in Pankisi and the people arrested last week in London on suspicion of manufacturing ricin. Britain's "Sunday Times" on 12 January posited such a link (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2002). Laliashvili also said that persons with connections to Al-Qaeda controlled the channeling of funds to the terrorists then based in Pankisi. He said there are no longer any terrorists in the gorge. LF

FORMER SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT'S SON BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE IN DETENTION
Aleksei Chibirov, who was arrested in Tskhinvali on 9 January on suspicion of preparing a coup d'etat and remanded for two months' pretrial detention, has begun a hunger strike, Caucasus Press reported on 14 January. Chibirov was involved in an abortive attempt in November 2001 to reverse the outcome of the presidential election, in which his father, Lyudvig, was defeated (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 November 2001). LF

DEFENDER DETAILS PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS IN KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S TRIAL
In a 14 January statement addressed to the Almaty raion court hearing the case of journalist Sergei Duvanov, Duvanov's public defender Yevgenii Zhovtis detailed police interference with the investigation into Duvanov's case and police intimidation of witnesses. Duvanov faces charges, which are widely believed to be politically motivated, of raping an underage girl. Zhovtis called on the court to declare the case annulled and to inform the prosecutor-general of evidence pointing to criminal obstruction of justice. Zhovtis's statement was carried by the website forumkz.org. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER ACCUSED OF TAX EVASION
Amirzhan Qosanov, chairman of the executive committee of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, has been formally charged with tax evasion, AFP reported on 14 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2003). The charges carry a possible six-month prison term. In a move apparently intended to thwart his planned lecture tour to the United States and Europe, Qosanov has been ordered not to leave Kazakhstan. LF

MORE CRITICISM OF PLANNED KYRGYZ REFERENDUM VOICED
Jailed former Kyrgyz Vice President Feliks Kulov on 14 January criticized the Kyrgyz leadership's plans to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov termed the referendum a "political gamble" that, he predicted, will strengthen President Askar Akaev's powers and eliminate his political enemies. Kulov is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges of abuse of his official position and embezzlement. Also on 14 January, politicians, writers, and human rights activists convened a roundtable to air their objections to the proposed amendments. Human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov appealed to the government to postpone the referendum, which is scheduled for 2 February. LF

KYRGYZ, TAJIK OFFICIALS AGREE TO REMOVE DISPUTED BORDER POSTS
Kyrgyz and Tajik government officials agreed during talks on 13-14 January in the Tajik town of Isfara to remove an additional two Tajik and three Kyrgyz border posts on the borders of Tajikistan's Vorukh exclave in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Several border and customs posts were removed on 5 January following clashes between Kyrgyz and Tajiks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). LF

RUSSIA SEEKS CLARIFICATION OF TURKMEN POSITION ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP
Following President Saparmurat Niyazov's statement on Turkmen state television on 13 January that Ashgabat might suspend its 1993 agreement with Russia on dual citizenship, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told journalists in Moscow on 14 January that Russia has not been officially informed of any changes and awaits clarification of Turkmenistan's position, Russian news agencies reported. ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed Russian diplomats as saying later the same day that their Turkmen counterparts have informed them the agreement remains in force. LF

TURKMENISTAN DENIES CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST RUSSIAN JOURNALIST
Interfax on 14 January quoted an unidentified Turkmen official as denying earlier reports that criminal charges have been brought against "Vremya novostei" correspondent Arkadii Dubnov on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plan to assassinate President Niyazov and seize power. Meanwhile, former Deputy Agriculture Minister Sapar Yklymov, who was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for his alleged role in the putative conspiracy, told Reuters on 14 January that the Turkmen authorities have evicted 27 of his close relatives from their homes, including his 75-year-old mother. Yklymov lives in exile in Sweden. LF

MILITARY EQUIPMENT REPORTEDLY INTERCEPTED EN ROUTE FROM BELARUS TO IRAQ
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Lebanese security officials told AP on 14 January that authorities at Beirut International Airport have confiscated 12 tons of military equipment -- including helmets, uniforms, and communications gear -- aboard a flight from Minsk on 12 January that was destined for Iraq via Syria. An Iraqi diplomat in Beirut told AP that Iraq has no link whatsoever with the equipment or the importers. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry also denied Belarus was involved. "The Foreign Ministry of Belarus rules out the possibility of delivery of dual-use items to Iraq. Belarus strictly follows accepted international norms in dual-use items," the agency quoted ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh as saying. Savinykh added, however, that it is possible the shipment was sent through Minsk from a third country. In all, Lebanese customs officers seized 600 helmets and 240 wireless-communications sets designed for use by tank crews. Two Lebanese men listed as the importers were detained for questioning by military authorities and fined 240 million Lebanese pounds ($160,000) for making a false declaration. The names of the companies involved were not immediately available. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES BAN TV CAMPAIGNING AHEAD OF LOCAL VOTES
The Central Election Commission has decided to give five minutes of airtime on regional and local radio to each candidate running for a seat on local soviets in the 2 March elections, Belapan reported on 14 January. Candidates will have no chance to appear on television, although they reportedly will have equal rights for campaigning through the local press. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ENACTS LEGISLATION ON MARTIAL LAW
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 January signed a bill allowing the president to declare martial law with the approval of the country's upper house, Belapan reported on 14 January. The Council of the Republic would have to approve the move within three days after a presidential declaration. Possible justifications for imposing martial law include a declaration of war on Belarus, concentration of another country's armed forces near the border, emergence of armed conflicts targeting Belarus, army mobilization in another state to attack Belarus, or terrorist activities threatening the nation's sovereignty. JM

