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Newsline - January 16, 2003


DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NAVY NOT HEADED TO THE GULF...
Sergei Ivanov said during his 15 January visit to a Russian Space Force base in Moscow Oblast that Moscow will not send any ships to the Persian Gulf, despite recent media reports that it would (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003), RIA-Novosti, gazeta.ru, and other Russian news agencies reported. "We have no plans to send our navy or other units of the armed forces to the Persian Gulf," Ivanov said. "I am speaking on this officially." He added, however, that his agency has "very serious plans for improving combat readiness...and that includes sending ships to the Indian Ocean." Ivanov emphasized that this mission is not related to any possible military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. VY

...AND COMMENTS ON MISSILE DEFENSE
During the same press briefing in Sofrino, home of the space force's 9th Division, Defense Minister Ivanov announced that Russia plans to develop a new strategic aerospace-defense system, Russian news agencies reported on 15 January. He added that the country's economic situation dictates that the new system be based on existing technologies. Ivanov also said it is possible Moscow will cooperate with the United States in the development of its national missile defense (NMD), but that such cooperation will only be possible if the systems are not directed against one another and if a legal framework for such cooperation is created. He said U.S. NMD plans do not threaten Russia at present or in the foreseeable future, but that some elements of the proposed system "raise questions." VY

MOSCOW DISCUSSES IRAQ WITH IAEA...
Speaking to journalists following a meeting in Moscow on 15 January with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia supports proposals to extend the mission of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov said that although inspectors so far have uncovered no banned weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they have not come to any final conclusions. "Russia believes any unilateral military operation against Baghdad without UN authorization would only exacerbate the already complicated situation in the region and undermine international stability...and the global fight against international terrorism," Ivanov said. He added that he has sent Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov to Baghdad within the framework of regular bilateral contacts. Saltanov will solicit Iraqi opinions about the 27 January UN Security Council meeting, at which the weapons inspectors will make an initial report. Asked how Russia will vote if the United States calls for the authorization of military strikes against Iraq, Ivanov refused to answer, saying only that he does not anticipate any vote on that question. VY

...AND WITH IRAN...
First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzade met in Moscow on 15 January for discussions about Iraq, Afghanistan, and regional-security issues, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Following the talks, both sides called for a diplomatic solution to the Iraq situation and urged Baghdad to comply fully with UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Aminzade also met with Foreign Minister Ivanov, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov, and Deputy Foreign Minister Saltanov, Duma Security Council Chairman Aleksandr Gurov, and CIS Executive Committee Chairman Yurii Yarov, ITAR-TASS added. VY

...AND WITH SYRIA
Speaking to journalists in Moscow following talks with Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, Foreign Minister Ivanov said the two have coordinated their positions concerning Iraq and the situation in the Middle East, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov said a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East is only possible if progress is made simultaneously on the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, and Israeli-Lebanese tracks. Responding to a Syrian journalist's question about whether Russia suspended the sale of Igla antiaircraft missiles to Damascus because of U.S. pressure, Ivanov said, "Russia makes such decisions based on its own positions and interests." Khaddam also met with President Vladimir Putin and held economic talks with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Although both sides are eager to restore the vigorous economic ties of the Soviet era, there will not be any substantial progress until Syrian President Bashir Assad visits Moscow later this year, the BBC's Russian Service commented on 15 January. VY

MOSCOW DENIES REPORT ABOUT REACTORS FOR SYRIA
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 15 January denied Russian and Israeli media reports attributed to him that Moscow and Damascus have signed an accord under which Russia would build two nuclear reactors in Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003), gazeta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Yakovenko said no talks have been held on the matter. The source of the initial reports was the Foreign Ministry's website, but the statement was removed from the site prior to Vice President Khaddam's visit, the "Financial Times" reported on 16 January. VY

FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIRMAN WINS ANOTHER TERM...
St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly on 15 January confirmed Sergei Mironov as its representative to the Federation Council, Interfax reported. Because the legislature held new elections last December, it had to either reconfirm Mironov or select a new representative. Mironov garnered 43 out of a possible 50 votes. Deputies also selected Vadim Tyulpanov, cochairman of the assembly's Unified Russia faction, as the Legislative Assembly's new speaker. JAC

...AS ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR GETS MORE BAD NEWS
Speaking to his fellow legislators on 15 January, Tyulpanov said that even if amendments are introduced into the St. Petersburg City Charter, "this will not affect the current governor, Vladimir Yakovlev." Some sources had speculated earlier that legislators might alter the charter to allow Yakovlev to seek a third term (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 December 2002). JAC

MORE ELECTION PLANS UNVEILED
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 15 January that he will head the party list for the Party of Russia's Rebirth in the December State Duma elections. He will also seek a seat in a St. Petersburg single-mandate district. The Agrarian Party's press service on 14 January issued a statement saying the party will participate in the elections as an independent election association with the goal of creating its own faction in the next Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2002). The statement also condemned attempts to interfere in the party's "internal affairs" and expressed the hope that the Russian Agrarian Movement will support the Agrarian Party's election program. The movement, led by Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev, registered with the Justice Ministry in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2002). JAC

LOAN SHARKS BREATHE EASIER
State Duma deputies rejected on 15 January a bill that would have made usury a crime and imposed a punishment of up to one year in jail, RosBalt reported. The bill garnered only 142 votes of the 226 needed to pass. The government expressed its opposition to the bill, noting that it would conflict with the Civil Code, which allows parties to set interest rates by mutual consent. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" concluded on 15 January that the failure of the Duma Council to set a date for considering the package of bills reforming the electricity sector might indicate growing support for postponing consideration of the controversial bills until after the December Duma elections. JAC

ENVOY TO MOONLIGHT ON BOARD OF PRIVATE COMPANY
Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko on 15 January was elected chairman of the board of the directors of Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 January. Aviastar is an aircraft manufacturer, in which the Egyptian company Sirocco owns a 25 percent stake. According to the daily, Aviastar is also within the sphere of influence of oligarch Oleg Deripaska's Russian Aluminum. In October, Kirienko told TVS he would like to leave government for a job in the private sector in two or three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002). JAC

SOME HEAT RESTORED IN FROZEN REGIONS...
Heat has been restored to 23 residential buildings in the regions of Russia affected by outages, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 13, and 14 January 2003). In Karelia, one of the regions hardest hit by the recent cold spell, some 245 apartment buildings remain unheated and experts believe that heat will be restored no earlier than the middle of February. JAC

...AS PRICE TAG FOR HEAT-SYSTEM DISRUPTIONS GOES UP
Also on 15 January, the Leningrad Oblast administration appealed to the federal government for 25 million rubles ($786,000) from its reserve fund to cover expenses for repairs to the region's heating system, Interfax-AFI reported. Fifty million rubles has already been earmarked for Karelia and 30 million rubles for Sakhalin Oblast for this purpose. Prime Minister Kasyanov, Unified Energy Systems (EES) Chairman Anatolii Chubais and State Construction Committee Chairman Nikolai Koshman have been invited to tell the State Duma on 17 January why so many regions were unprepared for winter this year, newsru.com reported. JAC

SHAKE-UP IN PARTY OF POWER TO HAVE RIPPLE EFFECTS IN URALS?
Political analysts in Yekaterinburg are considering the consequences of a possible further diminution of the power of Unified Russia General Council head Aleksandr Bespalov at the party's 29 March congress, regions.ru reported on 15 January, citing "Novyi region" (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 January 2003). Analyst Konstantin Kiselev said that a redistribution of power among the leadership of Unified Russia would significantly damage the lobbying opportunities of the Sverdlovsk party organization, which is headed by Sergei Nosov. According to Kiselev, Nosov, who is the general director of the Nizhnii Tagil Metallurgical Complex (NTMK) and who is considered a possible challenger to Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel in elections later this year, enjoys warm relations with Bespalov. However, if Bespalov's influence in Unified Russia wanes, it could increase that of State Duma Deputy Valerii Yazev. Yazev is a member of the Unity faction and was elected from a single-mandate district in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Yazev is considered an ally of Rossel. JAC

SENIOR OFFICIALS CONDEMN REPORTED RUSSIAN ATTACK ON CHECHEN BUS
Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev and Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 15 January both condemned the reported attack by drunken Russian troops the previous day on a bus traveling between Grozny and Gudermes, Interfax reported. The driver was reportedly killed and four passengers injured in the shooting. Interfax quoted Chechen official Edi Isaev as telling Ekho Moskvy that the Russian servicemen responsible have been detained. But Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko and Gudermes administration head Akhmed Abastov told ITAR-TASS and Interfax, respectively, they are unable to confirm that any such shooting incident took place. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BARRED FROM PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The Central Election Commission (CEC) voted on 15 January by seven in favor with two abstentions not to register U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian as a candidate for the 19 February presidential election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The CEC based that decision on a court ruling upholding the validity of Interior Ministry documentation certifying that Hovannisian became a citizen of the Republic of Armenia in August 2001. Presidential candidates must have been Armenian citizens for a minimum of 10 years prior to the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 January 2003). The CEC registered 11 presidential candidates, Noyan Tapan reported. They are incumbent Robert Kocharian; Hanrapetutiun Party leader Aram Sargsian; People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian; National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian; National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian; Democratic Party of Armenia Chairman Aram Sarkisian; Communist Party of Armenia Chairman Vladimir Darpinian; Motherland and Honor Party Chairman Garnik Markarian; National Accord Party Chairman Aram Harutiunian; United Armenia Party Chairman Ruben Avagian; and Aram Karapetian, who heads the Perspektiva strategic research center. LF

ARMENIAN DELEGATION VISITS GERMANY
President Kocharian paid a two-day visit to Germany on 14-15 January at the head of a delegation that also included Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian, according to Armenian news agencies cited by Groong. Kocharian met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, federal parliament Chairman Wolfgang Thierse, and federal President Johannes Rau. The talks focused on expanding economic ties, including investment opportunities in Armenia, and security issues, including the Karabakh conflict and Armenian-Turkish relations. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MOVES TO CONFISCATE ILLEGALLY BUILT DACHAS...
Heidar Aliev has issued a decree in response to complaints from the population that villas built illegally on state-owned land on the Caspian Sea coast are obstructing public access to beaches, Turan reported on 15 January. Aliev has tasked several government ministries and local authorities with confiscating such homes built within 130 meters of the shore and with determining whether to pay compensation to the owners. LF

...RAISES TAX OFFICIALS' SALARIES
Aliev also signed a decree on 15 January doubling the salaries of officials employed by the central tax authorities in Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan and tripling the wages of local tax officials, Turan reported. The decree is retroactively effective as of 1 January. The move is presumably intended to reduce the need for junior tax officials to demand bribes in order to earn enough to feed themselves and their families. LF

IRAN, AZERBAIJAN REGISTER PROGRESS IN CASPIAN TALKS
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari met in Baku on 14 January with Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov, Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev, and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade to discuss the ongoing dispute between the five Caspian littoral states over the legal status of the Caspian Sea, Turan and Interfax reported. It was the eighth round of bilateral talks. Turan on 14 January reported that Safari might also meet with President Aliev; but zerkalo.az on 16 January quoted Quliev as saying such meetings generally only take place if agreed on beforehand, and on this occasion no such meeting was deemed necessary. Khalafov told journalists on 15 January the two sides' positions are drawing closer, according to ITAR-TASS. Iran wants the Caspian divided into five equal sectors, while Azerbaijan -- together with Russia and Kazakhstan -- advocates preserving the present division of the sea along the median line. Khalafov said the two sides favor convening early next month the planned Baku meeting of deputy foreign ministers of littoral states originally scheduled for last fall, but which was twice postponed. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CONDEMNS REGISTRATION OF POPULAR FRONT SPLINTER GROUP
At a 15 January emergency session, the nine opposition parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center condemned and called for the annulment of what they termed the "illegal" decisions by the Ministry of Justice to revoke the registration of the "reformist" wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) and to register as the successor to the AHCP a splinter group headed by Gudrat Gasankuliev, zerkalo.az reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). Participants issued a statement alleging that the decision was made on President Aliev's orders with the aim of sabotaging electoral reform. They said they will boycott further roundtable discussions of the new draft election law convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Baku office if Gasankuliev's group, which they suspect of collaborating with the authorities, is invited to participate in those discussions in the name of the AHCP. Meanwhile, Gasankuliev resigned on 15 January from the post of Central Election Commission secretary, to which he was elected in 2000 as an opposition representative, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL ENVISAGES NATO MEMBERSHIP IN 2006
In an interview published on 15 January in "Vremya novostei," National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze said he believes Georgia could enter NATO in 2006. He said Georgia's aspiration to join the North Atlantic alliance is dictated by the need to "enter any organization that can guarantee Georgia's security on the path that it has chosen." Djaparidze also told Interfax on 15 January that he believes unifying the Black Sea and Baltic security systems would be advantageous in that it would give NATO "a connection with its flank commands in the north and south through Georgia and the Eastern European countries that recently joined the alliance." LF

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR RESUMPTION OF RAIL TRAFFIC WITH ABKHAZIA
During talks in Moscow on 14-15 January, Russian Deputy Transport Minister Yurii Dyakonov told Georgian Transport and Communications Minister Merab Adeishvili that the Russian government was not responsible for the resumption last month of rail communication between the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi and Sukhum, capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). Dyakonov said a commercial company leased the rolling stock used on that route. Caucasus Press on 16 January quoted Adeishvili as saying his Russian colleagues refused to sign a protocol on the results of the Moscow talks and urged the Georgian side to take up the issue with the Russian Foreign Ministry. LF

U.S. CONGRESS SLAMS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CENTRAL ASIA
A 14 January joint resolution of the U.S. Congress registers concern at human rights violations -- including arbitrary arrests, restrictions on the media and religious freedom, and the use of torture -- by the governments of the five Central Asian states. It noted that such actions could fuel support for extremist movements and thus undermine the war on terrorism. The resolution calls on the governments of all five states to accelerate democratic reforms, fulfill human rights obligations, release from jail all those imprisoned for the nonviolent expression of political or religious beliefs, and permit the unrestricted functioning of independent political parties and media outlets. It calls on the U.S. administration to pressure the Turkmen government to release imprisoned former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov. It also calls on the U.S. administration to work with the government of Kazakhstan to "create a political climate free of intimidation and harassment" that would permit the return to Kazakhstan of political exiles, including former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION DEMANDS POSTPONEMENT OF REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTION...
At a press conference in Bishkek on 15 January, opposition parliament deputies Absamat Masaliev, Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, Adahan Madumarov, and Ismail Isakov -- all of whom are members of the Constitutional Council that last fall proposed amendments to the country's constitution -- enumerated perceived shortcomings in the new version of the constitution that is to be submitted to a national referendum on 2 February, akipress.org reported. They claimed the revised constitution violates the principle of the division of powers between the legislature and the executive, that it deprives citizens of the possibility of appealing to the Constitutional Court, and that it abolishes the election of deputies to parliament through party lists (Section IV, Article 54.2). They also claimed that it would permit President Askar Akaev to run for an additional term as president when his current terms expires in December 2005. At a meeting of political parties the same day, Masaliev characterized the ongoing process as "a constitutional coup d'etat, not constitutional reform," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Other participants called for a boycott of the referendum or its postponement until parliament adopts legislation on the conduct of referendums. LF

...AS PRESIDENT ARGUES MERITS OF NEW DRAFT
Also on 15 January, President Akaev met with residents of Bishkek and assured them the amended constitution was prepared in accordance with international standards and that it will reduce, rather than augment, presidential powers, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. If the constitution is adopted, Akaev continued, Kyrgyzstan could become "the classic model of a presidential-parliamentary republic." LF