CIS SUMMIT SLATED FOR UKRAINE IN LATE JANUARY
CIS heads of state will meet at a government residence in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast in western Ukraine on 28-29 January, UNIAN reported on 14 January, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Serhiy Borodenkov. Borodenkov said the summit will focus on economic issues. "There will be virtually no politics at this summit -- [only] issues of interests for the entire CIS will be considered," Borodenkov added. Borodenkov said, in line with a ruling of the CIS Economic Court in 1994, Ukraine is a CIS founder and "participant" but not a member, since Kyiv has neither signed nor ratified the CIS Charter. JM

UKRAINE POSTS ECONOMIC GROWTH OF 4.1 PERCENT
Ukraine's gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 4.1 percent in 2002, UNIAN reported on 15 January, quoting First Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov. Azarov added that industrial production grew by 7 percent last year, while inflation was "virtually nil." JM

ESTONIA EXTENDS MINE-CLEARING MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN
The government decided on 14 January to extend the mission of a team of mine-clearing experts in Afghanistan by another three months or until 8 May, BNS reported. No parliamentary approval is required. The extension was requested by the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn. The five bomb experts and three canines are tasked with enhancing security of airfields used by U.S. armed forces. SG

ESTONIAN PARTIES AGREE: NO CHANGES IN CITIZENSHIP AND LANGUAGE POLICIES
Representatives of Estonia's eight largest parties agreed at a roundtable meeting on 14 January that the country's citizenship and language policies will not be relaxed after general elections in March, no matter who comes to power, ETA reported. The decision was an indirect response to a bill proposed by the Estonian United Russian People's Party to change citizenship laws by exempting from the language and constitution tests pensioners who have shown their loyalty to Estonia by not seeking Russian citizenship, BNS reported. Education Minister Mailis Rand suggested the Estonian-language exam might be made easier, noting that a report by a Council of Europe committee to combat racism and intolerance considered those tests too difficult. SG

LATVIAN LEADERS DIFFER OVER REORGANIZATION OF SECURITY SERVICES
After her weekly meeting with Prime Minister Einars Repse on 14 January, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was not ready to divulge to reporters the specifics of an apparent dispute over how the country's security services should be organized, BNS reported. She stressed, however, that Latvia's security services "must be politically independent." Vike-Freiberga said she opposes placing the security services under the supervision of the prime minister, as Repse has suggested, stressing, "These institutions absolutely must be politically independent." She said the government should have the right to exert control over the secret services because it sets out priorities and goals of the country, but added that more serious discussion is needed before any final decisions. Vike-Freiberga also rejected a proposal by Repse to make the Constitution Protection Office (CPO) responsible only for NATO-related information-security issues. That approach "would not be the most advantageous," she said, since NATO has already recognized the CPO as the country's national-security agency. SG

THREE LITHUANIAN PARTIES SIGN MERGER AGREEMENT
The leaders of the center-right Liberal Union, the Center Union, and the Modern Christian Democratic Party signed an agreement in Vilnius on 14 January to merge their parties, ELTA reported. The agreement calls for those parties to cooperate on local councils, form a single faction in parliament, and participate together in elections to the parliament and the European Parliament in 2004. The founding congress of the new party is scheduled to take place on 31 May. Prior to the signing, the parties held meetings at which the merger was presented and approved by substantial majorities, according to "Lietuvos zinios" of 15 January. The vote in Kestutis Glaveckas's Center Union was 46 to two with seven abstentions, while Eugenijus Gentvilas's Liberal Union supported it by a vote of 75 to two with three abstentions. SG

LITHUANIAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY SELECTS ACTING CHAIRMAN
The board of the Liberal Democratic Party appointed Deputy Chairman Valentinas Mazuronis as the party's acting chairman on 14 January to replace Rolandas Paksas, who had to give up his membership after winning early January's presidential elections, "Kauno diena" reported on 15 January. The 50-year-old Mazuronis is an architect and a member of the Siauliai City Council. Party First Deputy Chairman Henrikas Zukauskas was also proposed as a candidate, but the board followed Paksas's suggestion and chose Mazuronis so that parliamentary deputy Zukauskas can remain as a link between party members and Liberal Democratic deputies in parliament. Mazuronis reportedly stands a good chance of being elected party chairman at the upcoming congress on 9 March. SG