TURKMEN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS CONFER
During a 15 January telephone conversation, Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted an offer by his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov to expel to Russia four Russian citizens implicated in the alleged 25 November assassination attempt against Niyazov, ITAR-TASS and turkmenistan.ru reported. Putin and Niyazov also agreed to meet at some point during the first six months of this year and that new agreements on security cooperation between the two countries should be drafted. Such an agreement was reportedly discussed during Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo's visit to Ashgabat earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Also on 15 January, Turkmenistan's Supreme Court sentenced Gyuvanch Djumaev, Annadurdy Annasakhatov and Nurmukhammed Orazgeldyev to life imprisonment for their alleged participation in the putative assassination attempt, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

CIS OFFICIAL VISITS UZBEKISTAN
CIS Executive Committee Chairman Yurii Yarov met in Tashkent on 15 January with Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov to discuss developing economic, trade, cultural, and educational cooperation among CIS member states, ITAR-TASS and uza.uz reported. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov will not attend the upcoming informal CIS summit in Ukraine as he will be paying an official visit to Spain. LF

BELARUS DENIES HAVING SENT MILITARY CARGO TO IRAQ
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 15 January that Belarus cooperates with Iraq in strict compliance with UN Security Council's sanctions, which exclude any deliveries of dual-purpose equipment to Iraq, Belapan reported. The statement followed media reports that authorities at Beirut International Airport confiscated a shipment containing tank helmets, uniforms, and communications gear brought from Belarus to be smuggled into Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). The ministry linked the reports to the planned visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Minsk on 20 January, saying they were aimed at "creating a negative background" and "diminishing the importance of the issues to be discussed." Lebanese State Prosecutor Adnan Addum confirmed in an interview with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 15 January that the seized cargo came from Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ADOPT ELECTION PLATFORM
Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, Valyantsina Matusevich, and Mikalay Statkevich -- the leaders of the Belarusian Party of Labor, the Belarusian Women's Party Hope, and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly), respectively -- on 15 January signed a joint political platform for their candidates running in the 2 March local elections, Belapan reported. The three parties, which formed a coalition called the Social Democratic Union for the elections, vow to revive the system of local self-government and turn local soviets (councils) into "influential organizations capable of independently defending genuine public interests." The platform also calls for building a nationwide association of democratic councilors at every level. The coalition also pledges to seek a ban on local budgetary funds being spent on national programs and to empower local soviets to monitor local budget expenditures and the use of public property. JM

BELARUSIAN POPULAR FRONT ADOPTS 'TRULY EUROPEAN' PLATFORM
The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), the oldest opposition organization in the country, has adopted a new platform described by BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka as "truly European," Belapan reported on 15 January. Vyachorka told journalists on 14 January that the new platform has "abandoned the remnants of eclecticism and socialism." According to Vyachorka, the new platform is more democratic than its previous versions. The platform stresses that Belarus must remain a sovereign and democratic state. The BNF sees Belarus as a parliamentary republic but does not seek to abolish the presidency, provided the president is elected by parliament and only carries out representative functions. The BNF declares a course toward building a market economy; developing small and medium-sized enterprises; changing the foreign economic and monetary policy; reforming the taxation, budget, and monetary systems; and introducing private ownership of land as part of a large-scale agricultural reform. JM

UKRAINE WANTS TO DELAY TOUGHER BORDER REGIME WITH RUSSIA
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko told his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov in a telephone conversation on 15 January that Ukraine wants to postpone the introduction of new requirements for crossing the countries' mutual border, UNIAN reported. The planned changes include requiring Ukrainians and Russians to present foreign-travel passports when crossing the border. The Russian side had proposed that such a regulation be introduced on 1 July. Quoting the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's press service, the news agency reported that Zlenko said this new requirement would complicate "interpersonal and cultural-educational" ties between the countries due to the "realities of socioeconomic development." Obtaining foreign-travel documents in Russia and Ukraine sometimes runs into technical difficulties, since they are issued by special centralized offices rather than local police departments, as in the case of domestic passports. A great many citizens in both countries do not possess foreign-travel passports. JM

TWO NEW LAWMAKERS TO JOIN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
The Verkhovna Rada has terminated the parliamentary powers of Serhiy Tyhypko (Labor Ukraine-Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs) and Mykhaylo Papiyev (Social Democratic Party-united) in connection with their appointment to government posts, UNIAN reported on 16 January. Tyhypko was appointed head of the Ukrainian National Bank in a controversial vote in December, while Papiyev assumed the post of labor minister. In conformity with Ukrainian law, they will be replaced in the Verkhovna Rada by Yuliya Chebotarova (Labor Ukraine-Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs) and Ihor Shurma (Social Democratic Party-united), who topped the lists of candidates from the respective parties failing to obtain parliamentary mandates in the 31 March election. JM

UKRAINIAN AGRICULTURAL GROWTH SLOWS
Deputy Prime Minister for Agriculture Ivan Kyrylenko told the Verkhovna Rada on 15 January that Ukrainian economic growth in the agricultural sector in 2002 did not exceed 3 percent, UNIAN reported. In 2000 and 2001, Ukraine reported increases of 9.2 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively, in agricultural output. Kyrylenko also said more than 40 percent of Ukrainian farms posted losses in 2002. "The average monthly wage in the agricultural sector -- 153 hryvnyas ($29) -- is the lowest among economic branches," Kyrylenko added. JM

PREMIERS CALL FOR REFORM OF BALTIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERS
Prime Ministers Siim Kallas (Estonia), Einars Repse (Latvia), and Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania) agreed at their meeting at Kalvi Manor in northern Estonia on 15 January to reform the work of the Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM), BNS and ELTA reported. They proposed the formation of a cooperation council consisting of the countries' foreign ministers that would be responsible for directing BCM activities and adopting an Annual Activities Plan. The premiers also agreed on the need to save money by making joint defense purchases. They discussed the implementation of the Via Baltica and Rail Baltica projects, as well as the planned EU referendums, which Estonia and Latvia plan to hold in September and Lithuania in May. The Via Baltica project provides for a highway from the Kalvarija-Budziski border post with Poland through the three states to Tallinn, which should serve as the major route for Baltic road transport to Berlin and Western Europe. The Rail Baltica project calls for the improvement of railroad travel between Vilnius and Tallinn which would later be expanded to a Helsinki-Berlin rail connection. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES CANDIDATE TO HEAD MILITARY
Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 15 January proposed to parliament the appointment of Rear Admiral Gaidis Zeibots as commander of the country's armed forces, BNS reported. The 57-year-old Zeibots has been deputy commander since 2002 and is also the senior officer in Latvia's delegation for NATO accession talks. He previously commanded the Latvian navy. The current armed-forces commander, Brigadier General Raimonds Graube, called Zeibots the most suitable candidate for the post and a well-educated professional who is familiar with the situation within the armed forces. The Union of Greens and Farmers faction in the parliament immediately expressed its support for the nomination, which seems likely to be approved by the parliament. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT CHANGES TACK ON FOREIGN POLICY
Rolandas Paksas told an assembly of foreign diplomats and representatives of international organizations in Vilnius on 15 January that he plans to make changes in the country's foreign policy, BNS reported. One of the Liberal Democratic leader and former prime minister's first moves after his electoral victory on 5 January was to "send off a signal to the world that foreign policy will not change" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Paksas underlined that the current priorities of integration into NATO and the EU, along with good relations with neighboring countries, will remain unchanged. But he added that there will be modifications. "Special emphasis will be put on developing regional cooperation with some regions in Russia, especially the northwestern part and other remote regions," Paksas said. He predicted greater cooperation with Ukraine, where in addition to bilateral economic cooperation he will encourage "establishing contacts between NGOs and governmental organizations, including the parliaments, [and] governmental and presidential institutions." Paksas asserted, "Lithuania is ready to help Belarus in seeking closer contacts with the EU, but the Belarusian government has to follow the recommendations of international institutions, thus ensuring implementation of democratic and legal processes in the country." He also said he will seek new markets for Lithuanian products and investment opportunities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. SG

'GAZETA WYBORCZA' EDITOR REGRETS DELAYED REPORTING ON 'RYWINGATE'
"Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik told journalists on 15 January that, had he known that the bribery scandal involving film producer Lew Rywin and Premier Leszek Miller (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003) would affect such wide circles in Poland, he would have written about it earlier, PAP reported. The newspaper revealed the scandal, dubbed "Rywingate," on 27 December, more than five months after it reportedly originated. Michnik said he also regrets that he did not notify prosecutors about Rywin's alleged solicitation of a bribe. Michnik said his daily delayed reporting the story in order to gather as much information as possible. "If Rywin came to me and said he would sort something out for me [for a bribe], without referring to the prime minister's name, I would have simply shown him the door. [But] I was terrified by the fact that here, for the first time, the prime minister's name appeared," Polish Radio quoted Michnik as saying. JM

PRESIDENT SAYS POLAND WON'T SEND MORE TROOPS TO PERSIAN GULF
President Aleksander Kwasniewski has said he cannot see any possibility of sending more Polish troops to the Persian Gulf region, Polish Radio reported on 15 January. Kwasniewski made the comment after a visit to Washington, where he met with U.S. President George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). Kwasniewski added that Poland has already sent a logistics ship and a special unit to the area. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ELECT NEW PRESIDENT...
Czech legislators on 15 January failed through three rounds of voting to elect a successor to outgoing President Vaclav Havel, CTK and international news agencies reported. Two inconclusive rounds of voting followed the first round, in which Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Honorary Chairman Vaclav Klaus and Senate President Petr Pithart advanced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). In the third round, in which the two chambers voted together and a simple majority of 141 of the 281 lawmakers present would have sufficed, Klaus received 113 votes and Pithart 84. Parliament thus must effectively begin the process anew within 30 days. Observers say a constitutional amendment providing for the president's election by popular vote is also possible. Havel's term expires on 2 February. MS

...OPENING DOOR TO BID OF FORMER PREMIER ZEMAN
Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman is likely to run in the second vote as the candidate of his Social Democratic Party (CSSD), whose primaries for the position he won. Zeman told CTK that he will agree to run if the CSSD Central Executive Committee asks him to do so. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, wary of Zeman's strong following within the party, has called a possible Zeman presidency the "path to hell." Klaus said in reaction to the electoral result that he intends to run again. Outgoing President Havel, speaking through his spokesman Ladislav Spacek, said he does not consider the result to be "a catastrophe," adding that it is "a pity" no one was elected. According to CTK, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) is likely to field Pithart's candidacy again. It is not clear whether the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) will again support former military prosecutor Miroslav Krizenecky. KSCM Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek has mentioned General Miroslav Vacek, who was defense minister in the post-1989 Czechoslovak government, as an alternative. MS

CZECH MILITARY REPORTS SAY IRAQ HAS SMALLPOX VIRUS IN WEAPONS STOCKPILE
High-ranking Czech officers quoted by dpa on 15 January said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "very likely" possesses a dangerous strain of the smallpox virus as part of his biological-weapons stockpile. Military health-service chief Jan Petras said Iraq has a strain called Aralsk 1970, originally developed in the former Soviet Union. Petras also said it is "almost certain" that Iraq's stockpile includes a weapon-modified form of an animal disease called camelpox. He also said former Soviet biological scientists might currently be working in Iraq. MS

FORMER COMMUNIST OFFICIAL PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN CZECH COURT
Former Czechoslovak Communist Party official Karel Hoffmann on 15 January pleaded not guilty to charges of treason in connection with Czechoslovakia's 1968 invasion by Warsaw Pact troops, CTK reported. Hoffmann described his trial as "political" and said, "I am not [being] prosecuted for treason but for my devotion to socialism." The prosecution alleges that as head of the communications authority at the time, Hoffmann ordered the interruption of radio broadcasts on the night of the invasion, 20-21 August 1968. The interruption enabled the broadcast of a statement by a group of Communist Party and government officials who collaborated with the occupying armies. MS

WILL SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER RUN FOR PRESIDENT?
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 15 January refused to comment on media reports that the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) wants him to be its presidential candidate, TASR reported. President Rudolf Schuster's mandate ends in 2004, but he may seek another five-year term under the constitution. Kukan told journalists that "since the information is not official, I will not comment on it." He added, however, that the SDKU is ready to discuss joint support for an unnamed candidate with its coalition partners. Reacting to the reports about Kukan's possible candidacy, Prime Minister and SDKU Chairman Mikulas Dzurinda said "the time has not yet come" to answer questions on this issue. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT REJECTS NATO REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
In a vote of 11 in favor, 11 abstentions, and 110 against, parliament on 15 January rejected a proposal by the opposition Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) to call a referendum on the country's NATO accession, TASR reported. KSS parliamentary group leader Ivan Hopta said that, as a result of the vote, his party will now back a petition drive launched separately by a Slovak nongovernmental organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT WARNS OF REFORM BACKLASH
President Schuster said at a traditional New Year's meeting with members of the civil service on 15 January that the government must analyze the impact of planned reforms on weak social groups, TASR reported. Premier Dzurinda replied that the cabinet has the reform process "under control" and will be able to preempt negative effects on those segments of the population. Dzurinda admitted, however, that many people do not understand why painful reforms of the social, pension, and health-care systems are necessary. MS

SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE CHIEF THREATENS TO SUE BRITISH JOURNAL
Vladimir Mitro, director of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), on 15 January threatened to sue Alex Standish, editor in chief of the prestigious British defense journal "Jane's Intelligence Digest" unless he receives a written apology from Standish, TASR reported, citing the daily "Sme." The publication recently wrote that the SIS continues to act as it did under former Director Ivan Lexa, who is being charged with numerous alleged offenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). It said the service is involved in arms deals, collaborates with Russian intelligence, conducts illegal phone tapping, and is involved in smear campaigns against politicians. According to the report, Mitro received his intelligence training under the communist regime. If the SIS does not reform itself, its performance could be an obstacle to Slovakia joining NATO, "Jane's Intelligence Digest" wrote. The author of the article, Jiri Kominek, said he stands by everything he wrote. MS

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HALTS SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENT
The Constitutional Court on 15 January heeded an appeal by Sergej Kohut and decided to examine the reappointment in December of Stefan Harabin as chairman of the Slovak Supreme Court, TASR reported. Kohut narrowly lost to Harabin in a vote by the Slovak Judicial Council and has charged that procedure was violated when Harabin, who is also a Judicial Council member, was allowed to vote in favor of himself. Kohut says this led to a violation of constitutional provisions as well, since that document prescribes that all citizens have free and equal access to elected and public positions. MS

FRENCH CARMAKER CHOOSES SLOVAKIA FOR NEW FACTORY
The French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen has chosen the Slovak town of Trnava for a new automobile factory, dpa reported. Peugeot Citroen said in a statement that Trnava, located some 45 kilometers from Bratislava, was chosen because of "its proximity to important markets in which the group is in full development." Investment in the new factory is expected to total $738 million. It should employ 3,000 people and assemble about 300,000 small cars, such as the Citroen C, per year. MS

HUNGARIAN SECRET SERVICE LAUNCHES PROBE INTO LEAK OF FALSE INFORMATION...
The National Security Office is launching an extensive investigation to determine who leaked false information to the media that an Iraqi refugee captured by border guards late last week admitted to being a former colonel in Saddam Hussein's army, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 16 January, quoting sources close to the government. The report was made public before security services could verify the man's identity or the veracity of his statements. The mix-up allegedly turned out to be the result of a translating error at the man's debriefing, at which he was misinterpreted as saying he served as a colonel in the Iraqi Army. Government authorities say leaking reports on refugees is dangerous, as Iraqi authorities could search out, imprison, or even kill the next of kin of refugees who "betray" their country. In addition, it might also represent a national-security threat for Hungary, according to the same sources in "Nepszabadsag," as Iraqi authorities will thus be well-informed as to what kind of people are seeking refugee status in Hungary. MSZ