U.S. PRESIDENT SAYS POLAND AMONG BEST EUROPEAN FRIENDS
"I've got no better friend in Europe today than Poland," Reuters quoted U.S. President George W. Bush as saying at the White House on 14 January, with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski at his side. "One of the reasons why is because this man has made a commitment to work together, as equal partners, in the war on terror, on the desire to find freedom for people who live in misery," Bush added. Bush and Kwasniewski discussed the situation in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and Poland's recent selection of Lockheed Martin to supply 48 new fighter jets. "Poles are a loyal ally. If, after all the discussions and actions and the exploitation of various possibilities, it comes to stand up to fight, then we will do this," Kwasniewski was quoted by Polish Television as saying in response to a question about Polish support for a possible military operation against Iraq, even if it were unilateral action by the United States. The same day, Kwasniewski also held talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT STARTS INQUIRY INTO 'RYWINGATE'
Deputy Sejm Speaker Tomasz Nalecz (Labor Union) was elected head of a special parliamentary commission set up to investigate corruption charges against film producer Lew Rywin, who reportedly solicited a bribe of $17.5 million from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza." Reports have suggested Rywin was claiming to be acting on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller's Democratic Left Alliance (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January 2003). Nalecz said he expects to hold the commission's first sitting on 25 or 27 January. The commission's meetings are to be open. JM

KLAUS, PITHART ADVANCE TO SECOND ROUND OF CZECH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Honorary Chairman and former Premier Vaclav Klaus and Senate President Petr Pithart advanced to the second round of Czech presidential elections in Prague on 15 January, CTK and Reuters reported, citing sources from the voting committee. Klaus received the most votes in the lower house, 92 in the 200-seat chamber, while Pithart received 35 of 81 votes in the Senate in the secret ballot. None of the four candidates -- Klaus, Pithart, former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures or former military prosecutor Miroslav Krizenecky -- garnered the absolute majority in both chambers that would have elected a president in the first round of voting. Klaus and Pithart were expected to face each other in a first runoff vote later in the day on 15 January. A qualified majority of both senators and of lower-house deputies present for voting is required for a candidate to be elected in the second round. If no candidate is elected in the second round, a third round in what is still considered to be the first scrutiny must take place within two weeks. In that round, a combined majority of those present for the vote from both houses is needed to win the presidency. MS

OUTGOING CZECH PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT AHEAD OF VOTE
Outgoing President Vaclav Havel told lawmakers before the first presidential vote on 15 January that he hopes they select his successor in the first scrutiny and that their choice be "a good head of state." Havel thanked deputies and senators, as well as their predecessors, for having twice elected him as president and said that in this position he attempted to do his best. "I think that some things [I did] were successful, other things were not. It is not up to me to evaluate my role," he said, adding that task falls on "the public, politicians, journalists, political scientists and historians." He said that as a normal citizen in the future, he can "never remain silent on the basic questions of our civic life." He added, "I do not want and I cannot leave public life entirely." Havel's term is due to expire on 2 February. MS

CZECH PREMIER DOWNPLAYS PARTY DISSENT OVER IRAQ
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists on 14 January that a strong majority of his Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies backs the government's response to a request by the United States for Czech participation in possible military operations against Iraq, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 January 2003). However, CSSD deputies group leader Milan Urban said he opposes imposing a binding position on CSSD deputies in the vote, which is be held in the chamber on 16 January. Urban added that legislators should be free to cast their ballot as their conscience dictates. Also on 14 January, the Senate Defense Committee recommended that the upper house's plenum approve this week's cabinet decision. In related news, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton said on 14 January that the Czech government understands that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a real danger and an obstacle to peace. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GERMANY
Visiting Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and his German counterpart Joschka Fischer said on 14 January that last year's tensions over declarations made by former Premier Milos Zeman regarding the Benes Decrees are a thing of the past, CTK reported. Fischer and Svoboda told journalists after their meeting that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- who in March 2002 "postponed" a planned visit to Prague following Zeman's characterization of Sudeten Germans as "a fifth column" -- will visit the Czech capital "in the nearest future." President Havel's last trip abroad as head of state will be to Berlin on 17 January. A report by dpa, however, stressed continuing differences between the two countries over the postwar decrees. According to Svoboda, "the question has been dealt with and was closed by the 1997 German-Czech declaration." Fischer, however, stressed it is important to "remember the past in order to [be able to] shape the future." MS

CZECH SENATE COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS LIFTING MEDIA MOGUL'S PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
The Senate Mandate and Immunity Committee on 14 December recommended that the plenum lift the parliamentary immunity of controversial television director and newly elected Senator Vladimir Zelezny, CTK and Reuters reported. Seven of the committee's 12 members voted in favor of the move. Five deputies from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) -- with which Zelezny has long enjoyed cozy relations -- and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia opposed the recommendation. Zelezny, who is director of the commercial TV Nova, has been charged with tax evasion and defrauding creditors, and is locked in litigation with foreign investors over control of the broadcaster. He gained parliamentary immunity after his election as an independent in late October (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 October 2002). The plenum is expected to vote on the recommendation next week. MS

SLOVAK PETITION DRIVE LAUNCHED FOR NATO REFERENDUM
The Slovak Governance Institute on 14 January officially launched a drive in Bratislava and other Slovak cities for a referendum on whether the country should join NATO, TASR and CTK reported. The initiative is aimed at collecting 350,000 signatures. Eduard Chmelar heads the institute, which is an independent nongovernmental organization. Slovak Premier and Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky is among the leading proponents of a referendum. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the same day that the initiative is harmful and out of line with Slovakia's national interests. President Rudolf Schuster said he does not support the drive but will call the plebiscite if supporters meet all the legal conditions. Schuster also said he respects those with differing opinions on the country's entry to NATO. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW STATE-TELEVISION DIRECTOR
Legislators on 14 January approved by an overwhelming vote of 125 in favor, nine against, and eight abstentions the selection of Richard Rybnicek as the new director general of Slovak Television, TASR reported. Rybnicek was selected last week for the position by the Slovak Television Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). MS