...AS HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL CLARIFIES TASZAR ACTIVITIES
Arabic-speaking personnel who could serve as liaisons between U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens in a potential military conflict in Iraq will be trained at the Taszar military air base "for keeping law and order and being involved in a temporary public administration in Iraq," State Secretary for the secret services Andras Toth told "Magyar Hirlap" on 15 January. He said Iraqis and Kurds who are in "contractual relationships" with the U.S. Army will take part in the training. Meanwhile, Hungarian Defense Ministry Office chief Janos Gombos assured a recent conference of county mayors and defense-committee leaders that the Taszar training will constitute no danger to Hungary. MSZ

HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK INTERVENES TO STOP SOARING FORINT
The Hungarian National Bank (MNB) on 15 January acted against the further strengthening of the forint by purchasing an estimated 100 billion forints' ($450 million) worth of euros and cutting its benchmark rate by 100 basis points, to 7.5 percent, MNB spokesman Gabor Misura told Hungarian media. The move marks the first time since the forint's trading band was expanded to plus or minus 15 percent versus the euro in May 2001 that the MNB has been forced to intervene to counter a strong forint. The same day, the Central Statistics Office announced that the 2002 inflation rate was Hungary's lowest in 16 years, falling to 5.3 percent, from 9.2 percent in 2001, Budapest dailies reported. The central bank has forecast inflation of 5.2 percent in 2003. MSZ

U.S. WANTS EU MISSION IN MACEDONIA TO GO AHEAD
Unnamed U.S. officials said in Skopje on 15 January that Washington wants the EU to proceed with plans to take over peacekeeping from NATO in March, Reuters reported. The officials denied a report in Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," which alleged that Washington does not want Brussels to start its mission before June and even then only if several conditions are met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). The officials stressed that the United States is "quite supportive" of the EU's plans and "there's been no change of heart." PM

EU SECURITY CHIEF UPBEAT ON MACEDONIA
Javier Solana, the EU's chief for security and foreign affairs, visited Skopje on 15 January, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. His talks with President Boris Trajkovski and high-ranking government officials focused on the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement and on the EU's plans to take over the peacekeeping mission from NATO. Solana told reporters, "The EU is ready to take over NATO's peacekeeping mission in Macedonia," dpa reported. After meeting with ethnic Albanian political leader Ali Ahmeti, Solana said: "I do not see the possibility of [any] new escalation of the crisis in Macedonia." Solana repeated his opposition to further border changes in the Balkans, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. UB/PM

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS BALKAN TRIP IN KOSOVA
George Papandreou met in Prishtina on 15 January with Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), and expressed his support for UNMIK and its work, the BBC's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 14, and 15 January 2003). Papandreou told representatives of the Povratak (Return) coalition, which represents the Serbian minority in the parliament, that they can best realize their goals by ending their boycott of the legislature and working through existing institutions. President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told Papandreou of their plans for economic development and the integration of minority groups. The Greek minister said the final status of the province may be discussed only once "all interested parties" are ready to do so, when "European standards" are observed there, and when Prishtina and Belgrade hold a dialogue on "practical and technical questions." Papandreou stressed that the EU is open to the Balkan countries and that all peoples of the region should try to think in European rather than in national terms. The previous day, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told Papandreou in Belgrade that the EU must become more involved in solving the Kosova problem, Beta news agency reported. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO: TWO PROBLEMS DOWN, THREE TO GO?
The commission charged with drawing up the Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro has agreed that the National Bank of Yugoslavia will make a seamless transition to become the National Bank of Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). The second point on which the commission agreed was that the "fiscal agent" for the new state in dealings with institutions abroad will be the Federal Ministry for Economic Relations with Foreign Countries until the new joint cabinet is set up. At that time, the cabinet will decide on a permanent fiscal agent in agreement with the central banks and finance ministries of both Serbia and Montenegro. The commission has not decided how to divide federal and army property, what the status will be of current federal personnel, nor, perhaps most importantly, how deputies to the joint legislature will be elected. PM

BELGRADE HELSINKI COMMITTEE SAYS INDEPENDENCE IS KEY TO NEW INTEGRATION
Sonja Biserko, who heads the Belgrade Helsinki Committee, which is a prominent NGO, told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service that the international community should recognize Montenegrin independence and settle the question of Kosova's final status before any further time and energy are wasted in Serbia and elsewhere in the region, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 15 January. She added that she hopes the international community has understood the "logic of the dissolution of the old Yugoslavia" and that this process must be completed before a new regional integration can begin. The internal Yugoslav boundaries set down in the 1974 constitution must be respected before one can talk of making borders unimportant, she noted. Biserko also argued that Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova are in practice independent of each other and face very different problems. She warned that Serbia is wasting valuable time and energy in dealing with questions regarding its borders. Instead, she continued, Belgrade needs to concentrate on internal problems, which include Vojvodina, refugees, and the ethnic minorities, who make up "almost 30 percent" of the population (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August and 18 October 2002). PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN INDIA
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 15 January held talks in New Delhi with his counterpart Yashwant Sinha and with Indian Commerce Minister Arun Shouri, AFP reported. Geoana said after the talks that they focused on boosting bilateral trade and finding new markets in Central Asia and elsewhere. He also said Romania is willing to help India in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and that he discussed possibilities for finding a niche for Romania in the war-torn country's fledging markets. Geoana also met with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, with whom he discussed the international situation and bilateral cooperation, Romanian Radio reported. He also said Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will pay an official visit to India later this year. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTY IN ROMANIA OPPOSED TO CHANGING SENATE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said on 15 January that his formation is opposed to the ruling Social Democratic Party's proposal to have the Senate elected by a system of single-constituency representation instead of the current proportional system. Marko said the UDMR could lose as many as half of its current mandates in the upper house as a result of the envisaged change. He pointed out that the Hungarian minority in Romania is spread out over several counties and has a majority in only two counties. Under the single-representation system, he said, "lost votes" will no longer be redistributed at the national level, as is currently the case. This could result in the UDMR's senatorial representation being reduced to six or seven mandates, instead of the current 12. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ANNULS RESITA PRIVATIZATION CONTRACT
The cabinet on 15 January officially canceled the privatization of the Resita CSR steelmaker, Romanian Radio reported. It cited as the reason for the decision the failure on the part of the U.S.-based Noble Ventures company to make two consecutive $515,780 payments that were part of the privatization deal concluded in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). MS

BUCHAREST MAYOR, PREFECT, FAIL TO AGREE ON CANCELED LOAN
Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu failed to reach agreement on 15 January with Bucharest Prefect Gabriel Oprea regarding the loan from two international foreign banks that was canceled by the government last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The loan was to finance several projects for Bucharest's modernization. Basescu said the measure has already cost Romania $134 million in investments that would have also created jobs. Oprea said that the loan has not been cancelled, but will be reallocated for projects of higher priority, in line with the decisions of the Bucharest Municipal Council. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RETURNS TO MOTHER PARTY
Former Defense Minister Victor Babiuc on 15 January announced that he is returning to the Democratic Party, from which he resigned in February 2000, Mediafax reported. A few months later Babiuc joined the National Liberal Party (PNL), saying he feels closer to the liberal than to social-democratic ideology. He was elected a parliamentary deputy on the PNL lists in 2000. However, Babiuc resigned from the PNL in January 2002, saying the party did not need him. In an interview with the BBC, Babiuc said on 15 January that he feels closer to the Democrats as he formerly represented that party in cabinets. He will automatically become a member of its Standing Bureau. MS

BUCHAREST TRIBUNAL HEEDS APPEAL OF KING CAROL II'S FIRSTBORN
The Bucharest Courts of Appeals on 15 January heeded an appeal against a lower court decision and ruled that Carol Mircea Lambrino is King Carol II's first legitimate son, Romanian Radio reported. Carol Mircea Lambrino was born in January 1920, after his father married Zizi Lambrino, a Romanian of noble descent, in a secret religious ceremony in Odesa. The marriage was later annulled and King Michael I was considered Carol's legitimate heir. Lambrino's son calls himself Prince Paul of Romania and claims he is entitled to a share of the royal family's restituted properties. King Michael's lawyers said they will appeal the verdict before the Supreme Court. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES MECHANISM FOR RESUMPTION OF ROMANIAN TV BROADCASTS
The cabinet on 15 January approved the payment of $3 million from a $14.4 million long-term credit extended by Romania to finance Romanian television broadcasts in Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The payment will finance the operation of a Moldovan state company that will broadcast Romania's TV-1 channel on Moldovan territory. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said the decision will make it possible for the broadcasts to be resumed "within five days" and that the $3 million will cover retransmission costs for one year. The Romanian stations' broadcasts were stopped in August of last year. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTIES PROTEST NEW LEGISLATION ON POLITICAL PARTIES...
Opposition parties on 15 January protested legislation approved by parliament in December 2002 that obliges political formations to reregister and prove that membership has not dropped to below 5,000 since their initial registration, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. They said the new legislation goes against international practice and the expert opinion of the Council of Europe, according to which electoral legislation cannot be changed six months ahead of an election. Local elections are due in Moldova in April. MS

...AND AGAINST FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH EUROPEAN COUNCIL RECOMMENDATIONS ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA
Opposition parties and representatives of nongovernmental organizations on 15 January signed a declaration calling on parliament to modify the legislation on the functioning of Teleradio Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. They said the changes enacted in the legislation pertaining to Teleradio Moldova do not follow the 24 April and 26 September 2002 recommendations of the European Council and that the company remains under heavy governmental supervision and influence, despite claims that it has been transformed from a state-owned company into a public one. MS

FORMER GAGAUZ-YERI GOVERNOR APPOINTED MOLDOVA'S AMBASSADOR TO UN
The government on 15 January appointed former Gagauz-Yeri Governor Dumitru Croitor as Moldova's new ambassador to the UN, Infotag reported. After his resignation as governor in May 2002, Croitor was appointed ambassador to Switzerland, but the Swiss government refused the accreditation on the grounds that criminal charges had been filed against Croitor for allegedly obstructing a referendum in the autonomous region. The charges were later dropped. MS

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER OPENS NEW PARLIAMENTARY SEASON...
Speaking at the first session of parliament in 2003, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said on 15 January that the results of the government's policies have provided a stable basis for the country's further development, mediapool.bg reported. Noting that last year the government's priority was to raise living standards, Saxecoburggotski said strengthening the market economy led to stable economic growth of 4.5 percent, while the unemployment rate fell under 17 percent. This year, the government's efforts will focus on the country's EU-accession talks as well as judicial reform. Alluding to problems with major privatization deals such as Bulgartabak and the Telecommunications Company (BTK), Saxecoburggotski said the government is prepared to use all legal means to complete the process of privatizing strategic companies. UB

...AS OPPOSITION LISTS ITS PRIORITIES
Nadezhda Mihailova, the chairwoman of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces, told the plenary session that there are clear indications that a constitutional crisis is developing, mediapool.bg reported. Mihailova proposed setting up a temporary parliamentary committee on NATO accession in order to help achieve national consensus on the issue. Mihailova also called for constitutional amendments that would facilitate judicial reforms and for changes to the law on local elections. Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev said citizens expect solutions to their everyday problems. Alluding to Saxecoburggotski's announcement that the government will strive to close more chapters in the EU-accession talks this year, Stanishev complained that over the past 1 1/2 years the government has not sought the views of the Bulgarian people regarding any of the EU-accession chapters. He said his party will cooperate with the ruling majority on key issues such as judicial reform, reform of the secret services, and NATO and EU membership. UB

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS RUSSIAN COMPANY OVER FIGHTER-JET MODERNIZATION
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov told journalists that the Bulgarian government will withdraw its guaranteed contract for the modernization of its MiG-29 fighter aircraft should the Russian contractor, RSK MiG, fail to fulfill its part of the deal, mediapool.bg reported. The Russian company is now demanding an unspecified sum for the renewal of the license of the Bulgarian subcontractor, the Georgi Benkovski aircraft-maintenance company in Plovdiv. RSK MiG won the tender for the repair and modernization of 20 MiG-29 jets in the spring of 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). Since then, only two planes have been upgraded and not a single one has been overhauled, according to the news agency. Reacting to Svinarov's statement, Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Vladimir Titov said, "Should the Bulgarian government plan to dissolve the contract, it should first inform us, [and not the press]." UB

RUSSIAN, BULGARIAN NEWS AGENCIES SIGN AGREEMENT
The directors of the news agencies ITAR-TASS, Vitali Ignatenko, and BTA, Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev, signed a cooperation agreement in Moscow on 15 January. Apart from the exchange of information between the two agencies, the document also covers joint activities of BTA and ITAR-TASS in promoting Bulgarian and Russian interests in third countries. UB

There is no End Note today.


TALIBAN, AL-QAEDA LINKED TO ALLEGED ATTEMPT ON DOSTUM'S LIFE
Bashir Baygzad, the security chief of the northern Afghan city of Sheberghan, told Radio Free Afghanistan on 15 January that the man who was arrested on 14 January as he was allegedly preparing to assassinate General Abdul Rashid Dostum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003) was working for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Dostum is a powerful commander who serves as deputy defense minister and as the presidential representative in northern Afghanistan. Baygzad identified the alleged would-be assassin as a 27-year-old man from the Chahardarah district of Kunduz Province who recently moved to Kabul. Baygzad added that the arrested suspect said during his interrogation that 12 to 24 people have recently entered northern parts of Afghanistan to carry out terrorist activities. The report did not specify the identities of those people. Baygzad said the suspect was attempting to gain entrance to the palace where Dostum lives via a water channel, but was prevented from doing so by a fence and was caught. According to the report, the man's intended to blow himself up close to Dostum. AT

GERMAN HELICOPTER CRASH IN KABUL NOT CAUSED BY TERRORIST ACT
German Defense Minister Peter Stuck said on 15 January that the 21 December crash of a helicopter belonging to the German forces serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul was due to technical defects caused by human error, ddp news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). Stuck said that "one or more screws in the gear" were not tightened after the CH-53 helicopter was reassembled in Kabul, and dismissed terrorism or pilot error as causes of the crash, ddp reported. All seven German soldiers aboard the helicopter died, the most casualties in a single incident during the ISAF's yearlong operation in Kabul. AT

AFGHANS LIVING IN CAVES NEAR DESTROYED BUDDHA STATUES
Nasir Ahmad, the mayor of the central Afghan city of Bamyan, has said that as a result of the destruction of more than 5,000 homes in his city by the Taliban in 1998-2001, many residents took refuge in caves surrounding the colossal Buddha statutes on the outskirts of the city, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 15 January. Nasir Ahmad added that while reconstruction projects are currently under way in Bamyan, about 50 families still do not have a place to live and continue to reside in the caves near the statutes, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The caves in Bamyan once served as dwelling places for Buddhist monks and pilgrims and some contain petroglyphs. AT

AFGHANISTAN'S SOCCER SQUAD RANKED ON FIFA CHART
Afghanistan's national soccer team is ranked 204th in the January world rankings released on 15 January by soccer's international governing body (FIFA), Canadian Press reported. It marks the first time the FIFA rankings have included all 204 members of the organization. Afghanistan resumed international competition in 2001 following the fall of the Taliban after not having participated in international soccer for two decades. In the last five years of Taliban rule, the main soccer stadium in Kabul was used for public executions. AT

CANADA TO PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR AFGHAN ELECTIONS
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Jean-Pierre Kingsley announced on 13 January that Elections Canada (EC) will provide support and technical expertise to the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), Elections Canada announced. The aid is intended to help the Afghan Transitional Administration prepare for the general elections that are to be held in June 2004. Under the general leadership of UNAMA, Elections Canada will be providing strategic oversight for the Elections and Registration in Afghanistan Project in cooperation with the International Foundation for Election Systems, the report added. Elections Canada is a nonpartisan agency responsible for the conduct of federal elections and referendums in Canada (for more information, see http://www.elections.ca). AT