U.S. TO BEGIN TRAINING IRAQIS IN HUNGARY...
The Pentagon has informed Iraqi opposition members who have volunteered to serve with U.S. forces that they are to check in at marshaling centers in the coming days, AP reported on 15 January. The trainees are to be screened at the marshaling centers before being flown to Taszar, Hungary, located 195 kilometers southeast of Budapest, where they will be trained to serve as support staff, the news agency reported, citing three unidentified sources. "Up to 3,000 Iraqis are expected to be trained eventually to serve in such jobs as translators, guides, military police, and liaisons between coalition combat forces and the Iraqi population," according to AP. Hungary's Radio Kossuth reported on 13 January that Iraqis will begin training sometime after 26 January. KR

...AS IRAQIS CONTINUE TO ARRIVE AT BORDERS
Eight Iraqis have recently been found along the Serbian-Hungarian border in recent days. Hungarian border police on 11 January picked up seven Iraqis traveling with Afghan and Iranian refugees near Tompa, Budapest's Duna TV reported on 12 January. The Iraqi men told border police they fled Iraq two weeks earlier in an effort to "save their lives" after being called up to report for military duty, according to the television station. The men apparently paid a Kurdish smuggler $1,000 to get to Istanbul, where another smuggler took them to Hungary for $2,500. On 13 January, an Iraqi Army officer was arrested when he attempted to illegally cross the Serbian-Hungarian border near Tompa, BETA news agency reported on 14 January. A spokesman for the Hungarian border police confirmed the man's identity, but an official from the Prime Minister's Office declined to comment on the man's arrest. The officer reportedly told border police he had fled Iraq, BETA reported. KR

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ LEANS TOWARD CHRISTIAN-DEMOCRATIC MODEL FOR THE MASSES
Following a two-day party conference in Budapest, the leadership of the opposition FIDESZ party announced on 14 January that it intends to transform the right-wing grouping into a political organization encompassing the whole country, akin to the German Christian Democratic Union, Hungarian media reported. Although party leaders have not decided on a new name, former Prime Minister Viktor Orban said FIDESZ should "become the decisive focus of right-of-center civic cohesion" by December. He said talks will have to be held with the Christian Democrats, the various Smallholder forces, and the Democratic Forum, adding that a "Hungarian Christian Democratic Union" should run in 2004 European Parliament elections. Orban said he sees no sense in changing the name of FIDESZ at this point, but added that such a decision will have to be made "in the not-too-distant future." Orban said he will decide in late January or early February whether to accept a request from the leadership to become chairman of the new party. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER SAYS CONVERSION TO EURO IN THE OFFING
"Hungary is moving full-speed toward not only European Union membership but also membership in the European currency union," Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo told the dpa news agency on 14 January. Laszlo said that even if there were only a gradual recovery of the European economy, joining the European currency system would be "no problem" for Hungary. The country's economic program is aimed not only at EU membership but also at fulfilling the currency-convergence criteria in 2004, Laszlo said. Membership in the currency union is not automatic for the 10 countries slated to join the EU in 2004. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FIRMS WIN MAJOR DOMESTIC MILITARY TENDERS
Three Hungarian companies -- Hungarian Iveco, Ikarus Trade, and Raba -- have won tenders to replace up to 65 percent of the vehicles in Hungary's army over the next 15 years, the Defense Ministry announced on 14 January. The three suppliers are to deliver a combined 10,000 vehicles worth an estimated $1 billion to the army, AFP and local media reported. Iveco is to supply four-wheel-drive vehicles, Ikarus is to provide buses, and Raba off-road vehicles, replacing Russian-made KamAZ and UAZ trucks and off-road vehicles, some of which are 30 years old. MSZ

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CROATIA COULD JOIN EU IN 2007...
Continuing his whirlwind visit to the western Balkans, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told his Croatian hosts in Zagreb on 14 January that they might be able to realize their hopes of joining the EU in 2007, even though Brussels has not given them a timetable, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). He added, "It is difficult to play the game of dates. It is very much up to countries themselves, but I would not exclude that Croatia can catch up" with Romania and Bulgaria. Papandreou told his hosts, "Your success story can become a success story for every other country." He noted, however, that Croatia must make progress in resolving certain issues stemming from the 1991-95 war of independence: "The importance of the return of refugees is paramount, as is cooperation with the Hague [-based war crimes] tribunal. I am glad that...Prime Minister [Ivica Racan] is willing to move forward on these issues." PM

...URGES SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO SET UP THEIR JOINT STATE...
Papandreou left Zagreb for Belgrade on 14 January, where he met top Yugoslav, Serbian, and Montenegrin officials, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In talks with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, Papandreou stressed that Serbia and Montenegro should do everything possible to set up the legal framework for their joint state quickly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). Djukanovic said the two republics will work to promote democratization, reforms, and integration into European institutions. He added that he will not make pursuit of independence his "absolute priority." Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus told a press conference that the EU previously promised Serbia and Montenegro that difficulties stemming from setting up the new state will not affect Belgrade's desire to begin stabilization and association talks with the EU, Reuters reported. Labus added, however, that in reality those difficulties have led to a delay of one year in starting the talks. PM