NEW LIMITATIONS ON FEMALE EDUCATION IN HERAT
Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated on 16 January that "because of a shortage of female teachers, [restrictions on females in Herat Province] will result in a severe limitation on the ability of women and girls to receive proper education." Herat Province by Governor Ismail Khan recently implemented new restrictions under which men and women are segregated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). "Girls and women are trying to make up for years of school lost under the Taliban," said Zama Coursen-Neff, an adviser to HRW's children's rights division. "These new restrictions may make it impossible for many to achieve that." Noting that Ismail Khan has specifically denied past allegations by HRW about the human rights situation in Herat, Coursen-Neff added that the "Taliban are gone, but government officials and soldiers are still sidelining, abusing, and harassing women and girls in Herat." HRW on 17 December released a report entitled "'We Want to Live as Humans': Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan"(http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/afghnwmn1202), which focused on the conditions of women in Herat under Ismail Khan's administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). AT

POPPY-ERADICATION CAMPAIGN ENDS IN NANGARHAR PROVINCE
Radio Afghanistan announced on 15 January that 750 square kilometers of land in various districts of the eastern Nangarhar Province have been cleared of poppy plants. AT

AZAL BECOMES THE FIRST COMMERCIAL AIRLINE TO KABUL
An Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) passenger plane flew from Baku to Kabul on 15 January, making it the first regularly scheduled foreign airline to travel to Kabul since the fall of the Taliban, Lider television reported from Baku. According to the report, AZAL plans three flights on the Kabul-Baku route per week. Until now only Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines offered international commercial flights to Kabul. AT

ALMOST 2 MILLION AFGHAN REFUGEES STILL IN IRAN...
Afghan Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi said during a 15 January visit to the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad, Khorasan Province, that she appreciates Iran's hosting many Afghan refugees over the last few years, IRNA reported. Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official responsible for refugees, said on 15 January in the western city of Sanandaj that 1.9 million Afghan refugees remain in Iran and 466,000 have been repatriated since March 2002, IRNA reported. Some 80,000 of those who were repatriated were in Iran illegally, he said. Last summer Husseini said, "All Afghan refugees must leave Iran" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 August 2002). BS

...AND THEIR RIGHTS FACE LIMITATIONS
Husseini's desire to see the last of the Afghans might reach fruition. Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on 15 January rejected a bill that would grant Iranian citizenship to Afghan men who have married Iranian women, IRNA reported. According to IRNA, there was concern that the bill's passage would encourage Afghans to immigrate to Iran and that it would discourage them from repatriating. "I announce that Iranian citizens must avoid marrying foreigners, especially Afghan nationals," Interior Ministry official Husseini warned, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 29 July 2002. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICAL OF CARTOON UPROAR, PRESS CLOSURES
President Mohammad Khatami said during a 15 January news conference that he does not approve of the offensive cartoon in a recent issue of "Hayat-i No" newspaper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 January 2003), but he also criticized exploiting the issue to arouse public sentiment, Iranian state radio reported. Khatami added the newspaper's voluntary closure of a few days demonstrated its regret for any offense caused, according to Radio Farda on 16 January. Khatami also criticized the 11 January closure of the "Bahar" newspaper. BS

KHATAMI MINIMIZES TEHRAN COUNCIL DISSOLUTION...
President Khatami said during a 15 January press conference that the Tehran Municipal Council had not lived up to expectations, but its dissolution, which was announced the previous day, was regrettable, Iranian state radio reported. Nevertheless, Khatami said, the council had done some good work, and the council elections were an important democratic experience. BS

...AND 'KAYHAN' MAXIMIZES IT
The people of Tehran did not react to news of the council's dissolution because it was stillborn four years ago, commented an article in the 15 January issue of the "Kayhan" daily newspaper, which is affiliated with the Supreme Leader's office. Iran's first council elections took place in February 1999. The commentary said politicians had used the councils as launching pads for other -- presumably, parliamentary -- elections. Moreover, "Kayhan" commented, the Interior Ministry's effort to downplay the council's dissolution is inappropriate because Tehran is more politicized and because the council failed due to factional disputes. BS

TAJZADEH ACCUSED IN POLLING-INSTITUTE CASE
Ayandeh Research Institute Managing Director Hussein Qazian has confessed that presidential adviser and Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) member Mustafa Tajzadeh introduced him to officials at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, the 16 January "Tehran Times" cited the Ye-Khabar website (http://www.yekhabar.com) as reporting. Moreover, some of the classified documents found at Ayandeh were from the Supreme National Security Council and dealt with Afghanistan, while others were confidential letters for the president, and a person with access to these materials gave them to people at Ayandeh, according to the "Tehran Times." BS

A SHAKY MONTH IN IRAN
Hussein Jafari, the UN Development Program representative in Iran, said on 16 January that Iran ranks among the world's top 10 for natural disasters, IRNA reported. Iran has been rocked by a number of earthquakes in the last month, according to dispatches from IRNA and Iranian state radio. An earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale hit the city of Behbahan, Khuzestan Province, on 16 January. On the same day, an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale hit the city of Gachsaran, Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmad Province. On 12 January, a 3.5-point earthquake hit Kazerun, Fars Province. On 11 January, a 5-point earthquake hit the cities of Nurabad and Kazerun, in Fars Province, and a local official said houses in Bushigan, Deylami, Husseinabad, Mirzai, and Dehno villages were damaged. A 4.2-point earthquake rocked parts of Khuzestan Province on 30 December. A 5.3-point earthquake on 24 December damaged some 2,000-3,000 homes in Kermanshah Province. A 3.6-point earthquake hit Qazvin Province on 22 December. A 4.2-point earthquake on 17 December rocked Oshnavieh in West Azerbaijan Province. BS

DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES SECRET CONTACTS WITH U.S.
Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani reacted to reports of secret Iran-U.S. contacts regarding a possible war in Iraq during a 15 January interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television. "This is a sheer lie. Iran does not have any relations with the Americans.... No one in Iran is authorized to make such contacts. Furthermore, Iran does not need this relationship," he said. BS

TEHRAN SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON IRAQI REFUGEES
Iranian police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on 15 January, "No refugees will be allowed into our territory if America attacks Iraq," IRNA reported. Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official in charge of dealing with refugees, said on 15 January that, in the event of a war, Iran would send assistance to potential refugees while they are still in Iraq, IRNA reported. However, Husseini also said Iran envisages establishing 19 camps in a strip along the border, so that no camp is more than 10 kilometers inside Iranian territory. Husseini predicted that a war in Iraq could create some 800,000 refugees, and he described Tehran's official policy. "The Islamic Republic's policy is to help Iraqi officials settle refugees inside the Iraqi territory, and Iran will refrain from accepting refugees into its soil," he said. BS

IRAN, AZERBAIJAN REGISTER PROGRESS IN CASPIAN TALKS
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari, met in Baku on 14 January with Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov, Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev, and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade to discuss the ongoing dispute between the five Caspian littoral states over the legal status of the Caspian Sea, Turan and Interfax reported. It was the eighth round of bilateral talks. Turan on 14 January reported that Safari might also meet with President Askar Aliev; but zerkalo.az on 16 January quoted Quliev as saying such meetings generally only take place if agreed on beforehand, and on this occasion no such meeting was deemed necessary. Khalafov told journalists on 15 January the two sides' positions are drawing closer, according to ITAR-TASS. Iran wants the Caspian divided into five equal sectors, while Azerbaijan -- together with Russia and Kazakhstan -- advocates preserving the present division of the sea along the median line. Khalafov said the two sides favor convening early next month the planned Baku meeting of deputy foreign ministers of littoral states originally scheduled for last fall, but which was twice postponed. LF

JORDANIAN CHIEFTAINS MEET WITH IRAQI PRESIDENT DURING SOLIDARITY VISIT...
A delegation of Jordanian tribal chiefs who have volunteered to act as human shields in Iraq are currently visiting Iraq in a show of solidarity. According to Iraq Radio on 10 January, Sheikh Ayman Muhammad al-Khaza'ilah praised Iraq's jihadist positions against U.S. threats. Sheikh Hasan al-Surur, head of the Al-Surur tribe, said that "our hearts, souls, and blood are with fraternal Iraq and its wise leadership against the U.S. and Zionist [Israel] schemes, which target Iraq's sovereignty and security." In a meeting with the chieftains, President Saddam Hussein spoke fervently about Arab solidarity, according to Iraq Satellite Television on 15 January. "Foreigners do not like any Arab to say that if foreigners attack anyone in our nation, we will stand by his side, or go before him in order to defend him," Hussein said. KR

...AS PRESIDENT CRITICIZES ARAB LEADERS...
President Hussein in his speech to the visiting chieftains criticized Arab leaders for their apparent lack of pan-Arab support, Iraq Satellite Television reported on 15 January. "You cannot imagine how upset I feel inside when I hear an Arab ruler saying that...aggression would bring about a catastrophe for the region," he said. "Are they only taking into account how the sparks would spread from Iraq to others? This is shameful, disgraceful. It would be better for any ruler, whoever he is, not to say this," the president added. Hussein told the chieftains that the West's goal is to "tame the Arabs and tell them that each Arab should care for himself only." He concluded by claiming that Arab awareness and determination is growing despite such developments, and he told the chieftains that Iraqis do not need military volunteers -- they would prefer Arab solidarity with Iraq. KR

AL-SULAYMANIYAH GOVERNATE HEAD SAYS ARAB LEADERS TOOK WRONG APPROACH
Barham Salih, prime minister of PUK-controlled territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Al-Sulaymaniyah, criticized Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa and other Arab leaders in an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera television from Washington on 16 January. Those leaders "should have led the campaign for defending the Iraqi people and their democratic aspirations," he said. "These countries and these Arab institutions should have led the campaign for change in Iraq, and not leave it for the Americans and other foreign forces," Salih added. He also said that some Arab states believe they can maintain the "status quo," keep the regime of President Hussein, and maintain the oppression of the Iraqi people. Salih met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney while in Washington, D.C. KR

SCIRI OFFICIAL CRITICIZES U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN OPPOSITION MEETING
Hamid al-Bayati, the London representative for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) told Al-Jazeera on 15 January that his organization declined to attend a 14 January meeting with officials in Washington to discuss the 22 January meeting of the Iraqi opposition's Follow-Up and Coordination Committee in Salah al-Din. Al-Bayati complained that the invitation from U.S. officials came only one day before the 14 January meeting. "We do not consider it necessary to have discussions with U.S. officials about a meeting to be held by the Follow-up and Coordination Committee, which emanated from the opposition conference in Kurdistan, north of Iraq. This is an Iraqi issue and an Iraqi affair that has to do with the Iraqi opposition," Al-Bayati said. "We do not accept any country interfering in or imposing anything on the Iraqi opposition or the Follow-up and Coordination Committee meeting in Kurdistan," he added. KR

UN INSPECTORS CHECK SCIENTISTS' HOMES
UN weapons inspectors on 16 January went to the homes of two Iraqi scientists, Faleh Hassan and Shaker al-Jabouri, Reuters reported. Both live in the Al-Ghazaliyah neighborhood of Baghdad. Hassan heads the Al-Razi State Company, which was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 23 December. The company is declared as a site involved in laser-development and military projects, according to the IAEA. There was no immediate information available on al-Jabouri. For more daily updates on the inspections in Iraq, see RFE/RL's "Tracking Inspections" (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraq-inspec). KR

INSPECTORS SEARCH SITE BELONGING TO MUJAHEDIN KHALQ ORGANIZATION
A joint UNMOVIC inspection team on 14 January searched a site belonging to the Iranian terrorist opposition group Mujahedin Khalq Organization, according to a statement by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. A team of 33 inspectors searched the site, while "two cars from the team" went to the Al-Azim Munitions Depot where inspectors checked a number of warehouses. Reuters reported on 16 January that a team flew helicopters over the site during the ground inspection. UNMOVIC did not provide any details on the inspection. KR

CZECH MILITARY REPORTS SAY IRAQ HAS SMALLPOX VIRUS IN WEAPONS STOCKPILE
High-ranking Czech officers cited by dpa on 15 January said President Hussein "very likely" possesses a dangerous strain of the smallpox virus as part of his biological-weapons stockpile. Military health-service chief Jan Petras said Iraq has a strain called Aralsk 1970, originally developed in the former Soviet Union. Petras also said it is "almost certain" that Iraq's stockpile includes a weapon-modified form of an animal disease called camelpox. He also said former Soviet biological scientists might currently be working in Iraq. MS

BELARUS DENIES HAVING SENT MILITARY CARGO TO IRAQ
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 15 January that Belarus cooperates with Iraq in strict compliance with UN Security Council's sanctions, which excludes any deliveries of dual-purpose equipment to Iraq, Belapan reported. The statement followed media reports that authorities at Beirut International Airport confiscated a shipment containing tank helmets, uniforms, and communications gear brought from Belarus to be smuggled into Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). The ministry linked the reports to the planned visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Minsk on 20 January, saying they were aimed at "creating a negative background" and "diminishing the importance of the issues to be discussed." Lebanese State Prosecutor Adnan Addum confirmed in an interview with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 15 January that the seized cargo came from Belarus. JM

IAEA CHIEF DISCUSSES IRAQ IN MOSCOW
Speaking to journalists following a meeting in Moscow on 15 January with IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia supports proposals to prolong the mission of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov said that although inspectors so far had uncovered no banned weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they have not yet made any final determinations. "Russia believes that any unilateral military operation against Baghdad without UN authorization would only exacerbate the already complicated situation in the region and undermine international stability...and the global fight against international terrorism," Ivanov said. He added that he has sent Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov to Baghdad within the framework of regular bilateral contacts. Saltanov will seek out Iraqi opinions about the upcoming 27 January UN Security Council meeting, at which the weapons inspectors will make an initial report. In response to a question about how Russia would vote if the United States calls for the authorization of military strikes against Iraq, Ivanov refused to answer, saying only that he does not anticipate any vote on that question. VY

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES REPORTS THAT NAVY IS HEADED TO THE GULF
Sergei Ivanov said during 15 January visit to a Russian Space Force base in Moscow Oblast that Moscow will not be sending any ships to the Persian Gulf, despite recent media reports that it would (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003), RIA-Novosti, gazeta.ru, and other Russian news agencies reported. "We have no plans to send our navy or other units of the armed forces to the Persian Gulf," Ivanov said. "I am speaking on this officially." He added, however, that his agency has "very serious plans for improving combat readiness...that includes sending ships to the Indian Ocean." Ivanov emphasized that this mission is not related to any possible military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. VY

HUNGARIAN SECRET SERVICE LAUNCHES PROBE INTO LEAK OF FALSE INFORMATION...
The National Security Office is launching an extensive investigation to determine who leaked false information to the media that an Iraqi refugee captured by border guards late last week admitted to being a former colonel in Saddam Hussein's army, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 16 January, quoting sources close to the government. The report was made public before security services could verify the man's identity or the veracity of his statements. The mix-up allegedly turned out to be the result of a translating error at the man's debriefing, at which he was misinterpreted as saying he served as a colonel in the Iraqi Army. Government authorities say leaking reports on refugees is dangerous, as Iraqi authorities could search out, imprison, or even kill the next of kin of refugees who "betray" their country. In addition, it might also represent a national-security threat for Hungary, according to the same sources in "Nepszabadsag," as Iraqi authorities will thus be well-informed as to what kind of people are seeking refugee status in Hungary. MSZ

...AS HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL CLARIFIES TASZAR ACTIVITIES
Arabic-speaking personnel who could serve as liaisons between U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens in a potential military conflict in Iraq will be trained at the Taszar military air base "for keeping law and order and being involved in a temporary public administration in Iraq," State Secretary for the secret services Andras Toth told "Magyar Hirlap" on 15 January. He said Iraqis and Kurds who are in "contractual relationships" with the U.S. Army will take part in the training. Meanwhile, Hungarian Defense Ministry Office chief Janos Gombos assured attendees at a recent conference of county mayors and defense-committee leaders that the Taszar training will constitute no danger to Hungary. MSZ

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