...AND GOES ON TO BOSNIA
Papandreou arrived in Sarajevo late on 14 January, as did Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The two men formally launched the EU's police mission in Bosnia on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 10 January 2003). PM

MACEDONIAN HELICOPTERS TRAIN FOR POSSIBLE WAR IN IRAQ
Macedonian helicopter crews have begun training for the possible participation of two Mi8 helicopters in a conflict in Iraq, dpa reported from Skopje on 14 January, citing the daily "Dnevnik." The report added that Macedonia feels it has an obligation to support its allies because it is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. PM

U.S. REPORTEDLY SEEKING CLEAR END TO NATO MISSION IN MACEDONIA
Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 15 January that the United States does not want the EU to take over the Western, armed mission in Macedonia from NATO until all legal steps have been taken to formally end NATO's Allied Harmony mission and set up a completely new EU project in agreement with the Atlantic alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 October, 15 and 28 November, and 12 and 16 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February, 8 March, 3 May, 16 August, and 15 November 2002). The United States wants a formal invitation by Macedonia to the EU to start a new mission and an agreement on a clear chain of command for the new endeavor. The Munich daily quoted unnamed EU diplomats as saying that Washington wants to be sure it is not involved in the new project. The United States also seeks to demonstrate that at least one NATO mission in the Balkans can be wound up. The EU hoped to take over from Allied Harmony in March, but meeting Washington's demands would mean postponing the new mission until June. PM

MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PROMOTES ECONOMIC TIES IN MOSCOW
As part of her three-day official visit to Moscow, Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva met with her Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov on 14 January, MIA news agency reported. Talks focused on the economic cooperation. Ivanov proposed that Macedonian construction companies participate in tenders for housing projects throughout Russia. Ivanov also expressed Russian interest in the development of gas and oil pipelines and in the modernization of power plants in Macedonia. During their meeting, the ministers signed a consular agreement easing the visa regime between the two countries. They announced that they will sign a free-trade agreement soon. Mitreva thanked Ivanov for Russia's support during the armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the security forces in 2001. Mitreva's visit was the first by a Macedonian foreign minister to Russia in more than a decade. UB

BOSNIA TO TRY WAR CRIMINALS AT HOME
Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, said in Sarajevo on 14 January that the Bosnian judiciary should set up a war crimes chamber to try its own cases at home, dpa reported. She noted that the chamber "must fit into Bosnian legal culture -- substantive and procedural law must be in accordance with the country's existing law and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.... We must not establish yet another costly international institution, but rather create a structure that will be able to function on its own." For his part, High Representative Paddy Ashdown said: "Giving Bosnia-Herzegovina a proper domestic capacity to try its own war criminals is one of the key steps to building a self-sustaining, stable state." In related news, the Sarajevo Canton Court filed charges against Samir Bejtic, a Muslim from Sarajevo, for war crimes against Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict. PM

MORE STRIKES IN CROATIA
Elementary-school teachers ended their strike for higher pay on 14 January after only a day on the picket lines, dpa reported from Zagreb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). The unions had expected to strike for five days but changed their plans due to what union leader Dalimir Kuba called government pressure and unspecified threats to teachers. On 15 January, however, 10,000 high-school teachers and 7,000 doctors went on strike for higher wages. The teachers want a 14 percent increase for salaries averaging just over $500 per month, while the doctors are seeking a 15 percent hike for salaries averaging just over $900 per month. The government called the strikes unjustified, adding that strikers will not be paid for time spent away from work. PM

ALBANIAN MUSLIM LEADER SLAIN
Unidentified members of his religious community killed Salih Tivari, who was general secretary of Albania's Muslim Community, in Tirana on 13 January, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported the next day. Tivari, like most Albanian Muslims, was liberal in his approach to religion and thus might have been killed by extremists opposed to some of his policies, such as relaxing the obligation to pray five times each day, Deutsche Welle reported. Tivari was a firm opponent of terrorism. The motive for the slaying might involve rivalries stemming from his work administering welfare money and scholarships, the broadcaster added. Police are investigating various theories, including the possibility that his differences with a welfare organization in Durres are of relevance to the slaying. PM

ROMANIA PURCHASES TWO BRITISH NAVY FRIGATES
British Defence Procurement Minister Lord William Bach and Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu signed an agreement in Bucharest on 14 January for the sale of two British Type 22 frigates to Romania, Mediafax and dpa reported. The agreement includes the modernization of the "HMS Coventry" and the "HMS London," and alterations to meet the requirements of the Romanian fleet. The first frigate is to be delivered in December 2004 and the second in June 2005. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CLARIFIES PROPOSED ELECTORAL-SYSTEM AMENDMENT
Chamber of Deputies speaker Valer Dorneanu on 14 January said reports that his Social Democratic Party (PSD) intends to amend the constitution, replacing the current system of proportional representation in the Senate with one of multiple-constituency representation, are misleading, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2002). Dorneanu said the intention is to introduce single-constituency representation, so that every constituency will elect just one senator. He also said the change is to be introduced by amending the Election Law rather than the constitution. MS

ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTER DISCUSSES PROPOSED PENAL CODE BILL WITH JOURNALISTS
Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu told journalists on 14 January that the proposed bill on amending the Penal Code is by no means aimed at curtailing the freedom of the press or introducing harsher punishments for journalists, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. She said she is very satisfied that the bill is being debated with representatives of the media, as has never been done before. Stanoiu said many critical pronouncements regarding the bill stem from misunderstandings, but acknowledged that the formulations used in some of the bill's articles are ambiguous, leaving room for several possible interpretations. These articles, Stanoiu said, should be reformulated. She said an additional meeting with journalists will take place in March, after the government approves the new version of articles that require reformulation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). MS

BULGARIAN SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS CHALLENGES BUDGET
Supreme Court of Appeals head Ivan Grigorov told a press conference on 14 January that it has decided to challenge before the Constitutional Court the funding allocated to the appellate court in the 2003 state budget, BTA reported. Grigorov suggested that if the Constitutional Court rules that it cannot decide on this issue on the grounds that it cannot rule on individual portions of the budget, it should rule the entire budget unconstitutional. According to the state budget, the Supreme Court of Appeals is slated to receive just $3.8 million of the $10.3 million it requested. This would impede the normal functioning of the court, Grigorov told Darik Radio on 15 January. In December, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal launched by the Supreme Judicial Council against the 2003 budget. The council argued that the Finance Ministry unconstitutionally interfered with the council's budgetary rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 21, and 22 November and 5 and 20 December 2002). UB

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS EXPECT DIRTY CAMPAIGN IN UPCOMING LOCAL ELECTIONS
Socialist Party Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov announced on 13 January that his party will wash dirty linen in public during the upcoming local elections in Sofia, "Sega" reported. "The pre-election campaign will be dirty, because this is what the state of affairs is under [incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan] Sofiyanski," Ovcharov said. He added that the BSP will seek a broad coalition including leftists and members of conservative parties to replace Sofiyanski. Ovcharov made clear that the BSP's long-term goal is a change of government. "It will be hard to govern Bulgaria without governing Sofia," he said. The BSP has not yet nominated a challenger to Sofiyanski. UB

There is no End Note today.


KABUL WILL NOT FORCIBLY DISARM WARLORDS
A Defense Ministry spokesman said at a news conference on 13 January that the Afghan Transitional Administration does not plan to use force to disarm various commanders who have their own private militaries, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 14 January from Mashhad. "It is not possible to disarm by force those mujahedin who have fought for 20 years to liberate the country," the spokesman said. The news conference was held after Defense Ministry officials met with powerful commanders -- including Herat Province Governor General Ismail Khan, Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, and Nangarhar Province Governor Hajji Din Mohammad -- who pledged to cooperate with the government's disarmament program. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful commander who serves as deputy defense minister and as the presidential representative in northern Afghanistan, did not attend the meeting but the Defense Ministry spokesman said Dostum has also agreed to cooperate with the disarmament efforts. AT

AFGHAN GENERAL DOSTUM ESCAPES APPARENT ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Security forces prevented a possible attempt on General Dostum's life as he emerged from his residence in the northern Afghan city of Sheberghan on the night of 14 January, the general's press secretary Faizullah Zaki told RFE/RL on 15 January. Zaki said the alleged would-be assassin was discovered during security checks being conducted along Dostum's path, RFE/RL reported. The suspect is a foreigner, according to Zaki. AT

DISABLED AFGHANS STAGE ANOTHER PROTEST
A number of disabled Afghans gathered in front of the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Kabul on 14 January to demand that government authorities provide them with more financial support and pay more attention to their plight, Hindukosh news agency reported. The protesters complained that officials from the ministry siphon off aid earmarked for the disabled. A separate group of 70 disabled Afghans attempted to block the flow of traffic in central Kabul but were prevented from doing so by security forces, the report added. On 9 December, a group of about 100 disabled Afghans marched on the Afghan presidential palace and demanded that Minister of Martyrs and the Disabled Abdullah Wardak resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). AT

KABUL WEEKLY CONCERNED ABOUT SECURITY SITUATION
The security situation in Afghanistan, and as of late in Kabul in particular, is getting worse from day to day, the Kabul weekly "Panjara" wrote in a commentary on 11 January. It seems that criminal gangs are becoming increasingly organized and are more daringly testing the resolve of the security system, the paper added. Pointing to the fact that no arrests have been made following the assassination of "important government officials" and to the lack of information regarding the perpetrators of recent bombings in Kabul, "Panjara" said such lapses only encourage "terrorist gangs" to operate more freely. The commentary added that after the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of the Transitional Administration, the people of Afghanistan were looking forward to living a secure life. However, it added, recent security breaches and the inability of the government authorities to address them have "deeply disappointed and saddened" Afghans. AT

AGA KHAN COMPANY TO PROVIDE MOBILE PHONES IN AFGHANISTAN
An agreement to expand GSM mobile-telephone services in Afghanistan has been signed between the Communications Ministry and an international consortium led by the Geneva-based Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 11 January. An AKDN representative said the company plans to provide mobile-telephone services to 50 percent of Kabul's area over the next six months. Services will be expanded to 80 percent of Kabul and limited services will be launched in cities such as Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sahrif, and Jalalabad in a year's time, according to AKDN. The $75 million project plans to provide coverage to all of Afghanistan in five years. The AKDN-led consortium was named the winning bidder over other service providers already operating in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Wireless Communications Company (AWCC), leading some to argue that AKDN received preferential treatment. AT

IRANIAN HUMAN RIGHTS STATUS CRITICIZED
Human Rights Watch's "World Report 2003," released on 14 January, noted that in Iran "assaults on freedom of expression and association remained serious problems and were especially acute" (http://www.hrw.org/wr2k3/mideast.html and http://www.hrw.org/wr2k3/mideast3.html). In addition, the report criticized the judicial system. "Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Courts and Special Court for the Clergy were grossly unfair, operating with complete disregard for due process safeguards, usually behind closed doors," it says. Attacks against the press are continuing, according to the report. The report attributed the lack of progress in human rights to the continuing struggle between elected reformers in the executive and legislative branches and conservative clerics who have authority through the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Council of Guardians, the judiciary, and the armed forces. BS

COURT SUMMONS RASHT JOURNALIST
Mohammad Kazem Shokuhi-Rad, the managing director of the "Gilan-i Imruz" newspaper, said on 13 January that the Gilan Province judiciary summoned him to face a complaint from Rasht Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Zeinolabidin Qorbani, IRNA reported on 14 January. "I filed a complaint against Mr. Shokuhi-Rad for baseless accusations made against certain individuals in his daily, as well as for spreading a false rumor in one of last week's issues of his paper," Qorbani told the news agency. Qorbani said that it is a Friday prayer leader's duty to bring the people's problems to officials' attention. He also alleged that "Gilan-i Imruz" "raised some other accusations against [him]." BS

BAIL SET FOR DETAINED IRANIAN POLLSTER
A Tehran court has set bail of 2 billion rials ($250,000) for National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls Director Behruz Geranpayeh, IRNA reported on 14 January. Attorney Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi said the bail is "hefty" and his client's family cannot afford it, but they will post the bail anyway. Geranpayeh's detention and trial relate to a poll conducted by his institute that found the majority of Tehran residents favor resumption of dialog and relations with the United States. BS

IRANIANS TO GET NEW ID CARDS
Organization for the Registration of Personal Status head Mohammad Reza Ayatollahi announced on 14 January that all Iranians must have new identification cards as of September-October 2003, IRNA reported. Thirty-six million citizens already have the new cards, and Ayatollahi said the new system is intended to update census data and end the abuse of the old identification cards. These cards are required to vote, receive subsidies, and purchase food, and individuals must have their cards with them at all times. BS

HEALTH-AWARENESS PLAN UNDER WAY IN IRAN
Deputy Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ahmad Reza Jodati referred to a new health plan and said that its objective is raise public awareness of health issues, the "Entekhab" daily reported on 15 January. Approximately 250,000 Basijis and Tabriz Medical Sciences University students will be part of the plan in East Azerbaijan Province, he said. Jodati also said just 25 percent of his ministry's budget is dedicated to public health and the remaining 75 percent is not under the ministry's control. Hassan Aminlu, the director general of the Health Affairs Department at the State Management and Planning Organization, said on 14 January that funding for the health sector will be increased by 12 percent in next year's budget, IRNA reported. Aminlu said the budget dedicates to the health sector more than 12.96 trillion rials (approximately $1.62 billion), or 8 percent of the overall budget. BS

TEHRAN MUNICIPAL COUNCIL DISSOLVED...
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi on 14 January announced the dissolution of the Tehran Municipal Council because it has not fulfilled its legal obligations, such as holding regular meetings and dealing with the capital city's administrative affairs, IRNA reported. The elected council and the mayor, who is appointed by the Interior Ministry, have had frequent run-ins over budget-related matters, a situation that led to former Mayor Morteza Aliviri's resignation in February 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 March 2002). The council intended to interpellate current Mayor Mohammad Hassan Malek-Madani, the "Iran Daily" reported on 8 January. BS

...POSSIBLY BECAUSE OF PARTY POLITICS
A statement signed by several political groups, including the Solidarity Party and the Islamic Labor Party, denounced the council's dissolution. "This undemocratic and uncivil move has left a stain on [President Mohammad] Khatami's administration," the statement read, IRNA reported on 15 January. Indeed, the conflict between the mayor and the council in Tehran is partly related to party politics and disputes between the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) and the Executives of Construction Party (ECP). The English-language "Tehran Times" on 15 January cited the IIPP's Ruydad website (www.saadabadpalace.org/nfa/main/ruydad/) as reporting that council member Morteza Lotfi has accused former Tehran Municipal Council Chairman Mohammad Atrianfar of embezzlement. Atrianfar and Mayor Malek-Madani are identified with the IIPP, and according to the "Tehran Times" this means that the IIPP is trying to distance itself from the ECP. BS

SYRIAN PRESIDENT'S IRAN VISIT CANCELED...
An anonymous "official source at the Iranian presidency" on 15 January announced the cancellation of that day's visit to Iran by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television reported. Assad's visit would have focused on avoiding a conflict in Iraq, IRNA reported on 14 January. The Syrian president was to meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Khatami. Assad's visit to Iran would have come on the heels of similar visits by Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah and by Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2002). Al-Jazeera's Tehran correspondent Ghassan Bin-Jiddu reported later on 15 January that the trip was not canceled but postponed at the Syrians' request. BS

...BUT SOMETHING IS IN THE WORKS
A journalist asked at the U.S. State Department's 14 January press briefing if Washington and Tehran are "coordinating something on Iraq." State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher hinted that this might well be the case, saying, "Let me get back to you and see if there's anything I can say." "In terms of any contact we may or may not have had, I would have to double-check and see if there's been anything like that," he added. The Western press reported in November about Iran-U.S. talks and an agreement on cooperation in the event of a war in Iraq, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani has said he conveyed Washington's reassurances to Tehran during his 6-10 January visit to the Iranian capital (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 December 2002 and 13 January 2003). BS

UNMOVIC OFFICIALS HINT THAT UNDECLARED SITES IN IRAQ WILL BE CHECKED...
UN officials have been hinting in recent days that inspectors will soon make more use of Western intelligence on Iraq's placement of weapons of mass destruction and begin focusing on locations not included in Iraq's declaration to the UN Security Council. "I don't want to go into operational things, but certainly we have already visited sites which have not been visited before, and there will be more of them coming," the BBC quoted UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix as saying on 14 January. "We have widened our net, as it were," Blix said. "Whether the quality of work improves depends upon how good the intelligence turns out to have been." Meanwhile, the BBC reported on 14 January that Dimitris Perricos, the head of UNMOVIC inspections inside Iraq, told the Greek daily "Ta Nea" on 13 January that "it's true the Iraqis are opening doors, but they are opening installations they know we are aware of. The real test will be when we start going to facilities where they will be surprised." KR

...AS UNMOVIC CHIEF SAYS INSPECTORS HAVE PLAN
UNMOVIC head Blix told the BBC on 14 January that inspectors have a clear idea of how inspections should proceed in the coming months. "I certainly have a sense of what we want to inspect further, and how we are going to build up the operation and be able to cover more and more places...[and to] make use of any intelligence of sites that are given to us," Blix said. Inspectors are helped by the use of helicopters and satellites, but "whether one can find any hidden cave of stores or a mobile laboratory, for instance, that is more doubtful and that will depend very much upon the evidence," he said. "But I don't think they can give an assurance that the last pieces will be found." Blix concluded that inspectors will never be completely sure about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. "You will not get 100 percent assurance with the inspection, but you can get very far in terms of assurance," he said. "The question for the politicians is to decide [whether] that kind of assurance [is] sufficient for them." KR

U.S. TO BEGIN TRAINING IRAQIS IN HUNGARY...
The Pentagon has informed Iraqi opposition members who have volunteered to serve with U.S. forces that they are to check in at marshaling centers in the coming days, AP reported on 15 January. The trainees are to be screened at the marshaling centers before being flown to Taszar, Hungary, located 195 kilometers southeast of Budapest, where they will be trained to serve as support staff, the news agency reported, citing three unidentified sources. "Up to 3,000 Iraqis are expected to be trained eventually to serve in such jobs as translators, guides, military police, and liaisons between coalition combat forces and the Iraqi population," according to AP. Hungary's Radio Kossuth reported on 13 January that Iraqis will begin training sometime after 26 January. KR

...AS IRAQIS CONTINUE TO ARRIVE AT BORDERS
Eight Iraqis have recently been found along the Serbian-Hungarian border in recent days. Hungarian border police on 11 January picked up seven Iraqis traveling with Afghan and Iranian refugees near Tompa, Budapest's Duna TV reported on 12 January. The Iraqi men told border police they fled Iraq two weeks earlier in an effort to "save their lives" after being called up to report for military duty, according to the television station. The men apparently paid a Kurdish smuggler $1,000 to get to Istanbul, where another smuggler took them to Hungary for $2,500. On 13 January, an Iraqi Army officer was arrested when he attempted to illegally cross the Serbian-Hungarian border near Tompa, BETA news agency reported on 14 January. A spokesman for the Hungarian border police confirmed the man's identity, but an official from the Prime Minister's Office declined to comment on the man's arrest. The officer reportedly told border police he had fled Iraq, BETA reported. KR

IRAQ TV REPORTS ON 12TH VISIT TO AL-QAQA STATE COMPANY
Iraq Satellite TV reported on the 12th visit to the Al-Qaqa State Company on 14 January. Company representative Umar Ahmad al-Khaujah told the television station that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors "inquired about the substance that is under their monitoring, which is oxygen." "We have no substances associated with weapons of mass destruction," he added. KR

MACEDONIAN HELICOPTERS TRAIN FOR POSSIBLE WAR IN IRAQ
Macedonian helicopter crews have begun training for a possible mission involving two Mi8 helicopters for a conflict in Iraq, dpa reported from Skopje on 14 January, citing the daily "Dnevnik." The report added that Macedonia feels it has an obligation to support its allies because it is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. PM

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